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Archive February 2011

From ’Grand Design’ to ’On Being’ Ken Perrott Feb 28

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In recent months Stephen Hawking has been “fair game” for theologians, philosophers of religion and even some philosophers of science. Basically because of pre-publication publicity around his book (with co-author Leonard MlodinowThe Grand Design . I suggested this attention will soon switch to Peter Atkins when his new book On Being: A Scientist’s Exploration of the Great Questions of Existencebecomes available over the next few months (see On being philosophical about science). Like The Grand Design, Atkins’ book will be unpalatable to theologians and “philosophers of religion. It may also brush some philosophers up the wrong way.

To clear the decks, as it were, for the coming theological onslaught I am responding here to some of the criticisms made of The Grand Design, and Stephen Hawking. Actually, I am sure some of the future flack over Atkins’ book will concentrate on similar issues.

Overall, I think The Grand Design is a very readable book providing a brief overview of current ideas about the origin of the unvierse. It also gives a history of science and the philosophy of science. Don’t expect any details (it’s only 180 pages long) but it is certainly thought provoking. And, yeah, what an inappropriate title – presumably chosen for publicity reasons.

But what about the criticisms of the book? These are mainly around a few issues. Often really just around quotes from the book used for publicity purposes. Inevitably such criticisms lack context. Here are my comments on them:

An unnecessary being

Right from the start theologians and philosophers of religion were upset by the book’s statement of the obvious. That it’s not necessary to invoke gods to explain reality. Specifically Hawking and Mlodinow say:

“Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing in the manner described in Chapter 6. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going”

This passage was highlighted in pre-publication publicity and was roundly condemned by Archbishops, Rabbis, Imams, philosophers of religion and Christian apologist bloggers. Of course they were not going to worry about why the authors wrote this. They were not going to actually read the book. They were just going to be offended by the very idea that science doesn’t require their god.

Apart from vaguely noting that this was only a statement of the obvious, and probably therefore not of any interest, scientific and non-religious philosophers ignored the “offence” in their comments on the book. After all, the scientific attitude was expressed as far back as 1878 by George Romanes, a biologist and lapsed catholic. He wrote  ’There can no longer be any doubt that the existence of God is wholly unnecessary to explain any of the phenomena of the universe.’

Is philosophy dead?

Later, new offence was found in a provocative comment on philosophy. This was on the first page of the book and had not been given much pre-publication publicity suggesting that this time critics may have actually opened the book. (Although many seem to have only used google to search for the specific phrase. Rather like the judgmental old biddy who is offended by neighbours who are scantily dressed and produces the evidence by standing on a stool, at the highest window in her house, and waiting for her neighbours to prepare for bed).

The book’s first paragraph poses questions like:

“How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator?”

And the second paragraph starts:

“Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”

That first sentence upset even some philosophers of science. Personally, I think they were responding purely out of professional sensitivity. A pity. I would have liked to see a reasoned discussion of the relationship between philosophy and science.

The role and significance of philosophy in discovery and understanding reality has changed over the years. And the differentiation between empirical science and abstract philosophy was a necessary part of the modern scientific revolution. Not all philosophers seem prepared to accept this.

Alan Chalmers is a philosopher of science who gives a more objective assessment. In his book The Scientist’s Atom and the Philosopher’s Stone: How Science Succeeded and Philosophy Failed to Gain Knowledge of Atoms he says”

’Scientific knowledge has a validity that has no analogue in philosophy.’

And:

’Because of the stringent way in which scientific knowledge is required to pass experimental tests, it is the best kind of knowledge we have. As far as providing knowledge of the deep structure of the world is concerned, science has progressed in a dramatic way and proved itself capable of answering questions that were once supposed to be the province of philosophy. This does not render philosophy redundant. Many areas of philosophy, such as moral philosophy or philosophical logic, do not contest ground claimed by science in a way that some traditional metaphysics does.’

(I reviewed this book in From stones to atoms).

