It’s News On Academia, Not Climate

Electronic files that were stolen from a prominent climate research center and made public last week provide a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes battle to shape the public perception of global warming.  …

“I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report,” Jones writes. “Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”  In another, Jones and Mann discuss how they can pressure an academic journal not to accept the work of climate skeptics with whom they disagree.. … “I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor.” …

Horner … [said] the e-mails have “the makings of a very big” scandal. “Imagine this sort of news coming in the field of AIDS research,” he added. … some likening the disclosure to the release of the Pentagon Papers during Vietnam.

More here.  Joel Achenbach comments:

This is not a scandal so much as a window on real scientists working on a politicized issue. … “Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person.” I agree. But isn’t it also true that Newtons antipathy towards Hooke and his use of his position in control of the Royal Society, ensured that the concept of an achromatic lens for a telescope … had to wait until after [Newton’s] death.

Yup, this behavior has long been typical when academics form competing groups, whether the public hears about such groups or not.  If you knew how academia worked, this news would not surprise you nor change your opinions on global warming.  I’ve never done this stuff, and I’d like to think I wouldn’t, but that is cheap talk since I haven’t had the opportunity.  This works as a “scandal” only because of academia’s overly idealistic public image.

It is a shame that academia works this way, and an academia where this stuff didn’t happen would probably be more accurate.  But even our flawed academic consensus is usually more accurate than its contrarians, and it is hard to find reliable cheap indicators saying when contrarians are more likely to be right.

If you don’t like this state of affairs join me in trying to develop a more reliable consensus mechanism on such topics: prediction markets. It just takes time or money.  Prefer instead to act shocked, just shocked, when the other side is shown to do this stuff, while reserving your side’s ability to do the same?  Then I have little respect for you.

Added 23Nov:  Tyler basically agrees.  Bryan too, mostly.  Nate Silver riffs.

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  • My impression as a college professor is that the vast majority of college professors would disagree with your cynical view of academia and that an accurate lie detector would show that their disagreement with you is genuine.

  • Tyrrell McAllister

    Yup, this behavior has long been typical when academics form competing groups, whether the public hears about such groups or not. If you knew how academia worked, this news would not surprise you nor change your opinions on global warming. I’ve never done this stuff, and I’d like to think I wouldn’t, but that is cheap talk since I haven’t had the opportunity.

    Could you elaborate on just what conditions make this behavior “typical”? When you say that you “haven’t had the opportunity” to behave that way, do you mean that you’ve never had the opportunity to join one of the “competing groups” that academics form? That doesn’t seem likely.

  • I completely agree with your take on the problems with academia, and the bad incentives involved. I don’t really see how prediction markets will ever be able to improve matters.

    The problem isn’t one of “consensus” but of testability. There are some areas where conclusions and theories simply cannot be satisfactorily tested the way they can in other areas. If you can’t have a hard and fast criteria for what conclusion is more accurate, then you have no way of judging whether or not the prediction markets are signaling something accurate.

    So it seems to me that prediction markets would have all the same problems that anything else would have in the areas you’re trying to bring them in as a solution–that is, a lack of feedback when inaccurate.

    • mjgeddes

      Prediction markets will only work for things that one can assign precise probabilities to – as I think is Adam’s point – only precisely defined (discrete) outcomes have this characteristic.

      In a recent paper, Judea Pearl himself has slammed Bayesian inference as having serious limits because it deals only with correlation and does not accurately account for causation (cause-and-effect) – any model of the world implicitly makes cause-and-effect assumptions which cannot be reduced to Bayesian inference, further more, priors for different models never converge, no matter how much information is collected. Bayes is flawed because it assumes an unexplained background of pre-existing concepts for modeling causation, with ‘correlations’ mysteriously floating freely in this sea of assumed causal concepts.

      Paper: Judea Pearl exposes the weakness of Bayes

      So prediction markets (and by implication Bayesian inference) covers only debates about precisely defined outcomes, not debates about models themselves.

      Of course I realized the solution long ago, only analogical reasoning (categorization) can properly handle priors for models and deal with causal concepts (knowledge representation).

  • James, for what professions do you think the average professional would not sincerely give an idealistic spin?

    Tyrrell, e.g., I haven’t had remotely enough sway with a journal to consider threatening to withhold my publications if they publish certain things.

    Adam, prediction markets could forecast global temperatures, CO2, sea levels, weather disruptions, and do all of these conditional on various policy choices.

    • I can see forecasting specific temperatures, as well as all those other specific measurements for particular points in time. I don’t know about the relation of policy to the prediction, however; if anything you’d just have a prediction market about temperatures, CO2 levels, etc, and in as much as policy effected these, the prices would respond accordingly.

      Actually this makes more sense the more I think about it. You would want it to be as simple and straightforward as possible–don’t have people bet on which theory is correct or what specific effect policy would have, just have them forecast for a specific period of time what the temperatures, CO2 levels, and whatever else is going to be. The theory behind it can be discussed elsewhere; I see the usefulness of the prediction market just being in making these hard and fast guesses on empirically testable subjects.

      • Peter Twieg

        My understanding of the general idea is that you would have market estimates of various outcomes under different conditional policy regimes, and then the spread between Pr(Outcome A) under Policy X and Pr(Outcome A) under the status quo would be the market’s best estimation of how enacting Policy X would affect the chances of A occuring. This spread would be useful information for policymakers to consider in whether to enact X or not.

        The hitch, of course, is that you’d have to have policymakers take prediction markets seriously.

      • I don’t think that would work. In the case of the markets which made bets based on what would happen under those policies that were never enacted, there would be no way to test the accuracy.

        I think you’re never going to get a more reliable estimate than just the blunt approach of “what will the temperature be in 10 years” or something along those lines. If something happens along that time period to change people expectations–a shift in policy that was not expected in the first place–then the prices will respond. Likewise, if the change in policy was either expected in the initial bets or actually My understanding of the general idea is that you would have only has a trivial effect, you wouldn’t see any changes in the prices, which itself I think would be informative.

      • Another problem I didn’t think of is that this would require you to guess all of the possible policies when you designed the market initially.

      • Peter Twieg

        Adam –

        There’s no need to test the counterfactual predictions. In fact, if you really wanted to, you could just make a set of markets that removed all conditionals. So if you’re interested in Pr(A|X) – Pr(A|not-X), you could just use basic probability rules:

        Pr(A|X) – Pr(A|not-X) = Pr(A and X) / Pr(X) – Pr(A and not-X) / Pr(not-X)

        So you could just set up markets for Pr(X), Pr(A and X), and Pr(A and not-X) and (hopefully) get the same conditional spread… but that’s unnecessarily complicated.

      • Yeah…when in doubt I favor the elegant strategy.

    • Jess Riedel

      James, for what professions do you think the average professional would not sincerely give an idealistic spin?

      Idealistic spin is one thing. But if you say “This behavior happens all the time” and the large majority of people in the field say “This almost never happens” then there is a serious discrepancy.

      Do you disagree with James about what most professors would say?

      • If we restrict attention to those in a position to directly see such things, yes if sincere most such folks would say they’ve seen such things.

    • Most would give an idealistic spin, but the global warming people seem to have engaged in deliberate fraud. True, there isn’t a bright line between spin and fraud, but I think the global warming people admitted to doing things that few college professors think are common in academia.

      The emails do surprise me and do lower my probability estimate of global warming being a serious threat to humanity.

      • Neal J. King

        I don’t read this stuff as fraud. Interpreting on the basis of a few key words is not necessarily a good idea, because people use words differently. Gavin Schmidt at has given an explanation of many of these notes, based on knowing the people, the papers they were working on, and the hot issues & confusions in the field at the time: His interpretation makes a lot more sense.

        Most of the references to the Freedom of Information Act look to me like sarcastic jokes, except for the one where Jones is actually suggesting erasure of email, in an email note. That wasn’t very smart, whatever he thought he was doing at the time. But I suspect people do this all the time; but people who think a little harder make a phone call instead of sending a note. (In a few years, that won’t make any difference either.)

    • Unnamed

      Robin, has anything been written about the potential problem of having prediction markets conditional on policy choices when the policy choices are also contingent on the prediction markets? For instance, some people who want anti-global warming policies passed could bet a ton of money that terrible things will happen if those policies aren’t passed. Seeing the market prices, policymakers will decide that they had better pass those anti-global warming policies. But then those bets will be canceled since they were conditional on the policies not being passed. Manipulating the market won’t cost them anything (unless policymakers ignore the market, or there’s enough money in the market to get prices back to where they should be).

      • That has been discussed on the blog before, as well as in Hanson’s papers.

  • Peter Twieg

    Having prediction markets for climate indicators would be easy (I’m surprised they don’t exist already?) The hard part would be getting influential climatologists to take them seriously and bet on their beliefs. I remember being incredibly frustrated with a BhTV episode on climate change a couple weeks back where one participant continually referred to the climate change as “nonlinear” (which it is) in order to dismiss the notion of attaching discrete expectations to various outcomes (as the IPCC does, which provides a foundation for cost-benefit analyses which many climatologists clearly abhor), which simply doesn’t follow.

    I don’t think prediction markets can make serious inroads in policy debates until either they’re perceived as having an undeniably strong track record, or until there’s some sort of culture shift within academia that leads to them being taken more seriously. Since I’m not too confident in the former, I’d be interested to see discussions on how to instigate the latter…

    • On the other hand, it could be that people outside of academia have information that would be useful for making these sorts of predictions. To begin with, they would have the public data available to everyone.

      Also, my feeling is that if it became clear that betting on accurate forecasts was profitable, the people capable of doing it would get more and more drawn in.

      But I agree that getting it to be considered acceptable among experts is an important hurdle.

    • Robert Koslover

      Here’s a prediction market for 2009 Global Average Temperature:

    • First let’s collect the strong track record, then make the bid for a cultural shift.

      • That would be the path of greatest integrity, I suppose 😀

    • Hal Finney

      The Foresight Exchange at is a play-money Idea Futures game that has been going on since 1994. They have a few claims relating to climate change including:

      CO2 level in 2030

      Probability of a 1m rise in sea level by 2030

      However both of these claims have persistently traded at outlandish values. The CO2 level claim predicts levels of 455 to 470 ppm. Currently we are a little under 390 and increasing less than 2 ppm per year. James Annan analyzed the FX trading price a couple of years ago and showed it to be far outside of mainstream projections. It has come down a little since then but is still way too high.

      Similarly, the sea level claim implies a probability of about 20% for a 1 meter rise by 2030, again a completely outlandish forecast. The probability has been as high as 30-40% for much of the time over the past 15 years. Mainstream analysis predicts about a 6 cm rise in the 2030 time frame.

      Now it’s possible that these bizarre forecasts are artifacts of the rules of the FX game, or the fact that it’s play money (although I’ve seen studies claiming that play money games forecast about as well as real money games). The unreasonable nature of prices in these claims has been discussed many times by FX players over the years, but they are still too high.

      It’s also conceivable that the market is right, and that the mainstream is underestimating the probability of “black swan” events. 20% odds for a 1m rise may reflect the generally poor track record of future forecasts in the multi-decadal time frame over the past century.

      Which should we believe? Mainstream science, which forecasts a high chance of disaster 50-100 years out? Contrarian skeptics, who insist that the danger is overblown? Or play-money futures markets, which predict that things are far worse than the mainstream sees them?

  • Bill

    Actually, what I see is more insidious–within small groups, there is a pressure to conform to consensus. Ever try to be liberal at the U of Chicago Econ department. Ha.

    People who share the same views also seek each other out, reinforcing their beliefs.

    I liked some of the work that Chalie Plott did at Caltech on prediction markets, but I am skeptical of persons who vote in prediction markets where they have nothing at risk, or where the prediction they want can lead to the very result they want. If I asked Dick Cheney his prediction on WMD in Iraq, along with the persons cohorts he brought into his inner circle, what do you think the prediction would have been. Predictions can be cheap talk too.

    • Jayson Virissimo

      I thought this was a joke, before I realized that you were using that crazy definition of liberalism that Americans seem to love. There are only a few people at UofC that ARE NOT liberals (meaning civil liberties and free markets). Why do Americans insist on defining liberalism as basically the opposite of what it meant everywhere in the 19th century?

      • >Why do Americans insist on defining liberalism as basically the opposite of what it meant everywhere in the 19th century?

        Um, it’s not that Americans insist on anything counterfactual, it’s that the term has undergone severe terminological drift in the U.S. and Great Britain. American :”liberals” aren’t 19th-century liberals; they’re state socialists.

  • As someone who knows some of the characters involved in the climate data caper, it is amazing how long a period of time can be involved in the building up of these mutual hostilities and how fratricidally close some of the participants have been. Thus, for a period of time two of the major participants were in the same department, Michael Mann and Patrick Michaels, the Department of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia. Curiously, neither is there now.

    People also do not always resemble their labels. Michaels is regularly labeled a “global warming skeptic,” but he actually accepts that warming is going on. He is simply forecasting that it is likely to be at the lower end of the IPCC range of possibly likely outcomes.

    A problem for the really hard core skeptics is that they do not have a clear alternative. If something is beating out CO2 as the source, is it volcanoes or cosmic rays or solar fluctuations or ocean currents or some combination of these plus changes in cow farts…?

    Regarding prediction markets I do not think we yet have a clear explanation of why they are good for some things and not others. Thus, they seem to do well in predicting election outcomes. They are utterly terrible at forecasting Nobel Prize winners in economics. I suspect that they are not all that great on forecasting global climate, but then, well, I guess we can wait and see since there is indeed now a prediction market in that.

    So, Robin has his work cut out for him, if he can stop eating so much lunch… :-).

    • Prediction markets are terrible at forecasting Nobel Prize winners in econmics relative to what other institution? What source offers consistently more accurate estimates?

      • Robin,

        Good point. The main alternatives to Ladbroke’s, if they are the prediction market, would appear to be Thomson Reuters. They are not obviously any better. Not sure how you categorize the Harvard betting pool, which also looks pretty silly.

        OTOH, I have personally done better than any of these in recent years, but then I am not an institution, even if maybe I should be institutionalized, :-).

  • Bill, I can name two liberal Chicago economists: Richard Thaler and Austan Goolsbee. There are also conservatives at Harvard!

    If you don’t like this state of affairs join me in trying to develop a more reliable consensus mechanism on such topics: prediction markets.
    I think you’d be more persuasive if you ended the sentence before mentioning prediction markets and then followed it up by mentioning them, indicating that you recognize there may be other possible solutions than the one you favor.

    • Peter Twieg

      Richard Thaler and Austan Goolsbee

      Both of whom are in the business school, not the Econ department. Just sayin’.

      • John List is in the econ department and was on Clinton’s CEA staff.

  • Matthew C.

    A problem for the really hard core skeptics is that they do not have a clear alternative. If something is beating out CO2 as the source, is it volcanoes or cosmic rays or solar fluctuations

    As someone who follows the debate fairly closely, I’d say that most AGW “skeptics” like the solar activity / cosmic ray / cloud seeding theory as at least part of the story. . .

    • Neal J. King

      Last I heard, a serious problem with these phenomena as potential causes is that they have behaved in essentially cyclical fashion, but the effect to be explained is an increase in temperature.

      How is a cyclical cause supposed to give rise to an upward trend?

  • “this behavior has long been typical when academics form competing groups”

    Do you include in that assessment deliberately deleting emails and data in order to avoid having to comply with FOIA requests? Or secretly sending financial support to scientists in other countries who collect data favorable to your cause, but structuring the payments you send (to their personal bank accounts) to be in increments below $10k/day to avoid tax reporting?

    (though to be fair, for both of those I believe we only have evidence of people *soliciting* said behavior, we don’t yet have proof of actual compliance with the requests.)

    • Those are pretty narrow behaviors whose preconditions are pretty unlikely, so I can’t claim to have seen them specifically. But my wider observations lead me to guess, yes, with similar incentives other folks would do similar things.

    • Neal J. King

      I don’t know the specific details in this case, but it is a long-established principle that there is nothing inherently illegal about arranging your affairs in such a way as to minimize the tax due.

      (This must be distinguished from hiding what you are doing so that the tax authority is uninformed about your activities. There is a difference.)

  • Unnamed

    The controversy over the journal that published an article by climate skeptics is old news (e.g., here, here, and here). At the time, six of the journal’s editors (including the incoming editor-in-chief) resigned because of the article (which they saw as shoddy work that never should have been published) and the journal’s poor response to its publication. The emails might add a couple details to the story, but you should be sure to understand the full story and not just base your opinion on snippets of email.

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  • Robin — totally agree with you here.

    If anyone was given the opportunity to dig through 10 years of another person’s email, it’s no doubt that unappealing private thoughts and motivations come up front. That hackers and bloggers with an agenda could cherry pick this info to fit their vast conspiracy theories is not really news.

    An odd analogy, but during the investigation of the coal lobby’s forged letters to Congress opposing climate legislation, they found many additional letters using the exact same language from disparate grassroots groups. When looked into further, these additional letters were found to be legitimate — in a legal sense: Bonner was busy drafting letters for why various constituency groups opposed the legislation, pitching it to these groups, and some in the end agreed to to sign off on them. (though there were times Bonner decided to just send them in anyways, without signoff, as the investigation showed).

    Pretty shady stuff, but regular practice for lobbyists.

  • join me in trying to develop a more reliable consensus mechanism on such topics: prediction markets.

    Is there a way for average Joes (people who are neither academics nor rich) to help further this goal?

  • rob

    “Prefer instead to act shocked, just shocked, when the other side is shown to do this stuff, while reserving your side’s ability to do the same? Then I have little respect for you.”

    But, wait. I am a layman. I have no “side”, because unlike you academics, us lay folk are Bayesian. We want to know the honest odds, not have a majority academic view handed down from on high and told it is what we should believe without any doubts. The current political climate is such that if someone expresses any degree of doubt, they are immediately called a moron and a Republican–at least partially– because of certain sexed up charts aimed at eliminating uncertainty. If one could merely say I believe the odds are 95%… but even that is heresy. So sexing up a graph to eliminate all doubt, in this case, has very much to do with the subject it happens to be about (The public debate about the Climate). This 100% certainty I am supposed to evince through everyday hysteria just don’t feel right. Us lay folk feel our mediocre IQs have been insulted.

    • Dan

      Err the IPC actually says the odds are 95% or something around there…
      Have you read the reports, they actually have some advanced statistical vodoo in there…

      You may have some point there, the deniers are utter nutjobs (Finnish liberals/commies want to destroy America…yes that is verbatim not satire). Also scratch them a bit and yep you find a moron/Republican. So yeah in public it is 100% certainty otherwise you may be associated with those people…

      AGW is about 100% certain (Blackbody radiation theory). The uncertainty how much warming it will cause, and there is a lot of debate etc about that, but also a consensus that it is with high confidence, significant.

    • Neal J. King


      The climatologists’ conviction concerning global warming is not based on one graph.

      The problem has been studied for over 100 years, and there’s a lot of physics tied up in the story.

      In fact, if global warming were NOT happening, given the amount of CO2 being added, it really would be a scientific mystery.

  • Bill

    Taking up the challenge on how prediction markets could be improved, I would look at deconstructing questions into minute parts and interspersing them with other unrelated questions so that the responder would not know what the ultimate question was. I would also test for consistency and causality relationships. Prediction markets work great within organizations where information is not shared…where the person in shipping knows that the stuff will not get out the door, even if management believes it will meet sales goals. Its open to gaming if, say, foreign policy analysts are asked questions where they are basically betting on their opinions. Instead of asking ultimate questions, ask minute questions, questions that depend on other facts (where you previously asked if fact x was likely or probable and later ask if event A, which depended on fact x, were probable), etc. In other words, treat the respondent as a potential liar.

  • Bill

    While it might be harsh to say we should treat anyone participating in a prediction market as a liar if they have interests in the direction of a prediction, I am reminded of my father in law who had a great saying that does not reflect on human nature as necessarily inclined to lying, but as something more benign:

    He asked: What do I believe that I know is not true.

    Do you have things you believe you know are not true? How would you respond in a prediction market if you did.

  • tom

    Robin says “If you knew how academia worked, this news would not surprise you nor change your opinions on global warming. ”

    But if normal people/voters knew how scientists and other academics work, would they be as accepting of claims about ‘scientists agree that X’ and ‘the data show X’? Would Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” have had quite so many fans if the funniest excerpts from these emails were included during the right scenes?

    If I had to identify one under-known fact that the emails highlight, it is that “data” are a result of a process, not the beginning of one. Robin may be very comfortable with the uncertainties and tribal politics that come along with that creation of the record, and he may have his own sophisticated reasons to trust the consensus. But I am quite sure that Al Gore and the other popularizers of the IPCC-type agreed narrative have decided not to show the political back and forth that starts with the first numbers because they rightly think people’s trust in the scientists is naive.

    • Neal J. King

      Yes, evidently there is a lot of back & forth in coming to scientific conclusions. But is it really helpful to air them in public, among people who don’t have the background to understand them?

      Analogy: There’s probably a lot of back & forth in making a decision on the right treatment to use for a serious illness. Do you think it makes sense for every patient to sit through an argument among his doctors as they come to a conclusion? It would sense if he had the training and experience to understand it; but if not, it might be rather unsettling.

      Or, as an old friend, a cardiologist, used to say to me: “Never say ‘Oops!’ in the operating room.”

  • Robin — do you think the peer review distortions depicted here are that common?

    • Yes.

      • Unfortunately, I must agree with Robin that a lot of dirty pool goes on in refereeing. Journal editors generally try to avoid having this happen, but often they do not know enough of the details of a particular subject to avoid allowing some to pull shenanigans.

    • Neal J. King


      The interesting point is, what does he mean by saying that the paper “could do a lot of damage”?

      If he means that it would cast his work and his friend’s work into shadow, then that’s not a good motivation.

      If he means that it will cause confusion among the scientists in the field, by generating unrealistic requirements for methods of analysis that are quite difficult or expensive to implement, but which don’t really give more useful results, then that’s a wholly different issue.

      I don’t think it’s possible to tell what is going on in this case, without knowing what they were really talking about and what was happening with those kinds of studies at that time.

      • Stuart Buck

        I don’t think we have to know anything what kinds of studies were involved to know that it isn’t a good practice in general for scientists to collude to let someone who is criticized help block the publication of his critics. Why would that be a truth-seeking practice? Sure, anyone who has been criticized knows a lot about the issue, but he will also be rather biased and self-interested as to whether his critics have a point.

  • A statistician makes what seems a good case that modelers aren’t accounting for uncertainty nearly well enough:

    • Neal J. King


      As I read it, the climatologists knocked themselves out trying many methods to get a convergence out of their data.

      They failed.

      And they admitted failure.

      To me, that is a sign of integrity.

  • Robin JG


    I agree with the point you make excepting two key facts – one micro, one macro:

    1) Would you say it is normal academic practice to destroy/delete or ask to destroy/delete information requested under FOI legislation?

    2) Can you show me where there is an IPCC in other normal academic arenas? Without the IPPC I have no doubt that the playing field would even itself out (even the bullying journal peer review stuff) but adding a gov’t quango into the situation clearly complicates matters.

    • Ragout

      There are numerous analogues to the IPCC in various medical fields. For example, new mammography guidelines were issued just the other day by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. And I think that there are many analogous examples of less-than-objective behavior by these groups: industry pressure, pressure not the buck the “party line,” etc.

      • Robin JG

        Ragout – I’m aware of medical experts developing guidelines etc based on the evidence, making complex judgements etc and there might some interesting parallels which I’ll have a think about. My first reaction is that these are usually more focused, within one nation and most importantly from my PoV not arbiters of the underlying science. The one interesting one of I’ve read about which did examine the fundamentals was the case of PUlcerD described as a “trial” (i.e. legal not medical) by Paul Thagard in his book How Scientists Explain Disease.

        I think its good that smarts like Robin and Tyler are on the ‘wrong’ side in this debate because it will help history to confirm that it was not simply a matter of intelligence:-) I don’t think they or many realise just how subjective the whole climate area is and quite how much rhetoric is used to create a false picture in the warmist mind set (pre-industrial and unprecedented being two particular faves.)

        IMHO the CRU hack has shown that anyone who uses the word consensus or the phrase the science is settled is clearly wrong and the complex politics of the IPPC are likely to prove much worse. Time will tell. I think anyone who has read the hacked documents and who doesn’t think something is wrong is either playing macho hard-assed academic or not recognising the underlying issues. Also, if you’ve read the e-mails you’ll see how ineffective the media has been at covering this which itself creates a confirmation bias that all is well, nothing to see hear.

    • Robin JG,

      Ragout is right. And this holds in other areas as well.

      It is not a hard science, and it is more overtly policy-laden, but there is quite a bit of bad behavior in economics, much of it hidden from public view and showing up on the desks of journal editors and funding agencies and so on.

      • Robin JG


        I get the positive/ normative split in econ, but I think you’ll be shocked to find just how much of climate science is not positive, hard sci either, and I have to say, on reflection, that climate sci (covering the whole IPPC) is far more policy laden than economics. (Even ignoring Stern for now). Don’t be taken in by the word science, read the evolving commentary on their data management from this hack. Better still see if temps are going up currently. see how sea levels stopped rising a couple of years ago. Ask when the glaciers started receding, see what polar bear levels are currently at, ask why 1998 was the hottest etc etc.

        The whole issue of climate sensitivity is highly dependent on crass self-referential arguments, the models are verified backwards and there’s far too much scope for interpretation. The whole bullying to create exclusively positive feedbacks compounds this.

        You have to ask why people have resigned from the IPPC – read up about the malaria guy, see how Kofi Annan’s NGO doubled figures from the WHO report etc etc. It’s very complex.

  • Different Bill

    OK, but should there be sanctions? Surely the publicly promulgated norms of scholarly conduct are there for some reason other than puffing up academic opinions relative to those of the proles.

    When researchers get caught faking data, say, should we respond by saying “everyone in the know knows that researchers sometimes fake data, nothing to see here, move along.” What effects should we expect on the conduct of science to take these sorts of positions?

    Now, since getting academics fired is pretty hard, what should the sanctions be? How about loudly concluding that their cherished ideas are wrong and that they are crappy scholars?

    But wait! We should not permit the need to sanction bad behavior to change our public understanding of reality, possibly leading it away from the truth! Instead, we should let the bad behavior change our public understanding of reality, possibly leading it away from the truth.

    • Neal J. King

      What specific data do you think was faked?

  • Phil

    Robin, I agree with you that the incentive structure to which climate scientists are exposed (lots of politics, publicity, etc) is very different from most scientists, and that this explains a lot of what’s going on. However, the fact remains that, at least in my experience, scientists in physics, math, and biology don’t delete e-mails to avoid FOIA requests. They don’t assassinate the character of their colleagues, or try to prevent their papers from being published by influence peddling with journals. I’m not saying that climate scientists are less moral than other scientists, or that some amount of chicanery doesn’t go on in other fields. But doesn’t it seem clear that the scale of this sort of thing is vastly different between climate science and other areas? Whatever the reason, doesn’t it seem like trusting these climate science people is a pretty dubious proposition?

  • Gabe

    It seems there is a lot of bias in how the debate is framed.

    1)”Deniers” are people who think the1000 page political agreements putting CO2 taxes in place will do more harm than good.

    2)”AGW scientific consensus makers” think giving that putting international tax schemes in place under the presumption that every human and potential human is a “public bad” AND this new tax scheme will make the Earth substantially cooler AND this is desirable.

    As a energy industry professional and political observer I can guarantee 100% that no CO2 agreement will pass house and senate Unles it gives “carbon credits” to powerful lobbyist(big CO2 emitters etc). These are nothing more than barriers to entry for up and coming competitors. The politically powerful corporations are happy to set up such a system. You are hopelessly naive to think ANYTHING else will happen under any CO2 tax or cap’d trade system. The little guy will get f’ed while the elite will make out with billions…Whats new? just like Goldman Sach…as I recall Tyler supported those shennanigans too…what about Robin?

    • Gabe,

      Looks like you are doing some framing yourself. Nobody in the US is proposing “CO2 taxes” on any side. What is under consideration is cap and trade. Now, if you want to argue that it will have the same outcome as taxes, namely higher prices for carbon-intensive activities, you are correct. But why undercut your not-all-that-ultimately-unreasonable arguments by spouting something that is a) false, and b) fits in with rantings by lunatics?

      • anon

        I can’t see your point. The distinction between carbon taxes and cap-and-trade is absolutely marginal. And I fail to see how CO2 fits in with “rantings by lunatics” unless you consider Greg N. Mankiw and other members of the ‘Pigou Club’ to be lunatics.

        Finally, to the extent that the difference matters, carbon taxes are the better option according to most economists who have studied the issue. So how is Gabe undercutting his own argument here?

      • anon,

        Mankiw supports the taxes. Gabe does not. The ranters include people showing up at tea bag parties and, well, ranting.

        There is an important difference between cap and trade and taxes. It has to do with uncertainty, of which there is a lot in this whole discussion at many levels. Weitzman in 1974 showed that if the uncertainty (and dangers) are greater on the benefit side then a quantity approach (cap and trade) is preferred, whereas if it is greater on the cost side, a tax is preferred.

    • Neal J. King

      Cap & trade, or for that matter carbon taxes, work by giving a financial advantage to manufacturers that can make something but produce less CO2 in the process. It incentives manufacturers to take advantage of their ingenuity to increase profits while reducing total generation of CO2.

      This method was employed against sulfate production from the burning of coal, and was instrumental in reducing acid rain.

  • Gabe

    Phil it seems tha if Robin were to respond it would be along the lines of: “We must ignore all the facts except for this: deniers are “contrarian”, Earth Lovers are not. Therefore we have to accept that which is not contrarian and supprot CO2 taxes. To do otherwise is unscientific or to engage in conspiracy theories and that is crazy. “

  • Robert Johnson

    Actually, nearly all of the academics I have worked with on research have more integrity than these emails display. And yes, it does go back to personal morality — as well as respect for the scientific process.

  • Mark Amerman

    This is pathetic. It is just so disappointing.

    Science is a process. It is a not an end; it is a process.
    There are very few rules to that process and they are pretty
    darn simple.

    People come up with hypotheses about the world around them.
    It does not matter where the ideas come from; there are no
    illegitimate sources. Ideally a person with an idea then attempts
    to find data to disprove their clever idea. Some scientists, especially
    the more productive ones, actually do something like that. But more
    commonly, more normally, and all too humanly, the scientist attempts
    to gather data to support their ideas and doesn’t look that hard for
    data or thinking that contradicts it.

    Then once this person feels they’ve put together a compelling
    case, or at least an interesting case, they write it up. They publish
    their clever idea and put the evidence out there that they have for it.

    That, together with some obvious variations on the same theme, is pretty
    much all there is to it. Anything that fits this template is arguably

    It seems kind of simple. How can anyone screw it up?

    There’s nothing here that says that the report or paper has to be
    accurate or that it has to be true. Most truely new ideas turn out, with
    hindsight, to have been erroneous. That doesn’t mean they were,
    retroactively, not science.

    Note that just about the only objective requirement here is that one publish
    the data, the evidence for, one’s research. It’s kind of key; because
    that’s how we make progress. If it’s interesting, other people will take that
    information and look for flaws. If it’s really a new idea, usually a problem
    will be found. Because someone else sees something that first person didn’t.
    Or they know about something the original thinker never thought of. And the
    more eyes the better.

    If enough people look hard at something and can’t find anything wrong
    with it, then it starts to become rational to believe it.

    Publishing the evidence for, or making the evidence electronically available,
    is absolutely essential. Back in the days when print media was the sole means
    by which information could be conveyed, this was a problem in some fields.
    None the less, even then, if other scientists in the field couldn’t get access
    to the data, somehow, then it wasn’t science.

    Today there’s not even that excuse. There is no dataset that cannot be cheaply
    conveyed to anyone that asks for it, assuming that paper was even worth publishing
    in the first place.

    People that write something and expect others to believe it based on their authority,
    based on their titles, and who hide their data, are not scientists. They are
    frauds. They essentially anti-scientific.

    And anyone who defends such a person also mocks science. And if they claim
    to be scientists and have a job that is supposed to be occupied by a scientist,
    then they also are frauds.

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  • ESR’s response – Open Source the Global Warming Debate –

  • Steven Hales


    If this is not unusual and is a tempest in a teapot then what purpose do scientific audits have? Should audits take place when public policy is involved? Would prediction markets work when the contrary opinions are correct but the majority opinions dominate?

    In this particular case some IPCC reviewer comments on Michael Mann’s temperature reconstructions appear to have been deliberately left out of the relevant chapter to give it a stronger bent. If caveats and uncertainty are deliberately suppressed then how can a prediction market work at all when predictions are based on available information?

    • Neal J. King

      Someone has to decide what the final document looks like. Just because someone makes a comment does not mean that he is right.

      I am involved in the creation of technical standards, a process involving lots of people and ideas from competing companies and countries. After the first draft is produced, comments are submitted by all and sundry. All of these comments have to be addressed by the group drafting the standard: Some comments are accepted and incorporated into the new draft; others are not accepted (because they miss the point) but inspire clarification; and yet others are just wrong, and not accepted at all.

      Everybody involved and invited has the right to make comments; but no one has the right to mandate his comments on the draft. It is still the group’s decision.

  • Neal J. King

    Two points:
    – There have been a couple of cases of isolated bets on future-climate measures: One I can think of is between a Canadian climatologist (James Annan), betting for a hotter planet, and two Russian solar physicists, betting for cooler. I think the amount of the bet is about $10,000, and the pay-off date is 2018. ( ) Annan has tried to set up bets with some of the “skeptical” climatologists (such as Richard Lindzen): Curiously, none of them would agree to a bet on even money. Lack of confidence in their own position?

    – Rather than betting on climate metrics (a prediction market), why not invest in climate-harm futures? Such as the damage to a forest or coral reef. Or perhaps a more prosaic (and easier to evaluate) example: New York City flood damage in the year 2050. This would be, in principle, easier to evaluate (the damage is the damage) for payoff; and the people who expect to be on the receiving end of the harm could invest in this market, so they get the payoff for whatever happens. I guess this is a complicated way of talking about climate-change insurance.

    I guess there could be a perverse incentive if the buyer of the future/policy is not the occupant of the area expected to suffer the harm.

    • anon

      Betting on ‘damage futures’ could be easier than you think. Governments and re-insurance companies routinely issue “catastrophe bonds”. They work like normal bonds except that their re-payment is partially or completely waived if a natural disaster occurs. Investors use them as a source of diversifcation, since their risk is quite uncorrelated with economic conditions. But the price of these bonds should closely reflect the expected severity and probability of disasters linked to climate change.

      • Neal J. King

        Interesting, I wonder if it would be possible to study them, or even promote them?

        I recall hearing that Munich Re, a re-insurance company, was building in big damage estimates due to climate change, a few years ago.

  • Neal J. King

    With regard to the content of the email notes: These notes have been presented without context. Gavin Schmidt, who knows many of the principals of these communications, has provided context for some of them, based on his knowledge of the field and the issues under discussion. The vast majority of concerns dissolve into thin air when the context is provided: See

    And my reading of most of the “don’t tell them about FOIA” comments is that they were sarcastic jokes.

    • Gabe

      My reading of most of the CO2 tax and cap and trade proposals are that they are sarcastic jokes, these people can’t be seriously expect us to believe that a world wide carbon tax is going to improve the weather.

      • Gabe,

        I have already agreed that there is much in the current proposals being considered in the US Congress that is worthy of criticism, but why even after it has been pointed out that you have your head thoroughly jammed up your lower rear bodily cavity do you continue to rant about a “world wide carbon tax” when that is not what is being proposed by anybody anywhere. And, no, cap and trade is not a tax, and there are significant differences.

        Grow up and stop lying.

      • Neal J. King


        Because of the “t” word, carbon taxes are not likely to be introduced in the U.S., but many economists have come to the conclusion that it would be far simpler and more flexible to implement carbon taxes than cap & trade.

        Both work by giving manufacturers a financial incentive to reduce production of CO2 but allowing them to use their ingenuity as to the method. That incentive pushes them in the direction of producing less and less CO2, but in a cost-effective manner.

        This method worked well as part of acid-rain regulation in the U.S.

      • Neal,

        Unfortunately those economists are mostly unaware of what a mess taxes are in the real world, quite aside from the political problems. We imposed cap and trade on the rest of the world at Kyoto when many of them wanted taxes. Now they have it, or at least Europe does, and telling them to switch to taxes now is simply out of the question. Forget it.

        Also, there is a nasty problem of equalizing things at borders. You may think this is trivial. It is not. The Scandinavian governments made an agreement quite a few years ago to impose carbon taxes and then equalize across their borders. They have yet to do so, and if they cannot, there is no way it will happen at the global level.

        Part of the problem here is that people compare the messy reality of actually existing (or proposed) cap and trade systems with a textbook nirvana of a “simple” tax system. But, if indeed taxes could be passed in the US (which is not the case), one would find the same industries getting breaks from them that are getting breaks under cap and trade. Get real.

      • Neal J. King


        Even if there are breaks, as long as there remains an economic incentive for a company to reduce it’s carbon footprint, there can be a benefit. People always want to make money.

        However politically intricate and challenging it will be to create some incentive system, we shall have to do it or suffer the consequences. My personal opinion is that the consequences will become more visible soon, because there has been a La-Nina cooling cycle for the last few years, and it seems to be shifting to an El-Nina warming cycle. (The difference is marked by certain southern Pacific storm patterns.) That means that the warming trend has been to some extent hidden recently, and will now go into an above-trend mode. (This is just my opinion, based on reading.) If that’s correct, the emphasis on climate change, which has been diffused by the current economic situation, may re-form.

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  • Michael Weissman

    Robin- I think this has more problems than most markets because:
    1. The important results are obscured by noise except on an unusually long time scale for such markets.
    2. If the market has some value (i.e. is used to influence policy) the financial interests in distorting it will absolutely dwarf the typical scale of a market.

    This is not an Intrade election market, where an amateurish attempt to distort the results was detectable and not very effective. Fossil fuel companies could fund long-term sophisticated distortion without breaking a financial sweat.

    • Noise in the results is all right – that doesn’t translate directly into noise in the ex ante estimates, which is what we want. Incentives to manipulate the markets should make their prices more accurate.

      • Neal J. King

        So Robin, what do you think about climate-change insurance?

      • Hydrologically, I don’t think that will work out.

        If successful manipulation of a climate change prediction market had even a minuscule chance of effecting policy, then it would be profitable for energy companies could spend billions of dollars on manipulation. That is literally several million times more money then has ever been seen in a prediction market.

        At that level, you would need serious financial firms to close the stat-arb opportunity. Considering the very long time pace of climate change, there are probably much more profitable uses of capital, I don’t think any funds would bother.

        Case in point: , when a surge of enthusiastic republicans created an arbitrage opportunity between the IEM and intrade Obama contracts for over a month. And that was on a much smaller scale….

  • Damian

    Spin Spin spin spin spin. I guess I’m evil and work for an evil oil company because I can asses the facts of reality objectively and recognize a scam and an organized political power grab when I see it.


  • Looking for better context?

    See here for the full story of (some of) the FOI requests.

    As I said, the issue is not Trenberth or scientists talking smack. It is the illegal evasion of legitmate scientific requests for data needed to replicate a scientific study. Without replication, science cannot move forwards. And when you only give data to friends of yours, and not to people who actually might take a critical look at it, you know what you end up with? A “consensus” …

    Read the whole thing. It is quite damning.

  • Chen

    “Among this craven crew, Professor Hanson is particularly frank. The boldface is his:

    “Yup, this behavior has long been typical when academics form competing groups, whether the public hears about such groups or not. If you knew how academia worked, this news would not surprise you nor change your opinions on global warming. I’ve never done this stuff, and I’d like to think I wouldn’t, but that is cheap talk since I haven’t had the opportunity. This works as a “scandal” only because of academia’s overly idealistic public image.

    It is a shame that academia works this way, and an academia where this stuff didn’t happen would probably be more accurate. But even our flawed academic consensus is usually more accurate than its contrarians, and it is hard to find reliable cheap indicators saying when contrarians are more likely to be right.”

    If you don’t like this state of affairs join me in trying to develop a more reliable consensus mechanism on such topics: prediction markets.
    You’ll note that Professor Hanson is saying the same thing as me – with only three differences.

    One: this doesn’t change his opinion of global warming. Nor does it change mine. But he started out believing in it! Somehow, the actual facts of the matter are too unimportant to engage his attention. Does this inspire you to engage Professor Hanson to help overcome your biases?

    Two: he expresses no shame whatsoever at being a member of this basically criminal endeavor. Indeed, if he has ever before bothered to inform his readers of the nature of his Mafia oath, I missed the post. How kind of him, to help his readers overcome their bias! You know, the one toward unconditionally trusting the products of Science – just on account of the name, it seems.

    And three: his “solution” is… well… retarded. Like any design for the production of government by formula without human intervention, it is a perpetual-motion machine. There is no way to produce good government (or good management) without good people in a good organizational structure. Professor Hanson is certainly not the first to dabble in the transformation, by ritual mathematics, of base metals into precious. He would be the first, however, to make it work!

    But other than that, he’s exactly right. What you’ll find, historically, is that his is the perspective of every decent cog in a bad wheel: not even slightly unaware or demented. There are never good cogs in a bad wheel, but there are always decent ones. You will find this exact same Oriental mentality in: Reinhard Spitzy’s How We Squandered The Reich (National Socialism); Alexander Barmine’s One Who Survived (early Communism); or Victor Klemperer’s The Lesser Evil (late Communism).

    The perspective is that – sure – the system is bad. It is bad. Criminal? Sure. Thus, anyone who has seen the machine from the inside cannot possibly be surprised by Climategate. That’s just how professors behave! At least, now that professors run the world. Acton gets it right again.”

  • The title of this post makes no sense. If you already knew that academia works this way, then for you it’s not news on academia. If you didn’t, then you probably overestimated the strength of academic consensus on climate, and therefore this story should also be news on climate. That is, you should be less sure that the academic consensus on climate is correct after seeing this story.

    For me, this is real news.

  • lucklucky

    The text seems to be made by a person that only just give it a glance.

    Trying to manipulate peer review, destroying evidence and sources, conspiring to not respect FOIA, besides issues with data.
    We now for this blogger that is normal scientific process…
    Now we are supposed to continue to trust them.

    I really hope it was a too fast read over the issue.

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