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Free speech and academic freedom

Filed under: — rasmus @ 12 February 2012

Update: Some related concerns from deepclimate.org, if these claims can be verified.

In a recent interview for a Norwegian magazine (Teknisk Ukeblad, 0412), the IPCC chair Rajendra Kumar Pachauri told the journalist that he had received death threats in connection with his role as a head for the IPCC. There have also been recent reports of threats and harassment of climate scientists for their stance on climate change (Kerry Emanuel. Katharine Hayhoe, Australian climate scientists, Phil Jones, Barton campaign, and Inhofe’s black list).

These incidents appear as an unpleasant deja vu from my past, smacking of attempts to suppress the freedom of speech. They remind me of the days when I did my national service as a border patrol at the Soviet-Norwegian border in 1988-1989 (Norway and Russia – then Soviet – share a 196 km long common border in the high north), where we stood up for our freedom and democracy. Freedom of speech was tacitly implied as one of the ingredients of an open democracy, which in our minds was the West. There was an understanding that the other side of the iron curtain represented an oppressive regime.

If the people who threat and harass climate scientists were to have their way, I fear we would be heading for a world resembling the other side of the iron curtain of 1989. The absence of oppression and harassment is a prerequisite for sound and functioning science. Oppressive regimes are not known for producing good science, and blind ideology have often been unsustainable. Therefore, threats and such dishonorable campaigns represent a concern.

Me at the Soviet-Norwegian border in the spring of 1989, where I served as a border patrol. The border was halfway between the yellow Norwegian and green/red Soviet borderposts seen in the photo, and the iron curtain involved a militarised zone on the Soviet side guarded by the KGB.

Another unpleasant aspect of the direction taken by the public discource is the character of the rhetoric, which too exhibit similarities to that of the cold war. I still remember some of the propaganda that could be heard on the radio – translated to Norwegian. Too often these days, the debate is far from being informative but has turned into something like a beauty contest and he-said-she-said affair.

So it is important to keep in mind: Don’t shoot the messenger who is only doing her/his job. It would really be a disservice to the society. Any open and free democracy has to be based on true information and knowledge. When big and powerful media corporations start to look like past state-run propaganda machines, where slogans have replaced common sense and expert knowledge, then we’re heading in the wrong direction.

In Norway, the there were calls for enhanced openness and respect (by our prime minister) after the terrible July 22 (2011) terrorist attacks (the terrorist also disrespected climate science). In this sense, the openness also means exposing all levels and all aspects of matters being disputed. As in sciences, it is important to elucidate the situation, and see if the arguments stand up to being critically scrutinized. This also means that all relevant information must be included – not just those which support one stand.

Flower response, more democracy, and more openness in Oslo after July 22, 2011.

I think that the science community needs a louder voice in the society, and there is a need for bringing some of the science-related debates closer to true science. We need to explain the virtues of the scientific method, such as transparency, replication of past results, testing and evaluating the methods and conclusions. These virtues lead to the most credible answers.

For example, we need to focus on question like the following: Is the strategy adopted objective? Does it give robust results? Or do the result depend on the context in which the analysis was carried out? In other words, we need to question whether the conclusions are generally valid.

Focusing on the real questions and doing science means being free, critical and sceptical – and not a climate of fear.


739 Responses to “Free speech and academic freedom”

  1. 201

    Dan, when you make these kinds of (extremely simplified) claims in a scientific forum inhabited by literate fauna, it is customary to accompany those claims with at least one reference, for instance :

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6046/1093.5.full

    [Response:Or perhaps this one...--Jim]

    As the literate members of this forum can see by a simple perusal of the relevant modern subject literature, your claim is vastly oversimplified.

  2. 202
    Chris Crawford says:

    Michael, it’s apparent that you have approached this problem with objectivity; if you are open to the facts, I strongly urge you to peruse some of the excellent material on this site, especially the stuff in the “Highlights” section of the right sidebar. There’s lots of other great information; on YouTube there are some excellent videos entitled “Climate Denial Crock of the Week”. This is a complicated subject and it’s way too easy to get inundated in one point of view. Just as you applaud a breadth of opinion here on this blog, I recommend that you expose yourself to a breadth of opinion on various websites. Peruse some of the other blogs listed on the right side panel. And yes, you should look at some of the denialist sites, such as wattsupwiththat. I believe that the denialist sites are nests of lies, but you should be able to make that decision for yourself if you expose yourself to a breadth of sources of information.

    Dan H @197 disputes the veracity of information about increasing droughts, even though that information is documented with two links, one of which is a scientific paper. By contrast, Dan H. offers no support for his own claim. This, I think, presents us with one more example of denialist mendacity.

  3. 203
    George M says:

    25 Balazs says:
    12 Feb 2012 at 9:04 PM

    Hi Gavin,

    “First off, no ‘huge financial decision’ was ever made based on that single line in the (3000 page) IPCC report”.

    That 3000 page IPCC report is the basis of all renewable subsidies (including biofuels). Developed countries already devoted significant resources to wind turbines, solar panels etc. Several countries already set up carbon trading schemes that largely became the source of vast corruption. All these action was the result of politicians “listening” to climate scientist.

    [Response: Not really. These decisions were made by policy makers taking science into account, but they were not dictated by any of the science, nor by the scientists as a whole (obviously individual scientists have personal policy preferences like everyone else). Climate science has correctly (IMO) highlighted (for instance) the role of increasing CO2 emissions in causing climate change that will likely be deleterious in years and decades to come. Policymakers can choose to act (in the EU) to try and reduce the emissions, or not (in the US). The idea that climate scientists suddenly deprive policymakers of their free will is a little odd. - gavin]”

    Pretty specious argument, Gavin. When you make claims that result in the IPCC saying “the rise in CO2 is highly likely to due to human activities” and list many potentially catastrophic events caused by higher CO2 you can’t hide behind a claim that you didn’t affect the positions chosen by politicians. Paricularly when the the whole IPCC apparatus was set up to “summarize the scientific evidence of human caused climate change” and what could be done about it. Somehow I’ve missed all the published papers saying that while CO2 is rising and so are global temperatures it really isn’t all that much and won’t have catastrophic effects, so tremendously expensive, ineffective policies aren’t needed. Adaptation is the key to coping with any effects.

    [Response: Love the way you twist things! Maybe you should join a dance troop? Perhaps we can just posit that "the rise in CO2 is highly likely to due to human activities" != "the himalayan glaciers will disappear in 2035" and that "reducing emissions" != "tremendously expensive, ineffective policies", or that if there wasn't any evidence that humans caused climate change, the IPCC reports would be a lot shorter? If you'd like to have a serious conversation, stop playing word games, but if you just want to vent, take it elsewhere. - gavin]

  4. 204
    Susan Anderson says:

    Drought decreasing: huh?

    Texas? The Horn of Africa? Australia (it’s a big country, but lots of it is dry)? China? just for starters …

    Wildfires on the increase?

    Point is, extremes. More floods where floods are normal, more drought where drought is expected. More energy in the system and more water vapor, but that doesn’t work out to be wet everywhere.

    The evidence is against you and wishes aren’t horses.

    Try Earth Observatory for real observations:

  5. 205
    Susan Anderson says:

    Another anecdotal drought item:

    I spend a lot of time in a part of New Jersey (near Princeton), which has a history of alternating drought and flood. Lately, these alternations have become more extreme. Weeks have turned into months. More water sometimes, less other times. You could ignore the detail and assume it’s all even, but it’s not. It’s wreaking havoc on nature, which heals for a while but begins to display trauma as it accelerates. Climate change in a layperson’s nutshell!

  6. 206
  7. 207
    Chris Crawford says:

    George @203, apparently you misunderstand how policy is made in a rational polity. There’s a basic causal relationship in rational policymaking:

    information => policies

    First, you figure out everything you can that might affect your situation. That’s done by experts who understand the material. So if you’re thinking about economic issues, you consult economists, not burger flippers. If you’re thinking about military issues, you consult military experts, not dentists. And of course, if you’re thinking about climate change, you consult climatologists. Makes sense so far?

    Having assembled the best available information, you then consider your options. This is a policy decision, and policy decisions are made by politicians. Climatologists don’t make policy decisions and politicians don’t make climatology decisions (although Mr. Inhofe seems rather confused on this point.)

    So here’s the causal chain with respect to climate change:

    Climatologists provide information that politicians use to make policy.

    Clear enough? If you’re worried about policy, talk to politicians. If you’re worried about climatology, talk to climatologists. Render unto Caesar and all that.

    Can you now see why it’s muddled to mix politics into climatology? Climatology informs politics, not the other way around (although again, most deniers are in fact using political opinions to draw scientific conclusions, a striking non sequitur.)

    Of course, climatologists, like any other citizens, are entitled to their opinions regarding policy, and they are free to make whatever recommendations they see fit, just as you are. But the fact that they give voice to their opinions does not alter the results of their scientific research, and in fact their political opinions are given no more weight than those of any other citizen. It’s their SCIENTIFIC RESULTS that prudent politicians take into account — if only we had some prudent politicians in the USA.

    Finally, blaming climatologists for any policy results that emerge from their information is just shooting the messenger. The scientists provide the information, not the policies. Yes indeed, if we heed the information being provided by scientists we will take actions that cost us money today — but if we make prudent decisions, the money we lose today will be far offset by the amount of money we save in the future.

    That’s what we should be debating vis-a-vis climate change: how much should we be willing to sacrifice today to provide for the future? At heart, it’s a simple matter of future happiness versus current happiness. It is greatly complicated by the many uncertainties about how serious the damage will be and how much it will cost us to avert those future damages. We’ve now established that the future costs will run into the trillions of dollars per year late in this century, and could well rise that high much sooner. We have not adequately developed cost estimates for the policies required to avert such future costs, and that should be our priority now. Instead, we’re wasting time engaging in “information overkill”, assembling megatons of data to overcome the megadollars of PR being spent by corporate interests. Unfortunately, it appears that, in this country at least, a dollar of PR money has more political sway than a megabyte of information.

  8. 208

    Some Heartland Institute funders particularly puzzles me, Microsoft??? ATT??? Giant Techno companies totally owing their very existence to the science they are now funding to deny… Amazingly sad, incomprehensible…. WUWT getting cash from Heartland is no surprise, completely part and parcel of their mantra, rabid anti-science propaganda needs funding, otherwise it ceases to exist.

  9. 209
    Jim Harvey says:

    Scientists already have a route to a larger voice in society: they can run for office or take higher level administrative positions in government. Beyond that, their roles are and should be limited to regulatory issues in given areas. While it’s important that they have freedom of speech, it’s equally important that policy makers are in positions where they are directly responsible to voters.

  10. 210

    “Paricularly when the the whole IPCC apparatus was set up to “summarize the scientific evidence of human caused climate change” and what could be done about it.”

    One of the most persistent fallacies: that devoting attention to a (potential) problem implies prejudging it as well.

    But if you compare (say) IPCC and NIPCC reports, it is very obvious indeed who is doing serious inquiry–signs of this include careful consideration of a wide range of possibilities, clear characterization of uncertainties, and comprehensive bibliography–and who is doing spin.

    [ReCaptcha: "imprimis. tablejo"]

  11. 211
    Salamano says:

    If it’s possible to get a further comment…

    When it is said that: [..."reducing emissions" != "tremendously expensive, ineffective policies", ... - gavin]

    I’m envisioning the idea that the IPCC is reporting the state of the science, but in no way either advocates, endorses, recommends, suggests, or even ‘has’ a particular strategy to achieve what it says needs to happen (ie, “reducing emissions”).

    I recall the issues where there are a number of NGOs and other advocacy groups that are represented at high levels of IPCC processes and authorships– a lot of those groups have policies in mind to advocate. I’m assuming these folks inovlved in the IPCC need to check these at the door, rather than weaving them into its literature?

    Remember the Greenpeace model simulation memo that dictated xyz may be possible “if the political will exists”? I guess I’m wondering if certain policy proposals that arise in response to IPCC reports can ‘get a pass’ if they are NOT enacted because they are deemed “Tremendously Expensive”? It seems like the only solutions that will work to meet what the IPCC indicates is necessary are ones that have tremendous costs (though not as costly as doing nothing– but still not cheap).

  12. 212
    Ray Ladbury says:

    George M.,
    You place a tremendous amount of faith in “adaptation”. How, precisely, does a farmer adapt to unpredictable floods washing away his fields before he can harvest? How would you suggest the people of Texas adapt to year after year of drought and brush fires. How would you suggest fishermen adapt to more and more dead zones in the oceans? How would you suggest we grow wheat on the Canadian Shield, since winter wheat will likely no longer germinate on the Great Plains of the US? How would you suggest we produce food when more and more of the planet is moving into severe drought?

