02 October 2009

McKitrick's Story

Ross McKitrick has a very readable account on why he thinks the latest debates over the Hockey Stick should matter to you and me. The most important issue that he raises has to do with the integrity of scientific institutions that should be above reproach, including the IPCC. The story is not that the science of climate change is a sham or that we can all now forget about the issue.

McKitrick writes of the requests seeking to obtain data in peer reviewed publications, data that is supposed to be released as required by journals:
Briffa had published a paper in 1995 claiming that the medieval period actually contained the coldest year of the millennium. But this claim depended on just three tree ring records (called cores) from the Polar Urals. Later, a colleague of his named F. H. Schweingruber produced a much larger sample from the Polar Urals, but it told a very different story: The medieval era was actually quite warm and the late 20th century was unexceptional. Briffa and Schweingruber never published those data, instead they dropped the Polar Urals altogether from their climate reconstruction papers.

In its place they used a new series that Briffa had calculated from tree ring data from the nearby Yamal Peninsula that had a pronounced Hockey Stick shape: relatively flat for 900 years then sharply rising in the 20th century. This Yamal series was a composite of an undisclosed number of individual tree cores. In order to check the steps involved in producing the composite, it would be necessary to have the individual tree ring measurements themselves. But Briffa didn’t release his raw data.

Over the next nine years, at least one paper per year appeared in prominent journals using Briffa’s Yamal composite to support a hockey stick-like result. The IPCC relied on these studies to defend the Hockey Stick view, and since it had appointed Briffa himself to be the IPCC Lead Author for this topic, there was no chance it would question the Yamal data.

Despite the fact that these papers appeared in top journals like Nature and Science, none of the journal reviewers or editors ever required Briffa to release his Yamal data. Steve McIntyre’s repeated requests for them to uphold their own data disclosure rules were ignored.


  1. Roger said:
    “Unless the climate science community cleans up its act, it is quite possible that many people will come to increasingly distrust institutions of science, which would not be a good outcome of this situation.”

    I suspect it’s too late to stop that train of thought. Stereotypes are an absolute necessity for people to feel that they understand the world. Groups that we know less about get larger stereotypes and groups that we are familiar with are more likely to have a finer granularity of stereotypes.

    For example, Roger is a scientist and will have no problem holding one opinion of climate science and a different opinion of political science. People whose only knowledge of science is through the media are likely to have a single stereotype for “science”, and right now that will be a low opinion.

    The old saw that “all Chinese look alike” remains true for people who seldom see Chinese.

  2. Roger:

    1) It appears that Steve McIntyre has demonstrated that Briffa's hockey stick 'blade' depends on one – or very few – tree cores. If that's the whole story – as appears to be the case – this would certainly put egg on the faces of a number of editors and 'peer' reviewers.

    2) Briffa's reluctance to release data generates suspicion (but ONLY suspicion) that he intentionally cheery picked data to support his preferred hypothesis.

    3) Numerous other kinds of data sets – viz. the list that RealClimate has marshaled in their current response to Steve's 'revelations' – remind us that the case for AGW is still strong, even minus Briffa.

    4) The glee that deniers exhibit in response to all of this should not be accepted by others as significant 'points' for their position on AGW.

    5) The 'pleasure' you apparently take in being 'right' about the inappropriate 'snarkiness' of the RC team – and 'catching them with their pants down' – unfortunately makes those on the sidelines believe that the deniers have in fact won significant 'points' in the basic science of the AGW argument.

    6) The very wide 90% confidence interval of the mean global surface temperature trend includes as little as 1.5ºC/century. And even that will be an "unmitigated catastrophe" – with business as usual – only slightly delayed. This is something that I believe YOU also believe, though tend to 'hide'.

    7) Under the circumstances, your overall tone in this matter seems to be less than constructive!

    Len Ornstein

  3. -2-Len

    First, welcome back. I am happy to see the commenting issue resolved.

    Some replies:

    1) On first impression, this is fair.

    2) To be clear, I have expressed no such suspicion.

    3) See the third sentence in this post.

    4) What "points"? Where is the scoreboard?

    5) What does this mean?

    6) I'm not in the prediction business. I am a strong advocate for emissions reductions and stabilization at a low level, but I do not justify those claims based on arguing about what the future holds. That is a losing proposition.

    7) Do explain.

  4. Len,

    Neither Steve nor most of the skeptical bloggers (nor I) doubt the case for AGW. Invoking the holocaust and calling them deniers should, to use your own words, "not be accepted by others as significant 'points' for [your] position"

    There are several decidedly more interesting questions that these blogs seem focused on answering:

    1. Is peer reviewed climate science as trust worthy as older, more mature disciplines, or has its politicization resulted in the widespread distribution of nominally "peer-reviewed" results that lack a scientific basis?

    2. Is the roughly 2.5C climate sensitivity (to doubling CO2) that James Hansen says climate science has "nailed" a scientifically robust result, or the product of unsubstantiated assumptions and computer simulations that don't match real world observations?

    3. Is there a realistic policy for controlling emissions that is likely to provide benefits that justify its costs?

    Again, to use your own words:

    "Under the circumstances, your overall tone [calling us deniers] in this matter seems to be less than constructive!"

  5. Len,

    I'll quote Ross McKitrick on the AGW evidence:

    "I have been probing the arguments for global warming for well over a decade. In collaboration with a lot of excellent coauthors I have consistently found that when the layers get peeled back, what lies at the core is either flawed, misleading or simply non-existent. The surface temperature data is a contaminated mess with a significant warm bias, and as I have detailed elsewhere the IPCC fabricated evidence in its 2007 report to cover up the problem. Climate models are in gross disagreement with observations, and the discrepancy is growing with each passing year. The often-hyped claim that the modern climate has departed from natural variability depended on flawed statistical methods and low-quality data. The IPCC review process, of which I was a member last time, is nothing at all like what the public has been told: Conflicts of interest are endemic, critical evidence is systematically ignored and there are no effective checks and balances against bias or distortion."


    Roger and his father have both written repeatedly about how the official assessments regularly ignore large portions of the scientific record.

    Perhaps you should ask why the assessments are so badly flawed. Why the keepers of the temperature records have been shown repeatedly to fail basic quality control. Why it has been so difficult to get explanations for all the curious adjustments made to the records. Why so many of the major AGW scientists refuse to publish their data. Why so many major scientific publications refuse to enforce their own publication policies. Why IPCC authors and reviewers refuse to share information required to made available by the IPCC charter. Why magic algorithms (claimed to produce gold from garbage) aren't made publicly available. Why do so many in the AGW crowd insist on playing hide the ball and engage in vicious slander.

    Just askin'.

  6. Roger:

    2) was meant to be a reminder to all readers to withhold such judgement. I apologize for implying that YOU had such suspicions.

    3) also was meant for readers at large.

    4) 5) 6) & 7)) I used the word "believe" (in 6) when perhaps, "take as something deserving attention", would have been better. I recognize that you are NOT a denier. Readers, especially those who doubt their expertise to make judgements on the technical matters, come here to learn what they probably should be taking seriously. They're the ones who are counting "points". I believe many have misinterpreted your position. They appear to think you're a denier. So when you 'vigorously' show that members of the RC team have made mistakes, they almost certainly interpret it as 'points' for deniers.

    Your statement "I am a strong advocate for emissions reductions and stabilization at a low level, but I do not justify those claims based on arguing about what the future holds" is an explicit and "constructive" clarification – the sort you should make a little more frequently for the sake of those middle-ground readers. A further clarification would include what OTHER THAN 'potential' future costs and risks 'justfies' your position?

    Jason S:

    1. As has already been noted above, peer review is imperfect in all fields. It's just usually better than leaving it up to authors or editors alone ;-)

    2. The 2.5ºC/CO2 doubling is a mean, with a wide confidence interval (as is the case for 'measured' mean global surface temperature); and, within such confidence intervals, the match between the two isn't too bad. "Nailed" is an overstatement just as is " unsubstantiated assumptions and computer simulations that don't match real world observations".

    3. I think "most of the skeptical bloggers", but perhaps not you, "doubt the case for AGW". I grant that there is considerable confusion about whether there is "a realistic policy for controlling emissions that is likely to provide benefits that justify its costs".

    To make my position a bit more constructive, I'll call attention to two papers online that will appear in print shortly in the refereed journal, Climatic Change:

    Irrigated afforestation of the Sahara and Australian Outback to end global warming


    Replacing coal with wood: sustainable, eco-neutral, conservation harvest of natural tree-fall in old-growth forests.


  7. -6-Len

    I try to be as clear as possible in my arguments and what I am for and against. I can of course always do better.

    However, as far as labeling me a "denier" the only people I have seen that come from are Joe Romm et al. and that echo chamber. I don't think I've ever seen that label affixed to me on this blog or anywhere else by anyone self-described as such.

    More generally, if you are worried that my pointing out instances of climate-scientists-behaving-badly will score points for your/their political opponents, the best way to address that is at the source, and not by shooting the messenger.

    You ask "A further clarification would include what OTHER THAN 'potential' future costs and risks 'justfies' your position?"

    Fair question, and let me say that you'll soon get more than you probably want in reply before long. Stay tuned.

  8. Len,

    For starters, Steve McIntyre buys in to AGW.

    As does Lucia, who posts here often.

    Ross McKitrick, quoted above, has suggested a tax on carbon based on increases in tropical tropospheric temperatures. So despite his harsh first hand criticism of the IPCC, you can count him in.

    Even Anthony Watts has made numerous statements that indicate that he buys into the basic premise (but he also seems to understand that his precious audience does not :)

    Maybe I just don't read the right skeptical blogs to be properly acquainted with "deniers". Who were you thinking of?

    As for my statement about Hansen, it hardly seems to be an overstatement, but I'll leave that debate for somebody who actually agrees with Hansen and his assessment of climate sensitivity.

  9. Jason S:

    I hold Lucia Liligren in high respect. She makes it quite clear what she's skeptical about. Steve McIntyre is not so clear.

    Many of Watts' and MacIntyre's followers are deniers, as well as Lindzen, Limbaugh, Wills, Singer, Inhofe – I could go on and on.

    If rational decisions are to be made about energy and climate, the heat of the argument needs to be tamped and the levels of uncertainty, cost, risks and opportunities need to be evaluated without hype or derision. I know this is Roger's aim – but responding, in kind, to RealClimate snarkiness doesn't help. Calling Gavin a lier for his exagerations or misdirections is about as bad as snarkiness.

  10. -9-Len

    Let's be clear. I have no trouble with Gavin's snarkiness.

    I don't it is appropriate that he should lie to cast aspersions on another. It is fine for you to disagree with my views, but please get them right -- I simply think that professionals should like like . . . well, professionals.

  11. Len, Roger gets labeled a denier or delayer on the Romm-blogs and RCs of this world. Surely you must have seen that. And yet he has consistently said what he says here. (On a much lesser scale that has happened to me.) There's really some sort of mindset where if you don't buy the whole package you're a heretic. And it seems to me that the Team dislikes heretics more than skeptics.

  12. Len,

    Did you really mean to call Lindzen a denier?

    It's hard to take seriously this request:

    "the heat of the argument needs to be tamped and the levels of uncertainty, cost, risks and opportunities need to be evaluated without hype or derision"

    when you call people "deniers" in the same post.

  13. I'm afraid the prevailing meme in the climate field is that, to score political points to force action and save the planet, doubts and uncertainties must be abolished or played down, "positive" results muct be played up for all they're worth, even if they're not worth that much.

    Anyone who injects some (public) scientific common-sense into the argument is seen as damaging the "political effort", even if what they say is absolutely correct/reasonable. They must therefore be treated as "outsiders", tagged with damaging phrases like "denier".

    Unfortunately, Roger, from what I've read, you're someone who doesn't put enough effort into smiting unbelievers, ridiculing those who uncover poor climate science, preaching impending destruction and covering up the uncertainties or errors in the underlieing science, and therefore an anathema to the political effort of some of your fellows.

