Wegman Report’s “abysmal scholarship” revealed

A detailed investigation into the genesis of the 2006 Wegman Report — much beloved of climate sceptics because it was critical of the “hockey stick” paleoclimate reconstructions of Michael Mann (et al) — has shown it to be deeply flawed, stuffed with poorly-executed plagiarism, and very far from the “independent, impartial, expert” effort it was presented as to Congress. The new 250 page study, Strange scholarship in the Wegman Report (exec summary, full report) by John Mashey (with considerable assistance from Canadian blogger Deep Climate) finds that:

  • a third of the Wegman Report was plagiarised from other sources, without attribution
  • half of the references in the bibliography are not cited in the main text, and one reference is to “a fringe technology publication by a writer of pseudoscience”
  • a graph of central England temperatures from the first IPCC report was distorted and misrepresented
  • the supposedly impartial Wegman team were fed papers and references by a member of Republican Congressman Joe Barton’s staff
  • Wegman’s social network analysis of the authorship of “hockey team” papers was poor, and did not support the claims made of problems with peer-review in the field

Mashey points out that Wegman “claimed two missions: to evaluate statistical issues of the “hockey stick” temperature graph, and to assess potential peer review issues in climate science”. Instead, its real purpose was to:

#1 claim the hockey stick broken and #2 discredit climate science as a whole. All this was a facade for a PR campaign well-honed by Washington, DC “thinktanks” and allies, under way for years.

If you’ve ever attempted to follow the “hockey stick” controversy, Mashey’s study is an incredibly thorough and detailed dissection of the extent to which the whole effort has been underpinned by the usual suspects — the network of well-funded think tanks and their political allies. His conclusion is telling:

I think this was a well-organized effort, involving many people, to mislead the American public and Congress. The former happens often, but the latter can be a felony, as is conspiracy to do it, and not telling about it. […] The Wegman Report misleads by avoidance of good scholarship, good science and even good statistics.

More on the Wegman scandal at Deep Climate, Not Spaghetti, and Scott Mandia’s Global Warming: Man or Myth?

Michael Mann fights back

One sometimes wonders how the scientists most reviled by the denial industry are bearing up under the onslaught.  Michael Mann is one of them, so I was interested to listen to him being interviewed by Chris Mooney on a recent Point of Inquiry podcast. Here is a summary of some of Mann’s responses (not an accurate transcript, though mostly in his words):

On the science:

The bottom line is the basic physics and chemistry of the greenhouse effect. Observation that the globe is warming and that the warming is unusual in the long term context fits what the basic physics and chemistry says. After decades of work by thousands of scientists round the world pursuing every lead – thinking of all the possible different explanations of the phenomena they observe – there is literally no evidence that calls into question the basic radiative properties of greenhouse gases.  You increase greenhouse gas concentrations, you will warm the atmosphere. Questioning that basic reality is almost like questioning the spherical nature of the Earth.

What scientists actually spend time debating and pursuing are issues like feedbacks – the processes that might amplify or diminish that warming. There are open questions relating to such matters as clouds, El Ninos, hurricanes, and so on, which are being actively pursued. But on the basic issue – the scientific community moved on from that question decades ago.


On the strategy of attacks on the science:

The critiques almost never actually discredit a line of evidence or a basic conclusion. They take some small technical part of an analysis, try to manufacture a controversy about that to essentially discredit the work by finding some small potential flaw with one part of an analysis.

On the hockey stick:

There are more than a  dozen reconstructions; every one of them comes to the same conclusion as our decade-old work that the recent warming is anomalous in at least 1000 years.  Our attackers never want to look at the big picture, never want to look at whether they have any impact on the bottom-line conclusions, because they know that they don’t.

Even if they had been successful in taking down the hockey stick, which they haven’t been, it still wouldn’t amount to undermining the central case for the science.

On concealing data:

All of our data was available in the public domain and any claim to the contrary was dishonest.  The question of making codes public is different and is not considered required as general practice. However I and my collaborators have made a decision to put every scrap of code as well as every scrap of data in public domain at the time we publish a paper.  We’ve gone beyond what the standards of the community are.

On Phil Jones request to delete emails:

It was an email he wrote in the heat of the moment. He was under attack.  Keep in mind this guy  received something like 40 freedom of information demands over a weekend. He was being harassed intentionally and the freedom of information demands that were being made were for materials that CRU legally could not even distribute.  These were frivolous demands. Under that sort of harassment people sometimes say foolish things – we certainly didn’t delete any emails and I don’t think he did himself

On the “trick”:

This is a good example of how those working to make mischief can take a term that they probably fully know is perfectly innocent in scientific lingo, but exploiting the fact that it sounds very different to a non-technical person. It shows the disingenuousness of those leading the attack. They intentionally misrepresent words and phrases cherry-picked from thousands of emails in a cynical attempt to distort the scientists’ views and cast aspersions on a scientific discipline.

On fighting back:

The idea that scientists under siege should unilaterally disarm, give in to the sometimes criminal attacks of the anti-science forces looking to discredit them and their science, not stick up for their science and their colleagues, not fight back against these criminal efforts to misrepresent them and to impugn their integrity – it would be terribly misplaced if scientists were not to do all they can to fight back

On the difficulties:

Our detractors are extremely well funded, extremely well organised, they have had an attack infrastructure for decades. They developed it during the tobacco wars, they honed it further in other efforts to attack science that industry or other special interests find inconvenient. So they have a very well honed, well funded, organised machine that they are bringing to bear in their attack now against climate science.  It’s like a marine in a battle with a cub scout when it comes to the scientists defending themselves.  We don’t have the resources, the experience: we haven’t been trained, we’re not public relations experts, lawyers, lobbyists, we’re scientists. It’s a classic example of asymmetric warfare.

Many of us didn’t believe it would come to this – the scientific case for the reality of human-caused climate change has been clear now for several years, though there is much we have still to learn. Many of us thought, perhaps somewhat naively that in the end science would carry the day, that the strength of the scientific consensus would be enough. I wasn’t so sure. But what we all underestimated was the degree, the depth of dishonesty, the dirtiness, and cynicism to which the climate change denial movement would be willing to stoop to advance their agenda.


A stout defence from Michael Mann.  What he wasn’t asked and doesn’t say is how high the stakes are.  But anyone who has taken the trouble to understand the basic science knows they are very high indeed.  The attack on climate science is an attack on all humanity.  Not one for which the perpetrators are likely to be called to account, and perhaps it won’t really matter that they’re not.  What matters more is that they call off the campaign, though one suspects that even if they wanted to, the forces they have loosed have so committed themselves that they will not heed any call to come to heel. Meanwhile those of us who are not climate scientists but can see the danger we are in must offer strong support to the science and opposition to the insidious campaign of denial.

Climate Cover-Up

Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming

“This is a story of betrayal, a story of selfishness, greed, and irresponsibility on an epic scale.” That’s how James Hoggan opens his newly published book Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming. Hoggan initially thought there was a fierce  scientific controversy about climate change. Sensibly he did a lot of reading, only to find to his surprise that there was no such controversy. How did the public confusion arise?  There was nothing accidental about it. As a public relations specialist, Hoggan observed with gathering horror a campaign at work.

“To a trained eye the unsavoury public relations tactics and techniques and the strategic media manipulation became obvious. The more I thought about it, the more deeply offended I became.”

DeSmogBlog was born to research the misinformation campaigns and share the information widely. This book pulls together some of that research in an organised narrative. Richard Littlemore has assisted Hoggan in the writing.

Climate scientists are sometimes blamed for not communicating their message clearly enough to the public. If they tried to match the efforts of the denial campaigners as detailed by Hoggan they wouldn’t have any time to do their science. Those who vociferously claim that anthropogenic global warming is still uncertain and doubtful certainly don’t spend time and money on any science. That is not what they are interested in. As far back as 1991 a group of coal-related organisations set out, in their own words, “to reposition global warming as a theory (not fact)” and “supply alternative facts to support the suggestion that global warming will be good.” This was the pattern of the work done in succeeding years by a variety of corporations and industry associations who devoted considerable financial resources to influence the public conversation. They used slogans and messages they had tested for effectiveness but not accuracy.  They hired scientists prepared to say in public things they could not get printed in the peer-reviewed scientific press. They took advantage of mainstream journalists’ interest in featuring contrarian and controversial science stories. They planned “grassroots” groups to give the  impression that they were not an industry-driven lobby. New Zealand’s Climate “Science” Coalition and the International Coalition it helped to found fit this purpose nicely.

Hoggan describes the work of many individuals and organisations who are available for spreading the doctrine of doubt. Conservative think tanks such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) have played a major part in the task in the new millenium. Their donors are well disguised, but in the case of CEI have certainly in the past included ExxonMobil and probably GM and Ford. Their advocacy, such as the infamous TV commercials portraying the benefits of carbon dioxide, obviously involves heavy expenditure.

Lists of scientists reportedly expressing dissent over anthropogenic global warming have become a staple of the denial crusade. Hoggan discusses some of these lists and comments:

“The beauty of this tactic as a method of keeping the debate alive is that none of these ‘scientists’ ever have to conduct any actual research or put their views forward to be tested in the scientific peer-review process. They don’t even have to be experts in a related field. And they certainly don’t have to win the argument. As long as groups of scientists are seen to be disagreeing, the public continues to assume that the science is uncertain.”

Apparent throughout Hoggan’s book is the lack of substance to the denial campaign. According to them, the Mann hockey stick is a “notorious intellectual swindle”. The impression is sedulously fostered that statistical investigation has shown the graph to be false. But Hoggan points out that the ideologists are uncurious about whether Mann’s work has been tested by other scientists or confirmed or falsified by the use of other methods or other proxy data sources. He dryly comments that the reason is that the other climate-reconstruction graphs published since Mann produce enough hockey sticks to outfit a whole team and then some.

A significant movement in the campaign in more recent times has been a change of emphasis from denial that anthropogenic warming is occurring to claims that there is no need to rush into measures to mitigate it. Bjorn Lomborg argues with apparent passion that he also cares about climate change, but that careful economic analysis shows that more pressing problems like AIDS, malnutrition, and the provision of fresh water to people in the developing world are more important matters and unfortunately don’t at this stage leave enough money for climate change mitigation. Frank Maisano specialises in media communication. He supplies thousands of reporters and important people in industry and politics with useful material on energy issues.  Underlying it though is a consistent argument that climate change, though real, is either impossible or too expensive to fix.

In his chapter on the manipulated media Hoggan acknowledges the complexity issue in relation to global warming. Indeed he extends a lot of understanding to reporters and editors.  They are under pressure and the science takes some understanding. The temptation to fall back on balance has been strong. However he notices that increasingly the balance model is being abandoned, and is insistent that it’s past time for people in the media to check their facts and start sharing them ethically and responsibly with the public.

Hoggard’s book is a thoughtful and sustained exposure of  a movement which has done great harm. I read it with close interest and shared his dismay. I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how denial has had such a charmed run. His presentation is painstaking and reasonable. There’s nothing shrill about it, and his justifiable anger is relatively muted.  He urges his readers not to take him at face value but to do some checking of his material and satisfy themselves that it is reliable. Nevertheless the activity he describes is rightly characterised as betrayal, selfishness, greed and irresponsibility. The people who have launched the highly successful campaign of denial and delay are not attending to the work of a body of outstanding scientists although that work is of utmost import for human life. They have turned what should have been a public policy dialogue driven by science into a theatre for a cynical public relations exercise of the most dishonest kind. Instead of looking at the seriousness of the warnings they have sensed a threat to their business profitability and made that their motivating factor. They have spread a false complacency and the result has been a twenty year delay in addressing an issue of high urgency.

Hoggard thought at first that David Suzuki was a bit over the top when he wondered out loud whether there was a legal way of throwing Canada’s so-called leaders into jail for criminal action (or inaction) in relation to climate change. But then he recognised Suzuki was right, in the sense that it will indeed be a crime if we do not demand of our leaders that they start fixing this problem, beginning today.

“And the punishment will be visited on our children and on their children through a world that is unrecognisable, perhaps uninhabitable.”

Hit somebody! (The hockey song)

0901hockeythumb.png Expect a renewed interest in the shape of hockey sticks, as a new paper in the Proceedings of National Academy Of Sciences (PNAS) by Michael Mann (et al) finds that the last decade was the warmest for at least 1,300 years. The BBC headlines the story “Climate “hockey stick” is revived”, which rather stretches the facts about the controversy (nicely covered in the piece). More coverage at Mongabay, which notes:

The results confirm that temperatures today in the Northern Hemisphere are higher than those of the Medieval warm period, a time when the Vikings colonized Greenland are are believed to have become the first Europeans to visit North America.

Sounds like a red rag to sceptic bulls to me. Expect much nit-picking and fulmination. The rest of us will get on with trying to sort out the problem.

Mann et al. (2008). Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia. PNAS September 9, 2008 vol. 105 no. 36 (PDF available here)

When Gray turns to blue/Flung a dummy

gray.jpg In a dramatic announcement today, Vincent R Gray, the retired coal researcher and diligent proof-reader of IPPC Working Group Reports (he’s inordinately proud of the fact that he submitted over 1,800 comments to the fourth report) has resigned from the Royal Society of New Zealand because of its recent statement on climate change. Given that Gray has been criticising the IPCC view of climate science for 18 years and is a vocal member of the NZ C”S”C, this is perhaps no surprise, but the statement he has issued as a riposte to the Royal Society is a minor classic of its genre. Vincent doesn’t so much spit the dummy as hurl it into low earth orbit, and uses pretty forthright language as he does so.

[Hat tip: Sam Vilain in a recent comment]

Continue reading “When Gray turns to blue/Flung a dummy”