Climate Data: Top Secret!
Bizarrely, Britain's main climate monitoring unit is purging its temperature records from public view. Hmmm.
August 10, 2009 - 12:00 am
There are, to their great credit, true scientists employed by government institutions. A “mole” inside the British CRU released the raw British data to Steve McIntyre, after McIntyre’s Freedom of Information requests for the data were repeatedly refused. CRU’s discovery that they had a “mole” led them to make all raw data unavailable to non-members of the AGW fraternity.
Steve McIntyre is not a professional climatologist at all, but a mining engineer who spends most of his career doing “due diligence” for mining claims. If you are thinking of investing in a mine, you want to be sure that the mine has not been salted with fake ore and you want to know that the mine has been independently checked to make sure the amount of real ore the mine promoters claim is there is actually there. McIntyre was such an independent mine checker.
Having some time on his hands a few years ago, McIntyre decided it would be fun to check a graph that was the smoking gun of AGW evidence — the infamous hockey stick graph first published in Nature, the leading British science journal. The hockey stick was supposedly a plot of Earth’s temperature over the past few centuries. The temperature vs. time graph was essentially flat until the twentieth century, where it shot up rapidly. The curve resembled a hockey stick, hence the name.
McIntyre requested the raw data and the algorithm used to analyze the data from the lead author and was surprised when this request was refused. The public release of this sort of information is required by law if one is selling a mine, but secrecy is allowed if one is selling a plan to take over the U.S. economy.
McIntyre managed to get the key data — most of it was available publicly from other sources — but the authors of the hockey stick have not released their algorithm to this day. What McIntyre thinks the algorithm does is give enormous weight to any data set that shows recent global warming, and very little weight to those data sets showing recent global cooling. With such an algorithm, McIntyre was able to generate a hockey stick from random noise. A committee of the National Academy of Sciences and a separate committee organized by the leading U.S. academy of statisticians concluded that indeed the hockey stick was a statistical artifact, not evidence of real world global warming.
Imagine what the outcome would have been if the raw data had been secret. We would still believe in hockey stick climatology. The Medieval Warm Period, which is confirmed by historical records from all over the world but which was not present in the hockey stick, would have gone down the memory hole.
What truly shocked me was the fact that many of the leading scientific organizations — in particular the American Association for the Advance of Science (which publishes the leading U.S. science journal Science) and the National Academy of Science — supported the hockey stick authors’ refusal to make their algorithm public. The leading “science” organizations are now officially opposed to checking “science” that supports the party line.
The public — and true scientists who are not members of the inner party — are expected to accept their leaders’ decrees on faith. In other words, the leading U.S. “science” organizations are no longer in the science business.
How did we ever come to this? Government financing of scientific research caused it.
“It has been confirmed by science” is an enormous argument in support of any position, and all politicians know it. This is why Karl Marx called his system “scientific socialism.” In any new field of research — climatology was a new field thirty years ago — scientists differ enormously. Some scientists will think global warming is occurring, some will think not. Of those who believe that the Earth is warming, some will believe that humans are the culprits; others will think that natural forces are responsible. Step in the politicians.
They realize that there is an enormous advantage to them if the public believes in AGW. So they initially provide research grants only to those who agree with them. Excuse me — the politicians provide grants only to competent scientists who just happen to agree with them. These AGW scientists, the only ones with federal grants, are much more likely to get university jobs, since universities are now almost wholly dependent on federal money. These new professors of climatology, mainly true believers in AGW, teach their students to believe in AGW and make sure that only true believers can get grants and thus tenure at universities.
Soon there are none but true believers in the field: a consensus has been reached! (Gary Taubes in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories details how similar politician guidance occurred in nutrition science during the 1950s and 1960s. Taubes argues that the resulting bad advice on nutrition is one of the causes of today’s obesity epidemic.)
Unfortunately, the facts stubbornly refuse to confirm AGW. So the leaders of the field now start to “correct” the data to show an AGW signature. These climatologists are not conscious frauds. They truly believe in AGW, and thus truly believe that the data must show AGW. So they “correct” the data until it does. This sort of unconscious fakery occurs all the time in science, because a scientist must really, really believe his theory to be true. If he didn’t, he never would invest the time needed to develop the theory. Einstein spent ten years developing general relativity.
This phenomenon of scientists “correcting” the data to confirm a pet theory is well known. Isaac Asimov based a mystery novel, A Whiff of Death, on it. Eugenie Samuel Reich describes a real-life recent condensed matter physics example in Plastic Fantastic. In the past, what has saved science from these frauds by true-believer scientists is independent experimental checking by skeptics.
Sadly, this mechanism has been corrupted in all areas of science. The editors of the leading science journals, for example Nature and Science, are no longer outstanding scientists — as was the case before federal funding — but people who took the job after they failed to get tenure at any research university. Such people are a poor judge of scientific quality. Recently, an editor of a major physics journal came to my own university and bragged that one of his predecessors had rejected a paper on relativity by Albert Einstein! People are now given tenure even in the hard sciences because of their political reliability, rather than for their achievements.
This is not a good idea. Years ago, in my own state of Louisiana, Governor Huey Long appointed as his medical czar a doctor whom Long knew would find “scientific” reasons to support the governor’s policies. This doctor was, however, an incompetent surgeon. When an assassin shot Long, his medical czar was chosen to perform the operation to remove the bullet. Long died.
American politicians have followed Long’s example in climate science. In passing cap and trade, the House is following their politically reliable climate doctors’ prescription. We can only hope the United States’ economy will not suffer Long’s fate.