Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung reports the latest development on the Umweltbundesamt (UBA) scandal.
Recently Germany’s version of the Environmental Protection Agency (UBA) published a 120-page brochure that publicly named and branded renowned skeptic US and German journalists and scientists because they “did not conform to the level of climate science knowledge“.
Two of the science journalists named in the UBA brochure are Michael Miersch, editor at FOCUS, and Dirk Maxeiner. The Süddeutsche Zeitung asks in its commentary whether it’s okay “for the state to publicly brand them” and if it is “the function of a state agency to grade the work of journalists and to do so publicly?
Journalists suing Environment Ministry
The Süddeutsche Zeitung writes that the story has now entered the legal phase, with journalists Michael Miersch and Dirk Maxeiner suing the German Environment Ministry for refusing to cease and desist distributing the controversial brochure. The Süddeutsche writes:
They are taking the matter to court because the agency has refused to sign a cease and desist declaration, and is continuing to distribute the brochure in the Internet. He doesn’t want to be ‘officially stamped as not serious‘, said Miersch. Moreover, the science journalist is annoyed that the agency wants to end the debate on climate change: ‘Declaring a debate ended goes against the spirit of science. Anyone who says that the end of the debate has been reached is peddling theology.'”
Environment Minister Peter Altmaier, whose Ministry oversees the UBA, defended the brochure. The Süddeutsche Zeitung quotes Altmaier insisting that the Ministry “is not imposing any thought, speech, writing or other ban.” Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier told Welt am Sonntag that he saw “no reason for criticism” and: “We are simply saying that from time to time there are positions that do not agree with the overwhelming majority of scientists.”
Bad enough that Altmaier doesn’t see anything false with wrongly ruining reputations, but he also appears totally misinformed here. Perhaps someone forgot to tell him about all the scientific papers out there showing that the science is more disputed than ever, and that Cook’s 97% consensus-claiming paper is fatally flawed. One has to wonder about Altmaier‘s information supply.
Pattern of bullying throughout the science supply chain
Marginalizing dissenting views and intimidating uncooperative journalists and scientists is not only a practice that was recently used by the German Environment Ministry in the form of its UBA brochure, but it is also one that had been widely used by its main supplier for scientific information: Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research.
Two years ago a court in Cologne ordered Rahmstorf to cease and desist spreading “false assertions” about science journalist Irene Meichsner who earlier had written a highly critical article on IPCC science.
In a February 20, 2011 blog commentary, Rahmstorf wrote that the journalist’s story represented:
…a media scandal where a few journalists mislead the public with completely exaggerated or freely made up pseudo-scandals. Too many among them are naive and go along without seeing through the farce.”
Background of that story here. Meichsner took Rahmstorf to court and won.
Thus bullying and intimidation of critics seems to have become a pattern throughout the entire science information supply chain of the German Environment Ministry.
Ministry may have committed a number of violations
What are the chances of success for the journalists against the Ministry of Environment in a court of law?
First off, the Ministry of Environment may have violated its rules for neutrality. Legal professor Thorsten Koch of the University of Osnabrück recently wrote that he believes the “Federal Environment Agency violated the rules of neutrality”. Koch explains that the government is allowed to participate and take a position on the climate issue, but adds:
Strange however that a government office is attempting to bindingly specify the state of knowledge in a scientific question. That is the job of a scientist. Even more it is neither scientifically or legally appropriate if scientific truths – and thus ultimately only the current state of the error – are announced with official authority.
Deciding scientific controversies is no duty of the state. The attempt we have here by the Environment Agency to decide a scientific controversy is in this form unique.”
And there’s “official state defamation”. Koch wrote:
The pamphlet is a product of official state action in which in one sense the claims that contradict the ‘scientific consensus’ made by ‘climate change skeptics’ (p. 110) are polemicized. Even the ZDF public television website ‘heute.de’ diagnosed it as ‘official state defamation’. This makes the matter legally questionable.”
It’s very difficult to predict the outcome of any legal battle.
German Association Of Journalists demands apology
Finally the German Association of Journalists demands an apology from Minister Altmaier, writing:
A state agency in Germany does not have the authority to brand critics of government policy as heretics and that Peter Altmaier “stop the distribution of the brochure in its current form and to apologise to the journalists named in the pamphlet.”
The pressure is mounting.