Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Professor Muller of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project is always interesting, but he just keeps digging his personal hole deeper. He recently gave an interview titled “Scientists Often Pigeonholed By Political Debates” and answered questions on NPR. To his credit, he is standing up straight and tall for science, for full transparency, for the scientific method. I like that. He is also one of the few mainstream scientists who has publicly said that Climategate showed horrible behavior and scientific malfeasance, and he repeated that on NPR:
CONAN: And that’s, you would say, would be at the heart of the so-called Climategate story, where emails from some scientists seemed to be working to prevent the work of other scientists from appearing in peer-reviewed journals.
Prof. MULLER: That really shook me up when I learned about that. I think that Climategate is a very unfortunate thing that happened, that the scientists who were involved in that, from what I’ve read, didn’t trust the public, didn’t even trust the scientific public. They were not showing the discordant data. That’s something that – as a scientist I was trained you always have to show the negative data, the data that disagrees with you, and then make the case that your case is stronger. And they were hiding the data, and a whole discussion of suppressing publications, I thought, was really unfortunate. It was not at a high point for science.
And I really get even more upset when some other people say, Oh, science is just a human activity. This is the way it happens. You have to recognize, these are people. No, no, no, no. These are not scientific standards. You don’t hide the data. You don’t play with the peer review system.
I wholeheartedly agree. I only fear that Muller doesn’t realize the full extent of the problem. I’m afraid he hasn’t noticed how that whole “we’re on a noble mission to save the world from itself” mentality has deeply infiltrated and corrupted an entire field of scientific inquiry.
I also found his comments on “pigeonholing” quite revealing. In the interview he divides people into “deniers”, “skeptics”, and “exaggerators”, and discusses what he sees as the characteristic claims of his neatly pigeonholed groups … and then he claims he doesn’t like pigeonholing?
Here’s a pro-tip, Dr. Muller.
A man who dislikes pigeonholing doesn’t use the term “denier”. It makes people doubt both your sincerity and your goodwill. You’ve been told many times that I and many other people out here find that term insulting. You continue to use it. Is that stupidity, or do you just not care that you are insulting people, or are you insisting that you have the right to insult people? Whichever way … it’s not good.
Next, he wants to play both sides of the street, viz:
CONAN: How much of that [warming] is attributable to humans? But do you agree that at least – does the data show that at least some part of it is attributable to humans?
Prof. MULLER: Yes, yes. It’s us. People call me a skeptic, because I drew attention to many of the exaggerations that in – is in former Vice President Al Gore’s movie. But I think a scientist has to recognize when there are exaggerations and settle down on what is solidly known.
OK. That’s clear. Regarding the warming, “It’s us.” He’s not a skeptic, he says he’s talking about what is “solidly known”. However, he continues …
Temperature has been rising over the last 100 years. That’s pretty clear. How much is due to varying solar activity and how much due to humans is a scientific issue that we’re trying to address.
Huh? How can he say “It’s us” so confidently, how can it be “solidly known” as he claims, if it is still “a scientific issue that we’re trying to address.” ?? Make up your mind, Dr. Muller, because clearly the Olympic back flip-flop isn’t your best event …
I did greatly enjoy Dr. Muller’s indirect takedown of Jerome Ravetz, however, viz:
CONAN: Well, given the analysis that you reached, aren’t there urgent policy decisions that need to be made?
Prof. MULLER: Oh, that’s the irony. The policy decisions are so urgent that people tend to abandon the scientific method. It’s ironic that when something’s important, they sometimes feel they have to not be so candid and unbiased because it’s urgent. I think just the opposite. When things are urgent, that’s the time the scientist has to settle down and show – do things using the unbiased methods that they’ve been taught.
Thank you, Professor Muller. Jerome Ravetz keeps pushing “Post-Normal Science”, the idea that when the stakes are high and decisions are urgent, we should change the way we do science. I agree with Muller that when things are urgent is the time when we need the full rigor of the tried-and-true scientific method even more than ever.
Next, Muller says:
CONAN: Urgency, though, is the critical word here, is it not?
Prof. MULLER: Well, I think one of the things we’re trying to do at Berkeley Earth is determine how urgent it is. The global warming attributed by the IPCC, the big U.N. Council that makes this consensus report, attributes about half a degree, half a degree Celsius of warming to humans. But is it .4? Is it .3? If so, we have a lot more time. Is it .6 or.7? If so, we’re in a big rush.
I find this curious. Does anyone know where he gets that “half a degree” of anthropogenic warming from the IPCC report? (And I love his description of the IPCC report as a “consensus report”, he must not have twigged that “consensus” is what you get when you squash all opposition. But I digress.)
In any case, I don’t see how his work with BEST relates to any urgency. Does he really believe that BEST finding a difference of 0.1°C or 0.2°C in the observational record will suddenly make the situation “urgent”? As he points out, the issue is not whether the world is warming, it is whether humans are the cause. His work will not elucidate that question in the slightest.
Finally, I emphatically did not like his dig at Anthony Watts.
CONAN: You mentioned Anthony Watts. He runs a website for climate deniers, said he was prepared to accept whatever result your group produced, even if it proves my premise wrong. After your testimony, he said the hearing was post-normal science political theater.
Prof. MULLER: Well, I think Anthony can be forgiven for his ups and downs. I think he has done a great job, a real contribution, and I think his work has proved really essential.
Professor Muller thinks he is entitled to advise us to forgive Anthony for his “ups and downs” because of the great weight of Anthony’s contribution to science? Man, the good Doc’s sense of entitlement knows no bounds, it’s been far too long in the ivory tower for that boy. Having transgressed badly himself, he now wants to lecture us on proper behavior as though we were his college students?
Now, that comes close to undoing all the good Prof. Muller did above with his defense of honest science. Here’s my take-home message for Professor Muller:
Professor Muller, there’s a lot of folks like me out here who are deciding whether or not to forgive you for your un-necessary public attack on Anthony, using data he had given you in confidence. Your arrogant and patronizing attitude in this interview merely helps us make up our minds whether you are worth forgiving or not.
My vote is still yes, Dr. Muller, we should forgive you. But that’s based on your profound but probably curable naiveté about climate science and your general likability, and not based on your contrition or probity, because you seem woefully short on both of the latter. The good news is that at least you stand revealed. From here out any man who tells you anything in confidence is a fool. You have shown us that you won’t shirk to first publicly betray the man’s confidence, and then to top it off you’ll advise us to forgive the man for being so crude as to get upset at your betrayal …
Again, let me say that none of this says anything about whether the BEST results will be good, bad, or meaningless. That is a totally separate question, about which to date we know far too little to comment.