Sunday, November 22, 2009

"ClimateGate" & Human Action

So... This is huge....

Some of the British University of East Anglia, Climate Research Unit scientist's internal emails have been hacked and reveal what kind of look like systemic attempts to edit, omit or hide data related to the global climate change over the past several decades; twisting the accuracy of their models by entering in actual real-world data after the fact; and generally trying to bury or cover up research that did not match their assumptions about human caused climate change.

They even reveal discussions on methods being planned to discredit or blackball scientists with dissenting opinions from professional organizations...

The biggest lesson of all with these emails, is that these scientists are humans - and like all the rest of us, they act in order to pursue their needs & values. Sometimes, when those values conflict with their integrity as scientists, the personal aspirations & incentives win out. I wish this wasn't seen as a new revelation by so many people, since many of us - from Abraham Maslow, to Ludwig von Mises, to Ayn Rand - have discussed this aspect of humanity repeatedly in the past.

Unfortunately, far too many people put scientists in an inexplicably different category.

For instance, we're often more than happy to look at people from Exxon-Mobil and instantly say "Well, of course they're corrupt! Just follow the money! The Exxon people don't want global warming to be their fault and there's big money involved, so naturally they'll try to hide the data supporting man-made global warming!" And indeed, this has proven to be true in many ways.

So why is it not also true that many scientists who make their living researching global warming and will stand to gain substantially - professionally as well as financially - have incentive to hide data that might call their work into question?

No, there's not as much money at stake (though still billions upon billions of dollars), but for most researchers, it's the professional pride and ego that is more important and more highly valued. Being proven wrong, watching years of one's work lose standing & credibility is as bad for a researcher as losing millions of dollars is bad for a businessman. Money is not the only factor to consider here. Oil executives might be motivated mostly by money, but everyone has different values and motivations... Scientists (in my experience) tend to value their work, professional respect & admiration, and their ideas/theories, as well as the sense of nobility some people derive from contributing to world-knowledge more than monetary compensation.

Too often we hear that the only motivation that matters is (what I think is a mostly mythical) greed for money, but let's not pretend that it's only the "big money" that might spur certain people to lie or mislead. Global warming science, unlike most other disciplines has a supremely moral component as well - which most of the CRU scientists are clearly, and rather extremely, emotionally attached to. They (honestly, no doubt) believe that their work will "save the planet". This is a powerful incentive to make sure everyone agrees with their interpretation of the data, but also that their political positions are viewed as the only possible option - with the alternative being global disaster.

These leaked emails are a perfect example of this. Here we have some very serious breaches in ethics by several of the most prominent names in the Man-made (Anthropogenic) Global Warming camp. Let's check a few of them out now...

From Phil Jones (Tuesday, 16 Nov, 1999 13:31:15):

"Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,

Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow.

I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline."

Now - Gavin, over at (where Phil Jones, Michael Mann & others involved in this mess regularly blog) and others have tried to pass this off as acceptable by focusing on the word "trick". Obviously, Phil is not using the word to suggest "trickery", but rather one of the secondary definitions as in; "...a difficult, dexterous, or clever act", as in "that really did the trick". While I'm sure some people are going to focus on that word - reading it to mean something deceitful - and while it's quite clever of Gavin to shift the focus to that aspect of the statement, that's not really the important point, is it?

The words "hide the decline", are the damning aspect!

This reminds me of a speech that Loyola University economist, Walter Block, once gave about his Ph.D dissertation where the results of his data collection on rent-control in one city didn't match his expectations or the data collected in other cities... In his example, his professors suggested he redo the data for the outlier city, as it was assumed to have been wrong. Makes sense, right? Scientists working in any empirical field are bound to find that the results their models have gotten don't match up with the reality they are expecting. So, to get the "right" results, models are tweaked, outlier data is sometimes omitted and sometimes you have to scrap that batch and recollect.

When this happens, however... It's imperative that notes are made at every step of the way, and that data isn't being omitted for personal or political reasons.

The interpretation means everything in these situations... And if the scenario was one like the Dr. Block example, where the data wasn't making sense and had to be recollected, that would be one thing... But unfortunately, these emails make it consistently clear Phil Jones is actually looking for a particular outcome. This is somewhat indicative of a larger trend, where the CRU guys (who's work is regularly cited by governments around the world in support of new legislation and the invention of new and more intrusive powers) have a largely pre-determined conception of what the interpretation should be - and are quite happy to obfuscate or rework their models in order to get results that fit.

So when a scientist is talking about "hiding" the decline in temperature way back in 1999, and when that scientist has books, grants, speaking engagements & a deeply held political philosophy on the line... I'm not personally sure we should be willing to give that scientist the benefit of the doubt that his motives were pure and only in service of the "truth".

[Distressingly, this is exactly what many macro-economists do constantly that makes me so infuriated, and in both climate science & economics, we are not-coincidentally dealing with the same types of dynamic, highly complex & often chaotic systems....]

There's a pattern here though... Continuing on (and skipping ahead 10 years)...

From Kevin Trenberth (Monday, 12 Oct, 2009 08:57:37):

"Well I have my own article on where the heck is global warming? We are asking that here in Boulder where we have broken records the past two days for the coldest days on record. We had 4 inches of snow. The high the last 2 days was below 30F and the normal is 69F, and it smashed the previous records for these days by 10F. The low was about 18F and also a record low, well below the previous record low.

The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.

This in and of itself, is of course, perfectly fine! Here we have a scientist recognizing that he has not been able to account for the lack of warming over the past decade which was clearly predicted by their models.

The problem, however, is that over the past 20 years, these very same (literally) scientists have continually pushed for massive increases in regulation, taxation and governmental control over people's lives. Literally trillions of dollars in global wealth are (negatively) impacted by the recommendations of these people. So for that trade-off to be worth it, the science MUST be completely and unequivocally settled.

But here, the data does not match the expectation of the model (and again, with such an incredibly complex system, how could it!?), and instead of questioning these models - Dr. Trenberth instead assumes that the data is wrong and questions how it might be recalculated to provide the "correct" results - as opposed to recollecting the data, or questioning the data gathering methods. What's worse is that in the process, he winds up advocating an overhaul of a significant portion of the economy and drastically restricting liberty through his overconfidence in his own hypotheses.

Oh, yeah... Plus, he - like most climate scientists - happens to be on the payroll of government, and benefits personally from government expansion in this area... In this case, in the UK.

But frankly, it gets a lot worse! It's not just about manipulation of data, or reworking tests & results to fit the expected findings (arguably for political reasons), it's also that what work they have done on the government payroll is obviously required to be accessible to the public, and yet here we have Phil Jones suggesting - on multiple occasions, no less! - that it would be preferable to delete emails and data to avoid having it come up in Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests.

From Phil Jones in one email:

The skeptics seem to be building up a head of steam here! ... The IPCC comes in for a lot of stick. Leave it to you to delete as appropriate!

Cheers Phil

PS I’m getting hassled by a couple of people to release the CRU station temperature data. Don’t any of you three tell anybody that the UK has a Freedom of Information Act!

Again, from Phil Jones:


Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment – minor family crisis. Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address. We will be getting Caspar to do likewise.

And in a document titled "jones-foiathoughts.doc" also leaked in this batch, we have as clear an instance as it gets where Phil Jones offers suggestions on how best to prevent other researchers (dissenters or, you know "deniers") from accessing their work:

Options appear to be:

1. Send them the data
2. Send them a subset removing station data from some of the countries who made us pay in the normals papers of Hulme et al. (1990s) and also any number that David can remember. This should also omit some other countries like (Australia, NZ, Canada, Antarctica). Also could extract some of the sources that Anders added in (31-38 source codes in J&M 2003). Also should remove many of the early stations that we coded up in the 1980s.
3. Send them the raw data as is, by reconstructing it from GHCN. How could this be done? Replace all stations where the WMO ID agrees with what is in GHCN. This would be the raw data, but it would annoy them.

Amazingly, the folks at RealClimate actually defend Dr. Jones' behavior... Mostly by calling those statements "hyperbole", and denying that any correspondence or data has ever been deleted. But really, given what Michael Mann says here, should I be surprised? Probably not:

"Anyway, I wanted you guys to know that you’re free to use RC [] Rein any way you think would be helpful. Gavin and I are going to be careful about what comments we screen through, and we’ll be very careful to answer any questions that come up to any extent we can. On the other hand, you might want to visit the thread and post replies yourself. We can hold comments up in the queue and contact you about whether or not you think they should be screened through or not, and if so, any comments you’d like us to include."

Anyone who's spent much time in the blogger universe realizes that this is a favored tactic of many websites with a clear agenda. It's also rather annoying.

Virtually every time Paul Krugman writes an article for the New York Times, the first day's worth of comments "screened through" are ones obsequiously praising the "economist". It's one of the reasons I never bother posting over there unless its something remarkably important. The greatest part of their moderation system though, is that once comments are approved, they appear in order of the poster clicking "submit" - so if you go back and look a few days later, once commenting on a page has closed, you would have no idea that the first two days worth of comments were all sycophantic idiocy.

The same has historically been true of And, while there have been reports of this by dozens of disgruntled posters, here we have Michael Mann clearly explaining how this is done.

The ridiculous part, of course, is that these guys tend to engage in 3 types of logical fallacies when dealing with those who disagree with their positions. First is to use ad hominem attacks by calling their detractors "deniers" and worse names, and regularly claiming that no one who ever comments at RealClimate & other such sites has anything intelligent to say (therefore, they are all stupid).

How convenient for them, of course, that anyone with something worth saying or with a real issue to discuss can be easily blocked from posting, or simply buried to 200th place in the comments! So... That way, when outsiders pass across articles at RealClimate and read the comments, they too will come away with the impression that 90% of everyone agrees with their positions, and those 10% who don't are just idiots, laypeople, ignorant of science and fearful of change.

It's a good system - especially when it's employed by dozens of websites & organizations, not just the one website Mann has influence over.

Fallacy number two, is called "ad hominem tu quoque", and is where a person (and thus their argument) is "discredited" by claiming that the person in question is a hypocrite. For instance, in some of the defenses of these emails, RealClimate commenters and moderator, Gavin, point out that these emails were (possibly) illegally obtained and that the "deniers" (in this case meaning "Republicans", I assume) raised hell over Sarah Palin's emails being hacked. As if, somehow, the fact that Republican outrage is directed in an inconsistent or partisan manner is evidence that "their" argument is wrong. Granted, considering I suppose I qualify as a "denier" and I am in no way a Republican, this attempt at discrediting the arguments being made about these emails is also a non sequitur.

The third fallacy, is the constant appeals to authority employed by the AGW supporters. This shouldn't be confused with *citing* respected authorities to bolster a point. But the problem here is actually two-fold... First, we have the situation where laypeople do what Kevin Trenberth did in a recent debate, by saying:

""The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has spoken: 'Warming of the climate system is unequivocal' and it is 'very likely' due to human activities..."

This isn't an argument. This is an assertion. And the correctness of the assertion depends entirely on whether or not you accept the (United Nations, government-sponsored) International Panel on Climate Change as a viable source of scientific information. Considering that the IPCC reports are explicitly political, and that politicians have the final say on what is included and what isn't, and those politicians have the ability to edit or alter statements made by contributors, I personally don't accept it as a particularly good source of anything except pro-government propaganda. Strangely, many AGW supporters agree with me on this - though they claim that it's too "conservative" in it's estimation of the imminent danger we seem to face.

But what really make this ridiculous, is that Kevin Trenberth using the IPCC as an authority is actually self-referential... He and the rest of the guys at the CRU are major contributors to the IPCC climate reports!

Isn't that great? Just like a Christian "proving" the accuracy of beliefs acquired from the Bible by asserting that the Bible is true, it's a perfect circle of question begging!

Dr. Trenberth: "The IPCC says global warming is man-made, so obviously the science is settled!"

"Denier":"Ok... Who wrote the IPCC report?"

Dr. Trenberth: "Well... Umm... I guess I kinda did."

"Denier": "Uhh... So, how do I know that your research hasn't been tainted by your political & personal views?"

Dr. Trenberth: "Cause the IPCC confirmed them!"

"Denier": "So who else was on the panel who's work got published which confirms your research?"

Dr. Trenberth: "All my friends."

"Denier": "Ohhhhh... I see."

This way, they can point to something that they wrote, filtered through a massive government report (removing or muting many of the alternative viewpoints and which most of the public isn't going to question), and use it as "proof" that their position is the only one anyone with a brain could possibly have. Meanwhile, there plenty of talented scientists - my favorite being Henrik Svensmark, the Danish solar physicist - who don't agree with Michael Mann, Kevin Trenberth, Phil Jones, Tom Wigley, etc., and who's work gets buried or rejected from the final reports. The whole set-up could not possibly work more in the pro-AGW crowd's favor, since they are often the ones in positions to select or recommend fellow panelists.

As University of Alabama climatology professor, John Christy, pointed out (PDF):

"The tendency to succumb to group-think and the herd-instinct (now formally called the "informational cascade") is perhaps as tempting among scientists as any group because we, by definition, must be the "ones who know" (from the Latin sciere , to know).

You dare not be thought of as "one who does not know"; hence we may succumb to the pressure to be perceived as "one who knows".

This leads, in my opinion, to an overstatement of confidence in the published findings and to a ready acceptance of the views of anointed authorities.

Scepticism, a hallmark of science, is frowned upon. (I suspect the IPCC bureaucracy cringes whenever I'm identified as an IPCC Lead Author.)"

Indeed, this is precisely what I point out regularly with the Point of Inquiry crowd surrounding my facebook buddy, D.J. Grothe. They view themselves as the intelligensia - and group-think is so rampant that I sometimes have to question their use of the label "skeptic". So here we have basically three ways that are pure-fallacy used by the pro-AGW scientists & supporters to mock, ridicule & discredit the "deniers".

And hey... When all that doesn't work, or when it's actually scientists who dissent and not just the ignorant, unwashed masses... Sometimes, more drastic measures will need to be taken to silence them. As Tom Wigley suggests, if a fellow scientist is a "skeptic", they might be more easily taken down by being kicked out of professional organizations and being discredited that way:

Proving bad behavior here is very difficult. If you think that [Yale professor, Dr. James] Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted.

Now think about that... One of the biggest complaints the people over at RealClimate constantly have is that the people dissenting are not publishing in the journals as much, that their research isn't reflected in the IPCC reports, or that they're not as big a part of the professional organizations... But why not!? Is it really because their research is sub-par as some of the guys at RealClimate would want me to believe? Perhaps - as Tom Wigley's email certailny suggests - the reason has more to do with the fact that people like the guys at the CRU do their best to blacklist dissenting viewpoints.

I don't really know... But, it's pretty damned suspicious, isn't it?

Thing is... After a few days, and several postings & statements released by the parties involved, no one is denying the authenticity of these emails, so it's pretty safe to assume by now that they are not forgeries.

Ousting dissenters? Covering up & withholding data?? One thing is crystal clear:

This isn't science!!!

Especially considering that these are the scientists with some of the largest influence on current global climate & economic policy discussions and that we're seeing yearly increases in the funneling of massive amounts of tax dollars to their favored projects, this isn't good...

The fear-mongering going on with the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) community is no different than the fear-mongering used by thugs around the world again & again. This has been going on for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years - and it works quite well. In fact, I seem to recall President Bush and the political establishment using this very technique in 2001 & 2003.

"Act now, or we're all going to die!" works in all languages and all cultures. It's pretty distressing when a cabal of academics are the ones shilling for this authority.

Laypeople have to rely on experts & intellectuals to be honest collectors of information and tell them the "truth". But truth is so often tainted by people who have a stake in manipulating people's perception of reality. So again, YES... Exxon-Mobil would probably prefer to have global warming be non-existent, naturally caused, or ignored outright. And they'd obviously love it if government continued to hand them endless subsidies directly and indirectly, supporting their business (which... don't worry, they will!).

However, many scientists are suddenly seeing grant money flow into their work, they are being booked at speaking engagements around the world, they are testifying before congress, they are being listened to and funded by law-makers in dozens of countries... In short, these are scientists who are experiencing a boom in professional & monetary success, and being human (just like Exxon-Mobil execs), these scientists have some enormous incentives to keep the politicians paying their salaries, handing out subsidies, giving them grants and writing favorable legislation happy!

In my view, we can always count on people to behave in accordance with their values, and respond relatively rationally to incentives. In this case, the CRU folks are professionally, financially and emotionally invested in global warming being human-caused... There's nothing wrong with taking a professional stand and being rewarded for it.......... But the hubris on display here is cause for serious alarm! By itself, it won't do much damage, but the scientists on display here are playing with your money, and worse, their policy recommendations are being used by nations around the world which will effect future prosperity tremendously.

