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« Interview with Lord Oxburgh | Main | The cost of the Climategate »
Sunday
May062012

Grundmann on Climategate and the scientific ethos

Another Grundmann paper looks at whether Climategate demonstrated breaches of what he calls the scientific ethos. The Hockey Stick Illusion is discussed at some length.

I was particularly interested in Grundmann's views on whether anything in the story of the Hockey Stick amounts to scientific misconduct. There was a minor blog tiff between myself and Roger Pielke Jr about this a couple of years back. Grundmann analyses Pielke Jr's position and reckons you can come to a different conclusion. It's all in the definition of what constitutes misconduct.

I must say, I struggle with a definition in which misleading people is not seen as misconduct.

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Reader Comments (43)

Pielke Jr uses a technical legalistic definition of "research misconduct", roughly speaking equivalent to "grounds for being fired" rather than "breach of academic moral codes". Personally I find his approach extremely unhelpful, but within his own terms he is probably right.

May 6, 2012 at 9:16 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

If scientists deliberately mislead, shouldn't that be grounds for firing them? From the perspective of a member of the public, I mean.

May 6, 2012 at 9:27 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Depends on what the meaning of "is" is...

May 6, 2012 at 9:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Surely 'Research Misconduct' is anything done that would cause UEA to fire one of its 'climate scientists'?

Move along then, clearly no misconduct here!

May 6, 2012 at 9:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan E

Firing should be the minimum sanction. Without scrupulous honesty, science as we know it cannot function. Data are far to easy to manufacture/select/'censor' in the name of a cause. Therefore I'd suggest withdrawal of papers too.

May 6, 2012 at 9:58 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

A CA posting today Steve McIntye..

Yamal FOI Sheds New Light on Flawed Data

A week ago, the Information Commissioner notified the University of East Anglia that he would be ruling against them on my longstanding FOI request for the list of sites used in the Yamal-Urals regional chronology referred to in a 2006 Climategate email. East Anglia accordingly sent me a list of the 17 sites used in the Yamal-Urals regional chronology (...)

In today’s post, I’ll also show that important past statements and evidence to Muir Russell by CRU on the topic have been either untruthful or deceptive.

No misconduct? Pull the other one.

May 6, 2012 at 9:59 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Dr Reiner Grundmann, Reader in Sociology

Reiner Grundmann received his first degree in Sociology from the Free University in Berlin and obtained his PhD in Political and Social Sciences from the European University Institute, Florence. His research is in the field of global enviromental problems, especially global climate change. He is interested in the role of expert knowledge in modern societies and its political uses. Expertise exists in many forms- not only scientists should be regarded as experts. Reiner was a consultant to the United Nations Global Public Policy Project and before his arrival in the UK he worked at the Wissenschaftszentrum in Berlin (Germany) and the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (Cologne, Germany). He teaches sociology within the School of Languages and Social Sciences and is course director of the new Masters degree in Social Research and Social Change.

May 6, 2012 at 10:10 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Off course there was misconduct. That is not the question Pielke is discussing.

The US "tenure" system is designed to protect academics with unpopular views: they can only be dismissed for academic misconduct if they commit one of a small number of quite tightly defined offences. Pielke is more expert than I am on the exact terms of these offences and he argues that none of those specific offences have been committed. On that narrow point he is better positioned to be correct than anyone else likely to be commenting here.

May 6, 2012 at 10:23 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones: how does the US tenure system you mention relate to the conduct of CRU scientists?

May 6, 2012 at 10:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

The UK system is less formal. As far as I recall Pielke has been careful to only comment on US scientists, such as Hansen and Mann, where he has relevant expertise.

May 6, 2012 at 10:35 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

I seem to remember Pielke Jr is a bit up his own arse about the position of 'academia' or 'the academy' and simply does not like the great unwashed pointing out its bad behaviour and corruption. I suspect he sees it as a personal attack, quite incorrectly I would say but there you are.

Of course no one would suggest policemen, firemen or politicians should be 'protected' and gain tenure, why useless academics are protected in such a way I don't know (and I don't include either of the Pielke's in the useless category). Maybe it should be extended to butchers, bakers and candlestick makers?

