More On Climate Science

Mark Buehner and I have cited Prof. Judith Curry’s comments earlier, but she’s now posted a manifesto at pro-AGW site ‘Climate Progress.‘ It’s worth checking out, no matter what side of the issue you stand on today.

An open letter to graduate students and young scientists in fields related to climate research

Based upon feedback that I’ve received from graduate students at Georgia Tech, I suspect that you are confused, troubled, or worried by what you have been reading about ClimateGate and the contents of the hacked CRU emails. After spending considerable time reading the hacked emails and other posts in the blogosphere, I wrote an essay that calls for greater transparency in climate data and other methods used in climate research. The essay is posted over at climateaudit.org (you can read it at http://camirror.wordpress.com).

What has been noticeably absent so far in the ClimateGate discussion is a public reaffirmation by climate researchers of our basic research values: the rigors of the scientific method (including reproducibility), research integrity and ethics, open minds, and critical thinking. Under no circumstances should we ever sacrifice any of these values; the CRU emails, however, appear to violate them.

Read the rest, please…
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31 thoughts on “More On Climate Science”

  1. The problem is, as many others have commented, science, particularly politically interesting Big Science, is moving away from the collegial high-trust environment, where reputation and status is all, to a low-trust environment where due diligence requires extensive, public documentation and absolute transparency.

    It’ll make work a whole lot less fun and more expensive for the scientific teams involved, and some progress will be slower, but results will be a lot more certain.

    It’s also more “democratic”, since if important political results are to be expected, the scientists will have to do better than “we’re Authorities, trust us to Do It Right”.

    On peer review and the whole journal system, a lot of the collapse in science credibility is tracking the collapse of newspaper and other journalistic work, and for much the same reasons: among other things, the journalists and scientists have been publicly caught taking sides in politics.

  2. bq. The problem is, as many others have commented, science, particularly politically interesting Big Science, is moving away from the collegial high-trust environment, where reputation and status is all, to a low-trust environment where due diligence requires extensive, public documentation and absolute transparency.

    I think that’s the price, and an appropriate one at that, if one wants to move immediately from ‘science’ to public policy. It’s clear from the CRU e-mails that that is exactly what was in hand. The potential for corruption, both ideological and monetary is evident, and as you point out, the only cure is transparency.

  3. It does track the collapse of newspaper and other journalistic work in some ways, but even there, the dynamics of the collapse aren’t well understood.

    I’m not sure it provides a good paradigm for comparison. If you go back 200 years, you can actually see a lot of historic similarities between that news market and today’s. Over that time, technology shifted so it became more easy for papers to control syndication of their content, divide up their markets, and mass produce a product on a low-cost, geo-centric model. But more recent shifts have decreased the costs of having an opinion and accessing the factual content needed for news. In many respects, Bloggers are similar to the sole proprietor newspapers writers, broadsiders and pamphleteers of the distant past.

    So, there’s at least some sort of historical model for how basic news will continue to be collected and a “news market” will continue to function as Big Media crumbles.

    I don’t think there’s any obvious parallel when it comes to science however. Folks in general have never trusted scientists as much as true science merits, but they’ve often given too much credibility to charlatans operating with the trappings of science.

    Of course, I think about 75% (at least) of science is crap, so I’d welcome a move toward a fewer scientists more rigorously studying fewer but more important issues.

  4. Mike Hulme, from Tim Oren’s link:

    The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organization within primitive cultures …

    Heh. Of course, the Batwa cannibals of the Congo don’t require public funds or advocate ruinous tax policies, so the comparison is unfair.

  5. Blame “Thomas Kuhn”:http://www.amazon.com/Structure-Scientific-Revolutions-Thomas-Kuhn/dp/0226458083 . He claimed that Science was not the search for Truth but rather a battleground for competing paradigms. Too many fools believed him. Scientists are busy trying to convince others rather then trying to figure out what’s actually going on.

    Add in government bodies like the NIH funding only those researchers wearing the correct political affiliations…

  6. I know I won’t be the first or the last to make this comment, but the insight is obvious in hindsight: The major climate models and the data they run off of should be open sourced.

    There’s no strong case I can think of not to do this. I mean, it’s not like there’s a race to some patentable technology, right? There’s no profit motive, per se. (Yes, yes, spare me the conspiracy theories.)

    There’s a weak case, I suppose, if you consider that the “currency” of the academic realm is citations, but this seems like it would be manageable, with care. I know that there are academics who care about the extension of science through new communication and collaboration models– the PLoS journals and the Polymath project are just two examples off the top of my head.

  7. I thought Prof. Judith Curry’s comments were pretty weak tea, but it’s probably too soon to expect more. Someday everyone will boast of having been with the resistance, most especially those who were collaborators, but that day is not yet.

    Note that WWII references are quite appropriate when discussing a field whose practitioners label their critics “denialists”.

  8. Marc,

    You might not expect more, and realistically neither do I. But when I put on my scientist hat I’m an old testament fundamentalist. The climate change enterprise has been a scientific disgrace for years, the only honest answer anyone could have given to the question of AGW would have been “We don’t know” and “The models aren’t that good” but “The geological record suggests it isn’t going to destroy life on the planet”. Lindzen and Pielke, both good scientists, have been labeled sceptics and for Curry to speak of sceptics and the political noise machine doesn’t doesn’t sit well with me. A more considered post would have omitted those irrelevant items.

  9. I am also influenced by this “earlier”:http://www.climateaudit.org/wp-trackback.php?p=7826 post of Curry’s which essentially blames the bad behavior on outsiders and reveals her to be more than a bit of a left wing paranoid. For instance, ” …climate tribes (consisting of a small number of climate researchers) were established in response to the politically motivated climate disinformation machine that was associated with e.g. ExxonMobil, CEI, Inhofe/Morano etc.”

    Pathetic, really.

  10. And this:

    “We won the war — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, and climate and energy legislation is near the top of the U.S. agenda,” Dr. Curry said. “Why keep fighting all these silly battles and putting ourselves in this position?”

    Science is war? The Nobel Peace Prize as peer review? Silly battles? Mind, this is the lady who complained of the politicization of climate science. I would like to see the context of the quote, but that is the “NYTimes”:http://tinyurl.com/yfuxg6o for you.

  11. Blame him for what? Being absolutely goddamned right?

    For promoting the idea that scientific truth was no more than social convention. Now, social forces certainly influence science, but to essentially downplay the separate existence of scientific truth is fundamentally corrupting. As if the value of the fine structure constant depends on your ethnicity or something. Now you have things like Smolin promoting loop quantum gravity as more socially progressive than string theory. It’s ludicrous.

  12. But scientific truth of the kind that the AGW movement has been using to promote radical one world solutions is no more than social convention.

    So Thomas Kuhn was right.

    Looking back at the Wow. Just Wow. thread…

    Chris says this is just how scientists deal with data on a regular basis.

    #22 Armed Liberal in reply to Chris:

    Chris, looking at the emails in a fast scan (as I have), Real Climate’s claim that these are simply scientists informally and possibly rudely doesn’t stand up. There is clear data-fudging, clear manipulations of process, and other things which make a bit of a travesty of the scientific process.

    #25 Chris:

    This is false, simply put. I have a doctorate, I’ve worked in scientific academia, and these emails are very much in line with how people talk and deal with data. You, on the other hand, have no scientific background to make these claims that I’m aware of, and the fact that you’re confusing a scientific issue with your existing antipathy towards Al Gore even further discredits any conclusion you’re making.

    I believe him. Why wouldn’t I? We can see what these top scientists were doing daily, as long as they could get away with it.

    And Chris showed how easy it is to quote standard procedure in support of intimidation, collusion and the suppression of dissenting thought:

    #103 Armed Liberal:

    Isn’t that collusion – attempting to remove people from editorial positions, denying information to people who don’t support one’s views, working to ensure that opposing papers weren’t published,and that supportive ones were – EXACTLY what’s in view in the emails we’re talking about?

    #129 Chris:

    No, because what we’re talking about is actually:

    - attempting to remove people from editorial positions who are exhibiting unprofessional behavior as determined by a substantial number of professional peers,

    - denying information to people who give every appearance of being engaged in a bad-faith effort to discredit your work for political reasons, and

    - working to ensure papers that conform to accepted norms of scientific quality are published, and those that are not are not.

