Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I just got my printed copy of the May 7th issue of Science Magazine, and I read their Editorial. This is the issue that contained the now-infamous Letter to the Editor with the Photoshopped image of a polar bear on an ice floe. An alternate version of that Photoshopped image is below:
Figure 1. Photoshopped version of a Photoshopped image of a Photoshopped Polar bear.
So is the Editorial as one-sided as the Letter? Surprisingly, no. There are some excellent ideas and statements in it … but it contains some egregious errors of fact, and some curious assertions and exaggerations. I have emphasised in bold those interesting parts below. First, the Editorial:
Stepping Back; Moving Forward
Brooks Hanson is Deputy Editor for physical sciences at Science.
The controversial e-mails related to climate change, plus reported errors in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, have spurred a dangerous deterioration in the rational relation between science and society. One U.S. senator has called 17 prominent climate scientists criminals, and pundits have suggested that climate scientists should commit suicide. Fourteen U.S. states have filed lawsuits opposing the federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, some asserting that “climate change science is a conspiracy.” South Dakota even resolved that there are other “astrological” forcings on climate. Scientists have been barraged by hateful e-mails. The debate has become polarized, and the distrust of scientists and their findings extends well beyond climate science. What can be done to repair society’s trust in science? A broader perspective is needed on all sides.
The main societal challenges—global energy supply, growing the food supply, and improving public health, among others—depend intimately on science, and for this reason society requires a vigorous scientific enterprise. Our expanding global economy is taxing resources and the environment in ways that cannot be sustained. Science provides a deep understanding of these impacts and, as a result, the ability to predict consequences and assess risks.
Addressing anthropogenic climate change exemplifies the challenges inherent in providing critical scientific advice to society (see the Policy Forum on p. 695 and Letter on p. 689). Climate is as global as today’s economy; we know from archaeological and historical records that an unstable climate has disrupted societies. For these reasons, scientists and governments are jointly committed to understanding the impacts of climate change. Thousands of scientists have volunteered for the IPCC or other assessments. Governments have a vested interest in the success of these assessments, and the stakes are high.
We thus must move beyond polarizing arguments in ways that strengthen this joint commitment. The scientific community must recognize that the recent attacks stem in part from its culture and scientists’ behavior. In turn, it is time to focus on the main problem: The IPCC reports have underestimated the pace of climate change while overestimating societies’ abilities to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Scientists must meet other responsibilities. The ability to collect, model, and analyze huge data sets is one of the great recent advances in science and has made possible our understanding of global impacts. But developing the infrastructure and practices required for handling data, and a commitment to collect it systematically, have lagged. Scientists have struggled to address standardizing, storing, and sharing data, and privacy concerns. Funding must be directed not only toward basic science but toward facilitating better decisions made with the data and analyses that are produced. As a start, research grants should specify a data curation plan, and there should be a greater focus on long-term monitoring of the environment.
Because society’s major problems are complex, generating useful scientific advice requires synthesizing knowledge from diverse disciplines. As the need for synthesis grows, the avenues of communication are changing rapidly. Unfortunately, many news organizations have eviscerated their science staffs. As a result, stories derived from press releases on specific results are crowding out the thoughtful syntheses that are needed.
If the scientific community does not aggressively address these issues, including communicating its process of discovery and recognizing its modern data responsibilities, and if society does not constructively engage science, then the scientific enterprise and the whole of society are in danger of losing their crucial rational relationship. Carl Sagan’s warnings are especially apt today: “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” “This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”
So, what’s wrong with the statements I highlighted in bold? Well, they’re not true. Let’s look at them one by one.
One U.S. senator has called 17 prominent climate scientists criminals…
Presumably, this refers to the Senate Minority Report by Senator Inhofe. However, he did not call 17 climate scientists criminals. In fact he does not use that word at all in connection with scientists. Instead, he made a much more nuanced series of statements:
In our view, the CRU documents and emails reveal, among other things, unethical and potentially illegal behavior by some of the world’s preeminent climate scientists.
The released CRU emails and documents display unethical, and possibly illegal, behavior. The scientists appear to discuss manipulating data to get their preferred results. On several occasions they appear to discuss subverting the scientific peer review process to ensure that skeptical papers had no access to publication. Moreover, there are emails discussing unjustified changes to data by federal employees and federal grantees.
These and other issues raise questions about the lawful use of federal funds and potential ethical misconduct.
Minority Staff has identified a preliminary sampling of CRU emails and documents which seriously compromise the IPCC-backed “consensus” and its central conclusion that anthropogenic emissions are inexorably leading to environmental catastrophes, and which represent unethical and possibly illegal conduct by top IPCC scientists, among others.
So Brooks Hanson starts out with a false and misleading statement. Inhofe did not “call 17 prominent climate scientists criminals”, that’s simply not true. He said that some of their actions appeared to be possibly illegal … and me, I’d have to agree with the Senator.
On the other side of the pond, whether some of them were criminals was addressed by the UK Parliament Committee, who said:
There is prima facie evidence that CRU has breached the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It would, however, be premature, without a thorough investigation affording each party the opportunity to make representations, to conclude that UEA was in breach of the Act. In our view, it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved simply because of the operation of the six- month time limit on the initiation of prosecutions.
So it was only because the Statute of Limitations on any criminal offenses had expired that there were no criminal investigations of the acts … sounds like a validation of Senator Inhofe’s claim of “possibly illegal” to me …
… pundits have suggested that climate scientists should commit suicide.
Presumably, this refers to Glen Beck’s statement that:
There’s not enough knives. If this, if the IPCC had been done by Japanese scientists, there’s not enough knives on planet Earth for hara-kiri that should have occurred. I mean, these guys have so dishonored themselves, so dishonored scientists.
I find no other “pundits” who have “suggested that climate scientists should commit suicide”. Nor did Beck. He said that if the IPCC scientists who made the errors and misrepresentations were Japanese, they would have committed suicide from the shame. Now that may or may not be true, but is not a call for American scientists to act Japanese, even Beck knows that’s not possible.
Fourteen U.S. states have filed lawsuits opposing the federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, some asserting that “climate change science is a conspiracy.”
I find no State (or any other) lawsuits making this claim against climate scientists, although I might have missed them. Curiously, there was a case (Ned Comer, et al. v. Murphy Oil USA) where the claim was made the other way around, that there was a “civil conspiracy” among the oil companies to deny climate change. But I find nothing the other way.
I suspect that Brooks Hanson is referring (incorrectly) to the Resolution passed in Utah that states:
WHEREAS, emails and other communications between climate researchers around the globe, referred to as “Climategate,” indicate a well organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome;
Of course, this was a resolution, not a lawsuit. I don’t know if that claim is true or not, although the CRU emails show that there certainly was a “well organized and ongoing effort” to conceal the data regarding global temperature, and to affect the IPCC reports in an unethical and possibly illegal fashion.
South Dakota even resolved that there are other “astrological” forcings on climate.
Here’s the actual text of the South Dakota Bill:
That there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can effect world weather phenomena and that the significance and interrelativity of these factors is largely speculative.
I suspect that this was a simple error, and that what was meant was “astronomical” rather than “astrological”. This is supported by their use of “thermological” for “thermal”, as “thermology” is the science of using detailed thermal images of the human body to diagnose disease … I doubt they meant that. It is also supported by their use of “effect” rather than “affect”. I’d say very poor English skills, yes … astrology, no.
Scientists have been barraged by hateful e-mails.
Barraged by mails? Hey, it’s worse than emails, it’s public calls for action:
James Hansen of NASA wanted trials for climate skeptics, accusing them of high crimes against humanity.
Robert Kennedy Jr. called climate skeptics traitors .
Yvo de Boer of the UN called climate skepticism criminally irresponsible .
David Suzuki called for politicians who ignore climate science to be jailed.
DeSmogBlog’s James Hoggan wants skeptics treated as war criminals (video).
Grist called for Nuremberg trials for skeptics.
Joe Romm said that skeptics would be strangled in their beds.
A blogger at TPM pondered when it would be acceptable to execute climate deniers .
Heidi Cullen of The Weather Channel called for skeptical forecasters to be decertified.
Bernie Sanders compared climate skeptics to Nazi appeasers..
And Greenpeace threatened unspecified reprisals against unbelievers, saying:
If you’re one of those who have spent their lives undermining progressive climate legislation, bankrolling junk science, fueling spurious debates around false solutions, and cattle-prodding democratically-elected governments into submission, then hear this:
We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work.
And we be many, but you be few.
And Brooks Hanson is worried about emails, and falsely accuses Senator Inhofe of calling climate scientists criminals? What’s wrong with this picture?
The IPCC reports have underestimated the pace of climate change …
Say what? I’d have to ask for citations on this one. There has been no statistically significant warming in the last 15 years, Arctic sea ice is recovering, climate changes are within natural variation … and he claims the pace has been “underestimated” by the IPCC? Sorry, I don’t buy that one in the slightest.
As a start, research grants should specify a data curation plan …
Lack of plans is not the problem. The main grantor of climate science funds in the US, the National Science Foundation, has very clear regulations about the archiving of climate data … but they simply ignore them. And to make it worse, they continue funding scofflaw scientists who ignore them. Science Magazine and Nature Magazine have very clear policies about data archiving … but they don’t ask authors to follow them whenever they feel like it. The problem is not a lack of “data curation plans” as Hanson claims. It is that the people in charge of those plans have been looking the other way, even when people like myself and many others have asked them to enforce their policies and plans and rules. Those kinds of actions simply reinforce the public idea that all of climate science is a scam and a conspiracy. I don’t think it is either one … but man, some of the AGW supporters in positions of scientific power are sure doing their best to make it look that way …
Now, given all of that, what in the editorial did I like? There were several statements that I felt were very important:
We thus must move beyond polarizing arguments in ways that strengthen this joint commitment. The scientific community must recognize that the recent attacks stem in part from its culture and scientists’ behavior.
I could not agree more. The problems are not the result of some mythical Big-Oil funded climate skeptics public relations machine. They are the result of scientific malfeasance on a large scale by far too many of the top climate scientists. People are enraged by this, as there are few things that raise peoples’ ire more than knowing that they have been duped and misled. And the climate science community is the only one that can fix that.
If the scientific community does not aggressively address these issues, including communicating its process of discovery and recognizing its modern data responsibilities, and if society does not constructively engage science, then the scientific enterprise and the whole of society are in danger of losing their crucial rational relationship.
Well put. The problem is not that Inhofe has said some actions by top climate scientists are unethical and possibly illegal. The problem is that some top scientists acted in unethical and possibly illegal ways. The problem is not that people are sending hateful emails to scientists. It is that climate scientists have poisoned the well by publicly calling for the trial of people with whom they disagree, and then want to complain that people are being mean to them. The problem is not that states are taking to the law to fight bad science, it is that the bad science is so entrenched, and the peer review system has become so much of an old-boys club, that the only way to fight it is in the courts.
This is the crux of the matter for climate scientists who wish to restore the lost trust: do honest, transparent, ethical science, and let the results fall where they may. Stop larding “scientific” papers with pounds of “might” and “could” and “may” and “possibly” and “conceivably”, we don’t care about your speculations, we want your science. Stop underestimating the errors and overestimating the certainty. Stop making up the “scary scenarios” advocated by Stephen Schneider. Stop calling for trials for people who don’t follow the party line.
And most of all, climate scientists need to learn to say those “three little words”.
You know how women are always hoping that guys will say those three little words, “I love you”? It’s like the old joke, “You know how to get rid of cockroaches? … Ask them for a commitment.” Those are the three little words that men find hard to say.
In climate science, the three little words that climate scientists find hard to say, the three little words they need to practice over and over are “We don’t know”.
We don’t know what the climate will be like in a hundred years. We don’t know what the climate sensitivity is, or even if the concept of a linear climate sensitivity relating temperature and forcing is a valid concept. We don’t know if the earth will start to warm or start to cool after the end of this current 15-year period of neither warming nor cooling. We don’t know if a rise in temperature will be a net gain or a net loss for the planet. There are heaps of things we don’t know about the climate, and the general public knows that we don’t know them.
Climate science is a new science, one of the newest. We have only been studying climate extensively for a quarter century or so, and it is an incredibly difficult field of study. The climate is a hugely complex, driven, chaotic, resonant, constructal, terawatt-scale planetary heat engine. It contains five major subsystems (atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, and cryosphere), none of which are well understood. Each of these subsystems has a host of forcings, resonances, inter-reservoir transfers, cycles, and feedbacks which operate both internally and between the subsystems. The climate has important processes which operate on spatial scales from atomic to planet-wide, and on temporal scales from nanoseconds to millions of years. Our present state of knowledge of that system contains more unknowns than knowns. Here is my own estimation of the current state of our climate knowledge, which some of you may have seen:
In this situation, the only honest thing a climate scientist can do is to do the best, clearest, and cleanest science possible; to be totally transparent and reveal all data and codes and methods; to insist that other climate scientists practice those same simple scientific principles; and to say “we don’t know” rather than “might possibly have a probabilistic chance of maybe happening” for all the rest. That is the only path to repairing the lost trust between the public and climate science.
Oh, yeah, and one more thing … apply those principles to scientific editorials as well. Don’t exaggerate, and provide some citations for scientific editorials, trying to trace these vague claims is both boring and frustrating …