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Climategate: Seven Hard Questions from the Case Study of the Fall of Enron (will the AAAS panel consider them?)

In recent years, I have been working on a book trilogy inspired by the rise and fall of Enron, easily a top-ten event in the history of commercial capitalism. I worked at Enron for 16 years and knew Ken Lay (a nice, albeit subtly flawed, man) well. No, I did not know the extent of the company’s problems (very few did), but I should have known more. Still, I was very critical of the company’s political business model and in particular, Enron’s climate alarmism and investments in (uneconomic, unreliable, unprofitable) wind power and solar power.

Book 1 in the trilogy, Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy (2009), spends several chapters on best business practices and sustainable corporate culture under capitalism proper–and the perils for the same from political capitalism. It was through the wisdom of several books, beginning with Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments and continuing with Charles Koch’s Science of Success (2007) that I found the worldview that explained the why-behind-the-why of Enron’s collapse–the philosophic failure behind the financial failure).

AAAS Panel on Climategate Tomorrow

Today, a friend alerted me about the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego and Friday’s panel on Climategate. One of the panelists is my friend Jerry North, who was part of two global warming debates we had here in Houston last month. (The Rice University debate between Richard Lindzen and North is online here.)

I was incited to write Jerry the email that is reproduced below. Perhaps this communication should have gone to the panel leader Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences. It would certainly apply to the other three panelists in addition to North given their topics:

Francisco J. Ayala, UC Irvine, “The Practice and Conduct of Scientific Research”
Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard, “Science in Society”
Gerald R. North, Texas A&M, “The Data Behind Climate Research”
Phillip A. Sharp, MIT, “Data Use and Access Across Disciplines”

At Climate Audit, Steve McIntyre is critical of both North and the chosen panel for its lack of intellectual diversity. He wrote in part:

Gerry North told the Penn State Inquiry that he hadn’t read the Climategate emails out of “professional respect”. This apparently qualified him as an “expert” on the topic.

Cicerone appears to have been quite careful not to invite any speakers that actually knew anything about the controversy. It sounds like it will be totally uninformative – an ideal Sir Humphrey outcome.

Seven Questions for Climategate Discussants

Here is my email to Dr. North which he kindly responded to by saying that his presentation was narrow and already sent in. Still, there is plenty of discussion to come where these hard questions, in part or whole, can be brought up and debated.

Dear Jerry:

I see that you are going to be part of a panel at the Friday AAAS meeting on Climategate. Some of us fear too much downplaying. You were a consultant for me at Enron for several years on climate science and watched the fall of the company with great interest. So I would like to challenge you to interpret Climategate in terms of the fall of Enron.

Here are some themes from Enron to consider applying.

1) Slippery slopes where small deviations from best practices escalated into problems that were not anticipated at the beginning of the process.

2) A lack of midcourse correction when developing problems were not properly addressed.

3) Old fashioned deceit when the core mission/vision was threatened (for Enron it was ‘to become the world’s leading company’–for Jones et al., it was there is a big warming and a climate problem developing)

4) The (despised) short sellers busted the Enron mirage. Ken Lay at the last employee meeting even likened the short sellers to ‘terrorists” (this was just a few months after 9/11). Question: does mainstream climate science regard Internet ‘peer review’ of Jones et al. like the Enron faithful regarded the short sellers who first discovered the problems of Enron?

5) Enron suffered from the “smartest guys in the room” problem. Does Climategate reveal arrogance and a lack of humility among “mainstream” climate scientists?

6) Denial: we employees were almost all in denial when the problems at Enron first surfaced. Have you and others who are close to the scientists of Climategate been slow to recognize the problem? Has Nature and Science also been slow? If so, What does this say about human nature.

7) Taking responsibility. Skilling and Lay never did and, in fact, they joined together in a legal cartel where the unstated strategy was to not blame each other for anything and sink or swim together. Has this happened, or is it still happening, with Climategate if you believe that scientific protocol and/or legal rules were violated?

