02 April 2013

Raise your Integrity

At the Financial Post (Canada) Ross McKitrick has a very good op-ed on the Marcott mess and its larger consequences:
In recent years there have been a number of cases in which high-profile papers from climate scientists turned out, on close inspection, to rely on unseemly tricks, fudges and/or misleading analyses. After they get uncovered in the blogosphere, the academic community rushes to circle the wagons an denounce any criticism as "denialism." There's denialism going on all right -- on the part of scientists who don't see that their continuing defence of these kind of practices exacts a toll on the public credibility of their field.
The problems lie of course not the academic community as a whole but a vocal and aggressive subset, egged on by an uncritical media and a chorus of fellow travelers. Most of the community are solid scientists, who strive to do good work. But the public face of climate science is represented by the most vocal and politicized elements. As readers here know, I could write a book about the unseemly shenanigans that have gone on in the area of disasters and climate change.

The climate community won't fix this situation until practicing scientists start publicly saying enough is enough. Perhaps the upcoming generation of academics will be the ones to do so. Meantime, deviations from long-held norms of scientific integrity deserve to be called out loudly for what they are.

32 comments:

  1. An additional problem exists among the "socially conscious voter" regardless of scientific background. Lacking time to delve into the ins and outs of the climate controversy, they typically default to accepting that which most closely coincides with what they want to believe anyway. So claims that the climate deniers are all funded by big oil (and the like) are taken at face value. Since the "cause of science" is under attack, naturally they side with the scientists whether or not said scientists are behaving themselves.

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  2. It is hard to have integrity when your pet core belief, the one responsible for your government grant, is dis-integrating before your eyes.

    But there is a priesthood of the labcoat. It ie easter week but it is good to remind people that Judas Iscariot was one of the first bishops, who accepted a government grant of 30 pieces of silver (shamelessly plagiarized from Peter Kreeft).

    Truth? What is truth? One might get scourged and/or crucified for asking such questions.

    If some are offended by the religious references, I ask for tolerance, because they are identical to the evils committed against truth of those calling themselves "scientists", but who do not obey the commandments of actual "science".

    Bribes can easily cause us to avert our eyes from the truth. Can cause us to ignore procedure, be it judical or scientific.

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  3. Hi Roger,

    Oh come on, it is nonsensical to apply the term "integrity" to either The Financial Post or McKitrick. The Post has a long history or defaming and slandering climate scientists, as does McKitrick. Are you really unaware of those facts?

    It is incredulous that fake skeptics who have very little scientific integrity (or none at all in the case of The Post) love to accuse scientists whose findings don't fit with their ideology of not having integrity.

    That you seem incapable of telling the difference reflects very poorly on you. But good try and trying to further elevate the hyperbole.

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  4. Roger,

    Did it escape you that McKitrick (an economist) was making unsubstantiated allegations of scientific misconduct in the text you chose to quote? Are you really willing to stake your case on McKitrick's musings and unsubstantiated claims in a newspaper that is being sued for libelling a respected climate scientist?

    My suggestion would be that if you want to make a legitimate case about your "concern" about the status of climate science, then use credible sources and backup up assertions with facts, not the rantings of an economics professor in a newspaper that does not care much for facts or accuracy (at least on climate science) as evidenced by the libel suit.

    Can you please be more specific regarding "The problems lie of course not the academic community as a whole but a vocal and aggressive subset, egged on by an uncritical media and a chorus of fellow travelers.".

    I suspect that you are referring to the "RC mafia" (Pielke 2013). If you want to make these sort of allegations, then please be very specific and use names so as to avoid tainting more people than you intend to.

    Further, given that your comments follow directly following McKitrick's allegations of ".....rely on unseemly tricks, fudges and/or misleading analyses" in the context of "the Marcott mess and its larger consequences it now appears that, despite your reassurance yesterday, that you are indeed accusing Marcott et al. of scientific misconduct.

    Now either your blog post is carefully crafted dog whistling, or a simply poor crafted post. You choose.

    Oh, and before lecturing others on "raising" their integrity, please look in the mirror and raise your own integrity. One step in that direction would be you using credible sources.

    Thanks!

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  5. Albatross,

    Your post has no substance. It's almost like the sole purpose of it was to make yourself feel better.

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  6. lol!

    ===]]] The trouble is, as they quietly admitted over the weekend, ... in a private email to McIntyre, Marcott made a surprising statement. In the paper, they had reported doing an alternate analysis of their proxy data that yielded a much smaller 20th-century uptick, but they said the difference was “probably not robust, [[[===

    No mention in McKitrick's article that the caveat about "robustness" was in the paper itself? Really?

    This is what you call very good. It is what I call tribalism - and it is about what I'd expect from someone (McKtrick) who is on record for making tribalistic statements about people he's never met (calling a journal editor a "groveling, terrified coward."

    Step away from the tribalism, Roger. Be an honest broker and be less selective in your analysis.

    It's tough, but you'll feel better for it - and it will align better with your goal of lessening the politicization of the science.

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  7. Joshua @6,

    It is surprising that Marcott is continuing to engage McIntyre directly. It suggests that Marcott is being naive by assuming that McIntyre and McKitrick are operating in good faith or that they will listen to reason. Well they are not doing that, nor is anyone who uncritically promulgates their misinformation.

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  8. Abatross -

    IMO, the only way through this will require people on both sides to be operating from good faith. I think that in the long run, operating from good faith maximizes the upside. The difficulty is creating a communicative context for that to happen.

    That will be a complicated task, but in the meantime, it is important for people on both sides to not close ranks and start finger-pointing, whether it be in the plausible deniability mode, or in the more direct of calling people "mafia," impugning people's "integrity," or questioning their motives (as motivated by "personal and political gain.")

    Anyway, as a good example of "in the meantime" I think that there is a legitimate criticism of the rhetoric in the paper. The question of data resolution is important, and while talking of what the data "suggest" in the abstract is appropriate (the purpose of an abstract is to discuss the larger implications of research findings), it should not have been de-coupled from the discussion of the robustness of the implications.

    There are folks, like Rohde, who expressed their criticism in an appropriate and scientific manner (Revkin did everyone a service by mediating the discussion of Rohde's criticism with Shakun).

    Hopefully, Roger will use Rohde as an inspiration for his aspiration to be an honest broker.

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  9. Reading Albatross and Joshua, I feel like I'm in the alternate universe, and Roger has a goatee...

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  10. Hi Joshua @8,

    Yes, of course good faith is required on both sides. There is a "but" though, we live in a world where "skeptics" and those in denial have very clear political and/or idealogical agendas; what I'm saying operating in good faith is not likely to come from McIntyre or McKitrick (if that day ever comes it will be most welcome, but I am not holding my breath).

    McIntyre and McKitrick are notorious for poisoning the well and bullying from the very outset, and have done it again here (with some help from Roger and WUWT etc.). But them doing so pretty much compels people to close ranks because they are suddenly under attack from multiple directions.

    I agree too that certain aspects of the Marcott paper may have issues (and on another thread here I expressed my dissatisfaction with the new fad of issuing press releases for scientific papers), but as you say these can be dealt with in a civil, professional and scientifically rigorous manner, as Rohde and Tamino have done.

    Maybe, just maybe McKitrick et al. will raise their integrity sufficiently to publish a scientific and calm response in the journal. More likely though, that job will be undertaken by a scientist who is really interested in advancing our knowledge ;)

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  11. Sure, in the text of the article the authors said that the 20th century uptick was "not robust", or, more plainly "not supported by the underlying data", or, more plainly still "bollocks".

    Having done that, why on earth would they include the "not robust" calculation in the signature graphic of the paper, and then draw further attention to the graphic and the underlying statistical vapor in a press release?

    At best it reflects poor presentation skills and incompetent advice from Marcott's thesis advisor and the peer reviewers (assuming they are different people). When entirely predictably the indefensible graphic becomes the central focus of a huge swirl of publicity, is it all that much of a stretch to believe that it wasn't just a poorly-conceived graph?

    I'm not at all impressed by all the lawyering trying to claim that a statement about non-robust statistics in the body of the text gets the authors and the publicists off the hook for the indefensible graphic and the PR hype based on it.

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  12. A remarkable feature of the climate science community is its inability to learn from its mistakes. They all know this paper is wrong but none of them are prepared to say so. In the climategate emails we saw that some of them were aware privately that much of Mann's work was junk (though they used a differnet 4-letter word) and that the criticism of it was valid, but they didn't say so publicly.

    I submitted a brief online comment to Science two weeks ago saying that the result seemed to be spurious and that the paper should be withdrawn. I'm not sure what has happened to it. Maybe I should ask the editors. I wonder if any other scientists have submitted comments?

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  13. What Tamino did was to show that if you used a different method of averaging than the authors actually used, the artifacts would be less sensitive to the date-shifting. I'm not sure what the point of that is at all. The discussion is about the paper that was actually published, and whether or not it supports the claims made about it, not somebody else's idea for a better algorithm.

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  14. Has any other journalist beside Revkin corrected their misleading articles? Is anyone keeping track?

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  15. This entire affair reminds me of Upton Sinclair's famous observation: "[i]t is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
    Hopefully scientists can get away from politics at some point in the near future.

