The Hockey Stick Illusion

Recently a WSJ columnist told this story:

I was chatting with a friend who, over the years, has helped her kids slog through the obligatory science-fair projects.

“The experiments never turned out the way they were supposed to, and so we were always having to fudge the results so that the projects wouldn’t be screwy. I always felt guilty about that dishonesty,” she said, “but now I feel like we were doing real science.”

Yes, science with a human touch. The Hockey Stick Illusion by Andrew Montford (sent to me by the publisher) is a great book because it tells a great story. That story has a hero (Stephen McIntryre) and a villain (Michael Mann) and illustrates a basic truth about the world: A consensus of the “best people” can be wrong. This point was first made, as far as I know, by The Emperor’s New Clothes. It was later made by the Asch experiment (about line-length judgments). It’s not obvious; Elizabeth Kolbert and her editors at The New Yorker, not to mention Bill McKibben, have yet to understand it. (“No one has ever offered a plausible account of why thousands of scientists at hundreds of universities in dozens of countries would bother to engineer a climate hoax,” Kolbert recently wrote, with the permission of her editors.)  It’s a sad comment on our education system that I first learned it via self-experimentation. My results showed that an acne medicine that my dermatologist prescribed didn’t work — a possibility for which my dermatologist (in consensus with other dermatologists) hadn’t allowed. As truths go, this one is scary: It means you have to think for yourself. But it is also the most liberating truth I know.

The Hockey Stick Illusion tells how McIntyre, skeptical of Mann’s hockey-stick result (a sharp increase in global temperature to unprecedented levels during the 20th century), tried to get the data and computer code that Mann used. Mann put him off. He still hasn’t released the computer code he used. Mann found a hockey stick where none existed because (a) he used principal-components analysis to summarize a lot of temperature series (bad idea), (b) he used that method in an unusual way, making a bad idea worse, and (c) one of his time series had a serious problem. After McIntyre noticed this problem and pointed it out, the story really begins: How did everyone react? Much as a reader of The Emperor’s New Clothes would expect. Nature denied it. The Washington Post denied it. Most climate scientists denied it (and continue to). Montford started writing the book before Climategate, whose overall message was the same — that climate scientists have been distorting the truth, that the case for man-made global warming is far weaker than they say, that a consensus of experts can be wrong. As Montford puts it,

None of the corruption and bias and flouting of rules we have seen in this story [and in the Climategate emails] would have been necessary if there is, as we are led to believe, a watertight case that mankind is having a potentially catastrophic effect on the climate.

Climategate and the story within The Hockey Stick Illusion are bad news for some very powerful people, such as Al Gore and those who gave him a Nobel Prize, but are helpful to the rest of us. When Big Shot X says “This is incredibly clear, everyone knows this” . . . maybe they’re wrong.

44 Replies to “The Hockey Stick Illusion

  1. Contrary to what you read, only a small minority of scientists believe in global warming. Al Gore wrote that global warming is supported by 2,500 scientists. Since he exaggerates, I would take his number as the absolute maximum.

    Yet, in 2008, President Bush received a petition signed by 30,000 scientists expressed grave doubts about the global warming theory.

    So how did so few gain such great power? The emails from climategate outline how they accomplished that. Plus they had help from powerful politicians who saw global warming as a way to greatly increase their political power.

    So why did these scientists pervert science? The global warming industry is a $2.5 billion industry in America alone. That means that every person or organization that promotes GW(whether it be political or educational) receives a flood of grants, subsidies or contributions.

  2. Jake, I have no idea why you say “only a small minority of [climate] scientists believe in global warming”. (I’m less concerned what non-climate scientists think.) Can you explain why you believe this?

  3. Seth, while I don’t know exactly where Jake is coming from, I would say that metaphorically it could be described as an underground bunker that is shielded with a special type of tinfoil to prevent the government’s fleet of black helicopters from locating it.

    You can expect to make many more new friends like Jake as you continue to deny the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming.

  4. It’s easier to understand why stories like The Hockey Stick Illusion are made so appealing. The authors are lying. It’s so much easier to make a compelling story when you have no commitment to truth. This is the deep lesson hammered out by the Bards, codified by Edward Bernays in the ’20s, refined by J. Goebbels in the ’30s, and industrialized wholesale in the modern world by the Ad Council. The Big Lie technique really works. Climate scientists, constrained to mere facts, will always be at a disadvantage.

    The fact remains that we have just experienced the hottest twelve-month period in at least a thousand years. Spin as you like, even Exxon doesn’t pretend any more; they only pretend now that it’s not their fault, and spend more persuading lying liars to blow smoke about it than the entire population of climate scientists are paid for honest work.

