It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Friday, November 20, 2009

Viaduct? Vy not?

Talk about playing "gotcha".

Regular readers are likely to be aware of the release of a huge mass of illegally obtained emails among leading climate scientists of the observational stripe. RealClimate, I think, handled it nicely.

A lot of attention is being placed on Phil Jones'
Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or
first thing tomorrow.

I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps
to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from
1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. Mike’s series got the annual
land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land
N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999
for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with
data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.
I have never been one to defend the caginess about data and methods that the century-scale data folk are alleged to have; I don't have enough information myself either to defend them or to accuse them.

But the purportedly damning quote is obviously being misused.

I don't think anybody is hiding any evidence or tricking any audience. The word "trick" is to be understood as a programmer would understand "hack"; a clever shortcut. And the word "hide" is almost surely meant as "filter" meaning "the thing we want to do with this data is hard because there is another signal there hiding the one we are looking for, but we can subtract it out for the purpose at hand". It would seem to be about the minutiae of data processing, not about hiding data for publication or subverting a published result.

There is a lot to think about here, some of it both subtle and important. But I think the words "trick" and "hide" are being taken out of context. I believe that they are used here as part of ordinary day-to-day innocent data processing back-and-forth, and do not mean what they are being taken to mean.

It's a travesty that the fate of the world is being reduced to word games.

Update: Big hat tip to Greenfyre for noticing this, an excellent answer to this burst of noise:
Shocker! Isaac Newton's correspondence examined: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment 'thinking'!

Update: on a more serious note, an excellent comment by "Andrew" on RealClimate.


Hank Roberts said...

(And the word verification offered for this post is: "unrandem"
I swear it's alive."

Douglas Watts said...

Well said. Interestingly, I have been going over emails about water quality data through a FOIA request in Maine and encountered many of the type as shown (albeit a different statistical task, ie. deseasonalizing secchi risk, phosphorus and chlorophyll a readings). The idea that a scientist would write in an email to a colleague that they are deliberately distorting and doctoring data to conjure up a falsity is rather preposterous. But for the conspiracy loons, it's a home run. They want to (dis)believe.

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

Well, word games are what the inactivist movement is good at. They put a spin on climate scientists' words to make them seem worse than they are, and at the same time they carefully craft their own words so that they can be (rightly) misinterpreted.

And so, spin becomes "straight talk", and straight talk becomes a "conspiracy".

-- bi

6p00d8341c5caf53ef said...

Michael, you have let me down. I would expect Mann's mouthpiece at (un)Real Climate to defend the indefensible but not you. That is just one of hundreds of e-mails showing clearly a conspiracy over two decades to manipulate data, to use every trick in the book to avoid FoI requests and to attack scientific colleagues who fail to fall into line.

Thye're a busted flush!

David Duff

Hank Roberts said...

> fail to fall in line
Oh, please. You could have looked this up for yourself instead of just copypasting without knowing the history.

Here, kids:

which cites:

Chronicle of Higher Education
September 5, 2003
has a long story about that event including many details on how bad the paper was, how it distorted other scientists' work, and why it caused so many resignations.

In part, it says:

----excerpt follows-----

Mr. von Storch ... says he suspects that "some of the skeptics had identified Climate Research as a journal where some editors were not as rigorous in the review process as is otherwise common." So he resigned from the board, as did three other members.
... Mr. Black now says the Harvard-Smithsonian study has shaken his faith in the system. "I always tell myself and my students that science is self-correcting," he says. "But this is one case that makes you wonder about the peer-review process."

Frank Bi said...

"That is just one of hundreds of e-mails showing clearly a conspiracy"

Yeah, hundreds of e-mails with their contexts removed and their interpretation filtered through the brains of extreme right-wingers such as Anthony Watts.


-- bi

Lazar said...


To 'see' the signal it is only necessary to overlay the instrumental record. They combined and smoothed the instrumental and reconstructed temperatures in a way which 'hid' the divergence altogether. Information is reduced by the latter.

King of the Road said...

I wonder what Morano's private correspondence would reveal?

Still, it's my opinion that snarky, sarcastic, and condescending posts are not going to suffice to defuse this. The momentum was already going the other way in the public relations war and any flack could make hay with this. Heck, I could and my PR skills are on a par with with Sarah Palin's rhetorical skills.

My PR deficit notwithstanding and stipulating that the emails don't imply what Watts, et al, say they mean, nevertheless this needs to be confronted head on in a forthright manner. I'm not even sure what that means, but in order to prevent the realization of worst-case scenarios be what convinces the populace, something blunt will have to be done.

Michael Tobis said...

KOTR, am I being snarky?

There is no doubt that this is problematic. There is little prospect that an organized and well-honed response will emerge, unfortunately.

This is because, far from being a conspiracy, there really is no organized decision making process for climate scientists and no mechanism for funding a systematic and vigorous response.

So, we lose again. In the end the only prospects for responding to greenhouse gases before it is far too late are 1) cheap energy from an exotic source (e.g., algae, boron fusion) 2) kick-butt public education, about eighty times better than it's being done now.

I'm game for 2, but the prospects for funding something clever and vigorous enough to fight Morano are not easy to imagine from the public sector.

But really, I'm hoping for the boron guy.

I hope the nonconsensus "scientists" Fred Singer and Pat Michaels will let us see all their emails, meanwhile.

6p00d8341c5caf53ef said...

Forgive me, Michael, but "There is no doubt that this is problematic" is roughly equivalent to the former Mayor of Hiroshima saying "F*** me, what was that?"

From now on anything, and I do mean anything, from Jones, Mann, Briffa, RealClimate, 'et al' will not be worth the drippings off my nose. The pity of it, and I really do mean the pity, is that they might, just might, be right, but from now on no-one but a blind fanatic will trust a word they say.

David Duff

Ps: I apologise for the strange number above but until you open your so-called "Open ID" boxes that is all it will re-produce!

King of the Road said...

Michael, no you're not but that link about Newton is, as are others I've seen. It's clever and as far as I can see it's accurate, but will be completely lost on the lay reader, I'm afraid. I only mention it on your blog due to the link and this site being the main one where I comment.

And I agree, unfortunately, with your prognosis.

King of the Road said...

Hi Michael,

As you know, I'm not a scientist. I don't know the ins and outs of publishing of scientific papers, peer review, grant application, funding, etc. I don't know how data, results, theories, etc. are informally communicated. As you know, I've become generally convinced that the position you take is accurate. Finally, I suspect that the authors of the subject emails are sincere in their conviction of the truth of this position and feel embattled, insulted, persecuted, belittled, frustrated, and infuriated.

All that said, I've been reading some of the emails (not the most "popular" ones) - there's now a searchable database. Some of it, to a layperson such as myself, is really very disturbing. I would not, for example, want my employees (structural inspectors and technicians, civil and geotechnical engineers) engaging in the type of behavior implied by: "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is !
Cheers, Phil"

This is a very sad and discouraging turn of events.

Michael Tobis said...

Hmm. I really have no intention of getting into a blanket defense of these guys. As I said before they are not my crowd. I know the foibles of dynamicists and modelers far better than those of the observational crew.

I certainly think IPCC reviews have a reason for being formal, and concede that this (if it proves real) is at best inappropriate levity in a serious situation.

That said, I would have to know what two papers they were talking about and whether they were serious. The two papers in question could well have been crap.

We've certainly seen a fair amount of crap getting through peer review of late. The reasons for that are sort of obvious once you see the sausage being made: peer reviewers are not paid, their reviews have no consequence on their own careers, and the free time implicit in the review system has long vanished under the pressure of competitive grant hustling.

Almost every scientist is essentially a solo entrepreneur in the business of selling academic papers to their peers which is to say their direct competitors. It is a bizarre model with many flaws obvious to anyone who has spent time in business.

One of the consequences is that the most successful people in science are not well-rounded personalities but rather surprisingly naive about a lot of things, and very impatient with constraints other than those of their own community.

