Sunday in Outer Blogness: Debating Reality Edition!

It looks like a large segment of the American public thinks that a couple of out-of-context quotes from some leaked emails constitute knock-out-punch evidence that global warming is a lie. How can there be so much debate over things as cut-and-dried as facts and reality??? Fortunately Outer Blogness has risen to the task of exploring why!

The best short post I’ve seen on how to rationally analyze evidence (outside your area of specialization) comes from NeuroLogica (hat tip Kuri). I’d quote just one part, but it’s not long, and the whole thing is quite informative (regardless of your ideology). NeuroLogica discusses some of the ways bias affects critical thinking, and Aerin sent me an interesting NPR segment explaining some scientific studies illustrating this sort of bias in action. Sadly, some out groups are biased against their own.

Outside the US things are a little different. For a little more detail on the debate over global warming, see here, here, and here; and here for info on vaccine denialism; and for more reality knocking at your door, see this tsunami warning. And — despite the temptation of bias — prominent atheists loudly reject flawed studies showing that atheists are smarter-than-average.

Naturally, the whole “What is reality?” question leads us to religion! Many Mormons believe that secularism is a threat to freedom of religion. As you know, Dallin Oaks spoke out against secular education at Harvard, and Daniel provides some further analysis of his speech. And speaking of prominent Mormons, Greenish-blue illustrates in a video, Glenn Beck isn’t just a harmless buffoon.

In other culture war conflicts, miscarriage can now be prosecuted as homicide in Utah.

Once you step into the realm of theology, pinning down reality and truth becomes that much more complex and confusing! Even a simple semantic question like “What is spirituality?” doesn’t have an easy answer. Andrew criticizes faith-based willingness to “suspend disbelief” for God the way you’d suspend disbelief for a play that you know is fiction, while Bruce Nielson spars with the NOMs over the dividing line between privacy and integrity. But as Bodhi describes, explaining yourself is not always a simple matter:

Its so easy to explain to never-mos and recent friends that I was once mormon, but have given that up. Its like saying you were once married, or used to have a drinking problem, or lived in some far off exotic land for a little while. Its a topic of passing interest, with some life-altering experiences, but largely no one judges you on it and life moves on.

However, explaining the detailed, intricate process you followed of unravelling your entire believe structure is a maddening task.

Sometimes it takes an analogy to explain. And Hypatia shows how it’s that much harder when dealing with incompatible versions of reality within your own family. Ah, are questions of integrity simpler for kids?

Let’s wrap up with a couple of announcements: The program for the Sunstone West symposium is now available, and two of our regular commenters (Chris Smith and Ms. Jack) have done a great interview with the award-winning podcast Mormon Expression!

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C. L. Hanson is the friendly American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! See "letters from a broad" and the novel ExMormon for further adventures!!

25 thoughts on “Sunday in Outer Blogness: Debating Reality Edition!

  1. I’m not sure that saying you “will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!” can be good science when taken in any context.

    And then there’s “Dear Phil and Gabi,
    Ive attached a cleaned-up and commented version of the matlab code that I wrote for doing the Mann and Jones (2003) composites. I did this knowing that Phil and I are likely to have to respond to more crap criticisms from the idiots in the near future, so best to clean up the code and provide to some of my close colleagues in case they want to test it, etc. Please feel free to use this code for your own internal purposes, but dont pass it along where it may get into the hands of the wrong people.”

    And “As to the issues of robustness, particularly w.r.t. inclusion of the Yamal series, we actually emphasized that (including the Osborn and Briffa ’06 sensitivity test) in our original post! As we all know, this isn’t about truth at all, its about plausibly deniable accusations.”

    This was the danger of always criticizing the skeptics for not publishing in the peer-reviewed literature. Obviously, they found a solution to that – take over a journal! The only thing to do, he suggests, is rig the peer-review system: I think we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal.

    And here’s one that says a lot in a few words: If anything, I would like to see the climate change happen, so the science could be proved right, regardless of the consequences.

    I am not impressed by the science behind these quotes. Please tell me how I am reading them out of context. These quotes are not evidence for or against anthropogenic global warming, but they do not make these scientists look good.

    And since I believe you mean “anthropogenic global warming,” can you be more specific in the future?

  2. And since I believe you mean anthropogenic global warming, can you be more specific in the future?

    My meaning was obviously clear from the context. However — speaking of specifics — you haven’t even mentioned who these quotes are supposedly attributed to and what their various roles/positions are/were in climate change research.

  3. The first quote, about redefining peer review, was from Phil Jones, the head (perhaps former head because of “climategate,” as he has not regained this position) of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. He was one of the two coordinating lead authors of Chapter 3: Observations: Surface and Atmospheric Climate Change for the “IPCC Fourth Assessment Report Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis”

    The second quote, about making sure the code doesn’t get to the “wrong people,” is from Michael E. Mann of Penn State, one of the lead authors of the 2001 IPCC Report chapter on “Observed Climate Variability and Change.”

    The third quote, that it isn’t about truth, is also from Mann.

    The fourth quote, about abandoning a journal because it publishes articles that contradict his work, is also from Mann.

    The last quote, that he wants climate change to happen so that he can be “proved right,” is also by Phil Jones.

    By the way, Phil Jones was interviewed recently by the BBC, and this is one of the questions and answers, which might ring some bells at MSP:
    “Q: When scientists say “the debate on climate change is over”, what exactly do they mean – and what don’t they mean?

    A: It would be supposition on my behalf to know whether all scientists who say the debate is over are saying that for the same reason. I don’t believe the vast majority of climate scientists think this. This is not my view. There is still much that needs to be undertaken to reduce uncertainties, not just for the future, but for the instrumental (and especially the palaeoclimatic) past as well.”

  4. Truth Lover, where is this debate about anthropogenic global warming? On Fox News, may be and the talking points of the RNC. There is no serious scholarship that contradicts human made global warming.

    Of course, Exon Mobile can find some contrarians in academia and pair them with its PR department. But that’s not science.

    Neither is founding a journal that ignores the evidence.

    The only reason why so many Americans are skeptical about global warming is because it has become a partisan issue. Lets face it, most people do not have the opportunity to study the issue themselves. They take their cues from spokespersons whom they trust.

    Things might be different if we had BBC style media that delivers news for reasons other than turning a profit.

  5. The post by Bruce Nielson was largely ad hominem fallacy. Adam Greenwood denies this towards the end of the comments, but he’s mistaken. Bruce specifically said that Tom’s book about polygamy caused him a lot of anguish simply because he was under a mistaken impression of Tom’s personal beliefs. In other words, Bruce largely judged the book’s relevance based on what the author’s personal beliefs are, and later when he found out that Tom isn’t as orthodox as Bruce previously thought, he felt betrayed. This is pretty cut and dry ad hominem.

    Guys, I realize that it’s quicker to take shortcuts and evaluate a book, a blog post, or an essay by the personal bias of who is writing it, but if you do this, don’t expect to be taken seriously when your laziness causes you anguish and you publicly complain about it.

  6. Talk about “intense and unnecessary pain” … did anyone else notice this comment under Bruce Nielson’s post?

    I consider visiting [Junior Ganymede] to be a character failing like visiting that main street plaza blog.

    Reality check: admitting to reading Jr.G is like confessing to a dangerous masochistic fetish, whereas letting the world know you visit MSP is more like divulging a weakness for chocolate.

  7. Truthlover — I highly recommend that you read the NeuorLogica post I linked above, explaining the difference between scientific consensus and “argument from authority.” The scientific method and the peer-review process have an excellent track record, and with good reason. Those quotes may justify further investigation of specific individuals, but they certainly don’t merit the grand logical leap of tossing out the peer-review process and slapping a big “conspiracy!” label over the whole endeavor.

    admitting to reading Jr.G is like confessing to a dangerous masochistic fetish, whereas letting the world know you visit MSP is more like divulging a weakness for chocolate.

    LOL! I don’t normally read Jr.G, but I followed a link from Snarkernacle (just wondering what the hell he was talking about with that analogy). Needless to say, the analogy still made no sense — even after reading the comments he was talking about.

    But then, whatever force made me continue reading the comments on that post — and link to it here no less! — was probably a moment of dangerous masochistic fetish. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. I already said that “these quotes are not evidence for or against anthropogenic global warming” but you originally said they were a “couple of out-of-context quotes.” Please tell me where I have said it is a “conspiracy” or anything like this. Please, again, say where they have been read out-of-context.

    Hellmut, that link is more than five years old. I’m pretty sure the e-mails themselves talk about contradictory results directly. And they don’t mention that these results come from scientists on oil companies’ payrolls.

  9. Please, again, say where they have been read out-of-context.

    They have been read out of context when you have placed them in the context of being proof that climate change science is a conspiracy (as opposed to being evidence that a handful of specific scientists have some questions to answer).

    Now, please, go read that article about how to critically analyze scientific results that are outside of your field of expertise.

  10. What Carson N said re: ad hominum attacks. I agree completely, AND I had followed the thread from beginning to end.

  11. chanson, when have I “placed them in the context of being proof that climate change science is a conspiracy”?

    And as far as the article you link to, it’s also obvious that climate change scientists are also biased. The e-mails certainly show that they were not acting as disinterested observers.

    I find it strange that we seem to accept only two positions on AGW: it’s real, significant, and urgent or it’s a hoax.

    By the way, Phil Jones testified before Parliament today. From the BBC:

    “When challenged about the contents of one of the stolen e-mails in which Professor Jones told a critic of his work that he would not make information available because the data would only be used to undermine his findings, he admitted that he had written a number of “very awful e-mails”.”

    Also something else I just learned, the Insitute of Physics (the UK & Ireland’s society of physicists which has about 36,000 members. Most physicists in Ireland and the UK are members, and it accredits their undergraduate physics programs. It also publishes many important physics journals and is a direct counterpart to the American Physical Society) issued a statement about “climategate” to Parliament. Here’s point two of their statement:

    “The CRU e-mails as published on the internet provide prima facie evidence of determined and co-ordinated refusals to comply with honourable scientific traditions and freedom of information law. The principle that scientists should be willing to expose their ideas and results to independent testing and replication by others, which requires the open exchange of data, procedures and materials, is vital. The lack of compliance has been confirmed by the findings of the Information Commissioner. This extends well beyond the CRU itself – most of the e-mails were exchanged with researchers in a number of other international institutions who are also involved in the formulation of the IPCC’s conclusions on climate change. ”

    And #5:
    “5. The e-mails reveal doubts as to the reliability of some of the reconstructions and raise questions as to the way in which they have been represented; for example, the apparent suppression, in graphics widely used by the IPCC, of proxy results for recent decades that do not agree with contemporary instrumental temperature measurements. ”

    “6. There is also reason for concern at the intolerance to challenge displayed in the
    e-mails. This impedes the process of scientific ‘self correction’, which is vital to the integrity of the scientific process as a whole, and not just to the research itself. In that context, those CRU e-mails relating to the peer-review process suggest a need for a review of its adequacy and objectivity as practised in this field and its potential vulnerability to bias or manipulation.”

  12. truthlover — If you really want us to analyze this list of assertions, can you provide links to the primary sources?

    Also, since you’re clearly interested in engaging us in discussion, can you please provide a link to your blog or to some site on the Internet where you’ve maintained a consistent identity for some time? It’s OK if you don’t want to tell us your real name, but if you want to have a conversation, it would be nice if you’d give us some indication of who we’re talking to.

  13. chanson,

    Sorry but I don’t have a blog. I’m kind of a lurker in Outer Blogness/exmormondom/postmormondom. I have posted a bit on some of the exmo/postmo sites in the past few years, though as I move past Mormonism, I become less concerned with it specifically. I’m pretty sure my posts were under the name truthlover. As far as my identity, I may say more later, and/or create a blog eventually.

