Climate Change Denial


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November 22, 2009

SWIFTBOATING THE CLIMATE SCIENTISTS

George Marshall @ 11:46 pm

swift boatThe theft of 1,000 private e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (UEA) shows that deniers have learned lessons from dirty politics and are running a new campaign to undermine public trust in climate scientists. The feeble response from the UEA and the climate science community shows that scientists are still totally underestimating the fragility of that trust and the crucial role it plays in building public belief.

The Importance and fragility of Trust
The lay public, when presented with confusing data and competing arguments  about climate change deploy the heuristic (a fancy word for a mentalof short cut) of believing the people they most trust. Trust in the communicator  is therefore a crucial precondition for belief in climate change.

Unfortunately the three main climate change communicators: politicians, journalists and environmental campaigners, are among the least trusted people in society- fighting it out for bottom place in the ranking with lawyers and car salesmen. No one would pay any attention to them at all if they were not drawing on the aquifer of public trust in scientists.

Climate scientists have always misunderstood the dynamic of public belief and trust. They assume that belief will be built on their data and that public trust is merited by their authority.  With the exception of a few outstanding communicators, they often make no attempt to speak to deeper values or make an emotional connection with the public – indeed they see that as contrary to their professional independence.

However, whilst it is true that there is an underlying respect for scientific expertise, there are many other more emotional and contextual components to real trust. We tend to trust people we know, who seem to be like us, who speak to our values and life experience, who appear to have integrity or- that most intangible quality- people whom we seem to like.

The Deniers have always understood this. They use language that is designed to appeal to deeper values (such as freedom, independence, progress). The narrative they tell of being determined (and even persecuted) free thinkers standing against the tide of oppressive and self-interested conformity is designed to create an aura of integrity and trustworthiness.

Scientists often seek public anonymity. The only person portrayed the front page of the IPCC’s website is the long dead Alfred Nobel on the side of a gold medal. Deniers by comparison realise that trust (and distrust) is all about personalities. They promote themselves (and their personal backstories) constantly. They are not a pleasant bunch, but they get lots of practice in creating a good impression and some (such as Lomborg and Stott) can be charming in person.

And they seek to demonise real science by picking out individuals to abuse. None more so that Dr. Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, a paleoclimatologist who prepared the famous hockey-stick graph.  Dr. Mann has had the bravery to stand publicly by his findings and has been subjected to an extraordinary campaign of vilification and accusations of distortion and falsification (there are 20,000 responses to a search for “’Michael Mann’ climate fraud”). Mann seeks to keep above the fray but he has plentiful grounds for a string of libel actions.

Hacking into UEA
The recent hacking of the servers of the University of East Anglia can only be understood within this landscape of competing appeals to public trust. The strategy is this: the source of belief in climate change is the trust in the scientists as open, accountable, honest and independent. If you can challenge those qualities you can undermine the public trust. Just by revealing the things that people say to their peers in private, you can suggest that they are closed, secretive and conspiring to their own ends. The further you have gone to uncover those documents- in this case hacking into a secure server- the more you imply that they were buried and hidden from view. even the New York Times and Washington Post can portray a crime as an act of public disclosure.

The denial industry (and hordes of climate nerds) has trawled through these e-mails and found sentences which, when removed from context, support their storyline that climate science is being deliberately distorted and exaggerated for a mixed bag of self interested and politicized ends. Even better for them, some of these quotations come from Michael Mann.

But you could find anything in here. I looked and found lots of references to lunch and fun, 94 to hate, 31 to love. Generally, though, the e-mails are extremely focused, technical, and, dare I say it, really dull. As noted on Realclimate.org, the website that Mann helped found, the e-mails contain “no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords”.

But this is hardly the point. This is an orchestrated smear campaign and does not require balance or context. The speed with which the emails have been cut apart and fed into existing storylines is remarkable. The story has been led from the beginning by the denial site climatedepot.com (I absolutely refuse to provide a  hyperlink)  where you find the entire page given to ‘Climategate’, ‘smoking guns’,  ‘blood in the water’ – lines that have all been fed to and doltishly repeated in the mainstream media.

Swift Boating the Climate Scientists
The coordinator of climatedepot.com is Marc Morano, a libertarian right self publicist and former aid to the outspoken denier Senator Inhofe, who has been seeking to become a kingpin in the climate denial industry. Marc Morano is not new to this kind of dirty fighting. According to the investigative site Source Watch,  Morano, whilst working as a journalist for the right wing Cybercast News Service,  was the first source in May 2004 of the smear campaign against John Kerry that later became known the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Although different in context and content, there are marked similarities between the Swift Boat campaign and the hacking of the UEA e-mails. Both were sophisticated strategies to undermine trust. Both identified trust and integrity as a major strength of the opponent and then played carefully chosen story lines to undermine them. At the very least the UEA e-mail campaign is an application of dirty political tactics to climate change campaigning.

Personally I suspect it goes further than that. The storyline is too clever, the timing on the brink of Copenhagen and the US climate bill too convenient. Obtaining compromising internal documents is the holy grail of presidential campaigns, so why would not campaigners who cut their teeth in US politics not seek to apply the same tactics against the poorly defended servers of a provincial university. I wait with interest to find out how these e-mails were obtained.

Call me a bastard and I’ll show you my birth certificate
And, the most disturbing similarity between the UEA hacking and the Swiftboat campaign, is that both rely for their success on the unwillingness of the opponent to rise to the debate and defend themselves. It is a generally accepted analysis that Kerry’s slow response was a huge strategic mistake which strengthened the smear. A weak response to an attack on your integrity, however ill founded, is read as guilt.

The UEA response has been frankly pathetic. It was informed by Real Climate of the hack on Tuesday 17th  but only responded reactively two days later when journalists caught onto the story. It refused to confirm whether the e-mails were accurate or not and, for a long time, refused to comment at all.

Now, in typical scientist fashion, it seeks to argue the data rationally. The UEA website states that “the selective publication of some stolen emails and other papers taken out of context is mischievous and cannot be considered a genuine attempt to engage with this issue in a responsible way”. Mischievous? Irresponsible? What naughty pixies.

Then the CRU director, Professor Phil Jones focuses on one of quotes: “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline” For the smear campaign it is only those key words trick and hide that count- the rest can be made into anything it wants. Jones ignores this and responds with a detailed technical explanation of the passage with reference to the original graphs. It’s like responding to someone calling you a bastard by showing them your birth certificate.

One can only conclude that the UEA’s communications team is totally out of its depth. A less charitable conclusion is that they are defending the interests of UEA and are not concerned about (or have not understood) the damage to climate science.

An appropriate response
So might I suggest this would have been the appropriate response for Professor Jones:  speak to every journalist who calls, go on the offensive and defend your science. Clearly state that you are not prepared to have your hard working and committed colleagues  around the world defamed or slandered by the kinds of people who illegally hack into computers.  State that this is a desperate last ditch tactic by fanatics who have lost the rational debate.

And how about taking action against the criminals who hacked in? The stolen emails are currently on a website called www.anelegantchaos.org that has been set up for the purpose and is linked from all the denial websites. The owner of the site has written a self important introduction about the public interest of the site and the “disappointing insights” it provides. He has also put in a function to search the stolen property.

He is probably an egotist who enjoys the attention, so I am not going to name him. However his name, address and telephone number are all on the site registration.  If he had my private emails splattered all over his site he would be hearing from my lawyers – if he was lucky. The fact that there appears to have been no attempt to prevent this site is yet further evidence of the half hearted response of UEA.

Sadly, due in part to the lackluster response, I am sure that these wretched e-mails have now entered permanently into the mythology of climate denial. Scientists are going to have to be a lot more savvy and on the ball in future.

The theft of 3,500 e-mails stolen from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (UEA) shows that deniers have learned lessons from dirty politics and are running a new campaign to undermine public trust in climate scientists. The feeble response from the UEA and the climate science community shows that scientists are still totally underestimating the fragility of that trust and crucial role it plays in building public belief.

The Importance and Fragility of Trust

Although the weather has been behaving strangely, the serious climate impacts are still some way off and are an abstraction generated by computer models. As the public cannot understand the data (or evaluate the competing arguments they still hear in the media), they deploy the heuristic of believing the people they most trust. Trust in the communicator, then, is a crucial precondition for belief in climate change.

Unfortunately the three main climate change communicators: politicians, journalists and environmental campaigners, are among the least trusted people in society- fighting it out for bottom place in the ranking with lawyers and car salesmen. No one would pay any attention to them at all if they were not drawing on the aquifer of public trust in scientists.

Climate scientists have always misunderstood the dynamic of public belief and trust. They assume that belief will be built on their data and that public trust is merited by their authority. They argue that their data stands on its own merits and, with the exception of a few outstanding communicators, they often see make no attempt to speak to deeper values or make an emotional connection with the public – indeed they see that as contrary to their professional independence.

However, whilst it is true that there is an underlying respect for scientific expertise, trust has many other more emotional and contextual components. We tend to trust people we know, who seem to be like us, who speak to our values and life experience, who appear to have integrity or- that most intangible quality- people who seem to like.

On the other hand the climate change denial campaign has always centred on the psychology of trust. Deniers use language that is designed to appeal to deeper values (such as freedom, independence, progress). The narrative they tell of being determined (and even persecuted) free thinkers standing against the tide of oppressive and self-interested conformity is designed to create an aura of integrity and trustworthiness.

Scientists often seek public anonymity. The only person on the front page of the IPCC’s website is the profile of Alfred Nobel on the side of a medal. Deniers realise that trust (and distrust) is all about personalities. They promote their own (and their personal backstories) constantly. They are not a pleasant bunch, but they get lots of practice in creating a good impression and some (such as Lomborg and Stott) can be charming in person.

And they seek to demonise real science by picking out individuals to abuse. None more so that Dr. Michael Mann of Philadelphia State University, a paleoclimatologist who prepared the famous hockey-stick. Dr. Mann has had the bravery to stand publicly by his findings and has been subjected to an extraordinary campaign of vilification and accusations of distortion and falsification (there are 20,000 responses to a search for “’Michael Mann’ climate fraud”). Mann seeks to keep above the fray but he has plentiful grounds for a string of libel actions.

Hacking into UEA

The recent hacking of the servers of the University of East Anglia can only be understood within this landscape of competing appeals to public trust. The strategy is this: the source of belief in climate change is the trust in the scientists as open, accountable, honest and independent. If you can challenge those qualities you can undermine the public trust. Just by revealing the things that people say to their peers in private, you can suggest that they are closed and co-operating to their own ends. The further you go to obtain those documents- in this case hacking into a secure server- the more you imply that they are being buried and hidden from view. Thus a criminal act can be portrayed as an act of public disclosure.

The denial industry (and the hordes of climate nerds) have trawled through these e-mails and found sentences which, when removed from context, support their storyline that climate science is being deliberately distorted and exaggerated for a mixed bag of self interested and politicized ends. Even better, some of these quotations come from Michael Mann.

But you could find anything in here. I looked and found lots of references to lunch and fun, 94 to hate, 31 to love. Generally, though, the e-mails are extremely focused, technical, and, dare I say it, really dull. As noted on Realclimate.org, the website that Mann helped found, the e-mail contain “no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords”.

But this is hardly the point. This is an orchestrated smear campaign and does not require balance or context. The speed with which the emails have been cut apart and fed into existing storylines is remarkable. The story has been led from the beginning by the denial site climatedepot.com (I absolutely refuse to provide a  hyperlink)  where you find the entire page given to ‘Climategate’, ‘smoking guns’ blood in the water’ – lines that have all been fed to the mainstream media.

Swift Boating the climate scientists

The coordinator of climatedepot.com is Marc Morano, a libertarian right self publicist and former aid to the outspoken denier Senator Inhofe, who has been seeking to become a kingpin in the climate denial industry. Marc Morano is not new to this kind of dirty fighting. According to the investigative site Source Watch, http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Marc_Morano

whilst working as a journalist for the right wing Cybercast News Service, Morano was the first source in May 2004 of the Vietnam veterans smear campaign against John Kerry that later became known the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Although different in context and content, there are marked similarities between the Swiftboat campaign and the hacking of the UEA e-mails. Both were sophisticated strategies to undermine trust. Both identified a major strength of the opponent and then played carefully chosen story lines to imply dishonesty. At the very least the UEA e-mail campaign is an application of dirty political tactics to climate change campaigning.

Personally I suspect it goes further than that. The storyline is too clever, the timing on the brink of Copenhagen and the US climate bill too convenient. Obtaining compromising internal documents is the holy grail of presidential campaigns, so why would not campaigners who cut their teeth in US politics not seek to apply the same tactics against the poorly defended servers of a provincial university. I wait with interest to find out how these e-mails were obtained.

Call me a bastard and I’ll show you my birth certificate

And, the most disturbing similarity between the UEA hacking and the Swiftboat campaign, is that both rely for their success on the unwillingness of the opponent to rise to the debate and defend themselves. It is a generally accepted analysis that Kerry’s slow response was a huge strategic mistake which strengthened the smear. A weak response to an attack on your integrity, however ill founded, is read as guilt.

The UEA response has been frankly pathetic. It was informed by Real Climate of the hack on Tuesday 17th but only responded reactively two days later when journalists caught onto the story. It refused to confirm whether the e-mails were accurate or not and, for a long time, refused to comment at all.

Now, in typical scientist fashion, it seeks to argue the data rationally. On the UEA website the CRU director, Professor Phil Jones explains the meaning of one of the baffling selected quotes that refers to “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline” For a smear campaign it is only the key words trick and hide that count- the rest can be made into anything it wants. Jones ignores this and responds with a detailed technical explanation of the passage with reference to the original graphs. It’s like responding to someone calling you a bastard by showing them your birth certificate.

One can only conclude that the UEA’s communications team is totally out of its depth. A less charitable conclusion is that they are defending the interests of UEA and are not concerned about (or have not understood) the damage to climate science.

So might I suggest this would have been the appropriate response for Professor Jones: going on the offensive, defending your science, and clearly stating that you are not prepared to have your hard working and committed colleagues  around and world defamed or slandered by the kinds of people who illegally hack into computers in a desperate attempt to undermine the honest and open process of public science.

And how about taking action against the criminals who hacked in? The stolen emails are currently on a website called www.anelegantchaos.org that has been set up for the purpose and is linked from all the denial websites. The owner of the site has written a self important introduction about the public interest of the site and the “disappointing insights” it provides. He has kindly put in a search function.

