Emails released by wikileaks show that Roger Pielke was the target of an organized political effort to stop him speaking on climate issues. Remember, Pielke is largely an IPCC type guy — supporting most of their consensus including even carbon trading. Yet straying a tiny bit from the approved line made him a major threat — the IPCC message is a whole package and a flaw in any part of it could unravel the whole kit and caboodle.
Roger Pielke was surprised to find his name in the Podesta emails:
“The multi-year campaign against me by CAP was partially funded by billionaire Tom Steyer, and involved 7 writers at CAP who collectively wrote more than 160 articles about me, trashing my work and my reputation. Over the years, several of those writers moved on to new venues, including The Guardian, Vox and ClimateTruth.org where they continued their campaign focused on creating an evil, cartoon version of me and my research.”
Collectively, they were quite successful. The campaign ultimately led to me being investigated by a member of Congress and pushed out of the field.
That story has been told in the Wall Street Journal today:
My Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic
My research was attacked by thought police in journalism, activist groups funded by billionaires and even the White House.
The relentless combination of trial by media, combined with the RICO threat (more on that below), and the loss of his regular role at 538 , wore down Roger Pielke (and no doubt deterred many others that we will never hear from). He stopped his climate research, stopped doing interviews, and stopped his blog.
How we protect the heretics? Pielke doesn’t have much to suggest:
If academics—in any subject—are to play a meaningful role in public debate, the country will have to do a better job supporting good-faith researchers, even when their results are unwelcome. This goes for Republicans and Democrats alike, and to the administration of President-elect Trump.
He’s missing the point though. Academia is a rotting wasteland and we need to do a lot more than fight for free speech for academics. If we support all good-faith researchers, academia will keep wallowing along. (Many poor climate scientists are still doing it in “good faith”.) What we need is competence — we need researchers who understand logic and reason, and know what the scientific method is, and who will debate publicly, defend their views and fix their errors.
This is not about “Republicans and Democrats alike”. It’s not “alike”, there is no equivalence — academia has become a politburo of regressive-progressives and bias. But none of them need be fired for their political beliefs, because that would be wrong. Let’s just fire the incompetent ones. Fire people because they don’t know what science is, because they refuse to debate, won’t reply to questions, and don’t admit their errors. Each prof that argues from authority or launches a cheap ad hom ought get a warning: three strikes and they’re out. Furthermore, they need to teach the proper basics too — let’s test all their students to see if they understand the scientific method — and if the students fail, the prof must get the sack. If it so happens that all the regressives get the chop, it’ll be the best thing for universities, for research, and for left wing politics, because others will come to fill their shoes and bring some intellectual rigor back.
Alright, so that’s a bit of a long term goal. In the meantime, we can support the people who are on the front line with messages, comments and letters to the editor and protests to the university. Since most of these attacks are nothing more than social stings and barbs themselves, then every grateful, supportive message is an arrow in return. Every letter demanding an explanation from their superior, the VC, or a journalist is a flanking move. Never underestimate how much this kind of work helps bolster people against the tide of ill will. We can help carry people through the attacks.
Pielke talks about the troubles that drove him out of the climate debate:
…look at the journalists who helped push me out of FiveThirtyEight. My first article there, in 2014, was based on the consensus of the IPCC and peer-reviewed research. I pointed out that the global cost of disasters was increasing at a rate slower than GDP growth, which is very good news. Disasters still occur, but their economic and human effect is smaller than in the past. It’s not terribly complicated.
That article prompted an intense media campaign to have me fired. Writers at Slate, Salon, the New Republic, the New York Times, the Guardian and others piled on.In March of 2014, FiveThirtyEight editor Mike Wilson demoted me from staff writer to freelancer. A few months later I chose to leave the site after it became clear it wouldn’t publish me. The mob celebrated.
In 2013, He presented at the US House and Senate, and said things that were largely in line with the fine print at the IPCC (if not so much with their advertising) Pielke reported: “Those conclusions indicate no overall increasing trend in hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or droughts—in the U.S. or globally.” Obama’s science advisor John Holdren then attacked Pielke as not a mainstream representative in an essay “chock-full of errors and misstatements.” These in turn were then used as the basis to start a RICO (Racketeering) investigation — something usually thrown at the Mafia.
The “investigation” turned out to be a farce. In the letter, Rep. Grijalva suggested that I—and six other academics with apparently heretical views—might be on the payroll of Exxon Mobil (or perhaps the Illuminati, I forget). He asked for records detailing my research funding, emails and so on. After some well-deserved criticism from the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union, Rep. Grijalva deleted the letter from his website. The University of Colorado complied with Rep. Grijalva’s request and responded that I have never received funding from fossil-fuel companies. My heretical views can be traced to research support from the U.S. government.
But the damage to my reputation had been done, and perhaps that was the point. Studying and engaging on climate change had become decidedly less fun. So I started researching and teaching other topics and have found the change in direction refreshing. Don’t worry about me: I have tenure and supportive campus leaders and regents. No one is trying to get me fired for my new scholarly pursuits.
Roger is not doing himself, or the institution of academia many favours with skeptics with that last description. If full academic tenure is not enough to keep someone saying what they believe to be true, what’s the point?
In an ideal world we should be grateful he fought so long on a grinding path (and though we wish he were still battling on, a lot of his tenured colleagues bailed out at the start). But what he is admitting here is that academic tenure eventually converts most researchers into full time spokesman for government programs they can agree with. They may have to move fields to find one that fits, but it’s a filter that works on all but the most tenacious. (Praise be to Christy, Spencer, Lindzen, Curry and the few survivors who don’t give in. Praise also to the scientists who do real work without the luxury of tenure, or even a salary).
But the lesson is that a lone academic is no match for billionaires, well-funded advocacy groups, the media, Congress and the White House.
An academics shouldnt have to be a match for all these, especially not on their own. That’s where the institutions and other academics failed Pielke. What price did they pay when they stayed silent — hard to say. There’s no incentive in this system for other tenured people to speak up. If other academics won’t defend free speech, why should taxpayers defend academia?
Judith Curry has pretty strong feelings about the RICO threats (she faced it herself) — explaining why she thought many of the signatories who were for it had no idea what they were advocating or how dangerous this was for science. She knew some of them and wrote back:
What you have done with your letter is the worst kind of irresponsible advocacy, which is to attempt to silence scientists that disagree with you by invoking RICO. It is bad enough that politicians such as Whitehouse and Grijalvi are playing this sort of political game with science and scientists, but I regard it as highly unethical for scientists to support defeating scientists with whom you disagree by such methods. Since I was one of the scientists called out in Grijalvi’s witch hunts, I can only infer that I am one of the scientists you are seeking to silence.
Peter Webster did not exaggerate when he wrote: You have signed the death warrant for science.
Today Pielke writes a regular column about sports governance for the Daily Camera, which is probably a good thing for sport, but his years of expertise in the climate debate have been silenced.