Tag Archives: Science Denialism

How do you explain Judith Curry?

How do you explain a person seemingly legitimately trained in science drifting off and becoming more and more of a science denier?

In the case of Judith Curry I was unwilling to think of her as a full on science denier for a long time because her transition into denierhood seemed to be going very slowly, methodologically. It was almost like she was trying to drift over into denier land and maybe bring a few back with her. Like some people seem to do sometimes. But no, she just kept providing more and more evidence that she does not accept climate science’s concensus that global warming is real, caused by human greenhouse gas polution, involves actual warming of the Earth’s surface, and is important.

And lately she has added to this slippery sliding jello-like set of magic goal posts yet another denier meme. She is certain, after a convoluted review of “evidence” that one of the classic examples of deniers lying, deniers making stuff up to confuse and mislead policy makers, reporters, and the public, is real.

It is not real but she says it is real. If you were looking for a last straw required to place Judith Curry plainly and simply and undoubtedly in the category of Climate Science denier, this straw has fallen heavily on the camelid’s aching overburdened back. If you were looking for that one last fact that determines the balance of argument in favor (vs. against) Judith Curry being either nefarious (as all those who intentionally deny this important area of science must be) or just plain (and inexcusably) stupid (the only alternative explanation for pushing climate science denialism) than that fact has arrived.

What the heck am I talking about? This.

I’ve talked about it here. Go read that and the 100+ comments on it. In that post I contextualize and quote the following words from this source:

One e-mail Phil Jones of CRU sent to my coauthors and me in early 1999 has received more attention than any other. In it, Jones both made reference to “Mike’s Nature trick” and used the phrase “to hide the decline” in describing a figure … comparing different proxy temperature reconstructions. Here was the smoking gun, climate change deniers clamored. Climate scientists had finally been caught cooking the books: They were using “a trick to hide the decline in global temperatures,” a nefarious plot to hide the fact the globe was in fact cooling, not warming! …

The full quotation from Jones’s e-mail was …, “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e. from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” Only by omitting the twenty-three words in between “trick” and “hide the decline” were change deniers able to fabricate the claim of a supposed “trick to hide the decline.” No such phrase was used in the e-mail nor in any of the stolen e-mails for that matter. Indeed, “Mike’s Nature trick” and “hide the decline” had nothing to do with each other. In reality, neither “trick” nor “hide the decline” was referring to recent warming, but rather the far more mundane issue of how to compare proxy and instrumental temperature records. Jones was using the word trick [to refer to] to an entirely legitimate plotting device for comparing two datasets on a single graph…

The reconstruction by Briffa, (see K. R. Briffa, F. H. Schweingruber, P. D. Jones, T. J. Osborn, S. G. Shiyatov, and E. A. Vaganov, “Reduced Sensitivity of Recent Tree-Growth to Temperature at High Northern Latitudes,” Nature, 391 (1998): 678–682) in particular …

…was susceptible to the so-called divergence problem, a problem that primarily afflicts tree ring density data from higher latitudes. These data show an enigmatic decline in their response to warming temperatures after roughly 1960, … [Jones] was simply referring to something Briffa and coauthors had themselves cautioned in their original 1998 publication: that their tree ring density data should not be used to infer temperatures after 1960 because they were compromised by the divergence problem. Jones thus chose not to display the Briffa et al. series after 1960 in his plot, “hiding” data known to be faulty and misleading—again, entirely appropriate. … Individuals such as S. Fred Singer have … tried to tar my coauthors and me with “hide the decline” by conflating the divergence problem that plagued the Briffa et al. tree ring density reconstruction with entirely unrelated aspects of the hockey stick.

In her most recent post, Judith Curry says:

In hindsight, the way the Climategate emails was rolled out, after very careful scrutiny by the targeted bloggers, was handled pretty responsibly. Lets face it – “Mike’s Nature trick” to “hide the decline” means . . . “Mike’s Nature trick” to “hide the decline.”

That statement by Curry is demonstrably wrong. That is a fact borne of logical and scientific examination of the information, and information is not lacking. Curry is wrong.

Beyond that, I think, as implied above, she is either doing something here that is morally wrong (lying to slow down action on climate change) or stupid (she is not smart enough to understand what she is looking at). Here, I want to be clear. The argument that Curry is wrong is logical. Ends there. She’s wrong. The idea that she is either immoral or stupid is both my opinion and NOT an argument about her wrongness. I am not making an ad hominem argument. If you think that is an ad hominem argument then you don’t know what an ad hominum argument is (and isn’t).

And yes, I understand that this is a rather insulting thing to say, that one is either immoral or a dumbass. But it is my children’s future that is at risk here. Expect insults.

See also this:

Cry for me, Willie Soon

And by “me” I mean all the children of future generations.

Willie Soon is a soft-money scientist at Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has been producing highly questionable ‘science’ casting, for several years, faux light on the reality of the human caused process of global warming. It appears that most or all of Soon’s funding came directly or indirectly from the fossil fuel industry or supporters of that industry. (See also John Mashy’s comment below about tax breaks.) Recently the dung has struck the rotating blades and the nexus of denialist ‘science,’ fossil fuel funding, and Willie Soon has been brightly illuminated for all to see. Soon’s activities have actually been known for quite some time. Indeed, one of the denialist arguments that this isn’t really a story is the based on the assertion that this isn’t really a new story. (Pro tip: something like this going on for years is a bigger, not smaller, story!) What is different this time is that mainstream media, currently undergoing a transition away from maintaining a false balance debate about climate change has started to get real, and the main main stream media outlet in the US, the New York Times, anointed the Soon story as a story.

Even though Soon is ensconced at Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (which is more of a Smithsonian thing than a Harvard thing, but the links to Harvard are very real I am ashamed to admit) he recently made a public written statement about his situation and chose to convey that statement via the Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute is the infamous Libertarian ‘think’ tank that supported the tobacco industry in their bid to cover up the dangers of smoking, and that has been involved in a range of rather nefarious activities vis-a-vis climate change science denialism. Soon has been an affiliate of Heartland for some time now. Soon’s statement reads:

In recent weeks I have been the target of attacks in the press by various radical environmental and politically motivated groups. This effort should be seen for what it is: a shameless attempt to silence my scientific research and writings, and to make an example out of me as a warning to any other researcher who may dare question in the slightest their fervently held orthodoxy of anthropogenic global warming.

Um, Imma let you finish reading the statement but first I want to comment on that first paragraph. The “radical” groups include Greenpeace, which I would argue is a radical group, but also, the New York Times, which I would regard as centrist, as well as a number of climate and environmental advocacy groups and individuals including mainstream scientists. What Soon calls an “orthodoxy” is actually a broadly held scientific consensus, like the “Germ Theory,” and “Einsteinian Physics” and such. By “question in the slightest” he must mean, since he is speaking circumspectly of his own work, “radical contrarianism of the important findings of climate science.” So, ladies and gentlemen, we see the magic of rhetoric at work. Soon is the radical, which is why he calls others radicals. OK, you may continue reading now.

I am saddened and appalled by this effort, not only because of the personal hurt it causes me and my family and friends, but also because of the damage it does to the integrity of the scientific process. I am willing to debate the substance of my research and competing views of climate change with anyone, anytime, anywhere. It is a shame that those who disagree with me resolutely decline all public debate and stoop instead to underhanded and unscientific ad hominem tactics.

Soon is famous for deflecting attempts to engage him in Q&A periods after the talks he gives. So forget about the debate. Soon is indeed being subjected to parallel attacks; scientists have been saying for years that his science sucks. That is not ad hominem. It is just that his science sucks. But also, his ethics are now being newly questioned, as he seems to have failed on numerous occasions to properly declare his industry funding. If accusing someone, copious evidence in hand, of ethical violations is ad hominem, then that is what it is. Soon’s reference to ad hominem is misguided. People are saying “Your science sucks. And your ethics are questionable.” The ad hominem fallacy would apply here only if people were saying “Your science sucks because your ethics suck.” No, his science does not stand on its own. OK, sorry for the interruption. Back to the statement.

Let me be clear. I have never been motivated by financial gain to write any scientific paper, nor have I ever hidden grants or any other alleged conflict of interest. I have been a solar and stellar physicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics for a quarter of a century, during which time I have published numerous peer-reviewed, scholarly articles. The fact that my research has been supported in part by donations to the Smithsonian Institution from many sources, including some energy producers, has long been a matter of public record. In submitting my academic writings I have always complied with what I understood to be disclosure practices in my field generally, consistent with the level of disclosure made by many of my Smithsonian colleagues.

Whether or not Soon or any other author of a peer reviews paper is motivated by financial gain is irrelevant to the question of proper disclosure of funding. Who knows, he may be right. After all, it was just a million or so dollars, who would be motivated by that? That is a distraction. Do note his reference to grant money coming to him via the Smithsonian. We’ll return to that later. I find his reference to “many” of his Smithsonian colleagues interesting as well.

If the standards for disclosure are to change, then let them change evenly. If a journal that has peer-reviewed and published my work concludes that additional disclosures are appropriate, I am happy to comply. I would ask only that other authors-on all sides of the debate-are also required to make similar disclosures. And I call on the media outlets that have so quickly repeated my attackers’ accusations to similarly look into the motivations of and disclosures that may or may not have been made by their preferred, IPCC-linked scientists.

Just to be clear, there really is no question that Soon failed to disclose funding sources in violation of journal policies and standard practice. I should note that his failure to disclose has been on the table for some time and at no point did he address that issue, as far as I know. I suspect that Soon’s repeated references to “others” is a deluded hope that everyone should realize that everyone has been acting unethically and this will motivate everyone to back off. (See this interesting pot by Ugo Bardi on disclosure in science.)

I regret deeply that the attacks on me now appear to have spilled over onto other scientists who have dared to question the degree to which human activities might be causing dangerous global warming, a topic that ought rightly be the subject of rigorous open debate, not personal attack. I similarly regret the terrible message this pillorying sends young researchers about the costs of questioning widely accepted “truths.”

Actually, some of those people are not questioning human cause, but they are questioning the danger. But I digress.

There is indeed a message here to the young and upcoming researchers. Keep your ducks in a row when it comes to ethics and similar concerns. Otherwise, this is exactly the fight Soon says he is ready for. If you produce research that asks questions of a widely held consensus, more power to you! You may well be making an important contribution. But if your research is shown to be seriously wanting time and time again, you may want to refer to that old adage of unknown attribution about doing the same thing that does not work over and over again.

Finally, I thank all my many colleagues and friends who have bravely objected to this smear campaign on my behalf and I challenge all parties involved to focus on real scientific issues for the betterment of humanity.

This sentence really pisses me off. Willie Soon and his denialist colleagues in science and Congress have measurably stalled our collective action on climate change. How dare you play the victim, Willie Soon. You are one of the perpetrators of what could be defined, and some day will be defined, as a crime against future generations (though this isn’t technically illegal, of course). The young pre-school age children of today will suffer more than they otherwise might have because of this delay. Shame on you. Don’t tell us about the “betterment of humanity.” Don’t ask us to cry for you, Willie Soon. You are in a hole. You dug that hole, and got paid a million or two bucks along the way. You tossed our children under the bus, and now you are whinging about your own fate?

And now, for the last part of the statement:

Dr. Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Why is Willie Soon of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics releasing a statement indicating he is of that institution via the Heartland Institute, rather than from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics? I think it is very weird that he released a statement that he is not an industry shill through an organization that is an industry shill. Beyond that anything in his convoluted statement makes equal sense.

Note that in his statement, Soon throws the Smithsonian under the bus, or perhaps, drags the institution under his own bus, by reminding everyone that the grants actually came (he claims) to him from the Smithsonian, to which Big Fossil had made donations. Note also that Soon implies that failure to disclose is normal for his colleagues at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, or perhaps, the Smithsonian in general. Wow. One can only imagine the conversations going on behind closed doors between Garden Street and Concord Avenue, Cambridge, MA.

I strongly suspect that the only question that remains in the Willy Soon Gate affair is who is going down with Willie. We see the usual denialists lining up with him, and they are of no consequence. They have already crashed and burned. But we also see various so-called ‘contrarians’ choosing to jump in Willie’s hole, or not, and I strongly recommend not.

Climate Science vs. Climate Science Denial in Word Clouds

Are there cultural differences between those who accept and generally understand the current consensus on climate change science and those who don’t? One gets the sense that there is, but it is possible to explore this in more detail.

I took the public Twitter profile descriptions, written by individual Twitterers, from two different Twitter lists that I maintain, and made word clouds out of them. The first is a list of “Global warming deniers.” People get on this list when they actively deny climate change science in Twitter exchanges with me (or that I observe). There are 309 members as of this writing. The second list is “Climate Change Science,” and includes climate scientists, scientists in cognate areas, and journalists or science communicators, a few activists, etc. That is the go-to list if you want to keep up on current climate science related news. There are 236 members as of this writing.

I made these tag clouds at the suggestion of Michael Mann, who thought that it might be interesting to look at the differences, if any, in how the two groups tend to characterize themselves.

Here is the word cloud for the “Global Warming Deniers” list:

Here is the word cloud for the “Climate Change Science” list:

I could comment on these two word clouds, but what would be the point. Word clouds kind of speak for themselves. So just gaze at them for a while.

Well, OK, I will comment on the word “love” in the denier cloud, to provide some context. Members of this list indicated that they love golf, cooking, this great country, Labradors, wine, ale, Jesus, family, church, shooting, all things scientific, restaurants, Fox News, Reagan, sea urchins, various spouses, and other things to drink or do. For “hate” we have liberal lies and big government, but there wasn’t enough hate to show up in the tag cloud.

Professor Mann pointed out to me that this may be understood in the context of the Yale Project on Climate Change Six Americas Study (see graphic at the top of the post). That study is summarized in this video:

So, these word clouds summarize the Six Americas in simplified form, which we could call, I suppose, “America A” and “America B” to avoid confusion.


Other posts of interest:

Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, set in the Congo.

Bad Faith Criticism of Science

I’ve recently written about the Serengeti Strategy, a coin termed by climate scientist Michael Mann to describe the anti-science strategy of personal attacks against individual scientists in an attempt to discredit valid scientific research one might find inconvenient. Science Careers (from Science Magazine) has a new item called “Science under the microscope” looking at bad faith criticism of science and scientist. Some of this comes from within science itself, where the term “torpedo” is sometimes used. Rival scientists do take shots at each other in the peer review or grant review process.

Whether it’s because they are overworked, lack training, vested in a particular theory or methodology, or just having a bad day, sometimes scientists write what Cornell University psychologist Robert Sternberg calls “savage reviews.” “A savage review is one that is either personalized—in other words, the criticisms are of the persons rather than of the works—or the criticisms are of the works but the language is excessive … for the gravity of the sins…”

Sometimes criticism from within science plays out outside the usual channels. Sometimes this criticism is quite valid, such as the widespread dislike of a paper on bacteria that seemed to be evolving in an American salt lake a few years ago. Remember that? The paper seemed to make claims about the significance of their findings that went beyond the results they reported, and the authors backed up those claims with a promise that they would be publishing a followup paper with the necessary proof. Never do that. A published scientific paper can include some speculation or suggestion of further findings, but highlighted findings, which in this case were highlighted in a major press event set up by NASA, should have been either not mentioned or backed up, perhaps in a later publication. In that case, the part of the scientific community that inhabits the science biosphere had a feeding frenzy. The criticisms being made in blogs were usually valid, but the tone was in some quarters way overdone. For my part, I took the opportunity of the paper coming out to write about a related topic, and I actually received some of the vitriol myself simply because I did not bother to address the original paper’s flaws. (I had decided not to because experts in the field had it covered!) The point is, sometimes the flak becomes so dense that the flack itself becomes the message. The Science Careers piece talks about a case of overlap between the scientific literature and the blogosphere that was less vitriolic but just as complex:

…cognitive psychologist Axel Cleeremans … attempted to replicate a classic study by John Bargh of Yale University, in which some participants were primed, without realizing it, with concepts associated with old age. Bargh’s study found that they walked more slowly from the exam room than subjects who had not been so primed. Cleeremans’s group found that they could not replicate the result …

The failed replication attempt…was picked up by science journalist Ed Yong at his Not Exactly Rocket Science blog and attracted a lot of attention. Bargh responded with a post on his own blog, at Psychology Today, where he spelled out the errors that he believed the Cleeremans group made. The post, titled “Nothing in their Heads,” used a tone Bargh later told The Chronicle of Higher Education that he now regrets; it has since been taken down. Yong described the post, in a subsequent blog post of his own, as “a mixture of critiques of the science within the paper, and personal attacks a…” Harsh words flew in Bargh’s direction, too, as Bargh’s critics accused him of ad hominem attacks and attacked him in turn, often via anonymous comments.

More recently, a reconstruction of a large and sexy dinosaur was heavily criticized in the blogosphere by individuals who probably knew their dinosaurs, but who had not seen the original fossils or casts. I’m pretty sure the criticisms were weak, and the language was strong, and no dinosaurs (or hypotheses) were harmed in the process. But it was yet another example of the bleed between traditional modalities of communication and newer on line and social networking based modalities, going at least a little bad.

The Science Careers piece also talks about attacks on science, and scientists, from outside the population of scientists and deeply interested and informed parties, such as attacks on climate scientists by those who insist on denying the reality of anthropogenic global warming. My piece on the Serengeti Strategy, which was a commentary on Michael Mann’s paper on that topic, covers that area. See also these posts on the Recursive Fury maneno.

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, has experienced many attacks since his “hockey stick” curve was published in the 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Mann has since become an outspoken defender of climate science…and been the victim of many vilifying media reports, campaigns aimed at discrediting him, the misuse of open-records laws, e-mail hacking (in the so-called “Climategate”), and threats to his and his family’s safety.

Such attacks can be “very stressful, it can take a lot of a scientist’s time. … Unfortunately if their institution doesn’t support them, it’s potentially very expensive” in legal costs, says Lauren Kurtz, executive director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. It can detract from your ability to do research, Kurtz adds. There also is a danger that it will derail your career, especially for young scientists who don’t have the security of tenure, Mann writes in an e-mail. “[T]here is always a fear that your colleagues and bosses (chairs, deans, provosts, presidents) will believe the scurrilous accusations made against you.”

Some of this is not so much about science (or anti science) but just plain harassment. Or, a combination of both, especially if the scientist under attack is a woman. It seems that one of the main roles of the blogosphere is to give misogynists their own private shooting gallery.

“For the longest time, the only people reacting to academic research were either academics or people who were very interested in a particular field,” says Whitney Phillips, a media studies scholar at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. But “Things are … so visible now that anybody … can say something on a blog and then suddenly find themselves on the receiving end of lots of weird commentary.”

There are lots of different kinds of nasty behaviors online, and how they are perceived largely depends on the receiver, Phillips says. Online nastiness can go all the way from potentially offensive general comments to personal attacks directed at you. Sometimes it can even “reac[h] the legal criteria for harassment, so someone is not just saying rude things to you but is … potentially even threatening you or trying to wiggle their way into your life,” Phillips says.

Women and minorities are disproportionately exposed to online antagonism and may also be more sensitized because they already confront it in real life, Phillips says…

Phillips suggests limiting the power of “Internet trolls”…by deleting anything they (the trolls) post on your blog, banning them from your site, and using word filters. Try not to get sucked in, as what they want most is a response and an audience, she says….

One of my favorite quotes by me (if I may be allowed) is, “It is important to be hated by the right people.” This is obvious. If Ghandi hates you and Hitler loves you, you are probably doing something wrong. When sadistic internet trolls and anti-science activists go after you, you are a victim but you are also a symbol of something good. Truly, a mixed bag, but worth keeping in mind. The Science Career piece also makes this point. And other points. Go read it.

(I’m assuming it is not behind a firewall but I’m not sure. If you find it so let me know and I’ll change that last sentence to “Go don’t read it.”)

The Serengeti Strategy

What is the Serengeti Strategy?

“The Serengeti Strategy” is a term coined by climate scientist Michael Mann in which “special interests faced with adverse scientific evidence … target individual scientists rather than take on an entire scientific field at once.” His invention of the analogy must have been an interesting moment, given the context. In his book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Line, Mann talks about a trip to scientific meetings in Arusha as an IPCC co-author, during which he took the usual side trip to the Serengeti:

After the meeting, I joined a daylong expedition to see one of the world’s greatest displays of nature: Serengeti National Park. Here, zebras, giraffes, elephants, water buffalo, hippos, wildebeests, baboons, warthogs, gazelles, and ostriches wander among some of the world’s most dangerous predators: lions, leopards, and cheetahs. Among the most striking and curious scenes I saw that day were groups of zebras standing back to back, forming a continuous wall of vertical stripes. “Why do they do this?” an IPCC colleague asked the tour guide. “To confuse the lions,” he explained. Predators, in what I call the “Serengeti strategy,” look for the most vulnerable animals at the edge of a herd. But they have difficulty picking out an individual zebra to attack when it is seamlessly incorporated into the larger group, lost in this case in a continuous wall of stripes. Only later would I understand the profound lesson this scene from nature had to offer me and my fellow climate scientists in the years to come.

Later in the same book, Mann, writing about attacks on his “Hockey Stick” research, notes:

Climate change deniers went on to wage a public—and very personal—assault against my coauthors and me in the hope that somehow they might discredit all of climate science, the fruit of the labors of thousands of scientists from around the world, by discrediting us and our work. The Serengeti strategy writ large.

More recently, Mann published a paper in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, The Serengeti strategy: How special interests try to intimidate scientists, and how best to fight back.

What do Michael Mann, Rachel Carson, Charles Darwin and PZ Myers have in common?

Mann provides other examples of the Serengeti Strategy in use. Most of these examples will be familiar to you. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian “think” tank, produced a website called “RachelWasWrong” for the purpose of discrediting the environment friendly writings of Rachel Carson. The site attacks Carson, ineffectively if you know the facts, in an effort to discredit environmentalism in general.

Mann also mentions Darwin. To my knowledge, there wasn’t much of a Serengeti Strategy launched against Darwin in his day. People didn’t operate that way back then, perhaps. The attempts at refuting Darwin’s theories of evolution were more regularly launched at the theories themselves, and of course, Darwin had his bulldog, Thomas Huxley, which helped keep him out of the fight. But in more recent times, we see creationist organizations attacking Darwin by trying to link him with Hitler, the Nazis, the Holocaust, etc., in order to make his ideas seem unpalatable. That is of course a good example of an ad hominem attack.

Individual modern day evolutionary biologists are also attacked this way. One of the best examples is probably the regular attacks by Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, or operatives of the Intelligent Design purveying Discovery Institute, on biologist and blogger PZ Myers.

I’ve been the subject of this strategy as well, most annoyingly by members of the Mens Rights Movement, who wish to discredit the commonly held and relatively sensible version of human behavioral biology (related to human behavior, sex differences, etc) to which I subscribe. This came to a head a while back when I wrote a novel (which you must have read by now, right?) live on the internet as a fundraiser for the Secular Student Alliance, an organization that I strongly supported. The very secular Mens Rights Movement set aside the fact that this effort was to raise money for a cause they actually supported in order to attempt to destroy sales of the revised version of the novel with numerous bogus awful reviews (here is where you can find the details of that dust up, and a link to get your own copy of the novel!). Michael Mann has been attacked, by the way, in a similar manner, on his Amazon page.

The point of all this is that ad hominem, or other, attacks on individuals who publicly represent a point of view, as a means of taking down the larger concept (the reality of global warming, evolutionary biology, etc.) is a technique. Mann is especially well prepared to discuss this problem because he pretty much lives every day with a ring of hungry hyenas following him around. (By the way, Mann leaves off hyenas in his list of dangerous predators in the Serengeti. Indeed, there are times and places in that region where hyenas are the main predator, to the extent that lions may be found scavenging off their kills more often than the other way around. But I digress.)

So why is this strategy employed and how well does it work?

From Mann’s paper:

…it is effective, for a number of reasons. By singling out a sole scientist, it is possible for the forces of “anti-science” to bring many more resources to bear on one individual, exerting enormous pressure from multiple directions at once, making defense difficult. It is similar to what happens when a group of lions on the Serengeti seek out a vulnerable individual zebra at the edge of a herd, which is why I call it the “Serengeti strategy”…

I can’t help but think that one of those resources, a gaggle of willing internet trolls, is more easily engaged in attacks on individuals rather than ideas because an attack on an individual is a potentially satisfying act of sadism, while an attack on an idea is not. Also, the latter is harder work. And, yes, there is evidence that the internet trolls are sadists.

Mann also notes that it is more difficult to attack an entire group of scientists, several individuals expert in a subfield, at once. This, indeed, is what makes the Serengeti predator analogy work. However, this is also an appropriate moment to note a minor weakness in the analogy. Super-predators in open habitats, those who hunt cursorially, tend to achieve the best results when an individual member of the herd goes off in the wrong direction or is slower because of a weakness or injury. That aspect of actual predation does not apply to the Serengeti Strategy against scientists, and in fact, it may be that going after one of the stronger members of the herd is the preferred strategy.

In his article Mann provides detailed discussion of the strategy and its links to big industry, and also ties together the idea of “swiftboating” and Serengeti Strategy. With respect to the latter, we may fold back in, once again, anti-evoltuionary biology strategies. As Mann notes, scientists are ethically bound to approach problems, and discussions of problems, in a certain way, whereby things like facts and strong theories predominate in the formulation of arguments. The attackers don’t have to do this. They can do and say whatever they want. They can lie, cheat, obfuscate, cherry pick. Moreover they can switch strategies as needed. The same individual science denialist may claim a certain scientific finding is invalid, say during an Internet conversation in a blog’s comments section. Once an argument is made (by others) against that point, that denialist may drop it, and move on to a different point. But later, in a different Internet context, the same denialist will re-use the original discredited point. Most denialists have a laundry list of points they keep coming back to, often shifting from one point to the next very quickly in order to avoid being pinned down. This is known as the Gish Gallop.

Speaking of attacks on the Hockey Stick research, which by the way has been tested by a great deal of subsequent research and found to be solid, Mann notes:

Many of the attacks claimed that the hockey stick was simply wrong, or bad science, or that it was debunked or dis- credited, despite all evidence to the contrary–such as the reaffirmation of our findings by the National Academy of Sciences, the subsequent reports of the IPCC, and the most recent peer- reviewed research.

Others were challenges to my integrity and honesty. Most worrisome were thinly veiled threats leveled against my family and me. (And some not so veiled, such as letters and e-mails threatening my life and my family’s lives, including an envelope sent in the mail that contained a white powder, subsequently investigated by the FBI …

Then came the manufactured, so- called “climategate” controversy … in which climate change deniers stole thousands of e-mails and mined them for words and phrases that could be taken out of context and made to sound as if scientists had been doctor- ing data or otherwise engaged in misbehavior. Nine investigations later, we know that the only wrongdoing was the criminal theft of the e-mails in the first place.

What to do about the anti-science Serengeti Strategy?

Mann notes that he became a “science advocate” instead of just a regular scientist because of these attacks. I find this interesting. Many other scientists, such as myself, have gotten into science advocacy because of attacks on science, but not necessarily because of attacks on us. The attacks came later because we stuck our heads up. I would like to know how unique that aspect of Mann’s situation is.

In any event, there are probably things one can do to respond to this situation, mainly having to to with communication. Giving public talks, lectures, and interviews is part of it, Mann notes. Engaging on the Internet, such as through a blog (Mann was a cofounder of RealClimate) helps. Mann is a go-to guy for the press, which as he notes must be very satisfying. When denialists are circling and begin to howl, their very victim is brought in to provide a response. You don’t see that on the African Savanna very often. And, where possible, Mann suggests engaging with good faith skeptics in a constructive manner. But, when the good faith is not there, don’t engage.

Mann closes his article on a positive, or at least, optimistic note:

There is some evidence that flat-out climate change denial has lost favor over the past few years. With authoritative reports coming in from not just the scientific community but the business community, the national security community, and even some conservative groups that climate change is a very real and existential threat to society, a new breed of climate change contrarian — ?the delayer — has now emerged.

Examples of individuals occupying that niche in the media today are folks like Judith Curry … Richard Muller, and … Bjorn Lomborg. Rather than flat-out denying the existence of human-caused climate change, delayers claim to accept the science, but downplay the seriousness of the threat or the need to act. The end result is an assertion that we should delay or resist entirely any efforts to mitigate the climate change threat…

So while the battle is far from over, the tide does appear to be turning. We are seeing the slow but steady retreat of climate change contrarians … The window of public discourse appears to be shifting away from the false debate … There is still time to act so that we avert leaving a fundamentally degraded planet for future generations….

We scientists?must hold ourselves to a higher standard than the deniers-for-hire. We must be honest as we convey the threat posed by climate change to the public. But we must also be effective. The stakes are simply too great for us to fail to communicate the risks of inaction.

I recommend reading the original paper, as I’ve only briefly summarized it here.

A New Fake Report On Climate Change.

Who What When Where

Nic Lewis, an unaffiliated self described climate scientist, and a journalist, Marcel Crok, also unaffiliated, are known climate science denialists. The two of them have an objection to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conclusions regarding an important thing called “Climate Sensitivity.” Perhaps unable to get their work in the peer reviewed literature, the two of them wrote “a report” titled “OVERSENSITIVE: How the IPCC hid the good news on global warming,” that is available here. They make a claim which is totally incorrect but if it was correct it would be important. But it’s not. Either.

Imagine a Spherical Earth

Climate sensitivity is a term that refers to more than one thing, but the basic idea is this. If CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were to double, how much would global surface temperatures rise? It is usually considered from a “baseline” of 280 parts per million (ppm), which is the pre-industrial level. We are currently at 400 ppm and we are heading for 560, the doubling, with little apparent serious effort (in my opinion) to curtail the rise. Climate sensitivity is expressed in degrees Celsius. So if some one says “climate sensitive is 2” than they mean that we can expect global surface temperatures to reach 2 degrees above baseline given 560 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Imagine a spherical earth. Imagine no water vapor in the atmosphere, and just to keep things simple, let’s have only land surface and no ocean. But the amount of air and its overall composition minus the water vapor is like our actual earth. On this imaginary earth, climate sensitivity is about 1.2. That’s apparently pretty easy to figure out because it is a matter of how CO2 operates as a greenhouse gas and how much energy the sun supplies, etc.

However, there could be negative and positive feedbacks that would make this work out differently. This would be things that either make some of the sun’s energy have less of an effect or more of an effect. Aerosols (dust) in the atmosphere, such as volcanic dust, can reflect sunlight away before it hits the earth’s surface, so it will have less of a contribution to heating the planet (which sunlight mainly does at the surface where it converts to infrared radiation). Ice and snow also reflect sunlight away (that’s called albedo). Water vapor in the atmosphere will generally act like a greenhouse gas and cause more heat by, to oversimplify a bit, interfering with the process of infrared heat leaving the atmosphere. Increased CO2 ultimately leads to more water vapor in the atmosphere, thus significantly amplifying warming. Warming can cause the release of methane into the atmosphere, another greenhouse gas, which in turn causes more warming until it oxidizes into CO2 and water. Water vapor can also get organized as clouds distributed in such a way as to add to albedo, reflecting away sunlight and decreasing warming.

With all these (and other) effects tugging this way and that on the temperature of the earth’s surface (by which we mean the atmosphere and the upper layer of the seas), how is one to figure out what actual climate sensitivity is?

Well, it is hard, and there has been a lot of work on it. There are papers coming out all the time on this topic. The IPCC spent a lot of effort on it. And, there are two answers to the question “what is the sensitivity of the climate?”

(Before giving you the answers, I want to point something out that is very important. The Earth’s surface does not warm up instantly as CO2 is added. It takes time. In fact, the changes that happen after CO2 is added to the atmosphere will continue for something like thousands of years. But the initial change, which involves the air heating up and weather systems changing and all that, would be observable over decades and reach a short term level of some stability in less time, measured in many decades or centuries. So there are two “climate sensitivities,” long term equilibrium and transient, the latter being what is generally talked about, with the idea of a mutli-decade time scale. So, the question we are asking is what will the earth be like at the end of the century, given a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere?)

So, back to the answers. One answer is the simple answer, and it is 3. This is the number that climate scientists seem to settle on when you hold them down and say “shut up with the mumbo jumbo, just give me a number.” The other answer is about 1.5 to 4.5 but possibly higher at the higher end.

Some who wish to minimize the importance of climate change will say things like “1.5. That’s a small number, what are you worried about?” Those people are boneheaded idiots and they are hoping you are too. Is 1.5 a small number? A large number? It depends. If I take 1.5 pennies from you it is a small number. If I kill you 1.5 times, it is a large number. Suffice it to say that 1.5 is a big enough number that we should be worried about it. Also, it is a low ball estimate of climate sensitivity. Almost nobody believes it. By one reckoning, there is something like a 5% chance that the sensitivity is actually around 6. Holy crap. That would probably melt almost every single drop of glacial ice on the planet and the map of the United States would look like this, in a couple/few centuries:


It would matter if there was a 20% chance that this is the map of the US your great grand children get to live with. They would actually have to remove stars from the US flag. If there is a US.

Below I supply a list of web pages you can check out to learn all about climate sensitivity.

But what about this report? Well, it’s a doozy. First, it has a forward extolling the virtues of Lewis and Crok. That’s nice. But the foreword is written by Climate Science Denialist Judith Curry. That does not bode well. Following this, the report is mainly a journey through a cherry orchard.

The adventures of Lewis and Crok

The report cherry picks a subset of scientific results that show lower sensitivity estimates and does a poor job of ruling out the other results that give higher estimates. They criticize the IPCC report, which summarized sensitivity studies, for leaving out the “good news” that climate sensitivity is actually very very low, by reporting a wide range of research indicating that it is not low. In other words, and I know this seems confusing but I think this is the point, Lewis and Crok are saying that the IPCC report is wrong because it reported all of the relevant scientific findings rather than just the ones Lewis and Crok would like to have seen noted.


Sorry for shouting.

The authors suggest that the teams of scientists working on the IPCC report did not understand basic statistics, and that this contributed to their alleged overestimate of climate sensitivity. That part made me laugh.

Lewis and Crok put a lot of weight on what they term the observational record, which as you might guess if you have been following the denialist’s literature is one of the best places to pick cherries. Also, astonishingly and, really, laughably, they rely on Lewis’ prior publications suggesting low ball estimates of climate sensitivity. Yes, some guys have been pushing a particular scientifically difficult to support position; the world’s scientists in a major international effort produced a summary of countless hours of research and dozens of peer reviewed papers that disagree with those guys; those guys write a report about how what they’ve been saying all along, which differs with the established science, must be right because they’ve been saying it all along!

Yes, that’s about what this report amounts to. It’s a bunch of hooey.

For further reading on climate sensitivity I recommend the following:

NEW: GWPF optimism on climate sensitivity is ill-founded

“On Sensitivity” at Real Climate

“A Bit More Sensitive” on Real Climate

Climate-Change Deniers Must Stop Distorting the Evidence

How sensitive is our climate? at Skeptical Science

Other posts of interest:

Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, which is also an alternative history of the Skeptics Movement.

What Climate Change Denialism Looks Like

I generally ignore climate change denialists on Twitter. I use The Zapper to do that, and it works great, better than blocking. But sometimes I check my Twitter feed on something other than Chrome on my own desktop or laptop and then I see them, and occasionally engage. When I do, I often see troubling or annoying visual tropes that seem to go along with this breed. Guns, exploitative photos of women, flag-draped symbols, and Nazis. That sort of thing.

So, this morning I put together a collage of images off the Twitter home pages of just the last handful of Denialists who were obsessively tweeting and retweeting to or about me this morning. For your enjoyment:


Scared? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Are the scared? Given how well armed they are, it would seem so. Trying to push the world in to climate apocalypse so they can do the survivalism thing? Interesting idea.

Science Denialists Make Fake Journal, Get Shut Down.

