NBR interviews Steve McIntyre: hard-hitting business journalism or fatuous piffle? You decide…

by Gareth on February 10, 2013

The National Business Review (NBR) is New Zealand’s biggest selling business weekly. This weekend it published a profile of Steve McIntyre, the ClimateAudit blogger and amateur statistician who has long had an unhealthy obsession with hockey sticks. Here’s how it introduced him on the web version of the article1:

A man who has become the arch-enemy of climate scientists for exposing serious flaws in a United Nations study on global warming believes the issue has been greatly overstated.

Vilified by global warming zealots, Canadian Steve McIntyre, who was passing through Auckland this week, told NBR ONLINE the impact of global warming is likely to be “about half” of what current scientific models are showing.

Unpacking all the errors and misrepresentations in just those two opening sentences is a major task, so I’ll restrict myself to a few bullet points:

  • McIntyre has pissed off a few paleoclimate people (Mike Mann in particular), but is no “arch-enemy” of an entire discipline.
  • He exposed no substantial flaws in any study, though he has tried hard to create that impression. The sum total of his efforts has done nothing to change our understanding of paleoclimate.
  • The United Nations doesn’t do climate studies. The UN and WMO coordinate the IPCC, which summarises all the science done in academic institutions around the world.
  • McIntyre’s main contribution to science has been to orchestrate and agonise over freedom of information requests sprayed around the climate community, especially the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, and thereby to waste a huge amount of real scientists’ time.
  • McIntyre lacks any credible expertise that would allow him to sit in judgement on the likely impact of a warming climate.

The NBR article continues:

Mr McIntyre, who is a mathematician and former mining company executive, says “the onus is on the people arguing it’s a big problem to really show in an engineering quality report why it’s a big problem”.

More to the point is that McIntyre has been up to his elbows in organised efforts to delay action on climate change for at least the last ten years, as DeSmogBlog’s record of his activities shows — but you wouldn’t guess that from the fawning interview by Rod Vaughan.

The really jaw-dropping moment, however, is when Vaughan presents McIntyre’s views on climate impacts:

Asked how much damage has been caused to the environment so far from global warming, he said:

[…]“Activists will tend to say that carbon dioxide emissions in the last 50 years have caused serious negative impacts.

“But from my point of view I would say I don’t know what they are and certainly on balance there’s been no serious impact.

There’s none so blind as those who won’t look at the Arctic, glacier retreat, increasing extreme weather events, or any of the many other signs of a rapidly changing climate system. McIntyre has made no contribution to the study of climate change, but he has made a huge contribution to the campaign to do nothing about it. His wilful ignorance, and his willingness to present it as wisdom, makes for unedifying reading. More’s the pity, then, that the NBR should choose to feature McIntyre’s piffle as worthy of its reader’s attention.

Climate change is already the biggest challenge the business community will have to face over the next century. Dealing with the impacts of climate change — from extreme weather events to shifting climate zones and ocean acidification — is going to be tough. Creating an economy in which business can thrive at the same as radically reducing emissions is an urgent necessity. It can’t be dismissed by the arm-waving of mining consultants with a political axe to grind.

It could be argued that the business community gets the journalism it deserves. On the basis of this dreadful and fatuous interview, it would appear New Zealand’s business community is in deep, deep trouble.

  1. A longer version is in the print edition. []

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

CTG February 10, 2013 at 10:01 pm

The Recursive Fury paper had some good insights into the tactics used by McIntyre. Having decided that the Lewandowsky paper Must Be Wrong, McIntyre looked for ways to ‘discredit’ the survey data. He then picked through the data to find common patterns, then invented ways in which those patterns “must” represent warmists pretending to be skeptics. He went through several iterations of this, picking ever more specious reasons to discard the data, until he had got rid of enough of the data to undermine the conclusions of the paper.

This is the opposite of good scientific process. If you are going to winnow data, you must define a priori criteria by which you would remove “bad” data, then test your sample for matching cases. In this case, this would have meant defining a prototype survey response that would represent a warmist imposter, then discarding any response that matched the prototype. McIntyre’s technique would not pass muster for publication, as it is not a recognised scientific technique.

McIntyre is not a scientist, He is not doing science, he is doing propaganda.

andyS February 11, 2013 at 6:32 pm

A propagandist who supplies all his R code on his website, for others to critique.

Gareth February 11, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Ah yes. In Tamino’s coinage: public mathturbation.

andyS February 11, 2013 at 9:18 pm

[Not funny enough to justify publication. GR]

andyS February 11, 2013 at 9:44 pm

But you got a personal giggle? Be honest.

Gareth February 11, 2013 at 9:58 pm

More of a grimace, actually.

CTG February 12, 2013 at 10:41 pm

And when others have critiqued his code, they have found a startling number of errors – and coincidentally enough, all of those errors have been in one direction.

Likewise, Little Stevie only finds it necessary to “audit” people whose work suggests that burning fossil fuels might be a problem. If you publish work that says we can burn as much oil, coal and gas as we like, then for some strange reason Stevie gives your work a free pass.

I think it is time the auditor was audited.

Rob Taylor February 13, 2013 at 5:14 am

CTG, have you got a reference for the SM coding errors you mention?

CTG February 13, 2013 at 7:47 am

This is a good starting point. Although “errors” is a very generous interpretation of these issues.

andyS February 14, 2013 at 11:54 am

You link, CTG, is to an article by John Mashey on the Wegman report.

I don’t see anything about errors or bias in McIntyre’s code.

CTG February 14, 2013 at 7:58 pm

And what was McIntyre’s role in the Wegman report, andy? Your lack of skepticism relating to McIntyre is most illuminating.

andyS February 14, 2013 at 8:06 pm

McIntyre’s role in the Wegman report is irrelevant to this discussion.

You claimed that McIntyre’s code had errors that were biased in one direction. You have failed to provide any evidence to support this assertion.

Personally, I find the people who put code on the internet have a fairly big stake in that. If there are errors, then they generally acknowledge it, and thank the people who find the errors. If you have stuff to hide, you don’t put your code on the internet

If you are a software dev. then you probably know what I mean

CTG February 14, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Heaven forfend you should actually have to do your own research, andy! I mean, two minutes on Google is obviously asking way too much of you.

Okay, as you need to be spoonfed, the link between McIntyre and Wegman lies in McI’s claim that the Mann PCA procedure will produce hockey sticks from random data. However, this claim was based on code which quite clearly showed that the “random” samples McI picked were actually specifically selected to be the most hockey-stick like samples.

You might think this is an innocent coding error. I disagree.

Sorry andy, your hero has feet of clay.

Dappledwater February 11, 2013 at 7:10 am

Fatuous piffle!.

Here’s a photo of what ocean acidification is doing to marine life in the seas around Antarctica: http://www.skepticalscience.com/pics/OApteropoddissolution.jpg. From my post here.

Dappledwater February 11, 2013 at 7:41 am

I would also note that McIntyre obsession these last 10 years has all proven to be for nought. Sea level is predominately a function of the volume of ice stored on land which, in turn, is dependent upon polar & global temperature. Sea level is therefore a proxy for global temperature.

Go back 10,000 years and we see that the current rate of sea level rise is anomalous. During the Medieval Period sea level in the equatorial regions was actually falling! The falling sea level gave us the coral atolls which are common features throughout the equatorial oceans.

This sea level fall was due to the downward flexure of the ocean basins combined with a lack of thermal expansion (ocean warming) and no glacial meltwater being added to the oceans. See this SkS post: Sea Level Isn’t Level: Ocean Siphoning, Levered Continents and the Holocene Sea Level Highstand

The trends in atmospheric water vapour (the greater moisture holding & redistribution capacity with warming) also refute the notion of a warm Medieval Period too, because moisture-sensitive trees around the Pacific Rim record the ENSO-driven trends in moisture availability in their annual growth rings. They too suggest it was much cooler in Medieval time.

mustakissa February 14, 2013 at 9:35 pm

During the Medieval Period sea level in the equatorial regions was actually falling! The falling sea level gave us the coral atolls which are common features throughout the equatorial oceans.

Eh, you mean the mid-Holocene highstand. Several millennia further back :-)

Rob Taylor February 11, 2013 at 9:25 am

What brings McIntyre to our fair shores, I wonder… perhaps to help NZCSET sort their temperature figures out before appealing the loss of their case against NIWA?

Last I heard, Bary Brill was accusing Justice Venning of bias – does anyone know how that went down?

Gareth February 11, 2013 at 10:17 am

I understand that McIntyre was in NZ for family reasons. His daughter needed hospitalisation after an accident, but is (as far as I know) doing well. I’m sure we all wish her well.

On the other hand, McIntyre certainly did make contact with the usual suspects. Bryan Leyland boasts of hosting him for a night during his visit. It’s probably not much of a stretch to suggest that BL might well have touted McI to the NBR…

bill February 11, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Interesting, isn’t it?

Chomsky has often said that if you want to know what’s actually happening in the world you may well be best-served by reading the business press, because despite its clear ideological bent its audience really has no interest in false information and the kind of propaganda-masquerading-as-news which is routine in the MSM.

Because believing your own, or your nation’s, or your allies’ BS can lead to bad business decisions.

However, apparently the AGW crisis is perceived as ‘existential’ by sufficiently powerful corporate interests to such an extent that the notion of ‘objectivity’ has been chucked out the window! (With the possible exception of The Economist.)

A related phenomenon has these interests’ foot-soldiers routinely turning up here to trash the capitalist entrepreneurs of the sustainable economy! They even throwing around doubly-ironic accusation that they’re ‘only in it for the money’!

Well, duh!

Added to this blackly-comic hypocrisy is the new-found ability to spot the hitherto-conveniently-invisible cosy relationships between governments and corporations!

