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).