Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How the unethical Anthony Watts goes for the ethical Michael Mann

You might have noticed I've not written about the numerous Anthony Watts' articles from AGU14 yet. That's because there aren't any. From Day 1 the only "reports" from Anthony are two tweets - here and here, unless you count his latest Michael Mann bashing (archived here), which looks as if it was written before Anthony went to AGU.

At WUWT a day or so ago, the ethically-challenged Anthony Watts thought it's "hilarious" that Professor Mann should give a talk about professional ethics. Anthony doesn't have an ethical bone in his body when it comes to climate discourse. I doubt he understands the meaning of the word "ethics".

Yesterday, Michael Mann and Kent Peacock gave an invited talk: ED11D-02 Professional Ethics for Climate Scientists. It wasn't posted on the virtual options website, which is a shame because it's an important topic. Below is the description:
Several authors have warned that climate scientists sometimes exhibit a tendency to “err on the side of least drama” in reporting the risks associated with fossil fuel emissions. Scientists are often reluctant to comment on the implications of their work for public policy, despite the fact that because of their expertise they may be among those best placed to make recommendations about such matters as mitigation and preparedness.
Scientists often have little or no training in ethics or philosophy, and consequently they may feel that they lack clear guidelines for balancing the imperative to avoid error against the need to speak out when it may be ethically required to do so. This dilemma becomes acute in cases such as abrupt ice sheet collapse where it is easier to identify a risk than to assess its probability.
We will argue that long-established codes of ethics in the learned professions such as medicine and engineering offer a model that can guide research scientists in cases like this, and we suggest that ethical training could be regularly incorporated into graduate curricula in fields such as climate science and geology. We recognize that there are disanalogies between professional and scientific ethics, the most important of which is that codes of ethics are typically written into the laws that govern licensed professions such as engineering. Presently, no one can legally compel a research scientist to be ethical, although legal precedent may evolve such that scientists are increasingly expected to communicate their knowledge of risks.
We will show that the principles of professional ethics can be readily adapted to define an ethical code that could be voluntarily adopted by scientists who seek clearer guidelines in an era of rapid climate change.

The topic of having professional ethics for scientists isn't new. Here is a list of principles proposed by the then chief scientific adviser in the UK, Professor Sir David King - in 2007:
  • Act with skill and care, keep skills up to date
  • Prevent corrupt practice and declare conflicts of interest
  • Respect and acknowledge the work of other scientists
  • Ensure that research is justified and lawful
  • Minimise impacts on people, animals and the environment
  • Discuss issues science raises for society
  • Do not mislead; present evidence honestly

I'm not sure if this went anywhere - perhaps a reader knows? It includes the issue of discussing "issues science raises for society" - though it's not clear that it means speaking out in public.

It strikes me that the aspect that the Mann & Peacock talk touched on can be likened to the dilemma posed to medical practitioners on matters such as mandatory reporting, which has come into vogue in various countries around the world over the past few years. It's not quite the same thing, but there are some similarities.  They are dissimilar in that mandatory reporting requires breaking patient confidence. They are similar in that both involve speaking out on matters of concern to the public at large, rather than keeping quiet.

Anthony Watts has demonstrated on many occasions that he has little regard for ethics. (You could argue that entire venture of WUWT is unethical.) In that article about Michael Mann, Anthony demonstrates he has no regard for ethics. He implied that Michael Mann had done wrong, when it was Anthony Watts and his fellow disinformers who have been defaming people like Michael Mann for years, making up lies about them. And the reasons they do that are variously:
  • ideological - the "free marketers" don't want to see policies in place that will protect the environment - which breaks lots of ethical clauses
  • greed - Anthony has said publicly that the reason he disavows climate science is because he doesn't want to pay (more) tax
  • pseudo-religious - examples being those who belong to the Cornwall Alliance
  • it's their job - some people are employed to spread disinformation about climate science. They are just doing what they are paid to do by "donors" such as fossil fuel barons
  • political/greed - some politicians say what their benefactors tell them to say - otherwise they won't get the contributions that assure their election to office.

None of the above reasons would be considered ethical. Anthony Watts would know that if he knew anything about ethics. I suspect he doesn't. Ethics may be developed from a set of values and a socially accepted morality, but a set of ethics is not exactly the same as "morals". 

Anyway, it would be good to see scientific codes of ethics include clauses relating to speaking out in public on matters of concern to the public, such as global warming.

As an aside and talking of speaking out (and free speech, which we weren't, but anyway...), I notice Anthony has flip flopped. After several WUWT articles heavily promoting HotWhopper in recent weeks, now he's done an about face and blocked me on Twitter (again). Not that I've ever "followed" him on Twitter. I haven't. Maybe he unblocked me by accident for all that time and has only just realised. Or maybe he just wants a break from reading HotWhopper tweets about WUWT, to give his eyes a rest :)

Another question: is it ethical is it to seek money to go to an event but then not report it or report it dismally and late?

From the WUWT comments

Since there hasn't been an article yet from Anthony's trip to AGU14, there are no comments and no complaints so far, that I've seen. The WUWT crowd doesn't seem to mind that they've not got anything back yet from their investment. And AGU doesn't seem to mind about the lack of reporting despite what is probably another freebie press pass. 

There were a lot of comments on the Michael Mann article. The lynch mob hasn't had the opportunity for a decent Mann Bash in quite some time, and they've rallied to the cause. There were the expected really revolting comments that I won't republish. There is enough unethical behaviour at WUWT and I say leave it there. I'll print a few of the less disgusting comments so you can see how deniers think when it comes to ethics and how it clashes with their ideology or other denial.

Louis doesn't want to know about climate change: 
December 15, 2014 at 6:53 pm
Any ethical code that could be “voluntarily adopted” could be voluntarily ignored as well, depending on which action best promotes the “cause.”
Elsewhere, they seem to imply that it is more ethical to “speak out” than it is to “avoid error,” and they use the possibility of “abrupt ice sheet collapse” as an example. It sounds like an ethics code that favors alarmism to me, with the ends justifying the means. Don’t worry so much about making an error as long as your message supports the cause. The message is more important than the facts.

Aynsley Kellow thinks it funny that some scientists are reluctant to speak out about the implications of their work.  
December 14, 2014 at 11:22 pm
Several authors have warned that climate scientists sometimes exhibit a tendency to “err on the side of least drama” in reporting the risks associated with fossil fuel emissions. Scientists are often reluctant to comment on the implications of their work for public policy, despite the fact that because of their expertise they may be among those best placed to make recommendations about such matters as mitigation and preparedness.
Comedy gold! Someone has a sense of humour.

jimmaine is one of the determinedly ignorant and not ashamed to show it:
December 15, 2014 at 1:11 am
That statement is absolutely amazing. They haven’t been right yet. Not one single time. Yet the ones that are REALLY right and REALLY smart haven’t even spoken up yet?
Expertise?…words fail.
I feel like I’m watching the Python Cheese Shop skit.

cogdissonancedagain talks about something completely different.
December 14, 2014 at 11:47 pm
Golly but i must be old! When ah were a lad they had these things called “peer review” which was actually a real review by real researchers and scientists in the same fields of endeavour; and wot’s worse, they was liable for critical review as well.
And did I mention that they’s were obliged to confuse every issue with the relevant facts too as well
Ho, ho. ho!

donaitkin must be relieved that WUWT doesn't adopt "do no harm". It's entire purpose is to prevent the mitigation of harm if not to cause harm.
December 15, 2014 at 12:11 am
Well, if climate scientists are to follow medicine, they will leaner ‘First, do no harm’…

I can't be bothered reading any more. I'll leave the rest to your imagination, which will probably be milder than the reality. You can check yourself if you're in doubt - in the archive here.


  1. I wonder how an ethics code requiring disclosure would but up against gag rules like Bush tried to impose, and Harper has successfully imposed. it could well be a good instrument against an anti-science administration.

  2. That was a short WUWT post. Anthony Watts could just tweet a bit more. The only thing that would be missing would be his hate circus below the line.


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