One has only to think of discoveries made about the nature of matter and the universe over the last few hundred years to recognise that philosophy no longer plays the role it may have before Galileo.

Philosophy not a uniform subject

I am not saying there is no place for philosophy. Obviously their is – not just the preeminent arbitrating place some of its proponents claim. Science and philosophy can co-operate fruitfully in the modern world. We are seeing this in fields like cognitive science and the study of consciousness. A respectful attitude between the disciplines will assist such fruitful cooperation.

But, we must recognise that philosophy today is not a uniform subject. There are different schools. That is why it is a little dishonest of the “philosophers of religion” and theologians to hide behind the whole subject. To take any criticism of their own brand of “philosophy” as a criticism of the whole subject. Obviously it isn’t.

There are philosophers of science who do take on board modern discoveries and adjust their philosophical ideas as a result. I prefer to call their area “scientific philosophy” – recognising that there are some “philosophers of science” who pedal ideas that are not really scientific. For example, creationists and intelligent design proponents tout the support they get from  a “philosopher of science” Milton Bradley, and a “sociologist of science” Stephen Fuller. They describe Stephen Meyer Director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture as a “philosopher of science.”

This does underline the fact that there are philosophers and “philosophers.” Different trends within philosophy. And not all “philosophers of science” are at all well disposed to science. Not all “philosophers of science” can be relied on the accurately portray scientific epistemology.

Backward looking philosophy

Personally I would develop this theme of Hawking and Mlodinow’s book further to describe these differences. To highlight that there are some philosophers who have moved with the scientific revolution and taken on board the lessons of modern scientific epistemology. But there are also philosophers who, for ideological reasons,  refuse to do this. Who are trapped in the past – even advocate a return to the past.

For example the conservative “philosopher of religion,” Edward Feser, who has recently been haranguing modern science (his review of The Grand Design was tilted “Mad Scientists”). In an article where he confuses science with “scientism” and badly caricatures it he accuses contemporary philosophy of “scientism.” His message is that we should “return to the philosophical wisdom of the ancients and medievals” and escape“the decadent philosophical systems of the moderns.” (see Blinded by Scientism).

So while the book may have been a little provocative in describing philosophy as dead, the comment certainly does apply to some philosophers. Particularly those religious philosophers who are busy attacking the book. Presumably their religious beliefs determine their philosophical outlook.

In fact, this seems to be the common theme from the more strident critics of the book. Their offense is sourced in their own religious beliefs.. And their “philosophical” concerns are really religious concerns. Issues  like their god as a “necessary being,” a “First Cause,” and their non-acceptance of a scientific philosophy.

So I now look forward to Peter Atkins new book On Being: A Scientist’s Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence

See also:
Hawking’s grand design — lessons for apologists?
An unnecessary being?
The Grand Design — neither God nor 42
On being philosophical about science
The Grand Accident

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A human response to Christchurch quake Ken Perrott Feb 24

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Rescue teams at the Christchurch CTV building site – Credit: MailOnline

New Zealanders are becoming aware of the magnitude of the  earthquake that hit Christchurch last Tuesday. I mean the human magnitude – not the geological one.

We had become so used to the aftershocks from the September 2010 earthquake that this one took a few hours to hit home. Now we have a nation-wide state of emergency and the death toll is rising. Its expected to be in the hundreds.

We are now seeing an Erebus effect: Every New Zealander will have a family member or friend who has died or been injured. In fact, because Christchurch was a centre for tourism and education of foreign students, the personal influence will be much wider than the country itself.

Human empathy

At SciBlogsNZ, Peter Griffin describes the losses suffered by the NZ News media in Christchurch (see Amid carnage media bears brunt of disaster). He also stresses that “the New Zealand media has actually responded impressively, with dignity and respect for the people of Christchurch.” I agree – their coverage has been very effective within New Zealand and  in supplying the overseas media.