He is probably an egotist who enjoys the attention, so I am not going to name him. However his name, address and telephone number are all on the site registration. http://www.whois.net/whois/anelegantchaos.org If he had my private emails splattered all over his site he would be hearing from my lawyers – if he was lucky. The fact that there appears to have been no attempt to prevent this is further evidence of the half hearted response of UEA.

Sadly, due in part to the lackluster response, I am sure that these wretched e-mails have now entered permanently into the mythology of climate denial. Scientists are going to have to be a lot more savvy and on the ball in future.


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September 16, 2008

COOKING THE BOOKS: How to write a contrarian polemic on climate change.

George Marshall @ 2:18 pm

Review of The Deniers: The World-Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud (and those who are too fearful to do so), Lawrence Solomon, Richard Vigilante Books, 2008

There’s a flood of cookbooks in the UK, (and climate change denial books too) so let’s start with a recipe for writing a popular book undermining climate science. Fancy a go?- this is what you do…

First of all, from all the thousands of papers published every year on climate change, cherry-pick a few isolated pieces of work that draw different conclusions from those presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Then, highlight the CV’s of their authors in glowing and virtuous terms. Just think of those paragraph-long descriptions of ingredients you get in pretentious restaurants: point out that these are not just carefully picked cherries; they are sun-dried organic fair trade cherries di Modena.

Then claim that the goal of your book is not to settle the science but merely to show that the debate is active. By this sleight of hand, you can claim that scientific process depends on constant challenge without allowing any debate about the studies you cite. This then allows you to draw superficial similarities between positions that contradict each other. Modena cherries in a Bolivian Chilli and Wild Alaskan Salmon confit? So what if they don’t go together, you can say, they’re top ingredients and they’re all red too.

Finally, so that you can adopt a populist questing tone, make it clear that you have no expertise in any of these areas and are just another perplexed joe public seeking the truth. “Ok”, you can admit coyly, “I can’t cook to save my life, but I’m a free thinker. After all, only conformists say that banana doesn’t go with cheese.”

And there you go: a nice recipe for any number of articles, think tank reports, leaders in the Sunday Telegraph, talks to the Adam Smith Institute, presentations to congress, Channel Four documentaries, or, as I hold it in front of me, a cooked book like ‘Deniers’.

I must admit that Lawrence Solomon is awfully good at this stuff. Like all the best climate skeptics he is a great communicator. His prose is tight and readable. He is ironic and amusing. His own credentials are impressive: whereas Bjorn Lomborg used to boast that he was once a Greenpeace activist (in fact he was just a member) ; Solomon is the acting head of a well-regarded environmental organisation.

But there is something curious going on, and it takes a while to spot it. The book purports to show that leading scientists, taking major personal risks, are prepared to ‘deny’ the stated consensus on climate change. The lengthy byline (added, one suspects, by some keen publicity person) is “the world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution and fraud”

And yet it slowly dawns on the reader that few of these ‘world renowned scientists’ disagree in any way that climate change is happening, is serious, and is primarily caused by human emissions. They are well funded career scientists who are not standing up for anything much other than a nice round of applause from the other hysterics.

The first witness for the prosecution is Dr. Richard Tol, a critic of the Stern Report, who, as the book admits, is in every other way “a central figure in the global warming establishment”. Then we hear from Dr Christopher Landsea who argues that hurricanes are not increasing due to climate change. He is also a contributing author to the second UN IPCC report and agrees fully with its main conclusions. The book tells us that Dr Edward Wegman, who challenges the statistical basis of the famous ‘hockey stick’ climate graph, “does not dispute that man made global warming was occurring’.

So, Solomon’s key witnesses are actually leading scientists who accept the core consensus but have some important and relevant reservations about the causes and impacts. By page 45 Solomon has admitted as much: “I noticed something striking about my growing cast of deniers. None of them were deniers”.

Solomon allows himself to make this self-deprecating admission because, whilst he wishes to lionize the careers of his ‘world renowned experts’, he is also prepared to be condescending about their judgment.

He argues that they are suffering from a delusion that the whole theory stands firm despite the evidence of that own specialist work. “Affirmers in general. Deniers in particular” crows Solomon. “Like other smart people, scientists accept the conventional wisdom in areas they know little about…We know from our daily lives that the consensus can be spectacularly wrong.” According to Solomon they are in denial about their denial and he is going to drag them out of the closet.

Solomon’s cavalier strategy of ‘outing’ climate deniers has already become spectacularly unstuck. In January 2007 he dedicated his regular Denier column in the Canadian National Post, which forms the basis for this book, to Dr Nigel Weiss. Weiss, he said “believes that the science is anything but settled except for one virtual certainty: the world is about to enter a cooling period”.

Dr Weiss responded immediately and did not mince his words link…“The article by Lawrence Solomon, which portrays me as a denier of global warming, is a slanderous fabrication. I have always maintained that the current episode of warming that we are experiencing is caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gases, and that global temperatures will rise much further unless steps are taken to halt the burning of fossil fuel”. Unusually the rebuttle was accompanied by an official press release from the University of Cambridge.

Whilst the National Post issued a groveling apology, Solomon was not going to let his search for truth be derailed by accusations of slanderous fabrication. Astonishingly, the article still appears on his website without any qualification link. It has now spread all over the internet and has been repeated in the form of a faked interview in another book “Scared to Death” by skeptics and media pundits Christopher Booker and Richard North.

So let’s do some real ‘outing’. Solomon is not really an independent searcher after truth- he is a frontline communicator for a large and influential denial industry that aims to prevent political action and undermine public concern about climate change.

Start with the scientists in Denial. With each chapter, the legitimate questioning scientists I have just mentioned give way to the professional skeptics. There is Professor Richard Lindzen, who, according to the investigative journalist Ross Gelbspan, consults to oil and coal interests for $2,500 a day and whose trip to testify before a Senate committee on climate change was paid for by Western Fuels.

Lindzen, along with three of the other ‘world-renowned scientists’ in Denial, found time in their busy research schedule to appear in ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’, a notorious British documentary that was denounced by the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, the Royal Society. One of the contributers threatened to sue the director for gross misrepresentation.

Six of the stars of Denial were among the the ‘A’ list of professional contrarians, lobbyists and conspiracy theorists who spoke at the New York International Conference on Climate Change in March this year. The sponsor was the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank which has received $781,000 in grants fron Exxon Mobil since 2000 for its campaign against the Kyoto Protocol.

Even if we assume that he started with pure intentions, Solomon has now fallen in with some very unsavoury people. In April this year his column for the National Post defends Fred Singer who, as usual, he calls ‘one of the world’s renowned scientists’. Singer has not had a peer reviewed paper published in 20 years and is linked to a string of oil and coal industry lobby groups. He has long operated as a hired gun for the tobacco industry giving ‘expert’ testimony that side stream smoke is not dangerous.

In June 2008 Solomon’s column praises a ludicrous and widely condemned paper on the beneficial effects of heightened carbon dioxide by the Oregan Insititute of Science and Medecine. The OISM, which has no affiliations to any recognised scientific body, is a far right fringe body that markets a home-schooling kit for “parents concerned about socialism in the public schools”.

And in April we find Solomon launching his book at an event organised by some of the most notorious anti-environmental campaigners in Washington. In his speech he congratulates his hosts; Myron Ebell, the Cooler Heads Coalition and the Competititve Enterprise Insitute (CEI) for “for the integrity and tenacity that he and they have shown during this entire global warming debate”.

For an environmental campaigner he has fallen into the worst crowd imaginable. It would be like Barack Obama speaking at a Ku Klux Klan meeting and praising them for their contribution to racial tolerance. Myron Ebell led aggressive lobby campaigns though a think tank called Frontiers of Freedom to gut the US Endangered Species Act. Ebell and the CEI ran a public campaign against higher fuel efficiency standards in cars arguing, among other things, that it would lead to more accidents. The Cooler Heads Coalition, formed by CEI, opposes any political action on climate change and brings together a host of libertarian and far right interest groups such as Americans for the Preservation of Liberty, the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise and Defenders of Property Rights.

Solomon gives them respect and credibility. They give him status in return, calling him ‘one of Canada’s leading environmentalists’ and an ‘internationally renowned environmentalist’. Maybe this expains how an environmental campaigner can become best buddies with the professional lobbyists who despise his own movement. Environmental campaigners are poorly paid and often vilified with few plaudits or rewards. On the other hand skeptics live in a self-congratulating world in which there are no also-rans. Everyone is a winner. Everyone is famous or world renowned. Anyone who is assertive and skilled with polemic can be a star.

If you are middle aged activist and wondering what you have really achieved in your life it must be very seductive. And dangerous.

Sources: www.sourcewatch.org, www.theheatisonline.org, www.realclimate.org, www.desmogblog.com

This review first appeared in a slightly different, referenced and edited form on the website China Dialogue.


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March 9, 2007

THE GREAT CHANNEL FOUR SWINDLE

George Marshall @ 2:39 pm

Last night Channel Four kindly gave an hour and half and a large budget to the international network of professional climate change deniers. ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’ was a propaganda gift to the various vested interests who seek to undermine the fragile political and social will to take action on this global crisis.

And it was sometimes very convincing, as strongly worded opinions often are when they are not subject to any verification or external challenge. For example, there are excellent rebuttals against the contention that global warming is correlated to cosmic rays (for example see… ) At the bottom I list the growing number of well referenced and detailed rebuttals of the scientific claims in the programme.

There was only one scientific advisor on the programme, Martin Livermore, whose sole scientific qualification is that he is the Director of a web-based think tank, The Scientific Alliance. The Alliance was set up by in 2001 by Robert Durward, the fiercely anti-green director of the British Aggregates Association, and Foresight Communications, a Westminster public relations and lobbying company, to “counter scare-mongering by the so-called green lobby”. (For more…)

The Scientific Alliance has no affiliation with any recognised scientific body but, like most of the contributors to the programme, it does have very strong links with the US public relations and lobbying organisations that have been so effective in setting the Bush agenda on climate change.

The writer and presenter of the programme was Martin Durkin. Although it was written in a highly personal and opinionated style- speaking freely of “lies”, and the “shrill frenzy” of “scare stories” – we never saw Durkin or discovered his personal credentials. As George Monbiot has revealed Durkin is closely affiliated with the Revolutionary Communist Party which has a strong ideological opposition to environmental science (more on Durkin and the RCP.

In 1997 Channel Four was forced to issue a humiliating public apology over a previous series of anti-environment programmes directed by Durkin called “Against Nature”. The Independent Television Commission found that “the views of the four complainants, as made clear to the interviewer, had been distorted by selective editing” and that they had been “misled as to the content and purpose of the programmes when they agreed to take part.”

For this programme Durkin drew up a dream team of scientists who have built personal careers as media pundits debunking the peer-reviewed work of their colleagues. There are few of them, but they are well supported by the Washington lobbies and kept very busy with media debates, documentaries and opinion pieces. (I have personally debated with five of them in media debates).

Is it any surprise then, that they were so persuasive. Most of the people on the programme are professional communicators who are more familiar with the chat show than the lab. Of course they give good interviews – it is what they do for a living.

And let us not forget that we all want to believe them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to believe that the science is unsettled, that all that carbon dioxide that we are pumping into the atmosphere really has no effect, and that we do not have to worry about the future.

It would be entirely possible to put together a similar programme, with a string of credible former academics, to argue that smoking does no cause cancer, that HIV does not cause AIDS, or that black people are less intelligent. However, Channel Four would not dare broadcast the programme and we would not believe them if they did. Is it not a reflection of the deep public ambivalence about climate change that these dissenters are given such a prominent and uncritical showcase and that we are so keen to listen to them?

Make up your own minds from their track records. Here is a little more information on some of the people who appeared on the programme:

Fred Singer. Despite the caption on the programme, Singer has retired from the University of Virginia and has not had a single article accepted for any peer-reviewed scientific journal for 20 years. His main work has been as a hired gun for business interests to undermine scientific research on environmental and health matters. Before turning to climate change denial he has argued that CFCs do not cause ozone depletion and second hand smoke does not cause cancer (more… ). In 1990 he founded “The Science and Environment Policy Project”, which aggressively contradicts climate science and has received direct funding from Exxon, Shell, Unocal and ARCO. Exxon is also among the funders ($20,000 in 1998 and 2000)

Patrick Michaels is the most prominent US climate change denier. In the programme he claimed “I’ve never been paid a nickel by the old and gas companies” which is a curious claim. According to the US journalist Ross Gebspan Michaels has received direct funding from, among others German Coal Mining Association ($49,000), Edison Electric Institute ($15,000), and the Western Fuels Association ($63,000) an association of US coal producing interests (more…). The WFA is one of the most powerful forces in the US actively denying the basic science of climate change, funding, amongs other things, the Greening Earth Society which is directed by Patrick Michaels. Tom Wigley, one of the leading IPCC scientists, describes Michaels work as “a catalog of misrepresentation and misinterpretation”. (More on Michaels…)

Philip Stott was captioned as a Professor at the University of London although he is retired and is therefore free of any academic accountability. Stott is a geographer by training and has no qualifications in climate science. Since retiring Stott has aimed to become Britain’s leading anti-green pundit dedicating himself to wittily criticizing rainforest campaigns (with Patrick Moore), advocating genetic engineering and claiming that “global warming is the new fundamentalist religion.”

Patrick Moore is Stott’s Canadian equivalent. Since a very personal and painful falling out with Greenpeace in 1986 Moore has put his considerable campaigning energies into undermining environmentalists, especially his former friends and colleagues. Typical of his rhetoric was his claim in the programme that environmentalists were “anti-human” and “treat humans as scum”. Throughout the 1990s Moore worked as lead consultant for the British Columbian Timber Products Association undermining Greenpeace’s international campaign to protect old growth forest there. Whenever he has the chance he also makes strong public statements in favour of genetic engineering, nuclear power, logging the Amazon, and industrial fishing- all, strangely, lead campaigns for Greenpeace (more on Moore..)

Piers Corbyn has no academic status and his role in such programmes is to promote his own weather prediction business. He has steadfastly refused to ever subject his climatological theories to any form of external review or scrutiny.

Richard Lindzen. As a Professor of Meteorology at the credible Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lindzen is by far the most reputable academic among the US climate deniers and, for this reason, he is heavily cited by sympathetic journalists such as Melanie Phillips and Michael Crichton. His arguments though are identical to the other deniers – for example an article in the Wall Street Journal (June 11 2001) he claims that “there is no consensus, unanimous or otherwise, about long-term climate trends or what causes them”.
He is strongly associated with the other people on the programme though co-authored reports, articles, conference appearances and co-signed statements.

Tim Ball was captioned as the University of Winnipeg. In fact he left in 1996 since when he has run political campaigns through two organisations he helped found: the Natural Resources Stewardship Project and the Friends of Science which, according to their websites aim to run “a proactive grassroots campaign to counter the Kyoto Protocol”; and “encourage and assist the Canadian Federal Government to re-evaluate the Kyoto Protocol”. Ian Clark is also on the board of the NRSP.

REBUTTALS OF THE ALLEGATIONS IN THE PROGRAMME

I have received a lot of postings from people criticising me for not dealing with the specific allegations in the programme. I am not qualified to do so, but here are links to people who are. I am not going to accept any more postings making this point. This website is a discussion of why we find it so hard to come to terms with climate change, not a bulletin board for people who people who are still not prepared to accept the conclusions of 20 years of research by every scientific insitution in the world.

1. Sir John Houghton, one of Britain’s leading climate scientists and former chair of the IPCC. Link… He states baldly that virtually every allegation was false.

2. The Royal Society. In a press release the Royal Society is very critical of the programme and concludes that “Those who promote fringe scientific views but ignore the weight of evidence are playing a dangerous game. They run the risk of diverting attention from what we can do to ensure the world’s population has the best possible future” link….

3. In the Sunday 11th issue of the Observer, six leading climate scientists from four universities criticise the conclusions of the progamme. They say: “we defend the right of people to be sceptical, but for C4 to imply that the thousands of scientists and published peer-reviewed papers, summarised in the recent international science assessment, are misguided or lying lacks scientific credibility and simply beggars belief” link…

4. In 13th March edition of the Guardian, George Monbiot takes out the claims of the programme one by one. Link… On his website full scientific references are given for his article which, unlike the Swindle, was checked by professional climate scientists before publication

5. Realclimate, an excellent blogsite run byclimate scientists in large part to deal with climate skeptic arguments also goes through the allegations point by point link…

6. It took a long while for Sir David King the UK government chief scientist to catch onto the damage done by this programme but at long last he has pulled together a very well argued science based analysis and refutation. Link…
I have to say that anyone reading this who still wants to believe that the Swindle film was based on strong science really is desparate to believe that climate change is not happening- there is a reason why this website is called Climate Denial after all.

7. One of the few real scientists to appear on the programme (that is to say he really does do climate science rather than working for a public relations company) was Professor Carl Wunsch, professor of physical oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the Independent Wunsch claims that “They completely misrepresented me. My views were distorted by the context in which they placed them….I am the one who has been swindled…The movie was terrible propaganda. It is characteristic of propaganda that you take an area where there is legitimate dispute and you claim straight out that people who disagree with you are swindlers. That is what the film does in any area where some things are subject to argument.” link…

According The Times when the director Durkin was challenged by Dr Armand Leroi from Imperial College on his use of dubious data in the programme he replied by e-mail saying “you’re a big daft cock”. When Dr Leroi persisted Durkin wrote back telling him to “Go fuck yourself”. Maybe those people who have written posts to this item complaining about the “character assassination” of Mr Durkin would like to drop him a line and congratulate him on his reasoned engagement in the scientific debate link…

Well no surprise that Durkin lied to the participants about the programme and then edited what they said to misrepresent their views. This is exactly what he did last time he got a major programme and it led to the public humiliation of Channel Four, The question is this: what reputable broadcaster would ever give another major commission to this man. Obviously the same channel that thinks that subjecting an Asian woman to racist bullying makes good entertainment.

Let’s answer that last question another way. If you want a painful laugh, have a look at Channel Four’s own website on the programme link…

On the left side of the page is the information about the rubbish in the Swindle film. On the other side are links to other pages on climate change including “Explore the issues around the greatest challenge of our time”, which tells us that “little doubt exists among the scientific community that human activity is changing the climate…For the first time in our history the whole human species is under threat from the alarmingly powerful forces of climate change” Another featured link take us to “Environmentalism: A brief history of this powerful movement”.

OH FOR GODS SAKE! So even Channel Four don’t believe this programme. How unspeakably shallow and cynical can the media be?


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August 22, 2006

DO SCIENTISTS REALLY BELIEVE IN CLIMATE CHANGE?

George Marshall @ 8:02 pm

This is not a facetious question or skeptic propaganda. I would never dispute that the scientific community is in full agreement that climate change is real, human induced, and significant.

However, ‘believe’ is a powerful and specific word. When we talk of the things we ‘believe’ in we give them a value and an emotional context. We know many things, but it is our beliefs that provide a frame for our decisions and direct our behaviour.

So, to come back to the question- do scientists really believe in climate change? My observation is that many do not. In the course of my work (I am a director of a climate change charity) I often attend scientific briefings and have met many professional climate scientists and have noted the following consistent traits of scientific presentations:

It’s serious, but don’t panic. Gavin Schmidt has written a long review for the excellent Real Climate site on the IPPR report I reviewed in the last posting
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=334. Schmidt argues that the IPPR authors missed a “huge missing category” of denial, the ‘it’s serious (and interesting) but don’t panic’ repertoire which, he says, ‘is the language most often heard at scientific conferences’.

