Plimer review: more from G Schmidt

Dr Schmidt says in his email:

… [Y]ou are indeed being lied to.

Check out the other 'surprising' things you learnt from Pilmer's book:

- Wegman's analysis of the 'peer-review' network of Mike Mann for instance. Think about this for a second - how does Wegman (or anyone else) know who has anonymously peer-reviewed all of Mann's papers in dozens of journals and with dozens of different editors? Not even Mike Mann will know. Wegman actually analysed Mann's network of co-authors (which includes me of course) on papers - 90% of which were published*after* the 1998 paper. And what does this analysis show? Simply that people collaborate with people who they know and work well with. Any profilic author has exactly the same kind of pattern - at least in the sciences where multi-author collaborations are common. This reveals nothing about who peer-reviewed the papers Pilmer takes objection to or whether this was done appropriately.

- Your characterisation of the 'hockey stick' affair as 'fraud' (which by the way is quite clearly defamatory) is not supported by any statement in the Wegman or North reports. Even assuming for the sake of argument that Mann's techniques were inappropriate, an allegation of fraud requires the deliberate manipulation of the data, not merely that a paper was wrong. Since the work has been replicated by Wahl and Ammann and McIntrye, no such manipulation occured, and since the one technical issue where an argument can be made about it's appropriateness (the centering of the principle component analysis), ends up not affecting the reconstruction significantly (a step *not* analysed by Wegman), it can't be said to be salient, nor offer evidence of 'fraud': http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/07/the-missing-piece-at-the-wegman-hearing/

Finally, your review brings to mind a no-doubt anecdotal criticism of a student's paper by a Cambridge professor: "There is much that is correct and new about your work. Unfortunately, that which is correct is not new, and that which is new is not correct". Pilmer's book should get very much the same response - he is correct in saying that past climate changes have happened and people and ecosystems have adapted (though whether the abandonment and collapse of whole societies counts as a successful adaptation is unclear (Anasazi, Maya, Ur etc.)). Very little of his compendium of paleo-climate change is new or unknown to the wider climate science community. Its relevance to today - when there are billions more people, a far greater proportion of the Earth's resources being used to support them, and I think you would agree, rather more impediments to large scale migration of population than there was during the Paleolithic period - is somewhat unclear. But notwithstanding that, his discussion of present day changes is wrong and not in trivial ways. His reliance on faked graphs (fig 3 for instance), citations that don't support his claims, and basic errors of physics have been widely documented. (for instance here: http://bravenewclimate.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/plimer1a3.pdf )

However much you might want to believe his conclusions, or agree with his rhetorical thrust, to do so based on scholarship this bad is tanatamount to abandoning any semblance of objectivity. There may well be a good argument against the Australian ETS, but this is not it.

Dr Schmidt is, of course, a renowned expert in climate science and has had a lot of practice at these controversies, some of which I’m seeing for the first time. No doubt Prof Ian Plimer would have his own counter-points, but I am willing to dispute the validity of my opinions although they are not (I don’t hold them out to be) expert. So, in the order of Dr Schmidt’s arguments:

The Wegman Committee ‘cluster analysis’: I said in my review that I found the Wegman Committee’s “cluster analysis of Mann’s peer-review network… pretty interesting, and plausible”. I don’t know, and nor does the Wegman Committee claim to know, who peer-reviewed Dr Mann’s articles. On that much I agree with with Dr Schmidt. What the Committee report says is:

One of the interesting questions associated with the ‘hockey stick controversy’ are the relationships among the authors and consequently how confident one can be in the peer review process. In particular, if there is a tight relationship among the authors and there are not a large number of individuals engaged in a particular topic area, then one may suspect that the peer review process does not fully vet papers before they are published. Indeed, a common practice among associate editors for scholarly journals is to look in the list of references for a submitted paper to see who else is writing in a given area and thus who might legitimately be called on to provide knowledgeable peer review. Of course, if a given discipline area is small and the authors in the area are tightly coupled, then this process is likely to turn up very sympathetic referees. These referees may have co- authored other papers with a given author. They may believe they know that author’s other writings well enough that errors can continue to propagate and indeed be reinforced. From Section 5 of the Committee report