As for it being protection against expressing unpopular views.....yeah right few academics ever express views in opposition to the hive mind of the left.

May 6, 2012 at 10:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Pielke's position was (my interpretation) that people in the professions assumed that concealing adverse results would constitute academic misconduct. Pielke observed that many academics view their papers as arguing a case and that people should not assume that a misconduct complaint based on withholding adverse results would have any impact.

I think that withholding adverse results ought to fall under the "falsification" clause of American misconduct codes, but it's hard to find precedents. Most misconduct complaints seem to be about plagiarism or outright data fabrication, as opposed to concealing adverse results (e.g. "hide the decline", Mann's verification r2, that sort of thing.

May 6, 2012 at 10:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

Steve is right that it usually takes outright fabrication to be found guilty under US codes. Failure to report adverse results is not enough in most of science. Actively concealing adverse results, such as lying about whether you have calculated r2, would seem to me to tip a case over the edge, but Pielke is more experienced in these matters than either Steve or me.

In grown up branches of science concealing adverse results usually leads to less formal sanctions: if you get a reputation for such behaviour then nobody takes you seriously any more, with major knock on effects (these would be strongly career-limiting, but not normally career-ending). It's the apparent absence of such informal community sanctions in the climate science community that worries me, not the absence of official legal action.

May 6, 2012 at 11:03 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

There may be precedent in the reporting of clinical trial results. Has anyone looked into it? IIRC, now, it is not permissible to withhold publication of negative results.

May 6, 2012 at 11:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

"I must say, I struggle with a definition in which misleading people is not seen as misconduct."

Absolutely correct. The alternative is nonsensical, namely that misleading people in academic research is OK.

Apologies for the self-reference, but after Climategate broke and there was a lot of discussion about whether the activities of the scientists constituted "fraud" I wrote a little something just to help think through the issue:

http://climatereflections.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/was-it-fraud/

May 7, 2012 at 12:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterEric Anderson

Jonathan, if climate scientists take the position that academic codes of conduct do not require then to disclose adverse results (i.e. active withholding of adverse results is not misconduct), other branches of the scientific community are surely entitled to place less reliance on such articles.

In prospectuses for mining promotions, the obligation of "full, true and plain disclosure" is a legal requirement that adverse results be disclosed. It has always seemed to me that climate scientists seeking to influence public policy should - at a minimum - comply with standards applicable to unscrupulous mining promoters.

If withholding adverse results does not constitute academic misconduct, then they are not obliged to meet these minimum standards.

Some critics have suggested that, by saying this, I am arguing that businessmen are more honest than climate scientists. This is not what I'm saying. I think otherwise.

However, I think that it would be more satisfactory situation if climate scientists were obliged to disclose adverse results within codes of conduct. Perhaps the leading journals could take leadership on this.

May 7, 2012 at 12:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

This is interesting and relevant ...

An internal study by the U.S. EPA completed by Dr. Alan Carlin and John Davidson concluded the IPCC was wrong about global warming. One statement in the executive summary stated that a 2009 paper found that the crucial assumption in the Greenhouse Climate Models (GCM) used by the IPCC concerning a strong positive feedback from water vapor is not supported by empirical evidence and that the feedback is actually negative. Water vapor in the atmosphere causes a cooling effect, not a warming one. Carbon dioxide also causes a slight cooling effect but it so small it could never be measured by man's instrumentation.

EPA tried to bury the report. An email from Al McGartland, Office Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE), to Dr. Alan Carlin, Senior Operations Research Analyst at NCEE, forbade him from speaking to anyone outside NCEE on endangerment issues. In a March 17 email from McGartland to Carlin, stated that he will not forward Carlin’s study. “The time for such discussion of fundamental issues has passed for this round. The administrator (Lisa Jackson) and the administration have decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. …. I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office.” A second email from McGartland stated “I don’t want you to spend any additional EPA time on climate change.”

McGartland’s emails demonstrate that he was rejecting Dr. Carlin’s study because its conclusions ran counter to the EPA’s current position. Yet this study had its basis in three prior reports by Carlin (two in 2007 and one in 2008) that were accepted. Another government cover-up, just what the United States does not need.

Eliminate this regulation immediately. This is a scientific tragedy.

May 7, 2012 at 1:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterGraham Thompson

I think the question also needs to be asked "Where did the alleged misleading take place?"
Was it in the "peer reviewed literature"? Or was it in the trade-press/mainstream media? [I include the IPCC in the latter categories]

Frequently, when I actually read scientific papers that are trumpeted as "showing-" or "proving-" blah, blah, blah...., I usually find nothing of the sort. I certainly find this to be true in scientific papers that are closest to my own research experiences. It happens all the time in MSM reports of the latest "breakthrough" in medical treatments and the like. Most people in the field know this. If it really is true, then in a decade or two we may see a good new drug emerge from clinical trials.

Most of the time the claims are exaggerated. But not necessarily in the scientific literature itself. The enthusiastic scientist [or their company representatives] may go through the usual hype to get funding etc., but is that scientific misconduct? It can be a difficult call.

Of course, most scientists don't take their public claims off to the the UN and tell all the worlds nations, and their governments, and their citizens, that they must immediately dismantle the economic basis of the industrial revolution that is responsible for the continuing existence of over 6 Billion human beings. That is, it must be said, one of the more notable claims that I have not actually seen printed in any peer reviewed scientific literature.

May 7, 2012 at 4:06 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Shub - I had a look on Retraction Watch where they provide categories for retractions. I looked under "clinical study retractions (114)" and found this interesting tale:

http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/cancer-journal-retracts-herbal-medicine-paper-citing-misconduct-probe/

It doesn't exactly answer your query but in the comments thread there is this comment:

"The Journal was told that the investigating committee made a finding of misconduct which by statutary definition means that they determined the data in question were deliberately fabricated or falsified. A reasonable assumption would be that the laboratory records didn’t identify properly documented data to support a defense that an honest error had been made. Until we see a report from the ORI we won’t know anything more."

The follow on comments are worth reading for a more complete story.

Looking at the single listed climate science retraction I found they covered the Wegman Retraction:

http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/climate-science-critic-wegman-reprimanded-by-one-university-committee-while-another-finds-no-misconduct/#more-6553

They link to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell where I found:

"42 CFR 93 - PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE POLICIES ON RESEARCH MISCONDUCT:

§ 93.219
Preponderance of the evidence.
Preponderance of the evidence means proof by information that, compared with that opposing it, leads to the conclusion that the fact at issue is more probably true than not."

To my mind this would mean witholding contrary evidence constitutes misconduct.

http://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/42/93.219

May 7, 2012 at 4:51 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Is it possible to regard CRU scientists such as Phil Jones to be operating in good faith and in accordance with sound scientific "ethos"??

Climate Audit Prevails with FOI Success! CRU Misdeeds Exposed Again....

I'm not privy to the rarified proceedings of such world-class (sic) scientists as Phil Jones et al, but they do not impress me as operating with proper exemplary scientific scruples.

May 7, 2012 at 6:25 AM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

FOI Uncovers the actual operating "Scientific Ethos" at CRU:

WUWT on CRU and the 'L-Word'

Ahhh, the value of FOI requests, when they are actually fulfilled. Anthony Watts says this is the first time he has ever decided to use the 'L-word' in a title pertaining to the activities at CRU in the Yamal affair. I suppose we need much more "context" still to understand the subtle rigors of climate scientists in this matter....??

May 7, 2012 at 8:33 AM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Clarkson ,Ryan Giggs, Andrew Marr .Micheal Mansfield they all had Super Injuctions

So could a Court stop any further publication of any stolen Private Emails that have already been made public on the net being reported or copied and reposted

Could stolen Emails be made the subject of a Court Order

That would have stopped Climate Gate , Bradley Manning Jullian Assange Wilki Leaks and Peter Gleick

Something Lord Justice Levison to consider

May 7, 2012 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

Steve, in most branches of science I have worked in passive witholding of adverse results would not be considered as misconduct but active witholding would be misconduct. Exactly where the border lies is somewhat complex, but it seems to me that knowingly giving a false answer to a direct question is clear misconduct.

Borderline cases would normally be handled through informal sanctions rather than formal processes. In essence scientists are expected to use good judgment in distinguishing between minor adverse results which simply distract from a basically clear conclusion and major adverse results which render a conclusion incorrect, with the requirement that raw data be produced on request keeping people honest, and the risk of gaining a reputation for poor judgment acting as the principal disciplinary mechanism.

As various people have pointed out the situation is usually different in medical research where medical ethics in principle requires disclosure of all adverse results, though I note that in practice this seems not to be as well honoured as one might hope given the frequent lack of reproducibility of medical results.

You are right that the somewhat idiosyncratic approach of climate science means that "other branches of the scientific community are surely entitled to place less reliance on such articles". You may have seen the description of me as a "climate agnostic". What I mean by that is that the behaviour of the climate science community (not just the behaviour of a small number of clear malefactors, but more seriously the failure of the wider sommunity to call them out) is such that the climate community is (in my opinion) no longer entitled to the normal assumption by other scientists that their work is competently and honestly carried out. As such I do not assume that the results of clinmate science are basically correct as I do not automatically trust climate scientists in the way I trust other workers in fields outside my own.

In general the scientific community is going to oppose anything resembling the criminalisation of poor judgment, so I don't really see the journals or the learned societies as a solution, and as long as the climate science community remains unwilling to police their own we are going to have a scientific problem. But with regard to government policy making I don't see why tighter codes cannot be introduced. For example it would be reasonable to require the IPCC to not consider any paper or other submission which was not accompanied by a signed statement that all adverse results had been declared. Indeed I'm slightly surprised that bodies such as Congress and the EPA don't already do this.

May 7, 2012 at 1:08 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

Jonathan,
in filing an offering of securities to the public, officers of a corporation are required to sign an affidavit that they have made full, true and plain disclosure, defined in the document to include disclosure of material adverse results. Obviously this doesn't prevent fraud, but it limits it. Most officers and directors take these documents seriously. And in cases of actual fraud, it is typically the disclosure violations that yield prosecutions.

When I first submitted an article to an academic journal, I had to sign an affidavit, but on financing rather than on full, true and plain disclosure.

As someone from "outside", this struck me as very odd. Given the high aspirations of science, why wouldn't journals like Nature require authors to declare full, true and plain disclosure?

As a passing comment, because of my experience with securities offerings, I view journal peer review as merely one form of due diligence.

May 7, 2012 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

Jonathan, you say:

You may have seen the description of me as a "climate agnostic".

This applies to me as well. I've contemplated the term.

In the narrow area of proxy reconstructions where I have expert knowledge of the data and methods, my position would be different: I categorically do not think that they meet valid statistical standards.

However, in the "big picture", while I am wary of the climate community, I am not as convinced a "skeptic" in the sense of most readers of Climate Audit and Bishop Hill, a point that I've made on a number of occasions. I've made rather few and essentially noncommittal comments on the big picture.

May 7, 2012 at 3:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve McIntyre

In the US context (and elsewhere) the concept of "research misconduct" has a well-defined meaning -- falsification, fabrication, plagiarism. There is a much larger and murkier category of 'questionable research practices" that includes many actions which may be deemed unsavory or even wrong, but which carry with them no sanctions (formally at least).

I discussed these issues in my recent 'Wag the Dog" talk, have a look at the slides for details:

http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2012/04/slides-from-my-wag-dog-talk.html

I've run up against these issues in my work on disasters. But what to do about QRP is not so simple.

May 7, 2012 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Pielke Jr.

Steve,

I am well aware that the processes and norms of science must seem strange, indeed disappointing, to those with an engineering or financial background. My purpose here is not to defend these norms, but simply to explain them, and to note that they are unlikely to be changed any time soon.

What does seem to me, however, to be a worthwhile enterprise is to attempt to convey more widely the lack of "due diligence" or "engineering quality expositions" in most scientific work. (There is a similar and more widely discussed problem with the myth of "peer review" in most of the media: any practising scientist could confirm that peer review is rarely more than a cursory examination). The norms of academic science may or may not be an appropriate way to run academic science, but they are certainly not an appropriate way to make major government decisions.

May 7, 2012 at 3:38 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

Steve,

My climate agnosticism, like yours, is about the big picture. On topics which either fall within my general competence or where the decision is relatively straightforward I have stronger opinions. In particular I am quite happy to state that the "climate sensitivity" is strictly positive, and I am quite happy to state that dendroclimatology is mostly bunk. Neither of those strike me as particularly controversial statements.