    About the sources, I apologize. You can do a google search for the e-mail quotes – they are everywhere and you can pick your source – many newspapers and TV networks carried them back in November or so, but I’ll give you the primary sources for the IOP statement and the BBC quote. If you want specific sources for the e-mail quotes, please ask again and I will give some.

    IOP statement:


    I don’t want the “climategate” affair to just be glossed over as unimportant, trivial, and a “conservative” attack. The IOP is not a political body, and being made up of scientists, it is undoubtedly made up of “liberals.” It considers the e-mails a serious issue.

  14. OK, I’m at work now, but I’ll have more time to look over your articles tomorrow. I’m not trying to be dismissive — ultimately, if there is a lot of non-partisan material to analyze, it might warrant a top-level post to discuss it.

    I dont want the climategate affair to just be glossed over as unimportant, trivial, and a conservative attack. The IOP is not a political body, and being made up of scientists, it is undoubtedly made up of liberals. It considers the e-mails a serious issue.

    For future reference (and I’m not trying to be snarky by saying that — I really do mean for future reference), you’d get farther by starting with this statement and the links to legit sources. This is the Internet, so when someone comes in with an anon-style handle and posts a mass of quotes with no sources or attribution (especially on an ideologically-divisive issue), it’s hard to tell whether to take it seriously or whether it’s just copy-pasted from a chain email of unknown provenance.

    I also seriously would like to ask you to read the short NeuroLogica post (if you haven’t yet). It’s not about proving that one ideology is right and another wrong, but rather it discusses the fact that scientific inquiry and analysis should not be ideologically based, and talks about strategies for getting there.

    With that as our basis, we should keep some questions in mind when analyzing the “climategate” pack of leaked emails:

    1. Is something actually rotten, or is there some misunderstanding/misrepresentation?
    2. If we conclude something is rotten, where do we draw the line around the rotten part? Is it localized to a handful of researchers and journals? Is it all of climatology? Is it endemic to all of science (as young-Earth Creationists believe)?

    The conclusions should not be based on affinity or on what we want to believe. If a non-partisan body (that is not funded by a party with a vested interest in one outcome or another) has provided some analysis, that would be a reasonable place to start.

  15. chanson,

    Okay, since you’re still questioning the sources of the e-mails, thinking they’re from a “chain email,” here they are:

    About this site, the Guardian (a “liberal” newspaper) uses this source, although it is apparently tied to conservatives. Go figure. Please show me any reports denying these e-mails’ authenticity.

    First quote from post #1;

    Second quote from post #1:

    Third quote:

    Fourth quote:

    Finally, #5 was truncated on that site. Interesting. Here is the link it should be at, but you can see the text is not complete.

    Here are some links discussing this particular quote:

    And one from a “conservative” published in the “conservative” New York Post:

    Again, please, please, please show me where the authenticity of these e-mails is disputed. I cannot find it anywhere.

    I have never said climategate implicates all scientists involved in AGW research, and, by extension, not all scientists. I am no conspiracy theorist. I do claim it’s much more than “a couple of out-of-context quotes from some leaked emails.” And I am not alone. Otherwise, why would Phil Jones be removed from his position, and why did Penn State conduct a review? And why did the IOP, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and other organizations file documents to Parliament about it that did not indicate it was just a misunderstanding?

  16. The quotes I gave are legitimate. “Liberal” and “conservative” newspapers are using the following repository (even though I believe it’s run by “conservatives”).

    All the e-mail quotes I gave above are there except the last one. The version on the website I just gave gives only a portion of this email. Here is a link to a blog post written by a UK philosopher, that mentions this:

    Here’s the link to the Guardian, a “liberal” newspaper (which has done its own investigation into climategate), which uses the repository, as you can see from this link.

    From this link:
    “A Guardian investigation of thousands of emails and documents apparently hacked from the University of East Anglia’s climatic research unit has found evidence that a series of measurements from Chinese weather stations were seriously flawed and that documents relating to them could not be produced.”

    And here’s the link to the earlier Phil Jones interview I mentioned in #3.

    Please check my sources, and, more importantly, show me where they have been shown to be flawed. I know of no such claims, and the admission by Phil Jones before Parliament seems to show that they are true.
    You should now have links to all the websites from which you can get the quotes I have provided.

  17. chanson, I can vouch for truthlover. I know him, personally. He really is a lurker without a blog, but he is credentialed as regards scientific thinking (PhD in physics). He also has motivation to remain anonymous.

    Also, FWIW, I wasn’t really following this thread until I learned it was truthlover. Some intriguing links and fascinating quotes. Perhaps I need to reconsider anthropogenic global warming… ๐Ÿ˜

  18. Okay, since youre still questioning the sources of the e-mails, thinking theyre from a chain email,

    I never said that I “still” question your sources (despite links), I said that back when you posted quotes without even saying who they were attributed to (much less providing sources), I thought they might be from a chain email. As soon as you posted sources, I said @15 that I would read them.

    If you have further information (above the couple of questionable quotes that hit the press running when this story first broke), I’m perfectly willing to give you a platform and discuss it. There’s no need to take a hostile stance.

    If you have a Ph.D. in Physics, then you’re obviously quite familiar with the peer review process. Therefore, you can start by giving an educated opinion on the answer to my question in @15: Which part of the data, and which conclusions, specifically, do you think are tainted?

  19. chanson, I am not informed/developed enough on the matter to say – I am still learning a lot about climategate and its meaning. My original and biggest intention is to point out that climategate is not a trivial matter. That it’s not just “a couple of out-of-context quotes from some leaked emails.”

    Please also tell me which quotes are questionable.

    I will, however, point everyone towards an interesting opinion piece in “Physics Today,” which is the membership journal of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP is an umbrella organization that includes the American Physical Society, American Geophysical Union, Optical Society of America, American Astronomical Society, and a few others – it includes many thousands of scientists, and basically all prominent scientists in these fields of physics, astronomy, optics, geophysics, etc., in the USA are members of one or more of these societies. The AIP also publishes a number of regular journals. The article is written by Judity Curry, who is the Chair and Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech. I just learned about this article today as I went through this month’s “Physics Today.”

    In this article she gives a history of what are called “climate auditors.” These people apparently started their work a few years ago (I believe less than five years ago). She says “They tend to be watchdogs rather than deniers” and “They are independent of oil industry influence.” Some of their concerns are as follows:

    “They are concerned about inadvertent introduction of bias into the CRU temperature data by having the same people who create the dataset use the dataset in research and in verifying climate models; this concern applies to both Hansen’s group at NASA and the connection between CRU and the UK’s Meteorological Office’s Hadley Centre. This concern is exacerbated by the choice of Hansen to become a policy advocate, and his forecasts of forthcoming warmest years. ”

    “people outside the inner circle were unable to obtain access to the information required to link the raw data to the final analyzed product. Further, creation of the surface data sets was treated like a research project, with no emphasis on data quality analysis, and there was no independent oversight. Given the importance of these data sets both to scientific research and public policy, they feel that greater public accountability is required. [Editor’s note: Some of the datasets at CRU are not owned by the university, nor do they have permission to release proprietary information into the public domain. However, the announcement today that the world’s major meteorological organizations are going to open access to some of their climate data may reduce the likelihood that this will happen in future.]”

    “Steve McIntyres early critiques of the hockey stick were dismissed and he was characterized as a shill for the oil industry. Academic/blogospheric guerilla warfare ensued, as the academic researchers tried to prevent access of the climate auditors to publishing in scientific journals and presenting their work at professional conferences, and tried to deny them access to published research data and computer programs. The bloggers countered with highly critical posts in the blogosphere and FOIA requests. And climategate was the result.”

    She attributes part of the success of the auditors as follows:
    “On the other hand, the climate auditors have no apparent political agenda, are doing this work for free, and have been playing a watchdog role, which has engendered the trust of a large segment of the population.”

    Climategate is a very interesting event in the history of science. It is not a trivial matter.

  20. Please also tell me which quotes are questionable.

    I’ve already explained what I meant by out-of-context @10. I’ve said there’s no need for hostility, and yet you keep harping on this question. As a show of good faith, I’ll give you a specific example, with the use of the word “trick” discussed here.

    Now it’s your turn to make a show of good faith by answering my questions that I posed above. What do you think is the impact w.r.t. the scientific consensus on climate change? Where do you draw the line around how much of the scientific community is tainted? And Why?

  21. I never referred to the “trick” e-mail above. I do not know that it is a particularly telling e-mail. I don’t know that all the e-mails (there are a lot) portray significant problems with the scientists. Please tell me how I have misinterpreted the ones I have quoted.

    I am not certain what impact it will have on the scientific consensus on climate change. I think it will and already has change(d) the methods climate scientists use, and the IPCC in the future will follow different methods in issuing reports. How this will affect analyses of data, I have no idea.

    How much of the community is “tainted?” I am not so sure what you mean by this, for the following reasons. Everyone in science has their biases and personal interests. Science is somewhat political already. Does this hurt science as a whole? Not enough to destroy it, certainly. The e-mails themselves can only implicate those directly involved. That said, I do think it’s a good reminder for all scientists to think about how they approach what they do.

    One problem with climate science, and part of what sets it apart from another example, like medicine (you originally mentioned a vaccines example), is that, as was pointed out in the article I linked in #20, “Medical research has long been concerned with the introduction of such bias, which is why they conduct double blind studies when testing the efficacy of a medical treatment. Any such bias could be checked by independent analyses of the data” and she goes on to point out that climate scientists had been preventing independent analyses of their data, which is why people had to resort to freedom of information requests.

    Climategate does not mean that AGW is right or wrong. It does mean that there have been serious problems with some prominent climate scientists’ work. Will this affect the future analysis? I don’t know. That’s a separate question.

  22. I never referred to the trick e-mail above. I do not know that it is a particularly telling e-mail. I dont know that all the e-mails (there are a lot) portray significant problems with the scientists. Please tell me how I have misinterpreted the ones I have quoted.

    Wha…? I never said that you did. You’ve repeatedly asked me about the statement from my original post (before any of your comments):

    It looks like a large segment of the American public thinks that a couple of out-of-context quotes from some leaked emails constitute knock-out-punch evidence that global warming is a lie.

    I’ve been totally transparent about what I meant by that. I was referring to the “hide the divide” and the “trick” quotes that hit the press running, and have been discussed. If you have something else to discuss, I’ve said repeatedly that I’m ready to discuss it in a reasonable manner. However, if all you’re looking for is a duel to the death, I’m really not interested.

  23. I think thruthlover is quite correct in stating that the content of the stolen e-mails indicate some problems in the behavior of certain major climate scientists. I also think that he is correct in stating that some of the science is not as solid as we might want it to be.

    But I don’t think that scientists acting like asshats is particularly relevant. Current climate science — such as it is — strongly supports global warming as a real phenomenon and AGW as a major cause. There is little scientific controversy (as opposed to much political controversy — mainly in America; it’s a non-issue in many countries) about this.

    So I accept the current science of climate change (again, such as it is) in the same way I try to accept everything I “know”: tentatively, unless/until I am dissuaded by better information. So far, I haven’t seen anything like that better information. Almost all I’ve seen is political smoke-blowing (and that mainly from people who are almost always wrong about almost everything anyway).

  24. Carson N Says:

    “Bruce largely judged the books relevance based on what the authors personal beliefs are, and later when he found out that Tom isnt as orthodox as Bruce previously thought, he felt betrayed. This is pretty cut and dry ad hominem.”

    If Bruce had been challenging Todd’s overall scholarship, you would have been correct. But he only argues that Todd lacks integrity to publish a book and claim to believe in Mormonism when in fact he does not.

    This may or may not be true, but this was the actual claim and that is not an ad hominem attack because it’s potentially a real issue.

    Unless you are one of those people that thinks good scholarship = objective truth, even you would have to admit that a book like Todd’s reads differently if you think of it as a pro-Mormon apologist that can’t seem to find anything but negative examples compared to if you think of it as a pro-NOM apologist that is intentionally selecting negative examples.

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