Deep Climate investigation of denialist and “skeptic” attack on Hockey Stick temperature record


The investigative blogger Deep Climate has been working to set the record straight on how an orchestrated campaign by members of Congress, industry-funded global warming denialist groups and PR operatives, and professional “skeptics” has spread misleading information about the paleoclimate temperature record while launching attacks on the integrity of leading members of the science community. Two recent posts at Deep Climate – “Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, part 1: In the beginning,” and “Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, part 2: The story behind the Barton-Whitfield investigation and the Wegman Panel,” should be read in their entirety, along with Richard Littlemore’s post at DeSmogBlog – “Wegman’s Report Highly Politicized – and Fatally Flawed: ‘Independent’ Hockey Stick analysis revealed as Republican set-up,” and Joe Romm’s post of additional supporting material, links, and references at Climate Progress.

Here we take the liberty of re-posting at length some of the relevant text. See the original posts for full sets of embedded links:

Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, part 1: In the beginning
Deep Climate, February 4

The well-timed release of the stolen CRU emails (a.k.a. Climategate) did much to enhance public awareness of self-appointed climate science auditor Steve McIntyre and his long-time co-author and promoter, economist Ross McKitrick. Indeed, the pair has finally received widespread coverage in their native Canada with a spate of mainstream profiles full of fawning admiration from the CanWest newspaper chain, McLean’s magazine and the Toronto Star. That’s on top of new interest from the likes of Associated Press and CNN, along with coverage from the usual biased sources like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.

Those stories tell the tale of a humble retired mining executive (McIntyre), whose analysis of the “hockey stick” temperature reconstruction got the attention of economist Ross McKitrick, and eventually shook all of climate science to its core.  Of course, the reporters seem blissfully unaware that McIntyre and McKitrick have published exactly one – that’s right, uno – peer-reviewed article in a scientific journal. …

McIntyre’s thin publication record suggests that his prominence has less to do with any compelling scientific analysis, and much more to do with astute promotion. And, indeed, the McIntyre-McKitrick saga turns out to have the usual supporting cast of anti-science propaganda: two notorious right-wing think tanks (the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the George Marshall Institute) and a deft fossil-fuel company funded PR veteran operating behind the scenes (none other than Tom Harris of APCO Worldwide). …

M&M go to Washington

Late in 2003, McIntyre and McKitrick published their first joint paper in the contrarians’ favourite journal, Energy and Environment. “Corrections to the Mann et al (1998) Proxy Data Base and Northern Hemispheric Average Temperature Series” caused a minor sensation in climate skeptic circles. Hard on the heels of the paper came an invitation from the CEI-led Cooler Head Coalition and the George Marshall Institute to participate in the Washington Roundtable on Science and Public Policy series. McIntyre and McKitrick titled their presentation “The IPCC, the ‘Hockey Stick’ Curve, and the Illusion of Experience.”

At the time, both CEI and the Marshall Institute enjoyed funding from ExxonMobil. And CEI head Myron Ebell and Marshall president (and American Petroleum Institute ex-COO) William O’Keefe were both implicated in Bush administration efforts to water down official reports on climate science, as outlined in this one page excerpt from the Government Accountability Project report Redacting the Science of ClimateChange [See full 1.5 MB PDF]. …

In the fall of 2004, McIntyre and McKitrick finally explored alternatives for publication, targetting the AGU publication Geophysical Research Letters.  “Hockey sticks, principal components, and spurious significance” was received by GRL in October 2004, accepted on January 17, 2005, and published February 12, 2005.

As usual for such rare contrarian peer-reviewed scientific publications, the public relations campaign was ready to go. Indeed, the PR campaign preceded actual
publication by a full two weeks! …

Then, in a major coup, the Wall Street Journal featured McIntyre on its front page. Reporter Antonio Regalado portrayed the scientific debate as more or less a standoff and emphasized the doubts concerning the “hockey stick” of (mostly unnamed) scientists.

In a devastating critique for Environmental Science and Technology [“How the Wall Street Journal and Rep. Barton celebrated a global-warming skeptic: The untold story of how a front-page article and powerful U.S. politicians morphed former mining executive Stephen McIntyre into a scientific superstar”], Paul D. Thacker noted:

Decades of research have created a massive body of scientific literature on climate change, and thousands of new studies on the subject appear every year in different science journals. Yet, within weeks of publishing his first peer-reviewed study, McIntyre was profiled on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

Four days later, the Wall Street Journal editorial page praised Regalado’s reporting and launched an attack on the hockey stick, the IPCC, and the science of global warming.

Like the National Post before it, the Journal touted a narrow critique of dubious significance as a massive reversal of all paleoclimatology, and indeed all of climate science. And, like the National Post, the Journal has yet to reveal the story’s provenance, or the PR operatives behind it. …

As 2005 wore on, McIntyre and McKitrick were clearly rising stars in the contrarian firmament, thanks in no small part to the diverse efforts of their think tank and PR supporters, not to mention complaisant media outlets like the National Post and the Wall Street Journal. McIntyre and McKitrick’s inexcusable and enthusiastic co-operation with APCO’s sordid propaganda efforts, not to mention those of CEI and the Marshall Institute, continued to be ignored.

The time was approaching for ratcheting up the politically motivated attacks on climate science, in the form of an abusive investigation instigated by Republican congressmen Joe Barton and Ed Whitfield. That will be the subject of part 2 …

Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, part 2: The story behind the Barton-Whitfield investigation and the Wegman Panel
Deep Climate, February 8

Perhaps the most disturbing episode in the “hockey stick” controversy was the investigation of climate scientists by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee under Republican representatives Joe Barton and Ed Whitfield, and a subsequent report for that same committee by an “independent” panel led by George Mason University statistics professor Edward Wegman. In light of various renewed “skeptic” allegations of scientific misconduct against Michael Mann and Phil Jones, and my recent revelation of possible plagiarism and other questionable scholarship in the Wegman report, a complete review of the events of 2005-2006 would seem to be in order.

In short, the Energy and Commerce Committee refused the offer of a proper scientific review from the National Academy of Sciences in favour of an investigative process that was ad hoc, biased and unscientific. And the report resulting from that process is tainted with highly questionable scholarship.

I can now fill in important gaps in the timelines of the initial investigation and the Wegman panel. But more importantly my review has led to some startling conclusions:

•  Not only was the original Barton-Whitfield investigation (in the form of intimidating letters) inspired by the allegations of “climate science auditor”  Steve McIntyre, but the defining impetus seems to have been a little known Cooler Heads Coalition-Marshall Institute sponsored presentation by McIntyre and sidekick economist Ross McKitrick in Washington barely a month beforehand.
•  Energy and Commerce Committee Republican staffer Peter Spencer played a key but hitherto undisclosed role in the investigation and the subsequent Wegman panel report, and apparently acted as the main source and gatekeeper of climate science information for the panel.
•  Steve McIntyre was in communication with the Wegman panel, at least concerning technical questions around replication of his work. The full extent of McIntyre’s communications or meetings with Spencer or other staffers, as well as Wegman panelists, is still unknown. However, the record shows there were at least two intriguing opportunities for face-to-face meetings in Washington during the Wegman panel’s mandate.

All this, along with new information about the circumstances of the Wegman panel’s formation and mandate, raises serious doubts about the supposed independence of the Wegman panel. …

Wegman’s Report Highly Politicized—and fatally Flawed
Richard Littlemore at DeSmogBlog, February 8

“Independent” Hockey Stick analysis revealed as Republican set-up

The purportedly independent report that Dr. Edward Wegman prepared in 2006 for the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce was actually a partisan set-up, according to information revealed today.

Wegman, who had presented himself as an impartial “referee” between two “teams” debating the quality of the so-called Hockey Stick graph was, in fact, coached throughout his review by Republican staffer Peter Spencer. Wegman and his colleagues also worked closely with one of the teams (and especially with retired mining stock promoter Stephen McIntyre) to try to replicate criticism of the Hockey Stick graph, while at the same time foregoing contact with the actual authors of the seminal climate reconstruction.

The Hockey Stick refers to a graph (by Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes) that became a defining image of the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It also became a target for Steve McIntyre and the Guelph University economist Ross McKitrick, who since 2002, at least, has been a paid spokesperson for ExxonMobil-backed think tanks such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and the Fraser Institute.

According to a detailed analysis by the blogger Deep Climate, McIntyre and McKitrick’s criticism of the Hockey Stick graph was aggressively promoted and disseminated by an echo chamber of think tanks and blogs, all of which had financial or ideological associations with fossil fuel industry funders.

Then, in 2005, (and perhaps through the machinations of CEI climate specialist Myron Ebell), Republican Rep. and Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Joe Barton began calling for an investigation into the graph. But Barton rejected an offer from National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Ciccerone to conduct a formal and independent review in the highly professional manner typical of the nation’s foremost scientific body. Barton chose, instead, to engage a statistician (Wegman) from one of the most conservative institutions in the country (George Mason University) and to task him with setting up a team to dissect Mann’s Hockey Stick.

The result was predictable. Collaborating with McIntyre, Wegman’s team recreated and then endorsed the critical view of Michael Mann’s work. According to earlier revelations from Deep Climate, Wegman also cribbed—arguably plagiarized—work from Raymond Bradley, lifting whole sections of his 1999 textbook, but periodically changing material or inserting information calculated to cast doubt on the reliability of tree-ring data (the source of the MBH climate reconstruction). In the most outrageous example, suspiciously unattributed, Wegman’s report actually suggested that tree rings might be affected positively by automobile pollution. (”... oxides of nitrogen are formed in internal combustion engines that can be deposited as nitrates also contributing to fertilization of plant materials.”)

All this could be dismissed as typical politicking except for two things. First, because this was presented as an independent and impartial review, it is reasonable to ask whether Barton, Wegman, et al, are guilty of misleading Congress, a felony offense.

Second, the same echo chamber that promoted Steve McIntyre’s criticism of the Hockey Stick is now fully engaged accusing scientists of manipulating data to increase global concern about climate change. The manipulation of both data and public opinion are certainly evident in this story. Science has most certainly been politicized. But (thanks to Deep Climate’s careful research) the record shows that the manipulation and politicization has been bought and paid for by the energy industry and executed by a sprawling network of think tanks and blogs - and by leading Republicans and their staffers.

This is, at the very least, fodder for a Congressional investigation as to whether the Energy and Commerce Committee was, indeed, intentionally and perhaps disastrously misled.

“Independent” critique of Hockey Stick revealed as fatally flawed right-wing anti-science set up
Joe Romm at Climate Progress, February 8

Few scientists have been more victimized than Michael Mann, Director of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center.  Than again, few scientists have been more vindicated than Michael Mann (see “Penn State inquiry finds no evidence for allegations against Michael Mann” and below).

That’s why I feel compelled to keep doing my small part in helping to set the record straight as often as possible — and to publicize the tremendous work of others doing the same, such as the blogger Deep Climate, who has uncovered previously unknown details of just how some of the most fraudulent charges against Mann and the Hockey Stick graph were trumped up by the anti-science crowd in the first place. …

Yes, a Congressional investigation would be valuable to help set the record straight (see also this DeSmogBlog post [“Plagiarism? Conspiracies? Felonies? Breaking out the Wegman File”]).

Of course, the Hockey Stick graph was itself vindicated years ago in a thorough examination by a panel of the prestigious (and uber-mainstream) National Academy of Sciences (see NAS Report and here).  Indeed, the news story in the journal Nature (subs. req’d) on the NAS panel was headlined:

Academy affirms hockey-stick graph

Even more important than the fact that the original analysis was defensibly correct, is that the conclusions were correct [which could be true even if the analysis had flaws in it].  Is the planet now as hot (or hotter) than it has been in a millenium?  Try two millennia (see “Sorry deniers, hockey stick gets longer, stronger: Earth hotter now than in past 2,000 years,“ which discusses the PNAS study that is the source of the figure above ).  See also “Human-caused Arctic warming overtakes 2,000 years of natural cooling, ’seminal’ study finds,” the source of the figure below).

That’s why climatologist and one-time darling of the contrarians Ken Caldeira said last year, “To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous.”

Sadly, the ridiculous is what passes for serious analysis by the anti-science crowd and the media echo chamber — and that means long nights for those in the science blogosphere trying to set the record straight.

Previous CSW posts:
December 23, 2009: Reps. Joe Barton and James Sensenbrenner carried global warming denier message to Copenhagen

October 22, 2009: Climate Cover-Up: New book by the DeSmogBlog team is a take-down of the denial machine

October 14, 2009: Scientists return fire at CEI and Pat Michaels for bogus charges on global temperature data record


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