McIntyre’s concerted efforts to derail the science and harass scientists

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What would you do if you were confronted with a group who will go through great lengths to find something -no matter how small- that they can twist and use against you? It will naturally make you very careful, and defensive perhaps. I empathize with not wanting to cooperate with people like that.

Indeed, in some of the stolen emails, CRU scientists sounded extremely frustrated with the many ‘Freedom of Information’ (FoI) requests they were getting, from exactly the kind of people as described above. Self appointed “auditor” of climate science Steve McIntyre asked his blog readers to participate:

Steve McIntyre                       Posted Jul 24, 2009 at 10:59 AM

I suggest that interested readers can participate by choosing 5 countries and sending the following FOI request to (…)

Now someone’s view of this situation entirely depends from what angle they look at it. McIntyre and his fans take the view that their repeated requests to “free the data” were being stonewalled, so they presumably felt that it was ok to increase the pressure this way. Even when acknowledging that more openness in science is a laudable goal, the way he’s going about it is entirely counterproductive and low.

Scientists and their supporters however view McIntyre’s tactics as pure sabotage. He doesn’t seem interested in furthering the science, but rather in attempting to shoot holes in work that is supportive of the scientific consensus, and then blowing it up way out of proportion to the significance of his finding (if at all correct). He also frequently engages in character assassination, insinuating fraud, scientific misconduct and manipulation on the part of scientists. There’s no need to back up such accusations; a verbose writing style and an uncritical audience who love every word that slams climate scientists does the job very nicely. The echo chamber on the internet does the rest.

This has the all the marks of the FOI law being abused to harass scientists. From the Times Online:

Over a matter of days, CRU received 40 similar FoI requests. Each applicant asked for data from five different countries, 200 in all, which would have been a daunting task even for someone with nothing else to do.

Jones admitted poor judgment in handling those FoI requests: In an angry private email he wrote that he would rather delete data than provide them to McIntyre. In the context of being the target of what amounts to a ‘denial of service’ attack, I empathize with his frustration. Of course, deleting data would be extremely stupid, and AFAIK, he nor anybody else has done so. But who has never said (or written in email) something in anger, that in hindsight was uncalled for?

Hunting season on scientists seems open, and it’s a disgrace.

See also Eli Rabett. DeepClimate provides a detailed look into McIntyre’s history.

Update: From the Canadian Globe and Mail, where McIntyre is described as

a gifted pest whose scattershot criticisms indiscriminately mix a few valid points with a larger body of half-truths, a potent concoction that produces much confusion but little benefit.

(…)

The key objection to the work of bloggers such as Mr. McIntyre is that they are engaged in an epic game of nitpicking: zeroing in on minor technical issues while ignoring the massive and converging lines of evidence that are coming in from many disciplines. To read their online work is to enter a dank, claustrophobic universe where obsessive personalities talk endlessly about small building blocks – Yamal Peninsula trees, bristlecones, weather stations – the removal of which will somehow topple the entire edifice of climate science. Lost in the blogging world is any sense of proportion, or the idea that science is built on cumulative work in many fields, the scientists say.

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19 Responses to “McIntyre’s concerted efforts to derail the science and harass scientists”

  1. Trolls, drawing and quartering, and other vexatious charactersmorego « The Policy Lass Says:

    [...] Bart Verheggen’s pull-no-punches post: “McIntyre’s concerted effort to derail the science and harass scientists“: Scientists and their supporters however view McIntyre’s tactics as pure sabotage. He [...]

  2. John Mashey Says:

    There is a long history: see Plagiarism? Conspiracies? Felonies?”, and backtrack into more detail at Deep Climate.

  3. Bart Says:

    Thanks John. I’ve seen your piece, and it contains a lot of information about the dirty tactics used, as do DC’s posts. I plan to comment on it shortly.

  4. Heiko Gerhauser Says:

    Add the word “some” or “in my opinion, many” to the sentence “Scientists and their supporters however view McIntyre’s tactics as pure sabotage.”, and you make the basis for that statement clearer.

    In my opinion the vast majority of scientists, by nearly any definition of the term, are not sufficiently well informed on the facts of the matter to have much of an opinion on McIntyre.

    Personally, I’ve got quite a favourable opinion of McIntyre and am dubious that the accusations leveled against him amount to much but partisan sniping. Say look at the supposedly many FOI’s, it’s for the same data as far as I can judge and the only reason to use 5 country groupings is to work out, which ones the CRU (in McIntyre’s opinion a made up excuse) claims to have secrecy agreements with. I largely buy the McIntyre line that FOI has been used entirely reasonably and the number of real requests is no more than 1 or 2 per country and year and institution.

  5. Bart Says:

    Heiko,

    Most scientists, me included, are not sufficiently well informed on the specifics of proxies and dendro-climatology to argue about those details. Indeed, I generally refrain from an
    opinion on such details. But I do have an opinion about the tactics he’s using, and about how constructive vs destructive his contributions or attacks, respectively, are. Fair enough, not all scientists agree for a 100% on this, or on anything for that matter. But I wager that most climate related scientists would agree that on balance, he’s not constructive.

    I realize and wrote here that McIntyre and his supporters would see nothing wrong with upping the pressure the way they did. But taking into account how he has attacked scientists in the past, and using any little nitpick to harass them even more, I can fully understand that scientists are loath to accommodate him. But it’s a catch 22, as is now evident: You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t accommodate.

  6. Scott Mandia Says:

    It is clear the people such as Singer, Michaels, Soon, McKittrick, etc. are making money by knowingly lying to the public and to its officials. Steve McI is a different breed. For the most part, he is doing what he does for the personal attention he gets from his devout followers.

    The problem I have with Steve McI is that he works under the assumption that scientists are either ignorant of their expertise or somehow they are involved in a vast conspiracy or group think exercise. Just look at his Yamal comments.

    If only Steve McI behaved in a mature, professional manner then I might be able to agree with Dr. Curry that there is a place for him in the discussion. Unfortunately, he appears to be incapable of such.

    It is also quite illogical for people to think that scientists are all in a group think. Scientists become famous for proving the establishment wrong and yet there is an overwhelming consensus by the publishing experts and every international scientific body.

    Before anybody replies with the tired “but they get rich from being pro-AGW” argument, when is the last time you saw scientists such as Mann driving a Mercedes into a three car garage in a posh gated neighborhood? LOL.

  7. BlogReader Says:

    ven when acknowledging that more openness in science is a laudable goal, the way he’s going about it is entirely counterproductive and low.

    Then what should be done? Why do you say that it is a laudable goal yet you want to stop him doing what should have been done in the first place?

    You’re not offering many alternatives here beyond “don’t allow for FOI requests”

  8. BlogReader Says:

    Before anybody replies with the tired “but they get rich from being pro-AGW” argument, when is the last time you saw scientists such as Mann driving a Mercedes into a three car garage in a posh gated neighborhood? LOL.

    That one is easy and was answered by Upton Sinclair

    It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it

    Yes it goes both ways.

  9. dhogaza Says:

    It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it

    Yes it goes both ways.

    Except, of course, that climate researchers salaries don’t depend on their not understanding climate. Good research that constrains the problem credibly gets published without a problem, such as the very recent paper that suggests that the amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere as a feedback to warming is less than has been thought.

    So, no, it does not go both ways.

    Then what should be done?

    Rather than try to destroy careers through harassment, hostile interrogation by RW politicians at congressional hearings, lies, lawsuits, and the like, one could take the path that those at the Clear Climate Code project have taken.

    The CCC people have taken GISTEMP, rewritten it in Python, and are cleaning it up, therefore improving its readability and understandability, and also making it much easier for people to run independently.

    On the way they found a very small number of minor bugs. Rather than SCREAM FRAUD TO THE BLOGOSPHERE! FRAUD! FRAUD, WE SAY! they acted like mature, helpful adults and quietly reported the bugs to NASA GISS.

    NASA gladly accepted the fixes, and applied them to their version of the code, and thanked the CCC people.

    ccc-gistemp is up to version 3 now (the project’s a bit over a year old), and now NASA GISS has said that when ccc-gistemp is mature, that they’d like to switch to using it rather than the old FORTRAN code originally written by Hansen.

    That is an example of what should be done.

    Gavin Schmidt has given another example of where citizen science would be very helpful, which would be to put together a project to make available weather station data that’s in the public domain, but which hasn’t been reported to, and included in, the GHCN database.

    I’m sure creative people could come up with many other examples of what should be done.

  10. dhogaza Says:

    I’ve got an idea … let’s flood Heiko Gerhauser’s institution with 50 nearly identical FOIA requests over the weekend, and when they’ve not responded to each and every one by Monday, call for Heiko’s resignation, insist upon an official interrogation, and claim that he’s committed a felony in most of the large newspapers in the world. Let’s throw in a few death threats, and leave a dead rat on his doorstep.

    Then we’ll ask Heiko if he really thinks that these are reasonable tactics.

    The cool thing is we don’t even have to know what kind of research he does in order to carry out the experiment, just as, in reality, most of the people harassing CRU don’t know the first thing about climate science.

  11. Bart Says:

    Scott Mandia,
    Excellent comment, and I totally agree.

    BlogReader,
    What should be done? Given McIntyre’s past behavior, he stands little chance of being accommodated voluntarily. I think it much more likely that science will gradually become more open from forces that are not adversarial to the science. It is also a matter of how science is funded and valued: If you’re in favor of more stringent control and administration of data flows and programming code, then your efforts are better spent to lobby for more funding rather then to harass scientists and nitpick at insignificant details. Also bear in mind that it is scientifically much more constructive to try check the result via different means than to try to follow the exact same road as others did.

    Michael Tobis is a good example of someone who is very sympathetic to the idea of making science more open, yet also sees the hurdles to achieve that. See eg
    http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2010/02/what-does-openness-in-science-mean.html

  12. Bart Says:

    dhogaza,

    I appreciate your first comment on constructive ways how “outsiders” can help in improving scientific code.

    But I do not appreciate your second comment directed at Heiko. Nevermind the fact that we work at the same institute (so your suggested FOIA waterfall could swallow me as well), you’re being offensive here. Tone it down.

  13. Heiko Gerhauser Says:

    Hi Bart,

    nothing wrong is a bit too strong to describe my own feelings towards McIntyre’s actions, but I am clearly a lot more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I know that both he and Mann have been vilified in the extreme and even though I have followed the debate pretty well, when it’s about the meta discussion about how reasonable requests or refusals have been in the light of all that vilification, I am not sure I know enough. On the substance I tend towards McIntyre, and the substance as I see it is merely that tree rings make poor thermometers and the error bars for the past 1000 years should therefore be a bit bigger than Mann makes out with it being unclear what that exactly means for the most appropriate policy response (and in all likelihood it’s virtually irrelevant).

  14. dhogaza Says:

    But I do not appreciate your second comment directed at Heiko. Nevermind the fact that we work at the same institute (so your suggested FOIA waterfall could swallow me as well), you’re being offensive here. Tone it down.

    I assumed it would be understood that I was joking – to make a point. I have no idea if you work in a country that has FOI laws (though your response would seem to indicate you do).

    And actually you’re reinforcing my point, that the claim that there’s nothing wrong with FOI flooding is easy to make when it’s not you being flooded.

  15. Bart Says:

    dhogaza,

    Sure it’s clear that it wasn’t meant serious. But that’s a flimsy excuse for the language used. I’d like to keep the tone civil; that’s all.

    I have no clue about FOI laws here (I didn’t take your comment *that* serious).

    I absolutely agree that flooding someone with FOI requests is not nice, to put it mildly. My post was pretty clear on that I gather.

  16. Bart Says:

    Heiko,

    “in all likelihood it’s virtually irrelevant” (for the most appropriate policy response).

    That’s the bottom line that is too often ignored. And even on details where McI may have a point, it’s significance even for the actual proxy temperature record is very small, let alone for the whole case of AGW, let alone for the optimal policy responses.

  17. Eli Rabett Says:

    McIntyre is a time vampire, and if you don’t think so get cross wise with him. He asks you for something, he asks you for more, he asks you to explain it, and Lord forbid you don’t dot an i. (See Rutherford, Scott)

    Ascribing anything other than malice to him is naive

  18. Länkar – 15 February 2010 Says:

    [...] view on climate change – McIntyre’s concerted efforts to derail the science and harass scientists09 February [...]

  19. Marco Says:

    Bart, er is iemand die zich voordoet als dhogaza. Nogal triest.

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