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What’s the difference between climate science and climate journalism?

By Joe Romm  

"What’s the difference between climate science and climate journalism?"


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The former is self-correcting, the latter has become self-destructive

UPDATE:  Revkin replies below with a tweet that pretty much makes my case.

UPDATE 2:  Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, whom the NYT itself quoted last year as “an expert on environmental communications,” writes me that Revkin “fundamentally misrepresents the actual history of climate science.” His full comments are below.

So New York Times blogger Andy Revkin has written perhaps his worst post yet. The blogosphere and my inbox are filled with the most amazing rebukes I’ve seen from scientists and others, which I’m reposting here, including Steve Easterbrook’s, “When did ignorance become a badge of honour for journalists?”

Revkin’s guilt-by-(distant)-association piece, “On Harvard Misconduct, Climate Research and Trust,” betrays a remarkable lack of understanding of the scientific process. And what is most ironic is that if you replace the word “research” with “reporting” — and “science” with “journalism” — throughout his piece, you get a much more plausible indictment of modern climate journalism.

As one of the country’s leading climatologists emails me (paraphrasing Revkin’s final graf):

Can we trust Andy Revkin to cover the science of climate change in an honest way without misquoting scientists, drawing false equivalencies, and interpreting all new findings through the myopic lens of a contrarian narrative? I wouldn’t be a scientist if I answered “yes”.

Science blogger Eli Rabett of Rabett Run fame writes (here):

A really depressing post, which just about kills any remaining credibility you ever had and it comes right above another one which shows how your ilk jumped on the bandwagon to libel Pachauri. That the original source has been forced to retract is cold comfort, the damage was already done.

In the huge IPCC report, only a few mistakes were found. Most of those that you blew hot air into have now been shown to be fabrications (see, for example the Amazon story, where the Sunday Times was forced to take down its article) yet you have the gall to claim that it is the scientists who are behaving badly.

I have corrected Eli’s typos and made the change he suggested. He now has a longer post that is well worth reading here.

Revkin says his piece arose this way:

Earlier this week I was invited to join an e-mail discussion involving a variegated array of scientists and science communicators exploring a provocative question posed by one of them….

The conversation encompassed the case of Marc Hauser, the Harvard specialist in cognition found guilty of academic misconduct, and assertions that climate research suffered far too much from group think, protective tribalism and willingness to spin findings to suit an environmental agenda.

The question? “Maybe science””in some fields, not necessarily all of them””is much more corrupt than anyone wants to acknowledge.”

Seriously? A Harvard scientist is found guilty of academic misconduct — and that’s spun into an excuse to pile on climate science, which has withstood multiple independent investigations in the past year?

Revkin can’t even point to an actual pattern of serious errors or misconduct by climate science to make his case — and by serious, I mean large enough to call into question a significant set of conclusions or research.

Remember that the single most attacked piece of climate research to this day, the Hockey Stick, was affirmed in a major review by the uber-prestigious National Academy of Scientists (in media-speak, the highest scientific “court” in the land) “” see NAS Report and here. The news story in the journal Nature (subs. req’d) on the NAS panel was headlined: “Academy affirms hockey-stick graph“! No such body would ever find “Academy affirms New York Times reporting on climate.”

Let’s make the switch I suggested:

… assertions that climate reporting suffered far too much from group think, protective tribalism and willingness to spin findings….

The question? “Maybe journalism””in some fields, not necessarily all of them””is much more corrupt than anyone wants to acknowledge.”

Wikipedia notes:

Jayson Blair (born March 23, 1976) is a former American reporter for The New York Times. He resigned from the newspaper in May 2003, in the wake of plagiarism and fabrication being discovered within his stories.

And unlike Revkin’s launching point for his story, the NYT has actually displayed a pattern here. As Slate explained in their story, “The Times Scoops That Melted: Cataloging the wretched reporting of Judith Miller“:

If reporters who live by their sources were obliged to die by their sources, New York Times reporter Judith Miller would be stinking up her family tomb right now. In the 18-month run-up to the war on Iraq, Miller grew incredibly close to numerous Iraqi sources, both named and anonymous, who gave her detailed interviews about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Yet 100 days after the fall of Baghdad, none of the sensational allegations about chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons given to Miller have panned out, despite the furious crisscrossing of Iraq by U.S. weapons hunters.

Talk about a consequential journalistic and tribalistic blunder!

Why precisely would anybody believe the New York Times again on a matter of national consequence, to go by Revkin’s standard?

And do get me started on their dreadful climate reporting, much of it by Revkin himself (see New York Times public editor files final report, never mentions the paper’s dreadful global warming coverage and links below).

Heck Revkin made this a stunning admission on NPR last fall: “I’ve made missteps. I’ve made probably more mistakes this year in my print stories than I had before.”

Modern journalism sets the standard for group-think and protective tribalism and willingness to spin findings….. Why do you think they call it pack journalism? Why do you think they call it the gaggle?

The difference between modern science and almost any other human enterprise is that science is self-correcting through the most rigorous process ever invented. That’s how we put 12 men on the moon and got them back. That’s how we beat scourges of humanity like smallpox. That’s how it even become possible your cell phone has vastly more computing power than the entire Apollo missions and I can communicate with hundreds of thousands of people by talking into a microphone, having my voice dictation software transcribe it into a blog post, which then gets sent across the web.

But here’s what Revkin writes:

A prime problem with climate science “” related to peer review “” is that it is implicitly done by very small tribes (sea ice folks, glacier folks, modelers, climate-ecologists, etc) so real peer review “” avoiding confirmation bias “” is tough, for sure.

Pretty much every aspect of scientific and medical research is done by small tribes. How many world-class, widely published experts are there on the safety of large-scale childhood vaccination programs? Let’s throw them overboard, too.

The scientific process is designed to eliminate confirmation bias as much as any human enterprise possibly can. It is modern journalism that is stuck in confirmation bias. Three letters: WMD.

As Scott Mandia, Professor of Physical Sciences at Suffolk County Community College, writes:

Tribalism or not (I think not), seas are rising faster and faster so why keep dredging up these climategate-type stories? 3C-5C is coming on our current emission trajectory and these values are essentially society-busters. Stories like this one just fuel those that wish to delay action. One could easily wind back several decades and claim that there may be tribalism with all of those “smoking causes cancer” researchers. They are all saying the same thing so, heck, there MUST be a level of group think, right?

Sometimes scientists converge on a similar set of findings because they are actually honing in on the truth. But all of the time scientists are the least tribal group I’ve ever met — they are all of the time desperately trying to poke holes in the work of their colleagues, because that’s how they’re trained and because that’s how they make a name for themselves.

Revkin asserts:

One other problem particular to climate research is that meaning only emerges when its tribes collaborate (sea level is not an oceanography question, but a glaciology question, etc.). Group think can emerge, and journals have been complicit.

Unadulterated B.S. without a shred of evidence to back it up, except for one tangentially related interview. Ironically, Revkin has managed to pick the one area where climate scientists have bent over backwards to be ultraconservative — the projection of likely sea level rise this century on our current emissions path (see Scientists withdraw low-ball estimate of sea level rise “” media are confused and anti-science crowd pounces).

Revkin asserts wildly:

There are periods of overstatement (as was the case in the grand Katrina-Gore-I.P.C.C. era)….

Huh? Revkin sweeps aside the entire IPCC era as a “period of overstatement”? And on what basis? He provides one link to his own absurdly out-of-date 2006 article, “Yelling ‘Fire’ on a Hot Planet” — an article that quotes precisely one climatologist, the now widely discredited Richard Lindzen (see Kerry Emanuel slams media, asserts Lindzen charge in Boston Globe is “pure fabrication” and Lindzen debunked again: New scientific study finds his paper downplaying dangers of human-caused warming is “seriously in error” – Trenberth: The flaws in Lindzen-Choi paper “have all the appearance of the authors having contrived to get the answer they got”). That 2006 article includes this uber-misleading statement:

The latest estimates, including a study published last week in the journal Nature, foresee a probable warming of somewhere around 5 degrees should the concentration of carbon dioxide reach twice the 280-parts-per-million figure that had been the norm on earth for at least 400,000 years. This is far lower than some of the apocalyptic projections in recent years, but also far higher than mild warming rates focused on by skeptics and industry lobbyists.

First off, most research has focused on the sensitivity to fast feedbacks (like polar amplification) while omitting analysis of the longer-term feedbacks like the melting of the tundra and the resulting emissions of methane and carbon dioxide. Second, a sensitivity of 5°F for a doubling is hardly “far lower” than typical sensitivity numbers, many “latest estimates” are higher, but in any case this framing that it somehow undercuts worst-case scenarios is misleading.  Relatedly, third, Revkin appears to be conflating the sensitivity to a doubling with projections of the total warming if we stay on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions and end up far higher than the 560 ppm doubling. I know for a fact that Revkin knows that we are headed for far beyond 560 ppm on our current emissions path — as he has communicated that directly to me. But he continues to mislead on this subject even now — see Revkin’s DotEarth hypes disinformation posted on an anti-science website.

It is laughable to associate the IPCC era with a period of overstatement. One can state with very high confidence that history will judge the IPCC era of the last decade as a period of gross understatement. In a AAAS presentation this year, William R. Freudenburg of UC Santa Barbara discussed his research on “the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge“: New scientific findings are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is “worse than previously expected,” rather than “not as bad as previously expected”

I would have thought Revkin would be too embarrassed to cite that 2006 article ever again. Yet Revkin blithely asserts:

But the outcomes most consequential to society remain the least clear

Uhh, not if we take no action — a point I have made to Revkin time and time again. I’ll agree that if we ignore Revkin and the people he likes to quote in his pieces and take very aggressive action to mitigate emissions and stabilize around 450 ppm, it is not clear exactly whether we have avoided multiple catastrophes. Hansen thinks not.

But if we listen to the Revkins of the world, then the scientific literature is increasingly clear that if one takes no serious action, catastrophic change might best be considered business as usual = highly likely:

UPDATE:  I asked Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, whom the NYT itself quoted last year as “an expert on environmental communications,” for his comments.  Here they are:

In his latest blog, Mr. Revkin indirectly impugns the nature of scientific research on climate change.  Climate science represents one of longest and most reviewed bodies of scientific literature that exists.  It has accumulated over 50 plus years (if you measure from the Revelle and Suess paper in 1957) based on the efforts of thousands of independent scientists.

But Mr. Revkin ignores this history, and maintains that this science is based on small tribal communities in which real peer review is tough.  Specifically, he states:  “A prime problem with climate science “” related to peer review “” is that it is implicitly done by very small tribes (sea ice folks, glacier folks, modelers, climate-ecologists, etc) so real peer review  “” avoiding  confirmation bias “” is tough, for sure.”

