Richard Betts, a UK climate scientist, has written an article about the recent paper by Stephan Lewandowsky and co, which I wrote about in Part I of this series, and referred to in Part II. Well it's not actually about the paper. It's Richard's interpretation of the paper based on his reading of a blog article Stephan wrote about the paper. It could be argued that it is evidence supporting the findings of the paper.
Correction: In the comments, Richard says that he did read the paper before he wrote his article. (I don't know how missed all the things he missed or why he got so much so wrong or why he appeared to write about the blog article and not the paper.) - Sou 6:48 pm Thursday 14 May 2015
I first saw Richard's article at WUWT and was very surprised to see it there. It turns out though, that Richard wrote his article for ATTP's blog. It was only when that rabid anti-Lewandowsky-ite, Barry Woods, asked him that he acquiesced and agreed to it being reposted on Anthony Watts' blog. That's despite the dreadful treatment dished out from WUWT when Richard's last article was published there. Here's the WUWT version - archived. Or better still, you can read it at ATTP's blog.
A strange approach for a scientist to take
Richard took a strange approach for a scientist. Strange because he wrote an article criticising a paper that he hadn't even bothered to read. It's one thing for bloggers like me to write about a paper based on the press release, though I try to avoid doing that where possible. And I make a special effort not to do that if I am disputing the paper. It's quite another thing for a climate scientist to criticise a paper they haven't read, particularly a paper about climate science. [See correction above - Sou]
In his article, Richard Betts quoted Stephan Lewandowsky, not his paper, but his blog article, writing:
They assert that “on previous occasions when decadal warming was particularly rapid, the scientific community did not give short-term climate variability the attention it has recently received”.
Richard didn't write that in context. What he glossed over was:
Crucially, on previous occasions when decadal warming was particularly rapid, the scientific community did not give short-term climate variability the attention it has recently received, when decadal warming was slower. During earlier rapid warming there was no additional research effort directed at explaining ‘catastrophic’ warming. By contrast, the recent modest decrease in the rate of warming has elicited numerous articles and special issues of leading journals and it has been (mis-)labeled as a ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus’. We suggest that this asymmetry in response to fluctuations in the decadal warming trend likely reflects the ‘seepage’ of contrarian memes into scientific work.
Richard is perplexed...
Richard then wrote, as if he felt he had to defend climate scientists: "This assertion, however, is incorrect. Short-term climate variability did receive a lot of attention in the 1990s ..." and went on to cite some examples, before writing: "It is perplexing that Lewandowsky et al do not seem to be aware of this research on short-term climate variability." and coming up with some reasons for why these authors, which included climate scientists, might have got it wrong - or so he thought.
What is more perplexing than Richard being perplexed about something that he mistakenly thought was in the paper he was supposedly writing about though he hadn't read the paper, is that Richard entertained the notion that a climate scientist like James Risbey did not know that short term climate variability received a lot of attention in the 1990s. James has written papers going way back, with titles including:
- On the limitations of general circulation climate models (GRL 1990)
- A Case Study of the Adequacy of GCM Simulations for Input to Regional Climate Change Assessments (J Climate 1996)
- Representing and communicating deep uncertainty in climate-change assessments (Comptes Rendus Geoscience 2005)
- and many more.
...because he got it wrong
Thing is, it was Richard who got it wrong. The authors would be very well aware of scientific research going back in time. They were not arguing that there wasn't any research into short term climate variability. What they were referring to was the fact that the type of attention paid to short term variability over the period since 1998 (the so-called "hiatus") - and the way it was framed - was shaped to a great degree by deniers, not by science itself.
Reading the blog passage out of context of the paper itself, I can perhaps see how Richard has missed the point and misunderstood what Stephan Lewandowsky was getting at. Richard would have done better to read the paper. Stephan invited people to get the paper so Richard really has no excuse for not doing so. I'm being generous.
SCAMs: Uncertainty, Trust and Apparent Disagreements
I'm being extra gentle with Richard, in part because he's such a nice bloke (if misguided when it comes to communicating with the anti-science brigade), and in part because of something else that Lewandowsky15 mentioned. That is, how disagreement among scientists is even worse than specifying statistical uncertainty (ie probability), in terms of people having doubts about science. From the paper, where the authors discuss SCAMs (Scientific Certainty Argumentation Methods):
There are several known psychological factors that can explain why SCAMs can be an effective tool in public debate to delay policy action. Perhaps the most inhibiting type of uncertainty arises from conflicts or apparent disagreements among scientists. Smithson (1999) demonstrated that conflicting estimates from experts generate more severe doubts in participants’ minds than agreed but imprecise estimates. Conflicting estimates also tend to decrease trust in the experts.
So I've toned down this article. ...
... a lot (really, I did)
... now I'll tone it up again.
Breaking every rule...
Richard could have read the paper before he ventured to criticise it. He didn't. He could have thought twice or thrice before allowing it to be published at WUWT, and could have said "no". He didn't. He's set about breaking every rule in the "how to talk to a fake sceptic" handbook. (He could have enrolled in the Denier 101 MOOC - did he? I suspect not.) Would he write a review of a physical (climate) science paper without first reading the paper? I don't know. If he did he'd probably get a bit of flak from the authors.
[See correction up top. In the comments Richard says that he did read the paper before writing his article. The question now becomes: why then did he get so many fundamental things so wrong? - Sou Thursday 14 May 2015]
As I said, Richard missed the point. The authors were not claiming that there wasn't any research into the different causes of warming in previous times. In Part II of this series, I quote from the IPCC TAR where scientists explain that some of the rapid warming was because of the "sharp increase in the positive phase of the winter half year North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)/Arctic Oscillation (AO) since about 1970" - and more. That's just normal ongoing science that happens all the time.
What was different about the "pause" period was that some in the scientific community allowed their science to be dictated by deniers and disinformers. Denier talking points shaped not just the discourse in the media - it even affected what went into the IPCC report. And merited special attention in Nature - twice!
What the authors showed is that the effort to explain the so-called "hiatus" went above and beyond what would be expected in scientific research under normal circumstances, and is because of "seepage" of denier influence.
I'll now add my own two bob's worth. There were scientists writing about the so-called "hiatus" who would never have written about it under normal circumstances. They weren't just being interviewed, some scientists were getting papers published in Nature journals - who wouldn't normally have been writing about internal variability or climate models. These scientists wouldn't have done this except for the disinformation campaigns.
The argument as I understand it, isn't that scientists shouldn't be addressing disinformation. Not at all. It's that when disinformation is being addressed, it should be on scientists' terms and in scientists' own framing. Otherwise it is paying homage to the fake sceptics.
Diverting resources away from science priorities to denier messaging
My other "two bob's worth" is that another adverse effect of the scientific community allowing disinformers to shape science is that scientists are diverted away from what they would otherwise be doing. Time is spent on writing papers that are addressing questions "falsely posed" (as Stephan said to me when I asked him about it while I was preparing this series). Spending time doing work that under normal circumstances, those same scientists would consider "never merited a research response".
It really would pay to read the paper first
I'll make a couple of other observations. If you read Richard's article you'll have noticed:
- Richard's comment that "they use a clear “us vs. them” framing", which is suggestive of Richard Betts not viewing denialist propaganda campaigns for what they are; and
- Richard stating that "the authors seem unable to offer any real evidence to support their speculation", which makes it clear that Richard hasn't read the paper - only a blog article about the paper.
Responding to a stereotype threat
Another response would be for scientists to ‘‘bend over backwards’’ to appear to be open to contrarian claims, for example by giving unwarranted attention and credence to internet-based arguments or by inviting contrarians to conferences or public events.
What Richard wrongly assumed...
Richard assumed that when the authors wrote about periods of rapid warming "they are referring to the 1990s, probably the period 1992-1998". They weren't. The authors didn't refer to the period 1992-1998, which is only seven years after all. They looked at 15 year windows, not seven year windows. What they did discuss in particular was the 15 year period leading up to 2007. The authors wrote:
It follows that if an observer had applied the same logic to the data in 2006 or 2007 that gave rise to the ‘‘pause’’ in 2013—namely, drawing conclusions based on the preceding 15 or 16 years—then the literature in the years after 2007 should have been replete with articles seeking to reconcile the accelerated warming with climate models and basic climatological parameters. To our knowledge, this did not occur.
Our conclusion does not imply that research aimed at addressing the causes underlying short-term fluctuations in the warming trend is invalid or unnecessary. On the contrary, it is a legitimate and fruitful area of research, and we are certain it was not done because climate scientists intended to accept a contrarian frame—rather, if any values other than scientific curiosity drove their research, it was more likely to have been a desire to rebut contrarian talking points than a willingness to accept them.
Whether that research constitutes seepage depends on whether it ignores, adopts, or rejects the framing of those fluctuations as a ‘‘hiatus’’ in climate change. Research that ignores or rejects that framing could not be seen to be subject to the cognitive processes underlying seepage and is not seepage. On the other hand, research that explains fluctuations by uncritically adopting the language of ‘‘pauses’’ and a ‘‘hiatus’’ likely fits the definition of seepage.
Perhaps the most critical part of the paper that Richard missed (by not reading the paper [or not properly - see correction above - Sou]), was the part that set out the criteria for determining "seepage", which are:
- the scientific community has adopted assumptions or language from discourse that originated outside the scientific community or from a small set of dissenting scientific voices.
- those assumptions depart from those commonly held by the scientific community.
From the WUWT comments
Unlike last time Richard had an article at WUWT, and the aftermath, this time the reaction was mixed.
May 13, 2015 at 2:48 am
Betts still consorting with attp means his willingness to openly talk to the public ought be caveated.
The piece also fails to consider the underlying meaning of Lew’s “Soviet Psychiatry” approach, and especially the idea that Betts, McNeall and others be too stupid to resist the skeptical Sirens, to the point of having their professional activities influenced if not directed by amateurs.
newminster has picked up the names of three prominent climate change people, and used all of them in his dull but deniably predictable comment:
May 13, 2015 at 2:58 am
I’m at a bit of a loss to understand why anyone takes Lewandowsky seriously, especially on matters relating to climate change. He evidently has a bee in his bonnet about those who refuse to sign up to the AGW meme and it is hardly surprising that that colours his thinking but research is not supposed to be designed to confirm the researcher’s views.
In the long run, or perhaps even sooner, the climate science community is going to recognise Lewandowsky for the embarrassing clown that he is. Cook and Nuccitelli as well!
May 13, 2015 at 3:07 amPerhaps Professor Lewandowsky would regard Ursus as engaging in projection. He would not "write Richard Betts off" in any sense, let alone as a denier or clinically insane. He might hope that next time Richard writes a blog article on any paper (not just one Stephan authored) that he would read the paper first.
A wonderful, clinical dissection of the Lewandowsky-Oreskes et al farrago. Just a few choice but basic facts (and all readily checked by a professor of science history mind you ) and it is made clear what a work of deliberate friction it is.
That said, I expect Les Lewneskes will write Richard Betts off as obviously a “denier” if not clinically insane.
M Courtney doesn't understand much, at all, of anything climate, but holds very strong, and usually very wrong, opinions and is not too embarrassed to write them
May 13, 2015 at 5:55 am
And Lewandowsky says the IPCC are wrong.
Yet they both still pretend to be mainstream thinkers and not the crack-pot loony fringe.
May 13, 2015 at 3:56 am
A very interesting article. It is even clearer than ever than Lewandowsky is simply an alarmist loon whose credentials on discussing climate change, or even psychology (it would seem) appear to be rather lacking. My only real disappointment with this article is the quotation from the Grauniad, that well known bastion of climate truth, where yet again they try to make a case out of some vague survey.
Does Typhoon read HotWhopper or are they quoting Stephan Lewandowsky and Michael Mann?
May 13, 2015 at 8:45 am
Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
References and further reading
Guest post: Climate variability research: did the sceptics make us do it? Richard Betts at ATTP
Stephan Lewandowsky, Naomi Oreskes, James S. Risbey, Ben R. Newell and Michael Smithson. "Seepage: Climate change denial and its effect on the scientific community." Global Environmental Change, 2015 doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.02.013 (open access)
How climate science denial affects the scientific community - ScienceDaily.com
Seepage: The effect of climate denial on the scientific community - article by Stephan Lewandowsky at Shaping Tomorrow's World
Voices from the climate community on "seepage" - NEW - article by Stephan Lewandowsky at Shaping Tomorrow's World
Are climate scientists cowed by sceptics? - NEW - by Ed King for RTCC at the UK Guardian