Dispatch from PSA 2010: Symposium session on ClimateGate.

The Philosophy of Science Association Biennial Meeting included a symposium session on the release of hacked e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Given that we've had occasion to discuss ClimateGate here before, i thought I'd share my notes from this session.

Symposium: The CRU E-mails: Perspectives from Philosophy of Science.

Naomi Oreskes (UC San Diego), gave a talk called "Why We Resist the Results of Climate Science."

She mentioned the attention brought to the discovery of errors in the IPCC report, noting that while mistakes are obviously to be avoided, it would be amazing for there to be a report that ran thousands of pages that did not have some mistakes. (Try to find a bound dissertation -- generally only in the low hundreds of pages -- without at least one typo.) The public's assumption, though, was that these mistakes, once revealed, were smoking guns -- a sign that something improper must have occurred.

Oreskes noted the boundary scientists of all sorts (including climate scientists) have tried to maintain between the policy-relevant and the policy-prescriptive. This is a difficult boundary to police, though, as climate science has an inescapable moral dimension. To the extent that climate change is driven by consumption (especially but not exclusively the burning of fossil fuels), we have a situation where the people reaping the benefits are not the ones who will be paying for that benefit (since people in the developed world will have the means to respond to the effects of climate change and those in the developing world will not). The situation seems to violate our expectations of intergenerational equity (since future generations will have to cope with the consequences of the consumption of past and current generations), as well as of inter-specific equity (since the species likely to go extinct in response to climate change are not the ones contributing the most to climate change).

The moral dimension of climate change, though, doesn't make this a scientific issue about which the public feels a sense of clarity. Rather, the moral issues are such that Americans feel like their way of life is on trial. Those creating the harmful effects have done something wrong, even if it was accidental.

And this is where the collision occurs: Americans believe they are good; climate science seems to be telling them that they are bad. (To the extent that people strongly equate capitalism with democracy and the American way of life, that's an issue too, given that consumption and growth are part of the problem.)

The big question Oreskes left us with, then, is how else to frame the need for changes in behavior, so that such a need would not make Americans so defensive that they would reflexively reject the science. I'm not sure the session ended with a clear answer to that question.

* * * * *

Wendy S. Parker (Ohio University) gave a talk titled "The Context of Climate Science: Norms, Pressures, and Progress." A particular issue she took up was the ideal of transparency and how it came up in the context of climate scientists interactions with each other and with the public.

Parker noted that there had been numerous requests for access to raw data by people climate scientists did not recognize as part of the climate science community. The CRU denied many such requests, and the ClimateGate emails made it clear that the scientists generally didn't want to cooperate with these requests.

Here, Parker observed that while we tend to look favorably on transparency, we probably need to say more about what transparency should amount to. Are we talking about making something available and open to scrutiny (i.e., making "transparency" roughly the opposite of "secrecy")? Are we talking about making something understandable or usable, perhaps by providing fully explained nontechnical accounts of scientific methods and findings for the media (i.e., making "transparency" roughly the opposite of "opacity")?

What exactly do we imagine ought to be made available? Research methods? Raw and/or processed data? Computer code? Lab notebooks? E-mail correspondence?

To whom ought the materials to be made available? Other members of one's scientific community seems like a good bet, but how about members of the public at large? (Or, for that matter, members of industry or of political lobbying groups?)

And, for that matter, why do we value transparency? What makes it important? Is it primarily a matter of ensuring the quality of the shared body of scientific knowledge, and of improving the rate of scientific progress? Or, do we care about transparency as a matter of democratic accountability? As Parker noted, these values might be in conflict. (As well, she mentioned, transparency might conflict with other social values, like the privacy of human subjects.)

Here, if the public imputed nefarious motives to the climate researchers, the scientists themselves viewed some of the requests for access to their raw data as attempts by people with political motivations to obstruct the progress (or acceptance) of their research. It was not that the scientists feared that bad science would be revealed if the data were shared, but rather that they worried that yahoos from outside the scientific community were going to waste their time, or worse to cherry pick the shared data to make allegations that the scientists to which would then have to respond, wasting even more time.

In the numerous investigations that followed on the heels of the leak of stolen CRU e-mails, about the strongest charge against the involved climate scientists that stood was that they failed to display "the proper degree of openness", and that they seemed to have a ethos of minimal compliance (or occasionally non-compliance) with regard to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. They were chided that the requirements of FOIA must not be seen as impositions, but as part of their social contract with the public (and something likely to make their scientific knowledge better).

Compliance, of course, takes resources (one of the most important of these being time), so it's not free. Indeed, it's hard not to imagine that at least some FOIA requests to climate scientists had "unintended consequences" (in terms of the expenditure of tim and other resources) on climate scientists that were precisely what the requesters intended.

However, as Parker noted, FOIA originated with the intent of giving citizens access to the workings of their government -- imposing it on science and scientists is a relatively new move. It is true that many scientists (although not all) conduct publicly funded research, and thereby incur some obligations to the public. But there's a question of how far this should go -- ought every bit of data generated with the aid of any government grant to be FOIA-able?

Parker discussed the ways that FOIA seems to demand an openness that doesn't quite fit with the career reward structures currently operating within science. Yet ClimateGate and its aftermath, and the heightened public scrutiny of, and demands for openness from, climate scientists in particular, seem to be driving (or at least putting significant pressure upon) the standards for data and code sharing in climate science.

I got to ask one of the questions right after Parker's talk. I wondered whether the level of public scrutiny on climate scientists might be enough to drive them into the arms of the "open science" camp -- which would, of course, require some serious rethinking of the scientific reward structures and the valorization of competition over cooperation. As we've discussed on this blog on many occasions, institutional and cultural change is hard. If openness from climate scientists is important enough to the public, though, could the public decide that it's worthwhile to put up the resources necessary to support this kind of change in climate science?

I guess it would require a public willing to pay for the goodies it demands.

* * * * *

The next talk, by Kristin Shrader-Frechette (University of Notre Dame), was titled "Scientifically Legitimate Ways to Cook and Trim Data: The Hacked and Leaked Climate Emails."

Shrader-Frechette discussed what statisticians (among others) have to say about conditions in which it is acceptable to leave out some of your data (and indeed, arguably misleading to leave it in rather than omitting it). There was maybe not as much unanimity here as one might like.

There's general agreement that data trimming in order to make your results fit some predetermined theory is unacceptable. There's less agreement about how to deal with outliers. Some say that deleting them is probably OK (although you'd want to be open that you have done so). On the other hand, many of the low probability/high consequence events that science would like to get a handle on are themselves outliers.

So when and how to trim data is one of those topics where it looks like scientists are well advised to keep talking to their scientific peers, the better not to mess it up.

Of the details in the leaked CRU e-mails, one that was frequently identified as a smoking gun indicating scientific shenanigans was the discussion of the "trick" to "hide the decline" in the reconstruction of climatic temperatures using proxy data from tree-rings. Shrader-Frechette noted that what was being "hidden" was not a decline in temperatures (as measured instrumentally) but rather in the temperatures reconstructed from one particular proxy -- and that other proxies the climate scientists were using didn't show this decline.

The particular incident raises a more general methodological question: scientifically speaking, is it better to include the data from proxies (once you have reason to believe it's bad data) in your graphs? Is including it (or leaving it out) best seen as scrupulous honesty or as dishonesty?

And, does the answer differ if the graph is intended for use in an academic, bench-science presentation or a policy presentation (where it would be a very bad thing to confuse your non-expert audience)?

As she closed her talk, Shrader-Frechette noted that welfare-affecting science cannot be treated merely as pure science. She also mentioned that while FOIA applies to government-funded science, it does not apply to industry-funded science -- which means that the "transparency" available to the public is pretty asymmetrical (and that industry scientists are unlikely to have to devote their time to responding to requests from yahoos for their raw data).

* * * * *

Finally, James McAllister (University of Leiden) gave a talk titled "Errors, Blunders, and the Construction of Climate Change Facts." He spoke of four epistemic gaps climate scientists have to bridge: between distinct proxy data sources, between proxy and instrumental data, between historical time series (constructed of instrumental and proxy data) and predictive scenarios, and between predictive scenarios and reality. These epistemic gaps can be understood in the context of the two broad projects climate science undertakes: the reconstruction of past climate variation, and the forecast of the future.

As you might expect, various climate scientists have had different views about which kinds of proxy data are most reliable, and about how the different sorts of proxies ought to be used in reconstructions of past climate variation. The leaked CRU e-mails include discussions where climate scientists dedicate themselves to finding the "common denominator" in this diversity of expert opinion -- not just because such a common denominator might be expected to be closer to the objective reality of things, but also because finding common ground in the diversity of opinion could be expected to enhance the core group's credibility. Another effect, of course, is that the common denominator is also denied to outsiders, undermining their credibility (and effectively excluding them as outliers).

McAllister noted that the emails simultaneously revealed signs of internal disagreement, and of a reaching for balance. Some of the scientists argued for "wise use" of proxies and voiced judgments about how to use various types of data.

The data, of course, cannot actually speak for themselves.

As the climate scientists worked to formulate scenario-based forecasts that public policy makers would be able to use, they needed to grapple with the problems of how to handle the link between their reconstructions of past climate trends and their forecasts. They also had to figure out how to handle the link between their forecasts and reality. The e-mails indicate that some of the scientists were pretty resistant to this latter linkage -- one asserted that they were "NOT supposed to be working with the assumption that these scenarios are realistic," rather using them as internally consistent "what if?" storylines.

One thing the e-mails don't seem to contain is any explicit discussion of what would count as an ad hoc hypothesis and why avoiding ad hoc hypotheses would be a good thing. This doesn't mean that the climate scientists didn't avoid them, just that it was not a methodological issue they felt they needed to be discussing with each other.

This was a really interesting set of talks, and I'm still mulling over some of the issues they raised for me. When those ideas are more than half-baked, I'll probably write something about them here.

52 responses so far

  • Tualha says:

    I really hope someone comes up with clean, safe, and small fusion power soon -- small enough to be used in cars. It would greatly mitigate the "hard choices" aspect of the problem, which in turn would remove the major barrier to acceptance of the truth of climate change.

    It's not as far-fetched as it sounds; some people are working on a very promising technology called the polywell.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    Gregor Mendel suppressed/ignored a great deal of data on genetic situations which did not fit his hypotheses of genetic inheritance. If he had not done so, he would have toiled in confusion with no useful result. His work thus presented, not a general theory of all inheritance, but a useful theory of how particular genetic patterns are produced. Given this basic set of ideas, and knowledge not available to Mendel, we have worked ourselves up to the point of doing genetic engineering.

    I wonder if climate science is not in a stage of infancy, where looking for limited explanations is more productive than trying to produce cosmic explanations.

    • DEBEE says:

      Will take you analogy, as far as it goes. The data hiding would have been more significant if we were also n t talking about spending trillions of dollars base on a science in its "infancy". This is of course after stipulating that this reeks of “past bad behavior justifying current bad behavior”

  • Nasa routinely makes all its data available to all, after a suitable amount of time has passed. Likewise all astronomers, and a good deal of scientific journals.

    And of course in matters of public health, clinical trials are public and mandatory for new drugs.

    Why should that be different wrt climatology?

  • FrancisT says:

    It is important to note that many of the CRU requests were actually EIR rather than FOIA driven. The EIR is specifically for Environmental Information and has a much greater presumption of "openness" because it is felt that it is in the public interest to know everything that governments / government funded bodies discover regarding the environment.

    Moreover what became clear from the emails and the EIR requests was that the CRU simply did not have any proper data archiving process. Given that the UK government in particular has passed laws mandating a reduction in carbon emissions based on the results of the CRU research this sloppiness is, IMO, criminally negligent and the fact that the researchers failed to either provide their data / code or admit that they had lost it far extremely serious. Indeed if it turns out that climate sensitivity to CO2 is rather less than the CRU & co have told us but the UK ends up spending a significant percentage of its GDP on 'green energy' then an argument could be made that their behaviour was actually treasonous.

    To jump back a bit, the errors in the IPCC AR4 report were not at the level of typos. They were statements of "fact" that was either totally false (e.g. the himalayan glaciers) or disputed by entirely reputable scientists. moreover they all went in one direction (towards the idea that global warming is occurring and is bad) suggesting that there was considerable bias amongst the editors/lead contributors.

    Finally, one of the things that annoyed me the most about what we learned from the CRU leak was not in the emails so much as in the computer code and particularly the "HARRY_READ_ME" file. The code quality displayed was abysmal and there were none of the standard programming practices such as version control, archiving etc. apparent. It is abundantly clear that the CRU itself cannot reproduce its own results from 5 or 10 years ago because it simply has no idea what exact code/data was used then. It seems to me that this runs counter to one of the basic tenets of science - to whit that experiments must be reproducible.

    • Brian H says:

      Indeed. It is most critical not to overlook the fact that the errors almost universally were spotted at "lower levels" of the process, but the objections were overruled and the crap data and conclusions included anyway.

      That's where the rubber meets the road.

  • Geckko says:

    Why am I not surprised that you summise that for taxpayer funded scientists to improve "transparency" they will require yet more funding?

    Dr Free-ride indeed...

  • Hector M. says:

    The problem with the "mistakes" in the IPCC report is not that some accidental mistakes occurred: that was surely inevitable. The problem was that such mistakes as had been brought to light are (1) all in the same direction of amplifying the extent and deleterious effects of climate change, and understating their uncertainty; and (2) they constituted flagrant violations of IPCC rules, such as use of grey and non peer-reviewed literature, or inserting debatable text at the last minute without telling the reviewers.

    The trick to hide the decline did not consist of deleting bad data or some pesky outlier. It arose in one particular context, i.e. validating tree-ring proxies for the period covered by instrumental measurements, in order to give grounds for the use of those proxies in past periods not covered by thermometers. The tree ring data were not "bad data": they were correct measurements of tree ring width and density. What happened was that tree-rings more or less coincided with thermometers up to 1960, and diverged afterwards. This should indicate that tree-rings are NOT reliable substitutes for thermometers, since they may coincide with or diverge from instrumental measurements at different periods and for (as yet) unknown reasons. The result of the trick (hiding the decline by omitting recent tree ring data) was that tree-ring proxies were allowed to be used as "thermometers of the distant past" even if they have failed to be "thermometers of the recent past". This in turn, plus other maneuvers such as using very few and unreliable trees (bristlecone pines in one particular US area) for parts of the medieval era, and applying very contrived statistical techniques, led to the claim that recent warming was "unprecedented in the last 1000 years", as reflected in the famous Hockey Stick graph.
    Thus, more than accidental mistakes and legitimate elimination of bad data, what one sees is deliberate maneuvering with the data to promote a particular (and apparently preordained) conclusion.
    The FOIA or EIR requests, on the other hand, only emerged because of repeated refusal to release data and code for others to verify the correctness of the procedure applied. If such data and code had been archived in the journals in the first place, as mandated by ordinary peer-review protocols, or had been graciously delivered when requested, no FOIA would had been necessary.

    • Faustino says:

      Spot on, Hector. The conference speakers seem to be oblivious to the seriousness of such issues in undermining the AGW camp's conclusions, which have enormous implications for public policy; and to the point that transparency is all the more necessary because of the enormous ramifications resting on whether or not the AGW case is correct.

    • Brian H says:

      Exactly. The divergence by implication discredits ALL tree-ring data. If it can occur in modern periods where it is possible to spot the problem, how much more likely is it to contaminate data about earlier periods where we utterly depend on such "proxies"?

      And THAT is why the CRU hid it. It sweeps a long stick across the foundations of its card-palace.

      • Ann Nonimus says:

        Watch out, Dr. Janet, for the Climate Audit regulars have descended. You can expect them to start choir practice on your blog, using it to endlessly repeat their favorite songs of worship of Steve McIntyre and generally take over the place. They have no interest in actually discussing the issues, especially not with you for you haven't used the correct code words, handshakes and signals. Your blog is just another place where they can repeat their dogma to each other in an attempt to dominate the discourse. McIntyre sicced them on you, so you can thank him for the stink.

  • Bernie C says:

    Many thanks for posting your summary of the presentations. Alas, based on your summaries, I find the presentations incomplete and misleading. A fuller and unbiased understanding of the context and substance of an issue is surely needed before meaningful ethical pronouncement can be made.

    Francis T makes a number of critical points with which I fully concur - including the atrocious state of CRU's data archiving and programming.
    The issue with "hide the decline," particularly given the context of the emails, is much closer to a significant ethical lapse on the part of Jones and others than suggested in your comments on the presentations. The divergence issue and the deliberate truncating of a long proxy series in 1960 as opposed to 1990 was represented not by a single proxy but by a set of proxies from Briffa. The divergence phenomenon raises serious questions as to the validity of dendrochronologies as paleoclimate proxies. These questions and the validity of the continued use of a number of proxies remain open and unresolved issues.
    Moreover it is surprising in this summary of the presentations that the reasons for the EIR and FOI requests are not more carefully explained. A reader may be left with the mistaken notion that these requests were not legitimate and were not made by specific individuals who are fully equipped to scientifically and rigorously analyze the results. True there was a concerted effort to pry loose the data and locations of stations around the world by asking for 5 at a time. This was because earlier requests had been declined because of undocumented and still unproduced confidentiality agreements that supposedly restricted the sharing of the data to any groups outside of CRU. Hubris amounts to an ethical lapse and the emails are nothing if not full of hubris.
    Finally, many of the issues raised by the release of the CRU emails are ongoing. For example, one notable issue is the potential misrepresentation of key results from a study of Urban Heat Island effects in China. This issue led to a separate series of FOI requests by Doug Keenan looking for the location and metadata for a crucial set of Chinese weather stations.
    While it is reasonable to give the benefit of the doubt to scientists struggling with complex issues, there comes a point when the repeated pattern of behavior suggests that major scientific and ethical questions need to be rigorously addressed.
    I recommend Steve Mosher book on the emails for a more complete discussion of the ethical issues raised by the behavior of this group of climate scientists and Andrew Montford's book for more background on the Hockey Stick debate.

  • David in Cal says:

    Based on these summaries, it sounds to me as if the speakers danced around what I consider the key issue. They acknowledged that it's wrong to try to make results fit some predetermined theory. However, they didn't focus on how to deal with this problem when the scientists may be doing just that. In other words, they were looking at a grandiose level, where scientists and funding agencies are impeccably motivated.

    My impression is that funding, politics and moral convictions have combined to encourage experiments that supported the theory of AGW and severely discourage experiments that question or oppose that theory. I wish these philosphers of science had dealt more with the grubby, real-world problems of getting research to be done right.

  • Mac says:

    YAHOO (definition): a crude, brutish, or obscenely coarse person.

  • PaulM says:

    Janet, thanks for posting these summaries. Prepare yourself for the attack of the skeptics - Steve McIntyre has linked from climate audit to your blog! I was going to say something but can add little to what Hector M has said - except to point out that Oreskes is a master of the false analogy, for example her attempt to compare the report of the hundreds of IPCC scientists with the dissertation of PhD student.

  • Bernie C says:

    A number of these posts are mirrored at Climate Audit. Please indicate which of these posts attacks or is in any way discourteous towards Janet.

  • Bob says:

    Wendy Parker states that private science is not subject to FOIA. What does she think happens when a pharmaceutical company submits a million page NDA to the FDA. Every word, every patient data bank, every statistical calculation, every mouse or rat, etc.. is subjected to the most scrutiny imaginable.

  • imarcus says:

    “The big question Oreskes left us with, then, is how else to frame the need for changes in behavior, so that such a need would not make Americans so defensive that they would reflexively reject the science. I’m not sure the session ended with a clear answer to that question.”
    The change that Oreskes and the IPCC call for is not so much a minor kink in behaviour, it is a fundamental change in economic direction, so in order to be taken seriously the Oreskes and IPCC ‘science’ needs to be VERY plausible and THOROUGHLY tested.
    When probed the IPCC flagship icon for demonstrating humanity is collectively to blame for the global warming problem because the current rate of increase and the current level of warming are unprecedented, viz. The Hockey Stick, turns out to be UNRELIABLE. The proxies are poor [divergence problem], the proxies do not pass statistical correlation tests, and the graphic totally skewed by inappropriate principal component statistical analysis, and on top of that, the Climategate releases show that the graph was deliberately skewed that way by the IPCC for maximum effect. AND what is more the checking of this piece of junk science could only be done when the raw data and methodology were patiently screwed out of the ‘scientists’ concerned after a great deal of resistance by them. A totally unscientific approach by the IPCC.
    The question remains, just how much of the IPCC science can be relied on? Just how much has been validated?
    Is it little wonder that the recent Scientific American survey reported some 75% of respondees thought that anthropogenic activity was causing global warming.
    This is not “reflexive rejection of the science” described by Oreskes, it is the very correct scientific approach of scepticism – all ‘new science’ has to properly tested by probing and replication, and that ‘science’ that can’t be substantiated gets dumped. Waffling on about intellectual property is just that – waffle!

    • Brian H says:

      Wrong. 75%+ DISAGREED with that statement. In fact, 81% think that the IPCC is corrupt and 65% think we should take no action over climate change. The same kind of figure appeared in a German climate magazine's survey specifically directed at scientists and climate specialists, who were able to respond anonymously.

      The consensus, whether in scientific circles or among the public, is illusion, prestidigitation, legerdemain.

  • Shervin says:

    First of all thank you for the blog.

    Now to the issue at hand. There are several problems with climate science which, as science goes, does not seem to have been addressed here. As a scientific hypothesis man-made climate change or AGW has three assumptions that all have to be "true." 1. The world is getting warmer. 2. It is warmer than it has "ever" been before. 3. Human beings are the primary cause of this warming.

    I think there is very little dispute about 1. The world is indeed getting warmer at least in the past 25 years. Number 2. on the other hand is very problematic. First of all we have to consider what "ever" means. A good assumption for "ever" is it is at least as long as human beings have been around. That goes to about 200,000 years ago. Unfortunately, the oldest living things are about 4,000 years old and because of the dynamic nature of the planet, we have very little of it is left undisturbed over the past 200,000 years. Because of this, we have very limited number of proxies that can span even a small fraction of the 200,000 years. Also, these proxies are not "dense." The question of density, I think is important. In order for us to assert the "Global" in the name of our theory, we need to have samples that are globally dense, i.e., their spatial sampling would cover different geographic parts of the Earth. There are two problems with this: 1. Each proxy is limited to a given geographical location 2. These are not temperature records and could be affected by things other than changes in the temperature (e.g., how much the tree ring depend on rainfall and ground nutrients or number of sunny days at a given location or for that matter flow of rivers that could be changed because of Earthquakes and such). Therefore, the job is to calibrate the proxy data to the temperature models and make sure that a. the calibration is unbiased b. the uncertainties are calculated accurately.

    What "hide the decline" shows is that either the calibration for the tree-ring data was biased or that its uncertainties are not understood. That is why throwing away the tree-ring data after 1960s was scientifically dishonest. I wish somebody had shown the uncertainty band for the tree-ring data relative to the actual temperature measurements. This would have clearly shown whether or not the tree-ring proxy models are any good. I suspect that the actual temperature models fall well outside of the proxy uncertainty bands or that the uncertainty bands are so large as to make the model meaningless.

    As for item number 3. we know that we have increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere significantly but the problem with the modeling the effects of that increase is that CO2 constitutes only a small part of the mechanisms that cause the greenhouse effect. Also the absorption from a basic physics point of view should be 1-exp(-alpha*CO2) with CO2 indicating the concentration of the CO2 and alpha as a constant. This function would indicate that after the atmosphere has "enough" CO2 in it, any addition to the CO2 n the atmosphere would have little or no effect on the absorption of IR radiation from Earth by the atmosphere and the Earth would achieve an equilibrium. The models that I have seen for temperature increase as a function of CO2 concentration are logarithmic, i.e. T=T0+ alpha log(CO2). This is a uniformly increasing function. The explanation for this so far has been that there are positive feedback mechanisms within the atmosphere. However, these feedback mechanisms are poorly understood and the above equation is arrived at only through statistical means. Given the fact that basic physics tells that there should be a limit to the contribution of the CO2 to the global warming, the logarithmic models should fail at some point and cannot be accurate over a wide-range of CO2 concentrations. I am not sure anyone has investigated the limits of these models (or even if they can be investigated).

    Given all this, I think Climate Science is at its infancy and cannot be relied upon to make policy decisions. Some of the results are indeed alarming but with a clear explanation of uncertainties associated with it, the public will always be skeptical of its findings.

  • Ken says:

    Quote from post "It was not that the scientists feared that bad science would be revealed if the data were shared, but rather that they worried that yahoos from outside the scientific community were going to waste their time, or worse to cherry pick the shared data to make allegations that the scientists to which would then have to respond, wasting even more time."

    And how can you possibly know this to be true? There is plenty of evidence that the scientists knew their results would not stand up to scrutiny, and that they intentionally refused to disclose their data for that reason.

    • DEBEE says:

      Tome it sounds like an after the fact defense. A moments thought would have made it obvious that there is no way to silence the Yahoos. They, if in existence, can go on without data. Would have been better to have them drink from the data fire-hose and drown and ignore them. The latter is happening now but the so called yahoos have been give a big stick

  • Ron Cram says:

    Dr. Stemwedel,

    I am afraid some have latched on to the use of the term "yahoos" above and understood it to be your description of skeptics. Perhaps I am wrong, but my reading is you are quoting the speakers at the conference as using that term. I hope I am correct and you choose to set the record straight.

    I understand you are still thinking through the issues before you write your own assessment. I congratulate you for taking the time to think this through. I hope you will consider the policies of the funding agencies and the journal policies which require data archiving and data sharing. These policies were completely ignored by climate scientists at CRU.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_data_archiving and
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_sharing for specific policies of NSF, Science, Nature, etc.

    Science is supposed to be self-correcting, but if data, methods and code are not archived as required, people cannot find the mistakes necessary for science to make corrections.

  • AMac says:

    Dr. Janet,

    Thanks for sharing these notes.

    I am a bit dismayed by your anodyne view of the paleo community's handling of the "Divergence Problem" with respect to tree-ring proxies. Perhaps a careful read of the comments of Hector M. would help sharpen the focus.

    Consider this thought experiment.

    Suppose I was enamored by the idea that treerings can serve as proxies for precipitation (in many circumstances, they mirror rainfall better than temperature). To my delight, I discover that my chosen treering series correlate acceptably well with historical rainfall records, for most of the calibration period. But further work reveals that these series don't maintain this relationship for the remainder of the calibration period.

    May I choose to perform calibration and validation using the first but not the second historical interval? (It will surely lead to a nicer-looking reconstruction!)

    Is this sort of post hoc reasoning generally acceptable, or does it require special pleading?

    Given the post hoc nature of this analysis, how should the uncertainties in my precipitation reconstruction be reported?

  • Roger Tattersall says:

    Dr Judith Curry at her blog Climate Etc is grappling with the issues raised here, and trying to help create an 'extended peer community' containing contributors both supportive and skeptical of the Anthropogenic Global Warming hypothesis.

    Having studied a degree in the History and Philosophy of science myself (Leeds UK 1988) and knowing the kind of peer pressure scientists within specialised areas can be subjected to, I applaud her professional bravery in tackling these thorny issues, and taking considerable heat from disapproving colleagues who don't want to see the dirty laundry done in public.

    The perspectives from my fellow philosophers of science offer a mature and sophisticated approach from a somewhat more neutral stance. I would like to see more philosophers of science getting involved in the active 'extended peer community' on the internet blogs such as Climate Audit, Real Climate and the Air Vent where the issues are being hotly debated.

  • Robert of Texas says:

    Wonderful Post.

    "Why we resist the results of Climate Science" : The speaker equivalates a misspelled word or punctuation error with publishing incorrect, unscientific conclusions that should never have made it through a proper review process. Wow...now that's hiding your head in the sand. Also, her presentation is philosophical rather than scientific which pretty well describes the entire debate between true believers (philospophical) and those that require some proper evidence (scientific). I do not feel bad because of my lifestyle, I am simply insulted that these people expect me to accept their poorly founded conclusions. Produce good scientific evidence and I can be convinced.

    "The Context of Climate Science: Norms, Pressures, and Progress.” : I can't believe they are debating the meaning of "Transparency". Let me make this really simple for them: If you are publishing the results of your research and you expect me and others to make dramatic lifestyle and quality of life decisions, then you better be prepared to produce the raw data, describe the methods used to normalize and correct it for bias, and it better be reproducible by any sufficiently educated person. Methods should follow standard practices or you better have a very good, solid, foundational reason why they deviate. Transparency means just that: No hiding of anything - everything above board and made public when you publish. I can't believe people are even debating this.

    Again, wonderful post - this really makes the thinking process of the AGW advocates more obvious, if not more coherent.

  • kim says:

    The scientists became corrupted, their corruption led to their making incorrect predictions, and now you want to find ways to excuse their corruption?

    And Oreskes is sadly mistaken: Americans are not reflexively rejecting the alarmists over some dread of damage to their egos, they are rejecting the alarmists because they became corrupted and are wrong.

  • Stilgar says:

    "The big question Oreskes left us with, then, is how else to frame the need for changes in behavior, so that such a need would not make Americans so defensive that they would reflexively reject the science. I’m not sure the session ended with a clear answer to that question."

    That is a fairly easy question to answer.
    The problem with some is they don't see the "need for changes in behavior" and the tendency to "reflexively reject the science" as being the same thing.

    The science does not in any way shape or form say that cap and trade is THE solution to our problem. When you marry science and policy, the rejection of one is also the rejection of the other. It is human nature.

    If I told you the science says your ______ (blog, car, standard of living) is going to kill people, therefore you must shut it down... what is your reaction? If you like your ________, then your first basic thought is that there is no way the science says such a thing (if your first thought was that I am a fool... a fool for what? Believing the science says such at thing.).

    "Trick to ... hide the decline"
    Do you include data you know to be erroneous? How do you know it is erroneous? Is it an assumption that it is wrong because it does something unexpected or is there science showing exactly why it is wrong? If it is merely an assumption then you better include it or at the very least include the fact that it was removed on EVERYTHING the graph appears. If the tree rings are not responding a certain way today is erroneous, how do you know that they did not respond similarly in the past making the whole proxy reconstruction erroneous?

    Do you include the data in a presentation? YES, YES, YES!!!!!! Or lets leave out that there is doubt and uncertainty when explaining the science to people who will change the lives of millions of people. If a scientist wants to be a politician, then stop claiming to be a scientist and hide all the inconvenient data you want. If you are a scientist, show the data warts and all.

    This seems to be a walk around the problem without identifying the causes.

    Sloppy record keeping and poor documentation make an FOIA request a pain to comply with. Good record keeping and documentation make FOIA easy to deal with.

    Why? Because you either do the archiving while doing the paper (anticipating future requests, whether by FOIA or your boss) or you dont do it and hope no one sends you an FOIA (and if they do, complain that you have to do extra work and it's waisting your time). It is not "extra" work, it is work you are already supposed to be doing.

    "She also mentioned that while FOIA applies to government-funded science, it does not apply to industry-funded science — which means that the “transparency” available to the public is pretty asymmetrical (and that industry scientists are unlikely to have to devote their time to responding to requests from yahoos for their raw data)."

    This statement seems to be made by someone not in the industry. If a corporation pays me to write code, it is expected that I will use plenty of documentation so that if I am replaced, the next person does not have to start from scratch. Is the private sector transparent in that you can request their private data? No. However in spite of the, the private sector makes sure the archiving takes place so that they don't loose money reinventing the wheel.

    Does anyone else find it interesting that industry scientists archive data when no FOIA request is possible (no worry about requests from yahoos for their raw data) while publicly funded scientists gripe about having to archive data or responding to FOIA from the public which is where all their funding comes from.

    Both the private and public sectors have transparency. One is to the company, the other is to the public. If you don't want to deal with the public, dont accept public funding. However, Either public or private, you should expect to archive your data.

    Good to know all these people talking around the problem instead of about the problem. The fact that there is a debate about archiving and providing publicly paid for data (transparency) is simply sad.

    • Brian H says:

      The argument that some of the data was proprietary also seems duplicitous to me. This is work paid for at short remove by public funds; proprietary simply doesn't apply.

  • Steve E says:

    (Try to find a bound dissertation — generally only in the low hundreds of pages — without at least one typo.)

    If you make a typo you acknowledge that you made a typo. Glaciergate was not a typo and even though Pauchari himself knew false claims were being made in advance of Copenhagen he chose to attack credible Indian scientists who brought the error to light. In fact he accused them of practising "voodoo science." For weeks after the error was obvious to everyone the IPCC continued to cling to the notion that no mistake had been made. So was this an error? Was it obfuscation? Had an insufficiently checked item been so sewn into the narrative that acknowledging it's inaccuracy had become impossible? The new "company line" is one mistake was made, yet that has also been proven false.

    Your description from the conference indicates that real issues of science, transparency, and truth were sacrificed at the altar of climate science.

  • Ron Cram says:

    Dr. Stemwedel,

    Another point you need to consider is the statement by Phil Jones that he would never turn over the raw temperature data used to create his global temp series used by IPCC in all of their assessment reports. After Climategate broke, the raw data was found to be missing. All that was left was the "value-added" data, meaning after his adjustments. Of course, that is worthless because we have no way of checking it against the raw data to know if his adjustments may be reasonable or not. The UK Met Office is seeking to regather temp data from around the world to recreate a close proximity to Jones's data, but they have said that effort will take about three years.

    • Brian H says:

      First he had it and said he'd delete it before he released it. Then he didn't have it because it got lost in his messy office.


  • Ron Cram says:

    Of all the commenters on Climategate, Jon Stewart actually had a pretty good understanding. This is not an exact quote but pretty close - "Scientists used a standard statistical technique to .... trick you into not knowing about the decline." Pretty funny stuff... and pretty accurate.


  • Jay Currie says:

    "I wonder if climate science is not in a stage of infancy, where looking for limited explanations is more productive than trying to produce cosmic explanations."

    Indeed. Climate science is in its infancy and, as such, should not be looked to for results robust enough to base policy upon.

    The great difficulty imposed by the IPCC is that it demands results which reinforce its particular mandate to deal with man made climate change. If those results are ambiguous, rely on rather badly homogenized data, or data which is no longer available, the IPCC does not want to know. In effect, the presence of the very political IPCC is shaping the direction of science which is too weak to resist.

    The result may or may not rise to the level of corruption, but it certainly does not rise to the level of best scientific practice.

    Which is, of course, why the entire CAGW hysteria has lost traction with the publics to which it is addressed. Those publics are not completely unintelligent - if they are going to see their power bills triple, their economies decline and their incandescent lightbulbs made illegal, they want engineering strength proof that there is a real problem and that the sacrifices they are being called on to make will actually have an effect on that problem. Neither condition can be met by climate science in its crib. Maybe in several decades but not now,

  • hr says:

    Ron Cram: Another Jon Stewart quote from the same show seems to have been targeted at Jones, Briffa and co and at Mann, Bradley and co: "If you care about an issue, and want to make it your life's work, don't cut corners!" Cutting corners has indeed become a way of life for too many people who call themselves climate scientists. They're dragging science into the gutter.

  • DEBEE says:

    “(Try to find a bound dissertation — generally only in the low hundreds of pages — without at least one typo.)”

    This comparison is—well really pathetic.

    “we have a situation where the people reaping the benefits are not the ones who will be paying for that benefit (since people in the developed world will have the means to respond to the effects of climate change and those in the developing world will not). The situation seems to violate our expectations of intergenerational equity (since future generations will have to cope with the consequences of the consumption of past and current generations)”

    I eagerly await the good Dr. Oreskes’ lecture on profligate federal spending

    • Brian H says:

      The intergenerational saving is hoakum. Technologies are advancing so fast that few "commodities" are relevant to "future generations". Compare, e.g., the importance of steel 70 years ago to now. Substitution with superior and cheaper materials is a constant and accelerating pattern. In historical terms, zero of the shortage crises predicted by commodity exhaustion mavens have occurred.

      There's an interesting test case going on right now. China has on-again off-again clamps on the supply of rare earths, causing widespread hand-wringing. But major plays that were languishing for lack of funds and willingness to accommodate the expensive waste-handling required for refinement are suddenly on-again. And it has been noticed that all those uneconomic seafloor manganese nodules that much was spent on extracting (giant vacuums, etc.) actually contain significant traces of these minerals, too, and that would make them highly economic. So major gearing up of that industry is getting under way.

      IOW, the RE crisis will shortly be history.

      And so it goes.

  • kim says:

    Dr. J, the conference you attended was 'The Masque of the Red Death'. The virus is in amongst them and all of their ideas will be dead in a short time.

    We are cooling, folks; for how long even kim doesn't know.

  • Bob Cherba says:

    I had such a good time reading the comments that I nearly forgot I found this website through Climate Audit.

    As a retired engineer who spent his career in nuclear power plants, it's amazing to me how lightly the likes of the CRU, Mann, et al. take the protection of raw data, documentation of adjustments to that data, and the sharing of the data, adjustments, and computer programs. Their behavior seems to contradict what I understand to be "the scientific method."

    The proponents of CAGW want advanced countries to significantly change their way of life -- and to "donate" huge sums of money to "underdeveloped" countries as penance for their greenhouse gas "sins."

    As a skeptic of CAGW, I want to see much better proof of the need to virtually destroy advanced Western economies than that based upon "adjusted" data (where the original data and adjustment procedures have disappeared), "tricks" to hide the temperature decline or other information that doesn't support CAGW, and badly documented computer "models" based upon unproven assumptions and poorly understood aspects of physical/climate "science."

    I suppose I qualify as a "Yahoo."

  • Peter Pond says:

    Hi Dr J

    Earlier this morning I heard a radio interview with an AGW proponent (and a scientist), here in Australia. In the course of the interview he managed to move from talking about "known" science (slight warming, slight sea level increases, etc) into his version of "accepted" science, including increasing droughts, large scale sea level rises, significant increases in extreme weather, etc. He had no doubt that human actions were the overwhelming majority of the causes for these current and forthcoming changes.

    And then he moved into his prescriptions regarding what needed to be done to address this situation. The general listener may not have been able to detect these three phases of his presentation - knowledge, conjecture, politics.

    I find it hard to believe that intelligent people, such as those you report on above, are not aware of their own progression through these phases in their presentations.

    "Science" has certainly been the loser due to the politicisation of the climate change debate. In Australia, science enrolments in university have been suffering for many years and unfortunately this (the decline in the reputation of "Science") may exacerbate the situation.

  • Travisher says:

    Forgive my diffident question in such august company as I am not a statistician, nor a scientist. I am however sceptical about everything - something I think every scientist should be.
    Question; If you are deleting 'outliers' from your data, how can you be certain that you haven't thrown away something important?
    Lord Rutherford would have not got very far proving the atom was divisible if he had disregarded the odd little spots on the periphery of his photographic plates. These 'outliers' were the tell-tale signs of the very facts he was looking for.
    If you collect the stories from survivors of a shipwreck you may well conclude that praying to some deity delivered the survivors from harm. However, since you cannot include the stories of those that did not survive, and I suspect they may have prayed just as hard , your conclusion is clearly not justified.
    As someone who has processed all sorts of trees and pieces of timber into furniture. The idea that you can tell what the temperature was a thousand years ago from the sampling of a few trees seems utterly absurd as the variation from one tree to the one growing next to it can render one utterly useless and the other superb from the joinery point of view.
    I defy anyone to show that the fieldworkers collecting the data weren't influenced by their own view of what is a good sample tree. If you had a very large number of samples from a very large area you might be justified in drawing some tentative conclusions about their overall growth patterns.
    However, to sample trees in order to discern one condition affecting the growth of those trees in the distant past when we cannot independently know either that one factor nor the myriad of other factors affecting that growth is clearly a non starter. Its like unscrambling an egg to discern its original shape!

  • kim says:

    Dr J, are you aware of the findings of two solar researchers, Livingston and Penn, that suggest that sunspots will become invisible by about the middle of this decade? Granted, no mechanism is known for the effect of sunspots on climate, but the last two times the sunspots disappeared it got cold. Just a word to the wise.

    • Brian H says:

      No known mechanism? What rock have you been living under? Google 'Svenmark solar wind'.
      Sunspot eruptions strongly boost the solar wind.
      When the solar wind is strong, it shields the Earth from cosmic rays.
      Since cosmic rays create condensation nuclei in the atmosphere, allowing more through increases low cloud cover.
      Low cloud cover increases albedo (i.e., shades the surface) resulting in cooling.


      • kim says:

        Yes, Brian H, I believe that Svensmark's theory might well be shown true, but that is not known yet. Hence, no known mechanism.

        • kim says:

          Also, do we know that the coming invisibility of the sunspots will affect the solar wind? The dynamo that creates the sunspots will be virtually unchanged and the processes underlying the spots will still be there, but they will merely not be in the visible spectrum.

          I don't know the answers. Furthermore, we haven't any idea why the spots periodically leave the visible spectrum.

          As I said, the last two times they disappeared it got cold, but Leif Svalgaard claims isotope evidence shows no change in cosmic rays during those times.

  • Jenny says:

    125 chemistry students in a high poverty Indiana school need molecular models to understand chemical reactions. Their current set is worn out & nearly unusable. Their DonorsChoose project is about to die for want of $262; it has 9.5 hours, till midnight ET.

    The project is on Zuska's giving page - easy to reach by clicking on the Dr. Free-Ride DonorsChoose link on this page and hopping over to the Zuskateer page from there. If I include a direct link, I think this post will go into moderation, where no one will see it till later approval.

    Most DonorsChoose donors don't rush to fund molecular models, but it seemed like readers here might like to see this project funded, and perhaps some have as yet unused $75 DonorsChoose credits from HP in their Inboxes. Apologies for posting off-topic!

  • Jenny says:

    Yay! A donor suddenly funded the whole rest of the molecular models project with a comment about how she loved chemistry! So please never mind posting my previous comment, which I see went to moderation even without a link in it. Sorry to bug you.

    Come to think of it, and still off-topic - except insofar as raising the level of science education nationally could affect the public's reaction to climate science - I will mention the following list of good, expiring DonorsChoose projects, many science & math, ordered by time left and in a format searchable by state, school subject, cost, etc. If people do have $75 DonorsChooose credits from HP which they haven't yet used, perhaps they would be interested. I mentioned this link on Zuska's blog a few days ago also, in a comment still in moderation.


  • opit says:

    And now for a layman's view : one with a peculiar hobby.
    To start : I ended up on this thread because I wanted to look in on a science blogger who seemed troubled by the politicization of science - as should anyone who remembers the essentials of G.I.G.O. ( Garbage In= Garbage Out )
    I blog news and follow the propaganda attending upon geopolitics and systemic misrepresentations of the facts....where 'conspiracy theories' follow the proper model for theorizing : the explanation which seems to best conform to and hopefully predict observable facts.
    Now that's a course of study all by itself. I could point you to Simon Fraser University, for instance, to show you how they have systemic blogging of policy statements/ 'news' items designed to promote desired foreign policy objectives by manufacturing 'analysis' which does exactly what the IPCC is sometimes alleged to be doing : making the facts conform to desired parameters. And indeed, in my Topical Index I have two categories which relate directly to such : one on Foreign Policy and another called simply "Perception Alteration".
    It's messy, of course. I make no pretense of proper arrangement to drive neatly from A to B. But that isn't really where your interests lie anyway.
    No matter how harebrained or unscientific my approach might seem, there is one undeniable result. Dialogue is manipulated within circumscribed parameters which will cause people to evade explaining what is going on.
    One item of interest is a report that Copenhagen failed because the Danes 'blew' a planned fraud presentation to the delegates which would have had the effect of giving polluters a preferred rate in an international tax on the use of fire : so I named a post such.
    Expand your worries past the matter of perverted data - or not. There is so much more to concern oneself with. That is the advantage of being a generalist : oddities of repeating patterns fall more readily to view.

  • opit says:

    Whoops. Topical Index at opitslinkfest.blogspot.com Climate in Contention

  • Francois Ouellette says:


    Thanks for the summary.

    I don't know how anyone could consider Naomi Oreskes as a credible speaker on these issues. She has already shown her deep political bias in her flawed "statistical" study of publications about AGW (showing that 0% disagreed, so it must be true!). She starts from the position that AGW is "true" (already a difficult philosophical stance for any scientific theory), and that scientists are all honest and politically unbiased (something that has been shown to be false again and again throughout the history of "science", not the least in her own study of continental drift!). Of course, if you accept these two statements, then the rest follows.

    Of course, the real question here is: how can one prevent the scientific INSTITUTION from being subverted and corrupted in favor of one particular political ideology. The usual answer is "peer review" does the job, but of course it is well known that peer review can be easily subverted by a concerted action. There is ample proof of that in the climategate emails (maybe you should read them!). So those honorable philosophers of science should indeed spend their precious time figuring out ways of improving the scientific institution, instead of debating abstract ethical issues. That is because all ethical rule of conduct is likely to be broken if nobody keeps a close watch, or if the watchers themselves are not unbiased. Therefore, transparency is a GOOD thing, period, and the more the better. You cannot take the stance that scientists are by definition unbiased and politically unmotivated, quite the contrary. When an issue has a high policy relevance, and is politically and ideologically charged, you should assume that ALL actors are likely to be biased, scientists included.

    It would also be a good first step to admit that environmentalism IS an ideology. In that sense, it is neither better nor worse than other ideologies (liberalism, marxism, etc...). It is a set of beliefs about how society "should" work. Note the pervasive mantra by environmentalists about how we should "change our behaviors". That simple statement should ring alarm bells. Environmental problems (and they do exist) should be addressed in a pragmatic way, and that is the way they are usually solved. AGW has to be dealt with as a potential problem, shrouded with a lot of uncertainty. There are actually proven ways of dealing with uncertainty, not from a philosophical point of view, but from a very practical point of view. In the real world (outside of the shielded world of academia), people have to deal with uncertainty all the time. Philosophers could learn a few lessons from observing that "real" world.