BPSDB “While the administrative effort imposed by these legal moves can be burdensome, there was a much more sinister tactic available to the tobacco industry – baseless accusations of scientific fraud made against individual researchers.”
- The meme
- The Code
- Official inquiries
- Ironic and illustrative
- Harassment & intimidation
Mark Lynas’ article “Leaked emails mark dangerous shift in climate denial strategy” noted: “Instead of targeting high-profile science communicators like Al Gore, climate deniers are now encouraging mistrust of those who collect and interpret global warming data.”
New to climate change Denial perhaps, but not to the anti-science Deniers, or many of the individual Deniers who are veteran tobacco lobbyists.
The “scientific fraud” meme itself is not new. Variations of the smear that we have endured to date include:
- “The UN/IPCC is political”
- “Scientists are lying to get grants”
Which is not to suggest that there is some grand conspiracy orchestrating the spread of this meme. In the first place correlation does not mean causation, and that this would be the next step in the Denier campaign is perfectly logical.
Since the scope and scale of the science is so huge, and it’s unanimity in supporting the fact of looming catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, the argument of legitimate “scientific uncertainty” had descended to many orders below that of pathetic farce. Only the most gullible of hysteric ideologues could find that believable any more.
As such to restore the impression of “scientific uncertainty” it became necessary to try and undermine the real science somehow. The allegation of fraud does so quite nicely, and the Climate Research Unit hack is a God send to the Deniers in giving them a chance to give new life to this meme.
Second, an orchestrated campaign is not necessary. The Denialosphere of frightened, misinformed, scientifically illiterate and ideologically motivated drones is in place. It is sufficient for the core meme to be fed to the bobbleheads and from there the lynch mob will propagate it far and wide.
As George Marshall notes, that it is false:
” … is hardly the point. This is an orchestrated smear campaign and does not require balance or context. The speed with which the emails have been cut apart and fed into existing storylines is remarkable. The story has been led from the beginning by the denial site climatedepot.com … where you find the entire page given to ‘Climategate’, ‘smoking guns’, ‘blood in the water’ – lines that have all been fed to and doltishly repeated in the mainstream media.
The meme works because it preys on multiple elements of public ignorance about climate science. Some of the mistaken ideas are ‘natural’ and some created or nurtured by the Deniers. These include the mistaken ideas that the science is:
- exclusively model based
- done by only a handful of scientists
- limited in scope
- conducted largely by (US) government researchers
- all recent
Having given the meme new life, there is also the need to give it additional credibility.
An important addition to the story is the suggestion / lie that the email leak is the work of a inside whistle blower. I think that this is misinterpreted by some as an attempt to gloss over an illegal act of data theft. Far from it, the Deniers could care less about the legality (and it is a side issue to the content regardless).
The alleged significance of the emails content is much, much higher if it is thought to be the release of selected, important information by a troubled insider who knows the issue rather than the snatch of a random chunk of hard drive by an outsider looking for anything at all.
The frame goes from “we went fishing and here’s what we got” to “someone who knows said you need to know this.” The story takes on an appeal to authority (fallacy) based on the implied knowledge of the fictional insider.
Of course the emails don’t show any actual tampering with any data or anything, notwithstanding the various attempts to misrepresent the “hide the decline” phrase (some of them hilarious). What the story needs is something that appears to be evidence of actual tampering, hence the computer code claims.
In many ways this is gold for the Deniers as to most people computer code is even more unintelligible than discussions of tree ring proxies and climate sensitivity. For 99% of the population you could throw up a snippet of code from any program at all and make whatever claim you like, and they would have no idea whether it was true or not.
They will assume it must be true (or at least possibly true) because you ‘included the evidence’. In Mining The Source Code AllegationAudit shows how the Deniers are doing just that, albeit apparently with a snippet of actual CRU code. See also “Quote mining code” for more of the same.
Another thread in this line of attack is the “HARRY_READ_Me.txt.” file in which a computer programmer documents the work being done to clean up the CRU data bases and computer code. In it s/he laments the mess they are being asked to deal with, and these quotes are being circulated as evidence that the code is junk.
1) This is a document about work in progress on an inherited project (ie one that they did not start). Just about everyone in that situation makes many references to what a mess they were given and how it would have been better to start from scratch. I have certainly done so myself.
2) Missing from the quotes is all of the references to problems being solved, eg
No, hang on. Easier to analyse the output from metacmp! And so.. postmetacmp.for:
Stats report for: report.0909181759.metacmp.bad
Hmmm.. lots of groups that could be eliminated if we incorporated the WMO reference list, because then we could allow an element of ‘drift’ from a reference point.
3) Notwithstanding the truth of 1) for projects that I have worked on, in the end the final products that resulted did what they were supposed to. What matters for judging the product is the result, not the difficulties encountered along the way.
4) What has been shown in “HARRY_READ_Me.txt.” is that the code needed to be cleaned up (gee, could that why they had someone cleaning it up?) and that it was difficult, no more than that. This is still not evidence that the final result did not do what it was supposed to.
For the meme to get additional credibility it is useful to have official inquiries into all of climate science, not merely the events at CRU. This sustains the myth that notwithstanding the relative insignificance of the CRU allegations, that it actually calls all of climate science into question.
The advantage of an official inquiry is that it preys on conventional sentiments like there is “no smoke without tobacco lobbyists fire” and “if he was innocent why did they arrest him?” Hence calls for official hearings and inquiries from the usual sock puppets such as Inhofe (here) and Nigel Lawson (here).
Which is not to say that there should not be an impartial and real enquiry into some elements of the CRU story, such as the question of data and Freedom of Information requests. Merely that the attempt to sprawl the smear to all of climate science is ideologically motivated politicking.
In addition to credibility, the Deniers need the story to sprawl. Earlier I discussed a few examples of their attempts to spread it to the Hadley Centre and Peter Stott, Jim Salinger and New Zealand’s National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research, and John Holdren. Naturally the attempts are not going to stop there.
Ironic and illustrative
In a pathetic bid for the appearance of relevance to a breaking story, climate change Denier Paul Hudson claimed to have received some of the CRU emails on Oct 12th. What he had actually received were copies of emails discussing what an appalling piece of nonsense his BBC article had been, emails that subsequently turned up in the hacked release (or something like that). In a delicious piece of irony Hudson is now under attack as part of the nonexistent global conspiracy:
The BBC has become tangled in the row over the alleged manipulation of scientific data on global warming.
One of its reporters has revealed he was sent some of the leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia more than a month ago – but did nothing about them.
Despite the explosive nature of some of the messages – which revealed apparent attempts by the CRU’s head, Professor Phil Jones, to destroy global temperature data rather than give it to scientists with opposing views – Paul Hudson failed to report the story.
This has led to suspicions that the scandal was ignored because it ran counter to what critics say is the BBC’s unquestioning acceptance in many of its programmes that man-made climate change is destroying the planet.
That he is being attacked shows just how unhinged from reality the whole thing is. Further, the claims being made against Hudson are following the same pattern as the others, viz guilt by association, no acknowledgment that the emails do not contain any actual evidence of anything substantive, no mention of which emails he received and how they demonstrate anything, etc. It’s a template devoid of substance that will be used against every available target.
Harassment & intimidation
Freedom of information and data sharing is vital to healthy science and a healthy society. That goes without saying, but I say it anyway just to be clear. Unfortunately it is also subject to abuse:
“These methods aren’t limited to tobacco, and nowadays the process has become more subtle and indirect. In many cases it is bloggers, rather than companies, that do the legal chasing, and Freedom of Information requests have replaced subpoenas as the instrument of choice.
Here’s an example from a climate sceptic blog. Inspired by the UK Parliamentary expenses scandal, Steve McIntyre of the Climate Audit blog and his readers started sending Freedom of Information requests for the expenses claims of Prof. John Mitchell, Director of Climate Science at the U.K. Met. Office.
David Holland then submitted FOI requests for Mitchell’s expenses for trips to IPCC destinations and information on whether he had done so on vacation time, while also confronting Hadley Center with their representations to the public on how Hadley Center scientists were doing the British public proud through their participation as Hadley Center employees in IPCC.“
Apropos of the CRU story Spencer Weart said:
“Even the tobacco companies never tried to slander legitimate cancer researchers. … Aside from crackpots who complain that a conspiracy is suppressing their personal discoveries, we’ve never before seen a set of people accuse an entire community of scientists of deliberate deception and other professional malfeasance.” (Tip of the Hat to Deltoid)
However, he is right in that those are the stakes here. This is a war on science, on rational thought itself. Anyone who questions the Denier fabrications will soon find themselves being accused of being guilty of climategate … because the Deniers know all about smoking guns.
“Over the 20th century, ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic main development region warmed during peak hurricane season, with the most pronounced warming occurring over the last four decades.” Earth Gauge
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.
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