In a very real sense this is a generational struggle between the dead-hand of the bloated old oligarchies – and their allegedly ‘conservative’ allies – and the leaner-and-meaner enterprises of the future…

Thomas February 11, 2013 at 4:36 pm

…In a very real sense this is a generational struggle between the dead-hand of the bloated old oligarchies – and their allegedly ‘conservative’ allies – and the leaner-and-meaner enterprises of the future…

Unfortunately the dead-handed and sometimes bloated old oligarchs have sons and daughters and these more often than one would wish fail to develop the mental edge to rebel against the dead end memes of their parents and instead attempt to upscale them by double downing on the stupor of their respective nasty dynasties….(one could name a few here….)
Hence we have these “Young Right Wingers (…enter your national right wing party name here…)” as in “Young Republicans” and similar national breeding grounds ensuring the perpetuation of the age of stupid, rape and pillage of the planet….

Eli Rabett February 11, 2013 at 3:34 pm

The engineering quality report rears its head once more. Bob Grumbine, a reasonable fellow had a delightful time getting Mr. McIntyre to tell him what was meant by that Quite the thread

Nick February 24, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Oh,that is a priceless exchange! The Great Armwaver in retreat.

Macro February 11, 2013 at 3:58 pm

I thought Rod Vaughan was a better reporter than that.

Richard Christie February 12, 2013 at 11:24 am

Maybe, but the NBR is just a short step away from being a mouthpiece for the NZ Business Round Table.

David Lewis February 11, 2013 at 11:30 pm

An exerpt from an Eli Rabett comment he posted on McIntyre’s Climate Audit site:

“Make no mistake about it, Steve is right when he sensed a hardening of opinion against the Climate Audit/Watts crowd at AGU clearly based on an increasing understanding that the climate system is entering dangerous areas driven by human forcings and disgust at the tactics of those trying to stop any actions to deal with the problem.”

noelfuller February 13, 2013 at 10:01 am

McIntyre’s “Engineering report” Is a variety of doodlebug, something he can fly, about which he can generate noise and look wise and responsible, but is no more than a distraction.

Everyone is no doubt familiar with the prominent public figures who call for reports or commissions of enquiry on some issue to appear wise and responsible, but who do not actually say anything to the point. A strawman argument is also a kind of doodlebug I suppose, a distraction.

The term “Doodlebug” has been applied to almost anything from a slater to the V1 flying bomb – in the latter case something in the sky that makes a great deal of noise but does very little. Politically I have always applied the term to a proposition put forth by a government that they can easily back away from “out of respect for public opinion”, It attracts a great deal of debate (noise) while the government slips something really nasty through in stealth mode. An example in NZ not so long ago was aproposal to allow mining in several highly valued public lands. “Nothing has been decided”. The Greens claimed victory but somehow mining is going ahead in conservation estates. What may have been a reference to a doodlebug I heard in an impassioned speech by a Maori elder years ago, “The missionaries came and told us ‘Lookup, look up to God!’ We looked up to God. When we looked down again we found our land had gone.”

I am always reminded of an occasion when I was walking a grassy abandoned road through a portion of the local rainforest. A tui followed just behind me on the left, flitting from branch to branch. About every 5 or so seconds I would disturb a large black insect that flew up and curved behind me with a loud buzzing sound, “another doodlebug”. There would be a flurry of tui wings in hawking mode, the buzzing would suddenly cease. So, Tuis?

noelfuller February 13, 2013 at 10:04 am

New Zealand’s ETS is a doodlebug.

jrkrideau February 16, 2013 at 8:59 am

@ Rob Talyor & andyS

RE R Code

It is pretty obvious from the R code
See Deep Climate’s discussion at http://deepclimate.org/2010/11/16/replication-and-due-diligence-wegman-style/ . He includes a link to the code so that you can read the whole thing but the interesting bit is:

############################################
#SAVE A SELECTION OF HOCKEY STICK SERIES IN ASCII FORMAT
order.stat<-order(stat2,decreasing=TRUE)[1:100]
order.stat<-sort(order.stat)

starting at line 511 of the program.

SimonP February 16, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Nice analysis, it really does look like M&M intentionally biased their “random” sampling. It is worth pointing out that regardless how the data is normalised, the first primary component is almost invariably a hockey stick because that’s what in the data.
It really does make the NBR’s fawning articles (there was second one later on in the week) quite stupid. Comments on NBR’s website on any topic makes me wonder who actually reads it, I doubt that these are the managers who run our major companies.

SimonP February 16, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Oops, that should be first principal component.
Trying to edit a post just hangs for some reason.

Rob Taylor February 16, 2013 at 10:48 am

Thanks for the link, jrkrideau, which shows just how incompetent and dishonest McIntyre and McKitrick’s “analysis” of Michael Mann’s research was.

I doubt that Andy Scrase will read it though – too likely to rain on his parade!

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