I wrote a post about Roger Pielke Jr’s recent Wall Street Journal article about his [u]nhappy life as a climate heretic, but it was rather long and rambling, so I can’t actually bring myself to post it. Instead, I’ll just try to make a few, brief points. Academic freedom is, in my view, extremely important and we should defend anyone whose freedom is threatened. I’m struggling, however, to see how Roger’s situation has anything to do with academic freedom. He wrote things publicly, and was publicly criticised. I realise that there are some emails in which someone takes some credit for Roger losing his position at 538, but even that doesn’t indicate anything under-handed; as far as I’m aware all that they did was publicly criticise what Roger wrote. If I’ve missed something, feel free to point it out, but academic freedom does not refer to the freedom to not be criticised.
If you do read Roger’s Wall Street Journal article, you should probably also read this response to his original 538 article, and you should probably read this article about 538 apologising when two climate scientists said Roger “sent emails threatening possible legal action in response to their criticism of his findings…”.
My own view is that much of what Roger says is worthy of criticism. In my experience, he often says things that are technically true, but that are easily mis-interpreted. For example, highlighting that there are no trends in Tropical Cyclone (TCs) damages in the US whenever TCs are discussed in general. Damage trends in one country probably tell us little about TCs in general, especially globally. He also has a habit of over-interpreting what is presented. A lack of a statistically significant trend, becomes no trend. A low confidence in whether or not something is happening, becomes it’s not happening. John Abraham’s article discusses this in more detail.
Maybe the most irritating thing about Roger’s Wall Street Journal article, is that he has been a willing participant in the online climate debate for a long time, and seemed quite happy to play the game when it suited. He was implicated in Michael Tobis becoming famous, which is discussed more here and here. He promoted a rather questionable interpretation of the Marcott temperature reconstruction, which Stoat discusses, rather impolitely, here. James Annan also has a post discussing how Roger Pielke has been saying some truly bizarre and nonsensical things recently (Edit: as WMC points out, this “recently” was written in 2008). James and Roger also exchanged posts that involved explaining probability to an undergraduate, but I can’t seem to find it.
Anyway, there are many more examples, if you’re willing to look; Eli has many posts, as does RealClimate, and Our Changing Climate. The point I’m trying to make is that Roger isn’t some innocent academic who ventured out into the big bad world, only to be attacked by the nasty climate alarmists. He’s been a more than willing participant for a long time, but seems to want to now complain about his treatment when he feels hard done by. I’m also not even suggesting that he deserves all that has been aimed at him (I’ve, at times, been less polite than I should have been). However, as much as we should defend those whose academic freedom is being threatened, we should also be careful of avoiding criticising those who manage to get a platform to complain about their critics. His article also gives no indication that he feels any responsibility at all for how he has been treated. This lack of self-reflection is probably best illustrated by his complaints about being blocked on Twitter, while having a reputation himself for being a rather liberal blocker (I think people should be free to block whoever they want, but complaining about being blocked, when regularly doing the same yourself, seems rather inconsistent).
Okay, that has ended up being slightly longer than intended. I realise that the online climate debate can be remarkably unpleasant, so I do have some sympathy for Roger. However, it’s hard to see how an article in the Wall Street Journal, painting all his critics as underhanded and mean, really helps; at best, it’s part of the same ol’ same ol’ and, at worst, it’s an explicit attempt to delegitimize his critics. I’ll stop there. Since I don’t want the comments to simply degenerate into Roger bashing, please try to be thoughtful and, if necessary, circumspect. Also, if anyone thinks there’s more to this than it, at first, appears, feel free to point it out.