Climategate, oh my!

I’ve been reading a lot about Climategate, and have a few comments now, and hopefully more to come. What sparked this current thread of thinking for me was this post over in the Statistical Modeling blog. He summarized the physicists perspective on the “settled science” in a nice way:

The evidence for anthropogenic (that is, human-caused) global warming is strong, comes from many sources, and has been subject to much scientific scrutiny. Plenty of data are freely available. The basic principles can be understood by just about anyone, and first- and second-order calculations can be perfomed by any physics grad student. Given these facts, questioning the occurrence of anthropogenic global warming seems crazy. (Predicting the details is much, much more complicated). And yet, I have seen discussions, articles, and blog posts from smart, educated people who seem to think that anthropogenic climate change is somehow called into question by the facts that (1) some scientists really, deeply believe that global warming skeptics are wrong in their analyses and should be shut out of the scientific discussion of global warming, and (2) one scientist may have fiddled with some of the numbers in making one of his plots. This is enough to make you skeptical of the whole scientific basis of global warming? Really?

I would love to go point by point in this quote and show the calculations, and I’d imagine that it would get stymied once I tried to put in the water vapor feedback. I need to read more about this, because from what I’ve read we don’t understand the magnitude, or sign, of the cloud feedback and that it could easily wipe out any warming caused by CO2 increases.

Some of the comments are very good too, like:

A. zarkov: I’m really disappointed to see you engage in the usual group think about global warming. Have you read the Wegman report? How come you don’t refer people to ClimateAudit for the other side of the debate? Did you know that Michael Mann had to be forced by Congress to provide the data and codes behind the hockey stick calculation? ClimateAudit give you everything, the data and the R code they use. The other side stonewalls, and no wonder– their results are a fraud.

The blog he refers to,, is very interesting and is exactly the way the commenter says: they are all for open information. They post the data, the code, everything right up front and simply ask everyone else to do the same. Why this isn’t required for all scientific publications, I don’t know. Why it is not required for all high-stakes publications (ones that could result in very high-stakes policy) I don’t know either. It’s a travesty.

If everyone were as open about the data and the code, Climategate couldn’t have happened.

One final comment on this thread:

Radford, Neal: Few people ever disputed that the current temperatures are higher than those of earlier times back to four hundred years ago. The big issue has always been whether the Medieval Warm Period (usually seen as occuring around a thousand years ago) was warmer than at present, since if it was, that makes the present warming seem not so unusal and perhaps due to natural causes.

This is my point too: if it was warmer 1000 years ago, then the hysterical language of the global warming media is completely unjustified.


Phil Jones in discussing the presentation of temperature reconstructions stated that “I’ve just completed Mike’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.” The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem”–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.

A must read is the article by David Holland,
which outlines the problems with the hockey-stick analysis. He explains the divergence problem, and the
history of all this far better than I can summarize here.


About brianblais

I am a professor of Science and Technology at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, and a research professor in the Institute for Brain and Neural Systems, Brown University. My research is in computational neuroscience and statistics. I teach physics, meteorology, astonomy, theoretical neuroscience, systems dynamics, artificial intelligence and robotics. My book, "Theory of Cortical Plasticity" (World Scientific, 2004), details a theory of learning and memory in the cortex, and presents the consequences and predictions of the theory. I am an avid python enthusiast, and a Bayesian (a la E. T. Jaynes), and love music.
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