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Free speech and academic freedom

Filed under: — rasmus @ 12 February 2012

Update: Some related concerns from, 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. 251
    Hank Roberts says:

    > certify accountants

    Sorry, you’ve fallen for a line the historians have long known is bunk.

    ‘Certified public accounting’ was the 1930s financial industry’s alternative to avoid controls during that Great Depression. They did avoid the controls.

    Anyone can be a ‘financial professional’ — unlike being a doctor, well driller, plumber or electrician, where as it became obvious how much damage incompetents and frauds could do, those became licensed and regulated professions.

    The same licensing and regulation were proposed as part of the New Deal.

    “Public accounting” allowed the financial industry to avoid most proposed New Deal laws and most regulation:

    The Value of the SEC’s Disclosure Requirements

    Find this next one in a library; it used to be publicly available in years before the recent financial crash; it’s since been paywalled and as far as I know there’s no text online anywhere.

    Reading this will help you toward becoming cynical enough, if that’s possible:

    Securities legislation and the accounting profession in the 1930s: The rhetoric and reality of the American Dream
    Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Volume 12, Issue 4, August 2001, Pages 501-526, Barbara D. Merino, Alan G. Mayper

    Brief excerpts from the Abstract:

    “… symbolic legislation might be sufficient to restore investor confidence…. securities legislation can best be understood as an effort to reestablish the viability of what has been labeled the “American dream”…. passage of the securities legislation must be examined as a response to a moral crisis of capitalism, generated by the “immoral behavior” of the capitalist elite…. the first priority of any regulation had to be to establish the moral legitimacy of capitalism by restoring trust in the existing system…. it would merely be symbolic and used as propaganda to maintain the status quo.

    … examining the private correspondence and the actions of the regulators during the early years of the SEC act…. the early SEC commissioners had a commitment to the private property rights paradigm, and were unwilling to confront the monied interests. We support our position in a historical analysis …. We interpret the historical evidence as a desire by the regulators to maintain the status quo. Thus, even if we believed the legislation was intended to cause a “real” change, the enforcement was not performed in an activist manner to initiate the change….

    … the rhetoric used by the New Deal was intended to restore trust and fairness in American society … the political persuasion was the restoration of the American dream …. the New Deal was doomed to failure since it would be viewed as protecting the status quo … with the accounting profession … being ‘captured’ ….”

    And so it has been captured. Remember Enron and Arthur Andersen? Gone.

    “… disclosure was but one of several modes for resolving the contradiction between an individualistic, market-based public philosophy and increasing economic concentration and centralization…. the securities acts are seen not as fundamental changes in public policy but as part of an ongoing attempt to maintain an ideological, social, and economic status quo.”

  2. 252
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Susan Anderson,
    Actually, the idea of compacted dimensions did not originate with string theory. Einstein was an advocate. The idea is that since we know 3 spatial dimensions of the Universe are expanding–while prior to the Big Bang, they were not–how do we know that there are not other compacted dimensions. In fact it may be that compacted is the natural state of space-time, while inflation is a result of fluctuation.

    The nice things about the extra demensions–be it in string theory or any other theory–is that they resolve many of the computational and heuristic issues with quantum theory. At present, the candidates are a 10-dimensional Universe or a 26-dimensional Universe. An interesting coincidence–the largest of the exceptional groups (dubbed the Monster by group theorists) represents a symmetry transformation in 26 dimensions.

    Regarding a lack of verifiable predictions: When Pauli originally posited the existence of the neutrino to acccount for nonconservation of energy and momentum in beta decay, he said, “I have committed a great sin. I have proposed the existence of a particle that cannot be observed.” As you know, it was eventually discovered.

    And Dirac favored heuristics as a criterion for truth in a physical theory. So, while I do agree that the lack of verifiable predictions by string theory is problematic, it does not mean string theory is anti-science or even non-science.

    Lubos is just an idiot.

  3. 253
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Bill Hunter,
    Among scientists, certification is neither needed nor desirable. Among laymen, the surest guard against charlatans is to go with scientific consensus…rather than picking and choosing the cranks who happen to agree with you.

  4. 254
    Dan H. says:

    I applaud RC for not jmuping on the bandwagon regarding the supposedly-leaked Heartland document.

