The wall Street Journal did it again: how to manufacture doubt.

In an analogy, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway compared certain scientists to the retired generals selling the war on Iraq in 2003 (Merchants of Doubt, p. 243, 2010). Like these generals, these scientists have been using their credentials  —whatever they may be— to sell doubt on climate change. The sad thing about that is that major newspapers, with a reputation of seriousness, are more than happy to help these “scientists” to peddle their lies to the public, as the Wall Street Journal did on the 27th of January. This is an op-ed, and, of course, everyone is entitled to his/her opinion. But why then, refuse to publish a letter to the editors from more than 250 members of the U.S. National Academy Sciencesalso about global warming —albeit scientifically accurate? The trouble is that science isn’t about opinions, it is about facts. And while these guys certainly have the right to say that nearly 100 % of climate scientists are wrong, they offer little to no facts to support their affirmation. Worse, they cherry pick the data, ignoring works that are contrary to their views, or they cover them with a layer of triviality that would be laughable if the aim wasn’t to subdue the public into believing that global warming isn’t happening or that we shouldn’t take any action to mitigate the effects —whatever they may be— of global warming.An examination of their rhetorical strategy is interesting, because it is designed to give the reader the impression that, indeed, there is a scientific debate going on in the scientific community, and that this debate revolves around either the reality of climate change or its seriousness. One way to do that is to call a Nobel-prize winner for help. Here, Ivar Giaever is called into reinforcements. One should note, however, that Ivar Giaever is not a climate scientist: he is a physicist who won his Nobel prize thanks to his work on electron tunnelling in semiconductors. Admittedly, he resigned from the American Physical Society in September 2011 on the grounds that this society published a statement in which it was saying that “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring.” One thing, however, is interesting: while, according to the APS website, their statement dates back to the 18th of November 2007, Ivar Giaever resigned only in 2011. Why wait four years to resign? Maybe this policy statement got lost in an e-mail blast and he only saw it on September 2011. In any case, being a Nobel laureate in one field does not grant you any kind of automatic knowledge about other sciences, and being a Nobel laureate doesn’t prevents you from having crazy ideas: from Linus Pauling to Montagnier, there is enough evidence that this isn’t the case.

They then go on to enrol another scientist to support their claim that there has not been any warming for “a decade”: Kevin Trenberth. Interestingly, this particular scientist seems not to have liked this kind of cavalier enrolment, as he led an answer to these “sixteen“ concerned scientist. In this letter, he says that this quotation made by the so-called concerned scientists: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” was taken out of context. First, Kevin Trenberth says that “climate experts know that the long-term warming trend has not abated in the past decade” a stark contradiction to what Claude Allègre et al. claim. Trenberth goes on to say that “it was the warmest decade on record” and to further set the record straight regarding his statement: according to him, he “was lamenting the inadequacy of observing systems to fully monitor warming trends in the deep ocean and other aspects of the short-term variations that always occur, together with the long-term human-induced warming trend”. So the travesty here, is from Allègre et al., using illegally obtained e-mails to obscure the truth: a lack of adequacy of the apparatus to measure a particular phenomenon. Every person that did a bit of science —including Allègre or Breslow for example— knows that this can happen and that scientists often have to wait for better technologies to be able to better measure some phenomenon. Also, short-term variations do not necessarily reflect long-term trends, and this is not something scientists are strangers to. Then again, Allègre is no stranger to travesty; recently he’s been called a “forger, a liar and a slanderer” by a French science journalist (fr). Needless to say, with french libel laws being so tough,  Allègre wouldn’t have hesitated to sue him if he thought he had a chance to win the case: his lawsuit against a French magazine over events older than 30 years is clear enough (fr). But the journalist in question, Sylvestre Huet, wrote a book (L’imposteur c’est lui) documenting the lies and the forgeries contained in a book by Claude Allègre and Dominique de Montvalon (L’imposture climatique ou la fausse écologie). Again, if Allègre thought he had any chance to prevent the publication of Huet’s book, he would have filed a lawsuit to do just that. He didn’t.

