Yesterday morning I was delighted to see that Andrew’s Montfod’s book will be published on Monday. For those of us who have read his Bishop Hill blog over the last few years there should be a treat in store, and one that could not come at a better time.

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A book length treatment of the Hockey Stick controversy is long overdue. Although David Holland’s  2007 paper on the subject for Energy and Environment did an excellent job of putting this strange tale in context for non-specialists, and Marcel Croc’s lengthy article in Natuurwetenschap & Techniek had provided much fascinating background prior to that, the only comprehensive source of information on this subject is the extensive posts  by Steve McIntyre at climateaudit.org, and these are definitely not for the faint hearted. In any case, both the Holland and Croc contributions have been overtaken by events as much has happened since their publication.

Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick graph has often been described as the icon of the global warming movement, and with good reason. Even more potent than dodgy representations of polar bears seemingly marooned on icebergs, this graph is an image that compellingly conjures up concerns about human influence on the climate that have come to dominate political, economic and social agendas worldwide during the last decade. It appears to give absolute scientific authority to all we have been told about a planet imperilled by human profligacy. Its message has been immensely persuasive, and in some respects this has been devastating.

At least since the 18th century, when the owners of grand country houses began to surround themselves with extensive parks, we have had a respect for the aesthetic and spiritual value of beautiful countryside. During the 20th century protection of this aspect of our heritage was incorporated into legislation. The green belts that surround many of our cities, the creation of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are examples of this. The planning laws in general have attempted to prevent the incursion of development in rural areas.

Back in 2004, I began work on a book about changing attitudes to the British landscape. I was puzzled and concerned that, soon after the start of the new millennium, a willingness to sacrifice a vital part of our cultural heritage by building wind farms had become acceptable. Just the kind of places which, only a decade or so previously, we would have struggled to preserve, were now being industrialised with no sign of widespread public outrage. My initial assumption was that an industrialised population had become detached from the natural world and was now indifferent to what was happening.

At that time media coverage of climate change amounted to little more than an occasional scare story about glaciers retreating or the latest prediction from a computer model; the usual outpourings of woe from the environmental movement. There seemed little reason to suppose that this amounted to more than just another fashionable scare story that would eventually run its course and fizzle out. I had already encountered a few:

  • Drab summers of the 1950s blamed on nuclear bomb testing
  • Mutual Assured Destruction and a nuclear winter
  • Global dimming from industrial pollutants causing a new ice age
  • The Club of Rome’s warnings about the population bomb, mass starvation and the imminent exhaustion of fossil fuel deposits
  • Acid rain and the widespread destruction of forests
  • CFCs, the hole in the ozone layer, and pandemic skin cancer
  • HIV becoming a killer on the scale of the Black Death
  • Megadeaths caused by mad cow disease

All that changed one morning when I opened a copy of National Geographic that was lying on my workable.  This edition had the headline ‘Global Warming: bulletins from a warmer world’. A double page fold-out featured a version of the Hockey Stick by Mann and Jones published in GRL Vol 30 No 15 (2003).

I was less familiar with the internet then than I am now, and although I had heard of the Hockey Stick graph I had been unable to find it.  But I did know that this was supposed to be the single piece of scientific evidence that clinched the armageddon scenario, and apparently no one was questioning it. On the other hand, I had assumed that when I actually saw the Hockey Stick in the flesh it would turn out to be a whole lot less convincing than it was made out to be.

This is what confronted me:

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To say that I was shocked might be an exaggeration, but I was certainly brought up all standing with a distinct feeling of dread.

The problem I was facing now was a pretty serious one. Apart from the obvious implications for humanity, quite a lot of work had already gone into the book and none of it took any account of AGW being anything other than just another environmental scare story. The graphic that I was now looking at seemed very neat, very dramatic and completely irrefutable.

When I’m writing and I get stuck, my first reaction is always the same. I fumble around in my pockets until I find my pipe, tobacco and lighter, hoping that by the time I get the thing lit and drawing properly I’ll have had a useful thought or two. If this doesn’t work, then I go for a walk round my table, which is a large L-shaped arrangement at the centre of a big room: another attempt to play for time.

Having stared at the page for a while through an increasingly dense haze of blue smoke, puffing ever more desperately on my pipe, I decided that it was time for a trip round the table. When I got back to the place where the National Geographic lay open I stopped and looked at the graph, but it was no less uncompromising and I set off round the table again, very slowly this time.

Another long stare at the Hockey Stick got me nowhere, and when I started my third circuit I was no longer thinking about Mann’s computations but about what I could do to adjust my book plan, and my thinking ,  in the light of this new revelation.