I say I found this ‘plausible’ because, like anyone else who has observed the game of academic journal publishing, I know that this happens and the results are frequently exactly as the Committee claims. I suppose Dr Schmidt knows that, too. Peer-review is not a reliable test of the validity of argument in a paper for this reason. What I found ‘pretty interesting’ was the apparent centrality of Dr Mann in the cluster analysis: he appeared from the report to have by far the richest network of co-author links. I realize that this could be an artifact of the way the analysis was done, but I said only that I found it ‘pretty interesting’, for precisely the same reason as the Committee thought it was interesting and worth some ten pages in their report. The inference (that Mann had a strong influence over anyone likely to have been his ‘peer’ in the reviews of his paper) is an insinuation in the Wegman Committee report not a finding The comments I make in my review—having read the Wegman Report only after finding the reference in Plimer—make no more claims than the Committee. I refer to “Mann’s peer-review network” in the same sense as they do and find their inference ‘interesting and plausible’ for the same reason they do.

That ‘reason’ goes to Dr Schmidt’s second point: the use of the word ‘fraud’. In my review I posed this as a question:”the ‘hockey stick’ fraud (what else to call it?)”. Dr Schmidt makes the point that you can’t call something that is merely wrong a fraud, there has to be some evidence of deliberate manipulation of data. I agree (although I disagree that Steven McIntyre’s reproduction of the manipulations is evidence that no manipulation occurred). My response is, (a) I did not accuse Dr Mann of ‘fraud’ (nor did Prof. Plimer) but the IPCC’s use of the ‘hockey stick’ in it’s reports and advocacy has been misleading and manipulative and, consequently, open to that allegation, and; (b) the Wegman Report (and many other reviews, not the least by McIntyre and Plimer) strongly suggest that the data used for the original article by Dr Mann was selectively chosen and manipulated to demonstrate a point about warming that was consistent with the preferred theories of Dr Mann and his co-authors.

In one sense, even ‘manipulation’ is no big deal: I know of similar examples in my own profession (economic models of trade). It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between deliberate manipulation of the data and the consequences of ‘selective vision’ imposed on a researcher by a passionate conviction that she/he has a valid hypothesis. What taints ordinary manipulation with suspicion of fraud are things like evidence of personal benefit and persistent attempts to cover-up the manipulation, for example by refusing to release data or the specifications of the model. I leave it to you to judge whether you consider those factors are relevant to the response of Dr Mann and his ‘network’ to the controversy.

Dr Schmidt’s third point (if I read him right) is that there is nothing new in the Plimer paleo-climate account which is ‘widely known’ in the ‘climate science community’. These observations may be irrelevant today, he argues, because the costs of adaptation to such changes were they to recur would be so much bigger than they were in prehistoric times. I couldn’t agree less. The point that Plimer made quite well (and hammered home by many repetitions) is that the overwhelming evidence of cyclical impacts of natural terrestrial, solar and even galactic events on climate, and the potential to locate our current climatic period in those cycles (using data from both proxies and direct measurements), gives every reason do doubt the importance of man-made influences such as CO2, especially when the CO2/GHG theory itself is weak and unsatisfactory in other ways. This is a highly relevant criticism of the whole basis of the IPCCs argument and an important perspective to bear in mind when we evaluate the IPCC’s alarming claims. Plimer’s argument from paleo-climate is highly relevant to an assessment of these alarm-calls. As for the cost of adaptation: we have no idea of the costs at all (Stern and Garnaut notwithstanding) because it is not clear what we will need to adapt to or when. But with a view to historical probabilities, it is more likely to be an other ice-age, sooner or later, than being cooked in a run-away greenhouse .

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *