McIntyre Says Some Sensible Things

The Register (a British publication focused on the information technology industries) has been notoriously unreliable on climate issues and should not be taken too seriously by default. Also it’s widely known how much damage Steve McIntyre has done to the comity of the whole climate sphere. Nevertheless there are many points which McIntyre makes in a recent article at The Register which are worthy of note:

  • Leading climate blogger Steve McIntyre says policy makers are failing to prepare the public for climate change and have become obsessed with “petty acts of virtuous behaviour” instead.
  • If you’re a policy maker, you have to take as a base case that India and China are going to increase carbon dioxide emissions, and one of the IPCC base cases of CO2 emissions is going to come to pass. You would be negligent to ignore it – we can hope it will be less severe, and we can hope skeptics are right – but you have to assume that the IPCC advice is accurate. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of [room to] manoeuvre
  • McIntyre said the publication of SRREN had followed the “despicable IPCC practice” of issuing an alarmist press release “that had the opportunity to run around the world” six weeks before issuing the report. The press release claimed that 80 per cent of the world’s energy needs could be met by renewable energy by 2050. It transpired that the 80 per cent figure was based on a Greenpeace study, a Greenpeace activist was lead author of the chapter assessing the Greenpeace study, and no due diligence on this scenario had been performed.
  • “As a general philosophy, I think any signal should be strong enough to show up using very simple methods,” he said. “Simple methods are all that is required to extract signals. If you have to use methods that are trickier than that – then in the hands of inexperienced or opportunistic scientists you can get results don’t make a whole lot of sense.”

Of course this one is pretty ridiculous:

McIntyre said he thought the reason for the “tremendous acrimony” in the climate blogosphere was a response to this: “Nobody knows what to do.”

McIntyre ought to consider whether certain individuals’ behavior have directly contributed to acrimony, and exactly who might spring to mind first.

(And the hurricane hiatius thing is pretty inexcuseable. Lack of landfalling hurricanes in the US is good news on the disaster management front but not meaningful climatologically.)

On the other hand this:

“You’d be negligent not to take the IPCC as the basis of policy, even if you thought the quality of the work required tremendous improvement. I hope people do a better job.”

is about right and very interesting. (Though I don’t agree with the implication which is pretty much a matter of faith among McIntyre’s followers, that Working Group I in particular has done a bad job.)

h/t Mosher, right after getting me really ticked off

Comments:

  1. I'm reminded of some years ago when somebody with a generally sensible position on ACC cited a physicist (not heard of again) who observed that models don't do consistent regional climate predictions. This reasonable observation was embedded in a standard set of denialist nonsense; he had gotten that one part right apparently because he thought it supported his slagging of the entire enterprise. This looks like a slightly more nuanced version of that -- that McI is offering a few nuggets we should consider is spoiled by their usefulness to his larger project. He also advocates open data access. Don't you?

  2. Maybe. There have been baits and switches enough in the past.

    It would be stupid to put too much trust in the intentions of McIntyre or the Reg. But I do find these points worth considering in their own right and found the article a refreshing change.

  3. Given Orlowski's track record as an author, from the Register article there's no telling what the reality of McIntyre's thrust was. Better to get the information somewhere else.

    As to reasonable, this jumps out as unreasonable, given about 60 seconds thinking of contradictory examples:

    “As a general philosophy, I think any signal should be strong enough to show up using very simple methods,” he said. “Simple methods are all that is required to extract signals. If you have to use methods that are trickier than that – then in the hands of inexperienced or opportunistic scientists you can get results don’t make a whole lot of sense.”

    As usual, the obligatory insinuation: "opportunistic scientists." McIntyre just can't help himself.

    Sorry, it's way too late for either of these guys to rebrand themselves as Pielke, Jr. They'e tracked so much mud into the carpet of their history they'll never, ever get the stains out.

  4. Yeah, it makes you wonder what the point of statistics is in the first place.

    Rebranding as Roger! You set an interesting bar.

    The question is whether we can engage the better ideas of people who have shown themselves to have been destructive in the past without doing the Lucy holds the football and Charlie Brown comes running up to kick it number again.

    I am convinced that Rashomon will not let go of "climategate" for a long time to come. So how do we proceed without letting this side issue derail the whole world. Muller refuses to back down but wants to move on. McIntyre and Mosher show signs of same.

    We can't rid ourselves of the scars and the pain; and we will be facing widespread delusion among politicians for decades. The damage is done, though. And there is something to be said for an engaged amateur community. There is no truce, but it's sort of like the Falkland Island war. Those who died, died. Those who lived through it, will always have to deal with it.

    Neither the UK nor Argentina can back down. But hell, it's just the Falklands. We can't just fight about it forever. I'm for moving on without especially forgiving. We've had 14 years of tree rings. Let's just think about other things for a while.

  5. I'm not really sure this is all that much different than what McIntyre has said, just this time with more emphasis and gathered in an article, and not buried in his blog somewhere. Hasn't this always been part of the Middle-Earth Schtick?

    But the openness, or lack there of, of the IPCC review process provides a good example of how the players operate. A while back, McIntryre spent an unusual amount of word space to go after Stocker and Jones for wanting confidentiality during the review process for AR5. Much of the argument (even looking past all the rhetoric trying making these guys look as sneaky as possible) was about the IAC recommendation that the IPCC be as transparent as possible. Besides the inability to see that the qualifier "as possible" has actual meaning, the IAC review process itself mirrors what Stocker wanted for the IPCC. This doesn't get mentioned.

    Further, McIntyre tells us why the IPCC wants the documentation. Pay attention to the wording because this becomes important:

    On one hand, there is a need for transparency and openness of the assessment process. On the other hand, publicizing drafts have serious drawbacks. There is a risk that drafts contain errors or statements that are still unbalanced and that have to be corrected at a later stage. These could prematurely circulate in the public domain, creating confusion, and that would be a bad service of IPCC to society. Therefore, the Task Group believes that drafts should be kept confidential until acceptance of the full report.

    I remember thinking how ridiculous the post was, but also thinking that the review process could work to be more accessible somehow. I had no real ideas how to accomplish that. Fast forward to the present, and I'm reminded why the IPCC does what it does, by none other that McIntyre.

    In that post, McIntyre begins hurling accusations like:

    It appears to me that the information was deleted because it was inconsistent with alarmist narrative on droughts and not for a valid reason.
    ...
    However, the First Order Draft was substantially changed to language apparently tailored to avoid a direct contradiction of alarmist narrative.
    ...
    Note carefully that the First Order Draft suppressed any explicit mention of historical megadroughts exceeding those in the modern instrumental record

    This was based on the change from ZOD to FOD.

    No go look back at why the IPCC wants to keep the review process confidential. This is especially troubling because we actually have no idea what is written in the test of the FOD of that chapter. When myself and several others asked to see the chapter, McIntyre, twice, pointed to Dave Appell's leaked documents, which are only ZOD's and a FOD of the correct chapter but only of the figures and charts, no text, and certainly not the text McIntyre is quoting from. This was pointed out to McIntyre who has yet to respond to it, or let us know where his copy came from. He says he never signed a disclosure agreement so it appears it was not by legitimate means.

    The accuracy of his argument would also assume some sort of expertise in the megadrought literature. The ZOD has a placeholder for more discussion on megadroughts, but we have no idea if it is there. This all needs due diligence.

    What does all that mean? To me, it shows an entrenchment in ideas for the IPCC that just aren't congruent with possible reality. And I have no idea how to approach someone whose ready to assume the worse when these unrealistic and subjectively promoted demands are not met immediately.

    But by sounding reasonable in an article, a quandary materializes.

  6. The question is whether we can engage the better ideas of people who have shown themselves to have been destructive in the past...

    We ought to but it's not easy, particularly when credibility gaps mean we know by experience we can't trust what we read or hear. Instead, we must carefully reverse-engineer what we're seductively encouraged to believe so as to make sure we're not having our cognition short-circuited.

    Isn't easier to stick with reliable sources, those we don't -know- are unreliable?

  7. Exactly. Why expend the energy trying divine whether he still fancies himself the witchfinder general? Is the field that starved for input? It's not simply a matter of bruised feelings; there's opportunity cost in extending the benefit of the doubt. Why bother?

  8. It transpired that the 80 per cent figure was based on a Greenpeace study, a Greenpeace activist was lead author of the chapter assessing the Greenpeace study, and no due diligence on this scenario had been performed. Really?

    See http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/a-deeper-look-at-an-energy-analysis-raises-big-questions/

    especially the updates. Even when he's shown to be wrong and alarmist McIntyre won't let a zombie story die.

  9. I can think of unflattering reasons for McIntyre to say those things about IPCC, actually.

    But that hardly matters.

    There are plenty of important reasons to engage with McIntyre and many of his Macolytes; I'll have more to say on this. The risks are obvious. But the potential upside is to move the internet conversation beyond the disputed narratives and into the actual science.

    That's big.

  10. I appreciate your efforts to understand and explain all this. Unfortunately it didn't pass my poor early version parser.

    Could you go through that more slowly and more accessibly? Assume that a reader has no background at all in IPCC process. I don't follow this stuff closely, but I know more about it than our target audience, and I still have no clear idea what some of your text was about.

  11. So far the nearest example of such a "defection" is Muller, and despite his best efforts to remain in the Pielkesphere, he's getting retroactively disowned. Conversely, Curry has gained a following by doing more or less the opposite. You see this in 9/11 mythology -- if McI turns, they *got* to him.

    Something like 10% of the US thinks the moon landings were faked, pretty close the the most extreme of the "six Americas". Twill ever be thus. It's a sacrifice zone.

    We're better off worrying about false balance.

  12. The proper link was the one just below:

    http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2012/08/17/when-opinion-leaders-dont-lead/comment-page-2/#comment-117860

    The link above has been responded there:

    http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2012/08/17/when-opinion-leaders-dont-lead/comment-page-2/#comment-117942

    Basically, what grypo says.

  13. Michael: "There are plenty of important reasons to engage with McIntyre and many of his Macolytes; I’ll have more to say on this. The risks are obvious. But the potential upside is to move the internet conversation beyond the disputed narratives and into the actual science.

    "That's big."

    That's breathtakingly naive. You can't develop understanding in people who see their task as misunderstanding.

  14. BTW: "You’d be negligent not to take the IPCC as the basis of policy, even if you thought the quality of the work required tremendous improvement" or words to that effect has been McI's standard disclaimer for years. I agree that it might be more meaningful had he just said it for the first time.

  15. It's an interesting article. I note that it credits McIntyre with "setting in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to Climategate, which cast doubt..." I wonder if McIntyre would credit himself with that.

    I doubt if McIntyre could retreat from his core positions - his readers put him on the same "pedestal" as Anthony Watts. He is able to lend a veneer of mathematical sophistication, and he's pretty good at sticking his thumb into the eyes that his readership wants it stuck into (with his FOIA requests, etc.).

    I wouldn't go so far, as the Register writer did, as calling McIntyre agnostic. I agree with Doug Bostrom with respect to his inability to completely feign agnosticism with his "opportunistic" statement.

    I stopped by his site based on this post, partially to see if he mentions the article (he doesn't), but, frankly, I rarely visit. And I do visit "skeptic" sites (I also have a guilty pleasure of watching faith healers on television). The bulk of his posts seem (at least when I've checked) to revolve around "I tried to get document x, I was blocked so I..." or "so and so is lying because here's his statement in an email from 2006..."

    Probably more than most who frequent P3, I'm subject to occasional doubt with respect to the consensus view on climate. But sites such as McIntyre's are not compelling to me, even in that regard. And those who follow him would abandon him if he started to say "you know, maybe those climatologists have something there." Morano would have a few dozen or so links to blog posts trashing him. So I'd have to say that, for me, whether McIntyre says something sensible or not is not relevant.

  16. In early 2007, several months before IPCC AR4 release, McIntyre blogged on the fine print of IPPC operating rules and procedures.
    He claimed the Summary for Policymakers had been written first, so the WG1 report could be manipulated to fit those conclusions. His readers lapped it up.

    I spoke to 3 scientists who were writing or editing WG1. They all told me the same story.
    WG1 was in the last draft and all the major conclusions were firm. Those conclusions were
    what allowed the SFP to be written before the WG1 was released.

    Those fact did not keep McIntyre from cultivating misinformation - here -

    Fixing the Facts to the Policy
    http://climateaudit.org/2007/01/24/fixing-the-facts-to-the-policy/ (also link to 'prior post')


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