"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Andrew Sullivan on SwiftHack

Not really a climate blogger though he sometimes plays up Jim Manzi's stuff, and a sort of conservative-in-spirit (though gay) anti-Republican, Andrew Sullivan is one of my main sources of information. He was brilliant on the Iran pseudo-election and is consistently on the mark about what drives the US Republicans. (I am also sympathetic to his views on religion, seeking a territory between militant atheism and superstition that preserves the value in religion in a non-medieval way. YMMV.)

He thinks the EAU emails reveal a potential unconscious bias problem and makes a fairly good case for it.

Although the point
(2) The programmer applied arbitrary adjustments to the data (he says so himself) to get the desired results.
is based on a misunderstanding, the larger argument is worth considering.

I'm pretty convinced the Charney sensitivity is between 2.5 C and 3 C per doubling or close to that, largely because I'm convinced that Annan and Hargreaves aren't really easy to sway by the weight of public opinion. I'm totally convinced that there is an AGW fingerprint that is totally clear in the stratospheric cooling [corrected, h/t TB]. I don't see how it's possible that we have the big picture as badly wrong as Lindzen suggests.

On the other hand, I'm not at all convinced that the tree rings are worth a good goddamn [Update: for establishing a global mean surface temperature record, I mean; it's certainly useful information for local information], whether Mike Mann is a nice guy or not.

As for the pre-satellite instrumental record, I'm sure Phil Jones is also a very nice fellow, but again that doesn't validate the record. I don't think that the four reconstructions are really independent, so that really doesn't help all that much.

Experimenter bias is a very big deal in medical science for a reason. Climate science doesn't seem to have much room for this question in its culture, and that is a real problem. I don't think the confrontational attitude of McIntyre & co actually helps.

Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist, pointed out that paleo evidence, physical reasoning, stratospheric trends and the like don't mean much to people.

The whole business is called "global warming" and we are sort of stuck with that. People think "the theory" is about the global mean surface temperature trend. And every blip and every question about every blip calls "the theory" into question in the minds of the public. It will snow tonight in Austin. How many "global warming" jokes do you think there will be in central Texas tomorrow?

No need here to summarize all the extrinsic reasons that people don't want to believe "the theory".

COP15 was already derailed. Blaming it on Phil Jones is a profound injustice, and even blaming the hacker is scapegoating, but something like that will be convenient for both sides. On the other hand, that doesn't mean the temperature record is right.

Update: I am hearing rumors that Obama will manage to pull something off at COP15 after all. That would be interesting. So maybe it's best if we avoid casting blame too early.

Update: In a very complimentary link to this article, (Thanks!) Keith Kloor suggests that
Many of the people he admires are shrugging off “climategate” (yes, I don’t like the term either) as “a tempest in a teapot” or an “artificial” scandal. Not Tobis. He recognizes it’s much more than that, and to his credit, he’s trying to figure out how to engage it.
Unfortunately, since I hate to turn down compliments, this is not exactly what I am saying.

From the point of view of science I actually believe that it is a tempest in a teapot and an artificial scandal.

There is much to be learned from the instrumental and proxy records of the past.

Still the exact bumps and wiggles of global mean temperature aren't necessarily where we should be looking, and for all I know (and I don't claim to be an expert) might in fact be more or less indeterminate in principle.

Politically, though, it's obviously a big deal.

I should make this clear. I think the main thing that has happened, the most important aspect of the EAU email release, is that a criminal act has been perpetrated and is having a desired effect on a political process. This is a very unfortunate and destabilizing outcome, and people ought to think twice about celebrating it.


Steve Bloom said...

But all that leaves is point 1, an entirely unsupported claim that the data files are a mess, and so the "larger argument" just reduces to a broad statement that all science is subject to bias. Eh.

Also, you may like Sullivan, but Sullivan likes the execrable Tierney. Careful!

Michael Tobis said...

Ah well, the friend of my friend isn't necessarily my friend either.

But yeah, science is subject to bias. That's the point.

guthrie said...

I hadn't realised how much harassment they were getting from the MAcintyres of the world. Unfortunately a typical human response to that is to circle the wagons.

You may or may not be surprised at how many people, having neither experience of science at work (as it were) nor thought about it at all, think that science is this great big wonder machine which cranks out useful stuff through geeks in white coats discovering stuff in labs.
Never mind the personalities, the communication problems etc. As far as I can tell historians of science have been re-addressing this imbalance for a decade or two, but it takes at least that long for the newer material to percolate into public consciousness.

Then there are the fools who decide that because scientists are only human, that nothing they do can be trusted at all (except when it confirms their biases). I'm not sure what to do about them, but they are one lot of vociferous people online.

Hank Roberts said...

> the point

And a dull, well-worn point it is, and like a dull needle, apt to turn the wrong way when pushed.

Peter Watts:

"... we are all humans; and humans come with dogma as standard equipment. We can no more shake off our biases than Liz Cheney could pay a compliment to Barack Obama. The best we can do— the best science can do— is make sure that at least, we get to choose among competing biases.

That’s how science works. It’s not a hippie love-in; it’s rugby. Every time you put out a paper, the guy you pissed off at last year’s Houston conference is gonna be laying in wait. Every time you think you’ve made a breakthrough, that asshole supervisor who told you you needed more data will be standing ready to shoot it down. You want to know how the Human Genome Project finished so far ahead of schedule? Because it was the Human Genome projects, two competing teams locked in bitter rivalry, one led by J. Craig Venter, one by Francis Collins — and from what I hear, those guys did not like each other at all.

This is how it works: you put your model out there in the coliseum, and a bunch of guys in white coats kick the shit out of it. If it’s still alive when the dust clears, your brainchild receives conditional acceptance. It does not get rejected. This time.

Yes, there are mafias. There are those spared the kicking because they have connections. There are established cliques who decide what appears in Science, who gets to give a spoken presentation and who gets kicked down to the poster sessions with the kiddies. I know a couple of people who will probably never get credit for the work they’ve done, for the insights they’ve produced. But the insights themselves prevail. Even if the establishment shoots the messenger, so long as the message is valid it will work its way into the heart of the enemy’s camp. First it will be ridiculed. Then it will be accepted as true, but irrelevant. Finally, it will be embraced as canon, and what’s more everyone will know that it was always so embraced, and it was Our Glorious Leader who had the idea. The credit may not go to those who deserve it; but the field will have moved forward.

Science is so powerful that it drags us kicking and screaming towards the truth despite our best efforts to avoid it. And it does that at least partly fueled by our pettiness and our rivalries. Science is alchemy: it turns shit into gold. Keep that in mind the next time some blogger decries the ill manners of a bunch of climate scientists under continual siege by forces with vastly deeper pockets and much louder megaphones."

John Mashey said...

Without knowing anything about climate, a person should be able to look at Fig 2.21 in the TAR, or 6.10 in AR4 (I especially like the 3rd chart) and know that people doing paleo reconstructions are trying hard to tease out signal from modest data. When I see spaghehtti like that, I Know the likely answer is in there somewhere, and absent new data, likely to stay "somewhere".

But it is craziness to get carried away with arguments over lines that are really bands. Tukey would have had a fit.

A truly fundamental problem is that it is nontrivial to show uncertainty, both correctly and understandably, especially for a general audience.

I still say what I always say: our level knowledge about the past in itself doesn't make one bit of difference to our current state, or even to our future state, although it may help us bound the uncertainty in predicting future state.

Put another way, regardless of what the temperature has been, I suspect the bark beetles are headed further North.

Unknown said...

If you're not convinced that tree rings are worth a damn, can I therefore not be convinced that climate models are worth a damn? ;)

In all seriousness, however, if you're interested in learning more about dendrochronology and its various applications -- including for temperature reconstruction -- I'm happy to oblige. Keep in mind, Mike Mann isn't a dendrochronologist.

Michael Tobis said...

Welcome, tree ring person!

So, my question is the obvious one: what is the scoop with the post-1960 "divergence"? How do we know there aren't other divergences in the record?

Approach it however you choose. Explain how you tease out temperature from moisture, for instance.

Paul said...


Thank you for rising up on this thread.

If possible, educate us in a few well chosen words.

Bet that isn't possible because the dendro world is complex and to really understand takes a full time effort and professional level training.

Mann may not be a dendro but Briffa and Hughes, B & H of the much maligned MBH 98, are both dendros and the work remains seminal if flawed in some respects. What seminal work isn't?

