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.
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* 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.

Romney and Polish Missiles

Last week at the RNC, towards the end of a speech filled with bullshit, Romney produced this line:

He abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election.

I’ve seen all the other lies in the speech dissected, but not that one. So, I guess I’ll have to do it. It’s a complex one with extended history, so stick with me on this one.

The missile defense commitments Romney is talking about are about stationing a ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. This plan was part of Bush’s “New Europe” thing after he got pissy because “Old Europe” tried to stop him from invading Iraq, and came with other explicit and implicit promises, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, let’s start with something far more basic: Romney makes it sound as if these missiles were something promised to Poland because they were something that Poland wanted, but now Obama won’t give them what they asked for. That’s not how this worked, way back in 2007/2008 when discussions between Bush and Polish and Czech representatives were happening. At one point, 57% of Poles opposed the plan, and only 25% supported it; in the Czech Republic, it was 68% and 26%, respectively. This was not something the people of either country wanted, and politicians in both countries were skeptical of such installations, given what their existence would do to these two countries’ relationships with Russia. The Polish Defense Minister at the time said that his country would have to be convinced that these missiles would be a good idea for Poland1. In fact, especially after the 2007 elections in Poland in which a very USA-friendly PM was voted out, negotiations about these missiles toughened and Poland insisted that it wouldn’t let the USA place them there unless they got a security guarantee like the USA has with Israel, and unless the USA agreed to pay for a modernization of the Polish military2. Less explicitly, Poland (and the Czech Republic) were being given promises about closer relations with the USA as part of the aforementioned “New Europe” thing Bush was doing for a while. Investment by US companies was one; another was acceptance of these Eastern European countries into the visa-waiver program that allows citizens of the country to travel to the USA without having to apply for a visa first. The Czech Republic got into the program at the end of 20083, but Poland has been strung along on a promise to be included sometime soon ever since (the latest being a promise to do it this year, but the bill only got as far as being assigned to a committee), and is now, absurdly, the only Schengen* country not included4, 5. Point being, this entire missile defense thing was something the US wanted, not something that Poland asked for.

And then there’s the part where, supposedly, Obama has “abandoned” Poland and “walked away” from commitments. This, too, is crap. Obama cancelled the original agreement to place long-range missiles (including ones capable of delivering nuclear warheads) in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, but that agreement was replaced with another, which would instead supply short and intermediate range interceptor missiles and a computer center. And while the Czech Republic decided that the loss of the radar meant that the deal was no longer worth it for them6 (especially since they got their visa waiver already), Poland has accepted the new deal just fine, seeing as apparently their main concerns in terms of security were for one, to actually get American troops stationed in Poland pretty much regardless of what toys they would bring7, and two, the promised modernization of their troops, which Obama transferred from the old plan to the new one. The actual drama between Poland and the US had nothing at all to do with the content of the new treaty, but rather with the way the PR on it was handled back when it happened8, and the fact that a bunch of assholes in the US pretended as if it were only Obama who considered Russian hostility to the long-range missiles to be a problem (thus being able to make it look as if he backed down on a promise out of fear), while in reality both Poland and the Czech Republic were considering Russia as the main concern in their negotiations about this defense system.

In other words, Romney’s claim that Obama somehow broke a promise to deliver weapons systems that Poland wanted from the US is bullshit. It’s bullshit because Obama didn’t break any promises, and it’s bullshit to make it sound as if these missiles were something Poland wanted or needed, when really it’s something the USA wanted.
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*the article I’m using as a citation says “Eurozone”, but that’s of course nonsense. It’s supposed to say Schengen Area. See: