Defining deceit: is fudging fraudulent?

Courtesy of PJTV, I’ve just finished watching the opening of the 4th International Conference on Climate Change. Keynote speakers were geologist, former astronaut and former US Senator, Harrison Schmitt and Canada’s own Steve McIntyre.

This conference is sponsored by the Heartland Institute (an admittedly conservative bastion of the non-catastrophic-alarmist kind); but as Anthony Watts has noted the organizers did invite a number of high profile alarmists – all of whom declined to participate.

Donna Laframboise, whose Citizen Audit project (in which I participated), is at the conference as a blogger/photographer. She reports that:

An introductory press event, held at noon on this gloriously sunny Sunday, was well attended – compared to the sparse media showing at the 3rd conference held last June […]. Roger Harrabin from the BBC is among the media contingent covering this 3-day conference, and one of the speakers at the press event was James Delingpole, whose Telegraph blog in the UK helped break the Climategate story.

Harrabin’s first report got a somewhat favourable review from The Hockey Stick Illusion‘s author, A.W. Montford. Speaking of whom … one of the reasons I’ve been so “quiet” lately is that – apart from having to work, in order to keep my cat in the style to which she’s become accustomed – I’ve traded blogging for reading Montford’s book (which I heartily recommend!).

Laframboise did not mention any Canadian media representation, so it was not surprising that a search of the CBC website turned up nothing about the conference. Well, not quite “nothing” … in fact it was a rather delicious irony that, since CBC is now using Google search, with “sponsored links”, the first link was to PJTV’s coverage! But I digress …

During the Q&A following Schmitt and McIntyre’s presentations, a number of people in the audience wanted McIntyre to agree to label the notoriously iconic hockey-stick as a “fraud”. McIntyre’s view (ever since he began his audit) is that it is not appropriate – or helpful – to label it as such, because fraud implies motive and we cannot know the motives of the hockey-stick team.

But speaking of to defraud or not to defraud … A few days ago, Germany’s Der Spiegel Online
(not exactly known for being fair and balanced when it comes to “climate change” aka “global warming”) had a seven-part article:

The Climategate Chronicle

How the Science of Global Warming Was Compromised

By Axel Bojanowski

To what extent is climate change actually occuring? Late last year, climate researchers were accused of exaggerating study results. SPIEGEL ONLINE has since analyzed the hacked “Climategate” e-mails and provided insights into one of the most unprecedented spats in recent scientific history.

[…]

SPIEGEL ONLINE has analyzed the more than 1,000 Climategate e-mails spanning a period of 15 years, e-mails that are freely available over the Internet and which, when printed out, fill five thick files. What emerges is that leading researchers have been subjected to sometimes brutal attacks by outsiders and become bogged down in a bitter and far-reaching trench war that has also sucked in the media, environmental groups and politicians.

SPIEGEL ONLINE reveals how the war between climate researchers and climate skeptics broke out, the tricks the two sides used to outmaneuver each other and how the conflict could be resolved.

Bojanowski’s piece certainly lacks the insight and thoroughness of Terence Corcoran’s two-part National Post series last December. Included in Bojanowski’s (far from unbiased) article was the following:

In order to get unambiguous graphs, the researchers had to tweak their data slightly. In probably the most infamous of the Climategate e-mails, Phil Jones wrote that he had used Mann’s “trick” to “hide the decline” in temperatures. Following the leaking of the e-mails, the expression “hide the decline” was turned into a song about the alleged scandal […].

But what appeared at first glance to be fraud was actually merely a face-saving fudge: Tree-ring data indicates no global warming since the mid-20th century, and therefore contradicts the temperature measurements. The clearly erroneous tree data was thus corrected by the so-called “trick” with the temperature graphs. [emphasis added -hro]

In fairness to the author, the original article was written in German (which I do not even pretend to understand … even my very bissell yiddish precludes my comparison of the English version with the original!) But – regardless of language – data is data. It cannot be “erroneous”. What is clear, however, is that Bojanowski obviously failed to ask himself the crucial question: if tree-ring data indicates no warming since the mid-20th century, how can it be relied on as a proxy [which it indisputably was] for earlier temperatures?

