Smoking guns in the CRU stolen e-mails: A real tale of real ethics in science

November 22, 2009

Climate skeptics fear that some climate scientists have cooked their data in order to produce a pre-ordained outcome from their research.  Many of these people are excited this weekend at the public release of e-mails purloined from Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University in England, from one of the leading climate research labs.  Every crank science and crackpot political site has a story touting the end of research on global warming.

Sure enough, with just a few minutes of searching the e-mails, I found references to ethical breaches in cooking of data, and a discussion about how to talk about  the data and the issue in public.

The paper involved is this one:

David H. Douglass, John R. Christy, Benjamin D. Pearsona and S. Fred Singer, “A comparison of tropical temperature trends with model predictions,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF CLIMATOLOGY, Int. J. Climatol. (2007).  Published online in Wiley InterScience ( DOI: 10.1002/joc.1651

Unless you follow this issue closely, you probably don’t see the problem with publicizing the ethical breaches scientists thought they saw in this paper and its publication.  Also, if you are a “skeptic” who is chronically apoplectic over Al Gore’s success in informing people about climate change and winning prizes and making money, you may be thrilled that there is a scientist anywhere worried about ethical lapses by scientists involved in this controversy, and you can’t wait to see them brought to justice (cooking data is a federal crime in the U.S., if done with federal research money).

[Yes, I think there are ethical questions about publishing anything from these e-mails, let alone links so the viewing public can read them completely.  However, since much of this material has already been cherry picked and quote mined by political activists who hope to stop action to mediate and stop global warming, I think a good case can be made that, to be fair, we should look at the entire collection to see what they really reveal.  There may be criminal liability for some of the disclosures I’m discussing here — but that liability does not fall on the scientists who have been unfairly impugned in the last few days.  The liability falls instead on the critics of warming.  Let’s be fair.  In  a fair fight, truth wins.]

So, hold your high-fives and “I-told-you-sos” until you look at the data, at the information found.

One of the e-mails is quite explicit:

I think the scientific fraud committed by Douglass needs to be exposed. His co-authors may be innocent bystanders, but I doubt it.

Fraud?  Right there in front of everyone?  In the climate debate?

In the end, the scientists in the discussion determined not to hold a press conference to announce a finding of fraud, but instead to hunker down and work on publishing datasets that would contradict the alleged fraudulent paper, and establish their case with data instead of invective and press conferences.

They even declined to rush to inform the public of the fraud after a lengthy series of attempts to duplicate the results with well-known, accurate methods on accepted data:

Bottom line: Douglass et al. claim that “In all cases UAH and RSS satellite trends are inconsistent with model trends.” (page 6, lines 61-62). This claim is categorically wrong. In fact, based on our results, one could justifiably claim that THERE IS ONLY ONE CASE in which model T2LT and T2 trends are inconsistent with UAH and RSS results! These guys screwed up big time. [emphasis added by MFB]

Anthony Watts and others may be justified in asking that the scientists who wrote this fraudulent paper should be summarily dismissed, and in questioning why other scientists dallied in exposing the fraud.

But there is this to consider:  The paper in question is a paper critical of warming hypotheses, and it was co-authored by at least a couple of the most strident critics of Al Gore, James Hansen, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The smoking gun was used to shoot down a hasty effort to brand climate-change critics as unprofessional and wrong.  The smoking gun was used to enforce the hard ethical rules of science:  Don’t speak until your data allow a fair conclusion.

The smoking gun e-mails show correct and careful behavior by the scientists who contributed to the IPCC report, but unethical behavior by the critics whose backers, we might assume, stole the e-mails in the first place, and published them without understanding the depth of moral character demonstrated by most scientists in the conduct of their professions.

Now, I have not analyzed every possible permutation of this thread, only those with the title shown.  I used the “Alleged CRU e-mails — searchable” cited by Anthony Watts and others.  I stumbled into the thread discussing the paper by “Douglass, et al.”  I then did a search for e-mails discussing “Douglass,” and limited it to the thread on this point.  I suspect there are other e-mails in that thread in which Douglass’s name is wholly missing, and which did not turn up  in the search.

Now you know the rest of the story.  Fred Singer is a leading denialist, one of the organizers of the political campaign to blunt the publication and discussion of evidence of global warming and what to do about it.  The Douglass, et al. paper under discussion was a key component of the denialists’ campaign in 2007.  The purloined e-mails point to unethical behaviors by the scientists on the anti-warming side, the so-called “skeptics.”

So, from a quick dive into the data we learn:

  1. Climate scientists talk like Boy Scouts trying to impress a Board of Review.
  2. Climate scientists are extremely careful with data.
  3. When they think no one is looking, climate scientists behave ethically.
  4. When they think have found a piece of fraud, climate scientists are careful to recheck their numbers several times and in several ways before saying anything.
  5. Instead of holding a press conference, climate scientists like to keep the fisticuffs in the confines of juried journals.
  6. Climate “skeptics” are full of themselves, and probably wrongly accuse climate scientists of fixing data.
  7. Fraud in climate science may occur, but generally on the side of those who argue against warming or who advocate inaction as a response.
  8. The claims of smoking guns that negate the case for doing something about global warming are most likely hoaxes.

Here are the texts I looked at:

Update, November 25, 2009: Be sure to check out these posts, at George Monbiot’s blog in the comments, at Stoat,  and here at the Bathtub. This is the best judgment on the affair, I think, from Our Kingdom at Open DemocracyRespect to any climate-deniers who invest all their pension funds in seashore hotels in the Maldives… otherwise, they should step aside, and let the work of saving the future begin.”

Smoke this:

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Newtongate shakes anthropogenically-generated mathematics at the foundation

November 22, 2009

Satire, hoax, fact — how can we tell the difference?

Maybe more importantly, how can we tell early on that the “Climategate” kerfuffle, involving purloined, but otherwise dull e-mails from climate scientists, is nothing to worry about?

Look at history!  Remember Newtongate?  Read it here, at Carbon Fixated.

If you own any shares in companies that produce reflecting telescopes, use differential and integral calculus, or rely on the laws of motion, I should start dumping them NOW. The conspiracy behind the calculus myth has been suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed after volumes of Newton’s private correspondence were compiled and published.

When you read some of these letters, you realise just why Newton and his collaborators might have preferred to keep them confidential. This scandal could well be the biggest in Renaissance science. These alleged letters – supposedly exchanged by some of the most prominent scientists behind really hard math lessons – suggest:

Conspiracy, collusion in covering up the truth, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more.

But perhaps the most damaging revelations are those concerning the way these math nerd scientists may variously have manipulated or suppressed evidence to support their cause.

What kind of conspiracy keeps calculus being taught to innocent children today?  Exactly the same conspiracy that causes scientists to sound the alarms about climate change.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Tim Lambert at Deltoid.

Rap at the White House: Alexander Hamilton

November 22, 2009

An Obama guest, Lin-Manuel Miranda, pushes the envelope on gangsta rap, and history teaching:

You can’t use that in the classroom, teachers?  Why not?


Wikipedia notes of Miranda:

He is working on a hip-hop album based upon the life of Alexander Hamilton, entitled The Hamilton Mixtape.[5] He recently performed “The Hamilton Mixtape” at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word on May 12, 2009. Accompanied by Alex Lacamoire. [12]

Tip of the old scrub brush to Slashdot.

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