Interesting Potential Analog

Glenn Reynolds brings an interesting example of post-modernist science, where getting the right answer is more important than being factually correct:

Bellesiles, for those who don’t remember, was a historian at Emory who wrote a book making some, er, counterintuitive claims about guns in early America — in short, that they were much rarer than generally thought, and frequently owned and controlled by the government. Constitutional law scholars who expressed doubts about this were told to shut up by historians, who cited the importance of “peer review” as a guarantor of accuracy, and who wrapped themselves in claims of professional expertise.

Unfortunately, it turned out that Bellesiles had made it up. His work was based on probate records, and when people tried to find them, it turned out that many didn’t exist (one data set he claimed to have used turned out, on review, to have been destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake). It also turned out that Bellesiles hadn’t even visited some of the archives he claimed to have researched. When challenged to produce his data, he was unable to do so, and offered unpersuasive stories regarding why.

Bellesiles eventually lost his job at Emory (and his Bancroft Prize) over the fraud, but not until his critics had been called political hacks, McCarthyites, and worse. But what’s amazing, especially in retrospect, is how slow his defenders — and the media — were to engage the critics, or to look at the flaws in the data. Instead, they wrapped themselves in claims of authority, and attacked the critics as anti-intellectual hacks interested only in politics. Are we seeing something similar with regard to ClimateGate? It sure looks that way to me.

  • ClimateQuoter

    This is fascinating. I’ve actually heard one of my professors make this arguement about the early Americans. This also reminds me of Trofim Lysenko. I’m just watching and waiting for everyone to realize these scientists have not been as ‘rigorous’ as they thought.

  • hunter

    Scientists, who depend on peer review, are no less vulnerable to error and fallibilities than any other group of people.
    AGW is just the latest.
    The real similarities, for me, are between AGW and eugenics.

  • CentralCoast Rick

    My exposure to peer review is very shallow (I’ve written a few peer reviewed papers – and have provided reviews for a few) and this is mostly in computer science. But I have a family member that has written (and reviewed) hundreds. The process I experienced was moderately shallow – no results were replicated by the peer reviewers – and when I reviewed, I used back-of-the-envelope methods to check results for sanity. If climate science is like this (and it apparently is) I’m hardly surprised by the rough quality of the results.

    On the other hand, in the case of the other family member (astrophysics) I’ve watched the process in action and it is VERY thorough. So I think it probably depends on the field, the journals, and perhaps even the personal ethics of the reviewer involved.

    What I AM surprised about is the apparent lack of calls for journal editors to stand down that have failed to set (or in some cases, failed to follow) professional standards. Improving the system has to start SOMEWHERE and that seems to me the place that could yield the best bang.

    My favorite political cartoon from about 35 years ago came out at one of the routine ‘let’s clean up congress’ phases – the poster behind the politician said “I’m Upping MY Ethics – So UP YOURS!”

  • ADE

    Makes you wonder what “the climate scientists” of the IPCC spent the money on.
    If 50% was copied from WWF,GREENPEACE,Aunties toilet roll,they must have had some serious hangovers.

  • Waldo

    Uh huh. So you have a single huckster who taught at Emory and wrote about gun culture, now discredited.

    And how does this compare to GW science with thousands of scientists, decades of work, thousands of publications, an ongoing public debate, and the ear of world government?

    Not.

    Yet the assemblage is already convinced and bringing up “eugenics” and “Aunties toilet roll” (????? – intelligent and grammatically incorrect comment, that!).

    Wonder why some of us are not convinced when we come to places like CS?

  • hunter

    Waldo,
    If you would step out of troll mode, and read up on the history of eugenics, you might be a little less snarkish.
    Many, many progressive, well educated and sophisticated people backed eugenics for a very long time.
    Our host said it is similar, not the same.
    But good luck at your denialism.

  • Waldo

    I’ll say it again: Uh Huh.

    Late 20th & Early 21st century: scientists are observing a progressive warming trend and postulate that this trend, and the climate change that may accompany it, has an anthropogenic orgin.

    Late 19th & Early 20th century: galvanized by the bad ideas of Sir Francis Galton, certain horrific laws were passed, sometimes standing for decades, that prohibited marriage and forced sterilization on certain groups of individuals. Later this practice will become specifically associated with the Nazi party.

    Hmmmm…

    Oh sure, I see the analog…it’s…huh?….

    2010: like the anti-evolutionists, hunter posts a comparison between two extremely unlike things because eugenics is so associated abuse, scientific misuse and racism that it becomes convenient; hunter uses hyperbole, emotionalism, and shock value to make an argument rather than critically evaluating a initial poor analog.

    No, the snarks are circling – I think reading about eugenics will make me more snarky, not less.

  • kudzudechase

    Waldo, did you not hear what Dr. Jones said? If you haven’t figured out that this whole AGW business is about political control, perhaps you are not the intellectual you seem to think you are. Science is about empirical data not convenient theory. As far as evolution is concerned, just like Mann-made global warming… no empirical data…only theory.

  • Waldo

    ******”Science is about empirical data not convenient theory. As far as evolution is concerned, just like Mann-made global warming… no empirical data…only theory”****

    Reeeeaaaallly? Perhaps we live on different planets, but I think there might be a fair amount of empirical data for both of those theories on my planet. Perhaps on your planet science is not so prominent as on mine, but where I live science has changed the face of the planet [for good and ill] and is manifestly evident (the fact that we are talking via cyber-space is a pretty dang good example). So when I read someplace like CS about how the the scientists and science have it all wrong, I’m a little dubious. When I see an outlandish and poorly reasoned analog which hopes to illustrate that scientists are somehow on the take without real proof, I am even more dubious. And when I read posts like the ones above, I become extremely dubious.

    I do like the “Mann-made” quip, however. Clever.

    And yes, I’ve been reading the Jones interview and can probably form an opinion on it. Stay tuned.

  • homesower

    There are no U.S. troops in Baghdad. Our victorious Iraqi army has routed them. The Americans and their NATO lapdogs are licking their wounds and unable to continue the attack.
    …..
    When did Baghdad Bob get a job with the IPCC?

  • hunter

    Waldo,
    You can dissemble into evolution and tobacco companies and all of the rest of the distractions you have at your disposal to keep people from closely examining AGW.
    It will not help you.
    The similarity between eugenics and AGW is well noted by people much smarter than either of us:
    Broad scientific consensus, broad government support of scientific consensus, government attempts to impose eugenics inspired policies end in failure and disaster and do not do what boosters claimed they would do.
    And now, with crugate and the IPCC deconstruction, we get to see that yes, misleading and fraudulent and illegal efforts were made to suppress competing views and to overstate the risks of AGW.
    As Bob watson, former head of the IPCC said,
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7026932.ece
    “Professor Watson, who served as chairman of the IPCC from 1997-2002, said: “The mistakes all appear to have gone in the direction of making it seem like climate change is more serious by overstating the impact. That is worrying. The IPCC needs to look at this trend in the errors and ask why it happened.”
    Frankly your heroic rationalizations to pretend that all is cool with AGW are admirable. But it would reflect an inner character if you would actually look at the issues. Evolution is not the issue, as much fun as it is to twweak creationists. The issue is a big messy theory, AGW, that claims we are facing a climate catastrophe due to CO2, that is clearly based on crap science.
    and it would be more construictive to spend time finding out where the crap ends and where what ever bits of truth are actually hidden away, start.

  • Waldo

    Now hunter, before you make more comparisons to eugenics and GW, I am going to ask to you think about this statement: “Broad scientific consensus, broad government support of scientific consensus…”

    Seriously, think about it.

    This statement could also apply to –

    Endangered species acts, Smog control, Big Tobacco law suits, Coastal preservation, Mad Cow disease, restaurant codes, medical licensing, etc.

    And in a more general sense “Broad scientific consensus, broad government support of scientific consensus” could also apply to such things as

    The Space Shuttle, Construction codes, Highway construction, Military hardware and software, Am. Geological surveying, etc.

    In fact, virtually any governmental involvement in public health, construction or environmental policy will stand on “Broad scientific consensus” and “broad government support of scientific consensus.”

    Eugenics was simply a misuse of standard procedure. Do you not see this? Did you not think about this? Or did you just buy what you were told?

    I’m not sure these people you are referring to are actually “smarter than the both of us,” hunter – but you are going to believe them, whoever they are, because they gave you something you wanted: a reason to doubt AGW. I, however, remain a little unconvinced. I suspect I’m not the one actually avoiding the issues.

    Now this, “failure and disaster and do not do what boosters claimed they would do” is a long way from being proven. It is certain that we are getting warming – the ‘why’ and ‘what will happen’ is still up for debate.

    And I’m not sure that the “Baghdad Bob” analog is quite deserved yet – as I’ve said before, discrediting works both ways. People like myself have been looking into denialist claims and at what the actual climate scientists claim – the tables might be turned and y’all might be a little Baghdad Bob-ish yourselves. Besides, it’s not all that clever a put-down.

  • hunter

    Waldo,
    Eugenics is a great analog of AGW becuase it was (at the time) cutting edge science, based on evidence that, while widely accepted was actually very much lacking.
    And, since the question of temperature accuracy is still very much in doubt- and the independent reviews are showing that they are, at the least, poorly constructed as Dr. Jones admits, I think it is a bit cheeky on your part to make that claim.
    And more importantly, a group of loud building inspectors are not demanding that everyone in the world change their homes and buildings based on claims that homes and buildings are getting ready to kill us all if we do not change as the building inspectors demand.
    NASA, to fly the space shuttle, is not demanding that the American economy be be restructured according to their aerospace engineers.
    Etc.
    But that only begs the question:
    Can you point to any trend at all in weather events that is matching what the AGW promtoers have predicted?
    Storms? nope.
    Rain? Nope.
    Drought? nope.
    sea levels? nope.
    It is only when AGW promoters get to control the evidence and the analysis that anything much at all shows up.
    In fact, except for increasing CO2 levels, not one prediction of AGW has panned out. Unless you are going to fall back on ‘everything is caused by AGW’ And not one AGW demanded policy has worked.
    The skeptic point- that nothing outside the range of historical variability is going on, and that no evidence of impending climate doom is credible- is not changed by what AGW promoters have so loudly and expensively claimed.

  • hunter

    And, by the way, Baghdad Bob is not a clever put down. I see BB as a rather sad person, so blinded by his faith in Baathist regime, he could not even see the Americans as they liberated his city.
    Do you not find it interesting that every error being uncovered points towards AGW risks being in reality much less than what “the actual climate scientists claim”, and that “the actual climate scientists” that you rely on so faithfully suppressed data that showed things to not be so dangerous after all?
    Perhaps your filter for “the actual climate scientists” is not a perfect filter?

  • Waldo

    *****”independent reviews are showing that they are, at the least, poorly constructed as Dr. Jones admits”

    In the blogosphere? On CS? I’ll go with the scientists.

    *****”a group of loud building inspectors are not demanding that everyone in the world change their homes and buildings based on claims that homes and buildings are getting ready to kill us all if we do not change as the building inspectors demand.”

    Ummm, this is pretty much EXACTLY what building inspectors loudly “demand” when they see a building that is about to fall down and kill people. Think about it. This is why we have building inspectors. They have the power to close a building if they think it is going to “kill us.” Why do we listen to them? Because they are experts and we are laypeople. Now, “everyone in the world” is a fairly adolescent exaggeration in regards to building inspectors – but everyplace that is a functioning technocracy with a working government has building inspectors. We have to listen to them – it’s the law. Another bad analog in a series of poorly considered analogs.

    ****”NASA, to fly the space shuttle, is not demanding that the American economy be be restructured according to their aerospace engineers.”

    1) Have you seen the costs of the Space Shuttle?
    2) No one is demanding that “the American economy be be restructured.” That is pure hyperbole in hopes of making your argument more solid than it is.

    *****”Can you point to any trend at all in weather events that is matching what the AGW promtoers have predicted?”

    Depends on who you ask. If one stays in the amateur denosphere, than no. If one steps out of the amateur denosphere, then yes.

    And no one claims that climate scientists or science is “a perfect filter.” I claim that places like CS and the denosphere in general is full of misinformation, irrationality and gross exaggeration. See your last two posts. See your posts on eugenics.

  • Shills

    It is obvious that Hunter loves the Eugenics analogy because of the tremendous emotional baggage that comes with it.

    Despite the clear fact that analogues are useless until the AGW debate is mere history why not a more optimistic analogy to balance out the negative ones:

    How about vaccination? Science-based medicine at its greatest. Sure, there was strong opposition to vaccination policy in the early days but I’m sure glad it succeeded. Of course even this science has a few cranks, like Jenny Mccarthy, about. Actually, you could prob. draw a few comparisons between her and… nah I wouldn’t do that to you.

  • hunter

    Eugenics only came to mind because of hte invocation of Godwin’s law by the likes of Hansen & pals.
    Afterall, Hansen is endorsing books on how to do eco-terrorism- for the good of the planet.
    I do not recall promoters of vaccinations demanding trillions of dollars, not being able to show any good result from using them, or demanding that those who doubted by held for criminal trials.
    And the thistory of vaccines, unlike the history of AGW promotion, is based on actually doing things that work:
    “We begin our history of vaccines and immunization with the story of Edward Jenner, a country doctor living in Berkeley (Gloucestershire), England, who in 1796 performed the world’s first vaccination.4 Taking pus from a cowpox lesion on a milkmaid’s hand, Jenner inoculated an eight-year-old boy, James Phipps. Six weeks later Jenner variolated two sites on Phipps’s arm with smallpox, yet the boy was unaffected by this as well as subsequent exposures.5 Based on twelve such experiments and sixteen additional case histories he had collected since the 1770s, Jenner published at his own expense a volume that swiftly became a classic text in the annals of medicine: Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccine. His assertion “that the cow-pox protects the human constitution from the infection of smallpox” laid the foundation for modern vaccinology.6″
    http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/full/24/3/611
    Comparing Dr. Jenner to Jones or Hansen is rather insulting to the memory of someone who actually started a work that has saved millions of people, when compared against two hacks who have enriched themselves on tax payer funded grants to sell fear.
    I would suggest that the fear mongering AGW promoters rely on is more closely related to the fear mongering anti-vaccine ignoramuses rely on to fool people into endangering their health and that of their children.

  • Waldo

    hunter, were you reading the “prisonplanet” or maybe “Jo Nova’s” or maybe the “moose & squirrel” blog?

    I would suggest that this conversation, like so many, is now completely pointless as hunter becomes increasingly desperate, and thus waxes deeper and deeper into hyperbole and silly analogies, but I am curious.

    By the way, does anyone know the actual number that Mann, Hansen, et al are “demanding” to fix climate change?

  • Shills

    @ Hunter:

    You say: ‘Eugenics only came to mind because of hte invocation of Godwin’s law by the likes of Hansen & pals.’

    Well from what I understand Godwin’s law is supposed to be avoided, unless you are confident with the analogy. The evocative nature of it is why it is overused, I suggest.

    I find your little vaccination summary a little eurocentric. No mention of the Chinese or others who Jenner got the idea from?

    You say: ‘Comparing Dr. Jenner to Jones or Hansen is rather insulting to the memory of someone who actually started a work that has saved millions of people, when compared against two hacks who have enriched themselves on tax payer funded grants to sell fear.’

    You assume that AGW theory won’t save millions of peeps. Plus you forget how unethical Jenner was in his experiments compared to modern ethical standards.

    We could pick holes in each others analogies all day. Yours might end up being more accurate depending on the outcome of the debate (this assumes that something eventually comes up that casts doubt on the ideas central to AGW theory, which hasn’t happened yet), or not.

  • Anonymous

    Hi, Shills.

    I am sorry for posting this here, but do you remember the debate we had on there being “the consensus” on AGW in the other thread (which has gotten old and the blog software locked the comments, so I can’t post there)? You were essentially arguing that there is one and I and a couple of other people were arguing that there is none.

    Well, the previous post in this blog contains a link to the interview with Phil Jones, the guy who is squarely in the pro catastrophic AGW camp. Quoting him:

    Q: When scientists say “the debate on climate change is over”, what exactly do they mean – and what don’t they mean?

    A: It would be supposition on my behalf to know whether all scientists who say the debate is over are saying that for the same reason. I don’t believe the vast majority of climate scientists think this. This is not my view. There is still much that needs to be undertaken to reduce uncertainties, not just for the future, but for the instrumental (and especially the palaeoclimatic) past as well.

    Headshot.

  • Shills

    Well hello Anon.

    I claimed there was a consensus that AGW is prob. the cause of most of the warming and this likely poses a significant threat. The details, such as the ones he mentions, are not agreed upon.

    Not sure what you are getting at (‘headshot’?) but I find it amusing that you don’t mind taking this man’s word when he speaks your language.

  • Waldo

    *****When scientists say “the debate on climate change is over”,

    Which scientist said this? Where did Jones say this?

  • Anonymous

    @Waldo:

    “Which scientist said this?”

    I brought this up in order to point out to Shills who thinks that “the consensus” exists, that Jones himself does not think so.

    @Shills:

    “you don’t mind taking this man’s word when he speaks your language.”

    I am not taking his word, just pointing out that his opinion on whether or not “the consensus” exists is different from yours.

  • Shills

    Anon says: ‘I am not taking his word, just pointing out that his opinion on whether or not “the consensus” exists is different from yours.’

    How is it different? He doesn’t say anything contrary to what i say. If you read the entire interview you will se that he goes with the IPCC re. the affects of humans on warming.

  • Anonymous

    You think “the consensus” exists. Jones thinks it doesn’t.

    That’s it.

  • Shills

    Ummm… are you kidding Anon?

    Seriously. Totally lost for words.

    Fark me dead if these needs explaining.