Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hot Button Issues Part 2: ClimateGate

Posted by Danny Tarlow
Derek, a friend of mine from high school and a guy that I have a lot of respect for, and I have been having a conversation in the comments of another post, and the topic has turned to "ClimateGate". It's interesting, because we have quite different viewpoints (I, for example, am pretty uninformed but will usually take the side of scientists when all else is equal), but the bigger issue is really how we as non climate experts can make sense out of so many conflicting stories, where there is bias and politically-charged agendas looming at every turn.

There are a lot of issues at play here (which I find very interesting), and I don't think I can properly address them all today (or maybe ever). This is good fodder for several full posts, though, I think. It also ties in with the post I wrote a while back about scientific controversies and hot-button issues.

On to climategate: Derek points me to conservapedia as a more reliable source than Wikipedia:
The reason I pointed you to Conservapedia is because they do allow primary sources and original work to be included in their articles.
This is surprising to me, but I'm happy going with it--the more primary sources the better.

The first thing to note is that there is a lot going on here. The first subsection is about Data Manipulation, so it seems reasonable to start reading there. The main issue seems to be part of the source code that is shown in the cited article titled, The Proof Behind the CRU ClimateGate Debacle. After some Googling, the code directory that this was taken looks to be from here:

Specifically, a comment in the file says:
; Apply a VERY ARTIFICAL correction for decline!!
This seems to be one of a set of files amongst 4 labeled "" through "". The other files, (a-c), don't seem to have this comment.

One thing I can say from personal experience is that it's not uncommon to make up data at some point in the research process. There are plenty of reasons why it is actually good practice, because it lets you verify that your code is working as expected--for example, if you make up some crazy or random data and you're getting good results, you should really start to question your methods--you're doing something wrong. A good illustration of the case is the one where they "discovered" (haha) that dead salmon can perceive human emotions:

Anyhow, I'm not sure what the point of applying this artificial adjustment would be in the climate case (I won't pretend to begin to understand how all that code fits together), but then again, if you were trying to hide something devious, it also doesn't seem like a good idea to make it stand out with a big three-line comment with caps to emphasize how artificial it is.

So in and of itself, one comment about artificial changes to an array in a huge directory of code doesn't seem like that big of a deal to me. This is a change in the final plotting of the results (not something buried deep in a model), so the important questions are which graphs this code produced, where they were published, and what claims they were used to support. If this code could be shown to have produced a figure in a published paper or influential presentation (and it was not explained as being artificial), it would be a very big deal in my eyes.

I haven't read the other sections or main issues, so I won't comment on them now.

At a broader level, I absolutely agree with the criticisms of the scientists for failing to release data and code. Especially for these controversial issues, I think it's important to let anybody who wants to run your code and reproduce every figure and table in your results (I try to do this on my blog, but I admit I could do better in my research. It's something I am working on, but it does take work). Not releasing code and data doesn't mean their conclusions are wrong, but I don't think they're upholding the spirit of science.

However, if somebody finds an error in the code (which is 100% plausible) and wants to dispute the results, I do think peer review is the proper venue--not blogs or popular media. You can't expect a scientist to defend him or herself from every blog post or news article out there. It would be a full time job and an extremely frustrating battle, which I wrote more about here. Most scientific journals that I know of will publish notes that point out errors in papers that they've published (see e.g., the discussion here). If you find an error, send it to the editorial board to verify, then they will verify it and ask the scientist to respond. If you come up with a better way of doing things, write a paper and publish it.

Now, you can further question the foundations of peer review or the bias of a scientific group, but that is a much bigger topic that will have to wait for another day.

Finally, this quote did resonate with me:
Climate researchers know their prescriptions don't carry the certainty laymen assume from that which is labeled "science," yet most shy from a straightforward account of this uncertainty.

"Methods certainly need to be continually refined and improved. I doubt that anyone in the paleoclimate community would disagree with that," says Rob Wilson of the University of St. Andrews's School of Geography and Geosciences. "However, can the nuances of methodological developments be communicated to the laymen—and would they want to know?"
Wilson goes on to say that he doesn't think people would want to know. I disagree, but I also don't know how to communicate the nuances effectively. Much of science takes tens of years for very smart people to really learn, and the conclusions are often of the form, "we think this, but we're not totally sure". To add to that, often times scientists are not the best communicators in the world. It takes a rare and special person to figure out how to distill these complex ideas, nuances, and uncertainties into explanations that people can understand. I think it's absolutely something that scientists should continually be thinking about, and I do think scientists should be open to audit by the public, so long as that doesn't require them to spend all their time responding to unfounded criticisms.


A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

I agree with you 100% that scientists a rare and special people, who are capable of figuring out how to distill complex ideas, nuances, and uncertainties and explain their results in such a way that people can understand.

I also tend to think scientists should be open to audit by the public, so long as that doesn't require them to spend all their time responding to unfounded criticisms. Criticism should (for the most part) be kept to those who have enough expertise to know what they're criticizing and why the debate should be open.

In my opinion, one of the biggest problems with climate science is that it became a sub-branch of climate politics. I tend to agree with the CBC’s Rex Murphy when he said, "Climategate should be seen not primarily as a set-back, but as an opportunity to cleanse scientific method, to take science away from politics, good causes and alarmists. And vest climate science in bodies of guaranteed neutrality, openness, real in vigorous debate; and away from the lobbyists, the advocates, the Gore's, and professional environmentalists of all kinds."

