Global Warping

By Jim McVeagh 25/11/2009 34


Now that our illustrious government has finally managed to pass, at great cost to itself and the Maori party, a badly designed Emissions Trading Scheme – that absolutely everyone else hates –  it is time to wonder why anyone bothered. This expensive waste of political capital will achieve precisely nothing for our environment nor prevent Global warming (should it actually exist). It is unlikely to serve any useful purpose at the Copenhagen talks, which are already likely to be derailed by the splendid e-mail debacle that is gradually gathering momentum.

That particular scandal should have provided a good excuse to step away from an ETS, but that opportunity is also now lost.

It may be that Dr Smith simply does not realise the import of those emails, choosing to soothe himself with the bland murmurings of the Global Warmongers at NIWA. Even the right-wing blogs, rightly scandalized by the fudging of facts and the selective nature of data provided, have not appreciated the true enormity of this scandal.

Climate science is not amenable to empirical proof. When Climate scientists say the ” science is settled”, what they mean is “the majority of climate scientists think this is true” . There is nothing wrong with this, per se. Many scientific disciplines run this way. This system works really well for natural sciences that are not amenable to experimentation. Unfortunately, this way of scientific theorising requires quite a lot of integrity from its scientists. It requires full access to all facts, so that these observed facts can be checked against the theory. What these e-mails tell us is that prominent figures have been selecting facts that accord with their theory and suppressing others that do not. This means that the current consensus of climate science has been developed on a highly selected set of data. It means that the consensus is not worth the paper it is written on.

Note that in a scientific discipline where experimentation is possible, over-selection and suppression of data will be quickly picked up by others repeating the experiment. In climate science it simply leads everyone to false conclusions.

If I was a climatologist, I would be very angry at this point, because it means the past decade of my work would now have to be reinterpreted against a different set of data. The conclusions that I have drawn from my research would all have to be re-examined. Depending on the extent of data massaging and the extent of  suppression of contrary data, climate science may have been set back for years.

And yet the rather odd Dr. Smith is happy to ram through a bill that is likely to be nothing more than an exercise in economic vandalism…

Go figure.

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34 Responses to “Global Warping”

  • Jim, I think you are giving far too much weight to the CRU email hack. Here’s a few reasons why:

    1: The emails were stolen. Those released amount to under 2% (pers comm) of the total stolen, and have clearly been selected to support the storylines being run by the “right wing blogs” you mention. The editorial selection has been made by a bunch of crooks.

    2: Many of the mails being talked about have perfectly innocent explanations (see RealClimate). They are the private conversations of a bunch of working scientists, not the science itself. We see that they can be rude about each other and their rivals — that only proves that scientists are human. However, the climate sceptic network is making all sorts of outrageous claims about what they say. Sadly you seem to have bought those interpretations, rather than the somewhat more mundane truth.

    3: Our body of scientific knowledge is found in the peer-reviewed literature, not in a careful selection of emails. Not one peer-reviewed paper is called into question by these emails.

    4: Timing is everything. These emails were “released” a couple of weeks before the Copenhagen conference, and while a major emissions reduction bill is before the US legislature. They were immediately trumpeted from the rooftops by the usual suspects – those campaigning against action on climate change. Coincidence, or part of a campaign?

    If I was a climatologist, I would be very angry at this point, not because I have to go back and redo any work, but because those seeking to delay or prevent action on climate change are resorting to vicious personal attacks against my colleagues. After all, if you can only make a case by stealing and lying, what sort of case have you got?

    Regards

    Gareth

  • “Global Warmongers at NIWA. “

    What can you possibly mean by that?

    Sounds to me like an attack on the integrity of fellow NZ scientists – without any data presented in support!

  • Gareth:
    Those released amount to under 2% (pers comm) of the total stolen

    No. You can access all the emails. The ones being discussed in blogs and the media amount to about 2%.

    Many of the mails being talked about have perfectly innocent explanations

    I’m sure you are right. However, many of the e-mails have meanings that cannot be interpreted in any way except that they reveal severe selection bias. Even Monbiot thinks that they show more politics than science.

    Our body of scientific knowledge is found in the peer-reviewed literature

    Apparently not, according to the emails. There appears to have been a concerted effort made to keep certain articles out of the peer reviewed literature. The smothering of dissenting views makes for a flawed, truncated science that is all but worthless.

