Posts Tagged ‘science bashing’

McIntyre’s role in the latest teapot tempest

October 6, 2009

This whole tempest in a teapot about the Yamal tree rings made me curious about how this story, with an analysis by Steve McIntyre at the centerpoint, gained such traction. The not-so-critical part of the blogosphere ran away with his results, blowing it way out of proportion in their haste to claim that climate science is a big sham. How much credit or blame (dependent on your viewpoint) goes to McIntyre for how this story panned out in the public mind?

Jim Bouldin gives a thoughtful rundown of the major issues.

What struck me was Roger Pielke Jr’s attack of RealClimate’s sarcastic reaction to this sorry story, and his defense of Steve McIntyre, quoting him as follows:

It is not my belief that Briffa crudely cherry picked.

Fair enough, one might think. Except that this quote is from comment number 254 in one of the Climate Audit threads. And it doesn’t particularly square with what he said elsewhere. It is most definitely not the message that his readers got (see for some collections here, here, here and here). One could reasonably argue over how much to blame the readers (as Pielke does) versus how much to blame the author (McIntyre in this case) for any ‘misunderstanding’. But judging from the vast majority of his readers who infer grave accusations from his writings, it’s fair to at least look into the latter as a possibility.

Some other quotes from McIntyre, mostly assembled second hand (a.o. commenters Andrewt, Phil Clarke and Jim Bouldin, my emphasis):

“If you can get a single dendrochronologist to support Briffa’s use of 10 trees in 1990, I’ll be flabbergasted. They will be astonished and appalled at the procedure. The young dendros will be wincing and some of them will probably be bit shell-shocked at this news. It’s very embarrassing for the field.

“In my opinion, the uniformly high age of the CRU12 relative to the Schweingruber population is suggestive of selection – in this respect, perhaps and even probably by the Russians”

“It is highly possible and even probable that the CRU selection is derived from a prior selection of old trees”

“I do not believe that they constitute a complete population of recent cores. As a result, I believe that the archive is suspect.”

“Because the selection yields such different results from a nearby population sample, there is a compelling prima facie argument that they’ve made biased picks.”

“Unfortunately, to date, people in the field have not honored this responsibility and, to an outside observer, seem to have done no more than pick the version (Yamal) that suits their bias.”

“… the resulting Yamal chronology with its enormous HS [hockeystick] blade was like crack cocaine for paleoclimatologists …”

”…But maybe this is a coincidence. One never knows – it’s climate science …”

“I’d be inclined to remove the data affected by CRU cherrypicking but will leave it in for now.”

Roger Pielke goes on to make an argument that could potentially backfire:

You guys are hilarious. There is no need to pluck out-of-context quotes from deep in comment threads to divine what McIntyre _really_ thinks. He spoke directly to this point as follows:

“I don’t wish to unintentionally feed views that I don’t hold. It is not my belief that Briffa crudely cherry picked. “

Convenienty forgetting that this quote is from comment number 254. He later mentioned that McIntyre, in a more recent headline post, denied having made such allegations:

I did not say or imply that Briffa had “purposely selected” individual cores into the chronology and clearly said otherwise.

It is not clear whether the “otherwise” refers to his comment number 254 or perhaps also to other places. However, it is clear, both from what he wrote elsewhere and what the vast majority of his readers deduced, that he successfully implied strong allegations. He’s hardly ever saying it point blank. He doesn’t need to, since his audience is all too eager to get his message.

Commenter Andrewt calls it dog-whistle politics:

You say one thing, but your choice of words means your target audience infers something quite different.

Making the insinuation subtle enough to be able to defend himself later (‘I made no such accusations’), and clear enough so that the message gets through to his supporters. Which it does: For miles over the internet, people refer to McIntyre as the source of having uncovered this ‘scandal’.

Andrewt sums it up:

Steven McIntyre unambiguously says what Gavin claimed he said. Gavin did not lie.

Steven McIntyre has now added a retraction after this comment.

Will you also add a retraction to this post and an apology to Gavin?

No reply on the latter.

Interestingly, Roger feels he is upholding important scientific standards, whereas I feel that this whole sorry story is about science bashing, which he seems to be endorsing or turning a blind eye to. I do believe, however, that he is sincere in what he thinks. But I also think it’s misplaced. I hold him, as a political scientist who frequently has interesting viewpoints to bear, to higher standards than some other parts of the blogosphere.

To McIntyre’s credit, he has set some of the more fanciful journalists straight in blowing the story out of proportion, as Phil Clarke points out:

While there is much to criticize in the handling of this data by the authors and the journals, the results do not in any way show that “AGW is a fraud” nor that this particular study was a “fraud”.

Perhaps he’s just naïve, that he doesn’t have the foresight how people will interpret his writings? It’s not that it hasn’t happened before though.

I’ll finish with two other memorable quotes from McIntyre, which shows how he levels insinuations at scientists. Or outright disgust.

Is Gavin Schmidt honest?

Try not to puke.

I’ll leave it at that.

Update:

McIntyre’s accusations of stonewalling do not seem to hold water, as Marco points out in the comments. See these quotes from ClimateAudit (2006, here and here, respectively), h/t Marco, dhogaza and Eli Rabet:

“Science (…) suggested that I contact the original authors.”

“Steve these data were produced by Swedish and Russian colleagues – will pass on your message to them
cheers, Keith” [Briffa]

Seems like he’s been barking up the wrong tree, even after it’s been pointed out to him. 


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