Santer: “Loss of Innocence” for Climate Scientists

The Dana Glacier, outside Yosemite, CA.  Photo: Gretchen Weber

The Dana Glacier, outside Yosemite, CA, September 2008. Photo: Gretchen Weber

Yet another climate controversy has revived what have become increasingly common attacks on scientists’ credibility.  The latest flap arose when  the IPCC admitted on Wednesday, that its 2007 prediction that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035 was unfounded.

Attacks on the integrity of scientists have brought about a “loss of innocence” in the climate science field, said Ben Santer, a Research Scientist for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Santer lamented that “Fourteen or fifteen years ago, it was possible to do science and not be too worried about being the subject of Congressional investigations, Freedom of Information Act requests, and very personal and very public attacks. Those innocent days are over now.”

Santer, who’s been a key author of some IPCC reports, said the science that goes into those reports is the most rigorous that he’s seen in his career.”If your research suggests that humans are having a pronounced effect on climate,” he continued,  “I think the expectation is that you will be subjected to tremendous scrutiny.  And some of that is appropriate, certainly in terms of the science and the integrity and credibility of the science, but unfortunately, that scrutiny is moving to very unwelcome areas, and it’s also focusing on individuals and motives, and all of this stuff is very distasteful,” he said.

Santer was joined on the call by Lonnie Thompson, a glaciologist at Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar Research Center , who raised concern that the intense and personal nature of much of the criticism climate scientists have been facing (most recently in response to the East Anglia hacked email incident, now widely known as “Climategate”) may be keeping promising young scientists out of the field at a time when they are most needed.  In the wake of the East Anglia emails, a blizzard of accusations of data manipulation blew through the blogosphere and in certain corners of the Senate.

“It does make it difficult to bring young scientists into the field,” Santer agreed.  They look at what has gone on and there is genuine concern there. They must be asking themselves, ‘Do I really want to get involved in critical but possibly contentious issues if there is the possibility that I will spend months or even  longer dealing with questions not about the science that I have done, but about my own personal integrity?'” said Santer.

Thompson affirmed that while it’s difficult to put a specific timetable on the disappearance of glaciers, the scientific evidence documenting glacier recession is overwhelming.  Research indicates that more than 90% of the world’s glaciers are receding, he said, including approximately 95% of the glaciers in the Himalayas.

“Glaciers do not have any political agenda,” said Thompson.  “They just sum up what’s happening in the environment and they retreat or react to that en masse.”

The conference call was organized by the activist Union of Concerned Scientists.

UPDATE 1/25/10
The London tabloid, the Daily Mail, reported yesterday that a lead author of the Asia chapter of the IPCC’s 2007 assessment admitted that he knew the 2035 claim was unsubstantiated, but he approved including it in the report anyway.  Murari Lal reportedly said in an interview with the Daily Mail that he knew the 2035 number came from a report that was not peer-reviewed, but that the claim of imminently disappearing glaciers would, “impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.”

Michael Schlesinger, a professor of Atmospheric Sciences and director of the Climate Research Group at the the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign responded to the Daily Mail report with dismay.

“I am greatly saddened and deeply offended by this person’s behavior,” he wrote in an email. “A scientist does not lie nor change the facts to suit an agenda.  Rather s/he tells it as it is, as best as it is known to her/him.”

Joe Romm at Climate Progress has a spirited response to the Daily Mail story.  According to Romm (who reached Lal by phone):
[Lal] He said these were “the most vilest allegations” and denied that he ever made such assertions.  He said “I didn’t put it [the 2035 claim] in to impress policymakers….  We reported the facts about science as we knew them and as was available in the literature.”
  • http://ncwatch.typepad.com/ Russell Steele

    Is this the same Ben Santer who was the IPCC Working Group Chairman that became infamous a few years back when he made last-minute changes and subsequent cleansing of the underlying wording in Chapter 8 of the Second Assessment Report (SAR)?

    According to Dr Fred Singer, Santer edited out several conclusions of the working scientists that were disclaimers to the thesis that unique anthropogenic forcing was evident.

    So, when the SAR appeared those disclaimers for anthropogenic warming were missing. Was this Santer’s good science or just good anthropogenic politics? Just wondering.

  • Steve Bloom

    Is Fred still taking tobacco industry money these days in addition to his fossil fuel funding, Russ? Just wondering.

  • http://ncwatch.typepad.com/ Russell Steele

    Mr Bloom,

    Let us not change the subject, we are discussing Dr Santer’s actions as reported by Dr Singer, not Dr. Singers history. How does his history change the facts of the case? Really?

    The most important question is did Santer edit the report and changed the cautious science to a message human caused warming? I would rather go back to the science reports and avoid the politically charged edits by Santer. The scientist who wrote the report did not see the human finger on climate change. Only Santer. What was his justification? Science or politics?

  • Steve Bloom

    Russ, a) you’ve provided no proof whatsoever of your ridiculous allegations about Santer and b) Singer is a notorious paid liar (and see here for more background).

    Re the fabricated allegations against Santer, the relevant information is linked here.

  • http://ncvoices.us Anna Haynes

    Steve, if you’re going to be taking Russ on, could you (regularly) ask him if he’s willing to stand behind his claims?
    Or at least you should keep score somehow, with a running tally.

    Me, I have to go dig the stuff up, and over time I’ve lost patience for people who don’t care whether what they’re saying is true or not.

  • Steve Bloom

    Good point, Anna. There’s very little benefit to challenging someone like Russ. It’s just a bit disturbing to see the comment section here taken over by denialist trolls.

  • http://ncwatch.typepad.com/ Russell Steele

    Bloom, and I guess we can assume the co-signers to this letter were also paid liars.

    Letter to the Bulletin of the AMS

    This letter was published in the January 1997 issue, in response to the AMS/UCAR Open Letter to Ben Santer,which was published in the September 1996 issue.

    October 21, 1996

    To: Editor, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society

    Dear Susan Avery, Paul Try, Richard Anthes, and Richard Hallgren:

    We are frankly puzzled by your “open letter of support” of July 25, published in the Sept. 1996 issue; it was addressed to Dr. Benjamin D. Santer (convening lead author, Chapter 8 of the IPCC report “Climate Change 1995″) on behalf of the executive committee of the AMS and the trustees of UCAR. We believe that the letter misrepresents the true situation. We therefore present here some facts you may not have had, and then urge you to address a more serious problem (described below)–the misuse of climate science for political purposes.

    1.Your letter refers—at least three times—to the discussions surrounding the textual revisions to Chapter 8 of the IPCC report as a “scientific debate.” But the debate, so far at least, has not been about science at all; rather, it has been about the legality of the changes and deletions, the purpose of the alterations, and the political uses to which the altered IPCC report has been put.

    Your criticism of Dr. Frederick Seitz is misplaced. His Wall Street Journal article brought to wider attention these unannounced changes and deletions, which were made after the report had been approved, and were discovered only after the report appeared in print. It is therefore quite irrelevant whether or when he has published papers in atmospheric science or whether he was himself involved in the IPCC process; a legal expert could equally well decide the procedural issues raised by the revisions to the report.

    2. In our view, the alterations to the text were both substantial and substantive. In one stroke they eliminated clauses that had been discussed over many months and agreed to by the four lead authors, 30-odd contributors, and numerous reviewers. Here are three of the clauses that were removed from Chapter 8 (“Detection of Climate Change and Attribution of Causes”):

    “None of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can attribute the observed [climate] changes to the specific cause of increases in greenhouse gases.”
    “No study to date has positively attributed all or part [of the climate change observed to date] to anthropogenic [man-made] causes.
    “Any claims of positive detection of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced.
    A leading article in Nature (June 13), while dismissive of IPCC critics, had to admit that “phrases that might have been (mis)interpreted as undermining … [IPCC] conclusions … ‘disappeared’ in the revision process”

    3. We note that nowhere does Dr. Seitz attack the scientific integrity of Dr. Santer. Santer has always taken full responsibility for making the actual changes, although he has not been forthcoming in revealing who instructed him to make such revisions and who approved them after they were made. He has, however, told others privately that he was asked [prevailed upon?] to do so by IPCC co-chairman John Houghton. Nature (June 13) states that the changes were made to bring Chapter 8 into conformity with the IPCC Summary for Policymakers, a political document finalized by governmental delegations in Madrid in late November 1995. You may not have seen the November 15 letter from the State Department (quoted in the Aug. 22 issue of Nature), instructing Dr. Houghton to “prevail upon” chapter authors “to modify their texts in an appropriate manner following discussion in Madrid.”

