This question of “speaking up” can cut the other way, though.
I received a bit of denialist drivel in email, pointing among other things to the infamous bogus CO2 record, to give you an idea of the quality of the correspondence.
However, I while judging someone by the company they keep may have some value, it is a mistake to judge someone by the company that keeps them. So, in the same message, there is a pointer to a recent article in Prometheus linking to a recent summary in a libertarian blog of the hockey stick story. This item deserves some attention, if not especially on the basis of merit, as it seems that the Bishop Hill article (and its catchy appelation of a “Jesus Paper”) will have some resonance among the opponents of timely action on global change issues.
A particularly intransigent comment to Pielke’s above-referenced Prometheus article from William Eschenbach reads as follows:
The problem is not the behavior of the few. A few people will always do wrong. The problem is that the behavior of the community as a whole has been just what you said. They have not stood up to oppose the bad science done in their name. They have not clamored for an investigation into the bad science. They have, in large part, done absolutely nothing in response to this abysmal situation. Nothing. No public statements. No behind-the-scenes maneuvers. Nothing. Zip. Zero.
Instead, by and large, they have in your words “stayed out of the limelight” … and now you are claiming that they are the victims in this case?
In my opinion, they have no one but themselves to blame for the fact that they are being tarred with the same brush as the miscreants.
First of all this assumes the existence of “miscreants”, which goes far further than even the excessive Wegman report (which in its own excesses raises some uncomfortable questions about the conduct of modern science) does. Second, it places an onus on a “community” to police itself in a way that provides an unrealistic model of the community. The IPCC, even constrained to WGI, provides summaries of the positions of a wide range of loosely connected communities, among whom dendrochronology forms but a tiny corner.
One wonders who is expected to “speak up” and when. And how, in the light of limited resources and competitive funding, one is expected to find the time to work out the details. The concept that some oceanographer or satellite engineer or icthyologist has some obligation to “get into the limelight” about something as narrow as tree rings doesn’t ring true to anyone actually working in the field.
There are real issues with the conduct of science, but the question at hand is how important they are. It is absolutely crucial to note that no responsible party, neither Wegman nor McIntyre himself denies that the millenial temperature curve will likely turn out hockey-stick-like once enough data is collected and analyzed. In fact, a contrary result would be quite surprising!
They argue that the statistical methodology for obtaining these results is inadequate, and stake out a position of defending the integrity of science. It is hard for me not to sympathize with these claims. Few close to modern science will deny that the process has important flaws, but fewer still are in much of a position to address them.
The problem of the conduct of science pales in importance to the problem of bringing the human impact global environment into stability, though. The tragedy is that these quibbles are inflated onto accusations of such spectacular dishonesty specifically in order to color the policy debate.
Regarding the hockey stick, I have to line up with Pielke in shrugging and saying I haven’t spent the effort to figure out how the science shakes out and I don’t really plan to. It seems likely to me that the temperature really did follow a hockey stick pattern (as so many things do nowadays). The scientific question is only the extent to which the data confirms that expectation, not whether in fact the hypothesis has been shown invalid. And in the grand scheme of science this particular question has very modest importance, despite the political weight placed upon it.
The denialists are not especially interested in the question as to whether the hockey stick is real, it turns out. They are mostly interested in what it reveals about the IPCC process. And here, it is hard to say they don’t have something.
The accusation, removed of acrimonious ranting, is 1) that IPCC knows in advance what result it is delivering, and 2) that the process for delivering its report is too informal and that papers are rushed into print in order to meet the IPCC deadlines. On the first point, this only amounts to an accusation in the event that there is no consensus. Since, in fact, Pat Michaels notwithstanding, there is one, there is little basis for worry on the first point. It’s simply tautological. If you are asked to report on a matter on which you are convinced and your reader is not, obtaining the result you hold to be true is not itself evidence of bias.
On the second point, one can make a case that papers are rushed into print specifically in order to be referenced by IPCC. Since “getting the runs in time for IPCC” is the driving force of climate modeling these days, and this distorts the software engineering process, I can actually state confidently that there is some truth to the complaint.
As usual, the forces of truth and justice are caught between a rock and a hard place, though. In demanding a formal process to justify the nontrivial changes in social structure and international relations required by the state of things, people resisting such changes have a solid point. However, they proceed further by also resisting the massive changes in the scale and scope of earth end environmental sciences that would be required by such a process.
Does it matter, though? That depends on whether the “conspiracy” is drummed up or real. It is usually possible to reinforce ideas of conspiracy when there is a segment of the public inclined to believe in one. Whatever error may or may not be involved in selecting certain trees for inclusion in a dendrochronology may constitute malfeasance if one is in a particularly judgmental frame of mind. What, then, is the moral status of quibbling about tree rings when the radiative balance of the atmosphere is being forced at a rate without remote precedent in the entire history of mammals.
In the end, science is an imperfect instrument, and we must nevertheless make decisions based on what we know. By stressing the former and not the latter fact, by fertilizing the ground where others are happy to plant wild conspiracy theories, McIntyre and now Pielke do an enormous disservice.
As such, they are ironically part of the very problem they identify, placing more attention to the advancement of their own reputations and positions than on the advancement of knowledge and governance.
It’s literally tragic that they are recycling this endless quibbling about bristlecone pines rather than stepping back and looking at the balance of evidence. There is simply no way to formalize the process entirely. Human judgment is easily derailed, but we will have to collectively judge this issue and come to difficult and necessarily imperfect decisions of major consequence, soon.
If somebody wants to talk about “malefactors”, let’s talk about the people who are working so hard to skew this matter away from the big picture. It’s not about publication records and tenure cases. It’s about survival. It’s about whether or not to extract so much value from the world that the world itself becomes valueless.
Bristlecone pines or not, the carbon has to stay in the ground.