I am perversely enjoying Climategate: the conclusions that some people are reaching, with seemingly no actual evidence, that their opponents fudged their data looks like high farce.
Here is the quote from Professor Jones that is getting all the attention, from 1999:
I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline.
I don't know what US idiom is, but I do have an idea of what academic British idiom is, at my father's knee (who is still teaching at 82, my father, not his knee): here a trick being the art or knack of doing something skillfully or a clever or ingenious device or expedient; adroit technique. Not a deception.
But here is what our local climate change deniers were lapping up in a newspaper:
UNTIL last Friday, Wall Street's scammer Bernard Madoff was considered the biggest fraud in world history, having taken his greedy clients for an estimated $US64.8 billion.
Madoff's fraud has been put in the shade however by the extraordinary web of scandal which has been revealed by leaked emails from the Hadley Centre (University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit) over the last few days, which certainly appear to demonstrate that a group of the most prominent scientists advising the United Nations on global warming have systematically manipulated data to support their argument that global warming is both genuine and caused by humans.
That's right: the biggest fraud in human history!
And here is what that Mike says about it, in 2009:
Mann said the "trick" Jones referred to was placing a chart of proxy temperature records, which ended in 1980, next to a line showing the temperature record collected by instruments from that time onward. "It's hardly anything you would call a trick," Mann said, adding that both charts were differentiated and clearly marked. Yes, you got it: the 'adding' is not altering numbers, but adding a different graphic to the same page. It would be useful to actually see the page in question: was it actually ever even published or used anywhere?
UPDATE: It turns out the graph was published, though not in an academic article, but as cover art for a UN WHO document WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 1999.
Now that I have looked at it, I have modified my opinion a little.
I still think it is correct for that graph to use the real data rather than the proxies: it is a good graph. However the splice should have been called out graphically or in the text.
The rather mild conclusion made about the graph in the text, that 'against the background of the millenium as a whole, the 20th century was unusually warm' is true even if the spike above the normal is removed, and whether or not the segment of real data is distinguished graphically. So no use was made of the graphic relating to the splice. It is certainly not fraud let alone the biggest fraud in human history.
(Aside) However, if that is the graphic in question, I don't understandProfessor Mann's comment about it:
Mann said the "trick" Jones referred to was placing a chart of proxy temperature records, which ended in 1980, next to a line showing the temperature record collected by instruments from that time onward. "It's hardly anything you would call a trick," Mann said, adding that both charts were differentiated and clearly marked.
My Little Town
When I was a boy in the 1960s, one year my home town Coffs Harbour had a big flood: we walked over to the river to wonder, and it was a couple of feet (we still used feet then) higher than normal. And then in about 1996 we had a much bigger flood, a once-in-a-hundred years flood. Where I used to live was under a foot of water, and all the shops in the High Street.
This year (2009) Coffs has had 3 of these once-in-a-hundred years floods. Three. Plus two other floods. It is much wetter: on one day earlier in the month we got in one day about three times the average monthly November rainfall. My parents regularly get cut off, though they live on hill now.
We know so much more about the weather now: we know about the Southern Oscillation, La Niña, El Niño, interdecadal Pacific oscillation, and the Indian Ocean Dipole. But I have read no suggestion that these ultimately explain the changed climate in my home town in recent times.
In Australia, weather is a topic of much interest. We always say "Oh it has never been this hot/cold/wet/dry" but when we go back over the records we usually find it has been. (In Sydney we have six seasons rather than four, so some of the confusion comes from category error too, it must be admitted.) Our newspapers get disappointed when we don't break records, like some ghastly Olympics. We had the hottest September for 150 years too, by the way.
Watching our Senate's Question Time yesterday, our Minister for Climate Change, Senator Wong, was asked whether any water could be spared to rescue the estuary of the Murray River (one of the largest in the world). The Minister replied that the water situation was so bad, due to bad rain and evaporation, that the only way to save the river would be to deny people in cities and towns their drinking water. This looks like a fairly major environmental problem in plain sight.
Coffs Harbour has another claim to fame. It is where the Great Barrier Reef starts. However, the amounts of CO2 now in the water is causing some bleaching already, though it has not reached the levels it has in other places, where it prevent shell formation (a problem for other marine animals with shells too). In the last couple of months we had one famous marine biologist say (to the Royal Society) how we need to prevent human activity that would increase ocean acidification, while elsewhere another biologist saying the link to human activity had not been proven (to his satisfaction) but did so in the context that climate change was real. It seems pretty hard to find any scientists who deny recent climate change: though it is obviously a complex issue.
Out my window
So my problem with the climate-change deniers, is that when I look out my window, what I see fits in with the claims of the climate change scientists more than with the claims of the climate change sceptics. A freak weather event here or there is one thing: in Sydney we had our amazing dust storm recently, but unless it is repeated, I would consider it just an outlier. But when you get repeated occurrences of what had previously been outliers, such as my hometown's floods and reefs, it seems prudent to want to mitigate whatever contribution humans are making to it. [Update: Perhaps I wrote too soon about 'freak' weather events; we had another, smaller, dust storm on the Sunday after writing this.]
In fact, when look out my window, I see across Sydney Harbour, our oldest weather observatory, Observatory Hill. They have their readings since 1859 online. On that page, if you select the 30 year temperature averages, and compare how the red line has moved in comparison to the green, you can see that the recent average maxima seemed to have increased by three degrees or so compared to the 1800s.
The principle I see here is a basic one of conservatism: the rate of change must not greatly exceed society's (and the economy's) capacity to change (which is not to say that societies and economies do not sometimes have the capacity to change dramatically and fast!) I see conservatives apply this principle against action on climate change (protect our jobs!), but I think it is just as applicable in favour of mitigating actions.
I can understand that the extent of the impact of human activity can reasonably be debated; but I find it difficult to understand those who first insist that there can be no human impact, and then go from there to deny there is any climate change at all, or at least that there needs to be no real human response to climate change. Whether Rome is burning a little or a lot, and whether a person caused it or the Gods, and whether it will eventually burn anyway, we should at least stop fiddling and get out our buckets.
UpdateI recommend Skeptical Science to readers. The site has a page on Climate gate and makes the comment:
when you look at Phil Jone's email in the context of the science discussed, it is not the schemings of a climate conspiracy but technical discussions of data handling techniques available in the peer reviewed literature.
In the skeptic blogosphere, there is a disproportionate preoccupation with one small aspect of climate science - proxy record reconstructions of past climate (or even worse, ad hominem attacks on the scientists who perform these proxy reconstructions). This serves to distract from the physical realities currently being observed. Humans are raising CO2 levels. We're observing an enhanced greenhouse effect. The planet is still accumulating heat. What are the consequences of our climate's energy imbalance? Sea levels rise is accelerating. Greenland ice loss is accelerating. Arctic ice loss is accelerating. Globally, glacier ice loss is accelerating. Antarctic ice loss is accelerating.
When you read through the many global warming skeptic arguments, a pattern emerges. Each skeptic argument misleads by focusing on one small piece of the puzzle while ignoring the broader picture. To focus on a few suggestive emails while ignoring the wealth of empirical evidence for manmade global warming is yet another repeat of this tactic.
Update 2In the comments below, an indefatigable reader raises the issue of the adjustments of the CRU datasets. It is not very simple to get it all in one place: the HadCRUT3 anomoly dataset (2006-sh) is based on the CRUTEM3 dataset (for land entries) which in turn is based on multiple other datasets, and also updated from national meteorology organizations, primarily updating the previous version data which produced HadCRUT2 (2003-ish), which in turn was an update of the data that produced HadCRUT (1994-ish).
It is substantially similar to the independent GHCN datasets to the extent that they seem to get conflated or confused: close enough that the GHCN dataset is used to proxy the CRU data by partisans on both sides. (The extent of their similarity, see this entry by CRU critic Steve MacIntyre: note that under UK FOAI there is no necessity to provide information already available, as I understand it.)
Readers may be interested that the GHCN datasets are available here, with the adjustments applied in a nice adjustments file documented here (and some reading code here), and with links to explanatory papers here. (I am not sure the relationship between the GHCN adjustments and the CRU adjustments.)
The missing metadata is in residual data in HadCRUT3 that comes from the original HadCRUT: according to the HarCRUT3 paper. It's approach is (as I understand it) to treat these adjustments, whether documented or not documented, statistically by estimating the "adjustment uncertainty" which feeds into the final results, when calculating certainty.
In other words, the HadCRUT3 results already (claim to) factor in (or out) the effects of the kinds of adjustments made: but these don't show up in the averages or the anomolies but in the uncertainty estimates.
By the way, for an update on the most recent science for the pro-climate change side, see The Copenhagen Diagnosis prepared here in Sydney at UNSW. (It is intended as a stopgap since the next IPCC report is not expected for 4 years.)
Update: April 2010
The British House of Commons equiry has found:
- There was no evidence to challenge the "scientific consensus" that global warming is induced by human activities.
- The balance of evidence "patently" failed to support the view that the phrases "trick" and "hide the decline" used by Jones in one email were part of a conspiracy to hide evidence that did not support his view.
- On peer review, "the evidence we have seen does not suggest that Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process" and academics should not be criticised for "informal comments" on papers, MPs said.
- On FOI The MPs expressed regret that the UK's deputy information commissioner had made a statement saying, in their words, that "at least some of the requested information should have been disclosed" without his office having conducted a formal investigation. However, they agreed that there was a prima facie case for the university to answer
The view in the press release of the MPs matches pretty much my conclusion, as an interested outsider:
The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones's refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.