May 172010

While catching up on things this morning, a link at Bishop Hill took me to one of the most penetrating and concise commentaries on the Hockey Stick controversy that I have seen, and it comes from a rather surprising source.

I’m not going to attempt to summarise what it says, mainly because if I did so it would probably give the impression that the author - Sam Norton, a philosopher and country parson - is reiterating arguments that most of us have often heard before, and to some extent this is the case. The power of his post comes not from covering new ground, but from the clarity and rigour with which it brings together issues that are often discussed in isolation: the political influences that contaminate climate science, reliance on arguments from authority, and the insights that applying dispassionate philosophical analysis to a scientific controversy can provide.

If you are commenting here on what Sam has to say then please, please, lets not have yet another discussion of what Michael Mann’s work may or may not tell us about climate over the last millennium. That is not what the article is about. The Hockey Stick saga has far more interesting things to tell us about the relationship between politics, science and belief at the beginning of the 21st century than whether the 1990′s were the warmest decade for a thousand years - if that matters - and that 1998 was the warmest year.

If you consider commenting at Sam Norton’s blog, then I advise you to get all your ducks in a row first. He seems to be a very pleasant and courteous chap, but note his reply to ‘Tess’, third comment down.

Kudos to Andrew Montford (aka Bishop Hill) whose book The Hockey Stick Illusion is helping to bring what appears to be a rather grubby scandal to the attention of a far wider circle of people whose views are valuable.

176 Responses to “The Hockey Stick – what would Martin Luther do?”

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  1. 151
    tempterrain Says:

    Robin and Max

    I can understand that you won’t believe me that there is no single precisely defined scientific method. Perhaps you might listen to what Berkley University has to say on it’s website:

    “Misconception: There is a single Scientific Method that all scientists follow.”

    Your tactic is a similar one used by Creationists to deny that Evolution is a ‘validated’ scientific theory. As far is they are concerned it would go something like:

    In order for a hypothesis to become a theory, it must first be validated by the scientific method. Step Two of this method states that a hypothesis must be subjected to many repeatable, verifiable, controlled experiments before it can proceed to steps three, four and five. When did the evolutionary hypothesis ever go through Step Two? In what controlled environment was pond slime ever observed to evolve into homo sapiens?
    Therefore, the so-called “Theory” of Evolution is nothing more than speculation or hypothesis.

  2. 152
    manacker Says:

    Alex Cull

    The Hertzberg et al. study you cited on actually observed versus theoretically “blackbody estimated” lunar temperatures is interesting.

    While I had always though that the blackbody estimate is an approximation, which ignores such things as sub-surface warming and heat retention/release, I did not think that the simplification errors were as great as suggested with the lunar example.

    If, indeed, these physical observations show that the blackbody estimates are based on faulty assumptions, the practical application of Stefan-Boltzmann and the resulting quantification of the greenhouse effect are basically flawed and need rethinking.

    I’m looking forward to reading both Bob_FJ’s as well as PeterM’s take on all this.


  3. 153
    Robin Guenier Says:


    As so often recently I hadn’t seen your #149 when I posted my #150. Still – we made much the same point & repetition does no harm.

  4. 154
    Robin Guenier Says:

    PeterM (#151):

    You really don’t pay attention do you? Read #149 and #150 again (carefully this time) and you’ll see that we are not saying there is a “single precisely defined scientific method”. What do you think my comment that “the practice of the Method is complex and varies depending on the field of investigation” means? Certainly nothing about precise definition – and wholly in keeping with your Berkley link. And that, it should be noted, includes the key observation that

    the core logic of science [is] testing ideas with evidence.

    And subsequently expanding that as follows:

    Testing hypotheses and theories is at the core of the process of science. Any aspect of the natural world could be explained in many different ways. It is the job of science to collect all those plausible explanations and to use scientific testing to filter through them, retaining ideas that are supported by the evidence and discarding the others


    Nothing about “attribution” there.

  5. 155
    Bob_FJ Says:

    Max, Reur 152 & Alex Reur 130,
    S-B stuff:
    I’ve commented with a quickie on the NS thread at 593, and intend to add to that.

