[Update, Dec. 19: This post has been substantially revised to remove speculation about Donald Rapp’s possible role in the Wegman report. I apologize for any embarrassment caused to Donald Rapp or Edward Wegman by that speculation.
The post has also been updated to reflect new information about the provenance of Wegman et al’s section on tree ring proxies, as well as more background detail on some of the events leading up to the Wegman report. There are also more details about large swathes of unattributed material found in the Wegman report and in Donald Rapp’s book Assessing Climate Change.
It is clear that the circumstances and contents of both the Wegman report and Rapp’s text book deserve closer scrutiny.
Dec. 20: Comments are now open again.]
As Climategate devolves into a rerun of old battles about the “hockey stick” graph, I thought I would revisit the roots of that benighted controversy and take a look at the chaotic events of a few years back when the politicization of science (also known as the Republican war on science) really took hold.
I was planning to write another installment of the “In the beginning” series on Steve McIntyre. So I decided to take a look at the infamous Wegman report that Republican congressman Joe Barton relied on to ensure that the “numbers added up” (or not, as he was sure was more likely). The 2006 report was the work of a mysterious “ad hoc” committee led by George Mason University statistics professor Edward Wegman, along with David Scott and Yasmin Said. With its near-veneration for putative hockey-stick destroyers Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, and its scornful denunciation of Michael Mann and his “social network” of like-minded researchers, the report has been a touchstone for contrarians.
But then I started thinking about something that had always bothered me. How could a trio of statistical experts, all on their own, hope to write a report on a field, climate science, of which they had no previous knowledge or experience?
Part of the answer lies in the close examination of the Wegman report. Surprsingly, extensive passages from Wegman et al on proxies have turned up in a skeptic text book by contrarian author Donald Rapp. And at least one of these common passages on tree ring proxies closely follows a classic text by noted paleoclimatologist Raymond Bradley, but with a key alteration not found in the original. Moreover, Wegman’s section on social networks appears to contain some unattributed material from Wikipedia and from a classic sociology text.
[This post was updated on December 12 to provide additional context that strengthens the original analysis – see below for details.]
This so-called Climategate is really getting out of hand, isn’t it?
Steve McIntyre has published allegations – twice now – that an internal IPCC authors’ debate about the inclusion of Briffa’s tree-ring reconstruction in a key figure from the 2001 WG1 Third Assesement Report was driven by concern about the post-1960 “decline” in tree-ring widths, a decline that showed a marked divergence with the instrumental tempertaure record.
The Climategate Letters show clearly that the relevant context is the IPCC Lead Authors’ meeting in Tanzania in September 1999 at which the decline in the Briffa reconstruction was perceived by IPCC as “diluting the message”, as a “problem”, as a “potential distraction/detraction”. [Emphasis added]
McIntyre even claims that lead author Michael Mann worried that showing the series with this decline would give “fodder” to “skeptics”.
But even a cursory examination of the emails in question shows that the discussion was really about other aspects of the reconstruction, specifically obvious discrepancies between Briffa’s reconstruction and the other two under consideration over the major part of the reconstruction’s length. Thus, once again, McIntyre’s speculations are shown to be utterly without foundation.
Even worse, McIntyre left out intervening sentences within the actual proffered quotes in what appears to be an unsophisticated attempt to mislead.
The blogosphere, or at least the climate contrarian part of it, has been up in arms over supposed misconduct and plagiarism on the part of climate scientists. First, there was a minor kerfuffle earlier this summer over NOAA’s citation of the surfacestation.org website instead of an online publication by Anthony Watts. That turned out to be just the latest in a series of accusations of misconduct from ClimateAudit.org.
But that was nothing compared to the furor over the Corrigendum to the Steig et al. paper, “Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet surface since the 1957 International Geophysical Year” (just published in Nature). Steig et al. were accused of failing to acknowledge the role of Hu McCulloch in identifying an error in the calculation of trend significance. The corrigendum thus was held to constitute an act of plagiarism.
Meanwhile, some of the same bloggers who have risen up in righteous indignation and made groundless accusations against Steig et al, have been strangely silent regarding a real act of plagiarism, namely EPA economist Alan Carlin’s wholesale appropriation without attribution of large swathes of Patrick Michaels’ World Climate Report.
And, of course, an examination of the accusations against Steig et al shows them to be completely baseless. In fact, Hu McCulloch has apparently already withdrawn his accusations, although at present we have yet to see any apologies or retractions from Steig et al’s accusers.