Posts Tagged ‘swifthack’

“Climategate”: The scandal that wasn’t and the scandal that was

November 17, 2010

It’s a year ago now that email correspondence of the British CRU was illegally released (*) on the internet. Over the course of heated discussions that followed, this became known as “climategate”, implying some sort of scandal.

The scandal that wasn’t

The emails were spun as if they uncovered some massive conspiracy to hide the truth. For example, some “skeptical” people and articles were badmouthed in the emails. But not because they didn’t toe “the party line” (whatever that may be); rather because some papers were deeply flawed (as is also apparent from the reviewer comments) and the behavior of some people was strongly disliked (I wonder why). Scientists in general voice their criticism without sugar on it (sorry, Willard). Steve Easterbrook gave some good insights back then into how scientists are used to communicate with other.

Of course, some unwise and some not-so-nice things were said. Haven’t you over the course of 13 years of emailing? If you had worked in a field about which there is a heated public and political debate, would people who are very hostile to your views be able to find something that they could shame you with in all those emails?

The scandal that was

The real scandal was that some people, for whatever reason, are so hostile to the science that they took this illegal step of breaking into an institute’s computer system and released private email correspondence. This was a day that the attack on science (and on scientists) arrived at a new low. Such an attack has nothing to do with sincere skepticism. Those who did this –and those who celebrate it- follow the adage of the end justifying the means, where the end apparently is to bring science on its knees. Needless to say, I hold science to be an important part of a healthy, modern society, and ignoring its insights is not a good strategy. Attacking it in ways as was done in “climategate” is scandalous.

Nature did not read the hacked emails.

(*) A recent Nature News feature about the event and how it influenced Phil Jones sais it was most likely an outside hack rather than a leak from inside:

Although the police and the university say only that the investigation is continuing, Nature understands that evidence has emerged effectively ruling out a leak from inside the CRU, as some have claimed. And other climate-research organizations are believed to have told police that their systems survived hack attempts at the same time.


CRU inquiry: Published results still credible; focus on Phil Jones misplaced

April 9, 2010

The UK Parliamentary Committee released its report on the CRU email affair (I’m a bit late to the game, I know…)

Before going to the summary, let me highlight this important point made in the report:

Even if the data that CRU used were not publicly available—which they mostly are—or the methods not published—which they have been—its published results would still be credible: the results from CRU agree with those drawn from other international data sets; in other words, the analyses have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified.

Comparisons with other surface based datasets here; with satellite data sets here; with several bloggers’ reconstructions here.

CRU’s data handling has not inflated the warming trend, see e.g. here and here.

Here’s the summary:

The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in November 2009 had the potential to damage the reputation of the climate science and the scientists involved.

We believe that the focus on CRU and Professor Phil Jones, Director of CRU, in particular, has largely been misplaced. Whilst we are concerned that the disclosed e-mails suggest a blunt refusal to share scientific data and methodologies with others, we can sympathise with Professor Jones, who must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew—or perceived—were motivated by a desire simply to undermine his work.

In the context of the sharing of data and methodologies, we consider that Professor Jones’s actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. It is not standard practice in climate science to publish the raw data and the computer code in academic papers. However, climate science is a matter of great importance and the quality of the science should be irreproachable. We therefore consider that climate scientists should take steps to make available all the data that support their work (including raw data) and full methodological workings (including the computer codes). Had both been available, many of the problems at UEA could have been avoided. [I think that is a very naïve preposition. BV]

We are content that the phrases such as “trick” or “hiding the decline” were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead. Likewise the evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process. Academics should not be criticized for making informal comments on academic papers.

In the context of Freedom of Information (FOIA), much of the responsibility should lie with UEA. The disclosed e-mails appear to show a culture of non-disclosure at CRU and instances where information may have been deleted, to avoid disclosure. We found prima facie evidence to suggest that the UEA found ways to support the culture at CRU of resisting disclosure of information to climate change sceptics. The failure of UEA to grasp fully the potential damage to CRU and UEA by the non-disclosure of FOIA requests was regrettable. UEA needs to review its policy towards FOIA and re-assess how it can support academics whose expertise in this area is limited.

