Sunday, November 25, 2007

Richard Black (BBC) on scepticism

Many of you have presumably noticed that BBC environment correspondent Richard Black has written a bit about climate change "scepticism" recently. I think the first article was this one, which described his attempts to get some sense out of the sceptics, and then there was this "top ten" of sceptic arguments. As Gavin (who helped him on that article) says, that top ten was a pretty lame affair. That's not a criticism of Richard Black, but rather an indication of how completely irrelevant the "climate sceptics" are. They simply aren't part of the scientific debate - "is it happening, and is it caused by us" is just not an interesting question these days, and hasn't been for some time now. That's not to say there aren't plenty of interesting questions to ask, but in terms of policy decision these are things like: how bad the effects of climate change are going to be, what sort of policy decisions will be effective in reducing emissions, and how we should trade off the welfare of future generations against the current population. I suppose the very last sentence of Black's 10th talking point hints at some of this ("And some economists believe that a warmer climate would, on balance, improve lives"), but up to that point the whole page was just red herrings.

Incidentally, I was amused to read that Steve "Junk Scientist" Milloy wasn't able to find a single Climate Sceptic in the whole state of Texas. Of course it's long been clear that they were a dwindling band of "gone emeritus" types shouting well above their weight, but this is a rather nice demonstration of that fact. The resounding defeat of the Australian Govt could be (and in some quarters, is) seen in a similar light. Whether or not the successor there will actually do anything, or just talk a good talk and then continue business as usual (eg) is another matter. But I'm digressing.

Anyway, another of Richard Black's articles was an investigation into "censorship". Some time ago, he asked for any evidence to back up the occasional claims that the reason why there is no sceptical science is because it is censored by the gatekeepers of the peer-review system. Apparently someone (several people?) had pointed him towards my multiply-rejected paper "Can we believe in high climate sensitivity", so he phoned me up for a chat about it. As is clear from his article, I don't really see this as "censorship of scepticism" so much as gatekeepers doing their usual thing of defending the status quo. In fact as I blogged at the time, a fair proportion of the reviewers actually supported publication, it was the journal editors who seemed to be the main obstacle (and to those who claimed at the time it was "unethical" to discuss reviews, Hansen doesn't seem to think so). I do think that the need to create and support a "consensus" on climate science has acted to stifle debate on the issues we have tried to raise. I expect that had we found an "exciting" result, the publishing world would have been more receptive, but (as that last link shows) even Hansen has trouble when he tries to push the Overton window too far. Ultimately the story probably has more to do with personal politics than some global conspiracy.

There's another lengthy article on the same topic here on the BBC editors' blog. It summarises some results from a poll I was involved in:
In a recent survey of 140 climate scientists, 18 percent found the IPCC too alarming but 82 percent either thought the IPCC represented a reasonable consensus – or said it was not alarming enough. No one agreed with the statement that global warming is a fabrication and that human activity is not having a significant effect.
Amusingly (but frustratingly), this research also seems to be too hot to handle, with the editor of EOS reluctant to publish it...


bigcitylib said...

Well, again, I think the problem with your poll is an ambiguity around the phrase "the science is settled". There are two ways of interpreting that. For example (to switch cases), the science might not be settled because 1) we don't know whether planets orbit in circles around the earth or in elipses around the sun, or 2) we don't know the exact nature of the elipses the planets orbiting the sun orbit in. You seem to be arguing for something like 2), but in the broader political realm you are likely to be interpreted as arguing against 1). Did Pielke suggest this wording?

But even in the latter case, your poll seems to confirm that there are indeed no pure deniers in the climate science community and that about 75% of climate scientists think things are AT LEAST AS BAD AS the IPCC indicates. Isn't 75% a consensus?

James Annan said...

Well, that may be your problem with the paper but it cannot be a problem with the poll itself, since the phrase was not part of it.

Anyway, you can rest assured that EOS's consideration of the manuscript has not dealt with such minutiae (IMO) of the wording but rather rests on the broader concept of whether such a poll is in principle the sort of thing they are prepared to publish.

bigcitylib said...

If the paper does get published, that will be the phrase that gets seized upon in the wider debate over the issue(which was not part of the poll but part of your interpretation of what the poll results meant).

EliRabett said...

I had some discussion with Fergus about the wording of some of the questions, but as he said it made sense to hold off until it was published. In general, my opinion was that the questions could have been better put, because many of them allowed for rather vague interpretations. Also, I seem to have misplaced the link to his post.

James Annan said...

Hmmm. Maybe it was a mistake to mention the EOS thing in this post, as it's a bit of a side issue really. But since you mentioned it, I also don't think it was perfect, but I do think it was better than what has gone before (Bray and von Storch) and sufficiently interesting to publish. One purpose of doing that would be to encourage a larger response.

EliRabett said...

Agreed. I think my larger point was that survey design is an art that really requires experts of which I am not one. Of course, that is how to generate a push poll too.

Unknown said...

Just for Eli, here is the link to that particular thread:

I see that Roger the Elder is reopening for business (sans comments).

i recall, bcl, that we discussed the phrase at the time; in the end, we decided to keep it in. Since it adds nothing to the poll or the results, there is no real reason why we shouldn't take it out. The point we were trying to make can be equally well expressed by an alternative, though it is unlikely to provoke such a range of responses. Interesting to note that Richard Black uses the paper to demonstrate that there is a consensus, which is evidence that the meaning of a poll has as much to do with what the reader takes into it as what it actually says or does not say.


Lord Blagger said...

Looks like you have your evidence of censorship in the emails of the CRU

James Annan said...

I think Lindzen and Choi, Schwartz, Chylek, McLean all demonstrate that sceptics find it all too easy to publish junk.

Lord Blagger said...

Anyway, another of Richard Black's articles was an investigation into "censorship". Some time ago, he asked for any evidence to back up the occasional claims that the reason why there is no sceptical science is because it is censored by the gatekeepers of the peer-review system.

Was in the original post.

Now with the fuss about the CRU being in the open, we can have evidence of things being censored.

In another, Phil Jones, the director of the East Anglia climate center, suggested to climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State University that skeptics' research was unwelcome: We "will keep them out somehow -- even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!" Neither man could be reached for comment Sunday.


From one of the leaked email trails

ie. Richard Black asked for evidence of censorship, and in the emails there is plenty of evidence of censorship.

James Annan said...

Um..that was talking about what to write in a review chapter. The papers under discussion had already been published!

Lord Blagger said...

No, the email was about a posting on the BBC website. The academics were asking Richard Black to stop future skeptical postings.

James Annan said...

Nick, did you read the sentence immediately prior to the one you are quoting? It is *explicitly* talking about what will go in the IPCC report. The email predates Black's piece by three years!

Now please go away and stop being silly.

Lord Blagger said...

Or do you mean something like this?

It's in the emails too.