Hi kids ! It’s been an interesting week-end …
For those not involved in blog wars, the latter is an interesting blog animated by Steve McIntyre, a climate skeptic with merciless talent for tearing apart a dataset. The word on the street is (some readers may want to correct me here) that McIntyre created this blog after getting frustrated that his comments were never addressed, or even posted, on RealClimate.org .
I am a regular reader of RealClimate.org which gathers distinguished scientists of the likes of David Archer, Stefan Rahmstorf, Ray Pierrehumbert, Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann. These people are personally ersponsible for some of the msot exciting work in climatology, their blog has won a few awards and it is increasingly taken as authority by a number of newspapers, including my own “Le Monde” from Frogland. Blog posts on RealClimate are often entertaining, always informative, but it arguably leaves little room for heterodox climate views and it sometimes leaves the strange aftertaste that its authors are defending and selling their own research, while not explicitly acknowledging this partisanship. In particular, Michael Mann is the lead author behind the illustrious Hockey Stick graph, which is by any means a very controversial piece of research, and RealClimate.org (RC) has proven somewhat closed to discussion on the topic – at least coming from McIntyre’s clique. Though i have not personally experienced censorship on RC, i have heard many accounts thereof. It is perfectly sensible to block global-warming-denialist trolls from spewing out insults on the forum, but not intelligent laymen who ask inconvenient questions. So quite a few people (climate scientists included) have gotten frustrated with RC as well. (today’s post about my former ministre de l’Education and his apprentice Courtillot is an absolute gem, however. Highly recommended).
On the other side of the aisle, you have Steve McIntyre and his now growing number of readers on ClimateAudit.org (CA). McIntyre apparently jumped into the climate game because of some (legitimate) concerns he had with the Hockey Stick graph, and has since turned his attention to just about every piece of data that is being used in the media in climate discussions. The man seems a rather interesting fellow , with a solid math background, a painstaking attention to detail, and a devastating verve that makes his blogposts rather entertaining to read. More recently, he has deeply impressed me by undertaking some tree-ring research out of his own free time and on his own funds : there are a lot of armchair skeptics out there, but this man is doing serious work.
The strength of CA has been its openness to comments from all sides, which fostered the growth of a crowd of hard-to-please data analysts, crafting ever-more-well-posed questions and challenges to the climate science community. It is, in my view, a much needed addition to the climate debate, with expertise from various fields of mathematics, statistics and data analysis. As a scientist i wish they were taken more seriously by our community. It is natural for every society to get a little complacent and it runs the risk of resting on its laurels, unless challenged by an Opposition.
The main problem is that until recently, the Opposition was mostly represented by the despicable breed of “climate obscurantists” who have been polluting the blogosphere with a pure disinformation campaign, motivating their disparaging comments on all states of climate science by their own unwillingness to change anything about their fossil-fueled existence. These comments are always easily debunkable because they are not based on any scientific knowledge or reasoning. I would hate to be guilty of referring you to such pieces of junk, but if you want a taste , Texas Rainmaker, America’s Future or the editorials of the Wall Street Journal are quite good examples – there are unfortunately many, many more.
Hence, for a climate obscurantist, if you are with the IPCC, you are for the “climate terrorists”, no lie is above you and no punch is too low. Fortunately, CA started on very different premises. While i know little about his underlying motives, McIntyre is a very sharp fellow whose pointed questions help create a healthy debate in the field. If the IPCC consensus is as indestructible as we claim, then it must be able to weather these storms. Better still, it could be a little shaken by said storms and would emerge stronger and more legitimate.
Further, McIntyre is joined in his investigation by a vocal group of readers and commentators, some of which are quite on-point. The CA crowd is a tough one for sure : the educated skeptics in there, while decently equipped in verbal courtesy, are entirely exempt of magnanimity, and don’t let you get away with much. It’s a bit like the All Blacks rugby pack. That’s all right : i have no problem with tough players. Unfortunately, the openness and the global-warming-trashing bent of CA means that some of its participants are of the “obscurantist” breed, and are more vocal than warranted by their science credentials.
One also finds a distinct self-congratulatory tone in there, and when McIntyre makes a sneering cheap shot at a prominent climate scientist, the joke is greeted with loud cheers and pats in the back that are more reminiscent of a low-grade frat house than a respectable scientific society. This is corny at best, and most often downright tiring. Hence the somewhat playful urge of yours truly to go challenge the pack on its own turf at some opportune moment….
The opportunity materialized last thursday with the publication of a new indepdendent temperature reconstruction, one that shows a very warm “Medieval Warm Period” (aka “Medieval Climate Anomaly” because it was almost certainly not warm everywhere – more on this later), and thus poses a particular challenge to CA. Are they going to scrutinize it as ruthlessly and righteously as reconstructions that support the idea that the twentieth century warming is anomalous in the context of the past millennium ? Or are they going to congratulate the author for his “unbiased” work, pat each other in the back, and go on insulting Mann, Hansen and tutti quanti ? Does CA stand for Climate Audit or Curmudgeon Association ? Is the “skeptic” crowd even skeptical of its own children or is it a privilege reserved to mainstream climatologists ?
So on friday yours truly posted a review of it on CA. If you are curious enough to read some of comments in there (477 at the time of writing), you will find that my little post generated quite a storm.
I spent most of friday answering some of the rebuttals and other comments, and i have to say it was quite enthralling. I evidently pushed some buttons there, and undeniably some of them were quite sensitive spots. The best compliment was by Pat Keating :
You have a nice turn of phrase, and would love to read more of your critiques, preferably in the context of the AGW acolytes’ work<
So apparently i am good enough to join the Dark Side. Exciting…
Later, McIntyre started his audit and so far i am pleased to see he is not giving Loehle a free ride. This is only the beginning.
I acknowledge, however, that i wrote my CA posts in the heat of the battle, which is never a good thing. As a Kokikai Aikido practitioner, i should know better. Whenever i am given an article to review, i usually make sure to do it over a period of a few days, so that the second (or third ) reading might provide a different light and help me be more objective – particularly if i thought the article unacceptable at first read. I violated this rule on friday because i was too eager to go make a splash on CA – to make a statement that they were also being watched and that some people will prove just as picky about the Opposition’s statements than they are about the Establishment. That was quite shallow, ego-driven, and i took somewhat of a sadistic pleasure in lacerating that article – while i could be more constructive.
As my neighbor Dr Martin Luther King Jr used to say : “An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind”. As it turns out, my former NY roommate was in town this week-end and I had a fantastic time : full of laughter, Venezualian aged dark rum, frisbee-tossing in Piedmont park, rosemary pork loin roast, neighbors dropping by the dinner table all night, and late night jam sessions till we fell asleep on the instruments. Today the Sun was so intense that we could suntan on my rooftop with a good cup of tea, and i just got out of a very grounding yoga session.
So let’s chill out for a bit : true, Loehle’s article (in its present form) is a poorly-written piece of pseudo-scientific gibberish – but now that i have the watchdogs’ attention there’s no need to be barking anymore. It would be a poor tribute to a gorgeous week-end than to remain sulky.
In the following post, i will thus summarize the article in question, present the issues i have with it and respond to as many CA comments as i can before falling asleep. We’ll see where it leads…