Stephen Schneider: Climate Denier Gate a case of Science as a Contact Sport


In Climate Denier Gate (Stephen Schneider’s term for what the deniers call “Climategate”), “the private frustrations of a few climate scientists was turned into an ostensible plot by the entire climate science community in dozens of countries, hundreds of institutions, and hammered out over 40 years of peer reviewed assessment studies—as some kind of fraud.”  Schneider says, “The big untold story here is how broken the 2009 media is for investigating the wrong folks and giving credibility to a non-event that changes nothing in climate science.” One more episode in the decades-long tension between climate science and public debate, the subject of Schneider’s memoir, Science as a Contact Sport.

Post by Rick Piltz

My holiday season reading includes the recently published Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate (see here and here), Steve Schneider’s fascinating and illuminating memoir.  Schneider’s narrative weaves together inside stories of the development of climate science in advancing understanding of the influence of human activity on the climate system, the collision between the arena of science and the arenas of media coverage and policymaking, and the impediments thrown up by “skeptics” and contrarians. More below, and more on the book later.

Stephen H. Schneider is professor of Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies and Biology at Stanford University, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship and the collective 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with his colleagues on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

At the Copenhagen climate conference, Schneider wrote about the uproar over the climate scientists’ e-mails hacked/stolen/leaked from the Climatic Research Unit at the UK University of East Anglia (reposted from Huffington Post):

On “Climate Denier Gate”

[B]y far the question I get most right now has created a media and political firestorm: the theft of private emails in the UK’s University of East Anglia about a month ago in which the hackers illegally obtained private emails among exasperated climate data scientists decrying their besieged status by some politicians and fossil fuel interest groups trying to deny global warming and attacking their work and character. …

The climate “skeptics” community immediately labeled it “climate-gate” as if the climatologists whose private thoughts, doubts and frustrations were now widely disseminated without context and sent to media and political venues, were the perpetrators, rather than the victims. My favorite label on this sad debacle is simply: “Climate Denier Gate” to refocus on the “gate” part—illegally obtained private and privileged materials being used as evidence of climatologists’ malfeasance, rather than hackers and blogsters use of purloined privacy. … The email blogs asserted, and the media dutifully covered it as a scandal of climate scientists’ cover-ups. Thus, the private frustrations of a few climate scientists was turned into an ostensible plot by the entire climate science community in dozens of countries, hundreds of institutions, and hammered out over 40 years of peer reviewed assessment studies (as I detail in “[Science as a] Contact Sport”) as some kind of fraud.

On “Hockey Stick vs. Fingerprinting”

The past 40 years, when attached at the end of a reconstruction of the temperatures of the past 1000 years, look like a bit like a “hockey stick” with a wavy handle but a “blade” that rises above the climatic history of the millennium and exhibits the warmest decades in the record in the past 30 or so years. This reconstruction has been the object of intense arguments between the climatologists who constructed the hockey stick and some skeptical attackers who claimed it was erroneous. The US National Academy of Sciences conducted an extensive study on this and agreed that individual scientist’s assumption were occasionally questionable—the normal process of scientific progress—but that a dozen replicate studies added more waviness to the handle but the blade still stood out. Hockey stick denial was a favorite item of the climate skeptics, despite the NAS study. …

The amazing scientific thing that nobody seems to be covering is that the “hockey stick” was never used as proof of anthropogenic global warming by IPCC—it was the “fingerprinting” studies of many scientists dating back to 1995—three years before the first hockey stick was even published. A fingerprint is an attempt to combine models of climate change with observed data. The models are driven by natural forces like solar variations or volcanic eruptions, and their retrodictions of what should have happened between 1900 and 2000 are compared to what actually happened. Then the models are driven by anthropogenic forces such as increasing greenhouse gases as has been observed and again compared to what actually happened to the 20th century climate. And finally models are driven by combined natural and anthropogenic forces—and as expected, the latter has the highest correlation with observations, the former the least and the middle one in between correlations. That is a smoking gun—but for AGW [anthropogenic global warming] —and the number of such studies appearing in the peer reviewed scientific literature since 1995 has multiplied. Ergo, IPCC has increased its confidence in AGW over successive studies, with the “very likely” the most recent 2007 assessment.

That fingerprint history the denier set will almost certainly not mention, just claim that the hockey stick guys are “exposed” and therefore AGW is a fraud. The fraud however is on the deniers, I’m afraid, since the hockey stick has (a) never been disproved, and (b) nor was it ever the basis for AGW likelihood assessment. Rather, the fingerprint analyses by many groups over the years were the scientific evidence used for AGW. Would somebody in the mainstream media please cover this!

Schneider says, “The big untold story here is how broken the 2009 media is for investigating the wrong folks and giving credibility to a non-event that changes nothing in climate science regardless of how it turns out the first hockey stick guys acted—a tiny number of climate scientists involved in IPCC.  The blade of the hockey stick has been replicated by 10 independent studies, and [anthropogenic global warming] was never based on how wavy the handle of the hockey stick is, but rather on fingerprints. I have said this 200 times now—half of that recently at Copenhagen—and the derelict media has covered it ZERO times—they are broken beyond repair.”

Setting the record straight on stolen e-mail: Associated Press,, and other sources

Setting the record straight on stolen e-mail:  Nature, AAAS, AMS, Union of Concerned Scientists

Sensenbrenner IPCC witch hunt: Attempt to blacklist climate scientists must be rejected

Ben Santer: Open letter to the climate science community

Stephen Schneider comments on the CEI and Pat Michaels petition on the global warming data record

Also at Copenhagen, Schneider had to confront an attempt by a global warming denialist documentary filmmaker to hijack his presentation.  The following description of the event is from the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions.  Their post includes a video record of the denier’s intellectual thuggishness and self-promotional misrepresentation of the event. 

It’s a Tough Game

Last week at this time, Nobel Laureate and Stanford scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider held a press event at COP15 to launch his new book Science as a Contact Sport.  What started as typical presentation of academic material, quickly spiraled into a hostile game of accusations, online attacks and outright lies.  Not of great coincidence, this also happens to be the topic of Dr. Schneider’s new book.  The book outlines the politics, debates and ideological warfare that has become part of everyday life for researchers whose scientific findings have obligated them to speak out on the daunting probable impacts of climate change. …

In the case of this particular book launch, the contact sport came into play when documentary filmmaker and climate change denier, Phelim McAleer, took center stage, essentially commandeering the event away from Schneider and the other journalists present.  Having had a negative history with this individual, Schneider responded directly and forcefully, escalating the exchange into a heated debate.  In response to McAleer’s provocations, UN security showed up on the scene and, following the press event, escorted him away from the premises and demanded his camera be turned off.

A lively moment at the Bella Center, but now it’s over, right?  Wrong.  The following day, McAleer released a highly altered YouTube version of the incident, edited to appear that he was a victim to a global conspiracy of UN domination fueled by a climate change myth.  He asserted that Schneider had refused to answer questions in regards to “Climategate” (which had nothing to do with the book event, but he did in fact answer), and that Schneider himself had called “his” UN thugs on McAleer to suppress his journalism.  The YouTube video quickly spread through extreme right wing and conspiracy theory-based blogs, all lambasting Schneider for his role in “UN global domination”.  In the end, the incident is a comic footnote on the pages of this historical meeting.  Schneider launched a great book that you should read.  But as the book suggests, science indeed can be a contact sport…

Posted here are:

1. The complete, unedited, version of the question and answer period – including the Schneider-McAleer exchange.
2. Phelim McAleer’s YouTube version of the same press event.
3. The full presentation made by Schneider, inclusive of the question and answer period in #2
4. And, just for fun – a clip of Schneider discussing climate change some 30 years ago.  It’s amazing that most of us have waited so long to hear this message!

Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate (see here and here)

From the book jacket:

The world is changing. Before our very eyes, we can see the effects of climate change and environmental damage taking shape: shrinking glaciers, both water shortages and excesses, high temperature extremes, hazardous air conditions, and erratic weather patterns leading not only to immense property damage but also to untold human suffering and death—with worse to come if we stay on current path. We know there’s a problem, but spurring the world to action has been a decades-long struggle, and Stephen H. Schneider has been in the front lines of the charge to understand the science, explain the warnings, and mitigate the damage we’ve inflicted upon the environment and ourselves for four decades. One of the world’s leading climatologists, founder of the journal Climatic Change, and senior participant in the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), his work has been instrumental in framing both the internal debates within the scientific community and the very public debate on understanding and dealing with climate change.

Science as a Contact Sport is Stephen Schneider’s first-hand account of a scientific odyssey, navigating in both the turbulent waters of the world’s power structures and the arcane theatre of academic debaters. From the initial stages of understanding the science of human-induced climate change to predicting the consequences of our actions 10, 50 and even 250 years out, Dr. Schneider has been there to experience it all. Few people know more about the struggles and knockdown, drag-out fights that have taken place behind the scenes and the people who try to repair the damage as well as those who will stop at nothing to deny that climate change is happening. In this riveting memoir Schneider shares his unique eye witness perspective on an era of scientific discovery and debate that may well be one of the most important periods of time in our planet’s history.

Schneider’s efforts have helped bring about important measures to safeguard our planet, but there’s still more to be done to get them implemented. This is a battle, and no one knows that better than Dr. Schneider—he’s fought with and against presidents, prime ministers, legislators, mayors, CEOs, movie and media stars, lobbyists, journalists, and even his fellow scientists to share good science and workable solutions with the world.

See Steve Schneider’s large and educational web site.

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