the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Common Sense and Prosecutor’s Fallacy(s)

Posted by Jeff Id on December 21, 2009

Guest post by John Pittman.  It was supposed to go up last Friday, but in my haste to buy everything on Earth for Christmas, I didn’t have time to do the editing and it slipped my mind this weekend when so much Copenhagen news happened (News always happens on the weekend).  Anyway, John responds to Mann’s WP article in the first link below.  Take a few moments to read the comments to Mann’s article, Mann is not terribly popular with the internet public.

—————————-

In this Washington Post Article, Dr. Mann makes a demonstrably weak effort to continue the meme that the scandal from the alleged email leak do not matter. There are several reasons why this response is weak. The first argument:

When I was on a jury one time, we were instructed not to give up our “common sense.” Despite what the defense, prosecution, or even the judge instructed, we were not to forgo common sense. This was an instruction from the judge. The trial proceeded until the judge made the mistake of instructing the prosecution how to proceed with their case. The defendant immediately called for a mistrial. The jury was removed to wait the outcome. We were dismissed and a mistrial declared. GHG and temperature can’t speak, but data can. Persons such as JeffID and Steve McIntyre, among others, are getting the data to speak. Dr. Mann is asking readers to suspend common sense. The fact that not all the emails have been released, per the hacker, does not mean they were taken out of context. It means we don’t know. He asks us to come to a judgment without data. In other words, do something that defies common sense. He asks that we ignore what JeffID, Steve McIntyre, I and others have found that do question the results. So he asks us to both prejudge and to ignore what has been found. Does this mean that the problems discovered are real? No. ABSOLUTELY NOT. However, it does mean they need explanation.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosecutor’s_fallacy misunderstanding conditional probability or misunderstanding the idea of multiple testing.

As I stated here,

“”The real argument concerns present temperature, past temperature, climate sensitivity and climate predictions (projections). To understand what the furor is about one has to go back to the SAR.””

I also stated there would be a long line of apologists trying to minimize what the emails state. This post I want to address and expand a point by Dr. Lindzen. Dr. Lindzen makes a good point in the video linked by Steve. It is about the Prosecutor’s Fallacy(s) seen in the CRU Climategate emails. Dr. Lindzen’s comments alone show the weakness of Dr. Mann’s claim. I would like to take it a couple of steps further.

http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/2744/ JeffID has a post relevant to this discussion, as does Steve McIntyre here climategatekeeping and climategatekeeping2. Where these go into technical details, this post is about procedure and methodology.

Two of the greatest achievements derived from philosophy have been Law and Science. We commonly speak of the rule of law and the scientific procedure. These common methodologies are similar and have been used to take mankind from hovels to exploring space. Their similarities speak of our common experience and their success. We will look at fallacies, procedural errors, and methodological errors. One thing they do not require is the suspension of common sense. It may take a lot of education and math, but it does not require suspension of common sense.

Many are claiming that the emails did not show that the process of peer review was stopped. That statement has been shown to be doubtful by Steve’s post. Further the emails in climategatekeeping-2 indicate that there is something worse than a fallacy going on. We will come back to this in a bit.

Another excuse has been that there are so many other papers that did make it supporting the consensus. This fails as Calvin ball at CA notes:

Stop and think about that statement. What he’s rather directly saying is that scientific issues can and should be settled with a scale. Stack the papers on one side of the issue on one side of the scale, and stack the papers on the other side of the issue on the other side of the scale. The truth is the heaver stack.

Expressed like this, the hacked emails do not show they have been mined for words or phrases, but for violations of procedure and methodology, besides the fallacy that Calvin notes. It is interesting that Dr. Mann should challenge Sarah Pallin on an unsubstantive issue rather than a substantive issue. Such as, release of code for MBH 98 as his cohorts are clamoring for at RC. Perhaps he should address the substantive issue raised when 3rd parties were asked to look into his work by explaining the email here . Or perhaps he can explain how this email of his with this comment is somehow taken out of context by explaining how the potential problems with temperature constructions could change his claims and conclusions. Perhaps he should just address how substantive are his claims of “best physical understanding” could be effected by the emails with a substantive release of MBH code. Perhaps address whether or not Dr. Wegman was correct about the independent nature of Jones, Mann, Briffa, Crowley. Now that would be a substantive issue to explore. And related to the emails.

In a recent “Perspectives” opinion piece, W. Broecker suggests that the “hockey stick” reconstruction of climate change over the past 1000 years – with extreme warming only in the late 20th century – is incorrect, and that the so-called “Medieval Warm Period” was at least as warm as the 20th century and due to oscillations in the thermohaline circulation. To reach this conclusion, Dr. Broecker rejects traditional empirical “proxy” climate indicators of past climate (e.g. tree ring, ice core, coral, and long historical documentary records) that are the foundation of a number of hemispheric reconstructions, as well as our current best physical understanding of the factors controlling climate at century-to-millennial timescales. We disagree with Broecker on several major points: (1) It cannot reasonably be argued that the Middle Ages were as warm as the 20th century at global or hemispheric scales. Although regional warmth during the Middle Ages may have sometimes been significantly greater than present, four different hemispheric-scale reconstructions (Jones, Mann, Briffa, Crowley) have been completed for the last 1000 years — all of them showing warmth in the Middle Ages that is either no warmer or significantly less than mid-20th century warmth. This is because it has been known for a quarter of a century that the timing of warmth during the Middle Ages was significantly different in different regions (Lamb, Dansgaard, Hughes). Failure to take this observation into account can lead to serious errors in the inference of hemispheric temperature trends

Returning to our contentions, the emails are full of prosecutor’s fallacies. But worse they are full of procedural problems. In emails that so many have discussed, there are continual procedure violations of the sort from my story. Remember these are not just any scientists. They are writing the IPCC’s reports that are supposed to be all sorts of things, like fair and independent, that the emails indicate that the reports are not. In particular, we read of those who should be independent, are actually spoon feeding the answers to one side and not the other. Even worse, they seem to be engaged in a conspiracy not only to deny revealing what should be revealed, as a matter of course, they are trying to throw out the others’ works even when they know that the other side has made an effort to do it themselves, and as were argued in the emails to be presenting something that was different and hung together. Since this email was addressed to these scientists including Dr. Mann, I find it disingenuous for Dr. Mann to now claim that emails are somehow taken out of context. See this link for a detailed falsification of Dr. Mann’s simplistic claims.

Before we conclude a point about “what if” the temperature does not swing upwards so sharply? Not only does Mann’s quote in the WaPo “Past Few Decades Warmest on Record, Study Confirms,” become questionable, there is a more salient point. JeffID, Steve McIntyre and Zorita have shown the mechanism of the hockey stick. What JeffID showed, in particular, is that with a lesser uptick, there will most probably be a lesser deflation of the MWP. In that these studies quoted by Mann show MWP almost as large as CWP, using a smaller uptick for 1950 onwards may make the MWP as warm as CWP. If that happens, just read the Context post linked above and realize that this decrease in the magnitude of the uptick could by itself invalidate AR3 and AR4, and that the Yamal problems will “make it worse than we thought”; then read Dr. Mann’s weak arguments. You should feel your common sense has been dragged through the sewer. If you appreciate the law or the scientific method, words may fail to express your opinion of the weakness of Dr. Mann’s arguments.

To conclude, we leave it with the Mann:

Dr. Mann claims

As world leaders work in Copenhagen to try to combat this problem, some critics are seeking to cloud the debate and confuse the public.

No, Dr. Mann, what we are seeking is open and transparent science, and if you would do your part such as release the code for your works such that they were reproducible, then you wouldn’t have to be holding up Sarah Pallin as a worthy opponent. You could be addressing McIntyre and McKitrick, and a growing number, instead.


34 Responses to “Common Sense and Prosecutor’s Fallacy(s)”

  1. Kenneth Fritsch said

    OK, I will repeat what I have said elsewhere and before: Mann wrote this article in the Washington Post in the manner of a political hack. He presents his evidence as a matter of fact and avoids discussing any of the contentious parts of the issues. It is simply more of the same of the RC approach of bringing together climate scientists to defend the consensus point of view. They are scientists but the approach they use in these cases is advocacy, not science.

    But here is my kicker on this whole email revelation, RC and Mann’s article here – and I do not need to use the words liar, conspiracy or fraud to make my point. At what point has this type of advocacy thinking clouded the scientific judgment of some of these climate scientists? Mann is a good case study, if for no other reason then he appears to take the advocacy to the extreme and it shows through in his science writings. At what point do some of these scientists no longer take any science type thinking into their discussions and at what point does that thinking begin overlapping into their science works and writings? Mann avoids the scientists’ inclinations to doubt and question, even their own works, and does it, no doubt in my mind, because his advocacy position has out run his science instincts.

    Ah, you say, even with some of these climate scientists a bit drunk on advocacy there are sufficient others, and I speak here of those in the consensus on AGW, that will bring the ship back onto a scientific course. I am not so sure and as a point of contention please consider the statement by Hans von Storch and Myles Allen where they say: “to rebuild that trust while ensuring that uncompromised knowledge about ongoing and future anthropogenic climate change continues to be perceived as valid.” Perceived as valid? Perceived as valid? Apply a little common sense to that little repartee.

  2. Layman Lurker said

    Thank you John.

    Mann’s WP article is just the same pattern we have seen over and over again prior to the emails. Arm wave away legitimate issues or pretend they do not exist. Skeptics and critics are simply trying to “cloud the debate and confuse the public”. The only thing that is different this time is that he throws Jones under the bus.

    Certainly Mann has talked to a lawyer about these matters and in particular the investigation at PSU. Why does he keep talking?

  3. Frank K. said

    Dr. Mann claims

    “As world leaders work in Copenhagen to try to combat this problem, some critics are seeking to cloud the debate and confuse the public.”

    This statement is why I find it hard to take “scientists” like Mann very seriously. There is simply NO hard evidence that reducing CO2 levels by any amount will lead to any substantive change in the climate. From the e-mails, it is very apparent that “scientists” within the climate cabal, such as Mann, have been driven by their near-religious belief that their work is going to save the world and that they would, in turn, be viewed as heros in the eyes of history. That is, it’s all about their substantially sized egos and not about doing science…

  4. JWDougherty said

    On the topic of whether the peer review process was interfered with, an article by Douglass and Christy analyzing the time-line of CRU emails relevant to an article they published and delaying tactics by the “Team” while a response was prepared can be found on AmericanThinker here:

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/12/a_climatology_conspiracy.html

    It is well worth reading. The available facts look shameful.

  5. Antonio San said

    This guy is a front Mann… LOL

    I was listening to the ubiquitous Jean Jouzel in a TV program the other day who was announcing the IPCC was soon going to select the heads of chapters for AR5 as if that alone was supposed to be a serious proof of free debate…

    My guess: We’ll get mostly third world authors -looks better politically-, puppets of the Jones, Mann and others. My personal bet among others: a Moroccan guy named Mohammed-Saïd KARROUK.

    In anyway these fine scientists will be carefully chosen for their submission to the dogma and their political correctness. Just watch, it’s coming up in a couple months or so…

  6. kavustock said

    Off topic, but interesting. Maybe Eliot Spitzer watched and learned from the CRU Emails. He is suggesting an Open Source Investigation into the financial mess at AIG, “By putting the evidence online, the government could establish a new form of “open source” investigation.”

  7. Peter said

    Mann is just using a favourite trick of very disturbed people – repeat a lie often enough it becomes true in the eyes of many. Hitler was a good example of this.

  8. DeWitt Payne said

    Wow! Godwin’s Law is proved again in only seven posts. That must be at least close to a record. Referring to George Orwell’s 1984 would get the same point across without the extremely overused Nazi allusion.

  9. TomSummer said

    hey this is a real nice post and i also like your blog layout, have bookmarked your site and looking for more updates.

  10. Kenneth Fritsch said

    The arguments of scientists being advocates for immediate mitigation of AGW are much more nuanced then would be out right lying. Some climate scientists are good examples of this.

    The corollary to this proposition is that, contrary to some climate skeptics thinking, advocacy by scientists, in general, can affect their scientific judgment and the problem is not unique to climate science. Take a look at economists and the issue of minimum wage laws and its affects on unemployment.

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  12. BarryW said

    A comic strip today (Prickly City) used the term: “1984 2.0″ . That sums up what’s going on in a nutshell.

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  14. revel said

    The arguments of scientists being advocates for immediate mitigation of AGW are much more nuanced then would be out right lying. Some climate scientists are good examples of this.

    The corollary to this proposition is that, contrary to some climate skeptics thinking, advocacy by scientists, in general, can affect their scientific judgment and the problem is not unique to climate science. Take a look at economists and the issue of minimum wage laws and its affects on unemployment.

  15. jef said

    One of the interesting things to me is the sudden appearance of Mann on the stage and his rise to prominence. He is everywhere, arbitrating with Journal editors, founding Realclimate, being mocked by some and bullying others.

    Mostly due (I suppose) to an iconic graph that not only fit the paradigm but cemented it.

    Of course, we only see one set of emails. I’d love to see others’.

  16. Layman Lurker said

    #10 Kenneth Fritsch

    “The arguments of scientists being advocates for immediate mitigation of AGW are much more nuanced then would be out right lying. Some climate scientists are good examples of this.”

    Kenneth, while I think the field of economics is a good example of political views being mixed into science, at least there is an open, vigorous, and balanced exchange of views. Institutionalization of AGW politics has effectively marginalized the skeptical arguments of climate science.

  17. Steve Hempell said

    Jeff

    A little OT, but have you seen this website:

    http://justdata.wordpress.com/

    Seems to be done by a person that may know what he is doing and ready to be open to replication and validation.

    Why has he been able to obtain the “raw” temperature data and others have missed it?

  18. Al said

    Steve, that’s the GHCN data.

    The issue isn’t mostly over the actual data – but over the data’s metadata. That is, which stations exactly did you use at each step?

    It does seem an odd issue, but the entire point of the doing further processing on the raw data is to attempt to improve the “overall instrument” that is “measuring” global temperature by kicking out horrendous stations, adjusting stations that can sensibly be adjusted, etc.

    Half the issue of “replicating” the work of, say, CRU, is knowing exactly which stations they kicked out of the set. And what the adjustments were at each station.

    For instance: When you look at the “raw” data, you can find data that fundamentally points toward a “double entry.” Willis Eschenbach posted on Darwin Station. He notes that there are five separate temperature records for Darwin, source data at NASA here. Note the overlaps.

    When you have two instruments with perfect overlap, that tends to point to a paperwork foul up. It might be theoretically plausible to have a second thermometer at exactly the same site… but we’re mostly lucky to have one. And they’re listed as “separate” sites. So… were they included zero times? Once? Twice? More?

    Those questions are easy to see with the code. Or with a specific list “Version XYZ uses Station List PDQ, the list of culls with reasoning is present in Figure X.” But without either, it is a tricky problem to reverse – and any critique would be ‘denied’ for ‘doing it wrong’.

  19. Al said

    Adding:
    By “overlap”, I don’t just mean the fact that there are multiple stations reporting between 1980 and 1990, but that the actual temperature data for specific dates therein appears to be identical.

  20. free said

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  21. edward said

    Al
    The issue also involves what is known as “homogenization”. Hope I spelled that right.

    If you would like a great analysis of climate temperature homogenization as done by an actual rocket scientist head over to: http://strata-sphere.com/blog/index.php/archives/11824
    The blog is titled “How Not To Create A Historic Global Temp Index”

    Shiny
    Ed

  22. Kenneth Fritsch said

    Kenneth, while I think the field of economics is a good example of political views being mixed into science, at least there is an open, vigorous, and balanced exchange of views. Institutionalization of AGW politics has effectively marginalized the skeptical arguments of climate science.

    I guess my view from outside any particular community of scientists prevents me from determining whether what we have seen climate scientists do is particularly unique amongst scientists. I think that perhaps when Wegman did his association analysis of climate scientists he was getting to the core of the problem.

    The hard sciences would seem to be more buffered from political and advovacy considerations and influences by the very nature of the science.

    I see that some of the email defenders have alluded to the scientists with egos and pushing their own views and that is what we are seeing. That defense is bogus in my view because I see the problem being that some scientists are not pushing an individual agenda but a purely advocacy/political one of immediate mitigation for AGW and that is what the emails showed.

    The existence of the IPCC has I think encouraged this type of thinking on the part of some climate scientists. A big part of the marketing appeal has been that a consensus exists on these issues and thus the need to band together and put down any inclinations of desent that might damage the consensus marketing point.

    In conclusion, I have to agree with LL that some climate scientists have taken their advocacy/politics a step or two beyond what we might see from other sciences contaminated by advocacy/politics.

  23. Al said

    Edward, I agree, just keeping it tidy. It’s like being handed a phone book “Yes, everyone involved in my study is included within! But I can’t give a list of exactly who I used, because -insert-excuse-here-.”

  24. Layman Lurker said

    #22 Kenneth Fritsch

    Thanks for the thoughtful response.

    I think I take a somewhat different view. I don’t see the political nature of individuals within climate science as being unexpected. Like it or not, climate science (like economics) is intertwined with politics. I think it is natural to expect that certain scientists will have biases based on their political views.

    The difference between climate science and economics is more about institutions than it is about people. The globlal economic institutions are much more politically diverse with competing interests. AGW climate science is dominated by UN institutionalism. Political power is essentially monopolized and the competing scientific views and political interests are rebuffed by institutional barriers.

  25. Bill said

    Kenneth Fritsch said . . .

    The hard sciences would seem to be more buffered from political and advovacy [sic] considerations and influences by the very nature of the science.

    So, I take it you disagree with Lee Smolin on the centrality of politics (here academic politics) in the promotion of string theory?

    It seems more likely to me that the herd mentality we see on display in many disciplines is caused by the combination of 1) publish/get grants or perish, 2) peer review of publications/grant applications.

    Peer review is new (not widespread until the last fifty years). Science is not new. The current, mature system of publish or perish plus universal peer review is very new. As recently as the seventies, one could get faculty positions in good places in many fields without extensive peer reviewd publications or grants provided that you were a smart or interesting guy whom people agreed would be good to have around (or even—horrors—a good teacher). Unusual ideas or methods were not a crippling albatross.

    It’s easy to lose track of just how bizarre is the idea that a scholar’s job is to churn out published papers and grant applications given how widespread it now is. In the fields I know best, the social sciences and biomedicine, it is utterly normal for scholars to evaluate each other not by asking “what interesting ideas has X had?” or “how has X advanced the study of Y?” but by asking “how many papers has X published in good journals?” or “how much money has X raised over the last 5 years?”

    When people talk about the peer reviewed literature as the sine qua non of science, they are making it up.

  26. Mark T said

    Indeed, didn’t Einstein “publish” his theory in the window of a book store for all to see?

    Mark

  27. Bill said

    I googled around a bit and can find no evidence that what Mark is saying above is true. Which doesn’t mean much: I know little about Einstein. However, this page says of Einstein:

    How many of Einstein’s 300 plus papers were peer reviewed? According to the physicist and historian of science Daniel Kennefick, it may well be that only a single paper of Einstein’s was ever subject to peer review. That was a paper about gravitational waves, jointly authored with Nathan Rosen, and submitted to the journal Physical Review in 1936.

  28. [...] Common Sense and Prosecutor’s Fallacy(s) Guest post by John Pittman.  It was supposed to go up last Friday, but in my haste to buy everything on Earth for [...] [...]

  29. Kenneth Fritsch said

    Bill @ #25

    My point about the hard sciences is related to the findings of those sciences being less likely to be directly applied to any major government policies such as the case of immediate AGW mitigation and climate science.

    That publish or perish is more than a slogan and that academics can go to great lengths to construe their studies to fit granting requirements is not so much an issue in my mind that it will cloud the judgments of scientists in doing their science or at least not as likely as it would be for a scientist driven by policy advocacy or politics, and particularly when the findings of a science and policy are so closely related as is the case for climate science and AGW policy.

  30. Kenneth Fritsch said

    The globlal economic institutions are much more politically diverse with competing interests. AGW climate science is dominated by UN institutionalism. Political power is essentially monopolized and the competing scientific views and political interests are rebuffed by institutional barriers.

    I agree that economics, as a soft science, is probably more diverse than it was 50 years ago at the academic and intellectual level, but, practically, after experiencing the failures of command economies and shedding some of the more intrusive parts of those sytems, we are headed back for more of the same. And by the way I think that what we see in climate science and mitigation for AGW is very much related to that march back in economics. Further, we certainly do have some economists telling us that these AGW mitigation policies will be benign or even a major plus for the economy.

  31. Bill said

    KF:

    I am very sure that economics is dramatically less diverse today than it was 50 or 30 years ago. It was normal 50 years ago to have a Marxist on the faculty. It was normal 50 years ago to have an economic historian or a historian of economic ideas on the faculty. It was normal 50 years ago for even good places to have some guys who were there because they were good teachers. Not today. Economics faculties have gotten progressively less Republican over time (and Republicans have always been a minority) — there are amazingly few Republican economists under, say, thirty five. Both the left and the right are disappearing. The profession is becoming an endless sea of Brad DeLong (but with dramatically less personality).

    The increasing political uniformity is only one aspect of the increasing homogenization of the economics profession. There is steadily declining heterogeneity in methodological approaches. Even in presentation style and affect, the rising tide of homogeneity is obvious.

    And I don’t think any of this is specific to economics. It’s specific to peer review. If you can’t afford to offend anyone (because they’ll be reviewing your work), then bland, obsequious, conformism is the right strategy.

  32. Layman Lurker said

    #30 and #31

    I don’t take issue with your points as they pertain to academia. However I would argue that real world links between competing economic science, the players in the marketplace, political power, and public policy are, at least for now, still very diverse (though not perfect).

    Kenneth, your point is well taken about the connection between policies and institutions of AGW – and trends in economic thinking. It is also a fact that global AGW institutions will become a huge (and integrated) component of the global economy. Will these institutions be competitive and diverse? Or will power be concentrated in the hands of a few? The emails (and history) provide ample insight into the corruption which accompanies concentration of power.

  33. Steve Hempell said

    AL

    Thanks for the comment.However, I think Eugene is taking a different tack and as far as I can determine is ignoring the metadata by how he is analysis the data. Is his method valid and are his findings valid? I don’t know enough about statistics to know.

  34. Kenneth Fritsch said

    Bill @ #31:

    I was looking at economics from the POV of a libertarian/Austrian and from that perspective I see an academic movement and intellectual acknowledgment of it as an economic variant that is the antithesis of the command or command/mixed economies and supporting economists so prevalent today. I even see libertarian economists quoted more in the MSM, whereas that opposition view was often in the past offered to conservative or Republican leaning spoke persons. I also see younger libertarians in that political movement – and all the while the world, as a practical matter, is moving politically away from it. I gain solace from this development by the historically documented influence of the intellectual community on political outcomes – eventually.

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