Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Scientific Disguise

Environmental Science and Technology has a fascinating investigative article describing the process by which a virtually unknown Canadian businessman became seen as a legitimate critic of climate change.

Stephen McIntyre began by publishing a paper in an obscure journal that doesn't require traditional peer review (more about that journal in a moment). That's not usually a good way to get on the fast track to fame and glory, but it worked nicely for McIntyre:

As a result of the Energy & Environment paper, lead author Stephen McIntyre, a Canadian, was flown to Washington, D.C., to brief U.S. business leaders and the staff of Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), chair of the committee on Environment and Public Works. He also presented his findings that year at the Marshall Institute, a nonprofit organization whose chief executive officer is ExxonMobil lobbyist William O’Keefe.
Not long after this gala event, McIntyre reached his apotheosis: he was the subject of a doting article in the Wall Street Journal, a paper which had previously done almost no substantive reporting on climate change.

Which is not to imply that the article on McIntyre was substantive by any measure other than sheer bulk:
The harshest critic of the whole issue is former Wall Street Journal page-one editor, Frank Allen. He now directs the Institutes for Journalism & Natural Resources in Missoula, Mont. When asked to read the front-page article, he described it to ES&T as a “public disservice” littered with “snide comments” and “unsupported assumptions”. He says he does not understand how the story got past the editors.

“It was a strange story ’cause it had this bizarre undertone of being investigative but it didn’t investigate,” says Allen. “And this piece — what I thought was bothersome about it — it purported to be authoritative, and it’s just full of holes.”
Despite being full of holes - or more likely, because of it - the WSJ article turned McIntyre into an authority on climate change, at least among certain Republicans. Representative Joe Barton (R-TXD) recently used the putative authority of the article to write a rather threatening letter to the eminent scientist whose work McIntyre attacked, demanding that he turn over all pertinent raw data, and divulge all his funding sources, and explain each of the alleged errors and omissions detailed by McIntyre.

ES&T has another article on Energy and Environment, the magazine that published McIntyre's first paper. Not surprisingly, it seems to act as a reservoir from which unreviewed crackpot science can be pipelined to the GOP noise machine. Even less surprising is that its editor, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, is comfortably ensconced within the conservative culture of victimhood. Get out your handkerchief, because this is sad stuff indeed:
It’s only we climate skeptics who have to look for little journals and little publishers like mine to even get published....
Someone with a less maudlin cast of mind might conceive of perfectly good reasons for this injustice. To me, it's roughly equivalent to lamenting that one was forced to start a local softball team after being rejected by the major leagues for having a pitching speed of 29 miles per hour.

Given that Boehmer-Christiansen blithely publishes works that don't meet the standards of respected journals with rigorous peer review, this letter of complaint, which she wrote to the Financial Times, is pretty interesting:
[E]nergy (and agriculture) research may be asked to respond to threats that are commercial or ideological, but benefit from a “scientific” disguise.
Ain't that the truth. Boehmer-Christiansen also complains that
The...article referred to was not written by environmental scientists but environmental economists who are known for their rather cavalier attitude to science and certainly pay little attention to it.
Boehmer-Christiansen is a geographer. Stephen McIntyre's expertise is in mineral exploration. His co-author on the Energy and Environment paper was Ross McKitrick, whose biography says "his area of specialization is environmental economics and policy analysis."

Normally, I'm amused when people of this ilk confess their sins by means of accusation. But with an American city underwater, the laughter dies on one's lips. Global warming may not be to blame for Katrina, of course. But if people like these have their way - and thusfar they have, to an amazing degree - we'll have no way of knowing until it's too late.


Thersites said...

Ross McCitrick?

That's not an auspicious name for a writer of any sort...

Phila said...

I wonder if he's any relation?