Posts Tagged ‘McIntyre’

IPCC SRREN: Conflict of interest or just a bad press release?

June 19, 2011

The blog discussion of the week seems to be about IPCC’s Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Question is, has a study headed by a Greenpeace employee been overly hyped? I think the short answer is that it has in the press release but it hasn’t in the underlying report.

One would think that that would be the end of it. It’s become the norm that press releases highlight an eye catching finding rather than trying to paint a full picture of the underlying report. The former draws media attention; the latter does not. Media need a news hook after all, as we’re frequently told by journalists. That’s not necessarily a good thing for science journalism and science literacy, but it’s the case nevertheless.

Then why does the bulk of the criticism go to the whole of the IPCC process? That’s a bit of a rhetorical question of course, as the answer is fairly obvious: There are legions of people looking for excuses to throw the IPCC under the bus. And sometimes even people who have a decent understanding of the issues are enclined to support such efforts, if they become convinced of serious wrongdoing. Think Monbiot with regards to “climategate” and now Mark Lynas with the SRREN. Mind you, I think the questions that Lynas posed to the IPCC are fair and deserve to be answered:

Here, repeated, are the questions I have posed to the IPCC’s Edenhofer:

1: what was the process for writing the press release, and who decided whether it faithfully represented the main conclusions of the SPM/main report?
2: why was the SPM released more than a month before the full report?
3: was Sven Teske in any way involved in the decision to highlight Teske et al, 2010 as one of the four ‘illustrative scenarios’ explored in greater depth as per Section 10.3.1?
4: what is the IPCC conflict of interest policy with regard to lead authors reviewing their own work, and having affiliations to non-academic institutions, whether campaign groups or companies?

The Carbon Brief has a good rundown of issues. One paragraph though struck me:

the use of word “could” in the IPCC’s press release (“Close to 80 percent of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century”) is likely to refer to future uncertainties, but may well have been perceived by journalists and the public as a straightforward statement about the technical potential of renewable energy.

I think it’s the opposite: I think the word “could” refers to “technical potential” rather than to future uncertainties. As in, if we really wanted to and put the effort (and money) in, this is what we could achieve. Whereas most reading this understand it in the other way and then interpret is as hopelessly optimistic and biased.

I agree that it’s not wise to put a rather unrealistic scenario forward as an example in the spotlights. My point is not so much to argue how silly vs wise, or how realistic vs unrealistic is it, but rather to distinguish that which is technically possible from what is societally and politically realistic. David Keith (in a different context) made some pertinent comments to this:

However when people and the political community hear technical people say “can’t be done” they assume we mean that technically can’t be done and that is untrue and destructive.
It’s destructive because it hides the central moral choice: we could cut emissions if we want to, we could have started decades ago when the scientific warnings about climate change were first raised, but we decided not to. It was a choice, implicit or not. A choice that, in effect, we cared more about current consumption than we did about preserving our grandchildren’s chances to enjoy a climate like the one in which our civilization developed.

McIntyre, in a comment at DotEarth, seems to agree that the central issue is the press release:

Andy, I don’t think that you adequately highlighted that the Greenpeace scenario was the one that was featured in the IPCC press release and covered by the world media. Had the problem been limited to the Chapter 10 discussion, it would be less of an issue.

Which leads Michael Tobis to remark:

It does appear that whoever wrote the press release did a disservice. This seems so common in press reports of science that I am starting to think of it as typical. If Mr. McIntyre had limited himself to such a claim, as he does here, I would have no quarrel with his behavior in this case. But he proceeds, on his blog, to use this incident to call for “Everyone in IPCC WG3 [to] be terminated and, if the institution is to continue, it should be re-structured from scratch.”

Thus he continues to play to the “climate science as fraud” crowd that frequents his blog while adopting a more reasonable pose here.  


The persistent substitution of fake problems for real ones is a key to derailing serious conversations these days.

The important conversation that we should be having, connected with the issues in the SRREN, is about what kind of future we want.

“Those who want search for a way. Those who don’t want search for a reason.”

Judith Curry on climate science: Introspection or circling the wagons?

April 27, 2010

Climate scientist Judith Curry has regularly spoken up about the rumblings in climate science, especially in light of the CRU emails and the alleged IPCC errors. And when she speaks, people listen. She’s a respected academic, and subscribes to the consensus view that climate is changing in (large) part due to human activity (so supporters of the consensus take her seriously). But she’s also increasingly critical of mainstream science, especially the way in which the consensus has been achieved and the way certain individuals have acted (so those disagreeing with the consensus listen as well; even more so, they love her as someone from within the establishment who’s openly critical).

Journalist-blogger Keith Kloor has a good Q&A with Judith Curry which is well worth reading. As I also wrote over there, I appreciate Prof Curry’s constructive criticisms and calls for introspection. However, I find it disconcerting that she doesn’t call out the many baseless and exaggerated attacks on climate science for what they are.

In the comments, Judith Curry writes

“To see such a respected academic accused in this way (with the accusations so obviously baseless) is absolutely reprehensible.”

With “respected academic” she means Wegman (one of the main hockey players of the ‘skeptics’). I have no opinion about him, but I do note that many respected academics, pretty much a whole profession even, have been accused in often baseless, and if not entirely baseless, surely exaggerated ways. I’d say, reprehensible is the right word to describe it.

Actually, Curry has been the target of ‘skeptics’ herself. In a newer post, she recites from what she calls ‘the hurricane wars’ that were the result of a paper of hers that was (coincidentally) released a few weeks after Kathrina hit New Orleans:

“While global warming was mentioned only obliquely in the paper, the press focused on the global warming angle and a media furor followed. We were targeted as global warming alarmists, capitalizing on this tragedy to increase research funding and for personal publicity, a threat to capitalism and the American way of life, etc.”

These are similar charges as are now levelled against the whole field, together with baseless charges of misconduct, fraud and data manipulation (*). What puzzles me is the apparent disconnect between her own experiences (of being viciously attacked on her science, clearly for extra-scientific reasons such as an appeal to the ‘American way of life’ etc.) and how she judges (or doesn’t judge at all) the current wave of attacks on climate science.

Perhaps the explanation is in the following:

“I learned several important lessons from this experience: Just because the other guy commits the first “foul” doesn’t give you the moral high ground in protracted academic guerilla warfare. Nothing in this crazy environment is worth sacrificing your personal or professional integrity.  After all, no one remembers who fired the first shot, all they see is unprofessional behavior.”

That is very true. But it doesn’t quite explain why not to call out reprehensible behavior for what it is. Something she isn’t shy of doing, clearly (e.g. regarding Wegman in the comments following the Q&A, and in a more subtle manner regarding the CRU emails).

Apparently she doesn’t find the way climate science is being attacked in the blogosphere and the mainstream media problematic, or if she does, she choses to focus on ‘cleaning up our own house’, while not letting the fringe talk get to her (she’s ‘been there, done that’). A commendable position actually. But I do sense a lack of critically assessing the criticism. ‘Corruption of the IPCC process’ is way too string of a statement in my mind. It’s not a very constructive start at ‘cleaning up our own house’ either, as it feels more like yet another attack on our house. The consequence, of course, is that the shutters will be closed, again.

Because that’s something where I do agree with Curry: There is a tendency of ‘circling the wagons’ within the scientific community, in response to the continuous attacks on the science. Attacks that are mostly based on smear and insinuation rather than solid arguments. It in no way resembles a scientific argument, and shouldn’t be treated as such. So while I have no straight answer to the obvious question of ‘what else than cicling the wagons could we possibly do?’, Curry’s own part- answer is a good start: Do not engage in the guerilla warfare that you feel being drawn into. But that again states what not to do. What do you do instead? is the difficult part. Engaging with skeptics is only useful insofar as they are interested in constructive knowledge building. No doubt some are. But no doubt many aren’t. E.g. a commenter at climateaudit writes:

“It only takes one honest (wo)man to bring the whole rotten edifice crashing down.”

I’d wager that people referring to climate science as a ‘rotten edifice’ are not interested in constructive dialogue or in serious scientific inquiry.

Curry is much more positive about McIntyre than most climate scientists. While indeed he’s done quite a lof of analysis of climate related data himself, he also often engage in ‘dog whistle’ politics; making subtle insinuations of data manipulation, bias and misconduct. Sometimes it’s less subtle (e.g. a headline under an image of Mike Mann saying “try not to puke”). That behavior doesn’t invalidate the occasional good point he may or may not have (I’m not opining on that), but it does cause a near-continuous stream of messages that lowershe credibility of climate science. McIntyre’s influence on the latter (lowering science’s credibility) is much larger than his constructive influence on knowledge building. Even if McIntyre may have a point on details, most of his audience and the mainstream press gets away with a totally exaggerated and erroneous impression that the science is abysmal.

It is slightly ironic that back in 2002, Phil Jones provided McIntyre with data no problem. It’s only after he found out what McIntyre is all about that he stopped being helpful. Which leads McIntyre to ask the rhetorical question: “What has changed since 2002?” At WUWT, Steve Mosher takes issue with this change in Jones’ attitude as well. Looks like the scientific community is not the only place that could do with some more introspection.

Curry finds preaching to the converted not very interesting. But preaching to people who won’t listen (except when you criticize what they dislike) is even less useful. The challenge is to distinguish those who have genuine concerns from those who are merely slinging mud and will never accept anything, no matter the strenght of the evidence. And I think a similar tendency (a defensive attitude or ‘circling the wagons’) is happening at the ‘skeptical’ side of the fence: Also those with genuine concerns regarding the science or data analysis sling around accusations of misconduct, corruption, manipulation, etc. That’s a sure way of not getting heard by the scientific community. Which adds to the defensive attitude, and the circle is round.

I think both ‘skeptics’ and scientists feel they deserve more respect than they’re getting, and as a result adopt a defensive us-versus-them attitude. If anything, I applaud Judith Curry for highlighting this in the scientific consensus ‘camp’ and calling for more introspection and a critical look at ourselves. Perhaps someone could also step up to the plate at the ‘skeptical’ camp?


(*) CRU’s data handling has not inflated the warming trend, see e.g. here and here. The HadCRU temperature reconstruction agrees with those of other institutes, with those currently undertaken by bloggers (some ’skeptical’; some ‘consensus’), and also with satellite reconstructions.

Alleged errors and wrongdoings have been greatly exaggerated (e.g. RC and MT and this blog on the glacier issue).

As a whole, climate science stands up very well to the various the scientific methods (Oreskes; slides here (from slide nr 30 onwards)).

Partly based on my comment at Kloor’s.

See also William Connolley’s rather critical comments. His main point is that Curry’s allegations (towards individual scientists and the IPCC) are vague and unsubstantiated.

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

February 9, 2010

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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