Bias Examples

Continuing a series on Evidence Based Practise (EBP) below are examples from sea level research of the biases mentioned previously from an interview with Dr. Nils-Axel Mörner. From wikipedia:

Nils-Axel Mörner is the former head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University, having retired in 2005. He was president of the INQUA Commission on Neotectonics (1981-1989) and president of the INQUA (International Union for Quaternary Research) Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution (1999-2003).[1] He headed the INTAS (International Association for the promotion of cooperation with scientists from the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union) Project on Geomagnetism and Climate (1997-2003). He is a critic of the IPCC and the notion that the global sea level is rising.

Firstly, he establishes his evidence-based approach to determining sea level rises:

So, we have this 1 mm per year up to 1930, by observation, and we have it by rotation recording. So we go with those two. They go up and down, but there’s no trend in it; it was up until 1930, and then down again. There’s no trend, absolutely no trend.

He then recounts an instance of sample bias or ‘cherry picking’:

Another way of looking at what is going on is the tide gauge. Tide gauging is very complicated, because it gives different answers for wherever you are in the world. But we have to rely on geology when we interpret it. So, for example, those people in the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], choose Hong Kong, which has six tide gauges, and they choose the record of one, which gives 2.3 mm per year rise of sea level. Every geologist knows that that is a subsiding area. It’s the compaction of sediment; it is the only record which you shouldn’t use. And if that figure is correct, then Holland would not be subsiding, it would be uplifting.

He then relates a violation of the ‘uncertainty principle‘ ensuring no uncertainty about the results of a study:

Then, in 2003, the same data set, which in their [IPCC’s] publications, in their website, was a straight line, suddenly it changed, and showed a very strong line of uplift, 2.3 mm per year, the same as from the tide gauge. And that didn’t look so nice. It looked as though they had recorded something; but they hadn’t recorded anything. It was the original one which they had suddenly twisted up, because they entered a correction factor, which they took from the tide gauge. So it was not a measured thing, but a figure introduced from outside. I accused them of this at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow. I said you have introduced factors from outside; it’s not a measurement. It looks like it is measured from the satellite, but you don’t say what really happened. And they answered, that we had to do it, because otherwise we would not have gotten any trend!

He then invokes funding bias, where financial interests bias the interpretation of trial results.

Then we know that there was a Japanese pineapple industry which subtracted too much fresh water from the inland, and those islands have very little fresh water available from precipitation, rain. So, if you take out too much, you destroy the water magazine, and you bring sea water into the magazine, which is not nice. So they took out too much fresh water and in came salt water. And of course the local people were upset. But then it was much easier to say, “No, no! It’s the global sea level rising! It has nothing to do with our subtraction of fresh water.” So there you have it. This is a local industry which doesn’t pay.

Then we have accusations of fraud, deliberate falsification of evidence:

A famous tree in the Maldives shows no evidence of having been swept away by rising sea levels, as would be predicted by the global warming swindlers. A group of Australian global-warming advocates came along and pulled the tree down, destroy-ing the evidence that their “theory” was false.

Finally we have publication bias, the selective publication of the findings of trials with certain results:

Instead of doing this, they give an endless amount of money to the side which agrees with the IPCC. The European Community, which has gone far in this thing: If you want a grant for a research project in climatology, it is written into the document that there must be a focus on global warming. All the rest of us, we can never get a coin there, because we are not fulfilling the basic obligations. … but it is exceptionally hard to get these papers published also. The publishers compare it to IPCC’s modeling, and say, “Oh, this isn’t the IPCC.” Well, luckily it’s not! But you cannot say that.

This interview has examples of all the forms of research bias mentioned previously. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these claims as I have not researched them myself. It is presented to show that the concerns with bias in global warming research are almost identical to the issues of concern in the clinical studies medicine. There is a view that these concerns gave rise, after a series of scandals such as the Thalidomide tragedy, to the EBP movement.

From the point of view good scientific practice, and the diminishing evidence of global warming, the IPCC is looking more like a 60’s drug company: an organization with a product to sell, involved in unscrupulous marketing of its product in the absence of evidence of both safety and efficacy.

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0 thoughts on “Bias Examples

  1. As I commented on Pielke Sr.’s when he noted the obvious conflicts of interest inherent in the IPCC in his Sept. 1, 2007, post:

    “Your analysis of the IPCC is entirely apt. That said, what do you make of the fact that so many leading gate-keepers in science seem either to support the IPCC’s position or to take an even less nuanced position in their public statements about the present dangers of Co2-induced AGW than does the IPCC?

