Global Warming's Tree Ring Circus Brings Us the Costliest Show on Earth

February 17, 2014

By Larry Bell

The dog and pony show "reviews" of the misdeeds of Michael Mann and Phil Jones and company are shameful show business - not real science at work. -By Larry Bell

If global warming isn’t the Greatest Show on Earth, it’s certainly the costliest and most bizarre. An early act featuring a hockey stick–shaped graph published by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2001 profoundly influenced world energy and environmental policies.

Based heavily upon data taken from tree growth rings on the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, it indicated that world temperatures which had been stable for 900 years until the 20th century suddenly soared due to human fossil fuel-burning greenhouse gas emissions – at least that was the IPCC’s story.

Although science behind that hockey stick chart has now been thoroughly challenged, its creator, Dr. Michael Mann, is a harsh critic of skeptics who dare to question the existence of the crisis he has failed to prove. His January 15 New York Times Op/Ed column titled, “If You See Something, Say Something,” charges that despite an overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that human-caused climate change is happening, a “virulent strain of anti-science infects the halls of Congress, the pages of a few leading newspapers and what we see on TV, leading to the appearance of a debate where none should exist.”

No one I know would dispute that climate changes, or would argue that we humans have absolutely no influence (even if it’s far too tiny to measure.) But then he goes on to claim that a survey shows about 97% also agree that “we must respond to the dangers of a warming planet.” As discussed in my July 10, 2012 column, there is no survey showing consensus regarding warming as a “danger."

Having already concluded not only that global warming is dangerous, but also that human emissions pose that threat, Mann then urges “mainstream scientists” (presumably all of those who agree with him) to get directly involved in remedial technology and policy activism. Such involvement includes determining whether to go “full-bore” on nuclear power, whether to invest in and deploy renewable wind, solar, and geothermal energy on a huge scale, and whether to price carbon emissions through cap-and-trade legislation or by imposing a carbon tax.

Mann refers to the late Stanford University Professor Stephen Schneider, a fellow man-made global warming advocate, as a good example. Incidentally, this is the same Stephen Schneider who authored The Genesis Strategy, a 1976 book warning that global cooling risks posed a threat to humanity. Schneider later changed that view 180 degrees, serving as a lead author for important parts of three IPCC reports.

Blurring the divide between objective science and political science, Schneider once said: “On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method. On the other hand, we are not just scientists, but human beings as well. And like most people, we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.”

Canadians Put Hockey Stick on Ice
Scenarios offered up in Michael Mann’s hockey stick chart clearly met Stephen Schneider’s criteria. They were simple, scary, and dramatic, scored loads of media coverage, and its advocates made no mention of doubts. Instead, the doubts which ultimately led to its ultimate infamy came from Steven McIntyre and Ross McKitrick (at left), two outside Canadian statisticians.

Upon careful investigation, McIntyre and McKitrick discovered fundamental statistical method errors so profound that even random numbers fed into Mann’s program would produce a hockey stick curve. That wasn’t all. The Medieval Warm Period which occurred about a thousand years ago and the Little Ice Age (not a true Ice Age) between about 1300-1850 somehow turned up missing.

And as for those Yamal tree samples, they came from only 12 specimens of 252 in the data set … while a larger data set of 34 trees from the same vicinity that weren’t used showed no dramatic recent warming, but warmer temperatures in those Middle Ages.

Scientific critics have also raised another looming question. Mann’s 1,000-year-long graph was cobbled together using various proxy data derived from ice cores, tree rings, and written records of growing season dates up until 1961 — where he then switched to using surface (ground station) temperature data.  Why the change in 1961? Some theorize that maybe it’s because that’s when other tree ring proxy data calculations by Keith Briffa at the East Anglia University Climate Research Unit (CRU) began going the other way in a steady temperature decline.

After presenting these unwelcome results to Mann and others, Briffa was reportedly put under pressure to recalculate them. He did, and the decline became even greater. As recorded in ClimateGate e-mails, this presented what Mann referred to as a “conundrum” in that the late 20th century decline indicated by Briffa would be perceived by IPCC as “diluting the message,” that there was a “problem,” and that it posed a “potential distraction/detraction.” Mann went on to say that the warming skeptics would have a “field day” if Briffa’s declining temperature reconstruction was shown, and that he would “hate to be the one” to give them “fodder."

In an e-mail sent to Mann and others, CRU’s director Dr. Philip Jones reported: “I’ve just completed Mike’s [Mann’s]Nature [journal] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s [Briffa’s] to hide the decline [in global temperatures]…” Then all of the proxy and surface measurement chartings were presented in different colors on a single graph, and Briffa’s were simply cut off in a spaghetti clutter of lines at the 1961 date.

The ClimateGate Probe Dog and Pony Shows
Deluged with accusations of wrongdoing in the wake of ClimateGate e-mail revelations, Mann’s employer, Penn State University, appointed an Inquiry Committee to investigate the matter. The committee was charged with looking into four types of allegations—whether he directly or indirectly: 1) suppressed or falsified data; 2) subsequently deleted or destroyed emails or other information; 3) misused privileged or confidential information; and 4) engaged in any activities that “seriously” deviated from accepted academic practices.

According to the committee report, after interviewing Mann for “nearly two hours,” he disclaimed all allegations. Members also “culled through” about 1,075 CRU e-mails to identify those sent by Mann, sent or copied to him, or which discussed him.

Of particular interest was a request from Phil Jones asking Mann to delete e-mail records being sought under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act and to get a colleague, Eugene Wahl, to do the same. Mann had then replied: “I’ll contact Gene about this ASAP.”

