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Here’s a selective bibliography of some of the sources I used for my presentation at the Mediating Environmental Change: Exploring the Way Forwards MeCCSA symposium in Bournemouth earlier this month. A few people there asked if I could post these links, so here they are, I hope they’re useful 🙂

Media Materiality and Environment: Exploring the Ethics and Sustainability of Hardware

Basel Action Network (BAN) and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (STVC) (2002), Exporting Harm, The High-Tech Trashing of Asia, http://www.ban.org/E-waste/technotrashfinalcomp.pdf

Basel Action Network (BAN) (2005) The Digital Dump: Exporting Re-Use and Abuse to Africa, http://www.ban.org/BANreports/10-24-05/index.htm

Braungart, Michael; and McDonough, William (2009) Cradle to Cradle: Re-making the Way we Make Things, London, Vintage

Jenny Chan and Ngai Pun (2010) Suicide as Protest for the New Generation of Chinese Migrant Workers: Foxconn, Global Capital, and the State The Asia-Pacific Journal, 37-2-10.http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/the-asia-pacific-journal-sep2010-suicide-as-protest-jc-pn1.pdf

China Labour Watch (2008) Foxconn Corporation, Cornell University ILR School, http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1496&context=globaldocs

Essick, Kristi (2001) Guns Money and Cell Phones, The Industry Standard Magazine
Issue Date: June 11 2001, http://www.uky.edu/~tmute2/GEI-Web/GEI-readings/Guns,%20Money%20and%20Cell%20Phones%20%97%20Global%20Issues.pdf

Gartner Inc (2007) Gartner Estimates ICT Industry Accounts for 2 Percent of Global CO2 Emissions http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=503867

Greenpeace (2006) Toxic Chemicals in Computers Exposed, http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/planet-2/report/2006/9/toxic-chemicals-in-computers.pdf

Huisman, Jaco; Magalini, Federico; Kuehr, Ruediger; Maurer, Claudia (2008) 2008 Review of Directive 2002/96 on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), United Nations University, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/weee/pdf/final_rep_unu.pdf

#IVF Industrial Research and Development Corporation (2007) European Commission DG TREN Preparatory studies for Eco-design Requirements of EuPs (Contract TREN/D1/40-2005/LOT3/S07.56313) Lot 3 Personal Computers (desktops and
laptops) and Computer Monitors Final Report (Task 1-8), http://extra.ivf.se/ecocomputer/downloads/Eup%20Lot%203%20Final%20Report%20070913%20published.pdf

Kooney, Jonathan G.(2007) Estimating Total Power Consumption by Severs in the U.S. And the World, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.87.5562&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Luthje, Boy (2006) The Changing Map of Global Electronics: Networks of Mass Production in the New Economy, Edited by, Smith, Ted, Sonnenfeld, David, Pellow, David Naguib (2006) Challenging the Chip, Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry, Temple University Press, Philadelphia

Miller, Toby and Maxwell, Richard (2008a) Ecological Ethics and Media Technology, International Journal of Communication 2: Feature 331-53, http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/article/computer/2008-07-24/240.html

Raphael, Chad and Smith, Ted (2006) Importing Extended Producer Responsibility for Electronic Equipment into the United States, in Smith, Ted, Sonnenfeld, David, Pellow, David Naguib (2006) Challenging the Chip, Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry, Temple University Press, Philadelphia

SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour) (2010) Workers as Machines: Military Management in Foxconn, http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/report-on-foxconn-workers-as-machines_sacom.pdf

Sells, Edward Anthony (2009), Towards a Self-Manufacturing Rapid Prototyping Machine, Doctoral dissertation, University of Bath, http://opus.bath.ac.uk/20452/2/UnivBath_PhD_2009_E_A_Sells.pdf

Sonnefeld, David A (2006) Global Electronics in Smith, Ted, Sonnenfeld, David, Pellow, David Naguib (2006) Challenging the Chip, Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry, Temple University Press, Philadelphia

UN (2001) Security Council Condemns Illegal Exploitation of Democratic Republic of Congo’s Natural Resources, http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2001/sc7057.doc.htm

UN (2001b) Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo , http://www.un.org/News/dh/latest/drcongo.htm

