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So, seven months down the line... - Gideon Hallett

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July 7th, 2010

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08:02 pm - So, seven months down the line...
...and the Muir Russell report is out.

You may remember my predictions from December

1. The inquiry on the CRU will find no evidence of distortion or dishonesty on the part of the scientists concerned. There might be a slight criticism of the tone used in some of the emails.

I think I can claim to be pretty close on this one. The three reviews on the affair have all cleared the scientists concerned of any and all deliberate wrongdoing; the very worst that has been said was that the scientists were not exactly helpful when it came to dealing with FoI requests.

No penalties, just a call (in section 5) for scientists to be more open to non-scientists; pretty much the level of 'finger-wagging' I expected.

The science is solid; indeed, section 6 of the inquiry reinforces this - by simple dint of using freely-available data from national bodies and writing their own code, the inquiry were able to replicate fairly closely the results of the CRU.

In fact, quoting sections 6 sections 20-22 in full (because they're pretty succinct):

'20. Finding: This simple analysis and the comparisons in figures 6.1 and 6.2 give rise to the following findings:

Any independent researcher may freely obtain the primary station data. It is impossible for a third party to withhold access to the data.

It is impossible for a third party to tamper improperly with the data unless they have also been able to corrupt the GHCN and NCAR sources. We do not consider this to be a credible possibility, and in any case this would be easily detectable by comparison to the original NMO records or other sources such as the Hadley Centre.

The steps needed to create a global temperature series from the data are straightforward to implement.

The required computer code is straightforward and easily written by a competent researcher.

The shape of the temperature trends obtained in all cases is very similar: in other words following the same process with the same data obtained from different sources generates very similar results.

21. By performing this simple test one determines easily that the results of the CRUTEM analysis follow directly from the published description of the method, and that the resultant temperature trend is not significantly different from the other results regardless of stations used or adjustments made. The test is therefore sufficient to demonstrate that, with respect to the declared method, the CRUTEM analysis does not contain either error or adjustments which are responsible for the shape of the resultant temperature trend.

22. A researcher can evidently produce a study which would test the CRUTEM analysis quite precisely, without requiring any information from CRU to do so.'

2. The sceptics and the scientists will not change their positions on the subject, regardless of the result of the inquiry.

You need only check the initial responses from the usual voices to see that both camps see it as business pretty much as usual; the skeptic camp are already as good as declaring it a whitewash run by a panel that was skewed in favour of the CRU; whereas the UEA and various other scientific bodies are calling it a vindication of the science and saying that the recommendations in the Muir Russell findings are already as good as adhered to.

(Personal disclaimer: being strongly in the second camp myself - my degree was from the Dept. of Space and Climate Physics at UCL - I cannot claim to be a neutral observer of this affair, especially as someone who has been arguing with various climate skeptics for the last 15 years.

I would like to think that I retain the intellectual integrity to respond honestly to honestly-expressed views, regardless of whether they agree with mine or not.)

3. The public will be on the whole none the wiser.

The inquiries into this affair, over seven months, have produced what, exactly?

- all pretty much cleared the scientists concerned of any deliberate wrongdoing bar refusal to comply in a timely fashion with FoI requests.

- Anyone expecting any of the prominent skeptics (e.g. Nigel Lawson, Fred Singer, Steve McIntyre, Christopher Monckton) to apologise for the tone they took? Don't hold your breath.

- Is there any more useful information to the public about the subject than there was last November? - not really, no; the public as a whole are no better-informed than they were then.

A couple of final thoughts on this issue:

Firstly; the media and the report talks about the scientists' need to engage with the online world.

Alas, I think this is a red herring - and, in this particular case, largely wrong.

Simply speaking, the vast majority of discussion of climate change that takes place online is unoriginal; and rather than being a genuine dialogue, consists of people of varying levels of skill and loquacity repeating things that they've read elsewhere.

If you try and engage in a measured discussion in the subject online, you will be subjected to a flurry of arguments.

Most of them will be second-hand at best, some of them will have been discredited or disproved a decade ago, some of them will be invented wholesale, some will be verging on conspiracy theory - and they will often be propounded by people who hold to the idea that winning an argument by shouting is a valid tactic.

In short; when talking about climate change, the internet has the habit of creating an awful lot of heat, but very little light.

Everyone has the right to an opinion and a voice; but all opinions are not equal.

Secondly: this whole affair did not uncover a vast conspiracy. It was never going to.

As with so many recent controversies about climate change, it was a manufactured outrage, picked up by various PR attack dogs like Marc Morano, and spun to the online skeptic community, who expended a considerable amount of energy to make it seem like a deliberate malfeasance.

In its intent, and in its deployment as a weapon, it was largely successful; it stole headlines in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit, and when combined with the failure at Copenhagen, it was highly effective at smearing climate science as a whole - as reported earlier this year, the public trust in the science of climate change has decreased as a result of the Climategate offensive.

And while the science of climate change isn't especially vulnerable, the scientists' budgets are.

If tackling climate change is seen as a vote loser, then the science will be ignored - or deferred until any question of a reasonable solution has gone and we're stuck with the least bad option.

So we won't see any apologies or retractions from the likes of Monckton or Morano; because they are simply not interested in the truth.

They are interested in winning the policy debate at any costs - which makes any tactic fair game in their book.

(7 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:July 8th, 2010 08:44 am (UTC)
I will freely admit that, despite being a fairly clever person, a lot of the climate change science leaves me cold, and I don't have anywhere near the time or inclination to pour over the data myself. So summaries such as this (especially ones where the writer actually admits to favouring one side) is helpful. Additionally, in this case, it's interesting to see the same critic playbook is being deployed everywhere from Creationism to Anti-Vaccination.

But if you'll forgive a minor edit...

In short; when talking about anything, the internet has the habit of creating an awful lot of heat, but very little light.
[User Picture]
Date:July 8th, 2010 09:12 am (UTC)
Nigel Lawson made a reasonable comparison yesterday.

He noted that there have been 48 separate complaints against the Metropolitan Police regarding the misuse of anti-terrorist legislation but, other than some issues with communications, every report into these complaints has found that the Met have no case to answer.

All enquiries were closed and carried out by appointees of the Metropolitan Police.
[User Picture]
Date:July 8th, 2010 02:19 pm (UTC)
Nigel Lawson made a reasonable comparison yesterday.

He did? I suppose there's a first time for everything; though I don't think that this is it.

So far, the skeptic camps appear to be taking two general approaches in their response to Muir Russell:

Firstly: to shoot the messenger - which is to say that Muir Russell (and the Oxburgh report in April and the Science & Technology Select Committee report in March and the parallel UPenn investigation) were all partial, biased, untrustworthy, short-sighted or a combination of the previous.

Thus McIntyre's initial response, ditto Anthony Watts, ditto Benny Peiser's announcement that the GWPF were going to set up their own inquiry into the three previous inquiries.

The second is to talk down the science and talk up the FoI censure; to take what could be taken out of the report as potential ammunition.

(I'm not going to give specific links; a quick trawl around the usual places will turn up enough of this.)

He noted that there have been 48 separate complaints against the Metropolitan Police regarding the misuse of anti-terrorist legislation but, other than some issues with communications, every report into these complaints has found that the Met have no case to answer.

All enquiries were closed and carried out by appointees of the Metropolitan Police.

OK. Does the fact that the Metropolitan Police carries out an inquiry into its own behaviour make it automatically incapable of telling the truth?

Of course not. Any claim to truth should be examined on its merits, not its source.

(Funnily enough, I'm on reasonably friendly terms with one of the Met's DAC's; just because I'm a lefty anarchist type doesn't mean that I honestly believe all police to be violent thugs.)

If you have reason to believe that an inquiry's neutrality is compromised, habeas corpus.

Simply saying 'it's done by $entity, therefore it's suspect' does not wash.

And in this particular case, it's an inaccurate comparison.

Oxburgh was carried out by an international panel of academics.

The Science and Technology Select Committee was carried out by MPs and included submissions from across the board (see the list here.

Muir Russell was carried out by a panel consisting of academics, civil servants and BP's head of Research and Technology.

Do you really believe that all three inquiries can be dismissed as run by apologists for the CRU?
[User Picture]
Date:July 8th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
I find the practise of asking for habeus corpus lacking in theoretical science; especially in areas where the researchers refuse to reveal their data at all.

While we're on the latin tags, better to ask cui bono?
[User Picture]
Date:July 8th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
I find the practise of asking for habeus corpus lacking in theoretical science; especially in areas where the researchers refuse to reveal their data at all.

If I can quote your words of last December:

'however Climatye Change has become an article of religious faith and bad science is being used to support it, along with obstruction of those who wish to actually enquire and actual destruction of data upon which the models (which the editorial speaks of in glowing terms) were built.

It is therefore impossible to reconstruct these models or to run these simulations. We cannot say "Yes, I have run identical data sets here and your answers were correct within margins of error".'

One of the things that Muir Russell did as part of their investigation was just such a reconstruction.

To quote sections 6.4.13-14:

'13. To carry out the analysis we obtained raw primary instrumental temperature station data. This can be obtained either directly from the appropriate National Meteorological Office (NMO) or by consulting the World Weather Records(WWR) available through the National Centre for Atmospheric Research(NCAR), or the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN):

NCAR: http://www.ncar.ucar.edu/tools/datasets/
WWR: http://dss.ucar.edu/datasets/ds570.0/
GHCN: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/ghcn-monthly/index.php.

14. Anyone working in this area would have knowledge of the availability of data from these sources. There are also other sources but we have not investigated these.'

The investigating panel used publicly available datasets and wrote their own code - and lo and behold, the results they got were pretty similar to those of the CRU.

Of course, this doesn't make the results true - because a dodgy dataset is still a dodgy dataset - but it does vindicate the CRU of any charges of methodological misdemeanour.

To restate 6.22 of the report:

'22. A researcher can evidently produce a study which would test the CRUTEM
analysis quite precisely, without requiring any information from CRU to do so.'

So: without the explicit co-operation of the CRU, the panel took the dataset and managed to replicate the results, using code they'd written themselves - and in a timescale of two days.

As per Appendix 7, Section 2.3:

'This code was straightforward to write from scratch. The minimal code needed to read and process the data sets amounts to only a few hundred executable lines and took about 2 days to develop.'

The results tallied closely with the reported graph in the IPCC AR4.

For all the complaints about 'scientists withholding data', I have never seen any reports of a skeptic organisation devoting even a couple of days effort to recreating the data analysis of a body like the CRU; not even with a publicly available dataset such as this.

Have you?

[User Picture]
Date:July 8th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
better to ask cui bono?

As far as the money goes, it's better to be a skeptic; this is a matter of public record.

Take, for example, Patrick J Michaels:

'...In 1991-92 an anonymous donor made of grant of $50,000 to Michaels for his work on climate change, the Edison Electric Institute paid $25,000 between 1992 and 1995 for a literature review of climate change and updates. Western Fuels Association contributed $63,000 for "research on global climate change" and between 1994 $98,000 from Gesamtverband des Deutschen Stenkohlenbergbaus in Germany.[3] As Michaels corporate funding was taking off, in 1994 he founded and is the sole owner of New Hope Environmental Services, which refers to itself as "an advocacy science consulting firm". Aside from publishing the World Climate Report, the firm boasts that its staff often provide testimony to Congress and commentary on climate issues to media outlets.[21].

Writing in Harpers Magazine in 1995, author Ross Gelbspan noted that "Michaels has received more than $115,000 over the last four years from coal and energy interests. World Climate Review, a quarterly he founded that routinely debunks climate concerns, was funded by Western Fuels."[22]

One substantial benefit in having created New Hope Environmental Services was that corporate funders could route financial support for Michaels work via the firm which was under no obligation to disclose who its clients were. After its was created, further corporate funding was noticeably absent from Michaels university curriculum vitae.[3] He continued to attract public funding for projects, such as $195,000 from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for "research on science and policy on global warming." He also gained $98,000 from the Cato Institute to underwrite the the production of The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air about Global Warming, a book he co-authored with Robert C. Balling, Jr.[3]

A furor was raised when it was revealed in 2006 that, at customer expense, Patrick Michaels was quietly paid $100,000 by an electric utility, Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA)'

(Source: Sourcewatch)

Patrick Michaels is just one example; take also Balling, Singer, McIntyre, the Idso brothers; all of whom hold academic or quasi-academic posts of some sort - and all of whom have made far more money out of the climate change debate than the likes of Phil Jones or Michael Mann.

Academic salaries are lousy; especially when there are no immediate practical applications. You know this as well as I do - speaking personally, I was earning more in IT three years after I graduated than my ex-girlfriend's dad was making in thirty years in physics.

There really is no gravy train in government-funded science; the most you can hope for is to stay solvent and to keep holding onto your funding until a professorship turns up.
(Deleted comment)

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