17 May 2010

Five Myths

[UPDATE: Keith Kloor has an interesting take on this debate, and helpfully reminds me that I've made these points before. Also, I've modified this post with the material in brackets below, thanks to a helpful comment from a reader.]

The comments that I've received and exchanges that I've had with a fair number of people over the past few days about issues of scientific fraud as related to the so-called hockey stick indicate a few things. First, some people are really, really angry. And I mean red-in0the-face livid such that they aren't going to hear anything except their own indignation. These folks won't be convinced of anything. There are others whose views are fueled by myths -- views that are not just wrong, but unhelpful in trying to make sense of the issue. Still others simply have a different take on issues than I do.

This post is focused on the second of those three categories -- those who repeat common myths in the discussion. Here are a few of those myths:
1) Myth: Science provides absolute truths and scientific misconduct can be identified as any action that moves science away from truth.
Reality: Science is messy. Claims can be argued many different ways. [Successfully adjudicated cases of] scientific misconduct are very rare and exceedingly hard to prove. Since truth is determined via scientific debates, using it as a fulcrum on which to adjudicate misconduct is obviously problematic. Hard cases, as they say, make bad law. The same goes here as well.
2) Myth: Policy makers care about tree rings, temperatures of the Middle Ages or other arcane details of climate science.
Reality: They don't. It is easy to confuse politics and policy. Almost all debates about climate science are purely political, with little or even no policy connection. In any case, effective climate and energy policies will be robust to scientific uncertainties and associated politicized debates.
3) Myth: Billion or even trillion dollar decisions are being made based on the Hockey Stick, or more expansively, the claims of IPCC WG I.
Reality: No such decisions hinge upon the correctness of the Hockey Stick. None. It is a political symbol. The IPCC WG I has established that there is an issue of risk management that might occupy your attention. It is in fact a pretty low threshold to reach. IPCC WG I says nothing about what our options are or what we should do.
4) Myth: There are mechanisms for identifying and correcting mistakes, misrepresentations and, yes, fraud, under the IPCC.
Reality: These terms aren't even defined under the IPCC much less set forth in guidelines for practice. All of the anger in the world isn't going to change this fact. Discussing institutional reform might, for some, be a bit like getting a root canal, but it is where improvements in institutions (and thus practices) of climate science will come from.
5) Myth: Getting very angry, calling me names and being rude will make me see the wisdom in your views.
Reality. No, it won't. Please keep the discussions respectful. In the end, it is OK for people to agree to disagree.


  1. "3) Myth: Billion or even trillion dollar decisions are being made based on the Hockey Stick, or more expansively, the claims of IPCC WG I. Reality: No such decisions hinge upon the correctness of the Hockey Stick. None. "

    That is the wrong answer. We all understand that huge poltical decisions are underwritten by the ultimate global warming authority, the IPCC.

    Carbon trading could be worth twice that of oil in next decade

    The carbon market could become double the size of the vast oil market, according to the new breed of City players who trade greenhouse gas emissions through the EU's emissions trading scheme.

    The ETS market may see $3tn (£1.8tn) worth of transactions a year in the next decade or two, according to Andrew Ager, head of emissions trading at Bache Commodities in London, with it even being used as a hedge against falling equities or rising inflation. "It is still a relatively new industry with annual trades of around €300bn every year. But this could grow to around $3tn compared to the $1.5tn market there is for oil," says Ager, who used to be a foreign currencies trader.

    The speed of that growth will depend on whether the Copenhagen summit gives a go-ahead for a low-carbon economy, but Ager says whatever happens schemes such as the ETS will expand around the globe.


    Who is promoting carbon trading ? Our friends, the fossil fuel industries and banks.

    International Emissions Trading Association (IETA)

    The biggest lobbying group at Copenhagen was the International Emissions Trading Association which was created to promote carbon trading more than ten years ago.

