Summary: A study reveals that the public debate about climate change has begun a new phase. Now the basic machinery of science becomes corrupted by politics. See the comments for updates to this odd story.
The US public is experiencing a propaganda bombardment with few parallels in our history. For example, every morning I read Naked Capitalism’s daily links to see a liberal’s view of the world. During the past year their links to articles about climate change have become more frequent (now one or more every day) and less well-grounded (more alarmist, less often mentioning the IPCC’s AR5, usually quite slanted, sometimes quite imaginary).
This is a logical development. Climate alarmists no longer have effective opposition in the news media or major institutions of US society. Hence, their agitprop can be intense without regard for the accuracy of its information. In military terms, this is the pursuit phase of battle. Boldness is the key to consolidating victory over a broken foe. The patience, planning, and vast resources of climate activists have paid off (for similar reasons, the 1% are rolling back the New Deal). It’s a well-earned victory, although they faced no foe with equivalent organization, resources, or marketing skill. So perhaps we should say that their incompetence delayed their win.
The next phase is further politicization of the peer-reviewed process. See the scale of their success in a new paper: “Discrepancy in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians” by Alexander Michael Petersen et al. in Nature Communications. Such papers affect the public policy debate through the accompanying publicly campaign, which began with this from the Universit of California – Merced: “Media Creates False Balance on Climate Science, Study Shows.”
“The American media lends too much weight to people who dismiss climate change, giving them legitimacy they haven’t earned, posing serious danger to efforts aimed at raising public awareness and motivating rapid action, a new study shows. While it is not uncommon for media outlets to interview climate change scientists and climate change deniers in the same interviews, the effort to offer a 360-degree view is creating a false balance between trained climate scientists and those who lack scientific training, such as politicians.
‘It’s not just false balance; the numbers show that the media are “balancing” experts – who represent the overwhelming majority of reputable scientists – with the views of a relative handful of non-experts,” UC Merced Professor LeRoy Westerling said. “Most of the contrarians are not scientists, and the ones who are have very thin credentials. They are not in the same league with top scientists. They aren’t even in the league of the average career climate scientist.’ …
Data shows that about half the mainstream media visibility goes to climate-change deniers, many of whom are not climate scientists. This proportion increases significantly when blogs and other “new media” outlets are included – pointing to the rising role of customized media in spreading disinformation.
‘It’s time to stop giving these people visibility, which can be easily spun into false authority,’ Professor Alex Petersen said. ‘By tracking the digital traces of specific individuals in vast troves of publicly available media data, we developed methods to hold people and media outlets accountable for their roles in the climate-change-denialism movement, which has given rise to climate change misinformation at scale.'”
Note the bottom line: “‘It’s time to stop giving these people visibility.” Deplatforming. Collective censorship. Enforcement by the powerful of politically correct truths.
The paper is a travesty of the scientific method. Eminent climate scientist Judith Curry says “This ranks as the worst paper I have ever seen published in a reputable journal.” I have read papers in a wide range of fields for 30 years, including subscriptions to Nature and Science – and I agree with her assessment. Let’s count the ways.
(1) Failure to define key terms.
“According to MC project data reported in Fig. 1, the term “climate change” is currently used in approximately 104 media article sentences per week, roughly 100 times as much as the term “climate skeptic”, a broad term that collectively refers to contrarians and denialists, and also conventional scientific skeptics who are driven by more legitimate motives for dissent.”
What is a “contrarian” and “denialist”? The dictionary defines them as “a person who opposes popular opinion” and “a person who denies something.” That does not help much. The authors do not define them. Note that the authors believe they can distinguish a “conventional skeptic” from contrarians and deniers by their motives. How do the authors determine scientists’ motives? As with so many of the questions raised by this paper, the authors do not explain.
In a tweet, one of the authors gives additional color to the paper, explicitly referring to “deniers.” Nowhere in the paper is any support given for so labeling the scientists on their lists.
