Nature News: “Attack sparks memories of McCarthy witch-hunt.”
Nature, the highly respected British scientific journal, has an excellent editorial and news story tomorrow on the recent assault on climate science (excerpted below).
Taking Nature‘s advice, I urge the administration to send science advisor Holdren and NOAA Administrator Lubchenco and Energy Secretary Chu on a media blitz and national tour to explain and emphasize the science.
Nature is among the few journals “that still publish original research articles across a wide range of scientific fields,” including climate science. It has been a leader in defending climate science (see the December Nature editorial: “Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real “” or that human activities are almost certainly the cause.”)
The news story (subs. req’d) is:
Climate e-mail rerun
Attack sparks memories of McCarthy witch-hunt.
The story is about the latest set of e-mails among climate scientists, which led to Dr. George Woodwell setting the record straight here. Those emails in turn had been stimulated by Sen. Inhofe inquisition seeking ways to criminalize and prosecute 17 leading climate scientists.
Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University in California who is on Inhofe’s list and participated in the National Academy discussion, says he is urging colleagues to calm down and stick to the science. And he hopes that the Inhofe report “” which says the scientists “violated fundamental ethical principles governing taxpayer-funded research and, in some cases, may have violated federal laws” “” will spark a backlash….
As a member of the minority party, Inhofe can’t do much more than issue statements and reports. But Schneider says that if the Republicans later regain a majority in the Senate, Inhofe could take more concrete steps, such as forcing climate scientists to testify before Congress and pursuing his claims in congressional hearings.
Scientific societies, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Geophysical Union, should respond to Inhofe’s report with a declaration of support, says Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey who is also on Inhofe’s list. “Defending the scientific community and scientists from attacks ought to be a central part of their mission.”
The AAAS and other scientific organizations have repeatedly affirmed the fundamental science of global warming…. Alan Leshner, AAAS chief executive, says he is focused on trying to ensure that policy-makers distinguish between the controversies and the science. “What I don’t want to see is that this set of incidents is used as an excuse to deny the scientific findings.”
The editorial (subs. req’d) is even more blunt:
Climate of fear
The integrity of climate research has taken a very public battering in recent months. Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight.
Climate scientists are on the defensive, knocked off balance by a re-energized community of global-warming deniers who, by dominating the media agenda, are sowing doubts about the fundamental science. Most researchers find themselves completely out of their league in this kind of battle because it’s only superficially about the science. The real goal is to stoke the angry fires of talk radio, cable news, the blogosphere and the like, all of which feed off of contrarian story lines and seldom make the time to assess facts and weigh evidence. Civility, honesty, fact and perspective are irrelevant.
… Ecologist Paul Ehrlich at Stanford University in California says that his climate colleagues are at a loss about how to counter the attacks. “Everyone is scared shitless, but they don’t know what to do,” he says.
Researchers should not despair. For all the public’s confusion about climate science, polls consistently show that people trust scientists more than almost anybody else to give honest advice. Yes, scientists’ reputations have taken a hit….
… scientists must acknowledge that they are in a street fight, and that their relationship with the media really matters. Anything strategic that can be done on that front would be useful, be it media training for scientists or building links with credible public-relations firms. In this light, there are lessons to be learned from the current spate of controversies. For example, the IPCC error was originally caught by scientists, not sceptics. Had it been promptly corrected and openly explained to the media, in full context with the underlying science, the story would have lasted days, not weeks. The IPCC must establish a formal process for rapidly investigating and, when necessary, correcting such errors.
The unguarded exchanges in the UEA e-mails speak for themselves. Although the scientific process seems to have worked as it should have in the end, the e-mails do raise concerns about scientific behaviour and must be fully investigated. Public trust in scientists is based not just on their competence, but also on their perceived objectivity and openness. Researchers would be wise to remember this at all times, even when casually e-mailing colleagues….
The [recent email] discussion was spurred by a report last month from Senator James Inhofe (Republican, Oklahoma), the leading climate sceptic in the US Congress, who labelled several respected climate scientists as potential criminals “” nonsense that was hardly a surprise considering the source. Some scientists have responded by calling for a unified public rebuttal to Inhofe, and they have a point. As a member of the minority party, Inhofe is powerless for now, but that may one day change….
The core science supporting anthropogenic global warming has not changed. This needs to be stated again and again, in as many contexts as possible. Scientists must not be so naive as to assume that the data speak for themselves. Nor should governments. Scientific agencies in the United States, Europe and beyond have been oddly silent over the recent controversies. In testimony on Capitol Hill last month, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, offered at best a weak defence of the science while seeming to distance her agency’s deliberations from a tarnished IPCC. Officials of her stature should be ready to defend scientists where necessary, and at all times give a credible explanation of the science.
Here’s my suggestion to the administration. Launch a cross-country tour and media blitz with the science advisor (see “John Holdren on the hacked emails and the state of climate science“) and NOAA Administrator (see “The Sounds of Science: Lubchenco gives a demonstration of the science of ocean acidification“)
They should be joined by local scientists and, whenever possible, our energy secretary (see Nobelist Chu on IPCC and emails, “this is a little wart on the overall amount of information”; questions “asymmetric” standard skeptics are held to).
When you are in a street fight, you want to bring your biggest guns.