The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (2 of 3)

Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy (BA) and Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit (CA) have been awarded the 2007 Weblogs Award for Best Science blog. Remarkably, they are both prisoners of their own devices: BA cannot criticize mainstream science, CA can only criticize mainstream science. They are both great blogs and their shared Award is a honest snapshot of their relative merits. PZ Myers’ Pharyngula, on the other hand…

The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (1 of 3) – Introduction and The Bad Astronomy Blog
The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (2 of 3) – The Climate Audit Blog and The Weblogs Award for Best Science Blog committee
The Best Science Blog 2007 Saga (3 of 3) – Pharyngula and Conclusions (and a Prayer)

Climate Audit
CA is a great blog too, especially if you have a fixation with climate.

It is very much different from BA. Its remit is almost exclusively climate-related stuff, and there is an apparent generational gap (so we don’t read of McIntyre’s favourite actresses, TV shows or cartoon characters).

As it says on the tin, CA is a long-running audit of the various claims done in the name of Climate Change and in particular of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). It is a great way to learn the details of all that has to happen before things get published, as we are lead through various investigations on where and how bark samples are collected for example, and what needs to be thought and done (a lot) to translate an ice core into a record of past temperatures. At every step of the way, the list of assumptions grows while unavoidable errors pile up.

Having seen a few egregious examples, one would be tempted to say the AGW motto is, never let actual data get in the way of with a good interpretation.

Curiously for an audit, CA ends up doing much original research: the way the AGW community is presented by McIntyre, a great deal of samples and raw data are hidden away from the view of almost everybody but the original authors (a rather awful, unscientific way to conduct scientific research).

With these obstacles nastily thrown in his path, all the activity and attention for the detail that make Steve McIntyre an indefatigable auditor may also make him sound at times verging on the insane. Yet one can only admire him for a remarkable Climate Audit career that includes the effective destruction in 2003 with Ross McKitrick of Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick of temperature, once the Great “Smoking Gun” Hope for the AGW community and now hidden away in obscure temperature graphs (yes, not even the IPCC believes in it any longer, even if they can’t help inserting it here and there) (just look at it now, it’s a golf club at best).

More recently in August 2007, McIntyre got interviewed by major media outlets after discovering a 1-degree C “y2k” jump in NASA’s published temperature readings for the USA (note that the consensus on global warming so far is only 0.6C so the “jump” was 40% bigger) (by the way: James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, recognized the error but couldn’t help kicking and screaming, demonstrating once and for all that “AGW science” is not “Science” but a political party if not a religion, or even a personal quest for glory).

Notably, both of those errors were towards warming. Perhaps that means the AGW community if left to its own devices only corrects upwards. Or perhaps, as pointed out by Phil Plait of BA, the CA blogger only tries to find the warming-ward flaws in the climate science mainstream, not in the sometimes absurd counter-proposals circulating in the AGW-skeptic community. Time will tell which is which. Perhaps one day McIntyre will find a NASA flaw pointing in the other direction.

The criticism about not auditing the claims of anti-AGWers is valid up to a point. What is the CA “audience”? It is not the general public. CA “competes” with other climate-science blogs, such as for example RealClimate, created and managed at NASA by “real scientists” who unfortunately don’t think twice about being partisan, censoring adverse commentaries and even preventing the release of their methodologies and raw data.

McIntyre’s personal fight is not with the whole world, but with the most unscientific bits of the AGW science community.

The Weblogs Award for Best Science Blog committee
One wonders how often it happens. A poll is set up online for some good-natured fun competition among a disparate set of people. Everything goes fine until a few days before the poll closure, when for some reason a group of voters hijacks the poll, making a storm in the proverbial teacup.

I remember ten years ago an internet poll to vote for the most beautiful (British?) girl, with several of my colleagues happily clicking away for somebody called Laudie the Toadie or something of the sort (yes, an amphibian).

What happened with the BSB 2007 was obviously much less good-natured. My impression is that the toxins came out of the nasty atmosphere surrounding climate change discussions. At one point somebody decided either that CA had to be prevented from winning, or that CA had to be helped get the top spot.

It doesn’t matter, as “the opposite party” quickly decided to fight with the same arms, and so the mad voting started. Whatever the original BSB poll was for, we can be sure that it lost any validity as soon as fellow competitor JunkScience encouraged people to vote CA, and fellow competitor Pharyngula suggested their readed to vote BA.

Voting rates reached then amazing levels. Worse, even if the count at closing time indicated CA in front of BA, mysteriously the subsequent “checks” put BA in the lead. Talk about a hot potato. At one point I wondered if the competition would be decided by the Supreme Court after a hurricane of lawsuits perhaps even brought up independently of Plait and McIntyre.

At the end, some “fancy footwork” meant BA and CA got recognized at Best Science Blogs, with 20,000 votes each. Surely, this will leave some lingering issue with the awards…who gets on top is not “Best of” but “Most capable of getting clicks”. Perhaps in 2008 they should rename it as “Most popular”?

Congratulations though, to the committee.