Posts Tagged ‘non-science’

What passes for science: Mindless number games show El Niño correlates with civil war!

August 25, 2011

Even making allowance for the fact that it is August when “silly season” stories come to the fore, this nonsense  does not bring much credit to the authors, Columbia University, Nature or the sponsors of the “study” who include the U.S. EPA, the brother of George Soros and the Environmental Defense Fund. Gullible journalists who are short of copy and create headlines from this kind of junk science are plentiful.

Civil conflicts are associated with the global climate Solomon M. Hsiang, Kyle C. Meng & Mark A. Cane, Nature 476, 438–441 (25 August 2011) doi:10.1038/nature10311 

pdf version here


The Guardian leads –

Climate cycles linked to civil war, analysis shows

Cyclical climatic changes double the risk of civil wars, with analysis showing that 50 of 250 conflicts between 1950 and 2004 were triggered by the El Niño cycle, according to scientists.

Researchers connected the climate phenomenon known as El Niño, which brings hot and dry conditions to tropical nations and cuts food production, to outbreaks of violence in countries from southern Sudan to Indonesia and Peru.

Solomon Hsiang, who led the research at Columbia University, New York, said: “We can speculate that a long-ago Egyptian dynasty was overthrown during a drought. This study shows a systematic pattern of global climate affecting conflict right now. We are still dependent on climate to a very large extent.”

JunkScience gives it short shrift:

Weather causes war, a new study claims. So should we limit CO2 emissions and give peace a chance? Make love not CO2?

The study published in this week’s Nature claims to correlate El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycles with wars around the world during 1950-2009. The study’s intended implication, then, is that if only we can stop climate change (i.e., limit CO2 emissions), peace will be at hand.

The study’s major problem, however, is that even if there is a statistical correlation (pardon the redundancy) between ENSO events and wars, the study authors failed to examine any of the actual socio-political circumstances surrounding the wars. To insinuate weather cycles as a cause of or contributor to war simply because they can be correlated is to mindlessly exalt numerology over socio-political reality. 

Next ENSO cycles are real and result in actual weather phenomena. Extrapolating the actuality of ENSO to the dubious hypothesis of catastrophic manmade global warming, is yet another leap of faith. The goal of this research is to link CO2 emissions with national security. That is, we don’t just have to wish for world peace anymore; we can stop burning fossil fuels, cooling our homes, driving SUVs, eating meat, etc. It is merely a ploy to tug at the consciences of conservatives who, as a tribe, otherwise generally oppose Al Gore-ism.


Nonsense speculation posing as science

August 17, 2011

Another example of nonsense speculation which gets published and then drives headlines only because they invoke the magic words “climate change”. A case of speculative IPCC model results being used as inputs for another speculative model about fish extermination and coming to a mildly alarmist conclusion.

Not a measurement in sight. But many pages, lots of statistics, 4 tables, 2 figures and 66 references to come to the amazing conclusion and state the obvious that cold water fish may die out if they are forced to live in warm water. 

As my son would put it “Duh”!!

A new paper in PLOS One.

Comparing Climate Change and Species Invasions as Drivers of Coldwater Fish Population Extirpations

 Sharma S, Vander Zanden MJ, Magnuson JJ, Lyons J (2011), PLoS ONE 6(8): e22906. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022906

The “researchers” actually measured nothing. They took a data-base of the conditions in which populations of a particular kind of fish (the cisco) existed. These parameters include air temperature among many others. They then did a statistical regression to infer how the populations might depend upon air temperature. They then took temperature increase assumptions from the climate change scenarios of the IPCC and applied them to the data base to speculate what that might do to the fish populations. They then reach their conclusions that climate change would extirpate a large section of the fish population and that this would be worse than the impact of invasive species.

And this is considered peer-reviewed science!!!!

They write in their paper:

Coldwater fishes, such as cisco [Corgeonus artedii] require cold water temperatures, high dissolved oxygen concentrations, and oligotrophic conditions, and thereby are sensitive indicators of environmental change. In Wisconsin, cisco are close to the southern edge of their range and are listed as a species of special concern. Cisco live in larger and deeper inland lakes with cold, well-oxygenated deep waters. Under climate change scenarios, as air temperatures increase, epilimnion and hypolimnion water temperatures are expected to increase. As water temperatures increase, the duration of the lake stratification period is expected to increase, isolating the deep waters from exchanges with the atmosphere, making it more likely that metabolic activity will reduce dissolved oxygen concentrations in the hypolimnion to stressful or lethal levels. The combination of warmer water temperatures and lower dissolved oxygen concentrations under climate change scenarios in larger, deeper lakes typically suitable for coldwater fishes could result in their extirpation.

