A Change In Climate, Part 2

by Kiko Matsing

Freedom of Information: “FOIA said…”

It was not incidental that the hacker (sounds more like a whistleblower) went by the user name FOIA. The most disturbing revelation that emerged from the CRU emails was the deliberate effort, notably by chief Phil Jones, to obstruct the disclosure of scientific information–to the extent of deleting data–that form the basis of their peer reviewed publications.

  • If FOIA does ever get used by anyone, there is also IPR [intellectual property rights] to consider as well. Data is covered by all the agreements we sign with people, so I will be hiding behind them. (from email 1106338806.txt)
  • The two MMs [McIntyre and McKitrick] have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone. (from email 1107454306.txt)
  • PS I’m getting hassled by a couple of people to release the CRU station temperature data. Don’t any of you three tell anybody that the UK has a Freedom of Information Act ! (from email 1109021312.txt)
  • Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4 [IPCC 4th Assessment Report]? Keith will do likewise. (from email 1212063122.txt)
  • When the FOI requests began here, the FOI person said we had to abide by the requests. It took a couple of half hour sessions – one at a screen, to convince them otherwise showing them what CA [Climate Audit] was all about. (from email 1228330629.txt)

The story behind these emails is given context by Willis Eschenbach, an amateur scientist, who originally requested climate data from CRU under the Freedom of Information Act. He pieces together quotes from the leaked emails with relevant official correspondences portraying Jones’ determination to stonewall the release of information. Steve McIntyre, a retired Canadian businessman who runs the Climate Audit blog, has campaigned tenaciously for transparency of data, code, and statistical methods that produced the emblematic “hockey stick” temperature reconstructions widely disseminated by IPCC. Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph, who co-authored the paper with McIntyre that raised questions about the “hockey stick” graph, has narrated their frustration with Mann and Nature regarding access to original data and methods. (Nature, in its recent editorial, clearly states which side of the Climategate issue they’re on. Would it still be possible to publish papers skeptical of the current “consensus” view in this journal?)

A US Congressional hearing on the “hockey stick” graph, conducted by Edward Wegman, chair of the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics, noted in its report the resistance of Mann to divulge data and code that would allow the examination of his statistical procedures (bold emphasis mine).

  • Because of the lack of full documentation of their data and computer code, we have not been able to reproduce their research. (p. 4)
  • The papers of Mann et al. in themselves are written in a confusing manner, making it difficult for the reader to discern the actual methodology and what uncertainty is actually associated with these reconstructions. Vague terms such as “moderate certainty” (Mann et al. 1999) give no guidance to the reader as to how such conclusions should be weighed. While the works do have supplementary websites, they rely heavily on the reader’s ability to piece together the work and methodology from raw data. This is especially unsettling when the findings of these works are said to have global impact, yet only a small population could truly understand them. Thus, it is no surprise that Mann et al. claim a misunderstanding of their work by McIntyre and McKitrick. (p. 26)
  • The ‘hockey stick’ reconstruction of temperature graphic dramatically illustrated the global warming issue and was adopted by the IPCC and many governments as the poster graphic. The graphics’ prominence together with the fact that it is based on incorrect use of PCA [Principal Component Analysis] puts Dr. Mann and his co-authors in a difficult face-saving position. We have been to Michael Mann’s University of Virginia website and downloaded the materials there. Unfortunately, we did not find adequate material to reproduce the MBH98 [graph] materials. (p. 28)

Peer Review By Social Networking

What emerges from the leaked emails in Eschenbach’s chronological account is a picture of a close-knit scientific community that feels it has come under siege. Indeed, McIntyre noted in his blog that in earlier dealings with Jones, he was surprised by the promptness of the response and the extra effort… put into the response (Climate Audit, A 2002 Request to CRU). Jones became more hostile when he realized what they were up to (i.e., checking his pronouncements), and famously wrote in 2005 to Warwick Hughes, a free lance earth scientist from Australia: Even if WMO agrees, I will still not pass on the data. We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it. Even the Wegman Report remarked that Mann’s responses [to investigators’ questions and requests for information] had something of a confrontational tone (p. 7).

Thus, what we hear in the leaked emails are shrill voices of the beleaguered like that of Stanford’s Stephen Schneider:

This continuing pattern of harassment, as Ben [Santer] rightly puts it in my opinion, in the name of due diligence is in my view an attempt to create a fishing expedition to find minor glitches or unexplained bits of code–which exist in nearly all our kinds of complex work–and then assert that the entire result is thus suspect. Our best way to deal with this issue of replication is to have multiple independent author teams, with their own codes and data sets, publishing independent work on the same topics–like has been done on the “hockey stick”. That is how credible scientific replication should proceed… PS Please do not copy or forward this email. (from email 1231257056.txt)

It must indeed be vexing for these experts–and beneath them–to have to answer to the members of the congregation who question their findings outside the formal scientific channels of peer review. This is reflected in the vicious tone at RealClimate, where it is not beneath the authors to personally attack such critics with insinuations of lack of expertise, academic pedigree, or institutional affiliations.

