Thursday, November 26, 2009

Whose dirty tactics?

The most disgusting thing about the leaked emails and data from the Climate Research Unit (see our previous posts here and here) is how these politicized scientists have responded to be caught acting in a very unacademic way. The emails clearly show that these men acted in concert to try to get dissenting scientific papers suppressed. They wanted to get editors of scientific journals fired because they dared published papers disagreeing with aspects of their theories.

These men plotted to undermine academic freedom and their emails show them acting like self-appointed censors who would decide what the scientific community should, or should not, be allowed to read. I suspect as the data that was discovered is analyzed other problems will emerge as well. But for the time being their campaign to silence and suppress other scientists is enough to warrant the condemnation of their behavior.

So have they admitted that acted like intellectual Gestapo sent out to control the scientific media? Of course not! Instead they are crying that they are victims.

The first replies concerns the leaked information was that there was nothing there of interest and that no one really need bother reading it. The second reply was that the emails were just harmless banter that didn’t mean anything. Reading the emails themselves proves both those first replies simply are not true. A third reply has been to satirize the emails themselves hoping that by making fun of the emails they can divert attention. A fourth reply has been to trumpet what the emails didn’t say, while ignoring completely what they did say.’’

Kevin Trenberth, one of the men caught red-handed in these emails, sees a nefarious conspiracy working behind the scenes to undermine him. “One has to wonder,” he says, “if it is a coincidence that this email correspondence has been stolen [it may have been leaked from within the Unit as well] and published at this time.” Trenberth calls it “a concerted attempt to put a question mark over the science of climate change…”

A “concerted attempt”? But wasn’t that precisely what these emails exposed? Trenberth and his fellow warmers acted in concert in the hopes of suppressing scientific papers. They plotted on how to get editors fired by organizing a mass protest to a journal’s publisher concerning one editor and they made it clear that the accusations made didn’t even have to be true to be effective.

Consider what Andrew Revkin, of the New York Times, had to say regarding the material that has been published on-line. Revkin writes that the “documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.” Wasn’t it the New York Times that is famous for publishing the Pentagon papers that also were acquired illegally and never intended for the public eye?

Consider what would happen if the shoe were on the other foot. Suppose a treasure trove of emails from skeptics turned up. Imagine those emails outlining how skeptics would conspire to deny warmers access to various journals. Just imagine that all the strategies the CRU emails show the warmers engaging in, were exposed as tactics for the so-called deniers. Do you honestly believe that Mr. Revkin would avoid publishing the actual content of those emails?

Revkin got some flack for that remark and he has responded. He says his remarks are interpreted as saying his paper is “laying off looking into these documents” but claims, “we’re actively reporting on and citing these documents” and cites his original story as evidence. But the original story is actually woefully deficient of quotes from the emails themselves. Most of it is letting apologists for the emails defend them, there is some vague comments about what they contain and he quotes one sentence of one email from a second-hand source.

Revkin actually never cites the documents themselves. What he entirely ignored was that the documents show these scientists to be actively engaged in a political campaign to silence dissent through various maneuvers. The entire issue of academic freedom was swept under the rug, as were the actual content of the emails. Yet Revkin pretends his original article “actively” reported on, and cited, the documents in question. Neither is true.

Revkin, who is openly and explicitly biased on this matter, writes that he prefers to focus on “running down tips and assertions related to the theft and hackings.” He wants to get the person who released the documents; he’s not very interested in what the documents actually say. Focusing on content makes his allies look bad and he hopes to cause problems for the presumed political opponents who released the material instead.

At the British left-wing Guardian, George Marshall dismisses the emails since they don’t prove any conspiracy such as taking “’marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords.” Sure that was the criticism all along! This is a subtle form of the Argument from Intimidation, misstate what the opponents say, make it satirical in nature and don’t address what they do say. Marhsall saw no conspiracy, but he ignores the open planning of how to end the careers of skeptics, as well as stifle debate by stopping journals from publishing papers that have passed the peer-review process. These conspirators went so far as saying that they might have to redefine peer-review in order to stifle dissent.

While Marshall conveniently ignores planned assault on academic freedom by his friends he does find a plot however: “This is an orchestrated smear campaign and does not require balance or context.” What proves the “orchestrated smear campaign?” According to Marshall the proof is: “The speed with which the emails have been cut apart and fed into existing storylines is remarkable.” Remarkable? Clearly Mr. Marshall doesn’t understand how the Internet works. Speed is easy when information is of interest to hundreds of millions of people. And thousands and thousands of those individuals start looking at the material what is contained in the documents is published very fast indeed. That is merely proof of the scale of the debate on this issue, not proof of some conspiracy.

Marhsall complains that this is “an application of dirty political tactics to climate change campaigning.” Let me see if I get this. Someone exposes that climate scientists of the warming bent conspire together to suppress papers, get editors fired, and discredit scientific journals because they don’t like what they publish. That is not a dirty political tactic. However, exposing that this was being done is a dirty political tactic. The plot to deny academic freedom is not a conspiracy but someone exposing the plot with source documents is a conspiracy because lots of people reported on it.

Marshall wants the scientists exposed in these emails to go on the offensive and says that Phil Jones, who is at the center of the scandal, needs to fight for his colleagues who are “defamed and slandered by the kinds of people who illegally hack into computers. This is a desperate, last-ditch tactic by fanatics who have lost the rational debate.” Please note we have no proof of a hack as of yet. It still could have been an internal leak. Without knowing the sources of the material to call it an illegal hack is merely biasing the debate, quite intentionally I might add.

But again, while Marshall whines about the defamation of the scientists exposed of using dirty tricks to suppress opposition papers he says nothing about their efforts to defame and slander their opponents. Remember these were people who said that an effort to unseat one editor should revolve around telling the publishers that their journal is now “perceived as being a medium of disseminating misinformation” and that “whether it is true or not” doesn’t really matter since it will have the same impact in removing the editor in question. But that is not a dirty trick, or defaming or slandering someone.

But consider the question of how do these emails that were released slander and defame? They only make people look bad because of what they actually say. There has been no evidence that the emails were tampered with. They were not accompanied by essays explaining them. They were simply documents released to the public and the only reason these scientists look bad is because they behaved badly. It is their own actions, which slander them, not the revelation that they acted like an intellectual Gestapo. This story is still in the early stages and more will come out.

Notice: I was asked by my colleagues at the Institut für Unternehmerische Freiheit to mention their conference on the climate change debate. It is scheduled for December 4th in Berlin. More information available here. All presentations will be in German or English with simultaneous translations available. Speakers include: Prof. Dr. Markus Kerber; Dr. Jewgeni Volkl; Prof. Nils Axel Mörner; Prof. Henrik Svensmark; Dr. Lubos Motl; Prof. Dr. Horst-Joachim Lüdecke; Viscount Christopher Monckton; and Dr. Fred Singer.

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