Click images for more details



Recent comments
Recent posts
Currently discussing

A few sites I've stumbled across recently....

Powered by Squarespace
« Still tricking people | Main | Digging into the GLOBE »

HSI and Kuhn

This article about the Hockey Stick Illusion came out at the end of last year, but I've only just seen it.  It's from the Humanities and Technology Review.

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn sees such academic battles as comparable to those of political revolutions, wherein the participants in the revolutionary process try to impose a new world view or to maintain an existing one. Since Kuhn does not perceive the history of science as the story of one achievement progressing to another and then to another, he might find the account contained within Montford‟s book to be the usual practice of professional scientists as they establish or overthrow a paradigm. Some readers of The Hockey Stick Illusion, however, may conclude that the book‟s subtitle, “the corruption of science,” is the more appropriate assessment for at least some of the so-called normal science of certain climatologists.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

Reader Comments (19)

Your link to the article appears to be broken. :shrug:

Apr 24, 2011 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterGary Turner

I couldn't link to it either.

Apr 24, 2011 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Well said! And High Time too! ;-)

Apr 24, 2011 at 11:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterPascvaks


Probably it's this link.

Apr 24, 2011 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterTimo van Druten

That's not really a commendation you should cherish, my venerable friend - Kuhn being the acme of academic tedium and tautology. (I know I had to read the damned bugger in school). At least, he made it clear, I suppose, that even academics are fallible. But with that plumbum in his pencil so only they could hear! Our commendation, heartfelt and imaginative, is the one you really feel?

Apr 24, 2011 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterLewis deane

That's not really a commendation you should cherish,

Oh dear. I thought Kuhn’s a fine book and well worth a read though I’d never inflict it on schoolboys. To my mind, though not stated, his approach has echoes of Hegel though, thankfully, it avoids the usually impenetrable neo-Hegelian language. It discusses how, in historical terms, the development of great scientific ideas involves an intellectual revolution led by pioneers followed by a more or less lengthy period of entrenchment during which intellectual consolidation and conservatism (in the social, not the political, sense – put that gun down) predominates. The next breakthrough necessitates meeting the new consensus head on.

I’d never even heard of the book until it was recommended by a commentator on one of the climate sceptic sites but I did find it useful when trying to set Climategate in context.

The good bishop’s account is different. Unlike, say, the great battles in geology (the classic example being plate tectonics), climatology has for over 30 years had a significant political dimension: its development has been distorted by an unusual combination of powerful social forces and even more powerful vested interests, each of which pretends somewhat to despise the other. The eco-lobby’s “anti-capitalist” posturings are a case in point where the reality is that it acts as the public face of the vested interests and serves to give them credibility at the expense of other, more economically viable industrial sectors.

(The clearest illustration in our part of the world is WWF Scotland and the antics of its ridiculous Dr Richard Rentaquote Dixon who understands nothing but has an answer for everything, each taking him further up the rear entrance to the power supply industry. The latter has in turn has all but finished off an already-ailing local electronics industry and now threatens the economically-important rural tourism sector.)

While Kuhn’s general model is relevant, what HSI did was to put meat on the bones of a particular and, by any standards, exceptional case. In a short review I did for some friends, I noted that “Blow-by-blow accounts of the battle to inspect data used to rewrite global climate history can be skimmed by the general reader but early chapters on the ‘innovative’ statistical methods of leading paleo-climatologists are excellent as are later chapters on the political role of the ‘Hockey Stick’ and on peer review. Part science, part politics – and, all in all, very good forensics”.

In short, I think the two books are very different but, while both are helpful if we want fully to understand the bizarre political phenomenon of “Climategate”, only HSI is indispensable.

Apr 24, 2011 at 4:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB

Using Kuhn to excuse Mann's shenanigans is a bit of overkill. If Mann is part of a scientific revolution then it is limited to novel statistical technique and unusual practices with data. One could do better with William James. James defined Truth in terms of Social Utility. With that definition, he could say that religion is true because useful but unbelievable because it contains contradictions that he found too much to swallow.

Apr 24, 2011 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

I think that Mann may fancy himself as leading a revolution of the Kuhnian kind. After all, dismissing all the earlier belief in the medieval warm period is no mean achievement. All the nonsensical claims of consensus were, in effect, a claim of victory in establishing a new paradigm. I have always looked upon this climate business as an attempt explicitly to replace Popperian science with Kuhnian science.

Apr 24, 2011 at 5:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterRon DeWitt

You can see the Mann-authored 'reply' to Soon and Baliunas' paper, printed in the journal Eos. Not a drop of science in it.

Apr 24, 2011 at 7:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

given that, even after HSI and all the explaining on CA and WUWT, etc., most folks (including me) can't capture "hide the decline" in a single catchy sentence, could the Bish or others attempt to come up with something we could use that would be understandable to even the most scientifically-challenged of us?

Apr 25, 2011 at 3:00 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

What they were hiding was that they were declining the safety and sanity of the Principle of Uniformitarianism. Brave New World Warriors, we salute your efforts at the post normal borders of science. How courageous of them to venture beyond the pale.

Apr 25, 2011 at 5:49 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Pat: "come up with something we could use that would be understandable to even the most scientifically-challenged of us?"

I'll give it a try: The problem arose because the temperature proxies (tree rings) they were using showed a dramatic fall in temperature from around 1960 onwards, this problem was dealt with in three ways:

Briffa's graph simply didn't show the data beyond 1960;

Mann's graph extended the graph by using the instrumental temperature data after 1960 for smoothing, and then cut the graph at 1960

Jones WMO effort simply used proxies before 1960 and instrumental temperature data after 1960.

Categorised by Steve McIntyre, where you'll get a much more scholarly explanation, as:

The Briffa trick
The Mann trick
and The combo trick.

There is no argument that the temperature has been going up during the 20th century, but the fact that the proxies didn't represent the temperature in the 20th century would have sent other scientists scuttling for an explanation. Without the explanation then the proxies cannot be relied upon to give accurate temperature data for the preceding 9 centuries, or so.

You will hear warmists tell you the divergence problem was well known, and it was as far back as 1995, but that's the pea under the thimble stuff they use. Yes it was well known, no it wasn't pointed out in the TAR summary, and no, they still don't have a definitive answer as to why the proxies shouldn't have acted this way prior to the 20th century. I believe they're reaching for their standby solution to any problem they cannot solve and that's to blame it on aerosols in the latter part of the 20th century. But the truth is that they don't know, and what they do know is that the late 20th century proxies didn't give the right temperatures and therefore for a scientist to know this and pretend that the earlier proxies are representative of temperatures is, shall we say, disingenuous.

Apr 25, 2011 at 6:51 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Geronimo -
A small correction: from this McIntyre post, "Mike's trick" involved combining instrumental temperatures after 1980 (not 1960 as you state) with proxy data before. It was Jones' version (which you describe correctly as inserting real temperatures after 1960) which was referred to in the "hide the decline" email.

Pat -
Here's a catchy one-sentence version, although it doesn't actually explain anything:
"Hide the decline" is about misdirection in a tree-ring circus.

And, in case it's necessary to take a step back from Geronimo's description of the mathematical operations, to define terms such as proxy and divergence:
Scientists, in trying to determine whether modern climate is warmer than earlier times, attempted to use tree-ring histories as an inferential measure of temperature (a proxy). While the tree ring data roughly correspond with temperature over most of the period for which measured temperature is available, the inferred temperature in modern times (say, late 20th century) declines, at a time when the actual temperature has risen -- this is known as the divergence problem. A graph which shows simultaneously an increase in temperature, with a decline of the proxy, gives a poor impression of the reliability of the proxy. Suppressing the declining values of the proxy gives a visually compelling -- but ultimately misleading -- impression of certainty with respect to the historical record. "A clean narrative" I believe was the description given.

Apr 25, 2011 at 8:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

Harold, noted Tx.


Apr 25, 2011 at 9:32 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

How to explain "Hide the Decline" in three easy bites -

You want to show recent temperatures are unprecedented so:
First - pick your trees that approximate the signal you want to show (dendro people are lucky to be able pick and choose data, it's not allowed in other areas of science),
Second - because no trees are perfect you need to delete the bits of data that go in the wrong direction (eg. declining when it should increase, this is the hiding bit, again, not allowed in other areas of science).
Three - all that still won't give you a hockey stick, so your big finish is to graft on something un-related that will, using a thicker line to make it look like all the other lines are converging and following the same path (again not al... you get the picture).


All that remains is to claim that your reconstruction is "highly skilfull", publish in a suitable journal where your mates will give you a pal review (which is "peer review", but with no questions asked), call your result "unprecedented" and preferably work in "it's worse than we thought". You are now a respected climatologist, go start work as a lead author on an IPCC report.

Apr 25, 2011 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Dunford

If the explanations you've been given here don't help (and they should), I tried to put it in layman's terms on my own blog,
Essentially, the problem is that while the proxies matched temperature during the 19th and up to mid-20th century they diverged after about 1960. Since the record shows increasing temperatures (which we assume to be right though there is increasing cynicism about some of the records) the proxies have obviously become unreliable.
What the global warming theorists (and advocates)have omitted to point out is that if the proxies are wrong post-1960, where is the evidence that they were right pre-1850?

Apr 25, 2011 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterSam the Skeptic

Catastrophic AGW theory is not an example of Kuhnian science. It was swallowed whole by the political establishment without going through the strictures of scientific acceptance. Furthermore, it is coupled with a major political policy objective - to constrain CO2 emissions. The IPCC was then set up to confirm and fortify the science and the policy. CAGW is thus not a proper science as such, but "politicised science".
The Hockey Stick is the major example of this - a public relations ploy to promote policy and direct attention away from proper analysis of the data. The shenanigans may have milder and more short-lived parallels in other fields of science, but better parallels are to be found in New Labour Spin. That is, never admit to error; talk over opponents and view them as self-evidently wrong; deflect adverse comments by saying something different; deflect criticism and error by making an answerable point the major issue, or conceding a minor point; and then quickly moving the discussion onto safer ground. Most of all rely on image more than substance. In the case of CAGW, make peer review and agreement with collective experts the ultimate demarcations between science and non-science.

Apr 25, 2011 at 8:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

Petty hypothesis resort to Kuhnian paradigms to mega-inflate their egos

For an unproven hypothesis declare itself a paradigm is a delusion beyond measure

Apr 25, 2011 at 9:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterPatagon

thanx folks for the various explanations, tho i could not find specific articles on your website, 'sam the skeptic'.

am i right to understand it is possible that it was the land surface temperature datasets that was wrong and the tree proxy records could be correct?

also, if the satellite temp data since late 70s shows lower temps than what was expected for the lower troposphere (if i have that correct), does that also suggest land surface data sets might be skewed higher than they actually are/were?

i realise there may be other interpretations, but the above is how i'm seeing it, for now, as a layperson.

Apr 26, 2011 at 5:03 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>