Saturday, January 9, 2010

An Article I Couldn't Sell

An Article I Couldn't Sell

Climate Change

Back when I was an undergraduate, almost twenty years ago, I was contemplating that my doctoral dissertation in history would be something related to climate change and industrialization. In particular, I had long been curious about the coincidence of the Maunder Minimum, the decline of the Little Ice Age, and the rise of the Industrial Revolution.

The rise of the Little Ice Age coincided with the collapse of the Viking settlements in North America and Greenland, the decline of the Mississippian Mound Builder civilization, the collapse of the Anasazi culture in the Southwest, and the sudden arrival of the Aztecs from the Southwest into the Valley of Mexico. The expansion of Genghis Khan into Asia is also about the same period. The sudden cooling associated with the Little Ice Age—and the corresponding changes in rainfall—might well explain this curious coincidence of cultural transformations starting in the 1200s around the globe.

I have therefore always been a bit surprised at how rapidly the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis went from “possible” to “no doubts allowed.” I have sufficient awareness of the history of climate change and its effects on human beings to wonder if a solar cycle induced warming trend caused the Industrial Revolution—not the other way around. A warming climate in Britain, by increasing crop yields, might have allowed more leisure time for troublemakers like Newcomen and Watt to invent the steam engine, which led directly to increased utilization of coal and other fossil fuels.

I have long suspected that the AGW believers were driven by a certain level of self-satisfied certitude that prevented them from looking seriously enough at alternative models. While I had my suspicions about the politicians involved in this, I assumed that most of the scientists were pawns in a larger game intended to benefit financial speculators in carbon credit trading.

After reading this dump of documents, I’m much less prepared to accept them as pawns. I started picking emails at random from the CRU dump--and I'm astonished at how McCarthyite some of it is. For example, this email from Tom Wigley to Rick Piltz suggesting that someone should work on getting the University of Wisconsin to reassess the granting of a Ph.D. to a scientist who Wigley decided was a problem for the true faith:
You may be interesting in this snippet of information about Pat Michaels. Perhaps the University of Wisconsin ought to open up a public comment period to decide whether Pat Michaels, PhD needs re-assessing? “Michaels' PhD … dealt with statistical (regression-based) modeling of crop-climate relationships. In his thesis, Michaels claims that his statistical model showed that weather/climate variations could explain 95% of the inter-annual variability in crop yields. Had this been correct, it would have been a remarkable results. Certainly, it was at odds with all previous studies of crop-climate relationships, which generally showed that weather/climate could only explain about 50% of inter-annual yield variability.

In Michaels' regressions he included a trend term. This was at the time a common way to account for the effects of changing technology on yield. … In other words, Michaels' claim that weather/climate explains 95% of the variability is completely bogus.

Apparently, none of Michaels' thesis examiners noticed this. We are left with wondering whether this was deliberate misrepresentation by Michaels, or whether it was simply ignorance.
Even assuming that Wigley is correct, and Michaels’ doctoral work was flawed, Wigley admits that at the time this was “a common way to account for the effects of changing technology on yield.” How could this be done this out of “ignorance,” while Wigley also admits that it was common practice at the time? Trying to get someone's Ph.D. revoked under such conditions is positively McCarthyite—and really shows how intent Wigley was on trying to destroy Michaels’ livelihood and standing as a scientist.

Here are two other emails that together really impress me with their dishonesty. In a September 29, 2009 email from Michael Mann at PSU to Andrew Revkin, a New York Times environmental reporter, Mann says: “Skepticism is essential for the functioning of science. It yields an erratic path towards eventual truth. But legitimate scientific skepticism is exercised through formal scientific circles, in particular the peer review process. A necessary though not in general sufficient condition for taking a scientific criticism seriously is that it has passed through the legitimate scientific peer review process. those such as McIntyre who operate almost entirely outside of this system are not to be trusted.”

And yet on July 8, 2004, Phil Jones wrote to Michael Mann: “The other paper by MM is just garbage - as you knew. De Freitas again. Pielke is also losing all credibility as well by replying to the mad Finn as well - frequently as I see it. I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is !”

So those who operate outside the peer review process are not to be trusted—and if need be, Professor Phil Jones will change the definition of peer-reviewed literature to keep peer reviewed papers from being considered. Perhaps Professor Mann responded to Professor Jones with an indignant note about the importance of the “legitimate scientific peer review process” and it just wasn’t included in this dump—but the overall tone of many of these emails is the scientific equivalent of Chicago politics.

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