Climate Science and the Inner Ring

It now seems clear that many climate scientists have shown a most unscientific lack of interest in following the data wherever that data may lead, coupled with an unwholesome eagerness to disregard and to disrespect the opinions of anyone outside of a closed circle of “experts.”

In comments on a NYT blog (excerpted at Instapundit), someone comments:

“It is possible that some areas of climate science has become sclerotic. It is possible that climate science has become too partisan, too centralized. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organization within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science.”

This kind of tribalism is by no means limited to “primitive cultures,” rather, it is dismayingly common in societies of all types. The phenomenon was astutely analyzed by C S Lewis in his writing on what he called the Inner Ring.

The desire to belong to an in-group, Lewis argues, “of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.”

To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still- just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig- the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”- and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure- something “we always do.”

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face- that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face- turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

(Entire essay is here: search within the document for “The Inner Ring”)

16 thoughts on “Climate Science and the Inner Ring”

  1. “It now seems clear that many climate scientists have shown a most unscientific lack of interest in following the data”

    Why doesn’t somebody report on the POLITICAL PHILOSOPHIES of these clowns? I suspect they’re all Lefties and they’re “lying for the Lord” so to speak. Any means justifies the ends.

  2. I suspect their political philosophy is also a product of going along to to get along, not a matter to which they have given great consideration. It’s all of a piece.

  3. Political ideology certainly plays a part. We can safely assume that most of these scientist have be indoctrinated in an ideology which views the economically-productive as their dangerous moral inferiors who must be controlled by individuals such as themselves. Catastrophic Anthrogenic Global Warming becomes a major vehicle for exerting that control so it must be defended and advanced regardless of its scientific validity. The good that comes from the control it gives articulate-intellectuals over the economically-productive outweighs any harm it might do to science as an institution.

    However, I think the greater driver is the dependence by individual climatologist on the good will and opinion of their seniors and peers. Climatology is an immature science with little to no predictive power. This in turn means that climatology has not ability to appeal to nature to solve disagreements within the field. In predictive science like physics, scientist solve disagreements by experimentation. If physicist disagree, they bang together an experiment to see who is correct.

    In terms of the social process and the advancement of individual careers, the availability of objective experimental evidence in physics means that young turks or outsiders can successfully challenge the grey beards regardless of how powerful the grey beards are or how often they were correct in the past. Indeed, virtually all predictive science has arisen by mavericks of one type or the other overturning long established and widely supported models.

    In the “soft” sciences or in non-scientific disciplines such as the humanities, no such appeal to nature exists. The graybeards rule all. “Truth” in the field is defined solely by a consensus of the graybeards. The entire professional, economic and social standing of the graybeards itself relies on selling that consensus to the greater public. If you’re young or an outsider and want a degree and a career, your work must agree with and reinforce the “consensus” of the graybeards or you will not receive their imprimatur.

    I believe this is exactly the same social dynamic which creates theological priest-classes/caste in virtually all human societies. All theologies can’t be correct so most of the authority and deference granted to theologians by their parent societies has to come from the consensus of the theologians on the big picture. They may argue forcefully over trivialities but when it comes to basic cosmology they all agree.

    As a non-predictive science, climatology is controlled by this social process and finds itself susceptible to all the influences that corrupt most non-scientific disciplines and processes. If Catastrophic Anthrogenic Global Warming is true, then climatology becomes the most important field of human endeavor. Everything that humanity does from here on out will hinge on the word of climatologist. They will become the powerful and important people in human history. This in turn creates enormous social (but not intellectual) pressure on all climatologist to foster the appearance of a consensus to reinforce the general societies perception of them as absolutely vital and important people.

    Any young turk or outsider who threatens that illusion must be viciously attacked lest they wreck the social standing of all climatologist. Like the theologians of old, who feared most those other theologians who question the theological foundations of their religion, climatologist fear other climatologist who question the crisis upon which their elevated status depends. This fear is the source of the tribalism.

  4. Mathematical models can be of questionable predictive value, even when constructed and run carefully and in good faith.

    Boeing has encountered more problems with the 787 Dreamliner, having to do with the composite material and especially with the points where it is bolted to other materials. The WSJ article on this quoted a mech engineering professor on how difficult it is to analytically project the way such a material over the 30-year projected life of the aircraft.

    How much more difficult it must be to project *the global climate* over future centuries.

    Also note that incentives and controls are far different for the aircraft case than the climate case. The 787 will have to be certified by the FAA and other national agencies, and I doubt that they would be very impressed by data that has been managed in the way that climate data has apparently been managed. Also, if the airplane fails in flight as a result of faulty mathematical analysis, or has an uneconomically short life-span for the same reason, the responsibility of the modelers will be fairly clear…unlike the highly diffused responsibility that will exist for inaccuracies in climate forecasting.

  5. Simple fact, NOT 1 of their computer models can accurately predict PAST weather patterns, which we have accurate data on. How can they possibly believe these same computer models are accurately predicting FUTURE weather patterns?

  6. Catastrophic Anthrogenic Global Warming. This has happened before. Fortunately one man didn’t follow the crowd. He built an ark.

  7. This is very much in line with John Boyd’s distinction between “being” and “doing” — which I referred to here:

    …one day you will take a fork in the road, and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and get good assignments. Or you can go that way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. …If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?

    To repudiate the inner circle and live by an inner compass, that is a very demanding standard. It is most insidious because it is a corruption of the talented and able minority. Most people are never good enough to get offered membership in the inner circle. To be close to it, and reject it, requires rare moral courage.

  8. Helen…”that very peculiarly British form of corruption. So different from the Continental”…interesting comment. Could you expand on it a bit?

    Lex…thanks for the Boyd quote.

    It strikes me that one good measure of an institution (or a society) is the ability of an individual to BOTH “do something” and to “be somebody.” While there will probably always be some conflict between the two, in a totally corrupt institution or society, those who “do something” tend to be systematically excluded from “being somebody.”

    For a K-12 public school administrator in most places in America today, for example, deciding to “do something” greatly reduces your odds of every “being somebody.”

  9. Once again, Shannon’s analysis has helped a non-scientific person like me see some of the aspects of this affair I could not derive by myself, and have not seen elsewhere. Thank you to both David and Shannon for the excellent post and comment.

    It appears the major political players in this drama have no intention of allowing this scandel to derail their plans for massive increases in national and international interventions in economic and personal decision making.

    By basing their policies on these questionable predictions, however, without demonstrating any interest in re-examining the work used to produce them, it is even more clear than previously that the political and economic controls are the only truly significant goals in this process.

    The science, whether good, bad, or indiffeent, is merely a “Trojan Horse” being used to disguise the real agenda under the camouflage of “environmentalism”.

    The true objective, as in so many other political issues justified by the good intentions of the proponents, is power, power, and more power.

  10. A friend of mine who is a science reporter for a San Diego newspaper has put together a long summary post on all the e-mails and the other CRU stories. He was an AGW believer three years ago and we used to have mild debates about it. He is also an honest guy (and libertarian) and has changed his mind about AGW. This is a nice summary for those who would like to see the whole story in one place.

  11. We all know that the journalism profession, which (like climate scientists) professes unbiased professionalism, has a thoroughly biased core. To be sure there are a few journalists who proclaim their biases but the MSM claims neutrality. The same is true of “climate scientists” and many other disciplines. There is a powerful incentive to stay within the mainstream of opinion so that one can take cover behind the skirts of the powerful.

    The MSM refuses to investigate Acorn. Climate Science refuses to re-examine its data base.

    We would be better off if all journalists and all scientists were required to announce their prejudices at the beginning of their papers so that they can be evaluated not on the veracity of what they report but rather on the purity of their arguments.

    Honesty has a high value only in the free market; in planned economies the kindness of strangers is paramount and honesty is compromised on the altar of concensus.

  12. We would be better off if all journalists and all scientists were required to announce their prejudices at the beginning of their papers so that they can be evaluated not on the veracity of what they report but rather on the purity of their arguments.

    That would be quite healthy, although veracity certainly needs to be there!

    I’m the reporter Mike K. referred to. To me, the issue is quite simple: No double standards. Reporters should apply the same criteria to judge facts, whether or not they support what you personally believe in. And if the cognitive dissonance grows too great, perhaps it’s time to change your beliefs.

    It’s always tough to deal with experts who know far more than a lowly reporter. We have to trust them to be honest with us. But when a tribe of researchers takes over a field, and systematically conspires to freeze out dissenters, we’re going to get a skewed view. The treatment of Von Storch and Lindzen was shameful. The emails are a gold mine of information about this deception — Michael Mann tells the New York Times’ Andy Revkin that skeptics are essential to science, but privately tries to get rid of them, explicitly because they are skeptics.

    Alas, most of the major media are doing just a half-hearted job on this scandal — they put more emphasis on debunking Sarah Palin’s book than this much more serious issue. AP, an increasingly lame excuse for a wire service, had 11 reporters assigned to allegedly fact-check Palin’s book. I wonder how many AP has assigned to go through the CRU emails?

    Since the media accounts are so superficial, I could only write my post thanks to the blogs which have made all the emails available and searchable. Yes, the blogs are where you go to get in-depth information, while the media deals in the superficial. And the blundering newspapers don’t seem to be able to connect the dots with their decline.

  13. I just posted these comments to another entry in ChicagoBoyz but I this they are appropriate here. In addition, I’ll add the following.

    • Test the computer model combination for accuracy and precision. NAG and IMSL used to sell software to do this. Result: any model not validated for accuracy and precision should not be considered.
    • Test the computer model for previous predictions. If the input of good, multiple source reviewed data from the past can produce today’s weather, then this model is a candidate for continuing to live.
    • Open all the efforts up to public scrutiny. Anyone hiding something under their coat is excluded.

    The recent events of “Climategate” have stirred new life to a number of thoughts that have been lying dormant in my head during the past few years. Let me say that I have been programming computers since 1970 and spent a long time writing and dealing with computer modeling of the sort that the IPCC is hanging their hat on. Here are some of these thoughts.

    1. One of the first things a modeler has to consider is the precision and accuracy of the numerical calculations that a particular model of computer produces. It is a combination of the way the computer is constructed and the code that generates the math. Any floating point calculation is subject to errors that occur because of the nature of those calculations. Both IMSL and NAG, two of the companies that provide mathematical software libraries for technical computing have repeatedly stressed over the years that the biggest problems they have had is in the actual architecture of the computers performing the math operations that the programs tell them to do. NIST used to be able to certify specific machines but I do not know of their current practices. If the machine you are running on cannot do precise math, all bets are off.

    2. Models have to have some certainty. If you cannot demonstrate that a know set(s) of data can produce and expected result, anything coming out of a model is useless.

    3. Models should be able to not only predict actions into the future but “predict” past effects by using the appropriate data sets. That is, using some of the older data and cutting off the newer data, you should be able to match reality with the models prediction. Has this exercise ever been done with climate data? If I were sitting in a research center and a modeler showed me a model that went in the opposite direction of reality, I would stop the model, not reality.

    4. I was at a talk in the early 80’s by Dr. David Pensak, a renowned computational chemist when he was asked if DuPont (his employer) would computerize their lab notebooks. His answer went to the heart of the problem. He said (I paraphrase). If I had a theory and talked to you about it in the hallway, you may or may not believe it depending on what you thought of me and my research. If I published that theory in a peer-reviewed paper, you may or may not believe it depending on the regard you held that journal in. If I gave the theory printed on computer paper, you would treat it as gospel. The psychological power of a computer printout far exceeds its actual credibility.

    5. Destroying raw data is the original sin of a scientist. If you do it and have published based on it, you have tacitly admitted to being so cynical and unethical that you cannot stand valid reexamination of your hypothesis. You have ceased being a scientist and become a religious fanatic.

  14. someone comments:

    “It is possible that some areas of climate science has become sclerotic. It is possible that climate science has become too partisan, too centralized. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organization within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science.”

    The blog quote isn’t just someone. These are the words of UAEs Mike Hulme (a colleague of the besieged Director at CRU, Phil Jones), according to google scholar, 10th most cited climate scientist in the world.

    Somehow, the fact that Hulms suggests that the IPCC may have outlived its usefulness never gets an airing – why is that?

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