This week XKCD (a popular Geek comic site) posted an epic cartoon called “A Timeline Of Earth’s Average Temperature”. It was a cutesy long godzilla hockey-stick — “scary” to the unwary.
It’s easy to make a scary historical-looking temperature graph — so easy that the artist probably didn’t even know how. (Thank Shakun, Marcott, Annan, Hadcrut and the IPCC for doing the tricky part.) First, guesstimate temperatures over last 20,000 years with anything at hand: tree-rings, ice bubbles, coral, fossilized tea leaves, whatever. Blend. Then stop the proxies, tack on thermometer data that was recorded in a different way with different errors and a very different response to faster temperature changes. Finally, launch that line into the future with unvalidated, skillless multivariate models that predict a fingerprint which 28 million weather balloons can’t find. Then take the models that didn’t work for the last twenty years, and run with the errors to the next century… Voila!
I took the 14,000 pixel cartoon and squeezed it to one shot that shows the curve that matters. See the error bars? Me neither.
(But who needs an uncertainty range when you have faith?)
Click to enlarge.
The secret to a good hockey-stick [...]
Looks like Scientific American has gone a bit “cosmic”: The Little Ice Age was apparently caused by black death, small pox, and slavery. The theory goes that there was a small spikey dip in CO2 levels in 1610, which was man-made. So hold your breath, that means a whole new era should start from then. This small dip of dubious causality, plus the correlation of oddly unclimatic things like slavery, seems to make the spike worthy of an impressive sciencey title, lo, a new era is born — The start of the Anthropocene.
Let’s not mention that temperatures started falling from 1400 AD. That’s 200 years before the CO2 spike down. Cause and effect are so passe in postmodern science.
Mass Deaths in Americas Start New CO2 Epoch
The atmosphere recorded the mass death, slavery and war that followed 1492. The death by smallpox and warfare of an estimated 50 million native Americans—as well as the enslavement of Africans to work in the newly depopulated Americas—allowed forests to grow in former farmlands. By 1610, the growth of all those trees had sucked enough carbon dioxide out of the sky to cause a drop of at least [...]
Two weeks ago on the HockeyStick Update post we discussed the miracle of how the Bristlecones used in HockeyStick graphs had finally (sort of) been updated. I marvelled that 800 year old tree rings were easier to find than ones from 2002. Now 16 years after the MBH98 “seminal” (well, popular) paper was published, Salzer et al had finally found some rare modern trees and updated the temperatures after 1980, but gosh, the tree rings didn’t proxy for the red-hot rising trends of the modern era, instead they recorded a fall. That particular hockeystick collapsed (again).
It took a while, but Greg Laden bravely dropped in here on Thursday to share a link to his post on how skeptics are misunderstanding the update with “mind numbing” arguments. My reply to him on the old thread may have gone unnoticed. So I’ll repeat it here (with slight edits). Perhaps Greg missed my reply?
Steve McIntyre has also taken Laden to task on his blog.
Greg Laden December 19, 2014 at 12:54 am
A post on one of the studies you refer to here: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2014/12/17/new-research-on-tree-rings-as-indicators-of-past-climate/
Joanne Nova December 19, 2014 at 1:41 am
You’ll be shocked that after decades of studying 800 year old tree rings, someone has finally found some trees living as long ago as 2005. These rarest-of-rare tree rings have been difficult to find, compared to the rings circa Richard III. The US government may have spent $30 billion on climate research, but that apparently wasn’t enough to find trees on SheepMountain living between the vast treeless years of 1980 to now.
I’ve always thought it spoke volumes that many tree ring proxies ended in 1980, as if we’d cut down the last tree to launch the satellites in 1979. We all know that if modern tree rings showed that 1998 was warmer than 1278, the papers would have sprung forth from Nature, been copied in double page full-fear features in New Scientist, and would feature in the IPCC logo too.
Ponder that the MBH98 study was so widely cited, repeated, and used ad nauseum. It was instrumental in shaping the views of many policy makers, journalists, and members of the public, most of whom probably still believe it. The real message here is about the slowness of the scientific community to correct the problems in this paper.
Jean S revisited “Black Tuesday” with a post on Climate Audit. Even though I’ve seen these graphs before. It is still so arresting:
(Click to enlarge) Graphs from a Richard Muller presentation
People can debate the finer details of “splicing” but ultimately the second graph is deceptive. Do tree rings work, or don’t they?
When it comes to “tricks”, this is not like a trick to get the photocopier to work. It’s a trick to hide something (see that famous quote below). We don’t need a committee report to tell us whether it’s OK. It’s not science.
Climate Audit has well written a minute by minute breakdown of the emails at the time. (It was Barry Woods suggestion to add the graphs but they finish up at the end of the post.)
Matt Ridley looks at pharmaceutical research and finds problems of confirmation bias, lack of access to data, and lack of replication of results. He compares it to the hockey stick debacle which is rising in notoriety to become the new benchmark of bad science. Articles like this are especially useful, because people concerned about Tamiflu might not know anything about the HockeyStick, and might not have read an article about the climate.
In Pharmaceutical research companies may do many studies on a drug but only choose to publish the ones with results they feel better about.
PERHAPS it should be called Tamiflugate. Yet the doubts reported by Britain’s House of Commons public accounts committee last week go well beyond the possible waste of nearly half a billion pounds ($913 million) on a flu drug that might not be much better than paracetamol. All sorts of science are contaminated with the problem of cherry-picked data.
Science at a breaking point:
The problem seems widespread. A paper in the BMJ in 2012 reported that only one fifth of clinical trials financed by the US National Institutes of Health released summaries of their results within the required one year [...]
The message to the world is unequivocal:
“We are heading for somewhere that is far off from anything we have seen in the past 10,000 years – it’s through the roof. In my mind, we are heading for a different planet to the one that we have been used to,” said Jeremy Shakun of Harvard University, a co-author of the study.
There are two factors in the new Marcott paper that are major red flags. For one, there is hardly any data in the modern end of the graph. Ponder how researchers can find 5,000 year old Foraminifera deposits, but not ones from 1940? Two: they’ve smoothed the heck out of longer periods. Marcott et al clearly say there is “…essentially no variability preserved at periods shorter than 300 years…” So if there were, say, occurrences of a warming rise exactly like the last century, this graph won’t show them.
Some of the data has a resolution as poor as “500 years” and the median is 120 years. If current temperatures were averaged over 120 years (that would be 1890 to now), the last alarming spike would blend right in with the other data. Where would the average [...]
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 [...]
I know the Hockey Stick is old news to most blog readers here, but it’s easy to forget that the people reading the mainstream news (ie: most of the West) have no idea of the scale of the audacity involved. Up until the 1998 MBH paper came out, it was widely understood that there was a Medieval Warm Period, indeed there were hundreds of papers available at the time. The Hockey Stick Graph completely rewrote everything, yet was accepted and widely promoted without anyone so much as asking for the data… until, of course, McIntyre and McKitrick tried. It will do down in the annuals of science as one of the most egregious examples of “the not-so-scientific” method. — JoNova
The public might not understand the science, but they do understand cheating
Dr. David Evans
6 October 2010
[A series of articles reviewing the western climate establishment and the media. The first and second discussed air temperatures, the third discussed ocean temperatures, the fourth discussed past temperatures, [...]
Just when you think it’s too dead to kill: along comes a new paper in a top ranking statistics journal by McShane and Wyner. It’s worth taking stock. It’s a damning paper:
…we conclude unequivocally that the evidence for a ”long-handled” hockey stick (where the shaft of the hockey stick extends to the year 1000 AD) is lacking in the data.
But in the big scheme of things the Hockey Stick Graph was already dead.
Each one of these points is enough to cast grave doubts on the Hockey Stick. The Hockey Stick uses the wrong type of proxy – tree rings. Trees grow faster when it’s warmer, and when it’s wetter, or when the tree next-door falls down and a herd of manure-making cows move in. Almost all other types of proxies disagree (like ice cores, ocean sediments, corals, and stalagmites). Over 6000 boreholes, hundreds of studies, as well as recorded history show the world was warmer 1,000 years ago. (See here for the refs.) Even among tree rings, the Hockey Stick uses the wrong type of tree – Bristlecone pines – which appear to grow faster as CO2 [...]
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