Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The climate science filibuster

Over the past couple months, there have been another online kerfuffle about the famous "hockey stick" millennial temperature reconstruction. Namely, Steve McIntrye attempted to show that one the tree ring reconstructions may have been biased, such that selecting a different set of trees from a nearby site would imply no 20th century warming Tim Lambert had a fine summary of the dust-up. And James Hrynyshyn is one of a few who made the obvious but overlooked point that you don't need dendrochronology to tell us temperatures warmed in the 20th century - we have actual measurements.

Out of the dust came many complaints in the blogosphere about climate scientists not being responsive to online criticism like that of McIntrye. The implication is that scientists are obliged to respond quickly to any and all criticisms of my research as well as to any requests for data.

Now, it is quite unrealistic given the pressures on our time. But leaving that aside, is it even wise? Is responding to every online criticism and data request the best use of scientists' time? Think of it this way: wouldn't you rather that doctors spend their time actually developing treatments for autism, rather than refuting the crazy theory that MMR vaccinations cause autism?

There are only 24 hours in a day. It's a zero sum game. There may be some value in individual aspects of McIntrye's statistical criticisms of the hockey stick work over the year. A lot of it has been off the mark too. Either way, dealing with the constant hockey stick criticisms slows important research by paleo-climatologists work.

Add it all up and you have a filibuster. Keep talking and it will stop the rest of the participants from getting anything done.

That's why I sense peer review is even more important in the age of blogs. Research gets some vetting, the poor quality work is filtered out, and the community knows what to take seriously. The system may not be perfect, but I think even its greatest critics would agree that peer review works better than the US Senate.


Anonymous said...

LOL this article is joke, right?
The tree ring data is being used to establish temperatures from the past based on the growth rates being correlated to CO2. Please tell me you understand how biased figures corrupt the process?

Climate audit raises legitimate questions. Running from and ignoring valid criticisms makes your science look weak.

Simon Donner said...

Notice I did not say that McIntrye's arguments are illegitimate - I said some in fact may in fact be. The point is this: If scientists fail to respond to an online criticism in a timely fashion, they are not necessarily "running from" or "ignoring" the criticism. it is quite likely they are busy teaching, doing university service work, or conducting research.

If McIntrye or others wish for a response, rather than flood the net with volumes and volumes of hit-and-miss analysis and commentary, put the statistical analysis into a concise paper and submit it to a journal. The system is there to filter things. Some of his work may have validity, and would be published.

Greg Felton said...

Excellent response, professor Donner. The problem with dogmatic naysayers, as you doubtless know, is that they fear objective criticism and rely almost entirely on unsubstantiated assertions and misdirection.

Theirs is a political/religious crusade, and as such thier "arguments" cannot withstand scientific scrutiny.

We see the same phenomenon in those who denigrate and marginalize informed criticism of the World Trade Centre implosion.