Saturday, February 6, 2010

Reading the Climategate books

The ongoing turmoil from the release of the Climategate papers continues. With the Guardian catching up with the rest of the British media and having finally got around to reading the e-mails, it begins to look as though the chances of this being swept under the rug, at least in the UK is becoming less likely. In the United States the administrators that were looking into the case against Professor Mann at Penn State have rendered an initial opinion. The fact that they did not completely exonerate him, but instead referred his conduct to a faculty committee is not quite as good a result for him as he appears to pretend. The quality of the judges means that they will be more disinterested in him personally, and likely more certain to consider the evidence. But it really depends on the individuals, and a couple of strong opinions either way can have quite an impact on the final outcome.

Were they wise they could do considerably worse than to read some of the books and articles that have now come out to explain both the background and some of the issues that have been revealed by the release of information. I was fortunate to get a copy of A.W. Montford’s book on “The Hockey Stick Illusion,” (not easily accessible yet in the USA) as well as Steven Mosher and Thomas Fuller’s "Climategate: The CRUtape Letters.” Prior to reading these two I had just finished Christopher Booker’s “The Real Global Warming Disaster,” and after reading that I read the “Climategate Analysis,” by John Costella . Then I read Climategate, and finished with Hockey Stick.

Now you might think that I oversaturated on information, but in fact each takes a somewhat different focus to the information, and two of them are more directed at events before Climategate, than the e-mails and programs themselves. So, as it happens, I was lucky in getting the books and reading them in the order that I did, because it gave a much better picture of some of the issues that are not all that evident in the day-to-day exchanges and comments that one see on the blogs and in the press. And, if you have the chance, I would recommend that you read them in a slightly different order to the one that I did. (And slightly guilty confession, both Booker’s and Montford’s books kept me reading far later in the night than I intended, until they were done). But start with Chris Booker’s.

One of the irritating habits of those who espouse the arguments of the AGW leading us to imminent catastrophe is that they claim that the issues are complex, and that you really have to be a climate scientist to understand them. Well, on a matter of fact, if you read these books you don’t have to have that pre-existing knowledge. For in reporting the stories, and explaining their impact and relevance, the information is clear, concisely given and explained in context. (On the other hand, to be mischievous, the critical papers on which much of the AGW crowd has fixated– the Mann, Bradley and Hughes paper in Nature of April 1998, and that in Geophysical Research Letters in 1999, which introduced the “Hockey Stick” shape to the historic global climate community– have been described as “obscure” in the Wegman Report, among other places).

Booker goes into some detail on the origins of the IPCC, and those who have moved it to the prominent place that it now holds in so many discussions relating to the global future. He goes through the operations of the IPCC, and their successive reports to the nations on the “state of the climate.” And he has some uncomfortable conclusions about the path that the British Government is following in its commitment to reducing the generation of greenhouse gases.

It is important that this issue be raised, because this is not some academic exercise, where a couple of faculty have been caught doing naughty things behind the potting shed. It is difficult to over-emphasize the impact that this topic has had on national governments around the world. And Europe has been in the forefront of modifying plans for its future, based on the predictions that have been presented, largely unchallenged, on the impact of the greenhouse gases. (And as a side note it is only this week that Ofgem, has warned that the planned future supply of energy to the United Kingdom is going to come up short, and sooner rather than later.)

One of the key pieces of information that has been used to justify the “precautionary principle” argument for reducing carbon dioxide emissions is the MBH papers and their generation of the infamous “hockey stick” where global temperatures were shown to have declined since the year 1,000 AD until around 1900, when they suddenly started to rise at an ever increasing pace. This shape is not dissimilar to that of a hockey stick, with the shank being the slow decline over nine centuries, and the blade being the rising temperature. And it was assembled from a number of different proxies, one of which, a feature that the Penn State Review panel apparently missed, suddenly stopped working, but which was quickly hidden and glossed over in the formation of the telling image. A.W. Montford explains the criticality of this graph to the global warming argument.

As some of you may have noted from earlier posts, I am convinced that there was a Medieval Warming Period (WMP), and that it was warmer than the present. It was followed by a Little Ice Age, which we have been leaving, as the globe has warmed for the last 150 – 200 years. But that is an embarrassment to the AGW argument, and thus the adulatory reception (obscure language non-besides) for the MBH papers, since they did away with the MWP and the need to explain why this warming was remarkable. As I said Montford’s book was the second to keep me awake into the wee hours (and this is not as though I hadn’t earlier spent time at both Climate Audit and RealClimate web sites reading a lot of the background information that is covered here). Chronologizing the events that led to the widespread acceptance of the curve (few of whose acolytes likely understand how it was derived) and explaining its problems while interweaving the story of how Steve McIntyre fought to get the data to show that it was in error, it is, as others have said, a fascinating detective story.

The Hockey Stick Illusion explains the underlying science and what principal components are, and a bit about their use and misuse as it relates to the MBH plots. These are the useful things to know, and not difficult to follow, and because the world has yet to recognize how critical these issues are in the proper understanding of the use and mis-use of climate proxies, it really helps to have it explained. (Ed note – I know a bit about this, and would have explained it slightly differently, but this way may be the best for the layman). The Climategate e-mails were released almost as this book went to press, and so there is only one chapter on their impact, at the end, that points out how much of the conjecture in the earlier chapters was validated, once the e-mails were available.

The CRUtape letters is more of a detailed analysis of those e-mails. It puts them into contextual relevance, with short “cheat sheets” at the beginning of the Chapters, so that you are prepared to understand the ramifications of the selected quotations from the individual e-mails, and thus gives a greater grasp of their meaning. There is a considerable amount of background information given in the book, that gives a contextual understanding of why some of the e-mails have the importance that they have. This is certainly true about the way that the rules were manipulated to allow unpublished papers to be cited in the IPCC reports, which they were not supposed to be. It is a fascinating story of collusion and the ways that the small cabal that controls the climate science debate work to exclude contrary opinions. (And then, of course, they claim that they are the victims of unprecedented PR campaigns against them, when their position has dominated the debate for years).

The alternate approach to that used in the CRUtape letters is to rely on the e-mails themselves to tell the story. That is much more the way in which John Costella tells the story. He also includes more on the Tiljander story ( a pet peeve of mine) without actually using her name, but gives the most complete recounting of that little episode. (Oh, and that summary is free).

Both ways are informative, and there is a lot to be gained by reading both. The machinations behind the scene are somewhat disappointing to read, you realize that there are qualified folk out there who, as a result of this bunch of . . (well the ICO in the UK did say that there have been crimes committed) have had their careers blighted. And sadly the way that the processes, which rely on trust, were blatantly misused with the compliance of journal editors as well as paper authors is a damning record of a shameful period in the history of this young science.

If there is one e-mail that puts this in context, it is this one from Ben Santer
There has been some additional fallout from the publication of our paper in the International Journal of Climatology. After reading Steven McIntyre’s discussion of our paper on (and reading about my failure to provide McIntyre with the data he requested), an official at DOE headquarters has written to Cherry Murray at LLNL, claiming that my behavior is bringing LLNL’s good name into disrepute. Cherry is the Principal Associate Director for Science and Technology at LLNL, and reports to LLNL’s Director (George Miller).
Pity that there weren’t more folk with that sort of a concern.

The full stories are still a long way from being told, but reading these books will give you the understanding to follow, as the issues continue to play out. The Guardian stories, for example, have not yet got around to grasping the implications of the way in which the data, the press, the public and the science, were manipulated and the impact that this will have on the overall message. Unfortunately the e-mails also show the complicity of several of the main media reporters in selling the story that the cabal were promoting. And while the British press are now in active pursuit of the story, that hasn’t happened in the United States – yet!


  1. Hi there--just wanted to thank you for reading all the books and posting your thoughts. Hope it didn't amount to information overload.

  2. No, the big problem is actually remembering where all the different bits of information are located. Finding an individual e-mail to quote can take quite a while, even though I know roughly when it was written.

    And thanks for the comment.

  3. Montford's book is now available on U.S., which I just ordered. I've read the "CRUTape" and Costella's analysis of the emails - both are excellent.

    Regarding the Medieval Warming & Little Ice Age, here are reasons (visually) why the false IPCC god named "hockey stick" has collapsed:

  4. Grin:
    I got hauled into a controversy over at The Oil Drum in the comments sections of Drumbeat on the 6th and 7th, and having these resources did help out in debating with some of those that wrote in, but there are are many believers who just cannot accept that the Hockey Team can do any wrong.