SimEarth: Global Warming and the Great East Anglia Geek Betrayal

1 12 2009

So, unless you’re living under a rock or are only getting your news from the mainstream media, you may already be familiar with ClimateGate. If you haven’t, in a nutshell, a bunch of e-mails stolen (or possibly leaked) from the University at East Anglia in the UK reveal a major pattern of lying, obfuscation and data fudging that casts a huge shadow over the entire theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming. This is not a small scandal either. East Anglia casts a disproportionate shadow over climate research and their findings make up a huge chunk of the data on which the work the UN’s IPCC and other climate scientists relied on to come to the conclusion that global warming is a huge threat that needs trillions of dollars and a complete realignment of the world’s economic and political systems to address.

Or maybe not.

Now I’m not a climate scientist or a statistician or even a computer scientist. That will immediately bring out cries from global warming’s true believers that I am therefore not qualified to comment on this issue and should therefore shut up. This completely ignores the fact that most of those doing the yelling are also not scientists and are no more qualified to comment on this than I am. There is however, one area in which I believe I am an expert — in geeks and geek culture and it was my knowledge of geeks that started sending up red flags on this issue a number of years ago.

One of the first red flags came when I first heard the phrase “computer models” offered as proof that AGW was happening. My first thought at the time was that I hoped that the climate model that these scientists were using was better than SimEarth, one of the forgotten “Sim” games created by Will Wright and Maxis back in the ’90s. The game modeled the Earth and the evolution of life based on James Havelock’s “Gaia” theory and allowed the player model various climactic and geological developments to build whatever sort of Earth one wanted.

As it turns out, the leaked emails reveal that the programs these scientists were using may actually have been worse predictors than SimEarth. According to the leaked e-mails — especially the Harry_Readme.txt programmer comments file — the code in these climate models was abominable. It was so bad that these guys were essentially making stuff up as they went along to make the climate models do what they wanted them to do — and sometimes to just make them work at all. They really were playing SimEarth and a lot of grandstanding politicians, glory-seeking scientists and radical environmentalists looking for their “emergency” went along for the ride.

What really set me off on the climate models was everything I read about how getting data sets impossible because the scientists in question did everything they could to hide the raw data and the details of the climate models they were using from skeptics. These were people who did everything they could to subvert the very peer-review process that is supposed to insure that science is reliable. That betrays everything that geeks usually stand for. I know geeks. Geeks welcome skeptical inquiry. Geeks are very into the whole “radical honesty” thing. I know plenty of engineers in the gaming biz and one of the most important lessons any PR person learns is “Don’t let engineers without media training talk to the media.” Otherwise your programmer will tell a journalist just how crappy your latest game is turning out. Scientists, like engineers, are geeks and it’s this welcoming attitude toward skepticism that’s supposed keeps the wheels of scientific research turning.

Global Warming was different. The more this issue dominated the media and government policy, the more red flags started going up. Calling skeptics “denialists” (subliminally bringing up the spectre of of Holocaust deniers). Demonizing those who question conventional wisdom on Global Warming. Burying, ignoring or evading questions that even a lay person could see poke serious holes in the AGW theory. Claiming that the science was “settled” when a growing body of evidence (including the statements of obviously reputable scientists) says it isn’t. Ignoring the work of statisticians (climate science places enormous weight on statistics) who said that the numbers of global warming just didn’t add up. Global Warming started to look more and more like a flame war on a gaming forum. Too many people had too much invested in global warming being real to ever admit that they might be wrong — and billions of dollars and a tremendous amount of political power are much better motivators than being right about which Final Fantasy was the best.

Finally comes this piece of news — much of the raw data that’s supposed to underlie these climate models was destroyed by the scientists involved. To go back to my SimEarth example, this is rather like dumping the source code and expecting everyone to just believe what comes out on the screen. It’s no longer just about the climate science — it’s about what was revealed about the statistical methods and coding methods of the scientists involved. There are a lot more geeks in those disciplines than compromised scientists and as people with expertise really begin to dig into these emails and the trail of tainted data spreads across the work of climate scientists around the world, it may at least bring some sense of balance back into something that was beginning to take on the disturbing overtones of a new secular religion with Al Gore as its high priest.

As for me, I’m still a Global Warming skeptic. I don’t know that it’s happening, I don’t know that it’s not. But I do know a few things. I know that if global warming isn’t real, these guys deserve to be in jail because we may have just avoided a huge waste of time, money aqnd energy into solving the wrong environmental disaster when we really do have environmental issues to deal with. That’s always been my response to people who ask me “How could you be against cleaning up the environment?” I’m not. I consider myself a conservationist in the Teddy Roosevelt mold. If there is no global warming, we were about to destroy our way of life for a lie that might not even help with real environmental problems.

If it is real, these guys deserve to be shot. They’ve given environmentalism and the process of scientific peer review a black eye from which it may take decades to recover all while global warming really does wipe out our world. This is a real issue and our decisions have real consequences and we need better data than can be generated from a 20-year old video game.

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6 responses

2 12 2009
Keyser

Anytime anybody says “the science is settled” or anything similar, it should immediately raise a red flag. The only reason anyone would make such an overreaching statement is if they were trying to discourage anyone from investigating further into the matter. If the science they used was so sound, why wouldn’t they welcome people to check their results and come to the same conclusion instead of telling people to just assume they got it right?

The whole thing has stunk since day one. The fact Al Gore is a billionaire should tell you all you need to know about what this “green” movement is really all about.

2 12 2009
Balance of Power

Allen,

As a fan of your work at Gamespy I am underwhelmed by your political commentary.

It’s not because we have opposing views, I like to read & hear opinions across a broad spectrum of thought, but your political commentary just seems to cleave to the same-ol’ tired Conservative talking points I hear from the mainstream right wing.

That said, It was inevitable that the right wing blogosphere would jump all over this but it is merely a betrayal of their own underhandedness and intellectual dishonesty (which only serves to remind me why the term Conservative is such a misnomer for a group that is far from conservative and disciplined as it portends to be) by purposefully taking these e-mails out of context and framed to suit their anti-AGW argument.

[I am reminded of the quote attributed to the infamous Cardinal Richelieu “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of man, I will find something in them which will hang him.” which is essentially what the global warming opponents are doing.]

For the sake of space and time, I’m not going to go over the e-mails and defend them, I think that a rational human being – regardless of political affiliation – who is interested in both sides of a story would followup on the rebuttals and explanations of those scientists who discuss in greater detail what was meant by mentions of “travesty,” “decline,” “trick” etc… ( http://mediamatters.org/research/200912010002 )

In answer to the comment by Keyser – while I can only speak for myself – I have never heard any climate scientist ever claim that the science is settled. Even this article from 2007, while the panel is convinced of the evidence of man-made global warming, they were still quoted as using the conditional statement that it is “very likely.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/03/science/earth/03climate.html)

The perennial favorite straw-man that the Right likes to trot out, Al Gore, is not a scientist. So he does NOT count. He is a spokesperson, he is paid to make assertions.

This argument reminds me of the debate on evolution, which is attacked in similar fashion by fundamentalists and intelligent design proponents, by suggesting that things are inconclusive and that there is debate within the scientific community.

There IS debate among scientists, but not the kind of debate the anti-science crowd suggests.

The debate exists as to how these processes form, develop, sustain and diminish.

Moreover, science doesn’t “settle” anything.

Technically speaking, the laws of gravity are still “just” a theory. For all we know gravity could very well be “Intelligent Falling” (to quote a headline from The Onion). But the preponderance of the evidence suggests otherwise.

The same goes for man-made global warming and evolution.

While I can appreciate the rational concern that scientists, perceived as Chicken Littles, up on high in their Ivory Towers and their lab coats are susceptible to the dangers of group think, I find this concern is being blown out of proportion considering that scientists dissent all the time.

This was particularly the case during the Bush years when scientists like James Hansen (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/03/science/earth/03nasa.html) continually fought the suppression of global warming reports by those above him.

Eventually the Bush administration relented to the overwhelming evidence.

The keyword is evidence. Evidence is not peer-pressure. It’s not groupthink. Evidence is evidence. And has been independently verified by thousands of scientists from across the world.

If global warming were merely the hysterical ravings of some egghead climate scientists with their silly computer models why would the CIA and the Pentagon study global warming as a national defense issue in 2007? (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/09/world/americas/09iht-climate.1.5197190.html)?

Why would a group of retired Army generals and Navy Admirals contribute to a security report in 2007 whose focus was the global and national security threats posed by global warming? (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,266161,00.html) [A Fox News link so no one can accuse me of Left wing bias]

These groups are hardly known for flights of fancy or reactionary, knee-jerk reactions.

As I write this. what I find particularly telling is how Conservatives will advocate for the invasion of a nation such as Iraq, which by now – all but the most delusional have conceded never posed a danger to us – based on scant evidence and half-truths from an administration who preyed on their xenophobic, anti-Arabic, anti-Islamic fears, all in the name of national security.

Yet in the case of global warming, despite the body of evidence that continues to grow year-in and year-out, despite the growing dangers from natural catastrophes and human catastrophes that GW poses, Conservatives continue to drag their feet, gnash their teeth, and cover their eyes. No amount of evidence is sufficient for them to take action.

Perhaps if we drew a turban and a crescent moon on the problem we could perhaps get you to come along? What if we called it Islamic Warming?

I leave you with this quote which should provide you food for thought:

“We never have 100 percent certainty,” said retired Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, former Army chief of staff. “If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield. That’s something we know. You have to act with incomplete information. You have to act based on the trend line. You have to act on your intuition sometimes.”

Quoted from the report “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change” as written and compiled by the CNA Corporation.

(http://securityandclimate.cna.org/report/National%20Security%20and%20the%20Threat%20of%20Climate%20Change.pdf )

Cheers,

BoP

P.S. Allen – forgive me if I don’t reply right away – if at all – to any future replies you may write. I will try to read them, but as it is, I am already running behind on much of the work I am supposed to do for this week and in the coming weeks. I hope you understand.

3 12 2009
Keyser

Balance of Power:
Holy ridiculously long comment Batman.

Re: (on Iraq, which had absolutely nothing to do with the OP, heh) “all but the most delusional have conceded never posed a danger to us”

Call me crazy, but that sure sounds like the same sort of mentality (read: tactic) used by those who have said “the science it settled” to me.

If you want anyone to actually read through your posts/comments (especially if they’re that long), you might not want to write off every comment/thought made by the people you disagree with as a “right wing” or “conservative” thing. All but the most ignorant know that’s the fastest way to lose any reader.

I realize it’s hard for those who have been spoon fed the same crap about GW on a daily basis to come to grips with the reality that the Earth isn’t warming and hasn’t been for the past decade, and that any warming that did take place prior to the past decade has not been scientifically proven to be the result of anything mankind has done at all. These are the cold hard facts GW believers refuse to acknowledge, and now that the suppression of these facts is being made public GW believers feel the need to lash out because they can’t phathom the possibility that this was one big convenient platform to generate revenue and push a political agenda. It’s coming to end, and I’ll go ahead and give you a heads up now; you’ve all got a big “we told you so” headed your way in the coming few years.

4 12 2009
HCF

Thank you, that was an incredibly potent bouquet of the Sophistry prevalent in the left-wing lunatic fringe.

5 12 2009
Balance of Power

Well it really comes as no great surprise that of two replies so far, neither poster offers any kind of refutation beyond ad hominem and innuendo. And they call ME sophist…

“Call me crazy, but that sure sounds like the same sort of mentality (read: tactic) used by those who have said “the science it settled” to me.”

No, it’s sound logic. Science and reason require evidence to support an argument.

Assertion: Santa is real.

Physical Evidence? None, besides presents on Christmas morning. No evidence of a sleigh on the roof, reindeer, or entry through the chimney. No evidence of a Santa living at or anywhere near the North Pole.

Conclusion: The probability of Santa being real: nil.

It’s all very simple.

The same applies for WMD and Global Warming.

Compared to Iraq’s WMD however, Global Warming has millions of pages of documented evidence from across the world, thousands of peer-reviewed studies that point to man-made causes for this phenomenon.

Will it ever be proven? I can guarantee you, even if your ignorance on the matter is purely the product of your naivete, that anything on the level of complexity as global warming will never be proven outright, but the signs are there.

Suggestions that human kind’s influence on the environment is too minuscule to make an impact is of course forgetting the impact that man-made fluorocarbons had on the ozone layer.

It wasn’t until their outright banning of CFCs in the 70’s that the hole in the ozone layer began to finally heal.

By the same token, something as geologically “small” as a volcanic eruption can unleash tons of sulfuric particles into the upper atmosphere which can cause record setting blizzards months later.

We unleash MILLIONS of tons carbon into the atmosphere every year, the oceans having become more acidic can no longer absorb any more of this carbon, and deforestation has further depleted the biosphere’s ability to absorb this excess carbon. The result is simple, extra heat in the atmosphere.

Finally, let me add that your assertion that these e-mails show ” the reality that the Earth isn’t warming and hasn’t been for the past decade” is a distortion based, presumably on what you read either at either The Washington Times or through its distillation through the right wing blogosphere.

Argue the evidence and stop attacking the messenger; put up or shut up.

7 12 2009
Keyser

The evidence? Oh, you mean the junk science you and all the other environmentalist whackos have bought into?

The evidence is the Earth has been in a cooling trend for the past 10+ years. Nobody can really argue with this fact. Meanwhile our CO2 levels have continued to rise, and the MMGW models have absolutely no way to account for this decrease. This is why the “scientists” went to great lengths to hide it.

In the 1970’s these same “scientists” were using junk science to blame us for causing an ICE AGE and people like you bought it, hook, line, and sinker and you had plenty of so-called “science” to explain it. 30+ years later, the same people are falling for the same junk science, but now our planet is burning up. Do you realize how insignicant 30 years is in the life of our planet? Yet here you and the whackos are arguing that somehow the pendullum has swung in just 30 years from “omg, we’re all going to freeze” to “oh crap, we’re burning up”? I suppose you blame the ice age from tens of thousands of years ago on mankind as well, or the natural climate change that has occurred for the billions of years without any help from mankind? Do you realize how insanely idiotic that sounds?

Use some common sense; the sky isn’t falling.

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