So if climate science is done by small tribes, adhering to group think, why should we take climate science seriously?   Does Mr. Revkin have any real evidence of this other than his own opinion?   If he does, he should produce it..

Contrary to Mr. Revkin’s assertion, the veracity and soundness of the climate science research process, and the reports of the IPCC have been documented by several outside investigations.

By creating and promulgating this characterization of climate science as tribal groupthink, Mr. Revkin not only fundamentally misrepresents the actual history of climate science, but plays into the hands of those groups who seek to discredit climate science in order to delay action.  DOT Earth has done much better than this in the past, and I hope it can do so in the future.

Let me end with the piece by computer scientist (and occasional CP blogger) Steve Easterbrook’s, “When did ignorance become a badge of honour for journalists?

Here’s an appalling article by Andy Revkin on dotEarth which epitomizes everything that is wrong with media coverage of climate change. Far from using his position to educate and influence the public by seeking the truth, journalists like Revkin now seem to have taken to just making shit up, reporting what he reads in blogs as the truth, rather than investigating for himself what scientists actually do.

Revkin kicks off by citing a Harvard cognitive scientist found guilty of academic misconduct, and connecting it with “assertions that climate research suffered far too much from group think, protective tribalism and willingness to spin findings to suit an environmental agenda”. Note the juxtaposition. On the one hand, a story of a lone scientist who turned out to be corrupt (which is rare, but does happen from time to time). On the other hand, a set of insinuations about thousands of climate scientists, with no evidence whatsoever. Groupthink? Tribalism? Spin? Can Revkin substantiate these allegations? Does he even try? Of course not. He just repeats a lot of gossip from a bunch of politically motivated blogs, and demonstrates his own total ignorance of how scientists work.

He does offer two pieces of evidence to back up his assertion of bias. The first is the well-publicized mistake in the IPCC report on the retreat of the Himalayan glaciers. Unfortunately, the quotes from the IPCC authors in the very article Revkin points to, show it was the result of an honest mistake, despite an entire cadre of journalists and bloggers trying to spin it into some vast conspiracy theory. The second is about a paper on the connection between vanishing frogs and climate change, cited in the IPCC report. The IPCC report quite correctly cites the paper, and gives a one sentence summary of it. Somehow or other, Revkin seems to think this is bias or spin. It must have entirely escaped his notice that the IPCC report is supposed to summarize the literature in order to assess our current understanding of the science. Some of that literature is tentative, and some less so. Now, maybe Revkin has evidence that there is absolutely no connection between the vanishing frogs and climate change. If so, he completely fails to mention it. Which means that the IPCC is merely reporting on the best information we have on the subject. Come on Andy, if you want to demonstrate a pattern of bias in the IPCC reports, you’re gonna have to work damn harder than that. Oh, but I forgot. You’re just repeating a bunch of conspiracy theories to pretend you have something useful to say, rather than actually, say, investigating a story.

From here, Revkin weaves a picture of climate science as “done by very small tribes (sea ice folks, glacier folks, modelers, climate-ecologists, etc)”, and hence suggests they must therefore be guilty of groupthink and confirmation bias. Does he offer any evidence for this tribalism? No he does not, for there is none. He merely repeats the allegations of a bunch of people like Steve McIntyre, who working on the fringes of science, clearly do belong to a minor tribe, one that does not interact in any meaningful way with real climate scientists. So, I guess we’re meant to conclude that because McIntyre and a few others have formed a little insular tribe, that this must mean mainstream climate scientists are tribal too? Such reasoning would be laughable, if this wasn’t such a serious subject.

Revkin claims to have been “following the global warming saga – science and policy – for nearly a quarter century”. Unfortunately, in all that time, he doesn’t appear to have actually educated himself about how the science is done. If he’d spent any time in a climate science research institute, he’d know this allegation of tribalism is about as far from the truth as it’s possible to get. Oh, but of course, actually going and observing scientists in action would require some effort. That seems to be just a little too much to ask.

So, to educate Andy, and to save him the trouble of finding out for himself, let me explain. First, a little bit of history. The modern concern about the potential impacts of climate change probably dates back to the 1957 Revelle and Suess paper, in which they reported that the oceans absorb far less anthropogenic carbon emissions than was previously thought. Revelle was trained in geology and oceanography. Suess was a nuclear physicist, who studied the distribution of carbon-14 in the atmosphere. Their collaboration was inspired by discussions with Libby, a physical chemist famous for the development of radio-carbon dating. As head of the Scripps Institute, Revelle brought together oceanographers with atmospheric physicists (including initiating the Mauna Loa of the measurement of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere), atomic physicists studying dispersal of radioactive particles, and biologists studying the biological impacts of radiation. Tribalism? How about some truly remarkable inter-disciplinary research?

I suppose Revkin might argue that those were the old days, and maybe things have gone downhill since then. But again, the evidence says otherwise. In the 1970′s, the idea of earth system science began to emerge, and in the last decade, it has become central to the efforts to build climate simulation models to improve our understandings of the connections between the various earth subsystems: atmosphere, ocean, atmospheric chemistry, ocean biogeochemistry, biology, hydrology, glaciology and meteorology. If you visit any of the major climate research labs today, you’ll find a collection of scientists from many of these different disciplines working alongside one another, collaborating on the development of integrated models, and discussing the connections between the different earth subsystems. For example, when I visited the UK Met Office two years ago, I was struck by their use of cross-disciplinary teams to investigate specific problems in the simulation models. When I visited, they had just formed such a cross-disciplinary team to investigate how to improve the simulation of the Indian monsoons in their earth system models. This week, I’m just wrapping up a month long visit to the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, where I’ve also regularly sat in on meetings between scientists from the various disciplines, sharing ideas about, for example, the relationships between atmospheric radiative transfer and ocean plankton models.

The folks in Hamburg have been kind enough to allow me to sit in on their summer school this week, in which they’re training the next generation of earth science PhD students how to work with earth system models. The students are from a wide variety of disciplines: some study glaciers, some clouds, some oceanography, some biology, and so on. The set of experiments we’ve been given to try out the model include: changing the cloud top mass flux, altering the rate of decomposition in soils, changing the ocean mixing ratio, altering the ocean albedo, and changing the shape of the earth. Oh, and they’ve mixed up the students, so they have to work in pairs with people from another discipline. Tribalism? No, right from the get go, PhD training includes the encouragement of cross-disciplinary thinking and cross-disciplinary working.

Of course, if Revkin ever did wander into a climate science research institute he would see this for himself. But no, he prefers pontificating from the comfort of his armchair, repeating nonsense allegations he reads on the internet. And this is the standard that journalists hold for themselves? No wonder the general public is confused about climate change. Instead of trying to pick holes in a science they clearly don’t understand, maybe people like Revkin ought to do some soul searching and investigate the gaping holes in journalistic coverage of climate change. Then finally we might find out where the real biases lie.

So, here’s a challenge for Andy Revkin: Do not write another word about climate science until you have spent one whole month as a visitor in a climate research institute. Attend the seminars, talk to the PhD students, sit in on meetings, find out what actually goes on in these places. If you can’t be bothered to do that, then please STFU.

Update: On reflection, I think I was too generous to Revkin when I accused him of making shit up, so I deleted that bit. He’s really just parroting other people who make shit up.

Update #2: Oh, did I mention that I’m a computer scientist? I’ve been welcomed into various climate research labs, invited to sit in on meetings and observe their working practices, and to spend my time hanging out with all sorts of scientists from all sorts of disciplines. Because obviously they’re a bunch of tribalists who are trying to hide what they do. NOT.

Steve Easterbrook


For the record, I suppose it bears repeating that I don’t  necessarily endorse every single word by the folks I repost — heck, I posted a piece by Judith Curry here!  I wanted  to show some of the real anger that exists over Revkin’s column.  And I think Steve put his challenge and his strong language in an appropriate conditional.

The best climate reporting is done by people who spend the most time talking with the top climatologists and reading a broad spectrum of the literature.

For the record, the top climatologist I quoted at the start is Michael Mann, who is simultaneously one of our most honored and exonerated climate scientists.

UPDATE:  Revkin has replied in the comments with a tweet that links to a slightly longer reply on his blog.  Characteristically, he ignores the multiple critiques by other people and the entire substance of my post, and attempts to personalize this.  Revkin writes:

Speaking of fallibility, I’ve got to add that I love how Joe Romm has repeatedly described — as breaking news — my admission in 2009 that I make mistakes. Only the Pope, and Joe Romm, appear to be infallible. I won’t interpret that pairing’ I’m just noting it.

So Revkin can link to a 2006 article of his that doesn’t even support his argument, but apparently I can’t link to a 2009 admission by him that does.  No Andy, it isn’t described as a breaking news, merely relevant news.

Ironically, had Revkin read my other media post from Sunday he’d have seen that I acknowledge no one can avoid making mistakes of a certain kind (typos, grammar, small factual mistakes) if one blogs.  But Revkin apparently can’t tell the difference between making some small mistakes — and just being plain wrong.  It’ll be interesting to see just how many scientists have to tell Revkin that he was dead wrong in this piece before he simply retracts it.

Revkin writes that in this 2000-word piece, I “didn’t mention the conclusion of that post, which was that I trust climate science (and, implicitly, the scientific process). I guess he can’t attack me and, at the same time, remind folks that I’ve written more about the risks posed by global warming than he has, over a far longer span.”

I didn’t mention the conclusion because the rest of the post undercut it entirely.  Here is what he concluded:

Do I trust climate science? As a living body of intellectual inquiry exploring profoundly complex questions, yes.

Do I trust all climate scientists, research institutions, funding sources, journals and others involved in this arena to convey the full context of findings and to avoid sometimes stepping beyond the data? I wouldn’t be a journalist if I answered yes.

Note that the first sentence is essentially devoid of meaning because Revkin has refused to explained what conclusions of climate science he trusts.  In his post, Revkin associates the IPCC era with a period of overstatement, when in fact it is a period of understatement. So in fact Revkin does not appear to trust climate science in any meaningful fashion.

Finally, not that is terribly relevant to the fact that Revkin is just dead wrong in his post, but I don’t think it’s true that he has written more about the risks posed by global warming than I have.   More to the point, Revkin seems to ignore or no longer stand by the few truly hard-hitting pieces he’s written on this.   Back in May 2008, I blogged on Revkin’s brief interview with Nobel laureate F. Sherwood Rowland, “Nobel Winner: CO2 Going to 1,000 Parts Per Million“.  He asked Rowland “Given the nature of the climate and energy challenges, what is his best guess for the peak concentration of carbon dioxide?”:

His answer? “1,000 parts per million,” he said.

My second question was, what will that look like?

“I have no idea,” Dr. Rowland said. He was not smiling.

