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The Guardian responds

Filed under: — group @ 24 March 2010

We recently ran two articles that were quite critical of aspects of the Guardian’s coverage of the stolen emails. This is a response from Dr. James Randerson, the editor of the Guardian’s environmental website.

I edit the Guardian’s environment website and was part of the editorial team that produced the 12-part investigation by veteran science journalist Fred Pearce into the hacked East Anglia climate emails. I’m very grateful to RealClimate for giving us the opportunity to respond to the recent posts on the investigation: “The Guardian Disappoints” and “Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind”.

I should say first that we hold RealClimate in very high regard. The site is part of the Guardian Environment Network, a collection of more than 20 hand-picked websites including Grist and Nature’s Climate Feedback blog with whom we have a mutual content sharing agreement. Under the arrangement, the Guardian website republishes RealClimate blogs regularly. We take seriously your criticisms and are considering them carefully. The Guardian has a commitment to accuracy and correcting factual errors.

Such is the public interest in this story that ever since the emails were released in November, there has been a strong demand for an in-depth journalistic account of what they tell us about how climate scientists operate. As RealClimate rightly pointed out, the response from much of the media has been lazy to the point of “pathology”.

No other media organisation has come close to producing such a comprehensive and carefully researched attempt to get to the bottom of the emails affair. The investigation tries to reflect the complexity and historical context of the story, and runs to some 28,000 words – of which around half appeared in the printed newspaper.

Dr. Schmidt did not mince his words though when he said that Fred’s investigation falls, “well below the normal Guardian standards of reporting”, while Dr Ben Santer wrote, “I am taking this opportunity to correct Mr. Pearce’s omissions, to reply to the key allegations, and to supply links to more detailed responses.” Both have also criticised our experimental online exercise to harness the expertise of people with a special knowledge of the emails in order to create a “peer reviewed” account of what they tell us.

More on that later, but it is wrong to suggest that this is a lazy substitute for traditional journalistic standards and that key protagonists were not invited to respond prior to publication. On the contrary, the investigation was subject to rigorous editorial checking and Fred contacted numerous individuals in the course of his research. Many (particularly those at UEA) declined to comment.

The other side of the story

The RealClimate commentary reads like a distorted fairground mirror of the Guardian investigation – one that highlights the uncomfortable bits but blurs the rest. The posts did point out that “Some of the other pieces in this series are fine” but do not reflect the large amount of analysis in the investigation of the way the emails have been misused by those with a political agenda and the extensive context we included to indicate the pressure scientists writing those emails were under from time-consuming requests for data.

In part 2 (How the ‘climategate’ scandal is bogus and based on climate sceptics’ lies), for example, we detail how the “hide the decline” email has been misused by Sarah Palin, Senator James Inhofe and others to create, apparently deliberately, the impression that climate scientists had fiddled the figures.

Almost all the media and political discussion about the hacked climate emails has been based on soundbites publicised by professional sceptics and their blogs. In many cases, these have been taken out of context and twisted to mean something they were never intended to.

In part 1 (Battle over climate data turned into war between scientists and sceptics) and in a separate piece that appeared in the newspaper (Climate scientists have long been targets for sceptics) Fred outlines the tactics and motivations of some on the “sceptic” side of the debate.

All this happened against the backdrop of a long-term assault by politically motivated, and commercially funded, climate-change deniers against the activities of many of the key scientists featuring in the emails.

Similarly in Part 7 (Victory for openness as IPCC climate scientist opens up lab doors) Fred explains how the emails give a special insight into what being on the end of that assault was like.

In the leaked emails, [Ben Santer] is seen sharing those experiences with other victims of hectoring and abuse by the more rabid climate sceptics. Others had their own horror stories, including Mike Mann over his hockey stick graph, Kevin Trenberth over his analysis of hurricanes and warming in the aftermath of Katrina, and later Jones over his escalating data wars. In each case, they argue, legitimate debates about scientific analysis and access to researchers’ data have been turned into vindictive character assassination.

And in the concluding part of the investigation (Part 12: Climate science emails cannot destroy argument that world is warming, and humans are responsible), Fred lays out unequivocally that nothing in the emails casts doubt on the case for climate change being attributable to human actions.

Is the science of climate change fatally flawed by the climategate revelations? Absolutely not. Nothing uncovered in the emails destroys the argument that humans are warming the planet. None of the 1,073 emails plus 3,587 files containing documents, raw data and computer code upsets the 200-year-old science behind the “greenhouse effect” of gases such as carbon dioxide, which traps solar heat and warms the atmosphere. Nothing changes the fact that carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere thanks to human emissions from burning carbon-based fuels such as coal and oil. Nor the calculations by physicists that for every square metre of the Earth’s surface, 1.6 watts more energy enters the atmosphere than leaves it.

And we know the world is warming as a result. Thousands of thermometers in areas remote from any conceivable local urban influences tell us that. The oceans are warming too. The great majority of the world’s glaciers are retreating, Arctic sea ice is disappearing, sea levels are rising ever faster, trees are climbing up hillsides and permafrost is melting.

These are not statistical artefacts or the result of scientists cherry-picking data.

Looking under every rock

There are few, if any newspapers in the world with a stronger commitment to action on climate change than the Guardian and our sister paper the Observer. We have a team of 6 full-time environment correspondents as well as three editors and a collection of bloggers and columnists.

