Friday, May 16, 2014

Bengtsson burns his boats?

The popcorn-sellers will have been firing up their poppers over recent days. I was surprised by Lennart Bengtsson's announcement that he was joining GWPF, as I'd vaguely thought of him as a fairly mainstream climate scientist albeit slightly sceptical of model performance (as are many). Actually, on checking my library of downloaded papers, I find I only have one (out of more than 2000 in total) on which he's an author. But that may just be a function of focussing on different areas. He certainly played a significant role in years gone by as his Alfred Wegener citation says. While looking up his recent publications, I did come across "Why is the global warming proceeding much slower than expected?" but it's rather less sceptic-friendly than the title suggests, and I think it's widely accepted that (at least some) reanalysis products are not good at reproducing long-term trends, due to changes in observing systems (maybe Bengtsson was the first to say this? I dunno).

Anyway, not knowing the person, I shrugged and filed under "ignore", until he abruptly resigned, citing a storm of criticism and a whole one scientist (maybe more, reports are unclear) withdrawing from a joint paper. Well, it's odd that having chosen to take what he must have known would be a highly visible and politically significant position, he was so quick to shrink away from any reaction to it. I have to say I'm not particularly perturbed by some scientists writing to Bengtsson to express their views. If I'd known him, I might at least have checked that he really knew what he was getting himself into, as it's an unlikely step for any sensible climate scientist to take. I wonder what he expected people to say?

Now "someone" has planted a story in the Times, which coincidentally also appears on the GWPF site, about how Bengtsson once had a paper had a paper rejected by ERL. I wonder how such a non-story made the front page? I'm glad to see the editors have robustly defended themselves, and the full review certainly does paint a rather different picture of the quality of the research. It's funny to see that once the full text of the review was made public (rather than the very selective quotes in the Times). Bengtsson himself was quick to row back from what the article says.

Well, it's all good knockabout stuff. If I was looking for conspiracy theories here, I'd be curious as to the timing of all of this, drowning out as it has done the recent embarrassing U-turn on the part of the GWPF. Originally claiming to be an educational charity, its misinformation and campaigning have hardly been compatible with this and have resulted in numerous complaints to the Charities Commission. Following the CC's scathing comments "We advised the trustees that we did not consider that all the contents of the website advanced education, as required of a charity", they are splitting into the GWPF and GWPF. The GWPF now will really become an educational charity in line with its original claimed mission, honest gov, and the GWPF will be an independent campaigning group, that will presumably churn out the misinformation that the GWPF is no longer going to spout, without the awkward need to pretend it is truthful. I'm sure that there will be no chance of any confusion between the future squeaky clean GWPF and the wholly independent campaign group GWPF.

Perhaps Lennart Bengtsson simply couldn't decide which GWPF he wished to join. Either way, I don't think he's enhanced his reputation over this little debacle.

43 comments:

Steve Bloom said...

Mike Hulme being helpful as always, I see.

EliRabett said...

Lennart Bengtsson in Sweden is very different from Lennart Bengtsson in the UK. He is, if you will, the Lubos Motl of the North, a garden variety right winger with a fondness for the Swedish version of the GWPF. His resignation is the mystery, not his joining.

tonylearns said...

I am wondering if anyone has knowledge of him having received threats to his safety or academic career in any way. that was one of the things he said in his accusation of "McCarthyism"
certainly in the blogs and Tweets I have seen no one has attacked his scholarship or come close to suggesting anything nasty about him. other than ridiculing the idea of joint GWPF in the first place.

Victor Venema said...

I agree with this post that it is likely that some people asked Bengtsson whether he knew what he was doing and I hope that that is still allowed.

At the same time I would be very surprised if a significant number of his colleagues really did not want to work with him any more. I would not expect to see that in the scientific communities I am working in.

And if that has happened, Bengtsson only made that worse by publicly stating that he was pressured into resigning. Somehow, I have the feeling that that will not make these colleagues want to collaborate with him again.

That does not sound consistent to me.

If he really wanted to protect his reputation and network, it would have been more logical to state that he has informed himself better about the GWPF and that he apologises for naively joining them.

tonylearns said...

Victor, I see nothing wrong with his joining GWPF, as long as he accurately represents the science.
the post on him at Rabbit is rather damning if accurate about his associations in Sweden and political remarks there. So he is a reactionary . Let them have their little "coup"
What I want to know is was he really seriously attacked and unfairly threatened with academic ostracism or other repercussions by joining. Or is he just inflating the response in order to promote his own ( ironically) political narrative?

Victor Venema said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Victor Venema said...

In the comments at Stoat, it seems as if Bengtsson already made this statement more clear and that there was *one* colleague on a paper where Bengtsson was one of the authors, that did not want to collaborate any more. Sounds like Bengtsson was not even the first author.

If I would make a big mistake like joining the GWPF, I would hope that some colleagues of mine would be honest enough and ask me what the hell I am doing and whether I know what kind of organisation that is. My main fear would be that because of the scientific culture of not getting personal no one would have the guts to point out my mistake.

EliRabett said...

The GWPF has made some very nasty attacks against climate scientists both in the US and UK. Pray tell, Victor, why some of them would draw the line against working with anyone associated with the GWPF?

Victor Venema said...

Eli, I did not write, they should. Especially from a direct victim of the GWPF this would be too much to ask. I found it rather ironic that one climate "sceptic" wanted to use the coercive power of the state to force scientists to collaborate with Bengtsson.

However, the culture in the scientific community is to ignore such non-scientific issues as well as possible. I also wonder whether his colleagues were too surprised. I do not work in his field, but even I knew that Bengtsson had some "sceptical" tendencies.

I just came back from the Homogenisation seminar and our Serbian colleague chatted friendly with the scientists from NATO countries that bombed his country.

MikeR said...

All the comments seem to be ignoring Bengtsson's actual claim, which was that he was overwhelmed by the quantity of venom that was hurled his way. That's a little different than the "helpful friend pointing out a mistake" kind of thing that most of you are mentioning. But I don't find it hard to believe, given the level of venom available in any comments section on the internet, from both sides. It's easy to write an email.

I also think that you are reacting wrong. Seems to me that this is a big propaganda coup for anti-AGW groups, who now have someone clear to point to when they claim that scientists are suppressing adverse opinion. And you-all (and pretty much everyone else I've seen) are abetting them, saying, Well, yeah - he kind of deserves it. The fact that you are talking about a very different level of abuse than the one he is claiming makes little difference in how your acknowledgment can be used.
You need to say, It cannot be true - scientists would never do such a thing! And if it is true, I denounce it in the strongest terms: I would not blink an eye if a scientist joined Greenpeace, and I think a scientist has just as much right to join GWPF if he wants.

Mark Ryan said...

Regarding Mike R's comment above, it has struck me that on the various sites discussing this issue, the scientists who have allegedly bullied Bengtsson remain anonymous.

I haven't come across any of Bengtsson's colleagues revealing that they had exchanges with him, nor has anyone been 'outed'. It is obviously plausible that some of his colleagues would have criticised him for associating with the GWPF -but then I remember that it seems much more likely to many of those commenting about this, because the denizens of climate change blogs are already political people; there is no reason to assume that very many of the scientists with who Bengtsson has worked are like-minded. He may well be complaining about the actions of a handful of people.

So...I for one am skeptical of Bengtsson's claim, particularly given the obviously hyperbolic comments he has already made about the climate science community.

That being said, Mike R, the anti-AGW groups don't really have a claim that scientists are suppressing adverse opinion. A movement which includes Jim Inhofe and Marc Morano as its champions can hardly make out that anything short of rounding up a militia outside a person's house constitutes 'harassment'. In the Bengtsson case, it seems much more likely that somebody who is used to the deference of his peers was shocked when he was frankly told he was acting like a twit. That in itself is unremarkable; making out that it reveals a corruption of science is just a beat-up.

MikeR said...

"That being said, Mike R, the anti-AGW groups don't really have a claim that scientists are suppressing adverse opinion. A movement which includes Jim Inhofe and Marc Morano as its champions can hardly make out that anything short of rounding up a militia outside a person's house constitutes 'harassment'." Wrong. Very wrong. There are politicians on both sides; everyone is used to politicians. No one trusts them. Scientists are in a different category. Most of us are just not in a position to judge their claims. We take their word for it, because we feel they are interested in the truth more than in winning. You absolutely cannot afford to be classed as partisans. AGW supporters are asking the world to trust them that major world-wide economic measure are required on their say-so. "No worse than Marc Morano" is not going to help you. I don't trust him, I won't trust you.

There is a second issue here which Bengtsson is bringing up, aside from the issue of trust. There are some scientific issues where I find it impossible to believe that scientists themselves can do their jobs. Just as an example, studies of race and gender in intelligence. I have absolutely no idea what the correct conclusions are from the science. I do have a strong feeling that the scientists themselves have no chance of doing correct work. You can't do science when people are going to subject your work to a political test, where some conclusions aren't allowed.
I'm getting some of that feeling here too, though maybe it's a side point. As I said, if he joined Greenpeace, no one would blink, even they are probably as unscientific and partisan as GWPF. But this particular scientist felt that his understanding of things led him closer to GWPF (I assume he doesn't agree with everything they say - they are politicians, but close enough that he can talk to them.) Note that several comments triumphantly _caught him_ (!) in skeptical kinds of statements. The minute you tell me that that is unacceptable, in that minute you make me nervous that I can't trust your science either. That's close enough to what I mean by "suppressing adverse opinions". Your biases are too strong.

Mark Ryan said...




Mike, fair enough. The formulation you have criticised was poor –not least because it was not very communicative. Let me have another go.
One of the things that makes scientific research communities unique is that they feature cultures that explicitly reject politicisation and aim for objectivity (broadly, these are often called ‘Mertonian Norms’, and have been well documented by many –one of my favourites being the late philosopher of science, John Ziman) . Of course, objectivity is a goal that is never completely realised, but we don’t need to impose an idealised image of science - we need only recognise that this culture is one of the reasons why scientific communities create reliable knowledge so consistently over time, and more consistently than any other kind of community.
To say there is a cultural striving to objectivity means that the community treats it as an ethical and moral imperative. Lennart Bengtsson’s political views would barely raise eyebrows among climate scientists, but when he publicly aligns himself with people who make claims of “scams” and “fraud” against climate scientists, and when, in his own public comments, Bengtsson reduces other climate scientists’ work to a mere function of political bias, he offends the professional ethics of his peers. It’s not only perfectly natural that these actions should cause offence –it’s good. It’s good because it reflects how seriously this particular scientific community takes its values.
The fact is that the mainstream position on climate science is not the result of climate scientists’ politics. It has political implications, which means there is a large community of politicians and activists who draw on, popularise, and sometimes distort, the work of the scientific community –but it is a mistake to assume that the people with whom Bengtsson has associated in the climate science community are largely political. In fact, it is quite clear that the vast majority of climate scientists avoid political activity all together, and even amongst those scientists whose names we may be familiar with, most see their roles as public communicators of science.
I actually cannot think of a mainstream climate scientist who is a member of an explicitly political organisation –no doubt others could suggest some names. James Hansen is an interesting example –he quit his role as a scientist so he could work uncompromised on the politics of climate change. But joining the GWPF was not joining an alternative scientific body; it was explicitly political. Looking at the IOP reviewer comments, we can see that one of them interpreted Bengtsson as making an argument better suited to politics than his scientific community; if this annoyed the reviewer, it would do so because of a progressive culture of scientific ethics.
Don’t simply take Bengtsson’s claim that his peers are political at face value, when he is the only explicitly political person in this situation. The other challenge is to avoid assuming that the opinions of blogs who defend the science of anthropogenic climate change represent the thousands of people who have contributed to the science of anthropogenic climate change.

MikeR said...

Thanks for this reply, Mark - it is much clearer.
But "I actually cannot think of a mainstream climate scientist who is a member of an explicitly political organisation"
Judith Curry reacted to a similar claim with this post:
http://judithcurry.com/2014/05/20/climate-scientists-joining-advocacy-groups/
Obviously not an exhaustive list. Apparently there are a whole lot of them. And I really can't understand what you would think is wrong with it. It's fine. Let scientists go where they will, do what they will.
I think you're mistaken about your description of scientists' mindset. I don't think that very many scientists would look down on a scientist that became an advisor to the Audubon Society. I don't think you would. Rather, you and the commenters here are just much much more sensitive to joining a skeptic organization ("flat earth society") than its exact equivalents on the other side.
Indeed, given the recent (explicit) political machinations involved in the IPCC SPMs, at least part of the IPCC is as political as the GWPF or Audubon. I think you're fooling yourself. You agree with them more, that's all.
[I imagine the next stage in the discussion, here or elsewhere, is an attempt to prove that the organizations on Curry's list and all such are _totally different_ from GWPF.]

Let scientists go where they will - there is no other way to do science. The problem here is not what Bengtsson did, it is how you reacted to it. You should have said, "He wants to investigate UFOs? Weird. But maybe he'll learn something interesting."

Victor Venema said...

Interesting that your and Curry's classification of advocacy groups is along political lines and not with respect to their position on science.

While I do not particularly like Greenpeace for the way they are organized, I have yet to read something written by them on climate that was obviously wrong. And I certainly do not recall any campaigns by Greenpeace against climate scientists.

In this respect, I do not see a climate scientist joining Greenpeace as similar (but politically opposite) to joining GWPF.

MikeR said...

"I do not see a climate scientist joining Greenpeace as similar (but politically opposite) to joining GWPF." Awesome. As I predicted:
"[I imagine the next stage in the discussion, here or elsewhere, is an attempt to prove that the organizations on Curry's list and all such are _totally different_ from GWPF.]" You, of course, are the judge, and thereby give others permission to attack Bengtsson for his objectively wrong choice. If he would disagree with you, even think exactly the opposite with GWPF and Greenpeace reversed, it wouldn't matter to you. No one can really disagree with you in good faith, correct?
Don't expect me to think much of this process.

Victor Venema said...

My apologies, I did not want to be upsetting. And now I am forced to become even more obnoxious, because you forgot to give arguments and without arguments I cannot respond sensibly. Except maybe by saying that I think I am not as important as you suggest.

Mark Ryan said...

Mike, you are right of course, that scientists should be as free as any other citizen to be involved with political groups. It makes no sense to be a ‘denier’ about some climate scientists getting involved with environmental groups –although as I already stated, the vast majority of scientists are not actively political at all.

The important difference between Greenpeace and the GWPF is not that they are different ends of the political spectrum, it is that, on the question of climate change, one has no argument with science, while the other is actively attacking the climate science community and producing pseudoscience. Consider this:

Imagine somebody saying “I’m sure the IPCC is right, I don’t doubt the science. I expect extreme weather, rising sea levels, heat waves and agricultural disruption to be a big part of my children’s lives. But I don’t really care; it’s their problem, and anyway my family is rich and I have too many shares in Exxon to risk reducing my wealth now.” I suggest that if a climate scientist took such a position, it would be no more likely to cause offence than it would in the general community.
No doubt plenty of people out there hold such views, but you almost never hear of them in public forums. That is because, since the late twentieth century, there are certain risks in modern society that are almost universally considered wrong. Tobacco companies could never acknowledge that their addictive products had an 85% chance of killing people, but then argue it was morally acceptable –they had to instead try and undermine the very factual status of the link between smoking and cancer. They perfected a mode of argument that sets aside a genuinely political argument about values, instead creating an alternative counter-science –“merchants of doubt”, as Naomi Oreskes puts it.

