Archive | Politicizing Science

IPCC’s Pachauri Should Shut His Mouth

The National Journal‘s Neil Munro has an interview with climatologist Judith Curry (featured in this, this, and this prior post).  The interview is a must read for those interested in the ClimateGate story and the broader questions about the intersection of science and politics.  There’s lots of good stuff in the interview — so you should read it — but I thought I’d just highlight one unrepresentative snippet:

NJ: What’s the role for the IPCC?

Curry: I staunchly support the IPCC, but when [chairman] Rajendra Pachauri comes out making all these really strong policy statements, such as the developed world has to cut back its energy use… and stop putting ice cubes in their water, and other crazy stuff… I don’t like that. These guys should pick people who don’t want to be advocates and will shut their mouths about advocating for policies. Otherwise, we don’t look credible.

Curry is referring to a recent interview in which Pachauri challenged the “unsustainable” lifestyles of people in the developed world and even suggested limiting ice water.  He didn’t say anything about the need of public officials to set an example — and with his air travel habits, it’s no wonder. [...]

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Hulme on ClimateGate and the Politicization of Science

Climatologist Mike Hulme, who worked at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, gets the big picture in a WSJ Europe op-ed.  Some excerpts:

One thing the episode has made clear is that it has become difficult to disentangle political arguments about climate policies from scientific arguments about the evidence for man-made climate change and the confidence placed in predictions of future change. The quality of both political debate and scientific practice suffers as a consequence. . . .

If we build the foundations of our climate-change policies so confidently and so single-mindedly on scientific claims about what the future holds and what therefore “has to be done,” then science will inevitably become the field on which political battles are waged. The mantra becomes: Get the science right, reduce the scientific uncertainties, compel everyone to believe it. . . and we will have won. Not only is this an unrealistic view about how policy gets made, it also places much too great a burden on science, certainly on climate science with all of its struggles with complexity, contingency and uncertainty. . . .

The problem then with getting our relationship with science wrong is simple: We expect too much certainty, and hence clarity, about what should be done. Consequently, we fail to engage in honest and robust argument about our competing political visions and ethical values.

Science never writes closed textbooks. It does not offer us a holy scripture, infallible and complete. This is especially the case with the science of climate, a complex system of enormous scale, at every turn influenced by human contingencies. Yes, science has clearly revealed that humans are influencing global climate and will continue to do so, but we don’t know the full scale of the risks involved, nor how rapidly they will

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ClimateGate Updates

Last night, the University of East Anglia announced that Phil Jones, a central figure in the e-mails and other documents disclosed last month, would temporarily step aside as head of the Climate Research Unit pending an independent review of the matter.  Penn State University has also announced an investigation regarding the conduct of Michael Mann, a PSU climate scientist who also features prominently in the disclosed correspondence.  More from the BBC and NYT.

On the commentary front, Reason‘s Ron Bailey thinks the affair is a “hot mess.”

Researchers at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia and their colleagues around the globe may have fiddled with historical climate data and possibly the peer review process to ensure that publicized temperature trends fit the narrative of man-made global warming—then they emailed each other about it. Now those emails and other documents have been splashed all over the Web. Revelations contained in the leaked emails are roiling the scientific community and the researchers may be in pretty serious trouble. But the real tragedy of the Climategate scandal is that a lack of confidence in climate data will seriously impair mankind’s ability to assess and react properly to a potentially huge problem.

I think his analysis is spot on, and I recommend reading the whole thing.

In other commentary, Megan McArdle has “become considerably more concerned” as she’s dug deeper into what the disclosed documents reveal, and Glenn Reynolds thinks it’s worth reminding ourselves how scientific inquiry is supposed to proceed.  Bret Stephens also recommends that we “follow the money” in order to understand some climate researchers’ motivations.  After all, if it’s relevant that a given climate “skeptic” received money from an energy company, shouldn’t we care that a climate researcher’s grants increased six-fold as global [...]

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MIT’s Lindzen on “ClimateGate”

MIT’s Richard Lindzen is one of the world’s leading climate scientists.  He is also a climate “skeptic,” rejecting claims that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are likely to create a climate catastrophe.  Above all others, he is the climate skeptic environmental activists most fear, as he has unimpeachable credentials.  As a prominent climate scientist who believes global warming could cause an environmental catastrophe confided to me, Dr. Lindzen’s views are not easily dismissed, even if his views are somewhat outside the “mainstream” of climate science.  (Of course, we may have to reconsider what constitutes “mainstream” climate science after the leak of e-mails and other documents from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.)

Today, Dr. Lindzen has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on “ClimateGate” and the state of climate science.  According to Dr. Lindzen, there is “a scandal that is, in my opinion, considerably greater than that implied in the hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit (though perhaps not as bad as their destruction of raw data): namely the suggestion that the very existence of warming or of the greenhouse effect is tantamount to catastrophe.”  The problem is that the entire climate change policy debate proceeds as if the primary — if not only — question to be answered is whether human activity is having an effect on global temperatures.  This quesiton is important, but it hardly resolves the relevant policy questions.  Even if human activity is having significant effects on the cliamte system, we must determine whether those effects are likely to be negative, whether the causes or their effects can be prevented, as well as whether it is better to try and prevent such changes or adapt to their likely effects.  We must also determine whether human welfare is at greater risk from climate [...]

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Noah Sachs Responds to Anderson re Copenhagen and Collective Action

Noah Sachs, over at PrafsBlawg, is kind enough to respond to my post on the Copenhagen meetings and collective action problems.  It is worth reading the whole thing, but here is a chunk of it.  (If you comment, please remember that Professor Sachs is my guest here, so be courteous.  And my thanks to him for weighing in.)

My question – directed to international law experts in these kinds of negotiations – is how this round of talks is supposed to get past the usual collective action problems.  It takes climate change by assumption, so the issue here is not the leaked memos, Climategate, etc., but a question not of climate science but instead of international law, institutions, negotiations, and collective action.  Professor Sachs’ response in part:

Anderson is too pessimistic.  After all, over 180 countries have already agreed to two prior climate treaties (The UN Framework Convention in 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997), as well detailed rules for implementation (Marrakech Accords in 2001), all of which are currently being implemented.  The UN Framework Convention remains the organizing document for continued international efforts to address climate change, and the majority of industrialized parties to Kyoto are expected to comply with their Kyoto commitments by the end of the first commitment period, in 2012 (with some notable exceptions, such as Canada).  The EU-15 are on track to exceedtheir Kyoto commitments by 2012.   Reports of the death of Kyoto are greatly exaggerated.

So why would any country agree to, let alone comply with, obligations that impose near-term national costs but bring longer-term benefits to the globe as a whole?  Let me count the ways:

  • Self-interest in avoiding drought, sea-level rise, and hundred-degree summers
  • A recognition that this particular prisoners dilemma calls for global cooperation rather than defection, coupled
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“‘We’re the Experts, Trust Us,’ Has Clearly Gone by the Wayside”

The NYT has a follow-up story on the continuing controversy triggered by the leak of e-mails and internal documents from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.  The story provides a quick summary of the central issues in the controversy.

The most serious criticisms leveled at the authors of the e-mail messages revolve around three issues.

One is whether the correspondence reveals efforts by scientists to shield raw data, gleaned from tree rings and other indirect indicators of climate conditions, preventing it from being examined by independent researchers. Among those who say it does is Stephen McIntyre, a retired Canadian mining consultant who has a popular skeptics’ blog, A second issue is whether disclosed documents, said to be from the stolen cache, prove that the data underlying climate scientists’ conclusions about warming are murkier than the scientists have said. The documents include files of raw computer code and a computer programmer’s years-long log documenting his frustrations over data gathered from countries in the Northern Hemisphere.

Finally, questions have been raised about whether the e-mail messages indicated that climate scientists tried to prevent the publication of papers written by climate skeptics, which were described by the scientists in the e-mail messages as “garbage” and “fraud.”

The story also notes that one consequence of the controversy could be increased transparency of data and methods in policy-relevant scientific research.

“This whole concept of, ‘We’re the experts, trust us,’ has clearly gone by the wayside with these e-mails,” said Judith Curry, a climate scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology.