    I would include in this category Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science, John Holdren, President of the AAAS, Stephen Schneider, editor of Climate Change, The Royal Society, and the editors of Scientific American. Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature seems to be more cautious than the others listed here, but still solidly on board the consensus.

    Thus your analysis of the IPCC, accurate as it is, does not explain why these other individuals and organizations would take a similar position.”

    Another commentator noted that Ralph Cicerone of the NAS should be added to my list.

    You might be completely correct in your evaluation of the quality of evidence regarding global warming, but if so then it is worth noting that the problem extends well beyond the IPCC and well beyond the boundaries of climate science. If alarmist AGW turns out to be as deeply flawed as you and others suggest, then we must conclude that almost all major gatekeepers in the scientific community demonstrated remarkably poor judgment throughout the decades of this controversy. The fact that there have been high profile, credible opponents to alarmist AGW and that nonetheless major gatekeepers unanimously insisted on the validity of AGW and appropriateness of alarmism calls into question the structure of our systems that define scientific credibility. Intelligent arguments by well-informed skeptics of alarmist AGW are readily available; they cannot plead ignorance.

    How could diverse scientific organizations all have chosen leaders who happen to share the alarmist perspective on AGW despite contrary evidence? Is it due to cultural norms among scientific elites? Is it due to the incentive structure that leads certain types of individuals into scientific administration? Is it a global club of good ole’ boys? Some kind of tribal loyalty among certain kinds of scientists? Or is it something else?

    Of course if AGW turns out to be a serious issue, we don’t need to concerned about all of this. But if AGW turns out to be a minor phenomenon, and the alarmist claims were never well justified, then we must face the fact that the flaws go far more deeply than just the IPCC. Ex post facto they can claim that it was appropriate to be alarmed “just in case.” But then when one looks closely at the specific decisions made by gatekeepers one becomes more concerned.

    The fact that the leading gatekeepeers have not supported Steve McIntyre’s efforts at auditing certain areas of climate science is certainly discomfiting. Given the high profile of the hockeystick in AGW propaganda and the high profile of the evidentiary controversy of the hockeystick, including Wegman’s testimony, I would have thought that Science, Nature, or one of the major climate journals would have devoted a significant amount of space to diverse perspectives on the hockeystick debate. Instead they seem to have circled the wagons in order to silence the implications of McIntyre in all the dozens of ways documented at his blog.

    If they had simply supported McIntyre’s attempts to access data that should have been readily available to begin with they would have maintained their credibility. It is very difficult to understand why none of them regard data access and transparent methods in climate research as fundamental. Regardless of their confidence in alarmist AGW or their personal distaste for McIntyre they should support his requests for data and methods (James Annan is an alarmist who has distinguished himself through his unusual scientific integrity here, having supported at least one of McIntyre’s requests). Most of us were brought up to believe that replication of results was one of the cornerstones of scientific credibility – and for good reason. For almost all major gatekeepers in science today to be implicitly supporting widely-reported obstructions to scientific replication is a horrifying scandal. Their behavior is a violation of the most fundamental ethos of science. If alarmism proves to be justified they will get away with it. If not, this may some day be considered the largest ethical scandal in scientific history.

  2. As I commented on Pielke Sr.’s when he noted the obvious conflicts of interest inherent in the IPCC in his Sept. 1, 2007, post:

    “Your analysis of the IPCC is entirely apt. That said, what do you make of the fact that so many leading gate-keepers in science seem either to support the IPCC’s position or to take an even less nuanced position in their public statements about the present dangers of Co2-induced AGW than does the IPCC?

    I would include in this category Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science, John Holdren, President of the AAAS, Stephen Schneider, editor of Climate Change, The Royal Society, and the editors of Scientific American. Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature seems to be more cautious than the others listed here, but still solidly on board the consensus.

    Thus your analysis of the IPCC, accurate as it is, does not explain why these other individuals and organizations would take a similar position.”

    Another commentator noted that Ralph Cicerone of the NAS should be added to my list.

    You might be completely correct in your evaluation of the quality of evidence regarding global warming, but if so then it is worth noting that the problem extends well beyond the IPCC and well beyond the boundaries of climate science. If alarmist AGW turns out to be as deeply flawed as you and others suggest, then we must conclude that almost all major gatekeepers in the scientific community demonstrated remarkably poor judgment throughout the decades of this controversy. The fact that there have been high profile, credible opponents to alarmist AGW and that nonetheless major gatekeepers unanimously insisted on the validity of AGW and appropriateness of alarmism calls into question the structure of our systems that define scientific credibility. Intelligent arguments by well-informed skeptics of alarmist AGW are readily available; they cannot plead ignorance.

    How could diverse scientific organizations all have chosen leaders who happen to share the alarmist perspective on AGW despite contrary evidence? Is it due to cultural norms among scientific elites? Is it due to the incentive structure that leads certain types of individuals into scientific administration? Is it a global club of good ole’ boys? Some kind of tribal loyalty among certain kinds of scientists? Or is it something else?

    Of course if AGW turns out to be a serious issue, we don’t need to concerned about all of this. But if AGW turns out to be a minor phenomenon, and the alarmist claims were never well justified, then we must face the fact that the flaws go far more deeply than just the IPCC. Ex post facto they can claim that it was appropriate to be alarmed “just in case.” But then when one looks closely at the specific decisions made by gatekeepers one becomes more concerned.

    The fact that the leading gatekeepeers have not supported Steve McIntyre’s efforts at auditing certain areas of climate science is certainly discomfiting. Given the high profile of the hockeystick in AGW propaganda and the high profile of the evidentiary controversy of the hockeystick, including Wegman’s testimony, I would have thought that Science, Nature, or one of the major climate journals would have devoted a significant amount of space to diverse perspectives on the hockeystick debate. Instead they seem to have circled the wagons in order to silence the implications of McIntyre in all the dozens of ways documented at his blog.

    If they had simply supported McIntyre’s attempts to access data that should have been readily available to begin with they would have maintained their credibility. It is very difficult to understand why none of them regard data access and transparent methods in climate research as fundamental. Regardless of their confidence in alarmist AGW or their personal distaste for McIntyre they should support his requests for data and methods (James Annan is an alarmist who has distinguished himself through his unusual scientific integrity here, having supported at least one of McIntyre’s requests). Most of us were brought up to believe that replication of results was one of the cornerstones of scientific credibility – and for good reason. For almost all major gatekeepers in science today to be implicitly supporting widely-reported obstructions to scientific replication is a horrifying scandal. Their behavior is a violation of the most fundamental ethos of science. If alarmism proves to be justified they will get away with it. If not, this may some day be considered the largest ethical scandal in scientific history.

  3. Michael, Thankyou for your well argued contribution. I share your position, that if AGW turns out to be a fizzer, it should be a scandal. If not, then at least it will have been tested more that appears in the literature.

    Recently I have been seeking a positive angle to turn skepticism through. The experience of medicine in battling with drug companies for objective evidence-based outputs is familiar to many, and I think provides a framework for directing the calls like ‘scam’ and ‘swindle’ into positive long term research. I would draw your attention to Medical Evidence Blog. All the same elements that concern Steve McIntyre, Roger, myself, and others about AGW are there: non-reporting of negative results, lack of power in tests, non-disclosure of data, poor methodology.

    My idea is that the climate sciences are transitioning from a cottage science to a commercial science, and there are some ‘blind spots’ in need of education. They don’t have a good handle on quality of evidence for example. All studies are assessed on a one-off basis, ad hoc methodologies abound and are encouraged, rather than a framework of objective common practice.

    The social sciences probably have something to teach us here. Although the major institutions are not commercial companies, they are power structures, and so act to reinforce the dominant ideology. Said another way, in lingo where I come from, most people don’t have the guts to put their livelihood on the line (until they retire). And we have seen plenty of scientists ‘coming out’ about their concerns with AGW after they retire.

    Probably the worst outcome would be for AGW to be false, and it not to be a scandal.

  4. Michael, Thankyou for your well argued contribution. I share your position, that if AGW turns out to be a fizzer, it should be a scandal. If not, then at least it will have been tested more that appears in the literature.

    Recently I have been seeking a positive angle to turn skepticism through. The experience of medicine in battling with drug companies for objective evidence-based outputs is familiar to many, and I think provides a framework for directing the calls like ‘scam’ and ‘swindle’ into positive long term research. I would draw your attention to Medical Evidence Blog. All the same elements that concern Steve McIntyre, Roger, myself, and others about AGW are there: non-reporting of negative results, lack of power in tests, non-disclosure of data, poor methodology.

    My idea is that the climate sciences are transitioning from a cottage science to a commercial science, and there are some ‘blind spots’ in need of education. They don’t have a good handle on quality of evidence for example. All studies are assessed on a one-off basis, ad hoc methodologies abound and are encouraged, rather than a framework of objective common practice.

    The social sciences probably have something to teach us here. Although the major institutions are not commercial companies, they are power structures, and so act to reinforce the dominant ideology. Said another way, in lingo where I come from, most people don’t have the guts to put their livelihood on the line (until they retire). And we have seen plenty of scientists ‘coming out’ about their concerns with AGW after they retire.

    Probably the worst outcome would be for AGW to be false, and it not to be a scandal.

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