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The Guardian disappoints

Filed under: — gavin @ 23 February 2010

Over the last few weeks or so the UK Guardian (who occasionally reprint our posts) has published a 12-part series about the stolen CRU emails by Fred Pearce that are well below the normal Guardian standards of reporting. We delineate some of the errors and misrepresentations below. While this has to be seen on a backdrop of an almost complete collapse in reporting standards across the UK media on the issue of climate change, it can’t be excused on the basis that the Mail or the Times is just as bad. As a long-time Guardian reader and avid Guardian crossword puzzle solver, I’m extremely unhappy writing this post, but the pathologies of media reporting on this issue have become too big to ignore.

We highlight issues with three of the articles below, which revisit a number of zombie arguments that have been doing the rounds of the sceptic blogs for years. Two follow-up pieces will deal with two further parts of the series. Hopefully some of the more egregious factual errors can be fixed as part of a ‘group experiment‘ in improving the stories, though the larger misconceptions probably can’t be (and readers should feel free to use this information to comment on the articles directly). Why the Guardian is asking for group input after the stories were published instead of before is however a puzzle. Some of the other pieces in this series are fine, which makes the ones that get it so wrong all the more puzzling. The errors consist of mistakes in the basic science, misunderstandings of scientific practice, more out of context quotes and some specific issues that are relatively new. (In the text below, quotes from the articles are in italics).

Part 3: Hockey Sticks

Some of the more egregious confusions and errors were in the third part of the series. In this part, a number of issues that were being discussed among the paleo-community in 1999 were horribly mixed up. For instance, there was a claim that arguments on the zeroth-order draft of the 2001 IPCC report were based on Briffa’s reconstruction showed the 11th century as being almost as warm as the 20th century, while Mann’s graph found little sign of the earlier warming. But this is simply untrue since at the time Briffa’s curve only went back to 1400 AD (not the 11th Century) and the discussions had nothing to do with the medieval warm period, but rather the amount of multi-decadal variability in the three different reconstructions then available. This was corrected in the online edition, but the description of the dispute in the article is still very confused.

That discussion was conflated with a completely separate April 1999 issue based on a disagreement about a perspectives piece in Science (which appeared as Briffa and Osborn, 1999) and which was in any case amicably resolved.

That discussion is then further confused with the discussions about the framing of the SPM text which despite Pearce claiming that ‘the emails reveal how deeply controversial it was at the time, did not get discussed in the emails at all. And while the article claimed that the uncertainty was not discussed in the IPCC report, the discussion in Chapter 2 was actually quite extensive.

Part 5: Chinese weather stations

This piece concerns the response of Phil Jones at CRU to a FOI request for data that had been used in a 1990 paper on the urban heat island (UHI). This now-20 year old paper was an early attempt to try and assess the possible magnitude of the UHI impact on the global temperature records. (Note that this is not the same as thinking that UHI does not exist).

Starting from the headline “Leaked climate change emails scientist ‘hid’ data flaws” on down, the article is full of misrepresentations. To start with, the data in question (and presumably it’s flaws) were not hidden by anyone, but rather had been put on the CRU server in 2007 response to a FOI request. Hardly ‘hidden’. Exactly contrary to the truth of the matter, the article incorrectly asserted that ‘Jones withheld the information requested under freedom of information laws’.

These data assumed a much greater importance later in 2007 when they were used for a completely unsubstantiated claim of ‘fabrication’ and ‘fraud’ against Wei-Chyung Wang (a co-author on the paper) at SUNY Albany by a certain Douglas Keenan. These charges were found by the university to be baseless in 2009 and the matter was dropped. However, the Guardian noted that a couple of the emails mentioned the issue, and that one in particular had Tom Wigley asking Phil Jones about the situation. Curiously enough, Phil Jones’ response was not part of the archive, and Wigley’s current thoughts on the subject (presumably that have been informed by Jones’ answers) were not reported.

Pearce describes this conversation saying that ‘new information brought to light today indicates at least one senior colleague had serious concerns about the affair‘. However, Tom Wigley has subsequently passed on later conversations to me showing very clearly that he did not support Keenan’s allegations of ‘fabrication’ and the implication that he does here are very misleading. Indeed, the statement that ‘Tom Wigley, harboured grave doubts about the cover-up‘ is completely false. There was no ‘cover-up’; the email was written two years after the data had been posted online.

The line in the 1990 paper that has apparently caused the furore is the following:

“The stations were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times.”

For fraud to have been proven, it would have been necessary to show that Wang – at the time of the 1990 paper – deliberately misled in the line as it was written. It would not be enough to show that the statement was mistaken because of incomplete histories available to him at that time, nor that some stations had in fact moved. The statement is a declaration of a good faith effort to pick suitable stations. Instead, you would have to demonstrate that Wang was aware of substantial and important moves that made a material difference and deliberately concealed this fact. And for this there is absolutely no evidence. Keenan’s assumption of fabrication is merely that, an assumption.

