Climate Science Glossary

Term Lookup

Enter a term in the search box to find its definition.


Use the controls in the far right panel to increase or decrease the number of terms automatically displayed (or to completely turn that feature off).

Term Lookup


All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

Home Arguments Software Resources Comments The Consensus Project Translations About Support

Bluesky Facebook LinkedIn Mastodon MeWe

Twitter YouTube RSS Posts RSS Comments Email Subscribe

Climate's changed before
It's the sun
It's not bad
There is no consensus
It's cooling
Models are unreliable
Temp record is unreliable
Animals and plants can adapt
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
View All Arguments...

New? Register here
Forgot your password?

Latest Posts


Muller Misinformation #2: 'leaked' tree-ring data

Posted on 15 April 2011 by John Cook

We recently examined misinformation from Professor Richard Muller where he confused "Mike's trick" with "hide the decline". This is a habitual error from Muller where he fails to distinguish between the hockey stick by Michael Mann and the decline in tree-ring density by Keith Briffa. Despite this error being pointed out to him, he repeated the error in a recent NPR interview:

"Luis Alvarez taught me the fundamental scientific rule, which is you've got to show everybody your dirty laundry...My problem with the way the hockey stick was derived was that there was none of this...if you hide something...the person you are most likely to fool is yourself."

For some reason, Muller has it in his mind that there was hidden decline data in Michael Mann's hockey stick (Mann et al 1998). However, there was no hidden tree-ring density data - the tree-ring density data is in a completely different work from Briffa 2000. One wonders how long Professor Muller will continue to repeat this misinformation.

Nevertheless, we now move onto further misinformation provided by Professor Muller where he claimed the "decline" data was withheld from the public until it was "leaked" at Climategate. In a recent lecture, Muller claims:

“In their paper, if you dig into it, they say they did some things with the data from 1961 onwards - they removed it and replaced it with temperature data. So some of the people who read this paper asked to see the data, they refused to send it to them, the original raw data. They used the FOI act. The FOI act officer on the advice of the scientist would not release the data. Then the data came out. They weren't hacked like a lot of people say. Most people who know this business believe they were leaked by one of the members of the team who was really upset with them.”

Muller continues to expound on this in the NPR interview:

"I think that Climategate is a very unfortunate thing that happened, that the scientists who were involved in that, from what I've read, didn't trust the public, didn't even trust the scientific public. They were not showing the discordant data. That's something that - as a scientist I was trained you always have to show the negative data, the data that disagrees with you, and then make the case that your case is stronger. And they were hiding the data, and a whole discussion of suppressing publications, I thought, was really unfortunate."

As discussed in Muller Misinformation #1, the "decline" refers to a decline in tree-ring density at certain high latitudes. The data indicating a decline in tree-ring density comes from Briffa 2000. The original tree-ring density data is shown below with the green line represents tree-ring density and the thick black line showing the instrumental temperature record.

Briffa tree-ring density

Figure 1: An indication of growing season temperature changes across the whole of the northern boreal forest. The LFD curve indicates low-frequency density changes. Note the recent disparity in density and measured temperatures (Briffa 2000).

Muller claims that Briffa's data was withheld from the public until it was "leaked" in late 2009 at the time of "Climategate". This is untrue. The Briffa 2000 data was already freely available via the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) website. This had been online since late 2008, as documented by Steve McIntyre.

What about the "original raw data" that Muller claims was refused to the public?  The original raw data for the tree-ring density comes from the "Schweingruber" network, consisting of 387 chronologies from across the northern hemisphere. This data was also freely available online via the CRU website. This link was given to Steve McIntyre in October 2008 in response to a Freedom of Information request to CRU, as seen in this lengthy document of FOI requests made to CRU (FOI 08-50 on page 169).

As for Muller's assertion that Climategate was leaked (clarifying that it was emails taken from the server, not data), the fact that the Climategate hackers also hacked the Real Climate server and uploaded the emails onto their website would indicate an external hacker rather than a CRU whistleblower. Nevertheless, there are scant details on the culprit given a criminal investigation is still ongoing. Muller make claims of an internal leak while providing no evidence.

The key point is that Briffa's data was not leaked during "Climategate". Professor Muller's assertion that the post-1960 "decline" data was not made available until Climategate is incorrect. It is unfortunate that Muller continues to repeat a narrative on Climategate that is provably at odds with the actual history, when he is otherwise well-positioned to take a leadership role in resolving issues concerning climate trends

0 0

Printable Version  |  Link to this page


Comments 1 to 12:

  1. Perhaps he's trying to regain his lost popularity at WUWT...
    0 0
  2. Another hallmark of scientific training is, when you get something demonstrably wrong, you acknowledge the evidence and the error and move forward. There's no shame in this -- it's how science progresses. So let's see if Prof. Muller can simply say "You know, on the 'hide the decline' thing, I just got it wrong. Turns out ... " I'm not holding my breath.
    0 0
  3. This is all pretty basic and well documented stuff. I'm really curious what Muller is up to. Either he's just blatantly avoiding this information, or he's circling in a sphere where these things don't get discusses,... or there is something more deliberate in what he's doing.
    0 0
  4. Steve McIntyre's "documentation" leaves a lot to be desired. After arguing strenuously that the data was not available until after September 08, he admits in an update that evidence clearly shows it was available on Sept 12th, 08. From that he concludes that it was updated on Sept 9th, on no other evidence than that that date post dates his FOI inquiry; and despite information from the website administrator (Osborne) that it was updated in August 08. Curiously, the NCDC cache of data for Briffa 98 was last updated on "Wednesday, 20-Aug-2008 11:23:45 EDT", which is consistent with a decision to publicly release the data in August of 08. Thus McIntyre is shown to follow his consistent pattern of promulgating the most negative possible view of the "hockey crews" actions which are not actually contradicted by the facts. Muller, in the meantime, misinterprets the facts presented by McIntyre to create an even more negative fantasy.
    0 0
  5. Hi All, I totally agree, if Muller is referring to the Mann 1998 reconstruction then he has his facts totally and utterly wrong as the "climategate" affair is to my mind entirely proven as relating to the Briffa not Mann reconstruction and its inclusion in the WMO article. I assume therefore that from Mullers POV, ANY reconstruction that follows the Mann 1998 basic shape is fair game as being a hockey stick graph. My concern is whether by getting into this level of detail you are getting drawn into the debate over the minutia rather than the keeping the discussion where it belongs on the overall big picture. I completely get that this site is here provide good scientific evidence to refute deniers. You do an excellent job of that, but as a 50/50 skeptic I look to you to provide me with a balanced logical aproach so that I can make informed judgements and decisions. I look to the deniers/skeptics to ask questions, many of which should be asked I look to the sites such as this to provide answers. Getting drawn in on these minor issues to my mind dilutes the argument until we end up with a witch hunt on who said what when and how. Anyway, just my thoughts. Regards Wolf
    0 0
  6. @ climatewolf "as a 50/50 skeptic" and "I look to the deniers/skeptics to ask questions" With all due respect, CW, taking the position that (in climate science) both "sides" have equal weight (which you imply by your looking to the denialists for questions to ask) shows how far you truly have to go to become informed. There is no shame in being uninformed in regards to things climate. Getting an interdisciplinary background in enough depth to gain even a rudimentary understanding of the field is hard work. To be honest, it's a pain in the ass, taking dedication, sweat and perseverance beyond measure. In reality, there are 3 "sides": 1. Those who've spent a LONG time studying the field and are trying, as best as they know how, to share that hard-won knowledge. 2. The uninformed masses who are understandably preoccupied with the struggle to stay alive long enough to see another morning dawn 3. Everyone else. This includes the disinformationists, like at CA or WUWT, the Kochites, the Idso's, Moncktonites, the Heartlanders, etc. They are well-funded and they are legion. They simply do not have the facts or the science on their side. We do the best job we can to provide the most fair-balanced and objective science-based and sourced articles that we can. Period. Truth is truth. Right is right, wrong is wrong. Muller is wrong WRT the topic of this thread. Period. So, whenever possible, get to the source. Read the studies themselves, the peer-reviewed journals where possible. Exercise your skepticism of the disinformationist side: demand from them fair balanced pieces based on the science. Check their sources for proper quotation & interpretation. And check ours as well. /Rant The Yooper
    0 0
  7. Hi Daniel, Thanks for the reply, I agree with all that you say and as a layman, I am trying to get to grips with as much of the science as I can. I thought I made it clear I completely agree that Muller is wrong. My point was more about whether the argument should be drawn down to this level. Without the scientific background I find myself more able to comment on the debating logic. To clarify the 50/50 skeptic statement. I am fully convinced that the burning of fossil fuels by man has increased the Co2 content of the atmosphere and hence has had a warming effect on the climate. My scepticism is related more to the political rather than the science side. So 50/50 means agree with the science, disagree with the politics. Regards Wolf
    0 0
    Moderator Response: [DB] Understood. Just remember that politicians have but one goal: getting re-elected. When it comes down to science vs politics, the science has far more to trust. Have the courage to believe what the science you've learned tells you. And then learn some more. And ask questions here if you need help.
  8. Hi again, Apologies, I just realised I did not respond to one of your points. I do not believe all sides have equal weight, I believe the sceptics should have their chance to challenge, and should be responded too. As this site says, it is important to challenge and question everything to ensure that the science is the best we can make it. So, I believe the sceptics have their place, as do the their challengers. Regards Wolf
    0 0
  9. climatewolf: 1) Skeptical Science did not draw the debate into, what I agree are, irrelevant minutia - Muller did. And before that McIntyre did, and Watts did, and so on. Your suggestion is a suggestion that no response be made to Muller's slanders, but not responding will not make the slander cease to exist. It will just continue to exist, but in a vacuum in which the truth is not available for the general public. 2) Although Skeptical Science has responded to Muller's slanders with this post, that does not in anyway obviate the fact that they have discussed the substantive issues in great detail with other posts. And it is those other posts that get highlighted in the side bar under the "Most used skeptic arguments". 3) A noted biologist (I forget who) once said that he got into debating creationists to see if their arguments could highlight genuine flaws with the logic of evolutionary theory. After 30 years of debate, he expressed his complete disappointment, for not one substantive issue had been raised. Something very similar can be said about the "skeptics". Most of their objections are based on either a complete misunderstanding of basic physics, or of climate science, or of basic empirical facts and nothing else. Others of their objections amount to magical thinking. There are a few people amongst the "skeptics" who are on the fringe of science in that their "scientific" work, while sparse and of low quality, does actually discuss real issues - but even they are prone to publishing shere nonsense in popular forums (including in testimony to congressional inquiries). 4) This means that rebutting "skeptic arguments" may be very informative to the lay public in that the arguments play on common misunderstandings, and the rebuttals, therefore, clear up those misunderstandings. But rebutting those arguments contributes almost nothing to the advance of knowledge about our climate.
    0 0
  10. Hi Tom Curtis, Apologies I was offline with a real life crisis the last few days. Thank you for your response, I see clearly the points you are making and thank you and DB for alieviating my concerns and explaining you POV. I hope you (all) and Mr Cook will not object to my continuing to read this site and dropping my very layman oar into the water on occasion to share my POV. I may not always agree with you on all points, but I will try to be as open minded as I can be and ask questions/challenge assumptions where I can in a positive manner. Regards Wolf
    0 0
    Moderator Response: [DB] Best wishes for your situation and what the future holds for you. Your participation is welcome and valued in this forum.
  11. climatewolf #10, I'm sorry to hear about your real life crisis, and hope it has been resolved in a satisfactory way. I'm sure I speak for DB and John Cook as well when I say that we'ld be be delighted for you to continue reading, and commenting. It is after all, what the site is for. Certainly John Cook has never objected to my putting my layman's oar in.
    0 0
  12. I have carefully composed a thoughtful post on the subject of Muller's misstatements and the way in which we are reacting to them, but recognize I cannot post it due to the Comments Policy, so I will try to restrain myself here by keeping my criticisms as general as I can. First, let me note that characterizing Muller's behavior as being "habitual" or "unfortunate" is itself a political characterization that, in an effort to promote comity, obfuscates the possibility that Muller's behavior is much more nefarious. Second, since wherever congressional testimony of this kind is concerned we are inevitably discussing a topic that involves political stances, I feel certain that any useful analysis of Muller's behavior must include a consideration of his personal motivations, political or otherwise. By the time the nuclear scientists involved in the Manhattan Project finally decided to talk about what we may as well label "politics" with those who were directing their research efforts, the bombs had been built and the politicians and generals had made up their minds to use them. As it happens, I feel they made the right decision, but for the scientists' personal consciences it might have been more morally comforting if they had spoken up sooner rather than later.
    0 0

You need to be logged in to post a comment. Login via the left margin or if you're new, register here.

The Consensus Project Website


(free to republish)

© Copyright 2024 John Cook
Home | Translations | About Us | Privacy | Contact Us