Advanced agnotology

by Michael Bérubé on June 7, 2010

(Following on John’s installments, part one, part two, and part three.)

I’m not sure how I missed this—I think I was lost in the archives at the time.  But last month, right around the time everyone on CT was discussing agnotology, Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, came out “cautiously” in favor of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s demand that the University of Virginia turn over (as the Washington Post put it) “all data and materials presented by former professor Michael Mann when he applied for five research grants from the university.” (That includes “all correspondence or e-mails between Mann and 39 other scientists since 1999” until Mann left Virginia for Penn State in 2005.) Wood writes, citing renowned scientist and powerful logic machine operator John Hinderaker:

John Hinderaker’s point is well taken. No one has the right to take public funds just to make stuff up and pass it along as science. And “academic freedom” could well suffer a greater crisis of legitimacy from that kind of abuse than from the interference of meddling politicians.

In that sense, I am cautiously in favor of Cuccinelli’s review of Mann’s work. The potential for this review to turn into a “witch hunt” is real and we therefore need to be vigilant. Virginia should respect the underlying nature of scientific inquiry, which must have room for honest mistakes, failed hypotheses, and even some unseemly eagerness for the chips to fall one way rather than another.  But academe has brought this crisis on itself.

For three years, the NAS has been warning that the “sustainability” doctrine on campus has taken on an ideological edge that threatens open-minded inquiry and academic standards.  The late-November revelations of skullduggery at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia came as an unwelcome confirmation of that warning.  Higher education so far seems not to have registered the full significance of the ensuing scandals in which public confidence in the integrity of climate science in general has been shaken.

At NAS, we are neither supporters nor skeptics of climate science per se. We support good science on important topics. Good science, however, sometimes requires more than closely-cabined peer review.  It also requires public accountability.

I have four responses to this.  First and foremost, public accountability in matters of science is crucial.  Somewhere in that pile of grant applications, letters, and emails, surely, is “smoking gun” proof of Michael Mann’s wrongdoing; indeed, I suspect that Attorney General Cuccinelli is looking for, and will find, the legendary “bwah hah hah” diary entry in which Mann writes, “Today!  Today is the day that I will perform the ‘trick’ that hides the decline!  And then the entire planet will kneel before Zod as I institute ‘cap and trade’ socialism around the world.”  There is also a rumor that the files contain a valuable photograph of Mann and colleague Phil Jones rubbing their hands together in glee, as well as a LOLcat captioned, “IM IN UR NATUR / HIDIN TEH DECLINE.”  Finally, and most importantly, if the files turn out to weigh the same as a duck, they must be made of wood, and I’m sure you can all draw the obvious conclusion from that.  So yes, the public needs to know.

Second, I note in passing that Peter Wood takes issue with KC Johnson, but that Johnson, in passing, takes issue with the AAUP:

Cuccinnelli’s action has also been criticized by NAS member KC Johnson, who, writing on Minding the Campus, sees the investigation as “a throwback to a bygone era” in which government officials tried to “punish professors with controversial views.”  Part of what alarms Johnson is that “Cuccinnelli’s behavior will provide ammunition to academic defenders of the status quo—from the AAUP’s Cary Nelson on down—in their campaign to portray the sole threat to academic freedom as coming from ‘right-wing’ outsiders.”

Having just returned from a meeting of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, I can happily report that there is no such campaign, save in Johnson’s imagination.  (Though we do acknowledge that ‘right-wing’ outsiders sometimes do pose threats to academic freedom, just as one might note that there are people in Arizona who get very upset by ethnic studies or people in Texas who demand that college faculty put their course materials online.) The swipe at Cary Nelson is especially ill-considered, since Nelson’s No University Is An Island contains a chapter (“Barefoot in New Zealand”) critical of the behavior of the academic left, which concludes,

the dangers to critical thinking on campus come not just from the organized Right outside the university but also from internal intolerance and self-delusion.  To the extent that the Right has succeeded in putting progressive students and faculty on the defensive, it has made it harder to acknowledge problems and find the will to address them.  Thus, though political correctness is not the all-defining campus cultural force the Right makes it out to be, it does operate, in some contexts absurdly. (125)

Johnson is well-known for his magnanimity in admitting when he’s gotten little things wrong, so I’m sure he’ll see to this in due course.

Third, I see that the NAS’s “Who We Are” page declares that “NAS is an independent membership association of academics working to foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America’s colleges and universities.  (It also announces a recent change in the “association of scholars” part of “National Association of Scholars”: “NAS membership is open to all. This is a change as of October 2009. Before that NAS restricted membership to academics. We now encourage anyone who agrees with the principles we espouse to join.”) That is most interesting.

Fourth, I discover (still on the “Who We Are” page) that the NAS Board of Advisors includes Edward O. Wilson.  One wonders what Professor Wilson thinks of Peter Wood’s position on the Cuccinelli-Mann affair.

Fifth, nice red uniforms.  I can’t help adding that the Washington Post  story linked above is headed by one of the best corrections ever:

Correction to This Article

This article about Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II asking the University of Virginia to turn over documents related to the work of former professor and scientist Michael Mann misquoted Mark R. Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation. Levin said he believed there was no scientific consensus about “man’s influence on global warming,” not “Mann’s influence on global warming.”

Whew!  Good to see Mann’s off the hook on this one.  But I still want to see those emails.

The reality-based discussion of all this, fyi, is available here.   For those of you still interested in sustaining the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America’s colleges and universities.

{ 70 comments }

1

gyges 06.07.10 at 6:55 pm

The late-November revelations of skullduggery at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia came as an unwelcome confirmation of that warning. Higher education so far seems not to have registered the full significance of the ensuing scandals in which public confidence in the integrity of climate science in general has been shaken.

The revelations of skullduggery at the Climate Research Unit at UAE should have resulted in prosecutions for fraud and misconduct in public office. From a legal point of view, the destruction of emails – confirmed by the information commissioner’s office – should have made this prosecution feasible. There is a latin maxim, Omnia Praesumptur Contra Spoliaterem (from memory) which means everything is presumed against a destroyer of evidence.

With this in mind, whether or not the Crown Prosecution Service begins a prosecution depends upon the prosecutor’s code. This has a two stage test: firstly, is there a greater than fifty per cent chance of getting a conviction, see the latin maxim above; and secondly, is it in the public interest to prosecute.

The last point provides the sting and the relevance to your post. There should be a huge interest in ensuring that science whether conducted at public or private expense is performed honestly and is therefore reliable and valid. Since there has been no prosecutions of those at UAE one can reasonably conclude that the Crown Prosecution Service doesn’t think that it is in the public interest to prosecute.

I disagree.

2

Substance McGravitas 06.07.10 at 7:14 pm

3

Marc 06.07.10 at 7:17 pm

That’s a deeply, deeply bizarre take on what happened gyges. We have multiple investigations which have come up with conclusions utterly at odds with what you claim.

But I suppose it’s mission accomplished for the denialist brigade – we’re likely to see an entire thread dedicated to chasing phantoms like yours. Namely, ones which presume guilt and ignore context.

4

mds 06.07.10 at 7:21 pm

So, when can we of the monolithic academic left expect to see Wood and Johnson marched to the Idiot Wall? I mean, seriously, it’s apparently more difficult to get ordained in the Universal Life Church than it is to be classified as a scholar by the NA”S”.

Johnson does have something of a point, as “primary” is not equivalent to “sole.” Then again, that’s probably why “sole” doesn’t get used, as you note. Then again again, the all-powerful academic left couldn’t save David Graeber’s job or Juan Cole’s job offer, even at a liberal university, thanks to political correctness run amuck. But at least we got Richard Lindzen fired from MIT for being a witless tool. Oh, wait, no we didn’t; did anyone on “the left” even try?

Still, Mann is difficult to defend. How dare he believe in carbon dioxide and its empirically-verified absorption and emission properties? I’m sure Mr. Cuccinelli will put him straight using his own encyclopedic grasp of flood geology and dinosaur riding techniques.

5

Michael Bérubé 06.07.10 at 7:27 pm

gyges, I swear that Proctor and Gamble is not diverting a portion of its profits to the Church of Satan. Really this time.

6

mds 06.07.10 at 7:48 pm

gyges is just understandably grumpy because now ve has to obtain the raw temperature data from the original sources and perform vis own analysis on it, rather than rely on the CRU to collect and process it. That’s a lot of work, and only necessary because the CRU’s clumsiness has damaged gyge’s previous faith in their methodology and conclusions. So perhaps we should cut ver some slack.

(And Professor Bérubé is correct: it’s not a “portion” of P & G’s profits, at least not in the normal usage of the word.)

7

Anderson 06.07.10 at 8:03 pm

“John Hinderaker’s point is well taken.”

There should be some sort of advanced usage manual warning against EVER writing this sentence.

8

cate 06.07.10 at 8:05 pm

That’s funny, I’ve always wanted to see John Hinderaker produce the research that supports his claims as well. Surely he wouldn’t object to reciprocity, in the spirit of the NAS’ principles.

9

Steve LaBonne 06.07.10 at 8:09 pm

I see that the power of net anonymity has much the same effect on commenter gyges’s ethics (in his case, with respect to truth-telling) as the invisibility ring supposedly did on that of the mythical Lydian shepherd-turned-king of that name.

10

cate 06.07.10 at 8:21 pm

“Is it dangerous to join?”

Only if danger gives you a case of the sexys. Then yes, you gorgeous rebel.

11

gyges 06.07.10 at 8:26 pm

Hi Marc

That’s a deeply, deeply bizarre take on what happened gyges.

I was under the impression that the information commissioner wrote, “the prima facie evidence from the published emails indicate an attempt to defeat disclosure by deleting information. It is hard to imagine more cogent prima facie evidence.

The rest of my argument stems from that letter.

Hi Michael

gyges, I swear that Proctor and Gamble is not diverting a portion of its profits to the Church of Satan. Really this time.

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to tell me.

