The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Still Bupkis

Of course, the scientific investigation of CRU turned up, what do you know, nothing but scientists doing science.



Here are the things worth thinking about from the report.
2. We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that
depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close
collaboration with professional statisticians. Indeed there would be mutual
benefit if there were closer collaboration and interaction between CRU and a
much wider scientific group outside the relatively small international circle of
temperature specialists.

3. It was not the immediate concern of the Panel, but we observed that there were
important and unresolved questions that related to the availability of
environmental data sets. It was pointed out that since UK government adopted
a policy that resulted in charging for access to data sets collected by
government agencies, other countries have followed suit impeding the flow of
processed and raw data to and between researchers. This is unfortunate and
seems inconsistent with policies of open access to data promoted elsewhere in
government.

4. A host of important unresolved questions also arises from the application of
Freedom of Information legislation in an academic context. We agree with the
CRU view that the authority for releasing unpublished raw data to third parties
should stay with those who collected it.
Also:
We have not exhaustively reviewed the external criticism of the
dendroclimatological work, but it seems that some of these criticisms show a
rather selective and uncharitable approach to information made available by
CRU. They seem also to reflect a lack of awareness of the ongoing and
dynamic nature of chronologies, and of the difficult circumstances under
which university research is sometimes conducted. Funding and labour
pressures and the need to publish have meant that pressing ahead with new
work has been at the expense of what was regarded as non-essential record
keeping. From our perspective it seems that the CRU sins were of omission
rather than commission. Although we deplore the tone of much of the criticism
that has been directed at CRU, we believe that this questioning of the methods
and data used in dendroclimatology will ultimately have a beneficial effect and
improve working practices
I believe that there is indeed lemonade to be made of this pressure with regard to new approaches to scientific practice, especially where computation is involved, which by now is practically everywhere.

On the other hand, for the attacks on CRU to be described as "deplorable" in a formal report should be regarded as what it is.

Understatement.

Here is the thing not worth thinking about:
1. We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the
work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely
that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if
slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of
public attention
. As with many small research groups their internal procedures
were rather informal
.
Like I said, the scientific review found some scientists.


As Gavin said on RC:

[Watch those goalposts move! Let me be sure that I have your position correct: all of the noise, insults, threats, libel and cries of fraud, fabrication and misconduct are because you feel that more statisticians should have been coauthors on the CRU papers? Got it. - gavin]
Bupkis. They got bupkis because there is bupkis.

Sing it with me.

Muntig bupkis
Dinstig bupkis
Mitvoch Donnerstig bupkis...




Update: Kloor thinks this article amounts, primarily, to gloating. I try to set him straight in the comments over there.

This article is trying to get the point across as emphatically as possible that there isn't anything worth mentioning wrong at CRU. Unfortunately, people looking at it from the outside are likely to get a different impression. This needs to be repaired. I use "bupkis" in the traditional way, as an emphatic statement of nothing-there-ness.

Until the innocence of CRU becomes clear to the casual observer, the press is complicit in a vile and inexcusable act of calumny. We won't have much to gloat about until the press examines its role in this absurd disaster.


33 comments:

Hank Roberts said...

Gentle Irony Award to Eric over in the same RC thread for:

"One of the simple points made by the panel is that 'at a global and hemispheric scale temperature results are surprisingly insensitive to adjustments made to the data and the number of series included.'

Actually, this isn’t surprising at all. This is obvious to anyone with even the most basic grasp of statistics and the dynamically determined spatial scale of climate variability.

Comment by eric — 14 April 2010 @ 10:36 AM"

Clearly, although the group as constituted did a fine job, their final text could have benefited from involving a statistician to point out what was and wasn't surprising ....

David B. Benson said...

Hank Roberts ---

:LOL:

{Word verification agrees, stating daminest]

keith said...

Well, I would never have guessed anger, that's for sure. "Sing it with me" sounded a bit gleeful to my ears. Anyway, why so sensitive about "gloating"? I don't begrudge you that in the least.

Steve Bloom said...

Well, they might have meant counter-intuitive. OTOH maybe their chosen statistician lacked the subject matter knowledge necessary to understand why it wasn't surprising. On the whole he did seem to be much more concerned with jobs for statisticians.

I have a feeling Lisa Graumlich is feeling a little peeved about the stats guy's having gone off the reservation with his remarks on MBH.

John Mashey said...

Statisticians: People might read my one-pager essay on p.172 of CCC.

Statisticians often think statisticians should be more involved, and they are often right.... but there are very good reasons why institutional structures make this almost impossible. Hardly anyone is ever willing to provide adequate funding, just as almost no one funds small university research groups to employ enough top-notch {software engineers, Q/A/release staff, documentation people, etc} to ship production-grade software. I make no comment about the right level of support, just the observation that it is rarely funded this way in academe.

This was written from the viewpoint of my having worked 10 years at a place where this not true, or at least much less true.

In any case, around 2006 with the Wegman Report, there was a seeming attempt to create a fight between statisticians and climate science, but it really didn't work that well.

duffandnonsense said...

"We have not exhaustively reviewed the external criticism of the
dendroclimatological work"

They didn't review any of it because not one single critic was called upon, interviewed or questioned.

David Duff

Michael Tobis said...

They didn't review the science because that wasn't their mission.

Their job was to determine whether CRU had behaved in ways that might reasonably be expected to give good results. They believed that they would have turned up contrary evidence if there were any, and they did not.

The scientific process is not infallible by any means. Error is not malfeasance. There is absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing. This is unsurprising, to say the least, because the field is not one where malfeasance carries any substantial reward.

The limitations of dendrochronology in obtaining a global mean surface temperature is a perfectly legitimate scientific debate. Honest erroneous results subject to the oprdinary processes of scientific debate do not amount to accusations requiring the attentions of parliament or extraordinary ad hoc committees, and the panel did the right thing in ignoring the question.

"We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it."

It was their purpose to examine this question, and they did.

Now it is time to examine the question of how this totally artificial controversy reached such a fever pitch that these panels were required to address it. That is where the real scandal lies.

watchingthedeniers said...

@ MT

Your point:

"Now it is time to examine the question of how this totally artificial controversy reached such a fever pitch that these panels were required to address it. That is where the real scandal lies..."

I think this is where the real issue is, and where attention should now be focused. Complacency, or complicity of the media?

Perhaps a mixture of both.

In my mind, the timing for the release of the emails was perfect: just before COP15, when the news outlets where gearing up for climate related stories.

The story feed into major news coverage, and thus the denial movement was able to "hijack" much of the discussion around the status of the science.

"Climagegate" burst into the media/blogosphere with flourish, pushed along by conservative elements in the media (Andrew Bolt - Herald Sun - in Australia was instrumental in shaping this).

We should perhaps be looking at it in the context of other succesful "PR" campaigns (in the sense the whole thing was manufactured).

Steve Bloom said...

WtD, what gave the "scandal" media legs was the behavior of three journalists (Revkin, Pearce and Monbiot) at two outlets (the NYTimes and Guardian). In essence their coverage gave permission for the rest of the media to pile on. Revkin is most at fault IMHO.

Steve Bloom said...

Actually it would be informative to re-examine Revkin's article in light of present information.

manuelg said...

[TD;RD I say nothing, and I take a long time to say it]

[Part 1 of 2]

Quoting "watchingthedeniers"

> We should perhaps be looking at it in the context of other [successful] "PR" campaigns (in the sense the whole thing was manufactured).

Hear, hear!

I wish I had a fraction of the gifts of John Mashey, to replicate the quality and thoroughness of his work on anti-science organizations and the few scientists they have been able to co-opt, but apply it to techniques and social structures.

