30 September 2010

Let the Misrepresentation Begin

It was only a matter of time before the blogcritics engaged The Climate Fix, which I welcome.  Unfortunately, they are off to a very bad start.  William Connolley, formerly of Real Climate fame, accuses me of spreading lies:
Well, not quite direct lies, more in the nature of deliberately-misleading by omission.
What is it that Connolley accuses me of omitting?  It is part of a quote from Steven Schneider. Connolley explains, based on his reading of Greenberg's review in Nature:
There is a long-standing tradition of abusing this quote from Schneider: which means that neither RP Jr nor DG can have done it accidentally, which makes the abuse all the more surprising. If you don't know the context, the quote continues:
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
You can find Schneider complaining about being misrepresented in this way by Julian Simon all the way back in 1996 in the APS newsletter.
The problem with Connolley's accusation is that I include the supposedly omitted quote in The Climate Fix and I also cite and quote from the APS Newsletter.  All of this appears on pp. 202-203, and here is that discussion in full, and you can see clearly that Connolley is simply wrong in his accusation.
Demands for certainty, however, don’t just come from politicians. Climate scientists also impose such demands on themselves, in order to make their scariest projections even scarier. This leads to more problems. In one of the more widely quoted comments ever made by a climate scientist, Steve Schneider wrote:
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 broad-based 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 bein honest. I hope that means being both.19
For his part, Schneider emphasized that this double ethical bind should never be resolved by resorting to mischaracterizing uncertainties. In response to the frequent use of his quote to suggest a green light for alarmism, Schneider wrote, “Not only do I disapprove of the ‘ends justify the means’ philosophy of which I am accused, but, in fact have actively campaigned against it in myriad speeches and writings.”20 Indeed, the vast majority of climate scientists that I have had the pleasure to get to know and work with over the years shares Schneider’s passion for accurately conveying climate science to the public and placing it into its policy context. However, not all of their colleagues share this passion, coloring views of all of the climate-science enterprise.
I welcome engagement and criticisms from the blogosphere, but making things up and failing to do one's homework is pretty uncool.

[UPDATE 10/1: William Connolley has begrudgingly struck through a few words in his post, which I suppose indicates the minimal possible admission on his part that he was wrong.  Even so, syndicated and unchanged versions of his post circulate in the blogosphere.  I suspect that I'll see much more of this type of attack based on public discussions of The Climate Fix.]


  1. I've always been more than a little confused by complaints about this selective quoting of Schneider's words. The full quote is no less egregious, and in fact more so, to my anti-postnormal ears, for its sinister detailing of the process of misrepresenting scientific findings for effect.

    Complaining about the truncation, while providing the FULL quote as evidence, always smacks of shooting oneself in the foot. There is, or should be, no question of a "double ethical bind".

  2. Some people seem to have no sense of embarrassment. To accuse someone of lying (heading of his piece is "Climate Lies" ) and of writing "tripe" (article tagged under "climate tripe") on the basis of someone else's review? Then an ungracious grudging acknowledgement and qualification on being corrected?

    All part of a day's work, it would seem.

    Uncool? Uncool!? You have a talent for understatement.

    Jack Savage
    Kent UK

  3. Comment on WC's blog reposted here because of past difficulties with his moderation policies:


    You falsely accused RP of lying based on a review of his book (which you had not read).

    If writing a book in which a questionably truncated quote appears merits a blog post from you (as an individual concerned with the detection of lies), what does a false claim of academic dishonesty by you against somebody else merit?

    Surely a blog post dedicated to apologizing to RP jr. is in order.

    As far as the book review goes, book reviews by their very nature are an exercise in truncation, and that truncation invariably results in some degree of distortion. While your original point may have had some merit if it applied to RP's book, it seems misplaced when applied to the book review.

    Readers wishing understand the context of passages discussed in a book review should always be encouraged to READ THE BOOK.

  4. Read the book?????
    Good heavens, that will never do, the Pielke bloke is a heretic and he should be burnt at the stake ontop of a heap of his books, along with Mountford, "Id", Spencer, McIntyre & the rest!
    The Guardians of the Stick now the real truth and as such, have no need to read such impure tracts that may corrupt their minds!

  5. @Jason S: errm, I let your comment through. But since you've been so ungracious here, I've made you happy by deleting it now. There! You can have fun accusing me of censorship, too.

  6. It's good when bad reviews go wrong, the best kind of publicity.

    In my opinion, the extension to the the Schneider quote is irrelevant. It simply means that he hopes that the evidence doesn't have to be invented as he had earlier encouragad his colleagues to do.

    Anyone who uses that (and it has happened here many times) is making a fool of himself.

    "Not only do I disapprove of the ‘ends justify the means’ philosophy of which I am accused, but, in fact have actively campaigned against it in myriad speeches and writings.”

    Yes, only after he had been caught, and he was caught.

    Schneider was a member of the 'Club of Rome' which has had an alarmist agenda since the 1970s. All of the doom laden predictions from 'Limits to Growth' turned out to be false.

