Nope, it isn’t Phil Jones or Michael Mann. It is Bob Carter, a co-author on McLean et al. 2009 “Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature”.

Last year, Bob claimed “We have shown that internal global climate-system variability accounts for at least 80% of the observed global climate variation over the past half-century.”

Well a new paper (Foster et al. 2010) debunks these claims and shows the underlying analysis of McLean et al. 2009 to be totally erroneous. Oops.

See John Cooks technical overview here, but put simply, the authors transformed their data in a way that resulted in an erroneous conclusion. Their inappropriate treatment of their data greatly inflated the temporal relationship between ENSO (a natural cyclic phenomena) and warming of the lower atmosphere.

Basically, Bob and his mates used a few statistical tricks to smooth away the climate trend (have a look at Figure 3 and 4 in Foster and co. paper for how this works).

The Foster et al (2010) abstract states:  McLean et al. [2009] claim that the El Ni˜no/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), as represented by the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), accounts for as much as 72% of the global tropospheric temperature anomaly (GTTA) and an even higher 81% of this anomaly in the tropics. They conclude that the SOI is a “dominant and consistent influence on mean global temperatures,” “and perhaps recent trends in global temperatures”. However, their analysis is incorrect in a number of ways, and greatly overstates the influence of ENSO on the climate system. This comment first briefly reviews what is understood about the influence of ENSO on global temperatures, then goes on to show that the analysis of MFC09 severely overestimates the correlation between temperature anomalies and the SOI by inflating the power in the 2–6 year time window while filtering out variability on longer and shorter time scales. It is only because of this faulty analysis that they are able to claim such extremely high correlations. The suggestion in their conclusions that ENSO may be a major contributor to recent trends in global temperature is not supported by their analysis or any physical theory presented in that paper, especially as the analysis method itself eliminates the influence of trends on the purported correlations.

Bob is a well-known skeptic who also happens to be a university PhD scientist at James Cook University in Townsville Australia, also home of our friend Peter Ridd.

His rightwing affiliations are outlined by sourcewatch here:

He is a member of the right-wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs [8], and a founding member of the Australian Environment Foundation, a front group set up by the Institute of Public Affairs.

He has made countless outlandish and false claims about climate change, climate change science and the IPCC over the years, including these gems:

“atmospheric CO2 is not a primary forcing agent for temperature change”

“any cumulative human signal is so far undetectable at a global level and, if present, is buried deeply in the noise of natural variation”

If you have the time, you can peruse his impressive catalogue of denialist talks and essays here (including his appearances on the Glenn Beck show, talks at the Heartland Institute, you get the picture).

He recently penned a screed against James Hansen in which Bob related Hansen to soviet Lamarckian biologist Trofim Lysenko. (what?!) Carter argues for an investigation of climate science and scientists. Indeed. Since he is the first prominent climate scientists to be caught manipulating data to achieve a pre-determmined outcome, is it not obvious where the investigation should begin? Secondly, he also argues that the (mostly bogus and totally overblown) problems in some of the IPCC reports should result in a policy shift. Well the logic makes sense: science should in part drive the policy.  And when found to be incorrect, the policy should adapt. The same must certainly be true then of Bob’s policy prescriptions that he based on the results of his now debunked study. As Michael Tobis write, Carter made some wild policy arguments based on the McLean et al 2009 paper:

Bob Carter, one of four scientists who has recently questioned the justification for the proposed Australian emissions trading scheme, says that this paper has significant consequences for public climate policy.

“The close relationship between ENSO and global temperature, as described in the paper, leaves little room for any warming driven by human carbon dioxide emissions. The available data indicate that future global temperatures will continue to change primarily in response to ENSO cycling, volcanic activity and solar changes.”

“Our paper confirms what many scientists already know: which is that no scientific justification exists for emissions regulation, and that, irrespective of the severity of the cuts proposed, ETS (emission trading scheme) will exert no measurable effect on future climate.”

MT links to the Climate Depot story about the paper from July 2009 which includes the press release, which in turn includes these statements:

Nature not man responsible for recent global warming

Three Australasian researchers have shown that natural forces are the dominant influence on climate, in a study just published in the highly-regarded Journal of Geophysical Research. According to this study little or none of the late 20th century global warming and cooling can be attributed to human activity.

“The surge in global temperatures since 1977 can be attributed to a 1976 climate shift in the Pacific Ocean that made warming El Niño conditions more likely than they were over the previous 30 years and cooling La Niña conditions less likely” says corresponding author de Freitas.

“We have shown that internal global climate-system variability accounts for at least 80% of the observed global climate variation over the past half-century. It may even be more if the period of influence of major volcanoes can be more clearly identified and the corresponding data excluded from the analysis.”

Bob Carter, one of four scientists who has recently questioned the justification for the proposed Australian emissions trading scheme, says that this paper has significant consequences for public climate policy.

“The close relationship between ENSO and global temperature, as described in the paper, leaves little room for any warming driven by human carbon dioxide emissions. The available data indicate that future global temperatures will continue to change primarily in response to ENSO cycling, volcanic activity and solar changes.”

“Our paper confirms what many scientists already know: which is that no scientific justification exists for emissions regulation, and that, irrespective of the severity of the cuts proposed, ETS (emission trading scheme) will exert no measurable effect on future climate.”

Also see MTs analysis and related coverage (that predates the new Foster et al paper) here and the RealClimate take here (an atrocious paper…).  Tamino, not surprisingly, picked up on this error a day after the paper was published. (so why isn’t he an author on Foster et al. 2010 – or is he?)

the real reason they note such strong correlation is that their analysis method removes all temperature variation which is due to trend — which of course makes it impossible for their analysis to indicate anything whatever about the trend.

It’s certainly not true that their analysis shows “natural climate forcing associated with ENSO is a major contributor to variability and perhaps recent trends in global temperature.” It shows no such thing; their analysis removes all the effect of trends.

Bob Carter’s statement in particular, that “The close relationship between ENSO and global temperature, as described in the paper, leaves little room for any warming driven by human carbon dioxide emissions,” shows how little he understand the analysis he himself participated in. Of course, he wouldn’t be the first to fail to understand the impact of using estimated derivatives on correlation analysis.

read the rest here (warning, equations and graphs lay ahead)

The five things we want to know are:

1) Will McLean et al. retract the paper (and will Bob Carter admit fault or even discuss the errors publicly)?

2) Will the denial0sphere and the MSM give this story (a climate change scandal!) the same coverage it has recently showered on various IPCC hiccups?

3) Will there be an investigation as Bob Carter himself and so many other skeptics have insisted on over and over again, usually in response to bogus and unsubstantiated allegations.

4) Will Bob now reverse his policy positions and urge (vocally) politicians that may have been swayed by his bogus science to do the same?  After all Bob, shouldn’t the science drive the policy?

5) Will The Australian cover this pending scandal!  A scientist behaving badly!

In the CimateDepot post titled “Peer-Reviewed Study Rocks Climate Debate! ‘Nature not man responsible for recent global warming…little or none of late 20th century warming and cooling can be attributed to humans” Mark Morano (yes that Mark Morano, whom Randy Olsen describes as “arguably the loudest mouth in the climate skeptic movement with his increasingly popular website, www.climatedepot.com. He is a former field correspondent for Rush Limbaugh, helped to promote the Kerry Swift Boat Veterans story, and former spokesman for Senator James Inhofe“) makes the argument below:

Those who claim correlation using derivatives (differences) removes a linear trend miss the point. McLean et al use this method to construct Figures 5 and 6. It should be noted that detrended data was used purely to establish the time lag between the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) and MGT in Figures 5 and 6. This time lag was then used in Figure 7 to show that close correlation between trends in temperature and changes in the Southern Oscillation Index seven months previously.
Figure 7 presents the data in its original form; namely, data that is not detrended, but with the time shift in SOI obtained from the detrended data. If an underlying trend existed, it would have shown up in Figure 7. One would see the temperature line rising away from the SOI line if, for example, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations had a significant influence. There is little or no sign of this.

Figure 4: Seven-month shifted SOI with (a) weather balloon RATPAC-A temperature data 1958–1979 and satellite UAH temperature data (b) 1980–1995. Dark line indicates SOI and light line indicates lower tropospheric temperature. Periods of volcanic activity are indicated.

Seem reasonable?  John Cook explains why it isn’t;

Another interesting feature of McLean et al 2009 is a plot of unfiltered temperature data (GTTA) against the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) to illustrate the quality of the match between them. However the temperature signal is a splice of weather balloon data (RATPAC-A) to the end of 1979 followed by satellite data (UAH TLT) since 1980. RATPAC-A data show a pronounced warming trend from 1960 to 2008 with the temperature line rising away from the SOI line. This warming trend is obscured by substituting the weather balloon data with satellite data after 1980. It is especially misleading because the mean values of RATPAC-A and UAH TLT data during their period of overlap differ by nearly 0.2 K. Splicing them together introduces an artificial 0.2-degree temperature drop at the boundary between the two. Unfortunately, the splicing is obscured by the fact that the graph is split into different panels precisely at the splicing boundary.

A simple mistake?  A mere coincidence?

This splicing + graph splitting technique is an effective way to “hide the incline” of the warming trend.

Precisely. Time for a climate audit?

To be clear, there is no way to discern the intentions of the authors from the published manuscript.  This could all be a series of mistakes that just happened to produce a surprising result that aligned with the ideology of the authors.  The only way to possibly determine why the authors chose the method of data transformation they did, stitched together disparate data, then effectively hid that data-melding in their figures is to ask them and/or to obtain their lab notes and correspondence about the paper. This would be invasive, but is precisely the type of scrutiny the Bob Carter’s of the world continually demand.

References

McLean, J. D., C. R. de Freitas, and R. M. Carter (2009), Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature, Journal of Geophysical Research, 114, D14104, doi:10.1029/2008JD011637.

Foster, G., J. D. Annan, P. D. Jones, M. E. Mann, J. Renwick, J. Salinger, G. A. Schmidt, K. E. Trenberth. Comment on “Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature by J. D. McLean, C. R. de Freitas, and R. M. Carter. In Press at Journal of Geophysical Research (download the PDF preprint here)

 

12 Responses to Climate scientist busted for fudging data

  1. Phil M says:

    Bob Carter is more political activist these days than scientist. Appearing on any right wing media that will have him & making guest appearances for Barnaby Joyce on climate propaganda tours.

    Good to see that science also affirms what many always suspected…….that he is indeed a better political activist than he is a scientist.

  2. OveHG says:

    Thank you Phil. This distinction is extremely important. I also think that the scientific community has an enormous obligation to weed out the type of dodgy science.

  3. wascawwy wabbit says:


    (so why isn’t he an author on Foster et al. 2010 – or is he?)

    At the risk of spilling the beans here, let’s just say that (ahem) he is.

  4. B McC says:

    Sadly, de Freitas is a regular opinion page columnist in the New Zealand Herald, the Auckland-based leading newspaper in New Zealand. About every three months or so, this academic at University of Auckland produces another piece “debunking” AGW.

  5. [...] at Deltoid has more feedback, and draws attention to the comments by Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg at Climate Shifts who demands: The five things we want to know [...]

  6. OveHG says:

    Where is Barnaby Joice and Nick Minchin – I wonder what they now have to depend on in terms of justifying their position on anthropogenic global warming? Or is he just simply a Wally?

  7. David Horton says:

    Ove, you must (a) stop thinking like a scientist and (b) thinking our opponents are disinterested seekers after truth. If Joyce and Minchin were to have any idea that the McLean et al paper had been comprehensively rubbished (although it was always obvious that “their analysis method removes all temperature variation which is due to trend — which of course makes it impossible for their analysis to indicate anything whatever about the trend”) it wouldn’t mean beans. They would simply pick up some other bit of denialist rubbish from Watts or Plimer or Lindzen or Lomborg and quote that. Their opposition to the need for action on climate change has absolutely nothing to do with science and therefore can’t be changed by science. It has everything to do with the mindset that the world has been put here to be plundered, and that no environmental factor of any kind must ever get in the way of that plunder. This was never a scientific debate, always an ideological one, or, rather, it was always science versus ideology.

  8. Bernard J. says:

    The refutation of MDC09 has rather more profound implications that might at first be apparent.

    Not only are McLean, de Freitas and Carter themselves shown to be mathematically incompetent at what is really a first year uni undergrad level, but all of their denialist promoters/supporters are shown to be similarly incompetent and/or dissembling by direct implication through not detecting/acknowledging MFC’s mistake soon after its publication: and all the more so the more, the longer that they continue to remain silent after the publication of Foster et al 2010.

    Conversely, the proponents of AGW are shown to be able to definitively and unassailably refute such naïve nonsense immediately it is produced (even though the journey to publication took some time…). McLean might bluster and threaten that he has a solid response, but obviously the editors of the Journal of Geophysical Research did not think so, and neither McLean nor his two co-authors have attempted a decent response online – he is certainly welcome to explain his adherence to the oringinal publication here, or at Deltoid, or at Real Climate, or at Skeptical Science, or on the Rabbet Run, or at Hot Topic, or at any of a number of other blogs that are watching the story with a critical eye. Alternatively, there are other journals (E&E?), with less stringent acceptance criteria, that might permit Mclean and his co-authors to defend themselves.

    The whole affair is a depiction in miniature of the overall climate change debate. The naysayers make many claims, and their flim-flam is summarily deconstructed and shown to be the pseudoscientific rubbish that it is. Meanwhile, the real science remains stubbornly resistant to refutation, and indeed continues to gather ever more empirical support. That so many of the lay public do not understand this is a sad reflection of the general standard of scientific literacy, and of much of human nature.

    Anyone with an inkling of how science works, and of parsimonious process, would understand exactly upon which horse to put their money. Of course, if you’re being paid to talk up a loser, that’s a different story – and it’s not science…

    Just as most everything produced by the Denialati is not science.

  9. Thom Adam says:

    Is global warming going to destroy the world? No in fact in may prove to be an improvement for many living in third world countries. Rising ocean levels will increase the surface area for evaporation to occur. Making more atmospheric water available and increasing rainfall for crops. Growing seasons will also be longer and less fuel will be needed for heating. The climate changes all the time and if mankind has put a .02% bump in rate of change it’s pretty insignificant. These green policies will force massive changes in the world economy making the middle class poor and concentrate authority in nearly all aspects of our lives in the government. It’s all about money and power, and it always has been. If you think I’m wrong don’t waste your time flaming me go buy some soon to be beach front property and wait.

  10. OveHG says:

    Thom, where have you been? The major impacts seem to be falling disproportionately on developing countries (e.g. sea level rise, drought in Africa, monsoon failure in Southeast Asia). You need to read the IPCC fourth assessment report and other peer-reviewed literature to help you understand this issue.

  11. [...] about greenhouse gases and global warming. Read more about this scoundrel here, here, here, and here. Dana 1981 took the time to debunk Bob’s latest attempt to confuse the public in a thorough [...]

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