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FDL Book Salon Welcomes James Hoggan, Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming

James Hoggan - Climate Cover-Up[Welcome James Hoggan, and Host Tim Lambert – bev]

Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming

Question: What’s the difference between a computer salesman and a used car salesman?

Answer: A used car salesman knows when he’s lying.

I was reminded of this old joke when reading Jim Hoggan’s book “Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming” on the campaign to obscure what science tells us about global warming: it’s happening and we’re causing it.  Hoggan tells us about the cast of characters involved in this campaign and I found myself classifying them into two categories: those who don’t know they are lying and those that do.

In the first category we have Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, who has delusions of grandeur.  He really is a Viscount, but he also claims to be a member of the House of Lords (he isn’t) and to have won a share in the Nobel Peace Prize (he didn’t). Monckton has a degree in classics and no training or experience in science or mathematics but he churns out papers full of equations (which he misinterprets) and graphs (which are wrong) that purport to show that global warming isn’t happening. Monckton recently gave a speech with 2 million viewings on youtube where he declared that that Copenhagen treaty will institute a COMMUNIST WORLD GOVERNMENT. In short, Monckton is a crank.

Now, if Monckton’s pet theory was, say, that the moon was made of cheese or the sun was made of iron nobody would pay any attention to him.  But because his theory involves global warming denial, he is now chief policy advisor at a think tank called the Science and Public Policy Institute and touted as an expert on climate science.  Hoggan describes a whole gaggle of such think tanks, all with fancy titles and funded by the fossil fuel industry. None of them produce science to be published in peer-reviewed journals but rather opinions than can be published in opeds or quotes for journalists to balance their stories and match a quote from a scientist at a research institute about their data shows global warming is a problem with a quote from a “policy analyst” from a think tank saying that no it isn’t.

Which brings us to the second category of person described — someone who knows when he is lying.  An example of this sort of person is Steve Milloy. While Monckton wil say things that are outrageously false and outright crazy, Milloy is much more careful.  Instead of telling everybody that cigarette smoke is good for you, he will raise lots of plausible sounding (but poorly founded) objections to studies that show that it is harmful.  Milloy would raise these objections at his website, which pretended to be a place devoted to debunking bad science, but actually was devoted to debunking the notion that cigarette smoke was harmful.   You won’t be surprised to learn that Milloy was secretly funded by tobacco companies.

The same techniques used by tobacco companies to obscure the science that shows that cigarette smoke is bad for you is now being used to cover up the fact that human activities are warming the planet.  In fact the same people and think tanks that argued against a link between cigarettes and disease are now arguing that against a link between carbon dioxide and global warming.  They don’t have convince people that there is no link — all they have to do make it appear as if there is a scientific controversy.  Journalists help them in this task by seeking sources to provide a balance of opposing views rather than seeking sources with expertise in the subject area.

Too recent to be included in Hoggan’s book is the latest ugly turn in the campaign against climate science.  A server in the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia was broken into and code and many emails were stolen and posted on the net.

By any objective standard the stolen data shows no evidence of any scientific misconduct, but private emails are particularly vulnerable to be taking out of context since the context is all previous communications between the two parties.  The anti-science campaigners were therefore able to find emails they could misrepresent as proof of fraud.  For example, in one email Phil Jones said that he had used a “trick” to “hide the decline”.  This was taken out of context as meaning a decline in global temperatures, i.e., that he has dishonestly covered up evidence that global warming wasn’t happening. But in science “trick” just means a technique, and other emails make it clear that the “decline” wasn’t a decline in temperatures at all, but in tree ring density, a proxy for temperature.  Before 1960 tree density tracks temperature quite well, but after 1960 temperatures go up while tree ring density goes down, so tree ring density stops being a good proxy for temperature.  All Jones was doing was trying to avoid misleading readers into thinking that temperatures had declined after 1960 when they had not.

But none of this matters to the anti-science campaigners.  Monckton claims that the emails were proof of fraud and has called for the criminal prosecution of the CRU scientists.   Milloy denies that the emails were stolen, instead claiming that they were released because of a FOIA request and supports a call for Al Gore’s Oscar to be rescinded.

Regardless of what Monckton, Milloy and co say or do, the planet will continue to warm.  Reality will eventually make their campaign untenable, but the danger is that they might succeed in delaying action to mitigate global warming.

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Tim Lambert

Tim Lambert

I'm a computer scientist in the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. I don't blog about computer science very much but rather about areas of science with political implications such as global warming, the relationship between guns and crime and the use of DDT against malaria. Usually I'm inspired by reading an article and noticing something that doesn't seem to be correct. I then do a little bit of research and before you know it I have a blog post explaining what is wrong and why it is wrong.