The Deputy Information Commissioner has given a clear indication that a breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 may have occurred but that a prosecution was time-barred; however no investigation has been carried out. In our view it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively—either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner.

We accept the independence of the Climate Change E-mail Review and recommend that the Review be open and transparent, taking oral evidence and conducting interviews in public wherever possible.

On 22 March UEA announced the Scientific Appraisal Panel to be chaired by Lord Oxburgh. This Panel should determine whether the work of CRU has been soundly built and it would be premature for us to pre-judge its work.

See also James Annan with a good dose of British sarcasm. Also Eli, Stoat. Image Nick Anderson.

Update: Another report investigating the CRU has been released, headed by Lord Oxburg of Liverpool. Its main conclusions are that they saw

no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it.

and they remark that

it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians.

The last conclusion seems very relevant in light of the recent discussions on this blog.

Tom Fuller’s advice for “warmists”

December 27, 2009

Tom Fuller had a post on how science minded folk (“warmists” he calls them) should talk with “sceptics”. Well meant, but coming from the perspective of the “skeptics” having a lot of useful things to say about the science, which is only rarely the case if you ask me. Below are his main points with my replies:

1. Tom: Without ‘reaching across the aisle’ you will not have adequate support to implement your policy preferences.

Me: Coming from a scientist point of view, my prime concern is to advance the public understanding of the issues, and to fight efforts at increasing misunderstanding. From a policy advocacy position, you’re surely right. Though it’s an illusion that you could possibly get 100% of people to agree with your position. Some people are just dug in too deep.

2. Tom: What most skeptics want more than anything else is a seat at the table–to be listened to and taken seriously.

Me: Play by the scientific rules, and you have a seat. Publish, come to meetings, use real arguments.

Tom’s comeback: Climategate seems to show that the rules can be bent, and that some of those saying skeptics should get published in peer-reviewed journals are conspiring to prevent that from happening.

Me: “Climategate” shows that scientists are human too. I’ll concede that some unfortunate statements were made in a minuscule fraction of these emails. However, concerning peer review, the major problem discussed in the emails was how peer review broke down at Environmental Climate Research, by letting a methodologically flawed paper sail through review. See e.g. a recount of the story by then editor-in-chief Hans von Storch, who is as close to a non-alarmist climate scientist as you can get. See also an opinion piece on the stolen emails by him and Myles Allan in Nature. Specifically, they write: ”Even we —the two authors of this piece — find it impossible to agree whether or not some people went too far to ensure dominance for particular points of view. We do agree, however, that it is absurd to suggest there is some kind of global conspiracy involving all climate scientists.” And “What the e-mails do not prove — or even suggest — is that the main product of the CRU, namely the record of global surface air temperature based on thermometer readings, has been compromised.”  This commentary is also very insightful. The widespread attack on science and on scientists is entirely uncalled for.

3. Tom: It has been convenient for ‘warmists’ to class all opposition as ‘denialists,’ usually adding such terms of endearment as ‘flat-earthers,’ etc. This has had the unfortunate effect (for ‘warmists’) of uniting the opposition.

Me: Although I try to refrain from using that term for pragmatic reasons, it seems befitting for more than a few. ‘Denialism’ relates to using certain tactics, and it exists in other areas as well (e.g. health issues). See also here.

Tom’s Comeback: I think ‘denialist’ is a political term used for political reasons, to class anyone who doesn’t agree with the activist point of view alongside those who denied the Holocaust. I don’t like it.

Me: The phrase “being in denial” is common English AFAIK, and is not only attributable to holocaust deniers. There are more things being denied by people than the holocaust. It is unfortunate that the term “denier” brings up associations with these characters, but it does not mean that the term doesn’t also apply to others.  See e.g here, where they argue that denialism is based on conspiracy, selectivity (cherry-picking), fake experts, impossible expectations (also known as moving goalposts), and general fallacies of logic. What other name could be given to those engaging in these types of tactics? It’s clear that it has nothing to do with sincere scepticism. For lack of a better word, and to avoid angering people who are not aware of the ins and outs of the internet debate, I usually refer to them as “sceptics” in quotation marks. Where I agree with you is that it is not smart nor correct to class everybody who disagrees as a denier or denialist. Disagreement comes in many flavours, and not all amount to denialism (though some do, unfortunately).

4. Tom: Acknowledge error. Start with Steve McIntyre.

Bart: Genuine errors should, and are usually acknowledged. It’s a tricky thing to do so with people who are overtly hostile and having smeared you through the mud though. Scientists are human too: Accuse them too often of fraud, and they’ll stop listening to you.

Tom’s Comeback: Bart, is there any way you could justify hiding the divergence of proxy temperatures from real data in a presentation for non-scientists? For politicians debating on whether or not to spend $1 trillion a year of our money in response to what the graphic showed them?

Me: Admittedly I haven’t followed the details of the divergence discussions, but AKAIK, it was discussed in the IPCC report back then. In speaking to the public, the message necessarily has to be adapted, and it often means simplified. If I go to a scientific talk even remotely outside of my field, it’s incredibly hard to follow. Let alone if I were to go to a talk of a totally different discipline. There’s a catch 22 for scientists talking to the public.

More importantly, the decision to spend a trillion dollars doesn’t hinge on one graph. The importance of the hockeystick graph has been overstated to the extreme. Initially also by the IPCC itself, but since then mostly by the “sceptical” camp.

5. Tom: Free the data. Free the code. Open up the debate. From what I’ve seen of the people you think are your bitter enemies, they will respond with help, kindness and forgiveness of your boorish behaviour in the past.

Bart: There are more data and code available than you think. And your second argument that the response will be helpful, kind and forgiving is utterly naïve. It won’t change a single thing in the witch-hunt and anti-scientific attitudes.

Tom’s Comeback: Try us. Specifically, try Steve McIntyre. Ask him for help in his area of competence.

Bart: If McIntyre were sincerely interested in contributing to the science, he would do so. I looked in some detail into his role in the Yamal-debate. I was not impressed. For a more recent example, see eg here. He has made a niche for himself, and it is to provide fodder to “sceptics” and harass scientists. Whatever you say can and will be used against you, seems to be his motto. I completely understand why scientists are loath to try and accommodate him, even if at instances it may be counterproductive, and even if at instances he has a point. Basically, you’re damned it you do and damned if you don’t accommodate.

Constructive criticism is one thing; harassment is quite another. Do too much of the latter, and your efforts at the former will be stonewalled. Misguided? Perhaps. Human? Certainly.

6. Tom: Say a fond but firm farewell to those who have served you poorly in the struggle to gain public support. Al Gore. Joe Romm. (Not Jim Hansen or Gavin Schmidt.) Michael Mann. Phil Jones.

Bart: Scapegoating is not the answer.

Tom’s Comeback: I’m not saying get rid of them because I don’t like them, or even because I think they have acted wrongly. I’m saying get rid of them because they are a hindrance, not a help to your cause.

Bart: There is no board of scientist-directors anywhere who have the power to “get rid of” anyone as they seem fit. Apart from that, I disagree about the people you mention all having been a hindrance to advance public understanding; in some cases quite to the contrary (even if not without faults). There could be some (rather unethical) pragmatism to get rid of people who are receiving the most blame, in an effort to clean our plate, at least in the mindset of the “sceptical” public. But I disagree with such scapegoating.

7. Tom: Abandon the tactic of artificial deadlines and panic attacks. We have more than 10 minutes to save the Galaxy.

Me: There is no strict deadline. OTOH, the longer we wait with taking measures, the more drastically we have to reduce emissions later, which in the end will probably be more difficult and more expensive. Not to mention it increases the chance of crossing dangerous tipping points. So time is of the essence.

Tom’s Comeback: It will be more expensive, but we should be richer, right? As for tipping points, I think this is the core of our disagreement on the future of our climate in the near term. I just don’t see it happening.

Me: “Tipping points” is perhaps too loaded of a term. The world doesn’t end after it is crossed, nor is everything fine when it’s not crossed. Consider for example the increasing melt of both the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets. The dynamics of these melt processes are very uncertain (and potentially worrisome), but it’s very likely that once big changes are set in motion, it’s very difficult to reverse them. Even more so because the CO2 concentration responds only very slowly to emission reduction efforts. So by the time society realizes “whoops, we’re in serious trouble now”, it may be too late to reverse it by ordinary means. Warning signals from the science are ignored at our peril.

