Ethics Lost in Translation

By Stephan Lewandowsky
Professor, School of Experimental Psychology and Cabot Institute, University of Bristol
Posted on 15 June 2013
Filed under Climate denial

The tobacco-funded Heartland Institute already lost many of its sponsors—and millions in donations—a year ago when it suggested on a billboard that acceptance of the pervasive scientific consensus on climate change is somehow tantamount to being a serial killer or terrorist. The Institute is now again embroiled in a major scandal: This one does not involve billboards but a serious misrepresentation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

What happened is this.

On June 12th, the Heartland Institute crowed that

The Chinese Academy of Sciences, one of the most prestigious scientific academies in the world, has translated and published two massive volumes of peer-reviewed climate science first published by The Heartland Institute.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) will present the two books at a June 15 event in Beijing, a landmark event that puts enormous scientific heft behind the questionable notion that man is responsible for catastrophically warming the planet.

'This is a historic moment in the global debate about climate change,' Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast said.

Actually, this was more of a historic moment in the revelation of climate denial for what it is: Denial of basic scientific facts for reasons that range from ideology to something else.

Because on 14 June, the Chinese Academy of Sciences issued a statement as follows:

However, the Heartland Institute published the news titled “Chinese Academy of Sciences publishes Heartland Institute research skeptical of Global Warming” in a strongly misleading way on its website, implying that the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) supports their views, in contrary to what is clearly stated in the Translators’ Note in the Chinese translation.

The claim of the Heartland Institute about CAS’ endorsement of its report is completely false. To clarify the fact, we formally issue the following statements:

(1) The translation and publication of the Chinese version of the NIPCC report, and the related workshop, are purely non-official academic activities the group of translators. They do not represent, nor they have ever claimed to represent, CAS or any of CAS institutes. They translated the report and organized the workshop just for the purpose of academic discussion of different views.

(2) The above fact was made very clear in the Translators’ Note in the book, and was known to the NIPCC report authors and the Heartland Institute before the translation started. The false claim by the Heartland Institute was made public without any knowledge of the translator group.

(3) Since there is absolutely no ground for the so called CAS endorsement of the report, and the actions by the Heartland Institute went way beyond acceptable academic integrity, we have requested by email to the president of the Heartland Institute that the false news on its website to be removed. We also requested that the Institute issue a public apology to CAS for the misleading statement on the CAS endorsement.

(4) If the Heartland Institute does not withdraw its false news or refuse to apologize, all the consequences and liabilities should be borne by the Heartland Institute. We reserve the right for further actions to protect the rights of CAS and the translators group.

This response leaves little room for ambiguity, as amplified by a further CAS statement.

In the third instalment of this affair, Heartland issued an apology of sorts by noting that:

Some people interpreted our news release and a blog post describing this event as implying that the Chinese Academy of Sciences endorses the views contained in the original books. This is not the case, and we apologize to those who may have been confused by these news reports.

Anyone familiar with the activities of deniers will recognize that this affair follows a fairly standard three-step template: First, a spectacular announcement is made that is at the very least misleading if not outright mendacious. Then, true skeptics (usually scientists) discover and correct the misrepresentation. Finally, the responsible party retreats into its shadowy lair of irresponsible ideology with an "apology" that blames a "confusion" on parties unknown.

There is no confusion here. There is organized denial on the one hand and real science on the other. The distinction is obvious to anyone who cares to analyze the pattern.

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Comments 1 to 5:

  1. No confusion indeed, except that which remains after a deliberately misleading non-apology for an outright lie.
  2. It seems they can't even crow clearly (or say what they mean accurately-- they say,

    The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) will present the two books at a June 15 event in Beijing, a landmark event that puts enormous scientific heft behind the questionable notion that man is responsible for catastrophically warming the planet.

    They slip in 'questionable' here as a shot at climate science-- but it seems to me that putting enormous scientific heft behind a questionable notion is a way of adding to its support, not undermining it...
  3. Barry Woods at 21:51 PM on 18 June, 2013
    this might be worth a read about ethics..

    Spiked Online: The pathologising of climate scepticism
    ESSAY: The shoddy science of sceptic-bashing LOG12 attempts to turn criticism into a psychological illness.
  4. Darrell Harb at 19:13 PM on 19 August, 2013
    Thanks for that link, Barry. This line says it all:

    "Scientists such as Lewandowsky are better at self-justification than scientific research. Rather than being an investigation into the workings of the material world, Lewandosky’s ‘research’ — a poorly executed and error-prone online survey, seen through dodgy statistical methods and bogus categories — is a naked attempt to explain why people dare challenge scientific *authority.*"
  5. Darrell Harb at 13:37 PM on 20 August, 2013
    Still, it's tremendous fun to get an ethics sermon from a guy who insists theft and forgery (l'affaire Gleick) are "a public good." Keep the lolz coming, Professor!
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