“Independent” critique of Hockey Stick revealed as fatally flawed right-wing anti-science set up


No one can possibly undo all of the damage to climate science and individual scientists done by the diarrhea of disinformation spewing out of the anti-science crowd.   In large part that’s because of the reckless laziness of many in the status quo media, such as CBS, who prefer easy sensationalism to thoughtful journalism.

Few scientists have been more victimized than Michael Mann, Director of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center.  Than again, few scientists have been more vindicated than Michael Mann (see “Penn State inquiry finds no evidence for allegations against Michael Mann” and below).

That’s why I feel compelled to keep doing my small part in helping to set the record straight as often as possible — and to publicize the tremendous work of others doing the same, such as the blogger Deep Climate, who has uncovered previously unknown details of just how some of the most fraudulent charges against Mann and the Hockey Stick graph were trumped up by the anti-science crowd in the first place.

Remember the question scientists are trying to answer:  Is the planet now as hot (or hotter) than it has been in a millenium?  Try two millennia (see this 2008 PNAS study, which is the source of the figure above, and this “seminal” 2009 Science study).

In the interests of not spending my time rewriting the terrific work done by others, let me urge you all to read Deep Climate, while I excerpt a very good summary by DeSmogBlog:

The purportedly independent report that Dr. Edward Wegman prepared in 2006 for the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce was actually a partisan set-up, according to information revealed today.

Wegman, who had presented himself as an impartial “referee” between two “teams” debating the quality of the so-called Hockey Stick graph was, in fact, coached throughout his review by Republican staffer Peter Spencer. Wegman and his colleagues also worked closely with one of the teams (and especially with retired mining stock promoter Stephen McIntyre) to try to replicate criticism of the Hockey Stick graph, while at the same time foregoing contact with the actual authors of the seminal climate reconstruction.

The Hockey Stick refers to a graph (by Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes [MBH]) [used in] the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It also became a target for Steve McIntyre and the Guelph University economist Ross McKitrick, who since 2002, at least, has been a paid spokesperson for ExxonMobil-backed think tanks such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and the Fraser Institute.

According to a detailed analysis by the blogger Deep Climate, McIntyre and McKitrick’s criticism of the Hockey Stick graph was aggressively promoted and disseminated by an echo chamber of think tanks and blogs, all of which had financial or ideological associations with fossil fuel industry funders.

Then, in 2005 … Republican Rep. and Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Joe Barton began calling for an investigation into the graph. But Barton rejected an offer from National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Ciccerone to conduct a formal and independent review in the highly professional manner typical of the nation’s foremost scientific body. Barton chose, instead, to engage a statistician (Wegman) from one of the most conservative institutions in the country (George Mason University) and to task him with setting up a team to dissect Mann’s Hockey Stick.

The result was predictable. Collaborating with McIntyre, Wegman’s team recreated and then endorsed the critical view of Michael Mann’s work. According to earlier revelations from Deep Climate, Wegman also cribbed … work from Raymond Bradley, lifting whole sections of his 1999 textbook, but periodically changing material or inserting information calculated to cast doubt on the reliability of tree-ring data (the source of the MBH  climate reconstruction). In the most outrageous example, suspiciously unattributed, Wegman’s report actually suggested that tree rings might be affected positively by automobile pollution. (“… oxides of nitrogen are formed in internal combustion engines that can be deposited as nitrates also contributing to fertilization of plant materials.”)

All this could be dismissed as typical politicking except for two things. First, because this was presented as an independent and impartial review, it is reasonable to ask whether Barton, Wegman, et al, are guilty of misleading Congress, a felony offense.

Second, the same echo chamber that promoted Steve McIntyre’s criticism of the Hockey Stick is now fully engaged accusing scientists of manipulating data to increase global concern about climate change. The manipulation of both data and public opinion are certainly evident in this story. Science has most certainly been politicized. But (thanks to Deep Climate’s careful research) the record shows that the manipulation and politicization has been bought and paid for by the energy industry and executed by a sprawling network of think tanks and blogs – and by leading Republicans and their staffers.

This is, at the very least, fodder for a Congressional investigation as to whether the Energy and Commerce Committee was, indeed, intentionally and perhaps disastrously misled.

Not really a big surprise, I suppose (see Rep. Barton: Climate change is ‘natural,’ humans should just ‘get shade’ “” invites ‘expert’ TVMOB (!) to testify and ‘Smokey Joe’ Barton: Global Warming ‘Is A Net Benefit To Mankind’).

Yes, a Congressional investigation would be valuable to help set the record straight (see also this DeSmogBlog post).

Of course, the Hockey Stick graph was itself vindicated years ago in a thorough examination by a panel of the prestigious (and uber-mainstream) National Academy of Sciences (see NAS Report and here).  Indeed, the news story in the journal Nature (subs. req’d) on the NAS panel was headlined:

Academy affirms hockey-stick graph

Even more important than the fact that the original analysis was defensibly correct, is that the conclusions were correct [which could be true even if the analysis had flaws in it].  Is the planet now as hot (or hotter) than it has been in a millenium?  Try two millennia (see “Sorry deniers, hockey stick gets longer, stronger: Earth hotter now than in past 2,000 years,” which discusses the PNAS study that is the source of the figure above ).  See also “Human-caused Arctic warming overtakes 2,000 years of natural cooling, ‘seminal’ study finds,” the source of the figure below).


That’s why climatologist and one-time darling of the contrarians Ken Caldeira said last year, “To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous.”

Sadly, the ridiculous is what passes for serious analysis by the anti-science crowd and the media echo chamber — and that means long nights for those in the science blogosphere trying to set the record straight.


14 Responses to “Independent” critique of Hockey Stick revealed as fatally flawed right-wing anti-science set up

  1. Dan says:

    What’s about Groenland? Acording to you , we have to forget the vikings who went there when the weather was hotter there…Dreams or fact: we have to choose…

  2. David B. Benson says:

    Dan — Greenland is only one location. These studies are of the entire northern hemisphere (usually). Incidently, it is now warmer in Greenland than when the norse first went there.

    As a general comment, I’d rather see the Justice Department investigating to see if felony changes can be brought. Congressional investigations are fine when the law needs changing, but that doesn’t seem to be at issue in this case.

  3. dhogaza says:

    What’s about Groenland? Acording to you , we have to forget the vikings who went there when the weather was hotter there…Dreams or fact: we have to choose…

    The United States is not the world, indeed it’s less than 2% of the world.

    How big do you think Greenland is, and why do you think temperatures there necessarily reflect global temperatures.

    As a matter of fact, the best data available tells us that the Medieval Warming Period was *not* a synchronous, global change in climate.

  4. Lou Grinzo says:

    Groenland? Is that a strip joint that caters to climate scientists?

    Sorry, Joe, after a long and very tough day fighting the rising tide of deniers, I couldn’t resist.

  5. Dan #1 might not be a native English speaker/writer; hence the interesting spelling and questionable grammar.

    My memory of history is that “Greenland” was named such by Eric the Red to sucker colonists into going there, just as “Iceland” was named such to limit the immigrants. Regardless, Greenland was never a tropical paradise, and a “warmer” Greenland was still not “warm” (even by my still lingering Illinois Winter standards), much less verdant. And, in any event, Greenland is a comparatively trivial patch of land with regard to which no claim can be made — by itself! — about global climate.

  6. cbp says:

    >> Greenland is a comparatively trivial patch of land

    Well Greenland is pretty big, but I would note that only a few thousands Vikings lived in Greenland, and only at two sites on the southern tip.
    Regardless, as unlikely as it is, the whole world could have been hotter during the MWP and it would still not make any difference to the important conclusions of current global warming science.
    It is also important to note what happened to the Greenland Vikings as they gradually destroyed their environment and the climate changed: they went extinct.

    @Dan Surely you have heard these rebuttals before? This argument is ancient history! Why not preempt the rebuttals with some more difficult questions – its almost as though you are here purely as a nuisance troller, rather than as someone actually seeking truth and understanding.

  7. Doug Bostrom says:

    Speaking of Vast Right Wing Conspiracies, I hope Joe will do a post on developments regarding Steven McIntyre’s apparent FOI assault on CRU. Details are emerging at Eli Rabett’s blog, here:

    and here:

    Not really the case that anything is emerging, actually, more that witnesses to this travesty have given up waiting for “the thumb of journalistic balance” to come off the right-hand pan. A serious let down by newspapers, as usual. For instance, the Guardian is just wrapping up an incisive ingestion, digestion and regurgitation of the conventional CRU story. Apparently the Guardian’s spoon fed bowl of pabulum did not include any of the interesting background material detailed at Rabett’s site.

  8. sailrick says:

    I would like to see a movie for TV made – a documentary on the climate change denial PR/disinformation industry. Featuring Joe Romm, James Hansen, the folks from Desmog blog and other quality blogs, Real Climate, Deep Climate, Open Mind, etc., and the authors of books, Rob Gelbspan, James Hogan, and others. Name names, debunk the lame arguments, pull no punches. The books are great, but the information needs to be taken to where people are, in front of their TVs.

  9. Slioch says:

    Jared Diamond gives a good account of the Greenland settlement during the MWP in his book ‘Collapse’. The Greeenlanders scraped a living deep inside two sheltered fiords on the south east coast. I would recommend anyone who thinks that Greenland was at that time “hotter” than at present to read Diamond’s book. Whilst doing so they might also learn a thing or two about what happens to civilisations that fail to understand and care for the environment upon which their existence depends.

  10. Daniel Bailey says:

    Kudos Dr. Romm, DeSmogBlog, DeepClimate, the Rabett and all of the others referenced in this post! Nice expose & analysis, summary of current events we find ourselves in.

    Full disclosure: I am in no way connected to the Dan who authored response number one above. Taking in mind “Dan”‘s archaic spelling of “Groenland” (a variant of Grønland) & his conciser summary/dismissive judgment of AGW as “dreams or facts”: I name thee Trøld (troll).

    Sailrick’s suggestion in post 8 above makes a lot of sense. Obstacles include funding to produce it as well as to secure airtime (network TV is not free). Only by airing denialist dirty laundry will the truth be set free.

    Remember, Watergate revelations came from “following the money trail.”

    Not a denialist,

    Daniel Bailey

  11. caerbannog says:

    Interesting to note that the Wegman report is critical of the non-centered PCA method used by Mann, but the authors never bothered to *quantify* the impact of using noncentered-PCA. It turns out that using the properly-centered PCA approach (or no PCA at all, for that matter) yields results nearly identical to those produced by Mann’s criticized non-centered PCA method.

    Huff and puff about small errors and imply that they have large consequences without bothering to verify whether they do — that’s “denier science” for you.

    The deniers leave it to someone else to crunch the numbers and verify that, yes, those small errors really are insignificant. Of course, this followup analysis never gets the same publicity that the deniers’ original charges did.

    What the deniers have been doing is equivalent to implying that WalMart is about to go bankrupt because some if its cashiers were a few dollars short at the end of their shifts last month.

  12. MapleLeaf says:

    Joe, you have contacts, are you PLEASE going to run with this!?

    We scientists are sick and tired of being punching bags. The fallout form an investigation into bad behaviour by Republicans may be a boost to Obama too– the Republicans are feeling buoyed, and this story (especially including the information uncovered by those over at Eli’s blog) warrant a full investigation, including access to the emails of those involved in the Wegman report, as well as the two Canadians involved (McIntyre and McKitrick) in fabricating this.

    I urge you to take this seriously, to pursue it to its fullest extent and at the highest level possible.

    Thank you.

  13. dizzy says:

    At the time, without knowing details of the finagling —

    “Turning our attention to the methodological issues this hearing seeks to investigate, in my opinion, the Wegman report failed to accomplish its primary objective, which was “to reproduce the results of [McIntyre & McKitrick] in order to determine whether their criticisms are valid and have merit” (p. 7). Although the panel reproduced MM’s work—verbatim—it only partially assessed the validity, and did not at all assess the merits, of the criticisms directed toward the MBH reconstructions. For instance, MM (McIntyre and McKitrick 2003; McIntyre and McKitrick 2005; heafter referred to collectively as MM) allege that the so-called MBH “hockey stick” result is biased by methodological errors that undermine the conclusion that the late 20th century was uniquely warm relative to the past 1,000 years. This critique only has merit if, after correcting for the errors pointed out by MM, the resulting reconstruction yields results significantly different from the original result that can no longer support the claim of unusual late 20th century warmth. However, the Wegman Report takes no steps to make such a determination.

    Fortunately, a different group, one well qualified both statistically and climatologically to tackle this question of merit, had already performed the task several months before the Wegman Report was released. The study by Wahl & Ammann […]
    [ ]

    House Committee on Energy and Commerce Testimony July 27, 2006

  14. Nick Palmer says:

    I second what sailrick has suggested – a TV movie would be a truly excellent counterweight to the rising ride of irrational denialist propaganda.

    Incidentally one of our local politicians, who is a fan of McIntyre, WUWT etc., was one of those who deluged CRU with FOI requests in July/August – step forward Senator Sarah Ferguson…

    From her email/comment on Climateaudit’s post “CRU refuses data once again”, dated 1 August 2009

    “I assume that the reference number means that this is the 100th email Palmer has received! This will presumably totally foul up his plans for a vacation”

    BTW, the Palmer mentioned is David Palmer – not me.

    I don’t know if it started out as a deliberate plan by McIntyre et al but it ended up as rather like a denial of service hacker attack – a “denial of time” harassment attack?