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Kung-fu Climate

Posted on 6 May 2010 by Rob Honeycutt

Guest post by Rob Honeycutt

The other day I happened upon the Popular Technology blog that has a list of "700 peer reviewed papers supporting skepticism of man-made global warming." This was news to me so I started to look into the first paper on the list. Loehle 2007 titled A 2000-Year Global Temperature Reconstruction Based on Non-Treering Proxies published in Energy & Environment. I'm sure many Skeptical Science readers are familiar with this paper and Loehle's 2008 correction. I was not.

I decided to email Dr. Loehle with some questions and got a very prompt response from him. This was followed by a number of back and forth emails. What I got from him was that he believes himself to be one of the scientists whose work is blocked from publication for political reasons. And I got that his motivation for this 2007/2008 paper was to point out the "politically motivated" science trying to obscure the MWP by Michael Mann and others. I do not doubt Loehle is genuine in this statement and that he is genuine in his desire to do good science. Nor do I doubt that Mann, Briffa, Moberg and other who have done similar temperature reconstruction to be any less genuine in their desire to do good science. I have no reason to doubt either. But as I put it to Loehle, "I think contentious issues in science have always been a bare knuckle brawl." This is not new to climate science. Often it comes down to whether my kung-fu is better than your kung-fu.

So, in this kung-fu match, not being a scientist myself, I have to place myself in the position of the audience watching the fight. I'm not a kung-fu master. I'm a spectator trying to decide whose kung-fu is better. I've read all the arguments against Loehle's 2008 paper with regards to it having far fewer (only 18) data sets opposed to Mann's 1200 data sets. But that's fine. I accept that Loehle is trying to tease out potential errors imposed from treering data.

As I was researching this I came onto one post on Yahoo Answers from a person called Keith P who tries to answer the question, "Does Loehle actually refute Mann in any way?" Keith does something quite simple that I have reconstructed for myself. He just scales Loehle's to the "hockey team" chart that contains Mann, Briffa, Moberg and other temperature reconstructions and overlays the two. The result, to me, was very illuminating but I'm going to take a slightly different approach than Keith P.

Figure 1: Loehle 2008 temperature reconstruction.

In Fig 1, I have taken Loehle's temperature anomalies and kept his scale in both the X and Y axis. I've also kept his zero axis. I believe this is a reasonably faithful reconstruction of Loehle's data. My apologies to the data purists out there who might find some inherent abomination in my method. Graphically it works (I don't know why more scientists don't either enlist the help of a graphic artist or at very least audit a couple of courses at their local university).

The other critique of Loehle's paper has been that the data ends in 1935. This, from my position in the bleachers of the kung-fu match, is much more problematic for Loehle. I know the paper is not about current warming. I know it's about treering proxy errors but that is sort of missing the forest for the trees (pun is definitely intended). I understand why the data ends at 1935. But I just can't buy NOT making the attempt to concatenate this data with the past 150 year of recorded temperature readings. Even if the modern temperature records are not central to the topic of the paper to not add the blade to his hockey stick is a mistake. Maybe not from a scientific perspective, but from the bleacher's perspective it is.

Figure 2: Loehle 2008 temperature reconstruction with Hadley instrumental record.

While I was writing this Loehle was kind enough to provide me with a Hadley chart with the same 29 year smoothed average as his data allowing me to compare apples to apples. In Fig. 2 I have added the Hadley data to his. It takes quite a bit of scrunching (my technical term) to fit 150 years of data into a 2000 year chart. This is definitely a rough cut and paste so I would not be prepared to make any claims about precisely how many degrees warmer today is over the MWP based on this chart. One should note that since this is a 29 year smoothed average not all the most recent (less statistically significant) data is included. The only conclusions I can come to is that the current warming has happened as fast or faster, and is more sustained, than any time in the past 2000 years, and that we are at least as warm as the MWP and maybe warmer. I would not assume Loehle's work to be definitive here any more than I would consider Mann's to be so. No, it's not a scientific conclusion. It's a conclusion that the rest of the 99.9999% of the non-scientific world has to try to grapple with.

In the final battle in this kung-fu match I have to throw everyone into the ring together. Mann with his Crouching Tiger style. Crowley and Lowery with their Striking Serpent. Jones and his Monkey Fist style. Moberg is a student of Jackie Chan's Drunken Boxing. Briffa's Shaolin and his et al grasshoppers. And all the others pasted in behind Loehle's Wing Chung style chart. This is Fig 3.

Figure 3: Loehle 2008 temperature reconstruction (blue) with other temperature reconstructions (source: Wikipedia).

What a bizarre, almost absurd, cacophony. What I see in this is a battle of home made hockey sticks. Some straight, some crooked, some short, some long. But I see all our kung-fu masters each beating the other with their own hockey sticks. What's most strange to me is that it seems like the MWP battles are all about the shape of their hockey sticks and miss the rather more important question of NOW. I have two kids that are 5 and 6. When they are in their 20's or 30's I'm going to have to answer to them and tell them what I did back in 2010. What did I know and what did I do about it? Now really is everything.

There is a wide gap between you kung-fu masters in the ring as you bloody each other up over these kinds of issues and those of us in the bleachers trying to understand what this fight means. It's certainly easy to sell tickets to this bloody brawl but don't forget that the rest of the world needs to potentially make some very quick decisions with regards to the future of our planet. This is not a political statement, this is just a potential statement of fact. I urge everyone in science to stop playing games. Fight the good fight. Pay respect to a good fighter. And may the best kung-fu win.

I want to extend my personal thanks to Dr. Loehle for his patience in answering my rather long string of questions.


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Comments 201 to 224 out of 224:

  1. I started looking into the list of 700 peer-reviewed papers linked by Poptech at the beginning of the thread. A surprising number comes from E&E, but many also from little known sources that seem to be Economics newsletters type, or secondary industry publications. Many come from non scientists like Richard Courtney, Zbigniew Jaworowski, Pielke Jr, etc. The title of the list is somewhat misleading, since Poptech includes in it responses to peer-reviewed comments that were submitted for publication but rejected: notably a response to the comments by Foster et al on McLean et al but also a response to a comment on the G&T paper. Also, it is not clear what the peer-review process is like for the lesser known publications (there is a great many of them in the list). I'm not curious enough about the thing to count how many papers would remain in the list if only science papers that appeared in peer-reviewed science journals were retained. The spirit of it is somewhat reminiscent of the OISM web page that continues listing deceased members, less it be apparent that it is made of one person and some family members.
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  2. Poptech *@ 256 said "In Brooks case his paper supports skepticism of tornadoes getting worse due to global warming." That is not true, on another blog post you made this claim on the grounds that "It is relevant to the “economic effects of.” climate change." Brooks himself then challenged you to "...provide one citation in the scientific literature AGW will lead to increased “tornado activity?” You came up with a Science Daily article that claims NASA predicts more thunderstorms and tornadoes, However as Brooks pointed out to you, the paper the story was based on made no mention of tornadoes (other than to say that the US has more of them than anywhere else), so it was an error made by a journalist. It also suggests that you had not read the paper to find out. Brooks then challenged you to have another go at finding a research article suggesting a link between AGW and tornadoes, but as far as I can see you didn't. If you want to rehabilitate that paper being on your list, then post an article that justifies it being there. If you can't, you'd be better off deleting it. BTW by "alarmist" do you actually mean "mainstream science" (as represented by say the IPCC WG1 report), or do you really mean alarmist in the sense of someone making wild claims of disaster above the level supported by mainstream science? Another BTW, you do know that some science papers are intended to show that something isn't ruled out by current understanding, without in anyway implying that it is probable?
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  3. Poptech: "Richard S. Courtney, B.A., DipPhil Material Science, Expert Reviewer, IPCC" Richard S Courtney of the European Science and Environment Forum. Hmm... I think WTD is still trying to get to the bottom of a few things. I'd also like to know whether you classify Energy & Environment as seriously peer reviewed given its absence on the ISI listings (isn't it listed as a trade journal?)? Roger Pielke Jr is certainly on record somewhere saying he regrets publishing in E&E. Both Jaworowski and E&E are discussed HERE as well.
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  4. @Poptech "Zbigniew Jaworowski, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc. Natural Sciences, Former Research Scientist, Norwegian Polar Research Institute, Professor, Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection, Poland" Zbigniew Jaworowski: "zima r. 1995 (-5,3oC) była ponad sześciokrotnie zimniejsza niż w r. 1797 (-0,8oC)" ("1995 winter (-5,3oC) was more than six times colder than 1797 winter (-0,8oC)") Source
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  5. I had that Jaworowski confused with another one. What is Pielke Jr PhD in again? I loose track of all these things. I see nothing to convince me that Courtney is a scientist. I also read some of his tuff indicating he does not understand science better than me. Virtually anyone can be an IPCC reviewer. I'm still not sure what does Dip Phil mean. The list is misleading in the sense that it bundles together real papers with opinion pieces in the CATO publications or proceedings of conferences etc... I had never heard of "Economic Analysis and Policy."
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  6. J Bowers I had a look at the link you provided, and I saw an email from the editor of E&E that makes interesting reading "I do not claim that I or my reviewers can arbitrate on the `scientific' truth of publications that the IPCC selects as most relevant..." If they can't, how can they arbitrate the 'scientific' truth of papers that seek to refute those papers?
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  7. Dikran Marsupial: "If they can't, how can they arbitrate the 'scientific' truth of papers that seek to refute those papers?" Indeed. Well spotted! Let's emphasise the really important part of what Sonia says, just to make sure nothing gets missed... "I do not claim that I or my REVIEWERS can arbitrate on the `scientific' truth of publications that the IPCC selects as most relevant..." Huh? Peer reviewing climate papers? Are they sure the 'peer' belongs there?
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  8. Pdjakow,your quote seems to indicate Jaworowski confuses weather and climate. Other sources in the list that certainly won't ring bells for many are: "Futures", "Public Administration Review", "Interfaces", "Environmental Politics", "Society" "The Independent Review" "World Economics". This one I haven't checked, sounds interesting but never heard of it before "International Journal of Global Warming." I would have thought that skeptics arguing that science is not made by consensus would not attempt to give the impression of one by compiling lists. Dikran is right, at any rate.
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  9. And I still don't know what DipPhil means...
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  10. Poptech: "Regarding Richard S Courtney, your opinion of him is irrelevant to him having scientific qualifications." Poptech, I don't care about your opinion of my opinion Both yours and my opinion are of complete irrelevance... full stop. "The word "serious" is subjective. I consider the journal serious." No, I believe an objective view can be made on whether a publication is "serious" or not. For instance, compared to Nature, or Science, I do believe E&E is a mere comic in comparison on the subject of climate. Its editor, Sonia B-C, has herself said in an email that neither she nor her reviewers are qualified to review the IPCC papers, therefore it is an irrelevance on the subject of climate. If you are trying to set yourself up as an authority on the subject I suggest you think again. You are not.
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  11. And I still don't know what DipPhil means... Sonia B.C.'s record of science publications speaks volumes on her ability to review science papers.
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  12. Philippe Chantreau: "And I still don't know what DipPhil means..." A diploma in philosophy. Impressive Eli has also been asking the same question. READ HERE And as DeSmog point out... "...Courtney is really just another PR guy. He's a union official and a Technical Editor for CoalTrans International, the journal of the international coal trading industry, and his principal expertise seems to be in coming up with imaginative and self-promoting ways to suggest that climate change is either not happening or that its cause remains a deep, dark mystery. It would be embarrassing to any real scientist to be seen on the same newspaper page with this guy..."
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  13. CATO publications are "peer-reviewed" to ensure that they follow the CATO party line. This is looking more and more like a joke. Pielke Jr is a political science major. I studied political sciences too, albeit briefly. I am unimpressed. As I said, virtually anyone can be an IPCC reviewer, so long as some "appropriate organization" nominates the person. And I still don't know what Dip Phil means. But as you said, it certainly is irrelevant.
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  14. Philippe Chantreau:"As I said, virtually anyone can be an IPCC reviewer, so long as some "appropriate organization" nominates the person." Interesting that. What year did the European Science and Environment Forum become defunct? When did it finish lobbying for the tobacco industry and GM foods? I can't even find their webpage. Is it still associated with the George C Marshall Institute?
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  15. Poptech:"Does Courtney have a degree in material science or not? Either he has a science education or not." You mean you don't know yourself, Poptech? Here you go, enjoy the read... "Richard is also an Accredited Methodist Preacher. He is a founding Member of the Christ and the Cosmos Initiative that explores the interactions of religious and scientific ideas. The Initiative started in the UK but became active in 28 countries. Richard avoids confusion about him in his scientific and religious activities by rarely citing his academic achievements, but his material science qualifications include a DipPhil (Cambridge), a BA (Open) and a Diploma (Bath)." From Page 17 of this PDF by the man himself.
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  16. Round and round we go. Poptech wrote : "In Brooks case his paper supports skepticism of tornadoes getting worse due to global warming." As Dikran Maruspial has also mentioned, that is not correct and Brooks has previously asked you to back up that assertion. All I have to do is copy and paste Harold Brooks's comment to you when you last claimed to know more about what his paper was about than he did : Can you provide one citation in the scientific literature AGW will lead to increased “tornado activity?” Also, the relationship between “activity” and damage is not at all direct. All that we looked at were the most damaging individual tornadoes and the relationship between those tornadoes and overall activity is not obvious. You failed last time (except perhaps in your own mind) so perhaps you are now able to come up with a better (and more relevant) response this time ? As for your later comment : The word "serious" is subjective. I consider the journal serious. All of which is irrelevant as the journal is peer-reviewed. The article you linked includes various misinformation about the journal which is corrected here, Correcting misinformation about the journal Energy & Environment Not only do we find you referring to your own opinion to determine how serious a journal is (it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, right ? All that matters is that you think it is 'serious'), but you also use a link back to your own website to try to claim vindication for that opinion. Who can argue against someone who KNOWS he knows more than anyone else, and who is able to back up this knowledge by referring to himself ?
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  17. This thread has gone way OT. With regards to the Poptech situation, it is probably in the best interest for newcomers to the site to not have to read through the back and forth commenting that is going on here. There are plenty of other blogs where the exact same thing with Poptech has gone such as GREENFIRE that JMurphy linked to. Let that kind of talk go on there. The strength of SkepticalScience is that this kind of talk is avoided and it provides a friendly domain for discussion of the topics at hand no matter how ignorant a person may seem. For the benefit of undecided readers who follow the threads we should be focusing our attention on what they will take away from reading the comments. Cluttering the post up will only confuse them. Keep in mind a lot of people follow the threads here but don't actually comment themselves. Obviously, there are plenty of ill-considered opinions to be found either side of any issue, but only the most ignorant person could fail to see the terrible intellectual gulf between the quality of so-called skeptic sites and those defending the science behind the AGW thesis. -Recent converted skeptic from Lets keep SkepticalScience the way it should be! PS on a lighter note folks, watch this. This is how you truly deal with climate skeptics:
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  18. Yocta, fair enough. It gets very dizzy going round and round in circles...!
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  19. Cool, links have been posted to the various sites in which people can follow this further if they choose, so I guess we can call it a day here on this one :)
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  20. Apologies for getting involved in the ding-dong, especially as I initially posted something far more relevant.
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  21. Likewise :o(
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  22. Likewise...although I doubt whether I initially posted anything more relevant ! As a final, final comment from me here (and I mean it this time), I want to congratulate this site, John Cook, all the article authors and most of the contributors for laying out all the arguments and answering all the skeptical queries (as far as I have seen, anyway). I learn something new every day on this site so I'm sorry to have been a part of dragging this thread into such a pointless and circular argument - especially as that is exactly what the so-called skeptics want.
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  23. Just read your piece, and none of the comments. Bravo! Very nice.
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  24. Unfortunately the MWP isn't as much of a comfort for denialists as they'd like to think. When it ended, social chaos (including the Reformation and wars of religion) erupted across Europe and millions died. If that's what happens when it cools, we can expect something similar when it warms. To the denialist argument "but the climate changes all the time" we should always add "and when it does species go extinct".
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