Archive for December 2nd, 2009


Jones Ousted

December 2, 2009

Those following the climategate CRU hack controversy — and I’m following it a helluva lot more than I had initially intended — will know that Phil Jones has “stepped down” from his post at the head of East Anglia’s CRU. He has, in effect, been ousted, jettisoned, sent to the wolves, thrown under the bus, yada yada yada.

It’s funny, in a way, because it calls to mind a particular e-mail that seems to be getting all sorts of panting from the self-anointed guardians of scientific integrity.

At 04:30 PM 1/20/2005, Tom Wigley wrote:


This is truly awful. GRL has gone downhill rapidly in recent years.

I think the decline began before Saiers. I have had some unhelpful dealings with him recently with regard to a paper Sarah and I have on glaciers — it was well received by the referees, and so is in the publication pipeline. However, I got the impression that Saiers was trying to keep it from being published.

Proving bad behavior here is very difficult. If you think that Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted. Even this would be difficult.

How different is the GRL paper from the Nature paper? Did the authors counter any of the criticisms? My experience with Douglass is that the identical (bar format changes) paper to one previously rejected was submitted to GRL.


I find the alleged implications of impropriety on Wigley’s part absolutely laughable, but others, like Bishop Hill, JimR and RickA disagree.

Here’s why I think they’re wrong…

Read the rest of this entry ?


Stem Cells

December 2, 2009

NIH has just authorized the use of human embryonic stem cells under a new policy implemented by the Obama Administration.

The move was hailed by supporters of the research as a long-awaited watershed that would finally allow scientists to start to use millions of dollars in taxpayer money to study hundreds of lines of cells that had been put off-limits by President Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, on moral grounds.

I was never clear on what those moral grounds might have been, apart from a mystical appeal to the uniqueness of human DNA coupled with abortion politics. This is, I think, a good move. Hopefully it provides the long-hoped-for traction that it has been promising.



December 2, 2009

Columbia University Professor Peter Kelemen has what I consider an even-handed and reasonable article in Popular Mechanics on the East Anglia e-mails. Among points that he argues: science should be transparent, journals should be independent, climate science is not a house of cards, scientific skepticism is par for the course, and that there are a few things we know for certain about the climate.

I’d like to pick on him, however, for his sloppy reference to post-modern philosophy. He says the following:

I have noticed a little bit of post-modern philosophy creeping into some scientific discourse that has the potential to subvert this process. The reasoning goes like this: “It is impossible to perceive anything without filtering raw sense impressions, ergo … I filter my data!”

Presumably, this relates to claims like mine from yesterday, asserting that, effectively, all data is filtered.

It’s easy to pick on the post-modernists. I can do it too, since I’m not a post-modernist. But the claim that our data is always filtered is not uniquely post-modern. Indeed, it also comes from the hardest-line positivists in the philosophy of science.

The point is really a conceptual one — we can’t avoid the filtering, that’s why we have acceptable methods of filtering unacceptable data. I’m not saying that we don’t want to get as close to the instrumentation as possible.

Generally speaking, the more information we have, the better. If I have a raw NEF file or a lossy JPG file, it’s probably better for me to have the raw NEF file. Provided I know how to operate the Photoshop dashboard, I can do more with the raw file than the lossy one, and I can also deal with jpeg interpretations that might otherwise screw up my image. At the same time, it takes quite a bit more space to store the raw files, it is harder to process them, and because I can do more with the raw file, there’s more latitude for me to screw up the image myself.

Yet even with this latitude, I can’t alter what the instrument has recorded — it’ll always be a flat, two-dimensional representation filtered through a given lens, distorted by the sensing ability of that lens, subject to ISO, f-stop, filters, ambient visual noise, framing, and the capacity of my sensor. Indeed, ramping up the ISO or dialing down the f-stop effectively “enhances” the raw image.

The parallels aren’t exact, but there is an important lesson: our instrumentation is owned and operated by people, all of whom make judgments about what to keep and what not to keep. When I make a judgment about what data I’m going to record by shooting with a wider aperture, I’m ensuring that I don’t have a sharp focus on my background. That judgment affects the raw data that I have; and such judgments are always, always, lurking in the background of all of our data. If I clean up the data by transcribing it from a notepad into my computer, I’m filtering and enhancing it. My action doesn’t necessarily erode the integrity of the data. It just introduces the human element more palpably.

Some have pointed out that the data exists in other places as well, like GISS, so perhaps this is a reason to discard the raw data. Why store it in East Anglia if it or similar data is also stored somewhere else? Don’t know the truth of that claim. I’m more interested in the general observation that this data is what we have, there is no reason to disregard it because it has been “enhanced,” and that simply because it has been discarded doesn’t necessarily cast a dark shadow on CRU.


Stewart on CRU

December 2, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.