Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What a weekend! Key battle in climate wars

Last Thusday, Realclimate (RC) launched their long awaited counter attack on The Hockey Stick Illusion (HSI), published earlier this year by local author Andrew Montford.  There are now many books on both sides of the climate wars.

What distinguishes HSI is the way it draws together lengthy and complex blog posts and peer reviewed papers (where the war has largely been fought), and converts the complexities and cut and thrust of the debate into a form readily accessible to the lay reader.  Its language is also measured and generally understated. Its potential to throw light and understanding to a crucial new audience - the thoughtful voting public - is considerable.

Hitherto, RC's strategy had been to ignore HSI other than to disparage it occasionally with contempt. The RC review, coming in at just under 3,000 words, was posted last Thursday by Tamino who titles it The Montford Delusion.   The choice of title sets the scene for a combative and snarky style - the trademark of RC and of many in the climate wars.  A further characteristic is the ready deployment of complex science, peer reviewed papers, obligatory graphs and robustly stated arguments.

Reading Tamino's prose is to witness the destruction of the false arguments of Montford and his 'hero' Steve McIntyre, all in very forceful terms.  The critics' challenges to the two seminal papers of Michael Mann in the 1998 and 1998 (MBH9X) are grasped, as are many other issues such as the Principle Componant Analysis, the verification statistic R2, and a range of much-considered proxies or chronologies of tree rings.

The conclusion of all this is that the corruption of science which Montford purported to describe, was a delusion in the mind of Montford and McIntyre.    Absolutely uncompromising stuff.   But all tame compared with the comments which ensued.

Recognising the significance of the engagement, troops from both sides move to the barricades and engage in hand to hand combat.  It is not pleasing but certainly gripping - even if all the references to published papers, arguments and scientific principles are not fully understood.

Nothing quite prepares the observer for the brutality.  Initially the comments are from enthusiastic supporters of Tamino and RC but gradually some heavyweight scientists (Thinking Scientist, Judith Curry, Jean S etc) appear with challenges to the confidently stated assertions of the review.   Unlike Tamino, these contributors rate the HSI arguments.   But with lengthy editorial comments (from Gavin, Eric and Tamino) they are contemptuously dismissed - "Have you even read these papers?", "This is nonsense".

But what is this?   Across on the Bishop Hill blog some of the sceptical combatants are posting copies of their submissions to RC.   What emerges is a deep distrust of the gatekeeping actions of the RC editors as well as disagreement with RC arguments.  It is claimed that critical comments from sceptics are held until a rebuttal has been composed and often subsequent ripostes by the critical poster are not allowed through.    But some are.  And it is claimed that this is all part of a news management process achieved through the normal blog moderator's prerogative, leaving the battle record to show sceptical arguments pilloried (a reasonable description) with no answer to the demolition administered by Gavin, Tamino and Eric.

But there is more.  Across on Climate Audit (CA) Steve McIntyre wades in.  A guru to the sceptics (he even looks like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) - to RC and the warmists he is Darth Vader incarnate. Apparently he is banned from RC.  His contribution is withering.  With absolute precision he ignores most of the smaller issues which have gripped the debate and selects what he sees as the heart of the matter.   His precise language, imagery and citations are chosen to expose fundamental fallacies in the RC's defence of the hockey stick.  He calls it 'paleo-phrenology' likening the basis of Tamino's arguments (and those on which the hockey stick is based)  to meridians of qi - invisible pathways through which energy flows.   Scathingly, he avers that peer reviewed paleo climate science has now accepted 'invisible pathways' instead of scientific evidence.   And he does not stint in giving evidence.

But all this is complex.   Given that the breadth of the material cited is time consuming to absorb, how am I to make sense of it.   It took hours to sift through the weekend offerings on the three key blogs.    I had already absorbed many of the issues and debates and some of the papers and abstracts.   I have concluded there are two key responses.   The first is to read widely, including both sides of the debate.  The second is always to be seeking to refine the discussion to the key issues.

And the most fundamental issue is one of truth.   What is absolutely clear is that in many of the specific scientific issues the opposing views are mutually exclusive.  A Hegelian synthesis is not an option. Which means, broadly speaking, one side is right and one is wrong.

Of course this is only important if the consequences are significant.
  • "Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the world today."  UK Environment Agency Chairman, (now) Lord Chris Smith.
  • "Given that the outputs of your work are being used to promote the largest revolution mankind has ever contemplated, do you have any sense of the extent to which the quality control and rigour of approach must be of the highest standards in expectation of deep scrutiny?" Prof M J Kelly recommending a prepared question  (see pp81ff) to be asked of Professors Jones and Briffa at the Climatic Research Unit as part of the Oxburgh Science Assessment Panel.
  • "I agree with Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, that the 21st will be our Final Century and I do not believe there is anything we can do about it."  John A Davidson, blogger 31.1.09 on RC
At least on the surface, public policy reflects these high stakes as we set about what Professor Kelly describes as the largest revolution mankind has ever contemplated. 

But politics has at least some reference to public opinion.  A check of the Alexa website which measures internet traffic suggests that despite their busy week-end RC has had only around 60% of the traffic to CA  in the last month. Perhaps the tide of the battle is turning.

Tamino may have shaded the skirmish on RC.  But the arguments on CA sound much more like truth.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Russell review and New Scientist

'All this, plus the failure to investigate whether emails were deleted to prevent their release under freedom of information laws, makes it harder to accept Russell's conclusion that the "rigour and honesty" of the scientists concerned "are not in doubt"'.
Thus read the New Scientist editorial  last week under the heading:
'Without candour, we can't trust climate science.'
The editorial came in the wake of the Independent Climate Change Email Review which was published on 7th July.   This second review into the release of over 1000 emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia was very much an Edinburgh based affair.  The address of the ICCER was in Rose Street and two of the five members are professors at Edinburgh University.  Although led by Sir Muir Russell, the ICCER was masterminded by Professor Geoffrey Boulton who is also the General Secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

So why should New Scientist express doubts about the candour of the ICCER?  The editorial is particularly striking as it represents the adoption of a critical stance in contrasting with previous staunch support of what has become the establishment orthodoxy on climate science practice.

The editorial gives several reasons for questioning the candour of the report.

But another reason is the review's preposterous claim to be independent.  My call at the outset for the influential Professor Boulton to resign from the enquiry, (he worked at the University of East Anglia for 18 years and had expressed strong partisan views about climate change and the scientists he was investigating), was ignored as were many other such calls.

The difficulty is not just that the biases, omissions and errors of this most recent review (as well as the Oxburgh review which preceded it) 'make it difficult for public trust in climate science to be restored' - as New Scientist rightly laments.

The difficulty is also that the reputation of Edinburgh University and the Royal Society will suffer collateral suspicion.

And much public policy which is based on that trust in climate science will be undermined.