Climate Change Research and Credibility?

A new paper, Climate change research and credibility: balancing tensions across professional, personal, and public domains, has been published in the journal Climatic Change. It’s a revised version of this freely available preprint, though there are significant differences.

Unfortunately this biased paper from five members of the Tyndall Centre will do nothing to enhance the credibility of the climate clique, and everything to enhance their reputation as one-sided political activists.

A look at the long reference list is instructive. Guardian articles by Carrington, Goldenberg and McGowan are cited, as is an article by Lewandowsky in the Conversation. Remarkably, although claiming to “stimulate and inform debate” and to be “Based on a wide, cross-disciplinary review of conceptions of credibility”, the published paper does not include a reference to a single sceptical source.
Are these ‘researchers’ (sneer quotes are theirs) so terrified of James Delingpole’s articles on climategate, Andrew Montford’s books on the hockeystick and climategate, or Judith Curry’s blog, that they dare not mention them?
Or are they so securely wrapped in their Tyndall bubble, surrounded by groupthink-afflicted fellow activists, that they are blissfully unaware that such things even exist?

In the Introduction, the authors claim that “This paper aims to stimulate structured discussion within and outside the academic community on researchers’ professional, private, and public behaviours” and that they want “To set up fruitful discussion”, returning in the Conclusion to say that they want to provide “open a space for structured debate” and “We thus advocate opening the climate change credibility debate”. But no steps to provide such a space – such as an open online discussion forum – are set up or even mentioned in the paper. This, combined with their failure to even mention any of their critics, shows that their claimed aims are insincere. Rather than providing a space for open discussion with the public, their concern is continue to propagate the one-sided activist climate propaganda of themselves and their supporters (such as “Michael Mann’s ‘hockey stick’ graph engendered assaults on his integrity from ardent denialists (Mann 2012)”).

Having first picked out the worst aspects of the paper, there are some interesting points:
They acknowledge that appeals to consensus are insufficient.
There is a reasonable discussion of the advocacy problem, and an acceptance that there’s little agreement on this.
They also raise the question of the possible loss of credibility of a climate researcher flying to conferences and telling people how important it is to reduce CO2 emissions.
There is an interesting admission that climate researchers may have been attracted to the field “by personal interest and belief in the necessity of curbing emissions”.
But none of these discussions go anywhere, leaving the Conclusions section rather lacking in any conclusions.

Since the authors of this piece have failed to “open a space for structured debate”, I will do so here. I have invited all of them to come here for some “fruitful discussion”.

6 thoughts on “Climate Change Research and Credibility?

  1. Having skimmed the original (April 2012) version, I can’t help wondering what changes they might have made. Other than changing the title from “Credibility in climate change research: a reflexive view” to the published “Climate change research and credibility: balancing tensions across professional, personal, and public domains”.

    Even the extensive references (with a few notable exceptions) seem to be the same. Although the original contained 91, while the published version has been reduced to 87.

    The reliance on Oreskes does not summon optimism. I would also note that while it may or may not have been mentioned in the published version, I could find no indication that the authors have any familiarity with “Climategate” or “clmate-gate”. **

    Santer is mentioned (although I’m not sure why, because AFAIK he wasn’t even at UEA at the time); but there doesn’t appear to be any mention of Phil Jones and his colleagues – nor of any of the other cast of characters who have become so familiar to so many in the intervening years.

    Bottom line for me is that if these authors cannot “call a spade, a spade” so to speak, then this paper is about as useful as David Irving’s contributions to the historicity of the Holocaust – i.e. of no value whatsoever.

    But they certainly succeeded in muddying the water with their mention of Goldenberg’s Gleick and Heartland!

    ** Perhaps, as you noted, this is why there’s no mention of Montford, Delingpole or Curry.

    Although I think it’s worth noting that even the allusion to Climategate seems to have disappeared twixt original and published versions:


    It is not an exaggeration to say that the collective reputation of the climate change research community is at stake – poignant illustrations include the 2009 and 2011 University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit email controversies […Gleick and Heartland]


    Credibility is of particular consequence in climate change research, which is increasingly politicized and polarized in public fora, with the research community’s collective reputation at stake. Illustrations include the UEA Climate Research Unit (CRU) email controversies [… Gleick and Heartland]

    Notice that not even the dates survived!

    OTOH, I suppose we should be grateful that the authors describe them as mere “email controversies” – thereby (perhaps inadvertently) acknowledging to those of us in the know, that the Climategate files released to the blogosphere were far from having been “hacked” or “stolen” – as they have so often been mis-characterized in the intervening years on the strength of no evidence whatsoever.

  2. Thanks Hilary. I had not looked much at the preprint version. It looks as though they were told by the reviewers to shorten it a bit – the main differences are cuts.
    One detail that was dropped in the intro was “Building on discussions by an interdisciplinary group of early-career researchers…”. I noticed when emailing the authors that they are all very junior – postgraduate students or people who’ve only very recently finished their PhD. I’m not sure if this excuses them, or illustrates their own point about naive young activists who are already hopelessly biased being attracted into the climate field.

    In the draft version they did cite two sceptical papers, but only to denounce them as “poor-quality scholarship”.

    As you say, they have completely glossed over climategate, which would have to be a major feature of any serious discussion of climate science credibility.

  3. One particularly bad falsehood in the paper is the claim that
    “several climate scientists were labelled ‘criminals’ by US Senator James Inhofe”.

    The source for this is an anonymous 2010 Nature editorial, which says Inhofe
    “labelled several respected climate scientists as potential criminals”.
    Note how our five Tyndall defenders of credibility omitted the word ‘potential’.

    But a quick fact check would have revealed that there is no truth in the Nature claim. The Inhofe report is here. It says that climate scientists “in some cases, may have violated federal laws”, which is a long way from labelling several scientists as criminals. In fact of course the information Commissioner said they did break the rules on FOI.

    This is a nice example of the game of Chinese whispers where climate activists systematically massage the facts to conform to their agenda. It seems that fact-checking with primary sources is not something that Tyndall researchers are trained to do.

  4. It seems that fact-checking with primary sources is not something that Tyndall researchers are trained to do.

    So it would seem, Paul. Perhaps this is a corollary of the “Yuck” factor – to which both Gleick and Jones apparently subscribe.

    Not to mention the importance (highlighted by none other than Phil Jones, himself), of using “intuition”. Perhaps not during the process of whatever “science” they might have been conducting; but definitely during the process of participating in the holiest-of-holies, “peer review”.

    For details, pls. see: Phil Jones keeps peer-review process humming … by using “intuition”

  5. I´m interested in the human factor and political controversies, so I usually look for an author´s background when I read a controversial paper.

    Dr Stella Nordhagen is a PhD in Land Economy, an Environmental/Agricultural Economist.

    Dr Dan Caverley seems to specialize in vehicle emissions. I saw a very interesting talk he gave on “radical solutions to reduce UK vehicle emissions”.

    Chris Foulds seems to be a PhD candidate researching Household Energy Consumption (I couldn´t figure out if he did get his degree).

    Dr Laura Thorn was in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering. It´s possible she is interested in carbon capture, but I´m not sure.

    Xinfang (Sophia) Wang is a PhD researcher in Economics. Several years ago she wrote a very interesting paper “A personal view on China’s perspective on climate change” in which she explained the realities of China´s emergence as an industrial power in a very tactful and diplomatic fashion.

    In their writings they seem to quote the 2 degree C limit set by the EU quite often. This of course must be given dogma for a Jr researcher or Phd at a UK research center such as Tyndall. Given the political environment, I´d guess some of the co authors may have viewed their participation in the paper as an excellent career move. I wouldn´t criticize them or be too harsh on this paper, they are merely writing a salvo in what could turn out to be an interesting debate (??). I think it´s a bit naive to expect them to write an unbiased paper, they have taken a position, now somebody has to explain why they could be wrong.

  6. Fernando, thanks for your comment and background details on the authors.

    Yes it could turn out to be an interesting debate, but it won’t be, because they refuse to engage in any debate, despite claiming repeatedly in the paper that their aim is to encourage such a debate. That’s my main objection – their lack of sincerity and credibility.

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