That is what the GWPF does. In the 1990s especially, and over issues such as nuclear power and genetically modified organisms, many environmental groups do it. It just so happens that if a climate scientist joins an environmental advocacy group in 2014, he or she is extremely unlikely to consequently accuse their peers of being political conspirators. If a geneticist working in the field of GMO were to join Greenpeace, there would be very different tensions (look up Mark Lynas, and you can see similar counter-science arguments about GMO, to the ones we often see about global warming).

The only way it makes sense to argue that scientists joining GWPF is comparable to a scientist joining Greenpeace, is if we really do think that scientific findings are constructed to serve political ends. In the end, this would be a conspiracy theory, and would not be able to account for how science is even possible.

I hope I am now being more clear.

Mark Ryan said...

Incidentally, I really wish there were more politically conservative organisations that conscientious climate scientists could join -even ones like my hypothetical "I know it's happening, but it's not important to me" person. At least that would bring the political debate about what to do about climate change into the daylight.

As it stands, the drive to deny the science -and thereby impugn the integrity of the scientists- is so dominant in conservative politics right now, that the political peer pressure makes the idea of a scientifically open (or even literate) conservative an endangered species.

The dilemma for someone like Bengtsson is that, if the attraction of right wing politics is very strong for him, the pressure to articulate that in the form of rejecting his erstwhile scientific colleagues is just as strong.

MikeR said...

Mark, I think you are being more clear - but not necessarily in the way you want.
'“I’m sure the IPCC is right, I don’t doubt the science...But I don’t really care; it’s their problem, and anyway my family is rich and I have too many shares in Exxon to risk reducing my wealth now.”'..."No doubt plenty of people out there hold such views..."
Apparently, you are trying to describe what conservative political activists or leaders may _really_ think deep down, but perhaps cannot say out loud. This is your only alternative to what they are actually saying, a way of getting what they want without sounding too bad.
I've been associated with conservative political causes for quite some time now, and spend a fair amount of time reading what they write, and talking to them. I have never met a conservative who thinks like that. Not one.

Much closer to the actual point of view of essentially every literative conservative I know:
'Science is complicated. Those models haven't been working too well recently. But even if the IPCC is right about everything, they have big error bars. Sensitivity to CO2 may be somewhere between 1.5 and 4.5. 1.5 or thereabouts would very likely be no problem. And the IPCC says that very extreme "tipping points" are pretty unlikely.'
'The best science says that AGW will probably cause some considerable damage, true. But the solutions generally proposed will cause even more. Many top economists think that mitigation returns only pennies on the dollar - which means that it will kill more people than it saves, by keeping them in poverty.
'This issue has been siezed by people who don't care about science; they care about getting their anti-technology solutions imposed on society. You said that Greenpeace has no argument with the science? They do. They don't accept any of the IPCC results that really disastrous outcomes are unlikely; they talk about them constantly. They only accept the results that they like. Their real goal is that they hate every aspect of modern techonology. We have to oppose them because they too are trying to do more damage than AGW can ever do.
'We need to demand much more clarity that the problem is bigger than the solution - before we let people impose short-sighted feel-good solutions that will actually kill a lot of people. Convince us first. I'm not anti-science, but I have a big prior against these kind of solutions, and will need a lot more evidence than someone from Greenpeace does, who wants everyone to stop using electricity anyhow.'
That is what every educated conservative I know says, and thinks. It would be absurd to say that the rich ones are secretly harboring evil schemes, when what I'm describing fits perfectly well with conservative thought.

How is that you apparently have no clue what conservatives think? Why would you assume an absurd caricature of their views? But that is a feature of living in a bubble, and only hearing people who agree with your politics. How could anyone disagree with you, unless they don't care about poor people?

Obviously, this should make one suspect that your judgments of GWPF are unreliable as well. Maybe they really are interested in science - you would never know it. You will automatically interpret anything they do in the most negative possible way, every mistake a lie, every question a mistake. Whereas the Audobon Society to you is a bunch of really good guys who may sometimes get carried away. Maybe GWPF aren't anti-science, just anti- some people who have let their politics overwhelm their ability to think straight.

Mark Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Ryan said...

Mike, you have made me a lot more ‘clear’ than I am, taking 2 +2 and getting 5. Actually, in seeing red, you’ve painted me red. I’m much more conservative than you seem to you think I am; my real interest is in how our society deals with scientific knowledge in the light of the pervasive scepticism in circulation –big contributors to which, were ‘left’ postmodern academics of the 1970s -1990s.

I try to write carefully, and I did not state that the cynical position was a generic conservative position. I did not mean to imply that you, your folks, or you neighbour hold the views of my hypothetical. Nonetheless, I apologise for any offence to you. I’ll put it down as another lesson in communication.

My point –and this is precisely what I wrote- is that even a person who had such a position would not raise the ire of his colleagues because they are scientists especially, but simply because they are citizens. I was using an extreme example to illustrate my main argument, that it is attacks on fellow scientists’ integrity, and poor scientific practice, which understandably raises the blood pressures of Bengtsson’s peers. My example to illustrate a point has evidently become, for you, (more than) my entire point.

But while we’re at it, I really do think a handful of people hold those views –and they have played a key role in shaping the debate around global warming. They are not typical conservatives, they are a small number of politicians and some corporate lawyers, like the ones who shilled for the tobacco industry in the past, and who shill for corporations today. These are political guns for hire, who I think have the cynical, amoral outlook of my hypothetical extremist. Maybe I’m too cynical about politicians and lawyers, but there you are. Those guys invented the strategy of arguing for alternative facts when the established evidence had clear moral implications. Their strategy has been so successful that it caused think tanks to turn towards producing their own alternative versions of natural science in the 1980s, a role they have played ever since. They have successfully created a public culture in which it is quite normal to utterly conflate science and politics.

