During the time that I’ve not been writing, the so-called Climategate ‘scandal’ has been one of the major talking points regarding climate change and the media. In a fairly sickening way it’s a really interesting example of how communication can be distorted by a combination of willing idiots and paid PR people who have an agenda to push – in this case right wing think tanks linked to fossil fuel industries who are hell bent on opposing any kind of binding international agreement or national laws which will curb the emissions of their industries. It’s an issue I’ll probably spend some more time analysing here sometime soon, but today I briefly wanted to look at the latest developments and how the BBC in particular chose to cover them.
So firstly, what was the conclusion of this report… well
We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it.
Given the hysterical claims made by the global warming denial lobby over the CRU email hack that is pretty unequivocal. The data was not fudged, made up, or invented and the CRU was not involved in a duplicitous process of scientific malpractice and fraud aimed at deceiving the public and the world’s politicians into taking action on a non-existent problem.
This is the second report into the CRU hack which has now reached the same conclusion following the publication of the UK Parliament’s Commons Science and Technology Committee report into the affair. So after months of mainstream media and right wing blog speculation and hearsay about how anthropogenic climate was a fantasy concocted by conspiring climate scientists, which just happened to coincide with the UN COP15 confere4nce on climate change, it turns out that all of these claims were absolute rubbish.
So how does the BBC website cover this story? Well they start well with a headline of ‘No Malpractice by Climate Unit’ and briefly cover the actual report and it’s contents with a quote from Lord Oxburgh stating that
We found absolutely no evidence of any impropriety whatsoever. That doesn’t mean that we agreed with all of their conclusions, but these people were doing their jobs honestly.
The article then goes on to to state that sceptics have criticised Oxburgh’s appointment as the panel’s chair as he ‘is currently president of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association and chairman of wind energy firm Falck Renewables. Critics say clean energy companies would benefit from policies to tackle climate change.’ Which is fair enough – revealing the economic interests of interviewees which may impinge on their judgements ought to be a part of journalism. They don’t however mention that Oxburgh was only one of a seven man team of experts who oversaw the inquiry.
What really irked me about the BBC piece however is its concluding section in which we find
Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, criticised the panel for producing a report that was “not even-handed” and appeared to be the product of a “rushed job”.
He said: “This has produced a very superficial report. The panel should have taken more time to come to more balanced and trustworthy conclusions.
“They should have heard evidence from critical researchers who have been working in the same field for many years.”
First of all, for those who aren’t familiar with Benny Peiser while he is indeed an academic, simply describing him as a Dr within an article concentrating on science and scientists is somewhat misleading. Peiser is a senior lecturer in social anthropology and sports sociology. Yup that’s right, instead of getting information about climate science from climate scientists, or maybe physicists or atmospheric chemists the Beeb turns to a sports sociologist. Right… Well he has published peer reviewed papers. Three in fact, in the following journals: Sports Medicine, 2006; Journal of Sports Sciences (2004); and, Bioastronomy 2002: life among the stars (2004).
Peiser’s main claim to fame, is that in 2005 he tried to publish a response to a paper published by Naomi Oreskes in the journal Science which carried out a survey of 928 abstracts of peer reviewed papers on the ISI database which contained the keywords ‘global climate change.’ Oreskes found that of these 928 papers, none of the abstracts contradicted the IPCC position, which was used as evidence corroborating the strength of the scientific consensus on climate change. Peiser couldn’t get his response published in Science, but did publish in the Daily Telegraph and online. He claimed that Oreskes had lied about the number of abstracts that her search should have turned up, and claimed that he found 34 abstracts among these which directly contradicted the IPCC position.
Firstly it turned out that Peiser had a different number of abstracts because he had entered different search terms, Oreskes had excluded journals which were not peer reviewed whereas Peiser had not, leading to one of his 34 abstracts being an un-reviewed industry publication by the American Society of Petroleum Geologists. Thats right, the oil industry.
Following his online publication of the 34 abstracts he claimed contradicted the consensus position, Tim Lambert who writes the Deltoid blog published the list and dissected whether or not they turned out to support Peiser’s claims. By October 2006 Peiser’s initial 34 abstracts had shrunk to one, making him a mere 97% wrong.
So not only do the BBC decide that they should be getting opinions on climate science from sports sociologists, but that they should get them from from sports sociologists who can’t use a search engine or comprehend the abstract of a scientific paper.
What about the official sounding Global Warming Policy Foundation which the BBC states Peiser is a director of? It’s an anti-global warming group launched by that scientific colossus Lord Nigel Lawson of Blaby, the former Tory chancellor who prior to becoming a politician had been a financial journalist.
If the Beeb really feel the need to include the views of sports sociologists and retired Tories on scientific issues it would seem professional courtesy to at least state what these sources really are rather than simply presenting them as a rival group of experts who disagree with the both the scientists at the CRU and the scientists who carried out the Oxburgh report.