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October 04, 2006

Bob Ward Comments on Royal Society Letter


Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Science + Politics

{I am very pleased that Bob Ward, formerly of the Royal Society, has sent in the following comment which we are happy to post. Thanks very much! RP]

I've enjoyed reading this exchange of views, particularly the discussion over the Royal Society's contribution to the debate. I thought it might help to set out some of my views, although rather belatedly. I should explain that my employment at the Royal Society ceased on 22 September - not, as some have suggested, because I was sacked but because I am moving on to a new job and had agreed my departure date about three months ago.

I'd like to give a bit of background about the ExxonMobil sag, but start with an explanation of how the Royal Society sees its role (writing as an ex-employee).

[continued]


As you probably know, the Society was founded in 1660 to promote the 'new experimental philosophy' ie that our understanding of the natural world should be based on experiment and observation rather than merely speculating about the nature of things. The Society's motto 'nullius in verba' has been translated in various ways (eg trust not in words alone, etc), but is today generally regarded as meaning that statements about science should be assessed against evidence. The Society (technically the Council of the Royal Society) has spoken out frequently, on many issues and throughout its history, when the scientific evidence is being ignored or misrepresented. It promotes debate within the scientific community and outside, but it does challenge attempts to misrepresent the evidence, for whatever reasons.

As many have pointed out, the climate change debate is not merely one of science. The question of what to do in light of the scientific evidence is essentially a societal and political one in which scientists might be able to identify the options, but have no special role in deciding which options to pursue. However, the Society has taken the view that the debate about the options should be based on authoritative and reliable assessments of the scientific evidence, as documented in the peer-reviewed literature. It is for this reason that the IPCC has the support of the Royal Society, and indeed of many of the world's other scientific academies, such as the US National Academy of Science.

Our understanding of climate change continues to develop, and this is reflected in the work of the IPCC. The Fourth Assessment Report, due for publication next year, will be able to draw on information not available for the Third Assessment, such as probabilistic assessments of future temperature changes. And of course there are some scientists who don't agree with the IPCC's assessments. But the IPCC does an excellent job of summarising the state of knowledge, taking into account the uncertainties and differences of opinion. I recommend the NAS report published in 2001 as a critical examination of the work of the IPCC.

The saga with ExxonMobil began back in April when I gave 'The Guardian' newspaper a document I had drafted about the way in which the coverage of climate change was being covered by the UK media. 'The Guardian' correctly reported that the document had, among other things, been critical of both ExxonMobil and Greenpeace for releasing information into the public domain, via their websites, that was inconsistent with the scientific evidence, as summarised by the IPCC. Both organsiations complained about being singled out. Greenpeace made changes to their website. ExxonMobil requested a meeting with me.

I met with a couple of members of the Esso UK corporate affairs team in early July. They gave me a presentation about the company's views on energy and climate change. I told them that the Society was concerned about statements in a report published in February that we considered misleading.

I also pointed out that ExxonMobil also appeared to be funding a lot of organisations that were also making misleading public statements about climate change. They then said to me that they were planning to stop such funding.

The meeting ended and nothing further happened until the end of August, when one of the people I had met with in July sent me a copy of a new report from ExxonMobil, containing almost verbatim the statements I had complained about at the meeting. So I wrote a letter pointing out why the statements were inaccurate and misleading.

I also asked about progress towards the pledge they had made about stopping funding for organisations that were providing misleading information about climate change. I went through the list of organisations that ExxonMobil listed in their 2005 contributions report and found, of those organisations with websites that included information about climate change, 25 appeared to provide information that was more or less consistent with the evidence documented in the scientific literature, but 39 did not. I also asked for a list of organsiations that they were funding in the UK and rest of Europe, since they were not listed in the ExxonMobil contributions report.

I hope this account shows that my actions weren't really hectoring or bullying anybody. All I did was challenge the statements that ExxonMobil have been promoting, directly and indirectly through its sponsorship, to the public about the scientific evidence for climate change. Surely that is a legitimate activity for an academy of science?

Posted on October 4, 2006 06:47 AM

Comments

Bob-

Thanks again for participating. It is indeed very useful to hear your views.

I do wonder, by what criteria did the Royal Society determine to focus its initial efforts on climate change and then Greenpeace and Exxon? Or if you prefer, what criteria does the RS generally use to decide when to weigh in on scientific statements in public debate?

I am obviously wondering if this is more-or-less ad hoc, or if you have some process and criteria. There are of course many, many opportunities for such a role, why this one and not others?

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 4, 2006 11:45 AM


I am grateful for the chance to speak about the role of the Royal Society in science policy issues.

The Society's work on UK policy issues is guided by its science policy section, of about 15 full-time staff, which consult with Fellows and other senior scientists about what should be tackled. All major policy initiatives are approved by the Council of the Royal Society, which is the governing body.

The Society has been tackling climate chnage policy for a number of years - indeed, it is interesting to note that Margaret Thatcher made her first major speech as UK Prime Minister about environmental issues, including climate change, to the Royal Society in 1988. The Society's activities include the publication of statements and reports and the hosting of major international discussion meetings, which not only seek to bring together scientists, but also civil society groups and policy-makers. The Society tries to be as open as possible about these activities, and you will find many details on the Society's website.

The Society understands the distinction between scientific advice (ie assessments of the state of scientific knowledge) and advice on policy-making (ie identification of policy options), although this might not always be obvious from the documents that it publishes.

On climate change, the Society has taken the view that the IPCC's assessments are the most authoritative summaries of the state of scientific knowledge. But it has also recommended a range of policy responses for both mitigation and adaptation.

As I indicated in my initial posting, the Society places great value on evidence and seeks to ensure that policy discussions take account of it. While of course I agree with the sentiments that science benefits from free and open discussion, what does distinguish science from many other areas is the importance of evidence. The Society has made a particular effort in recent years to speak out when p[olicy debates are being distorted by individuals or groups that seek to ignore or misrepresent the scientific evidence. For instance, during my early days at the Royal Society in 1999, the Society became involved in a major debate over GM foodstuffs, when it challenged a number of statements about their safety that were based on studies that had not been submitted to peer-reviewed journals. This made the Society the subject of much criticism from NGOs such as Greenpeace, which I think demonstrates that the Society is not partisan to particular interest groups. You will find on the Society's website a number of documents dealing with a wide range of science policy issues, as well as details of the way in which major policy studies are conducted.

Finally, I should stress that the document that prompted the ExxonMobil saga in April was not primarily about its role, or indeed that of Greenpeace. It was instead a record of the ways in which the UK media has been covering the climate change debate in the last few years and how this was influenced. It is a fairly substantial record which I hope to post on the web shortly.

Posted by: Bob Ward at October 4, 2006 01:47 PM


Bob-

Thanks much for this further information. Let me be a bit more direct with my question. You write that in the document that you refer to the RS was

"critical of both ExxonMobil and Greenpeace for releasing information into the public domain, via their websites, that was inconsistent with the scientific evidence, as summarised by the IPCC."

Here on our WWW site we have "released information" on disaster costs and scenarios of sea level rise that are clearly "inconsistent with the scientific evidence, as summarised by the IPCC." (In my view the IPCC made glaring mistakes on these issues.)

Do I have to worry that the RS is going to ask my funders to cease funding our work? If not, why not?

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2006 12:48 AM


Bob Ward writes, "On climate change, the Society has taken the view that the IPCC's assessments are the most authoritative summaries of the state of scientific knowledge."

Does that mean that the Society considers the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) "projections" for methane atmospheric concentrations, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations, and resultant temperature increases, to be scientifically valid?

If the Society does indeed consider the TAR “projections" to be scientifically valid, I have several additional questions:

1) The IPCC provides this caveat: "Scenarios are images of the future or alternative futures. They are neither predictions nor forecasts."

http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc/emission/025.htm

Doesn’t this caveat effectively render the “projections” unfalsifiable? After all, if they are neither “predictions nor forecasts,” then how can they be shown to be wrong? If the Society does indeed acknowledge that the IPCC TAR projections are unfalsifiable, doesn’t that render the projections scientifically invalid? Or does the Society not agree that with Karl Popper that falsifiability is a fundamental requirement for science:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

2) What about reports (undisputed, as far as I know) that the most extreme scenario in the IPCC TAR (i.e., the one producing the greatest temperature increases) was added AFTER scientific peer review?

http://www.reason.org/ebrief105.shtml

Does the Society approve of the IPCC adding the most extreme scenario AFTER scientific peer review? If not, has the Society ever publicly stated its disapproval? If not, why not?

3) Jesse Ausubel (an 11-year member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences) has called the IPCC TAR projections "unscientific" and has further said:

“Most of the forty scenarios are unbelievable. The fact that the authors as a group were unwilling to attach probabilities to them is important. After all, weather forecasters are willing to say there’s a 40% chance of rain nowadays. The fact that the group could do no more than say that every one of these scenarios is equally valid was pathetic. And there are internal contradictions in many of the scenarios. Richer is cleaner, and the idea that you could have a scenario in which a society was very wealthy would not choose sanitation, industrial sanitation, whatever you want to call it, is preposterous. When you get that rich, you can afford a hydrogen-powered home. A lot of the scenarios are Brezhnev-ite. We might think of some other name than Brezhnev-ite, but they are strange, incompatible combinations of things.”

Does the Society disagree with Mr. Ausubel?

4) Would any past or present member(s) of the Society care to debate this proposition: "Resolved: The IPCC TAR projections for methane atmospheric concentrations, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations, and resultant temperature increases, are scientifically valid"? If not, why not?

