10 December 2009

The "Trick" in Context

[UPDATE 12/12: Over at MasterResource Chip Knappenberger takes issue with some of the details of McIntyre's post (which McIntyre has updated), but both CK and SM agree with the central point of my comments below, specifically: "the IPCC presented some data in a way that was different from how the data was originally presented in the peer-reviewed literature." For the IPCC that should be a no-no, and is evidence of what I call below "stage managing" the science.]

Steve McIntyre is at it again. He has a new post up that puts the much-discussed little-understood CRU email "trick" into definitive context. The "trick" does not show scientific fraud. It does not show that climate science is a sham. What it does show is a group of scientists at the highest levels of the IPCC stage managing their presentation of climate science for the greatest possible effect via their creation of a graphic showing paleoclimate reconstructions -- the so-called "hockey stick." It also shows the conflict of interest faced by an IPCC lead author with responsibility for placing his own work into broader context.

McIntyre writes:
The Climategate Letters show clearly that the relevant context is the IPCC Lead Authors’ meeting in Tanzania in September 1999 at which the decline in the Briffa reconstruction was perceived by IPCC as “diluting the message”, as a “problem”, as a “potential distraction/detraction”.
The emails show that the "trick" was fairly obviously shaped by at least two clear incentives.

First, it was the result of an author of the IPCC (Mann) seeking to present his own work unencumbered by that of his colleagues/competitors. The relevant email cited by McIntyre shows this scientist expressing a desire to use his work as the basis for the overall IPCC consensus. I have no doubts that Mann believes his work to be true and others less true, and that is the problem:
But …Keith’s [Briffa] series… differs in large part in exactly the opposite direction that Phil’s [Jones] does from ours. This is the problem we all picked up on (everyone in the room at IPCC was in agreement that this was a problem and a potential distraction/detraction from the reasonably concensus viewpoint we’d like to show w/ the Jones et al and Mann et al series. (Mann Sep 22, 0938018124.txt
The second incentive was clearly to avoid burdening the readers of the IPCC with complexity, lest it detract from the clear message that the authors wanted sent:
So, if we show Keith’s series in this plot, we have to comment that “something else” is responsible for the discrepancies in this case.…Otherwise, the skeptics have an field day casting doubt on our ability to understand the factors that influence these estimates and, thus, can undermine faith in the paleoestimates. I don’t think that doubt is scientifically justified, and I’d hate to be the one to have to give it fodder! (Mann Sep 22, 0938018124.txt)
Rather than simply presenting what the peer review literature actually said, warts and all, these scientists decided to create a facsimile of that literature that represented how they thought the literature should be represented in order to maximize "faith" in their work and to deny "skeptics" an opportunity to "cast doubt." They thus misrepresented the science to present a more digestible picture in line with the message that they wanted policy makers to receive. I've seen this before.

Not only does McIntyre put the "trick" into its contemporary context, but his efforts also helps us to understand the present spinning by the scientific community suggesting that the "trick" is just science-speak for a clever method. It is not. The "trick" in context is clearly an effort by activist scientists at the highest levels of the IPCC to misrepresent scientific complexity to policy makers and the public.