Michael Mann, the American Lysenko

[The DC Superior Court reasons] Steyn’s evaluation of Mann’s scientific claims can be legally suppressed because Steyn dares to question the conclusions of established scientific institutions connected to the government. On this basis, the DC Superior Court arrives at the preposterous conclusion that it is a violation of Mann’s rights to “question his intellect and reasoning.” That’s an awfully nice prerogative to be granted by government: an exemption against any challenge to your reasoning.

All of this stems from Michael Mann’s defamation suit against Mark Steyn, the National Review, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute for publishing Rand Simberg’s characterization that Michael Mann “has molested and tortured data.” As we all know, for public figures, the burden of proof for libel is high in the US. You can read one perspective about the legal wrangling in this Newsweek column. I’d also recommend this post by Judith Curry, where she describes how Mann feels free to, well, I’ll just use her words:

I’ve written previously about Mann’s defaming me as a ‘serial climate misinformer‘ and ‘anti-science.’  In recent weeks he has gone after Anthony Watts,  Patrick Moore (founder of Greenpeace) and Bill Gates:

Michael E. Mann ‏@MichaelEMannJan 23  So Patrick Moore (aka “EcoSenseNow”) is no more than a garden variety troll w/ nothing serious to offer. Who knew! #JokersPosingAsThinkers
Michael E. Mann‏@MichaelEMannJan 22 @BillGates Gates made an indefensible blanket statement that obscures real challenges. To dismiss lacks class.

All of these insults are mud slinging without being accompanied by any substantive argument.  Mann’s defamation of me (a climate scientist) is of particular relevance in context of Mann’s case against Steyn, in light of the recent ruling:

Accusing a scientist of conducting his research fraudulently, manipulating his data to achieve a predetermined or political outcome, or purposefully distorting the scientific truth are factual allegations. They go to the heart of scientific integrity. They can be proven true or false. If false, they are defamatory. If made with actual malice, they are actionable.

Seems to me that ‘serial climate misinformer’ and ‘anti-science’ qualify as defamatory, and its difficult to imagine that the statements were not made with malice.

Robert Tracinski’s entire article–Mann versus Steyn, the Trial of the Century–is worth a read. As Tracinski says,

If it is a sin to doubt, then there is no science. If it is a crime to dissent, then there is no politics.


No, you’re not entitled to your opinion

You can’t really argue about the first kind of opinion. I’d be silly to insist that you’re wrong to think strawberry ice cream is better than chocolate. The problem is that sometimes we implicitly seem to take opinions of the second and even the third sort to be unarguable in the way questions of taste are. Perhaps that’s one reason no doubt there are others why enthusiastic amateurs think they’re entitled to disagree with climate scientists and immunologists and have their views “respected.”

via No, you’re not entitled to your opinion.

While I agree with the thrust of Dr. Stokes article, I worry that he is getting a little close to the Argument from Authority and its inherent weakness as a proof technique. In Science, no one cares where an idea comes from (well, except the paper’s authors), what matters is how the idea holds up to experimental evidence. In the case of vaccinations, the medical evidence is crystal clear. But climate science is perhaps another story. In any case, I would urge Dr. Stokes to read the words of Richard Feynman in an invited address[0] to the 15th annual meeting of the National Science teachers Association and think carefully about the philosophy Dr. Feynman espouses.

When someone says, “Science teaches such and such,” he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn’t teach anything; experience teaches it. If they say to you, “Science has shown such and such,” you might ask, “How does science show it? How did the scientists find out? How? What? Where?”

It should not be “science has shown” but “this experiment, this effect, has shown.” And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments–but be patient and listen to all the evidence–to judge whether a sensible conclusion has been arrived at.

In a field which is so complicated [as education] that true science is not yet able to get anywhere, we have to rely on a kind of old-fashioned wisdom, a kind of definite straightforwardness. I am trying to inspire the teacher at the bottom to have some hope and some self-confidence in common sense and natural intelligence. The experts who are leading you may be wrong.

I have probably ruined the system, and the students that are coming into Caltech no longer will be any good. I think we live in an unscientific age in which almost all the buffeting of communications and television–words, books, and so on–are unscientific. As a result, there is a considerable amount of intellectual tyranny in the name of science.

[0] http://www.fotuva.org/feynman/what_is_science.html

Drug dogs, cell towers, and the expectation of privacy

Attorneys representing the U.S. Department of Justice are expected to defend warrantless use of stingray devices, which trick mobile devices into connecting to them by impersonating legitimate cell towers. Prosecutors yesterday filed court documents saying stingrays were used in investigations in Arizona and Wisconsin going back to 2008.

via FBI prepares to defend ‘Stingray’ cell phone tracking | Politics and Law – CNET News.

The Supremes just decided Florida v. Jardines, a case in which the question was if a drug-sniffing dog invaded the constitutional rights of a suspect when it alerted to the scent of drugs outside the suspect’s home. The police used the dog’s reaction to obtain a search warrant, and did find drugs. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held such a ‘search’ by the dog to be unconstitutional. But was it a victory for privacy rights? The Court’s view is that the officers’ venturing onto private property with the dog was the problematical aspect. This decision will have no effect upon a drug dog ‘search’ if the home or apartment is close enough to public property–a sidewalk, for example–for the dog to do his thing.

Well, the electronic analog of this case is coming to the lower Courts now. Your cellphone listens to the cell towers in range, decides which signal is the best, and negotiates which tower it uses. For years, the FBI has used Stingray, a box that emulates a cellphone tower, to track a subject’s cellphone and to record the numbers calling and called by that cellphone. It is also possible to record conversations using this technique. Apparently, the FBI (and local law enforcement) have been quiet about the full power of this technology and the extent of its use when obtaining warrants.

So what is the relationship between drug sniffing dogs and cellphone sniffing electronics? In both cases, specialized equipment can reveal information not readily apparent to humans. I don’t know about you, but I have a reasonable expectation of privacy about what goes on in my private residence and what my cellphone reveals about my friends and my location. If we accept that, and I think the Courts will as well, what is the difference? Here’s a big one. Stingray can be used while located on public property (e.g., public roads, public right of way, und so weiter). Fido might need to get close to your home, but Stingray works as long as its signal can win the tower selection algorithm. Fido and Stingray both pull information from the air, but Stingray has a more sensitive nose that needn’t be located on private property.

Prediction: the Supremes are going to see cases involving Stingray, and they are will need to define privacy rights in a world where we carry devices that can be snooped from public areas. They’d better start thinking about this.

Is the Scientific method being subverted by scientists?

While working on the next global temperature post, I ran across this distressing article at the BBC.  I’m thinking one of the side effects of ClimateGate will be far more healthy skepticism and pointed inquiry into the inside game of scientific research.  From the article:

Stem cell experts say they believe a small group of scientists is effectively vetoing high quality science from publication in journals.

In some cases they say it might be done to deliberately stifle research that is in competition with their own.

A small clique of researchers abusing peer-review and peer-reviewed publications for personal benefit?  Hummm, now where have I heard that before?

These kinds of allegations are not new and not confined to stem cell research. But professors Smith and Lovell-Badge believe that the problem has become particularly acute in their field of research recently for two reasons.

Firstly, research grants and career progression are now determined almost entirely by whether a scientist gets published in a major research journal. Secondly, in stem cell science, hundreds of millions of pounds are available for research – and so there is a greater temptation for those that want the money to behave unscrupulously.

Human beings act like human beings, even if they have Ph.D. after their names.  Healthy skepticism, open debate, and full disclosure of research results are important, but policing the entire chain from research, review, and publication are surely necessary when job security, not to mention large sums of money, are on the line.  In fact, I’m a bit suspicious that large sums of money might be the corrosive element in the current environment of Big Science.  Big Science requires lots of money, and most of the interesting questions require Big Science, so this problem isn’t going away.  Somehow, we need to come to grips with this problem and find a way to ensure the integrity of Science and the Scientific Method in a world of billion dollar research budgets.  Clearly, relying on the personal integrity of scientists is not getting the job done, and that’s quite depressing.

One more quote from the article on the dangers of just looking at numbers without context:

“We are seeing the publication of a lot of papers in high profile journals with minimal scientific content or advance, and this is partly because of these high-profile journals needing to keep their so called ‘impact factors’ as high as possible. That’s determined by the number of citations that the papers have and they know that some of this trendy work is going to get cited and they seem not to care about whether its a real scientific advance or not,” [Professor Lovell-Badge] said.

I remember from my grad student days stories of young researchers making small errors in papers just to juice the citation index.  A citation is a citation, even if it corrects an error, and few tenure committee members tracked down every paper’s citation to see why it was mentioned.  Juicing your numbers early in a career is one thing, abusing the system for your entire career is quite another.  I’m not quite sure the extent of the problem today, but I do get the feeling Science may need saving from the scientists in the future.

Ask and you shall find

Well, well, Mr. Google provided an answer to the question in the previous post “just how many more WWF puff pieces are in the IPCC AR4 document.”  The answer is, quite a few, which you can read about at the earlier link to the delightfully named NoFrakkingConsensus.

For example, a WWF report is cited twice on this page as the only supporting proof of IPCC statements about coastal developments in Latin America. A WWF report is referenced twice by the IPCC’s Working Group II in its concluding statements. There, the IPCC depends on the WWF to define what the global average per capita “ecological footprint” is compared to the ecological footprint of central and Eastern Europe.

Elsewhere, when discussing “mudflows and avalanches” linked to melting glaciers, the oh-so-scientifically-circumspect IPCC relies on two sources to make its point – an apparently still unpublished paper delivered to a conference five years earlier (Bhadra, 2002) and a WWF document.

Similarly, the only reason the IPCC can declare that “Changes in climate are affecting many mountain glaciers, with rapid glacier retreat documented in the Himalayas, Greenland, the European Alps, the Andes Cordillera and East Africa” is because a WWF report makes this claim.

In a section on coral reefs and mangroves, a WWF report is the IPCC’s sole reason for believing that, in “the Mesoamerican reef there are up to 25 times more fish of some species on reefs close to mangrove areas than in areas where mangroves have been destroyed.”

When the IPCC advises world leaders that “climate change is very likely to produce significant impacts on selected marine fish and shellfish (Baker, 2005)” it doesn’t call attention to the fact that the sole authority on which this statement rests is a WWF workshop project report (see the “Baker” document below).

Follow the money is always good advice.  If you want the high falutin’ version, ask qui bono.

The WWF is an activist organization. Much of its funding comes from public donations. The more successful the WWF is at persuading the public that there’s a crisis, the more likely people are to give it money.

Many of those associated with the WWF are lovely human beings. But that doesn’t change the fact that the WWF is not a neutral, disinterested party. It has an agenda, an ax to grind, a definite point-of-view. Rather than being a scientific organization, it is a political one. In the UK, the media aptly calls the WWF a “pressure-group.”

The WWF isn’t the only organization with an agenda cited in the AR4.  Greenpeace is there in the citations as well.  Why is the IPCC relying on these activist organizations to make the case for the horrors of AGW?

Forty percent of the Amazon vulnerable to climate change?

James Delingpole looks at the IPCC AmazonGate.  From the IPCC AR4 report, page 596

Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state, not necessarily producing gradual changes between the current and the future situation (Rowell and Moore, 2000). It is more probable that forests will be replaced by ecosystems that have more resistance to multiple stresses caused by temperature increase, droughts and fires, such as tropical savannas.

Sounds problematic, no?  Is this a solid, peer-reviewed scientific conclusion?  Let’s track down the reference to Rowell and Moore, 2000:

Rowell, A. and P.F. Moore, 2000: Global Review of Forest Fires. WWF/IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, 66 pp. http://www.iucn.org/themes/fcp/publications /files/global_review_forest_fires.pdf.

Oopsie, the IUCN has removed that page!  But we can see the report is a World Wildlife Federation/International Union for the Conservation of Nature collaboration and it isn’t peer-reviewed. According to Delingpole,the lead author Andy Rowell is a green journalist:

Andy Rowell is a freelance writer and Investigative journalist with over 12 years’ experience on environmental, food, health and globalization issues. Rowell has undertaken cutting-edge investigations for, amongst others, Action on Smoking and Health, The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, IFAW, the Pan American Health Organization, Project Underground, the World Health Organization, World in Action and WWF.

How about P. F. Moore?  He has a PhD from the Australian National University in Forest Fire Policy, and his expertise is described thusly:

My background and experience around the world has required and developed high-level policy and analytical skills. I have a strong understanding of government administration, legislative review, analysis and inquiries generated through involvement in or management of the Australian Regional Forest Agreement process, Parliamentary and Government inquiries, Coronial inquiries and public submissions on water pricing, access and use rights and native vegetation legislation in Australia and fire and natural resources laws, regulations and policies in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, South Africa and Malaysia.

Yet another “settled science” conclusion from the IPCC AR4 that is neither settled, nor science, nor even peer-reviewed.  Just how many more WWF puff pieces are in the AR4?

Pew Research: Global Warming not a priority

Clearly, the various scandals of the CRU and IPCC are having an effect, along with a worldwide economic recession.  Pew Research surveys the Public’s Priorities for 2010:

Dealing with global warming ranks at the bottom of the public’s list of priorities; just 28% consider this a top priority, the lowest measure for any issue tested in the survey. Since 2007, when the item was first included on the priorities list, dealing with global warming has consistently ranked at or near the bottom. Even so, the percentage that now says addressing global warming should be a top priority has fallen 10 points from 2007, when 38% considered it a top priority. Such a low ranking is driven in part by indifference among Republicans: just 11% consider global warming a top priority, compared with 43% of Democrats and 25% of independents.

Protecting the environment fares somewhat better than dealing with global warming on the public’s list of priorities, though it still falls on the lower half of the list overall. Some 44% say that protecting the environment should be a top priority for Obama and Congress, little changed from 2009.

At the Ninth Law, I believe that the world is warming, that a significant component is natural, and that we do need to take climate science seriously.  But exaggerated claims, dodgy science, demonizing skeptics, and acting as if computer modeling is all that counts isn’t the way to convince the public that a crisis exists.  We need real, solid, testable-hypothesis science, and we need to remember that all models are wrong, but some are useful.

Ten signs the warming scare is collapsing

From Australia, the most ecologically fragile continent, comes this roundup from Andrew Bolt

What’s happened?

Answer: in just the past few months has come a cascade of evidence that the global warming scare is based on often dodgy science and even outright fraud.

Even the British are getting in on the act. Listen to the British government’s chief scientific adviser

In astonishing intervention into the climate change debate, Professor John Beddington condemned scientists who refuse to publish the data forming the basis of their reports said they should be less hostile to sceptics.

Professor Beddington was speaking in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) admission that it had made a mistake by claiming that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035.