This was a good thing, because when I came round to the infernal graph again I saw it with new eyes, and there seemed to be something wrong. It was all too neat, too dramatic and too conclusive. Science isn’t like that, and nor is the natural world. I sat down and began to examine it more critically. There were three things that struck me, none of which, incidentally, I would find convincing or even credible today.

When I was at school, I was taught that if you drew a graph it was rather important that all the data in each series was derived in just the same way. The version of Mann’s Hockey Stick that I was looking at clearly depended on splicing proxy and instrumental data for both temperature and Co2 levels. That seemed odd.

Then there was the medieval warm period; where the hell had that gone? I’d heard of Hubert Lamb and knew that his millennial reconstruction was derived from a wealth of historical, archaeological, botanic, entomological and other observations. What I was looking at now seemed to be a complex mathematical construct derived from only one source: tree rings.

Lastly, and I’m not proud of this now, it crossed my mind that the graph might suggest that both temperature and Co2 levels in the atmosphere had increased during the last millennium in proportion to the amount of scientific interest and research effort that they had attracted.  But I did realise that this was a rather flippant idea.

As there seemed to be nothing in the MSM questioning the authority of the Hockey Stick I started to search on the net and soon found Steve McIntyre and John A’s newly launched Climate Audit blog; the first blog that I had ever looked at. It seemed that there were perfectly rational and well-informed people who had reservations about Mann’s work, not least because its creator seemed very reluctant to let anyone else check his workings. Incidentally, and much later, I learned that when Steve McIntyre first saw the Hockey Stick his reaction was similar to mine except that I think he described it as being  ‘too presentational’ rather than ‘too neat’.

From then on I became absorbed in the controversy about climate change that is still raging today, in spite of continuing efforts to convince a commendably wary public that the science is settled. The Hockey Stick has remained at centre stage throughout that time, but with the publication of the Climategate emails, and the publication of The Hockey Stick Illusion next week, it seems likely that in future it will have a very different significance. The icon of the global warming movement may finally be transformed in the public consciousness into an equally potent symbol of scientific controversy or worse.

Andrew Montford has a fascinating tale to tell involving larger than life characters, diligent searchers for truth, meticulous detective work, dirty tricks and character assassination, accusations of fraud, possible malpractice in high places, powerful vested interests and all of this played out against a background of moral indignation and high stakes politics. It’s a gift of a story and I’m delighted that it is now going to be told by someone who has a gift for explaining complex scientific issues clearly and in a way that is accessible to all. I am also glad that Andrew has been able to incorporate the extraordinary revelations in the Climategate emails into his manuscript at the last moment.

Recommendations from Roger Pielke Jnr, Wibjörn Karlén, Nigel Calder, Andrew Bolt, Edward John Craig and Andrew Orlowski can be found here. You can order your copy from Amazon now.

29 Responses to “The Hockey Stick Illusion by Andrew Montford”

  1. The Register has an interesting interview with Andrew Montford here:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/08/andrew_montford_interview/page3.html

  2. Max, Reur NS 9593: http://ccgi.newbery1.plus.com/blog/?p=63&cp=64#comment-43608 (My bold)

    I’m in the middle of the Montford book, The Hockey Stick Illusion. It is a good read… …This is a “blow by blow” depiction of what happened, with sometimes a bit too much detail, but it is fascinating (even if the reader already knows the “ending”).

    Yes, but I think the second half is easier going. I would like to recommend to Andrew several things if he plans a second edition. These include that he should substantially split-out the more technical stuff like PC’s as an appendix for those so inclined. I can’t see the point in him preaching to the converted, and it is enough that the simpler data aspects prove corruptness in the several reconstructions, without all the difficult stuff. I would propose a brief chapter on the statistical aspects that is entertaining with a fuller account of Ian Jolliffe’s fascinating exchanges with Tamino and others, concluding with: …. For the technically minded, for more info; see appendix.

    Another item is that Andrew’s title ‘The Hockey Stick Illusion’ is not really embracing of the full corruptness of it, but is rather devoted to M & M‘s work. On the other hand, in Mosher & Fuller’s ’Climategate…’, (a must read), they handle the ‘divergence problem’ (hide the decline), rather well. And, as I mentioned in my NS 9586; (http://ccgi.newbery1.plus.com/blog/?p=63&cp=64#comment-43557)
    the deceit of the IPCC and Mann etc can be seen severally in relatively simpler terms than in the devotion in Andrew’s book.

    (I’ve Emailed Andrew, but I imagine he is very busy lately)

  3. Bob_FJ

    Thanks for your post.

    Yes. The second half of The Hockey Stick Illusion is easier reading than the first.

    Steve McIntyre also addresses the “hide the decline trick” here:
    http://climateaudit.org/2009/12/10/ipcc-and-the-trick/

    Max

  4. Is there any means you possibly can take away me from that service? Thanks!

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