Wednesday, November 25, 2009


[Updated November 25, 2009, at about 4:30pm to add extra Reading.]

Deafening Silence is doing her usual excellent work on ClimateGate, providing a brief narrative, some key points, info on major players, what each side says about the data dump, and links to other sites where more information - including the emails and data themselves - can be found.

I’ve been wandering around reading about this for the last few days and I think the most telling exchange occurred at RealClimate, the Website run by some of the “working climate scientists” who are in the forefront of the research and advocacy that supports the idea of Apocalyptic Anthropogenic Global Warming. Here you will find AAGW luminaries like Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann and here you will also find Schmidt’s response to ClimateGate. Called “The CRU hack”, this post is a RealClimate masterpiece and well worth reading. As is usually the case at RealClimate, the comments are worth your time also - - although I freely admit I have not made it through all 1,092 comments on the post much less the 502 comments on Schmidt’s follow-up post.

If I may digress briefly, I have often thought there must be a word for writing that is an example of what it is discussing. An easy on the beauty of the English language that uses English beautifully. A piece bemoaning poor grammar that is itself filled with grammatical errors. A paean to courage that required great courage to write. A childish refutation of accusations that the writer is childish. A rant about rants. Onomatopoeia writ large, so to speak. Schmidt’s original post, written in response to charges that science comes far down on the priority list of the AAGW establishment; that said establishment is knowingly making dubious claims; and that said establishment slurs and marginalizes those who disagree with it, would deserve pride of place in any list of such writings.

Back to the post. Schmidt writes:

Clearly no-one would have gone to this trouble if the academic object of study was the mating habits of European butterflies.

Commenter lgarvin replies in part:

That depends on whether or not people were trying to re-order the global economy on the basis of those butterfly studies.

And that, of course, is the crux of the matter. I am willing to accept that most scientific disciplines seethe with personalities, politics, pettiness, and personal attacks. (Hey, I went to grad school.) I am certainly aware that older software often suffers from ugly code, indecipherable routines, an excessive need for manual intervention, and - shall we way - hinky data sets. But most scientific disciplines are not insisting that we need to immediately radically alter the entire basis of our way of life or face cataclysm.

If you’re prophesying the end of the world then - unless you're speaking directly with God - you should be sure both your data and your programs are clean; you should be not merely willing but eager to provide your data and your programs to the whole world for verification; and you should be delighted that people with expertise in related fields like statistics are interested enough in what you’re doing to dissect it. Most important, you should make clear to those who lives you want to at best upend and at worst pretty much destroy that you are, in fact, sure, eager, and delighted. Making it clear that you uncertain, recalcitrant, and scornful is not a good way for you to convince me that you know what you’re talking about, much less that my world is safe in your hands.



Deafening Silence points out that the Climate Audit site is difficult to get into due to increased volume. This problem now seems to be resolved but posting is occurring at a Climate Audit mirror site here.

Watts Up With That is posting on Climategate. The oldest post is here.

A stand-alone Website has a searchable data base of the CRU emails, organized somewhat differently from the one Deafening Silence links to.

The emails sound bad but much of what is in them can be explained or spun or is understandable to anyone who has ever written an exasperated email. Not all, but much. I think the state of the computer software code and databases is much more interesting:

L'Ombre de l'Olivier looks at some of the code. He has a link to his copy of HARRY_READ_ME.txt. This is apparently a log kept by the poor programmer who inherited the software at the East Anglia CRU when the original developers left. The programmer (Harry) documents the problems he encounters while trying to figure out what’s going on. You don’t need to read code to follow what’s going on - Harry’s comments tell the story.

HARRY_READ_ME is both agonizing and hysterical. (Be sure to visit Item 17 for a look at squared numbers going negative.) I haven’t read through the whole thing yet but so far my favorite line is in Item 27:

Oh GOD if I
could start this project again and actually argue the case for
junking the inherited program suite!!

Amen, brother. Amen.


Updated November 25, 2009, at about 4:30pm:

This post from the CBS News blog is a must-read. It provides more background thus complementing what Deafening Silence has up. The post concludes with:

The irony of this situation is that most of us expect science to be conducted in the open, without unpublished secret data, hidden agendas, and computer programs of dubious reliability. East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit might have avoided this snafu by publicly disclosing as much as possible at every step of the way.

I found this via Megan McArdle although I’d seen references to it elsewhere. Please do also read McArdle’s post in which she draws an interesting conclusion about the value of any cost-benefit analysis based on the East Anglia CRU software and points out that if - as appears to be the case - the East Anglia CRU itself “cannot now replicate its own past findings” then:

Obviously, this also casts their reluctance to conform with FOI requests in a slightly different light.


Anonymous said...

After reading the CRU email crowing about how "Gavin and I" could control the comments to squelch naysayers, I tried to post a comment on the "CRU Hack" article. Sure enough, the comment never appeared.

I also quoted from some of the emails in comments to articles in my local newspaper. The comments appear briefly, then were deleted.


-- Texan99

Elise said...

Hey, Texan99, I was just thinking I haven’t seen you in a while.

There are at least two sites where comments rejected at RealClimate (and other global warming sites) can be posted:

RC Rejects

An Inconvenient Comment

The latter links to stories on global warming blogs and invites the posting of rejected comments for that particular story. Almost like a mirror.

(Thanks to Is It Getting Warmer? where I found the beginning of the trail to these sites.)