Hi MDS

gyges is just understandably grumpy because now ve has to obtain the raw temperature data…

It’s more a case of integrity of climate science that is of concern, as expressed in my original quote:

Higher education so far seems not to have registered the full significance of the ensuing scandals in which public confidence in the integrity of climate science in general has been shaken.

12

Edward 06.07.10 at 8:31 pm

It’s difficult for me to comprehend why the original post and all 10 comments thus far have elided the most salient fact in this discussion, i.e., that Peter Wood has a doubly phallic name.

13

Glen Tomkins 06.07.10 at 9:24 pm

gyges,

Please slip your ring back on.

14

roac 06.07.10 at 9:32 pm

I hate to admit it before a constituency as up on their Plato as this one, but for me Gyges is the guy in Herodotus who saw the Queen naked. I can’t think of a plausible connection between that story and carbon sequestration, but since this thread apparently wants to be about sex for some reason, I thought I’d mention it.

15

Michael 06.07.10 at 10:18 pm

“Is it dangerous to join?”

Only if danger gives you a case of the sexys. Then yes, you gorgeous rebel.

Wait til the NAS changes its name to the International Association of Dangerous Scholars Men of Mystery.

Hi Michael

“gyges, I swear that Proctor and Gamble is not diverting a portion of its profits to the Church of Satan. Really this time.”

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to tell me.

You’re very welcome! I knew that if we simply discussed the matter rationally we could put some of those deliberate misunderstandings behind us.

16

gyges 06.07.10 at 10:22 pm

Hi Glen

‘Tis done …

17

Lee A. Arnold 06.07.10 at 11:24 pm

Gyges, please provide a link showing that the information commissioner said that evidence was destroyed or that emails were deleted.

18

scathew 06.08.10 at 2:07 am

Gyges you sort of left out an important part of the quote:

Meanwhile, the ICO has been alerted by the complainant and by information already in the public domain via the media, to a potential [emphasis added] offence under section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act. The prima facie evidence from the published emails indicate an attempt to defeat disclosure by deleting information. It is hard to imagine more cogent prima facie evidence.

Meaning of course it wasn’t a “proven” offense (“prima facie” while having legal does not mean proven in any sense – it means “at first appearance”). Additionally, they (the ICO) did not try to prove it because:

the matter cannot be taken forward because of the statutory time limit

Thus it was never even attempted to be proven or as the University of East Anglia (UEA) put it:

“there has been no investigation so no decision, as was widely reported. The ICO read emails and came to assumptions but has not investigated or demonstrated any evidence [emphasis added] that what may have been said in emails was actually carried out.”

Now I’m not saying that there wasn’t something dodgy going on here, but in any case, it certainly has not been proven. It is just an accusation, based in part on “the media”, which is a curious place to get evidence. It is also based on the incomplete emails that were released by whoever hacked the UEA email system – thus it lacks context and undoubtedly has been edited for maximum impact (true or not) – the email equivalent of “sound bites”.

Prof. Phil Jones of UEA and the center of the controversy also replied:

“Some of the emails probably had poorly chosen words and were sent in the heat of the moment, when I was frustrated. I do regret sending some of them. We’ve not deleted any emails [emphasis added] or data here at CRU. I would never manipulate the data one bit – I would categorically deny that.”

Moreover two independent reviews of the affair were concluded yeilding “no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit.” and found “absolutely no evidence of any impropriety whatsoever”. Which would seem to indicate that the prima facie evidence, no mater how “cogent”, did not pan out.

All this was fairly simple to find BTW, most of it being here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_email_controversy

Unless you have something else that proves it?

19

Glen Tomkins 06.08.10 at 2:42 am

roac,

In the Republic, Gyges use a ring of invisibility to see the Queen in the buff, then seize the throne, etc. It’s actually Thrasymachus who tells the story of Gyges, not Socrates, but it seems rather important in the narrative, so I tend to remember Gyges from Plato rather than from Herodotus, where it is just one more droll anecdote. The invisibility the ring confers is equated with ultimate power, and knowledge as power, because the ability to argue your way out of the consequences of any act, however heinous, is analogized to invisibility. If you want to commit some atrocity and get away with it, the idea is that you need the ring of Gyges, or Johhny Cochrane as your lawyer — same thing.

Now, why someone would choose “gyges” as their handle, is beyond me. Going for some ‘whiff of sulfur’ effect, I guess. I was a little worried that maybe Gyges was his actual name, in which case my comment would have been unpardonably rude, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

20

Michael Bérubé 06.08.10 at 3:00 am

OK, I hate to be an “originalist” about the “post” and the ensuing “thread,” but it seems to me that the relevant matter is this: the president of the National Association of Scholars (and Any Other People Who Write Checks to Join the Association) has “cautiously” supported Ken Cuccinelli’s very very wingnutty crusade to review everything Michael Mann did or said while serving as a faculty member at the University of Virginia.

Pay no attention to that idiot wall, people. Focus.

21

scathew 06.08.10 at 3:27 am

Pay no attention to that idiot wall, people. Focus.