The costs of reducing emissions doesn’t rise linearly with the amount of emissions to be reduced. It rises more or less exponentially. That makes your argument that we’ll be richer in the future moot, at least beyond a certain level. There are arguments made that 4% emission reduction per year is more or less the maximum achievable; beyond that the regular way of innovation and change (learning curves etc) doesn’t apply anymore. It would necessitate much stronger and much more costly and invasive measures to go beyond that. Typically the kind of measures that the “sceptics” oppose most strongly.

Those who oppose strong control by the government, should really favor emission reductions to start sooner rather than later, to reduce the pain that the measures would otherwise cause. That point is easily overseen.

The last point, and in addition the fact that more uncertainty should make one more, not less careful, are the key concepts that “sceptics” are missing the mark on, I think.

8. Tom: Accentuate the positive. Almost all of the measures you advocate to help bring about a greener world are justified without a trace of global warming. Emphasize the common-sense approach

Me: True, but it risks painting a rosier picture than it really is. If solar energy is expensive, people won’t do it just because it’s cool or because it creates jobs. They may because it gives an innovation advantage down the road (but that already implies the reality of AGW).

Tom’s Comeback: I have no comeback. I will actually have to think about this for a while…

9. Tom: Don’t ever again be trapped into untruths by a desire to shorten the story line.

Bart: I don’t’ understand the “again” in this context. Which untruths? If anything, scientists are way too long winded and fond of weasel words as it is. (Guilty as charged…)

Tom’s Comeback: True, but they stayed out of trouble (and the limelight) most of the time before.

10. Tom: Be the first to bring this debate out of the morass of partisan politics. This isn’t a left vs right debate.

Me: Entirely correct. CO2 absorption isn’t influenced by political leanings. This is mostly a message though for those who let their political views blur their judgment of the science.

A mirror story, advice for “skeptics” is here.

Sceptici: Houd op met het verdraaien en misbruiken van de wetenschap

December 14, 2009

In de Volkskrant van zaterdag 12 december stond een heel goed artikel van Martijn van Calmthout, chef wetenschap, te lezen hier. De beste passages heb ik hieronder samengevat.

“De meeste klimaatsceptici reageren steevast verontwaardigd op suggesties dat ze in feite politiek gemotiveerd zijn. Ze hangen liever de wetenschapper uit. Het wordt tijd dat ze daarmee ophouden, en dat eindelijk wordt erkend dat het klimaatdossier vooral een politiek dossier is.“

PVV-er Richard de Mos ging tekeer tegen de wetenschap bij Pauw en Witteman, en probeerde het doen voorkomen alsof de gestolen emails de hele wetenschappelijke bewijsvoering op losse schroeven zette. Net als de meeste andere “sceptici” probeert hij het ook doen voorkomen alsof hij op wetenschappelijke gronden argumenteert. Maar daar is zijn optreden wat al te doorzichtig voor.

“Voor de beter geïnformeerde televisiekijker waren zijn interventies vooral een bloemlezing uit het rijke en overbekende oeuvre van de klimaatsceptici. Het wordt niet warmer, er is wel meer CO2, dus kan dat de oorzaak van klimaatverandering niet zijn. De zeespiegel stijgt niet. Al Gore is een leugenaar die in zijn film beweert dat heel Nederland onderloopt. De grafiek van het vroegere klimaat is een vervalsing. En van zure regen hebben we uiteindelijk ook nooit meer iets vernomen. En dat wist de wetenschap ook zo zeker. Nou dan.”

Het wordt wel warmer: De jaren 2000 – 2009 zijn warmer dan de het decennium ervoor, en dat was weer warmer dan de 10 jaar daarvoor.
De zeespiegel stijgt (en sneller dan de modellen hadden voorspeld)
– Al Gore moet blijkbaar altijd even worden genoemd. De pot verwijt de ketel.
Van vervalsing is geen sprake
– Het zure regen probleem hebben we grotendeels opgelost door goed naar de wetenschap te luisteren en maatregelen te nemen.

“De enige serieuze interventie die de redactie van het programma via het oortje van Jeroen Pauw tussen het gekijf door wist te wringen, was wel een goeie: wat, meneer De Mos, zou het belang van de klimaatalarmisten kunnen zijn om iedereen de stuipen op het lijf te jagen, desnoods door glashard te liegen?”