  5. I have no opinion regarding the merits of climate change (on either side of the argument) but it would be naive to think a group of people could promote incorrect ideas about something very important to a lot of people for a long time.

    The high carbohydrate, low fat diet dogma for decades is a great example. I should have known when I was taking a nutrition class in college (circa 1987) taught by my 300+ pound instructor.

  6. I am little confused, Seth used the hockey stick to question global warming
    Nathan says people who used the hockey stick are lying, but man made global warming is true

  7. It’s easier to understand why stories like The Hockey Stick Illusion are made so appealing. The authors are lying. It’s so much easier to make a compelling story when you have no commitment to truth.

    Yes of course, that must be it.

    his is the deep lesson hammered out by the Bards, codified by Edward Bernays in the ’20s, refined by J. Goebbels in the ’30s, and industrialized wholesale in the modern world by the Ad Council. The Big Lie technique really works.

    Wow, argumentum ad hitlerium. It must be true.

    Climate scientists, constrained to mere facts, will always be at a disadvantage.

    Yes they’re constrained by mere facts. Here come those mere facts.

    The fact remains that we have just experienced the hottest twelve-month period in at least a thousand years.

    And how do you know this? Because the statistical techniques used to produce such a result are invalid. This was confirmed by the NAS Panel and the Wegman Report. The NAS Panel chairmen gave evidence to Congress backing Wegman’s report, and what he said was that the mathematics is simply wrong and the conclusion that the earth was the warmest it has been in a thousands years “cannot be sustained by his [Mann’s] analysis.

    All of the other “independent” reconstructions bar a couple, use the same key proxies, and many of them use the MBH PC1 as a proxy to give that HockeyStickness they required.

    The couple that did not use Mann’s bad proxies or their derivatives showed the Medieval Warm Period as warmer than today.

    I’d say you had swallowed a very Big Lie and only “shut-eyed denial” is your refuge.

  8. @Nathan Myers

    Another correspondent who comments on the book without having bothered to read it! You have clearly just taken the title, assumed what you think it about and then written your review. And accused the noble Bishop of lying along the way.

    Whether we have experienced the hottest decade in a thousand years or not is completely irrelevant to the argument in this book. Though having read it you may conclude that the evidence for that is a bit thinner than you think.

    But read the bloody book first before reviewing it! Your views will be taken with more conviction if you do.

  9. A couple of comments. Jake you comment on Al Gore saying that 2,500 scientists believe in global waming. That number comes from the 2,500 who contributed to the last IPCC report. If you look at Ross McKitrick’s site you will see that they were not asked if they were “believers”. The conclusions were written by a small cadre of absolute “believers” and we have no idea how many of the 2,500 agreed with the conclusions. Many probably did but many did not.
    Actually the number of scientists in other disciplines who are “sceptical” about AGW is growing. This is for two reasons. First their own research findings which contradict parts of the AGW hypothesis and secondly their disbelief at the methodology used by virtually all climate scientists. The models can be used to predict almost any climate scenario, the data is weak and finally the tightly knit of climate scientists involved are impervious to any criticism.

    Nathan you clearly show you have not even opened the cover of the Hockey Stick Illusion. Its a book that you find hard to put down once you start. – I’m reading it for the third time and it changed my mind totally!

  10. What a disgraceful comment from Nathan Myers, untruthful and libellous. Not one alleged “lie” from the book is identified, for the simple reason there are none.

    Some sceptics received some tens of millions in funding, mainly a decade or more ago, from energy companies. Alarmist climate science has received billions in funding. Individual climate researchers, like Professor Wang of Albany ($7M+), have received close to ten million each.

    We do not know for sure how the most recent decade compares with warm periods in the past – that’s the problem. In the northern hemisphere, temperatures were clearly warmer in the past – crops were grown in Greenland, vines in northern Britain, in the middle ages, within the last thousand years. It’s less clear what conditions were like in the southern hemisphere, but increasingly, evidence suggests they were the same.

  11. So I take it you read the book?

    I follow Joe Romm’s website for the hard non-denialist viewpoint, so when I heard of this book I went to see what he thought of it. Apparently he’s never mentioned the book or its author. I searched using his own site search engine, plus Google in the form … “montford”

    … and so on.

    Absolutely nothing, and this from a guy who loves to lay it on the skeptics. He went nuts over the second Freakonomics book. He posts several lengthy posts daily, including entire post criticizing things like innocently tendentious words used in New York Times article headlines on global warming. His headlines are longer than most blog posts. Every sentence has a link in it to one of his previous posts.

    Is Montford’s book just too minor to warrant a mention? Is it a needle in a haystack of denialist rants such that it’s under Romm’s radar? I wouldn’t think so, since it’s getting press like this:

    So I’m really intrigued. Is this book the first recipient of a new strategy among global warming activists of “Tachy Goes to Coventry,” of “I don’t hear you la la la”?

  12. Interesting that the last two commentators react with two non-scientific lines of attack, one of which accuses someone who doubts there is a consensus (however well informed this criticism is) by accusing him of denying the consensus, and therefore has clearly failed to understand the point of the original post, that consensuses can be wrong…

    The second asserts that Mr Mountford is lying, which is peculiar considering that the errors in Dr Mann’s codes are in the public domain and proven, which would suggest the conclusions are erroneous, and that attempts to defend these conclusions are therefore duplitious. But then again, he then refers to Exxon, appparently the villain funding the deniers (despite the fact there is no evidence of this and that other oil companies have been funding e.g. the Climate Research Unit at UEA). So to expose a perceived lie, Nathan asserts that the people using the evidence are lying, and that those defending the flawed conclusions are therefore truthful, and then backs this up with what appears to be a lie, even if Nathan is unaware of this. As to the hottest twelve-month period, where was this experienced? This is not a temprature, but an anomaly calculated by an decreasingly small number of thermometers and a complex system of gridding and averaging. It is not accurate.

    There may be global warming, but trotting out the hackneyed ‘consensus’ and ‘lies’ answers does not actual prove it. Science allows criticism, and where it is valid, it should be recognised as such.

  13. Nathan Myers Says:

    “It’s easier to understand why stories like The Hockey Stick Illusion are made so appealing. The authors are lying.”

    Really Nathan? Perhaps you would be so good as to explain this rather libellous assertion. Having followed the Hockey Stick saga for years, I think Montford has summed it up very well indeed. I wonder if you have even read the book?

    “The fact remains that we have just experienced the hottest twelve-month period in at least a thousand years.”

    This is not a fact at all, but a product of your imagination. Even CRU don’t say 2009 was hotter than 1998! And as comprehensively demonstrated in the book under review, there is no basis at all for believing the current period to be warmer, or even as warm, as the middle age warm period.

    You just made both your claims up. Don’t talk to us about “the Big Lie” – you seem pretty practised yourself!

  14. Nathan, do you really imagine that this sort of overblown undergraduate rhetoric is going to convince anyone, even those who have not bothered to look into the state of climate science?

  15. “The authors are lying.”

    Care to provide evidence of this? Quote page number and explanation will suffice.

    “The fact remains that we have just experienced the hottest twelve-month period in at least a thousand years.”

    No we have not.

  16. Nathan Myers.
    To suggest, as you do, that Andrew Montford is a liar says more about you than you know, particularly in the light of the other parts of your post.
    What Andrew has written is the truth.
    The truth about the lies and deception of climate science.
    You adopt the usual alarmist stance of attacking the man and ignoring the facts, something you continue to do with your claims about the climate.
    Evidence is abundant and overwhelming that the MWP was warmer than present and was not a local phenomenon, so your claim that the current temperatures are the highest in 1,000 years is not just incorrect, it is a blatant lie.
    You also confuse yourself about what most sceptics believe.
    The climate varies. It always has and it always will.
    The temperature rises and falls but anthropogenic CO2 emissions are but a tiny factor in that variability.
    Your myopic stance, and that of much of climate science, will continue to cause injustice and misery to millions, whilst real and pressing issues are ignored in order to line the pockets of the carbon cheats.

  17. Nathan Myers, obviously you haven’t read the book “The Hockey Stick Illusion”. After reading it, could you please detail in which part the author is lying?

    Climatology is a very challenging science because the investigators must be high experts in – the very least – meteorology, physics, biology, geology, oceanography, astrology, and God knows what more. What helps is that they never have to release their data and methods because everybody knows they are right. Although there actually is no formula or real life observations and data to be agreed on. But it does not matter, as long as the politicians, big corporations, private financing sector/bubble creators, public money, and the green movement are with them.

    If a climatologists happens to discover that there really is no problem here – that it is overwhelmingly about natural cycles – 95% of them will be out of job.

  18. Nathan,

    As a fairly impartial observer (I am ex researcher in the field and surface physics and polymer chemistry and now a science teacher) I have read ‘The Hockey Stick Illusion’ and found it to be very convincing. All claims, anecdotes and analyses are well documented and verifiable, as far as I can see. The questions that arise in the book do not appear to have been convincingly answered by any of the climate research groups involved.

    If you believe the contents of the book to be a lie, could you be more specific about which parts? I would like to check them out.

  19. Nathan
    Please feel free to elaborate on what “lies” are contained in The Hockey Stick Illusion. The central arguments of the book are correct, they may be inconvenient for people who are concerned about AGW but they remain correct.
    Without relying on Mann’s Hockey Stick it is impossible to assert that we have just experienced the hottest twelve month period in a thousand years because reliable research on the MWP suggests that this is not true, or is at least debatable. The Hockey Stick only received such world wide attention because it was convenient to those trying to convince the public of imminent climatic disaster. Hence its startling conclusion that the MWP and the little Ice Age did not exist or were dwarfed by the scale of recent temperature rises were not sufficiently rigorously critiqued by the climate science establishment. In addition the statistical methods used by Mann do not appear to have been understood by the majority of climate scientists or there would have been no need for a trained mathematician such as Steve McIntyre to take an interest in the subject.

  20. @Nathan Myers — You claim that “The authors are lying.” As we are discussing The Hockey Stick Illusion, please give us a specific example where the author (Montford) is lying. I suspect you can’t. Further, I suspect you haven’t seen or read the contents of the book. I have read it, and it provides a very well documented chronology of events, writings and analyses. You might disagree with some conclusions, but the evidence is factual.

    If I disagree with you, is it logical that you are therefore a liar? That seems to be your argument. I guess you are a true believer.

  21. Nathan writes,
    “It’s easier to understand why stories like The Hockey Stick Illusion are made so appealing. The authors are lying.”

    Obviously he hasn’t read the book … however if this kind of assertion is representative of the mooted “fight back” campaign by advocates of global warming, sceptics have little to be concerned about.

    Nathan also claims,
    “The fact remains that we have just experienced the hottest twelve-month period in at least a thousand years.”…

    Perhaps Nathan might like to substantiate that …

  22. Nathan Myers, apparently you haven’t read The Hockey Stick Illusion because 99.9% of the information in it is verifiable in the public domain. Are you asking to be sued?

  23. Uh… The 30 000 petition Jake is referring is a hoax.

    As for Stephen McIntyre, he is very good to talk about himself, but has never added any convincing data to the corpus. What he does since 10 years is pointing things he feels are wrong, which is very good, but in the long term, not very productive.

    And as for the hockey stick controversy, it has been demonstrated over and over that it was not a mistake, neither than an illusion

  24. Nathan Myers wrote

    The fact remains that we have just experienced the hottest twelve-month period in at least a thousand years

    There exists no valid temperature reconstruction for the last 1000 years. Depedning on which proxies are chosen the relationship between modern and medieval temperatures will vary. So the above statement has no scientific basis.

  25. I enjoy your blog but I am afraid your methodology for getting at the truth is completely flawed. Your global warming contrarianism is just a symptom of a larger failure. You rely far too heavily on your own personal experiences and discount those of others who disagree with you. Of course this is a nearly universal flaw, but you have made it the very foundation of your intellectual endeavors.

    Society benefits from having people like you around, because occasionally you will be right about something and it is good to have advocates for many points of view. But it is to your detriment because you end up believing so many false things. Fortunately being wrong about global warming is not too harmful, unless you intend to bequeath to your descendants a beautiful piece of property that happens to be only six inches above sea level, or some such.

  26. @Nathan Myers

    It’s much easier to CALL someone a liar than to prove them so.

    Please list the deliberate factual inaccuracies in Andrew Montford’s book (which of course you MUST have read), otherwise your post is nothing but unsubstantiated assertion.

  27. where did all these comments supporting the book come from? I posted my above comment this afternoon and it was only the 6th comment on the blog entry (Hal’s war 5th and right above mine)…. very odd.

  28. wow, some emotional outbursts here when belief systems are challenged!
    Many of the alarmist claims in the latest IPCC report have had to be retracted as based on advocacy, not science. The climate models are not validated and rest on shaky foundations (the key issue is assumptions made regarding feedbacks and climate sensitivity). No empirical evidence exists to support their conclusions.
    The past temperature record is uncertain and some mainstream climate scientists admit it probably needs reworking (the raw data are adjusted by processes which are not divulged and cannot be scientifically checked, Phil Jones of Climategate’s CRU says he has “lost” the original data on which trillion dollar decisions are based).
    The infamous hockey stick, whose story Andrew Mountford so ably describes, is recognized as an artifact of the invalid statistical methods used.
    Cap and Trade is being pushed by big banks and politicians, real environmental and social problems are being sidelined.

  29. Pascal Says:

    “Uh… The 30 000 petition Jake is referring is a hoax.”

    A hoax? That’s interesting, Pascal, so you have evidence that all 31,000 signatures on the Oregon Petition are fraudulent? Please be more forthcoming, we are dying to hear more.

    But of course you don’t, the petition is exactly what it claims to be – nothing more nor less than a large number of people holding scientific degrees who, when asked, signed a statement opposing AGW alarmism. It has never been claimed to prove anything, merely to DISPROVE the phony claim of a scientific “consensus” (whatever that could possibly mean) on this eminently debatable subject.

  30. I think first-time commenters are put in the moderation queue, causing an apparent reordering of comments when Seth approves comments.

  31. Nathan, I believe that you are incorrect to state that Mann’s code has never been released, a copy was released as a consequence of the Wegman inquiry and the Senate hearings. The code as released (a spaghetti like mess of Fortran) does not run, and a number of people have struggled to make it work without complete success, so it is unlikely to be the version finally used despite Mann’s claim at the time.

    However the code makes at least one item quite clear; as presented the code calculates both the RE and R2 statistics for each step in the reconstruction, thus the authors must have been aware that the reconstruction lacked statistical significance in the early steps contrary to the claims in the paper. The paper even quotes the R2 statistic for a later step (the 1815 step as I recall) where it is supportive, but omits it for the early steps where it is not. That is, prima facie, scientific fraud.

    The excuse (as endlessly repeated at propaganda sites like Realclimate) that RE alone is sufficient is obviously false, RE has been known to be inadequate with correlated data since the 1920’s at least, and Mann was well aware of the significantly auto-correlated nature of the residuals from his reconstruction. It is possible that the errors are simply the result of incompetence, but the failure to correct them is dishonest and fraudulent, and it is a great pity that commentors such as Nathan, Hal, and others above cannot recognize and acknowledge such errors and deliberate falsification of the scientific record.

  32. Wow that is a lot of first time posters, weird how my comment got moved down. I wonder if some AGW skeptic site decided to come over here and pile on.

    Seth, I don’t *know* you are wrong. I think you are very probably wrong because the scientific consensus is usually right; further, it is unlikely that they would be so far wrong that a non-expert in the field could immediately see through their mistakes.

  33. “I think you are very probably wrong because the scientific consensus is usually right”

    Really – in what sense? Most of what we believe today is wrong, or at best incomplete. There is a pretty straightforward inductive argument to this effect.

  34. Hal, thanks for explaining that. Judith Curry, a mainstream climate scientist, wrote this recently:

    No one really believes that the “science is settled” or that “the debate is over.” Scientists and others that say this seem to want to advance a particular agenda. There is nothing more detrimental to public trust than such statements.

    As for the speed involved, it took McIntyre years to reach his conclusions. A professional couldn’t have done what he did. You can’t take years to reach an unpopular conclusion that makes someone powerful look bad.  That’s a career killer.

  35. Climate scientists aren’t powerful. Exxon is powerful. Exxon spends more on lobbying alone, every year, than the entire population of climate scientists has ever been paid, cumulatively, since there were any.

  36. Hal wrote, “I think you are very probably wrong because the scientific consensus is usually right.”

    I think that there are many recent (or relatively recent) cases where the scientific consensus was wrong. For example, Portuguese neurologist António Caetano de Abreu Freire Egas Moniz received the Nobel Prize in 1949. He pioneered the use of lobotomy as a “treatment” for mental illness.

  37. Many comments confuse two separate issues. The Hockey Stick Illusion (and the hockey stick issue in general) is not the same as the question of global warming. The climate might be warming because of GHG emissions, even if the hockey stick is wrong. Discuss, please, one thing at a time. Both Montford and McIntyre have denied been “deniers” or “denialists”. They simply pose technical question, with indefatigable patience and unfailing courtesy and politeness.
    Besides, many dismissal’s of Montford’s book (exemplified by several in this thread) are just sweeping assertions (as those of many “deniers”) whereas the book is a very detailed and precise description of a host of technical problems, and of various maneouvres by Mann and others during several years to avoid releasing data, code, and information about how they had proceeded to construct the Hockey Stick chart, and the temperature records and reconstructions on which it is based. The Climategate mails show they were very well aware of the problems, as mentioned (briefly) by Montford and (in more extensive form) by his Bishop Hill blog and McIntire ClimateAudit blog. One should expect a serious discussion of the specific issues more than sweeping anathemas.

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