CRU’s cheating may deliver us into the hands of ‘fools’…

I’m still waiting to hear back from Queens on that tree ring data story… but Richard Tol in today’s Irish Times notes that in cheating with its data, the CRU has risked public opinion following fools, some of whom like James actually think anthropogenic global warming is a myth. (His blog editor Damian – author of the excellent Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History – is doing a reasonable job of uncharacteristically sitting on the fence, whilst poking the pomposity of some of the more strident AGW proponents)…But Tol sidesteps a lot of the bullshit (and there is a lot of it flying about at the moment, in both directions):

Climate change is a complex problem. We will need 50, probably 100 years to resolve it. We will need global co-operation. We will need to spend hundreds of billions of euro. This cannot succeed unless the debate is fair and based on rigorous scientific results that do not hide that there are still many things about which we simply do not have a clue.

You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

The CRU may have had us fooled for a while. A risk now now exists that public opinion will follow fools who disregard basic physics and claim climate change is not real. The apparent dishonesty and incompetence of the CRU has further polarised the climate debate, and put a solution further out of reach.

There are no immediate implications for Ireland. A carbon tax should be levied because it does less damage to the economy than higher labour taxes. But just as France will go to South Africa in shame, so environmentalists assembling today in Copenhagen know that one of their champions is a cheat.

The economic pressures which create an inertia around short term government (and oppositions) actions are real enough… take this piece in today’s Irish Indo, which articulates the fear that an environmentally responsible carbon tax will drive even more citizens to spend their income in Northern Ireland. The CSO reckons that at least 11,000 jobs have been lost in retail to the shopping bonanza…

Back to Gerard’s analogy of Uylsses on the mast…

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  • Key line in the Irish Times Article:
    “A risk now exists that public opinion will follow fools who disregard basic physics and claim climate change is not real.”

    Today the Stormont Environment Committee published a Report on Climate Change. In their deliberations, one contributor was found who ‘disregards basic physics’. One Hans Schreuder who runs a website http://www.ilovemycarbondioxide.com/

    He told the committee that the Greenhouse effect does not exist and that crude oil was not a fossil fuel and was not running out:
    http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/environment/2007mandate/minutes of evidence/2008/090521.htm

    ‘Super Hans’ was referred to favourably today in the Assembly by unelected DUP MLA Allister Ross. No wonder his colleague Jim Wells said “The member for East Antrim just doesn’t get it”.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    The problem, Mick, is that these are the same sort of politicized hacks who, back in the seventies, were running most of the same arguments up the flag-pole to address “the coming ice age.”

    The “tree ring” studies were interesting, insofar as tree rings are unreliable measures and that at least some of the tree ring studies show evidence of data being cherry-picked, with a far smaller sub-set of data being presented as proving the case for “global warming,” whilst the over-whelming majority of trees were discarded as being “inconvenient.”

    Meanwhile, it sounds as if your fella what you quoted is making the oh so famous “faked but accurate” excuse for the CRU’s mummery.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    “Telltale signs are everywhere —from the unexpected persistence and thickness of pack ice in the waters around Iceland to the southward migration of a warmth-loving creature like the armadillo from the Midwest.Since the 1940s the mean global temperature has dropped about 2.7° F. Although that figure is at best an estimate, it is supported by other convincing data. When Climatologist George J. Kukla of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory and his wife Helena analyzed satellite weather data for the Northern Hemisphere, they found that the area of the ice and snow cover had suddenly increased by 12% in 1971 and the increase has persisted ever since. Areas of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, for example, were once totally free of any snow in summer; now they are covered year round.

    Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,944914,00.html#ixzz0Z19Ktlf3

  • 6countyprod

    So Richard reckons it’s better to follow con-men than ‘fools!?

    Saturday’s Washington Post had a surprisingly objective column on the issue. On the recent email revelations the authors pose two rhetorical questions:
    1. In an effort to control what the public hears, did prominent scientists who link climate change to human behavior try to squelch a back-and-forth that is central to the scientific method?
    2. Is the science of global warming messier than they have admitted?

    Obviously, ‘Yes’ to both.

    What’s all the fuss about anyhow? As the folks at Powerline say (tongue in cheek):

    First, carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant, so it isn’t true that even if anthropogenic global warming turns out to be overblown, we’ve still improved the environment. A higher level of CO2 improves crop yields.

