26 November 2009

Who Do you Believe: Thieves or Peer Review?

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Note: The images in this post are not related to it. They are from a new update on Climate Science published jointly by a large group of climate experts. It’s based on the most recent published papers and is an unofficial, but peer reviewed update of the last IPCC report. I think they match well with the subject of this post. Hopefully they will make the point I’m trying to make.


I’ve had a bunch of emails and calls this week over the stolen emails from the U. of East Anglia. A thief hacked into a server at the University of East Anglia in the UK. They grabbed a bunch of private and personal emails from some of the climate experts and released carefully selected (cherry picked) bits online. The selections were made to fit the agenda of those who subscribe to the belief that climate science is all an international conspiracy. They also tried to hack into a blog site run by some NASA scientists here in the U.S.

Let me make it clear that I do not deal in stolen material and none of that will be published here. I doubt very many reputable news organisations will either. The thieves will be caught, and I strongly suspect the way it will happen is by tracing back who had what snippet when.

Screen shot 2009-11-24 at 03.02.04Thousands of papers, by thousands of scientists have led to every major scientific society on the planet endorsing the IPCC reports. So you can believe them, or a gaggle of thieves releasing cherry picked snippets of stolen property.

Yes I used the word thieves not thief. Ask any cop. They will tell you that knowingly dealing in stolen merchandise makes you a thief.

Does it really matter?


What matters is the science.

The science in the journals. Not the fake science written by those with a political cause. Having trouble telling which is which. See Where NOT to get your science.

The AMS put out a statement on this as well Friday. Update: James Hansen the top NASA Climate expert has weighed in with what I think are very sane words.

I’m an optimist and believe most people have a fundamental ability to make logical choices. While the junk science may confuse them initially, when it comes down to it, the choice is simple. To believe the same very small set of shrill voices, or the thousands of peer reviewed papers that have led to every major scientific society on the planet endorsing the IPCC reports.

That’s the choice.

Screen shot 2009-11-24 at 02.57.11Yes, some will side with the  gaggle of thieves releasing cherry picked snippets of stolen property. Some people distrust anything to do with science and they will side with those who are always looking for a government conspiracy to expose.

Most, however, will make the logical choice.  A few will email me asking for places to get reliable science info without the politics. That I can do, and if I can’t I have a bunch of friends who are much brighter than me, who can.

Just writing this post is not something I planned to do, but I have come across a couple of very well written posts, that are  telling about those using  shrill claims of hoax and global conspiracy.

The first is a post on Real Climate by Dr. Gavin Schmidt of NASA GISS. He is one of the World’s top experts on Climate Physics. It’s well worth reading: (I’ve inserted a few line breaks for formatting)

“…let’s examine what is actually happening in the public sphere. There are undeniably people who fervently do not wish for results of the science to be true. This can be motivated many things – vested interest, inclination, background etc. Regardless of why that exists, it undoubtedly does.

However, among the scientific community no-one doubts that humans are causing CO2 (and other GHGs) to rise, no-one is confused about the fact that there is a greenhouse effect and that we are enhancing it, and no-one is in denial of the fact that the temperatures (as predicted) are in fact warming. This information, and the vast amount of ancillary data, theory and modelling that exists has led the science community to warn that continued emissions of GHGs risk changing the climate substantially. Given the first group of people’s inclination to not want this to be true, there have been (and continue to be) determined efforts to undermine the scientific conclusions.

Screen shot 2009-11-24 at 02.59.34One of the most effective tactics is to continually claim that data is being hidden and that the process is not open and transparent. This is successful, not because anything is actually being hidden, but because regardless of what data is available you can always ask for more.

Five years ago it was a demand than Mann make his code and data available – it was, and nothing changed. A couple of years ago the demand was for the GISTEMP data and code – that was made available… and nothing changed. The requests then moved to CRU, who because of their agreements with the Met Centers, can’t release everything in the public domain. This fact has been greatly exploited by people who conveniently ignore it when making ever more harassing demands for ‘the data’.

Whether they get it or not, nothing will change. The target will simply be moved. Meanwhile, the real need for openness and transparency is set back because the vast majority of demands are very clearly partisan and insincere.

As for the peer-reviewed literature, bad papers (such as are described in the emails) sometimes make it through the process due to various events. Note that the papers in question are just bad – they come to unjustified conclusions based on faulty reasoning, bad analysis, and (often) a desire to get the ‘right’ result. Screen shot 2009-11-24 at 03.03.16This is not unique to papers that go counter to the mainstream (there are many bad papers on the other side too), but these are the ones that get picked up by the denial-o-sphere and are loudly touted in Senate hearings as if they undermined a century of work.

Improving the functioning of the peer-review system so that this happens less often is a good idea – because it will lessen the chance of bad papers of any stripe wasting everyone’s time. Note that peer-review is simply an (imperfect) filter that allows scientists to focus on work that has passed a least a basic screening (usually). When we have to respond to obviously flawed, but highly publicised, papers it takes us away from doing real research and focusing on issues about which there is genuine (as opposed to manufactured) uncertainty.

Screen shot 2009-11-24 at 03.04.57 If people want genuine public debate over issues that matter, the way is clear: Stop fuelling fake witchhunts looking for evidence that GW is a hoax, stop continually going back to long debunked talking points, and instead engage with scientists, here and elsewhere, on real questions.

You will actually find scientists of all stripes remarkably keen to talk about their research and it’s implications once you get past the ‘when did you stop hiding your data’ type accusations. Not everyone has unlimited patience in dealing with constant attacks on their integrity that comes with being in the public eye on these issues, and so many choose not to be involved in that public debate at all. That is a shame, but it’s not a mystery.”

There is another rather long piece you really should read as well. Written by Dr. Jeff Masters the co-founder of Weather Underground. It’s a real eye opener.

Read it here.

OK, that’s it.

Back to the science.

It’s really a lot more interesting.