Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Guest article by Douglas Maraun - a replique to von Storch's WSJ op-ed

Recently, my attention has been drawn to the essay "Good Science, Bad Politics" in The Wall Street Journal, written by Hans von Storch. I generally agree with his view on good science, and that action is needed to restore confidence in climate science. But while reading this article, I felt quite concerned - not because I think that all of his criticism is wrong, but rather because some of the points made in the article are not justified. In particular, I do not share the focus on the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) only, where a much more general discussion is necessary. As a former researcher at CRU, I believe some points need some clarification.

First, I want to comment on the term "CRU-cartel" used by von Storch. This term is at least misleading. A cartel is, by definition, a formal agreement. This suggests a rather rigid structure which I believe does not exist. I am not in the position to discuss this issue in depth, but I think, at worst, the term "clique" would be appropriate. "CRU-cartel" furthermore suggests a structure which is centered at CRU, and which comprises all of CRU. Yet there is strong evidence against this point. Von Storch writes about "a concerted effort to emphasize scientific results that are useful to a political agenda by blocking papers in the purportedly independent review process and skewing the assessments of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC). The effort has not been so successful [...]" He does not write that it had been CRU members who actively opposed this effort and ensured that the critique of the hockey stick has been discussed in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. Omitting this fact might lead to a biased reception of von Storch's essay.

Second, I agree with von Storch, that some climate scientists are alarmist, and even more, some climate scientists are politicised and give scientific results a certain spin to push their political agenda. Yet, as I experienced CRU, the institute was far from being alarmist or streamlined in any way. In fact, CRU is a small institute of individual characters with very diverse views of the relationship between politics and climate science. And, I want to add, I believe that none of the people working at CRU is alarmist in the sense that they would corrupt their scientific results to push political views.

Third, von Storch writes about the "trick": "we know by now that the activity described by these words was by no means innocent." I disagree with von Storch that the readership of WSJ or the public in general knows what is meant by the trick. In fact, most newspaper articles do not even attempt to explain it, and some even presume that the thermometer measurements had been manipulated (e.g., reports by the german TV
programmes Tagesthemen and Kontrovers imply this prejudice). In fact, the trick was related to a blending of thermometer data into proxy data (reconstructing the temperature of the last millenium), which after around 1960 seem to be dominated by local environmental changes rather than temperature (the so-called divergence problem). Possible problems related to this blending need to be discussed, but von Storch's statement, as vage as it is, might well play into the skeptics claims.

Fourth, the whole transparency issue needs a much broader discussion. For much of the raw data underlying the global average temperature, CRU simply doesn't have the legal right to publish them, even if they wanted to. These data are owned by national weather services and of commercial value and therefore not publicly available. CRU asked all involved national weather services for permission to use these data, and signed not to distribute the raw data further. For details on the data and a further discussion of this point, see
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climatechange/science/monitoring/subsets.html. But, and this is quite often overlooked: every critic and skeptic has the possibility to access the data for non-commercial use already now - but they would have to ask all relevant weather services for permission. CRU itself is currently not in the position to publish all of these data.

Finally, the whole discussion - some skeptics claim that what they coined climategate is the biggest scientific scandal in history - should be brought back to earth. It might sound disillusioning, but the formation of cliques is common whereever human beings get organised in a loose way, thus cliques are - unfortunately - common in science. I am a physicist by training, and experienced a clique in a specific subfield of complex systems theory. In that case, some key scientists keep close contact to journal editors, do active gate keeping and suppress critical views. All the issues discussed about the hacked CRU e-mails are almost innocent against the behaviour shown by some scientists in other disciplines, and are far away from real scandals as those about gene therapies in the 1990s, the cloning affair, or the recent manipulation in quantum field theory by a
prospective Nobel candidate. I do not claim that we should accept such circumstances, but we do have to accept that scientists are human beings; and that climate science is - even though it is politically very relevant - not worse than other disciplines which are relevant. I personally believe, and this might sound rather provocative, that climate science is less prone to form cliques and to be corrupted *because* it is politically relevant. Climate science is, as far as I know, the only discipline which is under constant observation by the public and has a transparent and regular assessment of its results (the IPCC reports).

There are, however, some important solely scientific points left, which I believe should be discussed within the climate community.

First, the IPCC has been established by the UNEP and the WMO "to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences" (IPCC website). In my opinion this also includes reproducibility, and therefore open access to all data flowing into the IPCC reports. If governments want to base their decisions on reliable scientific results, they should allow their national weather services to release all meteorological data used in the IPCC reports, as is already done with the model data. The best solution would be an international data server hosted by the IPCC, which stores and distributes relevant observations. But this is not only a question of working against national egoism and jealousy, but also of money to provide the necessary infrastructure.

Second, I see von Storch's point about communicating to decision makers. Climate scientists have long been working with some kind of "end users". Traditionally these are engineers, which have to rely on climate analyses to build a dam, construct a railway track or plan a new residential area. But more and more, these end users are political decision makers who do not have the time, will and knowledge to understand climate science in detail. This is a true dilemma. On the one hand climate science is complex, and affected by high uncertainties. But on the other hand, the public has the right to understand at least the key points. Not mainly, but also because climate scientists are in general funded by the tax payer. The debate within climate science has long been driven by people who believe that we have to communicate our results as simple as we can such that the general public can understand them. This idea has also been pushed by journalists and university's press offices. During the last years, however, the discussion within the climate community has shifted its focus towards a discussion of uncertainty. This discussion needs to be continued, and we should not allow ourselves to be pushed neither by decision makers nor by journalists.

Third, von Storch claims that "the journals Nature and Science must review their quality-control measures and selection criteria for papers". Nature has a very strict peer review policy (http://www.nature.com/authors/editorial_policies/peer_review.html), and I am not sure whether the system itself can be improved. But still, reviewers and editors should take their roles more seriously within the existing system. I have encountered several editors, who where strongly biased when they had to decide about an article written by a colleague, several reviewers who did not have the time and knowledge to thoroughly review a manuscript, and some reviewers who tried to suppress critical opinions. Editors should abide by their own rules of conduct, and should ensure that also reviewers take their roles seriously. How this can be accomplished is a point to discuss. Nevertheless, I believe that the overall system works fairly well. On the one hand, claims that certain results cannot be published because of a conspiracy are pathetic; a good paper rejected by one journal will always have the chance to be published by another one. On the other hand those hundreds of bad papers published every year do not hamper the scientific discussion; one paper is only one single contribution to a discussion, not a complete and accepted theory.

21 comments:

MikeR said...

Climateaudit has had a couple of posts recently on the ability of CRU to publish all of its data, based on the data that it did release recently. McIntyre doesn't draw firm conclusions, but he does note that there is missing data in the release, but not really based on country. Just missing stations here and there. Weird. Assuming I'm understanding him correctly.

Ben said...

"In fact, the trick was related to a blending of thermometer data into proxy data (reconstructing the temperature of the last millenium), which after around 1960 seem to be dominated by local environmental changes rather than temperature (the so-called divergence problem)."

Wrong, the trick was referring to the decline of proxy data which was cut off in 1960. this fact was hidden in a spaghetti graph so it wouldn't be too obvious.
http://climateaudit.org/2009/12/12/daily-mail-special-investigation/

This decline in temperature diverges from the increase of the actual temperature data. There are is no explanation as to what causes this divergence, but one could be that trees are no thermometers. Admitting this would question all dendro based reconstructions, also in the past.
http://climateaudit.org/2009/12/10/ipcc-and-the-trick/

P Gosselin said...

Mr Maraun is downplaying CRU shortcomings.
He ought to read Willis Eschenbach's FOIA request. He also ought to read the e-mails again on how Mann wanted to redefine the peer review process. He ought to read Bishop Hill's "Jesus Paper".
I think there are lots of things he should read, which he obviously hasn't.
Transparancy regarding Team science has been muddy at best, peer review has been biased, data management a complete chaos and temperature reconstructions have been dubious and erroneaous. To say things have been run fairly well is really out to lunch. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest a small change to the current wording by Douglas. From:

"If governments want to base their decisions on reliable scientific results, they should allow their national weather services to release all meteorological data used in the IPCC reports, as is already done with the model data."

I would suggest:

"If governments want to base their decisions on reliable scientific results, they should ENFORCE their national weather services to release all meteorological data used in the IPCC reports, as is already done with the model data."

In the case of Spanish data it is clear that this is a key point. We, as researchers, can not under any circunstance, release meteorological data to third parties, and we have to sign an agreement with our national weather service agreeing on this issue. It is clear for me that similar contracts have probably been written by CRU with national meteorological services. Therefore, it is easy to understand that CRU is not allowed to disseminate these data.

However, creating an international repository of observations such as the one proposed by Douglas would be a real step forward for climate as a science.

Anonymous said...

Climate Science has to be better, clean and more transparent than 'normal' science if it is to be used as the justification of C02 emissions reductions. This is a policy that would cost trillions of dollars.

The Climategate emails show paleo-climatology in particular to be dubious to the point where it has to be called into question.

'Virtuous Corruption' has taken hold as described Aynsley Kellow.

Marcel Severijnen said...

Calling the CRU members a clique seems to me a reasonable characterisation. Cliques are an ubiquitous phenomenon all over society, I agree on that point with Douglas Maraun. Cliques have a common goal – not necessarily the organisation’s goal - and at least they try to survive, mostly they try to reach a higher power position within their organisation. And the CRU-clique has reached the top in their domain. The way people act whenever they come into power (alone or as clique) depends on how they reached that position (legitimately or not) and whether their position is under siege. It’s about money and power, scientists are almost humans, that is.
Cliques in power exhibit interesting social behaviour, that should attract research of social psychologists. Knowing the way such a clique acts to sustain her leading position might help to understand their interaction with deviating opinions and how they arrive in influencing policymakers.
Filling the gap between those two categories is an old problem. Scientists tend to simplify their messages as politicians are not able to handle items as measurement uncertainty. And some scientist develop into semi-politicians, to spread their simplified message and to serve their own agenda. Honest science brokers are needed to fill the gap, and policymakers should lend their ear to more than one opinion and create their own counter-expertise.

The problem of divergence damages in any case the credibility of the temperature reconstructions by proxies and surely does’nt feed the credibility in the modelled temperature rise.
Of course there is a long history of instrumental temperature recording that shows rising levels for the last 150 years. But it is as well clear that there is still discussion on the value of this metric compared to for instance ocean heat capacity and on its own reconstruction, hearing all comments on the use of badly positioned stations, the number and choice of stations, the contribution of urbanisation known as urban heat island effects etc.

Then about tranparency: I agree that there might be problems in publishing data owing to property rights. From the CRU-mails it became clear however that even if there were not such big problems, CRU members would’nt allow these critical followers/deniers access to data and programming code. The latter seems to me even more important, seeking to check published results. But as good science demands the possibility of falsification, utmost efforts should be made to ease such falsification action.
Besides that, getting hold of data from meteorological institutions is normally spoken possible though not always easy to perform. Not every scientist has equal computational capacity like CRU, but even with simple configurations one can study at least regional time series.

The peer review system is not perfect. Peer-reviewers are humans too. One often overlooked behaviour is their natural resistance towards a new theory, a new method. They prefer articles that are close to meanstream ideas. In that sense they tend to be conservative. Editors should be aware of these kinds of conduct.

Reiner Grundmann said...

Marcel - 6

Hans v Storch uses the term 'cartel', Judy Curry and Mike Hulme used the term 'tribe'. Sociologists of science have indeed studied the phenomenon of gatekeepers and groupthink. A term used by Collins is CORE SET. (HM Collins, Changing Order, 1985)

Core sets of research are to be found at a few prestigious institutions and laboratories and are linked to other networks at prestigious institutions. Leadership personalities in these groups control the access to key resources of research such as labs, publication opportunities and finance (cf. Hagstrom 1965; Traweek 1988). They also decide in which direction the field will move, and where the boundary between science and non-science has to be drawn (Gieryn 1995; Jasanoff 1990).

The last point is especially evident with CRU/IPCC: The acknowledgement as an expert in the field is done by these core sets of scientists. They define who counts as scientist and who does not.

What follows from this? If this is more or less common in all fields, why the drama? In my view this has to do with the central role of the same core set within the IPCC assessment process. And here Douglas Maraun gets it wrong. The spotlight was not on these practices (but on the 'skeptical diversion').

TCO said...

1. Clique is better than cartel. HvS does not always have the perfect turn of phrase in English. And yes...it had some character to it, but perhaps was not CRU dominated...maybe just calling it "the team" is aptest. Definitely had some buddy-buddiness.

2. CRU personal impressions. Good add.

3. YEs, some people have confused which decline was hid...but that is NOT the important thing. The critical thing is they SEXED that graph up by cutting out "bad looking data" and replacing with instruments. If someone pulled that crap in semiconductor physics (say to make something look like it followed a certain model) that would be a BIG DEAL. It was WRONG. And if climate studies, doesn't understand that then they need to have natural scientists beat them about the head with Bessel functions. Just try pulling that shit with PRL. Just try...bitch.

4. If you read the whole emails, there is a constant shifting of which excuse made for not sharing data (IPCC, IP, lost it, confidentiality and lost the agreements, will delete it, etc. etc. Given that CRU had lost history on even what they had adjusted how...it is a good inference that they did not like the spotlight because they were ashamed. And they shared the data with "friends", despite the confidentiality requirments. This is not how good work should be done.

itisi69 said...

Cartel, clique, tribe whatever, it's all trivial discussion and red herrings, we all know what HvS meant with the word cartel; the Jones/Mann gang really dominated the temperature statistics of IPCC and all the peripheral activities concerning Climate Change. The complete Carbon Trading business which is now on the verge of becoming the biggest commodity trade of all times is based on this single Hockey Stick graph. Trillions of $$$$, GoldmanSachs is very interested not for nothing, thousands and thousands of jobs depend on this single Graph. Imagine the damage HvS can do to this Multi kazillion Business? No wonder so many people pretend nothing is really going on.

BTW Cabal is a much better word for the CRU gang

Werner Krauss said...

TCO 8
'1. Clique is better than cartel. HvS does not always have the perfect turn of phrase in English.'
Two remarks:
1) TCO, you are wrong. Cartel means 'Kartell', and as much as I know, this is exactly what HvS intended to say.
2) Being a native English speaker is not an argument, TCO. You act repeatedly in this school-masterly way; this is simply impolite, arrogant and uneducated, especially in a blog run by second language speakers. So stick to the basic rules of politeness and netiquette, please.

TCO said...

1. Right here, this WAS me being polite (for me). In all seriousness. In this case, I really felt it more of an explanation/excuse for HvS. I mean we have some old Limey gigging him about which c-word, he uses to describe the gang...and he probably is right that HvS (or E) do not always have perfect turns of phrase. But I think we need to move past that...it is a side issue...to a gang that SEXED A GRAPH...that SNIPPED OFFENDING DATA and put something else in. That would be heartily trounced in any physics department for such duplicity...really. Capisce?

2. The remark about wording was meant out of friendliness and sympathy. It's not like I jabber in Deutsch like some amalgam of Schiller and Goethe. I feel full sympathy and friendliness to the second language speakers. It's just that since I am male, I share my love in the form of jibes rather than hugs.

3. As far as my general behavior that you allude to: Yes, you are right...I act badly.

Leigh Jackson said...

Cartel, clique, tribe, cabal, core set whatever. What's in a name? Where accuracy is concerned, like science, a lot. I am therefore grateful to Reiner for the social scientific term "core set".

It is evidenct that there is always going to be a highest leadership group in all human organisations with the poossible exception of truely anarchistic groups - if such an exotic species exists.

The highest group of climate scientists see smoke and are sounding the alarm. What those who see no smoke need to be doing is producing positive, impeccable and impressive scientific evidence to show that there is no smoke. They need to produce good evidence that increasing human emissions of CO2 is not leading to increasing warming or else show that incresing warming will not result in catastophe; not merely satisfy themselves with negative criticism regarding the scientific evidence of warming and the possible consequences.

Those who see no cause for alarm must become the core set. Science allows for such change but it takes time. We don't have that time in this case.

In 50-100 years we will know the truth but we must act now. Scientists - including the core set - do not have the luxury of washing their hands of the dirty business of politics. They cannot sit back and say to politicians: "there's the scientific papers; now you get on and do what you have to do, whilst we get on trying to solve the ifs and buts."

The core set have to get their hand dirty. The question is how dirty can they decently get away with? Like Maraun I am sympathetic to HvS in his staunch defense of the scientific process and it is right for scientists not in the core set to scrutinise the set up of the IPCC and the behaviour of the core set to scrutiny and criticism. But how that is done also matters. Do we really "know that the activity described by these words was by no means innocent." By no means? I would need to see that spelled out because I do not know that.

Science and politics have ultimately to work together rather than separately. Working out the best way to do this for the politically supercharged case of global warming is inevitably going to be messy but that should not keep us from trying to keep the science as clean as possible.

TCO said...

I think there are plenty of others capable of packaging and transmitting and debating the implications of hard core real science papers. The danger is that when the same people DOING the science, become policy agitators, it bleeds into their science. It just does.

Then science becomes degraded. And policy debates take on the mantle of science without having fully earned it.

That's why I see someone like EZ, who is a real natural scientist at heart (see his Ph.D. papers) as a real true scientist. Who happens to do climate science because it is fascinating and go after puzzles there.

I fully beleive that he would publish any insight that helped either "side", just because it was a new insight. I don't beleive that of the Mann-McI sides. YEah...MAYBE if a smoking gun against their side surfaced, PERHAPS they would display it. But certainly NOT minor insights that would help the other side.

Lawyers, agitators, debators, PR types...play this game...of only talking the points to help their side. But true mathematician/scientists (the type you aspired to be in high school) do not.

And, note...I don't consider en passant, CYA style caveats to cover showing the limitations or showing the points for the other side. If anything, those are more cloaking than revealing...while keeping some ground on to be able to say "I never said that" (when a point disproved). A vile and obnoxious, high school tactic that is unmanly...and yes I would say it to both sides on the street...looking them in the eye.

Leigh Jackson said...

TCO 13

Yes. Vigilance is required.

To repeat and to clarify my jumbled post. It is right to scrutinise and criticise the set up of the IPCC, and the core set of research, and the behaviour of those leading scientists at the interface with the political powers. How we do that matters. That too is liable to corruption.

TCO said...

I'm on it, Leigh. Just watch me flay MY OWN SIDE. I'm a denialist...but damn sick of the old guy amateur club at Heartland conferences (almost a social thing, more than real science). The Wattsupers. Made me sick to hear Lindzen say that AT was a good source.

Now, I still want one of you shmartie-farties thinks of Huybers. Dish baby, dish!!!

Anonymous said...

@ Leigh Jackson,

You write:

"In 50-100 years we will know the truth but we must act now."

If this is true, why should we act now?

That is THE question. There are thousand other truths and other reasons to act right now. If we don't know the truth, why should we act?

As a layman I was trying to find out more information and I was being told lies (by St Rahmstorf). That doesn't help me to believe in AGW. Speaking out my doubts an being insulted and humiliated by climatescientists like Georg Hoffmann doesn't help me to believe and I don't know at all whom or what to believe anymore and I am sure that I am not the only one!

What these people do is NOT science. Even if they are good scientists, why should I believe anything they tell us?

It really frustrates me.

Best regards
Eddy

Leigh Jackson said...

Eddy
What I mean is that according to the current "standard model" if I may use that term for global warming theory, warming is going to continue for the foreseeable future and must inevitably have consequences for life on earth. Theory also says that we can choose to act to limit emisssions and according to theory the warming or leave it to nature to sort itself out whilst we watch on. But from this moment on, if the model is correct the consequences of warming will follow - perhaps devastating consequences. Whether we limit emissions or not we act.

It is a predicament. Grandstanding of any kind is obscene. Hurling of insults and accusations of bad faith all round is sickening. Power, money and self interest of all types abounds.

The science is there somewhere in all this and we need it. In the search for it we all need to examine ourselves first or we shall never find it.

Anonymous said...

@Leigh Jackson

Hello,

I only believe people like Hans Von Storch and Roger Pielke Sr. If the warming goes on, we have to act now. But if it doesn't for more than 20 years I think we should wait and save our planet. Why replace light bulbs if we would have replaced them anyway? Why act now in a wrong direction if we we would act in the good direction anyway. Is climate the only environmental threat? I don't think so.

Best regards
Eddy

_Flin_ said...

Dear Eddy,
there is one big reason to act now concerning CO2: Peak Oil. Even if there is no Climate Warming, investing in alternative energies and energy saving mechanisms will turn out to be a good thing, as soon as peak oil leads to enourmous price jumps in oil, coal and gas.

So even if there wasn't a Climate Warning, countries and communities taking CO2 savings serious, will have definitve competitive advantages over those relying on fossil energies that become more expensive every year.

In the county I live in is a village (Unterhaching) that try to reduce its energy consumption by 60% and produce the rest with regenerative energies. Using insulation, a geothermal plant, wood pellets etc. They are trying to be absolutely independent from external energy sources. This will be a great advantage for this village (22.000 inhabitants), securing their energy supply no matter what.

So if Climate Warming is true (as is currently rather well established), they do their part to stop it or slow it. And if it's not, they are still on the safe side, securing energy for their people and the local industry.

Energy is a valuable asset. Climate Change or not.

TCO said...

If peak oil is "true" then the market can price in the future scarcity now. I think the bigger issue with oil is not peakishness but the cartel pricing. Changes in current price structure reflect the uncertainty of the future political situation more so than uncertainty of the geology (or demand).

Also, to the extent that AGW restrictions are put in place, they will modify the peak oil situation (demand reduction) and to the extent that peak oil is true, it will modify AGW (higher priced oil gets burned less, elasticity of demand).

_Flin_ said...

Furthermore Peak Oil would lead to higher transportation cost in all goods, which in turn might change nutrition towards more energy efficient food (more wheat, less meat) or famines, which in turn would influence AGW as well.

But this might be rather far-fetched. And it surely it OT.