    [Response: I have consistently stated that the reason Heartland et al deserve to be ridiculed is for their appalling and consistently incorrect interpretations of the science, not for their funding. However, it would have been refreshing occasionally for some of these supposedly libertarian think tanks to actually think about solutions and policy responses that fit with their value system rather than launching repetitive and tired attacks on the science and specific scientists. On a broader scale, whether the information revealed is potentially deleterious to their 501(c)3 status is interesting, but that is a matter for the IRS, not a climate science blog. - gavin]

  5. 255
    Susan Anderson says:

    Ray Ladbury, thanks and chuckles.

    I’d best desist declaiming about stuff I really don’t understand, though I liked Feynman’s quote on it (below). I have trouble with anything that proposes something for nothing or goes into what looks like la-la land to explain things, but this one is way above my head. Though sometimes I’ve been proven right, looks like I should quit while I’m ahead, dunnit? We have a lot of trouble with a guy who claims he’s a mathematical physicist (professor, verified) but posts the most awful lies on climate change with great authority, misleading naive commenters on both sides, some into taking his stuff as authority, and others into suggesting he study high school physics.

    Too bad we can’t harness all this bad energy and wasteful nonsense from the commentariat – what a power source that would be!

    I’ll have to find another metaphor for high academic idiocy.

  6. 256
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Actually, Pauli was the original source of the “not even wrong” quote. He was reviewing a paper and was heard to cry, “This is terrible. It’s so bad, it’s not even wrong.” Don’t get me wrong. String theory is problematic, but I don’t discard the idea out of hand. I’m also not sure how I feel about aesthetics as a criterion for accepting physics–only geniuses like Feynman and Dirac really do it beautifully.

    Unfortunately, the power of physics methodologies in the limited domain of physics gives some physicists the illusion that they understand things more deeply and broacly than they do. This is usually a sign that they need to get out more.

  7. 257
    Tietjan berelul says:

    The main reason i have such a hard time buying into the AGW theory is that the scientists seem so totally disconnected from reality outside the confines of their universities.

    Europes biggest domestic threats … [edit - off topic, but why you think climate scientists specifically would disagree about such issues is a little odd]

    There are idiots on both side of the story, but climate scientists assuming the victim role is just utterly ridiculous. Skeptics dont want to see scientists die ! Most of them just want more than ‘consensus’ before we obliterate our economy.

    [edit - offensive]

    [Response: Strawman arguments: no scientists want to 'obliterate our economy' - and the idea that scientists agreeing on a problem is somehow less of a reason to do something about it is logically odd. The rest of your comment has no place here. - gavin]

  8. 258
    Susan Anderson says:

    David Benson @247 or thereabouts:

    Thanks. I regard climate science as a miracle of coordinated intelligence and hard work, coincidentally helped by the advent of satellite observations, of which there should be more and better, rather than Mars and manned moon trips. I tread on eggshells, relying on instinct and familiarity with scientists more than with science, despite having more education than most of our benighted citizens. See Schneider, for example, and am enjoying the beginning of Mann’s new book which describes his formation. Talk about brilliant, he’s got it, and more.

    Ray Ladbury @256

    Yes, I knew it was Pauli and find “not even wrong” a helpful category in dealing with denial, though its original use was different. It also works for what is in essence corrupt “science” and its megaphonic proponents. I certainly don’t regard aesthetics as a criterion, but knowing that scientists make good drawing students lets me know they are good at thinking hard with an open mind and honesty. I don’t think common sense is a bad metric, it should just be applied with skepticism (the real kind that questions the self first and looks for verifiable evidence).

    Certification, really? There’s a little thing called a Ph.D. and it does a superb job of winnowing many of the best of the best. Over a decade of hard work these days, and tons of money or scholarship help. Qualifications galore. But still we need to be aware that qualification in one discipline does not give authority in another.

  9. 259
    dbostrom says:

    Article and interview describing absurd travails and torment arising from Michael Mann’s production of a graph, in today’s Guardian: The inside story on climate scientists under siege

  10. 260


    “. . .scientists seem so totally disconnected from reality outside the confines of their universities.”

    I’d emphasize the “seem.” Scientists whom I’ve known were very alert to the wider reality. Some were even quite interested in, and knowledgeable about–shudder!–politics, popular culture and entertainment (in varying proportions.)

    So I wonder–how many scientists have you actually met? Perhaps you should seek out some in your area? Attend some talks, ask a few questions?

    And I also wonder–what bearing does the ‘geekness’ or otherwise of scientists have to do with how correct their conclusions may be? Surely that is a product of good data, good theory, and good analysis, not charisma or fashion sense.

  11. 261
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Tietjan berelul,
    See, this is the sort of ignorant statement that makes me question whether you’ve ever even seen the inside of a university science department. Scientists run the gamut from saintly to foolish, from introvert to extrovert, from integrated to insulated. What do they have in common? They all have a passion to understand their field of study. This curiosity driven research is the strongest guarantee against fraud and other malfeasance.

    However, even if you were correct about scientists being disengaged, how, pray tell, does this translate into their being wrong about their particular area of expertise. This strikes me as a classic use of ad hominem fallacy.

  12. 262
    Consensus says:

    Tietjan berelul, what exactly would count as a consensus in your mind? Currently 97% of the experts agree that AGW is occuring. To cry that there is not enough consensus at the moment is either to be mis/uninformed, or blindly following your faith. Last time I saw you commenting here you claimed that only liberal climate scientists were advocating AGW. You were given numerous examples of Conservatives and practicing Christians who understood and advocated for AGW. Have you taken the time to read their material yet? It’s not just your child’s liberal teacher, it’s the vast majority of scientific experts.

  13. 263
    David B. Benson says:

    Susan Anderson & Ray Ladbury — I haven’t the time (nor probably the skill) nor is this perhaps the best venue, but aesthetics is an important part of especially mathematics and (parts of) physics and less obviously of all the sciences as it is in other aspects of human existence. What is true is often beautiful and often enough the converse holds as well.

  14. 264
    Susan Anderson says:

    This might belong at unforced variations? h/t Tenney Naumer

    Nice work!

    “Heartland Institute faces fresh scrutiny over tax status”

    “Whistleblower made complaint to IRS over climate science attack machine’s tax-exempt status, Guardian learns”

    “John Mashey, a retired computer scientist and Silicon Valley executive, said he filed a complaint to the IRS this week that said Heartland’s public relations and lobbying efforts violated its non-profit status.

    “Mashey said he sent off his audit, the product of three months’ research, just a few hours before the unauthorised release of the Heartland documents.”

  15. 265
    Hank Roberts says:

    > … scientists seem so totally disconnected from reality
    > outside the confines of their universities.

    The problem may not be your scientists wanting to be disconnected.

    In the alternative you may need to adjust your government:
    “The AAAS meeting’s discussion on muzzling is organised by freelance science reporter Binh An Vu Van. She says fellow journalists across Canada are finding it “harder and harder” to get access to government scientists.”

  16. 266
    Hank Roberts says:

    “Friday, February 17, 2012: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
    Room 201 (VCC West Building)

    “… Across Canada, journalists are being denied access to publicly funded scientists and the research community is frustrated with the way government scientists are being muzzled. Some observe that it is part of a trend that has seen the Canadian government tighten control over how and when federal scientists interact with the media. …
    … the situation is somewhat similar in the United States. A recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review details how restrictive practices established by George W. Bush’s administration still hold under the current government. …”
    “… Oct 12, 2011 – Government fails to show for science news, transparency event … only marginal improvement over the dark days of the Bush administration …”
    “… Sep 14, 2011 – The Bush administration had earned a reputation for quashing the free flow of scientific information….”

  17. 267
    caerbannog says:

    This pic was taken at the Aquarium of the Pacific (right after Dr. Mann’s talk). It pretty much sums up what climate-scientist have been putting up with these days…

    Mind you, adult admission to the Aquarium is about 25 US bucks — so that filters out the worst of the riff-raff.

  18. 268
    caerbannog says:

    Stupid typo correction (I hate it when that happens):
    It pretty much sums up what climate-scientists….

