Climatologist 1: Dr. Myles Allen, blog novice
Climatologist 2: Dr. Judith Curry, blog veteran
1 The intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), makes a point of noting that they do not do research; consequently it is somewhat odd that Allen has listed his history of involvement under the heading “Current Research”.
2 This “talk” was a presentation Allen gave on November 3, 2011, the second of a two-day conference entitled “Communicate 2011: Nature People Economics” – sponsored by the Bristol City Council, DEFRA, and an organization called Living With Environmental Change; all of
who which seem to have a very green outlook. The topic for this particular session was “The Elephant in the Room: Communicating Difficult Issues” and was Chaired by Professor Angela McFarlane, Director of Public Engagement and Learning, Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
McFarlane’s summary was as follows:
How do we confront The Elephant in the Room and communicate environmental issues that have become taboo? How do we engage people in rational debate about contentious topics. We heard from two experienced communicators who have tackled the issues of population growth and climate change.[emphasis added -hro]
Allen’s (choice of?) topic was “Climate Change – So Last Decade”, although I’m not sure what specific “taboo” he might have been addressing. At one point in his presentation, he did mention “a genuine prediction” and shortly thereafter he spoke of “The IPCC or us scientists, so to speak” [please see Background and Context: Cartoon 1, below]. Although it does occur to me that while he spoke of the UEA “affair” the word “Climategate” passed his lips only once. So perhaps that’s the “taboo”.
3 It is worth noting that in her review of Donna Laframboise’s The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert, an exposé of the IPCC, Curry observed: “As a student of the IPCC since December 2009 (yes I was defending the IPCC until that point), I’ve looked at many of these issues myself. I’ve made some of the same points raised in this book. [...] My personal reaction as a scientist is to be very thankful that I am not involved in the IPCC. I already feel duped by the IPCC (I’ve written about this previously), I am glad that I was not personally used by the IPCC.”
Background and Context: Cartoon 1
On May 23, Andrew Montford, author of the must read if you haven’t already The Hockey Stick Illusion and gracious host of the very widely-read Bishop Hill blog, posted the following:
[Sidebar: Dr. Allen, if you're reading this, I hope you'll appreciate that in deference to your "acutely sensitive" hearing and/or vision, I have reconstructed this post so that it reflects a more "flattering" image. Readers interested in this aspect of the background, please see YouTube Stills.]
As of this writing, there were 75 responses to this post. None from Allen. The view from here, so to speak:
Well, I suppose there’s something to be said for his recognition that the scary stories are just not cutting the mustard – except amongst the political elites who are, as usual, way behind the times when it comes to new, improved mantras.
Talk about cherry-picking, though … in his “summation” of Climategate, Allen hangs his “argument” not even on a single cherry, but on a portion of the skin of a single cherry! Certainly makes one wonder about his mode of “doing science”.
It seems that in our post-modern world, we have “journalists” (e.g. Goldenberg, Revkin, Hickman & Black) acting like PR hacks, “scientists” who don’t seem to have a clue about the scientific method, and advocacy groups pretending that their “reports” are “scientific”.
The verdict of all strongly suggests that this is not a video that is likely to go viral – no one was impressed. I would certainly question the judgment of anyone who describes him as an “experienced communicator”. One who liberally peppers and pads his speech with “ums and ers” does not meet my criteria for a successful communicator – let alone an “experienced” one.
Apparently he was addressing a roomful of journalists and after telling his audience that the “reversal” in “public interest in climate … is essentially [their] fault”, he presented his “argument”:
The problem is that climate change has very much been presented as an issue of global catastrophe that will affect our grandchildren, whereas in fact, the issue is substantially more prosaic than that, but no less serious. That is the point I would like you to take away and consider. [emphasis added -hro]
I’m not sure what he meant by “substantially more prosaic … but no less serious”. Ideas from readers are welcome!
If you prefer not to watch the video, here’s the text of the section (probably from his notes) to which Montford was referring [paragraphs reformatted for ease of reading]:
But what we’ve seen over the past few years is events like the climate-gate email revelations, giving the population at large the impression that the whole issue hangs by a thread of evidence, that a few scientists might have fiddled the data, and therefore, if they are “caught out”, this undermines the entire case for human influence on climate.
