20 November 2009

Climate Change and the Academic-Political Complex.

What has emerged since the end of the Cold War is an academic-political complex, the significance of which cannot be overstated. Fairness, contrary to the view of some critics, is not the principal casualty. Rather, the corpse in the quadrangle is Truth, which, however slippery it may sometimes appear, is distinguishable from propaganda. And so we come to climate change, a "science" that seems destined to join the ranks of iconic examples of agenda-driven balderdash — think craniometry, eugenics and Lysenkoism. Global warming skeptics have long recognized this, but today the charge acquires new veracity with the publication of emails and data that point to coordinated efforts by leading climatologists to hide, manipulate and falsify data in order to buttress the case for anthropogenic (we nasty humans did it) global warming (AGW).

Before proceeding, some specifics and links to what's out there:
  • The emails, along with additional data, are from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Britain. CRU, an acronym that cries out for an additional letter, a terminal "D," is one of the big players in climate warming, and the emails involve influential investigators of international stature: Briffa, Jones, Mann, Overpeck, Schmidt, to name a few.

  • At this writing, the material appears to be genuine. The Register reports that "the University of East Anglia has confirmed that a data breach has put a large quantity of emails and other documents from staff at its Climate Research Unit online." At the same time, they also quote a CRU spokesman as being unable to confirm the authenticity of all the material. "We are aware," he tells them, "that information from a server used for research information in one area of the university has been made available on public websites. Because of the volume of this information we cannot currently confirm that all of this material is genuine" [Emphasis added].

  • Even without confirmation, inspection of the data suggests that most or all of it is real. Luboš Motl puts it this way:
    "You really don't want to type all these files by hand. Each subdirectory contains either numerous subfolders or dozens of DOC, PRO, TXT, no-suffix, ARS, CRN, CRNS, DAT, RAW, and other files. I don't know anyone who could create such an amount of authentic things in a finite affine time. The only alternative," he continues,"is that the bulk of the files is real and some 'cherries' have been added or edited. But that would still require a collaboration of a good hacker with a good person who follows climate science (a well-informed skeptic), or the unification of these two roles in one person. Somewhat unlikely. In my opinion, the most likely story is that all these files are 100% legitimate."
  • The emails are available in chronological order here [404 error as of 11/26], and as a searchable data base here. A zip file containing the data — emails and text — is available at File Dropper. Motl, who lists this and additional links, warrants that the files are clean.

  • A growing number of links and comments are posted at Climate Depot, where the story is being given top billing. Interesting examples of apparent chicanery have been reproduced by Andrew Bolt at HeraldSun.com.au. Explication of one of the seemingly more egregious, "Mike's Nature trick," can be read at Climate Audit, which, due to the resulting upsurge in traffic, now boasts a mirror site.

  • Steve McIntyre's laconic, and eminently quotable, summary reaction was "Words fail me." More expansively, Motl emphasized the financial aspect of the scandal: "These people should be put in jail as soon as possible. ... [They] have acquired millions if not billions of taxpayers' money by methods that seem to be provably fraudulent." Still more extensively, Tom Nelson observed
    "So the 1079 emails and 72 documents seem indeed evidence of a scandal involving ... the most prominent scientists pushing the man-made warming theory - a scandal that is one of the greatest in modern science. I’ve been adding some of the most astonishing in updates below - emails suggesting conspiracy, collusion in exaggerating warming data, possibly illegal destruction of embarrassing information, organised resistance to disclosure, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more. If it is as it now seems, never again will 'peer review' be used to shout down sceptics."
  • William Briggs advocates a more measured response. He writes:
    "As far as I can tell by my early reading, all the folks in those emails truly believe their models (it’s the observations they don’t love).

    There is no conspiracy, as far as I can tell. A conspiracy would obtain if the participants knew their stated beliefs were false, yet the still espoused them with the goal of winning either money, or power, or control, or whatever. My early, and admittedly incomplete, judgment is that all of these people really are convinced that catastrophic warming is on the way and that it will be caused by mankind. Further, they believe it fervently.

    "So, caution, friends. Try not to use the word “conspiracy” too readily. It is an extremely strong word—and it is beside the point. Or should be.

    "If, as a skeptic, you try to club the email originators over the head with conspiracy, they have the easiest defense: they believe. And people will see that they believe, that there is no conspiracy, and you will look like a brute and an ass. Meanwhile, what should really be at question—will it get hotter, colder, or can we know with sufficient precision—will be left unanswered.

    "Again, I see conviction in these emails, and strained attempts to tame and fix their creations, the models, so that the models’ outputs fall in line with what they believe. This sort of “experimenter’s bias” is fair game, and should be noted. It is the main story, I think.

    "But attempts to point out bias should be formed with compassion and not passion. This is not the time to settle scores, but to gain allies. We are dealing with a group of highly intelligent people and they can be convinced of mistakes where they exist."
  • In contrast to Briggs, here quoted at length because I disagree with him, are A. C. Montford's summaries of some four dozen of the letters at Bishop Hill. Among the topics discussed are the silencing of critics, the removal of unsympathetic journal editors, the deletion of (possibly incriminating) email and manipulation of the press. This is in addition to withholding and playing tricks with the data.

