Saturday, May 17, 2014

Denier weirdness: Ignominious legacy of a climate scientist

Sou | 2:40 PM Go to the first of 40 comments. Add a comment

When climate science battles ideology and loses, the results are not pretty. That seems to be the story with an elderly scientist from Sweden, Dr Lennart Bengtsson. In the past month he's emerged from relative obscurity (as far as the general public is concerned) to being a minor celebrity of denialati.

If he was trying to trash his scientific reputation he could hardly have chosen a more effective way to do it.

Lennart Bengtsson very publicly declares his ideology and joins the GWPF

Earlier this month, Lennart decided to formally declare his political leanings. Lennart joined the Board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a denier group in the UK that lobbies against the mitigation of global warming. As Greg Laden points out, that organisation mostly attracts misfit economists and failed financiers, not climate scientists. Nigel Lawson, who is the public face of the group, was probably getting some pats on the back that he had managed to entice a genuine climate scientist to align himself with them in such a public fashion.

Lennart has voiced his opinions on policy and politics on other occasions in the past. For example, he has written (h/t Marco and idunno):
It's a shame that the GDR disappeared otherwise we would have been able to offer one-way tickets there for these raving socialists. Now there's unfortunately not many orthodox countries left soon and I surely do not imagine our romantic green Communists want a one-way ticket to North Korea. But if interested I will gladly contribute to the trip as long as it concerns a one way exit. Perhaps you could arrange a Gallup study, then it can not be ruled out that I underestimated utresebehovet.
(Does anyone know what utresebehovet translates to in English?) Answer, thanks to Frank D: Literally "outward need", in context I think he means he underestimated the need of the "romantic Green communists" to get out of the "orthodox" western countries.

Lennart Bengtsson very publicly declares he'll stick to science and quits the GWPF

After joining the Board of the GWPF things started to go wrong because, although Lennart is 79 years old, he's still publishing and holds a post at the University of Reading. That made things tricky, because apparently Lennart wants to continue to publish. Lennart said that his colleagues warned him that so publicly joining the GWPF was not a good look and other scientists would probably steer clear of him. No reputable scientist would want to be associated with anyone from a science denying organisation. According to Lennart he's already had collaborators withdraw from collaborating with him although he hasn't named anyone as far as I know. So Lennart did an about face and resigned from the GWPF.

Lennart Bengtsson changes his mind again and very publicly declares ideology won his inner battle between his ideology and science

His resignation would have been the end of the matter if he'd just shut up, put his head down and continued with his research. However he chose to take a different route, which makes his resignation from the GWPF inexplicable.  He chose to go to the papers and yell and scream. He chose to politicise the situation even further.

Why quit the GWPF so you can continue as a scientist only to turn around the very next day and burn your bridges as a scientist?

Why does Lennart scream "politicisation" when it's Lennart who's the only person showing his ideology?

Lennart made an even bigger fool of himself by getting a front page spread on The Times newspaper.  And now he's made it into The Australian as well. (Lennart didn't even get top billing in the article in The Australian. He was just a footnote to a blurb about some pimply-faced script kiddie from the USA who annoyed the University of Queensland.) Lennart told a denier journalist that a paper he submitted for publication got rejected. The spin is that he was persecuted. I suppose he thought that if he could make out that scientists are ganging up on him he could play the victim card.

Now that will work with the denialiti. Over at WUWT for example, they are up in arms (archived here and here and here). It proves their "nefarious intent" conspiracy theories. They aren't interested in whether or not the paper had any merit. It's sufficient that someone they'd never heard of a month ago has come out as a martyr for the deniers' cause.

It won't work with the scientific community (or much of the general public who read more broadly). Lennart has broken the rules and revealed part of what was in a referee report on a rejected paper. Lennart decided his ideology trumped science and "came out" as a science denier. Lennart should have expected the consequences from the scientific community.

The consequences are that the IOP, the publisher of the journal in question, Environmental Research Letters, has come right out and shown that the paper was without merit. They've published one of the referee's reports in full and are seeking permission to publish the others as well. The IOP press release states:
The draft journal paper by Lennart Bengtsson that Environmental Research Letters declined to publish, which was the subject of this morning’s front page story of The Times, contained errors, in our view did not provide a significant advancement in the field, and therefore could not be published in the journal.
Lennart's "paper" didn't just contain errors, it didn't even include any research from the look of things. It was just an article about already published research.  Turns out that Lennart's so-called scientific paper was nothing more than a bit of denialist propaganda, about on par with articles by the usual quacks in Quadrant magazine (Bob Carter etc). Based on the referee's report that was published, it looks as if all that Lennart did was say "ooh, there are some differences between climate sensitivity calculations published in different papers so "something must be wrong"" (nefarious intent-style), without bothering to look at the reasons for differences. Here are some excerpts from one of the referee's reports:
The manuscript uses a simple energy budget equation (as employed e.g. by Gregory et al 2004, 2008, Otto et al 2013) to test the consistency between three recent "assessments" of radiative forcing and climate sensitivity (not really equilibrium climate sensitivity in the case of observational studies).
...The overall innovation of the manuscript is very low, as the calculations made to compare the three studies are already available within each of the sources, most directly in Otto et al.
The finding of differences between the three "assessments" and within the assessments (AR5), when assuming the energy balance model to be right, and compared to the CMIP5 models are reported as apparent inconsistencies.
...What a paper with this message should have done instead is recognising and explaining a series of "reasons" and "causes" for the differences.
...The IPCC process itself explains potential inconsistencies under the strict requirement of a simplistic energy balance: The different estimates for temperature, heat uptake, forcing, and ECS and TCR are made within different working groups, at slightly different points in time, and with potentially different emphasis on different data sources. The IPCC estimates of different quantities are not based on single data sources, nor on a fixed set of models, but by construction are expert based assessments based on a multitude of sources. Hence the expectation that all expert estimates are completely consistent within a simple energy balance model is unfounded from the beginning.

Wanting to be remembered for ideological flip-flops, flouting professional ethics and writing shoddy papers?

You've got to wonder what motivates someone who's had a decent career as an academic to decide they want to be remembered for:
  • joining a science denying lobby group - then quitting it because they don't have the courage of their convictions
  • flouting professional ethics not just by publicising a referee report on a rejected paper of theirs, but by misrepresenting it and the journals decision that it wasn't worthy of their journal
  • letting the whole scientific community know that they write very shoddy papers
  • coming out very publicly as a science denier.

Science deniers are having a bad time of it at the moment. They can't win a trick. There's more at Rabett Run and Greg Laden's blog and William Connolley's Stoat and And Then There's Physics, as well as at The Guardian.

From the WUWT comments

Yes, there was a big commotion about their new-found hero at WUWT. Here is a sample of the comments:

Frank K. thinks it's a good thing (for deniers, not Lennart, obviously) that Lennart has brought his shoddy paper to the attention of the world and says:
May 16, 2014 at 7:36 am
I think the good thing to come out of all of this is that Dr. Bengtsson’s paper will now have so much attention that it can be judged on its merits by a much larger scientific audience than if it were just quietly published by some narrowly-focused climate journal. So, I think this whole episode just backfired badly on the warmists…(heh)

omnologos links scientist Dr Lennart Bengtsson with denier bloggers, the tabloid press and the Murdoch empire. I guess that's foolish Lennart's legacy now. Omnologos says:
May 15, 2014 at 4:44 pm
First it was Delingpole. Then the Spectator. Then the Daily Mail. Then The TImes. The important aspect is that this stuff is now entering the journalistic narrative, otherwise dominated by planet-burning deathwishes.
When the floodgates will open, many journalists will suddenly do their coming out as climate skeptics. Just hang on, we aren’t too far from that date.

Bruce Cobb shows his colours as a deluded denier when he says:
May 15, 2014 at 5:13 pm
These are the end times for the Warmist ideology/religion, and they know it. Now is when the Warmanista nastiness will be at its’ height. They will stop at nothing. But, their nasty behavior is there for all to see, and damages their “cause” even further, setting it upon a death spiral.

ossqss wants to sue scientists who maintain their professional integrity and says:
May 16, 2014 at 8:25 am
And the rats begin to scatter and hide, but it is too late. They have already tripped the trap.
Justice for all, not just some, will prevail.
Is it time to crowd source legal action against these defiant bullys?
This type of behavior would not be tolerated anywhere else in society. Why has it been acceptable in the climate community? Why?

JimS is one of the few who accepts the inevitability of global warming :) and says:
May 16, 2014 at 8:50 am
AGW is so entrenched within the scientific community and political sphere, it will not go away. Just watch.

philjourdan roundly criticises Lennart's double standards (at least that's what it looks like) and says:
May 16, 2014 at 9:54 am
It is hard to maintain double standards rationally – even for people who are naturally duplicitous. Their own words are going to haunt them. But they do not have to worry about sycophants coming to their defense. No matter how contorted the justification is.

rogerknights says:
May 16, 2014 at 10:52 am
The most effective counterattack on ERL would be to list and critique the substandard warmist papers it has published. 

So far there is nothing but silence on that score.


  1. Does anyone know if his paper had coauthors?

    1. Yes, at least one: Stephen Schwartz.

      One "Freddy Schenk" at Der Klimazwiebel noted he had seen a presentation of Schwartz about this paper, around the time it got rejected.

    2. I haven't seen his paper. It's odd that Lennart would highlight an unflattering review of his paper without (blog)-publishing his paper itself. It suggests he acknowledges that the reviewers and the journal were spot on.

      (Maybe he'll bite the bullet and publish it at the world's most read anti-climate science blog, WUWT, so his new-found friends can have a shot at not analysing it in their usual fake sceptic fashion.)

    3. Thanks Marco. (Our comments crossed.) I hadn't picked up on that.

      When I looked up Stephen Schwartz I came across two articles, which are quite old but relevant to the subject of Lennart's rejected paper. One at James Annan's blog and one at realclimate.org.

  2. I looked through some of the comments at WUWT. If the paper had gone through, it would probably have lit a blue touch paper. As it is,the commenters fail in the reading comprehension and see conspiracy. The paper seems to have been poor. Even I can read that.

  3. An Anon poster previous wrote.

    "I think AGW is real and happening, but often the media exaggerates it’s potential impact."

    Pure bollocks. As this sordid episode shows, it's the complete opposite. The media (especially those owned by Murdoch) try's it's damn hardest to try and DOWNPLAY global warming. Why is this non-event even in the media, let alone front page news in 'The Times'. Thousands of papers are rejected at the peer review process every year, and even if it does pass the peer review process, thousands of papers don't even get published. Why don't these make front page news? There was no nefarious intent. It's the process. The paper was a shameless piece of shoddy propaganda designed to bolster the image of the GWPF. Pure and simple.

    So why does this storm in a teacup make front page news. This article sheds some light on the issue.

    Conflict of interest and profits are the real reason. Any opportunity to try and discredit climate science to benefit the fossil fuel interests is grabbed with both hands. Truly disgusting. And then of course the ideological blogs like WUWT all fall into line and preach the same 'it's McCarthyism' line, when it's as clear as day that it's just a hyped and sensationalist puff piece without foundation. How people continue to get sucked into this rubbish is beyond me.

    1. How people continue to get sucked into this rubbish is beyond me.

      It must be true because I read it in the Daily Mail:

      Daily Mail Song

      On a more serious note, the inordinate influence of the GWPF on the Daily Mail was noticed several years ago eg. Carbon Brief.

      Here's the picture from that article that is, apparently worth many thousands of words (to the GWPF).

      Lots of people read the Daily Mail.

      And lots of Times readers who doubtless sneer at the Daily Mail brigade are unfortunately equally likely to succumb to a mix of political predisposition and "but this is the newspaper of record" delusions.

  4. > Lennart made an even bigger fool of himself by getting a front page spread on The Times newspaper

    I think you have the story wrong on this point (though I haven't read the Times carefully, so could be wrong). AFAIK, it was the GWPF that ran to the Times with the story. LB has explicitly disclaimed some elements of what the Times said.

    1. I think Matt Ridley, GWPF team member, and Mike Hulme both made fools of themselves with their opinion piece and their quotes respectively. The Times seems to be playing the story again today, as is the Daily Telegraph (which has quoted Judith Curry too). Any "bullying" seems to be of the "You're not my friend any more" type.

      Mike Hulme seems to have a new definition of bias: you are biased if I don't agree with what you think. He seems oblivious to the idea that he might be biased. (COI declaration: I'm biased in favour of the truth.)

    2. Was it payback then do you think, William? Thou shalt not deny us (the GWPF) without consequences?

      Whatever - there's only one person who comes out of this worse than before it started. The GWPF has no reputation to tarnish. Climate science isn't changed one iota. ERL hasn't lost anything.

      Serves him right.

    3. William, if Lennart has explicitly disclaimed some things the Times has said, can you point to where he's done that? He's been quoted a couple of times on the front page section of the article and it reads as if he endorses the general thrust. Although we all know how journos twist what people say.

      From the Times:
      Lennart Bengtsson, a research fellow at the University of Reading and one of the authors of the study, said he suspected that intolerance of dissenting views on climate science was preventing his paper from being published. “The problem we now have in the climate community is that some scientists are mixing up their scientific role with that of a climate activist,” he added.

      And later:
      Professor Bengtsson, the former director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, said he accepted that emissions would increase the global average temperature but the key question was how quickly.

      He added that it was “utterly unacceptable” to advise against publishing a paper on the ground that the findings might be used by climate sceptics to advance their arguments. “It is an indication of how science is gradually being influenced by political views. The reality hasn’t been keeping up with the [computer] models. Therefore, if people are proposing to do major changes to the world’s economic system we must have much more solid information.”

      Strikes me that it's Lennart who's playing politics here, probably with the help of his mates at the GWPF.

    4. WC: "AFAIK, it was the GWPF that ran to the Times with the story."
      Do we know anything about an involvement of the GWPF in these particular articles? It might simply have been the reporter(s) that misquoted Bengtsson, or Bengtsson who got carried away and now regrets what he said.

      Of course, it would be ironic if it was the GWPF that misrepresented Bengtsson.

    5. Lennart Bengtsson obviously told someone what was in the referee report. Whether he told the reporter himself or whether he gave it to someone at the GWPF who gave it to the reporter, it presumably got out firstly via Lennart himself.

      (I don't imagine it wasn't the journal or the scientist who wrote the report. I guess it could have been one of his co-authors, though I doubt it.)

      Lennart wouldn't be the first to be dazzled by a bit of public attention, though from Lars' link, he could be having some misgivings - not enough, but some.

    6. Sou, Bengtsson walked it back a bit with this statement:

      “I do not believe there is any systematic “cover up” of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics’ work is being “deliberately suppressed”, as The Times front page suggests. I am worried by a wider trend that science is being gradually being influenced by political views. Policy decisions need to be based on solid fact."


    7. It's a half-way walk back, the way I read it. (Flip flopping like he did with joining the GWPF and then quitting.)

      And pretty weird to claim that science is being influenced by political views. What does he mean by that? Then "policy decisions need to be based on solid fact"? What does he mean by that? It's what Judith Curry and Bob Carter and others who don't want to mitigate argue. Don't do anything until the world is plus four degrees and Battery Park is under six feet of water.

      Like I say, he must have given the quote from the referee report to someone - either the reporter directly, or the GWPF or someone else who passed it on to the reporter.

      I'd say his mind isn't as sharp as it used to be, except I don't know him. His mind might have always been like it is now.

    8. "policy decisions need to be based on solid fact"?

      That was probably what that reviewer was thinking when he wrote that comment: “Actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of ‘errors’ and worse from the climate sceptics side.”

    9. A couple of years ago, he was very critical towards denialists, which he even described as useful idiots. Then he started to hang out on a Swedish denialist blog, and although he sometimes pointed out scientific errors there (though I doubt many people really cared), he apparently felt at home politically.

    10. The reviewer could have written “Actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of ‘errors’ and worse from the climate sceptics side” on his blog. However, such a statement has no place in a review.

      The distinction between the scientific literature and the political climate "debate" should stay sharp. If the fake sceptics would manage to insert their values in the scientific community that would be an enormous loss for scientific progress.

      That the fake sceptics focus on this sentence and ignore the harsh criticism of the rest of the review is on the other hand an example of hypocrisy someone outside the climate "debate" would not expect to exist in open societies.

    11. Lars Karlsson

      Then he started to hang out on a Swedish denialist blog, and although he sometimes pointed out scientific errors there (though I doubt many people really cared), he apparently felt at home politically.

      It does look like that. And so LB's stuff about the politicisation of climate science appears to be another fine example of firehose-grade projection by a contrarian.

    12. Sometimes it has been quite a surreal experience to watch Bengtsson, like when he rages about climate change reporting in the media on a blog dedicated to spreading disinformation about climate change. But the irony seems lost to him.

  5. When did the reactionary right throw McCarthy under the bus? Last I heard he was still quite a hero of theirs.

  6. (Does anyone know what utresebehovet translates to in English?)
    Literally "outward need", in context I think he means he underestimated the need of the "romantic Green communists" to get out of the "orthodox" western countries.

  7. The story does not seem consistent to me. You claim that you resign, because you want to stay a member of the scientific community, but you do not apologise and say you did not know the GWPF well enough, no you alienate you colleagues even further by referring to McCarthy.

    Even now, I would be surprised if a significant number of his colleagues would no longer want to work with him because of this CWPF affair. Science is quite tolerant to such non-scientific digressions. The manuscript may be worse for his reputation. It is not really my field, but if it was really as bad as the review suggests, that could have been the end of the career of a young scientists. I guess his reputation has a little more inertia.

    1. Victor I agree. I don't think he's been acting consistently. IMO his ideology has clouded his judgement and he's acting like he's responding to pressure from all sides - the GWPF and his political mates are pulling him in one direction and his professional colleagues are pulling him in another. My guess is that as he gets older his ideology will win out (like with Lindzen). But who knows.

      I tend to agree with your second point too. I can't see that this should make too much difference to his actual research work. That is, unless he keeps mouthing off the way he has been, in which case he might have slightly fewer co-authors to pick and choose from simply because they would view him as erratic and untrustworthy.

      I don't think that one less than stellar paper being rejected should do too much harm to his reputation as a scientist either. Many papers get rejected by publishers. Some of these would get polished up and subsequently published. It's surely no big deal to have a journal say "no thanks" to a particular paper, especially one that doesn't seem to have had much effort put into it's writing.

      I can't even see that having a paper rejected would make much difference to the career of a young scientist (provided they didn't boast about it too much or publish the referee reports). It would be viewed as a learning experience.

      His personal and public reputation - that's another matter. (People are willing to work with all sorts. Their politics are generally regarded as irrelevant unless it intrudes too much on their work.)

    2. Rejection is normal, but if the review is fair, which AndThenTheresPhysics may be able to judge that, but I cannot, the manuscript was really bad. I have never received a review like that from a reviewer that seemed to be knowledgeable. But maybe Bengtsson can also rationalise this away by thinking that the reviewer was unfair or badly informed about the state of the literature.

    3. "His personal and public reputation - that's another matter. (People are willing to work with all sorts. Their politics are generally regarded as irrelevant unless it intrudes too much on their work.)"

      It is worth checking him out on Google Scholar: well-cited work with good people.

      While there is politics where people don't care, but GWPF is probably UK's closest analog to US Heartland, and GWPF is very well-connected with the machinery that attacks climate science and scientists endlessly and tries to generate doubt.

      Being on GWPF's advisory board is akin to being a Heartland Expert.
      The two groups share at least:
      Robert Carter
      Freeman Dyson
      Indur Goklany
      Richard Lindzen
      Ross McKitrick
      Ian Plimer
      Nir Shaviv

      And of course, GWPF's main employee is Benny Peiser.

      Not everyone would recognize Will Happer, but he's Chairman of the George Marshall Institute (focus of Merchants of Doubt), and one of the organizers of the 2009 petition to the American Physical Society to dump its fairly-vanilla statement on climate change.

    4. Yes, John. Although I haven't seen the paper itself I likened it to Bob Carter's efforts in Quadrant magazine - but like Victor, I could only base that on the reviewer's comments.

      The difference between them is that Lennart publishes climate science, whereas Bob Carter is a professional denier. He doesn't publish climate stuff in scientific literature. Instead he puts his name to Heartland's "Not the IPCC Reports" and is on the Heartland Institute payroll.

      Lennnart seems to be in two minds as to whether to retire and go on the denier circuit (like Lindzen) or continue to do scientific research.

    5. Bengtsson is a big fish. Not only lots of articles with good scientists. He was also director of the European long term weather prediction centre (ECMWF), the leading meteorological organization. And he was one of the directors of the Max Planck institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, an important climate research centre, with a lot of money and freedom.

      A longer version of my above first comment is now on my blog: Resignation Lennart Bengtsson inconsistent.

    6. Sou: LB is far above Bob Carter: I wasn't comparing the two, the data just showed:
      LB seemed OK to be on a council with those people who are also happy to be Heartland Experts.

      The other note in all this is the resemblance to Salby case, where his first claims were accepted as absolute truth by pseudoskeptics. (About 80% of dismissive commenters bought his story without serious question. Many went off into conspiracy and some took real-world action like writing insulting letters to MQ, trying to contact Salbys' grad student, writing to politicians to demand defunding, etc.)

      When seeing a claim, the first thing NOT to do is assume is true and try to explain it, but assess any evidence to understand the credibility of the claim. That usually means awaiting further data or if really interested, going looking for it.

    7. John, I agree that LB is above Carter in this context. But I get the impression that the paper wasn't crash hot, that's all I was referring to. (If LB was only on par with Bob Carter as far as climate science goes, deniers wouldn't have been so delighted at him joining or so distressed at him leaving the GWPF.)

  8. Coauthors: I read somewhere that there were 4.

    Swedish word: rush for the exit. Apparently that comment was made on a blog, as a response to a nvg poem. In Swedish, it could perhaps be a joke. (Toilet humour?)

    Ridley is the main commenter on climate on the Times and the WSJ, both NewsCorp, both paywalled, but you can read his extremely misleading articles on his own personal blog, which does not accept comments. Perhaps Sou would like to do a piece quoting him at length, and offering her comments here?

    LB does not seem to be a very good player of Climateball. I am beginning to suspect that he's not aware of the rules.

    There is also the strong possibility that he is a genuine sceptic; in which case, I hope he'll soon be back at his abacus, and publishing away, after correcting any errors picked up in peer review. As he apparently has been, for the last half century or so, which kinda gives the lie to the claim that sceptics can't get published.

  9. Utresebehovet :– the need to leave/depart/get away.
    Below is the original text in Swedish followed by my attempt at a translation:
    Det är ju synd att DDR försvunnit annars skulle man ha kunnat erbjuda enkelbiljetter dit för dessa vurmande socialister. Nu finns det ju tyvärr inte många renläriga länder kvar snart och jag tror väl ändå inte våra romantiska grönkommunister vill ha en enkelbiljett till Nordkorea. Men om intresse föreligger bidrar jag gärna till resan så länge det rör sig om en utresebiljett. Kanske man kunde ordna med en gallupstudie då det inte kan uteslutas att jag underskattat utresebehovet.

    It's indeed a shame that the GDR disappeared; otherwise we could have offered these infatuated socialists one-way tickets there. Unfortunately, soon there won't be many orthodox countries left, and I can hardly imagine that our green communists would want a one-way ticket to North Korea. But, if the interest is there, I would gladly contribute to the trip as long as it applies to a ticket out. Perhaps one could also arrange a Gallup study, as it can't be ruled out that I've underestimated the need to get away.


  10. The rejected paper story has now reached Fox News, with some more lies thrown in for good measure. Marc Morano comments.

    1. At least it is not in the science section, but in the politics section.

      You wonder how the "journalist", Doug McKelway, can sleep at night. To write such a piece you have to gather more information as you present and he has to know it is complete spin and awfully one sided. If I had to write such pieces to earn a living, I couldn't look anyone in the eye any more and would prefer to be on the street.

    2. Victor Venema : you are hamstrung by the hobgoblin of integrity. You'll never get ahead like that.

    3. :-) Was raised with a lot of left wing propaganda and somehow prefer to die with less Champagne, but not such a "news" piece on my conscience.

      Tracy Chapman - All That You Have Is Your Soul

    4. And these "conservatives" are the people that claim that moral values are their strong point.

  11. See Did Lennart Bengtsson Know Global Warming Policy Foundation And Heartland Institute?

    There's some backstory from last year and concurrent AAC membership. Just possibly a reason for American scientists, especially, to be less than thrilled.


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