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Posts Tagged hockey stick

From the trenches: Michael Mann on Wegman and the climate wars Gareth Renowden Mar 08

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The latest video from Peter “Climate Crocks” Sinclair in his new series at The Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media is an extended interview with Michael Mann about his new book (reviewed by Bryan here), and gives an excellent overview of the hockey stick issue — including the Mashey/Deep Climate discovery of plagiarism in the Wegman Report. Michael Mann, the Hockey Stick … and the Climate Wars is well worth watching, if only for the frankly incredible way that Wegman answers a question about carbon dioxide.

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars Bryan Walker Feb 21

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It was clearly never Michael Mann’s wish to be embroiled in the public controversy that has been manufactured by the denial industry around his and his co-authors’ work. He’s a scientist first and foremost, the nine-year-old who wanted to know what it meant to go faster than the speed of light, the high school student whose idea of a fun Friday night was hanging out with his computer buddies writing programmes to solve challenging problems, the Ph.D candidate looking for a big-picture problem to which he could apply his maths and physics interests, the post-doctoral researcher wanting to pursue curiosity-driven science. ’When we first published our hockey stick work in the late 1990s,’ he explains, ’I was of the belief that the role of a scientist was, simply put, to do science.’

In support of that belief he eschewed the notion of taking any position regarding climate change policy. But merely doing the science, resulting in the hockey stick graph which showed a rapid and unprecedented global warming in recent time by comparison with the proxy temperature records of the last thousand years, meant that he was catapulted willy-nilly into public attention. And not just attention, but attack and vilification by the denial campaign. The title of his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines is no overstatement. He has battle scars.  However it’s not a conflict he is prepared to retire from.  He no longer thinks he should avoid communicating the societal implications of climate science. Quite the opposite. He points out that scientists who study climate science and its potential impacts understand better than anyone the nature of the climate change threat. It would be irresponsible in the extreme for scientists to leave the field to industry-funded climate change deniers to confuse and mislead the public and dissuade policy makers from taking appropriate action.

That is certainly what they are intent on doing. Mann recounts the now familiar story of how the tactics used in past industry-funded campaigns denying health and environmental threats have been employed again in the attack on climate science. The denial campaign has been formidably successful in sowing doubt in the public mind and giving the impression of serious differences among climate scientists. Benjamin Santer, Stephen Schneider and James Hansen were among the scientists singled out early for special assault, their integrity impugned and their work dismissed as lacking scientific rigour.  Mann was to join their ranks when the hockey stick graph was given prominence in the 2001 IPCC report. He describes what he calls the ‘Serengeti strategy’ where climate change deniers isolate individual scientists just as predators on the Serengeti Plain pick off vulnerable individuals from the rest of the herd, as if the entire weight of the scientific case for human-caused climate change rested on a handful of scientists.

The suggestion is all the more ridiculous in that Mann consistently makes clear the nature of climate science as a community endeavour. He writes of the science as the fruit of the labours of thousands of scientists from around the world. The hockey stick papers depended on the work of others.  He is at pains to point out that decades of work by paleoclimate researchers ’led to increasingly rich networks of climate proxy data and the introduction of new ways to use such data to reconstruct past climates. My colleagues and I were the beneficiaries of this substantial body of past work.’

Another aspect highlighting the community nature of science is the vigorous challenge of conclusions and methods that is part of the community’s modus operandi. Mann states that scientists are inherently sceptical and science is therefore self-correcting. He points out that arguments have to be robust enough to survive this process of challenge or they fall away. The hockey stick reconstruction is no exception and has received — and survived in its essentials — critical scrutiny from many other scientists. Independent reconstructions by other scientists using different methods and data have been broadly similar to that of the hockey stick. Mann devotes considerable space to addressing the claims of economist Ross McKitrick and blogger Stephen McIntyre that the hockey stick work is statistically flawed, claims which remain staple fare in denialist circles in spite of the wide scientific support for Mann and his colleagues.

The book provides a connected narrative detailing many aspects of the denialist campaign over the past decade.  There was little let-up. Mann records how he was convinced in 2009 that in spite of suffering setbacks the denial campaign was not going to fade away. ’There was too much at stake for the special interests behind the scenes.’  Sure enough disinformation pieces multiplied in the right-wing media. Character attacks against climate scientists were unabated. Phil Jones and colleagues at CRU received a barrage of FOIA demands, as many as 60 in one weekend alone.  The most malicious of all the assaults on climate science, timed for the run-up to the Copenhagen conference, occurred with release of the climategate emails and the accompanying interpretation of malfeasance on the part of the climate scientists concerned. Mann comments that the most disheartening aspect of the affair was the readiness of respected media outlets to give credence to the accusations and innuendo spun by the professional climate change denial machine. Even the Guardian allowed itself to suggest that the scientists were guilty of wrongdoing in journalist Fred Pearce’s sad series of articles.  Climategate brought large volumes of hate email and telephone threats to Mann himself and his family.

In 2010 came the demand from Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli that Virginia University turn over to him every document relating to Mann during his six years on the staff there. Cuccinelli was unsuccessful, but continues to seek ways of pursuing his crusade against Mann. The assault on climate science is far from over. But Mann considers that there has been a change in the readiness of scientists to recognise the magnitude of the threat from denial and to become active in defending the integrity of the science and promulgating the seriousness of what it bodes. He’s certainly not quitting the battlefield himself. In his book he unequivocally espouses the message that if we allow carbon dioxide concentrations to reach 450 parts per million we will have locked in at least two degrees of warming relative to pre-industrial times; this is dangerous interference with the climate system likely to result in devastating sea level rise, more powerful hurricanes, more widespread drought, and increased weather extremes, with adverse impacts on human life and health, animal species, and our environment.

That is the message which the denial movement labours so stridently and so unscrupulously to obscure. Mann testifies to their destructive intent from his own bitter experience, and sounds a clarion call to the defence of science. The book is more than a personal story. Individuals may be targeted but Mann makes it clear that it is no less than science itself which is under assault. The climate wars are not a sideshow; they go to the heart of civilised society.

Gareth adds: Mann talks about his book and the issues it raises in this Youtube video:

[Support Hot Topic by purchasing this book (or any book) through our affiliates: The Book Depository (UK, free shipping worldwide), Fishpond (NZ) and Amazon.com.]

Riddle-me-ree/open thread Gareth Renowden Nov 04

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We haven’t had an open thread for a while, and as there seems to be some desire to discuss Matt Ridley‘s recent lecture at the RSA in Edinburgh (see Bishop Hill for the first appearance thereof), here’s your chance. There’s a lot of other interesting stuff around — feel free to roam. But first, I’d like to offer some observations on Ridley, his lecture and the response from the usual suspects.

  • Ridley is a good writer, and knows how to put together an interesting talk. His RSA lecture is well done, in a technical sense, and unexceptional until he starts talking about climate science.
  • His take on climate science is based on well-known sceptic tropes, and counter factual, to be polite about it. The “science” content is the least interesting aspect of the lecture1.
  • He starts his polemic — and explains his conversion to the cause — by accepting without question the McIntyre take on the hockey stick, as revealed by Mountford’s book.
  • He writes about confirmation bias, apparently unaware that he is exhibiting it himself (although he admits “heretics” may be guilty of it too).
  • The gushing promotion of his talk by Mountford and Watts is hardly surprising, given that he praises them:

    “It is left to the blogosphere to keep the flame of heresy alive and do the investigative reporting the media has forgotten how to do.”

  • The most interesting aspect of Ridley’s talk is that it is a great demonstration of how someone with a predisposition2 to do nothing about climate change can delude themselves by buying into an alternate reality where hockey sticks have been debunked, current temperatures are unexceptional, and future warming must be small.
  • Ridley claims:

    “The remarkable thing about the heretics I have mentioned is that every single one is doing this in his or her spare time. They work for themselves, they earn a pittance from this work. There is no great fossil-fuel slush fund for sceptics.”

    Perhaps not: but there is a well-documented and well-funded PR campaign being run from the US, which has benefitted all the brave heretic bloggers he lauds. The alternate reality they help to sustain is a carefully-crafted product of that campaign.

Anyway, enough Ridley. I have a vineyard to spray, a book to finish, and lunch to eat. Have at it…

  1. Ridley’s take on climate science has been extensively debunked by Skeptical Science, in a three part series that deals with Ridley’s books, climate scepticism, and his role in the collapse of the UK’s Northern Rock bank a few years ago.
  2. Perhaps political, perhaps financial, or perhaps just because of a reluctance to change.

Wegmangate: first blood Gareth Renowden May 17

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Plagiarism by George Mason University professor Edward Wegman and his team — first revealed last year by John Mashey and Canadian blogger Deep Climate — has now been acknowledged by Computational Statistics and Data Analysis. The journal has retracted a paper (Social networks of author-coauthor relationships, by Said, Wegman et al, CSDA 2008) by Wegman’s co-author Yasmin Said and Wegman himself, citing — according to a report by Dan Vergano in USA Today — “evidence of plagiarism and complaints about the peer-review process”. Sections of the paper, itself based on the social networks section of the Wegman Report on the statistics of paleoclimate reconstructions, were copied and pasted from Wikipedia. It was rushed into print in a matter of a few days — extremely unusual in academic publishing.

Most interesting, however, is that Said et al seems to provide an example of an extremely rare beast: a self-refuting paper. Said, Wegman et al suggested that studies where scientists collaborated between institutions could be more liable to bias than papers where the “principal author tends to co-author papers with younger colleagues who were his students”. Said was a PhD student in Wegman’s department.

For the full story, refer to USA Today (original and follow-up), Deep Climate (one and two), with more at Deltoid, and especially at Stoat, where WMC provides an excellent dog/homework cartoon. Meanwhile, the world awaits GMU’s much delayed determination of the original complaints against Wegman and his report made last year…

The 2010 Climate B.S. of the Year Award Gareth Renowden Dec 31

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This a guest post by the Climate BS Awards committee.

Welcome to the 2010 Climate B.S.* of the Year Award. 2010 saw widespread and growing evidence of rapidly warming global climate and strengthening scientific understanding of how humans are contributing to climate change. Yet on the policy front, little happened to stem the growing emissions of greenhouse gases or to help societies prepare for increasingly severe negative climate impacts, including now unavoidable changes in temperature, rainfall patterns, sea-level rise, snowpack, glacial extent, Arctic sea ice, and more. These physical impacts will lead to sharply increased disease, military and economic instabilities, food and water shortages, and extreme weather events, among other things. Without appropriate risk management action, the United States will be hit hard. There is no safe haven. Yet confusion and uncertainty about climate change remain high in the minds of too many members of the public and Congress.

Why? In large part because of a concerted, coordinated, aggressive campaign by a small group of well-funded climate change deniers and contrarians focused on intentionally misleading the public and policymakers with bad science about climate change. Much of this effort is based on intentional falsehoods, misrepresentations, inflated uncertainties, and pure and utter B.S. about climate science. These efforts have been successful in sowing confusion and delaying action — just as the same tactics were successful in delaying efforts to tackle tobacco’s health risks.

To counter this campaign of disinformation, we are issuing the first in what may become a series of awards for the most egregious Climate B.S.* of the Year. In preparing the list of nominees, suggestions were received from around the world and a panel of reviewers — all scientists or climate communicators — waded through them. We present here the top five nominees and the winner of the 2010 Climate B.S.* of the Year Award.

Fifth Place. Climate B.S. and misrepresentations presented by Fox ’News.’

There are many examples of bad science, misrepresentations, omissions of facts, and distortions of climate reality coming from Fox ’News’ (far too many to list here, but we note that Joe Romm just gave Fox his 2010 Citizen Kane Award for ’non-excellence in journalism’ for their misrepresentations of climate science). It seems that Fox has now made it their policy to deny the reality of climate change and has told its reporters to misreport or cast doubt on the science. This policy of disinformation was implemented by Fox News executive Bill Sammon, who ordered staff to cast doubt on climate data in a memo revealed this month. Fox’s political commentators have long used this tactic in their one-sided and biased discussions on climate change but Sammon’s memo seems to direct News staff to slant reporting in direct contradiction to what the scientific facts and scientists actually say.

Fourth Place. Misleading or false testimony to Congress and policymakers about climate change.

While Congress held more hearings in 2010 on climate change than in other recent years, these hearings elicited some astounding testimonies submitted by climate deniers and skeptics filled with false and misleading statements about climate science and total B.S. Examples?

Long-time climate change skeptic Patrick Michaels testified before the House Science and Technology Committee and misrepresented the scientific understanding of the human role in climate change and the well-understood effects of fundamental climatic factors, such as the effects of visible air pollution. Including these effects (as climate scientists have done for many years) would have completely changed his results. Michaels has misrepresented mainstream climate science for decades, as has been noted here, here, and elsewhere, yet he remains a darling of the skeptics in Congress who like his message.

A newer darling of Congressional climate change deniers is Christopher Monckton, who claims to be a member of the British House of Lords (a claim rejected by the House of Lords). Monckton testified before a Senate committee in May and presented such outlandish B.S. about climate that experts (such as John Mashey, Tim Lambert, John Abraham, and Barry Bickmore, to name a few) spent uncounted hours and pages and pages refuting just a subset of his errors.

Third Place. The false claim that a single weather event, such as a huge snowstorm in Washington, D.C., proves there is no global warming.

In February 2010 a big winter storm dumped record piles of snow on the mid-Atlantic U.S., including Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, prompting climate change deniers to use bad weather to try to discredit the reality of global warming. Limbaugh said, ’It’s one more nail in the coffin for the global warming thing.’ Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe got attention with an igloo on the national mall and labeled it ’Al Gore’s new home’ (combining bad science with a personal attack). Senator Jim DeMint said, ’It’s going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries ‘uncle.’’

Record snowfall is not an indicator of a lack of global warming, as has been pointed out in the scientific literature and many, many rounds of Congressional testimony. It merely means that there was a storm and temperatures were close to or below freezing. Indeed global warming can contribute to greater snowfalls by providing extra moisture. Many scientists testifying before the Senate and House of Representatives have explained the difference between a steadily warming planet and occasional extreme cold events in particular spots. But we can expect to see more examples of this kind of B.S. when it gets cold and snowy somewhere, sometime, this winter.

Second Place. The claim that the ’Climategate’ emails meant that global warming was a hoax, or was criminal, as Senator Inhofe tried to argue. In fact, it was none of these things (though the British police are still investigating the illegal hacking of a British university’s computer system and the theft of the emails).

Global warming deniers used out-of-context texts from the stolen emails to claim that global warming was a hoax or that scientists had manipulated data or were hiding evidence that climate change wasn’t happening. These claims are all B.S. A series of independent scientific and academic investigations in the U.S. and the U.K. unanimously concluded that nothing in the stolen emails made any difference to the remarkable strength of climate science (see, for example, the Penn State vindication, the independent Muir Russell and Lord Oxburgh reviews, a British Parliamentary Panel review, and other assessments). Unfortunately, the media gave far more attention to the accusations than to the resounding vindications, and climate deniers continue to spread B.S. about this case.

The bottom line of ’Climategate?’ As a letter in Science magazine signed by 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences said in May 2010: ’there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change.’

WINNER OF THE 2010 CLIMATE B.S.* OF THE YEAR AWARD

First Place goes to the following set of B.S.: ’There has been no warming since 1998’ [or 2000, or…], ’the earth is cooling,’ ’global warming is natural,’ and ’humans are too insignificant to affect the climate.’ Such statements are all nonsense and important for the general public to understand properly.

The reality is that the Earth’s climate is changing significantly, changing fast, and changing due to human factors. The reality of climatic change can no longer be disputed on scientific grounds — the US National Academy of Sciences calls the human-induced warming of the Earth a ’settled fact.’ The evidence for a ’warming’ planet includes not just rising temperatures, but also rising sea levels, melting Arctic sea ice, disappearing glaciers, increasing intense rainfalls, and many other changes that matter to society and the environment. The recent and ongoing warming of the Earth is unprecedented in magnitude, speed, and cause.

This winning set of B.S. appears almost daily in the conservative blogosphere, like here and here and here, consistently in the statements of climate change deniers, and far too often in real media outlets. Actual science and observations from around globe have long shown the opposite (for example, here and here are nice rebuttals with real science). The planet continues to warm rapidly largely due to human activities, and average global temperatures continue to rise. The most recent decade has been the warmest decade on record and 2010 will likely go down as either the warmest or second warmest year in recorded history.

Associated B.S. argues that the famous ’hockey stick’ graph has been disproved. This graph shows the extraordinarily rapid warming of the twentieth century compared to the previous 1000 years. The graph and analysis have been upheld by subsequent researchers and numerous scientific assessments, including one from the US National Academy of Sciences.

To the winners: congratulations, it is long past time your B.S. is recognised for what it is — bad science.

And to the public and the media: be forewarned: all of these and similar bad arguments will certainly be repeated in 2011. It is long past time that this bad science is identified, challenged, and shown to be the B.S. that it is.

The 2010 Climate Bad Science (B.S.) Detection and Correction Team

Peter Gleick, Kevin Trenberth, Tenney Naumer, Michael Ashley, Lou Grinzo, Gareth Renowden, Paul Douglas, Jan W. Dash, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Brian Angliss, Joe Romm, Peter Sinclair, Michael Tobis, Gavin Schmidt, John Cook, plus several anonymous nominators, reviewers, and voters.

[* ’B.S.’ means ’Bad Science’ -- doesn’t it?]

Wegman Report’s ’abysmal scholarship’ revealed Gareth Renowden Sep 30

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A detailed investigation into the genesis of the 2006 Wegman Report — much beloved of climate sceptics because it was critical of the “hockey stick” paleoclimate reconstructions of Michael Mann (et al) — has shown it to be deeply flawed, stuffed with poorly-executed plagiarism, and very far from the “independent, impartial, expert” effort it was presented as to Congress. The new 250 page study, Strange scholarship in the Wegman Report (exec summary, full report) by John Mashey (with considerable assistance from Canadian blogger Deep Climate) finds that:

  • a third of the Wegman Report was plagiarised from other sources, without attribution
  • half of the references in the bibliography are not cited in the main text, and one reference is to “a fringe technology publication by a writer of pseudoscience”
  • a graph of central England temperatures from the first IPCC report was distorted and misrepresented
  • the supposedly impartial Wegman team were fed papers and references by a member of Republican Congressman Joe Barton’s staff
  • Wegman’s social network analysis of the authorship of “hockey team” papers was poor, and did not support the claims made of problems with peer-review in the field

Mashey points out that Wegman “claimed two missions: to evaluate statistical issues of the “hockey stick” temperature graph, and to assess potential peer review issues in climate science”. Instead, its real purpose was to:

#1 claim the hockey stick broken and #2 discredit climate science as a whole. All this was a façade for a PR campaign well-honed by Washington, DC “thinktanks” and allies, under way for years.

If you’ve ever attempted to follow the “hockey stick” controversy, Mashey’s study is an incredibly thorough and detailed dissection of the extent to which the whole effort has been underpinned by the usual suspects — the network of well-funded think tanks and their political allies. His conclusion is telling:

I think this was a well-organized effort, involving many people, to mislead the American public and Congress. The former happens often, but the latter can be a felony, as is conspiracy to do it, and not telling about it. [...] The Wegman Report misleads by avoidance of good scholarship, good science and even good statistics.

More on the Wegman scandal at Deep Climate, Not Spaghetti, and Scott Mandia’s Global Warming: Man or Myth?

Michael Mann fights back Bryan Walker Mar 14

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One sometimes wonders how the scientists most reviled by the denial industry are bearing up under the onslaught.  Michael Mann is one of them, so I was interested to listen to him being interviewed by Chris Mooney on a recent Point of Inquiry podcast. Here is a summary of some of Mann’s responses (not an accurate transcript, though mostly in his words):

On the science:

The bottom line is the basic physics and chemistry of the greenhouse effect. Observation that the globe is warming and that the warming is unusual in the long term context fits what the basic physics and chemistry says. After decades of work by thousands of scientists round the world pursuing every lead — thinking of all the possible different explanations of the phenomena they observe — there is literally no evidence that calls into question the basic radiative properties of greenhouse gases.  You increase greenhouse gas concentrations, you will warm the atmosphere. Questioning that basic reality is almost like questioning the spherical nature of the Earth.

What scientists actually spend time debating and pursuing are issues like feedbacks — the processes that might amplify or diminish that warming. There are open questions relating to such matters as clouds, El Ninos, hurricanes, and so on, which are being actively pursued. But on the basic issue — the scientific community moved on from that question decades ago.

On the strategy of attacks on the science:

The critiques almost never actually discredit a line of evidence or a basic conclusion. They take some small technical part of an analysis, try to manufacture a controversy about that to essentially discredit the work by finding some small potential flaw with one part of an analysis. 

On the hockey stick:

There are more than a  dozen reconstructions; every one of them comes to the same conclusion as our decade-old work that the recent warming is anomalous in at least 1000 years.  Our attackers never want to look at the big picture, never want to look at whether they have any impact on the bottom-line conclusions, because they know that they don’t.

Even if they had been successful in taking down the hockey stick, which they haven’t been, it still wouldn’t amount to undermining the central case for the science.

On concealing data:

All of our data was available in the public domain and any claim to the contrary was dishonest.  The question of making codes public is different and is not considered required as general practice. However I and my collaborators have made a decision to put every scrap of code as well as every scrap of data in public domain at the time we publish a paper.  We’ve gone beyond what the standards of the community are.

On Phil Jones request to delete emails:

It was an email he wrote in the heat of the moment. He was under attack.  Keep in mind this guy  received something like 40 freedom of information demands over a weekend. He was being harassed intentionally and the freedom of information demands that were being made were for materials that CRU legally could not even distribute.  These were frivolous demands. Under that sort of harassment people sometimes say foolish things — we certainly didn’t delete any emails and I don’t think he did himself

On the ’trick’:

This is a good example of how those working to make mischief can take a term that they probably fully know is perfectly innocent in scientific lingo, but exploiting the fact that it sounds very different to a non-technical person. It shows the disingenuousness of those leading the attack. They intentionally misrepresent words and phrases cherry-picked from thousands of emails in a cynical attempt to distort the scientists’ views and cast aspersions on a scientific discipline.

On fighting back:

The idea that scientists under siege should unilaterally disarm, give in to the sometimes criminal attacks of the anti-science forces looking to discredit them and their science, not stick up for their science and their colleagues, not fight back against these criminal efforts to misrepresent them and to impugn their integrity — it would be terribly misplaced if scientists were not to do all they can to fight back

On the difficulties:

Our detractors are extremely well funded, extremely well organised, they have had an attack infrastructure for decades. They developed it during the tobacco wars, they honed it further in other efforts to attack science that industry or other special interests find inconvenient. So they have a very well honed, well funded, organised machine that they are bringing to bear in their attack now against climate science.  It’s like a marine in a battle with a cub scout when it comes to the scientists defending themselves.  We don’t have the resources, the experience: we haven’t been trained, we’re not public relations experts, lawyers, lobbyists, we’re scientists. It’s a classic example of asymmetric warfare.

Many of us didn’t believe it would come to this — the scientific case for the reality of human-caused climate change has been clear now for several years, though there is much we have still to learn. Many of us thought, perhaps somewhat naively that in the end science would carry the day, that the strength of the scientific consensus would be enough. I wasn’t so sure. But what we all underestimated was the degree, the depth of dishonesty, the dirtiness, and cynicism to which the climate change denial movement would be willing to stoop to advance their agenda. 

                                                       *****************

A stout defence from Michael Mann.  What he wasn’t asked and doesn’t say is how high the stakes are.  But anyone who has taken the trouble to understand the basic science knows they are very high indeed.  The attack on climate science is an attack on all humanity.  Not one for which the perpetrators are likely to be called to account, and perhaps it won’t really matter that they’re not.  What matters more is that they call off the campaign, though one suspects that even if they wanted to, the forces they have loosed have so committed themselves that they will not heed any call to come to heel. Meanwhile those of us who are not climate scientists but can see the danger we are in must offer strong support to the science and opposition to the insidious campaign of denial.

Climate Cover-Up Bryan Walker Oct 18

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Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming’This is a story of betrayal, a story of selfishness, greed, and irresponsibility on an epic scale.’ That’s how James Hoggan opens his newly published book Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming. Hoggan initially thought there was a fierce  scientific controversy about climate change. Sensibly he did a lot of reading, only to find to his surprise that there was no such controversy. How did the public confusion arise?  There was nothing accidental about it. As a public relations specialist, Hoggan observed with gathering horror a campaign at work.

“To a trained eye the unsavoury public relations tactics and techniques and the strategic media manipulation became obvious. The more I thought about it, the more deeply offended I became.”

 DeSmogBlog was born to research the misinformation campaigns and share the information widely. This book pulls together some of that research in an organised narrative. Richard Littlemore has assisted Hoggan in the writing. 

Climate scientists are sometimes blamed for not communicating their message clearly enough to the public. If they tried to match the efforts of the denial campaigners as detailed by Hoggan they wouldn’t have any time to do their science. Those who vociferously claim that anthropogenic global warming is still uncertain and doubtful certainly don’t spend time and money on any science. That is not what they are interested in. As far back as 1991 a group of coal-related organisations set out, in their own words, ’to reposition global warming as a theory (not fact)’ and ’supply alternative facts to support the suggestion that global warming will be good.’  This was the pattern of the work done in succeeding years by a variety of corporations and industry associations who devoted considerable financial resources to influence the public conversation. They used slogans and messages they had tested for effectiveness but not accuracy.  They hired scientists prepared to say in public things they could not get printed in the peer-reviewed scientific press. They took advantage of mainstream journalists’ interest in featuring contrarian and controversial science stories. They planned ’grassroots’ groups to give the  impression that they were not an industry-driven lobby. New Zealand’s Climate “Science” Coalition and the International Coalition it helped to found fit this purpose nicely.

Hoggan describes the work of many individuals and organisations who are available for spreading the doctrine of doubt. Conservative think tanks such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) have played a major part in the task in the new millenium. Their donors are well disguised, but in the case of CEI have certainly in the past included ExxonMobil and probably GM and Ford. Their advocacy, such as the infamous TV commercials portraying the benefits of carbon dioxide, obviously involves heavy expenditure.

Lists of scientists reportedly expressing dissent over anthropogenic global warming have become a staple of the denial crusade. Hoggan discusses some of these lists and comments:

’The beauty of this tactic as a method of keeping the debate alive is that none of these ‘scientists’ ever have to conduct any actual research or put their views forward to be tested in the scientific peer-review process. They don’t even have to be experts in a related field. And they certainly don’t have to win the argument. As long as groups of scientists are seen to be disagreeing, the public continues to assume that the science is uncertain.’ 

Apparent throughout Hoggan’s book is the lack of substance to the denial campaign. According to them, the Mann hockey stick is a ’notorious intellectual swindle’. The impression is sedulously fostered that statistical investigation has shown the graph to be false. But Hoggan points out that the ideologists are uncurious about whether Mann’s work has been tested by other scientists or confirmed or falsified by the use of other methods or other proxy data sources. He dryly comments that the reason is that the other climate-reconstruction graphs published since Mann produce enough hockey sticks to outfit a whole team and then some. 

A significant movement in the campaign in more recent times has been a change of emphasis from denial that anthropogenic warming is occurring to claims that there is no need to rush into measures to mitigate it. Bjorn Lomborg argues with apparent passion that he also cares about climate change, but that careful economic analysis shows that more pressing problems like AIDS, malnutrition, and the provision of fresh water to people in the developing world are more important matters and unfortunately don’t at this stage leave enough money for climate change mitigation. Frank Maisano specialises in media communication. He supplies thousands of reporters and important people in industry and politics with useful material on energy issues.  Underlying it though is a consistent argument that climate change, though real, is either impossible or too expensive to fix. 

In his chapter on the manipulated media Hoggan acknowledges the complexity issue in relation to global warming. Indeed he extends a lot of understanding to reporters and editors.  They are under pressure and the science takes some understanding. The temptation to fall back on balance has been strong. However he notices that increasingly the balance model is being abandoned, and is insistent that it’s past time for people in the media to check their facts and start sharing them ethically and responsibly with the public.

Hoggard’s book is a thoughtful and sustained exposure of  a movement which has done great harm. I read it with close interest and shared his dismay. I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how denial has had such a charmed run. His presentation is painstaking and reasonable. There’s nothing shrill about it, and his justifiable anger is relatively muted.  He urges his readers not to take him at face value but to do some checking of his material and satisfy themselves that it is reliable. Nevertheless the activity he describes is rightly characterised as betrayal, selfishness, greed and irresponsibility. The people who have launched the highly successful campaign of denial and delay are not attending to the work of a body of outstanding scientists although that work is of utmost import for human life. They have turned what should have been a public policy dialogue driven by science into a theatre for a cynical public relations exercise of the most dishonest kind. Instead of looking at the seriousness of the warnings they have sensed a threat to their business profitability and made that their motivating factor. They have spread a false complacency and the result has been a twenty year delay in addressing an issue of high urgency. 

Hoggard thought at first that David Suzuki was a bit over the top when he wondered out loud whether there was a legal way of throwing Canada’s so-called leaders into jail for criminal action (or inaction) in relation to climate change. But then he recognised Suzuki was right, in the sense that it will indeed be a crime if we do not demand of our leaders that they start fixing this problem, beginning today.

 ’And the punishment will be visited on our children and on their children through a world that is unrecognisable, perhaps uninhabitable.’

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