On tribalism

Some time ago I promised KK a post on tribalism, and he has never forgiven me for not writing it.

I think the reason I never wrote it was because the word, or the charge, turns out to be so vague as to be meaningless. Tribalism is a charge you fling at people when you have no real arguments left and nothing of substance to say: “you’re being tribal”; “no I’m not!”; “aha! see, you deny it, you must be tribal”. And so on. What is it, anyway? I’d say it is when you defend views and ideas and data from “your” group even when you know it to be wrong, because you don’t want your group to lose face, or you subscribe to some higher ideal. It is a very political thing: all political parties are tribal, at least ones that succeed. However Curry has a different defn:

Groupthink is a form of intellectual laziness, whereby we do not continually challenge the science in a fundamental way. Tribalism is more detrimental to the science than group think, when people who have different opinions and viewpoints are excluded.

Well, this is my blog, I’m using my defn, so there. My defn sort-of includes Curry’s, because real outsiders are exclused, but by my defn some insiders with different opinions are still members of the “tribe”; they just don’t speak out about those opinions. Having written this, I have other stuff to finish this evening, and this isn’t the post I intended to write, but never mind, this is what you get.

How about some examples of tribalism? Well yes, most obviously, the s(k)eptic movement. They defend one another, they never accept that members of their tribe have ever erred, and so on. Classic tribalism. Look at the s(k)eptic response to the Wegman report. It is riddled with errors. See for example a recent post of mine. What “auditor” worth their salt wouldn’t jump on such a figure and loudly proclaim it’s flaws. Ah yes, indeed. Or consider the UAH satellite series – once the septics favourite (oh I forgot the k, but you saw it coming, didn’t you?) when it showed cooling, and still produced by JC and RS, two on the “skeptical” side. So it gets treated very gently – no inquiries into its multiple revisions. Or, consider people’s response to the [[Climatic Research Unit email controversy]]. There was great excitement, there were cries of “fraud!”, “skullduggery!”. This was going to be the final scandal that yet again nailed GW into its coffin. And then… oh dear, 3 inquiries in a row and nothing exciting to show for it (this is a nice link saying roughly that; also a nice follow up about siege). One possible response – the non-tribal one – would be to apologise for the ho-ha and the false allegations. But of course none of the septics have done that. Having nailed their colours to the mast, there is no way back now.

Anyway, what about direct response to some of Curry’s points? I think that Curry is, once again, saying things that don’t stand up (remember all that fuss on KK’s blog a bit back? She has a history of not doing her homework). They “feel” right to her, but are actually substanceless. What about

I arguably entered into this inner circle in 2005-2007, so i’ve been there and been seduced by the whole thing: a sense of doing something important, being very concerned about spurious “attacks” from the politically motivated,

What in particular is spurious “attacks” supposed to mean? That the “inner circle” was exposed only to spurious things that weren’t attacks but were only “attacks”? Come, this is nonsense. There were plenty of genuine non-spurious attacks during that period, that were only “spurious” in the sense of being scientifically invalid.


The difficulty in arranging debates between key climate researchers and skeptics, moderation at RC, disinvitation of Steve McIntyre from the recent dendro conference, playing games with journal peer review process as evident from the CRU emails, I would characterize this as tribalism, not groupthink. Part of the tribalism seems motivated by an apparent political “siege”, whether or not this is justified is another story, but tribalism it remains.

So, Curry sees tribalism only on one side (hey, just like me, only its a different side). Is this because the tribalism on the septic side is so obvious that it isn’t worth mentioning – or is it because she doesn’t believe it is significant enough to be worth mentioning? Who knows, she doesn’t bother say.

Moderation at RC seems to be the “skeptics” favourite playing card. I don’t, any more. But I did. And I moderate comments here. If you don’t, you get wackos, and your comments fill up with worthless stuff. And RC is deliberately targetted by the septics. McI at dendro… dunno. Would need to see details [Update: MB points me at http://shewonk.wordpress.com/2010/02/19/the-one-chopped-down-to-size/#more-347. Presumably this is what Curry means; unimpressive; capture. See also MB’s other points]. CRU emails: see above. Curry’s comment is evidence of her tribalism and groupthink. difficulty in arranging debates between key climate researchers and skeptics – not sure what is meant there. There is a vast disparity in number between scientists who accept the consensus, and respectable scientists who dispute it. So “peer” debates would be tricky – Lindzen would have to show up a lot. And why are non-peer debates a good idea? If you want someone to debate, say, Singer, you don’t need a scientist.

One example of “tribalism” that does spring to mind is the climate sensitivity / uniform prior stuff that JA keeps harping on about. Maybe that doesn’t make a good sound-bite. Notice that none of the septics noticed it.

motivated by an apparent political “siege”, whether or not this is justified is another story is pathetic weaselling. If you’re not prepared to admit that there has been a sustained political attack on climate research, you haven’t been paying attention or you’re not prepared to be honest. This is, again, tribalism by Curry (by my defn): being unprepared to admit to inconvenient facts (you don’t have to *deny* the facts, notice – there is always a way back, later, to say “ah but I didn’t say it wasn’t so” – all you need to do for a while is to refuse to admit them).


I became uneasy by the portrayal of too much confidence in the IPCC findings, and wanted to disassociate myself from alarmism, which i define as undue focus on the plausible worst case scenarios

The first part of this I think has some substance, though not if you’re talking about the IPCC reports themselves (just what Curry is talking about we don’t know of course, she is vague; thought earlier she meant IPCC WGI). As to the “alarmism” bit – I don’t know what she means. This is mood-music stuff: she knows the kind of concepts she has in mind, and somehow assumes that we’re so in tune with her we’ll skip over the lack of evidence. You could call that… tribalism, perhaps?

[Update: there is a nice comment from Curry here on data archiving, in which she stands up to the zealots, so credit to her for that. I don’t really buy the argument that policy-relevance means standards have changed stuff, though. The usual suspects still fail to understand her though.]

Some links

More boring links blogs stuff. But just for once I do actually have something else to say, so I’ll try to clear this out asap.

* Do you need context to understand the CRU emails? Or can they be understood on their own? An analysis. No prizes for guessing the answer. But links to…
* The secret life of bugs which is a fun analysis of how much could you understand bugs from what was recorded about them? Answer, often not much. Mind you, some of the stuff in there is weird – how does The missing link to source code change-sets is one of the most problematic omissions. For the last bug of 70% of our survey respondents, the fix involved committing code to a repository. But 23% of those cases had no link from the bug record to the source make any sense in a sane system?
* Meanwhile, JA puts us all to shame by doing some science: “Assessing the consistency between short-term global temperature trends in observations and climate model projections”. Lots of comments there. Possibly addressing some of JC/KK’s “tribalism” problems.

IPCC 1990 fig 7.1.c, again

Thanks to J who alerts me to this little matter. So, this is all mostly summarised in [[Description of the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age in IPCC reports]]. From which I reproduce:

A schematic (non-quantitative) curve was used to represent temperature variations over the last 1000 years in chapter 7. The vertical temperature scale was labelled as “Temperature change (°C)” but no numerical labels were given; it could be taken to imply that temperature variations of the MWP and LIA were each of the order of 0.5 °C from the temperature around 1900. The section specifically states recent climate changes were in a range of probably less than 2 °C. The 1990 report noted that it was not clear whether all the fluctuations indicated were truly global (p 202). The graph had no clear source (it resembles figure A9(d) from the 1975 U.S. National Academy of Sciences report, which is sourced to Lamb, 1966), and disappeared from the 1992 supplementary report. Within the 1990 report, the LIA is taken to be global in extent but the MWP is not. Climate over the last 1000 years is mentioned very briefly in the SPM of the 1990 report. The MWP is not mentioned at all, and the LIA described by …probably fluctuated by little more than 1°C. Some fluctuations lasted several centuries, including the LIA which ended in the [19th century] and which appears to have been global in extent. The MWP is mentioned in the executive summary to chapter 7, as MWP around 1000 AD (which may not have been global).

So: just in case it isn’t clear from the above: fig 7.1.c isn’t useful anymore. It was vaguely useful then because there was nothing better available. It was a hurridly drawn sourceless schematic that no-one uses nowadays; and if anyone *did* use it they would be roundly criticised.

[Update: JM made a nice comparison of the two graphs, available here]

Here is the graph:


Obviously the *exciting* thing about that graph (if you’re a bozo septic denialist) is that it shows that the MWP was warmer than it is now. Woot! Obviously what you think happened (if you’re a fool) is that IPCC in 1990 was pure; it released this graph by mistake; but subsequent IPCC reports have had to supress it. Bring on the black helicopters! (I’ve said this before).

Which brings me to the Wegman report. Here is their picture (fig 4.5, their page 34):


The pic is similar enough that this must be the graph from IPCC ’90 that they mean (though being academically careless they don’t trouble themselves to say which fig they mean). But the digitisation has been done poorly – there is noise added, most obviously at the height of the “MWP” and around 1850. Perhaps this has been done deliberately to avoid making it obvious just how smooth the original was.

Notice how they have silently added the temperature labels to the Y-axis: these are not in the original. And they have labelled them “newy” – why. The point about the original was that it was a schematic – which explains the lack of axis labels, otherwise unforgiveable. This expalins why Wegman has added the labels, since he wants to hide its schematic nature.

Less excitingly, Wegman has supressed some of the time labels, but has added a label for 2000.

More excitingly, Wegman has completely mangled the “now” end of the graph – his version ends up going upwards, whereas the IPCC version ends up going downwards. This isn’t “hide the incline” – this is “fake the incline”. But why? I think the reason is that Wegman wants you to think that the endpoint is representative of “now”. Obviously, if you see a graph with the T flat from ~1910 you’re going to think “oops that isn’t right” so he has faked in an increase at the end.

Update: even odder, look at Wegman fig 4.7. What they claim as the “original curve”, the blue line, isn’t. But neither is the red curve. What are these bozos up to?

Update: OK, the game seems to be: look at the “modern” end and observe that it doesn’t look right: the end of it has been truncated. I’m told that if you view this on a slow machine under zoom, you can see the blocks being put in place: if you do that, you can see the “full” curve and then see the end blocked out (presumably if you have PDF writer/editor you can see this too). Also, I can think of a reason *why* Wegman needed to “add the incline”: in figs 46 / 47 he is playing some games to prove that MBH’s method producing hockey sticks when “properly centered PCA” doesn’t; but I rather suspect that if you do that on the actual IPCC series, it doesn’t work: I suspect Wegman found he needed to bump up the modern end a bit.

Update: SS has more graph fun at http://www.skepticalscience.com/Common-graphical-tricks-and-the-Medieval-Warm-Period.html

Update: AR says

The appendix in Jones et al. 2009 (“High-resolution palaeoclimatology of the last millennium: a review of current status and future prospects” The Holocene, 19, 3-49) tries to describe where the IPCC 1990 Fig. 7c comes from.

They conclude that it was compiled from a series of publictions by H. H. Lamb and was only based on temperature records associated with Central England, so not global.

Further, Jones et al. point out that “At no place in any of the Lamb publications is there any discussion of an explicit calibration against instrumental data, just Lamb’s qualitative judgement and interpretation of what he refers to as the ‘evidence'”.

Lessons of Lysenkoism?

Hans von Storch is a bit hard to pin down on GW: unquestionably a good scientist, but sounding oddly skeptical of late. His klimazwiebel is his current venue, where he posts with others including Eduardo “killer” Zorita. von S’s posts are usually the more sensible ones. But now we have Nils Roll-Hansen: A lesson from Lysenkoism? which isn’t actually by von S but is definitely sponsored by him.

What is this lesson? Well, von S says:

Please do not misunderstand this thread as another attempt to bring in Stalinism. My interest is in the interaction of policy/politics and science in the past – in situations far enough away that they will not arouse passions today (maybe a futile hope). Lysenkoism was one of the worst, if not the worst cases, where this interaction went really bad. Another one was eugenics. How did science come into such bad situations, and how did it escape/recover from it.

But the post itself isn’t very interesting. It also very carefully refraims from drawing any parallels with the world of today – which is deceitful, and von S very clearly does see such parallels, indeed “lessons” it would seem.

Given von S’s usual leanings, my assumption would be that the allusion is Lysenkoism = GW, some how. But I don’t think the connections are very plausible; unfortunately (as I said) von S doesn’t actually say what any of these lessons might be, so I may be missing his killer arguments.

But a more plausible connection would be that Lysenkoism = GW denialism. That fits fairly well: a powerful political/industrial movement is using “fake science” to prop up an agenda; that movement is immune to reason, and very rarely does any science, and the little science it does is marginal and slanted.

Perhaps that is what von S meant? Your thoughts are welcomed.

Update: von S denies the obvious parallels [1], but can only offer “it makes sense to think… [and] that science has to reflect upon its closeness with policies (and politics)” as possible lessons. Which I think is banal [2]. By contrast, JG offers the more interesting observation that L was only semi-trained and a scientific outsider [3] – perhaps today he would be a “blog scientist“. Or more seriously, he resembles the tendency nowadays for people to think that they can evaluate complex scientific constructs for themselves with no training; indeed, that they can do so better than “so-called experts”. Sigh. But I doubt that was what von S had in mind either.