Yearly Archives: 2009

166 – Best albums of the past decade

Something less serious to suit the time of year. It’s the end of the noughties, already. Time for a run down of my favourite albums from the past 10 years.

I think the decade in music was really strong, although there was no huge revolution in music as there was in the mid ’50s (rock and roll), the mid-late ’60s (the Beatles at their peak, and everyone else trying to keep up), the late ’70s (punk) and the late ’80s (hip hop). In the ’90s, the music scene became fragmented and increasingly specialised into many niches, with no single artist or style able to dominate as in previous decades. The noughties continued and accentuated that trend.

Musical preferences are personal, so your list would be different to mine. You won’t find any jazz, classical or electronic dance music below, but you might find some fantastic music that you would otherwise have missed. Just in time for Christmas!

1. Radiohead, "In Rainbows" (2007). The choice for top album of the decade was easy. This is an astonishingly beautiful and clever album. After countless plays I'm still getting more out of it. Radiohead also had what I think was clearly the best album of the nineties, "OK Computer".
2. Ryan Adams, "Cold Roses" (2005). Ryan was very prolific in the noughties, and the quality was consistently high, especially on this wonderful double album. It has country/folk/rock elements, and the songs are superb.
3. Bob Dylan, "Love and Theft" (2001). Who would have thought that Bob Dylan would release the best album of his entire career in 2001, at the age of 60? Hugely diverse, and consistently excellent.
4. Wilco, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (2002). This album grew on me slowly, but just kept growing. It's off-centre music, with all sorts of elements. Some pop, rock, alternative, country, folk, and sundry sound effects. It works brilliantly, because the songs are so great.
5. Rufus Wainwright, "Release the Stars" (2007). Rufus has the most beautiful and moving voice in the world, I reckon. He's an excellent songwriter, and his arrangements are rich and complex, but very accessible.
6. Muse, "Absolution" (2003). I discovered this album via a free CD on the front of a music magazine when it first came out. Nowadays Muse are huge - one of the biggest bands in the world. Everything about this album is great - the songs, the performances, the ambition, the arrangements. It's bombastic, perhaps even pretentious, but magnificent.
7. Elvis Costello, "The Delivery Man" (2004). Elvis did a bit of everything in the noughties: dance-influenced rock, cocktail lounge jazz, bluegrass, folk, rock and roll, symphonic orchestral music, big band jazz, New Orleans rock/soul, and Americana. Although it is one of his more conventional rock album, this one has a wealth of great songs.
8. Sexsmith and Kerr, "Destination Unknown" (2005). Ron Sexsmith, a Canadian singer songwriter, deserves to be much better known. He released a number of excellent albums during the decade. This one, in which he temporarily forms a duo with an old friend, is gentle and beautiful.
9. Bon Iver, "For Emma, Forever Ago" (2008). Delicate, quiet, solo album recorded in his father's cabin in the snow, over a few months. Lovely peaceful sad music, about a relationship breakup.
10. Bob Dylan, "Tell Tale Signs" (2008). This double album of left-over songs that didn't make it onto commercially released albums in the nineties and noughties is filled with gems. It's better than most of his proper albums, I reckon.
11. Wilco, "Wilco (The Album)" (2009). A much more conventional sounding album than "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", but still excellent. Wilco has grown in stature and confidence. Their live DVD that came out this year is also a strong favourite of mine.
12. Grizzly Bear, "Veckatimest" (2009). An unusual mix of ingredients, hard to describe. An online review calls it "rustic, ethereal, pop-folk". Some unusual arrangements for a rock album. Uses mostly standard rock instruments, but somehow it all sounds different. Melodic, often gentle, beautiful singing (reminds me of 10cc at times, with whom they share the virtue of having several lead singers).
13. Ryan Adams, "Cardinology" (2008). Ryan's last album released before his retirement from the music industry. I saw him in Perth on the tour to promote this album - one of his last shows before retirement - and it was one of the best shows I've ever seen.
14. Tom Waits, "Real Gone" (2004). Tom had several great albums in the decade, including a fantastic new live album called "Glitter and Doom", but this is my favourite despite the absence of any of Tom's lovely piano playing.
15. Bob Dylan, "Modern Times" (2006). Another terrific effort from Dylan. His first number 1 album for 30 years, probably helped by the fact that the only people still buying albums are people over 40, but truly the album deserved it.
16. Rufus Wainwright, "Poses" (2001). The most poppy of Rufus's albums, with some of his best songs, and that voice in great form.
17. Queens of the Stone Age, "Songs for the Deaf" (2002). Almost a concept album from this great heavy rock band.
18. King Crimson, "The ConstruKction Of Light" (2000). The decade saw a bit of a renaissance in the sort of music that has been King Crimson's bread and butter for 40 years - very complicated arrangements, complex time changes, ranging from very gentle to very heavy, impeccable musicianship. The best modern disciples are The Mars Volta (see below). Meanwhile KC themselves continued their own renaissance and released a couple of their best ever albums.
19. PJ Harvey, "Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea" (2000). Polly Jean ranged all over the place in the noughties, from relatively poppy shiny arrangements (for her anyway) on this album, to pretty dark swampy rock on "Uh Huh Her" and delicate, ethereal music on "White Chalk". She gave some incredible concerts in Perth.
20. Elvis Costello, "Momofuku" (2008). This album slipped out to almost no publicity, but it's really a gem. Unlike most of his albums for the decade, this one is a straight rock album with his band The Imposters.
21. Neil Finn, "One Nil" (2001). Neil's one of the world's great songwriters. I love the somewhat quirky arrangements on this album, which is as good as anything he's released with Crowded House or Split Enz.
22. Raconteurs, "Consolers of the Lonely" (2008). Unlike the music media, I'm not that keen on The White Stripes, but Jack White's other band, The Raconteurs is superb. Of their two great albums, I slightly prefer this one.
23. Elliott Smith, "New Moon" (2007). Released postumously following his suicide in 2003, these tracks are from early in his career when he relied on very simple, sparse arrangements, which suit his gentle singing voice and his lovely melodic songs.
24. The Mars Volta, "Octohedron" (2009). King Crimson for the modern generation (see above). This is their gentlest and most listenable album (relatively), but I like their more challenging ones as well.
25. XTC, "Wasp Star" (2000). After a long period of slowly losing members over their 23 year life, this was XTC's last released album, recorded as a duo. After this, there was only one member left! The album has excellent songs, and XTC's usual perfect Beatlesque arrangements. Deserved to sell millions (like most of their albums), but didn't.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

165 – ClimateGate part 3: Reactions and implications

Part 1, Background · Part 2, What is revealed?

In Part 2 I provided extracts from some of the emails that have been hacked or leaked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. This week I look at some of the reactions, and discuss where it might lead.

Up to this point, the Hockey Team (the group of scientists at the centre of the controversy) has stubbornly (indeed, virulently) resisted all attempts to improve the quality of their statistical methods, transparency of their methods and accessibility of their data. It will be fascinating to see whether this continues, or whether the rest of climate science requires them to get their house in order.

Pressure may come from public opinion, which has clearly been affected by this episode.

“The staggering arrogance of these people nauseates me. I am a physicist and am appalled that these people are even called scientists; as far as I’m concerned they’re not.” (commenter at a blog).

Some commentators with strong sympathies for the global warming side are saying that the incident is not all that serious. What does this say about them? I can understand them saying that it doesn’t disprove the case for climate change, which is fair enough – it doesn’t. But I cannot understand or accept them saying that it is just part of the normal rough and tumble of science – that it’s just what Thomas Kuhn would expect of science. I’ve seen a lot of science up close, and I’ve never seen anything remotely like this. Any science that does look like this needs some pretty serious reform.

Others on the warmist side are very worried. A few mainstream climate scientists have come out acknowledging that the emails reveal serious problems in their discipline (here, here). George Manbiot of the Guardian newspaper, who is very strongly pro-warming and anti-skeptic, immediately called for the resignation of Phil Jones, the scientist who either sent or received all the leaked emails.

“It’s no use pretending that this isn’t a major blow. The emails extracted by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging. I am now convinced that they are genuine, and I’m dismayed and deeply shaken by them.” here

“I apologise. I was too trusting of some of those who provided the evidence I championed. I would have been a better journalist if I had investigated their claims more closely.” here

At the start of the part 1 of this series of PDs, I said that the story is about a small group of scientists, rather than the whole of climate science. On the other hand, many commentators on the skeptical side have gone to extremes, claiming that the episode shows that the whole of climate science is corrupt. That’s obviously extrapolating things too far, but it is fair to ask how the episode would affect reasonable judgments about the state of climate science and its interaction with climate politics? Different peoples reasonable judgments will vary, of course, but here are a few thoughts and observations on this.

