Skeptical Lobsters

The lobster goes on to evaluate emails stolen from an astronomy lab.

Thanks and a tip of the ol’ Python-bedecked hat to Anna Ravenscroft.

Update: Another fine story about scientific “skepticism”, this one taxonomic:

“I also am a skeptic,” said the second, “but evidently of a more refined sort, for I demand a much higher standard of evidence than you do. I see no irrefutable evidence to back up your assertion that this object before us is even a bird, let alone positively identifying it as a duck.” The journalist raised his eyebrow sagely.

“But what of the feathers?” the first scientist demanded. “Surely you must have noticed the feathers, which are the veritable hallmark, so to speak, of a bird.”

“I have seen nearly identical feathers on a feather duster,” the second replied.

You can guess the journalist’s response before reading the rest of the story.

Knappenberger’s Variation and Lippard’s Test

Update: Here’s what Paul Knappenberger at SPPI says about the EAU hacking:

“In his December 18, 2009 op-ed, Dr. Michael Mann largely misses to point about the most important aspect of the contents of the climate emails. It is not so much what has appeared in the scientific literature after “decades of work by thousands of scientists around the world” regarding human-caused climate change, but what has not appeared in the literature. The emails reveal signs of manipulation of the peer-review process, and what’s worse, intimidation of individual researchers, from a group of prominent scientists who seek to closely guard their view of the evidence and who are largely intolerant of countervailing hypothesis or interpretations. The degree to which the extant scientific literature can be judged a fair representation of what our scientific understanding may have been like absent these tactics is impossible to ascertain. The unfortunate, but undeniable side effect, is that the foundation of state, national, and international assessments of the potential impacts of climate change and considerations of what actions may be necessary to mitigate them has been shaken—not by what our knowledge is, but by what it should be. The latter of which, through the actions revealed in the emails, has been rendered largely unknowable.

Dr. Patrick Michaels, a close colleague of mine, expresses a similar sentiment (including some specific details) his recent op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal titled, “How to Manufacture a Climate Consensus.

So in other words, in the Knappenberger/Michaels view the climate community stands accused of not taking the contributions of the likes of Pat Michaels seriously. (See Ken Green’s point number 4).

I for one am willing to stand up and be counted among those who are guilty of that shocking approach. My defense, shabby though it may be, is that Pat Michaels doesn’t say anything worth taking seriously as science.

Starting from a blank slate, it looks like this. If a legitimate consensus has emerged, people like Michaels should be ignored in general because what they are saying is inconsistent with the state of knowledge. If it hasn’t, maybe (just maybe) they shouldn’t be. The fact that very little “skeptical” stuff (say, pointing to a sensitivity much below 2 C per CO2 doubling) is in the literature thus has two basically plausible explanations. One is that there is a conspiracy to keep them out, and the second is that the evidence is already in excluding the position so that very few serious papers are on offer.

There is nothing unusual about the second case. On the contrary, it happens almost every time science makes progress. If everyone who claims a conspiracy among peer reviewers in any science had a column in the Wall Street Journal, there would be very little room for financial news. The reasons the Journal picks Michaels over all the other probable cranks is left as an exercise for the reader.

So is there a test for the outsider to apply as to which condition is actually happening? Jim Lippard proposes one.

The creationists used to make similar claims about being locked out of the peer-reviewed literature, but when challenged, could never produce the rejection slips.

There seem to be a number of climate skeptics who have no problem getting published and cited–they happen to also be the ones with relevant credentials and expertise.

I think the burden of proof is on the conspiracy theorist. My cursory review of the CRU emails shows the main concern in discussions about peer review is bad work getting published (e.g., the 2003 Soon and Baliunas paper in _Climate Research_, which was admittedly, on the part of the editors, a failure of peer review to allow it to be published).

_Energy & Environment_ [a journal which is not highly regarded by mainstream scientists -mt] regularly publishes articles by climate skeptics. What work published there was rejected by a more reputable journal and is a game-changer on the scientific debate?

Thin Kool-Ade

“We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.”

The recent thread where I tried to explain how the CRU email kerfuffle partakes of the paranoid style in American politics got a lot of interest, thanks in large measure to an effort by Morano to Godwin the hell out of it. As usual, the bulk of the commentary from people from that quarter was predictably shallow, nasty and juvenile. What would you expect from a site that has mockery of science as its stock in trade?

Among all that was something a little different, a contact from Kenneth Green, a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (not to be confused with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, apparently, an error which I for one have been making). Ken, as he insists on being called, is taking a reasonably collegial approach to me and I will return the favor for now.

Nevertheless, he is responsible for some typical, um, naysayerist fantasies. Anyway, he has taken an interest in this humble blog and is so far being reasonably polite, so as an exercise let’s see if we can return the favor and maintain a collegial tone in conversations with Ken.

Ken is one of those people who think the CRU emails are a very big deal for climate science (and not worth mentioning as a matter for computer security all). Here is a recent article by him to that effect entitled “Who’s in denial now?”

Let’s enumerate his points:

  1. What’s catastrophic about Climategate is that it reveals a science as broken as Michael Mann’s hockey stick
  2. Mann’s Hockey stick erases the MWP and the LIA and is broken
  3. When you cherry-pick, discard, nip, tuck, and tape disparate bits of data into the most alarming portrayal you can in the name of a “cause,” you’re not engaged in science, but in the production of propaganda.
  4. this clique tried to subvert the peer-review process as well. They attempted to prevent others from getting into peer reviewed journals — thus letting them claim skeptic research wasn’t peer-reviewed — a convenient circular (and dishonest) way to discredit skeptics.
  5. Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia was considered the top climate research community
  6. A Russian think-tank recently revealed the climate temperature record compiled by the Climatic Research Unit cherry-picked data from only 25 per cent of Russia’s climate monitoring sites

These points take about half the article. There follow several paragraphs about indignation, injury, threat to scientific integrity, etc. that have essentially nothing whatsoever to do with what might have been revealed in the emails. Let’s ignore them, because we are trying to determine what if anything the CRU hacking reveals.

Let me start with point 3, where there is at least a little meat to the story. It is apparent that the dendro guys have been plotting graphs in such a way as to distract the observer’s attention from the obvious recent weakness of their paleothermometer. While you have to choose what to emphasize and what to de-emphasize in public presentations, one could make a case that these graphs go too far. On the other hand, as I understand it, this is not news. Far too much attention has been given to the dendro people both by IPCC and opportunistically by the delayer camp. This issue was already known. All the emails reveal is that there was some internal disagreement about it.

Hardly a grand conspiracy even among dendrochronologists. And in any case old news.

As for the rest of it?

  1. Well, that’s a broad assertion. Let’s see what you have to support it.
  2. Old news and in no way revealed by the emails. Mann et al, in good faith but I belive erroneously, underrepresented multidecadal variability as elaborated by von Storch; this left the plot somewhat misleading in character, though in fact most later reconstructions, though more variable on a multidecadal time scale, remain within Mann’s confidence bounds. No scandal here, and nothing new.
  3. see above
  4. “Clique,” ” convenient circular (and dishonest) way to discredit skeptics”: see every crackpot pseudoscientific theory ever proposed for versions of this argument. This CAN describe the behavior of a dysfunctional science, but it ALSO describes the behavior of every science at its best. In fact, the same von Storch who shot Mann down in point 2 above was fiercely critical of one of the papers the Jones crowd complains most vociferously about. Perhaps it’s about quality, and not politics? Surely nothing new.
  5. The CRU does produce one of the main global observational time series. Is it the “leader of the pack” in any real sense? This is completely news to me. See, the observational time series is a relatively small part of the record. How else could the Charney report have gotten the future so right even before the observational record showed any warming at all? This is new, but it’s a wild assertion and has nothing to do with the emails.
  6. Deltoid and Climate Progress have something on this; a minor subplot of a minor subplot in any case. And nothing to do with the emails.