You dispute my characterisation of Greenpeace as having no argument with climate science. On reflection, Greenpeace is probably one of those organisations which would struggle to recruit active climate scientists –and you should note that none of the scientists mentioned on Judith Curry’s list are Greenpeace members. I agree with you that many Green activists make up a milieu around the climate science community which amplifies and exaggerates, often beyond the scientific evidence, and I’ve met many staunch supporters of the IPCC who understand not one bit of the science. I’ve even been called a ‘denier’ by some activists for pointing that you can’t claim ‘weather’ when it’s cold, but ‘climate’ when it’s hot. So I take your point; from the standpoint of scientists getting involved, the Union of Concerned Scientists is a better example. In any case, my point –precisely- was that scientists who join environmental groups are unlikely to impugn the integrity of their peers, and that is obviously why one would not expect as much criticism as when a peer joins a group like the GWPF –not because climate scientists are secretly Greenies.

As for your own characterisation of the conservative position (is that now you, also, being ‘clear’?) it contains a range of points that are addressed at great length in many other places. As a society, we should be debating topics like the costs of mitigation, but how can we do so when the dominant GOP line nowadays is that there’s nothing to mitigate?

MikeR said...

Thanks for your clarification. I took no offense, but I was taken aback by your characterization. I continue to dispute your claim that there is a cadre of powerful evil geniuses behind anti-AGW sentiment. Just because it was true for tobacco doesn't make it true here. I think that Judith Curry has already pointed out that organizations like the Heartland Institute are really trivial influences in the climate debate; the real damage to the public perception of AGW has been done by a few completely independent science bloggers, not paid by anyone, who happen to be effective at attacking some of the science (McIntyre is the canonical example). Follow the money; there is very little out there for anti-AGW, near as anyone can tell. Greenpeace is far far richer than all of them put together.
Anyhow, this conspiracy-type theory is completely unnecessary. The simple answer happens to be true: as we both agree, American conservatives (and some elsewhere) are anti-AGW because of the solutions suggested, which as I said gives them a big prior against accepting the evidence. "Extraordinary claims [in this case, solutions] require extraordinary evidence."

And again, none of this means that GWPF is a pawn of those evil magnates. They have some real published working climate scientists with them (Nic Lewis and Richard Tol come to mind), they seem to do advocacy, and that to me sounds exactly the same as Greenpeace. Everything else seems to be an invention of those who automatically class anything skeptical as anti-science haters. I have seen people going on at length about some dispute about their tax-exempt status...

Jon said...

"Just because it was true for tobacco doesn't make it true here."

It's not simply an assumption that the skeptics of anthropogenic climate change are applying the same tactics pioneered by sellers of tobacco. It's well documented in, most prominently, "The Merchants of Doubt" that they're doing so, that in fact many of the same people who pioneered those tactics with tobacco moved on to apply them to climate change.

EliRabett said...

If nothing else Heartland has become a conduit of significant funding to climate denialists fulfilling the same function they did/do wrt tobacco

Steve Bloom said...

Nic Lewis and Richard Tol are real published working climate scientists? Now pull the other one. Tol is an economist (with gremlin assistants) and Lewis had an idea for a paper that others turned into a much-disputed publication. They are certainly very talkative when it comes to climate science, though.

Steve Bloom said...

"I continue to dispute your claim that there is a cadre of powerful evil geniuses behind anti-AGW sentiment."

I think you need to take a closer look at the right-wing think-tank network, of which Heartland is more or less just the class clown. You might consider e.g. the early role of the Marshall Institute in promoting McIntyre, and how shortly thereafter the Wall Street Journal began doing the same. You might also bear in mind McKitrick's involvement in the Cornwall Alliance.

That the orchestrators had lots of fertile ground to plow, just as was the case with tobacco, doesn't mean there wasn't orchestration.

Magnus Westerstrand said...

Bengtsson Guest posting at our place....
http://uppsalainitiativet.blogspot.se/2014/05/guest-post-by-lennart-bengtsson-my-view.html

Mark Ryan said...

Now that you are being more clear Mike, let’s address a couple of claims.

Speaking of caricatures, you should forget the Greenpeace red-herring. You state the IPCC is less alarmist than Greenpeace, but the IPCC’s genuine summation of the state of knowledge in climate science is more than clear that most human communities are in for serious harm if we do not cut greenhouse gas emissions. Pointing out the excesses of Greenpeace does not alter the two key facts that:

a) Greenpeace are way, way less wrong than Heartland, the Cato Institute, the GWPF or the NIPCC;

b) Greenpeace did not develop the world’s scientific understanding of climate change.

Using your “follow the money” argument, can you show me how Greenpeace has funded NASA, NOAA, the AAAS, the Royal Society, the Hadley Centre, or any of the universities and research centres that have produced over 10,000 individual papers about climate change? Are you suggesting "the money" should tell us whether all of that evidence is really just confected for some other purpose?Perhaps “following the money” leads us to Governments. But then why aren’t they implementing the policies the supposedly compromised, subservient scientists recommend? What money would you have followed to the US Navy treating anthropogenic climate change as a significant security risk?

