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Thumbs on the magic scale

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted November 30, 2009

Climategate has proved to be quite an eye-opener, particularly for revealing hidden meretriciousness. It's hard to take seriously the claim "peer review suffices" when some of those E-mails reveal a definite pattern of reviewer-stuffing. It's hard to believe that it's an "isolated incident" when other examples of presumed data-diddling come to light in New Zealand. [pdf file]Given that only one station forms the core of the apologia for the clearly tendentious fudge factors, with no support for the assertion that the fudge factor does in fact lead to a time-neutral recording, it's easier to see National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research chief scientist David Wratt as a high-paid flack. He has, of course, refused to release the raw data. 

Analogies to the securities industry are become easier and easier. The technique used by Steven McIntyre to show the hockey-stick model's tendentiousness – feeding in a random series of data and getting a hockey-stick trend nonetheless – was an extension of the same technique used by statistical econometricians to shoot down technical analysis as a predicative tool. Massaging the data to get a politically salable result is easy to compare with massaging a research report to get a more salable IPO or private placement. In both cases, there's lotsa money at stake. It's hard to forget that AGW-related funding by the U.S. government has been over $79 billion – an amount about equal to the current market cap of Conoco-Phillips. Given that the $79 billion could buy up two major integrated oil companies outright – Marathon and Imperial – it's easier to chuckle when some AGW shill, flack or booster brings up 'big oil money'.

It's been long known that AGW theory has very definite holes in it. Here's another example: eleven AGW models posit a negative correlation between outgoing radiation from the Earth and temperature rises. The actual data show the opposite: a positive correlation. Had any of the AGW claque had the moral stature of Einstein, that part of the models would have been abandoned outright. Einstein said he would abandon his General Theory of Relativity had the three empirical tests not confirmed it quantitatively, not merely qualitatively, and he did drop his cosmological constant. It's obvious that none of the claque is an Einstein.

However, the question of fraud is a different matter. Many people have assumed that Mann, et. al. must be guilty of fraud because their meretriciousnesses are a lot like those shown by crooked security analysts. Fact is, scientists are treated far more easily by the laws of the land than are security analysts. Had Mann & Co. been security analysts, there would be an investigation – and likely charges – by the securities regulators. However, they're not: they have no fiduciary duties attached to their positions. Security analysts are held to a higher standard.

So, come to think of it, are CEOs – including oil-company CEOs. In business, "peer review" of a CEO's decisions would be said CEO answering to a board composed of other CEOs. Needless to say, "it got past peer review" doesn't even serve as a legal defense in a corporate-fraud criminal trial, where the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is assumed by the prosecutor. If a brokerage house instituted a "peer-review" compliance system – where the compliance department is filled with other brokers – that brokerage firm would be shut down; charges would likely be laid. In the word of business, security analysis, and even stock brokerage, "it was peer reviewed" is not even a valid defense in law, let alone a defense of ethicality. Every oil-company CEO, not to mention every senior officer of an oil company, can have a chuckle over the fact that the supposedly 'idealistic' AGW crew can get away with, and have gotten away with, a lot more than they themselves could.

"Here, Sir, there may be fraud."

For those in the know, Climategate was not revelatory in terms of AGW shoddiness. It was revelatory in terms of motives – most particularly, in the 1999 E-mail from Phil Jones that said he had "completed Mike's [that is Michael Mann's] Nature trick of adding in the real temps … to hide the decline." This "trick" has already been revealed to be data-massaging thanks to notes in the associated source code. Had Jones been an ethical scientist, he would have hid nothing. Instead, he would have co-published a paper that showed the limitations of the temperature-reconstruction technique he and his partners used. He would have revealed that it was only intermittently accurate, and that the divergence problem makes it of questionable reliability. The conclusion of the paper would have recommended that the reconstruction technique be used with caution given its intermittent unreliability. Such a paper would have been consistent with the high ethical standard – the integrity – of traditional science. Needless to say, said integrity is not visible in the AGW claque. Their integrity is being questioned because it's obviously questionable.

However, scientists are not mandated to act ethically. At the criminal level, they only have to answer to the standard of common fraud – much like the securities industry in the pre-SEC days. A common-fraud standard at the criminal level has to prove more than "they faked data after receiving a grant."  In this case, it has to be proven that: the group responsible had knowingly inflated the efficacy of their flawed  temperature-reconstruction technique [it's now known that they did, thanks to Climategate]; that they used a resultant corrupted paper to secure further funding to use the same flawed reconstruction technique; and, that the purported accuracy of that technique was instrumental in securing that further funding. A mere note in the original paper that dendrochronology is at times a dubious technique may well serve as a valid defense. And, even if all those items can be established, there are two trump cards the defense could use: illegality of evidence, which could work, and the statute of limitations, which would work. At most, an investigation would reveal that they were "guilty as hell – free as a bird!"

However, "guilty as hell" combined with "free as a bird" does tend to provoke investigations, as Senator Inhofe knows. Should a full-scale investigation lead to proposing a new regulatory agency structured like the Securities and Exchange Commission, it'll be interesting to see how closely the protests from "scientists" mimic the old protests from "businessmen" when the original Securities and Exchange Act was promulgated. ESR

Daniel M. Ryan is currently watching The Gold Bubble.


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