When the BEST Ain't Good Enough, Make Stuff Up

by | Nov 17, 2011

This story was intended for Spiked-Online, who may be publishing it at some point, but I wanted to get it out a bit sooner.

A new scientific study of the Earth’s temperature record aimed to rescue climate science’s reputation from the aftermath of the ‘Climategate’ affair. Advocates of climate policies have long argued that unimpeachable science has driven policy-making, but climate sceptics argued that due scientific process had not been observed. Climategate and other revelations  that seemed to undermine climate science seemed to make the sceptics’ case. Rather than bringing clarity to the debate, however, the new study inadvertently demonstrates that the desire for unimpeachable scientific answers belies a fundamentally political debate.

The ‘Climategate’ affair broke In late 2009. Thousands of private emails between climate researchers based at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unity were leaked onto the internet, the contents of which raised questions about the propriety of high profile scientists. Whether or not they had done anything wrong, the authors of these emails seemed to have been caught taking liberties with statistics, concealing their data and methodology from scrutiny, and treating the critics of their research with contempt. In the wake of Climategate, Professor of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley, Richard Muller said,

Quite frankly as a scientist, I have a list of people whose papers I won’t read any more. You’re not allowed to do this in science; this is not up to our standards. […] This is why I’m leading a group to re-do all this in a totally transparent way.

The first results from Muller’s group — Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) — have been released. Rather than being released through publication in a peer-reviewed journal, however, Muller and his associates took the somewhat unusual step of publishing draft copies of their studies, and made themselves available for comment in the media. Fuelling controversy further, Muller wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal, which an editor gave the title, ‘The Case Against Global Warming Skepticism — There were good reasons for doubt until now’.

This comment came to the delight of climate activist journalists, scientists and other commentators. ‘Sceptical climate scientists concede Earth has warmed’, announced the New Scientist. ‘BEST reconfirm: warming is happening’, said the influential Carbon Brief blog, which is staffed predominantly by activists from environmental NGOs. Channel 4 News’s science correspondent, Tom Clarke was asked, ‘so does this finally vindicate climate change science’. ‘In a word, yes’, replied Clarke. According to Clarke, the BEST team’s discovery that the world is warming got those implicated by Climategate off the hook.

From the copy it had generated, it would seem that BEST had ended the debate. But climate scientist, and contributor to the BEST project, Judith Curry observed, ‘the spin on the press release and Muller’s subsequent statements have introduced unnecessary controversy into the BEST data and papers’. Curry’s comments were picked up by Daily Mail journalist, David Rose, who wrote

‘The Mail on Sunday can reveal that a leading member of Prof Muller’s team has accused him of  trying to mislead the public by hiding the fact that BEST’s research shows global warming has stopped.’

Exciting stuff. But not what Curry had told Rose. ‘To set the record straight, some of the other sentiments attributed to me [in Roses’s Daily Mail article] are not quite right’, she wrote on her blog. Meanwhile, Muller himself was distancing himself from the headlines of the article in the Wall Street Journal. ‘It doesn’t represent the article’, he told a journalist in New Mexico. But sceptics pointed out that Muller had said,

Without good answers to [sceptics’ concerns about various attempts to measure global warming and its effects], global-warming skepticism seems sensible. But now let me explain why you should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer.

Confusion reigns. The coverage had by now been established as so much he-said-she-said. Sceptics pointed out that, in spite of the claims that the debate was now over, the BEST study still had argued that ‘human component of global warming may be somewhat overestimated’. The data still reflected a stalling of global temperatures over the past decade, and the study’s attempt to rule out one of the main concerns sceptics have about the way temperature data is recorded appear to have some serious shortcomings. Even the project’s leader didn’t seem to be making consistent statements about what his research meant for the climate change debate. None of this phased the BBC’s environmental correspondent, Richard Black, who continued covering the affair in much the same way. Wrote Black,

The original “hide the decline” claim is one of the most easily de-bunked in the entire pantheon of easily-debunkable “sceptic” claims.

Phil Jones wrote the email in 1999, immediately following what still ranks as one of the hottest years on record, and well before the idea of a “slowdown” or “hiatus” or even “decline” in warming gained currency.

So it can’t have had anything to do with hiding a global temperature decline.

The expression ‘hide the decline’ is what ultimately led to Climategate becoming such a major story. Defenders of those implicated by the emails argued that ‘hiding the decline’ referred to a mathematical technique, rather than a conscious effort to deceive. But there was nonetheless good evidence that something untoward had been intended. And it was this that moved Richard Muller to establish the BEST project, as he explains in this video.

If the sceptics’ ‘hide the decline claim’ was as easy to debunk as Black claimed, Muller — a Professor of Physics — would not have needed to bother with the BEST project. But Black had invented the claim he had attributed to sceptics, for which he later apologised. But the cat was out of the bag: rather than accurately representing the arguments made in the debate, he had picked a straw man to argue with, rather than sceptics.

Had Black wished to overcome the limitations of mediocre journalism, to get to the heart of the debate, there are many well-informed sceptics he could have turned to for comment and advice. One such is Andrew Montford, author of ‘The Hockey Stick Illusion’ and a report published by  the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) on the Climategate affair (PDF).  ‘He’s not representing what the sceptic’s arguments are’, Montford told me.

The majority of sceptics say ‘yes, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and that the world has warmed’. That’s really hasn’t been argued very much for a long time. There are  few people out there arguing [against] that, but really not very many. What you read about sceptic objections in the newspapers is not really what the sceptics’ objections are.

Montford agrees that there is no definitive ‘sceptic’ argument. This fact mirrors the many varied positive claims that are made on the other ‘side’ of the climate debate, but which seem to emerge axiomatically from the fact that ‘climate change is happening’. For many sceptics, too much rests on the claim, however true it is, which is in the first place a question of degree with a considerable amount of latitude, even within the ‘scientific consensus’. A concatenation of non-sequiturs cascade from the first: about sea-level rise, species extinction, drought, famine, resources wars, and so on. And these consequences seem to cascade just as ‘inevitably’ to the remedy: the creation of powerful political institutions, a transformation of the global economy, and the de facto rationing of energy and regulation of lifestyle.

In short, the climate debate is by definition as complex as the whole of human social life and natural science combined. But such a complex state of affairs does not make for easy reportage, especially by journalists who don’t seem able to digest nuance and complexity, let alone reflect meaningfully on them. And so to take issue with any aspect of the debate is to seemingly deny that the earth has warmed approximately 0.7 degrees centigrade and that humans had some part in it.

So what does the BEST study really reveal, according to sceptics? And how has it changed things in the post-Climategate world? Montford tells me that,

[BEST] doesn’t really change anything. People like Steve McIntyre [the climate blogger who first raised issues with how historical temperature records were created] were saying long before Climategate: you’re not going to find a smoking gun in the temperature record, and you always had the satellite records which were telling pretty much the same story. [The Climategate researchers] are just being civil servants and trying to hide the fact that they’re not doing very much, they haven’t got many quality-control procedures, and they’ve got commercial incentives to keep everything under wraps. That’s the only reason for the secrecy.

So it would seem that few, if any, sceptics were claiming that there had been no warming, or that the scientific data had been plucked out of thin air. BEST merely confirmed what most sceptics agreed was probably happening anyway. Nonetheless, the BEST story was widely reported as representing a meaningful end to the climate debate. Muller had made ambiguous comments, which were amplified by an incautious sub-editor. A phantom news story appeared out of an uncontroversial study. Journalists were reporting from inside their own heads, not from the real world. And that is an interesting phenomenon, and one which needs some explanation.

Complex debates are reduced to simple, moral stories of ‘scientists versus deniers’, in part because of the shortcomings of news organisations and their journalists’ attachments to the debate. Anxieties about the end of the world give moral orientation to otherwise disorientated commentators. Taking a stand that claims to ‘save the planet’ elevates journalists, who without climate change, would quite probably struggle to overcome mediocrity, to define a sense of purpose for themselves. It looks like bravery, but it is merely vacuity that drives sensationalism.

