The Island of Doubt

Leslie Kaufman in the New York Times presents a disturbing tale of attempts by creationists to up their chances of slipping religion into science classrooms by piggy-backing it onto “balanced” instruction of climatology.

The linkage of evolution and global warming is partly a legal strategy: courts have found that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general.

Yet they are also capitalizing on rising public resistance in some quarters to accepting the science of global warming, particularly among political conservatives who oppose efforts to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.

In South Dakota, a resolution calling for the “balanced teaching of global warming in public schools” passed the Legislature this week.

“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,” the resolution said, “but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life.”

There is, of courses, absolutely nothing wrong with “balanced” teaching on any subject. In theory. But in in this case, it’s a disingenuous attempt to counterbalance science with pseudoscience, superstition or just plain fiction into science classrooms. The state House even included astrology and thermology among the candidates to explain global warming in it’s version of the resolution. (The senate narrowly managed to takes those out — see here for more affronts to science).

If teachers and their school boards can resist the pressure from politicians to balance science with patently unscientific material, the kids will be all right. But first they have to understand that the competing ideas in evolutionary biology aren’t between descent by natural selection and intelligent design, but between horizontal and vertical gene transfer, or selfish genes vs. group selection, or any of a dozen different fascinating but complicated scientific discussions, none of which have anything to do with divine intervention and none of which mount a consequential challenge to the synthesis of natural selection and genetics that explains the biodiversity of life.

Likewise, they have to know that the debates that persist among climatologists aren’t over whether the Earth is warming and what’s to blame, but over the magnitude of the consequences in terms of tropical cyclone activity, precipitation, glacial melt rates, sea level rise and so forth. In other words, climatologists are arguing over how bad things will get, not if there’s a serious to civilization.

Any efforts to ensure science education is “balanced,” in any subject, must be accompanied by reassurances that science classes will stick to science, and not embrace misinformation from ideological or religious think tanks masquerading as proponents of science.

How can one tell the difference? It can be challenging for dilettantes not familiar with doing a little work. For example, when John West of Seattle’s creationist Discovery Institute says things like this:

“There is a lot of similar dogmatism on this issue,” he said, “with scientists being persecuted for findings that are not in keeping with the orthodoxy. We think analyzing and evaluating scientific evidence is a good thing, whether that is about global warming or evolution.”

…it’s critical that anyone unfamiliar with recent events do a little sincere research. Then they’d discover that the only climatologists being persecuted these days are those who accept the basics of anthropogenic global warming. From the Guardian:

Rick Piltz, a former official in the US government climate science programme who now runs the Climate Science Watch website, said Inhofe and others were getting in the way of scientific work. “Scientists who are working in federal labs are being subjected to inquisitions coming from Congress,” he said. “There is no question that this is an orchestrated campaign to intimidate scientists.”

Michael Mann, a scientist at Penn State University who is on Inhofe’s list of 17, said that he had seen a sharp rise in hostile email since November.

“Some of the emails make thinly veiled threats of violence against me and even my family, and law enforcement authorities have been made aware of the matter,” he told the Guardian.

He said the attacks appeared to be a co-ordinated effort. “Some of them look cut-and-paste.”

Or this from The Climate Daily:

The e-mails come thick and fast every time NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt appears in the press.

Rude and crass e-mails. E-mails calling him a fraud, a cheat, a scumbag and much worse.

To Schmidt and other researchers purging their inboxes daily of such correspondence, the barrage is simply part of the job of being a climate scientist. But others see the messages as threats and intimidation – cyber-bullying meant to shut down debate and cow scientists into limiting their participation in the public discourse.

“I get a lot of hate mail,” said Schmidt, a climate modeler at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies who also runs, a website devoted to debunking myths and errors about climate change. “I get a lot of praise mail, but pretty much every time I have a quote in a mainstream publication I’ll get a string of emails from various people accusing me of various misdemeanors and fantasizing about my life in prison.”

Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has a 19-page document of “extremely foul, nasty, abusive” e-mails he’s received just since November.


  1. #1 Dennis
    March 4, 2010

    Maybe churches should be forced to preach the controversy of the existence of god.

  2. #2 Brian Brademeyer
    March 4, 2010

    The lead sponsor of the South Dakota bill, Don Kopp, is an outspoken Creationist who used to be the State Fire Officer for South Dakota.

    Scientific credentials are hardly a job qualification requirement out here.

  3. #3 c king
    March 4, 2010

    My favorite “cause,” if I had to pick just one, would be for freethinking. We’re not taught to do this in schools. Being an eternal optimist, it occurs to me that perhaps the result of this could be positive — children may be encouraged to research the issues and discover the truth for themselves. The right’s propaganda machine and boundless energy for spreading tales are a force to behold! It takes effort to sort out the facts and a desire to do so, a healthy curiosity. We can hope the kids will be inspired do the research. They sure love their internet gadgets and are always plugged in. Let them put that to good use!

  4. #4 Steven Douglas
    March 4, 2010

    “But in in this case, it’s a disingenuous attempt to counterbalance science with pseudoscience, superstition or just plain fiction into science classrooms.”

    Yes, anything that even behaves like a religion (e.g., plays on faith and fear) has no place in the classrooms.

    Well we should pass on what scientists like James Hansen, John Christy and Roy Spencer *all* have to say about climate science, but messages from creationists and propagandists, including Al Gore and the IPCC, both political entities which conduct no research of their own, but which have been shown to routinely employ discredited pseudoscience, superstitions, and just plain fictional propaganda, should be rigorously excluded.

  5. #5 Fred
    March 4, 2010

    I wood jes like to say, I think that doegarzer feller is rite smart. he kin spell lier lier lier right ever time. I bet he’s a purty feller to.

  6. #6 Ate675309
    March 4, 2010

    So….the DATA is bad. The computer code is bad. The (pseudo-)”climate scientist community” is clearly corrupt and self-serving. What’s left?

    Hey – are the believer whackjobs poisoning the water too?



    Memorandum submitted by John Graham-Cumming (CRU 55)

    I am writing at this late juncture regarding this matter because I have now seen that two separate pieces of written evidence to your committee mention me (without using my name) and I feel it is appropriate to provide you with some further information. I am a professional computer programmer who started programming almost 30 years ago. I have a BA in Mathematics and Computation from Oxford University and a DPhil in Computer Security also from Oxford. My entire career has been spent in computer software in the UK, US and France.
    I am also a frequent blogger on science topics (my blog was recently named by The Times as one of its top 30 science blogs). Shortly after the release of emails from UEA/CRU I looked at them out of curiosity and found that there was a large amount of software along with the messages. Looking at the software itself I was surprised to see that it was of poor quality. This resulted in my appearance on BBC Newsnight criticizing the quality of the UEA/CRU code in early December 2009 (see

    That appearance and subsequent errors I have found in both the data provided by the Met Office and the code used to process that data are referenced in two submissions. I had not previously planned to submit anything to your committee, as I felt that I had nothing relevant to say, but the two submissions which reference me warrant some clarification directly from me, the source.

    I have never been a climate change skeptic and until the release of emails from UEA/CRU I had paid little attention to the science surrounding it.

    In the written submission by Professor Hans von Storch and Dr. Myles R. Allen there are three paragraphs that concern me:

    “3.1 An allegation aired on BBC’s “Newsnight” that software used in the production of this dataset was unreliable. It emerged on investigation that the neither of the two pieces of software produced in support of this allegation was anything to do with the HadCRUT instrumental temperature record. Newsnight have declined to answer the question of whether they were aware of this at the time their allegations were made.

    3.2 A problem identified by an amateur computer analyst with estimates of average climate (not climate trends) affecting less than 1% of the HadCRUT data, mostly in Australasia, and some station identifiers being incorrect. These, it appears, were genuine issues with some of the input data (not analysis software) of HadCRUT which have been acknowledged by the Met Office and corrected. They do not affect trends estimated from the data, and hence have no bearing on conclusions regarding the detection and attribution of external influence on climate.

    4. It is possible, of course, that further scrutiny will reveal more serious problems, but given the intensity of the scrutiny to date, we do not think this is particularly likely. The close correspondence between the HadCRUT data and the other two internationally recognised surface temperature datasets suggests that key conclusions, such as the unequivocal warming over the past century, are not sensitive to the analysis procedure.”

    I am the ‘computer analyst’ mentioned in 3.2 who found the errors mentioned. I am also the person mentioned in 3.1 who looked at the code on Newsnight.

    In paragraph 4 the authors write “It is possible, of course, that further scrutiny will reveal more serious problems, but given the intensity of the scrutiny to date, we do not think this is particularly likely.” This has turned out to be incorrect. On February 7, 2010 I emailed the Met Office to tell them that I believed that I had found a wide ranging problem in the data (and by extension the code used to generate the data) concerning error estimates surrounding the global warming trend. On February 24, 2010 the Met Office confirmed via their press office to Newsnight that I had found a genuine problem with the generation of ’station errors’ (part of the global warming error estimate).

    In the written submission by Sir Edward Acton there are two paragraphs that concern the things I have looked at:

    “3.4.7 CRU has been accused of the effective, if not deliberate, falsification of findings through deployment of “substandard” computer programs and documentation. But the criticized computer programs were not used to produce CRUTEM3 data, nor were they written for third-party users. They were written for/by researchers who understand their limitations and who inspect intermediate results to identify and solve errors.

    3.4.8 The different computer program used to produce the CRUTEM3 dataset has now been released by the MOHC with the support of CRU.”

    My points:

    1. Although the code I criticized on Newsnight was not the CRUTEM3 code the fact that the other code written at CRU was of low standard is relevant. My point on Newsnight was that it appeared that the organization writing the code did not adhere to standards one might find in professional software engineering. The code had easily identified bugs, no visible test mechanism, was not apparently under version control and was poorly documented. It would not be surprising to find that other code written at the same organization was of similar quality. And given that I subsequently found a bug in the actual CRUTEM3 code only reinforces my opinion.

    2. I would urge the committee to look into whether statement 3.4.8 is accurate. The Met Office has released code for calculating CRUTEM3 but they have not released everything (for example, they have not released the code for ’station errors’ in which I identified a wide-ranging bug, or the code for generating the error range based on the station coverage), and when they released the code they did not indicate that it was the program normally used for CRUTEM3 (as implied by 3.4.8) but stated “[the code] takes the station data files and makes gridded fields in the same way as used in CRUTEM3.” Whether

    3.4.8 is accurate or not probably rests on the interpretation of “in the same way as”. My reading is that this implies that the released code is not the actual code used for CRUTEM3. It would be worrying to discover that 3.4.8 is inaccurate, but I believe it should be clarified.

    I rest at your disposition for further information, or to appear personally if necessary.

    John Graham-Cumming

    March 2010

  7. #7 dhogaza
    March 4, 2010

    The computer code is bad.

    Here’s the source browser for NASA GISS Model E.

    Here’s the site for the Clear Climate Code project. NASA will be adopting their version of GISTEMP for their next version.

    I’m a professional software engineer. Could you please show me where the code is bad? Specifically? Just one line that’s incorrect would suffice.

    It should be easy for you, since you know the computer code is bad…

  8. #8 Ptey
    March 4, 2010

    So he admits at a minimum 2 of 3 are undisputed. More to come on the code. All the code not just dhodumbass favorite code of the moment.

  9. #9 Phil
    March 5, 2010

    ‘Esteemed’ and ‘Peer Reviewed ‘Climate scientist delivers false statement (LIES) in parliament enquiry

    Göran Ahlgren, secretary general
    Kungsgatan 82

    It has come to our attention, that last Monday (March 1), Dr. Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (CRU), in a hearing with the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee made a statement in regards to the alleged non-availability for disclosure of Swedish climate data.

    Dr. Jones asserted that the weather services of several countries, including Sweden, Canada and Poland, had refused to allow their data to be released, to explain his reluctance to comply with Freedom of Information requests.

    This statement is false and misleading in regards to the Swedish data.
    All Swedish climate data are available in the public domain. As is demonstrated in the attached correspondence between SMHI (Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute), the UK Met Office and Dr. Jones (the last correspondence dated yesterday March 4), this has been clearly explained to Dr. Jones.

    What is also clear is that SMHI is reluctant to be connected in any way to the “data” that has undergone “processing” and “tricking” by the ‘esteemed’ and ‘peer-reviewed’ East Anglia research unit.

    -Cheers! Phil

  10. #10 Marco
    March 6, 2010

    More lies from the deniosphere. Here’s the letter from the SMHI:
    “Given the information that the version of the data from the SMHI stations that you hold are likely to differ from the data we hold, SMHI do not want the data to be released on your web site.”

    Phil Jones, in his statement to the parliamentary inquiry, thus accurately conveyed that several meteorological societies do NOT want CRU to hand out their data. It’s right there in the answer, black-and-white: “SMHI do not want the data to be released on your web site”.

  11. #11 Phil
    March 6, 2010

    …..which part of “the versioned data” don’t you get?

    They didn’t want the corrupted data handed out and referred to as still SMHI data.

    But he still had the original un-corrupted data and could have – — OH WAIT! He ‘LOST’ it!

    Oh well.


  12. #12 Marco
    March 6, 2010

    It was clear enough, they said he could not release the data. Which is what Jones said all along.

    And CRU is not the repository of raw data.

  13. #13 dhogaza
    March 6, 2010

    #12 wasn’t me, again. Why isn’t this person who keeps posting under my handle banned?

  14. #14 Brian Brademeyer
    March 6, 2010

    This site needs moderation.

  15. #15 dhogaza
    March 7, 2010

    OK, I’m no longer going to participate here. Allowing people to post using another poster’s handle is *wrong*.

    I hate to give the imposter the satisfaction of successfully chasing me away, but life’s too short for such games.

  16. #16 Phylograptus
    March 7, 2010

    #10 @ marco
    So the Swedes didn’t want CRU to release data which was reprocessed from raw data freely available from them. They were also fairly emphatic about noting that they had the raw data for release but didn’t want the CRU to release reprocessed data. I wonder what would make them make these statements if Dr. Jones and CRU were just being good and following the FOI rules

  17. #17 Marco
    March 8, 2010

    Even raw data cannot be released by those who downloaded it from the Swedes themselves! This is *irrespective* of the person/organisation who did that:
    “3.2 The Licensee owns no right to use the data or products provided under this agreement for commercial purposes and not for development or production of meteorological, hydrological and oceanographic value added-value services. The licensee does not own nor authorized to redistribute, sell, assign or otherwise transfer data products or documentation without further processing to third parties unless the parties have received written permission from SMHI.”
    “4.1 The Licensee does not own the right to disclose, send on, link to or in any other way spread the contents of the data and/or products that has been recieved in accordance with this agreement to a third part.”

    I happen to be able to understand Swedish, the translation above is accurate. These two sections *explicitely* state that you can NOT distribute the data further, unless you have explicit permission from the SMHI (the second does not even note such exception!).

    Note also this:
    The excuse by the SMHI is “common practice”. “Essentially all NMSs do it, so we do, too”.

New comments have been disabled.