01 April 2010

Der Spiegel on Climate Science

Der Spiegel has a really great, long article (in English) on the troubles facing the climate science community (the image above is from Der Spiegel's 1986 cover story on climate change). The article characterizes current debate in blunt terms:
A religious war is raging between alarmists and skeptics, and it threatens to consume levelheaded climatologists.
The article has a very interesting and new (to me, at least) discussion of the CRU temperature data that was given by Phil Jones to Georgia Tech's Peter Webster that will no doubt tantalize those looking to find something amiss in global temperature records:
Under the pressure of [Steve] McIntyre's attacks, Jones had to admit something incredible: He had deleted his notes on how he performed the homogenization. This means that it is not possible to reconstruct how the raw data turned into his temperature curve.

For Peter Webster, a meteorologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, this course of events is "one of the biggest sins" a scientist can commit. "It's as if a chef was no longer able to cook his dishes because he lost the recipes."

While amateur climatologist McIntyre spent years begging in vain for the raw data, Webster eventually managed to convince Jones to send them to him. He is the only scientist to date who has been given access to the data. "To be honest, I'm shocked by the sloppy documentation," Webster told SPIEGEL.

Unnoticed by the public, Webster has spent several months searching for inconsistencies in the Jones curve. For example, it has been known for some time that there are noticeable jumps in ocean temperature readings. The reason for the inconsistencies is that, beginning in the 1940s, water temperature was no longer measured in buckets filled with seawater, but at the intake valves for the water used to cool ship engines.

But when he analyzed Jones's data, Webster discovered suspiciously similar jumps in temperature -- but on land. "Water buckets can't explain this," says Webster.

The Jones team attributes another sudden jump in temperature readings to the decline in air pollution since the 1970s as a result of stricter emissions laws. Particles suspended in the air block solar radiation, so that temperatures rise when the air becomes cleaner. Air pollution in the south has always been much lower than in the north, because, as Webster explains, "there is less land and therefore less industry in the Southern Hemisphere."

Oddly enough, however, the temperature increase in the south is just as strong as it is in the north. "That isn't really possible," says Webster.

Webster doesn't believe that inconsistencies like these will invalidate the Jones curve altogether. "But we would like to know, of course, what's behind all of these phenomena." If a natural mechanism were at least partly to blame for the rise in temperatures, it would decrease the share of human influence in current global warming.

Hans von Storch explains what is needed to regain lost trust:

German climatologist Hans von Storch now wants to see an independent institution recalculate the temperature curve, and he even suggests that the skeptics be involved in the project. He points out, however, that processing the data will take several years.

"There is no other way to regain the trust that has been lost," he says, "even if I'm certain that the new curve will not look significantly different from the old one."

And if it does? "That would definitely be the worst-case scenario for climatology. We would have to start all over again."


  1. "German climatologist Hans von Storch now wants to see an independent institution recalculate the temperature curve, and he even suggests that the skeptics be involved in the project. He points out, however, that processing the data will take several years."

    If such an effort is organized, I sure hope the organizers will keep the UEA and the Brits out of it, or we will end up with the same kind of "independent" group that "evaluated" Climategate.

  2. Exactly what sort of pressure did Jones feel that made deleting his notes seem like a good idea? Or even an appropriate response? Does anyone who reads your blog know of any other scientist who would do this?

  3. How many times do true beleivers have to see evidence that they have been fooled before they admit they have been fooled?
    since long before climategate, it was clear that not one claim made by the AGW community in support of the idea that we are facing a climate catastrophe has held up under anything like reasonable scrutiny.
    Now we see there is no reason to believe that the themperature record- the basis for declaring the apocalypse is at hand- is a pile of junk.
    What this really means is that GISS and the rest of the records that closely match this are also junk.
    AGW- the idea that CO2 is driving a worldwide climate crisis is garbage.
    The social movement that has evolved around it may still prevail, but let its believers and promoters understand thaat they are simply pushing a political desire based on social wants, and not carrying out some sort of science-based salvation of the world.

  4. Interesting that an article like this can't be written in the United States, but comes out of a country that has an active and powerful Green party. The entire Climategate story was embargoed in the American mainstream media - and not because American editors aren't aware of what's going on in the British and Euro media. They managed to keep Climategate and the IPPC mess out of their pages much like they sat on the John Edwards story - hidden in plain sight. There's no conspiracy, just a typical oligopoly wink-and-a-nod. If no one acts first, all can keep the thing under wraps.

  5. -4- Mark B
    Spiegel would not have run this story at this length in October last year. Germans were rather shocked by Climategate etc.

    I do not really understand US media, but there is no climate policy in place and most of the people behaving badly are non-Americans so what's the story?

  6. As far as independent analysis of the temperature data, there's a lot of that going on already, at least for the land temperature record ( http://rankexploits.com/musings/2010/comparing-global-land-temperature-reconstructions/ ). The question would be whether to go back and reassemble the data from the original records, most of which are on paper or possibly microfilm or -fiche. Steve McIntyre also did a lot of work analyzing the bucket vs engine intake sea surface temperature data ( http://climateaudit.org/category/surface-record/sst/ ).