Using your “follow the money” argument, ask who owns The Times –where the misleading beat-up about Bengtsson’s rejected article was published- and check his political affiliations (and shareholdings). While you’re at it, follow the money to see who has contributed over a million dollars to Sen James Inhofe’s campaign funds.

The “follow the money” argument has to draw long bows and make all kinds of inferences and insinuations to have us believe there is a conspiracy of climate scientists for …what? Grant money? A conspiracy for them all to make the average wage? But it only needs to look at the public record to see who the Shills are. And the Shills have far more influence, not just because they are in positions of economic, political and cultural power –but because nobody is holding them to account for what they say. No peer review to fact check Inhofe’s researchers or Murdoch’s front page, or Fox News’ headline.

The issue isn’t so simple as there being a small group of “evil magnates”, as you put it. My ‘taxonomy’ of the climate change issue has –in ascending order of population size- Shills, scientists, genuine skeptics, people in denial, believers and the ambivalent. The shills are the smallest numerically, but they have devoted many thousands of hours, for over four decades now, to circulate memes and create a network for the partisan dissemination of their own ‘facts’. Polls indicate there are more ‘believers’ than there are people in denial (by which I mean the term the way psychologists use it) –neither group is particularly scientifically literate, but choose their facts based on their prior ideologies. There are probably no more genuine skeptics than there are scientists themselves, because the politicisation of this question pushes engaged people one way or another.

But if you doubt the influence of the Shills and think tanks in framing this debate, ask yourself:
How many people make a decision after reading primary scientific papers, or IPCC papers, about climate change? How many people first learn about climate science from mass media?

MikeR said...

[Mark]"Greenpeace are way, way less wrong than Heartland, the Cato Institute, the GWPF or the NIPCC". Let's leave off all but GWPF. Tell me what they claim (please provide an example). I have no reason to think they are claiming a "hoax". Perhaps you are just assuming that? The people there I see are Lewis and Tol, and neither of them says anything remotely like that.
And who says that Greenpeace is less wrong? To me, someone who assumes disastrous, tipping point types of results is at least as wrong, or who assumes that mitigation is all gain and no loss, since my interest is always going to be the impacts. The IPCC says those tipping point results are unlikely. And Greenpeace is _more_ wrong than someone like Nic Lewis who thinks that climate sensitivity is pretty low and impacts likely to be small, as that is entirely possible within the IPCC results.

"can you show me how Greenpeace has funded NASA, NOAA, the AAAS, the Royal Society, the Hadley Centre, or any of the universities and research centres that have produced over 10,000 individual papers about climate change?" I find this totally incomprehensible. Who suggested any such thing, or believes it? The scientists do science, and the political activists do politics, whether they are GWPF or Greenpeace. Both groups take what the scientists say and try to get what they want with it.
This applies to almost everything you wrote from that point onward. Which idiot believes in a conspiracy, on either side? There are a bunch of political activists, on both sides, trying to get what they want. The liberal ones have much more money. "No peer review to fact check Inhofe’s researchers or Murdoch’s front page, or Fox News’ headline." Did you notice that you only picked conservative shills? Why did you list the Cato Institute and ignore pretty much every liberal university's political science department in the world, and every liberal think tank, and almost every newspaper? Exciting new pro-AGW scientific papers get press worldwide, even when they are bad or misleading - because liberals like what they say. There are a lot of politicians out there.

[Eli]"If nothing else Heartland has become a conduit of significant funding to climate denialists fulfilling the same function they did/do wrt tobacco" Didn't you see Peter Gleick's "expose"? Heartland spends almost nothing on climate denialists. I'm sure Gleick was looking for tens of millions of dollars. It's imaginary. They make a newsletter and send it to Congressmen and stuff.

Do you never read comment threads? It is almost impossible for me to read one on an article on climate change, without seeing something like 95% of comments as completely illiterate - half on one side and half on the other. "Soon no life will be possible on Earth..." Seems to me that you are doing something like, Greenpeace=scientific community=devotion to truth. GWPF=crazy commenter on Fox News=hoax=nuts. Perhaps you are the one influenced by a "denialist" propaganda campaign, designed to convince you that all the truth is on one side, and all the politics on the other. Note the commenters here that Nic Lewis and Richard Tol aren't "real" climate scientists. By definition.

Victor Venema said...

"The IPCC says those tipping point results are unlikely. And Greenpeace is _more_ wrong than someone like Nic Lewis who thinks that climate sensitivity is pretty low and impacts likely to be small, as that is entirely possible within the IPCC results."

The IPCC says that tipping points are unlike *until 2100* and I would be surprised if they say it with confidence.

The confidence we can have that your statement on Lewis and the climate sensitivity is wrong. There is a huge difference between the fact to you can throw a 1 with a dice and expecting that you will throw a 1. You have the same difference between the range of possible values of the IPCC and expecting that the lowest value will be what will happen.

For what it is worth, I regularly correct too alarmist statements by cRR Kampen. In the part of the internet I visit there are not so many others. Even if you claim not to notice it, there are a huge amount of comments that still claim the CO2 is not a greenhouse gas or that greenhouse gasses do not warm the surface. Just look at the war cries below the posts where Roy Spencer, Jo Nova or Anthony Watts suggest that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

MikeR said...

[Victor]"Even if you claim not to notice it, there are a huge amount of comments that still claim the CO2 is not a greenhouse gas or that greenhouse gasses do not warm the surface." Did you read what I said? I said that there are vast amounts of nonsensical comments, from both sides. I also asked if you could provide examples of nonsensical comments, from the GWPF. Seems to me that you are still playing this game, nonsensical Sky Dragon comments=GWPF=Fox News=Nic Lewis; nonsensical alarmist comments=don't count.

Your final paragraph makes little sense to me either. Nic Lewis is at low end of IPCC estimates, therefore he is probably wrong (you said, confidence?, don't see why), therefore...? Therefore he isn't really a climate scientist, as one commenter said above? Isn't the right conclusion that the range of opinions in climate science is wider than activists want to admit?

As near as I can tell, IPCC has low confidence that greenhouse warming will cause these very disastrous results. (Some of the results cease to be disastrous entirely if they are slow enough, like sea level rise.) Doesn't make me confident that disastrous results won't happen, but it should make anyone confident that organizations that claim them with certainty aren't that interested in science.

Victor Venema said...

VV: "Even if you claim not to notice it, there are a huge amount of comments that still claim the CO2 is not a greenhouse gas or that greenhouse gasses do not warm the surface."
MikeR: "Did you read what I said?"


Yes, you wrote above that the conservatives you knew would only claim that science is complicated. I do not meet these guys very often. I typically read comments by conservatives and libertarians that sprout the most unbelievable nonsense with great confidence. But maybe you never read WUWT and Climate Etc.

I think you are right to call on scientists to also criticise alarmists that make clearly wrong statements, but I do feel that you should correspondingly then also criticise the nonsense at WUWT and Co. I do not see many conservatives do so.

What Nic Lewis is writing is not my field, I cannot judge its validity. I only claimed that you were wrong and made no statement about Lewis. There are many climate "sceptics" that probably think my final paragraph makes no sense, who think that you can just arbitrarily pick a value in the lower range of the scientific confidence interval and be a moderate "sceptic". That not only happens for the climate sensitivity. It is about as weird as expecting to throw a one every time you throw a dice, rather than one in six times.

Tipping points do not equal disastrous outcomes. Gradual changes can be just as disastrous. And even if it is gradual on climatic time scales, that does not mean that as soon as you do not like it any more you can stop and everything will be good again. That also takes a long long time. I am Dutch, so I do not find it very convincing that sea level rise is no problem just because it is slow.

An older comment.

MikeR: "All the comments seem to be ignoring Bengtsson's actual claim, which was that he was overwhelmed by the quantity of venom that was hurled his way."

There is no evidence for this. Just Bengtssons claim. And his claim about colleagues no longer wanting to collaborate was already found to be exaggerated, it was just one. And his claim about resigning because of pressure from colleagues is not very believable in the light that the tone of his resignation letter only made matters worse.

MikeR said...

I think you're mixing two things I said. There is only one thing I claimed never to have heard: A conservative who says what Mark mentioned above, that he believes in climate change but doesn't care because "my family is rich and I have too many shares in Exxon to risk reducing my wealth now". That is the imaginary point of view that doesn't really exist. There are plenty of fools who reject the science. As I pointed out, they are on both sides, and seem to be about 95% of the comments on some sites.

"Gradual changes can be just as disastrous. And even if it is gradual on climatic time scales... I am Dutch, so I do not find it very convincing that sea level rise is no problem just because it is slow." Non sequitur, I think. There is a big difference between "no problem", and "disastrous". Slow sea level change would not be disastrous; surely that is obvious? It would be a problem, though - a problem that any rational person would probably decide to deal with by adaptation.

I quite understand that Bengtsson's claim is all based on his word. I'm afraid that I find the claim believable, given that pro-AGW commenters everywhere are basically saying that he had it coming. It's probably not fair to expect pro-AGW scientists to be savvy PR guys, but I really think a little more sense would help your cause. If you want to present yourselves as the impartial scientists against partisan yahoos, it would be better if you tried to sound impartial. What would it have cost you to rally to his support, pour out some sympathy, and denounce anyone who might have insulted him? Isn't it obvious that that is the way to act if you really care about saving the world? Do you _want_ Fox News to have a weapon against you that you designed yourself?

Victor Venema said...


You still act as if the situation is symmetrical. yes there are alarmists and "sceptics" that hold positions that do not fit to our current understanding or are even plainly wrong, but there are many more "sceptics" with such views. Do you have any analogy for the comment threats at WUWT on the alarmist side? And WUWT is only mainstream "scepticism"; there are much worse places.

It is not my field, but an economist would assume that a rational person would take the cheapest solution and according to the economists that is mitigation (as summarised in the IPCC WG3 report).

I have seen scientists state that it would be natural if some of Bengtsson's colleagues would have written him asking what the hell he was doing. That includes me. In fact, I would hope that if I would make a mistake like that my peers would have to guts to write to me and question my decision.

It is interesting that you do not appreciate this as scientists being honest, but rather as a PR failure. Well PR is for WUWT. Science is for scientists.

If scientists would denounce anyone who might have insulted him, that would look as if that is likely. Knowing my colleagues and the culture in the scientific community, this is very unlikely and would thus give a completely wrong impression. Outside of science, it is a good rule not to answer hypothetical questions, especially extremely unlikely ones.