  6. 156
    tempterrain Says:


    Whenever you accuse me of not paying attention I know you’re throwing up flak and that I must be making some progress!

    Now you are saying “we are not saying there is a single precisely defined scientific method” .
    Is that you and Max, or a royal “we”? :-)

    Maybe it is a royal ‘we’ because Max said in his posting #145 “Sorry. There is a single scientific method, regardless of what you may have ‘pointed out’ previously.”

    I suppose that all you can say now is that there is a single scientific method but it isn’t precisely defined! Whereas the Berkley Uni website clearly says that there isn’t even that and Wiki lists the notion as a common scientific misconception.

    You need to get your story straight between you!

  7. 157
    manacker Says:


    Wiki is pretty clear on the scientific method. Read it again, slowly. Take notes, if necessary, to make sure that the salient points will sink in.


  8. 158
    manacker Says:


    You appear to still be confused when you write (156):

    I suppose that all you can say now is that there is a single scientific method but it isn’t precisely defined! Whereas the Berkley Uni website clearly says that there isn’t even that and Wiki lists the notion as a common scientific misconception.

    To make sure you are no longer confused on this, Peter, I have repeated what I wrote in 149:

    Not everything done in science is done following exactly the same methodology or procedures, of course.

    But the “scientific method” has a fairly restricted definition. This is one of the key differentiators between “science” and “pseudo-science” (or as Carl Sagan called it: “bamboozle”).

    To avoid further confusion, follow the instructions in my 157.

    Hope this helps.


  9. 159
    tempterrain Says:


    You mean this Wiki link? It calls the single scientific method a “common misconception”

    The difficulty that you and Robin have is that you are claiming a disqualification on the grounds that climate science hasn’t ticked the right boxes or followed the classical method. The classical method is, as the Berkley websites, explains heavily dependent of experimentation. And also as it further explains several branches of science, for example the ‘classical’ and oldest branch called astronomy, don’t follow the classical method! Are you saying astronomy isn’t science?

    To put it another way you need to try to see a little further instead of saying:
    ” so far as I can see, they [Art specialists] do not pursue a code as rigorous as do scientists – indeed the Scientific Method is a factor that differentiates science from other fields of…”

    If you’d read the Berkley link properly, you wouldn’t say that. True there is a subjective element in any art historian’s interpretation of scientific results, such as pigment analysis, carbon dating of canvas etc, but so there is with all science. Fundamentally, there is no difference in the way that they work and the way that archeologist would date an ancient artifact. Are you saying that archeology isn’t science either?

  10. 160
    Barelysane Says:


    I’ve just read the Berkley link, and all it really says is that the linear scientific method model has a lot of loops in it, some tangents, but essentially follows the same pattern.

    One interesting quote from the page wrt scientific method, that you would do well to read until its burned into your brain (along with many other people) is:

    It captures the core logic of science: testing ideas with evidence.

  11. 161
    manacker Says:


    You still appear confused (159) regarding the meaning of the “scientific method”.

    Check the Wiki section entitled “scientific method”, which I cited and quoted earlier. This will clear it up for you. As indicated, there are many different procedures and methodologies for getting there, depending on the field of science involved and as Wiki says in the reference you quote:

    There is no single, strict scientific method used by all scientists, a misconception popularized by elementary science textbooks. The rigidhypothesis?experiment?conclusion model of science is an important part of many fields, particularly basic sciences like physics and chemistry, but is not the only way to perform genuine science. Many sciences do not fit well into this mold (astronomy, paleontology, mathematics), and much important scientific work has come from curiosity and unguided exploration, for example the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, or the development of the atomic force microscope.

    The rigid model of science is important in basic sciences, such as physics or chemistry.

    You are trying to exclude the physics of climatology from the rigors of the “scientific method” for an obvious reason, Peter. It is because the premise of dangerous AGW does not pass the rigorous scrutiny of this “scientific method”.

