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, June 23, 2010

Denyosphere Jumps the Shark

Jim Prall has an odd hobby; he collects climatologists. On his website he has been collecting a list of highly cited climate scientists, and attempting to estimate their publication and citation record. Because Google Scholar is easier to work with than ISI, he's been using that. Also, he's been trying to identify which of them have made public statements in support of or in opposition to the consensus position that CO2 concentrations must be capped. He also blogs about this, and you can read his blog to decide for yourself whether he is a reasonable character.

I met Jim last September, and have been on a mailing list with him since. Jim complains about the various ambiguities in the process, and in general makes a good faith attempt to identify the correlation between citation record and a very broad characterization of opinion on climate change.

The results have been available on his website for some time, sliced and diced this way and that, without causing much ruckus. The most interesting result is that there's about a 40 to 1 ratio among the most cited authors for supporting vs opposing the consensus. You wouldn't think this would even be controversial! That is, after all, why we call it a consensus.

A consensus can be wrong (though usually it isn't completely wrong in a modern physical science). Groupthink certainly can apply. Social pressures and even financial pressures can apply. I don't think anything like that is the issue here, but you may disagree. The existence of a consensus is, therefore, useful evidence in decision making but it doesn't convey certainty. So the fact that Jim's results reinforce the existence of the consensus doesn't seem particularly surprising.

This is simply a public compilation of public data that's been available incrementally for the past couple of years. So why all the fuss now that these data have been published? There has been a LOT of fuss.

(Morano has had the sense to remove references to the Stasi from his front page. Pity. I was inclined to call this fuss Stasigate.) Why, frankly, such hysteria as this:

Are there really no depths to which ManBearPig-worshippers will not stoop in order to shore up their intellectually, morally and scientifically bankrupt cause?

Apparently not, as we see from the latest “study” – based on a petty, spiteful, Stasi-like blacklist produced by an obscure Canadian warmist – outrageously aggrandised by being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists on all sides of this issue have known that the best move, personally, is to keep your mouth shut. The relative conservatism of the IPCC itself stems from this tendency. I was informed by a higher-up when I was at a (US) Department of Energy lab that "DOE is not in a position to take sides on matters of controversy!" Well, what's the bloody point of a department of energy, then?

It takes a modicum of courage to say anything either way. One reason I got out of the private sector is because I felt I had things to say about public matters, a career killer in business, especially if your ideas are perceived as leaning left. The whole idea of democracy is threatened if people are not entitled not only to have their opinions, but also to promote them.

So I sympathize with Roger Pielke Jr.'s tale of being threatened:
A high-up university official (who will go unnamed but who sat in the direct chain of command between my chair and the Chancellor) asked me to lunch, told me about the messages that had been received by the Chancellor's office and warned me in no uncertain terms that I should think carefully about testifying for the Republicans because my career could suffer. The message that I heard was that I had better not testify or else my career might suffer. I took this as a direct threat from an official with influence on my career at the university and I said so on the spot. I was shocked to be in such a conversation.
(Let me make it clear that I for one would much rather talk with Republicans than with Democrats about climate, because they seem so much more thoroughly confused about it and need the conversation so much more.)

Now, some may say that Roger shares with the hard core of deniers at least the trait of being quick to take offense and so the result that "at that point the university official backed down and apologized, claiming a misunderstanding" might well have more to it than Roger's version allows us to see.

But this incident, even if told in complete fairness (update/clarification: - about which I venture no opinion either way), has nothing to do with black lists, never mind communist spies. Roger wasn't black listed. (update/clarification: The point is that I don't see why Roger raises the incident in this context.)



So where's the beef?