There is one thing I am even more sure of, none of the mails will have been as horrible as the abuse a mainstream scientist has to endure by the climate "sceptics". I am sure you will denounce the way The Pointman has treated me for politely asking for evidence. This is not just a random extremist post. Judith Curry at Climate Etc. recommends her readers to read this post.

Do you _want_ MSNBC to have a weapon against you that you designed yourself? And this has happened, just yesterday, it is not just a hypothetical case.

MikeR said...

"a rational person would take the cheapest solution and according to the economists that is mitigation (as summarised in the IPCC WG3 report)." I assume you are aware that there are Nobel Prize winning economists who believe that mitigation is one of the worst deals around, returning pennies on the dollar spent, and killing people now in order to save hardly anyone later. On this there is no consensus at all.

'There is one thing I am even more sure of, none of the mails will have been as horrible as the abuse a mainstream scientist has to endure by the climate "sceptics". I am sure you will denounce the way The Pointman has treated me for politely asking for evidence.' It's hard to believe you are serious. Your getting kicked off somebody else's random blog is "more horrible" than a scientist receiving who knows how many abusive emails because he decided to talk to some people you don't approve of. If you think that will work, I suggest taking your harrowing experience to MSNBC.

You may not care about PR, but again, if you care about the planet, you'll pay more attention to the impression you're giving.

MikeR said...

Hmm - Richard Betts comments:
http://judithcurry.com/2014/05/24/are-climate-scientists-being-forced-to-toe-the-line/#comment-570232
'Last year, the president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, wrote to Lord Lawson saying:
“It is important to have a range of opinions in the public debate about climate change and the GWPF that you chair could play a role in that debate, but the GWPF has lost its way. The Foundation needs to have more mainstream active and expert climate scientists giving it advice.”
My question is, how is Sir Paul’s recommendation to be addressed? Prof Bengtsson has been described as “coming out as a climate denier” for joining the GWPF’s advisory board. Would this criticism be levelled at any mainstream climate scientist who chose to advise the GWPF? If so, how can Sir Paul’s recommendation be taken up?
Like it or not, the GWPF is not going to go away, and they will continue to comment publicly on climate science. To me, their criticisms often seem either ill-informed or deliberately undermining of individuals or scientific institutions (particularly the Met Office), often focussing on criticism of seasonal and decadal forecasts despite these being (a) clearly described as experimental (b) of little relevance to global warming (they are to much more to do with internal climate variability than long-term external forcing). However, with nobody in the GWPF circle telling them what can and cannot be expected of these forecasts, it is hardly surprising that their criticisms will be poorly-informed. While clearly the GWPF is a political organisation and will continue to take a particular position, surely it would be harder for them to criticise from a position of ignorance if there were somebody who actually knows about this areas of science on their own advisory board.
If Sir Paul’s letter to Lord Lawson is to be taken seriously, there should be space for somebody to give scientific advice to the GWPF in an objective manner. How can this be achieved?
[PS. I previously posted this at Uppsala Initiative but it's currently awaiting moderation approval. I thought it might be relevant here too.]'

EliRabett said...

Well, Eli is not quite as happy bunny about tipping points as Victor and the IPCC for a number of reasons.

On the theoretical side, if you think, as Eli does, of current climate as a multidimensional surface, one can model tipping points as crossing between one surface and another. The approach to such a point, is almost by definition rather steep (because if it were not we would wander into them very often and we don't), thus one can be committed to a tipping point change (on the steep slope and unable to climb out) without having reached it.

The recent papers on the WAIS ice sheet are an example, we are committed to a tipping point, the disintegration of the sheet, but we don't know when we will reach it, probably, in the next few hundred years, but probably not in this century. Cold comfort.

Also, the nearby tipping points related to climate change are, IEHO, much more likely to be biological than physical and biological (ecological) services are under multiple man made threats including climate change, pesticides, land use changes, etc. and we depend on these things. A WG Ib, b being biological is needed to synthesize these things.

Victor Venema said...

Interesting, because Victor does not even know if he is a happy bunny. Some might say, Eli surely not, that he was only pointing out that the IPCC was not completely quoted and that the confidence in such statements is low.

EliRabett said...

Eli suspects you need to meet the little guy

Victor Venema said...

Note to self: never discuss bunnies with bunnies.

Magnus Westerstrand said...

Here I give some background to the Bengtsson saga:
http://uppsalainitiativet.blogspot.se/2014/05/lennart-bengtsson-and-his-media-gambit.html
In English

Pehr Björnbom said...

I am active in the climate debate in Sweden as a writer at the blog Stockholmsinitiativet, Klimatupplysningen (Stockholm Initiative, Climate Enlightment). I have got the impression that Eli Rabett, a commenter here, believes that Klimatupplysningen, where Lennart Bengtsson have published guest posts and comments, in Sweden corresponds to GWPF.

That is completely wrong, Klimatupplysningen is only aimed at debating climate science and climate policy and has no political orientation. Each writer has of course her or his personal political orientation but this varies from person to person.

I don't disclose my political orientation in detail in public but I can tell so much that I am a feminist and believe in free migration as a basic principle. I have also revealed that in my posts and comments in the blog, which has rendered me some reactions from irritated commenters who have another opinion on those issues. But I think it's important to defend those basic human values even on a climate blog.


Pehr Björnbom
Writer on Klimatupplysningen