Opening Science or Closing It

HOW TO BEAT THE ODDS

Nobody is yelling at anyone to stop the presses in observing the remarkable fact that Planet3.0 and Watt’s Up With That were allies in the recent internet uprising against the egregious internet-bashing legislation pushed by the entertainment industry in the US Congress. (Most prominently there was the SOPA, sponsored by Lamar Smith, who I’m sorry to say has a small part of Austin in his sprawling constituency.) That we and Watts are in vigorous agreement here, though, does matter.

The SOPA legislation had been considered inevitable. Representatives “on both sides of the aisle” (sorry for the cliche’, can I just say OBSOTA next time?) had been duly sponsored by Hollywood, the opposition was notoriously fractious and apolitical, and nobody in congress was going to take them on.

The visible support by Google and Wikipedia is what probably turned the tide in fact, but these two organizations both seek for and thrive on political neutrality. What gave them the gumption to take a strong position?

Clearly, it was the unanimity of the internet: DailyKos is opposed to these measures. Reason Magazine is opposed. It’s pretty clear that almost everyone who is serious about the internet in between is opposed. Only people for whom the internet is either mostly a threat or not much more than a convenience could support measures that essentially make it very easy to shut down a public internet service and very difficult to restart it.

Tactically, the lessons are twofold: first, it is possible to defeat (or at least set back) the forces of the status quo politically; second, it requires a very broad consensus.

If only the supporters of one party had spoken up, the other party would be likely be able to push these very destructive measures through. The fact that the consensus appeared across the political spectrum had enormous impact.

THE FORCES OF EVIL

Are the internet-threatened Hollywood interests anything like the science-threatened fossil fuel interests? That’s a pretty loose comparison. Unfortunately, though, the fossil fuel interests are not the only problematic aspects of the situation. There are a couple of reasons that their accusations carry weight beyond the wishful thinking that they obviously appeal to. These have to do with the self-interests of the scientific community and of the scientific publishing industry.

a – the scientific community

The climate system is a complicated beast, and the number of people who best understand it is rather small. Most of these people manage to get their understanding by virtue of interacting with one another in a circle of elite researchers. So how does on get into that circle? Persistence is necessary, and to achieve that persistent participation, success in the field is needed. It’s something of a vicious circle, admittedly, unless you are on it, in which case it turns into a whirl of positive feedback. But it’s crucial to understand what this means. In short, you need to achieve tenure at a top-flight institution. +Kerri Rawson on Google Plus summarizes:

1. Do good research.
2. Be prolific and reliable: Don’t have “a bad year.”
3. Be technically sound. (e.g. stats)
4. Make an impact in the field. (be known w/in the field)
5. Get your name on something: What was your “major contribution?”
6. Don’t be too well known outside the field: “I’m glad we didn’t hire Dr. X; he spends too much time in the New York Times and not enough time in the lab.” (wow)
7. Don’t write a book: While you were writing that book, you weren’t doing research.
8. Bring in grant money.
9. Take outside offers seriously.
10. Don’t worry about teaching, leadership, organizing, etc.
11. Choose your hobbies wisely: Permissible hobbies include skydiving, playing guitar, or cooking. Suspicious hobbies include writing of any sort (novels, magazine articles, blogs)… I don’t think blogging has quite the stigma it once did, although I have heard senior faculty members say they would never hire someone with a blog. (Still true?)
12. Friends are good; enemies are bad; indifference is fine: You don’t need to be friends with everyone, just the right people.
13. Don’t dabble

Note especially points 6, 7, 10, 11, and 12.

+Gert Sonderby boils it down:

“And here we see why science is an ivory tower community, and why the public understanding of science lags so much.”

In short, public interaction is bad for your career and controversy is disastrous. Only people who already have tenure are in a position to violate these rules, and by the time they are in that position they have developed contrary habits.

b – scientific publishing industry

Public discussion of science on the internet is, like so much else, hampered by unreasonable demands placed by copyright holders. Seriously, does anyone ever send the $15 pr $25 to the science publisher to get a glance at a paper that may or may not be relevant to their interests? Even if I were wealthy I would refuse to do such a thing on principle when the incermental cost of reproduction is well under a penny, especially when my own taxes were used to support the research. Openness should be at the center of science, and an Open Access moevement within the scientific community, recognizing the availability of new distribution mechanisms, is actively promoting dramatic change in this regard.

A great step forward was taken by a major funding agency in the US, the Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health which requires that all NIH-funded publications be made publicly accessible within twelve months after publication.

The journal publishers of course are immensely threatened by this. Their business is certainly worth defending from the point of view of profit-making. In exchange for a modest organizational effort, both their publishing and their editorial work is done by unpaid volunteers. Indeed, authors often pay page charges for the privilege of ebing published. The main service the journals provide is curatorial – their purpose is to avoid the publication of half-baked work. (Increasingly, we see that a sufficiently committed mischievous author can even find ways around this intent of the system.)

Their response? It is remarkably indistinguishable from Hollywood’s. In a classic buggy-whip industry move, they are trying to convince congress to protect their obsolecent industry with laws. Not only would NIH’s Public Access Policy be reversed, but it would be rendered illegal. The instrument is the proposed Research Works Act. Wikipedia’s summary states that “The bill contains provisions to prohibit open access mandates for federally funded research and effectively revert the NIH’s Public Access Policy that allows taxpayer-funded research to be freely accessible online. If enacted, it would also severely restrict the sharing of scientific data. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform”.

Look. You paid for the science. That doesn’t mean you have a right to read my email. But it certainly ought to mean that you can read the published results! And while retroactive demands for raw data may be unreasonably onerous in practice, surely no legal barriers should be put up to sharing data!

HOW THE DENIALISTS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THESE CONDITIONS

Clearly, much of the hostility drummed up against climate science and the suspicion of its participants could be directed against any scientist and any science. “If you haven’t got anything to hide why are you hiding?” is up against “any engagement in controversy is a threat to my career”.

None of this means that the content of science is suspect. I believe that on the whole, the scientific community still incermentally approaches truth, though perhaps the slips and flaws are becoming more prominent over time. Applied science, such as medicine and engineering, is very healthy, as it butts up against real-world constraints all the time.

Climate science is in an awkward position at the boundary of pure and applied science. Its participants and have very different expectations than do its clients and the public. The funding agencies are caught in an awkward straddle. It’s all very worthy of a close look and possibly a reworking. But nevertheless, the CO2 builds up and the climate changes, most of the cited work has value. The community has a clear idea who its most competent researchers are.

But the traditions of the academic cloister and of a not-especially-practical pure science contribute to a disastrous relationship between the practitioners of the science and many of the most interested members of the public. It will take much persistent effort to turn this around.

CONCLUSION

In summary, there’s much else to discuss in the SOPA matter, but what we need to understand as sustainability activists is that the status quo has great power when the populace is divided, but crumbles quickly when the people are united. Science provides the ideal vehicle for unanimity, but science is not well-understood. The isolation of the general public from science and from scientists is therefore perniciously dangerous. Encouraging openness and public participation is not a minor or peripheral goal. Rather, it seems like a necessity for our common survival.

For more on the Open Science movement, see the Open Science Project website.

Comments:

  1. "The climate system is a complicated beast, and the number of people who best understand it is rather small."

    This is (very) incorrect for the following reason.

    There is an enormous number of people in the world with very high IQ's. These people can, and do, understand the measurement processes, the math, and the physics, quite well.
    The so-called climate 'experts' make use of measurements (which is something a gigantic number of people outside their discipline understand BETTER than they do), the 'experts' use math (ditto), and the 'experts' rely on physics (ditto).

    But perhaps the single greatest flaw in your presentation is this: the very purpose of an article is to present something TO THE WORLD. If one were to accept your premise, then publishing articles is an act of supreme irrelevance, or even of self-aggrandizing indulgence. Moreover I am fairly certain what you are describing strikes at the very heart of the scientific method itself.

    In short, when you write an article using certain sub-disciplines, it is CERTAIN that there are people out there who know, much better than you do, what may or may not be done. Drawing logical conclusions from measurements, using math, based on physics, is something that CAN be evaluated by OTHER experts, outside of your field. Sure, they could not easily CONTRIBUTE to your field, but they CAN understand what you wrote: flaws and all.

    This is why many weathermen 'chosen for their hair' CAN evaluate articles. Why people like Hall, Motl, Goddard, etc CAN evaluate the articles written by climate 'experts'. This is why even someone like Monckton can be worth listening to: facts are are facts, and logic is logic.

    But the reason there are so MANY 'deniers' is exactly this: the climate 'experts' have NOT presented a proper case for their very serious (the impact extends to the global economy itself!) attribution(s), namely HUMANS and CO2. And there is a truly huge number of people who, even lacking sufficient knowledge of measurement, math and physics, do possess sufficient familiarity to SEE at least THAT: this is especially true given contrast with the vacuous (and, surprisingly, morally corrupt) responses by the 'experts'. It is no mistake that the average denier has a STRONGER background in physics and math than does the average 'believer'.

    Or is all this criticism to be considered as not being conducive to constructive debate? Because, well, there is nothing to really 'debate' about, now is there?

    And this is the last problem: Hansen, Mann, etc ARE guilty of malfeasance. Sure, they have been let of the hook, all official-like: but we peasants can, and do, read and think for ourselves. It is all out there. Guilty, they are, as Yoda would say.
    Of course, the highly corrupt post-ClimateGate actions taken by those same people did not help. At all.
    But the Final Nail was the utterly unexpected, very obviously corrupt, complicity of what could be called the 'scientific establishment': the grant-controlling politicos included. The Media included. The Academia included.

    Trust was given, and now it is lost. And people like you just expect me to give it back? On your say so? Not likely. Not in my lifetime.

    • All of which pretty much makes my case for me. Confusion about the nature of science and the nature of publication. Complete alienation from the scientific community. Fantasies about how things work. All manipulated by clever bastards into hostility and paranoia, and not just cluelessness about the actual climate system but actual indifference to it.

      I agree with cb on one point; presuming this isn't pure astroturfing we will have a hard time winning cb over in his or her lifetime, though we can be confident that the climate itself will do its part, whether in exactly the ways we expect or some other ways. After all, you cannot add 4 watts at the top of the atmosphere and have the system not change, and that's the main, simple point it would be good to get across to people.

      Most people, though, have not reached this froth of hatred yet. And our best approach to them is to explain more carefully.

      cb's claim that "It is no mistake that the average denier has a STRONGER background in physics and math than does the average ‘believer’." is probably correct. We need to stop ducking this failure to connect to people with a genuine interest in science; we need to stop conceding the middle ground to the Wattses and McIntyres; we need to take the effort to explain ourselves and not just assert ourselves, at every level of sophistication.

      By the way, it is important to understand that vehemence like this carries a lot of weight among people who aren't paying attention. I'm not sure what we can do about that but that's a topic for another article.

    • cb:

      It is no mistake that the average denier has a STRONGER background in physics and math than does the average 'believer'

      A "background" which cb himself simply does not demonstrate, since he merely regurgitates the "findings" of Motl, Goddard, and others who have told him what to think.

      -- frank

  2. It's also worth remembering that "the average denier has a STRONGER background in physics and math than does the average ‘believer’" does not mean that people with a strong background in physics and maths are more likely to be deniers than believers.

  3. Anyway, back to MT's thesis.

    I think that, unfortunately, MT's theory assumes that the average American voter has a greater capability for clear logical thinking, and a greater tendency to use that capability, than has actually been shown so far.

    Rather than thinking 'based on the evidence that I have, what's the best approximation to truth we have so far?', I suspect that people think more in terms of (1) 'how can I keep doing and believing the same things that I have been doing all this while?' or (2) 'what should I do to make myself look wise and open-minded even though I'm a complete ignoramus?' or (3) 'I'll just believe what everyone else believes; the masses can't be wrong', or even just (4) 'what should I do and say to get more money?'

    That's not to say that scientific openness isn't the right way to go, in itself. But there's no automatic road from scientific openness to any societal consensus, as far as I can tell.

    -- frank

    • True. I'm only claiming openness is necessary. Given the nature of the opposition, it is not sufficient.

      I remain confident that normal scientific practice is part of the failure. It's not to say that there aren't other problems, especially now that this issue is entrenched as part of the "liberal/conservative" divide. But it makes a difference when people ask their dentist or their cousin the engineer what they think, and they come up as dismissive. The swath of the public that has a couple of semesters of physics looks for someplace that engages them at that level, and they find McIntyre and Watts.

    • I don't know Micheal, Tamino engages people at a higher technical level than McIntyre and Watts. SkS also has technical explanations of many papers and arguments. It's McIntyre's rhetoric that creates the illusion that broadens his audience. The middle ground that is exploited by McIntyre, in particular, is ambiguity of statistics mixed with the rhetoric of engaging in fights with a perceived "power". Science is very concerned with honest representations of its work and has moral obligations to stick to this value. The marketers don't, and this is a problem is politics, where great risk is evident, but outcomes are unknown.

      As to openness, I believe it's a bit late for that. These guys already have so much ammo any change in the future will be negligible.. This does not mean it should be striven for, but let's not delude ourselves into thinking it's the answer. It would need to be part of a broader engagement.

    • Re: "let’s not delude ourselves into thinking it’s the answer", sure, I agree.

      But let's not listen to the Nisbets of the world telling us it's not important, either.

      I'm not saying Tamino doesn't do good work. Or Bob Grumbine, or Science of Doom or RC.

      I'm saying that doing this right is much harder than doing it wrong. It will take a concerted effort over a long time to make the facts of the matter as accessible and as compelling as possible.

    • I believe we are in agreement then. What I'll add is that if "openness" is a matter of "trust" then why not show why it is important for academics to get it "right". Isn't that where the Currys and Mcintyres are hijacking the middle? Somehow, they are able to get people (including the so-called balanced media) to believe that it is in scientists' interests to be advocates and completely miss the nuance of citizenship and moral responsibility. Is not being correct and protecting their reputations a more self-interested motivator then appeasing the "consensus"? Do scientists get further in their careers by being right or challenging consensus?

      For whatever reason, there is little push-back against the this narrative. Why does Trenberth get cast as advocate? Hansen, but not the Pielkes?

    • MT:

      But it makes a difference when people ask their dentist or their cousin the engineer what they think, and they come up as dismissive.

      I think the thought process goes on like this:

      1. I am an engineer, and I know engineering stuff.
      2. Therefore I have a good feel as to what's good science and what's bad science.
      3. And I feel that global warming is a scam!

      If so, then we have a difficult task ahead. Getting people to work through stuff, instead of just feeling stuff, has always been hard...

      -- frank

  4. Perhaps this should go under The Problem with the Press: DotEarth has a new article on the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund.
    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/25/a-legal-defense-fund-for-climate-scientists

    Amongst the commenters is one Bob Austin:

    "What are the chances of Climate Science Defense Fund helping Dr. Tim Ball defend against the suits initiated by Dr. Mann and Dr. Andrew Weaver? Dr. Ball is a genuine climate scientist but I suspect his "denier" credentials will rule out any assistance. So lets be truthful, the fund is intended for assisting AGW proponents only.

