Dr. Brown and Climate Ethics
By Ed Caryl
Donald A. Brown at Penn State writing in his blog here did the “Climate Skeptics” a big favor by gathering “The Hockey-Stick Team’s” arguments into one article. I am sure that Professor Brown was certain that no skeptic would have the temerity to actually challenge his assertions.
But his assertions beg for challenge. One of his techniques is to make claims about the skeptic side that are in fact much more true for the Team side. These techniques include:
One example of the Team’s use of lying is the assertion that “97% of Climate Scientists agree” that AGW is true. This figure is based on an on-line poll sent to over 10,000 “earth scientists” where the participants were self selected, and the actual numbers were 75 out of 79 answering the poll describing themselves as “peer-reviewed climate scientists”. See here. The actual questions on that poll were:
1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”
Nearly all skeptics would answer “have generally risen” to Question 1, and most would answer “yes” to Question 2. This loaded poll proves nothing. The whole argument revolves around “how much”. We don’t know if the above 79 participants were actually “climate scientists” or not. They could just as well have been kids down at the neighborhood Starbucks with laptops. But this assertion has been repeated countless times on the Internet as if it were Holy Writ and Peer Reviewed. (It was not.) The principle used here is that “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth”. this according to one of history’s most infamous propagandist.
Professor Brown says that:
Some of the claims made by some of those engaged in the disinformation campaign have been outright lies about such things as the claim that the entire scientific basis for human-induced climate change is a hoax or that there is no evidence of human causation of climate change.”
This statement itself is not true. Most skeptics think that there is some human causation, just not the catastrophic kind claimed by the Team. In answer to Professor Brown’s citation of six books for his side, here’s my citation of six books for the skeptic’s side:
1. Evidence Based Climate Science, Dr. Don Easterbrook
2. The Hockey Stick Illusion, A. W. Montford
3. Climategate, The CRUtape Letters, Steven Mosher and Thomas W. Fuller
4. The Great Global Warming Blunder, Dr. Roy W. Spencer
5. The Shattered Consensus: The True State of Global Warming, Patrick J.Michaels (Editor), Dr. Sallie L. Baliunas, Dr. Robert C. Balling Jr , Dr. Randall S. Cerveny, Dr. John Christy, Dr. Robert E. Davis, Dr. Oliver W. Frauenfeld, Dr. Ross McKitrick, Dr. Patrick J. Michaels, Dr. Eric S. Posmentier, Dr. Willie Soon (Contributors)
6. Die Kalte Sonne, (The Cold Sun, Why the Climate Catastrophe is Not Taking Place) Dr. Fritz Vahrenholt and Dr. Sebastian Luñing (In Press) For more on this one, read here
Focusing On An Unknown While Ignoring the Known.
The amount of the unknown on climate science is far greater than what is known, and thus impacts the known at every level. For example: although climate sensitivity, (the temperature rise due to CO2 doubling) has yet to be established, a number is used in all the general climate models. The IPCC “consensus” is that it is somewhere between 1.5°C to 4.5°C (IPCC, 2007, pp.798-799). Where do those numbers come from? They come from guesses by Michael Mann and Syukuro Manabe.
Here is the story (from Wikipedia):
The standard modern estimate of climate sensitivity – 3 °C, plus or minus 1.5 °C – originates with a committee on anthropogenic global warming convened in 1979 by the National Academy of Sciences and chaired by Jule Charney. Only two sets of models were available; one, due to Syukuro Manabe, exhibited a climate sensitivity of 2 °C, the other, due to James E. Hansen, exhibited a climate sensitivity of 4 °C. “According to Manabe, Charney chose 0.5 °C as a not-unreasonable margin of error, subtracted it from Manabe’s number, and added it to Hansen’s. Thus was born the 1.5 °C-to-4.5 °C range of likely climate sensitivity that has appeared in every greenhouse assessment since…”
Many people have tried to develop more accurate estimates. The current range is anything from zero to 10°C, though the latter number is usually dismissed. As time goes by, the number seems to be dropping. Recent ice-age studies don’t change the old estimates by very much, but give a median value of 2.3°C. Even more recently, there have been efforts to calculate climate sensitivity from thermodynamic principals. Find the papers here, here, and here. These all suggest that the climate sensitivity is zero. Measurements from above the atmosphere all suggest that climate sensitivity is less than 0.6°C. See here, here, and here.
Specious Claims of Bad Science
In Dr. Brown’s paragraph here he cites no specific examples; this is a general childish name-calling type of attack. This list is offered as a rebuttal. Tom Nelson offers 250 examples of bad science, or scientists behaving badly, gleened from the Climategate 2 emails in the Team’s own words.
