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Who you gonna call?

Filed under: — eric @ 5 December 2009

The problem of ‘false balance’ in reporting — the distortions that can result from trying give equal time to the two perceived sides of an issue — is well known. In an excellent editorial a few years ago, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called for a greater emphasis on truth, rather than ‘balance’. Unfortunately, this basic element of careful journalism seems to have been cast aside, especially in recent weeks.

I was both amused and stunned by the effort at ‘balance’ provided by Richard Harris’s report on NPR, in which he claimed that the peer review process was “so distorted” that neither John Christy nor Jim Hansen can get their work published. Notwithstanding the simple fact that both of these scientists publish regularly in leading journals, Harris’s attempt to present ‘both sides’ of the issue completely undermines his thesis. Christy thinks that the IPCC overstates the consequences of climate change, while Hansen thinks it understates it. If both feel the peer review process is biased against them, then it must be working rather well. This doesn’t mean they are wrong, but science is a conservative enterprise, and it is evident that neither of them has provided sufficient evidence for extraordinary claims.

More bizarre is that some journalists seem to have decided that scientists no longer have credibility and hence one can now turn to whomever one wants for expert advice. A case in point is Andrew Revkin’s recent query to political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. Revkin asked, “If the shape of the 20th-century temperature curve were to shift much,” would that “erode confidence that most warming since 1950 is driven by human activities”? Pielke replied that “the surface temps matter because they are a key basis for estimates of climate sensitivity,” and that there will ultimately be a “larger error bars around observed temperature trends which will carry through into the projections.”

We appreciate that Revkin may be trying to use voices that will appear ‘centrist’ to most of his audience. But Pielke’s answers, while they sound very reasonable, are wrong.

Obviously, radical changes to the long term trend in the surface temperature record would require re-evaluation of our understanding of climate sensitivity, but such radical changes are almost impossible to envision happening. This is so because: 1) independent assessments of the surface temperature data (such as by the Japanese Meteorological Agency) agree extremely well with one another, and 2) independent evidence from borehole temperatures fully validate the long term surface trend (and actually suggest it is larger than, for example, indicated by proxy temperature constructions).

The only conceivable changes to the record of surface temperatures are in the short term variability, which provide very little constraint on the climate sensitivity. (See e.g. Wigley et al. (1997), and Knutti and Hegerl’s 2008 review of research on climate sensitivity). And perhaps most importantly, the instrumental temperature data can especially not be used to exclude high values of climate sensitivity, because any small errors that may exist in those data are completely overwhelmed by the uncertainties in aerosol radiative forcing and ocean heat uptake. In short, in the unlikely event of any changes to the surface temperature record, the changes will be too small to have any impact on projections of the future.* (See also our earlier post on climate sensitivity, Plus ça change….)

All of which goes to show that, even if ones thinks it inappropriate for scientists to talk about politics, it still might be useful to ask them about technical issues.

There’s no need to rely on RealClimate: there are hundreds of other experts that can be asked. As a colleague recently wrote independently to Revkin, “You have a very good Rolodex. If you want to ask somebody a technical question about climate science … please use it.”

Note added in proof: We have assessed the CRU data independently and show that in terms of long term trends it is no different than the underlying raw data. So the instrumental temperature data aren’t going to change, and neither is the climate sensitivity (to the extent it depends on those data), so neither are projections of the future.


References:
Wigley et al., The observed global warming record: What does it tell us? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 94, 8314–8320 (1997).
Knutti R. & G.C. Hegerl. The equilibrium sensitivity of the Earth’s temperature to radiation changes. Nature Geoscience 1, 735 – 743 (2008).

*Edited from earlier version for clarity; the original read, “In short, in the unlikely event of any changes to the surface temperature record, it will have no impact on projections of the future.” This may have confused some readers to think that I was saying it would be impossible in principlefor any change — no matter how large — to have any impact. This is obviously not the case.


181 Responses to “Who you gonna call?”

  1. 1

    I briefly discuss the false balance here:

    http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/global_warming/global_warming_misinformation_reasons.html

    A few quotes:

    Boykoff & Boykoff (2004): “This supports the hypothesis that journalistic balance can often lead to a form of informational bias.”

    Boykoff (2008): “coverage of some areas of climate change is improving. For instance, attribution of climate change to human activity has received accurate coverage recently in a number of sources, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Times (London), The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Independent and The Guardian.” but “…an overall trend of inadequate coverage by the mass media persists.”

  2. 2
    Tom Dayton says:

    Excellent post, thanks.

    Technical heads-up: The tan bar on the right side of this one post’s page has a different and much smaller typeface than all the other pages.

  3. 3
    Mesa says:

    This post is very reminiscent of the attitude of string theorists – no matter what is found at the LHC it will confirm string theory. No matter what revisions might be made to the historical temperature record, and irrespective of actual temperatures going forward for decades to come, any set of facts will confirm the CO2 warming hypothesis and desired forcing sensitivities required to affect policy outcomes. It just doesn’t pass the smell test of a falsifiable science – probably because it isn’t.

  4. 4
    Llama Cheese says:

    A quick question on the subject of surface temperatures: As seen [here](http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1979/offset:-0.15/mean:12/plot/gistemp/from:1979/offset:-0.24/mean:12/plot/uah/mean:12/plot/rss/mean:12/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1979/offset:-0.15/trend/plot/gistemp/from:1979/offset:-0.24/trend/plot/uah/trend/plot/rss/trend), can someone explain why the satellite temperature record has more extreme results the surface temperature record? Like, each sat. temp. high is higher than the surface temperature highs, and each low is lower than the surface temp. lows.

  5. 5
    Steve L says:

    Shouldn’t this post be “Who ya gonna call 2″?
    The paragraph about why radical changes to surface temperatures to surface temperatures contains no links and, in particular, I would like to figure out what is meant by the second point regarding boreholes. Thanks.

  6. 6

    Which claims made by Jim Hansen do you consider extraordinary, and that he has not yet provided enough evidence to prove?

    [Response: No idea. I've never reviewed one of his papers, and nor has anyone else at RealClimate, as far as I can tell. Same goes for John Christy.
    Makes you wonder who the "gatekeepers" Judy Curry talks about are, doesn't it?--eric]

  7. 7
    Jim Bouldin says:

    RPjr: “The surface temps matter because they are a key basis for estimates of climate sensitivity in the models used to make projections.”

    Hmmmm.

    Careful Eric, Roger will add you to his list of lying RealClimate “science politicizers”. Just do science, don’t speak up about it. Remember, political scientists can expound on climate science (without even getting the facts right!), but climate scientists should never “pathologize” science by “politicizing” (i.e. talking about) it.

    [Response: Lil'Roger is engaged in a deligitimizing exercise which is designed to leave him as the only credible voice on climate science. The idea that we are the cause of the politicisation of climate science, or that answering questions about the science when it is misrepresented is making things worse, is ludicrous. He can only make those arguments by misrepresenting statements by us and others (hence the recent spate of baseless accusations of dishonesty, theft, plagirism and the like). By attempting to elbow out other mainstream voices he aims to be the middle-of-the-road academic that is supposed to be the voice of sense. This strategy is however very transparent, and judging from the commentaters on his blog, is only convincing to the denialist fringe. He is welcome to them. -gavin]

  8. 8

    Gordon McBean from the University of Western Ontario, and has served the Canadian Parliament, mentioned at WCC-3 in Geneva, that if you want to represent the reality of the understanding, even at 90% certainty, you would need to have 9 scientists that understand it and one that doesn’t to have a reasonably fair interview.

  9. 9
    Bob says:

    Sorry to instantly hijack your thread with a somewhat off topic question… but in a way it’s on topic, because it’s a science question, and I’d like it answered by a, well, umm, a scientist.

    I was lying awake last night worrying that forty years from now I would be gone, having left my daughter in quite a lurch with a dangerously unbalanced planet and me nowhere to be found to help her. I rather fear that the life skills that I’m teaching her now, as a parent, are intended to help her in this world and civilization as it exists now, and so I may be failing her (as a parent) because I don’t know what she may have to deal with in the future.

    Four more detailed thoughts bothered me, with the accompanying anxiety that things could turn out far worse than they seem but over too long of a time scale to motivate people (face it, many people simply don’t want to believe, and so many won’t believe until it is undeniable and probably too late).

    1) In the current computer models, is the increase in adiabatic lapse rate due to CO2 applied homogeneously across the globe and throughout the depth of the atmosphere, or are hot spots (land masses, temperate zones in summer, etc.) taken into account so that the lapse rate, and hence the incremental effect of H2O as a GHG, varies as well across the globe? Or is this not necessary because the movement and speed of mixing of the atmosphere eliminates this as a meaningful factor?

    2) Is there a time lag in the increase in water vapor in the atmosphere due to a gradual change in local or global temperature? That is, how long does it take sections of atmosphere that have warmed to increase in humidity to the point where the incremental effect of H2O as an incremental GHG effect is actually felt?

    3) Are deep ocean currents also taken into account, from the POV that some of today’s warming is being “sequestered” in the deep ocean as time goes on (that water being replace by cooler, 50 year old water upwelling in various spots), and that in time those now warmer bodies of water will resurface, warmer than what is upwelling today, and so allowing the full effect of AGW to be felt? Stated another way, is the “global conveyor belt” acting as a decades long temporary air conditioner, and if so, do the models currently account for this effect?

    4) Is the energy transfer of total global incremental ice melt (i.e. X more this year than usual) factored in and of a size so as to be relevant in contribution, given that such energy is “lost” in the phase change of water, and so is not entirely evidenced as a temperature increase… and in fact, the addition of melt water to the ocean or land surface (for glaciers) would by itself have an apparent cooling effect, even though the actual energy change of the planet is very positive?

    My questions come primarily from the concern that a rather random and slow transition from 1C warming due to CO2 to 4C warming due to CO2 + H2O, as well as ocean impact side effects, would be “masking” the full severity of GHG effects for many, many decades, simply because it will take a considerable amount of time to reach (a warmer) equilibrium. Or, more to the point, could it be that the overall warming process could be even slower than anticipated (which will aid denier arguments until it is too late to have a relevant impact on the process)?

    Thanks much for your time if you choose to answer these questions. You guys must be agonizingly busy these days. Sleep much?

  10. 10
    BartH says:

    “The problem of ‘false balance’ in reporting — the distortions that can result from trying give equal time to the two perceived sides of an issue — is well known.”

    I agree with that. But the problem also goes further than this. In the mainstream media, we all know that the time to speak is very brief. It is because of this, that the side which has the detailed, rational and sound explanation *will* be disadvantaged most of the time (in the “apparent convincingness” to the lay public). That side of course, is mostly the scientific side.

    Much easier to say: “Everything is a hoax” or to reiterate the same crocks (“It’s cooling!”, “It’s just natural”, “It’s just the sun!” etc. ad inf.) than it is to give a detailed explanation (i.e. well constructed arguments, presenting evidence, taking away misunderstanding etc.) In this way, the sound and scientific side really is disadvantaged with respect to cheap rhetoric, large words and big claims, demagogy and so on.

    This is, of course, mainly related to tv and radio.

  11. 11
    Tom Fuller says:

    Gavin, I think you’re either confusing or conflating two typical mistakes of the media. As a ‘lukewarmer’ I could easily say that because I’m attacked by both sides I must be in the correct and moderate middle. But it’s just as possible that I get attacked by both sides because I’m wrong. Balance in journalism is great, but not a cover. The fact that papers from the far ends of the spectrum are not being published is not a healthy sign–it’s a sign that editors of journals are trying to stay in the safe middle. Far better to publish and be the first commenter. The other mistake is outright advocacy of a position–and that’s not even a mistake, as long as it’s clearly labeled and accompanied by acknowledgement of opposing positions.

    I don’t think that science needs to work that way–you all have your own rules and it seems to work over the long haul. But communications with non-scientists need to go by different rules. And I think it is now clear that journals that are accessible to the wider public need to be cognizant of their potentially much wider audience.

  12. 12
    wildlifer says:

    Well stated Eric. I was fortunate enough to combine my ecology degree with a degree in journalism and it seems today’s journalists have forgotten a basic rule of journalism.
    It was probably best stated by one of my journalism professors. He said, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”
    So, in an effort to create a sense of balance (and/or to sensationalize and sell newspapers etc) they have forgotten to “check it out”.

  13. 13

    Eric:

    You protest too much.

    Andy’s putting a question to Roger Jr. is not unreasonable. Your right that Roger seems to try to present himself as ‘the guru in the middle’. But he isn’t completely ignorant of the science. And Andy does use his “very good Rolodex” to query others as well.

    Readers can’t help but noticing that Roger’s bias to maintain his image as THE ‘Honest Broker’, leads him too often to avoid admitting (as he occasionally nonetheless does!) that AGW is a serious problem that needs attention.

  14. 14

    Eric, I think it is also interesting to point out the ‘centrist’ lean many take in their rhetoric. Politics as usual. I wrote a piece in 2006 about the stealing form the middle that seems to result in the hijacking of reason.

    http://www.uscentrist.org/news/2006/yellow-stripes-armadillos

    Politics as usual to sell an agenda…

    Somehow reporters need to learn that context is more important than answers, but then we run into the problem of them not understanding context sufficiently, which easily allows for the answer given to not lead to the relevant questions in response to the answers the would get from those such as Roger Pielke, Jr.

    I have been offering my services in the area of climate communications, but there is not enough interest yet. I wonder if reporters are afraid to say to their editors that they don’t know enough to glean the truth out of answers in interviews or, in some cases, they might be feeding off of the controversy to increase the noise and debate? One might think that getting to the truth of the matter is important? If they did understand the contexts, this debate would be over rather quickly.

    http://www.ossfoundation.us/services

  15. 15
    Doug Bostrom says:

    A monster I’m afraid is being created and unleashed by the hydrocarbon industry while defending their empire is that of collateral damage to the reputation of and public willingness to enjoy benefits from -all- fields of scientific inquiry. The degenerate effects of industrial-scale deceit will infect public estimation of scientific inquiry in general.

    Strategic and tactical deception techniques pioneered by the tobacco industry** have been vastly sharpened and “improved” in the battle to keep money flowing to hydrocarbon interests. We can be certain that these same techniques will be employed in other, lesser struggles between reality and avarice and their mutual outcomes in public policy, leading to further confusion on the part of the public.

    ** But let’s not fail to give credit to the Ethyl Corporation, who succeeded in defending tetraethyl lead as an additive to gasoline for decades after the wisdom of spewing this remarkably effective neurotoxin from tailpipes worldwide was called into question. Ethyl should be given due recognition for their early efforts in mass bamboozlement.

  16. 16
    guthrie says:

    Having attacked CRU for political reasons, they are still attacking NASA:
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/dec/03/researcher-says-nasa-hiding-climate-data/
    The aim will be to cast doubt on every temperature record, and use that to delay any action.

  17. 17
    Nick says:

    Take the BBC. The receive money from the government and in return have to stick to certain standards.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/edguide/

    Are their guidelines.

    In particular.

    * we seek to provide a properly balanced service consisting of a wide range of subject matter and views broadcast over an appropriate time scale across all our output. We take particular care when dealing with political or industrial controversy or major matters relating to current public policy.
    * we strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented.
    * we exercise our editorial freedom to produce content about any subject, at any point on the spectrum of debate as long as there are good editorial reasons for doing so.
    * we can explore or report on a specific aspect of an issue or provide an opportunity for a single view to be expressed, but in doing so we do not misrepresent opposing views. They may also require a right of reply.
    * we must ensure we avoid bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects.
    * the approach to, and tone of, BBC stories must always reflect our editorial values. Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC, they can have a significant impact on the perceptions of our impartiality.
    * our journalists and presenters, including those in news and current affairs, may provide professional judgments but may not express personal opinions on matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy. Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC programmes or other BBC output the personal views of our journalists and presenters on such matters.
    * we offer artists, writers and entertainers scope for individual expression in drama, arts and entertainment and we seek to reflect a wide range of talent and perspective.
    * we will sometimes need to report on or interview people whose views may cause serious offence to many in our audiences. We must be convinced, after appropriate referral, that a clear public interest outweighs the possible offence.
    * we must rigorously test contributors expressing contentious views during an interview whilst giving them a fair chance to set out their full response to our questions.
    * we should not automatically assume that academics and journalists from other organisations are impartial and make it clear to our audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint.

    However, when it comes to the climate change controversy, the BBC does not adher to these standards and deliberately does so.

  18. 18
    MarkB says:

    “You have a very good Rolodex. If you want to ask somebody a technical question about climate science … please use it.”

    Nice! I expect a lot from Revkin, but his journalism has become pretty lazy. I pointed out on his blog that he seems to be relying too heavily on the Pielkes, perhaps because he falsely believes their self-described “honest broker” label, and that there are thousands of climate scientists he could contact who are perhaps less attention-seeking but very knowledgeable. Prall’s list is a good starting point.

    http://www.eecg.utoronto.ca/~prall/climate/

    In the comments section of another post, an individual claimed that the stolen email from Wigley regarding the 1940′s SST bias issue shows Wigley was attempting to fraudulently adjust data. Revkin awarded him an “Editor’s Selection”. Way to discourage conspiracy nuts, Andy. I then pointed out where he was wrong and referenced the first RC post on the CRU hack (it’s also directly noted in the 2nd post), indicating the email context, and Andy responded by asking where in the long list of comments is it addressed. I suppose most journalists would have ignored my comment, but this still clearly indicates that he hadn’t bothered to read the critical responses from those most familiar with the discussions. This is lazy. Mainstream media types are often like this but I expect more from Revkin.

    I also pointed out the Knutti/Hergel review on Revkin’s blog in response to Pielke’s statement. Here is the article for those who don’t have a Nature subscription.

    http://www.iac.ethz.ch/people/knuttir/papers/knutti08natgeo.pdf

  19. 19
    Don Shor says:

    “A case in point is Andrew Revkin’s recent query to political scientist Roger Pielke….
    As a colleague recently wrote independently to Revkin, “You have a very good Rolodex. If you want to ask somebody a technical question about climate science … please use it.”

    Roger Pielke Jr is a professor of environmental studies and has been a staff scientist in the field of atmospheric research. Although it is his PhD, calling him a political scientist seems to me to minimize his expertise in climate science issues.
    Is it your intent to suggest that Pielke Jr does not have sufficient expertise in the field of climate science?

    [Response: My intent is to suggest that Pielke has demonstrated that a) he is not independent and b) is wrong. My description of him as 'political scientist' is from him, not me.--eric]

  20. 20
    Annabelle says:

    So changes to the surface temperature record would have no impact on projections of the future. Can you see why it appears to people like me that the whole theory of catastrophic climate change is not falsifiable? What WOULD it take to force a revision of the theory?

    [Response:I didn't say that. I said plausible changes -- given that we already know that the surface temperature record doesn't depend at all on CRU -- plus completely independent evidence. What would force a revision to the theory? Discovery of a strong negative feedback; yet to be found.--eric]

  21. 21
    TCO says:

    I think Revkin does OK. I remember the one time when Mike Mann gave one of his equivocating self-defenses to say that Revkin had quoted him out of context. So Revkin showed up here and gave the whole email…and Mike was wrong!

    [Response: My recollection of this is different than yours, on all counts. However, my intention here is not to argue about whether Revkin is a good reporter. In general, I think he is, and not just when I agree with him.--eric]

  22. 22
    Blair Dowden says:

    I can understand your objection to the first part of the Richard Harris article, where an extreme interpretation of the e-mails (eg. “bare-knuckle tactics to defend the orthodoxy of global warming”) is presented as fact, and Gavin is then presented as agreeing with that and saying the behavior is justified. But after that, I think the article is reasonably well balanced, at least by journalist standards. In particular, I agree with Judith Curry’s view that some scientists gone too far in the direction of “tribal” behavior, and this needs to be acknowledged. That will be difficult to do in the extremely partisan climate being whipped up by most of the media.

    I find it interesting that Eric states that James Hansen has not “provided sufficient evidence for extraordinary claims.” Has Hansen gone off the deep end, like James Lovelock and Peter Ward? It is curious how Peter Ward’s book “Under a Green Sky” never gets mentioned here, and when Ward himself posed some questions here he was studiously ignored. Could that be because he “credited” Eric in the text with reviewing some of the worst writing on climate change I have seen? I also wonder if David Battisti appreciates being quoted as saying that all of Antarctica is going to melt. I don’t see that getting into a peer reviewed journal. Maybe there is a similarity between loose talk over a few beers, and a supposedly private e-mail exchange.

    Well, global warming is certainly back in the public perception, although with an unprecedented and almost uniform negative spin even in the most liberal media. Maybe, as Eric requests, there will eventually be a chance for actual scientists to talk about real issues instead of overblown scandal.

    [Response: I'm not suggesting that Hansen, or Christy, or anyone else is "off the deep end". For all I know, they are all right. My point is that it doesn't follow, from their alleged difficulty in getting things published, that the peer review process is "distorted" the way that Harris says it is.--eric]

  23. 23
    DB says:

    So what you are saying is that even though the data has been corrupted, and temperatures may well be adjusted downward, it has no bearing on the trend upwards? Should we just take your word on that, or should it be noted that models are only as good as the code that runs them and the data they are being fed?

    [Response: I didn't say what you think I said, and I don't even agree with your inference based on what you think I said. Try reading the article again, slowly, think for more than a few seconds, and ask your question again.--eric]

  24. 24
    Arthur Smith says:

    I think this question of who journalists talk to can actually be quantified to look for unwarranted bias. Suppose you have a particular question that is the subject of some claimed controversy (like, is human-caused global warming something to be concerned about). Suppose you have an objective list of experts on the subject (like Tim Prall’s most-cited authors on climate change: http://www.eecg.utoronto.ca/~prall/climate/). Now take some time-period of media coverage. What fraction of those experts on one side of the issue were quoted, and what fraction of those on the other side? If only 1 in 1000 top experts with one answer on the question were consulted, while 3 in 10 on the other side were consulted, then you have a quantitative bias ratio of 300:1 for the contrarian position. You might want to weight in some way by relative rank of the consulted experts, as well.

    So, somebody run the numbers, how are our media doing on climate?

  25. 25
    Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

    Hi Eric-

    The question Andy posed to me was not a question about climate science but a question about the social construction of science — he asked me a “thought experiment” about what would happen if the temperature record were to change, would that “would that erode confidence in the keystone climate question”?

    My statement on climate sensitivity is thus not at all different than your own: “radical changes to the long term trend in the surface temperature record would require re-evaluation of our understanding of climate sensitivity” — which is of course why this topic is a political battle ground.

    Your colleague Ray seemed to get this no problem:
    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/a-climate-science-forecast-in-the-wake-of-climate-files/#comment3

    Your comments here and mine there at not at all in contradiction.

    [Response: I disagree with you, and so do the several other folks (including several non-RC scientists, as well as Ray Pierrehumbert) I've talked with. The surface temperature record is not a 'key basis for estimates of climate sensitivity" as you wrote, and nor would changes to the climate sensitivity inferred from changes to the surface temperature records propagate into future projections, as you also wrote.--eric]

  26. 26
    mauri pelto says:

    For Pielke to think, or Revkin to even ask, that the recent temperature curve can shift much, is hard to fathom. As noted above the JMA provides another measure of global temperature change. For September note the analysis. They note Sept. as the warmest globally, NOAA lists it as the second warmest.
    JMA
    NOAA

  27. 27
    mike roddy says:

    Thanks for the analysis of Pielke Jr.’s thoughts- I commented on DE that he was an odd person to choose to address any scientific issue. Major American newspapers and TV networks are pretty much hopeless. Never mind Revkin- have you ever read John Tierney’s “Science” column in the New York Times?

    I also don’t believe that this journalistic instinct toward balance and conflict drives the way their stories are framed. It comes from the top. Media ownership is concentrated, and many interlocking directorships and common financing sources with fossil fuel companies dictate this phony “balance”. The Seattle PI is very rare in this respect.

    The internet and blogs are great, but limited. A serious media campaign- to include cable television and feature films- is called for. The hour is getting late.

  28. 28
    Bill says:

    if you assume a precautionary principle is justified in light of the present knowledge, why are thousands of people travelling to Copenhagen adding to the carbon emissions. Why not use webex/tcon to hold a true carbon- neutral meeting ? Set an Example !

  29. 29
    Steve Bloom says:

    But, but, but… RP Jr. can be relied on to produce something controversial-sounding on deadline, and Andy’s trying to keep this story alive! Perhaps there’s some part of journalism you’re unclear on? /snark :(

  30. 30
    Joe Hunkins says:

    Agree that truth trumps balance. And transparency in methods are a key cornerstone of finding truths. My greatest frustration here in the peanut gallery is how rarely I see simple disagreements (e.g. Tiljander usage) defined in a way that can be arbitrated effectively by a disinterested party.

  31. 31
    Eli Rabett says:

    Much of this nonsense comes from the deceptive “honest broker” concept that Roger Pielke Jr. has established. Of course it fits right in with the “fair and balanced” framework that journalists prefer (aka let’s watch you and him fight) to figuring out if there really is any balance.

    The naive concept of “honest broker” has pushed discussion into a fruitless direction. As with many such things, reality shows how hollow this is.

    Brokers do not expand the scope of choices available to clients, they narrow them. You want limitless choices, google. Ethical and expert brokers have mutual obligations to sellers and buyers, not to sell every piece of nuclear waste to every rube with a cell phone. Where the client insists on committing financial suicide the ethical broker is obligated to tell the buyer to take the business elsewhere.

    Pielke’s “honest broker” would spend as much time telling a policy maker about the incoherent cacophony that denialists throw up putting on an equal basis the weird and wrong second law arguments of Gerlich and Tscheuschner . (there appears to be a revival of interest in that strangeness, anyone know why), cosmic rays, mysterious 1500 year cycles or Lindzen and Choi’s GRL arguments based on cherry picking models and more.

    It is precisely this demand that scientists talking to policy makers deny their understanding that makes the “honest broker” concept dangerous. Worse, should a scientist such as the CRU folks or Hansen, or Spencer express an expert opinion they are to be labeled partisans. (IEHO, Lindzen has long ago shed any responsiblity, YMMV)

    In other words, brokers and scientists are experts, and to expect them to tell you that wrong is right is just the sort of thing that those shopping for fantasy favor.

  32. 32
    dhogaza says:

    My greatest frustration here in the peanut gallery is how rarely I see simple disagreements (e.g. Tiljander usage) defined in a way that can be arbitrated effectively by a disinterested party.

    Why not do what Mann did – leave Tiljander out and get almost exactly the same result?

    End of discussion.

  33. 33
    Louise D says:

    I have thought for a long time that part of the problem in convincing people of climate change is the idea of balance. The BBC, which, I believe, is slightly more indpeendent than some other media, still feels a need for ‘balance’, which often equates to giving equl times to both points of view. This of course generates a good debate, which get’s people’s interest, and is good for ratings. I suspect that it is a human tendency to then see the two points as equal, or nearly equal, unless people are bothered to study the topic. The other problem is that lack of understanding of scientific method, so people can think 90% certain still leaves a lot of room for doubt. I bet if the weather forcast showed a 90% certainty of rain most people would take an umbrella!
    Many people also seem to believe that any ‘scientist’ or someone linked in some way to science must be an ‘expert’.In the UK I have seen Professor David Bellamy quoted as an expert on climate change because he’s a professor and a scientist (botanist)!

  34. 34
    Molnar says:

    Anybody want to bet how long before the MSM start quoting denialdepot?

  35. 35
    PT101 says:

    ” in the unlikely event of any changes to the surface temperature record, it will have no impact on projections of the future.”

    Has anyone shown how recent (say last 100 years)variability in surface temperatures would look if it were to be compressed into the proxy records (tree rings, corals etc?)? It seems to me that this should be done before instrumental data is plugged into “fix” proxy records.

  36. 36
    Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

    Hi Eric-

    Again, Revkin did not ask me if it was plausible that the temperature record would shift much, he simply assumed it in the question and I assumed it in the answer. It would be a little like me asking you, assume a major volcanic eruption occurred in 2010, what would be the climate consequences?

    One response might be: “hmmm that is an interesting thought experiment. What might the answer be?”

    Another might be “Eric is not a vulcanologist, why ask him this? Besides the chances of a big volcanic eruption are really small.”

    Your post is quite a bit like the second response.

    Again, I said nothing more than you said yourself: “radical changes to the long term trend in the surface temperature record would require re-evaluation of our understanding of climate sensitivity”.

    Are radical changes possible? Don’t ask me, I’m a political scientist;-) But in any case you should be heartened by my answers, which explained that even if this occurred, it does not much change the science or policy equation — from the perspective of the social construction of science — which I take it is just about where you come out asking a different question about plausibility. So it appears we are in violent agreement from very different perspectives.

    [Response: The right response to your hypothetical would be, "First, let me be very clear that a major eruption in any given year is very unlikely...." and then to answer the question.

    Furthermore, to repeat this once more, as clearly as I can: *What you said* was mostly wrong, *even* in response to a hypothetical "really big change." What you said about how climate sensitivity is estimated was wrong, and what you said about how estimates of climate sensivity wind up in projections of the future was wrong. And overall, what you said was grossly misleading because it strongly implies (since you did not bother to give the caveat at the beginning, analogous to the caveat about the volcano) that big changes to our estimates of climate sensitivity might well come from an actual fresh and independent look at the surface temperature records. While *technically* accurate (anything is *possible*), that is a very misleading statement. And it is very very misleading to suggest that that would translate directly into changed projections. And that supports the view that questions raised by the CRU emails cast doubt on future projections, which is very very very misleading. One more 'very' and I think it simply becomes 'dishonest'.

    But, that's all water under the bridge I suppose because you now say you agree with me that if Revkin had asked a better question, such as "Is it at all likely that any of this matters to future projections?" you would have answered "No, it is not at all likely." Right?--eric]

  37. 37
    GlenFergus says:

    Mauri at #13:

    BOM Australia’s November summary is out. The hottest November on record, by nearly 2°C. That’s after our hottest ever August, by a similar margin. Both about 4-sigma events, on my crude estimate.

    But it’s not real; all just some grand conspiracy, foisted from the old dart by that infamous Harry guy.

  38. 38
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Arthur Smith 5 December 2009 at 2:43 PM:

    That’s a really nice analysis; I’d never thought of it quite that way before.

    I suppose the trouble is that when the consensus is as lopsided as is AGW, it’s effectively impossible to shift that ratio to something more reasonable without entirely ignoring the “other side”, vanishingly small as it is.

    Which leads to the question: When exactly do we reach the point where contrarians are thrown in the same bucket as diehard adherents of the Ptolemaic system, etc.? (Perhaps lumping ‘em in with Ptolemy is a bit harsh, maybe Earth shrinkage as the underpinnings of orogeny is a better analogy?)

  39. 39
    Frank says:

    Although every scientist has a right to participate in the political process of deciding what to do about AGW, reporters should try to get their SCIENTIFIC information from climate scientists who generally aren’t active in the political process. Distortion, one-sided presentations, suppression of information and character assassination are accepted tactics in politics, in the courtroom, and in blogs (such as this one; see comment about Pielke), but they are not acceptable in science. Steven Schneider has written about the dilemma confronting scientists who want to make the world better through science. (stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/PDF_Papers/APS.pdf). Climategate suggests (to me, at least) that some politically active climate scientists may have been corrupted by the political process and have not dealt appropriately with the dilemma Schneider describes.

    When discussing political or legal issues, reporters are forced to deal with the accepted distortions describe above by soliciting the views of one proponent from each side of an issue. As you explain, this doesn’t work well in science. Therefore they should seek out politically uninvolved scientists who feel obligated to accurately discuss science according to scientific, not political, ethics.

    I would hope that ALL of the lead authors of the next IPCC report would be chosen from scientists who not been vocal advocates or opponents of climate change legislation or been involved in climategate. Like all other scientists, political activists can participate in peer review of this report through the normal transparent process. I would also hope that the political leaders of the IPCC would decide to increase the scientific credibility of IPCC reviews by forgoing their right to edit the work of scientists and especially the Summary for Policymakers. Finally I would hope that those Summaries explain and use the normal, precise scientific terms for expressing scientific uncertainty.

  40. 40
    Ron R. says:

    What the IPCC should do is issue a chapter or a whole book that deals specifically with denier claims point-by-point-by-point. Make it thorough and crushing. It should also include detailed information on the connections of these goons to the energy industry.

    Include diagrams and photos of the already visible signs of warming, something like Gavin’s book on picturing climate change. Let people see the before and after of the poles and glaciers. Have info on the change in the arrival of spring, migrations etc. Get the acknowledgement of the energy industry that climate change is real. Show the certainties and uncertainties tht remain. Then get it in Barnes, Borders and Amazon.

    I mean it’s already been done with creationism. Why not the anti-climate science phonys?

  41. 41

    “Balanced” does not mean “unbiased”. A good example of this is The Economist’s reporting on Robert Mugabe, the dictator of Zimbabwe. They clearly state “we hate the guy”, but before ripping him to shreds, they do a “good-faith” effort to represent Mugabe’s point of view. The Economist does that a lot with other stories: start a story where they do an excellent job argument FOR something before they then rip the idea to shreds.

    The opposite also happens. Both left-wing MSNBC and right-wing FoxNews use the trick of having two people on to talk about climate: a sane person to talk about one side, and an fringe person to debate the opposing side (and to discredit his own side).

    We rarely see the actual climate debate in the press. From Lindzen to McIntyre, everyone agrees on the “settled” bits of the science, that mankind has cause more CO2, and that CO2 is a major greenhouse gas, and that the last part of the 20th century had rapid warming. Yet, whenever I see a “balanced” discussion of climate in the press, they prop up fringe people that disagree with this settled science.

    I know of nobody who has heard of the term “sensitivity”. The debate isn’t whether or not manmade warming happens, but the degree the climate is sensitive to the mandmade warming. An ethical, “balanced”, reporting would have two climatologists on to argue why they have different views on “sensitivity”. This could be Linzden vs. Gavin, but it could also be Gavin vs. Mann.

  42. 42
    David B. Benson says:

    Robert David Graham (26) — The question of the correct estimate for Charney equilbrium climate sensitivity (CECS) has been trashed out several times in the peer-reviewed literature. The most recent I know about was showing why Schwartz was wrong, by a combination of paleodata and climate models. For example, see the paper by Knutti et al. (on his website) which uses a climate model to show that there is not just a sinlge characteristic time scale for slimate response to a pertubation; there is more discussion on James Anna’s blog, where I thik he discusses his (and co-authors) reply to Schwartz’s mistake.

    Since then there have been two or three papers which purport to find a very small CECS. I tried, in my amateur way, to show why a paper by Shaviv was wrong, using Tung & Cabin (2008) for support; AFAIK thre has been no formally published refutation. The other two are obviously wrong (even to me) simply based on the paleoclimate data; AFAIK so far there is no formally published rebuttal of either.

    So the “debates” you propose don’t seem to hold any interest whatsoever. The value of about 3 K for CECS has been around since at least the 1979 Charney et al. NAS/NRC report:
    http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12181&page=1
    and 30 years of further research has done nothing to change this (approximate) value.

  43. 43
    Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

    Eric-

    Re: your reply at:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/12/who-you-gonna-call/comment-page-1/#comment-147312

    You say: “The right response to your hypothetical would be, “First, let me be very clear that a major eruption in any given year is very unlikely….” and then to answer the question.”

    You and I have already both agreed that I am unqualified to render an expert opinion on such a question ;-)

    You ask:

    “if Revkin had asked a better question, such as “Is it at all likely that any of this matters to future projections?” you would have answered “No, it is not at all likely.” Right?”

    No, of course not. Revkin all but certainly wouldn’t have asked me this, since I am not an expert on this topic. However, had he asked such a question (and journalists in fact sometimes do ask me such questions) I would have relied that I’m the wrong person to ask, and pointed him to people with expertise such as yours (as I often do). Revkin’s “thought experiment” question about the social construction of knowledge is a very reasonable question for him to ask me and for me to answer, even as there are many other important questions, such as those raised in your post.

    And I agree that this is all “water under the bridge” as we are talking about different things.

    [Response: Great, I am glad we are in full agreement that any reader who though Revkin was asking you about *actual* data errors and *actual* climate projections would have been misled by your answers. I'm in no way accusing you of being deliberately misleading. I'm just trying to get some clarity on this.--eric]

  44. 44
    Leonard Evens says:

    “This post is very reminiscent of the attitude of string theorists – no matter what is found at the LHC it will confirm string theory.”

    Where do you get stuff like this? The LHC is not designed to settle questions about the validity of string theory. It is to settle questions about the standard model and perhaps go a bit beyond. The most publicized hope is that they will find the Higgs particle which is supposed to `explain’ where mass comes from. But if they don’t find it, it won’t mean the whole standard model will collapse. It has already been verified by lots of other data. Physicists are on strong ground if they say that the LHC is unlikely to show that current theory is basically wrong. Rather than giving up on the standard model, they will conclude they just haven’t reached sufficiently high energy levels, something they already knew about the LHC.

    The questions in climate science are of a different nature, but the above artilce makes a similar point. You have to look at all the other evidence you have, and you don’t start over again from scratch with each new observation. The real world imposes certain constraints on what is possible. It is not enough to call into question the accuracy of the surface temperature record. You have to explain why everything else is wrong also.

  45. 45
    MalcolmT says:

    Re #40:
    Great idea but the IPCC is not the right kind of author. You want someone like Dawkins, who has just done it for evolution. Okay, then … someone with great scientific credentials in the field and excellent popular-science-writing skills. Nominate someone who’s not too busy actually working and/or blogging, and introduce him/her to a publisher.
    Actually, I believe Dawkins did a lot of his writing while occupying a philanthropically-funded ‘Chair for the Public Communication of Science’ or some such name. That also could be a model worth pursuing.
    While I’m writing: can someone please explain why climate scientists are not supposed to enter into any policy debates, when it is absolutely standard practice for medical scientists to do just that?

  46. 46
    Hank Roberts says:

    An honest broker helps people ask useful questions, and find accurate answers, not provide them with opinions; an honest broker helps people avoid wasting time on questions based on mistaken ideas about what’s possible.

    Having failed that, blamed Revkin for asking a poor question, now what?

    “… if Revkin had asked a better question, such as “Is it at all likely that any of this matters to future projections?” you would have answered “No, it is not at all likely.” Right?”

    I don’t recall ever seeing a journalist writing a piece saying “I asked a bad question, and got a misleading answer that spun me around; if I’d asked a better question, the right answer would be ….”

    Journalists must study how to cope with this, it’s hardly unusual for a journalist to ask a sloppy question, and get a misleading answer.

    The Catholics call it the ‘sin of omission’ — and as far as I know, they’re the only religion that calls it a sin rather than clever to mislead by omitting information required to make the information given accurate.

  47. 47
    ccpo says:

    Tom Fuller says:
    5 December 2009 at 12:46 PM

    Gavin, I think you’re either confusing or conflating two typical mistakes of the media. As a ‘lukewarmer’ I could easily say that because I’m attacked by both sides I must be in the correct and moderate middle. But it’s just as possible that I get attacked by both sides because I’m wrong. Balance in journalism is great, but not a cover. The fact that papers from the far ends of the spectrum are not being published is not a healthy sign…

    Tom, false equivalencies are false because one side has less legitimacy than the other. That is what it means to have FALSE equivalence. You are committing the same mistake that he was addressing. Given I know of not one paper that undermines any given aspect of climate change, particularly the core science, ZERO commentators from the anti-AGW side would be the correct balance.

    Get it?

    Let me say it another way. If 1000 out of 1000 papers support any anti-AGW science, then the repersentation should be the same to be fair. If 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 percent is denial, and this is not supported scientifically, it is false equivalence.

    What we see in the media should reflect what we know to be true. Where there is uncertainty, let that be clearly represented. There is no uncertainty with the fundamentals of climate change.

    OK?

    BTW, who said any legit papers aren’t getting published? Nobody.

  48. 48
    ccpo says:

    Roger Pielke, Jr. says:
    5 December 2009 at 4:51 PM

    Hi Eric-

    Again, Revkin did not ask me if it was plausible that the temperature record would shift much, he simply assumed it in the question and I assumed it in the answer. It would be a little like me asking you, assume a major volcanic eruption occurred in 2010, what would be the climate consequences?

    One response might be: “hmmm that is an interesting thought experiment. What might the answer be?”

    Another might be “Eric is not a vulcanologist, why ask him this? Besides the chances of a big volcanic eruption are really small.”

    Your post is quite a bit like the second response.

    Again, I said nothing more than you said yourself: “radical changes to the long term trend in the surface temperature record would require re-evaluation of our understanding of climate sensitivity”.

    Are radical changes possible? Don’t ask me, I’m a political scientist;-)

    Pielke, this is intellectually dishonest. From the Urban Dictionary:

    Intellectual dishonesty

    An argument which is misused to advance an agenda or to reinforce one’s deeply held beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence contrary.

    You are pretending the context of the question wasn’t the recent, and bogus, e-mail uproar – itself an exercise in intellectual dishonesty. Within that context, and knowing what the true framing of the question was, it was dishonest of you to say anything without a qualifying statement. There should be two parts to this. The first, *you* should always state before speaking on climate science: “I do not study climate science, so your question might be better addressed to _____, but….”

    The second would be something like, “Let me first say that the entire temp record being found to be wrong is ludicrous. However, I realize you are asking this in the context of the recent trumped up e-mail drama and answer with that in mind. Yes, IF in some alternate reality the temp record were found to have serious errors…”

    That you were content to add to the false equivalence that is part of leading to inaction or insufficient action on climate speaks volumes.

    My momma told me long ago that one’s actions speak louder than one’s words. You have offered a perfect example of why I give greater weight to actions.

  49. 49
    ccpo says:

    Frank says:
    5 December 2009 at 5:18 PM

    Although every scientist has a right to participate in the political process of deciding what to do about AGW, reporters should try to get their SCIENTIFIC information from climate scientists who generally aren’t active in the political process.

    Climategate suggests (to me, at least) that some politically active climate scientists may have been corrupted by the political process and have not dealt appropriately with the dilemma Schneider describes.

    I submit you have completely lost track of what is important in this sordid affair. Your first assertion is ridiculous on its face: allow only those who are not politically active to speak? Do you not see the self-selection this would reflect? There are already far more denialists on the airwaves than legit scientists. All you are advocating is making false equivalence the standard in science reporting.

    Bizarre.

  50. 50
    Andy Revkin says:

    The Dot Earth blog is an interrogatory exercise in most cases and very different from a fully reported news article. It is, to some extent, part of the reporting/learning process, with reader involvement (and certainly sometimes misdirection etc.).

    That same string of posts included contributions from many experts with varying perspectives, including Raymond Pierrehumbert, a frequent voice on Realclimate, and Ben Santer’s “open letter.” Michael Schlesinger of the U. of Illinois provided a long guest post including a graph of the four data sets charting the 150-year temperature pattern, including Japan’s.

    As for Roger Pielke, Jr., he’s absolutely not a climatologist and noted at the outset that he’s an interested observer. You’re right that he’s not the ideal choice to be commenting on climate sensitivity issues, but to imply that he doesn’t deserve a seat at the table is troubling. Here’s why. He has been an author on dozens of peer-reviewed papers related to climate change, with a particular focus on the climate/hurricane/disaster losses arena. Just go to http://j.mp/PielkeGoog for a sample. Given how many climate scientists have begun speaking out about policy choices (Pielke’s realm) hard to see how he can be excised from discussions.
    Here’s an example of a scientist explaining why he has become a advocate as well:
    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/09/the-road-from-climate-science-to-climate-advocacy/

    [Response: Andy, thanks for your response. I concur with your points about the difference between an article and a blog post. But you miscontrue my point. I in no way intended to suggest that Roger should be excluded from the table. My simple point was that it was irresponsible of you to be asking anyone about this highly charged issue (whether the CRU emails really matter to projections of the future) without doing more work to make sure the basic facts were straight. And getting an opinion in addition to Pielke's is particularly important, given that he has repeatedly demonstrated a remarkable ability to mislead readers about the facts.

    To reiterate: I appreciate that Revkin may be trying to use voices that will appear ‘centrist’ to most of his audience. That's totally reasonable. But Pielke’s answers are wrong and they are misleading on the most central question being debated right now.--eric]


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