Monday, June 28, 2010

Commenting on lists and name-calling

Well, last week Marc Morano posted my email on his climatedepot website and his email blast, in the process of comparing me to the Stasi (secret police of the former East German one-party-rule Communist regime.) Over the past week I've had a stream of hostile emails in response.

Here I re-post an earlier reply I gave at Joe Romm's ever lively and thought-provoking site www.climateprogress.org:

As for web lists of statement signers: thanks Michael Tobis for saying it better than I ever could. Every list I compiled was from a statement already posted on the web. All the links are on my page of list sources
http://www.eecg.utoronto.ca/ ~prall/ climate/ list_sources.html

As for Marc Morano’s attempt to Swiftboat this as “Stasi-esque”: what amazing gall! He’s famous for having built a long list of climate skeptics during his term with Sen. Inhofe. Hypocrite! Why wasn’t that list “Stasi-esque?” Just because he agreed with their “side”?
Nothing in our PNAS paper justifies comparisons to the Stasi. We don’t *say* anyone should persecute or blacklist signers of either type of statement, because of course we *don’t believe* that. (Hard to believe I’m even having to say this at all.) What we say is that the media should consider people’s qualifications and standing (oooh!)
The only other way to spin this into something sinister is to argue that someone evil *might use* the lists to persecute people regardless of our intentions. That seems to be the main theme at Roger Pielke Jr’s blog.

That objection of what someone might do with the list really falls down on the point Michael makes so well, that all the source lists I compiled were already on the web. Anyone who could misuse my list could just as well have found the same names on the original sources, or many of the same names plus many more on Morano’s list – and not all on his list by choice.

Morano publicized his list relentlessly, and listed many more names as skeptics than I have. Morano also tended to quotemine, leading to false positives where the person in question would protest their inclusion as unrepresentative of their actual views, yet Morano would refuse to take them off. He’d just point to the mined quote he had, ignoring anything the source might say about being taken out of context or trying to tell him what their actual views are.

If the fear is that someone biased against supporters of one “side” could focus their bias on people on a list, why was it okay for Morano to subject people to that risk with his list? Was Morano’s list “Stasi-esque” as well? If not, why not?

Thanks again to those offering supportive comments on the PNAS paper. Since Morano published my email and compared me to the Stasi, let’s just say I’ve had a stream of unfriendly responses. (Oddly, people keep sending me really weak arguments like “there is no greenhouse effect” or predicting global cooling.)


That's the end of my posting on climateprogress. Site host Joe Romm aptly commented:

[JR: Remember, Morano publicly stated how he believes climate scientists should be treated: “I seriously believe we should kick them while they’re down,” he said. “They deserve to be publicly flogged.” He proudly linked to that interview on his blog.
]

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Early reactions to Anderegg et al in PNAS

I'm the second author on the article "Expert Credibility in Climate Change" just out yesterday at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/06/04/1003187107.abstract. It's been written up several places, and is quickly making the rounds on the web, attracting a lot of comment and critique. I'll try to address questions or challenges here as I get time.


Today I received email from an author in Germany who said he was on the Stasi's list under the G.D.R (a horrific world, one that we who've never been there can scarcely imagine.)

I wanted to address his concern about my online list. Here's what I wrote:

Dear Dr. _______,


I can't imagine what it must have been like to live in the shadow of the
Stasi. I would never want to see anything like that take place today. At
least now Germany is one country again and is a democracy, and I think a
good example of it as well. I admire the mixed-member proportional
system you have. Here in Canada we have winner-takes-all voting, and our
Green Party has never won a seat in Parliament despite polling over 11%
of the national vote. There is a group here promoting a change to such
an MMP system, though we are having trouble getting people to think
about this with so many other concerns on the agenda, especially the
economy.

As for seeing my listings as some kind of "blacklist" - I'm quite
disappointed that people are viewing it in that light; that was never my
intention. I've only listed those whose names were already on an
existing public declaration, available on the web, and I list people who
signed affirmative statements as well (may we never see a day where any
government would persecute members of either group for their opinions!)

I want the media to understand who has really researched climate and who
has not. Conversely, I certainly don't want to silence or exclude anyone
from civil policy debate; no one of us has all the answers on what
policies we should adopt to prepare for the future, and I do want to
hear from others on their views. The policy process must be democratic,
even though that can be painfully slow. In the U.S. there is a
distressingly strong role for corporate spending on political campaigns,
with no limits at all since their Supreme Court's recent "Citizens
United" case. Companies like Exxon can dominate the discourse, leaving
ordinary citizen's voices little heard. Here again I think most European
countries have far more rational approaches to campaign spending laws. I
see corporate spending power and P.R. tricks as a more immediate threat
to the common good than actual (state) censorship of free expression.
Currently our major democracies have fairly good laws against state
censorship, which courts defend actively.

I believe that rational public action to prepare for a future without
fossil fuels is one key to keeping prosperity and peace, and avoiding
the prospect of conflicts over scarce and declining non-renewable energy
sources. Again, Germany is far ahead of either Canada or the U.S. in
making those sensible preparations. The professor just down the hall
from me works on thin-film solar panels; the joint-venture company
developing his technologies opened their factory in Bischoswerda in the
former GDR thanks to strong support from the German government.


[ I see I mis-spelled "Bischofswerda" in the email. Oops. Here's their WP page:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bischofswerda ]

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pesky scientists - so annoying!

Scientists can be a real nuisance. They use big words, and act all smart and everything. Then they come around and tell us scary stuff like dangers we never even knew were there: radioactivity and cancer-causing chemicals and UV rays and nicotine. What a bunch of spoil-sports.

Plus, they are often very hard to pin down - we pick up some story (or rumour) about a new danger, and try as reporters to get their take on it, but as often as not, they can't even give a simple yes or no answer. It's all "likely" this and "probable" that, and "statistically significant" or "balance of the evidence" or whatever. Lots of "on the other hand" until you just don't have enough hands, or even fingers, to count the different angles they want to look at.

Now and then I think we'd almost rather not have those black and white answers that scientists hate to give. Take global warming, for example: if this is real, it's going to be quite a nuisance -- 'inconvenient,' so to speak. I mean, think about our lifestyle! It could cramp our ability to drive vehicles as big as some people's houses for personal security and -- let's face it -- ego gratification. I think a lot of us would just rather not know.

So now, we have to deal with scientists who keep coming out and saying 'yes, this is a real problem' - over and over again. They keep putting out declarations and open letters telling the world that our greenhouse gas emissions are already changing the climate, and forecasting that the problem has to get a lot worse if we keep on at the current rate. This is the problem with the IPCC - behind all the "very likelys" and "probables," they basically say the same thing: this is a real problem. This same theme keeps coming up in declarations signed by thousands of scientists - over 5000 of them, on eight statements issued since December 2009.

Okay, scientists, now you're just starting to scare us. You're also sounding uncharacteristically decisive. Those of us who aren't comfortable with your message may have to do something about this. Here are some of our options:
  • call your views "alarmist"
  • claim you are now too unified, so this must be 'group-think' and you're just bullying the numerous dissenters that we can't seem to find 
  • find the handful of you who don't see the problem, and get them on TV a lot - a whole lot
  • take out full-page ads in the NYT saying you are wrong, signed by over 100 non-experts
  • get Rush Limbaugh to call you "socialists" and imply you want the UN to run everything
  • host a string of anti-conferences with lots of non-experts, to make you look less convincing
  • if all else fails, we can turn to Fox News!