Discussion of CRU Materials

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The debate over global warming is relevant to GNXP (previous posts here and here) not so much because our readers are interested in climate science but because the dynamics of the debate — scientific “consensus” versus politically incorrect minority view — have relevance to various debates over human biodiversity. With that background, I would be curious to know what posts/arguments/sites other GNXPers find most relevant and compelling. My three favorites are:

1) Willis Eschenbach on his attempts to use the Freedom Of Information Act to access CRU data and model details.

2) Eric Raymond on details of the released code. When serious software experts like Raymond start accusing climate scientists of “blatant data-cooking,” the “consensus” started to looks much weaker.

3) Gavin Schmidt at Real Climate in defense of the scientists at CRU. Whatever the criticisms of Schmidt from folks like Steve McIntyre, you have to be impressed with his willingness to take on all comers.

In the spirit of (United States) Thanksgiving, I am thankful that the human genetics community seems to have a much broader diversity of opinion and greater committment to transparency and reproducible research than the climate science community.


  1. Bishop Hill is gathering some of the horrors from the software. 

  2. That is just what I would expect Eric Raymond to say based on his vociferous political opinions. As a software engineer myself I would not have characterized him as a “serious software expert” in this regard–when has he ever dealt with scientific data?

  3. The comments in the software are not really all that odd. Sometimes programmers get silly when they are trying to work something out. 
    Now, using different coefficients on different data sets to get the correct results and hard coding data is a pretty big deal. 
    Why doesn’t anyone ever argue in favor of global warming? Imagine the beachfront property in Antarctica and Greenland…

  4. I have been known to give subroutines odd names. Once, when writing a simulation of a multiprocessor system solving a sparse set of linear equations, I named all the routines used in the first step of the solve after German generals (manstein, guderian, leeb, etc), all the routines in the second step after Soviet generals (zhukhov, koniev, etc) and the routine used in both sections was, of course, named vlasov.

  5. I have been known to give subroutines odd names 
    tell me about it :-) also, am the only one to get attached to strange mispellings?

  6. Ruchira — did you see the code Raymond excerpted? That is a hard coded set of coefficients that “compensates” for the uncooperative boundary condition of the reconstruction. Hide the decline indeed…

  7. I have no real problem with the idea that global warming is happening, and that people are causing it. The basic science seems plausible, and I tend to respect and defer to the consensus of the scientific community in matters like this. Beyond that, much of the skepticism seems very obviously to be motivated by Julian Simon style cornucopian free market ideology. 
    What I haven’t been convinced of so far is that this is going to be anything near the biggest problem we are going to be facing over the next hundred years or so. I’m much more concerned, for example, about overpopulation (nine billion is still a lot, especially when it includes two billion starving Africans who are all going to want to come here) and resource shortages (not just oil — what about all these rare metals that we need for all this fancy technology that is supposed to save our asses?). Compared to that, and a dozen other things I could come up with, a three foot rise in sea level, amortized over a hundred years, just doesn’t look all that scary.

  8. Yes, I remember Julian Simon losing that bet about metals to Paul Ehrlich.

  9. JEB: 
    I also “have no real problem with the idea that global warming is happening and that people are causing it” (though I tend toward being skeptical of the degree to which such concerned scientists are likely to make very accurate predictions on the basis of what are relatively limited–both in numbers and in period length–observations). 
    What I (and very many others) do have a problem with is in shifting ever more of the efforts people all over the world make every day to improve various conditions of their lives–”those we term “economic”–to the control of those less concerned with those specific shortcomings than those most directly involved. 
    I might be what you’d call a “free-market ideologue” and, as an Austrian-school economist, eschew all mathematical or “modelling” methods for better understanding of economic relationships and phenomena but hasten to point out that no empirical evidence whatever experienced over the past century can do other than attest the remarkable accuracy of Austrian methodology in the long term (though we do concur in the short-term efficacy of confiscation with supporting truncheons and prisons).  
    It is not merely that the AGW proponents may be wrong on the science of the matter; it is that, even though they be right about those long-term environmental trends, there’s no reason to expect that the changes sought–by and large, restrictions and the substitution of more expensive alternative materials and methods for the less expensive now in use (and coming along)–will have the desired effects (unless one of the desired effects–though unstated–is to cause the death by starvation of many millions of the world’s least fortunate). Is it really (in your honest estimation) far-fetched for those who love liberty and are astonished witnesses to the enormous productivity it engenders to the benefit of nearly all to suspect chicanery, misdirection, and far worse in nearly every attempt to wield control, essentially by the non-productive of the productive (and especially of the super-productive)? 
    Those in my belief camp laud the market (and the use of money) as the method developed by men over the course of the evolution of civilization that exploits the natural inequalities among men (as, similarly, between environmental factors) to achieve the nicest, most productive specialization of function and division of labor, making the welfare of each (to the very greatest extent) wholly dependent on the degree to which his activities meet with the approval of his fellows. There is no insistence that the market is “perfect,” merely that it serves the enormous preponderance of human needs better than any thinkable alternative (each of which, without exception, is designed to substitute the opinion of its designer for the expression, on the market, of the opinions and wills of all those others daily benefitting from and enduring the composite effects of their economic activities). 
    Government is always the rule over the many by the few. But by any measure, economic planning for the many by the few (regardless of the “experts” in support) has a tragic (and bloody) history. What is different about AGW? 
    Lastly, I’d like to remind you of something (of which you may be only dimly aware at the moment). 
    Economics employs, quite frequently, the term “marginal.” Most understand the word but only in limited context. People, also, can be “marginal”–existence is at the margin of survivability; fewer calories, less water–and they’re “done for.” Many of the most marginal, in this sense, are dependent children of parents, themselves “marginal.” With every drop in the price of food (and other “stuff”), more of these survive; with every rise, some die and many more sink ever closer to that margin. The productivity of human effort, thanks mainly to advances engendered in the West, ameliorated conditions of many millions previously condemned, if not to death, to lives of excruciating deprivation. Have you any doubt that these many would be among those most quickly and adversely affected by changes AGW proponents endorse? All change incurs “opportunity costs”; are you willing to include the lives of such people among the opportunity costs of following the recommendations of AGW proponents? Just think about it a bit.

  10. (each of which, without exception, is designed to substitute the opinion of its designer for the expression, on the market, of the opinions and wills of all those others daily benefitting from and enduring the composite effects of their economic activities). 
    Exactly, but the market is Aesop’s tongues
    What I don’t like in the market is that it indeed cater for the will of the masses and that in 99.99% of cases this is CRAP!!!

  11. JEB — I encourage you to download the zip file and look at it yourself. Frankly no one who has ever published a research paper can trust Mann and Jones after this. 
    Note that these files do not debunk the greenhouse effect per se — while I have not seen the data myself, my understanding is that it is basic physics that can be demonstrated in an isolated chamber. Instead these files debunk the paleoclimate reconstructions, which purport to show that the current period is *unusually* warm. That is obviously a key leg of the “consensus”, which the emails (plus the social graph figure in the Wegman report) show to have been manufactured, viz. “redefine the peer reviewed literature”.

  12. Ruchira Datta: Raymond wrote the well-regarded “The Art of UNIX Programming.” If that does not meet your criteria for serious software expert, I am not sure what would.

  13. gene berman: 
    Thank you for saying it so well 
    I generally just say that the AGW guys are plotting genocide against the third world and should be charged with crimes against humanity. 
    I think you said it better

  14. Reading this comment thread has been disappointing for me, an avid believer in hbd and agw both. I agree with the poster that the parallels are interesting — “scientific ‘consensus’ versus politically incorrect minority view”. 
    It’s also interesting that, if I’m reading them right, most of the comments above don’t question the science and the reality of AGW, but rather the mainstream view of what should be done about it. 
    Razib, can we have a poll?

  15. What does hbd stand for?

  16. Ah, human bio-diversity. Just had not come across that acronym before.

  17. Kiortho, did you have a chance to look at the zip file? I don’t see how you can continue to, quote, “believe” when the evidence is this cut and dried.

  18. The science is wrong  
    and the morality is misplaced

  19. TGGP — I find it so tiresome that people keep on bringing up that bet with Ehrlich, as if it somehow validated everything Julian Simon ever said. Remember, this is the same loon who wrote “We now have in our hands — really, in our libraries — the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next seven billion years.” Try working that out on your pocket calculator! Really, I have very little respect for the cornucopians. As far as I can tell they have a single argument, which goes something like this: “Malthus has been wrong for 200 years; this proves he will be wrong forever.” (Because 200 years is, like, forever!!!). Complicated systems can be fragile in ways that are very difficult to anticipate in advance, and our civilization has become extraordinarily complicated. I can’t predict the future, but I think I have the right to be a little nervous about it. 
    gene berman — I’ve read your comment several times, but I’m having a hard time figuring out just what you are trying to say, and how it relates to what I had to say. The condescension comes through loud and clear, but the rest is such a tedious buzzword ridden mishmash (confiscation? truncheons? the super-productive? really???) that I’m not even going to try to tease it apart. 
    jeecee — I write computer code for a living, and one thing I have discovered, if I may paraphrase Sartre, is that hell is other people’s code! It can be extremely difficult to understand what someone else is getting at when he writes something, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable passing judgment on the code in question here without a lengthy review, which would have to involve, among other things, my getting up to speed on the climate science involved. Needless to say this isn’t going to happen! I’ve seen excerpts in various places, and they do look kind of bad, but then I can think of things I’ve done and comments I’ve placed in my own code which might look bad taken out of context. So I’m kind of stuck. You may very well be right about this. There does seem to be a quasi-religious quality to environmentalism in general, and global warming in particular, which could distort the work even of people who believe themselves to be acting in good faith (I do believe most scientists, on both sides, are acting in good faith). But then, the opposition really does strike me as very ideological, and in any case I’m very reluctant to second guess the experts when most of them are coming down on a particular side of an issue. So I’ll just have to watch from the sidelines and see how this plays out. 
    I’m still not convinced though, that even if global warming is real, it’s going to be one of the bigger problems of this century.

  20. JEB — I can understand where you’re coming from. That said, I also write code (and do science) professionally. And if you can’t replicate a result, that is a career ending catastrophe, not something that one glosses over.  
    For example:  
    The authors of a highly cited Science paper from 2004 on the synthesis of glycoproteins have retracted it, reports The Scientist. As the authors note in their retraction, “the lab notebooks are no longer available to replicate the original experimental conditions, and we are unable to introduce this amino acid into myoglobin with the information and reagents currently in hand.” Senior author Peter Schultz tells The Scientist that his lab plans to continue to study the glycosylation of amino acids. “There are clearly complexities associated with suppression and cellular bioavailablity of these and other glycosylated amino acids that we did/do not understand,” Schultz wrote in an email. 
    Any paper that cannot be replicated from the raw data must be retracted. That  
    standard is particularly important when trillion dollar decisions are being made. With the current investigations of Mann and Jones (Jones forced to step down today, Mann investigated by his university), I believe we may see a wave of retractions reverberating through the climate literature.