Politics is a 'hot button' issue; by mixing climate science with politics it allowed political, intellectual corruption to supersede scientific debate. I think science needs to be separate from politics for this very reason.

From my days back in high school, Danny knows I was not that big on politics. In fact, debating and conversations about politics even today is a stressful topic. I'm sure my blog gives the impression otherwise; however, I talk about it with an understanding that people--especially politicians--they can become corrupt. Once a congressional supermajority was in place, it gave one party complete control of politics in America, and I almost felt like I had to pay more attention because the usual checks-and-balances in government were no longer there.

In terms of climate science, the same problem of checks-and-balances can be seen after the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) endorsed the theory of anthropogenic global warming and claimed to set the agenda on global warming. This should have been the first warning sign that valuable scientific checks-and-balances were becoming a thing of the past. Science turned into a political issue, and the balance of debate was closed off.

Hopefully as the Climategate scandal makes people more aware of the facts on climate science, open debate will once again be allowed. Politics must take a back seat to real scientific debate. That's what I hope.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Conservapedia is definitely a more reliable source than Wikipedia. I particularly like their original work on gun control, and their careful treatment of the issue of healthcare:

Their treatment on Evolution is without par - they convincingly show that a belief in evolution leads to nazism, fascism, and racism:

Conservapedia's writers, though, seem to be oddly fixated with homosexuality:

And of course, in the very professional article you linked to, the image of Al Gore breathing out a ball of fire deals a decisive blow to climate change science.

Anyway, top-notch, fair and balanced editors.

Seriously though, I'm generally very much for open science, but when I see desperately needed public policies and scientific research ground to a halt (or at least, significantly overwhelmed) because a hysterical mob is tearing their hair out about some meaningless 'decline' comment in a line of code or an email, I'm tempted to say they should close access to the whole thing for anyone without at least minimal credentials. How could I argue for openness when I see honest scientists being misrepresented and butchered by ignorant journalists and bloggers over nothing?

Danny Tarlow said...

@catenary -- this really gets to the heart of it, though, right? Open things up, and anybody can claim to have "refuted" your work, or keep things closed and the smallest hint of doing something wrong could cause things to get blown out of proportion.

Neither seems particularly appealing to me. Is there a better way?

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm bitter about this because I don't think most critics are acting in good faith. As I'm sure you know there are tens of thousands of scientists essentially in agreement on a theory of anthropogenic global warming, based on current observations, paleontological records, and computer models --some of which are in fact *already* completely open. There is massive evidence, and no credible alternative explanation for the data. And yet someone fishes out an email from ten years ago with honest intentions but a poor choice of words ("hide the decline") and all hell breaks loose. I don't think my work, or yours, or that of any other scientist would withstand this kind of manipulative attacks.

As a society we've been there before, with battles against asbestos and smoking, among others. The book "Doubt is their Product" summarizes them well. The path of demanding more access and then denouncing that you didn't get it or exploiting that additional access through deceit is well-tread. It doesn't matter that the controversy isn't sensible from a scientific perspective, all that matters is to give the impression of uncertainty to the public. So you'll understand if I hesitate to agree --I don't see how more access could make this mess more tractable.

However, I can also see how a lack of access, in general, obstructs progress. I believe scientists should treat software code more professionally, and it should be entirely reasonable to reject papers or to negate the reputation of some result if the code used to generate it is not accessible. As for emails, I don't see why they should be open.

Pff long reply. You can see this stuff hits a nerve.


A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

@catenary - I'm not sure what sources you're using to get your information, but you're wrong.

Despite the fact that some of the 10 year old emails discussed important issues, the most recent emails in Climategate were from November 2009.

Three months ago, last year, earth time.

You say, "As I'm sure you know there are tens of thousands of scientists essentially in agreement on a theory of anthropogenic global warming, based on current observations, paleontological records, and computer model ... There is massive evidence, and no credible alternative explanation for the data."

First of all, you're wrong again, because (from the Climategate emails) the scientists discussed methods of manipulating data - the very data you claim "thousands of scientists essentially in agreement on."

Second of all, you said, "There is massive evidence, and no credible alternative explanation for the data," and again, you're wrong.

Here's an entire section at Conservapedia devoted to providing original, scientific research that refutes the claims of anthropogenic global warming:

Essentially what you're saying is that "the debate is over," which is exactly the opposite of what scientific research and real science depends on -- open debate, and peer reviewed research. If you think there's something wrong with the truth, then science might not be for you.

Here's what we know:
The Greenpeace leader Gerd Leipold admitted that his organization issued misleading and exaggerated information when it claimed that Arctic ice would disappear completely by 2030.

The IPCC made inaccurate claims about melting ice in the Alps, the Andes, and in Africa. They admitted that their "data" did not come from peer reviewed scientific literature. It came from Climbing Magazine, and from a student dissertation, written by a climate change activist who was studying for a degree in Geography. That doesn't sound very scientific to me.

You bring up the Climategate emails, pretending they happened over ten years ago, but what about the admittedly manipulated data that the IPCC and even NASA used to claim humans are causing global warming? I think you need to re-check where you get your information, or at least find a balance between entertaining segments of MSNBC and looking into the real story behind the fun games that most all journalists play.

To me, the real tragedy of Climategate is the revealed fraud behind the IPCC scientists who were pretending to be acting in good faith. The criticism is just, and science is not settled.

Anonymous said...

Well there you go. Case in point, Danny.

Danny Tarlow said...

Yeah, let's keep it civil, guys. Derek, Jorge is a guy whose opinion I also respect.

Let's stick to the data manipulation issue, since that's a good enough of an exercise, I think.

Derek, my reading of the issue was that the scientists were not being as open as i'd like, but not that this discredits any past research. Where did I go wrong in my post?

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

You're right - Jorge, I apologize for lashing out. It is a hot issue and I will do my best to tread lightly. I understand at times I have a special ability to stir up strong emotions, which I'm sure is either one of two things: a talent, or challenge I need to overcome.

Danny, you're also right. The issue is that the scientists were not being as open as they should be; however, for the sake of credible criticism from other scientists, some of the past research has been discredited.

For example, here are two reports written by a scientist and engineer with an agnostic stand on global warming:

And here is a highly recommended 60-second .GIF video on today's “unprecedented” global warming in the context of scale:
It'll be the most enlightening 60-seconds of this debate. This is all scientific research that I'm presenting, not from the view of journalists.

Lastly, here is an excellent reference and counter research on Polar Bears--which I'm sure many people have read about--refuting the claims that global warming is killing off or "starving" these animals:

I understand that many people might be frustrated to hear that some of the past scientific research has been discovered as either manipulated or just plain wrong, but it's the truth. Thus, the name ClimateGate.

Danny Tarlow said...

Hey Derek,

The link to the Cube Antics stuff is the link I included in the post. Like I said in the body, I'm not at all convinced that those link show that any published or presented results are wrong.

So it's tough for me to follow when you jump to imply that these links support the claim that, "past scientific research has been discovered as either manipulated or just plain wrong".

Let's keep the scope narrow for now and just address the "data manipulation" part. Conservapedia and you both cite this Cube Antics post when talking about data manipulation, but it doesn't seem to be the damning evidence that it's made out to be--to undermine a published work, you need to clearly show that the results in their published work come from tampered data. To me, though, there seems to be little connection between the comment in the code that we're talking about and any result that has ever seen the light of day. So you're losing me a bit here...

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

On the issue of having too little of a connection to "prove" scientists manipulated data, the raw climate data is needed to prove it. But the CRU scientists already admitted to throwing out most of it. I'm not a scientist, so I have no idea why they would do that.

The scientists talk about circumventing the freedom of information act.

The scientists discuss subverting the scientific peer review process to stifle dissent.

It walks like a duck, talks like a duck, buuuuut the only raw data we had of its DNA was thrown out. Sure, the data we do have seems to suggests it's a duck, but we still can't really prove that it's a duck.

When I imply sourced links support the claim that, "past scientific research has been discovered as either manipulated or just plain wrong," that very 'riled up' feeling you get when you hear it is the same feeling I get when I hear or read implications that global warming is real. It's the same thing. There is no proof both ways, but that's the point I'm trying to make. The debate in science needs to continue, because it certainly doesn't seem settled. And, in my humble opinion, that's the real take I get from this whole Climategate scandal.

For a decade all it's been is "the debate is over," and then worldwide media hammers us every day about how the world is doomed because we're supposedly causing global warming. But the problem now is, the work cannot be refuted 100% because the raw data got thrown out.

So, you're right. The data manipulation cannot be fully proven.

But, now what?

Danny Tarlow said...

Thanks for the interesting second reply, by the way. I may need to pick up that book. And to clarify, by open, I mean code and data, definitely not emails. Anyhow, I understand where you're coming from, and I agree there will always be people out there who will be seeking to manipulate the public in bad faith. I don't think Derek is one of these people, though, so if it is the case that he doesn't put much faith in some part of science and peer review, then I think that is a failing of that part of science (maybe not in methods, but possibly in PR). I think the point that I'm trying to get to is that we don't do PR well in science in general, and I'm trying to understand what it would take to fix that.

Danny Tarlow said...

I think we're making some headway. I completely agree, as would any reasonable scientist, that we can't prove manmade global warming (or insert nearly anything else you want here) as either true or false. We would need lots of other identical earths, some controlled experiments, even then, we'd only be able to say that we were _probably_ right. Unfortunately, identical copies of earth that we can experiment are in short supply these days =P.

So a GREAT question is where do we go from here. As with most things in life, we'll never be 100% sure, but time keeps on ticking on, and we need to make decisions--it's like poker: very rarely are you sure you'll win a hand, but you still need to decide whether to bet or fold, and the best response is not always to fold because you're not sure you'll win. In general, it's a hard problem, but it is an area close to my heart (and research): how to make decisions under uncertainty. There's a nice historical overview on wikipedia (for mathematical stuff that I know something about, I find the content there to be quite good):

The big idea is to figure out what our possible choices are, what set of outcomes they could possibly lead to, how much each action costs, how good or bad each possible outcome is, and how likely each outcome is. Each of these is a huge, difficult question in itself, but these are exactly the type of questions that science is built to (slowly and incrementally) address.

In the link you posted about peer review, it just led to some search results, so I clicked the first one. It led me to an email about a draft of an IPCC report:

The introduction of the paper goes to great length to talk about the uncertainty involved, saying essentially that this is just the first step from above, laying out what the possible climate scenarios are:

The alternative futures constructed are not, and cannot be, value free since like any work they self-evidently reflect the team's view of the possible. The scenarios should not be construed as being desirable or undesirable in their own right and have been built as descriptions of possible, rather than preferred, developments. There can be no objective assessment of the probability of the scenarios, although in the prevailing zeitgeist some will appear to individuals to be more likely than others. Scenarios are built to clarify ignorance rather than present knowledge -- the one thing we can be sure of is that the future will be very different from any of those we describe!

To me, this sounds like conscientious presentation of results, ie good science. Clearly it's just one random sample from a huge body of work, but to my quick eye, this one looks reassuring.

So anyhow, I think fundamentally I have a stronger prior belief that science is doing the right thing than you do. We're both obviously free to interpret what we hear and see however we wish, but I would urge you to not be quick to discount the hard work of a great many scientists. Science is not easy, very time consuming, often under-appreciated, and most scientists are doing it for the right reasons. Exceptions are there, and it's always good to be skeptical, but please keep in mind that it is a very, very serious accusation to call a scientist a fraud. For me, it would take indisputable evidence to do so, and even then, I would want to quadruple check my work and sources.

Danny Tarlow said...

Another idea I like is by Andrew Gelman, who I have an enormous amount of respect for (his textbook on Bayesian Data Analysis is sitting behind me):
Maybe we should start characterizing people by a single number, as follows. What probability do you assign to the following statement: increasing the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration above 800 ppm will change the global average surface temperature by more than 2.5 degrees C (4.5 F)?

This does a nice job of removing some of the historical cause-effect debate, and really just gets to the heart of the issue of what (if any) actions we should be taking. It also seems to make the issues more clear. I recommend the whole article, but here are some snippets:
If you believe the IPCC, your number would be...well, I don't know exactly, perhaps a quantitative probability can be determined from their uncertainty range (I doubt it)... but considering the implied climate variability would be below their lowest credible estimate, someone who accepts the IPCC report completely would have a number somewhere over 95%, I think. Me, I'm a bit more skeptical, and I'd put the probability at 90%. I think there's a 90% chance that 800ppm will be disastrous.

If someone says their number is 99.99% or higher, that is unreasonable. There is definitely more than 1 chance in 10,000 that the scientists have it wrong and the effect of CO2 will be much less than they think. If you want to say that people with this level of certainty are practicing religion rather than science, you'll get no argument from me.

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

This is why I value your opinion so much, because I know you personally don't have an agenda on the issue, and I'm certain you know that I have no special interest or agenda either. I'm interested in what Climategate means for science, and I think you're doing a great job of clarifying it for me.

You're right, fraud is a very serious accusation, and while there are particularly valid reasons (I believe) for assuming fraud may have taken place, there is no hard evidence to prove it.

Danny, you said, "so if it is the case that he doesn't put much faith in some part of science and peer review, then I think that is a failing of that part of science (maybe not in methods, but possibly in PR)," and that makes a lot of sense to me. After all, I am not a scientist training or background to refute or validate any climate data.

There's a lot to respond to, so I'll do my best and go from there. I also want to respond to Jorge again, because I've re-read through his comments from a different point of view. Personally, I automatically went on the defensive after he said "I guess I'm bitter about this because I don't think most critics are acting in good faith," because that made me assume he thinks I'm criticizing in bad faith - which is honestly not the case.

Jorge, you said, "I don't see how more access could make this mess more tractable. ... However, I can also see how a lack of access, in general, obstructs progress. I believe scientists should treat software code more professionally, and it should be entirely reasonable to reject papers or to negate the reputation of some result if the code used to generate it is not accessible. As for emails, I don't see why they should be open." The emails, I believe, from what I understand, are suppose to be open because of the freedom of information act. I could be mistaken on that, but if it's the law, then they should be open.

Something I absolutely agree with you on is that it should be entirely reasonable to reject papers or to negate the reputation of some result if the code used to generate it is not accessible. Which I think is the reason climate science abruptly went to a halt after ClimateGate because the raw data or code is no longer accessible, so at this point it's impossible to scientifically refute global warming data. At least that's the take I get from the scandal. The raw data was thrown out. On the issue of having all climate science open to the public for debate, I'm not sure I care one way or the other if the debate happens behind closed doors. All I care about is that the closed door debate is legit, and not one party manipulating data to set an agenda. But that goes back to the unprovable data manipulation, so what we're left with is possible manipulation and a need to give confidence back to people that the scientists are doing the best they can do prove results -- whether the results prove global warming or not shouldn't be the agenda, it should be about finding the results.

...continued in next comment

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

In hopes that I made it clear I don't have an agenda and I am--in good faith--trying to figure this out, I guess one question I would have for Michael Mann is on the yamal data:

From this we know that the Yamal data set uses just 12 trees from a larger set to produce its dramatic recent trend to suggest global warming. That's a very, very small sample data set. So to me, that isn't sufficient enough to prove global warming, one way or the other.

It gets interesting too, because many more trees were cored, and a larger data set of 34 from the same vicinity as the 12 used shows no dramatic recent warming.

In all there are 252 cores in the CRU Yamal data set. All 12 cores selected show strong growth since the mid-19th century. Were the 12 cores cherry-picked? Why was such a small sample size used to "verify" global warming? That doesn't sound right, to me.