    Timing is everything

    Indeed. CRU timed plenty of scary statistics to be brought forth just before the Copenhagen conference – now all suspect. The timing works both ways.

  • Ken: It is no secret that the guys at NIWA are very definite supporters of Anthropogenic Global Warming. I am merely flippantly pointing out that Nick Smith is asking someone who will give him the advice he is looking for to justify the ETS in the face of the e-mail revelations.

    However, if you are looking for actual data that may indicate that the NIWA guys are less than honest with their data presentation then look no further than here.

  • Jim,

    You are wrong about the 2%. My information is from the “horse’s mouth”, as it were. There is a huge amount of context missing.

    Selection bias! In the cherry-picking of stuff to feed into right wing attack lines, yes.

    The “concerted effort” was to deal with crap – papers that should never have got through peer review. Note that the perversion of peer review was actually being conducted by sceptics – notably Chris de Freitas, who as an editor at Climate Research was responsible for passing several papers from his sceptic mates for publication without proper peer review. Six editors resigned in protest. Full story here from one of the editors who resigned.

    CRU “timed” no scary statistics for release, and none of their normal products are now suspect.

    I must say I’m astonished that someone who (presumably) relies on evidence-based should be so partial when it comes to work in another field. Your choice. Your loss.

    Regards

    Gareth

  • Jim, I am surmised at you. It is a serious charge to accuse respected scientists of a local research institute of being “very definite supporters of Anthropogenic Global Warming” and “the NIWA guys are less than honest with their data presentation” As if we were dealing with support for a football team or a religion.You should be aware that that this is a challenge to their professional integrity and some people could be willing to take legal action.

    Surely you should understand that scientists don’t decide to “support” a position and then look to “provf it.” They will adopt a position after considering the evidence. and going through the required scientific procedures. Now, we can question the evidence and anlayses – but to question the integrity of the people doing the (and the extensive checking and reviewing procedure adopted for that science) science is a serious matter.

    Have a look at Gqareth’s post on this latest distortion by the local climate change deniers. I know this has been picked up and spread by Wishart (hardly a person to trust on this matter) – but why accept it uncritically. Look at the actual material Gareth and NIWA present. And realise that the guy who wrote the “report” you refer to is actually being quite equivocal about it now.

    I think these distortions, while common, are a very serious matter. They involve slandering of colleagues’ integrity. So I don’t believe you should leave your reporting of it this way.

    I think you should have a look at the material and then honestly assess where the deceptions are.

    Personally, I feel you should apologise to our NIWA colleagues for uncritically rushing in with this sort of labelling and produce a post outlining the truth of this particular scandal.

  • SAorry a slip – maybe even a freudian on.

    I am suprised – of course. But I can’t help surmising!

  • Try again.
    I am surprised – not surmised. But of course one can’t help surmising. I just didn’t mean to say that.

  • Ken: Relax. I don’t believe for one minutes that the guys at NIWA actually give a rip about what I think of them. And you are misquoting me. I did not say that “the NIWA guys are less than honest with their data presentation”, I said “if you are looking for actual data that may indicate that the NIWA guys are less than honest with their data presentation then look no further than here.” That MAY is an important word to leave out!

  • Gareth: My information is from the “horse’s mouth”

    Not sure what GeeGee you are talking about, but if it is someone from the CRU that might be construed as a somewhat biased view…

    I read your rebuttal of the NZ CSC observations and I must say, I think you missed the point. Regardless of how legitimate you reckon their data adjustment is, the fact remains that the raw data shows no warming trend and the adjusted data does. How do you think that looks to most people, in the light of the CRU e-mails?

    In the scientific world perception may not be so important (although I think that is debatable), but in the political world where climate science is currently living, perception is everything. I think you will find that most lay people will be regarding anything to do with Global Warming with a great deal of skepticism at the moment.

  • Jim “How do you think that looks to most people” – well it depends on who is spinning it and why, doesn’t it. Anything can be taken from the scientific process and presented out of context, without supporting explanation, and made to look bad – if you want it to. It comes back to the motives of the spinner – doesn’t it?

    And in this case the motives were far from honest. They were prepared to lie.

