JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Gergis Australian hockeystick is back: How one typo took four years to fix

UPDATED: See below for Stephen McIntyre’s response, with details of emails showing that Joelle Gergis did not independently discover the problem but learnt of it from Climate Audit.

The Gergis hockeystick was heralded in the media for a week in 2012 before it was cut apart online and months later, quietly withdrawn.  Headlines raved that Australia was having the “hottest years in the millennium”. As I said at the time, it was all silly beyond belief – the whole study relied on two bunches of trees in Tasmania and New Zealand to tell us that the greater continental area was 0.09°C warmer now than it was in 1000AD.  If trees in yonder Tassie can tell the whole continental temperature to a tenth of a degree, who needs thermometers (especially the kind which need 2 degree corrections)? Why does the BOM bother today?

Part II of this sorry paper has arrived under this auspicious headline at The Conversation:

“How a single word sparked a four-year saga of climate fact-checking and blog backlash”

Still hurts eh?

Look out. The Scientific Saints have arrived!

According to Joelle Gergis, skeptics found just “one typo”, and in Gergis’ own words “Instead of taking [...]

Are ARC grants for science or a form of government advertising disguised as research?

ARC Grants have just been announced for 2013

Let’s look at what won a grant in light of the fact that nearly 80% of all the applications for ARC funding fail. (Indeed Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt wonders if our best scientists are hobbled by an arduous waste-of-time process where they spend up to 30% – 50% of their working life applying for grants.)

Looking at the current round of successful grants. How do you beat four out of five candidates for funding? Here’s one successful method:

Step One: Use statistically insignificant results obtained by dubious techniques to generate a paper with conclusions that grab headlines.

Step Two: Make sure these “results” support contentious Labor Party policies, and actively promote the spurious conclusions in the media prior to publication.

Step Three (optional): Possibly go on to publish the paper, then again, maybe not.

Step Four: Apply for more money.

Apparently the ALP need to find budget savings from the science program to deliver their promised “surplus”. They are thinking of a grants freeze — which is a good way to create uncertainty and encourage the best researchers to leave the country. Here’s [...]

Gergis hockey stick withdrawn. This is what 95% certainty looks like in climate science.

In May it was all over the newspapers, in June it was shown to be badly flawed. By October, it quietly gets withdrawn.  The apology and press release are coming soon…right?

Thanks to help from the Australian Research Council it only took 300,000 dollars and three years to produce a paper that lasted all of three weeks. But it scored the scary headlines! It was “confirmation”, it was “unprecedented warming”, and it was a scientific certainty that was based on “27 natural climate records” and  “over the last 1000 years”. What could possibly go wrong? They had 2 whole proxies that went right back a thousand years, and they’d used computers (!) to rehash the data 3000 ways!  Frankly, I’m surprised it lasted three weeks. Let’s remember that if one single journalist had simply asked “how much colder was it in 1200AD?” Gergis, Karoly and the rest would have had to say “0.09 of a degree”. No one asked. But Gergis et al, had a proxy in Tasmania, and another in New Zealand, and they were “confident” they could calculate the whole grand continental collective temperature to nine one hundredths of a degree? Seriously.

As Mike E then pointed out [...]

300,000 dollars and three years to produce a paper that lasted three weeks: Gergis

The paper might have been scientifically invalid, but it was a box-office success.

The headlines were everywhere

“1000 years of climate data confirms Australia’s warming” said the press release from University of Melbourne. It  was picked up by  The Guardian: “Australasia has hottest 60 years in a millennium, scientists find”; The Age and  The Australian led with “Warming since 1950 ‘unprecedented’. The story was on ABC 24  and ABC news where Gergis proclaimed:” there are no other warm periods in the last 1000 years that match the warming experienced in Australasia since 1950.” It was all over the ABC including ABC Radio National, and they were “95% certain“!  On ABC AM, “the last five decades years in Australia have been the warmest. ” Plus there were pages in Science Alert,  Campus Daily  Eco news,  The Conversation, Real Climate* and Think Progress.

Blog review is where the real science gets tested

Skeptics have been looking through the paper, and three weeks after it was published a team at Climate Audit (kudos to Jean S and Nick Stokes) uncovered a problem so significant that the authors announced that this paper is “on hold”. It has been withdrawn from the American Meteorological [...]