Um, Whatever

James Hansen, NASA climate scientist and lead singer in the climate apocalypse choir, responded to his  temperature data revisions a week ago:

What we have here is a case of dogged contrarians who
present results in ways intended to deceive the public into believing
that the changes have greater significance than reality. They aim to
make a mountain out of a mole hill. I believe that these people are not
stupid, instead they seek to create a brouhaha and muddy the waters in
the climate change story. They seem to know exactly what they are doing
and believe they can get away with it, because the public does not have
the time, inclination, and training to discern what is a significant
change with regard to the global warming issue.

The proclamations of the contrarians are a deceit

Um, whatever.  Remember, this is the man who had large errors in his data set, used by nearly every climate scientist in the world, for years, and which were only recently discovered by Steven McIntyre (whom Hansen refuses to even name in his letter).  These errors persisted for years because Mr. Hansen refuses to allow the software and algorithms he uses to "correct" and adjust the data to be scrutinized by anyone else.  He keeps critical methodologies that are paid for by we taxpayers a secret.  But it is his critics who are deceitful? 

In particular, he is bent out of shape that critics' first presented the new data as a revised ranking of the hottest years rather than as a revised line graph.  But it was Hansen and his folks who made a big deal in the press that 1998 was the hottest year in history.  It was he that originally went for this sound byte rather than the more meaningful and data-rich graph when communicating with the press.  But then he calls foul when his critics mimic his actions?  (Oh, and by the way, I showed it both ways).

Hansen has completely ignored the important lessons from this experience, while focusing like a laser on the trivial.  I explained in detail why this event mattered, and it was not mainly because of the new numbers.  In short, finding this mistake was pure accident -- it was a bit like inferring that the furniture in a house is uncomfortable solely by watching the posture of visitors leaving the house.  That's quite an deductive achievement, but how much more would you learn if the homeowners would actually let you in the house to inspect the furniture.  Maybe its ugly too.

So why does Hansen feel he should be able to shield himself from scrutiny and keep the details of his database adjustments and aggregation methodology a secret?  Because he thinks he is the king.    Just read his letter:

The contrarians will be remembered as court jesters. There is no point
to joust with court jesters. "¦ Court jesters serve as a distraction, a
distraction from usufruct. Usufruct is the matter that the captains
wish to deny, the matter that they do not want their children to know
about.

Why do we allow this kind of secrecy and spurning of scrutiny in science?  Is it tolerated in any other discipline?

Steve McIntyre has his response here.  McIntyre still has my favorite comment ever about Hansen and his gang:

While acolytes may call these guys "professionals", the process of
data adjustment is really a matter of statistics and even accounting.
In these fields, Hansen and Mann are not "professionals" - Mann
admitted this to the NAS panel explaining that he was "not a
statistician". As someone who has read their works closely, I do not
regard any of these people as "professional". Much of their reluctance
to provide source code for their methodology arises, in my opinion,
because the methods are essentially trivial and they derive a certain
satisfaction out of making things appear more complicated than they
are, a little like the Wizard of Oz. And like the Wizard of Oz, they
are not necessarily bad men, just not very good wizards.

Update:  If you have a minute, read Hansen's letter, and then ask yourself:  Does this sound like what I would expect of scientific discourse?  Does he sound more like a politician or a scientist?

  • To me the real story is the continued refusal to publicly disclose his methods. Doesn't this by it's very nature render it non-science? How does this secrecy conform with the scientific method???

  • Rick

    I wonder how he addresses the secrecy issue.

    And about his closing statement conclusion that indicates it's not too late but just about. If we are really at such a super critical moment of history and we must absolutely act now - he has to do a better job in getting his information and methods out.

  • Jigga Wha?

    I worked on modeling of plasma for my thesis, which had a ton of code, and while we didn't always directly give the code to anyone, I couldn't imagine going to a conference without describing our coding methods. Even guys at the big national labs were desperate to get input from little guys. I think the fundamental attitude was so different -- we were analyzing one small part of a large process, simply didn't know the greater effects a few steps down the line, and were thankful for any check on our work (Lord knows we wouldn't know if we were making a mistake after years of staring at the same input/output).

    I cannot fathom how the same is not done in all fields.

  • Bob

    I commend Scientist Hansen on his use of "usufruct" so often in his letter. He's absolutely right.

    We must pass Directive 10-289 immediately so that our children will inherit the world in the EXACT same condition in which we received it.

  • Walter E. Wallis, P.E.

    Hansen is an advocate, not a scientist. He just lacks the honesty to leave his scientist job and go on Gore's payroll full time. His claim, now, that the averages were meaningless rings hollow to his waving them about earlier.

  • Jon

    It happens so often... in order to dumb down the debate, they use very simple indications (in this case, that 1998 was the warmest year on record), and then scream obscenities when confronted with the same simplicities.

    Katrina might be the biggest example of this. Remember when Katrina was a clear sign that global warming was happening? Well, the next year, when there were virtually no hurricanes, some of us pointed out that there must not be global warming then. Of course, in that case the response was to blame global warming for the decline in hurricanes.

    I would love to see a cooling for a few years... just so I could hear Al Gore proclaim that global warming is causing temperatures to decline.

  • Wow, his letter actually names "conservatives" as the ones who are asking him to release his data and program. Does he not realize that liberals, greens, communists, and libertarians would also like to see the data and methods?

  • dearieme

    Those who had assumed he was a crook may now be wondering whether he is bonkers. Which wouldn't preclude his being a crook too.

  • TCO

    Danger, Will Robinson, danger. Don't go to far down the path of putting faith in Steve M. He and Mann and Hansen and etc need to have heads smacked together. they are none of them really curious, truth seeking types. You may not have encountered that. They don't teach it at ILW.

  • To the contrary, TCO, Steve McIntyre is consummately curious, unlike the two true-believing-advocates you mentioned.

    McIntyre is so curious he spends his own time and money to look into "professional" and well-funded scientists' misbegotten data.

    Congrats to Steve, for kicking the tenured, pampered butts of pseudo-sci!

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