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Wednesday December 16 2009

I agree strongly with this, about how Climategate is reversing the burden of proof, but then I would, wouldn’t I?  (But can a burden be reversed?) Before Climategate, you had to prove that the scientists were wrong.  Now, their supporters are tripping over themselves trying to explain that they are still right, and failing dismally.

New Hockey Team nightmare: The Russians are coming.  I think the fact that you now genuinely feel more inclined to trust a bunch of Russians you’ve only just heard of than trust the Hockey Team says it all.

I disagree with those who are now saying, on both sides of this argument, that the emails count for nothing in all this and the data is everything, together with the Harry Read Me thing with all its geek complaints about the damn scientists.  The data and Harry Read Me is very important, no doubt about that.  But the emails, time and time again, flesh out the story.  So, for instance, with this Russian angle, the claims made by this “IEA” outfit in Moscow, about how the Hockey Team screwed with Russian temperature data, are immediately put next to an email by one of the Hockey Teamers about how he has crushed a couple of articles criticising Hockey Team handling of Russian data.  This completely closes off any defence that the Hockey Teamers might make of their conduct.

Further confirmation that the burden of proof has now done a cartwheel came earlier this evening on BBC2 TV, in the form of a preeningly self-confident “documentary” by a certain Dr Iain Stewart.  It was number two of these three shows.  It was quite clearly done before Climategate, and with no mention of it.  While watching it, I realised how crucial Climategate has actually been in all this, even though it told the long-time sceptics nothing they didn’t already know.  Basically this story is either: that this is a truly enormous fraud, or: it’s nothing of the kind.  There is no in-between position. In retrospect we can see clearly that AGW, the Hockey Stick, etc., was our old friend the Big Lie.  But the reason Big Lies work is that you just can’t believe that any people, let alone enough people, would deliberately tell a Lie that Big.

Stewart made much of the fact that the Hockey Team was now really big!  Which from where he stood meant that you have to accuse about thirty people of conspiring with one another to foist a huge fraud on the world.  Ridiculous.  And “Viscount Christopher Monkton” came across, literally, as was quite clearly intended, as a swivel-eyed - literally swivel-eyed - lunatic.  The obvious lesson to someone with no particular axe to grind, but before Climategate, would have been: the scientists are regular guys doing their sincere best, albeit with the inevitable muddles and bitching and general carrying-on, and the sceptics are out-to-lunch crazy.

But now?  It all looks rather different, doesn’t it?  Suddenly, Stewart’s deliberate either-or-ing of this argument came over as, well, a rather high risk strategy.  His claim that the Hockey Team was big came across, now, as: This wasn’t just a handful of crooks.  There are dozens of the bastards!  As I more and more now assume that there are.

It needed a very big kick to switch the story from a sordid little gang of sad, mad liars funded by Big Oil, to a truly breathtaking scientific hoax, one of the biggest in the whole history of science.  But that kick has now been administered.

It reminds me of the time when I was working with a guy who I thought was a pretty clever chap, albeit with some slightly out-of-the-box notions.  But then, literally in the middle of a particularly bizarre sentence he was speaking, I did a complete switch, to deciding that he was completely barking bonkers and that nothing he said, nothing at all, was to be relied upon.  I went from being quite enthusiastic about him, to not trusting him to tell me the date correctly, literally just like that.  To say that I changed my mind about him in a few seconds is to exaggerate how long it took me to make the switch, by a few seconds.  It happened in a blink.  Just like that.  Well, Climategate wasn’t quite that quick.  But it was nearly as sudden, and compared to the usual slow crawl of scientific controversy, it was pretty much instantaneous.

Another point that came over rather strongly in Stewart’s film was that for as long as Big Oil supported the sceptics, the sceptics were losing their argument.  As soon as Big Oil surrendered and started backing the AGW crowd, they started losing.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  When businessmen try to go beyond selling their mere products, they almost invariably make utter tits of themselves.  Worse, they corrupt a significant proportion of the intellectuals who might have said, persuasively, what they happen to want said.  They turn any intellectuals silly enough or skint enough to climb onto their payroll into stuttering and evasive incompetents, by (e.g.) foisting stupid and irrelevant tasks on them, like trying to blind “ordinary people” with black propaganda, instead of them doing what proper sceptics do, and what they would have done and since then have done, which is find out the truth and spread it to whoever is clever and interested enough to respond, and just go on doing that until they win, or not, as the case may be

By the way, see this for what the mainstream media coverage of Climategate now looks like from the other side of the fence, which I came across earlier today.  He agrees with me.  Climategate was, not just for the Hockey Team but for the entire AGW tendency, a total catastrophe.  But, he still assumes they are basically okay guys, and therefore argues that they could have “handled Climategate better”, by telling the truth sooner, publishing all their data, etc..  But what if the truth is that it’s all a giant con?

This is good, too.

UPDATE Thursday morning.  Here is a fascinating comment (from “Rockstone") on that Samizdata piece (spelling blemishes corrected):

Recently at work the climate change issue came up in a group of about 10 people. As a “denier” I usually avoid the issue since I live in a very liberal area. I was blown away that everyone involved (most solid lefties based on previous conversations) had heard of Climategate and were VERY upset that they had been lied to. I was keeping my mouth shut and just listening. When I opined that we should look into the millions that Al Gore had made from his pronouncements, it was met with complete support from those who spoke up (some probably didn’t say anything).

Trust me, this has made a difference. Everyday, non-activist liberals are doubting global warming now. Now I’ll grant you I work with mostly men in an IT company and they may be less emotionally involved and more inclined to listen to cold logic. But some of them are borderline hippies. The new religion is losing converts.

Amazing.  Put it this way.  Has Climategate has made anyone more confident about AGW?

I’m starting to think (despite what I said in this posting) that maybe this is a History Date after all.

But then, literally in the middle of a particularly bizarre sentence he was speaking, I did a complete switch, to deciding that he was completely barking bonkers and that nothing he said, nothing at all, was to be relied upon.

I suspect I have to ask you privately for more juicy details about this. On the other hand, reading Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” made me change my attitude to him like that. I should have done the jump when he thanked Paul Ehrlich in the introduction, but it took a few chapters to sink in.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 17 December 2009

And in my case, I had the experience of rapidly changing my mind about a certain person who lied about something, and then, once my concerns were raised, turned out to be a liar about everything else. From that moment on - just a few days - I made it my business to avoid this person.

Posted by JPearce on 17 December 2009

Thinking about this personal/political comparison some more, I realise that although logically this AGW dilemma is the same, the way that people are now switching about AGW is, at any rate for people aware of the complaints of the sceptics, a bit different.  For quite a while they (we) have held in their (our) heads the thought that one or other of the contending teams could be wrong.  But the point is, if the sceptics were not wrong, the Hockey Team had to be perpetrating a huge lie.  Huge lie, or no lie.  That was the choice.

But with these personal stories of sussing out conmen, on the other hand, there was this sudden realisation that it was all lies.  No sooner had the thought been thought, than it became self-evidently true. There was no interim period of thinking: well, maybe, but I just don’t know.

However, for many people now, of the kind who had been assuming on trust, with no particular ideological inclination one way or another, who have until now been trusting the Hockey Team, maybe the switch really has been as sudden as with these personal stories.  Lots of people are now going from: AGW true, to: AGW complete bollocks.  Just like that.

But my point here is: this wasn’t my experience.  For me, it happened rather more slowly.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 17 December 2009

On AGW, I am slightly annoyed with myself for not being more willing to add the statement that “The science is settled” to my knowledge that it could not possibly be, to get “These people are (likely) criminally dishonest”. I was too generous to them.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 17 December 2009
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