Misreading the Point

October 23, 2009

Not sure where Steve McIntyre gets this from:

Yamal Already a “Standard”?
Another possible argument was raised by Ben Hale, supposedly drawing on realclimate: that Yamal was already “standard” prior to Briffa. This is totally untrue – Polar Urals was the type site for this region prior to Briffa 2000.

I didn’t suggest anything of the sort. I said that the burden of proof is on McIntyre. I remain agnostic on the history. I remain agnostic on the science. Truth be told, I’m not even sure I understand what he means when he says that I said “Yamal was already ‘standard’ prior to Briffa,” so I find it difficult to understand how this could be my position.

Maybe someone can explain to me what McIntyre is after, but from my vantage, it looks a lot like he misses the point. The point should be a simple one: if he wants to demonstrate a failure in the science, he has to do so through the formal, albeit flawed, channels. Very few readers of his blog are qualified to judge whether what he’s saying makes sense; and it is definitely true (a) that there are some qualified people who object to his methods, and (b) that there are some people in the world who are meticulous enough to back up crazy ideas with lots and lots of numbers. Both of these facts cast suspicion on what he, or anybody else for that matter, writes. Thus, we have formalized systems of peer comment and review.  You can read all about it at the three, relatively hot, hockey stick threads here, here, and here.


  1. You are terribly missing the point, which is that this hockey stick business is a magnificent failure of the peer review system in climate science.

    The other point is that Steve’s blog is doing better statistics on climate science than any peer reviewed journal.

    Hidebound lately? Please. Try to understand the situation with respect to climate. The paradigm that CO2=AGW is collapsing. For real, honey.

  2. Let’s discuss your quote:
    “McIntyre has a pretty steep hill to climb. What has to be determined are Briffa’s reasons for selecting the data that he selected (and by “Briffa’s reasons,” I don’t mean “reasons that he actually held,” nor necessarily “reasons that he believed,” but rather, “reasons that best support and explain his actions”). Scientists like Schmidt at RealClimate like to ask for evidence — that’s what they do, they’re scientists — but what Schmidt is asking for (or, more aptly, demanding) is a smoking gun that suggests that Briffa had bad reasons for selecting the data that he did. That’s much harder to demonstrate, and I think McIntyre basically can’t demonstrate such a thing.”

    • What about this quote says that Yamal was already the standard?

      • You want me to find the lines at realclimate that suggest that “Yamal is a gold standard”? Do I have to? I will if you insist.

      • You need to understand a little more about the Yamal-Polar Urals business before you can understand why Steve interpreted your quote in the way he did.

        Read up. As bender suggests, the supposedly honest Rob Wilson is being caught in one mistake after another, live at Saturday Night Climate. Check out both of the recent threads.

      • From realclimate:

        “Does that mean that the existing Yamal chronology is sacrosanct? Not at all – all of the these proxy records are subject to revision with the addition of new (relevant) data”
        Ah yes, Yamal is not “sacrosanct”. But until new relevant data come along, it will just have to do. Bronze standard.
        But, surprise: we didn’t need new data. The Polar Urals data were sitting right there, fully archived, but picked over.
        So Yamal is not “sacrosanct”, but it is, for undisclosed reasons, better than Polar Urals. An inch shy of “gold standard”. Silver will have to do.
        You see what happens when you appeal to the authority of a naked emperor? He steals your clothes to cover himself.

      • If you go look at climateaudit.org, Ben, you’ll find Steve examining the ‘inner beauty’ of Yamal vs that of the Polar Urals. He can find no shining gleam among the Grove at Yamal. He comes perilously close to accusing Briffa of picking Yamal because of its hockey stick shape.

        And for sure, we don’t have Briffa explaining his choice, but we do have any number of jokers throwing sand in Steve’s face as well as the faces of genuinely curious scientists.

        This is a bigtime mess, Ben; peer review has failed in climate science. One could blame the charter of the IPCC, which was tasked to evaluate ‘anthropogenic’ effects on climate, and thus missed the boat on actually evaluating the natural regulation of climate.

  3. Bet you didn’t know that McIntyre was an expert IPCC reviewer on the chapter authored by Briffa? Bet you didn’t know he had inside information about orphaned bits of text that didn’t match up with other bits. Bet you didn’t know that McIntyre had run the checks to know that the orphaned numbers were wrong. Bet you didn’t know that McIntyre just caught Wilson doing the same thing – using the wrong climate gridcell to calibrate tree responses. Bet these details matter. Bet you’re going to eat your shirt.
    Next card.

    • I _did_ know that, because, well, I read it and linked to it, somewhere earlier. It’s not that I think that McIntyre is a bad statistician. It’s my governing assumption that he’s a very good statistician. Instead, it’s that I think that sometimes very good scientists and very good statisticians can support positions that don’t hold much scientific water.

