Friday, January 29, 2010

Team Psychology

When I used to watch NBA basketball regularly, one of the things I laughed about the most was when all the players on each team would point in one direction or another after the ball went out of bounds. One teams player would point in one direction indicating it was their ball, and the other teams players would point in the opposite direction. It appeared that objectivity and honesty had no place in the dispute.

When you play on a team you are expected to do your best, take the falls and the pain and put forward your all. I've played soccer indoors on a tile floor as a goalie, and still dove for the ball, hit the pole from time to time, and did my absolute best every time coming away with scraped and bleeding elbows and knees.

I believe there is a primal instinct involved when you participate or even watch a sport. Your identity is tied to the team, and their success or failure means far more than it should, almost as if your prospects for survival depend on the outcome of each game. Considering the psychological ramifications, it isn't surprising that people would be willing to bend the truth a little to effect the outcome.

Our distant ancestors had no time for games, and the only analogous competition they would have engaged would have been a competition for resources and may really have had a life or death result. Belonging to a clan or tribal community would have been imperative. Their success is your success, and their failures your failures. This is now ingrained in our very nature, and why my pulse quickens and my hands numb when watching a game.

This is unhealthy when it pushes us to lose our objectivity and honesty. In some cases the team has nothing to do with sport. Academically it can lead to dishonesty when you put aside your principals to push for a particular outcome. When it comes to science, objectivity and honesty are inherent in the process, otherwise it isn't science.

One of the newest examples of this is the paper Menne, M. J., C. N. Williams, and M. A. Palecki (2010):On the reliability of the U.S. Surface Temperature Record J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1029/2009JD013094, in press. A good analysis can be found on the website of Roger Pielke Sr., here: Professional Discourtesy By The National Climate Data Center On The Menne Et Al 2010 paper

The Menne et al 2010 paper is a preemptive strike against the Surface Stations project by Anthony Watts, using a subset of early non-quality controlled data. They used homogenized (gridded) data from 70 high quality stations, and compare it to homogenized data 1228 USHCN2 stations in an attempt to show there isn't a significant difference in the temperatures measured.

The results are not to be believed for multiple reasons. If you take a random subset of the 1228 stations and did the same thing chances are very remote that the resultant grid would be the same or even close. Something doesn't jive with the analysis. If it were true, then why do we have 1228 stations, and not just 70? It seems we could save some money here if more stations don't tell you anything.

The next problem unintentionally illustrated by this paper is what it implies. Station siting apparently doesn't matter, and the urban heat island doesn't exist. If you have a station with a temperature sensor sited in a parking lot, next to a burn barrel, or an air conditioner, (all documented at it doesn't matter. The data don't need to be quality controlled, because the process used at NCDC can fix bogus numbers. The whole thing is ridiculous on its face, and the authors are showing either their incompetence or their contempt for science and the public.

They have suspended not only objectivity and honesty, but rationality, in their attempt to take it for the team. We saw the same thing in November with the CRU emails, and repeatedly over the last few weeks with the IPCC Glacier fiasco, the Amazon forest fiasco etc.

Team psychology is good in its place, but science isn't it.

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