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2006 10:41 AM


For those interested in the reactions to and socio-political implications of the Royal Society's contentious actions, I have attached an open letter to the RS that was posted in today's CCNet.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE ROYAL SOCIETY

September 26, 2006

The Royal Society
6-9 Carlton House Terrace
London SW1Y 5AG

Dear Sirs:

We write today in order to express our grave concern regarding the Royal Society’s recent attempt to politicize the private funding of science and to censor scientific debate. We feel this unprecedented action is wildly inappropriate and in contradiction with the esteemed history and principles of the Society as an objective and neutral body dedicated to the free exchange of ideas.

It is essential that we remind you that the Society’s Latin motto “Nullis in Verba” translated informs us that scientific inquiry relies “on the words of no one.” Accordingly, the Society has been known for its commitment to gaining knowledge through experimentation rather than citation of authority. But now, in this its 346th year of existence, the Society seems to have made an extraordinary shift that it should be the one tyrannical authority which trumps experimentation.

It’s important to remember that the Society has its roots in controversy. Many respected members were at one time considered on the fringes of science; even Sir Isaac Newton was a practicing alchemist. The Society’s heritage lies with intellectual rebels, but today it seems to only have room for those who agree with its leadership.

Karl Popper, who is among the most influential philosophers of science in the 20th century and was a member of the Royal Society, advises us that scientific inquiry is unique because it requires falsifiability. We can only advance our understanding of the natural world by questioning our conclusions. The beauty of science is that no issue is ever “settled”, that no question is beyond being more fully understood, that no conclusion is immune to further experimentation.
And yet for the first time in history, the Royal Society is shamelessly using the media to say emphatically: “case closed” on all issues related to climate change. With all due respect, how can this be?

Think of the far-reaching implications of your actions. To begin with, this letter takes the Society down a slippery slope of engaging third parties for public reprimand. This could have a chilling effect in the future investment of all private funding, without which much of the knowledge we have gained today would not have been possible.

Furthermore, such bullying by the world’s leading scientific body will intimidate young students from thinking outside the mainstream. Innovation will be crushed before it has even been conceived. The leaking of your letter to a media outlet compromises your integrity and creates a new model where science is not communicated through academic literature.

The very nature of scientific inquiry is based on questioning and debate, yet the perpetuation of this practice will increasingly discourage these exchanges among colleagues.

Lastly, many of us find Mr. Ward’s comments particularly mean-spirited and unbecoming of the Society and the scientific community. It is personally and professionally insulting to imply as Mr. Ward clearly does that those of us that have worked on projects funded by private or corporate means have falsified, omitted, or manipulated research data and evidence in order to satisfy our patrons. Good people can arrive at different conclusions, Mr. Ward. Is there even a single member within the Royal Society that at one time during their careers has not accepted a scholarship, grant or other source of funding to advance their own intellectual pursuits? Are we to assume that they have altered their findings to meet the whims of their funders?

Dissent makes science stronger; diversity of viewpoint is essentially to learning. Even if our hypotheses are ultimately proven wrong, our scrutiny of these issues is a service to the body of science and will contribute, even by counterexample, to our understanding of nature.

Colleagues who have devoted their lives to science deserve your respect even if you cannot give your endorsement. We ask the Royal Society for a public apology regarding this regrettable episode.

Sincerely,
Dr. William Gray
Director, Tropical Meteorology Project
Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Science
Colorado State University

Dr. Tim Ball
Professor of Climatology
University of Winnipeg

Dr. Gary Sharp
Scientific Director
Center for Climate/ Ocean Resources Study

Dr. Ian Clark
Department of Earth Sciences
University of Ottawa

Dr. Patrick J. Michaels
Professor of Environmental Sciences
University of Virginia
Past-President, American Association of State Climatologists

Dr. Anthony Lupo
Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science
Department of Soil, Environmental, and Atmospheric Sciences
University of Missouri

Dr. Robert Balling
Former Director, Office of Climatology
Arizona State University

Dr. James J. O’Brien
Florida State Climatologist Emeritus
Director Emeritus, Center for Ocean and Atmospheric Prediction Studies
Robert 0. Lawton Distinguished Professor, Meteorology & Oceanography
Florida State University

Joseph D’Aleo
Certified Consultant Meteorologist

Dr. Madhav Khandekar
Retired Meteorologist
Formerly with Environment Canada

Dr. Tim Patterson
Professor of Geology
Department of Earth Sciences
Carleton University in Ottawa

Posted by: Benny Peiser [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2006 02:55 PM


Benny-

Thanks much for sharing this letter. It reminds me of my latest Bridges column:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2006. Self-Segregation of Scientists by Political Predispositions. Bridges, Vol. 11, September.
http://www.ostina.org/content/view/1432/607/

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2006 03:52 PM


It's good to see such a healthy debate. I'm afraid that as I don't have the time to offer detailed responses to all the points raised above, but I'll try to address the main concerns.

First, the objections to the IPCC's scenarios used in the TAR. I cannot claim to be an expert in this area (I generally seek the advice of researchers who are), but my understanding is that the IPCC would have used probabilistic assessments if they were available. The Fourth Assessment Report will include probabilistic assessments. However, the TAR scenarios were intended to cover the range of feasible temperature changes in the future. A probabilistic approach will, I suspect, only narrow the range of, for instance, the 1.4 to 5.8 degree increase by 2100. Certainly the model results I have seen published since 2001 appear to lie within or largely overlap the ranges indicated by TAR.

As for the accusation that the letter sent to ExxonMobil is an attemptto censor debate, I reject that entirely. I positively encourage scientists who have evidence that refutes the IPCC assessments to submit it to peer-reviewed journals, so that it can be openly debated by the scientific community.

In the end, such controversies, in as much as there really is one in this case, will be decided by the evidence, rather than by how vociferous or eloquent the proponents are. After all, an ugly fact can always trump a beautiful theory.

Nobody denies that there is a minority of scientists, some of whom are carrying out research on climate change and its causes, who reject the IPCC assessments. I'm not against dissenting voices being heard, but it should be made clear that they are a minority and that there is a consensus view, represented by the IPCC.

There are times when the minority turn out to be right (eg last year's Nobel prize winner for medicine who showed that ulcers were the result of bacterial infection). But many times, dissenting voices never relent no matter what the evidence. You can still find scientists who claim that the Earth is only 6000 years old, or that tobacco smoking does not increase the risk of lung cancer, etc.

I think in this case there is compelling evidence that the recent rise in global average temperature is being driven by rising greenhouse gas concentrations.

Let me also repeat that I did not demand that ExxonMobil stop funding anybody. The offer was made to me.

But let's open a new part of the debate. In my opinion, many of the organisations that receive money from ExxonMobil appear to be so-called 'free-market' lobby groups that are ideologically opposed to environmental regulations. I don't object to that - they are equivalent to environmental lobby groups whose raison d'etre is more environmental regulation. However, I do object to either of these groups, or indeed anybody else, misrepresenting the scientific evidence to justify their ideologies. The easy test is whether they refer to the peer-reviewed scientific literature when making their cases, rather than just making assertions on websites, newspaper articles and TV ads. Surely others agree with that?

Posted by: Bob Ward at October 5, 2006 05:15 PM


"We write today in order to express our grave concern regarding the Royal Society’s recent attempt to politicize the private funding of science and to censor scientific debate. "

Ah yes, the strawman...

Let's try to remember that letter was about politically motivated funding of PR campaigns. So this set up, describing complaining about that as "politicizing the funding of science", can not even charitably be called "spin".

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2006 06:48 PM


Roger, you asked:

"Do I have to worry that the RS is going to ask my funders to cease funding our work?"

I know the question was directed at Bob Ward, but perhaps in the meantime you can take comfort from these words of his:

"The Society has made a particular effort in recent years to speak out when policy debates are being distorted by individuals or groups that seek to ignore or misrepresent the scientific evidence"

I don't think your goal is to misrepresent or ignore anything. This is what sets your (scientific) work apart from the op-eds and speeches of many others in this debate.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2006 08:16 PM


Roger, in addition to the comments from coby, let me suggest that obviously the RS must determine how to best use its limited sources to try to police the misuse of the science. Do you think that your open disagreement with the IPCC over some matters rises to the level of misuse deliberately engaged in by Exxon through its anonymous use of paid pundits? If so, then by all means disclose your funding sources, so we can figure out if you are really a mouthpiece for someone else! ;)

But of course the question you pose shows that you are still missing the point - the RS is simply asking that parties that have specific disagreements with the science to argue those disagreements openly and directly, so that science is not used as an end-around from having a political debate over what policies are approriate in the face of the science. Unless I misunderstand you, you are being quite open about your disagreements, are also trying to push the policy disagreements into the policy arena, and are not surreptitiously funding others to make your arguments for you.

Regards,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2006 11:55 PM


Mark, I haven't had this discussion with you yet, but I suppose the only part of the IPCC projections that can be called "science" are those that indicate, if GHG emissions are at certain levels, then certain temperature changes can be expected within a certain time frame. These can be tested.

But projections of the GHG emissions levels themselves cannot be "science", because they depend on a plethora of individual decisions and circumstances and are not the inevitable consequences of prior emissions levels.

So I fail to understand the point you are trying to make.

Posted by: TokyoTom [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2006 12:02 AM


Coby and Tom-

Thanks. But what troubles me is that both Bob Ward's and your criteria for determining who is misbhaving requires some knowledge of their intentions or goals. The only way to do that is not to ask whether they question a particular scientific consensus, but to look and see what policies they support or do not support.

Thus the criteria for the RS actions is political. Groups opposed to particular actions on climate change must then be misrepresenting science if they they also disagree with aspects of the "consensus."

This course of action turns the RS into a political partisan on this issue. This of course might be acceptible to like-minded partisans, but over the long-run will turn the RS into just another advocate of a particular action invoking teh authority of science to make their case and diminish that of their opponents.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2006 01:12 AM


Roger, The statement "Thus the criteria for the RS actions is political" is not correct (imho), if what the RS complained about are statements such as "water vapor is not covered in the IPCC report" or similar statements to the effect that WV isn't simulated in models.

Statements like these fall (imho) under the description that Ward made.

Posted by: Kim Dabelstein Petersen at October 6, 2006 02:03 AM


Roger, I share your concern about how the RS chooses to use its reputation, but disagree with your assessment of what is “political” and your interpretation of the RS’s behavior. I also reject your interpretation of my position. The RS quite explicitly disagreed with Exxon’s summary of the science and apparently did so earlier, and explained Bob Ward explained the basis of his disagreement in his letter. The disagreement expressed by Bob Ward did not at all discuss the motives of Exxon; nor did it require any knowledge of or guesswork concerning Exxon’s goals or its expressed policy preferences. Rather, the disagreement is factual, and requires only a simple comparison between (1) the RS’view of the science on the one hand (the IPCC and recent updates from other scientific bodies) with (2) Exxon’s direct statements about the statements and (3) statements that have been made by groups supported by Exxon, on the other. If Exxon disagrees with RS’view of the science then it is incumbent on Exxon, if it chooses to do so, to argue with the RS as to what the science is.
I fail to see what is political about that. What are obviously judgment calls are the decisions to broach the matter with Greenpeace and Exxon, to follow up with Exxon and to include inquiries as to Exxon’s funding of proxies to which, in the RS’ view, are also getting their science wrong. Exxon of course may also decline to make public its funding of proxy voices (not research, as you have acknowledged), but it seems that you think that merely requesting this information is inherently political. I disagree, as I have already explained extensively - it certainly is useful information to the public debate if they know not merely WHAT people say, but WHO exactly is talking – whether it be who is funding various talking heads or who is funding Greenpeace, and – the RS is simply seeking information that will make it clear when it is EXXON that is speaking. I view this as a way to better separate the science and the politics, and does not prejudice EXXON’s ability to speak in either arena.
Maybe you could do us a favor and explain why you think that such an inquiry is political, unfair, unwise or all of the above.

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 6, 2006 05:33 AM


Dear Dr. Peiser:

Thanks for posting that hilarious letter - which I am trusting you will soon reveal is a spoof, as I simply cannot fathom that the purported authors - all senior, respected scientists - could otherwise so wildly miscast the letter sent by Bob Ward of the RS to Esso. Or is there some OTHER letter to Esso, to which only they are privy?

The RS letter that Dr. Pielke so kindly posted here says the following, in pertinent part:

[Certain statements by Exxon] "are very misleading [and] ... are not consistent with the scientific literature that has been published on this issue." and

“It is very disappointing that the ExxonMobil 2005 Corporate Citizenship Report, like ‘Tomorrow’s Energy’, leaves readers with such an inaccurate and misleading impression of the evidence on the causes of climate change that is documented in the scientific literature.” and

“At our meeting in July, I also told you of my concerns about the support that ExxonMobil has been giving to organisations that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change. You indicated that ExxonMobil would not be providing any further funding to these organisations. I would be grateful if you could let me know when ExxonMobil plans to carry out this pledge, and if you could provide me with a list of which organisations will no longer be receiving funding.” and

“As you know, the Worldwide Giving Report only lists organisations in the United States which have received support from ExxonMobil. I would be grateful if you could let me know which organisations in the UK and other European countries have been receiving funding from ExxonMobil so that I can work out which of these have been similarly providing inaccurate and misleading information to the public.”

In the remote event that this joint letter IS seriously intended, perhaps you could care to share your view of how Bob Ward’s letter could possibly support the following rather hysterical allegations and conclusions?

- that the RS letter is an "attempt to politicize the private funding of science and to censor scientific debate"?

- that the RS has taken the position that "it should be the one tyrannical authority which trumps experimentation"?

- that the RS "is shamelessly using the media to say emphatically: “case closed” on all issues related to climate change" - including the implication that it was the RS that released the letter to the media?

- that the RS is engaging in the "public reprimand" of Exxon?

- that the RS letter "could have a chilling effect in the future investment of all private funding"? [such as EXXON’s $100 million commitment to Stanford?]

- that the arguments and inquiries by the RS, which has no authority over Exxon somehow amounts to "bullying by the world’s leading scientific body" that will not merely cow one of the world's largest corporations, but will "intimidate young students" and "crush innovation"?

- that by questioning and debating EXXON, in letters that get leaked to the media, the RS will "increasingly discourage [questioning and debate] among colleagues" (viz., among scientists)?

- that the public discussions of science, in this case by media disclosure of the letter to Exxon, "creates a new model where science is not communicated through academic literature"?

- that requesting that EXXON disclose the paid pundits who serve as its mouthpieces somehow "clearly implies" that "those of us that have worked on projects funded by private or corporate means have falsified, omitted, or manipulated research data and evidence in order to satisfy our patrons"?

Any help you can give me in trying to get my head around these matters would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

TT

PS: Is that the same Dr. Ball who is so concerned about the free flow of ideas that he is suing a Canadian newspaper and blogger for libel, for questioning his academic career as an axpert climatologist?

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 6, 2006 06:36 AM


Tom and Kim-

Thanks. I would indeed like to explore in some detail the issue of criteria used by the RS to decide that Exxon and its funding were an appropriate focus of its advocacy efforts.

Here is the section of the Exxon Corporate Citizenship Report that Mr. Ward objected to in his letter:

http://www2.exxonmobil.com/Corporate/Citizenship/CCR5/climate_science.asp

Can you point specifically to the statements that you see as meeting criteria that RS should apply when addressing another organizations fundinng strategies? (e.g., I do not find Kim's reference to water vapor here.)

As you know, I am less interested in Exxon in particular than in the specific criteria that you (and indeed the RS) suggest be used to determine when it is appropriate for the RS (or any other science academy to advocate funding strategies). Being specific will help me to understand what you think the general criteria ought to be.

Please be specific in reference to the Exxon report in your reply, Thanks!!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2006 08:10 AM


Bob Ward-

Following up on criteria for assessing where the RS decides to intervene in interest group funding, I note that you write:

"I have carried out an ad hoc survey on the websites of organisations that are listed in the ExxonMobil 2005 Worldwide Giving Report for ‘public information and policy research’, which is published on your website. Of those organisations whose websites feature information about climate change, I found that 25 offered views that are consistent with the scientific literature. However, some 39 organisations were featuring information on their websites that misrepresented the science of climate change, by outright denial of the evidence that greenhouse gases are driving climate change, or by overstating the amount and significance of uncertainty in knowledge, or by conveying a misleading impression of the potential impacts of anthropogenic climate change."

It seems that your search started with the Exxon Mobil giving report. Did you apply your (so far unknown) criteria to any other organizations beyond Exxon? What criteria did you use to select the Exxon giving report as a starting point?

How did Greenpeace come to be on and then off your list?

Any insights on these questions are welcomed!!

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2006 08:35 AM


I think many of the postings here have highlighted the important issue of motives. My letter on behalf of the Royal Society was not based on any assumption of motives - it was simply to challenge statements that had been made that the Society regarded as being misleading. As I have mentioned a number of times, this saga started in April after The Guardian newspaper reported in passing that I was critical of some of the information published on the websites of both ExxonMobil and Greenpeace, which I hope demonstrates that this is not a partisan issue as far as the Royal Society is concerned, simply a case of seeking the accurate representation of scientific evidence.

At my meeting with ExxonMobil in July, I pointed out that they appeared to be funding a lot of organisations that were publishing misleading information. I was interested to find out if there was a particular reason for funding these groups. I was told that the funding was awarded irrespective of the views expressed by these groups on climate change. I found this believable about some of the funding - many are 'free market' lobby groups that oppose regulations on a wide range of environmental issues. And of course, ExxonMobil fund a number of organisations that don't misrepresent the science of climate change. But some of the bodies, such as the so-called Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, appear to have no other aim other than to convey the view that greenhouse gas emissions are not driving climate change.

Finally, on funding sources, private organisations are free to fund who they want (within the law) and I have no objection to that. But when the groups and individuals that they are funding are also publishing information on climate change, I think it is right that sources of funding should be revealed. Of course, the presence of a potential conflict of interest does not necessary mean that it has influenced the views expressed. But it is now common practice for researchers to reveal their sources of funding in journal papers that are published, so I don't see any reason why this practice should not be extended to other information that is published, for instance on websites.

It is interesting to note that few of the bodies funded by ExxonMobil acknowledge this fact on their websites. Why not be open about it? I see that Tim Ball and a few of the other signatories to the joint letter posted above also appear to be affiliated to the Canadian group 'Friends of Science' [sic], which aims to put pressure on the Canadian Government to turn its back on its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Any chance that the 'Friends of Science' might be willing to publish a list of funders on its website?

And before you ask, yes you can find a list of the Royal Society's funders on its website.

Posted by: Bob Ward at October 6, 2006 05:02 PM


Hi Tom,

You write, "So I fail to understand the point you are trying to make."

The point I'm making is that the IPCC Third Assessment Report "projections" are clearly NOT scientifically valid. The IPCC caveat that they are not "forecasts or predictions" explicitly renders them unfalsifiable, which is an absolutely fundamental requirement for scientific predictions:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

Apparently, the Royal Society has forgotten this, even though Karl Popper was a member of the Society:

http://www.nndb.com/org/793/000055628/

In the more than *5 years* since the IPCC TAR's "projections" were published, the Royal Society has not, to my knowledge, pointed out that the projections are pseudoscientific rubbish, masquerading as science.

In fact, we have Bob Ward making the ridiculous statement that, "On climate change, the Society has taken the view that the IPCC's assessments are the most authoritative summaries of the state of scientific knowledge."

I think it's supremely ironic that an organization with such views would fancy itself as a protector of science.

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2006 05:21 PM


--Roger--
"But what troubles me is that both Bob Ward's and your criteria for determining who is misbhaving requires some knowledge of their intentions or goals. The only way to do that is not to ask whether they question a particular scientific consensus, but to look and see what policies they support or do not support."
----

It is not clear why it should trouble you that determination of "misbehaviour" involves assessing someone's intentions. Nor does it strike me as at all hard to figure out what CEI's intentions are or Exxon's when they fund them, or what Greenpeace's are when the exagerate a particular danger. The way to do it is not as you have indicated, rather it involves as many indicators as you might have access to, including policies supported and scientific findings questioned. It is certainly a judgement call, (absent "smoking gun" memos)... perhaps that is what troubles you? But in complex social, political and scientific issues such as climate change, how can any of us avoid using our (hopefully best) judgement?

--Roger--
Thus the criteria for the RS actions is political. Groups opposed to particular actions on climate change must then be misrepresenting science if they they also disagree with aspects of the "consensus."

This course of action turns the RS into a political partisan on this issue.
-----

I suggest that the fact that RS has chastised both Greenpeace and Exxon is a clear indication that you have gone wrong in your reasoning at some point.

"Thus the criteria for the RS actions is political."

Another poster took issue with this, but given the working definition of "political" that this site employs, I think it is hard to dispute. But so what? I thought you advocated scientists getting directly and openly involved in politics? It seems to me that they have done just that and in a very appropriate way (ie the appropriate way of complaining about the funding of disinformation PR campaigns, not the strawman fiction of censoring scientific debate and supressing free speech).

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2006 06:39 PM


Bob Ward writes, "First, the objections to the IPCC's scenarios used in the TAR. I cannot claim to be an expert in this area (I generally seek the advice of researchers who are), but my understanding is that the IPCC would have used probabilistic assessments if they were available."

Well, that's interesting...wasn't the IPCC TAR published in June 2001? In July 2001, Wigley and Raper had a probabilistic assessment published in Science. So it's curious that in the *six years* between the Second Assessment Report and the Third Assessment Report, nobody was able to do a probabilistic assessment, but one was published just a month after the IPCC TAR was published.

Even more curious, I was able to do my own probabilistic assessment in probably less than 100 hours of my free time, and without aid of a supercomputer or single international conference:

http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2006/04/complete_set_of.html

And my predictions are almost certainly more accurate than Wigley and Raper's, because I didn't make the ridiculous and scientifically invalid assumption that all the IPCC scenarios had equal probability of occurrence, as did Wigley and Raper.

"The Fourth Assessment Report will include probabilistic assessments."

So the IPCC has been passing off pseudoscience as science for 6 years, but that's not a problem, because (you say) they're going to try a bit of science in 2007?

That's sort of like saying that someone who has been swindling seniors out of their Social Security money for the past 5 years is not a problem, because the con artist has (allegedly) promised to stop swindling in 2007.

"However, the TAR scenarios were intended to cover the range of feasible temperature changes in the future."

That's blatantly false, as can be seen by a simple comparison of the IPCC TAR "projections" with the actual methane concentrations, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations, and resultant temperature increases from 1990 to the present. See slide 43 (page 57 of 64) of James Hansen's Keeling Lecture:

http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/keeling_talk_and_slides.pdf

The climate forcing rate for all GHGs combined is currently actually *below* the forcing rate for even the *lowest* IPCC TAR projection of 1.4 degrees Celsius. The TAR scenarios were clearly intended to simply to frighten the public. Why else would the highest scenario be added AFTER peer review?

Furthermore, the fact that the IPCC TAR scenarios were merely an attempt to frighten the public isn't some big secret. Even James Hansen has said:

"Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have been appropriate at one time, when the public and decision-makers were relatively unaware of the global warming issue, and energy sources such as 'synfuels,' shale oil and tar sands were receiving strong consideration. Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate forcing scenarios consistent with what is realistic under current conditions."

Bob Ward concludes, "A probabilistic approach will, I suspect, only narrow the range of, for instance, the 1.4 to 5.8 degree increase by 2100."

That's more baloney. The proposition that the most probable warming from 1990 to 2100 lies near the midpoint of the 1.4 to 5.8 degree Celsius range (i.e. near 3.6 degrees Celsius) is *overwhelmingly* contradicted by scientific evidence to date. The most probable warming actually lies very near to the BOTTOM of the IPCC TAR range (i.e., near 1.4 degrees Celsius). I challenge you, Mr. Ward, to find one of your "experts" who is willing to debate the Affirmative in this proposition: "Resolved: The most probable warming from 1990 to 2100 lies near 3.6 degrees Celsius." In fact, I will give you $20 if you can find such a person.

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2006 07:54 PM


Tom,

You write, "...let me suggest that obviously the RS must determine how to best use its limited sources to try to police the misuse of the science."

Don't you think that should include attempts by scientists to pass off unfalsifiable pseudoscience as science?

What about objecting to the addition of the scenario that results in the most extreme temperature rise AFTER peer review?

What about the IPCC "projecting" methane concentrations that are so obviously too high that even a layperson should be able tell, in less than 10 minutes of study?

Should I go on, or is that enough?

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2006 08:53 PM


Bob Ward writes, "However, I do object to either of these groups, or indeed anybody else, misrepresenting the scientific evidence to justify their ideologies."

Here is a graph of methane atmospheric concentration changes over the last 20+ years:

http://www.cmdl.noaa.gov/gallery2/v/gmd_figures/ccgg_figures/ch4_tr_global.png.html

In the 10 years prior to publication of the IPCC TAR, annual increases went from approximately 10 ppb per year down to approximately 0 ppb per year.

Here is a graph of the projections for methane atmospheric concentrations in the IPCC TAR:

http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/figts-18.htm

Ignoring the ****one**** remotely realistic scenario (B1...even that one is probably *still* too high), the other 6 scenarios go from approximately 1750 ppb in the year 2000 to approximately 2400 ppb in the year 2050. In other words, the other six scenarios AVERAGE a 13 ppb per year increase.

Do you object to that? If not, why not?

Posted by: Mark Bahner [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2006 09:35 PM


Coby-

Thanks, three responses:

1. You write: "It is not clear why it should trouble you that determination of "misbehaviour" involves assessing someone's intentions."

Bob Ward writes: "My letter on behalf of the Royal Society was not based on any assumption of motives."

Setting aside whether or not assessing someones motives is appropriate, perhaps now Coby you can see my issue with the RS claiming not to care about motives, to which you apparently agree with my interpretation.

2. You have on several occasions taken issue with how we define "politics", which is fine. But you have not provided your own definition.

3. You write, "I thought you advocated scientists getting directly and openly involved in politics?"

Indeed I have, but I believe that scientists should recognize that there are different ways to get involved in the political process. Side-taking partisan is one option, and not always the most effective role.

Thanks!

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 7, 2006 12:28 AM


Roger,

I accept using your definition of political. I just don't understand how you can then make the unqualified statement that RS's action in this case is political as a cricitism. "Thus the criteria for the RS actions is political" sounds like a 'gotcha' conclusion. At least that is how I took it.

Your last comment concludes with a reiteration of the accusation that the RS is being a side-taking partisan. Please address my observation that the fact that they took Greenpeace to task as well shows that you have gone wrong in your analysis at some point. I think it is a deal breaker.

Thanks for your continued attention!

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 7, 2006 12:29 PM


Coby-

Thanks. Two replies ...

1. Bob Ward denies that the RS action was political. Clearly then irrespective of the substance of the issue you and I thus agree that the RS is hiding political action in the guise of science.

2. As far as Greenpeace, this is why I have asked (but not received) for criteria for understanding the RS decision making. So neither you nor I have any information on their concerns about Greenpeace, so it is hard to assess absent information. Let's see what Mr. Ward releases as he promises.

Thanks.

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 7, 2006 02:01 PM


Roger,

re #1 - yes we agree that this letter is a political action. But I would not characterize it as you have, and I would frankly be surprised if Bob Ward would object to his letter being labelled political if he understood what you include in the realm of political actions.

re #2 - agreed, we would need more information before jumping to any conclusions about RS's motives or agenda.

Posted by: coby [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 7, 2006 09:24 PM


As I think I mentioned in a previous posting, the sole aim of writing to ExxonMobil was to register with them, for a second time, the complaint about misrepresentations of the scientific evidence. Of course, the Society's concern was about the potential impact of misleading statements, by anybody, on the public and policy-makers. If this falls within the working definition that you employ for political actions, then so be it. However, I think some of the other postings have suggested that my motive was partisan in some way eg anti-ExxonMobil. That I strongly refute, and as I said, I have similarly criticised Greenpeace for misleading statements that it has made on climate change (specifically citing individual weather events, such as the 2003 European heatwave, as evidence of climate change).

If this seems an unreasonable activity for a Royal Society to undertake, then I'm not sure what you are suggesting as an alternative. Do companies and lobby groups have a right to misrepresent scientific evidence, for whatever reason, unchallenged by science academies? Or do you think that such challenges are allowable, but should only be made by organisations other than the Royal Society?

Posted by: Bob Ward at October 8, 2006 02:03 PM


Bob, I note that the open letter to the RS that Benny Peiser provides above accuses the RS of "shamelessly using the media to say emphatically: “case closed” on all issues related to climate change." Can you kindly share whatever information you might have as to how your letter to Esso found its way to the press?

Regards,

TT

Posted by: TokyoTom at October 10, 2006 08:24 PM




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