Beating Trees into Hockey Sticks

Not that you would know it from the mainstream press, but the largest economic fraud in history, greatly dwarfing the housing bubble, has just been revealed.  The press on this side of the Atlantic is carefully avoiding it, but in Britain, where there is still a free press, Climategate is big news.  Thousands of Emails between prominent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change partisans were hacked from a university computer and posted online. They reveal a pervasive system of fraud, cover-ups, obstruction and conspiracy to conceal, and even destroy, contrary data, which has been held in secret for a decade.

Why would scientists do such a thing? Scientists have always enjoyed the trust of the public, but prior to the 1990’s, most people had only a vague idea of what a Climatologist was. They were the bottom of the academic totem pole, the guys who got wedgies from the Art History faculty.  Suddenly, they are the rock stars of academia, with grant money flowing like the Spring floods, and world leaders hanging on their every word. It’s hard to admit they were wrong and sink back into obscurity.

This deception extends to every facet of the Anthropomorphic Global Warming argument, but for the purpose of illustration, I will comment on one portion, the corrupt defense of the Hockey Stick graph.

The Hockey Stick graph, proposed by IPCC “Scientist” Michael E. Mann, (If scientists as a group do not come forward to condemn this fraud, you will have to get used to seeing “Scientist” in quotes.) in 1999 shows global temperatures spiking upward during the 20th century, purportedly due to the burning of fossil fuels. From the beginning, the graph struck even lay people as odd. It went back  only 900 years, conveniently ignoring the well documented Medieval Warm Period(WMP,) which was believed to be several degrees warmer than the present and ended 900 years ago. It was followed by an abnormally cold period, called the Little Ice Age, from about 1400 AD to 1850 AD. By starting the graph in an abnormally cold period, a simple return to normal looks like a dramatic rise.

Mann and his cohorts dismissed these objections by claiming the Medieval Warm Period was a local phenomenon affecting only Europe. In support of that argument, they published ‘proxy studies’ supporting the Hockey Stick which used physical evidence to establish past temperatures in regions where no records existed at the time the MWP was recorded in Europe.

But temperatures do not leave fossils to examine. How do you determine what the average temperature was in an uninhabited area 200, 400 or 1000 years ago? One of the main proxies used was tree ring measurements.Initially, measurements were made in Bristlecone Pines, but it has been shown that these trees respond strongly to CO2 fertilization, that is that increased CO2 has a larger effect on their growth than temperature.

So, proxies more narrowly affected by climate were sought. The  idea is that in polar regions, long-lived trees like Larches would grow more if growing seasons were longer. Russian scientists had collected hundreds of tree ring cores from both living and long dead, carbon dated, Larches in Siberian river beds, so the base data was readily available. However, a lot of other factors affect the growth of an individual tree, such as crowding, nutrients, insects, fire and the like, so some trees might grow a great deal more in any given year than others only a short distance away. Trying to deduce a climate from those cores requires excluding those cores which do not match their contemporaries.

Steve McIntyre, a Canadian statistician and blogger (, pointed out that by choosing which trees to exclude, you could make the data show anything you chose. So, he requested the original data used by Mann and his co-authors for independent analysis. It took almost a decade to get the data, and many of the hacked emails refer to the efforts to deny McIntyre and others access to that data. The sad saga of this obstruction can be read at the Bishop Hill Blog entry, the Yamal Implosion or, if you are a statistician or a masochist, at “Yamal, a “Divergence” Problem” but the gist is that the data was cherry picked to produce the desired result, and that when properly computed, there is no special temperature increase in the 20th century beyond the ongoing recovery from the Little Ice Age ending in the late 1800’s  and that temperatures were indeed warmer during the MWP.

Mann and his cohorts refused almost a decade to release any data, and even now, have released only the minimum information, omitting what is known as Meta-data, that is the basis used in selecting individual trees for inclusion or rejection in their analysis. Emails revealed a conspiracy among IPCC to refuse to participate in peer review of that data and even to destroy data rather than turn it over under Freedom of Information requests.

This is not how science works. This is how politics works.

6 Responses to Beating Trees into Hockey Sticks

  1. This is off topic, but why the devil can’t the Tidewater LP find a good man to run for the Eighth District Senate special election?

    I will be glad to help gather ballot petition signatures, just to ensure that there is some competition for this seat.

    It is ridiculous that neither the Democrats nor Libertarians planned to oppose the Republican nominee for this special election.

    Everyone knows how gerrymandered the district is, but you will never have a better chance of beating a gerrymander, than during a special election that runs for a month during the holiday season.

  2. Britt Howard says:

    I kinda agree. Didn’t they just blow their war chest on all the ads already?

    Couldn’t we prepare listings of motivated people and get them to the polls on a day the average voter won’t know its even open? Or they just forgot about it?

  3. Len Rothman says:

    The facts about how this is happening is really kind of irrelevant.
    The evidence is pretty clear that glaciers are retreating, the arctic ice is opening and the seas are rising.

    What do we do about it?

    We can argue that the carbon dioxide is man made, or we can debate the impact of flatulent cows.

    Despite the “evidence” of the emails (which, to many are evidence of trying to quell the faulty “science” of the deniers) global warming is happening.

    And, we know that fossil fuels have environmental impacts in the short term, such as respiratory and carcinogenic impacts.