    Second, if we approach the issue in terms of risk assessment, by far the biggest risk to be averted is catastrophic cooling–the next ice age, which is surely coming and some say is overdue. If we really believe that human and bovine emissions of CO2 and methane tend to warm the planet, we should encourage more of them as an insurance policy against global cooling, which, unlike global warming, actually would devastate human civilization.

  • Jo

    “Climate change is a complex problem. We will need 50, probably 100 years to resolve it. ”

    This actually places him on one side of the argument: that there is only a need for future generatrions to do something, we ourselves need not.

    The point is, surely, we need to take it seriously and start this process – now.

    We need to recognise the vested interests whose vast wealth depends on our not changing our ways of living and consuming.

    We should then recognise that their views and “argument” are as unprejudiced as the tobacoo companies view that smoking was harmless and that, unforgivably, blowing smoke at your children helps keep their “tubes clear”.

    Unforgiveable balderdash.

  • kensei

    DC

    Bollocks.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11643-climate-myths-they-predicted-global-cooling-in-the-1970s.html

    Update: A survey of the scientific literature has found that between 1965 and 1979, 44 scientific papers predicted warming, 20 were neutral and just 7 predicted cooling. So while predictions of cooling got more media attention, the majority of scientists were predicting warming even then.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Your age is showing, kensei… or perhaps your lack thereof.

    The first “Earth Day” was about pushing the fear of “the Coming Ice Age,” so the activist / fear-mongering community was on it like white on rice, meaning that it went beyond “the media,” as the New Scientist contends.

  • kensei

    DC

    Sorry, I think I’ll take the actual facts on research as above versus a media driven day setup a Democratic Senator. This is complete fluff: it proves nothing.

    Oh and on the author of the paper you cite:

    However, Schneider soon realised he had overestimated the cooling effect of aerosol pollution and underestimated the effect of CO2, meaning warming was more likely than cooling in the long run. In his review of a 1977 book called The Weather Conspiracy: The Coming of the New Ice Age, Schneider stated: “We just don’t know…at this stage whether we are in for warming or cooling – or when.” A 1975 report (pdf format) by the US National Academy of Sciences merely called for more research.

    People do get it wrong. And this controversy is good in that it will force people to go back and look at the data and double check and reassess and reproduce. As can eb seen above, minds and opinions can be changed. But it needs to be data driven.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    kensei: “People do get it wrong. And this controversy is good in that it will force people to go back and look at the data and double check and reassess and reproduce.”

    And, yet, rather than excoriate them for their hiding of the data, their cherry-picking and manipulating of the data, their demonstrated willingness to defy / undermine FOI requests, etc., we get this pablum — the folks who botched the initial “peer-reviews” and elided over the lack of access to the raw-data will get a second bite at the apple, all the while we have folks pulling quotes from the “Wizard of Oz” — “Pay no attention to the controversy behind the curtain, keep acting like this is real.”

    And, yet, for all their fear-mongering and demand for rapid action, the cheer-leaders for global control of carbon do little to live up to their press copy. Al Gore lives the life of Midas, turning over-hyped studies into carbon-credit gold. Some of the entities, likewise, pushing the hardest for global control have already signaled their unwillingness to abide by any sort of scheme that would impact themselves, such as China and India.

  • @Jo
    Sorry for not expressing myself clearly, and the IT editor did not help.

    We’ll need a period of at least 50 years but more likely 100 years to solve the climate problem, that is, decarbonise the economy.

    This statement follows from the lifetime of power plants and from the time it takes to develop and commercialise energy technology.

    It is no statement about when we should begin this process. It’s about the duration only. Voters will need to support climate policy for 10-30 elections in a row, so the case for climate policy had better be sound.

    I’ve argued since 1992 that climate policy should start today.

  • kensei

    And, yet, rather than excoriate them for their hiding of the data, their cherry-picking and manipulating of the data, their demonstrated willingness to defy / undermine FOI requests, etc., we get this pablum—the folks who botched the initial “peer-reviews” and elided over the lack of access to the raw-data will get a second bite at the apple, all the while we have folks pulling quotes from the “Wizard of Oz”—“Pay no attention to the controversy behind the curtain, keep acting like this is real.”

