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So-Called Climategate

Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 06, 2009 21:37 in anti-science , misc science , public science

Note: This references file version "d", which seems to be the one generally discussed. There is a later version, "e", that never made it into any used/published data sets.

Oh, "climategate". How you are poorly reported.

It recently came to my attention that, awesomely, much of this OMGZ CODE OF EVIL was written in IDL. Now, having done astronomy research in IDL, all my undergraduate data reduction in IDL, and my (horribly behind) sauropod research in IDL, I feel like I can competently comment on the code here.

So, this artificial decline hiding? Well, we can take a look at ./FOIA/documents/osborn-tree6/briffa_sep98_d.pro (aside: if you want to see the leaked data yourself, being aware that the data was illegally obtained, you can download it via BitTorrent and this magnet link: magnet link). They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so, let's start with a picture:

source in Emacs 23.1.1 buffer

Printscreen of emacs. The whole code, in all it's beauty. Click for a full-sized version.

There are a few things that I should note about this picture before continuing. First, note the program is open in Emacs 23.1.1, which automatically engages in syntax highlighting, which is a fancy way of saying that it color and font changes different types of code to make it easier to read (in this case, the important part is grey italics are comments, or nonfunctional bits of code. These are lines preceded by ";" in IDL. This is like "//" in PHP or Java, or "#" in C or Python. Line continuations are denoted by "$".).

The second point to note is the infamous line 32 (visible in the status bar, next to "IDLWAVE Abbrev Fill". The first number is the row, the second number, 0 here, is the column of the cursor.). This is the "ARTIFICAL" bit that's been reported.

Here, I'll go through things line-by-line.

    yrloc=[1400,findgen(19)*5.+1904]
valadj=[0.,0.,0.,0.,0.,-0.1,-0.25,-0.3,0.,-0.1,0.3,0.8,1.2,1.7,2.5,2.6,2.6,$
  2.6,2.6,2.6]*0.75         ; fudge factor
if n_elements(yrloc) ne n_elements(valadj) then message,'Oooops!'
  

What the first line here does is construct a data array. The right way to think of an array is to think of a list of values in a spreadsheet. That's all it is, a list of values, but they're logically seperated for operation on each part of it individually, but at the same time grouped so you can work on all of the bits simultaneously. This data array is composed of 20 elements, with the first element is 1400, and each subsequent element is determined by [0,1,2,3,...18]*5 = [0,5,10,15,...,90], +1904 = [1904, 1909, 1914, 1919,...,1994]. That is, the first line is a programmatic way of generating a range of X-values for the date.

The second array is the damning one that seems to show a deliberate bias on behalf of the researchers (emphasis on "seems" — I will show this not to be the case). That array is a direct array of offsets. In IDL, you can add arrays, so, [1,2,3] +[.1, -.2, 4] = [1.1,1.8,7]. Those array values are "adjustment values" (valadj), make to direcly adjust factors in some arithmetic manner.

The third line, in english, is "if the number of elements in "yrloc" is not the same as the number of elements in "valadj", pop up a message saying "oops".

Two lines down (code line 39), we run into:

    yearlyadj=interpol(valadj,yrloc,timey)
  

This uses the function "interpol" (interpolate) between the sets of values, corresponding to timey. This essentially is a way of smoothing out that data set.

Then — on line 41 — we get the would-be damning code.

    ;filter_cru,5.,/nan,tsin=yyy+yearlyadj,tslow=tslow
  

This would process the data, using, most notably, the value yyy (defined on line 25 as just the set of temperature data, essentially) added to the adjustments. That is to say, fudging the data.

However, the most important thing is the first character. The semicolon. That is to say, the use of this adjustment is commented out. It is completely unused code.

If you want to project psychology onto the code writer, it becomes obvious this was the intent. Trying to fake-out and massively conspiratorialize (I'm deeming that to be a word) code is one thing, but doing it by adding "; Apply a VERY ARTIFICAL[sic] correction for decline!!" is a manifestly poor way to do it. Further, on line 50, you can clearly see mention of corrections in the legend! Again, hardly a good way to work in your global conspiracy. I would read this as playing around with the data, seeing what these corrections look like. Hardly an offense, just seeing what you can tease out if you work in odd ways. Probably trying to exaggerate a trend.

This is just a small slice of the leaked data which demonstrates, in context, the blatant dishonesty of the deniers. I'll be the first to admit — for a while, it was plausible climate change was nonanthropogenic, and before that, it was even intellectually responsible to declare "I have no opinion until further data is gathered". However, in the middle of this decade, final analyses of solar influence and other non-anthropogenic sources deemed their influence to be insufficient.

You can still certainly talk about cooling and such. The fact is "global warming" is more accurately "global climate change" since it will result in various impacts in various areas. However, denying the presence of change at all has not been tenable for perhaps 20 years, and for at least three years it has been unsupportable to claim there is no human-caused effects (arguably longer, but eh).

Now, many of these emails do raise some ethics concerns. That is not really disputed. However, the most inflammatory statements appear to have never been acted upon, so while it should be a flag to the scientific community, it has no impact on the quality of the research.

Finally, in tying this all together, we should note that even if the observed climate change was non-AGW, this does not mean that we should not act on it. We have built much of out agriculture, cities, engineering, etc, on the assumption of basic climatic patterns that we are used to. If absolutely nothing else, interfering with these patterns will be destabilizing to real, live humans, no matter the source. That is to say, if nothing else, think selfishly and realize that things could get unpleasant for you or your children if action is not taken.

Denying does not change the fact that glaciers are retreating, Kilamanjaro has a retreating snow cap, the Great Barrier Reef is getting bleached, and longer warm seasons in Yellowstone are affecting the native flora and fauna. This does not change the fact that California joshua trees and redwoods are disappearing, spawn routes for fish are drying. These are observable facts, things you can take a camera out of your bag and check. Even if the source was non-AGW, it does not at all affect the argument that we should preserve these systems, or that interference of these systems could directly affect or indirectly signal effects that could change our quality of life.

If you want other analyses, take a look at Deltoid over at ScienceBlogs, or ArsTechnica's synopsis of Nature's response, data sources over at RealClimate, or Nature's article itself. Finally, if you want to claim "but global cooling! in the 70's!" read this 2008 paper from AMS or this very brief post of mine.

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So-Called Climategate | The Dichotomous Trekkie 2.0