Claude Allègre and is skewed perception of scientific ethics

Allègre’s ethics are particularly revealing of the kind of person he is. Like the average global warming denier, Allègre insults his former colleagues by calling them a “mafia” whose sole purpose is to get grant funding (Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway already showed how illogic this argument is: if you want to get more funding, you’re better off saying that the science isn’t settled and that more needs be done than to say that warming is occurring), but he goes one step further, a step already seen in publications from think tanks such as the Heartland Institute: he lies about the results of other scientists. As Sylvestre Huet explains, Allègre modified a curve from HåKan Grudd, completely distorting the data.Graph established by Håkan Grudd demonstrating the introduction of forged data by Allègre (black), The original curve is in red. The curve in black shows the data forged by Allègre while the original data is outlined in red. From Sylvestre Huet’s blog, one can read the demonstration of this forgery (fr), along with a short statement from Håkan Grudd:

Figure 6a in the book “L’imposture climatique” by Claude Allègre and Dominique de Montvalon claim to show my summer temperature reconstruction for northern Fennoscandia based on tree-ring maximum density (Grudd, H., 2008, Climate Dynamics). The graph below shows Figure 6a from Allègre and Montvalon (in black). Overlaid is my original curve (in red) published in the 2008 paper (Grudd, 2008). From AD 500 to about 1900 the curves are in reasonably good agreement. However, from about 1900 onwards there is a demonstrable difference between their temperature curve and my published temperature reconstruction. Furthermore, their curve seems to be extrapolated to around 2100 – my published data ends in 2004. Obviously, Allègre and Montvalon are not using my published data for the period from about 1900 onwards in their Figure 6a. Hence, their reference to Grudd, 2008, is misleading, and unethical! The Torneträsk reconstruction (Grudd, 2008) is only relevant to North Fennoscandia (as is previous ones by Briffa et al. 1990,1992). It should not be mistaken as a representation of global temperatures. Furthermore, it is a record of the summer season.

Håkan Grudd,

Stockholm, 18 March, 2010

Håkan Grudd isn’t the only victim of Allègre’s forgeries; a british scientist, Louise Sime, saw her science deformed by Allègre as well (fr). Interestingly, in his book, Allègre, to refer to Louise Sime’s work, quoted her as “Sine et al., Science, 19 November 2007” while the actual citation should have been “Sime et al., Nature, 19 November 2009”. This looks like a detail, but citing correctly your colleagues is not only mere ethics: it is also central to the pursuit of science. No scientific paper —or popular science book— is disconnected from the knowledge of the time and it has to properly refer to the works of others in order not to mislead colleagues or the public. Except, of course, if the purpose of your book is to mislead the public. One can therefore ask whether this misquoting from Allègre was deliberate, rendering his assertions harder to verify, or whether this is simple negligence on is part. In the first case, that would be a blatant violation of scientific ethics, in the second, that would only hint for amateurism on Allègre’s part. In both cases, this destroys his credibility. Anyway, here’s what Louise Sime, in a letter to the French newspaper Libération wrote, with regard to Allègre’s “interpretation” of her work:

I understand from your email that Allegre’s book suggests that the global mean temperature was approximately 6K higher during the Eemian than the value of the present-day. This is incorrect and cannot be attributed my work: global mean temperature during the Eemian was probably of order 1K higher than the present-day values, although data from that period are rather sparse, so an accurate estimate is difficult. He may also wish to know that these warm periods are associated with a global mean sea level around 8 m higher than that of the present-day. Allegre’s graph drawings, that you send, also cannot be attributed to my work. They do not appear in any of my papers. Moreover, they are also incorrect. Allegre may wish to understand that my Nature 2009 paper (by Sime, rather than Sine) is not revolutionary in terms of the interpretation of past Antarctic interglacial temperature maxima. Previous papers suggested that the temperature of the East Antarctic Plateau was 3-4K higher than the present-day. My paper shows only that this is a slight underestimate. It is generally thought that these past warm interglacial temperatures in Antarctica represent a polar amplification of a smalller global temperature change which occurred during past interglacial warmings. Similar polar amplifications of global temperature changes can be seen today in the high Arctic. Here, sea-ice loss over the past 40 years has led to a larger Arctic warming compared to the average global warming. The warmest past interglacial periods were each associated with higher CO2 levels than that of the present interglacial before industrialisation: CO2 was the main driver of these past warmings. Because climate can take of order 1000 years to reach equilibrium with the atmospheric CO2 value, the climate has only just begun to respond to the huge anthropologically induced CO2 rise since industrialisation. Due to the unprecedented (in the last 800 000 years) level of CO2 in the atmosphere, it is very likely that we will exceed the global temperature values found during the past warmest interglacial periods during this century. Finally, Allegre may wish to note that the science of climate change is quite a large and sometimes complex subject. Like many other sciences (e.g. medicine or rocket science), it does require some years of study to become proficient in understanding. Before Allegre writes any other climate related books, perhaps he may benefit from a more leisurely and closer reading (and more accurate quotation) of his material. In the meantime, he or any interested journalists, are very welcome to talk to me for a clarification of my work. Thanks again and best wishes,

Dr. Louise Sime

British Antarctic Survey Cambridge, U.K.

Allègre is lucky to be retired: had he perpetrated these forgeries while still in activity, any normal university would have fired him. It is actually a wonder to me that, despite all his unethical behaviour, Allègre is still a member of the French Academy of Sciences. Besides these misinterpretations or forgeries of results from fellow scientists, Allègre committed a lot of mistakes, as Stéphane Foucart (paywall) and Georg Hoffmann show. In fact, Allègre’s behaviour completely discredited himself, leading prominent scientists or intellectuals to resign from an EDF board or from an academy (both links in French) to avoid having anything to do with him. The rather soft position of the Académie des Sciences and the fact that its institute (l’Institut de France) allows Allègre’s foundation to use its name infuriates several scientists who probably would like these institutions to sever any links they have with Allègre and his global warming denier stance.. This foundation is interesting: as the funding seems mostly to come from corporations whose businesses impact the environment. It not hard to think that given this type of funding, the “Fondation écologie d’avenir” might act as a public relations officer for these companies. Pretty much like think tanks do on the other side of the Atlantic.

CO2 is green, and other trivial assertions

Before going on using the classic ploy found in every conspiracy-theory toolbox, namely martyrdom, Allègre et al. put forth an interesting assertion coming from scientists: for them, CO₂ is “not a pollutant”. This is a classic canard of the climate change deniers: again to mislead the public, our denialists promote the common mistake that something occurring naturally, like CO₂, is never a pollutant. This is of course a false assertion: the fact that a particular molecule is natural doesn’t preclude any potential pollution by this very molecule. Ozone as well is a naturally occurring molecule, we now know that while it is beneficial at stratospheric altitudes, it is a pollutant at ground level.  When one read our deniers, one might wonder why climate scientists and environmentalists are making so much fuzz about CO₂. To achieve that, they cite a host of benign facts about CO₂; that each of us breathe CO₂ out, that plants needs them to grow and in fact grow better with some more CO₂ (which should come as no surprise for anyone who took biology in high school: plants do use CO₂ to produce ATP and glucose through photosynthesis), that CO₂ is colourless and odourless (although some colourless and odourless gases are dangerous in part because of these characteristics, like butane, propane, CO… even CO₂ is dangerous at a high enough concentration: try to breathe in a fermentation tank). None of these facts are wrong per se, but by doing so, the scientists and superannuated scientists listed as authors of this article once again break some ethics: they leave out the effect of the CO₂ as a greenhouse gas. This effect is no news, to some extend it is even beneficial: it allows the planet to be warm enough for life to occur (or at least to be comfortable for us). Warm enough, but not too warm. And paleoclimatic studies show a dose-effect relationship between CO₂ concentration and the average global temperature (of course, seeing these graphs, global warming deniers claim that is the temperatures which drives CO₂ concentration in the atmosphere; this is debunked here). And there are some problems with their assertion that “Better plant varieties, chemical fertilizers and agricultural management contributed to the great increase in agricultural yields of the past century, but part of the increase almost certainly came from additional CO2 in the atmosphere.” While I can understand that greenhouse operators use it as a means to grow plant faster in a confined environment (although the authors show no data to back this claim), I find it quite strange for scientists to put forth an affirmation that “almost certainly” part of the increase in global crop production would come from “additional CO2 in the atmosphere.” That might be true. Then again, that might not: we are left with an unsupported affirmation. As citizens, we then need to go and browse through the scientific  literature to see whether this affirmation is true or not. Not an easy task for someone not used to do it and who has no training in science.
First of all,not all plants do metabolize CO₂ the same way. One way, C₃, is more efficient at high concentrations of CO₂ while the other, C₄, evolved in response to low carbon concentrations. While the latter is efficient at low carbon concentrations, it becomes costly when these concentrations become high (Graham D. Farquhar, Science, 1997). It is therefore hard to suggest, as the authors do, that an increase in global CO₂ will automatically result in an increase of plant growth for all plants, everywhere on the planet. This might be true for some plants, but not for others. Moreover, it is worth noting that CO₂ is not the only nutrient which plants rely on for their growth. Nitrogen is very important too. An experiment in glass houses on cotton and maize plants from 1979 (Wong, Œcologia, 1979) showed that, while increased CO₂ resulted in increases in dry weight and leaf area for cotton, the increase in dry weight from maize was only of 20 % with no significant increase in leaf area. Furthermore, in soils depleted in nitrogen, no increase of leaf area nor of dry weight could be observed (which suggests that our green house operators from above do use some fertilizers as well to obtain an effect). In fact, for cotton at least, increased ambient CO₂ led to  a depletion of nitrogen in dry weight. The conclusion of the abstract is worth quoting in full:

These data show that plant responses to elevated atmospheric partial pressure of CO2 depend on complex of partially compensatory processes which are not readily predictable.

This study was carried out in a glass house, i.e. in a controlled environment. Granted, it was done in 1979, and much more knowledge is probably at hand nowadays to explain the complex relationships between plant metabolism and atmospheric CO₂. This, however, seems to be complicated enough in experiments carried out in green houses and it is far from clear that anything observed in such a controlled environment, like the increase in biomass production driven by an increase in CO₂ concentration, can be extrapolated to a global scale. I’d like the sixteen self-described concerned scientists to explain that to me. But, while not many of them have actually published anything on climate science, none of them seem to have published anything on agriculture, let alone on global plant ecology. The closest to that discipline seem —seem because the affiliations of some of the authors are less than clear— to be Jan Breslow, and he is a medic, not a plant scientist. And, now that Allègre et al. seem to admit that climate is changing, they cannot disregard the fact that the effects of this change might have a negative impact on average global plant growth. And by the way, even if CO₂ would have no effect on Earth’s climate, is rapid increase in the atmosphere would still be a global environmental concern: too much CO₂ in the atmosphere will probably, by virtue of ocean-atmosphere exchanges, lead to an acidification of the oceans. A change that is likely to be detrimental for marine life, and therefore human economy.

Chris de Freitas, innocent lamb or climate denier wolf?

Now, as people who like to preach, climate change deniers like to portray themselves as a minority subjected to a host of abuses by the majority. Listening or reading them, they are fortunate not to live during Roman times, lest they would be thrown into a pit to face lions or tigers. The irony here is that they managed to convince G.W. Bush not to sign the Kyoto protocol. Climate change deniers are a minority among scientists, this much is true. But, contrary to this majority of climate scientists, they enjoyed a good access to the White House during the Bush Jr. years (Oreskes and Conway, 2010).
One of the myths promoted by the climate science deniers is that there is a sort of omertà among the climate science community, with scientists being silenced if they express views that are contrary to the scientific consensus. Allègre et al take the example of Chris de Freitas. They claim that Chris de Freitas had to resign as a member of the editorial board of a journal called “Climate Research”. With the “concerned” scientists being so vague about who Chris de Freitas is and what was the controversy which forced him to quit the editorial board of “Climate Research”, a bit of research had to be done. And the vagueness of Allègre et al. became somewhat more understandable. Chris de Freitas is far from being the innocent lamb they claim he is. He’s been involved with the Competitive Enterprise Institute —another climate changer denialist think tank— a fact that shed a some light on the “Climate Research” controversy. But what is exactly this controversy about?

In a paper published January 2003 in Climate Research, Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas published a review paper of 240 scientific publications. Using loose definitions, they drew the conclusion that:

Across the world, many records reveal that the 20th century is probably not the warmest or a uniquely extreme climatic period of the last millennium

Shortly after the publication in Climate Research, the same paper, slightly modified and with three additional co-authors, was published in another journal, Energy & Environment. This is peculiar as usually peer-reviewed journals publish only original research, or research that hasn’t been published elsewhere before. Energy & Environment, according to its own editor, Sonja Böhmer-Christiansen, has “impact rating has remained too low for many ambitious young researchers to use it”. If one was to believe her, this low impact rating is due to “[t]he negative attitudes of the IPCC/CRU people” (ibid). However, her objectivity has a scientist can be questioned, as she herself admits that she is“following [her] political agenda — a bit, anyway. But isn’t that the right of the editor?” Simply put: she uses her position as an editor in Energy & Environment to put forward her own opinions. What she means by that is quite simple: she will favour papers that will go along with her own beliefs concerning climate change, probably without even considering their scientific quality. Her statement is paradoxal, as it is not serving the climate deniers’ cause very well: it gives every paper published in E & E a stigmata. A stigmata meaning that a particular paper, if published in this journal, might not have been published there because of its scientific quality but rather because it pleased Sonja Böhmer-Christiansen. No wonder people would rather publish elsewhere, the “negative attitude“ of the IPCC and the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia towards this journal might not have much to do with E & E being not very well regarded, after all. Maybe the attitude of its editor explains the disaffection of climate scientists better.

As mentioned above, the paper states that the twentieth century is by no means the warmest so far. But the paper looked only for —again, poorly defined— climatic anomalies that would last 50 years or longer. The IPCC states that warming in the XXth century occurred in two 30 years long spells, with cooling in between; the warmest spell occurring during the late part of the century. Thirty years long periods are too short to be accounted for in the Soon and Baliunas paper, which leads to the assumption that the warming that occurred during the last century has been overlooked in the paper due to the methodology it employed. Worse, some scientists, like  Tim Barnett and Malcolm Hughes, cited in this paper stated that their work has been misinterpreted or misrepresented. The former stating that the Soon and Baliunas paper only received attention because is allowed the deniers to uphold the controversy, the latter writing that the paper contained so many errors that it would take weeks to address them all.

The re-publication in E & E alone is suspect, but the original paper sparked a controversy, with climate scientists divided between letting things go or trying to refute the article, the latter being a completely normal process for any scientific issue which isn’t settled. The trouble here, of course, is that the fact that the Earth is warming, and the fact that this warming occurs because of human activities is settled.
The Bush Jr. administration, by trying to edit an EPA report and by using the Soon and Baliunas paper —instead of data from Mann, Bradley and Hughes (the famous “hockey stick”)— to contradict what it called a “dogmatic view”, clearly showed what the objective was of this article was: to undermine the science that is leading  the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the IPCC to say that warming is occurring and that it is man-made. This attempt by the Bush administration to edit the EPA report led it to drop the climate change section out of the report: people from the EPA apparently preferred not to raise the issue rather than seeing their views distorted. So much for climate deniers not being heard… Anyway, the blatantly poor quality of the paper and its use by the Bush administration to justify any delay in implementing a policy that limits the CO₂ emission sparked anger among the climate scientists, 13  of whom wrote a rebuttal of the Soon and Baliunas paper in a journal called Eos. Number of climate scientists considered that the quality of the Soon and Baliunas paper was so bad that this paper should never have been published without substantial revision. And they made themselves known to the people responsible of the peer-review process in every scientific journal: its editors.
The number of the complaints seem to have been relatively high as two editors, Clare Goodess and Hans von Storch, turned to Chris de Freitas who took care of the reviewing process of the Soon and Baliunas paper, and the publisher of Climate Research, Otto Kinne, to seek some explanations as to what might have happened. The former did not respond very well to Goodess and von Storch’s query. Instead of addressing the concerns of fellow scientists with respect to the quality of a paper, he accused Goodess and von Storch of doing something akin to “a mix of a witch-hunt and the Spanish Inquisition”; at least according to Clare Goodess. A rather strange answer… Again, according to Goodess, while the review process which took place seemed to have been correct, although none of the four reviewer recommended that the paper should be rejected, a fundamentally flawed paper has been published. This raised concerned, and Goodess claims that in three other instances, Climate Research published papers which have then been strongly criticized. Interestingly, all of them were edited by Chris de Freitas (Ibid).

So either Chris de Freitas is not very good when it comes to act as an editor for a scientific journal, or he has an agenda. What is interesting, is that before Otto Kinne decided to appoint an editor-in-chief in the person of Hans von Storch (who resigned four days before taking office because the publisher meddled in editorial matters), the 10 editors of Climate Research were working independently from each other, with the authors submitting their papers to an editor of their choice. Chris de Freitas is known for his “scepticism ” about climate change, claiming, for example, that the planet did warm, but that this warming is not greater than natural variation. In other words, for him, there is no anthropogenic climate change, just natural variation. There is a French saying that states that people who resemble each other tend to gather together (“qui se ressemble s’assemble”)and in hindsight, this should not come as a surprise that Willie Soon and Sally Baliunas, two “climate sceptics” who are experts for the George C. Marshall Institute, a conservative think tank which opposes anything that would mean more government-imposed regulations (be it smoking, second-hand smoking, acid rain, ozone layer depletion) turned to de Freitas in order to have their article published in a peer-review journal. In fact, they both publish climate denialists pamphlets, probably commissioned by the George C. Marshall Institute, this is at least what is suggested by the fact that the Institute name is on the cover of the one above. Is de Freitas on the payroll of such a think tank? This isn’t clear. However, he is involved with the Heartland Institute, whose stand on climate change is well known thanks to Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway but also thanks to Peter Gleick, who further unravelled its methods, and Heartland Institute’s expert do not seem to worry too much about ethics, even when it comes to teaching false or distorted facts to their students. He also took part in the writing of an amicus brief regarding CO₂ pollution for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Interestingly, among the co-authors of this brief, one can find Sallie Baliunas. So… Baliunas, Soon and de Freitas frequent the same climate change denier circles. And indeed, a scientist sceptic about man-made climate change will rather have their pals review their papers than anyone else. Who knows? Maybe other reviewers might find that their science although they claim it to be “sound”, is, in fact, junk science. And Chris de Freitas seems to be such a nice guy, always ready to help friends in need of some scientific credibility to advance their dubious claims.

So, contrary to what Allègre et al. claim, de Freitas is far from being an innocent lamb sacrificed on the altar of climate change. If anything, together with Soon and Baliunas, he represents anything but what a good, serious scientist should look like. To finish with this story, one could also look at who funded the Soon and Baliunas and Soon et al., papers. Several funding agencies were listed in the Soon and Baliunas paper: the American Petroleum Institute (API), the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) and NASA. According to Clare Goodess, the NOAA was listed has a funding agency but denied having fund Soon and Baliunas work. In any case, NOAA doen’t appear as a funding agency in this version of the paper. This might however be the case in the E & E paper, I cannot know for certain as this article is behind a paywall. In any case, the Wikipedia article, particularly its paragraph on the funding controversy states that Willie Soon claims that the NOAA funded David  R. Legates, the last author of the E & E paper. Like Willie Soon, David Legates is far from being unbiased when it comes to climate science; he is involved with the usual suspects of climate change denialism: the George C. Marshall Institute, and the Independent Institute. While NASA and AFOSR admit having funded Soon and Baliunas, they claim that the funds were earmarked for study of solar variability, not climate proxies. There is a funding agency, however, who gives away the real purpose of the Soon and Baliunas and the Soon et al. paper from 2003: the American Petroleum Institute. This “institute” hasn’t funding research for sole purpose. Its main objective is to advance the interests of the American oil industry in governments circles and among the population. To do that, it finances seemingly grassroots movements to further its goals. Its lobbying spending was $3 million per year during the 2005-2009 period and $3.6 million in 2009 alone. Willie Soon has a history of being funded by fundations or organisations with vested interests, such as the API. He used to deny it:

I have not knowingly been hired by, nor employed by, nor received grants from any such organizations described in this question.

But, in an article from the Guardian, reporting about a Greenpeace US investigation and citing Reuters, Willie Soon appeared to be unapologetic, although he stated that his work has never been influenced by its funder. This is probably true: Willie Soon appears to have been an early climate change sceptic, his funders didn’t gave him money to transform him into a climate change denier, the API, the Koch foundations and others funded him because he is a man-made climate change denier.
The acknowledgement paragraph of the Soon and Baliunas paper also bears something else worth noting: the acknowledge of Chris de Freitas for his help in editing the manuscript. This is rather odd; acknowledging the funding agencies, the scientists who evaluated and help correcting the manuscript before its submission, the people who helped writing the paper is common practice… But I never saw authors thanking an editor at the end of a paper. Maybe this happens in climate sciences, I don’t know.

The accusation of a “scientific mafia” rise again
The irony of this op-ed rests in its accusation that scientists are alarmists because this helps them to channelling money to fund their research. This accusation is rich: if you follow some of the links above, you’ll see that the very same people who “charge” climate scientists with bribery are themselves funded —or on the payroll— of climate change denialist organisations. Their accusation of a “mafia”, backed by nothing more than their own beliefs, quickly falls apart when these professors of virtue and the people they defend are exposed. Allègre, Breslow , Cohen or Kelly know now science funding works, they also know how peer review works and what its aims are. If they wouldn’t have been scientists, or retired scientists, one could simply say that they are ignorant. They also know that most of climate scientists work in public institutions, they might not be public servant per se (although French scientists working for the CNRS like Allègre did are), but they earn a fixed salary. This accusation begs the question on how Allègre, Breslow and their scientists acolytes were —or are— using grant money. Allègre at al. are not ignorant of the internal workings of science, so I think the whole issue is much rather serious: the authors, or at least some of them, deliberately lie to the public about the way science is conducted. They mislead the people in believing that scientists evolve in closed circles avoiding the scrutiny of others. And yet, when Peter Gleick exposes the Heartland Institute funding and strategy, they are the first one to shout “wolf”, accusing him of stealing and forging the documents he obtained by tricking the Heartland Institute into giving them to him. They now try to fabricate a news story about that. So far, googling ‘fakegate‘ didn’t reveal any journal article,  only opinion pieces or blog articles, except for UK’s Daily Mail, whose quality in reporting is questionable, or that paper from Forbes —a paper written by a Heartland Institute Senior Fellow. Or, they set up a closed wiki, where contributions can only make it to the web once they’ve approved by Heartland Institute’s staff. The accusation of Lyssenkism put forward is also full of irony: the people who make it are the very same people living in a scientific Potemkine village, denying the facts and obscuring the science. No matter that the amount of evidence is —and has been for a while— sufficient to draw a conclusion on that matter, no matter than the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists states that anthropogenic global warming is occurring. This is irrelevant to them. Why? Because, as was the case for Lyssenko, they won’t adapt their world view to what the science has to say about the world; they’d rather fold the reality into their world view. In fact, they pretend to speak for the “many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate” and yet, they fail to provide any kind of reference to back the claim that, indeed, they speak for many scientists or engineers. Who are these scientists, have they any sort of credential in climate science, in opposition to, say, Claude Allègre or Jan Breslow?

What is this op-ed all about?

But what is really this op-ed all about? Why smearing a whole scientific community with false charges for which no evidence, neither in this op-ed nor elsewhere, is offered to the consideration of the public? Surely, the authors must have something to back their claims. Why don’t they put forward the evidence? Or maybe there is no scam? What is sure, as Naomi Oreskes, Erik Conway and others show, is that vested interested finance think tanks, which in turn finance them. These interests even fund directly some researchers like Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon to produce junk science whose aim is to avert any type of regulation that the governments might be tempted to take in response of the damage done to the environment by the oil and energy companies. This is a pattern that is clearly outlined, and very well documented, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their book “The Merchants of Doubt”, one can find it arise on two kind of issues in this book: public health issues (smoking and second-hand smoking) or environmental issues (acid rain, depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, and global warming, revisionism about DDT).

To give their views a veneer of economical pertinence, they enrol yet another unwilling scholar: William D. Nordhaus, who, according to them, claims that “nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls”. Again, they fail to cite him properly. This might not be very surprising as William D. Nordhaus, like Kevin Trenberth, said that his views where, again, misrepresented (the climate change sceptics seem to have this almost inhumane ability to cherry-pick the data to their likings, this is fascinating…). So, in the New York Review of Books, Nordhaus set the record straight, not only on the economics, for which he points the errors made by our “concerned scientists”, but also with regard to some of the issues described here. In fact, Nordhaus writes that “at a time when we need to clarify public confusions about the science and economics of climate change, they have muddied the waters”. This, probably, is the real purpose of this op-ed: to muddy the waters, to make the public believe that no action is needed to deal with that problem. What, I think they hope to attain by building a widespread denial of climate change in the public, is to build pressure on the future U.S. government —whoever may sit in the oval office— to, again, do nothing about global warming. This type of strategies worked in the past, they might work again. Of course, the consequences are wider than just the U.S.: refusing to take action to curb global warming, will render any attempt to do so by any other country meaningless, and this will set a rather poor example, as the withdrawal of Canada from the Kyoto protocol already shows.

Role of the media

The Wall Street Journal published this op-ed from sixteen scientists with dubious credentials in the field of climate science. However, when 255 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences co-signed an op-ed to be published in that journal, The Wall Street Journal refused to do so, this letter was later published in Science. One is therefore entitled to ask why. Once again, scientists views regarding an issue of global importance are “ring fenced” in science journals while they should be available to the wider public. As a surviving stigma of the fairness doctrine, newspapers in the U.S. feel compelled to present both sides of an argument, whatever this argument may be. This seems a sensible stand in a bipartisan system like the U.S. and when the issues at hand are ideological (although from a European standpoint the U.S.  political spectrum seems very narrow indeed), but, in science, there is such a thing as being wrong. Honest scientists recognize when they are, usually, and this is how a scientific consensus is built: by convincing the colleagues. The consensus on climate change is no exception to that. It is very well that everybody, even dishonest scientists like Claude Allègre, have the right to express their views. No-one, however, has to listen to them. But how can people make their mind when such blatant fallacies as Allègre et al.’s characterisation of CO₂ as being “not a pollutant” isn’t met with anything to set the record straight. Sure enough, the APS and Kevin Trenberth and others answered to Allègre et al. However, these answers were short and very specific, which is understandable: one would think that Trenberth and Byer have more important things to do than to justify themselves in front of people like Allègre. But one would think that op-ed pages should reflect the state of the science on that matter. Again, Oreskes and Conway showed that, overall, the media amplify the views of the minority, regardless of the scientific issue at hand. There are several explanations to that, a better access to media, a better access to the halls of power… This is at least true for Allègre, not in the U.S., of course, but in France.




About ravingscientist01

Trained as a molecular geneticist, I did a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology. I am interested in science, its communication, the impact it can have on policies as well as the impact of various policies related to science may have on the latter.
This entry was posted in Bogus, Policy, Quacks, Science, Swindle. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The wall Street Journal did it again: how to manufacture doubt.

  1. Pingback: On expertise, argument from authority and scientific consensus | ravingscientist

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  4. Pingback: Matt Ridley shares his ignorance of climate science (again) | EssaysConcerning

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