    And, disgusting as it might seem, some people are prepared to promote these lies and then stand off and excuse themselves with “may” etc. Personally I think this indicates an underlying ideological position along the lines of Wishart’s conspiracy theory mania.

    After all you could have pointed to the NIWA report and said that it “may indicate that the” NZ Climate Science Coalition and and Richard Treadgold, of the Climate Conversation Group “are less than honest with their data presentation then look no further than” the NIWA press release.

    That approach in itself would have been more honest on your part.

  • Ken: That approach in itself would have been more honest on your part.

    Not really, Ken. That would just be in keeping with your bias. Note that I am not accusing you of not having integrity, merely that you are convinced that AGW is real. I remain skeptical – something that I freely admit.

    All people have biases, including scientists. I recall a recent study in NEJM that demonstrated clear bias in the conclusions of studies funded by drug companies. There was no evidence that this was particularly deliberate, merely that the writers tended to phrase their research questions and structure their methods in ways that favoured a good result for the drug company. This is an unconscious action driven by the desire to see the result you are expecting.

    I suspect that the convenient warming in the NIWA results was not deliberate but subconsciously driven by the assumption that AGW is a reality. Whereas the NZ CSC might see a AGW conspiracy, I just see the “prevailing theory bias” that has plagued science throughout history.

  • Jim,

    You cannot conclude that because you link two stations together, ignoring (as the NZ CSC do) that they are in fact different stations at different altitudes, that this somehow shows no warming. That’s as daft as asserting that because it’s colder at the top of Mt Cook than at the Hermitage, there’s been no warming in the region. I’ll grant you the height difference is a little larger, but you get my drift…

    The NZ CSC “report” was – not to put too fine a point on it – nonsense from any sort of scientific perspective, and formed the basis of a blatant attempt to smear working scientists. I find that repugnant. That you don’t speaks volumes…

    Regards

  • Jim, you are purposely ignoring my point.

    It doesn’t matter what my convictions are. On AGW I at the moment accept the current science. But I recognise that it is not settled (it never is in science). Most climate scientists agree with the IPCC position, some think it is an overestimation, some think it is an underestimation.

    I might well change my mind tomorrow – that wouldn’t surprise me. Such mind changes are not unusual for people in this profession. (In fact – I firmly believe that if you haven’t changed your mind in the last few years you should check your pulse – you may not be alive).

    We might well find out in a few years that things are quite different to what we think now. Science is like that. Our knowledge is provisional and always improving.

    So, on this basis – if I think the current assessment of NIWA or anyone else is wrong I can express my views, argue with their conclusions. But ethically I do this bb using evidence – not casting aspersions on the integrity of colleagues. (Such tactics, anyway, usually show one doesn’t have any good leg to stand on).

    I really don’t care what your specific views are on AGW

    But I do care when people make unsubstantiated comments like:

    “Climate science is not amenable to empirical proof.”
    “prominent figures have been selecting facts that accord with their theory and suppressing others that do not.”

    “the current consensus of climate science has been developed on a highly selected set of data. It means that the consensus is not worth the paper it is written on.”
    “There appears to have been a concerted effort made to keep certain articles out of the peer reviewed literature. The smothering of dissenting views makes for a flawed, truncated science that is all but worthless.”
    “the guys at NIWA are very definite supporters of Anthropogenic Global Warming.”
    “data that may indicate that the NIWA guys are less than honest with their data presentation”
    “How do you think that looks to most people, in the light of the CRU e-mails?”
    “I suspect that the convenient warming in the NIWA results was not deliberate but subconsciously driven by the assumption that AGW is a reality. Whereas the NZ CSC might see a AGW conspiracy, I just see the “prevailing theory bias” that has plagued science throughout history.”

    This attributing bias to scientists without recognising the way science works to overcome such bias, and the silly “prevailing theory” argument is just a way of dissing the genuine work of colleagues because you have a bias, or a fixed view, yourself – which you are unprepared to expose to the normal scientific processes of mapping against reality.

    Much easy just to question the integrity of the people doing the real work.

    I am concerned about this anti-science attitude – not your specific views on AGW.

  • Ken I am concerned about this anti-science attitude – not your specific views on AGW.

    How silly. I am not anti-science at all. I do not think AGW is a vast conspiracy, nor do I think it is a religion, despite what some judge in the UK thinks. What I do think, however, is that the science here has long been hijacked by the politics and my beef is with the use of AGW as a tool to control political and economic debate.

    Neither you nor Gareth seem to grasp that AGW has ramifications far beyond the science. My comments on this matter are driven by my understanding of the political ramifications of climate science rather than my scientific knowledge of climatology which I freely admit is rudimentary (though considerably better than average). My comments on the CRU and NIWA are therefore comments about the political nature of their work, not the scientific. Put simply, I think that AGW has been politically overstated. I base that argument on the ETS that has just been passed that will produce significant economic damage with no possibility of environmental benefit. While this is by no means entirely the fault of climate science, it is the consistent overstatement of the solidity of the scientific case for Global Warming that that been the most significant driver for this dreadful piece of legislation.

    Ken, I find your list of my “unsubstantiated comments” peculiar. The first is undeniably true – unless you can show me some empirical proofs that I am unaware of . The next three are general conclusions drawn from the e-mails from the CRU. I have yet to be convinced that these e-mails are entirely innocent (though I do not think they are nearly as damming as someone like Ian Wishart makes out). I note that most of the columnists who have written about these e-mails seem to be coming to the same conclusions, so the media are picking up on it.

    I’m not sure what you mean by unsubstantiated when I say “the guys at NIWA are very definite supporters of Anthropogenic Global Warming.” I would have though that this was an undeniable fact. Salinger is almost evangelistic about it. And my observations of the perceptions of people is accurate.

    Oh, and if you think “the silly “prevailing theory” argument is just a way of dissing the genuine work of colleagues”, then you apparently do not know much about the history of science. Sadly, you are by no means the only one.

  • I hadn’t really paid “Climate Change Science” much attention until the CRU thing occurred. What struck me in the poking around since then has been the general lack in the public end of the debate of those with what I’d call “an inquiring mind”. I feel I know enough about statistics and complex modelling under uncertainty in large systems to have ended up with significant unease about the transparency of what little I’ve seen in the public debate from the science end.

    At the heart of it I sense an unwillingness for the scientific community to talk authoritively about uncertainty – which if anything in my view paradoxically strengthens calls for political action. The CRU revelations cause me concern not particular because they make the scientists sound like a political party (and I’m told universities do politics at its worst) but because it shows a lack of trust in the ability of the public to assess the risks and make sensible decisions.

    Unfortunately on the local front I think NIWA needs some help in this area too. Their response to the criticism from the local Climate Science Coalition was somewhat disingenuous. Adjustment to time series of temperature observation seems endemic in this field, but not without controversy. I guess in any particular case I’d be asking what’s the dataset being used for and therefore how appropriate is the adjustment in that context. Putting that aside, in this case for NIWA to simply describe the adjustment that had been made at one site (Wellington) and say they’d told the CSC about what they did was following pretty poor PR advice. Their audience wasn’t CSC.

    I would have thought is that this would have been a good opportunity for NIWA to describe exactly what they do to the dataset, why, and the risks this created for the inferences that could be drawn from it. I’m sure that NIWA will have published what they do and why, so a reference to that would have been good. Not all journalists are incapable of reading scientific papers.

    In a desultory way I had a bit of look today for recent publicly available publications that might describe some of the issues. I turned up http://www.climatesci.org/publications/pdf/R-321a.pdf (and I have no idea of the street cred here) but it did at least give a bit of a list about why climate data gets fiddled with, and some of the risks. I would have liked to have known from NIWA the extent to which it had or had not adjusted its dataset for these various reasons (and any others), what’s considered best practice, and the implications and risks. I’d have been particularly interested in those that are likely to be influential in drawing conclusions about rises in temperature and/or the uncertainty of trends derived from the dataset (and from my untutored eye this seems to involve changes to accommodate Land Use/Land Cover, population density and changes in measuring sites that might increase the variance in the data).

    They didn’t do it, and I suspect have only caused themselves ongoing problems until they do.

    I should note that I know protagonists on both side so have tried to be even handed.

  • I’m not a fan of arguments or debates (I prefer discussions), and I can’t speak on the data in question as it’s not my field (nor your’s I note), but allow me to make a few general observations.

    Even if individual scientists base results in a publication on “selected data”, they’re entitled to, provided it’s clear in the research publication. For example, for my articles on genomics/gene tests + medicine + law, I’ve re-read a number of papers in which different researchers choose different sets of genetic markers to score the likelihood of the subject having a particular genetic disorder. They’re perfectly entitled to choose different sets of markers. They don’t have to use all the data, in fact in cases they may be best not to. Data aren’t “facts” in quite the way you seem to be making out. They can be noise, or outliers, or whatnot.

    The emails strike me as likely being out of context with respect to this.

    Regards:

    If I was a climatologist, I would be very angry at this point, because it means the past decade of my work would now have to be reinterpreted against a different set of data. The conclusions that I have drawn from my research would all have to be re-examined. Depending on the extent of data massaging and the extent of suppression of contrary data, climate science may have been set back for years.

    Here you seem to be telling us what climatologists (supposedly) should be thinking, yet my impression is that when these people speak for themselves, they don’t say this. I think they’re capable of speaking for themselves. Wouldn’t it be wiser to let them?

    I would suggest that if they aren’t up in arms about it, you might be wrong. Seems a fairly simple test of if your claim is true?

    There are comments about the approach taken with respect to the public, but that’s about communication, not the data or the interpretation of the data, which is what you refer to.

    Neither you nor Gareth seem to grasp that AGW has ramifications far beyond the science.

    With all respect, Jim, I doubt anyone of any qualifications (or not) is missing the political and economic implications, except those in a vegetative coma. It’s been all over the papers, radio, TV, magazines, web,… for years. On the other hand if your intention is to bait others…

  • Simon,

    Not all journalists are incapable of reading scientific papers.

    The problem isn’t reading them, it’s understanding them! 🙂

    and I have no idea of the street cred here

    Point in case? 😉

    You’ve given a very general statement about NIWA without giving an example of the sort publication you are referring to, the setting matters.

    I’m not sure it’s reasonable to ask NIWA, or anyone else, reporting to the general media to go into great depth up front (initially), especially as different people will want different things. It’s probably better to present a concise summary and let people ask, so that queries lead to what people what to know. It’s a common issue in science communication that scientists think in term of probability, etc., but in general the media doesn’t like it. You’re might be asking that NIWA be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, just by different people with different wants…?

  • I would have thought that in the normal course of events NIWA would have published in peer reviewed journals what they were doing to produce series like this if they were offering the data as part of its contribution to the body of Climate Change Science. It would be a simple matter to simply cross reference those papers (I have to confess I haven’t gone looking for this stuff).

    As to your point about whether its reasonable or not for NIWA to provide this stuff, that wasn’t my point. Having spent bits of my life in the public arena it was more in the category of gratuitous advice. If you are dealing with controversy (particularly against the backdrop of the CRU shenanigans) the quicker you get it all out there, warts and all (if there are any), the better.

    It frankly rings alarum bells that we haven’t had a fulsome exposition of what’s going on with the data, and it will be more difficult to handle if there have been compromises – no matter how well intentioned.

    As I said poor PR advice.

  • Simon, many scientists will acknowledge that they don’t handle public relations well. They will accept that perhaps they need to do things different. And let’s face it, often they have no choice because their public relations is determined and controlled by bureaucrats – not scientists.

    But that is a separate question. (One that a few people are looking at as a result of the climategate emails scandal).

    The real problem – and let’s not allow us to be diverted from this, is the lies and distortions resorted to by the climate change deniers. Their brash attacks on the integrity of our scientists. Their constant attacks and attempts to discredit scientific work. The latest distortion over the NIWA data (Gareth has rightly called it lying) is just one example.

    Concerned people should be look at that – not diverting their attention away by red herrings.

  • Ken I don’t deal in red herrings – if you go back to my first comment you will see that I said “At the heart of it I sense an unwillingness for the scientific community to talk authoritively about uncertainty…”. The PR is just one symptom of that. From what little I’ve now read of the current debate it seems pretty obvious that there is uncertainty about exactly what is going on with the climate and why. My point is that acknowledging that and helping the public to understand the implications actually helps when it comes to communities making political choices. Trying to paper over the uncertainty or minimise it only detracts from the science and the scientists, and provides points of criticism when the public realise they have been only told half the story.