Wigley’s ‘grave doubts’ were a suggestion that the key line be rewritten as

“Where possible, stations were chosen on the basis of station histories and/or local knowledge: selected stations have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times”

A change that doesn’t undermine the paper in the slightest, and would hardly be likely to set the blogosphere aflame.

Quite frankly this whole allegation is absurd – why would anyone do this? All the authors involved have written many papers on the problems in the temperature record and on Urban Heat Islands in general, and even in China. Indeed the story here is that information was provided under FOI rules, and that it was not used to constructively examine the science, but rather to provide ammunition for baseless accusations that led to pointless university inquiries into alleged misconduct. That might be a good reason for why FOI requests are now being viewed with suspicion.

Other claims that this ‘may yet result in a significant revision of a scientific paper that is still cited by the UN’s top climate science body‘ . and that ‘what data is available suggests that the findings are fundamentally flawed‘ are simply made up. The findings of the 1990 paper was that UHI was unlikely to be contaminating the global temperature records in any significant way has been upheld by any number of additional studies in the 20 years since it was published. Oceans are not warming because of UHI, spring is not coming earlier because of UHI, and indeed, glaciers are not melting because of UHI (they are of course melting, recent news reports notwithstanding). No evidence of significant UHI contamination was found by Parker (2004, 2006), the record from GISTEMP which applies a different UHI correction than HadCRUT does not differ substantially at the global or regional scale. Other studies by Peterson, Jones, and others all show similar results. Even the more recent analyses of the Chinese stations themselves and even in an environment where urbanisation is happening faster than ever, UHI effects are still small (Jones et al, 2008).

As an aside, Keenan has made a cottage industry of accusing people of fraud whenever someone writes a paper of which he disapproves. He has attempted to get the FBI to investigate Mike Mann, pursued a vendetta against a Queen’s University Belfast researcher, and has harassed a French graduate student with fraud accusations based on completely legitimate choices in data handling. More recently Keenan, who contacted Wigley after having seen the email mentioned in the Pearce story, came to realise that Wigley was not in agreement with his unjustified allegations of ‘fraud’. In response, Keenan replied (in an email dated Jan 10, 2010) that:

.. this has encouraged me to check a few of your publications: some are so incompetent that they seem to be criminally negligent.

Sincerely, Doug

This kind of knee-jerk presumption of misconduct (and criminal misconduct at that) when people disagree with you has no place in the scientific discourse, and serves only to poison scientific debate. Indeed, Jones adds in one of the emails: “I’d be far happier if they would write some papers and act in the normal way. I’d know how to respond to that”. For the Guardian to dignify this kind of behaviour – especially after the charges had been investigated and dismissed – is unconscionable and a public apology should be forthcoming to Jones, Wigley and Wang.

Part 6: Peer review

The discussion of peer review is the most replete with basic misconceptions about the scientific process. Pearce appears to conflate any rejection of a paper or even a negative review for any reason as a prima facie case of mainstream climate scientists … censoring their critics. But in none of the cases highlighted were anyone’s view ‘censored’. To have your opinion published in peer-reviewed literature is not some fundamental right – it is a privilege that depends on your ability to do the analysis and the marshal the logical arguments and data to support your point.

Pearce, surprisingly for someone who has been on a science beat for a long time, states that peer review is the supposed gold standard of scientific merit. This is not the case at all. As we’ve outlined in many articles, peer review is just a first (necessary) step towards scientific acceptance and as the number of badly flawed papers that do appear in the literature attest, it is no guarantee of merit. For it to work of course there need to be some standards that should ideally be met, and this will lead to the rejection of some submissions. Thus automatically equating rejections of bad submissions with squashing of ‘dissent’ is like assuming that anyone who gets an F on a test is being unfairly discriminated against.

Pearce also declares that the mere act of reviewing a paper that is critical of your own work is mired in ‘conflicts of interest that would not be allowed in most professions‘. This is wrong on multiple levels. First of all, peer review of the literature is hardly unique to climate science, and so his claim about improper conflicts of interest is an accusation against the whole of science, not just climatology. Secondly, he confuses the role of the reviewer with that of the editor. Editors often solicit reviews of a critical comment directly from those being criticised, since that is often the easiest way to judge whether the critique is substantive. That is not the same as giving the right of veto to the criticised authors since, of course, it’s the editor’s job to weigh the different reviews from different sources, and use their own judgment as to the merits of the critique. Not asking the original authors for comment can certainly be (and has been) problematic and unfair to them. The problems most often arise – such as in Soon and Baliunas (2003) or McIntyre and McKitrick (2003;2005) when the criticised authors are not involved at all.

In the cases mentioned in this article, there is absolutely no evidence of unfair discrimination. Indeed, in one case of a submission by Lars Kamel, the reasons for rejection are obvious and Pearce appears not to know what the criteria for acceptance even are. He states that “the finding sounded important, but his paper was rejected by Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) that year“. But papers are not accepted or rejected because a finding ‘sounds important’, but because that finding is backed up by analysis and logic while acknowledging the prior work on the topic. In this case, the author did not “however, justify that conclusion with any data or analysis“, and so a rejected manuscript would have been very likely, regardless of who the reviewers were. Similarly, the assumption that “some would have recommended publication” purely because it called into question previous work is unsupportable as a general rule. Filling the literature with papers ‘just asking questions’ that ‘sound important’ but not demonstrating any actual results is a recipe for wasting everyone’s time with poorly thought out, and even mendacious, critiques of mainstream science from HIV-denial to perpetual motion machines. Papers in the technical literature are not just opinion.

Pearce also assumes (without evidence) that Kamel was discriminated against because Jones “would certainly have been aware of Kamel’s [negative] views about mainstream climate research“. But why should this be assumed? Most scientists (luckily) go through their whole career without wasting their time investigating and cataloguing the cranks in their field. Some climate sceptics get addressed here on RC a fair bit, but it would be a big mistake to think that these people, particularly the more obscure ones, are the subject of water cooler conversations at climate research labs across the world. Indeed, I can find no reference to Kamel on RC at all and I was unaware of his peculiar views until this story emerged. Why Jones should be assumed to omniscient on this topic is unclear.

Pearce quotes McIntyre discussing “CRU’s policies of obstructing critical articles in the peer-reviewed literature” slowing the resolution of unspecified “issues”. This is simply disingenuous – what papers have been obstructed that would have resolved what issues? We are unaware of any such papers, and certainly none from McIntyre. Prior therefore to declaring that “evidence, flawed though it might be, is actively being kept out of the journals” it behoves Pearce to actually find such evidence. Otherwise, the simple non-appearance of these mythical critiques is apparently proof of the corruption of the peer review process.

As an additional example of problematic practice, Pearce highlights a June 2003 email from Keith Briffa, who as an editor ‘emailed fellow tree-ring researcher Edward Cook, a researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, saying: “Confidentially I now need a hard and if required extensive case for rejecting [an unnamed paper] to ­support Dave Stahle’s and really as soon as you can.”‘. However, without context this is meaningless. People often sign reviews and this could well have been a second go around on a particular paper whose first round reviews would have been seen by everyone concerned. Briffa (like many editors) can have a feeling that a paper should be rejected for multiple reasons but would like to have the reasons gone into in some detail, mostly for the benefit of the authors. This is one reason why reviewing bad papers is so much more work than good ones. Quoting this as if it absolutely demonstrated bad faith or misconduct is simply a smear.

Pearce then accuses Cook of some unjustified quid-pro-quo because he wanted to use some of Briffa’s data to assess the practical implications of a new analysis technique, that Pearce interprets as “attacking his own tree-ring work“. However, this too is a misreading. The work in question has subsequently been revised and the authors themselves have said that the current submission is improved over the initial submission. It goes along with the overall point made above, that pure criticism is not particularly useful – it is much better to demonstrate that some technical point actually matters. This is what Cook appears to be asking for help to demonstrate.

The article then moves on to the issue of the 2003 Soon and Baliunas paper in Climate Research. Pearce nowhere acknowledges that it is (and was) widely regarded as a complete failure of the peer review system. Six (very independent minded) editors resigned from the journal because of the publisher’s inaction on tightening up peer review standards and even the publisher himself declared that the paper’s conclusions were not supported by the data or analysis of the authors. Is this not germane?

Pearce suggests that the reaction to the demonstrably low standards at Climate Research involved “improper pressure“. This has no validity whatsoever. The suggestion was made that maybe people should not submit work to the journal or cite work that appeared there. But how can a suggestion made among colleagues and not transmitted more widely be ‘pressure’ of any sort? People have their impressions about journals determined by many factors, and if they are seen to be publishing bad papers, that will be noted. Compare the reputations of Science and E&E for instance. Which would you rather be published in if you had a good paper?

The one email that Pearce declares “means what it seems to mean” refers to the declaration (along with exclamation point) that Jones would “redefine peer-review!” rather than include two flawed papers in the AR4 report. But it should be obvious that no-one gets to redefine what ‘peer reviewed’ means, and the exclamation point underlines the fact that this was hyperbole. The two papers referred to (McKitrick and Michaels, 2004; Kalnay and Cai, 2003)) were indeed discussed in Chapter 2 of AR4 as the contributing lead author of that chapter Trenberth rightly pointed out. As an aside neither have stood the test the time.

The problem with lapses in peer review (which will inevitably occur) is that they are sometimes systematic, indicating a more institutional problem instead of simply an unfortunate combination of poor reviewers and a busy editor. This appeared to occur at Geophysical Research Letters over the period 2005-2006. There was a string of bad papers published – ones that did not properly support their conclusions and made basic errors in the science. For instance, Douglass and Knox (2005), Douglass, Patel and Knox (2005), Douglass, Pearson and Singer (2004), Douglass, Pearson, Singer, Knappenberger, and Michaels (2004), and Loáiciga (2006).

Science is indeed a ‘self-correcting’ process, but someone has to do that correcting, and scientists do get frustrated when they have to spend weeks dealing with the aftermath of bad papers in the media and putting together the comments that almost every single one of these papers generated. (For amusement and for an example of the lack of standards being talked about, look at the response of Bjornsson et al to the Douglass, Patel and Knox paper).

