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Whatevergate

Filed under: — gavin @ 16 February 2010

It won’t have escaped many of our readers’ notice that there has been what can only be described as a media frenzy (mostly in the UK) with regards to climate change in recent weeks. The coverage has contained more bad reporting, misrepresentation and confusion on the subject than we have seen in such a short time anywhere. While the UK newspaper scene is uniquely competitive (especially compared to the US with over half a dozen national dailies selling in the same market), and historically there have been equally frenzied bouts of mis-reporting in the past on topics as diverse as pit bulls, vaccines and child abductions, there is something new in this mess that is worth discussing. And that has been a huge shift in the Overton window for climate change.

In any public discussion there are bounds which people who want to be thought of as having respectable ideas tend to stay between. This is most easily seen in health care debates. In the US, promotion of a National Health Service as in the UK or a single-payer system as in Canada is so far outside the bounds of normal health care politics, that these options are only ever brought up by ‘cranks’ (sigh). Meanwhile in the UK, discussions of health care delivery solutions outside of the NHS framework are never heard in the mainstream media. This limit on scope of the public debate has been called the Overton window.

The window does not have to remain static. Pressure groups and politicians can try and shift the bounds deliberately, or sometimes they are shifted by events. That seems to have been the case in the climate discussion. Prior to the email hack at CRU there had long been a pretty widespread avoidance of ‘global warming is a hoax’ proponents in serious discussions on the subject. The sceptics that were interviewed tended to be the slightly more sensible kind – people who did actually realise that CO2 was a greenhouse gas for instance. But the GW hoaxers were generally derided, or used as punchlines for jokes. This is not because they didn’t exist and weren’t continually making baseless accusations against scientists (they did and they were), but rather that their claims were self-evidently ridiculous and therefore not worth airing.

However, since the emails were released, and despite the fact that there is no evidence within them to support any of these claims of fraud and fabrication, the UK media has opened itself so wide to the spectrum of thought on climate that the GW hoaxers have now suddenly find themselves well within the mainstream. Nothing has changed the self-evidently ridiculousness of their arguments, but their presence at the media table has meant that the more reasonable critics seem far more centrist than they did a few months ago.

A few examples: Monckton being quoted as a ‘prominent climate sceptic’ on the front page of the New York Times this week (Wow!); The Guardian digging up baseless fraud accusations against a scientist at SUNY that had already been investigated and dismissed; The Sunday Times ignoring experts telling them the IPCC was right in favor of the anti-IPCC meme of the day; The Daily Mail making up quotes that fit their GW hoaxer narrative; The Daily Express breathlessly proclaiming the whole thing a ‘climate con’; The Sunday Times (again) dredging up unfounded accusations of corruption in the surface temperature data sets. All of these stories are based on the worst kind of oft-rebunked nonsense and they serve to make the more subtle kind of scepticism pushed by Lomborg et al seem almost erudite.

Perhaps this is driven by editors demanding that reporters come up with something new (to them) that fits into an anti-climate science theme that they are attempting to stoke. Or perhaps it is driven by the journalists desperate to maintain their scoop by pretending to their editors that this nonsense hasn’t been debunked a hundred times already? Who knows? All of these bad decisions are made easier when all of the actually sensible people, or people who know anything about the subject at all, are being assailed on all sides, and aren’t necessarily keen to find the time to explain, once again, that yes, the world is warming.

So far, so stupid. But even more concerning is the reaction from outside the UK media bubble. Two relatively prominent and respected US commentators – Curtis Brainard at CJR and Tom Yulsman in Colorado – have both bemoaned the fact that the US media (unusually perhaps) has not followed pell-mell into the fact-free abyss of their UK counterparts. Their point apparently seems to be that since much news print is being devoted to a story somewhere, then that story must be worth following. Indeed, since the substance to any particularly story is apparently proportional to the coverage, by not following the UK bandwagon, US journalists are missing a big story. Yulsman blames the lack of environmental beat reporters for lack of coverage in the US, but since most of the damage and bad reporting on this is from clueless and partisan news desk reporters in the UK, I actually expect that it is the environmental beat reporters’ prior experience with the forces of disinformation that prevents the contagion crossing the pond. To be sure, reporters should be able and willing (and encouraged) to write stories about anything to do with climate science and its institutions – but that kind of reporting is something very different from regurgitating disinformation, or repeating baseless accusations as fact.

So what is likely to happen now? As the various panels and reports on the CRU affair conclude, it is highly likely (almost certain in fact) that no-one will conclude that there has been any fraud, fabrication or scientific misconduct (since there hasn’t been). Eventually, people will realise (again) that the GW hoaxers are indeed cranks, and the mainstream window on their rants will close. In the meantime, huge amounts of misinformation, sprinkled liberally with plenty of disinformation, will be spread and public understanding on the issue will likely decline. As the history of the topic has shown, public attention to climate change comes and goes and this is likely to be seen as the latest bump on that ride.

Eppure si riscalda.

1,168 Responses to “Whatevergate”

  1. 51

    Crazy!

    Something similar (climate sceptics media bubble) could be observed in Slovakia and Czech Republic…

    maybe the record hot 2010 would change the climate debate “window”?

    best,

  2. 52
    wilt says:

    With respect to your statement:

    “As the various panels and reports on the CRU affair conclude, it is highly likely (almost certain in fact) that no-one will conclude that there has been any fraud, fabrication or scientific misconduct (since there hasn’t been).”

    You have have missed this, but the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK has recently concluded that Phil Jones’ CRU at the University of East Anglia broke the law with respect to the Freedom of Information Act. There will be no prosecution because the case is more than six months old. But that does not change the fact that misconduct has been observed. Link:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8484385.stm

  3. 53
    Harry Hodge says:

    Would you like a little wager with respect to your final summary paragraph?

    I bet you £5 that the US news MSM pick up on the case, and that you will have to deal with the same issues as the UK. Any takers?

    In the case of the organs like the BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Times, pre emailgate, there was virtually no credence given to the sceptic point of view prior to November 09 – quite the reverse.

    I know a respected BBC journalist and towards the end of last year she was happy to tell me the BBC’s position, which was the “science is settled”. The policy makers at the BBC had removed the requirement for 50/50 balance on reporting issues regarding MMGW and there was no requirement to present a “sceptic” perspective alongside the “warmer” stories.

    This has clearly changed. We know that the BBC is “reviewing” their position and we know that the nature of the coverage has changed beyond recognition in the last 3 months. Roger Harrabin’s (BBC’s environment correspondent) reputation is undergoing a sea change. He has moved from someone perceived as being an unimpeachable source of expert analysis to someone running around trying to defend his reputation and restating the way he will report in the future (because of the power of the blogosphere). He is in contact with the sceptic blogs and, it would appear, putting their questions to Phil Jones.

    BBC’s Newsnight, Today and Andrew Neil are now creating a situation where scientists are being questioned and being asked to explain themselves, the conduct of organisations, etc. T

    You cannot dismiss newspapers as The Guardian (image: liberal tree huggers) , The Times (image: Right based, serious power house) and the Daily Telegraph (right based, middle class serious) as tabloid sensationalists. Yes, The Daily Mail and the Daily Express are populist dailies that enjoy a bit of muck – but not the others.

    Coverage from the BBC and these newspapers is now being offered daily and, forgive the pun, the snowball is rolling, and in my humble opinion, you will find it washing up on your shores soon.

    Please do not make the mistake of assuming it will all just die down and go away.

  4. 54
    Wynand Dednam says:

    “Perhaps this is driven by edit or demanding that reporters come up with something new (to them) that fits into an anti-climate science theme that they are attempting to stoke. Or perhaps it is driven by the journalists desperate to maintain their scoop by pretending to their editors that this nonsense hasn’t been debunked a hundred times already? Who knows? All of these bad decisions made easier when all of the actually sensible people, or people who know anything about the subject at all, are being assailed on all sides, and aren’t necessarily keen to find the time to explain, once again, that yes, the world is warming.”

    “but that kind of reporting is something very different from regurgitating disinformation, or repeating baseless accusations as fact.”

    How the media deals with climate change is probably the clearest example of the propaganda model I have ever seen.

    They are unusually eager to jump at any opportunities to discredit climate science, while when presented with facts, very reluctant to accept them. There really couldn’t be a more obvious example of systemic bias against a critical issue as there is against climate change.

  5. 55
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    You say at the end, Gavin, that “public attention to climate change comes and goes,” and you propose that the current mis- and disinformation are “likely to be seen as the latest bump on that ride.” Maybe. But what I see tells me that the word “bump” might be wishful understatement. It seems to me that Spencer Weart is right that there’s a new element this time. In Andrew Revkin’s New York Times blog, Weart was quoted the other day saying that now is “the first time the media reported that an entire community of scientists had been accused of actual dishonesty” in a world in which “the repetition of allegations is sufficient to make them stick in the public’s mind.” And it appears to me that the Republicans are indeed repeating such allegations, and that they mean to continue. As shown, for example, by the comments of their Ed Rogers in Sunday’s “Topic A” discussion in the Washington Post, they see in the allegations a chance for electoral advantage in November. And they’re already pressing that perceived chance, as shown by that online video clip that they’re famously circulating in Virginia — the one that uses blatantly dishonest weather-and-climate conflation to mock two electorally vulnerable Democratic congressmen. Just a “bump”? Not if those guys can help it. At the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto’s online column “Best of the Web” asserts: “The global warmists are the real deniers.” He means postings like this one from you, Gavin. It appears to me that he and they mean to send you and us on a ride that’s bumpy indeed, and that in fact is completely unlike anything so far.

  6. 56
    chris says:

    excellent article…you’ve got it spot on. As a Brit I’m a little embarrassed by the febrile elements of our press, and especially the astonishing acceptance of the antics of Mr. Monkton.

    oh well… as you say reality will intervene again at some point….

  7. 57
    Iain Inglis says:

    Henry Kissinger famously joked that, when contacting Europe, he didn’t have a single number to call. So far as the sceptic point of view in the UK is concerned, newspaper and TV editors do now have a number to call: The Global Warming Policy Foundation. Lord Lawson and Benny Peiser are all over our TV screens and opinion pages of late. Their manner is reasonable though their words are often absurd, so most people will assume that there must be some wheat among the mountain of chaff.

