Wednesday, November 25, 2009

CRU: How to stifle scientific debate

[NB Author's note: I am not the Devil, merely a minor minion]

While DK is on the road, I'll take the liberty of pointing readers in the direction of two unmissable posts on the unfolding Climategate scandal. First up is a superb piece at Climate Skeptic which warns of the dangers of the monoculture or groupthink that has grown up around AGW. In particular, Warren considers the idea of "peer review", which alarmists constantly brandish as proof of the indisputability of their findings:

Peer review was never meant as a sort of good housekeeping seal of approval on scientific work. It is not a guarantee of correctness. It is really an extension of the editorial process — bringing scientists from relevant fields to vet whether work is really new and different and worthy of publication, to make sure the actual article communicates the work and its findings clearly, and to probe for obvious errors or logical fallacies.

Climate scientists have tried to portray peer review as the end of the process– ie, once one of their works shows up in a peer-reviewed journal, the question addressed is “settled.” But his is never how science has worked. Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is the beginning, not the end. Once published, scientists attempt alternatively to tear it down or replicate its conclusions. Only work that has survived years of such torture testing starts to become “settled.”

The emails help to shed light on some aspects of peer review that skeptics have suspected for years. It is increasingly clear that climate scientists in the monoculture have been using peer review to enforce the orthodoxy. Peer review panels are stacked with members of the club, and authors who challenge the orthodoxy are shut out of publication, while authors within the monoculture use peer review as a shield against future criticism. We see in the emails members of the monoculture actually working to force editors who have the temerity to publish work critical of the orthodoxy out of their jobs. We are now learning that when alarmist scientists claim that there is little peer-reviewed science on the skeptic’s side, this is like the Catholic Church enforcing a banned books list and then claiming that everything in print supports the Church’s position.

History teaches us that whenever we allow a monoculture - whether is be totalitarian one-party rule or enforcing a single state religion, corruption follows. Without scrutiny of their actions, actors in such monocultures have few checks and little accountability. Worse, those at the center of such monocultures can become convinced of their own righteousness, such that any action they take in support of the orthodoxy is by definition ethically justified.

This, I think, is exactly what we see at work in the Hadley [sic] emails.

I think that's exactly right. And for a more in-depth look at the emails themselves we can go over to Watt's Up With That, where Willis Eschenbach takes us on a fascinating and disturbing trip along just one thread of the CRU emails, in which he asks UEA to release a list of the meteorological stations used in the preparation of the HadCRUT3 global temperature average, and the raw data for those stations. In response, UEA essentially tell him to go and fuck himself.

Eschenbach takes us through his sequence of letters and FOI requests to the university, and juxtaposes the unhelpful responses he gets with the emails flying around behind the scenes in which the climate scientists are urging each other to batten down the hatches and give nothing away. It's a long post, but I strongly recommend it to you if you haven't already seen it.

in 2005 Warwick [Hughes, climate researcher] asked Phil for the dataset that was used to create the CRU temperature record. Phil Jones famously replied:

Subject: Re: WMO non respondo
… Even if WMO agrees, I will still not pass on the data. We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it. …
Cheers Phil

Hmmm … not good. Or as they say in “1984″, double-plus ungood. Science can only progress if there is a free exchange of scientific data The scientific model works like this:

* A scientist makes claims, and reveals the data and methods he used to come to his conclusions.

* Other scientists who don’t agree attack the claim by (inter alia) seeing if they can replicate the result, using the first scientist’s data and methods.

* If the claims cannot be replicated, the claim is adjudged to be false.

Obviously, if the data or the methods are kept secret, the claims cannot be verified. Attacking other scientist’s claims is what what scientists do. This adversarial system is the heart of science. Refusing scientific data because someone will attack it is an oxymoron, of course they will attack it. That’s what scientists do.

That's what they're supposed to do, certainly...

UPDATE: More good news, this time from the Daily Mash.


Pogo said...

Peer review panels are stacked with members of the club, and authors who challenge the orthodoxy are shut out of publication...

I've said on numerous occasions on numerous blogs that "peer review is, in essence, no different from allowing GCSE students to mark their friends' exam papers". The revelations from the UEA emails shows this to be exactly the case.

FrankFisher said...

Yup, couple of good points there. Can I just extend this by blowing my own trumpet? When I compiled the report Big science and little white lies for Index on Censorship ten years ago, we found many similar instances in science, going back decades. While the CRU's scandalous behavour might tbe worst in terms of scope, intention, and actual impact, it is far from unique. The pressures from prominent figures on, for example, journal editors, has always been there. The competition for funding that warps research and research results, has always been there. The collusion between scientists to exclude outliers has always been there.

I'm not saying all scientists do this - far from it - but it does seem to feature more often in these controversial areas. Why? Money. Scientists like money and prestige, just liek the rest of us. Following the line with big funding - govt funding, generally - is the way to career security.

Second point, my main focus since this broke: the media silence. The BBC. What does this tell us? What kind of country do we live in today, where the national broadcaster chooses to all but ignore this massive story?

Letters From A Tory said...

Excellent stuff, Mr E. The 'We are peer reviewed and therefore correct' lobby need to be knocked down a couple of pegs.

Thortung The Terrible said...

It was only a matter of time:

Hitler vs AGW

John B said...

While I don't think the UAE scientists made the right call from a PR point of view, there's a massive difference between "people in your scientific field testing your results to see if they're replicable" (This Is Science) and "gibbering cranks with no background in the field who're planning to cherry-pick any minor problems, or things they just don't understand, with your models and PR them as 'AGW proved false, go back to your SUVs'" (This Is Not Science).

Lord Blagger said...

Number 10 petition

Mr Eugenides said...


I don't think it's entirely fair to say that the BBC have all but completely ignored this story, given that they've covered it on Newsnight and elsewhere - and covered it in, if not exactly objective fashion (we shouldn't expect miracles), at least less screamingly biased a way than normal.

But I agree that the MSM does not seem to be interested in this story and, as I've said both at my place and chez Bishop Hill, I think it will die a death in the media before the week is out.

Lord Blagger said...

In the States it is completely different. It's all over the news.

It will spread hear too. The BBC have had two posts that I've found. One relatively quickly about the FOI aspects of it that are pretty damning. The other a so-so one on the details.

The problem is now that people will go direct. For example, I've already written to the Chancellor of UEA informing him of the email where they were discussing being economical with the truth in their talks with him over FOI.

They only mentioned one FOI request, rather than the fact they had had lots of FOI requests, and it was deliberate.

The FOI commissioner will get complaints about this many times over.

The BBC are already covering up. They have said they relied on scientific experts for their bias. However, they won't release the names of the scientists as its journalism. They are now delaying with the FOIC. One suspects that the names of the scientists are the same as those of the CRU, or that they don't exist.

Umbongo said...

John B implies that anybody outside the climate scientists' immediate field (eg Steve McIntyre who is only a statistician) is a "gibbering crank" and thus will lead the debate straight down into the mire. Science - practised by honest wo(men) - would see off this kind of crap by pointing out in public where the "gibbering cranks" are mistaken and such cranks would be shown up for what they are.

However, not to put into the public domain the raw data (+ details and justification of adjustments made to such data) together with the algorithms of the models manipulating the data is not an honest approach to science. It might avoid the minor irritation caused by "gibbering cranks" but it also avoids the possible refutation of the theory from those outside a charmed circle whose interests appear political (and financial) rather than scientific.

tipple said...

Have you seen this greenie shite?

Mr A said...

Hell, they've been doing this for years - just look at anti-tobacco "science".

In that field they're so smug that they'll never be questioned by our scientifically iliterate leaders and that the many damning critiques of the studies that are all over the Web will never be reported by the MSM, that they don't even bother rigging the peer-review panels on established journals. Instead, awash with our money and ostracised by the mainstream scientific community because of their often bizarre methodologies, they just set up their own journals (objectively named rags likes "Transactions Against Tobacco" or "Journal of anti-Tobacco Research") and publish their drivel to their hearts' content, safe in the knowledge that the MSM and the politicians will later spew whatever falsehood they decide to come up with.

This AGW lie needs to be dealt with, but for science to regain a place of trust in its objectivity and methods the anti-tobacco movement needs to be next in line.