May 7, 2012 at 3:47 PM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

Predictably, Judith Curry has zeroed in on the key parts of Grundmann's papers in her latest blog thread

http://judithcurry.com/2012/05/07/the-legacy-of-climategate/#more-8346

May 7, 2012 at 5:38 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Jonarhan Jones, the norms of academic science may or may not be an appropriate way to run academic science, but they underpin a major element of how we know stuff about the natural world, and therefore they are hugely important for evidence-based government policy. That's obvious from consideration of numerous examples including government decisions to label aspirin bottles with respect to the dangers of Reye's syndrome in children, to decisions on approaches to diagnosis and treatment of AIDS, to decisions relating to industrial chlorofluorocarbon synthesis and release, to decision on the dangers of vaccines and so on.

If one makes the suggestion that one particular set of unedifying circumstances (e.g. "Climategate") indicates that scientific norms (which no one has defined yet!) preclude a role for science in government decisions, then we're back to playing politics. It's the role of policymakers to burrow beneath the nonsense and establish the essential elements of the scientific case relevant to any policy.

May 7, 2012 at 5:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris

I couldn't read the paper. Too much gobbledygook. Society for the Social Studies of Science?

May 7, 2012 at 5:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeN

Sorry, but when you're grinding and bending and massaging your data to produce a pre-conceived curve on a plot, you've pretty much given up on science. Body work, maybe, but not science.

May 7, 2012 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered Commentermojo

The question of "norms" in scientific research and its dissemination is an interesting one and definitely worth discussing. Unfortunately, Grundemann's paper is a poor argument altogether and seems to me like an attempt to revisit a bunch of salacious non-arguments with second hand information from books and blogs.

I’ve been a scientist for a couple of decades and never had a discussion with other scientists specifically about “norms”! However scientists generally know what good scientific practice is and this can generally be encompassed within the concept of “good faith”. In other words one is honest with oneself and colleagues about the evidence in one’s work (apart from anything else because one want's to get it right), and one submits (and reviews) papers/grants in good faith and attempts to pass on good practices to one’s students and so on...

That doesn’t mean you can’t slag off work you don’t like in emails, just as the fact that I might spend my Saturday afternoons bellowing insults at the referee at football matches doesn’t mean that the “norms” of my scientific practice are deficient in some way. Grundemann regurgitates in rather prurient style that Dr. Jones said he would prevent specific papers from being published even if he had to redefine what peer review means….and that Jones made some forthright statements about a couple of papers that he has rejected, whereas he was complimentary about some work of someone else, and that might constitute double standards…and so on.

But you’re allowed to say stuff in a private email. Barring negligent or dangerous acts of provocation, the standards relating to ethics and criminality relate to what people do rather than what they say when they’re angry. More specifically, you’re allowed to reject some papers and to praise others; part of a scientist’s job is to maintain standards of quality in scientific publishing and it’s the role of a reviewer and editor to identify substandard work and reject this (editor) or recommend doing so (reviewer).

The question of the extent to which one should release information and data upon request is another element that would be most interesting to discuss. The practices certainly aren’t enclosed within either a strict ethical or regulatory framework (the “good faith” principle is a good guide here too in my opinion), but it is an area where a more well-defined set of guidelines would be appropriate..

May 7, 2012 at 6:35 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris

Some of us had two decades of science behind us before email and slagging off was invented.

May 7, 2012 at 7:51 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

If you work in a "hard science" field with powerful analytical tools and a reasonable amount of complexity, advancing the science is a matter of making tiny adjustments to the collective understanding. If you work in a "soft science" field with weak tools and lots of complexity, it is entirely normal to see big leaps in advocacy papers based upon the best available evidence for supporting the leap. That will not change. Climate science went off the rails when the practitioners claimed a degree of confidence that should really only be expressed in hard science. The practitioners became indignant when their soft science was treated like hard science, and critics wanted to see the evidence most likely to disprove the theory. It is a simple truism that in climate science, it is not considered misconduct when someone uses the best evidence available to support their hypothesis, but omits the countervailing evidence. It is, however, an unlikely way to get your name in the history books, MIchael Mann notwithstanding.

May 7, 2012 at 11:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterMatt Skaggs

When we are talking about policy making, it shouldn't matter what scientists think are norms. What should matter is what society thinks is the minimum level of process required to protect the public interest. Steve Mc is correct to view this from the perspective of the public with regard to required disclosures and make the comparison to science intended for policymaking. He just needs to go ahead and follow on down the path he started.

Businesses do not define what is appropriate disclosure. The law does. Society imposes rules on those who do business with the general public. The same thing is needed in science. Society needs to impose minimal quality standards on science which is used to inform public policy. Quality processes, checks and balances, need to be put in place by the public. It would be sheer folly to allow scientists to continue to define their own obligations to the public. The conflict of interest is blatant. Especially when they are quite obviously doing a very, very poor job of protecting the public interest.

May 8, 2012 at 1:27 AM | Unregistered Commenterstan

I just now got to Jonathon Jones' comment at 3:38 pm.

"The norms of academic science may or may not be an appropriate way to run academic science, but they are certainly not an appropriate way to make major government decisions."

Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner! I couldn't agree more.

If any study or assessment is to be considered worthy of public consideration, minimal levels of quality process have to be followed -- at a minimum transparency, accountability, and a signed statement of full and complete disclosure by the scientist. If the costs to the public of a proposed policy are sufficiently large, the govt should pay to have the study replicated by a disinterested third party. In every case, affected members of the public should have a due process right to sufficient disclosure to enable them to audit it or replicate it for themselves (or hire their own scientists to do so).

In the USA, our Bill of Rights forbids the government from using secret evidence against us in criminal cases. We have the right to confront our accusers and cross-examine evidence. I would argue that the same principle should guide the use of science in policy. We should never allow 'secret' evidence to influence policy. We should always give affected citizens the right and opportunity to confront and cross-examine any evidence used against them. It may not be a criminal trial, but the deprivations of life, liberty and property can be just as real. The people should have due process guarantees to examine the scientific evidence for themselves. No secrets.

May 8, 2012 at 1:42 AM | Unregistered Commenterstan

Check this out:

The EPA conducted a trial with human subjects, where it exposed 41 subjects to fine air particulate matter.

One subject developed supraventricular tachyarrhythmia.

The scientists who conducted the study reported this one subject as a 'case report', published in a peer-reviewed environmental journal.

They made no mention about the 39 subjects who developed no effects. They did not even mention that the affected subject took part in such a study.

The affected subject has a past medical and surgical history of hypertension, cholecystectomy, knee replacement surgery, hernia - corrected surgically, osteoarthritis and to top it, premature atrial contractions (!). Her father died of myocardial infarction at the age of 57. Her BMI was 34.9.

The authors themselves write:

Although coincident atrial fibrillation cannot be excluded, the onset of her arrhythmia was associated with her exposure to ambient air pollution particles.

Yet they conclude in the abstract:

Exposure to air pollution, including particulate matter, may cause supraventricular arrhythmias

If this doesn't trigger thoughts of scientific fraud, then I don't know what will.

May 8, 2012 at 5:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterShub

stan, without considering examples your broad statement concerning third-party replication when “the costs to the public of a proposed policy are sufficiently large” is not very helpful in two respects. Firstly, scientific evidence doesn't have any necessary “costs to the public”. That’s a question for considered opinion by public and policymakers. There are no “costs to the public” of the scientific evidence that late 20th century and contemporary warming are likely warmer in the Northern Hemisphere than at any time during the last millennium. The public and policymakers can ignore that information or consider it in the light of the wealth of other scientific data, according to their preferences.

If it’s a subject of potential sociopolitical importance we clearly would like to have it replicated, and in this case we have. We’ve got independent analyses by a number of groups which broadly support the fundamental conclusion from the early paleoproxy analyses. But we can still ignore it or incorporate into our world view; there aren’t any necessary cost implications at all.

It seems to me we’re revisiting a situation that we’ve encountered many times before. There is scientific evidence that bears on a subject, and there’s a concerted effort to misrepresent the science to the benefit of particular agendas (these usually act against public interest), but eventually the scientific case wins through. So I differ fundamentally with you in that in my experience (and we could discuss many specific examples, e.g. those in the next paragraph) scientists do a very, very good job of protecting the public interest. For matters of significant sociopolitical interest this occasionally happens in the face of some industrial-scale misrepresentation. Climate science doesn't seem any different.

In fact all science that leads to policy is replicated or otherwise substantiated, else we wouldn’t have had policy on labeling aspirin bottles for dangers of Reyes syndrome, or on CFC reduction, or on MMR vaccine safety, or on foot and mouth disease or on funding AIDS research and addressing treatment regimes and so on for the hundreds of other examples of science-based policy that we might pretend never existed so that we can play the year-zero game of thinking that actually this time we do need to overthrow all aspects of science in pursuit of our new agenda.

Anyway, I’m curious to know how you’d address your notion of independent replication in the cold light of reality! I suspect this might plummet down the hole of political expediency that the Best temperature analysis illustrates which goes something like: “We’ve got three different major surface temperature analyses, but we don’t like the implications, so let’s fund an independent analysis that will show that the surface data is fundamentally flawed......oh dear, that didn’t give us the answer we want either so let’s trash it and if we get the chance do it again until we get the answer we want”!

May 8, 2012 at 6:31 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris

I'm curious about your post Shub, which describes a pretty run of the mill case report to me. A case report is by definition a description of symptoms (and treatment, follow up etc) of an individual patient. It has value since it provides a snap shot of a particular effect/phenomenon/observation that is likely to be of general interest, but is much more anecdotal in its style than a full clinical analysis, let alone a clinical trial.

And the authors did describe the nature of the patients participation quite clearly:

A 58-year-old Caucasian female visited the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Human Studies Facility in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to participate in a study requiring sequential exposures to filtered air and concentrated ambient particles (LAPs). Protocols and consent forms were approved by the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Human Subjects, and the subject provided informed consent.

This case study is valuable since it alerts clinicians that might be involved in subsequent studies of the effects of particulates (say) on volunteers that they might be aware of the potential complications of cardiac arrhythmias.

So I'm curious about the "fraud"..

Interestingly, one of the valuable things about NIH funded clinical trials is that the design and results of these are made public without consideration of the trial outcome, and the NIH are involved in compiling and maintaining a register of drug trials. This is quite different to the situation with drug trials in the corporate sector which often go unreported for years, and if the outcomes are negative, may be buried in the hope that adverse outcomes go unoticed and which has lead to the unpleasant consequences associated with for example the Vioxx scandal. These certainly go against stan's "No secrets" exhortation, but of course corporate sector scientists are less amenable to bullying than public sector ones!

So I expect that anyone interested in the entirety of the EPA study you refer to will be able to hunt down the relevant information. That's a definite bonus of publically-funded science, and in the US the National Institutes of Health is a pretty awesome example of scientists contributing to public wellbeing (not to mention the positive impact on drug development in the corporate sector)...

May 8, 2012 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris

chris,
Although you wasted a lot of words writing stuff about the NIH etc ("awesome"), they are quite unneccessary.

A case report is, a report of a 'case'. Not a subject in an experiment.

The quoted passage in your post above, proves this very point.

The above example is *no* different from trials with adverse effects not being reported in the medical literature.

It is actually worse than that. Can you tell me why?

Please do not defend dishonesty, especially using lots of words. It makes you look bad.

May 8, 2012 at 9:36 PM | Unregistered Commentershub

To the 'anyone', that soapbox speechmaker chris referred to,
The US EPA released the raw data for the study they conducted, in response to a FOI request by Steve Milloy.

The published paper does not give details of the study. It does not mention how many subjects were studied, what concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5) were inhaled, and for how long. It does not mention that 39/41 volunteers who participated in the study experienced no untoward effects whatsoever from the PM2.5.

The one person who did develop an effect had a known medical condition predisposing her to develop the effect.

More generally, if an experiment/trial is performed with n subjects, the results are valid, only if the fate of all (n) are included and reported. Any other method is just subject to what is widely known as the selective reporting bias.

May 8, 2012 at 9:56 PM | Unregistered Commentershub

Wow, Chris. It must be tough to pack so much error in so few words. I am already late for an appt, but I shall return.

May 9, 2012 at 10:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan

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