  8. 58
    Bob Ward says:

    You are correct that UK newsrooms have been gripped by hysteria over recent controversies, and a number of editors (most of whom have little insight into science let alone climate change) now believe that their science and environment reporters have been duped.

    This is nonsense of course and reflects the lack of understanding among UK editorial staff, who feel that they have a greater duty to report different points of views than to report factual accuracies. It seems that many editors have had exposure to the material on ‘sceptic’ blogs and seem to believe it. This vitriolic opinion piece by the science writer Matt Ridley is, I think, pretty indicative of many views being expressed currently within UK newsrooms: http://www.spectator.co.uk/spectator/thisweek/5749853/the-global-warming-guerrillas.thtml

    Of course, Ridley’s article appears in ‘The Spectator’, a right-wing magazine that promotes complacency and denial about climate change. And it is ironic that Ridley, who was chairman of the UK bank Northern Rock which was taken over by the UK Government because of its over-exposure to financial risks, should complain that the risks of climate change have been exaggerated. Nevertheless, his views seem to be reflected in many UK newsrooms now.

    In addition, the UK research community has generally made a pretty feeble response, with many researchers deciding to keep their heads down in the hope that they won’t be targetted by the bloggers. In my view, the biggest scandal has been the lack of leadership within the UK research community in response to the ongoing controversies.

  9. 59
    Nick says:

    The wingnuts are building the biggest snowman they can before the spring melt of returning media indifference.

  10. 60
    John Mason says:

    Indeed, Gavin: here in the UK there seems to have been a “silly season” in the media of late on all things climate-related. It is remarkable who has been interviewed “in the interests of balance”. One really starts to wonder whether somebody who insisted that 2+2=5 would get airtime in the interests of balance against the orthodoxy of 2+2=4….

    Luckily we should have a General Election coming up fairly soon, which ought to provide at least a temporary distraction away from such regurgitated fact-free ramblings. In the meantime, congratulations to Tim Lambert and friends over at Deltoid for working hard to unravel some of these stories and expose them for what they are – pure, weapons-grade BS!

    Cheers – John

  11. 61
    Tony O'Brien says:

    So you should not be kicking us doomsayers. Explain why we are wrong, absolutely. Explain, that we are putting too much emphasis on the slow feedbacks.

    If you extrapolate the increase in melt days, winter sea ice will be in trouble mid century. Why is this the wrong way of looking at the problem?

    You need to move the Overton window. No global warming is not a tenable proposition.

  12. 62
    cer says:

    Good summary, and thanks for all you continue to do – most people would fed up of repeating themselves by now!

    I haven’t heard of the Overton window before, but certainly in the UK we talk a lot about the “media narrative”, which most journalists in this country follow pretty slavishly. It’s most obvious in politics, when a particular party or politician is seen to be doing well (according to the “narrative” anyway), any small success they have is talked up and any mistakes they make are ignored. Then when they fall out of favour, the reverse is true. It’s some kind of pack mentality.

    But don’t underestimate the importance of the recent UK weather in setting the narrative. Thanks to the negative AO we’ve had the longest, coldest and snowiest winter here for a long time. In a country where we’re not used to so much snow we had school closures, train cancellations, other transport problems and general chaos. The snow and its effects were the top news story for several weeks.

    A recent UK poll showed public acceptance of the science of global warming had significantly decreased, but when asked why most people in the survey blamed the weather not the email hacks. The CRU story hadn’t even registered with most of them, and of those who had followed it at all most said it hadn’t changed their opinion one way or the other. (In fact more people said it had made them more confident in the science than less.)

    I expect the next hot summer will see both the media narrative and public opinion flip back. Not that that’s any more scientific than the current situation…

    To his credit, Richard Black (climate correspondent at the BBC) is still doing a decent job.

  13. 63
    P. Lewis says:

    The sad fact is is that if you removed the identifying text from your linked plot and removed the superimposed trend line and then placed that plot amongst a number of similarly denuded plots of varying positive, zero and negative trends of different variables against time and then asked a representative cross-section of the population to indicate which plots had which trend, we all know what the outcome would be.

    And no, I don’t think you’d get a counterintuitive result … though it would be interesting if you did.

    It would also be interesting to take that same population cross-section and quiz them about various aspects of climate change (and perhaps other matters relating to the other denuded plots) and then to place the two sets of results side by side and ask those surveyed if they’d change their minds about anything.

    And the result would be … pseudosceptics would still be railing against anthropogenic-induced climate change when Arctic ice is just a 12-14 week annual event and hacks would still be pandering to those delusionals.

    It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the most intelligent of this planet’s species are exceedingly brainless at times.

  14. 64
    Warwick Dumas says:

    All true, interesting that you should report it of the UK. I would guess that most people here think of denialism as having its permanent home in the US. (Maybe partly because of the Senate.)

    I’m afraid it’s not really news that the Mail or Express should breathlessly proclaim a “climate con” by the way. They’re far-right hate papers which do not really even market themselves as mainstream or all that credible; it’s more like they unapologetically try to appeal to a faithful niche market, like a Fox News. The Mail just published a cartoon showing a man marrying a sheep with a caption comparing it to accepting black people into society.

  15. 65
    Guest says:

    The effect this media coverage is having is already noticable just talking to friends. This poll reflects the kind of thing I’m seeing:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8500443.stm

    It’s depressing.

