29 September 2010

Empty Debate and Climate Attack Dogs

Earlier this week, Andrew Turnbull, who was Cabinet Secretary under Tony Blair, had an op-ed in the Financial Times stating his views on the need for the climate science community to rebuild trust.  Lord Turnbull's essay, written under his byline as a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, is fair and generally unremarkable.

He writes:
To restore trust, it was essential that the government, parliament, the University of East Anglia and the Royal Society should respond quickly to get to the truth. They set up three inquiries but did those inquiries resolve the issues? A report by Andrew Montford for the Global Warming Policy Foundation shows serious flaws in the inquiries, which it says were marred by the failure to ensure independence in the panel members; by the refusal to take account of critical views; and by the failure to probe some serious allegations.

The result has been that the three investigations have failed to achieve their objective: conclusive restoration of confidence. In The Atlantic, Clive Crook of the Financial Times referred to “an ethos of suffocating group think”. That is exactly what the GWPF report revealed, with the investigators almost as much part of the group as the scientists.

The UK’s new parliamentary committee on science and technology needs to look again at how the inquiries were conducted to see if the exoneration claimed is merited. The government then needs to look at the serious criticisms of the IPCC made in the recent InterAcademy Council Report.
Reasonable people can certainly debate whether or not the various UK inquiries succeeded in restoring confidence or not, and whether or not it would make sense for the new UK government to reopen these issues.  My judgment is that the inquiries did not go very far in restoring trust among many, but at the same time, this situation does not justify a new set of investigations.  At this stage, these are issues for the scientific community to deal with, not governments.  So I disagree with Lord Turnbull's conclusions.

In a letter printed in today's FT, Bob Ward, a public relations specialist at the London School of Economics seeks to counter Lord Turnbull's arguments.  The manner in which he chooses to do so illustrates how it is that debate over climate change has devolved to comical farce.  The entirety of Ward's objections to Turnbull's arguments are that the GWPF has a flawed logo on its website and that Ward is unaware of GWPF funding sources.

I agree that the GWPF logo is flawed and my own policy views run counter to those of the GWPF.  However, my judgments about trust in climate science have nothing to do with the GWPF choice of logos or their funding source.  Even if they had a brilliant logo and money provided by Jeremy Grantham (whose generosity pays Mr. Ward's salary), I'd judge their policy recommendations as being flawed.  Ward insults FT readers by suggesting that they should judge Turnbull's arguments not on their merits but by irrelevant distractions.  Such is the state of climate debate in many quarters these days.

Ward's frequent efforts to reduce debate over climate change to tabloid-style mud wrestling is symptomatic of a debate that has lost touch with what matters.  It is remarkable to me that an institution of higher learning such as LSE would hire a spin doctor to systematically engage in attacking reputations across the blogoosphere and letter pages of newspapers.  Of course, when Bob does rarely engage in a public, scholarly debate, he is cordial and the attacks disappear.  I am unaware of anyone playing an analogous PR "attack dog" role in a US academic context.


  1. Under UK privacy laws, the GWPF, a charity, is not allowed to disclose its donors, as Bob Ward well knows.

  2. Your position seems to be at odds with reason.
    You agree the inquiries were not credible, but you at the same time hold that nothing more should be done.
    That is not an internally consistent position.
    If your personal invesment money was involved,would you take that position?

  3. Dear Dr Pielke
    The purpose of the investigations/inquiries was not to establish or restore trust in climate science. As a side effect, they could have have accomplished that, were they thorough. Lord Turnbull says there *is* a need to look. He is not calling for another set of investigations. However, he will no doubt be pleased if that indeed did take place.

    If anything, the implicit purpose of any investigation is to garner trust, unto the process of the investigation itself.

    The "scientific community" cannot deal with this, because it is not equipped, inclined or compelled to deal with Climategate. No scientists in climate science will face repurcussions for anything they do.

    Secondly, why denigrate the whole debate, just because Bob Ward made made his entry into it the way he has?

  4. Yes, Bob Ward is the indeed miniature hell hound of global warming.

    There is a problem. The Global Warming Policy Foundation is ideologically motivated by its commitment to free market values. There is a left, right split. By massively funding the warmists, victory should have been easy for financiers like Jeremy Grantham, Goldman Sachs, Jp Morgan Chase and HSBC (Guardian sponsor).

    However, the argument is so flawed and the frauds so obvious, that virtually no one in Britain believes in AGW any more, as Ed Miliband admitted yesterday.

    I believe there is still a place for the truth, which is why I am an outright sceptic. Not of the science itself which is clearly indeterminate, but of every single aspect of the public debate. I am not an academic or a public figure. I don't have to deal directly with political realities or answer to anyone for my opinions.

    The purpose of British political enquiries is to whitewash and draw a historical line under the event, not to restore public confidence. The British public has no confidence in either political party.

  5. Scepticism

    I attended the first gravitational waves presentation at Glasgow University in the 1970s. The team leader expressed great confidence the experiment would yield positive results.

    Toward the end, the phrase "you are an idiot, aren't you " ? came from my course tutor who was seated to my right. What followed was a less of an argument and more of a blazing row (with some very personal and extreme insults) in which the experimental design was ripped to shreds.

    Next day, we were given a lecture on the dangers of science research, which we were informed was populated by a certain percentage of egomaniacs and charlatans of varying degrees. That was the personal opinion of the course tutor (who had an abhorrence of pretentiousness). The woman who was top of my class has spent her entire career (between Glasgow and Stanford) in this precise area.

    The number of gravitational waves discovered in thirty five years of effort, massive public funds and a library of excited BBC broadcasting, is exactly zero.

    I am not demeaning anyone involved (all of who's scientific abilities are considerably greater than mine), but a healthy scepticism in dealing with scientific research claims is required. For reasons that are universally true in the interaction of human beings with money.

    Institute for Gravitational Research

  6. Since you agree with Bob Ward that there is a problem with the GWPF logo, can you explain? It looks like a credible temperature plot from 2001-2009 showing neither heating nor cooling. Your criticism of last December was pedantic and now largely irrelevent with the inclusion of 2009 data and correction of 2003.

  7. -6-Ulick

    It is simple. If you promote that your focus is explicitly policy not science then you don't advertise yourself with a graph of temperature trends. Duh;-)

  8. And if your policy (from GWPF site) is "primary purpose is to help restore balance and trust in the climate debate that is frequently distorted by prejudice and exaggeration" what is the harm is reminding people that we are not going hell in a hand cart at a rapid rate?. I used a remarkably similar figure on a website I set up a few years ago to argue against alarmism. The figure was lifted straight from the GISS site. When your policy is that there is insufficient evidence for any carbon mitigation what better than a non-temperature trend to remind people of the non-issue? We have seen enough use of the trend from the 80's and 90's to bring on all the ridiculous carbon pricing, capture, mitigation etc. Or were Gore and others not pushing policy when using temperature trend graphs?

  9. What I find rather strange is that there seems to have been a large increase recently in stories claiming extreme harm from global warming. After climate science's shoddy research, sloppy databases, rigged peer review, and slanted assessments have become exposed to the public over the last year, the propoganda war by the alarmists has been ramped up.

    It seems that the alarmists, with so many billions invested and requiring govt policy to avoid losing it all, have decided to adopt a Battle of the Bulge strategy -- one massive, go for broke effort to get the policies they want before the weakness in their arguments becomes so well known that defeat becomes a certainty.