11 March 2012

How Good Science Makes One a Darling of the Deniers

[UPDATE 3/14: To get a sense of how the game is played by climate scientists -- and they do indeed treat it like a game -- see this query of mine to Richard Somerville asking about comments attributed to him and his response.]

In December I was contacted by a journalist named Christine MacDonald who wanted to ask me a few questions about extreme events and climate change:
Hi Prof. Pielke,

I am writing an article for E Magazine on climate change and extreme weather. I read about your concerns that some scientists are overstating the connections between hurricanes, cyclones and some other weather events and climate change. I wanted to ask you what you think of Kevin Trenberth's proposal about shifting the burden of proof so that we assume climate change is involved in all usual events unless proven otherwise.
I chatted with her, giving what is by now a very familiar set of points related to a wide range of peer-reviewed science, including the most recent IPCC SREX report. She responded with this email to check quotes:
Hi Roger,

Here's what I was going to use. Please take a close look, particularly at this part: events such heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes. Is that accurate to your views? if not please let me know and I will fix.

“It stretches the science to the point of breaking and provides skeptics with fuel. So why go there?” says Pielke of his colleagues efforts to discern global warming “fingerprints” on events such heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes.

“It’s more of rhetorical interest than anything scientific,” Peilke says of Trenberth’s proposal. “The science is not there because if it were he’d be making the case with numbers.”

Thanks.

Christine
I responded with the following clarifications:
Thanks Christine ... two very important changes (delete between stars):
--------------------------
“It stretches the science to the point of breaking and provides skeptics with fuel. So why go there?” says Pielke of ***DELETEhis colleagues**** efforts to discern global warming “fingerprints” on RECENT INDIVIDUAL events such heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes.

“It’s more of rhetorical interest than anything scientific,” Peilke says of Trenberth’s proposal. “The science is not there because if it were he’d be making the case with numbers.”
---------------------------
Explanation:

1. It is not my colleagues efforts (maybe one or two, but the current phrasing is too broad a brush) but mainly political advocates and certain media ...

2. The issue is not with the longer-term climate time scale studies (over 30-50 years and longer) but with attribution of specific events

Please note the misspelling of my name, Thanks!

Please ask if anything is unclear ... RP
She wrote back to accept the changes.

Here is what just now appeared in her story for E: The Environmental Magazine:
One obstacle to exactitude is that extreme events, by their very nature, are infrequent and leave few clues for scientists to follow, says Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Trenberth caused a stir last year by suggesting that the time had come to flip the burden of proof and assume climate change plays a role in all weather today.

“Of course there is large weather and natural variability. And even with climate change, most of the time it falls within the bounds of previous experience. But increasingly it doesn’t, and records are being broken that are consistent with a human influence of warming,” he wrote in an e-mail exchange

It’s a controversial idea that has attracted criticism from other climate scientists and has been assailed by climate deniers and a few prominent bloggers like Roger Pielke, Jr.

“It’s more of a rhetorical question than anything scientific,” says Pielke, a professor of environmental studies at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Pielke, a darling of the denialist community for his criticism of Al Gore, Trenberth and others, has accused climate scientists of overreaching to make weather-climate change connections, allegations that have annoyed Somerville and other top scientists who consider Pielke, a political scientist, an unqualified gadfly on matters of climate science.
Apparently Ms. MacDonald is a follower of the "don't tell the whole truth" school of environmental journalism ;-)

20 comments:

  1. I've always thought "environmental journalist" was an environmentalists first and a journalist second. Ms. MacDonald reinforces the view of advocacy before journalism. However as an advocate, her effectiveness at changing minds is diminished by here choice of language. So the oxymoron of journalist advocate is bound to do poorly at both jobs.

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  2. "Apparently Ms. MacDonald is a follower of the 'don't tell the whole truth' school of environmental journalism ;-)"

    Unfortunately, this seems to be an increasingly popular "school".

    Mind you, while I doubt that we would ever see him say so publicly (or demand the Editor's resignation and apology!), I cannot imagine that Trenberth would be pleased to find himself named in such close proximity to Gore!

    Perhaps this is MacDonald's idea of "balance" ;-)

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  3. Speaking for myself, you're one of my darlings because, when I first stumbled upon your blog and work, your careful attention to the SCIENCE of what you were doing stood out.

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  4. When did journalists ever care about truth? If they were interested in truth, they would have become philosophers instead of journalists. :-)

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  5. Along the lines of attributing effect to the proper cause, it is not impossible that an unnamed editor at E Magazine had a hand in the final product.

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  6. Roger, I think there's a Blackadder 'Darling' joke lurking here somewhere.

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  7. I have found a quick way to determine if an article is slanted or biased is in comparing the length and description of those quoted in the article. Individuals in which the author or editor agree are quoted with multiple sentences that give some context to their thoughts. The individual attributed to the quote is attached with a clean description of their qualifications often with some positive adjectives thrown in.

    Those quotes that are contrary to the authors/editors belief are usually very short, appear to be non germane to the subject and are either preceded or followed with a length opinion based description of the quotes author using negative connotations.
    JeffN

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  8. I just sent this email to Richard Somerville:

    Hi Richard-

    Long time no speak, I hope this finds you well.

    There are some strong comments attributed to you made about me and my work, in which you characterize me as "an unqualified gadfly on matters of climate science." If these remarks are accurate, in the interest of open and constructive communication on climate science issues, I'd like to extend an invitation to you to prepare a blog post which I will feature prominently explaining the errors that you see in my peer reviewed research related to climate.

    You can find a handy summary of my peer-reviewed research here: http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=WtqpmdIAAAAJ

    If by chance you were mis-represented I'd be happy to run your clarification.

    Either way, I look forward to your response.

    All best from Boulder,

    Roger

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  9. That's just atrocious. I shouldn't be surprised.

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  10. Pielke, a darling of the denialist community

    And they wonder why they get absolutely no where on capitol hill.

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  11. And this is what happens when you're critical of political advocacy and the writer is a political advocate.

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  12. Anybody that calls themselves a journalist rather than a reporter is immediately suspect, IMHO.

    Media these days are all full of opinion, masquerading as fact.

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  13. This may be an ignorant question, but it just struck me. Why would a journalist go to the trouble of collecting information when she's going to imply to her readers that it's worthless? Surely she doesn't believe anyone with a measurable IQ would think this is balanced?

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  14. Let’s support Trenberth in making his dream come true by attributing everything to climate change: strong wind, severe heat and cold, deep snow, flu outbreaks, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, male impotence, Barry Manilow, whatever.

    If that’s what these guys want, let’s make sure they get bushels of it.

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  15. -9-

    It has been two days since my email to RIchard Somerville, no reply. I just followed up with a request for the courtesy of a reply.

    These guys are oh-so-ready to diss people to the media, but when it comes time to back up the insults, they've got nothing ... #climatecowards;-)

    Maybe worth a post ...

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  16. Re: #15. List already exists. Check this out: www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm

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  17. -9, 16-

    After my prodding Somerville responds:

    "Roger, I think it is the journalist Christine MacDonald who deserves credit or blame for the exact words she chose in her article, rather than any of the people like me who were among her sources. She interviewed me at length over the phone, and her piece, including the portion you quote, clearly is based on numerous conversations with various sources. Her wide-ranging article at http://www.emagazine.com/magazine/the-freak-weather-that-wont-be-denied quotes me and others directly several times, but the brief passage you are concerned about does not. It simply says,

    "Pielke, a darling of the denialist community for his criticism of Al Gore, Trenberth and others, has accused climate scientists of overreaching to make weather-climate change connections, allegations that have annoyed Somerville and other top scientists who consider Pielke, a political scientist, an unqualified gadfly on matters of climate science."

    However, Roger, I just looked "gadfly" up, and it's really very interesting! Here's what Wikipedia says:

    "A gadfly is a person who upsets the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions, or just being an irritant. The term has been used to describe many politicians and social commentators. The term 'gadfly' was used by Plato in the Apology to describe Socrates' relationship of uncomfortable goad to the Athenian political scene, which he compared to a slow and dimwitted horse."

    Roger, as a professor of environmental studies and an indefatigable blogger, perhaps you should be pleased by being thought of as a person "posing upsetting or novel questions." In fact, perhaps the originator of a science policy blog initially named Prometheus should smile to himself and enjoy being likened to Plato's description of his revered mentor Socrates!

    Thanks!"

    Second email after I asked if I could post and about the "unqualified part"

    "Sure, Roger, please feel free to post what I sent!

    I'm not sure where "unqualified" comes from. As a guess, it might be because your degree is not in climate science and, my impression (please correct me if I'm wrong) is you have often pointed out that, generally speaking, you do not do research on the physical science aspects of the climate system, nor do you claim scientific expertise in that area, and you often refer journalists and others to physical scientists who do have that specialized expertise when they ask you questions outside your area.

    Thanks!"

    And that my friends, is how things work in today's climate science ;-)

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  18. Maybe the use of the word "unqualified" is as in the phrase "unqualified success". :)

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  19. What the heck .. no wonder you got out of this racket .. who can stand the weasel words and equivocation ..

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