Friday, 27 February 2015

Stop all harassment of all scientists now

This week Greenpeace revealed that aerospace engineer Willie Soon got funding of over one million dollars from the fossil fuel industry and related organizations. However, Soon did not declare these conflicts of interest, while many scientific journals he wrote for do require this. His home institution is now investigating these irregularities.

Possibly inspired by this event, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Arizona Raúl M. Grijalva (Dem) has requested information on funding of seven mitigation sceptical scientists that have testified before the US congress. Next to funding also the drafts of the testimonies and any correspondence about them are requested. The seven letters went to the employers of: David Legates, John Christy, Judith Curry, Richard Lindzen, Robert Balling, Roger Pielke and Steven Hayward.

This is harassment of scientists for their politically inconvenient positions. That is wrong and should not happen. This is a violation of the freedom of research.

Judith Curry and Roger Pielke Jr. are on twitter and I was happy to see that basically everyone agreed that targeting scientists for political aims is wrong. There was a lot of support for them from all sides of this weird US climate "debate".

[UPDATE. The American Meteorological Society also sees these letters as wrong: "Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources — and thereby questioning their scientific integrity — sends a chilling message to all academic researchers... We encourage the Committee to rely on the full corpus of peer-reviewed literature on climate science as the most reliable source for knowledge and understanding that can be applied to the policy options before you."]

After these signs of solidarity, maybe this is the right moment to agree that all harassment of all scientists is wrong and change the rules. I would personally prefer that the Freedom of Science gets constitutional rank everywhere, like it already has in Germany having learned from the meddling in science during the Third Reich. At least we should change the law and stop the harassment, especially by the governments and politicians.

Next to the affair around Willie Soon, the open record requests by Democrat Rep. Grijalva may also have been inspired by the plans of Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe and California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. They announced this week their plans to investigate the politically inconvenient temperature record of NASA-GISS. This not too long after a congressional audit which kept the scientists of the National Climate Data Centre (NOAA-NCDN) from their important work.

The new investigation of GISS is all the more ironic as the GISS dataset is nowadays basically the NCDC dataset, but with a reduced trend due to an additional attempt to reduce the effect of urbanization. Probably these two mitigation sceptical politician do not even know that they will investigate an institution that makes the trend smaller. Just like most mitigation sceptics do not seem to know that the net effect of all adjustments for non-climatic changes is a reduction in global warming.

It is not as if this was the first harassment of inconvenient climate scientists. As the Union of Concerned Scientists writes:
Notably, the requests from Rep. Grijalva are considerably less invasive than a request made in 2005 by Rep. Joe Barton for materials from Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann. Rep. Barton’s request sought not only funding information but also data, computer code, research methods, information related to his participation in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (including report reviewers), and detailed justifications of several of his scientific calculations. The Barton requests were roundly condemned by scientists, and were part of a long history of harassment of Dr. Mann and his colleagues.

Then we did not yet mention the report in which Republican Senator James Inhofe called for the persecution of 17 named inconvenient climate scientists and more not named scientists. We did not yet mention the political attack of the Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Michael Mann, which the Virginia Supreme Court halted after costing the university nearly $600,000 for legal fees.

The harassment is not limited to the USA. There was an action of the mitigation sceptics to ask Phil Jones of the UK Climate Research Unit (CRU) for the data and contracts with the weather services for five random countries. The same Phil Jones of the politically inconvenient CRUT global temperature curve whose emails were stolen and widely distributed by the mitigation sceptics. Emails which did not contain any evidence of wrongdoings, but spreading them is an efficient way to punish Jones for his inconvenient work by hurting his professional network.

In New Zealand, the Member of Parliament Mr. Hide filed 80 parliamentary questions to the the maintainers of the temperature record of New Zealand. As a result the minister requested an audit by the Australian Weather Service, which costed the researchers several months of work. The mitigation sceptics in New Zealand have on started a foundation for juridical attacks. When the judge ordered these mitigation sceptics to pay the costs of the trail, NZ$89,000, the foundation filed for bankruptcy, leaving the tax payers with the costs.

Open records laws

Open records does not help to check a scientific consensus. Scientists judge the evidence collectively, as historian of science Naomi Orekes states. Chris Mooney writes, in a beautiful piece on motivated reasoning, explains that this means that individual scientists are not important:
We should trust the scientific community as a whole but not necessarily any individual scientist. Individual scientists will have many biases, to be sure. But the community of scientists contains many voices, many different agendas, many different skill sets. The more diverse, the better.
This may come as a surprise to people who get their science from blogs or mass media. Mitigation sceptical blogs like to single out a small number of public scientists. Possibly not to make it visible how many scientists stand behind our understanding of climate change, possibly to dissuade other scientists from speaking in public.

Journalists like to focus on people and tell stories about how single persons revolutionised entire scientific fields. Even in the most medially hyped examples of clearly brilliant scientists such as Einstein and Feynman this is not true. If other scientists had not checked the consequences of their claims, these claims would have been a cry in deep vacuum. Journalists also tend to exaggerate the importance of single (new) scientific articles with spectacular and thus make the huge number of less sexy articles invisible.

These journalists would like to be allowed to do almost anything for a juicy story. In the Columbia Journalism Review, a journalist complained that exemptions for science “made it difficult for journalists to look into (Penn State’s) football sex abuse scandal.” I fail to see why journalists should have extra rights to investigate sex scandals, when they happen at public institutions. If they want more rights, then everyone should be affected, also private universities, companies and journalists. Personally I am not sure if I want to live in such a post-privacy world.

This kind of invasion of privacy has real consequences. I notice that colleagues in countries with Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) harassment write short and formal mails, whereas they are just as talkative at conferences or on the telephone. That is only natural, when you write for the front page of the New York Times you put in more effort to make sure that every detail is right and clear. If you have to put in that amount of effort for every mail to a colleague, you naturally write less. This hinders scholarly communication.

Mitigation sceptics that are convinced that top scientists control science and determine what is acceptable for publication should welcome strong confidentiality even more. That allows the honest scientists to build a coalition and get rid of these supposedly dishonest scientists. More realistically, scientists need to be able to warn their colleagues about errors in the work or character of other people.

Finally, scientists are also humans and write about private things. That is important to keep networks strong. The more so because for many science is not just a profession, but a vocation. Thus boundaries between private and work can be vague.

Thus I would argue that scientific findings should be checked by scientists. That includes everyone who invested the time to make himself an expert, not just the professionals. However, that is not the role of journalists and certainly not of politicians.


There are naturally cases where the public may want to know more about what is happening at academic institutions. The funding of science is a good example. It has been shown that the funding source influences the results of medical research. This should thus be disclosed.

Industry funding of science is welcome, but it should happen openly. Representatives of industry have complained that that would make it impossible for them to collaborate with universities, because that would give competing firms strategic information and would allow them to copy the ideas. I would argue that when the research is that straightforward, it is not something for a university.

At some universities in Switzerland and at the University of Cologne there have recently been protests against companies funding large amounts of research and about contractual conditions that limit scientists in their work. This can also limit the freedom of science and we need rules for this. It should not lead to a situation where industry research is sold as independent academic research.

It should never be possible to firms to stop the publication of results. A contract with Willie Soon stated that he was not allowed to disclose his funding. I feel such conditions should not be allowed. Some people complained about contractual obligations or scientists to inform the firms of their work. I would feel that that is still okay, it is natural that the firms are interested in a transfer the knowledge. Also in case of larger joint projects, scientists are expected to show up at general meetings of the project.

Sometimes replication of scientific work is hard, for example in case of large dietary studies or clinical trails. This makes it hard for scientists to check such research without access to the original data. Also in climatology it would be very beneficial if the governments around the world would allow a free transfer of observational data. Climate data is often withheld for commercial and military reasons. While climate data is valuable, the number of people willing to pay for them is small and the fees minimal. The military value of climate data is disappearing due to the accuracy of modern global weather predictions.

In all the above cases and maybe more, we should not work with open record laws, but make the information open for everyone for every case. In this way these laws cannot be abused for attacks on scientists doing politically inconvenient work. Criminal investigations should naturally be possible, scientists are humans, but should never, ever be ordered by politicians, such as in the case of Senator Inhofe. We should protect the separation of powers, such political orders should be illegal.

Related reading

A follow-up (June2015) by Science: Journals investigate climate skeptic author’s ties to fossil fuel firm as new allegations arise

Climate of Incivility - Climate McCarthyism is Wrong Whether Democratic or Republican
Michael Shellenberger of the [[Break Through Institute]] agree that the political intimidation of science from any side should stop.

An insider’s story of the global attack on climate science.
Jim Salinger, who produced a temperature dataset for New Zealand, talks about how he and this employer were harassed by politicians and mitigation sceptics.

What Kinds of Scrutiny of Scientists are Legitimate?
Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists argues that the information requests send to the 7 mitigation sceptics go too far: the funding requests are appropriate, but communication between researchers should be protected.

He is also the author of a detailed report: Freedom to Bully: How Laws Intended to Free Information Are Used to Harass Researchers.

No Scientist Should Face Harassment. Period.
Gretchen Goldman of the Union of Concerned Scientists want to limit open records requests: "Science is an iterative process and researchers should be free to discuss, challenge, and develop ideas with a certain level of privacy."

Stoat: Raúl M. Grijalva is an idiot. He’s a politician and be relying on his own ability to evaluate what’s said. Or in the case of climate science, just read the IPCC report, its what its here for.

My Depressing Day With A Famous Climate Skeptic
Astrophysics professor Adam Frank: "What I had seen was a scientist whose work, in my opinion, was simply not very good. ... But Soon's little string of papers were being heralded in the highest courts of public opinion as a significant blow to everyone else's understanding of Earth's climate."

Why scientists often hate records requests, The shadow side of sunlight laws
Anna Clark of the Columbia Journalism Review writes about open records requests from the side of journalists and advocates teaching people how to make the requests not too intrusive.

Why all we believe our own favorite scientific ‘experts’ — and why they believe themselves
Chris Mooney on motivated reasoning. Great, clear exposition.

Democrats on climate 'witch hunt', conservatives say
politico reports on the 7 letters and lists several mitigation sceptics that complain now, but did not see any problems with attacks against climate scientists in the past.


David Appell said...

Joseph Romm did not specify his funders when he testified to Congress:

If Soon is at fault for not doing that, why isn't Romm?

Steve Bloom said...

Congressional testimony is already in the realm of politics, not science. Bear in mind that these folks all volunteered to testify so that their views could be used in forming public policy.

What Grijalva is asking for is basically what would be needed to verify a journal CoI claim. He's not asking any questions about the substance of the research underlying the testimony.

I think the UCS guy got it right, except for the bit about drafts. They're necessary to see what effect any revealed correspondence with funders might have had. If there is no such correspondence, it's a non-issue.

I might agree that correspondence with non-funders should be off-limits, but I would want to know Grijalva's reasoning for asking for that.

Victor Venema said...

David, people mainly talk about Soon being wrong for not disclosing his conflict of interest for the scientific journals he wrote for. His testimony before congress is only secondary, as far as I can judge. Maybe also because that is not a legal problem, because the disclosure rules of congress are rather lax. Judith Curry writes (my bold):

When you testify, you are required to include a financial disclosure related to your government funding. Presumably this is relevant if you are testifying with relation to performance by a government agency. There is no disclosure requirement that is relevant to individuals from industry or advocacy groups, or for scientists receiving funding from industry or advocacy groups.

Did I understand our previous twitter discussion right that your problem is actually that you do not know where the money of the employer of Joe Romm comes from? I would expect that congress knew he worked for ThinkProgress, that was likely the reason to invite him, not?

Asking for the funding of ThinkProgress would be comparable to asking Willie Soon for the funding of Donors Trust, rather than what is discussed now that Willie Soon should have disclosed funding from Donors Trust and others.

It might be nice to know who is behind Donor Trust or behind ThinkProgress, but I would not want to make that obligatory. The freedom of organization is very important to maintain our democratic society. People organizing themselves to oppose government policy or suppression should not have to fear being personally targeted for doing so.

Victor Venema said...

Steve Bloom: "What Grijalva is asking for is basically what would be needed to verify a journal CoI claim."

I would say, it is a lot more. For that you only need to know the funding sources. I would not mind there being a public database where you can find information on the funding sources of all scientists. Although I only find that important for large sums.

Steve Bloom said...

It's hard to verify without checking to see how the conflict may have manifested, thus the request for the drafts and communications related thereto. Journals definitely don't ask for such information, but if they decided they needed to verify CoI statements they might. The parallel re Soon would be asking to see drafts of the paper along with comments Southern might have made (as they were explicitly enabled to, note).

Of course scientists will continue to refuse to consider policing their profession in that way (did any of the murdering scientists who published fake "research" for the tobacco companies ever get any sort of professional comeuppance? - not that I'm aware), leaving it to outsiders like Grijalva, Greenpeace, Naomi Oreskes and John Mashey to do the work.

Re large sums, note that pharmaceutical companies have been able to corrupt physicians for relative chicken feed. See John Oliver on that subject. Of course, no lives being directly at stake in most climate research, we can expect that to be entirely different, right?

Steve Bloom said...

I posted this on the AGU blog where Leinen's letter appeared:

"You say “asking them to share drafts of testimony or communications about that testimony goes too far.”

"But recall that Soon’s *management* signed off on a provision allowing Southern (the funder) pre-publication review.

"How exactly is Congress to know if the same thing hasn’t occurred with others without requesting the drafts and any pertinent communications? I’m sure Grijalva would be happy to listen to your suggestion for that.

"AGU may choose to trust, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Congress to want to verify."

It's a very good question IMO, but I'm not expecting a response.

I also notice this quote of a tweet from RP Jr. at the top of Our Judy's contribution to this kerfuffle:

"Once you tug on the thread of undisclosed financial interests in climate science, you’ll find it more a norm than exception."

So you guys have lots to hide! Time for a *serious* investigation, right?

Victor Venema said...

You would see in the funding contract whether there is a requirement to show the manuscript to the funding agency.

What would be your aim? Do you think it would help science? Do you think it would make the Republicans suddenly more reasonable? Or just revenge?

Steve Bloom said...

Victor, the main problem with funding and funder influence not being apparent in the context of Congressional hearings is with the media since they will concoct a false balance narrative out of it.

Steve Bloom said...

"You would see in the funding contract whether there is a requirement to show the manuscript to the funding agency."

Not if it was an informal agreement.

Jay Alt said...

David, Romm's written 2010 testimony addressed policy issues. He used scientific and other studies to make recommendations. His analyst's hat was on- no mention of new or controversial science, or any studies of his own.

In 2012 his testimony (TP: 8.20.12), he mentioned his Nature drought article, in passing. But the speech was an exhortation for Congress to get off their lazy behinds and act.

The AZ rep. takes things too far. But most of those targeted are ideologues who don't need other motivation. Comments by one in particular suggest they resent Mann's rapid rise. With Soon, it's been clear a long while he operates from the Fred (Seitz/Singer) Playbook.

EliRabett said...

What happened to Willie Soon was his choice. When his research grants were not renewed, he made the choice of looking for money and accepting it from sources that were looking for a scientific beard to hide their economic goals.

OK Victor, you were almost in that position. Which fork in the road would you have taken? RWE and Fritz V were waiting for your answer.

Victor Venema said...

:-) Eli, not I was not in that position. My project was running out, that was all. I am still a post-doc, because I love doing research and if I "get ahead" I would be doing less research. For a post-doc I am not too bad, at least above average. So I would always get some job doing research. Maybe not exactly what I had wanted to do, what I had written a project proposal for, but likely I would even have enough choice to stay in my topic. Otherwise also no problem. Plus Europe has social security and I have some saving, so I would have time to search for a nice job or apply for funding again. May lack of "ambition", addiction to money helps.

But you are right in general. It is really surprising how little scientists are apparently willing to become mitigation sceptic. I could easily be 10 times as good as the mitigation sceptics that currently make the headlines. Many colleagues could do it much better.

I guess that at least at the start most scientists value understanding and intellectual reputation more than money; otherwise it is a really bad career choice. Becoming mitigation sceptics would earn more money and put you in the limelight, but most scientists are introverts and do not like the limelight that much. The biggest fear I have are blogging scientists. The more nonsense you write, the more applause you get from the mitigation sceptics and the more readers and comments you will get. Blog & tweet statistics have an addictive character.

Steve Bloom said...

"The biggest fear I have are blogging scientists. The more nonsense you write, the more applause you get from the mitigation sceptics and the more readers and comments you will get. Blog & tweet statistics have an addictive character."

I can't think of anyone aside from she who will not be named. Can you? If not, given that there's been plenty of time for it to happen, the evidence seems to point to it being a rarity.

Jim Bouldin's trajectory arguably has something of the same flavor, but while he's developed some pretty contrarian views on paleoclimate and is using his blog to push them, he's avoided the rest of the package. Most significantly, unlike whatsherface he doesn't publish obvious nonsense on his blog.

Steve Bloom said...

My view is that the real solution here is for scientists to be a little self-policing on this stuff. Circling the wagons around people who only produce bad science for the fossil fuel industry is counter-productive.

Victor Venema said...

No, I am not just thinking of a certain female scientist. The percentage of mitigation sceptics with a blog is much much larger than the number of normal scientists with a blog. The latter is probably less than a percent even. That relationship can also go in the other direction, as a mitigation sceptic you need a medium without quality control, but it is still an interesting relationship.

I am not getting your last comment. Please elaborate.

Victor Venema said...

There is probably more self-policing than you think. It is normally done rather subtly, without public announcements.

For example, a colleague once harassed women at a conference. I think everyone in that community knows that by now, that hurt his reputation hard and he will certainly not be leading a big project in future, although he is technically very capable.

There is a lot of self-policing via reputation. This determines how easily you get your papers published, whether you are trusted with project funding, whether you are asked for coordinating tasks, whether people want to collaborate with you and so on.

The problem is with people who have no reputation to lose any more.

Steve Bloom said...

That is exactly the problem. Unfortunately the community seems unwilling to take stronger steps regarding such people.

RP Jr. might be a better case to consider. After all of his shenanigans, it's ironic that an economist finally had to be the one to call him out.

And it's out-and-out surreal that at least some seem to still be on speaking terms with Tol.

Victor Venema said...

Even if you do not see it, I would expect that they did pay a price. A price they seem to be willing to bear.

The self-policing of the scientific community is mainly limited to the scientific community and literature. There are no rules for social media yet. The amazing behaviour of Tol in the comments at ATTP thus probably do not count much, if only because most of his colleagues do not know about it and even if someone would talk about it, would not take social media seriously.

Partially it is probably good not to take social media too seriously. It is an informal medium and if you start taking it seriously, that also means that you have to think much longer about every sentence you write, which defeats its informal character.

I do not know what kind of harsher punishments you have in mind. In case of outright fraud, sometimes peoples funding is cut and they are no longer allowed to apply for project for several years. Sometimes they are even fired. If you are thinking of harsher words and interpretation of the reasons for someone's behaviour, I do not think that that is a good idea. The civil and argumentative disputation culture in science is a high good and very important for scientific progress. For most scientists it would also simply not fit with their character.

The non-scientists in this climate "debate" have more freedom here. Hopefully they use this space for clarity, but do not go down to the level of WUWT & Co.

hvw said...

Hi Victor,

remember the many occasions where we had a good laugh at the the "skeptics" who claim that the IPCC and climate science in general are all involved in a large conspiracy to hide the truth just for keeping their lazy well-payed lifestyles?

OK, here, it seems to me, there is something to it. The lamented letter from Grijalva asks for two things: 1. Disclosure of "communication"; 2. Disclosure of funding. I find 1. ridiculous, revolting, unworthy and wrong. Yes. But I find 2. totally reasonable. As you say, scientists are humans. So there is a number of completely corrupted characters and a larger number of semi-corrupted "pushed into the right direction by money" - characters present. Wouldn't it be good if that was reduced? If laws would require more transparency? You say Soon was discredited because of shitty work anyways for a long time. Yes, but not in the political domain - where he did quite some damage, just as he was payed for. I am sure that Pielke Jr and Curry are clever enough not to have anything in their books, in case the got any, but if, wouldn't it be good if it came to light? I think it striking, actually, that scientists who report in Congress, or in any other important political arena for that matter, have apparently not being asked to disclose their possible conflicts of interest, so far. I think they should. And should be scrutinized. Under the threat of penalty to work in Excel user-support for the rest of their lives.

But nobody argues for more transparency. Huh, "science under attack", we close ranks with the shadiest figures to preempt any possibility that our freedom as to how, from whom, and under which conditions we receive funding could be limited.

This is poor. I am disappointed.

How do you like this:

This was initially to be held secret, only became public after whistleblowing by people who risk legal charges now. The pool of politics advisers in economics educated and funded by a large bank.

Don't get me started on life sciences. If only a small fraction of the corrupt activity that is talked about at the lab-level is true, then humanity could be better off by killing it off and starting the field from scratch.

If you have a type like Soon publishing and influencing policy, formally from the position of a scientist, it is your responsibility, as a real scientist, if you care about your tradition, your profession, and at least a little bit about the ideals that are generally associated with your status, to publicly talk about it and suggest measures to prevent something like that in the future. You fail to do that and a politician comes along and tries to do what would have been your job. Your response: Let's circle the wagons lest one of us faces a drawback. How cowardly and selfish is that?

Victor Venema said...

hvw, I must not have been clear enough. My part about funding was a reaction to the discussion we had about the problems with big funders in Switzerland and Cologne. I find it very reasonable to expect all these funding sources and their contracts to be published on the internet.

What I do not want is single scientists being singled out to reveal their funding. Because that can be used for harassment. If the university administration publishes this information as a standard administrative act when setting up a new project there is no room for harassment.

hvw said...

Of course this is a politically motivated thingy going on - nobody really loves this. But "singling out" scientists who give expert advice to politicians for extra scrutiny? Next time better before they are invited, yes. But in general I think its OK.

I complain not really about anything specific you say. Rather about the general drift of all these perfectly good climate scientists in blogs and on Twitter who focus on "harassment", "freedom of science", evil politicians, blah, but ignore the problem that is theirs and which is the cause for any possible over-reaction from a politician.

It is like the pope preaching "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone" and ""Do not judge, and you will not be judged" when confronted with the fact that some of his priests have been jailed for raping kids and parents become reluctant to send their kids to priests.

Victor Venema said...

I agree, that it is very strange that the disclosure rules for congress testimonies are so lax. Totally forgot the state this before because it is so obvious.

It might be on purpose because the politicians invite people to get the answers they want to get. If they were interested in the best understanding, the would just read the IPCC report, in case of climate change. And if that is too hard for them to understand, they could ask someone to explain it, but not to give their personal pet theory on climate.

I would welcome a full disclosure of funding sources; the public has the right to know this as we have seen that is influences the results (mainly in the medical sciences). I would expect much less influence in the natural sciences, simply because there are much less possibilities for personal judgement. It would be hard to draw a line somewhere, so let's do that for all sciences.

My guess would be that Willie Soon is an exception and that most mitigation sceptical scientists are not sponsored by special interests. To communicate this convincingly it helps a lot if you believe in it. The people who are paid are the people who make sure these scientists and bloggers get into the media and organize conferences for them. Much of the money likely goes to buying politicians.

What would you like scientists to do additionally? What do you see as big problems (for science)? "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone" might not be such a bad sentence. Just like in the rest of society you will not get rid of all bad behaviour. A police state in or outside science would not be a good idea.

Less soft money and more real permanent position would probably help to make bad behaviour less attractive and calling out bad behaviour less risky. Soft money funding rules should be clearer. For example, I cannot find any information on how the German Science Foundation decides which scientific discipline gets how much money.

In case of climate science the "overreaction" of the Republicans is part of their normal war on climate science. I do not think there is much science could do to prevent that, that is not a reaction to problems in science. The only thing we could do would be to stop being science and tell the Republicans what they want to hear. Or change the rules and make it illegal for politicians to attack scientists.

hvw said...

Victor, I agree with pretty much everything you are saying here.

"What would you like scientists to do additionally? "

In this case I think it would be helpful to clearly take a position, like "This behaviour is outside our norms and we condemn it" instead of hiding behind the self-regulatory nature of science, as in "nobody took him seriously anyway, so what". The self-regulatory thing might work *inside* science, but public perception of scientists and political impact is outside and has to be dealt with non-scientific means.

"I cannot find any information on how the German Science Foundation decides which scientific discipline gets how much money"
It is my understanding that this is decided without pre-set weight by the 10k or so reviewers. The big overarching topics are set by the BMBF from political considerations.

Victor Venema said...

In this case I think it would be helpful to clearly take a position, like "This behaviour is outside our norms and we condemn it"

What is "this case"? The AMS has clearly condemned the 7 letters targeted at mitigation sceptics.

There have been public statement from scientific bodies about Prof Jakob, that her too accurate climate predictions were wrong. She was often in the press with statements like: along the river Mosel, in 2040 we will see x.4°C temperature increase. I think there were even multiple warnings. This did not get much publicity as far as I know and thus likely did not change public opinion much.

As long as I am working on project funding, I will personally be very careful with making such comments. Would only do so if I feel it is really important, especially when it comes to German colleagues, who may decide on my funding. I am happy to collaborate in the collective self-policing, but public statements are more for scientific bodies.

Something we could improve in Germany at least would be the Ombudsmen at the universities. They are supposed to be the first response unit for smaller problems, but in practise they seem to see their role as protecting the university (and thus its professors because they cannot be fired) and making sure nothing gets out. It would be good if these Ombudsmen would be more independent and would come from another university.

It is my understanding that this is decided without pre-set weight by the 10k or so reviewers. The big overarching topics are set by the BMBF from political considerations.

I thought something similar. I thought the funding of the scientific disciplines within the German Science Foundation (DFG) depends on the number of proposals submitted. However, this is only evaluated every few years, so there is a time lag.

The funding of the German ministry of Research (BMBF) and other ministries is pure politics. Because such research funding increase the number of researchers in a certain field, they also increase the number of research proposal from a certain field and thus in the long run the the distribution of funds by the DFG.

I guess it is okay that the distribution between disciplines is determined by politics, it is comparing apples and oranges, which is the task of politics. But scientists might have a better eye for the longer term, where politicians want science to be economically useful within the legislature, which is illusionary even for the fastest moving fields, but probably does distort their idea of which disciplines should be funded most.

This is important and should be written up and published. I cannot find it on their pages about funding, but maybe it is somewhere else.

hvw said...

"What is "this case"? The AMS has clearly condemned the 7 letters targeted at mitigation sceptics."

With this case I mean Soon having his "research results" pre-determined by Exxon & Koch brothers, of course.

The AMS statement could have been "Letters bad & improper to target indiv. scientists, but we understand the problem and work on preventing this (corruption in our ranks) in the future."

There have been public statement from scientific bodies about Prof Jakob, that her too accurate climate predictions were wrong. She was often in the press with statements like: along the river Mosel, in 2040 we will see x.4°C temperature increase.

Can't recall that. Doesn't fit my impression of D. Jacob being quite careful. You have a link?

In general, not limited so the Soon case and similar incidents, I would just like to see the oh-so concerned and engaged climate scientist to make their personal opinions more public. Not their professional duty, of course, not necessarily good for the career for everybody, but there are enough big cheese who are not afraid of silly outreach activities who could afford to take a stand. With all this I explicitly do not mean the criticism of colleagues' results - goes without saying, I hope. I talk about engagement in society. Pull a Hansen.

The question about how public funding is allocated long-term to the different research fields is a tricky one. The ministry obviously doesn't make the best decisions. Institutional science is not organised meaningfully on an above-disciplines level and therefore can't. Optimally they'd just ask me ;)

Victor Venema said...

Now I understand the reason for our differences. For me it is okay for Soon to be funded by oil and coal companies. That should be disclosed, but is not a problem in itself.

If these companies had only a little doubt that climate science is wrong they would fund alternative research. And we should thus also allow that. Now we know, that these companies hardly do so, only for people with a PR affiliation. That gives us the information that oil and coal executives do not have any doubt whatsoever that climate science is right. If that would be forbidden, we would not have that clear signal and may also miss interesting ideas from outsiders. And it does not reduce the funding for more sensible projects from public funds.

What is wrong about Soon's work is that it is so bad and often simply logically wrong. That has been called out in public by science. The press did not want to listen. I must admit that I see the main problem with the climate "debate" with the mass media that are not working like they should in a democratic society.

No, I do not have a source for the warnings, just heard of it. That is also why I did not spell out her name.

It is not about her work, but about how she presented it in the press. The public statements were because of reports in newspapers like this one.
Detailliert wie nie zuvor hat ein Hamburger Supercomputer das künftige Klima Deutschlands errechnet. Fazit: Die Profiteure der Erwärmung leben im Norden.

Der Mai verspricht für Berlin wenig Gutes. Es wird viel regnen, über 20 Prozent mehr als normal. "Die Sonne macht sich rar", prophezeit die Meteorologin Daniela Jacob. Doch immerhin: Milde Westwinde bescheren den Hauptstädtern Temperaturen, die um 1,2 Grad Celsius über denen von heute liegen.

Tröstlich an diesen durchwachsenen Aussichten ist lediglich, dass viele Berliner sie gar nicht mehr erleben werden. Denn die Daten hat ein Superrechner am Deutschen Klimarechenzentrum in Hamburg ausgespuckt, und zwar für das Jahr 2050."

The temperature in May 2050 in Berlin with one decimal and no indication of uncertainties. That is not a good way to present how accurate climate projections are.

The quoted article is already somewhat older, so maybe she did take note in the end and does not make such statements in the presence of journalists any more. So maybe it was before your time.

hvw said...

Now I understand the reason for our differences. For me it is okay for Soon to be funded by oil and coal companies. That should be disclosed, but is not a problem in itself.

Funding in itself is OK. Buying "results" is not. Yes, disclosure is key, and in this case, as in many others mainly in other fields, it is clear that enforced proper disclosure would make such business relationships impossible in the first place.

The public statements were because of reports in newspapers like this one.

Of course such statements are ridiculous. But I am willing to bet this Brunch Buffet that she didn't actually said this. First, it's Spiegel Online, second, it's by Gerald Traufetter, who has an impressive track-record of sacrificing correct reporting for the catchy statement.

United in media bashing, aren't we? ;).

Victor Venema said...

On Sundays from 9.30am-2.30pm enjoy the big Brunch Buffet at discretion or by weight.

Initially, I thought I would have to pay more because of my current overweight. :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm personally surprised that scientists speaking before Congress aren't routinely asked to submit a list of funding sources along with their CV and list of publications.

As for the fear that Congressmen may use funding as a tool for attacking the credibility of a witness, I'd turn the argument around and ask the Congressman if his views had been purchased by campaign contributions.

Unfortunately, Stephen Schneider did open the door to problems of this type by advocating that scientists tell scary stories etc instead of sticking to the whole truth with all of the caveats. If I were a Congressman, I'd ask witnesses if they were testifying as ethical scientists (as defined by Schneider) or individuals who wanted to make the world a better place.


Victor Venema said...

Yes, if there is one place where disclosure makes sense it would be before Congress. Where people are close to power and special interests are trying to influence what is being told. Where people also have limited time to tell their story and thus have to leave our a lot the arguments and evidence, which makes trust important.

In the scientific literature an argument is laid out in enormous detail and especially in the natural sciences there is not much leeway to influence the results and easy to be found out.

You repeat a common misunderstanding of the words of Stephen Schneider. This is to be expected. He was an influential communicator of the dangers of climate change and the groups who are against mitigation thus have to destroy his reputation as well as they can.

The fully quote can be found on Wikipedia:
On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

In the media you normally get even less time than before Congress. It is thus impossible to tell the full story. What the quote is trying to convey is that in such a situation you should make sure that you still tell as balanced story as hard as it is under such circumstances. What he is trying to say is the opposite of the claim of mitigation sceptics.

I would personally add that when you are speaking as a scientist this balanced story should be based on your best understanding of the scientific literature. If you own opinion differs, then it is your task speaking as scientist to explain both aspects and to clearly distinguish them.

An even clearer case of a misquotation is documented in this post of mine. I have pointed out on WUWT that this was a misquotation. Nobody was interested. Nobody said: "I am still against mitigation, but misquoting people is lying and wrong". This was one of the moments that convinced me that WUWT & Co. and many mitigation sceptics have no interest in the truth. For them the aims seem to justify the means. That makes it impossible to have a reasoned debate, like I am used to in the scientific community.

Steve Bloom said...

Victor, never forget that deniers argue about the science in order to avoid discussing policy, which means it's a dishonest exercise at the outset.

Back on the direct topic, ICYMI Paul Thacker tweeted this very interesting parallelism. Refer also to the John Oliver video I linked upthread.

Anonymous said...

Victor: I should, of course, have taken the time cite the full quote. However, I personally don't think there is an ethical double bind. If one is testifying as a scientist, act like a scientist. If one is testifying as an well-informed policy advocate, make it clear that you aren't speaking as a scientist. Don't demean my profession by acting as a lawyer or politician.

Are the scientists testifying in front of Congress or writing SPMs for the IPCC really invited to: "tell scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts"?

Nothing sickens me more than seeing two opposing climate scientists testifying so as to obscure areas of agreement and the scientific nature of their disagreements. If any policymaker in the room came with an open mind, he didn't learn anything useful. The rest is just preaching to the choir, a waste of time.


Victor Venema said...

The Summary for Policy Makers is a simplification of the IPCC report, which is a simplification of the scientific literature, which is a simplification of the studies performed.

If you see something you think is important, something you think the public should know, you need the press. If you want them to write about you have to explain the consequences for the readers. You cannot write in the same language as in the scientific literature. Then no journalist would write something about your work.

Especially in the beginning many of those consequences will be highly uncertain. Journalists do not like that and will cut it out if you mention that in a separate sentence. Thus you have to build a sentence that talks about the consequences and simultaneously about the uncertainties.

I understand that many mitigation sceptics would prefer the press not to write anything. Then you get into a discussion about moral values. I would see it as immoral to know about a potential large problem and keep your mouth shut or talk in a language that no journalist will publish, which is effectively the same as keeping your mouth shut. Fortunately, that problem is not longer large, at least in Europe, people know that climate change is a problem.

citizenschallenge said...

"This is harassment of scientists for their politically inconvenient positions. That is wrong and should not happen. This is a violation of the freedom of research."

So on a scale - how much worse is it for those named scientists to constantly repeat demonstrable lies -

To refuse to correct their mistakes when they are pointed out by knowledgeable peers. -

And to sprinkle their commentary with malicious slander about the scientific community being composed of 'dishonest activists' and 'kowtowed lemmings"

just asking

Victor Venema said...

If these other scientists do so knowing they are wrong, that is highly immoral. I cannot imagine it otherwise, but you cannot prove such a thing. Whatever the case, I do not want to lower my moral values because others have lower values. If they are somewhat human, they will suffer for their behaviour, I do not want to suffer and end up hating myself.