  • The research in question is only a small proportion of the world’s climate science. We cannot conclude from this episode that climate science is generally corrupt.
  • The individuals involved have political and scientific influence way in excess of their share of the world’s climate science. Their actions have had an effect on the contents of IPCC reports.
  • I think we are entitled to look at all the research outputs of members of the Hockey Team with a jaundiced and suspicious eye. I would not trust any of their results unless they have been independently checked and reproduced. This means that much of the so-called “independent” evidence in support of the general hockey-stick shape of historical temperatures is brought into doubt.
  • All members of the Hockey Team should be barred from participating as lead authors for the IPCC, and there should be processes put in place to ensure that they do not have undue influence on the IPCC process. Their research should not be included in future reports until it has been independently reproduced.
  • In science related to important and controversial areas of policy, the institutional arrangements need to be designed to ensure that there is genuine balance, transparency and accountability. The IPCC clearly has not sufficiently delivered this. Some emails are quite disturbing in what they say about the IPCC process.

Acknowledgement of pressure to cook the books to conform with the IPCC’s requirements:

“I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards ‘apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the proxy data’ but in reality the situation is not quite so simple.” (This and all direct quotes from the ClimateGate emails can be found here.)

Admission that what goes into an IPCC report is not solely a question of the science:

“I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC, which were not always the same.”

Concerns about the IPCC process:

“the rules of IPCC have been softened to the point that in this way the IPCC is not any more an assessment of published science (which is its proclaimed goal) but production of results. … Essentially, I feel that at this point there are very little rules and almost anything goes. I think this will set a dangerous precedent which might [under]mine the IPCC credibility, and I am a bit uncomfortable that now nearly everybody seems to think that it is just ok to do this.”

I’m particularly interested in the comments about the IPCC by Mike Hulme (from University of East Anglia!), made since the release of the emails. He suggests that the IPCC may have run its course. His views carry some weight within Climate Science – he is apparently the 10th most cited author in the world in the field of climate change.

“The I.P.C.C. itself, through its structural tendency to politicize climate change science, has perhaps helped to foster a more authoritarian and exclusive form of knowledge production – just at a time when a globalizing and wired cosmopolitan culture is demanding of science something much more open and inclusive.” here

What the community wants is one thing, but there is also the integrity of science to consider. Decisions about the content of IPCC reports rely on scientists who have strong vested interests to promote their own work and to suppress critics, and we can see that this group of scientists, at least, has done exactly that. As a result, in my view, some of the information provided to policy makers is not balanced. Addressing this problem is tricky, since the people making the decisions about the reports need to have sufficient expertise to judge the science, but I think there at least needs to be a reconsideration of the checks and balances in the process, and a much stronger commitment to public transparency and accountability. Reliance on peer review as the sole form of due diligence and failure to enforce openness with data and methods for any science included in the IPCC reports means that some of the information provided to policy makers is simply wrong. So far, the IPCC is in denial (here).

It will be fascinating to see how it plays out. Will the discipline reform itself, or will it just retreat further into bunker mentality and persecution complex? Will higher powers enforce reform from outside? Will there be a push to reform the IPCC?

Some flow-on effects have already started.

  • Phil Jones has stood aside from his position as Director of the CRU pending results of an independent inquiry commissioned by his university. At Penn State University, an internal panel is reviewing all of the leaked email correspondence between Michael Mann and the CRU.
  • The UK Met Office has announced plans to re-analyse 160 years of temperature data after admitting that public confidence in the science has been badly affected by the leaked e-mails. The Met Office is one of the main suppliers of information to the IPCC. They have also announced plans to release as much of the data as possible, starting immediately. These seem like they might be positive developments. Interestingly, The Times Online claimed that “The Government is attempting to stop the Met Office from carrying out the re-examination, arguing that it would be seized upon by climate change sceptics.” Clearly, some people don’t understand the lessons from this episode.
  • The conservative side of US politics has jumped on the episode, using it to energise their political campaign against global warming policies. here
  • A new US poll shows that 59% of people think it “somewhat likely” or “very likely” that scientists have falsified research data to support their own theories and beliefs about global warming. here
  • I strongly suspect that the leak led to the defeat of emissions trading scheme legislation in the Australian parliament. The emails almost certainly resulted in a change in the leadership of the opposition party in Australia, from a moderate leader who supported the legislation to a right wing leader who opposed it. This difference in their positions on global warming was the primary reason for the change in leadership. The emails came in the midst of debate about party leadership, they were publicly discussed by some prominent members of the party, and then the new leader won by a single vote. The emails only had to change a single vote to cause the leadership change, which then led on to the defeat of the legislation.