Underwood, Neil (2011) Cheap skates guide to a $510ish Mendel ($360 if you have access to a 3d printer) http://repraplogphase.blogspot.com/2011/01/cheap-skates-guide-to-510ish-mendel-360.html

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2008) Fact Sheet on National Data Center Energy Efficiency Information Program, http://www1.eere.energy.gov/industry/datacenters/pdfs/national_data_center_fact_sheet_abbrev.pdf

Williams E. (2004). Energy Intensity of Computer Manufacturing: Hybrid Assessment
Combining Process and Economic Input-Output Methods. United Nation University. Environmental Science Technology, Volume 38. No 22. Tokyo, Japan. http://www.cs.ucsb.edu/~chong/290N/Williams.pdf

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Media, Materiality and the Environment: Exploring the Ethics and Sustainability of Hardware on Prezi

Here’s a link (it seems that WordPress doesn’t like Prezi’s embed codes) to the Prezi presentation I made for the Mediating Environmental Change: Exploring the Way Forwards symposium in Bournemouth which took place on Friday 4th March 2011. It was a really fascinating event which brought together a diverse group of researchers, practitioners and activists who work in areas around media and environmental change, and I’m hoping to find some time to blog about some of the talks which were given there. I’m also going to post up a collection of links to some of the sources I’ve used for the information contained in the presentation, and that should be up sometime later in the week.

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There’s a lot of really interesting discussion going on at the moment about the role that social media and online/offline networks have played and are continuing to play in the revolutions which have swept across Tunisia and Egypt and are emerging in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Iran.

Manuel Castells, the Catalan sociologist most famous for his writings on the Network Society, the Information Age and Communication Power is interviewed on the subject by Jordi Rovira for the Open University of Catalonia

The spontaneous social movements in Tunisia and Egypt have caught political analysts on the hop. As a sociologist and communication expert, were you surprised by the ability of the network society in these two countries to mobilise itself?

No, not really. In my book Communication Power, I devote a large part to explaining, on an empirical basis, how changes to communication technologies create new possibilities for the self-organisation and self-mobilisation of society, by-passing the barriers of censorship and repression imposed by the state. The issue clearly isn’t dependent on technology. Internet is a necessary but not sufficient condition. The roots of rebellion lie in exploitation, oppression and humiliation. However, the possibility of rebelling without being quashed immediately depends on the density and speed of mobilisation and that depends on the ability created by the technologies which I have classified as mass self-communication.

Could we consider these popular uprisings as a new turning point in the history and evolution of the internet or should we analyse them as a logical, albeit extremely important, consequence of the implementation of the Net in the world?

These popular insurrections in the Arab world constitute a turning point in the social and political history of humanity. And perhaps the most important of the internet-led and facilitated changes in all aspects of life, society, the economy and culture. And this is just the start. The movement is picking up speed, despite Internet being an old technology, and deployed for the first time in 1969.

Young Egyptians have played a key role in the popular uprisings, thanks to the use of new technology. However, according to the calculations of Issandr El Amrani, an independent political analyst in Cairo, only a quarter of Egyptians have internet access. Do you feel that this situation may – in his words, create a divide in these countries between those with access and those without access – one that is even greater than that in developed countries?

This figure is already out-of-date. Around 40% of Egyptians over 16 have internet access, if we consider not just private homes but also cybercafés and places of study, according to a recent 2010 study by the information company Ovum. And this figure rises to around 70% among young urban dwellers. Also, according to recent figures, 80% of the urban adult population has internet access via their mobile. And, in any case, in a country of some 80 million, even a quarter, which is double among young city dwellers, according to the oldest sources, this means millions of people on the streets. Not all of Egypt has demonstrated, but enough have to create a sense of unity and bring down the dictator. The story of the digital divide regarding access is old, untrue today and boring because it’s based on an ideological predisposition, among intellectuals, of minimising the importance of the internet. There are 2,000 million internet users on the planet and 4,800 million mobile subscribers. Poor people also have mobiles and, although fewer, they have forms of internet access. The real difference lies in broadband and connection quality, and not in access which is spreading faster than any other technology in history.

It would be naive to think that, given the events of recent weeks, those unlawfully holding the reins of power will just stand by with their arms crossed. Nicholas Thompson, social media expert, wrote in The New Yorker that “in Iran, the government was clearly successful to a certain point in using the internet to slow the passage of the green revolution. In Tunisia, the government hacked into the password of almost all the country’s Facebook users. If Ben Ali had not fallen so quickly, that information would have been very useful”. To what extent does power have the necessary tools to quash uprisings started on the Net?

It doesn’t. In Egypt, they even tried to disconnect the whole net but they couldn’t manage it. There were thousands of ways, including telephone land line connections to numbers abroad which automatically converted the messages into twitters and fax messages in Egypt. And the financial cost and functional effort involved in disconnecting the internet is so much that the connection had to be restored extremely quickly. A power cut on the net is like an electricity power cut today. Ben Ali didn’t go that quickly, there was a month of demonstrations and massacres. And in Iran, the internet couldn’t be shut down, with information about the demonstrations and videos of them on You Tube. The difference is that over there, politically speaking, the regime had the power to brutally repress things without causing divisions in the army. However, the seeds of rebellion are there and young Iranians (70% of the population) are now massively against the regime. It’s a question of time.

In Egypt, popular mobilisation via the digital media has created cyber heroes such as Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive. Leaders of uprisings historically led political and social movements from the grass roots, which would then play a key role in the political future, such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit in France or Lech Walesa in Poland, just to give a couple of examples. However, we now have people with important technological knowledge, but often little political baggage. What role do you think these new leaders will play in the future of these countries?

The important thing to remember about wiki-revolutions (self-generating and self-organising ones), is that leadership doesn’t count, they are just symbols. However, these symbols don’t have any power, nobody obeys them and neither would they try. Perhaps later on, when the revolution has become institutionalised, some of these people may be co-opted to be a symbol for change, although I very much doubt that Ghonim wants to be a politician. Cohn-Bendit was just the same, a symbol, not a leader. He was a student and friend of mine in ’68 and was a true anarchist, rejecting leaders’ decisions and using his charisma (the first to be repressed) to help spontaneous mobilisation. Walesa was different, a union Vaticanist, which is why he became a politician so quickly. Cohn-Bendit took a lot longer and even so is still a green at heart who although now elderly, maintains values of respect towards the origins of social movements.

For some years now, Islamic fundamentalist movements have used new technology to promote their causes. The Muslim Brotherhood, which launched its own Wikipedia (Ikhwan Wiki) last year, reasserted that Islamists of all kinds “have exploited the internet to the full, despite the efforts of their adversaries.” This organisation, which could become the main beneficiary of a future election and which links together a great number of people committed to the total application of Islamic law, arouses suspicion among many trained young people who have led this uprising via new technology. How does this paradox make you feel?

Anyone who doesn’t use the internet now for their projects is backwards, with the exception of respectable eco-fundamentalists who write by the light of a candle (generally on a solar-powered computer). Consequently, both Islamists and even terrorists, also use it. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll win elections. To start with, they have been on the margins of recent social movements. And their election predictions in free elections do not get over 20% in any survey. Their organisation and tradition may lend them certain weight, but they do not represent the vast majority of an essentially young movement favouring freedom. They have been used by the regime to shock the world and the United States. It reminds me a little of when Franco used the fear of communism when everyone thought that the communists would secure a high return and then the PCE didn’t get over 10%, although in Catalonia the PSUC enjoyed significantly more support for a short time. Be that as it may, if the military does not keep its promises, if there are no free elections, if the demands of the fundamental working-class struggles unfolding in Egypt are not met, if there is violence against the population, then in that radicalised situation there may be Islamic armed resistance, but not by the middle-class Muslim Brotherhood.

The international media ? which the Egyptian regime tried to censor and even physically attacked ? together with Egyptian citizens who used the digital media, have enabled the shackles of information censorship to be shaken off. Months ago, Wikileaks achieved maximum return on its leaks in uniting the leading presses which published the vast amount of information that it held on its website. Is this alliance between conventional media and new technology the path we should be following in the future if we wish to successfully fight these huge challenges?

Large media corporations have no choice. They either ally with the internet and people’s journalism or they will become marginalised and financially unsustainable. However, that alliance plays a decisive role for social change. Without Al Jazeera there would have been no revolution in Tunisia.

