12 December 2009

ClimateGate Gleanings - II.

In 2001, John Houhton of the IPCC made the case for anthropogenic warming, with the organization's poster child graphic in the background. Roger Pielke Jr. discusses this and related matters here.
We continue this site's review of some of the more interesting recent developments in the continuing ClimateGate saga:

Context. Having failed to contain the burgeoning scandal, defenders of AGW have taken to suggesting that the "hacked" emails have been taken out of context. Enter Climate Audit's Steve McIntyre with a detailed exegesis of the correspondence relating to "tricks" employed to hide the infamous, albeit widely misunderstood, "decline." McIntyre, for those unfamiliar with his work, has earned the respect of many — this correspondent included — for his efforts to understand exactly how scientists such as Michael Mann and Keith Briffa convert proxy data, tree ring widths, for example, into paleo temperatures. His essential point is that the results reported in scientific papers should be reproducible given the original data and the methods reported; his subsidiary point, that many of climatological papers provide neither sufficient data nor sufficiently detailed descriptions of the methodology to permit independent replication. Most famously, he and Ross McKitrick [2005. Hockey sticks, principal components, and spurious significance. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32. L03710, doi:10.1029/2004GL021750; also comments by von Storch and Zorita and Huybers and replies thereto by M&M in the same journal and year; also, McIntyre, S. and R, McKitrick. 2005. The M&M Critique of the MBH98 northern hemisphere climate index: Update and implications. Energy and Environment. 16:69-100] argued that the (in)famous "hockey stick;" poster child of IPCC-3, is most economically interpreted as a methodological artifact.

Regarding the context of the ClinateGate emails relevant to "hiding the decline," McIntyre wrote on 10 December as follows:
"The Climategate Letters show clearly that the relevant context is the IPCC Lead Authors’ meeting in Tanzania in September 1999 at which the decline in the Briffa reconstruction was perceived by IPCC as 'diluting the message', as a 'problem', as a 'potential distraction/detraction'. A stone in their shoe."
The "message", as summarized in Figure 2.21 of the IPCC Third Assessment Report was that temperatures had been more or less steady for at least a thousand years prior to the the onset of 20th century warming (the plot in the background of the BBC photo above), which is when the industrial revolution gets going in earnest.

Subsequently, and in response to the ensuing deluge of comments (264 as of this writing), McIntyre modified his conclusion somewhat: "I agree," he wrote,
"with critics who observe that the proximate objection to the Briffa reconstruction ... was not that the decline per se diluted the message, but [that] the Briffa reconstruction overall diluted the message and interfered with a 'tidy story'."
Regardless of which version one accepts, the take home points are the same: the ClimateGate correspondents had something to sell; they were intent on leaving no loose ends upon which dissenters could seize; as IPCC chapter authors, they could promote their personal views from behind the scenes.

A Letter from Wigley. In email 880476729.txt, Tom Wigley, one of the ClimateGate principals, proclaimed that "It is not IPCC's role to make 'convincing cases' for any particular policy option; nor does it." This characterization of the IPCC as a disinterested summarizer of established "facts" is belied by the ClimateGate principals' concern that nothing cloud the message that contemporary temperatures are outside the range of "normal" variability and therefore a likely consequence of human activity. This is the "tidy story," and its effect was to galvanize the push to curtail emissions — not after further study had nailed everything down — but ASAP. To suggest that the ClimateGate correspondents intended otherwise is to strain credulity.

Fraud. In reviewing McIntyre's analysis, Roger Pielke Jr. concluded that
"The 'trick' does not show scientific fraud. It does not show that climate science is a sham. What it does show is a group of scientists at the highest levels of the IPCC stage managing their presentation of climate science for the greatest possible effect via their creation of a graphic showing paleoclimate reconstructions -- the so-called 'hockey stick.' It also shows the conflict of interest faced by an IPCC lead author with responsibility for placing his own work into broader context.


"Not only does McIntyre put the "trick" into its contemporary context, but his efforts also helps [sic] us to understand the present spinning by the scientific community suggesting that the 'trick' is just science-speak for a clever method. It is not. The 'trick' in context is clearly an effort by activist scientists at the highest levels of the IPCC to misrepresent scientific complexity to policy makers and the public." [Emphasis added]
Of the three sentences emphasized, this site endorses the second and the third. There was, indeed, a conflict of interest — "you betcha," as someone dear to our hearts might say — and, yes, a group of activist scientists sought to misrepresent the facts as they were then known in a document designed to influence politicians and the public at large.

