As you probably know, leading scientist Malcolm Hughes held a press conference today to announce a game-changing result in paleoclimatology.
Flanked by coauthors Ray Bradley and Michael Mann, Hughes said that thanks to new, better data, they’d finally succeeded in approximating a ‘hockey stick’ curve without the use of cheating—putting paid at last to denialist claims that the iconic temperature-reconstruction is somehow ‘fraudulent.’
Hughes et al. have written up their findings in HBM2015, due out next month. Here’s what the lesser outlets are saying about it.
The instantly-recognizable “hockey stick” graph made its debut in MBH’98, a seminal article by scientists Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes that’s been plagued by suspicions of monkey business ever since it was published last century.
That accusation, according to the authors of a new study, “is irrelevant.”
It turns out jiggery-pokery isn’t necessary. Even without it, you can still get “essentially” the correct, hoccobacilliform curve for historic temperatures, explained Dr Malcolm Hughes at a media conference today. That’s the take-home conclusion of a paper Hughes authored with colleagues Ray Bradley and Michael Mann, which goes to print next month under the title Millennial Climate Reconstructions are Robust to the Addition or Removal of Shenanigans.
After eliminating any disreputable or disingenuous steps involved in producing the original graph, said the authors, they found it was still possible to get “just about as good a hockey-stickish result as most recent studies”—and all without straying an inch from accepted climatological practices.
The finding is just the latest in almost two decades of independent vindications of the work of Mann, Bradley and Hughes in 1998.
Lead author Hughes said he hopes the new facts will silence once and for all the ‘skeptics’ who allege—vocally if not outright vehemently—that the disturbing diagram presented in MBH’98 is necessarily the product of sleight of hand.
But one coauthor, Dr Mann, failed to share his optimism. He interrupted Dr Hughes to say that in his experience deniers, as they’re technically known, seldom learn from their mistakes. A roomful of journalists tittered in sympathy.
Today’s revelation won’t be official until it comes out in the November issue of Sap, a journal widely regarded as the Bible of dendroclimatology. But because of the extraordinary public interest in the findings—a function of the sheer urgency of the climate issue in general—the researchers decided it would be unethical to wait. This morning’s event was their way of giving the world as much notice as possible, as far away as possible from the noisy scrutiny of self-appointed critics.
Science-by-press-release is frowned on in normal fields of inquiry, but such are the existential ramifications of global warming theory—and the toxic counterarguments of its doubters—that the practice has increasingly become a necessary evil for climate scientists.
Which doesn’t mean they have to like it. Hughes, Bradley and Mann weren’t entirely comfortable with today’s publicity, and it showed. Throughout their remarks they had the resentful, almost haughty bearing of pure intellectuals dragged into the political spotlight against their will. We’d rather be in the lab—said their petulant mien—enriching human knowledge by discovering the next killer argument against hockey-stick denial.
A new study by Hughes et al. promises to add yet another item to the long list of ingredients you can dispense with and still get the correct shape, more or less. Over the last 17 years scientists have succeeded in publishing reasonably hockey-stick-like graphs without:
- using Tiljander swamp varves,
- using them the right way up,
- turning them back the right way once it became obvious to everyone that they were upside down,
- using bristlecone-pine growth rings,
- ensuring all conclusions were underwritten by the ‘Gold Standard’ of Scientific Evidence: more than one tree,
- working with qualified statisticians,
- reporting their methods in enabling detail (since replicability is a sine qua non of valid science),
- choosing the right algorithm,
- implementing it properly,
- open-sourcing their code,
- showing the humility that befits Huxley’s ‘improver of knowledge,’
- complying with journal disclosure requirements,
- achieving half-decent r2 verification scores,
- revealing adverse r2 verification scores,
- going through anonymous peer review,
- going through critical peer review,
- surviving scrutiny by denier blogs,
- admitting they couldn’t survive scrutiny by denier blogs,
- or publicly thanking denier bloggers for drawing attention to retraction-worthy problems.
The upcoming article is important because, for the first time, it specifically examines the effects of omitting shady tricks from the mix.
Science-watchers are often struck by the sheer willingness of Nature (the universe, not the journal) to unveil her sacred, hockey-stick curves to just about any paleoclimatologist in Distinguished Professor Mann’s Facebook friends list—even if they forget one or two steps of the scientific method.Skeptical bloggers, though, are less impressed. Some are asking if the paper’s authors are too close to Mann, Bradley and Hughes, who found the first hockey stick.
Hughes, Bradley and Mann waved this allegation aside with contempt.
“To insinuate that three reputable scientists would ask three equally respected colleagues to falsify data—just to corroborate a 17-year-old paper we’ve all moved on from!—is paranoid ideation of the most childish kind,” said Michael Mann, estimating that such a plot would encompass as many as three different people.
“Not to mention libelous. Honest scientists would never set out with the goal of reaching a specific conclusion,” he explained. “Science is about asking questions. Knowing the answer in advance is pretty much the definition of antiscientific.”
Fellow ‘Hockey Team’ members Hughes and Bradley murmured in agreement.
By removing chicanery from their methods, Hughes and his coauthors determined that the resulting, ethically-kosher graph was still basically hockey-stick shaped. (So much for the skeptics’ point.)
It wasn’t even worth printing the diagram in the paper itself, they decided, since “once you’ve seen one [broadly hoccobacilliform curve] you’ve seen them all.”
“If you still feel some burning psychological need to know what it looks like,” said Hughes, rolling his eyes, “and are prepared to do the legwork, you’re free to make your own graph. We put enough hints in the paper for someone with a working competence in the field to guess how we did it.
“Fair warning, though: this stuff isn’t easy, and there’s a few years’ worth of tacit knowledge behind the language of the Methods section. Don’t be surprised if legitimate scholars [like us] are too busy doing science to spoon-feed and hand-hold every Tom, Dick and Harry with a mathematics medal from the University of Canada [sic].”
A lively question-and-answer session followed the announcement. For security reasons the questions were checked, approved and written by the researchers themselves.