One important question is whether the custodians of the Global Circulation Models used to make long-term climate predictions will learn from this episode and adopt higher standards of scientific and public accountability and transparency than their paleoclimatology colleagues. Time will tell.

One final example to highlight just how much things need to change to get this train back on the rails. Of the many problems that Steve McIntyre has found with published Team research, one of the more amusing ones is in another study by Mike Mann and colleagues in 2008 in which one of the proxy data series is included in the statistical model upside down. The proxy data actually trends in the opposite direction than would be expected if it reflected rising temperatures, so the statistical estimation process has done what seems sensible to it – flipping the data series over by giving it a negative sign. It’s not physically meaningful, but the statistics don’t care about that. It’s up to the modelers to spot these sorts of things and weed them out. They missed this one, but in fairness it’s the sort of mistake anyone could make. It’s easy to understand and not something that anyone would need to fight about, you would think.

McIntyre and McKitrick submitted a comment to the journal to point out some serious problems with the paper. They also mentioned this upside-down issue, which is probably not really all that serious in the scheme of things, but why put up with something that is obviously wrong. Mann’s published response was that “The claim that ‘upside down’ data were used is bizarre” (no further explanation or defense) and that “their criticisms have no merit”. He must have an unusual personality, to be so totally immune to criticism, even unambiguously correct criticism.

Subsequently, in September this year, another Team paper (by Kaufman et al. not including Mann as a co-author) included the same data series upside down. This time when McIntyre pointed it out on his blog, Kaufman acknowledged the problem and published a correction. It was done grudgingly – no acknowledgement of McIntyre – but at least it was done. Now, you’d think, Mann had nowhere to hide. A group of colleagues who are very much from his camp had publicly acknowledged that McIntyre was right about the upside-down data.

Now just in the last couple of weeks, Science (the top American journal) published yet another Mann et al. study involving statistical analysis of proxy data. It even includes two of the same co-authors as the Kaufman et al. paper, who had conceded on the upside-down issue. And yet, believe it or not, in this new paper the same data series is still upside-down. That’s determination for you.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

164 – ClimateGate part 2: What is revealed?

In Part 1 I provided background to the ClimateGate scandal. This week I look at some of what has been revealed in the leaked emails.

 Most commentary on the release by hackers (or perhaps by an internal leak) of material from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia has been highly critical of the views and behaviours that are revealed. As I noted in PD163, we already knew that the Hockey Team (the group of scientists at the centre of this controversy) had taken extraordinary measures to prevent people from scrutinising their data and methods, and now we can observe the process in action, as revealed by the written words of Team members themselves. (The McIntyre referred to below is Steve McIntyre, a Canadian statistician who runs the Climate Audit blog and attempts to replicate key climate studies. See PD163.) For each quote, I’ve included a link to the full email so that you can see it in context if you wish to.

“I took a decision ages ago not to release our station data, mainly because of McIntyre”. (This and all direct quotes from the ClimateGate emails can be found here.)

“If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone.”

“Think I’ve managed to persuade UEA [University of East Anglia] to ignore all further FOIA [Freedom Of Information Act] requests if the people have anything to do with Climate Audit”.

Reading the emails, one gets a sense that the Hockey Team scientists feel persecuted, which is odd given that they are on the side of the huge majority, and have influence and funding vastly in excess of their critics. They seem to consider that a desire by others to replicate their research is in no way a legitimate thing to do – that all such efforts are, pretty much by definition, the acts of climate change “deniers”.

This quote from a blog provides a nice summary of the attitudes and behaviour of the Team scientists.

“The emails I’ve reviewed so far do not suggest that these scientists are perpetrating a knowing and deliberate hoax. On the contrary, they are true believers. I don’t doubt that they are sincerely convinced – in fact, fanatically so – that human activity is warming the earth. But the emails are disturbing nonetheless. What they reveal, more than anything, is a bunker mentality. These pro-global warming scientists see themselves as under siege, and they view AGW skeptics as bitter enemies. … The emails show beyond any reasonable doubt that these individuals are engaged in politics, not science.”

Here are a few examples that illustrate this. Explore the blogs for many more. The quotes are from a variety of different correspondents, the most common being Phil Jones, Director of the CRU.

Discussion of the possibility of getting a journal editor sacked:

“If you think that Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted.” Note: he subsequently did lose the editorship.

Discussion of trying to influence journal editorial policy to prevent publication of skeptical papers:

“One approach is to go direct to the publishers and point out the fact that their journal is perceived as being a medium for disseminating misinformation under the guise of refereed work. I use the word ‘perceived’ here, since whether it is true or not is not what the publishers care about.” There is a striking irony here. These scientists incessantly say that the views of skeptics are not worth considering unless they appear in the peer-reviewed research literature, while at the same time they conspire to keep such research out of the peer-reviewed literature.

