SciBlogs

Posts Tagged Fred Pearce

The promise of renewables Bryan Walker Nov 04

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

No sooner had I finished reviewing Fools Rule, which recounts the determination of many nations to carry on with the further discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels in blunt defiance of the warnings of science, than I read Fred Pearce’s article in Yale Environment 360 detailing how the world is in fact burning more and more coal. He pointed to the irony of the forthcoming UN negotiations in Durban, South Africa, where the talk of how to kick the coal habit will take place in a country with high CO2 emissions and a thriving export industry in power-station coal. Not that he was singling out South Africa — the trend is shared over many countries. As if in confirmation our Prime Minister on the same day, during the leaders’ debate, affirmed yet again his government’s commitment to expand mining and drilling operations — in an environmentally responsible way, of course. He offered Australia as an example of the prosperity to be obtained thereby.

Feeling depressed, I noticed an item in my inbox which I had neglected for a couple of days. It was an article by Earth Policy Institute research associate Matthew Roney reporting a record production of photovoltaic cells in 2010. I know Lester Brown’s Earth Policy Institute can seemingly conjure optimism out of thin air, but its reports are brutal in the delineation of the environmental threats we face and its optimism hardly comes cheap. So I read on. The production total for 2010 was 24,000 megawatts, double that of 2009 and a nearly hundred-fold increase since the 277 megawatts of 2000. Newly installed PV also set a record in 2010, as 16,600 megawatts were installed in more than 100 countries.  This brought the total worldwide capacity of solar PV to nearly 40,000 megawatts–enough to power 14 million European homes.

That’s obviously still tiny by comparison with fossil fuel powered electricity which supplies over 40 percent of the world’s energy. But PV is growing rapidly. The article carries interesting figures for a number of countries. Germany, hardly a likely candidate for extensive photovoltaic generation, leads the world with 17,200 megawatts of installed PV, generating enough electricity to power some 3.4 million German homes. Italy is on the move and now ranks fourth in the world with 3,500 megawatts PV power capacity. Its official 2020 goal was 8000 megawatts, but it is likely to meet that target this year, and Enel, Italy’s leading utility, sees the country reaching 30,000 megawatts by 2020–enough to satisfy half of its current residential electricity needs.

Roney acknowledges that although the cost of solar has fallen substantially it is not yet widely price-competitive with fossil fuel-sourced power. However that’s only because the latter is heavily subsidized and protected from its external costs. If that protection were removed from fossil fuels PV would quickly be revealed as one of the least expensive sources of power.

The article in conclusion emphasises that the potential for solar power is practically without a limit. It links to a 2011 article published in Energy Policy which shows that solar PV deployed in suitable locations could generate 30 times the electricity currently produced worldwide. That article itself is well worth reading as a careful estimate of the adequacy of wind, water and sunlight (WWS) as sources of all the world’s energy requirements. It suggests producing all new energy with WWS by 2030 and replacing the pre-existing energy by 2050. Barriers to the plan are primarily social and political, not technological or economic. The energy cost in a WWS world should be similar to that today.

None of that overcomes the political barriers, but it does give confidence to those who want to keep challenging shallow politicians and their puppet masters in the fossil fuel industry.

Added to the pleasure I took from the two articles was that which came from listening to what Jigar Shah, CEO of the Carbon War Room had to say in a podcast interview on Climate Progress. (The interview starts about half way through the podcast.) The Carbon War Room, founded by Richard Branson among others, works to help capital flow to entrepreneurial solutions to climate change, focusing on solutions that make economic sense right now.  Shah makes it clear that solar, wind and electric cars, which now have a long track record, are ready for the trillion dollar investment that they need. He considers that renewables are already cheaper for new capacity than natural gas. Asked about the doubters, Shah replies that some are ignorant, but some, such as the big oil companies are better described as diabolical:

They’ll say: ’we need all of the above.’ Or they say: ’we are huge supporters of solar and wind if only their costs would come down by 20%. Then, you know, if there were big breakthroughs in the technology, we’d be huge supporters.’

No, that actually just means that they don’t love solar and wind. It actually means that they hate those technologies and that, in fact, they are trying to figure out, using white lies, how to undermine those technologies… They’re actually trying to figure out how to play a nice PR trick to marginalize you.

Stephen Lacey, the interviewer, asks him at what point we can expect to see our incremental energy come from renewables.

Within this decade. Within this decade in the western world you’ll see — in Europe any day now and in the US probably by 2015 or so — you’ll see no new natural gas…no new coal plants.

To make money on shale gas the producers need gas prices which make it more expensive in new capacity than new solar and new wind. So there’s no need for natural gas.

I’m not saying that by 2015 we’ll stop burning natural gas I’m simply saying that on an incremental basis we don’t need any more new natural gas plants.

Asked about the storage issue for renewables Shah said there are lots of easy ways to solve that problem. We don’t need baseload plants. Coal power plants are the opposite of baseload — 12 percent of unplanned outages each year just throws the entire system into a frenzy. Engineers are not too stupid to implement intermittent technologies. We know how to solve the problem, we just have a political problem with a bunch of people who haven’t figured out how to use the internet.

Is the separation between what’s happening on the ground in the business community and the perceptions in politics and the press greater than ever?

Yeah, I think that when you look at renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean cars and clean technologies, those technologies are moving forward unabated. It actually doesn’t matter what [anyone] says – doesn’t matter because those entrepreneurs, the thousands of them that are in every single city in every single country are moving forward as though they’ve never heard you and I speak. So they don’t actually care what you and I have to say. They’re moving forward.

Dare we hope that political denial and delay will be outflanked by entrepreneurial innovation and deployment of technologies? Might this mean that fossil fuels are made redundant even while we’re going to extraordinary lengths to locate and exploit them?  It’s a happy thought to entertain.

Back to the futures forum Gareth Renowden May 11

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

A brief note to let you know that all the presentations at the recent Climate Futures Forum organised by the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute at VUW have now been made available for web viewing. There’s a good deal of gold in there: presentations by Martin Manning, David Karoly and Bob Gifford will especially repay the diligent viewer. Slides are available for many of the talks. You can also view the “authors discussion” between Fred Pearce, Erik Conway and myself. My other gig, an evening café session with Lloyd Geering, Robert Gifford, and Bronwyn Hayward will be broadcast on Radio NZ National’s science programme Our Changing World tomorrow night (Thursday May 12), and will also be available as a podcast from the RNZ site.

Routefinding the future: reflecting on the climate futures forum Gareth Renowden Apr 05

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Two busy days in Te Papa last week, and a lot to think about. The Climate Futures Forum organised by the Climate Change Research Institute at VUW was fascinating and disturbing in equal measure. Fascinating because it’s hard not to be interested when a lot of very smart people are feeding you information, and disturbing because they provided a stark reminder of how hard is the task that confronts us all. Below the fold: some reasonably random thoughts on the forum, interviews with some of the key speakers, and a summing up based on Jonathan Boston‘s remarks at the close of the forum.

The conference opened with a traditional mihi, and after a welcome from Wellington’s new Green mayor Celia Wade-Brown, climate change minister Nick Smith took the opportunity to announce that the government would be formalising its commitment to a target of a net emissions reduction of 50% by 2050. He seemed a bit surprised to be greeted by at least one person hissing disapproval, but would have done himself, the government and the people of New Zealand a bigger favour by staying to hear the presentations made by professors Martin Manning and David Karoly. Manning, the outgoing head of the CCRI, examined the balance of risks confronting us, with special reference to recent extreme weather events, while David Karoly explained that atmospheric carbon was a stock problem, not a flow problem. Because CO2 is a very long-lived gas in the atmosphere, we can only emit about another 1,000 billion tonnes in total (ie ever) if we want to have a reasonable chance of staying under 2ºC of warming — and that has some interesting implications for the way we think about emissions, as he explained to me in this short interview:

Listen!

The afternoon’s proceedings were concerned with the communication of climate issues. Erik Conway led off with a brief canter through the story told in Merchants of Doubt. Here’s a short interview with Conway, in which he reflects on the vicious nature of the campaign to derail action:

Listen!

Fred “Climate Files” Pearce was next on stage. After emphasising that there had undoubtedly had been a “powerful” and “corrosive” campaign to derail action on climate change, he then proceeded to call Steve McIntyre a “data libertarian” with a straight face. Perhaps Fred has never noted the fact that McIntyre’s first contact with the George Marshall Institute (the original mercantilists dealing in manufactured uncertainty) came in 2004, and that he’s been up to his neck in contacts with doubt merchants ever since. Favourite moment of day one: David Frame and David Wratt in one of the break-out sessions, each with microphones leaning in towards Pearce to ask pointed questions about his take on “climategate”.

Day two opened with a series of presentations on human behaviour and how it conditions our actions and reactions to climate change. Professor Robert Gifford, an environmental psychologist from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, gave a memorable presentation: “The Dragons of Inaction: Why We Do Less Than We Should, and How We Can Overcome”. Here he is, discussing some of those dragons:

Listen!

One more interview: Dr David Frame, currently at Oxford University but set to take over the reigns at the CCRU later this year, gave an interesting presentation about what might happen if you look at the climate problem as having three international “actors” — and the potential that offers for scenarios he describes as a Mexican standoff or a low carbon race. The latter would be most people’s choice. Here he gives a summary:

Listen!

So: to Jonathan Boston’s summary. He pulled out three key requirements:

  • the need to take account of the nature of the issue: that it can be framed in different ways, and that it can be both long, slow and relentless and yet show up in extreme weather events
  • that we have to take the “human condition” seriously, recognise the cognitive issues that make action difficult
  • that ethics and morality are of critical importance, especially in coming to terms with the intergenerational nature of the problem.

Boston also noted the need for an independent, science-based institution to inform government policy making (along the lines of the UK climate change committee, perhaps), commented on the importance of considering cumulative carbon emissions, and wondered if China was positioning itself to win Dave Frame’s “low carbon race”.

From my perspective the two days were extremely valuable. I was staggered at how many of the delegates were Hot Topic readers: it seems that Bryan and I have a small but select audience. I shall have to be careful about blogging after a glass or three of wine in future… ;-) In some respects it was like going back to college: my middle-aged self remembering the excitement of learning new things, and thinking new thoughts. But it was, more than anything else, a great relief to remind myself that a lot of very smart people are working on this issue, and that if all took to prevail was the application of intelligence, there would be no problem to confront. But it takes more than that. We have dragons to slay…

Te Papa (got a brand new climate bag) Gareth Renowden Mar 24

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

I’m off to Wellington next week to take part in the NZ Climate Change Research Institute‘s Climate Futures Forum being held in Te Papa on Thursday and Friday. The forum’s organised around four themes:

  • Climate change and society’s challenge
  • Communication between the science community and society
  • Human behaviour and the capacity to change
  • Towards durable decision-making

There’s a great line-up of speakers and participants: scientists David Karoly, Martin Manning and Dave Frame, science writers Fred Pearce and Erik Conway (Naomi Oreskes’ co-author on Merchants of Doubt) and many others. I’m taking part in a “café” session on the Thursday evening (giving a short 8 minute talk) and then on Friday evening joining Pearce and Conway on stage at the Soundings Theatre in the museum at 6-30pm to discuss climate communication (Sean Plunket in the chair, tickets are free). I’ll be trying to grab a few interviews for future Climate Shows, but most of all I’ll be listening and learning (and perhaps tweeting/blogging a bit, if I have time). Promises to be a fascinating few days, even if I don’t go to see the colossal squid.

Just in from the RSNZ newsletter: Professor Martin Manning, Founding Director, NZ Climate Change Research Institute, invites members of the public to attend two events which are part of the climate change forum on 31 March and 1 April.

  • Café session (free) ‒ What can we do as individuals? ‒ panel hosted by Ian Wedde with Gareth Renowden, Sir Lloyd Geering, Professor Bob Gifford and Dr Bronwyn Hayward. 31 March, 6.30 – 8.00pm, Te Papa.
  • Breakfast session (free) ‒ Responding to big risks ‒ panel hosted by Chris Laidlaw with Martin Kreft, Fred Pearce, Colin James and Professor David Karoly. 1 April, 7.00am – 8.30am, Te Papa.

For more information, and to register for the forum and these events, visit www.confer.co.nz/climate_futures – email , or phone 04 463 5507.