  19. 269
    Holly Stick says:

    That symposium at the AAAS meeting is excellent; it was recorded and is linked to here along with the letter to PM Harper and a press kit about muzzling of scientists:

    And a link to the actual recording:

  20. 270
    dan bloom says:

    Climate activist puts ‘Baby in Womb” to protest Co2 emissions

  21. 271
    Hank Roberts says:

    The comments from the AAAS meeting are a reminder that tenure exists to protect academic freedom — and that government scientists have neither.

    Thanks, Holly, for the links above to the details.

    The BBC reporter describes it as Orwellian:

    the “media protocol introduced by the Conservative government shortly after it was elected in 2008…. requires that all interview requests for scientists employed by the government must first be cleared by officials…. The protocol states: ‘Just as we have one department we should have one voice.’”

  22. 272
    Susan Anderson says:

    way OT:

    David Benson (and Ray L): yes, I know. PW (the thoughtful curmudgeon) is my father (my cover art on his latest book so am no longer hiding behind my common name). Please don’t get excited, I just do the laundry and cooking these days. However, I was struck by some similarities between what he says about things and how Michael Mann got his start, and the “not even wrong” book was from his shelves.

    [Response: Susan--what an honor this is. Your father was one of the heroes of condensed matter physics whose worked I studied back in graduate school. He must be pleased at your passion for science, and for your efforts to defend science when under attack. I want to personally thank you both for your efforts. - mike]

  23. 273
    dz alexander says:

    The AAAS have been discussing this in Vancouver.
    Add Canada to that list.

    “It’s pretty clear that for federal scientists, Ottawa decides now if the researchers can talk, what they can talk about and when they can say it,” senior science journalist Margaret Munro, with Postmedia News, told a group at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.
    The views were aired in tandem with the release of an open letter by a coalition of six science and communications organizations, jointly calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to “tear down the wall” that’s been raised over the past four years separating scientists, journalists and the public.
    It was signed by several groups, including the Canadian Science Writers Association, World Federation of Science Journalists, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the union that represents 23,000 federal scientists.

  24. 274
    John Mashey says:

    This has been a weird week. On Monday, I had capped work on the 200-page “fakery” in progress for 5 months, had written an IRS complaint, had jury-selection duty the next day, planned to write the blog post and iterate with the DSB editor and publish Thursday. Then life went crazy Tuesday, and I ended up doing a quick blog post while in the courthouse. HeartlandInsider could have waited a week. :-)

    The documents were interesting, but certainly fitted the existing patterns I’d been studying for the last few months. I was slightly surprised that Joseph (“Joe Camel is Innocent!) Bast was getting even more money in 2011 from Big Tobacco ($50K from Altria, $110K From Reynolds American), than during the 1993-2001 period covered by tobacco archives.

    For the international audience here, especially European, there is a curious connection.
    People may recall Australian Jo Nova’s Skeptic’s Handbook.
    It turns out that was likely paid for, at least in part, by Heartland (“Fakery” pp.63-64.), and possibly the Translations item mentioned there helped pay for translations, which cover most European languages.
    If one of those is yours, you might Google the local title. I’ve checked German and French, and there are lots of copies.

    1) a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) Heartland
    2) sends funds to foreign non-charities
    3) one of which is likely Nova, to produce anti-science translated into many languages.
    4) Heartland sent 14,000 copies to US school board presidents.

    Meanwhile, Eli makes a find in Germany.

  25. 275
    Ken Fabian says:

    Freedom of speech in the defence of the truth is a fine and noble thing. It’s use in the defence of lies and misinformation to prevent timely and effective actions to avoid great future harm is something else.

    These freedoms – of ideas and speech – are being treated by the opponents of action on emissions as weaknesses to be exploited. I want to see more people using them to expose the dangerously irresponsible and immoral actions of organised climate science deniers rather than defending them. Those participants in the climate denial scam who hold positions of public trust and responsibility are a disgrace; they have enormous resources at their disposal for commissioning and seeking expert advice but choose to dismiss and ignore that near unanimous advice. Whether for greed – for the future revenues from fossil fuels – or for fear of the immensity of the task of transforming energy infrastructure, there is nothing noble or inspiring in the deliberate denigration of our climate scientists in the face of this unprecedented global crisis.

