Silly Kids, Tricks are for RabbitOctober 7, 2009
In response to the 9YQ — the nine-year question: about why it took so damned long for McIntyre and others to get the data — some have protested that the publication policies of Science are such that Briffa et al were obligated to offer up their data immediately upon publication.
In the original Hockey Stick Redux comments section, I replied at several points that there may be other plausible mitigating reasons why Briffa, or his proxies, would be released from fulfilling this alleged requirement. I also confessed that if it were true that one condition of publication was that all data were categorically open for evaluation, and if it were true that this was a binding rule, then it would also be true that Briffa et al would be obligated to release the data. I added, however, that it would not necessarily be true that there would not be other conventions that override the prima facie obligation on Briffa et al’s part. I did not add, but wish I had added, that such a conclusion seems to me incomprehensibly strong, that it would be counterproductive in the extreme. Scientists and researchers would likely never offer up their findings for publication, and thus, practically speaking, such a rule would be self-defeating.
Those are a lot of conditionals. Such was my abstract little contribution to this otherwise scintillating debate.
Fortunately, we have a tireless bunny to ferret out the goods for us. (How’s that for mixing metaphors?) Eli’s post is a must read on the 9YQ, so far as I’m concerned. Since philosophers tend to be stuck in formal abstract-land, it’s nice to have someone do real-world legwork and dig up the actual effing guidelines. As Eli points out, when making charges of the sort that are popping up, it is particularly important to read the actual effing guidelines.
I think there are important little lessons in this exchange. Consider, for instance, that one can arrive at similar conclusions without necessarily going on a fact-finding wild goose chase. (Damn those metaphors!) It wasn’t terribly difficult for me to conjure up counter-instances to the insistence of some that there was somehow scholarly foul play or a cover-up. I just assessed the claim on its face.
Such is the power of reasoning. That’s basically all I ever do. It’s an annoying personality quirk of mine, and I will be the first to admit that I am sometimes a very flawed reasoner, so if you find something irksome about my line of reasoning, please do challenge my reasoning. Philosophers love that sort of thing. (Oh, and we disagree, a lot, so I invite you to disagree with me.)
Having made my little plug for critical reasoning, it is definitely also important to dig into the facts. In this case, the facts really will matter quite a bit. If there are stringent publication rules, if the accused was caught philandering with a Russian dendro-spy, if the alleged super-statistician has been slipped a mickey… these are all important. But what is also important is how those facts are glued together. That glue is assessed and evaluated by using our judgment. We all do it, some better than others.
One thing I do want to disagree with Eli on, however, is this quote. The inquiring bunny writes:
However first, he will point out that the silence [from Real Climate, in response to an inquiry from Mr. Pete] is insightful.
If I read this correctly, which I may not be, I disagree that the silence from the concerned party (Real Climate, in this case, I think) is insightful. There are many reasons for silence, some of which include simply wishing that a perceived annoyance will go away. I must assume, no offense to Mr. McIntyre, that somewhere along the way, his contribution has been deemed an annoyance by Schmidt, Briffa, and companions. There’s no reason to infer from the silence that the concerns of a complainant are legitimate.
Far more interesting is what Bunny digs up later in his post, corroborating a proposition that I made a few days ago, that there may be other reasons for data not to be forthcoming, even on a published research study in a journal with requiring relatively open access to data. More later on this developing and interesting story.