by Judith Curry
The viral “Climategate” has had a substantial impact on public perception of climate science and scientists. Several strategies have been tried to put the Climategate genie back in the bottle, without much success. An article by Peter Wood published in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Climate Thuggery” describes one such strategy, which I don’t think is working too well.
Who is Peter Wood? He is President of the National Association of Scholars (NAS, not to be confused with National Academies of Science). From his bio: Prior to his position at NAS, Dr. Wood was a tenured member of the Anthropology Department at Boston University, where he also held a variety of administrative positions, including associate provost and president’s chief of staff.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of the NAS before, it looks like an interesting organization, and a controversial one also. The Wikipedia says :
Since its founding, the NAS has been in the midst of numerous controversies in higher education. . . The NAS denies that the views it advocates are conservative. Instead, the NAS describes itself as “liberal,” referring to classical liberalism. NAS executive director Peter Wood writes: “Both Left and the Right produce their share of intellectual obtuseness. The NAS is not a partner with either. We are not a political organization, but a body of scholars who hope to sustain a vision of the university as a fundamentally good institution that deserves to be sustained.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education is a newspaper and website that presents news, information, and jobs for college and university faculty, staff members and administrators. The Chronicle, based in Washington, D.C., is the major news service in the United States academic world.
Bottling Up Global Warming Skepticism
About a month ago, Wood posted an article in the Chronicle entitled “Bottling Up Global Warming Skepticism.” After some stuff about P.T. Barnum that didn’t make much sense to me in this context, he gets to his main point, which is about the piece in Science on John Mashey.
Dr. John Mashey is attempting to patch the tattered reputation of “hide the decline” Michael Mann, the climate scientist whose famous “hockey stick” chart shows exponentially increasing global temperatures in the near term. Mashey has been, as he puts it, “trying to take the offense” against global warming skeptics by flyspecking their publications. “You hope they make a mistake,” he says, and when they do, he pounces with demands that journals retract whole articles. Some journals indeed have. As Science puts it, “His critics say Mashey is more interested in destroying his foes than in debating the issues.” Professor Mann is extolling his efforts at “exploring the underbelly of climate denial.”
But how is this to be done? I suppose Mashey offers an instructive example of one way to put “excessive distrust” of authority back in the green glass bottle. Making the bottle the only safe refuge from abuse might work on a limited scale, but it isn’t really attuned to our sense of fair play. We don’t need perfect assurance in our scientific theories but we do need to believe that the scientists are doing their best to get to the truth.
The comments are interesting, which include statements from John Mashey, Tenney Naumer, Scott Mandia, Eli Rabbett, Anna Haynes, Tim Lambert.
Peter Wood posted a follow on piece in the Chronicle entitled “Climate Thuggery,” which is a response to the response to his previous post. Some excerpts:
Is anthropogenic global warming (AGW) a valid scientific theory? Is it well supported by the empirical data or is it mostly an artifact of computer modeling? I don’t have answers to these questions. I stand, rather, on the side of those who favor rigorous scientific inquiry, transparency, and openness. I am not a climate scientist, but neither do I cede the whole matter of answering such questions to the designated experts. Good science doesn’t limit itself to the views of narrow-cast specialists. Valid observations, corrective criticism, competing hypotheses, and rigorous testing can and often do arise from other sources. [JC bold]
It surprises me, however, that proponents of AGW, or what might be called the climate orthodoxy section of AGW theory, often respond to criticism and dissent with a kind of fury. Far from welcoming discussion, they seek to suppress it. In doing so they jeopardize both their own authority and the prestige of the scientific community.
Wood then describes the reactions to his piece on Mashey, mentions Mann’s lawuit against Tim Ball, Mann threatening a lawsuit against Minnesotans for Global Warming for their youtube video. He cites additional examples, see this web site, also incidents involving the BBC, Heidi Cullen, and the EPA (Alan Carlin). He also describes Anna Haynes (sourcewatch) latest antics:
For example, one of Mashey and Mann’s supporters has made it her business to contact by telephone and e-mail NAS trustees, members, employees, and others with leading questions about my views on climate change and sustainability. Her questions have insinuated that two former employees of NAS who died in 1995 were murdered, perhaps at the behest of Richard Mellon Scaife! (As it happened both died of heart attacks; and both had suffered previous heart attacks.) This woman has similarly attacked other people and organizations that express views on climate change that she disagrees with. Her targets have sometimes spoken up, but as far as I can tell she is accepted by AGW proponents as a welcome contributor to the effort.
Wood closes with the following text:
The techniques vary. The results, however, are similar: What cannot be established by transparent science can be imposed by coercion and intimidation.
The hardball approach of his defenders is in large part a reflex of this loss of prestige and authority. The proponents of AGW, however, have chosen a very foolish tactic. Bullying skeptics and sneering at those who raise questions is no way to regain public trust.
The sharp practices of the warmists also damage the tenor of academic, scientific, and public debate. Frivolous lawsuits, intimidation, mobbing are not the flying buttresses of modern science. They are the rot that undermines the intellectual authority of science. Can you trust anything said by someone who engages in such tactics?
This warning can be turned against some of the global warming skeptics as well. There is, for example, a blogger who writes as “The Hockey Schtick” who refers to Mann’s 1998 article in Nature (which introduced the hockey stick graph) as “the most thoroughly discredited paper of the modern age.” Rhetorical excess for rhetorical excess. Some of Mann’s defenders, however, much as they preen themselves as defenders of scientific rigor, are skating in the same rink.
The science will, in due course, be sorted out. Shoddy hypotheses will be discarded. Data massaged to accommodate models will prove discrepant with better observations. It could be that anthropogenic global warming will win out as a valid theory; it could be otherwise. I’m not taking sides on the science. But when it comes to efforts to silence debate and intimidate critics, I very much take the side of those who want to see science rid of such mischief.
JC comments: I find the Wood article of interest because it was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education (widely read by academics) and it provides the perspective of a well known academic who has not (to my knowledge) previously written on the topic of climate change. His perception of what is going on in the climate science community is dominated by the Climategate issue and the dismissal by mainstream climate scientists of skeptical viewpoints. I have encountered this same perspective on climate science time and again from academics in other fields, and I am greatly concerned by this perspective (trying to counter this perspective is a major motivation of this blog).
The Climategate genie will not easily go back into the bottle. My proposal for increased transparency, more attention to uncertainty and overall greater scientific integrity is the only way to get the genie back into the bottle (although this will be a very slow process.) When I have commended the efforts of the climate auditors, people have asked who is auditing the auditors? Well, that is John Mashey, Anna Haynes, and Deep Climate. While I find their rhetoric and some of their tactics to be often rather distasteful, what they are doing is (for the most part) legitimate investigation. What I don’t understand is why Michael Mann is threatening people with lawsuits over trivial things. I defended Mann against what I perceived as harassment by Cuccinelli, but what he is doing against Tim Ball and Minnesotans for Global Warming stoops to the same level. Whatever Mann’s motivation might be, this basically looks like “strong arm tactics” and “sharp practices” to squelch skeptical/critical voices. These kind of tactics from an academic reinforce the accusations made against our field as a result of Climategate.
Less time “exploring the underbelly of climate denial” and more time making your data publicly available and understanding/characterizing uncertainty, please.