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« Haunting the sickroom | Main | Diversionary tactics »

The Beddington challenge

Judith Curry has taken up Sir John Beddington's challenge to scientists to stand up and be counted in the battle against pseudoscience, with a long post on the subject of the Trick to Hide the Decline.

It is obvious that there has been deletion of adverse data in figures shown IPCC AR3 and AR4, and the 1999 WMO document.  Not only is this misleading, but it is dishonest (I agree with Muller on this one).  The authors defend themselves by stating that there has been no attempt to hide the divergence problem in the literature, and that the relevant paper was referenced.  I infer then that there is something in the IPCC process or the authors’ interpretation of the IPCC process  (i.e. don’t dilute the message) that corrupted the scientists into deleting the adverse data in these diagrams.

McIntyre’s analysis is sufficiently well documented that it is difficult to imagine that his analysis is incorrect in any significant way.  If his analysis is incorrect, it should be refuted.  I would like to know what the heck Mann, Briffa, Jones et al. were thinking when they did this and why they did this, and how they can defend this, although the emails provide pretty strong clues. Does the IPCC regard this as acceptable?  I sure don’t.

It's pretty interesting to see Sir John Beddington, Sir Paul Nurse and rest of the scientific establishment, as well as most of the sci-bloggers in the UK, all lining themselves up on the side of pseudoscience on the Climategate issue and Hide the Decline in particular. I wonder how long they can sustain the charade that everything is well in UK climatology?

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Reader Comments (116)

Gavin's come out, arms flailing wildly, and made himself look positively daft. He refuses to condemn the practice but instead constantly conflates the fundamental issue of the practice of hiding the decline with the fact that the divergence is discussed in the literature. Whether or not the divergence is discussed (and still unresolved) is an entirely different issue from the fundamentally dishonest act of concealing inconvenient data, whether by either truncating or splicing/smoothing with another series.

Feb 23, 2011 at 6:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

JC storming the Bastille.


Feb 23, 2011 at 6:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Saying it's all there in the literature is rather like the promoters of a share issue saying that "It's all there in the small print" when the small print isn't even part of the selling document and anyway is couched in a form which the relative laypeople at whom the document is pitched wouldn't understand.

The IPCC reports were intended to look superficially impressive to a non-climate specialist readership or at least be something which the promoters of CAGW could point at to scare people into submission. Of course, it could be said that scientists, or even questioning journalists and politicians (should they exist) could and should have pointed to the small print - over there hidden behind the filing cabinet - but we all know how easy it has been made for any who have tried to do that and how welcome their contributions have been amongst climate "scientists".

The main difference between the IPCC reports and share selling documents of course is that the latter are tightly regulated and pulling tricks like, say, hiding a decline in income, could mean you end up in jail. With the former you get a Nobel Prize.

Feb 23, 2011 at 7:02 AM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

IMO it is heartening rather than amazing - it should be no surprise that JC is standing up for real science.

BTW have you just told us the subject of your next cartoon ?

Feb 23, 2011 at 7:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobbo

Judith really seems to have got Gavin wound up and he is getting ripped apart in the comments!

That and his hissy fit with the E&E for asking for an apology from him ( ) add up to a bad week in climate!

My favourite comments so far....
hunter | February 22, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Reply

Dr. Schmidt,
Is it not incredibly ironic that the this sort of conversation cannot happen at your Soros funded blog?


Feb 23, 2011 at 7:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

There is serious work to be done in climate science but the more these guys set themselves up to die in the last ditch defending the shambolic science of Mann and his fellow travelers the more harm they do to the entire field.

Feb 23, 2011 at 7:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterJEM

I can't wait for the BBC to pick up this very important story! ☺

Feb 23, 2011 at 7:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Robbo, could be, it is a nice image, trying to free the science.

Feb 23, 2011 at 7:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Having just read the comments from top to bottom....I found it strange how Gavin suddenly leaves and a bunch of warmers appear with the insults! I suppose its just coincidence but none of them have been moderated out....reminds so much of Gavin and his friends place. By he way, Deltoid came in for one slapped and vanished!

Feb 23, 2011 at 7:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

More apt than you think, when they stormed the Bastille they found that there were only seven people inside and two of those were idiots.

Feb 23, 2011 at 7:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Tolson

Well done to the Bish (and Beddington) for instigating Judith's latest introspection and analysis. I get the feeling that the wider scientific body politic knows the climate scientists game is up. It's now just up to the media to wake up and smell the coffee.


@ Philip - considering we are still waiting for:

- Harrabin to mention Nurse's 7x blunder

- O'Connel's skewering of the Hockey team's statistically induced warming of Antarctica

- the Senate's vote to no longer fund the IPCC

I wouldn't hold your breath. It would seem that despite their recent pronouncements to moderate their bias towards the 'consenus' view, the BBC is in full scale corporate denial mode.

Feb 23, 2011 at 8:12 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

To be fair, you can find support for Gavin's position in the literature.

For example, in "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe" Prostetnic Vogon Jelitz of the Galactic Planning Council explains to the Earthlings, 2 minutes before the Earth is due to be demolished to make way for a hyperspatial express route:

There's no point in acting all surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display in your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for 50 of your Earth years, so you've had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and its far too late to start making a fuss about it now.

Feb 23, 2011 at 8:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Boyce

credit to Paul Dennis as well

This should be very relevant here:

Paul Dennis (UEA) on this issue.

“Before I add anything further to the debate I should say that I’m an Isotope Geochemist and Head of the Stable Isotope and Noble Gas Laboratories in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia.

I’ve also contributed to and published a large number of peer reviewed scientific papers in the general field of palaoclimate studies. I don’t say this because I think my views should carry any more weight.

They shouldn’t. But they show there is a range and diversity of opinion amongst professionals working in this area.

What concerns me about the hide the decline debate is that the divergence between tree ring width and temperature in the latter half of the 20th century points to possibly both a strong non-linear response and threshold type behaviour.

There is nothing particularly different about conditions in the latter half of the 20th century and earlier periods. The temperatures, certainly in the 1960′s, are similar, nutrient inputs may have changed a little and water stress may have been different in some regions but not of a level that has not ben recorded in the past. Given this and the observed divergence one can’t have any confidence that such a response has not occurred in the past and before the modern instrumental record starting in about 1880.”


“How can you be so certain that the tree ring data tracks temperature outside of the calibration period, say before 1880? As you have pointed out we have no explanation for the modern divergence. Thus we have no certainty that such divergence would not occur in the past. I’ve no doubt the biophysical response of trees to environmental factors is complex and almost certainly is non-linear with respect to temperature.
I reiterate my point of view that the divergence is highly significant and given it’s occurrence it seriously limits our ability to use tree rings as a proxy for temperature. Moreover, hiding the divergence also hides the evidence that tree rings might not be such faithful recorders of temperature.

There is a widespread global temperature data base, contra your assertion that ‘early weather experiments’ (I assume you mean records) were scattershot. Why not use the instrumental temperature record from 1880 instead of 1960?”


“The point about the ‘Hide the Decline’ debate is germane to much of what we know about past climate of the last several millenia. There is a discrepancy between the modern tree ring data and the instrumental record. Assuming for the time being the instrumental record is robust then the conclusion one draws is that it is not possible to reconstruct past temperatures on the basis of tree ring data.
The ‘hide the decline’ graph splices together the modern temperature record and a proxy temperature curve based very largely on tree ring data. But we have direct observation that tree rings don’t always respond as we might think to temperature thus shouldn’t be splicing the two together without a very large sign writ large which says ‘Caveat Emptor’.

This is especially so when preparing material for NGO’s, policymakers etc.

This is what Bishop Hill argues is indefensible and I agree with him.

How poorlazlo can claim that the graph is not inaccurate is difficult to understand. Are the proxy temperatures based on tree rings accurate? If so how do we know they are when we have direct evidence they don’t respond to temperature in ways we might expect? This seems to me to be a leap of faith.”

Feb 23, 2011 at 8:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

I've just read all the comments. I worry for Gavin's mental state.

Feb 23, 2011 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Wow! That's some language from Judy. Good to see your blog has such influence, Bishop - the Beddington thing has had impact way beyond what he might have expected.

On the Spectator thread you pointed us to the other day, a fairly reasonable albeit consensus-following person called Paul Adams wrote (Feb 17th 1:11pm) that "I would have thought every ambitious scientist would love to be the iconoclast who overturns accepted thinking." Judy's case illustrates why that is often not the case. She's paying a high price for her bravery in querying some of the uncertainties at this point in time; I'm sure lots of people in her community are irked by her attitude. If there is no warming at all or only a bit (lukewarming) in the next decades, people like her will be vindicated to an extent, that is true. But whatever happens, she will not earn a Nobel prize for her writing on this topic. It is very rare that one gains a Nobel prize for overturning accepted thinking. People who propose new theories and by so doing overturn accepted thinking do get prizes. But pointing out that other scientists have got things wrong, on its own, does not earn anywhere near as much respect. So it is easy to understand why people in that field are not all speaking out. But it is immensely irritating! Defending the indefensible is just not OK - conceding that 'hiding the decline' was not the right thing to do should have happened by now. As a scientist, I really don't like the image that this projects.

Feb 23, 2011 at 8:57 AM | Unregistered Commenterj

The image that comes to mind for me is Gavin as Gaddafi giving madly defiant speeches in a bombed out building as his ministers desert him.

Feb 23, 2011 at 9:04 AM | Unregistered Commenteradp

J I agree entirely. The more Judith Curry investigates things she once took for granted, the more concerned she has become about the integrity of climate "science" and the honesty of a lot of those involved, particularly in the IPCC process. It's to be hoped she has a good suit of armour. Nobody else has yet followed her example.

Well done Bish for triggering this.

Feb 23, 2011 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

adp. Excellent image. There sure is plenty for Josh to go at here.

Feb 23, 2011 at 9:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Richard Muller gets it, Judith Curry gets it as do many others. Muller says he is not worried by the words 'trick' or 'decline', but it is the word 'hide' that gives cause for concern and I agree with him. My points that Barry Woods posted above stand. The decline is very relevant to the debate concerning the robustness of palaeoclimate reconstructions. If I were a young dendroclimatologist I would be addressing the decline and the biophysical response of trees with all the vigour I could muster. Until there is an understanding of the processes involved then we can have no confidence in the palaeoclimate reconstructions.

Feb 23, 2011 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

Gavin as Gaddafi ....... perfect!

I had him down as Comical Ali of Bahgdad ('The Americans have been repulsed") - but Gaddafi is so much more relevant - and so much madder.

Don't forget the wild brown robes, the bodged plastic surgery and the ruined palace (IPCC?) in the background Josh!

Feb 23, 2011 at 9:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

it has always been a political issue...

Who were they 'hiding the decline' from?

That is the question that should be asked and why.

The answer is of course the policy makers...

even policy makers can understand if the proxies for temperature don't match thermometers, for some unkonwn reason.... HOW THE HELL can they be used to reconstruct past temperature reliably.

Thus, unprecedented global warming, the claim that reconstruction show this, and it must (argument from ignorance) be due to humans.. GOes completely out of the window..

Politicians, CAN understand this...

Feb 23, 2011 at 9:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

This is surely one of the darkest periods for "science" - I use the quotes, to distinguish between those who call themselves "scientists" and those who practice the scientific method. When I went to University, the two were basically the same. "science" meant practising science. These days "science" seems to mean anyone who calls themselves a scientist and uses mathematical equations to push their own kind of politics.

I think the rot really had set in as early as the 1980s when I was doing science. I purposely went to a University where I could study philosophy and science. I only did the first year philosophy, but even that year was enough to reveal to me how little most "scientists" know about the essential philosophical basis of their subject. Modern science is literally like leading lambs to slaughter - most of them are clueless! Almost no scientists receive any training on the philosophical basis of science, and so they are highly susceptible to "adjustments" to the principles to fit "new" requirements. That's what happened with climate "science" ... they simply moved the goalposts ... turned it into pseudo science. Far worse, none of the scientific "elite" even noticed, let alone took action to bring them back into line.

Feb 23, 2011 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Haseler

It is clear that this example of pseudo-scientific trickery is not going away. But when will the greenie inspired media publish both sides of the argument? When will we see the BBC devote a few minutes to explain the points made by the Bishop and Judith Curry? The politicians will only sit up and take notice if the MSM takes up the story. The BBC Today programme would be a good start..

Feb 23, 2011 at 9:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

Gavin writes:

"Summary graphs are by their very nature, summaries. The graphs you pick out were summaries of various estimates of what paleo-temperature estimates from the literature were. It is therefore not surprising that they show only the reconstructions where the authors had confidence that the reconstructions were actually of the temperatures. " (My emphasis)

I seem to recall an earlier response from the team along these lines, but it still astonishes me.

What are the empirical grounds for confidence that tree rings are good proxies for temperature in the period prior to the temperature record, when they appear very poor thermometers post 1960?

The author's personal confidence doesn't cut it for me and it shouldn't for the IPCC

Feb 23, 2011 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Beddington's attempt to 'project' pseudoscience onto critics of CAGW is clearly backfiring in the same way that Pachauri's 'Voodo Science' claim did.

Public trust in science and scientists will only begin to be restored if more working scientists speak out publicly. I can understand young climate 'scientists' being reluctant to jeopardise their funding and immediate career prospects, but there is no excuse for other scientists, particularly mainstream physicists and chemists and their colleagues in geochemistry and geophysics, for not speaking out against scientifically corrupt behaviour.

It is encouraging that Paul Dennis has 'come out' in the blogosphere, others need to follow suit. Judith is making a brave move from within the climate science community. Despite the entrenched position in the MSM at the BBC and the Guardian, the recent article in the Spectator by Nicholas Lewis and Matt Ridley suggests that the dam that separates the blogosphere from the MSM is starting to leak. Gavin and Ward won't prevent the dam from breaking, by sticking their grubby little fingers in it, if more reputable scientists speak out.

Feb 23, 2011 at 10:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterR2



Colonel Gaddavin?

Feb 23, 2011 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

Seems to me that Gavin doesn't understand the concept of "counter-example". He keeps claiming that there is only an issue with the Briffa 1998 paper.

No! One counter-example shows that a theory or technique isn't the full story. The Briffa paper affects all tree-ring reconstructions.

Schmidt is no scientist. He's just a Wardian obfuscator.

Feb 23, 2011 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterDead Dog Bounce

@Pete H My favourite comments so far....
hunter | February 22, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Reply

Dr. Schmidt,
Is it not incredibly ironic that the this sort of conversation cannot happen at your Soros funded blog?


The comment seems no longer to be there. How very strange.

(one at 11:26, then one at 11:35)

Feb 23, 2011 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

Martin A
Search on Schmidt. You'll find it. The comments aren't in chronological order.

Feb 23, 2011 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid C

Good for Judith Curry. Her blog is a treasure trove of insights and good discussions. She comes across as more like a real professor of the old school (i.e. when I was a student!) - one for whom the pursuit of insight and establishment or demolition of theories was overwhelmingly more important that any politicking to defend previous 'positions'. The small core of alarmist modellers, geographers, and scientists at the heart of the technical, 'scientific', side of IPCC politicking come across to me as the reverse of this: defending their Bastille seems to have overwhelmed their manners, and indeed their lives.

Feb 23, 2011 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Nicholas, good question. I don't think there are any empirical grounds - I always understood the original scientific purpose of dendrochronology was as a tool to help date old buildings or possibly in archaeology, a use where I can still see its value. Unfortunately the scope of the discipline was extended to include climatology but am not aware of any validation process.

As was discussed 2 years ago at , tree ring growth is dependent not just temperature (which in any case only gives an image of how 'warm' only half the year is), but also water, soil pH, plant nutrition, competition for light, and CO2 concentration. Lucy's October 2009 comparison of the Yamal trees with actual thermometer data shows little correlation - - and I suspect that the late 20th Century divergence issue has actually obscured the underlying reality that trees do not make good thermometers, in any period. For some reason the phrase "lies, damn lies and statistics" springs to mind.

Feb 23, 2011 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

This is good stuff and all, but I'm left pondering what they are going to do for AR5 without the hockey stick.

Becuase if they use anything with tree rings and a hockey stick - surely everyone will just point and laugh!

Feb 23, 2011 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

What this shows is that when it comes to climate pseudo-science activist scientists are on the wrong side of wrong. They do grave damage to their own credibility.

Feb 23, 2011 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Paul Dennis said:

If I were a young dendroclimatologist I would be addressing the decline and the biophysical response of trees with all the vigour I could muster. Until there is an understanding of the processes involved then we can have no confidence in the palaeoclimate reconstructions.

Paul, if you were such a young dendroclimatologist, and you had already done precisely this, and had identified the factors involved in the divergence problem, and had shown that there was no way of knowing how these factors had influenced ring growth historically, what's the chances that you could have got published?

Wouldn't Briffa have been selected as one of the impartial reviewers by an esteemed journal?

Feb 23, 2011 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

Gavin is becoming the next Simon Singh at Realclimate

Feb 23, 2011 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterShub


your question is about peer review. I would expect such a paper to receive a close and critical review, but also expect that were the data, interpretation and conclusions robust that it would be published not-with-standing issues associated with gatekeeping etc. The role of the journal editor is key here.

There are also other modes for publishing data, results etc. that I suspect will become more important over the coming years. One of these is open notebook science as practised by Jean Claude Bradley at Drexel. A study as described would be of such fundamental importance that it would be hard to keep under wraps.

Feb 23, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

The posts that triggered the reaction from JC are not Bishop Hill's highly commented Beddington posts, but the two, lightly commented, posts about The Heretic and heresy. We know who the 'real' heretic is, don't we, JC?

I'd recommend everybody to re-read Richard Drake's comments about the cultural shift. JC couldn't possibly be ignorant of the two blog posts about the stage-play. Richard Drake deserves as much credit as Bish in forcing JC's hand.

Feb 23, 2011 at 12:07 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

We have a new word - pseudoscientist.

Feb 23, 2011 at 12:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterPunksta

sHx, you think JC's hand needed much forcing do you?

Feb 23, 2011 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterPunksta

Yes, Punksta, I certainly do. It's been, what? 15 months since JC's 'circling the wagon' comment? She certainly is taking her sweet time in making a stand. She's a Jenny-come-lately, unfortunately. She's been far too soft so far, IMHO.

Feb 23, 2011 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Yeah, and in those 15 months she's done nothing but toe the line.
Please send me the number of your candyman, I'd like some of that stuff for the weekend.

Feb 23, 2011 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterPunksta

It is all good "knock-about" stuff but in my opinion does not really move us any closer to a sensible energy policy, a sensible environmental policy or a sensible government-sponsored scientific program of climate science.
It is easy to get excited about the little victories but in the meanwhile in the wider world the wind turbines are still getting built and the crazy policies are still being implemented.
Having said that..... Judith Curry's poster is not coming down from my wall any time soon! Woot!

Feb 23, 2011 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

She hasn't toed the line, but neither has she made a strong stand in the last 15 months. In any case, JC isn't the name signaling a clear fallout within the 'warmist' camp. It is Mike Hulme.

Anyway, how about I lend you a spin top for the wekend?

Feb 23, 2011 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

From "More heresy" blog post. Worth repeating.

KEVIN: Do these tree ring guys make a habit of pasting in the instrument record on the end of a proxy series?

DIANE: You're not seriously telling me that you did not know that Professor?

KEVIN: No! Fucking no! They can't do that! That's like a vegetarian getting his blood sugar up with a bacon sandwich. Why don't I know this?

Feb 23, 2011 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Like Bob Ward's piece, the intention was to mislead and deceive. It is a shameful thing to say that one didn't actually lie because one made a reference - a figleaf for 'hide the decline'. So they've sewn together a few fig leaves to hide their nakedness.

The point is, there was an intention to deceive. People who are deliberately economical with the truth, whose intention is to leave people with a false impression of the facts, are cheats, charlatans and dissemblers not worthy of their profession as scientists. The fact that the Real Climate mob have to resort to trying to justify the indefensible with even more devious reasoning speaks volumes.

Feb 23, 2011 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterScientistForTruth

The muzzles and gloves are off at Judith Curry's, and the attack dogs turned out to be toothless gerbils, jumping around a lot, to little effect.

Beddington's mind is as closed as Tamino's. At what point would he lose his pension for gross misconduct for ignoring the science, that he is supposed to be overseeing?

Feb 23, 2011 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

IMHO criticism of those who speak out is misplaced. The many thousands of scientists that are aware of the problems in climate science and keep quiet are the ones worthy of criticism.

As Edmund Burke is deemed to have said: 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing'

Armchair criticism is easy - criticising from a 'non-consensus' position within a scientific community, as Judith has done, takes courage.

Feb 23, 2011 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterR2


A. E. Douglass, the founder of dendrochronology, started by using tree rings to look for evidence of the influence of solar cycles on precipitation. So the climatology connection was there from the beginning.

Feb 23, 2011 at 1:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

Gavin flailing around without benefit of his RC super powers is not a pretty sight.

Feb 23, 2011 at 1:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

@ adp

Note also that Gavin's weasel explanation is explicitly identified as mendacious in literature on the subject of how to present complex graphs.

In The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, the writer observes that

....a...defense of the lying graphic is that, although the design itself lies, the actual numbers are printed on the graphic for those picky folks who want to know the correct size of the effects displayed. It is as if not lying in one place justified fifteenfold lies elsewhere. Few writers would work under such a modest standard of integrity, and graphic designers should not do so either.

This appears to characterise exactly what "hiding the decline" did. So, according to a well-regarded (2001) textbook on the subject, putting one thing in a graph and excusing it by arguing that the truth is in there as well, somewhere, amounts to lying.

Feb 23, 2011 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

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