I will post a more refined version of these questions at MasterResource soon, but I invite you to at least consider them for your panel discussion. You might say that the analogy is not a good one, but they do represent hard questions that should be considered in a “challenge culture.” And I certainly hope you have gone through the emails to properly judge them–or that you will do so and give us a more in-depth opinion. I believe that your stature and seniority–as well as your longstanding claim to be a middle-of-the-roader–make you a valuable person to do all of us this favor.

I have cc’d Roger Pielke Jr. who to me is acting as the ‘conscience of the profession’ right now on such issues.

- Rob

Climategate 2 (Circling the Wagons)

I do leave Dr. North with the challenge to more forthrightly deal with Climategate, which he has failed to do to date. I am very discouraged about the circle-the-wagons mentality of too many academic scientists who are covering for each other (many are long time personal friends, and they are united in THE CAUSE of climate alarmism).  As I complained to North in another email:

To me more humility is in order with ‘mainstream’ climate science. There is a pretense of knowledge that they have answers when they do not. I think too many have have been corrupted by government money, the Malthusian virus (nature is optimal, man is bad), and groupthink. Your own reaction to Climategate has shaken my faith a bit when you say it is no big deal and then you haven’t read the emails.

Conclusion: Towards a ‘Challenge Culture’

I recently posted about the importance of having a challenge culture where we question what we believe rather than get comfortable believing what we want to believe. I am certainly open to that challenge myself. But can those emotionally tied to the climate cause show some humility and admit that the climate system is far too complex for social engineering and geoengineering?

The good news is that Climategate is forcing a very reluctant mainstream to reconsider their groupthink. That even the AAAS (a very politicized organization) is having a Climategate panel, however one-sided, is a start. But there is much more yet to confront and rethink in the post-Climategate era.

11 comments

1 Andrew { 02.18.10 at 10:22 am }

The problem is that AAAS is the lobbying arm of the scientific community. The ONLY reason it exists is to justify Federal funding of scientific research. Asking them to punish people who are good at bringing in money is pointless.

If it were up to me, I’d leave them out to dry-I fail to see how funding research is a necessary service of government.

2 Jon Boone { 02.18.10 at 12:06 pm }

Insightful comparison about the stages involved in the collapse of Enron and the erosion of the evidence marshalled to support the so-called climate change/global warming orthodoxy.

That the scientific investigation about the behavior of climate around the planet is so very new, and since even the baseline data for this enterprise remains relatively inchoate, and because the variables involved are so complex and entwined–it is astonishing that the grand narrative of Global Warming has gotten this much traction as science–and not science fiction. Ken Lay certainly didn’t need H.G. Wells when he had James Hanson, et al.

When the provisional ideas of ongoing scientific inquiry become politicized and then supported by a concatenation of groups seeking to profit from the idea–when science meets James Cameron and becomes entertainment for the masses in order to sell soap, then we’ll get what we have–with the pigs now flying up and out of the public trough, everywhere.

3 MarkB { 02.18.10 at 12:13 pm }

I’m afraid that your friend North and others are too far out of the limb to come back in now. After you’ve labeled anyone who disagrees with you a holocaust denier, there’s not much room for moderation. These people can never back down – they can only grow old and retire.

4 Robert Bradley Jr. { 02.18.10 at 12:30 pm }

I don’t think Dr. North has called anyone a “holocaust denier” as too many have, even among credentialed scientists, but he has stayed far too quiet and then gloves off with Climategate today and a few years back, Al Gore’s book and movie.

5 Derek D { 02.19.10 at 11:41 am }

I agree with Andrew. To my knowledge the AAAS was founded through the efforts of Margaret Mead, Stephen Schneider, and others for the explicit purpose of being the lobbying arm for the Climate Change agenda. Didn’t the AAAS once stand behind Global COOLING “science”? Global Warming doesn’t stand on a shred of real science. You can’t extrapolate temperature readings from 15% of the earths surface out to 100% with 100% accuracy, predictibility etc. You can’t claim CO2 is causing warming without a mechanism or quanitifiable warming signal. Global Warming is not a science, these people are not scientists, and this will not be a scientific debate. It will be two sides prepared political statements defending their agenda and attacking the other. As a chemical physicist with patents to my name (ie I HAVE bore the burden of proof), I am insulted to see the word science used so liberally to describe this dog and pony show.

That said your point about Enron is spot on. Global Warming has never been about the fear of global warming. It has always been about manipulating the supply and demand for energy. By 2000 it was obvious that computer technology was going to accelerate the future at a pace never thought possible. Huge amounts of information, data, mail, video, audio, etc, could suddenly globally distributed at the speed of light for an immeasurably small cost. No longer were trucks, airplanes, boats, cars, etc required. This would be a HUGE hit to the demand for oil. This without even considering the ever increasing likelihood of some new perpetual energy source being discovered or created. So what was the result? Manipulate demand!

Global warming was never about the fear of global warming, it has always been about the fear of taking your energy away. It is not a coincidence that the heyday of Enron, the war in Iraq, and the ramping up of Global Warming politics so closely coincided. All were moves to create the threat of supply being taken off the table to increase demand. Insider trading for a priviliged and connected few. And of course carbon markets were simultaneously the facade and the hedge. The escape clause in case the plan worked TOO well. So of course Enron turned to politics to become who they were. ACTUALLY reducing the energy supply was not an option. There are enough discovered resources on this planet to last the world a millennia or more. FACT. They needed the lies, doublespeak and misdirection of politics to provide them the THREAT of a reduced energy supply. And it nearly worked. Recall that in 2008 some half a trillion barrels of oil were discovered in the western hemisphere yet oil shot up to $137 a barrel. Ask your economics teacher to explain that supply and demand relationship to you.

But sadly the reason for the scam was ultimately its undoing. You see not only does the internet eliminate the need for lots of oil use, but it also renders nearly every bit of data in the world accessible, even against the best efforts of those trying to keep it hidden. And it was only a matter of time before the deceit, manipulations of science, and utter fallacy of it all were exposed. Now is that time. And I still expect it to get bigger and worse. The collapse of the AGW hoax will make Enron’s scandal look like an honest accounting error before its all said and done. And the answers to your 7 questions will seem hilariously insignificant…

6 Paul Nelson { 02.22.10 at 8:36 am }

Re “you can’t claim CO2 is causing warming without a mechanism.”

The hypothesized mechanism is provided by the absorption bands of CO2 that are located near the peak of the black-body spectrum at the mean temperature of the Earth.

7 Rob Bradley: Climategate from an Enron Perspective « Climate Audit { 02.24.10 at 11:37 am }

[...] was an extremely interesting blog post a few days ago by Rob Bradley, an old friend of North from Enron days – where North had been [...]

8 Michael Strong { 02.25.10 at 9:03 am }

Excellent analogy, Rob, very well done. An important contribution to the debate, and you have just the credibility to put North on the spot on this issue.

9 Robert Bradley Jr. { 02.25.10 at 10:55 am }

Thanks Michael.

Framing the debate in this way might help historians of science when they deal with Climategate.

Really, this is about organizational failure rather than one company (Enron) or manstream climate science. It can be applied to a variety of situations and gets to best business practices, an area in which you are expert!

10 Enron and Climate Gate « Sleepy Old Bear Diaries { 02.26.10 at 3:38 pm }

[...] was an extremely interesting blog post a few days ago by Rob Bradley, an old friend of North from Enron days – where North had been [...]

11 Robert Bradley Jr. { 03.03.10 at 9:53 am }

John Broder’s front page article in today’s New York Times, “Scientists Take Steps to Defend Climate Work,” is relevant to this post:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/03/science/earth/03climate.html

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