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’:

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: )

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 .

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