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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Koch-funded climate change denier faux think tank, Heartland Institute, creates closed ClimateWiki full of junk science

Heartland Institute launches a 'closed' climate change wiki

A climate change wiki is a good idea - but not if its climate sceptic organisers block alternative views
by Leo Hickman, The Guardian, July 17, 2011
Leo blog : Screengrab of the ClimateWiki front page
Screengrab of the ClimateWiki front page. Photograph:
Wikis are one of the wonders of the web. They are a powerful expression of the collaborative, collective power of the online crowd. They can take many forms but, in essence, they act as an open, live database of knowledge, which anyone can access to update or edit.
Wikipedia is the best-known example, of course. It is a tremendous resource, but one which carries a well-known warning: don't trust everything you read. While many thousands of saintly people give up their precious time to maintain wikis, there will always be a few who try to corrupt the system with false or bias information. Thankfully, over time, this is usually spotted and corrected.
Climate change – as with so many other controversial issues – has proved to be a troublesome subject when it comes to wikis. There are many people out there on either side of the debate who wish to manipulate and misinform. Wikipedia, for example, says that its page on climate change is "subject to Wikipedia general sanctions," meaning that changes must be vetted in advance by editors who have already gained the trust of their peers.
So, when I saw that a new, standalone climate wiki had launched I was intrigued. How would it work? Could the information it hosted be trusted? Here's how it introduces itself:
Global warming is a complicated issue. It's easy to get confused by all the scientific arguments and conflicting claims. We created this site to help everyone from high school students to scientists working in the field to quickly find the latest and most reliable information on this important topic.
So far, so good. But then a warning flag went up:
ClimateWiki is moderated and edited by The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank with offices in Chicago and Washington, DC. Interested in becoming a contributor? Contact us.
It probably doesn't need spelling out to most observers that the Heartland Institute is an organisation well known for promoting climate scepticism. It hosts an annual conference for sceptics and, some claim, plays a major role, particularly in the US, in disseminating inaccuracies about climate science.
But maybe this new wiki is an attempt to set the record straight and prove its critics wrong? What better way to show you are fair and balanced than to set up an open wiki inviting anyone to contribute?
However, my first impression of the wiki didn't exactly fill me with hope that it had grasped the concept of fair and balanced. To say the wiki's articles are subjective would be putting it mildly. Often, it is a case of what it chooses to omit rather than get plain wrong. There are dozens of examples on the wiki worth highlighting, but why not begin with its entry on the "Hockey Stick Trend," which it admits is lifted from "Climate Change Reconsidered, a work of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change," a group of US climate sceptics led by Fred Singer and Craig Idso:
One of the most famous pieces of "evidence" for anthropogenic global warming brought forth in recent years was the "hockey stick" diagram of Michael Mann and colleagues. Because the graph played such a big role in mobilizing concern over global warming in the years since it was first released, and since the IPCC continues to rely upon and defend it in its latest report, we devote some space here to explaining its unusual origins and subsequent rejection by much of the scientific community.
OK, so these people clearly don't like Mann or his hockey stick. We get it. But the beauty of wikis is that anyone gets the chance to suggest a change or, perhaps, even make an edit themselves. (Mann's own [actually, he is one of a group of its founders, not the ownerReal Climate website runs a climate wiki which invites people to "dive in and make changes.") This is particularly crucial in this case because, as Heartland says itself, this wiki is being aimed at "everyone from high school students to scientists working in the field."
So, I looked around the site for a log in. No joy. The only place where users are invited to log in is limited to pre-registered users. And the only way to become a registered user is to first be vetted by the Heartland Institute. Suddenly, this wiki didn't feel very open.
As a test of its openness, I thought it would be worth emailing Heartland with some suggested additions and see whether it would consider them. Don't forget that the Heartland Institute, and the climate sceptics it courts and promulgates, makes great play of the fact that climate scientists are, in its view, little more than an arrogant, closed cabal who only ever display distrust and disdain when presented with an opposing view or theory.
On 9 June, I emailed Heartland's communications director Jim Lakely asking if he would let me send him some suggested changes. He agreed, adding: "We are trying to prevent chaos -- especially as it has just launched -- by giving page-building access only to people we know and trust. I'm sure you can understand that policy. It's the same Wikipedia has established for most of its climate-related entries."
So, I asked two people who are well known for challenging and countering the views of climate sceptics to suggest their own additions.
First, I asked John Abraham, an associate professor of thermal and fluid sciences at the University of St. Thomas's School of Engineering in Minnesota. Abraham is, perhaps, best known for his detailed rebuttal of a lecture by Lord Monckton. He drafted this suggested addition to the wiki's Hockey Stick Trend page:
Despite some criticisms of Mike Mann's work, his findings have been decisively reinforced by other researchers. For instance, in [1], it is stated that: "The observed twentieth century temperature increase appears unprecedented compared to our mean North American temperature reconstruction of the past 14,000 years." Similarly, in [2], it was stated that: "A review of temperature reconstructions is made and similar results are obtained."
In addition, the National Research Council released a report entitled "Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years" [3,4]. They stated that: "The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has been subsequently supported by an array of evidence that includes both additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and pronounced changes in local proxy indicators."
These multiple reinforcing works that support Dr. Mann's work have allowed scientists to declare with confidence that the recent warming is unprecedented when compared with climate over the past hundreds of years.
[1] A. Viau, K. Gajewski, M. Sawada, and P. Fines, Millenial-Scale Temperature Variations in North American During the Holocene, J. Geo. Res., Vol. 111, D09102, 2006.
[2] Moberg et al., Highly Variable Northern Hemisphere Temperatures Reconstructed from Low- and High-Resolution Proxy Data, Nature, Vol. 433, No. 7026, pp. 613-617, 2005.
[4] G. Brumfiel, Academy Affirms Hockey-Stick Graph, Nature, Vol. 441, pp. 1032-1033, 2006.
I quickly received a response from Lakely, saying: "Thanks, we'll send this through our peer-review process."
I also sought a contribution from John Cook, who runs the popular SkepticalScience website, which prides itself in "explaining climate change science and rebutting global warming misinformation." Cook looked around Climatewiki and felt that the page on "Radiation" -- also lifted from Climate Change Reconsidered -- failed to mention "several crucial papers" on the subject. He offered the following addition:
Satellites measuring infrared radiation coming from Earth find less heat escaping to space over the last few decades, at those exact wavelengths that carbon dioxide absorbs energy (Harries 2001, Griggs 2004, Chen 2007). Harries (2001) described this as " experimental evidence for a significant increase in the Earth's greenhouse effect."
If less heat is escaping to space, we should observe more returning to the Earth's surface. This has been observed (Philipona 2004, Evans 2006, Wang 2009). Evans (2006) concluded: "This experimental data should effectively end the argument by skeptics that no experimental evidence exists for the connection between greenhouse gas increases in the atmosphere and global warming."
* Chen, C., Harries, J., Brindley, H., & Ringer, M. (2007). Spectral signatures of climate change in the Earth's infrared spectrum between 1970 and 2006. Retrieved October 13, 2009, from European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) website.
* Evans W. F. J., Puckrin E. (2006), Measurements of the Radiative Surface Forcing of Climate, P1.7, AMS 18th Conference on Climate Variability and Change.
* Griggs, J. A., Harries, J. E. (2004). Comparison of spectrally resolved outgoing longwave data between 1970 and present, Proc. SPIE, Vol. 5543, 164.
* Harries, J. E., et al. (2001). Increases in greenhouse forcing inferred from the outgoing longwave radiation spectra of the Earth in 1970 and 1997. Nature, 410, 355-357.
* Philipona, R., Dürr, B., Marty, C., Ohmura, A. and Wild, M. (2004). Radiative forcing - measured at Earth's surface - corroborate the increasing greenhouse effect. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31, L03202.
* Wang, K., Liang, S. (2009), Global atmospheric downward longwave radiation over land surface under all-sky conditions from 1973 to 2008. J. Geophys. Res., 114 (D19).
On 17 June, following a nudge, I received an update from Lakely: "We have our staff on it, but it's not a big staff. We'll give you an answer, probably next week."
On 28 June, I nudged him again. He responded: "We've been really busy planning for an event the last few weeks so haven't gotten around to it. We should have integrated the content onto the site some time next week."
Fair enough, I thought: Heartland was putting on its annual conference at that time which ran from 30 June-1 July in Washington, DC.
So, I left it for more than a week before enquiring again. On 11 July, I emailed once more. But this time I didn't get any response. It has now been more than five weeks since I first submitted the suggested additions from Abraham and Cook for Heartland's consideration. Personally, I consider that to have been plenty of time for Heartland to assess whether it thought these two relatively straight-forward additions were worthy of adding to its wiki. The fact that it hasn't should tell you all you need to know about how "open" this particular wiki is.
And I wasn't the only person to find Heartland's response running somewhat counter to the true spirit of a genuine wiki. Adam Corner is a research associate in the "understanding risk" research group at Cardiff University, who specialises in the "communication of climate change" and how "people evaluate arguments and evidence." He also contacted Heartland with a view to testing the openness of its wiki. And, like me, he has, to date, had a negative response. I'll give him the last word on Heartland's climatewiki:
The climatewiki is so dangerous because it presents itself as providing 'neutral' information about climate change, when in fact it is a highly selective and ideologically filtered presentation of climate science and politics.
The tactics of organisations like the Heartland Institute are well known: funding and disseminating information that aims to undermine attempts to regulate carbon emissions. They have been exposed and discredited on many occasions. But this is more subtle – it's an attempt to make a grab for the very building blocks of knowledge that the media and political debates develop from. A high school student, in a rush to get their homework assignment done, is more likely to scan the climatewiki than academic journals.
The fact that they won't let people edit the wiki is revealing. They are doing precisely what they wrongly accuse climate scientists of doing: running a closed shop and preventing open debate.

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