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CCNet 01/04/13

New Climate Science Scandal Exposed

Rotten To The Core

 
 

Arguments over data and methods are the lifeblood of science, and are not instances of misconduct. However, here I document the gross misrepresentation of the findings of a recent scientific paper via press release which appears to skirt awfully close to crossing the line into research misconduct, as defined by the NRC. I recommend steps to fix this mess, saving face for all involved, and a chance for this small part of the climate community to take a step back toward unambiguous scientific integrity. --Roger Pielke Jr., 31 March 2013
 
 
 
Marcott et al have posted their long-promised FAQ at realclimate. Without providing any links to or citation of Climate Audit, they now concede: 20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust, cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes, and therefore is not the basis of any of our conclusions. Otherwise, their response is pretty much a filibuster, running the clock on questions that have not actually been asked and certainly not at issue by critics. --Steve McIntyre, Climate Audit, 31 March 2013
 
 
 
This isn’t just a filibuster, they are defending themselves on the grounds that their paper made an incredibly subtle misrepresentation and it’s the reader’s fault for not noticing. Without the closing uptick, the main implication of their reconstruction is that, in the 20th century, we experienced the coldest conditions of the Holocene. With the uptick, we experienced nearly the warmest. By admitting that the uptick is not robust and cannot be a basis for any conclusions they have undermined their own findings, root and branch. –Ross McKitrick, 31 March 2013
 
 
 
Debate about the reality of a [16 year] pause in global warming and what it means has made its way from the sceptical fringe to the mainstream. In a lengthy article this week, The Economist magazine said if climate scientists were credit-rating agencies, then climate sensitivity – the way climate reacts to changes in carbon-dioxide levels – would be on negative watch but not yet downgraded. Another paper published by leading climate scientist James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says the lower than expected temperature rise between 2000 and the present could be explained by increased emissions from burning coal.  “The global temperature standstill shows that climate models are diverging from observations,” says David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. “If we have not passed it already, we are on the threshold of global observations becoming incompatible with the consensus theory of climate change,” he says. --Graham Lloyd, The Australian, 29 March 2013
 
 
 
 
The official watchdog that advises the Government on greenhouse gas emissions targets has launched an astonishing attack on The Mail on Sunday – for accurately reporting that alarming predictions of global warming are wrong. We disclosed that although highly influential computer models are still estimating huge rises in world temperatures, there has been no statistically significant increase for more than 16 years. Despite our revelation earlier this month, backed up by a scientifically researched graph, the Committee on Climate Change still clings to flawed predictions. --David Rose, Mail On Sunday, 31 March 2013
 
 
1) New Climate Scandal Exposed - Roger Pielke Jr., 31 March 2013

2) Steve McIntyre: The Marcott Filibuster - Climate Audit, 31 March 2013

3) Global Warming Hiatus Has Climate Scientists Puzzled - The Australian, 29 March 2013

4) Committee On Climate Change Launches Attack On Mail On Sunday - Mail On Sunday, 31 March 2013
 
 
 
 
1) New Climate Scandal Exposed
Roger Pielke Jr., 31 March 2013

Roger Pielke Jr documents the gross misrepresentation of the findings of a recent scientific paper via press release which appears to skirt awfully close to crossing the line into research misconduct.





Spot the difference
 



In 1991 the National Research Council proposed what has come to be a widely accepted definition of misconduct in science:

Misconduct in science is defined as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism, in proposing, performing, or reporting research. Misconduct in science does not include errors of judgment; errors in the recording, selection, or analysis of data; differences in opinions involving the interpretation of data; or misconduct unrelated to the research process.

Arguments over data and methods are the lifeblood of science, and are not instances of misconduct.

However, here I document the gross misrepresentation of the findings of a recent scientific paper via press release which appears to skirt awfully close to crossing the line into research misconduct, as defined by the NRC. I recommend steps to fix this mess, saving face for all involved, and a chance for this small part of the climate community to take a step back toward unambiguous scientific integrity.

The paper I refer to is by Marcott et al. 2013, published recently in Science. A press release issued by the National Science Foundation, which funded the research, explains the core methodology and key conclusion of the paper as follows (emphasis added):

Peter Clark, an OSU paleoclimatologist and co-author of the Science paper, says that many previous temperature reconstructions were regional and not placed in a global context.
“When you just look at one part of the world, temperature history can be affected by regional climate processes like El Niño or monsoon variations,” says Clark.

“But when you combine data from sites around the world, you can average out those regional anomalies and get a clear sense of the Earth’s global temperature history.”

What that history shows, the researchers say, is that during the last 5,000 years, the Earth on average cooled about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit–until the last 100 years, when it warmed about 1.3 degrees F.

The press release clearly explains that the paper (a) combines data from many sites around the world to create a “temperature reconstruction” which gives a “sense of the Earth’s temperature history,” and (b) “that history shows” a cooling over the past 5000 years, until the last 100 years when all of that cooling was reversed.

The conclusions of the press release were faithfully reported by a wide range of media outlets, and below I survey several of them to illustrate that the content of the press release was accurately reflected in media coverage and, at times, amplified by scientists both involved and not involved with the study.

Examples of Media Coverage

Here is Justin Gillis at the New York Times, with emphasis added to this excerpt and also those further below:

The modern rise that has recreated the temperatures of 5,000 years ago is occurring at an exceedingly rapid clip on a geological time scale, appearing in graphs in the new paper as a sharp vertical spike.

Similarly, at the NY Times Andy Revkin reported much the same in a post titled, “Scientists Find an Abrupt Warm Jog After a Very Long Cooling.” Revkin included the following graph from the paper along with a caption explaining what the graph shows:

Revkin’s caption:  A new Science paper includes this graph of data providing clues to past global temperature. It shows the warming as the last ice age ended (left), a period when temperatures were warmer than today, a cooling starting 5,000 years ago and an abrupt warming in the last 100 years.

Revkin concluded: “the work reveals a fresh, and very long, climate “hockey stick.”” For those unfamiliar, a hockey stick has a shaft and a blade.

Any association with the so-called “hockey stick” is sure to capture interest in the highly politicized context of the climate debate, in which the iconic figure is like catnip to partisans on both sides. Here is Michael Lemonick at Climate Central:

The study… confirms the now famous “hockey stick” graph that Michael Mann published more than a decade ago. That study showed a sharp upward temperature trend over the past century after more than a thousand years of relatively flat temperatures. . .

“What’s striking,” said lead author Shaun Marcott of Oregon State University in an interview, “is that the records we use are completely independent, and produce the same result.”

Here is Grist.org, which refers in the passage below to the same figure shown above:

A study published in Science reconstructs global temperatures further back than ever before — a full 11,300 years. The new analysis finds that the only problem with Mann’s hockey stick was that its handle was about 9,000 years too short. The rate of warming over the last 100 years hasn’t been seen for as far back as the advent of agriculture.

To be clear, the study finds that temperatures in about a fifth of this historical period were higher than they are today. But the key, said lead author Shaun Marcott of Oregon State University, is that temperatures are shooting through the roof faster than we’ve ever seen.
“What we found is that temperatures increased in the last 100 years as much as they had cooled in the last 6,000 or 7,000,” he said. “In other words, the rate of change is much greater than anything we’ve seen in the whole Holocene,” referring to the current geologic time period, which began around 11,500 years ago.

Back to more mainstream outlets, here is how Nature characterized the study, offering a substantially similar but somewhat more technical description of the curve shown in the figure above:

Marcott and his colleagues set about reconstructing global climate trends all the way back to 11,300 years ago, when the Northern Hemisphere was emerging from the most recent ice age. To do so, they collected and analysed data gathered by other teams. The 73 overlapping climate records that they considered included sediment cores drilled from lake bottoms and sea floors around the world, along with a handful of ice cores collected in Antarctica and Greenland.

Each of these chronicles spanned at least 6,500 years, and each included a millennium-long baseline period beginning in the middle of the post-ice-age period at 3550 bc.

For some records, the researchers inferred past temperatures from the ratio of magnesium and calcium ions in the shells of microscopic creatures that had died and dropped to the ocean floor; for others, they measured the lengths of long-chain organic molecules called alkenones that were trapped in the sediments.

After the ice age, they found, global average temperatures rose until they reached a plateau between 7550 and 3550 bc. Then a long-term cooling trend set in, reaching its lowest temperature extreme between ad 1450 and 1850. Since then, temperatures have been increasing at a dramatic clip: from the first decade of the twentieth century to now, global average temperatures rose from near their coldest point since the ice age to nearly their warmest, Marcott and his team report today in Science.

And here is New Scientist, making reference to the exact same graph:

Shaun Marcott of Oregon State University in Corvallis and colleagues have compiled 73 such proxies from around the world, all of which reach back to the end of the last glacial period, 11,300 years ago. During this period, known as the Holocene, the climate has been relatively warm – and civilisation has flourished.

“Most global temperature reconstructions have only spanned the past 2000 years,” says Marcott.

Marcott’s graph shows temperatures rising slowly after the ice age, until they peaked 9500 years ago. The total rise over that period was about 0.6 °C. They then held steady until around 5500 years ago, when they began slowly falling again until around 1850. The drop was 0.7 °C, roughly reversing the previous rise. 

Then, in the late 19th century, the graph shows temperatures shooting up, driven by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The rate of warming in the last 150 years is unlike anything that happened in at least 11,000 years, says Michael Mann of the Pennsylvania State University in University Park, who was not involved in Marcott’s study. It was Mann who created the original hockey stick graph (see upper graph here), which showed the change in global temperatures over the last 1000 years.
Over the Holocene, temperatures rose and fell less than 1 °C, and they did so over thousands of years, says Marcott. “It took 8000 years to go from warm to cold.” Agriculture, communal life and forms of government all arose during this relatively stable period, he adds. Then in 100 years, global temperatures suddenly shot up again to very close to the previous maximum.

It seems clear that even as various media took different angles on the story and covered it in varying degrees of technical detail, the articles listed above accurately reflected the conclusions reflected in the NSF press release, and specifically the “hockey stick”-like character of the new temperature reconstruction. Unfortunately, all of this is just wrong, as I explain below. (If you’d like to explore media coverage further here is a link to more stories. My colleague Tom Yulsman got punked too.)

The Problem with the NSF Press Release and the Subsequent Reporting

There is a big problem with the media reporting of the new paper. It contains a fundamental error which (apparently) originates in the NSF press release and which was furthered by public comments by scientists.

In a belatedly-posted FAQ to the paper, which appeared on Real Climate earlier today,Marcott et al. make this startling admission:

Q: What do paleotemperature reconstructions show about the temperature of the last 100 years?

A: Our global paleotemperature reconstruction includes a so-called “uptick” in temperatures during the 20th-century. However, in the paper we make the point that this particular feature is of shorter duration than the inherent smoothing in our statistical averaging procedure, and that it is based on only a few available paleo-reconstructions of the type we used. Thus, the 20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust, cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes, and therefore is not the basis of any of our conclusions.

Got that?

In case you missed it, I repeat:

. . . the 20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust, cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes . . .

What that means is that this paper actually has nothing to do with a “hockey stick” as it does not have the ability to reproduce 20th century temperatures in a manner that is “statistically robust.” The new “hockey stick” is no such thing as Marcott et al. has no blade. (To be absolutely clear, I am not making a point about temperatures of the 20th century, but what can be concluded from the paper about temperatures of the 20th century.)

Yet, you might recall that the NSF press release said something quite different:

What that [temperature reconstruction] history shows, the researchers say, is that during the last 5,000 years, the Earth on average cooled about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit–until the last 100 years, when it warmed about 1.3 degrees F.

So what the paper actually shows is the following, after I have removed from the graph the 20th century period that is “not statistically robust” (this is also the figure that appears at the top of this post):


Surely there is great value in such an analysis of pre-20th century temperatures. And there can be no doubt there will be continuing debates and discussions about the paper’s methods and conclusions. But one point that any observer should be able to clearly conclude is that the public representation of the paper was grossly in error. The temperature reconstruction does not allow any conclusions to be made about the period after 1900.

Does the public misrepresentation amount to scientific misconduct? I’m not sure, but it is far to close to that line for comfort. Saying so typically leads to a torrent of angry ad hominem and defensive attacks, and evokes little in the way of actual concern for the integrity of this highly politicized area of science. Looking past the predictable responses, this mess can be fixed in a relatively straightforward manner with everyone’s reputation intact.

How to Fix This 

Here are the steps that I recommend should be taken:

1) Science should issue a correction to the paper, and specially do the following:

(a) retract and replot all figures in the paper and SI eliminating from the graphs all data/results that fail to meet the paper’s criteria for “statistical robustness.”

(b) include in the correction the explicit and unambiguous statement offered in the FAQ released today that the analysis is not “statistically robust” post-1900.

2) NSF should issue a correction to its press release, clarifying and correcting the statements of Peter Clark (a co-author, found above) and Candace Major, NSF program manager, who says in the release:

The last century stands out as the anomaly in this record of global temperature since the end of the last ice age,” says Candace Major, program director in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Ocean Sciences.

Full story
 

 
2) Steve McIntyre: The Marcott Filibuster
Climate Audit, 31 March 2013

Marcott et al have posted their long-promised FAQ at realclimate here. Without providing any links to or citation of Climate Audit, they now concede:

20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust, cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes, and therefore is not the basis of any of our conclusions.

Otherwise, their response is pretty much a filibuster, running the clock on questions that have not actually been asked and certainly not at issue by critics. For questions and issues that I’ve actually raised, for the most part, they merely re-iterate what they already said. Nothing worth waiting for.

They did not discuss or explain why they deleted modern values from the Md01-2421 splice at CA here and here. Or the deletion of modern values from OCE326-GGC300 as asked here.
Nor do they discuss the difference between the results that had (presumably) been in the submission to Nature (preserved as a chapter in Marcott’s thesis).

Nor did they discuss the implausibility of their coretop redating of MD95-2043 and MD95-2011 as discussed here.

Instead of dealing with actual questions, for the most part, their “FAQ” filibusters about questions that no one was asking in connection with this study.

Eventually, they get to a question about their redating:

Q. Why did you revise the age models of many of the published records that were used in your study?

But here too they filibuster. They spend 3.5 paragraphs pontificating about radiocarbon recalibration – a topic that was not an issue. Indeed, on several occasions, including a comment on a similar filibuster by William Connolley, I clearly distinguished between radiocarbon recalibration and coretop redating, taking issue only with coretop redating.

Nonetheless, Marcott et al adopted the same filibuster that Connolley had used.
When they eventually get to coretop redating, they say only:

In geologic studies it is quite common that the youngest surface of a sediment core is not dated by radiocarbon, either because the top is disturbed by living organisms or during the coring process. Moreover, within the past hundred years before 1950 CE, radiocarbon dates are not very precise chronometers, because changes in radiocarbon production rate have by coincidence roughly compensated for fixed decay rates. For these reasons, and unless otherwise indicated, we followed the common practice of assuming an age of 0 BP for the marine core tops.

This is nothing more than a re-iteration of the statement in their SI that I had quoted in my Core Tops post:

Core tops are assumed to be 1950 AD unless otherwise indicated in original publication.

This is not an answer or justification of what they did. I urge interested readers to re-read the Core Tops post and more generally the Marcott sequence.

Nor did they directly answer questions about the questionable uptick. They pose the question for themselves as follows:

Q: What do paleotemperature reconstructions show about the temperature of the last 100 years?

They give a “short” and “technical” answer. First they stated:

A: Our global paleotemperature reconstruction includes a so-called “uptick” in temperatures during the 20th-century. However, in the paper we make the point that this particular feature is of shorter duration than the inherent smoothing in our statistical averaging procedure, and that it is based on only a few available paleo-reconstructions of the type we used. Thus, the 20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust, cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes, and therefore is not the basis of any of our conclusions. Our primary conclusions are based on a comparison of the longer term paleotemperature changes from our reconstruction with the well-documented temperature changes that have occurred over the last century, as documented by the instrumental record. Although not part of our study, high-resolution paleoclimate data from the past ~130 years have been compiled from various geological archives, and confirm the general features of warming trend over this time interval (Anderson, D.M. et al., 2013, Geophysical Research Letters, v. 40, p. 189-193;http://www.agu.org/journals/pip/gl/2012GL054271-pip.pdf).

Although they now apparently concede that “the 20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust, cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes, and therefore is not the basis of any of our conclusions”, this was definitely not the impression left by the authors when the article was published, when it was hailed as supposed confirmation of the Hockey Stick.

Full analysis
 
 

3) Global Warming Hiatus Has Climate Scientists Puzzled
The Australian, 29 March 2013

Graham Lloyd

DEBATE about the reality of a [16 year] pause in global warming and what it means has made its way from the sceptical fringe to the mainstream.

In a lengthy article this week, The Economist magazine said if climate scientists were credit-rating agencies, then climate sensitivity – the way climate reacts to changes in carbon-dioxide levels – would be on negative watch but not yet downgraded.

Another paper published by leading climate scientist James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says the lower than expected temperature rise between 2000 and the present could be explained by increased emissions from burning coal.

For Hansen the pause is a fact, but it’s good news that probably won’t last.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman Rajendra Pachauri recently told The Weekend Australian the hiatus would have to last 30 to 40 years “at least” to break the long-term warming trend.

But the fact that global surface temperatures have not followed the expected global warming pattern is now widely accepted.

Research by Ed Hawkins of University of Reading shows surface temperatures since 2005 are already at the low end of the range projections derived from 20 climate models and if they remain flat, they will fall outside the models’ range within a few years.

“The global temperature standstill shows that climate models are diverging from observations,” says David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

“If we have not passed it already, we are on the threshold of global observations becoming incompatible with the consensus theory of climate change,” he says.

Whitehouse argues that whatever has happened to make temperatures remain constant requires an explanation because the pause in temperature rise has occurred despite a sharp increase in global carbon emissions.

The Economist says the world has added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010, about one-quarter of all the carbon dioxide put there by humans since 1750. This mismatch between rising greenhouse gas emissions and not-rising temperatures is among the biggest puzzles in climate science just now, The Economist article says.

“But it does not mean global warming is a delusion.”

The fact is temperatures between 2000 and 2010 are still almost 1C above their level in the first decade of the 20th century.

“The mismatch might mean that for some unexplained reason there has been a temporary lag between more carbon dioxide and higher temperatures in 2000-2010.

“Or it might mean that the 1990s, when temperatures were rising fast, was the anomalous period.”

The magazine explores a range of possible explanations including higher emissions of sulphur dioxide, the little understood impact of clouds and the circulation of heat into the deep ocean.

But it also points to an increasing body of research that suggests it may be that climate is responding to higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide in ways that had not been properly understood before.

“This possibility, if true, could have profound significance both for climate science and for environmental and social policy,” the article says.

Full story
 
 
4) Committee On Climate Change Launches Attack On Mail On Sunday
Mail On Sunday, 31 March 2013

David Rose

The official watchdog that advises the Government on greenhouse gas emissions targets has launched an astonishing attack on The Mail on Sunday – for accurately reporting that alarming predictions of global warming are wrong.

We disclosed that although highly influential computer models are still estimating huge rises in world temperatures, there has been no statistically significant increase for more than 16 years.

Despite our revelation earlier this month, backed up by a scientifically researched graph, the Committee on Climate Change still clings to flawed predictions.

Leading the attack is committee member Sir Brian Hoskins, who is also director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College, London. In a blog on the Committee on Climate Change’s website, Sir Brian insisted: ‘The scientific basis for significant long-term climate risks remains robust, despite the points raised .  .  . Early and deep cuts in emissions are still required.’

He also claimed our report ‘misunderstood’ the value of computer models. Yet in an interview three years ago, Sir Brian conceded that when he started out as a climate scientist, the models were ‘pretty lousy, and they’re still pretty lousy, really’.

Our graph earlier this month was reproduced from a version first drawn by Dr Ed Hawkins, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science. Last week it was reprinted as part of a four-page report in The Economist.

The accuracy of computer forecasts is vital because they influence politicians and their key environmental advisers on how urgently to act on climate change – and how many billions of pounds they take from the taxpayer in ‘green’ levies.

How the MoS reported the faulty forecast
How the MoS reported the faulty forecast

The Committee on Climate Change claims such forecasts must be right because world temperatures have previously matched computer models’ ‘outputs’ for most of the past 60 years. Yet as this newspaper pointed out, for almost all of that 60-year period the models were not making predictions – because they did not yet exist.

Instead, the models had recently been making ‘hindcasts’ – backward projections based on climate simulations and tailored to actual temperatures. The evidence shows the models collapse when they try to forecast the future.

Author Andrew Montford, who runs the widely read Bishop Hill climate blog, leapt to The Mail on Sunday’s defence and said Sir Brian’s reliance on ‘hindcasts’ was ‘crazy, crazy stuff’.

David Whitehouse, of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, said the graph showed models were so unreliable that ‘if this kind of data were from a drugs trial it would have been stopped long ago’.

And last week, The Economist repeated our claims that many scientists now believe that previous estimates of ‘climate sensitivity’ – how much the world will warm each time the level of carbon dioxide doubles – are far too high.

In a key 2007 report, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested this was most likely to be about 3C, with 4.5C considered ‘likely’. However, recent research suggests the true figure is much lower – between 1.5C and 2C – giving the world many more decades to avoid disaster through effective new technologies.

Full story
 


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