Tuesday, July 23, 2019


I've been writing abut climate science for a long time.  This post is from ten years ago today, and yet remains as timely now as it did then.  It's one of what I believe is my best posts.


Generally to be considered "scientific", something has to be falsifiable - where anyone can try to duplicate your observations or results. If there's no way that this can be done, then the thing cannot be held to be scientific. Carl Sagan used a typically accessible parable that illustrated this critical part of the Scientific Method:
"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage" 
Suppose (I'm following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity! 
"Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle -- but no dragon. 
"Where's the dragon?" you ask. 
"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon." 
You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints. 
"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air." 
[Lots of ingenious tests for the dragon's existence presented and explained away.]

Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.
So the primary - perhaps singular - requirement of science is data. Access to data (to see if someone made a mistake or to compare it to a different set of data) is simply a given, if something is to be considered scientific. Otherwise, how is the hypothesis falsifiable? The assertions would be immune to disproof.

An interesting thing is going on in the Global Warming debate - one group of scientists (the global warmers) is refusing to release their data. Steve McIntyre asked the UK Meteorologic Office to send him their data, so he could check it:
You stated that CRUTEM3 data that you held was the value added data. Pursuant to the Environmental Information Regulations Act 2004, please provide me with this data in the digital form, together with any documents that you hold describing the procedures under which the data has been quality controlled and where deemed appropriate, adjusted to account for apparent non-climatic influences
They said no. Their reasons were very, very interesting:
The Met Office received the data information from Professor Jones at the University of East Anglia on the strict understanding by the data providers that this station data must not be publicly released.
Well now. Leaving aside whether the University of East Anglia in general, and Professor Jones' projects in particular are publicly funded, doesn't this make it hard to analyze the public policy recommendations related to climate change? The Met Office heartily agrees:
We considered that if the public have information on environmental matters, they could hope to influence decisions from a position of knowledge rather than speculation. However, the effective conduct of international relations depends upon maintaining trust and confidence between states and international organisations. This relationship of trust allows for the free and frank exchange of information on the understanding that it will be treated in confidence. If the United Kingdom does not respect such confidences, its ability to protect and promote United Kingdom interests through international relations may be hampered.
Well, well, well.

So what can we say about any conclusions, recommendations, or reports issued by the UK Met Office, that are based on this data? They are unfalsifiable.

McIntyre is very unpopular indeed among the Global Warming set, because he focuses on their data. He's the reason that you never hear about the "Hockey Stick" any more - he found that the data was cooked and the computer model was buggy, in a way that produced the hockey stick shaped curve. How bad is the data? Some of it no longer exists:
In passing, I mention an important archiving problem. Pete Holzmann identified actual tags from the Graybill program. We found that 50% of the data had not been archived. Was this selective or not? No one knows. Graybill died quite young. His 21 notes were notoriously incomplete. Worse, when the Tree Ring Laboratory moved a few years ago, apparently they forgot to arrange for old samples to be protected. Their former quarters were destroyed. Some of the records were apparently recovered from the trash by one scientist but others are permanently lost.
This is what the IPCC's $50 Trillion recommendation is based on.  RTWT. The situation isn't just worse than you think. It's worse than you can possibly imagine. And some of you have quite good imaginations.

The science is settled, you see, but no, you can't have the data. You can't even see what was done to quality control the data, because it might damage a government's ability to protect it's national interests.

Oops, gotta go. It's those darn Deniers, back on my lawn again ...

UPDATE: More on the UK Met office here.


Beans said...

One of the saddest days in Western Civilization was the day the Scientific Method died.

If it ain't verifiable and repeatable, it ain't science, boys and girls.

Sigh. "I feel that..." should not carry the same weight of conviction as "I can prove repeatedly, and so can my worst enemy scientist, that..."

According to modern "science," I feel that putting the two hemispheres of plutonium of the Demon Core together by hand is totally safe. And I am sure that it's going to work out for me. What? I shouldn't do it? You're right, that's what lab assistants are for. Beaker, front and center!!! Yeah, no.

Global warming. Let's see, just from my perspective. When I moved to Florida in 1973, orange groves ranged from north of the Everglades to the FL-GA border, then 1976 came and froze them out. Now winters are too cold for most groves to exist even in the famous Indian River area. But world temperatures are rising, right?

And water levels have risen so much in the last 50 years that my family house which was 4'ish above sea level 50 years ago is still the same 4'ish today. My eldest brother must be doing a spectacular job of jacking up the house, not.

Simple, verifiable results by the common man can dispel global warming in 10 seconds.

Except that common man only believes what the panic artists in the media tell him. Remember the Global Ice Age coming in 1976ish? Yeah...

Borepatch said...

Beans, the only thing I dispute in your comment is that the common man DOESN'T believe the media scare stories.


The lack of data / methodology sharing ALONE was what turned me.

Never mind all the other things. And when they said "Sun? We've accounted for that variation" with sneering/dismissive tones... and, of course, not saying HOW they accounted for it.

Unknown said...

Rest assured, we have top men working on it.

What men?

Top. Men.


Ted said...

AS a "Data analyst" by trade, there have been many times when I present the results I found only to be told " Well, OK but that's not what we were expecting".

My response is always --- Ok...Tell me what you were expecting and I'll make the needed adjustments to the model. Data models are just complex guesses following a set of rules. Don't like the results...... No Problem, we can fix that. Change a few assumptions, add a filter or two.. small change here... small change there ... adjust the rules ... Presto Changeo....all better now. Who can say it's wrong.... it's just a prediction not reality. After all it's their model..... they get to decide how they want to lie to themselves when trying to predict the future.

McChuck said...

The ground temperature data is falsified.
The satellite temperature data is currently being falsified.
The ice cores are lied about.
The tree rings were from one side of one tree.
The models are bupkis.
The data is hidden.
The sources are deleted.
The code is obfuscated.
Simple questions and contrary opinions are shouted down.

There is no science in their "Science".

A Reader said...

If Beaker re-assembled the Demon Core, I am sure the results would be both spectacular and hilarious. It might even explain the Great Gonzo.