Nomenclature

Some have noted, and I agree that it’s a misnomer to call this “ClimateGate.” In addition to the fact that simply adding “Gate” to a scandal is so late twentieth century, calling it a “Gate” would imply that it’s something that the media will go into a frenzy over, because it’s a scandal about something politically incorrect (e.g., Nixon). No, a better name for it (again, not original with me — I think it showed up in comments at one of the PJM pieces) is “Climaquiddick.” In other words, expect the media to try to whitewash and minimize it.

[Update a few minutes later]

Ah, here. Iain Murray uses it in a post title.

And Jonah points out what should be obvious — that this isn’t just a science scandal, but a journalistic one:

One reason this seemed to me like less of a big deal at first was that the individual e-mails — “hide the decline” and so forth — while damning, also seemed open to interpretation. And I still think that’s the case in some instances. But what seems incontrovertible at this point is that the global-warming industry (and it is an industry) is suffused to its core with groupthink and bad faith. For many of us, this is not shocking news. But it is shocking evidence. Proving bad faith and groupthink is very hard to do. But now we have the internal dialog of those afflicted made public (I hope some intrepid reporters are asking other climate institutions whether they are no erasing their files for fear of being similarly exposed). It is clear that the scientists at the CRU were more interested in punishing dissenters and constructing a p.r. campaign than they were in actual science.

This should be considered not merely a scientific scandal but an enormous journalistic scandal. The elite press treats skepticism about global warming as a mental defect. It uses a form of the No True Scotsman fallacy to delegitimize people who dissent from the (manufactured) “consensus.” Dissent is scientifically unserious, therefore dissenting scientist A is unserious. There’s no way to break in. The moment someone disagrees with the “consensus” they disqualify themselves from criticizing the consensus. That’s not how science is supposed to work. Skeptics who’ve received a tote bag from some oil company are branded as shills, but scientists who live off of climate-change-obsessed foundations or congressional fiefdoms are objective, call-it-like-they-see-it truth seekers. Question these folks and you get a Bill Murrayesque, “Back off, man. We’re scientists.”

An even larger reason this is a journalistic scandal is that governments want to spend — literally — trillions of dollars on climate change. Industries want to make billions off it. The poor will be hurt. Economies wrenched apart. And journalistic skepticism is almost nowhere to be found. If you know people in the “skeptic community” (for want of a better term) or even just normal, honest scientists, the observation that federal and foundation funding and groupthink is driving, or at least distorting, the climate debate is commonplace. But it’s given almost no oxygen in the elite press, because they are in on it.

And as one of his emailers points out, what will really bring down this house of cards is when it’s revealed how awful and completely unreliable the computer code is. It’s no surprise that those who created the “models” didn’t want them released. The other issue, of course, gets back to a problem that the blogosphere has been complaining about for years — how incompetent (and how unprepared from the typical curricula of journalism schools) journalists are at covering, or even understanding, math and science, yet they’ve appointed themselves to explain it to the rest of us.

[Update mid afternoon]

Well, how about that? There’s at least one real journalist working at CBS:

As the leaked messages, and especially the HARRY_READ_ME.txt file, found their way around technical circles, two things happened: first, programmers unaffiliated with East Anglia started taking a close look at the quality of the CRU’s code, and second, they began to feel sympathetic for anyone who had to spend three years (including working weekends) trying to make sense of code that appeared to be undocumented and buggy, while representing the core of CRU’s climate model.

One programmer highlighted the error of relying on computer code that, if it generates an error message, continues as if nothing untoward ever occurred. Another debugged the code by pointing out why the output of a calculation that should always generate a positive number was incorrectly generating a negative one. A third concluded: “I feel for this guy. He’s obviously spent years trying to get data from undocumented and completely messy sources.”

Programmer-written comments inserted into CRU’s Fortran code have drawn fire as well. The file briffa_sep98_d.pro says: “Apply a VERY ARTIFICAL correction for decline!!” and “APPLY ARTIFICIAL CORRECTION.” Another, quantify_tsdcal.pro, says: “Low pass filtering at century and longer time scales never gets rid of the trend – so eventually I start to scale down the 120-yr low pass time series to mimic the effect of removing/adding longer time scales!”

Unfortunately, he had to do it at a blog. I wonder if it will ever show up as a CBS story?

28 thoughts on “Nomenclature

  1. Paul Milenkovic

    Don’t you think that “Hide the decline” will become as much a catch phrase as “Death panels”?

  2. Rand Simberg Post author

    Well, it has wide applicability (the economy, the number of jobs, the president’s and Dem’s poll numbers, the president’s credibility…). In fact, we’ve had commenters here hiding the declines for months.

  3. Pete Nelson

    I’ve been programming professionally for about 25 years, mostly for a large aerospace company, formerly based in Washington state. (I’m sure you know the one). I took a look at some of the Fortran source files for the CRU’s climate model. Although it has been a while since I did any FORTRAN coding, I was stunned at how really, really shoddy the code was. I didn’t do enough analysis to make any conclusions on the correctness of the code, but it basically sucked. After coding professionally for some time, developers get a feel for well-written code, just by looking at the source code structure. This was really, really bad. I wrote far better code as an undergraduate. I cannot believe that governments are basing policy impacting many billions, if not trillions, of dollars on this crap code. It’s actually frightening.

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  6. gjg

    It is not only the model that is wrong, they have been including bad data in the model. They use readings from cities which are known to be getting warmer. Rural areas are not getting warmer. It is like measuring the temperature of a forest with your thermometer next to the bonfire.
    Go to Global Warming Urban Heat Effect on YouTube for a little explanation.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcsvaCPYgcI

    So Simple A Sixth Grader Can Understand It.

  7. K T Cat

    Rand, I’d suggest a different take on this. Your average journalist is basically a high school senior with lots of college English classes. They don’t know enough to make sense of the news so instead they do what the pack is doing. Socially, they don’t seem much advanced past the high school clique days – they all take the same opinions as their thought leaders.

    How could you expect one of them to make sense of the comment file where the lads of East Anglia are trying to fathom why none of their databases work with their inherited code? First off, none of these journos has ever written a line of code and second, they’d have to suggest something that the cool kids would aggresivley attack.

    It’s not gonna happen. It’s up to us to get the truth out.

  8. Will Collier

    Beyond the (one would think obvious) fact that a computer model != science, the thing that just screams “fraud” to me is, these guys won’t release their raw data, and have apparently fought tooth and nail against doing so. That’s the biggest red flag imaginable.

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  10. MarkJ

    Here’s the East Anglia CRU’s new “fight song”:

    Fight fiercely, Anglia, fight, fight, fight
    Demonstrate to them our skill
    Albeit they possess the might
    Nonetheless we have the will
    How we shall celebrate our victory
    We shall invite the UN up for tea, how jolly
    Hurl those invectives down the field
    And fight, fight, fight

    Fight fiercely, Anglia, fight, fight, fight
    Impress them with our prowess, do
    Oh, fellows, do not let Al Gore down
    Be of stout heart and true
    Come on, chaps, fight for “Warming’s” glorious name
    Won’t it be peachy if we win the game, oh, goody
    Let’s try not to injure them
    But fight, fight, fight – Let’s not be rough, though
    Fight, fight, fight – And do fight fiercely
    Fight, fight, fight

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  14. butter

    I love how the left does backflips over diebold not releasing the source code and internals of their voting machines, but when climate scientists refuse to release source code that is the basis of a move to reshape our economies and entire way of life all over the earth, its understandable.

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  17. Patrick Carroll

    Seems to me that there’s a lot of open source FORTRAN out there they might have used (e.g., LINPACK, or a lot from the Numerical Recipes books) and a lot ot open source developers working in C, C++, or Java who’d have been happy to debug results in parallel.

    The fact that all was kept secret, and had to be revealed by hackers, and so much is all about biasing results, well, it kills confidence, doesn’t it?

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  19. Garth Whittington

    Rand,
    I have sent this to two media outlets so far:
    Thanks for your reporting on ‘Climategate’. After stating my case I hope that you without fail will always ask the following questions of every person; scientist, bureaucrat or politician, who is in the alarmist camp that wants to impose their will on the planet. Those question(s) are why do you hold your research data secret? Why is there scheming going on that usurps the scientific method and is clearly political in nature? Why is the research by the skeptics transparent and open for all to see?

    As long as they are secretive one can not but help question their fundamental thinking the foundation of which is crumbling.

    Happy Thanksgving! Garth Whittington

    Houston,Texas

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