    And how would you suggest we feed 10 billion people who will occupy the planet by 2050 when global agriculture infrastructure is collapsing? It is very, very easy to type those 5 letters a d a p and t, but there’s one helluva mean-assed devil in those details. To paraphrase Darth Vader–I find your naive faith disturbing.

    What is more, the development of a new energy infrastructure will be essential in any case as fossil fuels run out this century.

  13. 213
    MartinM says:

    Some Heartland Institute funders particularly puzzles me, Microsoft??? ATT??? Giant Techno companies totally owing their very existence to the science they are now funding to deny…

    The donors list in the Heartland documents indicates which Heartland project each donor is funding; the tech companies seem to be mostly interested in Heartland’s Infotech and Telecom newsletter. Still disappointing to see them there, but at least it doesn’t seem that they’re actively interested in the climate denial side of things.

  14. 214

    Perhaps as genuine uncertainty has petered out, and sufficient evidence has been assembled that even piles of money can’t overcome, the fossil fuel industry and its servants are turning increasingly to threats — the last resort.

    Progress?

  15. 215
    Ray Ladbury says:

    One of the frustrations I have with denialati is their insistence on examining only a tiny portion of the evidence (e.g. only the temperature record, or a few years of sea level rise, or a few years of a particular sensor on a particular satellite). THAT IS NOT SCIENCE!!! Science requires looking at all the evidence in aggregate and provisionally working with the model/theory that best explains ALL that evidence. This isn’t a matter of choice. It isn’t a matter of belief. If you aren’t working with the best model–or otherwise proposing an alternative model that you contend better explains ALL the evidence, you are not doing science.

    Likewise on the policy front, those advocating complacency focus only on the cost of developing a sustainable energy economy and attribute ALL that cost to the exigencies of climate change. WRONG!!! Even if we weren’t changing the climate, we would need to develop a new energy infrastructure because the basis for our current infrastructure is cooked. It’s done. Stick a fricking fork into it. This is an ex-infrastructure!!!

    Climate change increases the urgency of the needed changes. It requires more rapid action. It rules out some options (e.g. coal, tar sands…), which are already undesirable from a point of view of finitude, environmental risks, etc. So, please realize that when you say climate change will require large expenditures that such expenditures would be required in any case. In other words: you are lying.

  16. 216

    Beyond that, their roles are and should be limited to regulatory issues in given areas.

    Why should anyone in any position be ‘limited’. Isn’t that un-American?

    Their views and positions should be critically examined in an open forum at the very least. No, wait, sorry, that’s called ‘science’. Why should we base policy and administration on something as weak and controversial as science.

  17. 217
    Dan H. says:

    Susan,
    Compare the drought indices for Texas (and the entire US) since the beginning of the 20th century (not just 1950), and the variations show no general trend.
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-VnN4Ab8uVjo/Tk5o0Key2YI/AAAAAAAAB44/86pigRc1jAY/s1600/Screen+shot+2011-08-19+at+9.43.51+AM.png
    https://www2.ucar.edu/sites/default/files/ucar_magazine/2012/step5both_large_CEI_1.12.jpg

    Rainfall in Australia is largely governed by ENSO.
    http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/2009MWR2861.1

    Global drought index from UCAR:
    http://icecap.us/images/uploads/ScreenShot2447.jpg

    Compare global drought and temperatures:
    https://climatedataguide.ucar.edu/sites/default/files/imagecache/LightBoxDisplay/key_figures/eof_pdsi-1_0.png

    While the drought index has certainly increased since 1950, choosing that particular starting point is misleading. Globally, the drought index was higher during the beginning of the 20th century, so starting from 1900 would yield a vastly different perspective. Also, there appears to be no correlation between gloabl temperatures and global drought.

  18. 218
    Anonymous Coward says:

    #208 Wayne “Amazingly sad, incomprehensible…”
    Many commenters here seem to have a political model built from a civics class or something.
    I don’t know if it’s true that Microsoft is funding Heartland but it wouldn’t surprise me.
    Microsoft is an extremely wealthy corporation led by extremely wealthy individuals. Its business model relies on monopolistic practices and policies as well as network effects caused by its customers failure to act in their common interest. Microsoft is therefore going to tend to support policies, politicians and ideologies which defend and further narrow private interests at the expense of the public interest.
    Whether that logic would lead Microsoft not merely to share some goals with Heartland but to actually fund them would I assume depend on particular political alliances. If Microsoft’s political operatives are trying to cement relationships with politicians who are broadly allied with Heartland for instance, they may support Heartland’s funding requests.

  19. 219

    Dan, Australia and Texas are not the world, and the cited drought summary clearly outlines the importance of the Amazon and Africa when calculating global drought indices. Also, there are many different drought indexes calculated using a variety of physical parameters, temperature being only one of them, which the modern papers and review cited discuss extensively. The global PDSI, which is clearly not the final word, unambiguously displays a dramatic increase in global drought tracking modern emissions quite well.

  20. 220
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Dan, 1950 is NOT a cherrypick. You get the same answer if you choose 1970. You get the same answer if you choose 1940. Drought is increasing. Impulsive precipitation events are increasing. Facts, Dan, facts. Not spin.

  21. 221
    Hank Roberts says:

    Paste this into Google
    > no correlation between gloabl temperatures and global drought.
    And see what pops up.

    Once again, another uncited claim easily refuted.

    http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/jhm544.1

    “… the observed drying trend (decreasing PDSI) since 1952…. analysis shows that there is a significant influence of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gasses and sulphate aerosols in the production of this drying trend….”

    Why do they say that? Read the cites in the paper, they’re in footnotes.
    E.g. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wcc.81/abstract;jsessionid=4FAC958D15346DA994DBB8F4F6734C69.d02t03

    And have greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols have changed since around 1950? A clue how to find that out is available at the Start Here button, top left of each RealClimate page.

    Woof.

  22. 222
    Hank Roberts says:

    Remembe, watch for bogus “cites” picked to support beliefs. Above, Dan H cites ‘icecap’, a denial site like CO2Science that spins facts to suit claims, for a picture of something from UCAR. Check it to see how it’s spun, but —

    To find UCAR info, go to the source. It’s easy to find. Paste the claim into Google to start with, often that’s enough to see what’s being lied about.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=Global+drought+index+from+UCAR

    https://www2.ucar.edu/atmosnews/news/2904/climate-change-drought-may-threaten-much-globe-within-decades

    Dan, don’t be just a tube transferring stuff from wherever you’re getting it and pasting it in here uncritically.

    Think, man. Use what you’ve got to do more than carry nonsense in here.

  23. 223
    dhogaza says:

    Wayne Davison:

    Some Heartland Institute funders particularly puzzles me, Microsoft???

    Keep in mind that Microsoft makes free software available to qualifying 501(3)(c) non-profits. This could explain the MS donation …

  24. 224
  25. 225
    Lee says:

    “IPCC report is the basis of all renewable subsidies”

    The IPCC was founding in 1988 it first report was published in 1990. There were wind farms build with tax incentives in the late seventies and early eighties prompted by the oil shortage of the early 1970s. In 1974 the U.S. started the Solar Energy Research Institute which funded the development of many different solar project.

  26. 226
    flxible says:

    Hank – I also immediately wondered why DanH would choose to cite the icecap site as being UCAR data.
    Note how DanH always throws in tidbits after his pseudo-cites, like “Also, there appears to be no correlation between gloabl [sic] temperatures and global drought” to leave the impression with neophytes that he has given the “facts” his studied and expert consideration, so they need not.

    And folks, there may be a lot of reasons to pick on Microsoft, but making contributions in kind to legal non-profits [even underhanded ones] isn’t really one of them – they also donate software and even hardware, to various school systems around the world, with the only real agenda being self promotion.

  27. 227
    Chris Dudley says:

    Chris @207,

    Nicely laid out. But, you should be careful. If you say “At heart, it’s a simple matter of future costs versus current costs.” then things roll as you propose. But you said “At heart, it’s a simple matter of future happiness versus current happiness.” For many many of us, current happiness is about providing future happiness, we’re pleased to invest in the education and well being of children. So, happiness does not really balance as you propose. It is forward leaning.

  28. 228
    Susan Anderson says:

    It is very sad that bogus arguments are so easy and providing answers to every quibble hundreds and thousands of times doesn’t make a dent. I would remind drought quibblers of the Horn or Africa, but also offer an apology for anecdotal evidence from a layperson that provides a target for working phony skeptics that hardworking scientists and others with expertise in the field have to scramble to re-re-re- ~ad nauseam~ -clarify.