[Update: Thursday evening Café Session and Friday business breakfast events are now free, thanks to sponsorship by the British High Commission. You'll still need tickets though, so contact Liz for more info.]

[James Brown, of course]

A new journalistic fiction Bryan Walker Jul 09

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Of all the comments on Muir Russell’s climategate report the one that resonated most with me was that of Oxford physicist Myles Allen (pictured). ’What everyone has lost sight of is the spectacular failure of mainstream journalism to keep the whole affair in perspective.’ When the Guardian is part of that failure the word ‘spectacular’ is warranted.

Unfortunately Fred Pearce, presumably with the support of environment editor James Randerson, continues to treat the East Anglia scientists as if they have been guilty of serious offences. Here’s how he opens his ‘analysis’ of the Russell report:

Generally honest but frequently secretive; rigorous in their dealings with fellow scientists but often “unhelpful and defensive”, and sometimes downright “misleading”, when explaining themselves to the wider world.

On the report:

Many will find the report indulgent of reprehensible behaviour, particularly in peer review, where CRU researchers have been accused of misusing their seniority in climate science to block criticism.

Have been accused by whom? Why, by none other than Pearce himself. He presumably remains disgruntled that his suggestions of serious misconduct haven’t been upheld.

And there’s more in this vein. 

Pearce appears determined to vindicate his own rush to judgment on the matter, and he seems to have editorial support. The Guardian editorial, although acknowledging that the main thrust of the Russell report is that the science of climate change is solid, goes out of its way to emphasise blameworthy behaviour from the scientists:

There was an attempt to restrict debate, denying access to raw data and peer-reviewed journals to outsiders and the unqualified. In a sense, climate change scientists began to ape the obsessive culture of their sceptical critics… One can understand why the scientists behaved as they did. But this does not make it right…

[The emails] show a closed and arrogant attitude on the part of some of those involved, protective of their data sets and dismissive of outsiders.

My dismay that the Guardian should give what seems to me disproportionate weight to the Russell report’s findings related to freedom of information was exacerbated when I opened our copy of the current Guardian Weekly yesterday to find that an article of Pearce’s written prior to the release of the report was given prominence. In it he consulted Mike Hulme, Judith Curry, Hans von Storch and Roger Peilke Jr amongst others to demonstrate that climategate has changed science ’forever’. The thrust of the article is that scientists have heretofore been secretive with their data and have hidden the uncertainties of their science from public view, but they won’t be able to do that any more. Not being a scientist I have no knowledge of what secretiveness with data means, but in all the books and articles and reports I have now read by climate scientists or about climate science I have seen no sign at all of uncertainties being hidden. Quite the opposite. Pearce reports Curry as saying that as a result of climategate the outside world now sees that ’the science of climate change is more complex and uncertain than they have been led to believe’. That’s a baseless and foolish comment. ’Led to believe’ implies that some kind of deliberate deception has been going on. Roger Pielke Jr of course doesn’t hesitate to speak of ’the pathological politicisation of the climate science community.’ Von Storch draws the conclusion that ’People now find it conceivable that scientists cheat and manipulate, and…need societal supervision…’ Mike Hulme is more circumspect, claiming only that a new tone has appeared in which researchers ’are more upfront, open and explicit about their uncertainties.’

A new journalistic fiction is in the making..

Perhaps it’s inevitable that journalists like Pearce will remain determined to justify the significance they initially saw in the hacked emails (Gareth adds: especially if, like Pearce, they have a book to sell on the subject). If so, one can only hope that they will get it over with quickly. May Gareth’s ’final fizzle’ prove an apt description. At least Pearce and the Guardian do not deny the reality and seriousness of climate change.  But the whole issue has been a sidetrack from the main thoroughfare along which we might have made some progress in the months of virtual standstill. Myles Allen has got it right when he speaks of an absence of perspective. It has helped draw attention away from the looming threat ahead. It has also provided the forces of denial and delay with ammunition which they have used to maximum effect.

Something for the weekend Gareth Renowden Jul 02

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Lazy blogging. Just links to a few things I think you might find interesting to read (and a performance to enjoy) while I get some work done. First up: Swiss Re, the giant reinsurance company, has published a handy new report called Climate sceptic arguments and their scientific background (pdf), written by Swiss scientist Urs Neu for ProClim. It deals with common sceptic arguments under three headings — global warming, forcing factors and carbon dioxide. Everything’s referenced back to the literature, the graphics are good, and if you thought my recent thoughts on rainfall extremes were mere speculation, you might find section A6 interesting.. ;-) (Hat tip to Mr Rabett).

Last week’s New Scientist had an excellent feature on CO2‘s role in the world’s climate history by Anil Ananthaswamy. This is the last paragraph:

So while many of the details have yet to be settled, the big picture emerging from studies of past climate couldn’t be clearer. Carbon dioxide is the most important of the many factors affecting the planet’s climate. And if we double the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, we can expect the temperature to rise around 3 °C in the short term and keep climbing over the following centuries.

The web version lacks the nice graphics you get in the magazine, but is still well worth reading. Also in that issue of New Scientist, Chris Mooney reviews Fred Pearce’s book on “climategate” and finds he fell for the sceptic framing.

Climategate is certainly a story for our science-politicising times. But so is our failure to zoom out – way, way out – and understand it.

Here’s a nice quote from a piece by Andrew Simms in the Guardian, 77 months and counting:

The thinker Zygmunt Bauman makes the point that the “the good society is the society that is convinced it is not good enough.” He calls gardeners, “obsessive compulsive utopians,” always trying to improve the world around them in a job that is never complete.

That explains where I’m likely to spend a lot of time over the next month, obsessively pruning vines and hunting truffles. Simms is making the “quality not quantity” argument rather well, I think.

In other news: Meridian’s plans for a wind farm up the road from me (between Greta Valley and Motunau) are attracting local opposition, Jim Hopkins in the Herald demonstrates his rare facility for looking foolish, Cryosat-2, the new European satellite that promises to provide important information about sea ice and ice sheets is performing really well, and the Arctic sea ice carries on melting. Have a good weekend.

[PS: I've been tweaking the blog recently, as the observant may have noticed. The most recent innovation is a caching system which is supposed to speed up page loads and general site responsiveness. It seems to be working fine at my end, but let me know if it causes any issues.]

[The Divine Comedy]

Dogged Pearce still hounding Jones Bryan Walker Apr 01

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Fred Pearce is a fine one to speak of a rush to judgment. Many of his Guardian articles on the UEA emails did just that. (See Pearced to the Heart and Defending the Indefensible on Hot Topic) Yet that is the accusation he levels at yesterday’s report of the parliamentary committee’s investigation into the matter.  Essentially because, he claims, they avoided investigating the more complex charges such as those raised by him in the Guardian series.

What he seems most concerned with is that Jones got off lightly. 

’The MPs are clear that there are serious issues to address both in climate science and in the operation of freedom of information law in British universities. But in their desire not to single out Jones, they end up bending over backwards to support a man who is the pillar of the establishment they are criticising.’

Here is what the report concluded:

’The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, we consider that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. We have suggested that the community consider becoming more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies. On accusations relating to Freedom of Information, we consider that much of the responsibility should lie with UEA, not CRU.’

Not enough for Pearce.  It lets Jones off too lightly:

’… whatever standard practice may be, surely as one of climate science’s senior figures, Jones should take some responsibility for its misdemeanours? Jones has worked for the CRU for more than 20 years and been its director for six. The MPs found there a “culture of withholding information” in which “information may have been deleted to avoid disclosure.” It found this “unacceptable”. Doesn’t its director take responsibility?’

What does Pearce want?  Resignation?  Dismissal?  The parliamentary committee received submissions, examined Jones, affirmed that it had seen nothing which suggests the science from the CRU is faulty, said Jones should be reinstated and made recommendations for changed practices in  future in the interests of the science being irreproachable.  There are further investigations to come.  Meanwhile the globe continues to warm.  It seems to me that Pearce as an environmental journalist ought to be able to find more useful occupation for his talents than arguing with the verdict of the committee. Jones might have earned a period of respite. The Guardian should call off its dogs.

