The decentralization of science, including climate science

by on December 3, 2009 at 7:29 am in Science | Permalink

If you would like takes on Climategate different from my own, here are Megan McArdle, Seth Roberts, and Clive Crook, plus I have mislaid a Bob Murphy post, maybe he can leave the link in the comments (it's here). 

I am by no means an expert in climate science but I will explain in more detail why I would stress different issues.  (Please do set me straight where I am wrong.)  I see science, including climate science, as very much a decentralized process, based on the collective efforts of thousands of researchers.  The evidence for our current understanding of climate change also comes from a wide variety of disciplines, including chemistry, meteorology, oceanography, geography, tree ring studies, ice sheet studies, and a good body of theory, which has held up well.  These results all point in broadly similar directions.  Call me naive but, with apologies to Robert Sugden, I don't think many scientific results depend on what comes out of East Anglia, even if you include its emailing affiliates from Penn State and the like.  Even very, very simple climate models generate many of the basic results.

It's correct to claim that East Anglia is a "central player" in climate change studies and that the IPCC looks to its estimates, as most sources report.  It's no less important that other, competing models — in a competitive scientific framework — support similar perspectives.  Here's a sentence from the unit's own account of its origins:

It is likely that CRU ranks only behind NCEP/NCAR, ECMWF (ERA-40) and NCDC as the acknowledged primary data source by climate scientists around the world.

In other words, it's not the only source.  I simply don't think that all those other scientific units are controlled by people who hate capitalism, or SUVs, and wish to conspire to destroy them and succeed in faking and twisting the data.  Or if you want to look outside the "conspiracy," consider this short bit:

“We knew about global warming long before you read about it in your newspapers,” says Niels Gundel, as he cocks his rifle and peers out across the water. He is speaking Greenlandic, with a tour guide acting as interpreter.

And:

I find myself grasping at reasons to be hopeful. The Arctic has been subject to some natural warming in the past: there was a brief heating in the Middle Ages. Couldn’t it be happening again? I couldn’t find a single scientist who said this was the primary cause. The warming in the past was localised, affecting only parts of the Arctic; this is affecting everywhere, all at once. 

In the last two years I recall seeing numerous (distinct) new findings, all along the lines of "climate change may be accelerating,"  As far as I can tell, most of these new results do not rely on East Anglia per se.

I'm open to persuasion — I would love to think climate change is not a problem and sadly I don't think it's a problem we will succeed in solving – but so far I haven't seen the discussions of ClimateGate address these points in a manner which would change my mind.  

spencer December 3, 2009 at 7:54 am

I do not know enough about the science of warming to make a good independent judgment about it.

But I do know enough economics to make good judgments about many of the economic claims of many of the same people that deny global warming. The same people make too many economic claims that I clearly understand to be either wrong or strongly biased. Knowing that many of the global warming deniers clearly make extremely biased economic claims and/or arguments strongly leads me to doubt their claims about global warming.

raja_r December 3, 2009 at 7:59 am

There are 3 separate issues:

1. That the globe is warming
2. The warming is caused by man made co2.
3. There is strong positive feedback that causes temperatures to rise with small increases in co2.

In this post, you have only addressed (1) – do you see similar studies that support (2) and (3)? Studies that do not use the “tricks” that the East Anglia researchers used?

jdm December 3, 2009 at 8:25 am

Gelman also has some interesting comments on this topic:

http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~cook/movabletype/archives/2009/12/scientists_beha_1.html

TS December 3, 2009 at 8:32 am

raja_r:

(1) is self-evident, it’s a matter of looking at the historical data, we can show fairly accurately the trends in warming

(2) and (3) are really the basis of climate science. There is some great information out there about the state of this evidence. See:
http://climateprogress.org/2009/12/02/realclimate-gavin-schmidit-what-fraction-of-global-warming-is-due-to-human-causes-vs-natural-causes/
for a good primer.

I think the post is really more about dismissing the sensationalist conspiracy claims. There seems to be an ever more vocal group of people with vested interests trying to smear what is in most cases some very good science. That they had to resort to twisting what some researchers wrote in emails as the final ‘proof’ that there is no man-made global warming is very alarming, and anti-science. The mentality reminds me of not just the usual UFO or 9/11 conspiracy theorists, but something more malicious. I’ve heard other commentators draw comparisons between this and the tobacco companies trying to suppress the link between smoking and cancer.

Bob Murphy December 3, 2009 at 8:45 am

…plus I have mislaid a Bob Murphy post, maybe he can leave the link in the comments.

My post on what non-experts should think about climate science, in the wake of the scandal, is here at MasterResource.

mdb December 3, 2009 at 8:49 am

None of the data can be used with out “cleaning”. None. Zero. Nada. A thermometer in the middle of DC would average several degrees higher today than it would have in 1950 (air conditioning, more pavement, buildings, cars, people, all generating/absorbing heat), due to factors other than global warming. CRU “cleaned” the data and has never revealed its methods. Would you ever release a paper without revealing your methods? This was known before, but now there are emails talking about “hiding” data and “tricks” to manipulate the data. If you trust their methods now, you would have to be crazy. The scientific method is to formulate a hypothesis and try to prove it, they had an hypothesis and made the data prove it. It is not science.