Very excited to see this work finally make it out today! Kudos to the lead author on this, Alex Petersen at UC Merced, for an amazing deep dive comparing the scientific credentials of climate scientists and deniers to their prominence in media coverage of the science. https://t.co/MNFmDvxMh9
— A. LeRoy Westerling (@LeroyWesterling) August 13, 2019
(2) Classifying and sorting people.
More fundamental to their analysis is the classification of people. Here the authors are quite clear.
“The entry point for our large data-driven analysis is to construct a comprehensive list of adamant contrarians, which we achieved by merging multiple data sources. To be specific, we combined three overlapping sets of names obtained from publicly available sources The first source is the list of past keynote speakers at Heartland ICCC conferences from 2008 to present; the second is the list of lead authors of the 2015 Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) report; and the third is the list of individuals profiled by the DeSmog project.”
They provide not the slightest evidence that everyone who spoke at the Heartland Conference is – anything at all. Showing the folly of this, A. Scott Denning is listed as a contrarian. He is a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, and a strong supporter of the IPCC (as am I). He twice spoke at Heartland conferences to debate “skeptics.” In a display of tribal loyalty, Denning re-tweeted a complimentary note about this paper, not realizing that it classified him as a bad guy.
“For this reason, we focus on a select set of contrarians who have publicly and repeatedly demonstrated their adamant counterposition on CC issues – as extensively documented by the DeSmog project (DeSmogblog.com), a longstanding effort to document climate disinformation efforts associated with numerous contrarian institutions and individual actors.”
Like so much in this paper, this text raises more questions than it answers. What is “counterposition on climate change issues”? They subcontract this question to the writers of the DeSmog blog. This is problematic for two reasons.
First, what are the qualification of the people writing DeSmog to evaluate scientific papers? Its About page lists two people, neither having any relevant qualifications to do this. DeSmog is led by “one of Canada’s most respected public relations professionals.” The Executive Director provides “writing and communications services” and has a BA in “communication and environmental studies.”
Second, DeSmog is an advocacy project. That should disqualify them for a role in this paper. Put this in another context: a political science paper examing political extremism by having people on the staff of the Republican or Democratic party rate politicians’ extremism. Garbage in, garbage out.
(3) Methodological errors.
They sort people into two bins.
“To address this literature gap, we focus our analysis on a group of 386 prominent contrarians, denoted both individually and collectively by CCC. We compare these CCC with 386 prominent scientists active in CC research, denoted hereafter by CCS.”
First, these are overlapping bins. There are CCS who are CCC. For example, they label (falsely) Roger Pielke Sr. as a “contrarian” – but he is an eminent climate scientist. See his bio; also, he has a stratospheric H-index of 95. (The H-index is a measure of research productivity and citation impact.
There is a second and more serious flaw. In the press release, one of the authors describes their conclusion.
“’It’s not just false balance; the numbers show that the media are ‘balancing’ experts – who represent the overwhelming majority of reputable scientists – with the views of a relative handful of non-experts,’ UC Merced Professor LeRoy Westerling said. ‘Most of the contrarians are not scientists, and the ones who are have very thin credentials. They are not in the same league with top scientists. They aren’t even in the league of the average career climate scientist.'”
This is nonsense. The first bin contains non-scientist celebrities. The second does not. They show only that celebrities get more media attention than non-celebrities. Comparing celebrities on both sides of the public debate would have been interesting. That would mean including Al Gore and Greta Thunberg in their sample – neither of whom has relevant qualifications but whom journalists often regard as authorities. Equally interesting would have been comparing the attention given to scientists on both sides of the public policy debate.
I believe that both of those comparisons would show that the supporters of strong climate policy action get much more media attention than those who oppose it. But that study would not help activists, so we get this one instead.
A note from the past: mission accomplished!
Planning and execution shape society. As seen in this email from Phil Jones to Michael Mann. Jones was Director of the influential Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Mann was Director of the Earth System Science Center at Professor at Penn State. Mann ranks as #1 on the paper’s list of climate scientists’ media visibility. Red emphasis added.
“I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!“
(1) Roger Pielke Jr. sent a letter to the editor of Nature Communications. It looks like they responded quickly. The paper claimed that “All data analyzed here are openly available …”
(2) If you download the “Supplementary Information” for this paper, you now get “The content was removed.” A change notice says that “The Supplementary Information for this Article is currently unavailable due to concerns regarding the identification of individuals.”
(3) Click on the link at reference 64 to get the data files. You get a notice that “This dataset is private for peer review and will be released on January 1, 2020.” Long after publicity about the paper has established its claims in the public’s thinking. That’s a nice trick!
(4) Eminent climate scientists Roger Pielke Sr. also sent a letter to Nature. He replied to their actions, saying that merely taking down the Supplement – but without changing the article or making an admission or error – is an inadequate response. See his tweet.
(5) Willis Eschenbach examines the data in this paper – before the Supplement was removed – and discovers that it is gibberish. See what he found.
(6) Christopher Monckton, Viscount of Brenchley, has sent a notice to Nature Communications of “Fraud, breach of right of privacy and libel by Nature Communications.” I have long said that skeptical climate scientists are among the least litigious people in modern America. So smears have become a big stick of activists. This kind of push-back is long overdue.
This study provides clear evidence that the peer-review process has been corrupted, enlisted as a supporter in the crusade for policy action to fight climate change. This is not the first time that science has been corrupted. It will not be the last. But it might be the corruption with the largest effect.
In July the BBC said that the climate change crusade must win in the next 18 months. I believe that might be correct, but not in the sense they intended. The current propaganda barrage cannot run much longer. Activists must either win politically – making massive changes to the economy and society – or burn out. On a longer time scale, sometime in the next decade people will look at the world and see some catastrophic changes – or not (pathologizing normal extreme weather probably won’t work much longer, either).
Either way, the politicization of science institutions has become normal. They will be enlisted in the next political battle, and their prestige as neutral authorities will decline. As has Americans’ confidence in most of our institutions.
Always remember the big picture: America is experiencing a widespread collapse of its institutions. Climate science is just an example of this larger process.
Other posts in this series
- A crisis of overconfidence in climate science.
- About the corruption of climate science.
- The noble corruption of climate science.
For More Information
See Judith Curry’s analysis of this paper: “The latest travesty in ‘consensus enforcement.’”
Ideas! See my recommended books and films at Amazon.
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see all posts about doomsters, about peak oil, about The keys to understanding climate change and especially these…
- About RCP8.5: Is our certain fate a coal-burning climate apocalypse? No!
- How climate scientists can re-start the public policy debate about climate change – test the models!
- Follow-up: more about why scientists should test the models.
- Let’s prepare for past climate instead of bickering about predictions of climate change – Doing something is better than nothing.
- Focusing on worst case climate futures doesn’t work. It shouldn’t work.
- The Extinction Rebellion’s hysteria vs. climate science.
- Why we do nothing to prepare for climate change.
- “Climate’s Uncertainty Principle“ by Garth Paltridge.
To help us better understand today’s weather
To learn more about the state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters & Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr., prof at U of CO – Boulder’s Center for Science and Policy Research (2018).
44 thoughts on “Enlisting peer-reviewed science in the climate crusade”
The paper says:
Ref 64 says:
Click on that link and go to “Juxtaposition of climate change contrarians and scientists in the media using Media Cloud data”
Petersen, Alexander, UC Merced, https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0955-3483
Publication date: January 1, 2020
“The American media lends too much weight to people who dismiss climate change,…”
I believe the gentleman’s comment “lends too much weight” is code for supporting a position preventing coverage of the alleged CAGW deniers by the mass media.
Let us not forget that the contrarians now have a few friends in high places pulling the strings, plus the EPA’s new ACE rule. Let’s hope it stays that way for another term.
Also, the epic transatlantic voyage of Greta Thunberg has begun. Stay tuned, it should be quite a show.
Reasonable minds are losing the climate change propaganda war, imo.
What are you attempting to say? Don’t be cryptic. What “strings are being pulled”? As for the ACE, the EPA says …
“Don’t be cryptic”.
I’m talking about Trump.
“I’m talking about Trump.”
