You don't need to know what the science means to establish what the words mean to scientists.

>> Saturday, November 21, 2009

Global warming skeptics are attacking climate scientist Phil Jones for encouraging trickery in an email recently stolen off the webmail server at the University of East Anglia in which he wrote:

I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline.
Over at RealClimate, the skeptical response to the word "trick" is to treat it as a colloquial:
“a cunning or deceitful action or device; “he played a trick on me”; “he pulled a fast one and got away with it”
“Something designed to fool or swindle; ”
“flim-flam: deceive somebody; “We tricked the teacher into thinking that class would be cancelled next week”
To which one of the hosts, Gavin A. Schmidt, responds:
Wrong. Wrong and wrong.
The skeptics reply:
[S]ince this happens “often”, it would be good to see a couple of examples of the word’s usage from other fields to understand why it is not problematic.
Schmidt obliges:
Sure. It's mostly used in mathematics, for instance in decomposing partial fractions, or deciding whether a number is divisible by 9 etc.etc.etc.
The skeptics rejoinder:
This is nonsense. Both are examples of teaching or explaining concepts to lay people. The first intentionally places “tricks” in quotations marks to emphasize its non-technical use.
The problem with nonspecialists reading the private correspondence of experts is that their ignorance transforms all the technical points into nefarious inkblots. To continue with the example above, skeptical nonspecialists encounter the word "trick" and ask for clarification. Schmidt provides evidence that the word is innocuous, but because nonspecialists can interpret neither the context of the original nor that of the further examples, they redouble their efforts: now the rhetorical situation in which the word "trick" is uttered matters; now the appearance of quotation marks matters, etc. They are convincing themselves that those black blobs represent what they insist they represent, and when experts inform them that those are not Rorschach blots to be subjectively interpreted—that they are, in fact, statements written in a language that skeptics simply do not understand—the nonspecialists look over them again and declare that it could be a butterfly, or maybe a bat.

To my mind, the only way to convince them that the word "trick" operates innocuously in the particular linguistic community of climate scientists would be to demonstrate that the word "trick" operates innocuously in the particular linguistic community of climate scientists. Show the skeptics that on 11 July 2001, Jean-Charles Hourcade wrote:
This passes first through ... a macroeconomic framework insuring the consistency between prices and quantities at any point in time without necessarily resorting to the modeling tricks relying on the conventional neo-classical growth theory; these 'tricks' assume indeed perfect foresight, efficient markets and the absence of strategic or routine behaviours; new conceptual frameworks about endogenous growth theory allow for such a move, but there is a gap between advances in pure theory and empirical modeling[.]
I don't know what that means any more than I know the science behind Phil Jones's statement, but I do know that this email demonstrates that the word "trick" is used both with and without quotation marks in this particular language community. Moreover, I know that even though the information leaked was designed to be do maximal damage to that community, there is still evidence internal to it that resists attempts to mischaracterize the intent of its members. Should skeptics insist that "trick" doesn't mean a quick-and-dirty way to explore some possibility, show them that on 12 January 2008, John Lanzante noted that
a quick-and-dirty way to explore this possibility using a "trick" used with precipitation data is to apply a square root transformation to the rejection rates, average these, then reverse transform the average. The square root transformation should yield data that is more nearly Gaussian than the untransformed data.
If, by some miracle, that satisfies them on the matter of "tricks," they will start complaining about the phrase "hide the decline," which was, of course, the real object of their objection in the first place.

Needless to say, I don't envy climate scientists the tsunami of stupid they're about to suffer.


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