Ed Driscoll

Trend Detected

Another controversial critique emerged on May 22, when the Financial Times’s Chris Giles reported that his exhaustive examination of Piketty’s data revealed a host of errors or misjudgments—some minor, some potentially damning. According to Giles, Piketty’s data do not support his conclusions, and Piketty may have tweaked the numbers to make his trend lines go the way he wanted them to. The “combined result of all the problems,” Giles writes, “is to make wealth concentration among the richest in the past 50 years rise artificially.”

As of this writing, Piketty and Giles, as well as their various champions, were trying to adjudicate all the charges and defenses. The debates are extremely difficult to follow, to say the least. But it does seem that Giles overstated the lethality of his critique and that, some sloppiness or misjudgments notwithstanding, there’s little evidence that Piketty operated in anything like bad faith. Piketty has recanted nothing.

Still, if one takes all these critiques into account, one must conclude that what its supporters have hailed as an irrefutable mathematical prophecy might have to be downgraded by everyone else into the well-informed hunch from a left-leaning French economist—a significant drop in confidence level, as the statisticians might say.

And this is hugely inconvenient for those holding aloft Capital in the Twenty-First Century as though it were the Statistical Abstract of the United States—because that would mean all of Piketty’s policy proposals and dire predictions for the future are based on a guess about the future, a guess he has falsely portrayed as an immutable law.

—A brief excerpt from Jonah Goldberg’s magnum opus 9451 word(!) article in the latest issue of Commentary, “Mr. Piketty’s Big Book of Marxiness.”

When future generations try to understand how the world got carried away around the end of the 20th century by the panic over global warming, few things will amaze them more than the part played in stoking up the scare by the fiddling of official temperature data. There was already much evidence of this seven years ago, when I was writing my history of the scare, The Real Global Warming Disaster. But now another damning example has been uncovered by Steven Goddard’s US blog Real Science, showing how shamelessly manipulated has been one of the world’s most influential climate records, the graph of US surface temperature records published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Goddard shows how, in recent years, NOAA’s US Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) has been “adjusting” its record by replacing real temperatures with data “fabricated” by computer models. The effect of this has been to downgrade earlier temperatures and to exaggerate those from recent decades, to give the impression that the Earth has been warming up much more than is justified by the actual data. In several posts headed “Data tampering at USHCN/GISS”, Goddard compares the currently published temperature graphs with those based only on temperatures measured at the time. These show that the US has actually been cooling since the Thirties, the hottest decade on record; whereas the latest graph, nearly half of it based on “fabricated” data, shows it to have been warming at a rate equivalent to more than 3 degrees centigrade per century.

—The opening paragraphs from Christopher Booker’s article in the Saturday London Telegraph, “The scandal of fiddled global warming data: The US has actually been cooling since the Thirties, the hottest decade on record.”

Conservatives and Second Amendment activists quickly discovered that the probate records Bellesiles cited had been grossly misrepresented— or didn’t exist at all. For an inexcusably long time, liberals in the media and elsewhere resisted these findings, but the evidence against Bellesiles was overwhelming, and in the end he was discredited. In October 2002, after an Emory University panel of independent scholars accused him of “unprofessional and misleading work” that “does move into the realm of falsification,” he resigned in disgrace from Emory, calling the university’s findings against him “just plain unfair.” Two months later, the Bancroft Prize was rescinded.

The real question is, why was he so readily believed in the first place? His claim that few early Americans owned guns should have seemed ludicrous on the face of it. There were all those letters and diaries of the era that had so many gun references; there was the art and literature of the time; there was work by other scholars about guns in colonial America. But none of that sounded the alarm. Because, as in all the other issues involving core liberal beliefs, the eagerness to believe overcame all skepticism and reason— with journalists leading the way.

—Bernard Goldberg, in his 2003 book Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite, on Michael Bellesiles’ 2000 book, Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture.

Does any of this matter? Let’s ask Matt Yglesias:


Related: Streams crossed, destruction of the universe imminent: