End of the Peer Show

Dr Tim Ball appears to have won the long legal jihad launched against him by climate mullah Michael E Mann. Because his court follows “the English rule” as opposed to the stinkeroo “American rule”, the loser (Mann) will have to pay costs – which is as it should be after a decade of entirely meritless litigation.

But what if there’s a more effective way to silence your critics? Say, by proving scientifically that they should be expelled from polite society.

Nature, founded in 1869, is generally regarded (with Science) as one of the two most prestigious peer-reviewed journals in the world. Like many great nineteenth-century institutions its distinguished past lends an undeserved imprimatur to its meretricious and ever more politicized present. But that’s just my opinion and it hasn’t been peer-reviewed in a peer-reviewed journal, so pay no attention to it. Here is Nature‘s latest “scientific paper”. Headline:

Discrepancy in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians

This “paper” is by three apparently gainfully employed professors – Alexander Petersen, Emmanuel Vincent and Anthony LeRoy Westerling – who hold distinguished positions at the University of California “Center for Climate Communication” and the School of Engineering’s “Management of Complex Systems Department” plus a chap from the Medialab at what Nature calls “Sciences Po”, which is the slightly misleading abbreviation (at least for anglophone ears) of the École Libre des Sciences Politiques in Paris. Personally I find it very hard to invest anything called a “Medialab” with scientific authority, but evidently Nature is more easily impressed, notwithstanding the general air of corruption that afflicts Sciences Po and has had it under investigation by France’s Court of Audit almost continuously for the last three decades. (Among its many prominent alumni is M Macron lui-même.)

Be that as it may, what is this “scientific paper” about? The 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.

You might prefer Judith Curry’s pithier summation:

This ranks as the worst paper I have ever seen published in a reputable journal.

For the record, Dr Curry is a “climate change scientist” and indeed an “expert scientist” – former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences, member of the NASA Advisory Council Earth Science Subcommittee, etc, etc – and, while we’re at it, author of some 130 peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Yet Dr Curry is ranked not among the “386 expert scientists” but among the “386 prominent contrarians” – an ignominious cabal that even includes (horrors!) me. Why should “professional journalists and editors” “adjust” the opportunity for her to “exert” her undoubted “authority” in “public discourse”? And what does it mean when three professors claim to have “tracked” her “digital footprint” across 100,000 “digital and print articles”? Can you track a digital footprint across a print article? Is there a mechanical contraption for it?

Nature‘s paper cloaks itself in scientific language (“quantifying disparities”) to pass off politicized pseudo-science as the real thing. Note the loaded terms, starting with the division of what’s actually a wide spectrum of opinion into two teams, 386 “expert scientists” versus 386 “contrarians”. What in modern media terms is a “professional” “mainstream” source? What is the objective definition of “disinformation”?

One notes that these three pseudo-scientists are comparing apples with apples, oranges and pomegranates. The 386 “expert scientists” are measured against 386 “contrarian” scientists, politicians and media figures. Accepting the witless division of science into gospel and apostasy, why not compare 386 “expert” scientists with 386 “contrarian” scientists? There’s a hundred of ’em right here just for starters. If this trio of hacks wants to measure the impact of media personalities, why not “track” 386 chaps like me and Anthony Watts against Leonardo DiCaprio and the universally venerated schoolgirl savant Greta Thunberg?

Ah, well. That might be too much like real science for the witchfinder-generals of Big Climate. It’s easier to submit a research paper with no research. For example, who gets to decide who is a “contrarian”? Let the professors explain:

We focus on a select set of contrarians who have publicly and repeatedly demonstrated their adamant counterposition on CC issues—as extensively documented by the DeSmog project (DeSmogblog.com), a longstanding effort to document climate disinformation efforts associated with numerous contrarian institutions and individual actors.

I have nothing against DeSmogblog, a frankly rather dreary website with an inordinate interest in where I went to school. But they are not scientists, and not “experts” in anything; they are Big Climate shock-troops, partisan activists. The website’s founder is a public-relations honcho in British Columbia, the eponymous head of “James Hoggan & Associates” and chair of the David Suzuki Foundation, set up by the longtime CBC eco-darling who calls for politicians who disagree with him to be jailed.

Furthermore, DeSmog’s “extensive documentation” of us “disinformation” peddlers is anonymous: No authors are credited with the research of my own entry or anybody else’s. So unsigned political activism is the source material for a peer-reviewed paper in the world’s soi-disant numero uno science journal. Can a man with no name have peers to review him? A couple of years back, a very distinguished lady scientist defined the ludicrously over-revered “peer review” process as “an old boys’ club circle-jerk”, but, even in an old boys’ club, you have to give your name at the door.

Try the experiment the other way around: Would Nature publish a paper by Professor Judith Curry, Professor Will Happer and Professor Richard Lindzen calling for the media banning of 386 “alarmists” so designated by WattsUpWithThat or Climate Audit?

Ah, but no, even that fancy is insufficiently fanciful – because unlike DeSmogblog’s database of contrarians, everything Steve McIntyre or Anthony Watts publishes is signed.

After that initial decision, it is the work of moments to pile category error upon category error? I’m at Number Twenty-Two in the Contrarian Hit Parade, and in the graph at the top of page four I appear as “CCC-22”.

Hey, what’s with the anonymity?

Oh, relax, the professors are just doing me a favor:

Although all full names were obtained from publicly available lists, we anonymized CCC names to foster privacy.

Gee, thanks. So even in a “scientific paper” on my excessive media celebrity I’m being unpersoned. Meanwhile, across the page my opposite number Expert Scientist Number Twenty-Two is Mister Majuscule – SANDY HARRISON – as are his chums PHIL JONES and MICHAEL MANN. You’d almost get the impression that contrarian-wise Nature isn’t trying to “foster privacy” but enforce it.

I also notice that I’m color-coded grey. What’s up with that?

The color scale associated with each CCC indicates the fraction fi of his/her articles that appear in the select-30 most prominent mainstream sources.

Fi“, you say? Gosh, that sounds awfully scientific. Checking the “color scale”, I found that this means that somewhere between nought and nought-point-one per cent of my articles appear in the “most prominent mainstream sources”. Oh, dear. What a cringe-making humiliation. I get cited quite a lot in the media, from The Spectator to Broadway World to the Sydney Telegraph to Periódico Cubano to Jyllands Posten in Denmark to Stern in Germany… But evidently not anywhere that matters. So I was interested to know what these “select-30 most prominent mainstream sources” are:

The members of the select-30 group, ordered according to the total number of CC articles analyzed (in parenthesis), are: the Guardian (1949), New York Times (1188), Washington Post (854), Daily Mail (806), Reuters (473), FOX News (431), Daily Telegraph (406), Washington Times (387), The Sacramento Bee (380), MSNBC (354), Associated Press (298), LA Times (287), Time (287), USA Today (285), Independent (260), The Denver Post (253), Wall Street Journal (244), BBC (243), Miami Herald (243), ABC News (235), CBC (212), Boston Globe (209), CNN (202), CBS News (193), NPR (146), Chicago Tribune (112), Globe and Mail (108), Deutsche Welle (92), NBC News (51), and Seattle Times (45).

Is The Sacramento Bee really “prominent”, even in Sacramento? It has a circulation of a hundred thousand and sinking in a state of forty million and rising. The Independent is so “mainstream” it became the first London daily paper of the new millennium to cease print publication entirely. And of the 11,233 articles “analyzed” – ie, trawled a couple of minutes apiece for certain names and search-terms – why are almost a fifth (17.35 per cent, to be more precise) from a single highly partisan source, The Guardian. I’m amazed the percentage of my articles published by them crept all the way up from zero to somewhere between zero and 0.1 per cent.

Come to that, why are over a third of the articles “analyzed” from just three publications (The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post)? And how can such a skewed selection be passed off as an analysis of media in general?

Well, because once you strip out the pseudo-science and the ersatz-research, you’re left with the politics. As the University of California’s disarmingly straightforward press release puts it:

“It’s not just false balance; the numbers show that the media are ‘balancing’ experts — who represent the overwhelming majority of reputable scientists — with the views of a relative handful of non-experts,” UC Merced Professor LeRoy Westerling said. “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.”

Westerling is one of three researchers from UC Merced who tracked the digital footprints of climate scientists and deniers across about 200,000 research publications and 100,000 digital and print media articles on climate change over the past few years.

Ah, but Professor Westerling’s “paper” doesn’t really prove that Judith Curry isn’t in “the same league with top scientists” like him, does it? “Tracking the digital footprint” is an obvious weasel term for a little light search-term Googling that skims a mountain of Guardian propaganda and “proves” that Dr Curry didn’t write much of it so she and her lousy “thin credentials” should be eighty-sixed.

Perhaps the most hilarious reaction to this “paper” was that of Professor Scott Denning, who approvingly Tweeted out a link to it before realizing that he’s listed with me and the no-name sub-average Curry as one of the 386 scientifically proven “contrarians” who need to be airbrushed out of the picture. Poor old Denning is a Big Climate line-toer at Colorado State, but, alas, he made the mistake many years ago of giving a speech to the Heartland Institute, so he is damned for all eternity and should never be heard from again.

As Judith herself puts it:

Apart from the rank stupidity of this article and the irresponsibility of Nature in publishing this, this paper does substantial harm to climate science.

But Nature doesn’t care. It suffices for peer-reviewed science in the third millennium:

“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.”

Gotcha. So you’re just another guy in the shut-up business, a phenomenon of our times rising far more rapidly than sea levels in the Maldives. “Consensus enforcement” (in Dr Curry’s very useful formulation) stalks our public discourse in everything from immigration to Islam to transgender bathrooms. But climate alarmism is (for the moment) unique in attempting to pervert the scientific method to advance its political goals – to declare that science proves that a scientist, merely by attracting the attention of a Vancouver blogger, is transformed into a contrarian who should never be heard from again.

Politicized science is something we used to leave to the Soviets and other totalitarians. The result is peer-reviewed papers that are about as scientific as the Cypriot bishop who says anal sex during pregnancy will make you give birth to homosexual babies. The Maldives will be around long after Nature has drowned in the froth of its own fanaticism.

~Programming note: On Monday I’ll be back behind the Golden EIB Microphone on America’s Number One radio show.

Speaking of fun, we have quite a bit of it in The Mark Steyn Club, with radio serials, video poems, live planet-wide Q&As, and the above-mentioned Steve McIntyre and Anthony Watts on next month’s second annual Steyn cruise. I appreciate the Club is not to everyone’s taste, but, if you’re minded to give it a go, either for a full year or a three-month experimental period, we’d love to have you. You can find more details on The Mark Steyn Club here – and, if you’ve a loved one who’d like something a little different for a birthday or anniversary, don’t forget our special Gift Membership.