Since my time is somewhat short these days, I am having to narrow my focus here. Instead of looking at major themes and events I’m going to try and take advantage of my predilection for snooping in comment threads at places where I’m banned.
One such is And Then There’s Physics, a Klimate Konsensus blog run by and for true believers. I was banned there before even making an appearance, due to what the blog owner said was my ‘nastiness’. Okay. Of course, then he said he didn’t ban me, his co-blogger said she did, and my comments weren’t allowed up (and everything I’ve written there or in emails to the blog owner have been scrupulously polite and on-point). As I’ve had comments moderated for quoting was was said about me in comments that were approved, I’m forced to assume that nastiness, like the tallness of aunts, is a discretionary matter.
But I go there to read the comments. (The actual posts are not very useful. If And Then There’s Physics has a lot to say, it certainly isn’t about physics. His thought for today was apparently “as far as climate science is concerned, physics + logic beats statistics. I don’t have an issue with people delving into the details of some analysis to try and understand what was done, or trying to improve some analysis. However, at the end of the day, this is a physics problem and applying complicated statistics doesn’t mean that the result makes any sense, or finding some technical statistical fault with an analysis doesn’t mean the result is completely wrong. The day that Steve McIntyre and Nic Lewis recognise this, is the day I’ll take them more seriously. I’m not holding my breath.”
At some point, someone should take him aside and gently point out that since climate scientists including physicists do attempt to make statistical comparisons of climate, related data, other studies and even the occasional meta study, it would help to use good statistical practices rather than bad. Or even emphasize that not only does McIntyre not try to use statistics to trump climate science, he supports the broad sweep of the multidisciplinary findings, saying in front of a group of skeptics that he would listen to the IPCC recommendations. But when scientists like Michael Mann misuse statistics to emphasize a narrative they have already decided on, good statistics trump bad statistics.
When another commenter remarked “I know you don’t want to talk about Mann, but that is another example where statistician involvement at the onset could certainly have saved a lot of wasted energy” ATTP replied, “I doubt it would have made any difference. I don’t believe that the attack on MBH98 was motivated by a desire to do sound statistics. You can live in your fantasy world where you believe that to be the case. I’ll remain in the real world where people appear to attack anything that present results that they perceive to be inconvenient.”
And this is what I’ve encountered time and time again in the conversations held on weblogs about climate change. It is clear that ATTP is not familiar with what he is discussing. He clearly does not know what Michael Mann did. He does not know what Steve McIntyre wrote in response. Most importantly, although he clearly does not know why McIntyre has done what he has done, he imputes a base motive to Mac–that he is only attacking Mann’s work because he doesn’t like the results.
Far from it: “Similarly, the Oxburgh report, cited by Mann (Pl.’s Resp. at 19) as evidence of his “exoneration,” examined only the conduct of East Anglia Climate Research Unit scientists, not Mann. Nonetheless, the panel concluded that it was “regrettable” that tree-ring proxy reconstructions “by the IPCC and others” neglected to emphasize “the discrepancy between instrumental and tree-based proxy reconstructions of temperature during the late 20th century.” See Pl.’s Resp., Ex. 5 at 5 ¶ 7. Prof. David Hand, the head of the Royal Statistical Society and a member of the panel, subsequently singled out Michael Mann’s research for criticism, noting that Mann’s used “inappropriate methods” that “exaggerated the size of the blade at the end of the hockey stick.”
…[Hand] said the strongest example he had found of imperfect statistics in the work of the CRU and collaborators elsewhere was the iconic “hockey stick” graph, produced by Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University in University Park. The graph shows how temperatures have changed over the past 1000 years (see graphic, right). Hand pointed out that the statistical tool Mann used to integrate temperature data from a number of difference sources – including tree-ring data and actual thermometer readings – produced an “exaggerated” rise in temperatures over the 20th century, relative to pre-industrial temperatures. That point was initially made by climate sceptic and independent mathematician Stephen McIntyre.”
And in this he is wrong. And this error cheapens whatever ATTP could possibly hope to bring to the debate.
Part of ATTP’s current popularity is due to his presentation of himself as an academic physicist, above the fray and beyond partisanship. However, he started his blogging peradventures by authoring another weblog that spent most of the time attacking Anthony Watts and his wildly popular blog Watts Up With That. As ATTP’s blog failed to get any traction or traffic, he cast about for another forum to use for promoting his preferences regarding climate change.
ATTP is unpleasant to those he disagrees with, but probably has a contribution to make to the climate debate. However, his current efforts insure that he will be preaching to the choir–and of course, the occasional kibitzer such as myself.