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Even Monbiot

by Nomad Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 05:11:37 AM EST

The fallout from (illegally) released emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia continues to reverberate through the blogoshphere.

Monbiot has just released a scathing indictment:

Yes, the messages were obtained illegally. Yes, all of us say things in emails that would be excruciating if made public. Yes, some of the comments have been taken out of context. But there are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad. There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released(2,3), and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request(4).

Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics(5,6), or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(7). I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.

Monbiot's post comes in the wake of at least two notable scientists, working in the field of climate science, who've also publicly outed some of their displeasure. Samplings below the fold.

Judith Curry, at the Georgian Institute of Technology, here:

However, even if the hacked emails from HADCRU end up to be much ado about nothing in the context of any actual misfeasance that impacts the climate data records, the damage to the public credibility of climate research is likely to be significant. In my opinion, there are two broader issues raised by these emails that are impeding the public credibility of climate research: lack of transparency in climate data, and “tribalism” in some segments of the climate research community that is impeding peer review and the assessment process.

1. Transparency. Climate data needs to be publicly available and well documented. This includes metadata that explains how the data were treated and manipulated, what assumptions were made in assembling the data sets, and what data was omitted and why. This would seem to be an obvious and simple requirement, but the need for such transparency has only been voiced recently as the policy relevance of climate data has increased. The HADCRU surface climate dataset and the paleoclimate dataset that has gone into the various “hockeystick” analyses stand out as lacking such transparency.


2. Climate tribalism. Tribalism is defined here as a strong identity that separates one’s group from members of another group, characterized by strong in-group loyalty and regarding other groups differing from the tribe’s defining characteristics as inferior. In the context of scientific research, tribes differ from groups of colleagues that collaborate and otherwise associate with each other professionally.

And Hans von Storch, at the GKSS Research Centre in Germany, also pitched in:

Also mails from/to Eduardo Zorita and myself are included; also we have been subject of frequent mentioning, usually not in a flattering manner. Interesting exchanges, and evidences, are contained about efforts to destroy "Climate Research"; that we in the heydays of the hockeystick debate shared our ECHO-G data with our adversaries; and that Mike Mann was successful to exclude me from a review-type meeting on historical reconstructions in Wengen (demonstrating again his problematic but powerful role of acting as a gatekeeper.)

I would assume that more interesting issues will be found in the files, and that a useful debate about the degree of politicization of climate science will emerge. A conclusion could be that the principle, according to which data must be made public, so that also adversaries may check the analysis, must be really enforced. Another conclusion could be that scientists like Mike Mann, Phil Jones and others should no longer participate in the peer-review process or in assessment activities like IPCC.

Iffy as it feels to dig through people´s mail it has all the looks there is some incriminating stuff in there. Apparently the data code is confirming the contents of the mail.
by Nomad on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 05:36:40 AM EST
Monbiot writes (here's the link, btw) about emails from a guy called kattweizel at a "redcar" university, neither of which seem to exist...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 07:35:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That was meant to be satire (it took me a while)
by PeWi on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 07:52:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
and I think - it refered to this character


Catweazle mistakes all modern technology for powerful magic (see also Clarke's third law), particularly 'elec-trickery' (electricity) and the 'telling bone' (telephone).
by PeWi on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 10:36:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That should've been there. Now added.
by Nomad on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 07:55:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment `thinking'

If you own any shares in companies that produce reflecting telescopes, use differential and integral calculus, or rely on the laws of motion, I should start dumping them NOW. The conspiracy behind the calculus myth has been suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed after volumes of Newton's private correspondence were compiled and published.

When you read some of these letters, you realise just why Newton and his collaborators might have preferred to keep them confidential. This scandal could well be the biggest in Renaissance science. These alleged letters - supposedly exchanged by some of the most prominent scientists behind really hard math lessons - suggest:

Conspiracy, collusion in covering up the truth, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more.

But perhaps the most damaging revelations are those concerning the way these math nerd scientists may variously have manipulated or suppressed evidence to support their cause.

Here are a few tasters.

 (...)[go read them at the link!]

Gravity does not extend so far from Earth that it can be the force holding the moon to its orbit; school students are increasingly reluctant to practice differential equations, that will only lead to the practice of more oppressive forms of higher math; the tide is turning against over-regulation, like Newton's "laws" of motion and Universal Gravitation. The so called `Cartesian', `skeptical' view is now also the majority view.

Unfortunately we've a long way to go before the public mood (and scientific truth) is reflected by our policy makers. There are too many vested interests in classical mechanics, with far too much to lose either in terms of reputation or money, for this to end without a bitter fight.

But if the Newton / Royal Society mail scandal is true, it is a blow to the Renaissance lobby's credibility which is never likely to recover.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 05:43:04 AM EST
Amusing but boring - same reason why I didn't quote the rest of Monbiot. Reaction of climate change deniers is far too predictable, and so is this.

At the core lies ethics in executing science, not the entire science body of climate change, and I strive to keep that the focus of my posts here.

by Nomad on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 06:29:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree. But reactions from both sides have been utterly predictable and boring.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 07:30:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you think that there is something in these emails that is less aggressive than what would surface had any other controversial field's private correspondence been outed?

Would even cosmology or evolutionary biology, say, prove "faultless" if hit with similar exposures? At the core of this IMHO, lies the fact that science goes to great pains to project an image of detached impartiality in its inner workings, while the reality is that, as in any other human endeavour, it is a product of great and often violent clash of egos, personalities, convictions and interests. To pretend otherwise, in climate science, quantum mechanics, entomology, or surface chemistry is inviting public disenchantment. This holds even more strongly for issues that are politicized. Think "heritability of intelligence". Think "peak oil".

The amazing thing is that despite all this egregious human fallibility and occasional pettiness, science works. I think that this is important to stress especially since the forces of obscurantism, especially in the US, will use such incidents not just to slander climate science, but Science in general. In this context the answer to the "scandal" is "yeah people occasionally behave badly (although I personally would protest strongly to my being judged publicly on the base of private, often casual, email exchanges), but the damn system works".

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 08:35:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Would even cosmology or evolutionary biology, say, prove "faultless" if hit with similar exposures?

Is the wrong question.

Why is no one asking if the climate deniers fake their evidence, lie, manipulate the public, whore for their rich benefactors, and other questions that might be of passing interest?

This is how you do a certain kind of PR - not by looking at the evidence, but by smearing the character of those involved.

It's completely predictable, and it's disappointing, but not entirely surprising, that the climate science camp has been put on the defensive, when there are so many possible offensive moves that could mitigate the impact of this.

But we won't get the offensive moves, because the climate scientists still think it's about the quality of the science - when it very much isn't.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 09:43:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, good point. And the extra advantage the other side has is that, generally speaking, serious academics wouldn't strike back by, say, hacking the anti-climate change camp's emails. Lack of principle is a great PR weapon.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 10:09:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you think that:

attempts to prevent scientific data from being released(2,3), and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request(4).
Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics(5,6), or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(7).

occurs in other controversial science branches? Would it excuse the above, even when considering "violent clash of egos, personalities, convictions and interests"?

by Nomad on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 10:33:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is the real question: How much bad science was going on at the CRU?

People exercising their pettiness, ire and general jerk-ness in online media is not what I, at any rate, would call an earth-shaking revelation. If there is nothing else, that part will blow over.

And if you know something is crap you would try to keep it out of a serious journal out of professional courtesy alone, so the "suppression" part is not a big deal.

But if they were doing tainted science...

How much substance do you see in these allegations?

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 10:59:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Monbiot references all allegations with links to the contents of the emails. It's easy enough for anyone to decide for oneself how substantial these allegations are.

Personally, I note that there is significant vindication for the problems and speculations Steve McIntyre has continuously posed about major publications of these scientists.

by Nomad on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 06:01:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]

  • I suppose yes. Especially the "efforts to prevent publication of opposing work" and keeping stuff out of official reports.
  • It's not a question of excusing. It happens. It is unfortunate that it happens, but it happens. If any sort of illegal activity occurred it should be punished. I'm not convinced that it's happening more so in Climate Science than in other areas, however. But we will never know because it is unlikely that many other fields of inquiry provide very strong incentives for hacking personal email accounts.

So I could ask: Do you think that standards of scientific conduct are more lax in climate science than in most other fields? Is legitimate research that runs counter to the reigning paradigm being silenced on a large scale? If not what else does this whole debacle teach us?

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 11:33:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not exactly the type of phrase I'd pick.

I'd question if holds up to science, as it has simply not been possible to reproduce or test some of the work published by the scientists mentioned in the emails. I hold reproducibility as of the key pillars of scientific method.