What follows is a laughably bare outline, of dubious worth:

A society that is unsustainable in the long term, but stable in the short term, has this structure:

"The vital few" - elites dedicated to maintaining their relative status in the short term, even to the detriment of their objective well-being in the long term. Slavishly dedicated to seeking out short-term local maximums of their relative status. They react badly and shut down discussion if anyone suggests their status be contingent on successful long term responsible leadership. Stable because of all the energy these few disburse in maintaining the political structure and rules of decorum of the upper point of the pyramid.

"The trivial many" - common folk dedicated to shedding adult responsibility and shrinking the scope of their responsibility, even to the detriment of their objective well-being in the long term. Slavishly dedicated to seeking out short-term local maximums of distractions and coping behaviors, with both distractions and coping behaviors preferred over enlarging the scope of their responsibility. They react badly and shut down discussion if anyone suggests they enhance their responsibility and enlarge their scope of responsibility. Stable because they have been promised plentiful distractions and pats on the head as a reward for laying prone in rough heaps - to be stepped upon by the vital few.

"The Insignificant" - everyone else who doesn't fall into the above two categories. Too few to count. The Internet allows these people an unprecedented ability to organize themselves. But ultimately it is like two tiny bits of bacon in a massive bowl of split pea soup - the scarcity is so embarrassing it would almost be better to replace it with the complete absence. And probably I am being too optimistic. Stable because too few to count.

[Not all the members of "the insignificant" are responsible actors. But all responsible actors, by exclusion, must be part of "the insignificant"]

...continues...

manuelg said...

[Part 2 of 2]

The expected role of journalism: journalists are barely a part of the vital few, they have their noses pressed up the glass to better watch the waltzes and curtsies of the elites. Journalist are under economic pressure, because neither the vital few or the trivial many are willing to pay for the type of corrective active journalism the US Founding Fathers imagined. So really-existing contemporary journalists are attracted to an easy "he said/she said" narrative, and attracted to sources that can supply ample dumbed down copy. Both play into the hands of well-funded PR sources, and since there is no financial mechanism to borrow dollars from a sustainable future, the money comes from the exploitation of historical unsustainable resources.

The techniques are all the old tools of the Art of Controversy. Nothing is so easy to do as to shush down an idea nobody is comfortable with. You would think with each error pointed out, the journalists would adopt disciplines to prevent that error from even happening again. But everything is playing out as past anti-scientific obscurantism did, because no discipline is ever permanently retained. [This explains why the punishment for plagiarism is so much greater and swifter than the punishment for lying and sloth and craven stenography for the purposes of the elites, in journalism.]

And, this form of journalism is socially stable because the vital few fear: (1) the responsibility of sustainability and (2) a society of plentiful human fulfilment, because they both pose a risk to their short-term relative status. And, this form of journalism is socially stable because the trivial many fear the suggestion of enhancing their responsibility and enlarging their scope of responsibility, denying them their precious distractions and pats on the head.

The advantage of viewing all through the lens of this model is that time and energy can be saved by avoiding dialog with those who have no capability to remake themselves into responsible actors. [Why argue with those who hold their opponents to a much higher standard of discourse than they do themselves and their friends? Those who want a higher standard of discourse will lead by example. This immediately paints all the alleged "reasonable skeptics/deniers" as bright red prats, you will notice.]

My preferred future: take actions to develop the pervasiveness of the morality of the sustainable long view, and the morality of plentiful human fulfilment. Develop the pervasiveness of such morality *first*, and the programs of social and economic change *second*. Any desire to short-cut the process will play into the hand of demagogues that simply want to change one set of worthless "vital few" with another set of worthless "vital few", to the cheers of the "trivial many".

Much like social activism of abolitionists in the late 1600's eventually led to the significant (but incomplete) eradication of slavery on December 10, 1948 (United Nations General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Unfortunately, the social change of human society is literally glacial, when it comes to acquiring higher standards of morality. Even *with* immense levels of personal dedication on the level of John Brown, Bleeding Kansas, 1855.

I appreciate your criticism of the above, so I can replace the garbage of my poorly constructed thoughts with something better.

Neven said...

Well, I for one like it, manuelg. Your description of the trivial many reminds me a bit of the story of the second coming of the Messiah in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, where the Grand Inquisitor explains to Jesus that people do not wish to be free, but rather be dependent.

How do you fit my pet subject, the economic concept of infinite growth, in all this? And have you ever read blogger Jeff Vail's Problem of Growth-series?

watchingthedeniers said...

@ manuelg and @ steve bloom

[Part 1]

Some interesting points, however IMHO we need to consider climate change scientism (CCS) in light of not just the actions of a few journalists (Revkin, Pearce and Monbiot) or even the complicity/complacency of the media). We need to view CCS in a much broader context in order to a)understand and b) conbat it.

Christopher Hitchens calls conspiracy theories the "exhaust fumes of democracy". True to an extent, however we need to consider CCS in the context of both a populist movement and a reaction from conservative elites and the convergence of their interests (or indeed, the cooption of populist movements by conservative elites). Our political response is paralysed by a "conspiratorial world view". The "Arab world" is often subject to critiscim for subscribing to a conspiratoril world view in which Israel/Jews are manipulating world events. Rightly, this is regarded as poinionous to political debate and retards the maturation of politics itself. Well, geuss what. We in the "West" are guilty fo the same. For "us" it's CCS.

I think we should be comparing CCS with other anti-science movements such as creationism/ID, the anti-vaccination movement and even perhaps the "Tea Party Movement". In short the study CCS should be approached in a multidisciplinary manner. In short, a "task force" comprising some of the best thinkers in these fields may shed some light on CCS.

There are multiple, interacting factors here and my reading tends to indicate numerous. I'd "group" them into the following categories:

Social & political

- The "paranoid style" of American politics (Hofstadter) that has been exported to other countries via the machinations of the CCS movement. We see this style of politics in the Tea baggers etc.
- Neo-liberal/libertarian and conservative distrust of government intervention in "the market". In short, a general hostility to the imposition of regulatory frameworks that constrain either the workings of the market or individual liberties.
- Broad based and populist resentment against the elites as nurtured by neo-liberal thinkers (the Red/Blue divide in the US is replicated to a lesser or stronger degree in other nations).
- The workings of energy interests and think tanks in actively confusing and misleading the public. I think we can agree they play a crucial role.
- The continuing "culture war" waged by religious/conservative elements against the mythological naturalism that underpins science. The removal of their favourite deity from a "governance" role in the world is deeply threatening.
- Opposition to action to climate change as partisan politics (conservatives conflate action as a "leftist" position and react accordingly).

[cont..]

watchingthedeniers said...

[cont...]

Psychological

- Dunning-Kruger: the denial movement encourages a DIY attitude to science. One of their key messages is "that you too can be a climate scientist! Down load the data! See for yourself". Of course these amateurs have no context for the data nor the training/perspective to spot the obvious flaws in their logic.
- Fantasy prone personalities - a significant proportion of the population can be categorised as "fantasy prone". These are the individuals who subscribe to a beliefs in UFOs, ghosts and other "alternative" beliefs. these individuals form a kind of contemporary "Gnostic" movement that celebrates "secret knowledge". They are both enthralled by these alternative world views, and actively promote them. Having such important knowledge about the universe (i.e. I know about the XXXX conspiracy, I have important knowledge. Ergo, I am important)
- Denialism as a reflex to bad news - climate change is not happy news. Denial is a happy pill that makes many feel better (See, it's not real! No need to worry! Phew! More bad news... no it's not real! Phew)
- A host of cognitive biases that are "hard wired" into the human brain. Nothing we can do there I'm afraid ;)
- Individual preference for story telling over data. We absorb information far more effectively as a coherent narrative than we do raw data. The CCS movement creates (false) "narratives" about science and scientists that people easily absorb and believe.

Media

- A media that is fascinated with "conspiracy culture" and actively promotes not only pseudo-science (ID/CCS), but pseudo-history and archaeology (1421, Atlantis, Holy Blood/Holy Grail, Da Vinci Code), pseudo-medicine (Deepak Chopra and the WOO movement), the claims of 9/11 "Truthers" and an entire host of "counter knowledge" (see Damian Thompson book of same title).
- The decline in journalistic standards, in particular the disappearance of good reporting on science.
- The "fair and balanced approach" to reporting (i.e report both sides of the story and let the "reader" decide, even if 99 out of a 100 experts agree, the media will still present outlier views as relevant)
- Assuming it is a "supply side issue" (viz the recent discussions at the AAAS Symposium on climate change scepticism). It's not - our media is saturated with information about climate change. Indeed, much of the peer reviewed literature is freely available The issue is the CCS movement are more effective communicators (see below)

CCS tactics

- Think tank PR campaigns are highly effective
- In my view the CCS movment "punks" science and scientists. The play up the the role of rebels and outsiders poking fun at the establishment
- CCS as an entertainment medium. Note, the CCS guys have *fun* tearing down the science. They are cheered on by the mob who enjoy it. Morono et. al play the "trickster" role of Loki/Briar Rabbet. People identify and love that archetype
- Development of highly "contagious" memes (i.e. Hide the decline, Mann's "Trick")
- Propaganda is repetition. Climate change is bunk. Climate change is bunk. Climate change is bunk. Climate change is bunk. Climate change is bunk. Hear that message enough times, well...

Michael Tobis said...

Repetition is indeed powerful. Hence my affinity for the Fugs' song...

Paul said...

Revkin has an obligatory post on the Oxburg investigation:

http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/east-anglias-climate-lessons/

"One lesson is that anyone hoping to up-end decades of research pointing to a growing human influence on the climate by challenging a single batch of studies . . . .is ALMOST surely on a fool’s errand."

Paulina asks in the first comment "Why the "almost", Andy?"

Why indeed? No response yet from Revkin.

The only other lessons drawn by Revkin, not surprisingly, emphasize the need for climate scientists to be scrupulous, transparent and seek statistician input.

Further down the comments we have a self serving advertisement from Tom Fuller. Fuller decries the haste with which the Oxburg investigation was completed and refers to the equally hasty tabloid he and Mosher threw together for a more complete understanding of just how reprehensible the behavior of CRU folks was.

Revkin, Monbiot, Pearce, Kloor, and Fuller are a quintet in decreasing order of scientific competence and influence singing to the tune of the anti-science movement.

Paul Middents

manuelg said...

quoting "watchingthedeniers":

> There are multiple, interacting factors here and my reading tends to indicate numerous.

Thank you for compiling this list. If somebody asked me to explain the difference in cultures reacting to the science of climate disruption, between USA/Australia vs. GB/Europe, I would point them towards your list of characteristics of the USA/Australia style of motivated obscurantism.

keith said...

I've been anti- many things in my life. But this is the first time anyone has ever thought me as being anti-science. What a hoot! Thanks for the good laugh.

Frank Bi said...

MT:

"Now it is time to examine the question of how this totally artificial controversy reached such a fever pitch that these panels were required to address it. That is where the real scandal lies."

The question of "how" has been answered ad nauseam. As I keep saying, the real question isn't "how", it's "what now?"

watchingthedeniers said...

@ Frank - indeed mate, indeed.

Paul said...

Kieth,

Glad you are getting a good laugh out of all this. I don't think Phil Jones has derived too many chuckles from the continued tut-tutting of the the climate science chattering classes.

You may not be anti-science in general. It is, after all, tough to be anti quantum mechanics. But, you sure seem to have a particular focus on the human frailty of climate scientists.

I would expect that a pro-science guy with your purported credentials might be more interested in going after the hackers than the hacked.

Paul Middents

Michael Tobis said...

The question of "how" has been answered ad nauseam. As I keep saying, the real question isn't "how", it's "what now?"

Frank, WTD, this gets back to the question of what "is known".

Yes, in our narrow circles this has been answered ad nauseam, but in the larger community it has hardly even been asked.

To a scientist, what "is known" is that which is in the literature (in a rather complex and contingent sense, in practice). To a denialist, what is known is, well, nothing at all. To the public, what is known is what the press says is known. And to the press, what is known is what scientists say which no denialist has yet got around to denying. You'll note that this sets us up for the opposite of progress.

Anyway, you and I may have some ideas as to how this happened. The press seems absolutely incapable of understanding that they are at fault, though they have accepted some blame for the Iraq fiasco.

When I say "now it's time to examine how this happened", I don't mean those of us who share this particular obsession. I mean everybody else. If today's press is incapable of self-examination, we need to get out of our little niche and work on replacing the journalistic institutions that have served us so very badly of late.

This is a matter of real consequence not just for the climate science community and the climate policy community but for everybody. How are we to cope with a press that can only move backwards, forever piling up more uncertainty and confusion? WHat possible service could such an institution perform?

Neven said...

Hi mt,

yesterday I posted a reply to manuelg, but it hasn't showed up yet. Did it get stuck in the spam (or stupidity) filter?

Frank Bi said...

MT:

"When I say 'now it's time to examine how this happened', I don't mean those of us who share this particular obsession. I mean everybody else."

Well, if "everyone else" is already willing to examine how the "Climategate" faux-scandal happened, then we won't be having a communications problem in the first place. And we do have a problem.

So yeah, we -- as in "those of us who share this particular obsession" -- will probably have to figure out what to do next. On our own.

Michael Tobis said...

Neven, I haven't filtered out anything of yours.

If you mean this one, well there it is. If there is some other reply, I did not receive it. It is rare, but sometimes Blogger drops a message.

I usually rely on email to do moderating, and when the blog is especially busy and I'm especially preoccupoed with other things, I may accidentally miss a post until I can get to the web page. This causes the occasional delay, but that is not the case at present.

Other than obvious spam, usually in Chinese, I rarely reject articles except from persistent trolls. Once in a while a friend is excessively rude to an enemy and I regretfully purge that; one of the flaws of Blogger is it doesn't allow partial posting.

And on occasion Eli is so obscure that I can't figure out what to do. I think he is trying to sneak an insult of somebody, probably Monckton, past me even as we speak, but I am not sure.

gravityloss said...

Sigh. Post lost of course.

Media research is needed.

Over the top title offer:
"The Rise and Fall of Climategate - How Reporters Were Suckered into Portraying Honest Researchers as Fraudsters"

EliRabett said...

Well hell, if you could figure it out you might block it.

Horatio Algeranon said...

The media are particularly excited whenever there is what they perceive to be a climate of intrigue, especially when it involves what they perceive to be "good guys gone bad".

Some of us expect a little more of the "legitimate" media than what really amounts to tabloid trash, but, then again, perhaps we expect too much. ~@:>

Florifulgurator said...

In German (except that Bubkes is Yiddish):
Montag Bubkes
Dienstag Bubkes
Mittwoch Donnerstag Bubkes
lalala

Neven said...

mt, thanks for checking. I must have missed it somehow before.

Marion Delgado said...

I wasn't going to comment till I made the mistake of clicking on the Kloor link. Never again.

Michael Tobis said...

While we're on the linguistic aspects of this thing:

Yes, "bubkes" is the spelling I'd prefer, and is arguably more correct, but "bupkis" is common in American Yinglish.

The Fugs version uses "gornisht" instead of "bubkes". I believe that is slightly more polite, though it is in practice used in a similar dismissive way.

"Gornisht" or even "garnix" are words I regularly heard growing up; I learned "bupkis" much later. I'm not sure what "gornisht" means literally though I presume the second syllable originates as "nicht".

"Bubkes" ("bupkis") apparently means "little beans" or by extension "goat shit", or by further extension, "nothing of value or consequence".