The Inconvenient Truth about David Rose’s ‘Special Investigation’


by Unity    
12:24 pm - December 14th 2009

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So, at last, the Mail on Sunday has waded into the furore surrounding the hacked CRU emails with a special investigation, bringing out its big guns, David Rose, who is highly regarded as a journalist and has a solid track record in serious reporting and investigations, to write up the story.

For all his well-deserved reputation as a serious journalist, Rose, it must be said, also has previous form for being taken in by sources he believed to be reliable at the time but which then proved to have been feeding him disinformation. In this case the disinformation in question related to alleged links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, which Rose fell for hook, line and sinker. To his credit Rose did eventually come clean and admit to having been duped, expressing his regrets in very strong and, in regards to the role of some of his sources.

The point I’m making here is that even a very good journalist is only ever going to be as good as his sources, and in the case of Rose’s investigation his choice of sources are letting him down very badly indeed.

Misquoting Roger Pielke Jr.

In the article Roger Pielke Jr is presented by Rose as a credible (i.e. non-skeptical) climate scientist who fully accepts the reality of anthropogenic global warming and a strong advocate for action who has, nevertheless, been highly critical of the scientists at the centre of this issue:

Pielke’s verdict on the scandal is damning.

‘These emails open up the possibility that big scientific questions we’ve regarded as settled may need another look.

‘They reveal that some of these scientists saw themselves not as neutral investigators but as warriors engaged in battle with the so-called sceptics.

‘They have lost a lot of credibility and as far as their being leading spokespeople on this issue of huge public importance, there is no going back.’

Pielke may well stand by his opinions of the scientists but, as he disclosed on his own blog within hours of the article’s publication, not by the suggestion that any of the big scientific questions relating to AGW may need to be re-examined.

Dear David-

I just saw your story in the Daily Mail and a small correction is needed. You quote me as saying:

“These emails open up the possibility that big scientific questions we’ve regarded as settled may need another look.”

What I said was:

“While these emails open up the possibility that some scientific questions we’ve regarded as settled may need another look, time will tell and the implications for science are not the most important aspect of the emails.”

The point was that while I am agnostic about the implications for science, leaving that to others, I am certain that the emails have broader implications for the credibility and legitimacy of certain quarters of climate science. Based on what I’ve seen, I do not believe that any “big scientific questions” are implicated by the emails.

So, what Pielke actually suggested was that while the CRU emails raise, for him, questions about the credibility of paleoclimatology, which provides only a small part of the evidence for climate change, he’s content that this does not challenge the credibility of AGW theory as a whole, which is what the misquote implies. Pielke, as you can see if you follow the link, has asked for a correction, to which Rose has responded by indicating that he’s forwarded that request to the ‘appropriate editor’ at the Mail.

Whether he gets his correction or not, given that this is a Mail we’re talking about, could be another matter entirely – it hasn’t happened yet.

Dishonesty in the Southern Hemisphere

Later in the article, after noting, correctly, that climate scientists have to make adjustments to proxy data from sources such as tree rings and ice cores to correct for anomalies that would distort their findings, Rose adds the following:

But can we trust the way such ‘adjustments’ are made?

Last week, an article posted on a popular climate sceptic website analysed the data from the past 130 years in Darwin, Australia.

This suggested that average temperatures had risen there by about two degrees Celsius. However, the raw data had been ‘adjusted’ in a series of abrupt upward steps by exactly the same amount: without the adjustment, the Darwin temperature record would have stayed level.

The ‘popular climate sceptic website’ is, in this case, that of Anthony Watts, the TV weatherman who famously responded to a video by Peter Sinclair that debunked his claim that the NOAA’s US Surface Station record was unreliable, not by acknowledging that he was in error but by firing off claims of copyright infringement to You Tube in an effort to suppress the video. As questions about scientific effects are central to the debate surrounding the CRU emails, its well worth remembering that deniers like Watts routinely behave as if they those same standards do not apply to their own ‘research’.

The claims relating to the Darwin temperature record were made by Willis Eschenbach, who deploys a ‘trick’ of his own to make the warming trend in the data relating to Darwin ‘disappear’, the same trick used a couple of weeks earlier by a ‘sceptic’ group calling itself the New Zealand Climate Change Coalition, that of treating data from different weather stations as if they were from the same site.

Had Rose bothered to carry his investigations further that Watts’ site he might have found that the NZ CSC’s trick was rapidly debunked, while Essenbach’s attempt to pull out the same trick on the data from Darwin lasted less than 24 hours before it too was exposed as a fraud.

(UPDATE – even if Rose failed to scan a few independent blogs for responses to Eschenbach’s piece on the Darwin temperature record, he might have noticed this take down by The Economist).

The Divergence Problem and the Medieval Warm Period

The heart of Rose’s ‘investigation’ is a discussion of the contents of some of the CRU emails.

I’ve covered this already but to quickly recap, the divergence problem relates to the proxy data derived from tree rings which is used to reconstruct temperatures from the pre-industrial era, i.e. before the advent of reliable meteorological records and the quickest way to explain it is simply to show it to you using this graph:

The data in red comes from the instrumental record and shows the average global temperature since 1850 as derived from measurements taken by weather stations, while the data in blue shows the proxy record compiled from tree ring data by Keith Briffa, which is known as ‘Briffa 99′ and for each I’ve added polynomial trend lines so you can see exactly what’s going on.

As you can see, from around 1960 onwards, the two graphs diverge sharply – the instrumental record  keeps rising, which is consistent with global warming, but the proxy record  shows an apparent downward trend that much more pronounced than the upward trend on real temperatures. Something is clearly wrong with the proxy record from 1960 onwards as it clearly doesn’t show what we know to be actually happening, hence the divergence problem.

