Swing, and a Miss   1 comment

I read Karl Denniger’s blog.  He has fascinating observations on the economic woes of the nation.  Even when I don’t agree with him, I usually find what he has to say interesting.

Not so much this time around.  Karl wrote two posts about this story in the news:

Hundreds of private e-mail messages and documents hacked from a computer server at a British university are causing a stir among global warming skeptics, who say they show that climate scientists conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change.

The e-mail messages, attributed to prominent American and British climate researchers, include discussions of scientific data and whether it should be released, exchanges about how best to combat the arguments of skeptics, and casual comments — in some cases derisive — about specific people known for their skeptical views. Drafts of scientific papers and a photo collage that portrays climate skeptics on an ice floe were also among the hacked data, some of which dates back 13 years.

Karl offers a couple of observations here and here:

Science is the process by which we take a question and:

  • Form a hypothesis.
  • Design an experiment to test that hypothesis.
  • Perform the experiment and collect the data thus generated.
  • Analyze the resulting data.
  • Form a conclusion from the data thus collected.

That’s “The Scientific Method.”

Not quite, Mr. D.  That’s one method of exploring questions scientifically, yes.  But many questions can’t be explored by experimentation, and it’s certainly not the only method of scientific inquiry.

Uncertainties in measurement are additive – that is, if I measure two rulers and each is reported as “12 inches +/- 0.1 inch” then the total length of the two rulers is 24 inches +/- 0.2 inch – because it is possible that both errors were on the same side.

Yes and no.  In your particular case, yes.  However, when you’re talking about extremely complex behaviors, your measurements are not necessarily combined this way.  For example, phenomena A may have an error in measurement, and phenomena B may have an error in measurement, but it may actually be the case that those errors are not independent.  I could be measuring PSI and temperature in a pressure cooker.  My thermometer may have an error margin, and my pressure indicator may have an error margin.  But if they are both incorrect in different directions, a composite measurement would reveal this.

To the extent that method is corrupted on purpose one does not have science.  To the extent that it is corrupted out of necessity (e.g. missing data that one requires, and thus one “guesses”) this is accepted provided one discloses one’s guess and how it was derived – that is, provided there is no material concealment.

In the “Big Science World” the check and balance on concealment – and outright fraud – is peer review and post-publication duplication.  To be able to duplicate the results claimed, however, the algorithms, code, methods and data sets must be made publicly available so that anyone who desires to do so can validate the claimed experimental results.

In the spirit of science, I will note that I fully expect others to try to validate (or dispute) my observations below.  As such you can find the original archive at Wikileaks should you decide you would like to do so, and I encourage all other independent investigation.

The first point is correct, but needs clarification.  With regards to a particular scientific field, you’re talking about an incredibly large body of literature.  Every scientific field is in a dynamic state, but generally speaking there is a collection of assumptions that each field currently regards as acceptable assumptions.  For example, in physics, it is currently regarded as acceptable to assume that gravity is a constant.  Since we don’t know the mechanism by which gravity operates, this *is*, in fact, an assumption.  No physicist, however, would take the time to put in any sort of disclaimer about this assumption in their publication; it’s assumed that gravity is a constant, because we have no reason to expect otherwise.

The second point is correct… and I personally as yet have had no trouble whatsoever acquiring access to anybody’s data when I’ve asked them for it.  Data sets are typically not included in journal publishing, due to space limitations (yes, in this day and age, this is stupid and data sets should at least be accessible in electronic copies of journals… but this is a reflection of a hundred years of traditional science publishing, not conspiracy).  Most climatologists have their data linked from their own websites, or blogs, or the data is a public data set and already in the public domain in any event.

In short, I see nothing in that data set that implies that the messages have been tampered with, but there is also no reasonable way to prove their provenance as the necessary information to do so (routing and message-id information) is missing.  A well-place FOI request should resolve that problem, if anyone is particularly interested in doing so.

The data sets included in the archive are also interesting.  Again, a reasonably-detailed look through them shows nothing implying that they have been tampered with, and they include data and computer code (source program code) from a wide variety of time periods.  It appears authentic.

On the contrary, Karl, this is bad framing, as you yourself note earlier in your own post.  This is a demonstrably pitifully incomplete selection of data gathered over a period of 13 years.  Emails are missing.  Off-email conversations are not referenced, and so on.  If I gave someone access to every document I’ve created and my email store since 1996, I have no doubt whatsoever that you’d be able to construct a 60MB zip file containing enough emails, blog posts, snippets of papers I’ve written, and dump that up at the Department of Homeland Security and net me a visit from some counterterrorism division.  I write about security and information systems; this would be a trivial exercise.

I have long argued that the major problem with so-called “published papers” on global warming is that it is rare to see find measurement uncertainties reported in the alleged findings, and competing studies have cited wildly different values for the same thing (e.g. atmospheric CO2 emitted by man per year.)

I believe we can now deduce why those uncertainties are missing – they are not being carried through the computational process as is required for any scientific calculation and this omission is in fact intentional.

That’s not a major problem (and usually isn’t the case).

Karl, you really must not read a lot of scientific papers.  Limitation sections are a requirement.  Have you really read a large chunk of the climate science of the last 3 decades?

Measurement uncertainties usually are cited, of course… and when they aren’t, it’s usually because those measurement uncertainties are known among the particular science community.  An aside for the non-scientists among the readership: most academic journal articles are not written for the layman to understand (side note: this is one reason why science reporting is usually so bad… science reporters are generally *not* well versed enough to accurately report on what they’re reading).  They are written with the assumption that the persons reading the articles are fairly well versed in the field in question.  If you think about it, this is not only normal it’s absolutely necessary.  Academic journals have to assume that the person reading the article is familiar with: (a) basic undergraduate science (b) basic undergraduate mathematics (c) advanced graduate level science in the particular field (d) whatever advanced mathematics are necessary tools for examining that particular field.  You’re talking about 6 or so years of academic study assumed as known.

In some sense, yes, the omission is intentional.  This is not indicative of nefariousness.

Without hard proof of whatever answer is propounded to that question we as the people of this planet must insist on a full stop for all purported “climate amelioration” efforts, as there is every possibility that the entirety of this so-called science in fact proves exactly nothing, except that the so-called “researchers” have added much CO2 to the atmosphere producing the electricity required to power their computers!

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and from the released set of data that proof is, quite simply, not present and accounted for.

Yes, Karl, extraordinary claims do require extraordinary proof.  So let us reframe the issue at hand.

Climate science journals have been publishing papers supporting global climate change papers for over 30 years now.  I have not seen a single academic paper that has been published since 1980 that refutes the global warming hypothesis (compare this to the earlier “global cooling” hypothesis that some climate change denialists point at, which was not well supported by any body of literature and never regarded as a mainstream theory).  Minor disclaimer, this is my cursory reading of the literature, I’m not a climatologist myself… but I have looked at both the general body of literature and I’ve tried to follow the “skeptic” crowd’s trail of evidence and found nothing, so it is (at the very least) a decent investigation by someone who doesn’t qualify as a rank amateur or layman.

Global warming theories are grounded in basic thermodynamics (physics) and the properties of greenhouse gasses (chemistry).  Impacts have been seen in species diversity (biology), ice cores and rock strata (geology), and marine lifecycles (marine biology and oceanography).  No credible falsification evidence has been presented in any journal, be it any of the major climate journals, the more general Science or Nature, or any other peer reviewed publication in any of the other fields listed here.

There are two possibilites here (edited to add: there are actually three*).  Either the global climate change (and its proposed human root causes) are very close to highly probably true, or there is a massive, cross-national, cross-cultural, pervasive conspiracy… in not one but possibly dozens of scientific fields… to cover up the truth.

Knowing what I do of conspiracies in general, the second possibility would be laughable to consider just on the sheer numbers involved.  However, even supposing that you could in fact keep such a conspiracy under wraps, I don’t understand what the actual motiviation would be for such a conspiracy; why would a geologist or an oceanographer care about publishing refuting the global warming hypothesis?  They’re not climatologists, they’re not going to lose their shot at tenure for challenging another field (in fact, given what I know of university politics, they’d be more likely to get tenure by challenging a basic hypothesis of another field).

This clearly counts as a very, very extraordinary claim.

And what evidence exists to bolster this claim?  An illegally acquired, demonstrably incomplete, cherry picked selection of contextually limited data from a single climate center representing a subpopulation of climate scientists obtained by an individual or group whose motives are unknown, containing… ah, what looks like a very few emails that could be interpreted as malicious by someone who already assumed that global warming was a completely fabricated theory, or could also be interpreted as the diplomatically uncautious phrasing of perfectly normal behavior among reasonable scientists.

I don’t think that qualifies as extraordinary evidence.

* (edited to add): the third possibility is complex.  It is possible that global climate change hypothesis is based upon a causal theory that has been reinforced entirely by correlative evidence in other fields, but the principle causes are independent and not in fact tied to the global climate theory.  This is possible, but as time goes on it becomes increasingly unlikely.  People who support AGW tend to claim that this has already reached the point where the lack of falsification results in other fields shows that those other fields support the causal hypothesis.  People who challenge AGW tend to claim that each one of these instances of lack of falsification have independent explanations.  It is possible that the second group is correct, but I as yet have not seen a substantive analysis supporting this view.  That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to construct such an analysis.


Posted November 22, 2009 by padraic2112 in science

One response to “Swing, and a Miss

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  1. My Father sent me an email linking to Karl’s blog a couple of days ago. Here was my response to him:

    “Regardless of the vitriol spewed by both sides, this is a pretty simple problem that comes down to one issue:

    Humans are not presently acting as good stewards of the global biosphere.

    Anyone who chooses to argue otherwise is likely to be smothered in data, like:
    -Continued massive input of pollutants into everything we touch: effluent into water, gas emissions, burial of toxic manufacturing byproducts, etc
    -No/minimal control on global population, even while facing exponential population growth
    -No modern transportation infrastructure that is even moderately ‘future-proof’
    -Increasing (and often unchecked) extinction of useful species due to human activity (fishing, hunting, poaching, habitat destruction, etc.)

    So, in the context of the global warming/global cooling issue, my response is “Who cares?”. Whether or not the temperature of the Earth is going to go up or down by two degrees isn’t that relevant when compared to the above data. I think that people are asking the wrong questions. How about “What happens when the petroleum reserves start running out and we can’t pump any more?” or “What happens in 2050 when we’re estimated to hit 10 billion people?”

    Frankly, it is to our collective advantage to facilitate any activity that reduces or eliminates human impact on the biosphere, whether it be methods of highly efficient food production (not involving agriculture, farming, or fishing), new low-impact power sources (fusion, solar, wind, hydroelectric, etc.), future proof transportation (high speed rail, electric cars with autopilot), population control (incentives for limiting families to 2-3 kids), or pollution control. I don’t care if we do it because God sent an angel down from on high to tell us to, or some crackpot scientist gets a bug up his butt. We need to do it, and the sooner we do it the more likely we are to avoid something on the “Thomas-Malthus-collapse-of-human-society” scale. Anyone who wants to argue with that conclusion needs to be bludgeoned upside the head with facts until their ears ring. Other than that I have no strong feelings on the subject.”

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