The Lennart Bengtsson story

This post is an attempt to assemble the pieces of the recent stories about Lennart Bengtsson that have made front page news, starting with a bit of background. If there are more important links and points I have missed, please put them in the comments and I will add them in. I will also add stuff if/when more things happen. So this page will change and changes won’t be flagged.

Bengtsson’s scientific background

Bengtsson is a Swedish scientist currently affiliated to the University of Reading. He has an impressive publication record in meteorology and climate science, going back to 1963. According to Google Scholar, many of his papers have been cited over 200 times, one 600 times. He has a web page at Bern, which is interesting because it contains many of his talks. I particularly liked What is the climate system able to do “on its own”? which emphasises that climate is a complicated chaotic system that “can  do a lot of mischief on its own” without any change in the external forcing.  There is a wikipedia page about him, which of course needs to be read with caution.

In March 2013 Bengtsson wrote a substantial article at Kimazwiebel, on climate change and energy policy. Apparently it was this that started contact between him and GWPF (HT Marcel Crok).

2014 timeline

March: A paper by Bengtsson and four co-authors on consistency between different estimates of climate sensitivity is rejected by Environmental Research Letters, according to a later article in the Guardian.

April 14: B “speaks out” to a Swiss newspaper, saying that it’s wrong to say the science is settled.

April 30: B joins the Advisory Council of the GWPF, which includes many other scientists and economists (Lindzen, Reiter, Tol, McKitrick) who have to some extent questioned the IPCC position.

May 1: Interview with Marcel Crok “The whole concept behind IPCC is basically wrong”.

May 3: Interview with Hans von Storch. “I have increasingly been disturbed by the strong tendencies to politization that has taken place in climate research in recent years.” In the comments, climate scientist Georg Hoffmann makes an analogy with the KKK.

May 3: Judith Curry comments on her blog about B joining GWPF and the two interviews above.

May 5: Spiegel magazine runs an interview with B. Translation here.  “Consensus is senseless”. Need to “open the debate”.  This seems to be the first article in the mainstream media.

May 13: Marcel Crok publishes a translation of an interview B gave in 1990. This is relevant because it shows that B’s views have not changed greatly since then; he has not recently undergone a conversion to scepticism as claimed by some. In the 1990 interview he spoke of exaggeration, politicisation and the “greenhouse mafia” (apparently this phrase was not his, but suggested by a journalist, HT Jos de Laat).

May 14: B announces that he is stepping down from the GWPF board, saying that he has been put under enormous pressure that has become virtually unbearable, that he may fear for his health and safety, and mentioning McCarthyism. Reported at Klimawiebel, Bishop Hill, Climate Audit, WUWT.

May 15: B’s resignation from GWPF appears in the mainstream media. Ben Webster in The Times says “Witch hunt forces out climate scientist” (More of the article visible here). The Mail publishes an article talking of a McCarthy style witch hunt , saying that some colleagues were refusing to continue working with him due to his association with GWPF. Discussed at BH, with more links.

May 16: The Times reports Scientists in cover-up of ‘damaging’ climate view on its front page. The article by Ben Webster says that an article doubting the extent of future warming was rejected by a journal because it was harmful to the climate cause (more of the Times article visible here).
Global warming research suppressed due to intolerance of scepticism, claims scientist says The Telegraph, and this is followed by another article saying climate science is blind to its green bias.
There are two articles on this in The Mail.

May 16: The publisher, IOP, of the journal concerned, Environmental Research Letters, issues a statement in response, publishing in full the reviewer’s comments that were selectively quoted by The Times. The Editorial Director says that the rejected paper “contains errors”, a point picked up by The Guardian, but neither her statement nor the review report justifies this claim. Steve McIntyre highlights this inconsistency, while Jeff Id ridicules the reviewer’s suggestion that climate models should not be expected to match observations.
The paper itself is not available, so it is difficult to determine whether it contains errors and/or whether rejection was justified.

The Science Media Centre gives the reaction of a number of experts and Bob Ward. Bengtsson himself says he does not think there is a systematic cover-up. Mike Hulme talks of the politicisation of climate science and blindness to bias. Joanna Haigh regrets the politicisation.

Judith Curry writes her Reflections on Bengtsson and the GWPF, with more links and discussion of McCarthyism and advocacy.

May 17: Axel Bojanski writes another thoughtful and balanced article in Spiegel, raising questions and quoting both sides of the debate (partially translated by Pierre Gosselin).

May 19: A letter from Julia Slingo deploring personal attacks is published in the Times (Also posted at the Met Office). The Times also publishes a commentary article by Ben Webster, ending with the sentence “A paper he cowrote that raised concerns about inconsistencies in IPCC forecasts of future warming was rejected by Environmental Research Letters, a leading scientific journal, after an unnamed reviewer said that it could be used by climate sceptics.”

IOP publishes the second review of Bengtsson et al’s paper. The reviewer says that using TCS is “wrong” and ECS would be “right”, which is odd since many climate scientists (eg Myles Allen) are now saying TCS is what matters. There is also a claim that log-log plots should be non-dimensional, which is not true.

The Spectator posts a short article by Andrew Montford, pointing out that similar issues arose from Climategate.

May 21: The Times publishes a letter from Cameron Rose, responding to that of Julia Slingo, suggesting that peer review has been used to suppress dissent.

May 22: B has a guest post at a Swedish climate blog. He says climate cannot be predicted because it’s chaotic, and points out that there has been no increase in extreme events according to the IPCC. He notes increasing pseudo-science in climate research, and criticises a move towards value-laden “good” science.

Bjorn Lomborg writes on The McCarthyism in Climate Science.
Pointman blogs on The Age of Unenlightenment in his unique style (“It’s the sort of behaviour one could expect of a medieval theocracy whose dominance is under threat by the advance of reasoned argument.”)

May 23: The editor of ERL, Daniel Kammen, writes a letter to the Times denying that the rejection of B’s paper was because it would be “harmful” to the climate cause, and claiming that it was rejected because of significant errors.
The May 17 article by Bojanski mentioned above appears in English (in fact it is not a close translation of the original German). Several opinions are given, though Roger Pielke Jr will not appreciate being labelled a sceptic.

May 30: The GWPF’s David Henderson writes The Bengtsson Affair and the Global Warming Policy Foundation, trying to clarify the role of the GWPF and its advisory council, and giving more details of the contact between Bengtsson and GWPF.

To date, there seems to be no mention of the story anywhere on the BBC web site. Apparently there was an item on the 6pm radio news.


26 thoughts on “The Lennart Bengtsson story

  1. Paul, according to Bengtsson himself (pers. comm.), “greenhouse mafia” are not his words, but stem from the journalist in question at that time (Simon Rozendaal).

  2. Do you know when the article rejection came? Would be useful on this timeline.

  3. The second reviewer said: “The casting of ECS in the odd units of K/(W/m**2) is completely unnecessary and not only is confusing, but makes it difficult to check some of the numerical values reported. ECS should be reported in K since it is a temperature change in response to 2xCO2 forcing.”

    My recollection is that ECS, since it is a sensitivity, is correctly expressed in K/(W/m**2). (It is also widely defined as the temperature rise resulting from a doubling of CO2 seems to be more widely used, but that does not make the former definition wrong.) What the reviewer said, to me, displays a level of ignorance that is hard to credit.

    (The best reference I could quickly find was IPCC 2007: “The climate sensitivity parameter (units: °C (W m–2)–1) refers to the equilibrium change in the annual mean global surface temperature following a unit change in radiative forcing.” )

  4. Thanks Martin. I think ‘ignorance’ is overstating it a bit – CS can be expressed as you say or per doubling. With that and the loglog comment, it looks to me like the reviewer is trying to come up with (spurious) reasons to reject the paper.

  5. My recollection (from what I had read somewhere or other) is that Bengtsson had accepted this “rejection” verdict at the time (i.e. in Feb. or March) with gracious equanimity.

    Yet, let us not lose sight of the fact that this very same journal is the one that has conferred on Cook et al‘s notoriously bad 97% nonsense the designation of “ERL’s ‘Best article of 2013’, voted for by members of the ERL Editorial Board”. [See: ]

    Regardless of whether or not the rejection of Bengtsson et al (which, let us not forget, preceded his decision to join the GWPF) was justified, it seems to me that this pales in comparison to this particular journal’s Editorial Board’s elevation of Cook et al.

    But thanks for this timeline, Paul. It is a terrific shortcut that I’ve cited in my own take on this: Something missing in the “critiques” of Bengtsson’s choice

  6. A youtube video on what really happened behind the scenes is available here.

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