Posts Tagged ‘Steve McIntyre’

The two epochs of Marcott

March 19, 2013

Guest post by Jos Hagelaars. Dutch version is here.

The big picture (or as some call it: the Wheelchair): Global average temperature since the last ice age (20,000 BC) up to the not-too distant future (2100) under a middle-of-the-road emission scenario.


Figure 1: The temperature reconstruction of Shakun et al (green – shifted manually by 0.25 degrees), of Marcott et al (blue), combined with the instrumental period data from HadCRUT4 (red) and the model average of IPCC projections for the A1B scenario up to 2100 (orange).

Earlier this month an article was published in Science about a temperature reconstruction regarding the past 11,000 years. The lead author is Shaun Marcott from Oregon State University and the second author Jeremy Shakun, who may be familiar from the interesting study that was published last year on the relationship between CO2 and temperature during the last deglaciation. The temperature reconstruction of Marcott is the first one that covers the entire period of the Holocene. Naturally this reconstruction is not  perfect, and some details will probably change in the future. A normal part of the scientific process.


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.

Citizen science as the new skepticism?

June 23, 2010

Over at Keith’s, I got engaged in a discussion with Judith Curry and others about the well educated skeptics who self identify as ”auditors” of climate science. She claims that

this group is definitely interested in moving the science forward.

The existence and flourishing of technical climate blogs that take a critical stance towards the mainstream scientific view shows that the dualistic view of professional scientists on the one hand and the amateur public on the other hand is too simplistic (especially if the public is deemed ‘ignorant’ of the science). It is clear that there is a continuum of interest, knowledge, skepticism, sincerity, etc amongst the public.

I agree that it’s not constructive to dismiss the expertise and energy of the more scientifically minded critics (“citizen scientists”). But then I would suggest that those sincerely interested clearly distance themselves from the contempt and suspicions raising crowd, since that are the public face of the critics, and it’s severely hampering communication with mainstream scientists and their supporters. Problem is, McIntyre himself has had a major influence in instilling contempt and suspicions into his very wide following. It doesn’t just raise my ire; it’s entirely un-constructive to moving the internet discussion with critics forward (regardless of how it all started). I suggest that those critics who are sincerely interested in moving the science forward engage more with scientists (rather than raging against them).

Citizen science

Judith Curry compares the technically savvy critics with citizen scientists in other disciplines, e.g. biology and astronomy. I think that comparison is only superficially true. In none of those other fields are the citizen scientists contemptuous towards the professional scientists (and vice versa). The ‘normal’ way for citizens to contribute to science is by providing observations; not so much in the interpretation. In none of the other cases I know of are the citizen scientists strongly critical and suspicious of the mainstream science.

Even in cases where the ‘auditors’ have superior technical skills, scientific intuition and broad background knowledge of the field is very important in placing results in context and in making a coherent scientific argument. These (especially the context) are what’s missing in many (not all) of the citizen scientists efforts regarding climate change, and yet, the conclusions are often uncritically taken to be of paramount importance for the field as a whole (e.g. talk of paradgim shift, Galileo and stuff like that).

Oftentimes, the specific details that the citizen scientists focus on and criticize are presented as needing to be resolved before the rest of the science can be discussed, and long before we may discuss policy options. That’s exactly what concerned scientists and citizens fear: That it’s used as an option to delay action (whether intentionally or not).

A constructive discussion about the best public actions to address global warming does notdepend on these technical details at all. That’s the crux of the matter. They make people not see the forest for the trees, in a very effective way. If that’s not McIntyre’s purpose, he should really rethink what he’s doing.

Michael Tobis made the observation that he agrees with the “citizen scientists” on many of their main points, but not on the policy direction. If they would be primarily interested in what they proclaim their key points are, and not in (obstructing) mitigation politics, the rational response would be to welcome Michael as an ally. However, he is “cast as an opponent, even as an extremist”. This is a very important point, and indeed, it suggests that their “real priorities have nothing to do with scientific process”.

In response Judith said that Michael’s stance on mitigation and uncertainties is what the self proclaimed “auditors” respond negatively to. The first point (on mitigation) is exactly what leads to Michael’s conclusion: Their primary interest is politics (disagreeing on the need for mitigation). The second point is untrue and unfair to Michael. He is most definitely not “in denial of uncertainty” as Judith later claimed.

Rather, he often makes the following pertinent points that I wholeheartedly agree with:

  • Some things are known more accurately than others.
  • The big picture of where we’re heading is clear, and this is what’s relevant for policy making.
  • Uncertainty cuts both ways. Combined with the knowledge about the big picture direction and the inertia in the system, uncertainty makes the case for action stronger rather than weaker.

I see a lot of self proclaimed “skeptics” mix up uncertainty with knowing nothing, and use that as an excuse for delaying action on mitigation. That is probably the number 1 argument to delay action. It is a policy statement, masquerading as a concern for science.

Genuine and pseudo skeptics

Undoubtedly climate skepticism comes in many shades of grey (as does climate concern). How can we distinguish between genuine skeptics and pseudo-skeptics? Undoubtedly, all self styles skeptics see themselves as genuine. I don’t really have an answer to that question. But the comparison with other areas of citizen science begs the question of why those in the climate change arena are predominantly critical, contemptuous even, about the mainstream scientific view? If their primary interest was in data analysis or observation quality, such an attitude wouldn’t make a lot of sense. I’d expect a group of citizen scientists to also have a spectrum of opinions on the science, but to see that spectrum go off in a totally different direction than the spectrum of views of professional scientists, is odd. Even if I’d take their criticism on the details at face value (which I don’t; call me skeptical), it doesn’t logically follow that their opinions of the science as a whole, let alone on mitigation, would be dramatically different.

The fact that many “citizen scientists” seem to be have such different views of the big picture makes me think that a sizeable proportion of them did come into this debate with preconceived notions. Something must have picked their interest in the science. Perhaps it’s more likely that they came to this debate with a skeptical inclination, rather than purely based on a love of the science in question, as is the case with archetypical examples of citizen science. This skeptical inclination could have extra-scientific reasons (e.g. psychological, ideological, political, etc) or it could be that criticisms they read about (e.g. from McIntyre) made them question the validity of the science, which they then decided to explore themselves. It’s important to distinguish between the details and the big picture. To what extent do they question the validity of the big picture, while exploring the details? And conflating the two? Without knowing the big picture, the McIntyrian way of looking at things probably sounds very convincing, especially to those from specialized technical fields.

The existing polarization, and subsequent defensive attitude of some spokespeople of mainstream science, may also have contributed to technically savvy people being drawn to ‘the other side’. That’s something we shouldn’t discount as a potentially important factor, and we should try to learn from it. It is clear that mainstream scientists (and their supporters) have not come to grips with these new skeptics, citizen scientists, technically savvy critics, auditors, or whatever name you’d want to give them.

See also some recent posts by Michael Tobis here and here.

Let me end by naming some constructive examples of citizen science:

Clear Climate Code

The making of a sea level study

Temperature reconstructions (and my reply to Lucia at Comment#46143)

Recent examples of citizen journalism also make clear that the less judgment is (perceived to be) passed onto the subject of study, the better it will be received.

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.


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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