  7. Der Spiegel:

    Reinhard Hüttl, head of the German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam near Berlin and the president of the German Academy of Science and Engineering, believes that basic values are now under threat. "Scientists should never be as wedded to their theories that they are no longer capable of refuting them in the light of new findings," he says. Scientific research, Hüttl adds, is all about results, not beliefs. Unfortunately, he says, there are more and more scientists who want to be politicians.

    This seems to accept that politicians can hold any theories they like irrespective of new evidence, eg. economic crisis. An alternative take on this is that if politicians are allowed to change their minds in the light of new evidence then that might allow scientists to have as much right to act politically as any other citizen and provided they are not corrupt their suggested actions might be more informed than most.

    Agree with Roger that the 2 domains are different and require different skill sets but this extract from Der Spiegel does not help in clarifying the real differences.

  8. If Peter Webster has the un-adjusted temperatures, then surely they could be released prior to the three year reconstruction. I suspect there is some kind of misunderstanding here -- but it would be worth sorting out exactly what he does have.

  9. 'Unprecedented' temperatures do not happen by themselves.

    There is no clear global anthropogenic signal in the raw temperature data.

    The data has to be 'adjusted' to derive man's guilt.

    As we have been taught in bible class guilt is a universal human condition.

    If you doubt, as Proverbs 14:12 puts it, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."

    I doubt that this planet has experienced 'unprecedented' rise in temperatures over the last few decades.

    The AGW ideologists are determined to show otherwise.

  10. It doesn't matter what the science says, the wheels of finance grind slowly onward. The presence of the British government, George Soros and Larry Summers (ex Goldman Sachs) should alert us to the fact that global warming is first and foremost a banking operation.

    Carbon credits may be the next boom to follow sub prime. The future of the British economy depends on it.

    Britain brandishes olive branch to restart global climate change talks

    Britain brandished a diplomatic olive branch today as it tried to restart global climate change negotiations with an initiative to heal the rift between rich and poor countries following the failure of the Copenhagen summit.

    The diplomatic moves came as Gordon Brown met billionaire financier George Soros; Obama's economic adviser Larry Summers; economist Lord Nicholas Stern and other finance ministers to find ways to raise $30bn (£20bn) a year immediately and $100bn a year by 2020 to enable developing countries to adapt to climate change.


  11. I am not certain what the article means by Jone's "temperature curve", I assume it refers to hadcrut3. If I am wrong the rest that follows is wrong too.

    GISTEMP finds a similar result to HadCRUT3 without knowing or using Jone's missing homogeneity adjustments or data. So I find little reason to expect another independent analysis to find anything much different.

    And indeed in the period of most relevance, the past 30 years, we have satellite records matching well against the surface records.

    So for me the only real question is about the pre 1970s part of the surface records. I find the general agreement between GISTEMP, GHCN and CRU over this period to be largely indicative of a result that doesn't rely on anything Jone's has done. In fact if we completely ignored HadCRUT3 we would still have GHCN and GISTEMP (and JMA although I suspect they just use GHCN adjusted)

    Until an analysis is performed that finds a much different result to the above, I see little reason to think the familiar 20th century temperature record shape is much wrong. I could imagine it might be found to be out by 0.2C in the early 20th century or something, but to my mind that would by interesting rather than having some grand implication.

  12. For anyone interested in working with the GISTEMP dataset:
    the Clear Climate Code project
    (Clear Climate Code) provides a complete
    rewrite of the GISTEMP Fortran code, and an excellent
    example of how to crowdsource climate data

  13. Little noticed but influential behind the scenes, is the recent advice of the academic council of the German treasury:


    They argue two things: (1) Germany should focus on adaptation rather than on mitigation. (2) First mover advantages are a myth. The second mover tends to win the market.

  14. From Richard Feynman's brilliant "Cargo Cult Science" -- this is the kind of science that needs to be done.

    "But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school--we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

    Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong--to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

    In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the
    information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another."


  15. thanks zoo, here is the end of the feynman article, also very relevant:
    So I have just one wish for you--the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.

  16. Richard - Americans are being asked to see the modern industrial world overturned based on the work of the IPCC - I think the goings on of Jones and Pachauri are relevant to our lives. At least as relevant as the latest political scandal or celebrity divorce.

  17. Zoo and Bill Kerr

    For the love of God, please stop posting that Feynman article. it shows up on climate skeptic blogs every few days. If Feynman had come out in favor of Global Warming alarmism, you would both be crucifying him daily, "cargo cult" or no.

  18. -17- Mark B
    Are they? There is climate theatre in DC, but no carbon tax on gas.

  19. And indeed in the period of most relevance, the past 30 years, we have satellite records matching well against the surface records.

