I've long nursed a notion that the climate denial narrative relies on an environment of chinese whispers, that explains how a large and robust scientific consensus is turned into a popular delusion of some pseudoscientific "hoax" or "fraud" or "myth" simply by the shaving of meaning between successive accounts. It's a point I must return to because it works in a temporal dimension too, like our generation teaching the "controversy" of global warming rather than the science.
Anyhow , an Andrew Montford interview spewed forth a couple of dubious claims that need putting to rights and I was putting together a blog post on those points when I realised his entire interview is evidence of the notion above.
Montford has no special experience to relate on this issue, he's simply read the emails himself and tells the reporter what he thinks ofit all. But would the story be any different if the journalist had read the CRU emails himself first hand, and checked the facts ? Getting to the truth is a collegiate exercise. So in the interests of getting to the truth lets put Monty's words under the microscope.
NS: What do you think motivated the Hockey Team to misuse the data, use unconventional statistical methods, etc?
Montford: It is clear that at least some members of the team felt themselves under pressure to produce, in the words of one of the Climategate emails, "a nice tidy story…as regards apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more". On the whole though the shenanigans seem to have been the result of "noble cause corruption" - they sincerely believed that there was a problem that required an urgent solution and that this justified cutting corners.
The question about motivation is somewhat loaded but Montford's answer is a clear misrepresentation. Reference to pressure to produce "a nice tidy story" does indeed appear in one of the emails, but the writer concludes that argument with the caveat that " the reality is not quite so simple". It's in an email from Dr Keith Briffa beginning with the line "Let me say that I don't mind what you put in the policy makers summary if there is a general concensus." But Monty leaves that out. He also focuses on the four words (out of 848) which conjure up the impression that suits his purposes. Montford is cherry picking his quotes to create a narrative that suits him.
I've pointed this out to Montford but he washes his hands of all responsibility with the reply : Hengist I was asked what made them do the things they did. I said they were under pressure to do so and quoted the words that showed this to be the case. 1
On closer inspection though we find the words that showed Monty's case weren't quite the same as those in the hacked emails. Dr Briffa used the verb 'to be' but in Montford's account it has been changed to 'to feel', and declined reflexively in the plural. Montford's words "It is clear that at least some members of the team felt themselves under pressure" is pure sophistry. Briffa's reflection that 'pressure' exists has been turned into a complaint that he (and others) are under pressure.
But it's Monty's suggestion that this affair is the result of "noble cause corruption" which should set alarm bells ringing, because they do not appear in any of the emails. Bear in mind that this interview was conducted by email , so the inverted commas (signifying the phrase can be found in the hacked emails) are Montfords. Those words are in fact skeptic commentary, but he presents them as if they are to be found in the original emails, they are not. I've pointed this out to Monty 2 but answer comes there none.
1 Comment at Bishop Hill May 4, 2011 at 4:49 PM
2 Comment at Bishop Hill Jun 6, 2011 at 10:41 PM