    “Eventually, people will realise (again) that the GW hoaxers are indeed cranks, and the mainstream window on their rants will close.”

    I hope that happens sooner rather than later.

  16. 66
    rapa says:

    It’s not only the UK or America, I’m afraid. It’s been very, very bad in The Netherlands as well, and not only in the ‘usual suspects’ papers De Telegraaf en Elsevier, but also in ‘quality’ newspapers such as De Volkskrant, De Pers and even NRC Handelsblad. Not to mention Dutch television, of course.

  17. 67
    Mark Andrews says:

    The very sad thing is that while a great deal of human energy is spent arguing over whether classic AGW theory is true or false, attention is directed away from the effort to be cautious and to mitigate global warming, potentially taking us past the grand tipping point where runaway global warming will be irreversible. Last month, NASA’s GISS reported that 2009 is the equal second hottest year in the instrumental record and yet this seems to have escaped much global news media attention. My suspicion is that because 2008 was reported about thirteen months ago as the coolest year this young century, some ignorant crank denialists, who have made claims that our Earth is in a cooling phase, have been brought to an ecstatic crescendo of denial that still echoes. Perhaps if 2010 is the hottest year since 1880, which Jim Hansen has said is likely if the El Nino phase of the ENSO continues throughout this year, many ignorant mouths may close on this subject for good and urgent global action may get emergency status.

  18. 68

    Gavin, quite contrary to what you think the events in the last months may be a turning point of historical significance. It is not that critics and cranks are having their voices heard. Just as you say most of what is being discussed in the media is of little significance. The real thing is the new role of the press. For decades historian and social scientists in the future will try to understand how the media could fail so totally in their role of critically reviewing politically correct trends as the climate change story has been. Now they have suddenly understood that their tactic had been wrong and they have started to assume their normal role. Since media are what they are most of what you will see will neither be correct nor of any major significance. But I think it has started a process that may become very important. Finally it seems that we will have a chance with a serious debate over the climate and its very difficult mixture of science, politics and values. Hopefully this will also spill over into the general environmental area.

    [Response: Discussing what to do about climate change should be the discussion of the decade. Time spent discussing whether there is a global conspiracy of scientists is simply wasted. There is plenty of real substance to discuss, and yet the media is retreating to the first grade play room. If this makes you optimistic, I’m amazed. – gavin]

    Eppur si scalda (and yet she warms) – in the models perhaps – in reality very little at the moment.

    [Response: Sure… whatever you say. – gavin]

  19. 69
    Robert Dyson says:

    Many years ago one of my sons was watching a ‘become a millionaire’ game in which there was a question – what is 4/5 as a percentage. Four suggested answers were given including 80%. The celebrity doing the quiz could not answer. This week on UK TV I saw part of a program about mathematics in primary schools. One 10 year old could not answer – what is 10 x 10.
    I know these are extreme but they illustrate how far most people are from any grasp of the huge complexity of climate models, and after all we are having a cold winter in the UK. Also worth looking up is the Dunning-Kruger effect. Those of us who acccept the evidence of global warming just have to keep on track as best we can.

  20. 70
    Tim says:

    I think that the competition between new and old media is another factor driving this media S*** storm. Newspapers and print journalists feel threatened by the bloggosphere and it’s amateur contributors. In a desperate effort to remain relevant and prove their superiority old media has begun to regurgitate (where is the added value?) what the bloggosphere has already mangled. Your right it’s the nature of news that whatevergate will become yesterdays news but old media coverage of whatevernextgate will be heavily contaminated by the bloggosphere. I don’t think this flood of misinformation will cease any time soon.

  21. 71
    Bill says:

    Media frenzy swings both ways ! For years the press and TV have jumped on every scientific press release about climate change and have over-hyped the ‘alarmist’ and ‘armageddon’ scenarios of warming. Everyone knows that,and the storylines have now run out. They have now embarked on another ‘headline-grabbing ‘course on the opposite tack.
    All the years when some have condoned and even encouraged the over-statement, you know who they are. What goes around ,comes around !

    [Response: Where have any scientists on this site, or any of the people being targeted, condoned or encouraged overstatement? Show me an actual quote (and not one that was just made up). – gavin]

  22. 72
    Jim Prall says:

    The first round of media mangling of the stolen emails certainly got a lot of play on TV in the U.S. – CNN interviewed Steve McIntyre AND Chris Horner up against Michael Oppenheimer (not even false balance!) while Fox News repeated alound and splashed across the screen “hide the decline in temperatures” — adding the words ‘in temperature’ that were not in the email, which were already on the internet for anyone to check for themselves, and not what the email was actually saying. (If only it had been worded ‘hide the divergence’… so much harder to spin, as you’d have to (mis)define ‘divergence’ first.)
    But I think Gavin has a point that most of the recent multi-gates have run in papers outside the U.S. The headlines get picked up and repeated online over here, but this round is much more a UK thing.
    The people who want the IPCC to go away are still running with the ‘gate’ memes as ammunition for their latest counterattacks against policy action. Utah cited them in their non-binding resolution against cutting CO2, and today Texas is asking a Federal court to block the EPA endangerment finding because it relied on the IPCC, and they’re now pretty sure the IPCC is wrong about everything. They point to the latest-gates.

    [Response: That’s just a delaying tactic, it will be tossed in pretty short order. – gavin]

  23. 73
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    I kind of get the wibe that someone wants to shut the Overton window ;-)

  24. 74
    NJ Tom says:

    So, what has the GW community learned from this? Perhaps that talking down to their scientific inferiors as if they were village idiots does little to help sell your message. Or that pushing the end of human civilization as a given outcome wins few converts. The GW debate was hijacked by elites who live in exclusive mansions and own private aircraft but advocate living in caves for the rest of us – it is only natural that there be a rebellion from the other side.

    [Response: None of those things are true. Read the IPCC reports and point me to one such statement. Instead, you are guilty of making up strawman debating points to push back against. I can’t argue that this isn’t a useful political tactic but don’t confuse it with the truth. – gavin]

  25. 75
    A face in the crowd says:

    I have been patiently waiting and watching for deniers to get dizzy from screaming and bashing and finally bash their own big toe. That appears to have finally happened yesterday during a press conference called by Texas’ biggest denier, Governor Rick Perry. The governor announced the state was suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to prevent it from exercising wider authority in controlling, among other things, greenhouse gases. (Texas alone produces more than a third of the nation’s greenhouse gases.) Perry defended these gases as generally harmless, and got so wound up that he stuck his big toe in his mouth and claimed the world’s temperatures have not risen at all since 1995. If nothing else, Texans are unusually weather savvy and observed the summer of 2009 was far and away the hottest ever known in our state capital, Austin. It broke a record set in 2008 (and shared with 1998). In blogs and newspapers, and on radio and televisions statewide, Texans quickly connected the dots and motives linking Governor Perry and the state’s biggest polluters of air, water and soil. The dots also made straight lines to the horrific cancer hot spots and rates of unspeakable birth defects that have touched more families than anyone realized until they began to speak up.

  26. 76
    The Ville says:

    Re: Richard Pauli@4
    “In a progressively destabilizing climate, it is inevitable that a stance that rejects science will necessarily become more shrill and increasingly desperate.”

    I don’t think the desperation is to do with a destabilizing climate. The desperation is caused by the fact that the science and the environmental campaigning are resulting in a change of policy and businesses are required to change.

    In the past, the issues were discussed but not much was done. Now people are having to do something, they are resisting change.

  27. 77
    The Ville says:

    R Gates@21 said
    >I would offer the observation that nothing that has happened in the past several months seemed likely before it happened.

    Can’t agree with that.
    The ‘counter attack’ was predictable, given the relative success of raising climate change science and environmental campaigning to record highs in the political agenda across the world.
    It was inevitable that greater levels of desperation would set in from opposing ‘forces’. The attack on science is effectively a flanking manoeuvre designed to undermine politicians and environmental campaigners.

    Instead of attacking the front, they have manoeuvred around the sides and attacked the rear.

  28. 78
    Gail says:

    I blame John Edwards. The tabloids exposed his tawdry affair, thus, junk news sources gained credibility. That, and the fact that scientists are too timid about publicizing and linking current effects of AGW.

    Scientists should be on the teevee news every night with pictures of cow carcasses from the drought in Argentina, bleached coral reefs and dead sea beds, wildfires in Australia and California, collapsing ice shelves, melting ice caps with stranded walruses and penguins, shrinking glaciers and pictures of the people that need them for water, record breaking precipitation events like blizzards, droughts, and tornadoes in cities. Throw in some footage of scalped mountain tops in Appalachia.

    THAT should be the news, not made-up controversies. Forget your rectitude, scientists, step up to the plate! A habitable climate for YOUR children is at stake!

  29. 79
    Bill says:

    The post #71 was an observation, that we should not be surprised by the media any more.I was not suggesting that scientists on here are complicit in the ‘over-egging’ of storylines , but you only have to go back over the TV and press coverage of the last years to see what has gone on. Take an objective look and you can see why the media are now ‘swinging’ to the other extreme….Dont be so defensive in your immediate comments

  30. 80
    MR SH says:

    Skeptic is demanded by one who needs it and supported by one who hopes it.
    As the political decision time comes near by, those who hope “AGW is not true” increase. Then parties who support “skeptic” are supported even if they have few scientific knowledge.

    All the scientist can do is to continue presenting the facts and evidences through all possible options.

    I am worried the worst case: public opinion does not realise the scientific cautions until they appear.

  31. 81
    Paul Gosling says:

    You have only got yourselves to blame (climate scientists). For the last decade we have been told of impending disaster. When the media was running in your direction you were happy to go with the flow and ignore the hyperbole. The problem in the UK is since the record breaking hot summer of 2003, which of course was soon going to become a 1 in 3 year event, we have had a run of miserable summers, a cold winter last year and recently the coldest December and January on record in parts of the UK, it is still cold here. To make matters worse the UK MET Office, world experts on climate change, forecast a ‘Barbeque summer’ last year and a ‘mild winter’ – they look like idiots. If 2010 turns out to be a scorching hot summer in the UK the tide will probably turn again but at the moment everything is against you, here at least.

    [Response: It may well be that public sentiment goes with the weather, in which case nothing I or any other scientist say or do will make the least bit of difference. The confusion between seasonal forecasting and climate projections and the UK Met Office’s PR department does not help, but they aren’t the same thing. Seasonal forecasts for Europe do have some skill, though not much, and since people don’t experience ‘mean seasonal conditions’, they are easily undone in the public mind by the vagaries of individual weather events. Whether they do any good is a question that the UKMO needs to address. – gavin]

  32. 82
    Boris says:

    Richard Tol wrote:

    “More worryingly, I note that you are set in your way: Ridicule those that do not agree with you. That worked, sort of, until November. Not any more.”

    I’m surprised at the simplistic thinking here. Is it not fair to ridicule people who call climate scientists “frauds” and horrible journalists like Jonathan Leake and David Rose? Honestly, you concern trolling this post is quite bizarre given that I have not seen Richard Tol write anything pointing out the open dishonesty of the climate “skeptic” gang in recent weeks? Do you not agree that so called “skeptics” pollute the discourse? Why do you give them a free pass?

    Moreover, why do you ridicule climate scientists? If ridicule is so bad a strategy, then why do find such sentences as:

    “The emails show an intolerance of views and facts that do not support the received wisdom of the people involved.”

    Isn’t the phrase “received wisdom” meant as ridicule? How else can one read it?

    And your own column is contradictory:

    “Nothing has changed in our understanding of the seriousness of the problem.”

    versus

    “The CRU may have had us fooled for a while.”

    But I won’t ridicule you for your hypocrisy or for being inconsistent to the point of dishonesty. That’s serious business.

  33. 83
    wilt says:

    In a recent interview with The Times (London) professor R. Watson, who served as chairman of the IPCC from 1997-2002, said that all the errors exposed so far in the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) resulted in overstatements of the severity of the problem. For me, both prof. Watson and the London Times are respectable sources of information. Link: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7026932.ece

    Here is what he said about the errors in the IPCC report, and about the sceptics:
    “The mistakes all appear to have gone in the direction of making it seem like climate change is more serious by overstating the impact. That is worrying. The IPCC needs to look at this trend in the errors and ask why it happened.”
    He said that the IPCC should employ graduate science students to check the sources of each claim made in its next report, due in 2013. “Graduate students would love to be involved and they could really dig into the references and see if they really do support what is being said.”
    He said that the next report should acknowledge that some scientists believed the planet was warming at a much slower rate than has been claimed by the majority of scientists.
    “We should always be challenged by sceptics,” he said. “The IPCC’s job is to weigh up the evidence. If it can’t be dismissed, it should be included in the report. Point out it’s in the minority and, if you can’t say why it’s wrong, just say it’s a different view.”

    It seems to me that such an attitude will be more helpful to restore public support for climate measures than calling anyone who formulates a critical remark or question a ‘crank’.

    [Response: The demonstrated existence of cranks does not imply that anyone who asks a question is a crank. Why did you conclude that I said otherwise? – gavin]

  34. 84
    John Peter says:

    Gavin #17

    Why do you continue to claim that global temperature is a physical rather than a statistical concept?

    Why do you continue to denigrate the work of statistical analysts even though Wegman brought this to our attention 10 years ago?

    “Better to have them inside -issing out than outside -issing in”

    john peter

    [Response: What are you talking about? – gavin]

  35. 85
    Leonard Weinstein says:

    Response to Gavin’s response in #31 “but what do I know?”. The answer seems to be less than you think.

  36. 86
    Mike says:

    There needs to be a general expose’ of the British press, focusing on science reporting but not necessary limited to science. Most Americans just assume the Times of London is the British equivalent of the NYT or Wash Post. These two articles are a start:

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/201001/british-newspapers-make-things

    http://www.tnr.com/blog/the-vine/why-the-british-press-so-sloppy-climate-issues

  37. 87
    Ian says:

    Possibly pompous, patronizing, pontificating climate scientists who dwell in ivory towers sre now finding the boot is, if not on the other foot, migrating in that direction, Comments such as this

    “But the GW hoaxers were generally derided, or used as punchlines for jokes. This is not because they didn’t exist and weren’t continually making baseless accusations against scientists (they did and they were), but rather that their claims were self-evidently ridiculous and therefore not worth airing”.

    Whose opinion is it that these claims were self evidently ridiculous etc’?

    Yours? Why are they “self-evidently ridiculous”? Because you say they are?

    With any luck Gavin, sooner or later, you are going to have to defend your position in the MSM. Your colleague Prof Jones, who is not making a very good attempt at this, may give you some pointers because you are sure going to need them. I don’t expect this is likely to hit the screen but maybe you’ll give it a bit of thought.

    [Response: The idea that thousands of scientists have conspired over decades, roping in all the National Academies and the relevant societies, to impose their vegetarian/socialist/eco-fascist dystopia on the world is self-evidently ridiculous. If you disagree, I think the prospect for any dialog between us is dim. – gavin]

  38. 88
    Charly Cadou says:

    Having read this article as well as recent postings in Bishop Hill, CA, Climate Depot, DeSmogBlog, Deep Climate, WUWT and others I forget, the main difference I find is the color of your hats. Fortunately there are scientists out there on both sides of the divide who keep ploughing at it without making much splash.

  39. 89
    cer says:

    I doubt any journalism school teaches that ‘doing their job’ involves making up quotes, misrepresentating scientists and presenting innuendo as fact. But what do I know? – gavin

    I’m sorry, but I think this is a rare example of our genial host being factually incorrect, especially as regards innuendo… :)

    James Allan says:
    The UK print media is a national embarrassment. It comes as no surprise that they’re at the vanguard of this particular fiasco. The worst part is that none of these papers or reported will get any kind of comeuppance for their sloppiness after this dies down (the toothless PCC seems only capable of issuing wrist-slaps). They’ll just shrug their shoulders and move onto the Next Big Thing to focus their quixotic brand of non-journalism on.

    Spot on. Just take the MMR-autism fiasco – after years of the media hyping Wakefield’s research despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that it was baseless, the Lancet has finally withdrawn the paper and Wakefield was recently censured by the General Medical Council for breach of ethics. Any hints of apology from the relevant sections of the media for the drop in vaccination and resultant rise in measles cases? Not a murmur. Not to mention OfCom’s ridiculous ruling that The Great Global Warming Swindle wasn’t required to be factually accurate because it wasn’t a documentary.

    Sadly, I think the only way to improve the accuracy of the media’s reporting of all kinds of scientific topics is if scientists who get misrepresented start following celebrities’ examples and sue for libel. But I doubt that’s the kind of thing many scientists will have the time or money for…

    Bob Ward says:
    In addition, the UK research community has generally made a pretty feeble response, with many researchers deciding to keep their heads down in the hope that they won’t be targetted by the bloggers. In my view, the biggest scandal has been the lack of leadership within the UK research community in response to the ongoing controversies.

    Agreed, though you are an honourable exception to this. I read that a PR professor says he’s going to teach UK scientists’ response to this episode in his class as an example of how not to do it. Recent poorly worded quotes from Bob Watson haven’t helped matters (and John Beddington, though his were probably taken out of context).

  40. 90
    skeptic says:

    Richard Pauli says

    “Any conglomerate-owned mass media outlet seeks comfortable news stories”

    To quote a well known liberal: On which planet do you spend most of your time!

    Think SENSATIONAL.

  41. 91
    tamino says:

    Denialists have failed to learn the lessons of history.

    What they’re doing to global warming is no different from what they did to tobacco — even some of the cast of characters is the same. It worked for a while, but how do tobacco companies fare today? Joe sixpack is not just willing, but eager to approve record-setting punitive legal settlements against them. Their advocates, like Seitz and Singer, escaped public wrath because of their relative obscurity. No more; Monckton and his cadre will suffer mightily at the hands of a very fickle and very angry public.

    When global warming becomes so obvious that Joe sixpack can no longer deny it — which will happen before this decade is out — the backlash will be ugly. I hope it doesn’t reach the heights of abusiveness that struck the nobility class after the French revolution — but I wouldn’t bet on it. Even pacifists like myself will probably be unable to stem the thirst for revenge.

    My advice to Monckton: prepare to flee the pitchfork-and-torch-carrying mob.

  42. 92
    Richard Tol says:

    @Boris
    >Isn’t the phrase “received wisdom” meant as ridicule?

    I certainly did not mean to ridicule. I double checked, and it a neutral term.

    And your own column is contradictory:

    “Nothing has changed in our understanding of the seriousness of the problem.”

    versus

    “The CRU may have had us fooled for a while.”

    There is no contradiction in this at all. The CRU had a large number of people fooled into believing that they are impartial, quality researchers, while they are in fact quite sloppy and convinced that climate change is dangerous (an opinion that is far removed from their expertise). That does not change the literature on climate change.

    [Response: You are entitled to your opinion of the CRU scientists, but you are completely wrong in your assessment. They did not ‘fool’ anyone, and they are some of the most conscientious and careful scientists around. I have had strong discussions and disagreements with many of them over many years and have found them nothing but honest, scrupulous and sceptical. I have never detected any sign that their work has been affected by any political considerations at all. Your desire to defame other people, based on I know not what, does you no credit whatsoever. Instead, it simply adds to the poisonous personalized atmosphere in the debate that is the largest stumbling block to actual discussions of science and solutions. – gavin]

  43. 93

    Richard Tol,

    Those who offer ridiculous comments (along the lines of yelling “fraud!”, “hoax!”) deserve to be ridiculed or ignored. The latter is unfortunately not possible anymore because the mainstream press (at least in the UK< but also de Telegraaf in Holland for example) gives them a huge platform.

    Of course there is also constructive criticism (though as Gavin said, much of that is drowned out by the nonsense, or packaged in an offensive way so as get the scientists’ defenses up).

    The challenge for scientists (or everyone, for that matter) is to separate the wheat from the chaff in all the noise being made. You could help by calling out nonsense for what it is, and highlighting the constructive criticism. If you do too little of the former, chances are that efforts at the latter are not as easily accepted. Especially in the current climate, where scientists are pushed into the defense. We're only human after all.

  44. 94
    skeptic says:

    So, what has the GW community learned from this? Perhaps that talking down to their scientific inferiors as if they were village idiots does little to help sell your message. Or that pushing the end of human civilization as a given outcome wins few converts. The GW debate was hijacked by elites who live in exclusive mansions and own private aircraft but advocate living in caves for the rest of us – it is only natural that there be a rebellion from the other side.

    [Response: None of those things are true. Read the IPCC reports and point me to one such statement. Instead, you are guilty of making up strawman debating points to push back against. I can’t argue that this isn’t a useful political tactic but don’t confuse it with the truth. – gavin]

    priceless. absolutely priceless.

  45. 95
    Dan Hughes says:

    Why is it expected that the path of the climate change issue, an issue completely analogous to those listed below, should be any different from the trajectories that these have followed? I think each of these can be correctly characterized to be science-based, quite possibly to the consensus level. Many have even progressed to the stage of viable implementation by means of practical engineering studies.
    1. Nuclear irradiation of all organic food would save lives and at the same time reduce the resources needed to produce foodstuffs by the significant reduction in food wastes. With a bonus of needing less hydrocarbon-based supplements for crop production.
    2. Nuclear power is at present the best alternative fuel source to fossil fueled base-loaded electricity production.
    3. Genetically modified food crops have the same benefits as listed in 1 above.
    4. Use of biomass crops to reduce consumption of oil for transportation has very significant adverse impacts on the environment and more importantly on human populations through higher costs for food necessary for health and safety.
    5. The proper use of DDT can very significantly reduce unnecessary deaths in less-developed countries.
    6. Development of lesser-developed countries through easy access to abundant electricity will very significantly reduce unnecessary deaths while at the same time reduce unnecessary use and destruction of natural resources.
    7. Low levels of EMR from electricity power lines are harmless.
    8. High-level radioactive by-products from electricity production can be safely stored for later retrieval and utilization. These same by-products can also be utilized for electricity production in the form of MOX fuel. Re-processing of spent nuclear fuel can be accomplished without adverse consequences. And, finally, breeder reactors can produce additional nuclear fuel at the same time they produce electricity.

    And others.

    Plus, what Richard Tol said at #30. Simple, complete, declarative sentences, providing direct response to questions, and completely devoid of any references to unnecessary perpendicular (much more than tangental) labeling, presumptive motives, PR campaigns by Big Anything, in-the-pay-of Big Anything, and a host of other very destructive distractions. These are plainly evident here, even in this post, and are characteristics of the ‘dialogue’ at several climate-change blogs.

  46. 96
    wilt says:

    Gavin’s response #83

    My remark about calling opponents in the scientific debate cranks was not directed against you personally, but against a general attitude of disrespect that I often observe when people are replying at this blog (or some other blogs that strongly defend AGW). Two recent examples: Guest at #63 used the word “brainless” and again Guest at #65 used “cranks”. I am pretty sure that similar qualifications would not pass moderation if they came from someone who has doubts about several claims relating to AGW.

    Apart from this: I think the most important part of my post were the citations from Robert Watson.

  47. 97
    tom says:

    The “problem” is that the reporting has revealed the substantive flaws in the IPCC’s processes and in the data they use.

    The scandal, and it is absolutely a scandal, has been under-reported in the US mainstream media.

    The problem for AGW proponents ISN’T that people don’t understand the science. The problem is that now too many people do.

    [Response: You are simply projecting your wishes on the public. Public understanding of the problem is onion-skin deep and I guarantee that understanding has decreased in the last few months. – gavin]

  48. 98
    Paul A says:

    I hope the current UK media feeding frenzy is temporary and will subside once the CRU investigation is over and maybe we get some headlines generated by genuine climate-related events (Artic Sea ice this summer?). If I were being pessimistic and thought that some UK-based organisation had been pulling some strings I would single out the Global Warming Policy Foundation – a sham organization that claims only to campaign on policy responses to climate change but mostly devotes itself to denying the science. They have only been going since November and seem to be well-funded and highly effective. They aren’t going to go away and may yet become accepted into the political mainstream. If that happens it is going to become hard to persuade the public that they only represent crank science.

  49. 99
    PKerr says:

    Good concept, but perhaps a larger window allows better discussion. I am a concerned sceptic and I think the current scientific view is shortsighted with regard to how long the science will take to ‘settle'(or almost)
    Most of us accept some warming and a rising C02 but simply question to what degree it is cause and effect and of course that makes one hugely anxious about the plans for mitigation when there are so many other global issues obviously causing excess morbidity and mortality.
    I have to say my experience of academics is that they are commonly guilty of this and for that reason I hope Gavin allows some of the non academic sceptics to be involved in your discussions however tedious it may be to help revisit some issues.
    One thing is certain the good science will prevail. The bad science and there is plenty of it in peer review literature will not(maybe climate science is different). So I dont understand the fear of this clamour. More and better science may well be the result
    I do believe as Im sure you do equally poor reporting of the warming scenarios has not helped anyone and the interaction between academics mainstream media, politicians and bodies like the IPCC is confusing the public.

  50. 100
    Walt Bennett says:

    I’ve seen no mention of the latest from “Old Reliable” John Christy:

    World may not be warming, say scientists
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7026317.ece

    [edit]

    [Response: But you should be smart enough to know that this headline is crap. Even Christy’s data shows warming. As does the ocean heat content, and the shift in the onset of spring, as does the worldwide retreat of mountain glaciers. Yet you think this nonsense article is worth discussing? Really? – gavin]