She and other scientists are seeking more transparency in the way climate data is handled and in the methods used to analyze it. And they argue that scientists should re-evaluate the selection procedures used by some scientific journals and the Intergovernmental

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More Responses to the CRU E-mail Leaks

Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, responds to the leak of e-mails and other documents from the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit with a statement (posted on Dot Earth).  He writes in part:

The unfortunate incident that has taken place through illegal hacking of the private communications of individual scientists only highlights the importance of I.P.C.C. procedures and practices and the thoroughness by which the Panel carries out its assessment. This thoroughness and the duration of the process followed in every assessment ensure the elimination of any possibility of omissions or distortions, intentional or accidental.

The statement does not really address the contents of the revealed documents nor adequately respond to the resulting charges.  Like those  from the CRU, this response will do little if anything to quiet the controversy.  Megan McArdle is similarly underwhelmed by Pachauri’s defense in an interview.

Meanwhile, Dr. Judith Curry has an open letter to climate researchers which, like her prior posting, is far more responsive and productive.  She writes in part:

If climate science is to uphold core research values and be credible to public, we need to respond to any critique of data or methodology that emerges from analysis by other scientists. Ignoring skeptics coming from outside the field is inappropriate; Einstein did not start his research career at Princeton, but rather at a post office. I’m not implying that climate researchers need to keep defending against the same arguments over and over again. Scientists claim that they would never get any research done if they had to continuously respond to skeptics. The counter to that argument is to make all of your data, metadata, and code openly available. Doing this will minimize the time spent responding to skeptics; try it! If

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More Monbiot on CRU E-mail Leak

George Monbiot has a follow-up to yesterday’s column on the lead of e-mails and other documents from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.  It begins:

I have seldom felt so alone. Confronted with crisis, most of the environmentalists I know have gone into denial. The emails hacked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, they say, are a storm in a tea cup, no big deal, exaggerated out of all recognition. It is true that climate change deniers have made wild claims which the material can’t possibly support (the end of global warming, the death of climate science). But it is also true that the emails are very damaging.

The response of the greens and most of the scientists I know is profoundly ironic, as we spend so much of our time confronting other people’s denial. Pretending that this isn’t a real crisis isn’t going to make it go away. Nor is an attempt to justify the emails with technicalities. We’ll be able to get past this only by grasping reality, apologising where appropriate and demonstrating that it cannot happen again.

Meanwhile, Iain Murray analyses what some of the documents reveal, and Timothy Carney ponders whether climate science has become too big to fail.  More from Declan McCullagh, Ivan Kenneally, and Megan McArdle.

UPDATE: The revelations, discoveries, and dissembling continues, as shown in posts from Roger Pielke Sr. here and here, and Marc Sheppard here.  And there’s now new evidence of man-made global warming in New Zealand.

FURTHER UPDATE: Roger Pielke Jr. on the effort by some climate scientists to “redefine what the peer reviewed literature is.” He concludes:

The sustainability of climate science depends upon our ability to distinguish the health of the scientific enterprise

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“Climategate” and the Social Validation of Knowledge

Recent evidence that prominent climate scientists have tried to intimidate academic journals into not publishing papers submitted by “climate change” skeptics have caused a major brouhaha in the ongoing political battle over global warming. At least some of the scientists in question certainly seem to have put ideology above the search for truth. The effort to keep skeptical articles out of academic journals also raises the issue of whether the academic “consensus” supporting global warming theory is genuine, or a product of systematic exclusion of dissenting voices.

I lack relevant scientific expertise on global warming, so I don’t have anything useful to say about the scientific issues involved. The question I want to address is what impact these revelations should have on our views of the global warming issue. If, unlike me, you have enough expertise in climate science to assess the scientific literature for yourself, I don’t think “Climategate” should have any impact on your views at all. You can read the mainstream literature, as well as the skeptics’ writings (which certainly exist in print, even if the Climategate culprits have kept some of them out of peer-reviewed journals) and make an informed decision for yourself.

Most of us, however, lack expertise on climate issues. And our knowledge of complex issues we don’t have personal expertise on is largely based on social validation. For example, I think that Einsteinian physics is generally more correct than Newtonian physics, even though I know very little about either. Why? Because that’s the overwhelming consensus of professional physicists, and I have no reason to believe that their conclusions should be discounted as biased or otherwise driven by considerations other than truth-seeking. My views of climate science were (and are) based on similar considerations. I thought that global warming was probably a genuine [...]

