‘The Data Thugs’
Guest essay by Peter D. Tillman
Got your attention, didn’t it? But they are actually the good guys — two working scientists who, behind the scenes, have had striking success in bringing on retractions by publicly calling out questionable data. Their work was written up in Science Magazine in a freely-available article, here.
Once a problematic paper has been identified, it’s seldom straightforward getting it fixed. Nick Brown and James Heathers have had unusual numbers of successes, perhaps because they start out low-key, but don’t hesitate to go public if they get no response. Other would-be whistle-blowers have had less success, as the Science article describes in some detail. One whistle-blower’s efforts attracted legal threats — another scenario WUWT readers will recall, with a few progressing to actual lawsuits. The litigious Dr. Michael Mann comes to mind.
Heathers & Brown hope their efforts will lead to better peer review.
“In short, peer review misses all the hard stuff, and a worrying amount of the easy stuff.” —James Heathers, Northeastern University, one of the self-described “data thugs”.
Longtime readers here, and participants in the Climate Wars, will recall the remarkable LACK of success in getting questionable data and papers retracted or corrected in Climate Science. Instead, they remains in the scientific record, and are regularly used to buttress such arguments as that 97% of climate scientists support the CAGW consensus.
Readers who are scientists have been taken aback at this lack of success — Steve McIntryre tried for years to get the statistical follies in (for example) the Hockey Stick interpretation by Michael Mann, corrected. He largely failed, despite impeccable statistical work on his part. He did have some (partial) successes, especially in getting data properly archived.
So I recommend you carefully read the Science article, which is free online, and think about how this might be applied to Climate Science, where there is a great mass of poorly-done research awaiting proper review. It won’t be an easy process. As Upton Sinclair once observed, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.”
Science does self-correct, and eventually the failed predictions of climate catastrophe will be recognized as signs that the underlying science is badly flawed. But climate change moves slowly, and the bad advice these folks are giving to policy-makers is already doing a lot of damage, and wasting billions or trillions of dollars. It would be great to speed up the self-correction!
Heathers believes their auditing efforts can be formalized and taught to anyone. Eventually, he would like to produce an online course to spread the methods. “Then things get really interesting,” he predicts.
Peter D. Tillman is a retired geologist who has been interested in paleoclimates since student days, and got interested in the misuses of the tree ring climate proxies from Steve McIntyre’s work at Climate Audit. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geology and chemistry from Rice University in Houston, and a Master’s in Geochemistry from UNC in Chapel Hill. He’s also a longtime WUWT reader.
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