Friday, May 20, 2016

GWPF Newsletter: Science Death Spiral?

In this newsletter:

1) Doug Hoffman: Science Death Spiral?
The Resilient Earth, 19 May 2016
2) U.S. Republicans Launch Free-Speech Probe Into Prosecutors Targeting Climate Sceptics
The Washington Times, 18 May 2016

3) Attorney Generals: The Climate Change-Gang
National Review Online, 17 May 2016
4) Computer Modeling Dominates Climate Science
Cato At Liberty, 13 May 2016

Full details:

1) Doug Hoffman: Science Death Spiral?
The Resilient Earth, 19 May 2016

The standards of science have been greatly degraded in modern times, to the point that many if not most scientific claims are suspect.

Having brought mankind so far, has traditional science finally outlived its usefulness? Many seem to think so, finding the rules of the scientific method—the strict guidelines a researcher must follow to actually practice science—far too restrictive and cumbersome. The requirement that evidence be empirical, which is to say, actual measurements of nature itself, is found too burdensome to new age scientists. They prefer clean, clinical computer models to messy, often uncooperative nature. Over-reliance on models, misapplication of statistical methods, and lack of repeatability are the hallmarks of the new pseudoscience that is replacing the traditional practice of science, real science. As one critic recently wrote: “The problem with ­science is that so much of it simply isn’t.” Has science entered a death spiral, as indifferent, inept scientists raise up new generations of even poorer researchers? The facts look grim.

There has been a flood of recent articles addressing the failure of modern science in both scientific journals and online. The respected journal Nature posted a new article entitled “Online debate erupts to ask: is science broken?,” addressing just this subject. In it, results from a panel discussion, held at the University College London, were reported. These included claims that some dubious laboratory practices, such as tweaking statistical analyses to make results seem significant, are widespread.

From psychology and medicine to the physical sciences, alarms are being raised that science in its evolving modern form is failing. It is as if the rules, which have served science so well for centuries, have become optional. Requirements for judging good science from bad have become flexible, expanding to embrace sloppy research and even outright fakery. I have written about the scientific method and the philosophy of science before (see “Cherry Picking, Black Swans and Falsifiability”). I have stressed how theories must be testable, meaning they must make predictions that can be either confirmed or refutation by actual measurement. Beyond that, these measurements must be repeatable by others. In other words, an experiment can not just work for the originator of a theory. That is a good place to start investigating modern science’s failures.

Writing on the First Things blog, William A. Wilson has penned a scathing critique of published research in the field of psychology. In “Scientific Regress,” Wilson reveals modern psychological research to be a house of cards, filled with unreproducible results:

The problem with ­science is that so much of it simply isn’t. Last summer, the Open Science Collaboration announced that it had tried to replicate one hundred published psychology experiments sampled from three of the most prestigious journals in the field. Scientific claims rest on the idea that experiments repeated under nearly identical conditions ought to yield approximately the same results, but until very recently, very few had bothered to check in a systematic way whether this was actually the case. The OSC was the biggest attempt yet to check a field’s results, and the most shocking. In many cases, they had used original experimental materials, and sometimes even performed the experiments under the guidance of the original researchers. Of the studies that had originally reported positive results, an astonishing 65 percent failed to show statistical significance on replication, and many of the remainder showed greatly reduced effect sizes.

According to Wilson the problem is not limited to psychology. An investigation into the pharmaceutical industry at Bayer, focused on cancer biology research, researchers found that more than 75% of cases the published data did not match up with in-house attempts to replicate. As Wilson points out, such conformation failure can be because the reproduction was in someway flawed or the original finding was false. Moreover, the failure of an experiment may well be because of failure on the part of the researchers to understand the subtleties of Bayesian statistics. “A tremendous amount depends on the proportion of possible hypotheses which turn out to be true, and on the accuracy with which an experiment can discern truth from falsehood,” he writes. […]

Clear scientific thinking has been supplanted by a magical statistical blessing. Stating “The hunt for p-values less than 0.05 has left many of science’s roadways riddled with potholes,” Hilda Bastian offers up “Tips For Avoiding P-Value Potholes,” though whether others will heed her warnings remains to be seen. So wide spread is the abuse of the p-value that the editors of Basic and Applied Social Psychology (BASP) announced that the journal would no longer publish papers containing p-values because the statistics were too often used to support lower-quality research.

Yet another article proclaims “the replication crisis in science has just begun.” Its summary states: “After a decade of slow growth beneath public view, the replication crisis in science begins breaking into public view. First psychology and biomedical studies, now spreading to many other fields — overturning what we were told is settled science, the foundations of our personal behavior and public policy.”

The author focuses on the core problem of reproducibility, because results that cannot be reproduced are useless in science. Posted on the Fabius Maximus blog, it is a treasure trove of links to other article regarding science’s malaise. Included is the central cite for monitoring retraction of scientific research, the appropriately title Retraction Watch.

Bringing all this back to climate science (you knew I would) in a stunning new paper, “Climate Modeling Dominates Climate Science,” by Patrick J. Michaels and David E. Wojick, the extent of over reliance on climate modeling in climate science has been exposed. The research paper surveyed the entire literature of science for the last ten years, using Google Scholar, looking for modeling. They found that climate change science accounts for fully 55% of the modeling done in all of science. Quoting the article:

In fact the number of climate change articles that include one of the three modeling terms is 97% of those that just include climate change. This is further evidence that modeling completely dominates climate change research.

This shows how fake climate science “research” really is while at the same time tarnishing the reputation of computer modeling, which is a useful tool when applied properly. It’s not just GCM, every aspect of climate science has been infected with modeling fever (see “Of Models And Melting Ice Caps”). What’s more, modeling is spreading to other fields of inquiry, tempting researchers to invent their own computer realities rather than investigate nasty, inconvenient nature.

To summarize, the following are the factors that are eroding the pillars of science.

* Unreproducible results – through shoddy work, poor experiment design, and statistical ignorance more and more results reported in papers can not be reproduced, making them scientifically useless.

* Corruption by politics – whether through group think or government funding the pressure to conform to politically acceptable results has increased to the point working scientists either submit to consensus or stay quiet.

* Statistical malpractice – through lack of training or sloth, many scientists use statistics as a drunk uses a lamp post, for support, not for illumination.

* Reliance on computer modeling – computer modeling is a wonderful tool when looking for insight but they are not faithful representations of nature itself. When scientists end up studying their models instead of nature they are no longer scientists.

* Misuse of peer review – instead of functioning as academic quality control and an aid to authors, peer review has become the enforcer of consensus thinking and scientific dogma. Instead of helping science advance it ensures conformity.

It should be clear from the above that the standards of science have been greatly degraded in modern times, to the point that many if not most scientific claims are suspect.

Full post

2) U.S. Republicans Launch Free-Speech Probe Into Prosecutors Targeting Climate Sceptics
The Washington Times, 18 May 2016
Valerie Richardson

House Republicans launched Wednesday an investigation into the 17 attorneys general pursuing fraud allegations against climate change skeptics, citing concerns about the campaign’s impact on free speech and scientific inquiry.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and a coalition of attorneys general, supported by former Vice President Al Gore, vowed on March 29, 2016, to hold fossil fuel companies accountable if their words and deeds on climate change had crossed into illegality.

“Americans are entitled to express their views on matters of science and public policy even if certain groups disagree,” said a statement from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Thirteen Republicans on the committee sent letters Wednesday to the attorneys general requesting information on a series of meetings and communications with climate change groups and activists from 2012 until the March 29 press conference announcing AGs United for Clean Power.

“On March 29, 2016, you and other state attorneys general — the self-proclaimed ‘Green 20’ — announced that you were cooperating on an unprecedented effort against those who have questioned the causes, magnitude, or best ways to address climate change,” said the letter dated Wednesday.

At least two attorneys general — New York’s Eric Schneiderman and the Virgin Islands’ Claude E. Walker — have issued subpoenas to ExxonMobil demanding documents related to its climate change advocacy.

The Virgin Islands subpoena seeks the company’s communications with more than 100 professors, scientists and free-market think tanks.

“The Committee is concerned that these efforts to silence speech are based on political theater rather than legal or scientific arguments, and that they run counter to an attorney general’s duty to serve ‘as the guardian of the legal rights of the citizens’ and to ‘assert, protect, and defend the rights of the people,’” said the letter.

The Republicans also requested information from eight environmental groups and activists pushing for prosecutors to pursue climate skeptics, as shown in emails and documents obtained through open-records requests by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute.

The House letter asks for communications and documents between the attorneys general and environmental groups, including materials related to “the potential prosecution of companies, nonprofit organizations, scientists, or other individuals related to the issue of climate change.”

The attorneys general — 16 Democrats and an independent, Mr. Walker — announced that they would pursue fraud allegations against ExxonMobil and others for challenging the catastrophic climate change “consensus.”

At the press conference, Mr. Schneiderman insisted that the investigation would not violate free-speech rights, saying, “The First Amendment, ladies and gentlemen, does not give you the right to commit fraud.”

Full story

3) Attorney Generals: The Climate Change-Gang
National Review Online, 17 May 2016
Scott Pruitt and Luther Strange

The United States was born out of a revolution against, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, an “arbitrary government” that put men on trial “for pretended offences” and “abolish[ed] the Free System of English laws.” Brave men and women stood up to that oppressive government, and this, the greatest democracy of them all, one that is governed by the rule of law and not by men, is the product.

Some of our states have forgotten this founding principle and are acting less like Jefferson and Adams and more like George III. A group of Democratic attorneys general has announced it intends to criminally investigate oil and gas companies that have disputed the science behind man-made global warming. Backed by green-energy interests and environmentalist lobbying groups, the coalition has promised to use intrusive investigations, costly litigation, and criminal prosecutions to silence critics of its climate-change agenda. Pretended offenses, indeed.

We won’t be joining this coalition, and we hope that those attorneys general who have joined will disavow it. Healthy debate is the lifeblood of American democracy, and global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time. That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime. The Clean Power Plan was promulgated without any consultation with Congress. No bills were debated, no votes were taken.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this tactic of advancing the climate-change agenda by any means necessary. President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is a particularly noteworthy example. This EPA regulation, one of the most ambitious ever proposed, will shutter coal-fired power plants, significantly increase the price of electricity for American consumers, and enact by executive fiat the very same cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions that Congress has rejected.

The Clean Power Plan was promulgated without any consultation with Congress. No bills were debated, no votes were taken, and the representatives of the American people had no opportunity to object or offer their own suggestions. The checks and balances built into our system of government were simply ignored as inconvenient impediments to the president’s agenda.

But in our states, we believe in and govern with respect for the rule of law, rather than by ambition to use the power of our governments to stifle political opponents. That is why we are part of a very different kind of coalition, a coalition of 29 states seeking to vindicate the rule of law by challenging the legality of the Clean Power Plan in our courts. The 29 states and state attorneys general who are part of this effort respect our proper role, which is neither to pick winners and losers in the energy sector nor to silence those with whom we disagree. Rather, our job is to hold the EPA accountable to the laws that created it and to fulfill our statutory duties to ensure that consumers in our states have access to reliable, affordable energy. We will continue to pursue those goals and to present our arguments in the courts and in the public square, treating our opponents with the respect they deserve.

It’s unfortunate that this respect is not always returned. In their press conference, the group of state attorneys general called themselves an “unprecedented coalition.” On this point, they are correct. Rarely in our nation’s history has the police power of the state been so eagerly used to intimidate citizens into silence. But even more troubling are internal e-mails and other documents that indicate that this coercion was orchestrated not by the attorneys general themselves, but by green-energy advocacy groups using these officials as puppets to further their extreme agendas. This should frighten us all. Outside groups should not be able to use the power of the government as a sword to go after their political opponents.

We do not doubt the sincerity of the beliefs of our fellow attorneys general about climate change and the role human activity plays in it. But we call upon them to press those beliefs through debate, not through governmental intimidation of those who disagree with them. Few things could be more un-American.

— Scott Pruitt is the attorney general of Oklahoma. Luther Strange is the attorney general of Alabama.

4) Modeling Dominates Climate Science
Cato At Liberty, 13 May 2016
Patrick J Michaels and David E Wojick

Computer modeling plays an important role in all of the sciences, but there can be too much of a good thing. A simple semantic analysis indicates that climate science has become dominated by modeling. This is a bad thing.

What we did

We found two pairs of surprising statistics. To do this we first searched the entire literature of science for the last ten years, using Google Scholar, looking for modeling. There are roughly 900,000 peer reviewed journal articles that use at least one of the words model, modeled or modeling. This shows that there is indeed a widespread use of models in science. No surprise in this.

However, when we filter these results to only include items that also use the term climate change, something strange happens. The number of articles is only reduced to roughly 55% of the total.

In other words it looks like climate change science accounts for fully 55% of the modeling done in all of science. This is a tremendous concentration, because climate change science is just a tiny fraction of the whole of science. In the U.S. Federal research budget climate science is just 4% of the whole and not all climate science is about climate change.

In short it looks like less than 4% of the science, the climate change part, is doing about 55% of the modeling done in the whole of science. Again, this is a tremendous concentration, unlike anything else in science.

We next find that when we search just on the term climate change, there are very few more articles than we found before. In fact the number of climate change articles that include one of the three modeling terms is 97% of those that just include climate change. This is further evidence that modeling completely dominates climate change research.

To summarize, it looks like something like 55% of the modeling done in all of science is done in climate change science, even though it is a tiny fraction of the whole of science. Moreover, within climate change science almost all the research (97%) refers to modeling in some way.

This simple analysis could be greatly refined, but given the hugely lopsided magnitude of the results it is unlikely that they would change much.

What it means

Climate science appears to be obsessively focused on modeling. Modeling can be a useful tool, a way of playing with hypotheses to explore their implications or test them against observations. That is how modeling is used in most sciences.

But in climate change science modeling appears to have become an end in itself. In fact it seems to have become virtually the sole point of the research. The modelers’ oft stated goal is to do climate forecasting, along the lines of weather forecasting, at local and regional scales.

Here the problem is that the scientific understanding of climate processes is far from adequate to support any kind of meaningful forecasting. Climate change research should be focused on improving our understanding, not modeling from ignorance. This is especially true when it comes to recent long term natural variability, the attribution problem, which the modelers generally ignore. It seems that the modeling cart has gotten far ahead of the scientific horse.

Full post

The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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