Conspiring to punish a journal that had published some peer-reviewed papers by skeptics:

“I think we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal.”

Discussion of censoring and other strategies on RealClimate.org:

“Anyway, I wanted you guys to know that you’re free to use RC in any way you think would be helpful. Gavin and I are going to be careful about what comments we screen through, … We can hold comments up in the queue and contact you about whether or not you think they should be screened through or not, and if so, any comments you’d like us to include. … think of RC as a resource that is at your disposal to combat any disinformation put forward by the McIntyres of the world. Just let us know.” RealClimate.org has routinely censored comments, even if they are slightly critical or questioning of Team research or climate change orthodoxy.

Asking colleagues to delete emails that were subject to Freedom of Information requests:

“Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise. … Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address. We will be getting Caspar to do likewise.” If the remaining emails are considered safe, one wonders how bad the deleted ones were! They now claim that none were deleted. They have a strong incentive to claim that since such deletions would be illegal under the Freedom Of Information Act. In any case, in a later email the same correspondent says: “About 2 months ago I deleted loads of emails, so have very little – if anything at all.”

Conspiring to exclude inconvenient peer-reviewed papers from the IPCC report, by deception if necessary:

“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!” 

Internal acknowledgement that refusing to provide data might not look good (but not that it is unscientific):

“And the issue of with-holding data is still a hot potato, one that affects both you and Keith (and Mann). Yes, there are reasons – but many *good* scientists appear to be unsympathetic to these. The trouble here is that with-holding data looks like hiding something, and hiding means (in some eyes) that it is bogus science that is being hidden.” This sensible advice from one Team member to another had no impact on Team behaviour.

Expressing a wish that climate change would occur to confirm the science:

“If anything, I would like to see the climate change happen, so the science could be proved right, regardless of the consequences. This isn’t being political, it is being selfish.” Maybe this is just loose talk. But given the fanaticism revealed in the rest of the leaked/hacked material, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he was serious.

Truncating data to avoid recent divergence in trends from warming expectations:

“The data are attached to this e-mail. They go from 1402 to 1995, although we usually stop the series in 1960 because of the recent non-temperature signal that is superimposed on the tree-ring data that we use.” See the consequences of this deletion here. One of the other leaked documents reveals similar truncations even more starkly here

Deleting proxy data that diverged from actual temperatures and inserting the actual temperature data instead:

“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) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”

This last quote has probably had more attention than any other, given the sinister look of “trick” and “hide the decline”. Unlike most of the other quotes, this one has had a spirited defense from Phil Jones and scientists friendly to his cause. The defense focuses on the word “trick”. Jones says that he used the term to mean a clever way to do something, rather than a deception. Looking at the wording of the quote, I think that is probably a reasonable claim. On the other hand, is it reasonable to “add in real temps … to hide the decline”? Jones claims that he has no idea what he meant by the words “hide the decline”. I find this claim completely unconvincing. From the detailed article here, it is is perfectly obvious what he meant. He wanted to hide the fact that the proxy data departed radically from the actual temperatures. The additional fact that the “trick” was done without acknowledging it in the published results adds weight to concerns about what they have done.

Some skeptical commentators have gone too far in their reading of the quote, implying that it refers to hiding falling temperatures. It does not. It refers to hiding falls in proxy data (tree ring widths), by replacing them with actual temperature data, which follows a rising trend, and smoothing over the join. The significance of this is two fold. Firstly, it disguises the fact that the tree ring data do not represent temperatures as well as they would like, casting doubt on the scientists’ ability to estimate temperature levels in previous centuries (which for some of them represents a threat to their life’s work). And secondly, it provides a much more dramatic and alarming graph, which might help to galvanise support for the climate change cause.

If you care about science, and if you understand and believe in the principles that are supposed to underpin it, these emails make miserable reading. If you are a member of the public who expects science to provide independent, honest information, they are extremely concerning. Although the number of scientists directly involved is tiny, they are among the most influential climate scientists in the world.

In part 3 I’ll talk about the reactions to and implications of the ClimateGate scandal.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

163 – ClimateGate part 1: Background

The recent release of thousands of hacked emails and documents from a leading climate research centre (the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia) has been making headlines and has been a hot topic in the blogosphere. This article provides background to the controversy.