    As to your comment about lies and distortions I have just had a look through the Hot Topic comments from Gareth and find it all rather depressing. As a poster observed simply asking for information on what adjustments have been done and why seems to lead to lots of noise and very little light. I must say that Gareth’s own comments which seem to be in the category of “I know all this, you’re ignorant if you don’t and I’m not going to help you” isn’t likely to build a constituency for political action. I can assure you I wouldn’t trust him to deal with anything as important as this on my behalf.

    I also note in passing that the only reference to the NZ methodology for adjusting readings from that thread points to a 1993 paper by David Rhodes and Jim Salinger. I find it hard to believe best practice hasn’t moved on from then. I should add that while I haven’t really tried to track down the NZ literature I did stick “temperature adjustment” into the search box on NIWA’s web site yesterday before posting and got no relevant references apart form the recent response to the CCS group. I had probably by that time devoted more time to this than can be expected of the average punter and had to put the spuds on for dinner.

  • Simon,

    Quick comment as I’m short on time.

    re: “red herrings”, you’re playing chicken before the egg I think, which came first, etc. Personally, I’ll stand by my point that they’re damned either way. If they present uncertainty a good chunk of the media would be inclined run off saying “they’re uncertain”, rather than realise it’s simply a confidence estimate.

    I find it hard to believe best practice hasn’t moved on from then

    I can’t speak for their science (and neither could you I would think), but it’s fairly common for mathematical procedures to be fairly old if they are robust. As a simple example, I study computational biology. We study very modern data: high throughput genomics. Some of the most sensitive (but slow) methods are from the early 1980s. (The modern revisions mainly improve the speed, not the “maths”.)

    Criticising a methodology solely by it’s age means little. Comparing it with alternatives is more appropriate, but then you’ll need to know the field, which I think is the more relevant issue 😉

  • I think there is a distinction between describing the uncertainty in the science, and the certainty of people in the inferences they make from the science. I do think that people do understand confidence estimates – particular in dealing with weather systems – and more importantly should be given this opportunity. As much as anything it is a democratic principle.

    As to best practice for adjusting raw data measurement, I can probably help. If the adjustments were confined to using standard statistical techniques for dealing with uncertainty and identifying systematic biases in recording then you might be right. However the adjustments that are being made go beyond this. They bring in adjustments for example designed to allow data from two different sites to be used as if they were one. In this case such adjustments rely on inferences about how a local micro climate works. Now two related things have happened since the early 1990s, the science of climate change has advanced significantly and the availability of computing power and hence the capability to model micro climates has no doubt also advanced. Prima facie I’d have thought it well worth asking if best practice has changed, and how. In your own field I would have though that the same improvement in computing power since the early 1990s would be leading to improvements in modelling molecules and this, coupled the much higher resolution of analytic instruments, meant you now knew much more about the structure of molecules of interest, and that knowledge was feeding back into the capacity to measure phenomena of interest.

    The final point is that because these adjustments are being done on the assumption of how the systems of interest operate it is important to have transparency about the adjustments. I also just note in passing that time series analysis is always problematic when looking for causality (not much is caused simply by the passage of time).

  • Simon,

    The problem, such as it is, with NIWA’s long term temperature record for NZ, is that the people who are calling for openness and explicit descriptions are not making a scientific point, but a political one.

    A scientific approach would be to recognise that there’s a lot of prior art in this field, and to take some time to learn about the subject of station adjustments when building long term records. This might, or might not take some time. Let’s not forget that people like Jim Salinger have devoted a lifetime to this sort of stuff. Then you might do some research: what’s been published? Several NZ station adjustments have been described in the literature, some others haven’t. When you’ve got to that point, a phone to call NIWA, or an exchange of emails would almost certainly get what you want.

    You might also want to test the robustness of the result (the warming in the record) by looking at the data from stations where adjustments haven’t been necessary. If you do that (and people have, and there will be more at HT on the subject later this week), you find that these stations also show warming.

    The NZ CSC did none of these things. Instead they produced an “analysis” which makes the most basic of errors, and then uses the “results” to smear scientists. Rodney Hide jumps on the bandwagon (more like a dog cart in this case), which has the useful result of making it clear that this is all politics and not any flavour of scientific enquiry.

    As for the comments at my place — my readers take the issue seriously, and don’t take hostages with people running the same old tired denialist nonsense. There is a limit to the number of times any one can politely point out that, no, global warming didn’t stop in 1998, and it hasn’t been cooling since.

    Note for Jim: Hot Topic has always been about taking the politics out of the science, and putting it where it belongs – the response to the climate challenge. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard I try, however, there’s no shortage of people seeking to politicise the science… 😉

    Have a read of this post at Stoat. It describes rather well the obstacles to communicating science to people who haven’t taken the trouble to educate themselves:

    a scientific debate is *NOT* where anybody should be TEACHING anybody science. What kind of ‘debate’ is it if every answer amounts to “That’s not what that word means, read a damn textbook.” It’s not the scientists who are being arrogant then.

  • Sorry: the last par should have been a blockquote, but it doesn’t seem that this WP MU install allows the tag… and the last two pars would have been better placed after par 3 – but that’s what happens when yo post too quickly… 😉

  • I suspect this conversation is getting to the point of diminishing returns but …

    I posted on this thread essential around the interaction between science and policy – if science doesn’t communicate its business well (in this case the inherent uncertainty, and the extent of it) it won’t win in the political arena. I also specifically suggested that NIWA was failing in the PR game because it failed to disclose exactly what was going on with its data (this failure made even more acute in PR terms because it was precisely this issue that was starting to exercise the public – not the old enemy – in the aftermath of CRC disclosures, and that the local debate was being fuelled by politics around the ETS).

    I must say that I was surprised that in the subsequent debate here and in other local blogs (and vitriol) someone hasn’t just stood up and said here is a list of references to the literature on the adjustments that have been made to the NZ climate recordings. One sort of gets the impression that this all might have been done years ago before it was really that critical and that it isn’t easily to hand. If that is the case then I fear the PR disaster that is coming for NIWA is even worse than I imagined, simply because they didn’t take the opportunity to say all this when it was first raised.

    In addition much of the response from the blogs (and here in particular) has been to say trust us we know what we’re doing, we’re the experts, it’s too complicated for you, and to then go on and give helpful advice on how to engage in science if you were foolhardy enough to try.

    I had assumed that I was prevailing upon long suffering climate change scientists who were at the end of their tether trying to help armatures like me understand what is going on.

    Now as Monk would say “here’s the thing”.

    I had a bit of a sense that “the maiden doth protest too much”. My experience is that scientist don’t slip into the mode of avoiding direct questions about data sources and the like, and some of the responses to my comments seem to suggest that the importance of the issues were not really being understood. I’ve now had a look at the backgrounds of the various posters here I am not sure that any of you are more qualified than I am when it comes to the specific scientific issue under debate. I specifically wonder if any of you have read the body of literature dealing with the adjustments made to climate measures in NZ.

    As I’ve said before if you have I’d appreciate references to it.

    Anyway, good to know we are all a merry band of amateurs in this area, and I wish you’d stop preaching. Gareth, in light of the above, I don’t think your positive reference to the post at Stoat really reflects well on you.

  • Simon,

    In your own field I would have though that the same improvement in computing power since the early 1990s would be leading to improvements in modelling molecules and this, coupled the much higher resolution of analytic instruments, meant you now knew much more about the structure of molecules of interest, and that knowledge was feeding back into the capacity to measure phenomena of interest.

    What I wrote has nothing to do with “modelling molecules” 😉

  • I know, I was just using what I thought was an analogy apposite to your field of work that might help explain why 1990s methodologies in adjusting climate measurement might have moved on.

  • BTW I might spin but I’m an only an armature because of Bill Gates’ spell checker and my laziness

  • Simon,

    The “Stoat” post by WMC is discussing a comment that originates from a Slashdot thread, and if you follow that path, you’ll observe that quite a few people ( of the 700+ comments! ) have commented on the need for scientists to engage and convince the public. WMC isn’t known for tolerating thoughtless comments about climate science.

    It’s the public who are being asked to pay the costs of investigating, and then preventing, adverse climate change. They have every right to expect high quality, peer-reviewed, measurement and interpretation of data.

    I agree that NIWA haven’t handled the CSC article well. I assume they had limited choices of Wellington datasets, otherwise why choose a surrogate dataset whose time series wasn’t coincident with, and overlapping, both locations used in the time series?.

  • >>>Gareth, in light of the above, I don’t think your positive reference to the post at Stoat really reflects well on you.

    So do you think it’s OK for clueless amateurs like Treadgold and the CSC to ignore all prior information, make no effort to understand, do no literature research, publish stuff that smears working scientists, and then whine about not being spoon fed the stuff they want? That’s what this is about…

    The comment at Stoat is entirely apposite, especially when you look at the CSC report. The CSC want to call into question a body of work and the reputations of scientists without taking the trouble to properly understand the subject. It’s not surprising they don;t get taken seriously.

    Regards

  • I know, I was just using what I thought was an analogy apposite to your field of work that might help explain why 1990s methodologies in adjusting climate measurement might have moved on.

    I knew that’s what you thought you were doing. I was dropping you a subtle hint that you words didn’t reply (or address) what I wrote, meaning that my points still stands exactly as I wrote them. I would suggest you re-read them:

    It’s fairly common for mathematical procedures to be fairly old if they are robust. As a simple example, I study computational biology. We study very modern data: high throughput genomics. Some of the most sensitive (but slow) methods are from the early 1980s.

    What you’ve written doesn’t change what I wrote. Think about it. Both computing power and genomics moved on since the 1980s (actually genomics didn’t even exist back then), exactly like the computing power and climate science you cite in your reply. But it just so happens that a sensitive method from the earlier 1980s remains one of the most sensitive sequence-sequence comparison methods. If a mathematical method is sound it might well stand a lot of time.

    Or, as I tried to point out to you: Criticising a methodology solely by it’s age means little. Comparing it with alternatives is more appropriate, but then you’ll need to know the field, which I think is the more relevant issue 😉

    Even if the method is flawed the criticism you offer is wrong. The age of the methodology is neither here nor there. The development of computer power in itself hasn’t much to do with it either. You really want to be comparing with alternatives. Just citing age or computing power doesn’t say anything about the method itself.

  • Some comments about poor science communication and blaming that is going on here.

    1: The charges against NIWA are of the sort “when are you going to stop beating your wife.” Worse, actually, because they come from people who have committed grievous faults themselves – who have been torturing their wives, children and neighbours.

    2: There is currently a lot of discussion internationally about how climate scientists should improve their public communication and how to deal with deniers. But in the NZ context I would like to say the CRIs in general are very poor communicators of their science. And this is not always the fault of scientists. My experience has been that bureaucrats usually rigidly control public relations and can often muzzle scientists. My group, and me personally, had been ordered several times not to discuss out work publicly, even to desist from publishing in scientific journals, at times when we were under malicious attack by commercial interests. Threatened with sacking if we did communicate!

    3: So, Bruce when you criticise NIWA – who do you criticise? The bureaucrats or the scientists? And keep in mind there is an ongoing employment case resulting from the sacking of a NIWA scientist for communicating publicly.

    4: The formation of SciBlogs is a big step in the direction of better science communication in NZ. Ideally I would like to see our scientists having the freedom to run their own blogs as part of portals within the CRIs. Without the heavy hand of bureaucracy censoring them.

    5:Simon and Bruce are directing their criticism at the expert scientists in this conflict. But what about the complete balls up the denier groups made? What about the fact they presented graphics in which they combined data from different stations without making corrections? And then they smeared the expert scientists by implying that their adjustments were made for fraudulent reasons!

    And what about the fact that they spread these lies, via local ideologically driven denier Ian Wishart, around the world to produce headlines like this: “Deceitful CRU Works For Corporate World Revolution – Supported by the UK´s and New Zealand´s Governments” and content repeating these lies. Surely any communication difficulties apparent for the NIWA scientists pales to nothing compared with the shear audacity and dishonesty of the deniers.

    6: Isn’t it rather ridiculous having seen these dishonest and deceitful attacks made on honest researchers to then accuse them of “protesting too much.” (Well not the NIWA people who probably are prevented from responding properly – but others who speak up in the defense of scientific integrity)..

    7: Why not direct your criticism in the direction of the real villains in this sordid affair?