So what is going on? Perhaps nothing, perhaps almost nothing. Does this cast doubt on an entire science?

The answer is, for some people, yes. It’s little surprise if that is all people hear about climate science. But it shouldn’t be all they hear, and if this article is any indicator, it’s all innuendo and nothing much of substance.

The amazing part of this is, if you look at Ken’s “Climategate reveals” article, anything of even a little substance (and there really isn’t much there) was not revealed in the hacked information!

We need to start with what the outlines of that science are. No climate scientist would start telling the story with tree rings and millenial scale variability. The observational record itself is only important for public understanding. The whole core of the science lies elsewhere.

To support the naysayer camp’s fantasies, you have to

  • A) throw away all theory
  • B) throw away all paleoclimatology
  • C) ignore all the past successes of model projections
  • D) crown Jones king of the world
  • E) make a very big deal out of a few comments of his, and finally
  • F) dethrone Jones.

This is at least a well-trodden path for the What-Me-Worry crowd, the role of king having been played by Mann and Santer in the past. (Oddly enough, Hansen really does play a relatively large role in the science for an individual, but they haven’t had comparable success in going after him.) So far, the scapegoat-du-jour hasn’t done much if anything actually culpable, but you know if you repeat something often enough people will start to believe it. But how do the people repeating it convince themselves as well?

So, Ken, is this all you’ve got? Are you really drinking this kool-ade you’re peddling? Because so far you’ve mixed it mighty thin.

Update: Here’s some more detailed stuff from Ken. Part I and Part II.

I can’t say I’m happy with Wigley’s ’05 comment (see Part II), especially considering his use of the word “skeptic”. RP Jr is already running with this one and there’s useful followup at that link.

Ken also raises interesting questions about peer review.
That said, there’s a lot he seems to get wrong.

NOTE: I will moderate this thread fiercely for ad homs and intemperate language, especially from the realistic side. I would like to see if ANYBODY can come up with ANYTHING that justifies the CRU email hacking. Let’s try to be as congenial as possible to people who think there is something to this business, and see if they can explain to us what exactly we are supposed to be upset about. Be as sarcastic or argumentative as you want about people’s points, but lay off their motivations and character please.

Warning: Politicization of Politics

I missed the boat for the first round of Someone-Claiming-to-be-Sarah-Palin vs COP15; so much for an easy traffic spike. Still, I was amused by how this random person titled the putative-Palin’s article.

Apparently Vathek thinks Mrs. Palin is complaining that the COP process has been politicized!

Sorta like complainin’ that your water’s all damp and soggy, ain’t it?

Update: My mistake. Palin actually said it! Her op-ed concludes:

Without trustworthy science and with so much at stake, Americans should be wary about what comes out of this politicized conference. The president should boycott Copenhagen.

So Mrs. Palin is complaining that the COP process has been politicized!

SwiftHack Pushback Site

Just got this in the mail:

I wanted to make sure you saw, which I launched this morning.
offers dozens of links daily to reality-based news and analysis related to the ClimateGate story. The site will serve as an informal clearinghouse for pushback against the rapidly developing SwiftHack smear campaign against climate science.

Scientists, advocates, activists, bloggers and journalists have begun the important work of educating their audiences on the true story of ClimateGate — the latest iteration of a decades-long smear campaign against climate science). intends to be a repository of such efforts. With talks now underway in Copenhagen, correcting the false narratives being pushed by an army of oil-funded deniers is especially critical.

I need your help to make this site successful. First and foremost, email ideas, tips, blog posts and news headlines to swifthack at gmail d0t c0m. Second, please help spread the word about the site however you can.

Thanks for all that you do.

Josh Nelson

Update: Most of the links were removed above because the paste bollixed them up. (Thanks Oliver!) The remaining ones are tested. I kept the Jeff Masters “ClimateGate” one because it’s one you shouldn’t miss if you are still focused on these events.