Roger Pielke Jr. describes the decay of climate science

Summary: Science and public policy collide in climate science as they have in few fields. Here Roger Pielke Jr., describes an example of how the resulting stress has begun to corrupt the field.

Climate War

Pielke on Climate” – Part 1 of 3.
Institutional decay in climate science.

By Roger Pielke Jr. at The Climate Fix.
Posted with his generous permission. Lightly edited.

Welcome to issue #7 of my occasional newsletter on climate and energy issues. As a reminder, my day-to-day research or writing is focused on sports governance and various issues of science policy. But I’ve written a fair bit on the topics of climate and energy over the past 25 years, including two recent books and a boatload of academic papers, and I’m paying attention. So caveat lector {reader beware}! …

Mertonian Norms and Climate Debates.

Today I have an op-ed in the WSJ on the parallel lawsuits of Mark Jacobson (Stanford) and Michael Mann (Penn State) who are both trying to characterize statements made by people critical of their work as legally actionable. {See the original dispute about Jacobson’s paper and about the lawsuit. See Wikipedia about Mann’s libel lawsuit.}

The two lawsuits are virtually identical in claims, argument and even the venue where their lawsuits were filed. There can be little doubt that Jacobson modeled his lawsuit on Mann’s lawsuit. Importantly, here is how my piece starts…

“I’ve worked alongside climate researchers for decades. Almost all of them are ethical, dedicated to science and not particularly political. But some leading figures and organizations in this community are weakening the norms that make science robust.” (emphasis added)

Mertonian norms are much discussed in studies of science and were first presented by Merton in his 1942 article “A Note on Science and Democracy“. I am not the first to apply these norms to the climate debate, see especially, Grundmann (2012) and Jasanoff (2010).

There are a number of very prominent examples of the flouting of scientific norms within the climate community. It is not the sort of discussion that gets you onto Christmas Card lists, but it is easy to list leaders in the community who’ve decided that expected norms of behavior  don’t apply to them: Jacobson, Mann, Gleick, Pachauri, Schmidt, Rahmstorf, Shukla, Jones, Trenberth — Just to start.

Climate insiders will be intimately familiar with these folks and their efforts to quash their enemies (the “deniers”!) by bringing the techniques of power politics into scientific debates. Just today Gavin Schmidt, a publicly-funded NASA scientist, decided that the best way to respond to my op-ed would be to go on Twitter to repeat lies about me first made-up by the Center for American Progress. Thank you Gavin for helping to make my point.

The erosion of norms among a few leading climate scientists has been endorsed — often tacitly but sometimes explicitly — by leading scientific organizations. Mann’s lawsuits have been celebrated by leading organizations, some of which have given him awards. The sense of a cause has gripped leaders of the climate community and the causejustifies eschewing norms.

Seeing this, why wouldn’t Jacobson follow Mann down the same legal path? Of course, Jacobson’s lawsuit creates all sorts of unresolvable dissonance. Perhaps this dissonance is why scientific organisations which should be stating loudly and unambiguously that lawsuits are not way to pursue scientific debates.

This behavior will continue until norms are upheld by the community. I have enjoyed hearing Mann’s friends defend his and Jacobson’s lawsuits. This is the normalization of deviance. Perhaps these scientists can now better understand the norm-flouting and defending of President Trump.

The good news is that my op-ed has received wide support from many scientists inside the field of climate and energy, and well beyond. Please have a read. I welcome your comments.

——————- See part two tomorrow. ——————-

About the “normalization of deviance” in climate science.

This deserves much more attention, as it has become a serious problem in the institutions of climate science. To learn more about this phenomenon see its roots in this paper by the great sociologist (and Senator) Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Defining Deviancy Down” in American Educator, Winter 1993/1994 — “How We’ve Become Accustomed to Alarming Levels Of Crime and Destructive Behavior.”

This was further developed by another American sociologist, Diane Vaughan in her 1996 book The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA. It described what she called a “normalization of deviance” within NASA that led to the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

Some future sociologist will write a book documenting this dynamic at work in today’s climate science institutions, and its horrific effect on the public policy debate about the response to climate change.

The posts in this series

  1. Institutional decay in climate science.
  2. More distorting of experts’ reports.
  3. The Politics of Inconceivable Scenarios.
Roger Pielke Jr
Roger Pielke Jr.

About the author

Roger Pielke, Jr. is a Professor of Environmental Studies at the U of CO-Boulder. He was Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. He is now Director of the Sports Governance Center in the Dept of Athletics. Before joining the faculty of the U of CO, from 1993-2001 he was a Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

His research focuses on science, innovation and politics. He holds degrees in mathematics, public policy and political science from the University of Colorado. In 2006 he received the Eduard Brückner Prize in Munich for outstanding achievement in interdisciplinary climate research. In 2012 Roger was awarded an honorary doctorate from Linköping University in Sweden and the Public Service Award of the Geological Society of America.

His page at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research has his bio, CV, and links to some of his publications. His website has links to his works, and essays about the many subjects on which he works.

He is also author, co-author or co-editor of seven books, including The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics (2007), The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming (2010), The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change (2014), and The Edge: The War against Cheating and Corruption in the Cutthroat World of Elite Sports (2016).

