Monday, 15 February 2010

Time to Defend Science

I have set up a petition so those who object to the traducing of climate science can make their voices heard. I hope even opponents of the mainstream position will sign, because the issue is not whether the science is correct or not, but whether science should be tested by weighing evidence against theories, or by personal attack on scientists.

Even The Guardian, a paper that usually breaks from the herd and attempts to report matters like this accurately, has jumped on the bandwagon of attacking climate scientists personally. In this article, reprinted in the internationally distributed Guardian Weekly with the title Research red in tooth and claw journalist Fred Pearce makes numerous errors. I was particularly annoyed at this reprinting of the article, since the weekly paper has more time to review content for errors. Here is what I've written to the editor:
Fred Pearce's long article "Research red in tooth and claw" is riddled with errors and misinterpretations. First, he identifies a paper by Lars Kamel as the one referred to in stolen CRU emails because "It is the only one published on that topic in the journal that year" then goes on to explain how the paper was never published. Either it was published, or it wasn't. Second, he goes on at great length about how CRU's temperature analysis has not been recreated by anyone else, and cannot be because of lack of access to the data. While I have problems with the whole concept of lack of access to data, this is denialist spin. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies has independently constructed a temperature record using mostly the same data sources, and all of its data is public, and there are other independent temperature records against which CRU's can be tested. Pearce's understanding of peer review is also confused. There is nothing improper in asking other academics for inputs into reviewing a paper, and this happens very widely. Nowhere does Pearce present evidence that confidences were breached.

As Pearce could easily have discovered had he done the job he's evidently being paid to do, despite Jones's threat to keep junk papers out of the IPCC, they are in fact cited as references. The "MM" paper referred to is unlikely to be the McKitrich and Michaels paper on urban heat islands because this was published in 2007, 3 years after email Pearce quotes. The paper concerned is more likely to be that by McIntyre and McKitrick of 2003 (also rubbish), which is in fact cited in IPCC reports.

In one of Pearce's most serious blunders, he fails to report the fact that half of the editorial board of Climate Research including the newly-appointed editor in chief resigned over the journal's lapse in standards at the hands of De Freitas.

Pearce says the fact that Jones was new to the IPCC process was no excuse for errors of judgement. How new is Pearce to journalism?

PS: has Rupert Murdoch bought The Guardian?

There is a deep problem here when a usually trusted news source starts behaving in this way. Science is traditionally conducted through the research literature for a good reason. Unqualified people can easily make mistakes when assessing a complex field. The hard thing is translating research into policy. Human society does not on the whole do that very well, and I am not proposing alternatives here. What I do however object to in the strongest terms is traducing science as a whole and vicious often ill-informed personal attacks on scientists.

If you agree, sign the petition.


Dol said...

I've also been startled by the Guardian. Basic factual errors and rubbish headlines in what they were claiming was a thorough investigation? They've since opened it up for expert comment, and e.g. Gavin from Realclimate has done so - but they should have known the nature of the denialist echochamber and very, very carefully checked both the articles and the overblown headlines. It puzzles me.

Any response from your letter to the Guardian yet?

I wish there was some redress, but really I've no idea what it might be.

Philip Machanick said...

Dan, I'll have to wait until the next issue of the weekly reaches these shores. I've had no direct response to the letter so I'll have to see if they print it.

Philip Machanick said...

Nothing in the next issue...

Philip Machanick said...

Or the next ... nor have they apologized for publishing drivel.

Anonymous said...

Excellent letter Philip, have you emailed it to the editor directly and also to the science team?

contacts here:,,180767,00.html

Science desk

Philip Machanick said...

Anonymous, I've submitted a comment to Guardian Weekly today that generalise and doesn't mention Pearce. If I get no acknowledgement from them, I'll try some of these contacts. Or publish another article here if no luck.