    "It appears that the major part of the fund will be spent assisting public funded scientists to stymie freedom of information requests."

    • (A good rule of thumb is this: if one needs to expressly state that someone is "genuine" or "honest", then one's trying too hard.

      That was an honest public service announcement brought to you by Honest Frank, of the honest blog Honestly Decoding SwiftHack.)

      -- frank

  5. Micheal, what do you think of the big deal the IPCC is making about the leaked ZOD's to McIntyre and Appell? Why is it so important to keep ZOD's confidential? Is this just bureaucratic nonsense or do they really have a case to ask bloggers and journalists to take these down and refrain from commenting? This seems like a counterproductive waste of time with no real endgame. Is there a reason relating to the integrity of the science or review process? What's their case?

    • To Frank: There's a little more with the engineers. I actually posted about it a few months ago (back when I had the time to blog - and to comment on blogs for the matter of that).

      In any case, they frequently also think "I'm an engineer. I design things that have to work or lives will be lost. My judgement is far better than that of an ivory tower egg headed computer modeler and it's been tested in the real world." They not only think this, they say it repeatedly.

      The subject of this post is very interesting to me because I consider myself to be in the galaxy of people who are conservative yet amenable to reason and possessing of moderately sophisticated general understanding of physical principles and mathematics. And, as an aside, I employ quite a few engineers. And yet, Michael captures the basics of why I've come to believe that "you're right and they're wrong" with his statement that "After all, you cannot add 4 watts at the top of the atmosphere and have the system not change."

      And finally, I really am more offended by many of the things I've read in the "Climategate" emails (hacked or otherwise) and what they imply about the ethical standards of some in the community. And I think there is truth to the statement that "how you do anything is how you do everything."

    • "After all, you cannot add 4 watts at the top of the atmosphere and have the system not change."

      It turns out that Steve Schneider often said things very close to this, and it's possible I picked it up from him. In any case he said it first and I think the argument should be attributed to Schneider.

    • To answer my own question, after looking into it, the IPCC is trying to avoid statements or citations being made on pre-final drafts. IOW, drafts are "pre-decisional". There is logic to that. But it is also somewhat tone deaf to the constant call for openness and transparency, when this transparency only happens after the final draft is finished.

      OTOH, people criticizing a ZOD, as a reflection of the IPCC, aren't making themselves look any better, especially if they are expert reviewers for the next draft!

      McIntyre's response is just bizarre. There was no "demand" made, as put forth in the blog title. He questions whether the IPCC has the "moral" right to ask him to take down the posts, when there is no moral action in question. He recuses himself based on an 'et tu' argument, which is based on an ambiguous change to wording (which he doesn't completely site).

      Therefore, review comments and author responses should be considered within the context of the final report. Drafts, review comments, and author responses are pre-decisional materials that are confidential until publication of the final Report or Technical Paper; they are not the results of the assessment and may not be cited, quoted, or distributed as such1. Only the approved, adopted, and accepted Reports or Technical Papers may be cited or quoted as the results of the assessment.

      was changed to

      The drafts of IPCC Reports and Technical Papers which have been submitted for formal expert and/or
      government review, the expert and government review comments, and the author responses to those
      comments will be made available on the IPCC website as soon as possible after the acceptance by the Panel and the finalisation of the report. The IPCC considers its draft reports, prior to acceptance, to be predecisional, provided in confidence to reviewers, and not for public distribution, quotation or citation.

      What is the difference here? To this is he says

      However, this change was deceptively included in a package described as “addressing” IAC recommendations, even though this language had nothing to do with IAC recommendations, but was designed to implement changes sought by Phil Jones and Thomas Stocker long before the IAC review.

      Nothing here addresses the openness of the IPCC process. It's pointless antagonism - if you believe that any antagonism can be pointless, which the climate audit crowd clearly does not.

      • Thanks for that.

        Pointless antagonism is the name of the game, isn't it? The purpose of all of this is to leave a stench of controversy in the noses of the casual passerby, and to enrage the already apoplectic, neither of which is difficult or needful of much in the way of solid argument. It's flat-out subversive. It is intended to subvert rational policy decision and so far, it has succeeded alarmingly well.

  6. The Atlantic on the misguided way we handle science publication here and an online petition against the new regulations attempting to protect the status quo there.

    Interested Google Plus folks (of the voluntary stripe anyhow) might want to follow +William Gunn who is relentless on this topic.

  7. And Ha! amazingly, after clamoring, on and on, about the cabal of scientists not getting their recommendations on transparency from the IAC report, but instead secretly devising a plan to not be transparent:

    A long story indeed. But Stocker (and Phil Jones) had gone to a lot of trouble to obtain the language used in the Galloping Camel letter.

    it turns out, the process is almost identical to IAC's own review process, in regard to confidentiality, with reasoning:

    This report was externally reviewed in draft form by
    12 internationally renowned experts chosen for their
    diverse perspectives, technical knowledge, and
    geographical representation, in accordance with
    procedures approved by the IAC Board. The purpose
    of this independent review was to provide candid
    and critical comments that would help the IAC
    produce a sound report that meets the IAC standards
    for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the
    study charge.

    The review procedure and draft manuscript
    remain confidential to protect the integrity of the
    deliberative process.
    Although the reviewers
    provided constructive comments and suggestions,
    they were not asked to endorse the conclusions and
    recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of
    the report before its release.

    Note: I am not commenting on the utility of the confidentiality process of either report, but just that the the climate audit discussion of it isn't useful at all, nor do I believe it is meant to be. Unfortunately the sexy accusations and peeks behind the curtain of bureaucracy are widely disseminated, and useful discussion is relegated to the shadows.

  8. Rob:

    To me the key question about "Climategate" is simple: Did FOI2009.zip or FOIA2011.zip uncover any specific incidents where climatologist falsified data or results, or were clearly intending to do so?

    There was no fraud. Inactivists claim that "Climategate" revealed fraud. And there was no fraud. End of story.

    But of course, inactivist logic doesn't work this way. So we now have goons claiming things like 'OK, there was no fraud, but climatologists say bad things about skeptics, and bad things about McIntyre's FOI requests, oh noes!' etc. etc. etc. But that's just irrelevant noise.

    There was no fraud, which means no scandal, period.

    * * *

    "In any case, they frequently also think 'I'm an engineer. I design things that have to work or lives will be lost. My judgement is far better than that of an ivory tower egg headed computer modeler and it’s been tested in the real world.' They not only think this, they say it repeatedly."

    Ah -- so it looks like I'm on the right track. What they call 'judgement' is just a subjective feeling, arising from the fact that 'I know engineering stuff'. Again, we have a problem.

    -- frank

    • I agree there was no fraud. That said, I would not tolerate my employees conspiring (yes) to quash contrary points of view in the way that, to me, it's clear was done.

      I agree also with respect to (some)engineer's belief that their feelings-based opinions are more valuable than the inferences made by those who have taken the time to learn the relevant geophysical concepts from first principles is problematic. Rutan is a particularly poignant example (though I don't think he's actually registered).

    • There's a difference between "quash"ing contrary points of view and quashing unsupportable science from the record. Scientist do one of those all the time.

      If you want, point out the 'point of view' that was quashed or supportable science that was mistakenly evacuated.

      [ +1 grypo -ed ]

  9. Over at Kate's ClimateSight, we have -- what a surprise! -- an actual skeptic who actually wants to learn stuff:

    I've been waiting to see something like this [blog post]. I am a skeptic, which simply means I’d like to see for myself how things like climate sensitivity are calculated. One often sees the Stefan-Boltzmann relation used to demonstrate 33 degrees of greenhouse warming but one rarely hears the caveats. This post is a big step in the right direction for me. [...] It would be great to read a piece sometime not on climate models but on modeling in general.

    In fact, I think I'll second that.

    Of course, to the climatologist, the novel parts about climate models are those that relate to climate. But there needs to be more talk about all this fits into the realm of modeling in general -- the tools and methods that are 'background knowledge', common to climate models, nuclear physics models, aerodynamics models, you name it.

    And part of this 'background knowledge' which needs to be clarified is the treatment of uncertainty in modeling -- the bugbear of many an inactivist. And again, by modeling, I mean modeling in general. I think I've only heard the term "Monte Carlo" with regard to climate modeling about once or twice, even though it's the key method underlying climate modeling, and much modeling in general.

    -- frank

  10. Quoted this (pdf) at Eli's but seems jolly pertinent here too:

    "I have an ingenious idea for a company. My company will be in the business of selling computer games. But, unlike other computer game companies, mine will never have to hire a single programmer, game designer, or graphic artist. Instead I’ll simply find people who know how to make games, and ask them to donate their games to me. Naturally, anyone generous enough to donate a game will immediately relinquish all further rights to it...

    "Admittedly, for the scheme to work, my seal of approval will have to mean something. So before putting it on a game, I’ll first send the game out to a team of experts who will test it, debug it, and recommend changes. But will I pay the experts for that service? Not at all: as the final cherry atop my chutzpah sundae, I’ll tell the experts that it’s their professional duty to evaluate, test, and debug my games for free!

    "On reflection, perhaps no game developer would be gullible enough to fall for my scheme. I need a community that has a higher tolerance for the ridiculous—a community that, even after my operation is unmasked, will study it and hold meetings, but not “rush to judgment” by dissociating itself from me. But who on Earth could possibly be so paralyzed by indecision, so averse to change, so immune to common
    sense? I’ve got it: academics!"

    via.

    • Interesting conversation raising many questions. Specifically Frank's "Ah — so it looks like I’m on the right track. What they call ‘judgement’ is just a subjective feeling, arising from the fact that ‘I know engineering stuff’. Again, we have a problem."

      This is quite true. But the solution to the problem is not obvious. Nobody knows everything and nobody has everything figured out. Trust in the right people is crucial, and it's not a trivial problem.

  11. Grypo: I discussed this briefly by email with Michael last week. I'm NOT claiming that the hacked/leaked/whatever emails indicate fraud or overturn the consensus interpretation of available data and application of well-established geophysical principles. But I do think that objectivity has been lost if one is of the opinion that an email such as:

    Mike,
    This is truly awful. GRL has gone downhill rapidly in recent years. I think the decline began before Saiers. I have had some unhelpful dealings with him recently with regard to a paper Sarah and I have on glaciers -- it was well received by the referees, and so is in the publication pipeline. However, I got the impression that Saiers was trying to keep it from being published.
    Proving bad behavior here is very difficult. If you think that Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted. Even this would be difficult.
    How different is the GRL paper from the Nature paper? Did the authors counter any of the criticisms? My experience with Douglass is that the identical (bar format changes) paper to one previously rejected was submitted to GRL.

    or:

    [D]on’t leave stuff lying around on ftp sites — you never know who is trawling them. The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone. Does your similar act in the US force you to respond to enquiries within 20 days? - our does! […] Tom Wigley has sent me a worried email when he heard about it—thought people could ask him for his model code. He has retired officially from UEA so he can hide behind that.

    does not indicate an attempt to quash or obstruct points of view with which the writers disagree. It's natural and it's human and it's understandable (to an extent) but it's wrong in my opinion. As I said, I wouldn't tolerate this from anyone who works for my firm.

    More to the point, to one such as I the decision isn't whether the models are valid, the data accurate, the analysis correct. I would be foolish to believe I have the capacity to decide that. My decision must simply be based on "whom, with my background and knowledge base, am I most able to trust?" This type of conversation is not helpful in that regard.

    Frank: "That's just irrelevant noise."

    I disagree, partly for the reasons implied above. If it's simply a group of experts talking to one another, sure, anything goes. But the people who need to be convinced to compel the people who pull the levers of power to pull them have been told that "it's all out there in the open for all to see and act on." The things I cited and the attitudes and actions implied thereby tend to argue otherwise.

    • In fact there is no effort and has never been any effort to quash any scientific position held in good faith. It is simply presumed in the present circles that McIntyre and McKitrick (the two MMs I believe) and Douglass are among those known to be acting as advocates of unsupportable and politically motivated positions. Barring that context it certainly sounds bad. But given who we are talking about and prior experiences with them, it is unsurprising to hear this in a context presumed private.

      In the first "skeptic camp" is a euphemism. One wants, after all, to write "denialist bastard", but also wants to avoid unnecessary quibbling over terms. All recipients of the email would understand this.

      If someone on the editorial board of a journal rejects articles for reasons that are political, then there is nothing wrong with wanting that person removes.

      The second is just juvenile pouting. It is indeed among the worst that has been turned up.

      But look, science is necessarily tolerant of eccentrics. And this is still nothing to lose sleep over unless it was meant seriously. I would guess that it was meant no more seriously than the "punching Pat Michaels in the face" one was, though having a fantasy of doing so is something one would have to consider not just normal but possibly a sign of good mental health. If it was actually meant literally, that's bad. But so what?

      Really, this is all spin.

      I agree that trust is what this is all about. And what we have here is a systematic effort to undermine trust. And in ten years of emails among dozens of scientists, the worst that comes up is "I swear I'll strangle the puppy rather than let my ex get custody." Give us a break, please.

    • Well, you've moved the goalposts from quashing points of view to "objectivity" and then failed to show where this loss of objectivity happened. Even without context, the emailer asks about a well received paper and wonders what to do if a colleague is trying to block it, and then wonders if another already rejected paper had dealt with the reasons it was rejected before re-submission.

      Explain what is not objective about this.

      This stuff about what you think of your own "workers" is completely irrelevant. These guys are at the top of their fields, I doubt you'd fire them for being less then kind to a bunch of harpies. And if you did, that's your problem.

    • And I'm done with these silly email conversations (for eleventy-millionth time). I should just go down the middle and sacrifice the scientists, because, like Rob and many others, I can still hold all the same view points on the science and policy with or without them. But I can't do that. It's not right for me to say things that are, I think, illogical. There's one group of people who have full of shit for years, and another who have a moral and professional obligation to the truth and objectivity. People can still be naughty and objective. If I'm wrong, so be it.

  12. I understand your position but still disagree. Scientists have, either by serendipity or design, been thrust into a position where people who don't know much are asked to (or ask to) or expected to (or expect to) take certain things on the basis of trust. They are being asked to consider changing the way they look at the world and live their life, a way they, their parents, and their grandparents have been brought up learning to look at it. They're being asked to do this on the basis of trust, and rightfully so since they haven't the time, the ability, or the inclination to grasp the situation from first principles.

    I would not expect my Doctor to behave in a way that I might tolerate from the guy who fixes my car. I stand by my statement on objectivity.

    • I absolutely agree.

      But on the other hand, I have heard that MDs in private conversation can get into gross-out giggle-fests that twelve-year-old boys could only dream of.

      I don't hold what they say among themselves against them, and I would not make an issue about some joke that fell flat caught by a hidden camera in the MD break room.

