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British science journalists on Climategate

Tomorrow the Association of British Science Writers begin their annual conference in London. Browsing idly to see what they were up to, I chanced upon a podcast of a session of their first conference in 2010, in which they discussed Climategate.

It really is amazing stuff. Here's a brief summary of what was said

Bob Watson

  • Seems under the impression that Climategate was about CRUTEM
  • Says inquiries reported that there was no perversion of peer review, no perversion of IPCC process, no scientific wrongdoing
  • Uses the d-word

Myles Allen

  • Also seems under the impression that Climategate was about CRUTEM
  • Says von Storch, Christy and Zorita can all get CRU data
  • Says he picks and chooses who to send data to
  • Discusses the "only tiny change to CRUTEM" graph that was discussed at BH a few weeks back

Fiona (? - questioner)

  • Mentions that Watson did 12 interviews after Climategate but couldn't shed any light on the contents of the emails [readers here know that's because Watson didn't read the emails]

Oliver Morton (The Economist)

  • Understands that Climategate involved tree rings
  • Uses d-word
  • Notes that Watson has got the inquiry findings wrong
  • Says Climategate doesn't really matter

James Randerson (Guardian)

  • Trots out the "out of context" line
  • Says Steve McIntyre has genuine contribution to make
  • Says CG reveals uncomfortable things about peer review

Tom Clark (Channel Four)

  • Says Pearce should have checked his facts.
  • Clarke phone Gavin Schmidt and got confirmation that CRUTEM in line with GISS
  • Phoned Briffa and found that he was editor not peer reviewer [not sure which incident this refers to]
  • Clarke tried to ignore Climategate for 2 months
  • Only started to get involved when ICO investigation began
  • Watson on Channel Four several times unopposed
  • Unfair of scientists to respond to all requests for data
  • Scientists need to engage with citizen scientists

Alok Jhan (Guardian - questioner)

  • Said Fred Pearce articles on Climategate should not have been done
  • Spent hours trying to persuade editors not to look at Climategate

Myles Allen (again)

  • Pearce shoudl have showed the "only tiny change to CRUTEM" graph
  • Scientists receiving "entrapment" emails for data

Clive Cookson (FT)

  • Fiona Harvey accused of being biased in favour of greens by her editor
  • Other scientists saying better data needed, less reliance on models
  • Lack of funding for data collection work is a scandal

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References (1)

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  • Response
    Response: nanoo
    - Bishop Hill blog - British science journalists on Climategate

Reader Comments (24)

If they can't get even the basic facts right, what hope is there for any insightful analysis in the rest of their writings?

Jun 24, 2012 at 8:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterChrisM

The keynote address at this year’s UK Conference of Science Journalists is being given by Jay Rosen, Associate Professor of Journalism, New York University. Here is a quote from the CSJ news release.

Rosen thinks that from a scientific perspective, climate change is one of the biggest wicked problems facing us now: “Probably the best example in our time is climate change. What could be more inter-connected than it? Someone can always say that climate change is just a symptom of another problem--our entire way of life, perhaps — and he or she would not be wrong. We've certainly never solved anything like it before. Stakeholders: everyone on the planet, every nation, every company.”

When dealing with wicked problems the framing of the problem is crucial: “We would be better off if we knew when we were dealing with a wicked problem, as opposed to the regular kind. If we could designate some problems as wicked we might realize that "normal" approaches to problem-solving don't work.”

The challenge to journalists is to think and behave differently when reporting these stories: “Journalists who covered wicked problems differently than they covered normal problems would be smarter journalists.”

Jun 24, 2012 at 9:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterDouglas J. Keenan

Hmm... am I missing something here?

In reverse order :
*Clive Cookson
*Myles Allen
*Alok Jhan
*Tom Clark
*James Randerson
*Oliver Morton

are either far too grand to be listed with the plebs in the members directory over at or they are not members...

I idled over there just to check...

I know at a conference etc... but it does strike me as a bit, well... odd - the subs aren't exactly eyewatering.

Leaves me wondering if The Association of British Science Writers is just a shop window for ambitious freelancers...

Jun 24, 2012 at 9:06 PM | Registered Commentertomo

This is nothing to do with science. This is politics, and nothing else.

Jun 24, 2012 at 9:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Myles Allen gets it VERY wrong in December 2009 (maybe Jonathan could have lunch with him)

If Michael Mann thought to contact the BBC and Richard Black, crazy to think, the whole 'team', Realclimate being part of the Guardian Environment network, were NOT on the phone and NOT sending lots of emails and 'expert advice' from scientists, to environmental journalists

Anyway Myles Allen (guardian where else) Dec 2009 -Copenhagen time

"Take, for example, the "trick" of combining instrumental data and tree-ring evidence in a single graph to "hide the decline" in temperatures over recent decades that would be suggested by a naive interpretation of the tree-ring record.

The journalists repeating this phrase as an example of "scientists accused of manipulating their data" know perfectly well that the decline in question is a spurious artefact of the tree-ring data that has been documented in the literature for years, and that "trick" does not mean "deceit".

They also know their readers, listeners and viewers won't know this: so why do they keep doing it?"

myles then is either totally ignorant of the issue and fed a line or.

