Thursday, February 14, 2008
Most of us are convinced now that anthropomorphic climate change is based on sound, virtually unassailable science, that all but a few climate scientists agree with that assessment, that the questions to be answered now are:
- how quickly and by what means to reduce GHG emissions,
- what the inescapable impacts are of the GHG emissions already in the atmosphere and liable to be added to the atmosphere before we achieve carbon neutrality,
- how to undertake the task of adapting to the impacts that are liable to occur in the next century or so.
This time last year ExxonMobil waged a campaign with bloggers to convince us that they recognized the reality of anthropogenic global warming and were serious about solutions.
Most of us are also aware of the intense disinformation campaign that was waged by the Bush administration and others with respect to climate change science. That campaign continues.
John Mashey, a Bell Lab /Silicon Valley computer scientist provided me with a copy of his analysis of the recent salvos lobbed with respect to the Oreskes documentation of a "scientific consensus." It is of general enough interest that I provide the introduction to his analysis and his author information below. Although Mashey's tone is harsh and I haven't had an opportunity to verify all of his information, I have checked enough to believe that it is accurate.
The part of his paper that stirs my ire is the information about Frontiers of Freedom's Center for Science and Public Policy, which he indicates is a denialist organization funded (at least in part) by ExxonMobil. I looked up ExxonMobil's contributions to "Public Information and Policy Research" for 2006, when supposed ExxonMobil was not in the business of funding denialist nonsense. Well, there it is, $180,000 to Frontiers of Freedom and its CSPP. That's more than they gave to Brookings ($135,000), Asia Society ($90,000), Council on Foreign Relations ($110,000) or most of the legitimate organizations to which they contribute. I can't say they lied last year, but I can say they deliberately misled me.
Take a look at the CSPP website. If that's not denialist nonsense, I don't know what is!
ANOTHER ATTACK ON GLOBAL WARMING’S SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS
A Case Study of Personal Harassment and Amplification of Nonsense by the Denialist PR Machine
John R. Mashey
Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) - the idea that recent temperature rises are substantially caused by humans – is supported by a very strong scientific consensus. But for ideological or economic reasons some people are absolutely sure that it cannot be true, frequently attack it and are often called contrarians or denialists as a result. They try to manufacture doubt on the consensus among the public, not by doing good science, but by using PR techniques well-honed in the fights over tobacco-disease linkage. These are amplified by widespread use of the Internet, which is at least as good at propagating nonsense as truth.
A recent, well-coordinated transatlantic attempt to attack the consensus included:
A not-very-good anti-consensus paper written in the UK by an NHS King’s College endocrinologist, Mr Klaus-Martin Schulte, not obviously qualified for this task,
of which much was posted by Viscount Christopher Monckton at a Washington, DC denialist website run by Robert Ferguson, and publicized by Marc Morano of Senator Inhofe’s staff.
The non-story then propagated rapidly and pervasively through the blogosphere.
This expanded further into personal harassment of a US researcher, Naomi Oreskes.
All this generated misleading publicity for a non-story that would astonish most climate scientists:
Google: less than half published scientists endorse global warming
~700,000 hits, most created within a few days (at one point, was 1 million hits)
It added personal harassment of UCSD Professor Naomi Oreskes by Schulte, Monckton and Ferguson via intimidating demands, threats of lawsuits, and attack-by-press-release:
Google: researcher demands apology professional discourtesy essayist claimed climate consensus
~300 hits (at one point, was ~400 hits, not so many, but for an even more absurd non-story)
Misrepresentation, academic incompetence, and clear plagiarism generated fodder for the denialist PR machine to propagate, and also manufacture a spurious attack on a well-regarded academic.
All this publicity was generated for a seemingly- flawed paper that was not even publishable (as of this writing) in the poorly-regarded journal to which it was submitted. This is more akin to the political technique often called “oppo research.” None of this is science. It is anti-science.
This paper is intended to record the facts of this attempt in one place, for two audiences:
First, some people may be unfamiliar with the workings of the denialist PR machine, and this offers introductory background and a detailed case study to help understand the machine, the participants and the non-obvious relationships involved. This is a good illustration of techniques that have been applied to harass other visible scientists, such as James Hansen and Michael Mann.
Second, some may be familiar with climate science and denialist tactics, but want to learn this particular affair in detail, and they can skip the introductory material.
Sections 1, 2 and 7 together summarize this for the casual reader; the remainder is a detailed analysis.
2. OVERVIEW OF 2007 ATTEMPT
3. BACKGROUND: ORESKES, 2004
4. BACKGROUND: PEISER, 2005, 2006
5. OVERALL CHRONOLOGY OF BACKGROUND, CURRENT ATTEMPT
6. CHRONOLOGY IN DETAIL
This document attempts to be both usable on paper and convenient online, and is easiest to read while having an online copy at hand to follow electronic URLs if desired. Key URLs are given [#] references, and listed under REFERENCES. After first reference, surnames are used without given names or titles. This should not be interpreted as discourtesy, just the wish to keep this no lengthier than needed. Wikipedia, SourceWatch and, ExxonSecrets are not assumed as authoritative references, but as convenient starting points. Google hit counts are usually dated, as they can change often, but of course they are only approximate indicators of publicity, as there are often spurious hits. The exact searches are listed so a reader can repeat them. Italics are generally used for the author’s opinions/asides/speculations or emphasis.
The scientific consensus on AGW is supported by the UK’s Royal Society, The UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre, the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Meteorological Society (AMS), the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and many other scientific groups. It arises, not from any one paper, but from a vast mountain of accumulated, peer-reviewed research and associated evidence. Nevertheless, some people deny the consensus and actively try to manufacture doubt about it, not by doing legitimate research, but via other tactics. Such people are usually called contrarians or denialists, to distinguish them from people who are merely skeptical or uninformed. For the reader unfamiliar with such denialism, see Sharon Begley’s recent Newsweek article, “The Truth about Denial”:
An Illustration of Denialist Tactics.
The current attempt once again tries to confuse public opinion about the consensus. It seems to find inspiration in a famous memo by Frank Luntz (US political pollster and consultant):
“Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate...”
Standard tactics include:
Use web papers, press releases, PR tactics rather than serious scientific discourse.
Employ classical fallacies and rhetorical nitpicking arguments, attacks on strawmen, etc.
Fill blogs and forums with endlessly repeated, sometimes “plausibly-deniable” disinformation.
Try to waste legitimate researchers’ time.
The silliness and incompetence of this specific attack is exceeded only by its broad exposure in a network of blogs and forums that replicate unchecked non-facts and misleading headlines almost overnight.
This paper describes the participants, the previous background, and gives detailed chronology and information flows to expose the inner workings of this peculiar transatlantic affair, especially needed as some relationships are (perhaps purposefully) non-obvious.
2. OVERVIEW OF 2007 ATTEMPT
Dr. Benny Peiser, a UK social anthropologist, tried to discredit the scientific consensus by trying to refute a well-known 2004 essay in Science by UC San Diego academic Dr. Naomi Oreskes, a geoscientist & science historian. That attempt, Peiser, failed and was essentially disavowed in 2006, but much of its flawed material was re-used in the 2007 attempt first by Monckton and then by Schulte.
2007 Attempt Begins with Monckton, Ferguson, SPPI … and Schulte
Christopher Monckton, Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley appears to be the key participant, unsurprising as his passionate anti-AGW views are well-publicized, at least in the UK. Google: viscount monckton consensus. In July 2007, he published Monckton reusing Peiser and describing or quoting key results of Mr Klaus-Martin Schulte’s work in detail. Monckton and 8 more of his opinion pieces are hosted at the website of SPPI, of which he is the Chief Policy Advisor.
- The Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org, is a Washington, DC entity whose entire focus is denial of AGW. It was apparently started in June 2007 by Robert Ferguson, the only identified employee. He previously worked for Frontiers of Freedom (FF), which has been funded by tobacco and oil companies, among others. He set up FF’s Center for Science and Public Policy (CSPP) in early 2003, funded by ExxonMobil. CSPP hosts earlier work by Monckton. CSPP and SPPI are located in two suites at 209 Pennsylvania Ave SE in Washington, DC.
SPPI resembles many other US contrarian/denialist entities, with an impressive-sounding name, a selection from a cast of well-known denialist advisors, a website, and at most a few employees to do PR and lobbying (not peer-reviewed research). SPPI is too new for its funding to be known, but much of SPPI’s material is by Monckton, with PR, distribution, and other pieces by Ferguson or a few other people.
In Silicon Valley, SPPI would be considered a brand-new startup attempting to ship its first products (many imported from the UK), gain wide publicity, and look larger than life. It may be trying to attract more funding from those foundations, companies, and individuals who commonly fund anti-AGW efforts.
- Klaus-Martin Schulte (UK), NHS Kings' College endocrinologist/surgeon is a puzzling key participant. He has written an article that attacks scientific consensus on AGW, using a methodology somewhat like Oreskes, but differing in key ways. The article was said to have been rejected by Science, has not yet been and likely may never be formally published (in Energy and Environment, “E&E”). About 3 pages of Monckton seem quoted directly from Schulte, labeled as (submitted), a rather odd departure from normal scientific publishing practice.
Denialist PR Machine Starts Spreading a Non-Story
- Marc Morano and Matthew Dempsey (USA), staffers for Senator James Inhofe’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) organization, widely dispersed pointers to the Monckton article via blog and email to blogosphere supporters, although some emails went awry to others. One can visit the Minority EPW webpage, and find a constant drumbeat of anti-AGW and occasional anti-Oreskes pieces:
Search: morano global warming 69 blog entries
Search: oreskes 8 press releases that include attacks on Oreskes’ results
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Mashey, PhD
I am a half-retired Bell Laboratories / Silicon Valley computer scientist, easily findable on Google or Google Scholar. I am one of the early contributors to the UNIX system, software that has been used for decades by many engineers and scientists. Among other things, I used to be Chief Scientist at Silicon Graphics, where I helped design and sell supercomputers to government agencies, climate researchers, petroleum geologists and other scientists in the US, UK and elsewhere, and often spoke with them directly about their research and computing needs. In that capacity, I used to meet people of Glaxo, GCHQ, Scotland Yard, Unilever, Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, King’s College London, and many others.
Currently, I consult for technology companies and venture capitalists, am a Trustee at the Computer History Museum, and do volunteer work. In the last few years, I’ve given invited talks (on statistical analysis techniques for computer performance data) at various universities, such as Cambridge, Queen Mary U London, Manchester, Stanford, Princeton and University of Texas-Austin.
I’m an AAAS member, and read Science regularly.
My undergraduate background was math and physics. I’ve spent long hours studying climate science, including reading primary research papers, IPCC reports, etc. On general principle, I started from a classically-skeptical viewpoint in 2001, and it didn’t take long both to understand the mountain of evidence supporting anthropogenic global warming (AGW), and also learn about denialist tactics, in which the same old bad arguments get recycled again and again and new data is ignored.
Why did I write this?
There are enough difficult political, economic, and engineering arguments to hold about actions regarding mitigation of climate change without wasting people’s time arguing about whether or not AGW is real, and wasting the time of scientists whose work we desperately need.
I heard a talk by Naomi Oreskes at Stanford earlier this year, talked to her for 15 minutes, and I later read her book “The Rejection of Continental Drift”, all of which convinced me that she was a careful, competent, broadly-knowledgeable researcher, which one would never guess from Monckton or Schulte’s writings.
I’m happy when scientists can spend their time doing science, and knowledgeable. Having been convinced that AGW was real, I have been especially interested lately in the nature of the denialist PR machine, as I frequently encounter people purposefully confused by its disinformation, and it seems the biggest barrier to effective action, especially in the USA.
For both personal reasons (British wife, educated at Cambridge and PhD Imperial College, London), and professional connections, I’ve visited the UK dozens of times and maintain good connections with many people there, especially in academe. Hence, I take a keen interest in transatlantic affairs, and usually enjoy British imports, but in this case, the USA has more than enough climate anti-science nonsense to import even more from the UK.