RealClimate Plays Defense Worse Than The Cleveland Browns

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*** Note# 1: I’m off the grid for a few days. If you leave a comment, I’ll reply as soon as I can. Man, I miss my iPhone! ***

*** Note # 2: If you’re familiar with climate science and Climategate, skip the first paragraph. ***

For those who aren’t familiar with the in’s and out’s of what the heck I’m talking about, it’s very complicated and there is so much taht can’t be explained in one post. That said, I will give a brief (very brief) explanation of paleo-climate science. Paleo-climate science is the study of our climate – weather, temperature, atmospheric gases and other natural phenomenon, over a long period of time. Since we only have been accurately measuring temps since 1850, we have to use proxies such as coral samples, tree rings and concentrations of oxygen isotopes in ice core samples to try and flesh out the temperatures of a region. Also, there is a core of paleo-climatologists, Michael Mann, Keith Briffa, Phill Jones etc., who have published much of the research that states that we are experiencing unprecedented warming at the tail end of the twentieth century. Many of these same scientists are also at the center of the latest controversy. Collectively, skeptics refer to them as “The Team”, as they are dominant in the field, often work together on research papers, have heavy influence in what gets included in various peer review journals and the IPCC publications, and are staunch allies in the fight against the skeptic POV. Mann is also a co-author of the RealClimate blog. ***

Gavin and company at RealClimate have had to spend quite the amount of energy defending the content released from the Hadley / CRU hack. Here is their latest:

This is a continuation of the last thread which is getting a little unwieldy. The emails cover a 13 year period in which many things happened, and very few people are up to speed on some of the long-buried issues. So to save some time, I’ve pulled a few bits out of the comment thread that shed some light on some of the context which is missing in some of the discussion of various emails.

* Trenberth: You need to read his recent paper on quantifying the current changes in the Earth’s energy budget to realise why he is concerned about our inability currently to track small year-to-year variations in the radiative fluxes.
* Wigley: The concern with sea surface temperatures in the 1940s stems from the paper by Thompson et al (2007) which identified a spurious discontinuity in ocean temperatures. The impact of this has not yet been fully corrected for in the HadSST data set, but people still want to assess what impact it might have on any work that used the original data.
* Climate Research and peer-review: You should read about (1) the issues from the editors (2) (Claire Goodess, Hans von Storch) who resigned because of a breakdown of the peer review process at that journal, that came to light with the particularly (3)  egregious (and well-publicised) paper by (4) Soon and Baliunas (2003). The publisher’s assessment is (5) here.

The first two bullets don’t concern me at the moment. The third one does. Lets look at the links. To me, links are one of the strengths of good blogging; they give the reader a chance to confirm and corroborate the idea or argument being presented. Lets start with the paper that led to the resignation of the two editors Storch and Goodess. The paper is a meta-study, i.e. an examination of many previous published papers, a practice common in science journals and in the scientific community at large. The studies examined in the (4) SB 2003 paper are temperature reconstructions dating back 1000 years. The Soon meta-study asks three questions:

(1) Is there an objectively discernible climatic anomaly during the Little Ice Age interval (A.D. 1300–1900) in this proxy record?
(2) Is there an objectively discernible climatic anomaly during the Medieval Warm Period (A.D. 800–1300) in this proxy record?
(3) Is there an objectively discernible climatic anomaly within the 20th century that is the most extreme (the warmest, if such in-
formation is available)
period in the record?

The paper then lists 240 published studies of various temperature reconstructions, indicating “yes”, “no’, or “-” for each of the papers on the list. Here is the conclusion:

Many interesting questions on the geographical
nature and physical factors of surface temperature
or precipitation changes over the last 1000 yr cannot
be quantitatively and conclusively answered by cur-
rent knowledge. The adopted period of 1000 yr is
strictly a convenience that merits little scientific
Climate proxy research provides an aggregate, broad
perspective on questions regarding the reality of Little
Ice Age, Medieval Warm Period and the 20th century
surface thermometer global warming. The picture
emerges from many localities that both the Little Ice
Age and Medieval Warm epoch are widespread and
near-synchronous phenomena, as conceived by Bryson
et al. (1963), Lamb (1965) and numerous researchers
since. Overall, the 20th century does not contain the
warmest anomaly of the past millennium in most of the
proxy records, which have been sampled world-wide.
Past researchers implied that unusual 20th century
warming means a global human impact. However, the
proxies show that the 20th century is not unusually
warm or extreme.

The premise of the paper is pretty straight forward, it’s not groundbreaking technically by any means and there’s not a lot of complicated maths or statistics in it. The casual observer may not see why this stirred the hornets nest in the establishment climate science community, but upon closer examination we begin to see the problem. We now take a look at the two editors and the reasons why they resigned. Von Storch, who resigned on July 28th of 2003, says:

The review process had utterly failed; important questions have not been asked, as was documented by a comment in EOS by Mann and several coauthors. (The problem is not whether the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than the 20th century, or if Mann’s hockey stick is realistic; the problem is that the methodological basis for such a conclusion was simply not given.)

OK. Sounds reasonable. Except Mann and the others are wrong about not presenting a methodology. Remember, this is a meta-analysis, as as such, the results can only be a generalized sum of all the data collected from other studies. Pages 90 through 97 explain the terms and criteria used in this paper. Soon also states this:

Table 1 lists the worldwide proxy climate records we
have collected and studied. We restricted the list to
records that contain either direct information about the 3
specific questions we posed or at least a continuous time
series for 400 to 500 yr. For the majority of cases we
followed what individual researchers stated according to
their paleoclimatic reconstructions.
In a few cases we
elaborated on their results in order to remain consistent
to our framework.

And, if you look at the Soon paper there’s a bit more to the story. It’s called peer pressure. Here is Tom Wigley from one of the Climategate e-mails:

From: Tom Wigley
To: Timothy Carter
Subject: Re: Java climate model
Date: Thu, 24 Apr 2003 09:17:29 -0600
Cc: Mike Hulme , Phil Jones

….PS Re CR, I do not know the best way to handle the specifics of the editoring. Hans von Storch is partly to blame — he encourages the publication of crap science ‘in order to stimulate debate’. One approach is to go direct to the publishers and point out the fact that their journal is perceived as being a medium for disseminating misinformation under the guise of refereed work. I use the word ‘perceived’ here, since whether it is true or not is not what the publishers care about — it is how the journal is seen by the community that counts.

Now lets take a look at Claire Goodess and her explanation for resigning:

How can the publication of one poor paper in a scientific journal have caused the resignation of half the members of its editorial board (including the newly-appointed editor-in-chief) and have these resignations had any effect? As one of the editors who resigned from Climate Research at the end of July 2003, these are some of the questions that I am left pondering.

The article in question (Soon and Baliunas, 2003) was published at the end of January 2003. It is in fact a literature review of over 240 previously published studies of climate proxy records (such as tree rings, glaciers and ocean sediments) covering the last 1000 years. It contains some startling and controversial conclusions, notably: “Across the world, many records reveal that the 20th century is probably not the warmest or a uniquely extreme climatic period of the last millennium’ and ‘Overall, the 20th century does not contain the warmest anomaly of the past millennium in most of the proxy records which have been sampled world-wide.”

Note that it’s not conclusive.

With conclusions like these, it is not surprising that this paper (and a remarkably similar version published in Energy and Environment (Soon et al., 2003) attracted the attention of the White House administration. At least one press release from the authors deliberately fuelled this politisation of the paper and its conclusions. Internal documents from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), now in the public domain, show that the Bush administration attempted to get this paper cited in an agency report on the state of the environment. EPA staff members blocked this by deleting all mention of climate change from the report. This did not stop the anti-Kyoto lobby, however, and the Republican Senator James Inofhe from Oklahoma called a hearing of the Senate environment committee in late July to debate the paper.

Hmmmm. Pretty upset about the political ramifications.

In the meantime, Hans von Storch (another Climate Research editor) and myself had been receiving numerous unsolicited complaints and critiques of the paper from many leading members of the international palaeo and historical climatology community. At the beginning of May 2003, these had reached such a level that we raised the concerns with the editor who had processed the Soon and Baliunas paper (Chris de Freitas) and the publisher (Otto Kinne of Inter-Research). In response, de Freitas accused us of ‘a mix of a witch-hunt and the Spanish Inquisition’.

As I said… peer pressure.

The publisher eventually asked to see the documentation associated with the review of the paper – which had apparently gone to four reviewers none of whom had recommended rejection. Otto Kinne concluded that the review process had been properly conducted.

So the paper was peer reviewed… just not by the right peers. More on this in a minute.

This left many of us somewhat confused and still very concerned about what had happened. The review process had apparently been correct, but a fundamentally flawed paper had been published. These flaws are described in an extended rebuttal to both Soon and Baliunas (2003) and Soon et al. (2003) published by Mike Mann and 11 other eminent climate scientists in July (Mann et al., 2003).

OK. That’s the way the system is suppose to work. So why pressure the reviewers to quit? Again, more in a minute.