Creation of Front Groups
Both sides have created “front groups”. What is the IPCC, if not a “front group”? The Center for American Progress is a front group. This is a label intended to denigrate. For the figures on money spent by organizations on both sides see here. A summary is quoted:
Figure 1.1, I compare the spending of climate action opponents and advocates. As the figure displays, the combined program spending of environmental organizations ($1.4 billion) is almost twice as much as the combined program spending of conservative organizations and industry associations ($787 million). Specific to climate change and energy-related activities, environmental groups appear to have outspent conservative groups and their industry association allies $394 million to $259 million.”
Creation of Misleading Lists of Climate Sceptics [sic]
From Brown’s point of view, any skeptic will have questionable credentials. That’s part of the Team’s tactics to denigrate and marginalize any skeptic. There is a problem though. One of the better-known lists is the Oregon Petition. It currently has 31,487 signatories, over 9,000 of those with PhDs. Contrast this with the poll cited above with 75 anonymous positive poll responders. Also keep in mind that “The Team” has less than 50 people as core members. The Oregon Petition is simply too large to be dismissed. In the end, it only takes a single skeptic scientist.
PR Campaigns to Convince the Public There’s No Scientific Basis
Both sides have used PR firms. This is what you do when billions of dollars are at stake. The University of East Anglia used (and is still using) the BBC to convince the public of the opposite. What larger PR firm could they have used? It is very difficult for skeptics to match these large megaphones. That’s why so many are blogging.
This is right out of the Nancy Pelosi playbook. I’m surprised he used the term. Notice that none are named. It is another dubious attempt to denigrate. His use of the terms “disinformation campaign” is also a handy term for denigration. Without investigation, anything written by a skeptic automatically gets labeled as disinformation, and any conversation between three or more skeptics will be labeled as an Astroturf Group. For Dr. Brown’s information, I am myself a group of one, funded by Social Security.
Cyber-Bullying Scientists and Journalists
Both of these groups have made themselves public figures. James Hansen, for just one example, delights in getting himself arrested on camera in front of the White House. Michael Mann regularly appears on TV talk-shows and news programs making claims that beg a response. When public scientists step outside of the peer-reviewed scientific literature, they are asking for trouble. When their public claims are demonstrably not true, they must be refuted. Here is a link to predictions made in the 1980’s by James Hansen.
Dr. Brown then gives skeptics some advice:
A few things we are not saying. We are not against skepticism in [sic] but skeptics must play by certain rules of science. That is skeptics should:
a) Publish conclusions in peer-reviewed literature.
b. Stop claiming that anything that is not fully proven is bad science.
c. Not lie about or overstate their scientific conclusions.
d. Not cherry-pick scientific evidence by focusing on what is not known while ignoring what is known.
e. Not repeat scientific arguments that have been fully refuted.
f. Publicly condemn cyber-bullying of journalists and scientists.”
For no. a, Dr. Brown may not realize that peer review has been tightly controlled by the Team. It has been difficult, and in some cases impossible, to get papers published in certain journals with conclusions that the Team does not approve, whether or not those conclusions are scientifically valid. Some discussion of the problem here, here, here, and here.
For no. b: “Stop claiming that anything not fully proven is bad science.” For it to be good science, define “fully”. As Einstein said, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.” The skeptic effort must be encouraged; the alternative is totalitarianism.
As for no. c, lies are easily detected. No skeptic knowingly lies. It is too easily found out. This statement is just another bogus denigration attempt.
No. d: “Not cherry-pick scientific evidence by focusing on what is not known…” This is a strange statement. All scientists focus on the unknown… and should. Only by focusing on the unknown can anything new be learned. New knowledge can overturn what we thought we knew. See Einstein, above.
No. e: “Not repeat scientific arguments that have been fully refuted.” See Einstein, above.
No. f: “Publicly condemn…” This cuts both ways. Stop condemning (cyber-bullying) skeptics. Also stop characterizing any critique of public statements by the Team as cyber-bullying. It all takes place in cyber-space as a matter of course. This is just another attempt to limit free-speech and discourse.
Calling this discourse an ethics problem is suspicious. I would ask Dr Brown to examine his own ethics in writing his piece. Who or what is he trying to protect? Both sides think they are saving the earth. Both sides have their extremists. Neither side has a lock on “the truth”.
Part of the problem is that the public loves a disaster, particularly the media, and the Team has played on that for political and funding reasons. If they are proved alarmist, the money dries up instantly. Here is the first blog article this author wrote on the subject. (Chicken Little was a Calamitologist.)