Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two recent pieces in The Economist

The Economist runs this week two pieces on climate. I liked very much the leader article titled Flawed Scientist , although the title does not actually correspond very well with the content of the article. If someone would ask me to summarize my view on the present controversies I would point to this op-ed. The lengthier report Science behind closed doors in the magazine about the recent Dutch, Oxburgh, and Muir-Russel assessments is, I think also, quite accurate.


ghost said...

the second article has a real bad feeling... it says:
... these e-mails represented just 0.3% of the material on the university’s backup server, from which they were taken. This larger content has still not really been explored. ...

Actually, I cannot accept this. That means in consequence, the author says, all scientists should publish all their professional emails. Right? Do I interpret it wrongly?

Do you think, Eduardo, every climate scientist should publish his/her professional emails? Would you do it?

Zajko said...

This statement was preceded by the mystery of the source of the emails, as evidence that someone carefully selected. It also suggests that we also only know part of the story (though logic would suggest we know the juiciest part - if they were carefully selected). But I agree it can also be read to suggest that there are many more nasty secrets buried on CRU emails that should be looked at, which I think is taking it to far.

ghost said...


yes, you are right... after writing it, I thought, I did not provide enough context. It is a mystery for me, too.

But, I do think about something different: if you spin the thought to the end: everything should be open to the smallest email conversation in the complete science. That would be a catastrophe, IMHO.

Why should we stop with CRU and GISS? Why not the GKSS or the University of Colorado? And so on!

Zajko said...

I don't see any serious attempts to open up further email archives for public consumption other than FOI requests.
CRU is a case where it happened, there's no way to put the genie back in the bottle, so we might as well consider the implications.
Are FOI requests to get at more emails really getting anywhere? I haven't heard about it.

ghost said...

yes there are. There were(are?) requests to the GISS (for example..., there were several to the CRU (of course, not relevant anymore). Not sure, if there are more. But why not?

Zajko said...

I stand corrected - had missed that one.
I guess climate scientists might want to start using invisible ink.

Werner Krauss said...

Eduardo, I try to figure out what it means to agree with the Economist 'Flawed Scientist' position. I guess the central argument concerning climate scientists is this one:

'They have too often mistaken real doubts for scurrilous attacks, and relied on mutual reinforcement rather than open debate, on authority rather than argument.'

In my understanding, this interpretation means that nothing really serious happened; just some rules of conduct were violated, which can easily be restored.
The same is true for the IPCC - just like in politics, we replace the leader, and everything will be fine in the long run.

This sounds very streamlined. Nothing ever really happened. There is a status quo we can go back to. But what if there never was a status quo? If there is nothing to go back to except permanent epistemological and ontological problems? If that is so, the next scandal just waits around the corner.

eduardo said...

Dear Werner,

I think there are too aspects to consider. One is whether or not the 'science' has changed by the climategate. I do not think it really has. I do not more or less than before. I have the same qualms about uncertainties and about the hockey stick as before, and I have the same confidence on the IPCC as I had before. I was not really surprised by the climate gate or the IPCC-gates. But I concede that I am in a particular point of view, from inside. For many others, many things may have changed because they were presented with only part of the story. What really has surprised me is the reaction of 'outsiders', It is not the science, but it is the credibility of scientist what has radically changed. the core of climate science has not changed, but the complex climate-policy-public is now quite different. Just to change some rules will not make do, I am afraid. The interface between scientist and public should change. In a sense, the role of soothsayer in the tribe is not suitable anymore, the natives want to be taken seriously, and be explained how the future is predicted.

Unfortunately, this is not a symptom of climate science only. Recall the very low swine-flue vaccination rates in Germany last year, in spite of the quite aggressive pubic campaigns. It just sufficed to hint at possible connections to the pharma industry to convince many people that something fishy was going on. Interestingly, this is also one argument that is often heard in the climate debate.

eduardo said...

Dear ghost,

'But, I do think about something different: if you spin the thought to the end: everything should be open to the smallest email conversation in the complete science. That would be a catastrophe, IMHO.

Why should we stop with CRU and GISS? Why not the GKSS or the University of Colorado? And so on!'

I think you are partially right. I do not see fit analyzing 'further material', as the Economist seem to say. On the other hand, climate researchers will have to get used to more public scrutiny.

harold said...

Hi ghost, I think you are not reading the 0.3% in the right context, it was mentioned specifically in the Russell report (page 146, para 1:)

Recognising that the e-mails improperly released into the public domain represent only a tiny fraction (less than 0.3%) of the e-mails archived by the key individuals in the CRU, the Review team sought to set these in context.

The Independent Climate Change Email Review did not do what it had said, the "larger content has still not really been explored..."


eduardo said...

Ghost said

'Do you think, Eduardo, every climate scientist should publish his/her professional emails? Would you do it?'

Well, you can read some of them in the cru files. You would be very disappointed by reading my professional emails. Nothing of the sort in the CRU mails, not least because I am by far not networked as CRU is. My opinion is that CRU emails are something unusual, partially because of the position CRU has.

But I will give you two examples which I am recalling now: once we (me and Hans) were sent a manuscript for review that criticized a previous paper of ours. Although we work in the same lobby, we did not communicate to not influence each other - actually we found out by chance. In the end, both recommended its publication.

Other example that can be read in the CRU emails is one in which Mann wished to have data from our simulations and he got them a few days later.

ghost said...

@harold & Eduardo

hm, maybe you are right, I misunderstood... then the articles are not so bad. Maybe I misunderstood, because this topic bothers me a lot.

Anyway, my point is not pure invention, there are think tanks and persons who request email conversations.

Actually, I am not interested in any emails. Hm, I think, except some exceptions, you (onionists) treated the stolen emails with care and in particular, you put them into context. You showed totally different emails than the typical skeptic websites did. However, many other persons and media did exactly the opposite. They did quote mining and presented quotes out of context and distorted them. I think there was a Fox news show for example where single lines of emails were presented in this way. For example, a sentence "it is better for our purposes" will be really suspicious if you are prejudiced. I would not want to weigh my words in every email, private or professional. I do not want to consider that the email is unambiguous for every not involved person as for example Montford (the Illusionary Hockeystick guy) requires. And I think, climate scientist do not want to do this neither. Are you sure your emails are really distortion proof?

Therefore, I think email releases under FOI(A) laws must be treated really carefully. And if I do not read the emails, I would not have the feeling the scientist hide anything.

eduardo said...


no question that some mails have been distorted. The 'hide the decline' was immediately interpreted as the 'decline of temperatures'. If I recall well, that email was the subject of the first post in the Klimazwiebel.

The lesson I learned from this episode, tragic for a few involved, is that scientist trying to play politics will always lose and will get burned. It is naive to expect that the world will just believe what scientist say, and just act accordingly. Now that governments have fallen and a huge amount of money is at play because of climate policy, scientist would be well advised to simply work in a fully transparent way, reporting the facts that fit and those that do not. Those that try to play the dirty game of politics should be prepared to be treated as politicians and not as scientist, and should not be scandalized when they are treated as such.

ghost said...

I totally agree, mostly, but I see that many scientists are attacked who do not act as politicians. And there are scientists who act as politicians or lobbyists who are not attacked at all. Some people do not seem to care about your classification at all. I think you generalize too much.

For instance, did you see the Bjerknes lecture of Prof Alley: please, explain to me the letter to the university requesting to fire Prof Alley. Please explain to me the political actions of Prof Alley, and why it is a lie to say: the carbon cycle affects climate and climate affects the carbon cycle. It is just one random example. I could provide 100s (I read too many blogs ;)), however which dirty games did Prof Alley play?