Monckton & the case of the missing Curry

by Gareth on January 28, 2009

Monckton’s eruptive bellow was still echoing round the halls of Tannochbrae Manor when old Scrotum, the wrinkled retainer, shuffled quietly into the laird’s library. “You called, Sir?”, he queried in his soft Highland brogues. The last few weeks had been hectic at Tannochbrae — the master had been unusually busy with his scientific interests — and the comfortable rhythm of Scrotum’s life had been jolted from a gentle 4/4 joggling (with pipes) to a jaunty 6/8 contra-bounce (with accordion). Jimmy Shand would have approved.

“Scrotum, I appear to have lost a Curry. Please institute an immediate, that is not to say precipitate, but carefully thought out, considered yet complete search for the fellow. Draft in all the help you need from the estate, but find him you must.”

“Would that be a chicken korma, or my lord’s preferred vindaloo (hot)?” Scrotum asked.

“Of course not, you wretched little man. I speak of Curry, esteemed co-author of Curry & Clow (1997) whose scientific labours conclusively prove that current global temperatures are unremarkable and that we therefore have nothing to fear from the closet socialism that is warmist science.” Monckton was quivering with barely supressed excitement. A fleeting concern scampered across Scrotum’s bushy brow and buried itself behind his ear. He left the room. This could turn out to be another of his lordship’s dreadful hunt the haggis days…

Monckton leaned back in the leather armchair that had been his father’s and his father’s father’s — worn a bit, stained with red wine and port, a cigar burn or two on the seat, and that was just his trousers. He put his arms behind his head, arched his back and let out a long, drawn-out but terribly refined sigh of satisfaction. On the ancient oak desk where the Bonny Prince Monckton had so thoroughly befriended the Lady McIntyre that she’d had twins, a computer whirred, uploading his latest scientific opus to the rather odd American outfit that had recently befriended him and seemed so keen to put his thoughts before the world. It had been a rewarding morning’s work, producing another of the now-famous Monckton blasts against those in the thrall of global warming scaremongering. He reflected on some of the choicest constructions…

In short, science is being artfully manipulated to fabricate what are in essence political and not scientific conclusions – a conclusion that is congenial to powerful factions whose ambition is not to identify scientific truth but rather to advance the special vested interests with which they identify themselves.

And…

This note should, however, be sufficient to convince the open-minded and diligent reader that, if so many artful steps have been and are being taken to falsify and exaggerate the scientific truth, perhaps the truth is not as those who are so ingeniously and persistently tampering with the science and the data would have us believe.

“Artful steps” — ah, if eloquence alone could win this great battle for the future of human civilisation, then the struggle was over already.

***

In the kitchen, Scrotum was washing his hands. The ghillie McShane was supping tea bolstered with a wee dram before heading out into the drizzle. His dog was sniffing the rubbish bin, filling its nostrils with the lingering aromas of last night’s takeaway from McSwami’s, the best of Tannochbrae’s six sub-continental dining establishments. “It’ll help the poor wee thing to find his trail”, the tweed-clad outdoorsman assured the retainer.

“Daft bugger”, Scrotum muttered beneath his breath. He would need more than a good nose if he was to find this Curry, he’d need a search engine. He retired to the cellar, his domain of dusty bottles and crusty port, and started up the ancient computer that served as his window on the world. It had been some time since he had broken into his lordship’s PC and sniffed around in the files, wondering a little more than idly if he could fiddle with the estate payroll and give himself a pay rise. If the password hadn’t changed…

He tapped Blessed Margaret into the log-in screen, and breathed a sigh of relief as it was accepted. Delving into a folder labelled SPPI, he found the newest document and started ploughing through his master’s characteristically overblown verbiage. Curry & Clow(1997) turned up in Fig 11 on page 13 and in the accompanying text:

The concentration on the past one or two thousand years that has arisen from the controversy over the defective graph purporting to abolish the mediaeval warm period has concealed a fact that swiftly re-establishes the correct perspective.

For if one considers the entire Holocene period since the end of the last Ice Age 11,400 years ago, temperatures have been warmer than the present almost throughout (e.g. Curry & Clow, 1997: figure 11):

Currychart.jpg  

Seen in the geological perspective of the last 17,000 years, the 300 years of recent warming, nearly all of which must have been natural, for we could not have had any significant influence except in the past 25 years, are manifestly insignificant.

