Time for a Reformation of science

I first published this May 12, 2010. It seems even more appropriate in the light of what Gleick has done.In a comment on my Montford review, Byron said this:

“while it is possible that sometimes an emperor needs to hear that he has no clothes from a child, in general, credentials matter. I would not presume to be able to judge between competing scientific professionals working on climate change. Instead, I will have a strong bias towards those who are actively publishing in recognised peer-review journals and whose work is accepted by reputable national and international scientific bodies.”

As a general point, I think this has some force as an argument. Philosophically speaking it is an appeal to authority, and whilst, as such, it has no logical force (literally none!) and is irrelevant to an argument, in human terms I see it as significant, and reasonable to take into account. The question is: is the child seeing something that everyone else can see when it is pointed out? Or is the child not seeing something because it requires education or maturity in order to see it?

When Luther nailed his theses to the church door, he was protesting against corruption in the church. The reason that his protest triggered the Reformation (rather than it happening at a different time, eg a hundred years earlier) was because of two principal things (IMHO!): a widespread understanding that the church was rotten, which undermined the support for the church from within, and the political situation in Germany which allowed Luther to gain practical support and shelter. I’ve always found it intriguing that the countries which ended up Roman Catholic were the countries where there was an existing realpolitik settlement with the Vatican in 1517.

The question at issue with regard to the Hockey Stick raises similar issues. When McIntyre started up his Climate Audit blog, it was the equivalent of the 95 theses. In just the same way as Luther believed himself to remain a faithful Christian, and not be inventing a new religion, (and, in fact, had the church responded with integrity, he would have remained a Catholic) so too do McIntyre’s criticisms not raise any questions about the theory of scientific investigation. Instead, the questions raised are about the current practice of that scientific investigation, most especially with regard to paleo-climatology and the weight given to certain alleged results in that field. More broadly – and Montford is good at bringing out these details – the questions raised by McIntyre cut very deeply into the rhetoric of science as it is presently employed. The issue is whether the current practice of peer-review is sufficient for establishing truth, or whether, in this particular case as an exemplar, the process of peer-review has been corrupted, allowing vested interests to control the flow of funding and research. In other words, in just the same way as the medieval church preserved the rhetoric of Christianity whilst collapsing into corruption and turning salvation into a cash-cow, is the scientific establishment now colluding in the covering up of malpractice in order to keep the lines of funding open?

Let’s return to the question of authority. In the medieval era the priests were the embodiment of authority, with the ability to excommunicate all rebels. In the contemporary era excommunication takes the form of withholding or withdrawing funding. Just as priests had the capacity to bully, eg through the confessional, so too do present scientific authorities have the capacity to distort processes in their own interests, eg through blackballing particular researchers or boycotting or belittling particular publications that do not toe the line. This was what “climategate” was about. As repeated by most of the participants, the actual truth of the Hockey Stick graph is in itself pretty marginal to the question of AGW. What it is not marginal to is the question of the legitimacy of the scientific establishment. A light has been shone into the inner workings, and just as the church tried to obscure the reasons for Luther’s protests (called the Catholic or Counter-Reformation) so too do the propagandists for the establishment say, either, ‘move along now, nothing to see, everything is fine’, or else, ‘just a few bad apples, the rest of science is healthy and fine’.

The truth of this depends on the truth about the Hockey Stick itself, which is why it has acquired totemic significance. Which brings me back to the question of the Emperor’s New Clothes and how we are to argue about the science. Byron’s comment at the top of this post is not, as such, an unreasonable position to hold. It does, however, assume good faith on the part of the scientific community. If that good faith is held in question then there is nothing else to be done except to begin to investigate the points at issue. To say that this can only be done by scientists is to accept the closed circle of authority – it is the equivalent of the church saying ‘trust us’ to Luther. That does not mean that everyone has equivalent authority (the Protestant error) – what it means is that the only way to establish truth is for all the arguments and assumptions to be brought out into the open.