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Monbiot: Leaked CRU Docs a “Major Blow”

Noted environmental writer George Monbiot, author of Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, calls the leaked documents from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit a “major blow.” On his website and in The Guardian, he writes:

The emails extracted by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging(1). I am now convinced that they are genuine, and I’m dismayed and deeply shaken by them.Yes, the messages were obtained illegally. Yes, all of us say things in emails that would be excruciating if made public. Yes, some of the comments have been taken out of context. But there are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad. There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released(2,3), and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request(4).

Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics(5,6), or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(7). I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.

The hack or unauthorized disclosure of these documents may have been illegal (unless protected by the UK’s whistleblower law).  Yet the documents themselves also provide evidence of illegal activity by several climate researchers.

Monbiot is quick to note that the leaked documents do not disprove global warming nor discredit the wealth of evidence that human activity contributes to cliamte change.  They do, however, suggest that some specific claims and data sets will need to be [...]

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NYT Policy on Illegally Acquired Documents

The NYT‘s environmental blog, Dot Earth, covered the disclosure of e-mails and other files from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, noted that the files are available on various other website, but did not reproduce any files on its site.  As Andrew Revkin explained in the post:

The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.

Am I wrong in thinking that this is a change in policy for the NYT?  Hasn’t the Grey Lady published illegally obtained documents on national security and other matters in the past?

As I posted earler this morning, there are reasons to believe these documents were released by an internal whistleblower, rather than an external hacker.  If so, would the same considerations apply?  My initial thought is that arguments against publishing hacked documents might not apply to those disclosed by a whistleblower.  In any event, it seems these documents contain substantial material of legitimate public interest, and this interest is not diminished by the way in which the documents were obtained.  I readily concede that if the documents were stolen, as it appears, the individual responsible should be prosecuted, but this is a separate question from whether to disseminate the contents of the documents themselves. [...]

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WaPo on Climate E-mails (and More)

The Washington Post covers the disclosure of e-mails from the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit — e-mails that appear to have been subject to an FOI request and that were either hacked by an outsider or stolen and released by an insider.

In one e-mail, the center’s director, Phil Jones, writes Pennsylvania State University’s Michael E. Mann and questions whether the work of academics that question the link between human activities and global warming deserve to make it into the prestigious IPCC report, which represents the global consensus view on climate science.

“I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report,” Jones writes. “Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

In another, Jones and Mann discuss how they can pressure an academic journal not to accept the work of climate skeptics with whom they disagree. “Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal,” Mann writes. . . .

Other e-mails detail an innovative approach to FOI requests for data: “When In Doubt, Delete.” More from Charles Martin — and Bishop Hill suggests there could be still more to come.

My prior posts in the CRU e-mail controversy are here and here.

UPDATE: At this point there is signfiicant speculation that the e-mails (and other files) were released by an inside whistleblower, not hacked by an outsider.  If so, it may have been due to the CRU’s denial of legitimate FOI requests. More here. [...]

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NYT on Hacked Climate E-Mails

The New York Times reports on the hack and disclosure of e-mails from the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit.

The e-mails, 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. . . .

In several e-mail exchanges, Kevin Trenberth, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and other scientists discussed whether a string of recent years of relatively stable temperatures undermined scientific models that predict long-term warming.

“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,” Dr. Trenberth wrote.

Other scientists went on to rebut him, saying that the fluctuations were not inconsistent with a continuing warming trend.

Dr. Trenberth said Friday that he was appalled at the release of the e-mails, which he said were private discussions. . . . .

At first, said Dr. Michaels, the climatologist who has faulted some of the science undergirding the global warming consensus, his instinct was to ignore the correspondence as “just the way scientists talk.”

But on Friday, he said, after reading more deeply, he felt that some exchanges reflected a concerted effort to block the release of data for independent review.

Bishop Hill summarizes lots of the e-mail contents here. [...]

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Climate Scientists, Unfiltered

Someone hacked into the computers at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit, downloaded various files and e-mails posted on the web.  Now the climate blogosphere is all atwitter over whether the resulting disclosures are a scandal or much ado about nothing.  Excerpts and reactions from Roger Pielke Jr., Real Climate, Climate Audit, Watts Up With That, James Delingpole, and Island of Doubt. [...]

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