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Thus far, I have purposely avoided entering into the recent discussions on Climategate, but there has been a lot of ink spilled on the question of whether or not the individuals in question (primarily Michael Mann, Phil Jones, et al.) engaged in “fraud,” as evidenced in the now-famous email about the desire to “hide the decline.”  As a result, I thought I would offer a few quick thoughts.

Several prominent individuals have, perhaps wisely, carefully avoided referring to the academics’ activities as “fraud.”  Indeed, Roger Pielke affirmatively says “The ‘trick’ does not show scientific fraud.”  http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2009/12/trick-in-context.html#comments

I do not know what Roger has in mind in terms of “scientific fraud,” but I think it is helpful to step back a moment and consider what we mean by fraud.

As has been pointed out by others, there are several potential uses of the word “fraud.” If we are going from the strict legal definition, although details differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, one typically has to show five elements in order successfully prevail in a fraud claim, namely:

1. misrepresentation

2. scienter

3. intent to defraud

4. justifiable reliance

5. damages

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In response to a post by William Briggs at:

http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=1390#comments

I got to thinking about the so-called “precautionary principle.”  The precautionary principle is one of the most common fallback positions advanced in support of the idea that we should pursue (mandatorily or otherwise) dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, even if there is a question about the underlying science.  I posted the following comments on Brigg’s thread and decided to repost here, because I think this is an issue that is important for everyone to understand.  My comments, as previously posted, follow:

———-

I’m not sure the precautionary principle is a helpful idea, even in principle. Most in the CAGW camp who state that they are relying on the precautionary principle simply don’t understand it. There is even a very popular video on YouTube that makes the explicit argument that we don’t need to know the underlying science or settle the debate, because the precautionary principle mandates that we should act to reduce GHS’s in any event. However, what is misunderstood is that the very application of the precautionary principle requires that we make some conclusion in advance about the possible underlying outcomes.

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This is the first in a series of posts examining NOAA’s Climate Change Toolkit for educators.  The toolkit is located on NOAA’s Climate Services Portal, at www.climate.gov, under the Education tab.

Climate Change Wildlife and Wildlands.  Ecoregions.  Case Study – Western Coastline.

The Climate Services Portal contains material geared toward educators.  This post will examine the above material, which is a 4-pages case study about the western coastline ecoregion.  The case study is broken into 5 parts: (i) general introduction, (ii) impacts of climate change, (iii) spotlight on a species, (iv) profiling a climate steward, and (v) resources for more information.

The introduction provides a relatively straight-forward description of the western coastline ecoregion, and the last section provides links to other information.  Other than noting the biased description of the IPCC as the “definitive source of unbiased climate change science,” I will not comment on these two sections and will turn to the three substantive sections in the middle.

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This is a glossary of climate-related terms, and is very much a work in progress.  It will be updated every few days until it is relatively complete, but if you see something missing, please feel free to let me know.

AGW.  Anthropogenic Global Warming (see CAGW, Global Warming, NAGW).  The proposition that a significant portion of the global warming is due to man’s activities, with emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHG’s) typically viewed as the most significant contributor.

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NOAA has launched a new website at www.climate.gov, which provides access to NOAA’s climate services.  This is billed as NOAA’s “Climate Services Portal” and has a number of interesting tools and resources.

A couple of quick questions that jump to mind, as we review the portal:

Antarctic Sea Ice.  One question that immediately arises on the initial “Climate Change Dashboard” is why NOAA chose to include Arctic Sea Ice, but not Antarctic Sea Ice.  It could be, of course, that they simply forgot to include it.  I have (as no doubt have several others already) submitted a comment on their site, asking why they did not include Antarctic Sea Ice; so if they forgot to include it, they have now been reminded. Or it could be that it just didn’t fit in the Dashboard, although that seems a bit unlikely, as the home page is a scrolling page and part of the Dashboard is below the fold anyway.  Or perhaps they chose not to include it because the Arctic gets more press and people are relatively uninterested in the Antarctic.  However, this seems questionable, particularly given the regular press stories about Antarctica — all the calving glaciers and breaking ice shelves — and the recent work of Steig, et al.  Finally, it could be that they fully intend to include the Antarctic Sea Ice, but just haven’t had time yet — after all it is a new site.

I am trying to think of other reasons they would include the Arctic Sea Ice but exclude the Antarctic Sea Ice, and the only other reason I can think of would not be a positive reflection on NOAA’s objectivity.  Am I missing other possibilities?

Default Time Period.  The Dashboard contains a cool feature that allows the user to slide the timeline bars to the left (earlier years) and to the right (later years).  The default time period on the Dashboard is set at 1950-2000.  There needs to be a default setting of some kind, so this, in itself, is not strange.  However, I wonder why 1950-2000 was chosen.  That default timeframe excludes the period leading up to the 1940’s — a period with a warming trend nearly identical to the more recent decades.  The default timeframe also excludes the recent recovery of Arctic Sea Ice.  With respect to temperatures, according to the NOAA chart, if you pull the temperatures out to 2009, they continue to climb or at least remain nearly as high as 1998, so lots of red in the chart.  Thus, I don’t think they are trying to hide the 2000-2009 temperatures, as pulling the temperatures out to 2009 might make it look like even more warming.

On this one, I think the most likely explanation is that they simply picked a nice round number (1950-2000) as the default.  I would recommend that they use the full time period as the default, to provide as much information as possible at the outset, but I don’t think anything nefarious is going on with the default time period.

[Update]  A number of commenters at www.wattsupwiththat.com have indicated that the Dashboard may contain questionable or carefully selected data to emphasize a warming trend.  Also, it appears that the incoming sunlight information is based on an outdated dataset.

The topic of climate and climate change is one of the most interesting and controversial issues of our time.  It touches on questions of science, politics and psychology, and cuts across political, national and cultural lines.  It has the ability to impact, and is impacted by, our individual philosophical and ethical worldviews.

Much ink has been spilt and will continue to be spilled discussing and debating these issues.  Amidst the cacophony, this blog is a modest attempt to present objective commentary on a small sampling of the myriad issues — my reflections, if you will, about not only climate and climate change, but the very climate in which these issues are discussed.

I do not have any preconceptions about where this blog will take us, but I trust it will be an interesting journey.  Thank you for joining me for the ride!

Eric Anderson