Climatologists Under Pressure – Nature Editorial

I want to spend some time today reviewing the Nature article, “Climatologists Under Pressure” since it has been the subject of several posts now at Climate Audit and other skeptic blogs.

Note about terminology:

There are several to get straight so people know where I stand.

AGW Supporter – I consider AGW to be the main scientific paradigm on climate change at this time. This does not mean it is entirely correct, but thus far, it is the best thing going and is supported by basic science. In other words, it is not all spurious correlation. AGW Supporter is reserved for people who come out and state plainly that they agree with the main scientific paradigm claim that the earth is warming and that it is largely due to human release of greenhouse gasses, among other human effects, and that climate sensitivity suggests that if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, non-negligible negative effects on the climate and human societies will likely result.

Skeptic – a skeptic is someone who argues that the evidence they have seen is not convincing and thus they do not feel capable of supporting the existing paradigm, but neither do they reject it. They feel that it is not well-enough supported to be a basis for the development of public policy.

Contrarian – a contrarian actively rejects the dominant scientific paradigm, and supports alternative explanations, such as cosmic galactic rays, natural variation cycles yet to be discovered, unknown solar facings, or the decline of pirates over the last few centuries. (that link is a joke, son, you’re supposed to laugh) What I see at these blogs or papers is very often a bad-faith rejection of the AGW theory and research supporting it, and an almost desperate “anything but AGW” approach.  In this approach, the overwhelming majority of papers supporting AGW are rejected but very limited and questionable articles published often in non-peer review journals and websites are accepted far too uncritically.

Denialist – a denialist is someone who, for pay or other rewards, denies the dominant scientific paradigm. This is reserved for climate lobbyists, various front organizations for fossil fuel interests, or political movements who are interested primarily in rejecting the science so they can continue to benefit from those activities that are contraindicated by AGW theory.  They reject the policies based on the AGW paradigm. This would include individuals in the pay of Exxon, American Petroleum Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Friends of Science, and any lobby groups, their front organizations and astroturfing / greenwashing campaigns.

Lukewarmer – these people accept that warming is occurring, that CO2 is likely implicated, but don’t accept the more alarming forecasts and predictions for a doubling of CO2.

I don’t use skeptic for McIntyre. He calls himself an agnostic and so that is what I will call him.  His comments come across as rather wishy-washy on global warming, and his statements seem more intended to prevent anyone from identifying his position rather than revealing that he doesn’t have one. That’s just my opinion based on what I have read. I’d be quite happy for him to clarify his position vis a vis the dominant paradigm. If he would, I’d feel better including him in one of the above categories.

There is also the question of his ties to corporate interests in the oil and gas industry, such as CGX, and his past associations with mining corporations, which in my view as a policy analyst, suggests that he has interests that could affect his actions and analysis. While he claims that no one is funding his work, this does not mean he doesn’t have interests that might affect his approach.  We are all biased in some way – the issue is how well we are able to acknowledge those biases and prevent them from unduly influencing our judgement when it comes to carrying out or analyzing science.

So, back to the Nature editorial dated 3 December 2009.

First off, it is an editorial, not a scientific article.  It must therefore be judged as such..

From Wikipedia:

An editorial, also called a leading article, is a piece of writing intended to promote an opinion or perspective.

What is the main thrust of the editorial?

Stolen e-mails have revealed no scientific conspiracy, but do highlight ways in which climate researchers could be better supported in the face of public scrutiny.

Since the CRU incident, skeptic/agnostic, contrarian and denialist blogs have focused on several of the emails and the Harry file, using those as evidence of wrong-doing and sloppy uncertain science on the part of climate scientists in general and some climate scientists such as Phil Jones, Gavin McLeod, Ken Briffa and Michael Mann in particular.

