The Globe and Mail had a weekend feature on some of the top climate skeptic bloggers, including Canada’s own Stephen McIntyre.
Mr. McIntyre’s Climate Audit is the most highbrow of the climate skeptic blogs. Even Mr. Mooney (Chris, co-author of the 2009 book Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future) acknowledges that Mr. McInytre is “more scientifically inclined” than his peers. Climate Audit is regarded by many as the best of all the climate-skeptic blogs, the one richest in detailed technical arguments and most attentive to the rules of science and evidence.
To his many fans, Mr. McIntyre is a sterling example of a citizen-scientist, an amateur who was able to poke holes in a too-quickly constructed consensus. But to his critics, who include some of the most eminent names in climate science, he casts a very different image, as a gifted pest whose scattershot criticisms indiscriminately mix a few valid points with a larger body of half-truths, a potent concoction that produces much confusion but little benefit.
After working for years in the mining industry, Mr. McIntyre, 62, came to the climate-science debate in 2002 when he became suspicious of the political passions surrounding the Kyoto Protocol. He quickly teamed up with University of Guelph economist Ross McKitrick, who shared the businessman’s doubts over the hockey stick graph, which became emblematic of the global-warming argument.
Their 2005 critique of the graph, published in Geophysical Research Letters, sparked a renewed examination of the hockey-stick data, but didn’t make any fundamental change in the debate. Since its original publication, the graph research has been replicated by nearly a dozen studies. Although the hockey stick has been battered and bruised by many critics, it still works.
A Sept. 2, 2008 blog post, based on a BBC story: Climate ‘hockey stick’ graph is broadly correct: study
“What McIntyre has essentially done is put his finger on small technicalities that don’t matter,” argues Prof. (Michael) Mann, now based at Pennsylvania State University. “In every case, they’ve been dismissed. When the question arises, does it make a difference? The answer is always no. All that is important to him is to be able to say that he’s found a problem and then allow everybody else to say this fundamentally undermines the science.”
The key objection to the work of bloggers such as Mr. McIntyre is that they are engaged in an epic game of nitpicking: zeroing in on minor technical issues while ignoring the massive and converging lines of evidence that are coming in from many disciplines. To read their online work is to enter a dank, claustrophobic universe where obsessive personalities talk endlessly about small building blocks – Yamal Peninsula trees, bristlecones, weather stations – the removal of which will somehow topple the entire edifice of climate science. Lost in the blogging world is any sense of proportion, or the idea that science is built on cumulative work in many fields, the scientists say.
Understandably, Mr. McIntyre doesn’t agree with dismissals of his work, and the criticism he has received has made him increasingly critical of the peer-reviewed process that has vindicated the hockey-stick graph. “Peer-reviewed scientists have denied the point of [our] research,” he complains. Many of his recent attacks on climate change have focused on the argument that seemingly independent studies validated by peer review are actually the work of a small group of insiders who control the peer-review process and rubber-stamp each other’s scholarship.
BBC environment reporter Richard Black wrote this in a Nov. 14, 2007 story about the issue after asking those scientists who felt censored to contact him:
If there is an anti-sceptic bias running through the institutions of science, it is evidently keeping itself well hidden.
Read this blog post too: Covering the climate issue: Some BBC perspectives
Online writing has other advantages over the peer-reviewed system, some bloggers believe. If blogging is a speedy new medium, peer review is a classic example of a slow and deliberative old medium.
“There are 10 peer-reviewed articles I could draw out of the Climate Audit posts,” Mr. McIntyre says, “but I’ve got this very large audience. I’ve got to keep feeding the blog.”
As much as climate change, the issue of peer review separates Mr. McIntyre from his critics. “There is a very fundamental distinction between the way science actually moves forward, which isn’t on blogs,” Prof. Mann notes. “It’s through the traditional process of doing the hard work necessary to get your work published in legitimate peer-reviewed scholarly journals and then it’s out there for others to either improve upon, to refute, to address. That’s the self-correcting process. Frankly, that process has been subverted by those who … make sometimes outlandish claims in the completely un-peer-reviewed environment of the Internet.”
Still, the scientists concede that the work of some of these online bloggers has led to some necessary corrections – including sloppy misrepresentations of data such as the recent “Glaciergate” brouhaha (over unreliable estimates of when Himalayan glaciers would eventually melt), which Mr. Mooney says the researchers “ought to be ashamed of.”
Gavin Schmidt, of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies cites a mistake that Mr. McIntyre found in an analysis of global temperatures, which “we fixed in a day and thanked him for his attention. That got blown out of all proportion and was made to look like we did it on purpose … something McIntyre did nothing to prevent. So you take something that is constructive and turn it into a huge piece of misinformation.”