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Two-year old turkey

Filed under: — gavin @ 22 November 2011

The blogosphere is abuzz with the appearance of a second tranche of the emails stolen from CRU just before thanksgiving in 2009. Our original commentary is still available of course (CRU Hack, CRU Hack: Context, etc.), and very little appears to be new in this batch. Indeed, even the out-of-context quotes aren’t that exciting, and are even less so in-context.

A couple of differences in this go around are worth noting: the hacker was much more careful to cover their tracks in the zip file they produced – all the file dates are artificially set to Jan 1 2011 for instance, and they didn’t bother to hack into the RealClimate server this time either. Hopefully they have left some trails that the police can trace a little more successfully than they’ve been able to thus far from the previous release.

But the timing of this release is strange. Presumably it is related to the upcoming Durban talks, but it really doesn’t look like there is anything worth derailing there at all. Indeed, this might even increase interest! A second release would have been far more effective a few weeks after the first – before the inquiries and while people still had genuine questions. Now, it just seems a little forced, and perhaps a symptom of the hacker’s frustration that nothing much has come of it all and that the media and conversation has moved on.

If anyone has any questions about anything they see that seems interesting, let us know in the comments and we’ll see if we can provide some context. We anticipate normal service will be resumed shortly.

666 Responses to “Two-year old turkey”

  1. 51
    Dale says:

    Kathleen Parker’s recent Washington Post editorial says that the Republican Party has been “Palinized.” She’s also right about the stranglehold the Tea Party types have on the Party. Only John Huntsman will say he trusts the scientists while the others who once bought into AGW at different levels have now gone to the Dark Side.

    Seems to me that if things continue and the anti science tail continues to wag the dog then nothing much will change until it’s obvious to the overwhelming majority. By that time I’ve learned it will probably be very difficult times.

    Hope you guys can get it back.

  2. 52
    MartinM says:

    At a logical level, surely that doesn’t hold together?

    Consider taking an entry-level course in logic.

  3. 53
    Hank Roberts says:

    > the QuarkSoup post?

    Follow the pointer in Barry Bickmore’s reply, #1 in the Appel page.

    The deniers’ reactions are immediate — having read the “red” text in context, they then deny _that_ to prolong their pretense of conviction.

  4. 54
    Number9 says:


    I’m sure you agree–the Mann/Jones GRL paper was truly pathetic and should never have been published. I don’t want to be associated with that 2000 year “reconstruction”.


    I am afraid that Mike is defending something that increasingly cannot be defended. He is investing too much personal stuff in this and not letting the science move ahead.


    [IPCC AR5 models] clearly, some tuning or very good luck involved. I doubt the modeling world will be able to get away with this much longer


    Basic problem is that all models are wrong – not got enough middle and low level clouds.


    I’ve been told that IPCC is above national FOI Acts. One way to cover yourself and all those working in AR5 would be to delete all emails at the end of the process

    [Response: Bradley and Cook are entitled to their opinion about anybody’s papers. Barnett is overstating the degree of agreement in the CMIP3 20thC runs and is wrong about the nature of the tuning that occurs. Jones is correct in both statements – models are all wrong (but the question is whether they are useful), and FOI legislation does not cover the IPCC and is not a document retention law. – gavin]

  5. 55
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jryan asks: “How’s that working out for you?”

    Over 15 million visits. I’d say it’s working out pretty well. Just shows you can get somewhere telling the truth.

  6. 56
    Robert Murphy says:

    MartinM @43:

    “And that’s the problem in a nutshell. There’s literally no response that denialists can’t spin. If you answer them, you’re taking them seriously, so they must be on to something. If you don’t answer them, you’re afraid to face them, so they must be on to something.”

    Exactly. Take the email #1680 where Mann counsels Jones to ignore Peisner’s request for a response in E&E to Keenan’s allegations of fraud. Jones feels frustrated because he knows whatever he says (or doesn’t say) will be twisted:

    “Q is should I respond?If I don’t they will misconstrue this to suit their ends.I could come up with a few sentences pointing out the need to look at the Chinese data rather than just the locations of the sites. Looking further at Keenan’s web site, he’s not looked at the temperature data, nor realised that the sites he’s identified are the urban stations from the 1990 paper. He has no idea if the sites for the rural Chinese stations moved, as he doesn’t seem to have this detail. Whatever I say though will be used for whatever, so it seems as though I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”

    What’s clear is that nowhere does Jones or Mann act like Keenan’s claims had merit and that they were worried that there was a scientific problem with the 1990 paper (Jones clearly thinks that Keenan’s claims are full of it). The frustration is purely because they know that anything they say to defend Wei-Chyung and the paper will be deliberately spun. And they were correct in this assessment.

  7. 57
    Chris Winter says:

    One thing that strikes me (assuming for purposes of discussion that this new batch really is another selection of CRU e-mails from the full set that was stolen in 2009) is: Why hold anything back for two years?

    In other words, if the hackers view this as a battle for truth, why did they not release everything at once in order to get it sorted out?

    On the other hand, if they view it as a PR battle, then holding something back makes sense. It lets them keep stirring the pot. And this is what I judge their view to be.

    I also doubt that they’ll get the result they’re looking for this time.

  8. 58
    Ray Ladbury says:

    JCS: “then why is it a “PR” issue…?”

    Uh, dude, have you noticed that most universities have PR departments? NASA has a PR office. NOAA. DOE. The Vatican. I’m more than happy to look at the evidence, but I’m afraid won’t give you much to say.

  9. 59

    Glad to see the attention called to the Durban discussions
    I will be checking:

    But weren’t the last stolen batch leaked several weeks before Copenhagen? (Nov 2009) I wonder why the delay this time.

  10. 60
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Orson Presence,
    What Gavin said was: “Sorry, but you are just an idiot if you think this has any connection to reality.”

    This is clearly a conditional statement. I will leave it to you to decide whether you are an idiot.

  11. 61
    vendicar decarian says:

    “But the timing of this release is strange.” – gavin

    Not in the least. The Denialists were losing credibility due to BEST.

    They had to do something to counter their spectacular PR failure.

  12. 62
    caerbannog says:

    Got a really dumb question here — at the risk of testing folks’ patience here, I’m gonna ask it anyway.

    It’s been about 4 months since the CRU released all the raw temperature data that skeptics have been screaming for since “Climategate-I”. And given that the Muir Russel Commission was able to put togethere a preliminary analysis of the CRU data in just a couple of days, I figure that 4 months is plenty of time for all those talented skeptics out there to do a real bang-up job analyzing that CRU data.

    So at the risk of sounding really stupid, I’d like to ask if anyone knows where I can find some results published by the skeptics who had been hounding the CRU for that data. I mean, didn’t 31,000 talented scientists sign some kind of skeptical petition a while ago? With talent like that scrutinizing the CRU data over the past few months, there most be some really amazing studies published somewhere. But I’ve googled high and low for them and haven’t been able to find anything. Anyone here having any better luck???

  13. 63
    Bill Hunter says:

    “I thought the main complaint was that academics spent too much time in the ivory tower. – gavin]”

    That would be in the tower preaching down at. . . .as opposed to out of the tower learning from. . . .

    Sometimes the more things change the more they remain the same.

  14. 64
    Number9 says:


    Maybe Dr Schmidt can explain the context?


    Because how can we be critical of Crowley for throwing out 40-years in the middle of his calibration, when we’re throwing out all post-1960 data ‘cos the MXD has a non-temperature signal in it, and also all pre-1881 or pre-1871 data ‘cos the temperature data may have a non-temperature signal in it!

    [Response: Actually I don’t know what the statement about Crowley refers to (perhaps Crowley and Lowery (1999)), but the issue is whether the reason to discard data is valid or not. Simply stating that regardless of context ‘throwing out data’ is wrong wouldn’t be smart. – gavin]

  15. 65
    jyyh says:

    Has there been any progress in the police investigation on who did it?

    CAPTCHA: tsonao (nao I understand but what is tso? temperature satellite observations?)

  16. 66
    Number9 says:

    Wow; tough to spin:


    But it will be very difficult to make the MWP go away in Greenland. …

    Why? Since it existed?

    [Response: Who is denying the Greenland record? The issue is whether medieval temperatures were globally coherent, and the exact same email you are quoting actually says this:

    “In Antarctica things are different, with 1000 years ago cold and the LIA
    warm, i.e. anti-correlated (see the 1999 IUGG abstract MC02/E/08-B1 by
    Gary Clow). What this demonstrates is that it is possible that many of the
    favorite climatic episodes, the MWP, the LIA, may not be global phenomena.”

    Your cherry-picking of quotes is completely transparent. Pollack is a very serious scientist being honest and frank about the issues (as they stood in Mar 2000!), and you are using his words as cheap parlour trick. This is pathetic. – gavin]

  17. 67
    Reg Nelson says:

    I have an ethics question. How can emails from publicly funded scientists asking fellow colleagues to delete emails and dodge FOI requests ever be considered ethical (or legal)? If these are taken out of context, what context could possibly make them acceptable?

    Aren’t there record retention laws in academia? [edit]

    [Response: We said back in 2009 that asking people to delete emails was ill-advised, and that remains the case (as the Muir-Russell report went into in great detail). But there is no legal requirement to keep all emails – govt. agencies and universities general have policies on document retention but they don’t mandate universal archiving of emails. Many of them actually suggest regular deletion of non-essential records (e.g. NASA). – gavin]

  18. 68
    Number9 says:


    Although I agree that GHGs are important in the 19th/20th century (especially since the 1970s), if the weighting of solar forcing was stronger in the models, surely this would diminish the significance of GHGs.

    […] it seems to me that by weighting the solar irradiance more strongly in the models, then much of the 19th to mid 20th century warming can be explained from the sun alone.


  19. 69
    JW says:

    Thanks for this update. It’s good to hear the latest news on this front, but I must say the whole obsession over these emails is quite tiresome. Those who believe the work of selected scientists is flawed should write letters to the respective journals to discredit that work. Or, better yet, spend some time doing original research and publish your own work. Please keep up the excellent work on this site!!!

  20. 70
    EJD says:

    models are all wrong (but the question is whether they are useful),

    Only in ‘climate science’ can something be all wrong and still be useful. Please don’t wonder anymore over why most folks don’t take AGW claims seriously.

    [Response: Perhaps you might want to think about what you are saying? A reference for you: George Box – gavin]

  21. 71
    DrTskoul says:


    It is your right to do whatever you want with your money and yourself!!! It is not in your right to decide for the people that still have some brain between their ears. And you can go and threaten away. You won’t live to see 40 – 50ft of sea rise anyway…your grandkids and their kids maybe….Are you willing to risk future generations for your “money” and your “right to choose”. One’s freedom ends where somebody else’s begins. Enough is enough!!!

  22. 72
    hank says:

    To repeat Anna Haynes request “Any chance RC could do a post addressing all the “red” ones in the QuarkSoup post?”

    Seems to have slipped through the cracks here.

  23. 73
    dhogaza says:

    EJD …

    Only in ‘climate science’ can something be all wrong and still be useful. Please don’t wonder anymore over why most folks don’t take AGW claims seriously.

    Ah, someone else who won’t fly in any airliner built in the last two or three decades …

    And will refuse to submit to an MRI or CAT scan because the images doctors use for diagnosis are imperfectly constructed from model inferences …

    And on and on and on …

    (psst EJD “wrong but useful” underlies pretty much every bit of theory and engineering that you depend upon every day of your life.)

  24. 74

    Over here in South Africa this had brief mention as an attempt at derailing COP17, on a government radio station. It’s that simple. RC has to take it down comprehensively in case someone out there doesn’t get it. That’s all it is.

  25. 75
    Marcus says:

    the guy who actually exercises his right to vote and the guy who will be calling for your ass if it turns out the horrible outcomes you predict are so much BS. I am exactly the person you need to be trying to convince.

    No. You are exactly the person to better be ignored.


  26. 76
    dbostrom says:

    …I’m the guy who defended your right to live as you do, the guy who pays taxes, the guy who actually exercises his right to vote and the guy who will be calling for your ass if it turns out the horrible outcomes you predict are so much BS.

    Presumably the same guy who’ll be equally stringent in punishing the folks who appear to have eliminated the chance to avoid what is odds-on favorite to be catastrophic for many. Or, if it’s not his direct progeny who are affected, will lenience be the order of the day?

    Meanwhile, the old confusion of lifestyle choices with physics: “… it is my money and my freedom of choice that is at risk…” Political party ID cards, passports or birth certificates do not determine cosmology or subordinates in the hierarchy of facts. Confusion is the result of mixing birth circumstances or political ideology into a matter primarily about the behavior of molecules subjected to a flux of energy; horoscopes are of equal utility as the characters printed on passport in describing the matter of climate behavior. “The Zodiac tells me so” is not persuasive for purposes of swaying opinions in this matter.

  27. 77
    cynicus says:

    @50, timg,
    Try seeing it in another way: we all have doubts about 40-50ft sealevel rise and the other stuff you mention. Science is never finished or perfect. But the best we have is the current state of science, and it says that there is a non-negligible chance of it happening. So the real question turns out to be: can we safely ignore the risk? Should we ignore the risk?

    This is where we seem to depart. I would argue that since risk (=chance times impact) is high we should not gamble with the fate of future generations. On the other hand you seem to argue that although risk is high the chance is low so you want to be able to choose that your personal comfort and money is more important.

    But how about the libertarian philosophy that your freedom stops where it starts to impact the freedom of others? Is your life worth more then that of our children? Is it moral to gamble with their well-being so you can be a few percent richer?

  28. 78
    Lewis Guignard says:

    RE: Cynicus,

    Certainly. Live well, procreate, build a house not on the coast on in a flood plain, build it to last. Work hard, save, strive to keep government at a minimum. This is the best you can do for your progeny.

  29. 79
    Peter Thorne says:

    It seems that a couple of my mails have been highlighted by people wishing to take them out of context. Both related to a very early draft of the IPCC fourth assessment observations chapter that I was asked to review informally as part of the accepted report preparation pathway. This would have been in 2005 or 2006 not 2011. IPCC has several review cycles and numerous lead authors on each chapter to ensure balance and representivity. However, the very earliest drafts inevitably reflect the individual contributor’s perspectives. The review which I undertook was and still is intended to catch such cases and rectify before the formal reviews. I would note that none of the formal review versions retained the vast majority of the text that was being discussed in this email. In other words the process worked. I would note in passing that my understanding is that US FOIA precludes early drafts of papers and discussions thereof precisely because it is vital to be able to discuss fully and frankly scientific work prior to publication, peer review being a necessary but not adequate condition. It is good that scientists care about issues and imperative that they are allowed to discuss report and paper drafts openly if we want the best reports and papers possible.

    As to the tropical hotspot issue I raised it was correct … in 2005/6! Here’s some headline news (if a second email tranche release also constitutes news then the bar is set very very low) … science does not stand still. In the past five years there have been multiple new studies using satellites and weather balloons, including the thermal wind evidence. These studies have highlighted even more than was the case then the substantial uncertainty in tropical tropospheric temperature records. We never made these measurements for climate, they are bedevilled by non-climatic artifacts that are poorly understood. The observational evidence is so uncertain as to include anything from somewhat less warming than at the surface to substantial amplification of surface changes aloft. So, no there is no longer anywhere near as strong evidence for a lack of a tropical hotspot as was the case then. Although of course absence of evidence is not equivalent to evidence of absence for some kind of discrepancy between observations and models. The large observational uncertainty and strong inter-model consistency make the observational uncertainty a far more plausible explanation … which was also the state of the science in 2005/6.

    Also, to correct a mis-conception (zombie argument?) that the tropical upper-troposphere hotspot is somehow a unique signature of anthropogenic warming this is frankly baloney. The tropical troposphere is dominated by convective mixing processes. Although its not as simple as just a moist adiabatic lapse rate adjustment the net effect is that the tropical tropospheric column simply amplifies whatever changes occur at the surface. If it warms the troposphere warms with greater warming aloft. If it cools the troposphere cools at an increasing rate aloft. Models and observations concur on monthly to inter-annual timescales. So, a forcings run with a net +ve surface radiative effect will have a tropical hotspot and one with net -ve surface radiative effect will have a tropical coldspot. Single forcing model runs can easily verify this and show that the hotspot is no unique signature of CO2 forcing. It just doesn’t stack up physically. The unique anthropogenic signal is a warming troposphere / cooling stratosphere … something that we see very clearly.

    Finally, the caricature that has been painted of numerous of the principle actors but particularly Phil Jones are so divorced of reality and distorted. I do not know of a single person who has done more to try to advance data sharing of meteorological data for the last 15 years than Phil Jones (if you doubt me you could mine something useful instead of personal emails … the GCOS report series to see how hard this really is to get to happen and how involved Phil Jones has been). Much of the improvement in data sharing (and there has been) is down to him and a small handful of others. That he gets painted as a data obstructionist is therefore worse than ironic, its dishonest. Data IPR is complicated, particularly when they have potential commercial or geopolitical value / sensitivity. This just is not understood fully outside a small handful of people. It is not the people, like Phil Jones, working to make the data available that people should be directing their ire at. His hands are tied … he did not take the readings and does not own the data. As noted when the data were released there may be real repercussions in terms of data sharing so release may prove a hollow victory for the requestors if it leads to less data sharing which then has a negative impact on our ability to issue accurate weather forecasts or understand future changes.


  30. 80
    Toby says:


    Know you are busy … do you have any context for this which is viral at the moment?

    Mike: The Figure you sent is very deceptive […] there have been a number of dishonest presentations of model results by individual authors and by IPCC

    [Response: Actually yes. It was my figure – nothing to do with Mike, and I used it in this RealClimate post. I disagreed (and disagree) with Wigley, as I stated in response at the time (2509). There is an update to the figure here, and I will update it again in a month or so.- gavin]

  31. 81
    DrTskoul says:


    We do not live in the far west anymore. You will be the first to ask for the government for help if thinks turn sour.

    And another thing. Risk – value analysis will show you that if the consequence is very high, even if the probability is exceedingly low, you do not mitigate – you change course. Our debate is about the magnitude of the consequences. Given that the world is to exceed 8 or 9 billion (short of an avian flu pandemic) the consequence of failing crops is enormous. And if you doubt look where is the former breadbasket of the world – Middle East, currently a desert due to changing weather patterns. Nature did that and now there is a risk that we are repeating the experiment. Are you betting your progeny’s life on that? Or God will provide? Homeostasis does not apply to single species .

  32. 82
    J Bowers says:

    Tamino — “apparently their only recourse is to look for “sloppy seconds” in the stolen emails in a lame attempt to revive their smear campaign.”

    ‘Sloppy-Seconds-gate’. That has a ring to it.

  33. 83
    J Bowers says:

    If you’re looking for scandal, by the way, Norfolk Constabulary have spent nothing on the CRU hack investigation since March.

  34. 84
    DrTskoul says:

    My comment was for #78 not #77

  35. 85
    Number9 says:

    Cynicus You seem to have calculated the NPV out 100 years That’s how you determine if the risk is worth the return.

    Let us in on it; otherwise it’s just an empty emotional comment.

  36. 86
    vendicar decarian says:

    If you want to understand the denialist movement – although not specifically the GW denialist movement, then this article is a very good and refreshing read.

    Although I am no fan of Frum, it illustrates nicely how and why reason will not work with these people.

    It is mass delusion built upon willful ignorance, and the establishment by Conservative Propaganda groups of an entirely unreal universe disjoint from the real one.

    The implications are far beyond the issue of climate change, and for this reason, a simple refutation of GW denialism can not and will not succeed since it will simply grow back from it’s ideological root.

    The root must be eradicated.

    When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?

  37. 87
    Number9 says:

    70.models are all wrong (but the question is whether they are useful),

    Only in ‘climate science’ can something be all wrong and still be useful. Please don’t wonder anymore over why most folks don’t take AGW claims seriously.

    [Response: Perhaps you might want to think about what you are saying?

    Let’s be clear: Jones is saying that they know the model is not complete – not enough cloud cover factored in.

    Incomplete in a key component can’t be useful for forecasting

    [Response: You have no idea. Let me repeat, all models are incomplete, and all models have discrepancies to observations – no matter how complicated they are and how good the data is. Yet models are used to forecast successfully all the time. This is kind of off topic for this thread, but please read the FAQs on climate models (part i, part ii) for some background. – gavin]

  38. 88
    cynicus says:

    @78, Lewis,

    Indeed. We all think that it’s perfectly normal (and moral) to pay a fair price for proper waste management, in order not to burden others with our waste. This is a common ground shared by almost everyone, be it conservative, libertarian or liberal. Right?

    Then lets stop treating our atmosphere, which is mine, yours and the only one to be inherited by our decedents, as a free-of-cost open sewer. Place a fair price on carbon and other wastes released in the atmosphere that reflect their damaging potential as determined by our best understanding. It is the right thing to do.

  39. 89
    chrisd3 says:

    @EJD #70:

    Only in ‘climate science’ can something be all wrong and still be useful.

    Aerodynamic models are all wrong. Airplanes can still fly.

    You’re misinterpreting “all”. The meaning is “All models are wrong”, not “Models are completely wrong.”

  40. 90
    Ray Ladbury says:

    You know, the really sad thing about this whole episode from its inception in 2009 is that it has been a tremendous learning opportunity that has been largely wasted. It shows how science actually gets done by fallible but largely well meaning humans. It shows the power of the scientific method to elucidate truth even when wielded by fallible human. We see pettiness, rivalries, misunderstandings and politics. And yet not one single result has been overturned or even called into question as a result of the revelation of these emails or any other activity the denialists have carried out. NOT ONE!!!

    That is the true lesson of this affair, and the denialists have missed it utterly. Of course, to learn, one’s learning curve must have a positive slope, and those of the anti-science side of this debate seem to have slopes capped at zero.

  41. 91
    John Mason says:

    re – #19: Hey guys – I got into the archive they haven’t released yet (with the help of a whistleblower) – this one’s pure DYNAMITE:

    Oct 22 16:27 1895
    From: Svante Arrhenius
    Subject: One world government
    To: All Who Are In On It


    The first draft of my new paper is done. Please find it attached, assuming this carrier-pigeon has arrived safely. I hope it will appear in print next year and be ignored for several decades before the theory is elaborated upon around 1940. This will give us time to get our Sleepers into position. They will not live long enough to see the IPCC being set up, but their children will and will automatically be given positions at salaries equivalent to senior government officials. This in turn will prepare them to behave like senior government officials, for surely this is what they will become around 2020, when the true nature of the IPCC will be revealed as the International Protocol for Complete Communism i.e. a One World Government whose sole purpose will be to tax conservative white men. Especially the grumpy ones. Onwards and upwards – Svan

  42. 92
    CM says:

    timg56 #50,

    I’m the guy who defended your right to live as you do, the guy who pays taxes, the guy who actually exercises his right to vote and the guy who will be calling for your ass if it turns out the horrible outcomes you predict are so much BS.

    No kidding! You’re that guy? Wow!

  43. 93

    See there the root of our disagreements:

    Cynicus (77):
    “(…) your freedom stops where it starts to impact the freedom of others? Is your life worth more then that of our children? Is it moral to gamble with their well-being so you can be a few percent richer?”

    Lewis Guignard (78):
    “Certainly. Live well, procreate, build a house not on the coast on in a flood plain, build it to last. Work hard, save, strive to keep government at a minimum. This is the best you can do for your progeny.”

    Why we disagree about climate change? Because we value the future with respect to the present differently. (and other values as well, but this is certainly a biggie). A shame that one side feels compelled to distort the science to bolster their argument though.

  44. 94
    Dale says:

    Number 9, Dr. Barry Bickmore from that bastion of liberal thought, Brigham Young University did a talk at Utah Valley College entitled, “How to avoid the truth About Climate Change.” Dr. Bickmore is a former skeptic. He’s also a lifelong Republican. He discusses the emotional mindset of the Climate denier and why people like him have such a hard time looking at the truth.

    “I gave a talk called “How to Avoid the Truth About Climate Change” for the College of Science and Health at Utah Valley University. For those of you who aren’t familiar with me, I am a Republican and a geochemist who, until a few years ago, was quite skeptical about the idea that humans are causing significant climate change.
    In the presentation, I briefly talked about how I had made the transition from being a climate change “skeptic” to being an outspoken advocate of mainstream climate science. I then discussed how it is that people like me can so effectively avoid the truth about climate change

  45. 95
    andy says:

    “Also–& I’m sure you agree–the Mann/Jones GRL paper was truly pathetic and should never have been published. I don’t want to be associated with that 2000 year “reconstruction”.

    Nice note! Raymond Bradley to Keith Briffa.

    [Response: Oops! There goes the narrative about how the “Team” are all in it together… – gavin]

  46. 96
    Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Only in ‘climate science’ can something be all wrong and still be useful. Please don’t wonder anymore over why most folks don’t take AGW claims seriously.

    All models are wrong; some models are useful. Gavin links to George Box saying this. I heard this attributed to Deming.

    As dhogaza points out this applies to other fields like engineering. It likely applies to all other fields that use models too. We work with models in the population biology field from modelling fish stocks to species at risk to determine how likely they are to go extinct.

