Doug Bostrom: Misrepresentation from Lindzen

Hoisted from comments -mt

If Peter Gleick was informally censured by AGU for lack of integrity in behavior not related to scientific research, what of Richard Lindzen and his science communications?

See today’s posting at RealClimate:

Misrepresentation from Lindzen

Richard Lindzen is a very special character in the climate debate – very smart, high profile, and with a solid background in atmospheric dynamics. He has, in times past, raised interesting critiques of the mainstream science. None of them, however, have stood the test of time – but exploring the issues was useful. More recently though, and especially in his more public outings, he spends most of his time misrepresenting the science and is a master at leading people to believe things that are not true without him ever saying them explicitly.

That’s Gavin Schmidt speaking, so just one person’s opinion quoted, but one apparently shared by many.

AGU’s “vision statement”:

Our Vision

AGU galvanizes a community of Earth and space scientists that collaboratively advances and communicates science and its power to ensure a sustainable future.

“Communicates science.” Is Lindzen upholding this vision, being a good Fellow of the AGU? Having made an example of Gleick, what would justify AGU in remaining silent about Lindzen? What’s the threshold for censure, on the continuum leading from private activities to representing the scientific community in an authoritative capacity?

UPDATE: Lindzen has withdrawn the particular claim in question, but in a manner that has been called weaselly (by a fellow who ought to know).


  1. I was astonished to come across this article today. Apparently the journalists' view is that

    Lying about yourself is worse than lying about your opponent
    Lying about personal matters is worse than lying about policy

    I think in today's careerist society that may equally apply to the upper reaches of academia, or indeed any place else where there is fierce, connection-based competition for top spots, which nowadays is almost everywhere.

    After all, Lindzen didn't misrepresent himself. He just misrepresented his opposition and the factual evidence. Far lesser sins.

    I mean, he just lied about his domain of expertise and his opponent, putting the entire world at risk. It's not as if he padded his resumé, is it? Glieck, however, clearly did that. So, among the people with the most prominent careers, what he did was cheating.

    What Lindzen did was ordinary posturing. "Everybody""knows" that it is not for scientific consumption. Lindzen has essentially retired to a career in politics. So whatever he says is perfectly okay as long as he doesn't claim a false credential.

  2. Lying is a whole subject of expertise; scholars of the topic tell us that lies can become essentially compulsory under certain circumstances if one wants to have a more clean conscience. Not squeaky clean, mind you, just less sullied.

    Lindzen may feel compelled to "mislead" about science because he sincerely believes more harm will befall us if society follows the policy outcomes of the scientific consensus on climate change. Alternatively Lindzen actually believes what he's saying, which would seem to imply he's not a very competent scientist, probably isn't offering useful advice, but is morally pure. The least charitable hypothesis is that he's "misleading" for other purposes, probably none of which would be good or defensible.

    According to recent pronouncements by the AGU, regardless of whether Lindzen is "misleading" for reasons of moral compulsion or material gain, he ought to be censured. If he is sufficiently ignorant of his topic as to be innocent of lying, he pass the ethics test.

    AGU's stance is probably rather too simple; lying for gain as opposed to misguided lying for good can reasonably be described as slightly different cases, deserving of discrimination.

    Tricky business, not amenable to proper treatment in a press release written in haste.

    Perhaps we all need a copy of "Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life" handy.

  3. This is another example of well paid think tank nonsense making it out to the world. But whatever you do media, DO NOT LOOK INTO IT. IT IS A WAIST OF TIME TO FIGURE WHERE ALL THIS BS COMES FROM AND WHO PAYS FOR IT. IN NO WAY DO THINK TANKS EFFECT THE DEBATE.

  4. Even though I'm riled up about what appear to be weird inconsistencies when it comes to judging the ethical behavior of scientists, it's good to consider all the possibilities before seizing on any one theory concerning Lindzen. After all, if AGU were to take up this matter thoughtfully, they'd have to look at it from all sides.

    If you don't mind, I'll replicate a list of possibilities I conjectured over at RealClimate:

    Let’s try to find a charitable way to treat Richard Lindzen, one that finds him free of ethical transgressions:

    – Richard Lindzen understands the science he’s speaking of but sincerely believes the public policy outcomes of heeding that science are so negative that he must misrepresent the science so as to help avoid those policies being enacted. Acting under moral suasion he is engaging in deception.

    – Richard Lindzen understands the science he’s speaking of, understands the consequent requirement to beneficially adjust public policy to take heed of this science, but for reasons we cannot know chooses to misrepresent the science. He is engaging in deception for reasons apparently unconnected with moral compulsion.

    – Richard Lindzen understands the science but is consistently careless, sloppy and inattentive when it comes to making presentations of that science, hence does not consider himself to be misrepresenting science even though he is conveying inaccurate information. He is innocent of deception.

    – Richard Lindzen simply does not understand the science and thus does not consider himself to be engaging in “misrepresentation” though in fact he is conveying inaccurate information. He is innocent of deception.

    – The vast majority of other actors in climate science are misrepresenting science and Richard Lindzen is not. He is innocent of deception.

    Any other possibilities?

  5. Thinking further about ethics or more particularly what we say about ethics versus what we do, for those AGU members (are there any here?) who found Peter Gleick's behavior worthy of censure, how do you find a comfortable way to remain silent when considering Lindzen?

    AGU recently was recently moved to restate its commitment to upholding the highest ethical standards among its members:

    AGU expects its members to adhere to the highest standards of scientific integrity in their research and in their interactions with colleagues and the public. Among the core values articulated in AGU’s Strategic Plan are ‘excellence and integrity in everything we do.’ The vast majority of scientists share and live by these values.”

    Failing the apparently unlikely circumstance of his conveyance of climate science information to the public being more sincerely and competently correct than the majority of other scientists practicing in the field, Prof. Lindzen can't reasonably be considered to be comporting himself in adherence to AGU's emphatically stated wishes. He seems to fail at least on "excellence" and some might even say "integrity."

    Knowing this, how does an AGU member justify remaining silent on the topic of Lindzen's communications with the public? Is there reliable oversight provided as a substitute for vigilance on the part of members? Is silence tacit consent with Lindzen's activities, or is this silence a failure of moral behavior?

    How does one perform the calculus necessary to remain silent when confronted with a significant lapse that costs nothing to mention, where that mention would be in defense of AGU's principles?

  6. -Richard Lindzen has become morally vacuous. He is going through the motions of 'scepticism' in an increasingly perfunctory manner. He is stuck in a rut and doesn't have the will to change his patterns of thought.

    Ah, no - wait a second, we were supposed to be being charitable.

    But then maybe I am.

  7. In between nitpicking over the exact climate sensitivity to C02 and other details, the Lindzen comments stream at RealClimate is inadvertently and occasionally touching on what some of us (me, for instance) would say is the more important issue of rogue scientists trading on institutional names to promote misunderstanding, what should be done about that. There's an epidemic of such behavior spanning far beyond climate science and professional organizations appear entirely unprepared or unwilling to deal with it.

    If there's lasting value to what appears so far to have been a fear-driven, pro forma, ritual public humiliation of Gleick, it might lie in further exploration of the full implications of AGU's hasty and incomplete response.

  8. Doug,

    I think this AGU nonsense is what happens when an organization thinks too much about politics while pretending to itself that it's not thinking about politics.

    They should friggin' make up their minds, and either stop trying to be politic and commit to scientific correctness all the way, or just stop pretending and admit to themselves and the world that they're essentially acting like politicians.

    See also this Rabett Run blogpost from June 2011 which quotes Greg Craven:

    [...] in my short time at AGU, I discovered four scientists who are already creating some form of survival retreat for their family, and they told me there are many more. But they are all too scared of being ostracized in the scientific community if they speak of it.


    What I ask of the scientists [at the AGU meeting] is simple, easy, and does not threaten the purity of the scientific endeavor. I ask only that each scientist recognize that we each wear multiple hats in our lives, and that it is a tragic mistake to insist on wearing exclusively your scientist hat when addressing the public. Instead, go out and tell the public in any forum you can find: "As a scientist, here is what I know. As a citizen, here are my concerns, and my thoughts on what we should do. And as a father, a mother, a grandparent, here are my fears, even my terrors, and my backup plans to safeguard my family." [...]

    Instead, to my horror and dismay, what I saw was even the encouragement to hold the line harder, with the incredibly influential Michael Oppenheimer telling the audience to be sure they continue to assiduously stick to avoiding any discussions of policy.

    It's sickening that such a large group of brilliant scientists can act in such absurd ways.

    -- frank

  9. And then there's James Hansen, Frank, another AGU Fellow and one probably admired by many nodding their heads at Oppenheimer asking the impossible.

    Incoherent, inconsistent, not scientific. Human. Frail.

  10. Thorough exploration of this topic at RC seems to reveal that while AGU does a great job publishing journals and convening meetings, it may as well drop the pretense of expectations concerning interactions between its members and the public.

    It's going to be very hard to rebut "misrepresentation" of science when "misrepresentation" carries no cost whatsoever but hopefully after another couple of decades and 175ppm or so we'll figure out a substitute for personal responsibility and full ownership of reputation.

  11. "Let’s try to find a charitable way to treat Richard Lindzen, one that finds him free of ethical transgressions"

    Why? We should consider explanations in light of their objective plausibility.

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