February 8, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Climate Flap Echoes Political Divide

Reactions to a whistleblower’s statements raise the possibility that the climate-science consensus is largely political, not empirical.

Note: The subject of man-caused climate change is off topic for CEH except as it bears on the philosophy of science: issues of how non-empirical factors, such as culture, ideology and politics influence the scientific consensus. There is no question to observers of the debate that the pro-AGW side is composed primarily of people who are liberal, globalist, and environmentalist in ideology, while “deniers” (as they are dismissively labeled) are predominantly conservative, nationalist, and free-market people. These divisions track the evolution-vs-creation issue remarkably well, though it must be stated that any large data set is subject to deviations and outliers. For this reason, the responses of both sides to this latest flap are instructive.

About three years ago, climate scientists were puzzled over a 15-year “hiatus” in the expected global warming. They freely admitted the hiatus showed up in their data (10/24/13, 8/25/14). Then in June 2015, suddenly, some scientists from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) found a “correction” in their data that made the hiatus disappear. Secular reporters made a big to-do over the “pausebuster” paper in Science, because “climate skeptics” had intercepted the hiatus ball and ran with it, trying to score empirical touchdowns for their side. Armed with new support for the belief that anthropenic global warming (AGW) was right all along, the climate community took their interpretations to Paris, helping nations set goals to cut back carbon emissions on the grounds that the science demanded it. Now, however, a recently-retired insider from NOAA named John Bates is accusing authors of the 2015 paper, led by federal scientist Thomas Karl, of “cooking the books” under pressure from the Obama administration in order to further the political goals of the climate community. This news erupted on the web within the last few days, re-invigorating the AGW skeptics and sending the consensus scrambling for a response. The story, including allegations of political shenanigans that went on in 2015, is told on Fox News.

Karl’s neglect of the IPCC data was purposeful, according to John Bates, a recently retired scientist from the National Climactic Data Center at the NOAA. Bates came forward just days ago to charge that the 2015 study selectively used misleading and unverified data – effectively putting NOAA’s thumb on the scale.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Bates said Karl was “insisting on decisions and scientific choices that maximized warming and minimized documentation… in an effort to discredit the notion of a global warming pause, rushed so that he could time publication to influence national and international deliberations on climate policy.

John Bates posted his criticisms in a blog entry and says more revelations are coming.

The response to the alleged scandal has been swift and stern. Secular reporters – the same ones who refuse to question Darwinism, and who consistently abjure creationism and intelligent design – have locked arms with the climate consensus. [Note: as of this writing, we are awaiting responses from Nature, Science, and other organizations; there is no response from NOAA on their website.]

  • Despite Whistleblower’s Concerns, Climate Change Study Called Sound (Laura Geggel at Live Science)
  • Major Global Warming Study Again Questioned, Again Defended (Seth Borenstein and Michael Biesecker, Associated Press via ABC News)

On what grounds are the reporters defending the consensus? As recently as January 4, there were suspicions NOAA had tossed out reliable measurements from buoys. Laura Geggel argued on Live Science that an independent check by Zeke Hausfather corroborated the anti-hiatus results. “Forget about global warming pause — it doesn’t exist,” she headlined, concluding that “the NOAA researchers were right all along.” That was on January 4, before Bates accused NOAA.

After Bates published his blog on Feb 4 and the news hit the fan at the Daily Mail, Geggel notes that the story “quickly made its way around the internet.” But then she relies entirely on Hausfather’s response, making it a Bates vs. Hausfather story. Borenstein and Biesecker at the Associated Press also used Hausfather’s testimony, but went further, investigating the opinions of more experts, including the publisher of the 2015 Science paper. “What is being touted as a scientific scandal,” they conclude, “is more about data handling than what rising temperatures show, according to phone and email interviews with more than two dozen experts on the issue, including the former government scientist, whose blogging Saturday reignited a debate.” They also contacted Bates directly.

Bates said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press that he was most concerned about the way data was handled, documented and stored, raising issues of transparency and availability. He said Karl didn’t follow the more than 20 crucial data storage and handling steps that Bates created for NOAA. He said it looked like the June 2015 study was pushed out to influence the December 2015 climate treaty negotiations in Paris.

Contra that opinion, the 2015 editor of Science says that paper was not rushed. Borenstein and Biesecker, to further justify the consensus, claim that data corrections and handling procedures would not change the conclusions, and that Bates himself believes in AGW. Bates denied to the AP that anyone ‘tampered’ with the data or did anything ‘malicious.’ Yet many conservatives who deal with the mainstream media regularly are well aware of reporters’ propensity to twist impressions through selective quoting.*

The Associated Press interviewed more than two dozen experts by phone or email. Most agreed with Karl or didn’t take a side but said it didn’t matter because global warming continues regardless of this latest kerfuffle. Two supported Bates, saying there were serious scientific integrity concerns.

Yet this is an argument from authority wrapped in a bandwagon. Who were these experts? What biases did they have? Is two dozen a good enough sample? (See fallacy of statistics.) It’s to be expected that “experts” will side with the consensus: that is, if they want to keep their jobs (Bates came forward after safely retiring). Actually, it’s surprising that they found as many as two willing to sound an alarm about “serious scientific integrity concerns.” And the editor of Science is unlikely to admit a goof. The AP basically dished out the same kind of response Darwinians give: All the experts agree with evolution. Sure there is an occasional ‘kerfuffle’ now and then, some occasional ‘bickering’ about the details, but despite the latest ‘hubbub,’ all scientists agree: evolution is a fact.

On Feb 6, Judith Currey has responded to criticisms of Bates’s allegations on the Climate Etc. blog, defending his statements and calling for a full investigation, including emails from the parties. She quotes Bates who provided point-by-point rebuttals to all the critiques of his blog and what he said in the Daily Mail interview. Her post is followed by hundreds of responses pro and con from other climate scientists, many of them expressing concern about scientific integrity.

Update Feb 10: Judith Curry posted another statement on the Climate Etc. blog. She expresses support for the consensus on AGW, but questions the amount of human contribution to warming. Nothing further is stated about the ‘hiatus’ in her latest post. Again, her views touched off a lively argument in the Comments. The only other news story comes from New Scientist. Since it is co-authored by Michael Mann, one of the loudest proponents of AGW, it isn’t surprising that he considers the Bates criticism “thoroughly debunked.” Here’s his ending rhetoric: “For unlike the scientists they are criticising, they don’t care about scientific truth. They care only about advancing their political agenda.” We don’t suppose Michael Mann has any political agenda at all. For balance, read what columnist Mark Steyn thinks of his sci cred.

Notice how many of the arguments by climate defenders are non-empirical. It’s one person’s word against another. It’s the opinion of experts. It’s about who is more trustworthy. It’s about “scientific truth,” and anyone who disagrees with us is a denier, is funded by Exxon or has a political agenda. The only proper conclusion should be grounded in unambiguous empirical data, but that may be scientifically impossible (see “What is the temperature of the Earth?, 1/16/15). As this story is still unfolding, we will provide updates as they become available. “We can look forward to more revelations from John Bates, including documentation, plus more detailed responses to some of the issues raised above,” Curry says. As of Feb. 9, we don’t see further responses from Big Science journals. It may be they are trying to ignore it, telling the public, “Move along now; nothing to see here.”


*MEDIA BIAS. Recently, presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway remarked that she expected that out of an hour-long interview, reporters would only lift about one sentence for publication. I can relate. The AP’s coverage of my JPL trial in 2012 was geared to make me look bad, not to emphasize the merits of the case. I learned about media bias the hard way after a pleasant conversation with a local TV reporter outside the courtroom. He warmed me up with nice smiles and a pleasant manner, lowering my guard. Later, I saw that the station selected four words of a several-minute conversation to put on TV that made it seem I was acknowledging I was at fault. I had just spent several minutes answering his questions about the trial, when he asked, “David, you don’t think you did everything right, do you?” My answer: “Well, I’m not perfect, but I think I had a great record as an employee and didn’t deserve the treatment I got” or something along those lines. Here’s how it came out on TV that night: after they showed JPL’s lawyers alleging what a bad employee I was, they showed me saying, “Well, I’m not perfect…” Those were literally the only words of mine they aired. That’s just one method by which reporters can cut and paste anything to fit their narrative. Consequently, I wouldn’t trust the AP’s response to this story, much less the word of Laura Geggel, a leftist, Darwinian consensus-apparatchik, who uses evolution to rationalize abortion and every kind of sexual deviation. —DC

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  • C Gieschen says:

    Read the Snopes account of this last night. They make a compelling case that this is much ado about nothing. Can someone prove them wrong?

    • Editor says:

      Judith Curry has another post on Feb 10. Read it and the comments. She is not denying AGW, but leaves room for doubt about the amount of human culpability. Not sure about Bates; he seems to have backpedaled. I would just be aware that there could be tremendous pressure against whistleblowers when Big Science peer pressure and Big Government money are involved.

      What we try to do at CEH is report primarily from mainstream journals and let the reader decide. Quite often we report new findings about factors that were not included in IPCC models. Together these factors seem significant enough to cast some doubt on the oft-touted 98% agreement by climate scientists. We also retain skepticism that science can have that level of certainty about any matter of the unobservable past and the far future. And like we report here, the fact that consensus vs skepticism tends to track political lines (as it does with Darwinism) is concerning.

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