Jeff Harvey, who is an occasional commenter here, is lead author of a recent paper on [i]nternet blogs, polar bears, and climate-change denial by proxy. The paper itself is open access, and if you would like to read some posts about it, Bart Verheggen (one of the authors) has a one, as does Dana in the Guardian.
Essentially, they looked at a large number of blogs, that they categorised as either denying, or accepting, anthropogenic global warming (AGW). They then analysed how these blogs covered certain topics. When it came to Arctic sea ice, those categorised as denying AGW tended to interpret short-term variability as indicating some kind of recovery. When it came to polar bears, those categorised as denying AGW tended to primarily use a single source (Dr Susan Crockford) who – based on their lack of peer-reviewed publications about polar bears – would appear to have undertaken little original research.
This isn’t a huge surprise, but it is interesting to see it documented. Even though it isn’t really a surprise, I do still find it remarkable that so many will promote the contrary claims of someone who appears to have little in the way of actual expertise.
The comment/conclusion in the paper that I found interesting was
We believe that it is imperative for more scientists to venture beyond the confines of their labs and lecture halls to directly engage with the public and policymakers, as well as more strongly confronting and resisting the well-funded and organized network of AGW denial.
I realise that some will probably whine about well-funded but I mostly agree with the idea that it would be good for more scientists to engage publicly and to, more specifically, directly counter misinformation. Partly, the more voices the better, and partly because it would probably be good for more to recognise that many are not engaging in good faith. It’s a little frustrating when some who have never interacted with those who are dismissive of AGW, think they know of some simple way to resolve these disputes; for example, just being nicer is not going to do it (which doesn’t mean don’t be nice, it just means that it’s unlikely to have much impact).
As you might expect, the response to this paper has been somewhat predictable. In an example of extreme ClimateballTM, Tom Fuller has used this paper to suggest that climate scientists harass women (yes, I realise I probably shouldn’t promote it, but it is also been promoted by the Global Warming Policy Foundation so it probably is worth mentioning).
What makes Tom’s post particularly bizarre is that he includes a quote from me about Roger Pielke Jr. When it comes to Roger Pielke Jr, I’m normally being criticised for supposedly attacking him. In this case, however, I’m quoted as saying something positive, which is then used to imply that climate scientists are more restrained when criticising men, than they are when criticising women. Firstly, saying something positive about a man, does not imply less restraint when criticising women. Secondly, I’m not a climate scientists, so my quote has no relevance anyway. Thirdly, there are many reasons why one might not say something positive about Roger Pielke Jr; being worried that it might be used to suggest that climate scientists harass women, wasn’t one that had ever crossed my mind.
Furthermore, Tom Fuller’s post claims that the Harvey et al. paper flat out lies about Dr Crockford’s publication record. The paper claimed that Crockford has neither conducted any original research nor published any articles in the peer-reviewed literature on polar bears. As far as I can tell, this is true (I certainly can’t find any peer-reviewed papers about polar bears on which Dr Crockford is an author, and peer-reviewed papers is the main way in which one presents original research). When challenged, Tom Fuller highlighted a comment posted on a journal’s website about a paper on polar bears. When I say comment I don’t mean something submitted to the journal for review and, possibly, publication, I mean something akin to a blog comment (i.e., written into comment box on a website).
This is getting rather long, so I should probably wrap up. In my view, if someone regards themselves as some kind of world-leading expert, then they really should aim to get their work published in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s not that difficult, given some of the rubbish that gets through. Also, if you’re running a blog that purports to be presenting scientific information about a topic, ideally don’t base everything on one source, especially if that source is someone who has never published a peer-reviewed paper on the topic. Of course, if your goal is to promote a particular agenda, then maybe basing everything on a single source who says what you want to hear is precisely what you should do – feature, rather than bug?