As far as your previous post regarding their beliefs made them do it and that must count for something, history is littered with scientists that went to their graves fighting for their deeply held beliefs that knew were right, only to turn out to be wrong (e.g. Stephen Jay Gould). Fighting for beliefs belongs to religion, not science.

Michael Foody December 3, 2009 at 8:51 am

There are a huge amount of vested and interests in the continued use of fossil fuels who flagrantly and obviously subsidize and promote counter global warming studies.

I never heard any complaints about the enormous conflicts of interest involved in so much of the research that shows no anthropogenic global warming.

But some scientists are wielding their limited publishing power over journals in a politicized way and people scream bloody murder. I think global warming is an issue where people mostly form allegiance based on existing coalitions rather than impartial examination of the evidence. I include myself in people. Most layman don’t even have the tools to determine if the evidence for or against global warming is strong or representative of the larger body of research.

capitalistimperialistpig December 3, 2009 at 9:08 am

I have been an atmospheric science (not climate science) researcher for three decades so I think I have a perspective that’s neither inside not quite outside. In the last couple of decades I have seen the opinion of the overall atmospheric science community shift from skeptical, to skeptical but concerned, to overwhelming convinced. Their remains a quite small number of researchers with some scientific credibility who are still skeptical but the defensible terrain for them has shrunk dramatically. Of raja_r’s three issues above, only the question of positive feedback still has any significant doubt.

Even though Richard Lindzen, a genuinely smart guy (but even older than I) has a recent WSJ editorial doubting positive feedback, the evidence from calculations, experiments, and, above all, the paleoclimatic record, overwhelmingly say otherwise. One part of that record is nicely discussed by Brad Delong and Robert Waldman here and in a previous post: http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/12/hoisted-from-comments-robert-waldmann-on-positive-climate-feedback-loops-snowball-earth-and-evolution.html

capitalistimperialistpig December 3, 2009 at 9:10 am

(Typos fixed version)
I have been an atmospheric science (not climate science) researcher for three decades so I think I have a perspective that’s neither inside nor quite outside. In the last couple of decades I have seen the opinion of the overall atmospheric science community shift from skeptical, to skeptical but concerned, to overwhelming convinced. There remains a quite small number of researchers with some scientific credibility who are still skeptical but the defensible terrain for them has shrunk dramatically. Of raja_r’s three issues above, only the question of positive feedback still has any significant doubt.

Even though Richard Lindzen, a genuinely smart guy (but even older than I) has a recent WSJ editorial doubting positive feedback, the evidence from calculations, experiments, and, above all, the paleoclimatic record, overwhelmingly say otherwise. One part of that record is nicely discussed by Brad Delong and Robert Waldman here and in a previous post: http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/12/hoisted-from-comments-robert-waldmann-on-positive-climate-feedback-loops-snowball-earth-and-evolution.html

Allison December 3, 2009 at 9:17 am

So now you’re conflating GW and AGW?

The earth warms. It cools. It’s done so several times that we know of. The little Ice Age is ending, of course temps would rise. We have no models that predicted the last ten year fall–so models aren’t really helping us to know what is true.

Stop with the straw men! Who is arguing that East Anglia’s dishonesty makes GW all a fraud? They are aruging that the world ending catastrophic AGW claims have little evidence, and that the IPCC’s remedies are so extreme that they should not go forward without extraordinary evidence and scientific consensus that human industrial production is a catastrophic problem. We don’t have any such extraordinary evidence. We know now that the peer review model was completely corrupted, the data itself corrupted, and we know that the proposed political remedies are rife for graft and corruption. Therefore, we should stop our trade/production up-ending plans until we do have some evidence that isn’t corrupted that AGW is different, measurably, and *predictably*, from GW.

charlie December 3, 2009 at 9:18 am

What is interesting to me is the details of how the “hack” happened are still extremely unclear.

From the file being called “FOI.ZIP”, was this something that was being done as preparation for a UK FOI request and was then leaked?

The reason I think this is critical is it goes to the argument that the world has been cooling for the last 10 years. From what I understand, the Hadley/CRU data actually shows that. Other global indexes do not show that (they show massive warming in the Arctic)

Not to be too paranoid, but I think the people who benefit here are the ones running the other global indexes (NASA GISS).

steve December 3, 2009 at 9:32 am

AGW is a hypothesis that most climate scientists consider to be correct. Nor do I doubt their sincerity or motives.

However for a theory to be meaningful it needs to provide predictions that are subsequently shown to be true.

My understanding is that none of the proposed climate models have accomplished this feat. Specifically, they failed to predict the cooling over the past decade, instead they predicted rising temperatures at an increasing rate.

Granted, these models fit the past pretty well, but as any mathematician can tell you a sufficiently high order polynomial can be made to curve fit any random set of data. This can be done with the stock market for example but I wouldn’t trade based on the resulting equation.

As far as all the climate scientists being in agreement. So what. Without predictions that come true it is only faith. Not despicable but not proof either.

Large numbers of people seem to believe in various religions. I don’t doubt their sincerity or motives. Nevertheless, I think they are basically basing their beliefs on what they think should be and hold little predictive power.

AGW seems to be the scientific version of “original sin”. In other words the story, man sins (affects nature), is soo compelling and obviously true that it collects large numbers of adherents.

That this large group of people then converges to a common overarching story “AGW or Jesus Saves” requires neither nefarious motives nor large hierarchical conspiracies.

Typically the hierarchies weilding the power to enforce “solutions” for these beliefs come after the story has gained widespread support. This is also when the oppression starts.

stephen December 3, 2009 at 9:48 am

1) recent evidence vs. recent temp. trends?
2) natural variance/damping vs. sensitivity/feedback?
3) medieval warm period local, or global?
4) model skillfulness?
5) independence of research?

To all of these issues there are valid responses by the “other side” from where you get most of your beliefs. The importance of Climate Gate is that it gives a little insight, a few data points to update your priors on how one side is trying to handle dissenting opinions and research. This is not about nefarious conspiracies to destroy capitalism, but group think pressure does matter, getting funding matters, and yes prior moral beliefs about the interaction of humans and nature matter too. To be cynical, there are two ways to read “We knew about global warming long before you read about it in your newspapers,†. But seriously, impugning motives is beside the point, and both sides do it.

Anyway, you are right that climate gate does not address the fundamental issues. What it does is give you is a reason to look at the other side and give it a chance. If it doesn’t give you at least that, then I really don’t know what else to say.

dearieme December 3, 2009 at 9:54 am

As john explained, “climate science” has no access to the best sort of scientific evidence, that from controlled experiments. When you look at what it does have, it’s pretty feeble stuff.
(1) Temperature measurements from about 1880 onwards. Naturally, such temperature observations will need critical scrutiny, and then adjustments, before they can yield a useful plot of temperature vs time. It seems that the adjustments that have been used are comparable in size to the claimed warming effects, so the adjustments are no mere refinement – they are crucial. The people concerned – CRU etc – seem to be determined not to reveal the size of the adjustments they’ve made nor the justifications for them. Until they do, and until workers without a history of collusion have had a good chance to criticise them, I can’t view such adjusted observations as worth tuppence. Certainly they’re not worth trillions of dollars.
2) Proxy measurements from the past: the value of these to the AGW Team is that they hope to use them to prove that the present mild spell (it’s easy to accept that it’s milder now than at the trough of the “Little Ice Age”) displays a warmth without precedent since the last Ice Age ended. But lots of evidence suggests that this proposition is plain wrong – it was not only warmer when the Vikings were in Greenland, but also when the Romans were in Britain, and in the Bronze Age periods that used to be referred to – before the Global Warming campaigns began – as the Climate Optimum. When Steve McIntyre demolished the Mann “hockey stick” that purported to prove that there had been an unprecedented and rapid rise of temperature recently, he dealt the Climate Warming crew a heavy blow. (He also revealed Mann’s dismal grasp of statistical methods; this is perhaps as good a place as any to point out that the guys who call themselves The Team are not, as far as I can see, particularly capable scientists – it’s not just their honesty and propriety that are in doubt.) TBC

Scrutineer December 3, 2009 at 10:03 am

The evidence for our current understanding of climate change also comes from a wide variety of disciplines … and a good body of theory, which has held up well.

Kevin Trenberth: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

I simply don’t think that all those other scientific units are controlled by people who hate capitalism, or SUVs, and wish to conspire to destroy them and succeed in faking and twisting the data.

Climatology is a relatively inconsequential academic backwater … unless it turns out by to be the key to our very survival. Funny how amour propre, politics, and research funding all would tend to bias one towards alarmism.

Justin Martyr December 3, 2009 at 10:08 am

capitalistimperialistpig,

I read the link but found it speculative. It is interesting that you point to the paleoclimate record as evidence of forcing when that record shows that carbon lags temperatures by several hundred years. I’m sure this can be explained in a way that is consistent with positive feedback, but not parsimoniously. You need to stick in an epicycle or two.

The Lindzen article in the Wall Street Journal that you reference was good and had some new information for me. (1) the early faint sun paradox and the problems that creates for the models. You can explain it by arguing that thin clouds create negative feedback, but that of course undermines the positive feedback climate models. Another interesting thing is the way that modern climate models (have been changed and backdated to) account for the flat temperature trends. Apparantly they hold that aerosols cause global cooling and this neatly offsets the increased warming from carbon. More epicycles.

Gabe December 3, 2009 at 10:37 am

Do you guys also think polar bears can’t swim? or do you believe the Climate Denialists and there conspiracy theories about Polar bears being able to swim.

Even if there has been massive media propaganda spewing lies about polar bears drowning and trying to brainwash children don’t waste your time thinking about it. The lies just increase the probability that Al Gore just cares about us so much that it must be true we need a CO2 tax(for our own good) and the government is there for us ready to selflessly serve and give us the new taxes we need to make our weather better.

I mean, sometimes it is good to lie to our children about natural phenomena because otherwise we’d never get people to go a along with huge new taxation schemes! and anarchy would be a danger. So please just go along with the program and let your kids believe that polar bears can’t swim and they are dying off as the last ice in the Artic melts.

You have finally convinced me, please call your congressmen to support cap’n trade…do it for the children and may Gaia bless you. We cannot let the fundamentalist climate deniers block progress. The science has voted and the majority wins and that is how science works..and if you don’t have a science license then you really have no business even discussing these topics…we should probably not even allow these ignorant discussions, or at least we should allow Cass Sunstein and a team of his genius friends to give us a list of acceptable views to guide us in our discussion or give us a more regulated and controlled forum to discuss poltical issues in. We could make the list the product of peer reviewed experts. Only a fundamentalist christian could be against such scientific thinking as i have clearly layed out here.

It just happens that I am well positioned to have my nice career in the high growth industry of research/consulting on all types of energy and CO2 trading strategies. So sure my clients and I all support sensible new regulations on CO2, but I am making this plea to you to support CO2 regulations out of a larger sense of duty. It just happens that if we place this tax on the poor people I can safely put aside money for a decade of private schools for three great kids and Viking kitchen appliances. However, I really love the middle class and poor kids and I wish them the best of luck in the crappy school that is incredibly in the top 5% of the nations public schools…maybe some day I will give them a nice low interest loan so they can finance the purchase of carbon credits so they can start their own families…or even better perhaps than can have the highest honor of serving our country in it’s continued GWOT and maybe they will have the distinct honor of dying to help stabilize the heroin trade in Afgahnistan.

Gabe December 3, 2009 at 11:08 am

Danish CO2 corporate-welfare-and-trade empirical data.

http://www.cphpost.dk/news/national/88-national/47643-denmark-rife-with-co2-fraud.html

ok so sure, this could be taken out of context by the Climate Denialist, most of whom don’t even believe that baby jesus made a climate, but this is merely another tempest in a teapot.

Scientifically we should all see that the Danes are doing the hard hard hard difficult work of figuring out the kinks out of the CO2 trading regulations to make sure that these new shcemes really bring about the better weather that we so desperately need.

Perhaps this example of CO2 cap n trade fraud should increase our P(cap n trade rule making will be thoroughly debugged and improved until our weather is better) and even if our p is lowered…what else are we to do but go forward with these new taxes? we cannot just give up, then all of this sacrifice would be for nothing!

We cannot be quiters, america didn’t become great because we are quiters! did we quit at the drug war? no…did we quit on empire building? no…did we quit at giving monetary creation tools to a secretive group of benevolent geniuses after the first depression? no…did we quit the centralization of our education system after illiteracy grew 5 fold between 1941 and 1972!? no!….we naively press forward believing whatever the politicians spew and that is why our country is so great today!

Gabe December 3, 2009 at 11:22 am

(Would your reaction really be: “Well hey, these guys are only the 4th-best team. There’s no evidence against the top three!” )

Jim,
I’m surprised at your valiance. It seems you must be a conspiracy theorist. It would be in the interest of the media and medical professionals working with the teams to expose this big story if the top 3 teams were in fact using steroids.

The hardcore investigative media that we are blessed with in this country(especially the NYTimes) has found nothing thus far and I am not expert enough to judge pharmocological affects of steroids on baseball players, therefore I do have to trust the consensus of the experts that yes the top three teams with p>0 are in fact clean so yes we should all have new taxes placed on us for some reason.

p.s. I suppose you are unscientific enough to think p = 0…OMG yor so dumb!

Duracomm December 3, 2009 at 11:54 am

Tyler,

The critical issue that has to be addressed and has not been is the feasibility of reducing carbon emissions.

The available data indicates that it is very unlikely that carbon emissions are going to be reduced.

If emissions reductions are not technically feasible the only workable policy response is to work on mitigation of impacts from potential AGW.

Meantime, In the Real World

As people wonder if the Copenhagen conference will lead to any significant outcomes, the dramatic expansion of carbon-intensive infrastructure continues with little apparent worry about the effects of climate policies.

From a quick tour of news from Asia over the past day or so:

JSW Steel Ltd., India’s third- biggest producer, may spend $500 million buying coal mines overseas to secure supplies for its local expansion.

The Federal Government has put Waratah Coal’s proposed $7.5 billion ‘China First’ coal project in the fast-lane, yesterday granting it Major Project Facilitation (MPF) status.

The lesson from these vignettes? The world needs more energy. Much more. Reducing emissions is the wrong focus, the expansion of carbon free energy is more appropriate.

But until the costs of alternatives are lower than fossil fuels then news stories like the above will continue to appear around the clock and around the world.

Gabe December 3, 2009 at 11:59 am

“On your point #4, the more I read about the “models’ the more nervous I get.”

