[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.
As I browsed through the Wegman report, my first inkling of something amiss came in the readable section 2.1 (p. 13) on tree-ring proxies, an interesting blend of mostly reasonable explication spiced with faintly derogatory comments. And very few specific references to speak of. Hmmm …
The average width of a tree ring is a function of many variables including the tree species, tree age, stored carbohydrates in the tree, nutrients in the soil, and climatic factors including sunlight, precipitation, temperature, wind speed, humidity, and even carbon dioxide availability in the atmosphere. Obviously there are many confounding factors so the problem is to extract the temperature signal and to distinguish the temperature signal from the noise caused by the many confounding factors.
I entered a large swathe of text into Google. And sure enough there were two sources: the Wegman report itself, and a chapter on paleclimatology from a text book called Assessing Climate Change. I downloaded the chapter and began comparing. Here’s the corresponding passage (with differences in bold or crossout):
The average width of a tree ring is a function of many variables including the tree species, tree age, stored carbohydrates in the tree, nutrients in the soil, and climatic factors including sunlight, precipitation, temperature, wind speed, humidity, and even carbon dioxide availability in the atmosphere. Obviously there are many confounding factors so the problem challenge is to extract the temperature signal and to thus distinguish the temperature signal from the noise caused by the many confounding factors.
It didn’t take long to verify that Wegman’s entire section on proxies (covering tree-rings, ice cores and corals) was to be found almost word for word in the book chapter, although the latter was in much expanded form. The book version proxy sub-sections contain more detail and references, and there are six proxy types in all. And the additional references included such exotic ones as Robinson, Robinson and Soon (2007), in addition to the more expected names like Bradley and Schweingruber found in Wegman.
In all two and half pages of text from Wegman (p. 13-15) are found almost verbatim in the corresponding sections in Rapp, starting at page 2: Section 220.127.116.11 (tree rings), section 18.104.22.168 (ice cores) and section 22.214.171.124 (coral).
Naturally I assumed that this was an apparent case of plagiarism, something I’d run across before with the so-called suppressed report from rogue EPA economist Alan Carlin. So my next step was to look at the book’s publication details, and set about further research.
Assessing Climate Change
2008, XXX, 374 p. 130 illus., Hardcover
The textbook author’s name was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t focus on that. For I was staring at a date of publication that was surely impossible – 2008, two full years after the release of the Wegman report.
The Wegman report section was an early version of the text book chapter, not the other way around. So I had not found the source (despite my earlier speculation to that effect). But I had found an important new voice among contrarian authors.
Meet Donald Rapp, physicist-engineer and newly minted “climate expert”.
I first read about Rapp in a comment by John Mashey at Tamino’s Open Mind last summer; apparently, Rapp was one of three USC physicists to sign Fred Singer’s open letter to the American Physical Society. So I’ll let John give a bit of the background (excerpts have been re-formatted):
In one amusing corner, we find 3 senior faculty associated with astronautics at University of Southern California, none of whom who’ve ever published peer-reviewed work on cliamte science that I can find:
- have signed the petition, essentially declaring the last 30 years of climate science non-existent.
- but are part of a USC effort seeking research funding from California and the Federal government for … climate research, because they can do it better than traditional climate science departments.
The three were Mike Grintman, Joseph Kunc – and Donald Rapp, whose thumbnail resume on the open letter read as follows:
- Chief Technologist, Mechanical and Chemical Systems, Jet Propulsion Laboratory [at NASA] (retired)
- Professor of Physics and Environmental Engineering, University of Texas (1973-1979)
- Author, “Assessing Climate Change” and “Ice Ages and Interglacials” Springer-Verlag)
- Fellow APS
Mashey goes into more detail about Rapp and the USC research group:
Donald Rapp. He retired from JP in 2002, and is now a Research Professor @ USC. See especially his comment:
“I have surveyed the wide field of global climate change energy and I am familiar with the entire literature of climatology.” …
Now, see: USC Climate Change Research Group (CCRG), which says:
“Traditional oceanographic or atmospheric programs are not necessarily well-equipped for such a challenge. USC is, however, well positioned to take a lead in this evolving science by building upon its existing strengths in cyber infrastructure and programs in climate research, physics and engineering.”
“We propose to formalize our interdisciplinary program in climate change research at USC into the USC Climate Change Institute. The framework of the Institute will revolve around national and California climate change research programs (see Appendix), which are the expected sources of funding.”
So perhaps the opening of Rapp’s weighty tome (374 p.!) should be no surprise:
Global-warming alarmists believe that human production of greenhouse gases, particularly cubon dioxide with its concomitant water vapor feedback mechanism, has begun to add to the natural greenhouse effect, thereby raising global temperatures inordinately during the 20th century, with predictions or further increases in the 21st century that could be catastrophic.
Skipping over paragraphs about James Hansen and Al Gore, we get to:
Naysayers have maintained blogs and circulated reports, but generally have not penetrated the scientific literature that is dominated by alarmist publications. While the alarmists provide the impression of scientific integrity through peer-reviewed publications, the naysayers often lack the credentials of alamarists but the important thing is data, not credentials.
Is your head spinning in this hall of mirrors yet? Well, wait until you see Chapter Two, Temperatures in the past millennium. (To follow along go to the Amazon reader and punch in “wegman” in the search box).
The table of contents tells the tale; a large portion of the chapter is given over to a discussion of the “hockey stick” and its critics. The so-called MBH model is presented in four short pages, and then a long fifteen-page section is given over to Criticisms of the MBH Model, including sub-sections on McIntyre and McKitrick, The Wegman Report, Soon and Baliunas, and Zorita and Von Storch. But even the so-called MBH model is largely described by quoting directly from the Wegman report:
The papers of Mann et al. in themselves are written in a confusing manner, making it difficult for the reader to discern the actual methodology and what uncertainty is actually associated with these reconstructions. Vague terms such as “moderate certainty” (Mann et al. 1999) give no guidance to the reader as to how such conclusions should be weighed. [p. 70]
Nor will you want to miss the six-page section on blogs. Of course, McIntyre’s “anti-establishment” Climateaudit.org goes up against the “establishment” RealClimate.org, “which presents the viewpoints of the global-warming alarmists”.
But McIntyre has a special advantage:
Although the tilt of McIntyre’s blog is decidedly antithetical to the global·warming alarmists, unlike other anti-warming blogs, Mclntyre has penetrated in to the data and details in most cases and speaks authoritatively on most subjects.
And McIntyre’s outstanding achievement (among many others)?
… he showed that the IPCC Report (IPCC, 2001) cut off the data in Figure 2.32 to emphasize recent warming. Such data truncation is certainly improper and may teeter on the hazy borderline of science fraud.
Oh, yes, it’s back to the future. Rapp had identified the main “hide the decline” talking point of ClimateGate a year before it happened. Then again, the hockey stick, and the supposed destruction thereof, is always the main talking point.
The chapter concludes with three annotated conclusions, cited from a reference given simply as Anon (N) (and, yes, there’s also Anon A through M). Here’s the second:
Less confidence can be placed in large-scale surface temperature reconstructions for the period from A.D. 900 to 1600. Presently available proxy evidence indicates that temperatures at many, but not all, individual locations were higher during the past 25 years than during any period of comparable length since A.D. 900.
Rapp’s annotations include the following unsubstantiated dismissals of this finding:
This author cannot find any substantial evidence that temperatures were (as claimed) generally higher in the past 25 years than they were in 900.
This author has very little confidence in estimates of temperature prior to 1600.
Of course, I recognized Anon. (N) immediately as the following reference, as given in McKitrick and McIntyre’s PNAS comment:
National Research Council (2006) Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years (Natl Acad Press, Washington, DC).
Presumably A through M are also not quite as anonymous as supposed.
Here’s one last telling quote from the book’s “brief summary” of Wegman (never mind that all the points had already been made repeatedly):
1. In general they found the writing of MBH somewhat obscure and incomplete. (This writer found the same). [p. 83]
Wow. Just wow.
Words fail me, almost literally. Not only did Rapp rely so extensively on Wegman in Chapter 2 (whle summarily dismissing the peer-reviewed scientifc literature on the subject), but, as seen above, he also appears to have three unattributed background sections on proxies nearly verbatim from Wegman et al. This extreme reliance on a single, dubious source certainly makes the publisher’s blurb even more disturbing:
[Nay-sayers] place little faith in climate models, and claim that the “hockey stick” picture of global temperature history is a “fraud” approaching the dimensions of cold fusion.
… In this book Donald Rapp attempts to assess the evidence in an objective way. Although he is not a climate scientist by profession, very few climate scientists have taken a broad systems view of the problem of global warming. Donald Rapp is a professional systems engineer, having taught in universities for 14 years and with over 25 years’ experience managing various programs for NASA. His experience has required the ability to move into a highly technical field, assimilate the content, organize the knowledge base and succinctly describe the field, its content, its unresolved issues and achievements.
Clearly, someone at Springer, the largest publisher of scientific and technical books in the world, has a lot of explaining to do.
A natural question at this point would be: does the Wegman et al passage quoted above have an antecedent in the literature? Yes it does. Here is the opening of section 10.2, entitled Fundamentals of Dendroclimatology from Raymond Bradley’s seminal Paleoclimatology: Reconstructing Climates of the Quaternary.
A cross section of most temperate forest trees will show an alternation of lighter and darker bands, each of which is usually continuous around the tree circumference. These are seasonal growth increments produced by meristematic tissues in the tree’s cambium. When viewed in detail (Fig. 10.1) it is clear that they are made up of sequences of large, thin-walled cells (earlywood) and more densely packed, thick-walled cells (latewood). Collectively, each couplet of earlywood and latewood comprises an annual growth increment, more commonly called a tree ring. The mean width of a ring in any one tree is a function of many variables, including the tree species, tree age, availability of stored food within the tree and of important nutrients in the soil, and a whole complex of climatic factors (sunshine, precipitation, temperature, wind speed, humidity, and their distribution througnout the year).
Here is the opening of Wegman’s section on tree ring proxies (p. 13). Bold words indicate common wording with bold italics for added words and crossouts for removed words or punctuation. Regular italics indicate intermediate paraphrasing:
A cross section of most a temperate forest trees tree shows variation of lighter and darker bands each of which is that are usually continuous around the circumference of the tree. These bands are the so-called tree rings and are due to seasonal effects. Each tree ring is composed of large thin-walled cells called (early wood) and smaller more densely packed thick walled cells called (late wood). The mean average width of a tree ring in any one tree is a function of many variables including the tree species, tree age, availability of stored food carbohydrates in the tree, nutrients in the soil, and climatic factors including sunlight, precipitation, temperature, wind speed, humidity, and their distribution througnout the year even carbon dioxide availability in the atmosphere.
No attribution is given for this passage, although Bradley is cited for another section two pages earlier. The authors have gratuitously added “carbon dioxide availability in the atmosphere” as the last in a list of “climatic factors”. But in the context of the centennial or millennial time scale of interest, carbon dioxide is an anthropogenic factor, like other forms of pollution, not a natural “climatic” factor. To say the least, this change compounds the problem of lack of attribution and bespeaks shoddy scholarship, not to mention poor domain knowledge.
After all that, the discovery in Wegman of more prosaic reliance on lightly edited excerpts from Wikipedia seems almost anti-climatic anticlimactic. Nevertheless here’s the opener of the Wikipedia article on social networks, as it appeared in early 2006:
A social network is a social structure made of nodes which are generally individuals or organizations.
And here is the Wegman et al version, slightly transformed to give a bit more scholarly gravitas:
A social network is a mathematical structure made of nodes, which are generally taken to represent individuals or organizations. [p. 17]
But there’s more. Ensuing detail appears to draw heavily, without attribution, from the Wasserman and Faust classic, Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications (1994, Cambridge University Press). This is but one sample from Wasserman and Faust:
Dyad: At the most basic level, a linkage or relationship establishes a tie between a pair of actors. The tie is an inherent property of the pair and therefore is not thought of as pertaining simply to the individual actor. Many kinds of network analysis are concerned with understanding ties among pairs. All of these approaches take the dyad as the unit of analysis.
And Wegman’s rearranged, slightly edited form:
Dyad: A linkage or relationship establishes a tie at the most basic level between a pair of actors. The tie is an inherent property of the pair. Many kinds of network analysis are concerned with understanding ties among pairs and are based on the dyad as the unit of analysis. [p. 18]
I think I’ve seen enough.
No doubt it would be an understatement to say that we have here, as with Alan Carlin, a case of highly questionable scholarship.
But in the end, of course, the larger issues may well have to do with the formation of the Wegman committee, of which Joe Barton has told us very little:
Following receipt of the letter responses [from Michael Mann], committee staff informally sought advice from independent statisticians to determine how best to assess the statistical information submitted. Dr. Edward Wegman, a prominent statistics professor at George Mason University who is chair of the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics, agreed to independently assess the data on a pro bono basis.
So far no one has asked the right questions. For instance:
- Who were the unnamed Barton staffers who had “discussions” with Wegman?
- What was the exact timeline of the various discussions and exactly who else was involved?
- Were Ross McKitrick or Steve McIntyre ever involved in discussions with Barton staffers? What is the full extent over the years of their co-operation with industry-funded PR firms, think tanks and politicians implacably opposed to the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions?
As a start on the last question, it should be noted that McIntyre and McKitrick played a starring role in the APCO Worldwide/Friends of Science 2005 film, Climate Catastrophe Cancelled. As confirmed by a University of Calgary internal audit, APCO Worldwide received $170,000 to “produce, promote and distribute” the film from a “research” fund (since closed down) set up by University of Calgary political science Professor Barry Cooper. Cooper has admitted to “some” contributions from oil and gas companies for his fund, and Friends of Science has admitted that Talisman Oil CEO James Buckee made an early contribution to the video project.
APCO Worldwide even tried to mispresent the film as an official University of Calgary joint project, noting in the official press release:
Today, researchers at the University of Calgary, in cooperation with the Friends of Science Society, released a video entitled: Climate Catastrophe Cancelled.
While there is no evidence of direct remuneration to McIntyre and McKitrick, their co-operation with a deceptive industry-funded propaganda campaign is extremely disturbing.
As I write this, Ben Santer has delivered an emotional plea at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Here is the conclusion of his personal statement:
Sadly, climate scientists now see and feel interference from political and economic interests. This interference is pervasive. Powerful forces are using a criminal act – the theft of over a thousand emails from the U.K.’s Climatic Research Unit – to advance their own agendas.
These “forces of unreason” seek to constrain our ability to speak truth to power. They seek to skew and distort what we know about the nature and causes of climate change. Having failed to undermine climate science itself, they seek to destroy the reputations of individual climate scientists. They seek to destroy men like Phil Jones and Mike Mann, who have devoted their entire careers to the pursuit of scientific knowledge and understanding.
We must not let this stand.
We no longer have the luxury of remaining silent on these issues. We all have voices. We need to use them.
It’s high time those “forces of unreason” received the scrutiny reserved thus far for the victims of their attacks. I will not rest until that happens.