In the case of the century-scale observations group, they have also been under relentless and vicious attack for a long time. Some of their odd behavior as seen here is specifically a consequence of an apolitical group having been under political attack for years. It's an unenviable position.

None of this means the actual key points of the consensus are wrong.

Nor does it mean that all is well in science itself, never mind in its relationships with the public, of which IPCC is a crucial example.

In the end though it's been a fine sausage. The IPCC first working group reports have been a fair representation of the state of science at the freeze date.

I have no reason to believe that what comes out of the observation chapter is any worse than the rest of it. Whatever else is going on, please remember that these guys are working very hard on very important stuff under remarkably unpleasant circumstances.

Steve Bloom said...

KotR, papers claiming important results but based on bad science are supposed to be excluded from the IPCC reports. Papers don't get excluded just for being controversial, as you would see if you read through the AR4 WG1 full report. I find nothing remarkable in Phil's comment. It was a bit snarky, but then it was a private email.

King of the Road said...

I agree that it's not up to you to defend them, and I more or less acknowledged a lot of the hardships you mentioned. And nothing I've read has caused me to reevaluate my understanding of the actual physics of the situation.

This will be my last comment in this thread, the above plus reiteration of the damage caused by this situation is pretty much all I have to say.

Hank Roberts said...

> what two papers

Chuckle. The skeptics will never identify those papers in their postings.

The email includes comments on three, I think, that Gavin identified in the RC thread by author and date.

The one I recognized was the notorious Soon/Baliunas paper:

That one definitely showed a need to nail down the meaning of "peer reviewed journal" -- the publisher had overruled the editors to get clearly bad work published. The septics won't read the articles about the problem though. They're copypasting.

Hank Roberts said...

found them:

"[Response: No. The problem with Soon and Baliunas was their methodology, not their results (which were pre-determined in any case). Same for Douglass et al and same for McClean et al (and note that an author on the last one, was actually the editor on the first). - gavin]"

Dean said...

I think it needs to be pointed out that if the two papers, whatever they were, were that bad, they wouldn't need to "redefine what the peer-review literature is" for them to be kept out - somehow. They just wouldn't make the cut.

It is a short excerpt. I don't know if the full message is available or not. But unless context shows otherwise, assuming that they are just referring to really bad papers is a stretch.

As Michael pointed out, it just doesn't make sense to try and defend individual email. The more egregious examples need to looked into by somebody outside of the debate to determine if there is any there, there, so to speak. Many people suggest things in casual conversation that they never intend to follow through on. So we need to see if the above statement ever was acted on.

6p00e00994289e8833 said...

I have followed this all with some amusement, and hadn't intended to comment. I only wanted to see how tempted Michael would be to throwing in his lot with this sorry bunch of busted colluders and data manipulators. (So far he's avoided putting all his eggs in their basket. Wise move.)

But nonsense such as that of Frank Bi:
"hundreds of e-mails with their contexts removed and their interpretation filtered through the brains of extreme right-wingers..."
and Dean's more cautious note suggesting the context remains unknown:
"But unless context shows otherwise, assuming that they are just referring to really bad papers is a stretch.
As Michael pointed out, it just doesn't make sense to try and defend individual email. The more egregious examples need to looked into by somebody outside of the debate to determine if there is any there, there, so to speak."

lead me to think that some of you are typing off the top of your heads and pressing "send" without trying to learn anything firsthand about this issue.

For anyone who hasn't done so yet, here's the link to the online repository of several years of emails in and out of CRU that has apparently been posted online courtesy of some anonymous hackers, complete with handy-dandy search engine.

Go ahead, knock yourselves out and check out exactly how little context there is. /irony -- this email repository is pretty dang complete. Almost every email contains lenghty quoted texts to which it replies, and they are replete with details that are easily crossreferenced on the web. There is no sign of deletions and alterations; in any case none of the original participants in these email exchanges, to my knowledge, is charging that the mails have been tinkered with at all. WYSIWYG.

You could make a very nice hockeystick graph out of the amount of context we've got on this stuff. Suddenly it's right off the scale, after years of pokerfaced bluffing and closely guarded secrets.

This is only the tip of the melting iceberg. The hacked files apparently contain masses of thus-far unreleased data that folks like Steve McIntyre have been trying to access for years through FOI (the emails document a lovely history of collusion to avoid complying, even to the point of planning to destroy data to keep it from the hands of nefarious climate heretics).

Their data-handling code, thus far kept tightly under wraps, is now available for all to play with. It will be interesting to see precisely how accurate McIntyre's reverse-engineering of their methods turns out to be.

Douglas Watts said...

I have no problem with Jones et al. trying to keep a paper out of the IPCC or anywhere else. Some papers are just so factually and theoretically flawed that they are like a cup of gasoline that pollutes 100,000 gallons of water. For example, a paper claiming that C-14 dating is hooey, that the speed of light has changed over time, that plate tectonics does not exist.

Dean said...

I admit to not spending the time to learn firsthand what is in all these emails, because I don't have that time to spend on it.

I have since seen the context for the "redefine peer review literature". They are apparently questioning whether a certain journal qualifies as peer review. Peer review qualifies one for inclusion in IPCC, and they felt this journal did not have an adequate review process. So the sentence refers to the possibility that the journal in question would no longer be considered peer review, and hence its contents not qualified to be included in the IPCC.

When ever skeptics criticize a published article by an "established" climatologist, they are told to submit it. But the established scientists don't seem to accept that as adequate when they think a substandard article gets published. They question the reviewers as much as the article in question. It gets to the issue of a double standard when dealing with reviewed articles that one thinks are problematic.

I don't know how to police the peer review process, nor how to differentiate between articles with a mistake and those that are egregious. But the emails do lay this issue bare. There can't be two standards for how to deal with mistakes in reviewed literature.

Dean said...

Douglas says:"I have no problem with Jones et al. trying to keep a paper out of the IPCC or anywhere else."

This gets to the issue I just posted on. If we tell McIntyre to submit comments when he thinks he finds a mistake by Briffa, then is it okay for others who are more connected to try and prevent publication when they think an article is bad? Or should they be subject to the same process: submit your criticisms via the channels that are available to everyone?

The IPCC is another level up since it isn't the first-level reviewer. The issue in this specific case is that the IPCC is supposed to accept peer reviewed content, and some IPCC compilers don't want to always do so if they don't think the review was adequate.

If the peer review process is imperfect and takes time to work out mistakes, including its own, then that needs to be followed whether the alleged mistake is by Mann, Briffa, or somebody less published, who nonetheless gets accepted, even if some think it shouldn't have. You just can't have two standards for how to deal with alleged errors that review didn't catch.

Michael Tobis said...

The IPCC cannot possibly reference every article. The process Dean seems to want may be ideal but it is not actually feasible.

Although it is quite plausible for certain journals to decline sufficiently in quality as no longer to qualify for attention, this would require a certain amount of meta-review for which the IPCC has no time.

Perhaps the idea of wholesale disqualification of journals was intended as facetious or perhaps as wishful thinking. But the fact that an article has passed peer review is a long way from having the article be influential.

The same issues Dean raises certainly apply on the question of influence. Will the field ignore results that don't comport with the existing consensus? It might well. The problem is that while they laughed at Galileo, they also laughed at Bozo the clown.

False negatives are costly but exceedingly rare compared to the quantity of crackpot literature being produced.

The question is not whether Dean's point is correct in principle. In principle it is, and applies to every science, not just to climate science. The question is how much damage this tangle causes in practice.

You can immerse yourself in the field to determine this for yourself. Beyond this there is nothing to offer besides the success of science in the past.

Dean said...

"The question is how much damage this tangle causes in practice. "

It can cause a lot of damage, particularly in the time in can waste. But the process by which peer reviewed and published articles are challenged, and the process by which such published articles become generally disregarded even if the authors don't retract, has to be above-board and even-handed.

While many of the emails are just opinions and do not really apply to this, I have gotten the sense - even before these emails were available - that the way to challenge a published article may well depend on who was doing the challenging and who was being challenged.

