Saturday, June 07, 2008

Climate fraud allegations

Doug Keenan is an independent mathematician, formerly a financial analyst, based in London. After I re-published a list of peer-reviewed papers that question the received wisdom on climate science - received wisdom, it should be said, only in the political and media worlds, not the scientific - I received an email from Dr Keenan drawing my attention to two peer-reviewed papers he had written that are relevant. I have added them to the first post, but want to draw attention to them here. Both are very accessible to a lay reader. Both are absolutely gobsmacking, to use a technical word.

The first is titled: Grape harvest dates are poor indicators of summer warmth. A pdf of the full paper can be downloaded here (pdf) and an introduction can be read here. The following is an abridged version of that introduction (emphasis added). It casts a disturbing light on the process of peer review:

On 18 November 2004, Isabelle Chuine and co-workers published a research paper on global warming. The paper appeared in Nature, the world's most highly-regarded scientific journal. And it gathered some publicity. Chuine et al. claimed to have developed a method for estimating the summer temperature in Burgundy, France, in any given year back to 1370 (based on the harvest dates of grapes). Using their method, the authors asserted that the summer of 2003 was by far the warmest summer since 1370, in Burgundy.

I had been following global warming studies only as a disinterested outside spectator (and only occasionally). Someone sent me the paper of Chuine et al., though, and wondered what I thought of it from a mathematical perspective. So I had a look.

To study the paper properly, I needed to have the authors' data. So I e-mailed Dr. Chuine, asking for this. The authors, though, were very reluctant to let me have the data. It took me eight months, tens of e-mails exchanged with the authors, and two formal complaints to Nature, to get the data. (Some data was purchased from Météo France.) It is obviously inappropriate that such a large effort was necessary.

Looking at the data made it manifest that there are serious problems with the work of Chuine et al...
That is, the authors had developed a method that gave a falsely-high estimate of temperature in 2003 and falsely-low estimates of temperatures in other very warm years. They then used those false estimates to proclaim that 2003 was much hotter than other years.

The above is easy enough to understand. It does not even require any specialist scientific training. So how could the peer reviewers of the paper not have seen it? (Peer reviewers are the scientists who check a paper prior to its publication.) I asked Dr. Chuine what data was sent to Nature, when the paper was submitted to the journal. Dr. Chuine replied, “We never sent data to Nature”.

I have since published a short note that details the above problem (reference below). There are several other problems with the paper of Chuine et al. as well. I have written a brief survey of those (for people with an undergraduate-level background in science). As described in that survey, problems would be obvious to anyone with an appropriate scientific background, even without the data. In other words, the peer reviewers could not have had appropriate background.

What is important here is not the truth or falsity of the assertion of Chuine et al. about Burgundy temperatures. Rather, what is important is that a paper on what is arguably the world's most important scientific topic (global warming) was published in the world's most prestigious scientific journal with essentially no checking of the work prior to publication.

Finally, it is worth noting that Chuine et al. had the data; so they must have known that their conclusions were unfounded. In other words, there is prima facie evidence of scientific fraud. What will happen to the researchers as a result of this? Probably nothing. That is another systemic problem with the scientific publication process.
In this case Dr Keenan took no further action. But this experience led him to look more closely at some of the evidence on which the ideas about human-caused global warming were based. In the process, he uncovered something that he felt demanded further action. He has published a report about this, which can be downloaded here (pdf) and a brief timeline of events, still being updated, that can be read here. The paper is titled: The fraud allegation against some climatic research of Wei-Chyung Wang. Here's the abstract from the pdf:
Wei-Chyung Wang has been a respected researcher in global warming studies for decades. I have formally alleged that he committed fraud in some of his research, including research cited by the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (2007) on “urban heat islands” (a critical issue). Herein, the allegation is reviewed, and some of its implications are explicated.
On the 20th February this year the University of Albany wrote to Dr Keenan confirming that they were going to investigate his allegation.

