Only In Climate Science Can You Play With a Broken Hockey Stick

by Dr. Tim Ball on May 10, 2011

in Arctic,Atmosphere,Data,Politics,Theory

Not Learning from Mistakes

An anonymous adage advises, “There is nothing wrong with making mistakes. Just don’t respond with encores.” Break your stick in ice hockey and drop it immediately, or a penalty is assessed because continued use can cause serious damage (Rule 10.3). Apparently this rule doesn’t apply in climate science, where a few scientists continue to use a broken “hockey stick” and cause serious damage. Facts proving humans are not causing global warming are not enough to stop the political juggernaut. Perhaps exposure of collusion among a small group of self-proclaimed climate scientists who continue to play with a broken stick will stop the madness forcing destructive economic policies.

What Was The Climate Hockey Stick?

It was warmer 1,000 years ago than in the late 20th century. Existence of this Medieval Warm Period (MWP) contradicted the claim that post-industrial human CO2 was causing unprecedented warming. As Thomas Huxley said,

The great tragedy of science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.

Solution? Eliminate the fact.

Professor Deming reported receiving an email that said, “We have to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period.” Deming didn’t name the sender. It was later speculated that it was Jonathan Overpeck, a lead author of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Reports, but he said he didn’t recall the comment.

Mann, Bradley, and Hughes tried to achieve Overpeck’s objective with a 1998 (MBH98) “peer-reviewed” paper including the “hockey stick” graph. The graph dominated the 2001 IPCC Report, especially the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) – the part the media cover. Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick (MM) used the standard technique of reproducible results to expose the serious flaws in the research. As Bishop Hill explained,

He (McIntyre) was able to demonstrate that the way they had extracted the temperature signal from the tree ring records was biased so as to choose hockey-stick shaped graphs in preference to other shapes… He also showed that the appearance of the graph was due solely to the use of an estimate of historic temperatures based on tree rings from bristlecone pines, a species that was known to be problematic for this kind of reconstruction.

Figure 1 shows the MBH98 graph (red line) against MM’s graph (blue line) with my superimposition of a hockey stick.

Return of the Medieval Warm Period

Figure 1: Return of the Medieval Warm Period

Some attempted to defend the hockey stick. Two researchers, Caspar Amman and Eugene Whal, claimed confirmation of MBH98 in two papers, through the unusual tactic of a press release, as Hill explained. More problematic was their connection with Mann, identified in the Wegman Report.

Wegman: Independent Proof of the Broken Stick and More

Chairman of the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce and Chairman of the Subcommittee of Oversight and Investigations were interested in determining the validity of McIntyre’s claims. An independent committee chaired by Professor Edward J. Wegman of George Mason University found in favor of McIntyre:

In general, we found MBH98 and MBH99 to be somewhat obscure and incomplete and the criticisms of MM03/05a/05b to be valid and compelling.


Overall, our committee believes that Mann’s assessments that the decade of the 1990s was the hottest decade of the millennium and that 1998 was the hottest year of the millennium cannot be supported by his analysis.

This leaves no doubt about the science; however, Wegman identified a larger problem about the control of climate science.

In our further exploration of the social network of authorships in temperature reconstruction, we found that at least 43 authors have direct ties to Dr. Mann by virtue of coauthored papers with him.

Wegman confirmed my suspicion that excessive focus on “peer reviewed” studies was because a group had control of the process.

One of the interesting questions associated with the “hockey stick controversy” are the relationships among the authors and consequently how confident one can be in the peer review process. In particular, if there is a tight relationship among the authors and there are not a large number of individuals engaged in a particular topic area, then one may suspect that the peer review process does not fully vet papers before they are published.

The fact that MBH98 was peer-reviewed is partial proof. Continued publication of peer-reviewed papers using hockey stick methodology suggests the peer review process is being circumvented.

Wegman identified those at the core of the group;

However, it is immediately clear that Mann, Rutherford, Jones, Osborn, Briffa, Bradley and Hughes form a clique, each interacting with all of the others. A clique is a fully connected subgraph, meaning everyone in the clique interacts with every one else in the clique.