    Data is always manipulated. Raw data normally needs standardised. The question is whether what they did was an illegimate manipulation. Perhaps it was. The “trick” was in the public domain, and the problems with that area known. Perhaps this controversy will force it to be looked at further. I suspect tghe scientists involved will not ultimately get an easy ride of it as you imagine and their papers will certainly be looked at extensively in the future. I’m not certain the fact they may not be destroyed is a bad thing. It’ll also pressure science in general to be more open and drop some of the bad habits shown up by this. Perhaps we’ll se more dissenting voices in peer review journals.

    There are a lot of interesting stuff in that, and a lot of benefits from having it exposed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually do much to dent the case for Global Warming. A bit like ranting about the medi in the 70s or Al Gore.

  • igor

    ” We will need global co-operation. We will need to spend hundreds of billions of euro. ”

    The problems is what do you plan to spend it on? Unless there is evidence this is a blank cheque for waste. In some circumstances it could even make things worse.

    I don’t know if there is or isn’t global warming. I also don’t know, if there is global warming, if man’s activites has a major impact on it or if its a natural cyclical phenomenon.

    What I do know that the CRU data played a major part in the analysis that led to the Global Warming theories and media hysteria stoked up by scientifically illiterate journalists, Ministers keen to be green and those with a career interest in becoming gurus of the new orthodoxy.

    I also now know that the CRU source data was destroyed and that they have been relying on interpretative tables compiled by persons unknown up to 40 years ago. I also know that these tables are largely undocumented and unlabelled, so it seems they have been having a hard time establishing just how they all fit together and what they mean. For anyone who has inherited a mass of undocumented files on a system, the read me harry text message is hilarious and will go down in computer history.

    I also now know that far from being objective seekers after truth the climate catastrophe scientists include many zealots who will distort the date to fit theories, skip over uncomfortable bits, stage manage peer review to get the right reviewers who won’t ask too many akward questions and carry out career assassinations on those who disagree with them. All normal sort of stuff in science but now bitterly exposed.

    So from all of this my logical mind tells me that those who complied this key data were appallingly lax in their procedures and systems. It also tells me (and the emails confirm) that those who now use this data are forced to be, shall we say liberal in its use and that some of them are non-objective and pursuing personal agendas and determined to destroy any opposition?

    All of this leads my logical mind to the conclusion that a lot of the evidence that underpins these theories is (to use a technical scientific phrase) a bucket of crap. Undocumented, unreliable crap.

    Now this leaves me back again at a position where I still don’t know if there is or isn’t global warming. I still don’t know, if there is global warming, if man’s activites has a major impact on it or if its a natural cyclical phenomenon.

    I do however know that the politicians keep talking this up because they have been caught with their trousers around their ankles. the kings had no clothes and is desperate that the electorate doesn’t spot it

  • Dread Cthulhu

    kensei: “There are a lot of interesting stuff in that, and a lot of benefits from having it exposed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually do much to dent the case for Global Warming. A bit like ranting about the medi in the 70s or Al Gore. ”

    As you would say, bollocks.

    The “Copenhagen Conference,” by most accounts, will do nothing constructive and will, yet, spew more carbon than some countries, what with private jets, a fleet of limos, et al and ad nauseum. One of the easiest ways to lead is by example — too bad the loudest voices on the topic have no desire to practice what they preach.

    Meanwhile, some of these “tree-ring” studies have been based on cherry-picked data-sets. The Yamal study, for instance, draws conclusions based upon 12 trees out of a data-set of 252. Similarly, Briffa’s assertion that the Medieval warming period was really actually cold is based on a data-set of three tree cores.

    Some of the concealed data was accidentally put on the FTP server, prior to the hacking incident, entitled ‘BACKTO_1400-CENSORED.’ Think they pulled that name out of a hat, kensei?

    As for “peer-review,” the hacks at the CRU included editors for the IPCC document, which positioned them to excluded any dissenting “peer-reviews.”

    Science is not consensus. Science should be demonstrable, reproducible and verifiable. Man-made global warming fails on all three counts, at least as it comes out of the CRU. Between their reliance upon unreliable measurements — tree rings can be wildly variable, based upon the individual conditions of the tree, compounded by the cherry-picking of data performed by the “scientists” at the CRU.

  • joeCanuck

    I understand where you’re coming from, Igor, but the consequences will likely be horrendous if we get it wrong.
    The money to get to a low carbon energy solution will have to be spent sooner or later when oil and gas runs out.
    These scientists who fiddled data will hopefully suffer career wise as a result of professional excoriation.

  • Garza

    Mick, knowing Queens, which I do, you will be waiting a bit more for a reply. Queen’s does everything at a snails pace I’m afraid.

  • Garza

    …unless of course you owe them money lol.

  • jivaro

    In his very informative piece, Richard Tol says one very worrying thing:

    ‘Insiders have long known that some CRU staff were venal, secretive and sloppy environmentalists.’

    Well if the ‘insiders’ knew and said nothing, what does that tell us about the calibre of the people we are dealing with?

    And how many more ‘venal, secretive and sloppy environmentalists’ are being protected by the silence of ‘insiders’?

  • Dread Cthulhu

    joeCanuck: “I understand where you’re coming from, Igor, but the consequences will likely be horrendous if we get it wrong.”

    So another vote for “let’s pretend its really science?”, Joe?

    joeCanuck: “The money to get to a low carbon energy solution will have to be spent sooner or later when oil and gas runs out.”

    Mayhap, but there are better arguments to be made than scare-mongering and trying to stampede the populace. Additionally, the same greenies and elites who don’t like coal, oil and gas complain about wind (could kill birds / pollute their yachting lanes), solar (looks ugly, could cause gentrification) and nuclear power.

    joeCanuck: “These scientists who fiddled data will hopefully suffer career wise as a result of professional excoriation. ”

    Starting with their criminal prosecution for the misuse / embezzlement of government funds for their use in creating these fraudulent “scientific” studies.

  • @Igor
    My point exactly. A project as big and expensive as decarbonising the world economy needs a sound justification.

    @Jivaro
    Life does not look kindly on whistleblowers. Furthermore, there are four alternative instrumental temperature records that show the same trend as CRU’s one, and nobody in their right mind ever believed Mann’s hockeystick (as also documented in the stolen emails).

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Tol: “Life does not look kindly on whistleblowers. Furthermore, there are four alternative instrumental temperature records that show the same trend as CRU’s one, and nobody in their right mind ever believed Mann’s hockeystick (as also documented in the stolen emails). ”

    And, yet, the political side of the argument used the hockey-stick graphs as a club against skeptice without so much as a burp from AGW scientists…

    As for “the need for a sound justification,” I would say you are incorrect. What it requires is a sound foundation in serious science, with honest peer review and real debate, rather than the demonization of those who question the need for hiding the data by those who seek to “justify” weaseling a way around FOI requests and their hiding of their cherry-picked data sets… One can “justify” a great many things with the flimsiest of rationalizations, after the fact.

  • kensei

    DC

    Just as well that the case for global warming isn’t based on justt he CRU then, isn’t it?

    On the hocky stick:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11646-climate-myths-the-hockey-stick-graph-has-been-proven-wrong.html

  • Dread Cthulhu

    OK, Kensei, between you and Tol, decide whether or not the hockey-sticks are real or not.

    Post #19 “…and nobody in their right mind ever believed Mann’s hockeystick (as also documented in the stolen emails). “

  • Dread Cthulhu

    It is a trifle foolish, kensei, to take me to task for someone else’s words…

  • @Kensei
    The New Scientist uses its words very carefully. It argues that is has been particularly hot of late, without defending the original hockey stick.

  • igor

    ” the consequences will likely be horrendous if we get it wrong”

    yes Joe…but potentially either way the consequences are really huge

    On the hockey stick the problem again comes back to the CRU and other data sets. The graphs are drawn using them. How were they collected? How reliable are they? how sure are we that the data is still as it was collected? Are the original data sources still recorded so they can be checked or are we looking at them through layers of interpretation and processing over many many years?

    What the CRU scandals has done is to force people to ask these sorts of questions – something that the researchers should have been doing themselves over many years. But then Government is paying grants for clear results and consistency (especially if its politically convenient at the time) and, as we have seen so clearly, vested interests want to stifle the debate if it threatens pet theories or sometimes just because they hate the opposition!!

    Now where have we heard that before? Perhaps they need an Agreement and a Process and a Commission to sort it out? We could draft in a brace of MLAs to help design it but would they be allowed to accept tree ring data going back beyond 4004BC

  • Jo

    I fully understand that there will be charlatans who will equally push their “this is what we should do” agenda on the side of various and potentially unending man-made warming restriction.

    On the other side, I see the emissions of cows and other species appear (on the One Show) to again be hailed as worse than us-uns.

    I detest 4X4s but I’m not so shallow as to think that their removal will solve the situation. And most of us can be aware of developing countries wanting what we have – or appear to have – and then being denied it just as we start to realise that growth is unsustainable, globally.

    Truth is, we can’t all have cars. At the moment, I don’t. I don’t need one. I go on a bus or a plane or a train because its going where its going anyway…we can all do a bit.

    I don’t lament the lightbulb that generated heat….I want light from a lightbulb and by the same token, I want to get to places in a way that doesn’t prevent my daughter from going anywhere, unless she’s rich, in 30 years time…a few random, personal thoughts. But we all need personal thoughts, not be mouthpieces for oil companies and exploitative rich people wanting to stay rich. Like the Tories. In this battle, we ARE all in it together, but I happen to NOT have £4 million to cushion me and my family from the excesses of greed 🙂

  • Mick Fealty

    Richard,

    Welcome. And thanks for a great piece of grounded common sense. PS, I know for certain that the Telegraph takes its own carbon footprint seriously even if Mr Delingpole doesn’t…

  • tierney73

    I am frankly astonished that so many people who should know better manage to confuse a privately-sent e-mail – which is no different from a private conversation in a pub, when it comes down to it – with the process of producing ethical and peer-review standard work for dissemination. And I would frankly be astonished if we could find any scientists who do not have a personal investment in the particular theories that they espouse, and who develop a certain habit of dismissal of the work of people with whom they disagree – especially if they think that work is methodologically poor. Nearly all of this discussion seems to have no grounding in the understanding of either scientific or personal lives, even, sometimes, from academics who appear incapable of reflecting on their own practice. There is nothing in the CRU e-mails that should surprise anyone who has worked in the history of science, or science or technology studies. And there should be nothing in them that surprises people who are practicing scientists, for that matter, or indeed anyone who has ever sent a private e-mail where, amazingly enough, they might discuss things in a different way to the manner they would normally do so in public. Much more than any of the contents of the CRU mails, it is the subsequent discussion after they have been stolen that exposes the lamentable lack of understanding of scientific practice, a strange combination of inhumanly high expectations and a complete failure to recognise the rigours of peer review. It would seem from the banner on this thread that the CRU mails consititute ‘cheating’. I’m dismayed to read this, even if Mick Fealty is only paraphrasing someone else; yet again the tone of the debate has been set in a manner completely out of context. That’s fine for private e-mails – but unlikely to produce good sense in public discussion.

  • igor

    Dear Tierney

    I urge you to read what was going on and especially the Harry emails where the researcher appears to be attempting to wade through thousands of unlabelled tables of statistics and retro fit them into tables testing them against the model as he goes. In short this is making the dat fit the model. I have no doubt that this was not intentional cheating but rather an attempt to make sense of a mess he had been handed.

    The problem is that reverse engineering like this is not a good idea in science in circumstances where you don’t know the origin of the source data. Its a bit like another paper published a couple of years ago that was hailed as ‘proving’ warming in Antarctica. On closer examination it was found that, because of a lack of weather stations in key areas, researchers had ‘projected’ what the readings ‘should’ have been at those points on the basis of their model and then (surprise surprise) found that their model for warming fitted the data.

    The source data for the CRUs work therefore appears to be hopelessly compromised. Its unverifiable and we simply don’t know how bad the layers of interpretation and compromise are

    Furthermore their own emails appear to show that the model is incredibly senstive to even minor changes in one cell. At one point there is an exchange where a researcher (the author of read this harry I think) modifies a cell and finds that it changes the predicted temperature at 264 other cells. Whoops!

    So we have a very sensitive and arguably unstable model based upon data that we cant be sure of.

    Better to put the climate change ‘investment’ on the favourite in 3.30 at Kempton Park or bet it all to win on Gordon Brown winning a landslide victory in the next election

  • joeCanuck

    Better to put the climate change ‘investment’ on the favourite in 3.30 at Kempton Park

    C’mon, Igor, don’t leave us hanging. Which date?

  • tierney73

    My comments weren’t aimed at the quality, sensitivity and robustness of the CRU models – strangely enough I don’t think that Slugger is the place to resolve such a discussion. My post was about the terms of the debate. The process you describe – retro-fitting data and cross-fitting model and data – are, I would suggest again, completely normal practice and it does not mark out CRU in any way. Using data from a dubious source as better than not using any data at all? Completely normal. High sensitivity of models to what might appear to be marginal changes in data – completely normal, as anyone who deals in systems theories knows, surely? Does anyone who works in this kind of area or any cognate discipline seriously not know this? Scientists do sloppy work? Yes, just as much as anyone else who might also be expected to be rigorous in the ir practice might also do work others think doesn’t measure up. As it happens people in climate science and elsehwere have these debates all the time, but not on the basis of a handful – relative to all those exchanged on the subject – purloined e-mails stripped of context.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Tierney73: “My comments weren’t aimed at the quality, sensitivity and robustness of the CRU models – strangely enough I don’t think that Slugger is the place to resolve such a discussion. My post was about the terms of the debate. The process you describe – retro-fitting data and cross-fitting model and data – are, I would suggest again, completely normal practice and it does not mark out CRU in any way…”

    Sure, but whenever they’re caught with their fingers on the scales, they should have to pay the penalty for being caught with their fingers on the scale. When they use their bootstrapped conclusions to try and stampede folks into bad decisions, they should be run out of town on a rail, after a good, old-fashioned tarring and feathering, hang the carbon-footprint.

  • @Igor / Tierney73
    The attempt at reverse engineering was done by someone who inherited a job from sloppy predecessors. Reverse engineering is the correct thing to try.

    @Tierney73
    Most of the emails are indeed about people at work. They do reveal a pattern, though, of research that shifted from the vain pursuit of the truth (as academics should) to a political pursuit. Instead of changing careers, CRU staff became activists while pretending they were academics.

    That is a violation of the rules of the game.

  • aquifer

    CO2 in a test tube is a global warming gas. Let millions of tonnes loose and it is unlikely to be anything different.

    The downsides of the risks of global warming are likely to be borne particularly by subsistence farmers in low lying deltas in places like Egypt and Bangladesh, and in areas that are already hot.

    We have ease to speculate and resources to adapt, millions maybe billions do not.

    If you find a climate change denier offering insurance against it, let us know.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    aquifer: “CO2 in a test tube is a global warming gas. Let millions of tonnes loose and it is unlikely to be anything different.”

    Actually, CO2 in the atmosphere is a necessary component to photosynthesis and a inevitable result of respiration of most animal life on the planet.

    aquifer: “The downsides of the risks of global warming are likely to be borne particularly by subsistence farmers in low lying deltas in places like Egypt and Bangladesh, and in areas that are already hot.”

    And all those Martians and Jovians, who are also experiencing and, apparently, causing their own global warming, neh?

  • Congal Claen

    Hi Kensei,

    here’s a link you should maybe have a look at…

    http://www.americanthinker.com/printpage/?url=http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/11/crus_source_code_climategate_r.html

    You’re from a computer background so you’ll appreciate the “fudge factor” comment.

    And remember more stuff will come out as the hacked data is studied in depth. It’s only the tip of the non melting iceberg at present…

  • tierney73

    @ Richard Tol.

    Thanks for providing your authority in telling me that when to use reverse engineeering of data. Might I already know this?

    The division between ‘activists’ and ‘academics’ is indeed a very interesting one, and in this application suggests a strict delineation that one would be very interested to see policed: if we actually know who is supposed to establish ‘the rules of the game’, aside from the normal process of peer review to which the output of all recognised academics should be subject. I for one am not entirely sure how this boundary would be policed in practice. It certainly has not been policed in the past or in the present, whether the activist is ‘corporate’, ‘environmentalist’, or whatever, and it would be hard to see how this could be so. Anyone involved in extensive modelling and simulation should be aware that this kind of work is replete with all sorts of choices which are, in the end, political, and contain assumptions about how the world functions and the likely trajectory of developments. These are in the end assumptions, and frequently not demonstrable in the real world (and if people think climate scientists’ use of proxy data is dubious, they should look rather closer at the same practice by economists – which I should stress is not in any way directed at the work of Richard Tol).

    Of course, it is highly desirable that the basis of assumptions and the data employed, and the degree of sensitivity testing, should be made explicit in all cases. In many cases the ‘none’ would be the answer about sensitivity testing of many parameters used, as anyone working in these areas knows very well. That is why the work must then be subject to public discussion. In practice, few people have time for the discussion, and so it is important that, as with climate science, there are a wide range of practitioners working in similar areas, generating comparable results.

    In practice neither is there the requirement for this kind of rigour in all sorts of journals; important assumptions are simply backed by normative statements and claims, and many models contain chains of inference that have never been rigorously checked by authors or peer referees. And if anything is to get published at all, this is probably going to continue to be the case.

    There is better and worse practice, yes. The CRU e-mails will also be very useful to historians of science. But let’s not kid ourselves that they represent something aberrant and that science ‘within the game’ is clear of these foibles. It doesn’t mean any of the science is necessarily out of door, simply that it must all be subject to proper scrutiny in its final form.

  • tierney73

    should be ‘out of order’, not out of ‘door’! Sorry!

  • @Tierney73
    The reverse-engineering remark was meant to weigh in on your side in your discussion with Igor. Sorry for not making that clear.

    The distinction between “academics” and “activists” is intuitively clear, but hard in practice. In his book “The Honest Broker”, Roger Pielke Jr offers a classification with six scales (rather than two).

    The academic community is self-policing, while the activist community is part of the decision making process. Rules are fluid, enforcement imperfect.

    But I think most would agree that an academic should not ignore evidence that contradicts a hypothesis.

  • igor

    ” Using data from a dubious source as better than not using any data at all? Completely normal. ”

    No its not and its not right to commit billions to remedial programmes based on sloppy work and unknown data

    My point on the sensitivity issue is simple. Of course the model is sensitive – weather systems are complex and are bound to be. But that means that unless your input data is spot on you will be almost guaranteed to generate total utter unreliable crap! The problem with CRU is that we now mistrust the input data. So what value has the output?

    The issue of reverse engineering is interesting. Lets be clear if they were using reverse engineering to validate the model then in my view that would probably be OK. It could then be retested and validated. But the emails seem to me to suggest a different approach. Thye had large quantities of unlabelled data and were therefore trying to use the model to identify the data so they could then label it.

    That in my opinion is dangerously wrong.

    I understand that they may have been doing it for the best of reasons and they had inherited a mess but its fundamentally dangerous

    “The academic community is self-policing” – yeah and the emails show just how the scientific courts can be rigged and the police bought off

  • @Igor
    Using imperfect information is better than using no information. Pretending that bad information is good is dangerous.

    Harry inherited a raw data set, an algorithm to process the data, and a processed data set. He tried to run the algorithm on the raw data to recreate the processed data. When that failed, he tried (in vain) to reverse engineer the algorithm and the structure of the raw data base. Given the situation that Harry found himself in, reverse engineering was the right thing to do. He should never have found himself in that situation. Reverse engineering is the symptom, not the disease.

    Harry only worked with data, by the way. There was no model involved. Harry simply tried to replicate the A(R)=P of his predecessors.

    About self-policing: Bad science is not the real scandal. There’ll always be bad people. The real scandal is the reluctance of the community to own up to a mistake, weed out the bad stuff, and be less naive next time.

  • Mick Fealty

    tierney73,

    I take your point about Slugger not being the best place to run through these things, but when you have local ministers like Sammy Wilson who are willing to trade off what they don’t know rather than what they do, then you have an indication of the scale of the problem.

    CC,

    This is a more interesting piece from the same site:

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/12/understanding_climategates_hid.html

    But the trouble with raking things up to this level of scepticism, in that it undermines all ‘scenario building’, not just the ‘warmist’ ones.

    Job jobbed for the economic protagonists, but ‘eyes tight shut’ to the longer term consequences.

  • tierney73

    I think the discussion on this thread has indicated how difficult it is to come to useful conclusions on such matters in any discussion arena – given that by and large the contributors here have been pretty good at listening to what the others are trying to say. The importance of peer review is in the simple weight of attention any particular piece of work is given. There are a whole host of reasons why any individual act of review (‘court’) can be prejudiced – which is why everything should be reviewed by multiple reviewers who are known to have differing stances. It is the multiplicity of viewpoints that makes the system as a whole extremely hard to rig (from the review side – the funding side is a whole different matter, if it is not subject to peer review itself). It is however quite possible for a large scientific community to go down the wrong track – there are numerous historical examples of this, and every scientific endeavour is always at risk of that happening. But it is extremely rare that this is the product of intentional manipulation of results to produce an end product the producers know to be incorrect (‘cheating’)

    @ Richard Tol

    Many thanks for your clarifications. But I think we should be cautious of equating ‘bad science’ with ‘bad people’ (whatever is meant by that. You and I may have clear ideas of what we mean by it, although those ideas may differ, but the wider community does not). Neither am I convinced that there is an intuitive distinction between activist and academic (at least, as mutually incompatible and exclusive categories). It’s not a distinction that I think many people working on Science and Technology Studies would recognise. It is interesting in itself that being ‘above’ activism or politics remains so much a part of academics’ self-image and legitimation. Determination to retain such distinctions – rather than simply focusing on the quality of research – may be part of the reason why we have reached an impasse in the discussion of the CRU mails.

    Of course, I absolutely agree that no-one should ignore evidence that contradicts a hypothesis. Nevertheless I know a lot of people who seem to be able to do this, for all sorts of reasons: not necessarily because they are ‘bad’. I hope, like you, that they are eventually held to account. But this should be done in a fully contextualised and properly interrogated fashion on the basis of all the evidence – if, for example, this is indeed what some CRU people did, and which now is the subject of an inquiry.

    @ Mick Fealty

    No question the scale of the problem is big, and I have no answer to how to deal with it. Unfortunately I think many academics themselves don’t reflect enough on their own practice to be able to give an accurate account of it, never mind communicate to a wider public. It seems rather rare to me that wider enthusiasm for a particular scientific argument is closely linked to the quality of the work – which is part of the reason why activism and academia are inevitably in practice closely entangled (again, I use a very broad definition of ‘activist’ here).

  • @tierney73
    We agree.

    I’ve learned the hard way that subtlety does not work on blogs. I therefore use simple black and white language. My academic writing is more advanced.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Tierney73: “But I think we should be cautious of equating ‘bad science’ with ‘bad people’ (whatever is meant by that. You and I may have clear ideas of what we mean by it, although those ideas may differ, but the wider community does not).”

    Well, sure — I mean, I am sure that outside of her racism and belief in eugenics, Margaret Sanger was probably a lovely person, one on one…

    Tierney73: “Of course, I absolutely agree that no-one should ignore evidence that contradicts a hypothesis.”

    And, yet your are quick to rationalize / justify / forgive doing so…

    Tierney73: “No question the scale of the problem is big, and I have no answer to how to deal with it. ”

    Makes two assumptions — one, that there is a problem and that, two, there is anything we can do about it. There is evidence of shrinking ice-caps on Mars and changes on Jupiter also being associated with “climate change,” all without power-plants, SUVS or jet-flying, limo-riding, caviar-eating power-hungry bureaucratics and climate phrenologists.

  • tierney73

    @ Richard Tol

    We got there! Of course, you also raise an enormous issue about the possibility of discussing certain kinds of issues on blogs, although subtlety don’t work so well in the academic world a lot of the time either. But if we can’t use subtlety, can we ever get certain kinds of points across…? Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to answer that. Thanks for the exchanges.

    @ Dread Cthulhu,

    Read the posts from MF and myself again, while considering that we’re actually talking about dealing with the discussion of science in broader public discourse – not climate change – as the ‘problem’, and you might see them in a different light. And while I do have plenty opinions about climate change science (though I would limit myself to the Earth, or at least any comparable planets should I find them), I somehow sense we’re not going to have a very enlightening discussion on that issue here. I’ll just look forward to your in-depth publication on the history of climate science and why the issue is currently prominent.

    But please note that I sought to contextaulise the discussion of the CRU mails against what is actually fairly normal scientific and academic practice, as a measure of whether the particular points made against them as ‘cheats’ was reasonable (noting the fact that many people do not behave ideally in many many circumstances for comprehensible reasons is not the same as saying it is desirable that they should do so; and also that actual scientific practice is not what many people think it is, and in fact never could be). Equally that I did not say that ‘bad science’ of whatever kind should never be associated with ‘badness’ in people, simply that one should be cautious in making that equation: although perhaps you are cleverly raising the point that given the extreme prevalence and enthusiasm for eugenics and racism in much of the twentieth century, we would be foolish to condemn a majority of the population of many countries as ‘bad’. Just in case that’s a bit too subtle, I don’t approve of racism or eugeneics. Jan Smuts wrote the preamble to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as being a senior allied military commander in WWII. Obviously this makes both ventures illegitimate, eugenicist and racist… or perhaps not. But this of course is a distraction from the fact that this was not really the kind of ‘badness’ to which the posts of Richard Tol and myself were referring.

    Maybe if we blogged less we would take a little more time to read what other people actually write?

  • It would have been better had I written: “Bad science is not the real scandal. There’ll always be bad or sloppy people.” because bad science can intentional as well as unintentional.