  • Over at Canada Free Press, Jim Ball writes of "the death blow to climate science"; at American Thinker, Marc Sheppard decries "the evidence of climate fraud." Especially delicious is Marc's reproduction of the following analysis by Tom Wigley writing to Briffa regarding the with-holding of data, an issue that has been going back and forth between McIntyre and CRU for some while now:
    "And the issue of with-holding data is still a hot potato, one that affects both you and Keith (and Mann). Yes, there are reasons - but many *good* scientists appear to be unsympathetic to these. The trouble here is that with-holding data looks like hiding something, and hiding means (in some eyes) that it is bogus science that is being hidden.

    "I think Keith needs to be very, very careful in how he handles this. I'd be willing to check over anything he puts together."
  • This author's incomplete perusal of the letters — more accurately, a very shallow dipping into the muck — is consistent with Mountford's — which is to say that I came upon several of the same instances of outlandish behavior. As to whether or not Jones et al., are guilty of conspiracy legally, I haven't the foggiest. In that narrow sense, Briggs may be right. That having been said, I rather doubt that the letter writers, however highly intelligent they be, "can be convinced of mistakes where they exist." What one appears to be dealing with is a collection of scoundrels who will have their way no matter what. What fraction of their behavior derives from personal ambition, what fraction, from ideology, etc., will be determined, or at least argued over, by future historians. For now, it's sufficient to note that they are scoundrels. So I'm with Motl.
The Two Ladders. In his marvelous retelling of the discovery of evolution, Loren Eiseley observed that there are two ladders into the past: paleontology and the comparative study of living beings. For climatologists, there are likewise two roads to the future.
  • In the first place, there are computer simulations that predict catastrophic warming consequent to continuing accumulations of atmospheric carbon. These calculations, it is often observed, are not evidentiary. They confirm nothing. Rather, they are hypotheses and, as such, subject to falsification by observation. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that they can only be "tweaked" to fit 20th century data by careful parametric adjustment. This, plus the fact that they cannot account for the past ten years' lack of warming, suggests that they are fundamentally flawed — useful, perhaps as research tools, but unreliable for divination.

  • The second way to the future paradoxically involves the study of climates past, necessarily via the use of proxy variables (tree rings and the like) once one gets back far enough. Here the object is to determine the extent to which current climates are exceptional, which is what the models predict. According to IPCC-2 (see the Figure), the Medieval Warm period equaled or eclipsed anything post industrial. For AGW to be important, it had to go — see Ball's reference to Overpeck's alleged assertion that "We must get rid of the Medieval Warm Period." Enter Michael Mann and the hockey stick, poster child of IPCC-3, and the claim that today's climate is the hottest in eight to ten thousand years.
About both roads a great deal can be said. The computer simulations, as I have previously written, replace "a system system we don't understand with models we can't understand — at least not mathematically." This is no technicality. Writ large in climatological time series are the fingerprints of chaos — not just unpredictability, but cyclicity on a wide range of time scales, which is as much a symptom of chaos as sensitivity to initial conditions ("butterfly effect"). The models do not reproduce this; therefore, they are wrong, not just in failing to predict a decade's worth of stationary temperatures, but in failing to predict a fundamental property of the entire record. When modelers appeal to the ENSO, when they re-initialize the initial conditions so as to harmonize simulation with current observation, they merely admit that the models cannot by themselves replicate the qualitative essentials of the system they purport to caricature. Until the models can do this absent parametric adjustment, they are simply not believable.

As to the ladder into the past, the essential point is that with paleo proxies, one sees through the glass darkly. That's the reason for the fancy statistics, the impenetrable arguments regarding the legitimacy of this procedure or that, and so on. With a (considerably higher) signal to noise ratio, the need for such analysis would disappear. Perhaps, one day, better proxies will be found. Until then, caveat emptor.

Richard Levins, the brilliant Harvard ecologist who did good work, his Marxist inclinations notwithstanding, once quipped that "truth is the intersection of three or more independent lies." By "independent lies," he meant "plausible simplifications, i.e., models, that differ in their particulars." In the case of climate change, we have two lies and the evidence of the emails is that they are not independent. To convince oneself of the truth of this assertion, one has only to compare the double blind standard of the medical community with the tweak and fudge apparent in both the climatologists' emails and in the published literature. Indeed, even as this article is being edited, Steve McIntyre's readers have begun delving into the computer codes wherein the sausage passed off as data was ground. The preliminary results are, shall we say, less than edifying — see "These will be artificially adjusted" by R. Neal.

Finally. The Greens will not be dissuaded. For them, mankind is a cancer on the planet, and the appeal of climate change, that it represents an opportunity to diminish humanity's per capita ecological footprint and, ultimately, its total numbers. Outfits such as Optimum Population advocate a world population of 3-5 million, which goal, were it to be accomplished in the near-term, would entail a level of slaughter the likes of which we have thankfully never seen. Measured against this horrific standard, the tweaking of a few data sets is of negligible consequence. Gotta break a few eggs to make that omelet.

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