In comprehensive charts, he identified all the scientists involved including Amman and Wahl. Wegman wrote,

We were especially struck by Dr. Mann’s insistence that the code he developed was his intellectual property and that he could legally hold it personally without disclosing it to peers.

Both Mann and Jones have refused to disclose how their results were obtained. Jones now says the data no longer exists.

Many of those named are involved in the IPCC Reports, prompting Wegman to write of the dangers:

Especially when massive amounts of public monies and human lives are at stake, academic work should have a more intense level of scrutiny and review. It is especially the case that authors of policy-related documents like the IPCC report Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis should not be the same people as those that constructed the academic papers.

The influential part of IPCC Reports, the Summary for Policymakers (SPM), is replete with broad unsubstantiated statements. It receives all the media attention. Wegman writes,

Making conclusive statements without specific findings with regard to atmospheric forcings suggests a lack of scientific rigor and possibly an agenda.

For this group of climate scientists, the agenda is likely – either career promotion, a political objective, or both. It isn’t science, because they keep repeating their mistakes.

They’re Still Playing With a Broken Stick

One broken hockey stick is a mistake; repetition is an agenda. The hockey stick returned in the 2007 Fourth IPCC Report. McIntyre notes,

I wasn’t sure that the Hockey Team would even make the SPM (Summary for Policymakers) this time, but here they are in the 2nd paragraph. The Team stayed in the spotlight.

It didn’t appear as a graph in the SPM, but Chapter 6 (lead co-author Jonathan Overpeck) had a modified hockey stick graph and Mann’s discredited work is in the bibliography. Wegman anticipated this denial:

Generally speaking, the paleoclimatology community has not recognized the validity of the MM05 papers and has tended (to) dismiss their results as being developed by biased amateurs.

They lowered the profile, but continued to use the discredited method.

The most recent example appeared in a September 2009 issue of Science under the title Recent Warming Reverses Long-Term Arctic Cooling. The article claims arctic temperatures are the warmest they’ve been in 2000 years. Lead author is D.S. Kaufman, secondary authors include other familiar “hockey stick” names: David P. Schneider, Nicholas P. McKay, Caspar M. Ammann, Raymond S. Bradley, Keith R. Briffa, Gifford H. Miller, Bette L. Otto-Bliesner, Jonathan T. Overpeck, and Bo M. Vinther. Shortly after publication McIntyre identified the Mann methodologies:

The most cursory examination of Kaufman et al shows the usual problem of picking proxies ex post.

McIntyre explains “ex post” as follows:

The Team selects series that go up in the 20th century and discards (sic) ones that don’t. This sort of ex-post correlation picking generates HS’s from random data.

McIntyre is restrained in his comments, a style he has maintained throughout these exposures. It’s reasonable for one incident because it may be a mistake, but repetition makes it unreasonable because it compounds the errors and has deeper implications. Repetition in the media confers truth. It doesn’t in science, but it does underline the political nature of the activities.

But inconvenient facts keep appearing. For example, real data destroys the claim of a hockey stick in 20th century Arctic temperatures. The questions, “What sudden recent warming?” and “What Hockey Stick?” accompany Figure 2.

Circumpolar Arctic temperatures

Figure 2: Circumpolar Arctic temperatures

How Has This Happened?

Boston College Professor Philip Altbach provides one reason why they’ve succeeded:

Corruption in higher education is not a topic much discussed in academic circles. Academic institutions see themselves as somehow above the baser motivations and lower instincts of other elements of society. And society generally believes that universities are somehow special institutions imbued with the virtues of integrity.

Concern about this in the UK led to the UK Panel for Research Integrity. The objective:

A new watchdog to promote research integrity was launched this week with a scathing attack on the “good chaps” network and general complacency in universities that has allowed fraud and misconduct to gain a foothold in the UK academic sector.

Playing with a broken ice hockey stick is a minor penalty. A lifetime ban is required when scientists play repeatedly with broken research hockey sticks, especially when they drive unnecessary, devastating economic and energy policies and provide false academic justifications for politicians. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” is an anonymous but pungent truism.