Sunday, February 28, 2010

Climategate and Parliament

On 22nd January 2010, the UK parliament's science and technology committee announced an inquiry into Climategate. Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit made this submission to the committee.

In his submission, Mr. McIntyre compares graphs of data that various climatologists attempted to keep private to the graphs of data that these same climatologists published in their papers. The private data shows a prominent medieval warm period. The published data shows no medieval warm period. The published data suggests that the twentieth century warming is unprecedented. The private data shows quite the opposite. Mr. McIntyre also presents the substitution of thermometer measurements for tree-ring proxy measurements by CRU in 1999, and the deletion of post-1960 tree-ring proxy measurements from the published data sets.

I spent ten minutes looking for a similar submission from the authors of Real Climate, but found none. I did, however, note that recent posts on Real Climate are dominated by assertions that the mainstream media, in particular UK newspapers, are doing a bad job reporting on Climategate. In The Guardian Disappoints, Gavin Schmidt talks of a "complete collapse" in reporting standards in the UK. What I can't find anywhere is the sort of succinct refutation that will be necessary to rebut Mr. MacIntyre's submission to parliament.

On the one hand, we have skeptics who believe in the open disclosure of all data, even when the data conflicts with a scientist's beliefs. On the other hand, we have climatologists who believe the best way to present science to the public is to shield them from data that they would otherwise misunderstand, or which would give fuel to the unreasonable arguments of climate skeptics. It may be that climatologists are absolutely right about anthropogenic global warming and its up-coming catastrophic effects. It may be that they are doing the right and moral thing by hiding the decline. But most of us don't like to have other people hiding things from us. We don't like anyone suggesting that a lunatic can get hold of the wrong data and make us believe something absurd. The climatologist's approach to the public may be caring, but it is also disdainful.

Climatologists have so much invested in their theory of anthropogenic global warming that it's unreasonable to expect them to back down and change their way of doing business after Climategate. We, the public who pay their salaries, will eventually insist that they do the job we want them to do in the way we want them to do it. But until that then, climatologists will stick to their existing methods and remain unrepentant.

After all, there are still people out there who believe that crop circles are made by aliens.

UPDATE: Thanks to Chuck for pointing to the submission of the Institute for Physics.

UPDATE: People who study crop circles are called cereologists.


  1. 'there are still people out there who believe that crop circles are made by aliens.'

    Almost as bad as elec eng particle physicists who quote Flanders and Swann.

    Even more depressing was the RC comments section when someone posted a link to the Institute of Physics submission to the select Committee.

    Dozens of jeering dismissals of these ignorant biased oafs in the United Kingdoms foremost Physics Organisation. Come back Dale Carnegie, all is forgiven.

    Thanks for the fun and excellent analyses here, you might enjoy a thoughtful Climategate analysis by the batsh*t insane Mencius Moldbug, here:


  2. Glad you are enjoying the analysis, and that you know who Flanders and Swann are. For the record: I am only an electrical engineer, not a particle physicist. Will check the link.

  3. Dear Kevan,
    You wrote: "It may be that climatologists are absolutely right about anthropogenic global warming and its up-coming catastrophic effects. It may be that they are doing the right and moral thing by hiding the decline."

    I don’t agree that people presenting as ‘scientists’ can be morally right - by acting immorally - on the basis of their untested insights eventuating. In science at least the ends can never justify the means because they (the ends) cannot be assumed. That’s why the paths to scientific truth must be clearly sign-posted. The CRU crowd appears to have made an effort to hide their tracks.
    Cheers, Peter

  4. I take your point.

    But suppose 10 frustrated eco-warriors cornered me in a Copenhagen back-ally saying, "Do you believe in anthropogenical global whatsit? Cos if not, mate, we're going to beat the living daylights out of you." Under these exceptional and life-threatening conditions, giving consideration to the well-being of my four children, I believe I'd be entitled to say, "Yes, gentlemen, I am a BELIEVER!"

    My guess is that many of us make a calculation about when to break the rules.

    If a climatologist believed with absolute certainty that the world was going to suffer a catastrophe unless people stopped burning so much oil, they might conclude that they are entitled to lie to people in order to save the world.

    I didn't want to take issue with such an argument on their part. Even if we accept such an argument, what they have done has lead to the failure of their cause, irrespective of the truth.

    Having said that, nobody was threatening climatologists with personal injury, nor suggesting that any harm should come to them, so I think a justification for lying or deceiving would be difficult.