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What a night..

Well that was exciting wasn't it? I rolled in from the local hostelry at 11pm to find a message waiting for me from BBC News and the most extraordinary pair of articles about Phil Jones on the BBC website.

The BBC were pushing this story, which seems to have been some colleagues telling tales about the state of Jones' office, the spin being that Jones' untidiness is the reason he can't lay his hand on his data. This doesn't really ring true to me. In the emails, Jones was telling his Hockey Team colleagues that he was going to refuse to release the data, not that he couldn't lay his hands on it. If he really couldn't lay his hands on it, you would have expected him to start trying to collate the data anew, wouldn't you? And anyway, what was it that he sent to Peter Webster at Georgia Tech? I'm profoundly uncomfortable about this story.

Far more interesting is this Q&A between Harrabin and Jones, in which Jones announces that the existence of the Medieval Warm Period is still a matter for debate, a step that for most people would be enough to win them the "denier" label. He says only that "there's evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity". Most of us thought that the science was "settled".

The whole thing is a must-read, but it's also worth standing back and marvelling at Professor Jones' ability to express uncertainty in a manner that will be readily comprehensible to the layman. This is something that we have been told many times is very difficult to do. Perhaps we are getting somewhere now.


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Reader Comments (40)

I fully agree we are getting somewhere, and Harrabin's newfound determination to brief himself on sceptical arguments and ask hard questions was foreshadowed in his remarks on the Gabby Logan show if you listen carefully. When people are doing prodigal son U turns it is sometimes best to let them keep a bit of their self respect by welcoming them with fatted calves rather than kicking them.

That said, there are two things to note: first, that Jones was not asked about UHI and Jones et al 1990/the Wang affair. Second, that this story broke late on a Friday, always the spin doctor's favourite time to get bad news out.

Harrabin needs names of British sceptical scientists to interview: suggestions would be a good plan.

Feb 13, 2010 at 10:17 AM | Unregistered Commenteroptimist

"Harrabin needs names of British sceptical scientists to interview:"

To be fair he asked Anthony Watts of WUWT for names of "sceptics" in the field in an academic post. The problem is that you can't get an academic post in the UK in the field if you are a sceptic and I posted on this at the time. A number of suggestions were put forward on the blog, some sensible, some not. If he wants an articulate and competent UK sceptic, Harrabin knows where to find one.

I have to say that I don't trust him or his "Road-to-Damascus" moment. Within a day of the review "Team" being announced (and starting to fall apart), the main focus of its attention is allowed to state his case and come across as the essence of sweet reason who has never said Boo! to a goose.

Now what institution would be a PR hack's dream for such an interview? The Quarterly Journal of the Amalgamated Society of Norwich Turkey Farmers, Climate Scientists and Allied Trades or, say, the BBC? Tough call, that.

If Muir was serious about his review, the first thing he'd have said is "No media interviews, please This is a disciplinary matter. If you are approached by the media, refer them to my office." Over a month in and it's a free for all - either The Team is not in control (which I don't buy - Muir has been round the block) or it sanctioned the interview.

So, the review is to be held behind closed doors (which means that the case against Jones is private) but his case is given the full glare of publicity before the review even starts work. As I said yesterday (and will no doubt say tomorrow), it stinks.

Feb 13, 2010 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterDave B

But surely we all know the inquiry is going to be a whitewash?

The Establishment are hell-bent on getting their new taxes and new powers in place and will do what's required to make this happen. The panel was chosen because they're all "good chaps" who know the drill and what's expected of them. I'm sure their rewards will turn up in the post at the next Honours list.

Then they'll use the result to show how they've been right all along and the "deniers" are just out to cause trouble and hurt the chiiiiildren (and polar bears of course).

Feb 13, 2010 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohnRS

I think Jones comes across quite well. I think Harrabin is trying hard but his argument with Richard North over the word 'stolen' on the Gaby Logan programme shows where his natural bias lies. I suspect that over the next few months the debate may become more nuanced as those with the influence attempt to legitimise some of the criticisms of the 'we're all going to die' theory whilst maintaining the central tenet that large scale reductions in CO2 levels are necessary. Jones comments on the MWP are the kind of thing I'm thinking about here - 'yes it might have been as hot then but the last 30 years is still unprecedented'.

There is also an increasing amount of 'well if they are so smart why don't they do it?' appearing in the press - e.g Jones comments on the historical record.

Feb 13, 2010 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterDan

I found Phil's answers to question A and questions H and I difficult to reconile

Question A - Do you agree that according to the global temperature record used by the IPCC, the rates of global warming from 1860-1880, 1910-1940 and 1975-1998 were identical?

Answer - So, in answer to the question, the warming rates for all 4 periods are similar and not statistically significantly different from each other.

Here are the trends and significances for each period:
(I presume Roger put these in - I have added my approximate guess at correspond rates of increase in CO2 levels for each period. No doubt someone will input the correct rates)

Period Length Trend
(Degrees C per decade) Significance
1860-1880 21 0.163 (Rise in CO2 levels ~5ppm per decade)
1910-1940 31 0.15 (Rise in CO2 levels ~5ppm per decade)
1975-1998 24 0.166 (Rise in CO2 levels ~20ppm per decade)
1975-2009 35 0.161 (Rise in CO2 levels ~20ppm per decade)

Question H - If you agree that there were similar periods of warming since 1850 to the current period, and that the MWP is under debate, what factors convince you that recent warming has been largely man-made?

Answer - The fact that we can't explain the warming from the 1950s by solar and volcanic forcing

Question I - Would it be reasonable looking at the same scientific evidence to take the view that recent warming is not predominantly manmade?

Answer No

Feb 13, 2010 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil

Wow squared!

I agree with you that Mr Jones’ comments would be enough to get him the label denier. First rule of AGW club, don’t talk about AGW club. He and Roger Harrabin deserve respect for these articles, you won’t get anything like this from Mann.

Basically, like most AGW believers, Phil Jones is taking scientists’ word as proof. AGW isn’t a huge conspiracy, it’s a daisy chain of misplaced trust. Each element of AGW theory relies on the others being accurate. Do we have a case of positive climate feedback?

The interviews and answers tie in largely with what we’ve thought all along. So ignoring the tatty state of the instrument data, the major sceptic versus believer question that remains is - how do they arrive at their equation for ‘natural’ warming so that the modern warming must be mostly CO2 related?

If Roger Harrabin really wants to start leading the journalistic field rather than following the bloggers he needs to start delving into the work that is being done at other institutions or departments.

Feb 13, 2010 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Sorry about the glitch in the table I copied from Roger's interview.
Please ignore ignore the request to ring the USA number!

Feb 13, 2010 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil

The feedback is not in the climate, but in the researchers.

Feb 13, 2010 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeal Asher

I'm sorry, but Mr Harrabin does not deserve respect for these belated questions. Mr Harrabin gets paid, day in, day out, to cover accurately and competitively developments in his field - the environment. He also does it with probably lavish funding from the tax-payer - a level of resourcing which should give him an advantage in his field. The fact that he works for the prestigious BBC also should give him unrivalled access to sources.

In short, professionally, he has every advantage. And yet he has missed the biggest environmental story of his career. Missed it, missed it, and missed it again.

This is not a story about a sinner repenting, or a Prodigal Son returning. It's about a man who despite all his professional advantages, blew it.

All I want to know from him - all I want to know now - is 'Why?'

Feb 13, 2010 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterMichael Taylor

You've got the URL wrong for the first BBC story, it should end in 8511701.stm, not 8511670.stm (which is the URL for the Q&A story).

Feb 13, 2010 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnon

"pushing this story" links to the Q&A URL. Was that intended?

Feb 13, 2010 at 12:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterAJC

"AGW isn’t a huge conspiracy, it’s a daisy chain of misplaced trust. Each element of AGW theory relies on the others being accurate."

Very well put, TinyCO2. Wish I'd said it (and I probably will . . .)

Feb 13, 2010 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave B

Period Length Trend
(Degrees C per decade) Significance
1860-1880 21 0.163 Yes
1910-1940 31 0.15 Yes
1975-1998 24 0.166 Yes

I don't understand why nobody asks him if he had noticed the very obvious 30 year cycle here...
1850-1880 ; 1880-1910 ; 1910-1940 ; 1940-1970 ; 1970-2000

Feb 13, 2010 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin

And why all proxy reconstructions shows a less important rise in temperature than the instrumental record for the 1970-2000 upward trend....

Feb 13, 2010 at 12:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin

The state of the untidyness of Jones' office is nonsense. I was notorious for an untidy office, which is inevitable when working on several projects. However, working under a rigorous quality management system meant that everything was archived and meticulously documented, so that auditors were always having to delve into the minutest of detail to try and find something amiss. There is no excuse for Jones' behaviour.

Feb 13, 2010 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Phil gave up everything.
Warming is not unprecedented.
The hockey stick shaft has the mwp back and is as bent as the paddle again.
It's not the warmest evar.

That is everything they've been battling over this whole time and he gave it up.

As a bonus, he admitted that the proof of AWG is 'd'oh, I dunno'.

This is the execution order for AWG. I'll call it D'oh-gate.

Feb 13, 2010 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave McK

If the BBC wants sceptical scientists views you would think that with the access they have to media such as television, radio, internet it would not be too difficult to request relevant input.

Feb 13, 2010 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Assuming that Prof. Jones' comments are as significant as they seem to be, I am curious as to what triggered this degree of openness. His responses surely were reviewed by PR and lawyers at CRU/UEA so one can assume their import were fully recognized. My hypothesis, for what it is worth, is that the source of the leak is now known and with it the scope of what might also follow. Thoughts?

Feb 13, 2010 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernie

It seems hardly possible to find the Q&A article through the normal route: BBC-Science and technology.

When Dr Phil admits that the debate is not over and that even the MWP might have been warmer than today, it is an entirely new development in climate science, and should today's headline on Science and technology along with the presentation piece: "not well organized".

There isn't even a link from the article to the Q&A.

Is BBC hiding their defeat?

Feb 13, 2010 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterOslo

"the spin being that Jones' untidiness is the reason he can't lay his hand on his data. This doesn't really ring true to me. In the emails, Jones was telling his Hockey Team colleagues that he was going to refuse to release the data, not that he couldn't lay his hands on it."

I think this is not referring to the state of his desk, but more like what you see in Harry Read Me. The reason the data was not released was because it was in no fit state, - being a chaotic tangle of inconsistently modified databases and hacked-together ad hoc adjustments, the original data and audit trail never having been archived, much of which he could probably no longer remember how to reproduce, and it was out of sheer red-faced embarrassment that he decided he would rather delete it than have it exposed.

Thus, it was not a deliberate plot to deceive the world on global warming, but a rank amateur who bluffed professionalism and then got in deep over his head. Harry tells the story best.

Feb 13, 2010 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterPa Annoyed

Jones and the BBC are at the stage of trying to re-negotiate their credibility. Negotiation is the third stage of psychological retreat, after Stage 1 (Denial: The debate is settled) and Stage 2 (Anger: Those Big Oil-funded deniers are trying to sabotage the planet).

The aim is to concede some outlying ground (maybe sacrifice Pachauri and Mann as 'rogues') while trying to keep the AGW structure basically intact, and present themselves as reasonable people really.

The question is, is anybody going to buy this?

Feb 13, 2010 at 2:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

"Warming is not unprecedented.
The hockey stick shaft has the mwp back and is as bent as the paddle again.
It's not the warmest evar."

Those three are all the same thing - the claim that the warming is not unprecedented.

Why does it need to be unprecedented? Even without the MWP it is known that it isn't.

How do you get from 'global MWP under debate' to 'global MWP is a fact'?

For that matter why are 'sceptics' so quick to claim the MWP was global in extent, when you are so slow to accept a far better documented global warming that is going on right now?

Feb 13, 2010 at 3:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

Some are asking why we should respect Mr Harrabin for doing what he should have been doing all along. Well, because any steps in the right direction are to be welcomed.

Phil and Roger are from deep in the core of AGW territory. It’s hard to head outward from that position. Let’s face it, Mann and his university managed to come up with the 'deny everything defence'. We need the insiders to admit that all is not perfect with climate science (and not just to each other in emails). The BBC would be one of the most significant bastions of AGW power, to get on our side.

The media prefers absolutes. It was easier to think that sceptics really were deniers, deniers who were funded by Exxon and who were ignorant, beer swilling, petrol heads. The scientists were clearly the good side. People trying to save the planet from a fiery, CO2 laden doom. Reality is more nuanced. Sceptics rarely disagree that increasing CO2 should have some effect, the real question is a matter (literally) of degree.

While bloggers have made huge strides in punching holes in AGW certainty it needs to go mainstream. The more impetus we can build, the more likely that data and methods will be released. Standards will be improved. There’s still the huge area of playstation climate modelling. It may take more than whistle blowers and clever bloggers to breach that fortress.

Let’s face it, AGW theory could be right. The shaky state of the science and data may be covering up a situation that’s ‘worse than we thought’ ;-) While there are scalps I’d like to see taken in the war against dodgy climate science, I’d forgo that satisfaction in exchange for a speedy resolution.

Feb 13, 2010 at 3:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

A few possibilities:

Phil is confident their very narrow political and scientific consensus has fixed some policy decisions that are unlikely to be undone so can freely admit to what is uncertain.

The alarmism is about to shift to something else. Ocean acidification?

It might even mean more research funding too because there is so much they don't know. Perhaps Phil fears settled science would mean no more funding for him.

Feb 13, 2010 at 3:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Mr O'Dwyer - it is well known that climate varies. There have been periods of warming comparable to anything seen in the recent past. And they've all been the result of natural variation.

Further, on your point of 'well-documented' - well, where's the documentation? The satellite data sets don't show anything 'going on right now', it ended a decade ago. The surface temperature record is the opposite of 'well-documented' - it's a shambles, and the NOAA folks and others have been stripping down the number of reported stations and resorting to other manipulations in an effort to show the trend they want to see.

Feb 13, 2010 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterJEM


"And they've all been the result of natural variation."

But that doesn't follow. More people died of the Black Death in the middle ages than died in WW2 in the 20th century. Does that mean Hitler didn't start the war and they all died of natural causes?

"Further, on your point of 'well-documented' - well, where's the documentation?"

Thermometers, glacier retreat, sea level rise, increase in ocean heat content, biosphere response. This evidence is rather better than that for a global MWP (like that really matters) isn't it?

Feb 13, 2010 at 4:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

This was quite a good interview by Harrabin.
Clearly he has been in contact with skeptics who have primed him with the right questions.

Jones is starting a climb-down.
For example he was forced to admit that the increase rate is no higher now than 1910-1940.
But if you look at IPCC ch 3 (written by Jones and Trenberth) they claimed then that the recent rise was faster.

Feb 13, 2010 at 4:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterBoulton_Must_Go


Most climate scientists are in NH, so there are more proxy studies conducted in NH, but there are plenty of peer reviewed papers showing a strong MWP all over the world.

list of papers for all 7 continents

Feb 13, 2010 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterwindansea
...almost certainly is not the email referred to, but it does reveal a measure of confusion about the origins and authenticity of fig 7.1c from the 1990 IPCC report. It includes remarks on various potential sources such as:
"like something we might sketch on a napkin at a party for some overly persistent
inquisitor" and
"that's how a crude fax from Jack Eddy became the definitive IPCC record on the last
millennium!" and
"It shows how you can embellish a diagram and even get Rembrandt in!" and
"I've also seen many other embellishments mentioning Greenland, the Vikings,
Vineyards in York, frost fairs on the Thames etc. Also I've emailed over
the years for the numbers in the 1990 IPCC Figure. I even got a digitized
version once from Richard Tol and told him what he'd done was
...and so forth.

Worth a read, if only for light entertainment.

Feb 13, 2010 at 5:08 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer


Whilst you may disbelieve the untidiness line, can I point out that a US journalist recently interviewed James Hansen and wrote afterwards that his office was 'comically cluttered'.
Hansen phoned the next day to say it was much tidier than it used to be.

Now personally, I think a comically cluttered office makes it less likely that its inhabitant will be capable of producing precise work.

As it appears that our two leading Temperature scientists would need outside help to locate their desk under the pile of papers and unwashed coffee cups it doesn't give me a lot of confidence in the precision of their data.


Feb 13, 2010 at 5:21 PM | Unregistered Commentertonyb

Clutter is merely a "neat rat's nest". "Disorganized" relates to incoherency, lost threads of argument, failure to state assumptions-facts-conclusions in any intelligible order. For an overview of well-ordered scientific inquiry into extremely abstruse and tangled matters, see James Watson's book "The Double Helix", relating his work with Francis Crick that seminally depicted DNA.

Climate studies involving complex dynamic atmospheric systems can be no more demanding than what faced Watson and Crick in 1954. The difference between them and Briffa, Hansen, Jones, Mann, Trenberth et al. is purely qualitative, a matter of acting in good faith without false pretenses. Regardless of how close-knit Green Gangs of AGW propagandists spin their decades-long deceit in retrospect, they have intentionally and with malice aforethought violated every canon of valid scientific inquiry.

As it appears, only by sheerest happenstance was this extraordinarily abusive and destructive scam revealed in late November 2009. The goal must now be to extirpate Warmists' cancer root-and-branch, put stops in place that guarantee no such Luddite sociopaths ever rise to prominence again. Meantime we note that despite continued grant monies, no major Climate Cultists have published anything of substance since last year. Quite probably, none of them from Jones and Mann on down ever will again.

Parenthetically, creative imagination far outweighs "intelligence" in science as in any other human art. "Smart money" goes to Wall Street, where customers' yachts somehow never make it down the ways. Bernie Madoff, anyone?

Feb 13, 2010 at 6:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Blake

Talk about your cherry picking! The Q&A was tutorial in denial, asking if every warming period was significant (which it had to be since it followed a cooling period - duh!). And Jones demonstrates his ability to mislead is still solid. His definition of statistical significance is not universal. The recent cooling is significant, even if in his own alarmist tunnel vision he requires more than 12 years for significance to show up.

When you combine the two you see the fallacy. It has been proven by GISS that the period 1925-1945 is statistically the same (in terms of hot years) as 1990-2009:

There is no 'warmest year' - there are ten years spread across the last century all statistically tied for warmest year.

If the BBC had asked is the 1925-1945 period significantly warmer than the 1990-2000 period Jones would have to (equivocating like mad) to admit there is no difference - thus no warming between the two periods!

Feb 13, 2010 at 6:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterAJStrta

Daily Mail: The professor’s amazing climate change retreat

He also leaves open the possibility, long resisted by climate change activists, that the ‘Medieval Warm Period’ from 800 to 1300 AD, and thought by many experts to be warmer than the present period, could have encompassed the entire globe.

This is an amazing retreat, since if it was both global and warmer, the green movement’s argument that our current position is ‘unprecedented’ would collapse.

Feb 13, 2010 at 8:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve2

Maybe the leaker has all the data and ready to release it all !

Feb 13, 2010 at 9:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterG.P.

I'd like to modify Pa's "Thus, it was not a deliberate plot to deceive the world on global warming, but a rank amateur who bluffed professionalism and then got in deep over his head" and apply it in the plural.

I propose: Thus, it DID NOT START AS a deliberate plot to deceive the world on global warming, but AS rank amateurs who bluffed professionalism and then got in deep over THEIR headS. And then the lying started.

Feb 13, 2010 at 9:46 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme


Yep, that's what happened.

Feb 14, 2010 at 1:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterAJStrta

for Mr. Frank O'Dwyer:

Holocene elephant seal distribution implies warmer-than-present climate in the Ross Sea
B. L. Hall*,†,‡, A. R. Hoelzel§, C. Baroni¶, G. H. Denton*,†,‖, B. J. Le Boeuf**, B. Overturf*, and A. L. Töpf§

Another researcher on the very same topic is due to publish her results soon as well.
If you're interested, google. National Geographic had a bit on her recently.

Do you need to read about 4000 year old dna from Greenland corpses dug out of permafrost as the snow retreats? If so, google.

Feb 14, 2010 at 3:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterDave McK

another teaser for O'Dwyer:
De Bruyn's study follows on the heels of the discovery, a few years ago, of a large amount of elephant seal hair, skin and even mummies on Antarctica's Victoria Land Coast, which borders the Ross Sea. Today, the region is barren and covered with ice year-round.

Feb 14, 2010 at 3:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterDave McK

windansea (and others making similar points)

Most climate scientists are in NH, so there are more proxy studies conducted in NH, but there are plenty of peer reviewed papers showing a strong MWP all over the world.

Looking at your link it seems that these are peer reviewed papers which do not directly conclude this but have been interpreted by some kind of 'blog science project'.

But my points remain - firstly why does it even matter? If the MWP were indeed global and also warmer, I can see how it might be relevant for impacts but not for attribution. See my response to Jem above.

Secondly, on what basis can you claim there is compelling evidence for a global MWP and not accept the much stronger and much more direct evidence for current global warming?

A third point, on what basis can those who dismiss the temperature records claim that the MWP is warmer than now? You are saying we don't even know how warm it is now!

If you want to dismiss the temperature records and models what you are left with in that case is CO2 levels that are unprecedented in at least 800,000 years, and maybe as many as 15,000,000 years according to a recent paper. The last time CO2 was that high temperatures were also much higher and the planet was radically different. We also have empirically based estimates of climate sensitivity, and confirmation of additional greenhouse effect using observations of earth from space.

That would strongly suggest that even if we have not already exceeded the peak of the MWP (assuming for the sake of argument that it was global) that is where we are headed.

Feb 14, 2010 at 5:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank O'Dwyer

American Power tracked-back with, 'Phil 'Hide the Decline' Jones Admits Faked Data'.

Feb 14, 2010 at 7:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterAmericaneocon

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