DIY climate science: how the “little guy” takes on “establishment science”

"I'll show those eggheads in Washington, Copenhagen, Harvard, NASA the BOM and CSIRO!

There no doubt the denial movement loves to play up to the part of being the “underdog” in the climate debate. They lionize the “ordinary” Jo’s and Josephine’s who through hard work, tenacity and a little bit of commonsense (plus lots of Google searches) are able to spot the crucial flaws scientists working the field of climate science have somehow managed to over look.

A lack of qualifications in climate science – indeed a lack of qualifications in anything – is seen as a bonus. Anthony Watts and Steve McIntyre are the examples par excellence.

Mr Smith comes to climate science

For the “climate sceptic” community “do-it-yourself” (DIY) is the hall mark of a true sceptic engaging in the “scientific process” . Unsurprisingly their work finds “amazing flaws”, evidence of “data manipulation” and outright fabrication by scientists.

Our local Anthony Watts: kenskingdom

A good example is a new blog over at Kenskingdom, in which the author downloads publicly available data for temperature records around Australia, applies some quick and ready analysis and “hey presto” claims the data is either wrong is being manipulated.Typically the blogger finds errors which highly trained scientists have either overlooked or are deliberately manipulating as in this attempt to analysis historical temperature records for Mackay Queensland:

How can GISS justify their manipulation of the data, which they claim not to do?   How have they arrived  at the adjustments for Te Kowai and Mackay?  And besides, don’t they say that urban stations are adjusted by comparing with rural stations, not the other way around?  They don’t adjust any other rural stations that I’m aware of.

Here’s the explanation, and THIS IS THE SMOKING GUN…

The tools of this research? Google Earth and publicly available data from the Goddard Space Institute (NASA) and the Bureau of Meteorology. Run it through a spread sheet and get your results.

"But can't you see they ARE lying!"

This is not science.

As much as these enthusiasts think it is, it really, really isn’t.

It’s manipulating data without the proper tools and training, the competition with scientific peers or an understanding of climate science. That NASA would make publicly available all it’s data that was so fundamentally flawed (and with evidence of it’s secret manipulation of the temperature record) that a amateur enthusiast could pick through it in a few days using Microsoft Excel is a stunning claim.

Actually it’s Dunning-Kruger in full flight.

Why not share this research with NASA, BOM and the CSIRO?

Surely Goddard would love to know they got it wrong?

I’m sure they would.

Kenskingdom is attempting to falsify their research. This is what scientists do: examine the work of their peers, tear it apart and hopefully arrive at a better understanding. Perhaps a crash course in climate science and statistics would help these amateur enthusiasts to make their work fit for publication as a peer reviewed paper?

It would, however as Dunning-Kruger suggests they may be struggling to recognise the limitations of their capablities.

It’s unsurprising the Blogging Scientists of climate science find errors and mistake. They are hunting for anomolies, the classic logical fallacy of looking for small errors and seeing the patterns they want to see :

Pseudoscientists – those pretending to do science (maybe even sincerely believing they are doing science) but who get the process profoundly wrong, use anomalies in a different way. They often engage it what we call anomaly hunting – looking for apparent anomalies. They are not, however, looking for clues to a deeper understanding of reality. They are often hunting for anomalies in service to the overarching pseudoscientific process of reverse engineering scientific conclusions.

What this means is that pseudoscience almost always works backwards – that is its primary malfunction, starting with a desired conclusion and then looking for evidence and twisting logic to support that conclusion.

Which is exactly what so many of these Blogger Scientists get wrong. They are motivated by the political debate around climate science, decide to “look into themselves” and ergo find evidence that supports their world view.

Kenskingdom repeats the classic pseudo-scientific tactic of reverse engineering good science.

I’ve seen hundreds of blog sites who announce in excited tones that “This is the PROOF that we’ve been looking for!” Be it “taking down” climate science, finding evidence of UFOs or using Google Earth to find Atlantis each and every one of these authors starts with a committed world view and arrives at conclusions  that confirm their suspicions.

Put it this way, kenskingdom relies completely on the data NASA provides – an organisation who he also believes is manipulating data deliberately. Apparently he/she can trust them with the data that suits their argument, but not the data that supports their conclusions.

The contradiction in that logic is so obvious it negates any conclusions they arrive at.

Aren’t you being harsh on these guys?

Well yes, I am. But, if your going to enter the public debate and claim 9/11 was orchestrated by the US Government, that the theory of evolution is a conspiracy of evil liberal atheists or that the entire scientific establishment is involved in faking climate science then be prepared to be challenged.

These are extraordinary claims.

As such they need to put through the most stringiest tests for veracity.

(Note: I’d add that I don’t think “climate change sceptics” believe in UFO’s or subscribe to the view of the 9/11 “truthers”, however what they have in common is a conspiratorial world view and use shaky reason and poor science to buttress their claims.)

6 thoughts on “DIY climate science: how the “little guy” takes on “establishment science”

  1. Luboš Motl says:

    Sorry but science is exactly what you think it is not, and vice versa. Science is about an impersonal analysis of the objective data which is accessible to anyone with a sufficient intelligence, patience, honesty, and creativity.

    You may find the results of science inconvenient but that’s the last thing you can do against it.

    Linking climate skepticism to UFOs or truthers is ludicrous. After all, if you go to my blog, you will see that e.g. I am much more skeptical about UFOs than the generic left-wing people who support the AGW panic.

    Yours is a very cheap kind of mudslinging that can only influence readers who are really stupid – and you heavily exaggerated the number of such readers who may come to your blog. My estimate is 0.00001 of such people.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for the comment Lubos, and I have to say I agree with your comments. Science is an impersonal, objective analysis of the data.

      However, kenskingdom comments tend to suggest he is anything but dispassionate about the science. To look at the wording and phrases on kenskingdom we see it’s anything but the that: http://kenskingdom.wordpress.com/2010/02/05/giss-manipulates-climate-data-in-mackay/

      Wording: “GISS “manipulates” data..” No objective scientist would accuse his colleagues of a conspiracy to manipulate data.

      Wording: “And here is THE SMOKNIG GUN…” I’ve not seen a paper submitted to Nature using such language or metaphors. This is the language of opinion pieces, not scientific research.

      Wording: ‘Some would say it’s a “Travesty…” Again, language loaded with emotion and constitutes an opinion.

      Wording: “And it’s happening in my own backyard! I’m furious!” Ditto as above.

      Dispassionate?
      Reasoned?
      Objective?

      No, this is not science, it’s an opinion piece hiding behind pseudo-science.

      Your second comment is also partly correct: science is open to people of talent, imagination and dedication.

      But it is an elite activity, and like all elite activities it’s participants have to start at the ground floor and work their way up. You can’t become and Olympic gymnast overnight, despite having a natural inclination to be so. It takes years of training and requires an extensive support network of trainers, facilities and an internationally competitive environment to shape a world class athlete. And not everyone makes it.

      Elite activities are not democracies: yes they are open to all, but very, very few have the good luck, talent and opportunity to compete at that level. Kenskingdom is trying to compete against the like of NASA, BOM and the scientific community with no training and a home computer.

      I myself try to recognise the limitations of my own skills, capabilities and talents. I will not not claim to take down an entire discipline of science after a few hours of “running the numbers”.

      Do I sound harsh? Unfair? Perhaps, but if you make an extraordinary claim then be prepared to back it up. All I’ve done is show the cognitive biases informing this particular’s bloggers activities. It would never stand under the scrutiny of the peer review system. It does not stand as science.

      The best thing to for the likes of kenskingdom is to go back to school, hit the books and understand the science they are critiquing. Otherwise, he is a rough untrained amateur trying to compete against Olympic athletes. All the best intentions and raw talent in the world cannot stand against discipline, systematic analysis and correct methodology.

  2. Iain Stewart says:

    kens kingdom was written by my father.
    Yes he is not a climate scientist, and yes he lets emotion get in the way of a good arguement.
    However, I do know that he started out the blog to try to find out more about global warming. He was just originally looking at how much temperatures have increased and seemed to find out in his local area they were not. He asked question to the BOM and was forwarded to GISS so he could get answers from the horse mouth on how calculations were moderated (formulas used).
    What dad really wants is a qualified scientist to think his work is of some interest and put further study to it. He is a member of the public trying to raise a concern.
    As for 9/11 you are kidding? and UFO’s? that is childish to suggest he is a conspiracy theorist?
    How about you email him before getting into petty name calling.

    • Mike says:

      Iain, thanks for your comments. I have no doubt that your father has some genuine concerns, and would dearly love to have a scientist look over his calculations. However, the way he presents his evidence – and how it is circulating amongst the climate sceptic community – is as definitive proof that NASA, or someone, is “fixing the data”.

      The best thing I’d suggest is that he note that his work is at best an untested hypothesis.

      Now, I share his scepticism on on creationism and ID. In fact, I’m sure we’d have a great chat and agree that these movements are dangerous to science.

      Nor would I suggest he is a 9/11 truthers or UFO seeker. However, I will be frank in saying he is falling prey to the cognitive bias of hunting for anomalies. He notes something unusual in the statistics and then moves on to conclude something sinister or deliberate is happening.

      Let’s use one of the basic tenants of the scientific method: Occam’s Razor.

      A world-wide conspiracy involving NASA, the manipulation of GISS data, CSIRO and BoM is implausible. Too many actors and additional theories are required to support such a hypothesis (why are they doing that, and how, and when and who, and how do “they” maintain their conspiracy in perfect cohesion…)

      Good science does not multiply explanations – it reduces them.

      In my opinion the question needs to be asked “Why does this differ?” and “What are the rational explanations for this?”

      I thank you for your polite response.

  3. […] Misrepresentation and logical fallacies – Logical fallacies include the use of straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented, making it easier to refute. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 1992 that environmental tobacco smoke was carcinogenic. This was attacked as nothing less than a ‘threat to the very core of democratic values and democratic public policy’. […]

  4. […] Becoming an expert in any given field is a life long commitment. DIY Climate scientists (of which our friend Kenskingdom is a good example) may have a respect for the authority of science but thanks to the Dunning-Kruger […]

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