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  16. A couple of comments:

    First, the notion of "not robust" does not do justice to describing the uptick. It is an artefact which should have been obvious to the reviewers due to the limitations of the reconstructions resolution.

    Second, there was *no* caveat stated in the paper regarding the non-robustness of recent temperatures in the standard reconstruction. In the paper the authors noted that the infilled version of the reconstruction resulted in a reduced uptick. They go on to suggest that the *difference* between the infilled and standard versions is not robust due to data limitations. IOW it is the infilling which is "not robust". Of course this might leave readers begging the question on the reliability of the uptick itself when it is based on a "small number of records". But if the authors had intended to make a clear caveat on the robustness of recent temperatures then why conflate the comparison to the infilled version?

    To those who would argue this point (that the "not robust" caveat applies to the infilling) I ask what would it would have meant had the author's suggested the opposite: that the difference between the filled and infilled versions *was* robust?

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  17. Albatross @10-

    ==]] McIntyre and McKitrick are notorious for poisoning the well and bullying from the very outset, and have done it again here (with some help from Roger and WUWT etc.). But them doing so pretty much compels people to close ranks because they are suddenly under attack from multiple directions. [[==

    I think that the dynamic is inherently bilateral. There is not a simple line of cause from one side to effect on the other.

    IMO, this all boils down to underlying features and attributes of human cognition - particularly on controversial issues where social, cultural, ideological, political, and psychological identifications come into play.

    There is much empirical evidence to tell us about mechanics of these problematic interactions, and there is some evidence, perhaps less "robust" that can help us to steer a path out. Finding fault with the other side is essentially just wasting time and perpetuating the status quo. Same ol same ol.

    It does help when people of some influence, those who are truly interested in diffusing the problematic dynamic, seek to address the problems rather than throw spitballs.

    My kingdom for an honest broker.

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  18. Layman Lurker, indeed, describing the uptick as "not robust" is misleading. It's like saying that the fairies that live at the end of my garden are not robust. The uptick is a fabrication- there is no trace of it in the original data. Furthermore, the authors are perfectly aware of this fact.

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  19. Roger, that you think Layman's post is spot on just goes to show that you guys have either not read the paper, or if you have do not understand the science in it. More than a little troubling when accusations of malfeasance and misconduct are being flung around.

    The "uptick" is not a fabrication. The authors deal with this in quite some detail. The uptick appears using three different methods, including the differencing method used by Tamino (image here). The proxy data are definitely showing an increase later in the record (as one would expect given the thermometer record), it is real. However, quantifying the magnitude and timing of that uptick is problematic because of proxy dropout issues. Tamino did show that applying the differencing method produces a substantially smaller uptick, but one nonetheless.

    The authors are really in a no win situation here, had they not included all the data they would have been accused of "hiding the decline" as McIntyre did with Briffa or something similar. Now they are being accused of "fabrication", "fraud" and "misconduct" for including data, even after providing caveats.

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  20. Roger, I would love to speak out, but I am actually not allowed by either my institute and my manager(s) to freely speak in public. Off course I am not in an academic research center, but like Hansen in a governmental research institute. However, people are so afraid of potentially averse effects (whatever that may be, but in general it comes down to negative publicity) by entering the public debate that they refrain from participatiing in the public debate alltogether. As an example, the mere fact of (trying to publish) a scientific paper on temperature is by definition - regardless of its contents - seen as potentially controversial, and thus prefferably to be avoided (I am not kidding, this is happening as we speak).

    In my view, the proper strategy is, as also recently called for by Anne Glover (EU commissioner scientific advisor), to actively get involved. Researchers and their institutes have an obligation to 'defend' an open scientific debate and facilitate that openness, even if they strongly disagree about what that science actually is.

    If they don't, others will adopt that role. And that is what has happened in the scientific community. As a result, what has materialized years ago already is that anyone who wanted to have actually taken up that role (see the many climate blogs).

    Or, as you call it: the debate is now dominated by "a vocal and aggressive subset, egged on by an uncritical media and a chorus of fellow travelers." ... on either side.

    Not good.

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  21. Hi Roger,

    As you know, research 97-98% of credible scientists (and published research papers) agree that we have a problem. So you and Jos again have it backwards, the following quote in fact applies to a minority of contrarians, fake skeptics and those in denial about AGW:

    "...the debate is now dominated by "a vocal and aggressive subset, egged on by an uncritical media and a chorus of fellow travelers."

    The Marcott fiasco is a fine example of this in action. A small (but aggressive and vocal) group of extreme elements (i.e., contrarians, fake skeptics and those about AGW in denial) makes immediate accusations of malfeasance about climate scientists. This is then widely trumpeted and amplified in the blogosphere.