Several claims have arisen from these emails and the Harry file:

  1. The emails show that Mann and others used “tricks” to “hide the decline” in temperature thus proving that global warming stopped and that the science and scientists can’t be trusted because they tried to deceive and hide reality.
  2. The emails show that Jones ordered others to delete emails that might discuss the AR4 so that FOI requests could be more easily denied.
  3. The emails show Jones and others trying to interfere in the peer review process, preventing legitimate scientific papers from being published, especially those that contradicted the dominant paradigm.
  4. The Harry File reveals the shoddy state of the data and code, and also indicates that scientists manipulated the data in order to fit preconceived notions of increased warming.
  5. Taken as a whole, the emails and Harry file shows that there is a scientific conspiracy to manipulate the data to show that the world is warming when it is not.

The Nature article rejects this and suggests that the emails do not show any effort by climate scientists to conceal or manipulate the data: on the contrary, it argues that the “theft” highlights a concerted effort on the part of denialists to undermine the scientific consensus, smear climate science and the scientists working in the field, and prevent them from carrying on their work through endless and time-consuming requests for information, often under the FOI laws.

It describes the CRU email event as a “theft” and argues that the emails were “stolen” – this despite the fact that an investigation has not yet concluded on the matter.  I am personally skeptical of this interpretation – it could be a whistle-blower from inside the CRU, or it could be hackers trying to scuttle the Copenhagen conference in particular and climate science in general.

I usually use the term “CRU hack/leak” to indicate I do not yet feel able to call it one way or the other. There are reports that the event is being investigated and several possibilities have been brought forward, including the Russians trying to discredit climate science because of the heavy reliance in Russia on the oil and gas industry. There have been a number of candidates for “whistle blowers / leakers” including Keith Briffa, James Hansen, and poor exasperated Harry of the Harry file.

Quite inflammatory language is used in the piece, including “denialist fringe” “propaganda windfall” “paranoid interpretation” “obstructionist politicians” “denialist conspiracy theories”.  This is clearly a partisan offering, one which supports the climate scientists involved in the CRU event and tries to shift focus onto the efforts of some skeptics / contrarians / denialists to discredit climate science.

It involves, depending on how you look at it, either a diversion from the appearance of wrongdoing on the part of some climate scientists or a refocusing onto the real climategate – the denialist attempt to discredit climate science.

The editorial restates some of the evidence used to support the AGW dominant paradigm, including the cryosphere, sea level rise, biological effects of warming, all they claim are consistent with the AGW theory. They claim that climate models are not able to reproduce current warming and its effects without reference to CO2 emissions increases, and that taken together, this evidence suggests “that curbing the world’s voracious appetite for carbon is essential”.

The editorial defends the reluctance or inability of climate scientists to release data to those who have requested it, citing confidentiality agreements. The editorial includes a section on the burden on scientists who have to respond to numerous requests for information, often under FOI legislation:

If there are benefits to the e-mail theft, one is to highlight yet again the harassment that denialists inflict on some climate-change researchers, often in the form of endless, time-consuming demands for information under the US and UK Freedom of Information Acts. Governments and institutions need to provide tangible assistance for researchers facing such a burden.

This passage was the subject of a post on Climate Audit, wherein McIntyre calls this claim of “harassment” and “endless, time-consuming demands for information under the US and UK Freedom of Information Acts” a “myth“, citing his own 3 FOI requests to US scientists as proof.

My criticism of his post and charge that he failed to prove it was a myth and over-reached the editorial, got me into the penalty box.

The editorial next shifts focus onto the problems and burdens facing climate science in such a politicized environment. One of the big criticisms from the skeptics and contrarians is the charge that climate scientists like Phil Jones and Mike Mann have not been forthcoming with their data so that their work can be “audited” or replicated. The editorial also addresses this in a section that discusses confidentiality agreements and data ownership.

Finally, we have a summary statement of the editorial’s position on what many observers have called “the real climategate”:

In the end, what the UEA e-mails really show is that scientists are human beings — and that unrelenting opposition to their work can goad them to the limits of tolerance, and tempt them to act in ways that undermine scientific values. Yet it is precisely in such circumstances that researchers should strive to act and communicate professionally, and make their data and methods available to others, lest they provide their worst critics with ammunition. After all, the pressures the UEA e-mailers experienced may be nothing compared with what will emerge as the United States debates a climate bill next year, and denialists use every means at their disposal to undermine trust in scientists and science.

So clearly, the Nature editorial sees the issue as the negative effects on climate scientists of the politicization of climate science, particularly through the efforts of denialists to discredit the science and its practitioners through actions such as requests for data through FOIs and other means.

It acknowledges the importance of communicating professionally – don’t call opponents “bozos” in emails — and make data and methods available to others. This is perhaps the only concession to the skeptics / contrarians that the Nature editorial makes.

So, what to make of it?

  1. The editorial dismisses the skeptic / contrarian / denialist charges that the scientists have deceived the public, manipulated the data without justification to show warming when it doesn’t exist, and have undermined the peer-review system.
  2. It restates its acceptance of the AGW dominant paradigm and the need to act based on its findings.
  3. It casts the statements of climate scientists in the emails as those of “human beings” under attack, at the limits of their tolerance, tempted to act in ways that undermine scientific values.
  4. It asserts the necessity to communicate professionally, make their data and methods available to others, and calls for support to climate scientists in the burden of providing  information to those who request it.

What questions does this editorial raise?

  1. How much of a burden are the requests from non-scientists, including skeptics, contrarians, denialist or the general public for information, either directly or under FOI?
  2. Is the editorial correct to conclude the emails reveal no wrongdoing?
  3. Do the emails question the credibility of climate science and scientists?

Interestingly enough, on several blogs including Climate Audit, the number of FOIs sent to climate science and scientists in general is being uncovered. It will be interesting to see how the debate around the numbers develops.

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21 Responses to “Climatologists Under Pressure – Nature Editorial”

  1. Okay…

    “How much of a burden are the requests from non-scientists, including skeptics, contrarians, denialist or the general public for information, either directly or under FOI?”

    “Burden” is far too subjective and metaphorical. Even if the FOIA request number could be quantified, there is no number that be defined as a threshold (even with a tolerance). The request for information would be comparable to an auditor of a financial institution, government agency or anyone working for an ISO registered entity. The editorial, as you mentioned (please forgive the paraphrasing), is just an opinion to sway the undecided or goat the opposition.

    The second is far more simple. Ethical, legal or moral… Were any of these three compromised? I saw all of these cases of this in the emails. Other than that, one might wish to reevaluate what they value.

    The third is the easiest. See the second.

    Finally, I think contrarian and denialist should be reversed.

    • Burden” is far too subjective and metaphorical. Even if the FOIA request number could be quantified, there is no number that be defined as a threshold (even with a tolerance). The request for information would be comparable to an auditor of a financial institution, government agency or anyone working for an ISO registered entity. The editorial, as you mentioned (please forgive the paraphrasing), is just an opinion to sway the undecided or goat the opposition.

      The scientist is paid to produce science, and part of that should be to ensure that their data and methods is readily available to those who need it. Supplying responses to FOI requests is considered — or should be considered — a part of their job description, but it is not the main part. In any employe’s job description, there is a certain amount of time set aside for certain kinds of duties. Responding to FOI requests is just one of those duties with a set amount of time or percent of time. estimated for it. So, if an employee receives a certain number of requests — say from an organized campaign — it could take up more time than has been planned for. Note I am not saying that FOI requests shouldn’t be responded to promptly, but if the number of requests increases beyond a certain number due to organized campaigns, you either have to cut back on other work, take more time to reply or hire more people.

      Of course, this would all change if the data and methods were readily available to those who need it via some kind of open access website. Then filling requests for data wouldn’t take hardly any time.

      The second is far more simple. Ethical, legal or moral… Were any of these three compromised? I saw all of these cases of this in the emails. Other than that, one might wish to reevaluate what they value.

      The emails are just one source of evidence and not enough IMO to draw any conclusions.

      There was talk about deleting emails — but did any deletions occur outside the bounds of normal culling allowed for by the regs governing the employees at that workplace? Were they backed up so originals can be retrieved? Was the chummy atmosphere detrimental to the quality of peer review such that bad papers were published and good papers rejected?

      I can’t determine with any certainty based on the emails — all I can do is speculate and that is not good enough. I’ll wait for the investigation.

    • Finally, I think contrarian and denialist should be reversed.

      Interesting. Can you tell me why? I wanted to keep denialist to those who receive financial reward or some other reward from interests aligned against climate policy that would restrict or regulate CO2. Contrarians are always in existence in any science — they are the fringe who actively reject the dominant scientific paradigm for one reason or another. Some of them are just curmudgeons, and some of them are onto something real that might eventually overturn the dominant paradigm.

      • Contrarians are always in existence in any science — they are the fringe who actively reject the dominant scientific paradigm for one reason or another. Some of them are just curmudgeons, and some of them are onto something real that might eventually overturn the dominant paradigm.

        I always think of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, et al are more in the line of the line of contrarians, since their political agendas tend to have them speaking in the opposite of the opposing groups, regardless of where the science is going. All they care about is the politics that they are promoting. SIGs on both sides can be classified as contrarians (Greenpeace or Sierra Club, for example, are posed to continue the AGW cause regardless if there would be definitive proof against AGW). Contrarians could also be types that dismiss “non-professional” scientist out of hand. Michael Faraday’s and Ben Franklin’s lack of higher education does not dismiss the science they eloquently described.

        • I think many denialists have in the past used contrarian science and scientists to create an atmosphere of doubt about the science. There are a number of examples, specifically the tobacco lobby’s fight to prevent, well, many policy approaches to regulating tobacco. I do see links between contrarians and denialists, but I tend to see contrarians as focused on the science, not on the politics. Denialists on the other hand are all about the politics, about the optics of the issue. The science is always secondary to them. They don’t care if its sound or bad, as long as it furthers their political agenda.

  2. The scientist is paid to produce science, and part of that should be to ensure that their data and methods is readily available to those who need it. Supplying responses to FOI requests is considered — or should be considered — a part of their job description, but it is not the main part. In any employe’s job description, there is a certain amount of time set aside for certain kinds of duties.

    Yes and keeping your data organized for ease of access for oneself, colleagues and future generations of scientist is paramount. Scientist of old used to paper journals and logs to keep track and catalog their data. With the computers of today and databases this would be easy, unless there is a problem.

    Besides, NASA, NOAA and the UEA have “Data Librarians” and “FOI Officers” that handle these FOIA request. In my experience with ISO auditors is the only reason for “pressure” would be that the lack of proper documentation. (I have been an auditor and an auditee).

    I can’t determine with any certainty based on the emails — all I can do is speculate and that is not good enough. I’ll wait for the investigation

    I am sure that you or anyone would want to switch doctors or banks if they saw emails of this nature concerning the way they do their work, bad day or not. It may or may not be criminal, but it is definitely wrong.

    • I think that, obviously, the quality of the data is of supreme importance in this matter, and the emails have brought to light some potential problems with it, but I am not competent to judge whether the quality of the data is a serious problem that impacts the actual science or whether it is just surface level. I honestly don’t know and that’s the best I can say. I have to say I am a skeptic when it comes to this issue. I don’t know enough about it to draw a firm conclusion and hope that any review of CRU and its methods improves the data if it needs improving.

      Do the climate scientsts in question feel under attack? I think it’s pretty clear they do feel that way, but I am also not able to determine if their sense of threat is overblown, if the denialists/contrarians/skeptics and their questions and requests are overly burdensome. Regardless, the data and code necessary to replicate the research should be readily available in order to provide confidence in it.

      Now is as good a time as any to get it in good shape and make it available. If there is noting to hide, it will quell some of the discontent. Of course, the denialists and contrarians will not stop their assault because the data is not really what they are after — they are after discredit and doubt. However, if the science is sound, ready access to the data and methods will hopefully quell some of the honest skeptic’s doubts.

      As to the issue of doctors and doubt about their skills based on similar email revelations, I have done some work on critical medical incidents in the past. I know a bit about what can go wrong in hospitals with doctors and nurses, and so I am not naive. People have a lot of expectations on doctors — and scientists — and we sometimes forget that they are humans and subject to all the same foibles. This is not to downplay bad behavior when it happens, but you have to place some degree of trust in the scientific methodto produce reliable science and the training and protocols in place to protect patients — but as Reagan once said, “trust but verify”.

  3. Tom Forrester-Paton Reply January 1, 2010 at 4:34 am

    There’s something surreal about all this focus on FOI. These guys were doing publicly-funded work, and should have published their findings, and the data underlying them, as they made them. If they had, no FOI requests would have been necessary. Whatever “burden” the FOI requests constitted was therefore entirely of their own making.

    The very existence of any FOI traffic AT ALL allows us to draw the adverse inference that their work was not, at the time they were telling us to trust “the consensus”, fit to be shared.

    • Here are my options for understanding this current controversy:

      1) There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the science or the scientists, but because of the politicization of the issue, and the attempts by some denialists with vested interests in seeing any climate science and policy fail, there has been an bad-faith challenge to climate science and thus, the scientists feel under siege. They feel attacked and that forces are aligned against them, trying to discredit them and their work. In that environment, they have circled the wagons, and are in a “defensive mode” that has taken them out of BAU science into a politicized form of it. While there may be some errors in their data and methods, these errors are no more or less than would be found in any science during its nascence and development. However, the denialists pick on any error and magnify its importance and use that as evidence of wrongdoing. This has led to efforts to hinder “denialists” by not providing non-scientists with data and methods, and has led to a very insular “Us vs. Them” mentality. Because of the potential implications of their work — if the BAU scenarios and models turn out to be correct, potentially catastrophic global warming — they may be willing to go from disinterested scientist to science advocate. They see what McIntyre and others have tried to do with the data and their work — discredit it and raise the rabble — and so have not complied with the normal exchange of data and methods expected of scientists. They have merely responded to external threats and have acted in an understandable manner, which may not have helped matters. (This is what I think the Nature editorial suggests)

      2) There may be something wrong with the science but at this point, no one is able to determine how wrong it may or may not be, but because the scientists doing it are so insular and cliquey, they are unable to find and correct it on their own, and the ineffective peer review system has failed to weed out the bad methods and findings. They feel under siege from the skeptics who recognize this inadequacy, and have circled the wagons even more closely and challenged their work. As a result they have denied data and methods that they should be providing as part of the normal course of their work. They have lost face because of the errors that have been revealed and because their careers depend on the validity of their work to date, they are fighting tooth and nail to prevent outside (outside of the small group of climate scientists) scrutiny. They have brought this on themselves.

      3)There is something fundamentally wrong with the science and the scientists on “the team”. They are engaged in shoddy science that has been undertaken for a particular end and have been adjusting or fixing the data (depending on how suspicious you are) to suit an agenda: obtaining bigger funding grants and more professional prestige, achieving some environmentalist agenda such as the end of fossil fuel use, or a social agenda such as the redistribution of wealth from developed to developing world, and / or one world government, etc. They have refused to turn over the data and methods or have delayed in doing so because they know that if they did, the whole house of cards would fall apart once the auditors were able to review it and would find the “adustments / fixes”. This has led to skeptics and auditors having to request the data and methods using FOI requests, which are then a burden because they have to find even more creative ways to deny the requests and have scrambled to fix up the bad data. They have brought this on themselves.

      I can’t think of any other reasons.

  4. Another piece of rationale that must be included is “Precaution Mentality” that Willis Eshenbach commented on in WUWT:

    Ron Prinn in the MIT Climategate Debate mentions that at first he was a skeptic of AGW, but later, with “…risk analysis…”, would rather error on the side of “safe” not “sorry”. I find there is quite a few of these AGW Supporter/Lukewarmers that have no interest in researching or looking into the data or the science. Ron is interesting being a climate researcher that actually does not believe the science is developed, but take position with the AGW supporters.

    I am not sure how this fits into the above types, but it is a salient modifier.

    • The precautionary principle is certainly one I’m familiar with given my own work and I have to admit to a clear bias in this direction on my own part.

      For example, a new influenza virus arrives on the scene that appears at first to be very deadly, killing half of those who are hospitalized with it in a very short time. No one knows just how contagious it is or how many people have become infected with it, but it has caused an alarming number of deaths so far among otherwise healthy individuals.

      Governments have to respond to the virus, but given how little information exists and how uncertain the data are that they do have, they can either over-respond, spending dollars for nothing or under-respond and run the risk of not addressing the threat in time with massive casualties and severe economic and social, let alone human consequences.

      Unfortunately, the appropriate level of response is only determinable after the epidemic/pandemic is over and all the data are in regarding infection rates, ease of transmission, hospitalization rates, critical care admission rates, ventilation rates, response to antivirals, etc. and death rates.

      Based on the potential for a very high number of deaths suggested by the early data, the government, using a risk/benefit analysis and the precautionary principle, spends billions of dollars for vaccine development, antiviral stockpiling, surveillance, surge capacity in hospitals, ordering extra ventilators, cross training staff, public education, etc.

      When the pandemic hits, it ends up being far less transmissible, far less lethal than it appeared in the early days. However, because the government was ready, it was able to respond quickly and efficiently and the number of deaths was minimized.

      People complain that the government acted too hastily and spent too much money considering the reality of the new virus. There were costs involved to the society that proved ultimately unnecessary and excessive.

      Some would argue it is better to over-respond than under-respond given the risks.

      Politics aside, many feel that we are facing a similar dilemma with respect to climate change. The science — such as it is — appears to suggest that human actions are warming the planet and the best models suggest that the consequences could be considerable. We are like the epidemiologists in the early days of the pandemic — we don’t have all the data in yet, and don’t know if the data we do have are sound, and we don’t know if what we do have is good enough to formulate a response.

      In the AGW scenario, there are many uncertainties — climate sensitivity, feedbacks, consequences of warming for flora and fauna, habitat, extinctions, economic and human consequences. The potential policy responses — carbon taxes, carbon trading and caps, development of alternatives such as wind, solar, nuclear, etc. all have uncertainties, unknown costs and consequences.

      In this case, like the case of pandemic influenza, we won’t really know for certain until the warming either happens or doesn’t happen, but by then, if it does warm, it will be too late to prevent and we will be left with the consequences. If we act and it doesn’t warm, we will face consequences as well.

      The dilemma is that the longer you wait, the more constrained you are regarding the severity of your response if the threat is real.

      Many skeptics say that the science is too uncertain to respond to the potential threat of global warming with policies that will transform our economy and limit or reduce GHG emissions. While it may end up being true that the warming “in the pipes” is minimal and no dire consequences will result for a doubling of CO2, the uncertainty can also be seen as all the more reason for a response now to mitigate potential threats in the future.

      It’s a tough call. I don’t claim to know what is best.

  5. I find that models should be scrutinized more diligently than anything else. There is no case that a model has been found close to perfect. I agree that the data is quite useful, but forecasting is still an infant art. I suppose that it is better than chicken bones, but not by much. Many of my coworkers ask me my opinion of a weather forecast (after a couple of freak snow storms I had forecasted that the models missed). I just look at the basic jet stream flows, current pressures, temperatures and cloud density… there you have it. It is not to say that I have not missed a forecast, but it is infrequent 😉

    Anyhow, with the hurricanes quieting after the opposite forecast, Hansen’s 1988 forecast coming in way too aggressive ( with Gavin on RC scrambling explanation of some sort of brightness forcing… argh…

    From my position, we SO do not have a modeling system (or theory) that reflects the data. The first rule of science TESTING, is that if the theory fails once, it is a FAILURE or the hypothesis needs adjustment.

    • I am sure many government bureaucrats wished they would have had accurate data when they first considered a response to the H1N1 pandemic, but they didn’t. They had incomplete data which gave the wrong idea about how severe it was and so the forecasts were overblown. In this case, better to have had excess vaccine and capacity than inadequate.

      Yes, the models need to be improved and the data readily available for replication purposes. That is a given. I think those involved in doing the science agree, but then we have the political side of things, and that’s when everything gets quite muddy…

  6. I appreciate your analysis shewonk – it is so hard to reach conclusions at this time on what is to be done with regard to climate change.

    I am a Cambridge University scientist by training and an engineer//businessman in life. I have been following the debate closely for a couple of years now, purely out of academic interest. After all my reading I find myself to be in a postion somewhere between agnostic and sceptic in terms of AGW. I therefore was mildly offended by the editorials in Nature and New Scientist which seem to be relatively uncritical of climate science as currently practiced.

    I had a vigorous discussion at Christmas with my daughters (both young scientists about to get PhDs in astronomy and biology) and was appalled but not surprised at their unquestioning acceptance that AGW was effectively proven and that we needed to act now in a big way to save the planet. To paraphrase one – “Read Real Climate Dad, it says all you need to know”. I am now working to try to broaden their horizons.

    I like the analogy with taking precautions for the H1N1 virus – it is absolutely better to err on the side of caution. However with AGW we are talking about spending not the odd billion but trillions upon trillions of dollars merely to delay any effects of AGW (Lomberg has good opinions on how we might better spend our money I think). With this in mind all the science and raw data/methodology around climate change just HAS to be open to 100% public scrutiny – the stakes are just too big to consider anything else.

    John Dawson

  7. It seems the primary difference between contrarian and denialist in your definitions is motives. Denialists are like contrarians, but they behave the way they do because of some direct financial interest in denying the science, while motive is not mentioned in the definition for contrarian. I think “denialist” could be expanded beyond that. Some (perhaps most) deny science for ideological reasons. Global warming mitigation might not harm them, but they think it will, or it will lead to one world government, make Al Gore rich, or what not.

    I also see “lukewarmers” behaving like denialists or contrarians, spending much of their time hurling allegations at climate scientists or cherry-picking data.

    • In my view, contrarians actually do have an alternate theory to explain the phenomenon in question, but that theory does not have much support in the greater community of scientists. These are the scientists thought of as outsiders, fringe, or crackpots, who probably are most of the time, but every once in a while, they are really on to something and eventually, the more they dig, the more evidence they turn up, the more other supporters they convert to their way of thinking, and we have a shift in the larger theory to accommodate the former-crackpot theory or even a wholesale change. There are many examples in the history of science to illustrate this and so I hold out a certain degree of respect for contrarians who reject the dominant scientific paradigm because they have a real belief in an alternative. Some of them are right. Most probably not.

      Some contrarians are just curmudgeons and like to reject the mainstream view, because they prefer the identity of a scientist on the fringe. It’s probably more of a psychological thing.

      Deniers are monetarily, politically or ideologically committed against the mainstream or dominant paradigm. Perhaps its implications for public policy threaten their ability to make big profits, or go against their political party’s platform or their view of how the world should work. They really don’t care about the evidence — that’s why they feel empowered to use astroturf orgs and papers. In other words, it’s not about the science, stupid.

      At least for skeptics and contrarians, it’s about the science.

    • And I forgot — some people use the term lukewarmers as a way of casting stones from within rather than from without. It’s more respectable to say, “Yeah, I think the world is warming, and yeah, I think CO2 produced through fossil fuel emissions is part of the cause, but I don’t think the science is clear on it being catastrophic.” Or as Mosher claims, “we can’t know because there is no code or data, etc.” and on ad infinitum.

      I do recall a thread where Mosher actually advises (either in seriousness or jest) McI to take that stance as a way of appropriating some kind of credibility and calming the nerves of the warmers…

  8. “And I forgot — some people use the term lukewarmers as a way of casting stones from within rather than from without.”

    This describes my thoughts on the topic much more concisely. DC’s response to my comment here nearly completes them.

    To add to that, we don’t often see self-described “lukewarmers” challenging contrarians or denialists (a few exceptions may exist), labelling them as such (“alarmist” is ok to describe mainstream views, though), accusing them of fraud and dishonesty, or what not. It’s not like there isn’t a mountain of genuine opportunities.

  9. Susann,
    The Nature editorial was criticized in a letter to Nature. I was surprised they published it because Nature blog run by Olive Heffernan has embraced censorship almost like RC. Kind of ironic, since I understand RC has opened up itself to criticism somewhat since Climategate.

    See Steve’s post.

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