Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Explaining Away Climategate

The video below is is a well-thought-out response to Climategate that explains the scientific meaning of "trick" and that the climate scientists were actually talking about tree ring data when they wrote "hide the decline". Please watch the video and then read my response to it.


OK, many of the points are well-taken. Rush and some of the other non-expert loudmouth blowhards are way off in their commentary and totally wrong in the details. There is no actionable evidence of "fraud", "scam", or "conspiracy". It is irresponsible to use such strong words.


The linked video says the emails and computer programs are "stolen" or "hacked". But there is no evidence of that. Indeed, it is most likely they were released by an inside whistleblower who was appalled by what he saw going on and felt it his or her public duty to do someting about it.

They go after what they call "McExperts" like Rush but they ignore the real experts who have been at this for years and who have exposed important questions about the data and how it is processed.

The video paints all skeptics and "lukewarmers" with the same extremist "deniers" brush. No one who knows the facts denies the Earth has warmed by around 0.5ºC to 0.6ºC over the past century. Nor do reasonable skeptics deny that human release of sequestered carbon (coal, oil, natural gas) is partly responsible.


The issue is not whether it has warmed. The issue is the cause of the warming and the level of human responsibility in it.

The "alarmists" and "warmers" say the major cause is rising greenhouse gases (mainly CO2) and that humans are responsible for the great majority of the warming. They say we are near a "tipping point" and if we do not take immediate and drastic action to stop human-caused CO2 the Earth will overheat beyond our ability to correct it.

The "skeptics" and "lukewarmers" say the major cause is natural cycles of the Sun and decadal ocean oscillations and that humans are responsible for only a small percentage of the warming. They say we are far from any "tipping point" and they favor reasoned action to reduce human caused greenhouse gases.


If you read the main skeptic websites, such as Watts Up With That? and Climate Audit and others, you will find reasoned science-based critique of the way temperature data is obtained and how it is processed. Even before Climategate, they showed convincing evidence that a large percentage (I say around 30%) of the apparent warming is actually due to measurement bias.

These sites publish photos of active weather stations that have been encroached by asphalt driveways and air conditioner exhausts and other artificial heat sources over the past few decades. They surveyed nearly all official US stations and found that most of them do not meet the guidelines for high quality set by NASA, being at least 100 feet (30 meters) from artificial heat sources. Indeed, many of these stations were properly located years ago, but are now in the midst of newly constructed artificial heat sources. That is convincing evidence at least some of the temperature data is biased.

WHAT IS THE REAL MEANING OF "Mike's Nature trick" and Hide the decline"

The video repeats two of the most widely circulated email excerpts, "Mike's Nature trick" and "hide the decline" and attempts to explain them away. The video repeats these two charges and then accuses the skeptics of not having anything else. Well, there is plenty more, see this and this.

Let us consider the two items the video centered on. Yes, "trick" is sometimes used in scientific literature to describe perfectly honest analysis techniques. Yes, the "hide the decline" statement was about tree ring data that is used as a proxy for surface temperatures in the past.

Why tree rings? Reliable instrumental temperature readings, taken with callibrated thermometers in widely distributed locations on the Earth, have been around only for the past century and a half. For that reason, scientists must use what they call "proxy" data, such as tree rings, which happen to grow more when it is warmer, to determine the temperatures hundreds or thousands of years ago. Well, there is a problem with some of the tree ring data. From about 1940 on, the tree rings show a decline in temperature at the same time instrumental readings have been showing an increase. OY! Either the instruments are biased or -horrors- tree rings are not a very reliable proxy, or both.

So, they used "Mike's Nature trick" (named after Michael Mann a Prof. at Penn State who used the "trick" for a paper published in the prestigious science journal Nature) which is not to plot the tree ring data after 1940. You see, if they plotted all the tree ring data as well as the instrumental data, everybody would see the tree ring data decline as the instrumental data increased. If the tree ring data is shown to be wrong from 1940 to the present, that would raise questions about the actual temperatures indicated by the tree rings hundreds of years ago.

Why the concern about tree ring reliability? Well, historical records indicate what is called the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), during which there were vinyards in northern England, Greenland was an agricultural haven, northern Newfoundland was colonized as "vinland", and the north Atlantic was up to 1.0ºC warmer than today!

Uh, oh!? If the MWP is real, then temperatures 1000 years ago were higher than temperatures now, which would make the alarmists wrong when they say the Earth has never been as warm as it is now. It turns out the tree ring data they had does not show the MWP, so it is important to preserve the reliabilty of that tree ring data. So, "hide the decline" and all will be OK.

Do you believe human reports or tree rings? But all is not OK. I believe the historical record more then the tree rings. Especially if the tree rings are not tracking instrumental temperatures now. Why are tree rings not reliable? Because tree growth is dependent upon much more than surface temperature. It depends upon rainfall, for example.

The tree ring example is sufficient, in my opinion, to throw doubt upon the claim the Earth has never been this warm. It is doubtful it is this warm mostly due to human activities. It was warmer in medieval times, prior to widescale industrialization. That is why the climate scientists used the "trick" to "hide the decline". Sometimes a "trick" really is a is a trick to hide an inconvenient truth. (As Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!")

Ira Glickstein


Richard Fryer said...


'Proxies' suggest that there is a direct correspondence between the item desired (temperature in this case) and the item being measured (treerings). But there are so many ways to 'get it wrong' that it almost seems like deciding how many angels can dance on - well - you know. CO2 fertilization (which the NAS says invalidates Mann's use of the Bristlecone pine treerings); Briffa's selection of 'just the right subsample' to yield the hockey stick; temperature-rainfall interactions and other well documented problems.

It would be 'nice' (whatever the heck that means) to see someone do a comparison of the several 'reliable' proxies where there also exist temperature records that can be correlated.

What follows is one of McIntyre's recent expositions of 'The Trick' at the new Climate Audit site.
The 'New' Climate Audit and some discussion of the 'Trick' according to McIntyre.

My oversimplified version:
Terminate proxie data when it begins to disagree with your theory and continue the graph with other data that DOES agree - without explaining that you have apples and oranges on the plot.

joel said...

Ira said in a previous post:
Nope - No grant money in that!
Joel responds: Give up Ira. The truth or the cover-up of lies isn't important. Those who have an agenda that fits in with a belief in global warming will tap dance around all this. Big Science is as corrupt as Big Education or any other "Big" when it comes to Big Money. Stamping out dissenting voices makes Big Science look like Big Religion, similar to the Catholic Church trying to cover up pedophilia. If "Warmists" had any sense they would lynch the people who made them look so bad and take steps to make sure that contrary views have a fair hearing.

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel is correct, "Stamping out dissenting voices makes Big Science look like Big Religion...

Faith is believing in something despite lack of evidence. If the evidence were clear, only reason would be needed. Faith would be superfluous. Indeed, real faith is belief in something despite strong evidence to the contrary!

By that standard, the committed alarmists and warmists are among the most faithful and "religious" among us. Climactic Stasis is their God, CO2 their Devil, and Polar Bears their Idols.!

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Richard Fryer for your comments. Your link did not work probably because the site is in process of being moved due to the high traffic caused by Climategate. Here is a later link to Climate Audit about the "trick" that should work.

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

OOPS - Severe winter weather in London does not agree with Climatic Research Unit (CRU) models. Must be a problem with the weather reports :^)

Back in March 2000 the following was reported “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past”. According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”.

In 2008, London got its first October snow in 70 years.

In 2009, Europe was snowed in for the Copenhagen "Global Warming" confab.

2010 will come in with record cold and snow levels. Could be colder than any time in past decade.

Of course, "weather is not climate", but these are positive signs warming may have stabilized and perhaps we are in for a bit of cooling. In any case, they show that the continued rapid rise in CO2 levels does not necessarily translate into runaway Global Warming. Further evidence the IPCC models are overly sensitive to carbon gas levels.

Ira Glickstein