Claptrap about Climategate claptrap

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I just read an interesting article at The Nation.  It was posted by Johann Hari on April 15th, and is entitled “Climategate Claptrap, II“.

I’m not the world’s biggest supporter of the green movement.  It’s fair to get that out of the way first, full disclosure and what not, because I think this is one of the least informed attacks on Climategate that I’ve seen, and trust me, that’s really saying something.

The author begins by crowing a bit, attempting to link Climategate with the fight against Big Tobacco, but it gets interesting quickly.  In no time at all, the author engages us with visions of “deniers” being destroyed on the world stage…

It is happening again. The tide of global warming denial is now rising as fast as global sea levels–and with as much credibility as Cook Little. Look at the deniers’ greatest moment, Climategate, hailed by them as “the final nail in the coffin” of “the theory of global warming.” A patient study by the British House of Commons has pored over every e-mail from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and interviewed everyone involved. Its findings? The “evidence patently fails to support” the idea of a fraud; the scientists have “no case to answer”; and all their findings “have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified” by other scientists. That’s British for “it was a crock.”

 Man, you know, sometimes I almost hate to do this to people…  Oh well.  Can’t be helped.

A “patient study by the British House of Commons”?

That one caused me to squirt chocolate milk out of my nose and earned me a funny look from the kid.

The real truth:

“Lawmakers stressed that their report which was written after only a single day of oral testimony did not cover all the issues and would not be as in-depth as the two other inquiries into the e-mail scandal that are still spending.  [emphasis mine – MM]

Willis said the lawmakers had been in a rush to publish something before Britain’s next national election, which is widely expected in just over a month’s time. 

“Clearly we would have liked to spend more time of this,” he said, before adding jokingly: “We had to get something out before we were sent packing.”

CBSNews (Which, ironically, I just made fun of here.)

The best part about the article?

It fails to mention the fact that a second panel investigating this has also declared Climategate to be 2 legit 2 quit:

“In the second of three investigations of the scandal known as “climate-gate,” a panel of academic experts said Wednesday that several prominent climate scientists did not engage in deliberate malpractice but did not use the best statistical tools available to produce their findings.”

Washington Post

However, if you keep reading, way down there, buried at the bottom of the piece, you’ll find this interesting little tidbit:

Set up and funded by the University of East Anglia, the review panel was led by Ernest Oxburg — a geologist and former academic who is the honorary president of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association and is involved with the wind-energy company Falck Renewables.” [emphasis mine — MM]

It then gives you another paragraph detailing how each of the members of this panel are associated with cooperating Universities.

It’s getting hilarious by this point.

This is nothing more than a continuation of “This debate is OVER!”…


Well… That doesn’t exactly cut it in the real world people.  I’m gonna need to see something that will get me to lose faith in the laws of mathematics and statistics, and it’s gonna have to be really damned convincing…  Like some form of god or advanced alien culture or something is going to have to part the clouds, single me out, and tell me that humans are causing climate change in no uncertain terms.

That’s how strongly I believe in the truth of equations.

100 years’ worth of scientific data is not a large enough sample from a population of 4 billion years to make any scientifically valid claims about anything.


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12 Responses to “Claptrap about Climategate claptrap”

  1. @Mike

    We disagree on Climate Change. I won’t try to bend you my way, but a reader’s comment in a recent issue of WIRED summed up the situation pretty astutely in my estimation. I’m paraphrasing, but the guy said something along these lines while arguing in WIRED’s online forums:

    “Basically it amounts to this: you, some guy on the Internet vs. nearly every reputable scientist on the planet.”

    While I know you to be a nice guy/good dad/engaging writer and not “some guy on the Internet,” I think the general thrust of the argument still applies. The scientific consensus is that global warming exists, it’s caused by man, and it’s a serious, multi-faceted threat with all kinds of freaky consequences.

    However, I imagine that we would agree on these points:

    —The Climate Change message is being distributed by contemptible ding-dongs like Al Gore, Laurie David and Leo DiCaprio.

    –The environmental movement has no universally likable figure to get its message across — there’s nobody with the charisma and smarts of, say, Carl Sagan or Jacques Cousteau.

    –All we currently have is a lot of finger pointing and assigning of blame, which is the sort of behavior that would get people killed in a micro-analogized and semi-exaggerated version of the situation (i.e. a burning building).

    –Like lots of crises, there are ghouls lining up to profit from Climate Change.

    ***My 2 cents. I’m too lazy to devote a full post to it.***

  2. @ Mr. Cade:

    Nonprobability sampling is any sampling method where some elements of the population have no chance of selection (these are sometimes referred to as ‘out of coverage’/’undercovered’), or where the probability of selection can’t be accurately determined. It involves the selection of elements based on assumptions regarding the population of interest, which forms the criteria for selection. Hence, because the selection of elements is nonrandom, nonprobability sampling does not allow the estimation of sampling errors. These conditions place limits on how much information a sample can provide about the population. Information about the relationship between sample and population is limited, making it difficult to extrapolate from the sample to the population.

    We’ve got a situation where it is impossible to measure the temperature from 4 billion years ago. As a matter of fact, temperature data from 200 years ago also has no chance of of being surveyed for the sample population. This means that we’re dealing with a “nonprobability sample” and we’re going to face difficulties “extrapolating from the sample to the population”.

    Which is what I said in the last paragraph.

    What we actually have is a form of “cluster sampling” (just the last 100 years).

    “Nevertheless, some of the disadvantages of cluster sampling are the reliance of sample estimate precision on the actual clusters chosen. If clusters chosen are biased in a certain way, inferences drawn about population parameters from these sample estimates will be far off from being accurate.”

    See, we haven’t included in our temperature samples the Ice Ages, nor the really hot periods from Earth’s past. All we have is one miniscule sample of the last 100 years. As a result, science must be willing to concede that “these sample estimates may be far off from being accurate.”

    I will continue in another response since I’ve hit my two link limit for this post.

  3. @ Mr. Cade (cont.):

    What we’re faced with is a problem of determining proper sample size.

    “The sample size of a statistical sample is the number of observations that constitute it.”

    “Typically, all else being equal, a larger sample size leads to increased precision in estimates of various properties of the population, though the results will become less accurate if there is a systematic error in the experiment. This can be seen in such statistical rules as the law of large numbers and the central limit theorem. Repeated measurements and replication of independent samples are often required in measurement and experiments to reach a desired precision.”

    We now have the problem identified. Our sample size is much, much, much too small.

    Think about it: The major polls, in order to present results that are scientifically acceptable (alpha = 95%), must survey 1000 people out of the 300 million people in the US to generate sample means that are capable of being extrapolated to the entire population.

    1000 people per 300 million to be scientifically sound results…

    We’ve measured 100 years out of 4 BILLION…

    You can see what I’m saying by now, I hope. I’m NOT saying global warming isn’t happening (well, I don’t know if it is or isn’t), but I am saying that we cannot rely on our current data set to produce accurate and precise measurements of average temperature changes due to a small, non-random sample.

    That’s what the second panel said when it claimed that “climate scientists did not engage in deliberate malpractice but did not use the best statistical tools available to produce their findings”.

    Now, this is where I disagree with the panel. These are supposed to be world class scientists. I’m just a lowly researcher for a University, and I know this stat stuff. It’s impossible for me to believe that these PhDs didn’t know it…

    That “global consensus” exists means that many scientists are are turning a blind eye to statistical LAW. They’re claiming certainty in the face of mathematical equations which dictate that they can have no certainty.

    Furthermore, in science, which is supposed to be the pursuit of truth, “consensus” means absolutely jack shit.

    Just ask Galileo.

  4. @Mike

    I still smell a flimsy argument. Every point you made is easily refutable by a cursory scan of any halfway respectable science Web site in cyberspace.

    –The 100 years card is refutable. Even though we’re stuck with 100 or so years of global surface temps, we also have the ability to drill holes in the ground, which allows analysis of warming trends by century.

    –The consensus/collusion card is refutable. Not to mention it reeks of conspiracy theory i.e. using over-simplified, strange and/or pedantic points of view to explain away events that require multiple points of inquiry and complex analysis.

    And regarding probability matters, I quote Discovery Science blogger Cody Beck:

    “Probability is the language of science. There is no proof; there are no absolute certainties. Scientists are always aware that new data may overturn old theories and that human knowledge is constantly evolving. Consequently, it is viewed as unjustifiable hubris to ever claim one’s findings as unassailable.

    But in general, the older and more established a given theory becomes, the less and less likely it is that any new finding will drastically change things. Even the huge revolution in physics brought on by Einstein’s theory of relativity did not render Newton’s theories of classical mechanics useless. Classical mechanics is still used all the time; it is, quite simply, good enough for most purposes.

    But how well established is the greenhouse effect?

    Greenhouse effect theory is over 100 years old. The first predictions of anthropogenic global warming came in 1896. Time has only strengthened and refined those groundbreaking conclusions. We now have decades of very detailed and sophisticated climate observations, and super computers crunching numbers in one second it would have taken a million 19th century scientists years with a slide rule to match. Even so, you will never ever get a purely scientific source saying ‘the future is certain.’ ”

    I may be a know-nothing layman, but I take this to mean (in comparative terms) that, yes, we can quibble over the fact that it’s only 99.9% true that we live in a Keplerian model of the solar system, and there’s an infinitesimal chance that we’ve got it completely wrong and the sun orbits the earth. I know where I’m placing my bets in that argument, though.

    I find it hard to believe that climate science is junk science. I’ll posit that an example of actual junk science is neuropunditry. Dismissing climate science as junk science, as Sarah Palin is so fond of doing, seems arrogant because it invalidates the years of hard work and analysis undertaken by scientists. It insinuates that grants and funding are the main motivators for science and, worse, it ignores legitimate data. It also shits on the existence of rigorous and hyper-competitive peer review.

    The peer-review factor is huge, in my opinion. From everything I’ve gleaned, science is a discipline where Dr. A is all-to-eager to debunk the theories of Dr. B, who besmirched Dr. A’s white paper on Scat Particles at least year’s summit in Houston. So when the two meet again in the arena of peer review, they are hammering away at each others’ theories, often for no other reason than to embarrass the other guy professionally. I understand that this schoolgirl belligerence actually works as an engine of truth.

    The Climate Change denialism (a term I don’t really like) is interesting psychological theater, though. Why do the likes of Palin and TV weathermen have the intense need to believe that climate science is junk science?

    I dunno. For reasons that have nothing to do with this post, I have been awake for most of the evening and my eyes are bloodshot and perhaps I am rambling nonsensically.

    I volley the ball back to your court.

  5. @ Mr. Cade

    Grants and funding ARE the main motivators for science. Follow the money.

    I’ll respond to this in more detail after work.

  6. To be continued, then…

  7. @ Mr. Cade

    I’m going to kind of break your response up into chunks, in an effort to make this more managable.

    1) Look up the Science journals to refute your points.

    –If you’ll examine the articles I sourced from, it’s not like I’m using right wing militia websites spewing hate speech to refute this.

    I cited CBS, The Washington Post, and a couple of Wikipedia pages to show a) the problems with the review process, thus far, and b) the problems with the science.

    2) We’ve got ice cores showing warming trends from the past!

    –Ok. Good for us.

    Two problems here. The first: The Ice Caps are only about 45 million years old. This is still an example of cluster sampling, and has the same systemic errors.

    For example: What if the Earth was significantly warmer during the time prior to 45 million years ago?

    We don’t have a way of sampling the years prior to the Ice Cap formation, and that means that we’re leaving out several BILLION years worth of temperature data. The sample isn’t going to be as representative as we’d hope for.

    Second: They don’t give you actual temperatures.

    What is the baseline? For instance:

    “These ice cores show that 13 million years ago the Earth experienced a period of warming” tells us what?

    How cold was it before the warming started? How warm did it get? What is the Earth’s “normal temperature”?

    Ice cores can’t tell you any of that. Same with tree rings. If, during the last Ice Age, the Earth warmed up from like -20 degrees to -5 degrees, on average, well, it was still f’ing cold.

    3) You’re wearing your tin foil hat and looking for liberal conspiracies!

    — Am I really looking for something when they come out in the open and say things like “We had to get something out before we were sent packing.”

    Is it such a stretch for you to believe that this was hyper partisan motivated when this group only had a single day’s worth of oral testimony and review? They openly admitted that their review “did not cover all the issues and would not be as in-depth”


    And the second study, funded by East Anglica, the University which is in trouble and under review, with a hand picked review board headed up by a lobbyist for the alternative energy industry?

    Come on, Mr. Cade. I know you’re not a sheep and you know that I’m not going way out into righty field to connect these dots.

    4) “Probability is the language of science. There is no proof; there are no absolute certainties. Scientists are always aware that new data may overturn old theories and that human knowledge is constantly evolving. Consequently, it is viewed as unjustifiable hubris to ever claim one’s findings as unassailable.”

    “This debate is over.” — Al Gore

    5) I may be a know-nothing layman

    — Don’t kid yourself. You know enough statistical theory to see the truth of what I’m saying. Hell, it’s not like I had to crack open textbooks and dig up articles on this stuff from MIT science journals. Sampling size practices are such common knowledge that it’s easily found, explained in detail, in a quick Wiki search…

    Take a penny, for instance.

    The probability of a fair coin coming up heads is 50%. The probability of it coming up tails is also 50%.

    Now, let’s say you flipped a coin ten times. 9 times out of the 10, the coin landed with tails showing.

    Does this mean that the probability of the coin coming up tails is 90%? Of course not. You haven’t flipped the coin often enough.

    This is how Vegas makes money.

    As I mentioned earlier, it’s the same principle that the pollsters have to use.

    You cannot poll 10 people from one town in Iowa and expect to have an accurate snapshot of the “average” American.

    They have to poll 1000 random people, nationwide, to get to +/- 3 points in a total population of 300 million people.

    They’d have to poll 13,333 people to estimate the same mean in a total population of 4 billion with any scientific validity. (1000 / 300 million = 13,332 / 4 Billion)

    6) it ignores legitimate data.

    — Ignores it? My problem is that we don’t have enough data! I’m not overlooking the precious little data we’ve got, just expressing that the math equations which govern statistics are incapable of lying or being altered.

    1+1 is always 2. We need a LOT more data to make scientifically valid conclusions about something as complex and long term as the planet’s “normal” climate pattern.

    7) “The peer-review factor is huge, in my opinion.”

    — And your opinion is correct.

    But that lies at the heart of Climategate.

    The leaked e-mails showed these people discussing how to block people from being peer reviewed, taking control of peer reviewed journals to prevent opposing studies, and trying to strong arm people.

    From one of the e-mails:

    “In fact, Mike McCracken first pointed out this article to me, and he and I have discussed
    this a bit. I’ve cc’d Mike in on this as well, and I’ve included Peck too. I told Mike that
    I believed our only choice was to ignore this paper. They’ve already achieved what they
    wanted–the claim of a peer-reviewed paper. There is nothing we can do about that now, but
    the last thing we want to do is bring attention to this paper…”

    From Michael Mann to Phil Jones –

    Am I really just making up conspiracies, Mr. Cade? Or is it kind of out in the open now?

    8) Why do the likes of Palin and TV weathermen have the intense need to believe that climate science is junk science?

    –Well, haven’t I already raised enough legitimate questions here to indicate that the debate cannot be over?

    This theory has holes in it big enough to drive a Mack truch through them. I don’t want Cap N’ Tax passed on what has essentially become a religious belief on the part of the AGW crowd..

    Religion is the only thing that says “This debate is over.”

    Wrap up:

    I have been making the case that this theory was statistically insignificant for a number of years now, and I can source you back about two years to my first writings on it on the net.

    I’ve defended my position with elementary statistics, basic math, and common sense.

    To point to the strength of my argument against the statistics involved, and the arguments of those like me, even the highly biased second panel mentioned that “climate scientists did not engage in deliberate malpractice but did not use the best statistical tools available to produce their findings.”

    My response is that I, a lowly researcher, the bottom rung of the Higher Education ladder, knew this. Every scientist I know, and I do know several buildings full of them by this point, understand these statistical laws and practice them.

    How is it that these PhD’s didn’t?

    Seriously, I have a hard time thinking of them as scientists if they didn’t understand the most basic, entry level statistics for study design. I can’t believe they got their Master’s degrees without putting together some kind of thesis that called for an experiment.

    I have a hard time looking at this as anything but deliberate malpractice. For a political end. Because of money.

    Follow the money. Look at the fortunes these people were about to make. You don’t think they’d fudge some data for billions of dollars or euros?

    Seriously, Mr. Cade. You are not an ignorant man, you know that there is every reason for us to continue this debate.

  8. * oops

    Bullet 3 – Anglia, not Anglica

    Bullet 8 – “truck”, not “truch”

    There may be more errors. This thing doesn’t have a spell check.

  9. @Mike

    We are irreconcilably at loggerheads. There will be no middle ground. To keep my ample manhood intact, I challenge you to a duel at high noon, Friday in downtown Marquette, Michigan. You’re going down like Aleksandr Pushkin, motherfucker.

    In the alternative, we watch Isabella Rosselini’s Green Porno:

  10. @ Mr. Cade

    I’m going to be presenting a GPS workshop at our annual Field Day on Friday at 11:30AM down here in Arkansas. Going to have to miss that meeting.


  11. Mike,

    I took some time tonight to read a few of your articles, this one I find interesting because it is such a hot topic. As the two of you have shown. I think you both have many valid points. As a scientist, it saddens me to see other scientist using a hot item to pursue huge grants and notariety. Believe me it happens though. There are a multitude of examples why science gets corrupted in the world of politics. Whether it is the spotted owl, our playing God in Yellowstone, or climate change, politics corrupt science in many instances.
    However, there is some teeth to the climate change concerns if viewed in the right light. While NOAA’s surface temp model for the last 100 years or so is concrete, I agree it has little significance in the long term debate. I think best “hard” data to look at is the ice core data. If you look at the last 425 thousand years in thousand year increments, you see a direct correlation between co2 levels and temperature change. However, you also see a striking pulse-like repition of co2 and temp coupled spikes every 100,000 years almost on que. Of which we have been in for the last 25,000 years. Actually, if we predict off of core data, we are headed to another ice age in the next 80 thousand years or so. The primary question is are anthropogenic co2 outputs going to cause co2 levels to disrupt the pattern of the last 400,000 years or so. I think there is reason for concern, but I guess we will have to wait a few thousand years to find out for sure.

  12. @ Kyle

    Thanks for reading!

    I would argue this point:

    When you look at the graph of temperature vs. CO2, you’ll see that CO2 increases follow temperature.

    CO2 lags temperature.

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