Dec 17 2011

When Scientists Discover Their Conclusions Are Wrong …

What happens when the underpinning claims of a scientific theory are proven wrong?

Under the tried, true and ancient scientific method that framed the work of Newton, Einstein and uncounted others the proposed theory is deemed disproved and the scientists making the claim have to go back to the drawing board. The theory is rejected.

But in the niche realm of climate pseudo-science (an area with little rigor, little quality checking, no independent assessment of methods and result, but tons of money) the answer is change the underpinning claim. Move the goal post and pretend the failure never happened. Even worse, change the conditions of the claim completely. And in the end, when you are totally boxed in by reality and facts, pretend the uncertainty you pretended was never there makes it impossible for you to see the history that is crystal clear. In other words, put the blinders on and pretend this was your story all along.

The Climategate 2 emails, when added to the Climategate 1 set, is a massive amount of dirt to sift through. On any given topic there are up to a hundred emails spanning the time period 1996-2009. Reading and synthesizing the mountain of evidence down to pertinent or representative context and evidence is a lot of work. But it always seems worth the hours of reading and noting when you step back and reveal the mess that is the pseudo-science of global warming.

The big challenge for the alarmists has always been PROVING that the current climate is unique and significant in recent times. If today’s climate is not unique, there is no way to claim what is happening today is primarily a result of human activity. In fact, it would require us to assume today’s climate is primarily driven by the same natural forces that have been at work for thousands if not millions of years. And the single biggest challenge to all of this is the well documented Medieval Warming Period (MWP).

This post will trace how the IPCC alarmists at CRU claimed today is warmer than this period in time (950-1250 AD), but then had to change their story many, many times before finally trying to pretend our lack of definitive data means we cannot say the MWP existed at all (which is the same as saying we cannot claim we are warmer today than then – QED alarmists theories are disproved).

A reasonably good start is email #0963233839 from Ray Bradley in Jul 2000. At this time the Hockey Stick is out, but the MWP is being pointed at by skeptics (rightfully) to observe the current climate is not unique. Ray notes how he is not in the Mann/Jones camp when it comes to the MWP:

Sorry this kept you awake…but I have also found it a rather alarming graph. First, a disclaimer/explanation.

But there are real questions to be asked of the paleo reconstruction. First, I should point out that we calibrated versus 1902-1980, then “verified” the approach using an independent data set for 1854-1901. The results were good, giving me confidence that if we had a comparable proxy data set for post-1980 (we don’t!) our proxy-based reconstruction would capture that period well. Unfortunately, the proxy network we used has not been updated, and furthermore there are many/some/ tree ring sites where there has been a “decoupling” between the long-term relationship between climate and tree growth, so that things fall apart in recent decades

As with all things global warming, the ‘divergence’ (here called ‘decoupling’) between tree rings and modern temps means the ring-to-temperature connection has enormous error bars. And it is these modern-era error bars that make comparisons to the MWP 1000 years ago impossible to perform within a couple of degrees accuracy. Ray knows this all too well:

Furthermore, it may be that Mann et al simply don’t have the long-term trend right, due to underestimation of low frequency info. in the (very few) proxies that we used.

Whether we have the 1000 year trend right is far less certain (& one reason why I hedge my bets on whether there were any periods in Medieval times that might have been “warm”, to the irritation of my co-authors!).

Bradley’s hidden admission that the science is not settled compared to the public pronouncements will grow and be added to over the coming years.

In Jul 2000 Phil Jones forwards to Keith Briffa an email (#3046) exchange between Richard Courtney and Chick Keller, were Courtney nails the issue of the MWP:

No ! People attack the ‘hockey stick’ because it is uses an improper procedure to assess inadequate data as a method to provide a desired result. I have defended Mann et al. from accusations of scientific “fraud” because I am willing to accept that this was done in naive stupidity, but I am not willing to accept that is good science. As you say, “people like Mann, Briffa, Jones, etc.” have conducted “careful work”, but doing the wrong thing carefully does not make it right.

The Medieval Warm Period is documented from places distributed around the globe, and it is not adequate to assert that it was “not global” because it did not happen everywhere at exactly the same time: the claimed present day global warming is not happening everywhere at the exactly the same time. Indeed, you say;

“recent temperature anomalies show that, while the tropics is cooler than usual due to La Niña, the rest of the world is pretty much still as warm as in 1998.”

It is historical revisionism to assert that the Little Ice Age and Medieval Warming did not happen or were not globally significant. It will take much, much more than analyses of sparse and debatable proxy data to achieve such a dramatic overturning of all the historical and archaelogical evidence for the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period.

So in 2000 the claim was that the MWP (and Little Ice Age (LIA)) were not global. As we shall see that claim did not hold up to scrutiny and scientific investigation.

In 2001 a bomb shell hit the Hockey Team in the form of a study by Wallace Broecker called “Was the Medieval Warm Period Global?”. The study is well captured in email #1353 from Feb 2001.  I will leave it to the reader to wade through the evidence.

The Hockey Team flew into action to challenge Broecker by May 2001, but in fact confirmed many of his claims regarding the MWP, as exposed in email #0466 from Ed Cook explaining their new work to one Thomas Crowley, who inquired:

heard some rumor that you are involved in a non-hockey stick reconstruction of northern hemisphere temperatures. I am very intrigued to learn about this – are these results suggesting the so called Medieval Warm Period may be warmer than the early/mid 20th century?

Cook’s response is priceless in that it is long and full of caveats before he gets to the bottom line answer:

As rumors often are, the one you heard is not entirely accurate. So, I will take some time here to explain for you, Mike, and others exactly what was done and what the motivation was, in an effort to hopefully avoid any misunderstanding.

What Jan Esper and I are working on (mostly Jan with me as second author) is a paper that was in response to Broecker’s Science Perspectives piece on the Medieval Warm Period.

With the addition of a couple of sites from foxtail pine in California, Jan amassed a collection of 14 tree-ring sites scattered somewhat uniformly over the 30-70 degree NH latitude band, with most extending back 1000-1200 years. All of the sites are from temperature-sensitive locations (i.e. high elevation or high northern latitude. It is, as far as I know, the largest, longest, and most spatially representative set of such temperature-sensitive tree-ring data yet put together for the NH extra-tropics.

At this point Mann and the other alarmists must be salivating at the idea this study encompassing massive new data points across a large geographic foot print will vindicate their claims of only a localized, minor MWP event. Sadly for them …

It has a very well defined Medieval Warm Period – Little Ice Age – 20th Century Warming pattern, punctuated by strong decadal fluctuations of inferred cold that correspond well with known histories of neo-glacial advance in some parts of the NH. The punctuations also appear, in some cases, to be related to known major volcanic eruptions.

Of course, Jan also had to compare his record with the hockey stick since that is the most prominent and oft-cited record of NH temperatures covering the past 1000 years. The results were consistent with the differences shown by others, mainly in the century-scale of variability. Again, the Esper series shows a very strong, even canonical, Medieval Warm Period – Little Ice Age – 20th Century Warming pattern, which is largely missing from the hockey stick

I do think that the Medieval Warm Period was a far more significant event than has been recognized previously, as much because the high-resolution data to evaluate it had not been available before. That is much less so the case now. It is even showing up strongly now in long SH [Southern Hemisphere] tree-ring series.

Cook tries to soften the blow of these results, but it is clear what happened. Mann and Jones used small samples, dodgy calculations and the ‘hide the decline’ ‘trick’ to bury the true history. This new study annihilated their Hockey Stick.

By February 2002 the schism between the Mann/Jones Hockey Team and others was breaking wide open. The science was definitely not settled, as this email (#1014240346) from Keith Briffa to Jesse Smith shows:

I am attaching my comments on The Esper et al manuscript  … By trying to skate around the real questions that Broecker was implying – i.e. is the methodology removing the true low-frequency variance in the Mann et al curve and is the magnitude of the Medieval warmth understated? – Esper et al are obscuring the real message of their results – namely that Mann et al do most likely loose the low frequency variance in their reconstruction and they may very well be underestimating the Medieval warmth.

OK, so now we know the MWP existed and Mann et al missed it (another ‘hide’ trick?).But it soon gets worse, because it becomes apparent it was also not localized. In a March 2002 email (#1301) Briffa is quoted in a UK Telegraph article with an amazing statement on the MWP:

The idea that Medieval warmth was restricted to Europe is now looking far less likely as evidence for warmth at about AD 1000 from much farther afield is coming to light” said Professor Briffa , though he warned that “the oldest data , statistically speaking, are prone to large uncertainty”.

OK, not only did the MWP exist it was global (something that will become even more evident in later emails). So the claims the MWP was regional is falling apart. This would have most scientists admitting their claims about the relative climate between the MWP and today were now without foundation. Of course, we heard no such thing at this time.

In fact, what we learn in an April 2002 email (#3978) is that a fight has broken out inside the Hockey Team about who is being honest about the confidence and quality of the MWP discussion. Ed Cook and Hughes are bantering back and forth, but what they expose is fascinating:

Dear Ed and Mike and others,
All of our attempts, so far, to estimate hemisphere-scale temperatures for the period around 1000 years ago are based on far fewer data than any of us would like. None of the datasets used so far has anything like the geographical distribution that experience with recent centuries indicates we need, and no-one has yet found a convincing way of validating the lower-frequency components of them against independent data.

ECS, as Ed rightly points out, clearly indicate, in both words and diagrams at several points in their paper and in the supplementary materials, that the number of sites and number of samples they used decreases sharply before 1200.

In our letter (Mike and I) we draw attention to a specific problem with this implementation of RCS that has a special bearing on the reconstruction of a period to which ECS have drawn attention. Hence the strong note of caution about the ECS conclusion on the comparison between the 10th/11th and late 20th centuries.

A stunning admission. They don’t have the quantity of data required to make any claims between the MWP climate and today, especially given what they discovered working more complete areas of the record.

By April 2003, a year later, Briffa emails Cook (#1051638938) and admits he is now outside the Mann camp.

Can I just say that I am not in the MBH camp – if that be characterized by an unshakable “belief” one way or the other , regarding the absolute magnitude of the global MWP. I certainly believe the ” medieval” period was warmer than the 18th century – the equivalence of the warmth in the post 1900 period, and the post 1980s ,compared to the circa Medieval times is very much still an area for much better resolution.

The reality should have hit, but some people have trouble letting go of their dreams. Briffa is responding to some pretty damning admissions by Ed Cook, specifically:

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or even Bradley after I warned him about small sample size problems) to realize that some of the chronologies are down to only 1 series in their earliest parts. … My suspicion is that most of the pre-1200 divergence is due to low replication and a reduced number of available chronologies. … Of course he and other members of the MBH [Mann] camp have a fundamental dislike for the very concept of the MWP, so I tend to view their evaluations as starting out from a somewhat biased perspective, i.e. the cup is not only “half-empty”; it is demonstrably “broken”. I come more from the “cup half-full” camp when it comes to the MWP, maybe yes, maybe no, but it is too early to say what it is.

Ahh! Another ‘divergence’! It seems the tree ring data for the MWP is basically a mess too, and too small to make any conclusions from. Anyone see news reports on these stunning admissions?

Well – yes there was a minor report in early 2005, at least per email #3674:

Scientists at UEA have also cast doubt on the famous hockey stick graph used to convince us that global warming is a recent phenomena, with no allowance made for the well documented medieval warm period and the later Little Ice Age.

The graph and its scary supporters assume that the climate in northern Europe over the past millennium has been roughly constant, but Timothy Osborn and Keith Briffa conclude that the true variability is likely to be much greater, and if it is, “the extent to which the recent warming can be viewed as ‘unusual’ would need to be reassessed”.

This prompted a “come to Jesus” response from the powers that be at University of East Anglia (home of CRU):

If you support Lenton’s comments then the Unit needs to have a big discussion about them.

In 2005 the blinders start coming on with the decision to drop MWP and LIA and pretend no one knows if they ever existed. Here is another priceless email (#1837) for the history books:

If you can I would omit reference to the MWP and LIA. The jury is still out (and will likely never come to a verdict) on whether the periods existed or how long they were if they did. If you want to say something the 10th and 11th centuries were likely the warmest of the last 3000 years (up to and including the 19th century). The coldest two centuries were the 17th and 19th for the last 2000 years.

[Original text] Crowley and Lowery (2000, Ambio 29) writes: “To conclude, a new compilation of evidence for Medieval warmth indicates 3 relatively short-lived warming intervals (10101040, 10701105, and 11551190) that are comparable to the mid-20th century warm period.

The 10-11th century (the one now deemed the warmest in the last 3000 years) are within the MWP. Just like the 17th is in the LIA. But there can be no mention that these earlier centuries out rank the current climate and therefore there is no valid claim of unique modern warming driven by human activity.  Talk about your 1984 rewrite of history! Who do these people think they are fooling?

It seems the IPCC alarmist claims of unique modern climate have ZERO basis, and this has been known for years in many circles of the community. But it is all a horrible secret that must not be uttered in public (sort of like saying “Valdemort”) for fear of retaliation (and probably lack of future funding).

What started out as a claim the MWP was only regional and not equivalent to today’s climate went on to be a claim the MWP did not even exist. But new investigations where coming in it at the same time clearly showing the early claims were simply bogus. So I will end this way too long post with Micheal Mann from March 2006 (#0071):

I pointed out to him that we certainly don’t know the GLOBAL mean temperature anomaly very well, and nobody has ever claimed we do (this is the question he asked everyone). There is very little information at all in the Southern Hemisphere on which to base any conclusion. So I told him that of course the answer to that question is *no* and it would be surprising if anyone answered otherwise.

The truth is we know that we don’t have the data to know enough to draw any grand conclusions comparing the current GLOBAL climate to the GLOBAL climate of the MWP time period. We do see the LIA and MWP across the globe in proxies, but relative comparison is impossible.

And this is what the niche climate pseudo-scientists called settled science?

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “When Scientists Discover Their Conclusions Are Wrong …”

  1. crosspatch says:

    I think “rigger” should be “rigor”.

  2. crosspatch says:

    AJ it’s even worse. In peer reviewing the papers of others, I see them constantly doing things such as trying to make sure that any past climate variability is minimized. They go out of their way to stamp out the notion that any natural variability could be anything more than simply a local variation. When one member of “The Team” is reviewing a paper, there is a secret back-channel conference going on with other members of the team on how to influence the author of the literature being reviewed in order to make sure the paper stays within their notions of past climate. They HAVE to keep the hockey stick handle flat in order to maintain the meme that climate was stable until the 1970′s.

  3. crosspatch says:

    Briffa’s comment:

    though he warned that “the oldest data , statistically speaking, are prone to large uncertainty”.

    exposes his confirmation bias. Basically what he says that “uncertainly” seems to always bias older data warmer! What I mean by that is, if we start seeing more and more and more data from that period that shows that the time was warmer, yes, there is more uncertainty in the older data BUT, they wouldn’t all trend in the SAME DIRECTION if it was just “uncertainty”. Sure, you increase uncertainty of the actual value, but not the trend. The “signal” is still there.

    So if I have 10 degrees +- 0.1 degree today and that goes to 12 degrees +- 2 then he can say that statistically speaking there is no change but as we add more data sets that also show warming, the chances of this “uncertainty” all adding up in the same direction are remote. If they are all going in the same direction, then maybe I am a little more certain. Briffa does this himself by discarding time series from specimens that don’t meet the calibration period response in order to reduce “uncertainty” that he has selected trees that act like thermometers for July. The assumption being that if they were good thermometers for the month of July during the calibration period, then they must be good thermometers for the month of July over their entire lifetime … which may not be true at all.

    Yes, a single datum from 2000 years ago may have greater uncertainty but when you have several points of data from that time that lean in the same direction, well, maybe that reduces your uncertainty a little.

    You also might want to have a look at this at Judith Curry’s blog:

    http://judithcurry.com/2011/12/15/hegerl-et-al-react-to-the-uncertainty-monster-paper/

  4. AJStrata says:

    CP, picky, picky picky – but nice rigor

  5. crosspatch says:

    Did you see 0102.txt?

    Phil and David
    If we break the high temperature record this week, we really should be prepared to capitalize on this press-wise. How about we draft a short press release? This has been a classic global warming summer circulation-wise so we can dress the story up a bit.

  6. AJStrata says:

    CP, yeah I saw it. It was so pathetic but in character I just let it pass.

    There is so much in the emails it is amazing. Too much really.

    At least we know all those who came out the first day and claimed there was nothing new were lying – there is no way to read them all and compile the back story in a day.

  7. [...] The Strata-Sphere wonders what scientists do when they realize they’re wrong [...]