  7. @WC (Belette),

    You falsely accused Roger of lying and lack the basic sense of decency to apologize.

    Don't presume to lecture me on graciousness.

    Reputations are earned. Your reputation for deleting inconvenient but relevant comments has been well earned over a period of many years.

    By contrast, your reputation as a climate partisan who makes baseless accusations against his opponents and then refuses to apologize for them rests largely on this most recent indiscretion. It probably isn't too late for you to fix this.

  8. Here is the tie in between Schneider's Club of Rome alarmist agenda and Enron's rogue activities in California. It is certainly possible that Schneider was a well meaning dupe of the corporate wise guys.

    James Heartfield

    In 1997 the Club of Rome collaborated with Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute to launch a new report "Factor Four" that promised to "halve resource use" while doubling wealth. The message was that you could get rich saving the planet. A privileged few did indeed double their wealth; but for the rest it was just a case of halving resources.

    Immodestly, Lovins made his own California energy scheme the main example of savings in "Factor Four". His well-paid advice to the State of California was that it was a big mistake to adopt a system that rewarded increased electricity output with increased profits. Such a system would naturally tend to boost output. Instead, rewards for cutting energy use were needed. Rather than getting paid for additional megawatts the utility companies should be rewarded for saving power use: negawatts. The impact of Lovins' model on energy generation in California was decisive. "Around 1980, Pacific Gas and Electricity Company was planning to build some 10-20 power stations", according to Lovins.

    But by 1992, PG&E was planning to build no more power stations, and in 1993, it permanently dissolved its engineering and construction division. Instead as its 1992 Annual Report pronounced, it planned to get at least three quarters of its new power needs in the 1990s from more efficient use by its customers.[4]

    Of course the PG&E was not getting three quarters of its new power needs from anywhere: it had just reduced its output. But manufacturing energy scarcity did indeed grow somebody's cash wealth: Enron's. With these artificial caps on energy production the generating companies could start to hike up the charges to utility companies, including PG&E, now unable to meet its own customers' demands. Those energy companies were owned by Enron.

    Chief Executive Kenneth Lay turned Enron from a company that made its money generating power into one that made its money trading finance. Whatever else it was doing, there was no denying that Enron was cutting back its own CO2 emissions and getting rich doing it. One company memo stated that the Kyoto treaty "would do more to promote Enron's business than will almost any other regulatory initiative".[5]

    Amory Lovins' negawatt revolution in California was Enron's wet dream. Having shut down its own generation capacity, PG&E was at the mercy of Enron's market manipulation. Buying surplus electricity on the open market PG&E was royally fleeced, losing US$12 billion. Utility bills rose by nine times between May 2000 and May 2001. Enron took advantage of the restricted market and cut electricity to California. They even invented reasons to take power plants offline while California was blacked out. Enron officials joked that they were stealing one million dollars a day from California.[6] The PG&E that Lovins held up as a model went bankrupt and had to be bailed out by the State of California.


  9. Jonathan H. Adler of the lawblog The Volokh Conspiracy contributed comment #11 at WMC/Belette's blog. It passed moderation, obviously.

    - - - - - - - - - -

    It is exceedingly irresponsible to accuse someone of lying based on a third-party representation. It would have been one thing to quote the review, and point out the misuse of the Schneider quote without attributing it to Pielke. It is quite another to fire off the accusation based without doing any due diligence to see if the inflammatory charge of dishonesty is justified.

    Correcting the post after the fact, without offering an apology for the misbehavior, is hardly sufficient. You engaged in irresponsible behavior and should own up to it directly and forthrightly.


    - - - - - - - - - -

  10. @AMac

    The only person in this thread who has explicitly accused WC of censorship is WC.

    Some time ago in another discussion at this blog, I expressed the opinion that WC is constrained by a certain sense of intellectual fairness.

    While you aren't likely to see me ever expressing such a sentiment again, he still isn't Joe Romm.

  11. Roger,

    It seems befitting to update your post with the information that William corrected his after you pointed out that you gave the whole quote indeed?


  12. When the record shows AGW promoters doing exactly what the short version of the quote suggests, I think it is fair for a critical reviewer of Schneider to summarize his full quote as a 'dog whistle'. The AGW promoters knew exactly what was required to push the fear and hype of global climate disruption. And we see those efforts not only in the record, but daily.
    Accusing a Pielke of ethical lapses is a losing proposition. Being accused of ethical lapses by dedicated AGW promoters is a badge of honor.

  13. @ Bart #11 --

    Given the strident tone and serious nature of WMC's original accusation against RP, the strikethrough-based correction of that Stoat post (at this writing) is ungenerous. A walkback rather than an apology, per Jonathan Adler's comment reproduced above. Many of Stoat's regulars subsequently take a line towards RP akin to "perhaps not guilty of this particular crime, but guilty nonetheless."

    That said, WMC is allowing some dissenting voices to have their say. Most importantly, as you say, he did promptly abandon the charge upon discovering its falsity. So it seems to me that it is incumbent upon RP to note that relevant and important development in the body of his post.