I am disappointed with Micheal's casual dismissal of paleo reconstruction and the usefulness of dendro proxies.

Please pursue some basic education on your promising blog.

Paul Middents

Unknown said...


Thanks. And good question(s).

Your first is 'what is the scoop with the post-1960 "divergence"? How do we know there aren't other divergences in the record?'.

The short answer to the latter half of your question is: we don't. And this is exactly why divergence is a major focus of research and a significant concern for those in the field who do temperature reconstructions. There are a lot of hypotheses out there (there is a review paper by D'Arrigo and coauthors, Global and Planetary Change 60:289–305 which covers some of them). I personally favor some mix of statistical issues (check out this paper, Esper and Frank, Climatic Change (2009) 94:261–266, linked here: http://tinyurl.com/ycctwjp [PDF]), and at some sites and in some species a change in growth limiting factors (that is, threshold of temperature or moisture variability being exceeded). If divergence turns out not to be strictly linked to statistical treatment or some unique feature (say, pollution) of the anthropocene, but rather represents changes in growth-limiting factors, then new techniques are called for (well, they are anyway) -- probabilistic and inverse methods, modeling, at the very least some manner of statistical detection, the use multiple proxies from the same archive, etc. I firmly believe there are bright graduate students out there right now who will be at the forefront with respect to developing these.

On your more general question 'Explain how you tease out temperature from moisture' -- everything starts with good fieldwork -- particularly site selection (to study temperature, you want a site where temperature is the main limitation on growth and trees are significantly moisture stressed, so looking first to upper elevational and poleward latitudinal treelines). Then careful statistical analysis once you've built an absolutely dated, replicated chronology. You want to make sure the relationships between growth and climate are stable, doing cross-validation out of sample when doing reconstructions, etc. Henri Grissino-Mayer's webpages, particularly here: http://tinyurl.com/yyl872 , are a good place for a gentle introduction).

Paul: thanks for your kind words -- You're right, this is a big topic and we a diverse field -- I'd like to blog more, but the real world intrudes in many ways. But perhaps a longer post on divergence would be useful, as this issue (long recognized and published on by dendrochronologists) enters the wider lexicon.

Recaptcha: crudec, no kidding.

Deep Climate said...

You seem convinced (or unconvinced) of various things. But you present no actual evidence. That'
the point.

Good to see DO here. I was hoping someone would call you on your blithe dismissal of decades of work by some very fine scientists.

Maybe you'd prefer to go back to handrawn cartoons based on extrapolations of Lamb's Central England temperatures.

Sorry for the grumpimness, but you really have no idea what you are talking about. The reputations
of Mann and Jones are being shredded unfairly and viciously, for the most venal reasons, and all you can do is ... What is it you're doing again?

Back to RC, I guess.

Michael Tobis said...

I'm not dismissing anything. What I think I'm doing is actually being skeptical.

I pretty much agree with Mashey here.

There is only so much we can get out of the past data. I'm all for getting as much of it as there is. But there are lots of reasons to think it's not all that well constrained.

I think the way Mann and Jones and for that matter Santer have been treated is a travesty. (Who knows, I may be next. Though I'll never be an IPCC author, I still might be a target.) Personal support, though, doesn't make them right or immune to criticism on matters of substance.

Paul said...


So make a criticism of substance.

I agree with Mashey too. There is plenty of uncertainty apparent to just a casual glance. Is that not reflected in the basic literature?

Where do you get the idea that Mann et al are dismissing uncertainty in their reconstructions?

I am confused by your point, if indeed you have one.

Steve Bloom said...

Paul, the B in MBH is Ray Bradley, not Keith Briffa.

Douglas Watts said...

Mr. Tobis is right that science is open to bias, at least in the sense that humans are pattern-recognition machines and much of science is discerning whether data shows a pattern or not, and which pattern it might show. Feynman's exhortation to make sure you're not fooling yourself is great advice, but if one interpretation gets you published and the other simply confirms the status quo, and as such, doesn't get you published, there's a bias right there.

Gavin S. just posted a nice essay on this same subject at realclimate.

Unknown said...

Seeing DO here reminds me that when I used to muck in the fever swamps of CA.

I offered, numerous times, to moderate at Henri's listerv (my little learning and fieldwork in dendro isn't enough for me to comment knowledgeably there) for folks to give their best shot at refuting dendro findings. No one ever took it up.

Nonetheless, all we can do is the best we can do. And DO's point about site selection is key, and the reason why the androids at places like CA and LowWatts call it "cherry-picking" - it is complicated and easily mischaracterized due to how complicated it is.

Kind of like the whole climate thing.: easily mischaracterized.



Anonymous said...

I'm not suggesting anyone is above criticism. I am suggesting vague "skepticism" or raising a supposed (wholly unsubstantiated) problem of "potential unconcious bias" is unhelpful.

Of course, there are limits to paleoclimatology. That doesn't mean that tree rings are not "worth a good goddamn".

The point is that we now know that late 20th century temperature is likely warmer than at any time in the last 2000 years. Fifteen years ago, the presumption was that the MWP was significantly warmer. Does that mean our knowledge is exact or can ever be? Of course not, and Mann et al 2008 reflects that perfectly well (you have read that, haven't you?).

You've also said that Annan and Hargreaves aren't easy to sway by the "weight of public opinion". That appears to imply that others, presumably including Mann and Jones, may be. Perhaps you meant something else, but it's hard to tell.

Sure I agree with John Mashey, but I think you need to clarify and substantiate your own points.

Michael Tobis said...

I think this all comes back to the scientific model that all knowledge sits in some formal output of some process. This is getting us all into trouble, climatologists, genuine skeptics, and denialists alike.

These are all different statements:

I personally do not know if X. You are convinced of X. X is generally accepted.

Another possibility is that Y is generally accepted (consensus) and yet I still do not believe Y.

So, in fact I personally do not know to what extent the substance of McIntyre's criticisms are valid. You and many other people I respect believe otherwise.

On the one hand, McIntyre's approach does not have the ring of falsehood to me that run of the mill deniers and the half-baked iconoclasts do. On the other, I know a good deal less about the field.

I do have some background in statistics, yet I find both the attacks and the defenses quite impenetrable. So the question for me is how much importance to place on the conversation. It would seem to be a lot of work to weigh both sides of the argument fairly.

My concern about greenhouse gases is not based on the millenial record. I think "global warming" is a symptom, not the problem, and too much emphasis on it skews the debate. I think the whole fingerprint question is entirely silly. The cooling stratosphere suffices.

I think the global mean surface temperature is not such a useful diagnostic on that time scale that it's worth my personal attention. I think there is probably a lot of useful information in tree rings, but I see no reason to be confident that global mean temperature is particularly available there. (I've amended my too-hasty statement in the article to indicate that tree rings are surely useful for other purposes.)

Perhaps putting a lot of proxies together can do the trick. I'm not an expert on that. Even so, I think the importance of the whole effort is overstated.

If there were really something in the millenial record that could drastically change our estimates of the system sensitivity it would be another matter. As far as I can tell nobody seriously argues that. That being the case I am content to remain agnostic.

Anonymous said...

If the MWP were really 2C warmer than present as claimed by some, that would have huge implications for climate sensitivity would it not?

The exact answer about MWP is perhaps not important, but the ballpark answer is.

I will grant McIntyre the occasional valid point or two, but they are much, much less important than he claims.

For instance the peer-reviewed literature on the "short-centred" PCA in MBH98 is pretty clear (McKitrick's *one and only* scientific pub in GRL, followed by Amman and Wahl): Mann applied the analytical technique in an unconventional, denigrated way, but that had little effect on the final result, when PCA was applied conventionally.

That's how science works, or should work.

I will grant you that McIntyre's presentation is obfuscatory (you two have that in common. This creates the real problem: his various vague and barely veiled accusations tend to get exaggerated and distorted, because their basis is so opaque and difficult to understand.

For example, McIntyre's erstwhile co-author Ross McKitrick actually claimed that Schweingruber was co-author on Briffa et al 2008, after McIntyre went on and on about how Schweingruber's Khadyta River site should have been included.

Did McIntyre ever bother to correct him? Not a chance.

The real problem isn't only McIntyre's flawed analysis and misleading insinuations (BTW, ever chased down a quote of his - talk about "out of context"). It's also all the others who idolize him and have an even wider audience.

I think the IPCC basically has it right on its exposition and various emphases. I guess you don't?

And you still haven't explained yourself on "potential bias" ... (sigh). Maybe you mean that each researcher is "biased" to think their area is under appreciated and other specializations' importance is exaggerated. :)

Well, yes, you, and they, are all guilty of that.

Michael Tobis said...

"his various vague and barely veiled accusations tend to get exaggerated and distorted"

Yes, no doubt about that.

"because their basis is so opaque and difficult to understand"

Maybe that's part of it. I don't fully understand either side of the debate. I am saying it isn't very important enough to how I think, in the end, that I care to put the work in.

I think the main reason for exaggerations and distortions is that McIntyre's audience includes clueless people who really don't want to believe in climate sensitivity.

I think what McIntyre himself wants above all is respect, and while his acolytes give him far too much, perhaps the rest of us give him too little. Also, given the sad history of the controversy to date, he may have some grounds for not submitting his work to peer review.

I think the IPCC has been a fair representation of the consensus, but it may be increasingly forming the consensus rather than reporting on it. This is a legitimate concern, and I think it's silly to say that just because the process worked in the past, it is working now and will work forever.

Regarding the MWP, that is somewhat interesting. Suppose there really was a substantial MWP, with a global temperature exceeding today's. How would that affect us?

"And you still haven't explained yourself on potential bias"

Every researcher has expectations that they want the data to support. Most fields recognize this and take active steps to avoid it.

Anonymous said...

You're hard to pin down, which leads me to believe you haven't thought through your statements suffuciently.

"Every researcher has expectations that they want the data to support. Most fields recognize this and take active steps to avoid it."

You know in the early days of the emails (leading up to IPCC TAR 2001) you see the scientists arguing among themselves. Briffa's take on MWP and LIA was different than Mann's. Mann's take today (in Mann et al 2008) is different than MBH99, and includes considerably more variation. That's science.

That's very different from McIntyre coming in with a predetermined agenda and trying to upset the whole apple cart, based on flimsy evidence and poor domain knowledge. I don't think he really wants "respect" at all; I believe, he relishes his role as the iconoclastic outsider and enjoys the conflict.

You implied that paleoclimatology suffered from more researcher bias than the modelling community. That's what you need to clarify and substantiate. I still have no idea what you meant beyond some vague generality.

Wrt IPCC: The real problem is those with an agenda and allied to fossil fuel industry trying to subvert the IPCC process. That problem was evident in the last round. The issue is really how to depoliticize the process, but let's be clear about who politicized it in the first place.

A very strong MWP would need to be explained. What model could come up with a 2C warmer MWP, based on current understanding on magnitude and effect of various forcings involved? Of course it's relevant to our understanding of climate.

The claim of skeptics is that a strong MWP shows the importance of natural (primarily solar) forcing relative to that of anthropogenic forcings. Most scientists respond that a strong MWP would actually demonstrate stronger climate sensitivity in general to forcings of whatever type.

At least that's my understanding of the implications.

wag said...

I wrote a response to Sullivan's post, pointing out that skeptics not only DO receive government funding, but that they get it specifically earmarked for them by conservative Senators. Specifically, Sen. Richard Shelby earmarked $1.8 million for John Christy and Roy Spencer's research at UAH in the 2010 Energy & Water appropriations bill - the purpose of which is to "examine and evaluate climate model simulations to determine the level of performance these models achieve... Given the tremendous burden that any climate change legislation would place on the U.S. economy."

Obviously, Christy and Spencer get government funding, but is it normal for scientists to get earmarks for funding outside the normal budget process?

And in fact, a request for funding for what looks to be this very project shows up in the East Anglia emails - Christy is in contact with prominent denial industry strategist Jeff Salmon at DOE back in 2007 seeking funding.


Michael Tobis said...

"You implied that paleoclimatology suffered from more researcher bias than the modelling community."

No such implication is intentional or representative of my beliefs. I don't see where you got this.

Nor am I critiquing paleoclimatology in general. I have some doubt about the ability to get century scale blips from the thousand year global mean record. I am willing to be educated on the question, but I am also lazy, because I find the question itself greatly overvalued.

Regarding the implication of the MWP, agreed: if there is a large MWP, two precisely contrary conclusions will be reached. Therefore as input to people who want to know the future of climate, it doesn't matter much unless the underlying mechanisms are identified. Yet we are still arguing about factors of two or more in the instrumental period.

The information in the global millenial temperature record is noisy and problematic, and the forcings are missing. I wonder if it is the right place for paleo people to put their attentions.

Anonymous said...

(Sigh) you said:

"He thinks the EAU emails reveal a potential unconscious bias problem and makes a fairly good case for it."

You also excluded Annan and Hargreaves (modelers) from this problem.

Now you say there is not a difference in bias between the two fields. But you do appear to be saying there "is a strong case" that the researchers, or some of them, on the CRU emails were victims of "unconscious bias". If so which ones? Or all of them? Any substantiation whatsoever?

You should either clarify (and substantiate) what you meant, or just admit that you (and Sullivan) had no point of any consequence. You're still being unclear.

Turning to MWP, I believe there are good estimates of past solar forcing at the centennial or multi-decadal level, perhaps less so at the decadal. But I'm no expert.

The real point about the strong MWP is, whatever the accepted explanation, it would substantially change our understanding of climate at the multi-decadal or centennial level. If there is any "bias", that is it - that a very strong MWP simply doesn't fit current understanding, including the widely accepted 2.5-3C climate sensitivity central estimate. Having said that, paleo estimates for MWP have moved up, not down, over the last decade, so in that sense it's hard to detect the so-called "bias" of these researchers (Mann, Briffa etc.).

Nevertheless, in the above broader sense, paleo and other climate studies corroborate each other. You do see that, don't you?

Moving on to instrumental record, where do you get "factors of two or more"? I guess you are speaking of linear trend over some vague unspecified time. Are you talking mid-20th century? 19th century? Up to 1980? Since 1980? The entire record? Which data sets?

This feels weird and wrong. I feel like I probably know more about this stuff than you. But I'm not really the right person to be continuing this discussion, because I'm not a scientist. So perhaps I should bow out and let others take over.

But I do encourage you to clarify your thoughts as much as possible. You never know when someone will quote you to the effect that you think there is a strong case Mann and Jones suffered from "unconscious bias", which is a possible, even plausible, interpretation of what you said. So please fix or clarify that, before Morano gets hold of it.

the_heat_is_on said...

@Michael Tobis,
"Maybe that's part of it. I don't fully understand either side of the debate. I am saying it isn't very important enough to how I think, in the end, that I care to put the work in."
I think it's a mistake of your part to put too much weight on McIntyre's arguments, even if you don't understand them.
To put it simply: his work has a low signal-to-noise ratio. He doesn't behave as an honest inquirer. Examples:
- Refloating old, "settled" arguments.
- Subtle or not subtle attacks on climate scientists.
- Willing to be misquoted and distorted by the guilible.
- Refusing to engage in real scientific debate in the peer-reviewed literature.
- Feeding talking points to microWatts et al.
- Insane requirements of data, metadata, code and documentation.
- Unwillingness to retract when he's clearly shown to be wrong.

"Regarding the implication of the MWP, agreed: if there is a large MWP, two precisely contrary conclusions will be reached. Therefore as input to people who want to know the future of climate, it doesn't matter much unless the underlying mechanisms are identified."
I think this point hasn't been stressed enough by climate scientists: how a warm MWP may add more evidence to the "alarmist" consensus on climate sensitivity.
On the point of climate sensitivity I'm always amused by Lindzen et al and his argument for a low climate sensitivity. How do you explain the glacial-interglacial shift (5-7 ºC of variation in GATA) with a CS of <1,5 ºC per doubling of CO2?

Michael Tobis said...

DC, I am relieved that you are not a "scientist" because you don't seem to understand the word "bias" used as a term of art. I suggest you read the famous Feynman quotation in Sullivan's piece. See also the wikipedia article on confirmation bias.

I agree we are going around in circles.

Morano will misinterpret what I say when it suits him. He has done so in the past and may do so again.

I have been thinking about this exact question of late. I think that walking on eggshells to avoid giving ammunition to the bad guys is a corrupting influence. In the end plays into their hands more than inadvertently giving them the juicy quotes to beat you up with.

Anyway, Morano already has me cast as "climate fear promoter", so I can probably say "climate fear opponent" stuff with relative immunity.

This is really key to the point of this blog.

Scientific speech and political speech are very different beasts. The current situation tangles them up. I am trying to figure out how to disentangle them. I am not sure how.

Still, I am certain that criticizing or refraining from criticizing people on the grounds of how worried they are or aren't about CO2 is a purely political stance. Others already occupy that space. It doesn't interest me.

Anonymous said...

There is no need to patronize me. I am well aware of what the term "bias" means in science, and for instance, why it was a poor choice of terminology in Klotzbach et al.

Criticism is fine too (I even criticized Mann above, you'll notice).

Let's leave it at that, and you decide where you want to go from here.

David B. Benson said...

Well, using just the (global) borehole data shows that MWP was but a little bump on the way to the noticable LIA.

Guess what? Using just the GISP2 temperature reconstruction from Alley, MWP is just a liitle bump on the way to a noticable LIA. Addmittedly, that's a sort of North Atalantic region proxy, but it does suggest that even the European MWP wasn't much...

Paul said...

Sorry Michael, I remain confused.

DC has tried to engage you on some very specific points. Your response trivializing his understanding of “bias” is not helpful. The loose use of this term by Pielke Sr. in the Klotzboch paper created lots of heat and little light. Your use of the term could fuel similar FUD bursts.

I can not believe this is your intent.

Paul Middents

Michael Tobis said...

OK, this will be a bit confusing. But this is what I mean.

I will speak of my own bias so that nobody thinks I am accusing anyone of anything specific, which I'm not.

Let us consider the equilibrium sensitivity of the earth system to a doubling of CO2, keeping all forcings and boundary conditions including ice sheets fixed, i.e., the Charney sensitivity.

I think the right answer is 2.5C to 3C. At this point lots of the best people do, and who am I to disagree?

This makes me biased toward 2.5 C to 3 C. I am biased, that is, toward what I honestly think is the right answer, which is also the answer that I perceive will be most pleasing to the people I am most interested in pleasing.

So when I do a sensitivity study and it comes out 6 or 0.8, I will look for a bug. If it comes out 2.6 I will be less likely to do so, even if it does so for the wrong reasons.

My bias therefore makes me more likely than random chance to get a number between 2.5 and 3. I am not an evil person for having such a bias. I am a better scientist for being aware of the possibility that it should come out some other way.

If the emerging consensus of 2.5C - 3C is correct, and I believe it is, I am biased toward the getting correct answer more often than would be predicted by chance. My examination of the evidence will tend to display more certainty than present evidence warrants.

The more I am on guard against my biases and set up objective tests, the better my estimate of the risks in the situation corresponds to the available evidence of risk.

What does this mean about the millenial proxies? I don't know. I really don't.

What I'm really trying to say here is that I don't care very much. The whole question has been a red herring from day one. I can't be bothered to investigate whether things are as the CA people claim or as the millenial proxy gang claims. I want to know what the sensitivity is, and what the system will do in the future. I really don't see why I should care so much what it was doing in 1420.

I don't think the EAU emails are that important, in other words.If the hack is celebrated rather than prosecuted, all hell breaks loose, presuming it is a real hack. We really don't want to be encouraging politics by felony, do we? I think we should look at this primarily as a computer security issue. So Kloor is wrong when he says I think this is a big deal. The only way it's a big deal is to expose the incredibly shabby techniques of the opposition, and to increase the risk of a world where politics is conducted by criminal acts.

Otherwise we have a corner of science that may or may not have overstated its case that is not especially important, except for its role in the depressingly messed up politics of the climate problem.

That doesn't make the millenial scale global mean temperature record right; nor does it make it wrong. But it doesn't make it all that important from the point of view of science or policy.

I am sure this will be of little comfort to either side of the feud but I think both of them are barking up the wrong tree.

Unknown said...

Well, either I'm pretty addle-brained (some chum for your readers) or that's as quick a walk-back as I've seen in a while.

So be it. But I think I quoted the parts of your exchange that accurately reflected the points I was trying to make.

Tom Yulsman said...

Keith: I understand Michael to be saying what many people I respect have been saying — that this is a big deal politically, but from a scientific standpoint it doesn't seem to amount to much. (And I don't really see walk-back here.)

Except there's Michael's bias issue, and that strikes me as deserving more explanation. If his very clear explanation of it is right, it is obviously a problem in all of science, not just climate science. But given the particular nature of environmental science, might it be more of an issue here than in other areas of science?

And does the fact that scientists "kick the shit out of each" other over contested ideas, as Hank Roberts put it in his comments, really serve as enough of a corrective when everyone seems to be leaning in the same direction?

In any case, I have learned an enormous amount today reading this post and all the comments. Thanks to you all, especially to Michael for starting it off.

Aaron said...

I'm pretty convinced that the Charney sensitivity is . . . . short term thinking in the face of a long term problem. It is not that full equilibrium will come fast; it is that the system will go wild for a while as it looks for a new equilibrium.

The MWP? A tiny little blip that wiped out at least two civilizations - one in Chaco Canyon and one on the Banks of the Dead Sea. If a small blip can do that, we do not want the system to go wild.

bigcitylib said...

Michael's account of "bias" sounds very much like what Kuhn (and others) would call normal scientific behavior.

If I do an experiment in chemistry class and it DOESN'T work, I don't question the chemical theory. In fact it probably would be irrational to do so. In fact the reasonable thing would be to try and figure out what I did wrong to get the wrong answer.

If everyone were to do the strictly Popperian thing, abandon their theory at the first sign of counter-evidence, then (it has been argued) no science would get done.

Hank Roberts said...

Credit where due, Tom's recalling my post but I was quoting Peter Watts
"... We can no more shake off our biases than Liz Cheney could pay a compliment to Barack Obama. The best we can do—the best science can do—is make sure that at least, we get to choose among competing biases.
That’s how science works. It’s not a hippie love-in; it’s rugby..... you put your model out there in the coliseum, and a bunch of guys in white coats kick the shit out of it. If it’s still alive when the dust clears, your brainchild receives conditional acceptance. It does not get rejected. This time...."
I grew up as a faculty brat and sat behind and under the seats of many scientists--at dinners, at picnics, on long trips on 2-lane roads. Big ears. That is how it works.

Those who don't value science don't understand that this human nature is turned to produce knowledge no other human endeavor can produce. That's the wonder of doing it or understanding how it's done.

Peter Watts again:

"Science is so powerful that it drags us kicking and screaming towards the truth despite our best efforts to avoid it. And it does that at least partly fueled by our pettiness and our rivalries. Science is alchemy: it turns shit into gold. Keep that in mind the next time some blogger decries the ill manners of a bunch of climate scientists under continual siege by forces with vastly deeper pockets and much louder megaphones."

Any scientist disagree with that?
Any nonscientist even understand?

Unknown said...

BCL with the 'chem lab' argument gets at the central thing that Dano points out often:

Denialists and the audience that finds PR firms' output compelling have no education in the natural sciences.

IMHO all you need is one formal lab in chem, bio, botany, something to get a different view. The discipline and scientific method try to eliminate bias.



Martin Vermeer said...

Hank, yep. Science is alchemy. We may not be perfect as human beings, but heck, together we make things work. A record unlike anything or anybody... hmmm what about bootprints on another world?

I remember reading about the Trinity nuclear test in White Sands, when scientists were mounting a complicated-looking device on top of a huge steel grid tower. They explained to soldiers at the site that, if the device did what it was supposed to do, the whole tower would evaporate, making way for a big crater. Some of the soldiers were less than convinced...

When scientists make a promise and don't smile, sit up and listen.

David B. Benson said...

Aaron --- Mayans too, I think.

Some regional forecasts suggest that all the Lower 48 south and wesst of Springfield, Illinois, is likely to desertify.

Greg said...

Michael, I agree that Sullivan is interesting and currently worth reading ... but prior to 2005 this "anti-republican conservative" was very pro-republican and used underhanded tactics against the left, Democrats, and Clinton. See such interesting articles as http://www.slate.com/id/2074734/ and http://www.prospect.org/csnc/blogs/ezraklein_archive?month=10&year=2007&base_name=andrew_sullivan_and_honesty - or just generally use Google to see what Andrew was up to during the period 1992-2004.

Anna Haynes said...

A belated response to Michael's "I think that walking on eggshells to avoid giving ammunition to the bad guys is a corrupting influence. In the end [it] plays into their hands more than inadvertently giving them the juicy quotes to beat you up with."

IMO you think this because you're thoughtful, and you speak thoughtfully. If you were prone to hyperbole and foot-in-mouth disease outbreaks, your cost-benefit analysis might come out differently.