Posts Tagged ‘skeptic-gate’

Skeptic-gate, Wegman-gate, Copy-gate, Everything-gate-gate-gate

October 13, 2010

Late to the game as ever: John Mashey has followed up on DeepClimate’s work and reports on “strange scholarship in the Wegman report” (also see the Executive Summary).

Notably, he finds evidence of plagiarism and instances that suggest bias and undue influence by political operatives.

Now, let me first say that this is not really my cup of tea. I am perennially uninterested in the hockeystick debate, as I think that A) its significance is blown way out of proportion to its actual policy relevance; B) the skeptical outcry over the hockeystick reeks like an excuse for really talking politics (“I don’t want higher taxes, therefore the hockeystick must be broken”); and C) it’s a classic case of playing the man(n) rather than the ball.

This is not to say that there are no methodological issues with the original hockeystick papers (MBH 98/99). But what matters is: How much do they matter? (see e.g. Mashey’s comment at CaS on that issue)

As an aside: The clearest (and shortest) explanation yet of the beef that skeptics have with the hockeystick was kindly provided by Jeff Id in a comment on my recent open thread. I asked some follow-up questions to which Jeff replied. I wasn’t very active in that thread from then on due to time constraints, but I do plan to follow up on it, because I felt these short exchanges at least gave me a glimpse of what all the fuss about hockeysticks is about. And perhaps I’ll just have to face that fact that these hockeystick arguments are here to stay, so I may as well familiarize myself at least with the basic thrust of the argument on both sides of the fence.

Anyway. Back to Wegman. Plagiarism issues are serious. But they don’t necessarily detract from the argument that someone is making (though of course they detract from the credibility of the persons making the argument). Primarily, this seems to be targeting Wegman’s credibility. There is a risk that this degenerates into a food fight on the skeptics’ turf. Hordes of “skeptics” are being rallied up to go with a fine toothed comb through high profile AGW literature and file charges. This is their kind of game.

It’s a bit like attacking them with their own weapons. I’m just not convinced that this is where we can win the war (which would be a terrible metaphor anyway).

As Ray Ladbury commented at RC:

Wegman’s effort smells. Deep Climate and John Mashey have identified many troubling aspects to the report. (…) It bothers me that science is even having to play such silly games to defend itself.

There clearly are methodological issues with the Wegman report. The question is: How much do they matter for the overall argument? Could someone shed some light on the significance of this? I find the accusations of bias the most troublesome, yet they are also the most difficult to ‘prove’. The sloppy social network analysis definitely raises an eyebrow in that respect.

Fred Moolten perceives

the plagiarism charges to be relatively inconsequential, reflecting shoddy scholarship rather than deliberate dishonesty.

That’s an important distinction. The latter would be much more serious than the former IMO. Eric Steig responded later on:

Plagiarism is one thing. Changing the meaning of the plagiarised material so that it still sounds authoritative (…) but supports an opposite (false) point of view is another level.

It sure is.

Willard, the marvelous never ending auditor, found this gem:

Vintage 2006, Dr. Thomas J. Crowley, had many criticisms of the Wegman report.  An interesting bit:

“In my view the debate over the Mann et al paper is a tempest in a teapot. It is legitimate material for scientific discussion but the implications with respect to the operations of the IPCC are unproven and seemingly based, in my opinion, much more on repetition of innuendo than on any real facts. Although there is always a need for enhanced interaction with the statistics community, the lack of communication is seriously misrepresented in the Wegman Report. I believe that this report should not be used as either a legitimate assessment of the science or as a guide to policy modification. Finally, I believe it is time to stop using Michael Mann as a whipping post and to start directing attention to the more important matters of whether anything should be done about global warming, and if so, what?” (Source)

Amen, brother.

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