Terence Corcoran whopper: Mann’s hockey stick “eliminated some of the data from 1960 forward … and then spliced on actual temperature data”

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.”

Along the way, Corcoran even manages to confuse a little known Phil Jones graphic with Michael Mann’s “hockey stick” millenial temperature reconstruction. This leads to the astonishing (and entirely wrong) accusation that the hockey stick creators “eliminated some of the data from 1960 forward … and then spliced on actual temperature data”. Yet neither the “hockey stick” graph (the real one) nor the associated Mann et al study are mentioned in the report at all!

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.

(Regular readers will surely recall that this chart has been discussed now and then).

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).

Corcoran writes:

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”.


12 responses to “Terence Corcoran whopper: Mann’s hockey stick “eliminated some of the data from 1960 forward … and then spliced on actual temperature data”

  1. Oh dear. We all know that our preconceptions about people can colour our conclusions about things they say or write – but this is beyond sloppy prejudgements.

    Fooling oneself into confusing a well-known graph with a previously unknown one is downright silly. Do I detect strange coloured spectacles that read words like Mann, Jones and Hansen as being one and the same thing regardless of context, facts or references?

    A rush to judgement should not include tripping over your own feet.

  2. carrot eater

    But DC, it’s all so very confusing, trying to keep track of which graph is which. A columnist hasn’t the time for that; the important business of spreading his opinions cannot wait for that. Really, all graphs are the same in the end. Just some squiggles on a piece of paper. In fact, I heard last quarter’s GDP data were revised. Just shows you once more how unreliable the hockey stick is; they keep having to fix it, and yet it’s still broken.

  3. What a spectacularly bad article. The worst is claiming “they didn’t tell anyone what they had done” for Mike’s Nature trick…..and no matter how much evidence we hold up to prove that claim wrong, the National Post won’t retract it, as Andrew Weaver learned. Heard anything about how the lawsuit has progressed?

  4. What are you people talking about? I read the article by Corcoran and it says none of the bazaar things you are claiming it said. It is a well written summary of the latest Climategate investigation, and their predictable results.

    [DC: Except for the fact that Corcoran has gotten the findings completely wrong. And the “bazaar” (or bizarre) things I “claim it said” are direct quotes. ]

    The trouble with these investigations (this is the 3rd), is that they are trying to rebuild the credibility of the CRU in the eyes of the public, but what they forget is that the CRU had no credibility with the public to begin with. As far as the public is concerned, Climategate is the first anyone has ever heard about the CRU and their primary impression is that the CRU is a small group of obscure scientists who were caught fudging their data. They can do all the investigations they want, but the public’s first impression is the one which always remains.

    [DC: It would help if the media would report fairly and honestly on Climategate. But that would mean reporting on the deceptions within the media itself.

    Until the attacks on climate science and climate scientists are thoroughly exposed for what they really are, i.e. a relentless smear campaign motivated by ideology and greed, the public will be led astray. ]

    • Actually Klem it’s about the 6th inquiry counting everything on both sides of the Atlantic, related to climate science (I think the recent Dutch one is the 7th, and that has just verified that the IPCC main conclusions are correct). All of them have been done by various different organisations, both Government and non-Government.

      All of them have found the same thing: there is no data fudging. The data is real. The data is verifiable. The data is correct.

      You know, Klem, sometimes when you have inquiry after inquiry (taxpayers expense of course) and they keep verifying through numerous different means that the scientists were correct, you may have to start questioning your own point of view, eh?

      We know you don’t like scientific facts, but you might just have to suck it up and deal with it.

  5. Curious, is Corcoran on the record claiming the inquiries are a “whitewash”? I though he would have.

    There is plenty if justified critique in the reports from the inquiries without Corcoran having to fabricate stuff.

    Maybe Corcoran is jealous of his colleagues getting sued? He sure does seem to be doing his best to get sued.

    DC, if you can I urge you to follow through on this with a letter to the NP. A waste of time I know, but at least it is on the record.

  6. Mr. Corcoran “Ignoring the facts does not change the facts”.

    Just in case anyone here was wondering. The NP is not a member of any press council, nor will they provide or advertise their code of conduct. They are unaccountable to anyone, except the law it seems.

  7. Klem:

    The trouble with these investigations (this is the 3rd), is that they are trying to rebuild the credibility of the CRU in the eyes of the public, […] They can do all the investigations they want, but the public’s first impression is the one which always remains.

    What the flying ████ are you saying? That one shouldn’t try to find out the actual facts behind any high-profile case, because there’s always the “public’s first impression”? Is this what you really think?

    Oh, and by the way, stop trying to pretend you’re just a disinterested observer of “the public”. Because you’ve been actively trying to spread climate denialist nonsense over at Barry Bickmore’s blog and possibly elsewhere. You’re not an observer, you’re an active nonsense amplifier.

    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”.

    Even the BBC and other news outlets talk as if the recent drop in confidence in climate science was due purely to the unauthorized release of the e-mails. It was not. It was due to the noise campaign puffed up around the e-mails.


  8. Thanks for clarifying all this tedious nonsense about the myth of the broken hockey stick(s).

    Corcoran wrote:

    “The story behind all this and other issues does not make for comfortable reading for IPCC supporters. On IPCC science, the Russell review takes a side shot at the official risk-rating system. The IPCC typically issues statements such as “the present is likely warmer than in the past.” What does this mean? The review has doubts.”

    I can’t find the “…likely warmer…” reference (the embedded quote from the Muir Russell report) in the Paleoclimate chapter, nor in the Technical Summary, nor in the Summary for Policy Makers. There is a use of the words “likely warmer” on page 466 of AR4 WG1 but that refers specifically to the summer of 2003 compared to the last 500 years in Europe.

    I’m not sure what the Muir Russell report was referring to with that quote but Corcoran’s spin on that paragraph in MR (page 58) –“Is it therefore highly likely that the IPCC risk assessments are not based on good science and math?”– is bizarre, to say the least. I smell desperation.

    BTW, DC, your reference to “page 427” of Chapter 6 should read “page 472”. You never know how errors like that could one day be used to tarnish your reputation. 😉

  9. rumleyfips

    I did an antique show at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto soon after the launch of the National Post ( this was before Conrad Black went to jail).Attractive women, the whole nine yards: lots of makeup, pushup bras, hemlines upshot arsewise, were present giving out free copies of the National Post.

    The first days they had no problem with their freebees. By day three, people , having read the trash offered, were saying no thanks.

    That was 13 or 15 years ago, but it’s nice that things haven’t changed.

  10. OT, but related given the MSM subject. The Union of Concerned Scientists have decided to get proactive on the subject of Murdoch’s NewsCorp allowing the likes of Fox News to get away with all sorts while the parent claims to be concerned about the environment. They’ve set up an online letter which you can sign and automatically send to NewsCorp demanding they get their house in order. Commenters here may want to give it a go.

    Tell Rupert Murdoch: Get the Facts Straight!

    They’re also asking for help with Promoting Climate Science for the Public Good. I’m sure there are many here with the skills and credentials that they could use.

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