Climate science … sows’ ears and silk purses

Laura Kelly at the Silk Road Gourmet recently observed:

The phrase, “You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear,” was coined by Johnathan Swift’s punster Mr. Neverout in A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation In Several Dialogues published in 1738. When quill touched cotton, the phrase was used to refer to the strange character of Sir John. Mr. Neverout uses it to proclaim that Sir John, being of low birth, is not a proper Duke and deftly goes on to disparage his character. Although this turn of the phrase is still in play, it has over the years also been used to discourage ingenuity and inventiveness or to encourage people to accept things as they are – in other words, to not rock the boat.

[other commentary and a delicious sounding recipe]

It seems that in 1921, Massachusetts industrialist Arthur D. Little was tired of hearing Mr. Neverout’s discouraging phrase, and set out to prove him wrong. He instructed the scientists and engineers working for him to make a silk purse out of “pork by-products”. From a meat-packer they obtained a form of glue made from the skin and gristle of sows’ ears. Taking an amount roughly equivalent to one sow’s ear, he had it filtered and forced through a spinneret into a mixture of formaldehyde and acetone. This glue emerged as 16 fine, colorless streams that hardened and then combined to form a single composite fiber. Little soaked the fiber in dyed glycerin. Then he wove the resulting thread into cloth on a handloom-and fashioned the cloth into the elegant purse shown here, the kind of item carried by Medieval ladies.

[emphases added -hro]

YMMV, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to consider that there is something about “climate science” (and/or climate scientists) and “irrelevant” – if Myles Allen is to be believed – Hockey stick icons that is analogous to the parts of the above that I’ve highlighted.

Sows Ear to Silk Purse (SETSP):

Mr. Neverout uses it to proclaim that Sir John, being of low birth, is not a proper Duke and deftly goes on to disparage his character

Climate Scientists (CS):

Michael Mann (and other hockey-stick apologists) uses it to proclaim that (for example) Steve McIntyre, being an “amateur”, is not a proper Climate Scientist and deftly goes on to disparage his character – and that of any who might disagree with The Great Mann.

SETSP (Kelly interpretation):

it has over the years also been used to discourage ingenuity and inventiveness

CS:

It has over the years also been used to discourage application of the scientific method (i.e. reproduce the claimed results). The (foggy) science is settled because … well, because we climate scientists are the experts and we said so

SETSP:

encourage people to accept things as they are – in other words, to not rock the boat.

CS:

Thou shall not question the Mighty Mann’s Magnificent Models – or his mind-boggling misrepresentations and manipulations of the English language

SETSP:

[Little] instructed the scientists and engineers … to make a silk purse out of “pork by-products”….they obtained a form of glue made from the skin and gristle of sows’ ears. Taking an amount roughly equivalent to one sow’s ear, he had it filtered and forced through a spinneret into a mixture … [which] emerged as 16 fine, colorless streams that hardened and then combined to form a single composite fiber … Then he wove the resulting thread into cloth on a handloom-and fashioned the cloth into the elegant purse.

CS:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) instructed the climate scientists to make a new improved “hockey stick” … so Gergis et al obtained some new (old) proxies from top-secret colleagues. Taking selected tree-ring proxies roughly equivalent to … well, something or other, they filtered and forced them through a spinneret into a mixture which emerged as “research“. Then they wove the resulting “threads” into a cloth which was carefully examined by unnamed peer reviewers at a prestigious journal. Whereupon it was declared – with great fanfare around the world – that this was an elegant hockey stick, suitable for framing in the next IPCC report.

Alas, much to Gergis et al‘s (silent but presumed) dismay, McIntyre – the Great Mann’s nemesis – and his fellow statistical experts began examining the “threads” of this “silk purse”. And they found that the glue was not quite, well, kosher.

When Gergis and her co-authors (who happened to include well-seasoned IPCC “Review Editor”, David Karoly) could not find a quick-fix which would countermand – and enable them to dismiss – the discoveries made by McIntyre et al, after quietly removing as much evidence of their faux pas as they could, they had to eat some humble pie, and acknowledge that their sows ears mixture was not quite ready for a prime time silk purse.

In short … it would appear that these noble climate scientists, in the interest of furthering their “cause”, have attempted to foist on the world yet another Hockey Stick Illusion.

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2 thoughts on “Climate science … sows’ ears and silk purses

  1. Well, the analogy is a bit laboured, but … OK.
    (Historically, peasant’s purses were often cured sow’s ears opened up to form a container. Pigskin purses were quick and easy and strong.)

  2. A little thought is that smrk is also clever and sober to accidentally make a good thread. It’s the sober backtracking that makes the drunkards turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. Beauty of phrase is beauty, and his turns of phrase and should be permitted to remain here only because they’re well constructed.

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