As for the first emphasized sentence — here, it may be argued that Pielke is narrowly correct, but off base in the large. To expand upon this, the key word is "scientific." IPCC publications, despite their being widely cited in the scientific literature, are not scientific papers; they are the output of an intergovernmental agency. So any fraud, deception, "spinning" — call it what you will — is not scientific fraud, deception, etc. Rather, it is political fraud, deception, etc., which, given the known proclivities of politicians, is not particularly surprising. Of course, in this case, the politicians were scientists, but, when they were working for the IPCC, they weren't doing science. What they were doing was promoting their own work, a prescription for deceit. It was an especially powerful prescription since the principal target audience was, not other scientists, but politicians, real ones, who, in addition to formulating policy, are the ultimate sources of the shekels that keep large-scale science afloat. In short, the IPCC principals were able to further their own pecuniary interests, as well of those of their respective institutions, which undoubtedly returned the favor in kind. Many of the ClimateGate principals were also motivated by a genuine belief in the justness of their cause, which is say that they were / are environmental extremists who availed themselves of the opportunity of "doing well by doing good." From this it follows that the IPCC model is inherently unworkable. The resultant concentration of power results in practices that are essentially monopolistic, and with monopoly comes tyranny, in this case of the worst possible sort. The end result of the IPCC process, what is being haggled over in Copenhagen, even as these notes are being composed is an all-controlling central authority. The old Parsee prayer, "I praise aloud, the thought well thought, the word well spoken, and the deed well done," so eloquent in its encompassing simplicity, will be perverted to "Think what we tell you to think; say what we tell you to say; do what we tell you to do." But I digress.

What about scientific fraud, the thing that Pielke tells us has not transpired? That possibility can only be resolved by evaluation of the papers published in the scientific literature. In other words, what must be determined is whether or not the ClimateGate principals' penchant for pushing a point in IPCC productions extended to their own research publications. That determination will require full disclosure of the data, both before and after it was "processed," of the computer programs that did the processing and of whatever correspondence about these matters was exchanged — an extended and unpleasant undertaking, indeed.

The Overhead Connection. Michael Mann is probably the best known of the ClimateGate principals and a faculty member at Penn State. From that university's Daily Collegian, we read the following:
"'More than $760 million in grants are given annually to research within Penn State,' [University spokeswoman, Annemarie] Mountz said. 'There will be no sanctions or restrictions placed on Mann or any grants during the inquiry.'" [Hat tip to Climate Audit.
Of course there won't be any restrictions. From the $760 million, Penn State collects roughly $250 million in overhead returns, a not insubstantial amount in these days of shrinking state expenditures — see also, in the same issue the article entitled "University Funding Still in Limbo."

So what is overhead? Suppose I'm a professor at the University of the Antipodes, and suppose I ask the National Science Foundation for $1,500,000 to study the turtle that holds up the earth on its back. That's a lot of money, but going to the end of the world is expensive, to say nothing of being dangerous — if you fall off, what awaits is the Abyss. Now, of the total, only $1,000,000 goes to my laboratory. The rest goes to the UotA as "overhead." In theory, these moneys are intended to compensate the university for maintaining my laboratory and providing ancillary support; in practice, most of it goes into the general fund. Over the years, overhead has become an increasingly important component of university budgets. As one wag described it, "overhead is the crack cocaine of the academy." It distorts everything: from the kinds of scholarly activities undertaken by individual faculty to universities' positions on matters that have little to do with scholarship and everything to do with ideological agendas. About these matters, we will have much to say in the future. For the present, it is sufficient to note that universities have very concrete reasons to contain the scandal, no less than the innumerable other entities with vested interests in promoting the green agenda.

Making Sausage. What surprised this correspondent was not the contents of the ClimateGate emails, but that of the "Harry_Read_Me" file, in which the amount of "processing" that goes into generating the thermometer record is nade painfully apparent. I think most people imagine it's simply a matter of collecting and averaging temperatures, but as discussed briefly in an earlier post, things aren't so simple. Weather stations come and go; they move; the surrounding environment changes; not all stations report all of the data all of the time, etc. As a result, outfits such as CRU use complicated, and, if the code documented by Harry is any indication, poorly implemented algorithms to adjust existing data and to construct "synthetic data," when real numbers are unavailable. In other words, what gets displayed in "temperature anomaly vs. time" diagrams is sausage, and what goes into that sausage — well, if you haven't read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, this might be a good time.

Prior to ClimateGate, this author's preferred hypothesis was that 20th century warming was real, but that the case for the case for anthropogenic warming remained unproved, if not unlikely. Today, he entertains an alternative, which is that some, perhaps a substantial, fraction of the warming we are said to have experienced is a lie — possibly inadvertent; possibly, deliberate.

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