Tag Archives: Marsall Institute

Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, part 2: The story behind the Barton-Whitfield investigation and the Wegman Panel

[Updated Feb. 8: (editing and extension of summary and document list update)]

Perhaps the most disturbing episode in the “hockey stick” controversy was the investigation of climate scientists by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee under Republican representatives Joe Barton and Ed Whitfield, and a subsequent report for that same committee  by an “independent” panel led by George Mason University statistics professor Edward Wegman. In light of various renewed “skeptic” allegations of scientific misconduct against Michael Mann and Phil Jones, and my recent revelation of possible plagiarism and other questionable scholarship in the Wegman report, a complete review of the events of 2005-2006 would seem to be in order.

In short, the Energy and Commerce Committee refused the offer of a proper scientific review from the National Academy of Sciences in favour of an investigative process that was ad hoc, biased and unscientific. And the report resulting from that process  is tainted with highly questionable scholarship.

I can now fill in important gaps in the timelines of the initial investigation and the Wegman panel. But more importantly my review has led to some startling conclusions:

  • Not only was the original Barton-Whitfield investigation (in the form of intimidating letters) inspired by the allegations of “climate science auditor”  Steve McIntyre, but the defining impetus seems to have been a little known Cooler Heads Coalition-Marshall Institute sponsored presentation by McIntyre and sidekick economist Ross McKitrick in Washington barely a month beforehand.
  • Energy and Commerce Committee Republican staffer Peter Spencer played a key but hitherto undisclosed role in the investigation and the subsequent Wegman panel report, and  apparently acted as the main source and gatekeeper of climate science information for the panel.
  • Steve McIntyre was in communication with the Wegman panel, at least concerning technical questions around replication of his work. The full extent of McIntyre’s communications or meetings with Spencer or other staffers, as well as Wegman panelists, is still unknown. However, the record shows there were at least two intriguing opportunities for face-to-face meetings in Washington during the Wegman panel’s mandate.

All this, along with new information about the circumstances of the Wegman panel’s formation and mandate, raises serious doubts about the supposed independence of the Wegman panel.

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Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, part 1: In the beginning

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).

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