by Judith Curry
Climate researchers are now engaged in a debate about whether their science is being crippled by a compulsion to conform. They wonder if pressure to reach a consensus is too great. They ask if criticism is being suppressed. No less is at stake than the credibility of research evidence for climate change and the very question of whether climate research is still reliable. – Spiegel
The Bengtsson affair is continuing to stimulate some important discussions on the climate consensus and its ‘enforcement.’ Here are some recent thought provoking articles.
Uppsalainitiativet has a blog post Lennart Bengtsson: My view on climate research. Bengtsson’s essay is prefaced with the following text: In a series of recent blog posts, we in Uppsalainitiativet have sharply criticized meteorologist and climate scientist professor Lennart Bengtsson (post 1, post 2, post 3). Unfortunately those 3 posts are in Swedish, it would be interesting to see what they have to say. Here are excerpts from Bengtsson’s essay:
As a result of chaos theory, weather and climate cannot be predicted, and how future climate will turn out will not be known until future is upon us. It would not help even if we knew the exact amount of greenhouse gases. Add to this the uncertainty about the future of the world. This should be clear to anyone, simply by moving back in time and contemplating what has unfolded from that viewpoint. As Daniel Boorstin put it: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”.
I’m concerned that this is the problem of the present, and the real reason for me to choose to partake in the climate debate over the last couple of years. I don’t think anyone disputes that I have been highly critical of those who completely reject the effects of greenhouse gases on the earth’s climate. This is however not the problem, but rather how much, how soon and to what extent “climate change” will happen. There is no 97% consensus about this, and even less concerning how weather and climate will turn out in Västerbotten [West Bothnia] in 80 years. This is why it unfortunately is misleading of SMHI to show their beautiful maps, because people may actually believe that this is the way the climate will turn out. The climate scientists of SMHI know this, of course, but for the users this is not clear.
What is perhaps most worrying is the increased tendency of pseudo-science in climate research. This is revealed through the bias in publication records towards only reporting results that support one climate hypothesis, while refraining from publishing results that deviate. Even extremely cold weather, as this year’s winter in north Eastern USA and Canada, is regarded as a consequence of the greenhouse effect.
That I have taken a stand trying to put the climate debate onto new tracks has resulted in rather violent protests. I have not only been labeled a sceptic but even a denier, and faced harsh criticism from colleagues. Even contemplating my connections with GWPF was deemed unheard of and scandalous.
I find it difficult to believe that the prominent Jewish scientists in the GWPF council appreciate being labeled deniers. The low-point is probably having been labeled “world criminal” by a representative of the English wind power-industry. I want to stress that I am a sworn enemy of the social construction of natural science that has garnered so much traction in the last years. For example, German scientists have attempted to launch what they call “good” science to ensure that natural science shouldn’t be driven by what they view as anti-social curiosity-research by researching things that might not be “good”.
The comments are entertaining – Dana Nuccitelli and Chris Colose show up to tell Bengtsson that he doesn’t understand the science.
Spiegel has an article Heated Debate: Are Scientists Being Forced to Toe the Line? Subtitle: After joining a controversial lobby group critical of climate change, meteorologist Lennart Bengtsson claims he was shunned by colleagues, leading him to quit. Some scientists complain pressure to conform to consensus opinion has become a serious hindrance in the field. Excerpts from what scientists have to say:
Gavin Schmidt a climatologist and climate modeler at NASA described the “alleged connection to McCarthy” as “ridiculous.”
Nevertheless, by joining the political lobby group, Bengtsson opened himself up to criticism that he had taken a position inappropriate for a scientist of his stature.
University of Washington climatologist Eric Steig says the activities of the GWPF are more reminiscent of McCarthyism than Bengtsson’s case. GWPF, for its part, calls itself a think tank that documents arguments stating why climate change as a problem is being overestimated.
Reto Knutti of the ETH Zürich technical university is also critical. “Organizations like the GWPF contribute to whipping scientific debate into a religious war,” he argues. “Jochem Marotzke, who is Bengtsson’s successor at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, says, “GWPF works deliberately in a selective way. They mention only arguments that suit their purposes. Counterarguments are kept under wraps.”
Professor Myles Allen, a climate researcher at Oxford, says, “The problem is their anti-science agenda, clearly illustrated by the fact that they refused point blank to submit their recent report criticizing the IPCC 5th Assessment Report to the same kind of open peer review that the IPCC report was itself subjected to.”
GWPF Director Benny Peiser challenges assertions like that. “We are not an interest group; our scientists have no official or collective opinion — to any topics. If there were no taboos in climate science or climate policy, the GWPF would probably not exist.”
Roger Pielke Sr. of the University of Colorado says, “Unfortunately, climate science has become very politicized and views that differ at all from those in control of the climate assessment process are either ignored or ridiculed. From my experience, I agree 100 percent with the allegations made by the very distinguished Lennart Bengtsson.”
But who is doing the politicizing? Knutti says that it is pretty easy to tell. “If you are on the left politically, you believe in global warming,” he says. “If you are on the right, that is much less likely.” He adds that the line between opinion and fact is often blurred, even among scientists.
“Each side maintains the other is politicizing the debate,” explains Werner Krauss, an environmental ethnologist at the Helmholtz Center for Materials and Coastal Research in Geesthacht, Germany. He says climate research is dominated by “strongmen” who know how to exploit the media whenever they like.
At the same time, Heinrich Miller of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research says, “I find the way his colleagues reacted shocking. Apparently there is now pervasive disappointment because a shining scientific example is making his scientific doubts public,” he says. Miller adds that the Bengtsson case reminds him when politicians use “dirty tricks” to muzzle opponents.
Pielke Jr. confirms that climate research is a tough business. “We see hardball politics,” he says. “I have personally seen very strong social and professional pressures over the years. These include threats to my job, professional ostracism, public misrepresentations of my research and views, efforts to prevent me from speaking publicly and personal threats, many of which have been publicly documented.” He advises that “anyone who wishes to participate in the public debate on climate change should do so knowing how the politics are played today — dirty, nasty, destructive.”
Miller says that scientists were politicized more than anything else by having to seek a consensus on results for the 5th IPCC report. “Global warming is taken as dogma. Anyone who doubts it is bad,” says the renowned researcher, who was branded a “climate skeptic” after questioning the scientific validity of computer simulations.
Knutti, by contrast, warns about overemphasizing the lack of certainty about the evidence. He says that sitting back and waiting until all the questions are answered is not an alternative, and describes a large portion of what has come to be called skepticism as deliberate deception.
Pointman has a hard hitting essay The Age of Unenlightenment. Excerpts:
That slick expression you’re entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts, now has a deeper meaning in this latest stage of the post-enlightenment. If your facts plainly contradict someone else’s orthodox beliefs, then you are simply being “unhelpful” or even “harmful” and should therefore be suppressed. That’s to be done not by logical refutation or counter argument, but intimidation, bullying, shunning, character assassination and threats to a person’s career or livelihood.
The next line of defence was declaring that it was all settled. It had been so thoroughly proven, incidentally an impossible thing for any scientific theory, that it was no longer an open question. Move along now. The proof had been done by taking a vote and the novel idea of science by consensus rather than scientific method was born. There was to be no debate but it fell foul of that rebellious child it largely shaped, the skeptic blogosphere, which insisted on taking a can opener to every hermetically sealed debate, and so often found Blake’s great red dragon of chaos ready to emerge from it grinning in triumph.
By now, they were increasingly desperate men in a hurry towards some finishing line only they could see, and acted accordingly.
Bengtsson had to be destroyed. Not only was he opening up a dialogue with the climate skeptics, which meant he was straying away from the teachings of the one true church, but he’d also called into serious question the ability of the computer models to generate credible climate predictions.
Their very public and violent intimidation of Bengtsson will probably ensure there won’t be another attempt at rapprochement by a high-profile warmist with the skeptics. They are in effect skipping over the bargaining phase in the death of their belief system.
I have heard that a number of leading scientists are pretty disgusted with the way Bengtsson has been treated and see the larger issues of concern about the social psychology of our field. People are talking about writing blog posts for professional societies, trying to get signatures on a statement, etc. I hope that these individuals follow through, and that the ‘climate’ for climate research can improve.
This is a very welcome change from the 2009 reactions to Climategate, which reflected most silence, but solidarity with the climate scientists whose emails were made public.
With regards to Pielke Jr’s statement: “anyone who wishes to participate in the public debate on climate change should do so knowing how the politics are played today — dirty, nasty, destructive.” I agree with this statement. As someone participating in the in public debate on climate change, I certainly expect barbs from the media and advocacy groups. What concerns me greatly is other scientists behaving in a dirty, nasty and destructive way, in other words, playing dirty politics with their science.
Can climate scientists please stop the intimidation, bullying, shunning and character assassination of other scientists who they find ‘not helpful’ to their cause? Can we please return to logical refutation of arguments that you disagree with, spiced with a healthy acknowledgement of uncertainties and what we simply don’t know and can’t predict?