Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Karolygate IV

IN MAY of this year, when things were going swimmingly for David Karoly and Joelle Gergis and their co-authored claim that Australia is hotter now than at any time since Ethelred the Unready was King of England, The Age’s resident green megaphone Adam Morton waxed rhapsodic about the coming climate catastrophe and the weight of evidence that settled the science behind this assertion once and for all. The headline on his article was a half-witty invocation of the alleged scientific method, which in this instance involved the charting of tree growth (and other “proxies”) to establish when the thermometer rose and fell. “Climate research has ring of truth” the title insisted, followed by some 1,300 words of unquestioning and largely unqualified enthusiasm:
Co-author and University of Melbourne climate science professor David Karoly says the study for the first time establishes that claims there was a substantial mediaeval warm period hotter than today had no basis in Australasia. The study uses climate proxies - surrogates for the record of observed temperatures that date back to only the early 20th century.

Initially, the data from tree rings and other sites was tested for its ability to reconstruct temperatures between 1921 and 1990. The palaeoclimate records from 50 sites were compared to the actual temperature record for these years. The palaeoclimatic data that did not display a statistically significant temperature signal, but was found to have been more strongly influenced by other climate factors such as rainfall, was excluded. But the data from the 27 sites that remained collectively matched the actual temperature increase with a high correlation coefficient of 0.83, and were considered suitable for use as a proxy for the real thing to reconstruct temperatures over previous centuries.

The results matched what was known about certain historical periods. It was found early European settlers would have suffered through the coldest period of the past millennium in the 1830s and 1840s - the peak of what is known as the global little ice age. In pre-industrial times, the warmest lengthy stretch was found to be between 1238 and 1267, which the study estimates was 0.09 degrees cooler than the mid-to-late 20th century average.

But the warmest decades were found to be the last three examined: the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Instrumental temperature records show the first decade of the 21st century was hotter again....
Now let us leap three weeks forward from the date of that Age article’s publication. It is early June and Karoly and his confederates have just been made aware that their research methods are fatally flawed, data useless and the bally-hooed study likely to become an object of immense ridicule.

How to react? According to those astonishing emails just released in response to an FOI request, Karoly knew just what to do: First, add this additional paragraph to the earlier press release spruiking Karoly and Gergis’ alleged achievement.
An issue has been identified in the processing of the data used in the study, which may affect the results. While the paper states that "both proxy climate and instrumental data were linearly detrended over the 1921-1990 period”: we discovered on Tuesday 5 June that the records used in the final analysis were not detrended for proxy selection, making this statement incorrect. Although this is an unfortunate data processing issue, it is likely to have implications for the results reported in the study. The journal has been contacted and the publication of the study has been put on hold.
That done, it was time to deal with the press, as Karoly explains in an email sent on June 11: 
There have been emails from Andy Revkin of teh (sic) New York Times and Adam Morton at the Age. Adam will have a short article in the Age tomorrow, to update his piece that covered the original paper at length 3 weeks ago.
Karoly & Co weren’t having much luck chronicling past temperatures, but the climate guru’s prediction of what Morton would be writing verged on the clairvoyant. It was indeed a “short article”. A very short article, reproduced below in its entirety.
A WIDELY reported study that found the past half-century in Australasia was very likely the warmest in a millennium has been ''put on hold'' after a mistake was found in the paper.

Led by scientists from the University of Melbourne, the study involved analysis of palaeoclimatic data from tree rings, coral and ice cores to give what was described as the most complete climate record of the region over the past 1000 years.

It was peer-reviewed and published online by the Journal of Climate in May, but was removed from the website last week at the authors' request after the discovery of a ''data processing issue'' that could affect the results.

Study co-author and climate science professor David Karoly said one of the five authors found the method of analysis outlined in the paper differed to that actually used.

The Climate Audit blog - run by Canadian Steve McIntyre, who has challenged the validity of palaeoclimatic temperature reconstructions - claimed credit for finding the issue with the paper. Professor Karoly said the authors uncovered the problem before Climate Audit blogged about it.
He said the data and results were being reviewed.

''This is a normal part of science,'' he said.

''The testing of scientific studies through independent analysis of data and methods strengthens the conclusions. In this study, an issue has been identified and the results are being rechecked.''

Morton’s “short article” went to press on June 12, and please do note that date. Why? Well according to the Karolygate emails, the collapse of the paper’s credibility by that stage had moved well beyond it being put merely “on hold”.

On June 9 – well before before Morton was fed that line about it being “on hold”, John Chiang of Climate Journal, which had accepted the, ahem, peer-reviewed paper and published an advance copy on its website, wrote a private note to Gergis (emphasis added at the Billabong):
From: John Chiang [jch_chiang@berkele~eduf
Sent: Saturday, 9 June 2012 9:04AM
To: Joelle Gergis
Cc: John Chiang
Subject: Fwd: Error in our JCU - D- 11-00649 submission
Dear Joelle: After consulting with the Chief Editor, I have decided to rescind acceptance of the paper- you'll receive an official email from J Climate to this effect as soon as we figure out how it should be properly done. I believe the EOR has already been taken down.

Also, since it appears that you will have to redo the entire analysis (and which may result in different conclusions), I will also be requesting that you withdraw the paper from consideration. Again, you'll hear officially from J Climate in due course. I invite you to resubmit once the necessary analyses and changes to the manuscript have been made.

I hope this will be acceptable to you. I regret the situation, but thank you for bringing it to my prompt attention.
Best regards,
So, just to recap:
On June 9 the Gergis paper’s acceptance was rescinded, it was removed from the publication’s website and its authors instructed to go back to the drawingboard and try harder this time.

On June 11, Karoly intimates that Morton will do no more than touch on the paper’s troubles and that his report will be a nothing-to-worry-about “short” report that the paper is merely on “on hold” when the fact of the matter is that Journal of Climate’s editors had already decided it was dead, discredited and fit only to be discarded.

One June 12, Morton fulfils Karoly’s prophecy by dutifully transcribing the stenographic notes of his exchange, misleading as it was.

How climate scientists conduct their affairs has received a lot of attention since late in 2009, when the original Climategate emails surfaced, but the role of their enablers in the press has gone largely unexamined by the press itself. It is a topic that screams to be explored, and a splendid local starting point for that inquiry might be the editor’s office at the Age, where this question or something like it needs to be put to the newspaper’s environment editor:
“Adam, sorry to bother you, but do you think you might be too close, and far too sympathetic, to your fellow believers in global warming? And while we are on the subject, why didn’t you contact Climate Journal to make sure you weren’t being spun silly by your mate Karoly?”
The answers might be very interesting, even allowing for lots of stammering.

A NOTE: All the Melbourne University emails can be found here. The specific emails quoted above are all reproduced in this file.


  1. Dear Professor Bunyip,


    Surely someone by now has made several complaints to MinTru (Ministry of Truth) regarding the accuracy of Adam Morton's reporting.

    It would be grand and so 'progressive' for Adam M to sit alongside Alan Jones for a bit of accuracy in 'journalism' training.

    Karoly, of course, should be given further grants to 'disseminate' his 'research'.

    I think anyone that can come up with a song based on 'UWA are a MU' should be entitled to unlimited Arts Council funding.

    1. Funny you mentioned a song...

      Here: http://climateaudit.org/2012/05/31/myles-allen-calls-for-name-and-shame Steve McIntyre
      notes this about Gergis paper:

      "One of the coauthors, Ailie Gallant, was a featured performer in the recent with her cameos occurring during the memorable declaration:
      We’re climate scientists. What we speak is true. Unlike Andrew Bolt, our work is peer reviewed. Haaaa…"

      You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiYZxOlCN10

      Do you think she will apologise?

  2. Great post but it's probably missed the cut off for next Monday's Media Watch

  3. No doubt ACMA and Blankets Holmes will be all over this like a rash.

  4. "Professor Karoly said the authors uncovered the problem before Climate Audit blogged about it." Its academic speak for "of course we knew before he did, we fudged the numbers".

  5. Bless you Bunyip. Keep at em. I have captured the video (but not watched it).