Gareth said...

John B,

The key issue in the peer review process that you correctly identify - replicability - has been utterly absent in this particular part of the climate change arena because the 'scientists' involved have been curmudgens and blaggards over releasing the code and data they have used. The scientific method demands replicability or it is not good science.

The article by Willis Eschenbach on detailing the FOI problems is a good illustration. At one point he asks for, not the data nor the program code, but simply a list of the surface stations used in the HadCRUT3 calculations - ostensibly so he could gather the raw data from other sources himself.(As CRU were not prepared to release the raw data they had used, then said they couldn't release some of it due to intellectual property rights and eventually claimed it had been deleted.) CRU couldn't even manage this which makes their calculations barely more than worthless. They have produced an opinion. Until their calculations can be replicated they have not survived the full peer review process.

As for who gets to do the peer reviewing, given that much of the climate change predictions rely on computer manipulation of statistics a statistician is as good a choice as any to review a statistics laden paper. Infact, limiting any scientific paper to people only in your area of science will naturally lead to confirmation bias. Papers should (and presumably sometimes are) reviewed by a myriad of talents if the journal thinks it is appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Stories like this bring science in general into disrepute, which I find a great shame.

It's especially disheartening when you see the tendrils of government extending into it.

Damn the politicking rascals!

Lord Blagger said...

I agree on the damage to science. Crying wolf means that you aren't trusted.

What that does mean is that when there is something that really is dangerous people will ignore it.

So its a double whammy. Lots of unecessary and therefore damaging spending for something that doesn't warant it (AGW) and a lack of spending for things that do when they arise.

On the peer review process. Peer review should be done by independent experts. This has not been the case.

On the BBC, they have done the same. They have consulted experts to back up their bias in favour of AGW, but they aren't releasing the names. That is a policy decision and not a journalistic decision.

I suspect the reason is they didn't consult, or the scientists are those from the CRU

Anonymous said...

Thortung The Terrible - That's the best version of the Hitler video so far!

Re the lack of press coverage - I sent an Email to the editor of the local (Norwich) paper last night, asking him why they had only printed a couple of very small reports about this.

I will report back if I get any response.

Anonymous said...

The point that many people are missing about the leak is that it demonstrates the need for transparency in all models that are used to form/inform public policy making. Models are only as good as the quality of the software and data supporting them and unless exposed to proper scrutiny the output of any model is little more than a guesstimate.

There have been plenty of examples of scaremongering by "scientists" over the last decade, be it various forms of flu epidemic (avian, swine, ...), or the model used to justify the wholesale slaughter of UK farm animals in 2001, and now the climate modelling. What is often ignored is that a model required assumptions to be made and needs to be trained/tested against validated data.

The CRU groupthink appears to have ignored the need for a publicly available and validated baseline to underpin the assumptions in their model. Their behaviour is not just bad science, but a disgraceful use of public funds.

Anonymous said...

The BBC are shit.
The BBC are liars.

The BBC are crooks.
The BBC are in the pockets of the rich and political classes.
The BBC are going to look really stupid when every other MSM worldwide shows this objectively.
But not as stupid as Nulab Stazi are going to look at Copenhagen they are now a complete laughing stock.
Er other nations ae not buying into this you dumb fucks,hello.hello,is there anyone at home ,hello...

revinkevin said...

You may be interested in this FOI request.

Other Climateic Resarch Unit FOI reqeust.

microdave said...

I've just read through Willis Eschenbach's story - yes it IS long, but well worth it. It really shows what a nasty bunch they are. I certainly wouldn't buy a used car from them.....

tipple said...

Yet more greenie shite.

Is this government funding in action?

Anonymous said...

Good God it seems to be spreading!!!
The New Zealand Climate Science Coalition have caught NIWA the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research fiddling their figures it seems.

Borrowing ideas from CRU they adjust early temp records down and later ones up and BINGO look how warm it is getting.

Rob said...

John B's position is yet another tired "argument from authority" fallacy.

If these clowns had openly published their data years ago then scientists could have verified it, questioned it, pulled it apart. That is what science is.

But they didn't - and we now all know why.

Bad luck John - your whole world-view is going down the shitter before your very eyes. Best ramp up the hysteria to compensate.

Rob said...

The BBC are all over that NZ story.

Oh no, they aren't:

Glaciologist Wendy Lawson, from the UK's Canterbury University, downplayed the sightings.

She told the AP news agency: "Icebergs this far north [near New Zealand] are not that unusual."

The BBC doesn't agree with you, love. Hysteriometer up to 11!

Arthur Dent said...

Some of the team are well aware of the issues and want to do something about it. Look at this from Cook to Briffa on Wednesday, 3 September 2003 07:32:11 : Filename: 1062592331.txt

Without trying to prejudice this work, but also because of what I almost think I know to be the case, the results of this study will show that we can probably say a fair bit about <100 year extra-tropical NH temperature variability (at least as far as we
believe the proxy estimates), but honestly know fuck-all about what
the >100 year variability was like with any certainty (i.e. we know
with certainty that we know fuck-all).

Anonymous said...

In February 1877, the "City of Auckland" was 1200 miles WNW of Cape Horn and ran into a patch of icebergs with fog which kept them all busy for an afternoon. How common would this be these days in summer ?
This is true this is one reason why I know GW is bullshit.
Charlatans n landlubbers every man jack 'o' them aaaaaaar !

Lord Blagger said...

Check out the temperature records for New Zealand.

Yet more fraud.

Budgie said...

DK and Mr Eugenides - keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Just seen this new article over at the state broadcaster:

Most climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that the Earth will respond in an El Nino-like way to global warming.
But a few of the models do recreate this dynamic "La Nina effect", and suggest that that when you heat the Earth's surface, the climate system tries to offset and cool.

Michael Mann added that the Earth's response to greenhouse-gas-induced global warming might be more complex than "natural" warming.

"What this gives us is an independent reality check," said Mann.


So we can forget about Copenhagen than please??

Jeremy Stanford said...

Acknowledging the controversy over the activities of the Climate Research Unit, run by Phil Jones at the University of East Anglia, I've managed to simulate a picture of the structure they may have set up.

At ground floor level, the building is built of straw. The layer above is built of card. Above this is a layer of mud bricks. On this is set a layer of concrete. And above this is a titanium steel construction. On the top floor, Phil Jones and his team sit in a virtual world created by streaming digital images simulating reality.

Occasionally, colleagues who once knew Phil Jones pass by, look up, and shout: 'Hey Jonesy, what's up? Got time for a beer.' Jones ignores them. Recently, many more people concerned about developments inside the CRU have tried to get Jones' attention. When cries from ground level became unavoidable, Phil Jones apparently swivelled in his virtual chair, walked to the virtual window and yelled: 'Can't you see I'm busy. I'm trying to save the world. Fuck off!'

That's the last we've heard from inside the CR Unit.

Meanwhile a leak has been discovered emanating from the CRU. The material oozing out turned into a flood, but its actual content is still baffling investigators. There are fears the leak could undermine the stability of the whole building. But all attempts to get Jones and his staff to verify the nature of the leaks continue to fall on deaf ears.

Concern over these developments has now reached global level. Doubts over whether the leak does or does not contain toxic material have triggered the precautionary principle. Scientists at the upcoming Copenhagen Conference are expected to call for a ban on all future construction programmes unless and until they gain full access to the contents of Phil Jones' brain. Experts believe it is unlikely this target can be achieved within Jones' lifetime.

caesars wife said...

So is peer review now defined as use of the cash point if they like the look of you!
How every marxist .

Anonymous said...

"What this gives us is an independent reality check," said Mann.

Mann woudn't know an independent reality check if one bit both his legs off.

kinfl said...

"people in your scientific field testing your results to see if they're replicable" (This Is Science)": no it bloody isn't, not if the people in your field are just a circle of cronies. Particularly if "your field" turns out to have an aversion to standard statistical techniques and prefers to contrive dud methods of its own. One of the advantages that McIntyre has over his opponents (in addition to having, I suspect, more brainpower than many of them) is his familiarity with many data analysis methods that they are strangers to.

NHS Fail Wail

I think that we can all agree that the UK's response to coronavirus has been somewhat lacking. In fact, many people asserted that our de...