Defending the indefensible: Guardian responds to RC critics Bryan Walker Mar 27

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

RealClimate has given James Randerson, editor of the Guardian’s environmental website, the opportunity to respond to two RealClimate posts on the Guardian’s ’investigation’ into the hacked CRU emails.  I found his response disappointing. He points to the Guardian’s climate change credentials. They are certainly for the most part good, though in view of the overwhelming scientific evidence that ought not to be remarkable in a newspaper pitched to an educated readership. However in this time of intellectual chaos in the media’s relationship to science we have to be thankful for what we ought to be able to take for granted.

But Randerson doesn’t seem to comprehend that the series of Fred Pearce’s articles on the emails frequently fell far short of the journalistic standards the Guardian normally sets. He speaks of the strong public demand for an in-depth journalistic account of what the emails tell us about how climate scientists operate, and paints the Guardian’s response as unparalleled.

’No other media organisation has come close to producing such a comprehensive and carefully researched attempt to get to the bottom of the emails affair.’

I wrote about one of those ’carefully researched’ articles here on Hot Topic. On the sketchiest of evidence, and a prejudiced reading at that, it managed to imply that Phil Jones and Michael Mann were guilty of improper behaviour, damaging to the publication of scientific papers.  

Randerson goes on to provide a justification for the exercise:

’…only by looking thoroughly under every rock can those of us pressing for action on climate change maintain with confidence that the scientific case remains sound. Fred’s investigation shows that confidence is indeed well placed…’

Thank you Fred, but we knew that already.  Why, along the way to this conclusion, did you feel the need to throw doubt on the integrity of some of the scientists doing the work?  Well, says Randerson, there were ’troubling issues’ in the emails, and if you can’t see that there’s something wrong with you:

’… but to claim that the emails do not throw up some troubling issues looks like the inward-looking mentality that is sometimes (perhaps understandably) expressed in the emails themselves.’

Randerson then claims four significant results from the Guardian investigation. One is the matter of the siting of Chinese rural weather stations that figured in a paper Jones wrote in 1990 (twenty years ago!). It’s a complicated story, which I won’t try to retell here, but Jones has since said that he now realises that some of the stations had moved their sites and that he would think about the possibility of submitting a correction.

Randerson claims credit:

’To our knowledge, no other media organisation or blogger had used the emails to shed light on the controversy over the 1990 paper so a correction would not be on the table without the Pearce investigation.’

Randerson’s second claim also relates to the same highly damaging article on the China temperature data, in which Pearce wrote:

’It also further calls into question the integrity of the scientist at the centre of the scandal over hacked climate emails, the director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), Dr Phil Jones. The emails suggest that he helped to cover up flaws in temperature data from China that underpinned his research on the strength of recent global warming.’

Randerson doesn’t reassert this, but denies that they were supporting the climate sceptic Douglas Keenan in their pursuit of the question.  They weren’t in as many words, but in terms of the general tone of the article most readers could have been forgiven for thinking they were. 

His third claim is that in spite of having made three corrections to their original article on the hockey stick graph this did not change the main point the article was making, which was that in 1999, Mann’s hockey-stick reconstruction was the subject of intense academic debate amongst climate scientists. When I first read the article it seemed a good deal more slanted than that.  The sub-heading reads: ’Pioneering graph used by IPCC to illustrate a compelling story of man-made climate change raises questions about transparency.’

Randerson’s final claim related to the Freedom of Information Act, which he describes as a serious issue worthy of discussion and debate.  So it is, provided the discussion includes the fact that the requests for information were clearly orchestrated and overwhelming in their demands.  That deniers’ tactic has obviously spread to the US.   In a recent email James Hansen writes:

’We are continually burdened by sweeping FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, which reduce our ability to do science and write it up (perhaps this is their main objective), a waste of tax-payer money.  Our analyses are freely available on the GISS web site as is the computer program used to carry out the analysis and the data sets that go into the program…

’The material that we supplied to some recent FOIA requests was promptly posted on a website, and within minutes after that posting someone found that one of the e-mails included information about how to access Makiko Sato’s password-protected research directory on the GISS website…Within 90 minutes, and before anyone else who saw this password information thought it worth reporting to GISS staff, most if not all of the material in Makiko’s directory was purloined by someone using automated “web harvesting” software and re-posted elsewhere on the web. The primary material consisted of numerous drafts of webpage graphics and article figures made in recent years.
 
’It seems that a primary objective of the FOIA requestors and the “harvesters” is discussions that they can snip and quote out of context.’

Back to Randerson on RealClimate. He considers that by inviting comment from qualified people on the email articles the Guardian has succeeded in creating a definitive account of the emails and the intention is to expand it into a book.

’This represents an extraordinary commitment to transparency that we believe is unique in journalism. What other news organisation would open itself to direct criticism in this way including, for example, annotations that read ’this is absolutely false’ and ’this is really bad’?

The best thing the Guardian could now do is to reflect that those annotations may well be the correct verdict and let the idea of a book quietly die.

CRU’s Jones on the stand: Pearce offers opinion as news Bryan Walker Mar 02

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Fred Pearce is obviously unrepentant over the unjust treatment he meted out to Phil Jones in his unfortunate series of artices on the UEA emails, one of which I commented on here. He has just produced an extraordinarily slanted account of Jones’ questioning from the Parliamentary committee set up to look into the affair. How’s this for openers?

’Jones did his best to persuade the Commons science and technology committee that all was well in the house of climate science. If they didn’t quite believe him, they didn’t have the heart to press the point. The man has had three months of hell, after all.’

Then Pearce offers two highly prejudicial descriptions of Jones’ actions, each linked to one of his own articles:

’Jones’s general defence was that anything people didn’t like — the strong-arm tactics to silence critics, the cold-shouldering of freedom of information requests, the economy with data sharing — were all “standard practice” among climate scientists.’

Pearce expresses disappointment that one of his own pet projects was not pursued by the committee:

’Nobody asked if, as claimed by British climate sceptic Doug Keenan, he had for two decades suppressed evidence of the unreliability of key temperature data from China.’

Gavin Schmidt has comprehensively dealt with this claim on Real Climate (see his comments on part 5). If Pearce is aware of what Schmidt wrote he is undeterred by it and again links to his own article as demonstrating the topic worthy of the attention of a parliamentary committee.

Then Pearce apparently leaves the scene of the parliamentary committee and offers his own account of what he claims Jones has conceded publicly about the 1990 China study, translating Jones’ ‘slightly different conclusion’ into his own ‘radically different findings’.  

There are other important Pearce conclusions which the committee failed to investigate, again expressed in prejudicial terms:

’Nor did the MPs probe how conflicts of interest have become routine in Jones’s world of analysing and reconstructing past temperatures. How, as the emails reveal, Jones found himself intemperately reviewing papers that sought to criticise his own work. And then, should the papers somehow get into print, judging what place they should have in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), where he and his fellow emails held senior positions.’

Pearce takes comfort from his feeling that the committee will have to pay closer attention to the issue in the light of the written submission from the Institute of Physics which is highly critical of the emailers.  He doesn’t mention that John Beddington, the government’s chief scientific adviser, told the committee the institute’s view was “premature” and that they should wait until the Russell inquiry publishes its findings in the spring.

Pearce’s Guardian report is clearly an opinion piece but not presented as such. It is an extraordinary example of the authority some journalists have taken upon themselves to declare judgment on matters of which they have shown very little knowledge. Pearce is not a climate change sceptic, but he is hounding a group of climate scientists and seems fired up by the thrill of the chase. It’s a sad spectacle in a leading newspaper.

[GR adds: The Guardian's David Adam provides a more balanced overview here, and the paper's live blog of the session is worth a look.]
[GR update: Simon Hoggart's take: "Whatever your view on man-made global warming, you had to feel sorry for Professor Phil Jones.."]

Pearced to the heart: Fred gets it wrong Bryan Walker Feb 18

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

I have been a reader of the Guardian newspaper for 55 years and was more than a little astonished when they ran a series of articles by prominent environmental journalist Fred Pearce on the stolen University of East Anglia emails. For that matter I was surprised that Fred Pearce wrote them. He is no climate change denialist, and makes it perfectly clear that the emails in no way alter the case that humans are warming the planet. But he seems to have taken them at the face value the hackers presumably hoped for, and drawn some unjustified and unfair conclusions. The Guardian obviously thought he was on to something significant. A ’major investigation’ they proclaimed, getting at the ’real story’. Revelations and exposures abound.

Let’s take a closer look at one of the revelations. It’s an article claiming that the emails reveal ’strenuous efforts by the mainstream climate scientists to do what outside observers would regard as censoring their critics’.  It was the one chosen for inclusion in the latest Guardian Weekly. As a reader of that paper I’d been quietly hoping we’d be spared the sight of any of the articles, but there it was, on the science page, with the lurid headline ’Research red in tooth and claw.’  

Pearce claims that there have been obvious cracks in the peer-review system for years, mentioning an open letter from 14 stem cell researchers to journal editors to highlight their dissatisfaction with the process, alleging a small scientific clique is using peer review to block papers from other researchers.

From there he jumps to the emails, where he claims ’many will see a similar pattern.’  Phil Jones, as a top expert in his field, was regularly asked to review papers ’and he sometimes wrote critical reviews that may have had the effect of blackballing papers criticising his work.’

Pearce quotes from a 2004 email in which Jones mentions that he had recently rejected two papers from people saying CRU (his climate research unit) has it wrong over Siberia.  ’If either appears I will be very surprised.’   Pearce acknowledges that Jones doesn’t say why he rejected the papers (might it have been that they were poor science?).  Pearce also doesn’t know what the papers were, but announces that the Guardian has established that one of them was probably from Lars Kamel, a Swedish astrophysicist who analysed temperature records from parts of southern Siberia and claimed to find much less warming than Jones. 

Pearce admits that Kamel’s paper could be criticised as being slight and lacking in detail about its methods of analysis.  However, he surmises, Jones would have known that Kamel called mainstream climate research ’pseudo-science’ and that publication of the article in a serious journal would have attracted the attention of professional climate sceptics. (Presumably suggesting that this would prejudice Jones in his estimation of the paper?) In spite of the paper’s inadequacy Pearce says that because it was a rare example of someone trying to replicate Jones’ analysis ’some would have recommended its publication.’

So is Pearce suggesting that if a scientist of Jones’ stature considers papers to be lacking scientific rigour he shouldn’t say so, lest he might be instrumental in persuading an editor not to publish them?  Or is he suggesting that Jones deliberately sets out to prevent publication of anything which questions his own position?  He hardly makes himself clear, but succeeds, on the basis of much conjecture, in casting a slur on Jones’ integrity.

He later makes a good deal of Jones’ ’harsh criticism’ of the journal Climate Research for publishing papers he ’disagreed with’.  It seems to me that Jones and others had every reason for their criticism. Chris de Freitas, the editor responsible for publishing the Soon and Baliunas paper, is our well known crusading climate change denier. He constantly seeks and gains publicity for standard denialist claims (one might not unreasonably say lies) that increases in carbon dioxide don’t dangerously change the climate, that there is no acceleration in sea level rise, that climate scientists exaggerate for the sake of money, and so on. If he accepted the paper against the advice of four reviewers there is every reason to suspect the quality of the journal’s editorship.  But no, Pearce manages to imply that Jones and Mann did something improper and damaging to the publication of scientific papers.

It’s one thing for Pearce to discuss the general question of the mechanics of peer review, but quite another to use Jones as an example of the abuse of the system. That’s a rush to judgment which I find hard to believe the Guardian allowed.

I was pleased to discover that the Guardian at least invited climate scientist Gavin Schmidt of NASA to comment on Pearce’s article.  If you click on the highlighted yellow sections of the article (linked to above) you can see his annotations.  He roundly rejects much of what Pearce has to say. I’m no scientist, but it seemed apparent to me as a general reader that Pearce was pushing the email material way beyond anything it justified.  It was good to have that view confirmed by a working scientist.   

I’m left wondering why this sort of ’investigation’ was ever supported by the Guardian.  It pre-empts the independent review the University has arranged.  It treats stolen and possibly selected emails as evidence, though to do so it has to make all sorts of assumptions about what the authors might have meant. It is manifestly unjust to the scientists concerned and trivialises their work.

Note:  Jones has recently been interviewed by Nature and although there are aspects of the Climategate allegations that he is not able to comment on he defends himself against some of the accusations made against his work.