24 November 2009

Climategate

Someone asked my opinion on the theft and revelation of data and emails related to climate change research. From my brief readings, it appears that some academics were blocking the views (preventing publication) of others they disagreed with, as well as -- perhaps deleting "inconvenient" data.

Since the blocked people were climate change skeptics (not anti-deconstructivist poets), this is a big deal for NON-academics.

My opinion is that this kind of sabotage, censorship, backstabbing and favoritism occurs all the time (just look at the editors of a journal and how many of their students and colleagues publish there...)

My opinion is that this is going to give WAY too much impetus to the "climate change is not happening" crowd.

And, you may ask, how can I trust the CC scientists, now that they are revealed to be "typical" humans? Because the gains (in career, fame, money, etc.) to ANYONE able to show that climate change is NOT happening, is all a hoax, etc. are extreme. With that kind of reward on the table (from Exxon?), anyone with a plausible analysis showing that it's not happening would be a rockstar.

But there isn't anyone, because climate change IS happening.

Bottom Line Academics are people too. Some will sacrifice their integrity for fame or to support their opinions. They are not scientists as much as hacks. Scientists, like good intellectuals anywhere, are willing to consider all views and potentially change their own opinions in the face of new and useful evidence. That's the standard I aspire to, at least.

44 comments:

  1. The real story is that most of these scientists really did get it wrong. Maybe it was a fear of being called and alarmist, or asked to testify in front of Sen. Inhofe, but almost universally they errored by being too conservative and real measurements show that ice is melting faster, seas are rising faster, rain fall patterns are already changing.

    And we really need the economists to be putting forward solid studies that show the cost on non-action.

    Consider only the recent California water legislation and the way it charged the Delta Stewardship Council to look at sea level rise (1) affect on 3 state highways that cross the Delta and (2) consider arise of 55 inches when considering any new "conveyance" a.k.a. Peripheral Canal. We know from studies released this week that 55 inches is not likely to be the limit of sea level rise, that it may in fact be over 72 inches. And, what would protect the delta then?

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  2. "But there isn't anyone, because climate change IS happening"

    Because the scientists say so. Despite lying and cheating.

    Wake up and smell the coffee

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  3. Good response. Science is done by people. People are subject to shortcomings. Shortcomings of scientists doesn't mean that what they study is wrong. Claiming to do so is a false argument.

    Claiming that it is so would be like saying that since the Bible can't explain the quark, a supply curve, or the shape of a water molecule that means that Christianity is debunked.

    Both of the above arguments rest on the false logic of begging the question. (Of course, the underlying truth of the former is testable, while the latter still remains untestable.)

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  4. Whether or not man made climate change is happening (I am a converted skeptic), we need to reduce the burning of oil, coal, and natural gas. These substances are simply too valuable to use as fuel (except in aircraft, where hydrocarbons seem to be essential at present). The drugs, industrial chemicals, plastics, lubricants, etc. are too good to waste. It's like putting mahogany in your wood-stove.
    I hope global warming is another Piltdown Man, because I am beginning to doubt whether anybody is going to do much about it any time soon.

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  5. Umlud,

    You're missing a step in your logic. The shortcomings of scientists, particularly the ones exposed in the emails, reduce the credibility of the scientists which in turn reduces the credibility of their work. Because of this reduced credibility reasonable people are less likely to believe them when they say climate change is happening by pointing to their work.

    Of course this does not mean climate change is not happening (I happen to believe that it is) but it does mean that money/funding shouldn't be flowing to such disreputable people.

    That's just good economics, you don't pay for data that reasonable people need not believe in.

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  6. David - thanks for answering the question that I posed.

    Assuming this is just academia red in tooth and claw, where the 'truth' eventually rises even if it gets nasty.

    Have you, or under what circumstances would you/ or hypothetical academics (in any discipline):

    a) truncate data which fundamentally falsifies your paper

    b) 'conspire' with colleagues on the same side to have editors deposed from any opposing view

    c) synchronise the refereeing of opposition papers to death

    d) refuse FOI-type requests, threaten to destroy data to prevent external scrutiny.

    I'm not sure you'll answer these 4, but they're necessary for the final one - if these 4 actions are taken, under what hypothetical cirucumstances would the 'truth' emerge?

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  7. It's disheartening to see even reasonable people circle the wagons on this.

    The behavior revealed in the emails is deplorable, period. It should undermine the confidence of anyone in the pro-AGW camp. I mean this in the Bayesian sense of forcing them to update their priors that CO2 is a serious threat downward.

    The problem is that climate scientists are not held to any exterior standard of forecasting. There's no way for the truth to come out if there's no way to measure performance.

    When your models have no demonstrable forecasting skill and it turns out you've been cooking the books on intermediate variable, it's time to rethink things.

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  8. "But there isn't anyone, because climate change IS happening."

    But isn't the allegation that the primary change is global warming? And isn't there data to show that the warming trend ended in the late 1990s? And isn't much of the evidence of any long-term warming based on the data that was being manipulated?

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  9. Answers to last Anonymous questions: Yes, No, and No.

    That should clear it up.

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  10. Time to re-read Voodoo Science by R. L. Park.

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  11. David #2

    Then I was going to add

    e) finally this group manages an international panel of experts on this issue which influences further funding etc.

    Finally, I was going to make the point under a revised
    a) ethically does it make any difference if they know or don't know they're wrong?

    It would also help to think about an Intergovernmental Panel on Economics - would it be more or less likely to promote Keynsian-type solutions or Minarchist-type ones?

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  12. Anyone read this survey of weathercasters / weather forecasters?

    http://ams.allenpress.com/archive/1520-0477/90/10/pdf/i1520-0477-90-10-1457.pdf

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  13. Academics are people too, quite agree and they have political views and bias as well. Is this a demonstration of groupthink?

    “It’s one thing to lose ‘Climate Research’. We can’t afford to lose GRL [Geophysical Research Letters]” http://www.anelegantchaos.org/cru/emails.php?eid=484).

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  14. DZ "Scientists, like good intellectuals anywhere, are willing to consider all views and potentially change their own opinions in the face of new and useful evidence."

    Contrast

    “I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC , which were not always the same.” (http://www.anelegantchaos.org/cru/emails.php?eid=794).

    “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is !” (http://www.anelegantchaos.org/cru/emails.php?eid=419).

    “If anything, I would like to see the climate change happen, so the science could be proved right, regardless of the consequences.” (http://www.anelegantchaos.org/cru/emails.php?eid=544)

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  15. William Briggs is a statistician:

    http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/what-is-%E2%80%94-and-what-isnt-%E2%80%94-evidence-of-global-warming/

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  16. Good comments everyone!

    My only response (typical economist) is that MORE competition wrt data/analysis is good for this debate. It's the same thing as "entry" making markets more efficient.

    As another economist said, we could have avoided all this if they had posted the data in the first place.

    hear hear!

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  17. As another economist said, we could have avoided all this if they had posted the data in the first place.

    Then why did you not call for the data to be released before climategate?

    It is hyperbole to claim that science should be looked at in the open only after the science had to be hacked in order for it to be open.

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  18. Why is it that so many people talk as if our positions on climate policy should turn on our personal beliefs about climate change? I hope they don't take such an attitude to Vegas.

    The idea of not doing something about climate change feels a bit like gambling somebody's else's house on what might be a risky bet but anyhow has a fairly low payoff. Just because the statistics are incomplete and the statisticians are alcoholics doesn't make it a good idea.

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  19. If I'd sent e-mails like those published from CRU--delete this...we want to discredit that...this is how to tweak the data/model to reflect what I want/need it to--I'd be fired, if not arrested. Until this is thoroughly investigated and the data independently validated, research and conclusions based on this data is suspect. It's that simple. Fudged data is useless and lame explanations don't fix it. This has nothing to do with whether or not man-caused global warming is occurring, but everything to do with whether or not we can measure accurately global temperature increases. I've been a skeptic of man-caused global warming for years...primarily because of the politicization of the issue. When "scientists" don't welcome debate, critical analysis, and dissent, or share data, with the goal of finding the "truth," I refuse to buy the snake oil they're selling. Now I'm more convinced than ever that Al Gore, James Hansen and others need to re-look at the data and their conclusions. Not that I'm convinced they will.

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  20. My $0.02 or less.

    a. I am a working scientist who treats his data very carefully. It is just who I am.
    b. The discussion above is fascinating and useful.
    c. The scientists to whom I pay attention are anal about the validity of their data and even more anal about conclusions drawn from it.
    d. The majority of scientists are this way.
    e. There are some who behave as the CRU scientists seem to have behaved. These people do not last long because they are found out after a year or a decade, usually when their field becomes hot and attracts the anal types.
    f. The really good thing about science, to me, is that there is a real and verifiable answer. Eventually, by fits and starts, the community gets to the answer. Nobel prizes in the hard sciences usually go to people who prove that the existing paradigm was wrong. David was on the money on this point.
    g. As far as I can tell, after a couple of years of sifting through the data and trying to answer tricky questions (answer in a Bayesian posterior odds sense)rising temperature and CO2 levels are likely to be a problem for the planet independent of the causes of these increases.
    h. Using our resources (fossil fuel, solar, fertilizers, etc.) better is a good thing independent of the validity of anthropogenic global warming. We will still have nine billion humans on the planet fairly soon no matter what. We have to figure out how to feed them.
    i. If any commenters want a more detailed analysis of climate change and its scientific relatives, please feel free to contact me directly. I am a chemist/biochemist/statistician/Ph.D/problem solver who has been trying to understand the data in depth. I tend to get frustrated when the data do not fit together. The data on climate change et al. now fit together. The fit is not the PC fit but the fit that the data demand.

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  21. What a shame it is to see several people here acting as apologists for what is clearly an attack on science.

    Whatever happened to devotion to truth? Independence of thought and judgement? Consistency, reason, and honesty?

    Grow a damn spine and stand up for something. Don't just accept that to be human is to be a flawed, inconsistent, emotionalist.


    That kind of "original sin" outlook of humanity is for the religious, not for defenders of reason and science.

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  22. 1) I agree 10)% with Eric's comment above.

    2) I *thought* that the climate scientists were like him. I *assumed* that the data *were* in a public space. So, Joshua Corning, I was just as dumbfounded as you (may have been) that it was NOT published. (Seems, I get caught by this assumption more than once; I assumed that banks originating loans could NOT resell them on the secondary market without keeping liability. I was REALLY wrong on that, and that's why the financial system -- subprime loans -- melted down. Seems that people are not looking for the stuff that seems obvious to me/us, and pity us for having to pay for their mistakes...)

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  23. @Rob -- I agree. I am very critical of scientists who abuse their position to advance opinions rather than facts (or opinion based on facts :). "Scientists" without integrity should be ridiculed, if not stripped of their formal titles.

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  24. In this article from the New York Times dated November 30, 2009. John Tierney writes, "He (Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the East Anglica University) was discussing the preparation of a graph for the cover of a 1999 report from the World Meteorological Organization showing that temperatures in the past several decades were the highest of the past millennium.

    Most of the graph was based on analyses of tree rings and other "proxy" records like ice cores and lake sediments. These indirect measurements indicated that temperatures declined in the middle of the millennium and then rose in the first half of the 20th century, which jibes with other records. But the tree-ring analyses don't reveal a sharp warming in the late 20th century--in fact, they show a decline in temperatures, contracting what has been measured with thermometers.

    [Interjection: That was exactly my experience at ARCO with the world's best long range forecaster based in Denver!]

    Because they considered that the recent decline to be spurious, Dr. Jones and his colleagues removed it from part of the graph and used direct thermometer readings instead. In a statement last week, Dr. Jones said there was nothing nefarious in what they had done, because the tree-ring data had been openly identified earlier and were know to experts."

    I am outraged on a dozen different levels!!! To use two different data sources to construct a continuous graph is absolutely unprofessional and utterly dishonest. The data measure two DIFFERENT things. No competent scientist would ever do anything like this! This conduct is despicable and surely deserves to be outed. To present phony data to support your conclusion is beyond comprehension when it is done by people claiming to be scientists

    What the whole e-mail fracas is exposing is what has concerned me for a long time. There is no question the world is getting warmer. Ask any polar bear. But what is not clear, but incredibly important, is whether human activity is causing it or whether it is "normal" fluctuationS in the earth's temperature. The cave findings from the scientists at Davis adds more evidence for the "normal" answer.

    It is becoming clearer that there maybe a bunch of "scientists" who love to hold conferences in exotic places, and travel and eat first class, and are creating a phony scare to make the themselves important and live better.

    And the implications for water are boundless.

    Jeers for Phil Jones and Michael Mann.

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  25. @David,
    Thanks for the 10% agreement. I think. ;-) Coming from an avowed non scientist that agreement means a lot to me. LOL

    'Let us see all the data' strikes me as a red herring. In one study that I did, 10,000 data points came in every second for three years. It is unclear what anyone would do with that pile of data if I gave it to them, especially if I was not really detailed about the instruments that generated the 10,000 points a second.

    'Show me that your presentation of the data is valid and does not hide important discrepancies', as JWT said, seems to be the criteria of highest value.

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  26. @Eric -- that was a typo 10)% s/b 100% :)

    All data PLUS presentation. How's that?

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  27. @Eric,

    "It is unclear what anyone would do with that pile of data if I gave it to them"

    The fact that *you* are unclear what someone would do with data is irrelevant.

    If *you* are unwilling to release the data behind your conclusions, then it is proper for people to be suspicious of your results.

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  28. Vow! VOW!! I've just spent an hour reading random postings on:

    http://www.eastangliaemails.com/index.php

    David: If these emails are real, I think this goes WAY BEYOND your message of "scientists being humans too".

    gormk

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  29. @gormk -- Scientists are NOT humans? I wouldn't be surprised if they were plotting the murder of kittens -- humans do that! Remember Weitzman! (http://tinyurl.com/y8qgx69)

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  30. I am a scientist (a neurobiologist actually) and I can grasp the meaning of your words only because I have been there and seen that.

    That said, I am not in this job because I trust my fellow scientists (in fact, the more I go on the more I meet mediocrity and arrogance). I am in this job because I trust the scientific method and the fact that people will kill each other to show they are right over something - and as long as the fight happens over data (like it is for climate change) we will get closer to the truth.

    That is why science works. It doesn't work because scientist are nice caring people. It works because everything you say, I should be able to reproduce it and test it in my lab and If I don't manage to I am going to kick your ass big time. Once you realize how tough it is, then you also recognize that a real consensus (like the one on CC) has an enormous value because it means that your competitor have tried really hard to disprove you and didn't manage.

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  31. @Rob,
    Maybe I was not clear enough. I am always willing to show people my data and have them critique.
    Any scientist that I trust would do the same if needed.
    My point was supposed to be that the amount of data that any current scientist can generate in a day, for instance in neurobiology which gg is in, is enough to overwhelm all but 5 other people on the planet.

    What I think is reasonable is to disclose greater and greater parts of the data to serious skeptics until the skepticism goes away or a flaw is found.

    When I have reviewed scientific papers, this is what we asked for routinely. The bottom line was convince me that I should trust your novel results.

    Is this stated better?

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  32. @Eric - yep, that sounds better - although your hypothetical is not the same as cases such as CRU and Nasa, which are stonewalling the release of raw data to researchers who see oddities, and want to reproduce the results in order to validate them.

    I mean, this one researcher is bringing a lawsuit against NASA for failing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.

    (http://www.examiner.com/x-28973-Essex-County-Conservative-Examiner~y2009m12d3-NASA-may-be-Americas-CRU)

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  33. @Rob,
    To me, refusal to release data, raw or lightly processed, to researchers who are trying to duplicate your results is not science. A scientist's results either show truth or they don't. Either way others have to test and reproduce them.

    Long ago when I was a graduate student, a world renowned Harvard professor came to my boss and claimed that my results were not reproducible. That was not a fun moment for me. About a day later, after much discussion, some of it heated, we discovered that the scientist in the Harvard lab was doing the experiments in a way that precluded getting any results. If the Harvard scientist had read my thesis, he would have known that he was doing things wrong.

    My point is not that I was correct in this instance but that, to me, good science works through all the details until the apparent disagreement is cleared up and the underlying truth, along with its error bars, emerges.

    I expect climate studies to get to this underlying truth. I do not expect the process to be pretty.

    A lot of egos are on the line. And research scientists have big egos, in part, because, for their entire careers, they do things which are right and which the entire world says are stupid. Every Nobel Prize in Chemistry, I think, has been awarded for results and concepts that were viewed as flat wrong at the time of their discovery.

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  34. @Eric - I agree that duplication of results does not yield anything new, but it does provide credibility.

    Conversely, inability to duplicate results removes credibility.

    I wouldn't normally even care, except that in the case of climate science, the pundits are trumpeting doomsday, and my internal B.S. suspecter is spiking in the red.

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  35. @Rob,
    The scientists that I trust and I always duplicate the results that have to be true for our new results to mean anything. So there is checking of key findings.

    Climate science now has so much visibility that checking of results and conclusions will be intense. As was stated above, destruction of incorrect conclusions will have strong benefits to the person doing the destruction. People collecting new solid results will get tenure at high level universities and other rewards. The existing good science will get referenced more and more. The rest will fade away. I have seen this happen many times.

    So, I am hopeful that truth will win. Probably quickly, since the visibility of climate science is so high.

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  36. @Eric, NASA's data are already public. Actually almost the entire totality of Climate data are public and can be access by anyone. See here for a list:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/data-sources/

    The only data that CRU could not release were the ones that didn't belong to them, namely meteorological dataset obtained by the single governments around the world and which are normally distributed to research centers but not to people (silly, I know, but not their fault). See this comment for more details. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/11/the-cru-hack-context/comment-page-14/#comment-144845

    Generally, I strongly advise against forming your own opinions on blimate change by reading any kind of popular press. Most of the time is bullshit in one direction or the other.

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  37. @gg
    I agree totally on your comments on climate change as seen through the press.

    I also agree on climate change.

    What is this 'blimate change' of which you speak? Does it have to do with pirates as in 'Blimey, mate.' LOL

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  38. @gg

    You may be aware that it was precisely because of people making demands - through the Freedom of Information Act - that East Anglia University was forced to admit they had thrown away much of their raw data (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6936328.ece)

    Also, the methodology of how raw data are selected and then combined together is key. That is the subject of the lawsuit against NASA, which has changed its interpretation of certain temperature data multiple times.

    I've seen more and more examples come out of people unable to account for "corrections" made during data massage. (Like this one http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2009/12/08/alaska-bodged-too/)

    My guess is that most temperature science is legitimate, but political organizations like the IPCC and a few bad apples are casting a pall over all of it.

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  39. @Rob,

    CRU didn't throw away any data. They simply discarded their copy of the raw material that was given by the meteo societies because they could not distribute it anyway. Raw data were never destroyed and are safe were they belong.
    See
    http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/35233_Did_Climate_Scientists_Destroy_Data_A-_No

    About your second link: data adjustment is a requirment for temperature surface data. It adjusts for the history of the weather probe: if you build a new shelter or change the time of day you read the temperature, for instance, you must adjust your data.

    I suggest to follow the blog at www.realclimate.org The guys over there are doing a heroic job in keeping people informed and sheding light on the daily misconceptions the press and certain blogs are responsible for.

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  40. @gg
    By that logic, scientists could just publish results, with a link to the master data set, and be done. Everyone who wants to validate the results will start from scratch.

    That's the point of the scandal (as I understand it) - the specific, selected data was on-hand at CRU, they did not want to release it, then they deleted it (but kept the "value-added" data), and now the people who want reproduce it don't know which raw data was used or how it was "processed".

    Excusing or rationalizing this behavior is pathetic.

    I did go look at realclimate.org

    I will keep it on my list of links to look at for the supposed "best" of both sides of an argument.

    However, the fact that the first thing I see on their home page is a diatribe about social justice and international control over the economy makes me think it's just more of the problem:

    capitalism haters wearing scientific robes.

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  41. http://mrgreenbiz.wordpress.com/2009/12/12/ap-impact-science-not-faked-but-not-pretty/

    Some detailed information.

    Adding to what others have already said.

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  42. "But he says all that ended on Nov. 20. 'The e-mails represented a seminal moment in the climate debate of the last five years, and it was a moment that broke decisively against us. I think the CRU leak is nothing less than catastrophic.' "

    "Catastrophic" is an interesting word choice: the issue for many of us is not whether there is global warming, but rather whether or not we facing catastrophic man-made global warming. But, of course, we can be dismissed as deniers.

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  43. New book: "Slaying the Sky Dragon - Death of the Greenhouse Gas Theory". The blurb at Amazon below (only in Kindle edition, paperback due soon).

    Even before publication, Slaying the Sky Dragon was destined to be the benchmark for future generations of climate researchers. This is the world's first and only full volume refutation of the greenhouse gas theory of man-made global warming.

    Nine leading international experts methodically expose how willful fakery and outright incompetence were hidden within the politicized realm of government climatology. Applying a thoughtful and sympathetic writing style, the authors help even the untrained mind to navigate the maze of atmospheric thermodynamics. Step-by-step the reader is shown why the so-called greenhouse effect cannot possibly exist in nature.

    By deft statistical analysis the cornerstones of climate equations – incorrectly calculated by an incredible factor of three - are exposed then shattered.

    This volume is a scientific tour de force and the game-changer for international environmental policymakers as well as being a joy to read for hard-pressed taxpayers everywhere.

    Only the Kindle edition seems to be out so far but a paperback edition is due in a few weeks

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  44. Pundit,
    Thanks for letting me know about this book.

    ReplyDelete

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