Rob Bradley: Climategate from an Enron Perspective

As noted the other day, Gerry North was one of the presenters at Ralph Cicerone’s AAAS panel. North had previously been chairman of the NAS panel on Surface Temperature Reconstructions, where he described their due diligence process as “not doing any research” and that they just “winged it” – the sort of due diligence failure when charged with responsibility that has allowed climategate to fester so long.

More recently, North was one of two “expert” witnesses interviewed by the Penn State Inquiry. To non-climate scientists, North’s admission that he hadn’t read the Climategate Letters {out of “professional respect”) would seem to disqualify him as an expert, but not, it seems, in the bizarro world of modern climate science.

There was an extremely interesting blog post a few days ago by Rob Bradley, an old friend of North from Enron days – where North had been Bradley’s climate consultant – in which Bradley asked North very pointed questions in which he compared the present behavior of climate scientists to Climategate to their shared experience (as innocent parties not in the know) through the gradual revelation of Enron problems. Bradley:

I challenged Gerald North and this panel with an analogy between Climategate and bad behaviors that sank Enron (where I used to work and where North was my climate consultant)

Here is a lengthy excerpt from Rob Bradley’s letter to North:

I see that you are going to be part of a panel at the Friday AAAS meeting on Climategate. Some of us fear too much downplaying. You were a consultant for me at Enron for several years on climate science and watched the fall of the company with great interest. So I would like to challenge you to interpret Climategate in terms of the fall of Enron.

Here are some themes from Enron to consider applying.

1) Slippery slopes where small deviations from best practices escalated into problems that were not anticipated at the beginning of the process.

2) A lack of midcourse correction when developing problems were not properly addressed.

3) Old fashioned deceit when the core mission/vision was threatened (for Enron it was ‘to become the world’s leading company’–for Jones et al., it was there is a big warming and a climate problem developing)

4) The (despised) short sellers busted the Enron mirage. Ken Lay at the last employee meeting even likened the short sellers to ‘terrorists” (this was just a few months after 9/11). Question: does mainstream climate science regard Internet ‘peer review’ of Jones et al. like the Enron faithful regarded the short sellers who first discovered the problems of Enron?

5) Enron suffered from the “smartest guys in the room” problem. Does Climategate reveal arrogance and a lack of humility among “mainstream” climate scientists?

6) Denial: we employees were almost all in denial when the problems at Enron first surfaced. Have you and others who are close to the scientists of Climategate been slow to recognize the problem? Has Nature and Science also been slow? If so, What does this say about human nature.

7) Taking responsibility. Skilling and Lay never did and, in fact, they joined together in a legal cartel where the unstated strategy was to not blame each other for anything and sink or swim together. Has this happened, or is it still happening, with Climategate if you believe that scientific protocol and/or legal rules were violated?

Bradley continued his post with a discussion of “Circling the Wagons”;

I do leave Dr. North with the challenge to more forthrightly deal with Climategate, which he has failed to do to date. I am very discouraged about the circle-the-wagons mentality of too many academic scientists who are covering for each other (many are long time personal friends, and they are united in THE CAUSE of climate alarmism). As I complained to North in another email:

Your own reaction to Climategate has shaken my faith a bit when you say it is no big deal and then you haven’t read the emails.

Analogies are always treacherous, because, all too often, one gets drawn into debates about the analogy that are just as complex as the original issue. Or debates about the validity of the analogy. So one needs to take care in trying to go a bridge too far in this sort of comparison.

Nonetheless, as it happens, in the early days of Climate Audit, I posted on both Bre-X and Enron. Here are some relevant posts on Enron:

In the first post, I observed ironically that there was a “consensus” in 2000 that Enron was the best-managed company in the US, seizing that honor from GE. Money managers and analysts are not stupid people – the intriguing question for me was (and this sort of question interested me before I was interested in climate) is how could so many smart analysts get it wrong? And at what point did it change from “shame on you” to “shame on me” i.e. at what point could an alert analyst have spotted inconsistencies and problems? And what were early warning bells?

One of Bradley’s questions draws attention to the visceral hatred at Enron for the short sellers that “busted the Enron mirage”:

The (despised) short sellers busted the Enron mirage. Ken Lay at the last employee meeting even likened the short sellers to ‘terrorists” (this was just a few months after 9/11). Question: does mainstream climate science regard Internet ‘peer review’ of Jones et al. like the Enron faithful regarded the short sellers who first discovered the problems of Enron?

Ironically, I’d been very impressed by the anecdote about short sellers in Eichenwald’s book and connected this incident to proxy reconstructions in an early CA post:

In Eichenwald’s terrific book on Enron, the first person credited with noticing the problems was a short seller, who really came out of left field. He simply noticed what was, in effect, a statistical anomaly – the profits were miniscule relative to the capital employed and they always came out fractionally positive. When you had large fluxes in and out, it didn’t make sense that the knife edge always came out just positive. He wondered what accounting decisions had been made. I think like a short seller. Whenever I see knife edge balances, like the knife edge balance by which the net index from modern proxies comes out a hair warmer than the index from medieval proxies in many multiproxy studies, I wonder what accounting decisions were made. You can dress it up in statistical language, but civilians can think of the issues as being accounting decisions. Sometimes you need to look at more than one thing. Andrew Fastow did.

The stories in Eichenwald’s book about Fastow’s rage reminded me of Mann’s rage – often exemplified in public, but now placed further into context by the Climategate letters.

The comparison with Enron may also be helpful in placing Climategate into context. Obviously, corruption at Enron did not prove that all business enterprises were corrupt. Conversely, no defence lawyer for Ken Lay or Jeffrey Skillings or Andrew Fastow would have stood before a court and argued that, because no one had showed that all business enterprises were corrupt, corruption at Enron didn’t “matter”. It did matter. Honest businessmen did not discourage an investigation of Enron or try to sweep it under the carpet. The best way to restore confidence in the rest of the system was to do a proper investigation of Enron.

I think that there is a useful analogy here. Defects in proxy reconstructions do not prove the non-existence of AGW just as corruption at Enron doesn’t prove that all businesses are corrupt. But the fact that some lines of scientific argument are unaffected by CRU conduct or misconduct doesn’t mean that potential misconduct by CRU and others doesn’t “matter”. It does. The difficulty of the “community” in understanding this does not reassure the public – that’s for sure.

I also think that the “community” under-estimates the public prominence of the Team as the face of climate science, in large part because of their prominence in the under-estimated blogosphere. Michael Tobis, for example, thought that the entire topic was unimportant because he wasn’t interested enough in Mann’s work or proxy reconstructions to bother understanding the questions. That’s fair enough. But because these disputes have been so visible in the blogosphere, the net result (whether the community likes it or not), long before Climategate, Mann, Jones and Briffa were much more prominent as the public face of climate science than they were within the “community”.

The Climategate Letters arrived on a scene where there was already a large audience that could readily understood the “dank” nuances of Yamal, bristlecones and most notably divergence. This audience knew exactly what the “trick …to hide the decline” meant, while the climate science community was still hallucinating that the “trick” might be a sophisticated statistical method.

In my posts about Enron, I discussed their “trick” – in order to avoid reporting business losses, losses which would have punctured the mirage and prevented them from raising fresh money to keep the scheme alive – they sold worthless assets to off balance sheet limited partnerships with complicated guarantees. The trick to hide the losses had considerably more sophistication than the trick to hide the decline in the IPCC 2001 report. My own take on Enron was that the failure wasn’t caused by the “trick”, but by horrendous non-performing investments – the “trick” merely disguised the recognition of the non-performing investments. Making bad investments isn’t an offence, but tricks are. And these were what ultimately cost Fastow, Skillings and Lay – with Lay arguing to the end that he was so far above the fray that he didn’t know about the trick.

