Climategate? Nuh-uh

First of all, check out the 15 inches of snow that were dumped on Madison last night! It’s hard to believe this all happened over the course of one day.

Anyway, this may no longer be as newsworthy as it once was, but with the Copenhagen Climate Talks going on and Sarah Palin’s silly column in the WaPo Wednesday, I feel as though I should shed some light on the situation pertaining to leaked emails from the Hadley Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at Britain’s University of East Anglia, which were hacked in late November.

Although I usually stay away from heavily science-intensive arguments in this space, I was lucky enough to have received a clear explanation of the situation in class and want to pass it along. This may be boring to some, but stick with me because it’s important – especially because the coverage of certain contents of these emails are masking the coverage of other important global warming news! This debacle needs to be addressed and the perpetrators reprimanded so we can all move on ASAP!

Here is the potentially damning quote found in the email that has people riled up:

“I’ve just completed Mike [Mann]‟s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” –Phil Jones, Climate Research Unit (this quote is taken from RealClimate and also the Washington Post.)

There are a few things to be said about this.

First and foremost: whether this is deceitful, falsified, untruthful or not, the importance of transparency is HUGE in climate science and these scientists were wrong to try to hide anything because inevitably, it will come out and mess everything up. No question about that.

Peter Kelemen addresses this more eloquently:

It is often said that no one should see the ugly reality of how politics or sausages are made. But that’s not true in the world of scientific research. Transparency is the goal, and in my experience it is also the norm.

Although I am not an expert, my professor Jack Williams is and he explained what Jones was talking about and why, as he says, this is “much ado about not much.” First off, the data in question has been replicated by numerous other groups, so even if some sort of tampering or “trickery” was done to this particular data set, it must be remembered that at least 6 other major studies have collected similar data with no evidence of such trickery.

The data in question has the blue box

Next, the word “trick” in this situation is too strong. The “hide the decline” part in this sentence has to do with a confusing aspect of dendroclimatology (a.k.a. tree ring analysis). Normally, in this method the thin and dense rings in a tree stump indicate stress (i.e. summertime/heat) and the distance between each darker ring can indicate when summer came that particular year. Because of this, scientists have been able to use tree rings to aid the climate data in pre-technological times. However, for a reason that is currently unknown, dendroclimatology has not maintained its adherence to the normal trend in similarity between the ring curve and temperature. In other words, since about 1960, while the temperature has risen, the tree rings do not reflect this as they once did, and now show a divergence.So, the “hide the decline” that was mentioned was merely the divergence in tree-ring data, not decline in temperatures.

Yes, I can see how this email would be upsetting to climate change deniers, but when explored, is not really all it’s cracked up to be. But, that’s not to say that these scientists were correct in excluding the rest of us on their intel in the matter. Additionally, many are left wondering, if dendroclimatology has failed us randomly since 1960, why do we use it at all? Scientist Michael Mann (mentioned in the quote) has a clear explanation of this, but the bottom line is, that even when it is used, it’s used in conjunction with many other data sets.

Kelemen goes on to explain the rest of the problem in a Popular Mechanics article that, if you have time, I (and Jack Williams) would really recommend! If you don’t have time, I think he explained the conundrum of climate scientists effectively, and I have included this important explanation below:

Climate Science Not a House of Cards

Perhaps the most worrisome part of this incident is that it could easily leave the public wondering about the science of human-induced global warming. But do the potentially unethical acts implied by these e-mails invalidate the hypothesis that human output of greenhouse gases, most notably CO2, creates a serious risk of rapid climate change? No.

Outspoken critics often portray climate science as a house of cards, built on a shaky edifice of limited data and broad suppositions. However, it’s more realistic to think of the science as a deck of cards, spread out, face up. Some data and interpretations of those data are more certain than others, of course. But pulling out one or two interpretations, or the results of a few scientists, does not change the overall picture. Take away two or three cards, and there are still 49 or 50 cards facing you.

