Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Refuting the Smear Machine – Part 1

When a journalist thinks for herself about climate change, insults and fabrications follow.

Not a real picture of me :-)

Two days ago I reported that a Washington, DC organization called the Government Accountability Project is smearing me on its website. I explained that PR firms target non-conformist climate reporting in an attempt to police what journalists say.

This story begins with a September 2013 opinion piece written by me and published in the Wall Street Journal. It concerned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and was headlined:

Warming Up for Another Climate-Change Report
Every six years, a U.N. panel issues its findings, and the media hail them as definitive. Skepticism may be in order.

Within hours, a Rockefeller Foundation funded entity called Climate Nexus released an error-riddled 600-word rebuttal that now resides on the Government Accountability Project’s official-looking website. An organization with ‘accountability’ in its name is smearing me by reprinting material whose actual author remains in the shadows, anonymous to this day.

Line by line, over the course of two blog posts, I will now respond to this collection of factual errors and lazy insults. Let us begin with the first sentence:

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial by frequent IPCC critic and Canadian photographer Donna Laframboise…

This is insult #1. Out of the gate, the Climate Nexus smear machine attempts to demote/diminish me. Rather than being a bona fide journalist, I’m merely a critic of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a photographer. Ergo, I’m not someone who needs to be taken seriously.

Laframboise criticized the 2007 Fourth Assessment report as well as the upcoming report, suggesting that people with “activist” connections have dominated the review process.

This is factual error #1. I neither declare nor suggest that the review process was dominated by such people.

In paragraph 7, I observe that “numerous IPCC personnel have ties to environmental groups,” a fact that “raises a legitimate question about their objectivity.” In paragraph 8, I identify three such people, each in charge of an IPCC chapter. In paragraph 9, I identify two others who’d formerly been on the payroll of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), but were then serving as IPCC review editors.

To back up this sweeping claim…

Factual error #2. What’s referred to as a suggestion by me in one sentence gets called a sweeping claim in the next sentence. Total fabrication. It didn’t happen.

…she names just five scientists with “green group” ties.

Factual error #3. In addition to the five individuals discussed above, I point out that the longtime chairman of this allegedly scientific organization, Rajendra Pachauri, has been writing “forewords for Greenpeace publications” and has accepted a “green crusader” award. (Journalists have often described this man as the world’s ‘top climate scientist.’) That makes six.

I also say something rather crucial: “My own examination of the 2007 report found that two-thirds of its 44 chapters included at least one individual with ties to the WWF.”

A blog post I wrote about such matters is titled 78 Names. A similar post is titled Peer into the Heart of the IPCC, Find Greenpeace. There are thousands of green groups out there, and the IPCC is a global entity. The possibility that its conclusions have been unduly influenced by people who are activists first and scientists second is very real.

She fails to mention the sheer number of scientists (hundreds) and other groups involved in the IPCC process, many of which are connected to industry.

Factual error #4. In paragraph 3, I clearly refer to “hundreds of volunteer scientists and others” who help write IPCC reports.

She calls for openness and balance…

Factual error #5. No, I don’t. The words openness and balance do not appear in my article.

…but that balance is much more present in the IPCC than in her account.

My call is for good, old-fashioned skepticism. I encourage readers to look beyond the IPCC mythology. Most media coverage is produced by naïve, uninformed reporters – or by activists pretending to be journalists. It’s indistinguishable from marketing material.

My article is in a different league altogether. I’m not saying nice things about the meal served at my pal’s pool party. I’m a paying customer at an expensive restaurant. Does the food on my plate match the description on the menu? Have I, in fact, been served fake sushi?

She doesn’t focus on the science of the IPCC…

Absolutely correct. Like most members of the public, I have no scientific training. I’m therefore not equipped to evaluate competing scientific arguments. If I spend 30 minutes listening to a skeptical climate scientist, they sound persuasive. If I spend another 30 minutes listening to a scientist explain with charts and formulas why they think there’s a climate emergency they, too, sound persuasive. Because I have no rational basis by which to decide that one scientist is right and the other is wrong, I do not attempt to do so.

I do, however, have long experience with government institutions. The IPCC is exactly that. I know how to fact check such an entity, how to assess whether it’s living up to its own advertised standards.

…instead sinking to the lowest common denominator of overused attacks.

Insult #2. Apparently, people who do the work I do are low, sunk, fallen creatures.

But out here in grownup land, the IPCC is not being routinely attacked in the media. Quite the opposite. Nor is my detailed, informed appraisal commonplace.

In fact this Nobel Prize winning group…

Please notice the sneaky sleight of hand. The IPCC did not win a Nobel Prize, which signifies scientific excellence. It won the Peace Prize.

This is a political award. Green activist Al Gore shared it with the IPCC. Both parties were fêted on that occasion for raising awareness about climate change.

Two years later, this same prize was given to US President Barack Obama, who’d been in office less than nine months.

…has confirmed the state of the science on climate…

Factual error #6. The IPCC does not confirm any science. Its role is in no way investigatory.

IPCC personnel conduct a glorified literature review. Large amounts of human judgment are involved. Some scientific papers are accorded center stage in the IPCC’s analysis. Others are ignored.

Human judgment is fallible. Confirmation bias is a widespread problem, including at the IPCC.

…showing that humans have caused the climate to change and warning us of what is possible in the future.

Not quite. As my article explains:

The IPCC’s 2007 climate findings were rather vague. In the opinion of the 60 individuals who wrote the chapter “Understanding and Attributing Climate Change,” “most” of the rise in global average temperature since the mid-20th century was “very likely” caused by human-generated greenhouse-gas emissions.

Please note the words opinion, most, and very likely. Let me say this again: the IPCC relies on fallible human judgment.

Caution is therefore required. Hans Rosling has taught us that even people who’ve won actual, scientific Nobel Prizes are shockingly misinformed about matters outside their own area of expertise. When such individuals are quizzed about big picture global trends, they score worse than would a chimpanzee answering multiple choice questions wearing a blindfold.

In other words: the brains of even the smartest people are full of information that isn’t randomly wrong, its systematically wrong. Add speculation and extrapolation into the mix, and the result is an IPCC report.

It represents an exhaustive consensus process…

The IPCC is, indeed, about political consensus. That’s why diplomats and bureaucrats re-write the summaries IPCC scientists are asked to draft. These marathon re-writing sessions take place behind closed doors. Neither the public nor the media is allowed to witness what goes on. Why not?

As Belgian writer Drieu Godefridi has said of the IPCC: “by mixing science and politics, we will get politics. The political gene is always dominant.”

…as shown by a few key facts:

  • While recruiting the leading experts in their fields, the IPCC also seeks to incorporate the greatest possible diversity of voices, including fossil-fuel industry groups, geographically diverse groups, and scientists from many different backgrounds including industry.

For decades the media has parroted IPCC press releases. It told the public that the IPCC and the world’s top scientists were one and the same. More recently, the IPCC has begun emphasizing the diversity of its participants.

These two ways of selecting IPCC authors are in conflict. During the era in which we were told to trust the IPCC because its personnel were the world’s top experts, I uncovered numerous graduate students in their twenties serving as IPCC lead authors (see here, here, here, here, here and here).

If we’re now supposed to believe IPCC reports are trustworthy simply because authors come from diverse parts of the world, and because green activists and oil company reps can be found amongst them, let us be clear-eyed about the shortcomings of this approach.

Green activists have an agenda. Fossil fuel companies have an agenda. Quality is undermined and integrity is eroded when politically connected people from impoverished, dysfunctional nations are assigned to an IPCC chapter because the UN wants it to look geographically diverse.

Here’s another quote from my article:

when IPCC personnel answered a 2010 questionnaire…there were repeated complaints about unqualified individual members. For example, one…said there are “far too many politically correct appointments” involving people with “insufficient scientific competence to do anything useful.”

IPCC assessments rely on a massive number of the world’s scientists…

This is true. Most of these scientists are employed by universities and government agencies. Which means taxpayers are picking up the tab. In my opinion, this never-ending, 30-years-and-counting IPCC report writing is an extravagant waste of highly-educated brainpower.

…with the AR5 being the biggest and strongest yet.

The argument being made here is that bigger is better. Apparently, a report six inches thick is superior to one that’s 4 inches thick.

Since the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) had not yet been released, there was no way of knowing whether or not it was the strongest yet. That’s pure PR spin.

The process includes 209 lead authors, 50 reviewers, and 600 contributing authors…

Factual error #7. There weren’t 50 reviewers. There were 50 review editors and thousands of reviewers.

Once again, the implication is that more is self-evidently better. In the real world, a report written by three people may well be superior to one written by 800.

…of which Laframboise criticized only 0.58 percent.

Honestly. If the IPCC is profoundly flawed, the percentage of its personnel I happen to criticize by name in a particular 900-word article is irrelevant.

The most strident criticisms of the IPCC process come from “experts” like Laframboise…

This is insult #3. Either the IPCC is a troubled organization or it isn’t. Insulting me by putting scare quotes around the word expert is puerile.

In my view, there’s nothing strident about my article. It is measured, precise, and based on cold, hard facts most readers of the Wall Street Journal are unlikely to have encountered before.

…who have been saying the same things over and over again.

This truly annoys me. When I began researching the climate debate back in 2009, I had no reason to doubt the IPCC mythology. For two decades, the English-speaking media failed to subject the world’s most important climate body to the most rudimentary fact-checking.

That was a scandalous state of affairs. Years of investigative journalism later, I’ve uncovered many things about the IPCC the public has a right to know. Nevertheless, the protective fog the mainstream media has cast over the IPCC remains largely intact.

The authors of this rebuttal would have you believe that all is miraculously marvelous at the IPCC because, well, critics such as myself have been saying the same things over and over again.

How is that a logical argument?

To be continued. Next week I’ll respond to the second half of the anonymous rebuttal, line-by-line.

next: Refuting the Smear Machine – Part 2


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