The Big Ben Santer Problem, Pt 4: If Everyone was in Total Agreement, Why Would there be Any Need to Change Anything?

To briefly recap the salient points of Naomi Oreskes’ tale of how Dr Ben Santer (as opposed to Erik Conway) was the catalyst leading her to expose skeptic climate scientists as ‘corporate-paid/corrupted merchants of doubt’: she innocently wrote a paper published in Science; she was personally attacked for exposing the truth of a ‘science consensus’ on man-caused global warming; her colleagues suggested she speak to Ben Santer who’d been similarly attacked while doing innocent science work; and she soon learned their mutual attackers were shills of the fossil fuel industry, and her exposé of this propelled her into heroic status.

Part of that tale hinges on Dr Santer, an atmospheric scientist, being supposedly attacked by greedy corporate interests and their shills for simply doing the right thing of altering the text of a finalized, approved chapter within the IPCC’s 1995 report so that it reflected what everyone already agreed upon.

Wait … what? That enigma situation right there with Dr Santer really looks hardly different from the fictional one seen famously in the Tom Cruise / Jack Nicholson movie, A Few Good Men: “If you gave an order that Santiago wasn’t to be touched, and your orders are always followed, then why would he be in danger, why would it be necessary to transfer him off the base?

To understand how Oreskes’ comparison of herself to Dr Santer is faulty on the angle that both were doing something right for the benefit of science, we have to dissect the ‘Santer IPCC Chapter 8 situation.’

At the end of my Part 3 on Oreskes’ questionable efforts to compare her alleged ‘attack victim’ narrative to Dr Santer’s, I provided a series of links of in-depth viewpoints from both sides of the 1995 ‘Santer attack’ event. The critics’ side is perhaps still best summarized in Frederick Seitz July 11 1996 letter to the Wall Street Journal:

… . The deadline for reviewers’ comments on Chapter 8 of the IPCC report was July 7, 1995 …, the final draft of Chapter 8 was accepted by a working group of government representatives in Madrid. That identical version was accepted by the full lPCC at the plenary session in Rome the following month. But the version of Chapter 8 that was published was not the version that was approved at the IPCC plenary in Rome.
… someone connected with the presentation of the published version — presumably Dr. Santer and others — rewrote basic technical material in Chapter 8 with the result that scientific doubts about man-made global warming were suppressed.

A basic deadline end for clarifications or corrections, an approval among government representatives within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and then a subsequent alteration of that already-approved chapter by as little as one single person that significantly changed the tone of what all the represented government officials approved.

Dr Santer didn’t dispute that he made those alterations.

The New York Times August 6, 1996 “At Hot Center of Debate On Global Warming” report unequivocally said that, along with an additional angle about the situation:

He and he alone did indeed alter chapter 8 after the Madrid meeting, he said, because the scientists gathered there accepted the chapter, after long discussion, only on the condition that he do so. The result, he maintains, is a clearer and more accurate statement of the relevant science than the earlier draft.

The post-Madrid revisions left unchanged the chapter’s basic conclusion …. The chapter, which did not require line-by-line approval, provided the underpinning for the Madrid group’s official finding — formally approved word by word … That conclusion, contained in a separate summary for policy makers, also remains unchanged.

The reference to “formally approved word by word” regards the “Summary for Policymakers” of the IPCC’s Working Group I Report.

Almost two decades later in this 2015 video interview, beginning at the 24:26 point, Dr Santer basically sidesteps the problem with what was presented as approved chapter text at the mid-December 1995 Rome plenary session in his hit against the Global Climate Coalition’s criticism:

They argued that we, the scientists involved in Chapter 8 of the second assessment report .. were guilty of scientific cleansing, purging our chapter of all uncertainty. It was a lie! … Twenty percent of our chapter was specifically devoted to discussion of uncertainties … That was really difficult, I think, to get to grips with .. Lying as a calculated strategy .. being able to make the most outrageous claims. Another claim back then was from Fred Singer, that ‘changes to the IPCC chapter were made by shadowy political operatives for political purposes, they were not under the control of scientists, they had not been approved by the IPCC,’ all of that stuff was made up!

Dr Singer never used the words “shadowy” or “political operatives” in his July 11 1996 letter to the WSJ. So far, I can’t find that he’s used the word “shadowy” anywhere in his analysis of the Chapter 8 controversy.

Much more problematic in Dr Santer’s defense responses and that of his supporters is the absence of addressing how the text seen and approved at the 1995 Rome IPCC plenary session simply didn’t match with what ended up in the final publicly distributed 1996 print version of Chapter 8 (PDF file pages 421-453). Compare what’s removed/added between the 1995 Rome version and the final 1996 version — I say again for emphasis, removed/added — between the two. What Santer’s substitution does match is what’s seen in the Madrid 1995 “Summary for Policymakers.”

Dr Santer contends, best exemplified in a June 1996 letter he wrote to the Energy Daily, that his alterations to Chapter 8 didn’t change its overall meaning:

Did the changes alter the substance of the scientific conclusions of Chapter 8, as the Global Climate Coalition has alleged? The answer is categorically no. The evaluation of the scientific evidence in Chapter 8 was the same before and after the Madrid meeting. The bottom-line assessment of the science in the Oct. 9th version of Chapter 8 was “Taken together, these results point towards a human influence on climate”. The final assessment in the now-published Summary for Policymakers is that “the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate”. The latter sentence, which is entirely consistent with the earlier Oct. 9th sentence, was unanimously approved at the Madrid meeting by delegates from nearly 100 countries.

The “Oct. 9th version of Chapter 8” Dr Santer speaks of, with that specific ‘discernible-less wording,’ was little more than the two page Executive Summary, not the full actual chapter. And the actual chapter itself, at the Rome plenary session, still said “None of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can attribute the observed [climate] changes to the specific cause of increases in greenhouse gases.”

Not exactly consistent with either the notion that “these results point towards a human influence on climate” or that the results are “discernible,” is it?

What this all boils down to is elemental: committees should agonize over the precise details and analysis that goes into the final version of a scientific report. A summary of the report should summarize what’s in it, and when readers want to see if the full report does indeed support what’s in the summary, they should never discover that assertions in the summary clearly aren’t in the report. When your agreed-upon report contains the question, “When will an anthropogenic effect on climate be identified?” and the immediate next-sentence answer is “It is not surprising that the best answer to this question is, ‘we do not know,’” then your summary should not state there is a discernible identifier of the anthropogenic effect. How might someone make the summary match what’s in the already-approved report? By inserting the matching words ex post facto.

One more telling item from Dr Santer’s 2015 video interview, starting at the 20:25 point:

I remember sitting in a bar in Madrid with Stephen Schneider, the late Stephen Schneider, immediately after the final sentence had been agreed on in the 1995 report, a sentence that’s forever engraved on my memory, “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate,” and here we are at this bar and Steve says to me, “This changes everything, your life is gonna be changed forever.” And I had no idea what he was talking about, I really didn’t, quite honestly, I was just relieved that the whole thing was done, and I could go back and be a normal scientist again and get back to the research that I loved doing, but he was right.

Chapter 8 certainly was changed after its approved version in December 1995. But in light of Dr Santer claiming his self-confessed alterations to the Chapter itself didn’t change the meaning or substance of the chapter, that’s where the “If you gave an order that Santiago wasn’t to be touched, and your orders are always followed, then why would he be in danger, why would it be necessary to transfer him off the base?” enigma arises.

If the agreed-upon Chapter 8 irrefutably already contained clear indications about a definite anthropogenic effect on climate, why would there be any need to alter it?

Is that not a valid question to ask? Naomi Oreskes instead portrays Dr Santer this situation as personally attacked by greedy corporate interests for simply stating a simple honest truth about a settled science conclusion, and one of her two story variations of what propelled her into being a hero exposing one of the ‘shills connected to the same sinister industry interests’ hinges on her comparison to Dr Santer as an innocent attack victim.

How many additional problematic angles are there to her ‘Santer comparison’ story?
Next in this series, Part 5: “Santer didn’t tell anybody … ”