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Marcott in freefall

It has only taken days for some serious question marks to be raised about the Marcott hockey stick. McIntyre has posted here about the mystery surrounding the methodology and here about the curious lack of a similar 20th century uptick in Marcott's PhD thesis on which the Science paper appears to have been based. Willis Eschenbach notes that many of the proxies used fail the paper's own criteria for inclusion, David Middleton has raised further questions based on examination of individual proxies. Don Easterbrook has further concerns here.

I was struck by Rob Wilson's comments about the paper a couple of days ago. He had only given it a brief read and alarm bells were already sounding. Rob is an expert in the area, but even for me, the paper did not pass the sniff test.

What does it say about Science that it would publish such a paper?

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Reader Comments (93)

Rob, I'm glad to hear that you have looked at the paper. But I am not sure what is to be gained by sending comments to Gavin (their latest post on extreme events refers twice to a Matt Damon film but makes no reference to IPCC SREX). I am sure that if you sent them to Andrew he would put them up as a guest post, and many of us here would be interested.
And will you join me in putting a "Brief online comment" on the Science paper, and copying it here?

Mar 15, 2013 at 2:57 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

@Rob Wilson

Rob thanks for responding to my earlier post. As others have noted I am not sure RealClimate is the right place to get an objective hearing - if they have changed their ways that would be great. In any event it is good of you to let us have feedback here. And if you do submit something to RealClimate perhaps you would submit it here too?

Kind regards

Mar 15, 2013 at 3:06 PM | Unregistered CommenternTropywins

Latimer - don't forget Wagner the Resigned. The main scientific result of the climate mafiosi has been so far the destruction of young careers, yes.

Mar 15, 2013 at 3:16 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Latimer Alder

If even the war weary MSM refuses to pick up the new hockey stick and run with it, the admirable spirit of selfless devotion to the cause may well have been in vain. Only time will tell.

Mar 15, 2013 at 3:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

Good of Rob Wilson to comment here. He of course is free to prefer the issue be sorted out quickly by Real Climate. But RC's demonstrated interest in these matters is to obfuscate, so I doubt that we'll see a really good article there.

Meanwhile, watch Climate Audit today for updates, because Steve Mc has noted in a couple of inline comments that there may be a big issue with re-dating records from what the original investigators produced. Of course there may be legitimate arguments about what the correct dating should be (and one wonders if this will point to greater uncertainties in dating than recognized in some of these studies), but Steve notes that changes in dating between the 2011 PhD thesis by Marcott and the 2013 Science article may need to be explained:

re-dating of records for Marcott study

more on re-dating for Marcott et al. (2013)

These have those inline "VOG" comments which are useful for the direct response to a comment, but which are easy to miss if one does not go back and re-read all of a thread previously visited.

Mar 15, 2013 at 3:43 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

myclimateandme says:
March 15, 2013 at 3:07 pm

"The authors’ 5°latitude×5°longitude resolution is the same as that of the global Climate Research Unit and Met Office instrumental data sets. The authors’ procedure therefore appears to be sound. If you’ve read the paper, you’ll note that the authors explore uncertainties in the paper, but if you wish to know more, you can contact the lead author on"

Mar 15, 2013 at 3:50 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Mar 15, 2013 at 11:07 AM | TinyCO2 says
"In searching for those media outlets who'd jumped at Marcott's tasty worm I can't find a mention of it on either the Guardian of the BBC. Perhaps a little flicker of scepticism is beginning to grow in the darkest of places."

I noted that too. I have in the past put comments on their website, occasionally, pointing out that almost all the scientific papers they have splashed on have been withdrawn - or should have been. Gergis was a good example.

My comments were never replied to but nor were they deleted. Perhaps the lack of journalistic confidence on scientific matters is being questioned?
Imagine this scenario:
Ed "How do you know this is right?"
Hack "It's made it into a top journal. Science is as good as it gets"
Ed "You said that about Steig' Antarctica paper in Nature, and Gergis on Australia and we still get comments about the Mann paper that you now say isn't in the later IPCC reports... Do you, personally, understand this science?"
Hack "No, not personally. I am not a scientist...".

Would not the editor, eventually, say "Let's just wait a week "?