I think that there’s a moral for the science community from business failures in how to handle a problem like Climategate. In order to get past something like Enron, the affair could not be ignored. It had to be investigated properly. (Judy Curry has an editorial here from a different perspective) For obvious reasons, people with employment history in Enron or shareholders in Enron would not be appropriate people to serve on an investigation commission, though their testimony and information would be invaluable to the investigation.


  1. mpaul
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 11:47 AM | Permalink


  2. JCM
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 11:52 AM | Permalink

    Excellent analysis. Every time I heard the Bre-X release of higher estimates of gold I laughed. I am no sophisticated investor but I just smelled a rat; too good to be true. I am amazed at the comments I read on media sites where scientists defend Phil Jones to the death and slam Mr McIntyre.

    • Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 5:54 PM | Permalink

      At the same time as Enron, I kept hearing about the wonder of fiber optics and how the need for bandwidth would keep growing and growing. I worked in telecom and could not understand why the demand should grow in the way that these analysts predicted. People were finding the Internet useful because it provided connectivity not massive bandwidth. Think of Facebook and now think of how little bandwidth a Facebook page must generate.

      However I did not laugh at the time. I assumed that what all of these industry leaders saying must be true. After all, they were paid far more than me and had masses of Ph.D. researchers supporting them. I really should have laughed and followed my instincts. I knew that these claims had little merit but I acknowledged my limitations and followed what I thought was a learned consensus.

      I should have sold this industry short and I’d be making this post from my private 747 on the way to Paris right now. I’ve learned my lesson and will never trust an industry analyst or scientist again and that includes the IPCC and climate scientists in general.

  3. Michael Jankowski
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 11:57 AM | Permalink

    The documentary, “Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room” (which in turn is based on a book) didn’t show Fastow’s rage. Skillings had a few outbursts, including swearing at an analyst during a conference call who dared question Enron’s numbers.

    Skillings (“We are the good guys. We are on the side of angels”) also took a pie in the face. I might prefer to picture him as Mann.

    Maybe the most appropriate quote from the film: “The fatal flaw at Enron was pride – arrogance, intolerance.”

    Yep, lots of parallels.

  4. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 11:57 AM | Permalink

    My blogging has been a bit inattentive this week as a friend has asked me to help him with a problem in a mining deal. I’ll try to comment on Judy Curry’s essay on a later occasion.

  5. PhilJourdan
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 12:03 PM | Permalink

    I am with Steve on Analogies being dangerous to use. And I will be the first to admmit I know almost nothing about the Enron scandal (other than the headlines). But the article does make a good analogy that even I understand, even if I have no reference to check on the facts of Enron.

    Thanks for making it easy to understand for a layman.

    • Grumpy Old Man
      Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 4:43 PM | Permalink

      I second those sentiments.

  6. Craig Loehle
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 12:26 PM | Permalink

    An excellent analogy. In the Enron case it is not a defence that the employees are good people or that it was a well-run company or that they were the smartest men in the room. They failed because 1) they had nonperforming assets and 2) they hid this fact. The hockey stick is a nonperforming asset. This fact has been hidden with tricks and multiple-publishing of the same data to make it look like independent support and not reporting goodness of fit statistics (etc). The long dissection of this tricky business, as Curry noted today elsewhere, prepared thousands of people to be ready to understand the climategate emails precisely.

    • Tom P
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 2:21 PM | Permalink

      “The hockey stick is a nonperforming asset. This fact has been hidden with tricks and multiple-publishing of the same data to make it look like independent support and not reporting goodness of fit statistics (etc).”

      Ironically, it was Steve who did not report the goodness-of-fit statistics of his “Scheingruber variation” to the Yamal proxy when attempting to show this hockeystick was not robust. In fact Steve’s substitution has a considerably lower correlation, 0.38, compared to Yamal’s value of 0.57. 0.38 is below the previously published threshold for acceptance.

      No analogy is perfect, but on this point it is precisely the wrong way round.

      steve: Tom P, you should really understand a little statistics before pontificating as though you were Gavin’s Guru. I did not submit the Schweingruber variation as an alternative reconstruction of temperature. I have consistently rejected the idea of picking proxies on ex post correlation – a point discussed on many occasions. Your idea – that some Yamal larch are magic thermometers because of ex post correlations while others aren’t – is Monty Pythonesque, though they limit their primer to how to recognize the larch from a long way away, but omitted a discussion of how to recognize magic larch from a long way away. This is taught in fourth year at the University of East Anglia, the University of East Anglia’s courses being specifically referred to in another Monty Python episode.

      • BillyBob
        Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 3:18 PM | Permalink

        I think Tom P, you are searching for the term “salting”.

        A small amount of gold salted in a small area yeilds great results for speculators in the same a way a small amount of proxy warming (up to about 1960) in one or two trees in a small area like Yamal has resulted in a “gold rush” of billions of dollars in AGW business.

        • Tom P
          Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 3:45 PM | Permalink

          Nonsense – you should take some of the posts on this site with a large grain of salt.

          The Yamal chronology is not substantially changed by the removal or a tree or two. Here’s the chronology with either the three fastest- or three slowest-growing trees taken out:

          Those twelve trees that offended Steve so much he felt he had to excise them from the chronology were in fact only responding to recent temperatures. For some reason Steve never felt he had to show the tree-ring chronologies with the corresponding instrumental records. Here they are with both the Yamal region growth-season temperatures and the neighbouring northern Urals temperatures:

          It’s certainly not Briffa who stands in for Lay in Steve’s analogy.

          Steve: Your idea – that some Yamal larch are magic thermometers because of ex post correlations while others aren’t – is Monty Pythonesque, though they limit their primer to how to recognize the larch from a long way away, but omitted a discussion of how to recognize magic larch from a long way away. As I’ve said on a couple of occasions, I don’t have time to debate Yamal larch right now. It may be a couple of months, but I will try to re-visit it. If you want to bump a Yamal thread from time to time, please do so, but please stop demanding room service every few minutes.

        • BillyBob
          Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 4:19 PM | Permalink

          Tom, you’ve made my point for me very well. A salted mining claim has gold only showing up in a very, very small section of the land (or in many cases just the assay samples).

          There are only a few “salted” trees in Yamal that show warming. The rest do not.

          You are a purveyor of “salted” data.

        • Tom P
          Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 4:46 PM | Permalink

          And those trees responded to the rapid rise in recent temperatures. Unlike salted ore, there is corroborating data here, the temperatures that Steve chose not to present.

          Does it not give you pause for thought that for more than two thousand years no growth on such a scale was found in the live or fossil record, except for the last few decades?

        • PhilJourdan
          Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 4:56 PM | Permalink

          You are still missing it Tom P. The trees, given their selective nature, are the salt. Just as in a mine, the salt is the gold. it matters not if man(n) put them there, or God. The fact they are not indicative of the rest of the mine (forest) is.

        • Tom P
          Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 5:11 PM | Permalink

          Only if you believe, and I’d like to see the evidence, that these recent trees are a small subset of those cored, and data from those cores not included gave little correlation with temperatures.

          Steve: Tom P, we’re not going to debate Yamal on every thread. I asked you to take this discussion to an appropriate Yamal thread – rather than hijack this thread. You are welcome to argue dendro matters on a dendro thread, but not to hijack threads. Sorry about that, but I’m going to insist.

        • Tom P
          Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 4:36 PM | Permalink


          No demand for any room service – I’ve used the code you kindly provided to serve myself.

          You previously felt that the very statistics you now criticise as “ex post correlations” were valid enough to favour the Polar Urals chronology over Yamal. Why have they suddenly fallen out of fashion?

          Steve: thanks for a more constructive tone. I think that you’re missing an important nuance here. I don’t advocate any of these things as being “right”. It’s entirely foreign to hundreds of posts. My point is likely to be that the Polar Urals correlation contradicts efforts by others to claim that Yamal is “right” on the basis of its correlation – not that I was saying that Polar Urals was “right”. This is a style of point that climate scientists regularly misconstrue. I don’t know the comment that you;re referring to here – it’s possible that I may not have expressed the point as carefully as I usually do, but I’m usually fairly precise on the distinction and would be surprised if I wasn’t in this case.

        • Craig Loehle
          Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 5:02 PM | Permalink

          Tom P: 1) You have live trees with high correlation to temperature. Dandy. How do you pick the subfossil trees that are “best”?
          2) Steve’s point was NOT that the Polar Urals was better but that no one ever showed why it was never used (plus there is some question as to which instrumental data were compared to in order to find a high correlation with local temperature). 3) If some trees/sites show a higher correlation with temperature than others in the 20th century, what is the assurance that they did so hundreds of years ago–what proof is there of stationarity? And reason to argue against stationarity. I remind you of my paper:

        • Tom P
          Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 5:22 PM | Permalink

          1) Who said the included fossil trees were selected from a larger dataset? And as long as the selection criteria for live and fossil trees were consistently applied, there is no basis for a bias.

          2) There is a good statistical basis to include the Polar Urals in a reconstruction. Here’s the result:

          3) Your paper is about divergence. The Yamal chronology doesn’t show divergence, but rather a good recent correlation with the instrument record.

        • Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 7:46 PM | Permalink

          I miss the old paleo discussions.

        • Skip Smith
          Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 4:57 PM | Permalink

          Me too. The politics stuff was fun for a while, but it’s getting old. I’d like to see a renewed focus on the science.

        • dougie
          Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 7:45 PM | Permalink

          do you really think tree rings give a believable record of past temps from now to 1000 yrs ago & Mann’s work carries any scientific weight now with anyone with half a brain ?

          those days are over.
          face the new reality.
          argue in the mirror, but leave the rest of us alone please

      • Tom P
        Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 4:23 PM | Permalink


        You ask me to dial back? Perhaps you’d like first to rethink your analogy which squarely associates CRU with Enron:

        “In my posts about Enron, I discussed their “trick” – in order to avoid reporting business losses, losses which would have punctured the mirage and prevented them from raising fresh money to keep the scheme alive.”

        You used your substitute chronology to undermine the robustness of the Briffa’s Yamal result while failing to disclose the low correlation of your substitute with the instrumental record, even after I specifically requested it.

        When did you know that the correlation was that low, and why did you not feel a need to share this?

        steve: Tom P, Yamal is offtopic on this thread. I repeat what i said before –

        you should really understand a little statistics before pontificating as though you were Gavin’s Guru. I did not submit the Schweingruber variation as an alternative reconstruction of temperature. I have consistently rejected the idea of picking proxies on ex post correlation – a point discussed on many occasions. Your idea – that some Yamal larch are magic thermometers because of ex post correlations while others aren’t – is Monty Pythonesque, though they limit their primer to how to recognize the larch from a long way away, but omitted a discussion of how to recognize magic larch from a long way away. This is taught in fourth year at the University of East Anglia, the University of East Anglia’s courses being specifically referred to in another Monty Python episode.

        • Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 5:00 PM | Permalink

          Tom P,

          I wonder what is so complicated about the point that you cannot select data based on correlation. Correlation of the result is nearly moot. All it says is that trees aren’t good thermometers. The fact that one tree set correlates and another doesn’t is pretty good evidence of that fact.

          BTW, if Briffa threw a fit based on the mere question that he may have used correlation of treesets as Mann did to select his series. If you say that’s how he did it, you’ll just piss him off.

          Your suggested method of data elimination causes variance amplification.

          Your suggested method is also a trick of equal quality to simply truncating the decline. I like to call it hockestickization. Did you work for Enron?

          Low correlation means, noisy data, not data which should be eliminated in favor of other data. Such simple stuff for a PhD like yourself.

        • RB
          Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 5:12 PM | Permalink

          I’m not expert enough to assess Steve’s findings, but I am aware of the risks of correlation-based analysis:

          I had totally forgotten about superquant David Leinweber’s subsequent—and totally brilliant—discovery: that butter production in Bangladesh, U.S. cheese production, and sheep population in Bangladesh and the U.S. together “explained” (in a statistical sense) 99% of the annual movements of the S&P 500 between 1983 and 1993.

          Steve – there are lots of amusing examples. The original article on spurious correlation compared mortality to the proportion of Church of England marriages.

        • Tom P
          Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 5:26 PM | Permalink


          Why do you feel you need to assert:

          “I did not submit the Schweingruber variation as an alternative reconstruction of temperature.”

          I made no such claim. I said:

          “You used your substitute chronology to undermine the robustness of the Briffa’s Yamal result…”

          Do you disagree?

  7. Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 12:32 PM | Permalink

    Exactly, hide the decline took exactly zero additional effort to put into context.

    • Luis Dias
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 12:41 PM | Permalink

      There were a lot of people who didn’t understand the “hide the decline”…

      • Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 12:52 PM | Permalink

        I’m sure you are right but at the time I was a regular commenter here and had been digging through the same Mann08 data. I remember when Jones wrote that he didn’t know what he meant by it, my reaction was to say BS, every climatologist knows. It’s no coincidence that RC used that as their defense.

        However, their defense missed the timing. At the time of ‘hide the decline’ not many knew as indicated by the email from another scientist which asked if the graph was “bodged”.

        • Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 10:12 PM | Permalink

          I know squat about statistics, and very little advanced math. Even I understood what it meant.

  8. Dave L.
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 12:36 PM | Permalink

    Is not the issue under discussion best encompassed by the term “ethics” or lack there of? Climategate exposed a sordid deficiency in ethical standards/behavior. Was not the downfall of Enron largely the result of ethical misconduct?

    I am proud of my son; Enron hired him because of his proven expertise and experience — they made him an offer he could not refuse, so he left a good paying position to move to Houston. Within 2 weeks, my son realized that Enron wanted him for “unethical” purposes; it was straight forward malfeasance. My son’s comment at the time: “It is a bed of snakes.” He fortunately was able to find a good position elsewhere and quickly departed the Enron scene — only a few months before the bottom dropped out.

  9. DennisC
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 12:53 PM | Permalink

    Curious as to whether anyone could comment on what a commenter said at

    At (#6) he says as follows:

    Paul Nelson { 02.22.10 at 8:36 am }

    Re “you can’t claim CO2 is causing warming without a mechanism.”

    The hypothesized mechanism is provided by the absorption bands of CO2 that are located near the peak of the black-body spectrum at the mean temperature of the Earth.

    Steve: this is an important and relevant question, but editorially I don’t allow people to debate AGW from first principles on every thread. Feel free to debate this issue at the blog where it arose.

    • Craig Loehle
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 12:56 PM | Permalink

      DennisC: A full reply would violate blog policy, but just note that the CO2 adsorption bands argument only gets you 1 to 1.3 deg C warming, not catastrophe. You need positive feedbacks (gain in EE terminology) to get more warming.

  10. Robert
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 1:01 PM | Permalink

    Great post Steve. Definitely food for thought. Although we would like to believe “Climategate” has exposed the dark underside of climate science, and that it would force this discipline to change direction, the continued attempts to whitewash the whole thing doesn’t bode well.
    Thanks for keeping the pressure on!

  11. INGSOC
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 1:16 PM | Permalink

    This is an excellent write up Steve. The parallels are intriguing and rather apt.


    • Tolz
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 2:00 PM | Permalink

      Judy Curry deserves a shout out as well for her essay.

      • ianl8888
        Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 5:12 PM | Permalink


        It is interesting to compare this essay with the one she posted here about 3 months or so ago

        From my reading of these, her current essay contains much less naivety on the core issues while still retaining integrity

        Gives me hope

  12. Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 1:17 PM | Permalink

    The parallel with Enron is intriguing. When businessmen “hide the decline” we string them up. Scientists, not so much.

  13. Harry Eagar
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 1:19 PM | Permalink

    There has been an explosion of the term ‘circle the wagons’ over the past few dozen hours, here, on other skeptic blogs and even at Real Climate.

    I would offer a slight amendment. It’s ‘circle the wagon.’

    They have only one.

    • PhilJourdan
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 3:24 PM | Permalink

      Like in Blazing Saddles? LOL

      • Grumpy Old Man
        Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 4:54 PM | Permalink

        Or “Don’t shoot or the climate scientist gets it”?

    • LibertyMark
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 3:30 PM | Permalink

      It’s really weird. I used that term today in a comment I made at RC, and then after that, I noticed it several other places. I did do it independently, as in, I wasn’t inspired by the other uses of it.

      It’s like the universe just decided it was time to use the term.

    • Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 3:55 PM | Permalink

      Circle the wagons uses “circle” as a verb – the wagons (a bunch of ’em) are “circled” to make a defensible circle. So the phrase, “Circle the wagons” seems correct to me.

  14. Steve
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 1:25 PM | Permalink

    Imagine being an accountant at Enron. You have dozens of *independent lines of evidence* supporting the hypothesis that you’re working at a sound and hugely successful company: Rising stock prices, rising profits, fancy headquarters, thousands of very smart coworkers and management that believe in the company, positive press articles, etc. You sit at your computer and see that there are problems in your particular area. Logically, you would conclude that it’s no big deal, or that you’re doing something wrong. You wouldn’t conclude that the whole company is worthless, because there are so many other lines of evidence that say otherwise.

    I do see the same dynamic in the global warming debate. Anyone in climatology is familiar with dozens of *independent lines of evidence* that there is recent and sudden and carbon-induced warming–models, paleoreconstructions, temperature data, receding glaciers, extreme weather events, dying polar bears, etc. You sit at your computer and see data that is ambiguous but seems to go against all the other lines of evidence. You would logically conclude that probably the data is actually consistent with this theory and it’s your analysis that has problems, you’ll re-think the analysis and stop thinking when you get the answer consistent with the AGW hypothesis that everyone knows is right.

    The *independent lines of evidence* mentality is always bad, but it is especially bad when it leads to vicious cycles like this.

    • Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 2:39 PM | Permalink

      It is, in my opinion, missing a main ‘root cause’ in these matters by not addressing the underlying assumptions and faith in the validity of assumptions that are, in the real world, false. This is why the analogy to Enron’s demise works. A key, but little remarked upon nugget in this is that Enron bought into CAGW. Ken Lay bet his company on this and when the real world resisted, took the Dark Side path rather than question his premises and assumptions made be people such as Dr. North.

      Steve: Puh-leeze. Enron did not “bet ” the company on AGW. This was a minor issue in the collapse.

      • Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 2:42 PM | Permalink

        argh. *by people such as Dr. North.

      • Posted Mar 2, 2010 at 3:37 PM | Permalink


        Minor issue in the final collapse, maybe, but Ken Lay did bet his company on AGW. I went back to double check my memory. From a William L. Anderson piece posted at “Lay, a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a radical environmentalist and anti-free-market organization, supported the disastrous Kyoto Accords on “global warming.” Enron had banked on trading permits for carbon dioxide emissions, which would have been based upon the existing permit system for sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-burning electric power plants. When the Bush administration refused to sign the Kyoto treaty, however, Enron was left out in the cold.”

        Also, there is this article from the Financial Post: and this blog post from from which there is much source material to peruse.

        As I said, this was a root cause. Had Enron remaind a gas producer and pipeline operator, this would never have happened.

    • Tom C
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 2:42 PM | Permalink

      This analogy is really apt as well.

    • yobro
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 5:15 PM | Permalink

      This is interesting as a philosophy of science issue. It reminds me of Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” with its “normal science” (AGW), accumulating “anomalies” (errors and unreplicatable analysis)and the final “paradigm shift.” Like it or not, science is a social endeavour, with real people and their prejudices, tribalism, etc., but it places itself above suspiocion, based on the scientific method. Well, it seems like the scientific method has been subverted to hide the anomalies, and are in such a paradigm shift right now; large chunks of the data collection, aggregation and analysis will have to be redone to restore confidence.

      • yobro
        Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 5:16 PM | Permalink

        sorry about the typos–“and we are in such a paradigm shift”

    • Jane Coles
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 5:44 PM | Permalink

      Apropos “the independent lines of evidence”, I was struck, when reading Lawrence Solomon’s “The Deniers”, a year or so ago, how many of his interviewees said (very roughly speaking), “I’m an expert in X and the X component of AGW theory is seriously flawed but I assume the non-X parts are okay”. The referent of X changed from interviewee to interviewee, of course.

      • COM
        Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 6:04 PM | Permalink

        This is like reverse of the parable of the blind men and the elephant.

        Each individual blind man finds that there is nothing present, but together they are sure there is an elephant.

    • Ausie Dan
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 7:33 PM | Permalink

      Steve – I’m a retired accountant. If I found a problem in my small area, I would fix it (i.e. correct it, NOT put in a “fix”). If that led me on to another problem, I would attend to that as well. If that led on to an expanding and accelerating collapse, then I would be required to blow the whistle. That is never pleasant and leads to much hostility from peers and superiors. But there’s no alternative, if you are an accountant. What do scientists do in this situation?

      • Tony Hansen
        Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 3:34 AM | Permalink

        Ausie Dan ..’What do scientists do in this situation?
        Good question. The good ones get it right. The rest… well, it seems they have different ideas.

        • Paul Coppin
          Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 11:24 AM | Permalink

          Tony Hansen
          Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 3:34 AM | Permalink | Reply

          Ausie Dan ..’What do scientists do in this situation?

          Attempt to publish a peer-reviewed paper. Oh, yeah…

    • HotRod
      Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 3:55 AM | Permalink

      Re: Steve (Feb 24 13:25), I like that a lot. Steve, I’ve stolen it to post in the comment section at replying to a post on my article on Climategate in Prospect.

  15. Henry chance
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 1:46 PM | Permalink

    Enron is the perfect story. Enron is the incubator for this global mess in many non related ways.

    1 COx, sox, nox and CH4 were first posed as greenhouse gases there worthy of cap and trade treatment.
    2 James hansen and the left had intimate meetings about setting up this financial instrumentation.

    3 One poster mentioned non performing assets. Actual as a CPA, the case was undisclosed liabilities. They signed loan guarantees for officers outside of the accountants knowledge. (off balance sheet liabilities are extremely problematic)

    4 Their CPAs also did their books.
    Anderson CPA’s did the audits
    Anderson consulting ran the IT and accounting. Anderson auidited itself, Major no no (just as bad as the CRU keeping the files and having the ability to alter data.)

    5 Politics. Enron shuved legislation in california for Wind energy, Did energy trading for California pensions and hosed the state in no less than 5 different ways I won’t discuss.

    6 Hansen met with Enron officials and it was a mutual adoration society. Love at first sight.

    7 Guess who is now Enron wind, GE bought them out.

    8 if you look at economics, Califronia is the poster child for dysfunctional approaches. Enron was a perfect bedfellow since they could exploit the mess at several levels.

    9 Enron trading fiascos are the cause of several Utilities in California to declare bankruptcy. ( look out for a carbon trade bubble and bankruptcies that don’t learn from enron.

  16. Dr Iain McQueen
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 1:58 PM | Permalink

    I do not know details of the Enron affair, and in particular to what extent its practices were known to the very centres of power i.e. how embedded was Enron inside the whole machinery of government?
    The climate science spoutings are not just embedded in the multiple governments of the west, but actually gospel!
    This may be a difference between the long term Enron crumble after the short sellers got going, and the events that are now being played out since Climategate.
    Enron had to satisfy a well established legal framework and once it crossed the line, and was spotted, the machinery of the law had to roll its course down a long defined path. In other words its illegalities were defined.
    Climategate is the public face of spotting some flaws, but how does one use it? There is no comparable legal framework for the law to get underway so fatally. Climate change theory is deeply embedded in government; there is no will to make an exhibit of it, as this would amount to government exposing itself. The most you can expect is for a few carefully chosen indictments to stick (e.g. Jones’ rebuke from FOI office is the story so far). Sadly we are dependent on the persistence of the only other court of public opinion through the media, and they so far seem a bit schizophrenic and weak. That said, Inhofe has his teeth into the EPA and just might make an exhibition of it!

    I hope I’m wrong, and certainly there are a great number of similarites in the unfolding story, but I’m having a gloomy day!

  17. Henry chance
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 2:06 PM | Permalink

    Just another comment on shorts. As Enron unraveled, i made a lot of money selling shorts. I stayed with it an a little spare time daily trading even until it was trading under 90 cents. It is a small world. I wrote my first fortran program in the early seventies to use it to trade securities. It is ironic that the climate models use
    Fortran and are easy for me to review. GE is interwoven between science, subsidies, TARP bailout funds, The healthcare mess with uncle Sam not to say the NBC media. If GE turns sour, it can be the next stumble and largerr in adverse impact to the feds than AIG.

  18. EdeF
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 2:08 PM | Permalink

    The same sort of statistical anomaly was discovered with Madoff…
    good returns in even the most turbulent times. Dead give-away. I am going back to my dank cave to obsessively re-read this article.

  19. Gareth
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 2:14 PM | Permalink

    Apologies if this is somewhat off-topic,

    There is a direct connection between Enron and Dr. Pachauri’s The Energy and Resources Institute/Tata Energy Research Institute.

    In 2000 a member of the TERI Advisory Board was Enron’s Chairman and CEO, Rebecca Mark.

    TERI sent a request for funding to the US Department of Energy on 26th May 2000, to fund a workshop on energy security. The proposal begins on page 88 of this document: (5.6MB pdf).

  20. Poly
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 2:25 PM | Permalink

    Enron was McKinsey/HBS/dotcom silliness. I knew some of the people in the mix. The real fraud was not the accouting…that was just keeping things going. the real fraud was the intellectual fraud involved in these guys thinking that they had some spectacular new financial instruments, when they really did not understand Brealey and Myers. And then you had all the trumpeting of it.

    • Henry chance
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 10:43 PM | Permalink

      Actually it was the accounting. Enron owned a strong asset formerly called Northern natural Gas. It was a reliable cash cow. High in revenues and solid profit stream.
      The officers inside Enron had this little habit of moonlighting and starting companies on the side. They would start a company privately, borrow money from a bank and cosign as an officer guaranteeing the note with Enron signature. It drove Anderson CPA’s crazy because these liabilities were both outside of Enrons balance sheet and not even recorded. A few of these were discovered after liquidation.

  21. Gord Richens
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 2:36 PM | Permalink

    Steve wrote: “how could so many smart analysts get it wrong?”

    The adverse consequences for an analyst to be both alone and wrong are so great that most will balk at the prospect of being right and against the crowd. I’ll leave it to others to associate this phenomenon with the behavior of climate scientists.

  22. Tom C
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 2:41 PM | Permalink

    Great post Steve.

    I would point out, though, that Enron does not arise only as an analogy to, but also as an enabler of, Team behavior. How can you question the consensus when even the big bad companies are on board?

  23. ZT
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 3:53 PM | Permalink

    Nice article. Carbon trading was an Enron innovation. Apparently there have already been $300 billion ‘carbon transactions’ (as of Feb 2010) – so naturally the science had better not spoil market.

  24. Jonathan
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 5:39 PM | Permalink

    The analogy is a helpful one, and explains the attitudes of skeptical scientists as well as skeptical layman. As an ordinary working scientist (not a climate scientist) it is the failure of the climate science community to address the obvious problems in paleoclimatology, and especially in dendroclimatology that in large part feeds my skepticism.

    As a (non-climate) scientist I cannot comment authoritatively on GCMs (it looks to me like they are effectively choosing their parameters by multi-variable fits, which is a pretty foolish thing to do, but they assure me they’re not, and I don’t know enough to be sure). I cannot comment authoritatively on the temperature records (though the data at looks pretty bad, and the conclusion that UHI doesn’t matter is “surprising” to say the least). But any half competent scientist should be able to understand dendroclimatology, and to recognize that it’s junk science. Picking data by correlations is dubious at best, supposed teleconnections are bizarre, and the divergence problem would effectively rule the whole approach out in any normal branch of science. If even 10% of what you say about dendroclimatology is true (and personally I’m pretty convinced that most of it is true) then the field is self-evidently junk. If the climate science community could admit this I’d be a lot more inclined to take the rest of their views seriously, but while they defend the obviously indefensible it’s hard to believe anything they say.

    Talking socially to my academic colleagues it’s pretty clear that many of the scientists, with the exception of those directly involved in climate science or renewable energy, are more or less skeptical about the “consensus”. It’s only those in the humanities or the social sciences who take it seriously.

    • Dr Iain McQueen
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 8:34 PM | Permalink

      Re: Jonathan (Feb 24 17:39),
      A very interesting comment. While cogitating “Enron group think”, I wondered what percentage of your scientific colleagues would have said, openly, whether they were skeptical six months ago? Any guess?

  25. Feedback
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 6:01 PM | Permalink

    A very fine post indeed, insightful read, miles ahead of any MSM that I know of.

    Not important, of course, but when yoy say

    “So one needs to take care in trying to go a bridge too far in this sort of comparison.”

    It makes me wonder if this is an upside down McIntyre…

  26. Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 8:05 PM | Permalink

    Judith Curry’s post, “On the Credibility of Climate Research, Part II: Towards Rebuilding Trust”

    — is really quite impressive: much less dancing around than her previous Climategate posts, much more insight into what’s really going on. Well worth reading.

    • Tolz
      Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 12:02 PM | Permalink

      …and how about the money quote by Dr. Curry:

      “No one really believes that the “science is settled” or that “the debate is over.” Scientists and others that say this seem to want to advance a particular agenda. There is nothing more detrimental to public trust than such statements.”

      She won’t be having cocktails with Al Gore anytime soon.

  27. Sean Peake
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 8:20 PM | Permalink

    It’s the first intermission so I have time to post. This is why I come here. A brilliant piece and frightening comparison. Well done… Go Canada

  28. RichG
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 8:57 PM | Permalink

    Great post Steve.

    The only place where this analogy diverges is in what side the main stream media was on.

  29. Walt
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 8:58 PM | Permalink


    This is OT, but Joe Romm is claiming in a post today that you started Climate Audit in 2000, well before RealClimate. Of course, he was just rambling again.

    • Dave Dardinger
      Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 11:28 PM | Permalink

      Re: Walt (Feb 24 20:58),

      That was probably about when Steve started studying the subject as MBH98 and MBH99 were out by then. But CA definitely started later, after RC was up and running. I was diverted to it shortly after it started when Ross McKittrick linked to it.

    • Duke C.
      Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 1:53 PM | Permalink

      Re: Walt (Feb 24 20:58),

      Romm updated the same article and now claims that by simply posting comments about Rob Bradley proves that Steve McIntyre is funded by Exxon-mobile. Will it ever end?

