Re: [asa] Theology of AGW WAS The Climate Science Isn't Settled

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Wed Dec 02 2009 - 19:28:33 EST

Iain, you wrote:

>"Every time you write an email imagine what it would look like on the front row of the tabloid newspaper". It's appalling that honest folk have to live under that kind of pressure.

There is an easy answer to this.

No, I would not want *purely personal* information about myself to end up on the front row of a tabloid newspaper. I would not want information about my health problems, or my love life, or my family conflicts, or my private business dealings, or my personal opinions about someone who is going to interview me for a job, or my confidential conversations with people who are seeking my spiritual or ethical advice, or anything of that sort to end up on the front page of a tabloid newspaper. If the people who published these e-mails published material like that, they did something wrong.

But as far as I can tell from what I've read of the e-mails, what has been published bears on questions of (a) scientific matters and (b) professional conduct. If my opinions in these two areas were made public, I would have nothing to fear, because I have never knowingly tried to spread scholarly untruths, and have never knowingly advocated any professional misconduct, e.g., trying to influence or fire journal editors or "expel" journals from the scholarly fraternity because they publish articles that disagree with my view. Nor have I ever suggested or defended "hiding" or "concealing" any data, or "adjusting" data that is a complete mess to make it fit a theory [see the published programmer's notes on this point]. Having never done any of these things, I would not be embarrassed *professionally* by anything in my e-mails. In fact, aside from those e-mails which are directed to family and personal friends, and aside from the odd bit of friction and flak which from time to time arises in e-mail conversations between academics, my private e-mails very much resemble what I post to this list -- essay-like arguments explaining my position and refuting the positions of others.

So my answer is: if there is anything of a personal nature in these Climategate e-mails, e.g., Scientist X was having an affair with his secretary, or lost $10,000 at the slots in Las Vegas last weekend, then it was morally wrong to publish those parts of the e-mails. The people who published them should have gone through the e-mails with a black marker, so to speak, and covered up all personal remarks, and let out to the public only the comments bearing on data management and professional conduct. Only those are relevant to the public interest. And in my view, the only possible justification for stealing e-mails and releasing them to the public is the public interest. I think that learning whether or not certain scientific work is tainted, when that scientific work is the basis of policy recommendations with colossal implications for employment, economic policy, and global politics, qualifies as learning which is in the public interest.

Statements like: "Professor Smorgensboard believes that the solar effect should be assigned a coefficient of .50, whereas I believe that it should be assigned a coefficient of .45, based on the research of A. Ginsberg published last month in Climate Quarterly" are *not* going to end up on the front page of a tabloid newspaper. Nor are very many people going to be very interested in reading them, even if they are illegally available on the Internet. Most people would just as soon read the telephone book. But expressions like "hide the decline" and "Geez, how are we going to make cruddy data like this fit with the predictions of the model?" and "Maybe someone should have a talk with that journal editor and tell him to lay off publishing anything written by these people" *are* going to be picked up by the tabloids, and generate great interest on the Internet. And why? Because they suggest that something more than scientific, and also less than scientific, may be going on behind the scenes in the AGW camp. If AGW proponents aren't thinking bad thoughts, and aren't doing bad things, the language of their e-mails will sound like the language in the first example I gave above, and what the tabloids will think should not be a concern.

There might of course be exceptions to the general rule I've just laid down. There might be expressions which look incriminating but are entirely innocent, when properly contextualized. That is why I've already allowed that the AGW proponents should be allowed a chance to explain each and every expression in these e-mails that has struck other scientists, and the general public, as peculiar or suspicious. I'm not in favour of punishment until proof of wrongdoing exists. But I am in favour of a serious investigation, conducted by a balanced panel of stakeholders, representing all relevant scientific professions and the general public.

As I've repeatedly said, I'm not against AGW. I'm against scientists who treat other equally credentialled scientists with contempt. I'm against journalists and politicians and bloggers who treat scientists with minority views with contempt. I'm against all attempts to represent intellectual minorities, in science or any other field, as heretics. I'm against attempts to determine public opinion on AGW by shouting and intimidation. I'm against responding to honest scientific concerns of global warming skeptics by means of arguments which are motive-mongering and otherwise ad hominem, and by appeals to authority. I'm against what appears to be an ever-growing habit of scientists and academics to splinter into warring camps and try to impose orthodoxies on disciplines, on departments, on journals, on scientific and scholarly societies, etc. I'm in favour of a very old-fashioned idea, the idea of the entirely independently-minded scientist or scholar, who is oblivious of popularity, peer pressure, the dollar signs attached to research grants, climbing in academic prestige, etc., and cares only about the truth, and would not *dream* of censoring or intimidating any colleague who disagrees with him about the truth. As someone who has been in and around universities for the last 35 years, I can with some insider knowledge say that this old-fashioned idea of the university, as a place of radically questioning, intimidation-free science and scholarship, has been seriously damaged by the conduct of a large number of aggressive, bullying, egocentric, partisan, careerist, and in many cases ideologically motivated Ph.D.s in all subject areas and disciplines, and I think that this redounds to the great shame of our system of higher learning on this continent. This is my last posting on this issue.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Iain Strachan
  To: Schwarzwald
  Sent: Wednesday, December 02, 2009 4:43 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Theology of AGW WAS The Climate Science Isn't Settled

    Except charges of corruption or worse are rife in this debate anyway, with far less evidence. Notice the pattern of accusing people who are skeptical of global warming of being "denialists" (let's see if that word pops up right on this list), in the service of businesses that are actively trying to obscure what they know is the truth, etc. That certainly doesn't mean the tone of these debates should not improve, or that two wrongs make a right, etc. But I will stress a point that seems to be quickly getting thrown down the memory hole here: The immediate response to these leaked emails by some people, including some people on this very list, was to label people as thieves and felons for discussing their contents or distributing them.

  I'm very sorry to keep chipping in like this, but I really feel that this last statement of yours about what people on the list have supposedly said cannot go unchallenged.

  I do not recall ANYONE on the list saying that someone who discussed the contents of the emails or distributed them was a "thief or felon". If I am wrong about this, then please point me to the email in question. All I remember was that Keith Miller suggested strongly that it was unethical to redistribute stolen private emails. That is not the same as calling folks who discuss it "thieves and felons". Please explain how you got to that statement. I'm willing to retract this if you can point me to the exact email where this was said. If you can't then you should retract the statement because it is maligning people on the list.

  I also recall that I very strongly stated that the people who had STOLEN the emails were criminals and I stand by that statement. Much has been discussed about the Ninth Commandment and what it means - how one interprets it; is the Westminster Confession correct etc. But not one mention has been made of the fact that the availability of these emails has been because someone broke the Eighth Commandment. Thou Shalt Not Steal.

  I'm not accusing anyone on the list of stealing - but it is as clear as anything that the emails were stolen. I seem to recall somewhere Jesus saying something about a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Yet with all the crowing that is going on one might get the impression that the thieves (whoever they were) are being hailed as heroes.

  Now, for the moment, Schwarzwald, I am willing to believe that you wrote the phrase "thieves and felons" in the heat of the moment, without thinking about it. This is precisely the thing that got the CRU scientists into trouble and got them accused of conspiracy etc.

  As it happens, one of the women who attends my church home group works in the Geography department at Oxford University in a section researching Climate Change. She knows Phil Jones extremely well. The Communications manager at their department has instilled into them the following: "Every time you write an email imagine what it would look like on the front row of the tabloid newspaper". It's appalling that honest folk have to live under that kind of pressure.


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Received on Wed Dec 2 19:29:56 2009

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