    The heck of it is, Chris has a point here, which he underlines in #142. The unwritten rules are that scientists can stigmatize and silence dissenters and doubters, using the written rules instrumentally as above, if the dissenting position is unrespectable among scientists; and that’s an open invitation to define all kinds of things as unrespectable.

    Chris kept challenging people with unrespectable / wahoo / Bible believing positions, and saying, would you really object to doing all this to those people? And he kept getting no answers, because either answer is fatal. If you say yes I would object, you damn yourself of course. And if you say, go ahead, you’ve agreed to the instrumental use of neutral-sounding procedures to silence dissent from whatever good people like scientists believe. Once you open that gate, Chris will drive a coach and six white horses through it.

    What is respectable? Whatever people with the academic qualifications, people who have been well soaked in academic leftism, say it is.

    Therefore there’s no reason why AGW supporters shouldn’t move to define AGW skepticism as unrespectable, and snap! they win!

    That’s how debates about intelligence and race and all sorts of things get won: make people shut up. Stigmatize and punish, and by making it too costly for people to talk back, you win the argument.

    It’s science!

    This is the same game the hunters of heresy have peen playing since the ascending Christian establishment in ancient Rome won its debate with the pagans: shut up or you’ll be sorry! My point being: there is nothing necessarily temporary about this kind of victory. You can set the course of the future and condemn your enemies to the dust heap of history. (And scientists can find the prospect of riding over the necks of their enemies, forever, as intoxicating as anyone else.)

  13. Given this, expecting scientists to self-police is impractical. Too many of them won’t, and the ones that won’t will move in a more than chance way toward fields where they can hope that their irredeemably tendentious science will be implemented as policy – preferably irreversible, vastly consequential policy.

    That’s one reason why legislative enforcement of openness, using the power of the purse, is the way to go.

  14. Thomas Kuhn thought there was a lot more to scientific truth than mere convention. He was describing the beast; he wasn’t its father.

    A more likely intellectual father of the IPCC is probably Paul Feyerabend, who argued that Galileo got what he deserved.

  15. On peer review and the whole journal system, a lot of the collapse in science credibility is tracking the collapse of newspaper and other journalistic work, and for much the same reasons: among other things, the journalists and scientists have been *publicly caught* taking sides in politics.

    I infer from this that you believe that the credibility of scientists and newspaper reporters have always taken political stances in relation to their work. I agree.

    So, it seems strange to me how people are shocked at what is basic human behavior. It is sort of like being shocked at politicians having affairs

    As far as AGW is concerned, I think the ship has already left the dock. Economic pressures will force a shift to Sustainable Energy, whether or not the data destroys the foundation of AGW or not.

  16. David Blue,

    I noticed Chris’s “would you like to see creationists published in biology journals (when did you stop beating your wife)” response. Now I’m not in any way a scientist, nor do I know enough about the debate to comment intelligently one way or the other about AGW. My PhD is in humanities, not science. However, we do have a peer review process in the humanities. The function of peer review is to ensure that the author has read the latest/best literature on the subject at hand, has a legitimate argument supported by convincing evidence, and contributes something new to the field.

    I would think (perhaps naively) that peer review in science exists for the same reason, if not using the same methods or procedures. If that’s so, there would be no need to pressure or threaten the livelihood of the editor of a biology journal not to publish an intelligent design article or the editor of a geology journal not to publish a young earth creationist article. Peer review would take care of that. In fact, to me (again perhaps naively as a humanist, not a scientist) it seems that to interfere in the peer review process in the manner suggested by the emails is at best ethically questionable no matter why it was done. It certainly produces a bad appearance.

    Nor do I see why any scientist would deny data to an intelligent design advocate or young earth creationsist. Wouldn’t that scientist say to him/herself, “If you think you can use this data to disprove evolution or the age of the earth (much less get it published), knock yourself out”? At least wouldn’t any scientist with faith in the peer review process say that? So again, at the very least it gives the _appearance_ of misconduct.

  17. Marcus Vitruvius wrote “The major climate models and the data they run off of should be open sourced. There’s no strong case I can think of not to do this.”

    First of all, I agree completely that all of the models should be open sourced. This has been asked for for many years, and always been denied!

    And you avoid the obvious answer to your question – there *IS* in fact one very strong reason for not open sourcing the data and the code – and that is because the people who generated it knew *from the start* that allowing others to see the raw data and the code for the models would destroy the case they were trying to make. (And thus destroy the grants and attention which they depend on for their positions and their staffs) I know you want to avoid a conspiracy theory, but consider this: In the early 70’s, it was crazy to think that the Pentagon was deliberately conspiring to withhold damaging data about the Vietnam War. Then the Pentagon Papers came out, and we all found out that this was in fact true.

    Likewise, it was also crazy to think that the President himself was involved in the coverup of some small time burglary – and then the Nixon tapes came out and we found that this was also true.

    Conspiracies leave the realm of fiction and become fact when the hard evidence exposing them becomes public. I would suggest that the news out this weekend concerning how CRU erased all of it’s original data so that the models could not be questioned is in fact that final, smoking gun evidence because this flies in the face of every scientific, ethical, and legal principle known. It is so outrageous a violation that there is no way that it was an “accident” that was never worthy of mention until now.

    And then for good measure add in the details about how the Peer Review process was totally and deliberately corrupted so that the manipulation would go undiscovered. Because of this, *All* of the temperature data we thought could be relied on is now corrupt and unreliable. All of the UN IPCC charts you have seen are corrupt, since they are based on corrupt data. All of the predictions for the future that have been made are nothing but fantastical storytelling, since they are based on corrupt charts based on corrupt data. Thanks to the men running this operation at CRU, we now know *nothing* about temperature behavior for sure because they have intentionally destroyed the real records and replaced them with artificially generated temperature records. And they made sure that the original data can not be back calculated.

    Due to what they have done, all of the data we thought we could rely on is garbage and must be thrown out. *All* of the research of the last 20 years now has to be junked and started over from scratch. Thanks to them, *All* of it is worthless, even the parts that were done honestly. If the data was a fraud, anything based on it is worse than useless.

    And yes, this now is not just a “mistake” or a “bad theory.” This is a deliberate fraud of the highest order.

    Yes, this was a conspiracy. Yes, this was a fraud. Yes, “Global Warming” is not just wrong, but the Greatest Scientific Scandal of the age.

  18. I never like to guess motivations, but my impression is that the reason they didn’t want to make all this stuff open is it’s a lot of work and overhead to maintain an open-source project versus stuff for internal consumption.

    In the early 1990s, I was the project manager for the code of a CS research project that put its code into the public domain. Getting it ready to be open meant we had to document it, make sure it built as source from a distribution tarball, etc – and the tools in those days were far more primitive than now (we didn’t have GNU tools like configure, etc). I spent a significant portion of my time prepping user docs, writing READMEs about internal APIs, answering user questions and maintaining FAQs, organizing QA efforts, etc.

    This work greatly improved the code and took it from being grad-student-ware to decent code that has been used in several commercial startups. It is now a widely used open-source DBMS. But it was effort, cost money, and meant the researchers who contributed code had to be policed more tightly than if they were just doing in-house stuff: they had to fix bugs, document their code, and at least minimally deal with coding and API standards.

    As a computer science project, this sort of stuff was expected by the research staff, but I can see how people in other fields wouldn’t even know where to start. Would Phil Jones know how to manage software and data releases? How to document code, data, and metadata? How to organize QA on his sims? Or even know how to hire a person to manage this sort of thing?

    Probably not. This is why I suspect they simply didn’t want to be bothered.

  19. Good point Foo- but you have got to think Jones knew the alternative was… the mess he has now. What if he had to revisit the datasets for his own reasons? It would be a nightmare. Just seems like shoddy project management all the way around. Yeh, getting the code up to snuff is a fairly expensive headache, but then again of all those billions of dollars pouring into climate research you would think some of it would go into data management and archiving. A thermometer and a bucket aren’t exactly heavy capital expenditures, there should have been ample money available.

  20. David Blue-

    I didn’t actually see you quoting my earlier posts until now. I won’t get into a debate about this – interested parties can read the thread in full for the complete context.

    But I will state that I find your characterization of what I wrote totally disengenuous, and that as much as you complain of being stigmatized, your embrace of “legislation of openness” (using jail time, according to what you wrote on the previous thread) is plenty sufficient to characterize your ideas, regardless of anything I say.

  21. Chris-

    I said I’d say no more since you were leaving, but since you resumed your attack instead, I will state that I find your characterization of what I wrote totally disingenuous, and that as much as you complain of misrepresentation, your embrace of massive scientific fraud and the systematic demonizing of legitimate doubters is plenty sufficient to characterize your ideas, regardless of anything I say.

  22. And, as I said, I hadn’t seen the extent of your comments until now, David.

    That said, if repeating my comment verbatim is the best you can come up with in way of defense, I’ll leave you to your thread.

  23. That last sentence should read, “There is no reason to pressure an editor to resign or pressure that editor not to publish certain researchers.” Obviously, there are reasons not to publish certain researchers if their research doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

  24. Fred-

    bq. Apparently, peer review is a wonderful thing as long as it supports your position but flawed and subject to political pressure when it doesn’t. One needn’t be a scientist to see the inconsistency there.

    Er, Fred, where exactly did I say that? I think peer review _is_ a good thing, and I do think it elevates the NRC report, and other scientific publications, above other non-peer reviewed documents, in general.

    However, in your earlier post, you said:

    bq. I would think (perhaps naively) that peer review in science exists for the same reason, if not using the same methods or procedures. If that’s so, there would be no need to pressure or threaten the livelihood of the editor of a biology journal not to publish an intelligent design article or the editor of a geology journal not to publish a young earth creationist article. Peer review would take care of that.

    My point in linking to von Storch was to show that peer review _had not_, in fact, taken care of that, to a point where even the editor seems to agree the article should not have been published in hindsight. Given that the thrust of your earlier argument was that any attempt to displace the editor was unnecessary because peer review would fix the problem, I thought the additional information was relevant.

    bq. So my point stands. There is no reason to pressure an editor to resign or pressure that editor not to publish certain researchers.

    It’s admirable that von Storch attempted to publically apologize for this mistake and resigned when that was not possible, but given that there was an actual flaw in the peer review process in that instance, it does not seem unreasonable for the scientists in question to talk about wanting to get the editor replaced, especially if the people in the CRU email were unaware at the time that von Storch was working to correct the problem, or were unsatisfied with the steps he was taking. (This is, of course, assuming that the pressure brought to bear on von Storch did not positively contribute to his taking the steps he did.)

    We seem to agree that peer review is, in general, a good thing, Fred – it’s just not clear to me that you understand what was actually happening in this particular situation, and why your general boilerplate praise of the peer review process doesn’t really make sense as an attack on the CRU emails.

    (Of course, it’s entirely possible that the peer review process contributing to the NRC report was equally flawed – but the burden of proof would be on you to show that.)

  25. Chuck I don’t think so – I think that she genuinely believes there is AGW (note that I believe it’s highly likely there is significant GW and that it’s also highly likely that CO2 is having an impact on it – I’m an ‘it could well be true’ person when it comes to AGW), and thinks that her colleagues have just done bad science and are about to get spanked for it.

    I think her position is 100% what I’d hope for from an academic supporter of AGW, and that Steve McIntyre’s public position so far is what I’d hope from a skeptic.

    Let’s open the data and models up, work them over, and see what we find out.

    Marc

  26. Chris, was it or was it not you who wrote the following:

    _There was the hockey stick controversy , since discredited by a National Research Council report, among other reviews._

    _I already cited at least one paper (peer reviewed, I believe) above that deals with the idea of forcings outside of computer models, and there are others._

    _As for the Wegman report, it itself was never formally peer reviewed (unlike the NRC report)._

    Apparently, peer review is a wonderful thing as long as it supports your position but flawed and subject to political pressure when it doesn’t. One needn’t be a scientist to see the inconsistency there.

    As for the link in your reply, I do not know enough to know whether the agenda was on the part of the editor or the reviewers. In any case, assuming _arguendo_ that it was the reviewers, I never claimed the peer review process was flawless in every case. However, the editor, if he felt the process had broken down, did the right thing. He resigned and made the breakdown public. If that sort of thing happens often enough, I would imagine the journal will stop being taken seriously by the scientific community, just as any evolutionary biology journal that consistently peer reviewed creationist papers positively and published them would cease to be taken seriously. So my point stands. There is no reason to pressure an editor to resign, not to publish certain researchers, or to refuse researchers data if they disagree with you.

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