Monbiot and BBC – Accusing an innocent man due to a common prejudice?

Boris Johnson has something spot on about Newsnight’s accusing Lord McAlpine of paedophilia in a children’s home. Morally, it is probably today the worst sort of crime somebody could be accused of. Mass murder is not so bad, as long as you have higher motive. Even though it is meant to inspire terror into ordinary peaceful folk, it will not be called terrorism. The BBC will probably point to an excuse that as Newsnight supressed Jimmy Savile’s paedophilia due to sensitivity to Savile’s family, they did not want to fail in their duty for a second time. But there is something more than this, suggested by the Twittering George Monbiot. He was one of two prominent Twitterers to falsely “finger” Lord McAlpine as the culprit. Monbiot is now profusely apologetic, but I would suggest that his knee-jerk reaction was not out of character. It has some commonality with his take on the Gleick affair.

Earlier this year there was “released” a cache of documents from the Libertarian Heartland Institute. Peter Gleick, a dogmatic climate activist and scientist with a passionate dislike of any opposition obtained the documents by deception, and the released them anonymously. Most were innocuous, except for a “2012 Strategy Document”. Gleick was “outed” as the likely leaker, as this document was in Gleick’s peculiar writing style, not the more polished house-style of Heartland. It also contained a number of errors. George Monbiot praised Gleick’s actions as those of a “democratic hero” exposing the secret funding of climate denial by this right-wing think tank. There is no acknowledgement of the piffling size of this funding compared with government and private funding of alarmism and no acknowledgement of the evidence of forgery. Monbiot has no perspective on figures. If a few million dollars of Heartland “denial” is so effective against the billions poured into the science, Heartland should be chock full of internees infiltrated by every major Ad agency and democratic political party on the planet. Further, if there is a dominant, untenable, ideological position, then democracy is endangered not served by those who seek to confront the dominancy, but by those who seek to obliterate criticism. If the vast majority are on the side of the overwhelming truth, then publicity examining falsities can only serve to strengthen the perception of that truth. But, if it is a falsity, then exposing those who speak out to ad hominem attacks and slander is the thuggish way of silencing opposition. This principle is ingrained in the trial by jury system.

The reactions of the now BBC-departed Richard Black were in a similar vein.

What possible bearing can this have on George Monbiot’s judgement of the (false) allegations that Lord McAlpine was a paedophile? Might it be that Lord McAlpine was the former Treasurer (and very effective fundraiser) of the Conservative Party during the Thatcher years have something to do with it? When a tiny think tank can be so effective in sustaining climate denial, is not Lord McAlpine principally responsible for all that Mrs T inflicted on the Britain? And with the BBC culturally inculcated by similar pro-Guardian views, is it not conceivable that their failure to question the evidence might have something to do with McAlpine’s history?

The Morality of Lying and Exaggerating for Climate Science

In the Guardian today, James Garvey, argues that the actions of Peter Gleick in lying to obtain documents from the Heartland Institute could be justified in the interests of the wider good. He says

The documents, if authentic, show that Heartland takes money – in secret – from people who have something to gain by the idea that climate science is uncertain, and then spread that idea with enthusiasm. Do I actually need to say this in 2012? There is no controversy in the scientific community about Heartland’s target: the fact of warming and the human role played in it.

What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus and action. Was Gleick right to lie to expose Heartland and maybe stop it from causing further delay to action on climate change?

There are some issues with this statement

  • The most important strategy document is almost certainly fake. Peter Gleick was accused of being the source of the leak by Steven Mosher, because this document was in his distinctive style of writing, including grammatical errors. Gleick denies he wrote the fake document, but now admits to (the lesser crime of) obtaining the other documents by deception.
  • The following statement is ambiguous

    There is no controversy in the scientific community about Heartland’s target: the fact of warming and the human role played in it

    It can mean one of four options. First, that the “scientific community” believe what the Heartland’s target is (so there must be a straw poll somewhere). Second, the scientific community believe in anthropogenic global warming. In which case there a definition of who is in the “scientific community” and who is out. The “97% of scientists believe” was a small subset of all scientists in the climate field, who were asked two very trivial questions, so the degree of belief is not in the predicted level of catastrophe that will justify drastic action. Third as to whether the human role played in (global warming) is a fact. The statement of global average surface temperatures being higher than they were 50, 100, 150, or 400 years ago is incontrovertible (though the actual amount is debatable), but the human role is a subject of wide controversy. They are two separate facts, so the human role is just a belief of the 97% of 1.6% of those who answered two trivial questions, which was just over 30% of those who received questionnaires. Whatever the ambiguities in the statement, it does not rely on scientific evidence, as there is plenty of controversy of the anthropogenic contribution due to a lack of incontrovertible scientific evidence.

  • If the scientific consensus was created by a minority  and maintained by “outing” any who voiced concerns, with activists seeking to annul their funding, then that “consensus” opinion should be viewed with a little bit of scepticism.
  • The statement “What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus and action.” is a potential moral minefield. If 90% of the population decide that it is alright to persecute a peaceful minority would that be alright? If 90% of the population strongly believe that potential terrorists should be held without trial and tortured, would that be alright?

But leaving these issues aside, the problem with telling lies, or exaggerating, is when you are found out. Once you have lost people’s trust, it is very hard to regain that trust. Dale Carnegie in “How To Win Friends And Influence People” made this very point. 
However, from a purely utilitarian point of view it might be permissible to mislead a suspect criminal in order to find the evidence, at it is not that person’s trust that you want to maintain. The wider public will generally think well of you if you get a criminal off the streets. But if it is to marginalise you opponents, it will backfire if the wider public then perceive that you cannot be trusted. This is especially true when much of the case for climate change is based on trust in scientists to report accurately on a complex subject.

The reasons that there is growing distrust in the scientific consensus are multiple:

  • Michael Mann’s hockey stick studies were based on cherry-picked data, biased weightings of individual studies that showed hockey sticks over the ones that did not AND the favoured studies have all been overturned.
  • The UNIPCC 2007 report did not live up the projected image in a number of areas. The Himalayan Glaciers episode is only the tip of the non-melting iceberg. It is full of partisan analysis and exclusion of contrary science.
  • The Climategate email hack also showed the public image of certainties held by a wide number of scientists is nothing of the sort. The core group are highly partisan, and have taken strenuous efforts to exclude contrary views from the journals.

Finally, please remember that activists have got every major scientific body, including the Royal Society, to make proclamations in favour of Global Warming Alarmism. If public funding of science is seen to go to those who lie and exaggerate, then there will be increased distrust in all areas of science. These activists scientists are risking more than their own reputations.


Heartland Leak – The Implications

The stolen documents from the Heartland Institute have caused a lot of comment on the blogs. There are a number of things that will come out of this.

1. The consensus climate scientists and their cohorts cannot deal with numbers. Just as they have no sense of proportion with financial values (see Jo Nova on this), they likewise have no sense of proportion with sea level rise, temperature rise, or extreme weather events.

2. A better antonym of “sceptical” than “undoubting” or “believer” is “gullible”. Seems DeSmogBlog did not think to check out the authenticity of the damming 2012 strategy document, neither do they accept the Heartland rebuttal. It fitted the narrative, so they published within an hour of receiving the mail. Similarly The Guardian posted a number of one-sided reports (here, here, here), as did Roger Black of the BBC, without waiting to verify the facts. The most alarming 2012 strategy document is a fax (Judith Curry has other references)

3. A number of people, like me, will visit for the first time. They will find they have 7 policy areas employing 20 people, of which “Environment & Energy” employs 3. They specialise in providing cogent summaries of these issues to policy-makers. Whatever you think of their political stance, they are hardly the secretive, rabid backwoodsmen right-wingers that the alarmists project.

4. This support for spreading information in a concise, intelligible form also comes out in the sceptic-funding “exposes”. There is one-off support for Antony Watts who

proposes to create a new Web site devoted to accessing the new temperature data from NOAA’s web site and converting them into easy-to-understand graphs that can be easily found and understood by weathermen and the general interested public.” 

The, alleged, biggest recipient by far of monthly funding is Craig D Idso, who founded the website. This provides summaries of climate science papers, collating their results to help give an overall picture of such as the medieval warm period, ocean acidification and the effect of CO2 on plant growth. For instance, I like this graphic summarising the proxy studies of the MWP showing that the Mannian Hockey Stick studies need to at least reconcile their claim that average global temperatures are warmer than in the last 1000 years.

5. It illustrates the upside-down nature of climatology, compared with conventional science. Conventional science is based on making bold statements and predictions that are substantiated by the evidence, with very clear and replicable methods. Over time it refines its techniques, strengthens its methods of analysis and sees its predictions confirmed. It does not need to denigrate, or attempt to silence its detractors. Like the historians of the holocaust, conventional science just points to the evidence and enlightens those who seek the truth. The real deniers of truth in history have been those who silence their opponents and fabricate distortions.

Overall, the leak exposes why the little Heartland Institute is so evil and dangerous to many. They threaten the jobs and reputations of tens of thousands of climate scientists, “policy-makers”, regulators, and powerful business interests in the alternatives to reliable energy. On the other hand, they are on the side of those made hungry by fuel crops competing with food, and of future generations globally, who will be worse-off by growth-sapping mitigation policies.