Archive for November, 2009


Out of Character

November 23, 2009

Andrew Freedman has an interesting perspective over at the Washington Post. My colleague Tom Yulsman has a much more interesting position on the extremely strong case for climate science even if we discard everything that Jones and Mann have ever produced. And James Inhofe is launching a monolithic investigation into the state of everything he finds offensive (subscription required).

Here’s this quote from Freedman’s interview with science historian Spencer Weart, author of The Discovery of Global Warming:

Look at last week’s verdict on the Bear Sterns hedge fund managers who were accused of misleading investors. The prosecutrs based their case on a few seemingly incriminating sentences drawn from a mass of emails. When the jury saw the whole set of emails, they quickly found that there was no crime, just ordinary business chatter. From what I’ve seen, I expect that will be the verdict on the climate scientists’ emails.

In other news, Raymond Pierrehumbert has a hidden affection for Lassie.


Is Peer Review Unbiased?

November 22, 2009

A lot of cantankerous finger-pointing has been going on recently, mostly over the CRU hack. You can read all about it below. (The comments thread at the Feeding Frenzy post gives my read on the allegedly incriminating e-mails. Short summary: There’s no there there.)

One topic that keeps popping up is the claim that this shows the bias in peer review, thereby somehow undermining the research.

Newsflash: Peer review is not unbiased. Never has been; never will be. As a standard, peer review ought to be unbiased, and referees ought to do what they can to expunge bias from their determination of what gets published and what doesn’t, but nobody — and I mean, nobody — is capable of distancing themselves entirely from biases. Paradoxically, that’s why we have institutions like blind peer review.

The difference here rests on an important distinction between regulative ideals and standards of practice,where the former relate to what the latter ought to be structured around. In other words, bias-free evaluation is a regulative ideal that should, everything else equal, govern the actions of all practitioners within a given context C. As a result, practitioners put into place standards that will help better meet this regulative ideal.

That the ideal is not, and cannot be, met — it’s an ideal, remember — is a presumption of the standards of practice. The standards are in place in order to steer the discussion away from less messy matters. True, practitioners should be striving to meet the ideals independently of the standards of practice. Supposing that the standards allow some infiltration of bias, the practitioner ought to take extra steps to eradicate this bias. So there’s a natural tension there. This tension exists in all scientific disciplines; and it exists even in the humanities. It exists any time there is a discursive contradiction or dialogical conflict between two or more parties.

Curiously, it is precisely this tension that gives rise to some of the banter in the e-mails. Journal X appears to have B sort of bias. Journal X conforms with the standards of practice, but by having B bias, doesn’t meet with the regulative ideal. Ergo, we ought to do what we can either to modify the standards of practice of to forcefully expose this bias. This kind of reasoning applies to all parties here, to the skeptical and the dedicated crowd.



November 21, 2009

Revkin delivers, front page, above the (digital) fold. Will it sell papers? Hard to say. Given what I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot) I still think there’s not much there. I’m waiting for someone to persuade me otherwise.

As if on cue, Romm offers the counter-punch.

UPDATE: This is such a massively interesting issue that I’m not doing the work I need to do this weekend. I’m also going to leave this post here and add a few updates, rather than generate a new post. Readers should definitely avail themselves of Kim Zetter’s article in Wired and Joe Romm’s further discussions of some of the content of the e-mails, in this case, the e-mail from Trenberth. I was thinking that I might do the same thing, but he beat me to it. Here’s the article (pdf) that Trenberth is referring to.

UPDATE 2: This reply from Carbon Fixated is very smartly done. Interesting in its own right too.


Feeding Frenzy

November 20, 2009

Whoa. The denialosphere is all a twitter with heated banter about a hacked computer server at the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (CRU).  You can read the ecstatic blog-comments here and here. Frankly, it’s hard to compile all of the data, nonetheless make sense of it. Essentially, some very heavy hitters in the climate community have (allegedly) had their server hacked. A large collection of e-mails over the past decade or so has been released, including strategies about how best to respond to critics and how to ensure that papers make it through peer review.

There are cries of “smoking gun,” “conspiracy,” “collusion,” from those who naturally suspect as much. I’ll confess that it creeps me out to read these e-mails, mostly because it feels so terribly peeping-tom-ish. I’ll even confess that if one puts on some significant ideological glasses, it may look like there’s a lot of shady business going on. There may even be shady business. Certainly, a good bit of this will be spun wildly.

Most of what I’ve seen, however, doesn’t give me the impression that there’s shady business going on. It just makes me uneasy. It’s terribly frank and casual, like many e-mails are. (“That guy X is a massive jerk, isn’t he? Let’s give him a hard time.”) Employing the principle of charity to what I’ve seen so far actually leaves me feeling that the e-mails are not so incriminating. I suppose there really is a possibility of unearthing something devastating, but I’m skeptical about the extent to which there’s anything jaw-dropping here. I’m not at all ruling out the possibility that something jaw-dropping will be discovered, I just don’t know if there is anything yet. (I’ve not sifted through the actual collection of e-mails, mind you. I’m just reading what some of the commenters have written. I assume they’ve culled the best for the most blood-thirsty.)

At any rate, this is an interesting development (not unlike this one). I’ll be really curious to see how it unfolds. Anybody who wants to post something they deem to be extremely incriminating here, feel free to do so. I’m happy to try to give it the most charitable read possible.

UPDATE: Roger has linked to an interview in TGIF (pdf) essentially confirming that the e-mails are real. Doesn’t say much about whether they’ve been tampered with, but he too raises the question that I have. Is this serious or is this much ado about nothing?

UPDATE 2: RealClimate has responded. The more I read the e-mails, the more I think RC is straight up in its response. It is true that I lean their way climatologically speaking, and it is also true that I don’t want a massive political explosion out of this, but as any normal person who would be concerned about this must do, I’m trying to read their e-mails with both a critical and a charitable eye. There is definitely political fodder here. To my mind, not much else.

One point that is not getting much play is the seemingly clear indication that all of these e-mails have been culled in at least one respect: they’re a selection; they don’t contain everything ever written by e-mail. There’s little here about kids, about illness, about who wants to go out for a beer, about other non-professional stuff. Since they’ve been culled in this way, this suggests that someone has read them. They couldn’t filter them for personal content otherwise. And since someone has read them, there’s no reason to believe that that someone has also not tampered with them, or at least tweaked the wording slightly. As I’ve said, very little here seems incriminating to me, so as I read how non-incriminating this is, I’m less likely to suspect that they have been tweaked. At the same time, one cannot dismiss the fact that whoever collected these has read through each of them both with (a) some knowledge of the larger political context and (b) some intent to harm or malign the reputation of those in the e-mails.


New APA Policy

November 19, 2009

My colleague Alastair Norcross has done a fair bit to get the American Philosophical Association (APA) to adopt new language for institutions that discriminate against gay men and women. Philosopher Brian Leiter has the story, along with a growing string of comments, over at his blog. Way to go, Alastair!


Geisha Feet On TV

November 19, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Here are Parts II and III.



November 19, 2009

Talking Points Memo has some interesting commentary on the filibuster.


California Raises Tuition

November 19, 2009

There goes the neighborhood. Who’s next?


Behavior Problems

November 19, 2009

ClimateWire has a nice piece out on the behavioral dimensions of climate change [subscription required]. Here’s a taste:

[P]eople’s attitudes do not translate into action. But most environmental activism remains centered around the assumption that changing behavior starts with changing attitudes and knowledge.

“Social psychologists have now known for four decades that the relationship between people’s attitudes and knowledge and behavior is scant at best,” said McKenzie-Mohr. Yet campaigns remain heavily focused on brochures, flyers and other means of disseminating information. “I could just as easily call this presentation ‘beyond brochures,'” he said.

In the marketing world, one way this issue manifests itself is in the “say-do problem,” which says that what people actually buy does not necessarily correspond to what they say they will buy. That complicates the efforts of those who seek to predict consumer response to a product, for example.

“The say-do problem isn’t something just in the marketing world,” said Art Barnard, president of a Madison, Wis.-based market research firm, GKA Research. “Why do people constantly say they’re going to meet you on a Friday night, meet their friends, and never show up?”

In philosophy, there are related questions about moral motivation. IMHO, questions in moral psychology are deeply interesting and relevant to environmental problems. What matters is the extent to which a reason can be said to be motivating, or how reasons-responsive we are as individuals. It is plainly not the case, it seems to me, that people with all the right reasons and all the right knowledge will necessarily take the steps required to move forward. In part this is a question for social-psychologists, but it is also a deep question for philosophers. Is this a failure of reason, for instance?  Or is it simply a failure of psychology?


Sucker Up

November 18, 2009

[lollipop[1].jpg]Oh goody. I’ve just been forwarded this delicious essay, published in that mainspring of robust political and ethical theory, the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, best known for opinion pieces that, when strung together in the shape of a giant question mark, form a typographical mystery so huge that it can only adequately be addressed by manufacturing a larger question mark.

What does Anne Jolis, author of this piece, have to say in this staid rag? You can check out the original at the link above. It’s about Stephen McIntyre and his work at ClimateAudit.

I (honestly and truly) have nothing against Steve McIntyre, and I admire his assiduousness, but I thought it might be fun to take a look at this article by removing all references to known entities. I also want to remove the context of climate change. Instead, I’ve replaced all names with pre-Socratic philosophers, substituted the topic of heart disease for climate, and reflected all changes in dark green. I’ll even use an issue that could go either way epidemiologically speaking. For reasons of time, I’ll spare you the whole article; but I want you to look at the logic, at the narrative, at what we’re being told we should believe.

Let’s have a go at it, shall we?…

Read the rest of this entry ?