Here are some brief excerpts from the same pdf report (abridged, emphasis added):
The work of Jones et al. (1990) is a significant paper in global warming studies (see below for details). In February 2007, Stephen McIntyre blogged about evidence he had found showing that it was “impossible” for Jones et al. to have carried out their work as they had claimed.1 An anonymous comment on the blog then indicated potential issues with the closely-related work of Wang et al. (1990).2 Further study by myself found additional evidence of problems. The evidence particularly implicates Wei-Chyung Wang—the lead author of Wang et al. and a co-author of Jones et al.

Wang is a professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York.
He has been doing research on climate for over 30 years...
Meteorological stations sometimes move, and this can affect the temperature measurements of the stations.
It is clear that when a station moves, the temperature data from before the move is not, in general, directly comparable to the data from after the move.
In global warming studies, an important issue concerns the integrity of temperature measurements from meteorological stations. The latest assessment report from the IPCC indicates that the global average temperature rose by roughly 0.3 °C over the period 1954–1983. Thus, if errors in temperature measurements were of similar size to, or larger than, 0.3 °C, there could be a serious problem for global warming studies. The papers of Jones et al. and Wang et al. both consider this issue. The paper of Jones et al. is one of the main works cited by the IPCC to support its contention that measurement errors arising from urbanization are tiny, and therefore are not a serious problem.
Regarding station movements over time, the papers of Jones et al. and Wang et al. make the following statements.
The stations were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times. [Jones et al.]
They were chosen based on station histories: selected stations have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times.... [Wang et al.]
Those statements are essential for the papers.
Jones et al. and Wang et al. consider the same 84 meteorological stations in China. Regarding 49 of those stations, the DOE/CAS report says, “station histories are not currently available” and “details regarding instrumentation, collection methods, changes in station location or observing times ... are not known” (sect. 5). For those 49 stations, then, the above-quoted statements from the two papers are impossible.

Regarding the remaining 35 stations that were analyzed by the two papers, I have prepared a summary of the relevant information from the DOE/CAS report. The summary is available at As an example from the summary, one station had five different locations during 1954–1983, with the locations as much as 41 km apart. Two other stations each had four different locations. At least half the stations had substantial moves (two other examples, of 25 km and 15 km, were given above). Moreover, several stations have histories that are inconsistent, making reliable analysis unattainable.
The essential point here is that the quoted statements from Jones et al. and Wang et al. cannot be true and could not be in error by accident. The statements are fabricated.
I thoroughly recommend Doug Keenan's website in general. There are other relevant papers, all written with great clarity, generally accessible to a lay reader. (There's also a Knuth cheque to ogle).

Thanks for the nudge, anonymous - UPDATED here.


Anonymous said...

I've been saying for some time that "Climate Science" seems to have moved on from ineptness to dishonesty. It is, I think, quite normal in life that the incompetent turn to crime when it turns out that they are not up to earning an honest living. It'll be interesting to see whether my general proposition applies to these folks in particular. One of the driving forces for the Global Warming scam is probably that the world has been overproducing people with PhDs in physics and related sciences for decades.

Anonymous said...

I've just thought of another explanation for the Global Warming Movement. Maybe it consists largely of rather autistic "scientists" who earnestly imagined that they should rise to the challenge implicit in the old joke that everyone discusses the weather but no-one ever does anything about it.

Peter Risdon said...

"One of the driving forces for the Global Warming scam is probably that the world has been overproducing people with PhDs in physics and related sciences for decades."

Interesting thought, are there any numbers anywhere?

Anonymous said...

Dunno. The thought was inspired by recalling a wonderful rant by a mathematician about the harm done by surplus physicists who tried to take over the field of Chaos/Nonlinear Dynamics some time ago. A quick Googling yielded this§ioncode=26

stuffmaster said...

One if the corollary damages includes the "scientific" publication, Nature.

Having contributed to the original hoax by publishing Michael Mann's original fouled-up hockey stick without peer review of any kind, it then refused to publish McIntyre & McKittrick's exposure of Mann's blunder.

Now we are seeing very poor "peer review" in Nature, or review by other equally questionable reviewers, with the foxes guarding the henhouse as far as "peer review" is concerned.

This degrades the journal to a 3rd-rate publication, not worthy of trust by serious empirical scientists. The chickens have come home to roost.

Anonymous said...

Can we have an update on this please?