Schmidt cites as an example a letter to the Independent from Dr Thomas Crowley from the Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke University, North Carolina. Dr Crowley calls on environmentalists to stop ‘castigating others and raising wild alarms’ and ‘sit down at the negotiating table with industry and conservative politicians and do some good old-fashioned “horse trading”.

The role for scientists is informing the debate. Back in 2000 my friend and colleague Mark Lynas asked a simple but highly relevant question at a public meeting addressed by Professor Mike Hulme, the head of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research. “If, as you have argued, the Amazon may burn down adding a further *degrees (I can’t remember actual figure)to global climate, that’s curtains for all of us, isn’t it?” This is exactly the kind of question one is never supposed to ask, and Hulme responded energetically to deflate it. “I do not think it is appropriate or useful for us to bang our drum about this- we need to use this information to generate a dialogue about our future options”. He didn’t answer the question because, dialogue or no dialogue, Mark was right. It is curtains, and scientists are remarkably unwilling to ever say this even when the conclusion could be solidly supported by their own data.

Reluctance to draw out actual human impacts. I recently attended a public presentation by a leading scientist about sea level rise. He was a good speaker and became extremely exercised about the variables- the differences between models and the uncertainties concerning the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet. But he was not prepared to talk at all about what these sea level rises actually mean- the loss of most of Bangladesh, Egypt, Florida, the Netherlands and most major cities- or any of the social and political schisms that would result from these impacts. His emotional engagement was with the model. I find this abstraction of the issue is extremely common in scientific presentations.

There are many uncertainties. How many times have I heard scientists say this? Scientists are quite right to be very wary of drawing firm conclusions from uncertain models. However, even as those models have become more and more reliable, and the actual evidence of climate change has become ever stronger, scientists continue to undermine their work by their abiding reluctance to speak with confidence. This has been a gift to professional contrarians who denounce the facts on the media with absolute and persuasive certainty.

I am not qualified to comment. A friend of mine- a social scientist by training- was working in the offices of the British Antarctic Survey and noticed that scientists made no attempt to put together their different and very specialised areas of research to form a single picture. She believes that this is a deliberate psychological strategy. By looking at only one small part of the problem, scientists can avoid facing the overall catastrophic conclusions and can hide behind their specialism.

I believe that many scientists adopt elaborate denial strategies to protect themselves from the extreme seriousness of climate change. They intellectualise the issue and deliberately avoid facing its implications. They define emotional engagement as ‘political’ and irresponsible and castigate those, fellow scientists included, who express fear or despair, or seek to communicate the real urgency to the general public.

Finally, scientists are prone to leave climate change at work and live like everyone else the rest of the time. Whenever I have the chance I ask climate scientists if they still fly for their holidays. Most are surprised that I even ask the question. One admitted to me in the pub after a heated public meeting that he flies three times a year to the Alps and even south America for skiing holidays. He said that his job was very hard and stressful and that he needs the break.

In anticipation of the potential response of scientists I want to say this. Climate change is no ordinary problem. Your own work makes it abundantly clear that it threatens our survival. Under the circumstances it is vital that you clearly and honestly communicate the threat- indeed it is ethically irresponsible for you not to do so. It is entirely appropriate for you to express concern, anger and fear to your colleagues and the general public.

And to those scientists who are already doing this- I take off my hat to you. We desperately need your knowledge and guidance.

[Postcript  9th November 2006. There was an amazingly vitriolic correspondance following this posting from people involved in the scientific institutions I mentioned. Sadly, because this was not directed to the site I don’t think that I can share it. What I can share is an article by Mike Hulme published today on the BBC website

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6115644.stm

In it Professor Hulme refers to this blog when he says ‘I have found myself increasingly chastised by climate change campaigners when my public statements and lectures on climate change have not satisfied their thirst for environmental drama and exaggerated rhetoric’. There is some personal stuff here.

However the article also supports many of the concerns I raised in the posting. Hulme criticises the use of the terms ‘catastrophic’, “chaotic”, “irreversible”, “rapid”, tipping point, and irreversible in connection with climate change. He argues that ‘the language of catastrophe is not the language of science’ and that it ‘hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science’.

However, even as a non scientist, it is clear to  me that this is not true. Of course we could argue the toss about what exactly constitutes a ‘catastrophe’ but it seems to me that its dictionary meaning (an event of extraordinary magnitude and misfortune) is perfectly applied and is very well supported by the science, and, as the Stern review established, the economics too. Hulme is not tolerant of catastrophism even when coming from his peers who he accuses of ‘ softening -up the G8 Gleneagles summit through a frenzied week of “climate change is worse than we thought” news reporting and group-think.’

As I tried to argue in the article, the separation of the scientific data from the moral and emotional response to the impacts is a form of dissonance. Read his article and see what you think]

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