Copernicus Publications is an Open Access enterprise that provided the ability for an academic entity of some sort or another to create a new Open Access journal. In March 2013 the journal “Pattern Recognition in Physics” was started up and added to the Copernicus lineup. The journal apparently put out a few items, and then, recently, produced Special Issue 1, called “Pattern in solar variability, their planetary origin and terrestrial impacts.” The special issue editors were Nils-Axel Mörner, R. Tattersall, and J.-E. Solheim. Readers of this blog will recognize R. Tattersall as TallBloke, the bloke, apparently tall, who threatened to sue me into oblivion a couple of years back because I accept, generally, mainstream climate science and he does not.

prp-cover-webAfter the initial production of the special issue, though apparently before all the papers promised were produced, Copernicus pulled the plug on the journal. Here is their statement in full:

Termination of the journal Pattern Recognition in Physics

Copernicus Publications started publishing the journal Pattern Recognition in Physics (PRP) in March 2013. The journal idea was brought to Copernicus’ attention and was taken rather critically in the beginning, since the designated Editors-in-Chief were mentioned in the context of the debates of climate skeptics. However, the initiators asserted that the aim of the journal was to publish articles about patterns recognized in the full spectrum of physical disciplines rather than to focus on climate-research-related topics.

Recently, a special issue was compiled entitled “Pattern in solar variability, their planetary origin and terrestrial impacts”. Besides papers dealing with the observed patterns in the heliosphere, the special issue editors ultimately submitted their conclusions in which they “doubt the continued, even accelerated, warming as claimed by the IPCC project” (Pattern Recogn. Phys., 1, 205–206, 2013).

Copernicus Publications published the work and other special issue papers to provide the spectrum of the related papers to the scientists for their individual judgment. Following best practice in scholarly publishing, published articles cannot be removed afterwards.

In addition, the editors selected the referees on a nepotistic basis, which we regard as malpractice in scientific publishing and not in accordance with our publication ethics we expect to be followed by the editors.

Therefore, we at Copernicus Publications wish to distance ourselves from the apparent misuse of the originally agreed aims & scope of the journal as well as the malpractice regarding the review process, and decided on 17 January 2014 to cease the publication of PRP. Of course, scientific dispute is controversial and should allow contradictory opinions which can then be discussed within the scientific community. However, the recent developments including the expressed implications (see above) have led us to this drastic decision.

Interested scientists can reach the online library at: www.pattern-recogn-phys.net

Martin Rasmussen
January 2014

So, let me rephrase. A group of climate science denialists made up a story about what they wanted to do and convinced a publisher to let them create a “peer reviewed journal.” The publisher was rightfully suspicious, but just as rightfully, open to the idea. We can’t, after all, be repressing the development, publication, and dissemination of science just because we don’t like some feature or another of the people involved.

This might explain the sense of deja vu you may be having.
This might explain the sense of deja vu you may be having.
Not long after the journal existed, the perpetrators of what we may now recognize as a hoax produced the “special issue” which includes fake science “disproving” global warming. One of the key results asserts that the interaction of celestial bodies can produce a pattern that happens to match the pattern of Earth’s surface temperature changes over recent time.

This, of course, is where “pattern recognition” (which is indeed a thing in science, though mainly for exploratory purposes) can go wrong. This is where the famous phrase “correlation does not imply causation” (which I’ve discussed here) comes in. It would not be hard to find a pattern in celestial reality to match the basic Hockey Stick curve. If we then add to that pattern some wiggles that relate, say, to insolation (the amount of energy coming in from the sun, which varies over time) and a major climate driver like ENSO (the El Nino thing) to make the “pattern” more climate-looking, we’ve got a nice match. The reason this is not hard is because celestial bodies move in a diverse range of periods and there are enough celestial bodies that we can produce many different combinations of their movements, and then pick the one that matches our data. This is roughly similar to using a quasi-random number generator to produce thousands of lines on a graph, then picking the line that matches our data, except that the final analysis using celestial bodies can say “We’ve found a pattern matching orbital geometries of the solar system that explains climate change” instead of “We made up a line from random numbers and it matches climate change.”

I see patterns.
I see patterns.
As I read through the papers in the special issue, I could not help but to remember the old Cosmos show, in particular the scenes (in Episode 3?) of early astronomers trying to figure out this thing where the planets go around the sun. It was Tycho Brahe, if I recall correctly, getting very frustrated when his model … physical model … fell apart in his hands because there were too many parts and not enough glue. Indeed, the basic science referred to in some of the work presented in the special issue is ancient solar system dynamics and has a nearly metaphysical feel to it.

This method is even seen as inappropriate among the hard core climate science denialists. Science Denialist Anthony Watts, while making sure to decry the suppression of his fellow denialists by the scientific mainstream, admits that the bogus analysis is bogus:

I will say that some of the papers in that special journal edition really aren’t any better than curve fitting exercises. …

As many WUWT readers know, while years ago I expressed some interest in planetary tidal force effects on climate, I have long since been convinced that there’s zero planetary effect on climate for two reasons: 1) The gravitational effects at distance are simply too small to exert the forces neccessary, and 2) The methodology employed often results in hindcast curve fitting a theory to data, where the maxim “correlation is not causation” should have been considered before publishing the paper.

The denialosphere is, naturally, reacting strongly to this event.

Jo Nova, noting that the “Streisand Effect” may ultimately help the bogus papers achieve more attention than they otherwise might (and I certainly hope this is true … examples of really bad papers are very useful sometimes), calls for a general boycott of any journal that does not speak out against Copernicus’ closing of Pattern Recognition: “it’s time to boycott any journal which does not speak up against this weak act of caving in to the dominant paradigm. It is not about whether they agree with the scientific conclusions, it’s about free speech. It’s about science.”

TallBloke, one of the editors of the special issue, was already busy using the journal to raise funds for his own accounts, apparently, when he had to interrupt himself to become indignant. On December 13th he posted an update on the special issue and told readers, “If you would like copy of the print edition, please use the donate button on this site (top left of the sidebar) to remit 18.50 Euros plus 4 Euros to cover the cost of the journal copy and postage/packing. I will then pass these orders on to Copernicus. Thanks for all your support and consideration.” Read that twice. Yeah, I’m not sure either. Anyway, after the axing, he notes, “A conclusion and its implication in the summary paper was: because our scientific investigation leads us to the prediction that the Sun is headed into a protracted minimum, the warming forecast by the IPCC might not happen. This has led to the journal being axed by the parent Publishing house Copernicus. The papers are still available … Please download and disseminate them widely.” Tallbloke also gives us, usefully, the text of the letter sent to the coordinating editors Nils Axel Mörner and chief editor Sid Ali Ouadfeul:

Dear Sid-Ali, dear Nils-Axel, We regret to inform you that we decided to terminate the journal Pattern Recognition in Physics (PRP).

While processing the press release for the special issue “Pattern in solar variability, their planetary origin and terrestrial impacts”, we read through the general conclusions paper published on 16 Dec 2013. We were alarmed by the authors’ second implication stating “This sheds serious doubts on the issue of a continued, even accelerated, warming as claimed by the IPCC project”. Before the journal was launched, we had a long discussion regarding its topics. The aim of the journal was to publish articles about patterns recognized in the full spectrum of physical disciplines. PRP was never meant to be a platform for climate sceptics. In addition to our doubts about the scientific content of PRP, we also received information about potential misconduct during the review process. Copernicus Publications cannot risk losing its excellent reputation in the scientific community. We therefore wish to distance ourselves from the apparent misuse of the originally agreed aims & scope of PRP and decided today to cease the publication. This decision must come as a surprise for you, but under the given circumstances we were forced to react.

We hope that you understand our reasons for this decision. We thank you very much for your cooperation and wish you all the best for your future career.

Best regards, Martin and Xenia

Luboš Motl repeats the falsehood that the journal was terminated because of one sentence by writing “One sentence in Scafetta’s paper on solar/climate patterns was too much for the AGW loons and their cowardly slaves and collaborationists,” and concludes his blog post by stating, in reference to mainstream science, “They have poisoned the Academia way too much; they have depleted their right to live,” followed by a rather ham-handed attempt to link climate scientists to the Nazi Gold Dawn party in Greece.

(I can tell you from personal experience that we are not all linked; Golden Dawn took the trouble a year ago or so to declare that I am the Anit Christ. And they produced a lot of evidence to support their claim!)

Ugo Bardi had this to say about “Pattern Recognition” (the journal and the thing you do):

…they say that it was closed, among other things, because of “the editors selected the referees on a nepotistic basis”

That, however, is just a part of the story and most of it had to do with the denialist stance of the editors on the matter of climate. But the problem with this journal was even deeper. What is exactly to be intended as “pattern recognition in physics”? … It is, at best, the “curve fitting” approach to physics which may be a lot of fun, but if it is not based on a good physical model is just normally an exercise in irrelevance.

So, the very concept of a physics journal dedicated to pattern recognition, alone, is very doubtful, to say the least. Then, it is no wonder that a (so-called) physics purely based on pattern recognition in physics results arrives in the denial of the physical basis of climate change.

Remember this moment, folks. I don’t think you are going to see Ugo Bardi and Anthony Watts agreeing on something too often!

Big City Lib had already recognized the nefarious nature of this journal. Of the names of some of those involves, BCL writes:

People that read this blog may be familiar with some of these names. They are climate change denialists of one stripe or another. Tattersall is a blogger who writes under the name of Tallbloke. W. Soon = Willie Wei-Hock Soon. N. Scaffeta = Nick Scaffeta. Nils-Axel Mörner is a crazed wingnut who is also a goddamn water witch! JE Solheim thinks that a simple harmonic model (movements of the sun, moon and planets together with linear trends) provides a better fit to the global temperature data since 1850 and likely a better predictor than the assembly of 44 climate models used by the IPCC….

So what appears to have happened is that a small group of denialists paid money to Copernicus Publishing, launched their own journal under its imprint, and published crap. Now they can say its all passed “peer review”. It will be interesting to see exactly what this means under the circumstances. That they read one another’s stuff?

That was written before the Journal’s termination and the assertion by Copernicus that the peer review process was conducted with “malpractice.” So, to answer BCL’s question: Yes, they appear to read one another’s stuff! Good call!

Retraction Watch and Science are discussing this as well.

What’s up with that?

You may know the blog What’s Up With That. It is Anthony Watt’s anti-science blog, dedicated to climate change denialism.

A current post reports the finding of life forms from another planet, in a meteorite.

This looks to be a huge story, the first evidence of extraterrestrial life, if it holds up….

This is from a recent meteorite find in December 2012. A large fire ball was seen by a large number of people in Sri Lanka on December 29th 2012, during that episode a large meteorite disintegrated and fell to Earth in the village of Araganwila which is few miles away from the city of Polonnaruwa.

Look at what the electron microscope shows of a sample purported to be from the meteorite:

Then he shows a picture of a rock with a bunch of contemporary Earth Based diatoms stuck to it.

It is very fun to read the comments. I provided a comment that will not be printed because Watts never prints my comments, but I’ve screen captured it for you (it is below).

Phil Plait has reviewed the Alien Life in the Meteor story here, and as I said, it is not alien life come to earth in a meteor. It is (I guess) a fragment of a meteorite with fresh water diatoms stuck to it. There are fresh water diatoms stuck to your shoe, your car tires, your dog, everywhere. The silica bodies of these tiny algae are part of the dust, not as numerous perhaps as skin cells or, certain times of the year, pollen, or the loess blowing off the melting glaciers and such, but common. This is why real scientists grind down the meteorite, cross sectioning it, before looking at the sample.

As Phil points out, this report is by a “scientist” who has made many outrageous and incorrect claims about aliens, reported in a journal that is famous for printing bogus and incorrect science, the methods are obviously bogus and anyone who knew anything about, say, climate studies (where fresh water diatoms are used all the time as proxyindicators) would at least be suspicious, and would know how to check for veracity of the claim.

Anthony Watts, the anti-science global warming denailist, was not equipped to recognize this bogus science as bogus. We are not surprised.

Congratulations Shawn Otto!

Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America by Shawn Otto has won the prestigious Minnesota Book Award. The award is very well deserved.

Here’s my writeup of the book, and here’s a radio interview with the author that we did a couple of months back.

Shawn’s book is a critically important analysis of science policy, its potentials and failings, in a world of denialism and politics. As you know, Shawn has been involved with Science Debate (see the big badge on the sidebar?) and the Science Pledge. I’m pleased to announce that in the political campaign that I was recently involved in, both candidates seeking a party endorsement for US Congress made reference to material from Fool Me Twice.

Congratulations, Shawn!