    This on water:
    http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/15/tracking-how-the-world-guzzles-water/
    —-
    I was thinking about the disconnect between logical and truthful posts and the tsunami of at best incorrect arguments that the likes of SkepticalScience works to organize in a logical and useful format. It is so easy to react, but if one gets outside one’s frustration, anger, irritation, hopelessness, etc. and parses the connections it becomes clear that the response is to some extent intended to evoke just those emotions. It’s very clever; by subtly changing the focus the conversation is removed from the true subject matter to some quibble about attitude. Words are misquoted, but only slightly, or taken out of context, so they can seem to be different from what they were.

    In addition to promoting false information, this tactic unfocuses material that might otherwise successfully penetrate the fog.
    —-
    Anonymous coward @218 (9:10 am) nails the problem about concentrating wealth into hands that use it to promote further concentration. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  29. 229
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jim wrote in reply to Michael W (#184): “We’re not here to repeat the same stuff over and over to a new group of people with the same types of questions every other day …”

    Actually, my observation is that both the moderators and the scientifically knowledgeable commenters here have been extremely generous with their time, and very patient, in explaining “the same stuff over and over” to NEW people who come here with “the same types of questions”.

    They will often point such visitors to resources on this and other sites that specifically address such “frequently asked questions” and that provide scientific overviews of anthropogenic global warming and climate change that are intelligible to general readers. And beyond that, they will often take the time to give extended and admirably clear answers to such questions in comments here.

    But Dan H. is not a “new person” who comes here with “questions”. He is simply a tiresome old troll who comes here with scripted denialist talking points, distortions, misrepresentations, obfuscations and irrelevancies — the type of deliberately dishonest pseudoscientific propaganda that the Koch Brothers pay the Heartland Institute to pay Anthony Watts to spoon-feed to the denier blogosphere — which he posts over, and over, and over again.

    That’s the kind of crap that floods AGW discussions on general-interest blogs everywhere, and which makes me appreciate this blog’s moderation.

  30. 230
    dbostrom says:

    Chris Crawford says:
    16 Feb 2012 at 12:16 AM

    information => policies

    First, you figure out everything you can that might affect your situation.

    Well said. What’s truly astounding is how the current GOP-dominated House is trying to zero-out certain avenues of research which are intended to gather information necessary to creating informed policy, namely research related to climate change and other forms of inadvertent environmental degradation.

    Confronted with a situation wherein research is revealing information leading to uncomfortable and challenging conclusions, the House is responding in a way that is so irresponsible as to defy words of description. Instead of encouraging our harvest of information used to craft policy that will lead us forward, the House is instead intent on stopping the clock of knowledge.

    The House would have us only able to scratch our heads in wonder as the world changes around us, pushed willy-nilly by forces we control but have chosen not to understand. “Irresponsible” hardly begins to describe this situation; is there a word that synthesizes vandalism, fear, greed, ignorance, and disinheritance of descendants?

  31. 231

    Pakistan has essentially lost 2 years in a row due to the change in the monsoon and its attendant flooding.

    How does one “adapt” to the collapse of agriculture. Other than by dying, of course.

    The civil unrest of the “Arab Spring” was spawned by the global hike in food prices more than by the brutalities of the regimes.

    How does one “adapt” to a culture of civil war? Other than by dying, of course.

    The sophistry of urging “adaptation”.

  32. 232

    Lee@225: Yes, and let’s not forget all those ethanol and methanol subsidies in the 1970s!

  33. 233
    Ike Solem says:

    Why would Microsoft give money to Heartland? Same as any other large donor – vested interests in broad-ranging investments:

    In the third week of August 2008, two of the richest men in the world took a brief tour of the tar sands. As Warren Buffett (of Berkshire Hathaway) and Microsoft’s Bill Gates viewed the immense strip-mined bitumen fields and the vast infrastructure for tar sands development, much of the business press made it seem as though this was just another celebrity tour of a region that has seen many celebrities come to marvel at the size of the tires on the big yellow trucks.

    Just months previous, however, in an interview with the Financial Post (Feb. 7, 2008), Buffet had compared the tar sands to Saudi Arabia and stated: “The tar sands are probably as big a potential source of production 15 to 20 years from now. It would surprise me if the world wasn’t wanting to use 200 million barrels per day [of oil] in 15 or 20 years. The tar sands are the biggest single possibility to fill the gap that, it looks like, will otherwise develop in the next decade or two.”

    Obviously, blocking development due to pollution and high emissions would be costly for those with vested interests (leases), so why not pay Heartland to run a PR (‘public relations’ / GR (‘grassroots’) operation? Operation Angry Badger, etc.? Private foundations linked to Microsoft have a record of behaving the same way, and still do:

    The Gates Foundation . . . has invested $423 million in Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and Total of France — the companies responsible for most of the flares blanketing the delta with pollution, beyond anything permitted in the United States or Europe.

    The efforts to block the teaching of science in the classroom are pretty sleazy, but then so are the efforts to push hydraulic fracturing across the U.S., regardless of damage to watersheds. It’s no wonder the corporations and individuals involved in financing this ‘nonpartisan non-profit’ don’t want their names made public – it’s a case of hiring someone else to do the dirty work while preserving your carefully cultivated ‘good corporate citizen’ image. An argument for public transparency with respect to ‘independent’ non-profit funding if there ever was one.

  34. 234
    Michael W says:

    #191 Ray, thanks for the links. So what is your take on the study? Do you have any criticisms?

  35. 235
    SecularAnimist says:

    Re flxible #226 and Ike Solem #233:

    Having some decades of familiarity with Microsoft’s business practices, and some knowledge of the Gates Foundation’s “charitable” investments in areas that just happen to promote Bill Gates’ financial interests, it would not at all surprise me to learn that Microsoft has supported the Heartland Institute’s pro fossil fuel propaganda campaign.

    Having said that, Microsoft does in fact donate a lot of software to nonprofit organizations that need only meet some very generic criteria.

    So it’s entirely possible that Microsoft’s “contributions” to Heartland Institute consisted of nothing more than Heartland taking advantage of Microsoft software donations that are readily available to any nonprofit org.

    That is apparently what Microsoft is officially stating about the $60,000 “contribution” reported in the Heartland documents — and Microsoft’s “gold sponsorship” of a Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity conference featuring prominent deniers last November — while reaffirming Microsoft’s corporate position on AGW:

    “Microsoft believes climate change is a serious issue that demands immediate, worldwide attention and we are acting accordingly. We are pursuing strategies and taking actions that are consistent with a strong commitment to reducing our own impact as well as the impact of our products. In addition, Microsoft has adopted a broad policy statement on climate change that expresses support for government action to create market-based mechanisms to address climate change.”

    Take that with appropriate skepticism.

  36. 236
    Jim Eager says:

    Congrats to, Dan H, you’ve earned your own personal slap-down at Tamino’s place.

  37. 237
    Holly Stick says:

    Excellent blogpost by David Roberts at Grist:

    “…When it comes to climate change, advocates and activists start with huge, built-in disadvantages…”

    http://grist.org/climate-change/climate-analysts-are-from-mars-climate-activists-are-from-venus-but-they-both-live-on-earth/

  38. 238
    dbostrom says:

    [Microsoft] also donate software and even hardware, to various school systems around the world, with the only real agenda being self promotion.

    Well, that and laundering profit into tax-free status by giving away what costs very little to replicate. The software industry enjoys a nearly unique advantage in this regard; Boeing can’t give away aircraft to make profits vanish on paper because aircraft cost a lot to replicate, while the marginal cost of another copy of Office is very little indeed but counts at full retail value as a deduction.

  39. 239
    llewelly says:

    Congrats to, Dan H, you’ve earned your own personal slap-down at Tamino’s place.

    er, that would be here.

  40. 240
    rykart says:

    ..just curious if there will be any comment from Realclimate concerning the breaking Heartlandgate scandal.

  41. 241
    Steve E says:

    It is amazing how every single thread becomes an attack by those who deny AGW, or at the very least the impacts of that warming. It does not matter what the post originally states, the same folks come on here again and agai and post what often is pure gibberish.

    This original post was about how climate scientists were receiving death threats – with a discussion of free speech issues. There were some posters that argued that so too were “skeptics” threatened with death, but much of those arguments were quickly dispelled. There were others that argued that Gavin et al. limited their free speech on this site – again quickly dispelled.

    But time after time, arguments turn Contrarian, with at times bizarre claims about AGW – and not at all about the original post. Shouldn’t these arguments be in the “open thread” posts?

    Gavin, thank you for your seemingly tireless patience in answering many of these absurd posts. I for one benefit greatly when posters are asking serious questions to try to understand the research better. Your response almost always makes me better see the picture (except when it flies right over my head). When I first came here many years ago, I thought that was what this site was about, a better understanding and discussion of the science of climate change. And indeed, I have gleaned much from this site.

    The other stuff is mostly just noise.

  42. 242
    Charlie H says:

    #199, DanH, Where did you get that link? Who pointed it out to you? Did you notice that the link itself includes the string “old” as part of the URL?

  43. 243
    Dan H. says:

    Charlie,
    Had to search hard for that link, because most of the newer ones lack the data from the early 20th century.

  44. 244
    Jim Eager says:

    Sorry llewelly, obviously I completely messed that link up. Thanks for the save.

  45. 245
    Susan Anderson says:

    Russell @~198:

    Lubos Motl is, if I am not mistaken, a string theorist. Though I understand string theory may be a way of visualizing how things work, remember that Feynman (who in true skeptic spirit, admitted he might be wrong) thought string theory “not even wrong”. My problem with string theory (aside from insufficient knowledge of why and what it is) is that it violates common sense. Got a problem? Invent some more dimensions.

  46. 246
    Bill Hunter says:

    I am interested in what mechanisms you have in mind for this accountability. – gavin]

    Many years ago the same concerns were held for the delivery of information from corporations to potential investors. So a license category was created to certify accountants to opine on financial information. These license holders are fully accountable for doing a diligent job and fully documenting their work. Quite a few volumes of standards have emerged to define diligence. A license holder has at risk his personal fortune and license to do business. Thus a profession was founded.

    Science should have a greater voice in policy but to get there it will need to go hand in hand with accountability.

  47. 247
    David B. Benson says:

    Susan Anderson @245 — However, so-called common sense quickly leads to wrong predictions, even in macrophysics. A good explanation may defy common sense until one better understands a more accurate portrail of what is happening; the early hisotry of science is full of examples of such.

    That said, my view of string theory is much closer to that of Feynman; string theory has never yet made a non-obvious prediction that can be tested experimentally. On the other hand, climatology has in the past made non-obvious (at least to me) predictions which have subsequently been verified. Even more, climate models have suggested misinterpretations of existing proxy data; a more careful analysis of the prox6y data indeed showed that the climate models were right; that is very impressive as it rarely happens (anymore) across all the sciences.

  48. 248

    #246, Bill Hunter. Sorry, but this is absurd. Science has plenty of mechanisms, such as peer review, to ensure robust accountability. Any voice it has in policy is expressed by policy makers wise enough to heed it. The mud being slung at legitimate climate science provides the fig leaf desired by some to question evidence that, in most other fields, would be regarded as nearly irrefutable.

    And really, I can’t let your financial license analogy pass without a huge guffaw. Without besmirching the integrity of the majority in the profession, the failure to assess any accountability for the recent Wall Street scandals puts the practical value of your standards and licenses into serious question.

  49. 249

    #246–

    “Thus a profession was founded.”

    But my perception is that scientists are professionals, and are viewed as such–for example, despite the efforts of denialism to attack science in general, generic credibility is of scientists is quite high:

    http://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/Veracity2011.pdf

    (Note: UK poll.)

    Professions have their own specific norms, standards, and expectations, and these generally exist for good (ie., ‘adaptive’) reasons.

  50. 250
    Chris Crawford says:

    Bill Hunter @246 suggests the possibility of licensing scientists as a means of assuring accountability, using CPAs as a model. Actually, there’s an even better way: assembling an institute of the very best scientists that is legally required to provide Congress with the best scientific advice (when asked), and which jealously guards its reputation, and whose continued funding depends upon maintaining a solid reputation. In fact, there has been such an institution for nearly 150 years: the National Academy of Sciences, which during its entire history has never been shown to have made a mistake in its official reports to Congress. It has a perfect track record. And can you guess what the NAS official reports say about climate change? Yep. So why doesn’t Congress accept the conclusions of the institution it set up to provide it with the best available advice? Because Congress is populated by idiots.


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