The Connolley Problem, pt 1: Call in the Cavalry

Back in the early spring of 2007, believers of catastrophic man-caused global warming were no doubt quite happy with Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” movie, Ross Gelbspan’s books, prominent pro-global warming blogs, mainstream media outlets, and others who gave essentially no fair play to the presentation of detailed climate assessments from skeptic climate scientists. But then came the announcement in the UK about a video to be broadcast March 8, 2007 on their Channel 4 called “The Great Global Warming Swindle”, which was met with UK media scorn before it was seen, not once (full text here) but twice in the same manner (full text here). But unlike the arenas where the other material was presented (Gore’s movie encountered a UK lawsuit), the opportunity to inflict a major hit against the video existed via the UK’s communications regulator (Ofcom), but only if you called in the cavalry to do so. Not to inflict a scientific wound, however, but one via character assassination. One that ends up being a case study of how any given corruption accusation lodged against skeptic climate scientists is separated from Ross Gelbspan by three degrees or less.

Barely one day after the broadcast of “The Great Global Warming Swindle” (now preserved at this Youtube video), the pro-global warming blog RealClimate had a post about the video titled “Swindled!”, authored by Gavin Schmidt and William Connolley. Within that post’s comment section just a day later was a ‘model complaint’ to Ofcom for others to use which was lifted without specific attribution from another forum site. Just 5 days after the broadcast, the MediaLens organization labeled it “Pure Propaganda”, predictably citing Ross Gelbpsan and others who cite Gelbspan about ‘industry-corrupted skeptic climate scientists’, and called upon its readers to send complaints to Ofcom. Seven days later, the intent by one writer who suggested sending complaints was impossible to miss:

My concern is not with the content of the programme, with its fancy-sounding academic talking heads whom few take seriously, but rather with the fact that it is ALLOWED TO EXIST… So please, be ethical and complain to Ofcom, Channel 4 and anyone else who will listen about this film. If we can silence these people, then the sound of future generations cheering us on will become deafening.”

Given the level of vitriol aimed at skeptic climate scientists from the early 1990s up to 2007, one can just imagine the kind of complaints that were sent. As noted in a BBC report about the aftermath of its ruling in 2008, “some of the 265 complaints received by Ofcom were short and straightforward”. No doubt others were of a length similar to what the Royal Society’s former head of media, Bob Ward submitted, a cover letter and a 3400-word comparison of science points. That kind of presentation is it is something enviro-activists loath, arguments/counterarguments among scientists which are allowed to exist in the first place. The otherwise disinterested public might not read far into skeptics’ arguments, but if they see them side-by-side with those out of the IPCC, they might yawn and say to both sides, “come back and tell us what you know when you really know what you’re talking about.”

What’s one way to get the public to skip reading skeptic scientists’ material? Call it propaganda purchased by a fossil fuel industry which denies climate change.

Ward posted his complaint to Ofcom at a web site he had created a year earlier named “Climate of Denial”, the same year as the headline story about his Royal Society letter to an oil executive which had insinuations that industry funding tainted anyone who criticized the notion of man-caused global warming. There’s more, keep an eye out for his name in a later post about this Ofcom complaint situation. [5/4/16 Author’s note: Didn’t ultimately find the space for in in this series, but I have it in my computer notes about Ward’s odd tie to Dave Rado.]

For readers desiring a deeper look into particular faults with the science arguments/counterarguments and aspects of the Ofcom regulation methodology, blogger analyst Steve McIntyre (of ‘hockey stick’ analysis fame) has numerous posts in his “TGGSW”, “Ofcom” and “Swindle” categories about specific complaints against the video and the fallout of Ofcom’s 2008 ruling. IPCC critic/blogger Donna Laframboise utilized one of McIntyre’s posts here regarding a political point made by IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, and “Red Hot Lies” book author Chris Horner had a nice 6-page summary of the video and the complaints here.

Laframboise and Horner touched quite lightly on the idea of “due impartiality of the program” within the complaints. McIntyre offered a bit more, while also making brief mentions in a few places of a particular standout complaint that even Ofcom itself brought to everyone’s attention (full text here), one that was 176 pages long authored by a person named Dave Rado.

I submit that the Rado complaint’s origins and sources for its ‘industry-corrupted skeptics’ accusation, along within its connection to William Connolley, is worthy of much deeper investigation, since it offers a window into the world of efforts to quash skeptic climate scientists via character assassination. Efforts that, as ever, lead to only one highly questionable source.

BBC News featured a rather compelling online opinion piece by Rado when Ofcom put out its ruling, in which he described his status as just an ordinary person, “unconnected with any environmental or scientific group“, concerned with little more than the requirement that the media reports matters accurately. I’m an ordinary person desiring the same accuracy in media, and any ‘connections’ I have were fully disclosed at the start of this blog. Rado, on the other hand, inadvertently revealed his own troubling enviro/science connection right within his own opinion piece, which only leads to other deeper problems.

The morning after the broadcast, I posted on the blog of the British Antarctic Survey’s scientist William Connolley, saying that I wanted to complain to Ofcom and asking whether any scientists could help me write a comprehensive complaint.

Indeed, at Connolley’s blog post (posted days before the video was broadcast, noting he was not planning to watch it himself), the comment Rado refers to is right here, #39:

I’m planning to write to Ofocm [sic] about such an intentionally misleading programme being shown by a public service broadcaster …. this wasn’t simply airing a point of view, it was intentionally misleading … is there anyone who’d be willing to help me with this project …? If so, I could ask W [William Connolley] if he could put us in touch with each other.

If that’s all you read, Rado’s situation is seemingly only beset by an appearance of having the arrogance that Connolley would grant such a favor to an ordinary citizen who just arrived out-of-the-blue. But scroll up through the comments and you will see eleven prior ones from Rado going back three days to #10 where Rado first makes an assertion that Connolley has to correct, and then, on raising complaints about bias, asks about where to complain … followed by one more gem in his comment #11:

Who does one complain to about that aspect (breaking of the Communications Act) – Ofcom, ITC, or someone else?

One more question: anyone know whether Svensmark and Calder have any links to the oil industry, or any other background on their likely motives?

Much like Bob Ward, Rado puts the cart before the horse, proceeding on a preconceived notion that association with industry taints anything a skeptic writes. Make no mistake about it, Rado was fully set to lodge a complaint before he had viewed a single second of the video. Where did that mindset come from? You can’t miss it in the “Natural Sceptic” section at Rado’s 2008 BBC News opinion piece:

My interest in climate science and my subsequent involvement in this project were sparked several years ago.

A friend told me there was a global conspiracy involving nearly all of the world’s governments, most of the world’s scientists and the media to convince the public that there is a major human influence on climate when they were well aware there was no evidence for this. …

After reading hundreds of scientific papers and summaries I was struck by the quite extraordinary amount of evidence – and more importantly, the many completely independent lines of evidence that all point in the same direction – that human greenhouse gas emissions are indeed profoundly changing the climate ….

…all of the papers I read disputing this premise used the cherry picking of evidence as a tactic. Many of them recycled long discredited myths ….

This also led me to find a number of high profile websites devoted entirely to peddling misinformation about climate – many of them run by, and most of them funded by, lobby groups that campaign against action on climate change. Many of these lobby groups are partly funded by sections of the fossil fuel industry.

So my friend was right that there are many people actively engaged in a well-funded attempt to subvert mainstream science and to mislead the public; although he seems to have been mistaken about which side is doing most of the subverting.

Eerie, isn’t it, that Rado’s supposed friend relayed a conspiracy narrative which reads pretty much the same as what the BBC pre-broadcast critic spoke of? A narrative which, from my own experience of seeing it hurled around so often, looks far more like a snarky talking point pushed by pro-global warming people? (Additional examples here, here, and here). Even Ross Gelbspan saw fit to reproduce a George Monbiot article containing this talking point that was put online barely a month after “The Great Global Warming Swindle” video was broadcast. The same Monbiot who trashed the video that way a bit over a month before it was broadcast, don’t forget.

Other elemental questions arise from Dave Rado’s narrative: who was the friend, what were the “hundreds of scientific papers and summaries”, did Rado accept material out of those sites without question, and did he undertake due diligence to see if the ‘run and funded by industry’ accusations had any evidence to back them up?

Predictably, like other ‘skeptics corrupted by industry’ accusations I’ve seen, Rado’s 176-page Ofcom complaint contains no tidy answers, it is beset by multiple problems. It will take more than one additional blog post to explain its faults.

Coming up next:  “The Connolley Problem, pt 2: Connolley who?