Sunday, February 26, 2012

Science or politics?

Today, in talking about Jack Kelly's column, I was going to make a long comparison between economics and Climate Change as fields of science. (economics being complicated and worthy of debate, Climate Change considered settled by those actually in the field), but I think you are smart enough to already understand the topic (and just dissecting Kelly's column takes long enough, sorry). Jack Kelly is counting on you to just accept what he says, and not do any research of your own

Kelly writes today a column titled “The great ‘warmist’ caper”, about the Heartland Institute document controversy, and essentially all his assertions are at least questionable, not to say outright lies. First, what motivated this column is that an anonymous source emailed a document on a strategy to Climate science, supposedly from the Heartland Institute, to Peter Gleick. Gleick decided to try to verify the document by posing as a Heartland board member, and request documents from the last board meeting. Gleick then forwarded those Heartland board documents to climate concerned blogs/websites. Heartland was infuriated and Gleick came forward after a few days and admitted what he had done and apologized. And pretty much everyone agrees the original document was a fake, by the way.

A quick aside, Kelly mentions that the (fake) document "included plans for "dissuading (K-12 teachers) from teaching science."" While as I said many agree the document mailed to Gleick is a fake, there must be other mentions of plans concerning K-12 education. The AP investigated and found the "expert" who is designing a curriculum for schools suggesting "teaching both sides of the science, more science, not less." The AP then quotes Harry Lambright, a Syracuse University public policy professor who specializes in environment, science and technology issues "Scientifically there is no controversy. Politically, there is a controversy because there are political interest groups making it a controversy,".

People concerned with Climate Change and policy understandably talked about the Heartland documents, but Gleick initially acted alone (I don’t think the anonymous source of the fake counts). The sub-title of Kelly’s column is “Global warming activists get caught conniving”. To connive is defined as both “Secretly allow (something considered immoral, illegal, or harmful) to occur” and “Conspire to do something considered immoral, illegal, or harmful”. Gleick was not exposed, he came forward on his own, and he acted alone. Where’s the conniving?

Kelly starts his column talking about how the people who believe Climate Change is real see the Heartland Institute documents as the “Climategate” of the deniers. This is a false premise in a couple of respects. First, people who study the issue and believe climate change is real were not persuaded by the claims the deniers made. Some people whose political views are shaped by 30 second TV news reports may well have been confused by the claims of the deniers about Climategate, but experts agreed Climategate proved nothing about science, only that scientists are casual in emails they think are private (like all of us). Second, no one who thinks Climate Change is real thinks that the Heartland documents would have any impact on the science concerning the Climate. One could say that the Heartland Institute has nothing to do with science, it is entirely about politics, specifically the politics of misinformation and confusion.

Kelly doubles down by quoting Michael Mann, the person behind the now infamous “hockey stick” graph. Mann says essentially that the documents confirm Heartland is funded by oil interests and right wing billionaires. Kelly proceeds to attack Mann’s character and how good a scientist he is. Kelly asserts the National Academy of Science states little confidence in Mann’s data and even less (than little!) in Mann’s conclusions that the 1990’s were the warmest decade for a thousand years.. Well, the actual report actually finds Dr. Mann’s conclusions “plausible” and states the “conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes the additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and documentation of the spatial coherence of recent warming described above (Cook et al. 2004, Moberg et al. 2005b, Rutherford et al. 2005, D’Arrigo et al. 2006, Osborn and Briffa 2006, Wahl and Ammann in press) and also the pronounced changes in a variety of local proxy indicators described in previous chapters (e.g., Thompson et al. in press).”. Judge for yourself.

Kelly also quotes an email from Phil Jones of East Anglia exposed in the Climategate scandal that mentions Mann. Once again, investigative panels found nothing in the Climategate emails that changed the scientific consensus on Climate Change.

Kelly turns to the Heartland scandal and Peter Gleick. Kelly quotes Andrew Revkin, who is very critical of Gleick. The interesting thing is how seriously those who support the scientific view of Climate Change take ethical charges. Read all of Revkin’s column, including the end where Revkin says “It’s enormously creditable that Peter Gleick has owned up to his terrible error in judgment.”. Revikin also points out “The only people I see out there in the climate fight who – as far as I can tell — never admit to an error are people with agendas from which they can never stray. They’re perfect.”. He could about be talking about Jack Kelly.

Kelly then mentions an LA Times editorial about Heartland that suggests that deniers engage in a "big" lie, and uses a quote from "Mein Kampf" to describe it. This is of course red meat for deniers like Kelly and other deniers. Kelly states ""The impacts of global warming are already patently obvious," the paper's editorial board said. But if this were true, warmists wouldn't need to fabricate evidence."

Kelly then turns to Fritz Vahrenholt as his proof of fabricated evidence. He says Vahrenholt is "to Germany what James Hansen of NASA, the original global warming alarmist, is to the United States.". In fact, Vanrenholt is a chemist who works for energy companies, who admits he is not not expert in climate science. He is one of those people with agendas, from whom he can not stray no matter what reality is.

It is not exactly clear to me what Kelly wants from us. I guess in true cognitively dissonant fashion he wants Congress to dismantle the EPA, cancel any restrictions on drilling for oil and give away all mineral and drilling rights on public lands to energy corporations. The National Academy of Science sees Climate Change as settled facts, apparently Kelly sees climate change denial as settled facts. Whose opinion do you want to accept, especially in the light of Kelly's repeated distortion of facts and other people's statements?

Actually, the real question is why the Post-Gazette puts up with Jack Kelly.

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