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The double standard of climate scandal

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 10, 2012

As a number of our fans probably know there is yet again been another climate change scandal in the press. This one started out as a smoking gun about the dishonesty of climate change denialist but quickly turned into a condemnation of climate scientists (well one in particular Dr. Glieck) and a new weapon denialist will use to say proponents of climate change are alarmist.

One thing that i find offensive, is the double standard used by the corporate media. If we remember climate gate, there was little talk about the illegal way these documents were obtained…by hacking into the mail servers or UK universities, something I think is illegal… but that was treated as tertiary to the ‘scandal’. What was foremost was how misleading and one sided the climate scientist SEEMED to be. As time has shown, there was no malfecience…at least by the climate scientist; although the hackers have never been condemned let alone charged. Yes, as a proponent of wikileaks and open knowledge, my issue is not with the hackers but the double standard that the two ‘leaks’ have been portrayed in mass media.

What is infuriating is then when false allegations were directed at real climate scientist not only did the media and popular press attempt to hang them out to dry, but the science community itself bent over backwards to apologize of the ‘way’ some personal emails were written…it was completely defensive. You don’t prevail in public discourse by being defensive.

This time we have ‘proof’ that the Heartland Institute was actively trying to not only subvert the reporting of the science but was developing school science curriculum that would “not teach science”. They were willing to subvert how science is taught…how students think about and understand science…to forward their economic and ideological agenda. When this happened the most I heard, beyond the climate change community itself[1] was how weird that a ‘socially responsible’ corporation like Microsoft was funding the institute[2]. That was not the real issue.

What should have been happening…if there was not this double standard…was there should have been a perp-walk of Heartland Institute people apologizing for the content of their documents attempts to explain away their actions as bad ‘wording’ of their lesson plans. There should have been talk about a promise to be more ‘honest’ in the future and try not to dis-inform young students? Someone should have lost their job. BUT no…they don’t go on the defensive but attack the source of the documents.

As it turns out the source of the documents was one Dr. Glieck, notable climate scientist, contributor to Forbes, and a sitting member on a number of scientific boards. He claims that he received a copy of an internal memo. That to verify the information in the memo, Dr. Glieck requested information from the Heartland Institute by pretending to be on the board of governors (or something like this). The point being he gained a number of documents under false pretense.

Real Docs

Many, including myself, don’t think that what Glieck did was unethical but journalistic. No one thought it was unethical when a journalist pretended to be a Koch brother to expose their ties to the Governor of Wisconsin. On these grounds I don’t think what Glieck did was unethical and yet another example of how the media has a double standard for regrading Climate Scientist and Denialist.

It is also true that the campaign of “Big Carbon” has been quite successful. As the science of anthropomorphic climate change…i.e. human induced climate change has become more certain, the public’s opinion has reach depressing lows. The reason for this is not the ‘controversy’ in the scientific community. The debate now is, not if but how and when. That is, it is accepted science that human contributions to greenhouse gases as tipped the natural balance and the planet is steadily getting warmer. There is debate as to how quickly the temperature rise is, what the peak temperature could be and when the effects of that heating will be noticeable.

Media vetting of climate change 'experts'

However, this is not the controversy the corporate media is presenting and yet again another double standard. The reason the general population are uncertain about climate change is because the main stream media has emphasised that some people (rarely climate scientist) doubt the evidence…there is a constant and growing distrust of ‘real science’…and of course and increasingly popular meme that there is some kind of conspiracy of climate scientists to ‘con’ the public about climate change to fatten their own wallets…HA!

I could just blame the ignorance of our 24/7 mass media culture but there is also growing evidence that there is concerted effort by “Big Carbon” to muddy the waters…to disparage real science…and to convince the public that what is accepted science is not.

Now, we and most if not all our fans know, climate change is real, and its effects on the planet will be catastrophic…although scientist do debate on the when and to what degree. But I think a number of us are not convinced the ‘denialist’ are themselves conspirators. We tend to excuse many denialist as simply ignorant because they exist in the bubble of political or economic dogma. However, it seems apparent that “Big Carbon” is trying to do to climate change what the tobacco industry did to lung cancer. That is why the documents are important…why Dr. Glieck tactics may be worthy in spite of the possible ethical questions.

