10 December 2009

The Not True Trick

Over at The Huffington Post, Stanford's Steve Schneider makes this remarkable claim:
The amazing scientific thing that nobody seems to be covering is that the "hockey stick" was never used as proof of anthropogenic global warming by IPCC
This statement is just not true (maybe that will help to explain why no one seems to be covering it).

Consider the image below of a BBC news story which covered a 2001 press conference on the occasion of finalizing the IPCC Third Assessment Report.

The man in the photo is John Houghton, head of the IPCC at that time. Look carefully in the background, that is the "hockey stick" graph up on a screen at the press conference. Well, this is perhaps circumstantial evidence. What did the IPCC actually say in its report?

In 2001, the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC TAR included a section with the following heading:
There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.
In that section it reported (emphasis added):
There is a longer and more closely scrutinised temperature record and new model estimates of variability. The warming over the past 100 years is very unlikely to be due to internal variability alone, as estimated by current models. Reconstructions of climate data for the past 1,000 years (Figure 1b) also indicate that this warming was unusual and is unlikely to be entirely natural in origin.
What was Figure 1b? Why, the "Hockey Stick"!

If climate scientists want to regain lost credibility, and indeed not see it diminish further, they are going to have to stop playing the rest of us for fools. One way to do that is avoid saying things that are not true.


  1. It's not going to matter, Roger. The emails are an inconvenient truth to a large number of big players who have already played their cards and are best swept under the carpet. While this remains true, those involved are free to continue to play whatever dirty games are required to advance their arguments, using the "authority" of science to give themselves the credibility to pull it off. Many people simply aren't familiar enough with the subject matter to tell truth from lie and, to others, the ends justify the means.

  2. Hmmm... It is clear Schneider wants to divert attention from hockey stick to something else, this being the "fingerprint" studies of 1995. He may actually have a point (I don't know) that there were studies before the hockey stick that claimed to have shown AGW. The question is: does Schneider mention these studies because he thinks they were of similar (low) quality? Or does he think these studies proved AGW beyond doubt and therefore the fuss about Mann et al is hot air?

  3. I read Dr. Schneider's comment, and what I see him emphasizing is that the IPCC placed most weight on the "fingerprint" attribution studies (lapse rate/cooling stratosphere, etc.) I think there is a good case for that claim. It's not that the hockey stick studies were not used - they certainly were, and they're the easiest single image for the public to recognize. I can't think of a comparable graph that visualizes the fingerprint attribution work in a single picture, yet I know the fingerprint work did play a central role in the IPCC's discussions.

  4. Mann still swears by his hockey stick. How many climate scientists have called him on it publicly? I'm guessing that the answer is somewhere in the range of.... zero. So where are all these honorable climate scientists who are being made to look bad by a few bad actors? The silence is deafening.

  5. "they are going to have to stop playing the rest of us for fools"

    I think "they are going to have to stop acting like fools" would be better advice.

  6. Unfortunately, given the lengths to which he goes to rebrand "climategate" as "email gate" "Climate Denier Gate", and to refocus the issue away from the content of the files and to the (unproven) "fact" that they were obtained illegally by hackers who "belong in jail" tips his hand. This is damage control, pure and simple.

    The funny thing is while he rants against "denier" arguments against Mann's Hockey Stick, that particular graph actually has little to do with the current imbroglio. It's only relevant in that Briffa used the same "trick", substituting observed data for inconvenient proxy data, and admitted it in one email.

  7. Roger,

    I would suggest that evidence is different from proof, but I'm confident that you can and will perform a magic weasel dance of semantics to brush that inconvenient fact aside.

  8. I greatly admire you and your father's willingness to make both poles uncomfortable, just by citing facts.

  9. Well, NWB, it's not the "Silence of the Lambs"

    More the silence of the sheep. B types at the wheel. What would you expect?

  10. -7-luminous beauty

    "a magic weasel dance of semantics"

    I don't think I could top yours, so I won't even try;-)

  11. I think the keyword here is "antropogenic". While the hockey stick study shows the temperature increase in latest decades, it does not pin that increase on man-made emissions, as I understand it... and I think that is the crux of the matter...right?

  12. Luminous Beauty wrote:
    "I would suggest that evidence is different from proof".

    One can parse language in this way. If one wants to play that game, however, it is fair to say that the IPCC never provided any "proof" of AGW, just "evidence".

  13. Schneider has admitted he's willing to be untruthful in order to advance his political agenda. Why would anyone be surprised to see him do it again here?

    "we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This "double ethical bind" we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

  14. -13-Stan

    Your comment is really misleading, as the next sentence Schneider uttered was something like -- "I hope that means being both."

  15. Roger, can you discuss using an optic to convey information vs using it for "proof"? That is: was the graphic used for communication or evidence?

    And what would you use as a graphic to convey the evidence of man-made climate change?



  16. I recorded a BBC radio documentary on Climategate and uploaded it to a friend's web space for non UK residents. Much of it concerns the hockey stick.

    Features well known sceptic bloggers Bishop Hill and Steve McIntyre. It is 10mb and the volume has been maximised.


    UK residents only


  17. "I hope that means being both" - hmmm, yes, but which is more important? I would hope it would be truth, yet I can't help thinking it's being effective that drives him.

  18. Roger (Thu Dec 10, 05:19:00 PM MST),

    If "hope" made things so, Obama would have delivered us into nirvana by now.

    Face it...
    Schneider is a self-described propagandist.

  19. Roger,
    "Like shooting fish in a barrel."
    Good work, tho!

  20. Luminous beauty, there is a word for what you attempt with your statement: sophistry.

    Schneider and his lot are either in deep denial that their Titanic has hit the iceberg and is going down (piff, piff, lot of bloody nonsense---this ship is unsinkable; steward, bring me another gimlet,) or are simply playing off the friendly, willfully gullible and utterly unconcerned with facts faithful to be found in places like HuffPo, in order to prolong their grant gravy train as long as possible. I suspect it's a little of both. Great bust, Roger.

  21. The Times demolished the 1700 signatures:

  22. Neil -

    You're right that the often-omitted final sentence of Schneider's quote mitigates nothing. To a scientist, truth should be the overriding criterion, not merely one factor to be juggled in a cost-benefit analysis that includes "effectiveness."

  23. Is there any chance that Roger or someone here can share with us what optic or visual or graphic or icon or logo or cartoon drawing the IPCC should have used to depict global warming for the public(s)?

    Two optics, maybe? Two visuals or graphics or icons or logos or cartoon drawings together that the IPCC should have used to depict global warming to mankind?

    A series of no more than X number of optics, visuals, photographs, paintings, graphics, icons, logos or cartoon drawings together that the IPCC should have used to depict global warming to society?

    And I DO like the link Richard Tol shared with us. The times "demolished" the letter by showing that ONE scientist of 1700 "felt threatened" and the reliable Benny Peiser said something. Wow. Who knew the signatures were so tenuous???

    Perhaps Richard or Roger can feel unthreatened by sharing with us what graphics the IPCC should have used, in your experience.

    Have you written about this already, Roger? Not a paper that says they shouldn't have done something, but a paper that rather shows the best way and shows what they should have done. Building up. Showing the way.

    Which graphics?




  24. If the hockey stick is bogus, then it is easy to prove that AGW is wrong: just compare the timing of temperatures rises (steady rising trend since 1700, with 30 years heating and cooling perods around the trend) and human carbon emissions (negligible before 1850, nearly all since 1945, half since 1975, a quarter since 1995):

  25. Dano says:

    Which graphics? Anyone ?

    Well I would start with exactly the one they used being vetted by parties with other interests. Instead of allowing the IPCC authors to vet and massage their own data I would provide external review.

    As a specific example, the hockey stick graph vetted by the Statistics Profs and professional statisticians over at climateaudit would be a fairly convincing piece of work. If there are problems with the PCA methods, it would be interesting to see other methods in play. If we have trouble with upside down Tiljander pull them. If we think the Bristlecones are bad, pull them as well. What do we see see ? What are the real error bars here ? Allow open discussion unobstructed by a political agenda and produce a graph of the "true" best guess.

    The resulting graph audited by these methods would carry real weight and would be very, very hard to argue with .... exactly the sort of thing that SHOULD be in the IPCC report.

  26. @Dano -23

    It may of course be that one of the 1700 is paranoid, and that the journalist had to call up a great many signatories to uncover this one person.

    Chances are, the journalist called up a few only.

    Funding for climate research in the UK is politicised.

    External funding is a larger share of the take-home salary of a researcher in the UK than in many other countries.

    If you put these things together, then 1 in 5 is more likely than 1 in 1700.

  27. Dano
    You missed the point. It's not true to say that the hockey stick was never used as evidence of AGW. That's the point!

    In fact it's still being used in Europe in every GIEC pamphlet - the smoothed, spliced version. Perhaps you think lies are acceptable if it is for the greater good. My concern about that would be the unintended consequences.

    Which image should be used? Well once upon a time when scientists were uncertain about things they'd say that up front (ie not buried on page 800 in weasel words), mentioning all valid strands of thought and potential biases. We should also expect independent and rigorous peer review and that an international committee of scientists would not produce a misleading sales brochure using blatantly cherry-picked data.

  28. Which specific graphics should be used by the IPCC to confer information to the public?


    Specific graphics?



  29. Ah yes the top image at this link would be a more honest icon:

    But of course it wouldn't help sell the product.

  30. @roger-15-:
    You can't resolve a tradeoff by doing "both". If you can, it's not a tradeoff, not something that requires "striking a balance". If we take Scheider at his word for the early part of the quote, the last sentence is a wistful dream, not a practical possibility. So one can exclude it without changing the meaning.

    "Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between voting Democrat and voting Republican. I hope that means doing both."

  31. -30-Glen

    There is another reading of Schneider's comment, and that is he may be expressing hope that the science truthfully represented will lead to effectiveness. What he does not answer is what should happen when a faithful representation of the science is ineffective.

    And you analogy is flawed, split ticket voting is common.

  32. Dano,
    Just show the temperature increase since 1850 using instrument data, explain the limitations of that source of data, and leave it at that. There are plenty of such graphs available. No need to graft together different sources, no need even to show the last thousand or more years.

    Example: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/de/4/49/Klimadiagramm_hadley_1850_2008.svg

  33. Thank you Don. I think that's a pretty good optic. Next to an Arctic ice decline with the opposite slope that might be pretty powerful. Nonetheless,

    One wonders what the proprietor would say, as he was critical of the IPCC graphic - so presumably the criticism arises from having an opinion or knowledge on the 'best' or 'correct' non-whatever graphic.



  34. "It is clear Schneider wants to divert attention from hockey stick to something else, this being the "fingerprint" studies of 1995."

    There is a clear obfuscation between the information scientists have reported to convince THEMSELVES and the information the IPCC has fed to the media to convince the PUBLIC. Since the hockey stick appeared not only in the IPCC TAR, but also in Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, it has the 'fingerprint' of being a key talking point for the 'unprecedented man-made warming' argument to the public.

    Since the hockey stick is such a compelling graphic, one has to wonder that his claim that it remains valid must be weak if he feels the need to discount its importance.

    For #23: As for optics, I think this below temperature record presentation is quite compelling, in particular the 10,000 year trend, and it's a darn shame this wasnt on the IPCC TAR cover page ...


  35. "I think this below temperature record presentation is quite compelling, in particular the 10,000 year trend,"

    There are no labels or source on most of those temps, so they could be anything.

    I suspect the temp is from one location, which hides the increase.

    Nonetheless, this is an older graphic of global 10k year trend, but maybe it can still replace the chart in this one.



  36. Re: 28

    If the goal is to show the estimated human effects on climate to date, then either the IPCC estimates for climate forcing, or the IPCC modeling runs with natural variability alone versus natural variability plus estimated climate forcing would be better graphics:


    For Assessment Report 4 (AR4), that would be SPM.2 and SPM.4. The Third Asssessment Report (TAR) had similar figures, although I think the TAR figure comparable to SPM.4 was only for the whole globe (not also for individual regions).

  37. Dano,
    The most careful, vetted graph I've seen is from Loehle & McCulloch, corrected and with proper 95% CI. It's the only one I know of that avoids tree ring data, while incorporating all other proxies that have been correlated (by the originating scientists) with temperature. It would be nice to have something with still more data, but this all that's available while avoiding tree rings AFAIK.

    From here, see this graphic.

  38. Two points. One - scientists must reconstruct the raw data, and this can be done quite accurately by relying on the newspaper records.

    Secondly, skeptics should start putting more stress on non-scientific reasons too, since majority of people are ignorant of science. While Mckintire surely disproved Mann, how many average people understand the arguments?


  39. Everyone talks about whether climate change is anthropogenic, as though it's a blame game -- if it's not our fault, then it's OK and we can all go home.

    I think that's missing the point. We should all hope it IS anthropogenic, because if we caused it, there's a better chance we can fix it. If we didn't cause it, we're in even deeper trouble, because we may not be able to do anything about it at all.

    Either way, we have a problem. Blame fixes nothing.