So let's not forget that they are just human beings - with political points of view, emotional attachments, professional pride, (huge) egos, and who are just as susceptible to confirmation bias & group-think as anyone else (I would argue, in fact, that they are even more susceptible, given the arrogance & hubris involved).

So I, for one, am not interested in letting these guys destroy our future economy and drastically limit human liberty by blindly assuming they are the bearers of unaltered truth or that they are the altruistic, omniscient saviors of the planet merely because they present themselves that way and claim good intentions.

Somehow I doubt the planet needs more arrogant meddlers who think their ideas are so good they must be forced onto everyone else.

* * * * *
As for the global warming issue itself...

If the Earth is warming significantly (which it appears to be in the large-scale trends), then technology, surplus wealth, production & prosperity will be what protects us all from its effects. To arrive at a world-economy-crippling "solution" to global warming catastrophe scenarios, you have to make dozens of assumptions:
  1. You have to believe that the climate is fully known & understood
  2. You have to believe that global warming in and of itself is a bad thing (which is one of the clearest examples of the Naturalist's Fallacy I can find)
  3. You must believe that global warming is catastrophic and that the dangers to humanity are massive.
  4. You must believe that it's a human-caused problem
  5. You have to believe that we know how to fix it and are actually capable of fixing it (without screwing the climate up even worse, no less!)
  6. Then you have to believe that the only way to implement the "fix" is through government force on a global scale... and for that to work...
  7. You must believe that governments have ever (contrary to all history) been successful at accomplishing their goals.
  8. And of course, you have to believe that you actually have the right to impose these things on everyone else...
...Finally, and possibly worst of all, you must be thoroughly ignorant of history and economics to even suggest the kinds of "solutions" being touted by many of these scientists.

And at the risk of being labeled a "denier", I struggle with all of the above assumptions except for the one that says the earth is warming. I might even be convinced that humans play a relatively significant role... Though I find it rather hard to believe that our contribution of a tiny (~3ish) percent of CO2, which is itself a tiny percentage of the overall greenhouse gases is so damaging that it outweighs even the effects of the sun (which always seems to have so much stronger a correlation to global temperatures).

But in either case, leaping from accepting those two assumptions right past all the other necessary ones and on to promoting legislation which would decimate the world economy is purely insane! Massive restrictions on liberty, the imposition of higher taxes and forcing people to use more expensive technologies in the US and across the world - without any apparent regard for the disastrous effects such ideas have on the world's poor, is completely unacceptable.

Especially when the real-world results of such policies can be so easily predicted.

Even a small percentage increase in the price of energy as a result of global taxes or further restrictions on energy production will prove completely destructive to the population of the developing world - and it won't be pretty for any of the poor here either. For people to whom current energy prices are already economically restrictive, and who desperately need to heat their homes, run machinery, grow their crops, communicate and trade with each other, these kinds of taxes are devastating and will literally result in the deaths of millions of people.

The fact that some climate scientists are so gung-ho about their own work, and who's intellectual tunnel-vision and political blinders are so severe that they cannot recognize the harm the policies they regularly support will cause is distressing, to say the least. And weighing that very real, very well-understood, and immediately manifesting harm against the hypothesized harm of global warming unfolding over the next 100 years (which I still have yet to really understand, since warmer temperatures mean longer growing seasons & more livable areas for most of the world), never remotely balances out to me. Simple common sense should tell any thinking person at least that much!

Does it really make sense to "solve" a potential (and rather slow-acting) global problem by tanking the world economy? Or would it make significantly more sense to support every possible improvement to the global economy through more trade & property rights and use the developed riches & prosperity to mitigate the problems with better technology?

I'm thinking the latter. Plus it has the added bonus of not requiring Big Brother to stomp his boot down hard on anyone not going along with the program (like using the wrong light bulbs, driving the wrong cars, or buying the wrong TV), thus increasing liberty, and making everyone richer in the process.

Yep... Definitely seems better.

So that's the real problem. The fact that these scientists are human beings who operate just like every other human being is a non-issue, or at least; it's not surprising to me. The truly troubling thing is that these scientists have so much influence and power by proxy to royally screw up the world for the rest of us and force everyone else to go along with their vision what's best, and do so on the public's dime.

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