Andrew Montford: Glaring Inaccuracies And Misrepresentations

  • Date: 20/08/10

… but not mine.

Firstly, one should always accentuate the positive first, so I am going to praise Bob Ward for eschewing the words “denier” and “denialist”. This is a good thing and will help elevate the tone of the debate. I assume this was his idea rather than something that was forced upon him by the Guardian.

In terms of his criticisms, such as they are, let’s first take the long view. His gripes relate to the Soon & Baliunas and Huang papers and to the divergence problem. So let’s be clear from the start that Bob has picked mainly on peripheral areas. S&B and Huang are more in the realms of scene-setting in my book rather than a direct part of the story. None of the three areas he has addressed concern Michael Mann and his papers.

I assume therefore that Bob agrees that I have the story of MBH98 and its successor papers just about right. This kind of resolution of major differences is good news.

OK, on to the specifics.

[Montford] claims that “senior climatologists have sought to undermine the peer review process and bully journals into suppressing dissenting views”.

Bob then goes on say that I try “to justify this assertion in [the] first chapter” by highlighting the difficulties sceptics had in getting published. He then goes on to discuss Soon & Baliunas on the one hand and Huang on the other.

I do indeed cover these two papers in Chapter 1. Which is slightly odd because the quotation on which Bob hangs his critique is from Chapter 17, right at the end of the book. So as far as he is concerned, my justification is coming 400 pages before the assertion. Hmm…let’s just take a look at that Chapter 17 quote and pan out a little.

For the purposes of this book there are two clear conclusions to be drawn from the emails. Firstly that senior climatologists have sought to undermine the peer review process and bully journals into suppressing dissenting views.

Ah ha! So I was talking about the emails. Why didn’t Bob mention that do you suppose? That slightly odd formulation about justifying my assertion in the first chapter was something of a giveaway, wasn’t it? Chapter 1 was scene-setting about the years up to 1998 and was not related to the emails at all.

Let’s recap: Bob has pointed to my assertion about bullying of journals and said I justify this by pointing to the difficulties sceptics had getting into print, something he says I support by citing the Huang affair. In fact, as we have seen, the evidence to support the assertion is actually the emails, which I discuss below.

But we need to be very clear: what Bob says was my evidence for bullying of journals is in fact not presented as such in the book. The Huang affair is presented only as evidence that sceptics found it hard to get published. There is no evidence thatNature were bullied over the paper, let alone that the Hockey Team were involved. What is more, I can’t recall any discussion of Huang in the emails, I certainly don’t discuss his paper in my chapter on the subject, and I do not list Nature as one of the papers I think may have been subjected to intimidation.

That said, Huang’s treatment was certainly very odd given that one of the reviewers had told Nature that it was one of the most important papers that they would see that year. So when Bob takes me to task for not mentioning Huang’s subsequent publication in another journal, my response is “so what?”. Any link between Huang’s rejection and bullying of journals is in Bob’s imagination.

On the Soon & Baliunas paper, Bob does exactly the same thing. He points to my discussion of the affair, 400 pages earlier in Chapter 1, despite the fact that I have made it clear that my supporting evidence is in the emails described in Chapter 17.

In Chapter 1, I describe the furore over the publication of the paper and von Storch’s resignation. There is no suggestion of bullying of the journal at this point but, just as he did over Huang, Bob takes me to task for omission of information that turns out to be entirely irrelevant to the question at issue. On this occasion my alleged transgression is not mentioning Hans von Storch’s reason for resigning the editorship of the journal in question, namely that he felt the publication of Soon & Baliunas was a mistake.  (Actually, if you read HvS’s explanation carefully, the reason he gave for stepping down was that he wasn’t allowed to publish an editorial saying he didn’t think the paper should have been published, but that’s by the by.)

But here’s the rub: I don’t present von Storch’s resignation as evidence of bullying: the questions of what von Storch thought about the paper and why he resigned are entirely independent of the question of whether inappropriate approaches were made to the journal by senior climatologists. In other words, it is entirely possible that the journal was threatened and HvS didn’t like the paper. I simply don’t consider possible links between the the resignation and any possible bullying.

As I have mentioned, I set out a great deal of evidence to support my assertion, none of which is mentioned by Bob. For example, this email from Jones:

I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid
themselves of this troublesome editor.

…or this one from Mann:

I think we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal.

Then, of course, there is all the other evidence of bullying of journals, such as the GRL affair, where we see this email from Tom Wigley…

If you think that [GRL editor] Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted.

…and the later one from Mann, suggesting all has gone to plan:

The GRL leak may have been plugged up now [with] new editorial leadership there, but these guys always have Climate Research and Energy and Environment, and will go there if necessary.

I could go on and talk about Weather magazine and the International Journal of Climatology too. Suffice it to say that there is ample evidence to support my assertion, it’s just that Bob seeks to misrepresent what that evidence is.

To reiterate though, Bob has put an assertion from one end of the book next to a narrative section from the other end, and then claimed that I have left out something that is entirely irrelevant to the question at issue.

When we move on to the treatment of the divergence problem. Bob quotes my assertion as follows:

…the IPCC reports represent the outcome of a process in which a relatively small group of scientists produce a biased review of a literature they themselves have colluded to distort through gatekeeping and intimidation.

To put it in context, this is the second of the conclusions I suggest we can draw from the emails in Chapter 17. Bob then refers to a quote I take from an email of IPCC review editor, John Mitchell, in which he suggests that the divergence problem should be explained in the IPCC report. However, I actually go on to explain in the next sentence that my assertion is based on thewhole of the evidence represented by the emails.

The emails establish a pattern of behaviour that is completely at odds with what the public has been told regarding the integrity of climate science and the rigour of the IPCC report-writing process.

So again, Bob cuts an allegation from here, pastes it next to some evidence from there and leaves the reader with a different impression than the one they might have got from the book. The Mitchell email and my reading of it are worth discussing though. Bob has this to say about it.

Montford concludes from Mitchell’s email that the “information that proxy records do not now show any warming has been suppressed”. This is quite simply false.

He then goes on to quote extensively the IPCC’s discussion on the divergence problem. What I had in mind when I wrote this sentence was that the information about the divergence was not shown in the IPCC’s diagram, but from this sentence you could obviously get a different impression, so to that extent I think I can be justly criticised.

So did I mislead? Is this one of the “glaring inaccuracies and misrepresentations” that Bob was talking about. Well, Bob really,really wants you to think so, and he elides neatly from the IPCC quotation to his grand conclusion:

Given such glaring inaccuracies and misrepresentations in his book, it would perhaps be wise to treat with some scepticism Montford’s assessment of the validity of the inquiries into the hacked email messages.

But once again, there’s a problem. The IPCC’s treatment of the divergence problem is discussed in full earlier in the book.

There were some other significant changes [in the final report too]. Briffa had clearly felt he could not credibly pass over the divergence problem and the bristlecones without mentioning them at all, and a lengthy paragraph had been added…

…the divergence problem was addressed in rather clearer terms than were the bristlecones, although Briffa had claimed, without a supporting citation, that the problem was limited to ‘some northern, high latitude regions’. This was a surprising position for him to take because it appeared to contradict his statement in 1998 that the divergence problem was an issue which affected the whole of the northern hemisphere. However, he had at least done something about his infamous truncation of the problem. Noting the excision of the data, he said that it had been done while ‘implicitly assuming that the “divergence” was a uniquely recent phenomenon’. He went on, however, to note that certain ‘others’ (Hockey Team members don’t like to mention McIntyre by name) had argued for a breakdown in the relationship between tree rings and temperature. If these ‘others’ were correct, he went on, ‘this would imply a similar limit on the potential to reconstruct possible warm periods in earlier times’. In other words the IPCC’s claim that modern temperatures were unprecedented might be resting on a scientific method that was incapable of detecting warmings in the climate.

So the idea that I have omitted the fact that the IPCC discussed the divergence problem in the Fourth Assessment Report is impossible to maintain.

Oh, and another thing: look at the title of Bob’s article

Climate sceptics mislead the public over hacked emails inquiry

The problem with this title is that the only sceptics mentioned in the article below it are me and Nigel Lawson. Which one of us is supposed to have misled the public over the hacked emails inquiry? As far as I am aware, Lawson hasn’t actually said anything on the subject and given that I have said a great deal on my blog and also that the rest of the article is about me, it seems clear that it is me that is supposed to have “misled the public”. The problem is that Bob has made this very serious allegation without actually presenting any evidence to support it at all. He speaks about my book at great length but unfortunately it predates the announcement of the inquiries so is of no possible relevance.

Oh dear.

And then there’s the subtitle:

Andrew Montford who is conducting an investigation into the UEA inquiry has a history of omitting evidence to suit his arguments.

Anyone reading the word “history” here would come away with the impression that I “omitted evidence” on a regular basis. Yet, as we have seen, Bob has only presented evidence regarding my book, and evidence moreover that is so full of holes as to make him look rather foolish. In no way has he even started to make the case for a “history”.

Oh double dear.

Bishop Hill, 19 August 2010

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