PSU investigators never chose to interview Wahl, who later testified to a federal inspector general that he did receive Mann’s message and complied with the deletions. Since there are no records to prove otherwise, everyone is asked to take Mann’s word that he didn’t do the same.

In conclusion, the committee found “no substance” in the first three allegations, and that there was “no basis for further examination” of those. For example, they determined that the “trick” referred to in Phil Jones’s November 16, 1999, e-mail was nothing more than “a statistical method used to bring together two or more different kinds of data sets together in a legitimate fashion by a technique that has been reviewed by a broad array of peers in the field.”

One of the invited outside reviewers interviewed was astounded at the committee’s conclusions. WhenDr. Richard Lindzen, a professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was informed during the interview that the first three allegations had already been dismissed at the inquiry stage, his response, as quoted in the committee’s report, was: “It’s thoroughly amazing. I mean these are issues that he explicitly stated in the e-mails. I’m wondering what is going on?”

In the final analysis, while Michael Mann was clearly not found guilty of wrongdoing, neither was the quality of his science or alarming research conclusions validated. It should be instructive to note that, however, that the IPCC has now obviously distanced itself from his hockey stick chart which it so prominently featured in its headline-grabbing 2001 Assessment Report.

But what about the IPCC and its key network of researchers within the UK’s University of East Anglia (UEA)-CRU? Were they ever found innocent of any culpability in the ClimateGate scandal?

Three UK-based inquiries, each with transparent damage-control overtones, yielded little to support scientific confidence. Two were “independent” internal self-investigations that were launched by UEA. The third was a cursory, narrowly-focused inquiry conducted by the British House of Commons’ Science and Technology Select Committee.

The scientific misconduct charges against key IPCC and its CRU participants included (1) failure to provide a full and fair view to policymakers and the IPCC of all available evidence; (2) deliberately obstructing access to data and methods to those with opposing viewpoints; 3) failures to comply with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements; and (4) coordinated efforts to influence review panels of prestigious journals to block papers presenting rival scientific findings from being published.

Regarding the “Parliamentary Inquiry” undertaken by the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Select Committee, an in-depth investigation was out of the question because of severely constrained time due to an upcoming election. Recognizing that it would not “be able to cover all of the issues raised by the events at UEA,” questioning of witnesses was limited to a single day and the inquiry scope was limited to three key areas: freedom of information issues; accuracy and availability of CRU data and programs; and the independent reviews.

Taking no direct testimony from those who challenged CRU activities, methods, or errors, the committee nevertheless determined that there was essentially nothing wrong with the organization’s basic science. Then, mistakenly assuming that important investigations they had no time or expertise to conduct would be fully covered by the other “independent” reviews which never occurred, they simply endorsed IPCC’s alarmist human-caused global warming representations as facts.

The first UEA-sponsored investigation, called the “Scientific Assessment Panel Inquiry,” headed byLord Ronald Oxburgh, an ardent global warming crisis believer with strong Green energy business ties, didn’t assess the reliability of CRU’s science either. Its scope of inquiry was limited to reviewing papers provided to it only for evidence of deliberate misconduct. Many of those papers selected for examination by UEA were obscure, never having been challenged by critics – while others that had been criticized were not presented for review.

Lord Oxburgh’s final report stated that the papers were chosen “on the advice of the Royal Society”; however, this was apparently untrue. In fact, many or all of those papers were reportedly selected and cleared by CRU’s director, Phil Jones. And contrary to strong recommendations from committee members, no public interviews were conducted, no formal notes were taken, and no recordings or transcripts of interviews were made available to the public.

The remarkably short (5-page) Oxburgh report generously concluded that it found CRU scientists to be merely an innocent “small group of dedicated, if slightly confused researchers.” It also mildly criticized IPCC for failing to cite reservations of those dedicated (but confused) researchers regarding scientific uncertainties.

Another CRU-sponsored inquiry, called the “Climate Change E-mails Review,” headed by Sir Robert Muir-Russell, hurriedly looked at more than 1,000 selected communications within a period of 2-1/2 weeks. Two evidence-collecting interviews were conducted with CRU staff, which the majority, including the chairman, didn’t attend. No CRU critics were interviewed.

While the Muir-Russell’s report concluded that the “rigour and honesty” of the CRU scientists were not in doubt, panelists admitted that the scientists’ responses to “reasonable requests for information” had been “unhelpful and defensive,” that “emails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them,” and that there had been “a consistent pattern of failing to display a proper degree of openness, both on the part of CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA.”

Did the Climate Change E-mails Review accomplish the goal that Muir-Russell called for: ”a concerted and sustained campaign to win hearts and minds to restore confidence in the [CRU] team’s work” ? The Lancet scientific journal’s editor, Richard Horton (right), doesn’t think so.

Testifying before the inquiry, Horton said: “The Muir-Russell review has rejected all claims of serious scientific misconduct. But he does identify failures, evasions, misleading actions, unjustifiable delays [in releasing information], and pervasive unhelpfulness- all of which amounts to severely sub-optimal academic practice. Climate science will never be the same again.”

We can only hope that Richard Horton is right about climate science not continuing to be the same circus act it has all-to-often become. Instead it’s way past time for the carnival we have witnessed to fold up its tent and get science out of show business.

CFACT Advisor Larry Bell heads the graduate program in space architecture at the University of Houston. He founded and directs the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture. He is also the author of "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax."

A version of this report first appeared in Forbes Online at

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