Kevin Trenberth and memes of the Post-Climategate Period

Part of the problem in the climate establishment vs ‘deniers’ face-off is that the establishment…has no understanding of the Internet. You can see an example in the person talking to Christopher Poole (4chan.org) near the end of the video below:

Literally thousands of comments have appeared, at WUWT, JudithCurry and CA over the Kevin Trenberth partly-plagiarized climate speech planned for an AMS meeting. Almost all of these have roundly condemned Trenberth. Even as the backlash continues, one can be sure, that Trenberth and his like-minded colleagues are blinking in bewilderment and gnashing their teeth at the ‘massive fossil-fuel funded disinformation and hatred campaign’ that must have ‘co-ordinated’ the ‘attack’.

Kevin Trenberth the climate scientist, became famous when he unwittingly participated in creation of his own meme – the Trenberth’s Travesty. In climate science, certainty of attribution of all warming to human activity is presented up front –  ‘unequivocal’ in Trenberth’s own words, whereas discussions about accounting for global energy flows is carried out in the background. So Trenberth’s admission that not being able to ‘account for the warming’ amounted to a ‘travesty’ – behind the veil ripped by Climategate, creates the meme – it becomes a quick but bright flash of imprinting insight.

This brings us to the central problem – current deficiencies and uncertainties in climate science are not allowed to become part of everyday discussion. This is obviously because they are seen as damaging to the strength of the dominant paradigm. ‘Dominant paradigm’ is of course something we are all familiar with – “the earth is warming, humans are the cause and while there are some minor questions, most of the science is settled”.

It is for this reason primarily that Trenberth’s Travesty, Mike’s Nature Trick and Jones’ Hide the Decline are all memes of the post-Climategate age. They carry memetic value because their opposites are pushed relentlessly as part the dominant paradigm, even as scientists apparently discuss doubts in private. Indeed scientists have doubts all the time, but in climate science the post-normal bells-and-whistles storefront sells other stuff outside. “Let us make our case strong first”, the climate establishment thinks, “and then we can discuss our questions and doubts”. This is both wrong and foolish. You make your case strong by openly discussing doubts. But then of course, in order to do that, a measure of confidence in your own science and data is needed first.

On the other hand, you have the blinkered witless dinosaurs – the Monbiots of the consensus who aim to destroy memes by bizarre and wishful thinking. It is this part of the consensus crowd that detests and has no understanding of the meaning of internet anonymity. To them skeptical blogs and commenters are lawless, every opinion is unfair and abusive, people are trading inside jokes and denialist memes, singing songs and calling scientists names. The ‘deniers’ always appear briefly over their bunkers to shoot streams of anonymous abusive emails at scientists, shout slogans like “show me the data, show me the code” and pour vitriol on innocent scientists’ attempts at public outreach.

The combination of climate orthodoxy and  the organic reaction against it produce distinctive, repetitive emergent phenomena and patterns. The bewildered consensus mistakes the presence of  patterns as evidence for organized behaviour and blames it on ‘fossil-fuel funding’.

Don't Worry We're from the Internet

The solutions of the dinosaurs? – take away their voices, take away their anonymity. Thus you will find Monbiot calling for persistent and attested online identities, a la Facebook. If who you are online is who you are offline, can you be skeptic? Surely not because we have declared such members to be akin to Holocaust deniers – that breathing space has been squelched and drained. Anonymity is the beating heart of the online climate change debate; commenters carry goofy names and seem to be speaking junk, but yet make any arrogant misstep and you’ll find arguments being taken apart at lightspeed. Sure enough the consensus has its trash-talking 4chan wannabes too, but push back a bit and you are likely to find yourself moderated, premoderated, your comments deleted or outright banned. You can be who you want to be for a short while, but you cannot speak,  and then you cannot be.

The simple fact is that skepticism is natural and the climate establishment has aided in poor understanding of its science by mistaking natural anonymous online behaviour to be the enemy. Little hope is evident on the horizon for any change in this regard.

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11 comments

  1. laursaurus

    Interesting post, Shub.
    I don’t do 4chan, but memes are a fascinating phenomenon.
    Is it possible that Climategate was pulled off by a vigilante from 4chan? Since the content of 4chan isn’t archived, we’ll probably never know.
    RealClimate is an unusually hostile online experience. Rude doesn’t begin to describe it. If your comment survives the strict moderation, a redacted version peppered with condescending remarks by the hosts is what’s posted. According to the strictly enforced moderation, the humiliation ought to end there. But the victim is then ripped to shreds by the site’s regular fan boys. Suddenly, the moderation disappears as the unsuspecting newcomer is assaulted in a barrage of personal attacks devoid of any scientific basis. RealClimate exists as an on-going example that the climate science establishment not only fails to understand the internet. It is a complete PR disaster that has only created more skepticism toward climate change than would have existed otherwise.
    We’ll probably never know for sure if the Climategate emails were hacked out of retribution for their abuse or leaked by an insider with a conscience.

  2. Shub Niggurath

    Thank you for the kind words, Laursaurus!

    I knew a bit about 4chan, and I don’t really follow it – too gruesome and juvenile for me. 🙂

    But with the climate debate and Realclimate, for example, the whole thing takes a peculiar turn – the fan boys are given free reign and they abuse their privileges no doubt – just like any regular internet site. But the site is supposedly run by scientists! So the ‘anything goes’ spirit applies only to those who buy into the AGW orthodoxy. In the longer run, this reflects badly on all climate scientists.

    The strategy at Realclimate of course is to project an aura of infalliability and casual dismissive arrogance that can usually be associated with well-established scientific traditions.

  3. vigilantfish

    The impulse to censor unwanted words, ideas and opinions on the part of those in power or enjoying the position of media’s favourites is overwhelming. Witness the CBSC’s move to force radio stations in Canada to stop playing “Money for Nothing” because of one complaint over the use of the word “faggot”. It is easier to practice censorship if you can identify the ‘culprits’ or ‘offenders’. Anonymity is, sadly, critical for many CAGW skeptics who hold professional positions in higher education and the like. I appreciate the arguments you have put forward here on this issue and always enjoy your comments at Bishop Hill and WUWT.

  4. Ravenscar

    I would find it easier to have sympathy with the likes of Trenberth if I could believe in his honesty and altruism.

    I am having a larf!….’altruism’…..if it hit Trenberth in the face, he would be, unable to recognise it.

    As a pure scientist, I find the lack of rigour in the scientific method of so called (climate) scientists risible.
    They do not know what they are doing or what it is that they are seeking.
    When you are proving an already accepted conjecture, science [with copious use of statistics – the bane of science] is easy to fudge, when the nebulous idea is already implanted in some scientists minds [Arrhenius expts – etc]….the rest is easy.
    You know Shub, the doom laden scenarios of the pedantic adherents of the Abramaic faiths are deep set – it’s a ‘biblical’ thing and we are (or seem to be) preset onto this belief in Armageddon.
    Armageddon is indeed around the corner, a look at seismic data/activity, in a corner of Wyomming can confirm this
    catastrophic potential, indeed soon…. we are doomed!!

    However, this doom cataclysm, will (unless some idiot presses the M.A.D button) is not or will not be of Homo Sapiens making.

    A little extra CO2 is neither here nor there, Ken knows this, so too; Mann and Gore, Obarmy and Cameron for that matter, no!……. there is another agenda here and it ain’t pertaining to man-made CO2.

    This is all about politics and legerdemain.

  5. hro001

    As astounding as this may seem, Shub, I had never heard of Poole (or 4chan.org) before reading this post of yours 😉 But (curiousity aroused by your post) my first (and probably only!) venture onto his site reminded me of my first encounter with the alt.* newsgroups in the early ’90’s: anonymity reigned as did memes (although, IIRC, they were not identified as such back in those days).

    As for Trenberth, he strikes me as being a meme-generator of the first order. His more recent exercises in what those of us countering what was fondly referred to as “revisionist scholarship” (on the part of the *real* deniers whose primary posting-ground was alt.revisionism) are … Amazing. Simply amazing.

  6. Pascvaks

    “The simple fact is that skepticism is natural and the climate establishment has aided in poor understanding of its science by mistaking natural anonymous online behaviour to be the enemy. Little hope is evident on the horizon for any change in this regard.”

    It is true of most “public” debates that denial is paramont. It is part of our innate human character. The rightness or wrongness of the science or the weight of logic of the argument is close to meaningless. First and foremost is the denial reflex of any proposition; it is a defense mechanism against all comers.

  7. Lawrie Ayres

    It’s becoming more obvious that without the internet and without the blogs Phil, Michael and Kevin would have got away with the greatest scam of all time. Strangely they still think they can get away with it even though the data is against their hypothesis. The MSM have also lost credibility to a large extent although Rupert seems to smell the winds of change. Both Fox News and, here in Australia, Ruperts “Australian” newspaper are the only MSM actually questioning the party line. Indeed they have scientists such as Bob Carter as guest writers.

    The web has saved the modern world from being taken back to the dark ages by the greens.

  8. Pingback: Climategate II: Contradictions and hypocrisy « Shub Niggurath Climate
  9. CB

    Of course they want an end to anonymity: political correctness (bought to you via the social scientists of communism – which is merely a stricter form of socialism) is legally enforced pretty much everywhere today, and changes from day to day. If they cannot find you, and jail you, then they cannot threaten you, and in so doing control the voting majority.

    Welcome to socialism, where some scientists are funded by the consensus, and the others are not funded.

    Welcome to socialism, where ‘science’ is that thing which is used to tell you what are allowed to think out loud, no matter what you happen to think.