Pielke on CRU Hack

December 4, 2009

The Washington Post has a nice interview today with my colleague Roger Pielke Jr. You should really read the whole piece, but there are a few points worthy of note. Roger says:

Roger Pielke Jr.: At this point there is no doubt that the email controversy is quite serious. Its scientific significance remains to be seen, but the fact of the matter is that credibility of climate science has taken a big hit (warranted or not) and this will have consequences for the practice of climate science.

I don’t want to put words in Roger’s mouth, but my read of this is that when Roger uses the term “credibility” he means “legitimacy,” where legitimacy refers to the pragmatic conditions of truth. At least, that’s how I understand this view. There is an obvious question here about the extent to which credibility bleeds over into legitimacy — and on some pretty strong pragmatic views, the two are indistinguishable — but on my read it is correct claim that legitimacy has been undermined but that credibility has not yet been.

He also says this…

Pielke says:

While it is clear that the “skeptics” were/are often hiding their political agendas behind science, that doesn’t make it right for the activist scientists to do the same.

I’m not a political scientist like Roger, but I think this is a nice point and one with which I generally agree. I only disagree slightly with his characterization of these as political agendas, but I suspect that’s my disciplinary lens. In my line of work, I’d just refer to these as “normative presuppositions.” That’s a bit more technical sounding, but the basic idea is that (a) the presuppositions are considerably more buried than a given political agenda might be taken to be and (b) the presuppositions are ineluctable components of decision-making, and thus unavoidably a precondition of scientific knowledge-seeking.

Roger raises the rankles of scientists, I suspect, when he uses the terminology of “political agendas” because it sounds so charged. It appears to introduce a political dimension into science that, ideally, ought not to be in science. I also suspect that that’s why people like Gavin Schmidt and Mike Mann get defensive about the science. There are facts there, dammit, and science, while imperfect, seeks to uncover them.

But here’s the deal: acknowledging that all scientific claims, even the most robust, are guided by some normative presuppositions, ought not at all undermine the strength or validity of the truth claims. It just undermines the theory of truth upon which the claims rely. Lots and lots of people have mistaken views about what a truth claim tells us.

When scientists, or physicians, or anybody, seek to uncover some fact about the world, they bring to the table a bunch of suppositions about what may or may not be happening. Sometimes these suppositions look and smell like facts; sometimes they look and smell like values. In all cases, the factness or valueness can’t be disentangled from the decision. When faced with a string of facts, values also play a role in a decision about what to do: we should explore problem A and not problem B because problem A is more interesting, better, more important, more valuable, and so on. Those are all value judgments, and all scientists have them.

So acknowledging that scientists are also driven by value suppositions needn’t be scary. It’s a fact about decision-making that all decisions, including scientific decisions, aren’t made on facts alone. They’re guided by values; maybe in some cases by sound scientific reasoning. In that case, the reasoning is doing the values work.

Understanding these values, understanding which are the right values, is complicated stuff; but it is the stuff that interests me the most. I have to make this case all the time to my graduate students, many of whom are burgeoning scientists; many of whom don’t quite understand why they’d be in an ethics (or a values) class. I think, in all honesty, that if anything good is to come out of the CRU hack and the swirling political shitstorm of the past few weeks, it will eventually be the acknowledgment of the importance of values to science, to decision-making, to public policy, and to politics.



  1. Roger Pielke Jr. said, “The appropriate place to wage political battles is out in the open, and in full consideration of the many factors beyond science that shape our political agendas.”

    Does this mean that Dr. Pielke is going to place his emails out for public scrutiny?

    • Don’t count on it… but point taken: sometimes, when we work with collectives of individuals, our privatemost contemplations occur through what is, effectively, a quasi-public medium (like e-mail). Brainstorming or working with others would be hard if we were to air all of our ideas, thoughts, frustrations, and so on.

      • You do know that your university Email may be subject to disclosure under the Colorado Open Records law? Just making trouble, that’s all.

    • You don’t need to post all your emails, but you do need to disclose all your raw data and all of the steps you used to generate your result.

      That’s the empirical method that these scientists violated regularly, blatantly and perhaps criminally. If they had disclosed the data instead of “hiding behind” (in the words of Phil Jones) a variety of exceptions to the Freedom of Information act, there would be no Climategate. There may also not be any warming in the instrumental record, beyond that which can be explained by natural phenomena.

      • You’re deeply confused about the realities of scientific research.

  2. Ben, we are in total agreement. But the bleating for “transparency” from certain individuals comes off as self serving and sanctimonious.

    • Science is transparent and replicable. If it is not replicable it is not science. No one has to “bleat” about this; it is a simple statement of fact.

      If the “certain individuals” you reference claim to be scientists, and they have not disclosed raw data and code sufficient to allow others to replicate their work, then you have a point. If they are engaged in another profession then you do not have a point.

  3. speaking of credibility, Mann is losing his while throwing Jones under the bus.

    Today Romm organized a conference call for reporters with Mann and Gavin.

    As for the e-mail evidence that he and Jones might have deleted information subject to FOIA, Mann says, “Frankly, the sending of that e-mail demonstrated unfortunate judgment on the part of that scientist,”, and, “to my knowledge, nobody acted on it,” and, “I did not delete any e-mails and I felt uncomfortable receiving that request.”

    Here are the emails:

    Phil Jones wrote:
    Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment – minor family crisis.
    Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t have his new email address.
    We will be getting Caspar to do likewise.
    I see that CA claim they discovered the 1945 problem in the Nature paper!!
    Michael Mann replied:
    Hi Phil,
    laughable that CA would claim to have discovered the problem. They would have run off to the Wall Street Journal for an exclusive were that to have been true.
    I’ll contact Gene about this ASAP. His new email is: generwahl@xxxxxxxxx.xxx
    talk to you later,


  4. Ice core:

    Maybe you have a totally different way of reading English than I do, or of hearing context, but I don’t see that as throwing Jones under the bus, and I fail to see how that mars Mann’s credibility. To me it reads as an honest assessment of Jones’s e-mail, though I can see how maybe it reads as an attempt to distance himself from Jones. That latter is the cynical read.

    Does that comment in any way cast a pall on Mann’s credibility? I’m not sure how such logic would work, unless you somehow gather from this the conclusion that Mann is only ever acting politically and that, therefore, he can’t be trusted on any other matters either. But that’s one helluva leap.

    • it’s pretty simple

      in the press conference Mann says he felt uncomfortable receiving the request to delete emails

      but when he answered the email from Jones asking him to contact Gene Wahl to “do the same” Mann answers sure I’ll contact Gene ASAP

      this is credible to you? that’s some powerful stuff you’re smoking

  5. Ben

    in the conference call today Mann said he felt “uncomfortable receiving that request”

    But when Mann received the email from Jones asking to delete emails with Briffa about AR4 and to contact Gene (Wahl) to do the same, Mann said sure, I’ll contact Gene about this ASAP, here’s his email

    Doesn’t sound like he was uncomfortable at all, in fact very willing to help. If he was uncomfortable with the request he should have said something then, not now, this is quite obvious.

    Oh, and Mann is definitely throwing Jones under the bus, here’s a bit stronger hint for you.

    One of the scientists to whom the emails were addressed, Professor Michael Mann, the Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University has moved to distance himself from some of the comments in the emails that suggest scientists did not want the IPCC, the UN body charged with monitoring climate change, to consider studies that challenged the view global warming was genuine and man-made.

    Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight, Prof Mann said: <b"I can't put myself in the mind of the person who wrote that email and sent it. I in no way endorse what was in that email."

    Prof Mann also said he could not “justify” a request from Prof Jones that he should delete some of his own emails to prevent them from being seen by outsiders.

    “I can’t justify the action, I can only speculate that he was feeling so under attack that he made some poor decisions frankly and I think that’s clear.”

    • My colleagues and I accept that some of the published emails do not read well. I regret any upset or confusion caused as a result. Some were clearly written in the heat of the moment, others use colloquialisms frequently used between close colleagues

      OMG! Phil Jones is throwing Phil Jones under the bus.

      icecone, are you so intent on discrediting Jones and Mann for their minor normative peccadilloes that you are willing to throw objective reason under the bus?

      • heh…Mann and Jones are doing a fine job of discrediting themselves

        Jones won’t be reinstated, Mann knows this and hopes to escape the same fate, but his affirmative reply to Jones request in regard to contacting Wahl to delete AR4 emails does not look good, as there were FOIA requests for this.

        JimR is on the right track with this post in the Jones Ousted thread.

        And how about a little more context and how this ties into Jones request to delete E-mails pertaining to AR4.

        The deadline for papers to be included in IPCC AR4 was Feb. 28, 2006. Mann and company needed to have something in the peer reviewed literature to rebut M&M. Ammann and Wahl submitted a comment to GRL on M&M, and also another paper to Climate Change supposedly reproducing MBH independently. Unfortunately their CC paper referenced their GRL comment. The GRL paper was rejected, Saiers replaced by Famiglietti who unrejected the paper. But the final rejection of their comment in Jan. 2006 left The Team scrambling to have something in AR4 to rebut M&M. On Feb. 28th (the deadline for IPCC AR4) Stephen Schneider E-mailed Gene Wahl that their CC paper had been officially accepted. Now there was something in the peer reviewed literature rebutting M&M.

        The only problem was that paper referenced the rejected GRL paper. Oddly the Ammann and Wahl Climate Change paper wasn’t actually published until September 2007, 19 months after the IPCC AR4 deadline and it being officially accepted on the last possible day. When it was published in 2007 the rejected but reworked GRL comment was published also in Climate Change.

        Considering that Jones request to Mike Mann to delete E-mails mentioned both Caspar Ammann and Gene Wahl and that Ammann had already been sent an E-mail requesting due to FOIA material related to AR4 it is likely this FOIA request was in regard to the strange circumstances of the Ammann and Wahl rebuttal to M&M, it’s publication and admission to the IPCC.

        by JimR December 5, 2009 at 3:04 pm

  6. There is something very odd about you – you are seduced by some kind of idea of legitamacy but at the same time you are persuaded that to get your ends the idiots, the hoi polloi can be ptaught by test cards. And what is most strange is your lack of awareness, your unknowingand unconsciouse wishing that something was true when, it may be it may be not, is perhaps untrue. Think of it!

  7. Ben, great blog. Good discussions. Paul, have to agree about Roger Pielke Jr. I saw the interview he had in the Post, and then looked up his publishing record. From what I can tell, he seems to write frequent commentary articles, with a smattering of studies in peer reviewed journals. Those journals seem to be a bit obscure with low impact factors–somewhere in the low single digits.

    Despite this, he has an outsized influence in the media due to inflammatory statements, calling scientist “activists” for instance. That seems to be his role: fighting battles in the media to win arguments that he can’t overcome with scientists. Of course the journalists love the tension for their stories, so the keep coming back to him to mine for quotes.

    It probably feels good to him to get a quote in a respectable paper, but without the foundation in science to back it up, his statements will certainly lower his credibility among professionals.

  8. Paul
    The transparency being discussed is NOT the transparency of emails, private discussions, people’s political agendas or personl opinions. It is NOT self serving and sanctimonious. It’s the transparency of the DATA and METHODS. This is extremely important. It is almost always fairly easy, in this internet age, to be very transparent with your data and methods.

    • Larry,

      It is almost always fairly easy, in this internet age, to be very transparent with your data and methods.

      You should take your complaint to the pharmaceutical companies.

      As for climate data and methods, it is far more open and transparent than practically any other scientific field.


      • As for climate data and methods, it is far more open and transparent than practically any other scientific field.


        readers might want to check out these detailed requests for FOI records and the responses from UEA and NOAA


  9. Ben,

    Good point about presuppositions. As an example, perhaps, Ken Briffa might decide to look in northern Siberia (Yamal region) for evidence of global warming in the Larch trees. Where he crossed the line, apparently, is deciding what to do with the data when the trees don’t show the warming he was hoping for.

  10. Well, I’m not persuaded that he crossed a line. What I suspect he wanted to do was to present the “most accurate picture” that science has to offer. Since the instrumental record is, arguably, more accurate than the dendro record, it’s not completely out of the realm of plausibility to substitute the instrumental record where it is possible to do that. What kind of picture that substitution gives is another question… and an important one, so I don’t want to downplay that, but one can see how someone who does not want his study give the wrong impression might do exactly what he did, a bit like correcting barrel distortion in a photograph.

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