Climateballs: O’Sullivan strikes again

John O’Sullivan — the pseudosceptic who is serially and persistently wrong about almost everything he chooses to write about, and who has made a career out of misrepresenting his own abilities and qualifications — is at it again. In a “review” of a new book by Canadian denier Tim Ball (left), O’Sullivan1 writes:

The courage and forthrightness Tim Ball has shown with this book, and in the British Columbia Supreme Court defending himself against the now failed libel suit of Michael Mann, is about to be vindicated by the judiciary. As the scientific community awaits Ball’s impeding legal triumph, we may edify ourselves not just with the black and white evidence presented in this extraordinary publication, but in the certain knowledge that Mann and his co-conspirators have spectacularly failed in their bid to silence dissent against their fraudulent science.

Mann’s abortive attempt to sue Ball in the British Columbia Supreme Court ultimately back-fired because Mann refused to show his metadata, his calculations for his junk science, in open court. Now Mann faces possible bankruptcy on top of professional suicide, as the price for his misdeeds.

What purple prose! What hyperbole! What utter crap.

Mann’s lawyer, Roger McConchie writes:

Their assertion that Dr. Mann faces possible bankruptcy is nonsense. Dr. Mann’s lawsuit against Dr. Ball and other defendants is proceeding through the normal stages prescribed by the BC Supreme Court Civil Rules and Dr. Mann looks forward to judicial vindication at the conclusion of this process.

In other words: O’Sullivan’s wrong again. The court case is very much on, and Tim Ball is in deep trouble. Ball’s book, teasingly titled The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science is another matter. A cursory glance at the sample available via Amazon suggests that it’s yet another in a long line of conspiracist nonsense about the climate issue — eerily reminiscent of Ian Wishart’s Air Con in its suggestions of cabals at the UN, environmentalism as a religion, and Maurice Strong and Prince Philip as some sort of evil overlords. Mr McConchie is undoubtedly looking over the text with considerable interest…

  1. With co-author Hans Schreuder. []

NBR interviews Steve McIntyre: hard-hitting business journalism or fatuous piffle? You decide…

The National Business Review (NBR) is New Zealand’s biggest selling business weekly. This weekend it published a profile of Steve McIntyre, the ClimateAudit blogger and amateur statistician who has long had an unhealthy obsession with hockey sticks. Here’s how it introduced him on the web version of the article1:

A man who has become the arch-enemy of climate scientists for exposing serious flaws in a United Nations study on global warming believes the issue has been greatly overstated.

Vilified by global warming zealots, Canadian Steve McIntyre, who was passing through Auckland this week, told NBR ONLINE the impact of global warming is likely to be “about half” of what current scientific models are showing.

Unpacking all the errors and misrepresentations in just those two opening sentences is a major task, so I’ll restrict myself to a few bullet points:

  • McIntyre has pissed off a few paleoclimate people (Mike Mann in particular), but is no “arch-enemy” of an entire discipline.
  • He exposed no substantial flaws in any study, though he has tried hard to create that impression. The sum total of his efforts has done nothing to change our understanding of paleoclimate.
  • The United Nations doesn’t do climate studies. The UN and WMO coordinate the IPCC, which summarises all the science done in academic institutions around the world.
  • McIntyre’s main contribution to science has been to orchestrate and agonise over freedom of information requests sprayed around the climate community, especially the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, and thereby to waste a huge amount of real scientists’ time.
  • McIntyre lacks any credible expertise that would allow him to sit in judgement on the likely impact of a warming climate.

The NBR article continues:

Mr McIntyre, who is a mathematician and former mining company executive, says “the onus is on the people arguing it’s a big problem to really show in an engineering quality report why it’s a big problem”.

More to the point is that McIntyre has been up to his elbows in organised efforts to delay action on climate change for at least the last ten years, as DeSmogBlog’s record of his activities shows — but you wouldn’t guess that from the fawning interview by Rod Vaughan.

The really jaw-dropping moment, however, is when Vaughan presents McIntyre’s views on climate impacts:

Asked how much damage has been caused to the environment so far from global warming, he said:

[…]“Activists will tend to say that carbon dioxide emissions in the last 50 years have caused serious negative impacts.

“But from my point of view I would say I don’t know what they are and certainly on balance there’s been no serious impact.

There’s none so blind as those who won’t look at the Arctic, glacier retreat, increasing extreme weather events, or any of the many other signs of a rapidly changing climate system. McIntyre has made no contribution to the study of climate change, but he has made a huge contribution to the campaign to do nothing about it. His wilful ignorance, and his willingness to present it as wisdom, makes for unedifying reading. More’s the pity, then, that the NBR should choose to feature McIntyre’s piffle as worthy of its reader’s attention.

Climate change is already the biggest challenge the business community will have to face over the next century. Dealing with the impacts of climate change — from extreme weather events to shifting climate zones and ocean acidification — is going to be tough. Creating an economy in which business can thrive at the same as radically reducing emissions is an urgent necessity. It can’t be dismissed by the arm-waving of mining consultants with a political axe to grind.

It could be argued that the business community gets the journalism it deserves. On the basis of this dreadful and fatuous interview, it would appear New Zealand’s business community is in deep, deep trouble.

  1. A longer version is in the print edition. []

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

It was clearly never Michael Mann’s wish to be embroiled in the public controversy that has been manufactured by the denial industry around his and his co-authors’ work. He’s a scientist first and foremost, the nine-year-old who wanted to know what it meant to go faster than the speed of light, the high school student whose idea of a fun Friday night was hanging out with his computer buddies writing programmes to solve challenging problems, the Ph.D candidate looking for a big-picture problem to which he could apply his maths and physics interests, the post-doctoral researcher wanting to pursue curiosity-driven science. “When we first published our hockey stick work in the late 1990s,” he explains, “I was of the belief that the role of a scientist was, simply put, to do science.”

In support of that belief he eschewed the notion of taking any position regarding climate change policy. But merely doing the science, resulting in the hockey stick graph which showed a rapid and unprecedented global warming in recent time by comparison with the proxy temperature records of the last thousand years, meant that he was catapulted willy-nilly into public attention. And not just attention, but attack and vilification by the denial campaign. The title of his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines is no overstatement. He has battle scars.  However it’s not a conflict he is prepared to retire from.  He no longer thinks he should avoid communicating the societal implications of climate science. Quite the opposite. He points out that scientists who study climate science and its potential impacts understand better than anyone the nature of the climate change threat. It would be irresponsible in the extreme for scientists to leave the field to industry-funded climate change deniers to confuse and mislead the public and dissuade policy makers from taking appropriate action.

Continue reading “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”

The scientization of politics

A chance to watch Michael “hockey league” Mann is not to be missed, so here’s a recent TEDx talk he gave titled The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. The climate science is pretty straightforward, but his comments on the US campaign to vilify climate science and scientists are worth a few minutes of anyone’s day.

Misuse of political office: science under attack

A couple of months ago I posted on Michael Mann’s fight back against the denialist attacks he is constantly subjected to.  Now there’s a new kind of attack.  The Attorney General of Virginia, one Ken Cuccinelli, has made a Civil Investigative Demand to the University of Virginia for a long list of documents relating to the grant-funded research of Michael Mann while he was working at the University from 1999 to 2005. Among the materials requested by May 27 were email correspondence with a long list of other climate scientists, including several who, like Mann, were prominent figures in Climategate. The Attorney General’s demand is made on the grounds that he is investigating possible violations by Mann against the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act when he sought funding for a number of research projects.

Cuccinelli is a climate change denier who describes the science as “unreliable, unverifiable and doctored”.  He is currently suing the Environment Protection Agency over its efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

His justification of his action against Mann to the Washington Post this week was: “In light of the Climategate e-mails, there does seem to at least be an argument to be made that a course was undertaken by some of the individuals involved, including potentially Michael Mann, where they were steering a course to reach a conclusion. Our act, frankly, just requires honesty.”

