A question of privacy

Brandon has seen some of the FOI-released ethics review material for the Cook et al consensus study. As expected, the bulk of the project was not covered by an institutional review. The application appears to have been made after its completion. While the full document is not out, it does appear John Cook and the University of Queensland pulled a fast one on Brandon.

The Cook project is a literature classification exercise whose reproducibility is suspect. Not wanting to release raw data, Cook initially declared volunteers participated in his project upon pain of confidentiality. Those who asked for the data were however consistent – the question was not the identities of the raters. To prolong prevarication, Cook turned to the leaked Skepticalscience forum contents. He insisted if he released raw data, inquisitive readers would—using the forum contents—put two and two together and out his volunteers. This meant Cook considered the forum contents firmly in the public domain.

The institutional review covers only scientists whom Cook contacted via email – as it stands to reason. Justification via institutional ethics to hold volunteer ratings secret was not viable. What is remaining? Only to assist Cook in keeping confidentiality of his volunteers intact.

It is no surprise Brandon, whom Cook nudged his university to bring legal threats upon, does not feel the pinch of obligation. It appears Cook’s raw data could appear in the public domain, as his secret forum already has.


The “False” Balance Scythe

False balance is an evergreen censorship tool in the climate censor’s armamentarium. A series of posts at Bishop Hill chronicle a remarkable sequence of events with Nigel Lawson founder of the GWPF falling to the false balance scythe.

The standard line on false balance goes something like this: there is a scientist/orthodoxy-approved spokesperson on one side and a crank on the other side, the audience cannot tell which is which. Both are presented on equal footing!

In reality, the picture almost never corresponds to the portrait. What is seen is an individual consigned (by chance or by choice) to the rather unfortunate position of standing by his or her own views versus an eminent scientist or activist with crank-like views on climate.

The audience cannot tell the difference.

Think about it: in what context would deprivation of fossil fuel use in Africa count as ‘mainstream’?

False balance is institutionalized ladder climbing for the climate agenda employing sceptics and cranks for leverage. ‘False balance’ is a small group of hardened activists turning silence and the disinterest of a large majority and the well-meaning engagement of a smaller informed minority against them both.

Judith Curry is biased because the state of Georgia denies evolution

I used to hear regularly climate scientist Robert Grumbine was a rational voice in the climate debate. Very balanced, sensible etc. I recently ran into Grumbine’s theory for why fellow scientist Judith Curry turned climate skeptic:

Grumbine’s comment: Intelligent

Curry became a skeptic to fit better with her Georgia colleagues who do not believe in Darwinian evolution and therefore do not believe in anthropogenic climate change –  so goes Grumbinian convoluted logic. His association with the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), it appears, helps makes such impressive leaps of logic.

For those not in the know, the National Center for Science Education is a ridiculous organization devoted to ‘fighting’ creationism and intelligent design in schools. They fight the good fight by filing court cases, making speeches and hosting such articles as Am I a Monkey by Francisco Ayala and the appropriately titled The Dawn of the Deed: The Prehistoric Origins of Sex by a John F Long.

As arrows of causality fly, it is infinitely more likely the NCSE glommed on to climate change as a cause than Judith Curry became a skeptic to please her neighbours. Why hold back from the vistas of activist opportunity climate change affords? Grumbine modestly admits it might have been he who egged the NCSE onto climate change.

Curry, on the other hand, informs us her skepticism comes at a cost at Georgia Tech.



Blame the University, Management and Administration

A London college is about fire hundreds of academics. David Colquhoun, a UK-based pharmacologist and an academic at Nottingham University UK has written about it. Colquhoun’s article is restricts itself to details of the obscure episode. Philip Moriarty of Nottingham has more general observations.

Colquhoun notes with no (apparent) trace of irony that being unceremoniously dumped was formerly a fate reserved for post-doctoral candidates.

Until recently, this problem was largely restricted to post-doctoral fellows (postdocs). They already have PhDs and they are the people who do most of the experiments.

Moriarty says his job is not to ‘secure research income’ but ‘to do high-quality research’.

A few reminders might be useful for Colquhoun and Moriarty.

In ‘regular’ times, university administrators are not the only ones who use publication records and grants as a metric for assessing ‘productivity’. Scientists do it. From lowly two-cubicle one-bench labs to the two-dozen-postdoc factories that churn out papers, grad students and professors talk in terms of abstracts and papers. Scientific productivity is measured in numbers of papers, grant money and number of grants. It is the lingua franca of scientific gossip, it is how scientists look up and down each other. The small labs behave no differently from the big ones.

Doing science and quality research takes a peculiar bent of mind. You might be surprised but this bent of mind is not a requisite to be in a lab. Hard work, diligence, a cheerful nature and obedience are. Let’s suppose you are actually fit to do science but lack one of these abilities. There is a good chance you’ll get drummed out.

Contrary to what Moriarty implies, there are no jobs that are about ‘doing high-quality research’. Despite attempts to the contrary, scientific advancement remains largely a product of serendipity (and pigheadedness). Science is a lottery – you may be brilliant and do high-quality work, but what you produce could well end up being crap.

In addition, Moriarty implies having more scientists in jobs is a public entitlement. But the forces of feedback set in motion by the very academics arguing vigorously for restrictions have to act somewhere.

For instance, you are a social sciences researcher consistently arguing for a carbon tax – with high-quality research. The state government listens, uses your papers as evidence and passes laws. Factories and farms shut down, the tax kitty dries up and soon you are having to close your lab and let go of your post-doc.

Go ahead, blame administration and management.

UPDATE: Stew Green points out in comments my post seemed to club Colquhoun and Moriarty’s views together. I thought I was separating the two in my first paragraph but maybe it was not clear enough.

Colquhoun refers to a PNAS article by former NAS head Bruce Alberts and former NIH boss Harold Varmus in his support. Interestingly, PNAS published a response (h/t Anthony Watts):

In their article, Alberts and co point out what they say is the ‘root cause’ of problems with research funding:

We believe that the root cause of the widespread malaise is a longstanding assumption that the biomedical research system in the United States will expand indefinitely at a substantial rate.

When people say they have identified a cause, they usually have identified an effect. The PNAS authors are no different here. An assumption, or an impression that biomedical research will ‘expand indefinitely’ but held by whom?

If CO2 can cause asthma milk can cause autism



UK think-tank Sense About Science (SAS) employee Síle Lane is upset. It is PETA‘s fad du jour campaigning on a milk-autism connection that’s bothering her. Lane is so upset she … had to make a phone call.

I’m going to have to phone them and ask them to meet me on Monday

On Monday PETA file into the Grand Poobah’s office. Lane is not pleased. She finds PETA’s remonstrations on milk-induced autism weak:

He couldn’t answer my questions, so I need to hear from him again when he can.

Professional busybodies like Lane pretend to browbeat organizations like PETA, wringing their hands about milk, parasitizing and cannibalizing on their mass appeal.

For Lane, the public are incompetent idiots who need SAS protection from the trauma of wading through ‘conflicting claims’

…claims like PETA’s add to the pressure to wade through conflicting claims about the condition people affected by autism already feel.

For its part PETA wants to save the children from cow milk:

… cows’ milk might be the perfect food for baby cows, but it might also be making kids sick

How thoughtful of them both.


Biotech Biostitutes


Brandon S has gone off on Mark Steyn with one of his posts. A while back, Brandon argued that Mann’s suspiciously SLAPP-like litigatory effort should go forward as judge for the case Frederick Weisberg ruled. Weisberg’s narrow focus involved determining whether Steyn’s writings were capable of being defamatory. He ruled ‘yes’ and set another court to determine whether they were defamatory. In other words, hair-splitting on a monumental scale. In normal minds separating the two would be next to impossible. Like showing someone a piece of red paper and asking: “Is this a colour?”


I noticed a new fad. It consists of writing short words and exclamatory sentences broken up into pieces by periods to convey outrage. Here it is in action at Tamino’s blog:





The long Tamino post begins with:

You might already have guessed that this post is not about science, or math, or climate change.

Just a while back, he began another post with:

Before you read further I’ll warn you that this is a rant which has nothing to do with climate science.

Tamino’s long post is on how all men are to be blamed for women feeling unsafe when alone outside at night etc.

David Appell shows examples of Tamino’s misogyny hypocrisy in the comments:

Aunt Judy

‘Aunt Judy’ refers to Judith Curry. In response, Tamino has a meltdown:

Let’s ask the women who are reading this. Women readers: would you feel safe enough with David Appell to confide in him?

Travel back in his blog and others and there are further examples:

Curry whoring her credentials

From Hotwhopper, a blog dedicated to fighting ‘sexism on the internet’
favours are flowing

Another one:


Rest assured – these are not the only personal attacks on Curry of this nature. Recall the ‘hoe’ jokes on Katherine Hayhoe.

The headless chicken fallacy

Independent researcher Sami Paju writes why genetically ‘modified’ organisms pose ‘systemic risks’, i.e., creating random mutations and selling them as products could unleash monstrous harm.  His contentions are similar to the half-baked nonsense laid out by Rupert Read and Nassim Taleb, i.e., a hoary biological version of Pascal’s wager:

What we are doing with GMOs is effectively playing a lottery …

Paju admits the linchpin of his routine passes through the disseminative potential of global transport and industrialized agriculture, rather than any uniquely destructive capability of the mutants.

Taleb’s version is extended: what exists in nature is essentially stress-tested, what comes into existence new is capable of almost anything, including causing great harm. In the past, harmful genetic variants either killed everything around them or were eliminated. We see lots of things around us, meaning they survived previous murderous mutants. Meaning it was the mutants who were killed off. The style of self-contained nostrum is similar to circular explanations encountered in evolution.

Paju says biotechnology companies that create genetic variants carry little risk themselves but spread the risk of ecological collapse to entire populations. How different are well-settled, wealthy academic Nostradamuses broadcasting doom and catastrophe to everyday people?

Betting on catastrophe is the safest possible bet. The superstitious are drawn to it but the rich can afford it.

I do not wish to pay—or have my descendants pay—for errors by executives of Monsanto. We should exert the precautionary principle there …

Taleb rightly slams biotechnology business for claiming their products to be ‘tested’ and ‘safe’. However, ironically, in using such marketing language companies are responding to a toxic atmosphere of risk aversion perpetrated by people like Taleb.

IPCC science-government chimera

Richard Tol has an excellent synthesis of problems with the IPCC, particularly those connected to the structure of its peer-review system and government involvement. Tol offers solutions. The root cause however lies in historical evolution. Organizations like the IPCC were designed to amplify the cause of a group of committed individuals. Reviewers suborned to authors, science-government chimeras and back-propagated text changes are essential ingredients.

Activist scientists are foolish enough to believe they control the reports’ final text. They think they are trapping governments by letting them swirl fingers in the report and snapping the lids shut (Warning: link to Realclimate):

The SPM process also serves a very useful political purpose. Specifically, it allows the governments involved to feel as though they ‘own’ part of the report. This makes it very difficult to later turn around and dismiss it on the basis that it was all written by someone else.

Cat-and-mouse games with government may enthrall a section of IPCC scientists but it does little good for science. Tol documents how the environment departments of governments, poorly selected scientists, committed green activists and busybodies join hands to bring standards down, as only an insider can.

UQ Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor Alastair McEwan on Cook et al 97% project: More contradictions

Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Queensland Alastair McEwan has released a brief statement on the Cook et al paper.

McEwan states “all data” of ‘any scientific value’ has been released by the authors. This is not true. Rater ids and their time-stamps have not been released.

McEwan also states some material was not released: information that could “identify the individual research participants was withheld.” 

This information was not withheld. Volunteers are listed by name as authors and in the acknowledgements in the paper.

Furthermore, volunteers who rated abstracts are not ‘research participants’ in the paper. If they were, Cook et al 2013 would not be a survey of the literature. It would become a survey of volunteers.

A commenter at Hiizuru writes:

So are they admitting that this “research” was actually a study about the raters skills to classify scientific papers according to a set of parameters and not about the actual content of the papers at all?

