Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Parliamentary Report

The UK parliament announced the results of its enquiry into Climategate today. Here's an excerpt.

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—"trick" and "hiding the decline"—the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

Our readers are familiar with the this graph, in which the green line has been faked from 1960 onwards by deleting the tree-ring data, which went down sharply after 1960, and replacing it with thermometer data, which went up sharply after 1960. This was one version of the "trick" to "hide the decline". Another version is shown in these graphs, where the tree-ring data is simply cut short at 1960, leaving only upward graphs from that time onwards. All participants in these efforts to "hide the decline" are unashamed and open about the "trick". They say they omitted or replaced the tree-ring data because they knew it was unreliable.

I believe they are sincere. So I guess I agree with the parliament's conclusion: the scientists involved were not deliberately deceiving anyone. They believed that their graphs were consistent with the Ultimate Truth, which is that the world is getting warmer fast, and human beings are responsible for the warming. Any data that showed otherwise must, by assumption, be wrong, so it should not be plotted.

A scientist that puts his theory before the data will never discover anything new. He will never discover that he is wrong. None of us have any interest in giving him money to make discoveries because we know perfectly well he's not going to make any. The only reason to give him money is so he can keep repeating his theory to us over and over again. Putting the data first is hard. It requires mental discipline, and it is this discipline that gives science its high social standing.

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that a climatologist was deliberately deceiving the public about the science of global warming. This would imply that the climatologist had put the data first and reached a conclusion consistent with the data. After that, he went about telling people something opposite to the conclusion he came to. Thus we have a self-disciplined scientist who chooses to lie to people. I don't think that's possible. A self-disciplined scientist can get a job anywhere, be paid well, and sleep easily at night knowing that he has his honor intact. Why would such a person deceive anyone?

The climatologists who took part in hiding the decline are not self-disciplined in the sense I described above. They don't even know what we are talking about when we say they should put the data first. They think they are putting the data first. They don't realize what they have done wrong, other than that it got them into trouble.

All this to say: climatologists were not lying, but they have lost their reputation among other scientists, and there's no undoing that fact. As a scientist, all you have is your reputation. Once you lose it, you never get it back.


  1. Just watched an actual global warming debate on TV. It aligned well with Kevan's description of global warming advocates.

    It's Steven Colbert, so their are some laughs too.

  2. Thank you Alex. That was pretty funny. The climatologist started by saying that the arctic ice had been shrinking recently, but when presented with the fact that the ices is back to 2003 levels, she changed the subject to, "Most meteorologists agree with AGW." That kind of behavior is typical of politicians dodging awkward subjects and pushing their message. But I trust that she believes in her message.

  3. Kevan,
    I read your dialogue with Gavin Schmidt. Well done. You kept your cool. That's important. Is he rattled? Invoking glaciers etc as conclusive evidence seems a bit desperate. And why won't he just give up on the hockey stick/reliance on tree rings pre-1960 but not post-? After the Macintyre/Montford assault it's looking more and more like a dead donkey.

  4. Thank you for your encouragement. I think climatologists talk about melting ice and swimming polar bears because these images are successful at strengthening many people's existing beliefs about global warming. I don't think Gavin is so much rattled as entirely convinced of his position and annoyed with apparently intelligent people like me who don't agree with him. On the other hand, perhaps that's another way of saying he was rattled.

  5. Yes, even fairly well-informed people like Gavin can hang stubbornly on to their beliefs in the face of rather a lot of contrary evidence. He's unlikely to concede now. I don't think he is exceptional in that respect.
    It's with all the other people who haven't yet got a committed position on the climate issue where the possibility for enlightenment arises. I'm really pleased at the reception that Andrew Montford's book has received. Paleoclimate since 1000 AD only represents a small corner of the subject, and there are as you know plenty of other zones of weakness. For instance the sloppy and unscientific way that the Vostok data has been used to argue for an improbably large feedback component in the glacial/interglacial temperature variations from an intial temperature-driven change in CO2. I wish I had good enough maths to write a critique of that topic. And it's important, because apart from the rather poor correlation between changes in atmospheric CO2 levels and changes in surface temperature data during the last 100 years or so, the only observational backing they have to support their inflated model-driven values for 'climate sensitivity' comes from the glacial/interglacial changes. I don't see their position on this being sustainable. So far it hasn't received the attention it deserves. I'll look up the blog of Bill Johns who has been working on the Vostok data.
    Keep up the good work,

  6. Last year I happened upon a pamphlet published by the Independent Newspaper in around 2004, in which the top piece of evidence supporting the AGW theory was the correlation between CO2 and temperature in the ice core data. When the ice core groups discovered that CO2 lagged behind temperature by 1000 years, climate scientists should have backed down. The lagging rather than leading was a striking contradiction of their existing theories. But they didn't back down. They adopted a new theory, which is a complex way of explaining how CO2 causes climate change even though it lags climate change. No matter how good my math is, I don't see any point in arguing about this point any more: you can't reason someone out of a position that they didn't get into by reason in the first place.

    As you may see in my more recent posts, I'm taking up the subject of adiabatic lapse rate, which you mentioned to me a while back in one of your comments. I hope you find my calculations accurate.