Thursday, February 25, 2010

Climategate = Enron?

I found this post at Steve McIntryre's blog fascinating. It compares climate science in the wake of Climategate to Enron once it started to unravel. I have read the book about Enron, Conspiracy of Fools, discussed in the post (note: for a time, WeatherData did business with Enron, long before it fell apart) and I find the comparison surprisingly apt.

In the now 28-year history of WeatherData, Enron was one of only three companies that I would not continue to do business with.  Something struck me as very wrong with them. Before going any further let me unequivocally state there are honest, excellent scientists in climate science.  That said, the IPCC-related climate enterprise reminds me, at times, of Enron's "creative" accounting. Enron set up hugely complicated "off balance sheet" transfers of assets that generated "profits."  They also creatively used "mark to market" asset valuations in ways that no outsider could understand. 

How does this relate to climate science? An example: Climate scientists putting their faith in small numbers of trees that can somehow accurately discern the climate 500 to 1,000 years ago but fail to accurately discern the climate of the last 75 years.  I have read several of the published papers and even though I have a degree in meteorology and a minor in mathematics, I don't understand either the data or the methodology.  That might be OK except believing the tree records takes a huge "act of faith." Why? There are written records of the settlements in Greenland and Newfoundland that contradict the climatic picture tree records paint. Second, believing the tree ring data means humans would have had to bore through tens of feet of ice in hopes of finding a cave in which to leave artifacts to be found if and when the glacier retreated. Isn't it far more likely the glacier didn't block the entrance to a cave in the year 1,200 when artifacts were left and that the tree data is wrong? 

The paleo-climatologists say, "trust us, we know what we are doing."  Well, consider this excerpt from "Time" magazine's coverage of Enron:

The questions that followed veered toward the trivial--the Christmas party, parking privileges--until one persistent energy trader started drilling for details about Enron's myriad, murky off-the-books enterprises.

The trader, Jim Schwieger, challenged Lay. Why, he asked, was chief financial officer Andrew Fastow sharing the stage--and gainfully employed--considering that he had just blown half a billion dollars mismanaging several Enron partnerships and earned $30 million doing it? [CEO Kenneth] Lay put his arm around Fastow and proclaimed his "unequivocal trust" in the CFO. The partnership accounting was complex stuff, Lay explained, but Fastow was on top of it...

Rob Bradley's post at McIntyre's blog is compelling and I highly recommend it.

The question is will climate science learn from Climategate and the related scandals and make the imperative changes in its mode of operation?

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