    This is completely different from the fields mentioned (astronomy, paleontology, mathematics) or from the scientific discoveries, which have come from “curiosity and unguided exploration”.

    This discussion is leading us nowhere, Peter. Come with scientific evidence (i.e. empirical data) to support your premise rather than looking for a “copout”. (You are beginning to sound like a defender of “intelligent design” hypotheses.)


  12. 162
    tempterrain Says:


    Yes, it is getting a bit tedious. I’ll just sum up the conclusion I’ve come to a briefly as possible.

    Firstly, neither you nor Robin have any real interest in the scientific method, or empirical evidence of any sort come to that. Robin, by his own admission, is asking for something which he is sure is just impossible to provide. And then when he doesn’t get it, he can say the science on AGW has not been properly conducted and therefore we can all stop worrying about GHG emissions!

    That’s not too smart when you think about it. Its just classic denialism.

  13. 163
    manacker Says:


    You wrote (your idea of a summary):

    Firstly, neither you nor Robin have any real interest in the scientific method, or empirical evidence of any sort come to that. Robin, by his own admission, is asking for something which he is sure is just impossible to provide. And then when he doesn’t get it, he can say the science on AGW has not been properly conducted and therefore we can all stop worrying about GHG emissions!

    That’s not too smart when you think about it. Its just classic denialism.

    You are dead wrong, Peter. I am very interested in the “scientific method” and, in particular, in its rigorous application to the relatively new field of “climatology” to eliminate “bamboozle” (or “agenda driven science”), as much as this is possible.

    Where the science is sound, it is not at all “impossible to provide” empirical data which clearly support a premise or hypothesis. In the case of the premise for dangerous AGW, however, these empirical data are missing.

    We have observations, which show that
    - temperature has increased in 30-year (half-cycle) oscillations since 1850, with an underlying warming trend of 0.041C per decade but no statistically robust correlation with atmospheric CO2
    - sea level has increased since the mid 19th century, also in multi-decadal swings, with the first half of the 20th century (1904-1953) showing a slightly faster rate of rise than the second half (1954-2003)
    - Arctic sea ice has receded, while Antarctic sea ice has expanded, since satellite records started in 1979
    - atmospheric CO2 has increased since readings were started in Mauna Loa in 1958; earlier ice core data indicate a somewhat flatter increase prior to 1958 (but as these are based on composite data over many years, it is difficult to establish clear annual values prior to 1958)
    - human CO2 emissions have increased as the standard of living and energy consumption in the developed world have both increased; this is now occurring in the giant developing economies (China, India, etc.)

    We also have a theory, which tells us that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which absorbs and re-radiates LW energy, thereby “warming” our planet. At an assumed “pre-industrial” concentration of 280 ppmv, the natural GH effect of CO2 is estimated to be between 5 and 8C (out of a calculated total natural GHE of 33C), and the warming rate is assumed to be logarithmic based on concentration, so that a doubling of CO2 would result in a theoretical GH warming of around 1C.

    Basta! That’s it folks.

    Then we have computer model simulations, which attempt to make sense out of the theoretical deliberations plus the observed data that we have, and we have a political body (IPCC) dedicated to showing that AGW is a potential threat, which must be dealt with with policy changes, and politicians, many of whom support the concept of a tax on “carbon”, who support climate research with taxpayer funding.

    A heady mix, Peter.

    Can we “stop worrying” about CO2 emissions? There are no empirical data that tell us we should “start worrying” about them.

    I will remain rationally skeptical of the dangerous AGW premise until someone shows me the data and thereby convinces me that we are not being “bamboozled”.

    So far you have been unable to do so.


  14. 164
    tempterrain Says:


    Do you agree with Robin that you are asking for the impossible? And of course you won’t get it. Isn’t that just an easy way to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist?

  15. 165
    manacker Says:


    You ask (164):

    Do you agree with Robin that you are asking for the impossible? And of course you won’t get it. Isn’t that just an easy way to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist?

    No. I do not believe that anything is “impossible”. I just believe that it is “highly unlikely” that you will able to show empirical data based on actual physical observations to validate the (IPCC) premise a) that AGW (caused primarily by human CO2) has been a principal cause for past warming and b) that AGW represents a serious potential threat.

    If you can prove me wrong, please do so.

    For a good reasoning why many people are rationally skeptical of the IPCC AGW premise see this summary by a countryman of yours:

    Face it, Peter. As sad as it may seem for ardent AGW-believers, like yourself, the IPCC “glory days” have passed. There have been too many revelations of sloppy science, fabrications, exaggerations and manipulations of data. No longer does the “world” believe everything that IPCC publishes, just because it comes from IPCC. The AGW postulation now requires a higher level of validation than simple computer model simulations based on theoretical deliberations.

    If you cannot provide empirical scientific data to support your premise, so be it. Don’t try to hide behind statements that, as rational skeptics, we “are asking for the impossible” so that we can “pretend that the problem doesn’t exist”. That’s a cop-out.

    The ”problem doesn’t exist” until you can demonstrate conclusively that it does.


  16. 166
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Max, Barelysane & PeterM:

    I’ve been out all day so have been unable to contribute to the Scientific Method discussion. I have little time now, so I’ll say just this: (1) I liked Max’s 161, 163 and 165 and (especially) Barelysane’s 160; and (2) I do not believe it’s impossible that, one day, empirical evidence supporting the dangerous AGW hypothesis will come to light – just that it hasn’t happened yet, and it’s doing so seems increasingly unlikely. But “impossible”? Most certainly not.

    Barelysane’s Berkley quotation (thanks for the link, Peter) is worth repeating:

    the core logic of science: testing ideas with evidence

    This too:

    Testing hypotheses and theories is at the core of the process of science. Any aspect of the natural world could be explained in many different ways. It is the job of science to collect all those plausible explanations and to use scientific testing to filter through them, retaining ideas that are supported by the evidence and discarding the others

    I’ll be away from my computer for four days. On my return, it will be interesting to see how this develops – if it does.

  17. 167
    tempterrain Says:


    You now say “But ‘impossible’? [empirical evidence for dangerous AGW hypothesis] Most certainly not.”

    You often accuse me of not paying attention but I must have been on the 25th March when you wrote:

    “’s impossible to define, let alone set up, a means of obtaining empirical evidence supporting the dangerous AGW hypothesis.”

    So have you now changed your mind?

  18. 168
    Robin Guenier Says:


    No, I have not changed my mind. What I said in March is completely compatible with what I said above. I suggest you go back and read my earlier post – doing so carefully this time.

  19. 169
    tempterrain Says:

    I would suggest that you should take a good look at yourself! You might just see a level of arrogance in the mirror which is completely unwarranted!

    You need to face the reality that you have been caught out in the simple tactic of demanding the impossible! Its used by all deniers, not just climate change deniers, as a justification for their lack of rational thought.

  20. 170
    Robin Guenier Says:


    Arrogant, moi? What a dreadful calumny.

    But, Peter, you’ve got yourself into an awkward pickle on this, haven’t you? I’m busy today but I’ll expand on this later this afternoon. I look forward to it.

    PS: I see you made another unwise comment on the same issue on the Royal Society thread. To avoid duplication, I’ll post my reply there.

  21. 171
    manacker Says:


    The PeterM 6-step:

    Waffle, waffle, waffle.


    Then waffle, waffle again…

    Bring empirical data rather than meaningless, repetitive blah-blah.

    Otherwise admit that there is no empirical data based on physical observations to support your premise a) that AGW, caused primarily by human CO2 emissions, has been a principal cause of the observed 20th century warming or b) that this represents a serious potential threat.

    Without empirical data your premise remains a hollow hypothesis, with as much scientific validity as the hypotheses of “intelligent design” or “early population of Earth by hyper-intelligent extraterrestrials”.

    In other words, what Carl Sagan would have referred to as a “bamboozle”.


  22. 172
    tempterrain Says:

    Max and Robin,

    You really are both the most incorrigible of deniers. Note not sceptics! A sceptic would change their opinion given a sufficient level of evidence.

