Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit's New & Improved Scientific Method

UPDATED: 6-Dec-09

Central to understanding the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit kerfuffle (dubbed Climategate) is an appreciation of the "scientific method". The scientific method outlines the rules of the game when competing and contradictory theories vie to explain the world in which we live. McQ at QandO offers a good summary of the methodology and where the CRU comes up short:
"Other scientists have, for years, been asking for and been refused the original data on which the CRU based its hypothesis of man-made global warming. We see pundits defending the science claiming the emails don’t prove AGW to be a fraud. Maybe, maybe not – but what they do show is a consistent effort to avoid providing the data requested to others who would like to test it. That alone should raise a sea of red flags to any real scientist. The last thing those who are sure of their hypothesis and their science should be doing is actively trying to keep the data which underpins their hypothesis from being tested as demanded by the scientific method."
True enough. The CRU scientists invest a great deal of time in their models of anthropogenic global warming. They are convinced that they are correct. Their critics believe they have made critical errors with faulty assumptions and the CRU models are projecting scenarios that are the scientific equivalent of GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out) . Scientific methodology and observation will ultimately prove the truth or falsity of their models. That is the nature of science.

However, when politics enters the game, the rules change. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (and fellow Nobel Prize winner Al Gore) bestowed upon the CRU the imprimatur of absolute truth - of "settled science" - of "overwhelming consensus". None of which is true. These phrases have nothing to do with science or scientific methodology. Nothing. This is the language of politics, not of science.

The CRU scientists were granted a status where they could, for a time, modify and referee the rules of the game as played by believers and skeptics alike. The consequences can be found in the purloined e-mails.

I have spent some time browsing through the the e-mails, documents, and blog reactions (The complete directory can be downloaded here, and the e-mails searched here). It is quite the guilty pleasure. Reading the purloined e-mails and documents and understanding their context provides a greater education on the current state of global warming science than a dozen viewings of "An Inconvenient Truth".

As a service to the blogging community, I can now reveal one document that escaped the purloined CRU data dump. I have reverse engineered the CRU Scientific Methodology from the procedures documented in the e-mails and code. It is clear to me that they have built on the work of maverick chemist Theodore Hapner, who revolutionized thinking about the scientific method in 2006. Standing on Hapner's shoulders, and with the backing of the IPCC - The New & Improved CRU Scientific Methodology can now be revealed - it is shown graphically at the top of this post, and amplified with a few examples from the CRU files below:

1) Assert Predetermined Conclusion
"This work played a critical role in the conclusion reached by the 1995 assessment of the IPCC that "the balance of evidence suggests that there has been a discernible human influence on global climate". Subsequent IPCC reports have strengthened these statements (in 2001: "there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities" and in 2007: "most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations") and led most governments, industries, multi-national companies and the majority of the public to accept that the climate is warming, and humans are part of the cause. Accepting the evidence is one thing, but not all governments appreciate the full scale of the problem yet." - The History ot the CRU - according to the CRU
2) Select Data & Massage -
Subject: Diagram for WMO Statement
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999
Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,

Once Tim's got a diagram here we'll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow.

I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline. Mike's series got the annual land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999 for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998. Thanks for the comments, Ray.

3) Align hypothesis, code & data to pre-determined conclusion
From the CRU code file osborn-tree6/briffa_sep98_d.pro , used to prepare a graph purported to be of Northern Hemisphere temperatures and reconstructions.
; Apply a VERY ARTIFICAL correction for decline!! ; yrloc=[1400,findgen(19)*5.+1904] valadj=[0.,0.,0.,0.,0.,-0.1,-0.25,-0.3,0.,- 0.1,0.3,0.8,1.2,1.7,2.5,2.6,2.6,$ 2.6,2.6,2.6]*0.75 ; fudge factor if n_elements(yrloc) ne n_elements(valadj) then message,’Oooops!’ ; yearlyadj=interpol(valadj,yrloc,timey)
This, people, is blatant data-cooking, with no pretense otherwise. It flattens a period of warm temperatures in the 1940s 1930s — see those negative coefficients? Then, later on, it applies a positive multiplier so you get a nice dramatic hockey stick at the end of the century.
4) Confirm hypothesis by plotting carefully weighted and selected data
From: "Michael E. Mann"
To: Phil Jones, Tom Wigley, Tom Crowley, Keith Briffa, Michael Oppenheimer, Jonathan Overpeck
Subject: Re: Prospective Eos piece?
Date: Wed, 04 Jun 2003

