The Other Climategate

New Scientist has a summary of Climate-gate-esque deceptions that have been found in the anti-AGW movement. One that was very important to me was #4.

In 2008, the Forum on Physics and Society (FPS), a newsletter produced by the American Physics Society, published an article entitled “Climate sensitivity reconsidered”. The article claimed that “the IPCC’s estimates may be excessive and unsafe” and that attempts to cut CO2 emissions “are pointless, may be ill-conceived and could even be harmful”.

The article was written by Christopher Monckton, a British journalist and consultant. Although apparently highly technical, the piece has been strongly criticised by professional climate scientists, including Gavin Schmidt, of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York.

The piece was reported by the US Science and Public Policy Institute as having been “peer-reviewed”.

The editors of FPS pointed out that, as was standard practice at the journal, they had merely edited the piece without sending it out to specialist climate scientists for peer review. A disclaimer was subsequently added to the piece, clarifying that nothing in FPS was peer-reviewed.

I remember this one very clearly. Several conservative blogs linked to his article with the statement that the head of the American Physics Society had published an article disproving climate change. I clicked through and was markedly unimpressed. Much of it was out of date or wrong. The article was not a peer-reviewed article so much as it was a letter they’d commissioned from Monckton, a journalist not a scientist, because they couldn’t find a scientist who would dispute their articles.

What shocked me was that when I pointed this out on several conservative blogs, I was pilloried. I was told I was a secret communist and Algore disciple and was being bamboozled and was consumed by my “religion” of environmentalism. Read the comments to the New Scientist article and you’ll see pretty much the same thing.

This is why I have moved from flat out disbelief in AGW to skeptical belief. It’s been a series of incidents like that — of finding out that I was being lied to. I found out that global cooling was not the consensus science in the 1970′s. I found out that the temperatures did not track the solar cycle. I found out that 1934 wasn’t the warmest year in history. I found out that the last decade hasn’t cooled. I found out that whatever faults the models have — and they have many — the underlying theory was sound.

I’m not totally on board with everything the climate idiots want to do. And any movement that takes Chavez, Mugabe and Ahmadinejad seriously has some big problems. But in the end, my thinking is very similar to the Minimax Principle outlined in this old video. The downside risk of doing nothing and regretting it crosses me as greater than the downside risk of doing something and regretting it — especially as fossil fuels will run out one day anyway.

My question for the climate refusers is always this: what do you think are the odds that global warming is real? Dick Cheney justified a trillion dollar invasion of Iraq by saying it was worth it if there was even a 1% chance that Iraq would set off a nuke in American city. If there even a 1% chance that global warming is real — and I personally would put the odds more like 65% — should we not do something?

2 Responses to “The Other Climategate”

  1. rpl says:

    Mike, I have to say I find your posts on climate change largely vacuous. You’re comparing a systematic program of deception by climate experts who allegedly hold themselves to a standard of scientific rigor to an un-reviewed editorial by a non-expert that turned out to be inaccurate? Really? You claim to be confident that 1937 was not the warmest year on record, despite the fact that the most reliable data sets that can decide that question show signs of tampering? Really?

    Would you take seriously measurements of, say, the Hubble Constant that were as tainted as the CRU data? If your answer is no, you wouldn’t accept a measurement of something so inconsequential as the Hubble Constant if they were this shoddy, then why would you *lower* your standards for something that really mattered. If, on the other hand your answer is yes, you would accept this level of rigor for measurements of H0, then I ask you where were you in the mid-90s? Measurements of H0 then were at least as good as the CRU data is now; yet, many in the field still argued against it. Will you denounce Mike Turner as a Hubble Constant “denialist” (albeit reformed in recent years)? If not, then why the double standard?

    You speak of global warming as though it were a binary question: real or not real. The likelihood that it is real, you argue, is sufficient that we must take steps to avert the dire consequences *right now*. We can brook no further delay. The truth is that the future consequences of climate change are very much in doubt. We don’t know how much warming to expect, as we have calibrated many of our models to suspect data. We don’t know what secondary effects that warming will bring because the mesoscale climate models used for regional-downscaling produce obvious nonsense. In short, even if we accept your 65% estimate, the figure it should be multiplied by is wildly uncertain.

    In light of all that uncertainty, can we not agree that concerns of cost should be a primary driver in setting our response to climate change? Can we not also agree that our policy should be reversible, in case the danger of climate change turns out to be wildly overblown (a 35%-likely outcome, by your own estimate)? As far as I can see, all the momentum behind climate change policy is toward drastic emission reduction targets and byzantine regulations and trading markets that will be incredibly costly and virtually impossible to undo. Heading off that nightmare scenario (100% likely if AGW activists get their way) is what this debate is all about.

  2. Mike says:

    I’m probably guilty of confounding two different groups of people. The reason I used to use the word deniers was to avoid this, but that didn’t help. To me, there are two groups of climate skeptics:

    1) People who question the science, distrust the models and are leery of making big society-shaking changes in response to a poorly-understood problem. This would include Pat Michaels and Ron bailey and Bjorn Lonborg and you and me.

    2) People who insist that global warming is a lie and keep repeating tired debunked bullshit as a way of disproving it. This would include Rush Limbaugh, Neal Boortz, Tom Coburn and, to be honest, a shocking fraction of the Right Wing.

    I’m not dismissing climategate. I’m arguing that the critics are living in glass houses. The article I linked to has just four little examples of the vast machine indulging in (2). It’s not just this one guy. It’s an entire echo chamber of debunked talking points, misrepresented facts and conspiracy theories.

    “You claim to be confident that 1937 was not the warmest year on record, despite the fact that the most reliable data sets that can decide that question show signs of tampering? Really?”

    No, I’m not confident in that. Notice what I said. I said that I found out that I was being told things were not true, not that I suddenly had faith in everything I was being told by the other side. I realized that this was a pattern of deception not just in a few people but in a large group of people. Some of it was deliberate, most of it is people who don’t want it to be true. When I realized that I was denying global warming not because of the science but because I didn’t want it to be true, I changed my position.

    That global cooling was consensus, that 1934 was the hottest year, that the hockey stick has been debunked — these are stated as indisputable facts by the climate “skeptics”. Every time the subject is raised, they are thrown in my face. And no matter how many times I bat them down, they come back again.

    Any flaw in AGW theory — or in this case, any compromised data — is seen as disproving the entire thing. This is not like a dispute over the Hubble Constant. This is people using Hubble’s original estimate of H0 to debunk the entire expanding universe theory. This is not, “Hmm. I’m not sure about this. Let’s do more work.” This is “I know this is a lie and a leftist conspiracy”. This is creationism expanded onto a larger stage.

    “Heading off that nightmare scenario (100% likely if AGW activists get their way) is what this debate is all about.”

    But you just said this isn’t a binary question. To me, doing nothing is not a good option either (although better than what the AGW cultists want). What I want is a middle path that puts a carbon tax in place and funds R&D. If we make a big breakthrough on energy, we won’t need regulations and international treaties for its spread like wildfire.

    To do this, the stranglehold that group (2) above has over the conversation and over the right wing needs to be broken. Group (1) can not possibly get a microphone while group (2) is shrieking so loudly. We need conservatives and libertarians to be taking global warming seriously and presenting market-based solutions that address the problem without crippling the economy. And we’re running out of time. All we need is another “Katrina Year” and — despite the lack of connection between hurricanes and global warming — the hysterics will have the floor. Permanently.

    Read Gregg Easterbrook’s commentary here:

    It’s the best I’ve seen on the subject.