      Here, let me point you in the direction of somebody near and dear:


      That’s my grandfather. He was an exceptionally smart guy, as well as a relatively important biostatistician. But he was also wrong on a number of counts, including cigarette smoking. He went on for quite some time trying to argue that the statistical evidence doesn’t lend weight to the claim that active cigarette smoking is causally related to some forms of cancer. He even published a number of related papers in very influential peer reviewed journals.

      Oh, sure, he got the numbers right. But he didn’t get the whole picture right; and some of the stuff he said later in life ran contrary to the preponderance of evidence.

      What is this cute anecdote supposed to illustrate? Ultimately only that very qualified authorities — indeed, those I respect greatly — aren’t alone enough to hold on to the truth. As the scientific consensus shifted, my grandfather, a lone hold-out, began to carry a greater and greater burden. In doing so, he began to make smaller points, many of which were only tangentially related to the larger scientific discussion.

      Such is the burden on McIntyre, even if he’s the greatest statistician ever to grace this planet. He has to publish in peer reviewed journals. He has to have his work vetted. When he does, when it is, then will be the time to draw conclusions about the implications of his findings.

      • Well, there is little doubt that McIntyre and McKitrick are writing this episode up.

        You don’t understand the degree to which the McIntyre phenomenon has underlined the failure of peer review in climate science. Steve has made extraordinary efforts to break into the peer reviewed journals and has largely been stymied, over and over and over again.

        You are generally correct to depend upon peer review in science. It has worked demonstrably well in most fields of science. But it is broken in climate science, and just why will be the subject of many doctoral theses to come. It is the warping by the green ideology, not a bad thing in itself, and by the vast amounts of money and power made available by carbon encumbering that has perverted peer review in climate science.

        So please, don’t cry ‘peer review’ in climate science. Had peer review worked Steve’s work would have been in the literature for years.

      • McIntyre is holding a deficient science to a necessary, higher standard. This strengthens the scientific basis for action, does not weaken it. He develops enemies because he threatens their credibility and funding. That is the uphill battle he is fighting.
        You think that junk science is ok as long as it supports existing policy? Interesting philosophy.
        A lot of good came from Mantel’s work. You know that, right?

      • Heh, Ben, read a little climateaudit, and you’ll understand the Steve’s work is vetted, by his peers, among whom you cannot count the climatologists who are presently, unconsciously, ‘fessing up to inadequate and misleading statistics.

        You need to be on the receiving end of one of JeanS’s ‘Garbage’ elocutions. That’s what he said to Tamino’s defense of Mann’s method, ultimately disposed by Ian Jollife, whom Tamino had cited.

        The hockey stick is a hoax. The paradigm that CO2=AGW is failing because it was exaggerated beyond sense. Why would I lie to you? This is serious business and lives, many of them, hang in the balance.

  4. Schmidt isn’t “asking for evidence”. He’s saying evidence isn’t needed. McIntyre is the one asking for evidence. Evidence that is not forthcoming. For some reason.

  5. Well, thanks bender. I was looking for the quote from Ben which Steve interpreted the way he did.

    Ben, you’ve been lied to by realclimate, by deltoid, and by tamino if you read ‘Open Mind’. These people are defending a dying paradigm that has loads of money and a compelling ideology behind it. The trouble is that it is not true. CO2 is a trace gas with trace climatic effect, as far as we know, and we don’t really know a Hell of a lot about it all.

    • My best weapon in this fight is Pyrrhonian skepticism. For all I know, you could be lying to me. Better not to believe anything I’m told and to assess what’s on the table, regardless of truth-value.

      I don’t think I asserted anything about the truth-value of RealClimate’s position, though it is true that in real life I’m more inclined to accept what I read there. Reason being? It seems to be more in tune with the scientific mainstream. Do I need to hold onto to the truth-value of their claims to assert my own claims? I don’t think so. I think my claims are insulated from that, since my claims are primarily procedural and related to justification.

      • Steve has turned the mainstream of scientific statistics onto the Augean Workshops of Climate Science.

        And I’m glad you’ve explained yourself about your belief system and realclimate. You should have the philosopher’s ability to evaluate rhetoric, and I dare you to use that skill evaluating the rhetoric of Steve and his commenters against the rhetoric of realclimate and tamino, and their commenters. That was my first clue, years ago.

  6. “McIntyre can’t demonstrate such a thing.”
    =McIntyre can’t prove that one site was cherry-picked when another would have been as suitable or more suitable.
    Ben Hale did not say that Briffa’s choice was the right choice. He did not say that Yamal was “a gold standard”. No. He said that evidence of such cherry-picking is hard to come by. But he cited realclimate and appealed to the authority of Scmidt. It’s realclimate that was trying to argue that Yamal is a gold standard, not Ben Hale.
    But one can forgive Ben for misreading Steve. We are full of charity for people who misread the point.

    • You’ve got charity, bender, and I’ve got 2X4s. Ben, you are deliberately missing the point. Ask yourself why? It’s a good philosophical question. Gnothi Seauton never hurt a soul, why should it yours?

      • You’ll see. Keep reading.

    • “McIntyre can’t demonstrate such a thing.” = McIntyre can’t dig into the black box that is Briffa’s rationale at time T and demonstrate that cherry-picking was involved in the selection of data. Read my post on cherry ping-pong. If he wants to argue that there was a fallacy of induction, he can do that; but it is a near impossible leap to get to the cherry-picking charge. To do so, he has to demonstrate why his data are more relevant, as well as why Briffa’s reasons for ruling out his data, if he did in fact have them, are not relevant.

      • You’ll see. Keep reading.
        [replied to wrong comment]

      • “McIntyre can’t dig into the black box that is Briffa’s rationale at time T and demonstrate that cherry-picking was involved in the selection of data”
        Mmmm hmmm. “CAN’T”? Or “is unlikely to”?

      • You need to be reading the two latest threads at CA. It is not a matter of Steve’s picking a series; you’ve badly missed the point. It is about the dendroclimatologists picking Yamal instead of the Polar Urals. So you can quit trying to say that Steve has to demonstrate anything. It’s now up to the dendroclimatologists, who’ve been utterly silent except for Rob Wilson, who keeps sticking his foot in his mouth everytime he opens it. I know, Briffa’s ill. Are they all?

      • I think “can’t” is the most likely term, though there’s a chance that he could unearth some smoking gun that demonstrates that Briffa’s reasons as deeply erroneous.

      • You really miss the point. The gun is smoking. Steve’s is hesitant to say that the trigger was pulled with malice aforethought.

        The dendrochronologists actually have a way out of this dilemma, but they have to admit that their statistics are just so much foolishness.

        It’s always a tough choice, confess dishonesty or admit ignorance. It’s about down to one or the other.

      • The fact of the matter is(how about that cliche) that it is tough for the dendro community to admit ignorance, though that is surely true also, because it is not as if they haven’t been put on notice about their ignorance and their shabby statistics for years. It is a measure of Steve’s charity that he finds it so hard to impute motive. But how, really, do you explain that his criticisms, trenchant though they be, have been ignored and belittled for years by the climatology community? It’s willful, and dishonest.

        Now, about your willfulness, Ben. Is it ignorant or dishonest? Frankly, I believe it’s just ignorance, and the habit of a true believer. For any such observers, I recommend a decade of thermometer watching.

  7. Care to modify your post yet?

    • No. Why would I?

      • Naw, leave it; it’s evidence that you didn’t understand what you were talking about, but were just credulous with respect to realclimate and their defense of the choice of Yamal over the Polar Urals. I’ll go with bender’s charity here. There are a lot of people ignorant about the ins and the outs of this controversy.

  8. Ben, you said:

    Not sure where Steve McIntyre gets this from: “Yamal Already a “Standard”? Another possible argument was raised by Ben Hale, supposedly drawing on realclimate: that Yamal was already “standard” prior to Briffa. This is totally untrue – Polar Urals was the type site for this region prior to Briffa 2000.”

    I didn’t suggest anything of the sort.

    In the post in question, I canvassed various possible arguments why Yamal could be preferred to Polar Urals. In your post https://cruelmistress.wordpress.com/2009/10/01/hockey-stick-redux/

    you stated:

    Their reasons, so far as I can tell, are that the Yamal Climate Record was already standard by the time Briffa got to it

    In a comment on that thread on Oct 13, 2009 at 8.28 am, I posted a disagreement with this claim as follows:

    I don’t have time for anything other than a brief comment.

    Ben, you say, relying on Real Climate, that “the Yamal Climate Record was already standard by the time Briffa got to it”.

    This is untrue. To the extent that there was a type site in this area in the 1990s, it was Polar Urals (published in Briffa et al Nature 1995, which claimed that 1032 was the coldest year of the millennium). A few years later, more subfossil material from the Polar Urals site (russ176) was crossdated to the medieval period, which, if published, would have shown elevated medieval values relative to modern values. Such calculations were made by the authors of Esper et al 2002 and D’Arrigo et al 2006, but the only place that the updated Polar Urals chronology has ever been shown as a graphic is at Climate Audit.

    It seems odd that Briffa wouldn’t have done a similar calculation, but perhaps he didn’t. What we do know is that Briffa 2000 used Yamal instead of Polar Urals. Briffa’s Yamal chronology was thereafter used in multiple temperature reconstructions. See http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=528 and various links.

    In any event, it is wrong to say that Yamal was in any sense “standard” prior to Briffa.

    For you to now say “I didn’t suggest anything of the sort” is incorrect. You clearly characterized realclimate as saying that Yamal was already standard by the time that Briffa got to it – a statement that is untrue. Perhaps you misread realclimate on the point.

    More importantly, your characterization of the situation is precisely backwards. Polar Urals was “standard” prior to Briffa 2000. Exactly why the updated version of Polar Urals showing an elevated MWP was never published by Briffa has never been explained. Perhaps you can get Briffa or realclimate to shed some light on this.

    • And good catch on the quote above. I guess what I meant is that the Yamal climate record was standard, not in the sense that it was the standard employed by the climate community, but rather that in the sense that the Yamal climate record had already been accepted as sound science and so was not Briffa’s sole innovation.

      Whatever the case, it’s not true that this was my position, nor is it true that this has much to do with what I was saying. If you dig out the full quote, you’ll notice that it is couched in parentheses and that it is also followed by a qualifier stating that I’d prefer to let the scientists handle those questions.

      Here’s the full quote, in parentheses:

      (Their reasons, so far as I can tell, are that the Yamal Climate Record was already standard by the time Briffa got to it; and that trees in Schweingruber alternative were too small to detect a centennial trend without introducing noise. But again, I’m not a climate scientist, so I think it’s wise to let the big kids play in that sandbox. I have no reason to doubt RealClimate’s claim about the smaller trees and about the use of the Yamal record; and I equally don’t have a reason to doubt McIntyre’s numbers, so I’m just going off of where I think the reasons fall.)

      To put this plainly, Stephen, you’re wrong. If there is any cherry picking going on, it is the cherry picking that removes parentheses and qualifiers from a person’s blogpost and then caricatures this as a “possible argument” that can be assailed as true or untrue.

  9. Ben, can you insert a blockquote in the first 2 paragraphs above for me so that the quote is shown more clearly. THanks.

    • Sure thing. Didn’t realize I could edit your posts.

  10. Ben –

    Wow. You would make a great Team member. You clearly forgot what you wrote, even starting your post with congratulations for a “good catch”. Then, when forced to explain, pleaded “I guess what I meant…”. You even start off your next paragraph with “Whatever the case…” which apparently means that you still don’t know what you meant.

    After these two paragraphs of mumbling, though, you finish off with a bold accusation, tinged with anger, that it was Steve who cherry-picked your words, because they were in parentheses, or something.

    I guess when an academic writes something that even he can’t decipher after the fact all is to be forgiven as long as it was in parentheses. And whosoever taketh away the plain meaning gets a tongue lashing.

    Look, your words and meaning were clear, whether or not there were parentheses, and the qualifier about letting the scientists handle things was not germane to the issue.

    Put away your fake indignation and research Steve’s question about why Briffa did not use the more well-established Polar Urals but went instead with the very dodgy Yamal.

    • I’m awesome, I know.

      “Whatever the case” generally doesn’t imply anything about meaning. It means that whether you choose Door A or Door B, you get the same prize.

      • Right. You still don’t know if your true meaning is behind Door A or Door B but Steve gets your wrath either way.

      • Yes, it was mighty wrathful, that post above. Steve gets it for the same reason that you might get it, because you are making accusations that don’t hold water.

  11. Ben –

    First of all, Steve did not accuse you of anything. He said that your characterization of the issue was wrong, which it clearly was. You responded by accusing him of cherry picking your statement, which he clearly didn’t. His post was on-point and polite. Your response was evasive, incoherent, and a touch nasty.

    Second, You continue to dodge the important issue, which Steve and I both brought up: why did Briffa not choose the well-established proxy?

    Third, you would make a great Team member since you think that bluster is persuasive. If you think that said bluster has concealed your lack of understanding and lack of attention to detail you are wrong and it is evident to anyone who can read.

    • This thread is awesome. Ben is being a terrific sport about it, I have to say. Tamino would have torched it all by now.

      • I agree, bender. Ben – Despite my somewhat harsh words here I admire you for stayaing in the game and for letting everyone have their say.

  12. Thanks to both of you. I get my kicks outta being jockeyed around a bit, so it’s fun for me too. Just as long as we stay reasonably cool, a few insults here and there are fair game. And heck, I very much appreciate completely open threads and discussion boards, so I’m likely to keep this open for a long time.

    • That’s the spirit!
      Now where’s Gandalf the Great?

    • > I’m likely to keep this open for a long time.

      Here is a proof that Ben Hale means it: look at the date of my comment.

      The Internet is an eternal process.

      Science is corrupt.

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