Are scientists supposed not to notice these patterns? Or never discuss them among colleagues? The implication that the mere discussion of the situation is somehow a corruption of the peer review process is completely unjustified. Peer review only holds the status it does because scientists are on guard against failures in the system and try to correct them when they occur.

Update: Coincidentally, David Adams on the Guardian makes many of the same points as we do.

In two follow-up pieces we will host a letter from Ben Santer on Part 7 and on the skewed reporting of the ‘Yamal‘ issue in Part 9.

362 Responses to “The Guardian disappoints”

  1. 1
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Thanks for mentioning the Kamel matter. That’s the last article by Pearce I’ve read. The fact Pearce could not seem to understand why Kamel’s paper was not published– even though Pearce himself mentioned Kamel included no analysis or data– left my head spinning.

  2. 2
    Bill Doyle says:

    For amusement and for an example of the lack of standards being talked about, look at the response of Bjornsson et al to the Douglass, Patel and Knox paper

    I’d be happy to, but it doesn’t appear that I can – the article in questions seems to be locked up behind the AGU ‘subscribe or buy’ firewall!

    [Response: That is unfortunate. I wish AGU would open up it's archives after a couple of year like AMS does. However, there is a copy here. - gavin]

  3. 3
    cbone says:

    LOL. Finally someone takes an honest look at the CRU emails and this is all you can come up with? I find it ironic that this article actually reinforces one of the biggest issues that the CRU emails highlight. i.e. the active suppression of ideas and opinions contrary to the status quo in the climate debate by the ‘establishment.’

    Thanks again RC for validating yet another skeptic argument. Keep up the good work!

    [Response: You might think that 'honest' means writing something that you like, but I prefer to stick to the more traditional definition. I make absolutely no apologies for correcting things that are wrong - gavin]

  4. 4
    James Hayton says:

    Particularly like the section on peer review, so often misunderstood.

    Only recently discovered this blog, but it’s good stuff!

  5. 5
    David Horton says:

    Nice work Gavin, well done.

  6. 6

    My head is spinning. This unfortunately will add to the noise level and detract from the signal. That seems to be the modus operand since the EAU CRU hack began.

    The science is on solid ground but lost in the noise propagated by fools and brigands.

    The Climate Lobby
    Understand the Issue
    Sign the Petition!

  7. 7
    Doug says:

    I googled Douglas Keenan’ name and found his website:

    His short list of “peer reviewed publications” looks suspicious on the surface and there is no indication of undergrad or grad degrees to support his scientific expertise. Interestingly, with regard to bona fides, he says only:

    “About the author: I used to do mathematical research and financial trading on Wall Street and in the City of London; I now study independently.”

    With these prestigious scientific credentials, how can anything he writes be taken seriously by a major newspaper?

  8. 8
    Anand says:

    You do know the politics behind this Fred Pearce flare-up, right? Probably you do.

    Pachauri rubbed Pearce the wrong way and pissed him off during the Glaciergate fiasco. Pearce, who thought himself to be ‘one of the boys’ then vowed revenge. So you have what you have. Nothing ‘puzzling’.

    I wish RealClimate would stay out of this arena. You guys are so behind the game, seriously.

    Everything in climate change will burn for the next two months or so – with the cap-and-cap bill in play. Things will cool down afterward.


  9. 9
    JoeB says:

    The latest Honolulu Magazine has an editorial decrying the evils of “climate-gate”. It has it all, email conspiracies, all the data is missing, abusing the peer-review process, refusing FOI requests, and of course, “hiding the decline.” You can read it here:

  10. 10
    Jim Prall says:

    Readers need to see that peer review is not some kind of imprimatur or mark of infallibility; rather it is a screening process to try to get better papers through and leave not as good papers out. Interesting new claims that make a plausible argument can get into print, but are subject to response, criticism and rebuttal. None of this means the journal was wrong to have published the original paper if it advanced the discussion; its topic may have been an open question at the time, and has only later turned into a “closed question” after better work supercedes it.
    The public seem to prefer the idea that everything that gets past peer review should be ‘right.’ If it were that simple, then finding a single article to support a particular point of view would “prove” that it is “right.” Things are not that simple; instead, we have to read the full range of what’s been published on a topic, and see if an earlier article has been either supported and built upon, or challenged, corrected, or simply left to obscurity, uncited and overshadowed by later and better work.
    As Gavin rightly says, the big challenge for journals is to limit input to goo quality work that is at least plausible, reasonably arguable, and pertinent. Not every work is right for every journal, so rejection can just mean “doesn’t fit here, but might be right for somewhere else.” As for the substandard papers that got through peer-review, the first cost to scholars is that there’s always too much to read, and they count on journal editors to select worthy efforts that warrant the reader’s investment of time.
    Contrarians putting forward articles that question long-accepted fundamentals are asking a lot of both editors and readers. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, but many times fail to deliver as much. When editors turn down such presumptuous efforts, it isn’t a ‘conspiracy’, it’s them doing what readers expect from them – it’s their job.

  11. 11
    prokaryote says:

    Top ten ways to handle a smear campaign.

    6. The More Compelling Your Arguments Are, The Nastier the Attacks Will Be If critics can refute your evidence or your logic, then that’s what they will do and it will be very effective. However, if you have made a powerful case and there aren’t any obvious weaknesses in it, your adversaries are likely to misrepresent what you have said and throw lots of mud at you. What else are they going to do when the evidence is against them?

    This kind of behavior contrasts sharply with what one is accustomed to in academia, where well-crafted arguments are usually treated with respect, even by those who disagree with them. In the academic world, the better your arguments are, the more likely it is that critics will deal with them fairly. But if you are in a very public spat about a controversial issue like gay marriage or abortion or gun control, a solid and well-documented argument will probably attract more scurrilous attacks than a flimsy argument that is easily refuted. So be prepared.

    Do not get to much distracted by the denialist puppets. Soon they will be silenced.

  12. 12
    John says:

    Finally something that really helps me in my Internet arguments with the “deniers” over these questions.


  13. 13

    They are pandering to the weaknesses of their readership. It is very difficult to ponder the colossal enormity of the climate changes ahead. This is an existentialist threat that few care to look at directly.

    Thank you for demanding that at least they follow their own professional guidelines.

  14. 14
    MarkB says:

    “More recently Keenan, who contacted Wigley after having seen the email mentioned in the Pearce story, came to realise that Wigley was not in agreement with his unjustified allegations of ‘fraud’. In response, Keenan replied (in an email dated Jan 10, 2010) that:

    .. this has encouraged me to check a few of your publications: some are so incompetent that they seem to be criminally negligent.

    Sincerely, Doug ”

    Oddly enough, it’s not in Fred Pearce’s piece, which reads like a supermarket tabloid.

    As a side note, Doug Keenan sounds like a massive tool.

  15. 15
    Septic Matthew says:

    Gavin, I like your blog and I like this particular comment. Will you send it to the Guardian and see what they say?

    I am reminded of Crewdson’s coverage of HIV, and the fact that he made as many mistakes as the scientists made whom he was writing about.

  16. 16
    Edward Greisch says:

    I’m going to try to forget that I ever read “With speed and violence” by Fred Pearce.

    What is to be done about this situation? Scientists clearly do not have the authority to do anything. Due to the First Amendment, nobody else does either. Suggestions? I can’t think of any right now that do not take a generation or longer to carry out. I would like to greatly strengthen public education, especially in the sciences and math.

  17. 17
    Dan M. says:

    I’m guessing that you are going to reject this Gavin, but it clear as can be why even old, leftist friends like the Guardian are now turning on climate scientists. It doesn’t have to do with the validity of the theory of anthroplogical global warming, that validity is independant of the actions of scientists. So, even though what I consider professional mistakes were made, I don’t think much of the Guardian article either.

    That said, I would argue that the action of the media is a natural reaction to red flags that they see. IMHO, the Guardian is reporting like I’ve seen it report on other subjects for years; it’s only now that your ox is being gored.

    I’m not arguing that the standards of scientific reporting are good. Indeed, even magazines like Scientific American, which use to be stellar, have lowered their standards tremendously. Rather, I’m arguing that the “circle the wagons” approach as opposed to an honest assesment of the problems inherent in trying to both be advocates for political action and scientific researches in a field that is strongly related to said action is connected to the behavior of reporters.

    Let me focus on the behavior within the CDC that bothers me the most: the discarding of the raw data set compiled by the CDC. Let me do it by asking a couple of questions. How hard would it be to independently duplicate the raw data set the CDC disposed of? Is it something that could be done in days by, say, Dr. Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground; is it something that a university with a team of 3 profs and 5 grad students could assemble in a few months, or was it a fairly rare and hard to obtain set of data? And, finally, what good scientific reason is there to dispose of raw data? I was taught that raw data is more precious than diamonds….and to guard it with my life. Is climate science different from physics in this regard, and if so, why?

    Is it the amount of data? Are there really multiple petabytes of raw climate data in the discarded data base, even after compression? I’ve done some back of the envelope calculations (not guaranteed to better than a factor of 10) and came up with a number that’s far short of 1 petabyte. So, why get rid of diamonds?

    I’d argue that a simple “we blew it, we were worried about X, so we discarded the data” would be very helpful….especially if X is something like “we might be legally required to break trust with folks we promised we wouldn’t reveal their data, and once that trust is broken, we’ll never get data from them on anything again.”

  18. 18
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    “The public seem to prefer the idea that everything that gets past peer review should be ‘right.’ ”

    The sad thing is that the IPCC invoke this idea among the public.

  19. 19
    AndyB says:

    This is a shame because there is a lot of good material in the series. With the CRU debacle the bottom line is that there is no there there. I’m with 11 – let it die. And do some more cool posts on science! Science rules and this silliness shall pass.

  20. 20

    @11: I was about to post the same link to Walt’s piece. Well worth reading and it’ snot just his point 6 but all of them.

  21. 21
    Justin Wood says:

    brilliant work, as ever, Gavin.

    cbone in #3 nicely demonstrating Dunning-Kruger in full effect; it really is everywhere.

  22. 22

    I disagree with Anand (#8). This detailed de-construction of errors in The Guardian’s articles is very helpful. Thanks for the yoeman’s work you are doing on this topic Gavin.

  23. 23
    Doug Bostrom says:

    cbone says: 23 February 2010 at 8:11 PM

    Thanks again RC for validating yet another skeptic argument.

    You’re not skeptical about the validation?

  24. 24
    Sean Rooney says:

    The denialosphere will remain strident and belicose for some time to come but will eventually wear thin and then out as the resolution of the science gets much better and physical evidence piles up.

    We are at or near the peak of the media war’s intensity right now. Its death will take another decade but it is built-in, inevitable, a sure outcome. The physics and the chemistry just keep doing what they do and we know what that is. AR5 should be a blockbuster.

    Keep up the good fight but don’t lose perspective!

  25. 25
    David Wilson says:

    in a very short YouTube clip ( we see our Fred Pearce cooking up an idiot’s guide to global warming with a delightful young devotee, and at one point he slips and says “sell” which he immediately corrects to “give” (I never heard of him before today so I hope I have got the right fellow, but I think so)

    another issue might be that he figgures he can absorb all that it takes in 24 hours (?)

    or that Wikipedia includes this: “Fred is one of the few people that understand the world as it really is” – James Lovelock; and if there were any stronger argument for heavily discounting the man I can’t just think of it right now

    so … Anand’s question is a good one and I hope you respond, because this post seems to me to be slightly ‘off’, you have put a lot of words together, 3,000+ by my count, no mean feat, but to what purpose? the guy is an obvious lightweight of a certain age, at best a competent tradesman, his job is to write & sell copy, ditto for The Guardian, their job is to sell papers or internet advertising and such like … fish wrap

    I looked closely at the comments on a recent New York Times article, and was delighted to see the readers generally trashing the denialist author, sorry to have lost the link, but I say this to suggest that the battle for the common sense of citizens is being won, not won yet, but being won, I also find this among my small circle of red-neck friends and acquaintances

    if the IPCC reports were concise, or straightforward, or unconfused, or let’s say ‘otherwise than they are’ we might not have these problems of communication – do you think?

    when Copenhagen crashed and I picked myself up off the floor with Buddhist resignation, I began to think that what is REALLY needed is a concise, straighforward, and unconfused account of the science behind global climate change

    you may say that such accounts abound – but truely, I have not seen one, the closest were maybe Mark Lynas’ Six Degrees, and David Archer’s Global Warming Understanding the Forecast, but they both fall into the ‘close but no cigar’ category, and I say this having read many, dozens, from Tim Flannery to James Hansen (from Jesus to Jack Daniels, as they say)

    I guess you have to decide if you are going to be a media critic or a scientist, and if you plump for critic then I suggest looking at Noam Chomsky for some at least quasi-scientific techniques

    so … as usual a visit to your site has clarified my thinking (such as it is), keep it up, be well, David Wilson.

  26. 26
    Steve Bloom says:

    *Very* nice work, Gavin.

    Erratum: It looks like the last sentence of the eighth paragraph under Part 6 should refer to Briffa rather than Cook.

  27. 27
    Andy says:

    Journalists are starting to take note of the deep seated ignorance and hatred that poor reporting has unleashed. I guess it’s fun to bash climate science a litte bit until things get out of hand….

    Leonard Pitts (columnist for the Miami Herald) – Facts No Longer Mean What They Used To

    Andrew Revkin (NY Times Dot Earth) – “Back to the Basics” (a primer on climate science)

    NPR – Belief in Climate Change Hinges on Worldview

  28. 28
    Anne says:

    you said:” … the discussions had nothing to do with the medieval warm period, but rather the amount of multi-decadal variability in the three different reconstructions then available. This was corrected in the online edition, but the description of the dispute in the article is still very confused.”

    Briffa, correctly quoted:
    “I believe that the recent warmth
    was probably matched about 1000 years ago”

  29. 29
    Luke says:

    This is all really disheartening. I am currently studying environmental science but am starting to wonder what is the point? People dont care for the truth and where is it getting us anyway? Anyone with half a brain and does a bit of research can see that these headlines are baseless crap, but if know ones cares then why should we?

    Gavin and the rest of the crew here, I take my hat off to you all. You have done a great job and I know a lot of us are greatful for your efforts.

  30. 30
    Tim Jones says:

    Give’m hell Gavin. A decade ago I got dragged through a dishonest and disgusting newspaper smear myself.

    Killing the messenger is one of the business community’s dirtiest tricks when the environment gets in the way of making money.

    For you to have taken up the cause to stand up for your colleagues the way you have is quite courageous. It’s incredibly valuable to those of us counting on you guys on the leading edge of climate research.

    We have a saying among the folks I have affinity for. “We stand for what we stand on, and we stand on what we stand for.”

    What you’re doing is important and greatly appreciated.

  31. 31
    AlC says:

    In case it has not already been mentioned here…

    Sharon Begley
    Book Review: The Lomborg Deception
    Debunking the claims of the climate-change skeptic.

  32. 32
    Pete H. says:

    “Soon they will be silenced?”

    How, when and with what?

  33. 33
    dbaker says:

    So what……
    you’ll continue this debate , oh the actuall item may change , but the same debate.

    How ‘s about working on the solution?

  34. 34
    Martin Vermeer says:

    prokaryote #11, this eukaryote is grateful for your link!

  35. 35
    wallruss says:

    “Confidentially I now need a hard and if required extensive case for rejecting [an unnamed paper] to ­support Dave Stahle’s and really as soon as you can.”

    This statement looks very bad to me and I can’t see any way that it can be justified. I’m a research scientist, although not in climate science (but in the life sciences), and regularly review papers for scientific journals. I have never been instructed by an editor as to what to write in a review. The editors job is to send out the paper to experts in the field to get their feedback – not to express their own opinions to the reviewer – surely this compromises the independence of the review process. It doesn’t matter at what stage we are talking – if the editor wants more feedback, is unhappy with a review or the reviewers have conflicting opinions, as often happens, then the editor is quite entitled to send the manuscript out to another reviewer. However he/she should not instruct a reviewer what to write. Ultimately it is the editors choice whether to publish or not, not the reviewers. It is essential that the review process is independent, and this is how it’s always been carried out in my experience.

    I be deeply concerned if I receved the above comment, no matter how well I knew the editor.

    [Response: Of course it is the editors decision. But without any context this statement is meaningless. I have often been asked to make sure that if I am advising that a paper be rejected that the reasoning be 'hard and extensive' - mostly for the benefit of the authors and to ensure that the rejection is not being done on spurious grounds. If this is a resubmission then the editor is likely to have a good idea of whether the revisions are likely to satisfy the reviewers, but no reviewer is going to recommend rejection of a paper that they actually like - regardless of what the editor asked. This doesn't sound like a case where there was much conflict among the reviewers and so your examples don't fit. However, the fragmentary nature of these emails, and the fact that people (including me) are mainly just speculating about the context makes any strident moralising pointless. Using these examples to smear people by insinuation is not good journalism. - gavin]

  36. 36
    anony says:


    Best smackdown of bullcrap ‘science journalism’ EVER.

    I am posting it EVERYWHERE.


  37. 37

    Many thanks for this article, and all the other important work Realclimate does. With regard to your latest piece here, it’s important to expose the myth that the Guardian is any kind of flagship newspaper for climate reporting or the environment (or social justice or peace). See the latest media alert from Media Lens which is indebted to much of your excellent recent debunking of media distortions on climate:

    At the end of the above media alert, note what the corporate media – including the Guardian and the BBC and Channel 4 News – regularly fails to put under scrutiny…

    For a wider perspective on *why* the media is like this, please see our books, ‘Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media’ (2006) and ‘Newspeak in the 21st Century’ (2009), both published by Pluto Books in London. See also our archive of media alerts at:

    Keep up the excellent work.

    David Cromwell
    Co-Editor, Media Lens

  38. 38
    Molnar says:

    cbone (3):

    Opinions and ideas contrary to the *facts* do not count. That applies both to the climate debate and journalism.

  39. 39
    David Graves says:

    Your replies to Pearce on the Guardian website were worthy of Huxley in as Darwin’s bulldog. A Black Knight Award (of Monty Python and the Holy Grail) goes to Pearce–dismembed and thinking it is only a flesh wound.

  40. 40
    Edward Greisch says:

    3 cheers for 1 thru 11 above. Especially 8, 10 and 11. Can anybody on our side do a “follow the money” investigation? It could prove interesting. It seems that Fred Pearce has changed sides. Will that be noticed by the public?

    “All publicity is good publicity” is not right but may turn out to be not wrong either. Some big climate event, like a 2010 drought in some particular US farm belt, could turn the tables. All that bad journalism is at least making the public aware that there are climate scientists who are issuing warnings. What we really “Need” is a non-ignorable climate event to convince people. To be non-ignorable, it has to happen in the US, it has to cost a lot and it has to seem sudden and unexpected. What most people expect is for the climate to be completely different suddenly, as a year with no winter: 90 degree weather for the entire winter. They are saying: “When is it going to happen?”

    I just posted the following on

  41. 41
    Tim Jones says:

    U.S. Stands Out For Climate-Change Skepticism
    Date: 24-Feb-10
    Author: Ed Stoddard – Analysis
    DALLAS – Many Americans are skeptical about global
    warming and that makes it harder to get a bill through

    Many of the same Americans don’t believe humans evolved
    from apes. They’re right. They haven’t evolved a bit.

  42. 42

    Question: has the full Wigley/Jones/Keenan correspondence, including the above character evidence against Keenan, been submitted to the investigation? It should be.