Goeie vraag. Het antwoord van de Mos:

Eenvoudig, zei de PVV’er na enkele valse starts. Er is een paar jaar geleden afgesproken dat het warmer moet worden om gewone belastingbetalers in de tang te nemen. Onder aanvoering, uiteraard, van Samsons eigen PvdA. Dat was gek genoeg een bevrijdend moment in de historie van het Nederlandse klimaatdebat. Jarenlang al hebben klimaatsceptici ook hier van zich doen horen, (…) maar daar was het wapen niet de ideologie. Daar was het wapen de wetenschap. Of het moest er op lijken. (…)

De enige momenten dat het klimaatdebat echt politiek werd, was als het ging over de motieven van de klimaatsceptici. (…) Zeker in de begintijd waren de steenkoolindustrie en oliemaatschappij Exxon Mobile belangrijke financiers van tegengeluid tegen de wetenschap die almaar alarm sloeg over klimaat en de uitstoot van CO2.

Daarbij, toonde Amerikaanse onderzoeksjournalist Chris Mooney in zijn boek The Republican War on Science aan, werden tactieken ingezet die decennia eerder door de tabaksindustrie waren gebruikt om wetgeving tegen (mee)roken te frustreren. ‘Twijfel is ons product’, aldus een memo van een betrokken pr-bureau, dat adviseerde deskundigen met afwijkende opvattingen te helpen met het krijgen van publiciteit.

De Nederlandse klimaatsceptici spelen sinds jaar en dag de kaart van de wankele klimaatwetenschap. (…) In de media doet het idee van tegenstand tegen de arrogante wetenschap het goed. Iemand als Labohm klaagt weliswaar stelselmatig dat de kranten en media hem doodzwijgen. Maar in de praktijk hebben hij en zijn medestanders weinig te klagen. Sterker: ze krijgen geregeld de ruimte om tegenwerpingen te publiceren die in eerdere wetenschappelijke discussies al hoog en breed zijn weerlegd. Zo secuur volgen veel media de klimaatwetenschap namelijk ook niet.

De meeste krantenlezers en televisiekijkers maken uit hun optredens tenminste op dat er ook binnen de wetenschap andere opvattingen bestaan over het broeikasverhaal. In die zin is de strategie van de klimaatsceptici bijna geslaagd te noemen. Op zich hebben sceptische interventies zelden tot iets wezenlijks in de klimaatwetenschap geleid.

Maar de route via de wetenschap is een slimme. Die ondermijnt het vertrouwen in de gevestigde inzichten, en komt ook nog eens objectiever over dan zuiver ideologische bezwaren tegen klimaatmaatregelen die geld kosten of individuele vrijheden aantasten. (…)

Op zich is de wetenschap ervan simpel: meer CO2 warmt de aarde op. Het gaat erom of daar wat aan te doen valt, hoe dan en wie er betaalt voor wat er gebeuren moet. Dat is politiek. Daar botsen ideologieën. Daar gaat het om keuzes over solidariteit, over technologie en landsinrichting, kosten.

Het is wel zo helder als populisten als PVV’er De Mos zich nu openlijk in het klimaatdebat manifesteren: tegen de bemoeizucht van de klimaatmaffia, niet meer of minder. Minister Cramer zei donderdag in de Tweede Kamer dat de politiek zich geen oordeel over de wetenschap moet aanmeten. Dat kan nog sterker: laat de quasiwetenschappelijke klimaatsceptici eindelijk eens gewoon zeggen waar ze politiek staan.

Dat scheelt een hoop tijd, gehannes en verwarring.

Naschrift: Er klopt iets niet aan het plaatje dat twee politici over een wetenschappelijk onderwerp debatteren. Ligt het nou aan mij, of zou het niet logischer zijn dat de politici de uitgekrisalliseerde wetenschappelijk kennis aannemen, en op basis daarvan debatteren over de vraag wat er dan gedaan moet worden? De wetenschappers bedrijven wetenschap; de politici bedrijven politiek. Over politiek kan iedereen een mening hebben; over wetenschap is dat veel minder het geval. Daar draait het om feiten en verklaringen.

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