Sunday, December 13, 2009

ClimateGate: PR disaster or beginning of openness?

Within Yale Environment 360, one has a discussion of ClimateGate, entitled Climategate: Anatomy of a Public Relations Disaster by one Fred Pearce, described as a freelance author and journalist based in the UK. Mr. Pearce has an entry in Wikipedia, although there is no mention whatsoever of his educational background, as to what degrees, if any, he holds.

Mr. Pearce is notable, among other things, for having an email included among the many within ClimateGate. As Mr. Pearce points out, Baseball Media Watch even discussed it:

A couple of weeks later a blogspot called Baseball Media Watch splashed it under a headline: “‘Biblical intensity’ in search for sign of man-made global warming — and getting money to prove it — ClimateGate email.” It included a couple of sentences from my draft: “For climatologists, the search for an irrefutable ‘sign’ of anthropogenic warming has assumed an almost Biblical intensity... The case remains ‘not proven.’” — 1996, from Fred Pearce.

After going through the "tree ring trick," Pearce gets to a central issue, the way the pro-warming people perceive, and deal with, the anti-warming people:

But it also true that there is plenty of evidence of a bunker mentality among many of the scientists, grousing and plotting against the handful of climate skeptics who, as they saw it, were trying to grab “their” data and then trash it on web sites and in op-ed articles that had far greater influence than the journals in which the scientists usually reported their work. Some of the language is ugly, especially discussion of trying to keep skeptics’ material out of scientific journals. That is not healthy, and it is not good for science. But it is rather understandable.

So, the "pros" were worried that a "handful" of "antis" were going to hijack "their" issue? And, to avoid this, they tried to keep the "antis" out of the (refereed) science journals, so that the "anti" work would be, "by definition", not reputable? This is not good for science AND it is NOT understandable that decent scientists would revert to some primitive tribal mentality to enforce their point of view. Perhaps good as the opening for the movie "2001", but, no, Mr. Pearce, not understandable here.

Mr. Pearce trys to sugar-coat this with well, they were only emails: How many of us could withstand scrutiny of 15 years of our e-mails? But the CRU guys were trying to manipulate journal publications, even if they were not writing this in emails.

Mr. Pearce noted that no one in the (liberal) media tried to defend Professor Jones:

I have concentrated on the media response because that has, to an extraordinary degree, been the story. But there will be other repercussions, when the breathless academics and policymakers catch up. This week there have been calls from members of American Physical Society to amend their 2007 statement declaring climate change an international emergency.

Of the reference to the APS, Mr. Pearce was apparently unaware of the response of APS President Cherry to the "call" from certain members of the APS for an alteration of the previous APS statement, and he might want to fold that in to his comments.
The APS strikes back!

Of the FOIA requests and the failure to disclose data, Pearce writes:

It is worth explaining why that was so. Jones had always refused to release the data, partly, as the e-mails reveal, because he simply didn’t want to and figured those demanding it wanted to trash his life’s work. But it was also partly because he couldn’t — much of the data was obtained with confidentiality agreements attached, including data from his own government’s Met Office.

But later Mr. Pearce suggests that the members of the "pro" tribe did have access to the data (in spite of the confidentiality agreements?): Scientists have generally been good at sharing data within their priesthood — a somewhat closed world of publicly-employed scientists using peer-reviewed journals.

Contrast this "hidden" data world to the world of patents. A patent applicant has to have a "written description" to tell the world what knowledge the applicant possesses AND the applicant has to enable use thereof. What would happen to an applicant who told the patent examiner the data could not be shown because it was confidential?

The final words of the Pearce piece were ominous as to the "pro" position:

I have been speaking to a PR operator for one of the world’s leading environmental organizations. Most unusually, he didn’t want to be quoted. But his message is clear. The facts of the e-mails barely matter any more. It has always been hard to persuade the public that invisible gases could somehow warm the planet, and that they had to make sacrifices to prevent that from happening. It seemed, on the verge of Copenhagen, as if that might be about to be achieved.

But he says all that ended on Nov. 20. “The e-mails represented a seminal moment in the climate debate of the last five years, and it was a moment that broke decisively against us. I think the CRU leak is nothing less than catastrophic.”

If the result of ClimateGate is that everyone gets to look at all the data, and have open dialogue, the result is anything but catastrophic.

Stonewalling should not be in the science discussion. But see:

**The Newark Star-Ledger had a different take than the Stanford professor on the matter:

It turns out, assuming the documents are authentic, that these elite climate scientists were spinning their research. They hid data they didn’t like. They discussed boycotting publications that questioned their conclusions. They talked about using a "trick" to massage data.

They behaved, in short, like a bunch of hacks.

**At discovermagazine, Chris Mooney trashes the Wash Post's Michael Gerson in a post
Michael Gerson Attempts Thoughtfulness on “ClimateGate,” Then Gives it Up

**However, although he whirls around the phrase “war on science,” Gerson clearly doesn’t know what it means.

**So for Gerson to describe the scientists as arrogant, “a community coddled by global elites, extensively funded by governments, celebrated by Hollywood and honored with international prizes”–this is ludicrous. These are people who are regularly slandered, pulled before Congress, and indeed, subject to email hacking. They have been under intense and politically motivated fire for years. And, yes, they developed a bit of a siege/herd mentality as a result. Who wouldn’t?

Needless to say, there were some adverse comments in the thread underneath Mooney's post. For example:

Sorry, Chris,

Gerson is right on this one.

I am sympathetic, at a personal level, with the scientists responding to persistent attack by developing a siege mentality. I am not sympathetic with their response, which, the emails show, was to cherry-pick data and tailor their presentation to support the message they wanted to send. That may not be a war, but it’s certainly a battle against science, cut from the same cloth that you described in your book.


As a computer coder, I must say if what was released as computer code is actually what they use to determine global warming this story has legs. The fortran code is utter garbage. Even if the raw data temps for input where released to the public, there are so many independent code snippets it would be impossible to replicate the results. I know temps have been getting warmer by about a half degree over the century, but I really would like to see the GHCN and NASA raw data and computer code to homogenize the data. If it looks anything like this stuff no wonder they won’t release it.

Of the dimension of petty academic squabbling, from a comment in the thread:

We may never know how much of the scandal stemmed from an ideological crusade, and how much was simply ambition to rise in academia. Unfortunately, the current system of reward for scientists, in which their rank is largely determined by a quick perusal of the length and source of a publication list by funding bureaucrats rather than a penetrating analysis of their work by true peers, fosters such shoddy work.


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