    I'm sorry, but you guys really do seem to be inhabiting a world that is separated from reality and the more you drag this on and continue with these tactics the more it shows ;)

    You guys cannot decide if a global conspiracy is afoot, or a small group of RC mafia running is the show. Please make up your minds.

    Thanks!

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  22. -23-Albatross

    Nothing in my discussion has anything to do with climate change as a problem or denial about AGW.

    It is about scientific integrity.

    The fact that some people cannot distinguish the political debate over climate from issues of scientific integrity is precisely what has become pathological about this community.

    We should be able to hold two ideas at once in our thinking: 1. Climate change is real and a problem, 2. Scientific integrity matters.

    The reality of #1 does not eliminate #2. Though, obviously for some it does.

    Thanks.

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  23. Roger @24,

    It seems that you really did not read my post @23 carefully. Are you perhaps deliberately misunderstanding my post? I have no interest addressing your strawman arguments @24.

    It is very clear in my post what the context was and the role that extreme elements play in attacking climate scientists. The quoted text applies to those extreme elements not the climate scientists (as alleged by Jos and agreed with 100% by you).

    It is a pity that you either refuse to or are incapable of recognizing that reality. As a result you are in fact a part of the problem that you are supposedly railing against.

    Gavin Schmidt really nails what is going on here (with your help) when he says:

    "But this climate of suspicion we're working in is insane. It's really drowning our ability to soberly communicate gaps in our science when some people cry 'fraud' and 'misconduct' for the slightest reasons."

    PS: Some of your readers and supporters care neither for #1 nor #2.

    Thanks!

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  24. -25-Albatross

    Thanks, but "attacking climate scientists" (and climate scientists who attack others) is an unfortunate aspect of the climate debate to be sure - I know lots about this from personal experience.

    That said, it has absolutely no relevance to this post and is certainly not a rationalization for letting scientific misrepresentation stand.

    It simply is not at all relevant here. Sorry.

    Thanks.

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  25. "As you know, research 97-98% of credible scientists (and published research papers) agree that we have a problem."

    We have literally billions of problems. The fact (or "fact") that "97-98% of credible scientists (and published research papers) agree that we have a problem" means only that it is one of billions of problems we have.

    How do "credible scientists (and published research papers)" rank the climate change problem compared to (for example):

    1) The ~2 million annual deaths caused by indoor air pollution from cookstoves?
    2) The ~1.2 million premature deaths per year, and 25 million years of healthy life lost each year, due to outdoor air pollution in China?
    3) The 2+ million annual deaths caused by unclean water?

    P.S. And how do these scientists react to this graph:
    http://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Nordhaus2.jpg

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  26. Sorry Albatross, no more patience for you today.

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  27. Oh, I see that my incisive questions hit a nerve ;) I doubt that you have run out of patience, this is you running away from a rigorous and uncomfortable debate.

    You are playing a despicable and disingenuous game, and someone has to call you on it Roger. Then again, maybe you are simply unaware of what you are doing...

    Good job I save all my comments, they will probably be reposted somewhere so someone will see them and what you are up to. You can run from debates Roger, but it only shows the vacuity of your case.

    It would really help if you had a comments policy, instead of ad hoc censoring and deletion of inconvenient posts.

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  28. -29-Albatross

    Yes, please do go and post your comments elsewhere. You have used up your welcome here for today. Thanks.

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  29. It is a sad state of affairs when a group of scientists seems to be convinced that the best way to gain public support is to provide material for the media to make unfounded claims ... and then stay silent and hope nobody notices anything.

    Anything these guys publish is suspect from now on. Stupid behaviour.

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  30. Gotta love Gavin Schmidt's Schneiderian gambit:

    "But this climate of suspicion we're working in is insane. It's really drowning our ability to soberly communicate gaps in our science when some people cry 'fraud' and 'misconduct' for the slightest reasons."

    See what he did there? He just laid the groundwork for the excuses:

    We couldn't speak honestly about our uncertainties, because those mean ole skeptics would have "seized on" it, used it as "ammunition," "manufactured doubt," "blown" the uncertainties "out of proportion," "misrepresented" minor quibbles as proof that "Scientists can't make up their mind!", "misused" it to "undermine the consensus," etc. etc.

    Believe me, as respectable scientists, we'd love nothing better than to be able to present the science "soberly," warts and all, but opponents of action on climate change would only use this to Attack the Science™.

    So, you see: we had to exaggerate, make little mention of any doubts we had, offer up scary scenarios, and find a balance between being honest and being effective.

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