Climategate Corrections and Revisions 1

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On July 14th, I posted a note on the inquiries into the Climategate scandal. Joe Romm's criticism that I misquoted the Penn State report is correct: the panel dismissed the charges against Mann because they found "no credible evidence", not because of a "lack of credible evidence". My original description of the two-phase Penn State inquiry was not as clear as it could have been. I've amended it. I've added a paragraph, beginning "The problem with this..." in an effort to clarify my position. I've also deleted a paragraph that sneered at the Muir Russell report in an unjustified way and which neglected the necessary ellipsis in "trick...to hide the decline". I've retracted a sentence and some overheated asides. The sentence said of the various inquiries: "At best they are mealy-mouthed apologies; at worst they are patently incompetent and even willfully wrong." That was much too harsh, and I apologise.

Below is a corrected and revised version of the July 14 post.

By way of preamble, let me remind you where I stand on climate change. I think climate science points to a risk that the world needs to take seriously. I think energy policy should be intelligently directed towards mitigating this risk. I am for a carbon tax. I also believe that the Climategate emails revealed, to an extent that surprised even me (and I am not new to this milieu), an ethos of suffocating groupthink and resistance to dissent. The scandal attracted enormous attention in the US, and support for a new energy policy has fallen. In sum, the scientists concerned brought their own discipline into disrepute, and set back the prospects for a better energy policy.

I had hoped, not very confidently, that the various Climategate inquiries would be thorough. This would have been a first step towards restoring confidence in the scientific consensus. But no, the reports make things worse, by failing to take seriously the charges that competent critics were actually making, and by failing to rule on the quality of the science, as opposed to the integrity of the scientists. The climate-science establishment, of which these inquiries have chosen to make themselves a part, seems entirely incapable of understanding, let alone repairing, the harm it has done to its own cause.

The Penn State inquiry exonerating Michael Mann - the paleoclimatologist who came up with "the hockey stick" - would be difficult to parody. The inquiry distilled various accusations into four allegations of misconduct. Three of the four allegations were dismissed after the inquiry's first phase on the basis of little more than a review of the emails and interviews with Mann. The inquiry announced that it found no credible evidence to support these charges and would make no further investigation. (MIT's Richard Lindzen later told the committee, "It's thoroughly amazing. I mean these are issues that he explicitly stated in the emails. I'm wondering what's going on?" The final report notes: "The Investigatory Committee members did not respond to Dr Lindzen's statement. Instead, [his] attention was directed to the fourth allegation...") Moving on, the inquiry then turns to findings from a second phase concerning the fourth allegation, and says, in effect, that Mann is a distinguished scholar, a successful raiser of research funding, a man admired by his peers - so any allegation of academic impropriety must be false.

You think I exaggerate?

This level of success in proposing research, and obtaining funding to conduct it, clearly places Dr. Mann among the most respected scientists in his field. Such success would not have been possible had he not met or exceeded the highest standards of his profession for proposing research...

Had Dr. Mann's conduct of his research been outside the range of accepted practices, it would have been impossible for him to receive so many awards and recognitions, which typically involve intense scrutiny from scientists who may or may not agree with his scientific conclusions...

Clearly, Dr. Mann's reporting of his research has been successful and judged to be outstanding by his peers. This would have been impossible had his activities in reporting his work been outside of accepted practices in his field.

In short, competent critics are not heard. Mann is asked if the allegations are true, and says no. His record is swooned over. Verdict: case dismissed.

The problem with this is not that the conclusions are wrong; it is that the process that yielded them is so unpersuasive. If I were Mann, I would feel that the inquiry had let me down. The Oxburgh inquiry and the Muir Russell inquiry have also vindicated Mann and the other Climategate emailers on accusations of scientific misconduct. To be clear, while I think all three inquiries leave a lot to be desired in terms of their reasoning and procedures, I don't question their conclusions on that point. What I question is the inquiries' failure to deal properly with more plausible complaints lodged by critics-complaints about groupthink, withholding of data, deafness to contrarian views, and an undue desire to protect the public from awkward complications. In other words, the issue was not just the integrity of the scientists, on which the inquiries have ruled, but the quality of the science, which the inquiries have largely neglected.

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