Some of his recent publications.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change, all posts about Roger Pielke Jr., and My posts about climate change, and especially these …

  1. Important: climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.
  2. How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  3. A status report on global warming. Much depends on the next few years.
  4. Good news for the New Year! Salon explains that the global climate emergency is over.
  5. A story of the climate change debate. How it ran; why it failed.
  6. News misreporting a big GAO report about climate change.
 The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

To learn more about the state of climate change…

… see Pielke’s book The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change. See my review. Here is the publisher’s summary…

“In recent years the media, politicians, and activists have popularized the notion that climate change has made disasters worse. But what does the science actually say? Roger Pielke, Jr. takes a close look at the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the underlying scientific research, and the data to give you the latest science on disasters and climate change. What he finds may surprise you and raise questions about the role of science in political debates.”

18 thoughts on “Roger Pielke Jr. describes the decay of climate science”

  1. Climate Science and its use in the global warming debate is a small part of a greater war that has led to a schism in America.
    The media have taken sides: Rep/ Dem, Trump? Clinton, Climate Change, Black lives/white supremacists.
    This is not meant to be. the media and science is meant to be impartial, objective and probing for the sake of the public.
    What happened was that when they took sides they abandoned their integrity in an to please their constituency.
    The result is that people like me no longer know that they can not be trusted and disbelieve both sides.
    You only need 1% of people to disobey traffic lights to put the spooks into all drivers. You never approach a set of lights in the way you used to.
    Politics, sport, the media all filled with more than 1% of people that will lie knowing that they will not be caught and if they are the next story, the next big game etc will blur the lines and let them off the hook.
    In many ways its ok to tell fibs in the Climate debate as its for the greater good…

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “The media have taken sides”

      I understand why you say that. We enjoyed a moderately neutral press. But that was a historical oddity. For centuries newspapers each had a strong political identity. In the early 18th century, Jonathan Swift read multiple newspapers each day to understand what was happening. Perhaps that is a better way.

  2. “I’ve written a fair bit on the topics of climate and energy over the past 25 years”

    Many will feel that deliberately and persistently misrepresenting science has a profoundly corrupting effect on our ability to understand the hard realities of the world we have to live in. There is no other.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “Many will feel that deliberately and persistently misrepresenting science has a profoundly corrupting effect on our ability to understand the hard realities of the world ”

      I believe the major climate science agencies have done a good job of presenting the science in this highly politicized field. As an indication of how well the IPCC has done, they’re disliked by both sides. That’s a badge of honor. IMO journalists have done a poor job, and the political parties have done a horrific job, of responding to this challenge.

  3. Bait and switch.

    Mann’s case is against a notoriously abusive right-wing journalist for the vile comparison of an eminent man to a child abuser, without regard for the truth. The journalist was not thinking of science when he wrote it, but defending an ideology he felt to be under threat..

    Conflating Mann and Jacobsen is to compound the original lie.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Wow. That’s a weird description of the situation. I suggest relying on the analysis of a cooler mind, someone with legal training — so able to understand this litigation. Such as a law professor writing for the Washington Post. Start with this article, and follow the links for more information:

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor

        Follow-up to Toby,

        I also recommend you read the amici curiae filings supporting National Review and Mark Steyn. Start with “Brief Amici Curiae of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 26 Other Organizations in Support of Appellants and Urging Reversal” — see it here.

        Other the other amici have been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Society of News Editors, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the Association of American Publisher, Bloomberg, the Center for Investigative Reporting, the First Amendment Coalition, First Look Media, Fox News Network, Gannett, the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, the National Press Club, the National Press Photographers Association, NBCUniversal Media, the Newspaper Association of America, North Jersey Media Group, Online News Association, the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Seattle Times Company, the Society of Professional Journalists, Stephens Media, Time Inc., Tribune Publishing Company, the Tully Center for Free Speech, the Washington City Paper, and the Washington Post​.

        Who have filed supporting motions for Michael Mann?

  4. Good post Larry. The blog reaction in the climate wars is telling. Michael Tobis agrees that Jacobson has crossed a red line. ATTP has a snide post essentially saying little of substance except that Pielke is once again wrong because science is above reproach. These issues separate the real scientists from the propagandists.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “ATTP has a snide post essentially saying little of substance ….”

      It is a total waste of time to read him. There are actual climate scientists that clearly discuss aggressive interpretations of mainstream climate theories, such as Gavin Schmidt.

  5. Pingback: Energy & Environmental Newsletter: December 18, 2017 - Master Resource

      1. Larry,

        I recall a patent fight, 25+ years ago now, that the firm I worked for won: hence I can understand why Dr. Jacobson was a bit concerned about his future earnings being affected by the paper. My firm lost about 300 million in sales in one year to a firm who’s technology my firm felt was covered under at least one claim in our patents. It took the legal resources of a large multinational health care company over a year to triumph in getting the offending firm(s) product off the market.

        Bonus were eliminated one year and raises were affected for two years. All options were cancelled for one year if I don’t recall. Everyone associated with my firm was very happy when the competing product was off the market. We had some top notch legal folks at corporate as well as at my local company. I don’t know what our legal costs were (a lot) but through the legal staff’s efforts (in conjecture with some super smart technical experts) we gained back most, if not all, the market share we lost to the competitors for the disposable we sold throughout the world.

        I note the patent fight and our in-house legal expertise as Dr. Curry wondered if Dr. Clack would be able to access the legal talent from the:

        “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund”
        Columbia Law School.

        It would have been informative to see if the CSLDF picked a side in the dispute, or……..

      2. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “I can understand why Dr. Jacobson was a bit concerned about his future earnings being affected by the paper.”

        Jacobson is benefiting from a system — peer-review publications — he is attempting to destroy. I have zero sympathy for him. He should be forced to pay the legal costs of the other side.

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