The core of the current controversy stems from the omission of the proxy data from 1960 onwards from the ‘hockey stick’ graph which appeared in the 2oo1 IPCC report and, more importantly, the failure of the IPCC to acknowledge that this data had been excluded. The graph that did appear in the report substituted the data from the instrumental record and omitted the proxy data from 1960 onwards, ensuring that the correct trend was shown but did not admit to the use of this ‘trick’. This is the ‘decline’ that the scientists refer to when they talk about ‘hiding the decline’ in the hacked emails.

If you look at what various skeptics and deniers are saying about this graph at the moment you’ll find three common claims being made.

First, some deniers claim that the proxy data shows that the global climate is actually cooling and its this that the scientists were deliberately hiding. This claim is complete bullshit.

The second claim is that the divergence problem, which has been extensively researched  since it was discovered in the late 1990′s, somehow invalidates the entire hockey stick graph because it proves that the entire proxy reconstruction is in error.

The short answer to that claim is ‘no, it doesn’t’. It does raise some legitimate questions as to whether and what extent any of the confounding factors that are thought to contribute to the observable divergence problem in the post-1960 data may be present in the pre-industrial reconstruction, meaning that there is a need for much more research into those questions, but it remains the case that a series of reconstructions produced after MBH98/99 and Briffa 99 using different proxies all support the reconstructed temperature trends that were shown by both models for the pre-industrial period, all of which suggest that despite there being known, and acknowledged, methodological flaws in the compilation of these earlier reconstructions, the flaws did not unduly affect their outcome.

How warm was the Medieval Warm Period?

The third issue relates to one very specific part of the reconstruction, which is called the ‘Medieval Warm Period’ (MWP). This is period of seemingly natural warming in the Northern Hemisphere, and particularly in Northern Europe, the North Atlantic and North American, of around 300-400 years centred on the first century of the first millennium (1000-1100AD). It encompasses, amongst other things, the period during which we know that the Vikings embarked on several significant voyages of discovery, reaching Iceland, Greenland (which got its name, which seems incongruous today, during this period) and North America.

Amongst some sceptics, including McIntyre and McKitrick, the contention is that the natural warming that occurred during parts of the MWP was as pronounced as it is today, and that this disproves that the claim, made by climate scientists, that the current level of warming is unprecedented in recent human history (i.e. the last 1500-2000 years or so).  This line of argument is reflected in Rose’s article in this passage:

For example, some suggest that the ‘medieval warm period’, the 350-year era that started around 1000, when red wine grapes flourished in southern England and the Vikings tilled now-frozen farms in Greenland, was considerably warmer than even 1998.

Of course, this is inconvenient to climate change believers because there were no cars or factories pumping out greenhouse gases in 1000AD – yet the Earth still warmed.

Some tree-ring data eliminates the medieval warmth altogether, while others reflect it. In September 1999, Jones’s IPCC colleague Michael Mann of Penn State University in America – who is now also the subject of an official investigation –was working with Jones on the hockey stick. As they debated which data to use, they discussed a long tree-ring analysis carried out by Keith Briffa.

Briffa knew exactly why they wanted it, writing in an email on September 22: ‘I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards “apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more”.’ But his conscience was troubled. ‘In reality the situation is not quite so simple – I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1,000 years ago.’

The suggestion here is that scientists at the CRU may have been manipulating the proxy data, as much by omission as anything else, to minimise the apparent scale of the MWP as it appeared in, at least, Briffa’s proxy in an effort to lead people to the conclusion that scientists are concealing a crucial piece of evidence which would indicate that there is nothing particulaly unusual or unprecedented about current warming trends and they are, if natural in origin then, at least, within the scope of past trends which didn’t trigger a global climate catastrophe.

There are, however, two key facts about the evidence relating to the proxy data, the divergence problem and MWP that you won’t see cited on the websites of ‘skeptics’ like McIntyre and McKitrick in conjunction with their musings on the meaning of these emails.

One of these is that one of the possible implications of the divergence problem that is being heavily investigated at the moment is that some of the confounding factors that are thought to account for the anomalous decline in the post-1960 trend line would, if found to be active in the pre-industrial reconstructions, have the effect of causing scientists to over-estimate the degree of warming that occurred during the Medieval Warm Period. The MWP may not have been quite as warm as those skeptics who are relying on it to debunk AGW, or at least cloud the issues around it, think.

The second is that, at least some of the emails that are being put forward as being the most damaging evidence against the CRU researchers and other paleoclimatologists are anything up to ten years old, and both the science and its evidence base have moved on considerably in the intervening years, particularly in regards to understanding the scope and [lack of] significance of the MWP.

So what you won’t see are these two plots of global temperature patterns, one from the MWP, the other covering the period from 1998-2008.

As you can clearly see from the two plots, the MWP was not a global phenomenon. It was, in fact, localised on the North Atlantic and had very little impact on overall global temperatures, not least due to cooling in the Southern Hemisphere, unlike the current warming pattern which  shows temperatures rising almost everywhere but for Eastern Pacific. As such, plots of raw data from exclusively Northern Hemisphere proxies, the data that McIntyre has been trying to obtain and would no doubt have presented as evidence against AGW theory, will not provide an accurate picture of global warming during the MWP because the warming trend was localised on one specific region.

Much of the chatter on ‘skeptic’ websites of late has focussed on putting interpretations on comments within the CRU emails which suggest a deliberate conspiracy to conceal or minimise evidence relating to the MWP. One email, in particular, makes a reference to the need to ‘contain’ the MWP, which deniers have interpreted as evidence that scientists have been attempting to make the temperature changes during that period appear small than they actually were as part of their global AGW conspiracy. i.e. that they we seeking to ‘contain’ the scale the warming that occurred during that period on the reconstruction graphs.

In reality, this comment refers to the need to ‘contain’ the MWP temporally – at the time the email was written, the available reconstructions stretched back only as far as 1000AD and, began, started during the Medieval Warm Period, making it impossible to see the full trend. The need to ‘contain’ the MWP, in this case, meant only the need to extend the scope of the reconstruction back further in time so that both the beginning and end of the MWP could be seen on the graph, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the scale of the warming evident during that period other than in the sense that it could not be fully assessed without a suitable reference point right at the very start of the period.

The Inconvenient Truth

All of the additional information I’ve provided here, in relation, to Rose’s article is sourced from the public domain and most of it, with the exception of Pielke’s complaint about being misquoted, was available to Rose before his article was published, if only he’d spent 10-15 minutes checking his sources using nothing more complicated than Google.

As a result his ‘special investigation’ fails to live up to its billing.

More to the point, it – like almost everything else published by the mainstream press since these emails emerged – completely ignores the central ethical dilemma that climate scientists working at the CRU have faced over the last ten years.

What do you do when faced with a barrage of requests for raw data when you know full well that the people making the requests will misuse that data, if its given to them, to fundamentally misrepresent your work and publish a false and entirely misleading picture of the evidence?

What is the correct, ethical, answer to that question?

And if we’re going to make a big deal of the apparent ethical shortcomings of the CRU scientists, then should we not also apply those same standards to their critics, most of whom have already been caught out for publishing misleading claims?

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About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments


1. Constantly Furious

Something is clearly wrong with the proxy record from 1960 onwards as it clearly doesn’t show what we know to be actually happening“.

The data is clearly wrong, because it doesn’t show what we ‘know’ ?

Huh?

2. Matt Volatile

Can someone email this to Melanie Phillips, and then report back her response?

Constantly Furious:

Try, please, to understand the difference between a direct measurement and a proxy measurement.

For example, imagine trying to determine the circumference of a man’s waist. The direct measurement would be to use a tape measure. A proxy measurement would be to look at the waist size of his jeans.

In many cases, the proxy would give us a similar result to the direct measurement. But if we tried to use this proxy for, say, Jeremy Clarkson it would give an incorrect result: the waist size of the jeans being smaller than the directly measured circumference. This is because Mr Clarkson wears jeans that are much too tight, leading to an unsightly bulge over the top of them.

Proxy measurements are useful when there are no direct measurements available, but a direct measurement is always better than a proxy.

In this case, we are comparing a proxy (tree ring widths) to a direct measurement of temperature. The direct measurement shows that the proxy is a reasonable indication of the actual values for the period up to 1960, but not afterwards.

The data is clearly wrong, because it doesn’t show what we ‘know’ ?

Pretty much, yes. The tree ring data is a proxy for temperature. We know that it’s wrong, as a measure of temperature over the last 40-odd years, because we have other direct data, from other more reliable sources, that conflicts with it. That doesn’t seem difficult to understand or accept; even those most sceptical of global warming don’t believe the earth has got colder by 3K over the last 40 years, surely?

The data is clearly wrong, because it doesn’t show what we ‘know’ ?

Yes.

We know what the temperature changes were from 1960 onwards because we have reliable records from numerous surface weather stations, a mass of real data showing real temperatures.

So we know that the data from the proxy record, in which temperatures are extrapolated from tree ring growth patterns is in error because it fails to follow the trend in the real data.

That graph compares two data sets. One is correct (the instrumental record) and one goes badly wrong after 1960.

if we tried to use this proxy for, say, Jeremy Clarkson

Is there an award for the best scientific analogy of the year, because if there is then you’ve won it hands down.

7. MoreMediaNonsense

Some questions :

1. What is exactly the tree ring data that diverges we are talking about here ? How many trees ? How are they distributed worldwide ? Is it a set of trees from all over the world that diverge or just a subset ?

2. In the MWP graph above what are the proxies used given its so long ago ?

8. John Meredith

Unity, does it not bother you at all that Keith Briffa, not usually considered a sceptic or ‘denier’ does not believe that recent warming is unprecedented but that he seems to have been pressured into keeping that view to himself? Does it not strike you as at least a bit spinny to doctor the graph for the IPCC as was done? Do you apply the same interpretative genorosity to Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’?

As to the proxy record, it may be as you describe it, but until we know, we have to discount its reliability. In other words, nobody can confidently say anythhing about temp trends before the instrumental record began until the post 1960 anomoly has been satisfactorily explained. It seems to me that you have expended a lot of words trying to muddy what is (for once) quite a clear issue.

“even those most sceptical of global warming don’t believe the earth has got colder by 3K over the last 40 years, surely?”

So how far does a proxy have to diverge from reality before consideration is given to its overall worth as a proxy?

And what served as a proxy for the temperature of the Atlantic ocean during the MWP?

Seaweed?

Briffa used the Yamal proxy data set, which is what I used in the divergence graph. It’s not a large sample and it comes from one area but it is only one proxy amongst many that are in use.

The MWP plot uses multiple proxies including tree rings, ice cores, corals and sediments, as does the IPCC.

[moderated out for being a trolling idiot]

12. MoreMediaNonsense

Just did my own search on 2, here’s McIntyre’s take on the MWP using some of the non tree ring proxies :

http://climateaudit.org/2008/09/03/mann-2008-mwp-proxies/

Can’t find a rebuttal immediately but there are people arguing in the thread against him.

Unity – so the divergence issue is solely due to the Yamal data set ?

13. Matt Volatile

“It really is of no significance if a number of different proxy measures show the same back-story”

Errmm…. it really is.

[moderated out for telling the truth]

[Told to fuck off for being a twat - Unity]

Unity – so the divergence issue is solely due to the Yamal data set ?

The divergence problem occurs in a number of datasets from high latitudes.

16. John Meredith

“Briffa used the Yamal proxy data set, which is what I used in the divergence graph. It’s not a large sample and it comes from one area but it is only one proxy amongst many that are in use.”

