Over at the Dendro listserv, Rob Wilson raised the issue of what dendros should do about climateaudit, noting that he felt a responsibility to “defend dendro practises and correct misinformation.” He went on to say:
Although some of the criticisms and commentary are valid, some of it is simply wrong and misinformed, and in my mind, it is dangerous to let such things go.
I responded to Rob by email and stated categorically that I had no interest or desire in contributing any misinformation and, if he would identify any such misinformation in any of my posts, I would correct it. He has not provided any examples, although he said that his objections were more with CA readers than with me. I have no particular dispute with dendrochronology; the only time that I’ve discussed dendrochronological dating questions was in connection with the dating of 3 tree cores at Polar Urals. Most of the criticism here has been with dendroclimatology (as a reader has observed.) In fact, the ability to reliably date trees seems to me to be a very big advantage to this particular proxy. One appreciates this quite quickly if you work through, say, ocean sediment data. I’ve used the term “dendro” on occasion below to describe the occupation.
On an earlier thread, Rob had objected to white spruce site chronologies in northern Alberta being construed as temperature proxies. I’m quite prepared to concede that white spruce in northern Alberta are not necessarily temperature proxies, although I am not going to concede that the way you find out whether they are temperature proxies is by seeing if the chronology goes up. And if Wilmking’s chronologies from the Brooks Range in northern Alaska do not qualify as temperature proxies, then I rather fear that it is going to be very hard to propose an objective criterion for eligibility. In any event, I’ve noted Rob’s objection in the original post; I note that the language in my original post was entirely conditional : “if” these chronologies were construed as temperature proxies, they did not show linear response to recent warmth. So Rob and Mike Pisaric could merely have observed that white spruce in northern Alberta were not temperature proxies with no further editorializing. I would probably have asked them to identify any temperature proxies in the data with values since 1995, since they didn’t volunteer any alternatives.
The responses to Rob’s listserv post have been very intriguing. One scientist wished for a “wisdom circle”
It’s always really nice for a starting scientist like I am to see that ideals are not bound to disappear with time or whatever… I would dream of a world where a kind of “wisdom circle” would have a control on executive power for example.
Sort of like a dendroclimatological Iran, I guess. Complete with Mullah Mike.
Matthew Salzer darkly hinted that I didn’t “play by the rules”. Salzer has not elaborated on what “rules” were broken. Maybe he’s accusing me of insufficient deference to Mullah Mike and the wisdom circle at realclimate, but it’s hard to say.
David Lawrence stated:
McIntyre’s work is a conclusion in search of evidence to support it: namely that all the proxy evidence for warmer temperatures in recent decades are statistical artifacts. (From what I’ve seen, it seems the only proxy studies he is statistically satisfied with are those that don’t show such warming.)
Hey, I don’t have a conclusion about temperature history and intentionally refrained from proposing an alternative history. I sometimes draw attention to studies yielding evidence of a warmer MWP (e.g. Naurzbaev et al 2004; Miller et al 2006; Newton et al 2006; Richey et al ), not because I am “statistically satisfied” with these presentations, but because I am concerned that extensive cherry-picking in the Hockey Team studies has biased the proxies that are in common use. But I’ve stopped well short of claiming that these other proxies are any sort of magic bullet on the other side. I presented a composite of such proxies to the NAS panel describing the composite as merely showing what could be obtained from “apple picking”, not because there was any statistical superiority in the results.
Thomas Wils said:
we live in a fragmented world flying from one extreme to the other. If you reply to McIntyre in a scientific way you will only increase this fragmentation. For society, it is the bigger picture that counts, not just what David said, but also the bigger bigger picture of which I have given some examples. Statistically we simply cannot defend global warming, therefore it is going on too short and it is too complex, but if we wait we are too late. I think actually that the tendency of scientists to insist that global warming is real and dangerous to convince stubborn governments is the primary cause of existence of such radicals like McIntyre.
I can’t imagine why anyone would regard me as a “radical”. My politics in American terms would be Clinton-ish, not Bush-y. I certainly don’t think that perfect certainty is a criterion for making decisions. Business people make decisions under uncertainty all the time and cannot wait for perfect certainty. I’m used to this. You try to cut down the uncertainty as much as you can by careful engineering, careful feasibility studies, but, at the end of the day, decisions have to be made and they get made. As I’ve said in the past, if I had a big policy job and had to make a decision, I would be guided by the opinion of the relevant environmental ministries and organizations like IPCC, even if, on some personal level, I mistrusted their advice. I don’t believe that decisions should be delayed until you have perfect certainty in all the “little” things and have never suggested that. Having said that, I would do whatever I could to improve the processes for disclosure, due diligence and verification in climate science, which, from my experience, are abysmal. (That these processes are abysmal doesn’t mean that the results are wrong, merely that they are equivalent of being unaudited. Unaudited financial statements are not necessarily wrong, but there’s why audited financial statements are required for public companies.)
David Lawrence went on to say:
He by undermining individual studies while studiously ignoring the big picture that renders his criticisms moot. I don’t know whether or not it is worth engaging him on ground of his own choosing. Remember what happened to Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden?
There’s idea that there should be no scrutiny of “little things” because such scrutiny might divert from the “big” picture is appalling. That’s like a WMD argument (and I’ve sometimes compared what I do to being a CIA analyst trying to decide if an aluminum tube is just an aluminum tube.) A lot of the times if you look after the little things, the big things will look after themselves. You hear hockey coaches and basketball coaches talk about “attention to detail” as being the hallmark of good teams. If my criticisms of “little things” are correct, then people should attend to the “little things”. The “big picture” has nothing to do with it. Dendroclimatologists and other scientists have an obligation to look after the little things that they are responsible for: to ensure that their own studies are replicable and meet the best possible statistical standards; to worry about the things that you have control over.
As to the accusation that CA contributes to “misinformation”, I re-iterate to any angry dendroclimatologists that might be listening: I have no interest in contributing to the spread of “misinformation” and, if there’s anything that I’ve said that needs correction, please advise me and I will correct it.
In his most recent post, Rob somewhat soft-pedalled (but didn’t entirely withdraw) the criticism of me personally and directed it more at CA posters, many of whom are more categorical in their views than I am. One suggestion made to Rob was that the angry dendroclimatologists make a post at realclimate. Hey, angry dendroclimatologists, if you want to correct misapprehensions at climateaudit, as Rob can confirm, you’re more than welcome to make a guest post here. Surely climateaudit is more logical place than realclimate to correct CA misapprehensions. The only conceivable reason for posting at realclimate rather than here would be to hide behind Gavin’s censorship, knowing that he has censored me in the past and would do so without compunction in the future if it suited him.
Rob complained that his efforts at climateaudit were sometimes “turned against” him. That’s one of the risks of clarifying methodology. For example, I welcome this new zeal by dendroclimatologists in correcting “misinformation” and I trust their intention to correct dendroclimatological “misinformation” wherever it occurs, and not merely deep within climateaudit threads. I particularly welcome the concern of both Wilson and Pisaric that proxies such as white spruce in northern Alberta not be misconstrued as temperature proxies. Welcoming their new zeal, tomorrow I’ll do a post on the tree shown in the picture below and discuss whether it is a “temperature proxy” with a positive linear relationship to temperature. (bender winced when I sent this picture to him.) This should give the Dendro Truth Squad something to cut its teeth on.