Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What I Learned from Climategate

I am still struck by how many intelligent people, some of whom I respect, say that the Climategate emails are a ho-hum matter. They apparently know a lot more about how "mainstream" climatologists work than I do. I actually learned four things that I did not know before. Apparently, they did know these things. At the risk of boring someone, and in the spirit of getting on the same page, let me list these things:

1. I had thought the the famous hockey stick graph and other global temperature information represented in some direct way readings of actual thermometers in the real world. In fact, these results do not directly report such raw data. Rather, climatologists nudge and tweak the raw data in various ways. This is understandable, in and of itself. After all, there are a great many of these thermometers around the world, and they record their data in a variety of situations. Some sit near air conditioners that spew hot air, others sit on pavement, or on rooftops, or on green grass. Not all have equal value. Adjustments or allowances must be made. This wouldn't be so bad, of course, if these tweaks follow fixed formulas, which are published.

2. In fact, these adjustments in the data do not follow fixed formulas. Well, that is not good, but it wouldn't be so bad if these adjustments in the data are not being made by people who think they know what the results of the data ought to be. However,

3. These adjustments are being made by people who have very strong, even passionate views on what the results are supposed to be. Hm. Well, this doesn't look good. But it's not really, really bad, as far as the science involved is concerned, if the raw data are publicly available and can be checked by others, to see if they get the same results from the same thermometer readings. Science is all about reproducible results, after all! But, no...

4. The raw data are not publicly available. In fact, that is what precipitated Climategate in the first place. Somebody actually had put in a Freedom of Information Act (England has a FOIA, just as the US does) request to see the damn data. Many of the emails involve these climatologists conspiring to continue to conceal this information. Indeed one of the things I learned from Climategate (but didn't seem to surprise certain other people) was that a significant portion of these data had been deliberately destroyed and cannot ever be checked by anyone.

The people who say "this is what academics are like" and "this is how science works" evidently knew all this. I have to confess my ignorance here: I did not. I learned it from the Climategate emails.

I should add the it is also clear that the academics and scientists that these people know are very different from the ones that I have known.
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