Posted by: Bill | December 2, 2009

Some thoughts on Climategate

There is so much that could be written about the hacking (or whistle-blowing) of the servers of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia a few days back. As usual, others have done the heavy lifting for me. I will send you to a page devoted to a roundup of some of the hundreds (or thousands) of stories/thoughts/rumors currently circulating.

Here is my two cents. I believe this was the work of a whistle-blower and the server was not “hacked”. This isn’t hugely important though. As I said a few months ago, withholding data in any public policy issue is shady. Withholding data and messing with the results (even slightly) in the climate change arena is RIDICULOUS. These are questions that involve many trillions of dollars. I don’t care how convinced you are that you are “right” about an issue. This is how science works. You let other smart men and women test the hell out of your theory/hypothesis. Then, when they are done, you let them test it some more. You do not scheme to resist freedom of information requests.

Megan McCardle, at first, did not think this was a big deal. This surprised and disappointed me a bit. As more information came to light, her tuned changed though. As someone who has written a few lines of code back in the day, I was aghast at some of what is inside this model as well.

Here is a comment from another of her posts that I think sums things up well. Be careful as it uses some of those words you learned back in Philosophy 101.

Of course, we generally assume pretty strictly in the cases of scientists that our a priori knowledge is their a posteriori knowledge: we reason we can trust their claims because they are objective scientists whose work is carefully reviewed by other objective scientists.

That’s why this is so damaging: the consensus is increasingly being shown to be politicially driven by activists who put their agenda ahead of their science. When your primary epistemological basis for costly political action is a consensus of experts, it’s problematic when your experts have a clear political slant that compromises their objectivity (or in the case of James “Coal trains are Auschwitz! War crimes trials for skeptics!” Hansen, a fervent crusade that involves getting arrested outside coal plants). It’s even more problematic when your experts are exposed conspiring to silence dissenting opinions.

I was mostly convinced of AGW in 1998, when I didn’t know much about it beyond MSM coverage and temps were clearly going way up. After a graduate degree in Information Systems, I was considerably more skeptical they could actually predict anything accurately out to 2100 when so many variables were involved. Of course, all that was before bristlecones, Yamal, inverted datasets, a decade of flat temps, and now this…

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