Original URL: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/31/climategate_modeller_mailbag/

Mailbag pits Modeller vs Modeller

By Andrew Orlowski

Posted in Science, 31st January 2010 10:02 GMT

Andrew's Mailbag "El Reg, it is very disappointing tthta you blatantly run a denialist agenda, then do not allow debate. I wouldnt piss on Orlowski if he was on fire." Register reader Dave 14

"that useless half wit Orlowski has again been allowed to post his climate denial bullshit, without any comments allowed as a right of reply. I am sick of ElReg supporting fruit loop deniers and not allowing comment on their irrelevant rantings. Fuck you El Reg." Register reader Dave 14

Welcome to Andrew's Mailbag, which is a bit like the Comments, but without the death threats. It also gets contributions you don't get, possibly because I insist on getting my mail via a mailto, rather than being typed into a web form. This is the response to my Climategate analysis. For whatever reason, we're I'm blessed with two contributions you're going to enjoy comparing.

First you'll hear from a Climate Scientist from a top university. A PhD. He didn't request anonymity but given the bitchfest that we know it is, from the CRU leak, we don't want to get him into trouble. Then there's one from an experienced computer modeller. I got a lot of email after my Climategate analysis, but these two are worth a standalone, so compare and contrast. I think you'll enjoy them.

Interesting article, that makes some good points. As a climate scientist I have some opinions. First a quick pedantic comment.

The statement that models have no predictive value and that correlation does not demonstrate causation is false. An example of a model with predictive value is Newtons law of motion, Force = Mass x Acceleration. The high correlation between the pain you receive and putting your hand into fire demonstrates that the fire is hot. The only way we can demonstrate cause and effect is via a high value of correlation.

What I think you mean is:

(1) Sometimes models are believed more than the evidence suggests. (2) Often correlations are used as evidence without estimating how likely the correlation is arrived at by chance. (3) Often correlations are used as evidence without having an understanding of why such a correlation should take place.

Regarding the main thrust of the article:

I feel that the main problem is the pressure scientists are under to publish rather than any conspiracy theory.* If you don't publish more papers, then that is the end of your career and you can't do any more science. In fact, at each step up the ladder the majority of scientists have their career ended by a lack of publications. It is not just a few sackings it is the majority that loose their jobs. This has lead to an explosion in shoddy papers that do nothing to aid understanding.

Peer reviewers are not paid and do not have the time or energy to review the stack of papers that arrive on their desks every day. They hardly ever check calculations and assume that the writer is honest. Being difficult to understand, papers are given to people in closely related fields to review.

If you have worked for years to obtain data and you give it away, other scientists will make the discovery and get the credit (and papers) and you will loose your job. Clearly this system rewards secrecy, which is not good for science.

A climate scientist has to be an expert mathematician, statistician, physicist and programmer with extensive knowledge of the climate system. Is it any wonder that a jack of all trades is master of none? You are funded and usually work as an individual which does not encourage teamwork.

I feel that we can all complain about the system and shout how imperfect it is. Coming up with a solution however is the really difficult task.

But, wait.

I am a statistical modeller by profession and an engineer by education. I find the climate scientists argument about positive feedback the most disingenuous of them all.

If you want a square wave generator, or a triangle wave generator, then you use positive feedback. Otherwise the system has to be controlled with negative feedback. The reliance on positive feedback is always going to create a runaway system.

And what is most non-intuitive about the whole thing is that temperatures on the earth have remained remarkably stable. Yes, the equilibrium point has changed, but the stability hasn't. Even during the Carboniferous period with carbon dioxide levels at twice that of now, we still had a stable equilibrium. Any model relying on positive feedback is going to result in no equilibrium.

Furthermore, just as when you are setting up positive feedback circuits (like the square wave generator), a tiny change in inputs can have a huge change in outputs. The same appears to be the case with most climate models. If you tweak their constant for how water precipitates into clouds, then you get a massive difference in results.

They then tune the constants for a very short period of tuning data (usually the last 20 or 30 years where we have more observations of the temperature) and then try to forecast 100+ years. Anyone who needs an accurate forecast knows that to forecast the next week or month you often need years of data to get a statistically significant answer. The climate modellers are forecasting 100 years with 20 years of training data. And doing so with over-fitted constants that massively change results if you get them wrong.

The climate modellers are using 20 or 30 years of detailed data, but then supplementing it with additional data from further back produced by things like tree rings and ice cores. The core data for things like tree rings is often dodgy - taken from cherry-picked tree cores. Freeman Dyson has it right when he gets on his soap box about how the models are generally flawed.

Furthermore, the analysis is based on very poor statistical methods. They used a Principal Component Analysis to back out the temperature record from the last 1000 years. Unfortunately, they failed to carry out PCA correctly. If you generate random but auto-correlated data for that period, you can actually generate a hockey stick from it because of the flaws in their analysis. Wegman et al have thoroughly discredited the process they used, yet Mann et al continue to peddle it and it is still used to demonstrate the "consensus" opinion by many journalists.

As pointed out at El Reg, CO2 climate forcing has no smoking gun to link cause and effect, and as such, it is hard to accept such a minor factor affects the climate and that other forcings, such as the sun, cannot be key factors.

I will be interested to see what happens when the greenhouse gas hypothesis is shown to be the charade that it is.

More Climategate mail over the page.

Although questioning the commonly accepted ideas about climate change is necessary, and such articles are interesting to read, the coverage on The Register in the past year or so has become so hopelessly one-sided that it really begins to detract from the credibility of the site as a whole. Every article seems to start with the preconceived notion that man-made climate change is nonsense and that anyone who suggests otherwise must be dishonest.

This bias is further highlighted by the fact that you don't allow comments on climate change articles. Worried, perhaps, that your theories may be debunked?

I still enjoy the IT articles, but please either try to approach climate change from a neutral position, or just dump the coverage altogether.

omgror [He didn't want to leave his real name.]

An excellent article.  You really get to the nub of the matter.

"The scandal is that science has advanced through anecdote and poorly founded conjecture"

I would take issue with the idea of science having been advanced.  I think this has been a huge setback for science in general.  It sees there is hard science, soft science, pseudo science and climate "science".

I wish that the Climategate epithet was ditched, as this scandal extends well beyond the sphere of climate.  There is politics, big business and economics implicated in all of this.

Grant Alexander

What a great summary!  I have already sent a link to a couple of people who are not scientists and just didn't know where to start looking into the subject.  I particularly liked the reference to BHS (Before the Hockey Stick) when we still knew why Greenland was called Greenland.....  Amazing that the IPCC et. al. have managed to completely erase this from our collective memories!

I've been following this for years so it isn't as though the evidence is a surprise, but to finally see it all laid bare... it actually makes my blood boil!

I just want us to get away from ridiculous mitigation efforts and get back to development and adaptation: regardless of what happens the climate, the richer we are the better we will survive it.  Two years ago cyclone Sidr smashed into Bangladesh and caused about 5,000 casualties.  Pretty horrible, but the previous time a cyclone of similar magnitude hit (1991, I think) the casualty numbers were over 100,000.  That's development.  That's adaptation.  That's humanity at its best.

Impoverishing people in the name of some kind of arrogant belief that we can control the climate....  sorry, time to calm down and send this.

Thanks again.

Rob Potter

Awesome article about climategate. The more press this subject can get, the better. Amazing how all the big media has quietly swept this huge story under the rug.


Very nice piece of writing on the climate data scandal. The core issue of 'dirty' data is a difficult one to explain (and even to comprehend sometimes) and you laid it out very nicely. A very entertaining read.

Garbage in, global warming out....

Mark Phillips

You are too nice! But that is a well written assessment of how and why things went terribly off the rails. The big question is ... where are things going to go from here? This thing is a giant mile-long freight train hauling heavy metals. It's going to take a lot to slow and stop it, or even to change its direction. We can only hope ....   Glenn Hunt

Good article and good summary of what we know so far. Thanks.

The real damage which has been done, it seems to me, is that we no longer know whether we are having an effect or not. How much did the massaging of the evidence effect the forecasts? No-one knows.

I am a Linux user, and therefore used to the open source model. It always seemed odd to me that climate scientists would not release their data and models in an open source-like way. I tried not to be suspicious, but some things didn't add up. If AGW is really the greatest threat we face, as they maintain, then surely that 'fact' would trump any parochial need for secrecy among 'competing' scientists. Again, if it is really so necessary that we change our entire economy to address it, why not at least try building lots of nuclear power stations? Surely, the minor dangers of even a few Chernobyls are outweighed by the 'end of life as we know it'  alarm? Well, apparently not.

Now, it seems, all of our money has been spent on the science and none has actually been done to a sufficient quality that any conclusions at all can be drawn.

Really pathetic stuff.


Mike Street

Interesting article.  But, "we will be rewriting people's perceived wisdom about the course of temperature change over the past millennium," is only unambiguous when taken out of context.  As every good journalist knows, you can prove anything you like in this way.  But anyone with the wit to Google the quote can see the context, and reveal just how disingenuous you are being here.  I see now why you don't allow comments on your essays.

Here's the context:

We can show why we believe we are correct with independent data from glacial advances and even slower responding proxies, however, what are the chances of putting together a group of a very few borhole series that are deep enough to get the last 1000 years. Basically trying to head off criticisms of the IPCC chapter, but good science in that we will be rewriting people's perceived wisdom about the course of temperature change over the past millennium.

It should be clear to anyone with a 2nd-grade science education that he is proposing an experiment to demonstrate what they already believe - which is that the medieval warm period is a myth.  This is exactly what science is all about.

Science moves on.  Many other things you learned at school are now known to be incorrect.  This is because we have more data now.

There is no scandal here, and Jones is certainly not confirming what amounts to nothing more than a conspiracy theory on your part.  "Good science in that ..." should preface your quote, rather nullifying your claim that it unambiguously refers to some kind of wrong-doing.  Apparently "Climategate" is only a scandal if people are too lazy to go back to the source, or too ignorant to read it properly.

Don't get me wrong.  I think it's great that laypeople now feel qualified to be "sceptical" about scientific discoveries.  Science is all about scepticism.  But I feel many of these people are trying to run before they can walk.  Criticism of science that misunderstands science's basic methods is not criticism at all.


There is no ambiguity, Eddie. Jones was accurately explaining the team's work. His new temperature record would rewrite people's "perceived wisdom" about the past 1,000 years - because it added uncertainty to the MWP, and made recent warming anomalous.

What matters is whether Jones revised record is accurate or not. If not, then to what ends did he seek to introduce an inaccurate version?

So far in this Mailbag, two readers have complained about us writing about a conspiracy. The strange thing is, the article didn't suggest there was one. Both exist as rhetorical devices.

Let me digress by inviting you to compare two statements. Compare:

Critics say Tony Blair manufactured evidence to justify the invasion of a country that was no threat to Britain


Critics say Tony Blair conspired to manufacture evidence to justify the invasion of a country that was no threat to Britain

The second statement obviously changes the burden of proof, by raising it. The logic of introducing "conspiracy" seems to be, that if you can't show a conspiracy, then I am right.

Yet more mail, over the page.

Another good read, but I think I partially disagree with some elements. "Climategate" matters as a precautionary tale: it's proof that scientists are fallible human beings too, and that we need to look into ways of policing science rather better.

But the climate is still something we need to study. We need to understand more about it before we can be confident in our predictions of what the future may hold. We're still not even close to knowing everything we need to know, but we are at least more aware of its complex mechanisms.

Having so little knowledge is dangerous; tinkering with our ecology could have disastrous effects, no matter how well-meaning our intentions. Geo-engineering mega-projects aimed at "solving" global warming may be more harmful than not doing anything at all. Hubris is the real danger here. We can cut most of our emissions by simply switching to nuclear—fission will do for now; fusion when we've finally got that technology nailed.

Earth's climate has done nothing but change since the planet was formed, and we do need to be aware of the implications. We just don't know what those implications are. Yet.

In the meantime, simply improving our emergency and disaster contingency plans will suffice.


Interesting article, perhaps you should include some more detail from the HARRY_READ_ME file.   However, you seem to have missed the important questions;   “We know that the politicians use science to justify policy that they have already decided to implement for other reasons (see chief science advisor, the Home Office etc etc) and will carefully select the science that seems to help or deliberately misinterpret / delete any science that dares not to support policy.

Given this what policy decision is anthropogenic warming actually supporting?

What are the real objectives of the policy?

Who are the interests behind this who stand to gain from our policy reaction to global warming?”   It is notable that many in the defence industry are most concerned about energy security, is this the source of the climate fuss?   Liam Newcombe

A couple of emails have generated lengthy correspondence, but I'm off on my holidays. See you in a week. ®