Monday, December 14, 2009

Hide The Decline

A Timeline

Something odd happened this fall. BBC “weather presenter and climate correspondent” Paul Hudson wrote a blog article entitled Whatever happened to global warming? on October 9, 2009. Global Warming “skeptics” were shocked to see such a thing linked to BBC, of all places, and the article even made it to the Drudge Report.

Although it wouldn’t come out until November 23, just three days after posting his blog, Hudson was forwarded what he called a “chain of emails” on October 12 (source). Hudson, however, did not do anything with the files.

So on November 17, a post appeared on the Climate Audit blog stating “A miracle just happened.” It included a link to 61-MB ZIP file (unzipped, it was over 160 MB) containing thousands of “leaked” e-mails from the East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU). That post was quickly removed, but then a user going by the handle FOIA (for Freedom of Information Act) using an anonymous Russian FTP account posted the e-mails on the Air Vent blog.

The files sat dormant there until November 19, when another user alerted The Blackboard to its existence. This was quickly followed by a blog commentary by Anthony Watts and stories in The Examiner and in Investigate. In short, the emails had gone viral.

The next day (November 20), Phil Jones, the director of CRU, acknowledged there had been a security breach. In the process, he verified the accuracy of one e-mail in particular—the now infamous “hide the decline” email. Three days later, Paul Hudson (the CNN presenter mentioned above) stated that the leaked e-mails were identical to those he had received on October 12. The accuracy of the emails had been established so well that, to this date, I have found no indication that anyone involved has claimed any are forgeries.

Global Warming proponents have focused on the illegality of the hacking of the emails (although evidence currently points toward a CRU-insider leaking the documents due to a FOI request filed by Steve McIntyre being denied). Global Warming skeptics have focused on the contents of what was leaked. And what they show is not good for science.

Hide the Decline

One leaked e-mail was from Phil Jones, stating the following (note, typographical errors in the original):

From: Phil Jones
To: ray bradley ,,
Subject: Diagram for WMO Statement
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 13:31:15 +0000

Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,
Once Tim's got a diagram here we'll send that either later today or
first thing tomorrow.
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. Mike's series got the annual
land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land
N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999
for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with
data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.
Thanks for the comments, Ray.


Prof. Phil Jones
Climatic Research Unit Telephone +44 (0) 1603 592090
School of Environmental Sciences Fax +44 (0) 1603 507784
University of East Anglia
Norwich Email
The key sentence is the one that says: “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.”

There are a couple of things to look at. First, the date of the e-mail is November 16, 1999. Mike is Michael Mann (one of the people the e-mail was addressed to). Keith is Keith Briffa, who was cc’d on the email. The subject was “Diagram for WMO Statement” (WMO = World Meteorological Organization).

In 1999, authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) met in Tanzania September 1 – 3 for the “zero-order draft” of the Third Assessment Report. Steve McIntyre got a copy of the diagram using proxy temperatures for the past 1000 years (see here for more background). The graph showed proxy temperatures gathered from Mann, Jones, and Briffa.

There was a problem with Briffa’s series. His is the hard-to-see yellow line in the excerpt below (see the above referenced link for the entire graph):

Not only is Briffa’s reconstruction lower than the others, but it’s also trending down. The IPCC was concerned, with Mann saying that this was “diluting the message” and was a “potential distraction/detraction.” So, as all good scientists do when faced with data they don’t like…

The IPCC deleted it.

That’s right. Since Briffa’s series only became problematic after 1961, they simply ended his graph at 1961. However, they hid where this cut-off occurred by burring it in the other lines from the graph (in the following, it is the green line):

Here we have scientists intentionally excluding data that didn’t fit their theory. They cherry-picked what they wanted to show, and hid that which was detrimental to their cause. Those are the actions of politicians, not scientists.

Two months after the IPCC did this, Phil Jones wrote the above email about using “Mike’s Nature trick.” Mann didn’t do the same thing that the IPCC did; his method was even more insidious. To understand it, you must first understand what is meant by proxy temperatures.


Thermometers are a relatively new invention. Temperature scales weren’t even invented until the Eighteenth Century. In geological time, that’s less than a blink-of-the-eye ago. Even after thermometers were invented, it took a while for them to become widespread. As a result, we only have direct access to temperature recordings for roughly the past 150 years.

Scientists still like to know what the temperature was like before temperatures were recorded, but to get those numbers they have to use proxy information. This can be anything from examining ice cores in the arctic to examining tree rings (which is the method Briffa used). These ways of examining temperatures, however, are not as “fine” as a thermometer. While a thermometer can, nowadays, give you up to the second temperature readings, most proxy data has to be understood in chunks of 20-50 year periods.

As I mentioned in my earlier posts on science, precision is important for scientists. Proxy temperatures are obviously not as precise as reading temperatures off the thermometer. And when they are graphed, they need to be “smoothed” over. Yet this smoothing was not as straightforward as you might imagine it to be. As McIntyre notes:

When smoothing these time series, the Team had a problem: actual reconstructions “diverge” from the instrumental series in the last part of 20th century. For instance, in the original hockey stick (ending 1980) the last 30-40 years of data points slightly downwards. In order to smooth those time series one needs to “pad” the series beyond the end time, and no matter what method one uses, this leads to a smoothed graph pointing downwards in the end whereas the smoothed instrumental series is pointing upwards — a divergence.
What Mann did was the pad the graph with instrumental data. Now, you might be thinking that that isn’t a big deal. Mann didn’t use fake numbers; he used real temperatures gathered by instruments. However, we have to keep in mind the fact that proxy data is not as precise as instrumental data, and therefore Mann added apples to oranges to produce his graph.

Still, how important could that be? Well, when you consider that the entire blade of the famous “hockey stick” graph just is that added data, you ought to get suspicious. In fact, McIntyre and McKitrick showed that if you used “red noise” to produce random principal components data in Mann’s model, it produced the same hockey stick pattern 99% of the time. If random data creates your hockey stick, it means your model is creating the hockey stick rather than the data. (BTW, if you want to see how to make your own hockey stick model, Iowahawk has detailed instructions.)

Jones managed to take it one step further. When creating the graph for the WMO, he didn’t even bother to use the same instrument data for each series. Instead, “Mike's series got the annual land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land N of 20N.” The result was that the graph changed from this:

To this (the actual coversheet used):


Mann’s hockey stick graph was the basis for much of the IPCC’s 2001 report. Mann even wrote the chapter on climate change. But despite Algore’s assurance that “the science is settled,” it is becoming more and more obvious that there is no scientific basis for man-made global warming. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests it is really Mann-made global warming.

There is much, much more to this scandal than what has simply been presented here. And it does not bode well for science in general. Science works only if scientists stick to the method and actually employ it. As soon as they begin to cherry-pick data, to mix apples and oranges, to ignore error bars, to push experiments beyond the level of precision, and to vilify those who would dare to disagree, scientists have abandoned science completely.

And the question left hanging in other people’s minds is simply this: why here? Why is it that this is the arena that scientists have chosen to forgo their scientific training and accept authoritative dictates? And more importantly, if scientists will fudge the science over this issue, what else will they be willing to fudge? If the scientific organizations who preach to us did not catch this, what else are they not catching? What other “settled science” is little more than religious dogma?

The longer scientists take to regain their credibility, the less they will be able to regain when they finally make the attempt.


  1. Well, Peter, that's the beauty of "value-added data"!

  2. And as you know I've hardly scratched the surface here. I could have written about how CRU "lost" the raw data, how they intimidated peer-reviewed journals (including getting an editor fired), etc. In fact, I may include some of that in my next post...and for those who read comments here, you can get an advanced heads-up as to what it'll be--namely, a look at the conspiracy behind AGW!!! (Doom!)

    Of course, the conspiracy has nothing to do with individuals hiding behind the scene and everything to do with ideology. But that's for my next post :-)

  3. this is great info.

    Thanks, Peter Pike!

  4. It's nice to see this type of dogma-driven "science" exposed for the ideological agenda it truly is. If the "science" of AGW is as settled as the "science" of macro-evolution, who knows how much cherry-picking is going on in the arena of the study of origins?

    I wonder if the next big scientific scandal will be "Darwingate?"

    In any case, surely a healthy amount of skepticism towards the scientific establishment is not unreasonable in light of the AGW scandal.

  5. "And more importantly, if scientists will fudge the science over this issue, what else will they be willing to fudge?"

    Can you say evolution?

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