The information Glieck obtained was not strictly speaking unknown. The bias of the Heartland Institute is common knowledge. What made this disclosure important…if true…was the memo that showed the institute was not just biased but conspirator.

Dr. Glieck has admitted to obtaining the documents via deception, but denies he faked any of the documents. Almost all the documents are acknowledged as authentic by the Heartland institute except a memo. This memo is the ‘smoking gun’ so to speak about how this institute’s purpose is not to promote or inform about climate science but retard and restrict in teaching and promotion…one quote about the institute’s project to create school curriculum that are actually intended to “dissuade teachers from teaching science”

It is this one line that transforms the discussion from ‘promoting an ideological point’ to a conspiracy against science. This is why the authenticity of the memo is important.

What struck me as most discouraging is the total absence from the media debate any attempt to use scientific tools to determine if the memo was faked or not. Most mainstream media has labeled the memo an “obvious fake”, largely because of the source…assuming the source…the author of the memo was Glieck himself. It seems that there were three schools of thought in the mass media: if it was obtained by fake credentials, it must be fake; no one would be stupid enough to send THAT memo, so it must be fake; or Heartland says it fake, so it must be fake.

What can science say about this?

There was a call to crowdsource this question by used some of the best analytical tools available to science…in particular computer text analysis. Java Graphical Authorship Attribution Program is one such method advocated for. What this software does is essentially establish stylometric authorship attribution via numeric analysis of the Camberra Distance of 2gram events…i.e. it analyzes a document’s writing style with an eye to determining who wrote it

Well, as it turns out at least one person, Shawn Otto, attempted to use word analyst software to compare the written works of Heartland to Glieck to see who was likely to be the author. After several variations of the analysis, it seem extremely more likely to be authored by Heartland than Glieck. Now of course, one result does not make a science fact and we eagerly await more results.

We can also do our own analysis right now. In the documents Heartland claims ARE authentic, here are some of the course curriculum module titles for students grades 6 to 12.

  • “Whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy”
  • “Models are used to explore various hypotheses about how climate works. Their reliability is controversial”
  • “Environmental impact is often difficult to determine. For example there is a major controversy over whether or not humans are changing the weather”
  • “Whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial. It is the global food supply and natural emissions are 20 times higher than human emissions”

Well funded disinformation

Does this seem at least consistent with the memo? As far as misleading science, the last one “natural emissions 20 times higher than human emissions”. Strictly speaking it true and irrelevant.

What is important is the natural equilibrium and longterm accumulation. Natural emissions are about 440 gigatons of CO2, natural absorption is about the same…humans addition to that is 25 gigatons, the majority of which is NOT absorbed and thus accumulates in the atmosphere.

So what the Heartland ‘science’ leaves out is that over twenty years we have pumped the same amount of CO2 nature produces but that most of that CO2 remains in the atmosphere and causes climate change. The author is either ignorant of science, his credentials leave that highly unlikely, or there is a deliberate attempt to deceive the students.

Is the Heartland Institute promoting an eco-political ideology that will potentially damage children’s perception of science in the future – Yes. Is that surprising – should not have been. Is it likely we can change the opinion of the institute and its supporters – sadly not likely.

Returning and concluding on my main theme, what we can do is demand from our media outlets an honest standard of reporting. An acknowledgment that to be fair to a subject matter does not mean you must give all sides equal times. Holocaust deniers are wrong and should not be seen as promoting an equal but different view to the historical community.

Why do we allow main stream media to portray human-induced climate change denialist as having as valid an argument as the climate science consensus? Let your voice be heard. Contact your local news outlet, go on line and confront the denialist in the forums and comments sections of new websites. Do not go gentle into that good night…RAGE RAGE against the lying in the night.

[1] This was not a secret to the climate science, skeptic nor progressive communities. What was different was the forthright openness the ‘memo’ stated its purpose.

[2] As it turns out, Microsoft gives free licences to its products to non-profit ‘community’ groups. This ‘freebee’ amounted to several thousand dollars (MS software is not cheap). It appears they thought this was a community group. So they did not give it any ‘real’ money.

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