Cisco are sensitive to the introduction of non-native rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax). Rainbow smelt is native to the northeastern coast of North America and was introduced to the Laurentian Great Lakes in the 1920s. In Wisconsin, rainbow smelt have been introduced into lakes deliberately by anglers for sport fishing purposes. Furthermore, fertilized eggs of rainbow smelt may have been unintentionally introduced into lakes by residents cleaning smelt on their piers. When rainbow smelt invade a system, they negatively interact with native species through predation and competition. Invasion of rainbow smelt has been linked directly to changes in zooplankton community composition, decline in recruitment of walleye (Sander vitreus), and extirpation of cisco and yellow perch (Perca flavescens) . For example in Sparkling Lake, Wisconsin, the cisco population was extirpated through predation-induced recruitment within eight years of detection of rainbow smelt. …… 

Geo-referenced lake-specific data were collected for 13,052 lakes in Wisconsin from a variety of sources including the North Temperate Lakes Long Term Ecological Research (NTL-LTER) program, Wisconsin GAP (Geographic Approach to Planning for Biological Diversity) database, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources databases, refereed publications, government reports, and dissertations. From the aforementioned databases, a suite of variables describing lake morphology, water chemistry, physical habitat, and fish species occurrence were compiled. Environmental variables retained in the final dataset were: surface area (hectares), maximum depth (metres), perimeter (kilometres), Secchi depth (metres), pH, conductivity (µS/cm), and mean annual air temperatures (°C). For water chemistry variables, annual averages were used in the dataset. 

Current air temperatures and scenarios of future mean annual air temperatures were obtained from the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) Climate Working Group. Mean annual air temperatures were statistically downscaled for Wisconsin on a 0.1° latitude ×0.1° longitude grid. Climate data were summarised for three time periods: 1961–2000, 2046–2065, and 2081–2100 and averaged over these three sets of years as suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to reduce temporal variation in climate. Then, projected air temperatures from 15 general circulation models and the IPCCs A1, A2 and B1 scenarios (although not all general circulation models incorporated all three scenarios) totalling 78 climate change scenarios were used to develop future projections of cisco occurrence. The A1, A2 and B1 scenarios incorporate a range of variation in greenhouse gas emissions inferred for various time periods in the 21st century. The A1 scenario is the most extreme and assumes the highest greenhouse gas concentrations, followed by the A2 and B1 scenarios. …….

Our results highlight the threats to coldwater fish species. The probability of cisco extirpations could be reduced in Wisconsin through three interventions. First, the mitigation of climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions could significantly reduce the worst case losses of cisco. ….

Oh dear!!

Needless to say this non-science – since it uses the magic phrase “climate change” and has an alarmist theme – has no difficulty in being published and generating nonsense headlines in Science Daily:

Climate Change Could Drive Native Fish out of Wisconsin Waters 

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2011) — The cisco, a key forage fish found in Wisconsin’s deepest and coldest bodies of water, could become a climate change casualty and disappear from most of the Wisconsin lakes it now inhabits by the year 2100, according to a new study. In a report published online in the journal Public Library of Science One, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources project a gloomy fate for the fish — an important food for many of Wisconsin’s iconic game species — as climate warms and pressure from invasive species grows. ………

In addition to the ecological change that would be prompted by a warmer Wisconsin climate, Sharma notes, the impoverishment of aquatic ecosystems will have potential socio-economic implications, especially in a setting like Wisconsin where recreational fishing is an iconic pastime, not to mention an important industry.

“This could very well impact the fishing experiences we have,” avers the Wisconsin researcher.

But rather than make me concerned about climate change this nonsense report based on idle – but fashionable – speculation makes me much more concerned about the predominance of modelling over measurement and what passes in some quarters for for science.

Climategate and Hausergate: Different routes to the faking of science

August 30, 2010

Clearly academia can only reflect surrounding society. Scientists are not saints and political motives, financial greed and fame-seeking will be just as prevalent within academia as in the surroundings. Frauds and fakers will inevitably exist. Nevertheless it is peer review – by colleagues within the organisation and within the peer-review process – which is supposed to maintain the quality of scientific work but perhaps it must now be expanded to protect and maintain the integrity of scientific work as well. Reviewers cannot continue to use the independence of the review process as an excuse to remain cocooned within their comfort zones of anonymity. They do need to stand up and be counted.

In recent months two very different scandals in the scientific world but both relying on fake science have surfaced. In one peer-review has been lax and in the other it has been perverted to a cause.

In the case of Climategate (and the IPCC), the peer-review process was perverted to falsify scientific conclusions and suppress dissent in support of a particular political (and financial) agenda.

In the case of Hausergate predetermined conclusions were supported by falsified data which were then endorsed by the peer-review process to make non-science seem to be science. The financial motive is probably only secondary to the primary motive of seeking acclaim and reputation.

In both cases the normal sequence of the scientific method of

Question > research >hypothesis > experiment /test > analysis > conclusion

has been distorted.

In the case of Climategate a small clique of academics perverted the peer-review process to control and prevent the publication of opposing views. The IPCC (where the authors were often the same academics with a few charlatans, railway engineers, thrill seekers, politicians and financiers thrown in for good measure) not only prevented the consideration of alternate views but went further by including non-peer-reviewed advocacy reports, newspaper articles and the like when they were favourable to their cause. Of course the IPCC is a political institution so perhaps it is asking too much to expect it to be a force to maintain scientific integrity.

“Since the IPCC gives Lead Authors the sole right to determine content and accept or dismiss comments, it is more like a weblog than an academic report.”

See “Fix the IPCC process” by Ross McKitrick at

An alarmist agenda was used to satisfy the greed associated with the Carbon Offset and Trading scams. Some data manipulation is also evident from the Climategate e-mails but the control of peer-review was the main tool used.

In the case of Marc Hauser he simply fabricated data to fit the conclusions he had already come to (and it is irrelevant that his theories or conclusions may or may not be correct). It is stated that he was publishing at the rate of a paper – each one peer-reviewed – every month for 4 years. Obviously not too difficult to do or too time-consuming  if data only had to be fabricated whenever needed. What were the peers and reviewers doing? Had his colleagues and reviewers no suspicions or doubts?

What is not clear is why Hauser felt it was advantageous to fake the science instead of doing the science. Clearly he could not have been as prolific if he had to actually do the science and perhaps account for data which did not support his  theories. It would seem therefore to be connected with the gaining of an academic reputation quickly and perhaps also with the financial benefits flowing from that.

But the message coming through is that peers and peer-review must be transparent and very much more rigorous. They cannot restrict themselves to quality control alone – which itself is not applied uniformly – and not take a position on the integrity of the work. Reviewers are effectively servants of the Journals they serve and the Journals too cannot escape responsibility for what they publish and what they choose not to.

Hausergate: When did Hauser start making it up?

August 30, 2010

By all accounts Marc Hauser has been falsifying data at least since 1995.

Harvard probe kept under wraps

He joined Harvard in 1992 and the first known data falsification was in 1995, so Harvard colleagues and associates could not have been unaware of his creative use of data. All the journals which published his papers since 1995 and all his peers and reviewers must also have been aware of his fertile imagination. It could just be gullibility or it could be incompetence but they can have few other excuses.
Their silence is telling.
But when did his creativity start?

All his work must now be suspect. From his PhD in 1987 from UCLA, and through to his post-doctoral “work” at Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the University of California, Davis and at Rockefeller University, and all his production at Harvard, the presumption must be of  exaggerations (which is probably how it started) and falsification.

The magnitude of his fraud must encompass at least his salary and grants ever since he joined Harvard.

Misconduct at Harvard or is it scientific fraud?

August 11, 2010

Harvard does not want to say very much but the story was broken by the Boston Globe.

Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser — a well-known scientist and author of the book “Moral Minds’’ — is taking a year-long leave after a lengthy internal investigation found evidence of scientific misconduct in his laboratory.

Scientist Marc Hauser’s studies include work on the cognitive and evolutionary underpinnings of language.

As reported in Nature:

A 3-year investigation has found evidence of scientific misconduct in publications by prominent Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser, the Boston Globe reports today.

Hauser’s research, which has frequently been highlighted in newspapers and on television, has addressed the evolutionary roots of human language, mathematical ability, and morality. His 2006 book, Moral Minds, argued that the human brain is programmed to embrace certain moral principles. Earlier this year, Hauser co-authored a study that found no impact of religion on how humans respond to moral dilemmas (for more, see ‘Morals don’t come from God’).

But by then, Hauser’s lab was already the subject of a Harvard University investigation. According to the Globe article, the trouble centers on a 2002 paper published in the journal Cognition (subscription required). Hauser was the first author on the paper, which found that cotton-top tamarins are able to learn patterns – previously thought to be an important step in language acquisition. The paper has been retracted, for reasons which are reportedly unclear even to the journal’s editor, Gerry Altmann.

Two other papers, a 2007 article in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and a 2007 Science paper, were also flagged for investigation. A correction has been published on the first, and Science is now looking into concerns about the second. And the Globe article highlights other controversies, including a 2001 paper in the American Journal of Primatology, which has not been retracted although Hauser himself later said he was unable to replicate the results. Findings in a 1995 PNAS paper were also questioned by an outside researcher, Gordon Gallup of the State University of New York at Albany, who reviewed the original data and said he found “not a thread of compelling evidence” to support the paper’s conclusions.

This sounds more like fraud.

Not for the first time at Harvard and surely not the last.

How many “peers” have been duped along the way?

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