Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Hockey Stick Debate, Clima(c)tic Conclusion

(The "c" is optional, get it? Heh heh d*mn I'm smooth...)

In a previous post, I gave a dumbed down version of what McIntyre and McKitrick did to blow up Mann et al.'s hockey stick (featured again below, because pictures are so good to break up the monotony of this site--seriously Gene, let's hang up a portrait or something!).

(One other loose end: I emailed McKitrick and there wasn't a mistake in his description of what happens to the variance when you use Mann's algorithm. It's not worth getting into--and frankly I don't fully understand it yet myself, I need to print this thing out and really study it--but suffice it to say, McKitrick didn't get the direction mixed up, as I had speculated.)

Now then on to the fun stuff. So at RealClimate--the premier anti-denier website--one of the Real Climate Scientists has a "official" response to the hockey stick stuff. (There are plenty of other posts at RealClimate on this issue.) For the response I'm focusing on, the guy's strongest point is, "Hey Mann et al.'s mistakes don't affect the policy debate, because other scientists have produced similarly hockey-stick-shaped graphs."

But I don't care right now about the big important issues; I just want to focus on this tiny little throw-away quibble that the RealClimate guy here uses. To understand what's he talking about, we need to review that McKitrick claimed in his explanation of the whole hockey stick brou ha ha (pdf), that the reason the whole episode is important is that it shows how flawed the quality control is on the IPCC, and it shows that the mainstream journals were not bothered by what had happened.

Specifically, when M&M wrote up their results--which showed that even random data fed into Mann's algorithm would have generated a pronounced hockey stick over 99% of the time--and this was the graph featured in the IPCC Third Assessment Report--this is how the oh-so-self-correcting body of careful scientists responded:

We submitted a letter to Nature about this flaw [that it took any data and turned them into a hockey stick--RPM] in the MBH98 procedure. After a long (8-month) reviewing process they notified us that they would not publish it. They concluded it could not be explained in the 500-word limit they were prepared to give us, and one of the referees said he found the material was quite technical and unlikely to be of interest to the general readers. Instead Mann et al. were permitted to make a coy disclosure in their July Corrigendum. In an on-line Supplement (but not in the printed text itself) they revealed the nonstandard method [of standardizing using the mean of the 20th century, not of the whole series--RPM], and added the unsupported claim that it did not affect the results.

OK everyone get that? I mean look, the IPCC did in fact remove the Mann et al. graph from the report; it's not featured in the AR4 version. So that means M&M were basically right. That's...kind of a big deal. So if the above description of how the huge journal Nature reacted to this (what should have been a) bombshell, then that's pretty sobering.

Now then, the guy at RealClimate responds to McKitrick's version of what went down. This is from his MYTH #4 about the hockey stick debate:

False claims of the existence of errors in the Mann et al (1998) reconstruction can also be traced to spurious allegations made by two individuals, McIntyre and McKitrick (McIntyre works in the mining industry, while McKitrick is an economist). The false claims were first made in an article (McIntyre and McKitrick, 2003) published in a non-scientific (social science) journal "Energy and Environment" and later, in a separate "Communications Arising" comment that was rejected by Nature based on negative appraisals by reviewers and editor [as a side note, we find it peculiar that the authors have argued elsewhere that their submission was rejected due to 'lack of space'. Nature makes their policy on such submissions quite clear: "The Brief Communications editor will decide how to proceed on the basis of whether the central conclusion of the earlier paper is brought into question; of the length of time since the original publication; and of whether a comment or exchange of views is likely to seem of interest to nonspecialist readers. Because Nature receives so many comments, those that do not meet these criteria are referred to the specialist literature." Since Nature chose to send the comment out for review in the first place, the "time since the original publication" was clearly not deemed a problematic factor. One is logically left to conclude that the grounds for rejection were the deficiencies in the authors' arguments explicitly noted by the reviewers].

Does everybody see what this guy did here? McKitrick reported what he said actually happened to him, what he saw with his own eyes. And this guy "mike" is doubting what McKitrick said--and it's not like he said elephants flew out of his left nostril, ya know--and his reasons for basically calling McKitrick a LIAR are:

(1) I looked at the official policies of Nature, something that maybe only 130 other geeks on the planet have ever looked at, and

(2) I logically conclude (mike's words) that you must be a liar (or can't read, or have a really bad memory, etc.).

Folks, this is very similar to what is going on in the big picture. There are lots of experts in various areas who say that the official "consensus" story doesn't really fit in the (non-essential) part where it rests on their area of expertise.

And when you really boil it down, the response of the official climatologists is: "Oh yeah? Well in our models--which are extremely complex and would take you 5 years of training just to be able to manipulate them and know what you were doing--we can only match the observed temperature of the 20th century if we assume CO2 and other GHGs have been the driving forcings, and that the climate has high feedback loops with warming. In fact, we defy you to build a model as complicated as ours are, and show that natural forces alone can yield the temperature we saw in the 20th century. And don't give us some half-*ssed regressions, we want an actual model of the entire planet, including the oceans and atmosphere, that obeys the laws of physics. Until you do that, we have nothing more to say. And if you disagree, I'm going to assume you either hate life or are getting paid by Exxon."

Am I exaggerating? Sure. But just go reread the above post. Those things really happened. That guy mike really did give that argument to challenge McKitrick's recollection of what had occurred.


  1. I'm confused; your climactic conclusion ignores the big important issues and focusses on a "tiny little throw-away quibble", that you think is a "big deal"?

    Let's not ignore the mountain of climate change evidence while you focus on the hockey-stick molehill of what information we can derive from dendrochronologies and how some of the people screwed up and tried to cover their tracks. I think it's fair to criticize others for their ho-hum reactions, but dendrochronologies and the hockey stick are just a small piece of AGW support, and hardly the leg on which AGW stands.

    But even while you criticize, perhaps you can understand why many scientists (and corporations and other analysts) didn't focus on the dendrochronology hockey stick, and don't think it deserves as much attention as the "skeptics" keep trying to give to it.

  2. I'm confused...

    I know.

    Tom, are you challenging the factual assertions I am making in this post?

    Are you denying that the IPCC picked as its smoking gun--and I'm talking about the presentation it gave in the TAR, not "what is the body of evidence" in some abstract sense--a graph that was constructed with a process that would turn random data into a hockey stick 99% of the time?

    And then, when two guys discovered this and tried to report it to Nature, they were blown off after being given a pseudo-run-around (I don't know if 8 months is a long time in the natural sciences; it's fairly long for economics).

    And is this guy "mike"--not some bozo, but a guy posting on RealClimate--then wrong in dismissing the "factual errors" he says doesn't exist in Mann et al.'s original paper?

    The context for this, Tom, is that there are plenty of big name researchers who say this is a bunch of garbage. So as outsiders, what can we do? Well, the "consensus" people say, "We have our peer review process. We win."

    So this hockey stick episode casts serious doubts about the integrity of how this "consensus" gets molded.

    No I don't think I'm making a mountain out of a molehill at all. I think the guy mike, and referees for Nature, are making a molehill out of an elephant-hill.

  3. TT: The fact that the guys at RealClimate are ultimately correct would not take away from the fact that M&M's treatment was inexcusable and precisely the opposite of what scientific inquiry should look like.

    Given the policy implications, there really needs to already be a fully-audtiable computer model that anyone can download and for which you can check and modify every assumption going in, and run yourself. I would actually expect this for any branch of science, but especially so here. But maybe -- if M&M's treatment is any indication -- the scientific community in general diverges sharply from what is taught about it, and the intense public scrutiny it's getting now (even if it's a "motivated search" for confirmatory evidence) is a godsend in bringing about needed reform.

    And you know what? Maybe the global warming alarmism will unwind as enviros find their *next* hip rationalization for implementing stupid policies they'd want anyway.

    NEVERTHELESS, the reactions I've seen from (who I thought were) my fellow libertarians on this issue has been very informative as to what values they really hold. (Apparently, zombie-like defense of whatever convenience they've gotten used to, really is more important than establishing clear, principled property rights in everything.) Depressing and disgusting, but informative.

  4. Joe, sorry I missed your response.

    I certainly don't buy that IPCC scientists, with malice aforethought, included the hockey stick in TAR despite knowing its flaws. I don't buy that you're that much into conspiracy theories, either.

    That people screwed up is something that I can accept, but like I said, while I think M&M clearly pointed out flaws with Mann's paper, I don't see the flaws as in any way undermining the case for action on climate change.

    As I noted on your other thread, while the NAS accepted criticisms of Mann's methods, they essentially confirmed that Mann's conclusions of abnormally rapid and large temperature changes in the past century are right.

    You might also note that those unmitigated liars at the NAS have just published a spiffed up version of Mann's hockey stick.

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