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Climate Researchers Fight Back 641

Posted by Soulskill
from the best-defense-is-a-good-offense dept.
tomduck writes "The Guardian reports that climate researcher Andrew Weaver is suing the National Post newspaper in Canada in a libel action for publishing 'grossly irresponsible falsehoods.' The Post claimed he cherrypicked data to support his climate research, and tried to blame the 'evil fossil fuel' industry for break-ins at his office in 2008 to divert attention from mistakes in the 2007 IPCC report. This comes fast on the heels of another Guardian article describing lessons learned from the exoneration of UEA scientists involved in the so-called Climategate affair. Are climate scientists finally fighting back against their critics, who they were previously more inclined to ignore?"
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Climate Researchers Fight Back

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  • Re:For non-Canadians (Score:1, Interesting)

    by ThermalRunaway (1766412) on Friday April 23, 2010 @04:29PM (#31960216)
    > It is a-religious and a-political and just generally a-ideological. This is not always the case. While the *theory* on paper isn't ideological, the reasoning behind the conclusions and how the theory was formulated, and the agenda for pushing whatever the results of the theory are IS very political. Your argument is like saying guns and missiles are just chunks of metal, they aren't political, therefore the war in Iraq is a-political and there is no agenda behind it.
  • Re:Ultimately (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tsm_sf (545316) on Friday April 23, 2010 @05:22PM (#31960942) Journal
    Maintaining ivory towers isn't going to make public reactions to bluster any more robust.

    It's all well and good to demand transparency and accessibility for data etc, but where is the money going to come from? Who's going to pay for online hosting? Who's going to pay for the researcher's time?

    Also, what format will the data take? Will we standardize on one form for every department, or will we be serving up raw data straight from the instruments? We've seen people complain about lack of access to raw data, but will they complain about needing to write their own parsing software or will they demand access to the source of whatever tools the researchers used? Who's going to pay for that? What if the tool is expensive and proprietary?

    Like I said, the idea of openness is a good one, but it's being presented as an unplanned, unfunded mandate. A lot more thinking needs to go into this, and I don't see anyone capable of such stepping up to the plate.
  • Any AGW scientist (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OrwellianLurker (1739950) on Friday April 23, 2010 @05:23PM (#31960954)
    Any AGW scientist who isn't completely transparent in their research gets no trust from me. When scientists play politician, people will lose trust. They should be researching, educating, and advising-- not politicizing science.
  • by Aczlan (636310) on Friday April 23, 2010 @05:36PM (#31961132)
    If a fact has been altered, is it still a fact? Or does it become an opinion at the point that is it altered?
    Using temperature data as an example, raw data as recorded by stations is a fact but after it has been altered to account for urban heat island effect, more temp sensors in the city than in the country or any other data, would it not become the theory of the person who altered the data?

    Aaron Z
  • by frogzilla (1229188) on Friday April 23, 2010 @05:40PM (#31961182)

    Nobody is talking about cooling. Where do you get that? No one is distorting findings for money. The problem with this issue is the intensely political response to the science. It's not the scientists causing the trouble or the controversy. Scientists do have a responsibility to present their findings honestly and in a straightforward manner. The policy makers and general public make this a difficult topic to deal with because they bring their personal concerns (political concerns) into the discussion. Unfortunately for the naysayers out there, anthropogenic climate change is real. The planet is warming. It is caused by the incredibly short sighted emission of millions of years worth of sequestered carbon over the past few hundred years. Since it should be apparent to everyone that stopping the emission of carbon is not likely we need to decide what we are going to do to mitigate the worst effects, the magnitude of which we don't know yet and are working hard to understand. Whether you are on the left or right of the political spectrum this is the reality you need to think about. It really is time to begin planning a response to the likeliest changes and spending more effort on understanding the system. If this doesn't make sense to you, you need to go away from your computer for a while and think about it. Your political beliefs and deeply held personal convictions are irrelevant.

  • by yotto (590067) on Friday April 23, 2010 @06:12PM (#31961676) Homepage

    Magazines are generally not considered news. Magazines exist to sell magazines, not give you news. And no offense to Senator McCain but Obama pushes paper. Plain and simple.

    Likewise, there were FAR more Palin covers than Clinton covers. Guess why?

  • by Barrinmw (1791848) on Friday April 23, 2010 @06:53PM (#31962108)
    I lost faith in the climatologists when they stopped calling it global warming and went for the more neutral "climate change." If that isn't an example of politicizing their own debate then I don't know what is. I hold a skeptics view to the whole Global Warming thing, they say that this is what the earth will do in 100 years...yet they can't guess what its going to do next week with any certainty. That and I just read two articles on two different news sites on the Same Day, One claiming that the Spring storms come later and later each year due to global warming and the other claiming that spring comes earlier and earlier due to it. Also, how the hell can they use data that seems to work for centuries "tree rings" and then STOP using it when it doesn't support their conclusions over the past few decades ie the whole Hide the Decline Fiasco.
  • by butalearner (1235200) on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:32PM (#31962498)

    There are many reasons to doubt AGW as a legitimate climate change candidate. The shrillness of its proponents not being the least. The FSM is as likely a cause. The sunspot minimum makes a far more beleivable.

    Sunspots increase solar radiation, so I guess the minimum is the reason that temperatures have stayed relatively constant then?

    Regardless of whether AGW is real or not, the thing that pisses me off about the whole scenario is the number of people using it to reject anything that leads to energy independence. By all means, let's continue chugging oil and making Big Oil execs and their Saudi prince friends filthy rich. I don't particularly care if AGW is real, but if it speeds up solar and nuclear energy research and deployment than I'm all for it. You can even say FSM did it, if it makes you happy and reduces our trade deficit.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:37PM (#31962552) Homepage

    No, they don't have to have a competing theory. They have to demonstrate that the anthropogenic global warming theory has axiomatic, logic, data or interpretation flaws sufficient to undermine findings, or that it is an unfalsifiable theory. That is sufficient to disregard the theory.

    Not exactly, because any flaws in a theory should be weighed against the success of the theory before you decide whether to use it or not. We know for certain that both General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics have fundamental, axiomatic flaws. Like, neither works in the other's universe. Yet these are the two of the most successful theories of the 20th century, they're incredibly useful, and it would be foolish to disregard them simply because they contain logical flaws.

    Science is always about having the best theory to explain observations, fully understanding that it is most likely flawed or incomplete or outright wrong. But for a theory to last long enough to be called a "theory" in scientific circles, there's enough evidence for it that it is highly unlikely to be outright wrong.

    I am not saying this is the case with AGW, just that you do NOT need a competing theory before you can disregard another.

    You're right at least in the general sense that many hypothesis can be safely rejected with no alternative explanation needed. But when the theory does do a good job of explaining observations, you pretty much do need to suggest an alternative that explains the data at least as well before the existing theory will be abandoned.

    AGW does have a lot of evidence to support it. That doesn't make it the bona fide truth, it makes it a pretty good model. There are certainly flaws in the models and the data, but that's what models are for: making predictions despite being imperfect. Alternate theories, like it being due to volcanoes and solar radiance, which for anyone playing at home were thought of and accounted for long before you'd heard of the ideas, don't explain the data as well. So if you're doing real science, you'll probably find yourself having to come up with a better model of your own before you could seriously say that AGW shouldn't be the preferred theory. That was the GP's point, I think.

  • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:41PM (#31962586)

    a)The Medieval Warm Period is based on European records; it thus could be a local phenomenon, rather than a global one.

    That was true ten years ago, today records from Australia and Africa (and others) show similar warming trends in the Medieval time period, confirming that it was a global event.

    b) It has been hypothesized by William Ruddiman that the depopulation caused by the Black Death led to lower anthropogenic CO2; the Little Ice Age would thus be a short-term reversal of global warming, which would in fact reinforce the AGW theory. It is necessary to emphasize that this is only a hypothesis.

    It has been pretty well established that the Little Ice Age was caused by a sudden release of glacial meltwater from North America rushing into the Gulf Stream, which brings warm water from the equator north to warm the European coastal waters. This influx of cold water effectively shut down the Gulf Stream until the glacial ice receded far enough north that it was no longer flushing cold water into the Gulf Coast.

    Which do you think had a bigger effect, a halted Gulf Stream, or millions of dead people (who happen to release CO2 into the soil and air as they rot, btw)? There are also studies that suggest this event had a significant impact on global temperatures, but that would only be natural given a 300+ year cold period - the majority of the temperature changes were local.

    This was a local event, but it was also completely natural and a result of the previous ice age and sudden spike in global temperatures. By the way, the global temperature spike 16 thousand years ago makes the current temperature rise irrelevant, and it happened during a time when there were all of 5 million humans in the world. There are obviously much larger forces at work than a little bit of CO2. Besides, there are a lot more people in Europe during the MWP, yet there are a number of studies on Europe's climate that suggest it was significantly warmer prior to the Little Ice Age than it is now. They didn't even have a significant level of fossile fuel burning like we do today. Doesn't that kinda put a crimp in AGW, at least regarding that time period?

  • by Barrinmw (1791848) on Friday April 23, 2010 @07:45PM (#31962634)
    http://symonsez.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/arctic-sea-ice-shows-extensive-growth-in-march-2010/ [wordpress.com] Arctic sea ice may be on their way back up from the 2007 lows which may have been explained by underwater volcanic eruptions warming the sea water there...interesting... Also, global warming would be a blessing in disguise, it would make much more of the planet habitable then is today ie Large Swaths of Canada and Northern Europe/Asia. Global cooling is far more dangerous to human kind in that it causes large scale famine. By keeping the earth in a warmed state, we would potentially prevent any mini-freezes that would lead to the deaths of millions of people.
  • by Gandalf_Greyhame (44144) on Friday April 23, 2010 @08:53PM (#31963294) Journal

    Yet the media is not reporting on the raw data as the raw data was deleted. Instead the data that is being reported on has been altered to fit the model*. Without having the raw data to fall back on and reassess the model it throws doubt upon the entire theory, at least in those who are able to think for themselves. If the original raw data was still available then the theory could be proven or dis-proven. As it currently stands we merely have 2 sides yelling at one another calling the other group a bunch of morons.

    Personally I am a bit skeptical of the man made climate change theory. My skepticism comes from the lack of raw data and if I am completely honest, a bit of conspiracy-theory-tin-foiled-hattedness. As they say, "follow the money." Who is it that is profiting from the climate change argument? Simple answer: climate change scientists. The same climate change scientists who deleted the raw data.

    * How much it has been altered is unknown. Perhaps it is only a little, perhaps it is a lot.

  • by Garwulf (708651) on Friday April 23, 2010 @09:35PM (#31963590) Homepage

    I posted this on the CBC news website:

    Okay, I'm going to try to do a bit of an analysis of Weaver's claim. Now, I am not a lawyer - I'm a writer, a researcher, a publisher, and I work part-time doing writing and editing for a faculty of law. So, any errors are my own.

    This is essentially a far-reaching libel claim. This means that two things have to be proven: first, that the National Post made a deliberate misrepresentation; second, that the Post did so with malice - they did it specifically to cause harm. If both can't be proven, the claim doesn't stand in court.

    So, Weaver is launching a two pronged attack here - the first is against the Post itself for certain articles. The second is against some of the posters commenting on those articles.

    First, the National Post itself: this will become a battle of sources. If the Post defends itself on that one, it will attempt to demonstrate that Weaver did say those things, and he's actively trying to rewrite history. So, the Post will have to bring out original rough notes for the articles to back-date Weaver's comments. So long as they can do that, even if the Post did say something wrong, then they can demonstrate that the errors were not deliberate, and the libel claim will fail.

    Second, the NP forum posts: this one strikes me as a boneheaded move, frankly. There is simply no way to prove that the forum posters made any deliberate misrepresentations. Even if some of the comments were vicious, there isn't any way to demonstrate that an anonymous voice on a forum was knowingly lying.

    Finally, malice: again, another very difficult thing to prove. This would require a paper trail or somebody able to testify that there was a targeted attack. Right now, the claim itself has innuendo, but not a trail to prove an attack.

    For those who want to take a close look of their own, the claim is at http://www.desmogblog.com/sites/beta.desmogblog.com/files/andrew%20weaver%20statement%20of%20claim.pdf [desmogblog.com]

  • by ArcherB (796902) on Friday April 23, 2010 @09:56PM (#31963694) Journal

    Um, you seemed to have ignored the first two thirds of his comment. You know, the part about how NASA assumes that we are .001 of a degree warmer than we were over seventy years ago. Really? We were accurate to 0.001 of a degree when measuring the world's climate average back when the Charleston was all the rage and cars still had wooden tires? And you are seriously willing to give up rights on that assumption?

  • Re:Ultimately (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Xyrus (755017) on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:54PM (#31964038) Journal

    ? Are you saying radioactive decay is calculated by using a computer model using hundreds of poorly understood variables (with hundreds, if not thousands of "unknown unknowns"), with very little verification -- similar to climatology science?

    While the example is poor, your rebuttal questions shows you know jack about climate models.

    You can have a simple 1D climate model that will demonstrate planetary warming based on a handful of well understood parameters. Of course, a 1D model won't tell you a whole lot more than that. In fact, you can drive a full climate model on just small group of critical prognostic quantities. Check out Model E for example (which is a publicly available climate model complete with the data sets to drive it). The model restart files can be stripped down to something like 7 main components.

    But what if you want some finer grained information? How does the atmospheric chemistry effect ozone in the stratosphere? How strong are the cooling effects of sulfur dioxide? What is the impact of a .1% change in albedo at the north pole due to pollution? While some of these things only make slight impacts, together they may accelerate or slow down climate change. But in order to study such things, scientists need to gather data AND add more components to the climate model that they're using.

    The core of a climate model is, relatively speaking, is very simple. But if you want to study other aspects of the climate you have to add to that core, or roll your own. Be that as it may, even the most basic climate models, which again can use just a few parameters, show that increasing tropospheric CO2 yields a warmer planet on average.

    But can you imagine what would be said if a climate scientist held up a simple model? Your argument would then be "it ain't got 'nough parememeters so it kent be right!".

    If you think climatology is as solid as physics, chemistry or evolution, then you are simply ignorant of how they all work.

    So are you it seems. The climate models ARE based on chemistry, physics, fluid dynamics, atmospheric dynamics, etc.. It's not like they just sat around and said "Hey, let's through a bunch of FORTRAN together and make some shit up." A point argued out of ignorance is still ignorant.

    Go ask a climatologist research if they think their theories and models are as provably accurate as, say, relativity theory, molecular theory or evolutionary theory

    The theories, yes. The various formulas you come across in climate science are very well established, drawing on everything from EM theory to chemistry. The theories are very solid.

    But models are never solid. Anything that includes chaotic interaction (of which, all your mentioned areas have) can never be perfectly modeled. Hence the need for running large ensembles and using statistical methods to get useful information out of them (though depending on what your looking for, you may not need to go so far). This is also why models come with expectations of error and a thorough analysis of the error.

    I refuse to believe there is one out there that is so dishonest that they would say their level of knowledge is on par with physicists or chemists.

    That's going to come as quite a surprise to all the physicists and chemists in the field. You seem to be under an impression that climate science is somehow an independent field from physics and chemistry, which is most certainly not the case. Read down any roster of climate research groups. You'll find people from fields as diverse as astronomy to computer science.

    ~X~

  • by thelamecamel (561865) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:36PM (#31964352)

    guess which of the following two grants will get funded and which won't: 1) man is not the cause of global warming/we're along for the ride on a system controlled in large part by solar output and other effects, give us money to study what they are, or 2) MAN IS DESTROYING THE PLANET, WE MUST BE STOPPED, WE WILL ALL DIE IF YOU DON'T FUND THIS RESEARCH.

    If either of those grant applications would get funded in your country, then the entire grant system needs to be scrapped and rebuilt - they are both putting the conclusions before the research. Science is very different to lawyering - with lawyering your conclusions come first (i.e. your client is innocent) and you gather as much evidence for your conclusions as possible. Scientists on the other hand have the luxury of adapting their conclusions to fit the data. Sometimes this means a null result, but often this is worth publishing too and will get you more grants.

    A variation on your first suggestion that doesn't imply bad science would be "to investigate the effect of solar flares on Earth's temperature and climate". In fact there has been a lot of publicly funded science on this topic, and I think a significant connection was pretty much ruled out back in the 90's (though I haven't checked).

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