Before looking at the leaked material itself in the next PD, I think it is worthwhile going through some of the background to the story, which has its roots back in 2003.

This story is about a fairly small group of influential scientists who’ve drifted into a culture of behaviour that would be anathema to most scientists. It is not about whether or not climate change is real or serious, although it does raise doubts about the work of these particular scientists.

For readers of the Climate Audit blog, run by Canadian statistician Steve McIntyre, the revelations contained in the leaked material are not surprising. It was already apparent that there exists a small group of senior climate scientists (usually called the Hockey Team, or the Team for short, for reasons that will become obvious) who routinely behave in questionable ways to prevent outside scrutiny of their work. These scientists are mainly in the area of paleoclimatology – studies of historical climate patterns using proxy data like tree ring widths. Some of them have played leading roles in the IPCC, including as lead authors of chapters in different IPCC reports – a position that empowers them to determine which science gets into the reports.

The beginning of the story was an attempt by Steve McIntyre to replicate the famous “hockey stick” study of Michael Mann and colleagues. Mann is not at the university where the emails were hacked, but he has close connections to the CRU and is one of the most frequent senders or recipients of the leaked emails.

The original Mann et al. studies, based on statistical analysis of historical tree-ring-width data, purported to show that global average temperatures have been fairly constant for 1000 years or more, until the 20th century when they kicked up sharply, so that the graph overall has the shape of an ice-hockey stick.

The hockey-stick diagram seemed to offer dramatic evidence that mankind was affecting climate, and it was used for a while by the IPCC as its most prominent graphic.

Given its prominence, Steve McIntyre’s interest was perked. Did all the data series have hockey-stick shapes? How was the model estimated? How robust and statistically significant was it? He asked Mann for the raw data, and was actually given a data set. He found numerous problems with the data set and he found that the statistical model was not robust. Mann rejected the criticisms, saying that McIntyre wasn’t even using the right data set, implying that this was McIntyre’s fault, even though it was the data provided by Mann.

The published journal articles did not provide enough details to allow McIntyre to fully replicate Mann’s results (exactly which data series were used, exactly which statistical technique was used) and Mann simply refused to provide the information. But McIntyre has tremendous perseverance, and slowly over time he was able to fill many of the knowledge gaps. One key event was when he found a copy of the programming code for Mann’s statistical analysis sitting on a publicly accessible internet site. Analysing this, he found that Mann’s statistical technique was non-standard, and indeed was rather dodgy. Because of the way it worked, it selectively mined the data set for hockey-stick-shaped data series and hugely inflated the weightings they were given.

McIntyre found that the hockey stick shape of the final graph depended on a small number of series whose weightings had been inflated in this way. Most of the data series did not actually have a hockey stick shape. Notably, data representing the ring widths of bristlecone pines in one area of the US were crucial – Mann would not have got a hockey stick shaped final result without them. There were serious doubts about whether the pattern of ring widths for these particular trees reflected temperatures. The people who collected the data didn’t think so. Now it’s thought that it is a result of trees having had their bark removed at some point, after which their growth was altered.

McIntyre also showed that the R2 for the hockey stick graph was zero – as a statistical model, it provided no explanation for the data whatsoever.

Mann refused to accept all these points, and persisted in claiming that his analysis was valid. Eventually there were two official public inquiries in the U.S. – one consisting of scientists and one of statisticians. The scientist one concluded that the “strip bark” bristlecone pine data should not be used, and the statistical one concluded that McIntyre’s criticisms of the statistical analysis were correct in all respects.

Mann and his colleagues ignored these findings and continued to use the same dodgy data and the same dodgy statistical technique in subsequent publications. Their influence and stature within the world of climate science seemed to be unaffected by all this. Many climate scientists seemed to assume that McIntyre must be wrong because he’s not a real climate scientist and because Mann and his collaborators are so famous. The Team set up a blog site (http://realclimate.com/) which poured scorn on McIntyre and heavily censored any dissent among the blog respondents. There developed a mutual distrust and personal dislike between the two factions.

Over time, McIntrye has broadened his focus to other studies and other data, including that of the CRU (the body whose computer system was hacked). He has looked at a variety of other important statistical studies on climate, and he regularly picks up problems. Mostly he gets abused or ignored by the scientists. Occasionally the scientists do pick up his findings and adapt their analysis, but they almost never acknowledge his contribution.