In your article in La Vanguardia entitled Comunicación y revolución from 5 February, you ended by reminding readers that China had prohibited the word Egypt on the internet. Do you think the conditions are right for a popular movement similar to the one sweeping the Arab world to happen in the Asian giant?

No, because 72% of the Chinese support their government, because the urban middle class and mainly young people are extremely busy getting rich and the problems of the peasants and working class, China’s real social problems, are not on their radar. The government is taking excessive precautions, because censoring by system antagonises a lot of people who are not really against it. Democracy in China is not a problem for most people right now, unlike Tunisia and Egypt.

Events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt are yet another example of the inclusion into our daily lives of new forms of communication, such as SMS, blogs, podcasts, RSS, wikis, Twitter and Facebook, which have led to what you term “mass self-communication”, the upshot of developing the web. Can this new type of globalised and atomised communication, fed by the contributions of millions of users, change our way of understanding interpersonal communication or is it just another powerful tool available to us?

It has already changed it. Nobody who is on social networks everyday (and this is true for some 700 million of the 1,200 million social network users) is still the same person. It’s an online/offline interaction, not an esoteric virtual world. How it has changed, how this new type of communication changes it each day is a question to be answered through academic research, not by sitting around gossiping. And that’s where we are now and that’s why we have conducted the Project Internet Catalonia at the UOC.

In December, the German Ministry of the Interior announced the creation of a cybernetic war defence centre to repel spying attacks, while in Tallin (Estonia), in an ultra secret NATO laboratory, leading IT specialists are working to prevent the evolution of conflicts in a world increasingly dependent on the internet. Bearing this in mind and having seen what is happening in the Arab world at the moment, could it be said that cyber attacks will be the war of the future?

They are in fact the war of the present. The United States considers cyber war a priority and has allocated it a budget ten times larger than that of all other countries put together. And in Spain, the armed forces are preparing themselves quickly for the same thing. The internet is the space of power and happiness, of peace and war. It’s the social space of our world, a hybrid space built on the interface between direct experience and experience mediated by communication and, above all, by internet communication.

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I’m currently working on a paper for a MECCSA one day symposium called Mediating Environmental Change: Exploring the Way Forwards. The event takes place in Bournemouth on Friday 4th May and judging by the line up it promises to be a great event.

My paper’s titled ‘Media, Materiality and the Environment: Exploring the Ethics and Sustainability of Hardware’ and will explore a range of ways that the life cycle of the hardware that enables the creation of digital media has numerous detrimental environmental and social consequences, alongside a range of alternative practices which could constitute a more sustainable and ethical hardware life cycle. I’ll try and post some more details up once the paper’s finished

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Really good blog post from Tomas Rawlings, a Pervasive Media Studio Resident, DCRC PhD candidate and all round top bloke, on how his research adopts an ecological approach to media.

I’m doing a talk at Goldsmiths about games today.  Not just games as we tend to find them now, but how the impact of the networking of our technology is going to change the design, development and support of gaming.  Below are my notes to accompany the session…

A Bit of Theory
I’m coming at media from the angle of Media Ecology, a new(ish) term that you might see bandied about, that I think indicates an approach that offers us new ways of viewing the world.   Once you start to see media as networked – connected – then the realisation of this confluence changes how you approach design.  This also brings to mind Fuller (2005) and his illuminating discussion of why he uses the term ‘ecology’ in his book ‘Media Ecologies‘;

The term ‘ecology’ is used here because it is one of the most expressive language currently has to indicate the massive and dynamic interrelation of processes and objects, beings and things, patterns and matter….The term ‘media ecology’ is used and in circulation in a number of ways. The term is chosen here because this multiple use turns it into a crossroads: Putting these two words next to each other produces a conjunction of two variables that are always busy with meaning. Their dynamism, however, always arises out of concrete conditions. The virtuality of such conditions, their possible reinvention or alternative state, their pregnancy with change and interrelation, is as deeply implied in this concreteness as much as it can be said to be subject to definition. (Fuller 2005:2-3)

Parikka’s (2007) study of computer viruses, suffuse with biological terminology, firmly stating the position of life and the biological as within the realm of media ecology;

The coupling of biology and technology, which, of course, has longer roots beyond digital culture, finds alive and kicking within the media ecology of digital culture. These types of couplings can also provide vectors of becoming for a novel understanding of digital culture. Life does not remain a mere metaphor but also becomes an implication of autopoiesis, of self-moving, of acting and force.” (Parikka 2007:26)

So why go all ecological? Ecology is all about relationships of energy. It’s about understanding the complex web that life weaves. When you look at ecology, you are looking at context. We don’t look at an individual organism, we look at how it relates to it’s fellow organisms – whether in competition, co-operation, predation, symbiosis, parasitism and so on.

Ecological Food Web

The Physics of Media are changing
Its all up in the air now. The safe certainty of buying a physical product (VHS, DVD, cartridge…) that has a contained, non-networked media artefact are fading rapidly. We are moving from a world of discrete non-relational media to one based on physical products to one based on virtual products. This means it is easy to distribute, modify, copy and paste. It means the barriers to entry and distribution are much, much lower. The problem that will be faced by future digital projects is getting noticed. Lets take video as the example…

“In mid-2007, six hours of video were uploaded to YouTube every minute. Then it grew to eight hours per minute, then 10, then 13. In January of this year, it became 15 hours of video uploaded every minute, the equivalent of Hollywood releasing over 86,000 new full-length movies into theaters each week.” (link)

The biggest problem we will face in creating new media artefacts is getting noticed. So a number of people are looking to the idea of media as a service (or happening) and not a product…..

Games as a Service
What this means is that the user is not so much buying a game as buying into a world. The job of the developers is to create and maintain that world and it’s integrity. The user is paying for the maintenance that the developer is undertaking.

Examples of Games as service include subscription MMOs, for example World of Warcraft – 12 million subscribers that pay to buy the game and pay to play. Blizzard (who develop the game) has earned $1.1 billion in income this year alone. There are also free to play MMOs (where you pay for time-shortcuts!) – an example is Darkorbit by Big Point (where you can save time by purchasing Uridium).

Game Feedback Loops
This is where the system running the game has within it the capacity to create feedback and more importantly, feed-forward loops. So the activity of players encourages more players to join in. An example of this is the iPhone chart, where many people buy new games based on what’s popular – which in turn fuels what is popular. It also used to be the case that the rating system, where players deleting an app were asked to rate it, was slightly bias to the negative, and hence a feedback loop. So building into the development process the expectation of iteration is a good thing. Also listening to the user feedback and where possible, acting on it can also help to build that feed-forward loop.

Control Systems (from Wikipedia)

Quality & Value Added
Savage Moon as a tower-defence game on Playstation Network. It cost £5 when you could play loads of different games of the same type for free online. So why would anyone bother to play it? I’m happy to say lots and lots did. Because when you pay £5 there is an expectation of a curatorial process, a higher standard of graphics, gameplay and testing. (This is the same idea as used by Arduino, the open source hardware company that allows other manufacturers to make it’s circuit boards knowing many users gravitate towards them as they are the best at making them…)

So in summary – we’re into new territory here for games, but I think one thing is certain – that the idea of designing and building a small one-off experience is over. An example that draws all of these in is the user-generated content (UGC) and a great game, is LittleBigPlanet where the users make the content and the developers build the platform. It still has a box purchase but the costs of maintaining the ongoing 1.5 million levels is met by a roll-out of additional value-added objects that players can (and do, by the million!) buy.

So in summary (again) – we’re into new territory but I think one thing is certain – is that the idea of designing and building a small one-off experience is over…. the physics of media have changedexcept where they haven’t….

Witch-house bands go even further: they put their music up for free on places like SoundCloud, but remove the files after a certain number of listens or downloads, creating scheduling and scarcity in a system that’s otherwise about abundance and time-shifting. Aside from the fact that some of these bands are really good, witch house is interesting to follow because it’s a sort of ad hoc Darknet — the places where you can hear this music move around. One week, it’s a private group on Last.fm. The next week, it’s a public message board. The week after, they’re all living on a blog entry’s comment thread. To keep finding this stuff, you’ve really got to want it. Modern networking tools are mobilised in pursuit of an atemporal way of gathering a fan base.

