Old news, but still good reading while we're waiting for Ottawa's much delayed Kyoto Action Plan ...
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
If the United Nations panel on climate change were a mining company, what would it be? How about Bre-X. That's pretty well the conclusion reached by Stephen McIntyre, the Canadian mining analyst and businessman whose statistical research into some of the science behind climate theory has set off a global scientific firestorm.
Bre-X Minerals rose to $6-billion in market cap on the Toronto Stock Exchange in the late 1990s. The belief, based on promotion, was that the company had found one of the world's largest gold deposits in the jungles of Busang, Indonesia. The basis for the gold find were drill cores that purported to support the belief that the property contained millions of ounces of gold. Many analysts early on began to suspect a problem when the company, contrary to standard practice, failed to provide split drill cores that independent observers could verify.
Without drill cores to verify gold results claimed by the company, many analysts walked away. Some stayed, however, and became part of the Bre-X promotion, luring thousands of credulous investors into one of the greatest mining scams in history. One of the lessons learned from Bre-X is that the scientific basis for mining claims needs to be verified before investors are advised to sink millions into mining companies.
When it comes to climate change, however, billions are being spent and invested by governments, but hard reviews of the science behind the claims are not being carried out. What McIntyre and his colleague, Ross McKitrick of Guelph University, have found is that the level of science review applied to at least one element of climate research has been less rigorous than would normally be applied to a Canadian mining company exploring for gold.
Indeed, McIntyre and McKitrick have drawn out a profound and unsettling aspect of modern public science. Their research, formally published this week in Geophysical Research Letters, found that the statistical methods behind the famed "hockey stick" graph of world temperatures are flawed. The graph claimed to show 1,000 years of climate history, with all the warming taking place in the last century.
The science behind the hockey stick claims, including the statistics and the methods applied, was not verified. As McIntyre reports in his commentary on this page, the phrase "peer review" contains a lot of peer but not much review. "They do not carry out any audit or verification activities." Numbers are not checked, source data are not verified, computer code is not available. "For someone used to the processes where prospectuses require qualifying reports from independent geologists, the lack of independence is simply breathtaking."
When the National Post broke the McIntyre/McKitrick story last month, the science establishment dismissed their work. Andrew Weaver, Canadian research chair at the University of Victoria, said he hadn't read the McIntyre/Mckitrick paper, but he generally condemned their earlier research as "rubbish."
In a front-page story yesterday, The Wall Street Journal quoted at least three leading climate scientists who take a much different approach. Francis Zweirs, chief of the federal government's Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis in Ottawa, now agrees that the original hockey stick math is flawed. So does Eduardo Zorita, a climate scientist at the GKSS Research Centre in Germany. Another German scientist, Hans von Storch, also of Germany's GKSS centre, has found the hockey stick's statistical backdrop warps its shape.
All of these people are climate heavyweights. In the past, such criticism of conventional climate wisdom has been stamped out. Mr. von Storch says there's a tendency within the official science community "to use filters and make only comments that are politically correct."
Closer to home, McIntyre and McKitrick are rattling the complacency of the climate crowd. In a bizarre column in the Toronto Star over the weekend, science journalist Jay Ingram ridiculed the National Post along with McIntyre and McKitrick for mounting the hockey stick debate. He said he's "had enough" debate over the science behind Kyoto. And then, in a backhand admission that something is terribly wrong, he said, "I'm disappointed that climate scientists ... are making it so difficult for the rest of us to get the straight goods."
Translation: The science has been rocked, and the scientists are hiding behind drill cores they won't release.
<a href="http://www.canada.com/national/nationalpost/columnists/story.html?id=b5aa21e0-098b-4609-b27a-d97c754ddf2c&page=1"> link </a>