Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blinders, Part II

Along with wading through all the hacked East Anglia material myself the last few days, I've been spending some time following the comment threads for other online postings about this issue. I've left a comment or two of my own, though I usually stay out of those threads. All too often, they get hijacked by the most extreme voices on either side, and the people actually willing to give the other side a fair hearing -- and to acknowledge the short-comings of their own side, which both sides do have -- get crowded out. Sometimes, it seems like the only thing those two extremes can agree on is that anyone with an "undecided" mind must be insulted and driven from the thread.

As someone who was once absolutely convinced of mankind's role in global warming but, after years and years of editing environmental science papers, found himself moving into the "maybe, but maybe not" camp, I generally walk away from those comment threads muttering "A pox on both your damn houses..."

Most disappointing to me have been the self-proclaimed defenders of "The Science(Trademark)," who are actually acting like political flaks. Not only do they see nothing of concern in the East Anglia material, they can't even bring themselves to say "I think there is absolutely nothing to worry about in these e-mails and other files, but I can understand why it looks bad and why people are concerned." Apparently, in their minds, even that would be giving the other side a "win," and giving the other side a "win" must be avoided at all costs. Just like when someone on your side of the political fence gets caught doing something wrong that you would, quite rightly, skewer someone on the other side for doing. But now the person behaving badly is on your side, so he or she must be defended. At all costs.

Any scientific Joe Lieberman's will be driven from the party.

And the Vulcan Science Directorate has determined that time travel is an impossibility.

Some of the comment threads really do descend to that level.

On the other hand, I've also found myself coming to respect some in the man-made global warming camp even more than I often already did. Dr. Judith Curry, for instance, is hardly a "denier." The Chair of Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and best-known to the general public for her research into hurricane intensity, she's also an example of intellectual honesty and what goes into "good" climate science, acknowledging that the field does often have a problem with the availability and openness of the data and methods used, particularly in regard to the reseachers in the East Anglia material:

Climate data needs to be publicly available and well documented. This includes metadata that explains how the data were treated and manipulated, what assumptions were made in assembling the data sets, and what data was omitted and why. This would seem to be an obvious and simple requirement, but the need for such transparency has only been voiced recently as the policy relevance of climate data has increased. The HADCRU surface climate dataset and the paleoclimate dataset that has gone into the various “hockeystick” analyses stand out as lacking such transparency. Much of the paleoclimate data and metadata has become available only because of continued public pressure from Steve McIntyre. Datasets that were processed and developed decades ago and that are now regarded as essential elements of the climate data record often contain elements whose raw data or metadata were not preserved (this appears to be the case with HADCRUT). The HADCRU surface climate dataset needs public documentation that details the time period and location of individual station measurements used in the data set, statistical adjustments to the data, how the data were analyzed to produce the climatology, and what measurements were omitted and why. If these data and metadata are unavailable, I would argue that the data set needs to be reprocessed (presumably the original raw data is available from the original sources). (emphasis added)
And then there's George Monbiot, environmental activist, author, and again, hardly anyone's idea of a climate "skeptic," who proves that you can reject both the idea of a worldwide global climate science conspiracy while still acknowledging and going after potentially bad or even fraudulent climate science:
Yes, the messages were obtained illegally. Yes, all of us say things in emails that would be excruciating if made public. Yes, some of the comments have been taken out of context. But there are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad. There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request.

Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.
Read the whole Monbiot article, by the way. The hypothetical "hacked e-mail" he includes (to "The Knights Carbonic") to show what he would need to believe that all of climate science was a sham is a hoot and a half. And after the last few days, I think we all could use a hoot and a half, wherever you fall in this debate.

RELATED: An excellent, even-handed article by Declan McCullagh over at the CBS News website, highlighing problems in the CRU's temperature databases and code.