Terence Corcoran may well have just unleashed the National Post’s biggest whopper yet about climate science – and that’s saying something.
Corcoran’s commentary on the recent Russell “climategate” email review lays one error-laden defamation on top of another, as he attempts to demonstrate that the report “provides plenty of evidence that climate science has been and remains an uncertain shambles”. Oh, and apparently the review “portrays climate science as a field filled with uncertainty, debate, lack of openness, data hoarding and ill-will.”
The National Post, of course, is the most prolific purveyor of “business section climate science”, that is to say, anti-science propaganda. In an interesting twist, though, Corcoran claims that the Muir Russell report is no “whitewash” – if one reads the hidden messages between the lines. Thus begins another instalment of vintage Post “black-is-white and up-is-down” spin.
Corcoran quotes the Muir Russell report as failing to find “any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the IPCC processes and hence call into question the conclusions of the IPCC assessments in this area.” Nevertheless, he claims that the “review itself … actually does quite a bit to undermine the science of climate change”.
How so? Corcoran explains that it’s all about the “hockey stick” (as it always is).
The popular launch pad for the consensus proof that man-made climate science is a crisis was the famed Michael Mann 1999 hockey stick graphic that purported to show that temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere in the last half century were the hottest in 1,000 years. The Russell review, tip-toeing through the landmines in the emails about the “trick” of “hiding the decline,” ends up with the watery conclusion that the hockey stick graph was indeed “misleading.” …
The creators of the hockey stick took a thousand years worth of tree ring temperature data, eliminated some of the data from 1960 forward that didn’t support the 1,000-year claim, and then spliced on actual temperature data, without telling anybody what they had done. Then they magically announced they had found a smoking climate graphic that became a global icon for the climate crusade.
Since the 1999 hockey stick achieved that “iconic significance” and was used later in IPCC documents, the Russell review says, the presentation of the hockey stick was “misleading.” The misleading element was not the graph itself, but the fact that the trick was not disclosed.
The problem, of course, is that the finding concerning the “misleading” graph has nothing to do with Mann’s “hockey stick”. Rather, it refers to a little-known graphic created by CRU scientist Phil Jones for the cover of a 1999 report for the World Meteorological Organization.
The full report’s finding about this graph reads as follows:
In relation to “hide the decline” we find that, given its subsequent iconic significance (not least the use of a similar figure in the TAR), the figure supplied for the WMO Report was misleading in not describing that one of the series was truncated post 1960 for the figure, and in not being clear on the fact that proxy and instrumental data were spliced together. We do not find that it is misleading to curtail reconstructions at some point per se, or to splice data, but we believe that both of these procedures should have been made plain – ideally in the figure but certainly clearly described in either the caption or the text.
To be sure, the report is mistaken in its details. The chart can hardly be called iconic as it was almost unknown until 2009; moreover, the “similar figure” (Fig. 2-21) in the IPCC’s 2001 Third Assessment Report is based on some of the same data, but is conspicuously different as it shows the Northern Hemisphere instrumental temperature series separately, instead of spliced together with the reconstructions. And it too has not received much attention until recently.
Nevertheless, it is beyond cretinous to confuse this finding about the above WMO chart with the actual “hockey stick” chart first presented in landmark studies by Mann et al in 1998 and 1999. Here’s the IPCC version (from Wikipedia):
Mann’s reconstruction goes up to 1980 and has not been “curtailed” – nor was any data “eliminated”. And the instrumental temperature series, with its continued upward spike beyond 1980, is clearly shown separately.
But Corcoran is not done yet. He continues with a discussion of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) “spaghetti graph”, seen below. (Tellingly, none of these charts actually appear with the article).
The 2007 version, blending a slew of temperature data sets, was not technically misleading, says the review. But was it good science? It says “the depiction of uncertainty is quite apparent to any reader.” There are clear temperature trend divergences and discussion of uncertainty is “extensive.” Not extensive enough, however.
Ross McKitrick, the University of Guelph professor who with Steve McIntyre broke the hockey stick story, says the Russell review still misses the point. The 2007 version, for all its disclosure of uncertainty and the blending of unblendable temperature records, did not explain that key contradictory Siberian tree-ring data was deleted for the post-1960 period.
There’s no explanation of what “blending of unblendable temperature records” might mean, but let’s focus on the claim concerning “deleted” data.
Here, Corcoran appears to be confuse the Siberian “Yamal” tree-ring series, with the broader reconstructions presented in AR4. Indeed, McKitrick himself wrote a long screed in the National Post about Yamal last year. There he complained about the omission of a Yamal-area tree-ring series from a 2008 study led by CRU paleoclimatologist (and AR4 lead author) Keith Briffa. That series had been developed and archived by Fritz Schweingruber, who, according to McKitrick, also happened to be a co-author of the more recent study, implying that the exclusion was both deliberate and unjustifiable. Of course, that turned out to be an utter falsehood, as Schweingruber had nothing to do with the 2008 paper. But it’s a falsehood that remains uncorrected to this day as far as I know.
The 2007 IPCC spaghetti graph does contain Briffa’s large Eurasian tree-ring network that is terminated in 1960. However that fact, and the reasons for it, is disclosed in the IPCC main text discussion of the “divergence” problem (IPCC, Chapter 6, p. 427).
Several analyses of ring width and ring density chronologies, with otherwise well established sensitivity to temperature, have shown that they do not emulate the general warming trend evident in instrumental temperature records over recent decades … This ‘divergence’ is apparently restricted to some northern, high latitude regions, but it is certainly not ubiquitous even there. In their large-scale reconstructions based on tree ring density data, Briffa et al. (2001) specifically excluded the post-1960 data in their calibration against instrumental records, to avoid biasing the estimation of the earlier reconstructions (hence they are not shown in Figure 6.10), implicitly assuming that the ‘divergence’ was a uniquely recent phenomenon, as has also been argued by Cook et al. (2004a).
The Russell report also touched on accusations concerning peer review of scientific articles, finding that scientists were genuinely motivated by a desire to counter shoddy science. The report does not seem recognize, however, that the debacle at the journal Climate Research that so concerned climate scientists was nothing less than the ongoing subversion of the peer review system itself.
But Corcoran sees instead “thuggish suppression”.
There are scores of other highlights in the review that point to a science community in need of openness and reform, and as many that point to areas where the Russell review either evaded certain facts or fell into stiff technical treatment of instances where somebody obviously engaged in thuggish suppression of papers, but the evidence pointed no fingers — despite the emails. “Emails,” said the review, “are rarely definitive evidence of what actually happened.”
True, in one sense, but tell that to Wall Street bankers who have gone to criminal trial on the basis of a few lines of email.
Such complete delusion about climate science and scientists is surely fueled by extreme ignorance and ideological bias. However only dishonesty can explain the Post’s continued refusal to correct obvious falsehoods and errors.
In this regard, Corcoran’s past behaviour is not reassuring. He played a key role in the dissemination of Tom Harris’s Bali “skeptic” letter and hid information about its provenance.
As editor of the Financial Post (a.k.a. the National Post’s business section), Corcoran is now into his second decade of presiding over a constant flow of anti-science propaganda, both his own and from regulars like Lorne Gunter and Lawrence Solomon, with no end of sight.
And even when forced to run a rare retraction, in the case of Lawrence Solomon’s libelous characterization of astrophysicist Simon Weiss, Corcoran showed the depth of his insincerity and deception. Both Solomon and Corcoran claimed that Weiss was likely pressured into objecting to the article and filing a libel notice, according to the magazine the Western Standard:
But for Corcoran and Solomon, the incident is a troublesome example of academic intolerance. Corcoran says there “are signs [Weiss] was under pressure,” and Solomon goes further: “This is chilling. It stifles debate. It shows what happens if you dissent in the scientific community.”
Now Corcoran holds out the hope that bogus accusations might even lead to criminal trials for climate scientists. But, apparently, well-connected right-wing editors and columnists can spew falsehood after falsehood, and smear upon smear, without any consequences whatsoever.
That’s the real scandal of “Climategate”.