Hans von Storch and I were also aware of three earlier Climate Research papers about which people [i.e the Team] had raised concerns over the review process. In all these cases, de Freitas had had editorial responsibility.

My main objective in raising the concerns of myself and many others over the most recent paper was to try to protect the reputation of the journal by focusing on the scientific rather than the political issues.

Yet in her own writings describing why she left, she mentions the political ramifications in more detail than the scientifc flaws.

Though I was well aware of the deliberate political use being made of the paper by Soon and Baliunas (well-known ‘climate sceptics’) and others. Chris de Freitas has also published what can be regarded as ‘climate sceptic’ views.

She seems to be saying, more than anything else “THERE is the problem. He’s one of THEM!!!!”.

So now we get to the meat of RC’s assertion – the Team response to SB 2003, penned by Michael Mann. Here are the criticisms in the EOS:

(1) In drawing inferences regarding past regional temperature changes from proxy records, it is essential to assess proxy data for actual sensitivity to past temperature variability. Seminal work in the reconstruction of past climate [Lamb, 1965] examined a number of different variables, including hydrological indicators, for insights into past climate change, but only in a particular region (Europe) where the synoptic-scale relationship between temperature and hydrological variability was fairly well established and understood. The existence of possible underlying dynamical relationships between temperature and hydrological variability should not be confused with the patently invalid assumption that hydrological influences can literally be equated with temperature influences in assessing past climate (e.g. during Medieval times). Such a criterion is implicit, for example, in the SB03 approach which defines a global ‘warm anomaly’ as a period during which various regions appear to indicate climate anomalies that can be classified as being either ‘warm’, ‘wet’, or ‘dry’ relative to ’20th century’ conditions. Such a criterion, ad absurdum, could be used to define any period of climate as ‘warm’ or ‘cold’ and thus makes no meaningful contribution to discussions of past climate change.

And yet, why are we concerned about climate change? Because the warming of the planet will cause some regions to become more wet, some more dry, destroying habitats and forests. Can you really have it both ways? In one period, as in now, the long term ecological and weather changes MUST be because of a warming globe, yet, 800 years ago, that couldn’t have possibly have affected the globe in the same manner? Soon specifically states:

We rely on individual researchers for their best judgments in interpreting climatic signals.

So the question of whether the signal in the data of each study is not up to Soon et. al., but up to authors of each individual study. Note that Mann DOES NOT go through each study, or even a selection of the studies to show that the authors of each reject the anomalies as a warmth signal and Soon misrepresented them. Of course, those familiar with Mann’s recent work will recognize that he himself has recently broken that rule anyway, attributing a warming signal in data that the scientist who collected it EXPRESSLY said was a man made byproduct and can not be used as a temp indicator.

(2) It is essential to distinguish [e.g. by compositing or otherwise assimilating different proxy information in a consistent manner– e.g. Bradley and Jones, 1993; Hughes and Diaz, 1994; Jones et al, 1998; Mann et al, 1998;1999; Briffa et al, 2001] between regional temperature anomalies and anomalies in hemispheric mean temperature which must represent an average of temperature estimates over a sufficiently large number of distinct regions [see e.g. Folland et al, 2001; Trenberth and Otto-Bliesner, 2003]. It is well known that weather patterns have a wave-like character to them. This character ensures that certain regions tend to warm (due, for example, to a southerly flow in the Northern Hemisphere winter mid-latitudes) when other regions cool (due to
the corresponding northerly flow that must occur elsewhere). The details of these waves (their position and amplitude) are influenced, on climatic timescales, by processes such as the El Niño/Southern Oscillation phenomenon. This past winter is a case in point. January 2003 was about 2oC below normal (1961-90 base) on the east coast of the U.S., but about 4oC above normal in much of the west. Here Utah, Nevada and parts of California and Alaska had their warmest January on record (the change in location of the Iditarod dog sled race was a consequence of the warmth in Alaska!). The mean temperature anomaly over the contiguous U.S. was 1.1 ?C above normal, much less warm than the western U.S., and of the opposite sign to temperature anomalies in the eastern U.S.. Global or hemispheric temperature variations over longer timescales, in a similar manner, represent a small residual of much larger, often canceling regional variations [e.g., Williams and Wigley, 1983; Crowley and Lowery, 2000].

In a similar vein, it is important that to define a warm period, warm anomalies in different regions should be synchronous and not merely required to occur during any 50 year period within a very broad interval in time, such as AD 800-1300, as in SB03. Figure 2 demonstrates the considerable spatial variability in temperature variations of the past millennium, and the false impression one might gain regarding hemispheric-scale temperature changes from the apparent temperature changes in any particular region.

Yes, lets look at Figure 2. There are 9 proxies presented. Are you really going to put a very small sample size of 9 proxies against a huge sample of 240 and call it a day? In “Team” world, that’s enough. In most scientific circles, that kind of cherry picking would be scoffed at, but not in climate science.

(3) It is essential, in forming a climate reconstruction, to define carefully a base period for modern conditions against which past conditions may be quantitatively compared. It is, furthermore, important to identify and, where possible, quantify uncertainties and demonstrate, using independent data, the reliability of any reconstructions [Mann et al, 1999; Jones et al, 2001]. The conclusions of the most recent IPCC report [Folland et al, 2001] that late-20th century mean warmth likely exceeds that of any time during the past millennium for the Northern Hemisphere, is based on a careful comparison of temperatures during the most recent decades with reconstructions of past temperatures, taking into account the uncertainties in those reconstructions. As it is only the past few decades during which Northern Hemisphere temperatures have exceeded the bounds of natural variability, any analysis (SB03) that considerssimply ’20th century’ mean conditions, or interprets past temperatures using the evidence from proxy indicators not capable of resolving decadal-timescale trends, can provide only very limited insight into whether or not recent warming is anomalous in a long-term and large-scale context.

(A) Anyone else notice the “bait-and-switch”? Soon is looking at world wide paleo-climate history, yet Mann bring to the table… the IPCC’s assessment of the Northern Hemisphere. And how strong and certain are the warmists about the statement that “temperatures have exceeded the bounds of natural variability”. So certain, they have to do this in 1999:

From: Phil Jones To: ray bradley ,,
Subject: Diagram for WMO Statement
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 13:31:15 +0000

Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,
Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow. I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. Mike’s series got the annual land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999 for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.
Thanks for the comments, Ray.

From: Gary Funkhouser
Subject: kyrgyzstan and siberian data
Date: Thu, 19 Sep 1996 15:37:09 -0700


Thanks for your consideration. Once I get a draft of the central and southern siberian data and talk to Stepan and Eugene I’ll send it to you.

I really wish I could be more positive about the Kyrgyzstan material, but I swear I pulled every trick out of my sleeve trying to milk something out of that. It was pretty funny though – I told Malcolm what you said about my possibly being too Graybill-like in evaluating the response functions – he laughed and said that’s what he thought at first also. The data’s tempting but there’s too much variation even within stands. I don’t think it’d be productive to try and juggle the chronology statistics any more than I already have – they just are what they are (that does sound Graybillian). I think I’ll have to look for an option where I can let this little story go as it is.

The code, once kept secret from prying eyes, thanks to Phil Jones attempts at blocking FOI requests and perhaps destroying data, is starting to reveal some of the “tricks” and “juggling” that produced the certainty of climate science (also more on that in a few). Then there is politics.

From: Keith Briffa
Subject: Re: quick note on TAR
Date: Sun Apr 29 19:53:16 2007

your words are a real boost to me at the moment. I found myself questioning the whole process and being often frustrated at the formulaic way things had to be done – often wasting time and going down dead ends. I really thank you for taking the time to say these kind words . I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC , which were not always the same….

And uncertainty.

Skeptics get blasted over and over again because they don’t publish their work through the peer review process. Not only is that not true, as seen here, but, after reading this post about Soon, et al, you come to understand why you don’t see very many peer reviewed studies that disagree with the “Team” published in many of the climate science journals.

To: Chapter 10 LAs — Congbin Fu , GIORGI FILIPPO , Bruce Hewitson , Mike Hulme , Jens Christensen , Linda Mearns , Richard Jones , Hans von Storch , Peter Whetton Subject: On “what to do?”
Date: Mon, 11 Sep 2000 16:58:02 +0200 (MET DST)

Dear All

we heard the opinions of most LAs, namely Jens, Richard, Linda, Peter,
and Hans as well as some interesting interpretations of my email (Linda says:
” You seem to be assuming that the most desirable result is
if the SRES results have no contrasts with the IS92a results.
I don’t understand your reasoning on this.” I do not have any particular desire on the new data. We said that one thing to look at was the agreement with the old data and thus I noticed that relaxing the criteria would yield a greater agreement). I would say that a broad range of opinions was covered, from one where the SRES should essentially be commented upon concerning  their agreement with the old data to one in which all the old stuff should be replaced with SRES stuff. Some people want to make the BOX more central, others want to get rid of it.

Given this, I would like to add my own opinion developed through the weekend.

First let me say that in general, as my own opinion, I feel rather unconfortable about using not only unpublished but also un reviewed material as the backbone of our conclusions (or any conclusions). I realize that chapter 9 is including SRES stuff, and thus we can and need to do that too, but the fact is that in doing so the rules of IPCC have been softened to the point that in this way the IPCC is not any more an assessment of published science (which is its proclaimed goal) but production of results.
The softened condition that the models themself have to be published does not even apply because the Japanese model for example is very different from the published one which gave results not even close to the actual outlier version (in the old dataset the CCC model was the outlier). Essentially, I feel that at this point there are very little rules and almost anything goes. I think this will set a dangerous precedent which might mine the
IPCC credibility, and I am a bit unconfortable that now nearly everybody seems to think that it is just ok to do this.
Anyways, this is only my opinion for what it is worth.

If the unpublished stuff can be good enough for the IPCC, then why is the unpublished stuff not good enough for the rest of the world? And remember the bit about “hiding the decline”? It’s in the code that produces the graphs used by Mann and other to show a hockey stick. I repeat… It’s In The Code!!!! If the proxies Mann and others use are so damned accurate at reproducing temperature signals, then why do they need to Mann-ipulate the code that produces the graphs that scared everyone half to death.

The last link is an editorial from the editor Otto Kinne, describing the cosequences:

The paper that caused the storms (Soon & Baliunas,
Clim Res 2003, 23:89–110) evoked heavy criticism, not
least in EOS 2003 (84, No 27, 256). Major conclusions
of Soon & Baliunas are: ‘Across the world, many
records reveal that the 20th century is probably not the
warmest nor a uniquely extreme climatic period of the
last millenium.’ (p. 89) and ‘Overall, the 20th century
does not contain the warmest anomaly of the past mil-
lenium in most of the proxy records which have been
sampled world-wide’ (p. 104). While these statements
may be true, the critics point out that they cannot be
concluded convincingly from the evidence provided in
the pape
r. CR should have requested appropriate revi-
sions of the manuscript prior to publication.
Consequences. While admitting that the routine
review procedure continues to require critical atten-
tion, Inter-Research is determined to protect the prin-
ciples of the review process, the freedom of editors
and reviewers and the presentation of diverging
opinions, theories and facts.

Again, Soon states:

We rely on individual researchers for their best judgments in interpreting climatic signals.

Soon is simply relying on the data and opinion of the authors of the various studies to question whether we are indeed living in the warmest period the world has experienced in a thousand years. Yes, perhaps he could have worded the abstract a bit differently, but I don’t think that would have mattered. The problems with this paper and others like it, are not that the methodologies are “unsound” as Mann et. all argue, but that they challenge the manufactured notion that ALL evidence point to a world heating out of control, and getting that word out is a direct threat to the gatekeepers of climate science.

RealClimate defense of the content of the hacked e-mails so far???


4 Comments to “RealClimate Plays Defense Worse Than The Cleveland Browns”

  1. By Jeff Alberts, November 24, 2009 @ 5:54 am

    Wow, long post.

    It’s funny that Mann says essentially that you can’t tell if a tree is a good thermometer unless you know the complete hydrological cycle of the region during the time in question. Yet his own reconstructions are devoid of that information, thereby doing the thing he claims Soon et al were doing. What an effing hypocrite.

  2. By Peter D. Tillman, December 15, 2009 @ 8:13 pm

    Very informative post. Thanks for taking the time to sort through all this stuff.

    I really should read the Soon & Baliunas paper (downloads it).

    Interesting times!

    Thanks, Pete Tillman
    Consulting Geologist, Arizona and New Mexico (USA)

    “Fewer scientific problems are so often discussed yet so rarely decided
    by proofs, as whether climatic relations have changed over time.”
    — Joachim von Schouw, 1826.

  3. By Sonicfrog, December 16, 2009 @ 6:24 pm

    Thanks for stopping by Pete.

    No one had noticed this post when i wrote it, and I had figured that it would fade into oblivion. I’m glad it’s getting notice.

    I don’t have time to do it now, but I might tweak it a little. I get this feeling I left something out.

  4. By Robert, December 21, 2009 @ 10:25 am

    Well i’ve read all the literature above. Thanx 4 the chronological way to present it.
    The problem here is that people (especially scholars) hate to admit that they’re wrong, and that they have to do this publicly. This also means that all the politicians are wrong too and that they also have to do this. This will NEVER happen.

    It’s like acid rain, hole in the ozonlayer, the truth about phosphates, etc.

    We have to pay for it now, and in twenty years no-one talks about it anymore…….

    the real problem is that most people have such a narrow vision that only reaches until the next election. They don’t care about the planet, they only care about the party, themselves and their buddies.

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