For the record, science does have some idea what 1000 ppm looks like — although admittedly there isn’t a vast literature on this subject because the scientific community never thought the world would be so foolish as to ignore its warnings and let that outcome become a real possibility.  But I have assembled some of that literature above and in these two posts:

Bottom line:  There’s no point in Revkin hiding behind his earlier writing on the dangers posed by global warming if he spends his time now saying that they represent a period of overstatement and instead links to old pieces that quote discredited people like Lindzen.

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This post has been updated.

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104 Responses to What’s the difference between climate science and climate journalism?

  1. The scandal about Hauser actually confirms that science is self-correcting. Hauser reported his findings, other researchers said that they couldn’t be replicated, and so his findings have not been accepted.

  2. MarkB says:

    The Revkin piece is indeed horrible and there have been some bad ones recently. I made the point on his blog about implying that overstatement is part of some sort of tribalism or misconduct when the key examples used clearly amount to honest mistakes (the Himalayan glacier error), and Easterbrook covers that well.

    Easterbook’s piece is strong, blunt and certainly called for, minus the expletives, which simply aren’t useful. People curse when they want their rhetoric to appear stronger than it actually is, and it conveys the sense of arguing from emotion. Admittedly, I tread the line quit often on this. A person who is 100% rooted in facts but appears to argue from anger appears less persuasive to many than a calm liar.

    Easterbook’s challenge for Revkin to spend a good deal of time at an actual scientific conference is excellent. I made a similar appeal to him awhile back.

    “I can’t speak for everyone or the person you’re responding to here, but a very good journalist in my view is one who covers scientific issues, avoids the more sensationalist rantings in the blogosphere, does not take the bait from those deliberately seeking to elevate clearly manufactured controversies, avoids the “faux balance” approach to the topic, and sticks to the science. I’m not at all averse to honest skeptics challenging views of the scientific community. Let them do it at the scientific conferences (if you haven’t done so, how about attending an AGU conference and reporting in layperson terms the interesting cutting-edge studies discussed and debates?) and in the reputable peer-reviewed journals (not hard to publish something in one of dozens of journals if you have anything useful to say), rather than sniping from the gutter in an obvious effort to gain undeserved media attention (see Deltoid link). No one is stopping them from doing this.”

    But I guess he can’t be bothered. Reading blogs, exchanging emails, and relying uncritically on the Pielkes as reliable sources seems to be much easier.

  3. Well done, Joe! Thank you!

  4. Will Koroluk says:

    An excellent post Joe.
    As a retired journalist, I’m appalled by what I see in the papers I get every morning, and what’s published on their websites.
    The tough times papers are going through have been well documented (as in the post on the Washington Post earlier today). So many are flailing around, trying just about anything to try to win back, and keep, readers. Trying anything, that is, except old-fashioned journalism. Instead many have deteriorated into quick little Q and A pieces, list of the 10 best this or the 12 worst that. One of the papers that comes into my house polls relentlessly, and (I assume) the polls tell them that people want light, shallow, cute fluff.
    I doubt the Globe and Mail in Toronto or the Ottawa Citizen would publish thoughtful articles on climate science because they believe people wouldn’t read them, and that may be true. Or, perhaps, because it would make readers angry, which is certainly true when the Globe and Mail even mentions the subject. The discussion boards on those stories explode with venom–and it all seems to come from the political right.
    So we end up with papers edited as though science depends on public opinion and/or political theatre. So people don’t realize (perhaps because editors don’t) that science is as pretty rugged endeavour that through its system of peer review sorts out and corrects errors as knowledge is added.
    Science–all science–is a work in progress, but you can’t reflect that fact if you’ve let yourself be conned into believing that somebody’s list of 10 pet peeves, or 10 favourite drinks is news.
    Climate science is fine. Despite the efforts of the Watts or the Lindzens or the Moncktons, it will carry on, rethinking and revising as more is learned. It doesn’t need to be reinvented.
    What needs reinventing is journalism.

  5. Douglas says:

    Yeah, but journalists have people like Howard Kurtz keeping them honest.


    (Thanks Joe, nicely done.)

  6. Perhaps the problem with journalism is precisely that, unlike science, it lacks a system of peer review. Not that peer review is perfect, but at least it’s better than never having your material vetted by actual experts.

    As a fellow journalist, I have a soft spot for what Revkin is trying to do – pursue the truth – but I am baffled by the way he goes about doing it. I can’t help but feel, sometimes, that he is taking a sort of deconstructionist (as in Derrida) approach to the scientific literature. As a man of words, texts seem to be his primary means of interacting with facts, rather than thinking about the body of evidence – the reality – that those words represent.

    And so you have the stenographic effect of this kind of reportage, in which the journalist calls his or her centrism “objectvity” when it is in fact a cover for a lack of courage or else knowledge. I think Revkin recognizes – rightly – that he is unqualified to evaluate the literature on climate change. And rather than becoming someone who is, or at least figuring out whom he should trust, he continues to listen to all sides, out of a misbegotten attempt at fairness. He is, in the end, a sort of naif, and that’s why I find it difficult to view his actions as malicious. He is simply misguided.

    By far the best essay on this subject belongs to Jay Rosen, in which he describes the ideology of the press as a radical commitment to a middle ground between opposing viewpoints that may reflect no reality at all:


  7. Lou Grinzo says:

    Joe: Thank you for this post. I knew when you responded to Revkin’s piece that it would be a jaw dropper.

    Christopher: I think you’ve largely nailed it. I wrote for various computer magazines for a number of years, and that’s one field where writers and editors are constantly struggling to keep up, thanks to the blistering rate of technological change. Drinking from an open hydrant barely describes it.

    The one minor quibble I have is with your statement: “He is, in the end, a sort of naif, and that’s why I find it difficult to view his actions as malicious. He is simply misguided.” I think that’s being too generous; a reporter knows when he’s in over his head and trying to substitute naive process for domain knowledge. And when he ignores that whispering voice in his head, then he’s crossed the line from misguided into culpable. And in the case of someone like Revkin, who is certainly no stranger to the field, he has no excuses, nothing he can hide behind, which does make it malicious.

  8. Prokaryotes says:

    “A prime problem with climate science — related to peer review — is that it is implicitly done by very small tribes (sea ice folks, glacier folks, modelers, climate-ecologists, etc) so real peer review — avoiding confirmation bias — is tough, for sure.”

    This is absolutely irrelevant – but there are people in this world which don’t see the forest right in front of them.

  9. Leif says:

    Everyone knows that reality has a liberal bias. There is no appeasing the right by massaging the facts to not anger them and end up with a cognizant report.

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    Environmental groups face their future in climate-change debate

    This author for example renders climate change an issue for a group which is going to lose – totally ignoring the implications for everybody. It’s just a big debate, just another topic and boring too …

  11. Andy does know climate science, the scientific process and scientists far better than most journalists. He has been and remains one of America’s best and most knowledgeable climate reporters in my opinion. However I too am surprised by this piece (and others in the last couple of years). I can only guess that having to read/moderate 100,000+ of comments on dot Earth (and endless criticism by all sides) has resulted into a retreat (descent?) into the “middle ground” as Christopher #9 notes.

    Andy, I respectfully suggest a six month holiday from climate science blogging/reporting.

  12. Sailesh Rao says:

    Excellent analysis, thank you!

  13. Paulm says:

    Science is self-correcting?

    Point in note- science got us to 80/90% of the dilemma we are now in.

    Will it self-correct in time?

    [JR: If people ignore the science, then I'm not entirely sure how one can blame science for where we are now. In any case, of this post is about climate science.]

  14. Chris Winter says:

    Wow. That Revkin column is really bad. I’m not even going to try and weigh in on it for a few days. I notice he’ll be camping for a few days. Maybe that’s the pause that refreshes — I keep getting the impression that he’s overtaxed.

  15. Paulm says:

    Some improvement here…
    Fires. Floods. Freak storms. Droughts. Why it’s only going to get worse.

  16. kenshin says:

    has anyone else read Merchants of Doubt? cuz really, if we’ve been thru this already several times, how is it we don’t know how to counter and prevent this by now? this M.O. is old.

  17. Dave E says:

    It’s too bad. My impression at one time was that Revkin was something of a friend of Jim Hansen (at least, that’s what I thought after reading “Censoring Science”) but it’s been clear for too long that Revkin has been doing a poor job of portraying the urgency of climate change. I gave up reading Dot Earth some time ago.

  18. homunq says:

    Here’s the comment I posted on Dot Earth:

    I see that Revkin is walking it back here in the comment section. I, for one, think that he’s gone past the point of no return; and thus, should not return. The NYT should have a climate/environment blog, but this is not it.

    Let’s go paragraph by paragraph.

    1. Anonymous sources. Why? If nobody is willing to go on the record, is it news?

    2. “Some say…” This is an old trick, as slimy as ever.

    3. More “some say”

    4. “Me.”

    5. False balance

    6. The first actual content – and it’s flat out false. There is no field which is more interdisciplinary than climate science. And the scientific method and incentives are the best guard against confirmation bias known to humanity. Journalism, on the other hand…

    7. “I think Steve McIntyre is a good guy. (Even though he’s lazy and there’s no reason to believe anything he says.)”

    8. Reporting bias. If you click through, it’s just sour grapes about “it’ll be published somewhere else”. This is NO basis for raising doubts about science being “much more corrupt than anyone wants to acknowledge.”

    9. Again with the false balance. How false? Freudenberg’s systematic survey showed that new scientific findings are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is “worse than previously expected,” rather than “not as bad as previously expected”.

    10. One sentence of false balance; one of reasonable summary; and one completely unsupported claim to “restore the balance”. Memo to Revkin: Journalists slosh. Scientists build understanding with ever-growing evidence.

    11. So now scientists aren’t members of society? Don’t they have grandkids too?

    12. blah blah.

    13. Let me already start walking this back.

    14. Walking it back. If something is wrong, why are you repeating it? This is a blog; you are perfectly capable of using strikethrough or some other technique, instead of waiting to the end. And again, this does not correct your worst errors of fact, such as the “tribal” slur.

    15. Trying to pre-discredit his critics. Again, no distinction between transitory waves “public” (read: journalistic) opinion, and the careful building of the scientific edifice.

    16 & 17: Of course you don’t blindly trust. But your journalistic suspicions are not news unless there’s some evidence to back them up.

    Revkin: you seem to think we care which side you are or aren’t on, and that by making some peace gestures towards climate science, you can cover up for sloppy, innuendo-filled, lazily-”balanced” reporting. You are mistaken.

    NYT: please find somebody more rigorous to fill this space. This is a blog about the future of the planet, not a gossip column.

  19. Dave E says:

    Great post! I especially liked Steve Easterbrook’s descriptions of working climate scientists.

  20. Jeff Huggins says:

    The Difficult Human Problem

    The discomforting problem in these sorts of situations arises from the fact that the subject (climate change and the coverage of it) is SO DARN IMPORTANT, and The New York Times is no small cookie when it comes to how people do, or don’t, understand the issue and also when it comes to how other media outlets might choose to cover things.

    In other words, IF the subject wasn’t so important, and IF Andy/Dot Earth wasn’t with The Times or on that broad platform, it wouldn’t be important to point these problems out and to critique the matter so critically. I wish that were the case. Being on the receiving end of such critical criticism is no fun. If we were talking about (who is that guy who was the assistant to that Senator? Mark something?) that would be another matter. But in the present case, the intentions are good, I believe, but it’s just Andy’s implementation that calls for critique.

    In any case . . .

    Although this is just speculation, it “feels” to me as though one or all of several things might be happening?

    First, it’s hard for me to imagine that anyone who really understands and appreciates the “multiple lines of evidence” aspect of the reality of climate change, or (put another way) the strong and increasing consilience involved in the basic realization that climate change is real and is largely human-caused, could or would write many of the things that Andy, on occasion, writes. So, this raises a question in my mind: Does he really understand all that, and what it means? If so, why does he write some of the things he writes? Is it out of total exhaustion? Is it out of an intensely narrow view of what (in his view) journalism demands, DESPITE the facts of the matter? I’m not sure. But, it’s baffling, sometimes, what he writes. Does he really understand?

    Second, perhaps part of the matter is what Christopher Mims mentions in his Comment 6, having to do with a text-based way of “understanding” things in terms of words and texts, not in terms of the actual substance of the matter. When I read Christopher’s comment, I thought — maybe that is part of the problem. Again, it goes back to the question mentioned above, i.e., one of understanding.

    Third, it’s possible — likely — nearly certain at this point — that at least part of the problem must have to do with some conception of “journalism” and “news coverage” that does NOT adequately serve the genuine public good on issues of such vital importance as climate change. Here, I think Andy’s approach is consistent with the misguided assumptions and paradigms embedded in much of mainstream journalism today. They have an “idea” of what “journalism” and “news” are that does NOT overlap very well with the (necessary) aim of news in a democracy to genuinely (and effectively) serve the public good and help the public achieve the public good. What they are doing, on climate change, is NOT genuinely serving the public good, effectively, and how they can NOT see that by now is beyond me.

    One or all of the above factors are probably at play, combined perhaps with pure exhaustion.

    I DO like the suggestion in the post, i.e., that it would be good and credibility-building — and also fun — for Andy to spend a month or two or three in climate science labs and helping to do climate science. Now, in saying that, I must admit that I haven’t spent three months in a climate science lab, although I’ve spent months and months, and (off and on) years, in labs of numerous sorts.

    One relevant update: Andy has indicated, again, that he will write a two-or-three page (or whatever) open letter, or post, regarding his own assessment of the news media’s coverage of the climate change problem, including his own recommendations regarding changes that should be made, if any. (See my Comment 81, and Andy’s response to it, in the recent “Harvard …” DotEarth post over on DotEarth.) Andy indicated that he’d do it “when life and the news cycle allow”.

    Again, this whole thing is one of the tangential problems associated with the vital importance of climate change. If we were talking about a sports writer here, the matter would be non-issue, and we could all laugh a bit rather than get so critical. Yet, the issue IS a vital one, and much is at stake, and if the media don’t get their act together, . . . well, that’s bad.



  21. richard pauli says:

    Thanks Joe for digging into the quintessential question.

    I doubt that Revkin would make it with his own blog. His publisher, the NY Times, is responsible for much of his status. They use him ruthlessly.

    Journalists should stand and fall on their merits. If a publisher is propping up a propagandist, then they both deserve failure.

  22. Dana says:

    A terrific contrast between Easterbrook, who has clearly taken the time to understand how the climate science community works, and Revkin, who despite his ‘near quarter century following the global warming saga’, clearly has not. Yet another to add to the list of climate science articles which the NY Times should be ashamed to have published. Absolutely horrid, full of false and unsubstantiated claims. Revkin’s article is the quality I would expect to see on Anthony Watts’ blog.

  23. MarkB #2: “…strong, blunt and certainly called for, minus the expletives, which simply aren’t useful. People curse when they want their rhetoric to appear stronger than it actually is, and it conveys the sense of arguing from emotion.”

    I’m normally a mild-mannered scientist. I rarely swear. I did in this case to make a point. Scientists are supposed to suppress their emotions and remain calm, mild, reasonable, etc. Oh, and to stand there and take wave after wave of insult, insinuation, and smear. If you don’t think this calls for an occasional swear word in response, then you’ve completely failed to grasp the gravity of the situation.

    See Stephen Fry’s take on swearing:

  24. MapleLeaf says:

    Drs. Romm and Easterbrook,


    Andy Revkin, you should be ashamed for printing such absolute and utter BS! What the hell happened to reporting the facts, the truth? Really, I cannot find the words to describe my disgust. Another terribly sad day for journalism.

  25. MapleLeaf says:

    Dana @18,

    “Revkin’s article is the quality I would expect to see on Anthony Watts’ blog.”

    Too true. Look for Revkin doing a guest post on WUWT soon ;)

  26. You well and truly cleaned his clock Joe. Good for you, he deserved it. That piece was junk. I sometimes wonder if some journalists do not decide to do a highly critical piece on a subject to show they are balanced. They then go hunting for anything to back it up…

    If climate science was suffering from that kind of myopia the skeptic crowd would have dug up some real problems by now. The fact they have not makes a darn good case for Revkin being absolutely wrong here.


  27. Aaron Lewis says:

    Revkin’s last paragraph is a double edged sword.

    Do you trust all of climate science? OK, then tell me what the current volume of Arctic sea ice is. You might look at PIOMAS (http://psc.apl.washington.edu/ArcticSeaiceVolume/IceVolume.php ) for a hint, but that model shows a recent increase in volume compared to area measurements at http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/ . We look at temps in the Arctic over the recent period when PIOMAS shows an increase in volume, and it is clear that it has been too warm for ice to be forming. Thus, right now, we do not have a good handle on something as basic as the current volume of Arctic Sea Ice.

    We do not know how many marine mammals perished in the recent extreme sea ice retreats.

    And, there is nothing in the IPCC AR4 that hints at the kind of dramatic Arctic sea ice loss that we have seen in the last 3 years. AR4 got Arctic sea ice wrong, See Section 15.3.3. Given what has happened to sea ice, what trust can we put in the AR4 statements about ice sheets, ice shelves, and permafrost?

    Thus, climate science has problems with data, context,(and funding). Every science journalist worth his salt should keep the nature and direction of these problems in mind.

  28. John Mason says:

    “A prime problem with climate science — related to peer review — is that it is implicitly done by very small tribes (sea ice folks, glacier folks, modelers, climate-ecologists, etc) so real peer review — avoiding confirmation bias — is tough, for sure.”

    This is completely back-to-front and upside-down! Why cannot Revkin grasp this very straightforward principle?

    Peer-review conducted within specialist fields – be it Arctic ice-sheet dynamics or supergene copper mineralisation – is more likely to weed out confirmation bias. On the other hand, a supergene mineralogist, given a MS on Arctic ice-sheet dynamics (or vice-versa) will likely know so little about the topic that he or she will not be able to produce an objective review except in very general terms i.e. spotting typos or howlers obvious to all!

    The keyword is “peer”. Just because Arctic ice-sheet dynamics specialists and supergene mineralogists are both scientists, they are not “peers” in terms of being able be guaranteed to fully understand one another’s specialist works – and likewise neither will fully understand the specialist work of e.g. monkey geneticists – who will turn to other monkey geneticists – their peers – to review their work.

    Andrew, if you’re reading this, please try to understand – that’s how it works.

    BBC R4 climate programme (part 1) on right now. Cheerio…


  29. Heraclitus says:

    Aaron – 3:57am – the PIOMAS graph shows (alarming) changes in volume anomaly not volume itself.

    John – 4:03 am – the R4 programme seemed to me to be nothing more than a whine by Harrabin about how everyone was to blame for misinformation on climate other than the journalists themselves, who apparently were “forced into extremes”. You’ve got to wonder who it is that is supposed to be doing the communicating here.

  30. BillD says:

    When I conduct peer reviews, I focus on the quality of the science, not whether the results and conclusions agree with my expectations. Indeed, the most exciting paper is one that requires me to make a significant change in the way that I view a subject. If the science is good, I support publication even if I have difficulty in fully accepting the results. If the results completely support my current view, but the science is weak or just more of the same, I will not support publication. This is typical peer review.

    Denialists must completely misunderstand this peer review process because they seem to lack the ability to judge the quality of reports that support their point of view. When I read WUWT, for example, some posts are credible and the comments are very supportive–so far so good. Then, an article with almost no credibility that can easily be refuted is posted and the comments are just as supportive. This is not the way that peer review works–scientists are very critical about what is published in their fields of expertise even when they think that the general conclusions have been well-supported by earlier studies.

    I’m not sure about the view point of journalists. They often seem to think most findings have both proponents and opponents, and that everyone’s point of view is equally valid.

  31. John Mason says:

    Heraclitus – agreed there – guess we’ll have a fuller picture by the end of part 2 but it did kinda come over as the journalists being in a predicament due to news constraints in terms of time and/or space. With a subject this important for the future of Mankind then one might, naively perhaps, hope it would get priority over e.g. trailers for the next EastEnders!

    Cheers – John

  32. J Bowers says:

    16 Jeff Huggins — “If we were talking about a sports writer here, the matter would be non-issue, and we could all laugh a bit rather than get so critical.”

    Ironically, it’s highly unlikely you would ever find a news outlet letting a general non-specialist reporter anywhere near a sports story.

  33. pete best says:

    Personaly I still doubt that just because we are presently on a projected path of 550 ppmv by the end of the century does not mean that we will every get there due to peak oil and gas and probably coal. The status of the science on this subject is not there and serious contradictions exist in the subject matter. However its very unlikely that we will go beyond 450 ppmv before economic issues start to make ACC pale into insignificance.

    deep ocean, Falklands, Arctic exploration means only one thing. Oil is no longer easy to find and extract and refine. Tar sands are another nail in the ACC coffin.

    [JR: I don't follow this. The tar sands and other unconventional oil would allow us to continue well past 550 even with peak oil. I'd like to believe there isn't enough coal to take us beyond 550, but so far the evidence for that assertion is very very thin. In any case, 550 is plenty high enough to get the positive feedbacks like the tundra to kick in and take us past 800.]

  34. John Mason says:

    Non-conventional oil is there in bulk abundance but is a) rate-constrained wrt extraction and b) beneficiation requires a significantly greater energy input. These combined will influence the rate of consumption via availability and high cost, as transportation fuels, once regular crude goes into decline. However, if we go down the route of increased coal usage for electricity generation, in the absence of effective carbon-capture technology, I think we can easily go over 550. Positive feedbacks are already in operation and will continue to increasingly contribute to the situation by e.g. albedo-loss and ongoing CO2/CH4 release, among other mechanisms.

    Cheers – John

  35. PSU Grad says:

    I’ve never been in an academic environment as anything other than a student, so someone may need to set me straight.

    My impression is that academics are highly competitive, sometimes childishly so. So it makes no sense to me that there’d be any sort of “groupthink”. If anything, I’d think the publication standards would be tougher with peer review, as everyone is trying to poke holes in everyone else’s data, analysis, conclusions, etc.

    It also doesn’t seem to make any sense to describe climate scientists as one big, happy, conforming “clan” (or tribe or whatever). Unlike the corporate world, “me too” doesn’t seem to get you anywhere in academia.

    This whole Revkin incident is bizarre. There’s a new public editor at the NY Times (introduced himself to readers yesterday), so maybe it’s time to see if he’s more responsive.

  36. David Wheat says:

    It’s important to note that this Revkin item is not strictly speaking journalism. It is a blog post. Even in The New York Times, blog posts and op ed pieces are subjected to a much different standard of editing than news stories and other journalistic output.

    I agree with everything you say, but let’s distinguish between personal opinion and journalism.

    Of course we have seen at The Times and The Telegraph and in many other cases that journalism too can go far astray. And anyone who follows the press on any subject is aware of the level of groupthink, with many stories just repeating what other stories have said with apparently not even the slightest thought about whether they have anything to do with reality.

  37. The Wonderer says:

    The writer over at Earth dot is hopelessly confused. Things really started going down hill after the 2007 sea ice minimum, when he couldn’t separate the wheat from the chaff and kept getting distracted over details of what might have made it an anomaly while ignoring the story of the long term trend. Things got worse from there, and he has since blathered on about understanding minutia, yet he can’t get the bigger picture. In the last year or more, he’s off the rails, trying to understand “all sides of the issue.” I suppose that’s self-serving for a journalist.

    I think one of the root problems is a lack of critical thinking on his part. I was a regular reader of that blog at one time, but avoid it at all cost these days. It’s worse than worthless.

  38. Andy Revkin says:

    From behind the dunes, my tweet (link goes to a reply to a Dot Earth reader:

    @climateprogress once again breaks news: Climate journalists are fallible. Unlike the Pope and Joe Romm. http://j.mp/worstPost

  39. pete best says:

    Re #35, Once conventional oil sources peak the decline will be steep, too steep for any more expensive oil source to fill the gap. GTL/CTL/etc wont do the job. As for Coal alone it cant fill in for oil decline or be responsible for more than 1 ppmv per annum. We have to find other sources of electricity.

  40. re: #36

    The Dot Earth blog began while Revkin was still officially a “journalist.”

    The online version of The New York Times gave it front page positioning whenever it had loads of ExxonMobil ads and the current blog post could manage to once again muddle the issue and confuse the public with regard to climate change.

    The promotion of select Dot Earth posts on the front page was deliberate. None of those selected ever moved us forward.

    As hits to the blog increased, so did its usefulness as a tool of the Climate Denial Machine.

    Note that neither The New York Times nor Revkin published the famed letters from scientific organizations warning of the dangers of climate change.

    Once Andy got himself off to academia, many thought the blog would subsequently wither and die away.

    But no!

    The online version of The New York Times continues to find Dot Earth blog posts useful for obscuring the increasingly dire need to stop emissions, and it still often positions it on the front page of the online edition.

    So, you can say that Revkin is no longer a journalist and that his posts are his opinion and that therefore they are not to be held to journalistic standards (are there still any?), but the fact is that The New York Times is still using the blog as if it were still written by one of their own journalists, and they are using it as if they were active members of the Climate Denial Machine.

    If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is . . . ?

  41. Andy, how on earth can you write this:


    “[Romm] didn’t mention the conclusion of that post, which was that I trust climate science (and, implicitly, the scientific process).”

    You know full well that what comes at the beginning of an article carries far more weight than something thrown in at the end, and never makes up for the damage done by what was read first.

  42. Wit'sEnd says:

    C’mon Andy, stop whining. JR and others have accused you of something far worse than fallibility. [snip]. I didn’t just stop reading DotEarth ages ago – I stopped reading the NYT altogether because of your dangerously deceptive coverage of climate change. Yes, as the Wonderer said, “worse than worseless.”

  43. Steve Easterbrook (#23) says:

    Scientists are supposed to suppress their emotions and remain calm, mild, reasonable, etc. Oh, and to stand there and take wave after wave of insult, insinuation, and smear.

    Although I prefer not to use swear words, Steve hits on an important point. Scientists MUST use more emotion when conveying their viewpoints and their data so that the public and policymakers understand the importance. Consider this simple experiment:

    1) Climate may be the greatest crisis facing the world this century.


    Were you almost wincing when reading #2?

    The general public sees #1 all the time so it is forgetful. #2, on the other hand, will be remembered. Here in the US, the public connects with emotion and that is why low-frequency political issues (flag burning, gays in the military, etc.) gain traction over the far more important issues. The most watched shows on TV are reality shows for this reason. Scientists need to be more human when they are on display and they must appear to stand up and fight back when they are attacked. Nobody likes a wuss.

  44. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    While there are significant extraction-rate constraints on the tar sands and shales, this is not demonstrably true for emerging unconventional fossil fuels in future. These options include in-situ gasification of remote, deep, low btu, tail-end and thin coal seams globally, as well as peat gasification across the Canadian and Russian north, as well as the vast potential for methyl clathrates’ (aka fire-ice) exploitation both onshore and on the seabed.

    The processing of these reserves’ output gasses to syngas and thence to liquid fuels for pipeline transportation is a very basic bit of refinery practice. Alongside other nations, China is already investing in these options, for instance in a permafrost clathrates field in the Himalayas that reportedly holds 35 billion tonnes of oil-equivalent – enough – by itself – for 90 years of China’s current oil usage.

    The second factor in assessing the likelihood of 550ppmv CO2 by 2100 is the contribution of the interactive feedbacks. Beside present additional warming due to albido loss, two majors carbon banks, permafrost and forest, are already showing substantial and accelerating outputs due just to the present timelagged warming off ~330ppmv of CO2 in the mid-seventies.

    While those feedbacks’ potential output is vast, just one minor one, the CO2-driven Peat > DOC > CO2 loop, was first observed globally in the early ’60s with ~315ppmv, since when it’s accelerated at 6%/yr and is reportedly on trend to equal the entire anthro-CO2 output of 2003 in about 2065.

    It is thus hard to see the relevance of concern about ppmv in 2100. If we fail to control both anthro-GHG outputs and the interactive feedbacks’ acceleration well before reaching an all-sources 450 ppmv in the coming decades, there seems scant prospect of doing so thereafter.

    In this light ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil) should be very wary of pre-endorsing the fossil fuel lobby’s predictable lie that “we can burn the fossil fuels because there isn’t enough left to do much harm”. There is also the aspect that in promoting that fallacy ASPO would be eroding its own political credibility by demonstrating its failure to study both the evident potential of unconventional fossil resources and the basic science of the climate issue.



  45. Sigh… the climate threat is and continues to be the most understated threat of our times. Revkin says the danger level is not for science to judge, but for society. I trust science more than I trust society, given its track record on the environment. When scientists who are supposed to be calm, cool and objective crawl out of their laboratory shells and start warning about danger levels, that to me is a clear sign that we’re dealing with some seriously bad stuff.

    Revkin’s starting statement — “Maybe science—in some fields, not necessarily all of them—is much more corrupt than anyone wants to acknowledge” — but using a harsh word like “corrupt” suggests there is something to gain for climate scientists and that there’s some sort of organization around it. The scientists involved in the IPCC effort are largely taking part in a voluntary effort. They have nothing to gain and, if you ask them, get nothing but headaches in return. Now, if you’re talking industry-funded science, I certainly see evidence of corruption. This is where Revkin should be targeting his criticism.

  46. Joe, Steve et al angry smack-downs of Andy and anyone else is an ineffective form of communication. We’re in a world of trouble and we badly need co-operation not more conflict. Sure, point out where you think Andy has gone wrong but in a respectful, loving-kindness, dalai-lama way. That would be more productive.

  47. Peter Gleick says:

    Your list of NYTimes challenges and problems and flaws in the climate area is pretty remarkable and depressing. But when are you going to take on the WSJ? I know we EXPECT better of the Times, but the WSJ has been far, far worse.

  48. Daniel Ives says:

    Steve Easterbrook’s final paragraph was completely dead on. His response was enjoyable to read, as was this post, Joe.

  49. homunq says:

    @climateprogress once again breaks news: Climate journalists are fallible. Unlike the Pope and Joe Romm.

    Yes, Andy, we all make mistakes. Now, are you going to learn from it, or just get defensive?

    Let’s look at the claims referenced in your blog post, in support of the idea that some fields of science are “much more corrupt than anyone wants to acknowledge”.

    1. Climate science includes many subspecialties, with a limited number of experts in each.
    2. A paper with catastrophic consequences is more likely to be published in Nature, while one of similar quality but less consequence would be published somewhere else.
    3. There seem to be passing phases of deeper concern alternating with deeper skepticism about climate science. (Among whom, Andy?)

    All three claims are both anecdotal and irrelevant.

    If you intend to learn from this experience, I suggest that before you blog, you go through the exercise of stating your supporting evidence in simple terms, as I have above. Or alternately, if you find yourself putting innuendo in anonymous implicit quotes to maintain disclaimability, ask yourself if it’s worth saying at all.

  50. re: #45

    Dear Stephen,

    Andy has been talked to kindly and gently and politely FOR YEARS! and he has only gotten worse.

    Like Scott says, scientists need to stand up for themselves and smack down the lies.

    The general public need to see that they have … well … you know what.

    Oops! How indelicate of me.

  51. #44

    “Now, if you’re talking industry-funded science, I certainly see evidence of corruption. This is where Revkin should be targeting his criticism.”

    Dear Tyler,

    Guess what? In all of his thousands of posts in the 3 years of Dot Earth’s existence, he has never mentioned the fossil fuel money behind the bogus think tanks and their bogus scientists like Patrick Michaels.

    Now who is corrupt?

  52. Jay Rosen says:

    Thanks to Chris Mims for mentioning my work in the context of this debate about climate science and science journalism. (Click my name for the essay I wrote on the actual ideology of the press.) I cannot weigh in on the merits of the dispute with Andy Revkin, since I do not know enough of the underlying science and have only followed the debates about climate journalism from a certain distance. But I thought I would add some speculations on what might be causing these disputes. That is all I can add: my speculations. Participants would have to decide how well they apply to the given case.

    One factor to consider is… how does a journalist establish authority in an area like climate change that is different from the kind of authority a scientist–or for that matter an elected politician–can claim? Speaking not about Revkin but a hypothetical beat reporter following the story, there may build up a kind of dissatisfaction with the role that is left to the journalist. After all, the scientists produce the new knowledge and have the important debates. The politicians have to interpret public opinion and decide on social policy. What’s left for the journalist to do? Merely to summarize what these other actors are doing and interpret arcane studies to broader audiences? Maybe that feels insufficiently grand.

    And please note that as the scientific consensus gets stronger, these feelings may run deeper. In that context, a narrative like “scientists behaving badly” solves the status anxiety problem, which our hypothetical journalist may not even be aware of. Because a story like that is not going to be told well by the scientists involved, and policy-makers may be unaware of it, while the public certainly won’t know without being informed by the journalist. Now there’s a chance to recover a kind of authority unique to the journalistic class. Remember: the more educated and informed our beat reporter is, the greater this “itch” to carve out a special role may be.

    A second factor I would like to mention involves a phrase we have probably all used at one time or another. “There’s a legitimate debate to be had about….” I invite you into this phrase. A typical construction might be, “There’s a legitimate debate to be had about how high marginal tax rates should be, even if the goal is to re-distribute income….” The operating system for mainstream journalism knows what to do when there’s a legitimate debate to be had. But when there’s an illegitimate debate going on (and getting louder) that same system tends to break down.

    A New York Times, Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC or CNN reporter receives from his professional peers and traditions no clear instructions for how to handle an illegitimate debate, meaning one that should never have arisen, because it is based on phony selection, manufactured doubt, and highly ideological reads of the available evidence. The louder the din, the more wary the mainstream journalist is of “choosing sides.” But what if choosing sides is exactly what the journalist would have to do to portray things as they really are?

    This leads to a third factor. Let me repeat my question: what if choosing sides is exactly what the fair-minded journalist would have to do to portray things as they really are? Here, I’m afraid, self-image conflicts with reality. That’s painful. People flee pain. The reality is it is very, very hard for a mainstream news person to say, “These people have the facts on their side, these people are manufacturing doubt and manipulating the case, and everyone should realize this is a phony debate– okay, is that clear?” This almost never happens. But in the mind of our hypothetical reporter, portraying things as they really are–that, is, truth-telling–always and everywhere trumps all other factors. The very bedrock of their self-image is “let the chips fall where they may, we tell it like it is.” Giving that up would be like saying to the self, “my career has been a waste.” Or: “I am a fraud.”

    And so it is very likely that the enormous institutional pressures against declaring, “These people have the facts on their side, while these people are manufacturing doubt, so everyone should realize that this is a phony debate…” are going to be obscured somehow in the mind of our hypothetical journalist. Rationalizations will creep in. You must realize that having to portray an illegitimate debate fries the circuits of the mainstream press. It’s cognitively dissonant in the extreme. Therefore when something comes along that promises relief from that situation, it is likely to be seized on with a certain enthusiasm, or even abandon, that will look very strange to outsiders. When those outsiders point this out, there is likely to be hot resistance. Consider the stakes: the whole of a professional self.

    I hope these speculations are of some assistance in bringing clarity to the situation. — JR

    [JR (Joe Romm, that is): Awesome comment.]

  53. arkitkt says:

    And what does Andy have to say about this? A childish response, indeed. Thanks for stopping by Mr. Revkin.

  54. mike roddy says:

    I don’t know if Revkin and the New York Times ever overcome this. This kind of nonsense does much more damage than the frothing at the mouth deniers like Morano and Monckton, because there is a cloak of respectability.

    You were being kind to Andy by ascribing Revkin’s post to naivete, Joe (see Tenney’s comment above).

    Yes, scientists should get pissed off, as Steve and Scott pointed out. They certainly do in private, and the pattern of responding to denier lies by carefully worded and even hedged responses just makes them look uncertain and timid. They then lose the public argument. This is why denier positions have remained popular in spite of all of the obvious evidence to the contrary.

  55. Núria says:

    Joe,thanks for this post, it managed to be entertaining and true at the same time. Scientists have a hard time balancing the two, maybe because they are too busy working? I don’t know, what I do know is that the scientific community as a whole needs to find a voice of its one and stop relying on people that really don’t know what they are talking about.

    More scientists, or people with a science background need to invest their time in giving accurate accounts of the body of work done in different fields. We should even carefully explain the scientific method and peer review process. I seriously think that when you actually understand how science really works you can’t say stupid things about it anymore.

    We can longer afford to leave the job of reporting what we do to people who obviously don’t know what they are talking about. The stakes have become to high. It is obvious for both Climate Science as it is for Health Sciences.


  56. MapleLeaf says:

    Will @4,

    “Or, perhaps, because it would make readers angry, which is certainly true when the Globe and Mail even mentions the subject. The discussion boards on those stories explode with venom–and it all seems to come from the political right.”

    Yo are absolutely right. Please to read that I am not the only one disgusted by those boards. Maybe Joe has some thoughts on the utility (or futility) of allowing reader boards at the G&M , for example. They just seem to attract the most angry anti-science and anti-government crowd and give them a free and unlimited space to make ridiculous claims.

  57. Well said Joe. When the story is finally told about the Times, I am sad to say that I think its two largest contributions will be:

    1. To have successfully propagandized the US into a disastrous war, and

    2. To have promoted the misinformation of the fossil fuel industry such that great ecological destruction came from the delayed policy. Journalists understandably feel safest when there are opposing opinions in their stories. That has been a disaster for many journalists, including Revkin, when writing about the science of climate change.


  58. PurpleOzone says:

    #48 Tenney,
    I agree with his comment that Revkin never mentions those who pay for disinform about climate science. Several of the comments in response to his blog explicitly mention the Koch brothers. But Revkin speculated about the possible “corruption” of some science fields, maybe climate science.

    This disingenuous piece of drivel on Dot Earth angered me. It was like saying “People have been talking about the possibility that A.R. cheats on his income taxes.”

  59. MapleLeaf says:

    I find this ambiguous game being played by some in the media (now including Revkin) disconcerting. The sad part is that it seems to work, as Tom Fuller and others have determined.

  60. Walter Meier says:

    It’s not fallibility, Mr. Revkin. It’s a far more dangerous and cynical game that you’re playing.

  61. David Lewis says:

    I studied the Chancellor Award ceremony speeches. Revkin was honored by America’s media movers and shakers with the John Chancellor Award. Climate journalism had never been recognized at this level before. Among other things, they lauded Revkin because:

    “you respect different sides of this polarizing issue”, by supposedly, “sticking to the facts”.

    This “respect” thing is key to understanding Revkin. Revkin, in his acceptance speech, said there are people on Dot Earth he calls “catastrophists”, as well as “deniers”. Somehow, the “deniers”, the “catastrophists”, and everyone else, “kind of hash it out, and overall, there’s a sense of trajectory, and that leads to a sense of hope”.

    Now at the same ceremony, the same movers and shakers talked about John Chancellor, i.e. who he was, and why he had inspired them to name this award after him.

    Chancellor made his name covering another very polarizing issue – race. “Through his reporting, John Chancellor dispelled lies and ignorance for the first time in the new age of TV”

    It struck me that Chancellor did not “respect different sides” of that “polarizing issue”, otherwise he wouldn’t have been dispelling the lie that blacks should not have the same rights as whites that many then believed.

    Chancellor took sides on many issues. The same types who heaped praise on Revkin for “respecting different sides in this polarizing debate” lauded Chancellor for his strongly expressed opinions. They played clips.

    Chancellor covering war in Lebanon: “”Whats the Israeli Army doing here in Beirut? The answer is we are now dealing with an Imperial Israel which is solving its problems in someone else’s country, world opinion be damned”

    Chancellor, when the Soviet Union crumbled: “”and so it ends, born in cynicism and now dying in cynicism, the great, fake, Russian Empire…”

    Revkin, had he been covering the National Guard as they stood tall defending American values against black school children trying to get an education alongside white children at Central High School back then in Little Rock, Arkansas, might have put it this way:

    “black children are starting to enter white schools here in the South even though there are still questions as to whether blacks are human like the rest of us”.

  62. Never knew the difference, thanks!

  63. Doug Bostrom says:

    Stolen from Michael Tobis:

    I do not think journalists should “join the team”. They bridle at
    that, for good reason. Power-seeking and truth-seeking are different
    behaviours, and this is how we distinguish politics from journalism. I
    think it does take a certain detachment from your own preferences and
    assumptions to be a good reporter. The difficulty is that neutrality
    has its limits. Taken too far, it undermines the very project in which
    a serious journalist is engaged.

    Suppose the forces that want to convince Americans that Barack Obama
    is a Muslim or wasn’t born in the United States start winning, and
    more and more people believe it. This is a defeat for journalism—in
    fact, for verification itself. Neutrality and objectivity carry no
    instructions for how to react to something like that. They aren’t
    “wrong”, they’re just limited. The American press does not know what
    to do when neutrality, objectivity, balance and “report both sides”
    reach their natural limits. And so journalists tend to deny that there
    are such limits. But with this denial they’ve violated the code of the
    truth-teller because these limits are real. See the problem?

    –Jay Rosen in The Economist

    Does an overweening affection for “neutrality” translate into synthetic middle-ground, a place of invention where one may imagine or hypothesize corruption in the scientific community so rife as to overwhelm any utility? Does this concocted neutrality grant a license to speculate without being required to produce any evidence? What happens when a powerful, influential masthead propagates such empty musings?

    Some of this comes back to the notions of “journalism” and “correspondent” as the terms have evolved and come to be understood today. By becoming a blogger and ceasing his activity as a latter-day journalist Andy Revkin has reverted back to the roots of his trade. Despite no longer being a journalist or correspondent in the modern sense of the words his writing is attached to an organ where “journalist” has a formal meaning largely unrelated to the role Revkin now plays. His continued association with the NY Times is a strange form of anachronism, lending informal efforts a amount of impact we’re accustomed to being granted only to more rigorous and modern methods.

  64. Doug Bostrom says:

    A little more on the demise of the NY Times as a reliable source for information:

    A journalism professor asks, and answers: How many tea partiers on the mall on Saturday? Try ~80,000. Why’d we read 300,000-plus?

    From the <a href="http://ksjtracker.mit.edu/"Knight Science Journalism Tracker.

  65. paulm says:

    Ahhhhhh! This needs a response.
    Why do they write these in-depth pieces with out proper investigation.
    Civilization is about to go belly up and people who should know don’t.

    Climate change: Lingering clouds
    By Fiona Harvey
    Published: August 29 2010 20:09

    The investigation, and this year’s extreme weather, have thrown a spotlight on some of the murkiest corners of climate science: the areas where scientists are simply not sure what to expect. These uncertainties include the exact nature of the changes from a warming world, when and where these will strike, and how severely.
    With all this at stake, politicians and business leaders are demanding answers – but sometimes, answers that scientists cannot give. Scientists are now addressing some of the areas of greatest concern with a new urgency and candour, following the “climategate” debacle that surrounded disputed data six months ago.

    “Uncertainty goes both ways … It could be worse, or it could be a bit better.”

    When will these questions be answered? It seems unlikely that proof will come soon. One of the most vexed issues – clouds and their effect on the climate – has been the object of study for at least 30 years, without a definitive conclusion.

  66. Edward says:

    Thanks much and see and comment on Andy Revkin’s latest article “Report Calls for ‘Fundamental Reform’ of Climate Panel”. The last link in the article is to http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/26/from-inside-and-out-climate-panel-pushed-to-change/
    which calls Roger A. Pielke Jr. a climate researcher.

    Please do make comments on dotearth.

  67. And still the BBC are shy about exposing the real reasons why there was such a storm about glaciers in the Himalayas, this judging by this report:


    ‘Stricter controls urged for the UN’s climate body’

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has faced mounting pressure over errors in its last major assessment of climate science in 2007.

    The distortion was continued with the ten o’clock news this evening.

    Message to BBC WRT IPCC and glaciers – there was a small ambiguity about dates which was a tiny error given the mammoth amount of reading matter that makes up the FAR. Besides even the dates publishedcould have been closer to the truth if the cryosphere continues with accelerated metltown. How is Lake Mead getting on lately?

    The reason why this small error caused a stir was because agents pushed the media into echo chamber distortion of the true nature of the error – most commentators didn’t even know where the error was – they just increased the hype. Seems the BBC still fails here too.

    Time the BBC cleaned up their act and regained true balance.

  68. Peter says:

    Most of the media continues to ally themselves with the ‘Denier’ point of view-when will the turning point take place?

  69. ken levenson says:

    A WALTER DURANTY award is in order – don’t you think, Joe?

  70. Barry says:

    Re: Meme that peak fossil will save us (comments 33, 39, 44, etc).

    As Hansen points out in his book, we have more than enough known reserves of fossil fuels to push the planet into “venus syndrome”. This is a “dead certainty” in his words.

    As Hansen also points out, the climate doesn’t care if we burn it all quickly or slowly. A world that cuts fossil fuel burn rate 70% but keeps burning them still cooks the biosphere bye bye. We must leave most of the fossil we know about in the ground permanently.

    As McKibben points out in his book Eaarth, a barrel of oil contains almost a decade of human labour in it. This is still a bargain at $1000/barrel. Heck at a dollar and hour wage a barrel is worth more than $15,000. Yes we will be forced to burn expensive oil, coal and gas slower…but we will still burn it all unless we use the remaining cheap fossil to create non-fossil alternatives in time.

    Finally, do the math on increasing CO2 intensity as EROEI increases. It is ugly. What we face with increasing EROEI is a world that emits more CO2 per productive joule of work. This is already happening big time. It is the reason that tar sands are so “dirty”, eh?

    For example, look at Cuba. It faced a sudden 50% per capita forced energy “power down”. But while per capita energy has stayed down in Cuba for 15 years, the per capita CO2 is rising quickly. Less energy and same CO2. That is future that declining fossil is bringing us. If you look at the nations with the fastest growing CO2 intensity, the top of the list is crammed with the poorest nations.

    It amazes me that peakers don’t appreciate the fact that humans have an huge financial incentive to burn even extremely expensive fossil in a timeframe that will devestate the climate.

    Parroting the oil industry line that we don’t have to worry about burning all the economically viable fossil is shocking for a group that claims to be hard-headed realists worried about the future of civilization.

  71. Person of Choler says:

    “Do not write another word about climate science until you have spent one whole month as a visitor in a climate research institute. Attend the seminars, talk to the PhD students, sit in on meetings, find out what actually goes on in these places.”

    And I suppose that if Mr. Revkin were to hang out for a month with the Roman Curia, he’d come away believing in the Virgin Birth, eh?

  72. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Person of Choler -

    “And I suppose that if Mr. Revkin were to hang out for a month with the Roman Curia, he’d come away believing in the Virgin Birth, eh?”

    Yes, very likely, but only if he were an honest man naive enough to actually believe the blatant lies and slander fed him by the fossil fuel lobby,
    rather than being a highly paid and unusally plausible shill for them.



  73. dhogaza says:

    And I suppose that if Mr. Revkin were to hang out for a month with the Roman Curia, he’d come away believing in the Virgin Birth, eh?

    If he believed in the absolute truth of spiritualism, rather than objective physical measurements that underly science, sure.

    My belief system tells me that when I’m dead, I’m dead. Yours might tell me that when you’re dead, you’ll become the next spawn of virgin birth. On my side, I have empirical data. On your side, you might have some strange belief based on reading the bible.

    Science is inherently different than religion. On the one side, we have results. On the other, repeated claims that “the end of the world is near!” which after 2,000 years, has not happened.

  74. Ron House says:

    (You say about Revkin:) That 2006 article includes this uber-misleading statement:

    (Revkin:) … the concentration of carbon dioxide … far lower than some of the apocalyptic projections … but also far higher than [others].

    (You:) … a sensitivity of 5°F for a doubling is hardly “far lower” than most other analyses — it is in fact in the middle of the pack.

    (Me:) Isn’t far lower than some and far higher than others “middle of the pack”? And where did Revkin say “far lower than MOST”? If you want to say Revkin is “uber-misleading”, shouldn’t you avoid doing the same thing you accuse him of?

    [JR: Thank you for pointing out this inconsequential (and not misleading) but poor phrasing. What was misleading was the statement that this supposedly new estimate for doubling sensitivity did anything significant to undercut worst-case projections, which depend far more on the high level of concentrations we are headed toward on our current emissions path (much higher than doubling) and amplifying carbon cycle feedbacks (which aren't included in the sensitivity).]

  75. MapleLeaf says:

    Ron @73,

    Dr. Romm can of course reply and defend himself. But FWIW, 3 C warming for doubling CO2 IS the current best estimate (see work by James Annan and others), and happens to lie in the middle of the 1.5-4.5 C range stated in AR4. And 3 C warming for doubling CO2 is not much lower than the upper range of 4.5 C stated in the IPCC. Revkin is wrong to say that some recent projections of warming are apocalyptic without actually giving a number. If the predictions were for more than 6 C warming for doubling CO2 he may have a point, but that IS NOT what the IPCC and science are calling for (especially not for for doubling CO2).

    There have been projections for more than 6 C warming, but those values were obtained for much higher emission scenarios/paths that take us well above 560 ppm, and closer to tripling or quadrupling CO2 concentrations above pre-industrial levels. I am not aware of projections of warming in the literature or IPCC which suggest +6 C (apocalyptic) warming for “only” a doubling CO2.

    The “most” may be an oversight on Roimm’s part, but I would hardly consider that to be “uber misleading”, especially relative to the misleading statements made by Revkin on this issue.

  76. mike roddy says:

    David Lewis, nice to hear from you again, and you get my comment of the month award for #60. I laughed my ass off.

  77. sod says:

    Andy simply doesn t get it. see his hew post about the IPCC:


    “Report Calls for ‘Fundamental Reform’ of Climate Panel”

    his attempts to balance between the middle of the scientific position (that is where the IPCC is) and the extreme fringes of denialism produces garbage.

    the idea that “balanced” reporting produces credibility would have some merits. if we were not up against an anti-science coalition, trying to prevent action by using a tobacco campaign technique of spreading doubt.

    in such an environment, “balance2 just falls for their tactic and increases the spread of misinformation.

  78. Sailesh Rao says:

    Re: #67 “Most of the media continues to ally themselves with the ‘Denier’ point of view-when will the turning point take place?”

    It seems to be a simple case of who’s directly paying for the media. If the media companies depend on fossil fuel advertisers for their revenue, then perhaps, we can expect their “news” to be colored accordingly?

    We, the public, let this happen by flocking to “free” news sites, causing the corruption of the media that we ultimately pay for through our fossil fuel and other consumer purchases.

    The financial stakes involved in the climate debate make the tobacco stakes look like monopoly money. Naturally, the gloves are off in the fossil fuel lobby’s blatant attempts to obscure the truth.

    Except that reality keeps intruding as Mother Nature keeps rubbing the truth in their faces. She is, without a doubt, the scientific community’s greatest ally.

  79. pete best says:

    Re #70, Peak means supply side – it cannot keep up with demand regardless of the price. Wells can only produce so much oil per day (b/d) and hence if they are peaking then tha rate can only go down whilst demand goes up. This is what you are missing here regardless of the price.

    Tar sands cant be developed to produce more than 3 mb/d up from 1.2 mb/d now by 2020. Its not like regardless of how much there is that it can go up any further due to issues surrounding natural gas which is used to creat the stuff and water from the local rivers which is a lot and the river is suffering level wise.

    You get it now hopefully, 4-5% decrease per annum means oil will deplete quickly regardless and no amount of unconventional or any other oil sources will allow demand to grow only shrink.

  80. Neal Heidler says:

    I’d like to know who hired and/or supervised Andy Revkin and John Tierney and how in heck is it possible, that of all of people, they both came to rely on Roger Pielke Jr. as their “go to” guy on climate science? Is the (inexcusable) habit of relying so heavily on Pielke part the science blogger/reporter job description at the NYT?

    I find it hard to believe that this is an accident.

  81. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Pete at 78 -

    we are agreed on both the constraints and the filth of the tar sands fiasco, and that conventional sources of oil are depleted to the extent that a 4.5%/yr decline of supply appears inevitable.

    Where we differ is in projecting the response to that decline. Clearly it will impose massive disruption on current profligate usage, and, in the absence of a global susbsistence allocation accord, extreme privation in countries unable to afford the spiked prices.

    This may appear catastrophic for industrialised nations and their globalized ‘just-in-time’ corporate business model, as the public sees only that its ‘just-too-effing-late’ to avoid severe economic depression.

    Yet that decline of conventional supply is already sparking urgent investment in two of the three massive fossil resources I described earlier, namely in-situ coal gasification and methyl clathrates. The third, peat gassification, is so simple that when any nation wants to do it, they have only to look up the Swedish projects in the ’70s and make a start.

    China in particular is starting to develop the clathrates option, both onshore as I mentioned in its 35MBoe field, and, just yesterday, it announced a new offshore base for researching the exploitation of its seabed resources.

    Plainly the famous report to the US DOD describing the lead time for novel technologies to replace conventional oils is very unlikely to be far out in its estimates, so there is massive disruption coming. Yet the report does not propose that such disruption will be terminal for industrialized society.

    With new exothermically-produced fossil fuel resources becoming available on current energy-supply scales potentially before 2030, alongside the ongoing rapid acceleration of non-fossil energies and fuels’ supply, it seems a dangerous indulgence to assume that peak oil means the end of a fossil fuelled society.

    Once peak oil begins to bite hard, the effort to utilize those new fuels will be like nothing we’ve yet seen. I suggest that to ignore this prospect would be very rash indeed.



  82. MapleLeaf says:

    If I may vent.

    Personally and professionally I find the continued reference to ‘tribes’ and ‘tribalism’ in this ‘ACW debate’ inappropriate, divisive and juvenile. It was bad enough when Curry decided to erroneously apply this term to climate science, and now we have Revkin blindly parroting it. Andy and Judith, neither of you are anthropologists.

    Some context. In South Africa they have many tribes. For example, Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho (north and south) being the largest, each representing millions of individuals. And typically Zulu and Xhosa do not see eye-to-eye, in fact they regularly engage in violent clashes, even though they stand united under one national flag. So I fail to see how Dr. Curry can think that using such a term can build bridges….

    Also, is one not born into a tribe? People in true tribes are proud of their culture, heritage and achievements. One does not just wake up one morning and decide to be Zulu.

    Using the term “tribe” in the context of climate science, is in my opinion, offensive and disrespectful to those very real tribes around the world, and it is sure as heck not conciliatory or going to build bridges.

    I strongly urge Revkin and Curry to stop playing games and to behave responsibly and professionally. If they wish they can refer to “opposing camps”, although that phrase should probably also be quantified to state that the camp which understands AGW to be a legitimate concern includes about 97% of the climate scientists. Curry and Revkin and equating the two camps, and thereby giving ‘skeptics’ false equivalence and undue weight (in terms of their lack of education on climate science, their understanding of climate science, their experience in climate science and their contribution to advancing climate science) in this debate.

  83. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #74: MapleLeaf, please bear in mind that the ~3C Charney sensitivity you refer to is outdated since its assumption that slow feedbacks (carbon and ice-albedo) wouldn’t kick in over the course of a century now looks very questionable if not wrong. Based on an examination of the real world (from data on mid-Pliocene climate that the Charney committee could only dream about), Lunt et al. recently determined that the real (Earth system) equilibrium sensitivity is more like 5C given that the mid-Pliocene was 2-3C warmer with only ~350 ppm CO2. Add to that the prospect of an overshoot due to carbon feedbacks (e.g. massive CO2/methane release from permafrost melt), which wouldn’t be a problem if warming proceeded slowly, and transient sensitivity could be much higher (per Hansen).

    Modelers are going to keep using Charney sensitivity as a baseline for comparing their models, but otherwise I think we should be speaking in terms of Earth system sensitivity, equilibrium and transient. It’s a rhetorical transition that will be difficult since we’ve grown so used to talking about the former.

  84. Doug Bostrom says:

    Andy Revkin tries to clarify his position in a long and thoughtful piece explaining his trajectory through life:


    Part of a talk he gave some years ago.

    Folks who’ve been following this story of climate change and feel a connection with trying to change our course are hypersensitive to anything stoking the forces of delay and procrastination. Even or perhaps especially when we see accidental aspersions that are the result of words chosen in haste then blurted out through an enormous megaphone, we become very upset. I think Andy Revkin for some reason does not get how much it matters how he expresses himself.

  85. MarkB says:

    “Even or perhaps especially when we see accidental aspersions that are the result of words chosen in haste then blurted out through an enormous megaphone, we become very upset.”

    The problem is this happens with Revkin on a fairly regular basis and he rarely specifically will admit it’s “accidental”.

  86. MapleLeaf says:

    Hi Steve @82,

    Thanks for the information. I embarrassed to admit that I was blissfully unaware of the sobering Lunt et al. paper– just tracked it down at John Cook’s place. These new data make Lindzen’s and Spencer’s attempts at determining climate sensitivity using incredibly short data periods all the more questionable. It also shows that uncertainty cuts both ways….

    Is his perhaps one of the alleged “apocalyptic” projections which Andy was referring to?

  87. Steve Bloom says:

    I don’t know. There’s nothing apocalyptic about mid-Pliocene equilibrium climate (+2-3C @ 350 ppm CO2), rather it’s the speed of the transition plus any of those nasty fast-feedback issues. Of course the latter are necessarily speculative since they lack precise paleoclimatic analogs, but maybe Andy’s unclear even on the former. It is pretty recent science, so perhaps he thinks it’s somehow not completely confirmed. It is, of course.

    I suppose one could say that Lunt et al.‘s sensitivity figure is also speculative, but given the rest of climate history, starting with the mid-Miocene, it would be difficult to explain why doubled CO2 wouldn’t result in ~+5C (assuming no fast feedback problems). Of course the mid-Pliocene analog is best since changes to the planet have been close to negligible since then.

    Add to all of this the fact that the models are already missing or under-predicting chnages in many aspects of the climate system and the fact that they don’t really “do” climate extremes, and it is, as Raypierre says, appropriate to be alarmed. Maybe Andy’s just one of those (all too common) people who’s isn’t wired to be able to perceive the problem.

    I’d go farther than you and say that Lindzen/Christy/Spencer/Curry low sensitivity axis is left standing on vaccuum. The most one could argue is that there’s some sort of short-term (probably cloud-related) damper on sensitivity that goes away later on, but the utter lack of evidence for such a thing causes it to fly directly into the face of Occam’s Razor. Ewww, what a mess. :)

  88. Steve Bloom says:

    Just to add to emphasize the point: Uncertainty can no longer be said to cut both ways in the long term.

  89. Steve Bloom says:

    Aha, that looks strange. My prior comment is in moderation, so please wait for it to come out for that to make sense.

  90. Steve Bloom says:

    And there it is. Joe’s on the job!

    Doug, to be fair to Andy, I think he thinks people want to know about how he thinks, which is kind of true, but the problem is that he’s one of those people who’s constantly re-examining everything he thinks he knows. That’s an OK quality in a reporter, and indeed we expect scientists to be that way, but it’s counter-productive to transmit all the associated random thoughts to the world.

  91. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #86: Sorry, when i said fast feedbacks I meant slow feedbacks moving fast. Hopefully that’s clear.

  92. tristram shandy says:

    That’s how we put 12 men on the moon and got them back.

    ah that was engineering.

  93. Carmen S says:

    You are oblivious to the fact that rabid rants like this do nothing for your credibility, but great harm to the cause.
    Revkin has his faults, but I’d trust him. I wouldn’t trust you with a bag of peanuts.

  94. Doug Bostrom says:

    Steve Bloom says: August 31, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    … it’s counter-productive to transmit all the associated random thoughts to the world.

    Yes, the “blurting” problem. I picture to myself harried Congressional aides trying to keep up with environmental problems, seeking some way of steering their bosses outside of the interested advice on offer from lobbyists, perhaps turning to Revkin’s blog to get the picture of the day. He’s got an obligation not to confuse his readers.

    More from that interview w/Jay Rosen:

    When journalists get attacked from the left and the right, they take it as confirmation that they’re doing something right, when they could be doing everything wrong. There’s a certain laziness that creeps up too, which you can hear in phrases from the commentariat like “extremists on both sides”. No attempt to actually examine centre and margin and compare them across parties; instead, this sorry act of positioning, in which the political centre is associated with truth, common sense and realism.

  95. Steve Bloom says:

    Yeah, and Revkin made an explicit attempt to invent such a middle for climate change. Surprise, surprise, in addition to journalists it included RP Jr., Mike Hulme, the Breakthrough Institute… meh.

  96. MapleLeaf says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your all thoughts. Fascinating, if not depressing stuff. We can only hope that Lunt et al. and Hansen et al. (2008) are horribly wrong. Alas, thus far Hansen has not faltered by much.

    Re Revkin, he is assuming that the expertise, knowledge and expertise in climate science is normally distributed, well it is most definitely not Andy. He’ll find the actual average or “middle ground” is quite different from what Pielke Jnr. and other contrarians are trying to have him believe.

  97. Wheathead says:

    “Seriously? A Harvard scientist is found guilty of academic misconduct — and that’s spun into an excuse to pile on climate science, which has withstood multiple independent investigations in the past year?”

    I had a hard time getting past this line at the start of your post. I hardly consider any of the three investigations “independent”.

  98. Doug Bostrom says:

    Wheathead says: August 31, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    I hardly consider any of the three investigations “independent”.

    Unfortunately for you, you’re “Wheathead,” performing an artless drive-by in the comments section of a blog. Just as with the rest of us rabble deep down in the dark here, right or wrong your opinion does not count for shit. Tough beans, eh?

  99. MapleLeaf says:


    You say:
    “I had a hard time getting past this line at the start of your post”

    Well, put your conspiracy hypotheses aside, and instead make a determined effort. This is too important a matter to make excuses and give up.

    I’m curious to see how the ‘skeptics’ will stand up to much less rigorous scrutiny by just one official inquiry ;) The striking resemblance to previous work of text in the Wegman report (much touted by contrarians) and in the recent McShane and Wyner paper probably going to result in at least one such investigation.

  100. Anonymous says:

    MapleLeaf, given the extensive data on the Pliocene it’s unrealistic to even contemplate Lunt et al. being wrong about equilibrium Earth system sensitivity, although they could easily be off the mark with the speculation in their conclusions about how soon the slow feedbacks kick in. Similarly, Hansen might be wrong about transient sensitivity going even higher, although he wasn’t making a firm prediction so much as stating a risk (that we absolutely can’t afford to take), but then we see results like these:

    Marine animals suggest evidence for a trans-Antarctic seaway: The WAIS melted out most of the way in a recent interglacial.

    Dramatic climate change is unpredictable: The climate likes to change abruptly rather than gradually.

    As Wally Broecker says, it’s an angry beast and we’re poking it with a stick.

  101. Steve Bloom says:

    That last was me, although probably that’s obvious.

  102. Whatshisname says:

    Have a hoax alert. Premier Radio Network talk show host George Noory reported last night that the review of the IPCC concluded there is “little evidence” of global warming. Bear in mind that Noory is a clumsy denier who in recent years has become the subject of a satirical discussion thread which is more popular than his show. Nevertheless he is a willing disinformer who is often used to test run denier propaganda. The fake stories and slate of oddball climate “experts” which heavily dot his program are hard to believe (as in hard to imagine) but he is syndicated and has a long reach. His overnight time slot is the perfect place to get a lie into the next day’s conversation then on to other make-believe news outfits and blogs.

    George Noory’s brain may be so small the alien implants are stoop-shouldered, but some people will believe anything he says.

  103. MapleLeaf says:

    Thanks for all the information Steve, much appreciated. New science is coming out in droves, and no credible science is pointing to lower ECS.

    Yes, we are poking an angry beast, and sooner or later it will turn. The extreme weather of late is probably just a prelude of worse things to come….sigh.

  104. Chris Winter says:

    For those who may not know — George Noory is the successor to Art Bell on the early-morning radio show Coast To Coast AM that covers all manner of pseudoscience.