In the accompanying slides, you can see the impact of the whole UEA email affair – think about the amount of newsprint, the amount of air time and so forth that was devoted to that affair over the past couple of years – this is the total impact of that affair on any published data set that is of any relevance to the human influence on climate, and the correction is about two hundredths of a degree in the late 1870s.
It is important to get these things right, and we are grateful to those who scoured over the data and identified a problem with input files because that resulted in that small correction in this record. But that’s the only change to any published number which resulted from this entire affair. Now, you wouldn’t have got that impression from the way it’s been covered in the media.
Certainly the public has not got that impression, but rather they have the idea that basically it’s all up in the air again, and that really we have no idea what’s going on, because people have been caught fiddling the numbers.
I’m also not sure what other “events like climate-gate” he might have been referring to. But I certainly did find myself wondering what planet he’s been living on – and what media coverage he might have seen or heard.
I did have to endure the painful experience of watching the video a second time, in order to confirm that my ears had not been deceiving me when I heard him say – as I had noted above – apparently ad lib, because it is not included in the text:
The IPCC or us scientists, so to speak
This is a very telling slip of the tongue methinks … but it will have to be the subject of another post on another day!
Anyway … Allen must have been reading at least some of the negative reviews of his presentation. My guess is that he was not thrilled that his critics did not share his narrow view of the impact of Climategate.
However, rather than engage directly with his critics he chose to ask Montford to post a reply for him. And on May 26, Montford graciously obliged. He introduced the post:
Myles Allen has asked me to post this response to the thread in which we discussed his Communicate 2011 lecture.
Alas, his response showed no indication that he had understood what his critics had written. Nor did the few direct replies he subsequently deigned to make. He chose to completely ignore some very thoughtful questions – and advice! Here’s how I expressed the view from here [May 27, 2012 at 2:15 AM]:
Dr. Myles Allen expounds:
I do think it is sad for democracy that so much energy in the debate on climate change has been expended on pseudo-debates about the science, leaving no room for public debate about the policy response.[...]
My fear is that by keeping the public focussed on irrelevancies, you are excluding them from the discussion of what we should do about climate change [...]
Frankly, I think it is far sadder for democracy that one who calls himself a scientist should so arrogantly presume that appealing to his own authority (and/or the “expert judgment” of his fellow IPCC authors) is an argument that the public should unquestioningly accept.
Dr. Allen seems to have adopted the approach urged by the “sustainability communications” company, futerra:
Forget the climate change detractors
Those who deny climate change science are irritating, but unimportant. The argument is not about if we should deal with climate change, but how we should deal with climate change.
Actually, I wrote more than that … but what I did not say at the time was how insulting the inference of his “irrelevancies” label was to Montford, Steve McIntyre, and others. I suppose it’s possible that he gave no thought to the implications of his actual words because he was interested not in dialogue but in pushing his “argument”.
Meanwhile, Steve McIntyre made a valiant attempt to guide Allen out of the hole he was quickly digging for himself:
Myles Allen has written here blaming Bishop Hill for “keeping the public focussed on irrelevancies” like the Hockey Stick:
My fear is that by keeping the public focussed on irrelevancies, you are excluding them from the discussion of what we should do about climate change
But it’s not Bishop Hill that Myles Allen should be criticizing; it’s [former IPCC Chair] John Houghton who more or less made the Hockey Stick the logo of the IPCC. Mann was told that IPCC higher-ups wanted a visual that didn’t “dilute the message” and they got one: they deleted the last part of the Briffa reconstruction – Hide the Decline. If, as Allen now says, it’s an “irrelevancy”, then Houghton and IPCC should not have used it so prominently. And they should not have encouraged or condoned sharp practice like Hide the Decline.
In the run-up to AR4, I suggested that, if the topic was “irrelevant”, as some climate scientists have said, then IPCC should exclude it from the then AR4. Far from trying to keep the topic alive in AR4, I suggested that it be deleted altogether. I guess that there was a “consensus” otherwise. If Allen wants to complain, then he should first criticize IPCC.
