Posts Tagged cranks
AAAS “What We Know” Initiative: Same Denial, Different Issue – From Ozone Depletion to Climate Change Mar 20Join the conversation at Hot Topic
(Cross-posted with permission from Polluterwatch.com)
It must be like Groundhog Day for Mario Molina, the scientist who has presided over the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s new report and publicity drive aimed at convincing Americans about the urgency of what’s happening on climate change.
The normally reticent AAAS has taken a highly unusual step. There’s no new science in it. Instead, it summarises “what we know” on climate science, highlighting the 97% consensus on the issue and calling for action.
Why did they do it? The AAAS says it’s becoming alarmed at the American public’s views on climate change, stating in the opening paragraphs:
“Surveys show that many Americans think climate change is still a topic of significant scientific disagreement. Thus, it is important and increasingly urgent for the public to know there is now a high degree of agreement among climate scientists that human-caused climate change is real.”
They’re right: the latest Gallup Poll published this month shows that climate change is low on Americans’ priority list, with 51% saying they worry about climate change very little – or not at all. And 42% said they believe the seriousness of the issue was “generally exaggerated.”
Here’s one of their videos:
The AAAS report also stated:
“It is not the purpose of this paper to explain why this disconnect between scientific knowledge and public perception has occurred.”
That’s not their job. But I bet they’d like to. Especially Mario Molina.
The reason for that American disconnect between scientific and public views on global warming is simple: it’s the result of a 20-year campaign funded by the fossil fuel industry that profits from the very products causing it – oil, coal and gas. It’s got nothing to do with science per se.
A brief history of that campaign is outlined in a report I wrote last year: “Dealing in Doubt” that catalogues the attacks on climate science, the IPCC and on the scientists themselves.
But what’s that got to do with Mario Molina? Molina, now 70, was one of the researchers who discovered the chemistry around ozone depletion. He and two other scientists received the 1995 Nobel Prize for chemistry for their work. 20 years ago, he faced a remarkably similar campaign to what the climate scientists face today.
In 1992, Molina was at a gathering of scientists in Brazil, ahead of the Rio Earth Summit, and about to present a 30-minute talk on ozone depletion. He was dumbfounded when the presenter before him told the assembled scientists that the ozone depletion theory was a sham. He later told the AAAS’s Science magazine(full text here):
“Given enough time I could have carefully rebutted his objections. They sounded reasonable but they were only pseudoscientific.”
At the time, in the face of increasing scientific certainty, there was a (successful) push to strengthen the Montreal Protocol, to further regulate CFCs to stop ozone depletion. The fight was on.
The Science article went on to outline how talk show host Rush Limbaugh was leading the charge against the ozone science, labeling the issue a “massive conspiracy” promulgated by “dunderhead alarmists and prophets of doom.”
Limbaugh claimed the only reason scientists were working on ozone depletion was because “they always want more funding, and today that means government funding. What could be more natural than for [NASA], with the space program winding down, to say that because we have this unusual amount of chlorine in the atmosphere, we need funding.”
This is one of the main mantras of the climate science deniers today – they’re only in it for the funding. They also get labeled “alarmists” and “doomsayers” amongst other things. Same arguments, different subject.
Enter S Fred Singer, a serial denier who cut his teeth on tobacco science, before moving on to ozone depletion and global warming. In a 1995 article, he said this on ozone depletion:
“The facts are that the scientific underpinnings are quite shaky: the data are suspect; the statistical analyses are faulty; and the theory has not been validated… The science simply does not support this premature and abrupt removal of widely used chemicals—at great cost to the economy.”
It’s telling that one of Singer’s early articles, “My adventures on the ozone layer,” can be found today on the Heartland Institute website. This is the same Heartland Institute that last year employed Singer to help work on its “NIPCC” report, designed to confuse a casual observer with the similarity to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) while using debunked arguments to suggest there isn’t a problem – which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In 1996, Singer told a House Committee there was no scientific consensus on ozone depletion. He went on to use the high-cost argument, and brought in a new theme that is very much prevalent in today’s anti climate arguments: that it would hurt the developing world.
“We are flying blind on this issue, at a huge cost to the U.S. economy and ultimately to every American household. In less developed countries, absence of low-cost refrigeration–for food preservation and vaccines–could, unfortunately, exact an even higher price in human lives.”
Two years later, Singer was even advocating putting mirrors in the sky to stop ozone depletion. That article can be found on another think tank website, theCompetitive Enterprise Institute. The CEI set up the Cooler Heads Coalition. But its extensive ExxonMobil funding was dropped in 2007 because the company said their campaign “diverted attention” from a real conversation about how to tackle climate change.
“Scientific findings do not support an immediate ban on CFC’s. Both global and Arctic measurements point to natural factors as the main cause of recent ozone fluctuations. Ozone levels change primarily as the result of natural factors such as the ultraviolet output of the sun, oscillation of upper stratosphere winds and El Nino conditions.”
Sunspots is one of the main denialist arguments used against global warming today, notably by Baliunas’s colleague, Willie Soon. A later Marshall Institute report about global warming, ozone depletion and tobacco science was picked up and pushed by Phillip Morris.
No consensus, science unsettled, the sun, El Nino, in it for the funding, doomsayers, solutions will hurt the poor, natural variations: all these arguments are run today around global warming science by, amongst others, the Heartland Institute, the CEI, the Marshall Institute, S Fred Singer, Baliunas, Limbaugh and others.
The late Steve Schneider described the problem as being “caught between the exaggerations of the advocates, the exploitations of political interests, the media’s penchant to turn everything into a boxing match and your own colleagues saying we should be above this dirty business and stick to the bench.”
The AAAS appears to have gotten off of that bench, not least because they’re worried about Americans sleepwalking into climate chaos, cheered on by industry.
But the bottom line, as the AAAS has stated in no uncertain terms, is this: “human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.”
Perhaps our elected leaders might also like to spend some time reading it.
This powerful article by Lawrence Torcello, assistant professor of philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology, first appeared at The Conversation here. It examines the potential legal liabilities that should attach to deliberate misinformation campaigns to delay action on climate change.
The importance of clearly communicating science to the public should not be underestimated. Accurately understanding our natural environment and sharing that information can be a matter of life or death. When it comes to global warming, much of the public remains in denial about a set of facts that the majority of scientists clearly agree on. With such high stakes, an organised campaign funding misinformation ought to be considered criminally negligent.
The earthquake that rocked L’Aquila Italy in 2009 provides an interesting case study of botched communication. This natural disaster left more than 300 people dead and nearly 66,000 people homeless. In a strange turn of events six Italian scientists and a local defence minister were subsequently sentenced to six years in prison.
The ruling is popularly thought to have convicted scientists for failing to predict an earthquake. On the contrary, as risk assessment expert David Ropeik pointed out, the trial was actually about the failure of scientists to clearly communicate risks to the public. The convicted parties were accused of providing “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information”. As one citizen stated:
We all know that the earthquake could not be predicted, and that evacuation was not an option. All we wanted was clearer information on risks in order to make our choices.
Crucially, the scientists, when consulted about ongoing tremors in the region, did not conclude that a devastating earthquake was impossible in L’Aquila. But, when the Defence Minister held a press conference saying there was no danger, they made no attempt to correct him. I don’t believe poor scientific communication should be criminalised because doing so will likely discourage scientists from engaging with the public at all.
But the tragedy in L’Aquila reminds us how important clear scientific communication is and how much is at stake regarding the public’s understanding of science. I have argued elsewhere that scientists have an ethical obligation to communicate their findings as clearly as possible to the public when such findings are relevant to public policy. Likewise, I believe that scientists have the corollary obligation to correct public misinformation as visibly and unequivocally as possible.
Many scientists recognize these civic and moral obligations. Climatologist Michael Mann is a good example; Mann has recently made the case for public engagement in a powerful New York Times opinion piece: If You See Something Say Something.
Misinformation and criminal negligence
Still, critics of the case in L’Aquila are mistaken if they conclude that criminal negligence should never be linked to science misinformation. Consider cases in which science communication is intentionally undermined for political and financial gain. Imagine if in L’Aquila, scientists themselves had made every effort to communicate the risks of living in an earthquake zone. Imagine that they even advocated for a scientifically informed but costly earthquake readiness plan.
If those with a financial or political interest in inaction had funded an organised campaign to discredit the consensus findings of seismology, and for that reason no preparations were made, then many of us would agree that the financiers of the denialist campaign were criminally responsible for the consequences of that campaign. I submit that this is just what is happening with the current, well documented funding of global warming denialism.
More deaths can already be attributed to climate change than the L’Aquila earthquake and we can be certain that deaths from climate change will continue to rise with global warming. Nonetheless, climate denial remains a serious deterrent against meaningful political action in the very countries most responsible for the crisis.
Climate denial funding
We have good reason to consider the funding of climate denial to be criminally and morally negligent. The charge of criminal and moral negligence ought to extend to all activities of the climate deniers who receive funding as part of a sustained campaign to undermine the public’s understanding of scientific consensus.
Criminal negligence is normally understood to result from failures to avoid reasonably foreseeable harms, or the threat of harms to public safety, consequent of certain activities. Those funding climate denial campaigns can reasonably predict the public’s diminished ability to respond to climate change as a result of their behaviour. Indeed, public uncertainty regarding climate science, and the resulting failure to respond to climate change, is the intentional aim of politically and financially motivated denialists.
My argument probably raises an understandable, if misguided, concern regarding free speech. We must make the critical distinction between the protected voicing of one’s unpopular beliefs, and the funding of a strategically organised campaign to undermine the public’s ability to develop and voice informed opinions. Protecting the latter as a form of free speech stretches the definition of free speech to a degree that undermines the very concept.
What are we to make of those behind the well documented corporate funding of global warming denial? Those who purposefully strive to make sure “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” is given to the public? I believe we understand them correctly when we know them to be not only corrupt and deceitful, but criminally negligent in their willful disregard for human life. It is time for modern societies to interpret and update their legal systems accordingly.
In my post this week at The Daily Blog — Investigating climate change deniers and their spin against global warming — I take a look at the PR campaign being run against action on climate change and one of their most important tactics, creating a smokescreen to hide the reality of climate change:
The resulting exchanges provide an object lesson in life through the looking-glass, that alternative world where warming isn’t happening, climate scientists are colluding in a giant hoax, and the poor old free market is being threatened by gangs of rampant watermelons — great wagon loads of fruit against freedom, leeks against liberty, and carrots against capitalism.
As seen on blogs everywhere, all the time, produced by the willing foot soldiers of climate denial.
John O’Sullivan — the pseudosceptic who is serially and persistently wrong about almost everything he chooses to write about, and who has made a career out of misrepresenting his own abilities and qualifications — is at it again. In a “review” of a new book by Canadian denier Tim Ball (left), O’Sullivan1 writes:
The courage and forthrightness Tim Ball has shown with this book, and in the British Columbia Supreme Court defending himself against the now failed libel suit of Michael Mann, is about to be vindicated by the judiciary. As the scientific community awaits Ball’s impeding legal triumph, we may edify ourselves not just with the black and white evidence presented in this extraordinary publication, but in the certain knowledge that Mann and his co-conspirators have spectacularly failed in their bid to silence dissent against their fraudulent science.
Mann’s abortive attempt to sue Ball in the British Columbia Supreme Court ultimately back-fired because Mann refused to show his metadata, his calculations for his junk science, in open court. Now Mann faces possible bankruptcy on top of professional suicide, as the price for his misdeeds.
What purple prose! What hyperbole! What utter crap.
Mann’s lawyer, Roger McConchie writes:
Their assertion that Dr. Mann faces possible bankruptcy is nonsense. Dr. Mann’s lawsuit against Dr. Ball and other defendants is proceeding through the normal stages prescribed by the BC Supreme Court Civil Rules and Dr. Mann looks forward to judicial vindication at the conclusion of this process.
In other words: O’Sullivan’s wrong again. The court case is very much on, and Tim Ball is in deep trouble. Ball’s book, teasingly titled The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science is another matter. A cursory glance at the sample available via Amazon suggests that it’s yet another in a long line of conspiracist nonsense about the climate issue — eerily reminiscent of Ian Wishart’s Air Con in its suggestions of cabals at the UN, environmentalism as a religion, and Maurice Strong and Prince Philip as some sort of evil overlords. Mr McConchie is undoubtedly looking over the text with considerable interest…
- With co-author Hans Schreuder.
Risible Rodney rides again Feb 17Join the conversation at Hot Topic
Rodney Hide’s regular opinion slot in the Herald on Sunday has often provided the former ACT Party leader with a platform to spout his trademark climate denialist nonsense, but yesterday’s has to take some kind of biscuit1 for purveying unsubstantiated, completely made up nonsense. He starts by riffing on new research that suggests that an increase in Pacific winds has acted to slow down global temperature increases, and then goes completely off his trolley:
Scientists predict that when the Pacific trade winds slow global warming will take off with a bang. Armageddon remains on.
Climate scientists say the best policy is still one that bombs us back to feudal times.