    You’ve no intention of accepting any evidence other than what you yourself have decided is just impossible to obtain. Cany you just explain to me again how and why this evidence is “impossible to define…”

  23. 173
    manacker Says:


    Name calling (172) without providing any empirical evidence won’t hack it, Peter.

    You have waffled around the question of empirical data to support your premise a) that AGW, caused principally by human CO2 emissions, has been the primary cause of 20th century warming and b) that AGW represents a serious potential threat.

    But you have been unable to provide such empirical data, responding instead with absurd statements such as that this evidence

    is impossible to provide, unless we test the earth to destruction to obtain it

    In effect you are writing that you are unable to provide the empirical evidence requested, therefore it must be impossible to provide this empirical evidence without destroying the earth.

    This is obviously a “cop-out”, Peter.

    But let’s first go back to the “scientific method”

    It is often said in science that hypotheses can never be proved, only disproved. There is always the possibility that a new observation or a new experiment will conflict with a long-standing theory, thereby invalidating it.

    But we are not looking for “proof”, but simply for validation of the dangerous AGW premise based on empirical data derived from physical observations.

    Now I will turn the discussion around and show you empirical data derived from physical observations, which tend to invalidate the above stated “dangerous AGW” premise.

    First of all, the statistical correlation between atmospheric CO2 and global temperature is not robust. There are observed multi-decadal periods of warming and slight cooling while there are no multi-decadal fluctuations in atmospheric CO2. The statistical correlation is thus a “random walk”. While correlation does not provide evidence for causation, it is true that lack of correlation does provide evidence for lack of causation. Therefore, the physically observed temperature and CO2 records provide empirical data, which invalidate the premise that CO2 has been a principal cause of the observed 20th century warming.

    Even if one assumes that the multi-decadal temperature oscillations did not occur (or were irrelevant), the long-term record shows warming of around 0.7C over the 160-year time period. Taking the observed CO2 record since 1958 and the putative record based on ice core studies prior to 1958, this corresponds with a 2xCO2 climate sensitivity of 1.4C, if we assume (as IPCC does) that all anthropogenic forcing factors are equivalent to that of CO2 alone (other anthropogenic factors cancel one another out) and that natural forcing factors are essentially irrelevant. On this based, we have well under 1C warming to expect from CO2 increase until year 2100, and the premise that AGW represents a serious potential threat has been invalidated.

    Now the AGW logic starts to get “fuzzy”. Since the observed temperature increase does not correlate with the assumed 2xCO2 climate sensitivity of 3.2C (derived from model simulations and hypothetical deliberations rather than physical observations), the postulation is made that greenhouse warming takes time to reach “equilibrium” and there must, therefore, be some already experienced but not yet realized warming “hidden in the pipeline” somewhere. Starting with the assumed CS of 3.2C, this “hidden warming” is calculated by “circular logic” (Hansen et al.) to be equivalent to 0.85 W/m^2, in order to confirm the 3.2C assumption. It is further postulated that this “missing energy” is “hidden” in the upper ocean, from where it will some day be released (by some as yet inexplicable mechanism) to cause further warming of the atmosphere.

    The premise that the upper ocean was warming was based on sketchy spot data. As team leader Josh Willis confirmed:

    There have been various difficulties in measuring ocean heat. Expendable bathythermographs, or XBT’s, measured ocean temperatures before the Argo network was deployed. XBT’s have been found to introduce a warming bias.

    Accurate measurements are now possible on a global scale with the Argo system. Argo consists of a world-wide network of over 3000 free-drifting platforms that measure temperature and salinity in the upper 2000m of ocean. Since these measurements were installed in 2003, they have confirmed that the upper ocean is cooling rather than warming, as was previously assumed, based on spot measurements from the less reliable XBT buoys.

    At the same time the atmosphere (both at the surface and in the troposphere) has cooled since 2000.

    The relatively small amount of latent heat in melting ice or net water evaporation is too small to make a difference, so the “hidden energy” is nowhere to be found on our planet and is therefore “missing”

    Kevin Trenberth referred to this “missing heat” as a “travesty, which it certainly is for the validity of the dangerous AGW postulation..

    Of course, some AGW-supporters have “blamed the thermometers” for the current cooling (and the resulting “missing heat”).

    But just how big a “travesty” is this really for the AGW paradigm? Let’s do a quick check.

    From 2000 to 2009, CO2 has increased from 369 to 390 ppmv.

    Using the estimate of 3.2C warming for 2xCO2 (which IPCC claims), this increase should have caused an atmospheric warming of 0.26C.

    In actual fact we saw a cooling of 0.08C at the surface and 0.11C in the troposphere over this period, for a net discrepancy between the observed facts and the AGW theory of 0.35C (or half the amount of total warming observed from 1850 to today!).

    Let’s forget the Argo measurements for now and assume that the theoretical 0.26C atmospheric warming is correct, and that it went into the upper ocean (top 500 meters), where it is hiding to come back out again as added warming some day (as suggested by the “hidden in the pipeline” postulation).

    The upper 500 meters of ocean has 170 times the heat capacity of the entire troposphere, so this warming is equivalent to a warming of 0.26 / 170 = 0.0015C of the upper ocean.

    This infinitesimal amount of upper-ocean warming would be impossible to measure but, as pointed out above, Argo measurements tell us that, in actual fact, the upper ocean has cooled since they started in 2003.

    So where is this missing energy if it cannot be found anywhere on our planet?

    Instead of blaming the thermometers, Kevin Trenberth thinks it may be going back into “outer space”, with clouds acting as a “natural thermostat”.

    See “The Mystery of Global Warming’s Missing Heat”:

    Another postulation has it disappearing into the lower ocean. This is so vast, with such a large heat content, that it would have warmed by only 0.0002C!

    In either case, it is not “lurking in hiding” somewhere to come out and eventually cause more atmospheric warming, as Hansen has postulated.

    And the “hidden in the pipeline” hypothesis has thereby been falsified (along with the postulation of a 2xCO2 climate sensitivity of 3.2C), thereby falsifying the hypothesis of a serious potential threat from warming caused by AGW.

    For a more detailed discussion see:

    A further invalidation is found in the recent physical observations by Spencer et al. on cloud feedbacks. These observations show that net cloud feedback is strongly negative, rather than strongly positive, as assumed by all the climate models cited by IPCC. Instead of contributing 1.3C to the assumed 2xCO2 CS of 3.2C, the net negative feedback from clouds would put the 2xCO2 CS at around 1C, thereby also falsifying the hypothesis of serious potential warming caused by AGW.

    Recent model studies using an improved technique called superparameterization for estimating cloud feedback have shown similar results to those confirmed by the physical observations of Spencer et al.

    So we have several instances where empirical data from actual physical observations have falsified the dangerous AGW hypothesis.

    Yet you are unable to bring any empirical data to validate this hypothesis.


  24. 174
    Robin Guenier Says:


    Re my #170 and your #172, see my post on the Royal Society thread – here.

  25. 175
    R C Churchman Says:

    Heaven knows the congregation of St Peter and St Paul have endured enough upheaval in recent years.
    It started when a trendy new vicar arrived, raising eyebrows by preaching in a Hawaiian shirt, incorporating Leonard Cohen songs into his services, and dressing up as a circus clown.
    Then Sam Norton went further, renaming ‘Evensong’ as ‘Evenspeak’ and introducing events such as ‘parish brekkie’.
    But the final straw for many came when Reverend Norton, 39, sacked choirmaster, Professor Emeritus John Davies, 68, claiming he was responsible for a ‘musical train wreck’.
    The 20-strong choir – who are considered one of the best in the region and have performed in front of archbishops – promptly walked out in sympathy and now most of the churchgoers have done the same.
    Last week fewer than 40 of them arrived at a morning service normally attended by 100.

    Read more:
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

  26. 176
    TonyN Says:

    It’s sad to hear that things have not gone well over the last five years, and a very great pity that clergy with bright ideas so often seem to suffer from a serious Pastoral Theology deficit.

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