Allen’s decision to show temperature data rather than Hockey Stick reconstructions cleverly draws attention away from the problems of those reconstructions. The Climategate emails have a apt phrase for Allen’s technique. Showing an unrelated dispute about a temperature graphic rather than the decreasing Briffa reconstruction is itself just another …. trick to hide the decline.
Allen’s first response made me wonder if he’d actually kept his eyes shut so as to avoid seeing McIntyre’s actual post:
The only attribution statement in the IPCC Third Assessment Summary that made reference to the MBH reconstruction was “Reconstructions of climate data for the past 1,000 years (Figure 1b) also indicate that this warming was unusual and is unlikely to be entirely natural in origin.” This is a very cautious statement (“likely” means a 1-in-3 chance that the warming is entirely natural in origin), reflecting our caution at the time about these new pre-instrumental reconstructions.
The key evidence provided for the headline attribution statement “Most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations” was the comparison of model simulations forced with and without anthropogenic influence with the instrumental temperature record.
This comment from Allen happened to immediately follow one of mine in the thread! And it left me shaking my head in utter astonishment. There’s a further irony here: Had Allen actually read what McIntyre had written he would have found a genuine (but irrelevant and immaterial!) error in his post. You see, in his background paragraph, McIntyre had mistakenly described the Bristol conference as “a 2011 conference on Climategate”. For the record, the program overview on the website states:
Recognising the inseparability of Nature, People and Economics is the greatest challenge currently facing environmental communicators.
Without accounting for the value of nature in our economic system, we risk pursuing a path leading inexorably towards the degradation of vital ecosystems. Fail to win the economic argument for wildlife conservation and environmental protection, and our messages are in danger of going unheeded in these testing times. Therefore it is essential that we continue to forge connections with the people whose actions will determine the future outcomes of our planet, and ensure that preserving biodiversity and achieving sustainability remain at the heart of the global agenda. Over two days of talks, workshops, discussion and debate, Communicate 2011 addressed these challenges.
Sure doesn’t look like a “Climategate conference” to me – or even a “climate change” communication conference. Strikes me as being yet another Run-up to Rio+20 propaganda exercise! In light of which, I’m beginning to wonder if the “environmental communicators” weren’t left shaking their heads after Allen’s presentation, trying to fit his “take away” point of “substantially more prosaic … but no less serious” into their communication of the latest and greatest “greatest challenge”!
But I digress …
Allen’s antics did not improve either at Bishop Hill – or at Climate Audit, notwithstanding some excellent advice provided by Lucia. Be sure to read McIntyre’s post which he subsequently updated by elevating Lucia’s advice to the headpost – immediately beneath which you will see Allen’s non-responsive reply which arrived there by virtue of the fact that McIntyre obliged when Allen requested that it be equally elevated.
One of the nice things about being a member of the “congregation” at Bishop Hill is that every once in a while His Grace (as Montford is sometimes fondly called) gives us the opportunity to have some frivolous fun by letting our imaginations run wild. May 27 was one of those days for one of those posts. It was a “caption contest” involving a photo of Allen and a U.K. rapper named Will.I.Am (whom I’d never heard of before). The winner will receive a coffee mug “adorned with the Josh cartoon” of her/his choice. Who could resist, eh?!
If Myles Allen has a sense of humour, one can only conclude that May 27 must have been a very “bad-humour day” for him. So on May 28, shortly after midnight, he let forth a barrage [May 28, 12:08 am] of what I would call “revisionist scholarship” – and did an exit stage-left with a resounding whine, leaving a long trail of very valid – and telling – unanswered questions behind him. Here are some excerpts:
I was in the papers last Tuesday through no initiative of my own, but because I was asked by Intel to talk to their technology ambassador who happens to be Will.i.am. Andrew Montford then decided to dig up an unflattering image on YouTube and it was rapidly whipped up into a claim I was plotting to overthrow democracy, all without anyone taking the trouble to ask me what I meant. Since I do care about democracy a lot more than I care about the Medieval Warm Period, I tried to post to explain that my concern was that the way the climate debate was going, you were running the risk of continuing to argue about things that may ultimately turn out to be irrelevant rather than formulating sensible alternatives to some of the more anti-democratic measures that are being tossed around. For my pains, I have now been called an “idiot”, “prat”, “arrogant” and I don’t know what else. [...]
Now, it seems, Andrew is running a caption competition. What is the problem, Andrew? I wasn’t criticising your book, I was criticising journalists for giving the public the impression that the UEA e-mails called into question the integrity of the data we use for detection and attribution of human influence on climate.
I do appreciate there have been a couple of thoughtful comments on this thread, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to sign off. [...] [emphasis added -hro]
As I had observed in a comment responding to those who suggested that the caption contest was inappropriate:
MA made three appearances (prior to his exit stage-left on May 28 at 12:28 am):
May 26 9:06 am
May 26 9:15 am
May 27 8:14 am
This May 27 comment was merely a copy and paste in which he combined two comments he had made at CA:
Such non-responsive and/or diversionary contributions might be your idea of “constructive dialogue”, but it certainly isn’t mine. And while I cannot speak for Andrew, I would suggest that in light of the above, this caption contest thread – which did not begin until May 27 (sometime prior to 9:02 AM when the first comment appeared) – is far too kind.
And if one adds to this, MA’s parting whine (May 28, 12:28 am) in which he describes an embedded video as:
an unflattering image on YouTube
and conflates and completely mischaracterizes** criticisms from a thread to which he chose not to respond directly – while ignoring the very valid questions and criticisms in the thread in which he did deign to “respond”, then all I can conclude is that he had no interest whatsoever in “constructive dialogue”.
Later on May 28, Montford wondered how Allen might have come by his mis-perception that Climategate was about the temperature record – rather than the paleo (tree sample) proxy records – as being the predominant “public perception” about which Allen kept harping. Although it should be noted that his “point” – not unlike Gavin Schmidt’s ever-changing story, come to think of it – certainly did change depending on … well, I’m not quite sure what it might have depended on!
As it turns out, on May 29, Steve McIntyre reviewed some of the early press coverage and observed:
I’ve quickly re-examined some of the contemporary news reports as the story unfolded to see how attention got shifted from the Hockey Stick to temperature. These comments are quick and do not represent a thorough canvassing, which would be interesting.
Many of the very earliest comments refer to the Hockey Stick. The earliest comments from the University of East Anglia refer to the temperature record, rather than the hockey stick. Most early coverage by Nature – which was very involved in early coverage – also drew attention to the temperature record, rather than the hockey stick. It looks to me like both the UEA and Nature were important contributors to focussing on the temperature record, rather than proxy reconstructions. I don’t think that Myles can fairly blame “mainstream media” for getting this wrong, when Nature and the UEA were busy fostering this misunderstanding.
But in the meantime … on May 28, Josh had created and posted Cartoon 1.
Background and Context: Cartoon 2
The genesis of this cartoon is far less complicated! Most of it can be found in a post I wrote on Oct. 31 last year. I provided some background – and asked some questions – about Dr. Richard Muller, a physicist at Berkeley who launched the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project on the heels of … Climategate. The project was designed to:
resolve current criticism of the former temperature analyses, and to prepare an open record that will allow rapid response to further criticism or suggestions. Our results will include not only our best estimate for the global temperature change, but estimates of the uncertainties in the record.
Curry was asked to join the project – which she did, with no remuneration and no obligation. Via her blog, she kept us apprised of their progress and developments. But on Oct. 20, she learned that Muller had launched a media blitz to announce the submission of four papers, all bearing her name as one of the co-authors despite the fact that her role had been primarily advisory. In Curry’s view, two of the papers were definitely not ready for prime time. This resulted in an article in the Oct. 30 U.K. Mail Online:
Curry was quite frank about her concerns regarding some of Muller’s statements. The article is worth a read – and you will see some examples of the “fat tale” headlines generated in the U.K. press. (See also Curry’s clarification and account of her subsequent discussion with Muller).
It was the article in the Mail Online which provided Josh with the inspiration for Cartoon 2.
One thing that became quite clear to me is that Allen’s interest was only in matters that affected his area of expertise and/or contributions to IPCC reports: detection and attribution. In his world, nothing else seems to matter! Curry, OTOH, has a much broader perspective.
This may seem nit-picky (if not sexist!), but if I compare the constant disrespectful haranguing (from both sides of the climate divide) on Curry’s blog to the relatively mild (and few and far between) assessments of Allen’s virtual personna, and their respective responses – I’ve certainly never seen a “whine” from Curry – then all I can say is perhaps female climatologists have much thicker skins than their male peers!
Another interesting difference that I detected is that Curry has never been reticent to publicly criticize if she believes that a colleague is wrong. Allen ducks. Over the last few days, it became apparent that Allen has co-authored at least one paper with known environmental activists [see citation in Donna Laframboise's recent post].
He has also co-authored a paper with two prominent Climategate actors:
MN Juckes, MR Allen, KR Briffa, J Esper, GC Hegerl, A Moberg, TJ Osborn, SL Weber
Millennial temperature reconstruction intercomparison and evaluation
CLIM PAST 3 (2007) 591-609
Here’s an example of Allen paddling away:
I was just saying I can understand the argument for not showing the data that Keith Briffa had concluded was contaminated, just as I can understand the argument for showing it. When Steve McIntyre or Richard Muller talk about this, they make it all seem completely black-and-white, but it isn’t. It all comes down to the dendroclimatologists’ confidence that whatever it was that was contaminating the most recent decades would not have contaminated the earlier data. They clearly were sufficiently confident about this to feel comfortable with displaying the data in the way that they did. I’m not a dendroclimatologist, so I don’t feel qualified to pronounce either way. But I don’t use tree-ring data: perhaps that speaks for itself. [emphasis added -hro]
A further example can be found when Allen was challenged on his failure to speak out against the whitewashes known as the Muir Russell and Oxburgh enquiries pursuant to Climategate:
[...]It would be extraordinarily presumptions for me to suddenly decide I disagree with Oxburgh, Muir-Russel et al without investigating the matter as pain-stakingly as they did.[...]
[...]please let me be clear: I am not actively supporting anyone, I am just declining to comment on scientific process and conduct questions because I’m not best qualified to do so. [emphasis added -hro]
(As an aside, I’m not sure what makes him “qualified” to determine what is “relevant” to a debate and what isn’t, not to mention what makes him “qualified” to flog his pet “policy solution”.)
Curry, OTOH, even in the days before she launched her own blog, was quite forthcoming. As McIntyre observed:
The majority of the climate science “community” appear to be so desperate for affection that they’ve proclaimed wind utility chairman Oxburgh’s love to the rooftops merely because of a few sweet nothings whispered in their ears. (Words of love so soft and tender.) Their gratitude is so great that they are willing to overlook the embarrassing brevity of Oxburgh’s report, Oxburgh’s negligible due diligence and failure to address any of the questions that were actually at issue.
Judy Curry has not compromised her standards.
Uniquely among the “community”, she’s noted the embarrassing brevity of the Oxburgh “report”:
When I first read the report, I thought I was reading the executive summary and proceeded to look for the details; well, there weren’t any.
Uniquely within the “community”, she realized that Oxburgh avoided the questions that were at issue:
And I was concerned that the report explicitly did not address the key issues that had been raised by the skeptics. … I recall reading this statement from one of the blogs, which seems especially apt: the fire department receives report of a fire in the kitchen; upon investigating the living room, they declare that there is no fire in the house.
Perhaps in addition to having thicker skins, female climatologists are more inclined towards confronting “relevant” issues than their male peers.
Postscript for the record
Allen did eventually make some further – and more relevant – responses both at ClimateAudit and Bishop Hill. And eventually (after yet another whine [May 30, 2012 at 12:05 AM], Allen did move a few inches [May 30, 2012 at 9:58 AM]:
Sorry, I really do have to get back to the day job now. Given these comments, I’m happy to accept that it isn’t clear who was to blame for the conflation of climategate with the surface temperature record. I’ve accused journalists of being to blame, and they seemed to accept it, but perhaps they were just too gentlemanly to object. And watching the early coverage, I was probably acutely sensitive to references to the instrumental record, because that is what I specifically cared about.
Several posts have suggested I was blaming the blogs, but I hope that isn’t true, at least not to the best of my recollection. I was criticising the mainstream media for not keeping the affair in perspective.
Amazing. Simply amazing.