Friday, February 27, 2015

Double standards at WUWT. When is a witch hunt a witch hunt?

Sou | 6:35 PM Go to the first of 20 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts' blog WUWT is known for inconsistency, its collation of pseudo-science claptrap from around the climate deniosphere, attacks on climate scientists and double standards. I've not posted much from there the past few days because I've been busy. Also because many of the recent WUWT articles are bemoaning a witch hunt, or what passes for a witch hunt at WUWT.

Are climate contrarians witches?

So what is the WUWT definition of a witch hunt? Is it the endless requests for personal emails by right wing lobby groups that Anthony Watts frequently hails on his blog? Is it court cases to push for release of personal emails from climate scientists, like of Michael Mann here and here and here and lots more. Is it harassment of James Hansen to list all his payments from speaking engagements - like here?

No. Those aren't witch hunts in the mind of WUWT deniers. In the latest of a series of articles on the subject, Anthony Watts wrote (archived here):
The letter below from Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona speaks to the worst sort of witch hunt tactics that we’ve seen yet. 

The worst sort of witch hunt tactics? Crikey.

Yes, in the upside down world of science deniers, frivolous law suits harassing and hounding climate scientists are not witch hunts. A witch hunt in WUWT terms is a request by Rep. Raul Grijalva for details of funding sources of a handful of contrarians who have testified about climate at US senate committee hearings. The request is about the funding sources of a few climate scientists and others who aren't climate scientists (but were asked by Republicans to testify about climate stuff).

Anthony Watts is so incensed that he's already published several articles on the subject - and it only happened a couple of days ago. He also made an allusion to Michael Mann, who has been the subject of endless vitriol at WUWT and elsewhere, and numerous witch hunts - from Ken Cuccinelli, from the American Tradition Institute and others. Anthony wrote:
I suspect that pulling on these threads will backfire on Grijalva, as this will motivate a lot of people to join the fight against this sort of “climate McCarthyism” The letter is reproduced in full below, with the original PDF also available. It’s like he’s got Mann’s #kochmachine delusions ideas.

McCarthyism? That's going a bit too far. You can read the letters and about whom details were requested at HillHeat.com, with the dates of each person's testimony to US government committees. Each letter provides a specific example of testimony that prompted the letter. For example, the letter relating to David Legates refers to him testifying to Congress and questioning human impacts on climate as well as referring to his links to the Heartland Institute.

David Legates' silly nonsense has been mentioned here at HotWhopper too. He told a US Senate committee that CO2 is not just "plant food", CO2 is animal food!

I've also written previously about arguably misleading testimony from Roger Pielke Jr and Judith Curry and John Christy - all of whom were the subject of these latest letters.

Was it a wise move for Rep. Raul Grijalva to ask for funding sources and other details? Perhaps not. Academics should generally be free to work without fear of harassment, at least not without good cause. Does a single letter constitute harassment? I'd say not. It's better described as a fishing expedition (unless Raul Grijalva already knows the answer). In any case, whether the nature of their testimony is "good cause" or not is a matter of opinion. For the people who have attempted to mislead the US government, I don't know that the funding sources would explain their motivation. In most cases it's probably ideology that fuels it. On the other hand, I see no big problem in academics, who testify to the US government, stating their sources of funding. That would apply to anyone at all, not just climate contrarians and disinformers.

Could these letters be described as a witch hunt? Some people might say so. Does it rank up there alongside Senator Inhofe's threatening climate scientists with criminal prosecutions? Not at all. Does it rank alongside Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), calling for scientists to be blacklisted from participating as contributors or reviewers of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report? Not on your nelly. Is it in any way comparable to the vindictive and persistent harassment of Michael Mann by Ken Cuccinelli and others? Definitely not.

WUWTers can rant and rave all they like. The next time Anthony Watts writes about FOI requests and frivolous lawsuits harassing scientists, let's see whether he protests it as a witch hunt.

That's about all I've got to say on this matter.


  1. And I notice WUWT still has a whole section on his website devoted to ClimateGate.

  2. Maybe witch hunt is too strong, but I would call the 7 letters to the 7 mitigation sceptics political harassment and wrong. The chance of hitting 7 mitigation sceptics when sending out 7 letters to scientist is nearly zero. It is thus clearly politically motivated. This political interference in science should stop. Not just these letters, but also the even more intrusive harassments we have seen in the past, many of which are mentioned above.

    It is the topic of today's post: Stop all harassment of all scientists now.

    Maybe this is the time that everyone realises these harassment cases are not a good development.

    1. Maybe I should add that I fully agree with the main line of the above post. To only complain about Willie Soon and the 7 letters is a warning flag for extreme tribal thinking and an inability to see reality objectively. Something people without any science background should be able to see and stop reading WUWT.

    2. Victor why the fuck is it politically motivated? Because accountability was sought by a politician re evidence to a congressional committee?

      Call me an old fuddy-duddy Victor but where I live, this is precisely why we created government. BTW check out what the anti-government side is doing

    3. Victor, I support what you've written in your blog article. Or most of it (not all of it - because it's not just about science sorting it out).

      On the role of elected officials - here in Australia parliamentary privilege allows MPs to say things in Parliament they'd never be able to write or say in another context. They are not permitted to mislead Parliament. They are permitted to say things and be protected from a defamation lawsuit.

      In general the MPs behave, but not always. Sometimes it's used as a way of opening up the possibility of an investigation that should be held, when it's otherwise difficult to bring an issue out in the open. Occasionally it's abused and people's lives are wrecked when they don't deserve it.

      On the word "harass" - that's a definitional thing. One request does not constitute harassment. It would take a number of unwarranted requests/attacks on the same individual (of the sort that Michael Mann and Phil Jones have been subjected to) to constitute harassment. That being said, fishing expeditions aren't something to be supported. And by that I mean queries without any foundation that are used just to see if there's any dirt that can be dug up. Or to suggest there is dirt to be dug up, when there's no basis for it in fact.

      If there's reason to suspect wrong-doing, that's another matter. In Australia it could follow different paths. Eg an individual may have information that prompts them to seek more details/corroboration via an FOI request. If there is hard evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it should then be referred to the police to investigate in the first instance, or the director of public prosecutions (usually after a police investigation). There is whistleblower legislation that is meant to protect the person reporting a wrong - which works to a point, but not all that well.

      If something is considered wrong but may or may not be illegal, then it may result in an enquiry - which can be instigated by parliament (ie elected officials). That's especially the case for wide-ranging systemic wrongs (like deaths in custody, or pervasive abuse in detention centres or institutions where children are housed).

      None of the above would apply in this situation. Okay, so some of the people concerned may also advise right wing lobby groups and organisations that see their role as telling lies about climate. These individuals may or may not get paid for their efforts. What they do in that regard is mostly public knowledge (except for some of the remuneration details in some cases).

      What I'm getting to in my rambling way is that this isn't just about science. This is about testimony to the US government. Some of those people have made statements to the US government that are arguably not based on any published research - their own or that of other people. They have arguably misled the US government. That's wrong.

      I don't know how best to address that issue. It's not a matter of science sorting out the good from bad science because it's not science. It's politics. It's a different context. It's individuals making statements to the US government.

      So it's not as straightforward as some people are making out.

    4. Maybe for these 7 letters the term harassment is too strong. I am not a native speaker. But there is repetition in there being 7 letters.

      I certainly do experience the general atmosphere in America as harassment. Pielke Jr. writes that he wants to get out of climate science. Let's wait and see, may well be just rhetoric.

      Some years ago, I moved from atmospheric science to climate. I am not sure if I had done the same when I would have lived in America. Especially not changing to the topic of the main hate blog. And especially not starting to blog about it.

      This aggressive atmosphere is bad for the freedom of science and maybe even for scientific progress; thinking that the work I do is interesting and helps us get ahead.

      P.S. I am not sure if we want to get to a situation where a scientist that informs a parliament is consequently seen and treated as a politician. That would not be good for democracy and not good for science. Even if the charades in US congressional hearing can be missed; they could theoretically be worthwhile in a functioning democracy.

    5. Victor,

      "Harassment" probably is too strong, in just the same way as "witch hunt" that Anthony used. I think the best American English metaphor here is "fishing expedition" -- the asking for information with little or no specific evidence that the request is justifiable, only a guess that something embarrassing or (in the "best" case) incriminating will come to light.

      The law enforcement analogue is profiling.

    6. PG,

      "Victor why the fuck is it politically motivated?"

      Politician. I think you answered it yourself with the equivalence argument, "BTW check out what the anti-government side is doing." That there's an evident political motivation does not diminish from the imperative to root out corruption and hold bad science accountable for misuse of public funds, but I share Victor's concerns of precedent. I was on record at WUWT weeks ago decrying what I dubbed "science by litigation" countering denier calls for "independent audit". I won't say that Grijalva's letters crossed a line, but they're in a worrisome grey area in my view. We know the targets do crap science, but then so do a lot of sociologists. Some slippery slopes really are slippery. And there's the blowback to think of. Inhofe is an idiot, but a powerful one at present. He can lob those snowballs from quite high ground indeed.

  3. Replies
    1. No, what I see is Betts finally calling out deniers. This is a some kind of progress I suppose. (Richard did you seek Tamsin's approval for your dramatic volt-face)

    2. Anthony Watts' response was lame in more ways than one.

    3. ATTP's response was brilliant: "lame" is that slang for spot on?

    4. PG

      What do you mean 'finally'?! I've been disagreeing with these guys for years, both on twitter and in their own echo chambers (random example here).

