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« Quote of the day, comedy climate edition | Main | Compare and contrast »
Monday
Feb022015

Oreskes savaged

Michael Lavine, a statistician from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has performed a very polite savaging of Naomi Oreskes over at Stats.org. Here's an excerpt:

 

After urging scientists to adopt a threshold less stringent than 95 percent in the case of climate change, [Oreskes says]:

WHY don’t scientists pick the standard that is appropriate to the case at hand, instead of adhering to an absolutist one? The answer can be found in a surprising place: the history of science in relation to religion. The 95 percent confidence limit reflects a long tradition in the history of science that valorizes skepticism as an antidote to religious faith. Even as scientists consciously rejected religion as a basis of natural knowledge, they held on to certain cultural presumptions about what kind of person had access to reliable knowledge. One of these presumptions involved the value of ascetic practices. Nowadays scientists do not live monastic lives, but they do practice a form of self-denial, denying themselves the right to believe anything that has not passed very high intellectual hurdles.

Yes, most scientists are skeptics. We do not accept claims lightly, we expect proof, and we try to understand our subject before we speak publicly and admonish others.

Thank goodness.

Read the whole thing.

 

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Reader Comments (38)

Ignoring the substance of the article (which doesn't address Oreskes' argument that scientific proof is too tough a requirement for AGW or, historically, religious belief - a good and surprisingly honest observation).

He writes a long paragraph near the start:

This article is not about climate change; it’s about statistics...article is only about the proper use and interpretation of statistics.

In most fields scoping the matter would have been a single sentence "This article is not about climate change; it’s about statistics." But he knows that climate change cannot be dealt with calmly, rationally, scientifically...

Everyone knows there is a problem here.
And they say Climategate was a squib?

Feb 2, 2015 at 4:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterMCourtney

Oreskes chooses the particular science, that will best suit her appropriate financial needs.

Feb 2, 2015 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Re: MCourtney

The paragraph is worth producing in full:

The purpose here is to point out the confusion and clarify the statistical issues. This article is not about climate change; it’s about statistics. Oreskes’ mistaken interpretation of these statistical ideas do not imply that climate change is under question; the evidence for climate change consists of mechanistic as well as statistical arguments, and has little to do with the topic under discussion here: a misinterpretation of what is called the p-value, a statistic that tells us the probability of seeing high temperatures if they were occurring just by chance. The American Statistical Association already has a statement on climate change, and nothing in this article is intended to contradict the ASA’s statement or to deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change. This article is only about the proper use and interpretation of statistics.

It is obvious that he knows that any criticism of anything at all in the "climate science" orthodoxy could result in the attack dogs being unleashed, his employers contacted with demands for his sacking, journals contacted and pressured not to publish any of his work, colleagues told that working with him will affect their standing, his name added to any number of blacklists etc.

Feb 2, 2015 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

As Doug Keenan points out, the 95% does not refer to the possibility that current temperatures could happen by chance but that in models there is only a 5% chance it might be natural. Climate always has a cause, just because you don't understand it, doesn't mean there isn't a pattern. Oreskes is calling for climate scientists to ditch the model outliers. As such she's not corrupting statstical terms. I think Lavine gives climate science too much credit.

Feb 2, 2015 at 4:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Dame Julia of the Met is down to do a keynote address at the UK's Royal Statistical Society Conference in September (
http://www.statslife.org.uk/events/conference-blog/2017-dame-julia-slingo-joins-line-up-of-plenary-speakers-at-rss-2015).

I daresay this appearance of yet another statistician looking at propaganda with an independent mind will have her reserving extra time with her own statisticians as well as with her tactical planners ahead of her speech. My guess is she'll go for anodyne to be on the safe side, but it would be more entertaining if she should decide to be more ambitious. Looking forward to it, even I can't get there in person.

Feb 2, 2015 at 5:13 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

'We do not accept claims lightly, we expect proof, and we try to understand our subject before we speak publicly and admonish others.'

I've never seen any evidence to support this assertion.

Feb 2, 2015 at 5:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan

How is Oreskes going to afford her jet set life style, if scientists don't accept her stone set views?

Feb 2, 2015 at 5:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

What our Hawwad Phd (lol) forgets to mention or is simply icompletely ignorant about(I prefer the latter hahaha), is that the "harsh treshold bar" MUST be set, because otherwise there is an INFINITE models out there, that pass the test, not just the warmish one.

hahaha

The only other sieve/brake on possible explanations-of-the-world/modeling would be the paradigm of "overfitting".
But let's not get there, allthough we should hahaha, because THAT paradigm would tell us it is basically NONSENSE to build models about climate with the summary data and time record we have.

To quote a real scientist, David Deutsch, the 20th century was about "difficult formulas nobody understands and knows how to solve". Or better: everybody knows nobody can solve them.
The 21st century transgresses on that and build algorithmically models of the world..But how do you that on a "system" from which every couple of years still produces new surprises like "the heat disappears in the oceans", "some glaciers are growing", "hey ice is growing back", etc..
You simply cannot.

Feb 2, 2015 at 5:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterMars Shmallow

Oreskes says- “There have been enormous arguments among statisticians about what a 95 percent confidence level really means.”

ASA say - "We disagree; we think almost every statistician would accept our explanation of what a 95 percent confidence level means. But we do agree that many working scientists, the BBC, and Oreskes, a historian, get it wrong."

ASA say-" Yes, most scientists are skeptics. We do not accept claims lightly, we expect proof, and we try to understand our subject before we speak publicly and admonish others.

These are real lessons for so called "Climate Science" to learn - which they have not yet done

Feb 2, 2015 at 6:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeospeculator

The mean, the medium, and the mode of that paragraph all center on the solitary figure, cowering.
==============

Feb 2, 2015 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

"denying themselves the right to believe anything that has not passed very high intellectual hurdles."

What the hell has a "right" got to do with it?

Feb 2, 2015 at 6:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterAllan M

Why do serious people take Oreskes seriously?

Feb 2, 2015 at 7:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Why do serious people take Oreskes seriously?

Alexander K

They Don't.

Feb 2, 2015 at 8:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

If you fall out of the ugly tree and hit 95% of the branches on the way down how significantly is your brain function affected?

A simple percentage will do.

(previously in wrong thread - sorry)

Feb 2, 2015 at 9:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterHenry Galt

Is it possible to get a little dose of syphilis? Nope, it's all or nothing. It's the same with Scientific Integrity. It has to be 100% or it's contaminated. The weasel words of Naomi Oreskes, are a far cry from her earlier work, The Rejection of Continental Drift : Theory and Method in American Earth Science.

"In the early twentieth century, American earth scientists were united in their opposition to the new--and highly radical--notion of continental drift, even going so far as to label the theory "unscientific." Some fifty years later, however, continental drift was heralded as a major scientific breakthrough and today it is accepted as scientific fact. Why did American geologists reject so adamantly an idea that is now considered a cornerstone of the discipline? And why were their European colleagues receptive to it so much earlier? This book, based on extensive archival research on three continents, provides important new answers while giving the first detailed account of the American geological community in the first half of the century. Challenging previous historical work on this episode, Naomi Oreskes shows that continental drift was not rejected for the lack of a causal mechanism, but because it seemed to conflict with the basic standards of practice in American geology. This account provides a compelling look at how scientific ideas are made and unmade."

That last sentence is chilling....." a compelling look at how scientific ideas are made and unmade." I guess we can deduce the cause of her fall from the heights of Academia. It's the money.

Matthew 7;15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Although I'm an atheist, I do know from whence & when to quote sections of the new testament.

Feb 2, 2015 at 10:41 PM | Registered Commenterperry

Harvard educated Thomas Kuhn and now they employ Naomi Oreskes. Only 50 years between the two but what a descent. Truly from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Feb 2, 2015 at 10:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Mott

Regarding validation requirements, "95%" is probably too relaxed.


See Figures 1 and 2 of this excellent article on lack of reproducibility.

Note the severity of the problems that exist even when you have a well established theoretical basis with a good ability to model signal, noise and error sources.

It seems self-evident that the difficulties in properly validating your work are much harder in observational sciences like climate science, especially when the modeling of the system is poorly understood, and the error sources of the measurements are not well characterized.

Feb 2, 2015 at 11:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterCarrick

'but they do practice a form of self-denial, denying themselves the right to believe anything that has not passed very high intellectual hurdles.'

Not in climate 'science' where any old rubbish can be 'believed ' has long as it supports 'the cause ' and their careers .
So in one way his right , the 95 has no meaning for this area, becasue climate 'science' takes no notice of this idea anyway .

Feb 2, 2015 at 11:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Harried by Elbas! Irrationality has three flavours (yes, English spelling): ad hominem, fingers in the ears and, then, obfuscation. Oreskes is all three. What I have finally decided about these people is that they really hate themselves and, therefore, us, a projection, if you will. I mean they must be some kind of ugliness to want their ugliness on us. Assuming it is emotion we are talking about and not rational discourse?

Feb 3, 2015 at 3:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

Feb 2, 2015 at 9:13 PM | Unregistered Commenter Henry Galt

Henry - it worked there too!

Feb 3, 2015 at 4:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

Interesting bits of The ASA Climate Statement
1. endorses the general IPCC "most warming is from manmade CO2"
2. Contradicts the meme 'the IPCC comes from the best science available.'
- ASA says ", it does not represent the full range of statistical expertise available. ASA recommends that more statisticians should become part of the IPCC process."

3. "there are significant uncertainties in key observational datasets. Reduction of these uncertainties will be crucial for evaluating and better constraining climate models. Statisticians can advise on how best to combine data from different sources, how to identify and adjust for biases in different measurement systems, and how to deal with changes in the spatial and temporal coverage of measurements"

4. They do surprisingly (and wrongly) support the Extreme Weather meme "The available evidence suggests that certain extreme events with the potential to impact human health may be increasing in frequency as a result of global warming."

Feb 3, 2015 at 4:28 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

@TinyCO2 I think you in an excellent point mix 2 issues up
1. Whether Climate Change is due to CO2 : IPCC expresses an opinion of 95% sure on this
2. Whether models work
So you really meant "As Doug Keenan points out, the 95% does not refer to the possibility that current temperatures could happen by chance but that in models the Real World there is only a 5% chance it might be natural"

- Now models are validated against the realworld so if they actually worked you could then say then start making CALCULATIONS of confidence for your hypothesis from them, but not before.

Feb 3, 2015 at 4:43 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

I meant they test models against the real world in an attempt to validate them. They not yet validated.

Feb 3, 2015 at 5:46 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Anyway good on this guy for sticking his head above the parapet & doing the right thing.
- Most younger people would have been afraid of looking uncool, and not getting invited to green/left parties
- But I wonder how BigGreen will punish him ? They'll not be happy about it spoiling the hype for Oreskes new MaD film (Merchants and Doubt)

Her new Jan 10th paper
Science and policy: Crossing the boundary

Feb 3, 2015 at 7:48 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

What Oreskes does not mention is that the scientist usually has control over the uncertainty. The cure to getting over the 95% barrier is acquiring more data with more accuracy. In other words, the 95% barrier drives scientists to do a more thorough job.

Thus the likely outcome of Oreskes' proposal, if adopted, would be less complete data, and so more errors and less understanding.

Feb 3, 2015 at 8:05 AM | Unregistered Commenterrabbit

In what parallel universe is a statistician a scientist? Of course with the mathematicians like Gavin Schmidt and James Annan calling themselves scientists maybe it's fair game for everyone - including Oreskes?

Feb 3, 2015 at 8:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Feb 3, 2015 at 4:28 AM | stewgreen

I think points two and 3 can be combined into one:

"Please can we have a bigger share of the pie"

;)

Feb 3, 2015 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

Maybe@Clovis but those points are true
@JamesG what difference does job title make?

Wow, even the Rabbits are leaving the sinking ship and agreeing with us. Instead of automatically partisanly siding with Oreskes and making up some BS justification.

Feb 3, 2015 at 12:36 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

"The available evidence suggests that certain extreme events with the potential to impact human health may be increasing in frequency as a result of global warming."

You can't be called wrong if you use the weasel words 'suggest and 'may be' in the same sentence. We engineers recognise this as baseless speculation that is materially worthless and better left unsaid since it is equally valid to say 'may not be'. Researchers always give themselves deniability in this weasely way but the press office changes this possible to a probable' and the media reports it as an irrefutable fact which the clueless Lord Debens of the world then use as a club to beat skeptics with. If you complain to the researchers they then blame the press for over-stating the case.

Hence how a meaningless 50/50 result for the likelihood of stronger hurricanes from Knutsen's hurricane model makes its way through the media sausage machine from utterly null result to quotable fact and then some other self-promoting scaremonger (like say Kerry Emmanuel) ratchets it up by telling the media that the postulated and almost unnoticeable 5% increased strength (that could equally well be a decrease) translates into 14% monetary risk apparently by pulling the numbers straight from his backside. Then the insurers take that collection of fabrications and increase your premiums, entirely ignoring that the far more robust result from the model was a 70% chance of fewer hurricanes in a warming world (even verified by the data) which should reduce your premiums. Everyone up this ladder of deceit is justifying their worthless existence while simultaneously screwing the sheeple.

Feb 3, 2015 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

stewgreen
what difference does job title make?

Just a bugbear of mine! What does more mendacity matter in this sea of BS? Maybe we're all scientists in a broad sense by being seekers of knowledge but then he can't suggest such a smugly superior distinction between himself and Oreskes.

Try a test; what sounds better; 'scientists discovered' or 'statisticians discovered'?

Feb 3, 2015 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Feb 3, 2015 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered JamesG

Whenever I see 'might', 'could' or 'may' I read it as 'might not.'

The world becomes much less scary.

Feb 3, 2015 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

JamesG

You can't be called wrong if you use the weasel words 'suggest and 'may be' in the same sentence.
Yes you can if you consider the quote you posted closely enough.
"The available evidence suggests that certain extreme events with the potential to impact human health may be increasing in frequency as a result of global warming."
1 What available evidence?
2 "Certain" events. Specify.
3. Specify in what way there is a "potential" to impact on human health especially in ways which differ from such impacts in the absence of global warming.
4. "May be increasing in frequency". Well either they are or they aren't. So which is it?
We (by which I suppose I mean the media) are giving the wafflers a completely free ride. That quote is totally meaningless as it stands and in other sphere of human activity any half decent reporter would be saying so. Somehow or other because it's climate it has supposedly become unchallengeable

Feb 3, 2015 at 2:01 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

So therefore it's not science
- that "might not" rule is quite useful

@ JamesG "scientists say" is a phrase to be banned - as it fallacy of argument from authority.

Feb 3, 2015 at 3:54 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Stew
Well I'm used to everyone appropriating the title 'engineer' too. So I'm probably bitter.

Me: I need a plumber.
Phone girl: I'll put you in touch with one of our engineers.
Me: I don't want an engineer. I want a plumber.
Phone girl: We call them engineers because they install heating too.

Man in pub: So what do you do.
Me: I'm an engineer.
Man in pub: You drive a train?

Feb 3, 2015 at 4:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

One aspect that should not be forgotten is that if 2 distributions overlap so much that they are not distinguishable at a .1% level much less a 5% level , then they are generally physically nearly indistinguishable . Robust , consequential differences tend to be many sigma apart .

This entire politically useful hysteria is over variations in the 4th decimal place , about 0.3% of our temperature which is itself only about 3% greater than the 279K of a gray ball in our orbit .

Feb 3, 2015 at 5:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterBob Armstrong

Her views are about as ugly as a bucket of bums. ;-)

Feb 3, 2015 at 11:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterStreetcred

stewgreen:


Wow, even the Rabbits are leaving the sinking ship and agreeing with us. Instead of automatically partisanly siding with Oreskes and making up some BS justification.

If that was in reference to me then you have me confused with someone else.

Feb 4, 2015 at 3:34 AM | Unregistered Commenterrabbit

Aha, then you are not the frequent troll spelled Rabett
Hence the unexpected rational view

Feb 4, 2015 at 4:39 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

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