Friday, December 11, 2009

The Great Climate-Gate Debate at MIT

I attended The Great Climate-Gate Debate yesterday at MIT. It was videotaped, so maybe eventually it will be available online, but for the moment, here is a brief and possibly inaccurate description based on notes I took during the event.

It wasn't really a debate. None of the participants really addressed each other in any substantial way. It consisted of 5 10-minute presentations, followed by questions from the audience. My summaries of each speaker are given below, with my comments in italics.




The first speaker was Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric sciences at MIT. He contrasted the situation in science with politics. In science the truth will win out; but politics enters the scence because the coal industry will lose billions. They spend lavishly in campaigns to protect themselves. Just like the tobacco industry, which set up fake grassroots organizations to deny the connection between smoking and lung cancer, the anti-AGW [anthropogenic global warming] crowd sets up similar organizations. The tobacco industry's efforts were successful: it took decades before smoking began going down.

The anti-AGW efforts are even more successful. The scientific consensus is clear. All scientific organizations agree. Yet polls show that the percentage of the American public who believes that global warming is human-caused is decreasing. How did this come to pass? By deployment by vested interests of advertising techniques. Terminology is controlled. Deniers are called skpetics. Most of the people called skeptics are not really skeptics, since no evidence would persuade them. By contrast, people who take the problem seriously are called "alarmists". The public relations machine has been successful in branding atmospheric scientists as out-of-touch liberals who want to return to an agrarian society. On the other hand, deniers are compared to Galileo.

The thousands of e-mail messages that were stolen show scientists at work. Among them are a few lines of scientists showing human failings. Scientifically it means nothing. But it is a windfall for the anti-AGW machine.

The next speaker was Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology in the Department of Earth Sciences at MIT. He started by denying that there is an anti-AGW machine. [Hard to take this seriously: exactly who does Lindzen think is behind ads like the ones reported here?] He doesn't know what AGW has to do with smoking. [It's because, as Emanuel clearly stated, the techniques used by the deniers on both sides are similar. Also, Lindzen himself -- a smoker -- is famous for his skepticism on the link between smoking and cancer, so I imagine it was a little dig at him.] It's a red herring. What we're here to talk about is e-mail and computer code. There's no chance that some machine unknown to Lindzen is behind this.

The relaeased documents are unambiguously dealing with things that are unethical and illegal. There is no good in any scientific organization endorsing this. The documents show scientists manipulating raw temperature data. [Uh, manipulation of raw data goes on all the time; that's why it's called raw data.] They refused to allow outsiders access to data. [Uh, because they signed a non-disclosure agreement]. They destroy data rather than release it. They don't allow responses to their papers to be published. This is not ethical.

What are the implication? It won't have much influence on Copenhagen. You don't get 20,000 people to change direction. Very few people can read these documents and not conclude that there was something bad going on. There is diminishing popular support for this issue. This is not mass hysteria, this is elite hysteria. The notion that science is prone to cheating and if Kerry [Emanuel] is right, that this is endorsed by scientific organizations, is detrimental to science. If your information environment is NPR and the New York Times, you believe one thing. If your information environment is talk radio, you believe another. He recommended Anthony Watts' blog. It's good that ordinary people can check the temperature measurements; people are discovering bizarre changes to the data.

Next was Judith Layzer, who is a professor of Environmental Policy at MIT. [I didn't get much out of what she was saying.] She is an observer of science. She concluded by saying that scientists are fallible but offer the best hope of understanding the natural world.

Next was Stephen Ansolabehere, professor of Political Science at MIT. [I didn't get much out of what he said, either.] Scientific evidence hasn't been vetted the way it should. So far it's in scientific journals, congressional committees, etc., not vetted in public the way it should be. However, the e-mails don't affect most of the data people are using. But it does raise a fundamental question of science - the importance of scientific standards. It raises the question of how science can maintain its standards as it gets pulled into public debates. Who is going to police scinece and maintain its public credibility? One of the great crimes is the violation of the standard of replicability. Who is going to discipline the scientists? What will the response be from scientific academies?

The last speaker was Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT. He began speaking about the hockey stick. In answer to Lindzen, we care about a few tenths of a degree because it is important to compare current temperatures with historical data. He looked at the emails and was disturbed. He discussed the disagreement between Michael Mann & McIntyre-McKittrick. Around 1850, the blade "sticks out" (referring to rise in northern hemisphere temperatures). It did disturb him when looking at the emails to see the personal nature of the discussion. Are some of the e-mails unprofessional? Yes.

Were the people successful in preventing publication? Five papers by McIntyre were published and discussed in the 4th IPCC. There's a signficant case to be made that temperatures are higher - the "blade" has survived the scrutiny. It's unclear if the "handle" is straight or broken. People will think of other proxies. Were the people successful in the endeavor that seemed to be stated in the emails? No.

Was the research at E. Anglia critical to the case for climate change? He looked at this because he gave testimony about climate change. There are many different lines of evidence. Several independent data sets exist - the work at UEA is not the only group. Without even including analysis from UEA the conclusion that most of the warming is human-caused remains robust. Since 1997 to 2007 when he gave testimony in the House Ways and Means Committee, he changed his mind. The new data was enough to convince me that there was statistical significance to the conclusion. His view is that we have no other planet to retreat to if we are wrong. If we screw up this planet, what do we do?

Has the integrity at the IPCC been compromised by these revelations? UEA people were involved at IPCC. IPCC is arguably the most influential. Those emails did not lead to McIntyre-McKittrick papers not being discussed. Answer is no.

Is public perception of climate science affected? Media ability to scrutinize is a problem. E-mails contain a lot of juicy soundbites who want to write stories. Answer is yes.

Can we do better? Climate researchers need to step back from the tendency to polarization. Scientists have got to stop that process. That means having mutual respect. I have great respect for both of these guys (Lindzen and Emanuel) as excellent scientists. Find additional ways to communicate conclusions and the ways conclusions were reached. A single paper is not enough. Many results needed before consensus is reached.

Peer-reviewed literature is where science is done. Not in blogs or opinion pieces. These should not be the source of information. Can we do better? The answer is yes.




After the presentations, there were many questions. I did not take notes during the Q & A. If the event video is ever shown, you can see me asking a question towards the end.

Finally, one minor note that bugged me. Speakers referred to each other using their first names, making it hard to follow. If only the organizers had bothered to put a card in front of each speaker, with their full name, the audience would have been much better off.

Update: the video of the event is now available.

49 comments:

Joe G said...

I say that humans are polluting the Earth and that needs to stop.

I say we are wasting resources and could make much better use of the resources we have.

But are humans causing the climate to change via CO2 emissions?

Climate Change - Is CO2 the cause? - Pt 1 of 4

Watch all 4 videos.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

It figures that Joe would be a climate denier, too.

Dunning-Kruger in spades.

Jim Lippard said...

I think Emanuel's comparison to smoking is apt. I'm skeptical that mitigation efforts will succeed, and suspect that the conservative think tanks that are behind the heavy promotion of climate change denial will be in the same position as the Tobacco Institute today (defunct, with the tobacco companies now defending themselves in court by saying that of course they were obviously lying and everybody knew that smoking caused cancer, therefore they can't be held liable for lying) a few decades hence.

Unfortunately, the toll is likely to be a lot higher than it was for smoking.

Pedro said...

"Climate denier"?? Sorry wrong door! I accidentally walked into a Obama Youth indoctrination chamber.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Pedro:

Time to take your meds.

Joe G said...

Jeffrey,

What temperature should the Earth be?

How much CO2 should our atmosphere contain?

How much ice should be at the poles?

How much ice should be locked up in glaciers?

Did you know that ice cores have revealed that the CO2 concentration was once as high as 1950 ppm?

Compare that to the 385 ppm today.

And life thrived during that higher CO2 concentration.

So the bottom line is no one knows what the Earth's temp should be.

No one knows how much CO2 our atmosphere should contain- plants need CO2 BTW.

And no one has demonstrated that a warmer Earth is a bad thing.

So when one looks at all that it is amazing that anyone accepts man induced climate change.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Joe:

Take a course on atmospheric science and get back to me.

Joe G said...

IOW you can't answer the questions.

What about those scientists who disagree with AGW/ climate change?

They include those with knowledge of atmospheric science.

The point being is if my questions cannot be answered- if they could be those answers would be leading the debate- then all you have is a "chicken little" scenario.

The climate changes. We know that.

CO2 doesn't have anything to do with it.

Now if you want to talk about waste and pollution, I am all for that discussion.

CO2- plants need the stuff. Don't tell me that CO2 is a pollutant either. That is a major goal-post move and a sure sign someone is on an agenda.

Ooops libertards already did that!

Whatever works I guess.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Joe:

The consensus is overwhelming on AGW. Read the IPCC report. I don't have the time to waste on Dunning-Kruger case studies, sorry.

Joe G said...

Jeffrey,

Science is not done by consensus.

That you think so tells me you do not understand science.

I have read the IPCC report and reports and data that refute it.

But again all that is moot because you can't even answer my questions.

And without those answers you don't have anything but a "chicken little" scenrio.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Classic Dunning-Kruger, Joe. Congrats!

Joe G said...

Whatever Jeffrey.

If you can't support your position just say so.

inconvenient objection said...

Bringing up the smoking issue against Lindzen, as you do, impresses me as a pure smear tactic.

Here's all I find in the very article you link to:

"He'll even expound on how weakly lung cancer is linked to cigarette smoking."

Now I think anyone who reads publications like Newsweek with any understanding realizes that this sentence written by the standard issue media reporter would be consistent with all kinds of innocuous explanations for what Lindzen might really have said. Anyone but a complete naif or partisan, after reading such sentence, will instantly object to the vicious use of paraphrase: "Excuse me, you just made a damning accusation against this guy -- don't you think you have an important obligation to quote what the man said, word for word, so we can ourselves evaluate how outrageous what he said might be?"

And in fact I go to Lindzen's Wiki entry, and what I find is this more concrete characterization of Lindzen's views here from a Lindzen critic:

"...Fred Singer and Richard Lindzen (who, in earlier incarnations, had been active denialists of the link between passive smoking and lung cancer, despite neither having any medical expertise)."

Now I would think that if this critic had the goods on Lindzen, and could fairly attribute to him the far more extreme view that Lindzen believed the connection between ordinary smoking and lung cancer was weak, he would have relished saying so. It is telling that he did not do so.

Now as I myself look at the Wiki entry on passive smoking, I find some studies supporting its connection to lung cancer, but I certainly don't see anything described that makes the evidence seem overwhelming, as it would be for ordinary smoking. What certainly makes a priori sense, given that passive smoke in the air is several orders of magnitude less concentrated than smoke directly inhaled from a cigarette into one's lungs, is that the evidence might not be so overpowering, and that it might be relatively weak. And even if one believes the evidence is still reasonably good, I don't see how it can be fair to suggest that someone who describes the evidence as "weak" is somehow, ipso facto, a crazy denier.

No matter what, someone who holds the evidence is weak in favor of a connection between passive smoking and lung cancer is a horse of a very different color from someone who believes that the evidence is weak between active smoking and lung cancer.

But of course why should facts get in the way of a satisfying smear?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Bringing up the smoking issue against Lindzen, as you do, impresses me as a pure smear tactic.

Moron. I was reporting on the event and explaining why Emanuel said what he did.

inconvenient objection said...

You say in your post,

"Also, Lindzen himself -- a smoker -- is famous for his skepticism on the link between smoking and cancer, so I imagine it was a little dig at him."

Excuse me, who brought up the smear of Lindzen regarding what he has supposedly said about smoking and lung cancer? Was it mentioned in any of the talk? Not from anything you've said -- you chose to bring it up.

And I'm sure of course that you didn't in any way intend this as a way of undermining Lindzen's authority. You were just "reporting". This despite the fact that every single thing you say in brackets in your "report" of Lindzen's comments is a clear criticism of Lindzen.

Spare me your rationalizations.

If you're going to come out, on your own, with a claim to about Lindzen that is a strong attack on his character, I should think you'd attempt to determine whether it is soundly based.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

If you can't support your position just say so.

There's no point, since you've repeatedly proved you are incapable of understanding. I prefer to save my time for people who are teachable.

Anonymous said...

You may want to check this out to see what Freeman Dyson has to say abour climate change.


http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dysonf07/dysonf07_index.html

Jeffrey Shallit said...

If you're going to come out, on your own, with a claim to about Lindzen that is a strong attack on his character, I should think you'd attempt to determine whether it is soundly based.

The claim about Lindzen has appeared in many sources, is well-known to anyone involved in the climate debate, and I cited one place where it appeared, namely, Newsweek. You try to explain it away, but it's there. The context of Emanuel's remark seems clear - it is a little dig at Lindzen.

If someone made a false claim about me in Newsweek, I'd be damn sure to correct the record in a letter to the editor. There doesn't seem to be such a letter.

I'll gladly retract my claim if you can come up with some actual evidence that it is false. So far you are just blowing smoke (!) - and blowing it over an extremely minor point.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anonymous:

And Freeman Dyson should be believed about climate change because....

Of his expertise in atmospheric science? Or because of his many publications in the subject? Or what, exactly?

Dyson is a very smart guy who has also said some very stupid things about my own field. I wouldn't trust him on climate change any more that I would trust him about computational complexity.

Brenda said...

In the Kerry Emanuel section, it says: "Terminology is controlled. Deniers are called skpetics. Most of the people called skeptics are not really skeptics, since no evidence would persuade them. By contrast, people who take the problem seriously are called "alarmists".

Wow, talk about "terminology is controlled"! If 90% of the people called skeptics are not really skeptics, but rather deniers, then what do we call the other 10%? I know, we call them deniers as well, since we control the terminology!

Just like no one can deny that many of the "skeptics" are indeed "deniers", it must also be true that many of the proponents of AGW can be called alarmists.

Commenter Jim Lippard writes: "I'm skeptical that mitigation efforts will succeed,"

Nope, you're in denial that it will succeed! (Ha, just kidding.)

Joe G said...

Jeffrey,

I understand science and data very well.

You just cannot produce any that supports your position.

And I understand that completely.

Ben said...

Joe G:

Geologists are well aware that earth's temperature in the past has been much warmer than it is now. The issue is not so much the average global temperature itself, but rather the rapid change of global climate. While there is no doubt that life can thrive in much higher global temperatures, sudden jolts in that temperature could cause massive disruptions in the ecosystem, as organisms may not have sufficient time to adapt.

Your claim that carbon dioxide does not cause warming indicates an ignorance of basic earth science that I learned in elementary school. Aside from closer proximity to the sun, the main difference between the atmosphere of Venus and that of Earth is that the former is dominated by nitrogen and carbon dioxide, while the latter is dominated by nitrogen and oxygen. Venus, despite being farther from the sun than Mercury, has a higher surface temperature, due to a runaway greenhouse effect caused by its carbon dioxide atmosphere. Now while there is little danger of that happening on earth to this degree, it does show what carbon dioxide can do when present in the atmosphere in large quantities.

http://www.iop.org/EJ/abstract/0034-4885/66/10/R04/

Joe G said...

Ben,

Without greenhouse gasses the Earth would be so cold humans would be in peril.

385 parts per million Ben.

What is the scientific data that demonstrates 385 part per million is enough CO2 to tip the climate?

How much CO2 should be in the atmosphere Ben and what is the scientific data that supports your number?

As for Venus- give me a break.

Its atmosphere is almost primarily CO2- no parts per million there. No comparison either.

And it is the dense CO2 atmosphere coupled with its thick clouds of sulfur dioxide that produced its runaway green house effect.

Runaway green house effect would be the last thing we had to worry about if the Earth had the same atmosphere as Venus.

And Ben my claim is that 385 parts per million doesn't cause climate change.

I have noticed that no one has presented the data which shows otherwise.

Go figure...

Anonymous said...

Joe G proclaims:

"And Ben my claim is that 385 parts per million doesn't cause climate change."

We'd best listen to him - he's got a degree in electronics!

Joe G said...

Well anonymous coward, you could provide the scientific data that demonstrates 385 parts per million is enough to tip the climate.

That is you could if such data existed.

What is the scientific data that demonstrates 385 part per million is enough CO2 to tip the climate?

How much CO2 should be in the atmosphere anonymous coward and what is the scientific data that supports your number?

My prediction- more personal attacks and no scientific data.

Sweet...

Jeffrey Shallit said...

This article:

Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?
pp.217-231 (15) Authors: James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, David Beerling, Robert Berner, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Mark Pagani, Maureen Raymo, Dana L. Royer, James C. Zachos
doi: 10.2174/1874282300802010217

published in the Open Atmospheric Journal, answers Joe's question. But just watch him dismiss it without reading it.

Anonymous: it's a total waste of time arguing with Joe: he's both arrogant and ignorant, and too stupid to know what he doesn't know.

Joe G said...

Jeffrey,

You act as if there aren't any scientists who doubt AGW.

In fact there are many- one I linked to in the first comment.

There are meteorologists and climatologists who also disagree with AGW.

I will finish the article you linked to later...

Jeffrey Shallit said...

You act as if there aren't any scientists who doubt AGW.


The opinions of scientists who aren't climate scientists are worth about as much as your opinion and mine.

And yes, there are climate scientists who doubt AGW, but they are in the minority.

To claim otherwise is to be a liar - something Joe is expert at.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I will finish the article you linked to later...

Doubtful - it's not written in crayon.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Well anonymous coward

Spoken without any apparent irony - despite the fact that "Joe G" doesn't post under his full name.

Joe G said...

Jeffrey:
And yes, there are climate scientists who doubt AGW, but they are in the minority.

Science is not a democracy.

Nature, Not Human Activity,
Rules the Climate


Prediction- attack the authors not the evidence.

REality Check CO2

Again attack the author not the evidence.

And if the article you linked to wasn't written in crayon how the hell did you understand it?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Science is not a democracy.

A stupid comment, which is doesn't begin to address the complexities of the debate.

When the vast majority of the world's climate scientists come down on one side, and a tiny minority dispute their claims, the smart money is on the majority side - especially when the stakes are so high.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Joe:

Any idiot can produce links to websites arguing against global warming. But the honest idiot won't proffer links to bogus
claims, like those of Fred Singer - which is exactly what you did.

Singer's bogus claims about cosmic rays were debunked long ago.

Why is it that all you have to offer is lies, lies, and more lies?

D. Swart said...

Mr. Gallien's last name can be discerned within a Google search for

"IOW", "Ya", and "opposable"

Anonymous said...

"Global warming" is a hoax contrived as an attempt to generate "research" funding. Their devotion to the cause is of a religious nature. Never mind that the planet has been cooling for more than a decade. Gotta scare the populace into supporting our agenda.

By the way, what is the "optimal" temperature of the planet anyway.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Never mind that the planet has been cooling for more than a decade.

Go read this and come back when you've understood it.

"Global warming" is a hoax contrived as an attempt to generate "research" funding.

On second thought, don't bother coming back. Anyone who thinks global warming is a hoax to generate research funds is clearly so far gone as to be unreachable by actual facts.

What's next, P != NP is a hoax by theoretical computer scientists?

Anonymous said...

Go read this and come back when you've understood it.

I read it, and understand perfectly well that it is IPCC-inspired propaganda posted by a Warmista True Believer.

Anyone who thinks global warming is a hoax to generate research funds is clearly so far gone as to be unreachable by actual facts.

Riiiiiiight.

So tell me Jeffrey, what happens to all of that "research" funding if (when) we find global warming is not happening? What are all of these climate "scientists" going to "study"? Might some of them have to go get real jobs?

What's next, P != NP is a hoax by theoretical computer scientists?

Strawman, and you know it. Theoretical computer scientists aren't running around hysterically shrieking that the sky is falling and global warming will be the death of us all unless we all stop using the internal combustion engine yesterday.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

it is IPCC-inspired propaganda posted by a Warmista True Believer.

Just name calling on your part, no facts.

Might some of them have to go get real jobs?

Why do you think being a climate scientist is not a real job? It's more of a real job than being a theoretical computer scientist.

Strawman, and you know it.

Not a strawman at all - you are claiming that climate scientists issue warnings about global warming because they are motivated by research funds. Of course you haven't provided a shred of evidence to support this claim. You could just as well say "Theoretical computer scientists dramatically overstate the importance of their work to get research funds."

Anonymous said...

Just name calling on your part, no facts.

Spoken without any apparent irony by someone who also said:

Classic Dunning-Kruger

Time to take your meds.

Moron.

you've repeatedly proved you are incapable of understanding

he's both arrogant and ignorant, and too stupid to know what he doesn't know

Doubtful - it's not written in crayon.

Project much?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Nice try, anonymous coward.

If I lose my patience from time to time dealing with morons, that doesn't give people who say "it is IPCC-inspired propaganda posted by a Warmista True Believer" a free pass.

AGW Skeptic said...

Jeffrey bleated:

Just name calling on your part, no facts.

Then wailed:

Nice try, anonymous coward.

If I lose my patience from time to time dealing with morons, that doesn't give people who say "it is IPCC-inspired propaganda posted by a Warmista True Believer" a free pass.

Thus demonstrating his obliviousness to irony!

Not to mention giving a splendid demonstration of Dunning Kruger!

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Joe, why are you hiding behind multiple phony aliases?

AGW Skeptic said...

Joe, why are you hiding behind multiple phony aliases?

I'm not Joe, and I'm not hiding behind anything. And why did you completely fail to address my argument about you wailing about name-calling before and after engaging in it yourself? Projection on your part?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

"completely fail to address my argument"

- If you had an argument, it is not apparent to me.

Why do you refuse to sign your real name?

If you're really Anthony Watts, then it's a complete waste of time.

Joe G said...

Wow I just had some comments from this nonsense show up in my inbox-

No Jeff, I have nothing to hide from the likes of you.

I'm the kind of person that would say things right to your face in the hope you would take a swing.

Am I clear?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Joe -

If we ever met in person, I suspect I'd be laughing so hard at you that I couldn't get a word out.

Joe G said...

Yup most likely you will be drooling and in need of a diaper change too...

Jeremiah Sasparilla said...

If you had an argument, it is not apparent to me.

You can't possibly be this stupid. I'm going to assume, therefore, that you are being deliberately obtuse.

You whinged about name-calling, then proceeded to do exactly the same thing in the same comment. This is called projection. When called on it, you ignored the critcism and instead chose to trot out a rancid old red herring about my "real name".

Why do you refuse to sign your real name?

Why don't you prove that your real name is "Jeffrey Shallit"?

If I told you that my real name is Mariano J Hasenfeffer, how would that strengthen or weaken my arguments? What if I was Jeremy Smith? Or Wayne Gretzky? Or George W. Bush?

Why the obsession with other people's names?

If you're really Anthony Watts, then it's a complete waste of time.

What is? Signing my real name? Then why obsess over it?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

This is called projection.

No, actually it's not. You need to look up "projection" to understand. If anything, it might be "hypocrisy", but it's not "projection".

I am completely uninterested in arguing about whether or not I should have called a moron a moron, so if that's all you have to say, feel free to leave.

Your argument about anonymity is silly. You're welcome to come to my office and see my driver's license to verify my name; I can't do the same for you because you are using a phony name.

Arguing with Anthony Watts is a waste of time because it's already been established that he's routinely wrong on facts but doesn't admit it.