      But anyway, let's not make this about me. I agree with Victor that this is clearly politically-motivated and is worrying. Asking about funding sources is fine, but demanding loads of background information, including drafts, is intrusive and an interference with academia. It's no different to people hassling scientists for emails and IPCC ZODs for example. It's doesn't matter what the scientists' views are on the science or indeed policy, this is political intimidation and should be opposed as a matter of principle.

      Of course, as I previously said on twitter, this is still minor in comparison with what others such as Mike Mann have been put through, so (at the moment at least) should not be viewed as equivalent. Nevertheless it is still wrong.

      I also agree with Sou that Anthony Watts gave a very biased response. He doesn't seem to be showing any signs of trying to depolarise the debate, in spite of previously claiming that he supported this….

    5. I too agree with Victor Venema and Richard Betts. This is the sort of thing which many of us have feared would result from the politicisation of science (not just on this subject but on many, starting with tobacco's impact on health).

      Watts and his ilk depend on polarisaton. The only argument they have against what 'they' (the majority) say is that 'they' are the ones saying it, and 'they' are not 'us'. Absent 'them' and 'us' they've got squat.

  4. Let's get the facts straight here: According to his letter, Rep. Grijalva asked the universities -- not the individuals -- for several pieces of information. One thing asked is for details on the universities' policies on employee financial disclosure.

    Five of the seven universities are public universities, i.e., they have been established by and are under a certain degree of control by the state government. In those case, Watts is being a pure hypocrite because he was 100% in support of the efforts to get Michael Mann's information from the University of Virginia under the guide of he was a "public employee" because his employer -- the University of Virginia -- was part of the government. Of course, with the Mann story, Watts was gung ho in support of having every little email released because they were, in his eyes part of the "public record."

    Two of the letters went to private universities (about Richard Lindzen at MIT and Steven Hayward at Pepperdine), and the regulations regarding disclosure of information are different, although, as they are undoubtedly recipients of federal funds, they will fall under some disclosure areas.

    In the case of the five public schools in Grijalva's requests, he generally is asking for a lot less information: financial disclosure forms, grant information, and compensation. None of this is out of the ordinary. Where he does cross a bit of a grey line is requesting "communications" related to the preparation of testimony.

    I would have preferred if Grijalva had stopped at the official money trail.

    -- Dennis

  5. James Hansen put it this way:

    "As I have discussed in the past, the deniers, or contrarians, if you will, do not act as scientists, but rather as lawyers."
    "As soon as they see evidence against their client (the fossil fuel industry and those people making money off business-as-usual), they trash that evidence and bring forth whatever tidbits they can find to confuse the judge and jury."
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/oct/20/global-warming-study- climate-sceptics

    In this context one might ask whether the scientists who testified on behalf of doing nothing were testifying as scientists, or as policy advocates masked as scientists. Certainly, Judith Curry's testimony, which ignored her own scientific findings, supports Hansen's conclusion, and rebuts the argument that Grijalva's inquiry amounts to harassment.


    Joshua's comment summed things up rather nicely:
    “I think that you're missing a key point. The Professor Curry who wrote that paper is not an activist - in fact she thinks that scientists being activists is undermines science. The Professor Curry who testified before Congress is an activist, who appeared at the behest of Republican politicians so as to boost the viability of the policies they support. And don't forget that the Professor Curry who blogs strongly opposes any appeal to authority, whereas the Professor Curry who is making highly public statements about climate change feels that it is important for Professor Curry to lend her qualifications and professional recognition to the cause of climate "skepticism."
    I hope that clears things up a bit.”

    A few more criticisms of Curry's testimony as science:


    1. I've never been able to understand the "activist" meme. Or rather, I understand it, but I don't get how those who use it don't see that it's stupid: who better to be an activist than someone who actually understands what the hell they're lobbying for? Cuts both ways of course, as you point out re: Dr. Curry.

      Personally, I prefer reading Dr. Hansen in the primary literature.

    2. “...who better to be an activist than someone who actually understands what the hell they're lobbying for?”

      I agree. I understand that septics would (selectively) use what you call “the 'activist' meme,” because then the purpose is to exclude expertise from the public arena. It's harder to understand that persons who are genuinely aware of the seriousness of climate change would place academic decorum over engagement.


Instead of commenting as "Anonymous", please comment using "Name/URL" and your name, initials or pseudonym or whatever. You can leave the "URL" box blank. This isn't mandatory. You can also sign in using your Google ID, Wordpress ID etc as indicated. NOTE: Some Wordpress users are having trouble signing in. If that's you, try signing in using Name/URL. Details here.

Click here to read the HotWhopper comment policy.