The paper says:
We provide a large-scale quantitative assessment of the relative level of agreement, expertise, and prominence in the climate researcher community. We show that the expertise and prominence, two integral components of overall expert credibility, of climate researchers convinced by the evidence of ACC vastly overshadows that of the climate change skeptics and contrarians. ... Despite media tendencies to present both sides in ACC debates (9), which can contribute to continued public misunderstanding regarding ACC (7, 11, 12, 14), not all climate researchers are equal in scientific credibility and expertise in the climate system. This extensive analysis of the mainstream versus skeptical/contrarian researchers suggests a strong role for considering expert credibility in the relative weight of and attention to these groups of researchers in future discussions in media, policy, and public forums regarding anthropogenic climate change.
OK, so Joe Romm goes a little further. In an article entitled New study reaffirms broad scientific understanding of climate change, questions media’s reliance on tiny group of less-credibile scientists for “balance”:
The findings will come as no surprise whatsoever to 97% to 98% of scientists or regular CP readers — but it could theoretically open the eyes of those in the status quo media who keep suggesting the ‘experts’ they cite that keep pushing anti-science disinformation are somehow close to being equal in number, credibility, or expertise to the broad community of climate scientists, thereby implying serious disagreements among mainstream scientists
and
Ironically, the best defense that some of the disinformers seem to have is, “I am not a skeptic.” But that label was originally pushed by the disinformers themselves — in fact, all serious scientists are skeptics. The issue is not whether someone is skeptical of the supposed ‘consensus’ ... The issue is whether folks are actively spreading disinformation, especially disinformation that has been long debunked in the scientific literature. As I’ve said for many years now, it is time for the media to stop listening to, quoting, and enabling those who spread anti-science and anti-scientist disinformation.
Perfectly sound. Perfectly true. I agree, though I have to point out that nothing in the above is attributable to Jim Prall or his coauthors, so take the occasion to be mad at Joe or me if you don't like it.

Tom Fuller, who has gone about as bonkers as anyone on this innocous publication, shows us just how far around the bend the response to this has been. He quotes Romm as saying only the last sentence I quoted above: "it is time for the media to stop listening to, quoting, and enabling those who spread anti-science and anti-scientist disinformation". OK, who could argue with that?

Tom can. He prefaces it with this absurd rant directed at Steven Schneider:
Fourth, are you aware that this list is already being used to dismiss scientists as unfit for participation in the debate merely because of their presence on this list? How could you have been unaware that this would be a blacklist used to demean those on it and threaten those who might wish to voice an unpopular opinion in the future?
Fuller's complaint here amounts to "never dare to reveal any evidence about anything ever because somebody bad might use it." Strange advice from a journalist, never mind a chronicler of "climategate".

As always, Fuller is entitled to his opinion. As always, I'm entitled to encourage people to ignore that opinion. (In this case, indeed, you'd be well advised to move on.) There's nothing sinister about encouraging people to ignore opinions one finds unreasonable.

What do the facts tell us? Let's keep in mind what the PNAS paper revealed. It did not reveal who had what opinions: it based that on public declarations. Everybody counted in the paper in either category had already added themselves to controversial lists. No new information about people and their opinions was published. Indeed, no names were named in the publication, though they had been visible for months on the web. All that was revealed was how much influence the signatories of the various statements have within the field.

This is what you call "citizen science"; the collation of available information from multiple sources.

Connecting this paper to paranoia about "black lists" is completely detached from reality. Propaganda is to be expected in climate issues of course; that's the whole problem.

But this time it's transparently crazy propaganda. Is this the same level of paranoia that's behind the other extreme criticisms of the field? (hint: yup) I hope the press thinks about this very carefully, not just the original publication, but the ridiculously overwrought response to it.


Images: Screen grab from Climate Depot; The Fonz jumps the shark

26 comments:

Nick Barnes said...

If I've got this straight, the people complaining were happy to put their names on a list, but unhappy when somebody else matches that against another list. Why exactly did they put their names on the list in the first place? If you don't want people to know that you hold a position, don't tell them. If you do tell them, how can you complain that they notice? Surely this is insane?

Arthur said...

What I also find odd is that, if Roger Pielke Jr's wish were fulfilled and his father removed from the "unconvinced" list, the conclusions of the paper would be *strengthened*, because Pielke Sr. is one of the most prominent on the "unconvinced" side, if he is.

But I guess it goes along with the general tendency to just cast doubt on any climate-science conclusion no matter the intellectual coherence of the direction in which doubt is being cast...

dhogaza said...

Even better than Stasi gate has been watts ranting that next skeptics will be forced to wear yellow badges.

Spencer claims it's the start of a new Inquisition.

They're a bit sensitive about being labelled as skeptics, aren't they? I mean considering they're skeptics and all ...

Apparently the paper doesn't actually list any names, it draws on the online documents but those chosen don't correspond 100% with those in the online docs.

Vinny Burgoo said...

Tom can. He prefaces it with this absurd rant directed at Steven Schneider: ...

Google Scholar tally of climate papers (as defined by Jim Prall; this tally equals 'climate expertise') for 'Steven Schneider' followed by that string's citation-score (ditto; research relevance irrelevant; this tally equals 'prominence'): 13, 84.

The same for 'Stephen Schneider': 258, 336.

The same for 'SH-Schneider', the string suggested by Anderegg et al and confirmed by Prall's website: 356, 336.

The scores for Stephen H Schneider reported at Jim Prall's website and (as far as anyone can tell, Schneider included, probably) used in Anderegg, Prall, Harold and Schneider, PNAS, 2010: 683, 267.

Comments?

Anna Haynes said...

> "So I sympathize with Roger Pielke Jr.'s tale of being threatened"

Um, I'd say it'd be good to hear the other party's account first.
In light of recent events and all.

Belette said...

You've probably been paying more attention than me: was the Anderegg thing peer reviewed?

NewYork said...

What Nick Barnes said. The "blacklist" argument is idiotic.

Steve Bloom said...

Vinny, my comment is that it's not worth my time auditing your attempted audit to figure out what the hell you mean. I suggest you just cut to the chase and ask Jim Prall for clarification.

Nick Barnes said...

Belette, it says here: "Contributed by Stephen H. Schneider, April 9, 2010 (sent for review December 22, 2009)". It also says here that PNAS has the usual sorts of review procedures. And the article is not tagged as "Communicated by" or "Contributed by": the fast tracks for PNAS.

Tony Sidaway said...

This paper is an intriguing conversation piece at the very least, and may stimulate further research on the dynamics of science communication.

That something as innocuous as the PNAS paper provokes some contrarian bloggers once again to toss all their toys out of the pram is unexpected but, alas, quite understandable. They're quite adrift, shaking their heads, and wondering why climate science even still exists. They're in denial about denialism's lack of traction.

ourchangingclimate said...

Apparently it was indeed peer reviewed.

http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2010/06/21/the-climate-experts/comment-page-7/#comment-9011

Bart

Steve Bloom said...

Michael, recalling Fuller's prior claim of having adequately reviewed climate science prior to launching his little enterprise, I was amused to find this from him in today's thread (from Zeke Hausfather) at the Blackboard:

"Could I ask a naive question about climate change? Model assumptions seem to be that global warming will accelerate to a damaging rate of increase during this century.

"As it has yet to happen, it would appear to me that every year that passes without this increase make the required level of increase more heroic in order for assumptions to retain validity.

"We are now 10% through the century. I read (I think at Tamino) that if temperatures do not break records by 2014, that the models are in pretty big trouble.

"Whether temperatures are increasing by 1.3 C per century or 1.17, that’s a long ways off from 3, 5 or 6. Don’t they have some serious catching up to do?"

This was in a thread headed by a graphic demonstrating that they *don't* have much catching up to do! Anyway, later on he claimed he must have read about this and then forgotten about it, but IMHO the damage was quite thoroughly done.

Tom said...

Mr. Bloom, although I promised not to patronise this venue, I'm sure people will understand my wishing to respond to your kind comment.

You might check around and see where it is written that climate science is based first on physics, second on observation and only third on modelling. The source might surprise someone as learned as yourself.

Based on this obviously fallacious weighting scheme, I apologise for having weighted and prioritised my research and writing accordingly.

As someone inherently skeptical of modelling complex and chaotic systems, I have not read nor written very much about them, except once to praise the models' ability to capture the impact of the eruption of Pinatubo.

Hence, I have been blissfully unaware of the riotous history and development of the general circulation models put forward for examination of our planet's climate.

But, like your co-commenters bugs and carrot eater over at The Blackboard, I do appreciate your everlasting vigilance in making sure nobody can ever try to actually learn something.

Keep up the good work.

Tom said...

As far as addressing the subject matter of this post (as long as I'm in the neighborhood),

If this is what you call science, no wonder there are so many skeptics.

Michael Tobis said...

Reagrding Steve Bloom's comment on Tom Fuller, it was harsh and I considered not letting it through.

The fact is, though, that Tom takes a posture on climate science on his own blog as someone with a significant level of understanding. For him to ask novice questions elsewhere is to be encouraged, but for him to turn around and claim sophisticated knowledge of the field elsewhere is not merely harmless self-aggrandizement.

It is a contribution to the pollution of the public conversation with harmful and ill founded errors. While it's tangential to the thread, it's quite a major concern on this blog. It is irresponsible for tom to portray himself as a novice in some places and as an expert in others.

Fortunately there is only one web, something else that Tom doesn't fully seem to understand. You really have to be the same person everywhere, or people will see through you.

The point, Tom, is not that you ask stupid questions. There are no stupid questions.

The point is that there is some evidence that you pretend to be an expert while asking novice/outsider questions. It is the pretense of expertise, not the inexpert question, that is irresponsible.

Tom said...

Gee Michael, I read somewhere that climate science was a really wide topic, almost too much for one person to understand, and so I kind of thought it would be natural for most people to understand some things really well, some things a little, and some things not at all.

You'll note that my questions are not about the purpose or function of general circulation models, but practice in the field, and you may also recall that there are differing stories about how they are used in practice.

And for you to criticize my understanding of science in a post that highlights junk science created for propaganda purposes is a bit rich.

Tom said...

It's not the first time you've 'considered' not letting through a comment that was critical of me. Funny how non-random your eventual decisions always are. You've held onto my posts for hours, move entire posts off your blog, but when someone has something bad to say about me, somehow the weight of judgement always lands on the side of the insult.

Michael Tobis said...

Well, Tom, you can't expect me to be 100% friendly unless you apologize for the climategate book...

I never held your comments; I am not at my computer 100% of the time and moderation delays are inconsistent.

I did move one posting off the front page that was extremely critical of you. Do you want me to put it back?

Does anyone notice how some people can dish it out but can't take it?

Steve Bloom said...

Tom, that's an innacurate quote of Jim Hansen, who actually said that the evidence for AGW is paleoclimate, observations and modeling, in that order. The physics knits it all together.

Speaking of paleoclimate, you might like this new paper (title/abstract):

"Significantly warmer Arctic surface temperatures during the Pliocene indicated by multiple independent proxies

"Temperatures in the Arctic have increased by an astounding 1 C in response to anthropogenic forcing over the past 20 years and are expected to rise further in the coming decades. The Pliocene (2.6–5.3 Ma) is of particular interest as an analog for future warming because global temperatures were signifi cantly warmer than today for a sustained period of time, with continental confi gurations similar to present. Here, we estimate mean annual temperature (MAT) based upon three independent proxies from an early Pliocene peat deposit in the Canadian High Arctic. Our proxies, including oxygen isotopes and annual ring widths (MAT = –0.5 ± 1.9 C), coexistence of paleovegetation (MAT = –0.4 ± 4.1 C), and bacterial tetraether composition in paleosols (MAT = –0.6 ± 5.0 C), yield estimates that are statistically indistinguishable. The consensus among these proxies suggests that Arctic temperatures were ~19 C warmer during the Pliocene than at present, while atmospheric CO2 concentrations were ~390 ppmv. These elevated Arctic Pliocene temperatures result in a greatly reduced and asymmetrical latitudinal temperature gradient that is probably the result of increased poleward heat transport and decreased albedo. These results indicate that Arctic temperatures may be exceedingly sensitive to anthropogenic CO2 emissions." (emphasis added)

Here's another, putting in place the last pieces of the glaciation mechanism (and noting the essential role of CO2):

"The Last Glacial Termination

"A major puzzle of paleoclimatology is why, after a long interval of cooling climate, each late Quaternary ice age ended with a relatively short warming leg called a termination. We here offer a comprehensive hypothesis of how Earth emerged from the last global ice age. A prerequisite was the growth of very large Northern Hemisphere ice sheets, whose subsequent collapse created stadial conditions that disrupted global patterns of ocean and atmospheric circulation. The Southern Hemisphere westerlies shifted poleward during each northern stadial, producing pulses of ocean upwelling and warming that together accounted for much of the termination in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. Rising atmospheric CO2 during southern upwelling pulses augmented warming during the last termination in both polar hemispheres."

Why are the "auditors" so uninterested in this stuff?

Tom said...

Michael, you're still holding one of my comments. As I write.

As for apologising for Climategate? Why should I? I'm proud of it.

You haven't read it. You've got nothing to say about it.

Tom said...

You're saying you moved a post that was critical of me and that I can't take it? Hmm.

I can take it. I just like to throw your hypocrisy back in your face.

You highlight junk science. Then you criticize other people's knowledge of science.

Ooops.

Tom said...

The most serious mistake I've made during my experience in blogging about climate change has been overestimating the intellectual honesty and good faith of people like you.

Hope you're having fun.

Michael Tobis said...

I was indeed having fun, in fact, with Irene taking pictures in remote McMullen and Lasalle counties.

I have tried explaining to Tom on several occasions that I do moderate this blog, and that I am not always at my computer to approve his contributions to the discourse.

Of course, the last was the sort of thing I might not allow through if directed at others. So perhaps I shouldn't allow it if directed at myself.

Anyway, Tom, fair enough, not everybody knows everything about everything. Nevertheless, "please be tolerant of delays" is something sufficeintly straightforward that I do really expect you to be able to understand it.

Let me try again:

1) Comments (usually; I have let up at very busy times) do not appear on this blog until I approve them.

2) Sometimes I approve comments immediately, usually because I am at my computer checking email frequently. Sometimes I am in the middle of nowhere (usually in Texas, but that's beside the point) or at a meeting or a personal engagement, or asleep. Then the comment will appear later.

3) I don't recall that I've hesitated to post a Tom Fuller comment as yet. I will let you know if it comes up.

This isn't rocket science, Tom, or even thermometer science.

For someone who has written such scathing critiques of others to be so touchy about such a small thing is almost as peculiar as your response to Anderegg, Prall et al. is.

I don't want to shut down communication channels, but you need to chill out about this particular thing permanently.

PS - If anyone thinks I've missed a polite non-redundant contribution, note that Blogger is somewhat flawed. Feel free to resubmit.

If anyone thinks I'm selectively not reviewing their stuff, I must simply say that you are wrong.

Please don't raise it here again.

Tom said...

Hi Michael,

Noted. I had posted two comments at about the same time and you published the second one first. Hence my confusion.

Now, as for the substance of this post and comments, let's return to the issues.

First, I readily admit that a) I am not a scientist and b) there are areas of climate science that I have not explored as fully as I would like. I make every attempt to signal my lack of expertise when I touch on them in my published writing.

Second, Why would you call for an apology for a book you haven't read?

Third, why would you and Steve Bloom react with snark and criticism when someone is trying to learn something?

Fourth, why would you publish a long post that highlights and promotes junk science that wouldn't make it out of a 7th grade science lab?

Regardless of my opinion about the motives and eventual use of the defacto list that has been created (and time will tell, certainly), this is garbage science created by an amateur blogger and a grad student with Schneider's name tacked on top of it.

In reverse order:

The findings are incorrect. It incorrectly labels ACC experts as either CE or UE.

The analysis scheme is incorrect. It fails to account for confounding factors such as change of opinion over time, venue and approach for presenting petitions, comparative content of petitions, etc.

The data collection is incorrect. They have wrong names, wrong specializations, wrong counts of publications and wrong citation numbers.

The methodology is inappropriate. They searched with only one database, did not search in other languages, did not crosscheck their data.

Their hypothesis is flawed. There are many factors that could equally explain differences in publication and citation by UE and CE scientists, including publication bias, confirmation bias, fear of retribution or erosion of career potential, etc.

Spencer Weart said it best--the paper should not have been published in its present form. It does not survive the first casual reading.

And yet you've got it up there as if it's the Magna Carta.

Steve Bloom said...

For the record, Tom, I thought your GCM question was worth highlighting because of claims you've made about the extent of your knowledge, including on this very blog (on 3/31/10). Note item 12 in your list of aspects of climate science that you think you understand:

"Hi Tobis,

"Once again you hand wave with vague accusations of what I don't understand about climate science. As I said, be specific or be silent.

"You're really free with your oracular and authoritative pronouncements about market research, which you know nothing about, journalism, which you know nothing about, and now mental health sciences, which you know nothing about.

"So I'm willing to believe you speak from experience about writing on an issue you know nothing about.

"But what, specifically, do you claim I do not understand?

"I'll provide a list--you can, if lazy or tired from travel, just say all of the above if you wish.

"1. The greenhouse theory
2. What is a greenhouse gas
3. CO2 being a greenhouse gas
4. Human emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases
5. The difference between emissions and concentrations
6. The sensitivity of the earth's atmosphere to a doubling of CO2 concentrations
7. The urban heat island effect
8. Other forcings
9. Feedbacks
10. Carbon sinks
11. Lifespan of CO2 and how it should be measured
12. GCMs
13. Role of the IPCC
14. Differences between SRES
15. Sea level rise
16. Warming
17. LU / LC
18. Solar variability, cosmic rays, solar cycles, etc.
19. Orbital cycles
20. Role of polar icecaps

"Or whatever else you want. Be specific or be quiet--feel free to tell me not to darken your door again. This is your forum. But quit with the 'he don't know jack' stuff. You sound like the guy at the end of the bar that spends the evening insulting everyone who comes in and then wonders why he's going home alone."

You know, I'm not a climate scientist, but I've spent vastly more time trying to understand the science than you have and still wouldn't dare to claim more than a minimal understanding. Your hubris is truly something to behold.

Steve Bloom said...

I should add that I would have a lot more tolerance for Fuller's numerous science errors if he was more willing to accept corrections.