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November 06, 2003

Huge Honking Chunks of Global Warming Information

My posts on the debate over the stellar/human genesis of global warming, A Cloudy Outlook for Global Warming and Éppur, Si Muove have apparently gained me access into a mostly behind the scenes academic kerfuffle between proponents of the Mann Hockey Stick and those who question its authenticity.

At the moment the most frenzied part of the debate is between Professor Michael Mann, the author of the hockey stick, and Drs. Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, co-authors of the paper I posted about in Éppur, Si Muove.

You can trace the progress of the debate in the links below, which I've arranged more or less chronologically

First, Professor Mann's July 8th response to the Soon/Baliunas paper. It is of course an attack on the Soon/Baliunas postion, though he does admit to the narrow base of his own data.

Due to the paucity of data in the southern hemisphere, recent studies have emphasized the reconstruction of northern hemisphere (NH), rather than global mean temperatures over roughly the past 1000 years.

He also blames the ideas of a Little Ice Age and Medieval Warm Period on that favorite bugaboo of the Left, Eurocentrism. "Northern Hemispherecentrism" is acceptable, seemingly.

Next comes an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which the autor blames the Soon/Baliunas paper for the resignation of Hans Storch, the editor-in-chief of the journal the paper originally appeared in.

When the paper in Climate Research began attracting criticism, Mr. Kinne, the publisher, created the editor in chief position and gave it to Mr. von Storch, who had served as an editor of the journal for nearly a decade and had done more to improve its standing than most other editors, Mr. Kinne says.

At first, Mr. von Storch said, he was not particularly interested in the widespread criticism of the Harvard-Smithsonian paper. He thought that those with objections should take the normal route of writing a comment that the journal would then consider for publication. But when he saw a preprint of the Eos rebuttal, he decided that the paper was seriously flawed and that the journal must take action. "We should say that we have a problem here, that the manuscript was flawed, that the manuscript should not have been published in this way," he says. "The problem is that the conclusions are not supported by the evidence presented in the paper."

Mr. de Freitas, the paper's editor, had approved a few other papers by skeptics of global warming that had also drawn criticism from scientists, so Mr. von Storch decided to change the system. He drafted an editorial in which he said that the review process at the journal had failed in certain ways, and that all new manuscripts should henceforth be sent directly to the editor in chief rather than to individual editors, each of whom operates independently.

Mr. Kinne agreed that the journal should not have published the paper by the Harvard-Smithsonian team as written, and that the reviewers had failed to detect methodological flaws. But the publisher did not accept Mr. von Storch's proposed changes to the editorial process and asked him to delay running the editorial and to get approval first from other editors on the board.

Mr. von Storch, however, found that some editors on the board still viewed the Harvard-Smithsonian paper as fine. "I concluded that we have different standards," he says. "Some are doing [the editing] in a rather sloppy way." He says he suspects that "some of the skeptics had identified Climate Research as a journal where some editors were not as rigorous in the review process as is otherwise common." So he resigned from the board, as did three other members.

On September 12th, Drs. Soon and Baliunas wrote a letter to the Chronicle disputing the events as related by the author of the article. It contains a link to a longer, point by point discussion of the "strong but unsubstantiated criticisms" leveled against their paper.

A co-author of Drs. Soon and Balunas, David R. Legates, also disputes the Chronicle story, first in a letter:

Climate Research has been and will continue to be a leading journal presenting a wide cross-section of climatological research. It is a travesty that the reputation of this strong journal has been besmirched simply to make a political statement. But what is even more troublesome is that the facts of this issue have been distorted to make it appear that Mr. von Storch was the injured party.

David R. Legates, Director, Center for Climatic Research, University of Delaware

Then in a Washington Times op-ed

Mr. Mann testified before the Senate committee that his research is the "mainstream view" because it is featured in a chapter of the U.N. Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, of which Mr. Mann was a lead author. Mr. Soon and Ms. Baliunas challenged Mr. Mann's claim by reviewing the large body of literature that shows his claims to be unsubstantiated and his research to be fatally flawed. In truth, Mr. Mann's work is the scientific outlier — the one study that does not fit with the wealth of scientific evidence.

