John A writes:
As Steve has already mentioned, I asked to stand down two weeks ago from the responsibilities involved in running this now notorious blog and return my life to some semblence of normality.
Just to get in front of the lie-machines out there (and you know who they are), there was no rancour or disagreement between myself and Steve that precipitated my decision. Simply put, I was spending too much time worrying, fretting, cossetting, rebooting and generally administrating when I could have used the time to actually do something that paid me money and paid the bills. My wife was becoming more than a little concerned – and she was right to be. I’ve dragged myself into bed in the wee hours on too many occasions.
Memo to ExxonMobil: I’m still waiting for that cheque
I have spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with issues surrounding the blog. The technical reason is that CA has outgrown every single hosting system so far, from a shared webhosting package to a VPS to a dedicated server with a 10MB connection and 1GB of RAM.
The real reason is Steve McIntyre. He’s become very good at showing people up – usually climate scientists who think they know better, but don’t. He’s also as unpretentious in real life as he appears on the blog (he comes across as a little stiff and vague on television, I’m sure that’s just nervousness about not letting his mouth run away with something he’ll regret later). I’ve met him in person twice, and I hope to meet him more times in the future.
Although I can legitimately claim to have started the whole blogging process when I got in touch with Steve in December 2004 and invented the name “Climate Audit”, apart from some drumming up of attention by making a nuisance of myself on other blogs, it is Steve who has shown the way to a lot of us about how to make blogging effective.
What Steve has shown is that in order to tackle a subject in science in order to audit, one must have a background in mathematics and especially statistics, and a willingness to tackle a particular issue rather like a forensic detective (one of my gags was suggesting Steve should start a TV show called CSI Toronto – the C being climate). So being slow and methodical, tackling the questions piece by piece, and always being interested not just in pieces of evidence but how other actors have interpreted those pieces.
A part of this is related to Steve’s character – he’s a math nerd. He genuinely is interested in what he’s looking at and willing to invest a little time to check some small things in order to see the big picture. That big picture is an issue related to all of us: climate change. It also raises other issues more fundamental that just that topic – questions like: how do we know that the data presented to us is meaningful or significant?
A little history does you good
My own interest in climate change comes really from my own study of history, especially the history of science. In that history scientific consensuses, even overwhelming ones, are overthrown with astonishing regularity. That overthrow doesn’t happen overnight and often happens in the teeth of bitter personal opposition – Max Planck rather mournfully declared that scientific progress “proceeds one funeral at a time” as the protagonists for the old paradigm die off. More often than not, brilliant scientists who changed the course of science suffered mentally from the opposition of scientific authorities of the day. I think of Ludwig Boltzmann as an example.
Also in history, science has often followed a paradigm that has outlived in usefulness but is simply “patched up” rather than fundamentally rewritten. A sort of blind alley develops, where not only do scientist keep hitting the wall at the end, but they are unaware of how blinkered they can be, until some bright spark comes along.
Some have criticize Steve for producing a sort of negative research, without producing a positive result. But producing just “positive” results begs the question as to who decides what is positive and what is not? I regard Steve’s research as highly positive because it seeks to test the foundations of what we think is really happening. Does sampling of treerings in forests all over the globe, combining them in a particular manner and producing a curve legitimately reconstruct something called “Global Mean Temperature”? Does it mean anything at all? Is consistency of result between several reports which use effectively the same series and uses the same mathematical approach enough to establish the behavior of the climate of the past? Can mathematical models predict future climate or are their outputs no better than guesses?
A farewell to arms
I am a little sorry to have to step away from CA but frankly administering the blog and dealing with issues arising does not pay any bills nor help me find more consulting work. Because of the “state of fear” surrounding climate science, I could not use my own name nor present the work done on this site as part of my resume. I would have loved to have said that working on this blog has enhanced my general work profile, but it hasn’t. I’ve learnt a lot about statistics (although I could always learn a lot more), but also about blogging, WordPress, php, mySQL, Google and Linux. I had hoped that I could use some of these skills to come to the US, but that alas has been a forlorn hope so far.
That isn’t to say that I’m not proud of my small contribution or my tangential role in rocking the IPCC boat, because I am. Blogging and climate science have changed in dramatic ways since the end of 2004 when I first egged on Steve to abandon html programming and start doing it properly. Blogging has become, in part, another branch of the media, (but like the rest of the media the quality varies quite a bit). Climate science has started to open up, and even the tone of CA’s opponents has generally become less strident and less shrill (there are exceptions). All of these things are due in large part to what Steve has managed to achieve, and what his audience has managed to enable.
I am pleased to have corresponded with a good many scientists from various disciplines and gained a lot of insight into the machinations of what becomes a scientific consensus or even a scientific theory (and the two rarely go together).
As an aside, my reply to Edward Wegman’s tangential criticism that science shouldn’t be done on blogs still stands the test of time.
I encouraged Steve McIntyre to begin this blog because I was keenly aware in a way that Steve was not at the time, how powerful instant publishing and rebuttal can be in combatting the asymmetry of the scientific playing field in climate science as I saw it at the end of 2003. That asymmetry still exists, which is why I believe Climate Audit should continue.
During the recent server problems (which were due to a massive increase in traffic from Steve’s work, although it looked like a DDOS attack and the results were the same) I received lots of e-mails from readers of the blog who had never commented on the site but were nevertheless avid readers. So I’d like to say “hail and well met” to those people around the world who read and discuss what Steve has been doing and cheer him on from the sidelines.
But the recent traffic overload and server moves was extremely taxing and I was working extremely long hours until finally I saw that it was doing me no good to continue like this.
As a student of history, especially of scientific history, I feel confident that Steve’s work is creating history and that historians of the future will recognize that fact. I leave at a good time, with Steve’s profile increasing and with the blog on a more solid foundation than I could afford to provide.
But my role on this particular stage of history must end and I leave – stage right