This rapid and effective response by the media helped mobilise public sympathy and the huge efforts by the rest of the country to help in the search and rescue effort and support for survivors.

I have also been really impressed by how quickly other countries have responded with help. We had Australian search and rescue teams operating in Christchurch the day after the earthquake. More specialist teams are arriving from around the world. Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, USA, UK and probably other countries. Medical and police teams are also arriving.

The media coverage is bringing home the seriousness of this earthquake to the rest of New Zealand and the rest of the world. And there has been an immediate response.

I think this illustrates something about our species. We are basically social and empathetic. We can sympathise with the plight of others and feel their pain. We do respond automatically.

And our ability to empathise goes well beyond our direct kin. In a sense technological developments have brought this about. Today news of such human emergencies spreads very quickly. People on the other side of the world can be aware of such problems within hours. And the ready availability of news, images and TV produces a reality which enhances our empathy.

In a sense members of these search and rescue and other specialist teams are fortunate. In such emergencies they have skills which can be immediately put to use. Consequently these teams often operate in countries other than their own.

The rest of us often feel frustrated that we can’t help more. However, there is always the need for financial help – and that is particularly appropriate in this particular emergency. Just be aware that there are a few scams out there – support the reliable charities.

For example: The NZ Red Cross, or the Christchurch Mayoral Earthquake Appeal (via Give a Little).

See also:
How to donate to Christchurch quake appeals
Help support Christchurch earthquake victims
New Zealand Earthquake Appeal
Humanity. Much better than expected.

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Alan Turing documentary Ken Perrott Feb 22

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Here’s a teaser for a film,  The Genius of Alan Turing Film, currently under production.


It will be a documentary about the life and contributions of Alan Turing. The centenary of his birth is being marked next year (see Celebrating Alan Turing’s life and achievements). I hope it gets a wide circulation because Turing really doesn’t get the attention he deserves in the public mind.

Turing Documentary

The website for the documentary describes it this way:

Alan Turing is one of the most important scientists who ever lived. He set in motion the digital revolution and his World War II code breaking helped save two million lives. Yet few people alive today have ever heard his name or know his story. A documentary film is being developed to change this. 100 years after his birth, an international production team is set to take viewers on a journey to rediscover the man and the mystery.

Alan Turing was a flamboyant Technicolor genius yet instead of accolades and respect, he faced prosecution by the British government because he was gay. In 1954, Turing committed suicide at age 41 after being forced to undergo hormone therapy to ’fix’ his sexual orientation. He  left behind a lasting legacy and lingering questions about what else he might have accomplished if society had embraced his unique genius instead of rejecting it.

Research and development for this feature-length drama documentary is underway; with plans to reach many millions of viewers around the world online and through broadcast and theatrical release of the film.

The international production team includes Turing’s preeminent biographer Dr. Andrew Hodges.  Funding is currently being lined up for the film, with a goal for completion in mid-2012, to coincide with the centenary of Turing’s birth.

Turing Centers

A Commons Select Committee in the UK House of Parliament is recommending commemorating Alan Turing in the naming of a network of Technology and Innovation Centres. The proposal is to call them “Turing Centres.”

Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Alan Turing played a significant role in the creation of the modern computer. He was an accomplished mathematician who was highly influential in the development of computer science. It would be a fitting tribute to honour his contribution to the development of modern computing technology by naming the network of TICs ‘Turing Centres’.”

Thanks to Patrick Sammon, co-producer.

See also:
Celebrating Alan Turing’s life and achievements
The Genius of Alan Turing Blog
’We’re sorry: you deserved so much better’

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Taking the census seriously Ken Perrott Feb 21

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Census time is almost upon us. Tuesday, 8 March is census day.

Every 5 years we get counted. The information is used for various official purposes and is available to researchers. It is obviously important that the information is accurate as it will be used by government and local body planners as well as researchers.

I guess very few of us have problems answering the census questions honestly. But the religion question does seem to embarrass some. Perhaps that’s why people have an “object to answering “option.

In particular people with no religion often feel compelled to claim one falsely. It’s considered by some to be anti-social to answer “no religion”. I guess that’s why my family has recorded various religions over the years – C of E, Presbyterian, Salvation Army. But my parents never belonged to a church as far as I could see.

Tick the “no religion” box if applicable

Here’s an idea – what about being honest. If you have no religion, or have stopped belonging to the one you inherited from your family, tick the “no religion” box.

Why does this matter? Well a more accurate census of religious affiliation will encourage policy makers and planners to produce social policies more in line with the population. Maybe if the true figures for religion were available our government might be more willing to remove religious ceremony from parliament and state functions. Or not be so lenient with dishing out public money purely on the basis of religious claims.

This year is also census year in the UK and Australia. (see The Census Campaign – If you’re not religious for God’s sake say so and Mark No religion) and  campaigns are underway in both countries to encourage people to answer the religion question more honestly.

Nothing is underway here. perhaps we are just to laid back. But it is worth being honest.

*Credit to Peter Jackson for “Come to your Census” graphic.

See also:
Is New Zealand a Christian nation?
Religious belief and age
’Interfaith’ blindness

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The future of books — and Santa? Ken Perrott Feb 18

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There have been three common reactions to the news that theREDgroup Retail — which owns New Zealand’s Whitcoulls, Borders and Bennetts bookstores, has gone into voluntary administration

(This news may not be as bad as it sounds as unlike receivership, the aim of administration is not to sell the business but to try to return it to viability).

1: Shock – what does this mean for book retail in New Zealand? This is a crisis!

2: So what? Whitcoulls’ customer service was poor. They were only pretending to be a book shop. Bring on internet purchases and eBooks. We may even see growth of the independent book sellers.

3: What’s going to happen to Santa? He’s been such an annual fixture on the Whitcoulls’ Queen Street building in Auckland.

Whatever the financial and customer service problems this move does seem to signal significant changes. Inevitably there will be staff losses and closure of at least some shops. But the interesting thing will be how the company accommodates the huge changes in book retailing currently underway globally.

Commenters have already pointed out the Borders and Whitcoulls had not reacted well to the growth in internet book purchasing. And they have been slow to accommodate growth in eBook sales. So any restructuring of these retail outlets will have to take into account the reality that the internet and digital book revolution provides customers with  an alternative of rapid access to almost any book in print or in digital format.

As a recent purchaser of an eBook Reader (see The joys of eBook readers — the Sony PRS-650 Touch) I hope this restructuring will facilitate the lifting of regional restrictions on eBook purchasing.

It’s hard to know what the future of book retail in New Zealand is going to be like. In the last 25 years I have lived through similar upheavals in the music and photographic industries. I guess I have also lived through a similar transformation to digital in financial transactions.

I used to enjoy browsing through records and CDs in music shops. Just as I enjoy browsing through the merchandise in bookshops.

That might change in future. But I will still have the pleasure of browsing through the bottles in a wine shop.

Can’t seen them making that digital.

See also:

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On being philosophical about science Ken Perrott Feb 16

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Professor Peter Atkins

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow stirred things up recently with the publication of their book “The Grand Design.” Apparently some of the theologically inclined were offended by the book title and the publicity where Hawking was quoted as saying ’It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.’ He also upset some philosophers with his statement in the book “Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” (see The Grand Design — neither God nor 42 and An unnecessary being?).

Now it looks like Professor Peter Atkins will soon be the centre of a similar controversy. His new book On Being: A Scientist’s Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence in the next few months (17 March 2011 in the UK and May 1 in the USA).

The publishers say:

“In this short book Peter Atkins considers the universal questions to which religions have claimed answers. With economy, wit, and elegance, unswerving before awkward realities, Atkins presents what science has to say. While acknowledging the comfort some find in belief, he declares his own faith in science’s capacity to reveal the deepest truths.”

And

“Scientist Atkins looks at the deepest questions of philosophy and religion, from a scientific viewpoint. Each chapter explores a grand theme, such as Origins or Death, to show what science has revealed about the topic. Written with wit, irony, elegance and a rigorous exposition of science, with Atkins sets against mythologies old and new. For anyone interested in the deep questions of nature.”


Peter Atkins is a chemist – famous for his textbooks (eg., “Chemical Principles
andPhysical Chemistry“). But he also has also written some very good popular science books (for example Galileo’s Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science and Four Laws That Drive the Universe“). He is a very clear writer and a good debater. He is also uncompromising in his defense of science.

As this year is the International year of Chemistry its probably fitting that Atkins should be taking up this fight now.

During March he will be giving a lecture The limits of science at the Royal Institute of Great Britain. In this he will examine “several of the great questions of existence to see whether science is confronted by a brick wall, and if not, then what it reveals.”

It sounds like he will be quite provocative. He presents some of these ideas in a recent Guardian Science Weekly podcast (see Science Weekly podcast: The birds and the bees (X-rated version).

So I guess in a few months the theologians and philosophers will have forgotten about Stephen Hawking. The will instead be accusing Peter Atkins of “scientism.”

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Political stupidity Ken Perrott Feb 14

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The Onion is a satirical news source. It’s humour. Their “reports” can be very realistic, they have a kernel of truth,  so I won’t be the only one who is sometimes taken in by one of their news reports.

This one fooled me for a while – Republicans Vote To Repeal Obama-Backed Bill That Would Destroy Asteroid Headed For Earth. After all, look at the behaviour of some US Republican politicians, and especially the Tea Party, on the climate change issue. Or health reform.

‘WASHINGTON–In a strong rebuke of President Obama and his domestic agenda, all 242 House Republicans voted Wednesday to repeal the Asteroid Destruction and American Preservation Act, which was signed into law last year to destroy the immense asteroid currently hurtling toward Earth.’

‘The $440 billion legislation, which would send a dozen high-thrust plasma impactor probes to shatter the massive asteroid before it strikes the planet, would affect more than 300 million Americans and is strongly opposed by the GOP.’

‘”The voters sent us to Washington to stand up for individual liberty, not big government,” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said at a press conference. “Obama’s plan would take away citizens’ fundamental freedoms, forcing each of us into hastily built concrete bunkers and empowering the federal government to ration our access to food, water, and potassium iodide tablets while underground.”‘

‘”We believe that the decisions of how to deal with the massive asteroid are best left to the individual,” King added.’

‘Repealing the act, which opponents have branded ‘Obamastroid,’ has been the cornerstone of the GOP agenda since the law’s passage last August. Throughout the 2010 elections, Republican candidates claimed that the Democrats’ plan to smash the space rock and shield citizens from its fragments was “a classic example of the federal government needlessly interfering in the lives of everyday Americans.”‘

And:

‘According to political pundits, the showdown over whether to let the asteroid blast a 150-mile-wide, 20-mile-deep crater in the Earth’s crust represents a potential turning point for the nation, and could completely reshape the American political landscape for many centuries to come.’

‘”If efforts to destroy the asteroid are successfully overturned, then there will be major ramifications for both Obama and his Republican opposition, as well as the American populace at large,” political scientist Alan Abramowitz said on Face The Nation Sunday. “This could have a huge impact come 2012.”‘

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The secular Egyptian protest a good start for a successful revolution Ken Perrott Feb 12

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The ongoing Egyptian revolution has captured the attention and sympathy of people around the world. This is helped by the worldwide availability of internet access and social messaging devices. Even when the Mubarak regime cut off the internet, demonstrators were still able to get their message out. A warning to tyrants everywhere.

Twitter has been full of messages of support. And it is amazing what can be condensed into 140 characters. I like the simple messages which used the image of software installation on a computer to make a political point. For example this for d@dn2k which makes the point that Mubarak’s downfall is just the start of the beginning.

Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.dn2k (@dn2k)
12/02/11 9:18 AM
RT @25Egypt: ّ Uninstalling dictator COMPLETE 100% ██████████████████ Installing now: egypt 2.0: █░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ #jan25 #Feb11

Egyptians certainly do face some huge political tasks with many opportunities and many pitfalls. The army’s support is essential for any new regime – and there will be an ongoing struggle by all sides to exert influence here. And some commentators have been preoccupied with the possibility of extreme Islamic groups influencing the revolution.

I have been heartened by the discipline and peaceful nature of the protests. Most violence seems to have been instigated by the security forces and  stooges of Mubarak’s regime. The occupation of Tahrir Square  over such a long period reveals a welcome degree of organisation. Protesters have organised to maintain their control and to provide services for the occupiers.

I hope this demonstrates that the various political forces within the protest have been negotiating among themselves to build a basis for unity. Also that they have been negotiating with the army and elements of the old regime to build some sort of trust and agreement on transition.

The protest itself has had a strong secular character. There has not been a preoccupation with religious agendas. At the same time the protests have not been sectarian. This was demonstrated by the cooperation of majority Muslims with minority Christians. Even to the extent of providing protection for each others prayers and services. Even cooperating together with some of these.

The unity and secular nature of the protest, and the revolution so far, are positive indications for the near future.

But to get back to Twitter. there has been some comment that the successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt will encourage people in other countries to demand their human rights. Already we have seen big protests in Jordan and Yemen.

Daisy McDonald used another computer graphic to suggest world wide possibilities.

daisy_mcdonald (@daisy_mcdonald)
12/02/11 12:36 PM
@eddieizzard MT @jmgoig Please wait while uninstalling rest of dictators of the world: █░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ #egypt #jan25 <–fingers crossed!

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Shonky climate-change denial ’science’ Ken Perrott Feb 09

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I have often accused the local climate change denial group of shonky science in their treatment of data for their report Are we feeling warmer yet? (see for example ). There is the clear issue of their presenting temperature data which had not been corrected for changes in station location, etc. (And of course their unwarranted accusation that our climate scientists were guilty of fraud in using the necessary adjustments). And some of the data they used did not appear to correspond to that on the NIWA database.

Richard Treadgold (the only publicly acknowledged author of the report) consistently refused to clarify any issue I raised with him on the data. He also refused to make his data or methods available. (Although he assured me that his report was backed by his own “science team which wished to remain anonymous”). Read the emails for a summary of his attempts to avoid revealing his data and methods.

However, Treadgold seems to have inadvertently let some of his data slip by providing  a link to a spreadsheet (Summary AWFWY RTreadgold.xls which is in a directory for his blog). This provides an opportunity to check in detail the level of scientific competence in this group.

Handling missing data

The spreadsheet is basically a list of temperature anomalies for the 7 stations used in the NIWA material they were critiquing. (The anomalies were presumably calculated by subtracting the average temperature for the period 1971-2000 from the actual temperate for each year. However, we don’t know that for sure unless Treadgold releases all his data and methods). Here is a screen shot for part of the spreadsheet. A notable feature is the large amount of missing data  – especially in early times. Even in later years there are data gaps.

When is an average not an average?

Notice how Treadgold has calculated the average anomaly value? Simply by taking the average of the anomalies  all 7 stations! Even when some data is missing. Even when he has values for only 1 station!

This completely invalidates Treadgold’s analysis.

How did NIWA handle the problem of missing values? In their original presentation of this data (the one attacked by Treadgold in his report) they did not make this mistake. Instead they used a “7-station composite” – effectively a reconstruction based on estimating missing data. In their most recent presentation (see Painted into a corner?) they removed the early data (where a lot of values are missing)  because it’s reliability was questionable. They also did not have the problem of missing data in more recent times which Treadgold had.

So how might this influence the conclusions drawn by Treadgold’s report – irrespective of his big (intentional) error in refusing to adjust data for site changes?

The first graph below is the one Treadgold obtained and included in his report.

He concluded “The unadjusted trend is level–statistically insignificant at 0.06°C per century since 1850.”

But that conclusion is shonky. It includes data which are not true average anomalies.

One way of overcoming the problem is to remove the “average” anomaly for all years where there is missing data. I have done this in the figure below.

So, without the faulty data (“averages” calculated incorrectly) we get an unadjusted trend of 0.23 °C per century (0.00 – 0.56 °C per century at the 95% confidence level).

Even when Treadgold refuses to apply the necessary adjustments he can get his required conclusion only by including data which were not calculated correctly. Data he should have removed.

In his report Treadgold claimed that NZ scientists ’created a warming effect where none existed.’ That ’the shocking truth is that the oldest readings were cranked way down and later readings artificially lifted to give a false impression of warming.’ And ’we have discovered that the warming in New Zealand over the past 156 years was indeed man-made, but it had nothing to do with emission of CO2 — it was created by man-made adjustments of the temperature. It’s a disgrace.”

Serious charges – but completely unwarranted. And he supported them with shonky science.

With data comes responsibility

Society has quite reasonably been demanding more openness from science – especially in important areas like climate science. Consequently much of the data scientists use has been freely available for critics to use and check. More will become available in the future.

But this example shows a problem with publicly available data. Political motivated people and organisations can make use of it to justify their own predetermined conclusions. By intentionally or unintentionally (through lack of expertise) distorting the data.

The science community has ways of eliminating, or at least reducing data distortion and subjective conclusions. This is by peer review. Not just the formal publication review but the informal checking of calculations, methods and conclusions, by colleagues.

When scientific data and conclusions are publicly discussed, in the way that NIWA’s data has been, there is surely a moral responsibility on everyo0ne involved to make their data, calculations and methods available for critique. I discussed this in my post Freedom of information an d responsibility.

The fact that Richard Treadgold has refused to do this (and only made this spreadsheet available by accident) fails that moral test.

To borrow a sentence from his infamous report – It’s a disgrace.

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Reinterpretation ’research’ on climate change Ken Perrott Feb 09

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The hyper-activity* of some climate change sceptics/contrarians/deniers reminds me of the approach common with creationists on the internet.  Constant cherry picking, quote mining, article linking, etc. All with the aim of discrediting scientific ideas and conclusions.

Some time ago in Intelligent design and scientific method I described how one of the Discovery Institute (Wedge) fellows, Joe Campana, revealed that ’all ID scholars are obligatory participants in reinterpretation research, . . . . much of their day in, day out work is in reinterpretation research.’ He defined reinterpretation research as interpreting past and current published science according to the ’design paradigm’ — to provide alternative supernatural explanations).

Seems to me this is exactly what these hyperactive individuals are doing in their climate change postings and quotes. Cherry picking, quote mining aqnd reinterpreting research according to their “global cooling” and “science conspiracy” paradigms.

Denial Depot posted this amusing graphic depicting this hyperactivity in a recent post (Why Leprechauns Can’t Explain The Recent Warming). It portrays the straw clutching arguments commonly used to explain, or deny, global warming.

The graphic is a caricature of a genuine graphic presented in the last  IPCC Report. (Figure 2.20 — AR4 WGI Chapter 2: Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing). This shows he estimated influences of several human caused effect and solar radiation since 1750. Notice the error bars. They are much bigger in some cases than others. Notice the assessment of scientific understanding for these influences. We have a high understanding for some of them and a low understanding for others.

I discussed this and similar graphics in my post Climate change is complex.

* For a local example of this hyperactivity have a look at the blog Climate Conversation Group. It basically involves about 3 or 4 individuals exchanging links from other blogs in the denier echo chambers and weather reports of snow storms. In between puerile sarcasm aimed at denying the credibility of scientists and honest science.

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