05 October 2009

Better Come Prepared

UPDATE: Dot Earth on the debate.

If you want to know why Steve McIntyre has a large following and the respect (often begrudging) from many professionals, you need look no further than his latest post on the Yamal controversy. Some people won't like his tone and others won't like how his work is used and spun in the political process. All fair complaints, but they are largely a side show to the substantive issues. And so long as Steve is delivering detailed, systematic and devastating substantive arguments -- and yes this post is all three -- he will continue to have a following and earn respect (however begrudging).

Anyone coming to this fresh who compares McIntyre's latest dissection with the recent screed from Real Climate will come to a similar judgment, I'd guess. I stand by my unsolicited advice to McIntyre that he needs to publish his work in the peer reviewed arena if he wants to have his work accepted and included in the mainstream scientific discourse. Meantime, those professionals, such as the guys at Real Climate, who want to do public battle over scientific issues on the blogs had better step up their game, because no matter how much the blog chorus gets whipped up about the tribal aspects of the debate, fair minded people observing events are going to come to a very different conclusion, like it or not.


  1. Credit where credit is due: McIntyre does seem to have good data analysis skills. He definitely has good story telling skills, especially in making the story read like a detective (with him as the detective, and climate scientists as the villains, of course). This latter aspect, and the way he spins his work himself, however subtle (“I believe that the archive is suspect.”) or sometimes not so subtle (“Try not to puke”), is not providing him with a lot of respect in the climate science community. So unless you have other professionals in mind, I think that statement is in error.

  2. The silence of the dendrochronologists is getting louder. Gavn and RealClimate just serve to amplify their silence.

  3. ourchangingclimate,

    I think you completely misunderstand attitudes in the climate science community.

    Even before Steve's comments, most climatologists held the paleoclimacte proxies in low regard, specifically because of the types of issues that Steve routinely brings to light.

    If you attempt to discuss this work, you are most likely to be advised that it "doesn't matter" or is "irrelevant", but you wouldn't have to search far to find somebody who vents about the low scientific standards involved [and I am talking about obvious AGW believers working at MIT in this paragraph].

    Even paleoclimatologists view these reconstructions as an plague on their field. Finnish paleoclimatologist Atte Korhola referred to them as an "embarrassment" [http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=7272], and this was in a discussion of the Kaufman paper; even before Steve sank his teeth into the Briffa data.

    However, until now, the reconstructionists have been tolerated because their work was seen as instrumental in making the argument for action on climate change.

    My educated guess is that Steve's recent work has real potential to change that. The errors in Briffa's and Mann's work are beginning to taint other work in which they are included (the body of peer reviewed climate science in general, and the IPCC and UNEP reports in particular).

    Climate Science is going to have to cut this diseased limb off, or risk damage to the tree.

    I doubt very much that you will see any climate scientists (not involved in a reconstruction) showing up to defend the reconstructionists.

  4. Excellent blog Roger. Perfect tone.

  5. re #1

    I'll go a step further and say that one would have to be a climate scientist to not respect what CA is doing. As our host points out, to any other stat/data analyst professional the quality of his work is obvious.

    It is a necessary but not sufficient condition, however, as some of the more science minded climate scientists seem to be giving grudging acknowledgement.

  6. I agree that McIntyre's work should be published in order to gain respectability from the mainstream scientits. Until this is done, he is one more rant out there. How can we separate the legitimate from ill-conceived work, if not by this process? His work seems serious, so let it be reviewed by other scientist. That's how science progresses.

  7. Yes, it is clear that many of the contributors to CA are professional scientists from other fields, who are impressed by the quality of his work. And that includes me. Yes he should try to publish more, and he could make his key points clearer to avoid being misunderstood, but the extent of his work and his attention to detail are quite remarkable.

  8. Paul et al:
    Not to mention the speed with which Steve McIntyre can deliver detailed analyses plus the DOCUMENTED code that is readily used by others.

  9. I fear that NASA's Gavin Schmidt has set a dangerous precedent by his actions relative to the "analyses" done by Tom P.

