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Put it there pal: the real story of Chris de Freitas and Climate Research Gareth Renowden Nov 30

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The release of another batch of emails from the stash stolen a couple of years ago from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia may not have gained much attention in global media, but there has been a great deal of huffing and puffing at sceptic blogs such as µWatts and Climate Audit. Watts trumpets this news, for example:

BOMBSHELL An absolutely disgusting string of communications that shows the tribal attempt at getting an editor of a journal fired on made up issues — all because he allowed a publication that didn’t agree with ’the Team’. This is ugly, disturbing, and wrong on every level.

Introducing a post copied from a New Zealand sceptic blog, given the headline The tribalistic corruption of peer review — the Chris de Freitas incident — Watts adds:

This is outright malicious interference with the scientific process, and it’s damned ugly. I can’t imagine anyone involved in professional science who could stand idly by and not condemn this.

Unfortunately for Watts and the anonymous (and low profile) NZ blogger who wrote the article, a new analysis by John Mashey of 700+ papers published at Climate Research reveals that the tribalism on display came from a cabal of sceptical scientists, with Auckland University academic Chris de Freitas safely shepherding their papers — however poor the science they contained — through peer pal review.

Mashey’s report, published a few hours ago at DeSmogBlog, reveals that:

  • From 1990 to 1996, Climate Research published no papers by any of the following sceptic “pals”:

    Sallie Baliunas, Robert Balling, John Christy, Robert Davis, David Douglass, Vincent Gray, Sherwood Idso, PJ Knappenberger, Ross McKitrick, Pat Michaels, Eric Posmentier, Arthur Robinson, Willie Soon, and Gerd-Rainer Weber1.

  • de Freitas became an editor at CR in 1997 and then accepted 14 papers in the period up to 2003 from authors with whom he had close ties.
  • Papers from the “pals” accounted for half of his editorial workload.
  • de Freitas acted as editor on seven papers by Patrick Michaels, half of Michaels’ publication record over the period. Mashey describes Michaels as “king of the pals”.
  • After de Freitas resigned his editorial role in 2003, publications from the pals stopped appearing in Climate Research.

The cosy relationship between the pals and their tame editor finally came to an end with the publication of a paper by Soon and Baliunias, Proxy climatic and environmental changes of the past 1000 years2 (pdf), which purported to find that 20th century temperatures were not unusually high. The paper was published in 2003 and immediately hyped by opponents of action on climate change3. It attracted a rapid and robust rebuttal4. Stephan Lewandowsky at The Conversation gives an excellent account of the fall-out in Climate change denial and the abuse of peer review:

…three editors of Climate Research resigned in protest over its publication, including the incoming editor-in-chief who charged that ’…some editors were not as rigorous in the review process as is otherwise common.’

This highly unusual mass resignation was followed by an even more unusual public statement from the publisher that acknowledged flaws in the journal’s editorial process.

Three editorial resignations and a publisher’s acknowledgement of editorial flaws are not standard scientific practice and call for further examination of the authors and the accepting editor.

So who was guilty of “malicious interference with the scientific process”, as Watts so nicely puts it? The climate scientists complaining amongst themselves that yet another crap paper had been shepherded through peer review by a complaisant editor, or that editor himself — a man with a six year record of allowing papers of dubious quality written by his sceptic tribe to appear in a reputable journal? The real scandal was the abuse of peer review by the pals to further their political objectives.

There’s an obvious lesson, and it’s one I pointed out at the time of the original email release. When reading edited highlights of someone else’s emails, context is king5. If you ignore history, and take a carefully selected bunch of emails as your only source, you will end up in blind alleys. As the saying goes, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. To achieve prominence in the climate sceptic echo chamber one eye seems to be all you need.

[Richard Thompson, or Bob & Bing?]

  1. Mashey demonstrates that all these pals — many of them high profile “sceptics” — have worked for or with right wing think tanks in the US and elsewhere, notably the George Marshall Institute and the Heartland Institute. See table on p5.
  2. Climate Research, Vol. 23: 89—110, 2003
  3. It was read into the US Congressional record, for example.
  4. On Past Temperatures and Anomalous Late-20th Century Warmth, Mann et al, Eos, Vol. 84, No. 27, 8 July 2003
  5. As Canadian blogger Deep Climate nicely demonstrates in this excellent take down of email abuse by Ross McKitrick, one of CdF’s pals.

