The latest travesty in ‘consensus enforcement’

The latest travesty in consensus ‘enforcement’, published by Nature.

There is a new paper published in Nature, entitled Discrepancies in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians.
Abstract. We juxtapose 386 prominent contrarians with 386 expert scientists by tracking their digital footprints across 200,000 research publications and 100,000 English-language digital and print media articles on climate change. Projecting these individuals across the same backdrop facilitates quantifying disparities in media visibility and scientific authority, and identifying organization patterns within their association networks. Here we show via direct comparison that contrarians are featured in 49% more media articles than scientists. Yet when comparing visibility in mainstream media sources only, we observe just a 1% excess visibility, which objectively demonstrates the crowding out of professional mainstream sources by the proliferation of new media sources, many of which contribute to the production and consumption of climate change disinformation at scale. These results demonstrate why climate scientists should increasingly exert their authority in scientific and public discourse, and why professional journalists and editors should adjust the disproportionate attention given to contrarians.
This ranks as the worst paper I have ever seen published in a reputable journal.  The major methodological problems and dubious assumptions:
  • Category error to sort into contrarians and climate scientists, with contrarians including scientists, journalists and politicians.
  • Apart from the category error, the two groups are incorrectly specified, with some climate scientists incorrectly designated as contrarians.
  • Cherry picking the citation data of top 386 cited scientists to delete Curry, Pielke Jr, Tol, among others (p 12 of Supplemental Information)
  • Acceptance of the partisan, activist, non-scientist group DeSmog as a legitimate basis for categorizing scientists as ‘contrarian’
  • Assumption that scientific expertise on the causes of climate change relates directly to the number of scientific citations.
  • Assumption that it would be beneficial for the public debate on climate change  for the ‘unheard’ but highly cited climate scientists to enter into the media fray.
  • Assumption that scientists have special authority in policy debates on climate change
The real travesty is this press release issued by UC Merced:
“It’s time to stop giving these people visibility, which can be easily spun into false authority,” Professor Alex Petersen said. “By tracking the digital traces of specific individuals in vast troves of publicly available media data, we developed methods to hold people and media outlets accountable for their roles in the climate-change-denialism movement, which has given rise to climate change misinformation at scale.”
Here is the list of ‘contrarians’ identified in the paper [link]
I am included prominently on the list, presumably arising from the DeSmog hit piece on me.
From the press release: “Most of the contrarians are not scientists, and the ones who are have very thin credentials. They are not in the same league with top scientists. They aren’t even in the league of the average career climate scientist.” “giving them legitimacy they haven’t earned.”  Some of the prominent, currently active climate scientists on the list whose work I have learned from:
  • Roy Spencer
  • Richard Lindzen
  • John Christy
  • Roger Pielke Jr
  • Roger Pielke Sr
  • Richard Tol
  • Ross McKitrick
  • Nir Shaviv
  • Garth Paltridge
  • Nicola Scafetta
  • Craig Loehle
  • Scott Denning
  • Nils Axel Morner
  • William Cotton
  • Vincent Courtillot
  • Hendrik Tennekes
Note that this list of climate science ‘contrarians’ is heavily populated by experts in climate dynamics, i.e. how the climate system actually works. The most comical categorization on this list is arguably Scott Denning, who strongly supports the IPCC Consensus, and gave a talk to this effect at an early Heartland Conference.  Ironically, Scott Denning tweeted this article, apparently before he realized he was on the list of contrarians. The list also includes others (academic or not) with expertise on at at least one aspect of climate science (broadly defined), from whom I have learned something from either their publications or blog posts or other public presentations:
  • Sebastian Luning
  • Michael Kelly
  • Bjorn Lomborg
  • Christopher Essex
  • Alex Epstein
  • Fritz Vahrenholt
  • Scott Armstrong
  • Willie Soon
  • Steve McIntyre
  • Anthony Watts
  • Patrick Michaels
  • Edward Wegman
  • Matt Ridley
  • Patrick Moore
  • David Legates
  • Craig Idso
  • Chip Knappenberger
  • William Happer
  • Henrik Svensmark
  • Steven Goddard
  • Madhav Kandekhar
  • Jennifer Marohasy
  • William Briggs
  • Hal Doiron
  • Freeman Dyson
  • Iver Giaver
  • JoAnn Nova
I would not seek to defend everything that each of these individuals  has written or spoken on the topic of climate change, but they have added to our knowledge base and provide interesting perspectives.  Why shouldn’t they get media coverage if something that they write about is of general interest and stands up to scrutiny? The ‘real’ scientists on their list with heaviest media impact include:
  • Donald Wuebbles
  • Ramanathan
  • Stephen Schneider
  • Thomas Stocker
  • Noah Diffenbaugh
  • Miles Allen
  • Kerry Emanuel
  • Phil Jones
  • Chris Jones
  • Stefan Rahmstorf
  • Andrew Weaver
  • Kevin Trenberth
  • Michael Mann
Does anyone think these scientists don’t get enough publicity in the MSM? Katherine Hayhoe (with HUGE MSM presence) doesn’t make this list; is anyone concerned about her outsized Kardashian Index? Comparing elephants and peanuts The most ridiculous thing that this article does is compare the media hits of contrarians that are politicians or journalists with that of ‘consensus scientists’.  In the list of contrarians, the following are politicians and journalists that I regard as being generally knowledgable of climate science:
  • Marc Morano
  • Rex Tillerson
  • David Rose
  • Mark Steyn
  • Matt Ridley
  • Nigel Lawson
  • Christopher Booker
  • Ronald Bailey
  • Andrew Montford
  • Rupert Darwall
Lets face it, these individuals are relatively small potatoes in terms of climate change main stream media. Compare the media impact of the above list with
  • Al Gore
  • Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez
  • Greta Thunberg
  • Etc.
The ignorance of climate change of AOC and Greta is rather shocking.   Why isn’t anyone concerned about this? JC reflections Apart from the rank stupidity of this article and the irresponsibility of Nature in publishing this, this paper does substantial harm to climate science. Climate science is a very broad and diffuse science, encompassing many subfields.  Each of these subfields is associated with substantial uncertainties, and when you integrate all these fields and attempt to project into the future, there are massive uncertainties and unknowns. There are a spectrum of perspectives, especially at the knowledge frontiers.  Trying to silence or delegitimize any of these voices is very bad for science. Scientists who are effective in the public communication of climate change can speak about topics beyond their own personal expertise.  This requires a different set of skills from basic research: ability to synthesize and assess a broad body of research and communicate effectively.  Scientists on the ‘contrarian’ list bring something further to the table: fact checking alarming statements; concerns about research integrity; thinking outside the box and pushing the knowledge frontier of climate science beyond AGW – issues that are important to the MSM and public communication of climate science. The harm that this paper does to climate science is an attempt to de-legitimize climate scientists (both academic and non academic), with the ancillary effects of making it more difficult to get their papers published in journals (stay tuned for my latest engagement with the journal peer review process, coming later this month) and the censorship of Nir Shaviv by Forbes (hopefully coming later this week).   This article appeared on the Climate Etc website at https://judithcurry.com/2019/08/14/the-latest-travesty-in-consensus-enforcement/]]>

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