06 December 2009

Climate Scientist Threatens Boycott of NYT Reporter

Michael Schlesinger, a climate scientist at the University of Illinois, sends an message to Andy Revkin of the New York Times (via his widely circulated email distribution list) threatening some sort of boycott -- whatever that means -- of Revkin among climate scientists, for having the gall to mention my views and those of my father. The reference to prostitutes in the email presumably comes from this post at Dot Earth where Revkin mentioned a funny news story in his Twitter feed, (emphasis added).

Copenhagen prostitutes?

Climate prostitutes?

Shame on you for this gutter reportage. This is the second time this week I have written you thereon, the first about giving space in your blog to the Pielkes.

The vibe that I am getting from here, there and everywhere is that your reportage is very worrisome to most climate scientists. Of course, your blog is your blog. But, I sense that you are about to experience the 'Big Cutoff' from those of us who believe we can no longer trust you, me included.

Copenhagen prostitutes?

Unbelievable and unacceptable.

What are you doing and why?

You'd think that after the actions of certain activist scientists to suppress certain perspectives was revealed in the CRU emails that there would be a little bit more self-awareness in this community. Ironically enough, the public editor of the NYT today cites my father to help justify why the CRU email story is "a story, not a three-alarm story." The irony is that my father is trying to help restore some lost credibility to the climate science community even as these activist climate scientists continue their attacks.

Real Climate also put up a post criticizing Revkin for citing my views. Revkin responded there (emphasis added):
As for Roger Pielke, Jr., he’s absolutely not a climatologist and noted at the outset that he’s an interested observer. You’re right that he’s not the ideal choice to be commenting on climate sensitivity issues, but to imply that he doesn’t deserve a seat at the table is troubling. Here’s why. He has been an author on dozens of peer-reviewed papers related to climate change, with a particular focus on the climate/hurricane/disaster losses arena. Just go to http://j.mp/PielkeGoog for a sample. Given how many climate scientists have begun speaking out about policy choices (Pielke’s realm) hard to see how he can be excised from discussions.
In response, Eric Steig, the post's author, tries to explain (emphasis in original):
I in no way intended to suggest that Roger should be excluded from the table. . . . getting an opinion in addition to Pielke's is particularly important, given that he has repeatedly demonstrated a remarkable ability to mislead readers about the facts.
UPDATE: Lucia discusses the substance of Eric Steig's complaint, and finds it pretty weak.

Haven't these guys gotten into enough trouble in trying to stage manage discussions of climate issues? Rather than complain about the fact that people who they may disagree with are being heard in public discussions, why don't they just stick to arguing the merits of particular arguments, including their political views and opinions?

If Eric Steig feels that I have misled anyone about facts (he offers nothing in support of his assertion) he and his colleagues are welcome to a top line, unedited guest post here on my blog making such a case.


  1. Great post, but correction -- Michael Schlesinger of the University of Illinois, not the New York Times.

  2. -1-Bradley

    Thanks! My editor must have Sunday's off ;-) Now fixed.

  3. Glad to help. You and your dad have great blogs, trying to present science fairly, even if it cuts against the groupthink. And Judith Curry also deserves thanks for conversing with skeptics instead of demonizing them. If anyone can re-establish confidence in AGW theory, it's people like you who don't hide the dirty laundry.

    BTW, I wrote about your dad's experience with Tom Karl.

    If you read the post, you probably think I'm going much farther than need be in AGW skepticism. But as a layman reporter, I can't even begin to fact-check the entire peer-review process. I have to trust that it has integrity. Since the burden of proof is on those proposing a theory, after Climategate, I think it's more prudent to err on the side of doubt until the integrity of peer-review is re-established. (And I have accepted AGW in my previous reporting, but have had doubts since then). So call me agnostic on the subject for now.

    Reporters have a saying, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." Heeding that advice would save reporters from a lot of blunders.

  4. This is strikingly similar to President Obama's press folks 'cutting off' Fox news because they viewed them as propaganda for the 'other side'.

    It's interesting the subtle coercion that those with knowledge / info / authority can exercise over the media by granting or withholding access.

    I think this sort of boycott is only really effective if it is 'stealthy' though. When the 'cut-off' becomes a news item in itself I'm not sure what's been accomplished.

  5. Wow!! This kind of stuff is hard to believe. At best it is sophomoric, at worst it suggests a level of ideological thinking that simply cannot be compatible with objective scientific discussion.

    It is the same type of arrogance that pervades the CRU emails. CLearly being a disagreeing with these folks brings with it real career risks if you are a young academic. As Bonancieux (played by the late great Spike Milligan) said in the Four Musketeers:
    "The Bastille! Well, I tell you, I don't want to go to the Bastille! Because it's got very deep dungeons and terrible instruments of torture operated by very unsympathetic men! And they snip very important parts off people! "
    But according to Stephen Hayward, that line would not even raise the faintest of smiles on the lips of true believers like Michael Schlesinger.
    You can see why may skeptics get nervous around the type of individuals who operate as the echo chamber on RealClimate and Climate Progress.

  6. When consensus climate science finds itself in a Climategate hole, what does it do? Keep digging!

  7. Steig questions your honesty?! Steig?!!!

    Wow. Just wow.

    And nothing could be better for Revkin's career (although not necessarily at the Times) than to be the victim of a Big Cutoff by those desperately trying to re-arrange the deck chairs on their Titanic.

  8. Dr. Pielke, I have been reading your blogs for a couple of years now. Thank you for the free education!

    Too bad the integrity you and your father have cannot be cloned and grafted onto others.

  9. Andy Revkin can't win.

    A few weeks ago he was asked to kill himself by Rush Limbaugh because he was to alarmist.

    Now, alarmist threat to boycott him because he expresses the views of scientist that are not alarmist enough.

    Somehow he may be doing his job well but one has to ask; What's next?

  10. Bradley- it sounds like in some cases, either through personal agendas or lack of time, both peer review and common journalistic practices are not up to dealing with important, complex, and controversial issues.

    From the Ellen Goodman column today:


    "I’m not suggesting that newspapers - once defined as the first rough draft of history - are without errors. But there are prices to pay and corrections to be made and standards to be met. When was the last time an Internet birther ran a correction or lost his job?"

    So let's see what kind of self-correction system the Post has.

    PS I think individuals in the science and journalism professions in general try hard to live up to principles; but we can't, as a society, depend on either for quality information without further validation. Ironically, in contrast to her column, this appears to be journalistic error fixed on the internet.

  11. 2) Also, I'm honestly unclear why someone would not like the sex worker story.. It seems appropriate for Revkin to report it; but for a "scientist" to question what a reporter reports..not so appropriate. Hope he wasn't doing that during time claimed for payment with US government research grants..

    3) I am mystified by the NY Times lawyer's point of view on private property according to the Hoyt http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/06/opinion/06pubed.html
    "The lawyer, George Freeman, told me that there is a large legal distinction between government documents like the Pentagon Papers, which The Times published over the objections of the Nixon administration, and e-mail between private individuals, even if they may receive some government money for their work. He said the Constitution protects the publication of leaked government information, as long as it is newsworthy and the media did not obtain it illegally. But the purloined e-mail, he said, was covered by copyright law in the United States and Britain."

    The idea that government funded scientist's emails are protected by "copyright" is very interesting and perhaps worthy of more discussion.

  12. The issue Sharon raised is a red herring because the Emails were NOT obtained illegally.

    They were not hacked and stolen, they were leaked. Someone in the CRU released them. It makes a huge difference.

    Also, the NY Times printed internal documents (Before the time of emails) from tobacco companies that showed they knew their product caused cancer when the companies were saying the link between cancer and tobacco was unproven. Is Phillip Morris a government agency?

    Were documents from a tobacco company less valid or less evidence of criminal behavior than the Harry-Readme file? They were obtained in essentially the same manner from an inside source. The only difference is that the tobacco documents were printed by a Newspaper rather than a blog. However, since the leaker gave the documents to the BBC a month before they released them to the net that difference in moot.

  13. Sharon F,

    Ellen Goodman's ridiculous statement about "an Internet birther" reveals that:

    (a) she knows very little about the Internets, and
    (b) very little about the refusal of newspapers to correct errors.

    Sadly, Goodman's misconception is shared by haughtily misinformed journosaurs who think they know all about the Net when they know very little.

    As a reporter at a mid-sized newspaper, I come across flagrant examples of journalistic error frequently. And big news outlets like are the worst at correcting errors.

    If you compare the best blogs and best newspapers, there's no contest: Blogs win hands down. One of my favorite blogs, Patterico, has done an enormous amount of reporting over the years about basic errors in newspapers and wire services.

    WaPo was apparently too busy making goofy videos to hire a fact-checker for its unsigned editorials. One of them urged the Nobel Prize for peace to be given to an Iranian protester killed in the demonstrations. However, Nobel rules forbid posthumous prizes.

    WaPo hasn't corrected its error.

  14. This guy Schlesinger seems quite exercised, doesn't he?

  15. The issue Sharon raised is a red herring because the Emails were NOT obtained illegally.

    Fai Mao, we don't know this, although I agree this seems the highest probability explanation, with accidental exposure second and actual system cracking the least.

    I have to admit that I don't see how it's apposite in any case, though. Information leaked or exposed in contravention of law is pretty much day-to-day stuff in the daily press, going back to at least Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.

    As I think I've said here before, a lot of these complaints seem to reduce to "oh, wait, this is my ox being gored!"

  16. Sharon F queries what kind of self-correcting system the Washington Post has: well, in today's paper (12/06/09), their Ombudsman (p. A25) takes them to task for taking sometimes months to correct straightforward errors that readers point out to them.

  17. This is interesting.. the ethical/legal difference between using information that is "leaked" versus "hacked". Is an inside person who releases information they have received, not generally shared with others, a leaker?
    If it is an email the inside person received?
    If it is on a shared drive that the inside person has access to?
    Where is the leak/hack boundary?
    And if we don't actually know where it came from (leak/hack wise)..how can the media ascertain that to know if it is legal or not.
    Certainly the media came by it legally, by pulling it off the website.

    I will defer to my academic colleagues on this, but usually institutions have rules for when you use university computers for private email. My understanding was that these emails were sent from university accounts. Either they ARE personal and they should be done within the constraints of university rules (like, Martha can you pick up the dog at the vet?)or they are professional and, if related to government work, should be released under FOIA. Don't see how you can have it both ways.

  18. Many years ago, I witnessed a prosecutor blasting a reporter for writing something they didn't want known. They flat said, you write what I want or we'll cut you off.

    This isn't that uncommon.

  19. Alienate the New York Times. Now that will go over well. I guess there will always be the Christian Science Monitor to carry their water.

  20. The NYT lawyer or reporter is blowing smoke.

    1. Everything is covered by copyright law including your post here.

    2. Even if the files were obtained illegally, it wasn't the NYT that obtained the files illegally.

    3. The NYT didn’t have a problem linking to Palin's hacked email even though they were clearly obtained illegally.

    4. The emails were NOT between private individuals. The accounts were all from government funded entities.

    Item number 2 is relevant. In the following case a private cell phone conversation was intercepted and sent to a talk show host who played the recording.

    BARTNICKI et al. v. VOPPER, aka WILLIAMS, et al.

    The talk show host won. Ironically the decission states:
    In New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U. S. 713, this Court upheld the press’ right to publish information of great public concern obtained from documents stolen by a third party. In so doing, this Court focused on the stolen documents’ character and the consequences of public disclosure, not on the fact that the documents were stolen.

    Orin Kerr writes about Gawker posting Palin's email:

    The contents here were stored, not in transit, and thus the Wiretap Act's disclosure limitations don't apply. See, e.g., United States v. Steiger, 318 F.3d 1039 (11th Cir. 2003). Further, even if a statute did prohibit such a disclosure — and again, I don't know of such a statute — publishing it is likely protected by the First Amendment under Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001), assuming that Gawker was not involved in the hack.

  21. Why don't they just argue on the merits? Here's a general rule - if they don't argue on the merits, it's because they don't trust the merits of their own argument. Simple as pie.

  22. Where is the leak/hack boundary?

    If someone uses authorized access to copy the emails and make them available, it was leaked. If someone obtains unauthorized access to get the emails, it was hacked.

  23. Please don''t copy your RealClimate comment rejections here. Here is a place for that:


  24. The hypocrisy of the NYT is boundless!

    They have no qualms about publishing classified military information which is obtained illegally and endangers both USA security and our soldiers.

    But, the NYT suddenly gets squeamish about publishing government e-mails composed exclusively on government computers which expose the single biggest (and -- by far -- the most costly) scandal in the entire history of science?

    If I laugh, it’s only to keep from crying!

  25. E-mails may have copyright protection, but there is an exception for fair use. See 17 U.S.C. 107. The first two factors in the legal test, (1) the purpose and nature of the use, and (2) the nature of the copyrighted work would suggest that copyright assertion should fail.

    Besides, I doubt one can claim copyright protection for written material that is used in the commission of fraud.

  26. Schlesinger has confirmed that the CRU emails, were not being misinterpreted by the skeptics (and I count myself as one). The Hockey team was engaged in an effort to monopolize the conversation, browbeat skeptics, and win by intimidation. Thanks Mike.

  27. Haven't these guys gotten into enough trouble in trying to stage manage discussions of climate issues?

    Apparently not.

  28. On the copyright question, I suspect that the fact they were subject to FOIA and apparently produced under government funding obviates that approach. Not that I'm a lawyer.

  29. Pardon my being an idiot, but when I read the sidebar to this blog it says you are a Professor of Environmental Studies. Yet Revkin says (and you seemingly agree) that you're not a climatologist.

    I think this would make for an interesting discussion. What makes for a climatologist and who is a climatologist and what the difference and significance of that difference?

    (That's apart from the silliness that climatologists and only climatologists can comment on climatology issues. Cf. all the physicists who invaded biology and made it happen.)

  30. Ha Ha. "The big cutoff" indeed. Please do it guys. For the sake of the reputation of science.

    Meantime, Eric writes:
    "Obviously, radical changes to the long term trend in the surface temperature record would require re-evaluation of our understanding of climate sensitivity, but such radical changes are almost impossible to envision happening."

    Well the first point actually agrees with Roger's position but the second point is opinion, not fact. Presenting opinion as fact is the entire problem with too many climate scientists and the main reason why skeptics are so skeptical.

    When you actually look for those multiple independent lines of "evidence" we keep hearing about, they all turn out to be either guesswork based on ambiguous or adjusted data or comparisons with very iffy models. Not compelling evidence if you are objective. To remove the obvious groupthink we need a truly independent investigation of those 20th century trends and all the data adjustments that cause the majority of the trend in pre-satellite data. The first thing to check is that very fishy TOBS adjustment that adds 60% to the 20th century trend by itself.

  31. "If Eric Steig feels that I have misled anyone about facts (he offers nothing in support of his assertion) he and his colleagues are welcome to a top line, unedited guest post here on my blog making such a case."

    Roger, you are a gentleman!

  32. It would appear that Andy Revkin got caught actually doing his job as a professional journalist by producing a balanced news story. Lets hope it is not a passing phase.

    From what I see on the blogosphere Andy Revkin is not the only journalist who now find themselves being openly abused and threatened by scientists in pursuing aspects of this growing scandal.

    It would appear that climate scientists are behaving just as badly as they are being portrayed by others in their own emails.

  33. I will defer to my academic colleagues on this, but usually institutions have rules for when you use university computers for private email. My understanding was that these emails were sent from university accounts. Either they ARE personal and they should be done within the constraints of university rules (like, Martha can you pick up the dog at the vet?)or they are professional and, if related to government work, should be released under FOIA. Don't see how you can have it both ways.

    It was precisely the excuse these guys are giving that is what Palin got in trouble for - conducting professional business on a personal account. You can't hide work covered by the FOIA on another account and then say that people can't see it because it's "personal." If as you say it's "personal," it should be about picking up the dog and whatnot, not about discussions in a professional capacity. Aside from violating the FOIA, I'd wonder if there are any academic violations at the institutions where these people are at.

  34. Let's see...

    If the "climate crazies" actually "cut off" The New York Times, then the only direct information the Times will get will come from folks such as yourself who are not crazy.

    You know, I think all of us, including the Times, can live with that!

    I wonder if these guys have thought this through?

    What is the old line about "tragedy" being repeated as "farce"?

    These guys are just becoming a joke.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

  35. In recent years, I've come to believe that the NYT has about as much credibility as the United Nations (or any UN offspring, such as ... hmmm ... UNHRC and IPCC?!)

    Nonetheless ...

    "If Eric Steig feels that I have misled anyone about facts (he offers nothing in support of his assertion) he and his colleagues are welcome to a top line, unedited guest post here on my blog making such a case."

    I spent many years in the trenches of the newsgroup alt.revisionism combatting Holocaust "revisionist scholars" (i.e. the *original* - and real - "deniers", who preferred to call themselves "skeptics")!

    When confronted with "he who asserts must prove", invariably the "revisionist scholar" would run away to the sounds of deafening silence. My guess is that Steig will do likewise.

    As for me, I'm neither a scientist nor a journalist. However, the thought that C02 is the major culprit in AGW is not something in which I have ever been able to place much faith.

    But I certainly know how to read between (and beyond) the lines of emails(however they might have been obtained; although for the record, I'm more inclined towards "leaked" than "hacked")

    And I know how to recognize a steamroller when it's moving towards me at full speed.

    I've written a few essays from this particular perspective and would welcome your comments and feedback, on my blog:

    "The Fog of Uncertainty and the Precautionary Principle"



    "The foggy solution to the climate question"


  36. in fact the only person to whom these guys with such comments are doing a disservice are themselves.

    It's pathetic.

    I do not agree with you that science and politics should be easily mingled but I agree it's a complex issue.

    What is sure though is that using name calling for scientific argument is just poor bad science.

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