The other consideration I have on global warming is well said at Conservapedia, here:

"The earth has generally been warming since the Little Ice Age, around AD 1650 (Akasofu, 2007).[36]"

Citation [36] is a large PDF file, titled "Is the Earth still recovering from the “Little Ice Age”? A possible cause of global warming"

I understand a lot of things can appear intuitive and/or common sense, which is honestly why this report seems to make sense to me. I think, "Oh yeah! Of course the earth will warm after an ice age." To me it makes sense.

Lastly, for this comment because there's a lot here, Danny I think you're right when you say "To me, this sounds like conscientious presentation of results, ie good science. Clearly it's just one random sample from a huge body of work, but to my quick eye, this one looks reassuring." I like to say that I trust your quick eye -- after all, I'm your biggest fan! While you will be right most of the time, we're all human and the opposite conclusion should always be considered possible. After all, the scientists did have an agenda to show certain results in order to continue receiving government funded money. I'm not saying they skewed the results to get more funding, but it's certainly possible.

...continued next comment

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

I understand there's a lot of heated debate about the emails and if they are or are not justly open to the public, but at this point they are out there. So it wouldn't make sense to simply pretend they don't exist. And some of what they talk about is very eye-opening. Such as this email:

...But there are real questions to be asked of the paleo reconstruction. First, I should point out that we calibrated versus 1902-1980, then "verified" the approach using an independent data set for 1854-1901. The results were good, giving me confidence that if we had a comparable proxy data set for post-1980 (we don't!) our proxy-based reconstruction would capture that period well. Unfortunately, the proxy network we used has not been updated, and furthermore there are many/some/ tree ring sites where there has been a "decoupling" between the long-term relationship between climate and tree growth, so that things fall apart in recent decades....this makes it very difficult to demonstrate what I just claimed. [...] But there are (at least) two other problems -- Keith Briffa points out that the very strong trend in the 20th century calibration period accounts for much of the success of our calibration and makes it unlikely that we would be able be able to reconstruct such an extraordinary period as the 1990s with much success (I may be mis-quoting him somewhat, but that is the general thrust of his criticism). Indeed, in the verification period, the biggest "miss" was an apparently very warm year in the late 19th century that we did not get right at all. This makes criticisms of the "antis" difficult to respond to (they have not yet risen to this level of sophistication, but they are "on the scent"). Furthermore, it may be that Mann et al simply don't have the long-term trend right, due to underestimation of low frequency info.

Now, a lot of what he's talking about I cannot really tell. Unless I did more research on the definitions and meanings of some of the things he says, I cannot really comment on it. But there are much more shocking emails too, this is just one I found interesting because he's talking about the tree ring data and how it may in fact be wrong. Which seems to support my previous concern that the sample size of just 12 tree cores is a bit small to be making bold claims of global warming. Hopefully this makes a little more sense on my stance on the issues at hand.

Anonymous said...

Even us non-scientists know that "NO" decline was ever predicted in the hockey stick data, nonewhatsoever. That deniers were discredited viciously until ClimateGate broke. Now we hear numbers were wrong for the Himalayas, for the Amazon, and thousands of weather monitoring sites in Canada, in China, in Russia are cherry-picked for results. The integrity of all science, all peer-reviews, all leading authorities are suspect. All data, not just climate science, is threatened.

Danny Tarlow said...

I like the direction things are turning! I don't have time to dig deep into the methodologies used in the experiments you talk about, but these are the right kinds of questions to be asking, in my opinion (although answering them satisfactorily could be very difficult, especially for a non climate scientist). It sounds like it would be interesting to look into it deeper, though--can you dig up the original publication where this result was presented and give it a read for yourself? The authors should explain why they made their choices, how confident they are in their results, what the take-away points should be, etc.

As for the email you quote, I again think that sounds like healthy science. These are the experts taking a skeptical view of the work, trying to figure out how to improve it. At the bottom of that email, they say:

In Ch 7 we will try to discuss some of these issues, in the limited space available. Perhaps the best thing at this stage is to simply point out the inherent uncertainties and point the way towards how these uncertainties can be reduced. Malcolm & I are working with Mike Mann to do just that.

I would welcome other thoughts and comments on any of this!

One thing to note is that this emails is _not_ saying anything is black and white. Just as arguments get exaggerated and polarized by one side, so do they by the other.

Anyhow, I need to get to some (computer) science of my own. These images are not going to figure out what's happening in them by themselves!

The integrity of all science, all peer-reviews, all leading authorities are suspect. All data, not just climate science, is threatened.

That seems pretty extreme to me.

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

Real quick - I'm reading through this research report right now:

Apparently, the controversy is that this paper by Keith Briffa at the CRU asserted that the medieval warm period was actually really cold, and recent warming is unusually warm. Both archaeology and the historical accounts, Briffa was declaring, were bunk. Briffa relied on just three tree cores from Siberia to demonstrate this. I'll update my thoughts in a bit - but I wanted to post this so others could read through as well if they're interested.

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

For the purpose of "balanced information," this here is a research paper by Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick as a counter claim to Briffa's research. So this way readers can get both sides of the debate:

Anonymous said...

Derek, thanks for the clarifications.

I just wanted to point out that contrary to popular belief, the raw data used in climate science hasn't been 'thrown out'. If you or anyone would like to play with the raw data that climatologists use, you can use the resources at

Personally, I'm not a climate scientist and I wouldn't know what to do with the data, so I defer to the experts in the area on this subject. I must say, too, that although I'm not a climate scientist I know many of them, and I and others in my lab have been studying their processes and working closely with them. I can vouch that they are not part of a global conspiracy out to fool everyone. They are good people doing science, as Danny says, for the right reasons. And they say, as a community, that there's at least a 9 out of 10 chance that we, humans, are causing significant damage to our planet through carbon emissions. I think listening to what they say is an ethical imperative.

Danny Tarlow said...

Thanks for the links, Derek--we're getting to see how complicated these issues get at the ground level. There are _a_lot_ of subtle details at play.

At the bottom of the first link, though, they look to address some of these data issues:

Briffa has also been attacked by McIntyre for not releasing the original ring-width measurement records from which the various chronologies discussed in Briffa (2000) and Briffa et al. (2008) were made. We would like to reiterate that these data were never "owned" by the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) and we have never had the right to distribute them. These data were acquired in the context of collaborative research with colleagues who developed them. Requests for these data have been redirected towards the appropriate institutions and individuals. When the Briffa (2000) paper was published, release of these data was specifically embargoed by our colleagues who were still working towards further publications using them. Following publication of the 2008 paper, at the request of the Royal Society, Briffa approached colleagues in Sweden, Ekaterinburg and Krasnoyarsk and their permission was given to release the data. This was done in 2008 and 2009. Incidentally, we understand that Rashit Hantemirov sent McIntyre the Yamal data used in the papers cited above at his request as early as 2nd February, 2004.

And they do look to have posted all of the data that went into this rebuttal:

With respect to trees, even though I don't really understand the details, from my reading of this sentence, it sounds like they take several samples from seven different locations (3 original, "KHAD", and 3 new ones), not just three trees:
We have now undertaken a more extensive sensitivity test, using the RCS approach, to examine the relative growth rates of trees at each of the 3 original locations removed by McIntyre, as well as the KHAD site. We have also taken the opportunity to acquire and incorporate additional data from the 3 original sites, in this analysis.

Finally, the McIntyre report you posted looks to be from 2003. Is there anything relevant that he's written since this Oct. 2009 rebuttal? Has he claimed that he didn't have access to the data in question after it was supposedly sent to him in 2004?

Danny Tarlow said...

This is also a particularly interesting excerpt from Derek's link, talking about how words can get twisted:

We wish to stress that McIntyre himself has made no such assertions. At no time does he suggest that either of his versions of the chronology represents general Yamal tree-growth changes "more realistically" than in our earlier work. However, his original posting has been interpreted in this way by others, both on the Climate Audit website and elsewhere. Some postings on Climate Audit, notably that by Ross McKitrick (comment no. 7), strongly imply that the data used in the published versions of the Yamal chronology were deliberately selected in order to manufacture misleading evidence of a recent tree-growth increase in this region. Subsequent reports of McIntyre's blog (e.g. in The Telegraph, The Register and The Spectator) amount to hysterical, even defamatory misrepresentations, not only of our work but also of the content of the original McIntyre blog, by using words such as 'scam', 'scandal', 'lie', and 'fraudulent' with respect to our work.

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

Jorge - thanks for your recent input. Personally, I'm really grateful that I can ask some of the tough, concerning questions to yourself and Danny. I appreciate it because Danny is probably the smartest person I've ever met, and his respect to your opinion tells me the same can likely be said of yourself.

I really am trying to grasp everything about climategate that I can, because there are a lot of very frustrated people, like myself, who don't understand the entirety of the situation. We want to know why scientists are being accused of fraud, what the circumstances are, and whether or not taxpayer dollars are supporting a cause created out of thin air -- or if there is a legitimate reason for the global warming hysteria.

I'm not suggesting that taxpayers are the only people who are frustrated. However, when us ordinary folk' read an email from one of the CRU scientists who said, 'hide the decline', red flags go up. And for legitimate reasons, too. That's what we've seen over the last three months, very frustrated people -- taxpayers included -- who are tired of being taken for all they're worth. The 'hide the decline' quote may or may not have been taken out of context, but that's what further inquiry into the data behind the words is trying to figure out.

I guess that's the downfall of using taxpayer funds for research; just like a private company is held accountable by its shareholders, the same is true for researchers using taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers don't want their money going to a cause that suddenly appears very skeptical. This frustration is probably enhanced with Obama spending taxpayer money like it grows on trees.

All of the above, however, would indicate an agenda to stop funding global warming research; and that is not what this debate is about, because personally I don't make enough to be a taxpayer and I have no agenda but to seek the truth. So, going back to what the scientists say from their research...

...Continued next comment

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

Danny - you asked for a more recent discussion from Steve McIntyre. I found this one from September 27, 2009... still looking for post-October rebuttal.

Briffa’s own caveats on RCS methodology warn against inhomogeneities, but, notwithstanding these warnings, his initial use of this subset in Briffa 2000 may well have been done without fully thinking through the very limited size and potential unrepresentativeness of the 12 cores. Briffa 2000 presented this chronology in passing and it was never properly published in any journal article. However, as CA readers know, the resulting Yamal chronology with its enormous HS blade was like crack cocaine for paleoclimatologists and got used in virtually every subsequent study, including, most recently, Kaufman et al 2009.

As CA readers also know, until recently, CRU staunchly refused to provide the measurement data used in Briffa’s Yamal reconstruction. Science(mag) acquiesced in this refusal in connection with Osborn and Briffa 2006. While the Yamal chronology was used in a Science article, it originated with Briffa 2000 and Science(mag) took the position that the previous journal (which had a different data policy) had jurisdiction. Briffa used the chronology Briffa et al (Phil Trans B, 2008) and the Phil Trans editors finally seized the nettle, requiring Briffa to archive the data. As noted before, Briffa asked for an extension and, when I checked earlier this year, the Yamal measurement data remained unarchived. A few days ago, I noticed that the Yamal data was finally placed online. With the information finally available, this analysis has only taken a few days.

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

Something else I'm also very interested about is from a section at Conservapedia that I linked to earlier, "Integrity of the Data." This, I think, is what John was referring to when he said, "The integrity of all science, all peer-reviews, all leading authorities are suspect. All data, not just climate science, is threatened."

In the section, it states the following:

There are three main global temperature datasets, as clarified by Eschenbach.

* One is at the CRU, Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia.
* Another one is at NOAA (GHCN), the Global Historical Climate Network.
* The final one is at NASA (GISS), the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The three groups take raw data, and they "homogenize" it to remove temperature discrepancy's that occur when a station is moved to a warmer or colder location. One of the things that was revealed in the released CRU emails is that the CRU basically uses the Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN) dataset for its raw data.[37] This raw data is downloaded from GISS, but GISS uses the GHCN raw data as the starting point for their analysis. Both GISS and CRU get almost all of their raw data from GHCN. But the IPCC uses the "adjusted" data; GHCN adjusts the data to remove what it calls "inhomogeneities."

After a brief outline of the data at Darwin airport, Conservapedia goes on to say the following:

Willis Eschenbach looked into it further and started with the earliest record, "Station Zero" at Darwin. The five different station records (raw data) covering Darwin from 1941 on all agreed almost exactly. What Eschenbach found was that there is "indisputable evidence that the 'homogenized' data has been changed to fit someone’s preconceptions about whether the earth is warming." The blatantly bogus GHCN adjustment for this one station shows that at least one part of the data is bad at Darwin Zero.

After another quoted explanation from Willis Eschenbach, the section ends with this statement:

Separate from GHCN, GISS takes the raw temperature data and does their own adjustments. However, GISS verified that their adjusted, homogenized data is the same as GHCN.[39] The data is questionable because the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) manipulates the data prior to its use by others; this process was described as homogenizing. The CRU apparently "lost" their data. Scientists at the CRU, who produce global annual average temperatures, select stations that create the results they want, then adjust the data again for fraudulent purposes.[28] Climategate revealed a fact that, until all of the station "adjustments" are examined, adjustments of CRU, GHCN, and GISS cannot be trusted if using homogenized numbers.

I'm not sure if this research has been peer reviewed, however, on the surface it certainly puts into question the integrity of the data. In my humble opinion, this sort of concern should be followed up with a reasonable explanation from those who "homogenized" the data.

Steve Easterbrook said...

You might find this interesting background about Steve McIntyre. He's not exactly an honest participant:

As for the CRU emails, it looks much more like a deliberate smear campaign against climate scientists rather than anything fundamentally wrong with the science:

But then, if you believe the conservapedia is a useful resource for information, then I guess you'll believe anything.

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

Gotta love the driveby attacks.

I think it's pretty clear there are political "agenda's" inherently associated with both sides of the issue. So I'm sure these sorts of driveby snubs can't be completely withheld.

I'm not sure there was a point or valid argument in there, so it's tough to respond with anything meaning. Plus, I'm sure I've added a few 'zings' somewhere along this conversation, too. :-]

Steve Easterbrook said...

"I think it's pretty clear there are political "agenda's" inherently associated with both sides of the issue."

No. It's pretty clear that there is a huge body of science on climate change, dating all the way back to Fourier's experiments on the properties of greenhouse gases. In the past few decades, thousands of scientists all over the world have improved our understanding of anthropogenic climate change, published thousands of peer-reviewed papers in the literature, and their work has been endorsed by every scientific body on the planet.

Then there are a bunch of politically motivated attack campaigns, attempting to smear the reputation of these scientists and sow doubt in the minds of the general public, because they refuse to accept the consequences of the science. Oh, and some multi-national companies, whose profits depend almost entirely on selling fossil fuels, are understandably very concerned, and are happy to help fund some of these campaigns to sow doubt.

But if you don't take the time to learn the science, it's hard to see what's going on - it looks like a bun-fight, and it's easy to conclude that there's some equivalence between two sides.

Instead of reading political treatise like conservapedia, go and study some of the actual science. Here's a nice introduction, from the American Institute for Physics (quite clearly not a political organisation):

Alternatively, you could continue to read political essays that support your existing worldview. And fail to be truly skeptical of the claims made in these political attacks on the science. Are you interested in science, or just polemics?

A 1-In-100 Blogger said...

You're right. There's no agenda on the side of global warming theorists. Cap and Trade? Pass it. Let's tax everyone and slow the economy some more, all because some people say their theory is correct. Gee, it all makes sense now. Thanks.

I trust Danny's opinion, but this Steve Easterbrook guy needs to wake up and smell the data.

Danny Tarlow said...

Ok, ok. I think I'm going to bow out of the arguments at this point (and I might look to see if there is a way to close the comments here). My goal isn't to resolve the controversies around climate change, though my personal leaning is that nothing I've seen (which is a bit but certainly not everything) leads me to believe that the foundations of climate research have been shaken.

I agree with Steve that to form a strong opinion on the issues, you need to start with the science. There has been a lot of effort put into these questions, and by-and-large, peer reviewed science is not politically motivated. Dealing with real world data is never a clean-cut exercise, so to get reasonable results, you do need to do stuff to it. In the scientific literature, you'll get those details and explanations. You will also get disagreements, but they will be more nuanced, and there will be less certainty (but still some very reasonable guesses--it's definitely not the case that "uncertainty" means it is a 50-50 split) in the results presented. How news and blogs report on and summarize these things is a different story though.

I do agree with Derek that there may be political and sensationalist reasons to exaggerate claims made about global warming. To me, it seems that the trick is to figure out how to dissociate claims being made for political reasons from those that are being made by good science. I'm not sure we're doing a great job of that or that there's an easy way to do so.

All in all, I am still very interested in the broader issue about how science can better communicate what it's up to. If we take the McIntyre to be the crackpot that some people want to portray him as, then how can he cause such a disruption? Is society's respect for science really so small that one person and some exposed emails can cause so much uproar. How can we go about changing that?

iChris said...

No mention of Hitler yet? I dunno Danny, this argument still has legs.

Steve Easterbrook said...

"I do agree with Derek that there may be political and sensationalist reasons to exaggerate claims made about global warming."

This doesn't make logical sense. There are plenty of political and financial reasons for people to try to ignore climate change - think of how much the fossil fuel industry has to lose, and how many lobbyists & PR folk they employ. Their strategies are very similar to how the tobacco industry tried to cover up the science linking smoking to cancer.

On the other hand, there is almost no money to be made exaggerating the claims (other than perhaps a few books and speaking tours for a handful of well known environmentalists).

The scientists, in particular, have no motivation to exaggerate. If you read the peer reviewed literature, you'll find they use all the usual scientific caveats - they're not playing politics, they are doing good science.

Your friend, Derek, thinks the IPCC is a political entity. In fact, it does nothing more than survey the state of the art of scientific field (I have the IPCC reports sitting on my desk - come and borrow them if you like). In its summaries, the IPCC tends to tone down the science, because the summaries are subject to editing and veto by every UN member state, most of whom have a strong vested interest in playing down the findings.

If you go along to a geosciences conference, and listen to the actual science, the situation is far worse than the IPCC reports say. What's alarming is how few people are willing to go and learn the science by actually talking to the scientists, rather picking up distorted, politicized views from sites like conservapedia.

Oh, and as for McI being just "one person" who can "cause this much disruption" - no, he's part of a sophisticated campaign to undermine the science by systematically distorting it. What's frightening is how effective this campaign is. Good science doesn't stand a chance when it's up against this kind of thing. Take a look at what they've done to Phil Jones:

Danny Tarlow said...

On the other hand, there is almost no money to be made exaggerating the claims (other than perhaps a few books and speaking tours for a handful of well known environmentalists).

Obviously there is more money on the "denier" side, but I don't think it's fair to say there's "almost no money" to be made on the exaggeration side.

1. Carbon markets are already expected to be worth $170 billion in 2010:

2. If it leads to the US passing a cap and trade policy, there will be a whole new industry emerging, with profits for financial institutions who manage the new market.

3. There's a whole clean-tech industry with businesses built on the idea that using the cheapest available source of energy is not necessarily the best thing to do. Even some large companies like GE have a business on providing cleaner energy producing plants.

Then of course, we all know that scaring people (sensationalism) is a great way to sell news.

I agree with you about all the parts saying scientists are doing good science (and I have defended them throughout this thread). However, I don't think the proper appeal is to say that there are no reasons to exaggerate climate change, so therefore you should believe anybody who says that it's happening. I think (I am in the process of forming this belief) the better strategy is about building up more respect for what scientists are doing in general.

Steve Easterbrook said...

Yes, but how many scientists do you really think are likely to profit from any of these things? None of this is relevant to the fact that you have a scientific community describing a serious problem, and a whole bunch of vested interested attacking them for it.

You said: "I think (I am in the process of forming this belief) the better strategy is about building up more respect for what scientists are doing in general."

Well, yes, absolutely. But you won't get anywhere unless you understand *why* it is that good scientific research is being smeared in the way that it is. The climate science is very clear. And the attack campaigns are getting increasingly nasty, as the prospect of real action on climate change gets closer. If you take the time to listen to what the climate scientists are saying, there's no room for fence sitting here. C'mon, these people are sending death threats to scientists. Whose side you gonna take?

Danny Tarlow said...

Ok, I'm going to let Steve have the last word here (I won't unfairly exercise my administrative powers to get the last word in).

It's taking too much effort for me to keep up with all these comments, and I think we're hitting a point of diminishing returns.

I don't want things to get out of hand, so I'm going to close comments and go back to things I know more about for a while (machine learning). Thanks to everybody who commented--I definitely learned something.