Monday, September 28, 2009

I'm just getting warmed up

Gee, guess what - another winger responded to that last comment from the previous post. So I get to post an update!

The "reply" was a link to a website and a little blather about "the dire predictions of the AGW fan club." I think the comment is sufficiently self-explanatory.
This is pretty much what you'd expect from the nanny-nanny naysayers who would sooner believe in the Easter Bunny than the reality of global warming for fear it might require them to actually do something.

For those who won't follow the link, this has to do with a claim that a reexamination of tree ring data undermines, indeed "kills," the so-called "hockey stick," the graph that shows a dramatic increase in temperatures over the last few decades. The name comes from the fact that the data shows relatively stable temperatures over the last millennium (the "shaft"), punctuated by a rapid rise (the "blade") in recent times. The writer at the link charges two researchers whose work supported the "hockey stick," Fritz Hans Schweingruber and Keith Briffa, with deliberate falsification of results by cherry-picking of data.

That is an extremely serious charge and we will see how serious the accuser is - and how confident he is in his position - if he has the guts to pursue the matter beyond a blog post trying to find some means of attacking the idea of anthropogenic global warming. Frankly, I doubt he will, because while a colleague of the original author implies the same charge, the author himself does not make it, suggesting instead either unintentional bias or that using rings from live trees as opposed to dead ones might affect the results.

In either event, it's also worth noting that the original author in question is Steve McIntyre of the blog Climate Audit, which he founded with the avowed intent of disproving the "hockey stick." Not to examining it, not to considering the science, but to disproving it. As someone flippantly but pretty accurately put it, the "end of Climate Audit is to show that the vast majority of Climate Scientists are Socialists engaged in hoaxing All Of Mankind." Which seems to put his own reliability as a source under a cloud.

Getting more to the link and the argument, an immediate problem is that the linked site treats the tree ring data that was the main foundation of the "hockey stick" graph as if it stood alone with no supporting data and so challenging the tree ring data challenges the entire idea of a recent sharp rise in observed temperatures. But that is patently false. For one thing, nine additional reconstructions of temperature changes over the past 1000 years largely agree with the "hockey stick." The "shaft" gets warped, in two or three of the cases rather dramatically, but the "blade" is still there. More to the point, ice core samples, sediment layers, glacial advance and retreat, coral samples, historical records, and more tell essentially the same story - and, for the period since measurements began about 1850, so do observed values.

(It also bears mentioning that while the "hockey stick" is surely dramatic, it's just one graph of one method and a somewhat problematic method at that: Tree rings can be very hard to interpret since they can be affected by a number of local or transient factors like rainfall - just check out the size of the error bars on the graph, linked above. If the results had not been as similar as they are to results from other methodologies, the graph never would have survived in the literature as long as it has.)

So now McIntyre, who tried in 2003 and 2005 to shoot down the "hockey stick" and failed despite the assistance of 2006 Congressional hearings by Joe Barton, the House's global warming equivalent to the Senate's James Inhofe, is hoping the third time is the charm. But quite frankly, rather than it being up to others to accept his results or even to challenge them, I'd say it's up to McIntyre to explain why his result is such an outlier and why it runs counter not only to other analyses but to actual observed values.
Note that in this case, the link to background on Steve McIntyre was not in the original comment but those to the graphs were. The link to the original article cited by the nanny-nanny naysayer is included here for reference.

Footnote: McIntyre also said he started Climate Audit to "defend myself" against "attacks" at the climatologist blog Real Climate. He does come off a bit paranoid: He more than once has accused them of "dishonesty" and "censorship" because a comment of his got hung up in a moderation queue.

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