Clive Hamilton: Manufacturing a scientific scandal

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"Clive Hamilton: Manufacturing a scientific scandal"

http://www.earthscan.co.uk/images/bookcovers//9781849710817.jpgThe Australian author and ethicist Clive Hamilton has been running an amazing series of articles on the attack on climate science (click here).  He has given me permission to repost them.  I’ll start with #4.

Hamilton was appointed Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethic in June 2008.  He is the author of the forthcoming book “Requiem for a Species,” which has a blunt video:

Manufacturing a scientific scandal

Although sceptics have been gnawing away at the credibility of climate science for years, over the last five months they have made enormous leaps owing to the hacking of emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and the discovery of a number of alleged mistakes in the benchmark reports of the IPCC.

While the “revelations” have been milked for all they are worth, and a lot more, the science remains rock solid. If instead of cherry-picking two or three that lend themselves to spin, you read the 1000 or so emails that were posted on a Russian server the picture that emerges is one of an enormously dedicated group of men and women doing their best to carry out research of the highest quality.

If there were a conspiracy among scientists to manipulate the truth, you would expect the evidence to be there in spades in these private emails. But it’s not. Instead they show scientists working their backsides off to do good science, with email exchanges stopping briefly on Christmas Eve to be resumed on Boxing Day, with apologies to colleagues for taking time out to have surgery or get married, all with a sub-text of worry about the implications of their work for the future of humanity.

Rather than cover-ups, we read private emails from one scientist to Phil Jones, the CRU head who has been forced to step down pending an inquiry, saying he has been watching the sceptics blogs and, anticipating misrepresentation, says “this last aspect needs to be tackled more candidly in AR4 than in the SOD, and we need to discuss how to do this”. Others show them bending over backwards to be open.

Before the leak of the CRU emails, one colleague emailed others in response to attacks by sceptics on Phil Jones:

“The sad thing here is that Phil Jones is one of the true gentlemen of our field. I have known Phil for most of my scientific career. He is the antithesis of the secretive, “data destroying” character the CEI and Michaels are trying to portray to the outside world.”

And the emails reveal the enormous external pressure they were under. They show they were constantly accused of being frauds and cheats; their work was twisted and misrepresented; and they were bombarded with vexatious freedom of information requests orchestrated by denialists. In short, they were caught up in a hot political debate that they did not really understand or want to be part of, yet they were the target of savvy, secretive and ruthless organisations ready to pounce on anything they said or wrote.

This is the real story exposed of “Climategate”. Instead, the scientists in question have seen their professional reputations trashed in the world’s media for no cause, to the point where Phil Jones has been on the verge of suicide. It has been the most egregious and unfounded attack on the integrity of a profession we have ever seen.

Yet the science remains rock solid

Since the leaking of the CRU emails the worldwide press have reported a series of “mistakes” in the IPCC reports that have allowed the denial lobby to claim that the entire IPCC process and the body of climate science should be junked. It turns out that almost all of the mistakes are fabrications. How could this have happened?

The first and only significant error identified in the IPCC report is the claim that 80 per cent of Himalayan glaciers are very likely to disappear by 2035. This was a serious mistake for a scientific report that should not have got through the review process. But let’s be very clear about its significance:

  • The error occurred in Volume 2 of the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), the volume on the impacts of climate change. Volume 1 reports and assesses the physical basis for climate science, including projections of warming. Chapter 4 contains an extensive discussion of glaciers, snow and ice. Projections for glaciers are also discussed in Chapter 10. No one has challenged any of the statements in these chapters, prepared by teams including the world’s leading glaciologists, which carefully lay out what is known.
  • The erroneous “2035” claim was nowhere highlighted by the IPCC. It appeared neither in the chapter summary, the report summary or the crucial Summary for Policymakers. In no sense was it a central claim of the IPCC report, as some newspapers have said.
  • It was a glaring error that should have been picked up earlier, but it was so deeply buried in the report that denialists around the world, with all of their supposed scientific expertise, did not pick it up for two years. In fact, they did not pick it up at all; it was first pointed out by Georg Kaser and others. Kaser is an eminent glacier expert who was a lead author of Chapter 4 in Volume 1.

Although mistakes like this one should not occur, to suggest that it has any bearing on the credibility of the science of AR4 is absurd. The more remarkable fact is that so few errors have been identified in AR4, and none at all in the crucial Volume 1 which sets out the physical basis for climate change. On page 493 of Volume 2, where the “2035” mistake occurs, I count 20 factual claims that are falsifiable. Multiply that by the 3,000 or so pages in AR4 and you can see how utterly trivial that single mistake is.

But haven’t many more mistakes been found in AR4? No. The only other claimed error that has any substance is the statement that “55% of its [the Netherlands] territory is below sea-level”. This figure was supplied by the Dutch Government. It is slightly misleading because the correct statement is that 55% per cent of the Netherlands is at risk of flooding, although the Dutch Ministry of Transport says that 60% of the country is below the high water level. The confusion may have implications for the Netherlands’ dike planning but has no bearing whatever on the science of climate change.

There are three additional “errors” in AR4 that have attracted press attention and sparked denialist frenzies. They are analysed on the Realclimate website.

  • “Africagate” refers to the claim that AR4 overstated the potential decline in crop yields in Africa. The figures in AR4 have since been shown to be an accurate assessment.
  • “Disastergate” is the allegation that the IPCC erroneously attributed some of the rising costs of disasters to climate change. In fact, the section in question is hedged around with caution and the expert whose work was said to be misused by the IPCC has declared that the IPCC has fairly represented his findings.
  • “Amazongate”, a story that opened with the claim: “A startling report by the United Nations climate watchdog that global warming might wipe out 40% of the Amazon rainforest was based on an unsubstantiated claim by green campaigners who had little scientific expertise”. The story is plain wrong, with the expert on whose work the IPCC relied stating that the information is correct, although the referencing is incomplete.

Apart from the fact that these three “gates” are beat-ups with no basis in their criticism of the IPCC, they have one feature in common – the stories were all written by Jonathan Leake, science and environment editor of The Sunday Times.

Leake has close links with deniers and in fact based these stories directly on wild and unsubstantiated claims by sceptic bloggers, as uncovered by Tim Holmes. In the case of Amazongate, Leake had been informed by another expert that, while the referencing was inadequate, the claim in AR4 is correct and, if anything, an understatement. But Leake disregarded this and quoted that same expert in his story to exactly the reverse effect, as if he were a severe critic of the IPCC.

On the role of Leake I can do no better than quote Tim Holmes:

“While it is wholly unsurprising that the denial lobby should be attempting to push baseless and misleading stories to the press, what is surprising is the press’s willingness to swallow them. In this case, two experts in the relevant field told a Times journalist explicitly that, in spite of a minor referencing error, the IPCC had got its facts right. That journalist simply ignored them. Instead, he deliberately put out the opposite line – one fed to him by a prominent climate change denier – as fact. The implications are deeply disturbing, not only for our prospects of tackling climate change, but for basic standards of honesty and integrity in journalism.”

Leake’s stories have been reproduced in the other Murdoch broadsheets, The Australian and the Wall Street Journal and of course have been amplified on Fox News, and are themselves now being referred to as “Leakegate”.

Bloggers and columnists, who attack climate science without ever opening an IPCC report or speaking to a real climate scientists, imagine that the body of climate science is a house of cards, and taking away one or two will cause it to collapse. In fact the scientific case for global warming is like a mountain built up by adding one rock at a time over many years. Even if all of the alleged errors were true it would amount to picking off a handful of rocks from the top of the mountain, leaving the rest unchanged and unmoved.

Yet these alleged mistakes – non-existent or trivial – with no implications whatever for the robustness of climate science have been deployed in a sophisticated campaign to blacken the reputations of the scientists responsible for alerting us to the perils of global warming.

Perception versus reality

Unfortunately, the chorus of declarations that the climate scientists got it wrong has had no impact on the earth’s climate. Indeed, those who study the climate itself rather than the bogus debate in the newspapers and the blogosphere understand that climate science and popular perceptions of climate science are diverging rapidly, not least because the news on the former is getting worse.

Soon after AR4 appeared in early 2007, those familiar with the science began to say that as a result of the consensus process and the natural caution of scientists, the Fourth Assessment Report had seriously understated the risks from climate change, particularly in its selection of scenarios and its estimates of likely sea-level rise.

Rather than rehearse the evidence for these warnings, well known to those who follow the science, let me make mention of a number of developments in climate science that have been published or reported in the five months since the leaking of the Climategate emails. It is evidence that warming is more alarming than previously thought yet which has been buried in the avalanche of confected stories claiming that climate scientists have exaggerated.

I have tried to find some new studies that go the other way in the hope I can counterbalance this bleak story, but have not succeeded.

Over the last five months, a vast gulf has opened up between the media-stoked perception that the climate science has been exaggerated and the research-driven evidence that the true situation is worse than we thought.

Just when we should be urging immediate and deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions, the public is being lulled into disbelief, scepticism and apathy by a sustained and politically driven assault on the credibility of climate science. For this we will all pay dearly.

— Clive Hamilton

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22 Responses to Clive Hamilton: Manufacturing a scientific scandal

  1. Sou says:

    Prof Hamilton has written one of the best series of articles on the recent spate of attacks that I’ve read. If you go to the ABC Unleashed website, you’ll see that these articles provoked a response not seen before in the history of Unleashed.

    Within an hour or two those who rarely visit the ABC site had flocked to denounce the articles. They’d been sent over by Andrew Bolt – Australia’s imitation of the UK’s Delingpole. (Unlike Leake, Bolt rarely writes anything original. He usually just repeats the lies of others, sometimes just copying slabs of text directly.) Bolt didn’t like Hamilton identifying him as one of the more obvious culprits in Australia and complained in his blog (on the newspaper site of the Herald-Sun).

    It was quite funny, if you’re into black comedy, to see the deniosaurs (as one blogger calls them) writing in exactly the manner described by Hamilton in his articles. It was almost as if they thought Hamilton was writing a primer for them to follow instead of outing them and their ‘leader’.

  2. catman306 says:

    One glaring error on the side of understatement is the title of Clive Hamilton’s new book “Requiem for a Species”. Global warming and climate change will cause and is causing the extinction of many, many of our co-species. But after we’re gone, no one will be keeping track of these losses.

    Could I suggest ‘Requiem for a global ecosystem’?

  3. jorleh says:

    Great work. All true.

    But only 1% of people even in civilized countries take any notice of the real science: they read the headlines and take the average of the headline opinions.

    People are making suicide. But who is going to stop them?

  4. caerbannog says:

    To put the IPCC “scandals” into perspective, perhaps high-school science teachers should respond to students’ complaints about IPCC “errors” by proposing a new grading system: Perfect score or “F”. One minor mistake on an exam? F. One minor error on a term paper? F. If you don’t get an A, you get an F.

    And then sit back to see who howls the loudest: the students or their dittohead parents.

  5. klem says:

    You’re not seriously suggesting that the 2007 AR4 had some ‘errors’ in it? And these errors were so minor that they are insignificant. You’re missing the point; the public gets the point; the point is that they were not errors at all. The statements in the AR4 report were deliberately put there for effect. They were placed in the AR4 report to scare the reader. This makes the AR4 report a document of propaganda, not science as has been claimed since 2007. This is why this has gained so much traction with the public; the errors reveal the agenda. The question now is; why were scientists silent about these statements for three years? They were fully aware of them until after Copenhagen. Only after Copenhagen was a failure was it safe for them to speak up. Why?

  6. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    It’s a real pleasure to read so lucid an account of the deniers’ campaign. Surely it is time that critical targets were sued for defamation, reckless endangerment, conspiracy to defraud (obtaining monies by false pretences) etc ?

    The only advance I’d make to the article is in its use of the term ‘skeptic’ to describe people who are the paid propagandists of a covert illicit plot to misinform, and others who are just their dupes who merely spout the conspiracy theory they’ve been sold. Neither of these are remotely skeptical in terms of disciplined impartiality, evidence based research, etc. They are denialists plain and simple.

    The denialists might generally be described as conspiracy theorists given the time spent on describing their illusory version of a climate conspiracy, be that sometimes for private profit and sometimes for a UN world dominion to end all private profit.
    Yet the fact that there are large well documented funding sources behind the campaign means that the paid propagandists should not be excused their dishonesty under the wingnut label of conspiracy theorists. Denialist may thus be the best generic term available.

    Regards,

    Lewis

  7. not-a-faux-news-viewer says:

    Klem (Kadiddlehopper?) said:

    You’re not seriously suggesting that the 2007 AR4 had some ‘errors’ in it? And these errors were so minor that they are insignificant. You’re missing the point; the public gets the point; the point is that they were not errors at all. The statements in the AR4 report were deliberately put there for effect. They were placed in the AR4 report to scare the reader.

    How to answer this….

    …since a picture is worth 1,000 words, here goes: http://www.reasonproject.org/?ACT=28&fid=7031&aid=1242_PKftS4IGog8Nqlm6hJOU&board_id=2

  8. David Smith says:

    #5, I am intreged by your statement, “They were placed in the AR4 report for effect.”

    1st sentence “…seriously suggesting…” placed for emotional effect and fairly aggressive.

    2nd sentence – “…missing the point, the public…” I do not interpret the situation as you do. The public you are refering to is still a minority, but extremely vocal.

    4th sentence – I am not sure how you determine intent in this case. You can say anything you want. it probably cannot be proved or disproved.

    5th sentence – Suggesting that content of a 1,000 page document is questionable because of a few sentences wouldn’t hold up in a 5th grade writing assignment. I guess I’m saying it’s juvenile.

    6th sentence – So your saying that you have undertaken a scientifically balanced poll and a shift has been determined based on this piece of information. Or you can link to the specific poll that indicates this.

    Sentence 7, 8, 9 & 10 – Blah, Blah, Blah

    Last thought – You are presenting this under an assumed name. Why do
    you hide the truth?

    “… (your) statements…were put there for effect….”

  9. Steve says:

    Consider to what extent hard work has been devalued in the national dialogue–in this case the hard work of determining whether the nation and world are at risk. The Budweiser “survivor” ad that was on the Super Bowl captures this mentality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AI4oW8wEsQ.

  10. fj2 says:

    The Daily Climate
    March 1, 2010

    Cyber bullying rises as climate data are questioned

    “Australian author and academic Clive Hamilton noted that many of the country’s most distinguished climate scientists are increasingly the target of e-mail attacks aimed at driving them from the public debate.”

  11. The Devil's Chaplain says:

    Lewis@9,

    The Denialists might be better identified as conspirators & storm troopers.

  12. paulm says:

    Time to pray.

  13. Shawn Ganz says:

    There is a general consistency that media is the easiest way to communicate to the public, but (some) media doesn’t take responsibility to read any scientific articles and/or payed by corporations scared of a green revolution. Now, what can we do about it?

    I suggest that we “arm” scientist with debate skills and encourage simpler words to describe what is occurring. The scientific community needs to encourage and/or provide local media with facts and explanations of the closet monster, global warming.

    The media is the easiest way and seems to be the only way to inform the general republic. If you live in the United States, you can see some news media channels like MSNBC straying away from what the corrupt FOX channel has been stating. Hopefully the scientific community can find it to push themselves to get on the channel for a report, interview, debate, in which they are prepared for a simple and effective approach to explaining this phenomena to normal, average, non science reading people. Because in the end, it is their voice that promotes change.

    This may seem like a rallying call, because it is.

    Shawn

  14. Mark Shapiro says:

    “. . . the stories were all written by Jonathan Leake.” Then “Leake’s stories have been reproduced in the other Murdoch broadsheets, The Australian and the Wall Street Journal and of course have been amplified on Fox News.”

    I note how vociferously Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp minions spread the lies and the hatred. Then the MSM dutifully reports that more people hate climate scientists.

  15. fj2 says:

    Worth repeating:

    “A new study concludes that an average warming of 3-4°C (which means 7-8°C on land), previously thought to be associated with carbon dioxide concentrations of 500-600 ppmv, is now believed to be associated with concentrations of only 360-420 ppmv, a range that covers the current concentration of 385 ppmv, rising at 2 ppmv per annum. If confirmed by further research, the implications of this are terrifying.”

    I remember hearing something at Columbia University Earth Institute Lamont Doherty that based on ice cores, tree rings, ancient records of that sort, extreme climate change in the past had occurred in about ten years. It wasn’t said very loud.

  16. James O'Neill says:

    Great Main Article.

    In reference to #15, can someone please elaborate?

    This is the first I have seen this. The link in the main article is a pay site and I am broke.

    Is there any detail on this?

  17. fj2 says:

    #16. James O’Neill,

    http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v3/n1/full/ngeo736.html

    Nature Geoscience

    Palaeoclimate: Global warmth with little extra CO2
    Birgit Schneider & Ralph Schneider

    Abstract

    In the Early Pliocene, three to five million years ago, global temperatures were about 3-4 [deg] C warmer than today in the low latitudes, and up to 10|[deg]| C warmer nearer the poles. Climate simulations and reconstruction of this relatively recent period (geologically speaking) may help realistic magnitudes of future warming.

  18. fj2 says:

    #16. James O’Neill (continued),

    Of course you can contact the authors directly. Kind of amazing how accessible most scientists are.

    http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v3/n1/abs/ngeo736.html

    bschneider@gpi.uni-kiel.de
    rschneider@gpi.uni-kiel.de

  19. James Newberry says:

    Quite amazing how a few billion dollars of directed, concentrated, global spending on media influence and public propaganda campaigns can determine the bias of corporate information and media (see Climate Cover-Up, Hoggan). What is the countervailing public campaign effort against this? Insignificant. Do Fox News and Wall Street Journal have foreign oil ownership?

    When corporations rule the government through the political power of money, then corporations rule the world. Especially so for media in the petro-states of Britain and US, since this process precedes the making of public policy, such as that for clean, safe, economical atomic fission. Bombs away. Have some “nuclear waste,” increasing health care costs and geopolitical destabilization courtesy of public costs and private wealth. Its clean! And pay no attention to the two icebergs of 1000 square miles each broken off from East Antarctica. Watch a cool advertisement instead.

  20. James O'Neill says:

    #18 Thanks for the post. No $$ for the pay site.

    I assume we would have heard more about this if other scientists agreed with them. That would be some terrible news.

  21. fj2 says:

    20. James O’Neill, “I assume we would have heard more about this if other scientists agreed with them.”

    Not necessarily.

    Part of the strategy from several years back when scientists started to realize that they had been seeing the signs of global warming all along and that it was moving much faster than they thought was that they did not want to scare people senseless; did not want to scare them so much that they thought everything was futile and would not act to try to mitigate and adapt to it.

    The political climate was totally futile back them which gave little promise.

    Most likely, the powers that be have the most at stake and have had access to the information for some time and perhaps one of the reasons for the current administration.

    9/11 was the first major indication — at least to me — that the people up top do not know what they are doing backed up with personal experience.

    It just seems that the powers that be do not really know what to do in this unprecedented situation. This will likely require a complete restructuring of industry and civilization itself.

    Personally optimistic, this extremely difficult situation may advance civilization to a new level of relative utopia more closely integrated with environmental systems to work much better.

    Survival is all about making things better and some of the best skills are obtained solving the most difficult problems.

    Life is intelligence and virtually the same.

  22. james o'neill says:

    Thanks fj2,

    Would love to hear anymore information about this. I searched the blog and I don’t see anything about it ( I don’t think ).

    I would think if this were true we are screwed. but i am not a scientist. clive?