It was the Guardian that orchestrated a global editorial carried by 56 newspapers in 45 countries on 7th December 2009 to call for action from world leaders at Copenhagen. [RC: Also at RealClimate]

And we have been instrumental in supporting the 10:10 climate change campaign which aims to inspire individuals, organisations and businesses to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. The UK branch of 10:10 has signed up nearly 60,000 people and over 4000 businesses and organisations.

But only by looking thoroughly under every rock can those of us pressing for action on climate change maintain with confidence that the scientific case remains sound. Fred’s investigation shows that confidence is indeed well placed, but to claim that the emails do not throw up some troubling issues looks like the inward-looking mentality that is sometimes (perhaps understandably) expressed in the emails themselves.

The two posts published so far on RealClimate come to over 8500 words and it has been suggested that a line by line response to each of the points made would not be productive. I say again that we are totally unembarrassed about correcting genuine errors, but many of the points raised at RealClimate are differences of interpretation. There were implications that the investigation omitted some key information which in fact appeared in Fred’s pieces – for example that the data on Chinese weather station locations from the Phil Jones et al 1990 Nature data were eventually released publicly and that the two studies Jones had threatened to keep out of the IPCC AR4 report were in fact cited there.

However, I would like to make four points:

  • Dr Phil Jones, the head of the Climatic Research Unit at UEA has said in an interview with Nature that the handling of the records of the Chinese weather station data from his 1990 Nature paper (which Fred wrote about in part 5 of the investigation) was “not acceptable… [it's] not best practice,” and he acknowledged that that stations “probably did move”. He added that he was considering a correction to Nature. To our knowledge, no other media organisation or blogger had used the emails to shed light on the controversy over the 1990 paper so a correction would not be on the table without the Pearce investigation.
  • Dr. Schmidt states that we imply Dr Tom Wigley supported allegations of “fabrication” from climate sceptic Douglas Keenan. We do not make that assertion in the piece. Also, Dr Schmidt does not reproduce the most eye-catching quotes from a May 2009 email from Wigley to Jones in which he raises serious doubts about the quality of Jones’s scientific team and his handling of the Chinese weather station data.The hacked emails do not include a response from Jones if there was one.
  • As Dr. Schmidt pointed out, we have made three small corrections to the piece “Controversy behind climate science’s ‘hockey stick’ graph” at the request of Dr Michael Mann, but none changed the main point the article was making, which was that in 1999, Mann’s hockey-stick reconstruction was the subject of intense academic debate amongst climate scientists.
  • Neither of the RealClimate blogs dealt with Fred’s piece on FOI requests, but a statement from the UK’s deputy information commissioner Graham Smith has made clear that he believes that FOI legislation was not followed correctly. He wrote, “The emails which are now public reveal that [climate sceptic David] Holland’s requests under the Freedom of Information Act were not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation. Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act makes it an offence for public authorities to act so as to prevent intentionally the disclosure of requested information.” This is a serious issue worthy of discussion and debate.

Peer-reviewed journalism

I mentioned above our attempt to create a definitive account of the emails by leveraging the expertise of people involved or with a special knowledge of the messages and the issues they discuss. This account will eventually be expanded into a book. In practice, this means us adding annotations from people to the online versions of the articles so that readers can watch a form of living peer-review in progress. Click on the yellow highlights in the pieces themselves to read the annotations.

This represents an extraordinary commitment to transparency that we believe is unique in journalism. What other news organisation would open itself to direct criticism in this way including, for example, annotations that read “this is absolutely false” and “this is really bad”? The respected Columbia Journalism Review has praised the approach. “Regardless of whether you agree with Pearce or Schmidt, the Guardian’s approach appropriately acknowledges that evidence leaves room for some degree of interpretation. It is this kind of detailed, intellectually honest (even technologically innovative) reporting that news outlets like The New York Times should be striving for,” it wrote.

In the same spirit we have showcased diverse critical opinions on the issues and our own coverage of them, including from Dr Myles Allen, Dr Vicky Pope, Dr Mike Hulme and the Guardian’s environment correspondent Dr David Adam. Again few newspapers would have reflected such diverse viewpoints.

The reaction from some to our online annotation exercise has been hostile though. On our letters pages Dr Myles Allen and Dr Ben Santer wrote last week:

Claiming to produce “the definitive” analysis now is a brazen attempt to pre-empt the inquiries’ conclusions…What is wrong with the old-fashioned approach of checking facts before publication? When the final version is published, you will no doubt make much of the fact that “everyone had a chance to comment”, implying that any statement that was not challenged must therefore be true.

Our intention is not to undermine or pre-empt the ongoing inquiries into the CRU emails. Each of those has a very specific remit and none is attempting to produce a detailed account that uses the emails to shed light on recent climate controversies. Nor is this an exercise in blackmailing scientists into fact-checking on the cheap – if it were then it would be a monumental false-economy.

In truth, this is a serious-minded attempt to make sense of a large volume of new information about a complex and highly charged issue. No other newspaper has ever offered its journalism up for very public and exacting scrutiny in this way. We sincerely invite those involved who know the issues most thoroughly to contribute.


507 Responses to “The Guardian responds”

  1. 101
    andreas says:

    Mr. Randerson,

    I like reading RealClimate and I regularely read the environment part of The Guardian, although I live in Germany.

    Why? Because of articles like http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/22/copenhagen-climate-change-mark-lynas (nothing about that in german magazins) or articles by David Adam.

