Dear Willie: when in a hole, stop digging

Well hallelujah! We’ve been waiting years to read something bordering on sensible from UCC’s ‘Public Awareness of Science’ officer and Irish Times columnist William Reville on the subject of climate change and by golly, this week’s offering was very, very nearly there.

Reville did a review/critique of sorts of Duncan Stewart’s excellent recent RTE documentary, ‘A Burning Question‘ (though he didn’t actually manage to get the title right). Regarding Climategate, Reville has had little short of an epiphany. Today he writes: “…it soon became clear that most of the suspicious e-mail content was just insider jargon and “macho” posturing and did not weaken the overall scientific case for climate change”.

What a fascinating volte face from the ‘Public Awareness of Science’ expert! In the same column in the same paper last December, Reville was, well, revelling in the exposure of the great climate swindle: “The e-mails appear to reveal scientists on the majority side of the debate massaging data to suit their anthropic global warming (AGW) hypothesis, dragging their heels on freedom of information requests, and conspiring to block scientists who oppose AGW from publishing their results”. This was, he breathlessly reported, an “explosive development”.

In the same shoddy piece, he trotted out another favourite denialist canard: “In the 1970s, climatologists predicted that an ice-age was imminent and environmental biologists warned that acid rain would destroy wildlife”. He followed it up with a despicable slur on real scientists, the ones, unlike Reville, who carry out actual climate research, often in some of the most hostile locations on earth, and publish their findings in major peer-reviewed journals. This effort is dismissed with this breathlessly cynical put-down: “There is an understandable temptation for environmental scientists, who depend on government grants, to exaggerate dangers”.

Reville then quickly lapsed into his favoured pseudo-religious babble: “modern scientific forecasters and their green supporters fulfil the same psychological need as the old religious prophets who preached that the end of the world will be God’s punishment for sinners.” This drivel says infinitely more about its author than the people he thinks he is putting down.

Journalist Marco Chiappi did a splendid dissection of Reville’s sordid little piece in a posting we published here on December 13 last. Headlined ‘Latest recruit to the Confederacy of Climate Dunces’, Chiappi tore Reville’s fabrications to shreds, line by line, piece by piece, slur by slur. Unlike some of the rank idiots who jumped on the Climategate wagon out of genuine stupidity, Reville doesn’t even have the fig leaf of science ignorance to hide his shame.

Anyhow, now that Reville accepts that Climategate was a gigantic anti-science hoax, I searched in vain in today’s contribution for his public apology for his role in disseminating and – to the unwary – giving credence to this vicious fabrication. Instead of humility, we get more pouting and self-pity.

“I was denounced as a ‘climate dunce’ and lectured on the nature of science by non-scientists who seem to ignore the fact that scepticism is a primary characteristic of the scientific method.” Boo hoo, Willie. If you pull out your dictionary, you might look up the word ‘sceptic’ and then the word ‘cynic’. I think you’ll find your histrionics fit firmly into the latter category. Anyone describing himself as a scientist owes the public – and his fellow scientists – a grovelling public apology for grievously misrepresenting this issue.

Back to Chiappi’s critique: “The problem with Reville’s bleating on this subject is that he has access to all the academic journals in which the tricks and hidden declines to which Jones refers have been openly canvassed. Briffa has been publishing on these problems since at least 1998. And as any academic knows, as Reville certainly should that when you adjust data you indicate where this has happened. Does Reville point to any evidence where this hasn’t happened? Of course not, for conspiracy stories are better served by quoting the shorthand between academics rather than reading the articles in which the shorthand is given a full and rigorous academic expression.”

The thousands of stolen emails from the East Anglia Climate Research Unit over a 13 year period yielded two or three sentences which, with the aid of the likes of Reville, were inflated and distorted into a great big scientific conspiracy that “…will undoubtedly weaken the AGW case…”.

And the good Professor, despite his own complete lack of expertise in climate science (his specialty is biochemistry) sounds kinda sorta like an expert, so his idealogical hostility to anything vaguely left-of-centre (environmentalism, sustainability, climate science, etc. etc.) can be packaged up as expert ‘sceptical scientific dissent’ and then parroted back through the media echo chamber. Lordy.

Reville concludes today’s homily with a good question: “How should we persuade people about the reality/ implications of climate change?” Answering his own question, he says: “First, the preaching must stop.” Turns out that tacking catastrophic climate change is “an exciting adventure that will probably require some sacrifice”. To paraphrase Meg Ryan from that famous orgasm scene in ‘When Harry Met Sally”, I’ll have what Prof. Reville is smoking!

On a more serious note, a really good place to start might be to agree to stop telling lies and spreading disinformation (that old 1970s ‘global cooling’ bullshit really needs to be laid to rest for once and for all). Back in June 2008, Reville launched one of his more infamous anti-environmental tirades which included such penetrating wisdoms as: “many leading greens seem to be Marxists” and “the green movement believes in God, or more precisely, a Godess called Gaia”. He went on to attempt to ridicule the “golden rule of sustainability”, as if sustainability were somehow a Marxist plot instead of being a basic axiom of life.

That particular piece began thus: “I recently heard Minister for the Environment John Gormley advocating the green way to brush your teeth – turn off the tap while you brush to conserve water. There is a green way to do almost everything – eating, travelling, shopping, etc – and you could spend your whole time pondering green choices about the minutiae of your life. The green philosophy is, at core, a secular religion”.

Sometimes you encounter arguments that are so poorly constructed, so manifestly shallow and ideological, that you wonder if simply ignoring them would in reality be the best course. A letter published in the Irish Times back in June ’08 really nailed Reville’s sophistry. It concluded: “Denial, generally the preserve of the determindely ignorant, ill befits Dr Reville, who frankly should know better than to rely on the propaganda that more commonly characterises the less evolved of the industrialist species. His credibility is in tatters and one can only wonder at his motives.”

Willie, time to put away your shovel. At the rate you’re digging, it’s only a matter of time before you and Plimer meet somewhere in the centre of the Earth (unless, of course, the Earth is flat!).

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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10 Responses to Dear Willie: when in a hole, stop digging

  1. Lenny B says:

    That piece is a riot! Poor old Dr Reville must be feeling even sorrier for himself than usual today. Every chance he gets, he loves to paint environmentalists as quasi religious fundamentalists and zealots. Funny, really, as that’s the language you usually associate with God-botherer ultra-Catholic types. People like W. Reville, now that you mention it. No wonder he’s so good at spotting zealots – takes one to know one?

    Here’s my oxymoron for the day: “Catholic Scientist”. I read somewhere that Reville actually accepts the Theory of Evolution (well done, sir!) but one’s religious leanings and deep suspicion of ‘godless’ environmentalists (come to think of it, aren’t the vast majority of real scientists agnostic/atheist, so they’re not to be trusted either, could be closet Commies, Professor?) would naturally lead a “Catholic Scientist” to be suspicious of same, and prepared to think (and write) the very worst about their motives.

  2. Bily says:

    Well Reville still has his soap box in the Irish Times every Thursday and John, yours has been taken away, so I guess at least any remaining argument as to where Madam Editor (of “global warming guff” fame) really stands on this issue. I find myself increasing drifting to the Guardian as just about the only remaining newspaper that treats climate change/chaos for what it is – the biggest, baddest issue the world has ever faced.

    Fintan O’Toole is about the best of what’s left in the Times. His ‘Ship of Fools’ book addresses environmental disruption and climate change seriously, but mysteriously, almost none of this analysis seems to find its way into his otherwise excellent weekly columns.

    These focus on Nama, financial crookery, etc., all worthy topics, but in the medium to long term, irrelevant to our chances of survival as a species. How can someone that smart be that blinkered in the same breath? I guess in the heel of the hunt, we all see what we want to see…

  3. Brian O'Brien says:

    Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of this for a minute – what’s more to the point is that June 2010 has just been confirmed by NASA as the hottest month ever recorded globally. Equally, Jan-June 2010 is now officially the hottest first half year ever recorded. And that INCLUDES the big freeze in Europe and the US at the start of the year!

    Something pretty serious is going on; apparently the chances of all these record-breaking warm years since 1880 happening in just the last 15 years being a coincidence is several million to one, and I don’t much like those odds.

    Thtas where the focus needs to be, but the above facts have barely surfaced on the Irish papers or on RTE. Hopefully Professor Reville might use his weekly column to explain what exactly is going on with our climate?

  4. EWI says:

    Reville has recently dusted off his “scientists are Commies” slur – no doubt with a mind to sticking it to evolutionary and climate scientists. The Cedar Lounge crew discussed it here:

  5. EWI says:

    I read somewhere that Reville actually accepts the Theory of Evolution

    Well, not quite. He loudly proclaims that he’s not into Creationism/Intelligent Design, but then inevitably follows up in the same piece with… Goddunnit (sorry, a ‘higher being’ etc.).

    The similarities in style to his ongoing footsie with AGW denialism is remarkable.

  6. John Gibbons says:

    Two Thursdays ago, Comrade Reville said: “I was decidedly left-wing as a young man, being impressed both by the egalitarian ideals and the “scientific” credentials of Marxism. However, I changed my mind as I gradually learned about hard-core socialism in action”.

    “…And, so, a society organised on “scientific” Marxist principles in which the natural sciences were harnessed to power a centrally-planned economy looked very attractive to many scientists tired of contemplating the “irrational social institutions” in Britain…”

    One wonders what revolutionary acts the young Comrade Reville engaged in – perhaps he was subversively a few minutes late for Mass the odd time? Still, there’s no fool like an old fool, and he has since his youthful dalliances had the wisdom to see through the Commie plot to subvert “science” in service of, er, Mother Russia (or was it North Korea?).

    We are indebted to the person a publicly-funded university describes as its “Public Awareness of Science Officer” for these insights into his warped caricatures of science, how it operates, and the motivation of real scientists working in the field and publishing in the peer-reviewed journals (as opposed to desk academics taking cheap shots from their comfy university posting).

    If Reville was ever in his life a leftie, then call me the Queen of Sheba!

  7. John Gibbons says:

    DCU Assoc. Prof., Barry McMullin joined in the discussion on Reville’s recent column, but his comments have been filed in a separate thread on this site (“EU may adapt 10pc biofeul target”) so in the interest of completeness, I’ve reproduced Barry’s comments below:

    Barry McMullan: William Reville’s Irish Times column from last week… provoked me into writing to the Editor. Chances of publication low, but for what it’s worth, here’s the resultant rant:

    Madam –
    William Reville accepts that public perception of climate change is increasingly diverging from the best scientific understanding of the issue, and that this is a very worrying development (Irish Times, 15th July 2010). He attributes this (exclusively?) to psychological denial: when people are faced with a dire warning of impending disaster, with no meaningful opportunity to evade it, perhaps the only sane way of coping is to assume that the predictions must be mistaken.

    This is a plausible idea, and I am quite sympathetic to it. However, I doubt that it is the full, or even the dominant, force at work. In particular, Professor Reville does not refer to the practice of deliberate public misinformation, systematically promoted by vested interests that are opposed to substantive action on climate change. The existence of this cynical practice, on a large scale, is well documented (e.g., the 2007 report from the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, “Smoke, Mirrors and Hot Air”) and is not seriously disputed.

    It seems to me naive to suppose that such a sophisticated and ongoing PR effort has had no effect at all on public perceptions: on the contrary, it cries out to be explicitly highlighted and subject to just the kind of sceptical critique that Professor Reville so rightly and eloquently espouses.

    Yours etc., Barry McMullin, The Rince Research Institute, Dublin City University

  8. Lenny B says:

    Well said, Barry. Dr Reville would indeed be a great deal more convincing on this topic were he to address the ‘Elephant in the room’, this of course being the massive and ongoing disinformation campaign being waged against both science itself and its practititioners, in this case, climate scientists (who have taken an almighty and absolutely unwarranted kicking for their troubles).

    If ever the phase ‘Shoot The Messenger’ rang true, this would be it.

  9. breako says:

    I have sent several comments to this website which were just ignored. I think you need to make it clearer that you have a policy of ignoring comments for whatever reasons. Your website is presented in such a fashion that it gives the impression that it accepts free speech and alternative viewpoints.

    But it doesn’t. Not only does this waste people’s time who will get a fairer run at somewhere like it also presents a very lob sided view of things as uncongenial opinions are censored even though it never mentions that this happens anywhere on the site.

  10. John Gibbons says:

    Dear ‘Breako’, apologies if I hadn’t made it abundantly clear to you that I had no interest in prolonged exchanges with someone who already knows it all, and whose piercing insights would turn the world of science (real science, that is, not the makey-uppey stuff so favoured by denialists) on it’s head if only they could be published on more blogs…

    There are loads of blogs out there covering hot topics from Elvis sightings to Creation Science and ‘who REALLY shot JFK’ that might benefit more from your insights and input. This one is kinda boring, folks who post here and most people who read are actually interested in climate science, not conspiracy theories, however fascinating they may appear to the theorists. So, anonymous poster, take that as a polite PFO. If you formed the impression that we are under some obligation to publish stuff just because you send it in, that is yet another of your views that just ain’t so.

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