The lessons of “Climategate”

by on November 23, 2009 at 6:53 am in Education, Science | Permalink

I've had many readers emailing me, asking what I think of the "trove" of emails unearthed from climate change researchers.  I'll admit I haven't read through the rather embarrassing revelations, I've only read a few media summaries and excerpts.  I see a few lessons:

1. Do not criticize other people in emails or assume that your emails will remain confidential, especially if you are working on a politically controversial topic.  Ask a lawyer about this, if need be.  "Duh," they will say to you.

2. The Jacksonian mode of discourse, or mode of conduct for that matter, can do harm to your cause, especially if you are otherwise trying to claim the scientific high ground.

The substantive issues remains as they were.  In Bayesian terms, if it turns out that many leading scientists do not practice numbers one and two, I am surprised that you are surprised.  It's very often that the scientific consensus "sounds that way."

In other words, I don't think there's much here, although the episode should remind us of some common yet easily forgotten lessons.

I should add that this episode will seem very important to you, if you conceive of the matter in terms of the moral qualities of "us vs. them."

Addendum: Robin Hanson offers a similar opinion.  I wrote my post before reading his, yet we come to the same conclusions I think.

1 Matthew November 23, 2009 at 7:18 am

“I’ll admit I haven’t read through the rather embarrassing revelations, I’ve only read a few media summaries and excerpts. . . In other words, I don’t think there’s much here.”

Do you recall Rathergate? My advice to you is not to put your trust in “a few media summaries and excerpts” before you judge “I don’t think there’s much here”.

My suggestion is to start with Bishop Hill’s list of problematic emails, then read about what is in the paleoclimate code. The big guns are only beginning to analyze this stuff, far too premature to write it all off at this point. . .

2 Ozornik November 23, 2009 at 7:21 am

Trying to spin scientific opinion using dirty political methods is, indeed, not news.
Willfully, intentionally, deliberately falsifying data is.

3 David Wright November 23, 2009 at 7:29 am

I agree about the substantive issues. But not that we should not be surprised at this behavior.

I worked as a physicist for many years. In my discipline, there were plenty of camps that had strong opinions about whether certain ideas were right or wrong, likely to move the field forward or likely to prove useless distractions. Sometimes discussions became quite heated. But never did I see groups of people plotting to hijack the peer review process in order to shut out those who disagreed with them, or discussing how to hide data that did not look good for their side of the debate. You can be a jerk and still be a good scientist, you can even have a personal bias and still be a good scientist, but you can’t actively subvert the scientific process and still be a good scientist.

While the subtantive issues remain the same, most of us are not deeply enmeshed in the substantive issues. Instead, we have accepted the “scientific consensus” because we have trust in the scientific process. Knowing how these key scientists have behaved does, marginally, decrease, my trust in their findings.

4 Justin Kraus November 23, 2009 at 7:36 am

I must say as a PhD student myself I am certainly not unaware of the heat with which academics can argue their points, on climate change or any other topic. And of course personal emails should remain just that,personal.

On the other hand, I am a little depressed, having read the reactions of several academics, Dr. Cowen included, who seem to think that such rancor, particularly in what is supposed to be a scientific field, is no big deal and has no real important consequences, or at worst is a PR problem. As if to say ‘sure they are nasty behind the scenes but that doesn’t ultimately affect the quality of their published work.’
And then Tyler adds the zinger line of ‘well don’t think you aren’t that way too’ to shame anyone who has ever had a bad thought from voicing protest for fear of being labeled a hypocrite.

This is certainly nonsense and worse (though perhaps I am too cynical) smells suspiciously like an attempt at academic damage control. When people are exposed doing bad things it is certainly not the end of the world, but they should have the sense to fess-up and feel at least a little ashamed.

And just for the record, I believe in human-induced climate change.

5 V November 23, 2009 at 7:55 am

I’m always surprised by the use of the term ‘scientific consensus’. Considering the fact there is a debate indicates a distinct lack of consensus.
Simply stating there is a scientific consensus implies a political dimension. If the data were really that concrete, this dimension would not be required.

Perhaps this demonstrates one aspect of economics that varies from the physcial sciences. After all the consensus view did not accept there was housing bubble …

6 josh November 23, 2009 at 8:14 am

Granted, we should all know by now that “science” is dead and the actions of these particular scientists shouldn’t come as a surprise; still it is irritating to see people like Tyler being so nonchalant about it.

