Friday, August 5, 2011

Hans von Storch has questions on Rasmusson report on US belief in climate scientists

69% Say It’s Likely Scientists Have Falsified Global Warming Research

"While a majority of Americans nationwide continue to acknowledge significant disagreement about global warming in the scientific community, most go even further to say some scientists falsify data to support their own beliefs."

My questions:
a) Is there a reason to consider the institution behind the Rasmusson report to be biased or partisan?
b) When reference is made to December 2009 - is that a reference before the "crisis" of climate science related to IPCC, stolen/leaked e-mails and failed COP-15?
c) One may argue that the US is something very different from other parts of the world (also of the western world).  - is there evidence how the public opinion has changed in other parts of the world?


Anonymous said...

It's a pity that only global warming scientists are asked about as it would be interesting to see what people think about other kinds of scientists.

After all, given high profile scientifict fraud even in physics it would be hard to imagine that any kind of science is without fraud.

Note also that people still say that not enough is being done on alternative energy.

Hans von Storch said...

Yes, it would be interesting to learn, if this purported trend among US lay people's opinion is specific for climate or environmental scientists, or if it would apply to all sciences.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if the title and the body text better reflect what the Rasmussen report states. I quote and emphasize the important parts that are missing:
69% say it’s at least SOMEWHAT LIKELY that SOME scientists have falsified research data.

Without "some", many will interpret "scientists" as a significant number, ranging from some to a lot.

I myself just might have agreed with the original question and put it at somewhat likely. Some is nicely vague enough, and I have no doubt we can find, somewhere, some scientists (even if only 2), that are deliberately manipulating data or their data analysis.


Hans von Storch said...


the question was "In order to support their own theories and beliefs about global warming, how likely is it that some scientists have falsified research data?". Unfortunately I have not the answers, but the web-page says: "40% ... say this is Very Likely".
So, I think you make it a bit to easy for yourself.

Of course, I would like to have the response rates, and would like to know how much the "very likely" category has changed, as well the other categories

Quite possibly, one would get the same response frequency, if somebody had asked
"In order to support their own theories and beliefs about cancer, how likely is it that some scientists have falsified research data?" Maybe, scientists in general have a bad reputation in the US. Maybe, they have it also in Europe, China, elsewhere.

My very personal take is: I find it unlikely that there are scientists who have "falsified" (not a precise word; I guess they meant "made-up") research data "in order to support their own theories and beliefs about global warming".

ingno said...

It would be interesting to know more about how other, non-climate scientists, view the climategate affair. After all, it has been suggested by the official reports on CRU and UEA, that these letters merely reflect what goes on in all science. Nothing unusual is going on among the IPCC-scientists.

The only thing that I know is that such a study was undertaken by a swedish radioreporter in 2010. Unfortunately, the reporter was stopped by the management of our public radio. It seems that they did not want to know how other scientists view the influential IPCC-clique of climate scientists.

I still think that the question is interesting. But I haven't seen any study, journalistic or scientific.

Anonymous said...

Prof. von Storch, I still believe it is important to add the "some" to "scientists", as some people will otherwise consider it to conclude "many" to even "most".

And I myself would actually also consider it at very likely that some scientists (again, for me this may include just 2) "made up" their data or did fraudulous data analysis. Out of the many, many thousands of scientists, I have no trouble believing a small subselection are not always honest. We've had too many exposed cases in all walks of science to even remotely think climate science (in all its breadth) is free of such individuals.


Hans von Storch said...

Bam, the question was not ""made up" their data or did fraudulous data analysis?" but included a motive.

Maybe, you are right that this could be normal, that in all sciences there may be some or a few who invent or manipulate data in order "to support their own theories and beliefs about their pet view of the world".
And I agree, the "some" is a significant word here.

Then the question remains - why has the proportion of people become larger who believe so, at least with respect to climate science (maybe in general). The issue is not if some (including a few) are following this practice, but the issue if the perception among lay people, and how much they trust science as a socially instituted knowledge provider.

Is the lost of trust (increase of critical numbers) specific to climate science, or at least larger than with respect to other sciences? Maybe the US public has in general become more critical towards science as a source of knowledge. (Growth of role of religious views as an alternative knowledge provider?)

By the way, what type of scientists are people referring to - with "own theories and beliefs about global warming"? Maybe, you could to a little survey among family and friends outside of science. Just ask, whom would you refer to when you think about scientists who would "support their own theories and beliefs about global warming". I would guess (speculate) that quite a few will think of the "thousands of IPCC scientists", or other groups of publicly visible people.

We are in a situation, where we have some (maybe 2?, namely the present value and the increase) data, and we have different avenues of interpreting them. We find the emerging questions interesting, and we can think of different ways of dealing with these questions - which means, we are in a typical situation, where one would like to do some real research about the issue. Unfortunately, we have no opportunity to do this research ourselves, so we have to wait that somebody else will do this.

The issue is: trust in (climate) science as a social knowledge provider and its change.

Anonymous said...

Prof. von Storch, fair enough, there is also the issue of motive. But would you, when you were a lay person, be able to come up with any other motive?

I can't do a survey amongst my own family about their beliefs why people would falsify data, as they put trust in my judgment, and are thus automatically 'biased'. Moreover, I have little faith in such polls. The volatility of public opinion is in my opinion simply too large to even discuss such short term events. In particular in the US...


Hans von Storch said...

Maybe, somebody else would like to do the little analysis in his/her social surrounding? What is one thinking of when confronted with the question "In order to support their own theories and beliefs about global warming, how likely is it that some scientists have falsified research data?" - what would "some" refer to, which climate scientists would one think of? Would one have the connotation that it would relate to a behavior, which is common among all scientific fields or something specific to this (climate) field?

little bird said...

Rasmussen leans a little Republican, but their polling is "mainstream". And they are fairly notable. 2nd or 3rd biggest firm. It's not like a campaign that does its own polls. They have put out polls pretty readily that spelled out bad news for Republicans.

Hans von Storch said...

A native English speaker told me this, avert I had voiced my problem with this term, which I associated with the rejection of hypotheses:

"Rasmussen's use of falsifying is the correct use as a non-technical term. It means to change data to suite a pregone conclusion; to lie about the data; to make up data - if has nothing to do with hypothesis. You have to remeber that the readership and the participants in the survey are not scientists."

Anonymous said...

Some partial answers.
(a) It is a respectable polling organisation. I think they ask the same questions to establish a trend. But the wording of that question does seem strange (starting the sentence with the alleged motive).
(b) Maybe Dec 2009 was just the last time they asked this question.
(c) In the UK, Climate scepticism is "on the rise" according to a BBC poll in February 2010. Between Nov 2009 and Feb 2010 the percentage who said climate change was a reality fell from 83 to 75.

Hans asks, "which climate scientists would one think of?"
I think his colleague Eduardo Zorita has named three of them!

wottsupwiththat said...

No, Rasmussen has a pronounced partisan bias and the funding of this particular research is not revealed. Rasmussen himself promotes libertarianism.

It's clear to me that the Rasmussen questions were phrased to elicit particular answers and their own reporting of their results concealed the word "some" in order to exaggerate their conclusion.

I posted some brief thoughts on this poll myself.

Anonymous said...

You seem to be in denial wottsup. They ask the same question that they asked previously. So regardless of your opinion of the questions, it shows that skepticism is increasing.

"The number of adults who say it’s likely scientists have falsified data is up 10 points from December 2009.

Fifty-seven percent (57%) believe there is significant disagreement within the scientific community on global warming, up five points from late 2009."

wottsupwiththat said...

Err... Still no. Confusion is increasing, not "skepticism". In this sense the climate denialism campaign has been a success.

David44 said...

I think also that the lay public may confuse false data with inappropriate statistical manipulation or with (intentional or unintentional) bias in data interpretation or presentation. In Climategate, the "trick to hide the decline" didn't involve false data (as far as we know) but inappropriate presentation of data in support of a political (not science) agenda. However, Phil Jones inability to produce the original data left many with suspicions similar to those resulting from the eighteen-and-a-half minute gap in the Nixon's Watergate tapes.

From the time I first became uneasy about climate activism by scientists, I have been more concerned about the reputation of science broadly than for climate science. Scientists are generally held in high regard in America; climate scientists now less so. In my view, this difference springs entirely from mixing science, activism, and politics, a combination toxic to an objective search for truth.

Anonymous said...

Dear David44,

We could have a long discussion as to why Jones data presentation would be inappropriate in your view. For me, it was not. It is like using Bohr's model of the atom to a lay audience, although there we can actually say it is wrong at many levels.

More important, however, is that I would like to see some evidence that Jones presented the data the way he did because of a political agenda. Moreover, I would like you to explain your comment on "inability to produce the original data", as the closest I can get to that is the HADCRUT data from before Jones even started working on it, and thus has little to do with the WMO report graph.

Of course, you will find that most scientists will be unable to show the original data from 20-30 years ago. At least Jones can refer you to the original data owners who do still have the original data.

Finally, your concern about mixing science, activism, and politics is not very credible to me. There is always a small chance that it fits you, so allow me to find out using two examples:

1. Do you have less faith in scientists because they promote the idea that creationism should not be taught in science classes? If not, why do you not consider this "activism" or "politics"?

2. Do you have less faith in physicians because they promote vaccination (most of them at least)? If not, why do you not consider this "activism" or "politics"?


David44 said...

Dear Bam,

Sorry for the delay in replying, I've been having house renovations.
Not sure where you get your idea that MOST scientists couldn't produce the original data for their studies, but if true it seems a sad state of affairs.
In my view, there is no place for creationism or other religious doctrine in the science classroom - even in parochial schools. Society would be much improved by keeping religious belief in houses of worship where parents can voluntarily have their children indoctrinated if they wish. In other words, I believe in firm separation of church and state.

As a public health professional myself, I would have no faith at all in any physician who did NOT recommend appropriate vaccination to their patients (as long as they have no financial interest.) This is not activism, this is following the Hippocratic Oath.
Best Regards,

Anonymous said...

Dear David, no problem with the delay.

It is unfortunate you deigned it unworthy to respond to my requests for clarification of your comments about Jones.

Regarding reproducing the original data from 20-30 years ago (this is what we are talking about) you will really find most scientists not being able to do so. They may, for example, have read a number from an instrument and put it into a table. Unfortunately, that number is not the original data. they cannot show you the output of the instrument. It gets worse when you actually have to do some kind of manipulation to get a result, which is then the number you report. Gone is the original data. People also move, and few scientists are still where they started 20-30 years ago. Etc. Etc. You will find that this is also common in the public health profession (with which I have a slight connection), where for example derived numbers (from analyses) are what is stored. Original data...gone.

Finally, your response to my two questions does not surprise me. It does surprise me that you do not see how this is just as much "activism" as what climate scientists do: their data shows something, and they tell the public what it implies for general policy. In the first case you actively promote policy that keeps religion out of the classroom, in the second case you support physicians actively promoting a policy of vaccination. But when a climate scientist actively promotes reduction in greenhouse gas emissions because of the harm it will do (as he believes his data shows) no longer trust that scientist, because he has become an activist.

I hope you can see you are being a bit hypocritical here.


David44 said...

Dear Bam,
Thanks. Sorry, I fail to see the comparison you make. My impression was that you had me pigeon-holed as a creationist anti-vaxer. Perhaps not, but if you can condone the construction and presentation to policy makers of the graphic "trick to hide the decline" (Jones own words, as I recall)and cannot acknowledge that it was done to foster the political agenda of carbon reduction (whether or not that is an appropriate policy), I fear the gap between us is too great to bridge. I regard this behavior as scientific malpractice. Every scientist has the right and obligation to publicize his research findings in whatever venue he chooses, including testimony before political bodies, but he must do so in a manner that does not intentionally mislead regardless of his motivation for doing so. Perhaps there is a legitimate place for political activism directly related to one's own scientific discipline, but any scientist who does so must walk a very narrow path so as not to let his own political bias influence his science. This incident not only damaged the reputations of the parties involved and climate science, but science broadly. It is disconcerting to see other scientists defend such behavior.

Anonymous said...

Dear David44, I actually had hoped you were not anti-vaxx or creationist, as it would have given me the "yes, they are activist, too" answer, upon which I could not have accused you of hypocrisy.

It's unfortunate you once again only give me one response to your accusations about Phil Jones, but we would probably never 'meet' anyway, considering your desire to put malicious intent on Phil Jones graph. That is, that it was meant to foster the political agenda of carbon reduction.

The latter claim clearly shows you have not even read the WMO report.


David44 said...

Dear Bam,

Obviously, I cannot read Dr. Jones mind or know for sure what his motive was.

I can only know that his apparent intent was to cause policy makers to overlook the temperature discrepancy between the late 20th century instrumental record and the proxy record which, if included, would have brought the validity of the proxy record - and the claim of the late 20th century being the warmest - into question.

This is not honest, ethical science or science communication. Saying that the proxy decline was covered in the literature or in the body of the report is insufficient because few< if any< policy makers are going to read deeper. They put their trust in the scientists to get it right.

The relevant section committee was concerned that the previous iteration of the graph wasn't strong enough and undermined "the warmest" claim. The final graph was deliberately and inappropriately designed (however Jones defines "trick") to overcome that criticism and thus mislead policymakers into believing that the case was stronger than it really was.

If not for a political policy agenda, then what Bam? Ego? Grant stream? A desire to win the battle against "deniers" at any cost, even personal and scientific integrity?

Best regards,

Anonymous said...

Dear David, you clearly did and do claim to be able to read Phil Jones' mind. You again claim that he had an "apparent intent", and one that is malicious. You also claim "The relevant section committee was concerned that the previous iteration of the graph wasn't strong enough and undermined "the warmest" claim."
Again, claiming malicious intent.
You end with "if not for a political agenda...", in which you come with various options that all imply malicious intent. At best you point to the possibility of multiple reasons, but it remains a claim of malicious intent.

Now, I already pointed out that only one of the three reconstructions suffered from the divergence problem. If he had left one out, the Briffa reconstruction, would you have complained about that?

More importantly, however, and I repeat, the WMO report is not a report for policy makers! The IPCC reports are for policy makers. This rather defeats the "political policy agenda" motive that you have been pushing.

(please note that the report is relevant to those who need to check that the WMO does what it is supposed to do, do research on weather and climate, and as such relevant to "policy makers", but not in the sense that you imply)

It is clear Jones did what he did to make a nice looking graph for the front page: "cover art". Cover art is generally supposed to look nice and smooth, not too complex. That would be a much more likely reason, from an objective point of view, to make a graph in which you do not show the divergence problem. It is noteworthy you did not even consider that option.


David44 said...

"cover art"
You're kidding, right?
Bye, bye, Bam.

Anonymous said...

David, you still fail to address your claim that the graph was intended to influence policy makers. Instead, you try to ridicule my suggestion.

This, sadly, indicates to me you do not even want to consider any other options than malicious intent. "Want" as in "no desire to", not "unable to".


Hans von Storch said...

Bam and David / 24+25: would it not be a good idea to conclude that you do not agree on an issue, which you both consider significant (albeit for different reasons). You will not make progress by repeating your requests to the other,and there is no way to convince the other that you are right, or he is false.

What to do? Either you allow this posting of mine to be the last in this exchange, or you change the type of dispute, by finding our if there is a common ground, on which you two would be able to agree, and if this common ground has some substance. This was the wisdom of the Lisboa-workshop by Jerry Ravetz in January 2011, when he suggested to deal with antagonistic conflicts, not by winning it but by agreeing what the substance of the conflict is, and how much can be done in spite of the conflict.

eduardo said...

Loosely related to this post is the news and the article by Axel Bojanonsky in Nature Geosciences this month:

An Italian court, however, takes a different view. It has charged seven geoscientists with manslaughter, because they allegedly failed to issue a warning ahead of the disastrous earthquake in L'Aquila in April 2009.

Another link is the talk in TED Talk by Dan Ariely: 'Beware conflicts of interest', a psychologist exploring how scientist confront conflicts of interest.

David44 said...

Professor Von Storch @26

The intent of my first comment @16 was to try to provide my (American) prospective on the questions you asked in your post as to why the Rasmussen poll may have obtained those results, not to retry Jones. I have already ended my exchange with Bam because I do not have the time or inclination to respond to continuous attempts at what I view as misdirection and excuses for the inappropriate behavior one or a few climate scientists.

The bottom line for me is that
1)the subject graph was an inappropriate presentation of data because (regardless of whatever reason or excuse) it obscured the late 20th century proxy decline. In science one is obligated to present both supporting and non-supporting data for one's thesis; and
2) political advocacy by scientists is a slippery slope that can lead to biased results and biased data presentation, i.e., scientific malpractice.
Best regards,

p.s. to Eduardo - It is entirely appropriate, in fact obligatory, for scientists, including climate scientists, to present findings with urgency when risk is apparent as long as they include any data which suggests their conclusions could be wrong. This is not to require wishy-washy reports, only accurate ones, nuanced as necessary.

David44 said...

Thanks also for the link to Dan Ariely's talk. I saw also two others there by him that were equally interesting and well presented.
In return, I share this one(15 min. well spent, I think) which I happened across by way of visiting Matt Ridley's Rational Optimist blog: