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« Hail to the Chiefio | Main | And so it begins »
Friday
Dec112009

No conspiracy

Tom Fuller writes an interesting piece in which he considers whether there is evidence of an international conspiracy to create a "global warming scam" in the CRU emails. He concludes, correctly in my opinion, that there isn't. There is, however, enough bad stuff in there that we should still be worried:

I think that they had an informal conspiracy going to pump each others' careers up, peer review each others' papers, and slam any skeptics or lukewarmers who wandered within punching range - and later, after they realised how badly they had acted, they conspired to evade the Freedom of Information Act.

Anyone who has had an honest review of the emails will find this very hard to argue with.

There is a marked prevalence of conspiracy theories in the global warming debate. Many of the sceptic side are quick to shout "scam" and "fraud" and to see the whole thing as a left-wing plot, but as some thinking commentators on the right have noted, it is hard to read the emails and to not conclude that the scientists are sincere in their belief in the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis. This doesn't in any way excuse the malfeasance that so many of us have suspected but have still been shocked to see laid out in the emails in such devasting clarity.

One should also point out of course that conspiracy theories about global warming are not restricted to the right. Throughout the emails there is a sense that mainstream climatologists cannot conceive of anyone criticising them or questioning their findings for anything other than nefarious reasons. The Hockey Team seem to see the spectre of "big oil" lurking behind every critic. This is conspiracy theory writ large, and it's this paranoia that seems to have caused the lurch into unacceptable behaviour by some of the most important climatologists around.

But this is besides the point. If there is no conspiracy, how then has the global warming hypothesis developed this apparently unstoppable momentum?

My pet theory is that the answer lies in what economists call public choice theory. In essence, this is the idea that the inhabitants of bureaucracies are pursuing their own self-interest rather than the public good, as the myth-makers would have it. Public choice theory has proved to be a remarkably powerful way of understanding the world and the otherwise inexplicable behaviour of the public sector.

Until now, my ideas about the use of the theory as a means of understanding the global warming phenomenon from a sociological point of view have been very much a "pet theory" with little by way of supporting evidence, but yesterday some new evidence fell into my lap.

Some time ago I requested copies of the minutes of the management board of the Met Office (MO). As is normal in these cases, the bureaucracy has ignored the statutory imposed timescales, but they have now finally delivered up what they are willing to deliver.  Again, predictably, and in a move eerily reminscent of the CRU, they have tried to hide behind all manner of exemptions, most of which simply do not apply. I'll write more about this another time. For now, let's see what we've got.

The snippets delivered up extraordinarily thin and even the pathetic snippets have been redacted for one reason or another. However, they do provide what I think is something of an insight into what motivates senior staff at the Met Office. Is it the public interest - in other words an answer to some of the questions swirling around the global warming debate? Or is it something else? Here are some extracts of the extracts:

  • There had been some good media coverage for the Met Office following the release of the Stern Report.
  • RN offered his congratulations to those who had been involved in providing the underpinning science for the Stern Report. There were good opportunities for the Met Office arising from the Report.
  • Reflect opportunities for growth in Climate Programme. Quantify potential opportunities within text. (Page 30). Tone of text changed to reflect that figures are realistic but that there is significant potential upside on Climate revenue from Government.
  • DH noted that on a Google search for climate change the Met Office did not even appear on the first page and indeed appeared below the BBC and the Tyndall Centre.
  • RN asked about the IPCC report. MH explained that the Met Office were well positioned for the release of the report next week and the consultancy team had been lined up to go out with follow up messages. JMi added that he would be appearing on a Newsnight debate although it is possible it would be more about economics than climate change.
  • XXX gave a brief overview of the Communication Strategy. DH commented that it was important to engage the press on climate change to ensure that they give the issue the 'slant' that the Met Office wanted.
  • BH asked that the Team think widely about their marketing strategy across a range of activities and not just climate change.
  • MH explained that a number of energy companies last year co-funded a climate change and energy study and that some of the companies have decided to fund a second-phase of the project - our researchers are involved. MH noted that it would now be prudent to pinpoint specific companies to develop business opportunities.
  • SN presented the Climate Change Strategy paper and stated that there was a need for an overarching policy which would guide the exploitation of all the programmes to best effect and make the most of the climate change opportunity.
  • With Copenhagen Conference coming in December 09 the Board considered it would be an ideal time to continue to raise the profile of the Met Office, Weather and Climate issues within government.
  • The Board noted that the security aspect of climate change would begin to become to the fore in the future and that there was a need to debate how the Met Office could position itself for this. JH outlined that XXX and RV had been scoping around Government in order to establish where the opportunities lie and where relationships need to be built further to understand their needs. JC expressed that there was a need for the Met Office to develop a relationship with John Ashton, the UK Foreign Secretary's Special Representative on Climate JC to provide JH with an introduction to John Ashton, UK Foreign Secretary's Special Representative on Climate Change.

There are more like this, but I'm sure you get the drift by now. One would hope to see earnest discussion of what areas of climate change were priorities for spending, for consideration of whether what scientific questions needed answering and so on. But all you can see are a group of bureaucrats discussing how they can expand their feifdoms and get the attention of their political masters. You are welcome to review the documents yourself at the link above. I don't think I am misrepresenting the contents.

It all rather proves my point. Now we can understand why climatologists hype each others work - it helps expand the pie. Now we can see why they slam the critics - it expands the size of the spread.

This is not about left-wing conspiracies or global government. It's about bureaucratic gluttony and excess [update: and here I mean bureaucracy in the widest sense, covering both scientists and administrators.]. To me, the global warming crisis looks not like a plot hatched in a dimly-lit room in the depths of Al Gore's office, but like a feeding frenzy for the public sector that has got out of control.

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Reader Comments (26)

Bishop

I'm sort of prepared to go along with your moderate line regarding the scientists (though I think you are letting them off somewhat lightly). I have to disagree with your final paragraph. Yes, the scientists may have no left wing/global government agenda. However, the finger can easily, and in my view justifiably, be pointed to other individuals and institutions who do not deserve to escape your word processor.

Dec 11, 2009 at 1:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterS Norman

For the avoidance of doubt, I include the scientists under the heading "bureaucrats".

Dec 11, 2009 at 1:38 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Certainly there is a lot of useful idiocy and money grubbing among the scientists, and certainly the cascade of bad science built on nudged data and faulty premises makes it easier for them to stay aboard, but I think that if you probe deeper this will turn out more than a mimetic contagion sweeping through the world of politicized science.

One is stunned, of course, by the vile arrogance of some of these scientists who seem cross-bred with what I call the cult of "gym teacher/scholar social hygienists," who harken back to the eugenicists of early last century. But I draw an inference that there are malign godfathers behind the malign stage settings and one could do worse than follow Al Gore's gastric feeding tube back to its source as a first move in the investigation.

Dec 11, 2009 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin McPhillips

The other context is the Government (both major parties) intention to "privatise" the Met Office.

Senior management in previously public owned UK corporations have become rich men out of privitisation through free share options. The more the profile aand activities of the MO can be boosted then the better for them.

Add to this the Board of the Met Office contains a number of political AGW appointees who have had personal experience of this personal enrichment process via privitisation in other companies.

Dec 11, 2009 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark, Edinburgh

I basically agree with the piece except that it is not just the public sector. There is also the media, and the many private corporations who have correctly judged that climate change is the "next big thing" and that there is big money to be made here, not least of course, in the trading world. Perhaps your wider sense of "bureaucracy " includes this - bloated companies can be as bureaucratic as government.

Dec 11, 2009 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeE

Dead right to see it through the lens of public choice theory. Accusations of conspiracy theory only give the alarmists a straw man to knock down -- their most favoured tactic.

Dec 11, 2009 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered Commenteroptimist

Amen on there not being a conspiracy. It is unnecessary as an explanation, and misses a more complicated truth that there has been a concert of interests that have lead to this overhyped and one dimensional public debate. Cognitive bias, Public Choice theory, deformation professionelle, an uncritical press and a willingly credulous political class have all contributed the current crisis of climate science. I think the CRU emails will be a textbook study for sociologists of science in the eagerness of scientists involved in policy making to strip the nuance and add the drama to their research to curry influence. It's what so many people, the people who matter, wanted to be told, and it would be inhuman not to want to please them.

Dec 11, 2009 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarryPowell

What struck me as most odd about the meeting was that they were discussing various publicity & moneymaking wheezes. Now, when I was growing up, the met office was a service: they figured out the weather as best they could and told you about it, sometimes in advance. Now, almost nothing (well, actually nothing) in the board meeting is about making their forecasts better.

The problem isn't just public-choice theory, but the fact that politicians have created a management structure for the MO in which public choice theory can go wild.

Dec 11, 2009 at 4:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterwilliam

"The Hockey Team seem to see the spectre of "big oil" lurking behind every critic." But the scientists were also funded by Bio Oil, as in this email:

From: "Mick Kelly"
To: m.hulme@xxxxxxxxx.xxx
Subject: Shell
Date: Wed, 05 Jul 2000 13:31:00 +0100
Reply-to: m.kelly@xxxxxxxxx.xxx
Cc: t.oriordan@xxxxxxxxx.xxx, t.o'riordan@xxxxxxxxx.xxx

Mike
Had a very good meeting with Shell yesterday. Only a minor part of the agenda, but I expect they will accept an invitation to act as a strategic partner and will contribute to a studentship fund though under certain conditions. I now have to wait for the top-level soundings at their end after the meeting to result in a response. We, however, have to discuss asap what a strategic partnership means, what a studentship fund is, etc, etc. By email? In person?

I hear that Shell's name came up at the TC meeting. I'm ccing this to Tim who I think was involved in that discussion so all concerned know not to make an independent approach at this stage without consulting me! I'm talking to Shell International's climate change team but this approach will do equally for the new foundation as it's only one step or so off Shell's equivalent of a board level. I do know a little about the Fdn and what kind of projects they are looking for. It could be relevant for the new building, incidentally, though opinions are mixed as to whether it's within the remit.

Regards

Mick

Dec 11, 2009 at 6:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterDom

There is another, very central reason for the seemingly unstoppable momentum of the AGW hysteria. Charles Krauthammer summarizes it nicely in an article entitled "The Environmental Shakedown" in today's Washington Post:

"Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet."

Dec 11, 2009 at 6:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterliamascorcaigh

I also disagree with your last paragraph. The left wing is correctly associated with being sponsors of enormous bureaucracies, so they are tied in there. Furthermore, there is a "global conspiracy" if you consider that the U.N. itself is a bureaucracy intent on expanding THEIR pie. In fact, they don't truly have any pie at this point; this is the first "global crisis" that could give them any real power. They are doubly motivated to push this on that basis.

Dec 11, 2009 at 6:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterCarl Gullans

Depends. No doubt Jones et al do not qualify as scientists, but that per se does not make anyone a conspirator. But there was, if I'm not mistaken, a conspiracy to 'hide the decline,' revealed through these emails.

Dec 11, 2009 at 6:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeterG

You seem to forget that global government is about bureaucracy and that global and local bureaucracies can easily merge. Replace the word 'conspiracy' by the word 'structural collusion' and you get quite a different picture.

Dec 11, 2009 at 7:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterMH

There is no need to choose between corruption and incompetence to explain how climate science ran into the ditch. The answer is both.

Dec 11, 2009 at 8:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan

Here in Canada, we had a scam called Bre-X. It was a gold mine company that started off slow, but with more and more attention to false reports of gold strikes, it became a huge stock.

When it collapsed, billions were lost. It appears that the promoters in Indonesia started off wanting to make a little work for family and friends , but things got out of control, however,they played along, and exaggerated the finds, to keep the money coming in. This is the most charitable view of what happened.

My guess is that the Hockey Team made some honest mistakes ( see the Wegman Report,) got lots of attention, and before they knew it they were superstars, with people falling all over themselves to give them money. .

Money for warning of danger is hard to resist, but as we all know, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

This is the most charitable view of what happened.

Dec 11, 2009 at 8:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterLarry Pierce

I believe there may be a false dichotomy hovering around here, to the effect that conspiracy is either the vast, single explanation of all this, or it is not the explanation of anything at all. I too dissent from the final paragraph. Surely there can be public choice "infection", so to speak, and also lots of little more or less formal conspiracies dotted around in among all this, some by scientists to conceal past errors or credulities or subterfuges, some by political people to contrive ideologically motivated outcomes, some for purely (!) economic gain. Clearly there was some conspiring going on at CRU. Equally clearly, there were tendencies of the sort you so eloquently describe. And an ideological animus against sceptics.

Conspiracy is not like pregnancy, a hugely overarching fact that is either happening colossally, or not happening at all. And ditto public choice theory. Ditto ideological motivation. All three seem to me to be in play here. No one suffices as the entire story.

I do agree, however, that the public choice way of looking at things has been under-emphasised in recent sceptical denunciations of the Hockey Team, and of the AGWers generally. I also agree that media demand for sensation to sell their products is worth a bigger mention. Their ideological biases have been much aired recently, among us sceptics. Their lust for sensation, any sensation, rather less so.

Causes typically come in cooperating clusters. E.g.: The man was driving too fast. The kid was silly to run into the road like that. His mother was neglecting him. The road was slippery and therefore the car didn't stop quickly enough. The kid was thrown onto hard pavement rather than onto nearby grass. The ambulance took its time arriving. Etc. etc. etc. All of those things and more "caused" the kid's death. I trust I make my point.

Dec 11, 2009 at 9:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrian Micklethwait

No there was a formal conspiracy among the hockey stick team Mann, Briffa, Jones, Folland to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period. They did use the "Trick" as a deception, manipulation, ruse to do this. No getting away from it I'm afraid.

See here: http://climateaudit.org/2009/12/10/ipcc-and-the-trick/#more-9483

Dec 11, 2009 at 10:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard

You make many good points, but I have heard them before.

And I heard them before from a certain popular author: Michael Crichton. I would respectfully refer you (and your readers) to michaelcrichton.net and particularly his speeches. Many of the points you make he was making five, six and more years ago, particularly with reference to the politicisation of science and how environmentalism has become the substitution religion of today's athievangalists. I use that phrase not to disparage athiests, or agnostics and believers for that matter, but only to those who carry their faith as the weapon and a badge to shove in your face when (step forward, Jimmy Carr, Marcus Brigstocke et media al) the opportunities occurs.

Crichton is simplistic in many of his arguments: well, he was, and remains, a popular author, though one with a scientific (medical) background, and one bedded to the scientific method, But many of his arguments are compelling, and I was particularly struck by his corollary of how environmentalism has evolved in line with the Judeo-Christian tradition of Eden, The Fall, The Struggle, Redemption, Apocalypse. In some of his earlier speeches, Crichton refers to the Media and how those outlets we used to rely on for Truth have cheapened and debauched themselves. Towards the end of his life, he was merging the decline of the mainstream media with the rise of environmentalism (and particularly "global warming") together. Then he died.

I have a feeling that, had he lived, he would be cheering on what is happening on blogs such as bishophill, wattsupwiththat, climateaudit and so many others. This is where it happening. For the MSM and the politicians, well, Lysenko lives.

Dec 11, 2009 at 10:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn S

The evidence seems to show that there was no initial conspiracy, in the sense of "lets start a global warming scare, become rich and famous, and rule the planet".

However, once the global warming scare started, the protagonists were caught on a moving staircase. They could not call a halt - it was hugely in their interest to keep the hype going, and would badly damage their interests and those of their colleagues if they once said 'hang on a second..."

Under those circumstances they were forced into maintaining a front which was indistinguishable from a conspiracy. They all had to act and think the same way, they all had to support each other's work, they all had to have the same findings....

This is what happens when you pay scientists from a government pot, and then measure their 'achievments' andset their budgets by how many papers they write. It's a wonder that there aren't more exaggerated scares across all of government science. Oh. wait, I've just remembered the mess that the UK MAFF caused with foot and mouth...

Dec 11, 2009 at 11:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Bishop,
You are correct to suggest a public choice take on this, but even that is a monocausal explanation. Let me explain.

It is the case that one can make a strong argument for enlightened self interest among many players leading them to act in certain ways: not just bureaucrats, but governments who want justifications for otherwise unpopular policies and taxes, which in themselves are ambiguous in their utility (energy security or revenue raising?) As Charles E. Lindblom argued long ago, policies are adopted because of support by winning coalitions with multiple motivations - interests in ends, interests in means, belief in moral positions, and so on. Most regulations are supported by coalitions of what Bruce Yandle called Baptists and bootleggers: those who believe in the moral correctness of the ends of the policy and those who stand to make money as a result of it.

The problem with with noble causes is that they lead to their own kind of corruption - known in police studies, where suspects are 'fitted up' with evidence because police 'know' they are guilty. In my book in these issues (Science and Public Policy: The Virtuous Corruption of Virtual Environmental Science) I refer to it as 'virtuous corruption' (in order to get some cheap alliteration!). But - while I don't exclude the possibility of fraud and cheating - I use corruption to refer to a breakdown in the quality assurance processes in science. Iain Boale once referred to the 'value slope' that leads to the production of more convenient results as the result of assumptions that are made. In the heavy reliance of climate science on models and data that must be massaged to feed computers, subtle assumptions and biases can creep in. It happens in every field of scientific endeavour, but the 'virtual' nature of climate science increases the risks, while a virtual world of communication at near zero cost allows both global collaboration and groupthink. ANd the collaboration can involve undermining the peer review process that assumes the absence of such global collaboration.

Science should be relatively self-correcting, but here the nobility of the cause corrupts self-correction. The technology allows the 'white corpuscles' of the immune system of climate scientists to be despatched to accuse those who would dare stand in the way of 'saving the world', accusing them of being in the pay of big oil, likening them to holocaust deniers, etc - the antibodies of the immune system if you like.

Suggestions of corruption are straw man arguments usually invoked by those (like Gavin Scmidt) who are ignorant of the complexity of social phenomena. Like most conspiracy theories, they oversimplify complex phenomena and overestimate the ability of some evil genius sitting at the middle of the web or intrigue, controlling all.

Dec 12, 2009 at 3:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow

As a retired scientist, I appalled by what has happened to the Scientific Method I was trained in 40 years ago. Back then you preserved your raw data, explained what you did, how you did it, and why you did it; and your results were considered “preliminary” until replicated IDEPENDENTLY. I do not mean by your buddies, but by someone not tied to you. And there was scientific debate. Remember that?

I guess we have the New Science, much like we had the New Math back in the 1960’s --“1 and 1 equal 5 for sufficiently large values of 1” .

I also appreciate the comment about Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, who nearly destroyed the Soviet Union’s agricultural efforts in the 1930’s and 1940’s. He, too, practiced totalitarian science -- his way or the Gulag.

So, like Lysenko, I expect the Hockey Team to one day become discredited and go away. And perhaps we will discover the scientific method again, for at least a little while. My only question is just how much it will cost us individually and collectively.

As for the chatter about whether it was a “conspiracy” or not, most such activity does not start as an overt crime. Witness Bernie Madoff. He needed money to look good so he fudged what he was doing. Then it grew like Topsy. Pretty soon his Ponzi scheme topped $50 billion. I am afraid that the Cap and Tax scheme the Hockey Team is fronting for will cost us $50 trillion.

But what is a trillion dollars nowadays? Just ask the US Congress.

Dec 12, 2009 at 3:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

The "conspiracy" is an uncoordinated consensus that a New World Order, a One-World Government would somehow benefit the Earth and, possibly even Mankind. Thus by reducing our energy footprint, by accepting the fact that Mankind is bad for the earth, we can preserve it a little longer.

THIS IS TOTALLY WRONG! A simple review of the thermodynamic law of Entropy will show that only massive inputs of new energy can reverse the waste in our inefficient use of the world's resources. Lets hope the guys over at "Focus Fusion" are successful in producing low cost, abundant, non weapons grade energy.

And if Svensmark is correct about GCRs modulating cloud albedo, we will REALLY need the energy.

Dec 12, 2009 at 4:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterEnginer

There's an excellent article in this week's Times Higher Education by the philosopher Martin Cohen - it even made the front cover. He analyses AGW largely as a "madness of crowds" phenomenon based on "cascade theory". Well worth a look.

Dec 12, 2009 at 8:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

@Jonathan

Yes the THES piece was good. This theme is also discussed on the Harmless Sky Blog in a guest post by Peter Taylor.

Peter has real credentials as an old-style enviro. You may remember those days when enviros worked with small and powerless communities to fight off the evil mega-corporations. And campaigned to save small and specific parts of creation from real and defined problems instead of the vague and meaningless goals of saving "the planet". In those days their only weapons were truth and sincerity. Now the enviros have become mega-corporations themselves and their tactics are propaganda and power. Big Green is just another mage-corp.

Peter taylor has written a comment on the THES thread.

Dec 12, 2009 at 8:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Groupthink does not constitute a conspiracy. But it's still groupthink. Which doesn't make it evil, but it's still wrong.

Collusion is conspiracy. And there is evidence in the leaked emails of at least the attempt to collude to monopolize the issue, the data and to suppress dissent. That's despicable, even when taken out of context.

Dec 12, 2009 at 9:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterSkeptic Tank

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Mar 11, 2010 at 3:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterJerald

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