Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Does Scientific Evidence for Global Climate Change Really Exist?
"Show us the data: The audit trails and due diligence of the corporate world are lacking in the science that supports climate change"
Steve McIntyre, Financial Post, 1,428 words, 15 February 2005, National Post National, FP23
I have spent much of the past two years analyzing and reconstructing some of the basic studies used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to support their conclusions about global warming and, in turn, to promote policies on climate change. It started as a hobby and it evolved into a full-time avocation, resulting to date in three peer-reviewed publications, which Natuurwetenschap & Techniek, the National Post and The Wall Street Journal have recently reported on.
Previously, I spent about 35 years in the mining and mineral exploration business. During the last 20 years of this, I worked in the micro-cap exploration business and have a great deal of practical experience in dealing with prospectus and securities issues. In a corporate world, there is simply no question about providing audit trails, and while they can take many different forms, they all serve the purpose of ensuring the validity of information used for investment decisions. In addition to familiar forms of financial audit trails, the splitting and retention of drill cores is a form of audit trail in the exploration business. In my opinion, the absence of drill core at the Bre-X exploration site, if publicly known, would have alarmed investors long prior to the final demise.
The 2001 IPCC report produced findings that have guided investment decisions, which vastly exceed the sums involved in even the largest financial scandals of recent years. Since the IPCC leaned heavily on a novel approach called a "multiproxy climate study" and in particular the "hockey stick graph" of Mann et al. that purported to show extraordinary climate change, this is where I've focused my attention. An audit trail in this case is easily defined: the data in the form used by the authors and the computer scripts used to generate the results. In principle, these can be easily buttoned up and publicly archived.
Yet, none of the major multiproxy studies have anything remotely like a complete due diligence packages and most have none at all. The author of one of the most quoted studies [Crowley and Lowery, 2000] told me that he has "misplaced" his data. In the case of the Mann et al [1998, 1999] study, used for the IPCC's "hockey stick" graph, Mann was initially unable to remember where the data was located, then provided inaccurate data, then provided a new version of the data which was inconsistent with previously published material, etc. In addition to the lack of due diligence packages, authors typically refuse to make their source code and data available for verification, even with a specific request.
Even after inaccuracies in a major study had been proven, when we sought source code, the original journal (Nature) and the original funding agency (the U.S. National Science Foundation) refused to intervene. In the opinion of the latter, the code is Mann's personal commercial property. Mann recently told The Wall Street Journal that "giving them the algorithm would be giving in to the intimidation tactics that these people employ." My first request for source code was a very simple request and could in no way be construed as "intimidation." However, the issue neatly illustrates the disconnect.
IPCC proponents place great emphasis on the merit of articles that have been "peer reviewed." However, peer review for climate publications, even by eminent journals such as Nature or Science, is typically a quick unpaid read by two (or sometimes three) knowledgeable persons, usually close colleagues of the author. It is unheard of for a peer reviewer to actually check the data and calculations. In 2004, I was asked by a journal (Climatic Change) to peer review an article. I asked to see the source code and supporting calculations. The editor said no one had ever asked for such things in 28 years of his editing the journal. There is nothing at the journal peer review stage in climate publications that is remotely like an audit. It's my view that this is all the more reason why source code and data should be archived.
There is a great deal of public misconception of the forms of due diligence actually carried out by the IPCC. Although the IPCC and similar agencies have many meetings and committees (usually in nice places), they do not carry out any audit or verification activities. While insiders have long known this, it was recently admitted in written answers by the author of the hockey stick study (Michael Mann) to the U.S. Senate in the fall of 2003. "It is distinctly against the mission of the IPCC to 'carry out independent programs,' " Mann wrote. Thus, if a paper has passed the cursory journal peer review process, there may not be any subsequent hurdles prior to adoption by the IPCC.
Through my own checking, I found that the calculations behind the most famous IPCC graph -- the 1,000-year climate hockey stick -- contained a serious calculation error that invalidates the results. In this case, the methodology had been inaccurately described in the journal publication. I also found there had been an influential but unreported alteration to a key data series, where the alteration had been disguised by a (perhaps unintentional) misrepresentation of the start date of the underlying data. The math involved is not particularly sophisticated: The errors would have been discovered long ago had there been even routine checking. It still amazes me that for all the billions of dollars being spent on the climate change industry (which I suspect dwarfs the mineral exploration industry in dollar volume), and the thousands of people working full time on this issue just in Canada, it was nobody's job to check if the IPCC's main piece of evidence was right.
IPCC's inattentiveness to verification is exacerbated by the lack of independence between authors with strong vested interests in previously published intellectual positions and IPCC section authors. For example, Michael Mann had published an academic article announcing that the 1990s were the warmest decade in human history. He then became IPCC section author for the critical section surveying climate history of the last millennium, adopting the very graph used in his own paper on behalf of IPCC. For someone used to processes where prospectuses require qualifying reports from independent geologists, the lack of independence is simply breathtaking and a recipe for problems, regardless of the reasons initially prompting this strange arrangement.
It seems to me that prospectus-like disclosure must become the standard in climate science, certainly for documents like IPCC reports (which are like scientific prospectuses), but even for journals. In business, "full, true and plain disclosure" is a control on stock promoters. While it may not always be successful, it gives an enforcement mechanism. There is no such standard in climate science. In the Mann study there are important examples of pertinent adverse results, known to the authors, which were not reported. In fairness, the journals do not require authors to warrant full, true and plain disclosure and there is little guidance to such authors as to what is required reporting and what is not required.
I've found that scientists strongly resent any attempt to verify their results. One of the typical reactions is: Don't check our studies, do your own study. I don't think that businesses like being checked either, but one of the preconditions of being allowed to operate is that they are checked. Many of the most highly paid professionals in our society -- securities lawyers, auditors -- earn much of their income simply by verifying other people's results.
Businesses developed checks and balances because other peoples' money was involved, not because businessmen are more virtuous than academics. Back when paleoclimate research had little implication outside academic seminar rooms, the lack of any adequate control procedures probably didn't matter much. However, now that huge public policy decisions are based, at least in part, on such studies, sophisticated procedural controls need to be developed and imposed. Climate scientists cannot expect to be the beneficiaries of public money and to influence public policy without also accepting the responsibility of providing much more adequate disclosure and due diligence.
Steve McIntyre is a mineral exploration businessman and co-author, with Ross McKitrick, of Hockey Sticks, Principal Components And Spurious Significance. He will be commenting on related matters at www.climateaudit.org.
Black & White Photo: (Steve) McIntyre