How has Trump helped “contrarians”?
“How has Trump helped “contrarians”?”
One of the biggest “deniers” on the planet. My hero: “Donald Trump has tweeted climate change skepticism 115 times.“
I hope you are kidding, and that nobody needs to tell you that he’s the president – not class clown or court jester. He’s the guy that should be running the nation – not sitting with his thumb somewhere while tweeting.
My guess is that future Americans will mock him and us, as we do Jimmy Carter’s scheduling the white house tennis courts. They are quite similar, both lost in the Presidency – like a boy in his dad’s shoes – taking refuge in a trivial task that he understands.
See? That’s why I didn’t mention his name the first time. LMAO
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I had read Judy’s analysis earlier. Yours is punchier IMO.
I have not read the full paper yet, but I will be looking to see who else besides DeSmog had input into the paper. A few years ago when Michael Mann published his “Climate Wars” I analyzed the content of the reviews (and the reviewers) it received on Amazon. There was an obvious concerted effort on the part of folks at Skeptical Science to “pump” the book and “take out” critical reviews.. That plus Michael Mann’s explicit request on his Facebook page for positive reviews of his book amounted to a full blown publicity and propaganda stunt. I suspect that similar characters and motivations are behind this awful so called analysis.
One final thought. The original Climategate emails included a number that addressed how the journal review process was manipulated to both exclude or stonewall the work of Steve McIntyre et al and to limit quesitons about papers deemed favorable to CAGW. Those emails and direct personal attacks led thankfully to Judy Curry and others pointing out that the CAGW Emperors were not wearing very much and had really, really bad manners.
“I will be looking to see who else besides DeSmog had input into the paper.”
I quote in full the text explaining that.
“an obvious concerted effort on the part of folks at Skeptical Science to “pump” the book”
That’s business as usual in publishing. Very common.
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I see a dramatic shift in catastrophic reporting in 2019. One could think that climate change was invented this year. Is it due to 2020 elections? Why this sudden over reporting on the issue?
I too see this, and briefly discussed it in the opening and Conclusion sections of this post.
As to the reason why – who can say? My guess in the post was that they are winning, and in the “pursuit” phase of battle. But your guess is just as reasonable: it’s the election.
Thank You Larry.
Yes, the “pursuit phase of battle”.
What puzzles me is the end game.
Environmental movement is becoming increasingly anti capitalist, anti western, even anti human (eg. stop having children for the sake of the planet).
I’m becoming more and more concerned that “green is the new red” and that we are in the midst of something that resembles early XX century Russia.
By “we” I understand the Western Hemisphere.
Hopefully, I’m exaggerating…
Political coalitions have factions with common foes but different ends. Hence victory is followed by another round of struggle, with the eventual winners often a surprise.
Note that this is a global phenomenon, as are most things in our global village.
Larry, in case you didn’t notice the current escalation of climate rhetoric is the product of an April 2019 Columbia School of Journalism conference organized by The Nation Institute and funded at the direction of PBS icon Bill Moyers :
The event passed unnoticed and unopposed in conservative journals because thiose at the level of Forbes and the WSJ have operated in a state of blissful scientific ignorance ever since Murdoch shut down the WSJ’s weekly science section.
Disinterested and professional science journalism could once be found even in the NYTimes – Broad and Wade after all wrote Betrayers Of The Truth , but today not a single conservative print journal has a science editor on its masthead, and a ghastly amount of cant and drivell informs conservative and libertarian conversation in consequence.
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Larry- well written piece. I expected largely a copy of Judith’s article, which was excellent as well, but as someone already mentioned, i think yours is actually better fleshed out with more information.
I did want to point out another article i just came across in Foreign Affairs, written from the disbelieving idiocy of an academic who does not understand why ordinary Americans have lost faith in their “experts.” But given the self-promotional actions, the obvious partisan writing and positions, and even (it has to be mentioned) the ongoing and significant failings of government policies handed to us by government “experts” it is not (or at least should not be) surprising at all why that is:
“How America Lost Faith in Expertise – And Why That’s a Giant Problem”
By Tom Nichols, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2017.
It is likely behind a partial paywall, but if you need to i can post a copy for you to read.
Regards, and keep up the great work! Barry Newman
Thanks for the pointer to that pretty mindless article in FA. I subscribed to FA for two decades, then dropped it. It became pretty useless as a guide to the real world.
I’ve written four dozen articles about this crisis of expertise. Scroll through the posts here. Tell us of anything you find esp useful!
I beg to differ- FA under bill Bundy was the first policy journal to blow the whistle on what Carl Sagan published there. It immediately published forur pages of letters fisking his ‘nuclear winter ‘ article and went on to publish climate modelers Steve Schneider and Starly Thompson’s scepticl and scientifically literate Nuclear Winter Reappraised.
Editor Gideon Rose was likewise open to climate controversy, and in counterdistinction to the increasingly science-free climate polemics of NR and the WSj, the CFR actually added science savvy staff to conduct a running reality check on climate discourse.
“I beg to differ”
why? I don’t understand.
“FA under bill Bundy” – that was 1972-1984.
I started reading it near (or after) the end of his reign.
“Editor Gideon Rose was likewise open to climate controversy” (2010 – now)
I stopped reading it before he took over. The articles about foreign affairs were pretty worthless, imo. The ones I’ve seen since – including those under Rose – continue that sad trend. I read Foreign Affairs for info about foreign affairs, not the occasional article about climate science. For that I get Nature and Science, plus the journals of the Am Met Society.
“I read Foreign Affairs for info about foreign affairs, not the occasional article about climate science”
Articles in respectably fact-checked and referenced policy journals should of course reflect the evolution of science in the peer reviewed jornals you mention, but we are not living in an ideal republic- Think tanks and other political arsenals left and right do not exist to reprint science without ellipsis or exaggeration, but to author playbooks and politically front-loaded press releases. Or worse, set up vanity press journals to serve as propaganda organs for their clients.
The critical editorial division in the world of policy and opinion journals is therefore between the intellectualy serious– those that conduct expert review, and fact check what they publish before the fact of its publication,– and those that publish whatever they and their political cohort find agreeable.
As productions in the latter category are far more amusing , it is they that tend to inform the conversation of the times:
Excellent work, Larry. Thank you for keeping the issue alive.
The Nature article was enraging and discouraging at the same time. A year and a half ago, it looked like climate catastrophism was on the ropes. The public had turned away in droves, there were many fewer alarmist stories in the media. Common sense was being restored.
This was noticed, and it must have dawned on those driving the issue, and reaping the rewards, that the gravy train was about to come to an end. So the alarm apparatus was once again energized and the usual helpful stooges in the media fed a new, even more catastrophic, narrative. Not a day goes by that the New York Times and the Washington post publish apocalyptic climate stories now. I and a handful of others hammer them with pointed critical comments, but we are hopelessly outnumbered by the climate change cheerleaders, or is that “jeerleaders.”
It is very frustrating to have physics and logic and hundreds of millions of years of Earth history on your side, yet be dismissed as a know-nothing crank by people whose knowledge of natural history could fit in a thimble. Furthermore is it an act of pure propaganda to suggest that the media gives equal weight to alarmists and skeptics. The former can make the most outrageous, fanciful, ridiculous predictions under color of authority and be met with vigorous head-nodding agreement. But should someone point out, for example, the uncertain nature of chaotic systems, or the long history of scientific endorsement of since-discredited ideas, and you get booed off the stage. Hardly balanced.
On the subject of corrupted science, you might want to read “The Delinquent Teenager who was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Scientist” by Donna Laframbroise. It’s the fruit of an exhaustive investigation of the IPCC from its inception to the date of publication (2011.) Laframbroise is no crank. She is a solid investigative journalist with impeccable credentials.
There is a creeping radicalism at work here. But by the principle of incrementalism John and Jane Q, have failed to notice. If we aren’t careful, we are gonna wake up one day to a very different, much diminished nation, with all of us under the thumb of a cradle-to-grave regimen of rigid controls. All for our own good, of course.
“A year and a half ago, it looked like climate catastrophism was on the ropes.”
I disagree, and have been writing for several years that the alarmists were winning. There is no evidence that the public had lost interest, and more importantly – climate activists continued to gain support at America’s key institutions. Gaining public support is the last phase of a political campaign, after resources are amassed and the key instituions coopted. Contrarians talk to each other too much and get outside their bubble too little.
This is politics, waged – as so often done – by propaganda. As I’ve said in so many posts, we have become guillible – and so people exploit this weakness. It is the Great Circle of Life. But being prey is a choice, not a destiny.
For a while there was a very noticeable lull in the parade of alarming reports. WUWT ran a story about it at one point. Around the same time it was widely reported that climate change was at the very bottom of a list of supposedly pressing concerns, according to polls.
But sometimes a lull is just your opponent catching his breath.
It’s not a fair fight. Propaganda targets the limbic system, AKA the lizard brain, seat of fears and emotions and existential paranoia. Fear overrides logic.
In any contest between the lizard brain and the cerebellum, the “thinking” part of the brain, bet on the lizard brain.
Wrong place to look for insights like that. Look in the comments to my post there. Many of the commenters still think they’re winning. Poor grasp of reality, talking too much to each other. They’ll think they’re winning while a President signs the Green New Deal into law.
“It’s not a fair fight.”
You believe only one side in America, left or right, uses propaganda? Read the many commenters at WUWT who don’t believe in the greenhouse effect, or that the world isn’t warming.
“the “thinking” part of the brain, bet on the lizard brain.”
The history of the West proves that you are wrong.
Moncktons descent from haberdashery into balderdashery has been a wonder to behold.
I don’t understand. That is a parody website. What’s your point?
“It’s time to stop giving these people visibility, which can be easily spun into false authority,”
Translation:”Why are you listening to THEM when you should be listening to ME?”
“Translation:”Why are you listening to THEM when you should be listening to ME?””
No, that’s not correct. It is an assertion of power: “let’s muzzle our political opponents, using our institutional strength to censor them.” In the current jargon, “deplatform.” Much like “collateral damage” means killing civilians.
This is the pursuit phase of battle, as I said in this post. The BBC has already done this. Other news media and social media are following.
The main credibility killer to this paper is the mere fact that they portray the Desmogblog “Project” as some kind of objective place having “a longstanding effort to document climate disinformation efforts associated with numerous contrarian institutions and individual actors.” It absolutely is NOT.
Allow me some links to show why: one of the two co-founders, James Hoggan, self-admitted that he knew nothing about climate science (source), but after simply reading Ross Gelbspan’s 2004 Boiling Point book, he decided that skeptic climate scientists were liars who needed to be stopped because of their corrupt funding coming from Big Coal & Oil. Not because any of their science assessments could be proven false.
Desmogblog never lists who its other co-founder is, and with all due respect to Lord Monckton’s claim in today’s WUWT guest post, the other co-founder is not John Lefebvre (its financier), but is instead self-proclaimed to be Ross Gelbspan (the admission is heard beginning 8 seconds into this audio interview). Desmog is corroborated elsewhere to be built on the works of Gelbspan (source).
Gelbspan is the focus of my GelbspanFiles.com blog, which exposes myriad faults in the totally false accusation that skeptic climate scientists are “paid under the table” by the fossil fuel industry to spread lies to undercut the idea of CAGW. Gelbspan’s second career is entirely aimed at destroying the credibility of those skeptic scientists. He’s comically labeled repeatedly as an “expert” in this issue when he is NOT, and his own credibility buster is his “Pulitzer winner label” (source) – which is a prize he NEVER won (source).
When paper’s authors place all their faith in Desmog, it’s an act of complete credibility suicide.
(btw, I’m on this paper’s list of 386 “contrarians” between Sherwood Idso and Paul Chesser – I’m assuming my appearance is a result of Desmog’s worthless profile of me http://gelbspanfiles.com/?p=5240 )
Wow. That’s interesting info. Thank you for posting it!
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