It is this which has most persuaded me that McIntyre is on to something. The response of the establishment to McIntyre’s questioning has been to close ranks and stonewall. What an outsider can do most effectively is raise up settled assumptions to the light. A genuinely scientific community will be able to defend those assumptions, or, if they are indefensible, be able to creatively renew itself by revising those assumptions. Although I am not a trained scientist, I am a trained philosopher, and what that training has given me is the ability to judge a good argument. In other words, it is beyond my capacity to assess, eg, the impact of cloud cover in climate models (IMHO the modellers are still awaiting a Copernicus – the models seem like Ptolemaic systems about to collapse under the weight of their own complexity). It is not beyond my capacity to assess whether, eg, the RealClimate community is engaging with the arguments that McIntyre is raising. When I see evasion, equivocation, deception and the refusal to release information – in short, when I see science not treated as a holy endeavour – then red flags go up and I start to suspect that indulgences are being flogged to build a new St Peter’s.

If agw was a purely abstract argument then the scientific community could be left to get on with it, and the paradigm shifts can be allowed to happen on generational time-scales, which is normal. The difference is that the agw thesis is highly politicised, not just in the vast funding being put towards it, but in prospect. In the end, the best arguments will win – and the best arguments are those that expose themselves completely to the judgement of the community. They are the ones that allow little children to ask obvious questions, and run the risk of being found naked. They are not the ones that employ a vast retinue of retainers to suppress all dissent, and ostracise such small children from the conversation.

This is something that the better scientists have recognised, and are taking steps to address (I’m thinking here of someone like Judith Curry, who seems to me to be asking all the right questions). More broadly, I’m coming to see that the process of peer-review, which has not historically been a necessary part of science, could best be replaced by transparency. Information wants to be free. What the vernacular Bible was to Protestantism, the blogosphere will be to this new science – a sociological revolution triggered by a technological shift. Of course, I could be completely wrong, but in my view, just as Luther triggered the Reformation, and in due course the Protestant church, I suspect that what McIntyre has done is trigger a new and Reformed style of science – one in which openness and transparency are the hallmarks, and which is faster, more dynamic, more creative – and more accurate – than the existing magisterium.

32 thoughts on “Time for a Reformation of science

  1. Wonderful analogy. I’ve never been able to think about it in quite this way.

    Incidentally, having trolled plenty of atheist blogs, I find it interesting how the necessity of “peer reviewed” work is carried around like a blessing from the pope. It’s getting to the point where the people who are supposed to be the most rational/logical won’t drink your water until it’s been sanctified by the church of scientific reviewers.

    I’m gonna’ to have to use this 😉

  2. Hi Sam,

    Unlike Byron I would never say that I trust those who submit papers for peer-review more than others simply on that basis. After all, even peer-reviewed papers often completely contradict earlier work. This is the way science works.

    My point is rather than you and I are literally unable to understand the science, and therefore we have no scientific basis for judging one way or the other. That only leaves us with appeals to other (may I say less precise?) hermeneutics.

    You argue that philosophy is a valid approach to critiquing science. I can see where you’re coming from on that. To take a different example, when I look at evolutionary theory, the science seems to be presented within a philosophical framework that looks logically flawed from my ill-informed perspective.

    But I can’t tell if it IS flawed. I can only say that it LOOKS flawed.

    The difference between you and I then is that your confidence with philosophy gives you more certainty that when you’re seeing a flawed logical argument that it is, in fact, flawed.

    Personally I am even less comfortable with philosophical argument than I am with the science of climate change. I am trained in mathematics and computer programming, so maybe my idea of logic has a certain extra rigidity to it? As soon as words are used, logic seems to go out the window!

    I don’t agree with your analogy between Bible/Reformation and Transparency/New Science. We are like illiterate peasants, and as such, having the bible in our own language helps us not a jot to figure out whether Luther had a point!

    ps Does it seem to you (as it does to me) that in the field of evolution as in climate science, the objectors seem to be more coherent philosophically while the magisterium is more coherent scientifically? ID proponents and climate skeptics always seem to make a very good philosophical case but since I’m unable to judge the data for myself it’s a dead end for me.