His master’s graphics, emblazoned with a tasteful pink House of Lords logo, were as colourful as his writing style, but as he perused Figure 11, Scrotum began to wonder if the mercurial aristocrat might not be on to something. It had clearly been much warmer in the past. He was puzzled, though, by the strange ladder of temperatures climbing up the middle of the chart. Were they misplaced labels for the vertical axis? If so, that would imply that “today’s temperature” was about 32ºC. Not in Tannochbrae, it wasn’t. What if the two dashes before the figures are meant to be minus signs? Then today’s temperature would be -32ºC. That was more like it. He looked up through the grating over the cellar’s cobwebbed window and noted the drizzle turning to snow. Still, it was a conundrum. Where on earth would “today’s temperatures” be that far below zero?

He set aside that poser, and turned to the matter of the Curry. Summoning the great Google, he tapped in Curry & Clow 1997, and requested a search. The results were interesting. His lordship’s American friends had been quick, he saw, for Temperature Change And CO2 Change, A Scientific Briefing was already showing up at the top of the search, but as he looked down the page, he could find no Curry & Clow — at least, not linked together by the ampersand of collaboration. But this would be a scientific paper, he reasoned, so he turned to the Google scriptorium, and consulted their scholars. Once again, he read through the results. Still no sign of Curry and Clow working together on anything. But as he looked at the fifth item he started with surprise, and a horrible thought crossed his mind and said hello to the fleeting concern that had lodged there earlier. Here was a reference to a paper by Cuffey & Clow in 1997. He consulted the scholars again.

Temperature, accumulation, and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland through the last deglacial transition, by KM Cuffey and GD Clow was the top item. He checked the Google cache, and found the abstract. This looked promising.

We present a combined heat- and ice-flow model, constrained by measurements of temperature in the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (GISP2) borehole and by the GISP2 record and depth-age scale, which determines a history of temperature, accumulation rate, and ice sheet elevation for the past 50,000 years in central Greenland.

Central Greenland would be cold enough for the laird’s graph, obviously, but how could the fastidious natural scientist have made such an embarrassing — and public — error in his attribution? True, he did affect to scribble his research notes with quill pens he made himself from the cast off feathers of the estate peacocks, and on the parchment of ancient House of Lords bar bills. The Monckton “f”s were cursive and blotchy, but surely he could not mistake Curry for Cuffey? Scrotum would need supporting evidence. Time to trot to the library, and hope that his lordship had gone out for his afternoon stroll.

***

Monckton of Brenchley perambulated through the gentle snow, whistling three parts of the Messiah simultaneously while thinking through the mathematics of radiation transfer in the atmosphere. His eyes were fixed on the horizon, so he failed to see the snow-encrusted gin trap McShane had set for the rabbits that were plaguing the Tannochbrae lawns. His scream brought foxes out of their dens, and a golden eagle looked down from its lonely patrol and began a slow, circling descent.

***

Working his way along the library shelves, past the leather-bound volumes of Men Only handed down to the elder sons of the noble family by ancient tradition, past the Reader’s Digest library of great literature (The Complete Works of Dickens in 136 pages), and into the corner where his lordship’s new enthusiasm for scientific journals reached its finest flower, it was the work of mere minutes for Scrotum to locate the volumes of the Journal of Geophysical Research, thumb back through the pages to 1997 and find the paper in question. He took the book to the cellar, and transmuted Cuffey & Clow (1997) into a form his computer could read. It was clear it had been done before, to judge by the marmalade stains on the pages and the toast crumbs in the spine.

***

Try as he might, Monckton could not open the trap. It had closed around his right ankle with great force, steel teeth biting into flesh, and blue blood was making a pink stain in the snow. Two foxes watched from a safe distance, and an eagle perched high in a pine stared at the man thrashing in pain as he tried to free the trap from the rusty iron chain keeping it in place. Save for the occasional grunt, moan, and obscenity, it was quiet. The snow was getting heavier.

In the pub next door to McSwami’s, McShane peered over his pint of Irn Bru at the clock on the wall. Another ten minutes and he could go home. No bloody chance of finding stale Indian food in the middle of the blizzard, he thought. Bonzo was a fine dog, good nose, loyal to a fault, but even he couldn’t work miracles. He’d ring Scrotum in the morning to see if the gentry needed digging out.

