--
 

July 28, 2014

Key Documents

 
 
 
 

Get the Newsletter

Newsletter Archives

 
 
 

Climategate: The Dust from the Exposure of Post-Normal Science at Work Just Won’t Settle, No Matter How Much True Believers Wish it Would

By E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D.

People right at the top of the pecking order of alarmist climate-change “scientists” know exactly what they’re doing—post-normal science, not real science.

Consider Mike Hulme, founding director of the Tyndall Centre and Professor of Climate Change (note that title—not of climate, but of climate change) at the University of East Anglia, home of the Climatic Research Unit, of Climategate infamy. Climategate was the release of thousands of emails, computer codes, and other documents among leading climate alarmist scientists that revealed that they were fabricating, exaggerating, cherry picking, and suppressing data, intimidating dissenting scientists, blackballing journal editors willing to publish the dissenters, corrupting the peer review process, refusing to share data and code with fellow scientists on request even when required to by the journals in which they published, and violating American and British Freedom of Information Acts. Climategate has contributed considerably to the decline in public belief in dangerous manmade global warming.

The author of Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction, and Opportunity, Hulme prepared climate-change scenarios and reports for the British government, the European Commission, the United Nations Environment Program, the United Nations Population Division, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (as a lead author for the chapter on “Climate scenario development” for the 2001 Assessment Report and a contributing author on several other chapters), and the World Wildlife Fund.

When Climategate first broke, Hulme published a brief little statement that, in retrospect, has turned out to be pretty much whistling in the dark. Judith Curry (Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, made much thoughtful comments at the time (here, here, and here), showing that she perceived the deep, perhaps mortal, wound Climategate would make in the credibility of anthropogenic climate change alarmism.

Lately Hulme and his student Martin Mahoney wrote a review article (PDF) for the journal Progress in Physical Geography that conceded more than Hulme seems to have wanted to concede. The critically important text is on pp. 9-10:

Since its origins, the IPCC has been open and explicit about seeking to generate a ‘scientific consensus’ around climate change and especially about the role of humans in climate change. Yet this has been a source of both strength and vulnerability for the IPCC. Understanding consensus as a process of ‘truth creation’ (or the more nuanced ‘knowledge production’) which marginalises dissenting voices – as has frequently been portrayed by some of the IPCC’s critics (see Edwards & Schneider, 2001; Petersen, 2010) – does not do justice to the process.

Consensus-building in fact serves several different goals. As Horst and Irwin (2010) have explained, seeking consensus can be as much about building a community identity – what Haas (1992) refers to as an epistemic community – as it is about seeking the ‘truth’. Equally, as Yearley (2009) explains, IPCC consensus-making is an exercise in collective judgement about subjective (or Bayesian) likelihoods in areas of uncertain knowledge. Consensus-making in the IPCC has been largely driven by the desire to communicate climate science coherently to a wide spectrum of policy users – ‘to construct knowledge’ (Weingart, 1999) - but in so doing communicating uncertainties have been down-played (van der Sluijs, 1998). As Oppenheimer et al. (2007: 1506) remark: “The establishment of consensus by the IPCC is no longer as critical to governments as [is] a full exploration of uncertainty.”

Without a careful explanation about what it means, this drive for consensus can leave the IPCC vulnerable to outside criticism. Claims such as ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’ are disingenuous. That particular consensus judgement, as are many others in the IPCC reports, is reached by only a few dozen experts in the specific field of detection and attribution studies; other IPCC authors are experts in other fields. But consensus-making can also lead to criticism for being too conservative, as Hansen (2007) has most visibly argued. Was the IPCC AR4 too conservative in reaching its consensus about future sea-level rise? Many glaciologists and oceanographers think they were (Kerr, 2007; Rahmstorf, 2010), leading to what Hansen attacks as ‘scientific reticence’. Solomon et al. (2008) offer a robust defence, stating that far from reaching a premature consensus, the AR4 report stated that in fact no consensus could be reached on the magnitude of the possible fast ice-sheet melt processes that some fear could lead to 1 or 2 metres of sea-level rise this century. Hence these processes were not included in the quantitative estimates.

Lawrence Solomon, author of The Deniers, Fully Revised: The World-Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution and Fraud, picked up on the paper and blogged about it, saying:

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change misled the press and public into believing that thousands of scientists backed its claims on manmade global warming, according to Mike Hulme, a prominent climate scientist and IPCC insider.  The actual number of scientists who backed that claim was “only a few dozen experts,” he states in a paper for Progress in Physical Geography, co-authored with student Martin Mahony.

“Claims such as ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’ are disingenuous,” the paper states unambiguously, adding that they rendered “the IPCC vulnerable to outside criticism.”

Hulme, Professor of Climate Change in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia –  the university of Climategate fame — is the founding Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and one of the UK’s most prominent climate scientists. Among his many roles in the climate change establishment, Hulme was the IPCC’s co-ordinating Lead Author for its chapter on ‘Climate scenario development’ for its Third Assessment Report and a contributing author of several other chapters.

Hulme’s depiction of IPCC’s exaggeration of the number of scientists who backed its claim about man-made climate change can be found on pages 10 and 11 of his paper, found here.

Hulme took umbrage and thought to correct Solomon with this statement:

Various newspaper and internet blogs are reporting me as saying that the IPCC has ‘misled the press and public into believing that thousands of scientists backed its claims on manmade global warming’ whereas in fact only ‘a few dozen experts’ did so. This story emanates from an article, in press with Progress in Physical Geography and posted on my website http://mikehulme.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Hulme-Mahony-PiPG.pdf, which reviews 20 years of published literature on the nature of the IPCC and its functions and governance. The relevant section from this paper is the following, which is part of a longer discussion about the nature of uncertainty and consensus in the IPCC assessments.

“Without a careful explanation about what [consensus] means, this drive for consensus can leave the IPCC vulnerable to outside criticism. Claims such as ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’ are disingenuous. That particular consensus judgement, as are many others in the IPCC reports, is reached by only a few dozen experts in the specific field of detection and attribution studies; other IPCC authors are experts in other fields. But consensus-making can also lead to criticism for being too conservative, as Hansen (2007) has most visibly argued.”

Three things should be clear from this. First, I did not say the ‘IPCC misleads’ anyone – it is claims that are made by other commentators, such as the caricatured claim I offer in the paper, that have the potential to mislead. Second, they have a potential to mislead if they give the impression that every statement in IPCC reports is ‘signed off’ by every IPCC author and reviewer. Patently they are not, and cannot. Third, it is the chapter lead authors – say 10 to 20 experts - on detection and attribution who craft the sentence about detection and attribution, which is then scrutinised and vetted by reviewers and government officials. Similarly, statements about what may happen to the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) of the ocean are crafted by those expert in ocean science, statements about future sea-level rise by sea-level experts, and so on.

The point of this bit of our article was to draw attention to the need for a more nuanced understanding of what an IPCC ‘consensus’ is – as I say: “Without a careful explanation about what it means, this drive for consensus can leave the IPCC vulnerable to outside criticism.” The IPCC consensus does not mean – clearly cannot possibly mean – that every scientist involved in the IPCC process agrees with every single statement in the IPCC! Some scientists involved in the IPCC did not agree with the IPCC’s projections of future sea-level. Giving the impression that the IPCC consensus means everyone agrees with everyone else – as I think some well-meaning but uninformed commentaries do (or have a tendency to do) – is unhelpful; it doesn’t reflect the uncertain, exploratory and sometimes contested nature of scientific knowledge.

But as Solomon pointed out in reply,

. . . Hulme provided a convoluted response on his own blog site, in an attempt to counter my blog.
He should instead take his own advice, which he had given to the IPCC in his paper: Don’t be disingenuous, because it makes you vulnerable to criticism.

Let me dissect Hulme’s rebuttal (which you can see in full, here).

Hulme says: Various newspaper and internet blogs are reporting me as saying that the IPCC has ‘misled the press and public into believing that thousands of scientists backed its claims on manmade global warming’ whereas in fact only ‘a few dozen experts’ did so. … I did not say the ‘IPCC misleads’ anyone.

Solomon responds: Hulme stated in his paper that the IPCC had been “disingenuous” in making claims “such as ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’” when the correct number was “only a few dozen experts.” Seems clear to me that misleading has been going on. You can read Hulme’s paper here (pages 10 and 11 have the quotes in question) and decide for yourself.

Hulme says: it is claims that are made by other commentators, such as the caricatured claim I offer in the paper, that have the potential to mislead.

Solomon responds: Hulme is correct in noting that the caricatured claims that “2500 scientists” endorsed the man-made global warming potential have the potential to mislead. Indeed, that caricature has arguably misled more people than any other claim in human history. However, the source of that caricature, which for so long so thoroughly fooled the majority of the press and public, was the IPCC itself – in the IPCC`s own public relations documents. Hulme’s paper correctly identifies the IPCC as the source of this misinformation at the top of page 11, when he identifies it and other misleading claims as coming from “IPCC reports.” To see the IPCC touting its 2500 scientists, look here.

Judging from the reactions on the blogosphere, Hulme has embarrassed himself and his climate change colleagues, leaving him with two broad choices.

To minimize further embarrassment for his colleagues, he can simply do what other scientists have done when they’ve felt the pressure of the climate change establishment: Recant.

Alternatively, to minimize further embarrassment for himself, he can stop digging himself deeper into the hole in which he finds himself.

Hulme’s attempt to correct and clarify Solomon fails, for reasons Solomon makes obvious. The difference between what Hulme and his student wrote (“Claims such as ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’ are disingenuous. That particular consensus judgement, as are many others in the IPCC reports . . .” [emphasis added]) and what Hulme claims is their “clarification” (“I did not say the ‘IPCC misleads’ anyone – it is claims that are made by other commentators, such as the caricatured claim I offer in the paper, that have the potential to mislead” [emphasis added].) is so obvious as to rise to the level of outright contradiction.

What Solomon has not pointed out is the philosophical—specifically the epistemological—underpinning of Hulme’s (and many other climate alarmists’) whole approach to climate change debate: post-normal science, the postmodernist, deconstructionist impostor masquerading as science. I wrote on that at Cornwall’s blog here, picking up on a stunning piece by British blogger Kevin McGrane, published before Climategate broke into the news. Hulme’s response to Solomon is itself an exercise in the central tactics of post-normal science: obfuscate, obscure, circle the wagons.

Now Independent Institute President David Theroux has joined the discussion with a significant blog piece that recognizes the connections and provides extensive, damning quotations from Hulme’s Why We Disagree about Climate Change and his article “The Appliance of Science,” demonstrating his commitment to and use of post-normal science.

Climategate is really the exposure of post-normal science at work. The most perceptive analyses of it published to date are Steven Mosher and Thomas Fuller’s Climategate: The CRUtape Letters and A. W. Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science. Those who want a thorough understanding of how “climate science” got so corrupted cannot afford to miss those books.

logo