    I think the body of knowledge that has been built up about our climate is a true jewel in the crown of human achievement. The timely warning it gives us is something beyond price. The squandering of the window of opportunity climate science has given us to act is something we are surely going to regret deeply.

  26. 276
    llewelly says:

    “What is true is often beautiful and often enough the converse holds as well.”

    Given the success of ridiculously complicated and truly hideous theories such as quantum chromodynamics, how on earth do people believe this?

    No, the overriding lesson of the last 100 years of science has been that while beautiful, elegant formulas are often very nearly correct in many important situations, and indispensible savers of finite time and calculating resources, they almost always contain all manner of ugly corner cases where they are badly wrong.

    And in fact I think that’s one of the underlying (but not primary) difficulties in conveying climate science. The elegant relationships are only mostly true, and only in certain regions. The logarithmic relationship between CO2 and global equilibrium temperature doesn’t hold for all possible CO2 values – if it’s too high, or too low, the relationship changes quite a bit. It’s also not clear that it holds if one must take into account ice sheets and carbon cycles. You can say CO2 acts like a heat trapping blanket, and that works for explaining some things, but there are all sorts of corner cases in which it doesn’t work. Every simplified explanation you might use to convey it to a non-expert is full of little corner cases where it isn’t 100% right, and many denialists are quite skilled at leveraging all sorts of confusion out of those corner cases.

  27. 277

    Thank you Michael and all climate scientists for your diligent work. Here is a satirical video about the reality of how climate science is treated on the main stream media. The link is below:

  28. 278
    Chris R says:

    #275, Llewelly,

    …ugly corner cases…

    A farmer goes to a physicist for advice because his chickens have stopped laying eggs. The physicist says he’ll think about the problem. Two weeks later the physicist arrives at the farm and confidently announces that he has a solution, however there’s a caveat; the solution only works for spherical chickens in a perfect vacuum.

  29. 279

    “. . . the solution only works for spherical chickens in a perfect vacuum.”

    Better start fattening them up right away! Oh, wait. . .

  30. 280
    Neal J. King says:

    Susan Anderson, #245:
    16 Feb 2012 at 10:23 PM

    The “not even wrong” judgment on string theory was made by Peter Woit, who wrote a book with that title.

    I believe Pauli passed this judgment after a tour of AT&T Bell Labs: He was not impressed with their topics of study. Not a big fan of applied physics, I guess.

    The nastiest thing on string theory I’ve heard attributed to Feynman is: “Scientists make predictions; string theorists make excuses.” This would have been prior to the proposal of M-Theory in 1995.

  31. 281
    Hank Roberts says:

    Big surprise on aerosols — not only do we know very little, a lot of what we knew underestimated what’s in the air. Both health and climate are affected.
    —-excerpt follows—–

    The Irvine study of the formation of secondary compounds in the atmosphere, which will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, upends previous assumptions about the fate of the byproducts of the pollution from internal-combustion engines. These gaseous byproducts were thought to incorporate themselves into tiny airborne drops of liquid that would then dissipate quickly as the drops evaporated.

    The new study finds instead that they attach themselves more tightly to airborne organic particles, creating tiny tar balls that evaporate more slowly and persist longer than anyone had thought. E.P.A. models built on these assumptions now appear to understate the total amount of fine particles, according to Barbara J. Finlayson-Pitts, a professor at Irvine and one of the study’s authors.

    “If you’re going to use models in a predictive sense, you need to make sure they are getting the right answer for the right reasons,” she said. “Right now most models are not getting the right answer.”
    —-end excerpt—

  32. 282
    llewelly says:

    Chris R:

    A farmer goes to a physicist for advice because his chickens have stopped laying eggs. The physicist says he’ll think about the problem. Two weeks later the physicist arrives at the farm and confidently announces that he has a solution, however there’s a caveat; the solution only works for spherical chickens in a perfect vacuum.

    Finally some clear progress on space exploration …

  33. 283
  34. 284
    Curious says:

    Gavin et. al, wondering if you could explain why you had Aaron Heurtas, the PR guy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, write your Open Letter to Heartland?

    In the letter, you say you want “an honest, fact-based debate about the policy responses to climate change.”

    Since you (and by you I mean most the “signers” of this open letter) were invited to the climate conferences sponsored by Heartland, and chose not to attend, does this mean that you all are now ready to engage in the Heartland climate conferences to debate the “deniers” and the “anti-climate” and “anti-science” people?

    [Response: If Heartland was actually interested in debating policy options I wouldn't have any problem with them, and I would encourage others with ideas about policy to engage with them to their heart's content. Instead they spend their time throwing around false accusations, mangling the science, and attempting to shoot the messenger - and I strongly doubt they will suddenly stop doing so because I go to one of their meetings. In a world where we only have limited time to do the things we need to, arguing with people who think that every word I say is a lie is completely pointless. (PS. The letter was written by the people who signed it, and it's publication was coordinated by Aaron Huertas at UCS, a group (of which I'm a member) that has been very helpful in making making media connections for the scientists - you might have a list of editors of major news organisations at your fingertips, but I don't). - gavin]

  35. 285
    Susan Anderson says:

    Neal J King. I cited Woit’s book in my comment 256. I enjoyed the discussion but it is clear I should have been more careful in talking about things to be very precise and accurate.

    Bells labs at Murray Hill may have done some applied science but my family’s friends were mostly theoretical at a fairly high level. Not sure what all that was about.

  36. 286
    Susan Anderson says:

    Some otherwise thoughtful people have closed their minds because they’ve been told that the Union of Concerned Scientists is a “liberal” organization. One of its primary goals is to defend the integrity of science, an admirable purpose. In this case, it does indeed seem that truth has a liberal bias. The organization would not need to exist were science treated honestly in the public domain.

    It is frustrating to try to communicate with people who have closed their minds so absolutely that they are unwilling to go and take a look for themselves, but instead disseminate views that are not a million miles removed from the mindset of a type like Rush Limbaugh as received wisdom.

    This discussion began with some talk about threats, and proper recordkeeping of those threats to honesty and our futures is a job I am grateful UCS attempts to do.

  37. 287
    Russell says:

    Heads should roll on K Street.

    Bast’s outfit has been God’s gift to carbon and tobacco prohibitionists by turns disengaged and ineffectual in both climate policy debate and the advocacy of smoker’s rights.

  38. 288
    dhogaza says:


    In the letter, you [gavin] say you want “an honest, fact-based debate about the policy responses to climate change.”

    Since you (and by you I mean most the “signers” of this open letter) were invited to the climate conferences sponsored by Heartland, and chose not to attend, does this mean that you all are now ready to engage in the Heartland climate conferences to debate the “deniers” and the “anti-climate” and “anti-science” people?

    I don’t think Gavin’s response was clear enough.

    Curious: gavin wants an honest fact-based debate about policy responses to [anthropogenic] climate change.

    Heartland denies that AGW exists, and (as gavin says in his response), that everything mainstream scientists say is a lie and that the whole field is a fraud. It is impossible to have a fact-based debate about policy responses when people insist that the entire field is a fraud and that there is nothing for policy-makers to respond to.

    And, curious, you yourself moved the goalposts by asking if Gavin’s willingness to debate fact-based policy discussions means he’s ready to engage Heartland and their denialist (no need for quotes) anti-science (no need for quotes) conferences. That’s simply a waste of time. It would be like debating plate tectonics with people who believe the earth was created in 7 days ago a mere 6,000 years ago. What’s the point?

  39. 289
    Susan Anderson says:

    We return to the issue of free speech: Heartland is pushing the envelope (h/t, as usual, Tenney Naumer):

    Heartland Demands DeSmogBlog Remove ”Climate Strategy” Document

    Heartland Institute threatens 71-year-old veteran

    Dr. Mann, you are on the point of the arrow (I’m sure you wish you weren’t) and our hats are all off to you! (mixing metaphors with the finest!)

  40. 290
    David B. Benson says:

    llewelly @276 — I find the formulation of quantum chromodynamics quite beautiful. But the observation than explanatory theories have to explain to people and so need contain aesthetic elements is not original with me.

    I’ll agree that there is much which is explained (for engineers, made to work) by rather arbitrary, even mundane, considerations. I take that as a challenge to scientists and engineers to understand even better why such situations are the result of aesthetically based considerations and so contain some beauty.

