Just Doing Their Jobs – “Robustly”

In the NYT this year:

While declining to comment on the details of the cables, Mrs. Clinton said the disclosures painted a picture of American diplomats doing their jobs: collecting information and impressions and communicating them in an unvarnished way to policy-makers in Washington.

Gavin Schmidt on the Climategate correspondents:

People working constructively to improve joint publications; scientists who are friendly and agree on many of the big picture issues, disagreeing at times about details and engaging in ‘robust’ discussions;

Gavin Schmidt’s term “robust”, right up to the quotation mark, was also used by Hilary Clinton:

She even used the occasion to plug the “robust” diplomacy of the Obama administration, noting that it assembled an international front to react to Iran’s nuclear program.


  1. Sean
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 5:13 PM | Permalink

    Is it only me but when I hear the term “robust” its like fingernails dragging across a backboard. I honestly don’t know what it really means and it seems to be used to convey confidence in a result whose uncertainty cannot be defended with any precision.

    • Chris E
      Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 7:02 PM | Permalink

      ‘Robust’ statistics are a means of making models that are not invalidated by inconvenient facts.

    • Hoi Polloi
      Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 4:35 AM | Permalink

      I prefer the term “Robusted”.

    • Ulises
      Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 11:02 AM | Permalink

      > I honestly don’t know what it really means…..

      Robust statistics are less sensitive to changes in the data, violations of assumptions or, in particular, outliers in the data (see for instance

      Steve: “robust statistics” is a defined technical term. However, the term “robust” in climate science is used somewhat sui generis.

  2. Luther Blissett
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 5:57 PM | Permalink

    Does the Team hanker for, or perhaps imagine it has, ‘diplomatic immunity’ of the type privileged to the Secretary of State, among others?

    In a wider sense, ‘immunities’ have been granted to the United Nations Organization and the Bank for International Settlements, among others.

  3. Coalsoffire
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 7:56 PM | Permalink

    Maybe we need another “law” like Godwin’s law. Anyone resorting to describing his argument as “robust” automatically loses the debate. Since Gavin Schmidt can’t seem to string together two sentences without using the term we could call it “Gavin’s Law”.

    • sHx
      Posted Dec 1, 2010 at 4:36 AM | Permalink

      Now, that is funny.

  4. Alexej Buergin
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 7:59 PM | Permalink

    Since AGW is the greatest problem of our time, there must be many, many cables about that topic. Surely the state department worries constantly about who will help to save the planet, and who will not.
    Funny that we have not yet read about those positions.

  5. Mark F
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 8:05 PM | Permalink

    Gavin’s Gambit, Steve’s Law

    • dougie
      Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 7:21 PM | Permalink

      Mann/Gavin’s Gambit, Steve’s counter ,Team defense (with illegal moves say’s Steve, no say’s team, we make the rules up as we go, we(and our friends in high places)own the board & most pieces, so stalemate ok?

      but who has the most pawns left may decide the game.

  6. kuhnkat
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 10:52 PM | Permalink

    I believe I am beginning to understand what the term ROBUST actually means. Thank you for the education!

  7. Ted Swart
    Posted Nov 29, 2010 at 11:55 PM | Permalink

    To me it seems that the term “robust statistics” is somewhat like “creative accounting” which is what got us into our current finanacial mess.

  8. John Andrews
    Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 12:01 AM | Permalink

    I recently read of a replacement strut for an RV axle system. The new strut was larger in diameter and was described as more ‘robust.’ My first impression was that they were feeding me a line. Then I thought about it and decided that the new strut was in fact more robust than the old, thinner one.

  9. Tom Fuller
    Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 12:21 AM | Permalink

    We must (we must) develop ‘robust’
    For fear (for fear) t’will disappear

  10. Faustino
    Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 2:10 AM | Permalink

    The Economist’s Democracy in America blog has a comment on Wikileaks which seems pertinent to Climategate etc issues:

    “I think we all understand that the work of even the most decent governments is made more difficult when they cannot be sure their communications will be read by those for whom they were not intended. That said, there is no reason to assume that the United States government is always up to good. The United States is nominally a democracy, but it’s sadly ridiculous to think this means very much. To get at the value of WikiLeaks, I think it’s important to distinguish between the government—the temporary, elected authors of national policy—and the state—the permanent bureaucratic and military apparatus superficially but not fully controlled by the reigning government. The careerists scattered about the world in America’s intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America’s unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it.

    “As Scott Shane, the New York Times’ national security reporter, puts it: “American taxpayers, American citizens pay for all these diplomatic operations overseas and you know, it is not a bad thing when Americans actually have a better understanding of those negotiations”.”

    This post was from one of the main writers on the DiA blog, WW of Iowa City. WW notes that the other main blogger, Michael Sparkleby, takes an opposing view. Sparkleby is a warmist who attacks dissenters without apparently grasping that a few years of warmer weather is not sufficient to demonstrate AGW or mandate drastic anti-emissions action.

  11. Faustino
    Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 2:19 AM | Permalink

    I’m all in favour of “robust” discussions, and, when they relate to policy issues, having them open to scrutiny so that we can assess the robustness of the arguments and data used in the discussions and come to our own conclusions on their import and required responses.

  12. Doug in Seattle
    Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 2:52 AM | Permalink

    The term has infected many areas of modern life. I am currently working on an antibody that will attack all instances of the offending term in the blogosphere. It is very difficult to contain, but so far has not persisted beyond my LAN. I suspect it looks too much like a computer virus and gets eaten up by the robust AV software I have installed on my network.

  13. johnh
    Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 5:16 AM | Permalink

    So Mrs clinton uses the same language in a similar context as Gavin Schmidt.

    Question:- Does this make Mrs Clinton a scientist or Gavin Schmidt a politician.

    Answer:- Neither, they are both bureaucrats.

    • Stacey
      Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 9:06 AM | Permalink

      Harsh but Fair

  14. Boris
    Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 9:49 AM | Permalink

    On the one hand, you have a lot of secret state information whose release could affect international relations between superpowers for years to come.

    On the other hand you have a “scientific scandal” that resulted in zero papers being overturned or retracted.

    I can see why the NYT would treat these two situations differently.

    • Pat
      Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 10:51 AM | Permalink

      The impact of the “scientific scandal” can be debated in many different fronts. But one result is there are a whole lot of the general public whose favorable opinion of the IPCC has turned unfavorable. Normally that would be newsworthy unless you don’t want to bring attention to it.

    • PhilH
      Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 11:04 AM | Permalink

      Come on, Boris. The NYT didn’t like the political implications of the Climategate e-mails so they didn’t print them. It is as simple as that, and you know it.

    • David S
      Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 5:27 PM | Permalink

      So can I, Boris. It’s just that they got them the wrong way round. There was a clear public interest defence for not printing the Wikileaks stuff, and none for suppressing climategate, where everything from threats of physical violence to attempts to subvert the peer review process were going on at public expense.

  15. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 11:16 AM | Permalink

    I guess the lesson here might be that a thinking person can decide for themselves how to interpret any leaks they may come by. I do not need the NYT, the Wiki whatever, Gavin Schmidt or the defenders of the status quo, like Boris, to spin the importance of these leaks.

    Leaks seem to result in one reaction and that is embarrassment. The question to be asked is what is it that is so embarrassing and why should it be so embarrassing. I would judge that the prime consideration here by the those embarrassed is the public relations effects. That politicians are very much sensitive to PR goes without saying, but the sensitivity of scientists and their defenders would be a puzzle for me unless I assume that the efforts of these people is very much into public relations.

  16. pesadia
    Posted Nov 30, 2010 at 3:43 PM | Permalink

    Climategate is still a hot topic, one year on. This release of government documents will be forgotten in a couple of months.
    In my opinion, climategate was and still is much more important and significant.

  17. PaddikJ
    Posted Dec 5, 2010 at 2:22 AM | Permalink

    I’ve noticed that the scientific literature is robust with robust, usually regarding data but also analyses, i.e., it’s part of science culture. I didn’t realize until this thread that it has a narrow statistical definition. I would guess it originated there & was quickly adapted by the at-large science community – rhetorically, it’s pretty powerful.

    But in climatology it seems to have gone way beyond rhetoric – it’s most often used as an all-purpose intimidater & debate quasher:

    Non-climate scientist: You seem to be getting a lot of mileage from very few data.

    Climate scientist (bristling): Our data are robust, and our conclusions are robuster.

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