Bojanowski also failed to ask himself: how ethical is it to “correct” a graphical representation by substituting part of one dataset with that of another – without full disclosure? In other words, is a “face-saving fudge” part of (you should pardon the expression) “kosher” science?

Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr. maintains that Bojanowski was correct:

“Face-saving fudge, not fraud. Fair and accurate.”

And he took (what I considered to be) surprising and extreme umbrage at Montford’s questioning of his assessment:

Roger argues that the Nature trick amounts to a fudge but not fraud. I’m struggling with this slightly. My dictionary defines a fudge as “a patch, trick, cheat” and fraud as “deceit, trick” so I’m not entirely convinced that there is any difference between “fudge” and “fraud” in terms of academic conduct (I’m ignoring the criminal meaning of of fraud here).

Everyone seems to agree that what was done was to hide uncertainty from the reader, but when a reader tells him that hiding uncertainty is fraud, Roger disagrees

I hear what you are saying, however, in the world of academia, this is just not the case. If it were, most work across most field would be guilty of such charges ;-)

I’m not sure about the smiley here. But when you have such enormous policy questions to answer, I remain entirely unconvinced that an argument of “all academics are dishonest” is going to carry the day.

“Everybody does it” is not grounds for exonerating scientists who hide unfortunate facts from policymakers and the public any more than it was grounds for exonerating the MPs who were caught abusing their expenses claims.

Pielke’s objection includes:

This is an extremely unfair post, to put it mildly.

You write:

“I remain entirely unconvinced that an argument of “all academics are dishonest” is going to carry the day.”

This is not even close to my views or what I said. Not only did you quote my words out of context and not provide a link, but you placed them into the context of a misleading and incorrect interpretation. I did not say that all academics are dishonest, nor did I say that I approve of the specific behaviors being discussed. I said that hiding uncertainties is not fraud. And it is not.

It seems to me that if anyone was “quoting words out of context”, it certainly wasn’t Montford.

Notwithstanding this, there seems to be little dispute that the hockey-stick graph is deceptive – and that there was intent to deceive in order to “present a tidy story” uncluttered by any uncertainties.

While following the discussions on both Montford’s blog and Pielke’s, I set off in search of a definition of “scientific fraud”. The best that I was able to discover was written in 1992 by Brian Martin:

Scientific fraud and the power structure of science

“ABSTRACT: In the routine practice of scientific research, there are many types of misrepresentation and bias which could be considered dubious. However, only a few narrowly defined behaviours are singled out and castigated as scientific fraud. A narrow definition of scientific fraud is convenient to the groups in society — scientific elites, and powerful government and corporate interests — that have the dominant influence on priorities in science. […]

[…]

“[…] out of the many things that scientists do, they attach meaning only to some things, which they call ‘doing science’ or ‘applying the scientific method’ [1]. The same applies to fraud. Fraud is what scientists tell each other is fraud.

“This raises the question, why are certain things called fraud and others not? My general answer is that the social definition of fraud is one which is convenient to most of the powerful groups associated with science. […]

“My argument proceeds this way. A host of things go on in scientific research that could be open to suspicion. Some of these are accepted as standard practice, others are tolerated, and some are considered unacceptable.” [emphasis added -hro]

It’s a rather long article, but worth reading. It certainly explains the “findings” of the various enquiries since Climategate.

But considering that which is being foisted on the public in the name of “science”, is it not high time that such an obvious absence of standards be addressed?

As Rex Murphy noted in the May 15 National Post, in an excellent article regarding Ban Ki-moon’s meeting with Prime Minister Harper:

Getting lectured by Ban Ki-moon

Did [Harper] take Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to task for the bristling ardency — so alien to any genuine scientific project — that now pervades the “global warming community”?

Did either of them, Mr. Harper or Ban Ki-moon — this is Canada, after all — mention the infamous “hockey stick” global temperature graph — the emblematic, erroneous logo of this whole desperate enterprise?

Mr. Harper will have done all of us, and the world, a great service if he raised these points, and suggested that the UN’s ability to issue reprimands to anyone on this file has been greatly corroded in the last year.

The science of global warming needs a wholesale outside review. […]

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