  43. 43
    Gilles says:

    It’s rather funny to read that Pearce papers are ” well below the normal Guardian standards of reporting.”, as if the normal standard of reporting were being very accurate and reliable. “Normal standard” of journalism is sensationalism and inaccuracy, and it is true for “alarming” reports as well. You seem to DISCOVER that journalists write more to attract readers and sell their newspapers than to establish scientific truth, but it has always been true ! The problem is that the warming speech has benefitted a lot of this alarmism in the past years, and that a large number of misconceptions , approximations, and exaggerations, even by a number of posters here, have been forged by alarmist reports in the medias. In this regards, climate scientists are punished by where they have sinned….

  44. 44
    John Mason says:

    #11: “This kind of behavior contrasts sharply with what one is accustomed to in academia, where well-crafted arguments are usually treated with respect, even by those who disagree with them. In the academic world, the better your arguments are, the more likely it is that critics will deal with them fairly.”

    I agree, and this has long been a problem that we haven’t fully engaged with – perhaps because, up until AGW was identified as a major problem, it wasn’t necessary. Never before have we faced such a concerted anti-science campaign using such base smear tactics and outright lies to appeal to popular opinion.

    Science has for years had its popular magazines like New Scientist, but perhaps something additional is required: a team of writers able to present key climatological findings in an honest, non-sensationalised way in a style that makes them readily understandable to the lay person. It can be difficult (I know as I have done geological interpretation jobs), but by no means impossible.

    What I have in mind is, say, a key paper is published: the writing team then prepares a draft public interpretation, then, critically, the original authors of the technical paper review it to make sure that it IS honest and non-sensationalistic, any corrections are done and it is then circulated to all media. One could even hope for reproduction verbatim, although to expect that everywhere would probably be a little ambitious!

    If my numbers came up in the lottery, I would offer funds to help get such a Foundation established!

    Cheers – John

  45. 45
    Dikran Marsupial says:

    Doug @ 7 Ad-hominems should be avoided; it shouldn’t matter if Keenan has little or no scientific background, what should matter is the quality of his arguments. If no flaw can be found in an argument, it should be taken seriously, regardless of the source.

    [Response: But once you see that his 'argument' - "I disagree with you, therefore you are engaging in criminal fraud" - is always the same, and always devoid of actual evidence, I think you can safely neglect most of the noise emanating from that corner. - gavin]

  46. 46
    Juliette says:

    I disagree with Anand (#8): more than ever, we need RealClimate to answer the nonsense, and I’m really really happy to see you doing so. I’m afraid a lot of scientists are underestimating the damage that this smear campaign will do to action on climate change. This won’t “go away” if we keep quiet. It’s not a fair fight.

  47. 47
    Michael K says:

    Seen in a wider context the debate about “climate change” can been seen as evidence of a general trend, that is, a move away from “rationality” and “science” in public discourse, and towards the twin evils of superstition, “religion”, and faith in the irrational, which increasingly appears to characterise our society.

    This trajectory has little to do with the science involved, but is mostly connected with a fundamental shift in the way society functions as a whole. In short it reflects the breakdown of the intellectual paradigm we call “the enlightenment.”

    Across the board, rationality itself is under attack, nad not just in the field of science, though one could mention, in passing, the attack on Darwin and evolutionary theories in this context.

    One could also mention Iraq, where the arguments and logic of “witchcraft” were employed vigorously in a propaganda offensive designed to disguise a conspiracy to launch a war of agression to gain access to and control of, Iraq’s oil reserves.

    It’s important to understand the value of propaganda in public debate. Propaganda functions as a powerful weapon designed to undermine perspectives that dare to questions the fundamental structures of how wealth and power are distributed in society, under the system known as “state capitalism” or “market democracy.”

    Once the science of “globale warming” began to question the economic power relationships in global society, well, obviously, it was asking for trouble, and a “counter-attack” was only to be expected; which is precisely what we are seeing today.

  48. 48
    Magnus W says:

    Well any one that is intrested in “Kamel”s thoughts could check out his “Science blog”

    in Swedish:

    To be trusted…!?!?

  49. 49
    Halldór Björnsson says:

    “Prior therefore to declaring that “evidence, flawed though it might be, is actively being kept out of the journals” it behoves Pearce to actually find such evidence. Otherwise, the simple non-appearance of these mythical critiques is apparently proof of the corruption of the peer review process.”

    This reminds me of Carl Sagans story of the invisible dragon in the garage. The fact that you could not see it or touch it is clearly proof that it’s magical.

    Regarding the Douglass comment that I published with a few coworkers that you mention (see open link at, – this was in many respects a total waste of time. The papers premiss was clearly (to anyone who knows anything about geology) about as reasonable as an invisible dragon in a garage. It wasted my time, and then when Douglass & co replied to the comment they misquoted us and then claimed that our “point was moot”. – GRL did not allow me to see their reply before it was published and did not bother to check that we were correctly quoted. I did not bother to pursue this further because I felt that their nonsense had been corrected.

    However, the “your point is moot” counter argument is a great one to use if you’ve been cornered.


  50. 50

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