Richard Tol wrote to Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj a year ago. Declaring volunteer identities confidential would mean the paper was a ‘survey of the raters’ beliefs and skills, rather than a survey of the abstracts they rated’.

If, on the other hand, this was a survey of the raters’ beliefs and skills, rather than a survey of the abstracts they rated, then Mr Cook is correct that their identity should remain confidential. But this undermines the entire paper: It is no longer a survey of the literature, but rather a survey of Mr Cook and his friends.

Rud Istvan notes the contradiction: if volunteers were research participants according to the institutional ethics review, the authors themselves were in breach of it. They wrote about their own work as participants!

In reality, these absurdities are easily resolved. Cook et al 2013 is not a survey of ‘Mr Cook and his friends’. It is a survey of the literature, as the title declares.

What the authors did was not survey themselves as participants but apply a uniform rating scale on abstracts. Is this process reproducible and valid? The question carries scientific value. The answers may potentially overturn the paper.

Answering this question requires not the identities of the volunteers but of the abstracts they each rated.


University of Queensland threatens blog with legal action for analyzing Cook et al 97% consensus data

The farce has tipped over into the gulch

About a year back, John Cook and his Skepticalscience team members put out a paper finding a 97% ‘consensus’ in climate literature. An unstoppable media juggernaut trailed its wake. Analysis and discussion followed. Among critical voices, Richard Tol summarized his findings in a live manuscript. But available data was not enough to examine the paper’s fundamentals. The long quest for the full raw data began.

In a series of requests to the authors, the journal and the university, Tol contacted everyone concerned. Cook refused to release the data. Matters escalated to University of Queensland Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research Max Lu and portions of data were reluctantly released.

Further problems were immediately evident — they were tweeted within the day. Some discrepancy was to be expected but the new material suggested gaps of significantly larger magnitude. It appeared the system used was not reliable:

Tol continued his efforts and more data was released. However, meta-data required for validation continued to be held back. Tol eventually published his paper without such data.

Closely on its heels, blogger Brandon Shollenberger announced he had additional data. At this juncture, legal threats arrived from the University of Queensland. The university has threatened to sue Shollenberger for breach of copyright, warning him to not release or analyse the data.

Precious secret research data

The university has claimed confidentiality issues and copyright over the data. However, Cook gifted paper authorship to eight volunteers who rated high numbers of papers. Twelve others were named in the acknowledgements for ‘collecting email addresses and rating abstracts’. Their names were public. As Anthony Watts notes, the paper was published under a Creative Commons license.

In his study, Cook emailed authors of papers asking for ratings on a consensus scale.  He also used several volunteers to rate climate abstracts. The reliability problems came to light with the first release. The match between scientists ratings and the volunteers was poor. Were similar issues lurking behind the paper’s headline conclusion?

It is meta-data that would answer such questions Shollenberger has now come into possession. This implies serious weaknesses that could come to light with analysis as the reason for the threat of lawsuits.

The oft-repeated claim of 97% consensus appears to be serious trouble.

Survey: Research on climate blogs

Scientists in several fields such as sociology, psychology and anthropology have increasingly turned to the internet. Blogs and social media carry rich information from authors and commenters on these platforms. It is believed studies on comments and posts on these venues can provide insight.

This brief survey inquires about your attitudes toward research conducted on comments posted in climate-related blogs.

Please click here to take the survey.

No personal information is collected. Results will be posted here after completion of the survey.

UPDATE (May 9, 2014): The survey is now closed.



Shub Niggurath Climate: a request to readers

Dear readers,

As anyone writing a blog with even semi-serious intent can tell you, it takes commitment and resources. My blogging activity has tended to be focused on a single line of investigation at a time. Time is the biggest constraint – it puts boundaries on everything a writer can do.

Over time I have realized time is sucked up not in reading and analyzing research material, but in chasing down references and laying hands on them.

Two such episodes prompted me to take the plunge. I ask the kind reader to reader to pitch in. Any contribution would go a long way in helping obtain books and references. This would bring ideas to paper faster and fresher. That is the goal!

Please consider clicking on the button below to make donations. The account accepts credit cards. Your support is greatly appreciated.

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