Friday, December 04, 2009

They have a bridge to sell you

Stoat and friends are tearing the vapid Keith Kloor apart. Eli would like to go after smarter game. Journalism is prone to adopting frames, and smart publicists know how to establish those that advantage their side. Witness John Fleck who tries to shove the entire CRU imbroglio into two convenient ones

And therein lies the problem. The scientists involved, while a small number among the thousands of scientists worldwide working on this issue, have lost their claim to be honest brokers gathering, analyzing and sharing data with the public, politicians and policymakers. They turned into scientized actors trying to use their data to win the political argument. In the process, their actions tarnished many of their colleagues who have not behaved in such a fashion.
actually three, first setting both sides equivalent when, as Steve Bloom points out
"(E)arly on the science became a target of a denial industry whose skills had been perfected in campaigns dating back many decades to the efforts to keep lead in paint and gasoline, and more lately to obscure the ill effects of tobacco. . . ."

I'll add the observation that the "tobacco wars" were only finally resolved (more or less) after the focus of the debate shifted from the science to the lies of the industry and their mouthpieces. There's a lesson there, and Hulme doesn't seem to have picked up on it.
and neither has John, although to a degree Andy Revkin is beginning to get it. It isn't that the arguments on both sides are scientized, but that the arguments on one side are shaped to sound like science. The third is a bunny-bug-a-bear, the nonsense about an "honest broker"

The naive concept of "honest broker" has pushed discussion into a fruitless direction. As with many such things, reality shows how hollow this is.

Brokers do not expand the scope of choices available to clients, they narrow them. You want limitless choices, google. Brokers make markets. Brokers make a living by matching buyers to sellers and taking a commission (You thought they do it for free? What carrot wagon you fall off of bunny?). Ethical brokers go out on the market seeking product suited to clients and will seek clients suited to products available to them. Ethical brokers have mutual obligations to sellers and buyers, to qualify the buyers and vet the sellers, not to sell every piece of nuclear waste to every rube with a cell phone.

Good brokers know what is available and what their buyer's needs are. They select the best matches. The broker you want often tells the client NO, don't do that. Where the client insists on committing financial suicide the ethical broker is obligated to tell the buyer to take the business elsewhere.

If you want a simple example of the cacophony that "honest brokers" provide, think about the strange incoherence of the denialists, who simultaneously believe five to ten mutually contradictory things about climate ranging from there is no such thing as the greenhouse effect, it's all cosmic rays, mysterious 1500 year cycles and more. The CRU folk and their colleagues on the other hand are ethical and expert brokers providing information to policy makers and the public based on study and effort. They are not happy when the propagandists start to befoul the nest and the starlings** start squawking.

In other words, brokers are experts, and to expect them to tell you that shit is shinola is just the sort of thing that the honey wagon industry in the interests of fairness favors. It is similarly insane to demand that a climate scientist who has studies an area intensely and reached a set of conclusions about the dangers of continuing to emit CO2 at current rates to tell you that the guy on the corner with the Exxon sign on his back may have a point.

Eli has said this before, it bears repeating.


**Starlings are small but noisy birds which as Ed Darell points out are not just noisy, but noisy in gangs. Starlings drive songbirds out of their nests, harass the songbird young, steal their food, and generally pose a barbarian-style blight upon the bird world. Starlings steal the crops from farmers, and perform no useful service in return (like eating insect pests, or providing Beauty and Song). Starlings congregate in huge gangs in cities, befouling automobiles, sidewalks, and giving people heebie-jeebies whenever they remember the old Hitchcock movie. A flock of starlings is a perfect description of the mob trying to bring down Phil Jones and Mike Mann.


dhogaza said...

"although to a degree Andy Revkin is beginning to get it"

Actually, to a large degree, Revkin has been showing signs of *adopting it*. Not the consequence of "gettting it" one would hope for ...

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TCO said...

I said a long time ago that Mike Mann smelled of an ego scientist. Now we know how much riding a movement meant to him and that it distorted his fairness. I don't want that guy on any review panels or the such. He can still put out individual papers, but they will need to be checked.

I'm not alone in my general opinion of Mike, not just from denialists too, and even before this fiasco.

Goes double for Jones. I just never noticed him before.

Unknown said...


You wish to fall into the trap of "the guy's an a-hole, therefore his scientific conclusions are wrong"

I call bullsh-- on that. F that nitwittery. Get a grip, son.

And I'm not sure Revkin either gets it or has adopted it.

There are far, far, far more people trying to tear down things than trying to build them up. I mean that of the ~12% of hard-core denialists, about half maybe are actively tearing down and the ~50% of the total population who are disconnected from everyday stuff outside their boxes tear down indirectly by inaction.



Jim Bouldin said...

"The Honest Joker"

BCC said...

Two comments:

Starlings- I like the comparison.

Why do we always refer to Exxon when referencing fossil fuel industries? Why doesn't e.g. Peabody get the love?

Brian Schmidt said...

FWIW, I know someone who knows Mann, and says that he's a nice guy. YMMV.

I'm not sure there's much point in going into an internet vote over Mann's nicety.

For that matter, I know skeptic David Evans somewhat, and denialist Bill Gray a bit, and they're both nice enough when you talk to them directly, especially Evans. Doesn't keep them from being hideously wrong.

If the real world wants to draw any final conclusions about the Jones/Mann, we might as well wait until the investigations are finished. We can't wait to deal with the PR issues, but that's a separate matter.

skanky said...

I'd have a lot more sympathy* with the "scientists shouldn't do politics" argument, if the political people spouting it didn't keep trying (and failing) to do the sciencey bit.

* sympathy, not necessarily agreement

Angliss said...

Objectivity means trying to give all sides a hearing. It does not, in my view, mean treating all sides as equal.
- Christiane Amanpour, CNN Correspondant

skanky said...

I don't think the starlings were impressed ;) :

(H/T Bad Astronomy)

Also, without wishing to argue against your starling analogy, if you go to the marches at twilight, you get a beautiful display from them.

Jim Prall said...

The European Starling is one of three alien introduce pest species in North America, along with Rock Dove (common pigeon) and House Sparrow. All three are human commensal (staple diet: pizza crusts) and very, very tolerant of proximity of people, traffic, cats & dogs.
Feral Rock Doves are descendents of domestic stocks; House Sparrows just seem to have found us, and followed everywhere we've built houses. The European Starling is unique as the sole deliberate alien introduction. It seems some nostalgic Brit was pinin' for the Green & Pleasants, and set himself the goal of introducing into the Americas every species of bird named in all of Shakespeare. He release a few pairs of E.Starlings in Central Park in the 1800s, and now they've spread from Alaska to Newfoundland to Mexico. He seems to have stopped at one species, AFA anyone can tell.
E.Starlings are a threat to native Bluebirds, as they out-compete them for nest sites. Tree-hugging nativist bluebird lovers build nest boxes with an entrance fractionally too small for the Starling, which Bluebirds can still use.
E.O.Wilson has a taxonomy of what human activities contribute to species loss and ecosystem rundown, listed as "HIPPO" - the I is for alien introductions / invasives.
OTOH, E.Starlings are the most melodious of the three junk birds; they're resident over winter here in Toronto, and being adept mimics, they've fooled me at times with the songs of other species that I know should not be here at that time of year. Another classic sound is the "stuka dive bomb whistle"
I've seen starlings swarming in Rome toward dusk, in flocks numbering in the 5 to 6 figures, and the swirling action can be something to see.
Now, I'm not sure there's a metaphor for denialism here - I can't particularly claim it's any kind of European transplant to N.Amer.

Jim Prall said...

Off topic of denialists specifically, but apropos of Copenhagen...

Email just arrived from Avaaz with this quote:
"I was born in 1992. You have been negotiating all my life. You cannot tell us you need more time."
--Christina, 17, Solomon Islander

That struck me as right on the mark.