    It has been revealed to us by The Certified Climate Scientists, and over the years we have been subjected to uncountable lectures on the subject, that just any ole riff-raff are not allowed to wander in off the street and comment on any of the technical and science issues related to the Great Climate Change.

    The following is a rough list of bona fides required by RC in order for comments to be valid prior to Tom P.

    1. Certified Climatologist

    2. Peer-Reviewed Publications

    3. In only the Properly-Certified Journals

    4. In only those Journals having a High-Impact Factor

    5. Known and verified Educational Pedigree

    6. Comments limited to areas consistent with 5.

    7. Comments of 6 also limited to the extent of 5 at the time of graduation

    8. Replication from a clean slate

    9. No reliance on any aspects of previous work

    10. No funding by Big Oil, Big Gas, Big Coal, or any organizations associated with Big Fossil in any way

    11. No previous work experience in any of 10

    12. No funding by "conservative" think tanks.

    13. No funding by any think tanks to which 10 gives support

    14. Previous work results are known so that source can be used to dismiss or accept all results

    15. Proper identification so that 14 can be invoked

    So far as I know, Tom P.'s status has not been established for any of these requirements.

    Additionally, look at what Schmidt has done. He has accepted point blank all the results from the blackest of black boxes as replication of Steve McIntyre's work. There is no light whatsoever shinning on Tom P.'s data, equations, coding, solution of the equations, interpretation of the results of the analyses; everything Tom P. has done is unknown.

    Equally important, it has previously been revealed to us that replication requires that none of the original work can be used in the replication. Tom P.'s analyses could have only been completed because he used information provided by McIntyre. Tom P. used everything McIntyre supplied and nothing more. Tom P.'s work has absolutely nothing original in it.

    This is all very un-settling. Who are we supposed to believe; Gavin Schmidt's former requirements or his recent actions? How can we ever know which comments are valid and which are not?

    There is a excellent up-side to this situation. In the future every time anyone at RealClimate throws up one of the previous requirements as sufficient reason to not even look at technical and science issues raised by a commenter, we can invoke the precedent set by Gavin.

  10. Eric, PaulM,

    What you say basically confirms my feeling, that no matter how good of a stats/data analyst he might be, the context of what it means scientifically is lacking or misinterpreted. Great attention to detail, at the cost of the big picture.


  11. #10

    You are suggesting that the data needs to be made to conform to the big picture? Funny, that confirms my feeling.

    To the contrary I would assert that if the details of your analysis are not right neither are the results.

  12. Great attention to detail, at the cost of the big picture.

    "Caress the Detail, the Divine Detail" (V.Nabokov)

  13. #10
    I am not sure I understand your comment. To which "big picture" do you refer? And precisely who is missing this "big picture"?

  14. The larger question becomes how does someone like Gavin Schmidt miss the comical errors in the "analysis" offered by a Tom P?

    One is tempted to think Schmidt liked the conclusions Tom P reached so much he didn't care how he got there.

    Of course, for anyone worried about the tone of the debate it doesn't help to read Russell Seitz's comment at Dot Earth:

    "Splicing data sets into climate proxies is a gnarly enough business without one Alberta mining statistician on a hobby horse pretending to be Dudley Dooright of the RCMP"

    Oh, those Cambridge phyicists... how do they live in a world populated with all the common folk and assorted riff-raff (i.e. statisticans)?

    Must be hard.

  15. I believe Thomas Peterson of NCDC was the author responsible for drafting the (very poorly done) Talking Points memo used to try to respond to Anthony Watts. I wonder if the person who identified himself as Tom P. in putting together a similarly shoddy rejoinder to a skeptic has any relationship to him or chose the moniker because of him.

  16. If I'm not mistaken, Certified Climate Scientists are on the record that splicing actual temperature data to proxies is not to be done, ever!

  17. One meme that strikes time and time again when reading through the posts about McIntyre at RC is that McIntyre is seen as somehow "muddying up" the "science" or diminishing it in some way. I am a scientist (albeit one in a field that thankfully has nothing to do with the climate or politics). And, I have to say, I can think of few things that would be more beneficial to me or my field than if I had a detail-oriented critical reader reimplementing everything I ever published and thinking about it from a different perspective.

    The idea that what McIntyre is doing is somehow not part of the scientific process or diminishing it is absurd. Any serious scientist can read through an argument by McIntyre or look at his code and determine instantly whether he's a crank or has a point (contrary to the parade of horribles that the concern trolls at RC throw up there, this is a skill that any working scientist will have). Yes, laypeople can be confused by cranks, and this is perhaps a concern, but scientists will not be.

    Now, from a political activism perspective, having an agent like McIntyre calling into question your results is more problematic. Yet RC does claim to be about the science, not the activism...

  18. Have you linked to the correct article Roger? The tone of some RC posts could be better and they could definitely remove some incivilty from comments but the posting you've linked to make them look models of courtesy. It is to use your words "a nasty and vituperative" critique at great length of blog comments made by a "Tom P".

    And apparently the reason why we should care whether "Tom P" is right or wrong is that when Tom P also commented at RC, Gavin Schmidt said it was outside outside his expertise but "Tom P. above showed that the Yamal curve was robust to homogenising the age structure"

    Steven MacIntyre writing is such that I can't even tell whether he agrees or disagrees with this statement let alone why he does, or if he believe it is important.

    I'm even less sure why we should care if a climate modeler is right or wrong in assessing anonymous blog comments about dendroclimatology.

    Presumably Steven MacIntyre blog regulkars find the many references to "Gavin's Guru" etc amusing - its hard to believe even they enjoy the he-said-I-said stuff. Your fair-minded observers won't even try to wade through.

  19. The reason TomP suffered the special treatment from CA is that Gavin Schmidt supportted him. TomP would be far too small a prey to warrant a whole post under normal circumstances. His arguments had already been demolished elsewhere.

    The tone at RC does seem a bit strange - sort of childish and pathetic, especially so as they purport to be proper scientists.

    Lets not lose sight of the fact that the data behind the Yamal chronology had been hidden for 10 years with the complicity of all the co-authors, all the reviewers, and all the journals.

  20. andrewt, did you even try to read Steve McIntyre's (not Steven MacIntyre, don't know who that is) post? Considering you couldn't see the most basic issue of TomP's analysis I wonder...

    Anyway, TomP's first and probably greatest analysis issue is his seeming inability to recognize identical series. He talks of a "great correlation" between two series, when the reality is that the correlation should be perfect b/c the series are one and the same.

    TomP's analysis is amateur at best and in his rush to defend the RC team and rebut SM he showed himself to be completely clueless as to the substantive basics of the entire issue.

  21. Jason S. writes
    "I think you completely misunderstand attitudes in the climate science community.

    Even before Steve's comments, most climatologists held the paleoclimacte proxies in low regard, specifically because of the types of issues that Steve routinely brings to light."

    This is an interesting comment. I don't find the comment surprising, but only because I regularly follow SM's blog. One would not be left with this impression, however, by reading any edition of the IPCC.
    Of course, this is not surprising to any one who reads Roger, Jr.'s or Roger, Sr.'s blogs. Roger, Sr. has repeatedly pointed out the conflict of interest that exists when the final editorial control of each chapter of the IPCC is held by the same persons whose publications are being assessed.
    You should not be surprised that I, as a layman, am curious how the general climate science community views the scenarios generated by the climate models.

  22. Hi Roger,

    I have posted my take on McIntyre’s role at my blog, referring also to our discussion here. (http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2009/10/06/mcintyres-role-in-the-latest-teapot-tempest/)

    My basic point is that he seems to be making a lot of insinuations of dishonesty, and after people run away with his message and distort it even further, he retracts some of them. But then the damage is done.

    Of course, we can agree to disagree about this, as you suggested, but I thought I’d let you know about my post since it builds on our discussion here.