Generally this is a really good introduction to some of the key ideas around Media Ecology illustrated by some well thought out practical examples which many people will be familiar with. The only statement I found myself disagreeing with was the line that argued ‘We are moving from a world of discrete non-relational media to one based on physical products to one based on virtual products.’ While its true that pre-digital media existed as discrete physical products, whose capacities to connect and exchange information with one another was frequently either impossible (trying to record from an audio cassette onto vinyl on a domestic LP player) or involved a highly lossy analogue recording process (such as recording vinyl onto tape, or anything onto VHS), it is wrong to characterise flows of digital information as a virtual process.

Copying material between networked digital computers is certainly far faster and easier than using ‘old media’ analogue technologies, and it is also possible to create perfect digital copies (although popular digital media formats such as .mp3, .mp4 and .flv are often in fact heavily compressed lossy recordings). However this is not as a result of a de-materialisation or virtualisation of the information. Contemporary digital computing technologies provide highly complex physical systems which combine the properties of extremely powerful information processing power, vast amounts of storage space for binary data, and connectivity to a massive global network of similar machines. These three properties combined afford computer users the ability to digitise (to translate material previously encoded in analogue media into discrete binary code which is then readable by other digital computing technologies) and share media assets and other digital data far more easily than previously.

However this process is entirely dependent on physical (non-virtual) computing technologies which require a vast expenditure of energy and resources to create. A UN University paper from 2004 found that producing a desktop computer and 17 inch CRT monitor uses 240kg of fossil fuels, 22kg of various chemical and 1500kg of water. The material costs of digital computing technologies used for media production and distribution are frequently overlooked by media studies as a discipline. I see media ecology, a method based on relationality, connectivity and context as a way of exploring material impacts of media technology which are frequently obscured by the rhetoric of virtuality.

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IPCC Errors

There’s a really good piece over on the Nature website about the recommendations made by an independent assessment of the way in which the IPCC currently functions. (hat tip Realclimate)

It’s worth reading because a lot of the coverage of the report has been over the top sensationalist nonsense about how the IPCC needs drastic reform as a result of serious errors. When these mainstream and sceptic pieces say errors, they all point to one example – the erroneous claim that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035. One error, which was not in working group 1 (which covers the science of ACC) but appeared in WG2 (impacts adaptation and vulnerability) does not amount to a series of errors.

While right-wing media outlets and sceptic blogs spent a lot of time propagating the idea that there have been other, similar errors with the IPCC 2007 report, such as the Amazongate saga, whose main claims the Times has now retracted (the Times version is now however behind the Murdoch pay wall), the truth is that the science behind the IPCC 2007 report has stood up pretty well to the intense scrutiny which it has come under. On a related note, the IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri was subjected to an entirely baseless series of accusations claiming that he was making a fortune from his links with carbon trading companies. According to climate sceptics and the right-wing press he was profiteering from his position of head of the IPCC. An independent report into his financial dealings have found all of those claims to be completely and utterly false. Still, as George Monbiot demonstrates, the accusations continue to be made by right-wing media outlets.

In fact the major story about the IPCC getting something wrong is actually about sea level rise. The IPCC admitted in their assessment that they weren’t taking all factors into account, as some were too uncertain, but the reality of empirically observed sea level rise is way above the IPCC’s uppermost prediction.  This prediction wasn’t made using grey literature, it was supposedly based on solid science, and yet it turns out to be totally wrong. So why has there not been widespread outcry in the media about this erroneous prediction? Why are there not legions of sceptical bloggers using this as evidence that the IPCC reports are equal parts guesswork and science, and that their conclusions should be viewed with a large dose of scepticism?

Because the message we get from the IPCC’s most serious error is that their estimates err on the side of conservatism and caution rather than the alarmism they are routinely accused of. Which is really not any great surprise given the consensus based framework they operate within. But if the IPCC’s predictions are too conservative, then the entire sceptic argument goes up in smoke, so very little is heard about the most serious error the IPCC have made. This is somewhat telling, as it suggests that those criticising the IPCC have little interest in improving its procedures and improving its predictions. More often than not it turns out to be the same few voices attempting to sell generalised doubt about climate change in order to prevent any kind of legaslative action being take to mitigate the predictions the science makes.

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So the second part of the Penn State University (PSU) inquiry into the conduct of Dr Michael Mann has now concluded… The inquiry, which was set up after the university received a large volume of angry correspondence from members of the public who believed that emails contained in the CRU email hack showed that Dr Mann had committed serious misconduct while based at PSU.

The four charges leveled at Dr Mann by the inquiry were

  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to suppress or falsify data?
  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions with the intent to delete, conceal or otherwise destroy emails, information and/or data, related to AR4, as suggested by Phil Jones?
  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any misuse of privileged or confidential information available to [him] in [his] capacity as an academic scholar?
  • Did [Mann] engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research or other scholarly activities?

Back in February PSU administrators ruled that there existed ‘no credible evidence’ that there was any merit to the first three allegations, however they decided that the fourth allegation required further investigation by academic staff. The results of that investigation have now been published, and they state that

A panel of leading scholars has cleared a well-known Penn State climate scientist of research misconduct, following a four-month internal investigation by the University.

Penn State Professor Michael Mann has been cleared of any wrongdoing, according to a report of the investigation that was released today (July 1). Mann was under investigation for allegations of research impropriety that surfaced last year after thousands of stolen e-mails were published online. The e-mails were obtained from computer servers at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in England, one of the main repositories of information about climate change.

The panel of leading scholars from various research fields, all tenured professors at Penn State, began its work on March 4 to look at whether Mann had “engaged in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research or other scholarly activities.” Mann is one of the leading researchers studying climate change.

A full report on the findings of the committee can be viewed at “Final Investigation Report Involving Dr. Michael E. Mann.”

So how widely published will it be that one of the scientists who had to withstand a vast volume of entirely false accusations with regards to his honesty and academic integrity has been completely and utterly vindicated by an investigation? My guess is barely. Yes places like Realclimate and Deltoid will cover it, but the mainstream media outlets which published a huge amount of critical material when ‘Climategate’ was considered a scandal are completely silent. The BBC Science and  Environment section has nothing on this story, likewise the Guardian Environment section has no mention of the latest findings. Sadly it just goes to show once again that while the possibility of a scandal based on hearsay and blog based rumour can be a major story, the far more mundane truth that actually Mann is a diligent, honest and well respected scientist isn’t considered newsworthy. Consequently the millions of people who rely on mainstream media for their news will be left with the impression that Mann and other honest scientists may well be in the process of attempting to manufacture a perceived crisis called global warming.

Equally, those who frequent climate sceptic blogs may be left with the impression that although this later round of investigation chose to interview Richard Lindzen, a well known sceptical scientist (with obligatory links to the oil industry and right wing think tanks, and who has been proved wrong on numerous occasions), it was simply a whitewash, a case of the university acting to protect its own reputation in the face of public criticism. Indeed this was the claim made after the initial three charges were rejected by sources such as Fox News and well know climate sceptic blog site Climate Audit. As Scholars and Rogues aptly demonstrated though, these claims of further wrongdoing by a university inquiry in order to cover up research misconduct are extremely unlikely. It was alleged that this whitewash was done in order to preserve the funding which Mann’s work brought in, however S&R’s research into the matter shows that

According to a list of grants at The Free Republic, Mann has brought in a total of $4.2 million since he joined PSU in 2006, with a significant portion of that money to be spent over the next several years. From 2006 to 2009, Mann’s grants totaled about $1.8 million. In that same period, PSU’s total research income was $2.8 billion ($2,804 million). As a percentage, Mann’s grants represented 0.06% of the total research money that PSU was granted between 2006 and 2009.

The chances of a University risking its reputation as a centre of international excellence by whitewashing an inquiry into one researcher’s conduct is highly unlikely. As of course were the claims that Mann and many other scientists were colluding and conspiring to invent climate change in order to frighten the world into taxing people or bring about a UN based world government, however that didn’t stop these allegations becoming a major news story conveniently timed to coincide with the COP15 conference where world leaders came together attempting to negotiate a follow up to the Kyoto treaty.

With COP15 having been and failed, allied with increased public perception that climate change is not an important issue (and may even be a fraudulent invention of Dr Mann and other scientists) it should be vital that the news outlets who provided so much coverage when they saw a scandal now present a similar amount of coverage that it turns out that their claims turn out to be entirely baseless. However sadly that isn’t how the media works; scandal and allegations sells, carefully researched science and academic inquiries which find no wrongdoing don’t.

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