    Maybe I just don’t trust philosophers – far too fuzzy for my liking! 🙂

  3. Tess, I’d agree that there are some sciences that I am literally unable to understand. I also believe that there are some aspects of climatology that fall in the category. I do not accept that paleoclimatology falls in that category.

  4. I once read a scientist remark that the philosophers of science are surprisingly knowledgeable and that all science students should take the time to see what the philosophers are talking about – about once every 200 years should be enough.

    Philosophical style reasoning was completely useless at producing reliable knowledge about the material world (ie what we can verify) so why should people accept it can produce reliable knowledge about what we cannot verify?

    At this point I view the laws of logic as little more than glorified writing guidelines.

  5. In their area of expertise, I trust scientists who publish in respected journals more than others. This is not infallible, and nor do I trust them uncritically. But experts speaking in their field ought to be respected. Let me repeat, this doesn’t put them above criticism or ensure they are always right, but it does mean that their opinion carries more weight. Notice that I also extended my comment to include “reputable national and international scientific bodies”.

    Where we have a vast majority of experts agreeing on something, and nearly all of the disagreement coming from non-experts, I know where I’ll put my money.

    Is there room for improvement in the peer-review system? Absolutely. Can it be abused? Of course. Would I prefer that science was done by bloggers? No.

    I agree that in the pursuit of knowledge, transparency is important to prevent deliberate or inadvertent error. I also agree that trust is paramount. It is simply not possible for every individual to conduct every experiment for themselves and so things need to be taken on trust. There are, of course, ways of encouraging trustworthy behaviour, and transparency, data-sharing and having others attempt to repeat results are important mechanisms for building trustworthy participants in a scientific discourse.

    But opening up scientific discourse to the internet is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you may get the occasional autodidact with a useful insight, but on the other, you then have to wade through mountains of drivel to find it. Much better for the autodidact to have to pass the same test as everyone else who wants to speak.

    The conventions surrounding academic discourse and peer-review are (amongst other things) an exercise in quality management, trying to keep out (or at least minimise) the reams of irrelevant, biased, incoherent, deliberately deceptive or poorly-researched claims so that participants in the quest for knowledge can focus on work that has at least stood the test of those recognised to have some clue what they are talking about. As I said, this is not infallible, but it reduces the quantity of shoddy material and enables the discussion to move forward.

    Indeed, peer review is not an alternative to transparency as you imply, but the current best model for achieving it.

    It is not beyond my capacity to assess whether, eg, the RealClimate community is engaging with the arguments that McIntyre is raising. When I see evasion, equivocation, deception and the refusal to release information
    Can you give examples where they have used evasion, equivocation, deception and refused to release information that was not already public and/or which they were legally obliged to not release? You might want to check Ben Santer’s account of his encounters with McIntyre.

    To summarise: There is no guarantee that academics with impressive credentials and numerous publications are correct, nor any guarantee that the process of peer review is incorruptible, nor any certainty that one maverick might not upset the apple cart. But if McIntyre’s arguments are so convincing and so devastating, I find it a little surprising that there are not more apples on the ground (among climate scientists, that is, rather than in the media and blogosphere, whose grasp of fruit has always been somewhat tenuous).

  6. First this (top cartoon): http://comics.com/frazz/2010-05-11/


    You said “In their area of expertise, I trust scientists who publish in respected journals more than others. This is not infallible, and nor do I trust them uncritically. But experts speaking in their field ought to be respected. Let me repeat, this doesn’t put them above criticism or ensure they are always right, but it does mean that their opinion carries more weight.”

    I agree with that. It’s just that, having read them, I have found the arguments stronger on McIntyre’s side. Having been someone who was quite happy to accept the consensus position (eg see my LUBH talks), I have become persuaded that the science is not as strong as it has been presented to be (quite where that leaves my ‘ideological’ filter I’m not sure). I’m now largely agnostic on a large part of it – and happy to accept what the consensus indicates, just not strongly, eg on forcings and so on – but I think the hockey stick is seriously faulty. For chapter and verse on this, see Montford.

