A rapidly growing number of Americans are coming to distrust “scientific” climate report conclusions that emanate from authoritarian government and institutional sources — often with good reason. Such skepticism has arisen in part from revelations of conspiracies among influential researchers to exaggerate the existence and threats of man-made climate change, withhold background data and suppress contrary findings evidenced in the “ClimateGate” scandal.
Other doubt is legitimately fueled by direct observations. We commonly witness alarmist claims based upon short-term warming events, while other equally notable cooling episodes are dismissed in importance, attributed to warming, or cited as proof of disturbing “climate change.”
Who pays for all this bad science, and worse, news? We do, of course. And it doesn’t come cheap. According to data compiled by Joanne Nova at the Science and Public Policy Institute
, the U.S. Government spent more than $32.5 billion on climate studies between 1989 and 2009. This doesn’t count about $79 billion more spent for related climate change technology research, foreign aid and tax breaks for “green energy.”
To suggest that climate science money trickles down from government would be a gross understatement. Actually, it cascades from mountains on high, presided over by agencies and their federal and state minions we generally assume to be knowledgeable and objective. But often we might be wrong. This occurs when a particularly orthodox or partisan view becomes inculcated into government leadership and surrogate organization power structures — yes, exactly like man-made global warming, for example. Then follow the rivers, streams and creeks as those influences spread.
Agencies get funding appropriations based upon how important they are, or more accurately, how important we are persuaded to think they are. In the case of climate and environmental issues, they appear to be a lot more important when represented to address (certainly not waste) a crisis. Climate change, a topic offering an opportunity to regulate something really dangerous, like natural air, is just too wonderful to pass up.
Who populates these agencies? People with orthodox credentials of course. It helps a lot if they have published books or articles that favor and advance those views, or at least associate with influential organizations that do. Let’s call that the “orthodox mainstream.” Then again, most of those books and articles wouldn’t have been published at all if the authors didn’t have good science credentials, right? They would need to have undertaken research that was published in respected journals.
Farther downriver, the universities that support learned research and hire scientists to conduct it depend upon federal and state agencies (again from us). To compete for that money they must address topics that are recognized by the orthodox mainstream as being very important. Only then can they hire and produce people who write successful proposals to support staff to do the research to prepare the papers that get published in the respected journals.
But what if those learned people’s papers can’t get published in the respected journals because they contradict views of influential orthodox mainstream gatekeepers who attack their merit — the exact circumstances exposed in the U.K. East Anglia University Climate Research Unit’s ClimateGate e-mails? In this case, those scientists wouldn’t win grants and contracts (from tax and tuition money we supply) to gain tenure and promotions at leading universities and research laboratories, or gain credentials needed to get hired by the agencies and surrogate organizations that distribute and administer the funding. Others who play the game by the rules of politics and ideology are likely to fare much better.
Is this a real problem? Consider just a few examples.
A June 4, 2003, e-mail from Keith Briffa to fellow tree ring researcher Edward Cook at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York stated: “I got a paper to review (submitted to the Journal of Agricultural, Biological and Environmental Sciences), written by a Korean guy and someone from Berkeley, that claims that the method of reconstruction that we use in dendroclimatology (reverse regression) is wrong, biased, lousy, horrible, etc…If published as is, this paper could really do some damage…It won’t be easy to dismiss out of hand as the math appears to be correct theoretically… I am really sorry but I have to nag about that review—Confidentially, I now need a hard and if required extensive case for rejecting.”
A July 2004 communication from the U.K. East Anglia Climate Research Unit’s director Philip Jones to Michael Mann referred to two papers recently published in Climate Research with a “HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL” subject line observed: “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin [Trenberth] and I will keep them out somehow—even if we have to redefine what the peer review literature is”. Jones and Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, were joint lead authors for a key chapter of that 2007 report. Mann was an originator of the infamous “hockey stick” graph suggesting accelerating human-caused global warming since the Industrial Revolution.
Tom Wigley, a senior scientist and Trenberth associate at the National Center for Atmospheric Research suggested in another e-mail to Mann: “If you think that [Yale professor James] Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official [American Geophysical Union] channels to get him ousted” [as editor-in-chief of the Geophysical Research Letters journal].
So what about the “fourth branch of government,” the media? What do they appear to think about such breaches of public trust? Judging from all of the seven invited representatives at Part Two of a Nov. 23, 2010, Yale Forum titled “Scientists and Journalists on Lessons Learned
[from the ClimateGate e-mail release],” not very much at all.
Curtis Brainard of the Columbia Journalism Review observed: I’d say that most journalists didn’t learn anything from the ‘ClimateGate’ and IPCC-errors ‘pseudo scandals’…those events only served to confuse editors and reporters.” He was less confused about motives behind the reporting of those events, stating, “The New York Times
had a great front-page story about climate denial being an ‘article of faith’ for the Tea Party, which made it clear that the group’s climate politics are not synchronous with climate science.”
Richard Harris from NPR believed that ClimateGate reporting “was not a product of journalism, but activism…crafted by people with a desired objective.”
Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker agreed with both Brainard and Harris: “The obvious lesson of faux scandals like ‘ClimateGate’ is that they tend to be created by groups or individuals with their own agendas, and journalists ought to be very wary about covering them.”
Eric Pooley of Bloomberg Businessweek also dismissed the legitimacy and importance of the e-mail revelations. “When the next climate scandalette comes along,” he said, “some news organizations will surely play to hype and get carried away with their coverage- in effect, becoming a handy transmission belt for the professional deniers.”
Does anyone else detect any indication of media bias here? Maybe it’s just me.
But consider a much larger issue. Whatever our individual political orientations or climate views, let’s all recognize that it is a very big deal indeed when key professionals entrusted with important science and reporting responsibilities betray our trust. Think about government policy impacts involving many billions of dollars that are influenced by false premises, including regulatory standards and budgets attached to energy, environmental, science and education programs. Try to imagine but a few of the sweeping impacts of bad science upon our national economy and daily lives.
So where is responsible journalism in all of this? All too often the mainstream is very far downstream in channeled disregard of abuses. The combined Bernard Madoff and Enron hoaxes did far less national damage yet received a whole lot more media attention.