Four of the incidents in J Burke’s background chronology in Weaver v National Post (the January 27, 2005, February 15, 2005, August 2006 and February 27, 2008 incidents) relate, either in whole or in part, to a dispute between Weaver and National Post on whether Weaver had dismissed our research as “rubbish” or “balderdash” or a like pejorative.
Substantively, I think that there is considerable evidence that Weaver’s opinion on our research was similar to Gavin Schmidt’s and that one can justify use of such a pejorative to describe Weaver’s opinion. I plan to assess this evidence in a separate post, a post in which I’ll also begin considering Weaver as editor of Rutherford (Mann) et al 2005, an article that introduced various derogatory claims about our work into “the peer reviewed literature”.
But in today’s post, I’m going to look at a related, but different issue. While Weaver regularly complained about even slight supposed mischaracterizations of his opinions by National Post, his complaints were not necessarily valid. One has to carefully parse both the original article and the complaint to determine validity. In today’s post, I’ll show that Corcoran had segued his claim in the February 2005 and August 2006 incidents and that Weaver missed or ignored Corcoran’s segue.
In addition, while National Post published a Weaver letter setting out his side in August 2006, that didn’t mean that Weaver’s complaint had been vindicated or that National Post had “retracted”, despite Weaver’s later claim and the impression in J Burke’s chronology. In August 2006, Corcoran published a rebuttal that, in my opinion, fully refuted Weaver’s complaint, but this was not mentioned in J Burke’s chronology. Curiously, although the issues were quite similar in respect to Weaver’s February 2008 complaint about a Foster opinion column, on this occasion, National Post inconsistently published a correction, though, in my opinion, they could easily have taken a similar position to Corcoran’s earlier rebuttal.
On or about January 27, 2005, National Post news reporter James Cowan (not Corcoran, as incorrectly stated by J Burke) had interviewed Weaver in connection with a news article on McIntyre and McKitrick 2005 (GRL), acceptance of which by GRL had just been announced. As at the time of the interview, Weaver had not read our article. (He later stated privately that he did “scan” the preprint on January 29 or 30 and read the publication version on February 12 or 13.) In the Cowan interview, Weaver stated that our research into the Mann reconstruction was “vindictive”. He also said that the IPCC 2001 report showed that there were “four” “independent” “hockey sticks” that yielded the same results and thus the idea that our research mattered to IPCC conclusions was “pure and unadulterated balderdash” (see recent CA post here.) Subsequent to Cowan’s article, Weaver purported to distinguish between (1) the claim that our research mattered to IPCC conclusions was “pure and unadulterated balderdash”; and (2) the claim that our research was “pure and unadulterated balderdash”. Weaver purported to be able to assert the first claim without reading our article, but not the second claim, and asked National Post to print a clarification, which they did (though in a very backhanded way).
Previously, in an interview about our earlier (2003) article (as previously discussed at CA here), Weaver had unequivocally said that our article “would have been rejected” by a “science journal” and, according to the interpretation of “they” in my earlier post, that the journal that published our article let “random diatribes of absolute, incorrect nonsense” and “absolute balderdash” get published. Weaver had also acted as editor of Rutherford (Mann) et al 2005.
Corcoran was well aware of the February 2 clarification/correction, and, as shown below, segued to Weaver’s comments about our 2003 (“earlier’ or “original”) research in his opinion columns of February 15, 2005 and August 23, 2006. However, Weaver either missed or ignored Corcoran’s segue and re-iterated his complaint about the supposed mischaracterization of his comments to Cowan, a mischaracterization that was incorrectly adopted in J Burke’s chronology.
Corcoran’s February 15, 2005 Opinion Column
In Corcoran’s opinion column of February 15, 2005, Corcoran included the following sentence: note the segue to “earlier research” (my bold):
When the National Post broke the McIntyre/McKitrick story last month, the science establishment dismissed their work. Andrew Weaver, Canadian research chair at the University of Victoria, said that he hadn’t read the McIntyre/McKitrick paper, but he generally condemned their earlier research as “rubbish.” [SM bold]
Weaver immediately complained about this sentence to National Post as follows:
As the National Post correctly noted in the retraction [SM – see here], what I noted was that to suggest that ‘the theory of global warming is reliant on research published by Dr. Mann is ‘unadulterated rubbish’”.
For all his insistence on attention to the letter of his own comments, Weaver failed to notice or ignored the segue by Corcoran noted above. Corcoran’s comment about “rubbish” was based on Weaver’s condemnation of our “earlier research” (see above and here for discussion of Weaver’s comments to UBC Thunderbird in 2003) and was not based on the Cowan interview, the interpretation of which Weaver had contested. To have been meticulously accurate, Corcoran ought not to have placed quotation marks around “rubbish”, since other pejoratives had been used in the 2003 interview. However, in my opinion, it was entirely reasonable for Corcoran to say that Weaver had condemned our “earlier research” as rubbish – without the quotation marks.
In addition, contrary to Weaver’s assertion, the National Post clarification/correction” of February 2, 2005 did not constitute a retraction. It placed considerable emphasis on Weaver’s assertion that he had not “read” our paper – a claim that was untrue by the time that the retraction was printed.
J Burke’s chronology more or less adopted Weaver’s omission of Corcoran’s segue as follows:
 Less than two weeks later, on February 15, 2005, Mr. Corcoran published an article in the National Post titled “Bre-X climate”, in which he referred to Mr. McIntyre and Mr. McKitrick’s article, noting the article found the statistical methods behind the famed hockey stick graph of world temperatures was flawed. Mr. Corcoran’s article noted:
When the National Post broke the McIntyre/McKitrick story last month, the science establishment dismissed their work. Andrew Weaver, Canadian research chair at the University of Victoria, said that he hadn’t read the McIntyre/McKitrick paper, but he generally condemned their earlier research as “rubbish.”
 On that same day, Dr. Weaver again forwarded an email to Mr. Corcoran, complaining about incorrect attribution of quotes to him, despite the National Post’s retraction on February 2, 2005. Dr. Weaver wrote, “As the National Post correctly noted in the retraction, what I noted was that to suggest that ‘the theory of global warming is reliant on research published by Dr. Mann is ‘unadulterated rubbish’”.
Corcoran’s August 23, 2006 Opinion Column
Corcoran’s August 23, 2006 opinion column was also considered in J Burke’s chronology. It concerned several topics, including whether Weaver had lobbied for funding (see earlier CA discussion here). In today’s post, I’ll limit discussion to Weaver’s complaint about National Post’s characterization of his opinions about our article.
Much of Corcoran’s August 23 opinion column was responding to a Globe and Mail article on August 11, 2006 by Charles Montgomery, savaging Tim Ball. Corcoran satirically observed of Montgomery:
Touring for his latest book, The Shark God, about life on islands in the South Pacific, Mr. Montgomery asks the big science questions: “Can a man convince a shark to eat his enemies?” He says he found himself believing in “the strangest things: rainmaking stones, magic walking sticks.”
Corcoran’s opinion column also relied on the then recent hearings of a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee at which the Wegman Report and NAS reports had been considered. Ross and I published a National Post op ed on August 23 summarizing the Wegman Report, that was referred to by Corcoran. In his opinion column, Corcoran made the following claim which, like his previous column of February 2005, referred to Weaver’s dismissal of the “original” research:
Also in 2004, Mr. Weaver dismissed the original hockey-stick research debunking the 1,000-year claim as “simply pure and unadulterated rubbish.” We now know that Mr. Weaver’s dismissal was pure and unadulterated rubbish.
Once again, Corcoran’s segue was ignored by Weaver, who complained on this point as follows:
4) I never dismissed the original hockey stick research debunking the 1,000-year claim as “simply pure and unadulterated rubbish.” In fact your newspaper already published a retraction to the original quote on Feb. 2, 2005. To remind you, it says: “Andrew Weaver, a professor in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria, has described the contention that the theory of global warming is reliant on research published by Dr. Michael Mann as ‘unadulterated rubbish,’ but he has not read a recent paper challenging Dr. Mann’s work, by Ross McKitrick and Stephen McIntyre, published in Geophysical Research Letters. Incorrect information appeared in the National Post of Jan. 27. The Post regrets the error.”
Once again, Weaver’s rebuttal referred to the correction (not retraction) of National Post’s characterization of his comments to Cowan, not his previous remarks to UBC Thunderbird. Corcoran’s response (not mentioned by and seemingly ignored by J Burke) clearly and unequivocally shows Corcoran’s reliance on Weaver’s 2003 (not 2005) comments, as follows:
Of the hockey stick, Mr. Weaver reiterates that he never applied the phrase “unadulterated rubbish” to the work of Ross McKitrick and Stephen McIntyre. They are the two Canadians who uncovered the flaws in the statistics behind the claim that the Earth is warmer today than at any time in the last 1,000 years. I must concede that he did not use those words in that context.
On the other hand, Mr. Weaver has said [SM – see here] that if the McKitrick/McIntyre research “had been submitted to a science journal, it would have been rejected.” After the Financial Post published a commentary supporting the McKitrick/McIntyre research, Mr. Weaver told a B.C. journalism magazine, Thunderbird, [SM – also here] that he believes giving equal space to both sides in a dispute can be dangerous, particularly when applied to scientific matters. “They let these random diatribes of absolute, incorrect nonsense get published. They’re not able to determine if what’s being said is correct or not, or whether it’s just absolute balderdash.”
I guess calling something “random diatribes” and “absolute, incorrect nonsense” isn’t the same as branding it “unadulterated rubbish.” In any case, whatever Mr. Weavers’ views, the McKitrick/McIntyre papers have been upheld by the highest statistical authority in the United States. It seems clear, though, that Mr. Weaver does not think much of any public process of debate over his version of the science of climate change.
Corcoran’s backhanded concession that calling “something “random diatribes” and “absolute, incorrect nonsense” isn’t the same as branding it “unadulterated rubbish”” hardly qualifies as a retraction or correction of a material “factual error”. National Post published both Weaver’s letter and Corcoran’s rebuttal, but the latter cannot be reasonably characterized as a “retraction”.
In her chronology, J Burke uncritically adopted Weaver’s incorrect characterization of the incident, making no reference either to Corcoran’s segue or to the National Post rebuttal:
 On August 23, 2006, Mr. Corcoran published an article in the National Post entitled “Hockey sticks and hatchets: Inside the Globe’s 4,200-word hatchet job on climate skeptics”. The article made a number of factual assertions about Dr. Weaver and noted, “…in 2004, Dr. Weaver dismissed the original hockey-stick research debunking the 1,000-year claim as ‘simply pure and unadulterated rubbish’”.
 Dr. Weaver sought to correct a number of factual errors made by Mr. Corcoran in that article. By email, Dr. Weaver noted that he [ …other items…] never dismissed the original hockey stick research debunking the 1,000-year claim as “simply pure and unadulterated rubbish”. Dr. Weaver again noted that the newspaper had already published a retraction to this original quote on February 2, 2005. This, as cited earlier, set out that incorrect information appeared in the National Post on January 27, 2005 and regretted the error. A letter from Dr. Weaver, which corrected factual errors by Mr. Corcoran, was published in the National Post on August 31, 2006.
February 27, 2008
The same original incident is also referred to in J Burke’s discussion of an opinion column of February 27, 2008 by Peter Foster, which, once again to a complaint from Weaver and a backhanded correction by National Post.
In February 2008, the opposition parties organized an Ottawa event honoring “Canadian scientists who contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report on the latest peer-reviewed research on global warming”, reported on by National Post here. On February 27, 2008, Peter Foster wrote an opinion column which stated:
Moreover, the Ottawa reception which the Harper government has been castigated for missing (not least by the Post’s own Don Martin) looked far more like a political ambush than a celebration of science. It was organized by opposition parties to embarrass the government. One of the “honorees,” climate scientist Andrew Weaver, conspicuously boycotted the occasion because of the Tories’ unsurprising no show. Sounding suspiciously like Nature, he suggested: “It’s almost like a war on science is going on in government, which is very sad.”
Mr. Weaver, we might remember, is the level-headed scientist who declared that the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report wasn’t “a smoking gun.” Rather, climate was “a battalion of intergalactic smoking missiles.” He also unleashed a diatribe against the research of Ross McKitrick and Stephen McIntyre, who inconveniently exploded the IPCC’s alarmist “hockey stick” graph of temperatures soaring in the past century after a millennium of stability. Mr. Weaver has even suggested that it is dangerous to allow skeptics a voice in scientific debate.
In this column, Foster has made a somewhat different claim than the one previously made by Corcoran: Foster used the term “diatribe”, a term not used by Corcoran. While Foster’s column did not directly refer to the 2003 UBC Thunderbird interview, in my opinion, Weaver himself interpreted the closing sentence of the cited paragraph as an allusion to the UBC interview. In my opinion, Weaver’s comments in 2003 could reasonably be described as a “diatribe” against our research. In addition to the UBC interview, according to an email from a University of Victoria faculty member to Ross, Weaver had also made a diatribe against our research in a discussion with him, though National Post would have been unaware of this at the time. However, Foster slightly mischaracterized Weaver’s views in this last sentence. Weaver, a fierce critic of “false balance”, had said something slightly different: that it was “dangerous” to give “equal space to both sides in [the] dispute”.
Examined carefully, Weaver’s complaint is very technical. Weaver did not say that it was untrue that he had made a “diatribe” against our research, but challenged National Post to provide the “evidence” that he had done so.
Dear Mr. Foster,
I would like to ask you to please provide the evidence that I have “released a diatribe against the research of Ross McKitrick and Stephen McIntyre”. Your newspaper has already formally retracted a statement to this effect twice before and I have no idea why you keep repeating this. Obviously the statement “The Post regrets the error” was insincere. It is now the third time the Financial Post has printed this incorrect assertion.
In addition, I would also ask that you provide evidence that I state “it is dangerous to allow skeptics a voice in scientific debate”. I have never made this statement. It makes no sense since by definition, real scientists are all skeptics. Being skeptical is precisely how one advances science. If you are referring to the interview I did many years ago with a UBC student that he published in the UBC journalism magazine “Thunderbird” then your statement is demonstrably incorrect.
Finally, the innuendo left by your statement “sounds suspiciously like Nature” implies that somehow I was involved in that Nature editorial. I knew nothing about it, was never contacted about it and only found out about it when an former graduate student now living in New Zealand sent it to me.
I am formally writing to ask you to retract these fallacies with an apology.
Weaver incorrectly complained that National Post had “already formally retracted” this claim on two previous occasions, though, as noted above, neither their February 2 correction or August 31 rebuttal directly or indirectly “retract” this particular claim. On this occasion, National Post seems to have forgotten their August 2006 rebuttal and issued a short correction as follows:
In a column in Wednesday’s paper, Nature: Red in Tooth and Politics, Peter Foster incorrectly stated that climate scientist Andrew Weaver had “released a diatribe” against the research of Ross McKitrick and Stephen McIntyre. Rather, Dr. Weaver has suggested that to believe that global warming theory depended on the work of Michael Mann, which was refuted by Messrs. McIntyre and McKitrick, was “unadulterated rubbish.” Also, Mr. Foster did not mean to imply that Mr. Weaver was in any way an author of the editorial in Nature magazine which was the subject of the column.
J Burke included both Weaver’s complaint and National Post’s correction in full in her summary of this incident .
The above incidents mainly show how quickly Weaver responded to even minor inaccuracies or mischaracterizations of his opinions by National Post. I will refer to this in my forthcoming discussion of National Post’s news article and opinion columns about whether Weaver believed that the fossil fuel industry was responsible for break-ins at University of Victoria (where Weaver did not “correct” the original news article either in a timely fashion or at all.)
Weaver’s complaints about the three opinion columns discussed today did not allege that the opinion columns misrepresented his actual views, only whether he had explicitly expressed his views in his January 2005 interview with news reporter Cowan. In my opinion, Weaver had a very derogatory opinion about our research and, in that sense, there was no fundamental misrepresentation of his actual opinions. In addition, in his February 2005 and August 2006 opinion columns, Corcoran referred to Weaver’s comments on our “earlier” or “original” research – a segue that was missed/overlooked in Weaver’s complaints, which continued to harp on the supposed mischaracterization of his later (2005) comments to Cowan.
Nor do I believe that the February 2005 or August 2006 comments on this topic – even if stipulated to be incorrect – were defamatory to Weaver. After all, Gavin Schmidt held similar views, so the attribution of such views to Weaver cannot reasonably be considered defamation per se nor could the attribution of such views to Weaver have caused him any actual damage. The only somewhat derogatory comment of this type was the February 2008 claim that Weaver had made a “diatribe”, but, in this case, had this been a defamation issue, it could have been argued that it was true and/or that there was a basis in the proven facts for holding such a belief.
None of the incidents discussed today were included in the specific counts in the defamation claim, but J Burke’s handling of these incidents in her chronology gave me the impression that the incidents supported a belief that National Post had repeatedly defamed Weaver – an impression that I do not believe to be supported by closer analysis of these incidents.
This is not to say that National Post was blameless. Anyone dealing with climate activists should know that any inaccuracy will be seized upon. The above incidents are merely further examples. It would only have taken a little extra effort for Corcoran and Foster to have ensured that the language of their opinion columns exactly tracked the language of the source articles and thereby made their opinion columns bulletproof.