We are talking about science that relies on the use of statistics for modeling, which is difficult enough when done perfectly (http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2005/09/why_most_publis.html). We are relying on some kind of “consensus” (the mere existence of which is troubling. All of our important research institutions intentionally speaking with one voice?) where there is a major bias in funding (Washington and its satellites). And apparently the scientists are participating in various forms of collusion and even fraud.

How am I supposed to have any idea what to think? Our knowledge machine is broken, yet the most useful ideas to the ruling faction are seized upon, funded until a “consensus” emerges, and used to justify anything and everything. This is a big deal and we need to wake up to it. And I could just as easily be talking about economics, which suffers similar problems. “Science” has basically become a single propaganda agency to justify the actions of Washington. Why is this any more trustworthy than “science” in the USSR? This is a much bigger deal than climate change even if the consensus is completely right.

7 Jim November 23, 2009 at 8:29 am

>The substantive issues remains as they were.

Very true. AGW is a hoax and always has been. The only difference now is that we have proof.

8 Eric Rasmusen November 23, 2009 at 8:37 am

My reaction is like that of physicist David Wright: it is appalling that the scientists in the emails are concealing data and trying to suppress their rivals’ research. I haven’t heard of that in economics. (I am not surprised at this in climate science, but I would be in almost any other area of science.) Indeed, there are a number of episodes in which mistakes have been found in famous economics papers because of close scrutiny of data voluntarily supplied by the writers to scholars they know will search for every flaw. Examples are the Feldstein social security programming error, Lott’s work on gun control, and Levitt and Donohue on abortion and crime.

Of course, all work has some mistakes, and a sophist could use trivial mistakes to try to discredit a paper, but in the profession trivial mistakes are expected and do not discredit, and we are all aware that big mistakes are very possible too, even from top researchers. Moreover, the custom of revealing one’s data and methods is a deterrent to deliberate fraud. I haven’t heard of deliberate fraud in econ published papers, but if climate science does not have the custom of making data and methods publicly available, we should predict that fraud will occur.

9 8 November 23, 2009 at 9:02 am

It’s us vs them, but it has not been played on a level playing field. One side has government support, the other does not. It is akin to cops and robbers, and we just learned that the cops have been playing fast and loose with the evidence. “They’re guilty anyway” doesn’t work for the police, and it won’t work now.

The public is in an institution smashing mood so I do not think this is over. Trust of “experts” is low and falling, this information comes at the moment when peak damage will occur to the scientific community.

10 bob November 23, 2009 at 9:08 am

The rule is: do not write anything in an email that you would not put on a postcard. And attorneys themselves violate this all the time.

11 mattmc November 23, 2009 at 9:24 am

It does seem like most of the climate models just aren’t that good/predictive and we can’t use them to infer causality. Hiding the data used to create them is beyond suspicious. The emails are damning in that respect. Set the data free if you want anyone to believe you.

I think it is a strategic mistake by environmentalists to focus on man made global warming. I found the perspective in Superfreakonomics refreshing- let’s treat the symptoms, since we can’t control all of the causes (sunspots, volcanoes, etc.)

12 Anne T. Positivist November 23, 2009 at 9:35 am

Jacksonian discourse?
You mean like the email from Ben Santer on p. A3 of today’s Wall Street Journal in which he threatens to beat up Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute? Jacksonian indeed.
But that’s what the State does, beat up people and steal from them.

13 tom November 23, 2009 at 10:05 am

Tyler and Robin are stopping too soon, maybe because of their own academic biases.

Robin says the fact of these emails has a bigger effect on the public than it should because people don’t think of academics that way. So if people were more realistic about normal politics in science, they would not be upset.

But that’s the way the whole thing has been sold. Scientists agree, the science is settled….., all are discussed as if scientists/academics are much more objective and un-self-interested than they really are.

Now that people are getting a glimpse into that, academics say “oh, you were a naive fool to think that we are not political and petty and don’t stretch some things and cover up some things. Of course we do!” But those same academics and their supporters were very happy to rely on the non-political image of scientists when establishing the consensus in the first place.

Robin at least gets to a next level of the issue by saying let people put their own money where their mouths are, which is his normal and useful response to everything. But Tyler takes what I see as a more arrogant and dismissive approach–he says the brouhaha is due to naivete but doesn’t note that the original acceptance of scientists by the public may have been based on that exact same naivete.

14 Bob Murphy November 23, 2009 at 10:26 am

I think people are wrong to focus on the “beat the cr*p out of Pat Michaels” stuff. Who cares about that?

The ones that shocked me concerned things like “hiding the decline” and “I’ll keep them out of the IPCC, even if I have to redefine what the peer review literature is!” That last one could have been a joke; I don’t know the guy’s personality. But there are other ones where they discuss targeting a journal because (and I’m paraphrasing) ‘this was the danger with accusing the skeptics of not having peer-reviewed publications, they might take over a journal!’

The other thing I think some people don’t realize is that CRU is refusing to release a lot of the important data so that others can try to replicate their results. If you’re an economist and published a paper relying on a regression of some industry stats e.g., and then someone emailed you saying, “I think you screwed up, can I please have your data set to check?” would you really think the scientific thing to do would be to say, “Why should I give you my data when you just want to find problems with it?”

I cannot believe that the tons of emails discussing how they are deliberately sitting on data to keep it “out of the wrong hands” doesn’t bother many people.

15 Kent Guida November 23, 2009 at 10:42 am

We should not be surprised that politically charged questions are treated rhetorically rather than philosophically – that is, as exercises in persuasion rather than open-minded inquiry. That is what I take to be Tyler’s legitimate point.

However, rhetoric has rules of legitimacy, and they do not include hiding data, destroying the paper trail, manipulating the peer review and publication process or any of the other misdeeds revealed by the emails.

There is nothing wrong with a scientist practicing rhetoric, only with practicing illegitimate rhetoric.

Take the case of Michael Bellesiles and the similarly charged question of gun control. His peer-reviewed prize-winning book turned out to be based on made-up data, a fact he tried to hide by claiming his notes had been destroyed – a clear example of illegitimate rhetoric dressed up as historical research. Eventually he lost the prize and lost his job, not because people disagreed with him on gun-control policy, but because his work was illegitimate. Is any similar punishment likely to be handed out in the present case?

16 Pete L November 23, 2009 at 11:06 am

The problem is that AGW theory, as it is presented today, relies largely on credibility of these researchers and faith in peer review to act as a fair and accurate gatekeeper for good research. These emails, though unsurprising to people familiar with academic research and particularly in highly politicized areas like climate research, may help open the eyes of many people that scientific research is often affirmatively not a pristine temple of intellectual and scientific purity.

Some examples that can be learned from these emails:
1) Black-balling researchers that fail to tote the party line
2) Attempts to obscure inconvenient data and intentional misleading the public on the robustness of the evidence
3) Not sharing data and methods for meaningful outside review (even with so-called peer review)
4) Disobeying freedom-of-information requests for the sole purpose of hiding information
5) Extent of involvement of egos and personal pettiness
6) Financial and career rewards for playing ball

In other words, the process is highly corrupted and thus cannot be relied upon for accurate assessments (especially in the short run). People need to think for themselves and demand more evidence and more openness.

As way to deflect this sort of criticism, a key researcher (Gavin) on realclimate.org said “Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person.” This is true, of course, but Newton upset consensus at the time and convinced the world because he offered an elegant proof that had predictive power that could be repeated in independent experiments. There is nothing remotely like this in AGW theory. While independent scientists can prove in a lab that CO2 absorbs some amount of infrared radiation and thus can as a greenhouse gas (at least in isolation), the supposed consensus demands that we go much much further than this.

They demand that we believe that our contribution to a relatively small change in CO2 concentrations has already caused a large unprecedented shift in average temperatures where before it was relatively stable for ~2K years.

They demand that we believe in the particular models presented by researchers, which necessarily rely upon feedback effects to greatly amplify any warming CO2 causes, that CO2 will cause a rapid disruption because of increased feedback effects or tipping points.

They demand that we believe that there will be horrendous 2nd, 3rd, and 4th order impacts as a result of warming.

Almost none of this lends itself readily to outside review, but the evidence is clear that this community has gone out of its way manipulate the peer review process for political motives and prevent outside review by blocking access to data, methods, preventing publication in journals, etc.

17 Gabe November 23, 2009 at 11:15 am

Take it easy on Tyler. If the scientist can be political, then obviously the NY times can be political! If Tyler doesn’t “play ball” correctly he will be blackballed just like the peer reviewed sceintists were blackballed. He is clearly either scared or he is talked himself into believing that he is right to be pro-CO2 tax. The cognitivie dissonace makes him uncomfortable so he can’t even bring himself to read the emails as he admits.

18 Stuart Buck November 23, 2009 at 11:21 am

Corruption of the peer review process seems troubling, no? http://stuartbuck.blogspot.com/2009/11/peer-review.html

19 Gabe November 23, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Naw man Stuart…we all know that “peer review” is really just a good place to institutionalize attitudes and beliefs that the elite thinks are important for teh little people to internalize. It ain’t really a big deal, move along now and enjoy your CO2 tax.

20 Andrew November 23, 2009 at 1:10 pm

I too think that maybe the economists are looking this and saying “Hmmm, feuds between schools of thought, ho hum.”

I don’t think this is this is the M.O. for harder sciences, if climate can be called one.

21 Jerry November 23, 2009 at 1:58 pm

What is really disheartening when information like this comes out is the confirmation of suspicions many had when they were in graduate school (or have in graduate school now) about pursuing research, especially in “controversial” areas. I mean, climate science is supposedly a relatively “hard science,” where an open-minded search for truth is present – these e-mails demonstrate the efforts to subvert scientific research. I mean, if the data is so stong in one direction, why would scientists even worry about peer-reviewed articles, conflicting data, etc?

It is far worse in the social sciences (I’m speaking as a psychologist), who recognized early on that life in graduate school is far better (and student loans far easier to pay off) if you avoid certain topics altogether, pay lip service to certain prevailing views in your dissertation, research, etc., and get your degree. The sad part, of course, is how much important research never gets completed as a result of fear of reprisal, ocstracizing, marginalization, etc. Why should “bravery” be required to be a scientist, in this day and age: a person who simply asks questions, and seeks answers through research?

22 mulp November 23, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Hacking Palin’s email proves all liberals are evil, while hacking climate scientists’ email proves all conservatives are defenders of truth and virtue.

23 Gabe November 23, 2009 at 3:44 pm

mulp,

Hack Palin’s account all you want, please. Hack George Bush and Dick Cheney while you are at it. Bush came out in favor of CO2 tax at the end of his term anyway remember? Most of the people here who are against the CO2 tax are also very much against republicans.

It is revealing that your narrow mind can only conceive of a “left” and a “right”. I suppose you are happy with how Obama has only escalated the wars that Bush started? More troops in Iraq/Af/Pak now than even when bushchimp was in! You must get all proud when the troops bomb another kid in the mountains….making the world safe for Karzai’s heroin profits.

24 Careless November 23, 2009 at 4:27 pm

I’ll just say that this conclusively disproves Sayre’s Law.

25 Barkley Rosser November 23, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Gabe,

Why do you keep ranting here about a “CO2 tax”? Nobody is proposing that. Yes, cap and trade will have a similar outcome, higher prices on similar activities, but they are not the same thing. Your insistence on rattling on about a “tax” means that either you are ignorant (doubt it), stupid (doubt it), or consciously lying. Take your pick.

Vangel,

I agree that serious issues are involved here, and certainly in economics the sorts of games we have seen revealed here go on a lot, which may partly explain the apparent nonchalance of both Robin and Tyler. However, it is also the case that the outcome of some of this is overdone. Note that most of the most troubling emails are a decade old, and much of this has become irrelevant now with new studies and new data.

So, indeed much of this really boiled down to the great hockey stick controversy. A key figure in the emails (and one of those running real.climate.org) is Michael Mann, who was in the same department at the University of Virginia for a long time as another figure in the emails, Patrick Michaels. Yes, we are talking about something deeply rooted and long running and nasty all the way around (and neither of them is in that department anymore).

So, Mann was an author of the original hockey stick paper. This paper was shown to be seriously flawed on both data grounds and statistical methodology grounds. Mann and allies floundered about to offset this, but basically failed. However, subsequent studies have resurrected the hockey stick. It is back with renewed support.

Also, the whole IPCC proces has changed considerably since then. Michaels is now a part of it, and he does not reject AGW, in spite of what appears in these emails. He accepts it, but says that it will occur at a much lower rate than most do, probably near the lower end of the IPCC range of possible outcomes.