... Re Figures, what I had in mind were the following two figures: 1) A plot of various of the most reliable (in terms of strength of temperature signal and reliability of millennial-scale variability) regional proxy temperature reconstructions around the Northern Hemisphere that are available over the past 1-2 thousand years to convey the important point that warm and cold periods where highly regionally variable. Phil and Ray are probably in the best position to prepare this (?). Phil and I have recently submitted a paper using about a dozen NH records that fit this category, and many of which are available nearly 2K back--I think that trying to adopt a timeframe of 2K, rather than the usual 1K, addresses a good earlier point that Peck made w/ regard to the memo, that it would be nice to try to "contain" the putative "MWP", even if we don't yet have a hemispheric mean reconstruction available that far back...
5) Assess results by comparing to hypothesis predetermined conclusion

"One example from something called a “SOAP-D-15-berlin-d15-jj” document.

A non-native English speaker shows a plot of various proxy reconstructions from which he wanted to “reconstruct millennial [Northern Hemisphere] temperatures.” He said,

“These attempts did not show, however, converge towards a unique millennial history, as shown in Fig. 1. Note that the proxy series have already undergone a linear transformation towards a best estimate to the CRU data (which makes them look more similar, cf. Briffa and Osborn, 2002).”
In other words, direct effort was made to finagle the various reconstructions so that they agreed with preconceptions. Those efforts failed. It’s like being hit in the head with a hockey stick."
6) If true (agrees with pre-determined conclusion) - Publish results in non-reproducible way (refuse to provide data, dismiss critics, and lose source data).

To: santer1
Subject: Re: See the link below
Date: Thu Mar 19 17:02:53 2009

... I'm having a dispute with the new editor of Weather. I've complained about him to the RMS Chief Exec. If I don't get him to back down, I won't be sending any more papers to any RMS journals and I'll be resigning from the RMS. The paper is about London and its UHI!"


At 16:48 19/03/2009, you wrote:

Thanks, Phil. The stuff on the website is awful. I'm really sorry you have to deal with that kind of crap. If the RMS is going to require authors to make ALL data available - raw data PLUS results from all intermediate calculations - I will not submit any further papers to RMS journals.




From: Phil Jones
To: "Michael E. Mann"
Date: Thu Jul 8 16:30:16 2004

...The other paper by MM is just garbage - as you knew. De Freitas again. Pielke is also losing all credibility as well by replying to the mad Finn as well - frequently as I see it. I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!
7) If false (at variance with pre-determined conclusion) - review, re-select, re-weight data, rinse and repeat.

From: Kevin Trenberth
To: Michael Mann
Subject: Re: BBC U-turn on climate
Date: Mon, 12 Oct 2009
Cc: Stephen H Schneider, Myles Allen, peter stott, "Philip D. Jones", Benjamin Santer, Tom Wigley, Thomas R Karl, Gavin Schmidt, James Hansen, Michael Oppenheimer

Hi all

... The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate...


From: Phil Jones
To: John Christy
Subject: This and that
Date: Tue Jul 5 15:51:55 2005


... Also this load of rubbish!

This is from an Australian at BMRC (not Neville Nicholls). It began from the attached article. What an idiot. The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998. OK it has but it is only 7 years of data and it isn't statistically significant.
Heh. The computer model is true. The observations from nature are wrong. Everything you need to know about these guys is right there.

As statistician William Briggs points out, there is no need to invoke conspiracy to understand their actions. True Believers convinced that they hold the white hot sword of truth with the future of mankind hanging in the balance will not take kindly to scientific criticism or correction:
"I have not seen open acknowledgment that the premise that forms the models is false. That is, that it is possible, even with the observed small increase in atmospheric CO2, that that gas has at best a marginal effect. As far as I can tell by my early reading, all the folks in those emails truly believe their models (it’s the observations they don’t love).

There is no conspiracy, as far as I can tell. A conspiracy would obtain if the participants knew their stated beliefs were false, yet the still espoused them with the goal of winning either money, or power, or control, or whatever. My early, and admittedly incomplete, judgment is that all of these people really are convinced that catastrophic warming is on the way and that it will be caused by mankind. Further, they believe it fervently."
Of course "True Believers" will use that sword to skewer the scientific process if necessary to advance their goals and their vision of the truth. But mother nature is a bitch. And if the observations of nature do not agree with computer models, the models and the science behind the models will go by the wayside. No matter how fervently and how many believe otherwise.

That is the scientific method.

Well, that was quick. Phil Jones (liberally quoted in e-mails above) has stepped down as Director of the CRU while the investigation is proceeding. At least he knows that his legacy of a new improved scientific method will live on at the University of East Anglia.

Also - edited the graphic and post for typos, links, and clarity.

UPDATE II: 6-Dec-09
An updated version of this was cross-posted at Donklephant, stimulating an interesting comment thread. Check it out.

Bringing back some of the Donk updates to this post - It has been 16 days since the CRU data was leaked, on the eve of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, and the story continues to grow. By that I mean it is now hitting the mainstream network news (but only after first being confirmed as a real story by Jon Stewart). Even the New York Times feels compelled to explain why they have been giving the story short shrift.

A mystery remains, as Senator Barbara Boxer disingenuously reminds us. The identity of the whistle blower who released the data is yet to be disclosed. Personally I think the perpetrator is a hero, on the order of Daniel Ellsberg releasing the Pentagon Papers. If I was to take a wild guess, I’d take a hard look at “Harry” the CRU programmer of the now infamous HARRY_READ_ME file. He had the access, he had the means, he had the technical chops, more than any single person on the planet he understood the depth of the deception in the code, and for motive he may simply have decided he did not want to be an accessory to the scientific crime of the century.
While the MSM focuses primarily on the e-mails, the bigger story is in what is now being referred to as “The Smoking Code”. This is the clearest explanation I could find to an inherently complex and technical subject – looking at the detailed workings of the computer code. It comes from Robert Grenier, a self described “scientist and engineer with an agnostic stand on global warming” blogging at Cube Antics.
This is how he starts:
“Emails prove nothing. Sure, you can look like an unethical a-hole who may have committed a felony using government funded money; but all email is, is talk, and talk is cheap. Now, here is some actual proof that the CRU was deliberately tampering with their data. Unfortunately, for readability’s sake, this code was written in Interactive Data Language (IDL) and is a pain to go through.”
Next he goes line by line through the code showing where factors were added to shape the model into a global warming “hockey stick”. There is too much detail to put here. Go to his blog and read it.
This is what he concludes:
“As you can see, (potentially) valid temperature station readings were taken and skewed to fabricate the results the “scientists” at the CRU wanted to believe, not what actually occurred… First and foremost, this doesn’t necessarily prove anything about global warming as science. It just shows that all of the data that was the chief result of most of the environmental legislation created over the last decade was a farce… I tried to write this post in a manner that transcends politics. I really haven’t taken much of an interest in the whole global warming debate and don’t really have a strong opinion on the matter. However, being part of the Science Community and having done scientific research myself makes me very worried when arrogant jerks who call themselves “scientists” work outside of ethics and ignore the truth to fit their pre-conceived notions of the world. That is not science, that is religion with math equations.”
Curiouser and curiouser. As Copenhagen gets underway, I think we'll stay with this story for a while.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.


The BoBo said...

Hi - I'll comment on this post later. I know blog carnival is having issues so I'm just going around and confirming for everyone that I did receive your submission for the upcoming carnival. Thanks for your support!

Moonage said...

By far one of your best ever. I knew the angle was there, but didn't have the time to piece it all together.

mw said...

Thanks, had some fun with it, and am learning a lot about AGW in the process.

This probably goes without saying, but if you (or any other bloggers) would like to make use of the graphic - have at it.