You’re In Real Trouble Now, Professor

You’re in real trouble now, Professor. You’ve come to the attention of The Auditor. He has asked you Questions. You now have two choices:-
(1) You could assume the questions are posed in good faith, The Auditor is genuinely interested in the knowing the answers, and will make constructive and reasonable use of the information. This would be a category error. It’s like those email scams where if you respond the spammers know the address they’ve hit is real. Next thing you know there will be a second round of followup questions, and so on ad nauseum. Dr Gerald North writes:-

This guy can just wear you out. He has started it with me but I just don’t bite. But there are some guys, Ben Santer comes to mind, who if they are questioned will take a lot of time to answer. He’s sincere and he just can’t leave these things along. If you get yourself in a back-and-forth with these guys it can be never ending, and basically they shut you down with requests. They want everything, all your computer programs. Then they send you back a comment saying, “I don’t understand this, can you explain it to me.” It’s never ending. And the first thing you know you’re spending all your time dealing with these guys.
Do you really want that?

(2) You ignore the Questions. This will lead to a post at the Audit weblog using words like ‘stonewall’, ‘petulance’, ‘refusal’. You won’t be directly accused of malpractice or fraud, naturally, however the comments will be a playground where those with a desire to speculate about ‘What is Lewandowsky hiding?’ will be given free rein. There will then be a short hiatus during which you may think your life is getting back to normal, but then the orchestrated FOI requests for any and all emails relating to the paper will start …

Do you really want that?

There is no 3rd choice.

-Phil Clarke’s amazing comment at Stephan’s, with yet another hat tip to our Willard.


  1. The Auditor aka Captain Ahab (read the book and savor the eerily exact metaphorical match) and his crew seem to be extremely angry about this.

    No wonder. The course followed has long been "Climate science is bunk because of [fill in nouns and verbs of conspiracy]." Captain Ahab has spent literally years poring over a chart in the form of a collection of stolen emails, trying to establish the facts of an imagined conspiracy, chasing a whale with the form of a hockey stick. Now Leviathan has turned on the jollyboat and its crew; enough tickling and scratching from little harpoons and the enormous creature called science has become interested in what the fuss is about, has cast its saucer-like eye on Captain Ahab.

    The remaining details of Ahab's crew delving into -another- stolen database hoping to discover -another- plot explaining Moby Dick's sudden interest in the good ship Pequod are almost unimaginably ironic and also neatly follow the final desperate hours of the literary Ahab's obsessive quest.

    It's an epic tale but the epilogue says further references to "climate conspiracies" will be greeted with a sad shake of the head. Ahab and his ilk move from being endlessly annoying but strangely influential and solidly into the bucket marked "cranks."

  2. Looks like our Auditor will have 10 years of "analysis" to do ... He should thank Pr Lewandowsky for this heavenly gift.
    Or maybe not, since this professor seems less willing to get "audited" than Pr Mann, and since every "audit" done will serve as data for his target errrr "audited scientist" against him - to our utmost pleasure.

  3. Yes, A DOS attack it is, and DOS attack it has always been.

    This does NOT mean that science cannot be done more transparently and with more of an eye toward repeatability and toward accessibility. Both goals are sound, and all of science can work on them. Further, climate science is a place where these goals are particularly valuable.

    But the scientific community does not actually have these goals and is not acculturated to act this way. There is nothing particular in climate culture that is any worse than any other science in this regard. Seen as a recommendation, radical openness and radical accessibility is very much worth considering. Seen as a retroactive requirement, it is merely toxic.

    It seems to me that there is no awareness in the climate confusionist community about the Open Science Movement. This is a pretty interesting blind spot.

  4. "It seems to me that there is no awareness in the climate confusionist community about the Open Science Movement. This is a pretty interesting blind spot."

    Hmm, yes - and perhaps an easy way of testing skeptics' good faith. Er, though that's just a new form of time-consuming and we already know the nature of their faith I guess.

    p.s. interesting article by @mem_someville about the ENCODE project. As well as some stuff on the ups and downs of the media blitz, a nice line: "it was like watching a huge world-wide lab meeting take place over a few days via twitter and blogs, and it was really pretty cool."

    Though where does all that fit into current peer review (still the gatekeeper of scientific truthcorroboration, e.g. see Slashdot yesterday)? How would ENCODE and the attendant 'world wide lab meeting' have got on if it was a climate science project?

  5. Repeating or extending this experiment will be difficult because an important subject component is fairly cohesive and is resistant to further exploration of the topic. Indeed quite a bit of advice has been published already showing how to trip up the next investigator to come along.

    I'm not sure how a transparency fault really applies to this situation. Human subjects tricky; we cogitate and so if we're told we're being tested and as well have some notion of what's being tested we almost can't help but change results from the norm. It's along the lines of "Don't think of an elephant. Now tell me we what you're thinking."

    This isn't climate science in any case, unless we consider it an investigation of the effect of human cognition in driving anthropogenic forcing, as opposed to plain old geophysics.

  6. No transparency fault here. That the confusionists absolutely refuse to believe that Stephan needed to contact his Ethics Review Board before releasing any information does tie in to their consistent confusion about what academic life is like; that sort of feels like it has the same flavor.

    I just raise it in a broader sense as an interesting key. Of course the Open Science Movement skews a bit left and the confusionists skew hard right. This may be part of why there is so little contact between them. I had thought Mosher was aware of the connection but recent comments of his leave me convinced that even he is clueless about it.

    This site is not a "climate science" site per se. P3 is about science-informed discussion of larger issues. When we talk about science, it is to do the science-informing. So the distinction is not of primary concern to us.