In this regard Tyler is not so far off in dismissing the significance of much of this. Those revealed to have misbehaved indeed misbehaved, but subsequent research has shown that they were not so far off after all on the basic facts. Anyone who thinks this is some death knell to AGW do not know what they are talking about.

26 Mark Amerman November 23, 2009 at 5:58 pm

It seems kind of simple. How can anyone screw it up?

There’s nothing here that says that the report or paper has to be
accurate or that it has to be true. Most truely new ideas turn out, with
hindsight, to have been erroneous. That doesn’t mean they were,
retroactively, not science.

Note that just about the only objective requirement here is that one publish
the data, the evidence for, one’s research. It’s kind of key; because
that’s how we make progress. If it’s interesting, other people will take that
information and look for flaws. If it’s really a new idea, usually a problem
will be found. Because someone else sees something that first person didn’t.
Or they know about something the original thinker never thought of. And the
more eyes the better.

If enough people look hard at something and can’t find anything wrong
with it, then it starts to become rational to believe it.

Publishing the evidence for, or making the evidence electronically available,
is absolutely essential. Back in the days when print media was the sole means
by which information could be conveyed, this was a problem in some fields.
None the less, even then, if other scientists in the field couldn’t get access
to the data, somehow, then it wasn’t science.

Today there’s not even that excuse. There is no dataset that cannot be cheaply
conveyed to anyone that asks for it, assuming that paper was even worth publishing
in the first place.

People that write something and expect others to believe it based on their authority,
based on their titles, and who hide their data, are not scientists. They are
frauds. They essentially anti-scientific.

And anyone who defends such a person also mocks science. And if they claim
to be scientists and have a job that is supposed to be occupied by a scientist,
then they also are frauds.

27 Gabe November 23, 2009 at 6:22 pm

“Why do you keep ranting here about a “CO2 tax”? Nobody is proposing that. Yes, cap and trade will have a similar outcome, higher prices on similar activities”

Barkley,
“CO2 interventionist” might be a better moniker since I’d estimate the “alarmist” cult can be divided 35/15/50 into(CO2 cap’n trade/CO2 tax/”uhh air good, science good”). For your sake, I’ll be fair and call it the longer name from now on. Changing the name of the scheme is not a substantive defense of the scheme. Do you understand that cap’n trade will not ever be passed unless the politically powerful groups who produce large amounts of CO2 get “CO2 credits” aka subsidies? Will regular joes get subsidies? no they’ll get taxed…no matter how it is hidden by “cap’n trade” or whatever scheme is invented.

This means more barriers to entry in order to protect the politically powerful. Who will bear the burden of higher energy costs? the little guy and the middle guy.

Do you deny that CO2 interventionist policies will be politically bungled into a system that favors the politically powerful,Bureaucrats and power grubbers over the ignorant masses? If so you are a political reality denialist.

Fareed Zakaria -CFR-Newswek Editor supports CO2 Tax
Al Gore- supports CO2 tax…yes some people do support the tax.

I’d personally benefit financially from the cap and trade scams, so I guess I should just keep my opinions to myself. Feel free to lobby on my behalf though.

28 Michael G. Heller November 23, 2009 at 7:37 pm

The climategate emails do seem to be further evidence that climate change debates *long* ago became ideological in rather the same way as debates about capitalism, foreign aid, neoliberalism, grade-inflation and plagiarism, discourse analysis, Latin America, the urban informal sector, etc [bête noire lists]. Even if climate skeptics [diverse sub-types, too many to list] do eventually turn out to inhabit the moral and scientific high ground, the oil-tanker of vested interests will be hard to turn around fast. Politicians bought the message hook-line-and-sinker, as did most of the mass media [it’s hard and costly to admit you’re wrong sub-types, too many to list]. A central message in writings of Weber to Schumpeter to Keynes to Hayek to Popper to Parsons to Buchanan [social science list] is that ideology and interests *can* conquer science. Yes, populist polemics must be avoided. But those with scientific integrity and expertise – please note, this includes expertise in analysis of ideology – who are prepared to apply the scientific method of trial and error in their own work, should be prepared to engage in ideological struggle. Social scientists [above list] who warn of the conquest of good science by bad ideology, also reveal how good ideology in service of good science can move the earth under the feet of entrenched interests in bad science. Let’s hope a new Berlin Wall of climate policy is not built so high that it cannot be broken down when the new generation remove the blinkers their teachers so carefully wove for them. In the meantime, it may be wise to build the sea walls, and apply the precautionary principle in geoengineering.

29 Max November 23, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Even if you don’t understand the science, there are several things to note:

– They aren’t the nicest people (even if it is in semi-private mails, do you really rejoice about the death of a man of science)
– There is a lot of tribal behaviour
– Peer-Review processes only work if the reviewers are divers and not the same bunch of people
– Having a group of people claiming the throne of science on a topic leads to closure for other opinions
– Freedom of INformation Acts are unnecessary and will only be used by ignorant laymen who want to pester you

Especially the last one is really dangerous.

Of course, there are also implications for the science of climate change, but that is something not really for this blog.

30 Andrew November 23, 2009 at 11:26 pm

In my field, even my fellow labmates have no idea or interest in what I’m doing. If I can convince a funding source that it is worthwhile (this is almost impossible, but only almost) it’s all good.

I have to compete with established researchers for dollars but I don’t actually have to compete with them on topic. I don’t have to propose the best way to do X. The whole alpahbet is open to me. That makes it harder in a way, but I’m not in direct competition with anyone. I can take their money, but if what I do is good, it doesn’t detract from someone else’s subject. It is not a zero-sum game in that regard.

31 Bob Layson November 24, 2009 at 4:40 am

Science is not particular content so much as a particulard method. Sceptics do not oppose the science of the alarmists. Their objection is that the scientific method is being shunned by the alarmists. Peer review by one’s chums is not enough – and authority and consensus is nothing at all. They must share the data and share the code. They must look not for confirmation but for evidence to truly test their hypothesis or else they are but barking up the same old trees.

32 dearieme November 24, 2009 at 6:56 am

“subsequent studies have resurrected the hockey stick. It is back with renewed support”: yep, that support coming mainly from one larch in Siberia.

33 Beefcake the Mighty November 24, 2009 at 8:29 am

If it had been revealed that AGW skeptics had been involved in this kind of behavior, people like Barkley Rosser would be screeching to the high heavens. But, because his side was doing, he can’t see any problems. Barkley Rosser is a typical partisan hack who can’t view the world with any other lens than the bankrupt Democrat-Republican division. He’s a worthless tool.

Bob Murphy is right; this is a scandal and should bother people. The fact that it doesn’t bother Tyler should tell you all you need to know about him.

34 britman34 November 24, 2009 at 9:57 am

As a “Bayesian” I will now adjust downward my confidence weights for T.Cowan’s analytical insights.

35 albatross November 24, 2009 at 11:57 am

Barkley,

I think the problem raised is:

a. AGW is ultimately about predictions that can’t be checked or verified in any meaningful way, except by looking at the consensus of scientists in the relevant fields. We can’t verify what will happen to climate as CO2 concentrations continue to go up, until it happens and it’s too late to go back and make better decisions.

b. That means that we don’t have a solid way for the scientific consensus on AGW to be checked meaningfully, before we take action to prevent disaster. That action is going to be politically hard and very expensive.

c. That means all we have to fall back on is trusting that this scientific consensus, while quite possibly all wrong, represents the best available picture of reality.

Now, this disclosure gives us a snapshot of some prominent scientists in this field, and their emails suggest all kinds of ways that the consensus that has emerged might be a seriously skewed picture of reality. The critical questions we need to ask, I think, are:

(i) How much does this tell us about the rest of the creation of the scientific consensus on this issue? Are they outliers in their apparent willingness to bury inconvenient data and f–k around with peer review to close down rivals’ research?

(ii) How crippling to the pursuit of truth is this sort of thing? That is, should my updated picture of the process by which the consensus has been reached make me less confident in the idea that it’s the best available picture of reality?

I mean, at some level, the existing consensus is the only game in town. I can critique research in my own field or related ones, but I would need several years of work to be able to form an independent opinion on AGW, and so it makes sense to sort-of follow what most people working in the field think. And yet, climate modeling seems to me to be more like macroeconomics or psychology than like molecular biology or physics. Wildly different consensus views of questions of practical importance arise in those fields at different times.

If the consensus has arisen more because of social forces and academic politics than because of the best available reading of the data, then we should put less weight on addressing AGW, given our lower confidence in the predictions made. (Though it just can’t make sense to keep increasing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, as the pH in the ocean noticeably changes.)

36 frankly0 November 24, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Just a quick followup to my post.

What renders a scientific theory well established is that it survives the probing and critical scrutiny of the broad scientific community.

Can anyone honestly say that current climate science, as it has been shaped by the persons of Michael Mann and Phil Jones (among others), has undergone that kind of exhaustive criticism from the entire scientific community?

37 Ryan Vann November 24, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Well this certain turned the heat up on the GW debate. Sorry, for the corny pun. Anyway, I can understand being apathetic about all of this, especially since we are talking mainly about academics, who are always subsidized by someone else (ie they are prey to political pressures).

38 Dougetit November 24, 2009 at 8:00 pm

This is the biggest scam in HUMAN HISTORY, EVER!! Trust me…. there is much much more that you have not seen yet. Alot of highly illegal and incriminating documents which would deffinatly warrant hard jail time if perpetuated by the average Joe.

MARK MY WORDS…. YOU HEARD IT FROM ME FIRST!

39 Matthew November 24, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Barkley,

The “scientists” at East Anglia have been caught red handed manipulating data, plotting to destroy information that harms their case, silencing critics and writing garbage code that delivers predetermined results. It remains to be seen how far this taint goes.

The idea that we can just “move on” from here — is absurd. All of the political decisions around this supposed “consensus” must, of course, be put on hold now. And all climate science must, from this point forward, be done in the daylight, with complete openness of all data sets, software programs, and peer review.

40 Barkley Rosser November 25, 2009 at 12:08 am

D.t.,

Have you not learned by now that posting blog comments full of capitalized words is generally considered to be prima facie evidence that the person doing the posting is a raving lunatic?

41 mgh November 25, 2009 at 6:35 am

“The only major sub-division of this immensely long process which concerns us comes very recently, slightly less than four million years ago. There then began a period of climatic changes which we believe to have been more rapid and violent than any observed in earlier times. ‘Rapid’, we must again remind ourselves, is a comparative term; these changes took tens of thousands of years… Climate can still be very important today, as contemplation of the disasters caused by drought show. But such effects, even when they affect millions of people, are not so fundamental as the slow transformation of the basic geography of the world and its supplies of food which climate wrought in prehistoric times.” Penguin History Of The World (2007, page 5)

42 David Kane November 25, 2009 at 8:30 am

Not “much here?”

See here for the full context of the FOI requests.

As I said, the issue is not Trenberth or scientists talking smack. It is the illegal evasion of legitmate scientific requests for data needed to replicate a scientific study. Without replication, science cannot move forwards. And when you only give data to friends of yours, and not to people who actually might take a critical look at it, you know what you end up with? A “consensus† †¦

Read the whole thing. It is quite damning.

43 frankly0 November 25, 2009 at 10:43 am

Barkley Rosser,

Your account of the “sociology” of climate science I think fails to give due weight to an inescapable fact: that one side is in the dominant position, and can effectively repress actual and potential voices on the other side.

Yes, academics do this sort of thing all the time. But not to recognize that that greatly undermines the authority of the arguments of those who engage in it is a serious mistake.

Everything about the fight over climate science strikes me as a classic instance of the sort of wars one sees among different schools of thought within a discipline. But, over time, schools can come and go — even dominant ones. Whether the global warming school sticks around depends most critically of course on whether they are proved out: most of us will live to see whether they are right.

What disturbs me most about the current hegemony of the AGW advocates is how it has distorted scientific inquiry. God only knows how much good science has been thwarted by the thuggishness of the likes of Mann and Jones. How many climate scientists would choose to devote their energies to a project that has the potential to damage their reputation, subjecting them to sneering accusations of “junk science” and simple incompetence? There are many, many dogs who are not barking here.

The best evidence that there is a serious scientific argument to be made for skepticism regarding AGW (as it’s usually expressed) is the existence of at least a few high quality scientists who are willing to speak out against many of the claims of the so-called warmists. Lindzen and Pielke, among others, represent that segment well. But it is one thing to have a few figures who have the courage and pre-existing reputations that allow them to speak their minds and poke holes in the dominant paradigm. It is another to have a broad, well organized school of scientists — including highly vulnerable graduate students, junior professors, as well as senior professors who are interested in doing science unmolested by politics — who are doing so. The effect of Mann, Jones, and ilk — and it is clearly by design — is to destroy the very possibility of this larger movement.

Happily, again, we are likely to know within a few years whether the dire predictions of the warmists are correct. Certainly many of the skeptics of the standard AGW story acknowledge that there is some degree of global warming due to the effects of increased carbon dioxide. (Whether the current bump in temperatures is very unusual compared to, say, the Medieval Warming Period is another question.) What’s really at issue of course is the rate at which this warming will be taking place. Lindzen thinks it most likely that there is a negative feedback effect in warming from the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, effectively damping down the rate of warming from that based on the increased carbon dioxide alone. The warmists believe — and must, given their dire predictions, believe — the opposite: that there is a strong positive feedback mechanism.

The long term predictions of the two are of course dramatically different. The warmists see a vertical hockey stick rising up to climate perdition. Lindzen and others see a horizontal hockey stick in which temperatures rise up a bit, but then are mostly bound by an asymptote at a value low enough that it is not of great consequence to our society.

For the time being, the portions of the two potential hockey sticks we can actually observe mostly coincide. But over time one or the other hockey sticks is going to be the clear winner. Nature itself can help us out here by making the pattern apparent sooner rather than later. The current plateau in temperatures over roughly the last decade is, of course, consistent with both hockey sticks — at least so far. I’d guess that it looks more like Lindzen’s hockey stick than that of the warmists, but by any reasonable reckoning it’s far too early to declare a winner. But if that plateau continues another ten, perhaps only another five years, I wonder how much we should be believing in the story of the warmists.

At that point, we may well be reduced to the question, which do we believe, the climate models, or our own eyes?

44 Ken Nelson November 25, 2009 at 11:05 am

Few sciences have such impact economically and politically. They should be held to the highest standard because their work and their honesty, is being used to justify massive political and economic change.

I’d be happy to let them continue with their petty bickering, dead opponent gloating, data fudging, hand picked peers, bad programming, and unverifiable simulations – if their work wasn’t being used as the excuse to pursue ruinous political and economic paths.

This wording, from Justin above, sums it up:

“And just for the record, I believe in human-induced climate change.”

That sounds like someone testifying in church. AGW seems more about faith than science.

45 aaron November 25, 2009 at 12:16 pm

(In fact, while reseach has been biased toward one tail, a lot of evidence suggests the costs and probabilities are higher on the other end.)

46 aaron November 25, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Further on the consumption tax, re: “With taxes on consumption, you get taxed on even attempting to create value, not just value created (even with exemptions/credits, it creates short-term cashflow issues).”

It would also increase the capital requirment for investment and cash reservenes necessary for operations. This will make past and present income inequallity all the more a problem.

47 aaron November 25, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Barkley, you are way too quick to dismiss the solar and cosmic ray relationship.

1.) The cloud effect is just one possible mechanism.
2.) The type of cosmic ray is important (and not as strongly related to solar effects).
3.) There have been trends in solar energy over the past centry, even renown climate modelers include the increasing trend in their models. In addition to the general trend output, there are also changes in the types of energy.
4.) Aerosols already exist in high concentrations over land and oceans near land, changes in cloud cover won’t show there. We need to look at what happens over the oceans, where albedo is lowest when there is no low cloud cover.
5.) Volcanic activity also correlates with solar activity, likely dampening the cloud effect (it’s also not implausible that CRF affects the type of volcanic emmission over time).
6.) CRF would warm the oceans before the atmosphere and have significant lags.

Search Nir Shaviv’s sciencebits.com and Lubos Motl’s Reference Frame to read about lags. Also see here: http://sciencebits.com/calorimeter

48 aaron November 25, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Barkley, I didn’t mean to target you regarding the uncertainty comment. It was actually a slight at the IPCC summary for policy makers. I posted it before reading the comments.

49 Beefcake the Mighty November 30, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Barkley Rosser is so full of shit it is simply amazing. He’s a bush-league deLong, who is himself a bush-league Krugman.

50 assman December 3, 2009 at 10:01 pm

“(I am not surprised at this in climate science, but I would be in almost any other area of science.)”

Wow. Just wow. Your totally deluded. This is endemic in science. I’ve seen it and I don’t know any graduate student who hasn’t seen this sort of behavior. Hell i’ve seen worse. My friends work was plagiarized outright and his results were stolen in a conference and presented just before he was to speak.

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