    I should add: I think it comes down to trust. I used to trust RealClimate as a source of information, now I don’t. What would change it is if Mann et al published all their data and code etc, so MBH98 became an open book.

    So I’m not sure where to go with the discussion. If you’d like a single link to start with, try this one: http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2008/8/11/caspar-and-the-jesus-paper.html That post ends up being a large part of a chapter in Montford’s book.

    But I’m not sure that swapping links will get us very far. Perhaps we need to agree on one particular aspect that is in dispute (how about ‘short-centring in MBH98’?) and see if we can come to some sort of consensus on the status of that question?

  7. Great post; it hits the nail squarely on the head!

    The commenters dissing Philosophy/Logic for “reliable knowledge” you can “verify” should never forget that this is, at heart, a philosophical question. This is the latest front in the battle between Popper and Kuhn for the definition of what constitutes a scientific theory. Popper understood that the fundamental condition for a theory to be considered scientific (whether true or not, that was another matter) was falsifiability: if you could experimentally prove the theory false, then it was a proper scientific question that deserved an answer (by experimentally trying to do so). Kuhn’s view was that scientific theories would shift and advance as the opinion of scientists did.

    From this point of view, McIntyre is clearly Popperian as he does not consider Mann’s theories actually scientific until they can be falsified, for which all the data they are based upon must be freely available to be tested. All those talking about “peer-review” and “consensus” are clearly in the Kuhnian camp, as they consider the opinion of scientists to be the arbiter of what others must consider scientific or not.

    Be careful when dissing Philosophy, it has a habit of coming back and bitting you when you least expect it.

  8. Short-centring appears to be a nonsense. A problem is that professional statisticians, who could quickly confirm it as such, have better things to do with their time. And would the fanatics believe them, who would they dismiss them as being in the pay of “Big Oil”? I was amused by the reaction of Jolliffe, a Professor of Statistics at Aberdeen and one of the leading authorities on Principal Component Analysis, when he got drawn into the argument. It was as if he’d entered a world he didn’t know existed: where comments are personal and anonymous and a branch of statistical methodolgy has evolved completely independently of the one with which he was familiar.

  9. Sam, I was directed here from the Bishop … I have been trying and failing to work out a phrasing for this: ‘Although I am not a trained scientist, I am a trained philosopher, and what that training has given me is the ability to judge a good argument.’

    Generally put more crudely on some sceptic blogs as a good BS detector I guess.

    The example you gave – of RC evasion etc – is interesting, and led me to try out a theory that well-mannered people are more likely to be closer to the truth. Why would that be? Well-mannered people have less, or more controllable, egos, that could be it. Any views on that?

    tAV did a reader survey, and most readers said they were driven to think sceptically by the rudeness at RC.

    And I entirely agree with your comment that paleoclimatology is not beyond the wit of an intelligent layman to grasp.

  10. I used to trust RealClimate as a source of information, now I don’t. What would change it is if Mann et al published all their data and code etc, so MBH98 became an open book.
    Is Michael Mann lying in this interview? Is the data available or not? Here is the relevant section.

    If Phil Jones was being inundated by requests for data, why didn’t he just post everything on the Web for all to see?
    It is very much my practice and the practice of all the scientists I know, at least now, under the sort of criticisms that were made 10 years ago about data archiving policies, to make available every scrap of data that we use in our studies that we are legally permitted to make available. With the Climatic Research Unit’s situation, what you have here is much [less] nefarious than it sounds. The Climatic Research Unit had legal agreements with certain countries that allowed them to use thermometer measurements, but they were legally bound not to distribute the data. The FOIA requests were demands for them to release those data, which they were legally bound not to release. The requests were disingenuous, and they were denied.

    But all the rest of the data were released?
    Yeah. The irony is that the data that they weren’t releasing made no difference to the results.

    The National Academy of Sciences supported the key point of your hockey stick calculation, which showed higher temperatures in the 20th century than in the previous thousand years, but others criticized you for not releasing the information behind it. Is all that data now in the public domain?
    It is. And it was released as soon as we were allowed to do so. I don’t produce any data myself. I just make use of other people’s data. Often scientists in a purely collegial spirit will make available to you data that they haven’t published yet. If you use it, you can’t distribute it. Every single piece of data that we had the right to distribute was available at the time that we published the paper. Once we had permission to publish the smaller number of other records that we hadn’t been able to make available at the time, those were out there.
    By May 2000 all of the data were available. All of the claims that our data were not available at the time—by, for example, McIntyre, who’s been leading these attacks—are entirely false.

  11. Yes, Michael Mann was either lying or misinformed in that interview, in a couple of respects. One, subsequent FOIA requests to get those agreements showed that they, in large part, did not exist. The purpose of that was to see if permission could be obtained independently to get the data released. The second was that CRU’s conduct itself showed that it didn’t believe the material was bound by such agreements, it gave out the information to others. But only the “right sort” of others, not folks who wanted to look for problems in it.

  12. To Byron Smith

    I cannot believe that you have read all the e-mails. The cabal was planning to avoid releasing any data or codes long before they were asked to do so. “If ever they find out that we have a FOI act” etc. Nobody will ever convince me that the way these so called scientists behaved, is the norm. If by any chance, it is the norm then i for one will never accept what they tell me ever again. These people conspired to suppress valid criticism and their work has never been replicated by anyone outside the group. That is not science. Phil Jones said that nobody had ever asked for his data and codes, referring to those scientists who peer reviewed his work. How did they manage to peer review it then.The truth is that it was peer reviewed on the nod. Stop fooling yourself and misgiuding others; take the time necessary to read all the e mails and the harry read me file. It should be an epiphany.

  13. Byron,

    Yes, Michael Mann is lying in the interview.


    You are absolutely correct about scientists and the logical fallacy of their appeal to authority. While you view their arguments from a philosophy perspective, I view them as a lawyer would cross-examination.

    It would be very easy to convince a jury that the scientific consensus is a farce. There is just so much gross incompetence in climate science. The thermometers aren’t sited properly, they are never calibrated, or even checked. Even worse, the scientists never gave it any thought! That will tend to diminish credibility a bit.

    They never replicate the work of others. No one bothered to check the hockey stick. Does anyone think they could convince a jury that they were morally serious when they asked the world to suffer massive economic pain, but couldn’t be bothered to check their instruments or each other’s studies?

    You don’t have to be a scientist to evaluate whether the scientific method has been followed. You don’t have to be a scientist to know that instrumentation failing basic standards creates huge credibility issues.

    And it is appropriate for a layman to rely on stats experts and software experts when they opine that climate scientists routinely butcher the stats and the software. Especially when the scientists admit that they have.

  14. I cannot agree with the characterization of all in the blogosphere as autodidacts who would probably have little to contribute to the conversation. Rather, this group is a mix of many types, from professionals to the clueless. One type which is strongly emerging into more prominence is professionals in other fields. These are scientists, engineers, or businessmen who are well experienced with these same questions in other settings. They just don’t happen to be subscribers to the Journal of the Local Scientific Club.

    Whenever an area becomes more generally important, there is a natural and normal transition from the specialists owning all aspects of it to the public owning more of it, with many new stake holders and many new voters.

    The old club always finds this transition annoying. Medical researchers are now forced to use double-blind experiments and hire professional statisticians, whether they like it or not, because the stakes are human lives and health. The management of public companies are now forced to publicly acknowledge the risk that it may all go horribly wrong, and to publish their books regularly, and even to hire skeptics to check those books, because the stakes are investments, careers, and institutions.

    I am sure the Local Scientific Club usually finds this transition dismaying. But they are forced to get used to it, despite all struggles to hold it off.

  15. This is the sort of analysis, I believe, that John Maddox would have made of AGW. He would not have used a religious metaphor, but he would have come to the same conclusions.
    His book, “The Doomsday Syndrome” discusses how science and scientists can get caught up in this.