    But we are definitely talking about the culture gap between science-as-practiced and the confusionist worldview. In this respect, the large gap between social science and physical science is as nothing compared to the huge gap between Captain Ahab and the whale.

  7. Speaking of people recognizing their limitations, this episode is thought provoking in a way quite apart from the investigation's original intentions.

    Yanking the topic from one arena of scientific investigation to another highlights our shared fallibility when it comes to speculating on domain-specific topics for which we're ill-equipped. Follow the discussion at Skeptical Science on Lewandowsky's paper and you can see people who have trained themselves to be suitably humble and circumspect when talking about geophysics matters quite forgetting themselves and leaping to offer naive suggestions on what Lewandowsky and Oberauer may have done wrongly in pursuing their investigation.

    Many of the standard features of what's mockingly termed "denialism" are on view; we see simple statistical tools applied to problems exceeding the competency of that level of analysis, flat disbelief of observational methods, suspicions about the validity of the data, etc. Dilettante failings are obvious.

    Suggesting that things might be as simple as they appear is rejoined (literally) with replies that "it's not rocket science."

    No, cognitive psychology and the research methods employed in the field are not "rocket science." In some ways the discipline is much more -difficult- than rocket science.

    We hear much of the "Dunning-Kruger" effect but the lessons of that research is wasted inasmuch as it's been turned into an epithet, turned into an adjective to be hurled at opponents. Irony, because Dunning and Kruger showed us a key set of findings to help us be mindful.

  8. As someone perpetually out of his depth when criticizing economics, let me say that some of this outsider criticism is valuable. And I think a larger piece of all academic disciplines, not just climate, should be about making their results (and not just the ninth grade level stuff) as accessible as possible to outsiders and intermediate participants.

    Possibly the greatest boost to this is online courseware, but it will take some time before that is an accepted part of the culture.

    Anyway, the trouble with writing criticism off as a DOS attack is that fertilizes the ground for wrong ideas and eventually conspiracy theories. On the other other other hand, few people understand the constraints of academic life. It's really few people's job to communicate effectively, and many people's job to interfere with communication. ...

  9. I'm horribly hung up on metaphors.

    Thinking of scientists as drivers and most of the rest of us as passengers, with transparency being the windshield leading to our common view, it is certainly the case that we don't want to draw a curtain across the scene outside visible to us passengers.

    On the other hand-- stretching the metaphor to the point of failure-- while it's true that passengers may notice a developing situation that's not obvious to a driver, all too often the input from passengers is wrong and distracting. "Watch out for that horse in the field!" is the example coming to my mind, as said by Hyacinth to her long-suffering husband in the program "Keeping Up Appearances."

    Now, extending the metaphor still further into inelastic territory...

    As many of us are probably aware, too much passenger input can end up threatening a good marriage. Just so, on perhaps 1:100,000 occasions the passenger may end up saying "why didn't you listen to me," with the driver rejoining "because you're -always- yammering at me, how was I supposed to tell you were right, for once?" 🙂

  10. My default assumption is that the questions about my work are posed in good faith. There is background and history here that would cause me to change that position if I were in Professor Lewandwsky's shoes, so I would advise option 2) in this case.

    If you feed denialist howler monkeys, you will get shit thrown at you.


  11. Yet another coup de théâtre:

    > On Sep 27, 2010, about a month after the Lewandowsky survey was posted at several anti-skeptic blogs, John Cook posted the following at the private SkS forum entitled “Excerpt from Steve [Lewandowsky]‘s email”. At the time, Hans von Storch and Dennis Bray had just carried out an online survey. Lewandowsky complained that there was “no way to check or verify the integrity of the data” and therefore the data was probably “useless”.

    I particularly like the way the hacking of the SkS mailing list is mentioned.

    Speaking of which, here's where it got published, and here's my favorite quote:

    > Clearly the most climate-ethical way to proceed would be a "leak". I have no prior background in this area so this feels quite strange and counterintuitive. But who am I to dispute the experts?

    Good question.

  12. It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs that a sense of humor can be a liability in these discussions at times. Its leavening quality allows the prevailing desire to look away to hold sway. In recent discussions with people who do not disagree with me, I find it becoming more, not less, common for people to want to change the subject. They feel powerless.

    Slight change of subject. A few weeks back MT challenged me (though he may not have known he was doing so) on the subject of epistemology, and with some input from my experience in teaching drawing to intelligent but unskilled people (a pleasant and rewarding task), I began to think that one of the biggest educational problems we face in all these discussions is to get people to acknowledge that they don't know when they don't. In my grandiose way, I have begun to think of this as the science of not knowing (hence, epistemology with a twist). It takes a fair amount of life experience to arrive at the point where it is not a failing to admit it.

    I know this sounds a bit tautological (to use a big word to describe stating the obvious) but it is a culture-wide problem and I could wish that our educational system encouraged people to acknowledge what they don't know as well as learning more. The two are not mutually exclusive.

  13. change of subject ... change of subject above - my bad. I meant to introduce a break, not a relationship. And I should acknowledge that there is no particular reason I chose to put this thought, which I still think is valuable, in this discussion.

  14. Can't let this one go without expressing enthusiasm. "I could wish that our educational system encouraged people to acknowledge what they don’t know as well as learning more."

    Yes. Indeed. Please.

    An ability to acknowledge mistakes, too... and a willingness to make them in the first place.

  15. Pingback: Climate Trolls – An Illustrated Bestiary – A Few Things Ill Considered

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