  30. RoyFOMR
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 9:32 PM | Permalink

    Steve, for me, this is the best thread I have ever read at CA.
    I understood, I think, everything that you said. A personal crossing of a Pons Asinorum. Thanks.
    Before today I just kind of accepted, whenever my eyes glazed over with incomprehension, that whatever you said was honestly authorative unless it was torn to shreds by the fearless, peerless forum puppies who jealously guard against illogic and faux-science.
    Tomorrow, no doubt, you’ll be back into the heavy stuff and I’ll be using my eyebrows more than my understanding to glean the thought that as much as I don’t understand the stats, I do trust you guys.
    Sorry TP, your argument, to an ignoramus such as me, seems to revolve around that old-faithful fillibuster “we’ve published, he hasn’t, how long do we have to wait?”
    Repeat it, as often as you have, still confers zero- legitimacy (sorry Gavin) to the argument that trees are friendly thermometers, until 1960, Tom, your arguments provide heat, and humour, but your 0 Kelvin position continues to shower us with knegativity of knowledge!
    Love the Enron Analogy.

    • geronimo
      Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 4:03 AM | Permalink

      RoyFOMR. Buy yourself a copy of “The Hockey Stick Illusion” by A.W. Montford, it’s got a good layman’s explanation of the statistics, and it’s a rattling good read to boot.

  31. Poly
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 10:43 PM | Permalink

    Much better than usual post here.

  32. justbeau
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 11:29 PM | Permalink

    Wonderful essay.
    Enron was in part interesting in relation to how many folks accepted its vaunted reputation, a similarity to easy acceptance of Global Warming.
    Many senior people within Enron made a great deal of money by maintaining the company’s image. Similarly, via cap and trade, some leading champions of Global Warming aim to make a great deal of money. For their part, some climate scientists can enjoy acclaim and sense of mission.

    Many environmental issues have an ethical component for adherents. This moves them into realms of faith, hope, and values. They may thus be little interested in the plausibility of scientific evidence.

  33. Mesocyclone
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 11:54 PM | Permalink

    Apropos Enron and Climate… Prominent (at the time, anyway) skeptic Dr. Robert Balling approached Enron to see if they wanted his testimony about the uncertainties in AGW assertions. He was under the assumption they were a hydrocarbon company. He was rebuffed, and told that Enron planned to make money from carbon trading, so they had now use for a skeptic.

  34. Mesocyclone
    Posted Feb 24, 2010 at 11:54 PM | Permalink

    correction “had NO use for a skeptic”

  35. ianl8888
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 12:44 AM | Permalink

    Yes, CA and several other websites have certainly showed intellectual fortitude and some very high quality street smarts for a decade “digging here” – much more than I ever had the statistical knowledge or time for over the last 10 years

    However, the really big “bump in the night”, the advent that threw these issues plumb onto the world stage, was the dump of the CU emails onto the Internet, allowed to go forever wild. Whoever did that changed history !! I wonder if this anonymouse will be treated well by historians ?

    A miracle indeed !!

    A bit like the Captains and Kings and Generals claiming to win history-changing battles with superior gunfire, but nobody remembers the multitude of unknown blacksmiths who blew their fingers and thumbs and hands off first, learning how to control gunpowder

  36. L.T.
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 1:23 AM | Permalink

    I think, perhaps, the most interesting bit about the comparison to Enron was the PR involved. Enron had a massive PR going on for much of its existance, which in turn helped it to become such a monolith at the time. Of course, there was everything else, but everything else was also utilized by the PR campaign to some degree. The complete destruction of Enron and the reactions of its employees is also a particularly powerful lesson.

    In particular, let’s look at how global warming is being handled today. There is a massive PR campaign involved in selling it to the public combined with encouraging loyalty. The “circling of wagons” is not just encouraged by those in charge of it, but by people who regularly attack people who support global warming. And it should come as no surprise that some of those people, some of the more persistant and long-lasting ones, are paid by the global warming industry in order to do it. I should know; I’m on the list of ones paid to do it, though events over the past year are forcing us to reconsider. Other groups, as well, may be reconsidering or not, but I am only privy to what orders I am personally given.

    I can say why this tactic evolved: There was always the fear that the science might be proven wrong. Which, to me, suggests that the science was wrong from the beginning and they knew it. Thus, the idea is to get the die-hard supporters to feel so embattled that they automatically shut out and science or event that contradicts their viewpoint, which in turn guarantees unending support from them and, possibly, generations to come. It only adds to the confusion that there are a lot of genuine supporters on both sides attacking each other.

    In any case, I know my group is potentially going to be reassigned. We’re too jaded to begin with, and a lot of us knew already that some of the science behind global warming was bunk.

    • Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 2:06 PM | Permalink

      Re: L.T. (Feb 25 01:23),

      I tend to want to focus on the specifics of issues and look for the oddball events or anomalies so I have to disagree with statements like “the science was wrong” as too general to have relevance. You say later that “some of the science behind global warming was bunk” so maybe that’s OK. The abnormal science that occurred partly involved a misrepresentation of the uncertainties wrt to causes and implications of climate change. There’s good science on ‘both sides’ that says maybe yes and maybe no on specific issues. There are serious signal to noise issues and a core issue is the significance of signals ‘detected’ in various experiments.

      The Enron case shows PR and political access as factors in addition to the more specific accounting tricks, misrepresentation to and scamming of customers, and misrepresentations to shareholders.

      I disagree with “a massive PR campaign involved in selling it to the public” wrt to global warming but am willing to say massive PR campaigns by many groups (on both sides), admittedly some overlapping and some just ‘fellow travelers’. Perhaps you have better insider information about how monolithic the PR process is. For example, some groups are definitely upset regarding current talk about nuclear plant increases, an unwanted side effect of CO2 mitigation in highly energy-dependent economies. Back to Enron: Initially positioned as a New generation of energy companies, including the brokering and selling of energy ‘derivatives’ in addition to the brokering of direct energy transfers. Good PR, believed by state governments and public utility companies…until the house of cards collapsed. Current energy corporations of course want to position themselves to their best advantage.

      Back to ‘Global warming’:
      “Which, to me, suggests that the science was wrong from the beginning and they knew it.” might be true but I tend to think that PR and political groups were hoping the science ‘on their’ side was correct but hedging their bets. They couldn’t do the science but they could do what they do best: spin, spin, spin for their cause.

      One common question should be, as inquiries and investigations occur, is whether the ‘science’ was legitimate and merely used by others for their own purposes or whether some scientists themselves were involved directly and cooperatively in creating the scenarios desired by partisan others in analogy to the supposedly independent, outside, accounting firms that vetted Enron.

      • L.T.
        Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 8:09 PM | Permalink

        I will admit that, sometimes, I state “the science is incorrect” when I mean “a lot of the foundation science is incorrect.” However, I must admit on that I do not actually know; I do know the portion in the 1980s was sold based on a scare tactic that used heavy doses of theatrics, but that is purely on Hansen’s head and is before my time.

        I can also say that you are more correct to characterise it as multiple PR campaigns, at least early on. However, I will say that after the IPCC came around and even a bit before it, a lot of these campaigns seem to have merged into following the same paths. This does not mean that I am accusing them of conspiracy; with something this huge, conspiracy is (in my opinion) probably a logistical impossibility given the thousands of different groups involved. More like they were given a direction in which to follow and the campaigns, in a way, merged into a singular whole while still maintaining their individual selves. That produces the internal bickering over some of the solutions while, at the same time, all of them as a whole continue to push the primary objective forward. We see campaigns like this pop up all of the time in the real world, only this is the first time it has happened on this scale that I am aware of. I may be off in stating it as this and I am merely providing my own logic for calling it a singular campaign instead of referring to it as multiple campaigns.

        On global warming (a term I keep using simply because I got tired of keeping up with the Term of the Day):
        I’ll accept I might be wrong on what it suggests to me. No matter how much I might wish otherwise, I am not a scientist. It may be too much cynicism on my part in regards to this field, and I’ll admit my perspective may have been polluted by my time working this particular field. That hedging of the bets was going on is definitely true; however, I’ll have more for you on that tomorrow, as soon as I finish up one project.

        The answer to the common question is, simply, both possibilities are true. There has been legitimate science that has been used and misused, sometimes by the scientists themselves (though, I hear you could play a good game of hockey with one misuse), and there has been some science created just for the express purpose of backing a conclusion that was decided before the science was even started (such as making sure you had a strong stick for that game of hockey when the stick’s material was questioned).

    • Skip Smith
      Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 5:08 PM | Permalink

      In all of your posts claiming insider information you’ve never said anything specific or verifiable. I suspect you’re making this all up to try to seem important.

      • L.T.
        Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 7:33 PM | Permalink

        You’re right in the first sentence. In all of the posts where I’ve come close to claiming insider information, I’ve not said anything specific; and, in most of them, I talk about working within a team. You are wrong on the seeming important part; if I were, I could claim a lot higher. People claim to be scientists of some sort online all of the time, and even some of the scientists who post online are not that convincing as such. I could certainly do much better than one of the most hated professions in America if I wanted to lie about it.

        There is also one other possibility: Considering what you’ve seen of me on here, do you really think I could get another job if I lost this one? And do you really think I wouldn’t be fired if I jeopardised my employers by saying too much?

        I’m neither maker of company policy, nor management, nor scientist, nor journalist, nor team leader, nor expert in whatever field you can name (except, possibly, making a killer ravioli). And most of what I have said is, to a degree, verifiable or at least hinted at by evidence that can be gathered for yourself by common Google searches; there’s a reason as to why I kept going on about Exxon in one entry.

        • Skip Smith
          Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 2:47 AM | Permalink

          Yawn. You remind me of the guys on the martial arts boards who claim to be black-ops Navy Seals, always hinting at their secret missions.

        • L.T.
          Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 7:57 PM | Permalink

          Yeah. My secret missions are “review a paper or two a week and make change recommendations,” “do other tasks as assigned,” “attend an occasional industry meeting,” “post on a blog,” and “spin on another blog.”

          Yep. Extreme black ops stuff there.

        • WillR
          Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 10:11 AM | Permalink

          Re: L.T. (Feb 25 19:33),

          I used to write, and sign research grant proposals for single companies, multi-company consortiums and consortiums that included University researchers. I usually signed the final reports and decided what was public and what was not. L.T. hasn’t said that much, what he/she has said is correct to the best of my knowledge — and I do know some of the players in the national and international arena. I could fill in a lot of blanks but many people I know still take research dollars — and they don’t need to be harassed. Nobody would know most of the people — and most would not care who we were and what we were about.

          What I can confirm on the AGW research side is that there are a few camps — ranging from those with religious fervor to people who take the money so they can fiddle their books and re-direct into what they consider to be “real” and commercial valuable research. I did not take the money for the AGW projects — but I believe people I know did. I never checked and did not want to know — because they considered the research to be of no value and intended to re-direct the money. I had the same opinion of the research but simply could not bring myself to take the money. They just wanted the money and their name on some papers with a prominent research institution funding them.

  37. CJ
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 1:29 AM | Permalink

    You can find unthreaded by typing unthreaded into the search box on the upper right.

    Or you use the [select category] button underneath the word categories on the upper left.

    Thanks. -chris

  38. liberalbiorealist
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 1:34 AM | Permalink

    While I think the analogy with Enron is certainly on point, I think a better one might be with the failure of economists as a profession in any way to foresee the current economic crisis beforehand.

    What’s more persuasive about this analogy, in my view, is that it involves economics as entire science, and mistaken beliefs about what economists had really established. In contrast, Enron and its fate were mostly the doings of those within the company or connected to it. It’s hard to see Enron’s failings as the defects of a consensus view among scientists, rather than a more standard story of an arrogant company gone wrong.

    Consider, then, the case of the state of economics and economists in the years before the current economic crisis.

    The vast majority of economists believed at the time that economic advisers like Alan Greenspan had discovered a method of dampening and correcting for deep fluctuations in business cycles purely via careful manipulation of money supply.

    Economists also generally thought that all lines of evidence demonstrated the stability of the strategy. That all these lines of evidence essentially assumed what they were supposedly “proving” — namely that nothing systematic and catastrophic could occur — seemed at the time not a matter worth attending to.

    Those few economists who dissented from that view were marginalized as contrarian cranks or fools.

    And of course the “consensus” among economists that all was well also coincided perfectly with all kinds of motives both financial (the banks were cleaning up) and political (both fat cat Republicans and Democratic Party constituencies wanted subprime mortgages to roll on).

    Yet, of course, all of this consensus ended not only in error but in disaster.

    • Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 9:36 AM | Permalink

      The treacherousness of analogies reside more the way they break at the wrong place or time and haunts the analogist back, like a whiplash. In this very case, readers could delve into the economical details of story and find unexpected relationships. It might not be the best of times to rely on corporate regulations as superego.

  39. Tim
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 1:42 AM | Permalink

    There was a time when what Enron did was not a crime. It took a few scandals like Enron for people to realize how much damage could be caused by accounting tricks.

    The auditors went bust because they were tasked with finding accounting tricks and failed to.

    I can’t think of a time when so much has been riding on the unverifiable claims of scientists. Scientific tricks now have the potential to be just as damaging as accounting tricks. Perhaps we need a new law.

    • Nathan
      Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 2:24 AM | Permalink

      When was it legal?

      What unverifiable claims?

      • philh
        Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 8:29 AM | Permalink

        The question is not whether the conduct was legal or not. The conduct, in each instance, was unethical. In one case it led to jail. In the other, it leads to disgrace.

        “What unverifiable claims?” If you don’t know the answers to this, then you haven’t been paying attention.

        The analogy is absolutely sound.

  40. JamesG
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 6:00 AM | Permalink

    The F word doesn’t apply only because it has a monetary connotation. Avoid that word and leave it as intent to deceive and you’ll see the analogy is in the potential for unethical behaviour in any self-auditing, unaccountable process. Clearly they did it out of misplaced altruism, rather than monetary gain.

  41. TA
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 11:12 AM | Permalink

    Feel free to delete this email. This is really a message to Steve. Steve, it may be worth your while to reply to the following by Ben Santer:

    • gimply
      Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 11:23 AM | Permalink

      I quit reading Santer’s rant when he claimed collegiality. There are lots of cites in the email record which indicate anything but.

    • justbeau
      Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 2:39 PM | Permalink

      Santer is his own worst advocate. Very emotional.
      He concludes by alluding to receipt of a MacArthur genius grant. This must provide soothing reassurance for a threatened ego.

      • TA
        Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 7:32 PM | Permalink

        I agree. However, there are a lot of newbies checking out the blogs these days, wanting to get to the bottom of various conflicting claims. For this reason, a response could be really useful.

  42. theduke
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 11:53 AM | Permalink

    Bradley and Steve’s analogy is apt. Tricks, adjustments, suspiciously consistent favorable data, etc all combine to undermine trust in the work product. This causes an eventual collapse in the value of the thing.

    Compare this to the fatuous analogy offered by Bill McKibben in today’s LA Times in which he finds the tactics deployed by OJ Simpson’s defense team comparable to those of climate skeptics.

    • theduke
      Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 12:00 PM | Permalink

      Re: theduke (Feb 25 11:53),

      link to McKibben op-ed:,0,193293.story

      In McKibben’s telling of the analogy, the treatment of Phil Jones is equivalent to the execrable treatment of Mark Fuhrman by Johnnie Cochran.

      • Shervin
        Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 1:02 PM | Permalink

        Has anyone looked at the comments on this article? LA Times is a pretty pro global-warming newspaper and so is the readership, I suspect, but skimming through the comments I have yet to find a comment that supports the article. Another fact that was surprising was that among the comments there are very few that are logically incoherent or have their facts wrong. I suspect the “skeptics” camp is much better informed about the science and its shortcomings than the “warmist” camp is and a lot of the credit goes to Steve.

        Thanks Steve!

      • EdeF
        Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 4:05 PM | Permalink

        I occasionally do use the LA Times in the process of cleaning up the garage or when doing large, dirty projects like re-tiling the kitchen. Comes in handy.

  43. justbeau
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 11:56 AM | Permalink

    Regarding the essay by Judith Curry, her account of history alludes to skeptics in the 1980s or 1990s being funded by Big Oil.
    I do not know the history to which she alludes, but it still seems desirable to move away from this sort of us versus them outlook, to focus on substance. What should fundamentally matter is the strength of a scientific argument, rather than who offers it.
    Most persons can harbor potential conflicts of interest, evident or more dangerously subtle: politicians, academic scientists, environmentalists, industry scientists. Some have dismissed Mr. McIntryre merely on grounds he is a mining guy and not part of their select community, rather than dispassionately considering the strengths or weaknesses of his views.
    One failing evident within the Climategate CRU emails is the disinterest in understanding differing viewpoints, on grounds of assuming doubters to be corrupt. Climate scientists will not earn much public trust until this failing is broadly and sincerely renounced.

  44. mpaul
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 12:19 PM | Permalink

    There’s ample evidence that the Enron folks did not beleive they were committing fraud. They viewed thier ‘trick’ as simply a clever way to hide the decline in the asset value of bad investments. And they believed the trick was legal. They didn’t understand the accounting regulations and mis-applied the rules. You don’t need intent in order to committ fraud.

    It is a matter for the investigators to determine whether CRU committed fraud. I think there is sufficient evidence to warrant the investigations.

  45. Shallow Climate
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 1:40 PM | Permalink

    I like this post; it makes sense to me. At the same time, it’s once again (for me, at least) “Climate Audit Lite”, or “Climate Audit Once-removed”. I suppose that posts like this one are necessary and valuable, but while we are doing these, who is minding the store? Nothing out there in the “peer-reviewed literature” that could stand some good auditing? Here’s a diabolical thought: While SM wins this “lite” battle, a bunch of junk gets firmly embedded in the literature and the war is lost. Well, what do I know?? Plus, it’s not my site–SM gets to do what he wants. “Live and let live.” And I still put my sou in the tip jar.

  46. Micky C
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 6:43 PM | Permalink

    The “smartest guys in the room effect” is definitely a real problem. There’s a story about a guy called Trader Vic who tried to get 20 or so of the best of the best mathematicians to form a company of brokers. He figured that being so good at data analysis they could assess futures and risk really well.
    Ironically about 16 of them ended up losing 50% of the money given to them (by Vic and not insubstantial – over $200,000 each) after the time period (about 6 months) Why? Well they always thought they were right and that they could solve a problem. They had created a world in which being the smartest they would always tackle the hard problems, but ones which fell within their field of perceived expertise. Also they could never accept the advice of someone “less smart” than them. Vic told them to sell if they lost 10% (the usual cutoff). Some of them did however and made about 30% profit..and formed their own company.
    It is a very hard lesson to learn that even your beliefs system, the tools and methods you apply may be wrong for the task at hand. And that getting the result you desire may mean doing the exact opposite and trusting it works even if you don’t know how…like listening to someone rather than ignoring them.

  47. Kate7
    Posted Feb 25, 2010 at 9:03 PM | Permalink

    I would like Mr. McIntyre’s permission to post this at

    Climate Auditing – Close Encounters with Mr. Steven McIntyre

    “Ten days after the online publication of our International Journal of Climatology paper, Mr. Steven McIntyre, who runs the “ClimateAudit” blog, requested all of the climate model data we had used in our research. I replied that Mr. McIntyre was welcome to “audit” our calculations, and that all of the primary model data we had employed were archived at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and freely available to any researcher. Over 3,400 scientists around the world currently analyze climate model output from this open database.

    My response was insufficient for Mr. McIntyre
    Benjamin D. Santer”

    the part I’d like to post.
    As CA readers know, there are three major temperature indices that one encounters in public debate: HadCRU, GISS and NOAA. These were used for comparing troposphere and surface trends in the CCSP report that is a reference point for both Douglass and Santer, as shown in their Table 1 below……
    As a first exercise, I calculated the lapse rate trend between these three surface indices (collated into TRP averages) and RSS T2LT (and T2, as well as corresponding UAH results.)
    Using 2007 data (then available), 4 of the 6 comparisons of RSS data to surface data were statistically significant even with Santer’s autocorrelation adjustment: GISS relative to both T2LT and T2; NOAA and CRU relative to T2. Using data currently available, 5 (and perhaps) 6 comparisons are now statistically significant. (The t-statistic for the 6th, NOAA vs T2LT, is at 1.924.)
    Using obsolete data (ending in 1999 as Santer did), the two GISS comparisons were “statistically significant” even with truncated data. The t-stats were 2.7 (T2LT) and nearly 3 (T2) and weren’t even borderline. So what was the basis of Santer’s claim that “none” of the RSS lapse rates trends relative to surface temperatures was “statistically significant”?
    Santer didn’t include GISS and NOAA in his comparison!
    He deleted the GISS and NOAA composites used by IPCC and others and replaced them by three SST series: ERSST v2, ERSST v3 and HadISST. The ERSST versions had lower trends and these trends were enough lower than NOAA and GISS that the discrepancy between the ERSST versions and RSS was no longer significant. Santer proclaimed victory.

    My posts usually get thrown out. That’s ok. If you snip this, I’ll know I shouldn’t post it over at RC.
    (I couldn’t find Unthreaded)

    • Kate7
      Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 7:46 PM | Permalink

      Imagine my surprise. This comment was refused at RC.

  48. MikeN
    Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 12:03 AM | Permalink

    Enron and Kyoto: Down in flames
    Pin the tail on Clinton’s donkey

    This guy has had some interesting things to say on global warming over the years. Lumping in all the analogies, he also didn’t buy the WMD line for Iraq.

  49. Sean Wise
    Posted Feb 26, 2010 at 7:25 PM | Permalink

    snip – OT

  50. MikeN
    Posted Feb 27, 2010 at 12:56 AM | Permalink

    Comment stuck in moderation 2/26 12:03 AM

  51. Kate7
    Posted Mar 3, 2010 at 10:17 PM | Permalink


    Some of you might be interested in the strange case of Joe Romm and Enron via Romm’s defunct Center for Center for Energy and Climate Solutions.” If anyone knows what happened to his nonprofit, let me know.

  52. Rob Bradley
    Posted Mar 12, 2010 at 9:46 AM | Permalink

    These are great comments from which I can add at least one thing to my Climategate/Enron list: the market-to-model ruse at Enron. Enron basically manufactured its desired profit results by manipulating its assumptions in models. This was a perversion of mark-to-market accounting where the company could use its discretion about future energy prices in its long term energy contracts since the market was not liquid as in the short run.

    So where the science is not settled, put in the assumptions that give you your desired result. Work from the story to the reality, not the reality to the story.

6 Trackbacks

  1. By Multi decadel climate variability « TWAWKI on Feb 24, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    […] Climate elitists – a law unto themselves […]

  2. By Climategate, what is going on? - EcoWho on Feb 24, 2010 at 7:44 PM

    […] Rob Bradley: Climategate from an Enron Perspective […]

  3. […] and the Zombie Fungus February 24, 2010 shewonk Leave a comment Go to comments Over at CA, The One is making comparisons between the CRU hack and Enron. Analogies are interesting things. I kinda think of this when I think of denialists and contrarians […]

  4. By Top Posts — on Feb 25, 2010 at 7:29 PM

    […] Rob Bradley: Climategate from an Enron Perspective As noted the other day, Gerry North was one of the presenters at Ralph Cicerone’s AAAS panel. North had […] […]

  5. […] Go here for the rest. Thanks to Kate. […]

  6. […] and reject climate alarmism/forced energy alarmism as the ‘Enronization’ of science. See this post for more on this […]

%d bloggers like this: