One by one, they’re coming out of the woodwork. Occasional climate sceptic William Reville was the latest to re-surface, this time in his weekly Irish Times column. I read it with dismay; I genuinely have no problem with him having a personal pop at me (all’s fair in the public domain) but his cynical piece, masquerading as an honest scientific review of the so-called ClimateGate deserved to be properly dissected and shown for what it is.
I am indebted to writer Marco Chiappi for the article below, which both deconstructs and eviscerates Reville’s contribution:
Professor Reville (Associate Professor of biochemistry and public awareness of science officer, UCC) in his article published 10/12/2009 characterises the debate surrounding anthropogenic global warming as a debate between a ‘majority’ and a ‘minority’ position and regrets the incivility with which both sides engage.
That the ‘majority’ position relies on peer reviewed research published to enable expert scrutiny and is representative of a massive scientific effort that has synthesised multiple detailed data sets and is based on sound physical principles that have evolved over the past century should not influence us unduly.
For we have a countervailing ‘minority’ view incapable of passing the first hurdle of peer review, incapable of putting forward a credible alternative hypothesis and is ridiculously shrill in proclaiming that each inconsistency or unknown in the majority position is proof positive of the fallacy represented by AGW.
Actually the ‘minority’ position can be best represented by the old law school maxim ‘When you have the facts, pound the facts, when you have the law pound the law and when you have neither pound the table’. And pounding has been happening aplenty. The din around the hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia is deafening.
Out of 168 megabytes of stolen information Reville highlights three instances that “…will undoubtedly weaken the AGW case…” So perhaps it would be timely to take pause and examine these instances in a little more detail and resist judgement until we are sure about what we are talking about, a task that should be within the competence of your average biochemist.
One of the emails that concerns Reville is the following: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t”. So wrote Kevin E. Trenberth to Michael Mann on October 12th 2009. Trenberth was discussing with Michael Mann the shortcomings in our understanding of the earth’s energy budget.
Basically, though we can see from all the observational data that the globe is warming our understanding of the way in which that energy is distributed between ocean and atmosphere is incomplete. The email gives notice of an article, “An imperative for climate change planning: tracking Earth’s global energy” that Trenberth published in the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability that goes into this problem explicitly and in detail. But Reville chooses to assert that this email is one of many (the many that he never quotes) that “express doubts about AGW.”
Reville introduces another email: “One senior scientist writes ‘…I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temperatures to each series for the last twenty years (i.e. from 1981 onward) and from1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline’ ”. It’s interesting here to note that Reville never names the authors of these emails, which prompts the question, has he ever read the emails or is he simply regurgitating guff that he has downloaded from the Internet.
The unnamed scientist mentioned above is Phil Jones Head of the CRU and the email is dated 16 November 1999. Mike’s Nature “trick” is a reference to Michael Mann’s multiproxy temperature reconstruction, published the year before in the academic journal Nature. This was the first attempt to reconstruct a global temperature history going back many millennia. Proxies such as tree-rings, corals and sea sediments were examined, for their growth patterns show sensitivity to temperature change.
Jones is talking about adding the instrumental temperature record (i.e. the record derived from weather stations, satellites, ocean buoys etc) to some of the proxy series. The reference to Keith is Keith Briffa who is an expert on tree-ring proxies (dendrochronologist). ‘Hide the decline’ in this context refers to the problem that after 1960 some of the tree-ring proxies diverge from the known temperature record. To simplify the temperature signal from these tree-rings declines in relation to the actual instrumental record
The problem with Reville’s bleating on this subject is that he has access to all the academic journals in which the tricks and hidden declines to which Jones refers have been openly canvassed. Briffa has been publishing on these problems since at least 1998. And as any academic knows, as Reville certainly should that when you adjust data you indicate where this has happened. Does Reville point to any evidence where this hasn’t happened? Of course not, for conspiracy stories are better served by quoting the shorthand between academics rather than reading the articles in which the shorthand is given a full and rigorous academic expression.
The Freedom of Information business to which Reville alludes is an issue. However denying an FOI application is not in itself illegitimate, particularly if the request is an attempt to get access to proprietary information or is vexatious. Philip Jones has had to step down and the matter is being investigated; any comment on this is pointless while the independent investigation continues.
There is much else in Reville’s article that needs redress. The nonsense he repeats about climatologists being in consensus in the 1970s about an imminent ice age is particularly egregious for someone involved in promoting scientific awareness. The United State’s National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council report of 1975 was explicit, ‘The climates of the earth have always been changing, and they will doubtless continue to do so in the future. How large these future changes will be, and where and how rapidly they will occur, we do not know.’ In other words the science of climatology was so undeveloped that nobody could make a judgment either way. Not much of a consensus.
When Reville concludes his article with ‘Climate science badly needs to get its act together’ one can only think of the following words in no particular order, pot, kettle, black.
Marco Chiappi is a freelance writer.