    In my opinion the critcs here were too harsh. People shoud consider, that the Guardian ist a newspaper, not a scientific magazine. And for a newspaper, the scientific standard is not perfect, but high.

    Well done and thanks!

  2. 102
    Gerda says:

    Huh, the first paragraph sounded good, I thought we were in for an unconditional, grovelling apology, and I could start reading the Grauniad again, I miss it, having been a reader for 30 years before this business… No such luck. Shame.

  3. 103
    Lotharsson says:

    Steve Easterbrook’s comment #40 deserves to be crafted into a short newspaper (and blog) article and published far and wide. The propagandists are exploiting the public’s lack of understanding of the dynamics and motives that he describes, and this comment explains how the propaganda is a complete misrepresentation.

  4. 104
    The Ville says:

    @64 All publicly funded scientists have a duty and obligation to make their data, methods and results available to the public. In this day and age there is no excuse for doing otherwise.

    Erm, tell that to the vast army of scientists working on military projects.

    Of course context is important, but it has been well known for a while that some data from some nations has restrictions on it’s use.

    BTW in the UK the Met Office was set up by the ministry of defence and it is still a ‘military operation’. At a time of war, UK climate data could very well become ‘top secret’.
    A lot of ‘data’ held by nations has military value.

    Life isn’t as simple as you would like to think.

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/history/index.html

  5. 105
    EFS_Junior says:

    #70 James Randerson says:

    “#17 EFS_Junior
    You are entitled to your opinion on the series, but you are wrong to suggest that the Guardian pursues a profit at all costs approach. The Guardian is owned by a non-profit trust that exists to subsidise our editorial operations. Details here http://www.gmgplc.co.uk/ScottTrust/TheScottTrustFoundation/tabid/247/Default.aspx

    Also, I’m afraid I don’t recognise the “utter silence” on the climate emails issue that you suggest exists outside the UK. There is at least as much interest, if not more, in the US by my reckoning.”

    Your first comment is an obvious strawman, I did not say “at all costs” however you did.

    I can smell Bull*** from across the pond, and “suggesting” that you do not desire increased readership, that you are proportedly “neutral” is patently and abjectly absurd. You editorialize for the sake of editorialization, there is nothing “neutral” about editorialization because by definition it’s purpose is to take a position.

    As a very young person I learned to stop reading editorials because they were all biased-with-intent hit pieces. No properly cited references to fact ckeck as it were. Your “series” is no different. Thus, I have not read a single editorial and taken it seriously in thirty years plus and counting.

    “Were a non-profit and we don’t care if no one reads our pulp fiction.”

    Bull****!

    “We are not provocateurs trying to capture the public eye.”

    Bull****!

    On your second point you’re 100% objectively wrong. The US MSM in no way shape or form is covering this, as it did not happen in the US, it happened in the UK.

    I have followed this exchange quite carfully in the MSM since it’s beginnings, it is abundantly clear that since it happened in the UK, it is natural to expect much more coverage at the actual scene of the crime than elsewhere.

    And that’s just a cold hard objective fact.

    If that were not the case, then the UK press clearly has not done it’s job, however badly they do do that job, as you have done.

    Perhaps you should stop listening to the Inhofe’s, Faux Nouse, WSJ, the contrarian blog-o-smear et. al., as they are but a fringe wing of the US MSM.

    The inches of newsprint and minutes of airtime in the UK press/media must be O(10) to O(100) more so than the US press/media, particularly on a per capita basis (US has more press/media and people than the UK. D’oh!).

  6. 106
    Jay says:

    Everyone is bias, and nobody is completely objective. The problem comes when ANYONE claims to know that something is
    irrefutable. Only by constantly testing something do we further secure
    it’s validity. There should be nothing wrong with being skeptical. Science evolves that way. If everyone accepted the
    status quo, we would never grow our knowledge of how things
    work. Think of what we KNEW 1000 years ago. Think of what we KNEW 100 years ago. Think of what we will KNOW tomorrow.
    Anyone who reads this blog or writes for it should question themselves as to what they know verses what they believe. No ammount of criticism, skepticism, or debate will deter the truth. It is when people have vested interests, personal bias, and intentional or unintentional skew to their thinking. This goes for both sides of the isle. Global climate change has no political party or persuasion. Only when we are willing to look within and question ourselves can we be sure we are leading others in the right direction.

    One more thing. Gavin, or whomever the moderator is, do you think there is a chance that you may be bias in your assesment of the “Facts” regarding climate change? Is there a chance that you may one day change you mind if new or inconsistent data is found?

  7. 107
    donald moore says:

    I am heartily sick of the guardian taking the undisputable facts of global warming and using it to fuel a fear campaign to scare everyone into cutting back on global emissions.’the seas will rise and we’ll all be drowned’ or ‘we all will fry’ when these assumptions are not established yet.We do not yet know what we are heading for and far too little practical experiments have been done on this.I know that if i place a dish of water into a greenhouse the water will rise initially because of thermal expansion but then it will evaporate and cloud up the greenhouse and the level in the dish will fall even if i keep topping it up.To take any action to cool the greenhouse then would precipitate the clouded greenhouse and cause a flood of condensation.Better to learn to adapt than try to turn the clock back to the 1900′s.

  8. 108
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Gerry Quinn, Well,… except he said exactly what he was doing in the paper, didn’t he? So, it wasn’t a very effective attempt to “hide” anything, was it? Wanna maybe think that conspiracy theory out again?

  9. 109
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    40 Steve Easterbrook says:
    “So to a scientist, anyone stupid enough to try to get scientific data through repeated FOI requests quite clearly deserves our utter contempt.”

    Of course, and it’s not rocket science to figure out that’s not the best way to behave. Unless you don’t want or need the data, but want to be a pest and generate a misleading stink. Remember that McIntyre had the tree ring data all along. Data is of no use the professional deniers. Innuendo is of great use.

  10. 110
    Ray Ladbury says:

    James Randerson, Let me try to explain this to you. Let’s say that you had a leak of emails from paleontologists, selectively edited by a bunch of creationists. And let’s say they were just as snarky, just as dismissive of the Discovery Institute. Would you have devoted a 12-part series to this incident? Would you have given equal time to Discovery Institute spokespeople? I think not.

    So, I ask, how are climate denialists any more credible than creationists? After all, the theory of the greenhouse effect is every bit as old as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. And there is every bit as much evidence showing that we are warming the planet as there is that we and chimpanzees evolved from a common ancestor. And just as there is no credible alternative theory to evolution, there is no credible model of Earth’s climate other than the consensus model. So, pray, why treat climate denialists any differently than any other anti-science cultists?

  11. 111
    Anand says:

    Spam by Completely Fed Up:
    Nutjobs…bozos…extreme bozos…denialist dittos…nutters…Polio eradication…BS…Bull.

    The erudite comments here which illuminate work by scientists “who publish in Nature and Science” is breathtaking.

    Regards

  12. 112
    Edward Greisch says:

    57 Scott A Mandia: “Human nature is tough to overcome.” Exactly.

  13. 113
    Jack Maloney says:

    “‘Or ways to evade legal FOI requests’
    Please show where this is done.”
    Comment by Completely Fed Up

    I’m pleased to oblige, Completely Fed Up.

    “The University of East Anglia breached the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to comply with requests for data concerning claims by its scientists that man-made emissions were causing global warming.

    The Information Commissioner’s Office decided that UEA failed in its duties under the Act but said that it could not prosecute those involved because the complaint was made too late, The Times has learnt. The ICO is now seeking to change the law to allow prosecutions if a complaint is made more than six months after a breach.”
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7004936.ece

  14. 114
    Steve Fish says:

    RE- Comment by Gerry Quinn — 25 March 2010 @ 4:12 PM:

    The primary product of a scientist is a research publication in a peer reviewed journal. Please provide a citation for such a publication by Phil Jones in which he hid any tree-ring data. Otherwise, you are just blowing smoke.

    Steve

  15. 115
    Jack Maloney says:

    “McIntyre wants all YOUR original data and YOUR original programming source, so he can check YOUR calculations to see if there any ERRORS that YOU made.”
    Comment by Tom S

    “[Response: Right, in other words he has no intention of improving the science, but rather of tearing it down...]”

    A strange response. If McIntyre checks Santer’s data and finds no errors, then the science is confirmed. If he checks and finds significant errors, then the science is improved. Isn’t that the way science is supposed to work?

    [Response: You either don't understand McIntyre and the normal process of science, or are trolling, and I don't have the time to try to figure out which, sorry. --Jim]

  16. 116
    Sou says:

    @115 Jack Maloney: “If McIntyre checks Santer’s data and finds no errors” then McIntyre says nothing and no-one is any the wiser. But who checks McIntyre? He is not a scientist and by his spurious actions now has negative credibility in the scientific community.

    He’s just an ageing blogger who is obsessed with climate scientists (not climate science, just the individual scientists). McIntyre has nothing better to do than spend his retirement urging people to harass climate scientists with the sole aim of preventing them from doing important research. He has shown his true colours by his actions, by what he says and does, and by what he incites others to do.

  17. 117
    Steve Fish says:

    RE- Comment by Jack Maloney — 25 March 2010 @ 8:20 PM:

    You are incorrect. The University of East Anglia did not breach the Freedom of Information Act. Perhaps you should read the act in order to discover that it exempts requests for proprietary information, or information that is already available in the public sphere. The requested data was available at the source agencies and it was proprietary. The Information Commissioners Office has admitted that the only point to be investigated is an issue separate from the the requests for data. They are investigating, as is appropriate, and a finding should be available eventually. The statute of limitations only applies to criminal prosecution. Why don’t you try checking some of this stuff out before making accusations.

    Steve

  18. 118
    Sou says:

    @ #64ge 0050 says: 25 March 2010 at 10:14 AM

    All publicly funded scientists have a duty and obligation to make their data, methods and results available to the public. In this day and age there is no excuse for doing otherwise. All that is required is to post the data on any ftp server and publish a link.

    That’s just wrong on many levels. The CSIRO and many universities are required to get much of their income from royalties. They cannot and do not release data or information until all patents are approved and it is signed off by the Intellectual Property divisions and legal beagles, and rightly so.

    Government weather agencies get revenue from selling speciali-sed services to clients. This data is provided on a fee for service basis. They operate in a commercial market in competition with companies who also provide such speciali-sed services, incidentally using data from the government weather service!

    Making available data underpinning published scientific papers on climate is another matter. However as Jim has pointed out, climate research is probably the most transparent and free with its data of any scientific discipline.

    Overall, making research data publicly available is not as straightforward as some people would like to think.

  19. 119
    Sou says:

    I should add to my post above, that Government weather agencies such as the Australian BoM make data freely available to all on the internet, and have done so virtually since the internet was publicly available. (The BoM has one of the best weather and climate sites in the world IMO, but I could be biased :).) Before that they published the information in the daily newspapers (and still do).

    Anyone who want’s raw data from hundreds of weather stations monitored by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, NOAA etc only has to go to the websites. Anyone who wants historical information only has to go to the websites of BoM, NOAA, NASA and other government sites – charts, tables etc are freely available. Not only the data, but model codes etc are also available for download from the global monitoring sites for those who want to spend time repeating analyses.

    It’s not hard, but some people want to make it seem so and spread so much information that the gullible, who don’t bother checking the facts, just lap it all up when it suits them to do so.

  20. 120
    dhogaza says:

    Jay says …

    Everyone is bias, and nobody is completely objective. The problem comes when ANYONE claims to know that something is irrefutable. Only by constantly testing something do we further secure
    it’s validity. There should be nothing wrong with being skeptical. Science evolves that way.

    OK. I propose we further the evolution of science by my 1) leasing an airplane 2) taking you along as a passenger and 3) I toss you out the door at 10,000 feet, without a parachute.

    This might put your claim that “there should be nothing wrong with being skeptical” into perspective, for the 20 or 30 seconds it takes before you hit the ground.

  21. 121
    MalcolmT says:

    I commend the suggestions @13, @15, @23. There’s plenty more for the Guardian to look at, and if they are as honest about it as they were about Climategate, they will be doing us, and the world, a great service.
    (Note that I am not quantifying their accuracy on Climategate; but I will be happy with the same level of service, since it was so much better than what we got, and get, from most of the media most of the time.)
    - Malcolm

  22. 122
    wanderers2 says:

    # 40 Steve Easterbrook

    Your post was about the most lucid, honest and thoughtful post about this whole subject that I’ve read to date. Thank you.

    I hope you might decide to develop this further as a formal essay. Your post says much about science in general, and I can say from first-hand experience that the same issues apply to my own specialty (conservation biology).

    High marks by describing how scientists actually work and think…or can be distracted. This was a 5 star post in a sea too often dominated by zeros and ones.
    Bravo.

  23. 123
    RichardC says:

    113 Jack pasted, “that it could not prosecute those involved because the complaint was made too late, The Times has learnt. The ICO is now seeking to change the law to allow prosecutions if a complaint is made more than six months after a breach.”

    Brilliant idea. It’s not quite ex post facto law so it’ll probably fly. I have visions of scientists everywhere explaining every email while being flooded with FOI

  24. 124
    Marion Delgado says:

    Jim:

    Thanks, those are good examples, although it’s mainly the Economist getting one element right in both stories, isn’t it? It’s possible that overall Economist has done a better job than the Guardian in news on climate, but even so, Randerson probably has a point.

    The irony that an essentially neoliberal magazine so often runs news articles contrary to neoliberal editorial enthusiasms reminds me of the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal.

  25. 125
    Marion Delgado says:

    Nutjobs…bozos…extreme bozos…denialist dittos…nutters…Polio eradication…BS…Bull.

    The erudite comments here which illuminate work by scientists “who publish in Nature and Science” is breathtaking.

    Rather than bring in a tu quoque like The Reference Frame, I’ll just say that, first, science has lots of talk like that – “Look, these bozos claim that …” Especially when dealing with competing theories, it can be very disrespectful. Comments in a science blog have more of that disrespectful conversational standard than the formal abstract/article/comment in a peer reviewed journal standard.

    The point about polio eradication and any number of other improvements being made despite scientific uncertainty was both germane and politely expressed.

    As for the rest of it, start with Australian mining geologist Ian Plimer’s endorsement of the theory (not his, but he leans on it) that the sun is a ball of iron? Plimer and the scientific theorizers he’s endorsing strike me as being part of something to which “nutters, nutjobs, BS, or bull” are somewhat germane, even if I can’t pinpoint to what degree.

    And what about Plimer’s demand that anyone who promotes climate science has to present to him million-year “time-flitches?” Again, “nutters, nutjobs, BS, or bull” strike me as very germane to that bit of gobbledygook.

    And to stick with that case, if, armed with the iron sun and million-year-time flitches author as a prime source, you come to science blogs and call people cultists for accepting a scientific consensus, well, why doesn’t “dittos” or “bozos” match that behavior?

    If I spam V**** ads to a blog, and someone calls me a spammer, and I respond that they’re not refuting my ad with their ad hominem attacks, I think I’m adding to the original offense.

    Also, for me, if I made a point and someone cited a couple of presented results in the genuine peer-reviewed literature (not E&E etc.) that showed I was wrong, that would refute what I said and I’d re-think both my opinion and conclusions I was deriving from it. But some people who now visit science blogs would not be affected by it at all, and that’s a problem. If your goal is to turn every venue into an American cable TV shout-festival, that’s dittohead behavior, first of all, and the term was coined by “dittoheads” or “dittos” themselves, not as a slur by outsiders. Second, there’s a persistent tactic of drowning out communication with a flood of noise, and it’s by far the most common and most effective form of censorship in the modern world. And it’s “bozo” behavior.

  26. 126
    Marion Delgado says:

    By the way, steve easterbrook #40 said one thing I was trying to say, much better. Scientists talking among themselves aren’t restrained either way, if something’s boring or not new (it usually is) they say so. If it’s good, they say it’s brilliant. If it’s bad, they say it’s utter crap.

  27. 127
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Jack M. #113: ‘Or ways to evade legal FOI requests’.

    You’re wrong on multiple levels. First of all, this ‘statement’ by the ICO was made after being badgered by Jonathan Leake of the Sunday Times. The entire correspondence, for what it’s worth, is here. To sum up:

    1) No, they have no evidence; they have what they call a ‘prima facie’ case (i.e., it looks like it, sorta, kinda). FOI violation is a serious allegation; one would like a finding to this effect to come from a court of law, or meeting a standard of evidence that would apply in a court of law (i.e., the presumption of innocence and the opportunity of a defence, for starters). Don’t you think?

    2) The ICO behave like anyone would caught saying something embarrassing or speaking before their turn: no retraction and the very minimum of explanation. Their letter is almost hilarious reading for all the barbed-wire in it.

    3) The ICO don’t even understand their own law: scroll to Section 77, where it says

    any person to whom this subsection applies is guilty of an offence if he alters, defaces, blocks, erases, destroys or conceals any record held by the public authority, with the intention of preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of the information to the communication of which the applicant would have been entitled.

    My emphasis. If you can play armchair lawyer, so can I, only I am better at it :-)

    The point of contention is the email correspondence relating to IPCC WG1 Chapter 6, which David Holland requested and Phil Jones in a weak moment suggested to be deleted. My point is that FoI legal practice on both sides of the Atlantic holds that this kind of information is off limits, and IPCC-related internal correspondence (not: comments and responses, which are a matter of public record) legitimately confidential. Mr. Holland ‘would not have been entitled’ to those emails, and Jones and colleagues would have been in their full right to build a bonfire from them.

  28. 128
    Edward Greisch says:

    48 Completely Fed Up: “You are buying into the BS that everyone has an equally valid opinion”
    Total nonsense. Of course most people’s opinions are somewhere between delusional and just plain wrong. The fact that most people have nonsensical opinions is the reason why educating them is necessary. The more they understand, and the saner they are and the smarter they are, the less nonsensical they will be.

    “and that EVERYONE has to agree before something can be done.”

    FALSE. But you have to gain a “plurality of the pressure” on Congress. Most people do not communicate with Congress, fortunately. The bad news is: You have to overcome the loud voice of money. And you have to overcome the voices of the misguided. In order to do that, it is generally a good idea to have more than half of the public on your side. Then you have to get a higher percentage of the people who communicate with politicians on your side. Money can be overcome, as shown by our new healthcare bill, when something like 79% of the voters want it. 79% isn’t intended to be an exact number. But notice how fiercely the right wing is still fighting.

    The bad news is, we live in democracies, to varying degrees. The US has a form of democracy that is usually plutocracy. So Congress can’t or won’t just do the right thing. Politicians are NOT scientists. A few of them understand it when scientists talk to them. But many politicians do not. To make things happen, you have to get a million or so people calling senators every day and saying the same thing. That doesn’t happen when most people don’t understand the situation.

    Polio is a bad example. Everybody hates polio.

    The problem we have with GW is overcoming a TRillion dollar cashflow. The health insurance industry cashflow is only $350 Billion. To overcome $1 Trillion/year, we are going to have to have a huge percentage of the people who call senators on our side. But not 100%.

    So I ask you, Completely Fed Up, what percentage is that and how would you get it?

  29. 129
    oakwood says:

    Ray Ladbury (110) says:

    “After all, the theory of the greenhouse effect is every bit as old as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. And there is every bit as much evidence showing that we are warming the planet as there is that we and chimpanzees evolved from a common ancestor. And just as there is no credible alternative theory to evolution, there is no credible model of Earth’s climate other than the consensus model. So, pray, why treat climate denialists any differently than any other anti-science cultists?”

    This is a perfect example of why climate science is losing credibility. Not that RL is a climate scientist (I don’t know). The problem is that pro-AGW scientists will allow this type of view to sit uncriticised (because at least its ‘the right side’), while tearing into every ounce of AGW doubt (such as The Guardian’s series). RealClimate is known to be quick to delete or strongly reply to over the top anti-AGW comments, but leave such comments as this untouched. RC would do much for its credibility to show that this type of view has nothing to do with its own science and beliefs.

  30. 130
    Alan of Oz says:

    Great post! I applaud RC for printing it and I applaud the Gardian for their genuine attempt to reinstate the lost art of investigative journalisim.

  31. 131
    Edward Greisch says:

    Woops: At least one politician is a scientist. But not many.

  32. 132
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Steve: “Why don’t you try checking some of this stuff out before making accusations.”

    Because he wouldn’t be able to paint there being some form of controversy and thereby denigrate climate science (justifying his desire not to do anything about it).

  33. 133
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “The Information Commissioner’s Office decided that UEA failed in its duties under the Act but said that it could not prosecute those”

    WRONG.

    The DEPUTY stated that it was illegal to breech the act (tautology alert: illegal to break the law!!!) and that criminal sanction for any such breech is not possible.

    NEVER that the UEA failed in its duties.

    And NEVER the ICO. Just the deputy speaking out of his arse.

    [edit]

  34. 134

    Hank (76),

    “The Sheep Look Up” (1972). Very cool book.

  35. 135
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Everyone is bias, and nobody is completely objective. The problem comes when ANYONE claims to know that something is irrefutable.”

    So the sun rose yesterday is refutable?

    So if I were to place 10 tons of TNT under your bed while you slept, you would NOT be blown to bit if I lit it?

    BUUUULLLLL.

  36. 136
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Anand, you demonstrate my point beautifully you troll.

  37. 137
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Of course, that’s exactly what it means! Phil Jones chopped the tail off a tree-ring proxy temperature data series and replaced it with instrumental data”

    Nope, it’s standard technique.

    Temperature measurements themselves are taken from instruments that do not act linearly. The temperature reading from a calibrated mercury thermometer is NOT the same as the one you get from, say, an optical pyrometer EVEN IF IT’S THE SAME SAMPLE!

    This is because each instrument for reading temperature has a range over which it is taken as the true reading.

    Therefore you don’t use mercury thermometers outside that range and a temperature reading outside that range is NOT the temperature reading. You use the RIGHT INSTRUMENT.

    “replaced it with instrumental data, because the proxy data indicated a recent decline in temperatures.”

    How can you have a decline in temperatures when the INSTRUMENTS don’t show it???

    Insane.

  38. 138

    Jay (106),

    Do you think there’s a chance you may be bias[ed] in your acceptance of heliocentrism–assuming you believe in heliocentrism? How about your belief in gravity? Challenged that lately?

    Yes, nothing is ever ultimately provable, as solopsism shows. But things can be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt, and AGW is one of those things. It is NOT sensible to keep going back and examining stuff that was settled a long time ago. That’s not science, it’s obsessive-compulsive disorder.

  39. 139
    Mike Brisco says:

    The Guardian did a reasonable job, one that needed doing. Basically someone reasonably fair, independent, competent, able to understand scientists, the scientific debate, and the public debate, needed to look thoroughly over the entire body of emails, and whatever was there, put it in the public arena.

    The emails might contain damning scandal, or they might contain merely trivia and indiscrestions. if they contain scandal – the sooner that is out in public, the better – science can adjust, correct, move on, and it is over. If they contain trivia – the sooner that is out in public the better too, as we can decide the science stands and again move on.

    The paepr’s articles, did this to the best of their ability, and it was i think a fair attempt.

    The paper doubtless understands well the alternative to their type of investigation. The emails as a body remain in the public domain for years; no one ever does a definitive thorough review; but one side can continue to cherry pick from them, drip feeding a supply of doubt, for years.

    There is a good article on the PR methods used by denialists in Eur J Public Health vol 19 pp 2-4. Denialismm is not limted to climate change – the same tactics were used for e.g tobacco + cancer; passive smoking + heart disease; in S Africa, AIDS and HIV; in the UK, the safety of the combined MMR vaccine, esp with respect to risk of autism. The denialists issue is always the same, to reject a proposition for which a substantial scientific consensus exists. The methods to do this, are usually the same also.

    Cherry picking is one of these. Their tactic is not only to pick the contradictory evidence – also to pick the weakest papers ( they can criticise them and thus fly a kite) or the older papers ( the science are is easy to criticise with the wisdom of hindsight; and denialists also claim that anything proceeding from those paeprs is false also).

  40. 140
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jack Maloney@115
    No, science does NOT work by individual researchers repeating the identical calculations of others using the same data and equations. Rather, the researchers look at the method used and try to implement it INDEPENDENTLY and perhaps with a slightly different data. In so doing, such REPLICATION also tests for systematic errors and sample dependence, yielding a much more robust verification than mere “auditing” or repetition.

  41. 141
    Geoff Wexler says:

    #106

    The problem comes when ANYONE claims to know that something is
    irrefutable.

    The more usual criticism is that the global warming science is rubbish because it is irrefutable. At least you appear to disagree with that silly assertion

    Is there a chance that you may one day change you mind if new or inconsistent data is found?

    I am just a reader, but I would certainly change my mind,but not necessarily at once. The rule observations trump ‘theory’ ,which includes earlier observations, is not always valid. Observations often involve clever and difficult science and can also turn out to be wrong. This has happened many times in the history of science. In fact the ‘theorist’ who retreats too quickly is in danger of making a bit of a fool of himself (herself). The temporary discrepancy between the tropospherical and surface temperatures was one such example. It is to the credit of the ‘theorists’ that they were skeptical of the tropospherical measurements which did indeed turn out to be wrong. One reason is that noone could make sense of them , not even the contrarians.

    As for ‘Gavin or the moderator’ , I notice that you provide no evidence in #106 for inconsistent evidence being ignored.

  42. 142

    #110 Ray Ladbury:

    What he said! :)

  43. 143

    Re the FOI requests:

    It perhaps should be mentioned once again that there is clear evidence that the requests became overt harassment.

    When McIntyre posted templates and asked his drones to submit them with any 5 countries filled in, there was no chance that that data would have an actual research use. How could it–no assured means of gathering the request results together, no realistic means of assuring complete coverage, no realistic means of avoiding massive duplication. And most of the data was already available. The only conceivable purpose for such an action was (probably coercive) harassment.

    The only conceivable outcome was a considerable waste of time, talent and taxpayer’s dollars (or rather, pounds.)

    See:

    http://climateaudit.org/2009/07/24/cru-refuses-data-once-again/#comment-188529

  44. 144

    “A strange response. If McIntyre checks Santer’s data and finds no errors, then the science is confirmed. If he checks and finds significant errors, then the science is improved. Isn’t that the way science is supposed to work?”

    Except that what has repeatedly happened so far is that picayune errors are found, then used as the basis of a blog campaign to either spin them as significant when they are not, or to use them as the basis of unsubstantiated smears.

    Neither of those outcomes is helpful to science.

    Still less, public policy.

  45. 145
    dhogaza says:

    Oakwood:

    This is a perfect example of why climate science is losing credibility. Not that RL is a climate scientist (I don’t know). The problem is that pro-AGW scientists will allow this type of view to sit uncriticised (because at least its ‘the right side’), while tearing into every ounce of AGW doubt (such as The Guardian’s series). RealClimate is known to be quick to delete or strongly reply to over the top anti-AGW comments, but leave such comments as this untouched. RC would do much for its credibility to show that this type of view has nothing to do with its own science and beliefs.

    All that, and oakwood doesn’t actually tell us where he thinks Ray Ladbury was wrong. I looked closely, I saw nothing incorrect in Ray’s comment.

    So, oakwood, why should anyone criticize Ray’s comment? Don’t just say “oh he’s wrong”, you need to tell us where he’s wrong. You didn’t, I imagine, because you can’t …

  46. 146
    Ron says:

    Opinion polls show that climate change sceptics are winning the argument. Their arguments obviously have traction with the public at large. It is therefore appropriate for the Guardian to recognise this, to try to identify which of those arguments have credibility and to open the possibility of a reasoned response to those which do not.

    I’ve just been reading “Dire Predictions” by Mann and Kump and the “Hockey Stick Illusion by Montford”. I know there are big differences in the objectives of the authors; one is a general survey of IPCC climate science from a major publishing house and the other a focussed ‘hatchet job’. [edit- take your nonsense elsewhere]

  47. 147
    jo abbess says:

    Almost every day, I scan the online Media for Climate Change reporting. Some days, journalists cannot seem to find anything that’s “news” about Climate Change, so they don’t write anything.

    What counts as “news” ? Scandal, dispute, discoveries, overturnings, legal matters. Why is there so little of the actual Science in the news ? Is it not interesting enough for their readers that Life on Earth is in great peril ? This should be of interest to everybody, every day of the year.

    Climate Change is not a sub-set of the Economy, nor a campaigning pastime, as is the usual treatment of Environmental matters by the Media.

    Climate Change impacts on the Economy significantly, now and into the future. Climate Change IS the news, and journalists should be encouraged to break out of the frame of reference they have built for themselves and start treating Earth news as serious. Deadly serious.

    We should put ourselves and our Media on a “war footing” as regards the deep and lasting impacts of ecological damages we are currently witnessing taking shape.

    Things are not as they used to be. Inquiries into standards in the Life of Scientists are not the appropriate way to address the emergence of the real and dangerous risks of Climate Change.

    Journalists should pay attention : as the grim story unfolds, the Media should be watching closely, and unpack the significance and the repercussions implied; and translate this evolving Science research debate into a narrative that holds people to the facts; not just waiting for the odd Press Release and then allowing editorial normatives to make it look like the information has been tailored by the Climate Change sceptics.

    The Media are doing us all a disservice by not delivering the severity of the Climate Change problems in all areas of Society, Politics and Industry.

    There’s not much point to the news organisations if they can’t tell us the real news. Climate Change is already deadly, and damages to infrastructure, food and water supplies will only mount up.

    It matters that the Media get it right, and get it right on a daily basis. There should be journalists whose sole task is to follow the train of the important debates in the Science. And there should be more of such reporters. And they should have many, many more column inches devoted to the Science, and the policy, social and industrial responses.

  48. 148
    Septic Matthew says:

    I think you’d have done better to write something like:

    “Dear Guardian,

    We respect your usual high standards and are happy to see you devote continuing effort to the AGW debate. In the recent article by Fred Pearce, we think that Mr. Pearce made the following mistakes:

    1. Pearce wrote “mistake 1″; the evidence shows instead “correction 1 (ref1a, ref1b, ref1c);

    etc,

    Thank you for your attention, and thank Mr Pearce for his efforts.

    yours truly,

    signature”

    These repeated aspersions that other people are stupid, lazy, venal or whatever simply distract from your message. Besides that, you come across as immature and self-centered.

  49. 149
    M Roberts says:

    As a very long-term reader of the Guardian and a much shorter one RealClimate I find that I think the Guardian got this wrong and it started with Mr Monbiot’s intemperate call for Prof Jones resignation .
    Monbiot is a journalist with in my opinion a very high regard for his own importance and there seemed to be some undeclared tension between him and the UEA ,in fact I think I remember a call for a named member of the PR staff to resign by him in the course of the controversy.
    One difficulty seems to be that the personalisation tendency in the media cuts across the need for facts to stand on their own no matter who is pointing them out

    [Response: Good point. Science tries very hard to depersonalize things as much as possible, so that personalities/egos etc don't get in the way of the goal. A large chunk of the media generally does the opposite, and hence gets nowhere.--Jim]

  50. 150
    BlogReader says:

    #114 Please provide a citation for such a publication by Phil Jones in which he hid any tree-ring data. Otherwise, you are just blowing smoke.

    a climategate email:

    I still think we will get comments about what changes with storms. If this
    is going to lead somewhere we don’t want it and cause problems, then the final part is likely best removed.

    Not showing data as it makes your assertion look flimsy isn’t an ethical way of doing science.

    [Response: This is ridiculous. The discussion is nothing to do with tree rings or even data of any kind. Instead, it is a discussion about what can and cannot be easily summarised for a bullet point. Jones' point that if you can't condense a particular issue accurately into a short sentence then it's best not to put something potentially misleading into the summary - something I really doubt you have a problem with. - gavin]


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