***

Scrotum devoured Cuffey and Clow (1997), in so far as it’s possible to devour any paper replete with complex equations and references to isostatic response and ice rheology. When he got to page 26,390 he found a rather interesting figure:Cuffeyorig.gif
That curve looks familiar, he thought, and immediately took a copy. In the elderly version of Photoshop that was all his PC could handle he flipped the horizontal axis and stretched the image out at bit until he had this:
Cuffeyflipped.gif The Curry Curve, beyond a doubt. It appears that his lordship had sharpened up the lines a little, exaggerated the wiggles in the last 10,000 years, and added a little upwards tick at the end. The temperature scale lined up perfectly. Scrotum noted the caption under the graph, and wondered how the temperature at the top of the Greenland ice sheet could be made to stand in for global temperatures. He considered how a 50,000 year temperature record for such a remote location, passed through a 250 year triangular filter could possibly provide any information about the “300 years of current warming”. His lordship appeared to employ a few “artful steps” himself[2. Lucia at The Blackboard has discovered others.]. As he leaned over the computer keyboard, head in hands, he thought he heard a muffled shout, but dismissed it. If the laird was back in his lair there would be no escaping the fact.
He reached into his pocket, took out the one-time pad, and prepared an email message.

***

Monckton was feeling cold and faint. His throat was sore from shouting, and there was an eagle standing a few feet from his face. Around one leg there was a ring. He screwed up his eyes. It appeared to have Ethon engraved on it. A classical education is a fine thing, a joy for ever, and despite his straitened circumstance Monckton could not stop himself from pondering the allusion. Was this bird about to feast on his guts? He groaned. The bird did not move. There was a glint in its eye.

***

In the cellar, Scrotum bestirred himself to prepare for dinner. As he was turning off the computer, a faint red light began to pulse through the cracks of a case of Taylor & Dow ’47. He lifted the lid and took out a large black mobile phone. It was The One They Call Gavin. The conversation was brief. His lordship’s embarrassment might be a trifle more public than he expected.

As he mounted the stairs, Scrotum the wrinkled retainer pondered his life’s work, and the chutzpah that had prompted the laird to write:

…so many artful steps have been and are being taken to falsify and exaggerate the scientific truth, perhaps the truth is not as those who are so ingeniously and persistently tampering with the science and the data would have us believe.

A broad grin cracked his leathery features, and he tucked a bottle of Chateau Cheval Blanc under his jacket “for later”.




[With thanks to Greenfyre's for the idea, and apologies to the spirit of the former greatest living Englishman Vivian Stanshall for plundering his works so shamelessly. I like a chicken dhansak myself.]

Full reference: Cuffey, K.M. and G.D. Clow (1997). Temperature, accumulation and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland through the last deglacial transition. Journal of Geophysical Research 102(C12), 26383-396

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

samv January 29, 2009 at 12:44 am

Why I do say old chap that’s not entirely quite unlike a priceless piece of verbiage.

thingsbreak January 29, 2009 at 9:38 am

Well done. Also: The conversation was brief. His lordship’s embarrassment might be a trifle more public than he expected.

Can’t wait!

Dewhurst January 29, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Gareth,

Slagging off the messengers who convey the ‘wrong’ message is about all that you are left with. Your support is leaving in droves. Do your ostrich act as much as you like but the outcome is inevitable.

Gareth January 29, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Be careful, Roger, or there might be a Dewhurst in the next episode… ;-)

AndrewH January 29, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Could that be the……… foggy, foggy, dew hurst

Gareth January 29, 2009 at 9:42 pm

And would you believe it, Scrotum’s musical predilections have made the BBC!

Q9 January 29, 2009 at 10:16 pm

A most excellent analysis of Monckton’s working methods, and very funny to boot. Perhaps he takes his inspiration from this chap?

Keep up the excellent work!

Ayrdale February 4, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Delicious bit of parody chaps and chapesses…but the self congratulatory, back slapping comments are the best bits of all…

Gareth February 4, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Ah, so you support Monckton taking liberties with other people’s work, do you? Altering the findings and asserting that it shows something it doesn’t?

Previous post:

Next post: