"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Knappenberger's Variation and Lippard's Test

Update: Here's what Paul Knappenberger at SPPI says about the EAU hacking:
"In his December 18, 2009 op-ed, Dr. Michael Mann largely misses to point about the most important aspect of the contents of the climate emails. It is not so much what has appeared in the scientific literature after “decades of work by thousands of scientists around the world” regarding human-caused climate change, but what has not appeared in the literature. The emails reveal signs of manipulation of the peer-review process, and what’s worse, intimidation of individual researchers, from a group of prominent scientists who seek to closely guard their view of the evidence and who are largely intolerant of countervailing hypothesis or interpretations. The degree to which the extant scientific literature can be judged a fair representation of what our scientific understanding may have been like absent these tactics is impossible to ascertain. The unfortunate, but undeniable side effect, is that the foundation of state, national, and international assessments of the potential impacts of climate change and considerations of what actions may be necessary to mitigate them has been shaken—not by what our knowledge is, but by what it should be. The latter of which, through the actions revealed in the emails, has been rendered largely unknowable.

Dr. Patrick Michaels, a close colleague of mine, expresses a similar sentiment (including some specific details) his recent op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal titled, “How to Manufacture a Climate Consensus.
So in other words, in the Knappenberger/Michaels view the climate community stands accused of not taking the contributions of the likes of Pat Michaels seriously. (See Ken Green's point number 4).

I for one am willing to stand up and be counted among those who are guilty of that shocking approach. My defense, shabby though it may be, is that Pat Michaels doesn't say anything worth taking seriously as science.

Starting from a blank slate, it looks like this. If a legitimate consensus has emerged, people like Michaels should be ignored in general because what they are saying is inconsistent with the state of knowledge. If it hasn't, maybe (just maybe) they shouldn't be. The fact that very little "skeptical" stuff (say, pointing to a sensitivity much below 2 C per CO2 doubling) is in the literature thus has two basically plausible explanations. One is that there is a conspiracy to keep them out, and the second is that the evidence is already in excluding the position so that very few serious papers are on offer.

There is nothing unusual about the second case. On the contrary, it happens almost every time science makes progress. If everyone who claims a conspiracy among peer reviewers in any science had a column in the Wall Street Journal, there would be very little room for financial news. The reasons the Journal picks Michaels over all the other probable cranks is left as an exercise for the reader.

So is there a test for the outsider to apply as to which condition is actually happening? Jim Lippard proposes one.
The creationists used to make similar claims about being locked out of the peer-reviewed literature, but when challenged, could never produce the rejection slips.

There seem to be a number of climate skeptics who have no problem getting published and cited--they happen to also be the ones with relevant credentials and expertise.

I think the burden of proof is on the conspiracy theorist. My cursory review of the CRU emails shows the main concern in discussions about peer review is bad work getting published (e.g., the 2003 Soon and Baliunas paper in _Climate Research_, which was admittedly, on the part of the editors, a failure of peer review to allow it to be published).


_Energy & Environment_ [a journal which is not highly regarded by mainstream scientists -mt] regularly publishes articles by climate skeptics. What work published there was rejected by a more reputable journal and is a game-changer on the scientific debate?

1 comment:

Padraig Tomas said...


Having read your essay as well as Patrick Michaels' a couple points come to mind. First Pat Michaels' is good at what he does. The phrase where he tells his readers that the CRU data showed a warming which is not as great as predicted by models and that they should conclude that the models were merely "a bit enthusiastic about the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide." Is part of an attempt to show himself to be disinterested and reasonable, while painting his opponents as dishonest and partisan. To a person unaware of the cotext of his statements it might seem quite believable. Unfortunately I have read both the testimony that James Hansen made to congress in 1988 and excerpts of that which Patrick Michaels made ten years after. It does seem as though Michaels misrepresented Mr. Hansen's testimony to make his own point of view seem more credible. As such I am not inclinded to take anything Michaels says at face value.

I do wish that he would be a bit more specific about what time scale he is speaking of when he says that CRU data for global temperature is lower than models predict. My understanding is that models do not account for ENSO or other cyclical weather patterns, as such the models can not be expected to be accurate over similar time scales. Point being, does his statement have any merit; can we take comfort from this supposed difference?