Tonight I attended the “conversation” about Ethics in Climate Change Research.
It was an interesting experience.
Located in the basement of one of the main buildings, in classroom “C”. A very small auditorium. Perhaps seating for 75? I was 3 rows back from the presenters. The presentation was billed as 3 folks. The reality was more that one acted as M.C. and crowd warm up while the other two had a sort of “mutual admiration discussion”.
Naomi Oreskes, Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego and co-author of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
Noah Diffenbaugh, Assistant Professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford, and a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Joseph Mazor, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford whose research focuses on environmental ethics
Joseph Mazor acted as M.C. He “framed the discussion” and limited the area to essentially the least interesting parts. We were not to discuss if Glboal Warming was or was not happening. Nor was the data clean and sound, or not. Not even if the science were done well, or not. No, the discussion was only to be about the ethical questions raised by Climate Change research. All the while putting off limits the ethical question of “What if it is wrong?” and the moral dilemma of perhaps hobbling a generation for a fantasy.
A relatively young man, and a bit nervous at being in charge, he did a decent job of “framing”, and announced that the “discussion” would be about 45 minutes, then there would be about 15 minutes of questions and answers.
The room was filled, with a half dozen left standing along the walls.
Even with both back doors open, the atmosphere was a bit stuffy and warm. During the talk several folks were visibly nodding off. Eyes closed trying valiently to keep their heads from nodding. Not all succeeded. I was glad I’d not had dinner prior to the event…
The first half hour was spent largely talking in grand circumlocutions that said little. Lots of talk about the importance of ethics and the dilemma posed by ethical considerations. It wasn’t until the last half that things “picked up” a little. At that time some of the biases began to be more openly voiced. During it all, the list of the three speakers (as quoted above) was projected on a large screen behind the speakers (seated) with the obligatory polar bear picture above their bios.
Noah Diffenbaugh was a bit older, but I’d guess about “40 something”. He staked out the position that “we all just want the science to be right” and spent some time talking about how he edited a journal and would often reject papers that did not fit their editorial type, but had valid science done. They specialize in ‘relevance’ so got a chuckle when he said he would tell folks they had that a nice paper with valid science in it but that it didn’t fit their relevance desires…
While professing lack of bias, he went out of his way to dis the Heartland conference. Saying he had been invited to speak but could not make it due to this event, and various other things such as classes or office hours in following days; but he had offered to do a Video Conference. Then to be told that the facilities did not exist for it (but that he had found the video feed of the conference on line…)
Clearly trying to imply that of course they could have done a video conference … The implication hanging heavy in the air and getting a murmur of assent from the audience and a couple of chuckles. I don’t know if the act was deliberate, or if they just didn’t understand that there is a large difference between some guy running a camera in the sessions vs having interactive 2 way TV and a large monitor on the podium. Different equipment. Different network feeds. Different folks running cameras at different ends.
But many folks are technically clueless about infrastructure differences, so maybe he’s just one of those who thinks a camera at one end and delayed multicast is the same as a camera at both and interactive live unicast… In a way I found it a telling metaphor for the nature of the Warmers vs the Realists. One recognizes a finer level of detail and understands better how things really works. The warmists are more interested in sound bites that play well to the audience.
In general, he had a decent attitude about the need for accurate and objective science, but clearly came from the agenda of “the Science is known and correct as it stands” so we ought to be moving on to the ethics of doing something on a policy basis.
The real ringer in the group though was Naomi Oreskes. She was pushing her book and frequently made references to the Tobacco Industry and how they were indulging in deliberate deception to thwart true consensus science. The clear implication being that Big Oil was doing the same. Much time was spent on the idea that media would push for a contentious ‘balanced’ view, when in reality the science was settled; and ‘balance’ was really a false presentation of controversy where there was none. Was it ‘ethical’ to have that kind of deception of an apparent “debate” where nothing was really debatable?
There was talk about funding of science and how it could color results. Naomi spent time explaining how the Tobacco industry had been found guilty of RICO Racketeering charges and perhaps a school like Stanford would avoid associating with convicted racketeers even if they would not be biased by the money source. Some how this was supposed to be connected to biased funding for global warming research…
Noah Diffenbaugh then spent a fair amount of time admiring how researchers ought to display their funding sources like NASCAR drivers via logos… but he’d not had time to make a coat for himself… and besides, most of his funding was from government (so the implication was that it was unbiased funding…) The “ethical question” of self confirmation bias and group think leading to selective funding from NGOs and government agencies was studiously avoided…
Equally avoided was any discussion of the ethical challenges of Climategate. Their was one mention of Climategate in passing and that was largely in a dismissive tone.
Toward the end, an Australian news promotional for a piece about “I can change your mind on Climate Change” was played. This was greeted by a question from the audience “Is that a Murdoch Paper?” Which got a ‘yes’ and snickers from the audience. Their bias was very strongly against Fox News and Murdoch. Content? Who needs to think about content if you have already dismissed the source?
Similarly dismissive attitudes were displayed from the audience (with affirmations from the panel) about the Heartland Institute when it’s name came up (in connection with the conference and video remote discussed above). Who needs to ask why hundreds of folks felt compelled to abandon the conferences stage managed by The Team and form their own; if you can dismiss it with snickers…
Toward the end, the facade for un-bias was pretty much tossed out. Still working just from innuendo and snickers, but with increasingly open derision of skeptics. During the Q&A session one man got the microphone for a question and asked “Am I the only skeptic here?” An older man, about 60 I’d guess. I waited a bit on the long side of comfortable and then said to him “No, you are not”… “outing” myself as a skeptic. He asked about the discrepancy between the satellite record and the instrumental record.
In a classical example of The Dodge we’ve all seen too many times, Noah Diffenbaugh said, roughly, “That was dealt with in a paper in 2005” (I may have the date off a bit) “it was a human error and was corrected”. Hardly satisfactory. The same old “It’s in the published peer reviewed literature, go read it” dodge. No discussion of the tight grip on the spigot of who got published by “the team”. No discussion of the ethical questions raised by the ClimateGate emails about the attempts to block publication of papers that did not agree with the team. Just ‘whitewash and move on’.
The major issue being pushed was about how the science was settled so what were the ethics of advocacy and could a scientist, like Hansen, reasonably be both an advocate and do unbiased research? With the conclusion being “yes, as long as it passes peer review” and how it was the “community” of scientists that made sure the science was correct so not a problem. That a scientist might show up in a lab and put on the white coat, but it was just too much to expect them to check their bias and advocacy at the door; but as long as it was peer reviewed, well then it was checked an that made it OK.
More time was spent on the issue of “settled science” too. Lip service paid to the notion that there was always room for a new point of view, and how some folks even disputed plate tectonics or quantum mechanics even today and that was OK too (with the implication being that toleration of the odd crank was OK as long as they didn’t manage to upset The Consensus and action on that consensus; but certainly NOT OK if they were being funding by corporations with an agenda just to confound things, like The Tobacco Companies did… Again studiously avoiding the interesting ethical questions of the UN Agenda 21 funded push for biased science and the issues of “group think” and “self confirmation bias” in grants awarded by NGOs and government agencies.
Naomi had a rather oddly (somewhat high) pitched voice. She was also ‘past her prime’ yet dressed in a too tight top a bit too loosely buttoned and with a skirt a bit too short. (I’m not the only one to notice this. My neighbor brought it up too. He’s more of a progressive than I am. This is not a personal bias issue.) At any rate, some folks in their 50s would be better off not dressing like someone in their 20s. A business suit would have worked better with the “2 guys in suits” on the stage. But I suppose it would be considered chauvinistic and very non-PC for someone to have politely let her know.
What left me most dismayed was the simple fact that there were Great Ethical Questions that could have been raised, but were basically ignored. The Ethics of subornation of peer review? The ethics of cherry picking one tree in Yamal? The ethics of advocacy of policies that would generate $Millions of funding from NGOs? The ethics of condemning to a miserable life and death millions via abandonment of modernity via fossil and nuclear energy in favor of a Green Agenda Austerity and the death that comes with abandoning modernity? The ethics of thwarting FOIA requests? The ethics of attack ads and the politics of Personal Destruction waged by warmers? The ethics of pushing the “Settle Science” agenda when science is NEVER settled? (Preponderance of evidence ought to be enough to push policy goals anyway…)
So, it was the great un-asked that got me down. How could so much time be spent on ‘framing’ to avoid them all; and to channel discussion into ‘buy Naomi’s book’ and ‘the IPCC has it right as I’m one of the IPCC editors’ and so little be spent on the ethics of Climategate? Of course, too, their was no mention of the fraud of Gleick and “Fakegate”. How can you have a discussion of the ethics of Global Warming and leave out someone who lied, posed as board member to steal confidential documents, then finding them not juicy enough, fabricate company documents and claims them real? No, those things and more were simply ignored into oblivion.
Those questions were lost in the pitch about industry funding and Fox News presenting a faked “alternative” and a biased push for “balance” where there wasn’t really any honest science on the other side, so any ‘balance’ was fake and to be avoided as playing into the hands of a propaganda operation.
I’d have been more bothered about it where it not for the way that ‘audience participation’ and snickers and tisk tisks indicated that presenters were mostly preaching to the converted. Talk of the 3% of skeptical scientists framing them as a residual of cranks and that it was mostly the self serving media making it look like those folk ought to have presence in a ‘balanced’ setting that was the wrong thing to do; as they didn’t represent a balanced other side, but just a fringe that ought to be ignored.
I didn’t bother asking any questions (having been ‘outed’ it isn’t clear I’d have gotten the microphone anyway). It was pretty clear that pointing out the lack of coverage of very important ethical questions raised by Climategate was only going to get snickers and dismissive answers.
After about an hour and a half the event broke up.
I’m quite disappointed in Stanford. They had an excellent opportunity to have explored some real ethical issues and the dilemma of what to do about Climate Change, how to balance the risks each way, how to balance the needs of some vs the advocacy science of others. Instead we got some pre-planned pablum with a good dose of Sominex Bucket of Slop-py science and whitewash to cover. Folks pushing books to an audience of True Believers. One other odd bit being how often folks talked about the BELIEF in Climate Change. How to get folks to believe. As though belief was what mattered, rather than truth.
So much interesting discussion of ethics that could have happened, white washed away by the need to promote the Agenda and be PC.