Stephen Schneider was only a few years older than me and his death seems all too early.
I had a fair bit of contact with him by email in 2004. He seemed very cheerful – a characteristic that I respect – and certainly much more likely to be good company than the fellow climate scientists that I was then encountering – a point that Ross and I discussed at the time. Schneider recalled the exchange in his recent book – a recollection that, unfortunately, was totally inaccurate.
My original contact with Schneider came in the wake of MM2003. He had severely criticized Energy & Environment for not letting Mann review our 2003 article. In keeping with that premise, he asked me to review a 2004 submission to Climatic Change by Mann et al responding to MM2003 – consistent with his public representations. It seemed to me that there was an inherent conflict of interest in such a review but this was obviously known to Schneider and I attempted to separate out my interests as a disputant from my obligations as a reviewer as much as possible.
At the time, I was very fresh to academic exchanges – this was long before Climate Audit. I’d never reviewed an academic article and my approach was informed by ideas of due diligence that were not then characteristic of academic peer reviewing. In my capacity as a reviewer, I asked to see supporting data for Mann’s supposed rebuttal to MM2003 – the topic of his submission – and to see source code to document his allegations that we’d supposedly made grievous mistakes in implementing his methodology – again an important aspect of his submission. (BTW this was all shortly after our 2004 submission to Nature.)
Schneider replied that he had been editor of Climatic Change for 28 years and, during that time, nobody had ever requested supporting data, let alone source code, and he therefore required a policy from his editorial board approving his requesting such information from an author. He observed that he would not be able to get reviewers if they were required to examine supporting data and source code. I replied that I was not suggesting that he make that a condition of all reviews, but that I wished to examine such supporting information as part of my review, was willing to do so in my specific case (and wanted to do so under the circumstances) and asked him to seek approval from his editorial board if that was required.
This episode became an important component of Climategate emails in the first half of 2004. As it turned out (though it was not a point that I thought about at the time), both Phil Jones and Ben Santer were on the editorial board of Climatic Change. Some members of the editorial board (e.g. Pfister) thought that it would be a good idea to require Mann to provide supporting code as well as data. But both Jones and Santer lobbied hard and prevailed on code, but not data. They defeated any requirement that Mann supply source code, but Schneider did adopt a policy requiring authors to supply supporting data.
I therefore re-iterated my request as a reviewer for supporting data – including the residuals that Climategate letters show that Mann had supplied to CRU (described as his “dirty laundry”). The requested supporting data was not supplied by Mann and his coauthors and I accordingly submitted a review to Climatic Change, observing that Mann et al had flouted the new policy on providing supporting data. The submission was not published. I observed on another occasion that Jones and Mann (2004) contained a statement slagging us, based on a check-kiting citation to this rejected article.
During this exchange, I attempted to write thoughtfully to Schneider about processes of due diligence, drawing on my own experience and on Ross’ experience in econometrics. The correspondence was fairly lengthy; Schneider’s responses were chatty and cordial and he seemed fairly engaged, though the Climategate emails of the period perhaps cast a slightly different light on events.
Following the establishment of a data policy at Climatic Change, I requested data from Gordon Jacoby – which led to the “few good men” explanation of non-archiving (see CA in early 2005) and from Lonnie Thompson (leading to the first archiving of any information from Dunde, Guliya and Dasuopu, if only summary 10-year data inconsistent with other versions.) Here Schneider accomplished something that almost no one else has been able to do – get data from Lonnie Thompson, something that, in itself, shows Schneider’s stature in the field.
It was very disappointing to read Schneider’s description of these fairly genial exchanges in his book last year. Schneider stated:
The National Science Foundation has asserted that scientists are not required to present their personal computer codes to peer reviewers and critics, recognizing how much that would inhibit scientific practice.