    Its members include :-

    BP, Conoco Philips, Shell, E.ON AG (coal power stations owner, EDF (one of the largest participants in the global coal market), Gazprom (Russian oil and gas), Goldman Sachs, Barclays, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley..


    Their aim

    The objectives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and ultimately climate protection;

    the establishment of effective market-based trading systems for greenhouse gas emissions by businesses that are demonstrably fair, open, efficient, accountable and consistent across national boundaries; and maintaining societal equity and environmental integrity while establishing these systems.


    No one is interested in the antics a bunch of anonymous lab coated tribalists, but they are backed and amplified by every corporation and every government on earth, in particular the corporate media.

  2. Roger,

    I wonder how many of your readers are aware that you have largely been restating a position you set out in December, when this issue first raised itself on your blog.

    Initially, I was fascinated by the developing discussion over the weekend, but then when I did some searching, that's when I learned it's mostly an angrier reprise of that earlier discussion.

    Still, as I explain in my post, I think you are misreading the source of the white hot anger (justified or not), which as I see it, is exemplified by a McIntyre post from last month, after the Oxburgh report was released. Anyway, my take is here:


  3. "Scientific misconduct is very rare and exceedingly hard to prove."

    You and I believe from experience that this is true, but from the point of view of the general public, the second half of the statement makes it impossible to demonstrate the correctness of the first half of the statement.

  4. Yes, science is messy, and there are many ways to argue. However, is using a purposefully misleading argument really legitimate?

    You're absolutely right that politicians don't care about tree rings. But they do seem to care about supposedly easy to interpret things like hockey stick shaped graphs. And when those are informed by, among other things, apparently bogus proxies such as tree rings, then the tree rings become important, if only indirectly.

    This is a particularly ludicrous argument. You might as well state that politicians don't care about differential equations, and since some are used in a climate model, the correctness of the model isn't important. Is this really what you're saying?

    With respect to the IPCC and trillion dollar decisions...what is about the only guarantee in terms of rhetoric from a politician advocating for "doing something?" They all make calls to authority, including especially the IPCC. So regardless of how involved the IPCC is in actual decision making, they're still extremely high profile in the eyes of those with some bearing on the decisions.

  5. -3-n-g

    Thanks for this, you are correct.

    I should have said "Proven cases" or even more precisely, "Successfully adjudicated cases of"

  6. "4) Myth: There are mechanisms for identifying and correcting mistakes, misrepresentations and, yes, fraud, under the IPCC.
    Reality: These terms aren't even defined under the IPCC much less set forth in guidelines for practice."

    Are you saying that because the IPCC doesn't define fraud that nothing therein can be fraudulent? That seems pretty silly, as words have meaning, but it seems to be why you're implying here.

  7. 1. Scientific misconduct occurs when a scientist intentionally falsifies data or misrepresents analytic methods. MBH98 and 99 probably qualify in using the term "principal component" for the procedure they used instead, assuming this was done deliberately.

    2. Policy makers care about public perception of crisis. If the perception of crisis is gone from the climate debate, nothing much substantive will happen in the policy arena.

    3. The HS may have been one of many contributing factors to public perception of crisis, notably because its use in AIT and the subsequent Nobel prize. This was a political enabler, again one of many, for green initiatives. (NB: by HS I mean not just the MBH papers but the fact that they received consensus support in academic climatology.)

    4 & 5. Hear, hear.

  8. 1) Myth: Science provides absolute truths and scientific misconduct can be identified as any action that moves science away from truth.

    That is insulting. People have always accepted throughout the ages that science cannot provide absolute truths.

    The issue is the surprise and anger at the lower standards that scientists now set themselves when they are conducting science. At what point were 'tricks' and 'fudges' deemed as being acceptable in research. I must have missed that lecture at university whilst studing physics and applied math.

    It begs the question - how many more 'tricks' and 'fudges' are out there waiting to be exposed.

  9. "4) Myth: There are mechanisms for identifying and correcting mistakes, misrepresentations and, yes, fraud, under the IPCC.

    Reality: These terms aren't even defined under the IPCC much less set forth in guidelines for practice."

    Here you seem to limit your definition to fraud as defined by the IPCC. But your previous statements went much further, e.g.:

    "This episode is not about scientific fraud -- at least in the way that I understand the concept to be defined in the academy."

    You seem to be arguing from an almost legal perspective: the case wouldn't win in a court of law, either because the terms aren't defined or the intent can't be proven. Maybe. But maybe that isn't the point.

  10. Roger,

    YOu simply cannot be serious making the broad sweeping generalizations you make in #2 and #3. As you may recall, McIntyre first got interested in the hockey stick because it was being cited by Canadian politicians all the time. They sure seemed to feel it was a big deal.

    Were politicians or their constituents persuaded by Algore's movie? Of course. Did the hockey stick play a part? Did the IPCC? Of course. Were they persuaded by all the fawning national and international media coverage of Mann and his iconic stick?

    There is rarely ONE piece of "evidence" that causes a person to make a decision. It all adds up. The hockey stick, the bogus studies by Jones and Rahmstorf, the bogus claims of IPCC authority .... they all add up.

    But the bigger problem is that you have no way to ascertain whether your assertions are true. Given the statements made by a lot of politicians, I'm pretty sure you are wrong with respect to a lot of them. And I'm very sure that your blanket statement is wrong to the extent it claims to be authoritative for all of them.

    Finally, most politicians are responsive to public opinion. If a lot of people come to see that the IPCC, Mann, Jones, et al are often wrong and sometimes dishonest, these issues will definitely have an impact on policy and spending. So in addition to being overly broad, your "myths" may well be premature.

  11. eric144 said... 2

    "....Reality: No such decisions hinge upon the correctness of the Hockey Stick. None.

    That is the wrong answer. We all understand that huge poltical decisions are underwritten by the ultimate global warming authority, the IPCC."

    I'm going to agree with Roger on this.
    The vast majority of the actions that have taken place to 'combat climate change' could
    have just as easily been justified on 'energy security' grounds.

    The name of the 'climate bill' floundering in the US congress is -

    The American Clean Energy and Security Act.

  12. Well this is an odd post:
    1. Strawman 1: Nobody believes that science provides absolute truth. That's why skepticism is healthy and justified in the first place. Now anyone can make a mistake but if blatant deliberate untruths are found to be accepted practise unworthy of criticism and devoid of censure then the whole thing is a farce.
    2. Strawman 2: every skeptic knows few people care about whether the stick is correct or not and that the stick is a symbol. That's another reason why skeptics are angry about it. Everyone has a hidden agenda. We just wish they'd just bring it into the open so we could discuss that instead of the rank bad science.
    3. Not exactly. As Silvain said, if the stick doesn't matter then why do they keep defending it and resurrecting it even though they absolutely know it's wrong. Even Mann has moved on now. We'd all love the fanboys to acknowledge the MWP really did exist and move on too. Yes the actual policy effect has been nil so far even with the stick, though a lot more taxpayer money has been wasted on chasing rainbows because of it.
    4. Strawman 3: Nobody believes that for one moment. Once again that is what makes people angry.
    5. Strawman 4: the anger isn't directed at you and nobody is calling you names as far as i can see. They are merely mystified that you can so easily go over the top on very minor issues like accusing Gavin of lying or plagiarism (which were largely unfair) yet you have such a blindspot with this more important issue. Not important in a policy sense (maybe) but as a good example of just how much the team are more snake-oil salesmen than scientists. There are of course many more such examples of such opinion-led chicanery and each one of them is presented as "evidence" which is another reason to be angry. Some of us believe it is still important to defend honesty in scince - perhaps because there is none left anywhere else.

  13. Roger,
    Maybe Myth 1 misses the point. I doubt that concerns about misconduct would arise if it was thought that the actual temperatures of something were being misread. The concern would be that they were read, recorded, and then some other, perhaps more agreeable, numbers published. This would be misconduct.

    I view your statement of Myth one, a strawman.

    If this is what you think those of us worried about the "trick" are thinking, no wonder there is no convergence in our view of this with your's.

  14. "3) Myth: Billion or even trillion dollar decisions are being made based on the Hockey Stick, or more expansively, the claims of IPCC WG I."

    The hockey slick is being used as the basis for the claim that today's temperatures are unprecedented over the past 1000 years. Without the hockey stick, one can only claim that temps today are higher than when we began to emerge from the last mini-ice age (~150 years). If temps were warmer during the medieval warm period than today, then there's a strong chance that today's temps are just natural variation. So the hockey stick is, in fact, essential to the sales pitch for the need to reorganize the global economy. I (genuinely) would like to know where I'm wrong.

  15. In regards to myth #3: If decisions are not being made based on the Hockey Stick or the IPCC WG 1, then what are they being based on?

    Energy security is not achieved through carbon mitigation. In fact, carbon mitigation is useless and counterproductive if WG 1 is wrong about an impending climate crisis, yet CO2 mitigation is the primary response being demanded by 'policy'.

    Seriously, what is driving policy if not the threat of CO2 induced, catastrophic warming?

  16. Sixth Myth: Decarbonization is possible.

    Seventh Myth: Decarbonization is desirable.

    I personally think the Hartwell Paper shows promise, a direction to be given serious consideration. In the meantime, it would be great if you would admit to the myths that you seem to promote, constantly.

    Roger, everyone believes in myths, including you. (And I, likewise.)

    C3 Editor

  17. Dr Pielke
    I think you are having your own 'Peter Gleick' moment.

    "All citizens should learn some basic scientific facts"

    Most of your audience is specialist, is it not? I am pretty sure many of them have a nuanced understanding of the 'myths'.

    If most of the climate discussions are not about the science and do not depend on the hockey stick to be true, then they are not climate discussions - why bring the word climate into it then?

    If you feel that the Panglossian redistributive justice schemes, outlandish geoengineering schemes and the artificial tissue of grafted commerce called 'carbon' trading do not require the justification of climate change, please join us in telling the foaming-at-the-mouth warmists to roll back their world government ideas using climate as an excuse


  18. I agree with most of the comments here and respectfully disagree strongly with Dr. Pielke's view. Frankly, I'm quite suprised at Steve Mc's statement and don't know what to do with it.

    However, it seems to me that if you look at all of the evidence as a whole - the emails, the shoddy work, the testimony of scientists being kept out of journals by these goons, and the refusal to release data and code, you cannot support the fact that this was just a fudge. Any one of these lines of evidence may seem innocuous on its own, but put together it is pretty damning - perhaps not in court, as many have already said, but certainly in the public opinion and certainly in government funded institutions.

    (Let me also just add a thank you Dr. Pielke for the way you run your blog, allowing all of this feedback from those with an opposing viewpoint.)


  19. I also think I posted on the wrong thread, though it's not irrelevant here. My apologies.


  20. "Sixth Myth: Decarbonization is possible."

    Which of these three definitions of decarbonization do you think is impossible?

    Decarbonization refers to decreases in CO2 emissions from fuel generated/consumed. For example, decarbonization denotes the declining average carbon dioxide intensity of primary energy over time (Kanoh, 1992). It also refers to the decrease of the ratio of carbon to hydrogen atoms with each succeeding energy source ( Nakicenovic (1993) and Nakicenovic, N., 1996. Freeing energy from carbon. Daedalus 125 3, pp. 95–112. View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (35)Nakicenovic (1996a)). Based on Nakicenovic's definition, decarbonization was understood as the decreasing carbon intensity of the global energy mix ( Hoffert, 1998) and a decrease in the emission of carbon into the atmosphere of energy produced, which is measured by g of carbon per megajoule (Margolis and Kammen, 1999).


  21. I forgot to include the link to the various definitions for "decarbonization" listed above. They're found in this paper: