The latest climate article at the Conversation is so absurd it wouldn’t be worth mentioning if it weren’t for what’s happening in the comments. To summarise briefly: In the article, author Sylvia Jaworska, Associate Professor in Applied Linguistics, University of Reading, reports on her linguistic analysis of 500 corporate documents produced between 2000 and 2013 by major oil companies using “corpus-linguistic tools – essentially, using a computer to analyse vast amounts of text for certain patterns.”
This comprised some 14.8m words published in corporate social responsibility and environmental reports and relevant chapters in annual reports. That’s a lot of words – roughly equivalent to 25 copies of War and Peace.
No, Sylvia. It may be as many words as are to be found in 25 copies of War and Peace. But it’s not the equivalent. It’s the equivalent of -well – 500 corporate social responsibility and environmental reports. In other words, 14 million words of meaningless bumf.
Sylvia’s main findings are that:
..the most frequently adopted term in the studied sample is “climate change”, while other terms such as “global warming” and “greenhouse effect” are rarely used.
The use of the term “climate change” experienced peaks and troughs over time, with most mentions between 2004 and 2008, and fewer and fewer mentions since 2010.
Here she demonstrates that she can’t even read her own graph, since it indicates that 2004 was one of the years with the fewest mentions (third lowest out of fourteen years) and that 2010 and 2011 were among the highest (fifth and sixth out of fourteen.)
But her stupidity doesn’t stop there:
…in recent years, the corporate discourse has increasingly emphasised the notion of “risks”… The industry tends to present itself as a technological leader, but the measures it proposes to tackle climate change are mainly technological or market-based and thus firmly embedded within the corporate world’s drive for profits. Meanwhile, social, ethical, or alternative solutions are largely absent.
Good Gaia. The industry tends to present itself as a technological leader, BUT the measures it proposes to tackle climate change are mainly technological… AND these corporate documents exhibit a drive for profits. What can they be thinking of?
If this were a sixth form project, I can imagine the teacher giving a C minus for a hopelessly biassed analysis and an F for inability to read the simplest graph. But this is an article at a site read by millions, by and for academics, financed by some of the world’s top universities.
And there’s worse.
The first comment is by Paul Matthews.
“Almost every climate scientist agrees human-caused climate change is a major global threat.”
Any evidence to support that claim?
To which Environment editor Willy de Freitas replies:
2,118 articles. https://theconversation.com/uk/topics/climate-change-27
which is rude and silly, since a quick look at the sidebar at the above link reveals that a large number of the articles labelled “climate change” – possibly the majority – are not by climate scientists at all. The most frequent contributor is Michelle Grattan, who is “one of Australia’s most respected political journalists,” and fifth and sixth on the list are a couple of psychologists. And the top ten contributors are all Australians, which is no fault of theirs, but it does suggest a rather narrow criterion of selection.
Then Robin Guenier chips in to point out that the existence of two thousand articles at the Conversation “does not constitute evidence supporting Professor Jaworska’s bold assertion,” and Professor Jaworska herself proposes as evidence J. Cook, et al, “Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming.”
Then editor Willy de Freitas intervenes with:
Further tedious concern trolling by the usual suspects will be deleted.
To which Robin replies:
I had a civilised, useful and interesting exchange with John Cook in the comments section of a Conversation article a year ago.
Why do I feel like I’ve suddenly stumbled into a creationist forum?
And editor de Freitas, instead of warning him that creationism is off-topic, continues to insult Robin and Paul.
And so it goes on, with some notable interventions from Hugh McLachlan Professor Emeritus of Applied Philosophy at Glasgow Caledonian University. Professor Jaworska intervenes a couple more times, once to thank David Warburton-Burley who makes a second off-topic comment which contains a conspiracy theory to boot:
No doubt PR companies are making significant profits from advising the Big Oil on how best to manipulate public opinion. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re also engaged in some more direct efforts to distort public perceptions via social media and the like as well.
And this morning editor Willy de Freitas is back:
– Are you seriously making ‘climate change isn’t actually considered a threat!!!’ your hill to die on? I thought the savvier deniers/time wasters/professors of applied contrarianism have moved on to ‘it’s not going to be that bad / humans didn’t do this’.
– Robin, Paul and co. From now, the moment you mention Cook et al your comments are going to be deleted.
It was author Jaworska of course who first mentioned Cook et al. Threatening to ban sensible commenters who point our errors is of course standard practise at the Conversation. For the editor of a journal largely financed by universities to insult an emeritus professor is something new, and seems to me to be a bad move on the part of Willy.