There is a bit of a row that has developed over the recent American Meteorological Society survey of its membership on cause of climate change that gave a surprising result of only 52% of survey respondents answering Yes: Mostly human. The Heartland Institute sent out an email advising its friends, members, and associates of the survey results, as show below, and the AMS is quite unhappy about that email.
On November 28th, AMS Executive Director Keith Seitter posted a rebuttal at the AMS web site titled Going to the source for accurate information. He writes:
A disturbing aspect of this e-mail is that it seems some effort was placed in making it appear to have been sent by AMS.
In addition to that statement, the authors of the paper reporting the results of the survey of AMS members have made a statement about Heartland’s email, which is noted in a post at the Climate Science Watch website titled Taylor distorts poll of meteorologists on climate change to reach opposite conclusion of study authors.
Heartland responded to the AMS with a blog post on their website “Somewhat Reasonable” with: AMS Survey Shows No Consensus on Global Warming. They cover some of the objections raised. Heartland director Joe Bast writes:
We chose to send this notice using an email address that was descriptive of the message – “AMS Survey [mailto:2013AMSsurvey@gmail.com]” – rather than an address with a Heartland domain to maximize the open rate, a common practice in email marketing. There was no attempt to deceive recipients about who sent the message: “This message was sent to [recipient] from Heartland Institute” and our address appear at the bottom of the message.
Dr. Judith Curry wrote about the affair:
At issue is whether the survey should be interpreted as a 52% consensus, or a 90% consensus. As per my post on this paper, 52% consensus(?), I provide a detailed interpretation of the results supporting the 52% consensus conclusion. Based upon their statement, the authors of the paper seem unaware of the nuances of what constitutes the IPCC consensus in terms of attribution. The key issue is how to interpret responses to the survey question related to climate or atmospheric science expertise and secondarily as to whether the members are publishing or not, which is discussed in my post 52% consensus(?).
In summary, Heartland’s interpretation is not a misrepresentation of the actual survey results, although the authors and the AMS are interpreting the results in a different way. A better survey might have avoided some of the ambiguity in the interpretation, but there seems to be no avoiding the fact that the survey showed that 48% of the AMS professional members do not think that most of the warming since 1850 is attributable to humans.
Dr. Curry doesn’t think the results were misrepresented in the Heartland email.
What I think is most upsetting to the AMS executive director and the authors of the survey paper aren’t so much the interpretation, but the way the email was delivered. Note in the image of the email above, its says From: “AMS Survey”. It also contained the logo of the AMS.
That fooled me, for about 5 seconds, into thinking that it was a communications from the AMS. But at the bottom of the email, the sender is quite clear:
My opinion is that Heartland boobed a bit here. They setup a mailing list called “AMS Survey” with the iContact mailing list service, and that would be destined to cause some confusion to recipients.
On the other hand, since the sender is clearly labeled at the bottom, you’d have to be a complete dolt to be permanently fooled into thinking this was an official AMS communications.
That email address combined with the use of the AMS logo, which was fair use for the purpose, pushed some buttons at AMS I think. I think the uproar comes from a couple people being initially misled for about 5 seconds, only to discover it was from Heartland and not the AMS. It is easy to become indignant about being misled, even if for only a few seconds.
The uproar by AMS executive director Setter might also have been accelerated by a thought that Heartland got access to the AMS member list, and that Heartland tried to pull one over on their membership. That isn’t likely, because the email I posted from Heartland via iContact came to a member’s email address that was not on file with the AMS. Even if Heartland had used the AMS mailing list, the AMS doesn’t have much of beef about it since they offer their membership mailing list for sale to 3rd parties.
While I think that using the email address “AMS Survey” could have been an honest mistake when Heartland setup the email distribution list with iContact (Hmm, what shall I call it?) based on Bast’s description, it certainly didn’t set well with some people. A cursory review of the Heartland effort by anyone not so close to the issue might have prevented that problem by pointing out the sender address might be misinterpreted, the issue seized upon, and cause some uproar.
OTOH, that may have been exactly what Heartland was counting on, since uproars tend to bring far more eyes to the table than a simple mailer would. See the Streisand Effect. Heartland has been known for pushing the envelope in the past, such as with their disastrous blunder with the Unabomber billboard.
Whether it was an honest mistake, or pushing the envelope, one thing is for certain: far more people know about the 52% survey result now than they would have had the AMS not gone ballistic about it.
While we are on the subject of mailing lists, this survey and subsequent row has created a new discovery about it, and that will be the subject of a future post.