This is the last in a series of posts on scholarship issues in Donald Rapp’s Assessing Climate Change. Previously we focused on extensive passages in common between the Wegman Report critique of paleoclimatic reconstructions, and Rapp’s section on various temperature proxies (see “A Divergence Problem” – part 1 and part 2).
Now I’ll look at other problems associated with Rapp’s use of extensive passages from “grey literature” (i.e. that found outside the peer-reviewed scientific literature), as well as one case of apparent distortion of other scientist’s work. In the latter case, a key adjective was changed transforming a reference to “large assumptions” to “speculative assumptions”.
Apart from extensive, unattributed passages from the Wegman report previously discussed, Rapp’s other main source for section 1.1.1 on temperature proxies is a 2003 George Marshall Institute report by noted contrarians Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, entitled Lessons and Limits of Climate History: Was the 20th Century Climate Unusual?
There are no fewer than four long block quotes from Soon and Baliunas used by Rapp. (Bizarrely, each quote carries the double reference Soon and Baliunas 2003a,b – and no page numbers of course). As I did previously with Rapp’s passages from Wegman, I have produced a comparison of the quoted passages as they appear in Rapp, along with the original (see PDF).
Before I get to Soon and Baliunas, though, recall Rapp’s passage on tree-ring width factors, as appropriated from Wegman (in turn based on a very similar passage from Bradley’s paleoclimatology text book):
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.
Now here’s the opening of Rapp’s first extensive block quote from Soon and Baliunas, but with one crucial change from the original:
As Bradley points out, tree growth, and hence the width and density of tree rings, depends on many factors, including the tree species and age, the availability of stored food in the tree and nutrients in the soil, the full range of climatic variables (sunshine, precipitation, temperature, wind speed, humidity); and their distribution throughout the year.
So, in fact the Soon and Baliunas block quote on tree-rings is also based largely on Bradley. And the other three Soon and Baliunas quotes (on ice cores, ocean sediments and corals) are based exclusively on Bradley, as the list of references for the four passages makes clear:
13. Bradley, R.S. (1999): Paleoclimatology: Reconstructing Climates of the Quaternary. International Geophysics Series, Vol. 64, Harcourt Academic Press, 610 pp.
15. Ibid., Pg. 398-399. [Refers to 13, not 14 which is an unrelated ref. to Huang on boreholes]
16. For example, see Briffa, K. R., et al. (2001): “Low-frequency temperature variations from a northern tree ring density network.” Journal of Geophysical Research, 106: 2929-2941.
17. Cook, E. R., et al. (1990): “Tree-ring standardization and growth-trend estimation.” In Methods of Dendrochronology: Applications in EnvironmentalSciences, 104-123. Cited in Bradley, R.S. (1999): op. cit. Pg. 408.
18. Jarvis, P.G. , ed. (1998): European Forests and Climate Change: The LikelyImpacts of Rising CO2 and Temperature. Cambridge University Press.
19. Bradley, R.S. (1999): op. cit., Pg. 249.
20. Ibid., Pg. 129.
21. Ibid., Pg. 250-252.
22. Ibid., Pg. 200.
23. Ibid., Pg. 129.
So we have the extraordinary situation where Rapp has made extensive use of two “grey” sources that both rely primarily upon the same root source, even resulting in repetition of the same information. And yet somehow all references to that source has been excised; in fact, Bradley’s Paleoclimatology text book is not listed at all among Rapp’s references.
A number of other interesting nuggets can be found by searching on some of Rapp’s phrases found within section 1.2 (on Ice Ages and Interglacial Periods).
A very long passage is based on a web page entitled “A quick background to the last ice age” from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Rapp starts with a block quote and reference to the web page (at section 1.2.2 “The last ice age”, p. 14):
Adams (2002) pointed out:
“The time span of the last 130,000 years has seen the global climate system switch from warm interglacial to cold glacial conditions, and back again. This broad interglacial-glacial-interglacial climate oscillation has been recurring on a similar periodicity for about the last 900,000 years, though each individual cycle has had its own idiosyncrasies in terms of the timing and magnitude of changes. As is usually the case with the study of the past, data are in short supply, and only a few sketchy outlines are known for the earliest cycles (Winograd et al. 1997). …
Then Rapp switches out of block quote but continues quoting the website nearly verbatim, but with slight changes and excisions. This continues for almost two pages in all, so I’ll show just a small portion:
Warmth. Around 130,000-110,000 years ago (the Eemian interglacial), the Earth’s climates were generally much like those of today, though perhaps somewhat warmer and moister in many regions. The climate record derived from long ice cores taken through the Greenland ice cap suggested that the warm climate of the Eemian might have been punctuated by many sudden and fairly short-lived cold phases, but these results remain controversial. are now thought of as inaccurate because the lower layers of the ice sheet have become buckled and jumbled up However, at least one major cold and dry event during the Eemian seems to be corroborated by the terrestrial pollen record from Europe and China (Zhisheng & Porter 1997). The issue remains controversial, as this review article explains.
Cooling. Though the time at which the Eemian interglacial ended is subject to some uncertainty (it was probably around ~110,000 years ago), what does seem evident from the sediment records that cross this boundary is that it was it appears to have been a relatively sudden event and not a gradual slide into colder conditions taking many thousands of years. …
In a familiar pattern, all specific references have been removed, but wording and flow of ideas is substantially the same. Interestingly, a note at the bottom explains that this web page was last updated in – wait for it – 1997. And indeed, the list of references for this website is extensive, but there is not a single one after 2000.
Sometimes the switch from nearly verbatim, but unquoted, text to attributed block quotes happens in the middle of a passage:
Amplitudes of large-scale surface temperature change derived from tree-ring proxies can be substantially underestimated by a factor of two to three 2 to 3 as compared to results from borehole thermometry (Huang et al. 2000; Harris and Chapman 2001; Huang and Pollack 2002). Soon and Baliunas (2003 a,b) believe that:
“Differing amplitudes resulting from borehole and tree ring climate proxies suggest that longer time scale (multidecadal and century) variability is more faithfully captured by borehole results, while the same information can be irretrievably lost in tree ring records …”
The two sentences above are close together on p. 9 of the 2003 Energy and Environment article, Reconstructing Climatic and Environmental Changes of the Past 1000 Years: A Reappraisal [PDF] by Soon, Baliunas – and three other co-authors missed by Rapp, namely Craig Idso, Sherwood Idso, and David Legates.
I’ll give one final example (from section 220.127.116.11 on p. 9). The following passage contains an almost verbatim quote from the referenced 2001 paper by Jones et al (The Evolution of Climate Over the Last Millennium from Science), but is not block quoted.
The common approach to climate reconstruction from proxies is to use statistical regression to establish a connection between climatic observations and the variability of the proxy over some period of overlap (calibration period). This provides a transfer function that enables the proxies to be used as predictors of past climate where proxy data are available in the absence of direct temperature measurements. but makes However, this requires large speculative assumptions about the temporal and spatial stability of the climate “signal” relationship between proxy indicator and temperature represented in these proxy records.
Most of the additions complicate the original unnecessarily. More to the point, the change from “large assumptions” to “speculative assumptions” is a completely unacceptable distortion of the original statement.
Of course, the attribution problems discussed here and in past posts are only part of the problem. Attribution issues are compounded when using dubious sources such as those we have discussed, especially when extensive passages are used.
Some of the “grey literature” discussed, such as Soon and Baliuans and Wegman, falls squarely into the contrarian canon. Indeed, there are references from Soon and Baliunas (Marshall Institute), Idso and Idso (CO2Science.org), Lavoisier, Marlo Lewis (of CEI), and Robinson and Robinson (of OISM). There are also several references to Energy and Environment articles.
In comments on previous posts Rapp argues that legitimate peer reviewed references have also been included. However, the “grey literature” has no place in a work that purports to be a serious text book on the subject of climate change. Moreover, Rapp’s choice of peer-reviewed science is highly questionable. For example, Gerlich and Tscheuschner (on the greenhouse effect) and Schwartz (on climate sensitivity) are given space out of all proportion with their scientific accomplishments, while mainstream researchers are given comparatively short shrift or completely ignored (case in point: James Annan on climate sensitivity).
Of course, there are also valid references in Rapp’s list. But based on my reading of Chapter One, if one were to strip away the questionable sources, there would be precious little left. After all, the scientists that Rapp calls “an in-group of alarmists” represent, in fact, mainstream science.
I have reason to believe that other chapters are no different, after my perusal of Chapters Two (Temperature of the past millenium) and Five (The Earth’s energy balance and the greenhouse effect).
In short, there is ample reason to question the editorial process at Praxis-Springer. That will be the subject of my next, and final, post on the matter. (That’s a welcome promise to both myself and, I suspect, many readers who have made it this far).
[Update, Jan. 7: Clarification of the apparent distortion referred to in the second paragraph.]