Singing in the rain Bryan Walker Feb 01

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Climate scientists of any public prominence these days are likely to be on the receiving end of hate mail. When they are also activists, as James Hansen acknowledges himself to be, it’s no doubt worse. He has written on his website, under the intriguing title Singing in the Rain, of a recent ’deluge of nasty-language messages saying that I should be fired, deported, run over, etc.’  He comments dryly that such a sudden burst of malice seems unlikely to be spontaneous, and wonders whether a couple of pieces of recent writing aimed at him may have provided the stimulation.

One is by Patrick Michaels in the Washington Times. He had caught up with what Hansen had to say about China, something I covered in Hot Topic last November. Michaels talks of anti-democracy rants, presumably referring to this sentence:

’Democracy of the sort intended in 1776 probably could have dealt with climate change, but not the fossil-money-’democracy’ that now rules the roost in Washington.’

Michaels goes on to accuse Hansen of advocating a ruinous boycott of the US economy, and adds for good measure the old and false accusations that Hansen was wrong in his 1988 climate predictions anyway.

The other piece is a blog by Richard S Courtney which includes the following relating to Hansen’s appearance as an expert witness in the Kingsnorth trial in the UK:

’So, as a result of Dr Hansen speaking to that law court, eco-terrorists have a legal right to attack power stations in the UK. And that right will remain unless and until the UK Parliament alters the law.

’Dr Hansen is an employee of US Government and the US is supposed to be an ally of the UK: n.b. he is de facto an agent of the US. Therefore, Dr Hansen’s actions in this UK legal case are tantamount to an act of war by the US on the UK. For this reason, if for no other, he should be sacked.’

Apart from noting that the Courtney statement mischaracterizes his testimony at the trial, Hansen doesn’t address it but instead uses it as an opportunity to elaborate on an issue which is very much on his mind these days: the intergenerational injustice of human-made climate change. He comments that his testimony at both the Kingsnorth trial and later the Ratcliffe-on-Soar trial (which incidentally, contrary to Courtney’s implication, was in his own time at his own expense) was given at the request of young people on trial. That’s a request he finds hard to decline, recognising himself as part of the generation causing the problem that the young people are beginning to recognize and protest against.

He considers the two different verdicts — acquittal of the Kingsnorth defendants, a guilty verdict for the Ratcliffe-on-Soar defendants.

’The Kingsnorth jury, nine women and three (some young) men were intently interested — you could have heard a pin drop during my testimony. I anticipated acquittal. Nottingham had a different feel…No doubt the jury in Nottingham was fair-minded, but they were more severe in their judgment about whether young people were justified in taking actions to draw attention to the urgency of the situation and its intergenerational injustice.’

He notes also that the Ratcliffe jury were older than the defendants, were members of the generation most responsible for creating the climate problem that young people will need to deal with. But that fact didn’t prevent their voting for conviction.

He considers that part of the reason may be change of public perception of this topic between the Kingsnorth and Ratcliffe trials.

’Media and governments allowed science and pseudo-science to have equal weight, ‘fair and balanced’. Relentless repetition of minor flaws in telephone-book-thick IPCC reports created the public impression that the science may be flawed, even while observations of climate change strengthened and the urgency of action increased.’

To the argument that young people are free to influence public opinion he offers a striking Heartland chart as an example of what they are up against.

’People carrying out these [Heartland] tasks are professional warriors for special interests, well-funded to make the case that global warming and climate disruption are a hoax. Their message is repeated relentlessly. Note that the ‘free market ideas’ phrase in the Heartland bottom line is Orwellian double-speak. They mean the opposite, they want business-as-usual, with fossil fuels subsidized and not required to pay their costs to society.’

His conclusion is tinged with resignation:

’Dear grandchild, this is a monster that you must face. You will need to figure it out. I am sorry. But it is the shape of our democracy today, which we bequeath to you.’

Nothing so far related to singing, but Hansen goes on to speak of Lester Brown putting him in touch with Canadian singer Raffi Cavoukian, suggesting that Raffi’s work on child honouring and Hansen’s book, Storms of My Grandchildren, share a common theme. Hansen recommends a recent essay Raffi has written, The Right to a Future. A shortened version of the essay has appeared on Huffington Post.

’The young have the strongest moral claim on climate action. It’s their future on the line. And they may hold the key to inspiring an emotional tipping point for critical mass.

’We urgently need to embrace social and economic systems that constitute a culture of respect for children and their planetary habitat.’

To finish, here’s Raffi’s global cooling song:

[And Gene Kelly]

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?]

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