The “house of cards” view results partly from the representation of human-induced climate change in opinion polls and in the press, which split the debate into “believers” and “skeptics.” This dichotomy is misleading for many reasons, particularly because it implies that those who are concerned about human-induced climate change believe every single claim made by every scientist on this topic, in the way that some fundamentalists claim to believe in the literal truth of every word in a religious text. Similarly, it implies that all skeptics doubt the entire theory.

In fact, most scientists are skeptics, to one extent or another, about climate science and almost everything else. Of course, there are a few who actually believe with complete certainty that they are right, and that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. These folks can’t conceive of the possibility that they could be mistaken; they really are like religious zealots. However, the genuine scientific skeptics greatly outnumber the true believers, and in most scientific debates the skeptics prevail … after a while.

Interested? Please read on.

Anyway, shame on those scientists, but shame on us for viewing the media uncritically on any controversial matter of such importance.

It’s time to wrap this one up, but here are some links for Copenhagen Day 3:

[but first, Sarah Palin’s column debunked]

Obama’s top aides arrive in Copenhagen

50/50 chance of meeting climate target?

Sorry for the late post!

-Jenny

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9 thoughts on “Climategate? Nuh-uh

  1. Quincy Edwards says:

    “First off, the data in question has been replicated by numerous other groups, so even if some sort of tampering or “trickery” was done to this particular data set, it must be remembered that at least 6 other major studies have collected similar data with no evidence of such trickery.”

    Jenny, please name these other major studies which replicated the CRU results w/o using the CRU adjusted data. I’m unaware of them.

    • jclynes says:

      Hello, and thanks for your comments.
      The other major studies are marked on the first graph, which can be enlarged and read by clicking on the graph. The study by Mann and Jones (in question) is the red line, and the other studies are drawn in other colors. As you can see, the data they each received is not exactly the same as the Mann and Jones, but it shows the same temperature trends over time with a more rapid rise over the last century.

  2. Quincy Edwards says:

    Thanks for the quick reply!

  3. o says:

    Global warning is a hoax.

  4. Quincy Edwards says:

    of the seven listed, two are immediately suspect, the HADCRUt data itself, and the multi-proxy by Mann and Jones, as both implicated by the ClimateGate emails.

    That leaves 5 out of 7. (With my assumption being the two excluded do NOT support AGW, at least to the same extent, or else there would be no need to fudge the data)

    5 out of 7 is still a good confidence factor, but it’s a lot less than 7:7

    • jclynes says:

      Although I rechecked the accuracy of my post, I am not an expert on this particular data set, so you’ll have to do some more investigation on your own (and I’ll be interested to know what you find!). I would direct you to the 2006 NRC report, which summarizes the state of the debate (which is where those graphs in my post originated). This was an independent panel convened by the NRC, consisting of paleoclimatologists and statisticians, none of whom were directly involved in the temperature reconstructions for the last millennium. So it represents an independent assessment of the data.
      You can find the summary here: http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11676&page=R1
      or access the executive summary here: http://www.nap.edu/nap-cgi/report.cgi?record_id=11676&type=pdfxsum

      Thanks again for your investigation on this matter.
      -Jenny

  5. aH1GH3Rpower says:

    I can see where your coming from on the one email youve listed, but thats just one of the many that were in serious question. In one email jones tells others to delete source data in order to dodge a freedom of information request. Since this has happened a few other research groups have lost court battles and had to hand over source material too. Low and behold the graphs they published and the source material didnt match up. Im gonna try and find these instances and post them for you.

  6. Joe Hunkins says:

    Nice summary of some of the science here! However I’m inclined to disagree that there’s not much to be concerned about. I think the paleodendro community still has a lot of explanining to do about methods and math. People are conflating two issues here. There *is* global warming and that notion is well supported by many studies. However there is also in my opinion a very curious and disturbing tendency for environmental scientists to cozy up to policy advocacy in these matters. FOIA “dodging” is probably the most serious manifestation of this. Just the facts from science please. Leave the activism (and the inevitable distortions of the science) to Palin, Fox News, and, sadly, even Al Gore.

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