December 18, 2009 at 7:25 PM 29 comments

Now I’m getting annoyed.

Michael Mann, one of the chief protaganists of the climategate scandal, has an op-ed piece in the Washington Post this morning that attempts to obscure the scientific issues in a cloud of misdirection.

He begins by citing not the complaints by the scientific skeptics, but a reference by Sarah Palin, a politician, to a 1999 e-mail. He asserts that this proves that “hiding the decline”, some of the most alarming language in the e-mails, couldn’t possibly refer to the stabilization of temperatures seen after 1998. True.

Of course, reviews of the released materials have made it clear that it was another, more alarming decline that had to be hidden. This  has already been extensively reported, complete with color graphics worth the proverbial thousand words by British news organizations.

Essential to the view that CO2 emissions were responsible for recent warming is the notion that such warming didn’t happen prior to the industrial age. Prior to Mann’s own “hockey stick” papers, conventional scientific thought had been that there had been two previous such periods of warming during the Christian era.  One had been during the Roman Empire and a second around 1000 AD — when grapes grew in Northern England and Norse sailors could colonize Greenland because of the relative warmth. This second “Mideval” warming period was believed to have given way to a “little ice age”. CO2 was not implicated in any of those events because they preceded industrialization.

One of Mann’s own colleagues (Keith Briffa) had tree ring data going back to 1000 AD that supported the conventional view rather than Mann’s reinterpretation, and believed that it had been warmer 1000 years ago than today. This so “muddied” the message that the IPCC authors wanted to send to the policy makers, that a flurry of e-mails ensued about what to do with the contrarian data.

They couldn’t leave the Briffa data out; it had already been peer-reviewed and published. And Briffa was hardly going to stand by with seeing his scientific contributions down-played. So Briffa agreed to change the technique for analysis of his own work.  (This may be where the HARRY_READ_ME file described in previous posts starts referring to “inserting very artificial corrections”.) And the new technique did smooth out both the mideval warming and the little ice age.

However, even if the technique was valid in the first place, use of the new technique created a bigger problem for the hockey stick than it solved. Briffa’s data now showed temperatures plunging, not warming, after 1960. This is the “decline” that had to be hidden, and Mann’s being totally disingenuous in raising a strawman about the 2000’s, when he knows perfectly well the topics of the 1999 e-mails.

So how was the decline hidden? Quite literally, by sleight of hand. As the blown-up Daily Mail graphics linked above show, they simply found a point on the graph where the various data curves crossed and terminated the curve in the spegetti where the decline would have the least visual impact. They note in the IPCC text that there is disagreement between the proxy data and measured temperatures AFTER 1960, but continue to use the proxy data as if it agrees with the hockey stick for 940 years beforehand!

Let me repeat that for emphasis: They had data from one of their own colleagues which they accept as valid and which, when analyzed under either of two statistical techniques, is evidence against CO2-caused global warming occurring. Instead of reporting the evidence to policy-makers and the public as contrary evidence, they portrayed the evidence as if it supported their hypothesis.

The Mann Washington Post opinion piece is filled with such misleading statements. He repeats the “this is the warmest decade” line which is the subject of the post on Climate Statistics immediately preceding this post. He cites the NAS Wegman Committee report I mentioned in my previous post, “Update: Being Prophetic and Climategate”. In that citation, he is careful to note that the committee did not accuse him of intentionally distorting data while ignoring the Committee’s conclusion that his “hockey stick” was a statistical mirage. And he concludes with the assertion that his work is supported by the very peer review process he is accused of subverting.

Sometimes you should just know you’re in trouble and take the 5th.


Entry filed under: current events, environmental sciences, peace and justice, political science. Tags: , .


29 Comments Add your own

  • 1. TH  |  December 19, 2009 at 8:57 PM

    How does this inform your theology?

  • 2. FireTag  |  December 20, 2009 at 12:35 AM

    I don’t think this post informs my theology so much as it reflects my sense of personal vocation. I’ve written several posts on this subject, beginning with “Being Prophetic — Someday”, because the issue of environmental stewardship has the potential to affect the lives of every person on the planet.

    I think “saving the planet” is a silly slogan. You don’t study natural history, geology, physics. or cosmology for very long before you realize what a puny threat creatures like humans are to the earth. In our most grandiose dreams, we are capable of doing no more to the planet’s ecosystem than a good size mountain crashing into it does naturally every few hundred million years. The earth has survived having its entire crust melted, being frozen into a giant snowball, and having the oceans turn green. It would survive anything we throw at it and come back with new lifeforms that will refill every ecological niche.

    But humans — and particular human civilizations — are fragile by comparison. Fifty thousand years ago, there were two species of human on the planet; now there is one. Five thousand years ago, the planet was filled with dozens of civilizations that only archeological specialists even know existed. Five hundred years ago, the civilizations dominating the Americas probably knew nothing about England.