Not to put too fine appoint on it, that is distasteful nonsense; a misrepresentation at best, a lie at worst — but either way the opinion editor of the Herald On Sunday should be ashamed for permitting it to appear in the paper.
Hide’s statement is wrong on many levels. Climate scientists seldom directly advocate for policy (beyond the need for urgent cuts in carbon emissions). And nobody outside of a looney right-wing think tank has ever suggested that cutting carbon will “bomb” anyone back to the middle ages. It’s cheap and easy rhetoric from a man with a column to fill, and no fact checker on duty at his newspaper.
To get a better perspective on the research Rodney is attempting to spin to his cause, check out this commentary by Mike Mann, or Dana Nuccitelli’s excellent explanation at The Guardian. It’s fascinating stuff, and deserves better than a once-over lightly from an ideologue with an agenda.
Hide then hops onto another pseudo sceptic hobbyhorse: the climate models:
One hundred years is a long time to have to wait to see if the models are correct.
The poor results so far don’t prove anything. And none of us will be alive to see if the models are actually correct.
He’s wrong about that, too. For an example of just how good the models can be, check out this blog post by professor of computer science Steve Easterbrook which compares the EUMETSAT year of weather video noted at Hot Topic recently with a visualisation of a year’s weather patterns from the atmospheric component of NCAR’s CCSM climate model. Run the the two animations side-by-side.
That’s how good our general circulation models are, and that’s how wrong Rodney Hide is. Again2.
- Girl Guide, perhaps, or Garibaldi?
- Construction adopted to please @davidslack
I suppose it had to happen. Jim Salinger’s excellent summary of the strange case of the climate cranks and their attempt to sue the New Zealand temperature record has attracted a response from deep inside La La Land. Barry Brill, chairman of the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition and litigant in chief, has posted a piece of piss-poor propaganda trying to make their actions seem reasonable. He fails spectacularly, as you might expect — but he also fails to mention the most salient fact of all.
Brill is the ex-lawyer who put the losing court case together. He, together with the trustees of the NZ Climate Science Education Trust — Terry Dunleavy, Bryan Leyland and Doug Edmeades — are in default of the costs awarded against them by the judge. It’s a cool $89,000, and if Brill et al don’t pay up, the NZ taxpayer will have to foot their bill. As one of those taxpayers, I object strenuously to funding their absurd political posturing.
Brill, Leyland, Dunleavy et al would do well to remember that in the “court of public opinion” people who welch on their debts and try to avoid the consequences of their actions are regarded as mountebanks and charlatans. They should shut up until they’ve paid up.
As Stoat points out, the IPCC has released the reviewers comments on the Working Group One second order draft report. And as you might expect, the IPCC’s favourite inexpert commenter, the New Zealand Climate “Science” Coalition’s very own Vincent Gray was busy reviewing their work. Here’s comment 1-549 from Chapter One (pdf) by Gray:
The records shown are not “observations” and they are not “temperatures”. They are also not “globally averaged. They are a set of multiple averages, subtracted from an overall average, compiled from a vaying non-standardised set of maximum an minimum temperature measurements at varying weather sations and ship measurements. They were previously treated as “Mean Global Temperature anomaly” The uncertainties attached to each figure are very great, individual temperature measurements are rarely accurate to better than one degree, so a claimed “trend” over 100 years of less than one degree has a very low level of statistical significance. [Vincent Gray, New Zealand] (all spelling from IPCC doc)
The response from the editors is a minor classic of its kind:
Rejected – The comment does not reflect the scientific understanding. The errors in individual observations are not additive; we are also doing relative analysis that eliminates many of the concerns about individual errors. The reviewer obviously has a limited understanding of the associated error evaluation for analysis of large datasets. See Chapter 2 for more on the evaluation of these datasets. Or maybe even read a basic textbook. (my emphasis)
For more on accuracy versus precision, and the statistical power of large numbers, this classic post by Tamino is well worth a read.
There are other minor gems to be found as the reviewers deal with Monckton (in the “general” section) and John McLean (seemingly everywhere). In fact McLean’s ubiquity suggests that he may have acceded to Gray’s throne as the man with most comments on a single IPCC report. But don’t expect me to add them all up, I do have a life…
Jim Salinger’s analysis of the climate crank campaign to cast doubt on New Zealand’s long term temperature record, published last week at The Conversation, has drawn an astonishing response1 from Richard Treadgold (left), the man who kicked off the whole sorry process over four years ago. In an intemperate and libellous comment at his web site, Treadgold accuses Salinger of deception, stupidity and questions his mental stability:
Painting our efforts as some kind of attack on science is stupid. Salinger is either mentally unstable or he’s trying to hide his deceptive treatment of the national temperature records. We asked for details. You’re obviously hiding something if you call that anti-science.
The truth, of course, is that Treadgold and his friends at the Climate “Science” Coalition have spent the last four years quite deliberately attacking Salinger and the science team at NIWA by alleging they acted to deliberately overstate warming in New Zealand. They’ve taken their case to the High Court, and lost. Now they’re running away from facing the legal consequences, by refusing to pay court-ordered legal costs and leaving the NZ taxpayer to foot the bill2.
This has never been about science. It has always been a political campaign, as Treadgold himself acknowledged when he admitted to the “essentially political objectives of our paper”. Having the lost the argument, he’s now behaving like a spoilt child, throwing a hissy fit at Salinger for telling an uncomfortable truth. His pettiness even extends to posting articles suggesting that Salinger’s affiliations with the Universities of Auckland and Tasmania may be false3.
The last line of his typically prolix comment is interesting.
Finally, it’s insufficient that you merely repeat Salinger’s empty allegation of ‘errors’ in our audit. If you want us to respond to the allegation, specify the errors.
The hypocrisy evident here is breathtaking. The “audit” refers to a reconstruction of the NZ temperature record produced by Treadgold’s Coalition pals4 that was submitted as evidence in their High Court case. Treadgold and the CSC know perfectly well that NIWA found significant errors in that reconstruction, because a detailed description of those errors formed an important part of NIWA’s evidence produced in court.
If Treadgold and the CSC are so sure that their “audit” is faultless, why do they not submit it for peer review at an academic journal? I’m sure that Chris de Freitas, never averse to lending his academic weight to the climate crank cause, would be willing to act as lead author and help to usher it past peer review, as he has done for so many papers over the years. I hear that Pattern Recognition in Physics could have a new publisher who might be interested. In the meantime, if Treadgold has any sense of decency he will apologise to Salinger for so maligning an honest man. Past history would suggest that I should not hold my breath.
- Web cited so that he can’t “disappear” the evidence.
- I will have a great deal more to say on this issue, unless and until Barry Brill, Terry Dunleavy, Bryan Leyland and Doug Edmeades pay the costs awarded against their shonky trust
- They aren’t.
- Statistical Audit of the NIWA 7-Station Review, NZCSC, July 2011, available here.
When climate cranks lose at law: Salinger on the failed attempt to sue the NZ temperature record Jan 23Join the conversation at Hot Topic
If you do nothing else today, take the time to read Jim Salinger’s account at The Conversation of the attempt by New Zealand’s little coterie of climate deniers to cast doubt on the country’s temperature record. It’s a useful summary of the cranks’ ludicrous effort, but Jim points out that it is just a small part of a much larger global PR campaign — drawing heavily on the strategies and tactics first used by the tobacco lobby — to undermine action to reduce emissions:
Earlier this month, the news broke that major tobacco companies will finally admit they “deliberately deceived the American public”, in “corrective statements” that would run on prime-time TV, in newspapers and even on cigarette packs.
It’s taken a 15-year court battle with the US government to reach this point, and it shows that evidence can trump doubt-mongering in the long run.
A similar day may come for those who actively work to cast doubt on climate science.
Frankly, that day can’t come soon enough.
Meanwhile, the latest news on the attempt by the men behind the trust used to bring the legal action — the NZ Climate Science Education Trust, fronted by Bryan Leyland, Terry Dunleavy and Doug Edmeades — to dump the costs of their failed case on the New Zealand taxpayer is that the official liquidator rates the “prospect of dividend” – that is, a payout by the trust — as “unlikely”. In the latest report (pdf) posted at the Companies Office1, the liquidator comments that he has only be able to contact one of the NZCSET trustees and that “he has thus far been co-operative with the liquidation”. If the other two trustees are not helpful, the liquidator warns that “they will be summonsed to attend a meeting to provide the necessary information”.
It may be that Christmas and summer holidays is slowing down the process, but if the NZCSET trustees are being deliberately unhelpful, I hope the Insolvency Service uses all of its powers to make them comply with the law. These men have wasted large amounts of taxpayer money pursuing their idiotic political agenda, and must be made to pay for their folly.
- Go to the Societies and Trusts Online section, click search register, then use the NZCSET registration number – 2539286 – to find the documents.