Feb 142010

Two remarkable documents were published on the BBC website on Friday night. One is a long interview with Phil Jones conducted by  Roger Harrabin. This does not seem to have been the usual head to head affair, but written answers to written questions over a period of several days, some of them provided by sceptics. Therefore there is no scope for Jones to claim that he was panicked into hasty responses or that he has been misquoted:

Q&A: Professor Phil Jones

The other is Harrabin’s shorter summary of the interview, although it does contain one revelation that is not in the other document:

Climate data ‘not well organised’

To say that these are  explosive would be to wildly underestimate the potential impact of their content. Phil Jones, and his research, has had a huge effect on the IPCC process and the climate change community during a decade that spans two IPCC assessment reports. What he says matters.

Jones is not only one of the world’s most influential climate scientists, he is also a major opinion former within his field of research and beyond. This is a man whose word has carried great weight with journalists, activists, administrators and politicians as well as with other scientists.

So why is this interview so important?

If you try to identify the core scientific evidence on which current alarm about anthropogenic climate change depends, then it is possible to come up with the  following short list:

  • The greenhouse gas hypothesis; increased Co2 in the atmosphere causes warming.
  • There has been an unprecedentedly rapid rise in global average temperature  during the 20th century.
  • Current temperatures have reached levels unprecedented during the last 1000 years at least.

The first item describes a mechanism by which human emissions of Co2 could cause the climate to change. The other two provide crucial evidence that is necessary to substantiate the green house gas hypothesis. Without them, it remains no more than a theoretical possibility, and just because something could happen, it doesn’t mean that it has happened, is happening, or will happen.

Whether you count in Pounds Stirling, Euros or US Dollars, hundreds of billions, perhaps more than a trillion, have already been invested an efforts to stave off this perceived catastrophe and to fund the science that has brought it to our attention. We really do need to know whether this research will stand up to scrutiny by people other than those who produced and promoted it; the climate science community and the IPCC. Up until now, public consent to measures that can and will effect all our lives has been achieved by claims that the science is settled, the debate is over for all rational people, and there is a consensus among scientists that global warming has occurred, and is occurring as a result of human Co2 emissions. We are told that we mus believe what we are told about global warming because the IPCC has assessed the research thoroughly, objectively and in a transparent process, to the extent  that they can guarantee its quality.

Jones’ main expertise is the surface temperature record, the analysis of thousands of vast amounts of data from weather stations all over the world dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. These apparently tell us that rapid warming has occurred during the latter part of this period.

The Climategate emails released in November show all too clearly the lengths to which Jones and his colleagues at the University of East Anglis were prepared to go to in order to avoid releasing to sceptics the data on which Jones’ estimation’s of global temperatures are based. Ever since then, the IPCC and others who seek to ward off any criticism of the science of global warming, have repeatedly said that even if there is a problem with Jones’ data, there are two other institutions, NASA GISS and NCDC, that have reached the same conclusions, therefore there is nothing to be concerned about.

In Harrabin’s summary of the interview, he reports that Jones is no longer able to identify where all the data used in his research came from:

“We do have a trail of where the (weather) stations have come from but it’s probably not as good as it should be,” he admitted.

That’s similar with the American datasets. There were technical reasons for this, with changing data from different countries. There’s a continual updating of the dataset. Keeping track of everything is difficult. Some countries will do lots of checking on their data then issue improved data so it can be very difficult. We have improved but we have to improve more.”

My emphasis

Climate data ‘not well organised’

If the other two surface temperature records suffer from the same problem as the one that Jones compiles, then that means that there is not a single estimation of global surface temperatures for the last 150 years that can be validated from the original data that was used to construct it. In science, everything must be validated and nothing can be taken on trust. The most critical test of research findings is that others can replicate them. Without a full set of data this cannot be done convincingly.

In the second bullet point at the beginning of this post, I drew attention to the importance of knowing what has happened to surface temperatures during the last hundred years. It is not too much to say that the credibility of the last two IPCC assessment reports depends entirely on this research. Unless it can be shown that global temperatures have increased anomalously during a period when levels of Co2 in the atmosphere have increased, then it is not possible to determine that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases have had any impact on global temperature.

In Question O of the BBC interview, Jones is quizzed about his career. He says that he has publishesd over 270 peer-reviewed papers on different aspects of climate research; a very impressive record. The peer review process does not usually involve the detailed inspection of data, and according to Harrabin’s report, Jones’ colleagues say that his record keeping is disorganised and they seem unsurprised about the problems with the surface temperature record data. A great many of these papers will have been relied on in the IPCC reports and elsewhere. One cannot help wondering if Jones, who has apparently failed to keep adequate records of in his most important field of research, instrumental surface temperatures, has also failed to keep proper record of other studies? How many of these other papers can be validated? This is not to suggest that they are worthless, only that it is necessary in science to be able to verify results by reference to the data.

Given what we now know about Jones’ disorganised working methods, and the lengths that he has been prepared to go to in order to avoid scrutiny by critics, it is reasonable to expect that the IPCC would want to subject any papers authored by Jones that have been relied on in their assessment reports to detailed re-evaluation. This is only likely to happen if there are irresistible demands that they should do so.

Turning to the question of whether surface temperatures at present are higher than they have been during at least the last thousand years (third bullet point) we have to consider Michael Mann’s  Hockey Stick graph that has probably done more to persuade people of the credibility of warnings about global warming than any other single piece of research. Many of the more sensational Climategate emails are devoted to the efforts of Jones, Mann, and other IPCC luminaries, to make sure that no research casting doubt on the validity of this graph should see the light of day or be given a fair hearing.

It is to the Hockey Stick graph that the IPCC turned for evidence that the Medieval Warm Period, when temperatures may well have been higher than they are now, does not in fact exist or was merely a regional phenomenum of no importance.  Although Jones was not directly involved in the original study, he has contributed to other palaeoclimate studies, so it is reasonable to expect him to provide a well informed and spirited defence of Mann’s work. In Question G he is asked about the significance of the Medieval Warm Period in determining whether recent temperatures are unprecedented. This only yields a discursive answer that avoids the main thrust of the question, but in so doing makes it clear that there is much uncertainty about this research.

Once again, this is a long way from the line taken by the IPCC, and the doubts that Jones appears to have are amplified in Question N:

When scientists say “the debate on climate change is over”, what exactly do they mean – and what don’t they mean?

It would be supposition on my behalf to know whether all scientists who say the debate is over are saying that for the same reason. I don’t believe the vast majority of climate scientists think this. This is not my view. There is still much that needs to be undertaken to reduce uncertainties, not just for the future, but for the instrumental (and especially the palaeoclimatic) past as well.

There is little that I can say about this other than it is breathtaking to hear such doubts from a leading climate scientist and IPCC functionary. They are at odds with whole thrust of the last two assessment reports, and the deluge of self-aggrandising propaganda that has emanated from that organisation and its supporters.

Another of the concerns that the Climategate emails raise is that Jones and his colleagues may have manipulated the peer review process in order to suppress research that might threaten their own findings and the case for anthropogenic climate change. In Question S, Jones reveals that, since 2005, he has reviewed some 43 papers and it is reasonable to suppose that these would not involve trivial matters of research. A scientist of Jones’ stature would [A.G.F1] not be expected to waste his time on such matters.

If Jones was at the centre of attempts to subvert the peer review process, and we will have to await the results of the two Climategate enquiries that are already under way before we know whether this is the case, there must be doubts about any reviews that he undertook. It is a requirement of the IPCC review process that the assessment reports should only rely on peer-reviewed research.  In view of this, surely it is necessary that the IPCC should reconsider any papers of which Jones was a reviewer that have been used in their reports if he is found to have behaved improperly? But are they likely to do this?

There are a couple of other things in the interview that point to areas of concern that should now be investigated either by the IPCC or, more appropriately, by an independent body.

In answer to Question Q, which deals with the notorious ‘trick’ to ‘hide the decline that is mentioned in the Climategate emails, Jones confirms that this was to do with splicing instrumental temperature records on to palaeoclimate records. What is interesting is that he says that this was done at the request of the World Meteorological Organisation, a UN agency and, with UNEP, one of the parent bodies of the IPCC. It would be very interesting to know why they requested that this should be done?  There is a tendency for palaeoclimate reconstructions to show declining temperatures at the end of the 20th century whereas the instrumental record shows a sharp increase. Given the ever-increasing suspicions about the IPCC’s methods, and the way in which climate research has been conducted over the last decade, surely this is a question that must be asked again and again until it receives a credible answer.

By this stage, it actually becomes difficult to believe your eyes as you read what Jones has to say. About eighteen months ago, Richard Lindzen suggested that there had been no statistically significant increase in global temperatures since 1995. The climate science community greeted this with derision. Now, in answer to Question B, Jones agrees that this is correct. What he does not say, and was not asked, is why the most recent IPCC report made no mention of global warming stalling in spite of their having more than a decade of data to work with at that time. All the talk in the report is of inexorably rising temperatures.

Lastly, here is Question L:

Can you confirm that the IPCC rules were changed so lead authors could add references to any scientific paper which did not meet the 16 December 2005 deadline but was in press on 24 July 2006, so long as it was published in 2006? If this is the case, who made the decision and why?

No answer. Question should be put to the IPCC.

This refers to the inclusion in the last assessment report of a deeply flawed paper by Wahl and Ammann, which claimed to replicate Mann’s Hockey Stick graph, and by so doing discredit MacIntyre and McKitrick’s criticisms. The labyrinthine events that lead up to this paper being cited are too complex to explain here but, given Jones role in the creation of the IPCC report, and the revelation in the Climategate emails of attempts to suppress criticism of the Hockey Stick, it is hard to believe that he did not know the answer to this question. It remains to be seen whether the IPCC will provide answers. If they do not do so, then their credibility will become even more damaged. This is not a matter that can be passed off as a minor mistake.

Over the last few weeks there have been a steady stream of revelations that claims made in the IPCC report are not backed up by scientific evidence. So far all these have related to the second section of the report compiled by Working Group II and entitled “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”. This is where the most scary material about the supposed effects of climate change are to be found. Disappearing Himalayan glaciers and burning Amazon rain forests are newsworthy. But this section of the report only has meaning if it can be shown that there is robust scientific evidence that humans are,in fact,  changing the climate. For this one must turn to the first section, “The Physical Science Basis”, compiled by Working Group I, of which Jones is an influential member.  Although the recent criticisms of the  WG I report are extremely damaging to the IPCC, these are as nothing compared to the likely  impact if similar problems are identified in the WG I report.

Phil Jones’ interview with the BBC is therefore important because of what it reveals about uncertainties in the most fundamental science that underpins concern about global warming. In the immediate aftermath of Climategate, the Chairman of the IPCC said that he would launch an investigation, but later backtracked on this.

If there are now doubts about the integrity of all three of the surface temperature records, and from what Jones has that  seems very likely,  then the IPCC’s claim that there has been rapid warming  during the last century has no credible foundation. If the palaeoclimate reconstructions of temperatures, which the IPCC rely on to show that it is warmer now than at any time in the last thousand years are fraught with uncertainty as Jones suggests, they cease to provide viable evidence that anthropogenic warming is happening. As I suggested at the beginning of this post, the greenhouse gas hypothesis will no longer be supported by the most compelling evidence that the IPCC has been able to present.

In the BBC interview we are seeing one of the pivotal figures in climate science making statements that would have been branded as ‘climate denial’ if they had been published just three months ago. The uncertainties that Jones is now prepared to admit to strike at the heart of all that the IPCC has been telling us with such apparent authority for the last decade.

There must now be grave doubts concerning what we have been told about the recent warming as recorded by weather stations and about our ability to compare current temperatures with other periods during the last thousand years.  There is circumstantial evidence that there may have been malfeasance in order to include convenient research in the WG I report and that in Phil Jones view, the debate about climate change is not over, the science is not settled, and there is no consensus among scientists that anthropogenic global warming is real.

On the strength of this interview alone, it is hard to see how a full investigation of the IPCC can now be resisted.

79 Responses to “Phil Jones torpedoes the IPCC”

  1. Peter #47 said;

    “You could start by taking a look at this paper:

    “Measurements of the Radiative Surface Forcing of Climate” by WFJ Evans et al.


    I have been away a few days so only just caught up with this.

    Surely this paper is the 2006 manifestation of a paper that Evans and Al have been touting round the scientific world since 2002? It has undergone several changes as they keep submitting it to journals and conferences. As far as I am aware no one has agreed to peer review it in all that time and no leading journal has published it.

    Are you able to point me to the full peer reviewed piece please, rather than the extended abstract as it is an interesting piece of conjecture?


  2. PeterM

    You seem to enjoy waffling around a subject with semantic discussions rather than addressing it directly.

    As part of this waffling exercise you wrote to Brute and Robin (52):

    I agree that proof, or absolute certainty, is just about impossible given that we only have one Earth and shouldn’t test it to destruction.
    So it is a question of what is reasonable evidence and of how high to set the bar, isn’t it?

    Both Brute and Robin are rational (or scientific) skeptics of the premise that AGW, caused principally by human CO2 emissions is a serious potential threat, which you believe.

    To refresh your memory, see Wiki for a definition of “scientific (or rational) skepticism” (bold lettering by me):

    Scientific skepticism or rational skepticism (also spelled scepticism), sometimes referred to as skeptical inquiry, is a practical, epistemological position in which one questions the veracity of claims lacking empirical evidence.

    Brute has asked you specific questions, which you are dodging.

    Robin has repeatedly asked you to provide empirical evidence to support your AGW premise, which you have been unable to do.

    “Proof”: No.
    “Empirical evidence”: Yes.

    It is the same, for example with the belief or premise of “creationism”. Rational skeptics of this premise have asked supporters to provide empirical evidence to support the premise, which “creationists” have been unable to do.

    In this same vein, Robin has asked you to provide empirical evidence to support your AGW premise, as outlined above, which you have been unable to do.

    Until you can demonstrate otherwise, Peter, your AGW premise lacks empirical evidence and therefore has no scientific validity or veracity.

    If you respond to this with more semantic waffling or dodging (as I suspect you will, based on past behavior), it is simply proof that you are unable to provide such empirical evidence to support your AGW premise.


  3. PeterM

    Let us look at the Evans paper you cite (47) as empirical evidence to support the premise that AGW, caused principally by human CO2 emissions, represents a serious potential threat.

    It tells us that the measured downward surface flux from 280 ppmv CO2 from pre-industrial year 1750 (as assumed by IPCC based on ice core data) to 360 ppmv (measured at Mauna Loa at time of Evans observations) is 2.1 W/m^2, somewhat higher than the value assumed by IPCC (Myhre et al.) of 1.66W/m^2.

    If we use Evans’ estimate and the IPCC assumption (SPM 2007, p.4) that all other anthropogenic factors essentially cancel one another out, we see that an increase from today’s 390 ppmv to an assumed 560 ppmv CO2 by year 2100 would result in a GH warming of around 0.7°C, assuming no net negative or positive feedbacks.

    [You can run this simple calculation yourself, Peter, but if you would like for me to run through it for you, I’ll be glad to do so.]

    This amount of warming is only roughly the same as the total warming we have seen to date since the modern record started in 1850, without causing any observe negative impacts.

    There are some problems with Evans’ approach, since he is calculating a very small difference between very large numbers (radiative flux from water vapor was measured at between 105 and 256 W/m^2, depending on the season, and there is significant overlap in the wave number), but even if we accept the validity of Evans’ methodology and the conclusion of his study, we do not have empirical evidence to support the premise that AGW, caused principally by human CO2 emissions, represents a serious potential threat.

    Keep trying, Peter.


  4. TonyB

    [I posted this on the NS thread by mistake. Sorry.]

    Regarding the paper by Evans et al. cited by PeterM, it has one basic weakness, which I pointed out to Peter: to arrive at the downward surface radiative flux for CO2, the authors had to separate out a very large flux from water vapor to arrive at a much smaller flux for CO2, with some overlap in the wave lengths.

    I cannot vouch for the methodology used or whether or not the approach and conclusions have been validated by other physical observations.

    This study is not even cited in IPCC AR4 WG1. It appears to me that if it really provides the empirical “smoking gun” to support the radiative forcing and warming effects of trace GH gases (including CO2), it would have gotten much more ballyhoo and publicity than it apparently has, but that is just an opinion.

    Maybe you know more on this.


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