  • A number of spurious criticisms regarding the Mann et al (1998) proxy-based temperature reconstruction have been made by two individuals McIntyre and McKitrick (McIntyre works in the mining industry, while McKitrick is an economist [i.e., not climatologists working in dendrochronology]). (in False Claims by McIntyre and McKitrick regarding the Mann et al. (1998) reconstruction)
  • … Another journal which (quite oddly) also published the Soon et al study, “Energy and Environment”, is not actually a scientific journal at all but a social science journal. (in Peer Review: A Necessary But Not Sufficient Condition)
  • Who should we believe? Al Gore with his “facts” and “peer reviewed science” or the practioners of “Blog Science“? Surely, the choice is clear…. So along comes Steve McIntyre, self-styled slayer of hockey sticks… (in Hey Ya! (mal))
  • …Dr. Michael Mann. He has a Ph.D in Geology and Geophysics. He is no advocate, but an actual scientist with a proven track record. What is [Michael] Crichton? An author. A bit more informed than an ordinary person, maybe, but no scientist, that’s for sure! (a reader comment in Michael Crichton’s State of Confusion II: Return of the Science)

The subtle message in these insinuations is that the academic provenance of experts guarantee the reliability of their truth-statements. Their authority is reinforced by virtue of implied access to institutional influence, research funding, powerful observational tools, and journal publishing, i.e., the “legitimate” forms scientific discourse–all unavailable to the ordinary non-expert. None of this, however, deters Steve McIntyre, who applies mathematical rigor to his persnickety “auditing” of the numbers the experts put out. He has managed to frazzle not just a few goliaths in the field by his persistence to get to the bottom of things. He did it to verify for himself the case for action on climate change, to which he discoverd that, [at] the beginning [he] innocently assumed there would be due diligence for all this stuff… [so] often [his] mouth would drop, when [he] realized no one had really looked into it. (from Revenge of the Climate Laymen, Wall Street Journal)

The condescension towards McIntyre and his Climate Audit blog, and the in-over-his-head scoffing at his efforts to contest published results, only serves to demonstrate the insularity and parochialism (to borrow Camille Paglia’s favorite derision of academics at Yale) within the climate change advocates.

James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, has dismissed him as a “court jester.” Mr. Mann replied to an emailed query about Mr. McIntyre by decrying “every specious contrarian claim and innuendo against me, my colleagues, and the science of climate change itself.”

Others are more thick-skinned: “You mention his name in my community, people just smile. It’s a one-liner to get a laugh out of a group of climate scientists,” affirms Stanford University’s Stephen Schneider. (from Revenge of the Climate Laymen, Wall Street Journal)

His due diligence, however, resulted in a US Congressional review of the “hockey stick” graph, culminating in the Wegman Report. To me, what is actually revealing in that report is the statistical analysis of Michael Mann’s social network that indicates possible cross-contamination of influence in peer review.

Michael Mann's Social Network

Figure 5.3 of the Wegman Report (p. 41): The classic social network view of the Mann co-authors… Michael Mann [upper left] is his own group since he is a co-author with each of the other 42. [Blogger’s note: CRU’s Jones and Briffa are in the lower left (yellow).]

In our further exploration of the social network of authorships in temperature reconstruction, we found that at least 43 authors have direct ties to Dr. Mann by virtue of coauthored papers with him. Our findings from this analysis suggest that authors in the area of paleoclimate studies are closely connected and thus ‘independent studies’ may not be as independent as they might appear on the surface…

It is important to note the isolation of the paleoclimate community; even though they rely heavily on statistical methods they do not seem to be interacting with the statistical community. Additionally, we judge that the sharing of research materials, data and results was haphazardly and grudgingly done. In this case we judge that there was too much reliance on peer review, which was not necessarily independent. (p. 4)

Consensus or Silencing of Dissent?

The bile at RealClimate, however, is not only reserved for the laymen. Scientists who hold contrarian views are held suspect to sinister (e.g., oil-industry-greased) motivations–an approach I find distasteful in a blog by scientists who purport to discuss the science of climate change in a rational and open forum. Why the need to smear your opponents if the science is indeed settled and the evidence is on your side?

  • At first sight this may look like a scientific conference – especially to those who are not familiar with the activities of the Heartland Institute, a front group for the fossil fuel industry that is sponsoring the conference. (in What if you held a conference, and no (real) scientists came?)
  • A casual reader would be led to infer that [Richard] Lindzen [of MIT] has received no industry money for his services. But that would be wrong. He has in fact received a pretty penny from industry. But this isn’t for research. Rather it is for his faithful advocacy of a fossil fuel industry-friendly point of view. (in Lindzen in Newsweek)
  • …S. Fred Singer [emeritus at UVa] and his merry band of contrarian luminaries (financed by the notorious “Heartland Institute” we’ve commented on previously) served up a similarly dishonest ‘assessment’ of the science of climate change… (in Not the IPCC (“NIPCC”) Report)

To me, the most bizarre defense of accelerated global warming and its anthropogenic cause is the appeal to scientific “consensus”. The sky-is-falling scenario crystallized in the IPCC reports is sold to the public gift-wrapped in the dazzling reputations of its stellar experts and its oodles of evidence in peer reviewed publications. How can a puny member of the public not help but relinquish assent at such oracular certainty without feeling ashamed of being held preposterous, intellectually unsophisticated, or, worse, callous to the moral imperative to save the planet? “Consensus” has thus become the official party-line of climate change rabble rousers.

Richard Lindzen of MIT, one of the most outspoken global warming deniers in academia, who participated in the IPCC’s First Assessment Report, examined the nature of the “consensus” that congealed around human-induced global warming and used to push it as a forefront political agenda.

The notion of “scientific unanimity” is currently intimately tied to the Working Group I report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued in September 1990… Working Group I nominally deals with climate science. Approximately 150 scientists contributed to the report… Many governments have agreed to use that report as the authoritative basis for climate policy… Methodologically, the report is deeply committed to reliance on large models, and within the report models are largely verified by comparison with other models… [The] body of the report is extremely ambiguous, and the caveats are numerous… [but the] summary [for policy makers] largely ignores the uncertainty in the report and attempts to present the expectation of substantial warming as firmly based science. The summary was published as a separate document, and, it is safe to say that policymakers are unlikely to read anything further. On the basis of the summary, one frequently hears that “hundreds of the world’s greatest climate scientists from dozens of countries all agreed that.|.|.|.” It hardly matters what the agreement refers to, since whoever refers to the summary insists that it agrees with the most extreme scenarios (which, in all fairness, it does not). I should add that the climatology community, until the past few years, was quite small and heavily concentrated in the United States and Europe. (from Global Warming: The Origin and Nature of the Alleged Scientific Consensus, CATO Institute, Vol.15, No. 2, Spring 1992)

Something in me resists the epistemological dogmatism and ethical puritanism that underlies the appeal to scientific consensus, and the scare tactics used to talk down to the public (e.g., Al Gore’s travelling slideshow) in order to arm-twist us into political action. Michael Crichton, author of popular science fiction, a non-expert in climatology (but who is a medical doctor), is skeptical about this (or any) scientific consensus.

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science, consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

And furthermore, the consensus of scientists has frequently been wrong. As they were wrong when they believed, earlier in my lifetime, that the continents did not move. So we must remember the immortal words of Mark Twain, who said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” (from The Case for Skepticism on Global Warming)

Time Cover on Global Cooling in the 1970's Time Cover on Global Cooling in the 1970's
Time Magazine cover stories on the global cooling alarm in the 1970’s.

Crichton’s remark reflects a pure vision of science that is untainted with politics. It has been demonstrated in the science of climate change that it is in fact not the case in practice. Jean-François Lyotard in the 1970’s described the messy relationship between science, politics, and economics.

No money, no proof–and that means no verification of statements and no truth. The games of scientific language becomes the games of the rich in which whoever is wealthiest has the best chance of being right. An equation between wealth, efficiency, and truth is thus established…

The production of proof, which is in principle only part of an argumentation process designed to win agreement from addressees of scientific messages, thus falls under the control of another language game, in which the goal is no longer truth, but performativity, that is the best input/output equation… Scientists, technicians, and instruments are purchased not to find truth, but to augment power…

…[Since] performativity increases the ability to produce proof, it also increases the ability to be right: the technical criterion, introduced on a massive scale into scientific knowledge, cannot fail to influence the truth criterion.

(from The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, pp. 45/46)

With so much money funneled into modern scientific research, it is now, more than ever, necessary for the non-experts, i.e., the public, to be skeptical of pronouncements coming from scientists, especially if these prop up arguments used in coercive policy-making. We should keep the feet of these global warming scientists close to the fire.