The Team has continued to obstruct the attempts of McIntyre (and others) to get data and information about methods at every turn. They don’t seem to recognise that there is anything wrong with this behaviour. For example, back in 2005 Phil Jones from the CRU told Warwick Hughes (an Australian, I think) who was requesting data, “I will still not pass on the data. We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?” How about, because you are supposed to be a scientist? How about, because you are are publicly funded? How about, because there’s a lot riding on your results?

When Team scientists refused to meet requests to provide data, McIntyre and others resorted to making requests under Freedom of Information legislation. In the case of the CRU, this proceeded as follows.

  1. Initially they refused to provide the raw data to Steve McIntyre because he “isn’t an academic”. Since he has published peer-reviewed articles in climate journals, they presumably mean that he isn’t employed by a university. This criterion would have disqualified Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin from being considered legitimate scientists at the times when they wrote their major works.
  2. Then, when a university-employed academic requested the same data, they said that the information is already available elsewhere and that they couldn’t provide it because of confidentiality agreements (not noticing the the contradiction). They said that releasing the data would have an “adverse effect on international relations”, although they didn’t mention that they had previously provided it to another pro-warming academic (apparently without the feared adverse effect).
  3. When requested to provide the confidentiality agreements, they said: there are too many to provide; it is too much work. In response, several individuals asked for copies of confidentiality agreements that applied to specific small amounts of temperature data.
  4. They responded to these requests with: we can only provide two of the many confidentiality agreements, we can’t find the others and we don’t know who they were with, and by the way we have just discovered that we no longer hold the original raw data.

All this to prevent an obviously skilled statistician from getting hold of data that was publicly funded, and which is being used to influence massive policy decisions.

The detailed account of another person’s attempt to use the Freedom of Information Act to get data out of the CRU is documented here. It’s fascinating to see the CRU’s ingenuity, and their brazenness. It seems that Freedom of Information officers at the University were courted and effectively enrolled by the Team.

Given this context, you can see why somebody might want to hack into Team computers. I don’t think it was a random attack.

One of the tragedies in all this is that the Team could learn from Steve McIntyre. It’s obvious that he has statistical knowledge that would be valuable to the Team, if they would take his advice constructively. Even though they consider him to be not a proper scientist, he seems to have a better grasp on some of the core principles of science. As far as I can see, he has won every single substantive battle in this ongoing war (in the sense of being correct, not in the sense of convincing his opponents), but the Team continues to claim the opposite, at least in public. What about in private? One of the leaked emails has a former Director of the CRU saying:

“I have just read the M&M [McIntyre and McKitrick] stuff critcizing MBH [Mann et al.]. A lot of it seems valid to me. At the very least MBH is a very sloppy piece of work — an opinion I have held for some time.” (See the original email here.)

McIntyre’s emphasis on due diligence, arising from his experience in the mining industry, is one of the interesting angles on the story. The scientists consider peer review to be sufficient due diligence, but it’s become plain that for analyses that affect decisions with massive financial or social implications, it is not sufficient. Someone independent should be made responsible for actually replicating the key studies.

McIntyre’s blog is frequented by people who are, in the main, in the “sceptical” camp, but interestingly McIntyre himself has repeatedly said that if he were making policy decisions, he would use the IPCC as the best available evidence. He just wants to make sure that the information is up to scratch.

Hopefully, his contributions will be appropriately recognised in paleoclimatology one day. I guess it might not happen until after the Team has retired or otherwise lost its influence.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

Further reading

McKitrick, R. 2005. What is the hockey stick debate about? Paper presented to APEC Study Group, Australia, 4 April 2005, http://www.uoguelph.ca/~rmckitri/research/McKitrick-hockeystick.pdf

162 – CSIRO and the Clive Spash controversy

Recently CSIRO was in the news for allegedly suppressing the publication of a research paper that was critical of government policy on climate change.

In his paper, the author, Clive Spash, basically argues that an emissions trading scheme for greenhouse gases is not a good idea. CSIRO management asked Clive to withdraw the paper after it had already been peer reviewed and accepted by a journal.

The controversy made quite a splash in the media, particularly in the Australian newspaper (e.g. see here, here) and was reported around the world, with CSIRO copping a lot of flack.

Reading the available material, it seems to me that the story is a bit more nuanced than came across in the media.

The heart of the issue is CSIRO’s Policy on Public Comment by CSIRO Staff. The policy basically says it encourages public statements by CSIRO researchers, subject to some constraints. The critical constraint in this case is “Policy Statement 3. CSIRO staff should not advocate, defend or publicly canvass the merits of government or opposition policies (including policies of previous Commonwealth governments, or State or local or foreign governments).”

In explaining this policy, the document says:

As representatives of CSIRO, staff should avoid making direct comment for or against government or opposition policy. In this respect, CSIRO policy may differ from some Australian universities; CSIRO differs in that it is a Commonwealth Government agency. This gives CSIRO the advantage that it can participate directly in the internal policy development processes of government.

As Commonwealth officials CSIRO employees are bound by the Government Guidelines for Official Witnesses before Parliamentary Committees and Related Matters – November 1989. These guidelines state that Commonwealth officials:

Should not advocate, defend or canvass the merits of government policies (including policies of previous Commonwealth governments, or State or foreign governments).

 Now, there is something that I didn’t hear in the media. The constraint is not specific to CSIRO – it applies to all Commonwealth employees. CSIRO staff may be researchers, but they are still Commonwealth employees.

While I understand that CSIRO is unavoidably bound by these guidelines, I think it is fair enough for Clive Spash to point out that there is a problem here. It is one thing to say that an administrator in a Commonwealth Department should not be publicly advocating for or against a government policy, but it’s quite another to say that a researcher whose special area of research is evaluation of policy should not be allowed to put out a balanced and peer-reviewed assessment of government policy options, including the current policy. The further restriction in brackets (no comments on policies of previous governments or foreign governments) just seems quite ridiculous if applied to a serious policy researcher. If applied literally, it would mean, for example, that CSIRO researchers could not criticise the decision to import cane toads into Australia. Learning from such mistakes is probably something to be encouraged!

The Chief Executive of CSIRO, Megan Clark, sent an email to her staff reaffirming that “we cannot be a trusted advisor [to] government, industry, the community and people of Australia and at the same time publicly advocate or criticise a particular policy position of government or opposition.” I’m not sure that’s true, really, but even if it is, the policy as written goes much further than advocacy and criticism — it says Clive cannot “canvass the merits of government policies”.

Someone sent me a copy of Clive’s paper (it appears to be a version presented at a conference, which may differ somewhat from the version sent to the journal). I found a lot in the paper that I could agreed with. The headline point, that an emissions trading scheme is not likely to deliver worthwhile environmental, economic or social benefits, is a point I’ve made myself, although for rather different reasons (see PD160). A number of his points, I think, are fair enough.

On the other hand, I have to say, I also found a lot in the paper that I didn’t like. I can see why CSIRO management might feel that it wasn’t as balanced or dispassionate as it could be (remembering that I’ve probably only seen the conference version, not the journal version).

I understand that CSIRO and Clive have now agreed that the paper can be published, with minor changes. I guess this shows that the policy involves judgement and grey areas, because the paper will surely still “canvass the merits of government policies” even if it holds back on specific references to the details of current policy proposals. (Or maybe CSIRO just felt cornered.) [Note, 25 Nov 2009: I’m advised today by Clive that “the paper will not appear via CSIRO”, contrary to press reports. My statement above that agreement had been reached was based on a press report in which Megan Clark is quoted as saying “We have agreed to resolve this matter quickly and all parties will now work to make the amendments with the intention to have the paper ready for publication.” Looking at it again, that doesn’t actually say that they have reached agreement on publication.]

Notably, the government itself doesn’t seem worried about the paper, at least not publicly.

Senator Carr said the government was “not seeking to prevent people from having their say. We take the view that research is contestable, there is no finite answers. This is about people putting forward ideas for public debate.”

Looking at the media coverage, I was struck by the freedom with which Clive offered commentary about his employer. I was also struck that he has a page on his web site headed “Censorship!“. It includes a link to a motion in the senate that relates to the affair, in which he has highlighted the words “censorship” and “uncensored” in large, bold, red text. It seems to me that CSIRO management must have found this testing, and indeed must have been exercising restraint in their public comments. [Note, 2 Dec 2009: I see that the web site has now been toned down somewhat. The “Censorship!” heading has been changed to “Debating Carbon Emissions Trading” and the censorship words are no longer highlighted in red.]

Ironically, if it ever was an attempt by CSIRO to suppress the paper, it has rather backfired. It is now surely the most talked about Australian paper of the year.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

[Note, 25 Nov 2009: I previously falsely attributed a quote from a newspaper article to Clive Spash that was in fact said by Clive Hamilton. My apologies to both Clives for this mistake. Clive Spash contacted me today to point out this mis-quote and to correct my reliance on press coverage which had indicated that an agreement to publish the paper had been reached.]

[Note, 3 Dec 2009: Clive Spash has resigned from CSIRO and called for a government inquiry into the organisation and its interpretation of the Policy on Public Comment. See here.]