    Even after we’ve input all the factors we think are relevant, we still know the models will be wrong in some aspect, but we know they provide more guidance (i.e. are useful) than what was done before. My colleagues down the hall tell of the days when they’d have to decide how many moose were allowed to be taken from an area. They’d look at all the data then pick a number that felt right in their gut.

    If a model is both wrong and useless then it is replaced by one that is at least useful which implies that it is more right than the preceding model (but still ‘wrong’). Models approximate the real world–they don’t replicate it–therefore they are all wrong, but are still useful.

    [Response: I’m thinking it was Hal Caswell who made comments about the utility of models that were very similar to Box’s.–Jim]

  47. 97

    Gavin’s RC figure mentioned in 80 is very similar to a figure made and posted by Lucia at the Blackboard (sorry, don’t know which post so can’t link; I saved it on my harddisk). She graphed individual model runs though instead of the 95% envelope of model estimates.

    Would be interesting to see if those who are claiming that Gavins’ figure is misleading would claim the same of Lucia’s.

  48. 98
    Salamano says:

    “…Yet models are used to forecast successfully all the time.”

    Is there anything to the idea that the error spread/inaccuracies in the various models used in forecasting are taken to discern whether a high temperature is going to be 70 vs 75 … whereas the error spread/in climate models are used in climate projections that are attempting to discern tenths and hundredths of a degree..?

    I agree that models that have biases and inaccuracies in forecast models are still useful for the forecaster because the models themselves are not the forecast– and because the relative requirements for precision are on the order of whole degrees. If the precision required is vastly more refined, and if the model itself is forced to fully embody the actual forecast, would not the utility be at least somewhat reduced– even if a trending ensemble of models is still useful for its direction if not the magnitude?

    Sorry that it may be OT, but someone else started it and now I’m curious because of the response.

    [Response: The spread in an ensemble is a strong function of the metric you are looking at. In temperatures, the spread is largest on small time and space scales and reduces with larger averaging in time and space. Thus the spread in the (currently expected) 20 year global mean surface temperature trend has a sigma of ~0.1 deg C, while the July temperature in New York city in the same models has a sigma of maybe 2 deg C. In some metrics, over some time scales, the signal is drowned out by the noise, in others, it isn’t. – gavin]

  49. 99
    Charlie Z says:

    This really comes down to the belief that stupid people like me can’t possibly understand the intricacy of your scientific investigations. The emails are further evidence that you have to dumb it down for us, the unwashed masses, so that we can possibly understand. Further, you have to remove hints of discontinuity in opinion and present a united front so that we don’t get it in our heads that there are other possibilities. These emails are evidence that you think we are idiots.

    What you talk about in private would just confuse us.

    My opinion. If you really want to effectively communicate this message, stop acting like we are stupid. That would be the best PR of all.

    [Response: I’m sorry you have this perception, but you are completely incorrect. These are all publishing scientists whose papers are available for all to see (often on their own websites, or via a library) where all of the details are laid bare. Our climate models and data are freely available for anyone to play with, analyse and publish on. If you are complaining that the media does not give proper account of the complexities, then you are correct, and you would find that most scientists would agree with you, but scientists are not in charge of the media, and continually struggle against the biases (towards sensationalism and conflict and away from nuance and complexity) that exist. That indeed was one of the founding ideas of this website, that scientists could interact directly with the public at whatever level of complexity was appropriate. Nonetheless, scientists have been burned again and again by people taking short quotes and twisting them to mean the opposite of what was intended, and here we have another prime set of examples. It is unfortunate (though understandable) that some scientists take that as cue to not speak in public. I choose to continue to do so because it is actually in providing more information directly, one can remove much of the ambiguity that accompanies many media stories. But the idea that scientists think the public is ‘stupid’ is far from the truth. Sometimes confused, sometimes inattentive, sometimes uneducated, but stupid? Not at all. – gavin]

  50. 100
    Gavin Cawley says:

    I was fortunate enough to have worked with Phil Jones on a couple of projects (as a rather minor contributor), and I agree with Peter Thorne @79 that the characature that has been painted of him is entirely divorced from reality, and would be laughable if not for the effect it has had on a good scientist and a decent man. I very much hope Phil and the other scientists involved are not deflected from the good work they are doing, which ultimately is the best response.

    I am very grateful to RC for being a voice of reason following the release of both tranches of stolen emails.