Bias Confirmed

Megan McArdle, an AGW true believer, seems to think that most of the problems highlighted by Climategate are due to confirmation bias. That is where the experts tend to accept data that is in line with what they expect, while assuming that anything which goes against the prevailing theory must just be faulty in some way.

I’d agree with her except for the way the people involved in the scandal went against the law to delete emails, hatched plans to punish other scientists whose work showed different results, and even worked to discredit scientific journals which dared to publish contrary research.

That sort of willing participation in unethical and illegal behavior doesn’t fit any definition of “confirmation bias” I’ve ever come across. Crooks, liars, cheats and con artists act like that, not respectable scientists who simply put a bit more weight on one side of the scale.

It is certainly true that the history of science is rife with examples of confirmation bias. But, while debate and disagreement might become heated, it is rare to come across a case where one side of the issue actively schemes to silence their opponents through purposely causing them some form of harm.

In this instance, I suppose the AGW dissenters should be grateful that only their careers were damaged.

The Belmont Club has a post that is worth your time.

12 thoughts on “Bias Confirmed”

  1. Here is a new, evil definition of Confirmation Bias: We of the IPCC want to present our message about Global Warming, and we want you to adjust your graphics to agree with this.

    IPCC and the Trick

    12/10/09 – Climate Audit by Steve McIntyre

    [edited] Relevant Climategate correspondence in the period (September-October 1999) leading up to the email about “the Trick” is incomplete, but, in context, is highly revealing.

    There was a meeting of IPCC lead authors between Sept 1-3, 1999 to consider the “zero-order draft” of the Third Assessment Report. The emails provide clear evidence that IPCC had already decided to include a proxy diagram reconstructing temperature for the past 1000 years and that a version of the proxy diagram was presented at the Tanzania meeting showing the late twentieth century decline.

    The emails show that
    — The late 20th century decline in the Briffa reconstruction was perceived by IPCC as “diluting the message”,
    — “everyone in the room at IPCC” thought that the Briffa decline was a “problem” and a “potential distraction/detraction”,
    — this was then the “most important issue” in chapter 2 of the IPCC report, and
    — there was “pressure” on Briffa and other authors to show a “nice tidy story” of “unprecedented warming for a thousand years or more”.

  2. Mr. Rummel,

    Please consider the implications of your statement here (my emphasis):

    “I’d agree with her except for the way the people involved in the scandal went against the law to delete emails, hatched plans to punish other scientists whose work showed different results, and even worked to discredit scientific journals which dared to publish contrary research.

    That sort of willing participation in unethical and illegal behavior doesn’t fit any definition of “confirmation bias” I’ve ever come across. Crooks, liars, cheats and con artists act like that, not respectable scientists who simply put a bit more weight on one side of the scale.”

    Sending emails across state lines in furtherance of a civil or criminal fraud is a federal crime (interstate wire fraud). Doing so to injure people in their trades or businesses (i.e, punish dissenting scientists and discredit scientific journals for publishing contrary research) is racketeering as defined in 18 United States Code section 1961, et seq., and gives rise to civil as well as criminal liability, and the trebled civil damages include reasonable attorney fees.

    These guys are gangsters in white coats, and there is a real handy means of redress available.

  3. And here is the money motive for those gangsters in white coats:

    “… The scientist who will head the American Physical Society’s review of its 2007 statement calling for immediate reductions of carbon dioxide is Princeton’s Robert Socolow, a prominent supporter of the link between CO2 and global warming who has warned of possible “catastrophic consequences” of climate change.

    Socolow’s research institute at Princeton has received well over $20 million in grants dealing with climate change and carbon reduction, plus an additional $2 million a year from BP and still more from the federal government. In an interview published by Princeton’s public relations office, Socolow called CO2 a “climate problem” that governments need to address.

    “It is Socolow whose entire research funding stream, well over a million dollars a year, depends on continued alarm over global warming,” says William Happer, a fellow Princeton University professor and head of the Happer physics lab who has raised the question of a conflict of interest. The reason: the ostensibly neutral person charged with evaluating a statement endorsing man-made global warming is a leading proponent of precisely that theory whose funding is tied to that theory.

    … Hal Lewis, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara who has been an APS member for 65 years, says that he asked both the current and incoming APS presidents to require that Socolow recuse himself from a review of this subject, and both refused.

    That means the review will be “chaired by a guy who is hip deep in conflicts of interest, running a million-dollar program that is utterly dependent on global warming funding,” Lewis says. In addition, he points out that the group charged with taking a second look at the 2007 statement, the Panel on Public Affairs, is the same body that drafted it in the first place. That, “too has a smell of people investigating themselves,” Lewis says.

    The APS ethics policy that appears to apply to Socolow’s panel says “it is particularly desirable that members” be “free from real or perceived conflicts.” An APS ethics policy used when awarding prizes says that conflicts of interest can be resolved, depending on the circumstance, by “resignation of one or more members of the committee, withdrawal of a member from parts of the committee’s deliberations and voting.” And when involving the chairman: “Potential conflict of interest involving the chair of the selection committee is ipso facto a serious matter, and at the least another committee member should take over as chair.”

  4. Last followup, in my professional capacity.

    A civil conspiracy consists of an agreement to act in concert to do an unlawful act, or to use unlawful means to achieve a lawful ends. Each conspirator is liable for all acts in furtherance of a conspiracy, and need not even know what those other acts are.

    Here is the Lexis summary of Halberstam v. Welch, 705 F.2d 472(D.C. Cir. 1983):

    “The personal representative of the physician’s estate brought a wrongful death and survival action seeking damages based on consequences resulting from the physician’s death during a burglary. The district court found that appellant, who was not a participant in the actual burglary, was jointly and severally liable with her live-in boyfriend for the killing of the physician under theories of conspiracy and aiding and abetting and awarded a monetary judgment against both of them. Appellant sought review on the issue of her liability. The court found based on the record that appellant knew the purpose of her boyfriend’s nightly outings and the means that he used to acquire their wealth. Further, appellant was a long-time willing partner in assisting her boyfriend dispose of the burglary proceeds. Appellant acted as a secretary and recordkeeper for the burglary enterprise and maintained financial transactions solely in her name. Appellant also took unsubstantiated income tax deductions related to the burglary proceeds. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment finding appellant jointly and severally liable as a co-conspirator and joint venturer.”

  5. “And here is the money motive for those gangsters in white coats”

    The dirty little secret is that scientists will say anything to get grant money. They’re quite open about it to each other, and to the students they mentor, although they never seem to get around to telling the general public (can’t imagine why.)

  6. I think some of these individuals are primarily money-motivated, but there are other kinds of motivations involved as well:

    1)Some of them really do believe in global warming, but are willing to fudge the evidence to make it more dramatic and convincing, as they don’t believe the Common People are able to understand subtleties. This is quite analogous to the actions of a CEO who honestly believes that the real potential of his company is not properly represented by GAAP accounting statements, and hence fudges the numbers. This latter is of course something that can and does result in long prison terms.

    2)Probably the most important factor is the strong human desire to belong to what C S Lewis called the Inner Ring…see my post here.

  7. Has anyone else read Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear” ? He pretty much understood the situation and made an interesting novel out of the logical extension into extreme action. Tom Clancy’s “Rainbow Six” has a similar plot device. Both, of course, carry the plot well beyond anything that has happened but I have always been impressed at Clancy’s ability to see into the future. He had the ending of “Debt of Honor” with a pilot flying a 747 into the Capitol in Washington and that was written in 1995. Neither novel is the author’s best effort but both are timely. George Friedman’s The 100 Years has a war with Japan in his predictions. Clancy did that 15 years ago.

    I don’t expect Michael Mann to be plotting earthquakes but the motivations are there. Good novelists can take it beyond and make a good story out of it.

  8. Yes, there’s grant money. Yes, there’s fancy lab equipment and travel and other perks.

    But the real motivation is much more fundamental than that—the need to “be somebody”.

    For years, you’re just some guy who answers arcane questions about weather systems or historical climate trends. Nobody notices you at conventions, nobody clamors for interviews, nobody stands in line to work with you, nobody wants to give you money or office space or much of anything.

    Suddenly, you are the chief interpreter of the unnkown Mayan alphabet and, lo and behold, its predicting global catastrophe, an imminent global catastrophe, and its all about climate, and arcane records, and complex interpretations of obscure data.

    All of a sudden, you’re a star, nay, a superstar, a prize winner, a Nobel prize winner.

    It’s everything you ever dreamed of every time you saw some hurricane researcher being interviewed on TV, or some ocean currents guy going on about El Nino.

    Invitations to all the important conferences, and the best cocktail parties afterwards.

    People, important people, calling you, wanting interviews, observations, speaking engagements, wanting to give you money, and bigger and better everything, hanging on every word you say, every paper you publish.

    Give all that up just because some tree rings don’t fit? Some past climate cycles might weaken your case? Some doubter somewhere might argue with your predictions?

    The hell with that! You’ll fix them so they can’t publish their own obituary, much less any of this denialist nonsense. You’ll show them, you’ll show them all.

    It’s so deep in the brain it’s reptilian. And even brilliant minds are still susceptible to that most fundamental need—status and admiration, respect and awe.

    To be somebody.

  9. The desire to be an “insider” “somebody” does not explain the threats and retaliation.

    The only groups for which such behavior fosters status are criminal gangs, generally juvenile ones. The doomies who engage in such behavior are gangsters, and the ones in white coats have the power to inflict real injury. They should be treated for what they are – gangsters in white coats.

  10. Thanks, Mr. Holsinger. Your term “doomies” is appropriate. But just to lighten it up a bit, I think I’ll begin using the term “doomers” to refer to catastrophic AGW cultists. It is ironic that they refer to those who question the “we’re all gonna die” so-called consensus as “skeptics.” I once believed that that term should apply to all open-minded researchers who call themselves scientists. Apparently that mindset has been chucked to get us to the post-modern world we now inhabit.

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