Hey, um, did you hear about the porn star samurai sword rampage…? ;-)

22

Lemuel Pitkin 06.08.10 at 3:31 am

Sorry, this is a genuinely, not faux-, naive question: does the National Association of Scholars have any credibility to lose here?

23

politicalfootball 06.08.10 at 3:37 am

Gyges point is a familiar one: If you haven’t got something to hide, what troubles you about total surveillance?

24

tom bach 06.08.10 at 4:07 am

I like to go on record as finding “Ken Cuccinelli’s very very wingnutty crusade to review everything Michael Mann did or said while serving as a faculty member at the University of Virginia” repugnant and that the fact that “the president of the National Association of Scholars (and Any Other People Who Write Checks to Join the Association) has ‘cautiously'” supported it even so more repugnant. If I were someone of importance in either academia generally or Virginia’s political class, I would write a post just like this.

25

Neil 06.08.10 at 4:15 am

A bunch of right-wing ideologues support the action of another right-wing ideologue? I’m shocked. Next you will tell me that Jonah Goldberg is opposed to socialism.

26

PHB 06.08.10 at 4:31 am

I think we should be rather less worried by the threat Ken Cuccinelli poses to academic freedom than to the rather obvious fact that he is abusing his office to threaten his political opponents with criminal prosecution.

It will end badly for Cuccinelli of course.

27

Ahistoricality 06.08.10 at 5:02 am

Johnson is well-known for his magnanimity in admitting when he’s gotten little things wrong, so I’m sure he’ll see to this in due course.

That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day, bar none. More likely, in about twelve hours there’ll be a massive influx of his flying monkey commenters.

28

Michael 06.08.10 at 12:27 pm

does the National Association of Scholars have any credibility to lose here?

That’s a fair question. On the one hand, no. On the other hand, this is a new low for them — and I really was surprised to find E. O. Wilson on their board. Maybe he’ll think again about what kind of “scholars” he’s associating with….

29

ajay 06.08.10 at 12:37 pm

The name has that characteristic blend of magniloquence and vagueness that characterises all the best wingnut groups.
eg: Heritage Foundation, Family Leadership Council, Adam Smith Institute, Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.

30

Anderson 06.08.10 at 12:52 pm

E.O. Wilson was the target of a lot of over-the-top criticism for a while, which I suppose led him to the NAS. He probably doesn’t think much of them on their own merits, but finds them better than The Liberal Academy. Another instance where the disjunctive syllogism is the enemy of the good.

31

Gene O'Grady 06.08.10 at 2:05 pm

I’m not sure that Gyges in Herodotus (personally chosen as one of the two authors whom my classical education treated least adequately) is just another droll anecdote. I’ve always assumed there was a point behind it about the way things work among the barbarians, or semi-barbarians.

32

chris 06.08.10 at 2:40 pm

@30: It’s not the disjunctive syllogism that’s the problem, it’s the false dichotomy.

@26: I hope you’re right, but given that Cuccinelli got elected in the first place, I dunno.

33

roac 06.08.10 at 2:48 pm

I’ve always assumed there was a point behind it about the way things work among the barbarians, or semi-barbarians.

I think it’s a very interesting story. The Queen says to Gyges: “You have seen me naked. For a woman to have been seen naked by a man other than her husband is intolerable. There are two possible solutions: My guards can kill you, now; or you can kill my husband and marry me (and incidentally, become King of Lydia). Either way is fine with me — you choose.”

Experience teaches us, of course, that human beings do not treat a situation like the one described as an occasion for analytical thinking, and it must have taught Herodotus the same thing. What I get out of this story — and there are others like it in the Histories — is that the fifth-century Greeks had just discovered analytical thinking (or so I learned in school) and found it to be a lot of fun.

34

John Quiggin 06.08.10 at 3:13 pm

Maybe useful to distinguish between credibility and credence. NAS lost credibility long ago, but maybe still retained some credence until now. That can’t be sustained. Of course, a central finding of agnotology, due to Upton Sinclair is that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it” and you can replace “salary” with “tribal identity” without losing the point. But the kind of (dis)belief that is generated in this way is subtly different from the real thing.

Then there’s institutional competition. For NAS, I’d say the main competition is FIRE who have taken a hard line against Cuccinelli. A tough call in the short run, but it maintains their credibility for the future.

35

mds 06.08.10 at 3:19 pm

“… My guards can kill you, now; or you can kill my husband and marry me (and incidentally, become King of Lydia). Either way is fine with me—you choose.”

Well? Well? Don’t leave us hanging like that, roac.

E.O. Wilson was the target of a lot of over-the-top criticism for a while, which I suppose led him to the NAS.

Boo-hoo. This is disturbingly similar to climate change skepticism: the trope of the noble outsider driven out by the close-minded consensus of those who are better trained in a discipline, and still suffering the slings and arrows of the politically-motivated establishment. I would have expected Wilson to have more spine; we’re talking about the guy who once was proud to have been “physically attacked” by having water poured on him. Regardless, if he’s serious about the ecological views that he’s touted, maybe he should consider whether his feelings are worth the impact to a cause he cares so much about. Because it’s not the equivalent of trained evolutionary biologists, neuroscientists, and geneticists going after Mann. If his strong feelings about politically-motivated witch hunts have led him to join an organization now backing a politically-motivated witch hunt, well, a situational irony* spandrel** has certainly manifested in his current phenotype.

*Or whichever form of irony best fits this case. I can never keep them straight.

**This presumes that situational irony isn’t a “meaningful” adaptation, but merely a side effect. The literature is conspicuously silent on this subject.

36

Barry 06.08.10 at 3:24 pm

John, your second paragraph forgets the first paragraph. If one assumes that the NAS is simply a right-wing propaganda mill, then its credibility is with consumers of right-wing propaganda. It no more wants actual scholarship or reaching for objectivity than the rest of the GOP war on science guys.

37

Sebastian 06.08.10 at 3:50 pm

Gyges, the letter you quote says very clearly that the a crime was committed AND that there would be no prosecution because of the (rather amazingly short) 6 month statute of limitations which had already expired before the crime came to light.

So the reason why there was no prosecution is not mysterious.

Though it is mysterious why so many people here take that statement as an investigatory exoneration.

38

roac 06.08.10 at 3:55 pm

Don’t leave us hanging like that, roac

He went with option B.

39

mds 06.08.10 at 6:05 pm

Though it is mysterious why so many people here take that statement as an investigatory exoneration.

Perhaps it’s because many people are usually using those particular charges to attack climate change research in general, whereupon we also take into account of things like this:

The report of the independent Science Assessment Panel was published on 14 April 2010 and concluded that the panel had seen “no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit.” It found that the CRU’s work had been “carried out with integrity” and had used “fair and satisfactory” methods. The CRU was found to be “objective and dispassionate in their view of the data and their results, and there was no hint of tailoring results to a particular agenda.” Instead, “their sole aim was to establish as robust a record of temperatures in recent centuries as possible.”

rather than embracing deliberate oversimplifications by dishonest partisans. But of course, when gyges assaults the “integrity of climate science,” what ve really means is, “some people probably illegally deleted e-mails, an act which has virtually zero bearing on published results in climate science.” Uh-huh. Pull the other one; it’s got bells on.

He went with option B.

Whew. Though in the Michael Bay version, he probably pretends to choose A, then fights his way out. Because who would want to be married to someone so willing to sell you out to any other guy who catches her in the buff?

40

roac 06.08.10 at 6:46 pm

I left out the backstory, which was that it was all the the King’s (Candules) idea to stash Gyges (who was the captain of his bodyguard or something like that) where he could see the Queen naked — with a view to showing off his prized possession. So that from Herodotus’s point of view, he had it coming.

As for the relationship issue, you probably wouldn’t want to be married to Sovay, the Female Highwayman either. But that’s another good story.

41

alex 06.08.10 at 7:30 pm

mmm, Kristen Scott Thomas, mmm…

Sorry, where were we again?

42

Rich Puchalsky 06.08.10 at 8:12 pm

“Gyges, the letter you quote says very clearly that the a crime was committed AND that there would be no prosecution because of the (rather amazingly short) 6 month statute of limitations which had already expired before the crime came to light.”

Sebastien, you’re a lying sack of shit.

Here’s a link to the full source of the letter in question. It reads:

Now find the paragraph that starts with “Meanwhile, the ICO has been alerted by the complainant and by information already in the public domain via the media, to a potential offense under section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act” and also contains “the University must have understood that the question whether an offense under section 77 had been committed would be looked at.” Does that say that a crime has been committed? No.

You’re a person who routinely lies about matters of public record. Piss off.

43

Michael Bérubé 06.08.10 at 8:47 pm

Rich, I’m sure that if we simply keep explaining — in rational, measured tones, and by means of accurate citations — that Procter and Gamble is not really supporting Satanism, we’ll all be able to reach a reasonable consensus eventually.

(I like how I misspelled it as “Proctor” above, no doubt thinking of Robert Proctor — who does, incidentally, support Satanism. It’s an easy mistake to make.)

44

jre 06.08.10 at 8:56 pm

Someone tell slacktivist the bat signal is up!

45

mds 06.08.10 at 11:55 pm

Someone tell slacktivist the bat signal is up!

Well, to be fair, I don’t recall that The Shack got too much into the weeds on bearing false witness. Though Satan did inexplicably appear in the guise of a toothpaste salesman.

46

John Quiggin 06.09.10 at 12:44 am

Barry@36 Although I’m still working on this, I think there’s an important agnotological distinction between different kinds of belief, which even the Right sort-of recognises, as the recent debate has shown. One example would be the kinds of belief held by a creationist geologist as regards the age of the earth. The same person would hold one belief (earth 6000 years old/teach the controversy) in relation to high school teaching, while following radically different beliefs consistent with mainstream science in relation to good places to drill for oil.

So, while the Right isn’t going to abandon NAS (or AEI or Heritage) any time soon, I think that they can sort-of recognise that these organisations would be more useful if they had some genuine credibility as opposed to official credence.

47

Sebastian 06.09.10 at 12:55 am

Hmmm. So I take it you think that “In the event, the matter cannot be taken forward because of the statutory time limit” is an exoneration?

And “The fact that the elements of a section 77 offence may have been found here, but cannot be acted on because of the elapsed time, is a very serious matter. The ICO is not resiling from its position on this.” is an exoneration?

The ICOs earlier statement “The ICO is gathering evidence from this and other time-barred cases to support the case for a change in the law. We will be advising the university about the importance of effective records management and their legal obligations in respect of future requests for information.” is an exoneration?

I don’t really think so.

I presume you didn’t expect anyone to follow the link?

48

mds 06.09.10 at 2:07 am

I presume you didn’t expect anyone to follow the link?

Possibly. It’s also possible that some of us correctly presume that as usual you aren’t arguing in good faith, but are merely using this to join in flinging feces at climate scientists. Which is why the independent confirmation that the CRU’s scientific conclusions were unaffected is most relevant to many of us who have watched mendacious twits shriek about how this all proves that AGW is a lie. But if it’s really fulfilling for you, by all means keep on keeping on about how the criminality of deleted e-mails is the important thing, apparently unlike illegally hacking into university records, or making unsupported claims of scientific fraud.

49

Sebastian 06.09.10 at 2:45 am

Weird. Would you mind um, finding and quoting where I said that AGW is a lie? Because it would surprise even me!

Just because I think that destroying records or attempting to destroy records in response to a Freedom of Information Act is a crime doesn’t make me a warming denialist. Those are um, rather noticeably different things.

50

Rich Puchalsky 06.09.10 at 2:50 am

Sebastian, you’re a twit and a liar. You claimed that the letter”says very clearly that the a crime was committed”. The letter says that the elements of a section 77 offense” may have been found”. That a “potential offense” exists. Does that say very clearly that a crime has been committed?

No, it does not. Do you even know what the difference is between a letter stating that a crime has been committed and between one stating that an offense may have been committed?

Let me rephrase that. Of course you know the difference, since you are of normal intelligence — you’re just a liar. Are you willing to use your real name to accuse these named scientists of committing a crime, based on this letter?

I wonder where Anderson is, by the way? He’s the guy who goes around telling everyone what a great guy you are and how we’re all being too mean to you. Let’s get him to sign off on your crap here too.

51

mds 06.09.10 at 3:31 am

Er, not so fast, Mr. Puchalsky. I’ve been reading up some more on this matter, and now I’m embarrassed to admit that I might owe gyges and Sebastian an apology. It seems that Professor Mann, whose work is under attack by the Attorney General of Virginia with the support of the National Association of Scholars, actually ran the e-mail shredder at the University of East Anglia while he was supposedly employed at the University of Virginia. Hence all the to-do about the CRU’s potential offenses. Bizarre as the above arrangement seems, the only other alternative would be that dishonest people are deliberately conflating information retention at the CRU with their scientific results in order to smear climate scientists involved in the latter but not the former.

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John Quiggin 06.09.10 at 4:29 am

Mann went on Oprah and admitted that all the money he got from the Bilderberg Group to promote a communist world government went to the church of Satan. But he’s now erased all the tapes and changed the records so that it appears that that entire edition of Oprah was about diets.

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Sebastian 06.09.10 at 6:01 am

You haven’t worked much with government investigators if you think that letter is anything just short of screaming at the top of their lungs that a crime was committed. The letter insists, multiple times, that they aren’t prosecuting because of the statute of limitations. The ICO is also using this as an example to the parliament of why the statute of limitations ought not be so short.

But if you insist that it is some kind of exoneration, I can’t stop you from exhibiting the fact that you know next to nothing about basic inter-governmental communication.

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Sebastian 06.09.10 at 6:04 am

Oh and I also note that you haven’t quoted the part where I deny global warming. It was a pretty big part of your whining against me. You’ll be producing that soon I’m certain…

Wait that might be too subtle–like the government letter. I’ll rephrase.

I see that rather than admit you were either lying or confused, you choose to ignore the topic. Is that because you have no honor, or because you are pathologically incapable of seeing your own faults? Or is it both?

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Michael Bérubé 06.09.10 at 12:31 pm

I can’t believe I missed mds @ 35:

Boo-hoo. This is disturbingly similar to climate change skepticism: the trope of the noble outsider driven out by the close-minded consensus of those who are better trained in a discipline, and still suffering the slings and arrows of the politically-motivated establishment.

I used to believe in science, but when people poured water on E. O. Wilson, I got really outraged by how Michael Mann ran the e-mail shredder at the University of East Anglia. So I joined the National Association of Scholars.

And people, lay off Sebastian already. He didn’t say that he himself worships at the Church of Satan. He merely pointed out that Procter and Gamble was not in fact cleared of the charge that they support the Church of Satan.

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alex 06.09.10 at 12:50 pm

Given that the missing emails are, in fact, missing, there is no actual reason to suppose that they contained anything more incriminating than, for example, some rude comments about the cretins trying to inferfere with their work. Actual evidence of wrongdoing that is substantial – as in, actually faking evidence of AGW – as opposed to procedural – as in, possibly breaching regulations on communications record-keeping – is entirely absent. People will feel free to fill the gaps with their prejudices, but so what?

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Rich Puchalsky 06.09.10 at 12:53 pm

I see that Sebastian is a super-duper governmental investigator expert. His expertise is so great that it can turn a potential offense into an offense! Once again, where is Anderson? He’s a lawyer, I seem to remember. Perhaps he can explain this new British law to me, in which people are considered to be convicted of crimes based on a letter that says something like “we’d be investigating this if the statute of limitations hadn’t expired.” Who needs trials? For that matter, who needs investigations? I mean, the letter says that they saw reports in the news media. Surely that’s all the evidence needed?

But wait, we have investigations of this actually, in which investigators actually investigated whether wrongdoing was committed and found none. But that’s no good, of course, because Sebastian the expert in inter-governmental communication has decided that this particular letter is the one that really counts.

Once again, what’s your real name, Sebastian? You’re accusing people, by name, of committing a crime. Those people have not only not been convicted, they have been investigated and found innocent. Let’s evaluate your expertise. Surely you aren’t a coward, right?

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mds 06.09.10 at 1:45 pm

Never mind demands for an end to pseudonymity, Mr. Puchalsky, which (1) are much more the province of the Right, and (2) make me uncomfortable for some reason. The more important point (given that I made it myself) is, what does possible violation of disclosure laws at the University of East Anglia have to do with the Virginia AG? Was there a violation of prompt disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Act at the University of East Anglia? Possibly. Heck, for fun let’s even grant “Probably.” Has anyone qualified who’s investigated found any impact on their published scientific results? No. Is Professor Mann being accused by the Virginia AG of a “section 77 offence” under UK law? No. So why keep pounding the table about CRU staffers evading prosecution for putative FoI violations, while ignoring the elephant trained to hunt witches in the room? I know that it’s another blow to comity, but given how widespread in the Right Blogosphere “ICO finds CRU guilty” is, and how those selfsame sites almost always equate the putative FoI violations with destroying raw data and falsifying results, I’m going to stick with an explanation that rhymes with Plaid Wraith.

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cate 06.09.10 at 1:59 pm

Perhaps the evidence will settle whether or not, in 1993, Mann appeared in the music video for 95 South’s (vastly superior) “Whoot There it is.”

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Barry 06.09.10 at 2:17 pm

Sebastian is probably the Sebastion H from Obsidian Wings. That guy is a lawyer, and a sh*t, as well. IIRC, that Sebastian is a right-wing corporate labor lawyer, which allows a moral judgement to be made on his truth and accuracy.

[Disclaimer: I was and am banned from commenting on that site for losing my temper and telling Sebastian and ‘Slartibartfast’ exactly what I thought of them, which was that they are greasy lying motherf*ckers].

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Rich Puchalsky 06.09.10 at 2:27 pm

mds, yes, it is true that the Sebastian has, for no logical reason whatsoever, decided to focus on East Anglia in a story about Virginia. But logic doesn’t matter to people like him. He’s going to keep bringing up that one letter, because that’s what denialists do — they find one piece of writing somewhere where one person has written something that can be misquoted into sounding like it supports them. (Ever wonder how many times that letter is going to be quoted with the word “potential” mysteriously disappearing?)

And they have to be pushed back on that one point that they keep harping on. I’ve seen Sebastian do this here a number of times, and he’s not going to stop until he’s stopped. And yes, I don’t normally care about pseudonymity, but he is libeling named people after all. That’s the line at which I think it’s reasonable to say that the person really should give their name.

Michael has referred to those slacktivist posts a number of times. And yeah, it’s good fun to make the reference, or whatever. But from my point of view those posts are, well:

1. My gosh, vicious liars *really are* vicious liars!
2. They’re doing it to reinforce group identity and make themselves feel better about themselves.
3. Profit?

Not to take away from slacktivist, but he wrote those from his experience as an evangelical. Therefore he was concerned about giving these people an alternative, or something impractical like that. But, you know, in politics you see people who knowingly spread lies all the time. So you push back. You don’t stop because it makes you uncomfortable to push, or something. Right-wingers are cowards and they will always back off if pushed, you just have to do it.

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JanieM 06.09.10 at 2:33 pm

Besides what Rich and mds just wrote, there’s this:

But if you insist that it is some kind of exoneration

That word has been used six times on this thread, once in quoting Sebastian and five times in passages in which Sebastian in effect attributes it to other people…who never wrote it.

I could say what this is, but other people already have.

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Sebastian 06.09.10 at 3:07 pm

Rich, you apparently don’t understand the difference between ‘convicted’, which requires violation of a statute AND prosecution within the statute of limitations (in this case 6 months, and the violation was not even discovered until afterward) and ‘guilty of an offense’ which merely requires that you actually, you know, did the the thing.

I’m not claiming that there will be a ‘conviction’. Of course there won’t. The statute of limitations bars a conviction. That is how they work. I’m well aware of that, and so are you. That is a completely different world from saying that he did not attempt to have evidence destroyed, which is definitely what he tried to do.

And blithe assumptions about what might have been in such emails that he wanted destroyed are crazy. When someone wants to destroy evidence in response to a Freedom of Information request is it REALLY your general assumption that it is ok? REALLY? And accepting his word afterward that no emails were destroyed is also crazy.

Or is it only your assumption when your tribal loyalties are in play?

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ajay 06.09.10 at 3:22 pm

Oh and I also note that you haven’t quoted the part where I deny global warming.

Presumably you don’t, right? I mean, presumably you agree with the vast majority of scientists that human-caused emissions of greenhouse gasses are causing significant changes in world climate? Or do you think that they are all either incompetent or lying?

It’s just that you’ve left that question rather unanswered and we’d all rather like to know.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.09.10 at 3:24 pm

Sebastian, you’re still lying, and the mind-boggling implication that you may be a lawyer means that you really, really know that you’re lying. You wrote — and this is a direct quote — “the letter you quote says very clearly that the a crime was committed”. Which it does not, of course. The letter states that the office would have very good reason to investigate whether there had been a crime, if the statute of limitations running out hadn’t made it moot. Or do you come from some magical land in which lawyers can’t parse the difference between those two statements?

And you are saying that they very definitely did commit a crime, even though we both know that that investigation never took place. (Other investigations did.) You’re saying that trying to have evidence destroyed “is definitely what he tried to do.”

OK, you are sure. You think it’s definite. The truth is a defense against libel, isn’t it? So where’s your name? Let’s see you attach it to your definite assertion of criminality in this case. Come on, you gutless creep.

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Michael Bérubé 06.09.10 at 3:25 pm

He’s going to keep bringing up that one letter, because that’s what denialists do—they find one piece of writing somewhere where one person has written something that can be misquoted into sounding like it supports them.

You’re forgetting the Oregon Petition, Rich, which shows that 31,000 scientists dispute global warming. There’s plenty of evidence out there.

And I think you’re underreading the Slacktivist posts. The point is not that vicious liars are vicious liars (breaking: Liz Cheney makes shit up!). The point is that zombie lies are spread by people who are not themselves zombies (or vicious liars) — and who can be motivated by desires that allow them to suspend disbelief (and self-knowledge) so that they can “make a difference.”

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Rich Puchalsky 06.09.10 at 3:45 pm

“The point is that zombie lies are spread by people who are not themselves zombies (or vicious liars)”

I may be underreading them, but that’s not what I read. Here’s slacktivist post 1:

“But it is the case. Let’s go through that list again. The following are all true of the people spreading the Procter & Gamble rumor:

1. They didn’t really believe it themselves.
2. They were passing it along with the intent of misinforming others. Deliberately.
3. They did not respect, or care about, the actual facts of the matter, except to the extent that they viewed such facts with hostility.
4. Being told that the Bad Thing they were purportedly upset about wasn’t real only made them more upset. Proof that the 23rd largest corporation in America was not in league with the Devil made them defensive and very, very angry.”

Those people are vicious liars. I really don’t see any other way to describe them. They don’t believe the story they are spreading, they pass it along to deliberately misinform others, they view the facts with hostility, and they get defensive and angry when challenged on their lies.

The power of Slacktivist post 1, for some people — or so I’d imagine — consists mostly in the agonized discovery that people who slacktivist had thought were naive, or dupes, really were knowing liars. And he comes up for some reasons for it in post 2. Well… again, not really a surprise. The right wing is committed to evildoing. That surprises people, but, yeah, if you meet someone who believes abstractly that it’s a good thing to torture terrorists to interrogate them to keep us safe, that person is not a good risk as a person to watch your child.

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Alex 06.11.10 at 10:57 am

Of course, if this were a proper court case, at least in Britain, the prosecution would be required to divulge its own documentation under section 9 disclosure.

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Rattus Norvegicus 06.12.10 at 4:38 am

IMEHO there is one thing that Sebastian and the ICO’s office is ignoring and it is so obvious as to defy belief!

The email (and other communications) that Holland was after were to do with the preparation of the IPCC 4AR Ch. 6. I actually spent a few days around Thanksgiving wading through the emails and a substantial plurality (30% – 40%) had to do with this very subject. If any emails were deleted, they did a really good job of hiding the fact that they *were* deleted. Everybody seems to ignore this exonerating evidence. In addition Michael Mann produced his emails for the Penn State misconduct investigation and they concluded that he had not committed any wrongdoing in this particular matter.

Frankly, I don’t see the alleged prima facie case here. A brief perusal — not even through — of the emails shows that this charge is ridiculous. It is also clear that CRU/UEA tried hard to find a reason why these communications were not subject to disclosure, but that is a different matter and much more of a judgment call.

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Rattus Norvegicus 06.12.10 at 4:45 am

But Rich, you are ignoring one very, very important thing! If corporations 1 – 22 are so obviously in league with Satan, why shouldn’t #23 be?

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