  16. Judge a scientist by his work – not his ‘credentials’.

    The laws of physics carry on relentlessly – oblivious to mankind’s efforts to understand and our human artifacts like journals and peer reviews.

    Just like Pluto continuing in its distant orbit – the planet didn’t get the memo about not being a planet any more. It doesn’t care what we call it or how we describe it.

  17. Sam,

    I find your thoughts thought provoking, but I take issue with your apparent dichotomy between Science and Philosophy. Science is a philosophy. There is no dichotomy. Science is a sub-branch, and that is all.

    In some ways, science is a religion and the “Scientific Method” is a dogma. And the aim of science it the discovery of the “truth”, which we can never attain, but we can nevertheless strive for, much like the Greeks did in the days of Aristotle and Socrates.

    The Perfect is God’s knowledge only, whether is how the sub-atomic structure really works, or what the heck is “Dark Matter” or “Dark Energy” or any of the other great mysteries such as what is “Gravity” really all about.

    We have an imperfect knowledge, although we constantly try to improve and refine it.

    That is what the goal of science. To develop theses, test them, find the imperfect and then redefine the theses and go at it again, and again, and again.

    However, much like in the church, there are those who want to take shortcuts for their own ends. This you have explored admirably. I thank you for that.

    But please do not take science as something mysterious. It merely deals with the mysterious.

    Now, as a suggestion, I would love to hear – actually read – your thoughts on the Dogma of the AGW movement. It is a cult. I would like to know your theological view on that.

    And my good friend Jack Hughes is right. You judge scientists on their works, not degrees. Montford , AKA Bishop Hill, may only be an accountant, but he is a far better scientist that any in the AGW crowd.

    Don Pablo de la Sierra.

  18. To Sam,
    your insights here are indeed refreshing. Not to over look the full scope of your thinking, but as a small for instance, I particularly enjoyed reflecting on,“…the modellers are still awaiting a Copernicus – the models seem like Ptolemaic systems about to collapse under the weight of their own complexity)”.
    I’m going to try your simile in my next AGW argument with an old friend. He has become immune to my usual observation that Descartes’ use of the pineal gland to try to connect the mental and the material realms that the cartesian method tore apart may be a precursor of the models being used to connect the clear and distinct ideas of pure mathematical abstractions (climate) to the hot and cold, wet and dry and all the rest of the weather we (monadic mind/bodies) actually experience.

    To Bryon Smith, Is Michael Mann lying? You call it after you consider that Michael Mann knows perfectly well that McIntrye wasn’t really asking about data. Mann quickly took advantage of the loop hole created by the carelessness of the interviewer when he set up the question by saying “…others criticized you for not releasing the information behind it. Is all that data now in the public domain?”, If Mann doesn’t know the difference between DATA and INFORMATION (from Wikipedia, “Data on its own carries no meaning. In order for data to become information, it must be interpreted and take on a meaning”), then he is too stupid to be taken seriously. However in this case I feel that it’s much easier to accept Mann as seriously fudging (lying) here rather than that he is stupid.

  19. Byron Smith said “The Climatic Research Unit had legal agreements with certain countries that allowed them to use thermometer measurements, but they were legally bound not to distribute the data. The FOIA requests were demands for them to release those data, which they were legally bound not to release.” And the problem with this statement is that this is not the case. Canada’s weather information Data has ALWAYS been freely available and is under no covenant to be kept secret. Other countries have exactly the same standards as Canada that CRU were claiming required secrecy so this argument falls flat on its face. Sweden and other countries that CRU claimed had secrecy agreements, stated publicly that they did not!
    These guys @ CRU were hiding the data. You can’t say that the data from Canada’s north isn’t important when you are sorting out climate shifts…McIntyre was correct to pursue and bring out into the public eye the obfuscation methods that were done.
    Oh, and no one pays me to be a skeptic, I do that on my own time.

  20. I have a science degree, though nothing to do with climate change. I think it is possible to judge a lot of these issues without understanding science in detail:

    1) The scientists involved were actively suppressing contrary opinion – as revealed in their emails.

    2) The number of temperature measuring stations used to measure global temperatures has been greatly reduced over the last 20 years. The missing ones are filled in by software! Since we are only talking about tenths of a degree, that is pretty worrying!

    3) The hockey stick seems to have been the result of a statistical fudge – never adequately resolved.

    4) The IPCC has made predictions, such as the infamous prediction that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, based on no science!

    5) Along with those emails came other documents, such as a set of programmer’s notes (plus the programs themselves) that show the extreme concern that this man had about the state of recording of temperature data, and the data processing he was asked to do. I have seen software developed by teams of new PhD students, and believe me,it usually is not a pretty sight – the problem is that these research students are not computer science graduates, but graduates in other disciplines. Considering how much rests on climate research, one might have expected better!

    6) When pushed, Prof Jones actually admitted that there has been no statistically significant global warming since 1995!

    6) Although proponents of global warming admonish anyone who points to the recent extremely cold weather as being a sign of longer term trends, some years ago, the Met Office was happy to predict that snow would soon be a thing of the past.

    I could go on – there is a mass of evidence suggesting that global warming is not a real phenomenon.

    I used to consider myself to be a ‘green’ person, and still do in a general sense. The tragedy of the current obsession with CO2, is that it has detracted from the real green issues:

    Over population

    Depletion of resource – including energy supplies and clean water

    Pollution with genuine toxins – not CO2, which is actually necessary to sustain plant life!

    The destruction of the rain forests and other forms of animal habitat.

  21. Hi Sam,

    If you are not familiar with it, you likely would enjoy reading Richard Lindzen’s: Climate Science: Is it currently designed to answer questions? I think you will find additional confirmation of your reasoning outlined above.


    One of his conclusions is: “In brief, we have the new paradigm where simulation and programs have replaced theory and observation, where government largely determines the nature of scientific activity, and where the primary role of professional societies is the lobbying of the government for special advantage.”

    Dave L.

  22. Sam:

    Your post should be required reading for all members of the new coalition cabinet, and they should not be permitted to sign it off until they can demonstrate that they fully understand what you are saying.

  23. Byron Smith,

    …The Climatic Research Unit had legal agreements with certain countries that allowed them to use thermometer measurements, but they were legally bound not to distribute the data. The FOIA requests were demands for them to release those data, which they were legally bound not to release. The requests were disingenuous, and they were denied…

    …Yeah. The irony is that the data that they weren’t releasing made no difference to the results.

    Firstly, my understanding is that the legal agreements for not releasing data were entirely contingent on the modified form of the data. These countries for which they had agreements were providing the CRU with data that was (for the most part) already publicly available on the various websites of the agencies. Phil Jones (or the CRU, however we are labeling things) was modifying this data for his(their) own research purposes. This is acceptable scientific practice so long as you have valid reasons for doing so. The question pondered by those who made the FOIA requests was, “What are these reasons for doing so?”

    In other words, the data requested from Phil Jones was his own modified data for the purposes of his own research. He is a public servant and that means his work is subject to FOIA requests as taxpayers pay for his work. In point of fact, Phil Jones could have easily accommodated both legal requirements by divulging his specific methods and justifications for using/altering the data in the way that he did.

    What is interesting is that on the one hand you seem to say ‘Phil Jones was legally bound not to accede to these requests,’ and then say ‘the data requested changed the results none.’

    If the requested information does in no way alter the conclusion, what purpose is served by refusing a request for information? It can only lead to legal trouble later on, so one should be motivated to comply with such requests if ones work is so solid. Sam is correct in noting that the side with elusive behavior in an argument is the one with the explaining to do.

  24. I think it is possible even without being an expert in a field, to discern when opponents are ducking or distorting legitimate arguements of the other side. That tells a great deal.

  25. How can we tell citizen scientists from deniers?

    It seems if one accepts that there is a deliberate misinformation campaign on climate science parallel (indeed, often connected to) previous campaigns on tobacco and cancer (amongst other examples), funded by those whose interests are served by delay, then the concept of citizen scientist needs a lot more work. If we want to stick with the reformation analogy (which has numerous problems), the magisterial reformers worked very hard to avoid being confused with the radical reformers. I’d have more time to listen to critical comments on the nature of mainstream science if the critics were a little more discerning in their cross-promotions.

  26. A scientist is someone who investigates the natural world using the scientific method. By that definition McIntyre is a scientist. Whether or not he gets paid is irrelevent. Whether or not he gets paid to advocate a particular position might be, but I have not read any such thing. I have read accusations of bias due to his background in the petroleum industry.

    On the other hand, the grant process is potentially corrupting. Professors expend great effort to get research grants. The money is not to be sneezed at, and can make a real difference in an academic’s lifestyle. It can fund trips to conferences in all sorts of (surprise!) exotic locations. It can pay for grad students to do the scut work.

    It may be easier to get a grant to work on an important problem.

  27. Sam, by screaming the freedom of information mantra – you are so missing the point – contributing to the real problem.

    The hockey stick was (is) a meme – so much so that you can simply refer to it by those two words – just like Gleick and Watergate in fact. Of course it’s irrelevant how true it is (was) – it simply spreads the obvious message. The earth has finite resources, we should take care of it – a truth beyond those words. Everything we do by living – except life itself – spreads low grade heat. Simple natural law.

    Good however that you continue to wake up to the fact that the problem is with the workings of science – it’s ability (like every other human endeavour) to spread it’s messages (and funding claims) by sound bites. What every institution needs is trust – peers that can be trusted. The problem is that people somehow supposed science was uniqely objective, and didn’t depend on political attributes like trust and virtue.

    Your outrage is admirable, but your actions just deepen the problem. Aggression lurching from one fight to the next, when as a Christian I’d expect you of all people to be spreading trust and love.

  28. Ha! and of course, your comment here is the very model of sweet reason ;o)

    Two things: the relevant virtues are not possible when one party is trying to ‘queer the pitch’, and is using the queering of the pitch to exercise political leverage. Second, when such things happen, the correct Christian response is not passive acceptance but resistance – as demonstrated by Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers, for example. The meme of ‘Christians should be meek and mild’ is simply a fig leaf to cover continuing injustice. I’d expect you of all people to be alert to such things (grin).

    I talk about the general issue at greater length in my book…

  29. An act of active resistance is good – to make a point – but it is not the basis of ongoing action – that’s just war. If I “attack” you it’s because I know you’re a good man and I have hope that you will get it. Though I am beginning to despair 😉

    The ongoing action needs to be – to use your words –
    “the task of building our cathedrals of justice, forgiveness and kindness in our communities” That needs more courage and resolve, than meekness or mildness – something I though you had.

  30. Strange thing is, Ian, I think you’re the one importing the aggression into the conversation. Why, for example, did you characterise my post as “screaming the freedom of information mantra” – and then go on to patronisingly dismiss the arguments “you are so missing the point – contributing to the real problem”. It’s odd to be given a lecture on proper civility when you yourself are not living it out! Thanks for recommending my book though 🙂

  31. I was exhibiting frustration with you, for sure, as I said – but it’s a conversation with you, someone I know, and who knows me, so I can push that boundary.

    It’s just as patronising for you to say (to the world as a whole) that more freedom of information is the solution to (whatever particular “crisis” was your subject this week). How could there possibly be MORE free access to information than there currently is – more than there has ever been at any time in history ? Surely that is the clue that it’s more likely part of the problem than the solution. I’m expecting a more subtle take from you – sorry if that is patronising – but you did me the honour of referring to my atheism as “sophisticated”. The idea that “person in authority twists story to support political motive” is shocking and the solution is more information behind the story seems so …. naive, the standard reaction, a complete cop-out.

    Free access to information is no substitute for trust, in fact it implies the opposite, and giving up on trust is no solution to anything. You do get my point ?

  32. “Free access to information is no substitute for trust, in fact it implies the opposite, and giving up on trust is no solution to anything” – I not only get that point but largely agree with it. That’s all part and parcel of my ‘holiness of science’ agenda.

Comments are closed.