Poneke’s weblog recently wrote a critical post about ‘climategate’ where he has had a look through the subset of selectively leaked pages of private correspondence thieved from the CRU at the University of East Anglia. His analysis didn’t bother to look at the science of climate change virtually at all, and what science was looked at was full of myths. Furthermore it wasn’t particularly original. Most appeared to have been cribbed from a number of climate change denialist sites and throughly debunked in part or as a whole by many other sites. It was hardly the type of original thinking that David Farrar at kiwiblog should have labeled as being
Poneke’s full post is a must read. It is also the sort of journalism that should be in the mainstream media.
That was a statement that said more about Davids focus on politics than his understanding of climate science. Now I don’t know Poneke at all. But David describes him as
He has spent at least a couple of decades in journalism, and I think it is fair to say that he was regarded by many as one of the finest investigative journalists we have had.
I’d agree, he writes well on other less global and more people orientated topics. But Poneke is totally useless in his writing at understanding the process that science follows in understanding the world that he lives in. Mind you – so is David from this and previous posts.
But the fascinating thing about Ponekes post was how he was judging scientists behaviour. It focused purely on a personal level rather than on the science. It appeared to lack any understanding of the process that science follows to establish probabilities and principles that decision makers use to make policy. It is an classic example of how some people misinterpret the rule-sets under which science operates, and try to apply their own experiences and skills to an area that they don’t understand. So lets have a wee investigation on Ponekes failings at looking at scientists in general, the use of the scientific method and climate science in particular. It provides a good example of some common fallacies used by many.
To me it appears that Poneke expects scientists to conform to some kind of higher standard of behaviour closer to being a omniscient and omnipotent god than being human. It is apparent that he was seeking absolute truths and that he considered that science should be absolute and certain.
However the processes that science follows to look at and interpret natural phenomena aren’t about being certain, it is about constraining the mistakes by individual humans and allowing a lot of skeptical transparency to establish how credible the data and theories are. Papers are put up for peer review because it is easy for people to mis-interpret the data or to overlook data that doesn’t conform to their preconceptions. The more eyes that are cast over the paper, the less mistakes escape. Even when a paper is published, it is done for the purpose that other people in the field can reproduce or not reproduce the results, and verify or not verify the conclusions and concepts. They aren’t put out as definitive statements. They are published so other knowledgeable people can try to tear them down.
A good example of this is in some recent data about assumptions on the recent behaviour of water vapor escaping into the stratosphere. There will be flurry of activity in earth science facilities looking to reproduce or fail to reproduce the results, and changes to atmospheric models to accommodate and evaluate the new information. It doesn’t invalidate previous work, it helps to refine it. This has happened throughout the history of the scientific method. Newtons simplistic understanding about gravity is still as valid today as it was in the 17th century, it has been refined – not invalidated. However, it is still under question as science investigates further into space and time.
Mistakes are expected in any scientific papers compared to reality. They are published to draw other people in the scientific community to look at the data and the conclusions and try to figure out if they think that they are correct. You cannot expect as one comment here said here
if one error is involved then whole SCIENTIFIC document is wrong. why? because obviously peer review amounts to getting a friendly chum to stake his reputation on it. because there is obviously little in the way of ethics up at the IPCC.
That is a ridiculous attitude better left to people with a preference to having absolute faith and certainty rather than the probabilistic uncertainties and continuous checking and reevaluation of assumptions that is the essence of the process of science. But that is hardly surprising, neither the author of this comment or Poneke appear to have a background in science. This was pretty clear in both Ponekes post on ‘climategate’ and the subsequent posts that there were some really basic flaws in his assumptions. He focuses on the trivial at the expense of understanding or looking for more widespread reasons than his first interpretations. In fact in an earlier post, he’d acknowledged that he wasn’t interested in looking at the alternative views and the questioning of assumptions that is the essence of science. He said in a post about moderation being enabled
The AGWarmists are bombarding the comments section with spam. A slightly different IP address and a new ‘message’ and link are being used with each comment to get around the WordPress spam filter. As a result, for the first time in this blog’s two years, I have switched on the moderation feature.
Akismet, the anti-spam engine that both this site and his use doesn’t have a problem with this type of ‘attack’. We use moderation here, but it is based on behaviour in the comments section rather than content. What actually appeared to have happened at Ponekes Weblog from the comments that I read was that he didn’t like people leaving links and text disputing his interpretation of the climate change debate. My interpretation is that he was upset that people were saying that he was being an idiot and then linking to material proving that he was. In my view it challenged his presumptions, and he was not willing to investigate in case he found things to disrupt his view of the world.
His lack of tolerance for dissent and alternative opinions has led to some classic screw-ups in interpreting the evidence. For instance Poneke dedicated a post about the December cold snap in the northern hemisphere to suggesting that the climate change models were incorrect. A moments thought and an basic understanding of the physical dynamics of heat would have led him to question where had the heat wound up. NOAA subsequently released the temperature anomaly for December (image on the right) as they always do, and showed that there were cold anomalies in the areas both in and around the northern polar region. It was colder than usual in the continental areas around the pole. It was warmer than usual at the pole. There was an abnormal movement of cold air outside of the polar regions as discussed in my post “A note to the idiots. Weather is not climate” last month. Ponekes post was simply idiotic even for an investigative journalist because he presumed a conclusion without looking for evidence that showed his assumptions could be wrong.
Another example of Ponekes myopic focus on the personal, local and anecdotal rather than the science is in his frequent repetition across many posts of myths regarding the “Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age“. This is a regional issue around the north Atlantic currents, which as I’ve pointed out before, is an anomaly in the global climate system caused by the narrowness of the Atlantic ocean. It is the only region in the world that seems to have had these relative warming and cooling events during these particular periods. That climate system around northern Europe allowed the development of the unusual Neoteny features of Northern Europeans which indicates how unusual this region is climatically. The ‘events’ he places such importance on don’t show up as more than a minor trend in the same time periods (probably related to spin off effects from that region) anywhere else in the world. However Poneke appears to consider them to be so significant that he lambasts moderators with a science background on wikipedia for removing the myth from articles about global historical climate.
The whole of Ponekes interpretation of the CRU e-mails relies wholly on this type of myopic personalization and totally ignores the science and the process of scientific investigation. You get the impression that he has a faith about what the results of science should be and ignores all evidence to the contrary. Rather than deal with the issues raised by science about the risks of anthropogenic climate change he prefers to personally attack people.
I’d have to say that Ponekes myopic focus on people and local events in the posts listed and subsequent ones reflect his journalistic skills in looking at people and lack of skills at looking for patterns. He seems to avoid looking at the contention, disagreement, and reevaluation that is the essence of the process of science because he fundamentally doesn’t seem to understand it. He is seeking perfection where none is claimed and absolute certainty in a scientific process that doesn’t use it.
Poneke isn’t alone in this attitude, I see it every day in the comments from climate change denialists and skeptics on this site. They appear to wish that science is certain and scientists are more like omniscient gods than the humans they are. Poneke joins the ranks of other ‘journalists’ like Ian Wishart in writing about science without understanding its underlying precepts and processes. They are a nuisance because they tend to waste political time and effort in dealing with the consequences of climate change. They certainly don’t add anything to the debate about how to deal with the issue.
My post here may be viewed as being a simple attack on Ponekes credibility. It is, but I’m simply following his lead on concentrating attacks on individuals at the detriment of discussing the issues surrounding climate change. It is a rather stupid way of discussing the problem, but unfortunately required to prevent such a limited viewpoint becoming the basis of debate on this topic.
My next few posts on climate change concentrate more on the more relevant issues in the science and the immediate consequences of shifts in climate patterns. Because of other work, there is a bit of a backlog of writing sitting in my partially written queue.