More Rants from Volkskrant

There is a long article in Volkskrant dated Dec. 10, 2005, in which journalist Martin van Calmhout, among other things, expressed his consternation at seeing an English translation and discussion of a previous article on Mann on climateaudit within a half day of publication (see here). We’ll try to be equally prompt this time. Here’s a tentative translation together with Dutch pdf here. I’ll update the translation as some of our Dutch speakers chip in. There are a few missing paragraphs still as my attention to this wandered after a while. For reference, there is machine Dutch-English at http://www.altavista.com, which I used here together with a little editing (I know no Dutch, but am used to the word inversions from similar translations from German and that’s the basis of my editing.) Update: Andre has sent in a corrected version, which I altered slightly for English style.

If I’ve understood the article correctly, he damns us with faint praise as follows:

Nevertheless they are amateurs. But the people talking here appear to know every comma of Mann’s work and to have checked all his references. You could not deceive them with some vagaries about greenhouse gas effect.

Later, he falsely accuses us of being bought and paid for by ExxonMobil, which seems somewhat inconsistent with the previous suggestion of "amateur" status. At climateaudit, we do not wear kneepads.

Climate scientist should not hesitate to deal with sceptics as dissenters, thinks Martijn van Calmthout.

All stokers (should get) out of the greenhouse. [AB Note: Dutch pun "onrust-stoker" is riot maker]

I’m gazing bewilderedly at the computer screen. My climate story from the Volkskrant, now already translated into English on the American internet site, climateaudit.org? [SM: Canadian, if you please] Less than a mere half day after it was published? And straight away with more than thirty shattering responses.

On the other hand, the Amerikcan research journalist Chris Mooney, expert on political manipulation of science had warned me already never to underestimate the tenaciousness of sceptics, he said one week earlier by telephone. Not only because they think to be right but also because they always (seem to) succeed in creating havoc.

The last Saturday of October I wrote a large article in the section “Knowledge” of this paper about the ongoing controversy about the greenhouse gas discussion. The subject was a graph of the American researcher Michael Mann, made years ago, using tree rings to make reconstruction of the climate in earlier times. His conclusion is a simple graph: a long slightly declining temperature line, which at the end suddenly and abruptly bounces upwards. Because of this form and its author, it has been called Mann’s hockeystick. There has been controversy concerning that graph for years. Climate reconstruction is a difficult topic and, critics, both in and outside the science, wondered who could guarantee whether or not the described historical temperature increase was an artefact of Mann’s own statistical techniques.

Beginning this year it happened again. Two Canadian statisticians, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, published an article in the renowned American professional journal, Geophysical Review Letters, in which they put big question marks on Mann’s work. The researchers and their supporters took the publication as a victory. At last, scientific recognition.

In the Netherlands, the big news was reported by the popular science journal, NatuurWetenschap & Techniek of Veen Uitgevens. “Kyoto relies on quicksand” were the opening words of a press release. Simultaneously, the editor-in-chief of NatuurWetenschap&Techniek wrote a similar editorial in the Financial Daily [of the Netherlands]. And that newspaper opened that day’s edition with the big news: “Climate horror scenario is based on a mistake”.

Going back to the end of October again. After the publication of the criticism in Geophysical Review Letters, it appeared that new articles were written concerning the hockeystick question, some were even offered (for publication) at GRL, criticising the criticism this time. And in at least two cases, the conclusion was the critics were irrelevant. The temperature graph of the past thousand years would remain a hockeystick, even if the critical points of McIntyre and McKitrick were taken into account.

I telephoned Mann, to learn how he looked back on the affair. Thus relieved, it appeared after a long telephone conversation. The case had been resolved.

But not for long. Already on Sunday evening, the web swarmed with conceited responses to the article, which appeared to have been translated immediately. The sceptics were hardly impressed with the professional endorsement of Mann. The quoted studies were still not published at all and therefore worth nothing. The authors were of course friends of Mann. [SM: I don't recall anyone arguing these points.]

Above all, researcher Michael Mann has to again endure the endless flow of posts on climateaudit.org. In fact, his critics showed a little compassion about how happy he appeared with the support for his –nonetheless- hopeless viewpoints.

I’m gazing bewilderedly at the computer screen. Such aggressiveness. What a utter contempt for Mann and his supporters. And most of all: such unity and such mutual reinforcement.

One thing is clear for casual visitors of climateaudit.org: At this place climate is being discussed with almost professional commitment and dedication. Nevertheless they are amateurs. But the people talking here appear to know every comma of Mann’s work and to have checked all his references. You could not deceive them with some vagaries about greenhouse gas effect.

Scepticism is their motto. Facts their dictum.

And apparently they also exist in the Netherlands. Some weeks later, retired TNO professor Arthur RàƒÆ’à‚⵲sch sent me a long article that he had written about good scientific practice in the climate debate. According to RàƒÆ’à‚⵲sch, climate scientists must observe the highest scientific standards, if only because their results can have so much social impact.

RàƒÆ’à‚⵲sch has just published a book concerning greenhouse impact at Veen: Climate Change on a Water Planet. It contains flagrant climatological nonsense, according to all regular climate researchers. But the question is most of all, what prompts an intelligent man such as RàƒÆ’à‚⵲sch to developing his very own greenhouse theory. For which, he admitted in an interview, he has no specific expertise.

At the presentation of his book at Nieuwspoort in The Hague, in the presence of former VVD (conservative party) leader Frits Bolkestein, RàƒÆ’à‚⵲sch mentioned, when replying to questions of a KNMI (Dutch Met office) member in the room, that his undergraduate lecture notes on climate science were impossible to read. The room full of Dutch greenhouse sceptics nodded satisfied. Among them the economist Hans Labohm of the Clingendael Institute, who had just published a long litany in the newspaper “Trouw” concerning the rubbish of Kyoto, which in his eyes pumps enormous amounts of money into void measures. Convenient that RàƒÆ’à‚⵲sch himself now also undermined climate science.

In our conversation in October, American research journalist Chris Mooney had already outlined the scenario without ever having heard of the Dutchman, Arthur RàƒÆ’à‚⵲sch, and his collaborators. In his book, The Republican War on Science, he had already shown how American conservative think tanks pitch purposefully into adverse environmental legislation. Not just along legal issues, but by challenging the scientific paradigms. And how the Bush government, as a confirmed ally of the liberal (SM: ??) industry, has adapted the rules of the game in Washington, such that legislation is only implemented when it is based on confirmed scientific certainty. For environmental issues, this is impossible, by definition, since uncertainties are always existent in complex systems. Most often, it cannot be proved what will happen in the future

On the other hand, this would not exclude the rational handling of risks of course. These obstruction methods, Mooney said, were nothing new under the sun. In a similar way, the cigarette industry impeded legislation against smoking on public occasions for many years, by consistently casting doubt on scientific studies about the harmful impact of involuntary smoke inhalation of bystanders. Scientists with a contrary opinion can always be found.

The sceptics, said Mooney, who turn themselves against climate science, are not aiming at scientific purity at all, despite their proud claims. Their mission, consciously or subconsciously, is to sustain or promote the state of uncertainty, This is especially true for theirs leaders. McKitrick is a senior fellow at the Canadian think tank, the Fraser Institute, which is funded by ExxonMobil, the largest oil company in the US. McIntyre and McKitrick are both on the remuneration list of the George C. Marshall Institute, an American think tank to which Exxon earlier contributed a half billion earlier. [SM - this should presumably be $500,000. Remember the scene in Austin Powers where Austin Powers goes into the future and asks for a ransom of a million dollars and #2 had to correct his numbers to a billion dollars.]

(But that is all American, firmly in the grasp of the Republicans. Are the Dutch sceptics likewise paid by the oil industry or coal giants?)

(There are no serious indications of this. But they seem to go along in the debates which are really boosted in the US from a small group of conservative American think tanks. Their declaration that they act in name of scientific purity, is simply probably where (?). As a bystander, regular science keeps on the straight path, which is the hero role which they see put aside for themselves. The rescuers of pure science. But eventually almost everything in the greenhouse is common policy. Significantly scepticism concerning greenhouse science seems to serve the established interests. The opposite is anyway rare.)

(There are never sceptics who think of showing that the greenhouse theory is improbably careful and suitable for a calamity. That’s how the toxicologists blur the toxicity of everyday substances. The ecologists in fact underestimate the importance of nature. Such ideas live of course, however, in the radical environmental movement. But never this way by systematically criticising scientific results (?). Activists in a traditional milieu tackle the machthebbers kindest directly (?), by means of social action and along political lines. )

Climate sceptics only need to prevent something, drastic measures to impede climate changes. That a small group of active purists continues to produce new scientific question marks is a bonus; however without even knowing, they have a hidden agenda, which makes it for the scientists under siege more difficult to deal with them that way.

The substantial question is how regular climate science must deal with all this. Scientific mores oblige researchers to take opponents seriously until the opposite has been shown. After all, a sceptic can happen to be right.

Despite the obvious erroneousness of the sceptics, they still keep the science in strangulation, if only because they take a lot of time. There is only one way to solve this: only take seriously what is submitted according to the rules of the science game. That the Canadian sceptics, McIntyre and McKitrick, could publish their attack on Mann in Geophysical Review Letters is no disgrace, as some scientists have claimed, but a good example of how it should be done. He who has criticism on environmental science must formulate that scientifically and publish in authoritative scientific journals. And accept it if it is shattered afterwards.

And the other (activities)? That is a false din and climate researchers should no longer worry about dealing with that. How hard can it be to make a declaration not to get into discussions with dissenters and just accept being thrashed in the dirt in their angry threads.

Admittedly, this is an unnatural task nowadays, when the content of the scientific message is secondary to the public relations. But it is the only way to ban the rebels (riot makers) and have real scientists produce facts and assessments as a foundation for sensible policy.

37 Comments

  1. Posted Dec 12, 2005 at 7:56 PM | Permalink

    Surely you’d think they would realize that the moment they criticise sources of funding they immediately denegrate all scientists who are funded by all environmental organizations, by the United Nations and also by goverment sources as all are driven by human aspirations and agendas of some kind. Its ironic that once you admit the ‘source of funding biases results’ into your argument, the only unbiased science left is amateur, which is also lambasted.

  2. Martin Ringo
    Posted Dec 12, 2005 at 8:59 PM | Permalink

    For those who try find it by site search, the previous article mentioned above is under “Volkskrant” not “Volksrant.”

  3. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Dec 12, 2005 at 10:07 PM | Permalink

    Freudian slip.

  4. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Dec 12, 2005 at 11:04 PM | Permalink

    What total contempt for Mann and his supporters. And especially: what eensgezindheid (self-serving?) and mutual affirmation.

    He must never have been to real-climate if he thinks what goes on here is self-serving mutual affirmation. I’d quote example or two but the syrupy stuff would probably gum up the software.

  5. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Dec 12, 2005 at 11:36 PM | Permalink

    It’s amazing how quickly these guys forget how vehemently Mann trashed us at realclimate before climateaudit even existed. It’s not as though he’s been sitting quietly on the sidelines.

  6. Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 2:12 AM | Permalink

    I missed it, van Calmthout usually writes on saturday.
    So there is nothing new in the article, only some unfounded funding allegations.
    btw your pdf link doesn’t work.

  7. Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 2:49 AM | Permalink

    Andre sent me the pdf
    The article is from saturday 10 December
    Van calmthout was not present at the book presentation in The Hague, although he gives the impression he was: “The room full of Dutch greenhouse sceptics nodded in agreement”
    Had he been there, he would have been witness of a stimulating debate, where all people agreed that it is wise to be careful with finite resources.

    A small correction:

    The sceptics, said Mooney, who turn themselves against climate science, do not all do so with scientific purity, as they proudly claim. They, consciously or unconsciously, are aiming to maintain a climate of uncertainty. Or at least this is facilitated. Certainly their foremen. McKitrick is a senior fellow at the Canadian thinktank, Fraser Institute, which gets money from ExxonMobil, the largest oil company in the US. McIntyre and McKitrick are both on the remuneration list of the George C. Marshall Institute, an American thinktank where Exxon earlier contributed half a billion.

  8. Andre Bijkerk
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 2:53 AM | Permalink

    It was saturday indeed 10 December. The mix up was caused by the second article about Montreal the 12th. Translation coming up

  9. Theo Richel
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 3:29 AM | Permalink

    May I suggest that Steve requests a retraction of Van Calmthouts claim that he is on the payroll of the George C Marshall institute. The address is forum@volkskrant.nl
    If you send it to me first I can make a dutch translation and send both versions to them.

  10. John A
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 4:10 AM | Permalink

    Scepticism is their motto. Facts their currency.

    Yep.

  11. The Knowing One
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 4:13 AM | Permalink

    Comment #6, by TCO, is crude, offensive, and sexist; I hope that it is deleted. Regarding the translation of the word “beetje”, “beet” means “bit” and “je” is a dimunitive; so the translation is “little bit”.

    If both those things are implemented, then this comment, too, could be deleted.

  12. Rob de Vos
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 4:35 AM | Permalink

    Martijn van Calmthout thinks all scepsis towards Manns hockeystick comes from ultra rightwing conservatisme in the USA…..His idea of a cunning conspiracy borders on paranoia. His public relief with even non published articles of Huybers, Wahl and Ammann unambiguously proves his prepossession in this matter. His position in the discussion is not scientific and therefore unworthy for a science journalist. Are we only one step away from a medieval book-burning here in the Netherlands?

  13. Louis Hissink
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 5:03 AM | Permalink

    If we all traced every income we earned it could be linked to Exxon. Circuitous but possible.

    While they have lost the argument we still have a job to convince the mob; being scientifically correct, while admirable, does not produce results – pandering to the mob’s preconceptions will.

    Which has always been my raison d’etre in posting on various blogs.

  14. Louis Hissink
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 5:03 AM | Permalink

    d’oh, for posting……

  15. Louis Hissink
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 5:13 AM | Permalink

    #13
    Rob,

    I don’t think so. Remember that the National Socialists to the east, during the 1930’s did burn books.

    I am unfamiliar with Volkskrant but it seems to be now sitting on the fence, policy wise.

    We should remember that major newsmedia are driven by demographics and advertising – as a source of unbiassed reporting they are not. State supported news organisations only report what suits them.

  16. John A
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 5:35 AM | Permalink

    Has anyone read this book by Mooney?

  17. Louis Hissink
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 7:10 AM | Permalink

    Winging its way from Amazon to me in Oz, :-(, after Xmas I suspect.

  18. Spence_UK
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 7:42 AM | Permalink

    Once again, the Huybers and von Storch comments are painted as a vindication for Mann, with absolutely no mention of the replies that are published in the same journal. Considering the views expressed by von Storch, both in and out of GRL, I suspect vindication for MBH98 was the last thing on his mind when he published his comment. I’m not sure whether that is the product of sloppy, unbalanced journalism or a deliberate attempt to mislead.

  19. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 8:27 AM | Permalink

    A point about “amateur” that increasingly rankles. Is there any evidence that the Hockey Team have received professional education in statistics, other than perhaps very generic coursework? Or that they have demonstrated knowledge and competence of statistical literature outside the narrow range of recipes used in dendrochronology (Fritts, Cook)?

    The statistical analysis proffered by Mann, Briffa etc. does not meet the standard of even a competent “amateur”. Any people with statistical backgrounds (e.g. Spence, James Lane or for that matter, myself), who have stumnbled into this debate, end up being dumbfounded at the low standard of the statistical work by the so-called “professionals”. Their calculation of confidence intervals is beyond a joke. It takes a long time to work through the fluff, but once you see what’s going on, it’s pathetic.

  20. TCO
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 8:59 AM | Permalink

    Mann was a mathematical physicist, with some stats concentration, no? Maybe he ran to climatology because he could not handle basic Ph.D. level command of math physics, though. They expect a fair amount of brains there.

    P.s. My earlier comment seems to have inadvertantly been removed by the spam engine. Could you put it back?

  21. John A
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 9:17 AM | Permalink

    P.s. My earlier comment seems to have inadvertantly been removed by the spam engine. Could you put it back?

    If Spam Karma deleted your comment then it did a thorough job because I can’t see it.

  22. Ross McKitrick
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 10:32 AM | Permalink

    Re #9 Theo, can you send me your email [send to rmckitri at uoguelph.ca] as I’d like to take up your offer to translate a letter into Dutch.

  23. Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 11:05 AM | Permalink

    Re #18 People believe what they want to believe unless coerced or cajouled and peer-revied publications are routinely ignored or mis-quoted. Hence the beauty of blogs with publications in science. A thousand times more people will view a bullet blog post than read a paper, but the paper is there in the background as a heavy weapon to fall back on. Its a war out there – but a fun one.

  24. andre bijkerk
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 12:10 PM | Permalink

    Re 22. Ross, don’t hesitate to write directly in English. it will be perfectly clear for the redaction and no nuance will get lost in the translation. It’s about time that alarmist world understands that the ways of the war causing witch hunt are over.

  25. Peter Hearnden
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 12:36 PM | Permalink

    Re #24, threatening stuff!

    ‘alarmist…’war’ causing witch hunt’ crikey, that’s nice Andre (still, tame for TCO I suppose…)… And after you’ve just being extolling your own virtue in rigidly sticking to science in another place…And others, some who you might think of as witch hunters, defend you…Oh well.

  26. John G. Bell
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 2:34 PM | Permalink

    “research journalist Chris Mooney, expert on political manipulation of science …” Is it a joke to ask van Calmthout which side of the desk Mr. Mooney found himself on, student or teacher? Yes, I’ll give Mr. Mooney his due, but safe phone hugs like that aren’t much of an intellectual diet. You end up looking for arguments to fool yourself and, no surprise, you succeed.

  27. Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 2:46 PM | Permalink

    Re: #19 Well in the case of RossM its just plain wrong having written a book (2002) and many previous peer-reviewed articles on climate.

    A point about “amateur” that increasingly rankles.

    That reminds me of the quote from James Hansen (NASA) that he had “never heard of them”. It seems as plausible deniability is no longer an option they have moved on to mistaken identity.

  28. Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 3:21 PM | Permalink

    Is there one single logical fallacy that this “journalist” fails to use in his article?

  29. andre bijkerk
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 3:33 PM | Permalink

    Re 28

    This is a part of the section that Steve skipped so far:

    “Climate sceptics only need to prevent something, drastic measures to impede climate changes. That a small group of active purists continues to produce new scientific question marks is a bonus; however without even knowing, they have a hidden agenda, which makes it for the scientists under siege more difficult to deal with them that way”.

    In other words, the purist sceptics don’t know about their “hidden agenda” so they cannot be “ad hominemed” using it.

    Leaves you speechless. Is this really the 21th century?

  30. John A
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 5:20 PM | Permalink

    RE #29

    Welcome to the 15th Century, “…and the poor souls who do not realise they are being manipulated by the Devil to do evil”

  31. TCO
    Posted Dec 13, 2005 at 8:03 PM | Permalink

    Spam Karma is out of control. Deleting all my funposts.

  32. John A
    Posted Dec 14, 2005 at 4:15 AM | Permalink

    Re #31

    You say that like its a bad thing.

  33. John G. Bell
    Posted Dec 14, 2005 at 12:40 PM | Permalink

    When you grow up you learn why doubt is useful and how to deal with it. The very young don’t have the tools, logic and knowledge, to resolve the discomforting state it engenders and have to flee into their preexisting understandings such as they are to obtain security. Hopefully as you age you mature. You discover and develop the tools necessary to model your environment and as a consequence are better able to interact with it and obtain positive outcomes. If you are wise and smart you’ll enjoy doubt for it drives curiosity and satisfying curiosity must be one of life’s greatest pleasures. If you are unfortunate by habit or ability you may well live in fear.

    When I read van Calmhout I’m struck by a basic lack of intellectual maturity. So many people seem to lack curiosity and seek comfort in numbers these days that we would do well examine our educational and social systems to determine the cause.

  34. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Dec 15, 2005 at 12:55 PM | Permalink

    Added machine translations of a few paragraphs not done before, marked with (…) to show that they have not been edited by a Dutch speaker.

  35. Hans Erren
    Posted Dec 15, 2005 at 5:45 PM | Permalink

    At the presentation of his book at Nieuwspoort in The Hague, in the presence of former VVD (conservative party) leader Frits Bolkestein, Ràƒ⵲sch mentioned, when replying to questions of a KNMI (Dutch Met office) member in the room, that his undergraduate lecture notes on climate science were impossible to read. The room full of Dutch greenhouse sceptics nodded satisfied. Among them the economist Hans Labohm of the Clingendael Institute, who had just published a long litany in the newspaper “Trouw” concerning the rubbish of Kyoto, which in his eyes pumps enormous amounts of money into void measures. Convenient that Ràƒ⵲sch himself now also undermined climate science.

  36. Theo Richel
    Posted Dec 17, 2005 at 7:30 AM | Permalink

    There were several reactions to Van Calmthouts opinion piece and none of them have been published, nor will they be, so we may conclude after a week. I have put some of these reactions on a webpage here, but it is all in dutch. One of us here has written a long letter to Van Calmthout and his chief editor, which was not meant for publication but more to start an offline debate, but Van Calmthout has replied that he refuses to react. It may be interesting to know that he published his piece in a part of the Volkskrant that is specifically meant for debate.

    If there are any other people here that have also written in reaction to Van Calmthouts piece, please send me a copy so that I can put it on our site as well.

  37. Andre Bijkerk
    Posted Feb 25, 2006 at 2:53 PM | Permalink

    Today there was another climate related publication of Martijn Van Calmthout in the Volkskrant. It’s about the presentation of a new book “The Human Size” of the eminent geologist Salomon Kroonenberg about anthropogenic climate change being a mere bump, negliglible on our way to the next ice age. It’s very likely, he contents, that our offspring are grateful to us in some 10,000 years for having raised the global temperature by some half a degree.

    Remarkably MVC has no comments. I could though

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