Given that The Australian‘s editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell threatens to sue Julia Posetti, alleging that he has been defamed, you’d think they’d want to avoid defaming scientists, but the law on defamation is really only useful to the rich and powerful.
In a column entitled Radicals get rich while truth begs, regular columnist for The Australian, David Burchell defames two scientists, Phil Jones and Riyadh Lafta. He first accuses Jones of professional misconduct:
Last week the journal Nature interviewed professor Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, the man whose email inbox was spread out across the internet a year ago like a patient etherised upon the operating table, revealing a decades-long pattern of professional misbehaviour.
Any journal that dared to publish a rival point of view was blacklisted; any paper for review which varied from his own view was rejected out of hand; any element of professional doubt demanded expulsion from the climate science garden, much as Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden for eating promiscuously from the tree of knowledge.
This isn’t true. Burchell fails to mention that multiple inquiries have checked into these allegations and cleared Jones. For example, the International Panel:
We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it.
And the House of Commons report:
In addition, insofar as we have been able to consider accusations of dishonesty–for example, Professor Jones’s alleged attempt to “hide the decline”–we consider that there is no case to answer.
Burchell continues, switching from repeating discredited allegations, to making stuff up on his own:
In truth Jones’s dilemma is a nice one. Having built an entire scholarly career on a brief but influential 1990 study in Nature that purported to prove planetary warming on the basis of Russian weather-station data that has turned out to be less than robust, he has spent the past 20 years stubbornly defending his record and the future of the planet as if they were the same thing. As a consequence he has trashed his own career, while damaging the reputations of scrupulous climate scientists by association.
Google scholar is quite a useful tool. It lets us examine a list of Jones’ publications, ordered by the number of times they have been cited. And while that 1990 study in Nature was cited 146 times, Jones has forty-one papers with more cites. And if Burchell had ever read the paper he would know that it didn’t try to “prove global warming”, that it didn’t just use Russian weater-station data. Nor has that Russian proved non-robust.
Second, he defames Riyadh Lafta:
they allowed the entire interview program to be conducted, without supervision, by a Ba’ath Party member who served as propagandist for Saddam Hussein’s campaign against UN sanctions.
But Lafta was not a member of the Ba’ath party
I have tried to point out that Riyadh Lafta is part of the university system (Ministry of Higher Education) not the Ministry of Health. He was one of the very few doctors who refused to join the Baath Party under Saddam. This meant that he had limited career prospects in the in the Ministry of Health
And nor did he serve as a “propagandist”, Richard Garfield commented:
Reading this paper now, my conclusion is quite the opposite to Munro’s about its political bent. Many of those that I did read prior to 2003 were laced with political comments, making the separation of primary data and interpretation nearly impossible. This, by the way, is not uncommon in countries even without dictatorships where peer review and a tradition of scientific inquiry is weak. But this paper by Lafta is almost completely devoid of such political commentary, including only a few words about the social and political situation of the country among a substantive report on the weights and heights of children attending one clinic. This paper, among the ones that I read in Iraq prior to 2003, would stand out as an apolitical report, one that might even get the author in trouble for its lack of repetitive politicized language commonly used then in Iraq. I would have read this and assumed that the author was not supportive of the regime, just the opposite conclusion that some of the critics, who knew nothing of the times and context for such work, seem to have made.
“Propagandist” might be a better description for Burchell who also writes:
the investigators violated basic protocols of human subject research
Burchell doesn’t mention that The Johns Hopkins review found after examining the original data collection forms:
The review concluded that the data files used in the study accurately reflect the information collected on the original field surveys.
And the “basic protocol” that they “violated” was collecting the names of the people interviewed. Except that it is OK to collect the names as long as you keep them confidential. Which they did. What they got into trouble for was that in their research proposal they said that they would not collect names. Burchell consistently exaggerates when he isn’t just making stuff up.