However, vapid journalism — churnalism — is not the whole story. The controversy generated not by BEST itself, but by the treatment of its result, speaks about wider and unrealistic expectations of science. Politicians, activists, and scientists are as vulnerable as journalists to the idea that science can supply them with uncorrupted objectivity and unambiguous instruction. Given that Muller himself didn’t seem able to supply clarity to the debate — in spite of the science — it is no surprise that arguments downstream have even greater difficulty getting the story straight. ‘Science’, rather than shedding light on the material world, obscures the debate.

Climategate, and other events in late 2009, such as the failure of the COP15 meeting at Copenhagen to find a successor to the Kyoto protocol revealed that too much had been invested in science. Science was, after all, produced by humans prone to error and vice. Climate scientists had refused to reveal their data and show their workings, and several alarming claims about climate change were found to be groundless. This would have all been without consequence, had there been more circumspection about the role of science. But rather than reflect on such expectations, the BEST project aimed to reproduce the science with virtue: ‘transparency’. It made no difference, though, because before it had even been peer-reviewed and published, it became the peg onto which the same old prejudices, myths and politics were hung. BEST now ‘vindicated climate science’, exonerated climate scientists and forced ‘sceptics’ to concede that the earth had warmed.

BEST says nothing about any of these things, of course. Sceptics weren’t ‘denying’ that the world had warmed. The debate wasn’t divided between climate science and its critics. And ‘Climategate’ remains an embarrassment to those who refused to release data (or concealed it) and its methodology, as Muller explained. Science cannot end the climate debate, because the climate debate has very little to do with science.


  1. Fay Kelly-Tuncay

    Nice article Ben.

    “Science cannot end the climate debate, because the climate debate has very little to do with science.”

    So what is the climate debate about?

    Politics of fear and vested interest: Replacing the Cold War threat of a nuclear holocaust with the climate catastrophe threat? The “end” the Cold War was a problem for the political elite. The massive arms industry was virtual made obsolete overnight, to say nothing of enough work for MI5 MI6. No more soviets to chase around after. A real crisis.

    Missiles replaced by turbines: Replacing the powerful arms industry with the powerful “renewables” industry – of course in both case it doesn’t matter that the costly nuclear weapons were never used, likewise it doesn’t matter that wind power is useless. So read one elite vested interest is replaced by another elite vested interest, with close links to the state, policy and parties.

    Funding of political parties: Parties have so few members they could not exist without a vested interest group pouring in cash for political parties to function. Thus we have a triangle: VESTED INTEREST DEPENDENT ON POLICY + PARTY NEED FUNDS + PUBLIC TAXED TO PAY FOR THE VESTED INTEREST

    Frightened middle class women and an invisible war: The old peace protestors – scaremongers (especially the women: Lucas and Joan Ruddock) were promoted to make us fear this great intangible threat, because without them looking worried and running around on Greenham Common in 1982 we wouldn’t have know that the Cold War was “real” at all! In fact, without the peace movement it would have been hard to tax the public for the costly nuclear weapons for an invisible war. Likewise with the ‘climate war’ changes are virtually impossible to perceive, because the climate changes on such large timescales. So again there was a need to have these nice middle class women to once again runaround looking scared, so we wouldn’t question being taxed to pay for the vested interests.

    Destruction of capital: In both case – missiles and turbines – there is a large ‘destruction of capital’ element to increase the value of old money.

    Conclusion – How do we stop this cycle of vested interests? How should political parties be funded?

  2. Fay Kelly-Tuncay

    Things only become true when you act upon them. The peace activists made the Cold War true, and the Green activists made dangerous AGW true. It doen’t matter that it isn’t real.

  3. Ben Pile

    Fay, I’m not sure about such a radical constructivist argument. ‘The Cold War Really Did Happen’, as Baudrillard might say. And it really was experienced by the peace activists and others caught up in it — they didn’t create it. In fact one of the things we can say about the cold war and the politics it produced is that it being such an expensive and encompassing conflict, is that it precluded normal politics. The Cold War ended, as did the threat of another global war, but its politics in many senses, lived on. There’s a discussion to be had there, I think, about the extent to which the legacy of the Cold War was for everybody to reinvent it — after all, it created such a simply moral universe, for all players — but I think you go a little too far.

  4. Cameron Rose

    Does it matter?

    Yes, because a raft of public policy, including primary legislation is justified by ‘the science’. If the science is not reliable then there is little justification for the public policy. And the public policy has consequences. Not so much that it gets us running around like headless chickens, taking poor decisions and spending a lot of money (it certainly does), but because it muddies the waters for a long time to come as to the reliability and wisdom of scientists and politicians. Why should we ever believe them again?

    Oh, and sorry about mentioning the politicians. You probably never did believe them anyway. Mind you, you can vote for/against them. And they do have a some power to reward the scientists and dispose of your money.

    • Ben Pile

      Cameron, the point of the article is that the science — ‘the science’ — doesn’t really seem to be answering the debate. There is clearly evidence of anthropogenic global warming, but evidence needs interpretation; it doesn’t speak for itself.

      Where science isn’t ‘reliable’, as you put it, it nonetheless justifies the policy through ideas such as the precautionary principle. Low theoretical risks of large impacts ‘justify’ (or are used to justify) policy. And the thing about that phenomenon is that it’s not at all exclusive to environmentalism. Moreover, as I’ve argued here previously, the emphasis, or hope that science can conclusively answer the debate about global warming almost concedes to the alarmist/precautionary perspective that, if ‘climate change is happening’, then so the policies are justified.

      But the political arguments are much more revealing. There’s the precautionary principle itself, which is incredibly political, insofar as it’s the legitimising basis, not just for policies, but for political institutions, power, and organisation — the deference to experts and technocracy, for instance. And then there are others, such as the notion of society’s dependency on natural processes. The sensitivity of society to climate is routinely held as equivalent to climate’s sensitivity to CO2. The best example of this being the claims made prior to ‘Himalayagate’, that hundreds of billions of people are dependent on melt water from glaciers in the Himalayas. We can interrogate that order of claim without otherwise being sceptical of the claim that ‘climate change is happening’.

  5. Fay Kelly-Tuncay

    Hmmm…too far?

    “[Cold war] expensive and encompassing conflict, is that it precluded normal politics.”

    Couldn’t we say the same of the climate scare? For the public it has “precluded normal politics”. The NGOs have taken over and couldn’t careless about the democratic process.

    “The Cold War ended, as did the threat of another global war…”

    I don’t agree Ben. I think we have just seen a prelude to ‘Global War’. Just look at the invasion of Iraq – this was just the expression of the conflict between the USA , Europe and China.

    History unfolds over longer time scales, just like the climate. A trade war is brewing and then a real Global War or war in the form of a ‘Clean, Dirty War’ with China will happen in place of the ‘Cold War’.

    I think the world has never been a more dangerous place and the environmentalist are just provoking this.

    • Ben Pile

      Fay: – Couldn’t we say the same of the climate scare? For the public it has “precluded normal politics”.

      Yes, that’s why I said that cold war politics in many senses, lived on. But there had been a pronounced, deep, geopolitical conflict.

      Just look at the invasion of Iraq – this was just the expression of the conflict between the USA , Europe and China.

      It seems unlikely to me, what with ISAF in Afghanistan having troops from nearly every EU country, and in Gulf War II not quite as many, but a good number of them, nonetheless. I don’t see much evidence of a China/EU or China/US conflict.

      I think the world has never been a more dangerous place and the environmentalist are just provoking this.

      I don’t think it’s ever been as safe, which is what makes the War on Terror and environmentalism so remarkable.

  6. Fay Kelly-Tuncay

    I see the conflict more in the terms of spheres of influence. I think the invasion of Iraq was more about closing off the region to China. China has greater influence in many parts of Africa, I think Iraq is a buffer zone for the West.

    And the prospect of a trade war is very real and always leads to conflict and civil unrest.

    We’ve had the UK summer riots, which came after the Royal Wedding, just like the 1981 Royal Wedding, which was followed by the Brixton riots. There have also been riots in Greece, the Arab Spring – there is a lot of civil unrest.

    How is the world a more peaceful place?

    • Ben Pile

      For the cash burned on the WoT by the USA, a great deal more influence could have been bought. Iraq China has plenty of trade with Iraq — 500,000 barrels of oil a day, for example, in the next year. Similarly with other countries in the near region. I don’t see the sense in the buffer zone argument either. Buffered from what? Chinese tanks?

      A trade war is unlikely given the interdependency of the West — especially the USA — and China.

      Sporadic episodes of civil unrest notwithstanding, they are nothing — absolutely nothing at all — compared to the civil and international conflicts of the Cold War. Nothing. Zip. Nil. They speak about domestic political and economic problems, of course. But not a geopolitical conflict. The Arab Spring surely reflects a safer world — fewer dictators. There is no comparison to what happened this year in MENA and what happened there during the cold war.

  7. Rosco

    In the discussion about whether the Earth has warmed the “climate scientists” seem to be completely unable to speak the truth because the truth casts doubts on the “CO2 is increasing and will lead to temperature increases which will be bad” theory.

    There is ample evidence that the Earth has warmed since the depths of the “little ice age” or whatever you want to call it. There is also ample evidence some of this occurred before human CO2 emissions rose to current levels – a trend in increases which has basically mostly occurred since the 1940/50 s.

    There is also ample evidence to show the warming is not linear as they try to show but cyclic – with periods wher the warming has either stalled or reversed.

    Even the BEST study had about a third of the stations showing cooling rather than warming ! Did they reveal if the cooling stations had a larger degree than the warming stations.

    Logic says stations in higher latitudes with cooling trends could result in greater ice cover with a resultant increase in Earth’s albedo and if continued long enough could snuff out any warming trend.

    Logic also says if numerous weather reporting stations from the former Soviet block are no longer reporting the previous records ought be removed. Similarly with the reported closing of numerous high altitude stations.

    It is apparent these stations would be recording cooler temperatures up to the time the Soviet Union collapsed and simply not including that data subsequent wouls result in “warming” by virtue of the fact that many “cold” records are removed.

    Imagine hundreds of observations of the temperature across the Soviet Union including Siberia suddenly disappearing from the accumulated temperature record. The “cold” records – still included – would cause the average to be lower than the average without them so after the collapse when the records are no longer included “warming” would be obvious.

    There is no guarantee that the climate scientists have not manipulated data. They freely admit to making adjustments to the raw data but steadfastly refuse to show the mathematics involved. Some even commence legal action to defy Freedom of Information directions.

    The hide the decline and Mike’s nature trick were smug boasting by people who had obviously been less than honest. Hide the decline didn’t refer to temperatures as such but the embarassin fact that the tree ring proxy shoed a decrease while the temperature record showed an increase. Of course tree rings may reflect more than temperatures – how about rainfall, forest fires and drought.

    And let’s not forget the hockey stick was shown to be maninpulative in that almost any data produces a hockey stick type curve.

  8. geoffchambers

    Fay is surely right to explore the idea of climate change as a surrogate for the cold war. Ben is surely right to point out that the threat of nuclear war was real – and indeed still is. (The fact that nuclear disarmament disappeared as a political issue just at the moment that the bomb was acquired by Kazakhstan and the Ukraine -brand new states whose futures remain unpredictable – merely demonstrates how tenuous is the link between political reality and the rise of mass movements).

    Caroline Lucas’s early activism in CND is often used as a stick to beat the Greens. All it shows is that involvement in a popular mass movement is a powerful drug for grass roots politicians, just as geo-political speculation is for a certain kind of armchair social scientist.

    I can easily believe that there are senior politicians, civil servants and other thinkers who would be happy to see a mass movement develop around climate change. Here in France, Islamophobia and anti-Chinese economic resentment look like becoming more powerful (and far more dangerous) displacement activities than climate action. It’s tempting to believe that a bunch of enlightened mandarins are pulling the strings of the climate change movement in order to keep the British chattering classes from entering such dangerous waters.

  9. Ben Pile

    Geoff – Fay is surely right to explore the idea of climate change as a surrogate for the cold war. Ben is surely right to point out that the threat of nuclear war was real – and indeed still is.

    Well, I certainly don’t think it is. Perhaps you got mine and Fay’s comments back to front here.

    ‘Surrogacy’ makes things sound a bit too deliberate, which is not quite what I mean. Take those women camped at Greenham Fay mentioned for instance… Many of them moved directly from singing songs about nuclear winters to total annihilation of life on Earth from AGW.

    Ditto, the language of the WoT: the (other) biggest threat facing ‘Western Civilisation’ were men with beards who lived in caves. It wasn’t that they were technological able — i.e. a superpower, but that they might, in this unpredictable world, have somehow acquired enough nukes or germs to destroy all infidel, or something. Blair’s logic was (I paraphrase) we know that if they could, they would, so we should treat them as though they are planning to destroy civilisation, because they must be irrevocably committed to such a project.You didn’t need to be a productive superpower to stockpile nuclear weapons; sufficiently committed cavemen could squeeze them into suitcases. We might observe that in the post-cold-war era, everybody needs a threat of annihilation to give substance to their ideas.

    Perhaps the point is less about surrogacy as such, and more about modes of thinking predisposed to see the world in such a way for obvious historical reasons, made manifest in political institutions of many kinds — i.e. ‘establishment’ and radical’ — during the time when global conflict was a more tangible possibility. Can those institutions cope — let alone survive — without ‘clear and present dangers’? And can they say ‘job’s a good’un, let’s close this outfit down and get proper jobs’, or are they inclined more to identify the next threat, and thus see anything which follows in the same terms?

    This is of course, armchair speculation about geopolitics. And not the whole story. Another thing that strikes me about the pre-and post cold war eras is the contrast between the technological optimism that existed in its first part and cynicism of it in today’s world, epitomised by environmentalism. Men on the moon! But of course this subsided through the ’70s and ’80s. We were all going to die, but if we didn’t, we’d have jetpacks at some point, and robots to wash the dishes. I don’t remember the first part, of course, but I remember the cultural legacy of films and so on, which must have jarred with the austerity of the ’70s. The only faith invested in science today is the hope that it can tell us what to do in such troubled (!) circumstances, rather than make our lives better. Anything else is just dangerous, it makes bombs, dirty and biological, and so on. Just as scientists were recruited into the political projects of the cold war, they are recruited into the War on Carbon.

  10. geoffchambers

    I didn’t mean to suggest that you believe that the threat of nuclear war is currently real – that’s my belief, tagged on to yours about the cold war. (I take your remark “the Cold War really did happen” to mean that fear of the threat of nuclear war was at least a coherent position).
    Any position on the likelihood of nuclear war is logically defensible; what was logically absurd was what happened with the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the Soviet arsenal fell into the hands of three separate unstable states, and everybody breathed a sigh of relief.
    The sudden collapse of the anti-nuclear campaign demonstrates the inherent instability of mass movements. I believe in mass movements, as the only quasi-democratic means of applying pressure on sclerotic political élites, but it doesn’t help to be naive about the rationality of crowds. Your comment about the change of tune of the Greenham Common folk makes that point very well.
    Your view of the “austerity” of the 70s I find amusing. Hey! We had colour telly back then you know, which was a lot better than black and white, which was better than the wireless. But you’re absolutely right about the loss of faith in technology.
    My childhood hero back in the 50s was Dan Dare, Space Pilot (British of course). When his creator died in 1985, the Guardian obituary referred to his “dated cold war ethos”. Trust the Graun to get it 180° backwards. Dan Dare led a multi-national, multi-ethnic effort to put the entire universe to rights. There were even women and working class people on the team! Science fiction was typical of the post-war optimism which led to the Apollo programme.
    What killed off the optimism typified by Harold Wilson’s 60’s slogan about the “white heat of the technological revolution” is difficult to identify. I was studying for my science A-levels at the time, but I was much more interested by the Artsy things happening in the media – the birth of Private Eye and the first stirrings of Swinging London. This movement, which shook the world culturally, was the work of a tiny number of bright young arts graduates. The story is well told by one of its central figures, Christopher Booker, in “the Neophiliacs”. Booker has great form for identifying and analysing phoney movements.

  11. Ben Pile

    Geoff – The sudden collapse of the anti-nuclear campaign demonstrates the inherent instability of mass movements.

    You have a point here. But I think what it highlights is the instability of mass movements which are essentially apolitical: it wasn’t really a movement for anything, and somewhat preoccupied with something very emotive, which does not lend itself to formulating an analysis, or project of any meaningful kind. Onto this issue, many other issues were pegged, much as with the environmental movement: it seems to be a vehicle. Notice that Greenpeace was formed on the same issue.

    Your view of the “austerity” of the 70s I find amusing.

    Relative austerity, I should say, in contrast to the postwar boom years. Three day weeks. Oil shocks. Etc. It seem to me that the pace of change slowed considerably, though I’m painting with broad strokes. Perhaps the decline in technological optimism was related to economic decline, or vice versa, maybe the cold war itself was corrosive. Adam Curtis’ films are interesting on this subject, the latest ‘All Watched over by machines…’ shows in some respects the era in which Grands Projets seem to give way to ideas about autonomous agents in self-organising systems. It’s worth a watch, especially part 2 for its account of ecology. From ‘white heat’ to green stagnation, so to speak.

  12. Indulis

    “Sceptics weren’t ‘denying’ that the world had warmed. ”

    Oh dear, historical revisionism at its BEST (pun intended). So now the climate denier camp says “we never claimed there was no temperature rise”. Trying to deny the denial of deniers, that’s impressive, do you wonder why you are called climate change deniers?

    A couple of contradictory and well documented examples of temperature rise denial from some denier “big names”.

    David Evans
    “To preserve the gravy train and conceal the failure of predictions, temperatures are now measured by thermometers near artifical heat sources (such as air conditioner outlets or tarmac)” From his web site main page, he also has a presentation pages and pages of claims that the temperature isnt rising, and that the use of the temperature stations was part of a consipracy.

    Anthony Watts
    In a report entitled Is the U.S. Surface Temperature Record Reliable?, published by the Heartland Institute, Watts concludes that “the errors in the [U.S. temperature] record exceed by a wide margin the purported rise in temperature […] during the twentieth century.”

    Roy Spencer
    “It is increasingly apparent that we do not even know how much the world has warmed in recent decades”

    Christopher Monckton
    “We conclude that even the apparently-definitive, real-world global temperature datasets cannot be safely relied upon. Even if the tampering is justifiable, the amount of processing is very great and, accordingly, the datasets may – to an unknown but considerable extent – be measuring not the true change in temperature but rather the biases in processing.”

    So, the climate change deniers HAVE been denying any rise, and also using the purported “bad siting” of the temperature stations as part of proof of conspiracy by climate scientists. Clearly shown above. With quotes. Go check if you like. It should take you all of 5 minutes to find lots of prominent deniers who have spent years denying there was ANY global temperature rise on the planet.

    But hey, this is pretty much expected climate denier tactics. Deny, deny, deny.

  13. Ben Pile

    It is striking that not one of the passages you quote denies global warming, Indulis. It’s you who turns them into ‘denial’.

  14. Ben Dunham

    I don’t think that “hide the decline” had to do with the Medeival Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. It had to do with the fact that the proxies Mann used to reconstruct historical temperatures indicated declining temperatures in the second half of the 20th century, when the recorded temperatures, everybody knew, were rising. This decline would have called into question how accurate the proxies were in Mann’s temperature reconstruction. So, Mann cut off the use of the proxies at the point where they started to decline and pasted on the observed temperature increase. The blade of the hockey stick was the observed 20th century temperature record while the long, flat stick handle of the previous 1,000 years were derived from proxies.

  15. Ben Pile

    Ben, you seem to be responding to the copy of this article at Spiked Online, which has been subbed, and the stuff about LIW & MWP added, not by me.

  16. Ben Dunham

    One other comment that occurred to me (in addition to correcting the spelling of Medieval!). The apparent cover-up at Penn State over the last decade regarding the reported incidence of pedophilia in its athletic facilities is not unique to its football program. Penn State professor Micheal Mann’s participation in the Climategate emails and his hockey stick research were investigated by a panel of “leading scholars from various research fields, all tenured professors at Penn State,” which found him blameless. Why am I not surprised?

  17. Ben Pile

    That’s a somewhat grubby series of claims, if I may say so.

    I’m not particularly interested in investigations into the propriety of climate researchers. Not Mann, and not at UEA, whatever they discover. Wouldn’t it be better to end the debate after creating a successful argument that took issue with environmentalism, than after an inquiry into corruption, fraud, etc?

  18. Ben Dunham

    Sorry, Ben. Yes, I read the Spiked Online version, and then used links to your blog to comment. The video of Muller tells the story correctly. The “hiding the decline” refers neither to Little Ice Age (as the Spiked Online version says) nor the recent pause in the upward trend of temperatures, but rather the pasting of current temperature data onto some rather dubious proxy data to continue the hockey stick pattern through the 20th century. I don’t think it was very sophisticated on the part of Mann and his team, and certainly not blameless.

  19. Ben Dunham

    The two Penn State stories have a lot to do with institutional defensiveness (same for the East Aglia review). We should always be interested the power structure protecting its own to the detriment of the unvarnished truth.

  20. Ben Pile

    Ben, institutional defensiveness is a given, it shouldn’t surprise us. And it’s not as if it tells us anything we didn’t know. It also makes the likes of Mann a bit of a martyr. I’m still more interested in winning the debate which they’re determined not to have. Better to challenge institutions on that basis.

  21. geoffchambers

    Ben Pile
    Others are on to the fundamental point of your blog. From:
    “Think of it this way: The premise of catastrophe produces the conclusion that the political and economic underpinnings of Western civilization must be discarded […] Now, in a purely logical world, the rejection of the premise would mean that we don’t have to accept the conclusion. If A, then B and not A together produce nothing. But the people who’ve been lecturing us for more than a decade now about global warming and climate change didn’t start by holding A. They began by holding B — the conclusion, the proposition that Western civilization must change…”

    (Note for PeterS: one of the co-authors is a psychiatrist).

  22. Lewis Deane

    I know this is of topic, Ben, so bin it, if you must, but when one’s under threat what fora is there in which to express oneself. The BEST story is just a detail, this week and this day. I was watching ‘This Week’ and Andy Snow, the son of the famous Snow, was parsing the annexations, by Germany, of Greece and Italy. And we have our Prime Minister recommending this ‘Munich Agreement’, partly because he is powerless and partly because he is pathetic. This is an appalling situation and yet we’re quietly passing it by. They came for others but not for me. But then they came for me but there was no one left.

  23. David Rose

    If you check Judith Curry’s blog, you will see that she states unequivocally that the quotations I attributed to her in my Mail on Sunday article about BEST are all accurate. She says that after racking her brains, she thinks I put the phrase “hide the decline” to her, when she compared the behaviour of Muller over BEST to the Climategate affair. In this she is mistaken.



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  2. Founding Ideals - [...] When the BEST Ain’t Good Enough, Make Stuff Up: Ben Pile @ Climate Resistance When climate scientist abandon science.…

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