Jun 24, 2012 at 10:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Every sentence from Bob Watson is wrong

Jun 24, 2012 at 10:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

You mean THIS Bob Watson? Doing what he's paid for!

Director of Strategic Development. Robert T. Watson is also DEFRA Chief Scientific Advisor and former Chief Scientist and Director for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development (ESSD) at the World Bank. Prior to joining the World Bank, Professor Watson was Associate Director for Environment in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President in the White House. Prior to joining the Clinton White House, Professor Watson was Director of the Science Division and Chief Scientist for the Office of Mission to Planet Earth at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

He has played a key role in the negotiation of global environment conventions and the evolution of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). He was Director and Co-chair of: the International Assessment of Agricultural Science & Technology for Development, the Board of Directors of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. and the International Scientific Assessment of Stratospheric Ozone. From 1997 to 2002, he was Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and from 1991 to 1994, he served as Chairman of the GEF’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel. And he was Chair or Co-Chair of a number of international scientific assessments, including the IPCC Working Group II, the United Nations Environment Programme/World Meteorological Organization (UNEP-WMO), and UNEP’s Global Biodiversity Assessment. Professor Watson has testified to the U.S. Congress on numerous occasions regarding global environmental issues. Professor Watson received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from London University in 1973. He has received many national and international awards and prizes for his contributions to science, including the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility in 1993 and the insignia of Honorary Companion of St. Michael and St. George from the British Government on December 10, 2003.

[Snip - manners]

Jun 24, 2012 at 10:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterLondon Calling

I see our old friend Bob Ward sits on their committee.

If they stretch the definition of "Science Writer" to include him - I guess J K Rowling & the late Beatrice Potter would be in with a chance too.

Perhaps it's like the Union of Concerned Scientists - pay the fee & you're in.

Jun 24, 2012 at 10:25 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Most reads like deliberate and shockingly open breaches of any ethics code in their profession.

Alok Jha comes from Imperial College. This is the output you get , when extreme views are taught without dissent. I think these climate warrior schools are beyond repair and are to be closed and rebuilt from scratch.

Jun 24, 2012 at 10:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterMarkus


"I see our old friend Bob Ward sits on their committee".

heh, didn't look that far / missed that - so that's governance deeply suspect and credibility in free fall.

I note that Bob Ward seems to be the only member of the embargo committee.

Jun 24, 2012 at 11:23 PM | Registered Commentertomo


Every sentence from Bob Watson is wrong
He’s getting better then. In the Guardian debate
every sentence he uttered was incoherent, often lacking a subject or a verb. And he worked at NASA and the White House!
Mind you, Lovelock worked for NASA. That’s where he formulated his Gaia theory. They must have some policy of employing crazy Brits. (“We Americans are too logical. Get me some off-the-wall Limeys who think outside the box. Bertrand Russell and Charles Darwin not available? This Watson guy then, lots of facial hair and a stutter - he’ll do”)

Jun 24, 2012 at 11:36 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

I note that Bob Ward seems to be the only member of the embargo committee.
Jun 24, 2012 at 11:23 PM tomo

'Twould be interesting to know what he "embargoes".

Any grains of truth that accidentally find their way into his colleagues' propaganda output maybe.

Jun 24, 2012 at 11:58 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Prof Bob Watson is a liar pure and simple, I have told him that and invited legal action with no response., I informed Chris Huhne of my acusation response. I understand if his grace snips this but it is the truth.

Jun 25, 2012 at 1:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterDung

Jay Rosen runs a blog that used to attract people from divergent views because he seemed to get the idea that maybe the press might have a wee bit of a problem if everyone in the business voted for the same party (at least I think that's what I remember was the reason why certain conservative bloggers would sometimes link to his blog). Then in 2004 during the summer of the presidential election, hundreds of former officers of the US Navy (including most everyone who'd been in his chain of command) held a press conference to explain why John Kerry was unfit for command. They documented how he'd produced his own after-action reports in Vietnam so that he could get 3 purple hearts for 3 scratches that were treated by band-aids (at least one and possibly two from his own fire) so that he could leave the war theater after 4 months instead of serving the full year. They documented his tall tales and outright lies that he'd told about his Vietnam service (see e.g. Christmas in Cambodia), and the slandering and smearing of his fellow officers in Congressional testimony.

The news media completely ignored the press conference. The retired officers (some of whom were Democrats) were shocked at the blatant stonewalling by the press. They formed a group called the Swiftboat Vets, quickly wrote up their evidence in a book, and produced some videos to take their message straight to the people and bypass the news media. The mainstream journalists were outraged at the Swiftvets for criticizing their favored candidate. As Evan Thomas, a writer and editor for Newsweek, admitted at the time the political press corps wanted Kerry to win and their favoritism was probably worth as much as 15% of the vote. The Swiftvets' evidence did considerable damage to their boy.

Jay Rosen (IIRC) simply refused to countenance any discussion of the press' abdication of their role as journalists on his blog. Swiftvets mentions were strictly verboten. And of course, most readers concluded he was simply one more liberal homer and never bothered to read him again.

It doesn't surprise me in the least that Jay Rosen has his panties in a tight wad over global warming. It would be completely in character. Left-wing cheerleaders know all the cheers by heart.

Jun 25, 2012 at 1:25 AM | Unregistered Commenterstan

The press w.r.t Climate

1) behave as though they were a constituency unto themselves
2) believe they have to vote for the consensus
3) accept with any question, that it is their role to educate the public.

Jun 25, 2012 at 1:38 AM | Registered Commentershub


Mind you, Lovelock worked for NASA. That’s where he formulated his Gaia theory. They must have some policy of employing crazy Brits. (“We Americans are too logical. Get me some off-the-wall Limeys who think outside the box. Bertrand Russell and Charles Darwin not available? This Watson guy then, lots of facial hair and a stutter - he’ll do”)

Some spoken Brit is so compelling here in the US that anything said will be believed - anything. Those of you who so speak and come here will be astonished - Sean Connery effect perhaps. Last week's visit to Civilisation found me sitting in a pub imagining myself in the most intelligent company since last visit to Jimmie's Woodlawn Tap, many years ago - all on accent alone.

Jun 25, 2012 at 3:52 AM | Registered Commenterjferguson

You have to listen to the whole thing to get the flavour; the sneering laughter when Senator Imhofe’s name is mentioned, for instance; the chummy atmosphere (except for Myles Allen, who is exceptionally agressive, more or less accusing the journalists of being liars because they didn’t publish his famous “two hundredths of a degree correction” graph); the assumption, as Shub notes, that their job was to be messengers for Phil Jones, and their frustration when they weren’t given a message to deliver.
They don’t seem to realise that their cosy consensus falls apart when Randerson says that Steve McIntyre has a part to play. Since the whole Climategate saga is a ten-year effort to exclude Steve and others, you have to wonder if anyone there had actually read the emails.

Whether they call us sceptics or denialists, they consistently speak, in a public debate, as if we are never going to overhear them. We exist only in the way that nutters who send emails about perpetual motion machines exist; as a minor irritant of which they are vaguely conscious; as the late John Daly existed for Phil Jones (until he didn’t), or the doubters in the Splattergate clip. We’re not real to them.

Glad our accent is so compelling. Does our spelling have the same effect? (I insist on calling myself a sCeptic on colonial blogs).

Jun 25, 2012 at 4:50 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Shukman - Black - Randerson - Ghosh - Hickman - Ghosh - Clarke

I am deeply underwhelmed by all of them. Are there any good science journalists out there? name one.

Jun 25, 2012 at 7:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterUriah

Bob Watson referred to "leaked emails" rather than "hacked".

Jun 25, 2012 at 7:17 AM | Unregistered Commenteroakwood

(...) Alok Jha comes from Imperial College. This is the output you get , when extreme views are taught without dissent. I think these climate warrior schools are beyond repair and are to be closed. and rebuilt from scratch
Jun 24, 2012 at 10:56 PM Markus

Jun 25, 2012 at 7:18 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Every sentence from Bob Watson is wrong
Jun 24, 2012 at 10:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Including, as Dorothy Parker famously said, "and" and "the".

Jun 25, 2012 at 7:18 AM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna

Listened to it all

Some additional snippets:
Oliver Morton: science shouldn't drive climate policy

James Randersen: Guardian sent 8 people to cover Copenhagen, and 1/2 of the BBC went [unsustainable climate journalists?]
Guardian didn't put enough resources behind the Climategate story [though most others seem to think Fred Pearce did far too much]
Referred to: 'climate sceptics' lies' and 'People deliberately twisting those trick/hide-the-decline emails to mean what they didn't really mean.'
'Nothing in there cast doubt on the science itself'
JR's main criticism was what Climategate told us about peer review saying 'I thought peer review was better than that'

Tom Clarke: Blame Fred Pearce for making this into the story it wasn't
'We invited Bob Watson onto Channel 4 several times - unopposed' was his example of 'balance'. ie. Inviting septics on is unbalanced, but inviting a single viewpoint on is balanced!! That is the logic some of the guys manage to come up with!
'UEA was guilty of some serious mishandling of FOIs'
'I'm not even a scientist'
'The scientists were caught out by the clashing of two worlds - old traditional academia and the blogosphere' [but wait a minute, RealClimate started by some of the stars of Climategate was one of the first high profile climate blogs, wasn't it?]

Alok Jhan eventually said ' The Guardian should have done more on the Climategate story'

Myles Allen came up with an anecdote that some RS mate of his received an email requesting copies of past emails, with no reference to FOI Act. Then the same RS mate was challenged on FOI because he had ignored the email. Surely this is not correct. I can't believe that an information request that does not refer to FOI can then be considered a 'request under FOI Act'. Am I wrong?

Clive Cookson highlighted that a request to "delete emails" was a bad thing, This was the only reference in the whole debate to a specific wrong doing in the emails.

Jun 25, 2012 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered Commenteroakwood


An original thought and a cold glass of water ...

Jun 25, 2012 at 1:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan

Ice and lemming?

Jun 25, 2012 at 5:35 PM | Registered CommenterDR

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