The well-timed release of the stolen CRU emails (a.k.a. Climategate) did much to enhance public awareness of self-appointed climate science auditor Steve McIntyre and his long-time co-author and promoter, economist Ross McKitrick. Indeed, the pair has finally recieved widespread coverage in their native Canada with a spate of mainstream profiles full of fawning admiration from the CanWest newspaper chain, McLean’s magazine and the Toronto Star. That’s on top of new interest from the likes of Associated Press and CNN, along with coverage from the usual biased sources like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.
Those stories tell the tale of a humble retired mining executive (McIntyre), whose analysis of the “hockey stick” temperature reconstruction got the attention of economist Ross McKitrick, and eventually shook all of climate science to its core. Of course, the reporters seem blissfully unaware that McIntyre and McKitrick have published exactly one – that’s right, uno – peer-reviewed article in a scientific journal. (Besides the pair’s 2005 GRL article, Ross McKitrick’s misleading list of so-called “peer-reviewed science journal articles” also includes two pieces in the contrarian social science journal Energy and Environment, a comment letter to PNAS and a pair of replies to comments on the GRL article!)
Even worse, the writers appear to have relied on McIntyre himself to supply the context of his improbable rise (always a dodgy proposition where McIntyre is concerned). But McIntyre’s thin publication record suggests that his prominence has less to do with any compelling scientific analysis, and much more to do with astute promotion. And, indeed, the McIntyre-McKitrick saga turns out to have the usual supporting cast of anti-science propaganda: two notorious right-wing think tanks (the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the George Marshall Institute) and a deft fossil-fuel company funded PR veteran operating behind the scenes (none other than Tom Harris of APCO Worldwide).
In comments, several readers suggested that I examine a recent report from the U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail that attempts to tie the research of modeller and IPCC author Mojib Latif to the current cold spell in Europe. Now that Latif has responded to this latest distortion of his views in an interview with the Guardian, I’m happy to oblige.
And, while I’m at it, I’ll also take a look at the short and dubious track record of newly-minted contrarian climate “investigative journalist” David Rose, whose very first climate change article was an overview of Climategate “research” from Steve McIntyre, with generous assistance from Ross McKitrick.
There has been renewed interest in the Wegman Report, which purported to critique the work of paleoclimatolgists Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes and their controversial “hockey stick” millennial temperature reconstruction.
Today we’ll take a closer look at Wegman et al’s key passage on tree-ring proxies and do a detailed side-by-side comparison with its apparent main antecedent, chapter section 10.2 in Raymond Bradley’s classic Paleoclimatology: Reconstructing Climates of the Quaternary.
That comparison leaves no doubt that Wegman et al’s explication was substantially derived from that of Bradley, although the relevant attribution appears to be missing. There are, however, several divergences of note, also in the main unattributed, and some of Wegman’s paraphrasing introduces errors of analysis.
But the real shocker comes in two key passages in Wegman et al, which state unsubstantiated findings in flagrant contradiction with those of Bradley, apparently in order to denigrate the value of tree-ring derived temperature reconstructions.
[Update, Dec. 19: This post has been substantially revised to remove speculation about Donald Rapp's possible role in the Wegman report. I apologize for any embarrassment caused to Donald Rapp or Edward Wegman by that speculation.
The post has also been updated to reflect new information about the provenance of Wegman et al's section on tree ring proxies, as well as more background detail on some of the events leading up to the Wegman report. There are also more details about large swathes of unattributed material found in the Wegman report and in Donald Rapp's book Assessing Climate Change.
It is clear that the circumstances and contents of both the Wegman report and Rapp's text book deserve closer scrutiny.
Dec. 20: Comments are now open again.]
As Climategate devolves into a rerun of old battles about the “hockey stick” graph, I thought I would revisit the roots of that benighted controversy and take a look at the chaotic events of a few years back when the politicization of science (also known as the Republican war on science) really took hold.
I was planning to write another installment of the “In the beginning” series on Steve McIntyre. So I decided to take a look at the infamous Wegman report that Republican congressman Joe Barton relied on to ensure that the “numbers added up” (or not, as he was sure was more likely). The 2006 report was the work of a mysterious “ad hoc” committee led by George Mason University statistics professor Edward Wegman, along with David Scott and Yasmin Said. With its near-veneration for putative hockey-stick destroyers Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, and its scornful denunciation of Michael Mann and his “social network” of like-minded researchers, the report has been a touchstone for contrarians.
But then I started thinking about something that had always bothered me. How could a trio of statistical experts, all on their own, hope to write a report on a field, climate science, of which they had no previous knowledge or experience?
Part of the answer lies in the close examination of the Wegman report. Surprsingly, extensive passages from Wegman et al on proxies have turned up in a skeptic text book by contrarian author Donald Rapp. And at least one of these common passages on tree ring proxies closely follows a classic text by noted paleoclimatologist Raymond Bradley, but with a key alteration not found in the original. Moreover, Wegman’s section on social networks appears to contain some unattributed material from Wikipedia and from a classic sociology text.
[This post was updated on December 12 to provide additional context that strengthens the original analysis - see below for details.]
This so-called Climategate is really getting out of hand, isn’t it?
Steve McIntyre has published allegations – twice now – that an internal IPCC authors’ debate about the inclusion of Briffa’s tree-ring reconstruction in a key figure from the 2001 WG1 Third Assesement Report was driven by concern about the post-1960 “decline” in tree-ring widths, a decline that showed a marked divergence with the instrumental tempertaure record.
The Climategate Letters show clearly that the relevant context is the IPCC Lead Authors’ meeting in Tanzania in September 1999 at which the decline in the Briffa reconstruction was perceived by IPCC as “diluting the message”, as a “problem”, as a “potential distraction/detraction”. [Emphasis added]
McIntyre even claims that lead author Michael Mann worried that showing the series with this decline would give “fodder” to “skeptics”.
But even a cursory examination of the emails in question shows that the discussion was really about other aspects of the reconstruction, specifically obvious discrepancies between Briffa’s reconstruction and the other two under consideration over the major part of the reconstruction’s length. Thus, once again, McIntyre’s speculations are shown to be utterly without foundation.
Even worse, McIntyre left out intervening sentences within the actual proffered quotes in what appears to be an unsophisticated attempt to mislead.
According to TimesOnline, investigators of the CRU email theft (dubbed SwiftHack or Climategate) have concluded that the release of the stolen material was held back for weeks in order to cause maximum damage to the upcoming Copenhagen conference.
This development, along with new reports of breakins and other attacks at the University of Victoria, should finally lay to rest the baseless rumour that the hacked email archive was assembled at CRU as part of a contingent FOI response and released by an inside whistleblower, a canard that was started by – wait for it – none other than Steve McIntyre himself!
JetStream is an “online weather school” hosted by the Southern Region Headquarters of the U.S. National Weather Service (part of the NOAA). Great idea – except one page reads used to read like something from Marc Morano or Ian Plimer, as discovered by Philip Machanick over at RealClimate.
Not only has the page in question contained misinformation since 2003, but someone inserted highly misleading statements about the temperature record in 2007, echoing a common contrarian confusion between the U.S. and global temperature record.
[Update, Nov. 3: The dubious CO2 lesson has been removed from the overall lesson plan, although it remains unchanged and no longer exists. It used to be #10 in the Atmosphere section, right after "Canned Heat".
Update Nov. 11: The carbon dioxide lesson has been reinstated, with the previous misinformation removed from the discussion section.]