    And people can now affect each other globally, more quickly and more profoundly than we can imagine or understand. We don’t have to work to establish community. We can’t avoid community.

    But our decisions now can have enormous impacts on the kinds of communities they will be. And people who have great power to influence those decisions bear responsibility commensurate with that power.

    Whether your vocation is some form of science, religion, art, politics, education, commerce, or personal caregiving, your power is greater than that of your counterparts generations ago. You may be a god to someone; some of you may have god-like powers over many people’s futures — whether you want that or not. Use that godhood well if you expect God/evolution/history to extend more of it to you.

  • 3. bewarethechicken  |  December 31, 2009 at 3:19 PM

    The reason he was responding to Palin was because she had written an earlier, and falsehood ridden op ed in the Washington Post. After pressure, the WP finally caved and allowed a rebuttal.

  • 4. FireTag  |  December 31, 2009 at 6:36 PM

    Ummm, the Washington Post’s editorial position has been consistently pro-global-warning. I don’t think it required “caving to pressure”.

    But responding to Palin again allows him to avoid responding to questions of science. Why does he not address what “decline” the 1999 e-mails were actually concerned about? In other words, how DOES he explain the decisions on how his own colleague’s data was hidden, as the link in the OP exposes?

    He doesn’t. That’s the point he’s trying to avoid HAVING to deal with by casting aspersions that “it’s just people like Sarah Palin” who think there’s a problem.

  • 5. bewarethechicken  |  January 4, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    I’m not sure any media group is in favor of global warming, but certainly publishing an op-ed by a globla-warming denier who is anything but an expert in the field is not very convincing evidence of bias.

    And he absolutley does address the ‘hide the decline’ comment. Both generally – in that the comment can’t refer to temperature declines as the e-mail was written in 1999, then the hottest year on record; and specifically, when he explains that it refers to inconsistencies between tree-ring and temperature data.

    I’m no expert – I just read the Op-Ed. I don’t understand why you say he doesn’t address it – when he clearly does.

  • 6. FireTag  |  January 4, 2010 at 7:23 PM

    It will help to understand if you look at the link to the British expose at the end of the third paragraph of the post above after reading this comment.

    Kieth Briffa’s data is ALSO tree ring data, analyzed using different trees, tree ring parameters, and statistical techniques than Mann’s. As published, it confirmed the conventional wisdom PRIOR TO MANN’S WORK that warming and cooling of the extensive rates seen in the late 20th Century had been seen several times before in the last two millenia. If that is true, CO2 emissions could NOT have been the cause of thise sequences. And CO2 emission would remain only one of MULTIPLE suspects, human or natural, for what is happening now.

    So, the expose notes an e-mail trail showing Mann, Jones, and the CRU’s interface with the IPCC pushing to present a politically simple story of UNPRECEDENTED late 20th Century Warming which Briffa’s data contradicted.

    Briffa reanalyzed his data using a method more to Mann’s liking. The DATA didn’t change; only the method of analysis. The new method showed what Mann hoped it would show for the Mideval warm period, but it showed a pronounced cooling after 1960. Mann then rejected the analysis after 1960, but KEPT it ptior to 1960.

    If the method of analysis was invalid AFTER 1960, why would one “objectively” believe it prior to 1960 in defiance of the other climate indicators that exist? (For example, grapevines grew in Northern Britain in historiacal times!)

    This is called cherry-picking of results, and it is scientifically invalid. Notice that it matches the same pattern I pointed out in earlier posts on Climategate. In all areas, whether in software maintenance, statistical techniques, corrections of raw data, or selection of results for peer reviewed publication, things which supported the hockey stick were assumed to be correct when they supported Mann’s position, even when there were obvious errors pointed out by acknowledged experts. Things which contradicted Mann’s hockey stick were massaged until they agreed, even when there was no physical or mathematical mechanism known for such a result.

    This was “consensus” formed.

    Bit the people forging the consensus had numerous incentives for bias. Just as many, it turns out, as did the big compamies opposing ca[ and trade.

    Corruption doesn’t come exclusively in either red or blue, it seems.

  • 7. bewarethechicken  |  January 7, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    You ask: “If the method of analysis was invalid AFTER 1960, why would one “objectively” believe it prior to 1960 in defiance of the other climate indicators that exist?”

    The answer is – like the rest of climat science – I have no idea. But that’s what the climate scientists say. This is from (http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/11/the-cru-hack/)

    “As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem”–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.”

    I suppose to lay people, like Sarah Palin, your position makes sense. But in cases of the life and death of the earth, I’ll take my cue from what the consensus belief of scientists is. As for being corrupt and bias – aside from the problem of corrupting and biasing thousands of scientists to reach the same conclusion across different cultures, countries and languages – what is the incentive?

  • 8. FireTag  |  January 7, 2010 at 3:18 PM


    Because you believe that there is a divergence between the ANALYSIS and the temperatures after 1960, you know at least one of three things must be true: Briffa’s tree ring data is wrong; Mann’s suggested way of reanalyzing the entire data set is wrong; or the temperature data post 1960 is wrong.

    Eliminate the third possibility for the sake of argument. Briffa’s original way of analyzing his data isn’t in conflict with the late 20th century temperature data, nor is it in conflict with Mann’s late 20th century data. It is in conflict with Mann’s analysis of the EARLIER warming periods — which Mann cannot support by appeal to direct temperature records and where his own analysis is the one in violation of the previous “consensus”.

    Mann can claim that Briffa’s work either contradicts his analysis about the earlier warming or contradicts his claims in the late 20th century. He CANNOT claim that the work SUPPORTS his claims about earlier warming and simultaneously imply that it should be disregarded after 1960.

    As to corruption, you seem to be missing the point: you don’t have to corrupt 1000’s of scientists. You only have to corrupt a few, who have large stakes in maintaining reputations and grant money. You only have to corrupt a few UN politicians (as with the oil for food program in Iraq). And the bandwagon rolls on because good people inside and outside science naturally assume that everyone is basically playing fair.

    Most of the scientific “priesthood” is as honest as the religious “priesthood”, but trust can allow some really bed things to go on in the dark in both institutions.

    For example, Real Climate is Mann’s own site. Maybe that’s a trust that should be suspended for a bit while alerted experts pour over the information.

    On an entirely different topic, I hope you’ll be posting soon something on your blog re your reactions to the legislation that is coming before the CofChrist and what the church may be facing in the next months. (See next post.)

  • 9. bewarethechicken  |  January 8, 2010 at 6:10 PM

    You mischaracterize my beliefs. I believe the vaaaast majority of scientists agree that human-caused C02 os causing the earth to warm dangerously. I believe people stole e-mails from a very very small few of these scientists and then searched them for anything that would make them look bad. One of those things was the phrase “hide the decline” which several have jumped on to indicate some sort of sneaky conspiracy.

    However, Mann and others have explained that tree-ring data afte 1960 is spotty. I have no reason to doubt this.

    As for maintaining reputation and grant money – how does one do that by falsifying research?

  • 10. FireTag  |  January 8, 2010 at 7:01 PM

    One makes error. One hides the error rather than admit to the possibility of it. IF one does not get caught, one maintains the reputation that would be shattered otherwise.

    You’re not that naive, BTC.

    I don’t doubt that the tree ring data after 1960 is spotty either. The point is that the tree ring data for the thousand years before that should be even more spotty, and the software quality control, statistical procedures, and selection and omission of data sources are very validly subject to criticism.

    If your watch is telling you the wrong time now, do you assume that it will tell you the right time tomorrow, or that it was telling you the right time yesterday unless you had other sources yesterday to confirm it? Of course not!

    Sometimes things are true even when said by political opponents.

  • 11. bewarethechicken  |  January 8, 2010 at 7:23 PM

    Someone covering up an error that leads to a worldwide consenus among peer reviewed scientists seems unlikely at best.

    I agree with you that it seems counterintuitive that tree ring data got increasingly less reliable after 1960 – but that’s what the climate scientists seem to say – and they are scientists, and I am not. They must have their work and methodology reviewed and critiqued by unbias peers, I do not. So I trust what they say.

  • 12. FireTag  |  January 8, 2010 at 8:31 PM

    “They must have their work and methodology reviewed and critiqued by unbiased peers.”

    Yes, they must. And only someone on the inside may appreciate how fragile the peer review process becomes if the reviewers are co-authors who are reviewing EACH OTHER’S work and so are NOT unbiased. Errors can slip through the cracks anytime, and precisely BECAUSE the future of the world — as you note — could be at stake, the peer review has to be UPGRADED and especially open. This was anything but.

    Never assume everybody else is doing their job when work demands increase. That’s how airliners get blown up or cities get left exposed to flooding by levies that aren’t built properly.

  • 13. bewarethechicken  |  January 11, 2010 at 2:41 PM

    You say: “this” was anything but. What do you mean by “this?”

  • 14. FireTag  |  January 11, 2010 at 8:00 PM

    The peer review process as it applied to the CRU work and as the CRU authors peer reviewed their own critics. Read the “Climate Audit” links from the blogroll on my homepage in audition to the “RealClimate” link you’re already following and decide whether the process was open and proper.

    I know it’s a lot of work, but, one way or the other, you and your kids are likely to be living with the consequences, so it might be worth the effort to check for yourself.

  • 15. bewarethechicken  |  January 13, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    The CRU is not the group that discovered and invented global warming. It is supported by independent research and researchers all over the world. Even if I were to concede that every scientist at the CRU was paid off by some rich person with a perverted interest in causing global panic, it would be a drop in the bucket as to climate scientists and scientific consensus. Moreover, even if every scientist at CRU were to come out and say they didn’t believe there was evidence supporting global warming, they would be in the very very small minority. I don’t think there is a conspiracy at CRU because it doesn’t make sense for there to be. But even if there is and everything is as you say, it really doesn’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things.

  • 16. FireTag  |  January 13, 2010 at 6:46 PM

    Then I assume you would be open to considering evidence for or against the existence of earlier (pre-indistrial) warming periods truly INDEPENDENTLY of citations of Mann and Jones et. al. until the latter are scrubbed for software error, data selection bias, or statistical methodology? 😀

    That, after all, is what I’ve been asking for in this series of posts. That’s good science.

  • 17. bewarethechicken  |  January 14, 2010 at 1:09 PM

    I’m in favor of all evidence. My only comments related to your claiming that Mann’s WP peice contained false and misleading statements and that he didn’t respond to his critics, while he obviously did. I also commented on your claims that the e-mails show some sort of conspiracy. Obviously I’m in favor of any production of evidence.

  • 18. FireTag  |  January 14, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    Then that’s where we’ll leave it.

  • 19. bewarethechicken  |  January 14, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    Hey – good news – I posted a new blog entry. I know you’ve been clamouring. 🙂


  • 20. FireTag  |  January 14, 2010 at 5:22 PM

    I HAVE been clamoring. I just put your link back from “gone silent” to “Blogatorium”. Now I’ll go over and see if I just shot myself in the foot. 😀

    • 21. bewarethechicken  |  January 15, 2010 at 12:50 PM

      When are you going to give Grant similar grief for neglecting his blog? 😉

      • 22. FireTag  |  January 15, 2010 at 1:04 PM

        I think, unfortunately, Grant has whole denominations devoted to giving him grief. Challenging YOU, however, remains one of my personal ministerial duties. (That which does not kill you makes you stronger.) Tough to be you. 😀

  • 23. bewarethechicken  |  January 15, 2010 at 7:25 PM

    And God bless you for it. 🙂

  • 24. bewarethechicken  |  March 31, 2010 at 11:09 AM

    I know you were waiting for the investigation on this to reach some conclusions.


    “The first of several British investigations into the e-mails leaked from one of the world’s leading climate research centers has largely vindicated the scientists involved.

    The House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee said Wednesday that they’d seen no evidence to support charges that the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit or its director, Phil Jones, had tampered with data or perverted the peer review process to exaggerate the threat of global warming “

    • 25. FireTag  |  March 31, 2010 at 1:20 PM


      Thanks for keeping up with this. I hope to get back to writing about this, but it will almost certainly be a few weeks after world conference, since the climate change policy issues are not active at the moment, and the review by scientists as opposed to the political authorities is ongoing..

      Then we can get back to our more familiar position of being on the opposite sides of an issue instead of being on the same side of one. (Thanks for having my back on “Saints Herald”.)

      In the meanwhile, I’ll offer the link on my science and technology sites menu to “Climate Audit” as a preview of coming attractions. (And anyone wishing to follow the CofDhrist pre-World Conference discussions I mentioned above can link to the Saint’s Herald from the Blogatorium section of my site menu.)

  • 26. bewarethechicken  |  June 25, 2010 at 5:25 PM


    Just wanted to point out that all investigations are finished and newspapers have published their retractions as everyone has been cleared. The London Times even admitted to “misleadingly” quoting someone to make it seem like he was saying something he wasn’t.

    Unfortuantely, as the author of this blog points out – people won’t read about how “Climategate” was debunked, only about “Climategate.” Which was what was likely intended to begin with.

  • 27. FireTag  |  June 25, 2010 at 5:46 PM

    I have been following this on both sides of the Atlantic, and both sides of the issue and do plan a post or two on lessons learned from the scandal. The commentary is often two camps spinning the post mortem on the inquiries just as they spun the original debate. Everything is neither honky-dory OR shear denier conspiracy when you look at the inquiry reports themselves and their recommended actions.

    I don’t know about you, but I need some clones to get done all the things I see needing doing!

  • 28. bewarethechicken  |  June 29, 2010 at 9:55 AM

    Not me! I am the lucky one who will rely on the work of objective experts! 😉

  • 29. FireTag  |  June 29, 2010 at 6:41 PM

    Yeah? Well my objective experts are more objective than your objective experts! 😀

    I’ll have to tell you sometime the story from the EPA administrator over the program about how the Hazard Ranking Factor for Superfund clean up came about.


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