SciBlogs

Posts Tagged Phil Jones

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars Bryan Walker Feb 21

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

It was clearly never Michael Mann’s wish to be embroiled in the public controversy that has been manufactured by the denial industry around his and his co-authors’ work. He’s a scientist first and foremost, the nine-year-old who wanted to know what it meant to go faster than the speed of light, the high school student whose idea of a fun Friday night was hanging out with his computer buddies writing programmes to solve challenging problems, the Ph.D candidate looking for a big-picture problem to which he could apply his maths and physics interests, the post-doctoral researcher wanting to pursue curiosity-driven science. ’When we first published our hockey stick work in the late 1990s,’ he explains, ’I was of the belief that the role of a scientist was, simply put, to do science.’

In support of that belief he eschewed the notion of taking any position regarding climate change policy. But merely doing the science, resulting in the hockey stick graph which showed a rapid and unprecedented global warming in recent time by comparison with the proxy temperature records of the last thousand years, meant that he was catapulted willy-nilly into public attention. And not just attention, but attack and vilification by the denial campaign. The title of his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines is no overstatement. He has battle scars.  However it’s not a conflict he is prepared to retire from.  He no longer thinks he should avoid communicating the societal implications of climate science. Quite the opposite. He points out that scientists who study climate science and its potential impacts understand better than anyone the nature of the climate change threat. It would be irresponsible in the extreme for scientists to leave the field to industry-funded climate change deniers to confuse and mislead the public and dissuade policy makers from taking appropriate action.

That is certainly what they are intent on doing. Mann recounts the now familiar story of how the tactics used in past industry-funded campaigns denying health and environmental threats have been employed again in the attack on climate science. The denial campaign has been formidably successful in sowing doubt in the public mind and giving the impression of serious differences among climate scientists. Benjamin Santer, Stephen Schneider and James Hansen were among the scientists singled out early for special assault, their integrity impugned and their work dismissed as lacking scientific rigour.  Mann was to join their ranks when the hockey stick graph was given prominence in the 2001 IPCC report. He describes what he calls the ‘Serengeti strategy’ where climate change deniers isolate individual scientists just as predators on the Serengeti Plain pick off vulnerable individuals from the rest of the herd, as if the entire weight of the scientific case for human-caused climate change rested on a handful of scientists.

The suggestion is all the more ridiculous in that Mann consistently makes clear the nature of climate science as a community endeavour. He writes of the science as the fruit of the labours of thousands of scientists from around the world. The hockey stick papers depended on the work of others.  He is at pains to point out that decades of work by paleoclimate researchers ’led to increasingly rich networks of climate proxy data and the introduction of new ways to use such data to reconstruct past climates. My colleagues and I were the beneficiaries of this substantial body of past work.’

Another aspect highlighting the community nature of science is the vigorous challenge of conclusions and methods that is part of the community’s modus operandi. Mann states that scientists are inherently sceptical and science is therefore self-correcting. He points out that arguments have to be robust enough to survive this process of challenge or they fall away. The hockey stick reconstruction is no exception and has received — and survived in its essentials — critical scrutiny from many other scientists. Independent reconstructions by other scientists using different methods and data have been broadly similar to that of the hockey stick. Mann devotes considerable space to addressing the claims of economist Ross McKitrick and blogger Stephen McIntyre that the hockey stick work is statistically flawed, claims which remain staple fare in denialist circles in spite of the wide scientific support for Mann and his colleagues.

The book provides a connected narrative detailing many aspects of the denialist campaign over the past decade.  There was little let-up. Mann records how he was convinced in 2009 that in spite of suffering setbacks the denial campaign was not going to fade away. ’There was too much at stake for the special interests behind the scenes.’  Sure enough disinformation pieces multiplied in the right-wing media. Character attacks against climate scientists were unabated. Phil Jones and colleagues at CRU received a barrage of FOIA demands, as many as 60 in one weekend alone.  The most malicious of all the assaults on climate science, timed for the run-up to the Copenhagen conference, occurred with release of the climategate emails and the accompanying interpretation of malfeasance on the part of the climate scientists concerned. Mann comments that the most disheartening aspect of the affair was the readiness of respected media outlets to give credence to the accusations and innuendo spun by the professional climate change denial machine. Even the Guardian allowed itself to suggest that the scientists were guilty of wrongdoing in journalist Fred Pearce’s sad series of articles.  Climategate brought large volumes of hate email and telephone threats to Mann himself and his family.

In 2010 came the demand from Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli that Virginia University turn over to him every document relating to Mann during his six years on the staff there. Cuccinelli was unsuccessful, but continues to seek ways of pursuing his crusade against Mann. The assault on climate science is far from over. But Mann considers that there has been a change in the readiness of scientists to recognise the magnitude of the threat from denial and to become active in defending the integrity of the science and promulgating the seriousness of what it bodes. He’s certainly not quitting the battlefield himself. In his book he unequivocally espouses the message that if we allow carbon dioxide concentrations to reach 450 parts per million we will have locked in at least two degrees of warming relative to pre-industrial times; this is dangerous interference with the climate system likely to result in devastating sea level rise, more powerful hurricanes, more widespread drought, and increased weather extremes, with adverse impacts on human life and health, animal species, and our environment.

That is the message which the denial movement labours so stridently and so unscrupulously to obscure. Mann testifies to their destructive intent from his own bitter experience, and sounds a clarion call to the defence of science. The book is more than a personal story. Individuals may be targeted but Mann makes it clear that it is no less than science itself which is under assault. The climate wars are not a sideshow; they go to the heart of civilised society.

Gareth adds: Mann talks about his book and the issues it raises in this Youtube video:

[Support Hot Topic by purchasing this book (or any book) through our affiliates: The Book Depository (UK, free shipping worldwide), Fishpond (NZ) and Amazon.com.]

Predicting the bleeding obvious (and getting it wrong) Gareth Renowden May 31

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

A couple of days ago one of the leading figures in the New Zealand climate crank pantheon, the Climate “Science” Coalition’s very own Bryan Leyland, popped in to Hot Topic and left a comment drawing attention to his new favourite game — “predicting” global temperatures by projecting the southern oscillation index forward seven months. He bases this on the “work” of John McLean, last mentioned here a couple of months ago when I looked at his prediction (happily promoted by the NZ C”S”C) that 2011 will be the ’coolest year globally since 1956 or even earlier’. Suffice to say, it won’t be.

Leyland first notes the infamous McLean, De Freitas and Carter paper of 2009, then his own “prediction” that this year’s La Niña would bring a cooling in global temperatures, and then says:

What is remarkable about this is that a retired engineer with access to the Internet has been able to make accurate predictions of future climate. Yet, to my knowledge, no computer-based climate model nor any mainstream ’climate scientist’ predicted this cooling. To me, this is truly remarkable.

What’s really remarkable is that Leyland is actually only showing his ignorance of some pretty basic climate relationships.

As I commented when McLean et al was published (back in 2009), we’ve understood that the state of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has an impact on global temperatures for a very long time indeed. The Climatic Research Unit’s Phil Jones showed this in a paper in 19891, and the Swedish meteorologist Hildebrandsson may have written about the idea in the 1890s2. Even more obvious perhaps, for a retired engineer with an internet connection, you can trawl back through the Goddard Institute for Space Studies GISTEMP web site, and find comments about ENSO’s effect on global temperatures. This is what they said a decade ago:

The global warmth in 2001 is particularly meaningful, because it occurs at a phase of the Southern Oscillation in which the tropical Pacific Ocean is cool. The record warmth of 1998, in contrast, was bolstered by a strong El Niño that raised global temperature 0.2°C above the trend line.

Not only that, but GISS has been producing and updating this figure (source) since it was first published in 1999:

GISTEMPFig E201104

The influence of ENSO on global temperatures amounts to common knowledge amongst those who study climate. When a La Niña follows an El Niño, you get a cooling. That’s not news. And when the current La Niña ends 3 temperatures will pick up again, and we’ll be heading back into record territory. That’s because the underlying planetary energy imbalance isn’t going away, and the main driver of that imbalance — the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere — is increasing every year. Take a look at another GISTEMP graph (source):

DTs 60+132mons201104

This shows the global average temperature smoothed over 60 months (to minimise ENSO impact) and over 132 months (to reduce the effect of the 11 year solar cycle). There’s only one way that line is heading (barring a volcano or two) and that’s up.

Leyland finishes his soothsaying with a chilling warning:

Records from all over the world show that a long sunspot cycle is followed by cooling in the next cycle and a short sunspot cycle indicates warming. The last sunspot cycle was 12.5 years and the previous one was 9.5 years. The evidence tells us that a 3 year increase in cycle length will result in cooling of at least 1°C. As the total amount of warming that has occurred since the early 1900s is 0.7°C, this is potentially very serious. We could be returning to the conditions in the little ice age.

The only reference Leyland gave me for this assertion was a pdf of one his talks, which contains a few unreferenced slides (it’s turtles all the way down). However, the solar cycle length effect is one of the oldest and most effectively debunked theories offered by sceptics, as this page at Skeptical Science points out. On that flimsy basis, Leyland goes one better than his pal McLean, who you will recall predicted that this year could be as cool as 1956 (not looking good, that one) and warns that over the next decade we might see a return to global temperatures last seen a century ago4. Let’s see what that might look like:

Leylandprediction

McLean’s 1956 prediction was stupidly implausible. Leyland at least ensures that his year to year fall (at about -0.1ºC per year) is within the range of physical possibility, but requires every year for a decade to be cooler than the last if he’s to reach his goal — wiping out 150 years of global warming. Unfortunately, that’s just as implausible because it completely ignores the growing energy imbalance I noted above. That’s not going to change any time soon.

So, in the real world, where might temperatures be heading? Arthur Smith at Not Spaghetti took a look at this a couple of months ago, using statistical models (based on a post by tamino at Open Mind) that account for all the major climate drivers. His “model 1″, with ENSO set to neutral, is plotted in red above. As you can see, after a pause this year caused by the current La Niña, we get back into record territory in 2012. With the current solar cycle ramping up (which increases the amount of energy reaching the earth from the sun), and La Niña ending, temperatures move on up. Barring volcanoes, this where I expect global temperatures to go in the near term.

The lesson here is pretty simple. Leyland is pleased to trumpet his ability to make a trivial prediction because he appears to lack the sort of straightforward understanding of the climate system that would be available to anyone willing to read an introductory textbook. That lack of understanding leaves him prey to any old tosh — which is abundantly available around the crank web. When you rely on the Climate Cluelessâ„¢ for your science education, you end up looking foolish.

PS: Leyland also reminded me that I had offered to bet against his proposition that world would soon enter a cooling phase. If Leyland is willing to stick with his prediction as graphed above, then I will happily bet $1,000 that the world will not cool by 1ºC over the next 10 years. We might also be able to frame a shorter term bet. Over to you, Bryan.

  1. Jones, P.D. (1989). The influence of ENSO on global temperatures. Climate Monitor 17: 80-89
  2. Salinger, J. pers comm
  3. This year or next, take your pick — Klaus Wolter (MEI) gives a 50% chance of the current event extending into 2012.
  4. I assume that’s what he means — one degC cooling over the next solar cycle.

Paul Nurse: science under attack Bryan Walker Jan 29

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Paul Nurse is the new President of the Royal Society. His predecessor Martin Rees was firm in his insistence on the seriousness of climate science and climate change, and Nurse is equally so. In a striking BBC Horizon documentary Science Under Attack he examines why public trust in scientific theory appears to have diminished, especially in relation to  climate change. The documentary is not available from the BBC for viewers outside the UK, but it has been uploaded to YouTube, broken into six segments. It is well worth an hour of viewing, but I’ll offer some comment on it here for those who don’t have the time.

Nurse is a geneticist and cell biologist, distinguished for his work in the discovery of the control which regulates cell division, for which he shared a Nobel Prize in 2001, and which is relevant to a better understanding of diseases like cancer.  In this documentary he steps outside his lab to investigate how it is that climate science has come under attack and whether scientists are partly to blame.

The documentary opens and closes in the archives of the Royal Society which include among their books the manuscript version of Newton’s Principia Mathematica and the first edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, presented to the Society by the author. Nurse and the librarian pause over these two outstanding examples from the Society’s past of science fundamental to our understanding of the world, a useful backdrop to the programme’s investigation of why a well-established science, as climate science now is, should be leaving many people unconvinced or thinking it is exaggerated.

He visits NASA and talks with Robert Bindschadler, who shows him in visualisation how satellites (16-18 from NASA and a similar number from other agencies) circling the globe are gathering enormous amounts of data related to climate. Three quarters of a degree of warming over the last fifty years will be matched by at least another three quarters of a degree over the next fifty even if we do nothing more to modify the climate. Asked whether this could be a natural fluctuation Bindschadler acknowledges that there have been times in the past when the Earth has been warmer than it is today, with less ice and higher sea level, and times colder than it is today, with much more ice and lower sea level. However in the past climate changed very gradually whereas it’s now changing really fast, and it’s the pace of change that is so important in the climate change that we’re living through right now.

Nurse considers not only the NASA data but also the work of seven decades of research from scientists across the globe and concludes that the extent of the data gives us reason for confidence in the idea that the globe is warming and we are causing the change. Yet this evidence is clearly not convincing a substantial part of the wider public. And those who are sceptical turn to other scientists.  Enter Fred Singer, who meets with Nurse over a cup of tea in a café and explains his theory that solar activity, not CO2, is the cause of warming which he regards as variable.

Nurse talks to viewers about the importance of the wider picture, which Singer ignores in his cherry picking. Things need to make sense together.  Solar activity needs to be looked at in the context of all research.  You cannot ignore the majority of available evidence in favour of something you would prefer to be true. Bindschadler comments that small variations in solar activity today don’t match up with the climate data. There’s no doubt, he says, that the sun is not the primary factor driving the climate change that we’re living through. It has to be the huge amounts of carbon dioxide our fossil fuel burning is putting into the atmosphere. You need to stand back and look at the big picture and there’s really no controversy if you do that.

’Who do you believe?’ asks Nurse. If you’re not a scientist then ultimately it’s a question of trust. At this point he goes to the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia University and talks with Phil Jones, the scientist who was accused in headlines, on the basis of stolen emails, of being at the centre of one of the worst scientific outrages of all time. Nurse points out there was no scientific scandal, as enquiries have established. At worst there was an understandable but perhaps less than wise resistance to meeting obviously engineered requests for information.

Nurse then visits James Delingpole, one of the journalists prominent in proclaiming the climategate email scandal. He is perfectly polite with Delingpole, but his gentle questioning elicits from the interviewee the brash certainties of a man who has no knowledge of the solidity of the scientific consensus on the causes of global warming but is an articulate and bellicose proponent of the theories of the deniers, accepting the few scientists among them as authoritative interpreters of the peer reviewed science which he himself doesn’t read. Nurse is surely right to see an unholy mix of the media and politics as distorting the proper reporting of science.

He acknowledges the problem of uncertainties, particularly in projecting the future and particularly in projecting cloud formation. But a fascinating picturing at NASA displays how the uncertainties are reducing. Bindschadler shows him a screen, along the upper half of which real global cloud data is pictured and in the lower half what the models predict would be happening at the same time. It’s a test of the models, and the level of their accuracy is astonishing to Nurse. Binsdschadler is clear there will always be some uncertainties because there are processes which are not fully understood, but by the measure of reducing uncertainties the science is making extraordinary progress.

There’s much more in the documentary than I have covered here, but hopefully this gives a sense of the thoroughness and reasonableness which marks Nurse’s investigation. He’s a person of intellectual substance who, in his own words has ’an idealistic view of science as a liberalising and progressive force for humanity.’

I’ll conclude with a section of quotes I’ve transcribed from the latter part of the documentary, where he sums up what he has been seeking to communicate. First, on the centrality of peer review (irretrievably corrupted according to Delingpole) and the importance of scientific scepticism:

’As a working scientist I’ve learnt that peer review is very important to make science credible   The authority science can claim comes from evidence and experiment and an attitude of mind that seeks to test its theories to destruction…Scepticism is very important…be the worst enemy of your own idea, always challenge it, always test it   I think things are a little different when you have a denialist or an extreme sceptic. They are convinced that they know what’s going on and they only look for data which supports that position and they’re not really engaging in the scientific process. There is a fine line between healthy scepticism which is a fundamental part of the scientific process and denial which can stop the science moving on.  But the difference is crucial.’

On complexity:

’There’s an overwhelming body of evidence that says we are warming our planet but complexity allows for confusion and for alternative theories to develop.  The only solution is to look at all the evidence as a whole.  I think some extreme sceptics decide what to think first and then cherry pick the data to support their case.  We scientists have to acknowledge we now operate in a world where point of view not peer review holds sway.’

That means taking trouble to communicate:

’Scientists have forgotten that we don’t operate in an isolated bubble. We cannot take the public for granted. We have to talk to them. We have to communicate the issues. We have to earn their trust if science really is going to benefit society.’

It matters for the world:

’Over the next few years every country on the globe faces tough decisions over what to do about climate change. I’ve been thinking how scientists can win back the confidence we’re going to need if we’re going to make those choices wisely.’

He turns to the record of the Royal Society:

’350 years of an endeavour which is built on respect for observation, respect for data, respect for experiment. Trust no-one. Trust only what the experiments and the data tell you. We have to continue to use that approach if we are to solve problems such as climate change.’

That brings responsibility with it:

’It’s become clear to me that if we hold to these ideals of trusting evidence then we have a responsibility to publicly argue our case because in this conflicted and volatile debate scientists are not the only voices that are listened to.’

Politics enters the picture but scientists have to keep their focus:

’When a scientific issue has important outcomes for society then the politics becomes increasingly more important. So if we look at this issue of climate change that is particularly significant, because that has effects on how we manage our economy and manage our politics, so this has become a crucially political matter and we can see that by the way the forces are being lined up on both sides. What really is required here is a focus on the science, keeping the politics and keeping the ideology out of the way.’

But that doesn’t mean disengaging:

’Earning trust requires more than just focusing on the science. We have to communicate it effectively too.  Scientists have got to get out there. They have to be open about everything that they do. They do have to talk to the media even if it does sometimes put their reputation at doubt because if we do not do that it will be filled by others who don’t understand the science and who may be driven by politics or ideology. This is far too important to be left to the polemicists and commentators in the media. Scientists have to be there too.’

Paul Nurse has certainly put himself there in undertaking this documentary. Needless to say it cut no ice with the affronted James Delingpole, but surely many viewers will have been impressed with the evidence urgently yet reasonably presented by this distinguished scientist, and equally impressed that he goes to such trouble to make it all accessible to the general public.

Climategate: the missing context Gareth Renowden Jul 11

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

The Muir Russell report into the “climategate” email affair has its good parts (the seven points on page 154 make certain prominent CRU critics and their “free the data” campaign look — how shall I put it — less than competent, more than disingenuous), but it also exemplifies a key failing of all the investigations that have exonerated Phil Jones and his team. It makes no attempt to examine the real context for the theft of the emails and their use as a pre-Copenhagen propaganda tool. All three UK investigations have looked at the accusations being levelled at Phil Jones et al (where al is climate science in general), but have done so within the framing of the issue established in the days following the publication of the stolen mails.

Here’s an egregious example of how that framing operates.

Andy Revkin, writing on his Dot Earth blog:

The press, including me, was excoriated for devoting too much ink (and electrons) to the disclosed files in the first place. Some coverage was indeed far too focused on the sense of conflict, which is not surprising given that – as my screenwriter friends always say – conflict is story.

But what such critics forget is that many of the e-mail messages enabled the allegations that were then propounded by folks like Anthony Watts and amplified by professional anti-climate-policy campaigners like Marc Morano.

In other words, because a few scientists used strong language in emails they fully expected to remain private, they somehow enabled the attacks! Astonishing. What enabled the attacks was the theft of the emails, not what they contained — as the subsequent investigations have shown. Revkin does go on to provide some context, but relegates it to a few links and platitudes. The reality confronting climate scientists was much more brutal, as one submission (pdf) to the Muir Russell investigation (by Ray Bradley, Malcolm Hughes, Michael Mann, Michael Oppenheimer, Ben Santer, Gavin Schmidt, Stephen Schneider, Kevin Trenberth and Tom Wigley) demonstrates:

…if one’s research findings tend to support human-caused climate change — means to live and work in an environment of constant accusations of fraud, calls for investigations (or for criminal prosecutions), demands for access to every draft, every intermediate calculation, and every email exchanged with colleagues, daily hate mail and threats, and attempts to pressure the institutions that employ us and fund our research. Through experience, we have learned that there is no review of climate scientists’ work that isn’t deemed a ’whitewash’ by climate change contrarians; there is no casual remark that can’t be seized upon, blown out of proportion and distorted; and there is no person whose character can’t be assassinated, no matter how careful and honest their research.

Last week the Guardian looked at some of that hate mail. Leo Hickman quotes Stephen Schneider, one of the signatories to that submission:

Schneider said the FBI had taken an interest earlier this year when his name appeared on a “death list” on a neo-Nazi website alongside other climate scientists with apparent Jewish ancestry. But, to date, no action has been taken.

“The effect on me has been tremendous,” said Schneider. “Some of these people are mentally imbalanced. They are invariably gun-toting rightwingers. What do I do? Learn to shoot a Magnum? Wear a bullet-proof jacket? I have now had extra alarms fitted at my home and my address is unlisted. I get scared that we’re now in a new Weimar republic where people are prepared to listen to what amounts to Hitlerian lies about climate scientists.”

Did Schneider enable those attacks, simply by being a working climate scientist? Try applying that logic in a different context. Do women enable rapists just by being women? That idea is offensive in the extreme, as is the failure of the media in general to report this context to “climategate”. Even worse is the complacency of the people who promote the framing. Here’s McIntyre fanboy Andrew “Bishop Hill” Montford, author of The Hockey Stick Illusion, drawing attention to the Schneider (et al) submission:

They need Sir Muir to protect them from harassment, they need Sir Muir to defend the “consensus” and they want Sir Muir to write off some of the evidence completely as not being in good faith. Oh yes, and does Sir Muir know they were harassed?

Give me strength.

If Montford were receiving emails that suggested he gargle with razor blades, he might need that strength. Instead he implies the scientists are crying wolf. Forgive me for being unimpressed. And I’m putting that mildly…

The Muir Russell report explores none of this context, beyond a few anodyne statements about debate becoming “highly polarised”:

As a result, the work conducted by CRU became the focus of intense scrutiny and challenge with multiple demands from both fellow scientists and laymen for background information and data. (Introduction, 2.1.5, p19)

That’s more than bending over backwards to avoid judgement, it amounts to a travesty of reality. The people who ran the climategate campaign — the US think tanks, right-wing talking heads and the sceptic echo chamber on the internet — were not trying to further any scientific debate, they were intent on flinging as much mud as possible, to make the loudest possible noise before Copenhagen. They revelled in their success. Morgan Goodwin at DeSmogBlog provides what even one of the key climategate propagators, Steven Mosher, considers an accurate timeline of events, well worth reading in full. But there’s one key coincidence to consider.

The hackers obtained access to a server that hosted a backup copy of the CRU’s entire email database. When Muir Russell’s computer forensic specialist attempted to check the files (under strict police rules), he found that there was 7.95 GB of data and that it would take too long to do the sort of analysis originally envisaged — specifically, to examine the totality of the unit’s email correspondence to see if there were any other examples of “bad behaviour” to be uncovered. Here’s what Professor Peter Sommer had to say (pdf):

I strongly suspect that any high level analysis I can conduct within a reasonable time would produce an unmanageable quantity of material. Any further analysis would have to be conducted by those familiar with the material and they would have to learn how to use the analysis programme. There is the further practical problem, familiar to me from various legal instructions, that email traffic is often highly informal and allusive, with the consequence that any investigator has to relate large numbers of emails to other types of evidence of particular events.

The hackers however were familiar enough with the material to be able to trawl through the whole database (apparently on a computer with its clock set to east coast US time) and extract a sequence of mails (0.3% of the total) that fitted well with the narrative long established at Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit blog. Declines being hidden, tree rings counted upside down, tricks being deployed. And when the mails were released, the hackers made sure that they were seen first by the people best able to appreciate them — all of them, especially Mosher, intimately familiar with the species of nits being picked at McIntyre’s blog. As Goodwin’s article establishes, the main attack lines were established within days of that first release, and then played for all they were worth by the loudest voices in the inactivist choir — Morano, Beck, Watts and the rest.

In all this — and in the Muir Russell report’s generous interpretation of those harassing the CRU for information — McIntyre is often portrayed as a “citizen scientist” auditing the contentious work of climate scientists. But McIntyre is far from being an objective and disinterested seeker after truth. Canadian blogger Deep Climate has shown just how far back McIntyre’s links to the PR campaign to derail action on climate change go, and just how deeply involved he has been with the key players in Canada and the US. It’s fair to say that McIntyre’s obsession with hockey sticks enabled the attack on Phil Jones and the CRU, and that people intimately familiar with the arguments he’s been making were clearly involved at every step.

The rest of the development of the campaign to derail action in Copenhagen and the USA is familiar enough territory — the finding of a few errors in IPCC reports, most blown up out of all proportion by the world’s media following the maxim Andy Revkin outlined: the story is the conflict, not the facts. With the jury now very much in on climategate, Amazongate and all the others, will there be a wave of retractions and apologies in newspapers and on TV, or — preferably — some in-depth reporting of the background to the affair? Last week, Media Matters for America and 12 “clean energy and progressive organizations” wrote to the editorial boards of top US newspapers:

Every newspaper, magazine, and television show that reported on these bogus scandals owes it to its audience to set the record straight with the same forcefulness and frequency that it reported the original, disproven charges. Failure to publicly correct the record undermines the very heart of journalism — to report the truth.

That’s all very true, and perhaps some newspapers and journalists will respond in an appropriate manner, but what’s really needed is some genuine investigative journalism, a commitment by a major media organisation with the resources required to dig up the real climategate story and tell it to the world.

Someone hacked the CRU server. Someone selected the emails for release. Somebody probably paid for that expertise, and the public needs to know who they were. Who has decided that their personal or business interests override the rest of the world’s? We know who delivered the noise-making that followed — the usual Scaife and Koch-funded suspects — and they too deserve their day in the harsh light of public opprobrium. After all, if they want to sling mud, they should be prepared for some of it to bounce back. Who will enable that, I wonder?

Climategate’s final fizzle Gareth Renowden Jul 08

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Phil Jones and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit have been exonerated (again). The final instalment in the trilogy of reports into the stolen emails affair, the Independent Climate Change Email Review chaired by Sir Muir Russell (pdf), finds that “their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt” and could find no “evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments“. The report does suggest that “there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of the CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA“, which is pretty much in line with earlier findings.

As usual, the Guardian is providing exemplary coverage, and their live blog of the day includes reactions from some of the key players. Here’s Phil Jones, who has just been given his job back:

I am, of course, extremely relieved that this review has now been completed. We have maintained all along that our science is honest and sound and this has been vindicated now by three different independent external bodies.

Mike Mann:

It is my hope that we can now put this bogus, manufactured scandal behind us, and move on to a more constructive conversation about climate change. It seems particularly ironic that climate change deniers continue to harp over their now discredited claims regarding decade-old emails while we’re experiencing almost daily reminders of the reality of global warming and climate change.

Slim chance of that, it would seem. Mark Morano’s Climate Depot has dubbed it the “Shameful Sham Climategate report”, Steve McIntyre is flooding his blog with attempts to paint the report as fatally flawed, and Benny Peiser, director of Lord Lawson’s secretly-funded Global Warming Policy Foundation is promising to set up an enquiry into the enquiries. No prizes for guessing the conclusion of that Climategate blackwash…

Oxford physicist Myles Allen’s comment is worth highlighting:

What everyone has lost sight of is the spectacular failure of mainstream journalism to keep the whole affair in perspective. Again and again, stories are sexed up with arch hints that these “revelations” might somehow impact on the evidence for human impact on climate. Yet the only error in the actual data used for climate change detection to have emerged from this whole affair amounted to a few hundredths of a degree in the estimated global temperature of a couple of years in the late 1870s.

Amen to that. Plenty more to read at the Guardian page and much more reaction to come, no doubt, but it’s worth noting George Monbiot apologising for calling for Jones’ resignation, and RealClimate welcoming the report’s findings.

Below the fold: the report’s key findings and recommendations:

From the executive summary:

1.3 Findings

13. Climate science is a matter of such global importance, that the highest standards of honesty, rigour and openness are needed in its conduct. On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.

14. In addition, we do not find that their behaviour has prejudiced the balance of advice given to policy makers. In particular, we did not find any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.

15. But we do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of the CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA, who failed to recognise not only the significance of statutory requirements but also the risk to the reputation of the University and, indeed, to the credibility of UK climate science.

1.3.1 Land Station Temperatures

16. On the allegation of withholding temperature data, we find that CRU was not in a position to withhold access to such data or tamper with it. We demonstrated that any independent researcher can download station data directly from primary sources and undertake their own temperature trend analysis.

17. On the allegation of biased station selection and analysis, we find no evidence of bias. Our work indicates that analysis of global land temperature trends is robust to a range of station selections and to the use of adjusted or unadjusted data. The level of agreement between independent analyses is such that it is highly unlikely that CRU could have acted improperly to reach a predetermined outcome. Such action would have required collusion with multiple scientists in various independent organisations which we consider highly improbable.

18. On the allegation of withholding station identifiers we find that CRU should have made available an unambiguous list of the stations used in each of the versions of the Climatic Research Unit Land Temperature Record (CRUTEM) at the time of publication. We find that CRU‟s responses to reasonable requests for information were unhelpful and defensive.

19. The overall implication of the allegations was to cast doubt on the extent to which CRU‟s work in this area could be trusted and should be relied upon and we find no evidence to support that implication.

1.3.2 Temperature Reconstructions from Tree Ring Analysis

20. The central implication of the allegations here is that in carrying out their work, both in the choices they made of data and the way in which it was handled, CRU scientists intended to bias the scientific conclusions towards a specific result and to set aside inconvenient evidence. More specifically, it was implied in the allegations that this should reduce the confidence ascribed to the conclusions in Chapter 6 of the IPCC 4th Report, Working Group 1 (WG1).

21. We do not find that the way that data derived from tree rings is described and presented in IPCC AR4 and shown in its Figure 6.10 is misleading. In particular, on the question of the composition of temperature reconstructions, we found no evidence of exclusion of other published temperature reconstructions that would show a very different picture. The general discussion of sources of uncertainty in the text is extensive, including reference to divergence. In this respect it represented a significant advance on the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR).

22. On the allegation that the phenomenon of ’divergence’ may not have been properly taken into account when expressing the uncertainty associated with reconstructions, we are satisfied that it is not hidden and that the subject is openly and extensively discussed in the literature, including CRU papers.

23. On the allegation that the references in a specific e-mail to a „trick‟ and to „hide the decline‟ in respect of a 1999 WMO report figure show evidence of intent to paint a misleading picture, we find that, given its subsequent iconic significance (not least the use of a similar figure in the IPCC Third Assessment Report), the figure supplied for the WMO Report was misleading. We do not find that it is misleading to curtail reconstructions at some point per se, or to splice data, but we believe that both of these procedures should have been made plain — ideally in the figure but certainly clearly described in either the caption or the text.

24. On the allegations in relation to withholding data, in particular concerning the small sample size of the tree ring data from the Yamal peninsula, CRU did not withhold the underlying raw data (having correctly directed the single request to the owners). But it is evidently true that access to the raw data was not simple until it was archived in 2009 and that this delay can rightly be criticized on general principles. In the interests of transparency, we believe that CRU should have ensured that the data they did not own, but on which their publications relied, was archived in a more timely way.

1.3.3 Peer Review and Editorial Policy

25. On the allegations that there was subversion of the peer review or editorial process we find no evidence to substantiate this in the three instances examined in detail. On the basis of the independent work we commissioned (see Appendix 5) on the nature of peer review, we conclude that it is not uncommon for strongly opposed and robustly expressed positions to be taken up in heavily contested areas of science. We take the view that such behaviour does not in general threaten the integrity of peer review or publication.

1.3.4 Misuse of IPCC Process

26. On the allegations that in two specific cases there had been a misuse by CRU scientists of the IPCC process, in presenting AR4 to the public and policy makers, we find that the allegations cannot be upheld. In addition to taking evidence from them and checking the relevant records of the IPCC process, we have consulted the relevant IPCC review Editors. Both the CRU scientists were part of large groups of scientists taking joint responsibility for the relevant IPCC Working Group texts, and were not in a position to determine individually the final wording and content.

1.3.5 Compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR)

27. On the allegation that CRU does not appear to have acted in a way consistent with the spirit and intent of the FoIA or EIR, we find that there was unhelpfulness in responding to requests and evidence that e-mails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them. University senior management should have accepted more responsibility for implementing the required processes for FoIA and EIR compliance.

1.3.6 Other Findings on Governance

28. Given the significance of the work of CRU, UEA management failed to recognise in their risk management the potential for damage to the University‟s reputation fuelled by the controversy over data access.

1.4 Recommendations

29. Our main recommendations for UEA are as follows:
Risk management processes should be directed to ensuring top management engagement in areas which have the potential to impact the reputation of the university. Compliance with FoIA/EIR is the responsibility of UEA faculty leadership and ultimately the Vice-Chancellor. Where there is an organisation and documented system in place to handle information requests, this needs to be owned, supported and reinforced by University leadership.

CRU should make available sufficient information, concurrent with any publications, to enable others to replicate their results.

1.5 Broader Issues

30. Our work in conducting the Review has led us to identify a number of issues relevant not only to the climate science debate but also possibly more widely, on which we wish to comment briefly.

31. The nature of scientific challenge. We note that much of the challenge to CRU‘s work has not always followed the conventional scientific method of checking and seeking to falsify conclusions or offering alternative hypotheses for peer review and publication. We believe this is necessary if science is to move on, and we hope that all those involved on all sides of the climate science debate will adopt this approach.

32. Handling Uncertainty — where policy meets science. Climate science is an area that exemplifies the importance of ensuring that policy makers —
particularly Governments and their advisers, Non-Governmental Organisations and other lobbyists — understand the limits on what scientists can say and with what degree of confidence. Statistical and other techniques for explaining uncertainty have developed greatly in recent years, and it is essential that they are properly deployed. But equally important is the need for alternative viewpoints to be recognized in policy presentations, with a robust assessment of their validity, and for the challenges to be rooted in science rather than rhetoric.

33. Peer review – what it can/cannot deliver. We believe that peer review is an essential part of the process of judging scientific work, but it should not be over- rated as a guarantee of the validity of individual pieces of research, and the significance of challenge to individual publication decisions should be not exaggerated.

34. Openness and FoIA. We support the spirit of openness enshrined in the FoIA and the EIR. It is unfortunate that this was not embraced by UEA, and we make recommendations about that. A well thought through publication scheme would remove much potential for disruption by the submission of multiple requests for information. But at the level of public policy there is need for further thinking about the competing arguments for the timing of full disclosure of research data and associated computer codes etc, as against considerations of confidentiality during the conduct of research. There is much scope for unintended consequences that could hamper research: US experience is instructive. We recommend that the ICO should initiate a debate on these wider issues.

35. Handling the blogosphere and non traditional scientific dialogue. One of the most obvious features of the climate change debate is the influence of the blogosphere. This provides an opportunity for unmoderated comment to stand alongside peer reviewed publications; for presentations or lectures at learned conferences to be challenged without inhibition; and for highly personalized critiques of individuals and their work to be promulgated without hindrance. This is a fact of life, and it would be foolish to challenge its existence. The Review team would simply urge all scientists to learn to communicate their work in ways that the public can access and understand. That said, a key issue is how scientists should be supported to explain their position, and how a public space can be created where these debates can be conducted on appropriate terms, where what is and is not uncertain can be recognised.

36. Openness and Reputation. An important feature of the blogosphere is the extent to which it demands openness and access to data. A failure to recognise this and to act appropriately, can lead to immense reputational damage by feeding allegations of cover up. Being part of a like minded group may provide no defence. Like it or not, this indicates a transformation in the way science has to be conducted in this century.

37. Role of Research Sponsors. One of the issues facing the Review was the release of data. At various points in the report we have commented on the formal requirements for this. We consider that it would make for clarity for researchers if funders were to be completely clear upfront in their requirements for the release of data (as well as its archiving, curation etc).

38. The IPCC. We welcome the IPCC‘s decision to review its processes, and can only stress the importance of capturing the range of viewpoints and reflecting appropriately the statistical uncertainties surrounding the data it assesses. Our conclusions do not make a judgement on the work of IPCC, though we acknowledge the importance of its advice to policy makers.

There’s much to work through in the detail of the report, but I think the points of real interest, well worthy of further consideration, are the “broader issues” the report raises. As far as Climategate itself is concerned, the only real point of interest left is discovering who was behind the theft of the emails, and that investigation seems to be grinding along very slowly indeed.

Doug digs denial Bryan Walker May 15

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Waikato farmers who deny human-caused climate change will be cheered by the support lent by a real live scientist in an interview prominently reported in the latest issue of the Waikato Farmer, a monthly feature supplement of the Waikato Times.  Admittedly not a climate scientist — a soil scientist actually — but one who has done much reading on the subject, including Nigel Lawson’s A Cool Look At Global Warming.  Thus fortified he is able to substantiate the opinions of the 99 percent of the farmers consulting him who he says think global warming is a hoax and the Emissions Trading Scheme unnecessary.

Doug Edmeades is his name.  He’s not listed as a member of the NZ Climate Science Coalition, but his ’coming out’ as a sceptic was posted on their website. To be fair, in his statement on his joining the ranks of the sceptics he acknowledges that he does not read the scientific literature on climate change and cannot be considered as an authority on the subject. Indeed he says he’s a layperson who must rely on the views of others who specialise. However those whose views he then goes on to cite don’t include any climate scientists. Willem de Lange and Bob Carter are the two scientists he mentions, and they are buttressed by Bjorn Lomborg, Ross McKitrick and, yes, Christopher Monckton who demonstrated there is no scientific consensus.

Back to the Waikato Farmer interview. It’s the usual farrago. Climategate was a scandal which confirmed most farmers’ suspicions that global warming is a politically driven theory. Phil Jones has admitted there was no global warming in the past 15 years, calling into question the reliability of climate models and temperature records. Water vapour is the biggest greenhouse gas; why aren’t we taxing it? Doubled carbon dioxide will increase food production by about 30 percent. Carbon dioxide doesn’t determine global temperatures.  Humans and the natural world are good at adapting to survive.  Even if the alarmists are right and the average temperature increases by 2-4 degrees the likelihood is that we could be better off. And so on.

Edmeades’ expressed views are mostly wrong or reckless or silly. There’s nothing in what he says to deserve time spent countering it here. But it’s depressing that views of this nature should be regarded as worth highlighting in a farming publication and are evidently nourishing the opinion of many farmers that global warming is a matter of no great moment or still under dispute.  The edition of the Waikato Farmer in which the interview appears is much concerned with the cost of the Emissions Trading Scheme to farmers.  One can understand that this should be a matter of concern and debate.  But to couple it with denial of the seriousness of climate change is a different matter.  One of the farmers reported didn’t go as far as that, but said, ’The science is not robust enough. Some of the research has been a bit shaky.’  This is perception, not knowledge. It’s high time the NZ farming community discovered that the essentials of the science are established and did its thinking about the ETS or other mitigation schemes without dallying with the idea that perhaps there’s nothing in climate change to be worried about. Then people like Edmeades can be valued for their soil science and ignored for their rejection of climate science.

CRU cleared of scientific malpractice — so much for ’climategate’ Gareth Renowden Apr 14

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Phil Jones and the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have been cleared of any scientific malpractice by the investigation chaired by Lord Ron Oxburgh, a former chairman of Shell. From the Guardian news report:

At a press conference earlier today Lord Oxburgh said, “Whatever was said in the emails, the basic science seems to have been done fairly and properly,” although his panel did criticise the scientists for not using the best statistical techniques at times.

The report concluded: “We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention. As with many small research groups their internal procedures were rather informal.”

See also: BBC, UEA official response. I look forward to the fulsome apologies for unfounded allegations of fraud from the usual suspects — especially Christopher, Viscount Monckton, who dubbed Jones et al as criminals, fraudsters and profiteers. I won’t be holding my breath, but I will checking my understanding of the laws of libel as they apply in Britain.

Dogged Pearce still hounding Jones Bryan Walker Apr 01

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Fred Pearce is a fine one to speak of a rush to judgment. Many of his Guardian articles on the UEA emails did just that. (See Pearced to the Heart and Defending the Indefensible on Hot Topic) Yet that is the accusation he levels at yesterday’s report of the parliamentary committee’s investigation into the matter.  Essentially because, he claims, they avoided investigating the more complex charges such as those raised by him in the Guardian series.

What he seems most concerned with is that Jones got off lightly. 

’The MPs are clear that there are serious issues to address both in climate science and in the operation of freedom of information law in British universities. But in their desire not to single out Jones, they end up bending over backwards to support a man who is the pillar of the establishment they are criticising.’

Here is what the report concluded:

’The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, we consider that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. We have suggested that the community consider becoming more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies. On accusations relating to Freedom of Information, we consider that much of the responsibility should lie with UEA, not CRU.’

Not enough for Pearce.  It lets Jones off too lightly:

’… whatever standard practice may be, surely as one of climate science’s senior figures, Jones should take some responsibility for its misdemeanours? Jones has worked for the CRU for more than 20 years and been its director for six. The MPs found there a “culture of withholding information” in which “information may have been deleted to avoid disclosure.” It found this “unacceptable”. Doesn’t its director take responsibility?’

What does Pearce want?  Resignation?  Dismissal?  The parliamentary committee received submissions, examined Jones, affirmed that it had seen nothing which suggests the science from the CRU is faulty, said Jones should be reinstated and made recommendations for changed practices in  future in the interests of the science being irreproachable.  There are further investigations to come.  Meanwhile the globe continues to warm.  It seems to me that Pearce as an environmental journalist ought to be able to find more useful occupation for his talents than arguing with the verdict of the committee. Jones might have earned a period of respite. The Guardian should call off its dogs.

Jones and CRU exonerated by parliamentary inquiry Gareth Renowden Mar 31

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report into the disclosure of climate data by the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia has just been released [PDF, via DeSmogBlog], and it clears Phil Jones and the CRU on all charges. From the press release:

The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails–”trick” and “hiding the decline”–the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.

The report calls for greater transparency and availability of climate data. Committee chairman Phil Willis said:

What this inquiry revealed was that climate scientists need to take steps to make available all the data that support their work and full methodological workings, including their computer codes. Had both been available, many of the problems at CRU could have been avoided.

More coverage at the Guardian, Times Online, The Independent and New York Times. Prepare for a deluge of spin from the denialist camp: Benny Peiser, head of Lord Lawson’s shiny new British sceptic think tank (you may remember Lawson refusing to disclose his backers when questioned by the inquiry — so much for transparency) is already on the job, as the the Guardian discovered: “It doesn’t look like an even-handed and balanced assessment. It looks like an attempt to whitewash and I fear it will be perceived exactly as that. I fear this will backfire because people will not buy into it.” And of course Benny’s already out there doing his best to create that very perception. No “fear” involved, it’s the impression he wants to create.

Business Roundtable lies about climate, according to The Economist Gareth Renowden Mar 24

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

You might expect the Business Roundtable to be avid readers of that august weekly news magazine The Economist, and yet BR head honcho Roger Kerr was happy to write this in an op-ed published last month, apparently relying on British tabloid the Daily Mail as a source:

On top of all this is Climategate, which started with the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. Its suspended director Phil Jones has admitted that there has been no global warming in the past 15 years.

No he didn’t. Here’s The Economist on the subject:

Since I’ve advocated a more explicit use of the word “lie”, I’ll go ahead and follow my own advice: that Daily Mail headline is a lie. Phil Jones did not say there had been no global warming since 1995; he said the opposite. He said the world had been warming at 0.12°C per decade since 1995.

The Economist’s writer goes on to note that:

Anyone who has even a passing high-school familiarity with statistics should understand the difference between these two statements

One must presume, therefore, that Roger Kerr lacks that attribute, or is perhaps prepared to allow a good story to trump the facts. Not surprising when he lists in a Dominion Post opinion piece the experts the BR has brought to New Zealand to “balance” the debate:

Over the past 15 years the Business Roundtable has brought Richard Lindzen, Robert Balling, Patrick Michaels, David Henderson, Bjørn Lomborg and Nigel Lawson to New Zealand in an effort to inject some balance into the debate.

By their friends shall we know them.