‘Climategate’ enquiry clears CRU scientists

The results are out, and the recent British Parliamentary enquiry into the CRU email leak found no evidence

The Commons Science and Technology Committee criticised UEA authorities for failing to respond to requests for data from climate change sceptics.

But it found no evidence Professor Phil Jones, whose e-mails were hacked and published online, had manipulated data.

It said his reputation, and that of his climate research unit, remained intact.


The committee said much of the data that critics claimed Prof Jones had hidden, was in fact already publicly available.

But they said Prof Jones had aroused understandable suspicion by blocking requests for data.

The MPs’ report acknowledged that Prof Jones “must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew – or perceived – were motivated by a desire to seek to undermine his work”. (More from BBC News)

Good news. But… what’s the bet we haven’t heard the last of this one?

To quote a commentor from Reddit:

“How could an official inquiry – which is essentially no more than a group of educated people carefully analysing the facts of the case – trump an angry mob whose knowledge of the issue comes from newspaper headlines?”

John McLean and Bob Carter have no answer.

In response to our post about the serious errors found in his paper, John McLean said:

What’s the problem with your comprehension, Ove? As our response said, the derivative method was only used to determine the period of the time-lag, a period that was very similar that determined by Phil Jones, one of our critics. Once we’d established the time lag, the Discussion and Conclusions are based only on applying that time lag to the raw data.

It’s quite true that our response didn’t spend a lot directly rebutting Foster et al. That was because those criticisms were misdirected and on some issues downright mendacious.

I wrote the following response but have not received an answer.  The questions are very serious so I feel I should reiterate them:

Nothing wrong with my comprehension, John. I’ve read your paper and the Foster et al paper, and am quite shocked by either your poor understanding of how to analyse climate data or your complicity in deliberately hiding what you didn’t want to find.

John, seeing that you have not been able to counter the fatal flaws found in your paper by Foster and colleagues (Foster et al 2010), can you answer the following questions:

1) Will you and Bob Carter retract the paper and admit the errors publicly?

2) Given that Bob Carter has actively spread these errors and misinformation far and wide, will Bob Carter now apologise to Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, Nick Minchin and the many other politicians that he has misled.

(I note that Bob Carter was featured talking about his study as part of  the recent Four Corners episode)

3) Given that Bob Carter wants to “Kill the IPCC” because it made a couple of relatively minor errors (out of 3000 pages), do you think that Bob Carter should be made to resign from James Cook University? Afterall, this is not the first time that adjunct Professor of Bob Carter has been caught out perpetrating a misinformation campaign on the issue of climate change.

4) Do you support a full investigation of you, Bob Carter, Ian Pimer and other sceptics/denialist scientists that have been found to be in such serious error? Or should different standards be applied to these individuals as opposed to the IPCC?

Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change

According to James Lovelock, anyhow:

“I don’t think we’re yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change,” said Lovelock in his first in-depth interview since the theft of the UEA emails last November. “The inertia of humans is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful.”

One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is “modern democracy”, he added. “Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”

Fighting words from a cranky 90 year old man, but is he really that out of line? Read the rest of the article over at The Guardian before passing judgement..

The story of bottled water: manufactured demand

The best 8 minutes you’ll spend this week (well, at work anyhow…)

The Story of Bottled Water, released on March 22, 2010 (World Water Day) employs the Story of Stuff style to tell the story of manufactured demand—how you get Americans to buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week when it already flows from the tap. Over five minutes, the film explores the bottled water industrys attacks on tap water and its use of seductive, environmental-themed advertising to cover up the mountains of plastic waste it produces. The film concludes with a call to take back the tap, not only by making a personal commitment to avoid bottled water, but by supporting investments in clean, available tap water for all.

Debunking the climate change myths of Dr Andrew Burns

So quite often we get a torrent of completely pointless comments on Climate Shifts (e.g. “Don’t bother with the next scare of “Oceans going acidic, shock – horror” that one is dead in the water…. Get real, the AGW scare is gone forever. Climategate, glaciergate, amazongate, yawn, it goes it just goes on and on……” and “The public will determine policy based on preception so kiss AGW good bye baby! The skeptics have won. It’s over, go home.”). Other times, we get the usual “THE EARTH IS COOLING SO CLIMATE CHANGE IS ALL A LIE” approach. Here’s a comment we got this morning from Andrew Burns (unsurprisingly from this story) which seems to fit the usual template:

There’s thousands more scientists who have woken up to the global warming scam … and even more who look at the facts:

1. Warming since the Little Ice Age
2. A DECREASE in the rate of warming after 1945, when man’s CO2 output increased 1200%.
3. No warming in the past 15 years
4. No evidence that man’s CO2 has contributed to warming
5. Lots of faked temperature data (eg Darwin)
6. Oceans cooling for the past 5 years.
7. Sea levels rising for the past 6000 years with less increase in recent years.

Should we post comments like these? It’s pretty clear from above that it’s a deliberate campaign of disinformation. Instead, let’s dismantle this meme piece by piece (thanks in large part to Skeptical Science):

There’s thousands more scientists who have woken up to the global warming scam … and even more who look at the facts:

More often than not, these comments always appeal to the “facts” with zero evidence. So exactly who are these scientists? What is the scam they’ve woken up to? See these links for discussion on “Is there a scientific consensus on global warming?” and “Do 500 scientists refute the consensus?“. Here’s a challenge for you Dr Burns: name some of these thousands of scientists?

1. Warming since the Little Ice Age

Here’s one I never understood. Why do skeptics assume that all warming is anthropogenic? Anyhow, here’s what the science says:

“The main driver of the warming from the Little Ice Age to 1940 was the warming sun with a small contribution from volcanic activity. However, solar activity leveled off after 1940 and the net influence from sun and volcano since 1940 has been slight cooling. Greenhouse gases have been the main contributor of warming since 1970.”
(Read more)

2. A DECREASE in the rate of warming after 1945, when man’s CO2 output increased 1200%.

Where does this figure of 1200% come from? Why is 1945 significant? Who knows? Either way, this seems to be a new spin on the same recycled argument. Here’s what the science says:

Early 20th century warming was in large part due to rising solar activity and relatively quiet volcanic activity. However, both factors have played little to no part in the warming since 1975. Solar activity has been steady since the 50’s. Volcanoes have been relatively frequent and if anything, have exerted a cooling effect.
(Read more)

3. No warming in the past 15 years

The ‘it hasn’t warmed since 1998’ meme has been recycled and debunked more times than I can count:

The planet has continued to accumulate heat since 1998 – global warming is still happening. Nevertheless, surface temperatures show much internal variability due to heat exchange between the ocean and atmosphere. 1998 was an unusually hot year due to a strong El Nino. (Read more)

Empirical measurements of the Earth’s heat content show the planet is still accumulating heat and global warming is still happening. Surface temperatures can show short term cooling when heat is exchanged between the atmosphere and the ocean, which has a much greater heat capacity than the air.
(Read more)

Globally-averaged annual mean temperature anomalies in degrees Celsius, together with 11-year unweighted moving averages (solid lines). Blue circles from the Hadley Centre (British). Red diamonds from NASA GISS. Green squares from NOAA NCDC. NASA GISS and NOAA NCDC are offset in vertical direction by increments of 0.5°C for visual clarity.

4. No evidence that man’s CO2 has contributed to warming

On the contrary, there’s plenty of evidence that CO2 is contributing to warming:

Direct observations find that CO2 is rising sharply due to human activity. Satellite and surface measurements find less energy is escaping to space at CO2 absorption wavelengths. Ocean and surface temperature measurements find the planet continues to accumulate heat. This gives a line of empirical evidence that human CO2 emissions are causing global warming.
(Read more)

5. Lots of faked temperature data (eg Darwin)

I don’t know where to start here. Darwin ‘faked’ temperature data?

6. Oceans cooling for the past 5 years.

Another debunked meme:

Early estimates of ocean heat from the Argo showed a cooling bias due to pressure sensor issues. Recent estimates of ocean heat that take this bias into account show continued warming of the upper ocean. This is confirmed by independent estimates of ocean heat as well as more comprehensive measurements of ocean heat down to 2000 metres deep. (Read more)

7. Sea levels rising for the past 6000 years with less increase in recent years

What was the rate of sea level rise for the past 6000 years? Without this we can only guess what was meant, but either way, the science is clear:

Sea levels are measured by a variety of methods that show close agreement – sediment cores, tidal gauges, satellite measurements. What they find is sea level rise has been steadily accelerating over the past century.(Read more).

Global mean sea level from 1870 to 2006 with one standard deviation error estimates

Thanks to Dr Andrew Burns for allowing us to correct his misunderstandings! Thanks too for Skeptical Science, check out their new iPhone app:

What coral is that? A practical way to learn coral identification.

Distinguishing between the multitudes of different reef-building corals is a struggle that coral reef ecologists are well familiar with.  Fortunately, coral biologists such as Professor Charlie Veron have produced comprehensive taxonomic works designed to help decipher this important group of organisms. But these taxonomic treatises are by nature voluminous and are not designed to be taken underwater.

All that has changed now with Russell Kelley’s Indo Pacific Coral Finder.  Russell, a well-known biologist and communicator, has produced an ingenious guide which can easily be carried underwater and allow anyone to identify corals on the spot.  This is an enormously important tool for the biology and conservation of coral reefs.

For the diver / snorkeler interested in corals the Indo Pacific Coral Finder is unlike anything you may have seen or used before for coral identification.

In simple terms its a robust underwater book with a visually driven key that overcomes the variation in shape / form that corals show due to environment. After making a simple visual choice of a “Key Group” e.g. is it “branching”  and then answering a plain language question about scale or texture, the user is sent to a “Look-Alike” page with the top 5 or 6 best bets as to what the coral genus might be. Typically, the user then “sees” the answer because the eye and brain are very adept at separating similar things. By using visual cues and greatly reducing the reliance on text you are able to get the correct genus name of the coral. The Coral Finder then connects the end user directly with the relevant volume / page number in Charlie Veron’s Corals of the World and suddenly you are in the learning business!

The Coral Finder lets the early learner get a foothold where previously confusion reigned due to the bewildering number of species and their environmental variation. This tool offers a great opportunity for people to know their corals better. It captures around 70 genera (including the stony non-scleractinia) and works anywhere in the Indo-Pacific.  More advanced users will also find it a useful revision, learning and teaching tool. The Coral Finder is published by Russell Kelley and was supported by Dr Charlie Veron and the Australian Coral Reef Society. It is available from www.byoguides.com

These training movies give a sense of how the Coral Finder works.  You can find these movies here and here.

There is a supporting website of free audiovisual training resources (The Coral Hub) under construction by the Coral Identification Capacity Building Program and is due for release later this year.

Clive Hamilton and the Global Change Institute: It’s all in your head

Dr Linda Tonk and I attended a seminar on Wednesday night- actually the inaugural seminar of the “Insight Seminar Series” organized by the UQ Global Change Institute– given by Clive Hamilton about his new book, Requiem for a Species. I found myself nodding and sometimes laughing at his description of the exact emotions that I had felt over the last few years in dealing with climate change. I was so happy to finally understand the natural human response to “death”. Of course, it starts with denial. I went through this stage as an undergraduate student whilst writing critical essays which looked at both sides of the argument. As an amateur scientist with little climate change knowledge, it was easy to be swayed after reading a handful of peer-reviewed articles for my assignments and I always liked to argue for the sake of arguing (just ask my dad).

Towards the end of my undergraduate degree I did start to see the bigger picture and I had read quite a few more papers at this stage and so I moved to the next stage, Maladaption. Maladaption is a dangerous place to be and it is probably where most of the population sits at the moment. Depression leads to the inability to do anything so I had to pull myself out of that one. Blameshifting also gets you nowhere. Even if China is building a coal power plant every week, we can’t pretend we don’t play a part when we sell them the coal. Australians can lead by example. Up until last night, I was using a part of this Maladaption phase where I would just change the subject whenever climate change was brought up. I cannot answer every question on climate change but ask me specifically about ocean acidification and corals and I can talk all day. So now I am going to move to the final phase where you control your emotions and act. I am no longer going to change the subject in these conversations (but I’ll probably still steer the conversation to my area of expertise).

The other great part of the seminar was the description of the driving force behind the climate scientists (science) and the skeptics (power, money and not the least politics). Even if you can’t understand all the climate science enough to critically dissect the arguments, it makes it easier to pick a side if you understand their motives. Climate scientists are simply presenting their work and understanding of the forces of nature. Climate skeptics, on the other hand, are ultimately annoyed that humankind cannot conquer nature and that unrestrained capitalism does not lead to sustainable living. Linda also liked this part of the seminar:

“My main concern is the widening divergence between the actual climate science and the way it is perceived by the general public. Clive Hamilton’s lecture reminded me about this topic.

As a scientist, I also get confused about all the information and misinformation that exists on climate science. All I want is to know the truth. However, on more than one occasion, my efforts to find simple non -biased answers to my questions on the web has led me straight into the hands of climate denialists propaganda. Not knowing what I’d stumbled upon I feel confident to claim I read these documents with an open mind and I am not ashamed to admit they even had me going in the wrong direction for a few sentences. Because they are good! And this is what scares me the most. It’s all about taking advantage of situations, twisting words and even blatantly lying, but it looks very professionally done!

Of course the general public is confused. On the one hand we have the climate scientists, who by nature just aren’t the best in explaining complicated things and more importantly not prepared for the rules of the game turning dirty. On the other hand there is a seemingly well-organized and professional movement who are obviously very willing to play dirty.

Now we have to rely on media to provide us with neutral information. But how can we when it all just seems to shift towards the opinions of the people with the money and the power. This is the driving force behind climate skeptics and denialists and it IS very powerful. So during last night’s seminar I was reminded by all this and once again confronted with the difficulties of getting the truth out there for the public to understand and establish a well-informed opinion. The one question I was left wondering is who will to step up to the plate and provide the missing link.

My little moment of hope sprung from the realization that by providing clarity on the psychological issues of dealing with climate change and moreover providing insight in the driving forces behind both sides (climate science and denialists) we are a step closer to uncovering true motives and therefore a step closer to understanding the real climate science.  Now all that’s left is to find papers and people that are willing to inform the public.”

Afterwards there was a great Q & A section. My favourite part from this section was discussion about the Emissions Trading Scheme and specifically the buying of carbon credits overseas (For example, by saving a rainforest in Papua New Guinea). Hamilton’s response was that this scheme has “loopholes so big that you could drive a hummer through it.” However, when looking to alternatives we need to consider the time and lobbying that will occur before a new idea reaches parliament.

There were so many important concepts brought up at this seminar. It was a great free, public event and I recommend that people attend the future seminars in this series. There is only one thing left to do now: act!

Atrazine in Australian waters

Atrazine is in the news again (e.g. ABC 7.30 Report Thursday 25th March, 60 Minutes, 21st March) and is being found in more and more water bodies in Australia, and notably Queensland in recent times.  Here is where it has been found so far:

  1. Rainwater at a few ng/l (unpublished data from Atherton, Qld), in streams in almost all of eastern Queensland at concentrations of between one and 50 ug/l (Lewis et al 2009; Packett et al 2009),
  2. Great Barrier Reef lagoon waters as far offshore as we have looked (outer reef waters) at ng/l concentrations (passive sampler work, Shaw et al 2010)
  3. Wet season discharge conditions in the lagoon at ug/l concentrations (Lewis et al 2009),
  4. Groundwater of the lower Burdekin at a few ug/l (as far back as 1976 (Brodie et al 1984) and
  5. Tap water in Rockhampton, Mackay, Ayr, Home Hill, Innisfail at 1 ug/l (unpublished and suppressed data)
  6. Noosa River associated with the infamous ‘two headed fish’, fish kills and human health problems (along with other pesticides) (Matt Landos’s work),
  7. Victorian tap water and in streams in Tasmania.

You might say this isn’t ‘everywhere’ but that’s only because we haven’t looked ‘everywhere’. Everywhere we have looked we have found it.

All I can say is that obviously current management (i.e. APVMA federally) is not working. Given this failure of management the only solution left is to ban atrazine. This is unfortunate for farmers as atrazine is a valuable product and possibly could be kept in use if there was a competent management regime. The part on the 7.30 Report story where APVMA notes that atrazine use was banned along watercourses says it all. This will have no effect in losses from sugar application where atrazine leaks from sugarcane via drainage (sugarcane is always drained due to dislike of wet roots) and is not used in watercourses anyhow!

This is the telling point against APVMA as their review (2008) does nothing whatsoever to reduce loss of atrazine from sugarcane crops. So a review that took 13 years produced no actions which had any effect on losses from sugarcane (and I suspect other crops as well), yet the problems of loss from sugarcane were well known by then and published in the open scientific literature.

Meanwhile APVMA continues to ignore the evidence and cannot provide a satisfactory management regime for these pesticides to keep them out of our waterways. Currently the role and scope for action of APVMA is being reviewed but it unlikely any major changes to make APVMA more effective will occur.

McLean et al respond and the saga heats up

Following this weeks earlier revelations of data fudging, the authors (John McLean, Chris de Freitas and Bob Carter) have responded to the debunking of their paper by Foster et al (Grant Foster, James Annan, Phil Jones, Michael Mann, Jim Renwick, Jim Salinger, Gavin Schmidt and Kevin Trenberth).  The paper was shown to be rubbed and a good example of statistical trickery nearly immediately after it was published (more on the background at Climate Shifts and Skeptical Science).

Oddly, the response was posted to the ICECAP website (click here for a direct link to the pdf) and not on either authors hompages. In fact McLean’s web site still says “The informal nature of the Foster et al critique makes it inappropriate for me to respond in detail to it here, but should the criticisms be published in the normal manner we authors will respond as appropriate”.

The document is titled Censorship at AGU: scientists denied the right of reply”. Is there a “right of reply” in academic science?  No.  There is a tradition to allow authors whose work is being criticized to respond – a tradition that was followed in this case. However, the response has to go through peer review; you don’t have any kind of right to publish in any journal.

The McLean et al response was peer-reviewed and was rejected.  Looking at it, or at least what they claim was what they submitted as a response, we can see why.  The response contains the same errors as the original article. The point of a reply isn’t simply to repeat the statements in your original paper. McLean et al largely miss the nature of the debunking by Foster et al 2010. Contrary to blog science, this is not a mere difference of opinion; the original McLean at al 2009 paper was shown to be fundamentally flawed and the analysis was likely intentionally skewed to produced the desired result. The paper should be retracted by the authors. In scientific publishing, when your work is show to be flawed (and in this case probably fraudulent), there is no automatic “right of reply”.

One thing worth noting: this whole affair is hosted on the “IceCap” blog; AKA International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project. Interestingly, the people listed on experts page include de Freitas and Carter, and wait, also Sallie Baliunas of the notorious (and debunked) Soon and Baliunas paper. Wasn’t de Freitas the editor of that much-maligned paper?  Sure enough. So he edited Baliunas’ paper even though they are members of the same small ideologically-oriented organization?  Isn’t that a conflict of interest?  Yup. And it is ironic given McLean et al‘s complaints about Foster et al suggesting a reviewer whose name shows up in an (illegally obtained) email of one of the authors:

In response to this request, the Foster et al. group suggested the following persons as possible reviewers for their submitted critique: Ben Santer, Dave Thompson, Dave Easterling, Tom Peterson, Neville Nicholls, and David Parker (with Tom Wigley, Tom Karl and Mike Wallace also mentioned but regarded as doubtful). Phil Jones commenting “All of them know the sorts of things to say – about our comment and the awful original, without any prompting.”

A search of the Climategate emails for each of the names suggested above shows that all six of these persons were reasonably well known to Phil Jonesm

At the end of the day, the truth of the matter largely rests with AGU and we look forward to their perspective on all this.

Despite all the song and dance about how:

Science is best progressed by open and free discussion in which all participants have equal rights of contribution.

(which is complete nonsense: all participants, don’t have equal right of contribution in any science),  McLean et al seem to have spent more time documenting how they were wronged by AGU and criticising the scientific process than they did trying to rebut and correct the errors highlighted out by Foster et al (which are still valid).

Coral bleaching leaves Lord Howe reef ‘on knife-edge’

ABC News, 24th March 2010

Parts of the world’s most southerly coral reef are under threat after it suffered its largest-recorded bleaching event.

Lord Howe Island is well known for its pristine environment and natural beauty.

The island’s isolation has allowed it to develop unique and endemic marine life and the waters contain an unusual mix of tropical, sub-tropical and temperate corals.

But since January the waters around Lord Howe have experienced unusually warmer temperatures. The average rose by two degrees Celsius and the corals are showing the first signs of extensive bleaching. (Read More)