A serial abuser of legalistic attacks was Stephen McIntyre a statistician who had worked in Canada for a mining company. I had had a similar experience with McIntyre when he demanded that Michael Mann and colleagues publish all their computer codes for peer-reviewed papers previously published in Climatic Change. The journal’s editorial board supported the view that the replication efforts do not extend to personal computer codes with all their undocumented subroutines. It’s an intellectual property issue as well as a major drain on scientists’ productivity, an opinion with which the National Science Foundation concurred, as mentioned.
This was untrue in important particulars and a very unfair account of our 2004 exchange. At the time, Schneider did not express any hint that the exchange was unreasonable. Indeed, the exchange had the positive outcome of Climatic Change adopting data archiving policies for the first time.
To further evidence Schneider’s lack of objection to my conduct as a reviewer at the time, a year later, Schneider invited me once again to act as a reviewer, this time as reviewer of Wahl and Ammann
2004 2005 2006 2007. Needless to say, this once again featured heavily in the Climategate letters. Its story was nicely told by Andrew Montford as “Caspar and the Jesus Paper” – an account that preceded the Climategate Letters. In this case, the experience was not as cordial. (Schneider’s cancer had been reported publicly just before the invitation to review Wahl and Ammann, but I was unaware of his illness until his death.)
Once again, the role of a reviewer was an odd one due to the conflict of interest. Again, I tried to separate as much as possible my adverse interest as someone being criticized from my obligations as a reviewer. In this case, there was much in Wahl and Ammann that could be objectively criticized. (e.g. the check-kiting of Ammann and Wahl, submitted to GRL and rejected, and the later replacement of all references to this article by a later article, Ammann and Wahl 2007, not even submitted as at the time of the supposed acceptance of Wahl and Ammannm which was in the last few hours of the last day, with the references to the still unaccepted and soon rejected Ammann and Wahl companion paper very much a loose end.)
Climategate documents show that Phil Jones was also a reviewer of Wahl and Ammann, observing:
This paper is to be thoroughly welcomed and is particularly timely with the next IPCC assessment coming along in 2007.
My review was less positive. Schneider terminated me as a reviewer and I didn’t have much further correspondence with him. I did write to him recently pointing out that, although I was included on his blacklist of scientists who had signed various petitions that he disapproved of, I had not actually signed any of the petitions. He replied, in effect, that the public blacklist at Anderegg’s website differed from the private blacklist used for the PNAS article and that I had not been included in the private blacklist, as though that resolved the matter.
Schneider repeatedly invoked medical metaphors in order to urge deference by the public to climate scientists.
In one of his last statements, he said:
It is completely inappropriate, if there’s an announcement of the new cancer drug for pediatric leukemia [with] a panel of three doctors from various hospitals, to then give equal time to the president of the herbalist society, who says that modern medicine is a crock. They wouldn’t even put that person on the air, so why put on petroleum geologists—who know as much about climate as we climatologists know about drilling for oil—because they’ve studied one climate change a hundred million years ago?”
In his recent book, he made a similar point:
If all scientists are created equal, then all MDs are likewise equivalent. So I’ll ask my podiatrist to prescribe my heart medicine and ask my cardiologist – who hasn’t touched a scalpel in 30 years – to take off my bad toe nail. My point, of course, is that these are not climate experts, as they do not represent a community expert in the details of climatology. A petroleum geologist can no more tell us about cloud feedback than a climatologist could competently tell us about oil reserves(p. 146.)
Nonetheless, in his own valiant battle against his disease, Schneider did not passively accept dicta from authority, but sought to understand the details as best he could, describing himself as “The Patient from Hell”:
To increase the odds against the disease, mantle cell lymphoma, Dr. Schneider, 60, involved himself in every aspect of his treatment. How he pushed his doctors to experiment with new techniques to control the cancer is the subject of a book he has just completed, tentatively titled “The Patient From Hell: Getting the Best That Modern Medicine Can Offer.” Da Capo Press/Perseus is to publish it in the fall.
As I noted above, at his best, Schneider was engaging and cheerful – qualities that I prefer to remember him by. I was unaware of his personal battles or that he ironically described himself as “The Patient from Hell” – a title that seems an honorable one.