Mar 15, 2013 at 3:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterM Courtney

One more (brief) CA comment about the role played by re-dating records:

re-dating of alkenone series

Steve said to expect more on this today, oh joy!

Mar 15, 2013 at 4:00 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Sorry about the double post.
My PC had a funny turn.
BH, please do me the kindness of deleting if you have time.

Mar 15, 2013 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterM Courtney

Martin A and Paul Matthews, isn't it the case that before a paper is sent off for review, an editor makes a decision to do that? What would you have done in his or her place?

Mar 15, 2013 at 4:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterMindert Eiting

Can anyone see any connection between the Met Office (myclimateandme) response to Paul Matthews (see 3:50 PM | Green Sand ) and what Paul actually wrote?

'Cos I certainly can't.

Since Richard Betts is technical lead of that site, perhaps he can elucidate?

Mar 15, 2013 at 4:09 PM | Registered Commentersteve ta

I seriously doubt whether Gergis or Marcott will suffer any damage to their noble careers as a result of their victimisation by proletarian denialists.

Mar 15, 2013 at 4:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJake Haye

Mindert - depends on the journal. Many journals send everything out to be reviewed even if it's obviously rubbish. But looking at Science, yes, you're right, it says that the editors have a look first and decide if it deserves sending to reviewers.

Steveta, yes, that's an amazing comment - the paper is sound because it uses a 5x5 grid. Whoever that is seems to be trying to outdo Marcott et al in terms of stupidity.

Mar 15, 2013 at 4:34 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Interesting sidelight, Marcott co-author Shakun (who was interviewed in the video with Andy Revkin) is now a post-doc in the Huybers group at Harvard:

Shakun a Visiting Fellow in Huybers group at Harvard

Small world, Huybers was involved with comment in 2005 on the Mann fracas (I know, different issues):

Reply to Huybers #1

Huybers #2: Re-Scaling

Reply to Huybers #3: Principal Components

Mar 15, 2013 at 5:25 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Regarding the respect due to high-impact journals, this may be interesting:

Regarding writing a scientific comment, everyone should have already read this.

Mar 15, 2013 at 6:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterNullius in Verba

Steve and Jean S are noting how re-dating of records may have produced the sharp 20th century uptick that was not seen in the similar plot from the PhD thesis.

re-dating issues for Marcott?

Here is the p. 197 passage from Marcott's PhD thesis, referred to by Jean S at link above:

[Marcott, PhD dissertation at Oregon State, 2011]

"The second source of error comes from the chronologic uncertainty associated with developing age models for each record. To account for this in our reconstruction, we perturbed the age control points (typically calibrated 14C ages) within their uncertainties for each record using a Monte Carlo based approach, which is described in detail below. The majority of our age control points were based on radiocarbon dated materials. In order to compare the records appropriately, we recalibrated all of the radiocarbon dates with Calib 6.0.1 using INTCAL09 and its protocol (Reimer, 2009) for the site-specific locations and materials. Any reservoir ages used in the ocean datasets followed the original authors suggested values. The uncertainty between the age control points was modeled as a random walk, after Huybers and Wunch(Huybers and Wunch, 2004), where we applied a “jitter” value of 200. Chronologic error was assumed to be autocorrelated through time and was modeled as a first order autoregressive process with a coefficient of 0.999. For the ice core records, we applied a 2% error for the Antarctica sites and a 1% error for the Greenland site."

I don't have a hyperlink for this passage, I downloaded the PhD thesis as a PDF from the Oregon State U. site.

Mar 15, 2013 at 6:11 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Dr. Marcott and Mr. Hide.

Mar 15, 2013 at 6:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Comic relief:

Not so funny, actually, since the subject matter is so serious.

Mar 15, 2013 at 6:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterNikFromNYC

kim: one of your simplest and greatest

Mar 15, 2013 at 6:41 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Omnologos proposed the following law on January 20, 2012-

"The Law Of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) Decay predicts how the number of the not-debunked claims by a given media-active warmist decreases in the course of time.

Half-life rates vary: 2 minutes in the case of a claim appearing on Skeptical Science, 10 minutes for a Romm blog, 15 minutes for a Gore “Truth”, a day for Hansen’s and Schmidt’s remarks and up to 3 months for a Mann Finding."

The unprecedented cratering of Marcott et al. may result in some needed tweaking on these decay rates...

Mar 15, 2013 at 6:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris y

Well I for one am quite happy that Marcott et al have found the uptick, because from looking at their chart if there had been no unprecedented warming we would all be pretty cold by now. Instead of Oxford having the climate of Bordeaux, as promised but not so far delivered, we would be looking at somewhere up on the Scottish border. I wouldn't like that. What is the matter with them if they think avoiding a temp drop of over a degree is bad news?

Mar 15, 2013 at 7:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

I agree 100% with Latimer above. There's too much handwaving here again serious letters need to be sent to Editors. This paper will be withdrawn

Mar 15, 2013 at 9:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterFitzcarraldo

I am mystified at the number of workers simply unable to replicate the uptick.

Mar 15, 2013 at 9:51 PM | Registered Commentershub

If I have got this right I believe the take home message from this paper is that the rate of warming over the last 150 years appears to be much faster than any temperature changes over the last 11,300 years. Scary stuff!

I don't suppose for one minute that this is relevant but looking back over the last 150 years I am reminded of the following:

"'Observations collated at the Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit indicate that the rate of increase in global average surface temperature between 1975 and 1998 was similar to the rates of increase observed between 1860 and 1880 and between 1910 and 1940 (approximately 0.16 C° per decade).' per Lord Hunt of King's Heath"

So given that we are told that it is only the last of these 3 periods that have the anthropogenic finger print shouldn't we all be very worried? Two out of the 3 periods caused by factors that we cannot control. We're doomed I tell you. Doomed.

Mar 15, 2013 at 10:16 PM | Unregistered CommenternTropywins

thats funny. calculating the half-life of CAGW claims :)

Mar 15, 2013 at 10:17 PM | Unregistered Commenternormalnew

History is replete with examples of those not following the AGW Party line get blocked from publishing. It started with MBH98 and ended up in a Congressional hearing that IIRC the authors didn't even attend to defend their "work".

It took McIntyre/McKitrick 18 months of breaking down the walls of obfuscation and pal review skulduggery to get their paper published refuting Santer 08 that any entry level stat student could see was garbage, whereas typical pro-AGW authors go through like a goose with loose bowels.

Who's going to be willing to go the distance on this one?

Mar 15, 2013 at 10:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterslimething


Related to that I said last week in my first comment on Revkin's piece on Shakun and Marcott, that they seem to "prove too much" for the humans-are-wrecking-the-planet-with-CO2 case.

For if their graph were roughly correct (which now seems very doubtful), then

(1) much of the "dangerous" increase in temp. began before the human influence was significant enough according to the IPCC and many studies, and

(2) this temp.increase at the end of their long Holocene downward curve may be just what is keeping us out of the next Ice Age. The effects of warming upon human civilization are almost certainly much more manageable than the next Ice Age.

Of course we don't know if humans could learn to manage such a thermostat for planet earth's atmosphere but the point right now is simply the paradoxical message of a study which loosely suggests we were sliding toward an Ice Age until recent human activity caused warming, yet we should bemoan such warming and prefer the Ice Age??

Mar 15, 2013 at 11:04 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Martin A and Paul Matthews, isn't it the case that before a paper is sent off for review, an editor makes a decision to do that? What would you have done in his or her place?
Mar 15, 2013 at 4:07 PM Mindert Eiting

Yes, certainly. If a paper is outside the scope of the journal, obviously trivial, an April fool joke, submitted by someone with a record of numerous rejected papers, hopelessly verbose, or no doubt numerous other reasons, an editor won't use up the goodwill of his reviewers by asking them to review something that clearly would never get published anyway.

What would I have done?

If I retained my existing mindset, I'd have sent it to Steve McIntyre, Judith Curry, Rob Wilson and Micheal Mann for review. I'd have deleted any information that would identify the reviews and sent the comments to the author. Depending on the comments I'd have either suggested further work or, in view of only one reviewer recommending acceptance, I'd regretfully decline the paper.

But if I had the mindset I imagine the editor of Science has, I'd have sent it to Michael Mann, Phil Jones and one or two more top-rated "climate scientists" aka "the team". Based on the positive reviews, I'd have accepted it for publication.

Mar 15, 2013 at 11:32 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

See CA

Mike's Nature Trick. Marcott's Science Uptick ...

Mar 16, 2013 at 12:10 AM | Unregistered Commentershub

As I posted at CA....

fyi, the thesis advisor, mentor, and also co-author for both Marcott (Marcott et al. 2013, Science) and Shakun (Shakun et al., 2012, Nature) is Peter Clark at Oregon State…. who just happens to be a Coordinating Lead Author (one of only 8 CLAs from the USA) for the IPCC’s AR5:

Peter Clark is CLA for IPCC's AR5, the chapter on sea level change

So even if that sea level chapter is not in the target zone for these two papers the IPCC’s AR5 process was certainly a potential topic of discussion for co-authors who seemed to get the Marcott et al. (2013) paper in just under the wire for consideration.

Mar 16, 2013 at 2:17 AM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

p.s. If anyone does submit a comment to "Science" please consider leading off with Shaun Marcott's favorite Feynman quotation (judging from the fact that he led off his PhD thesis with this quote and one from Sagan):

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

Richard P. Feynman

[BH adds: Perhaps Science Magazine is the publisher of the ignorance of experts]

Mar 16, 2013 at 2:32 AM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

What does it say about the MSM that after making a big deal about the paper that now that it is collapsing they haven't bothered to say "whoops. Our bad"?

Mar 16, 2013 at 2:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Teach

note: I am merely noting the inter-relations with IPCC AR5 WG1 authors. I know nothing of these people beyond what we have seen so far of Shakun and Marcott, co-authors with two current IPCC authors. Even with the best of intentions and practices it is a situation fraught with issues, and we have not exactly always seen the best of intentions and practices from IPCC types.

IPCC aspects of Shakun et al. (2012): in addition to adviser to Shakun and Marcott (Peter Clark), another co-author is a Lead Author for the Ch 5 Paleo chapter! One need not suggest any "conspiracy" at all to note there may be a conflict-of-interest and also the chronic IPCC problem of people reviewing/proclaiming upon the scientific importance of their own work.

IPCC AR5, WG1 Author List

Ch 5: Information from Paleoclimate Archives

Lead Author: Bette OTTO-BLIESNER, NCAR (USA)

Chapter 13: Sea Level Change

Coordinating Lead Author: Peter Clark, Oregon State (USA)


"Global warming preceded by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations during the last deglaciation"

Jeremy D. Shakun, Peter U. Clark, Feng He, Shaun A. Marcott, Alan C. Mix, Zhengyu Liu, Bette Otto-Bliesner, Andreas Schmittner & Edouard Bard

Nature 484, 49–54
(05 April 2012)

16 September 2011
01 February 2012
Published online
04 April 2012

Mar 16, 2013 at 4:27 AM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Skiphill @ 11:04. This is a very important point and lovingly illustrates an irony of the climate discourse, and a dilemma for the alarmist narrative. I was amazed to see in CNN's original reporting of the Marcott paper this sentence: If not for man-made influences, the Earth would be in a very cold phase right now and getting even colder'.

Mar 16, 2013 at 4:40 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Surely if the uptick is shown to be a statistical artifact (which it must be, given that it is too early) then Marcott will have put a very big nail into the AGW coffin. Because without that uptick, his paper is basically saying that it is getting colder, on average.

So the Team may regret accepting this paper, because once the egg is wiped off over the "uptick" the carry home message is nothing like what they want.

Mar 16, 2013 at 5:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterMooloo

" because from looking at their chart if there had been no unprecedented warming we would all be pretty cold by now"

Rhoda and others.

Yes, my takeaway from this reconstruction was the downward trend. The accelerating downward trend. Can you imagine what the headlines for the paper and those proxies would have been in the seventies?

Mar 16, 2013 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Brief comment on "A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years"

Paul Matthews, School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Nottingham, UK

16 March 2013

This paper includes several graphs that show slow temperature variation over the last 10000 years followed by a rapid rise over the 20th century. This aspect of the paper has unsurprisingly been
seized upon enthusiastically by climate activists and journalists. However it is clear that this result is spurious. Note the following points:
1. The proxy data in the accompanying Excel file show no dramatic increase in the 20th century. This can easily be checked simply by plotting the supplied data.
2. Figures S5 and S6 show no recent upturn at all.
3. The Phd thesis of the first author uses the same data sets and plots similar graphs, but with no trace of any sharp increase. This earlier contradictory work is not cited in the paper.
4. The supplementary material provides no explanation for how the graphs were constructed. Carrying out an averaging of the proxy data yields a graph similar to that in the thesis, quite different from
that in the paper. Why was no detailed explanation of the procedure reported? Will the authors supply the code that was used?

Any one of these issues would raise serious questions about the validity of this work. Taken together they leave no doubt that the results presented are spurious and misleading. The paper should be withdrawn immediately. The fact that such an obviously flawed paper was published raises serious questions about the authors, the quality of the refereeing process and the handling of the paper by the editors of Science.

Mar 16, 2013 at 12:34 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Paul Matthews - great to see you putting your comments on the record in such a direct and accurate manner. Chapeau!

Mar 16, 2013 at 11:17 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Thank God for Steve McIntyre who calls out this nonesense disguised as Science!

Mar 17, 2013 at 2:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterWest Houston

! (if true!)

Watts Up With That ‏@wattsupwiththat
People send me stuff. Word has it that Michael Mann was one of the reviewers of Marcott et al.

Mar 18, 2013 at 1:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

While scrambling to catch up with this latest episode in the AGW saga, it occurred to me that there is an aspect of the warmists' endeavours that tends to work against them - time after time. Something inherent in the logic of the situation that cannot operate in their favour.

It's that, as a scientist, if you start to depart from trying to 'listen' to nature - to understand her and to get it right - toward trying to support your preconceptions (no matter how well-intentioned they are), then nature itself is no longer there to guide you - through the empirical dark. And in this situation, you begin to take your cues from things other than evidence, in particular from certain dramaturgical principles (this may be a species-typical characteristic). And, unless you're an accomplished artist, the results tend to be hackneyed and even outre. And this makes the questionableness of your endeavours fairly easy to spot.

This seems to be what's going on with this hockey stick business. The whole idea is basically pretty silly - a climate that is wonderfully stable for hundreds or thousands of years (whatever happened to climate change?) begins to run amuck; in particular, after a minuscle increase in CO2 concentration, temperatures are suddenly going through the roof. But if you're falling back on a hackneyed sense of the way things are, and given the dramaturgical requirements in this case, that's likely to be what you come up with - especially after someone else has proffered this scenario. Not entirely consoling, perhaps, but offering some reassurance for the long haul ...

Mar 18, 2013 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterrw

I can't see "Science" being to blame here. The editors cannot be expected to be experts in all science matters and therefore you can certainly imagine them leaving the process of review entirely to chosen experts. The sad fact is that Science really has no choice but to go to the same reviewers. Always the same names: Michael E. Mann, Phil Jones, Kevin Tenberth, Keith Briffa and a handful of others. The "scientific consensus" is actually just a small group of like-minded individuals with a pro-ecology, anti-capitalist, pro-public spending leaning. It is always the same names you see, and they are effectively in a team working together, not fighting to be the top dogs in their chosen science and doing whatever they can to dispute the findings of each other.

I have no doubt that Mother Nature will demonstrate the fallacy of their thinking over time - she has already made a very good start. My concern is that the failed science of climatology is only the tip of the iceberg. Maybe the corrupt nature of climatology is mirrored by other publicly funded sciences. Technology has moved on a long way since the 1950s, but has science? No improvement on penicillin? no cure for cancer? No energy from nuclear fusion? No cure for AIDs? Alzheimers, Parkisons, Motor Nuerone Disease, MS, Downs Syndrome, the common cold, influenza, Depression - no real progress since the 1960s???

We have found a cure for stomach ulcers. Largely by accident and largely with the entire scientific community trying to stand in the way of the cure. What does all this tell us about our beloved scientists I wonder? Is the danger of making real progress a danger that funding will be cut? The private sector expects its scientists and engineers to deliver real results. If the public sector expected the same, would we get better science?

Mar 19, 2013 at 10:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Were Rob Wilson's "severe misgivings" addressed in the FAQ?

Apr 4, 2013 at 2:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff

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