    So it is time to look beyond the livelihood of the energy companies and take a longer view of what we need to do to enhance our lives.

  4. Don Tabor says:

    Len, I think you need to consider two aspects of this in combination.

    First, look at what the withheld data revealed. Instrument records overlap the proxy data for the last 80 years or so in the sub-polar regions where the proxy data was collected. In publishing the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers, the portion of the graph representing the ‘blade’ of the hockey stick is almost all instrument data. But instead of printing both the proxy data and the instrument data for those years, the proxy data just stopped(Mike’s Nature Trick.)

    When McInytre got hold of the proxy data for those years of overlap, it contradicts the instrument data, showing a decline instead of the sharp rise. At first glance, you might think ‘so what,’ after all instrument data is better. The real temperatures are the ones we are interested in after all.

    But, if the interpretations of the proxy data were wrong during the overlap, both in absolute value and trend, then they were also unreliable in the previous 1000 years before the instruments were available as a check.

    So, the IPCC claim that the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age were local rather than global or hemispheric events was based interpretation of tree ring data we now know does not correspond to measured reality and is not a reliable basis for policy making.

    Secondly, the Emails discussing Mike’s Nature Trick and the need to deny skeptics access to that data tells us that Jones and Mann, primary authors of the IPCC policy documents KNEW that and foisted that fraudulent graph on policy makers anyway.

    Be honest, if some researcher funded by Exxon had tried to get away with the same thing, you’d be first in line with the tar and feathers.

    Yes, alpine glaciers are retreating, but as they do, evidence (mining tools and excavations)that the land they covered was occupied during the Medieval Warm Period and the recovered by glaciers during the Little Ice Age is revealed. Docks and moorings from at least 2000 years ago demonstrate the sea level did not significantly rise or fall during those events.

    So, what do we really know that justifies wrecking our economy and plunging much of the third world into famine? Using the force of government to distort the economy has consequences, sometimes catastrophic, so should we not expect honesty from those advising such interventions?

  5. Len Rothman says:

    Don, you obviously have researched the math more than I have, and probably more than most people.

    But I have a rule for conspiracies and hoaxes.

    “Follow the money”. I think Watergate was one of the more famous examples in recent times.

    There are thousands of scientists around the globe who believe we are experiencing AGW. They are from different agencies in different countries. I am at a loss as to how they will all profit monetarily from this, and how they will all keep such a massive secret in some sort of international synchronization.

    On the other hand, the potential profit from discrediting the AGW is immense and affects some of the richest and most powerful entities and corporations in the history of the world.

    It is hard to keep a secret among a handful of people, especially on something with such potential impact on a global scale. And we are expected to believe that thousands of scientists around the world are all in some form of effective collusion. How did those folks in England manage to screen all the skeptics from all the believers, and everyone in between?

    All the scientists see the same data you do, obviously, yet the majority do not come to the same conclusions.

    That there may be differing interpretations of data is normal to science, particularly such a complex subject as climate change, is not alarming.

    What would be, however, is that if the deniers are wrong, we are in dire straits.

    If the AGW folks are wrong, we will have shifted our energy sources, over time, to less dependence upon fossil fuels, which are environmentally problematic in many other ways and is also finite and subject to political conflict. I am pretty confident that alternative energy and conservation will not be the cause of the collapse of civilization.

    Like most innovations, we will probably welcome the change and profit from it in the long run.

    • Don Tabor says:

      Len, power and fame corrupt every bit as much as money, but there is money too. Key researchers have pulled down as much as 2.7 Million in grants. These guys have gone from obscurity to rock star status from their “work.”

      And there are not thousands involved. There are fewer than 20 who are involved in the manipulation of data, though the others really should have known better. But they assumed the IPCC report was honest, at least.

      The model the AGW crowd pushes is a positive feedback loop. The Medieval Warm Period followed by the Little Ice Age could not fit into that model. That model would result in continuous and accelerated warming once it got warm enough, long enough, to thaw the tundra. Yet archeological records establish that it happened. The claim by Mann and Jones that it was a local event limited to the Atlantic Ocean region even gave me moments of doubt. If you accept the hockey stick graph as evidence that the MWP did not occur in Canada and Siberia, then that contradiction could be explained.

      Thanks to McIntyre’s diligence, we now know that the MWP and the Little Ice Age were at lest hemispheric events, and that makes the Global Climate Model that the IPCC projections are based upon an impossibility.

      Are we warming? Yep, we have been for 11,000 years, though we are likely near the peak before we start down again. Bur if you carry the graph back, and put the MWP and LIA into the graph, we aren’t even back up the the long term trend line yet, as we have not yet recovered fully from the LIA yet. So, unless the cavemen were using an awful lot of fossil fuel in their factories, humans aren’t the cause.

      I didn’t know HOW they were wrong until Steve McIntyre got hold of the data and exposed their concealment of the contrary data. But now suspicions are confirmed. We’ve been had.

      But at least they got caught before they killed a lot of third world children by screwing up the world economy beyond repair.

      Yes, we will have to get weaned off of fossil fuel, but not all at once. Liquid petroleum will get scarce first, but coal and natural gas will provide us a smooth transition to nuclear and eventually, fusion. We’ve got about 300 years to figure that out.

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