Charlie,
why does it make you nervous? I can understand “decreases probability that the pro-co2 tax argument is strong”…but “nervous” can mean so many things…are you actually hoping that the establishment experts are correct? and we need taxes to save us?

or was it just a flippant expression?
Sincerely,
Gabe

Andrew December 3, 2009 at 12:26 pm

No further insights over the course of the morning but Megan nails it:

“But it does not inspire the kind of trust you want to have in people who are advocating massive economic dislocations.”

So, if again we are using proxies such as independence in place of actual understanding, and it seems we are willing to admit it now more than a week ago, don’t we have to ask ourselves to what extent the science actually is decentralized. It is not as much as some people think and more than many want. It is in fact apparentlly less decentralized that even CRU thinks because when Jones tried to wave off the problems he claimed that others came up with independent results, however those results were actually partially based on the same data.

When we finally hear those immortal words “this problem was the result of underfunding” we will know that this particular science is effectively a government operation.

roversaurus December 3, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Why do you think a warming planet is a problem?
Was the 20th century the optimal earth temperature?

Yancey Ward December 3, 2009 at 12:40 pm

The key questions have always been pretty simple:

How reliable are the instrumental surface temperature readings of the last 130 years?

How reliable are the instrumental surface temperature readings of today?

How reliable are the different proxies that purport to measure temperatures of the last 2000 years?

I can take a high accuracy thermometers into practically any area on Earth that is 1000 x 1000 meters and get readings that differ from each other in increments greater than the claimed global temperature increase of the last 100 years. This is the measurement problem, and it is at the heart of the matter since these measurements- done by different people, with different equipment, in different ways, at non-static locations, and done over the last 130 years- form the fundamental basis of what we know of the temperature of the Earth today, yesterday, in 1880; and it is these measurments that tell us how to evaluate the various proxies used to determine temperatures of the Earth in the past before we had invented thermometers.

This scandal, the various adjustments that are made periodically to “value-added data” such as GISS-TEMP, and other issues leads me to believe that we don’t even have a firm grasp yet on how much the Earth has even warmed in the last 50 years. The divergences in the proxies that have been uncovered, such as the one that was hidden by the Mann “trick” tells me that we can’t even use those to measure paleo climate with the accuracy claimed in a lot of these papers, and this alone brings into doubt the contribution of human generated CO2 to the increasing temps of today (whatever the magnitude of those increases have truly been).

It may be that we need to redigitize all of the raw, instrumental data, and do a site by site analysis to determine what adjustments need to be to each individual one to standardize the data in a form that allows it to be used to generate global temperature measurements. Clearly, the CRU can no longer tell you in a complete fashion how they added value to the raw data, and I don’t think anyone else can either.

There have been more than enough identified mistakes in the adjustments of individual station data to bring doubt down on the entire enterprise. There are claims of accuracy in measurements that I and others simply can no longer believe.

Yancey Ward December 3, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Mulp,

I don’t know what basis you use to fly on airplanes, but I don’t give shit what the models said about the airplanes ability to fly. I fly on them because they have been shown to fly reliably for years before I got on one; and even that real world data won’t mean a flippin thing if my plane crashes and kills me one day.

Bernard Yomtov December 3, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Tyler,

Very good post.

Bill December 3, 2009 at 1:07 pm

@John Thacker,
My comment was not to suggest a conspiracy of those who use the term climategate, but to state that those who are blowing this out of proportion may have some interest other than detachment scientific inquiry or the pursuit of truth. The climategate matter smacks more of a PR campaign than it does of the reasoning or data of the other side.

Oh, about 10-15 years ago, one of the partners in my lawfirm represented coal companies in Wyoming who were impacted by scientific evidence of acid rain in the Northeast. I watched the same PR game being played disputing scientific evidence and calling for more studies, yada yada yada. There were PR people, lobbyists, and some “scientists” who weren’t convinced, and who were conducting studies sponsored by the trade group, waiting earnestly for that evidence.

Well, people reached a compromise, scrubbers were installed, cap and trade was instituted, S02 levels declined by 40% and acid rain levels by 65% from 1976 levels.

I repeat my earlier comment: ask yourself honestly if this climategate matter doesn’t look like a PR campaign, given that so much independent science is out there, and given how the message on this incident has entered the public discourse. Yeah, sure, these scientists pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes, and if you believe that I’ve got a Bridge to sell you too.

Fran Smith December 3, 2009 at 1:09 pm

“I simply don’t think that all those other scientific units are controlled by people who hate capitalism, or SUVs, and wish to conspire to destroy them and succeed in faking and twisting the data.”

Oh dear, Tyler – setting up straw men to defend one’s point. Disappointing.

I would refer again to the points made in Henry Clark’s posting, which clearly lists some of the many and major uncertainties in anthropomorphic global warming research.

Also, in relation to the “consensus† of scientists, it would be useful for you to check how the IPCC reports are produced: scientists in specialty areas work on a particular chapter or section, in which they often express their uncertainties; their work is then summarized for policymakers, in which those uncertainties are usually glossed over or not mentioned. Each Summary for Policymakers is produced, not by the scientists but by anonymous bureaucrats from the sponsoring governments. The summaries are then further summarized into press releases, which are often further afield from the technical reports in terms of expressing certainty, and are widely quoted in the media.

I would assume that you have perhaps read the IPCC press releases and not the underlying chapter reports.

In relation to the hacked emails at CRU, it would be illuminating to read the “Harry Read Me” file http://www.anenglishmanscastle.com/HARRY_READ_ME.txt
– which lays out the agonized writings and data lists of a programmer at CRU trying to make sense of inconsistent, missing, misfiled, and incorrect data, and attempting to replicate some of the so-called findings. It is no wonder that CRU didn’t want to release its data. It was garbage, and yet it was used to produce authoritative global temperature data on which the IPCC and others relied. It indeed is a big deal.

Sigivald December 3, 2009 at 1:44 pm

“We knew about global warming long before you read about it in your newspapers,† says Niels Gundel, as he cocks his rifle and peers out across the water. He is speaking Greenlandic, with a tour guide acting as interpreter.

I should point out that for centuries, Greenland was much warmer than it is now, such that Viking farmers colonized it.

Then it got cold again and they froze out and assimilated to the natives or died.

So, uh, that a Greenlander says “it’s getting warmer right now” tells us absolutely nothing at all about global warming (just as the AGW alarmists always reminded us when it was cooler in one locality for a period!) – it tells us only that Greenland has gotten warmer in his lifetime.

Note also that while the CRU’s report lists other data sets… it doesn’t tell you if any of them were “corrected” without any fraudulent intent, to “match CRU”.

The problem with one “respected data set” being boshed is that if others are unsure about a correction factor (and you DO need them, legitimately, to compensate for measurement station environment changes and god knows what else), it’s got to be tempting – and not obviously invalid – to base your correction off of that “respected data set”.

At this point I’m not going to trust any god-damn one of them very far until there’s a full,open audit from raw sources, through corrections and models, to the final results. Because, as I’ve seen elsewhere, the key players from CRU were also involved in too many other locations and sets. They got around, it seems.

(And no matter what the effect on other data sets, from what I’ve seen, the CRU models were widely influential… and the “stolen” data has shown us that the models are utterly untrustworthy. Thus anything based on them is suspect; as we programmers know (and philosophers, too), if you start with trash, you end up with trash.)

PaulD December 3, 2009 at 1:48 pm

The reference for “new findings” that climate change may be accelerating suggests that we will see 7 degree celcius increase by 2100, just 90 years away. This implies a .777 celcius/decade change. The IPCC states that the linear trend over the past 100 year has been .74 celcius/century. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_spm.pdf (see page 2)
In other words, the projected increase is 10 times faster than the historical increase. We would need to see for each of the next 9 decades an increase as great as what we have experience of the last century. This prediction comes during a period when temperatures have been relatively flat to declining in the most recent years.
Am I missing something or have I made some careless math error? Can anyone explain why I should not view such projections skeptically?

Jeju December 3, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Check out Niklas Luhmann on this topic:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niklas_Luhmann#Systems_theory

The original source about science as a system is:
1990: Die Wissenschaft der Gesellschaft, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp
(English translation of chapter 10: “The Modernity of Science”, New German Critique 61 (1994), pp. 9-23)

(Even for German native speakers a bit hard to devour)

Norman Maynard December 3, 2009 at 2:24 pm

“competing models — in a competitive scientific framework — support similar perspectives.”

But isn’t that the point of Climategate? If a small number of scientists with a particular viewpoint can exert influence over what actually gets published, then by definition climate science is not in a competitive framework. It’s a bit like saying if all food generally fits into Tyson’s internal safety standards, those standards must be socially optimal.

None of this refutes AGW, of course. There is plenty of evidence out there supporting it (although I’m actually with Arnold Kling in being skeptical of the information content of the data). But the fact that some scientists are trying to use their influence to keep competing claims out of the journals suggests that, at the very least, the true likelihood of AGW is somewhat lower than the “competing models” indicate.

dearieme December 3, 2009 at 3:06 pm

The models that are used to fly aircraft are first tested in huge numbers of controlled experiments. The climate models aren’t, because they can’t be. Anyone who doesn’t understand the difference between experimental data and mere observation ought to go away and learn about it. If getting good info from mere observation were foolproof, Economics would be a solved problem.

Dan December 3, 2009 at 4:16 pm

It is vital to understand that much of the “decentralized† analysis of climate research use roughly the same data sets. Researchers combine their data with others to help improve the sample size and help fill in the gaps. In the case of the climate models used by the UN, there are two data sets which are utilized in just about every model AND these data sets will produce a hockey stick effect under any circumstance such as adding red noise.

Page 12. http://www.climateaudit.org/pdf/ohio.pdf

Also, there are hundreds of models which do not produce the same models / results as CRU.

http://www.populartechnology.net/2009/10/peer-reviewed-papers-supporting.html

Mesa December 3, 2009 at 4:34 pm

It’s about the level of alarm and the priority AGW should take in our thinking and actions. The “weak” AGW case – ie one without significant feedbacks, with a 1.2 C temperature rise on average, is way down the list. The “strong” AGW case, with large feedbacks, and a 6-10 C temperature rise is at the top of the list. The significance of climategate is that is shows that certain scientists – who have every reason to be more important in the case of “strong” AGW – have been manipulating the science in that direction.

This idea of independence for climate research went out the window with the IPCC, which is a political, not scientific, body designed to produce “consensus.” When scientists move from the realm of uncertain data and models to joint proclamations designed to influence politics much nuance is lost and the incentives become different as their evaluators become politicians rather than other scientists.

Also, in terms of independence, the two main ground thermometer records, both of which involve an enormous amount of fiddling and fudging and incredibly variable thermometer populations over the past 100 yrs, are controlled by the climategate guys at and James Hansen at NASA. Mr Hansen is not someone I would call scrupulously neutral. A consistent, unadjusted thermometer record without the fiddling and the fudging shows no warming over the past 100 yrs. In addition, the satellite record is calibrated to these “value-added” ground records. So a lot of the perceived independence vanishes.

John Doe December 3, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Pig — you say that positive feedback loops are common, but that is absurd. If positive feedback in the climate really occurred throughout history, the earth would have spiraled into a permanent ice age (a la Mars) or a permanently hot climate (a la Mercury). Yes there are temporary ice ages, but clearly the climate is dominated by some factors (we know not what) that correct any positive feedback and lead to long-term stability at a certain point.

David Wright December 3, 2009 at 7:24 pm

There are all kinds of groups responsible for different aspects of the AGW edifice, but CRU and NASA are basicaly the only games in town in one important aspect: the record of directly measured surface temperatures for the past ~150 years. They do not do the actual modeling of the physics of the atmosphere which is used to predict future temperatures, but their record is used as input to tune the parameters of those models.

You might naively think that averaging a bunch of measured temperatures would be a straightforward task, but, as the infamous “harry read me” file documents, it is not. They apply all sorts of corrections and adjustments, which they have until now declined to make public, and they have their own questions about the validity of their procedures, which they have until now also declined to make public. For example, one of the hacked emails notes that ocean temperatures have only increased about half as much as land temperatures, and worries that “skeptics might use” that fact to argue that the land temperature record is polluted by the urban heat island effect. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that that were the case, so that properly adjusted temperatures had only increased half as much over the last ~150 years. Then the models would need to be re-calibrated and would likely then predict much less warming in the future. So you see that, even though CRU’s part of the edifice is limited, its adjustment would require adjustments in other parts.

Tamino’s non-model model is a nice piece of work, but there are a few caveats to keep in mind that make it fall far below the level of some kind of simple “smoking gun” proof of AGW. First, of course, is that it is fitting to the temeprature record which has now been called into question. But even more important is to understand where the differnt “forcings” that it tries to correlate with the temperature record come from. Only the solar focing can you actually go out and measure with an instrument. The others are all based on complicated, multi-factor feedback models, which are calibrated to climate model output. You can measure the CO2 concentration, but to convert that into a “forcing” you multiply by a number that is very much uncertain and dependent on other aspects of the AGW edifice, including, indirectly, CRU’s temperature record.

Matthew December 3, 2009 at 9:23 pm

“climate change may be accelerating,”

Hmmn. No temperature increases in the last decade and climate change is now “accelerating”?!

Richard Whitney December 3, 2009 at 11:09 pm

If there was the overwhelming evidence of agw from every corner, why did it even occur to anyone that data needed to be massaged, or become ‘lost’ after a FOIA, or to keep challenging and dissenting papers from the light, or to cabal against those who would write or publish challenging papers? Why would that even be considered by anyone properly convinced of agw?
Future generations will see the pathology of the Vatican repeated in the CRU, and in looking back on our unenlightened time, attribute belief in agw to the catastrophist phenomenon that reappears periodically.

Matthew December 4, 2009 at 12:06 am

pig,

Sure your “talking points” websites have some kind of “spin” on why the temperature not going up for the past decade is really a sign of “accellerated warming”, but in private emails the principals were in a panic about the lack of warming.

Frankly the whole “consensus” thing always smelled fascist to me, and after the release of the emails — yep — that’s pretty much how it was.

michael heller December 4, 2009 at 6:24 am

This morning the great Mike Moore pronounces –

“It has finally happened. Green politics is officially a religion and deserves the rights of other faiths. A British judge has determined that employees can take their employers to court on the grounds of discrimination because of their views on climate change…”
“What was silly is becoming sinister. Green ideology is becoming a theology. This new religion has many apostles.”
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/fcd5ec18-e044-11de-8494-00144feab49a.html

If previous carriers of otherworldly ideological theology were the midwives to capitalism, will a new lot be capitalism’s undertakers?

David December 4, 2009 at 8:16 am

In this whole discussion, I am strongly reminded of the debate over fluorocarbons and atmospheric ozone. In that debate, we saw many of the same features:

1. The scientific data emerged slowly, and was initially equivocal.
2. Those with economic interests in maintaining the status quo were far more skeptical of the data and models than were the scientists.
3. Possible solutions to the problem required changes to a lot of infrastructure, and there was great skepticism whether these changes were technically feasible.
4. Deniers claimed that solving the problem would cause large economic disruption.

Once we stopped debating whether the effect was real, it actually took a reasonably short time to implement solutions, and somehow the economic costs were absorbed by the system with little fuss. In fact so little fuss, that I recently read a tirade about AGW that basically said “they made the whole ozone thing up, and now they are doing it again with CO2.” The quite dramatic changes in refrigerant use were completely invisible to this fellow.

Now I realize that solving Global Warming will be far more difficult than eliminating fluorocarbons, but I find the similarities in the tone of the discussion very illuminating.

Matthew December 4, 2009 at 5:06 pm

David,

There is a vast difference between (completely unnatural) CFCs releasing F- and CL- ions in the stratosphere (where they are not normally found) and depleting O3 via catalytic action, and (completely natural) CO2 levels far lower than the earth has seen in the past somehow igniting a “runaway greenhouse effect” via positive feedbacks.

In any event, it hasn’t warmed the past decade at all, the ground temperature station measurements are extremely problematic (due to urban heat island effects), and the only high-quality temperature series showed very moderate warming for 20 years and no warming at all the past 10. This is not to even mention the abominably poor science around paleoclimate temperature reconstructions via cherry-picked “tree ring” studies. . .

David Shor December 5, 2009 at 6:33 am

antiplanner ,

I suggest you read more about Chaos Theory. The entire point of the field is that, in the short run, deterministic tools will be unable to produce accurate forecasts. But long-term behaviour of the system can be derived via statistical mechanics. (The popular perception that Chaos Theory was some sort of academic nihilism dictating that lots of problems were impossible has always annoyed me)

Kind of like how coin flips are inherently unpredictable, but the average number of heads over time is predictable.

In the same sense, climate models are inherently chaotic, but subject to a series of external constraints that “push” it in a certain direction.

It’s why scientists tend to do a pretty good job at predicting ahead of time whether a hurricane season will be good or bad, but do a much worse job forecasting the paths of individual hurricanes.

Constant December 5, 2009 at 3:37 pm

David Shor – yes, long run behavior can be more predictable than short run behavior, but two important points remain. First, as antiplanner pointed out, “We haven’t had climate models for 50 years so we have no idea how accurate they will prove to me.” Whether or not you think his conclusion is too strong, it’s an important point that the climate models we have necessarily retrodict, rather than predict. That’s a much weaker test of their accuracy than prediction.

Also, you write, “climate models are inherently chaotic, but subject to a series of external constraints that “push” it in a certain direction.” Yes, but this actually speaks against much of the doomsaying, because chaos is nothing other than sensitive dependence on initial conditions, which is in turn nothing other than a cascade of mutually reinforcing changes – the very “tipping point” thing that has people worried about global warming. Global warming alarm is based on the idea that even in the long term – over 50 or 100 year – there are these reinforcing “tipping point” factors which magnify the effect of slight changes in CO2. And this very idea is essentially the idea that the long-term climate itself displays chaotic behavior. On the opposite side, those who like Lindzen argue that there are factors keeping climate in balance, keeping it from spiralling off to a Mars or Venus end-state, are saying what you’re pointing out, that there are constraints which keep the chaos in check.

VangelV December 7, 2009 at 12:15 pm

You have to read more on the subject before making comments that are not supported by the evidence. The bottom line is simple. Governments around the world have spent upwards of $50 billion but there isn’t a single credible study that can show a link between human emissions of CO2 and global temperature trends. Whether you are looking decadal, century, historical, archaeological or geological time frames it is hard to find any support for the AGW theory. Over the decadal time frame we have seen periods of cooling as CO2 emissions were exploding, a clear divergence from the expectations of the theory. On the century scale we have seen periods like the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Climate Optimum that saw the temperatures change without any help from human emissions. The ice cores show us that it was the temperature change that came first and that CO2 levels followed just as would be predicted by the solubility curves that all science students have been exposed to. Over the geological time scale we see equatorial glaciation during periods that had CO2 levels more than ten times the current levels.

And if we look at the raw data we find no evidence of significant warming since the 1930s. The data from across the globe tells us that there is no major increase since the 1930s. The US data actually showed that there were more years in the top ten in the 1930s than the 1990s and that six of the top warmest years came before 1960.

Of course, one can read many peer reviewed papers making man claims that contradict each other. That means that each paper needs to be reviewed to ensure that the methods and data can hold up to scrutiny. In the case of most of the important AGW papers, both data and methods have been kept under wraps and there is no way to examine them for accuracy. It is important to note that by allowing authors to withhold their data the editors of journals are violating their own data policies, which are very clearly stated. That presents a very large problem for the claim of consensus or scientific validity.

I suggest that your willingness to make snap judgements without much evidence may be a problem. It clearly shows that you are willing to go on faith rather than to do what is necessary to truly evaluate the state of the knowledge. While that may be fine in economics, where most practitioners are clueless about reality it isn’t fine in science, which is supposed to be rigorous and above reproach.

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