6p00e00994289e8833 said...

Michael, as I've said, you've kept yourself more-or-less clean here but mainly by being circumspect. I have considerably more respect for George Moonbiot's approach. Although he knows the affair does damage to the positions he's been promoting he's honest about the impact, and the seriousness of the problems uncovered:

"It’s no use pretending that this isn’t a major blow. The emails extracted by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging. I am now convinced that they are genuine, and I’m dismayed and deeply shaken by them.

Yes, the messages were obtained illegally. Yes, all of us say things in emails that would be excruciating if made public. Yes, some of the comments have been taken out of context. But there are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad. There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request.
Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed

....I apologise. I was too trusting of some of those who provided the evidence I championed. I would have been a better journalist if I had investigated their claims more closely."

6p00e00994289e8833 said...

Moonbiot is quite right that merely damaging the reputations of several principals of the IPCC/AGW narrative does not amount to discrediting the underlying science of their position, he is also right that this signals the necessity of new, closer scrutiny of some of the details that the world has been asked to accept "on authority" (such as how temperatures have been processed and trends inferred starting by proxies, with heretofore hidden statistical methodology to merge essentially incompatible records, deliberate manipulation to avoid "undesirable" conclusions and so on).

He is also right, I believe, to call for resignations. I don't think he goes far enough -- I believe NASA should have Hansen's head, if he's not wise enough to resign over this, the IPCC should scrub anything that relies on the work of Mann or Briffa, they should lose their influence in editorial circles, and any future work they do in this field should be scrutinized in detail with a jaundiced eye.

Are you prepared to throw your lot in with any of these guys at this point? To help you decide, here's a helpful summary of some of the more "interesting" emails -- but even more interesting is the emerging analysis of the code found in these archives. And, as I said in my last comment, there's ample "context" in the archive taken as a whole.

Moonbiot is confident that the AGW/IPCC narrative will survive this scandal. I believe it won't.

Incidentally, you may not be aware -- there is significant evidence now that this leak was NOT caused by illegal hacking and theft (so I would recommend caution about making unfounded and potentially slanderous inferences!) It now appears that the information was compiled within CRU itself in response to the FOI requests in anticipation of the need to destroy it, and made publicly available on their server on a hidden link that was supposed to be accessed only by those involved "for discussion". But an unintended recipient, for one reason or another, somehow became aware of this link. So (a) the guys involved KNEW DAMN WELL this was incriminating evidence, as the very compilation of this archive demonstrates, and (b) the leak was not a matter of illegal activity, but legal activity taking advantage of incompetence or bad judgement at CRU. As they say, the truth will out.

Michael Tobis said...

The scientific importance is nil. I wish I could say the same for the political importance. An excellent explanation of the difference by the Texas state climatologist is here.

6p00e00994289e8833 said...

Sorry to go on, but I penned the above a couple of days ago (when I began having problems with error codes). Since then little progress has been made on the code from the CRU FOIA archive, mainly because the rather thorough and frank commenting by the programmer, Harry, has overshadowed what the code is likely to reveal.

With hundreds of programmer comments like "getting seriously fed up with the state of the Australian data. so many new stations have been
introduced, so many false references.. so many changes that aren't documented... I have
that familiar Twilight Zone sensation... am I the first person to attempt
to get the CRU databases in working order?!!...
immediately found a mistake! Scanning forward to 1951 was done with a loop that, for
completely unfathomable reasons, didn't include months! So we read 50 grids instead
of 600!!!...; Apply a VERY ARTIFICAL correction for decline!!...What the hell is
supposed to happen here? Oh yeah - there is no 'supposed', I can make it up. So I have :-) ...I'm
hitting yet another problem that's based on the hopeless state of our databases. There is no uniform data integrity, it's just a catalogue of issues that continues to grow as they're found.
" -- who has time to pay attention to the code itself?

I bring this up because, as a programmer yourself, Michael, you probably have some notion of what goes through one's head in the middle of the night, cleaning up someone else's mess -- in this case, that of Michael Mann, Keith Briffa and co.

The programmers who've had a go at the code so far use terms like "dog's breakfast". It'll be a while before anyone can decipher what it's actually doing...and it sounds as if the programmer was making a heroic effort to comply with impossible instructions and bad data.

Several guys in this crowd, cc'd in many of the emails -- Watson and so on -- principals in the IPCC, calling for realignment of international power structures, crippling of industries and "redistribution" of trillions of $$, were evidently fully aware of shoddy workmanship in this "analysis" of Mann et al, which are a centerpiece of IPCC talking points.

Now, as you're on the modelling side, I expect you can take the high road on this whole ClimateGate affair, Michael -- but I'd be very interested on your frank assessment of these guys. Here's a discussion of the comments on the code at WUWT. From there you can navigate to the original programs. From a programmer's perspective: would you assess the code behind Mann's analysis as amateurish as these guys are saying? Might be a good chance to distance yourself from this travesty.

6p00e00994289e8833 said...

In the interest of injecting a different voice into this discussion I'm linking to a piece by Judy Curry that appeared some days ago at Climate Audit.

Those who know of both Judy's position on AGW and Stephen McIntyre's will know that this is an odd superposition because Judy supports the IPCC narrative and Stephen does not.

You make a distinction between the science and the politics of this issue, Michael, and in that light I'll mention that I respect Judy's position on the "politics of science" (which is really what's at stake) as articulated in this fine article.

I happen to disagree with her on the science. But she is a voice to which I am pleased to listen because she takes the issue of integrity in science seriously and clearly understands the gravity of the problems revealed by the "Climategate" affair.

To wit, it is not a mere embarrassment but reveals serious problems in the way Climate Science is carried out today. Her word "tribalism" is apt, if a little mild compared to my preferred terms.

That Judy chose to post this piece at CA, and then interacted openly in the comments section with Skeptics speaks volumes on her behalf. I was particularly interested in this exchange between Judy and Stephen:

Judy: I'm sure i'll reach more people this weekend on CA than in all the talks/seminars i've given over the past year.

Stephen: Judith, this is something that I'd appreciate some feedback on. As you know, I've always been open to providing a forum for people with IPCC views to express them to the audience here. It is very much my impression that there's more or less been a fatwa against climate scientists expressing their views here. Rob Wilson is criticized by his colleagues when he ventures here.
I don't understand what is gained by this form of sanction.

Elsewhere Stephen listed a number of AGW advocates to whom he has sent logins and passwords so that they would have privileged access to post at CA, but have not chosen to do so. I believe, Michael, that you were on the list. Have you posted there? As Judy's comment suggests, if you're REALLY serious about reaching large numbers of people with your message you might consider doing so.

Michael Tobis said...

David, you do not "disagree with Judith Curry on the science", as you do not know enough science to do so. You simply don't like what she is saying the science means, which is a very different matter.

Regarding the "Harry read me" file, it isn't clear to me what "the decline" means, but much more to the point, it is far from clear that any of the indicated code is actually used in the results. Most of it is commented out, and some of it is used in calculations that are themselves commented out.

So it looks like some sort of test code. If you ask me how to best test software, I would say this isn't up to the standards of contemporary commercial development.

But if you're asking me whether this is stuffing the ballot box, getting the results wrong, putting a finger on the scale... well, no, so far there is no sign of that.

It's an in-house IDL script, not intended for release. As such, I haven't seen anything that would indicate it is inadequate.

You may argue that such code should be up to release quality, have formal test batteries, and formal writeups. I would agree with you, but I would also point out that this would require substantially more resources for climate science.

Given what Harry had to work with, I have yet to see any sign that Harry did anything wrong. I can be convinced otherwise, but not by someone whose only capacity is pulling code comments out of context. The way to convince me is to find something dubious working its way through to the final output.

King of the Road said...

While Geoffrey Styles doesn't use it to specifically address his convictions with respect to anthropogenic global warming, his post regarding the leaked emails (and, by extension, the commented programs) very closely parallels my feelings.

I'm generally very impressed with his blog.