Which makes you wonder why it was the data chosen to be represented on the IPCC graph, especially since even that had to be doctored to fit the message. Do you really think that Keith Briffa’s opinion, based on an expert understanding of the paleoclimatological science (I don’t think Briffa has yet been anathematised as a ‘denier’ so I hope we can agree for the time being that he IS an expert and a scientist), that the late 20th century warming is not unprecedented in recent (geologically speaking) times, can be easily dismissed?

If we have been this warm before without catastrophic problems, it rather changes the parameters of the debate.

Unity – so the divergence issue is solely due to the Yamal data set ?

Sort of – Yamal is where the divergence problem was identified and having found the problem, researchers are now trying to understand and quantify its causes.

The key thing to note, in regards to the hockey stick graph, is that several subsequent reconstructions support the accuracy of the graph regardless of whether the tree-ring data is included or excluded as a proxy.

Rose’s article is nonsense. On the issue of the proxy data and the IPCC chart he cites some of the CRU emails and claims they show that Briffa recalculated his data in response to concerns expressed therein that his original reconstruction was “too warm” and thereby contradicting the preferred narrative of his colleagues. He also claims that the divergence problem emerged specifically as a result of this recalculation.
However, them emails actually show that Briffa had already performed the recalculation (in fact the new version had been published in Science a few months earlier). Furthermore the divergence problem was already known by this time and was mentioned in a paper published by Briffa the previous year.

I have written more about this here if anyone’s interested.

http://www.mutantblog.co.uk/?p=102

19. John Meredith

“The key thing to note, in regards to the hockey stick graph, is that several subsequent reconstructions support the accuracy of the graph regardless of whether the tree-ring data is included or excluded as a proxy.”

I don’t quite understand, you mean there is other proxy data that can be used instead that shows no divergence but the team perferred to use this incorrect set and doctor it? The fact that there has been a steep warming in ther late 20th century (which has levelled off for about 12 years perhaps due to negative feedbacks) is not in question, it is whether this warming is unprecedented and catastrophic that raiseds the temperature of the debate. It now seesms that Briffa, a leadingg climatologists, did not consider the data to show what it was claimed to show and, in fact, altered it to fit more closely with the preferred message.

I am amazed that you are so complacent about this. If (let’s say) a government had claimed they had a dossier which (say) showed that a political enemy had weapons of a kind that made war necessary, and it was later found that one of the key lines of evidence in that dossier had been altered before it was shown to policy makers because it did not support thae preferred view, would you not (in that entirely hypothetical case) consider it a scandal?

John,

Briffa’s data only goes back to 1400 so his opinion that the MWP was as hot as the late 20th century is just that, an opinion. Of course he is perfectly entitiled to speculate but that is hardly hard evidence, and it doesn’t fit with other reconstructions.

If we have been this warm before without catastrophic problems, it rather changes the parameters of the debate.

The problem is not so much that we are as warm as we are now (although that could cause some problems in itself). The real problem is that we are going to get significantly warmer.

John:

Briffa’s comments don’t bother me in the slightest. Not only are they ten years old, and the science has moved on considerably since then, but they are also, more often than not, being quoted out of context.

You can read the full email here and it worth taking the time to follow the discussion in full – http://eastangliaemails.com/emails.php?eid=136&filename=938018124.txt

What this all comes back to, in the end, is the last question I posed in the full article, about the ‘ethics’ of some of the more prominent ‘sceptics’.

The pressure on Mann, Briffa et al to produce a nice tidy story for AR3 came almost entirely from the knowledge that anything that looked even the slightest bit anomalous would be blown up into ‘proof’ that AGW was a fraud by deniers, regardless of its significance, or lack thereof.

AGW theory rests, like so much other science, on consideration of the totality of the evidence not on any one individual piece of evidence. What happens, however, is that the likes of Watts and McIntyre consciously cherry-pick the evidence for only those elements that appear to support their position, even if that evidence is relatively insignificant when set against the weight of evidence opposing their position, and then present it as if it were the single most important piece of evidence there is.

In scientific terms that’s just plain flat out dishonest.

John,

Do you have any evidence that Briffa doctored his data to fit with the preferred message? There is certainly none in Rose’s article.

I’ll say one thing for Unity. He’s not afraid to dive head-first into controversies where a lot of better-qualified people are slugging it out and pronounce who the goodies and baddies are. Let’s hope his stats have improved since he took the Telegraph to the cleaners so impressively last year.

I don’t pretend to know what the score is. What I do know is that where there’s disagreement, people should ideally be presented with both sides of the argument, then hopefully the facts will speak for themselves, or the most convincing advocates will.

It’s great that Unity has posted the rebuttals to Eschenbach’s stuff on the Darwin record. Wouldn’t it have been REALLY great if he’d linked to Eschenbach’s original Darwin post

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/12/08/the-smoking-gun-at-darwin-zero/

as well as to the rebuttals ? Then, inshallah, we can read the whole story and examine claim and counter-claim (yes, I know there’s a link in Eschenbach’s rebuttal of the Economist – just make it easy for those of us who aren’t qualified in stats or earth sciences, will you ?).

I like the impartiality. MY guy ‘takes down’ your guy’s data. YOUR guy only has a ‘snarky response’.

BTW, those tree rings. My understanding from reading Unity’s post is

a) tree rings are great for measuring temperature before 1960. A good thing too, because before about 1850 they’re one of the few sources we have. The fatter the ring, the higher the temperature. Simples !

b) in 1960 something goes horribly wrong. We know the climate’s hotter cos of our thermometers. Yet the rings aren’t getting as fat as we’d like. The whole thing breaks down !

c) but it doesn’t matter. We’ve got the thermometer readings post 1960. We know we can rely on the tree rings before 1960. What ? How do we know we can rely on them pre-1960 ? Because.. er .. DENIER ! BIG-OIL STOOGE !

I’m sure that’s not a fair characterisation of the argument (simple me thinks that surely rainfall as well as temperature would affect ring width) but … as someone who’s obviously on top of these things, Unity, can you give me a link to somewhere that explains why tree rings are kosher pre-1960 but a pile of pants thereafter ?

The pressure on Mann, Briffa et al to produce a nice tidy story for AR3 came almost entirely from the knowledge that anything that looked even the slightest bit anomalous would be blown up into ‘proof’ that AGW was a fraud by deniers, regardless of its significance, or lack thereof.

And Rose’s article is a perfect example of exactly that.

25. John Meredith

“The problem is not so much that we are as warm as we are now (although that could cause some problems in itself). The real problem is that we are going to get significantly warmer.”

If we do get warmer that may create serious problems, although the fact that we are not currently getting warmer and haven’t for 12 years or so should give us pause.

Briffa’s view that current temps are not extraordinary is based on an expert view of the science and so, as far as I know, it is as significant as any other and more than most. I do not understand why you think he made it in ignorance of the data, this is his specialist subject.

26. John Meredith

“Do you have any evidence that Briffa doctored his data to fit with the preferred message? There is certainly none in Rose’s article.”

We know that the data was doctiored (that much is uncontroversial), whether Briffa actually recalculated data to produce results that were asked of him is something that the inquiry will resolve, I should think.

27. John Meredith

“The pressure on Mann, Briffa et al to produce a nice tidy story for AR3 came almost entirely from the knowledge that anything that looked even the slightest bit anomalous would be blown up into ‘proof’ that AGW was a fraud by deniers, regardless of its significance, or lack thereof.”

That is the problem you face when you are in a debate, but personally I think people can cope with the full complexity of the argument and do not need it interpreted for them by Mann and co. It should not lead you into misrepresenting the evidence because that eventually blows up in your face. This scandal is much more damaging that it would have been if the data had been in the open in the first place.

Look at you comment with a few changes, to see why many people will not find your defence of CRU to be wholly convincing:

“The pressure on Blair et al to produce a nice tidy story for parliamentary scrutiny came almost entirely from the knowledge that anything that looked even the slightest bit anomalous would be blown up into ‘proof’ that Saddam was no threat by appeasers, regardless of its significance, or lack thereof.”

Briffa’s view that current temps are not extraordinary is based on an expert view of the science and so, as far as I know, it is as significant as any other and more than most. I do not understand why you think he made it in ignorance of the data, this is his specialist subject.

My point about his data is that it did not go back far enough to actually provide hard evidence. I’m not saying that I would not give credence to his opinion given that he is indeed an expert, but then so is Mann and he clearly disagrees. I’m happy to give more weight to the opinions of experts over those of non-experts (something the skeptics are reluctant to do) but I would also give more weight to published papers than to opinions voiced in an email.

29. John Meredith

“My point about his data is that it did not go back far enough to actually provide hard evidence.”

But his view is presumably based on all the available evidence, not just his.

We know that the data was doctiored (that much is uncontroversial), whether Briffa actually recalculated data to produce results that were asked of him is something that the inquiry will resolve, I should think.

Briffa did not doctor any data, he revised his calculations using a different methodology and this was done some months prior to the email exchange mentioned by Rose. I’m not qualified to comment on whether this new methodology was more appropriate but the onus is on those who suggest that it was done for improper motives to providee some evidence.

But his view is presumably based on all the available evidence, not just his.

My impression is that it was based on the conclusions he had drawn from his own work – there was not much other published work on this at that time apart from Mann and Jones, whose work did not show such an extreme MWP.

32. John Meredith

“the likes of Watts and McIntyre consciously cherry-pick the evidence for only those elements that appear to support their position, even if that evidence is relatively insignificant [...] In scientific terms that’s just plain flat out dishonest.”

This is an odd comment, by the way, because McIntyre is not picking evidence that ‘supports’ his view but challenging the reliablity of other bits of evidence. It may be relatively important compared to the ‘mass’ of evidence or not, but we should only be concerned about whether it is right or wrong and adjust our view of the probabilities slightly accordingly. That is how science works. The idea you seem to have that science is about making grand narrative statements and not being distracted by nitty gritty details is the perversion, and it is what a lot of us have grown so alarmed at. The unsexy stuff is the real science nine times in ten.

33. John Meredith

“Briffa did not doctor any data, he revised his calculations using a different methodology and this was done some months prior to the email exchange mentioned by Rose.”

I will wait for the enquiry. The only thing we know for sure is that it was doctored to ‘hide the decline’.

It’s great that Unity has posted the rebuttals to Eschenbach’s stuff on the Darwin record. Wouldn’t it have been REALLY great if he’d linked to Eschenbach’s original Darwin post

No one’s stopping you from posting those links Laban, are they? Or are your freedoms being trampled on when someone takes down an investigation you’d love to believe in?

People can of course make up their minds… but please don’t try and pretend this is some ‘balanced debate’ with equally stacked sides.

Briffa did not doctor any data, he revised his calculations using a different methodology

If it looks like a fish, smells like a fish, chances are……..

36. John Meredith

By the way, here is a reconstruction of the climate record using non-tree ring proxies. I don’t know why the IPCC don’t use this since it shows the recent warming so they wouldn’t have any awkward ‘decline’ post-1960 to ‘hide’. Very strange.

http://www.drroyspencer.com/global-warming-background-articles/2000-years-of-global-temperatures/

“please don’t try and pretend this is some ‘balanced debate’ with equally stacked sides”

Re Unity’s post, that’s exactly my point.

I’m an AGW agnostic (but with a precautionary bias. IMHO it makes sense to err on the side of caution re CO2 emissions, given that the consequences COULD be exceeding unpleasant). But I sense an unholy alliance between a lot of people whose careers (and status – never discount that) depend on AGW being true, and other people who see it as a great opportunity to increase the power of the state (and supra-state).

Mixed in with that you have some clever financial chaps, from Lakshmi Mittal to Goldman Sachs, who see carbon credits as the new moneyspinner. And don’t forget the VAT carousel fraudsters are already doing the biz with carbon credits now – so much easier to transport than real mobiles.

38. John Meredith

“I don’t know why the IPCC don’t use this since it shows the recent warming”

Which it doesn’t becuase it stops in 1935 due to the shortage of proxies (my bad). But that is a good non-arbitrary scientific reason for stopping and replacing with the instrumental measures, so it would still be better for the IPCC and save them embarrasment and all the uncertainties of the tree rings. Still a mystery why they don’t prefer this then.

39. John Meredith

Laban at #37, that is more or less my poisition, although my view of the reasonable costs to incur in reducing emissions is afffected by scepticism about the scale of the problem. But, yes, ‘agniostic’ is probably the most accurate word.

completely ignores the central ethical dilemma that climate scientists working at the CRU have faced over the last ten years

The ethical dilemma involved in, erm, complying with the FOIA?

Right.

“But I sense an unholy alliance between a lot of people whose careers (and status – never discount that) depend on AGW being true,”

But you don’t seem to account for that there are a awful lot of people whose careers (and status – never discount that) depend on AGW being false. Oil companies, republicans, Saudi Arabia, people for whom AGW is ideologically inconvenient, careerist contrarians etc. None of whom have anything like the peer review process to hold them to account.

42. John Meredith

“None of whom have anything like the peer review process to hold them to account.”

And how has that holding to account been going for you?

Everybody knows there are vested interests on both sides and we are grown up enough to take them into acccount without having the data gingered up in any way. But it is important to remember that the vested interests are on both sides. When Greenpeace pipe up they are not an disinterested voice.

ut I sense an unholy alliance between a lot of people whose careers (and status – never discount that) depend on AGW being true, and other people who see it as a great opportunity to increase the power of the state (and supra-state).

Ahh yes, that argument which was properly demolished by John Band earlier on this site.

It’s amusing you say that without irony even though there’s more money to be made and more exposed instances of lobbying where big corporations have deliberately funded front-groups to distort the science around climate change to suit their agenda.

Oh and guess who is advocating more taxes to deal with climate change? Exxon Mobil.

“That graph compares two data sets. One is correct (the instrumental record) and one goes badly wrong after 1960.”

Obviously the counter claim is that the data is wrong, and is influenced by urban island effects etc.

I dont get using proxys at all in this case. Either use the proxy the whole way through, or say we dont know exactly what temperature the past was.

Or re-calibrate the temperature now to the tree ring data now.

If we were to discover the tree rings as a proxy right now would we not.

1) Make sure that the tree rings were consistent changing with regad to yearly temperature ( we know that to be true)
2) Calibrate the temperatures of the last few years to the tree ring data.
3) From that calibration work out the temperature way back when.

Which of course, adds back in the Medieval Warm Period.

Instead we calibrate the proxy temperatures with known values up until 1960, and 1980 and ignore the rest. Or stop the proxy data just when it diverges from instrumental readings.

Sounds like manipulation, and anywhere else it would be.

The ethical dilemma involved in, erm, complying with the FOIA?

I see that comprehending English still isn’t one of your strong points cjcjc.

“It’s amusing you say that without irony even though there’s more money to be made and more exposed instances of lobbying where big corporations have deliberately funded front-groups to distort the science around climate change to suit their agenda”

yes, James Watts is just rolling in the money. The people who are funded are

1) Funded by Governments.
2) Funded By Soros – RealClimate – and he is the worlds richest man ever.
3) Funded to a degree by “enegry companies”. The oil companies are not funding the sceptics one bit, which is why the sceptics are generally scientists, or computer programmers running a website from their bedrooms.

47. John Meredith

“Oh and guess who is advocating more taxes to deal with climate change? Exxon Mobil.”

And a certain Jim Hansen, of course.

The only thing we know for sure is that it was doctored to ‘hide the decline’.

You are conflating two different issues. The “hide the decline” remark refers to the production of the temperature chart for the IPCC report, not to Briffa’s reworking of his calculations, which took place well before any of these emails were sent.

@41 Planeshift: “None of whom have anything like the peer review process to hold them to account.”

The agnostics (John Meredith, Laban) appear to be arguing that peer review of the CRU failed. If the temperature pattern implied by proxy data is inconsistent with measured data, any analysis that mingles the two sources is iffy. You need to re-examine the proxy data and come up with a correlation that provides a closer match between proxy and real world data. Then you can apply the two data sources side by side.

The cost of reanalysing the data is trivial and needs to be done promptly.

The Loehle study was published after 4AR, so couldn’t be included.

“you don’t seem to account for that there are a awful lot of people whose careers (and status – never discount that) depend on AGW being false. Oil companies, republicans, Saudi Arabia”

The first AGW sceptic I came across was the late John Daly. I’m well aware that people like oil companies – and coal companies for that matter – would find AGW an inconvenient truth, were it indeed a truth. But I didn’t get the impression JD was funded by anyone – I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong. And I don’t think many, if any, of the prominent sceptics are, either. Whereas I know for sure that governments of whatever stripe never object to paying experts who will conclude that ‘the government should do more’.

And what’s this about ‘republicans’ ? Are you suggesting they’re in the pockets of Big Oil ? I’m not sure they’d ever have done for Big Oil what they (and the UK Labour Party) did for Big Capital this time last year.

I forgot to add ‘using our money’ to that last sentence.

Fuck off, Laban.

More articulate then usual, Bernard.

Keep it up.

Eugine @ 44,

Obviously the counter claim is that the data is wrong, and is influenced by urban island effects etc.

Not really.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_0-gX7aUKk&feature=player_embedded#

Essentially you’ll have to spend eight minutes of your life to find out you are wrong.

And what’s this about ‘republicans’ ? Are you suggesting they’re in the pockets of Big Oil ?

*guffaw*

Unity . Ther palaeoclimate community should use the same level of statistical expertise as used in the medical and pharmaceutical industries and publish all raw data and computer codes. Read the Wegman Report and Stupak Response. The issue is too important to have doubts about experiments. It would be sensible to re-run experiments but with adequate input from statisticians- a lot cheaper than all these climate change conferences.

Ther palaeoclimate community should use the same level of statistical expertise as used in the medical and pharmaceutical industries and publish all raw data and computer codes.

Fuck me, you’ve obviously never read any of the research published by big pharma, have you?

Serious point Charlie2:

For his 2008 paper, in which the reconstruction was based on over 1,000 datasets, Michael Mann did publish both his data and program code in full. Haven’t got the link to hand but its all on the web.

The Loehle study, which Bishop Hill mentions and which is often put forward as debunking Mann’s work, is based on a mere 18 datasets only five of which are suitable for an MWP reconstruction.

Much of the obsession with gaining access to raw, unadjusted, data comes from asshats like Watts and Eschenbach who simply want to spit out graphs based on raw data and claim, without any credible supporting evidence or analysis, that the adjustments that climate scientists have to use to iron out confounding factors, such as the re-siting of weather stations, are part of a scam to artificially inflate temperature records in support of AGW.

What neither have done, nor shown themselves capable of doing, is challenging the scientific basis on which these adjustments are made. There are at least four summary papers that cover the process used to make adjustments to the US surface record, none of which Watts has ever attempted to critique beyond whining about suppose urban heat islands, even though many of the adjustments to the NOAA dataset relate specifically to dealing with siting artefacts in the data.

That’s one of the key reasons why Watts ended up having his arse handed to him by Peter Sinclair when it was found that the data from the weather stations that Watts identified as being free from confounding factors showed the same temperature trend as the full data set.

Another factual inaccuracy in Rose’s piece. He says

It is true that, in Watson’s phrase, in the autumn of 1999 Jones and his colleagues were trying to ‘tweak’ a diagram. But it wasn’t just any old diagram.

It was the chart displayed on the first page of the ‘Summary for Policymakers’ of the 2001 IPCC report – the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph that has been endlessly reproduced in everything from newspapers to primary-school textbooks ever since, showing centuries of level or declining temperatures until a dizzying, almost vertical rise in the late 20th Century.

But the “hide the decline” email doesn’t refer to the graph in the IPCC report, it refers to a similar one in the “WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 1999″.

61. John Meredith

“The Loehle study, which Bishop Hill mentions and which is often put forward as debunking Mann’s work, is based on a mere 18 datasets only five of which are suitable for an MWP reconstruction.”

It uses the non tree-ring datasets that are available and complete, I think. The advantage of this is that it does not use data that we know (because of the post 1960s divergence) to be unreliable. Loehle has also offered strong theoretical grounds for believing that tree-ring data will always be unreliable during warming periods. It may be that Loehle’s reconstruction is faulty, of course, but we have no better reason for dismissing it than we have for dismissing other reconstructions, which means we cannot know that current warming is unprecedented or even unusual.

@ John

Loehle has also offered strong theoretical grounds for believing that tree-ring data will always be unreliable during warming periods.

That, of course, would explain almost everything- divergence, MWP etc.

The only remaining mystery would be why scientists continue to believe that tree ring data might be a good proxy for temperature measurement.

Al Gore really is the gift that keeps on giving:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/copenhagen/article6956783.ece

following on from the “million degrees” brilliance

http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2009/11/024973.php

A minor point, but the polynomial fits in your “The Divergence Problem” figure are a poor choice to illustrate the changes, as they clearly don’t fit the underlying data. They make the disagreement between the two data sets look greater than it actually is, especially in recent years.

65. MoreMediaNonsense

John M :

“It uses the non tree-ring datasets that are available and complete, ”

So there are only a handful of non tree ring proxies for reconstructing climate before the modern age ? Are you sure ? That sounds crazy.

Just taking a quick look at the pale lines on the Divergence Problem graph shows one thing. There is no corelation between the measured average temprature variation (pink line) and the tree-ring average temprature variation (light blue line), to the point where an unusully cold year can have particularly high tree-ring growth (which is used to reconstruct the temprature). On a year by year basis this lack of corelation would rule out using this as a comparator anyway, at least without a level of statistical analysis that would need to be fully published with the diagram.

As to the map of the Medieval Warm Period (now to be renamed the ‘where Anglophone Historians have noted better climatic conditions c. 1000 AD Period’?), I would love to know where that map comes from and on what data it is based (being a scholar of the period and all). The fact the Artic and Ireland are so well covered suggests tree ring data is partially responsible, and as Unity and I have for different reasons noted this is not the best way to analyse a Warm Period. More importantly, the British Isles, the Atlantic, the more habital bits of North America, west Africa and the Middle East, being the areas with mapped temprature rises, are wierdly the same places where Anglophone historians have undertaken the most study in the period – beyond British and Irish history and American archaeology, note the traditional Anglophone historical areas of Viking studies, African studies and Byzantine studies. The correlation is slightly concerning – in those areas where historians who primarily work in English are likely to comment, the warming they would expect is indeed found. I can’t think of an area where the same conditions would apply where it is not.

“The correlation is slightly concerning – in those areas where historians who primarily work in English are likely to comment, the warming they would expect is indeed found.”

That’s right. All the historians who noted the Warm Period (often decades ago) are tools of Big Oil. And so were the guys who wrote the Greenland Sagas in the 13th century.

I’ve come late to this but yet another thorough, informative and brilliant post Unity.

62. Unity. Wegman has raised the issue of the lack of statistical skills of the palaeoclimate community and the lack of independence of many involved in the peer review process. What is important is to design experiments using statisticians such that the raw data is as good as it is possible to achieve. The repeatability of experiments helps to show the methods used are correct. For the amount of potential investments required, repeating all the experiments but ensuring the sampling is statistically valid and statisticians are used in the analysis makes sense.

The stagnant conditions of peat bgs are ideal habitats for preserving wood; moist, aerated and warm environments are not.

One form of proxy should not be relied upon. Therefore tree ring, coral, ice core and sediments should all be used but with the input of statisticians to ensure the experiments have been properly designed, results analysed and peer review is fully independent.

WillA:

The polynomial fills are there simply to illustrate the direction of the trends, i.e. to make the divergence problem more readily visible as an adjunct to the explanation.

That graph is not intended to be an exact model/reconstruction. It does what it needs to do, just don’t try and analyse the detail or draw precise conclusions from it because that’s not what its for.

Charlie2:

Wegman was criticising MBH98/99 and was, in some respects, badly out of date by the time it was presented to the Senate Commitee, as Thomas Crowley noted in evidence:

Bullet three – the researchers do not seem to be interacting with the statistical community. This statement is based on a small subsample of paleoclimate papers. Overall, there is increasingly strong incorporation of statistical methodologies in the climate sciences, including increased interactions with
statisticians. For example, the National Center for Atmospheric Research has had a postdoctoral program for statisticians for thirteen years. A key project jointly funded by DOE and NOAA for detection and attribution of climate change
involves not only several statistical climatologists but also explicitly seeks out input from statisticians.

The present (and key) IPCC Fourth assessment chapter on detection and
attribution of climate change has a statistician and statistical climatologist (with a training in applied mathematics) as co-lead authors. Statisticians are welcome to respond to any of the chapters in the review process.

From these statements it is clear that the Wegman Report is somewhat uninformed with respect to the effort to include statisticians in the IPCC review process.

I might add that interactions between geoscientists and statisticians have long been hampered by what can only be described by some as a condescending attitude from some statisticians that geoscientists were not employing the most recent, state of the art statistical methods. Such attitudes almost guarantee subsequent poor communication and fail to recognize the unusual nature of
“field laboratory” geoscience data, which are very different than “closed laboratories” where the conditions of an experiment are well controlled.

The latter types of data require an intimate understanding of the raw data and simpler, more robust statistical methodologies that recognize the limitations of such data.

Oh, and I found the link to Mann’s data and code for his 2008 paper – http://www.meteo.psu.edu/~mann/supplements/MultiproxyMeans07/

There’s also this commentary on Loehle’s paper which notes some or its limitations:

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/12/past-reconstructions/

Laban @ 67,

If big oil would fund historians, my life would be much easier. My concern is a map which shows that all the areas where Anglophone historians are most likely to study had a medieval warm period, whilst less studied areas in the English-speaking world (such as the Baltic, which was undergoing a huge colonial expansion at this time which might suggest better climatic conditions, which might mean higher tempratures) have in general no such evidence.

At the least suspicious this would be selection bias – the evidence is sought where historians say we should find it (a common archaeological issue). At the worst this could be data manipulation to accord with certain views. As I say, the source of the map would be very nice (Unity – you are still reading this thread are you not?).

74. John Meredith

“There’s also this commentary on Loehle’s paper which notes some or its limitations:”

And Loehee revised the paper in 2008 to take into account the more legitimate of the criticisms. There still shows a lot of earlier warming and it is still likely to be more reliable than the Briffa et al data given that we know that that data is unreliable because of the massive divergence post 1960.

Frome Realclimate, though, this para is interesting:

“All previous multiproxy reconstructions indicate a Northern Hemisphere mean temperature less than current levels, though possibly on a par with the mid- 20th century. But there are only a few tenths of a degree in it”

But you wouldn’t know from the hockey stick that all multiproxy reconstructions show temps as high as the modern era give or take a tenth of a degree, would you? Funny that.

John,

Take a look at this

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1000_Year_Temperature_Comparison.png

A rough glance tells me that leaving aside the one reconstruction which seems much cooler than the rest, the MWP temperatures are about 0.3° – 0.7° lower than at the end of the 20th century, which would be consistent with the comment at Realclimate.

There are a number of different reconstructions there, all of which, I believe, use tree rings to an extent but some also use other proxies, and they are all reasonably consistent apart from the one I mentioned above which is actually cooler than the rest. I don’t know why you would give Loehle’s paper more credence than all of these, and it is wrong to assume that the post-1960 divergence problem must neccessarily render reconstructions based on tree-ring data invalid.

Let me get this straight. Tree rings are not a reliable proxy after 1960, but they’re fine from 1955-60?

Mmmm.

Surely the fact they are not reliable now must cast some smidgeon of doubt over whether they are much good at all?

Paulo,

The reliability of tree rings as proxies can be judged by comparing their results to the instrumental records as far as we have them and to other proxies and on both counts they perform well enough apart from (in some not all cases) post-1960. What’s more, I believe that in the cases that do exhibit the post-1960 divergence it’s not just that the behaviour in terms of the width of the tree rings that changes but there are certain physiological changes as well which would suggest that there is something odd happening to these trees after that time.

Surely the fact they are not reliable now must cast some smidgeon of doubt over whether they are much good at all?

Ah, Paulo, did you really think you would get that sort of logical thinking past an AGW disciple like Andrew?

there is something odd happening to these trees

Even if that is true, how can we possibly be sure that they didn’t go through some odd phases of development in the previous 950 years?

The fact is that we can’t and, until we can transport thermometers in a time machine, we never will.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  3. Sunder Katwala

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