“Climategate” is first time that the magnitude of bad behavior by climate alarmist scientists was so large and so easily understood by non-scientists that even the liberal mass media can’t completely ignore it (though they’re doing their best.)
But the release of e-mail and data from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia in Britain showing global warming alarmist “scientists” manipulating and deleting data is far from the first time these same people have been found to be acting in distinctly non-scientific ways.
It is common practice for academic scientists to share their data and their methods of calculation, allowing others to check their work in a quest for the truth. However, leading global warming alarmist, NASA’s James Hansen, and Hansen’s employees (who are paid with taxpayer money) and non-American climate alarmists routinely refuse to share their data with those who do not share their near-religious belief in man-made global warming. The issue became big enough that the GAO issued a (rather tame) report on the subject.
Earlier this year, Phil Jones, the head of CRU who just stepped down pending the Climategate investigation, claimed to have lost some of the world’s oldest climate sensor data after first saying to the requesting scientist “Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?” Indeed, there is a consistent tendency among climate alarmist scientists to refuse to make their data or calculations public.
In September we learned why with a revelation that those of us who follow this debate closely thought was an earthquake in the “global warming” debate. It turns out to have been a tremor leading up to Climategate, but remains a devastating blow to the “science” underlying claims of rapidly increasing temperatures:
One of the most influential data sets in climate science has been that of CRU climatologist Keith Briffa who, in 2000, published an article using tree ring data from northern Russia to show a dramatic “hockey-stick” increase in temperatures in the late 20th century.
Briffa and many others have published subsequent articles based on the same data. Even Wikipedia’s historical temperature graphs are substantially based on Briffa’s numbers. After several of Briffa’s articles, Canadian mathematician Steve McIntyre requested the underlying data only to be rebuffed each time by Briffa or the journals themselves. However, in 2008 Briffa published an article for a publication of the British Royal Society, an organization that requires data underlying an article to be made available. With his hand forced, Briffa released an uninteresting portion of his data, then waited nearly a year — until this September — to release the rest.
What McIntyre found was astonishing: Briffa’s “hockey stick” was created by using data from only 10 trees in 1990 and 5 trees in 1995-1996. Given that tree ring growth can be affected by non-climate factors, such as if a nearby tree is cut down giving the subject tree more hours of sunlight each day, such a small sample size can lead to very large errors. Indeed, McIntyre found one tree that so skewed the data that he called it “the most influential tree in the world.” Professor Ross McKitrick (who worked with McIntyre to disprove Michael Mann’s original “hockey stick” graph — the erroneous basis for much of the UN’s global warming alarmism) notes, “Once again a dramatic hockey stick shape turns out to depend on the least reliable portion of a dataset.”
Making Briffa’s choice of data all the more suspicious is that there was data on 34 nearby trees available from a scientist with whom he had co-authored articles in the past. One implication, supported by Briffa’s near-decade long refusal to share his data, is that he cherry-picked the dataset that supported the conclusion he wanted to find.
When McIntyre used the data from the other 34 trees, the “hockey stock” vanished, leaving the 20th century as just the latest trendless and unremarkable section of a generally trendless and unremarkable 2500-year history of tree ring growth in the region.
Scientists like Briffa, Hansen, Jones and Mann have self-serving motives for promoting fear of “global warming” and for hiding their so-called data. After all, it’s much easier to get a grant and big speaking fees by saying we have a problem than by saying we don’t.
But there is far too much at stake, particularly given the grave economic threat of cap-and-trade legislation, to allow scientists to sully their professions, to mislead the public, and to desperately keep others from checking their work when it comes to “climate change.” As Professor McKitrick says about Keith Briffa’s tree ring data — data which has repeatedly been used to back up other people’s “independent” claims of global warming — “Whatever is going on here, it is not science.”
Following Climategate, one might expand McKitrick’s comment to include the entirety of the global warming alarmist establishment. Rather than Jones’s “hide the decline,” Briffa’s actions served to “inflate the increase.” Not science, indeed.
(For a longer layman’s description of McIntyre’s criticism of Briffa, I recommend THIS excellent blog note at the Bishop Hill blog.)