In addition to Mann’s email correspondence with other scientists, Cuccinelli asks for material which suggests he intends a scientific investigation of Mann’s work. It includes “any and all computer algorithms, programs, source code, or the like created or edited by … Mann” from 1999 to the present, and “any data, information or databases, structured or unstructured information, source code and formulas that may be stored in any format or media type…”  Such investigation is obviously well beyond the expertise of a law enforcement office and one wonders who Cuccinelli has in mind to do it.  Fred Singer perhaps? Singer has already welcomed Cuccinelli’s move:

“There is a good chance that Virginia’s Attorney-General Ken Cuccinelli will come up with the “smoking gun” — where other so-called investigations have only produced one whitewash after another.

“We know from the leaked e-mails of Climategate that Prof. Michael Mann was involved in the international conspiracy to ‘hide the decline’ [in global temperatures], using what chief conspirator Dr. Phil Jones refers to as ‘Mike [Mann]’s trick.’ Now at last we may find out just how this was done.”

It’s worth noting that not all deniers welcome what Cuccinelli has done. Steve McIntyre calls it “a repugnant piece of over-zealousness by the Virginia Attorney General, that I condemn.”

Mann went from Virginia to Penn State University in 2005.  He says: “It seems clearly to me that it’s an attempt to intimidate and to silence me and to make an example of me for other scientists who might speak out on the science of climate change.”

Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University Professors, said Cuccinelli’s request had “echoes of McCarthyism.”

“It would be incredibly chilling to anyone else practicing in either the same area or in any politically sensitive area.”

The faculty of the University of Virginia has made a strong statement, which includes the following:

“Dr. Mann is an internationally respected and highly cited climate scientist. The funding he received for his research resulted from impartial, stringent peer review by respected independent scientists under the auspices of national scientific research organizations. His research findings, including many of those involved in this investigation, have been reported in leading scientific journals, which are themselves subject to additional exacting review by the scientific community prior to publication…

“We maintain that peer review by the scientific community is the appropriate means by which to identify error in the generation, presentation and interpretation of scientific data. The Attorney General’s use of his power to issue a CID under the provisions of Virginia’s FATA is an inappropriate way to engage with the process of scientific inquiry. His action and the potential threat of legal prosecution of scientific endeavor that has satisfied peer-review standards send a chilling message to scientists engaged in basic research involving Earth’s climate and indeed to scholars in any discipline. Such actions directly threaten academic freedom and, thus, our ability to generate the knowledge upon which informed public policy relies.”

In a subsequent television interview Cuccinelli, who has been in his elected office only three months, drew back from the implication that he was making a scientific enquiry:

Warren: “What gives your office the authority to interpret what is scientific data?”
Cuccinelli: “That’s a worthwhile question. We aren’t targeting scientific conclusions. That’s not the issue. It’s the expenditure of taxpayer dollars.”
Warren: “Do you believe that manmade gases are actually warming the climate?”
Cuccinelli: “I think the jury is still out.” He went on to say, “I don’t think the evidence at this moment as it’s been presented would lead one to man-caused conclusion in that respect.”
Warren: “If you don’t believe manmade gases are warming the earth, how can we trust what your office finds? In other words, politics could be at play here?”
Cuccinelli: “There are some people who will never believe anything we do. But, for people who know me, I’m capable of being extremely objective.”

That objective capability he claims is hardly demonstrated in the demand he has made of the University of Virginia. The University at least initially believes it is obliged to accede to the demand, but the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Association of University Professors have sent a joint letter to the Rector urging him to use every legal avenue to resist providing the information and offering their assistance if wanted.

It is too soon to sense how this will play out. Probably the action of Cuccinelli should come as no surprise given the fevered pitch and irrationality of American denialism.  But attacks by politicians on established science and scientists are always unnerving.  Even Rodney Hide’s foolish statements in the New Zealand parliament carried a touch of menace with them. American academics and scientists will need to be united and firm in their defence of scientific independence. There is plenty of evidence that they will be, some of it referred to above, and more seen in an open letter from prominent members of the National Academy of Sciences published in the Guardian today.  It probably predates the Cuccinelli affair, but the principle clearly applies.

“We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular…

“Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence.

“…there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change.”