finem respice

Their Charms Proved Irresistible

Submitted by ep on Sun, 11/29/2009 - 00:40

Some flow measurement approaching "neverending" seems to make a good candidate for "best descriptive prose" when discussing the number of apologist excuses for various components of the corpus of stolen University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit data. Amusingly, the quality of argument put forth by the many gallant defenders of Climate Science's beleaguered battlements is so desperately weak that it doesn't take but a few hours for one to find oneself suddenly overcome with the impression that one is fishing in a barrel... with dynamite.

To wit:

"The data was stolen."

That's terrible!


1. That ship has sailed.
2. It is not clear what, exactly, this has to do with the content of the released data. We aren't dealing with the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure here. (Yet).

"The 'whistleblower' has questionable motives."

That's terrible!


1. That ship has sailed.
2. It is not clear what, exactly, this has to do with the content of the released data.
3. This is a totally obvious and meaningless assertion. Questionable motives. Uh, duh. She stole the data.

"This was timed to sabotage the summit in Copenhagen."

That's terrible!


1. That ship has sailed.
2. It is not clear what, exactly, this has to do with the content of the released data.
3. I challenge you to find someone who wants to take the other side of a bet that Copenhagen was, also, carefully timed.

"Your romantic view of the scientific process and scientific method doesn't describe the "real world" of science. This is normal."


"The language used by scientists in the emails in question is typical of a robust peer review process."

Let me suspend my disbelief with respect to this assumption for a moment, and posit that this "typical" characterization is actually true with respect to the peer review process. Putting aside for a moment the negative ramifications this has for the peer review process in general, this assertion does nothing positive at all for views of the veracity of the underlying data or findings in this particular case or, indeed, any data, conclusions or findings that undergo peer review. It does, however, do quite a bit to damage them.

If anything, taken at face value, this assertion seems to suggest that a body of work that has undergone peer review is actually much less credible all things being equal. After all, if peer review is typically characterized by the irresistible urge to delete data rather than share it, violate FOIA laws, sabotage the careers of critics, cherry-pick peers who will be reviewing, scuttle the professional life peers who still apply tough review, manipulate the membership of scholarly publications, hope and pray that no one discovers that your data is subject to FOIA and generally do the sorts of things to "get the message out" that are at issue here (and this is a pretty conservative reading of the emails I've seen), well, it is pretty obvious to anyone who isn't presently under general anesthesia that this has a highly dilutive rather than accretive effect on the credibility of the underlying work.

Truly strong work would survive the slings and arrows of outrageously jealous colleagues and academic politics without political manipulation (or "advocacy" if you prefer) of this kind. True, it might not advance the careers of the scientists involved to the levels of superstardom and celebrity to which they clearly believe themselves entitled. True, the original researchers might even be long dead before the value of their work is finally recognized, but I'm fairly sure that regularly getting the best table at Masa isn't what science is supposed to be all about.

Of course, it isn't really possible to suspend disbelief on this topic so easily. It takes only a cursory reading of the email archive to see that the system as it was in place started off by throwing quite a bit of resistance into the paths of our intrepid heroes. Even IPCC reviewers once objected (can you imagine this recurring today?) to elements of the data and method early on. What is telling is that our heroes felt that these natural features of the peer review process had to be short circuited or totally destroyed in order to "get the message out." For a group that so readily extolled the peer review system when attacking critics who hadn't participated (or had been unable to participate) in it, our latest scientific-lynching victims sure appear to have a poor view of peer review's nobility now that the tables are turned.

Quite contrary to the view that peer review was a brutally cutthroat system that, sadly, forced our beleaguered protagonists to resort to unfortunate, ignoble, or even Chekist (but ultimately necessary) methods to successfully navigate their way to their world-saving destinies, it seems quite clear that they had already rendered the process mostly toothless by the time the CRU finally lost its data security virginity. These guys were bouncing the rubble so hard that there was literally no scrutiny of any substance left. (Enter: "Well settled science.")

In short, arguing that the caustic prose (and action) purportedly compelled of our heroes by the difficulties of the peer review process is "normal" is either distinctly naive, or severely diminishes the credibility of any underlying work that endured such a process. Either way, it is not enough to say "that's normal" and move on. One must ask what ramifications this has for the exceptional claims that underlie anthropomorphic global warming theory.

"The language used by scientists in the emails in question is indicative of scientists under a great deal of political pressure from the outside."

The heart bleeds with an anguish and despair so palpable, so imbued with the darkly iridescent and sickly sweet venom of suffering that it is plainly visible out to 50 meters as a colorful aura, brightly fluorescing through the ribcage, glowing like a beacon of sorrow to any empath with the skill level of a Freshman at Vassar who thinks she remembers once reading a book on shamanism.

As a group one rarely sees scientists (or, indeed, any vocational group other than politicians) so deeply in love with the by-hook-or-by-crook of politics, the grand import of jetting off to Nice for the next climate meeting and the limelight that accompanies all these world-saving goings on as those few, those lucky few exposed in the CRU emails. (Just throw in a bit of expense scandal and you might as well be in the House of Commons- oh, wait a second....) It is all but impossible not to come away with a sense of what is plainly a naked lust for naked ambition simply oozing out of those texts. I am utterly devoid of sympathy for any such that later claim to have been forced to compromise their composure, their decorum or their data because of the unfortunate realities of politics.

Oddly, I suspect there might be a strong correlation between those now citing the unfortunate (but unavoidable) realities attending an environment of political pressure (be it self-inflicted or otherwise) on scientists and those who howled bloody murder upon learning that (quelle surprise!) policymakers might have influenced intelligence analysts and other professionals in the days leading up to the war in Iraq. You were right the first time. Have the courage of your convictions when it cuts against the monumental moment of your little pet science project too, yes?

That our heroes so readily embraced the conflict of interest in which they now find themselves entangled is only the most obvious reason to regard such excuses as laughable farce and to treat their originators with the cold distaste normally reserved for those acquitted but clearly guilty murderers bold enough to be seen once again cavorting in public.

At some point along the line someone decided that the United Nations should be involved. At some point along the line someone decided that Al Gore (a man with no scientific credentials of substance, but apparently some kind of former national politician of some former renown) was a good "face man." At some point along the line someone decided that commanding the unwavering loyalty of the "man on the street" was the critical path to success.

In short, at some point someone decided that it was time to "build consensus." Nay- a national and international consensus. You can hear the urgency in this particular quest even in the public statements our prisoners of public opinion have, from time to time, been known to make public. Phrases like "wide consensus among scientists" and "international mandate." Or, turning to their "not intended for public dissemination" discussions, the burning urgency behind finding as many thousands of scientists (any scientists) as possible to make sure the evening news had a nice, high number for the climate segment's sound bite.

I've pointed out before that this kind of "consensus building," (read: "politics") is intrinsically incompatible with real science. To wit:

Politics, however, is not about the search for truth. It is about the building of consensus. It is easy to see how quickly politics becomes anathema to truth by considering the basic fact that in order to get elected to national office in the United States one must at some level convince a sizable portion of the population that, though you may never say it out loud, you really believe that god hates fags, or perhaps that ethanol subsidies are simply a splendid idea. So what exactly happens when data conflicts with politics? I think the CRU has just shown us.

This "but the politics did it" argument also suffers from the same sort of "well, that's just how it is" flaw as the peer review dodge. It just doesn't cut it to shake your head at how unfortunate it is that national and international politics is run by a stinking den of thieves and move on right past the effect this has on the underlying work. In the end it doesn't matter if our CRU heroes are really evil people deep down, or if they are just individuals with fatalistic weaknesses for the allure of the political process who now find themselves caught up in an unfortunate twist of "that's life when you are dealing with the United Nations." Not only have they been front and center for every effort to pull these organizations into bed with them, they have actively engaged in the exactly the sort of consensus building chicanery that gives, for example, Zimbabwe a forum in which to lecture the United States on fiscal discipline. (Ok, maybe that's not the best example). Or perhaps to Venezuela in which to scold the United States for human rights violations. (Yeah, better).

Both of these "that's just how it is" arguments, even if taken at face value, are strong reasons to reform the widespread application of the scientific method, not to give a blanket pass to data and conclusions so produced. Everyone knows intuitively that the kinds of things highlighted in the more shocking of the CRU emails produce flawed results (See: Sexing up intelligence). Why making the leap to critical re-examination of results produced under these conditions is so difficult is the real question.

"Those emails were not intended for public viewing."

I am ceaselessly amazed at how often this excuse is rolled out whenever some whistleblower or another makes a blockbuster disclosure like this. Of course they weren't intended for public viewing. Which is exactly why they are the absolute best metric of the clear, unvarnished, unpolished, unadulterated and unmitigated views of the authors.

Who was it exactly who put these people in charge of public relations?

"The really bad sounding stuff is being taken out of context."

I would be sympathetic to this view if we were talking about an email here or an email there. The reality is that it is trivial to see a deeply woven thread of malfeasance, almost cultural in its prevalence, extending through dozens and dozens of emails and bleeding over into programming notes and code notations across the entire 60+ megs of data (nearly 160 megs uncompressed). We aren't talking about excerpts from a few unconnected emails here and the entire stash is available for just about anyone who wants to read it. What's out of context is this ridiculous "out of context" excuse.

None of this refutes the notion that anthropomorphic warming is real.

I really don't even know how to talk to people who believe this. I was somewhat shocked to see Megan McArdle repeat it. I can only suspect that people who echo this sentiment simply have not looked as deeply into the matter as they might. The entire dataset on which these studies have been based would be hard pressed to find itself elevated to a level worthy of the descriptor "garbage." After three major and totally undocumented processing iterations the raw data (which, despite recent claims of shocking openness still is unavailable to the scientific plebeian class, and which apparently wasn't so hot to begin with) has been so tortured that reproducing CRU models, the most basic scientific behavioral expression, is quite literally impossible. The worldwide marketing blitz on anthropomorphic global warming may have convinced these individuals that:

1. There is a warming trend, and;
2. It's dangerous.

But even assuming that even the more conservative results posited by the theory happen to be true, relying on these data and modeling epoch to support that notion is the height of irresponsibility- not least because it seems entirely clear now that these results are, using CRU tainted data and/or models, entirely unfalsifiable. This is the very definition of religion.

So what now?


[Art Credit: G. Bramati "Deception of Captain Wallis by Queen Oberea," Giclee Print (c. 1820-1830), Plate 45 Le Costume Ancien ou Moderne. "The next voyage of moment was that of Captain Wallis, who, in August, 1766, sailed from Plymouth with two armed ships and a store vessel. When he had almost cleared the strait of Magellan, he lost sight of the ship commanded by his colleague Carteret. Proceeding to the Pacific, he sailed on that ocean for eight weeks before he dignified his voyage with discoveries. He then gave the names of Queen Charlotte, Gloucester, Cumberland, and Osnaburg, to four islands which he supposed himself to have first seen. An extensive spot afterwards appeared, called by the natives Otaheité or Taheiti, and, by the captain, King George's Island. A brisk traffic commenced for hogs and fowls, for which knives and nails were gladly accepted by the natives. In a bay the strangers were attacked with stones; but, by the use of firearms, they soon overawed the assailants. When peace was restored, the island was surveyed, and found to be well-peopled, and not ill-cultivated. The charms of the female inhabitants proved irresistible; and the captain found a friend in queen Oberea." (The History of Modern Europe: With an Account of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; and a View of the Progress of Society from the Rise of the Modern Kingdoms to the Peace of Paris in 1763. In a Series of Letters from a Nobleman to his Son. Volume IV, Letter XVI).]

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