  41. 291
    Doug Bostrom says:

    “…wondering if you could explain why you had Aaron Heurtas, the PR guy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, write your Open Letter to Heartland?”

    Folks such as “curious” leak their perspective like somebody trying to tell a joke and being unable to keep a straight face through to the punch line. A connection with the Union of Concerned Scientists appears to be some sort of black mark in the world of “curious,” maybe because of confusion about what sort of “union” it is, perhaps because “union” is synonymous with “communism” for some confused people, or possibly because the Union of Concerned Scientists is avowedly less concerned with conformity to subjective dogma than it is in the productive application of facts to the human condition.

    Nagging the rest of us about such things as our insanely bloated nuclear arsenal appears to be some sort of unforgivable sin in the eyes of some. Curious, truly.

  42. 292
    J Bowers says:

    The George C Marshall Institute was primarily founded to defend Reagan’s SDI programme against the Union of Concerned Scientists. The Cold War ended a long time ago. SDI was also ridiculous.

  43. 293
    J Bowers says:

    Spotted in comments at the Guardian:

    “Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four.” — George Orwell.

    ‘Nuff said.

  44. 294
    dhogaza says:

    “curious” was a drive-by, imagine that? :)

  45. 295
    Geoff Beacon says:

    Ray Ladbury @191

    OK, agriculture may have a harder time in the future but we should remember that the rich consume much more food-related resources than the poor. For example, eating beef and lamb consumes an enormous amount of resources and causes the release of huge amounts of green house gasses. See

    10 billion people could be fed. There would not even be one person per hectare. Before the famine the Irish had 10 people per hectare. They had a diet that was arguably more healthy than ours. See It’s the poor that starve. For other details see Food: Scientists vs. amateurs

    “What population do [I] think would be sustainable?”. If we really wanted it the world could sustain two persons per hectare or about 20 billion, perhaps more.

  46. 296
    Curious says:

    Still here Dhogaza.
    Gavin, while understand your reasoning in regards to Heartland, I can see the other side as well. Let me explain.
    In order to debate policy, the science should be settled.

    [Response: What nonsense. Policies are always decided in the face of uncertainty - whether they are health related, economics related or climate related. Unless you have a particularly perverse definition of 'settled', that implies that no science that has any kind of active research component can ever be used in policy. That would of course throw out any evidence-based medical advice. Thus, one must conclude that you only want this statement to apply to science you personally find offensive - which frankly is not really a sound basis for policy making. - gavin]

    In fact, it is not, or there would be no need for a GISS Model E. Also, were the science settled, we wouldn’t see the publication of research concerning aerosols (like what was published some comments above) or about clouds, like this recent article:

    [Response: Again, nonsense. Equated the existence of continuing uncertainty in aspects of the science with zero knowledge of everything is a logical fallacy. - gavin]

    So it seems to me there are still many reasons to debate the science and many reasons to include policy in that debate.

    [Response: You neglect the fact the uncertainties in the science might be completely orthogonal to issues that might determine policy. There is uncertainty related to Permian/Triassic extinction event, but it is far from obvious that any actual policy proposal is tied to this uncertainty. - gavin]

    Now I wasn’t familiar with Heartland until this kerfuffle occurred. Perhaps they lie. I don’t know. But when I hear them described as “anti-science” and “climate-deniers” I have to admit my red flags go up as this is traditional alarmist lingo.

    [Response: Try reading some of their stuff, it is textbook denialist stuff - for instance - an incoherent mish-mash of complaints that exist only to come to the pre-determined conclusion that nothing should be done about CO2 emissions. - gavin]

    Considering the AGW PR arms are many and varied and receive hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in funding, it seems unlikely that Heartland, with its meager funding, could have a considerable affect on public perception, especially if they are using lies.

    [Response: Well, your assessment of the amount of money spent on AGW 'PR' is orders of magnitude off, and I think you underestimate the power of lies to affect public perception ('Iraq has WMD', 'death panels', 'Obama is a muslim' etc...). That is of course unfortunate, but this is the world we live in. - gavin]

    In fact, just the opposite seems true. If the AGW science is settled, then it seems probable that the scientists that signed the Heartland Open Letter would have no problem winning any debate with the Heartland “climate deniers.”

    [Response: This is an old issue - go back and read Gorgias on the power of rhetoric over facts. Why you think stand up debates are somehow a substitute (and should supplant) the reflective and thorough peer reviewed literature and the dozens of NRC, WMO, IPCC, RS, NAS assessments is a little odd. - gavin]

    I understand that you are busy people and you cannot be in all places at once and undertake every endeavor presented. But if Heartland has such a profound influence, and the science is 100% settled, then it seems to me that you would welcome that debate, if only to prove that HI is wrong, silencing them for good.

    [Response: Heartland's influence is not profound - they are just typical of any number of like-minded groups, and we have never claimed that the 'science is settled' - indeed I am on record clearly stating the opposite (which is kind of obvious since I am a research scientist). Your suggestion that once HI were proved wrong it would silence them for good, is however, very amusing. I may quote it. - gavin]

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  48. 298
    Curious says:

    Gavin, thanks for the response. Feel free to quote me, even if you find it to be amusing.

    I do appreciate your response, as well as the link to your article about the science not being settled.

  49. 299
    John West says:

    “every word I say is a lie” – Gavin

    /context distortion

    “arguing with people who think that every word I say is a lie is completely pointless” – Gavin

    Sometimes it’s not the people you’re arguing with but those within earshot (blog shot) that gives such a situation purpose. Yes, I agree, those that think you’re lying won’t be convinced, but there may be others listening (reading).

    The letter suggests a discussion of policy options. I have concerns with the general direction that seems to be approved of here though maybe not expressly indorsed; that cap-n-trade schemes or carbon taxes are viable methods of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and/or atmospheric accumulation.

    In my opinion cap-n-trade will only serve to enrich “traders” while overall global emissions remain the same. There doesn’t seem to be an effective way to control a high enough percentage of countries to keep carbon dioxide emissions from just being shifted from one part of the world to another.

    A carbon tax in it’s typical manifestation is IMO a hidden regressive tax (my least favorite kind of tax). Any increase in tax burden to large emitters of carbon dioxide will simply be conveyed to the consumer, some of which could easily afford it, but others may not. If we’re going to tax carbon dioxide we should at least make it a progressive tax by taxing individuals on their carbon dioxide equivalent footprint and having tiered income thresholds that reduce/eliminate the tax burden for those with low incomes; but this would of course mean another tax. Who wants a new tax? A tough “sell” at best.

    Consider for a moment, Mt. Pinatubo eruption effectively stopped (or nearly so) the carbon dioxide concentration increase by increasing primary production 8-20% (most likely, diffuse light efficiency increase). Instead of attempting global control of emissions, couldn’t regional stimulation of primary production be an effective component of a global atmospheric CO2 accumulation reduction effort? Development of increased irrigation in the third world, for example, would not only increase global primary production, reducing carbon dioxide accumulation but have immediate benefits regionally of increased food production. An easy sell by comparison. I suspect there are hundreds of such “win now” + “reduce accumulation” projects that could be “sold” to the population of a region much easier than trying to police global outputs. It seems to me if we put forth half the resources we’re burning up bickering and trying to get global agreement on finding, funding, and executing “doable” projects we’d actually get something accomplished other than sowing animosity and wasting time.

    Also, the letter referenced “independent investigations” could you summarize the characteristics that made the investigations independent? Would impartial have the same characteristics?

  50. 300
    Hank Roberts says:

    Seems several leaps of faith there, from

    > Pinatubo … increasing primary production 8-20%

    What’s your source for this? It seems an overbroad claim.

    If your source is referring to Gu et al., they “estimated that this increase in diffuse radiation alone enhanced noontime photosynthesis of a deciduous forest by 23% in 1992 and 8% in 1993 under cloudless conditions.”

    Those are close to your numbers, but yours suggest a range of overall increase. What source did you get your numbers from?

    Hmmm. Searching, the first full page of results about that is co2science.
    More for the annals of climate misinformation

    The similar numbers from Gu et al. are their estimates for two years, at noon, on cloudless days.

    Atmospheric effects of the Mt Pinatubo eruption

    Increasing irrigation isn’t equivalent to increasing diffuse light.
    Primary production — half or thereabouts — is from the oceans.

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