Thursday, July 8, 2010

Global Warming Not Made Up By Rude Scientists

Many of you will remember the so-called "Climategate" and maybe even my thoughts on it. Yesterday the University of East Anglia's independent review panel released it's findings, which can essentially be summarized by the following sentence: "Global warning was not made-up by scientists with strong political views, gigantic egos, and poor taste in words."

More specifically, the review found that their was no scientific misconduct, no withholding of public data, and no vast conspiracy by the scientific illuminati bent on world domination. In fact aside for really bad manners, the only thing the scientists did wrong was not explaining one of their figures clearly enough. The review faults several researchers who produced the controversial "hockey stick graph" (shown below) for not clearly describing what one researcher described as a "trick" to synthesize temperature data from coral growth rates, tree rings, and actual thermometer measurements. After looking at the graph, you'll see why some might call it inadequately explained.Wait, nevermind. It's all perfectly clear to me now.

On a more serious note, "Climategate" has illustrated two important lessons for scientists. One is that being a jerk can come back to haunt you and your science even if you are right. The second is that openness and transparency are important, especially in potentially controversial fields like climate science.


  1. Yes, being a jerk will come back to haunt you.

    I don't know a source I can point to for this other than it is a story told by Dr. Virginia Trimble: she said back when congress was debating whether or not to cancel the Superconducting Super Collider, a very prominent physicist told members of congress something to the effect "if you aren't smart enough to figure out why this is important maybe you shouldn't be allowed to judge it's fate". Well, congress did cancel the SSC, and assuming Virginia's story is correct, physicists being jerks at the last minute I'm sure didn't help.

  2. Joe,

    I too have heard that story. My adviser tells a similar one with the opposite result about how Lyman Spitzer was endlessly cordial, humble, and polite to politicians when advocating for the Hubble Space Telescope. Spitzer recognized that he couldn't brow-beat the politicians so he actually tried to make friends with them. One time Spitzer, a world-famous Princeton astronomer, even stayed past midnight explaining some of the physics Hubble would explore to a Congressman.

    Making people feel important and smart goes a lot farther than simply pooh-poohing them because they don't have fancy academic degrees like you do.

  3. Unfortunately they did get caught up in the politics, which usually only causes problems in the end.

    What I really want to know about all this is how it will affect things in the future. I think that that point is the main source of debate here, and also the source of a lot of the bad science (or sensationalist journalism) that started this whole thing in the first place. It is one thing to say that the earth is warming, but what is really important is to find out what that means, and how it will affect things.

    It reminds me of something I heard on NPR the other day about the oil spill in the gulf. One of the guests they had on was going on about how the oil spill will cause "irreparable damage" and "will leave a definite scar" on the ecosystem. My first thought when I heard that was, "Has this guy even looked at the sites of other major oil spills to get an idea of what might actually happen?"

    My point is, so many people are quick to offer an explanation about how bad things will be, but they quite often have no rational basis for their claims. My personal opinion in all of this is to not first assume that everything man does (even if it warms the earth) will be bad. There will be some good things and some bad things, but the worst disaster resulting from global warming will not be an ecological disaster, but a political one.

  4. Nick,

    That's not the graph in question. The graph you show is from the 2007 IPCC report. The whole "hide the decline" business was about the cover figure of the 1999 World Meteorological Organization annual summary. You can see it at my initial post on the scandal here and see the actual document here (PDF). The original "hockey stick" was published by Michael Mann previously, and is independent from the WMO graphic.

  5. Here's a third lesson: If sufficiently motivated people can get a hold of your private correspondence, they can make no end of trouble for you, irrespective of the truth.

  6. I partially retract my correction above. I see now that the report does discuss the graphic shown above. However, what I wrote is also true.

  7. I didn't see any news coverage of Al Gore's book melting in this eastern heat wave. I guess all their copies were ruined with the images of the book being snowed upon in those late spring snow storms. =:)

  8. The USA are warming the world, and Africa is too hot and missing water. So the USA have to help Africans with a president of African origins, and greater is the warming by human beings better it is justified. Is that the solution?

  9. So may be I should not write that the fact to burn some gas which are giving CO2 can actually help to reduce the warming that their release could have produced; because in this case this is Africa which owe something.

  10. Honest inquirers may want to consider some other views of the climategate whitewash.

  11. Those graphs really say all there is to climate change. Which is that climate does change -- always. But the misconception that we experience a global anthropogenic 'climate crisis' is a madness that has a life of its own, unrelated to any scientific discourse.


To add a link to text:
<a href="URL">Text</a>