Saturday, November 28, 2009

ClimateGate - and Dr Mann's changing story

The main stream media are still largely hiding the scope of the revelations from Climategate – it is much more important to them, for example, to discuss the couple that gatecrashed a dinner (the Washington Post); that Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $102 million being re-elected (New York Times); that Tiger Woods crashed his car – but wasn’t hurt (LA Times); or that Pandas got a warm welcome when they moved to Australia for ten years (BBC News).

Commentators have largely tiptoed around the issue. It is interesting to note that Andrew Freedman at WaPo claims to be willing to view both sides, yet puts up interviews with two apologists for the “disinformation” side and promises to put up a skeptical viewpoint “in coming days.” (Perhaps by then the furor will have died down and it won’t have to be too strong a skeptic). And Eugene Robinson is willing to continue the insults:
Stop hyperventilating, all you climate-change deniers. The purloined e-mail correspondence published by skeptics last week -- portraying some leading climate researchers as petty, vindictive and tremendously eager to make their data fit accepted theories -- does not prove that global warming is a fraud.
But unfortunately does not recognize some of the implications to the revelations.
It would be great if this were all a big misunderstanding. But we know carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and we know the planet is hotter than it was a century ago. The skeptics might have convinced one another, but so far they haven't gotten through to the vanishing polar ice.
Well, apart from the fact that the total sum of Arctic and Antarctic Ice hasn’t been changing much – in fact Antarctic ice sheet size has been growing – this fails to grasp an underlying change that is happening among the warmers. (It is perhaps a little early to start to find the same sort of pejorative title for folk that manipulate and hide data to promote their point of view, as has been given to those skeptics such as myself that question some of the data).

In the e-mails that were “released” from the University of East Anglia it is clear that the reliance on tree-ring data, one of the fundamental legs to the data that went into the development of the Mann, Bradley, and Hughes “hockey stick” paper, is unreliable. Those putting out the papers (and judging whether other papers should be published) clearly knew this, but went on using it anyway. As proof thereof Dr Michael Mann and his group have just issued another paper. - but now there is a change. Whereas for the past few years those of us who brought up the existence of the Medieval Warming Period were subject to abuse and ad hominem attacks, it now appears that perhaps the "Power That Is" has changed his mind. In the new paper, the faithful are called to a new recognition:
Mann and his colleagues reproduced the relatively cool interval from the 1400s to the 1800s known as the "Little Ice Age" and the relatively mild conditions of the 900s to 1300s sometimes termed the "Medieval Warm Period."
Of course the paper notes that it wasn’t really that hot back then (though actually there is an e-mail or two that seems to contradict this). So does this mean that those of us who objected to the linear nature of the “hockey stick” line through both this periods will get some admission that we were right. Don’t rush to hold your breath. Nope they don’t have to get that honest! And for those who will head out to Copenhagen waving the original figure – do I anticipate that folk such as Energy Secretary Steven Chu will change his talks – well not really, at that level admitting error almost never happens.

Interestingly one of the things that the “new” review of data that has Dr Mann “discovering” the MWP is that his models now project:
The researchers note that, if the thermostat response holds for the future human-caused climate change, it could have profound impacts on particular regions. It would, for example, make the projected tendency for increased drought in the Southwestern U.S. worse.
Now, and see my cynical nature come through here, I don’t suppose that this has anything to do with the historic record for what happened in those regions a thousand years ago when there were severe droughts that lasted up to a couple of hundred years. (There are tree remnants in the bottoms of lakes as proof I am not making this up).

All those folk who have been saying that the models had shown that there were no major impact due to solar changes are going to have to do a little backpeddling now that the High Priest has spoken:
The warmer conditions of the medieval era were tied to higher solar output and few volcanic eruptions, while the cooler conditions of the Little Ice Age resulted from lower solar output and frequent explosive volcanic eruptions.
It used to be so much easier to make these changes in doctrine, when the vast majority of the populace couldn’t read. But of course there is reading and also there is understanding, and so I anticipate that we will continue to see obfustication and data manipulation for some time to come. And those within the press will take a while to realize that some of the cardinal points that have been used to secure their belief are not, in fact, likely going to prove true.

Unfortunately, at that time, I suspect that folk such as Mr Robinson, will continue to think of those of who demurred earlier as still being evil and wrong, but will just conclude that the scientists that they believed in were also wrong and conclude that scientists as a whole behave this way. It will be difficult to convince them that they are wrong – even as it has proved in the last week, where denial of the meaning of these revelations has remained quite widespread. So what to call those who remain in that state?


  1. What do you think should be the process by which scientific and technical understanding and debate about the facts, is connected to policy development?

  2. There should be a more disinterested review of the science, and it should be more open. Having only the AGW side discussed, for example, or, as in the last Senate hearings having Senator Boxer deride the academic who raised scientific questions is not the way to do it.

    I would point to the judge who reviewed the evidence in the UK, and who said in his judgement, if I remember, that without a set of disclaimers about the errors in 7 of the facts that ex-VP Gore stated in his movie that he would have banned it as political indoctrination of children. (which is illegal in the UK) One wonders how many follow that practice over here?

  3. Policy responses to PO and to AGW are going to favour some and penalize others. In our culture this create engines of disinformation on both sides. In my ideal of "Scientific Democracy" [should really be "Engineering Democracy"] there is an extra arm of government, whose job is to manage an open, vigorous, well-funded investigation of the facts relevant to public policy. The investigators need to be good at Mathematics [Maths is about thinking clearly], insulated from interaction with the world [like the judiciary] and with substantial legal powers of investigation.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, there are things we need to do for "Energy Security" (i.e. Peak Oil) that should make sensible AGW people happy: electrification and nuclear power. The extra stuff that AGW folk want: shutting down coal power before replacements are ready, isn't going to happen. If only we could put our efforts into getting that core stuff started, instead of disagreeing for no substantial purpose...

  4. Many of the things that are proposed as alternate energy sources when motivated by AGW concerns remain viable if instead we are looking at a PO world view. In the latter we are going to have to have some of this input, because there won't that much else.

    But there is some conflict between the two camps - if you look at correspondence regarding when fossil fuels start to run out, this seems to be a viewpoint that the AGW controlling crowd does not want to get into.