Mr. Soon and Mr. Baliunas argue that Mr. Mann's conclusions rest on a dubious manipulation of data. While many of the problems in Mr. Mann's work require scientific expertise to understand, one flaw is so basic that everyone can understand it. Mr. Mann and his colleagues compiled a historical climate reconstruction — called the "hockey stick" because of its shape — primarily using tree ring records to infer air temperature trends. Their use of proxy data is not novel, but the methods they used and thus the results, certainly are. For example, Mr. Mann and his colleagues simply attached the surface temperature record of the 20th century to the end of the proxy record. This is an apples-to-oranges comparison as air temperature readings are not directly comparable to proxy records. However, putting the two different sets of data together in this way makes a stunning visual display for the average reader.

Also, in his analysis for the Northern Hemisphere prior to 1400, Mr. Mann uses data from nine locations in addition to statistical summaries derived from data for the Western United States only. Four of these additional locations are in the Southern Hemisphere, including Tasmania and Patagonia.

The widespread acceptance of this revisionist history was possible because the global-warming community was eager to accept the "hockey stick" as proof of human-caused climate change.

If it remained merely a disagreement about science and research methods, there wouldn't be much of a story — or reason for concern. Unfortunately, it turned into a scientific lynching of Mr. Soon and Ms. Baliunas and anyone associated with them. For example, Chris de Freitas, the editor of Climate Research that published the paper, was criticized for having failed in his responsibilities of quality control, even though the paper passed an extensive peer-review process and the publisher defended Mr. de Freitas' handling of the paper. It was argued Mr. de Freitas should be removed from his position simply for having published it. Even Mr. Mann, in his Senate testimony, dismissed Mr. de Freitas' credentials solely because he "frequently publishes op-ed pieces in newspapers attacking IPCC and attacking [the] Kyoto [protocol]."

Why is all this important? Global warming alarmists would have governments impose significant regulations with tremendous economic implications. The Bush administration is under attack simply for stating that the science is uncertain whether human-induced global warming is occurring. At the same time, scientists that add credence to that assertion are being silenced.

Then today this arrived in my mailbox, forwarded to me by Dr. Soon himself. I've edited it slightly. Words in brackets [] are my additions to the text, as are the links.


Dear Professor Mann,

I have found a list of scientists which contained your email address, hence I am able to communicate with you directly. As you already know, a paper by McIntyre and McKintrick analysing your famous 'Hockey stick' paper is now available to everybody at The printed version is due later this month. Your [hockey-stick graph], via the attention it received by the IPCC, is currently widely used by social scientists and many researchers in the energy policy community as 'the' proof for anthropogenic dangerous warming. Humanity should now act, it argued, on the basis of fact rather than the rather suspect 'precautionary principle'.

I would respectfully like to explain to you and other scientists who may feel offended by the publication from outside 'their' domain, why I have published this and other 'attacks' and why I would appreciate a publishable reply from you and your colleagues. You may yet win the argument! Who knows, but an open debate is overdue.

I do not claim that I or my reviewers can arbitrate on the 'scientific' truth of publications that the IPCC selects as most relevant, but your 1998 [publication] certainly was selected as such and as far as I know, there was no protest against its use in global policy advocacy. I may be wrong, for I am more in contact with research that is based on worse case scenarios (from IPCC) than with basic climate science research.

ENERGY&ENVIRONMENT has paid attention to the 'science' and 'social science' controversies associated with the IPCC for over a decade and has done so not in order to advance (natural) scientific understanding, but with reference to the profound policy relevance of this understanding and hence of any controversy about the nature of climate and the causes of its variability over time, as well as attempts, in some circles, to stifle associated controversies, presumably to make life easier for policy and policy relevant research.

I am fully aware of the policy significance of the debate between 'you, the IPCC and so-called climate skeptics, and its funding implications for so many. But the implications for humanity are even greater. ( In fact, most of the papers I have published in recent years have used the IPCC 'consensus' as baseline.)

I have been an energy policy researcher writing and now editing with an international relations/ political science bias; I have a strong research history in environmental politics, and a basic education in physical geography as well as German literature. (Remember acid rain, the death of Europe's forests in a few decades? Or the death of the global ocean from pollution in the 1970s, the subject of my PhD? Environmental threats have long served many other agendas, and natural scientists may at least be aware of this.)

I have published 'outsiders' whom I trust because I no longer fully trust many 'research products' - not because of any failings because of individual researchers , but because of the nature of much contemporary research funding, see I do know about research funding from bureaucracies - the importance of the right buzzwords, policy visions, legal commitments and political ambitions.

I simply believe that research controversies related to global warming (science, social science, and technology) should be heard by policy-makers and NGOs in a world were vast amounts of limited finance are about to be spend on 'decarbonisation' on the assumption made by most social scientists and many policy people that IPCC summary pronouncements are undisputed and hence are acceptable as uncontroversial baseline for their work on decarbonisation economics, 'clean' technologoly, carbon finance, Kyoto mechanisms etc). I am encouraging research controversy in the public arena rather than editorial boardrooms. For example and to my considerable regret, even the UK Foreign Office and many of my colleaugues in the energy policy
research (not in the earth sciences by the way) now believe that they need not pay any attention to scientific issues because all climate skeptics are funded by the oil industry. If this slur is permitted to stand, as it seems to be, then journals like mine are surely permitted to ask and who is funding the 'global warming' modelling community if not governments committed to the UNFCCC, and to explore what agendas have attached themselves to the warming threat.

If I have offended against the ethics of natural science publication, which I am not sure of given cases that have been reported to me, I apologise and plead ignorance. I forward to hearing from you not via a web site, but in the form of a paper or view point that I can publish for libraries and readers.

Best wishes
Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen----------------------
Dr.Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen
Reader, Department of Geography,
Editor, Energy & Environment
Faculty of Science
University of Hull


Copies of that email were also sent to (many of whom are mentioned in the stories above):

Linda Love
Steve McIntyre
Ross McKitrick
Timo Hameranta
Reto Knutti
David R. Legates
George Kukla
Hans von Storch
John Christy
Keith R. Briffa
Madhav L. Khandekar
Rajendra K. Pachauri
Ulrich Cubasch
Spencer R. Weart
Aynsley Kellow
Bjorn Lomborg
Bob Foster
Chris de Freitas
Christopher Essex
Craig D. Idso
Curt Holder
David E. Wojick
Henrik Svensmark
Hugh W Ellsaesser
Ian Castles
Kirill Kondratyev

Here's where blogging differs from journalism. A journalist, or a decent journalist, at least, would have the time to squeeze the huge chunks of information above into some kind of reasonable narrative, whereas it's all I can do just to find out and post relevant links.

As for my opinion of the debate, It seems to me that Drs. Baliunas, Soon and the other "climate skeptics" are at least holding their own, as the abstract from the McIntyre and McKintrick paper shows.

The data set of proxies of past climate used in Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998, “MBH98” hereafter) for the estimation of temperatures from 1400 to 1980 contains collation errors, unjustifiable truncation or extrapolation of source data, obsolete data, geographical location errors, incorrect calculation of principal components and other quality control defects. We detail these errors and defects. We then apply MBH98 methodology to the construction of a Northern Hemisphere average temperature index for the 1400-1980 period, using corrected and updated source data. The major finding is that the values in the early 15th century exceed any values in the 20th century. The particular “hockey stick” shape derived in the MBH98 proxy construction – a
temperature index that decreases slightly between the early 15th century and early 20th century and then increases dramatically up to 1980 — is primarily an artefact of poor data handling, obsolete data and incorrect calculation of principal components.

Update: An article detailing the impact of the McIntyre/McKintrick paper

Posted by Bigwig at November 6, 2003 12:45 PM | TrackBack
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