New Scientist Weasels Out of Apology

Mon, 2011-02-07 10:23Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

New Scientist Weasels Out of Apology

Update in BOLD below

New Scientist, a publication that is generally owed high regard, is apparently trying to weasel out of apologizing to NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt for an egregious misquote by the fallen science journalist Fred Pearce.

Pearce bungled the quote in his coverage of “post normal science” workshop in Lisbon, Portugal - really a denier fest dressed up as a reconciliation attempt. As Pearce reported in his original story, “The meeting was the brainchild of University of Oxford science philosopher Jerry Ravetz, an 81-year-old Greenpeace member who fears Al Gore may have done as much damage to environmentalism as Joseph Stalin did to socialism.”

If you haven’t already got a sense of the organizers’ bias, consider a guest list that includes “heroes of the sceptics such as statistician Steve McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick, plus writers and bloggers such as Steve Mosher, the man who broke the Climategate story, and ‘heretical’ scientists such as Georgia Tech’s Judy Curry and Peter Webster.” (By “heretical” scientists, I’m assuming Pearce was trying to find a description for outliers like Curry who have decided to abandon actual scientific discourse in favour of playing patticake with the WattsUpWithThat crowd.)

The conceit of this event was that Ravetz would try to put these people into a room with some actual climate scientists and get them all to agree on “middle ground” - which is to say, the climate scientists would concede, by their mere presence, that there is a legitimate scientific disagreement. Game, set and match to the denier side.

Of course, no smart scientist would agree to play. With a host of others, Gavin Schmidt declined, saying, “No ‘conflict resolution’ is possible between the science community who are focussed on increasing understanding, and people who are picking through the scientific evidence for cherries they can pick to support a pre-defined policy position.

This sharp riposte was too clear for Pearce, who made up this response, instead: “But the leaders of mainstream climate science turned down the gig, including NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, who said the science was settled so there is nothing to discuss.”

When Schmidt objected to this invention, New Scientist went quiet and conspiracists and intermediaries, such as the secretive “science” blogger TallBloke offered a hosts of explanations (but no apologies) for Pearce’s lack of professionalism. For full examinations of this story, you can head over to Deltoid or, for an even-more detailed dissertation, DeepClimate.

What you CAN’T do is read a clear admission that Pearce made up (or misreported) Schmidt’s position and that he and New Scientist regret the error. Apparently - worryingly - they don’t.

Update: Per the comment below, “Tallbloke” writes that he has, indeed, apologized to Schmidt, adding that this was the actual quote from Schmidt that left people with a “science is settled” opinion: “None of the seemingly important ‘conflicts’ that are *perceived* in the science are ‘conflicts’ in any real sense within the scientific community, rather they are proxy arguments for political positions.”

I still don’t read that to mean “the science is settled.” I read it as a polite way of saying that the organizers of the Lisbon conference weren’t the least interested in science; they were there to talk politics, or at least policy. Judging from the reports, that’s precisely what happened.

But kudos to Tallbloke for extending the apology. Would that Pearce and New Scientist had as much integrity. (And please read Tallbloke’s comment below, in full.)

Comments

Hi Richard,

I have written to Gavin Schmidt and apologised for my part in this episode.

I think you have misidentified the part of Gavin Schmidts response to the Lisbon Invitation which Fred Pearce paraphrased. The passage which most closely resembles Pearces paraphrase is this:

"None of the seemingly important ‘conflicts’ that are *perceived* in the science are ‘conflicts’ in any real sense within the scientific community, rather they are proxy arguments for political positions."

Dr Schmidt is entitled to his opinion. My apology letter pointed out that as an ecologically conscious person who lives according to his principles using 6Kw hours of electricity a day, I object to being lumped into some kind of amorphous group which has an identifiable and dismissable political position.

My qualification as a historian and philosopher of science makes me more concerned for the future of science than for the promotion of political stances.

Gavin could have learned a lot about the diverse range of people who have misgivings about mainstream climate science by attending Lisbon, and particularly about the concerns held by the E.U. Joint Research Council representative who attended and who spoke at the public event concluding the workshop.

Is your political stance such that you will censor rather then post this comment? I hope not.