Forbes is lying about a study to promote AGW denialism

So there’s this Op/Ed piece titled “Peer-Reviewed Survey Finds Majority Of Scientists Skeptical Of Global Warming Crisis” in Forbes right now. It refers to this paper in Organizational Studies, a journal largely focusing on the sociology of organizations.

The Op/Ed piece is blatantly lying about the paper.

Let’s start with the title. For one, the paper is not a survey. Surveys are quantitative, and therefore strive for large and representative samples; this paper was a qualitative study, with a sample selected on the basis of usefulness to the topic, not because it’s representative. Secondly, the author of that Op/Ed piece, James Taylor, claims that a “majority of scientists” is skeptical of AGW. Except that the paper doesn’t study “scientists”; it studies “professional experts in petroleum and related industries”*, and refers to them collectively as “professionals”, not “scientists” like Taylor does. Plus, right in the introduction the paper explains that “there is a broad consensus among climate scientists” about AGW being real. Which is not a group of scientists the paper studies, because its focus is not what the scientists doing research on climate issues conclude from their research. The abstract of the paper (emphases mine):

This paper examines the framings and identity work associated with professionals’ discursive construction of climate change science, their legitimation of themselves as experts on ‘the truth’, and their attitudes towards regulatory measures. Drawing from survey responses of 1077 professional engineers and geoscientists, we reconstruct their framings of the issue and knowledge claims to position themselves within their organizational and their professional institutions. In understanding the struggle over what constitutes and legitimizes expertise, we make apparent the heterogeneity of claims, legitimation strategies, and use of emotionality and metaphor. By linking notions of the science or science fiction of climate change to the assessment of the adequacy of global and local policies and of potential organizational responses, we contribute to the understanding of ‘defensive institutional work’ by professionals within petroleum companies, related industries, government regulators, and their professional association.

In the paper the authors state the purpose of the paper as follows:

Our aim is to examine the construction and disputation of expertise in a contested issue field and the consequences this has for the mobilization for or against regulation.


How do professional experts frame the reality of climate change and themselves as experts, while engaging in defensive institutional work against others?

It’s a sociology paper; about social construction of “expertise” on AGW which justifies in the minds of professionals “defensive institutional work, i.e., the maintenance of institutions against disruptions” caused by demands for climate-action. It wouldn’t make sense to study research scientists in climatology for this.
Plus, studying specifically professionals working for oil companies and oil-related industries (in Alberta, no less!) is going to severely skew the proportion of professionals studied who are denialists. Which the authors of the study are quite upfront about**, but which Taylor completely ignores in favor of claims like:

the overwhelming majority of scientists fall within four other models, each of which is skeptical of alarmist global warming claims.

Taylor then quotes parts of the paper where the oil-industry professionals are classified into 5 groups of positions about AGW. Mostly the quotes are ok, but they are trimmed to look less like the “social construction of climate change” categories that they actually are in the paper.

Lastly, Taylor takes a swipe at the authors of the paper (where he once again calls it a survey. dude, no.) for being “alarmists”, because they use accurate terms (“deniers”, etc.); he then claims that because of the obvious pro-AGW-bias of the authors, “alarmists will have a hard time arguing the survey is biased or somehow connected to the ‘vast right-wing climate denial machine.’”. Which is silly, since of course the study is connected to the denial machine; it’s about the denial machine, sampling a group of people who have every reason in the world to deny that their institution (the oil industry) is fucking with the climate.

And then another blatant lie:

Another interesting aspect of this new survey is that it reports on the beliefs of scientists themselves rather than bureaucrats who often publish alarmist statements without polling their member scientists.

Again, this is neither a survey, nor does it study scientists. It confirms that among climate scientists, there is a consensus that AGW is real and a problem. But these folks are not the subject of the study; it’s a study about denialist self-rationalization, so of course it’s full of deniers. Also, it’s of course not “bureaucrats” that publish consensus reports on AGW; unlike the subjects of this study, the IPCC is actually a body of actual climate scientists doing actual research on our climate.

The Forbes article concludes thusly:

People who look behind the self-serving statements by global warming alarmists about an alleged “consensus” have always known that no such alarmist consensus exists among scientists. Now that we have access to hard surveys of scientists themselves, it is becoming clear that not only do many scientists dispute the asserted global warming crisis, but these skeptical scientists may indeed form a scientific consensus.

1)”hard surveys of scientists”, my ass. 2)1/3 of people even within the oil industry agreeing that AGW is a thing and a serious problem, plus another 17% basically answering “I don’t know, and neither do you” cannot in any way be construed as a “consensus” against AGW even among the group studied.

Lastly, and slightly OT, I’ll also note that the denialist goalposts have moved so thoroughly that even in the oil industry, “virtually all respondents (99.4%) agree that the climate is changing”. Now it’s all about whether to do anything about it.

The paper itself is quite interesting, since the concepts they’re analyzing apply to other debates about what is or isn’t scientific and who is or isn’t a legitimate authority on any given topic is relevant to many other areas***, especially where “defensive institutional work” is being done****. Really though, the most amazing thing about it is that a paper examining the ways in which denialists frame their denialism by defining experts as those who agree with them in order to justify defensive responses to attacks on the oil industry ends up being used to define experts (i.e. “scientists”) in such a way that it agrees with denialists and justifies their defensive, anti-regulatory reactions. It’s so very meta.
– – – – – – – –
* specifically, members of The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA); no research scientists.
**they definitely don’t claim they have a representative sample of “scientists” or “experts on AGW”, since that’s not the point of the study. Quite the opposite, since this is not a quantitative study, but one using qualitative methodology. They’re not interested in how many people believe what, but in the content and diversity of these positions and the methods of justifying them.
**(examples: defining Rebecca Watson as an illegitimate authority in skepticism, because she has a communications degree rather than a science degree; shifting boundaries of what is or isn’t True ScienceTM to exclude many social sciences; hyperskepticism; etc.
****any claim of “you’re harming The Movement”, and “I like this community the way it is, stop trying to change it”, ever.

Playing Cassandra

I’m feeling distinctly pessimistic today. As I’ve written in the past, the notion that “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice” may be a necessary belief to remain motivated in generations-long battles for justice, but as an “is” statement (as opposed to an “ought” statement), it is naive at best in light of the cyclical nature of civilizations. All civilizations in the history of humankind have, sooner or later, declined and fallen into a “dark age”.

And with that cheery introduction, I’ll give you the following:
1)Rachel Maddow analyzing the effects of money on US politics. Basically, Republicans and corporations now have enough money at their disposal to win even extremely unlikely electoral races. And the Democrats’ plan to survive and counter this? winning, then amending the constitution. except that, as just noted, they can’t really win anymore. So basically, unless the Repubicans actually manage to self-destruct, the US government is now wholly theirs, on all levels, for years to come.

2)A graph and summary about oil prices since the economic crisis. oil prices are currently falling because of assorted political clusterfucks, but for the last year, despite fluctuations, they are as high as they were at the beginning of 2008. and anything “good” happening economically will instantly reverse the current downward trend. so, it seems our choices right now are economic collapse somewhere important and the continuation of the Era Of Cheap Oil, or economic stabilization/recovery and the official end of oil below $100/bbl. Peak Oil, anyone?

3)In Europe, xenophobia always lurks just under the surface, threatening to erupt. The EU and its predecessor were created to end a history of conflict that includes the Hundred Year War, the 30 Year War, and that started both world wars. And they were doing a decent job of it, considering, before the global economic meltdown. But because the meltdown happened before the EU figured out how to manage itself in crisis situations, it is now in a political as well as an economic crisis. With predictable results: Fascists are getting elected wherever sufficient distrust of the other EU members has managed to break to the surface

4)And last but not least, speaking of the long arc of history: here’s a paper in Nature (I haz pdf) about possible “critical transitions” in the global ecosystem in the next century or so. I’ve kind of written about these transitions before. They’re basically what happens to an ecosystem when it stops being resilient enough to withstand a particular environmental pressure: it undergoes a drastic change until it can regain (relative, temporary) equilibrium as an entirely different ecosystem, one that usually doesn’t sustain the same species and communities as before. And this paper basically discusses the possibility that our biosphere is about to undergo a critical transition as a result of human-caused pressures on the system. Some choice quotes:

Here we summarize evidence that such planetary-scale critical transitions have occurred previously in the biosphere, albeit rarely, and that humans are now forcing another such transition, with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience.

This Modelling suggests that for 30% of Earth, the speed at which plant species will have to migrate to keep pace with projected climate change is greater than their dispersal rate when Earth last shifted from a glacial to an interglacial climate, and that dispersal will be thwarted by highly fragmented landscapes.Climates found at present on 10–48% of the planet are projected to disappear within a century, and climates that contemporary organisms have never experienced are likely to cover 12–39% of Earth48. The mean global temperature by 2070 (or possibly a few decades earlier) will be higher than it has been since the human species evolved.

Although the ultimate effects of changing biodiversity and species compositions are still unknown, if critical thresholds of diminishing returns in ecosystem services were reached over large areas and at the same time global demands increased (as will happen if the population increases by
2,000,000,000 within about three decades), widespread social unrest, economic instability and loss of human life could result.

Climate Conference in Durban, AKA We’re Fucked

So the Climate Conference in Durban ended, and it could only be described as an Epic Fail. The Sociopathy of politicians from powerful countries is becoming more and more obvious, when you look at how many people do want something done, and have spoken loudly and clearly as to WHY something needs to be done. Here’s a small sample:

Abigain Borah from the Youth Climate Delegation

Anjali Appadurai also from the Youth Climate Delegation

Karl Hood Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States

Claudia Salerno from Venezuela

And here’s a wrapup of that clusterfuck: U.S. Delay on Climate Pact Spurs Backlash From the EU to Barbados

To sum it all up: we’re fucked unless every US politician over 30 drops dead tomorrow or China and the US get wiped off the surface of the planet in the near future

Or shorter still: we’re definitely fucked.

medium-length thoughts

1)since in my last post I declared the internet connection to be good, it of course crapped out (apparently, caine and I used too much broadband watching videos, so we’re locked out of the internet for 4 days), which is why I’m posting this from Barnes & Noble in Bismarck, and why the post I was going to write will have to wait. Instead, some mostly shallow, shortmedium-length thoughts.

2)I thought the Minot Daily was unreadably conservative and stupid, but the Bismarck Tribune has them beat, by publishing Ross DoucheDouthat (of “women on birth-control turn me off” and “straight marriage should be special because I like being special” fame) in their Op/Ed section. I’m thinking the only way to sink lower than that is to let O’Keefe or Breitbart write for your paper. Or, you know, turn into the Whirled Nut Daily.

3)I have found my copy of Yes Means Yes, and as soon as I’m done reading Matt Taibbi’s Great Derangement, I’m going to re-read it and take notes. I’m still not entirely sure how to sum up its awesomeness, but I figure writing general evaluations of their sub-themes, plus highlighting their most personally thought-provoking sections will be the way to go here.

4)I’m reading SKEPTIC right now, and one of the articles was about Public Intellectuals, and whether they’re needed, what their use is supposed to be, and whether the Public Intellectual is in decline in the US right now. Fascinating article, especially because it touches on something that I’ve been talking about for a while now: the need for a well educated and voluntarily/happily self-educating populace. The article itself doesn’t really talk about this, but it mentions on the one hand that the role of the Public Intellectual is to do what the average person doesn’t have the resources, education, and time to do (think deep, long, and hard about all sorts of social issues), and on the other the fact that in the US, the quality of the Public Intellectual has suffered, because who becomes a widely known PI is determined by their entertainment value and how well their messages confirm the opinions and biases of the general population, rather than the thoroughness and quality of their argument/presentation. It also mentions that the role of the PI has shrunk to academia, where it used to include artists and other non-academic professions. All of which, as far as I’m concerned, are consequences of the way universities work in the US. for one, as they become more expensive, fewer people go; two, for the same reason, people treat them like paying tuition is buying a degree, thus causing grade inflation and similar loss of quality; three, people treat them like investments in their career, and therefore become Fachidioten with a very narrow education in only the areas they find directly relevant to their future careers. On the other side of this are free(ish) public universities in Europe, where people study “useless” shit for fun, where a larger percentage of the population goes to university, and where in general consider knowing stuff a positive trait. From a directly, purely economic POW, the US model is certainly more profitable, but OTOH it does result in a country full of teabaggers. So yeah, heavily subsidized universities are good for the health of a country, because it produces more, and better quality, Public Intellectuals. Whole populations of public intellectuals, for that matter.

5)So… purely hypothetically… what are the prognoses for Hawaii, in re AGW? Is it still going to be a livable place some 15-25 years from now? For that matter, is much of it still going to exist by then…?