Sidebar to Mr. Wright's
"Climategate: The biggest swindle ever"


Erik the Red and the case
of the discredited hockey stick




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Erik the Red, Pieter Brueghel, and Hans Brinker taught me about Global Warming.

I read about Erik the Red in junior high school. He was the Norse explorer who discovered and founded colonies on Iceland and Greenland, in the 10th century. At the time, part of the coast of Greenland was actually green, with flourishing grasslands ideal for pasture: thus the name. And the agricultural colonies Erik established on Greenland thrived for a while. But after about 300 years the weather turned colder; the grass was covered year-round in snow. The last colony died out in the early 1400s — in part, apparently, because its members refused to adopt the fishing and seal-hunting lifestyle of the nearby natives, who adapted well to the new conditions. No one has attempted to farm in Greenland since.

Hans Brinker is a novel by Mary Mapes Dodge set in early 19th century Holland, revolving around an ice-skating race held on a frozen canal. I saw a movie based on it when I was a kid. And Pieter Brueghel the Elder was an eminent 16th century Flemish painter whose works I discovered when I visited the Low Countries in winter in the 1970s. His peasant paintings include some charming winter landscapes, showing villages covered in heavy snow and people frolicking on frozen-over ponds. That was quite a contrast to modern Holland and Belgium at the same time of year, where there was hardly any snow to be found, and anyone who tried to walk or skate on the canals would probably have needed a wet suit. I was told it had been that way for nearly 100 years.

The lesson, of course, is that the climate has fluctuated over the last couple of millennia, with both warm and cool periods. The climate of Julius Caesar's time was apparently warmer than today's, and a 500-year period between A.D. 800 and the early 1300s was warmer still — making possible not only sheep-herding in Greenland but also an immense expansion of population and prosperity in Europe. The polar bears apparently did all right, too. The Medieval Warm Period was immediately followed by the Little Ice Age — beginning with a precipitous drop in temperature coincidental with the Black Death and the Great Famine. It reached its nadir from about 1645 to 1715 — coincidental with a record low in sunspot activity — and ended about 1850. Temperatures then began the climb to today's moderate levels — long before carbon dioxide levels were boosted by the products of modern industrialism.

It's a lesson that the proponents of the Global Warming scare don't want you to know. The "hockey stick" graph, a purported record of global temperatures over hundreds of years, doesn't recognize either the Medieval Warm Period or the Little Ice Age, showing instead a fairly flat temperature line ending in a huge rise after the middle of the 19th Century. Put together by Penn State "scientist" Michael Mann and others and published in 1998, it was the original backbone of the scare movement, and was used in Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth." Remembering Erik the Red, though, I knew something wasn't right.

So did a Canadian mathematician named Stephen McIntyre, who, along with economist Ross McKitrick, looked at the same data used by Mann, and came up with a completely different picture. The temperatures from the period before regular records were kept were based on "proxy data," that is, other information that was supposedly analogous to temperature, such as the width of tree rings. However, in comparing modern tree-ring data with observed temperatures, they found that they didn't match. The data were not useful indicators of temperature, because too many other variables can affect the width of tree rings. (See "More on Hockey Sticks: the Case of Jones et al [1998]" [PDF], by Stephen McIntyre, U.S. Climate Change Workshop, November 2005.)

But that's not all. The tree-ring proxy data were grafted onto the later-observed temperature recordings using a complex mathematical formula, which had not been revealed to the public and which McIntyre and McKitrick were able to pry away from Mann only after a prolonged legal struggle. What McIntyre found was that the formula yielded a "hockey stick" profile no matter what numbers were put into it. The "hockey stick" graph was, not to put too fine a point on it, a fraud. (See "Hockey sticks, principal components, and spurious significance" [PDF], by Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, Geophysical Research Letters, February 12, 2005.)

These revelations should have rammed a spike in the wheel of the scaremongers four or five years ago. But they were largely ignored by Minitrue, and instead, the scare gathered steam, helped along by the consummate opportunism and mendacity of Al Gore with his movie, book, and lectures. All of those are full of easily disproven untruths, but they, along with his investments in "green" enterprises dependent on government fiat, are apparently making Gore a pile of money.

Now come the most recent revelations: a huge download of computer files from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, which throw huge doubt on the integrity of its temperature data. The CRU has one of two surface-temperature data sets used in climate research, obtained from readings from weather stations all over the world. The other is maintained by Professor James Hansen at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who, the files reveal, has been a close collaborator with the CRU in compromising the temperature record. In any case, it was CRU data that were used to back various UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pronouncements that have given the warming scare the color of Holy Writ.

Two other data sets are obtained from satellites, which are able to sense atmospheric temperatures at higher altitudes. However, the satellite data are not absolute: they must be calibrated using data from ... the CRU and Goddard. Together, this is the "huge amount of data" we are told supports the Global Warming scenario in the face of this "insignificant" scandal.

As revealed in a fascinating paper published by the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), "Climategate: Caught Green-Handed!" (PDF), the purloined files show that a small clique of "scientists" has hijacked the climate debate and actively conspired to lie to the public. One example that has gotten some publicity, only to be pooh-poohed by the establishment, is e-mails revealing that Michael Mann of Penn State and others used a statistical trick to hide the fact that modern tree-ring data do not match up with instrument data — as noted by McIntyre and McKitrick — thus discrediting much of the basis of the warming theory.

Another is revealed in computer code used for climate calculations. Various "fudge factors" or artificial tweaks were inserted to make the calculations come out the way the "scientists" wanted. Programmers complained in e-mails that they were unable to make sense of much of the data, and inserted hidden comments in the code itself about how the results would be compromised.

There is more, much more. Read "Climategate: Caught Green-Handed!" to find out.

December 13, 2009

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