Sunday, 18 May 2014

Resignation letter Lennart Bengtsson is inconsistent

The resignation of Lennart Bengtsson from the Global Warming Policy Foundation made quite a splash. A large number of blogs wrote about it. The story made the first page of the Times. Also Der Spiegel Online and Fox "News" reported. Having read some of this, I found it weird that no one mentions how inconsistent the resignation letter of Bengtsson is.

Had Bengtsson's intention been to maximally hurt climate science and delay action as much as possible, the formulation could not have been much better. Had his intention been to facilitate future collaborations, I would suggest some improvements, but is too late for that now.

Maybe it becomes clear if you shorten and simplify his resignation mail, printed in full further below:
I am resigning because my colleagues object to me being in the GWPF and I would like to be able to keep doing science. My colleagues are evil and suppress my freedom of opinion.
What I had written, had I wanted to continue collaborating with my colleagues:
I am resigning. After warnings from my colleagues, I have investigated the background of the GWPF in more detail and feel that it would be better not to be in its advisory board. I apologise to my colleagues for naively joining an anti-science organization.

Collaboration

Next to this inconsistency, I would be surprised if a significant number of his colleagues would no longer want to work with him, even now after bringing up McCarthy. This is not how the scientists I know behave. Personally I have no problem collaborating with a colleague with a different opinion, as long as the science is good. I would expect that most of my colleagues would handle this similarly.

For example, I really dislike the concept of the blog The Climate Onion of Hans von Storch and colleagues. Already its slogan about trying to be an "honest broker", therewith implying that other scientists are not honest. If you are not polite to climate "sceptics" in the comments there are threats of moderation or banning, whereas you can say the most evil things about mainstream science and scientists. No problem.

Seen from the other side, I am sure that Hans von Storch will find my blog horrible. Because I have no problem with calling out the bad (or maybe better formulated the fake) "science" of WUWT and Co. To me the hallmark of science is the strong claims should be backed by strong evidence. That has brought us scientific progress. To keep my mouth shut for political appeasement reasons when WUWT and Co. violate science, I would view as treason to science, the Enlightenment and our open societies.

But, how to best communicate science is not a scientific question and I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this matter. That is thus no reason not to collaborate. Von Storch has written many good and interesting papers that I naturally read. Only last year I have asked him to join a research proposal to the German science foundation and he accepted to strengthen the proposal with his reputation. While coalitions and conflicts naturally exist, like in any human enterprise, I would say that such collaborations are normal in science and that scientists make an effort to ignore non-scientific noise.

Most coalitions are simply about competition and personal dislikes, not about the right value of the climate sensitivity. And the coalitions are typically not very defined and many are on talking terms with multiple coalitions and provide a network that facilitates communication. The only conflict I know that escalated so much that people are no longer on speaking terms might in retrospect have been an incursion of the political climate "debate" into science.

This conflict was on the topic of Long Range Dependence (LRD). This work suggests that the confidence interval for trends is larger than expected from using traditional methods. Here I know of a professor that does not allow his employees to talk to mainstream scientists. A damning sign of insecurity, which may be warranted be given of the low quality standards in part of this community (Maraun et al., 2004; Rust et al., 2008). This is a pity because the problem is probably real and important. The conflict culminated in a conference where a mainstream scientist asked someone of the LRD community to read Karl Popper (about falsifiability). To which a LRD professor replied: "Well first of all you have to believe in LRD." I would argue that believing is for religion and he should convert the idea to falsifiable science and provide evidence no reasonable scientist can reject, but I digress.

Resignation mail

Bengtsson's resignation mail was published with permission on the Climate Onion.
I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety.

I see therefore no other way out therefore than resigning from GWPF. I had not expecting such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life. Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc. I see no limit and end to what will happen. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy.

I would never have expecting anything similar in such an original peaceful community as meteorology. Apparently it has been transformed in recent years.

Under these situation I will be unable to contribute positively to the work of GWPF and consequently therefore I believe it is the best for me to reverse my decision to join its Board at the earliest possible time.
If I would make a big mistake like joining the GWPF, I would hope that some colleagues of mine would be honest enough and ask me what the hell I am doing and whether I know what kind of organisation that is. My main fear would be that because of the scientific culture of not getting personal no one would have the guts to point out my mistake.

Especially Bengtsson having occupied high positions, director of the ECMWF and the Max Planck Institute, may not be used to people giving honest feedback for several decades and thus found this stressful. Many seem to have interpreted "health and safety" as a physical threats to Bengtsson. I guess that the stress from the feedback may be sufficient to make a man in progressed age worry about his health.

The story about Bengtsson in The Times suggests that it was also just one colleague that did not want to work with him any more. Not the multiple ones his resignation suggests. Especially if this colleague was a direct victim of an anti-science campaign by the GWPF, I can understand this. I would hope that people still have the freedom to chose with whom to collaborate. One of the climate "sceptics", who are typically libertarians, suggested that we should use the coercive power of the state to force scientists to collaborate with Bengtsson. Almost funny.

Let me close with some wise words from HotWhopper:
If scientists voice concerns that a colleague is joining forces with a science denier organisation it's McCarthy-ism (in denier land). If a US Senator says he has a list of scientists that he wants criminally prosecuted it's not McCarthy-ism. (It's Inhofism.)

Related reading

Bengtsson burns his boats? by James Annan. Probably the best summary of this non-affair.

On the UK Science Media Centre Bengtsson gives himself much more moderate and takes back much of the previous formulations. This flip flopping seems to be typical for his communication style. Also some other scientists make sensible comments on the "affair".

Lennart Bengtsson has been a climate "sceptic" for several years now, mainly writing in Swedish. Eli Rabett reports from Sweden.

In a related story, there was the claim that a manuscript of Bengtsson was rejected for political reasons. The journal responded by publishing one of the reviews, which if it is fair, shows that there were sufficient scientific reasons for rejection. The sentence on climate "sceptics" has no place in a scientific review, but is a minor detail. (And the editor decides.) See also Eli Rabett and And Then There's Physics for some context.

HotWhopper has a second informative post on the above affair and the manuscript.

If you have a strong stomach and want to know how anti-science spinns the story, a good start is State of the Climate.

Joining the GWPF was not the first political act of Bengtsson. Before he had one of the most read posts at the Climate Onion on political solutions for climate change. Note that in the comments no "sceptic" complains about his advocacy as they would do for mainstream scientists. And note that Bengtsson complains about the politicisation of climate science, but seems not to relate that to his own actions, like a good climate "sceptic".

References

Maraun, D., H. W. Rust, and J. Timmer. Tempting long-memory - on the interpretation of DFA results. Nonlin. Proc. Geophys., 11, pp. 495-503, doi: 10.5194/npg-11-495-2004, 2004.

Rust, H.W., O. Mestre, and V.K.C. Venema. Less jumps, less memory: homogenized temperature records and long memory. JGR-Atmospheres, 113, D19110, doi: 10.1029/2008JD009919, 2008.

6 comments:

John L said...

Bengtsson has commented in length today at a swedish denialist blog:
http://www.klimatupplysningen.se/2014/05/18/nagra-tankar-om-klimatet-och-var-mojliga-framtid/ (google translate gives a readable english)

He seems to have lost the plot scientifically. He compares his own calculations of transient sensitivity, assuming no aerosols, with IPCC:s interval of equilibrium sensitivity. Then he claims that this proves that there is some big discrepancy between models and data, putting the value of models in question (!). And no mentioning of recent progress in understanding energy balance based calculations, i.e. Shindell, Dessler etc.
No wonder he was rejected.

Victor Venema said...

Thanks John, I have forwarded your comment to Eli Rabett, who has a post on the Swedish connection.

Lars Karlsson said...

He also expresses his appreciation for English media ("Det är i alla fall härligt att möta engelska media med sin liberala och öppna tradition.")

So it seems he was happy with the way those articles in the Times, Daily Mail, and Telegraph turned out. That they contained serious errors doesn't bother him.

Lars Karlsson said...

And Bengtsson doesn't take objection to the image with the climate change heretic being burned to a stake....

citizenschallenge said...

That's funny Hans von Storch's "Climate Onion"
I wonder if those folks are aware of "The ONION" - "America's Finest News Source"
Really

Check it out

EliRabett said...

Eli tells me that it is a mistake to parse people's behavior too closely, they are complicated, confused and self centered, unlike bunnies. Prof. Bengtsson has to work this out for himself