Monday, July 5, 2010

Guardian on long-terms effects of ClimateGate

In the Guardian of 4. July, science writer Fred Pearce has written 'Climategate' was 'a game-changer' in science reporting, say climatologists After the hacked emails scandal scientists became 'more upfront, open and explicit about their uncertainties'. In preparation, Fred Pearce has approached a number of scientists, asking for their opinions. Off course, only part of the answers entered the article, which I consider well researched. For the readers of the Klimazwiebel, it may be interesting to read what the full accounts of those asked were. Here are some:

a) Jerry Ravetz:  Now that Nature refers to complexities and uncertainties, describes climate scientists as ‘honest brokers’, and calls for increases in transparency, reductions in hype and in precise regional forecasts, and finally welcomes scientific scepticism, I feel the mainstream creeping up on me.

I still believe that the radical implications of the blogosphere need to be better understood.  I recall the earlier episode, of BSE, when the critical scientists could be picked off one at a time.  Then we had five years after the ‘Mad Max’ (cat with SE) episode when all the eminent talking heads continued to reassure us that British Beef is Safe.  This time, it was the background provided by the critics on the blogosphere that enabled the public to see that the leaked emails were not simply the utterances of exasperated, harassed scientists.  And in the absence of that scandal, it is less likely that the egregious behaviours at the IPCC would have been news fit to print.  Every expansion of the means of production and diffusion of knowledge has consequences for the politics of knowledge and for knowledge itself.  It would be as well to recognise this early on, so as to make the new media an enrichment of science.

I also believe (although this may be controversial) that the Climategate affair must be understood in terms of the ‘War on Carbon’, which shares the characteristics of previous Wars, as on Terror, Drugs (non-alcoholic), and Communism, of being drastically simplistic and eventually causing serious harm.

It could also be that the time is now ripe for a reasoned discussion of the varied points of evidence, with a view to seeing how critical they are for policy, what are their characteristic uncertainties, and their strong and weak points, and where there are differences in assessment that might be resolved by further research or discussion.  Techniques for this have already been developed and tested by Jeroen van der Sluijs, and we will be trialling such an exercise on climate science in the autumn.

b) Hans von Storch: Half a year after climategate and the failed COP-15 effort.

The main capital of science, trust, has been damaged – not only for climate science but environmental science as a whole. People find it now conceivable that scientists cheat and manipulate, and understand that scientists need societal supervision as any other powerful societal institution - mainly by the media. But other things have also changed – the main proponents of alarmism and the worst ego-maniacs have become less visible; climate scientists begin to understand that they need to share data and details, allow themselves to be scrutinized; more journalists are beginning to critically ask. So, the net effect was positive. What seem not to have changed are the journal "science" and the US Academy of Science.

Roger Pielke jr: A few quick reactions ... first, it is important to acknowledge that the fundamental science of climate change has not changed. This does not mean that every area of knowledge is settled, far from it, but that humans affect the climate and perhaps in profoundly negative ways is robust.

That said, it is clear that public perception of climate science has changed. Opinion polls show a sharp increase in belief that climate science has been exaggerated in public debate (e.g., a recent Gallup Poll documented this in the US across political parties). This trend is longer-term than just since last November, but the release of the emails, the IPCC troubles and the response of the science community to these events added to the trend.

The climate science community, or at least its most visible and activist wing, appears to want to go back to business-as-usual, which seems to mean waging an all-out war on its perceived political opponents, typically via blogs and through the media. However, from where I sit, such a strategy will simply exacerbate the pathological politicization of the climate science community. There is no going back to a pre-Nov 2009 era.

That said, debates over climate policy and climate science have been decoupled for quite some time now, as public views on climate science and the need for action have been fairly stable over a period of several decades (with ups and downs of course), with the public strongly believing in a human influence and generally supportive of action.

So the continuation of the climate wars will likely have a disproportionate impact on the scientific community, and may have little effect on climate policies, which are built on a much broader base than science alone. In this respect, the activist scientists are their own worse enemies. Their political opponents are a fixture of the debate, they are to be lived with (as is the case in many areas of politics), rather than trying to making them disappear from public debates through strategies of delegitimization.


fmassen said...

I agree with the commentators that the most active and alarmist climate-science wing has become less vocal. The economic and financial crisis or difficulties make extravagant political endeavors to save the planet perilous and much more unpopular as previously. When the alarmists are unable to present affordable solutions to the perceived climate problems, their political weight will rapidly vanish.

P Gosselin said...

Quite an impressive piece by the Guardian. A pleasant surprise. I was particularly impressed by Judith Curry's comments on Phil Jones's attitude. It takes real courage and self-confidence to admit to errors. Good for him. Wouldn't it be something if he sat down with Mr McIntyre?
And it takes a real insecure coward to deny them.
And some parts of the German press, like Deutsche Welle, could learn something from this Guardian report. I was in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung archives yesterday and found a particularly vicious piece on sceptics in Germany and USA. It was a nasty piece of propaganda.

ghost said...

I cannot agree with P Gosselin. The German media is quite good in educating the public about climate science. of course, there are some problems. But, we do not have any Glenn Beck or FoxNews or publications like The Australian which are not really trustworthy. Also a Ulli Kulke is not a Jonathan Leake, the Spiegel is not the Sunday Times etc. Public broadcaster like the mdr even invite DENIERS from EIKE (a CFACT funded think tank with close connections to right-wing and libertarian think tanks in the US. EIKE has one employee and names itself as European Institute for Climate and Energy... well, well, well). Personally, I cannot understand these invitations. However, fortunately, I cannot decide. :)

I think, our media coverage is generally very, very nice. My favorite newspaper in climate questions is the liberal publication ZEIT. It is very good, I think.

Martin Heimann said...

Out of context, the statement by Hans von Storch: "Trust has been damaged," said Hans von Storch of the KGSS Research Centre in Geesthacht, Germany. "People now find it conceivable that scientists cheat and manipulate, and understand that scientists need societal supervision as any other societal institution." made it now on top of Mr Peisers digest as a vehicle to bash climate science. I agree with the statement, but I hope that it applies also to Mr. Peisers elaborations. Or to the heroes/villains that cracked the UEA computers.

Hans von Storch said...

Sure, Martin. Dr. Peiser is a scientist as well, and as such covered by my statement.

Werner Krauss said...

Hans writes: "People now find it conceivable that scientists cheat and manipulate, and understand that scientists need societal supervision as any other societal institution."

Hm. Didn't people know already that scientists are human beings, too? I think it is more correct to say

'Climate scientists had to learn that they are now seen by people no longer as oracles, truth speakers or prophets; instead, people see them now just like other scientists (who as human beings try their best, but sometimes also cheat or fail).'