Even before the emails were exposed, there was no "science". The emails simply confirm this.

by Nomad on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 06:04:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To provide perspective, has the body of problematic findings reached even 1% of what we know happened in US Government agencies under GWB? Non-technical administrators directing scientific personnel to omit specific findings, to revise specific recommendations and to deny funding for critical investigations that might lead to the "wrong" conclusions. It must be borne in mind that that sort of intellectual climate in the USA was part of the context that led to some of the abuses found here. This is not justification but merely context. Fortunately, that seems to largely be a thing of the past in the US, for the time being.  

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Nov 25th, 2009 at 08:11:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a horribly bad analogy that allows the author, among other things, to believe this is about science.

And mixing up the difficultly level of presenting the physical sciences vs the natural sciences to the public makes me stabby.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 01:28:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Acquaintances of mine who previously belonged to the tin foil nut side of the climate change denial community have jumped on this as vindication for a life lived on the fringe.  They now claim that this scandal "proves" that climate change is a plot to subjugate the masses to an inferior life style.

It is quite distressing to see this scandal playing into the hands of such a community.  Likely there are some on the denial side who do not wear tin foil hats, (i originally typed hates), but even they must be salivating.

Someone please convince me there hasn't been serious damage done.

As an aside, even if there were zero data to support climate change, i would be fighting just as hard against the burning of fossils and their other chemical uses, because they remain poison to humanity.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 06:26:03 AM EST

Perhaps one thing that becomes clear is that charges of grand conspiracies can at least be put to rest.

But damage done? I'll give you the ever cheery ThatBritGuy:

The populist consensus has shifted from being avidly anti-corporate and pro-green, or at least broadly sympathetic, to seeing climate issues as an evil conspiracy by evil scientists who want to raise your taxes.

Outside of a few middle class holdouts, there's no longer any support at all for climate change management, or carbon rationing.

This is the bullet in the head for climate change measures.

Most people don't know or care about the scrappiness or internal politics of science. What they'll take home from this is that the deniers are right - the scientists have been deliberately lying to them.

Of course the timing isn't a coincidence. But it doesn't matter - as of now, we have no hope at all of an effective international climate change policy.

And for this generation the evil science meme is now so embedded that we may not have a policy again, even after the cities start flooding.

Keep fighting CH.

by Nomad on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 06:35:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Substantial policies will happen only when the Upper East Side is under water, and not before.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 07:31:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oldest rhetorical trick in the book: Attack the Messenger.

And we have a Real World example of why it is the oldest rhetorical trick in the book: it works.

All the work the IPCC has done is now tainted.  Might as well toss it in the trash can and restart.  

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 12:44:31 PM EST
Does anyone imagine this is not standard behavior in the academic scientific communities?

I remember one of my grad school professors explaining to us that when he evaluated NSF grant applications he could tell the quality by looking at the list of proposers and seeing if he knew them or their advisers.

by rootless2 on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 09:07:00 PM EST
Gaming funding is one thing. That's just office politics as usual.

Gaming data is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

Which of those this represents is unclear to me, but if Nomad says it smells fishy, then I'm prepared to hear him out.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Nov 24th, 2009 at 09:26:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Which of those this represents is unclear to me, but if Nomad says it smells fishy, then I'm prepared to hear him out.

I guess it's time for that. Patience...

by Nomad on Wed Nov 25th, 2009 at 03:14:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I too would be interested in any evidence these emails provide of 'gaming data'. So far none of the examples that have been making the rounds in the blogosphere (eg. the 'trick to hide the decline' email or the harry_read_me document) have been convincing.

The whole affair is a pretty nasty blow in terms of PR and perceptions - unfortunately what the warmist side of this controversy have failed to understand (apart from a few people like Brad DeLong) is that they are in a memetic war.

The warmists may have won in the science, but they are being rope-a-doped by the Moranos of this world.


-- #include witty_sig.h

by silburnl on Thu Nov 26th, 2009 at 07:40:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Climate change denier Nick Griffin to represent EU at Copenhagen | Environment | The Observer
In a speech in the parliament last week, Griffin denounced those who warn of the consequences of climate change as "cranks". He said they had reached "an Orwellian consensus" that was "based not on scientific agreement, but on bullying, censorship and fraudulent statistics".

"The anti-western intellectual cranks of the left suffered a collective breakdown when communism collapsed. Climate change is their new theology... But the heretics will have a voice in Copenhagen and the truth will out. Climate change is being used to impose an anti-human utopia as deadly as anything conceived by Stalin or Mao."

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Nov 30th, 2009 at 09:25:02 AM EST

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