Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Peer Review and The Climate People

One of the trump cards of the warmists or alarmists is that they have been able to say "it's all peer reviewed science," in a way that seems to silence all dissent. But what does "peer-reviewed" actually mean to the leaders of the movement?

Here are some CRU e-mails, as commented upon by John P. Costella.

October 9, 1997: email 0876437553
We now encounter one of the most insidious red herrings in the climate debate: how many thousands of scientists “endorsed” the views of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
With just months until the Kyoto Climate Conference, we find the germ of this idea fertilizing in an email from Joe Alcamo, Director of the Center for Environmental Systems Research in Germany, to Mike Hulme and Rob Swart:

Sounds like you guys have been busy doing good things for the cause.
I would like to weigh in on two important questions—
Distribution for Endorsements—
I am very strongly in favor of as wide and rapid a distribution as possible for endorsements. I think the only thing that counts is numbers. The media is going to say “1000 scientists signed” or “1500 signed”. No one is going to check if it is 600 with PhDs versus 2000 without. They will mention the prominent ones, but that is a different story.
Conclusion—Forget the screening, forget asking them about their last publication (most will ignore you).Get those names!

This statement alone shows how ridiculous the “endorsement” process was from the very beginning. Signing a petition in support of an opinion—regardless of whether the signer has a PhD or not—is as scientifically meaningless as if these same people had voted Albert Einstein’s hairstyle as the most interesting in the history of science. It is nonsense, pure and simple.
Alcamo continues:

Timing—I feel strongly that the week of 24 November is too late.
1. We wanted to announce the Statement in the period when there was a sag in related news, but in the week before Kyoto we should expect that we will have to crowd out many other articles about climate.
2. If the Statement comes out just a few days before Kyoto I am afraid that the delegates who we want to influence will not have any time to pay attention to it. We should give them a few weeks to hear about it.
3. If Greenpeace is having an event the week before, we should have it a week before them so that they and other Non-Governmental Organizations can further
spread the word about the Statement. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be so bad to release the Statement in the same week, but on a different day. The media might enjoy hearing the message from two very different directions.
Conclusion I suggest the week of 10 November, or the week of 17 November at the latest.

Alcamo demonstrates that this is a carefully crafted piece of political and ideological activism, not related to the scientific process at all. Indeed, the optimization of the timing—allowing just enough time for delegates to absorb the message, but not enough time for the scientists signing on to this petition to actually examine or criticize its contents—will return with a vengeance below.
November 12, 1997: email 0879365369
Richard Tol to Mike Hulme and Timothy Mitchell:

I am always worried about this sort of thing. Even if you have 1000 signatures, and appear to have a strong backup, how many of those asked did not sign?

Tol is absolutely correct: just as suppressing research results that do not support climate change inevitably biases the published record, so too does suppressing the number of scientists who declined to sign the petition.
Many similar lessons of history are related to undergraduate students of statistics every year the world over, which earn enormous laughter in the lecture theater, but are less humorous in real life: estimating war-time damage to planes by examining only those that return; completely wrong predictions of elections, due to conservative voters being less likely to respond to pollsters; and so on. That any faith at all was placed on climate petitions of this sort is almost unbelievable.
Tol continues:

I think that the text of the Statement conveys the message that it is a scientific defense for the European Union’s position. There is not any.

Indeed, as we have seen in the intervening years, it was used to justify far more.
November 25, 1997: email 0880476729
Tom Wigley roundly criticises the eleven scientists seeking endorsement of their Statement.

Dear Eleven,
I was very disturbed by your recent letter, and your attempt to get others to endorse it. Not only do I disagree with the content of this letter, but I also believe that you have severely distorted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “view” when you say that “the latest IPCC assessment makes a convincing economic case for immediate control of emissions.” …
This is a complex issue, and your misrepresentation of it does you a dis-service. To someone like me, who knows the science, it is apparent that you are presenting a personal view, not an informed, balanced scientific assessment. What is
unfortunate is that this will not be apparent to the vast majority of scientists you have contacted. In issues like this, scientists have an added responsibility to keep their personal views separate from the science, and to make it clear to others when they diverge from the objectivity they (hopefully) adhere to in their scientific research. I think you have failed to do this.
Your approach of trying to gain scientific credibility for your personal views by asking people to endorse your letter is reprehensible. No scientist who wishes to maintain respect in the community should ever endorse any statement unless they have examined the issue fully themselves. You are asking people to prostitute themselves by doing just this! I fear that some will endorse your letter, in the mistaken belief that you are making a balanced and knowledgeable assessment of the science—when, in fact, you are presenting a flawed view that neither accords with the IPCC nor with the bulk of the scientific and economic literature on the subject.

When scientists color the science with their own personal views or make categorical statements without presenting the evidence for such statements, they have a clear responsibility to state that that is what they are doing. You have failed to do so. Indeed, what you are doing is, in my view, a form of dishonesty more subtle but no less egregious than the statements made by the greenhouse skeptics …. I find this extremely disturbing.

I couldn’t express it any better myself.

This provides some background to all the new revelations that the famous IPCC report often relied on pamphlets by the WWF. Sometimes these pamphlets refer to work which itself is peer-reviewed, but often they do not. In at least one case (Himalayan glaciers), a date at which the glaciers will be gone was reported (and then reported ad infinitum) and it turns out to be absolutely wrong. In other cases (extreme weather events) there was a statement based on an early draft of a paper (besides the purely economic reasons why the "cost" of extreme weather events has increased, there is a climate-driven increase in the events themselves and their severity) that was later corrected, and the IPCC has never acknowledged the correction. In still others, there is at best a distortion or mis-reading of evidence (parts of the Amazon forest which have suffered first five years of drought, then extensive logging, have experienced up to 40% destruction (the high end); it is a stretch to say that some combination of dire threats supposedly posed by climate change will cause 40% destruction of the entire Amazon rain forest).

Great fun. As usual, I must credit Anthony Watts, who on some of these stories is crediting Richard North and Donna Laframboise.

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