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The Guardian disappoints

Filed under: — gavin @ 23 February 2010

Over the last few weeks or so the UK Guardian (who occasionally reprint our posts) has published a 12-part series about the stolen CRU emails by Fred Pearce that are well below the normal Guardian standards of reporting. We delineate some of the errors and misrepresentations below. While this has to be seen on a backdrop of an almost complete collapse in reporting standards across the UK media on the issue of climate change, it can’t be excused on the basis that the Mail or the Times is just as bad. As a long-time Guardian reader and avid Guardian crossword puzzle solver, I’m extremely unhappy writing this post, but the pathologies of media reporting on this issue have become too big to ignore.

We highlight issues with three of the articles below, which revisit a number of zombie arguments that have been doing the rounds of the sceptic blogs for years. Two follow-up pieces will deal with two further parts of the series. Hopefully some of the more egregious factual errors can be fixed as part of a ‘group experiment‘ in improving the stories, though the larger misconceptions probably can’t be (and readers should feel free to use this information to comment on the articles directly). Why the Guardian is asking for group input after the stories were published instead of before is however a puzzle. Some of the other pieces in this series are fine, which makes the ones that get it so wrong all the more puzzling. The errors consist of mistakes in the basic science, misunderstandings of scientific practice, more out of context quotes and some specific issues that are relatively new. (In the text below, quotes from the articles are in italics).

Part 3: Hockey Sticks

Some of the more egregious confusions and errors were in the third part of the series. In this part, a number of issues that were being discussed among the paleo-community in 1999 were horribly mixed up. For instance, there was a claim that arguments on the zeroth-order draft of the 2001 IPCC report were based on Briffa’s reconstruction showed the 11th century as being almost as warm as the 20th century, while Mann’s graph found little sign of the earlier warming. But this is simply untrue since at the time Briffa’s curve only went back to 1400 AD (not the 11th Century) and the discussions had nothing to do with the medieval warm period, but rather the amount of multi-decadal variability in the three different reconstructions then available. This was corrected in the online edition, but the description of the dispute in the article is still very confused.

That discussion was conflated with a completely separate April 1999 issue based on a disagreement about a perspectives piece in Science (which appeared as Briffa and Osborn, 1999) and which was in any case amicably resolved.

That discussion is then further confused with the discussions about the framing of the SPM text which despite Pearce claiming that ‘the emails reveal how deeply controversial it was at the time, did not get discussed in the emails at all. And while the article claimed that the uncertainty was not discussed in the IPCC report, the discussion in Chapter 2 was actually quite extensive.

Part 5: Chinese weather stations

This piece concerns the response of Phil Jones at CRU to a FOI request for data that had been used in a 1990 paper on the urban heat island (UHI). This now-20 year old paper was an early attempt to try and assess the possible magnitude of the UHI impact on the global temperature records. (Note that this is not the same as thinking that UHI does not exist).

Starting from the headline “Leaked climate change emails scientist ‘hid’ data flaws” on down, the article is full of misrepresentations. To start with, the data in question (and presumably it’s flaws) were not hidden by anyone, but rather had been put on the CRU server in 2007 response to a FOI request. Hardly ‘hidden’. Exactly contrary to the truth of the matter, the article incorrectly asserted that ‘Jones withheld the information requested under freedom of information laws’.

These data assumed a much greater importance later in 2007 when they were used for a completely unsubstantiated claim of ‘fabrication’ and ‘fraud’ against Wei-Chyung Wang (a co-author on the paper) at SUNY Albany by a certain Douglas Keenan. These charges were found by the university to be baseless in 2009 and the matter was dropped. However, the Guardian noted that a couple of the emails mentioned the issue, and that one in particular had Tom Wigley asking Phil Jones about the situation. Curiously enough, Phil Jones’ response was not part of the archive, and Wigley’s current thoughts on the subject (presumably that have been informed by Jones’ answers) were not reported.

Pearce describes this conversation saying that ‘new information brought to light today indicates at least one senior colleague had serious concerns about the affair‘. However, Tom Wigley has subsequently passed on later conversations to me showing very clearly that he did not support Keenan’s allegations of ‘fabrication’ and the implication that he does here are very misleading. Indeed, the statement that ‘Tom Wigley, harboured grave doubts about the cover-up‘ is completely false. There was no ‘cover-up’; the email was written two years after the data had been posted online.

The line in the 1990 paper that has apparently caused the furore is the following:

“The stations were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times.”

For fraud to have been proven, it would have been necessary to show that Wang – at the time of the 1990 paper – deliberately misled in the line as it was written. It would not be enough to show that the statement was mistaken because of incomplete histories available to him at that time, nor that some stations had in fact moved. The statement is a declaration of a good faith effort to pick suitable stations. Instead, you would have to demonstrate that Wang was aware of substantial and important moves that made a material difference and deliberately concealed this fact. And for this there is absolutely no evidence. Keenan’s assumption of fabrication is merely that, an assumption.

Wigley’s ‘grave doubts’ were a suggestion that the key line be rewritten as

“Where possible, stations were chosen on the basis of station histories and/or local knowledge: selected stations have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times”

A change that doesn’t undermine the paper in the slightest, and would hardly be likely to set the blogosphere aflame.

Quite frankly this whole allegation is absurd – why would anyone do this? All the authors involved have written many papers on the problems in the temperature record and on Urban Heat Islands in general, and even in China. Indeed the story here is that information was provided under FOI rules, and that it was not used to constructively examine the science, but rather to provide ammunition for baseless accusations that led to pointless university inquiries into alleged misconduct. That might be a good reason for why FOI requests are now being viewed with suspicion.

Other claims that this ‘may yet result in a significant revision of a scientific paper that is still cited by the UN’s top climate science body‘ . and that ‘what data is available suggests that the findings are fundamentally flawed‘ are simply made up. The findings of the 1990 paper was that UHI was unlikely to be contaminating the global temperature records in any significant way has been upheld by any number of additional studies in the 20 years since it was published. Oceans are not warming because of UHI, spring is not coming earlier because of UHI, and indeed, glaciers are not melting because of UHI (they are of course melting, recent news reports notwithstanding). No evidence of significant UHI contamination was found by Parker (2004, 2006), the record from GISTEMP which applies a different UHI correction than HadCRUT does not differ substantially at the global or regional scale. Other studies by Peterson, Jones, and others all show similar results. Even the more recent analyses of the Chinese stations themselves and even in an environment where urbanisation is happening faster than ever, UHI effects are still small (Jones et al, 2008).

As an aside, Keenan has made a cottage industry of accusing people of fraud whenever someone writes a paper of which he disapproves. He has attempted to get the FBI to investigate Mike Mann, pursued a vendetta against a Queen’s University Belfast researcher, and has harassed a French graduate student with fraud accusations based on completely legitimate choices in data handling. More recently Keenan, who contacted Wigley after having seen the email mentioned in the Pearce story, came to realise that Wigley was not in agreement with his unjustified allegations of ‘fraud’. In response, Keenan replied (in an email dated Jan 10, 2010) that:

.. this has encouraged me to check a few of your publications: some are so incompetent that they seem to be criminally negligent.

Sincerely, Doug

This kind of knee-jerk presumption of misconduct (and criminal misconduct at that) when people disagree with you has no place in the scientific discourse, and serves only to poison scientific debate. Indeed, Jones adds in one of the emails: “I’d be far happier if they would write some papers and act in the normal way. I’d know how to respond to that”. For the Guardian to dignify this kind of behaviour – especially after the charges had been investigated and dismissed – is unconscionable and a public apology should be forthcoming to Jones, Wigley and Wang.

Part 6: Peer review

The discussion of peer review is the most replete with basic misconceptions about the scientific process. Pearce appears to conflate any rejection of a paper or even a negative review for any reason as a prima facie case of mainstream climate scientists … censoring their critics. But in none of the cases highlighted were anyone’s view ‘censored’. To have your opinion published in peer-reviewed literature is not some fundamental right – it is a privilege that depends on your ability to do the analysis and the marshal the logical arguments and data to support your point.

Pearce, surprisingly for someone who has been on a science beat for a long time, states that peer review is the supposed gold standard of scientific merit. This is not the case at all. As we’ve outlined in many articles, peer review is just a first (necessary) step towards scientific acceptance and as the number of badly flawed papers that do appear in the literature attest, it is no guarantee of merit. For it to work of course there need to be some standards that should ideally be met, and this will lead to the rejection of some submissions. Thus automatically equating rejections of bad submissions with squashing of ‘dissent’ is like assuming that anyone who gets an F on a test is being unfairly discriminated against.

Pearce also declares that the mere act of reviewing a paper that is critical of your own work is mired in ‘conflicts of interest that would not be allowed in most professions‘. This is wrong on multiple levels. First of all, peer review of the literature is hardly unique to climate science, and so his claim about improper conflicts of interest is an accusation against the whole of science, not just climatology. Secondly, he confuses the role of the reviewer with that of the editor. Editors often solicit reviews of a critical comment directly from those being criticised, since that is often the easiest way to judge whether the critique is substantive. That is not the same as giving the right of veto to the criticised authors since, of course, it’s the editor’s job to weigh the different reviews from different sources, and use their own judgment as to the merits of the critique. Not asking the original authors for comment can certainly be (and has been) problematic and unfair to them. The problems most often arise – such as in Soon and Baliunas (2003) or McIntyre and McKitrick (2003;2005) when the criticised authors are not involved at all.

In the cases mentioned in this article, there is absolutely no evidence of unfair discrimination. Indeed, in one case of a submission by Lars Kamel, the reasons for rejection are obvious and Pearce appears not to know what the criteria for acceptance even are. He states that “the finding sounded important, but his paper was rejected by Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) that year“. But papers are not accepted or rejected because a finding ‘sounds important’, but because that finding is backed up by analysis and logic while acknowledging the prior work on the topic. In this case, the author did not “however, justify that conclusion with any data or analysis“, and so a rejected manuscript would have been very likely, regardless of who the reviewers were. Similarly, the assumption that “some would have recommended publication” purely because it called into question previous work is unsupportable as a general rule. Filling the literature with papers ‘just asking questions’ that ‘sound important’ but not demonstrating any actual results is a recipe for wasting everyone’s time with poorly thought out, and even mendacious, critiques of mainstream science from HIV-denial to perpetual motion machines. Papers in the technical literature are not just opinion.

Pearce also assumes (without evidence) that Kamel was discriminated against because Jones “would certainly have been aware of Kamel’s [negative] views about mainstream climate research“. But why should this be assumed? Most scientists (luckily) go through their whole career without wasting their time investigating and cataloguing the cranks in their field. Some climate sceptics get addressed here on RC a fair bit, but it would be a big mistake to think that these people, particularly the more obscure ones, are the subject of water cooler conversations at climate research labs across the world. Indeed, I can find no reference to Kamel on RC at all and I was unaware of his peculiar views until this story emerged. Why Jones should be assumed to omniscient on this topic is unclear.

Pearce quotes McIntyre discussing “CRU’s policies of obstructing critical articles in the peer-reviewed literature” slowing the resolution of unspecified “issues”. This is simply disingenuous – what papers have been obstructed that would have resolved what issues? We are unaware of any such papers, and certainly none from McIntyre. Prior therefore to declaring that “evidence, flawed though it might be, is actively being kept out of the journals” it behoves Pearce to actually find such evidence. Otherwise, the simple non-appearance of these mythical critiques is apparently proof of the corruption of the peer review process.

As an additional example of problematic practice, Pearce highlights a June 2003 email from Keith Briffa, who as an editor ‘emailed fellow tree-ring researcher Edward Cook, a researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, saying: “Confidentially I now need a hard and if required extensive case for rejecting [an unnamed paper] to ­support Dave Stahle’s and really as soon as you can.”‘. However, without context this is meaningless. People often sign reviews and this could well have been a second go around on a particular paper whose first round reviews would have been seen by everyone concerned. Briffa (like many editors) can have a feeling that a paper should be rejected for multiple reasons but would like to have the reasons gone into in some detail, mostly for the benefit of the authors. This is one reason why reviewing bad papers is so much more work than good ones. Quoting this as if it absolutely demonstrated bad faith or misconduct is simply a smear.

Pearce then accuses Cook of some unjustified quid-pro-quo because he wanted to use some of Briffa’s data to assess the practical implications of a new analysis technique, that Pearce interprets as “attacking his own tree-ring work“. However, this too is a misreading. The work in question has subsequently been revised and the authors themselves have said that the current submission is improved over the initial submission. It goes along with the overall point made above, that pure criticism is not particularly useful – it is much better to demonstrate that some technical point actually matters. This is what Cook appears to be asking for help to demonstrate.

The article then moves on to the issue of the 2003 Soon and Baliunas paper in Climate Research. Pearce nowhere acknowledges that it is (and was) widely regarded as a complete failure of the peer review system. Six (very independent minded) editors resigned from the journal because of the publisher’s inaction on tightening up peer review standards and even the publisher himself declared that the paper’s conclusions were not supported by the data or analysis of the authors. Is this not germane?

Pearce suggests that the reaction to the demonstrably low standards at Climate Research involved “improper pressure“. This has no validity whatsoever. The suggestion was made that maybe people should not submit work to the journal or cite work that appeared there. But how can a suggestion made among colleagues and not transmitted more widely be ‘pressure’ of any sort? People have their impressions about journals determined by many factors, and if they are seen to be publishing bad papers, that will be noted. Compare the reputations of Science and E&E for instance. Which would you rather be published in if you had a good paper?

The one email that Pearce declares “means what it seems to mean” refers to the declaration (along with exclamation point) that Jones would “redefine peer-review!” rather than include two flawed papers in the AR4 report. But it should be obvious that no-one gets to redefine what ‘peer reviewed’ means, and the exclamation point underlines the fact that this was hyperbole. The two papers referred to (McKitrick and Michaels, 2004; Kalnay and Cai, 2003)) were indeed discussed in Chapter 2 of AR4 as the contributing lead author of that chapter Trenberth rightly pointed out. As an aside neither have stood the test the time.

The problem with lapses in peer review (which will inevitably occur) is that they are sometimes systematic, indicating a more institutional problem instead of simply an unfortunate combination of poor reviewers and a busy editor. This appeared to occur at Geophysical Research Letters over the period 2005-2006. There was a string of bad papers published – ones that did not properly support their conclusions and made basic errors in the science. For instance, Douglass and Knox (2005), Douglass, Patel and Knox (2005), Douglass, Pearson and Singer (2004), Douglass, Pearson, Singer, Knappenberger, and Michaels (2004), and Loáiciga (2006).

Science is indeed a ‘self-correcting’ process, but someone has to do that correcting, and scientists do get frustrated when they have to spend weeks dealing with the aftermath of bad papers in the media and putting together the comments that almost every single one of these papers generated. (For amusement and for an example of the lack of standards being talked about, look at the response of Bjornsson et al to the Douglass, Patel and Knox paper).

Are scientists supposed not to notice these patterns? Or never discuss them among colleagues? The implication that the mere discussion of the situation is somehow a corruption of the peer review process is completely unjustified. Peer review only holds the status it does because scientists are on guard against failures in the system and try to correct them when they occur.

Update: Coincidentally, David Adams on the Guardian makes many of the same points as we do.

In two follow-up pieces we will host a letter from Ben Santer on Part 7 and on the skewed reporting of the ‘Yamal‘ issue in Part 9.

362 Responses to “The Guardian disappoints”

  1. 301
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Rod B, did you understand BPL’s numbers?

    I.e. if that was ***GROWTH*** then you’ve interpreted as per your belief that there’s no problem with AGW.

  2. 302
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    299 Ray Ladbury,
    It is the obsession with “human induced” I want to contest. More accurate is to ascribe this obsession to the public (sceptics, politicians, activists). But I want to maintain that also climate scientists to a lesser degree see climate change through the same cultural lens. For example, I think we would not have the same division of WG1-WG3 if we started out with an ecocentric world-view.

    Irrespective of this, yes, I know that, and agree on the limits of the practicabilities. Still (excuse the silly hypothetical example) if we find out that climate change can be attributed to volcanos, there is an possibility that we can do something with the volcanos to stop the emission (I guess not, but please, that is not the point here) or we can mitigate human CO2 emissions with the same amount that we predict will come from the volcanos, to have a zero net effect. Or we can choose a do nothing strategy (maybe we think it is to expensive to do a technical fix to the volcanos or too expensive to mititate human induced CO2).

    Moreover, can be really control human societies, globally? So far, no progress at all. We tend to take it for granted that everything that is human can be controlled. For example: many sociologists are against the believes that humans have a biological nature that effect on behaviour (yes, I know it is absurd to contest this, and I hated the sociologists for that, I had invested years of training in evolutionary theory, sociobiology, theoretical ecology and the like before I studies socíology for a semester). They tend to think that biology is something fixed. But as biologists know, biology is not fixed at all and interact with reality (including social reality) all the time and change due to that. now we also have genetic modification. Perhaps biology is less fixed than social structures in the future? And in the 1950´s and 1960´s (the heyday for technocracy) many climate scientists aimed for technical control of climate (to have a favourable and stable climate over time, i.e. both mititage and reinforce climate change, when neeeded to counteract natural variation).

  3. 303
    flxible says:

    Ron R@297 – The extreme ice survey has science partners, including Ohio U’s Byrd Polar Research Center and the U Colo Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, I’d expect to see some coverage from them or Natl Geographic or NASA – some has been used by PBS here

  4. 304
    Ron R. says:

    Hank Roberts #300. I thought of that but I’ve not actually seen the book so I don’t know what it contains as far as Glacial repeat photos etc. I looked on Amazon and it didn’t say. I look in my local library.

    By the way, here’s another recent evidence of warming:

    Grizzlies moving into polar bear region

    “The researchers first spotted a grizzly in 2008. They were flying over the area and graduate student Linda Gormezano, a co-author of the current paper, shouted that she saw one. Rockwell and Gormezano then looked through records for reports of other sightings. There were none before 1996. But between then and 2008, there were nine confirmed sightings, and three more in the summer of 2009.”

  5. 305
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    296 Ray Ladbury,
    (this debate should also come to an end soon, since it is “derailing a scientific discussion” on the physical sciences, but here is a reply anyway to ladburys recent post).

    1: I agree that “there is an objective reality” (which roughly consists of a physical world, a life-words and an ideational level of the latter that differ between species, social groups and individuals). But I hesitate when you continue that fast to the statistics, since much knowledge (including climate models) is not large N studies that correspond to objective reality in a statistical way. For example, climate model (like mathematics) is foremost self-referring. However, I guess that parts of the WG1 results (at the data level, but not when placing the data in a broader explanatory framework) “ensures repeated identical trials will be distributed according to the same distribution.“

    2)Those with the greatest experience investigating a phenomenon are most likely to best understand
    that very limited peace of objective reality. However, what interest us the most are the bigger picture: No single speciality can really answer that we have AGW. To say that, they must trust their collegues from other specialities (their data, methods, theories, results). The prominent researchers that run this blog are 80% of the time outside of their speciality, if we are to be very strict with this. None of them can, from their speciality, for example say that there is not an inherent political bias in the IPCC process. They can make qualified guesses based on their subjective experience, but they have not expertise to assert that with the scientific method(s). And if we talk about ensure repeated identical trials will be distributed according to the same distribution, well, I think not….

    3) I agree on that, besides that usefulness is kind of sufficient in itself, if something is very useful it does not really matter whether it is true or not (the pragmatic theory that truth equals “it works”).

    4) I do not agree with that as a general rule. Often it is the opposite: those who combine personal agendas, passion to the mystery of reality, societal concerns of usefulness, naïve visions, and many other motivational things, are most likely to have a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

    5) Yes, a collective is more reliable than a single random expert. But we also miss much of what is interesting (in Swedish, interest and truth are semantically related. sant (true), intre-sant (interesting). Concensus filters out many likely truth in favour of the average. I do not like the IPCC concensus science. To report a larger range of disagreement would be better, also report single randomly selected expert that contest concensus in interesting ways. I think Stephen Schneider suggested this, to have a WG4 that deal with controversy (Schneider think IPCC is way too conservative).

    “What other values am I missing?“
    Hmm, not sure if I can clarify that (I think I have tried many times already, it is coming to a closure, but I do think you miss things I consider important, because you focus on truth, whereas my focus on why values in science matter is broader and more interested in framing, implications, social processes).

    1038 Ray Ladbury (I continue here, as I wish to not prolong Whatevergate, but let us not “derail” too long). We must distinguish between scientific norms and empirical descriptions (of different aspects) of science. For example, the Mertonian norms are norms that Merton believed will promote good science. Such prescriptive theory of science is not very popular at the present. In vogue are (cynical) empirical descriptions that are neutral to, and not very interested in, possible improvements. You are interested in norms that you think will promote good science (and the self-understanding of working scientists. And you argue as a conservative: history is the proof that it works, let us continue).

    The aim of research traditions differ. Most social studies of science are not very interested in altering methodology (often not at all). That is your concern and part of the reason to why you object. In other words, different research traditions are interested in different aspects of reality. For example, a study of gender roles in a science laboratory can be of interest, if gender roles effects the interpretation of research results in one way or another, but also if gender roles effects on career advancement or communication with media and many other things. These things (norms/empirical and aim) cause confusion in the discussion.

  6. 306
    Ron R. says:

    Interesting that the polar bear is not only demonstrating the falsity of the claim that the earth hasn’t been warming but also another rightwing lie that evolution does not occur since the polar bear is quite clearly related to brown bears – yet they diverged, adapting to a changing environment.

    “When the researchers compared the fossil’s DNA with analogous DNA from six other specimens of living brown bears and polar bears, they detected genetic hallmarks of both species. That suggests that the fossil bear was one of the first polar bears to branch off from brown bears. “It’s a truly ancient polar bear,” says lead author and geneticist Charlotte Lindqvist of the University at Buffalo in New York state. It must have lived close to the time when the species had split off from the so-called ABC brown bears, which inhabit three islands—Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof—in southeastern Alaska. Those bears are more closely related to polar bears than they are to other brown bears, she says.”

  7. 307

    #302 Andreas Bjurström

    Can you explain how the current forcing level was achieved with natural means?

    Have Volcanos really been erupting more than usual?

    As to your question, can we really control human societies? History is replete with various controls imposed upon society. Government itself is a control upon society.

    Maybe a more reasonable question would be can we remove all the controls and survive? Or more relevantly, can we alter our focus and use our existing control infrastructure to address our current and future needs. The answer lies in the history of our general ability to impose controls, and the answer is absolutely, yes.

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  8. 308
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    Hypothetical examples about physics, I knew what would not be accepted :-)

    Thanks for allowing me to discuss here and good luck to you all, or maybe not, luck is perhaps only for the religious kind of mind, hehe

    Live long and prosper comrades ….

  9. 309
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Andreas, I think that you are missing the point about why science is conservative with respect to methodology. It is because the goal is to develop reliable understanding. Indeed, that is also the point of scientific consensus. If there is disagreement around the consensus, then eventually, the points of view that have the most merit will succeed the old consensus.

    The thing is that when you are doing sociology of science, when you state your conclusions to scientists and they don’t recognize their experience of what they do in them, then you are wrong. This is just like an anthropologist who draws conclusions about a tribe that the tribe then find risible.

    Any group has norms, it is true. What should be your goal is finding the reasons behind the norms. That’s the only way to really provide insight (or change) in the subject.

  10. 310
    CM says:

    Darn, just when I thought Andreas was beginning to make sense over on the Whatevergate thread, I wade into his stream of consciousness on this thread, including claims like:

    #305: “climate model (like mathematics) is foremost self-referring” – Nope, climate models are representations of physical processes.

    Ray (#309),
    just a coda: true, the social scientist needs to be able to describe the group he studies in a way they subjectively recognize, to verify his grasp of the data. (Andreas isn’t there yet, I think.) But the social scientist also needs to apply social theory to the data, whatever the group studied may think of the conclusions this leads to. After all, there would be little point in social research if it only reproduced society’s established understanding of itself.

  11. 311
    Nick Gotts says:

    Moreover, can be really control human societies, globally? So far, no progress at all. – Andreas Bjurström

    How right you are, Andreas: the Montreal Protocol, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the WTO agreements on trade, the Antarctic Treaty, the conventions on the Law of the Sea. None of them happened, did they?

  12. 312
    Nick Gotts says:

    Why do climate scientists care whether climate change is human induced or natural? It does not really matters because the concequences will be the same and we can adopt to and to some extent also mitigate natural induced climate change. What is natural by the way? Are humans not natural and why so? I think this duality is due to western culture. What do you think? Think about that ;-) – Andreas Bjurström

    Faced with this sort of bilge, does one laugh or weep? Climate scientists want to discover the cause of climate change (a) Because they are climate scientists, and their vocation is to improve understanding of climate; (b) Because if we know the cause, we are in a better position to forecast, mitigate and prepare for it. It is you, not me, who has introduced the dichotomy of “human induced” and “natural” – as an attempt to distract from the breathtaking inanity of everything you’ve been saying, I presume. Think about that ;-)

  13. 313
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    Nick Gotts, take your dogmas and sweeping accusations somewhere else, to mere demonstrate an attitude of dislike is not very intresting and intentional distortion is not very constructive.

  14. 314
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    310 CM,
    Let us have a discussion about climate modelling (that topic fits at this site). First, I did not intend to say that climate models are detached from “reality out there” (yes, I did overstate my point). I wanted to say that the fit is loose. We depend on quite a few institutions (since modelling is very expensive) and the models are adjusted in different ways so that the output will be what one wants. That is a self-refering (or internal) or whatever process. These self-referring looops are also interacting with reality out there as they are few with data etc.

    Please, it is not very interesting and constructive to mere behave badly (e.g. as Nick Gotts) and I do wish that a modeller can put my crappy text on models here and write it more correctly and elegant. I simply want to initiate a little debate on modelling and I do know that it is naïve to mere state that models correspond to reality. So that is room for discussion on this and it is important and relevant since climate change science depends hugely on the modelling business …

  15. 315
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “I wanted to say that the fit is loose.”

    What does that mean?

    “and the models are adjusted in different ways so that the output will be what one wants.”

    I take it you’re the one who does this, then? If so, please tell us what models you’ve adjusted and how you know what to adjust it to get what you want (which also requires you tell us what you want).

    That statement is a typical denialist mantra and is slanderous: it is accusing scientists of “wanting” a result and modifying their work until they get it. This is professional misconduct if it happens and can have you thrown out of the various academies.

    So do you have any data to back that up?

    Or is it just what you (would) do if you had to do climate studies?

    Do you do that when you do your work for polsci?

    “I simply want to initiate a little debate on modelling”

    No you don’t. You want to accuse scientists of professional fraud.

  16. 316
    Nick Gotts says:

    Andreas Bjurström,
    The moderators decide what can be posted here, not you. I have not distorted anything you have said, nor have you even tried to show that I have.

    the models are adjusted in different ways so that the output will be what one wants.

    Once again you demonstrate your abysmal ignorance while insulting real scientists. There is plenty on this site about how climate models are constructed and used. Why not try reading it?

  17. 317
    dhogaza says:

    What is natural by the way? Are humans not natural and why so?

    Because we use this as a convenient language definition to differentiate “what humans do” to “what the world excluding humans do”.

    This baloney crops up with every environmental or conservation issue. You can always spot the anti-whichever type because eventually they’ll say, “what do you mean a natural forest? Aren’t humans part of nature, so when it’s cut down and turned into a parking lot with three tiny trees left as decoration on the edge, isn’t that a natural forest”?

    It’s ridiculous. Read a dictionary.

  18. 318

    AB, how many times are you going to say goodbye or that you’re leaving and then come back and make more comments? If you intend to keep posting here, please stop saying you’re leaving, or goodbye, or “This will be my last post here,” etc. It’s misleading.

  19. 319
    pete best says:

    Sums up sciences position quite well I think. Real climate really is potentially sticking it neck out for science cannot resolve the worlds issues. Thats a politicians job.

  20. 320
    Rod B says:

    CFU (301), Oh, well! I simply questioned BPLs assertion that the ~80% decrease in Texas wind farm installations since 2008 was due to the recession (#254). AGW has zero relevance.

  21. 321
    Hank Roberts says:

    Andreas, you’re just digging yourself deeper into a hole here.
    Why not quit for a while, read some of the climate science, then
    try to get someone to create the website for the discussion you want?
    You’ve got a publication coming, you could be the one to host the conversation.

    Coming into RC, proclaiming your understanding of your field, while making it really obvious you don’t know how the science works — and getting into arguments with ordinary readers here while the climate scientists mostly ignore you — isn’t furthering your idea at all.

    Does this help?
    “One way to think of climate science is as an attempt to test the hypothesis that the warming we have observed over the past 50 years and more is caused mainly by greenhouse gases dumped into the atmosphere by humans. This hypothesis was formulated because is has been known since the 19th century that certain gases in the atmosphere warm the climate, and that humans have been adding more of these gases into the atmosphere.

    Climate scientists have been trying to find evidence that would disprove this hypothesis for the past 40 years or more. So far they have failed.

    We still do not discount the possibility that the hypothesis is wrong….”

    Fundamental, basic, so well understood by scientists that nonscientists often have no clue this is how it works.

    Boil that down even further. Understand this:

    “… certain gases in the atmosphere warm the climate, and … humans have been adding more of these gases into the atmosphere.

    Climate scientists have been trying to find evidence that would disprove this hypothesis for the past 40 years or more. So far they have failed.”

    Did you read that, Andreas?
    Do you see how different your notion of science is?
    And your notion is wrong because it ignores these two basic hypotheses:

    — some gases in the atmosphere warm the client
    — human activity is increasing some of those

    Science tries to _disprove_ those.
    It’s failed so far to disprove them.

  22. 322

    #314 Andreas Bjurström

    Andreas. You could save yourself and everyone a lot of time if you simple search around inside for these discussions. They have been done and redone over, and over, and over, and over. The likelihood of you adding anything new to the conversation is infinitesimally small.

    Just scroll down to the climate modeling section:

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  23. 323
    Ray Ladbury says:

    OK, Andreas, first let’s make sure we are talking about the same type of modeling. You know that models can either be statistical or dynamical, right? And you know the difference between them?

    In a statistical model, the parameters are selected so that the model best reproduces the data. If the data are “representative” for future behavior and the model fits the data and doesn’t overfit it, then there’s a good chance the model has some predictive power, and you don’t need to know much about the physical mechanisms. There are techniques designed to avoid overfitting.

    A dynamical model is something else entirely. In this, you put in the physics as best you understand it. Once you do this, there is very little you can “tweak” to get a better fit. You can add in additional physics to see if it is important. However, the chances of getting a spurious agreement when you have the wrong physics is pretty remote. No one is saying that the models have 100% correspondence to reality. That’s not how you use them. Rather, you use them to find out what physics is important for the phenomena being modeled. The way these dynamical models can go wrong is if you have different physics that is important for the calibration period, verification period and the future.

    The most important thing, here, Andreas is that you have to understand how the models are being used.

  24. 324
    Jim Cross says:

    #306 Ron R

    I was wondering when some one was going to bring up this red herring about grizzly bears.

    The reason grizzly bears are moving north is because they can without us killing them – humans have set up a wildlife refuge. They used to be in the same area years ago but were exterminated. They are going back to where they used to be because there is a good food supply.

  25. 325
    CM says:

    #314, I honestly didn’t understand any of that. If you want to try again, please, please first read the RealClimate FAQ on climate models (part 1, part 2; there’s even a
    Swedish version).

  26. 326
    Nick Gotts says:

    the models are adjusted in different ways so that the output will be what one wants. – Andreas Bjurström

    If you want to know how climate models are actually constructed and used, Andreas, there’s several posts on the issue on this site.

  27. 327
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    316 Nick Gotts,
    Climate scientists are too easily insulted (and so am I, as you know) and sometimes for the wrong reasons. It is an democratic right to scrutinize climate scientists (from perspectives that are much broader than their expertise) since they have a powerful societal role for climate change. Moreover, I do not like double standards. You argue that it is ok to insult members of other scientific fields, but not the ones you like. I wish for higher moral standards (I do not claim to live up to this ideal, but I do want the climate community, including amateur blogs, to aim for this, together) and more tolerance for different perspectives. The climate debate today is rather intolerant and the moral is low, on all sides.

    317 dhogaza says:
    I do not like convenient language. I believe that convenient language have causes and concequences that are un-convenient. Deep ecology agree on this (I´m not an deep ecologist), so at least some would not agree that questioning convenient viewpoints on nature results in environmental destruction. Actually, they argue the other way around.

    318 Barton Paul Levenson,
    Sorry, it was my honest intention (to quit), but I was mocked as a thinking human being right after I declared that, and my bad character made me go another round.

    319 pete best,
    Yes, it sums up the belief system of the disciplines that dominate climate research. I disagree with that perspective, of cource, but not because they are wrong in their core areas of expertise, but because their expertise is limited and many things they say are outside their expertise (and wrong as well, e.g. the naïve delimitation of science and politics in the article you refer to).

    321 Hank Roberts,
    Thanks for the sympathy and the good advice.

  28. 328

    #dhogaza re #295 Andreas Bjurström

    En addendum to dhogaza and others that have commented on this silly notion by Andreas…

    Applying this argument and following the logic as presented, one can then say the atom and hydrogen bomb are natural disasters because they are created by man and man is natural. Anyone who died from nuclear weapons has merely died of natural causes.

    One could also say that if one commits murder, it is not murder because mankind is natural, so man killing man is therefore a natural event, so no one could ever be guilty of murder…, killing is just death by natural cause.

    This kind of amoral bilge water oft rises from the ilk of fools and brigands that foist manipulation above reason. To follow this line of logic is to be against reason. Par for the course it seems in the argument of Andreas.

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  29. 329
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    Models et al,

    Completely Fed Up,
    Modellers want results to fit reality (however, some modellers wants them to fit politics, hehe, just teasing you), that is why they “adjust” their models. There is an interesting interaction between modellers and empirical scientists, and between models and data (I have read papers that argue that these different scientific communities needs to be better integrated and that steps in that direction has been taken). I think you can now figur out what my generic term “loose fit” means.

    John P. Reisman,
    You are right, I am wrong …

    Ray Ladbury,
    Yes, I already knew the difference (at that basic level you describe). My point was more or less what you say, models don’t have 100% correspondence to reality (and that is not how they are used). Another things, there is many sub-models that are being connected, not all models are based on physics (e.g. biological models of ecosystems) and many feed-back mechanisms is not that well understood yet. I guess that the first societal model to be included will be a dynamic economic model (based on “economic laws”).

    I think also this have some bearing on my critique that there is overemphasis on the physics, so many other sub-systems are much less certain, we have to live with that more or less, uncertainty, and still handle the issue (post normal times, hallelujah). To get uncertainty on the physics down to 0 % will not help us that much, but I do think that most physical scientists that are concerned over policy tend to think so (and maybe that is good, motivational factors, also wrong ones, are useful).

    Another thing: The social perspections of climate models. Red color = danger. You run a model and after some time large parts of the earth turns red = catastrophy!!! That is efficient communications to advocacy climate policy.

    325 CM,
    Thanks for the link, I have no critique of the content. This paragraph starts where I also started:
    “How do I write a paper that proves that models are wrong? Much more simply than you might think since, of course, all models are indeed wrong (though some are useful). Showing a mismatch between the real world and …. “

  30. 330

    As a testament to Senator Inhofe’s apparent inability to understand that which he does, or the issues at hand,, he has signed the petition defending Michael Mann and Phil Jones saying, and I quote:

    216. Senator James Inhofe My new intern has brought to my attention the fine work your organization is doing to expose the Global Warming Hoax. Keep up the good work.Tulsa, OK

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  31. 331
    Ron R. says:

    Jim Cross #324 said “The reason grizzly bears are moving north is because they can without us killing them – humans have set up a wildlife refuge. They used to be in the same area years ago but were exterminated. They are going back to where they used to be because there is a good food supply”.

    No. The area under discussion is the Wapusk National Park, a location at the Northern edge of Manitoba, close to the Arctic Circle. “Grizzly bears are a new guy on the scene … There was no evidence of grizzly bears before 1996, not even in the trapping data from centuries of Hudson Bay Company operation. But between 1996 and 2008 the team found nine confirmed sightings of grizzly bears, and in the summer of 2009 there were three additional observations.”

    As far as why grizzlies are moving into polar bear habitat, you are right that there is reduced hunting pressure on them in Manitoba – which has added them to a protected species list, the provincial “Wildlife Act”. However that is for the entire province and it is a very recent act (2009), yet the sightings in the area have been going on since 1996. So that would not explain their move to the far north. And don’t forget, the bears have been hunted ruthlessly for a long time in Canada so why the recent migration?

    As to a grizzly bear refuge, while I noted that conservationists are urging the creation of another, the only grizzly sanctuary in existence in all of Canada that I could see, called the “Khutzeymateen” is “Canada’s only grizzly bear sanctuary under the joint management of the province of British Columbia and the Tsimshian Nation”. That is a long, long way from Wapusk National Park.

    There is one other park (not an actual sanctuary) called the Great Bear Rainforest, but that’s also in British Columbia.

    As to other possible reasons, however, though I am not claiming that it is the only possible one, I do note that temperatures in Manitoba have been increasing. For example:

    “From 1909 to present, August water temperatures in the South and North Basins of Lake Winnipeg have increased by 1.9°C and 1.0°C, respectively (4). ”

  32. 332
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    328 John P. Reisman,
    You commit the the naturalistic fallacy. See:
    That something is natural doesn´t imply that it is morally right. I therefore object strongly to your logic.

  33. 333
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 295 Andreas Bjurström … “Why do climate scientists care whether climate change is human induced or natural? It does not really matters … What is natural by the way? Are humans not natural and why so?…”
    > 332 Andreas Bjurström …You commit the the naturalistic fallacy….
    That something is natural doesn´t imply that it is morally right. I therefore object strongly to your logic.

    I think you’ve either contradicted yourself or confused yourself.

    The point is that human causes are subject to human behavior, and we can control how much the climate changes by controlling how much fossil carbon we put into the atmosphere.

    Admittedly it’s a sloppy control system, but we know it works.

    When you say it can’t matter what’s causing the warming, you say the physics we understand isn’t important to the decisions we make.


    Have you watched this yet?

    See anything there you’d disagree with?

  34. 334
    Ron R. says:

    Strike that. In my comment #331 I stated, “So that would not explain their move to the far north”. On further research it would appear that I am wrong about this. The range of the grizzly bear actually extends even farther north than Wapusk National Park. My apologies.

    However by all accounts the bears are indeed a new arrival to the Wapusk area. The possible reasons given by the authors include “a geographic shift related to habitat changes or food availability”. (PDF)

  35. 335
    CM says:

    Andreas (#329), scientists want their results to fit reality. That’s why they adjust their models. If you get beyond the first paragraph, the FAQ might help you adjust your mental model of climate models. It might even help you formulate whatever it is you want to discuss.

  36. 336
    Ron Taylor says:

    For something that does not disappoint, see this superb item by Bill McKibben of the LA Times:

  37. 337
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Andreas, The economic, social and political considerations are reflected in the scenarios, which in turn determine how much CO2 and other ghgs are injected into the system. You can certainly argue whether the scenarios are realistic or appropriate. That’s fine. However, their main purpose is illustrative: 1)Keep injecting CO2 with current rates of growth, and things get quite hot. 2)Slow the rate of growth and things warm significantly but less. And so on. These are qualitative predictions, and I don’t see how putting detailed economic models, etc. would significantly alter the conclusions.

    You seem not to understand the purpose of physical models. It is not prediction, but rather insight into the system and the physics that is important. 100% fidelity and 0% error are not requirements.

    Perhaps you can enlighten us on how (specifically) your ideas would alter the general conclusions we see reflected in WG1 reports.

  38. 338
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    333Hank Roberts,
    neither contradiction nor confusion from my part in this.
    I think also that realclimate conduct the naturalistic fallacy (and hence verify what I am right that also climate scientists see this through cultural lenses that are problematic). See this post from realclimate, especially point b.

    We would like to apologize to our loyal readers who have provided us so much support since we first went online in December 2004. However, after listening to the compelling arguments of the distinguished speakers who participated in the Heartland Institute’s recent global warming contrarian conference, we have decided that the science is settled — in favor of the contrarians. Indeed, even IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri has now admitted that anthropogenic climate change was a massive hoax after all. Accordingly, RealClimate no longer has a reason for existence. The contrarians have made a convincing case that (a) global warming isn’t happening, (b) even if it is, its entirely natural and within the bounds of natural variability, (c) well, even if its not natural, it is modest in nature and not a threat, (d) even if anthropogenic warming should turn out to be pronounced as projected, it will sure be good for us, leading to abundant crops and a healthy environment, and (e) well, it might actually be really bad, but hey, its unstoppable anyway. (Can we get our check now?)

    [Response: You think that quoting an April Fool’s joke that parrots the standard contrarian talking points proves that we have succumbed to the naturalistic fallacy? Really? – gavin]

  39. 339
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Completely Fed Up,
    Modellers want results to fit reality (however, some modellers wants them to fit politics, hehe, just teasing you), that is why they “adjust” their models”

    No, they change their models.

    No scare quotes.

  40. 340
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Oh, well! I simply questioned BPLs assertion that the ~80% decrease in Texas wind farm installations since 2008 was due to the recession (#254). AGW has zero relevance.

    Comment by Rod B ”

    No you didn’t and you’re not doing it this time either.

    If those figures are of increases in production, then there’s no 80% reduction in production. The increase in production has reduced by 80%, but since this isn’t a 100% reduction, wind turbine builds are still going up in Texas.

    But you either don’t know the difference or want to promote a false problem.

  41. 341

    JPR (330: Not too swift, is he? Go, Oklahoma!

  42. 342


    Signatures 32 and 34 are duplicates.

  43. 343
    Nick Gotts says:

    You argue that it is ok to insult members of other scientific fields, but not the ones you like. – Andreas Bjurström

    No, I don’t. STS is an ideologically-based pseudo-science.

  44. 344
    Anand says:


    Whether the IPCC is just the reports or something more, is critically relevant to the Fred Pearce ‘quality of reportage’ question.

    If we review recent history, Pachauri was directly made aware of the error in the glacier claim by a news correspondent from Science magazine well before December 6. Other sources are able to demonstrate he knew about the error in mid-late November. As IPCC ‘manager’, he should have acted immediately.

    The excuse he gave himself for not doing was, in videotaped interviews was – he was busy with Copenhagen.

    why should the IPCC manager be concerned with policy determinations relating to climate change at Copenhagen, at the cost of correcting egregious errors in the science of climate change which the AR4/IPCC deems to reflect?

    Why should the IPCC manager have declared VK Raina’s report on the Himalayan glaciers as ‘voodoo science’ and schoolboy science, when clearly as a manager, he should have simply delegated such issues of science to scientists responsible for the content of AR4?

    It is such acts of negligent advocacy – perhaps committed to keep the media focus ‘on-message’, that led Fred Pearce to openly investigate and write about Climategate and Glaciergate in the New Scientist and subsequently the Guardian. That too, for someone who has always been supportive of climate change activism.

    But you have not let through my post on the IPCC and what it is. I claimed above that someone connected to the IPCC has made a cogent, cohesive series of statements and argued for specific measures to be undertaken by a certain polity, in the veiw of climate change, and not at all like “some random quote” which you presumed. I did not catch any questions or curiosity for what this instance might be at all.



  45. 345
    Andreas Bjurström says:

    343 Nick Gotts,

    Natural science is also motivated by ideology, e.g. read Francis Bacon. Society support the technical and the natural sciences for one reason: Improvement of the material quality of life. This was much needed in the context where the natural sciences was born (poverty). Now the opposite is true: the destruction of the environment is amplified strongly by the technical and natural science research.

    Today, the western world is affluent, we live in the so called knowledge society where elites becomes elites due to their expertise. STS is in part an reaction to this, that is true. STS as ideology are against technocracy and promote democracy and a proper role for science in the knowledge society.

    However, STS is also standard empirical science, using the scientific method (and far from all STS people are ideologists, and the differ also in what kind of ideology they advocate). You can´t refute the huge pile of empirical results from STS by simply shouting “ideology” and think that this will go “puff” and disappear. That makes you the non-scientific ideologist, perhans even an sorcerer ….

  46. 346
    Rod B says:

    CFU (340), what the hell are you talking about?

  47. 347

    #332 Andreas Bjurström

    Logic is a funny thing. It can sometimes appear to be one thing and yet it can be something else entirely (depending on ones bias). But that does not change the logic, it only means it is subject to bias (Plato’s cave allegory). For example, for me to be committing a naturalistic fallacy I would need to be trying to prove a claim about ethics by appealing to a definition of the term good in terms of one or more natural properties (as exemplified ‘pleasant’, ‘desired’).

    Point of fact though, in my post #328 I am pointing out the legalistic interpretation, i.e. guilt or innocence by law in consideration of cause. My assertion in following the logic of your own statements is illustrated in the resulting conclusion that death by nuclear weapons or even murder are merely death by natural causes.

    In my last paragraph I discuss the origination and usage in historical context in that it oft rises from the ilk of fools and brigands. To be foolish is not a moralistic or ethical argument thus does not fall under the auspice of naturalistic fallacy. To be a brigand is a legalistic term and also not moralistic or related necessarily to ethics and thus does not fall under the auspice of the naturalistic fallacy.

    Or am I missing something?

    Lest we forget, I was following your logic, therefore, even ‘if’ a naturalistic fallacy was introduced, it would have originated from your argument. That would then mean you introduced the fallacy, not me. However, since the fallacy does not exist in the statement, the point is moot.

    Lastly, if we do not have a moral or ethical foundation, or a conception of right and wrong, then certainly nothing matters in the realm of law. But in truth that only matters idealistically. If that were the overarching state of society, you would probably not like it very much, nor would I.

    Example: Let’s say we have not ethical or moral bearing to guide society such as community good. Let’ say none of that sort of bearing exists. It’s a free for all. Would you still hold your ideal if someone decided to eat you for dinner? And let’s say they like fresh meat, so they don’t kill you, they just cut off a piece of you and cauterize the open would with burning embers.

    It’s just death by natural causes right? SO, you should have no problem with it in accord with your assertions drawn from your line of logic. But in reality, I am guessing that you would object. I’m guessing that the integrity of your beliefs and ideals (tied to or originated from if so held) that moral or ethical should not be connected to natural will be none existent. I’m guessing you would be begging the people not to eat you.

    Is not then the naturalistic fallacy a fallacious argument when applied to such an ultimate end in the realm of human behavior and therefore idealistic in construct?

    Please do explain how I am wrong (or illogical) in my considerations? If so, what am I missing? That ideals are merely goals not an ultimate end to be sought? Or merely to be sought after…, and to what end? OR that the naturalistic fallacy only applies in some circumstances depending on the situation?

  48. 348
    Dave G says:

    More on the IoP’s submission to the inquiry.

    There’s an article in the Guardian entitled: “Climate emails inquiry: Energy consultant linked to physics body’s submission”. The article is here:

    The “energy consultant” is named as Peter Gill and he is the boss of a company called Crestport Services, who offer “consultancy and management support services … particularly within the energy and energy intensive industries worldwide”. Gill is reported as saying:

    “If you don’t ‘believe’ in anthropogenic climate change, you risk at best ridicule, but more likely vitriolic comments or even character assassination. Unfortunately, for many people the subject has become a religion, so facts and analysis have become largely irrelevant.”

    and, on the Times Higher Education website…

    “Poor old CRU have been seriously hacked. The emails and other files are all over the internet and include how to hide atmospheric cooling.”

  49. 349
    Kristan says:

    In contrast to the drivel printed at the Guardian, a decent (and recent) little blurb in the LA Times:

  50. 350
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Poor old CRU have been seriously hacked. The emails and other files are all over the internet and include how to hide atmospheric cooling.”

    Oh dear.

    Did the Times Higher Education website explain how you could hide atmospheric cooling by using thermometers (which are designed to measure temperature) rather than proxies (which are selected on their ability to show temperature changes)?