  14. Was the data used in any of the climate models? Was a government grant involved in the data generation? The latter a serious issue if the manipulation was deliberate.

  15. Jason S-Lindzen is self described as a denier:


    And come to think of it, so am I....

  16. Jason S:

    One who finds it necessary to attribute conspiracy motives to most who disagree with his position – viz., Lindzen at Quadrant Online:

    "The interests of the environmental movement in acquiring more power, influence, and donations are reasonably clear. So too are the interests of bureaucrats for whom control of CO2 is a dream-come-true. After all, CO2 is a product of breathing itself. Politicians can see the possibility of taxation that will be cheerfully accepted because it is necessary for ‘saving’ the earth."

    I find hard to distinguish from most ideological deniers.

  17. Len,

    Do you seriously deny the obvious truth of Lindzen's statement you quoted? Regardless of what one thinks about AGW or the advisability of policy changes, I don't see how any rational person can disagree with it. You can't possibly be so naive as to think otherwise. It has the same qualities of truth as stating that Congressman Murtha likes to spread pork in his district to help him win votes or that Al Gore has built an enormous fortune from pitching AGW.

    It is a political reality. Just because a statement happens to be made by people that you disagree with doesn't make it a false statement.

  18. Len,
    There is no need to conflate skepticism of the science behind AGW with distrust of politicians.

    Personally I am skeptical of the computer models that the IPCC depends on for AGW projections. That does not mean that I deny that CO2 has some contribution to the energy balance of the earth.

    However; I have great confidence that some politicians seek power and that they will use any excuse including global warming to achieve that goal. The cap and trade bill passed by the house used climate control as an excuse to control the energy sector of the nation, but did precious little to control CO2.

  19. Len,

    Imputing motives to those who disagree with you is verboten? Seriously?

    What about James Hansen, Real Climate, and the entire Environmental movement which have continuously attributed profit motives to scientists who disagree with the IPCC.

    Lindzen is a particularly eggregious case. He accepted about $10K in speaking fees from oil companies more than ten years ago. As penance for this, every time he makes a point he is the recipient of vicious ad hominem attacks that he "is in the pocket of big oil" despite the significance of his points and the obvious insignificance of the monies he has actually received.

    If you desire some degree of comity in the climate debate, you can't ask for it while using loaded words like denier.

    Alternatively you can go ahead and claim that anyone who ascribes political motives to climate change advocates (my, that's a *shocking* charge) is a denier.

    People from Anthony Watts' website can say that James Hansen, Real Climate, you, and the entire environmental movement are a bunch of serial truth rapists.

    I'm sure it will be a constructive discussion.

  20. Stan:

    For human societies to function, it's necessary that we trust the stated motives of those with whom we must cooperate. Though of course, it's good to verify those motives whenever we can, because at least a few don't deserve such trust and many are 'misinformed'. To assume that ALL those who differ with us, have venal motives, is to virtually assure failure in enterprises which require cooperation.

    The paranoia of those who feel 'overwhelmed' by their opposition, suspends their reason and often converts stated motives of others into fantasies of conspiratorial misdirection.

    People who think MOST environmentalists, "bureaucrats" and politicians lack altruistic motivation – or that their altruism operates under the premise that "the ends justify the means" – or that they are only motivated to seek 'power' – are generally unable to contribute to the solution of social problems. I believe this pretty much characterizes most 'deniers'.

  21. Len said:
    “For human societies to function, it's necessary that we trust the stated motives of those with whom we must cooperate.”

    Yes, and that sword cuts both ways. The same thought expressed in reverse order is:
    For human societies to function, we must not cooperate with those whose stated motives we can’t trust.

    Your thought is true which ever way it’s expressed. And there’s the rub. There are some (many?) in the political class whose stated motives can’t be trusted.

    A clue that I’ve come to trust is that if an otherwise intelligent person advocates something stupid, they are probably running a hidden agenda. For example; the house cap and trade bill was a stupid way to control the climate, but Henry Waxman is a skilled politician and expert in the use of power.

  22. Roger, you state that McKitrick's message is not that "climate science is a sham ..."

    That is at odds with McKitrick's statement that the arguments at the "core" of global warming are "flawed, misleading or non-existent."

    As for McI, McK. and Lucia as AGW proponents, as mentioned by one commenter, I would describe them as lukewarmers at best. Anyone who thinks climate sensitivity to CO2 is likely less than 1C is definitely not in the AGW mainstream. Even Monckton and Lindzen think there's a slight climate sensitivity (~.5C for CO2 doubling). Does that make them AGW proponents? Give me a break.

  23. -22-deepclimate

    You seem smart enough to understand the difference between views that I hold and views that others hold. On this blog I try to express views that I hold. When I write, "The story is not that the science of climate change is a sham or that we can all now forget about the issue" -- that is in fact my view (which is why I wrote it). It is indeed at odds with that expressed by others. Others can speak well for themselves.

  24. Since Len brought it up, I don't think Gavin was that far off in his assessment. Certainly he did not deserve to be called a "liar", as McIntyre did make explicit charges of cherry-picking.

    Perhaps some of you have not read enough of the record, always a good idea, as a certain bunny is wont to remind us.


  25. You might want to post these reconstructions also.

    Steve's substitution of the Schweingruber series replaces longer records from living trees in the Yamal series with shorter ones from another location. Shorter records introduce more noise. In this case since they are at the start of the reconstruction the change will be there. Not exactly playing within the rules, even as he defines them.

  26. #23
    It wasn't clear to me that you realized that McKitrick does think it's a "sham". You referred to "McKitrick's story" and then said what the "story" wasn't. So any misunderstanding was understandable, so to speak.

    So to be clear: McKitrick thinks AGW is a "sham", and you totally disagree. Right?

    Now you do agree that he raises a host of valid issues about the IPCC process.

    But you disagree completely with the paragraph where he lays out all the supposed problems with AGW (the one quoted by Stan in #5).

    In particular, I suppose you disagree with McKitrick's statement denigrating the "claim that modern climate has departed from natural variability".

    And do keep in mind that McKitrick is saying exactly that McIntyre has delivered (once again) a fatal blow to that particular claim. After all, that's the whole point of his article.

  27. -26-deepclimate

    Indeed, I do have my own opinions, and those are best understood from what I write. And if that is unclear (always a possibility) then ask, don't assume.

    Do I think AGW is a "sham"? No. I've actually said the opposite on many, many occasions. Since you read and comment here occasionally I assume that you know this.

    Does the IPCC have some issues? Sure does. See:

    Please do read again the first sentence of this post: "Ross McKitrick has a very readable account on why he thinks the latest debates over the Hockey Stick should matter to you and me."

  28. Flaky comment box.

    Anyway, ER raises a good point - we should be loathe to accept McIntyre's recon at face value.

    Keith Briffa, in a fit of almost saintlike forbearance, has promised to deal with several issues in McI's recons as soon as health permits.

    And, as far as I'm concerned, McIntyre's accusations of cherrypicking are completely baseless. Once again.

  29. You still haven't weighed in on the claim about "modern climate departing from natural variation..." (sorry cut and paste doesn't work here). I'm really not clear where you stand on that.

    Or the statement about "significant warm bias .."

    Or "gross disagreement" between observations and models


    Sorry, Roger, your position on these issues is not at all clear.

    If you don't want to talk about them, fine, it's your blog. But if you're going to give McKitrick all that space, you can't be surprised that others will raise them. Which they have starting at #5.

  30. -29-deepclimate

    Sure, ask some specific questions, and I'll be happy to answer them. Please just avoid the ink blots.

    Given that I've discussed these issues in public for many years, there should be absolutely no ambiguity about my views. And if you think there is, just ask a specific question, I'm happy to answer.

  31. deepclimate,

    you are conflating two distinct views:

    1. The belief that climate science is in shambles


    2. The belief that AGW is false.

    There are many people (amongst them distinguished climate scientists [e.g. http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=7272]) who believe that climate science (circa 2009) is an embarrassment, but who accept the basic tenets of AGW.

    McKitrick, who has previously proposed a tax on carbon, would appear to be one such individual.