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.
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.
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.