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).
According to the familiar story that McIntyre has told so often, his initial interest in Mann et al’s “hockey stick” graph was inspired by its relentless invocation in late 2002 by the Canadian Liberal government as a justification for ratification of the Kyoto protocol. In the infamous “Ohio State” presentation, How do we “know” that 1998 was the warmest year of the millennium?, McIntyre averred:
I’m pretty sure that the first time I ever thought about climate change was in late 2002 when the Canadian Government was promoting acceptance of the Kyoto Protocol. The slogan for their campaign was that the 20th century was the warmest century, the 1990s the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year in the past millennium – a slogan that got repeated in speech after speech and presentation after presentation. [Emphasis added]
Leaving aside McIntyre’s slightly foggy recollection (“pretty sure”?), even the, um, cherrypicked quotes about the 1990s from then environment minister David Anderson do not support the claim, since they clearly refer to the instrumental record and don’t even compare those years to pre-20th century temperatures:
The 20th century was the warmest in the Northern Hemisphere in the past 1000 years. The 1990s was the warmest decade on record and 1998 was the warmest year – in Canada and internationally. – David Anderson, April 5, 2002. [Emphasis added]
As for “late 2002”, by then Anderson had long since dropped all reference to the “1000 year” context, as seen in this long speech in the House of Commons (in support of Kyoto ratification, no less), which only discussed twentieth century warming.
With the steady rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we have witnessed average temperatures in Canada alone that went up by about one degree during the 20th century. The eighties were the hottest decade that we had ever recorded until the nineties came along.
Indeed, of the forty or so speeches archived for 2002, only those from the April regional tour even invoked the “1000 years” refrence quoted above. (That’s a good thing, too, since the 2001 IPCC report had actually referred to the rapidity of warming in the 20th century; trust McIntyre to miss the actual error and focus on imagined support for his mistaken contention.)
In 2003, McIntyre set about emulating the Mann et al 1998 study (which presented a multi-proxy recontruction for 1400-1980), and began posting about his efforts at a climate “skeptic” internet group. That led to a connection with Ross McKitrick, an economics professor at Guelph University, an hour’s drive from McIntyre’s Toronto home.
By all accounts, McKitrick was able to guide McIntyre in readying his analysis for publication. More importantly, McKitrick was already plugged in to the fossil-fuel funded PR network that eventually would bring the pair to prominence.
McKitrick had participated in a 2001 briefing attacking the IPCC and the Kyoto Protocol, sponsored by the Cooler Heads Coalition (then run by the Comepetitive Enterprise Institite). As noted on his publications web page, McKitrick’s contribution focused on a “briefing” on cap-and-trade.
I wrote this paper for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (they paid me a thousand bucks) explaining why cap and trade and similar methods for controlling CO2 emissions are bad ideas.
2002 was a busy year for the climate “skeptic”:
- He was on the availability list for the Kyoto’s Fatal Flaws Revealed event organized by Tom Harris of APCO Worldwide (and sponsored by Talisman Oil and ExxonMobil subsidiary Imperial Oil).
- He signed on as an inaugural “scientific contact” for the APCO linked “astroturf” group Friends of Science.
- He began his long association with the Fraser Institute, penning his first article for the Fraser Forum magazine.
- On top of all that, he published, along with mathematician Christopher Essex, the widely-derided Taken By Storm: The Troubled Science, Policy and Politics of Global Warming.
M&M go to Washington
Late in 2003, McIntyre and McKitrick published their first joint paper in the contrarians’ favourite journal, Energy and Environment. Corrections to the Mann et al (1998) Proxy Data Base and Northern Hemispheric Average Temperature Series caused a minor sensation in climate skeptic circles. Hard on the heels of the paper came an invitation from the CEI-led Cooler Head Coalition and the George Marshall Institute to participate in the Washington Roundtable on Science and Public Policy series. McIntyre and McKitrick titled their presentation The IPCC, the “Hockey Stick” Curve, and the Illusion of Experience.
At the time, both CEI and the Marshall Institute enjoyed funding from ExxonMobil. And CEI head Myron Ebell and Marshall president (and American Petroleum Institute ex-COO) William O’Keefe were both implicated in Bush administration efforts to water down official reports on climate science, as outlined in this one page excerpt from the Government Accountability Project report Redacting the Science of ClimateChange [See full 1.5 MB PDF].
In some ways, the question period after the Roundtable presentation had the most interesting nuggets. David Appell questioned M&M closely about when the paper had been submitted, and the rigour of any peer-review it may have had under a short time frame, but met with stonewalling from McKitrick. Later, it turned out that E&E editor-in-chief Sonia Boehmer-Christiansen had rushed the paper into publication for “policy impact reasons, e.g. publication well before COP9”.
Appell’s questions about funding for “this project” earned a defensive response from McKitrick:
First of all, on the funding: we did not receive any money from anyone to do this. I have basically blown away my fall sabbatical doing this; it wasn’t what I planned to do and the sooner it’s over, the happier I will be.
That may have been true if the “project” is narrowly defined as limited to the E&E article itself. But, as usual in the contrarian universe, the actual paper was the least important part of the exercise; of course, McKitrick was paid $1000 and expenses for his appearance that day in Washington, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In attendance was a who’s who of Washington-area contrarian scientists, including Pat Michaels, Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon. Fred Singer, head of SEPP, complained about the truncation of data past 1980 in the proxy reconstructions, and even referred to the “politically correct surface data” (p. 25), which he suspected was very much inferior to the satellite data. (We now know how that turned out; it was the satellite temperature series that required several corrections.) Singer did thank McIntyre for sending him ” a whole bunch of data”, so even at this early date McIntyre was forging links with other contrarians.
Again according to the Wall Street Journal, the pair also met with Republican senator and uber-denier James Inhofe in 2003, although it was unclear if that meeting occurred on the same trip.
Nevertheless, McIntyre’s and McKitrick’s criticisms appeared to gain little traction in the wake of the trip, possibly because they had not even managed to publish in a reputable scientific journal. That deficiency became the focus of activity in 2004.
Tom Harris and APCO Worldwide come calling
Back in Canada, McKitrick returned to his regular teaching activities, while McIntyre continued updating the pair’s climate2003.com website. For much of 2004, that website documented efforts to publish a “hockey stick” critique in Nature. Although Mann did post a corrigendum in July 2004, McIntyre and McKitrick chafed under word limits and negative feedback by Nature and gave up on that course of action. Along the way, though, McIntyre pinpointed a crucial difference between his emulation and Mann’s methodology – namely, Mann’s use of so called “short-centred” PCA (principal component analysis), in the construction of the North American tree ring proxy network. That discovery was covered sympathetically by Richard Muller of the online Technology Review in October 2004.
Meanwhile, Tom Harris, then at notorious PR/lobbying firm APCO Worldwide, took on a new project – the Friends of Science film Climate Catatrophe Cancelled. As noted in a University of Calgary internal audit, this project was funded through a “climate change” research fund controlled by political science professor Barry Cooper and fed by donations from various oil companies and foundations.
Talisman’s CEO James Buckee was an early supporter of the project; given Imperial Oil’s support for previous initiatives by APCO Worldwide, it seems plausible that the ExxonMobil subsidiary may also have been involved. In all, APCO received more than $170,000 and in return “produced, promoted and distributed” the video, according to the University of Calgary auditor’s report.
The project began in earnest in late 2004 and was eventually released in April 2005. Interviews with McIntyre and McKitrick were at the core of the film’s treatment of paleoclimatology.
A full analysis of the APCO Friends of Science film is beyond the scope of this post. However, it’s worth noting that APCO used the M&M analysis to buttress the argument for a strong “medeival warm period” (MWP), even though M&M’s critique focused on the 15th century, normally considered part of the Little Ice Age! The film trotted Tim Ball to repeat the oft-cited canard that the IPCC had previously supported a strong MWP as warm or warmer than modern temperatures:
“And so that created a very familiar curve which appeared in the early IPCC reports … [MBH98] completely rejected that widely accepted temperature graph.”
William Connolley’s Wikipedia MWP-LIA entry tells a different tale. In fact, the first IPCC report referred to a “MWP around 1000 AD (which may not have been global)”. The second IPCC report (1995) stated: “Recent studies have re-evaluated the interval commonly known as the MWP… the available evidence is limited (geographically) and is equivocal.”
Tim Ball refers to a non-quantitative figure, apparently derived from a 1966 study of central England by H H Lamb, that appeared only in the first IPCC report, but was dropped in the 1992 supplement and in the 1995 report. So the graph was far from “widely accepted”: it only appeared in one IPCC report and had fallen into disuse by the time of the MBH98 study.
The APCO film continued with a description of the “hockey stick” with its shaft of the “first 900 years of the past millennium”, while displaying a version of the MBH98 graph (starting in 1400), overlaid with McIntyre’s “corrected” version.
We carried out an analysis of the results to see what happened when we recompiled the data and got quite different answers. Instead of having an extraordinarily high 20th century, we had a 15th century value that was just as high as the 20th century, so the hockey stick disappeared. It’s a computer programming error that yields these hockey sticks.
M&M finally hit the peer-reviewed jackpot
In the fall of 2004, McIntyre and McKitrick finally explored alternatives for publication, targetting the AGU publication Geophysical Research Letters. Hockey sticks, principal components, and spurious significance was received by GRL in October 2004, accepted on January 17, 2005, and published February 12, 2005.
As usual for such rare contrarian peer-reviewed scientific publications, the public relations campaign was ready to go. Indeed, the PR campaign preceded actual publication by a full two weeks!
On January 27, 2005, the National Post ran a front page story headlined “Canadians find flaw in Kyoto ’hockey stick’”. To make sure the point of the PR exercise was was crystal clear, James Cowan’s article proclaimed:
A pivotal global warming study central to the Kyoto Protocol contains serious flaws caused by a computer programming glitch and other faulty methodology, according to new Canadian research.
The Financial Post section also contained a long article entitled “Breaking the Hockey Stick” by Marcel Crok, a Dutch science writer who, according to his linkedin profile, is also editor of the magazine Tennis and Coach, and has been writing about climate science, since, um, January 27, 2005. As one might expect, then, Crok’s article more or less parrots McIntyre’s various contentions – shades of David Rose!
Although the National Post, as usual, failed to disclose the behind the scenes maneouvering leading up to the fulsome coverage, it seems plausible that the campaign may well have been instigated by APCO’s Tom Harris. As noted previously, Harris and Financial Post editor Terence Corcoran had been co-operating on the promulgation of contrarian climate science for a number of years (and would continue to do so).
In any event, no “skeptic” PR campaign would be complete without Corcoran’s pronouncements, and he did not disappoint in his commentary “Let the Science Debate Begin”. In that over-the-top screed, Corcoran called the “hockey stick” graph the “most important economic, scientific and business graphic in world history”. He blathered on:
The hockey-stick image has appeared in countless documents and hundreds of speeches… It is also the core justification for the Kyoto Protocol, which comes into effect on Feb. 16.
It’s hard to say which of these assertions is the more patently absurd. But let’s move on to Corcoran’s main point.
Until now, criticisms of the hockey stick have been dismissed as fringe reports from marginal global warming skeptics…
Publication in Geophysical Research sets McIntyre and McKitrick’s analysis and conclusions in direct opposition to the Mann research. Their criticism can no longer be dismissed as if it were untested research posted on obscure Web sites by crank outsiders. Their work is now a full challenge to the dominant theme of the entire climate and global warming movement.
All that from a flawed article in a scientific letters journal. Still, you can’t blame Corcoran for pumping this for all it’s worth. After all, who could know when McIntyre and McKitrick would get another peer-reviewed article published in a scientific journal (it’s been five long years and counting).
After the National Post scoop, the PR campaign took off. A second article, The M&M critique of the MBH98 northern hemisphere climate index, was released in Energy and Environment. That article covered much of the same ground as GRL, including the PCA and data criticisms, but also contained a non-scientific critique, taking up the recurring themes of disclosure and “quality control”.
Finally, we comment on several policy issues arising from this controversy: the lack of consistent requirements for disclosure of data and methods in paleoclimate journals, and the need to recognize the limitations of journal peer review as a quality control standard when scientific studies are used for public policy.
McIntyre started his ClimateAudit blog on February 3 and pointed to Post coverage the same day. In the following days, the Post continued to give him impressive coverage. Columns touching on the “hockey stick” included:
- “Science tells us Kyoto is pointless” by Friends of Science advisor Tim Patterson (“This study was a major prop for the Kyoto Protocol, now that prop is gone.”) [Feb. 10, the same day that Patterson appeared before the House of Commons committee examining Kyoto implementation.]
- “How bad economics fed climate ‘science'” by Peter Foster (claims M&M’s work was “dramatically destructive” of IPCC “scientific allegations about the last thousand years.” [Feb. 11]
- “Bre-X Climate” by Terence Corcoran (wherein Corcoran compares Mann et al to mining fraudsters). [Feb. 15]
Then, in a major coup, the Wall Street Journal featured McIntyre on its front page. Reporter Antonio Regalado portrayed the scientific debate as more or less a standoff and emphasized the doubts concerning the “hockey stick” of (mostly unnamed) scientists.
In a devastating critique for Environmental Science and Technology, Paul D. Thacker noted:
Decades of research have created a massive body of scientific literature on climate change, and thousands of new studies on the subject appear every year in different science journals. Yet, within weeks of publishing his first peer-reviewed study, McIntyre was profiled on the front page of the Wall Street Journal…
Four days later, the Wall Street Journal editorial page praised Regalado’s reporting and launched an attack on the hockey stick, the IPCC, and the science of global warming.
Actually, that’s not quite true – it only took two days from official publication (and three weeks after acceptance). Thacker goes on to give a detailed critique of the Journal’s biased coverage of climate science issues. One telling detail – the only scientist to have been accorded a WSJ op-ed piece in recent years was uber-denier Fred Singer.
Like the National Post before it, the Journal touted a narrow critique of dubious significance as a massive reversal of all paleoclimatology, and indeed all of climate science. And, like the National Post, the Journal has yet to reveal the story’s provenance, or the PR operatives behind it. Indeed to this day, the Journal has refused to answer a list of 19 questions concerning its climate science coverage, submitted by ES&T.
In April 2005, APCO Worldwide released the Climate Catastrophe Cancelled film to the general public. From the APCO press release:
Today, researchers at the University of Calgary, in cooperation with the Friends of Science Society, released a video entitled:
Climate Catastrophe Cancelled: What you’re not being told about the science of climate change
At a news conference held in Ottawa, some of North America’s foremost climate experts provided evidence demonstrating that the science underlying the Kyoto Protocol is seriously flawed; a problem that continues to be ignored by the Canadian government. Scientists called on the Canadian government to delay implementation of the Kyoto Protocol until a thorough, public review of the current state of climate science has been conducted by climate experts. Such an analysis has never been organized in Canada despite repeated requests from independent, non-governmental climate scientists.
Once again, we have the familiar APCO theme that all of climate science, and thus the justification for the Kyoto Protocol, had been invalidated. It is also noteworthy that APCO misrepresented the film as being released by “researchers at the University of Calgary”. Later, the University was to demand that Friends of Science and APCO remove all references to the University and its logo from the film’s introduction. These are only two of several instances of Friends of Science/APCO misrepresentation of the organization’s relationship with the University of Calgary.
As 2005 wore on, McIntyre and McKitrick were clearly rising stars in the contrarian firmament, thanks in no small part to the diverse efforts of their think tank and PR supporters, not to mention complaisant media outlets like the National Post and the Wall Street Journal. McIntyre and McKitrick’s inexcusable and enthusiastic co-operation with APCO’s sordid propaganda efforts, not to mention those of CEI and the Marshall Institute, continued to be ignored.
The time was approaching for ratcheting up the politically motivated attacks on climate science, in the form of an abusive investigation instigated by Republican congressmen Joe Barton and Ed Whitfield. That will be the subject of part 2 early next week, including some eye-opening new revelations about the origins and development of the Wegman report.