Thursday, November 25, 2010

Good science and scientific error: A comment elevated to a post

I originally intended to post this as a comment on the discussion of "The Persecution of Michael Mann." However, although it is off topic, I feel it is important enough to warrant a post. Professor Ivor Robinson, a notable relativity researcher, told me on several occasions about a paper he had written, which contained a rather large mathematical error. Robinson was embarrassed, but acknowledged the error, which then took on a life of its own. Numerous subsequent papers, made mention of the error. Robinson's reputation was good enough to live down the mistake down, but of all his papers, the paper with the error drew the most citations.

Mistakes, errors and even deliberate data fudging are all part of the stuff of science. Karl Popper was right to place criticism at the heart of the scientific method.

It goes without saying that Michael Mann is capable of making mistakes. The scientific process involves an ongoing investigation of errors in previous science. DOUGLAS ALLCHIN has written a short essay on the scientific errors of Nobel Prize winning scientists. There is no doubt that even outstanding scientists can make huge mistakes. Allchin demonstrates that Nobel winning scientists have committed all sorts of scientific blunders, even in the work for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize.

Even great scientists are not free of error, some of them deliberate. Isaac Newton was a notorious science data fudger.

Thus it is part of normal science to detect error in the work of other scientists, and beyond that to detect deliberate data faking. Detection of errors in the work of scientists does not indicate that they are bad scientists, let alone bad people, only that they are human.

Now undoubtedly Steve McIntyre makes mistakes too, but not according his devotees, who seem to regard his every word as gospel truth. But Tim Lambert accuses McIntyre of distorting the context of quotes. For example Lambert accuses of switching the context of a Mann quote from the 1760's to the 14th century.

At least one web site, Deep Climate, now is now focusing attention on McIntyre's errors. In attempting to understand aspects of the climate debate, we need to realize that the critics of conventional climate science are probably not free of error. It is my impression that McIntyre over interpreted the "Climategate" eMails, and subsequent reviews of the affair have not sustain McIntyre's interpretation.

It is also not to Mcintyre's credit that his Wikipedia biography appears to be little more than a hagiography that sweeps criticisms under the rug.


Anonymous said...


This blog post is a "shoot the messenger" post is it not? Rather than address McIntyre's specific scientific criticisms of Mann's work you choose to go after McIntyre's character. Who is Galileo again?

I would like to suggest that Dr. Judith Curry fits the role of Galileo much better than Mann. Dr. Curry has recently dared to question the dogma of cAGW as preached by the IPCC. I recommend you read all of her posts if you want an insider climate scientist view of the world.

Heresy and the creation of monsters

Dr Curry is far more deserving of your support than Mann et al.


seth said...

And Einstein's biggest blunder wasn't!!!

Charles Barton said...

CharlesH, you have completely misread this post. First it is a critique of the notion that any error in science is a sign of bad science. The underlying assumption here is that all science is prone to mistakes, and even good scientists can and do make major mistakes. The comments about Mr. McIntyre, simply pointed to indicators that he had made mistakes. The notion that McIntyre is fallible seems to contradict the assumption by the Climate Audit crowd. You seem to take it as an attack on McIntyre's character. I pointed to McIntyre's Wikipedia biography, which makes no mention of criticism of his work, even though quite obviously such criticism exists as evidence, as evidence that his followers are not open to the possibility that McIntyre is wrong.

Anonymous said...


If you think Mc is wrong in his criticisms of Mann's scientific methods then tell us all where he is wrong.

Of course Mc can make mistakes. He has in the past admitted them and moved on (like all good scientists). However, on the issue of Mann's science he has not made material mistakes and his conclusions hold.

1) Mann's tree proxies don't track temps well and he tried to cover up this fact ("hide the decline").

2) Mann's statistics find "hockey sticks" in red/random noise.

3) Mann has with held his data and methods to avoid replication (or not) by others.

4) Mann has tried to bias the peer review process and IPCC to reject paper that don't agree with his positions.


Climate scientists receive $2B/yr and Mann in particular has received $Ms to support the IPCC position that AGW is really CAGW. On the other hand, Mc (retired, like you and I) has received nothing (maybe a few donations from readers to run his blog). Mann actually represents the power structure (church in you Galileo example) and Mc represents Galileo.

Mc fighting the well funded Mann is very much like charlesB fighting the well funded Romm. Truely! I admire charlesB and Mc for not backing down. You have much more in common with Mc than you have with Mann.

Have you actually read the posts on CA that discuss "hide the decline"? What do you disagree with?

Have you read Dr. Curry's blog yet?

A good place to start.


Charles Barton said...

Charles H., It is clear that a large majority of climate scientists, and a large majority of scientists as a whole have agree with Mann Hockey Stick conclusions and disagree with McIntyre's over all assessments. I am not a climate scientist, nor are you and Steve McIntyre for that matter. So I will post a debate between Andrew Dressler and Richard Lindzen, two climate scientists who have taken opposite sides in the debate, between the so called alarmist, and the so called deniers,

So far you have railed to address the most significant point of my argument. That is repeated investigations of McIntyre's charges against Mann, have not sided with McIntyre, and they have not found that Mann committed a crime, and that Mann is being subjected to a unique criminal investigation by the Attorney General of Virginia, even though there are no allegations of the exact nature of the crime, which Mann is being investigated for. Tell me, is this the standard of Justice which you conservatives believe that government should apply to its citizens, or do you only apply such standards to climate scientists whose conclusions you have chosen to disagree with?


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