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E&E threatens a libel suit

Filed under: — group @ 22 February 2011

Abuse of the UK libel laws is so commonplace as to require no real introduction (but see the Campaign for libel reform for more details). Because of the ridiculous costs and pro-plaintiff assumptions, it has been (ab)used by many and fought against successfully only by a few. In the realm of discussions about science, Simon Singh’s triumph over a libel suit brought by the British Chiropractors Association stands out, as does Ben Goldacre’s successful £500,000 defense against Matthias Rath – a vitamin salesman peddling bogus AIDS cures. But despite that, it remains (for now) a potent threat to throw around if you want to try to intimidate a critic.

We received this letter on Friday:

From: Bill Hughes
Cc: Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen
Subject:: E&E libel
Date: 02/18/11 10:48:01

Gavin, your comment about Energy & Environment which you made on RealClimate has been brought to my attention:

“The evidence for this is in precisely what happens in venues like E&E that have effectively dispensed with substantive peer review for any papers that follow the editor’s political line. ”

To assert, without knowing, as you cannot possibly know, not being connected with the journal yourself, that an academic journal does not bother with peer review, is a terribly damaging charge, and one I’m really quite surprised that you’re prepared to make. And to further assert that peer review is abandoned precisely in order to let the editor publish papers which support her political position, is even more damaging, not to mention being completely ridiculous.

At the moment, I’m prepared to settle merely for a retraction posted on RealClimate. I’m quite happy to work with you to find a mutually satisfactory form of words: I appreciate you might find it difficult.

I look forward to hearing from you.

With best wishes
Bill Hughes
Director
Multi-Science Publsihing [sic] Co Ltd

The comment in question was made in the post “From blog to Science” and the full context was:

The many existing critiques of peer review as a system (for instance by Richard Smith, ex-editor of the BMJ, or here, or in the British Academy report), sometimes appear to assume that all papers arrive at the journals fully formed and appropriately written. They don’t. The mere existence of the peer review system elevates the quality of submissions, regardless of who the peer reviewers are or what their biases might be. The evidence for this is in precisely what happens in venues like E&E that have effectively dispensed with substantive peer review for any papers that follow the editor’s political line – you end up with a backwater of poorly presented and incoherent contributions that make no impact on the mainstream scientific literature or conversation. It simply isn’t worth wading through the dross in the hope of finding something interesting.

The point being that if the ‘peer-review’ bar gets lowered, the result is worse submissions, less impact and a declining reputation. Something that fits E&E in spades. This conclusion is based on multiple years of evidence of shoddy peer-review at E&E and, obviously, on the statements of the editor, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen. She was quoted by Richard Monastersky in the Chronicle of Higher Education (3 Sep 2003) in the wake of the Soon and Baliunas fiasco:

The journal’s editor, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, a reader in geography at the University of Hull, in England, says she sometimes publishes scientific papers challenging the view that global warming is a problem, because that position is often stifled in other outlets. “I’m following my political agenda — a bit, anyway,” she says. “But isn’t that the right of the editor?”

So the claim that the ‘an editor publishes papers based on her political position’ while certainly ‘terribly damaging’ to the journal’s reputation is, unfortunately, far from ridiculous.

Other people have investigated the peer-review practices of E&E and found them wanting. Greenfyre, dissecting a list of supposedly ‘peer-reviewed’ papers from E&E found that:

A given paper in E&E may have been peer reviewed (but unlikely). If it was, the review process might have been up to the normal standards for science (but unlikely). Hence E&E’s exclusion from the ISI Journal Master list, and why many (including Scopus) do not consider E&E a peer reviewed journal at all.

Further, even the editor states that it is not a science journal and that it is politically motivated/influenced. Finally, at least some of what it publishes is just plain loony.

Also, see comments from John Hunter and John Lynch. Nexus6 claimed to found the worst climate paper ever published in its pages, and that one doesn’t even appear to have been proof-read (a little like Bill’s email). A one-time author, Roger Pielke Jr, said “…had we known then how that outlet would evolve beyond 1999 we certainly wouldn’t have published there. “, and Ralph Keeling once asked, “Is it really the intent of E&E to provide a forum for laundering pseudo-science?”. We report, you decide.

We are not surprised to find that Bill Hughes (the publisher) is concerned about his journal’s evidently appalling reputation. However, perhaps the way to fix that is to start applying a higher level of quality control rather than by threatening libel suits against people who publicly point out the problems? Is being known as the journal who tries to sue critics of their editorial policies (or worse, tries to intimidate critics by threatening libel suits) really going to help?

As a final note, if you think that threatening unjustifiable UK libel suits against valid criticism is an appalling abuse, feel free to let Bill Hughes know (but please be polite), and add your support to the Campaign for libel reform in the UK which looks to be making great headway. In the comments, feel free to list your examples of the worst papers ever published in E&E.

Bill, if you are reading, you can take this ‘form of words’ as a full and complete response to your email.

Update: The Guardian reports on the story, and Bill Hughes sends another email.


308 Responses to “E&E threatens a libel suit”

  1. 251
    RichardC says:

    244 “So even though I an convinced you have libelled EE, please be assured I am not actually intending to do anything about [it].”

    Two legal emails, two mistakes. Not a very good record for a publisher.

  2. 252
    Joe Cushley says:

    What a mealy-mouthed, disingenuous, self-exculpatory pile of crap from Bill Hughes.

    They say all publicity is good publicity. Can’t see it in this case… I know it would have meant a lot of extra work for Gavin, but I really would have liked to see this go to court. It could have served as a flag-ship case to expose the complete rottenness at the heart of the denialist position. Heigh ho: they look pretty damn stupid as it stands.

  3. 253
    Seb Tallents says:

    Didactylos:

    Well, one has to say, when one looks at the phrase and wording that got Singh into trouble over the BCA, I can not share your confidence in this matter. Sorry if nothing that small empirical fact makes me an idiot, perhaps wiser heads such as yourself can explain the wisdom of the courts that ruled the following statement:

    \You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.\

    was not a comment (and thus not dependable as fair comment) but a statement of fact and that the word bogus means that the treatments offered were not only ineffective, but that the BCA believed them to be so.

    The law is perfectly capable of being an ass, so, you know what they say about \fools rushing in\. That’s all I’ve got to say on the matter really.

  4. 254
    dhogaza says:

    So, even though I am convinced you have libelled EE, please be assured I am not actually intending to do anything about.

    So, if they’ve been claiming that Gavin has libeled EE on, say, the Climate Sceptic mailing list …

    Gavin might well have a case for a libel suit against Hughes.

    Oh, the irony of it all! :)

    Unfortunately, being libeled by the E&E people probably helps, rather than hurts, one’s reputation so proving damages might be impossible …

  5. 255
    Susan Anderson says:

    NYTimes Magazine today has a good article, Fact Free Science. This subhead is not in the electronic version:

    “how the right is using tactics learned from the left to discredit climate change”

    Twist and turn, inside out and upside down.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/magazine/27FOB-WWLN-t.html

  6. 256

    255, Susan,

    I rather enjoyed that article.

    On topic, I find it disappointing that EBSCO lists E&E as a peer-reviewed journal. An e-mail campaign by scientists to EBSCO recommending that they re-evaluate their position on E&E is, perhaps, warranted. Of course, any action on EBSCO’s part would be entirely their choice, but one would think that accuracy is important in their business, and a position which is at odds with those in the field can not look good.

    [With that said, it's quite possible that E&E's peer review process in other arenas is adequate, and is only substandard in climate science.]

    That (a “de-listing” by EBSCO as a peer-reviewed journal) would pretty much put an end to any chance of a libel suit, now or ever. Then I’d like to see E&E threaten to sue EBSCO for their action.

    [Not that an actual suit was ever much of a likelihood... E&E has everything to lose, and relatively little to gain, from such a course. In fact, even if they could have won the suit, they might still have suffered a net loss from lost future submissions, subscriptions and professional respect from the overall process. The main defense would have to have been to subpoena the names and documents of all authors and reviewers, both published and rejected, so that RC could prove its position. It would have been a field day, and probably a personal inconvenience and embarrassment to many involved, authors and reviewers alike. It really was never an option for them, methinks.]

  7. 257
    Didactylos says:

    Seb Tallents:

    Why do you go to such effort to forget the final outcome of the case? Singh got into trouble because he framed the general view as unequivocal fact – but reason still prevailed.

    And let’s not forget that Singh may still have been able to prove that the statement was indeed fact – he just didn’t want to rely on that defence alone.

    I’m not going to argue with you further about the merits of the Singh case, since you have clearly made up your mind.

    But as for me, I’m glad that newspapers can’t libel people easily in the UK. It’s not like the media is a nice, friendly entity. Even individual journalists…. look at Monbiot: one day defending climate change science with every fibre of his being – the next day attacking Phil Jones and saying the most indefensible, shocking things about him.

  8. 258
    russwylie says:

    person sends a silly email, and it gets published on this science blog.

    six pages of comment….. person sends another email retracting/refuting the obvious threat

    blog traffic generated, yes. science advanced,no.

    E&E profile increased free of charge,yes.

  9. 259
    Seb Tallents says:

    @257:
    Didaktylos, the whole argument now seems sterile as they have made clear that they have no intent to sue.

    However, you should read more carefully. See post 219:

    “Simon Singh won in the end, after appeal IIRC, but it took time and money. If RC did not invest time and money (probably, being in the US and protected against UK courts now, they have no immediate need to answer any lawsuit) and lose by default (or even if they need to fight to win on appeal) denialists have a fantastic totem of “Warmenism proven wrong in court of law” crap that is going to make trying to convince people about the validity of the science all the more harder.”

    As you can see, I have no intention of forgetting the final outcome. If you are going to go around calling people idiots, it might be best to read what they wrote first.

    To expound a bit, Singh LOST on facts. He was unable to prove it, and he would not be given leave to appeal on that argument again. He lost for the simple reason that the Judge decided to interpret his words to mean something different than he did mean, and his words as statements of fact rather than comment. This left his only defense, of truth, to be to prove something that he never claimed to be the truth in the first place: that the BCA promoted treatments knowing that they wouldn’t work. That is next to impossible to prove.
    His appeal was on the grounds that his statements were clearly comment, the appeal succeeded, allowing him fair comment defense, and the BCA withdrew.

    On the other hand, the post we are responding to looks far more a statement of fact than fair comment, and it is worded in such a way that a strict interpretation of the meaning of the words and the impression given in context is firstly much closer to statement of fact than Singhs article is, and I do think there is a real possibility that readers could take away a message that is more than what was meant.

    The fact that you and I can agree to what is means doesn’t mean that the court will, as Singhs case showed, and the fact that Singh managed to get a court to agree, in the end, after a lot of time and money, that it was comment, not factual statements is no guarantee that this line of defense would be open to RC. Hence the concern.

    Given that RC hasn’t got the Guardian standing behind it, and unlike Singh has no financial need to even answer the case, and if they did initially lose and then won on appeal, that would still leave a lot of grounds for people to repeat a misleading lie about “climatologists convicted liers”. I’d find that very difficult personally, as when convincing people about the professionalism and integrity of climate science, and informing them of the basic science itself, I’d rather not have this very useful site dismissed out of hand as “oh, but they are convicted liers”. That’s all a pointless risk that I think is worth a minor edit in language to avoid.

    That’s all very clear in the other posts, I’ve got nothing more to say on the issue, and as it is irrelevant now anyway, perhaps best to let sleeping dogs lie.

  10. 260

    258, russwylie

    Increased awareness of E&E as a questionable “authority” on anything related to climate… priceless.

  11. 261
    John Mashey says:

    re: 255, 256
    Well, I laughed at the Sokal episode and postmodernism stuff as much as any, and have no love for the left when it goes anti-science, but I’m afraid that NYT Times article was seriously ill-informed in claiming climate anti-science was based on tactics from the left.

    1) This is strongly derived from the cigarette guys, using the Hill&Knowlton tactics. See Allan Brandt, The Cigarette Century.

    2) See how this transitioned into climate anti-science, which got rolling on a small scale around 1990 with the George Marshall Institute folks, as per Merchants of Doubt. Those guys were not exactly left.

    3) The same thinktanks that organize much of this learned the trade from the cigarette work. See CCC, pp.93-95, where entities that do climate anti-science also had tobacco connections (“T”) in first line. Many of these entities are very rightward, although some act more as nonprofit PR agency/lobbyists.

    4) Try the Tobacco Archives, such as this or especially this, wherein the tobacco guys say who they work with or how much they paid them. Let’s see:

    AEI, CATO, CEI, Manhattan, TASCC, Reason, Heartland, Frontiers of Freedom, Alexis de Tocqueville, George Mason Law&Economics Center, Americans for Tax Reform.
    Commonwealth Foundation (that may not be so obvious, but I’m from PA. That’s run by one of Richard Mellon Scaife’s guys and does stuff like buying attack ads in the Penn State Daily Collegian to go after Mike Mann. But it did help with tobacco.)
    Pacific Research Institute, Independent Institute, Heritage, NCPA, Annapolis Center.

    Most of these are mentioned in the CCC document. Maybe some of the others in the tobacco list are left, but these are mostly on right. Many are funded by Scaife or Koch, never accused of leftishness.

    5) Bottom line: the NYT Times article was poorly informed.

  12. 262
    calyptorhynchus says:

    Guys, OT here, but can you help. Winth in the last year I read a post on RC about solving the world’s energy demands with large solar arrays in the equatorial deserts. Can’t seem to find it by searching or browsing topics. I like to cite it.

    Thanks

  13. 263
    David B. Benson says:

    calyptorhynchus @261 — Sounds like something David MacKay might have written about. Try
    http://withouthotair.blogspot.com/
    or his book (available on-line)
    http://www.withouthotair.com/

  14. 264
    EFS_Junior says:

    #260 John Mashey says:

    Agree with you 100%, the author of that article was born in 1965, how would see remember such things while still in dippers?

    Probably something she was told from some extreme left-wing wonks while in college. Or read it in a book.

    I’m 57, I remember the 60′s, there was never a left wing anti-science crowd, at best it was an anti-authoritarian crowd focused almost entirely on Vietnam and Tricky Dick and sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll.

  15. 265
    ccpo says:

    “At the moment, I’m prepared to settle merely for a retraction posted on RealClimate.”

    “At the moment” cannot but be interpreted as anything other than suggesting escalation if conditions are not met.

    “At the moment, I’m prepared to settle merely for a retraction posted on RealClimate, but am prepared to take further action if your response is not satisfactory.”

    To spin this to mean anything else is absurd, to wit:

    “At the moment, I’m prepared to settle merely for a retraction posted on RealClimate, but I will probably settle down, so don’t bother.”

    This is all reinforced with the use of “merely” which is meant to emphasize his action could be more severe. To wit:

    “At the moment, I’m prepared to settle merely for a retraction posted on RealClimate, but am prepared to take further action if you do not respond satisfactorily.” Or are we supposed to think “merely” means:

    “At the moment, I’m prepared to settle merely for a retraction posted on RealClimate. But who am I kidding? A wink and a fiver under the table when next we meet would be grand! You’re such a rascal! Kiss-kiss!”

    Made me literally LOL, so all is well.

    reCAPTCHA gets it: somewhat insata

  16. 266

    Re. Gavin #244

    I think it is funny that in his first email Hughes says “Subject:: E&E libel”

    and now “Nothing could be further from the truth”

    then of course the standard spin “if you read that interpretation into my email of last Friday, then I must apologise for not having expressed myself more clearly”

    So apparently he would only like his original email to be seen as informing Gavin of libel suit qualification?

    then he goes on to describe Gavin’s comment as an ‘insult which he is accustomed in respect of EE’ and says the comment strays into libel.

    Then he says his purpose of the first email was to get Gavin to back off?

    But that is what a threat of libel is for? Ins’t it?

    Then he pours some cream over the top by apologizing that Gavin did not understand that the threat was intended to get Gavin to not say anything.

    I guess the cherry on top is that he is convinced Gavin committed libel, but won’t do anything about it.

    My opinion, politics and brinkmanship have no place in a science publication. But the hardcore battle between peer reviewed science and pseudo-science (wishful thinking) is where the fight belongs.

    To bad E&E is not so interested in proper peer review though.

    Oh yeah, I forgot, E&E is not a science mag. it’s a policy rag.

  17. 267
    James Albinson says:

    Re: 261 … is what you want http://www.withouthotair.com ? David Mackay’s book an actually adding up the numbers? Downloadable, errata available, etc. Good Stuff!

  18. 268
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #260: Sure, John, but notice how nicely that bit of truthiness balanced the article.

  19. 269
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #261: I don’t recall such a post here, but Climate Progress definitely covered it. The reference is to a specific project to bring Sahara solar to Europe, and IIRC some work has gone ahead on at least the planning for such a thing.

  20. 270
    Karsten Johansen says:

    Interesting to read. Just an apropos, also inspired by your previous title “How easy it is to get fooled”. I’m looking forward to comments on this site about this:

    “(…) Publishing an extensive set of temperature records is the first goal of Muller’s project. The second is to turn this vast haul of data into an assessment on global warming. Here, the Berkeley team is going its own way again. The big three groups – Nasa, Noaa and the Met Office – work out global warming trends by placing an imaginary grid over the planet and averaging temperatures records in each square. So for a given month, all the records in England and Wales might be averaged out to give one number. Muller’s team will take temperature records from individual stations and weight them according to how reliable they are.(…)”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/feb/27/can-these-scientists-end-climate-change-war

    “Reliable” here seems to open up the possiblity for a lot of altering of the data sets, and we can “look forward” to further and endless “climategates” in the corporate media. People presenting themselves as scientific superheroes finally coming up with the “objective” conclusion, as Muller does here, always raises my suspicion. Contrary to his own claims, this presentation of his project resembles exactly the spin he claims to be working to free us all from. Not very promising…

    Muller as his views are presented in the Guardian interview seems to me not to be as unbiased as he wants to appear:

    “You might think three groups was enough, but Muller rolls out a list of shortcomings, some real, some perceived, that he suspects might undermine public confidence in global warming records. For a start, he says, warming trends are not based on all the available temperature records. The data that is used is filtered and might not be as representative as it could be. He also cites a poor history of transparency in climate science, though others argue many climate records and the tools to analyse them have been public for years.”

    Another point raises my scepticism even more:

    “One donor has had some climate bloggers up in arms: the man behind the Charles G Koch Charitable Foundation owns, with his brother David, Koch Industries, a company Greenpeace called a “kingpin of climate science denial”. On this point, Muller says the project has taken money from right and left alike.”

    The Koch oil-billionaire brothers are the main financial supporters behind the so-called “Tea-party” “movement”, starring as it’s front figures the oil fanatic Sarah Palin and the right wing extremists in Fox News etc.

    What “left” should mean in this company of US superbillionaires (does Muller consider Bill Gates “left”?) is not very clear to say the least. In this world at least one thing is very, very clear: almost everyone in the upper classes around the world, including chinese communist leaders, saudi kings etc. are by now not very fond of man-made global warming, because they feel it threatens their oil-made model of human life. To me it seems that these people are making stronger and stronger efforts to “free” humankind of the unpleasant news from climate science, oceanography (growing pH in the seas stemming from higher CO2-levels in the atmosphere – probably an even worse threat than global warming) etc. or, in short, to “free” us all from the unpleasant realities that now undermine “the american way of life”.

  21. 271
    CM says:

    Well, I’m glad that’s over and done with, then.

    Re: the NYT piece (#255, 256, 260),

    I agree with John Mashey’s reminder above. But a central element of the tobacco strategy as I understand it involved working with elite right-wing scientists to foster research and researchers that could underline the uncertainties. It did not rely on undermining faith in scientists and the scientific process as such. The climate-denial industry has in part continued that strategy (minus the tobacco companies’ largesse in funding real, if distracting, research).

    But there’s a vocal strand that’s just anti-science, anti-scientist, anti-expert, anti-elite. That’s what populism does, left or right. I’d look to endogenous anti-science antecedents on the populist right before assuming they’ve borrowed the clothes of the populist left.

    As for the idea that climate denial is somehow fed by relativism from science studies, I don’t get it. My impression is most voices in the denialsphere strongly distrust any approach to science with “post-” or “-construct-” in its name.

    (reCaptcha agrees: “construct nenio

  22. 272
    Charles says:

    I’m stunned by Mr. Hughes’ second email (as if the first wasn’t bad enough). I hate to laugh about this but how can you not?

    I agree with Bob:

    Increased awareness of E&E as a questionable “authority” on anything related to climate… priceless.

  23. 273
    J Bowers says:

    Re. 256 Bob — “I find it disappointing that EBSCO lists E&E as a peer-reviewed journal.”

    Poptech’s been pretty active in seeing that doesn’t get changed.
    http://greenfyre.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/poptarts-450-climate-change-denier-lies/#comment-6029

    Captcha – general terde

  24. 274
    Horatio Algeranon says:

    NY Times article:

    “Fact Free Journalism: how the right is using ‘journalistic balance’ to discredit climate change”

    We can only wish.

  25. 275
    Joe Cushley says:

    In the fall-out from this, how many “scientists” actually outed themselves as peer-reviewers for E & E?

    I counted two. Craig Loehle and Richard Tol. (I could write LOL here… in fact I have). Loehle is the logging industry’s chief scientist at the perhaps misleadingly named National Council for Air & Stream Improvement. He also appears to have written a book called Becoming a Successful Scientist… Given the kicking his 2007 paper at E & E got here – http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/12/past-reconstructions/ – I’m not sure he’s the best qualified person to write a tome with that title.

    Tol, is an economist who comes up with gems such as “poor and exhausted people are unlikely to take up arms, and if they do, they are probably not very effective”, when confronted by a hypothetical Third World terrorism scenario resulting from climate change. So that’s all right then…

    Any others?

  26. 276
    Robin Levett says:

    @Seb Tallents #259:

    A few points:

    1. Simon Singh won on appeal because, as you say, Eady J was wrong at first instance on the issue of whether the complained of words were assertions of fact or were comment. He spent the money and was invovled in the time not because of any inherent defect in English (and Welsh) libel law, but because a judge got it wrong – an error corrected on appeal;

    2. The views of a very strong Court of Appeal in Singh on where the line is to be drawn between fact and honest opinion will not be ignored in any subsequent litigation; any judge hearing E&E v Schmidt will err more toward considering Gavin’s views opinion rather than fact as a result.

    3. The Grauniad did not support Simon Singh.

    @others:

    What is unduly claimant-friendly about a position, common to all common-law systems bar one (taking the US for these purposes as a single sytem), that whoever makes an allegation has to back it up? If the police accuse me of wrongdoing, I am entitled to ask them to prove it or shut up; the same should apply to the DailyMail.

  27. 277
    J Bowers says:

    275 Joe Cushley — “Tol, is an economist who comes up with gems such as “poor and exhausted people are unlikely to take up arms, and if they do, they are probably not very effective”,”

    “No!” I thought. I checked it out. He did. Page 16…
    http://www.mi.uni-hamburg.de/fileadmin/fnu-files/publication/tol/RM8133.pdf

  28. 278
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Tol
    > “poor and exhausted people are unlikely to take up arms, and if
    > they do, they are probably not very effective”

    That reminded me of a paper worth a look, on how to question beliefs:

    “… people who are highly certain of their beliefs … will be particularly reluctant to make statements that might misrepresent their true beliefs …. most people … will feel that they have been misconstrued if someone asks them a question implying that they have extremely conservative beliefs, such as “Why do you think it’s a good thing to keep women barefoot and pregnant?”

    http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homePage/Faculty/Swann/docu/spc88.pdf

    Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
    1988, Vol. 54, No. 2, 268-273
    Change Through Paradox: Using Self-Verification to Alter Beliefs

    (That paper also may explain why we get denier types in whose questions assume absurdly exaggerated claims that they want to attribute to climate scientists: a difference in how people react. People highly certain of their beliefs hunker down when offered information that contradicts their beliefs, but may change when their beliefs lead them to extreme statements.)

    Tol apparently hasn’t said anything he considers extreme enough to make him reconsider his beliefs, yet.

  29. 279
    John Mashey says:

    re: 271
    “But a central element of the tobacco strategy as I understand it involved working with elite right-wing scientists to foster research and researchers that could underline the uncertainties. It did not rely on undermining faith in scientists and the scientific process as such. The climate-denial industry has in part continued that strategy (minus the tobacco companies’ largesse in funding real, if distracting, research).”

    The tobacco industry funded both:

    a) general skepticism towards scientists and science in general
    b) science or sciencey-looking publication likely to increase uncertainty

    See CCC:
    Category a):
    p.8 on Hill&Knowlton tobacco strategy and similarity with climate anti-science
    p.76 on TASSC, of which I claim
    “It is a classic example of
    tobacco companies trying to “hide in the crowd” of general anti-science.”
    p.140 on Steve Milloy, see especially the Sourcewatch article listed there.

    pp.36-37, references BRA2007, GUT2009, MIC2008, MOO2009, ORE2010.

    Category b:
    The fossil folks learned to do better money-laundering, and:
    p.10 shows the flows of funding and memes. There is both fossil and tobacco money flowing through a maze of thinktanks and fronts, and eventually ends up in books by “scientists.” it is very hard to track.
    pp.36-37, references DEF2002 (de Freitas), ESS2002 (which got money in an interesting way), GMI1990 (which may or may not have had any industry funding that early), SOO2003 (Soon & Baliunas, whose first sponsor was API).

    pp.93-95 shows matrix of funders versus thinktanks. ExxonMobil is shown, but pp.47-48 describes some of the Foundations, of which the most relevant are the 3 Koch-related ones and 3 of the Richard Mellon Scaife ones. They, plus Earhart are clearly fossil-fuel-related.

    p.87 NIPCC money through Heartland; who funded it?

    Of course, a current effort that may be legitimate (it has some good people associated) is ,a href=”http://berkeleyearth.org/index”>BEST, which has some reasonable donors. It also has Charles Koch, which might be a concern, given the vast array of climate anti-science efforts he has funded. We’ll see when they publish and how; so far, it seems to be release by website of something to fix climate science’s problems.

  30. 280
    Hank Roberts says:

    John, the Berkeley EST project has changed their anticipated date for showing the data three times that I’ve noticed, just in the past week or two — first the page said it would be available in late 2010, changed to early 2011, now to “first half of 2011″ — and that’s for the raw data.

    They ought to be able to make raw data files available. Heck, they could just list the sources where they got it so others could look up the original info.

    I’m hoping. But their stated approach –using raw data rather than data plus metadata corrections– is bound to increase the error range and uncertainty of the result, isn’t it?

    Oh, wait ….

  31. 281
    J Bowers says:

    Speaking of the Kochs, they might be the next HBGary: http://bit.ly/dQXG1O

  32. 282
    Jaime Frontero says:

    Hank Roberts @ 278:

    “That reminded me of a paper worth a look…”

    Actually, I must say it reminded me to have a re-read of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”:

    Give me your tired, your poor…

  33. 283
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    I must say Gavin’s smile looks so very smug in the Guardian picture, right next to the Seinfeld restaurant. No wonder Hughes is so mad…

  34. 284
    CM says:

    Re: Richard Tol on poor and exhausted people (#275, 277),

    You forgot to quote his next sentence: “The human suffering would be substantial nonetheless.” He’s not saying poor, exhausted people are a good thing. He’s discussing whether a given scenario is likely to lead to violent conflict.

    Much as I prefer Lord Stern’s perspective to Richard Tol’s, he still deserves to be quoted fairly (and FWIW I think he has a point in the statement quoted).

  35. 285
    CM says:

    John Mashey (#279),

    Koch funding of BEST sounds most like the kind of tobacco funding I alluded to — a more sophisticated approach than funding third-rate studies (e.g. Soon and Baliunas) and researchers at ideological think-tanks. But the contrast I was drawing obviously breaks down at a case like Milloy. Thanks for the pointers, I’ll think harder about this.

  36. 286
    Joe Cushley says:

    OK. He should be quoted fully, but he’s still got it badly wrong IMO. Does he really think that successful guerrilla movements down the years regularly got a full night’s sleep and three square meals a day?! I’m sorry, I reckon the man’s a got a *very* distorted view of history as well as science. They fight specifically (and often effectively) *because* they’re tired of being tired and hungry. One of the places Tol is commenting on is the Horn of Africa. I didn’t see the well-equipped US Army doing so well against So mali irregulars… and when the *whole* populace rises up…

    One of the aspects of the denialist position I hate most is when they try and tell us that action to curb carbon emissions will ‘hurt the Third World most’. Mendacious, self-serving nonsense…

    This is straying off-topic.

    In my first post, I genuinely wanted to know if anyone had seen any other E & E peer reviewers poke their heads out of their burrows in the recent to-ing and fro-ing. I think this sort of thing is worth knowing.

  37. 287
    Charlie Harnett says:

    One could quote Tol correctly and he could still be entirely wrong. If Pakistan sees more severe weather events as a result of climate change and quality of life degrades further, nuclear weapons could become available to a variety of disgruntled parties.

  38. 288
    caerbannog says:


    I’m hoping. But their stated approach –using raw data rather than data plus metadata corrections– is bound to increase the error range and uncertainty of the result, isn’t it?

    Oh, wait ….

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 Feb 2011 @ 11:41 AM

    That’s a bit amusing…. because I recently wrote up a little app that implements a simple gridding/averaging routine, and then I used it to crunch GHCN raw monthly-mean data.

    Here is a plot of my results vs NASA’s official “Meteorological Stations” results: http://img541.imageshack.us/img541/9994/landstationindexnosmoot.jpg

    Not bad for an amateur playing with “raw data”, eh? This is what I was able to produce from a simple, spare-time “programming with beer” project over a period of just a few days. I used a 20-deg by 20-deg (at the equator, compensated for latitude) grid-size (nice round numbers, big enough to capture multiple stations per grid-cell in sparsely sampled areas — no other particular reasons).

    I keep hearing about all these projects that are supposedly going to “set the record straight” by producing results from “non manipulated” data, but I never get to see any of the final results (even though my own “raw data” project took me just a few days…)

  39. 289
    Seb Tallents says:

    @276:

    “1. Simon Singh won on appeal because, as you say, Eady J was wrong at first instance on the issue of whether the complained of words were assertions of fact or were comment.”
    Correct, the point is this highlights the risk.

    “He spent the money and was invovled in the time not because of any inherent defect in English (and Welsh) libel law, but because a judge got it wrong – an error corrected on appeal”
    Hmm, I disagree in the sense that the Law is too strong in many respects and allows it to get to this point. It’s not *just* Singh after all, who has been put into a position of “invest a lot of time and money or shut up”, there have been medical researchers for example, put in this situation. Note, I don’t think you always get your costs apportioned to the loser if you win in the end.

    “The views of a very strong Court of Appeal in Singh on where the line is to be drawn between fact and honest opinion will not be ignored in any subsequent litigation;”
    1. Something you would want to get from an experienced UK Libel lawyer than to assume.
    2. The language and style used by Singh is actually very different from that used by Gavins post plus the follow up. By way of an example, an interpretation of Singh says, more or less, “there is no evidence this works, so my oppinion as a good scientist is that it doesn’t” (Note, do courts operate under Occams Razor?) and “therefore the BCA shouldn’t be peddling treatments that haven’t been proven to work”.

    A similar interpretation of Gavins article says “E&E have dispesnesed with any real peer review for articles relating to climate change, as we can see from x,y,z”, that sounds more statement of fact. Again, without solid legal advice I personally wouldn’t want to be in the position of assuming that the “correct” ruling is that the piece is a statement of oppinion vs. a statement of fact. Unless you are legal expert in these areas, it seems really cavalier to me to display a degree of confidence that the court will reach a particular interpretation that a degree of caution wouldn’t be worthwhile.

    3. The Grauniad did not support Simon Singh.
    Yes they did. For the first case, they paid for his legal advice and offered to pay the settlement if he wished to avoid court. What they did not do is offer to pay the dammages if he lost, nor did they support his appeal. One wonders if Singh would have settled in the first place if he had not had the Gaurdian payings what can be incredibly expensive legal advice… and one can see the problem with the law more clearly. It would be more helpful to have some kind of consistent weight given to scientific statements, particular regarding what is regarded true and not true in areas where a scientific debate is ongoing. Researchers need to be able to publish stuff that reads like statements of fact, which they believe to be true, but which can turn out to be wrong without threat of being asked to engage in several months of incredibly expensive litigation.

  40. 290
    bushy says:

    caerbannog, would you please give us your workings and data source,if not your post is worthless. What stations and where and what are your sources. [edit - try not be so juvenile]

  41. 291
    bushy says:

    What was juvenile about that request?

    [Response: Nothing, it was the bit that was edited out that was juvenile. Please stick to substantive discussions. - gavin]

  42. 292
  43. 293
    caerbannog says:


    caerbannog, would you please give us your workings and data source,if not your post is worthless. What stations and where and what are your sources. [edit - try not be so juvenile]

    OK, bushy…. here ya go: http://forums.signonsandiego.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=8148&d=1297963834

    Knock yourself out!

  44. 294
    John Mashey says:

    Back to the original topic:
    Bill Hughes says this was brought to his attention.
    That’s actually interesting.
    1) Does Bill Hughes follow RC, either in person or via Google Alerts?
    2) If not, who out there might have brought it to his attention.

    This was obviously not very serious. Let us hope that anyone is both serious and an Associate Editor learns if this and is invited to comment here.

    2)

  45. 295
    Punksta says:

    And it’s not that libel law is being abused.

    Libel law is itself an abuse, of civil society – it is there purely to wreck openness and free speech.

    Why not just abolish it entirely?

  46. 296

    Punksta,

    Because words matter. Ideas matter. No right is unlimited, not even the right to life. You’re not allowed to preserve your life by killing innocent people, for instance.

  47. 297
    Punksta says:

    In general, Barton, a non-responsive reply.

    And in this specific case, if someone wants to say someone else’s peer-review, or science, or ideas, etc etc, are a crock, they should be allowed to.

    People can and do judge opinions from whence they come. They do not need Big Brother to tell them what opinions to consider and which not to.

  48. 298

    Punksta: a non-responsive reply.

    BPL: Not at all. You just didn’t like it.

  49. 299
    Punksta says:

    But where’s the logic…
    … ideas matter, ‘therefore’ Big Brother must gag some people…. ??

  50. 300
    Seb Tallents says:

    punksta:

    Should they also be allowed to tell your boss that it is a matter of record that you are, say a thief, if you are employed in a position of financial responsibility, thereby ruining your career? (One can construct nastier versions that get you killed by vigilantes of course.)

    Hence the distinction between statements of fact and statements of opinion in UK libel law.


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