Category Archives: Climate Science Process

Losing Sight of the Goal

Like many, I have been astonished by the breaches of good scientific practice uncovered by the Climategate emails.  But to my mind, the end goal here is not to punish those involved but to

  • Enforce good data and code archiving practices.  Our goal should be that no FOIA is necessary to get the information needed to replicate a published study
  • Create an openness to scrutiny and replication which human nature resists, but generally exists in most non-climate sciences.

I worry that over the last few months, with the Virginia FOIA inquiry and the recent investigations of Michael Mann, skeptic’s focus has shifted to trying to take out their frustration with and disdain for Michael Mann in the form of getting him rung up on charges.   I fear the urge to mount Mann’s head in their trophy case is distracting folks from what the real goals here should be.

I know those in academia like to pretend they are not, but professors at state schools or who are doing research with government money are just as much government employees as anyone in the DMV or post office.  And as such, their attempts to evade scrutiny or hide information irritate the hell out of me.  But I would happily give the whole Jones/Mann/Briffa et all Climategate gang a blanket pardon in exchange for some better ground rules in climate science going forward.

Skeptics are rightly frustrated with the politicization of science and the awful personal attacks skeptics get when alarmists try to avoid debate on the science.  But the correct response here is to take the high ground, NOT to up the stakes in the politicization game by bringing academics we think to be incorrect up on charges.  I am warning all of you, this is a bad, bad precedent.

Postscript: I now your response already — there are good and valid legal reasons for charging Mann, here are the statutes he broke, etc.  I don’t disagree.  But here is my point — the precedent we set here will not be remembered as an academic brought down for malfeasance.  It will be remembered as an academic brought down by folks who disagreed with his scientific findings.  You may think that unfair, but that is the way the media works.  The media is not on the skeptic side, and even if it were neutral, it is always biased to the more sensational story line.

Duty to Disclose

When prosecutors put together their case at trial (at least in the US) they have a legal duty to share all evidence, including potentially exculpatory evidence, with the defense.  When you sell your house or take a company public, there is a legal requirement to reveal major known problems to potential buyers.  Of course, there are strong incentives not to share this information, but when people fail on this it is considered by all to be fraud.

I would have thought the same standard exists in scientific research, ie one has an ethical obligation to reveal data or experiments that do not confirm one’s underlying hypothesis or may potentially cast some doubt on the results.  After all, we are after truth, right?

Two posts this week shed some interesting light on this issue  vis a vis dendro-climatology.  I hesitate to pile on much on the tree ring studies at this point, as they have about as much integrity right now as the study of alchemy.  If we are going to get some real knowledge out of this data, someone is going to have to tear the entire field down to bedrock and start over (as was eventually done when alchemy became chemistry).  But I do think both of these posts raise useful issues that go beyond just Mann, Briffa, and tree rings.

In the first, Steve McIntyre looks at one of the Climategate emails from Raymond Bradley where Bradley is almost proudly declaring that MBH98 had purposely withheld data that would have made their results look far less certain.  He taunts skeptics for not yet figuring out the game, an ethical position roughly equivalent to Bernie Madoff taunting investors for being too dumb to figure out he was duping them with a Ponzi scheme.

In the second, Judith Curry takes a look at the Briffa “hide the decline” trick.  There is a lot of confusion about just what this trick was.  In short, the expected behavior of tree ring results in the late 20th century diverged from actual measured temperatures.  In short, the tree rings showed temperatures falling since about 1950 when they have in fact risen.   Since there is substantial disagreement on whether tree rings really do act as reliable proxies for temperatures, this is an important fact since if tree rings are failing to follow temperatures for the last half century, there could easily be similar failures in the past.  Briffa and the IPCC removed the post-1950 tree ring data from key charts presented to the public, and used the graphical trick of overlaying gauge temperature records to imply that the proxies continued to go up.

Given the heat around this topic, Curry tries to step back and look at the issue dispassionately.  Unlike many, she does not assign motivations to people when these are not known, but she does conclude:

There is no question that the diagrams and accompanying text in the IPCC TAR, AR4 and WMO 1999 are misleading.  I was misled.  Upon considering the material presented in these reports, it did not occur to me that recent paleo data was not consistent with the historical record.  The one statement in AR4 (put in after McIntyre’s insistence as a reviewer) that mentions the divergence problem is weak tea.

It is obvious that there has been deletion of adverse data in figures shown IPCC AR3 and AR4, and the 1999 WMO document.  Not only is this misleading, but it is dishonest (I agree with Muller on this one).  The authors defend themselves by stating that there has been no attempt to hide the divergence problem in the literature, and that the relevant paper was referenced.  I infer then that there is something in the IPCC process or the authors’ interpretation of the IPCC process  (i.e. don’t dilute the message) that corrupted the scientists into deleting the adverse data in these diagrams.

The best analogy I can find for this behavior is prosecutorial abuse.  When prosecutors commit abuses (e.g. failure to share exculpatory evidence), it is often because they are just sure the defendent is guilty.  They can convince themselves that even though they are breaking the law, they are serving the law in a larger sense because they are making sure guilty people go to jail.  Of course, this is exactly how innocent people rot in jail for years, because prosecutors are not supposed to be the ultimate aribiter of guilt and innosence.  In the same way, I am sure Briffa et al felt that by cutting ethical corners, they were serving a larger purpose because they were just sure they were right.  Excupatory evidence might just confuse the jury and lead, in their mind, to a miscarriage of justice.   As Michael Mann wrote (as quoted by Curry)

Otherwise, the skeptics have an field day casting doubt on our ability to understand the factors that influence these estimates and, thus, can undermine faith in the paleoestimates. I don’t think that doubt is scientifically justified, and I’d hate to be the one to have to give it fodder!

Climate Science Process Explained

Normally, when I cite the above as the process, I get grief from folks who say I am mis-interpreting things, as usually I am boiling a complex argument down to this summary.   The great thing about alarmist Trenberth’s piece is that no interpretation is necessary.   He outlines this process right in a single paragraph.  I will label the four steps above

Given that global warming is “unequivocal” [1], to quote the 2007 IPCC report [2], the null hypothesis should now be reversed, thereby placing the burden of proof on showing that there is no human influence [3]. Such a null hypothesis is trickier because one has to hypothesize something specific, such as “precipitation has increased by 5%” and then prove that it hasn’t. Because of large natural variability, the first approach results in an outcome suggesting that it is appropriate to conclude that there is no increase in precipitation by human influences, although the correct interpretation is that there is simply not enough evidence (not a long enough time series). However, the second approach also concludes that one cannot say there is not a 5% increase in precipitation. Given that global warming is happening and is pervasive, the first approach should no longer be used. As a whole the community is making too many type II errors [4].

Are you kidding me — if already every damn event in the tails of the normal distribution is taken by the core climate community as a proof of their hypothesis, how is there even room for type II errors?  Next up — “Our beautiful, seasonal weather — proof of global warming?”

Remember that the IPCC’s conclusion of human-caused warming was based mainly on computer modelling.  The IPCC defenders will not admit this immediately, but press them hard enough on side arguments and it comes down to the models.

The summary of their argument is this:  for the period after 1950, they claim their computer models cannot explain warming patterns without including a large effect from anthropogenic CO2.  Since almost all the warming in the latter half of the century really occurred between 1978 and 1998, the IPCC core argument boils down to “we are unable to attribute the global temperature increase in these 20 years to natural factors, so it must have been caused by man-made CO2.”  See my video here for a deeper discussion.

This seems to be a fairly thin reed.  After all, it may just be that after only a decade or two of serious study, we still do not understand climate variability very well, natural or not.  It is a particularly odd conclusion when one discovers that the models ignore a number of factors (like the PDO, ENSO, etc) that affect temperatures on a decadal scale.

We therefore have a hypothesis that is not based on observational data, and where those who hold the hypothesis claim that observational data should no longer be used to test their hypothesis.    He is hilarious when he says that reversing the null hypothesis would make it trickier for his critics.  It would make it freaking impossible, as he very well knows.  This is an unbelievingly disingenuous suggestion.  There are invisible aliens in my closet Dr. Trenberth — prove me wrong.  It is always hard to prove a negative, and impossible in the complex climate system.  There are simply too many variables in flux to nail down cause and effect in any kind of definitive way, at least at our level of understanding  (we have studied economics much longer and we still have wild disagreements about cause and effect in macroeconomics).

He continues:

So we frequently hear that “while this event is consistent with what we expect from climate change, no single event can be attributed to human induced global warming”. Such murky statements should be abolished. On the contrary, the odds have changed to make certain kinds of events more likely. For precipitation, the pervasive increase in water vapor changes precipitation events with no doubt whatsoever. Yes, all events! Even if temperatures or sea surface temperatures are below normal, they are still higher than they would have been, and so too is the atmospheric water vapor amount and thus the moisture available for storms. Granted, the climate deals with averages. However, those averages are made up of specific events of all shapes and sizes now operating in a different environment. It is not a well posed question to ask “Is it caused by global warming?” Or “Is it caused by natural variability?” Because it is always both.

At some level, this is useless.   The climate system is horrendously complex.  I am sure everything affects everything.  So to say that it affects the probability is a true but unhelpful statement.   The concern is that warming will affect the rate of these events, or the severity of these events, in a substantial and noticeable way.

It is worth considering whether the odds of the particular event have changed sufficiently that one can make the alternative statement “It is unlikely that this event would have occurred without global warming.” For instance, this probably applies to the extremes that occurred in the summer of 2010: the floods in Pakistan, India, and China and the drought, heat waves and wild fires in Russia.

Suddenly, Skepticism of Peer-Reviewed Science is OK

Cross-posted at Coyote Blog

Wow, suddenly skepticism, and even outright harsh criticism, of peer-reviewed work is OK, as long as it is not in climate I suppose.

On Thursday, Dec. 2, Rosie Redfield sat down to read a new paper called “A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus.” Despite its innocuous title, the paper had great ambitions. Every living thing that scientists have ever studied uses phosphorus to build the backbone of its DNA. In the new paper, NASA-funded scientists described a microbe that could use arsenic instead. If the authors of the paper were right, we would have to expand our….

As soon Redfield started to read the paper, she was shocked. “I was outraged at how bad the science was,” she told me.

Redfield blogged a scathing attack on Saturday. Over the weekend, a few other scientists took to the Internet as well. Was this merely a case of a few isolated cranks? To find out, I reached out to a dozen experts on Monday. Almost unanimously, they think the NASA scientists have failed to make their case. “It would be really cool if such a bug existed,” said San Diego State University’s Forest Rohwer, a microbiologist who looks for new species of bacteria and viruses in coral reefs. But, he added, “none of the arguments are very convincing on their own.” That was about as positive as the critics could get. “This paper should not have been published,” said Shelley Copley of the University of Colorado.

The article goes on to describe many potential failures in the methodology.  None of this should be surprising — I have written for years that peer-review is by no means proof against bad science or incorrect findings.  It is more of an  extended editorial process.  The real test of published science comes later, when the broader community attempts to replicate results.

The problem in climate science has been that its proponents want to claim that having research performed by a small group of scientists that is peer-reviewed by the same small group is sufficient to making the results “settled science.”  Once published, they argue, no one (certainly not laymen on blogs) has the right to criticize it, and the researchers don’t (as revealed in the Climategate emails) have any obligations to release their data or code to allow replication.   This is just fresh proof that this position is nuts.

The broken climate science process is especially troubling given the budgetary and reputational incentives to come out with the most dramatic possible results, something NASA’s James Hansen has been accused of doing by many climate skeptics.  To this end, consider this from the bacteria brouhaha.  First, we see the same resistance to criticism, trying to deflect any critiques outside of peer-reviewed journals

“Any discourse will have to be peer-reviewed in the same manner as our paper was, and go through a vetting process so that all discussion is properly moderated,” wrote Felisa Wolfe-Simon of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. “The items you are presenting do not represent the proper way to engage in a scientific discourse and we will not respond in this manner.”

WTF?  How, then, did we ever have scientific process before peer-reviewed journals appeared on the scene?

But Jonathan Eisen of UC-Davis doesn’t let the scientists off so easily. “If they say they will not address the responses except in journals, that is absurd,” he said. “They carried out science by press release and press conference. Whether they were right or not in their claims, they are now hypocritical if they say that the only response should be in the scientific literature.”

Wow, that could be verbatim from a climate skeptic in the climate debate.

And finally, this on incentives and scientific process:

Some scientists are left wondering why NASA made such a big deal over a paper with so many flaws. “I suspect that NASA may be so desperate for a positive story that they didn’t look for any serious advice from DNA or even microbiology people,” says John Rothof UC-Davis.

“No Disagreement Whatsoever”

I continue to be fascinated by the parallels between economic and climate science and their internal debates.  Both sciences study horrendously complex systems where controlled studies to parse cause and effect are difficult if not impossible to structure.  And both seem to have the same pressures towards politicization, with very similar results.  With a few words changed, this could easily have been written by a climate skeptic about any number of Mann/Hansen/et. al. statements:

Mr. James Fallows
National Correspondent, The Atlantic

Dear Mr. Fallows:

This afternoon on National Public Radio you proclaimed that “there is essentially no disagreement whatsoever” among economists that more stimulus spending is necessary today [emphasis in the original].

You are misinformed.

Last year, hundreds of economists signed a petition, circulated by the Cato Institute, whose key clause reads “it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today.”  Among the economists who signed this petition in opposition to ‘stimulus’ spending are three Nobel laureates in economics (Edward Prescott, Vernon Smith, and my colleague James Buchanan).  Others signers include Chicago’s Eugene Fama and Sam Peltzman, Harvard’s Jeffrey Miron, Texas A&M’s Thomas Saving, Cornell’s Rick Geddes and Dean Lillard, University of Virginia’s Lee Coppock and Kenneth Elzinga, Duke’s Michael Munger and Edward Tower, University of Rochester’s Mark Bils and Ronald Schmidt, Rutger’s Michael Bordo and Leo Troy, University of Southern California’s John Matsusaka and Kevin Murphy, and one of the world’s preeminent scholars of money and banking, Carnegie-Mellon’s Allan Meltzer.

Perhaps these economists and the many others who’ve signed this petition (including myself) – and who continue to speak out against what we believe to be the folly of ‘stimulus’ – are mistaken.  But for you to announce publicly that there is “no disagreement whatsoever” among economists that more stimulus spending is desirable is so wildly inaccurate that it borders on being irresponsible.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

I compared macroeconomic and climate models in my Forbes column here.

Alarmist Tent So Small It Cannot Accomodate Judith Curry

I find it just staggering that Judith Curry, whose hypotheses about man-made global warming probably overlap those of the hard core alarmists by 80-90%, can no longer be tolerated by alarmists.  Much as the Catholic Church radicalized Martin Luther when all he initially wanted to do was reform some practices (many of which the Church later reformed), the attacks on Curry seem to be having a similar effect.

The typical response by politicians, of course, is to try to get more money from taxpayers.  California has a ballot initiative this November proposing to raise vehicle licensing fees to all its citizens in order to fund state parks.  Unfortunately, this kind of funds earmarking by ballot initiative is already threatening to bankrupt California.  One problem with this approach is that it demolishes accountability — once an unelected state agency gets dedicated funds the legislature can’t touch, there is nothing that taxpayers can do if these funds are not spent wisely short of another time-consuming ballot initiative to revoke them.

In the case of state parks, the accountability problem is even worse, as the initiatives replace park user fees, which at least enforce accountability in that users can stop visiting if park services are not up to expectations, with a no-strings-attached bureaucratic windfall.  Compounding the problem, in many states the parks organizations report to rubber-stamp boards rather than the governor or any elected official, so taxpayers have absolutely no path to enforce accountability.

Science, or Alchemy?

In what is becoming a continuing series, here is an article by economist Don Boudreaux on how economists are fooled into hubris by their computer models.  It could have been written as easily about climate (emphasis added)

Ironically, however, one genuine sin committed by too many economists is the sin of public hubris — of posing as seers who can divine the details of the future economy, of fooling themselves and the public that economists possess greater knowledge than they really do.

In their papers and books (and now blogs), Keynesian economists model the economy with simple symbols, such as “C” for consumption spending, “I” for investment spending and “k” for the economy’s stock of capital goods such as diesel engines, steel mills and industrial chemicals.

Governments and private researchers gather data on consumer spending, on investment spending and on the market value of all the stuff called “k.” Economists plug these data into computer-based mathematical models filled with “C’s” and “I’s” and “k’s” and other symbols from alphabets both Latin and Greek. These models then spit out precise predictions.

Voila! exclaims the economist slathered in hubris. “See my multivariable model and my precise-to-several-decimal places predictions! I’m a scientist!”

In fact, he’s an alchemist. He is misled — by the intricacy of the equations on his computer screen and by the apparent concreteness of the data that he shoves into those equations — into thinking that he’s doing science. He is misled into thinking that these leaden, aggregated data from the past can be transformed into golden truths about the future.

UA Gets 62 Times More Money From Alarmists Than ASU Got From Skeptics

From the Arizona Republic:

University of Arizona will host one of eight regional climate-science centers to help the federal government study the potential effects of climate change on natural resources and the environment.

The Southwest Climate Center will bring together scientists from six universities to study a range of issues and offer guidance to federal resource managers through the Interior Department, which will oversee the regional center.

Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the UA Institute of the Environment, will be the center’s principal investigator….

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday announced the selection of UA to host the center, which will receive an initial five-year, $3.1 million grant.

The University of Arizona climate department has distinguished itself in the past by running this fine temperature monitoring station, located between buildings in the middle of an asphalt parking lot:

More important to the selection than the UA’s staff actual ability to, you know, monitor the climate is likely Jonathan Overpeck’s impeccable credentials in the alarmist community.  Overpeck was a coordinating lead author of the IPCC AR4 paleoclimate chapter, and thus had a leading role in promoting the hockey stick and attempting to make the Medieval Warm Period go away.

The powers that be that give out large grants certainly weren’t going to give the center to Arizona State, which had the temerity to actually have skeptic Robert Balling on staff (with Sherwood Idso as an adjunct professor) .  If ASU wants any real climate cash, they likely will need to find a way to get rid of Balling under some pretext.

We can see that employing skeptics is very bad for business.  After all, Exxon gave the ASU climate department $49,500, compared to  62 times this amount to UA from alarmists in Washington.  Of course, we all know that the Exxon money was far more corrupting.  ASU likely perverted science entirely for 49K, but UA would never do so for 3.1 million.

Call Out to Young Skeptics in the DC Area

If you are young (I suppose 20’s or younger) and have been actively involved in some way as a climate skeptic in the Washington DC area, reporter Andrew Restuccia of the Washington Independent would like to talk to you.   He is writing an article on young climate skeptics, I think.  Drop him a note, he seems to be developing a hypothesis that skeptics are all crusty old dudes and showing him some fresh faces would help:  arestuccia –at–

Just When I Thought I Had Seen the Worst Possible Peer-Reviewed Climate Work…

This is really some crazy-bad science in a new study by Welch et al on Asian rice yields purporting to show that they will be reduced by warmer weather.  This is an odd result on its face, given that rice yields have been increasing as the world has warmed over the last 50 years.

Now, it is possible that temperature-related drops in yields have been offset by even larger improvements in other areas that have increased yields, but one’s suspicion-meter is certainly triggered by the finding, especially since the press release on the study says that yields have already been cut 10-20% in some areas, flying in the face of broader yield data.

Willis Eschenbach dove into it, and found this amazing approach.  How this passed peer-review muster is just further evidence as to how asymmetrical peer review is in climate (ie if you have the “right” findings, they will pass all kinds of slop)

First, it covers a very short time span. The longest farm yield datasets used are only six years long (1994-99). Almost a fifth of the datasets are three years or less, and the Chinese data (6% of the total data) only cover two years (1998-1999)….

But whichever dataset they used, they are comparing a two year series of yields against a twenty-six year trend. I’m sorry, but I don’t care what the results of that comparison might be. There is no way to compare a two-year dataset with anything but the temperature records from that area for those two years. This is especially true given the known problems with the ground-station data. And it is doubly true when one of the two years (1998) is a year with a large El Niño.

In fact, he goes on to point out that simultaneous to the two-year trend in China showing yields falling  (I still can’t get over extrapolating from a 2 year farm yield trend) temperatures in China did very different things than their long-term averages might predict

For example, they give the trend for maximum temps in the winter (DecJanFeb) for the particular location in China (29.5N, 119.47E) as being 0.06°C per year, and the trend for spring (MarAprMay) as being 0.05°C per year (I get 0.05°/yr and 0.04°C/yr respectively, fairly close).

But from 1998 to 1999, the actual DJF change was +2.0°C, and the MAM change was minus 1.0°C (CRU TS Max Temperature dataset). As a result, they are comparing the Chinese results to a theoretical trend which has absolutely no relationship to what actually occurred on the ground.

Further, though Eschenbach only mentions it in passing, there likely is another large problem with the data.  The researchers do not mention what temperature station they are using data from, but if past global warming study methodology is any guide, the station could be hundreds of miles away from the farms studied.

You Know it Has to Be A Skeptic Writing When You See This

I have followed Roy Spencer’s work for a while on trying to measure climate feedback effects from satellite data.  In general, I give him Kudos for actually working on what is really THE critical problem that separates climate catastrophe from climate rounding error.  It is good someone is working on this, rather than, say, how global warming might affect toad mating, or whatever.

I have never been totally convinced by this part of Spencer’s work.  Again, I give him kudos for trying to isolate the effect of single variables in a complex system through actual observation, rather than the lazy approach of running experiments inside computer models of dubious accuracy.  I am not convinced he has achieved this, but I must admit I have not spent a ton of time working it through.

Anyway, Spencer has a long discussion of his methodology in answer to some critics.  I reserve judgment until I have studied it further.  But I was captivated by this bit:

On the positive side, though, MF10 have forced us to go back and reexamine the methodology and conclusions in SB08. As a result, we are now well on the way to new results which will better optimize the matching of satellite-observed climate variability to the simple climate model, including a range of feedback estimates consistent with the satellite data. It is now apparent to us that we did not do a good enough job of that in SB08.

Really?  You shared your data, were criticized, and are modifying your approach based on this criticism?  I thought from the study of the habits of mainstream climate scientists the correct scientific procedure was to 1) hide your data like it was Russian nuclear secrets; 2) prevent any opposing view from getting published; and 3) defend a flawed methodology by getting 10 of your friends to use the same methodology and summarize it all in an IPCC spaghetti graph.

Does This Sound Familiar to Anyone?

Greg Mankiw on scoring the federal stimulus package:

the CEA took a conventional Keynesian-style macroeconomic model and used those set of equations to estimate the effect the stimulus should have had.  Essentially, the model offers an estimate of the policy’s effect, conditional on the model being a correct description of the world.  But notice that this exercise is not really a measurement based on what actually occurred.  Rather, the exercise is premised on the belief that the model is true, so no matter how bad the economy got, the inference is that it would have been even worse without the stimulus.  Why?  Because that is what the model says.  The validity of the model itself is never questioned.

Does this sound like climate science or what?  The same models that are used to predict future temperature increases are used to decide how much of past warming was dues to Co2 and how much was due to natural effects.  Here is the retrospective IPCC chart which assigns more than 100% of post-1950 warming to CO2 (since the blue “natural forcings” is shown to go down, see more here)

Here is the stimulus version, showing flat employment, but positing that the stimulus created jobs because employment “would have gone down without it” (sound familiar?)

This kind of retrospective look at causality has the look of science but in fact is nothing of the sort, and can be not much more than guesses laundered to look like facts.

But this may in fact be worse than guessing.  In both cases, these graphs are drawn by folks who think they know the answer (in the first case that CO2 caused all warming, in the second that the stimulus created millions of jobs).  Since in both cases the lower “without” case (either without CO2 or without stimulus) is horrendously, almost impossible to derive and totally impossible to measure, there is good reason to believe it is merely a plug, fixed in value to get the answer they want.  But if I plugged it just on the back of an envelope, everyone would call me out for it, so I plug it in an arcane model where numerous inputs can be tweaked to get different results, to avoid this kind of unwanted scrutiny.

Readers of climate sites will also recognize this criticism of Obama’s self-serving stimulus analysis

Moreover, the fact that other organizations simulating similar models come to similar conclusions is no evidence about the validity of the model’s simulations.  It only tells you the CEA staff did not commit egregious programming errors when running their computer simulations.

Sounds like the logic behind the hockey stick spaghetti graphs, no?

Absolutely Hilarious

I know I am late on this but I am trying to spool back up on this site so allow me to catch up.  It turned out that that the IPCC’s Amazon claim (that 40% of the rain forest was at risk from global warming) came from the Facebook page of a 12-year-old girl.  OK, just kidding, it didn’t, but the source is not much better — apparently the claim was just thrown up on a web page of a Brazilian activist organization in 1999, and then pulled down in 2003.  Everything since has been one long game of “telephone.”  The whole story is fascinating and worth reading.

Great Academics Go Along With the Pack

It would be an understatement to say that much of the focus in villifying skeptics has been on the skeptic’s funding.  The storyline goes that skeptics are only fighting the obvious because they are paid off by oil and coal companies.

But of course, it turns out that global warming alarmists get far more funding than skeptics, likely 100x as much or more (funding for skeptics is at most a million dollar or two a year, and that may be high — funding for alarmists by governments alone is in the billions a year).  The quick reply of leading alarmist scientists is that the money is incidental.

I am generally willing to take them at their word — I find trying to look into other people’s hearts to be a hopeless exercise.  And besides, does anyone really think the folks who, say, believe in or oppose string theory are taking those positions for the money.  If I really had to discuss incentives, I would argue that prestige and wanting to belong are actually stronger motivations for alarmist scientists, as preaching doom seems to lead to fame while being a skeptic seems to lead to academic shunning.

So I have generally avoided the topic of monetary motivation of alarmists, but what am I to think when Penn State makes the case in its report on Michael Mann?  In a rather straight-forward way, they make the case that Mann is a good climate scientist because he is good at obtaining funding

This level of success in proposing research, and obtaining funding to conduct it, clearly places Dr. Mann among the most respected scientists in his field. Such success would not have been possible had he not met or exceeded the highest standards of his profession for proposing research…

Had Dr. Mann’s conduct of his research been outside the range of accepted practices, it would have been impossible for him to receive so many awards and recognitions, which typically involve intense scrutiny from scientists who may or may not agree with his scientific conclusions…

Clearly, Dr. Mann’s reporting of his research has been successful and judged to be outstanding by his peers. This would have been impossible had his activities in reporting his work been outside of accepted practices in his field.

This argument is OK as far as it goes, but implicitly defines a great academic as “someone who goes along with the pack.”  Note that skeptics cannot claim to get  a lot of research grants, because the alarmists control the funding.  Skeptics can’t get into peer-reviewed journals, because, as the East Anglia emails make clear, a small group of alarmist scientists are blocking their publication.  Mann’s research has been judged outstanding by his peers because he agrees with his peers.

In a large sense, Penn State’s only test of Mann’s ability is that he is currently a member in good standing of the small in-crowd that dominates climate science.  His science is good because it comes to the right conclusions.

Unlike many skeptics, I have no desire to “get” Professor Mann.  I don’t need him fired or even investigated by Penn State.  The way to refute him is to refute him, not haul him in front of tribunals.

That being said, Penn State did start and investigation and as such has some responsibility to do the thing right.  And boy was this a joke.   The most charitable thing I can say is that his work is fraught with more questionable decisions and practices and approaches than anything I have ever seen that was taken this seriously.  We could talk about it for days, but here is one example to get you thinking.

Its Official: Climate is the First Post-Modern Physical Science

You can find a lot of different definitions of post-modernism.  Here is one from Wikipedia, which seems appropriate because in some sense at its very core Wikipedia adopts a post-modernist approach to truth.  Post-modernism rejects objective truth, or at least man’s ability ever to identify such truth.   As applied to science, post-modernists would say that what we call scientific “truth” in in fact the results of social, cultural, and political forces within and acting on the scientific community.

Some elements of post-modernism actually provide a useful critique of science.  Its focus on biases and resulting observational blindness to certain results that falsify ones pre-conceived notions are useful caveats in a scientific process.  But the belief that a rational scientific process is not just difficult but impossible leads to all kinds of crazy conclusions.  Many in hard core postmodern circles would argue that since objective truth is impossible anyway, scientific findings should be guided by what is most socially useful. As Steven Schneider of Stanford says vis a vis climate:

We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

And speaking of Steven Schneider, he is coauthor of a recent study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that has really made it plain to me that climate is becoming the first post-modern physical science.  Just note the incredible approach to his study, and how much it mirrors the precepts of post-modernism:  To decide who is right and wrong in climate science between skeptics and alarmists, the study authors have … wait for it .. counted them and measured their relative influence in academic circles.  Since the authors count more alarmists than skeptics, and judge that the alarmists are more influential in academic circles, then they must be right!  After all, truth is determined by those with the most political and cultural influence, not by silly stuff like testing hypotheses against observational data.

Postscript: I think a lot of the skeptic backlash against this study is overwrought, examples here and here.  To paraphrase another climate publication, this study is “not evil, just silly.”

A Physical Scientist Looks at Dendroclimatology

I don’t want to make the mistake of over-interpreting fairly balanced remarks by Michael Kelly of Cambridge, nor of taking quotes out of context as daggers to throw at climatologists.  But I did find his reactions interesting as he read through some Briffa and Jones papers — they seem to match the reactions of many non-climate scientists who tend to have the same type reactions if they really read through some of the work, rather than just issuing statements of moral support without much investigations.

All that being said, here are some of his admittedly offhand reactions after reading through some of the papers.  The entire document is worthy of reading through, as linked by Bishop Hill.

There are however some more detailed qualifications:

(i) I take real exception to having simulation runs described as experiments (without at least the qualification of ‘computer’ experiments). It does a disservice to centuries of real experimentation and allows simulations output to be considered as real data. This last is a very serious matter, as it can lead to the idea that real ‘real data’ might be wrong simply because it disagrees with the models! That is turning centuries of science on its head.

(ii) The reading of the papers was made rather harder by the quality of the diagrams, and the description of the vertical axes on a number of graphs. When numbers on the vertical axis go from -2 to +2 without being explicitly labelled as percentage deviations, temperature excursions, or scaled correlation coefficients, there is potential for confusion.

(iii) I think it is easy to see how peer review within tight networks can allow new orthodoxies to appear and get established that would not happen if papers were written for and peer reviewed by a wider audience. I have seen it happen elsewhere. This finding may indeed be an important outcome of the present review….

(2) On a personal note, I chose to study the theory of condensed matter physics, as opposed to cosmology, precisely on the grounds that I could systematically control and vary the boundary conditions of my ob-ject of study as an integral part of making advances. An elegant theory which does not fit good experimental data is a bad theory. Here the starting data is patchy and noisy, and the choices made are in part aesthetic, or designed to help a conclusion. rather than neutral. This all colours my attitude to the limited value of complex simulations that cannot by exhaustively tested against ‘real’ data from independent experiments that control all but one of the variables.
(3) Up to and throughout this exercise, I have remained puzzled how the real humility of the scientists in this area, as evident in their papers, including all these here, and the talks I have heard them give, is morphed into statements of confidence at the 95% level for public consumption through the IPCC process. This does not happen in other subjects of equal importance to humanity, e.g. energy futures or environmental degradation or resource depletion. I can only think it is the ‘authority’ appropriated by the IPCC itself that is the root cause.

These questions to Briffa could have come from McIntyre:

(I) How can we be reassured about the choice of which raw data from which stations are to be selected, detrended and then included in the tree-ring data bases? Is there an algorithm that establishes the inclusion/exclusion? If I were setting out to establish the lowest possible net temperature rise over the last century is consistent with the available data, what fraction of tree-ring-data would then be included/excluded? Could I coerce the data to support a null hypothesis on global warming?

(2) In the range of papers we have reviewed, you have used a variety of statistical techniques in what is a heroic effort to get signals from noisy and patchy data. To what extent has this variety of techniques be reviewed and commented upon by the modern statistical community for their effectiveness, right use and possible weaknesses?

I’m Waiting, I’m Waiting, I’m Waiting…

I received this press release via email.  The title is:

Carbon Dioxide Has Played Leading Role in Dictating Global Climate Patterns

OK, so I read.

Increasingly, the Earth’s climate appears to be more connected than anyone would have imagined. El Niño, the weather pattern that originates in a patch of the equatorial Pacific, can spawn heat waves and droughts as far away as Africa.

Now, a research team led by Brown University has established that the climate in the tropics over at least the last 2.7 million years changed in lockstep with the cyclical spread and retreat of ice sheets thousands of miles away in the Northern Hemisphere. The findings appear to cement the link between the recent Ice Ages and temperature changes in tropical oceans.

Apparently, I must not understand something.  The study seems to trumpet as a huge finding that tropical ocean temperatures on Earth dropped at the same time that temperatures dropped in the upper latitudes and Earth experienced ice age glaciation.  Uh, OK.  Is it really surprising that when part of the Earth got much colder, other parts of the Earth got colder too.?  Isn’t the simplest explanation that whatever made it cold in the poles made it cold at the equator too?  Wouldn’t a solar change act this way?

The research team, including scientists from Luther College in Iowa, Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, and the University of Hong Kong, analyzed cores taken from the seabed at four locations in the tropical oceans: the Arabian Sea, the South China Sea, the eastern Pacific and the equatorial Atlantic Ocean.

The cores tell the story. Sedimentary cores taken from the ocean floor in four locations show that climate patterns in the tropics have mirrored Ice Age cycles for the last 2.7 million years and that carbon dioxide has played the leading role in determining global climate patterns. The researchers zeroed in on tropical ocean surface temperatures because these vast bodies, which make up roughly half of the world’s oceans, in large measure orchestrate the amount of water in the atmosphere and thus rainfall patterns worldwide, as well as the concentration of water vapor, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.

Looking at the chemical remains of tiny marine organisms that lived in the sunlit zone of the ocean, the scientists were able to extract the surface temperature for the oceans for the last 3.5 million years, well before the beginning of the Ice Ages. Beginning about 2.7 million years ago, the geologists found that tropical ocean surface temperatures dropped by 1 to 3 degrees C (1.8 to 5.4 F) during each Ice Age, when ice sheets spread in the Northern Hemisphere and significantly cooled oceans in the northern latitudes. Even more compelling, the tropics also changed when Ice Age cycles switched from roughly 41,000-year to 100,000-year intervals.

Again, so what?  What am I missing here guys? Why is this astonishing?  But the interesting part to me is that all the data is on developping a proxy for sea surface temperatures.  Don’t know if it is accurate, but it seems a good endeavor.  Fully worthwhile of the effort.

But remember the title.  What about CO2?  And through the article we keep getting teasers like this:

Based on that new link, the scientists conclude that carbon dioxide has played the lead role in dictating global climate patterns, beginning with the Ice Ages and continuing today.

And this

Candace Major of the National Science Foundation agrees: “This research certainly supports the idea of global sensitivity of climate to carbon dioxide as the first order of control on global temperature patterns,” she says. “It also points to a strong sensitivity of global temperature to the levels of greenhouse gases on very long timescales, and shows that resulting climatic impacts are felt from the tropics to the poles.”

All they did was develop a tropical temperature proxy and show the tropics got colder during ice ages.  Duh.  I mean, isn’t this really just a reality check — we developed a proxy and we think its pretty good because the temperatures drop right when we think they should.   I kept waiting for the evidence that CO2 had anything to do with this.  This is all I get, and comes not from their study but a link to data from a completely different data set having nothing to do with their study:

Climate scientists have a record of carbon dioxide levels for the last 800,000 years–spanning the last seven Ice Ages–from ice cores taken in Antarctica. They have deduced that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere fell by about 30 percent during each cycle, and that most of that carbon dioxide was absorbed by high-latitude oceans such as the North Atlantic and the Southern Ocean. According to the new findings, this pattern began 2.7 million years ago, and the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans has intensified with each successive Ice Age. Geologists know the Ice Ages have gotten progressively colder–leading to larger ice sheets–because they have found debris on the seabed of the North Atlantic and North Pacific left by icebergs that broke from the land-bound sheets.

“It seems likely that changes in carbon dioxide were the most important reason why tropical temperatures changed, along with the water vapor feedback,” Herbert said.

What?  How does he determine this?  My sense is that we are back to the old 800-year lag / ice core issue where scientists are confusing cause and effect between temperature and CO2 levels.  I am willing to credit dropping CO2 levels (through ocean absorption) as a positive feedback effect, though I would argue that it is small just as they seem to argue that it is large.   The key, though, is that nothing in their data supports a sensitivity number for CO2 at all, just a rough possible causal relationship where even the direction of the causation is unknown.

One fatal flaw of this argument is that while people can make an argument for CO2 as an amplifier (either weak or strong), no one can explain how it might trigger the beginning of an Ice Age or warming recovery, and without this there is no way to call CO2 the main driver of these changes.  Maybe these guys have found the evidence of the trigger?

Herbert acknowledges that the team’s findings leave important questions. One is why carbon dioxide began to play a major role when the Ice Ages began 2.7 million years ago. Also left unanswered is why carbon dioxide appears to have magnified the intensity of successive Ice Ages from the beginning of the cycles to the present. The researchers do not understand why the timing of the Ice Age cycles shifted from roughly 41,000-year to 100,000-year intervals.

Oops, maybe not.  But surely they understand the mechanism

“We think we have the simplest explanation for the link between the Ice Ages and the tropics over that time and the apparent role of carbon dioxide in the intensification of Ice Ages and corresponding changes in the tropics,” said Timothy Herbert of Brown University and the lead author of the paper in Science. Herbert added, “but we don’t know why. The answer lies in the ocean, we’re pretty sure.”

Oops, maybe not.

OK, as a public service, I will create a more truthful summary of the study:

Some clever scientists discovered a way to use the remains of marine organisms in core samples to develop a proxy for ocean surface temperatures over the last 2.7 million years.  These temperature proxies seem to reality check well, dropping during exactly the periods we believe to have been ice ages.  The reconstructed temperature record is not inconsistent with theories of high climate sensitivity to CO2, which, though the scientists did not actually study the problem, they felt the need to mention to get attention and funding.

Scholarship at Mount Allison University

This came to me via email today from an email address at Mount Allison University:

Funny thing that you are going againts 99% of peer reviewed journal. It is why we do not give retards like you any place it the academic world.

I must confess to an error.  I am having a very stressful, busy time at work, and yes… though I usually ignore this stuff, I went and fed the troll.  I wrote back

Fortunately I slipped my way through Princeton and Harvard before the academic world realized I was a “retard.”  I suppose academia works differently in California — back in the day when I was back East, the correct academic response to something one did not agree with was to actually cite the offending passage as well as to muster proof of one’s position.  I suppose it does not surprise me that scholarship in California Canada is now defined as yelling “retard.”  Perhaps you could refer to a specific chart at this link so I get a better idea where my heresy is:

Warren Meyer

Update:  Sorry, of course the University is in Canada, not California.  I love the name – one wonders if it is named for a local landmark or an annual event.

A Lot of IPCC Authors Will Be Familiar With This Tactic

Claiming “scientific consensus” and “peer reveiw” for findings that have neither

The seven experts who advised President Obama on how to deal with offshore drilling safety after the Deepwater Horizon explosion are accusing his administration of misrepresenting their views to make it appear that they supported a six-month drilling moratorium — something they actually oppose.

The experts, recommended by the National Academy of Engineering, say Interior Secretary Ken Salazar modified their report last month, after they signed it, to include two paragraphs calling for the moratorium on existing drilling and new permits.

Salazar’s report to Obama said a panel of seven experts “peer reviewed” his recommendations, which included a six-month moratorium on permits for new wells being drilled using floating rigs and an immediate halt to drilling operations.

“None of us actually reviewed the memorandum as it is in the report,” oil expert Ken Arnold told Fox News. “What was in the report at the time it was reviewed was quite a bit different in its impact to what there is now. So we wanted to distance ourselves from that recommendation.”

Salazar apologized to those experts Thursday.

Assuming the Conclusion

Bishop Hill Blog writes, concerning the truncation of recently divergent data by Keith Briffa and others:

The point at issue is Mike’s Nature Trick and the question of whether it amounts to scientific fraud. Der Spiegel describe the trick as follows:

But what appeared at first glance to be fraud [“hide the decline”] was actually merely a face-saving fudge: Tree-ring data indicates no global warming since the mid-20th century, and therefore contradicts the temperature measurements. The clearly erroneous tree data was thus corrected by the so-called “trick” with the temperature graphs.

Many of Roger’s readers take issue with the description of the divergent data as “erroneous” and I tend to agree with them here. The data has been processed in the same way in the twentieth century as in earlier periods, so it is not erroneous, but anomalous. The reason for the divergence is unknown and the divergence therefore needs to be disclosed and discussed since it potentially undermines all tree-ring based temperature reconstructions.

Here is an example of data you might reasonably throw out as erroneous:   Drop a ball a thousand times from a building and measure its acceleration.  We know its going to be something like 9.8 m/sec/sec.  If four or five times we measure it as 5 m/sec/sec, we will likely treat those measurements as erroneous, since we have hundreds of years of historical measurements to confirm the acceleration near the Earth’s surface due to gravity.

Here is another example:   You have ten identical compasses.  Nine of them say north is in the direction of the tree in your backyard.  The tenth say it is behind you.  We might reasonably throw out the tenth observation as erroneous.

Here is a different kind of example.  From 1936 to 2000, the winner of the last Washington Redskins home game accurately predicted the winner of that year’s presidential election.  Then, in 2004 the relationship between Redskin’s performance and the presidential election did not hold.   So, should we throw out the data point as anomalous, or should we use this data point to force ourselves to reconsider whether the relationship was ever really a valid causality?

The Mann/Briffa/etc. tree ring analyses assume the following:  That tree ring growth varies linearly with average temperatures; that the temperature-growth relationship is far stronger and more dominant than relations between soil conditions, rain, sunlight, or any other environmental factor and tree growth; and that this relationship remains fairly constant over the life of a tree.

The question is, do we believe these assumptions in the same way that we believe that the acceleration of gravity is 9.8 m/sec/sec?  By throwing out the data after a certain date, which by the way was gathered from the exact same trees by the exact same methodology as the earlier data, Briffa and others are in effect saying that their assumptions about the relationship between tree ring growth and temperature are unassailable, despite the fact that these analyses have only really been done for a few years.

Reasonable people instead will tend to conclude that it is instead very possible that the divergence problem the author’s sought to hide is in fact evidence that tree rings make poor thermometers – than one or all of the assumptions about tree rings and their relationship with temperature are flawed.