Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.

The Uses and Abuses of a Nobel Prize

a photo of the story as it appeared on my netbook early this morning

CTV is Canada’s “largest private broadcaster.” Yesterday afternoon it published a news story on its website titled Climate change to spur crop shortages, study claims. The story begins with this sentence (bold added by me):

The world may be 2.4 degrees warmer by the end of this decade, and that could have deadly consequences for global food production, according to a new study overseen by Nobel Prize-winning climate scientist Osvaldo Canziani.

Further down in the article, in case we missed it the first time, we’re reminded:

Canziani, a Nobel laureate and former co-chair of the IPCC, oversaw the report.

What the unidentified journalists who wrote this news story didn’t make clear is that Canziani is not a Nobel laureate in the normal sense of that term. He is a recipient of the Peace Prize by virtue of the fact that he worked on an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. His Nobel is the exact same Nobel that was awarded to Al Gore.

This particular honour was bestowed not for scientific excellence but for helping to raise awareness about climate change. Type in Canziani’s name at NobelPrize.org and you won’t find a photo and a bio explaining how he has single-handedly advanced the cause of science – as in the case of, say, Albert Einstein. The only reason Canziani gets mentioned at all at NobelPrize.org is because the IPCC chairman referred to him during a speech.

This news story illustrates perfectly how the IPCC’s Nobel gets used and abused in discussions about climate. When a journalist tells us someone has won a Nobel they’re implying they’re a genius. And if a genius thinks climate change will result in deadly consequences for global food production well then, we’d better sit up and take note.

Thus, the Nobel has been reduced to just another way of bamboozling the public about regarding climate change.

PART 2
Since I began writing this blog post there has been a new development. I had intended to point you to a discussion over at HauntingTheLibrary that examines problems with the substance of the news story. For example, even though the authority of the IPCC gets invoked, the IPCC has never suggested that the global average temperature could spike by more than two degrees within a decade.

I had also intended to draw your attention to the fact that the organization releasing this report is described in the news story as “an Argentina-based non-profit group called the Universal Ecological Fund.”

We don’t know much about this group other than that it recently released a report in partnership with the activist World Wildlife Fund (52-page PDF here). Page two of that report says:

The mission of Universal Ecological Fund…is to increase awareness that encourages actions on sustainable development issues through researching, analyzing, producing and disseminating information. We believe in the need for a more equitable society, especially for those living under underprivileged circumstances. [bold added]

In other words, the UEF is an activist organization. And since Canziani’s name is number three on the WWF’s Climate Witness Science Advisory Panel it would seem he has few concerns about mixing science and advocacy.

So let me just mention that Canziani was co-chair of Working Group 2 for the IPCC’s 2001 report as well as the 2007 report. That was the working group responsible for the embarrassing and erroneous claim that Himalayan glaciers would vanish by 2035. (See here, here, here, and here.) Had the journalists who wrote the CTV news story been on the ball, this would have been an important piece of information to pair with all that talk about Canziani’s Nobel.

Now here’s where things get really interesting. The CTV news story has been updated since I began writing this post.

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The first paragraph now links to a new story with a headline we don’t see too often: EurekAlert withdraws climate change paper. Here are some snippets from the new CTV article (bold added by me):

A study warning that the planet would warm by 2.4C by 2020, creating deadly consequences for the global food supply, is being debunked as false and impossible.

The study came from a little-known non-profit group in based in Argentina, called the Universal Ecological Fund. An embargoed copy of the study appeared on Eurekalert!, a news service operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

…The AAAS has now removed reference to the study from its website. A spokesperson for the organization said they too spoke to climatologists who have also debunked the study.

A little further down we read that the report’s author, Liliana Hisas,

…stands by her report’s findings, which have been endorsed by Nobel Prize-winning Argentine climate scientist, Osvaldo Canziani.

…”The scientist I have been working with checked everything and according to him it’s not wrong.”

So here are two questions worth pondering: Might there be a problem with senior IPCC scientists associating themselves with activist organizations?

And: Has the reputation of the Nobel Prize been enhanced – or tarnished – by this episode?

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