classic whitewash

It seems the AP has set itself up as judge and jury in the climate brouhaha. Their result is a classic whitewash: Science not faked, but not pretty. The report at PhysOrg sounds oh-so-reasonable that the straw men are difficult to detect.

It is true that interpretations and perceptions have a lot of leeway in the messages and other data that started the ruckus. It is also true that there are some indicators that should give a careful reader some insight. One of these indicators is to assert that the release was due to theft. That is a presumption that has significant contrary evidence. Another is citing funding by ‘big oil’ or other such tainted sources while ignoring the funding by government sources that completely overwhelms the field. Another is to claim that the North NAS study validates Mann’s hockey stick chart. Then there’s the question about the AP and how it sees its role. AP was originally a news reporting organization yet, in this report, they have taken over the role of evaluating science issues in a way normally reserved for a panel of distinguished experts.

Another example of this sort of whitewash is mentioned at slashdot: The Limits To Skepticism. In that post, there is a claim that a blogger who questioned Darwin weather data was shown to be wrong and the blogger is labeled a “denialist.” As one of the comments notes, the claim was made without allowing or considering rebuttal. The black versus white often seen by blanket assertions supported by arguments revolving around ideas such as consensus do not belong in science. This is, in part, what Murray and Abbott describe in Climategate: Disdain for the Scientific Method

The straw men used in these judgments are those of assuming that the issue is one of proving conspiracy or actual malfeasance in representation of data. Both of those straw men serve their purpose well because neither is as well defined as they are presented. Is confirmation bias a conspiracy? Can statistical methods that homogenize data be malfeasance? Where do these things cross the line?

These proclamations of innocence such as the AP report are also worthy of note in that they anticipate defense. The reality is that anyone making allegations such as they imagine in the report have the burden of proving the quality of their claims. Such proclamations of innocence are as fishy as the destruction of data and the avoidance of legal requirements described in the e-mail messages. The suspicion is that the defense is not what it says it is.

It may be that the defense is to the reaction of people who are making up their own judgments. When someone points out a truncated series in an IPCC illustration with the odd coincidence that the data left off the graph is at odds with the point of the graph, people may indeed not reach the conclusion the AP desires. Like the North NAS report, those in the community who do have intellectual integrity may not say flat out that a wrong has been done but rather hem and haw and hedge a bit about something not being quite right. You can take that as not finding fault so it must prove rightness or you can accept that not being quite right means there are questions. The AP and others who think the released CRU files are no big deal appear to take the former approach. That’s called a whitewash. The question is whether it is intentional or just a matter of trying to deal with unpleasant reality.

UPDATE: it looks like one of the authors of the AP report was involved in the scandal. see AP’s Seth Borenstein is just too damn cozy with the people he covers – time for AP to do something about it.

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