No "Tidy" End in Sight

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMay 17, 2010 5:10 PM


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Skeptics are still grousing about RPJR, but he's still taking it all in stride. And now, it appears that Steve McIntyre is with Roger on this one, much to the disappointment of Climate Audit fans.

Sometimes I think Roger Pielke Jr. is like Spock. His logic is often unassailable but it can leave people cold. In recent days, he's infuriated many climate skeptics for insisting that those twin totems of Climategate-- Mike's Nature Trick & Hide the Decline-- doth not rise to the level of scientific fraud. A hive of skeptics swarmed all over him, faster than you can say Algore. I wondered if he would be able to withstand it, then I did a little checking and see here that he's already endured their Trick & Decline venom. Sure the skeptic swarm was even angrier this time around, but Roger shrugged if off again. He did, however, oblige them a second follow-up post, (with a cherry on top). Now some quick insidery context: people who have followed this controversial issue know that the divergence between tree ring data and the temperature readings was discussed in journal papers and thus certainly not a secret. The problem is that it was seemingly smoothed over for an IPCC presentation. Back in December, Roger lays down his gauntlet here:

Is the truncation of the divergence by the IPCC "scientific fraud"? No. Here is why. First, the IPCC is not engaged in research. It apparently violated its own terms of reference when it allowed scientists to re-process data from the peer reviewed literature. So the IPCC clearly violated its own norms. However, even in violating its own norms, because it is not a research organization, it is very hard to say that it engaged in scientific fraud. But even if the IPCC was a research organization, the selective omission of data might be a questionable practice but hardly rises to any level of misconduct, which generally refers to fabrication, falsification or plagiarism. There is no evidence of that here. Just cherrypicking, perhaps egregious leading ultimately to misrepresentation, but nonetheless cherrypicking. It can appear unseemly when revealed (which is why it is not a good idea to do so in the first place), but misconduct? No. Did it engage in any other kind of "fraud"? Well now we are into the area of semantics. As The authors of the IPCC TAR chapter under discussion clearly wanted to present information that (a) best positioned their work for inclusion in the SPM, and (b) avoided giving "skeptics" ammunition. So they stage managed the process to present a picture that they thought best conveyed the storyline that they wanted. Was this fraud? I see no evidence for such a claim. Again, misrepresentation but not fraud. I suspect that others may have a different view, and perhaps some of this is more than semantic. But let me say this. If the IPCC finds itself in a situation where people are debating whether its activities are best characterized in terms of misrepresentation or fraud, then that is not a good place to be.

Late last week, when this debate erupted anew on Roger's blog and elsewhere, skeptics hammered Roger for falling back on semantics: the meaning of academic misconduct. Yesterday, he tried putting the issue to rest, picking up where he left off in December:

The facts of what happened here should not be controversial. A group of scientists associated with the IPCC decided to simplify the presentation of paleo-climate data in orger to convey a "tidy message" and to try to avoid the "skeptics" some "fodder" with which to have a "field day." Of course, those plans backfired pretty badly!

Roger goes on to reiterate that,

The actions by the IPCC scientists to "hide the decline" were a form of cherrypicking.

And his final (semantic) judgment, with a moral thrown in for the still unconvinced:

This episode is not about scientific fraud -- at least in the way that I understand the concept to be defined in the academy. This episode if one of several --too many -- in which the IPCC was found to be risking its credibility to present a "tidy story." Hopefully, the scientific community has learned that a desire for tidiness should not trump an overarching concern for maintaining the credibility and legitimacy of expert advice, even if that means presenting the science alongside uncertainties and complexities. But there are lessons here for critics as well. It is reasonable to feel betrayed, angry and upset that the experts tried to play you for a fool. But making wild accusations of fraud and calling for legal sanctions (and worse) simply diminishes your own credibility and represents an ironic sort of overreach.

End of story? I don't think so. And that's because some prominent skeptics like Steve McIntyre strongly believe that "Hide the Decline" has not been adequately addressed (if at all) in any investigations so far. Here's McIntyre last month, after the Oxburgh report was released:

Without specifically mentioning the famous "trick "¦to hide the decline", Oxburgh subsumes the "trick" as "regrettable" "neglect" by "IPCC and others". But watch the pea under Oxburgh's thimble. The Oxburgh Report regrettably neglected to highlight the fact that CRU scientists Briffa and Jones, together with Michael Mann, were the IPCC authors responsible for this "regrettable neglect" in the Third Assessment Report. They also regrettably neglected to report that CRU scientist Briffa was the IPCC author responsible for the corresponding section in AR4. Oxburgh pretends that the fault lay with "IPCC and others", but this pretence is itself a trick. CRU was up to its elbows in the relevant IPCC presentations that "regrettably" "neglected" to show the divergent data in their graphics. It is also untrue that CRU authors, in their capacity as IPCC authors, "regrettably" "neglected" to show the divergent data in the IPCC graphics. The Climategate emails show that they did so intentionally "“ see for example IPCC and the Trick, which show awareness on the part of CRU scientists that showing the decline would "dilute the message" that IPCC wanted to send. The eventual IPCC figure, as reported here on a number of cases, gave a false rhetorical message of the veracity of the proxy reconstructions. CA readers are also well aware that IPCC and Briffa were categorically asked by one AR4 reviewer (me) to disclose the divergent data. CRU's Briffa refused, saying only that it would be "inappropriate" to show the data in the graphic. They didn't "neglect" to show the divergent data from the Briffa reconstruction. This was a considered decision, carried out in AR4 despite pointed criticism. Yes, the decline had been disclosed in the "peer reviewed literature". Indeed, that was how I became aware of the trick "“ long before Climategate and why, as an AR4 peer reviewer, I asked that IPCC not use the trick once again in AR4. IPCC presentations are how the climate science community speaks to the world. Climate scientists, including CRU scientists, have a far greater obligation of full, true and plain disclosure in IPCC reports than even the specialist literature. Oxburgh pretends that (partial) disclosure of adverse results by CRU in specialist literature is sufficient. It isn't. There was a continuing obligation to disclose adverse results in IPCC graphics. CRU scientists acted as IPCC authors. The complaint about the trick arose out of how CRU scientists carried out their duties as IPCC authors. In this respect, the Oxburgh report is a feeble sleight-of-hand that in effect tries to make the public think that the "trick" was no more than "regrettable" "neglect" by the "IPCC and others" "“ nothing to do with CRU. In other words, Oxburgh is using a trick to hide the "trick".

Roger's most vociferous detractors in the blogosphere often accuse him of playing footsie with climate skeptics. Here's a clearcut case where the two are locking horns. It'll be interesting to see who prevails on this politically charged, high-octane issue.

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