    That is in dispute:


    In any case, much of the alignment is because the raw results are adjusted to fit the ground measurements. The University of Alabama in Huntsville got entirely the "wrong" results when they did their analysis. They had to be shown the "correct" way to do them.


    Given that we know the ground measurements are largely bogus, it is actually a poor sign that the satellite readings match them so well. If they showed warming, but of a different trend, I would tend to believe them more. As it stands they are just as prone to "adjustment" to get the "right" results as the land based ones.

  20. -18-Richard Tol

    Not yet, but the CAFE is going up to 35.5 mpg. Technology is wonderful, though. A new 305hp Mustang will get 31 mpg on the highway.

  21. Mark B,
    But he came out against AGW alarmism.
    Why should we not point that out?
    Is telling the truth that painful for the AGW true believers?

  22. -18-Richard Tol

    When the cattle are being driven to the slaughter house, there's no problem - yet.

    Booker in the Telegraph UK - Climate change legislation will cost hundreds of billions over 40 years. And that's for a nation the size of Kansas, and the population of California plus Texas. With the EPA poised to act without Congressional approval, I think my fears are not unfounded.


  23. The British national debt is at a record level due to trillions of dollars disappearing from the global economy, in particular the British banking system as a result of the sub prime crisis.

    The saviour of the British economy, with the total support of the political establishment, state and corporate media is to be carbon trading.

    Despite Britain contributing less than 2% of the world's Co2, the poor of Britain are going to be asked to show resolve and global leadership by not only subsiding new uneconomical energy sources, but shouldering hundreds of billions of pounds of government spending as a result of the Climate Change Act.

    As Winston Churchill famously said

    You shall fight on the beaches,
    You shall fight on the landing grounds,
    You shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
    You shall fight in the hills;
    You shall never surrender.

  24. MarkB -- Feynman is just describing good, ethical, credible science. Why would you think this a critique of climate science? I certainly didn't say anything of the sort. I just said -- "this is the kind of science that needs to be done". Are you saying that you've noted counter-examples in climate science?

  25. From the positive responses here, I take it many of you found this Spiegel article "informative".

    I found it insulting to the intelligence of true rational skeptics. It's an irrational piece of tripe.

    There's a lot of factual holes in the article, and some pretty twisted logic.

    It does not address climate science, but instead diverts to personal attacks on Jones, and ideological positioning.

    Sure, if you already have a position against AGW/ACC, this article would seem "balanced". But it was everything but balanced.

    I posted a response to this article at:

    If I am in error on any of this, feel free to correct me.

  26. Real Climate is making stuff up again. Here is a comment i just left over there, 50-50 that it sees the light of day:



    There are 3 errors of fact in the following:

    "Roger Pielke “tried to find out where the graph had come from” and “traced it” to Robert Muir-Wood. This must have been hard indeed, given that Muir-Wood, who provided the graph, is named by the IPCC in the figure caption. The only difficult thing is to find this graph (which incidentally is correct but not very informative) at all: other than DER SPIEGEL claims, it is not in the IPCC report itself but only provided as “supplementary material” on its website, where the IPCC publishes such background material."

    1. The reference provided by IPCC to Muir-Wood et al. 2006 was not where the graph came from. The IPCC intentionally miscited the graph, as Muir-Wood has admitted.

    2. The graph is not "correct." Several IPCC reviewers correctly identified it as "misleading." Muir-Wood has explained that the graph should not have been included for this very reason and it has never appeared anywhere (peer reviewed or grey literature) other than in the IPCC report.

    3. The supplementary material was indeed included with the hard-copy of the report (inside the back cover) and was referenced in the main text. To say that it is only on the website is simply incorrect.

    You may view these issues as insignificant, but you should at least report them accurately."


  27. Roger, isn't this simply a feature of the post modern intellectual space, in which debate is privately owned and unreliable narrators can by protected by restricting access ?

    I am not exactly sure how the salaries of Realclimate contributors are funded.

    However the British corporate newspaper 'The Guardian' has a collection of very well paid unreliable narrators who were sponsored by large corporations in the run up to Copenhagen. The sponsorship disappeared immediately at the end of the conference.

    The discussions on climate have been conducted in an extremely underhand and restricted manner. This is the reality of post normal debate at a public, never mind government and corporate level.

    The following may good in principle, but the public that will (most likely) be heard, won't be Joe the statstician, but BP and Goldman Sachs.

    Mike Hulme and Jerome Ravetz

    Now, with the public as partner in the creation and implementation of scientific knowledge in the policy domain, the injunction has a new and enhanced meaning.


  28. The article has a very interesting and new (to me, at least) discussion of the CRU temperature data that was given by Phil Jones to Georgia Tech's Peter Webster that will no doubt tantalize those looking to find something amiss in global temperature records:

  29. "Roger Pielke “tried to find out where the graph had come from” and “traced it” to Robert Muir-Wood. This must have been hard indeed, given that Muir-Wood, who provided the graph, is named by the IPCC in the figure caption.