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« Josh 76 | Main | Statistical literacy »

Steig snippets

The reaction to Ryan O'Donnell's article about Steig has been astonishing, and the rate of deletion of comments from Real Climate hasn't been this high for...well...days.

Some interesting stories have emerged from all the noise:


A commenter called CAGW_99 left a comment at RealClimate noting that Steig could find himself called to testify before the House of Representatives.

Eric, It seems that the authors have both scientific and ethical points that have been very well made on the referenced blog posts. I am one of many who are eagerly awaiting your response, although we have no expectation that you will actually choose to do so. Your “Team” will be changing the subject, creating straw men, ducking and weaving, and hiding behind moderation on this site.
There is a pretty good chance that you and your Team will get invitations from the new House committees which investigate matters like this. I wonder if your moderation works in front of a CSPAN camera? I wonder if you will speak openly or take the fifth?


The response from the moderator was to delete the comment and write:

[Edit. Resorting to threats of personal intimidation against scientists eh? Was only a matter of time frankly. Thanks for including your name in your email address.--Jim]

Fessing up

We learned yesterday that Steig had in fact been one of the reviewers of the O'Donnell et al paper. Now we learn that Steig went to great lengths to pretend that he wasn't. Having had the paper for the best part of a year, Steig left a comment a Lucia's Blackboard suggesting that he hadn't even seen it:

yan, if you don’t mind sending me a preprint, and a link to your reconstructed data, I’d appreciate it.

I will presumably have more to say after I get a chance to read the paper, but it’ll be a month or more as I’m simply too busy with current projects.

I would say that RealClimate now has a serious credibility problem. Mendaciousness on this level is going to be hard to ignore.


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Reader Comments (95)

has anybody heard any comments from the co-authors of the original paper:

This one presumably:

Eric J. Steig1, David P. Schneider2, Scott D. Rutherford3, Michael E. Mann4, Josefino C. Comiso5 & Drew T. Shindell6

Feb 8, 2011 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods


"Fox News", "right--wing US Republican sites", .. but you forgot to mention "Sarah Palin". No authentic liberal would forget to mention her. I'm beginning to suspect that you are really a covert Bircher.

Feb 8, 2011 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterJane Coles


A big thank you for getting some of them to talk in plain English and thanks to those who have made the effort to do so.
I started wading through O'Donnell's article on the Watts site last night and by this morning it was starting to make enough sense to me for me to see it was a serious issue, but as usual found myself stumbling over jargon, initials and acronyms I can never remember from one time to the next.
A particularly galling one was the repeated use of PC, which you will no doubt gather does not mean "Personal Computer", nor yet "Politically Correct" and not even "Post Coital". I looked in Anthony's glossary, Googled it - nothing. Fortunately I had a copy of the Bishop's Hockey Stick Illusion (if you haven't got it already I strongly recommend you do so) and was able to remind myself that it means Principle Components analysis (rereading Andrew's description of the procedure leaves me with the impression of a sophisticated statistical device for cooking the books). 
People of a mathematical disposition seem very at ease with this "language", but for many of us with an education in the arts, wading through it is more than just graft, it's utter mental torture. We are nonetheless perfectly capable of grasping the mechanics of what is in question in an issue of such importance, provided it is presented in real human language and not in hermetic jargon interspersed with the odd rebuke as unfortunately was the case in O'Donnell's article.

Feb 8, 2011 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn in France

I see that my #63 was moved to the bore hole. My first and probably last comment to survive moderation on RC, as I am now blocked. I think it is notable that a complaint about 'threats of personal intimidation' contains a personally intimidating threat. They actually did publish my name and IP address for a few minutes, before the PR flacks and lawyers jumped in to protect the Team.


[Edit. Resorting to threats of personal intimidation against scientists eh? Was only a matter of time frankly. Thanks for including your name in your email address.--Jim]

Comment by cagw_skeptic99 — 7 Feb 2011 @ 7:02 PM

Feb 8, 2011 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterCAGW_Skeptic00

Actually Skeptic99, not 00

Feb 8, 2011 at 1:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterCAGW_Skeptic99

Eric the Chased?

Feb 8, 2011 at 1:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterTony Hansen

Jane Coles said

I'm beginning to suspect that you are really a covert Bircher.

Yes, I admit it, but only in private or in the sauna.

Feb 8, 2011 at 2:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterJerry

Dreadnaught - thanks for the link to Tom Morton's piece in the New Statesmen. I have looked it up in my copy of the Concise Scots Dictionary, and your guess is a good one, at least in Banff where that is still the meaning:

collieshangie &c, killie 19-; cullie- la18- n. 1 a noisy dispute, uproar 18-. 2 a dog-fight la19-, now Bnf. 3. a talk, animated conversation. la19-e20 N.E. [see SND].

The Scottish National Dictionary will have lots more detail, but I don't have a copy - 10 volumes and I think it was only finished a few years ago, long after my academic sojourn. It is out of print now, but there's a compact 2 volume edition you can still get which comes with a magnifying glass -

No need it is all online at

Feb 8, 2011 at 2:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

Better take a quick stock take of available whitewash, it may well be that it will be required in some volume...

Feb 8, 2011 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterNatsman

Here's an interesting thought for an FOI request, perhaps:

Did Steig as Reviewer A write all those comments himself or did he pass the O'Donnell et al paper around the Team and they collectively produced the criticisms which he then passed back to the editor?

Hark! Is that the swishing sound of emails being deleted that I can hear?

Feb 8, 2011 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

'Better take a quick stock take of available whitewash, it may well be that it will be required in some volume...'

I'd like to assure existing and potential clients that my supplies of this essential academic material are near limitless and can be applied to almost any situation. It is especially effective for those embarrassing slip ups that can happen from time to time. My special formulation is highly opaque, covers up everything and is near impenetrable. Accept no substitute for the Real Thing.


Feb 8, 2011 at 2:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterLord Oxburgh

As they have all moved to Googlemail accounts there is no need for deletion of emails unless the original climategate releaser is still part of 'The Team' .

If they are on googlemail it actually maybe a breach of their employment contract if it has been written correctly but I doubt it has.

Feb 8, 2011 at 2:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of fresh air

This episode makes me wonder about the 1990 cull of weather stations used to record temperature reducing the number from over 4000 to c1200, with only c200 common to the pre 1990 and post 1990 years. Who made the selection? On what criteria? Why were all the stations at higher altitude eliminated accompanied by migration to stations near sea level and/or to airports? Did anyone consider the effect of the eliminating stations closer to the the poles in favour of stations nearer to the equator?

It is now clear, as a result of the Muir Russell enquiry, that the CRU did not evaluate the effect of these changes on reported temperatures. This is astonishing. In any business, and I suspect, in other branches of science changes in process should be validated before they are adopted. This is elemantary quality control. In business a failure to do so would, in my day at least, have been a sacking offence. In science, is it normal to change your instruments during the course of an experiment? I would have thought not. Yet that is what seems to happen in "climate science". This Arctic study seems to be another instance.

Feb 8, 2011 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

Check out this from Eric Steig:

I congratulate the authors on the publication of this paper in a serious scientific journal. One of the great things about peer review is that it forces authors to think carefully about what they are saying. Notably absent in the paper is any mention of the completely specious criticism that populist rabble-rouser and ‘climate skeptic’ Steve McIntyre leveled at us about errors (not our errors — errors in the data we got from the British Antarctic Survey) in the data of a weather station. These were errors that McIntyre should have known made absolutely no difference to the results, but he either didn’t recognize this or he chose to ignore it in the favor of ’sound bites’ that cast doubt on our results. Given that this paper is co-authored by McIntyre, perhaps this will mark the end of the “Antarctic is not warming” meme one hears frequently from contrarians, not to mention claims about the peer review process being broken. One can only hope.

Feb 8, 2011 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Breath of fresh air

As they have all moved to Googlemail accounts there is no need for deletion of emails unless the original climategate releaser is still part of 'The Team'

gmail is subject to lawful discovery from quite a few legal jurisdictions. I'd be very surprised if FOI rules weren't included in the list of reasons to examine gmail accounts. It may be slightly more difficult but not impossible at all.

Feb 8, 2011 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJerry

"not to mention claims about the peer review process being broken. One can only hope."

Bloody hell. These guys are beyond the pale

Feb 8, 2011 at 3:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterStu

Caroline and other fellow laypeople,
Like John in France, I'd heartily recommend The Hockey Stick Illusion as a surprisingly readable (for the non-statistically inclined) introduction to the background to current events in climate "science". Don't be put off by the graphs and numbers, those can be skimmed if necessary, as it otherwise reads like a thriller. My eyes tend to glaze over as soon as the heavy maths get wheeled out but I had no problems understanding the story.

I don't know how it works elsewhere, but in the UK if you try to order a book through a public library and they don't have it they will often buy a copy. If we do this for sceptical books there is a far greater chance that the casual reader will pick up a copy and borrow it for free from a library than they would chose to buy it.
The more that the average layperson knows about this stuff, the better.

Feb 8, 2011 at 3:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

Comments on Steig's response to the original O'Donnell et al paper are back up. Eric is deciding to take the "no comment" route or "I don't see the problem". It is unclear what is happening to what I imagine are some of the more "critical" and inflammatory comments.

Feb 8, 2011 at 3:31 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

i've read this morning that RC publish deleted comments in their 'borehole'. but cagw_skeptic99 's comment was not visible in the borehole.

Feb 8, 2011 at 3:56 PM | Unregistered Commentermark

That comment is, no doubt, in the hands of the constabulary now - given its threatening and intimidating nature. It will be investigated right after they've looked into the Phil Jones "death threats" and the CRU "hack"......

Feb 8, 2011 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton

Glossary for the post:

AVHRR - Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer
AWS - Automatic Weather Station
NASA satellite temperature instrument.
Byrd - Weather station in Antarctic placed near the junction of the Antarctic peninsula and
West Antarctic - see map at
CRAN - Comprehensive R Archive Network
Collection of software related to "R", a statistical programming language.
ERA-40 - re-analysis of global atmosphere and surface conditions for 45 years from 1957 to
2002 by European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF)
NECP - national centers for environmental prediction
Group of US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration research centres.
PCs - Primary Components
PNAS - Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences
US scientific journal
RegEM - Regularised Expectation Maximisation
Mathematic Algorithm for infilling missing values in an array of data.
SI - Supplementary Information
Additional information supplied by scientific paper authors
S09 - Steig et al 2009 - The scientific paper that initially modelled Antarctic temperature trends
tAV - The Air Vent
Blog run by O'Donnell co-author Jeff Id at
TTLS - Truncated Total Least Squares
Mode of operation of RegEM.
WAIS - West Antarctic Ice Sheet

Undefined terms:
B.S. - :)

Feb 8, 2011 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterDead Dog Bounce

Now that comments are open at RC again I posted the following:

#68 by Toto says:

"Apparently he’s claiming that you recommended them to drop the TTLS method for the iridge method in your review, then criticized them for doing just that in your RC post"

to which Eric replies:

[Response: This is the most bizarre thing I've heard yet. Is there really anything else to say? -- eric]

Perhaps Eric you could answer a very specific question on this matter: In your role as reviewer of this paper pre-publication did you recommend to the authors to drop the TTLS method for the iridge method?

Feb 8, 2011 at 4:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

"After Climategate, is there any credibilty left in the Team? You would have thought they would have learnt some sort of lesson. But no, the lying and dishonesty goes on as if they have cast-iron protection. When will politicians sit up and take notice of this corruption of climate science?" --Phillip Bratby

Lying and dishonesty are necessary if one wishes to force the world to adopt pseudoscience as their primary religion.

BTW: PC is NOT principle components nor is it primary components. It is PRINCIPAL COMPONENTS.

My theory, until a better one comes along, is that collieshangie is from collies ("coaly birds"), plus hangie, (the devil), i.e., a raucous assembly of blackbirds (turdidae).

Feb 8, 2011 at 6:20 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

ThinkingScientist asks:
Perhaps Eric you could answer a very specific question on this matter: In your role as reviewer of this paper pre-publication did you recommend to the authors to drop the TTLS method for the iridge method?
Someone else suggested that Reviewer A might have canvassed the Team for comments on the paper. If someone else on the Team suggested the iridge method it is possible that Eric didn't notice that (it was 88 pages of harping after all) or he forgot and so is genuinely caught off guard here. Didn't someone else use the "that's just bizarre" defense to the indefensible? Maybe that's Team policy. When caught with an inexcusable mistake just bluster "that's bizarre". That should work. Nothing here, move along.

Feb 8, 2011 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterCoalsoffire

I too have had a number of posts deleted at RC, climateprogress, and a few other places.

Here's a suggestion: Let's video record the screen as we are writing our responses and then video the refreshed screen and whenever they delete a comment, let's post the videos on youtube.

Feb 8, 2011 at 6:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterkramer


Ryan O'Donnell presumably has his own record of the review comments. Steig has admitted that he was the reviewer in question - in and amongst implying that he wasn't, to be, errr, "fair" =)

It's worth reposting your question, even though you will most likely be censored or informed, if that's not too broad a use of the word, that your question has already been answered.

Feb 8, 2011 at 6:48 PM | Unregistered Commenterdread0

So what next?

If you pulled a stunt like this in a corporate business context (and got caught), you would be fed to the lawyers at your own expense.

Feb 8, 2011 at 6:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

" Let's video record the screen"

In Windows, pressing the PrtScr button copies the screen (as a bitmap) to the clipboard, from where it can be pasted to any application capable of handling the image, e.g. Word or any photo editor. I do this with Met Office 5-day forecasts sometimes... :-)

Feb 8, 2011 at 7:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

"'Poor Eric will wish he had chosen accountancy before this is through'

Accountants worldwide are sighing with relief that he didn't."

- Actually, those Enron jobs are long gone.

Feb 8, 2011 at 7:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterkcom

@ Caroline,

Welcome to the games Caroline, welcome to the games. :)

Feb 8, 2011 at 7:40 PM | Unregistered Commentersunderland steve

BTW: PC is NOT principle components nor is it primary components. It is PRINCIPAL COMPONENTS

Ce n'était qu'une coquille Jorge, I know the difference.

Feb 8, 2011 at 7:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn in France

This debacle has got me thinking. Roy Spencer had simular trouble with his paper - "On the diagnosis in the presence of unknown radiative forcing". A direct quote here:

'After years of re-submissions and re-writes — always to accommodate a single hostile reviewer — our latest paper on feedbacks has finally been published by Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR).'

So who was the hostile reviewer in this case? Maybe it was someone else in the team!

Feb 8, 2011 at 8:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Cowper

You said,
"As an outsider it does seem the only way to get this to have any wider meaning is to get Nature to retract and/or apologise. They appear to have acted badly.....?"

To clarify, the O'Donnell etal paper was published in the Journal of Climate, not Nature. Stieg etal 2009 was published in Nature. Thus it was the JofC that allowed / requested Eric Stieg to anonymously peer review a paper critical of his own work.

Feb 8, 2011 at 8:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Austin

(1) I have reviewed papers and later asked the author for a copy as though I had not seen it. I think this is normal. The point is you are not supposed to let the author know you were a reviewer. In a recent review of a paper by a Chinese author I referred to the author as "he or she" even though I know him. (The paper will be published but the author had to make extensive changes. The results were unchanged, but are now much clearer.)

(2) How is it you are sure Steig was a reviewer? All I have seen is O'Donnell's say so on another blog. Maybe he is mistaken. How does Huub Baker above know Steig was "eventually pulled ... off review"? If there is solid evidence for these claims - and it may well be that I missed it - please provide it. Until then I will remain skeptical.

(3) If Steig has been inconsistent, that does not necessarily mean he was duplicitous. Lot's of authors have had to cope with contradictory reviewers.

(4) Let's not forget that despite all this they agree that Antarctica has warmed slightly over the last few decades.

Feb 8, 2011 at 10:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike

(4) Let's not forget that despite all this they agree that Antarctica has warmed slightly over the last few decades.

Your evidence? Mikey, me lad, you are dealing with an audience with enough Ph. Ds to populate a good size first rate (not an UEA) university, and I am calling you on this. Where is your scientific evidence for this statement?

Feb 8, 2011 at 11:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra


O'Donnell claims that Steig admitted that he was reviewer A in private email.

Feb 9, 2011 at 12:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterDead Dog Bounce

"There ain't nothin' more powerful than the odor of mendacity!"

Feb 9, 2011 at 12:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

DDB: Thanks. It would be good to see the e-mail. It would be unprofessional for O'Donnell to ask and for Steig to answer.

Don: Both papers make this claim. The difference is over the distribution of the warming.

Feb 9, 2011 at 2:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike

Mike -- you can see email correspondence about Steig being a reviewer of O(10) here. Search for Comment#68428

Steig does not admit to being reviewer A in so many words, merely "a reviewer", and there is some discussion on the thread about that. However, the clues which O'Donnell mentions (which led him to suspect that Steig was a reviewere), all relate to reviewer A.

Feb 9, 2011 at 3:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW


Don: Both papers make this claim. The difference is over the distribution of the warming.

Mike, I think a couple points do not a continent define. Just look at the temperature distribution over the entire US or Europe on any single day and tell me you can tell me the temperature in Rome by knowing it in London and Moscow. A couple weeks ago, I was in freezing (about 25 F) weather in the Sierra foothills while both my bother and sister near New York City were having a nice weekend. This last week, just the opposite. In fact my other sister in Minneapolis was having a warmer day than my siblings in New York, while I was out in shirt sleeves.

Frankly NEITHER paper says anything about Antarctic temperatures, except for a couple stations here and there. And please remember O'Donnell was merely examining Steig's technic and not dealing with new data. I see nothing in O'Donnell's paper that says the continent is warmer, only that the result Steig came up was caused by an artifact.

As for the "scientific" technique used, which is based on questionable statistical methods, I long ago learned while being a statistical consultant at Cornell's computer center that all those fancy (aka "powerful") statistical methods like Factor Analysis and Principle Component Analysis are just BS. I watched numerous degree candidates write their thesis around a computational artifact. These were unintentional. I do not share that charity with Steig, Mann, Jones, Hansen and the rest. I believe they intentionally bent the data to fit their needs.

Basically, we actually have no idea what is happening even though we should through satellite sensing. What little exists has been in the hands of Jimmy Hansen and his crew at NASA. Without access to the raw data, I would not trust any "data" coming out of NASA for that reason. And there are reports that the satellite has a calibration problem as well as a sensor drift, so even the raw data would be suspect.

There are no scientific data. Lots and lots of political data, but no scientific data.

Feb 9, 2011 at 3:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Don Pablo --
"principle component analysis"? for shame, sir. On the other hand, you take "data" to be plural, which correct usage outweighs at least two typos just by itself. :)

P.S. no fair mentioning my own typo in previous post.

Feb 9, 2011 at 3:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

I think it is fair enough to say the Principal Component Analysis relies on veracity of the underlying Principal components which have a history of being rather scarce in Team analysis. However the bigger problem is that the Team has an even greater scarcity of principles.

Feb 9, 2011 at 4:23 AM | Unregistered Commenterharry


"principle component analysis"? for shame, sir

My play on the name, my good man. There is nothing "Principal" about PCA: It is nothing more than Eigen vectors. All meaning comes from the "interpretation" much like the Gypsy would "interpret" the tea leaves in your tea cup.

prin·ci·pal (pr¹n“s…-p…l) adj. Abbr. prin. 1. First, highest, or foremost in importance, rank, worth, or degree;

It is, however, a principle extraction technique

Chemistry. One of the elements that compose a substance, especially one that gives some special quality or effect.

And I also know the difference between "medium" and "media", not to mention "me" and "I".

Feb 9, 2011 at 2:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Don Pablo --
My deepest apologies for having doubted your Worthiness.

I shall duly undergo an appropriate penance by that scourge of sinners, the comfy chair.

Feb 10, 2011 at 1:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

This is for Caroline:


Go to and see what the fuss is all about.

Feb 14, 2011 at 4:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterSizzlechest

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