    4. Turning briefly to climate science, we know of at least three scientific articles that have been accepted for publication, commenting critically on two recent papers by Santer et al., which contribute in an important way to the conclusions of Chapter 8. [These two papers appeared in print (Dec. 1995 and July 1996) well after
    the chapter was sent out for review (May 1995).] Unfortunately, these critical assessments do not appear in the IPCC report; they will, however, be aired at a special session of the Annual Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 1996.

    The ongoing review of the January 1991 AMS policy statement on the scientific understanding of climate change may provide an additional opportunity to examine critically not only Chapter 8 but also other chapters of the IPCC report—provided there is an opportunity for free and open discussion. 5. Finally, and most important, you should be made aware that the principal conclusion derived from Chapter 8–that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate”—is being misused by politicians. We draw your attention to paragraph 2 of the Ministerial Declaration (issued in Geneva on 18 July 1996), which specifically—and improperly—links this IPCC phrase about “human influence” to a temperature increase of 2 C by 2100.

    But the possible existence of a discernible human influence on climate (based on the disputed evidence from Chapter 8 or other evidence) in no way validates the results from IPCC climate models that claim a climate sensitivity of between 1.5 and 4.5 C. To quote Tom Wigley, a lead author of Chapter 8: “[Temperature] pattern studies can’t pin down the climate sensitivity, we never said it did—neither in the original papers, nor in Chapter 8.” Quoting from the IPCC report itself (p. 434): “To date, pattern-based studies have not been able to quantify the magnitude of a greenhouse gas or aerosol effect on climate.”

    The real issue then is the political misuse of the IPCC report and of climate science rather than the ongoing debate about procedure. We urge that this serious matter be energetically addressed by the AMS and by UCAR forthwith.

    Sincerely,

    S. Fred Singer, Ph.D.
    President, The Science & Environmental Policy Project
    Fairfax, VA 22030
    Tel: 703-934-6940 Fax: 703-352-7535
    e-mail: ssinger1@gmu.edu
    Co-signers:

    Bruce A. Boe, North Dakota Atmospheric Resource Board
    Fred W. Decker, Corvallis, OR
    Neil Frank, former director – National Hurricane Center
    Thomas Gold, Cornell University
    William Gray, Colorado State University
    Henry Linden, Illinois Institute of Technology
    Richard Lindzen, MIT
    Pat Michaels, University of Virginia
    William Nierenberg, Scripps Institute of Oceanography
    William Porch, Los Alamos National Laboratory
    Robert Stevenson, IAPSO

    Sorry Craig, there was no direct link.

  • Craig Miller

    No problem. I think this is useful history. Also, here’s a link to another good summary of the most recent kerfuffle:
    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/heat-over-faulty-un-view-of-asian-ice/

  • Steve Bloom

    Craig, Russ has a blog. He can post long extracts there and drop a summary and link here to avoid the spam.

    On the substance, Russ, I’m still trying to figure out where the scandal is in text being changed to reflect the best scientific understanding of climate, noting that the science was developing very quickly in the mid-90s. Did any of the four lead authors and thirty-odd contributors involved in the drafting complain? Not that I recall. In other words, to all appearances no one actually involved in the process thought there was a problem. Instead, it was people outside the process with a dislike for the stated conclusions making a complaint.

    Re other paid liars, to my knowledge only Pat Michaels qualifies from that list.

  • http://warming101.com Anna Haynes

    Steve (and Craig) am I correct in inferring from the dec. bbc story that this objection/correction was raised by the scientists, not the antiscience bloc?

    “In December, it emerged that four leading glaciologists had prepared a letter for publication in the journal Science arguing that a complete melt by 2035 was physically impossible.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8468358.stm

    please let me know if I have this wrong.

  • Steve Bloom

    Yes. What’s interesting about this is that such a big deal is being made now about an error that to all appearances didn’t get noticed by anyone for about *two years*. The main reason for that is that the WG2 report (impacts) gets very little attention compared to the WG1 report (the physical science basis). The latter did not include the error, nor did the Summary for Policy Makers of the WG2 report, I suspect reflecting a judgement that the 2035 claim wasn’t plausible even if it had been based on peer-reviewed research. Had it been plausible, it would have gotten much more attention much sooner — a 28-year near-complete melt-off of the Himalayan glaciers would be big news.

    So it’s an error, sure enough, but one that’s been blown completely out of proportion.

    BTW, another reason it may not have seemed so amazing is beacuse of contemporaneous peer-reviewed results by Chinese scientists projecting loss of most of the Tibetan plateau glaciers by 2050 or so.

  • Steve Bloom

    Clarification: Yes you have it right (that the error was spotted by glaciologists).

  • http://ncwatch.typepad.com/ Russell Steele

    Oops: UN climate change expert: there could be more errors in report

    The Indian head of the UN climate change panel defended his position today even as further errors were identified in the panel’s assessment of Himalayan glaciers.

    Dr Rajendra Pachauri dismissed calls for him to resign over the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change’s retraction of a prediction that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035.

    But he admitted that there may have been other errors in the same section of the report, and said that he was considering whether to take action against those responsible.

    “I know a lot of climate sceptics are after my blood, but I’m in no mood to oblige them,” he told The Times in an interview. “It was a collective failure by a number of people,” he said. “I need to consider what action to take, but that will take several weeks. It’s best to think with a cool head, rather than shoot from the hip.”

    Details here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6999051.ece

  • Dixon Cruickshank

    Dear Mr Bloom:

    ” Re other paid liars, to my knowledge only Pat Michaels qualifies from that list.”

    pot meet kettle

    WE all know the game, no crisis, no money

    so the fact that it was just so incrediable that anyone would believe 2035 it was OK to leave it in the report – unbievable staement there Steve.

  • Dixon Cruickshank

    oooohhhh Mr Bloom care to comment on the other 3 new Gates

  • Steve Bloom

    Time for another update: Deltoid has the full scoop on “Rosegate.” Can a journalist “salute” in public a key and highly partisan source on a controversial story and still be considered a journalist?

  • Dixon Cruickshank

    Sure – look at many articles on the otherside of the issue.

    Its symantics and again your standard MO- question should be – should it have been in there???? – in ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM that was not even remotely plausable information to include for whatever reasons given. Originally said to an Indian on-line mag – then to a Science Mag article – then to the WWF – then to the IPCC. Its not even a written paper for gods sake, peer reviewed HA, self admitted that no reasearch had been done at all.
    Then the guy gets hired by TERI and Dr PK and TERI secures 3.5 mill in grants using it as a basis for study grants – pllleeeaaassseee – talk about defending the undefensable.
    I guess you know that game rather well though.

    I asked about the new ones – like Amazongate written for the WWF by a freelance journelist that had never been to the Amazon, and that brochure didn’t even say what they put in the IPCC, but it sounded good I guess – you are a hoot. SPIN SPIN SPIN – don’t screw yourself into the floor Mr Bloom

  • Steve Bloom

    But Dixon, all you’re doing is repeating stuff you’ve read on the internet without yourself looking into the details. As it happens, your sources got some key aspects quite wrong. Why don’t you care?

  • Dixon Cruickshank

    OK Steve I did make it somewhat short but thats in responce to your whining about Russ – so explain exactly which part was not correct – that the glaciers really will be gone in 2035 – or that the original source does not work at TERI currently or that TERI did not just recieve the grants?? Or another tid bit that the glacier area will reduce from 500,000km to 100,000km by 2021- only problem with that is total area is….. 33,000km currently. By the way most of the culprits, ecept Dr PK all have admitted what went on in the press – “quoted”.

    I looked at the WWF referenced papers and the years they were written – I could post the list of I think its 17 WWF papers that were referenced in IPCC AR4. I have not looked at all but none should have any refernces at all.

    Do we have Sierra Club papers refernced in any Calif reports? I know they accept internet Doctorites so why not some of Sierra’s gibberish

  • Dixon Cruickshank

    UN IPCC’s Pachauri Confronts Critics: ‘I don’t think the credibility of IPCC can be dented. If IPCC wasn’t there, why would anyone be worried about climate change?’

    Nobody was, really