I encountered a couple disturbing AGW stories the other day that I would like to share with you. The first one is professor Michael Mann (gloating?) that he has beat back legal attempts to examine at his “private” emails. The second one revolves around the creation of a twitter chatbot (a computer program) to argue in favor of the most accepted AGW theories.
The first story is probably the most troublesome. Professor Mann was embroiled in AGW controversy a few years ago for producing the famous “hockey stick graph” analysis of global temperature trends and then refusing to release all of the methods he used to come to his conclusions. This is very strange and nearly unprecedented in academia. If someone told you they studied the moon and came to the conclusion that is was made of cheese, you would definitely want to know how they came to that conclusion. Transparency is one of the bedrocks of scientific investigation. Mann landed in hot water, not for what proved to be a good analysis of temperature trends but for refusing to show how he arrived at his conclusions.
Fast-forward to 2009 and we find Professor Mann’s name popping up again in the leaked Climategate emails. As many know, several leading climate researchers were actively involved in resisting freedom of information requests, disparaging other climate theories, and what seemed to be suppression of alternative journals and papers. The Climate Research Unit in the UK and Professor Mann were cleared by mostly internal investigations, which left many skeptics crying foul – assuming that mainstream climate researchers were protecting their own AND protecting the billions of dollars that flow into climate research.
As mentioned in the beginning of the post, there are calls for Professor Mann to release his university emails, to which he has so far successfully resisted. One would think he would have learned a lesson from the first go-round. Resisting the release of information only fuels more skepticism and lands a person in more hot water. Let us set aside the fact that his “private” university emails are paid for with our tax money and on that basis alone should be made available to the public. The fact that he refused to share methods in the past and was revealed to participate in some level of conspiring (however small, inconsequential, and over-blown the climategate emails might be) means that the average person is going to assume one thing in the ongoing email battle: Mann is guilty! Guilty of something or hiding the “smoking gun”. The refusal to reveal publicly-paid for University emails transcripts can only harm climate science in the short run.
If I had to guess, I would say the emails contain similar comments to what was found in the Climagate emails. Thinking that their emails were secure, Mann and a few coleagues “talked like people talk” when they are in private, discussing their problems, their enemies, their true feelings. I doubt there is any other major evidence of fraud, manipulation of data, or supression of alternate theories over and above what was found through the Climategate release. It would most likely be a personal embarassment for the researchers involved – which would be emotionally painful. My advice: release the emails now and get it overwith. Prolonging the fight will only prolong the agony and fuel the skeptics. Mann can prove he is a better person (than his critics) and a honorable scientist by letting the world see – warts and all.
I suppose all of us would cringe at the thought of releasing our work emails (as is asked of Mann) to the public at large. Private emails would probably be even more cringe-worthy. Even I probably have some embarrassing emails somewhere in our work archive – but not many. Do you know why? As I watched the transformation from the industrial revolution into the information revolution, I realised that everything - every piece of data, conversation, and video - was being recorded in some manner that could be retrieved in the future. I just accepted the fact that privacy was mostly an illusion. This led me to conduct myself with much more openness and truthfulness. Before I write or say anything, I remind myself that someone in the future will hear, view, or read my output. Some would say that I was always a well-behaved person growing up, but even I experienced the emotions, tribulations, and battles of being a young human. I have made plenty of stupid remarks, little white lies, and off-color comments (no doubt many are recorded – if not in digital form, then in the memories of my family, friends and acquaintances), but most of this is from prior to the age of 30, and prior to widespread use of the Internet. In the most recent decade, I have assumed everything, and I mean everything, about my life has been recorded. Because of this, I would have very little reservation releasing my email record (whether private or work), although my work emails are technically “owned” by Quincy Newspapers so they would have to give permission. I suggest more people should start living more openly and avoid situations which Professor Mann finds himself in.
The other story about the automated chatbot to argue in favor of mainstream AGW theories on Twitter is disturbing in a different way, not because it is illegal or immoral, but because it paints a bad perception. Based on the Mann controversies and the Climategate emails there are quite a few people who are convinced that AGW science is rigged. Even if there was no substantial interference in the publication of alternate theories and no deletion of important data, that is the way it looks from the outside. It appearsas if a few leading climatologists were are engaging in nefarious activities and they were “cleared” by their own “inside” people. Now they are creating automated chatbots to argue for them, pointing to the research that they peer-reviewed, to the exclusion of research that they colluded to reject. Seems like a way to solidify their position through automation, not further open research. Again, I am not saying this is the reason for the chatbot, or that there are nefarious unethical things going on behind the scenes. I just perceive how it looks on the outside. As far as I am aware, most climate research is solid and conducted with integrity.
Which brings me back to a point I raised in a past blog post, about the method some AGW theorists and many environmentalists have employed to combat skepticism over the theory (for reference: my AGW position). People “on the outside” which does include me, because I am not a climatologist (I just have a basic understanding of the general science), have been treated quite poorly. My main criticisms of AGW science and related political statements are not “wacky theories”. I have detailed how the “business as usual” fossil fuel scenario through the next century is a weak spot in climate projections. I have also pilloried the multitude of “end-of-the-world” headlines that have crossed the media landscape over the last couple of decades – pointing out that hysteria very often leads to bigger problems. For this, I have been attacked as an “idiot” and a “tool of big oil”. (Full disclosure: I don’t work for or have any contact with any oil industry “people” on a regular basis). In the past and to a lesser extent in the present, this is what happened to most everyone “on the outside” that raised questions about AGW theory. AGW theorists wonder why there is such resistance to all things “global warming”. Set aside philosophical-type arguments about political and economic systems. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who works in the oil industry. You very truly and literally make the world go round. For over 100 years, you fueled the progress of the world. Every “good” thing we have in society, from advanced medicine, to computers, to cell phones, was made possible through the use of fossil fuels. Your work is physically difficult and dangerous. You make a good wage and support your family extracting the energy the world needs to operate. All of a sudden in 1989 along comes some egg-head professors saying you are to blame for the destruction of the world – literally. Through the 1990s and into the new century you are publicly attacked and belittled. Many people threaten to shut down your way of life and (you perceive) to send you to the poorhouse. The attacks seem relentless. Whether you are the executive or the platform worker, what is you natural reaction? Fight back. Not everyone involved in developing AGW theory has been engaged public attacks against skeptics and energy industry workers. A lot of it has been carried on by media, environmental organizations, and anonymous posters in Internet forums. Yet, we could’ve have gotten off to a much better start. Those who first discovered the potential for human activities (especially using fossil fuels) to warm the planet could have created a trusting partnership with the energy industry to slowly transform our energy production away from the dirty fuels and into clean renewables. They didn’t. The battle continues and Professor Mann will soon have to reveal his university emails.
Have a nice weekend! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
Posted under AGW, Climate Change, Science
This post was written by jloew on November 5, 2010