By now you have probably heard about this bombshell.
The biggest news story of the day is one that has barely begun to break and will continue to reverberate for months or years to come. Someone hacked into a computer at the University of East Anglia's Hadley Climatic Research Centre, one of the main centers of anthropogenic global warming research. The hacker downloaded 62 megabytes of data from the server, consisting of around 1,000 emails and a variety of other documents. He uploaded them to an FTP server, where they were available to the public, apparently, for only a few hours.
I'm not all that familiar with the Scientific Method, but I'm very familiar with running political campaigns and the emails have the look and feel of James Carvil's War Room.
One email in particular is getting a lot of attention because it seems to show climate scientists manipulating the data to achieve a desired result--classic political spin. Here's a key line.
I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline.
Click here to read the full email.
"Mike's nature trick" appears to be a reference to Michael Mann's now famously debunked "Hockey Stick" graph. I don't usually weigh in on national stories, but this one has a local connection--one of the researchers who participated in this email exchange in which they discuss using a "trick" to "hide" the decline is Malcolm Hughes who is the "meso-climatologist and Regents' Professor of Dendrochronology* in the Laboratory for Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona."
I'm sure that Malcolm Hughes and his friends are a true believers and would be shocked that people will look at the these thousands of emails and conclude that he has been part of a massive research fraud. But even the most charitable reading of "using Mike's trick" to "hide the decline" shows that Hughes and his associates are engaging in politics instead of research--and with the amount of money that they have received from the federal government, their deceptions seem to surpass mere politics and PR and have moved into outright fraud.
Footnote: Will "Dendrochronology" Go the way of Phrenology?
Our own Mr. Hughes is a "Dendrochronologist." That means that he studies tree rings to learn about climate history. Powerline has an interesting analysis of the emails behind one of the tree ring paper that turned out to have used bad data, and one of the emails questions the basic premises behind what I predict will turn out to be a pseudoscience.
This is clearly not some kook who wants to convince an engineer about a perpetual motion machine. The email is written by a Ph. D. in environmental plant physiology who has some basic questions about "Dendrochronology". The researchers decide that the best response was to ignore the email and its follow up. Here's the professor's question.
As an environmental plant physiologist, I have followed the long debate starting with Mann et al (1998) and through to Kaufman et al (2009). As time has progressed I have found myself more concerned with the whole scientific basis of dendroclimatology. In particular;
1) The appropriateness of the statistical analyses employed
2) The reliance on the same small datasets in these multiple studies
3) The concept of "teleconnection" by which certain trees respond to the "Global Temperature Field", rather than local climate
4) The assumption that tree ring width and density are related to temperature in a linear manner.
Whilst I would not describe myself as an expert statistician, I do use inferential statistics routinely for both research and teaching and find difficulty in understanding the statistical rationale in these papers. As a plant physiologist I can say without hesitation that points 3 and 4 do not agree with the accepted science.
There is a saying that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof". Given the scientific, political and economic importance of these papers, further detailed explanation is urgently required.
Dr. Don Keiller.
Those seem like really good questions. In fact, question number three seems really obvious. What makes us think that the tree ring width is based on historic global climate rather than the local climate?
Frankly, it seems like the reporters who coverDr. Hughes understand the, shall we say, "ephemeral" nature of his research.
The emails make it clear just how much "teasing" it takes to get the right answer.
I think Professor Hughes should provide the answer to Dr. Keiller's questions as part of the package in which he explains why he didn't blow the whistle when he found out that his fellow researchers were using "Mike's nature trick" to "hide the decline".
As for the Arizona reporters who have been quoting Malcolm Hughes findings as Gospel all these years...maybe it's time for them to ask a few questions of their own.
Update: Here's the Smoking Gun.
The emails show that the researchers are manipulating their data in an overt attempt to bolster predetermined conclusions. I pointed out earlier that UA's Malcolm Hughes was copied on one of the emails in which a researcher was "using a trick to hide the decline."
Check out this astonishing email from the UA's Gary Funkhouser. It is so devastating that I want to print it in its entirety.
From: Gary Funkhouser <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: kyrgyzstan and siberian data
Date: Thu, 19 Sep 1996 15:37:09 -0700
Thanks for your consideration. Once I get a draft of the central
and southern siberian data and talk to Stepan and Eugene I'll send
it to you.
I really wish I could be more positive about the Kyrgyzstan material,
but I swear I pulled every trick out of my sleeve trying to milk
something out of that. It was pretty funny though - I told Malcolm
what you said about my possibly being too Graybill-like in evaluating
the response functions - he laughed and said that's what he thought
at first also. The data's tempting but there's too much variation
even within stands. I don't think it'd be productive to try and juggle
the chronology statistics any more than I already have - they just
are what they are (that does sound Graybillian). I think I'll have
to look for an option where I can let this little story go as it is.
Not having seen the sites I can only speculate, but I'd be
optimistic if someone could get back there and spend more time
collecting samples, particularly at the upper elevations.
Yeah, I doubt I'll be over your way anytime soon. Too bad, I'd like
to get together with you and Ed for a beer or two. Probably
Lab. of Tree-Ring Research
The University of Arizona