    • Actually I do like my doctor to avoid spending too much time humouring cranks' FOI requests or the like -- especially if he has every right not to. Every 18-hour span spent servicing an FOI request is an 18-hour span not spent on tending to real patients and real problems.

      -- frank

  13. So Rob is essentially saying that, while "Climategate" showed no fraud whatsoever -- zero, zilch, nada, rien -- yet the scientists caught in this fake 'scandal' are somehow wrong because they don't exhibit the faux 'objectivity' of your typical churnalist?

    Again, to me, it's simple. If there was no fraud, and if there were no attempts to quash valid science, then there was no scandal. End of story. Case closed. Period.

    The rest of the stuff is irrelevant noise. Heck, I'd go further and say that it's irrelevant spin. Inactivists know that their frequent accusations of 'fraud' have no leg to stand on, so they throw up all this irrelevant garbage about 'oh noes, look how much they hate McIntyre!' to make it appear that the scientists are still guilty of 'fraud'.

    But let's recognize this 'argumentation' for what it is: irrelevant spin.

    * * *

    It's natural and it's human and it's understandable (to an extent) [to private express dislike for certain people] but it's wrong in my opinion. As I said, I wouldn't tolerate this from anyone who works for my firm.

    Well, Rob, way to go in creating a team of uncreative, mindless sycophants and drones under your command.

    I'd say that the idea that public officials should act like glitzy dolls at all times, and in all circumstances, is only appealing to two kinds of people: politicians, and idiots.

    Politicians (including office politicians) like to demand perfection in everyone (except themselves), because -- let's face it -- no person is completely flawless, and so a demand for flawlessness gives the politician a ready-made pretext to fire people or engage in character assassination. And idiots who subscribe to this idea of perfection, being idiots, don't know any better.

    Qu'on me donne six lignes écrites de la main du plus honnête homme, j'y trouverai de quoi le faire pendre. [attributed to Cardinal Richelieu]

    A non-idiot, in contrast, realizes that people are imperfect, accepts this imperfection, and understands that the real question is whether, on balance, a person is doing the right things.

    (And on a related note, check out Greg Laden's "If you do something wrong, you should be fired or killed".)

    -- frank

    • Ridiculous assertion Frank. If employees here engaged in "I'll do whatever it takes to prevent so and so from providing information to our clients, our bosses, our associates, the community, etc. that disagrees with what I believe" or "the other group has an agenda different than our group so I will prevent them from having access to the data I've developed" then they are far removed from our company's core values. I believe this to be an accurate analogy of SOME of what I read.

      It's funny - I want and have people who disagree with me, call me out, present counter arguments to my viewpoints, want to try different approaches, etc. They love it here and no one is a drone. If they are, they simply won't be successful here, they'll be left behind. No one has been disciplined, chastised, reprimanded, scolded, admonished, called on the carpet, or "made available to industry" as the saying goes for making an honest mistake or engaging in open disagreement with anyone about anything (well, harassment aside of course). It takes repeated dishonesty, carelessness, laziness, etc. to accomplish that. If you don't believe it, come visit.

      Your link has no relevance to the matter under discussion. As an aside [ ahem, elided -ed ]

      IMHO, of course.

      What's your background for knowing whether the science they attempted to quash is valid (and here, I'm not claiming that it is or is not)?

      Michael, I expect you will delete (demote?) this and I will not take offense if you do but for Heaven's sake....

      Frank, I will stipulate that you think I'm an as_ _ _ _le and/or a fool. Hopefully that way, you won't feel it necessary to respond.

      ===

      [ Rob, no, Frank's unmoderated. You are perfectly right to be angry and I am too. -mt ]

      [ Frank, cool it or you're out. Even aside from the fact that I value Rob's friendship, which goes back more years than I'd care to admit, more than I value yours, this is not acceptable. This site is intended for respectful conversation and genuinely wants to provide a safe place for a broad range of reality-informed points of view. That's why P3 want your point of view, and that's why P3 wants Rob's. With that territory comes the requirement to be polite and assume good will. If you make Rob want to go away, I want you to go away first. One more shenanigan like that and you are erm, dismembered. - mt ]

    • What's your background for knowing whether the science they attempted to quash is valid (and here, I'm not claiming that it is or is not)?

      Rob, I do have some background in statistics, and some signal processing, which is enough to allow me to debunk some, but not all, climate nonsense papers on my own (e.g. Zhen-Shan and Xian)

      I think that the general question -- how can the average bloke separate out good science from bad science on his own? -- is a useful one to ask.

      From what I've seen so far, the 'skeptic' papers tend to be easier to read, which means the reasoning flaws in the paper are also quite easy to see (but one must be willing to see them!). In contrast, I find the 'consensus' papers to be much more abstruse -- perhaps because they deal with more esoteric matters.

      Anyway. My suggestion is, you should try reading some of the peer-reviewed 'skeptic' literature on your own some day. You may be amazed at how many you can debunk by yourself.

      (And the e-mail excerpt above about how "the decline [of GRL] began before Saiers" provides zero context on which paper submission was being discussed. Now that's extremely helpful, don't you think?)

      * * *

      No one has been disciplined, chastised, reprimanded, scolded, admonished, called on the carpet, or "made available to industry" as the saying goes for making an honest mistake or engaging in open disagreement with anyone about anything (well, harassment aside of course). It takes repeated dishonesty, carelessness, laziness, etc. to accomplish that.

      I appreciate the sentiment, but how do you propose to judge "honesty" or "dishonesty" without looking at the actual content of honesty or dishonesty? How do you propose to judge the validity of a submitted scientific work -- whether from CRU, or McIntyre, or some random bloke in Tibet -- without actually looking at the work itself?

      "I'll do whatever it takes to prevent so and so from providing information to our clients, our bosses, our associates, the community, etc. that disagrees with what I believe"

      OK, change that to "I'll do whatever it takes to prevent so and so from providing 'information' about our work that's totally bogus".

      "the other group has an agenda different than our group so I will prevent them from having access to the data I've developed"

      And change that to "the other group is spreading lies about our work, so I'm not going to give them any data if we don't have to".

      Unfortunately, when I rephrase things this way, the 'scandal' doesn't seem so 'scandalous' any more.

      But how can that be? How can two different phrasings of the same truth look so ... different? Is it possible that an act of honesty is being spun into an act of dishonesty, while an act of dishonesty is being spun into an act of honesty?

      -- frank

    • So yeah, Rob, I hope you understand now why I'm so angry at the idea that one can sniff out 'bias' or 'moral failings' from out-of-context paragraphs in e-mails.

      For in the end, what do these out-of-context snippets prove? Nothing, that's what.

      There may be words and phrases involved, but at the end there's nothing specific, nothing actionable, and it all boils down to just a subjective feeling of 'bias' and 'dishonesty' -- caused by the SwiftHackers' selective inclusion and exclusion of material.

      That's not much different from the subjective feeling by engineers that 'I know engineering stuff and I think gorebull warmins a scam'.

      And you think it's acceptable to have someone fired because someone else provoked a feeling in you? If that shouldn't make me angry, then what should?

      [ Frank, you have a very strong posting up to this last paragraph. Why not chop it out and keep it to yourself? The pissing and moaning only detracts from the intelligence and balance with which the rest was written. There are plenty of people to be mad at ahead of Rob. Pick one of those and stick to that, and do go burning bridges or causing bad feelings around herem, because P3 needs all the help it can get. -mt ]

      -- frank


      [ Rob -- please don't answer that last question. It's important for me to think through moderation policy for when this site actually catches on for its ineffable betterness than all the others. ]

      [ Frank -- I think what has happened here is out of bounds because Rob was describing his personal experience and placing it into context. Again, either you misunderstand or you have an ethical disagreement. Here is how I would like you to handle such a case, to demonstrate goodwill.

      First assume you misunderstand. Do not just take the opportunity to score points. Different people use different words. There are people of good will and good sense everywhere, though they are by no means evenly distributed. Everyone's ethical priorities have been developed in response to circumstances, and misunderstanding, as any follower of "climategate" can clearly see, are easy for people to jump to if they are in an oppositional frame of mind.

      (I say this all as the guy who will always be known to some extent as the guy who said the F-word eleven times in one open letter to Steve Mosher. And I can't say I regret it, because insofar as I know nobody before or since has attempted to honestly convey just how angry the climate community is about this sorry collection of but baseless but quite substanceless innuendo. Mosher actually is perceptive enough that he understands what is going on, and we desperately need him to jump ship. But as part of that we need him to acknowledge that he was part of fanning those flames, and that it wasn't remotely worth it.)

      Try to construct an interpretation favorable to the other person being as generous as possible. This is the opposite of skepticism. Be skeptical about ideas, but generous to people, especially people who are apparently willing to engage in the conversation in good faith. It's only the bad faith conversation we want to exclude here, not the exchange of informed and open-minded opinion.

      Second, if you believe you still cannot construct an interpretation favorable to the other person being as generous as possible after you have clarified, THEN you may assert that you have an ethical problem with their position. But do so as delicately and politely as possible, and then allow that person to answer. You get the first word, the other gets the second. Then neither of you get to say anything, unless and until four other people comment on the disagreement.

      If it generates enough intelligent response from other readers, we could promote the discussion to its own article and set some ground rules for the conversation. Otherwise my proposed ground rules in this kind of disagreement are:

      1) ask for clarification
      2) await clarification
      3) see if you can bring yourself to drop any personal part of it
      4) express ethical discomfort if necessary
      5) wait for response if any
      6) wait for commentary from others if any
      7) propose further discussion

      I think it will rarely get as far as 7, but I think that it's reasonable to allow for the possibility.

      - mt ]

    • MT, if my last paragraph was a misinterpretation, then I apologize. But as you agree, my point still stands: e-mails deliberately taken out of context prove nothing about the moral standing of climatologists.

      -- frank

  14. Pingback: The Open Science Debate: Part 1 (Ding Dong, the RWA is Dead!) – Stanford Neuroblog


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