Another UK climate data withholding scandal is emerging

As many WUWT readers know, Steve McIntyre’s tireless quest to get the raw data that makes up the gridded Hadley Climate Research Unit HadCRUT dataset has been fraught with delays, FOI denials, and obvious obfuscation. In some cases the “dog ate my homework” is the excuse. The UK Register has an excellent summary of the issue.

A similar issue has been brewing in parallel over tree ring data in the UK. Doug Keenan tells us the story of getting the “ring around” for over 2 years trying to obtain what many would consider a simple and non controversial data request. – Anthony

Guest Post by Doug Keenan

Queen’s University Belfast is a public body in the United Kingdom. As such, it is required to make certain information available under the UK Freedom of Information Act. The university holds some information about tree rings (which is important in climate studies and in archaeology). Following discusses my attempt to obtain that information, using the Act.


When a tree is cut, you can often see many concentric rings. Typically, there is one ring for each year during which the tree grew. Some rings will be thick: those indicate years in which the environment was good for the tree. Other rings will be thin: those indicate the opposite.

http://www.msstate.edu/dept/geosciences/CT/TIG/WEBSITES/LOCAL/Summer2003/Harman_Pamela/tree%20rings.JPG

Image courtesy Mississippi State University Dept of Geosciences

Scientists study tree rings for two main purposes. One purpose is to learn something about what the climate was like many years ago. For instance, if many trees in a region had thick rings in some particular years, then climatic conditions in those years were presumably good (e.g. warm and with lots of rain); tree rings have been used in this way to learn about the climate centuries ago. The other purpose in studying tree rings is to date artefacts found in archaeological contexts; for an example, see here.

Tree-ring data from Northern Ireland

One of the world’s leading centers for tree-ring work is at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), in Northern Ireland. The tree-ring data that QUB has gathered is valuable for studying the global climate during the past 7000 years: for a brief explanation of this, see here.

Most of the tree-ring data held by QUB was gathered decades ago; yet it has never been published. There is a standard place on the internet to publish such data: the International Tree-Ring Data Bank (ITRDB), which currently holds tree-ring data from over 1500 sites around the world. QUB refuses to publish or otherwise release most of its data, though. So I have tried to obtain the data by applying under the UK Freedom of Information Act (FoI Act).

I have submitted three separate requests for the data. Each request described the data in a different way, in an attempt to avoid nit-picking objections. All three requests were for the data in electronic form, e.g. placed on the internet or sent as an e-mail attachment. The first request was submitted in April 2007.

QUB refused the first request in May 2007. I appealed the refusal to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of QUB, who rejected the appeal. The primary reason that the Pro-Vice-Chancellor gave for rejection was that some of the data was in paper form and had not been converted to electronic form. The Pro-Vice-Chancellor additionally claimed that after data was converted to electronic form, “It is then uploaded to the International Tree Ring Data Base”. There might indeed be some small portion of the data that is not in electronic form. My request, though, was for a copy of the data that is in electronic form. So, is all data that is in electronic form available at the ITRDB, as the Pro-Vice-Chancellor claimed?

QUB has in the past published the results of various analyses of its tree-ring data (most notably its claim to have sequences of overlapping tree rings extending back in time many millennia). In doing the analyses, the sequences of tree-ring data are analyzed statistically, and the statistical computations are done by computer. This is well known, and moreover has been stated by QUB’s former head tree-ring researcher, Michael G.L. Baillie, in several his publications. (Indeed, Baillie and his colleague Jon R. Pilcher, also at QUB, wrote a widely-used computer program for tree-ring matching, CROS.) Obviously the data that was used for those computations is in electronic form—and it has not been uploaded to the ITRDB. Thus the claim by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor is untrue.

The Pro-Vice-Chancellor further claimed that to organize the data in “the very precise categories which [I] have specified” [in my request] would entail a vast amount of work. My request, though, was merely for the tree-ring data that had been obtained and used by the university; that hardly seems like precise categorization. Moreover, I later submitted a second request for “the data about tree rings that has been obtained by [QUB] and that is held in electronic form by the university”. That request was also refused. And a third request that was very similar to the second was refused. All three requests were refused in whole, even though the university is required to make partial fulfillment when that is practicable.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office

After half a year of trying to obtain the information from QUB, I appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The ICO is charged with ensuring that the FoI Act is enforced. My appeal to the ICO was submitted on 24 October 2007. The ICO notified me that an officer had been assigned to begin investigating my case on 14 October 2008. Such a long delay is clearly incompatible with effective working of the Act.

The ICO then contacted QUB, asking for further information. QUB then admitted that almost all the data was stored in electronic form. Thus QUB implicitly admitted that its prior claims were untruthful.

QUB now asserted, however, that the data was on 150 separate disks and that it would take 100 hours to copy those disks. (These were floppy disks—the type that slide into computers and, prior to the internet, were commonly used to carry electronic data.) It takes only a minute or two to copy a floppy disk, however; so the claim of 100 hours to copy 150 floppy disks is an unrealistic exaggeration.

QUB also said that it considered photocopying a printed version of the data, but that this would take over 1800 hours. As noted above, all my requests were for data that is in electronic form; moreover, I have repeated this point in subsequent correspondences with QUB. The statement from QUB about photocopying is thus not relevant.

On 22 December 2008, the ICO sent me a letter rejecting my appeal, on the grounds that the time needed by QUB would exceed an “appropriate limit” (as stipulated in the FoI Act). The ICO had accepted QUB’s explanation for refusing to release the data without question, and without discussing the explanation with me. I telephoned the ICO to raise some objections. To each objection that I raised, the ICO case officer gave the same reply: “I’m satisfied with their [QUB’s] explanation”.

I also offered to visit QUB with the case officer, to demonstrate how quickly the data could be copied (e.g. from floppy disks), and to copy the data myself. This seemed particularly appropriate because the officer had told me when she started on the case that she would visit QUB as a standard part of investigation, yet she had not made such a visit. The officer, though, declined my offer, again saying that she was satisfied with QUB’s explanation.

There is a mechanism to appeal an ICO decision, to a tribunal. I told the case officer that I wanted to do so. The officer replied that, in order to file an appeal, I would need a formal Decision Notice from the ICO. I requested a Decision Notice. The officer then informed me that the ICO would send a Notice, but that, because they were busy, it would take about two years to do so.

Environmental Information Regulations

I discussed the above with a colleague, David Holland. Holland said that my request should not have been processed under the FoI Act. His reasoning was that the information I was requesting was about the environment: environmental information is exempt from the FoI Act and requests for such information should instead be processed under the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR). He pointed out that the tree-ring data clearly fits the definition of “environmental information” given in the EIR. It also clearly fits the common (dictionary) definition.

I had been aware that the EIR existed, but had assumed that the EIR was essentially the same as the FoI Act. After the discussion with Holland, though, I checked and found that there is one major difference between the EIR and the FoI Act: under the EIR, there is no limit on the amount of time that a public institution requires to process a request. In other words, even if QUB’s original claim that some of the data was only available on paper were true, or even if QUB’s revised claim that copying data from disks would take 100 hours were true, that would still not be a valid reason for refusing to supply the information.

I am not an expert in how to apply the EIR or FoI Act, though. So I telephoned the ICO headquarters to ask for guidance. There I spoke with a Customer Service Advisor, Mike Chamberlain. Chamberlain told me the following: that the information seemed obviously environmental; that there was no limit on processing time that could be used to refuse a request for environmental information; that I could freely visit a site where environmental information was held in order to examine the information; and that it was the duty of the public authority (i.e. QUB) to determine whether the EIR or the FoI Act was applicable. Chamberlain also confirmed everything that he told me with someone more senior at the ICO.

It is regrettable that I had not realized the above earlier. My initial request to QUB, in April 2007, had stated the following.

It might be that this request is exempt from the FOIAct, because the data being requested is environmental information. If you believe that to be so, process my request under the Environmental Information Regulations.

QUB, however, had not processed my application correctly. I should have caught that.

There is another issue. I had described the information to the ICO case officer by telephone and also by e-mail (on 24 November 2008). Hence the case officer must have known that the information was environmental, and thus exempt under the FoI Act and only requestable under the EIR. Why did the ICO not act on that? On 29 January 2009, I e-mailed the case officer, citing the above-quoted statement from my request to QUB and saying “I would like to know the reasoning that led to my request being processed under the Freedom of Information Act, instead of EIR”. Initially, there was no reply.

The EIR was enacted pursuant to the Aarhus Convention, an international treaty on environmental information that the UK promoted, signed, and ratified. Failure to implement the EIR would constitute a failure by the UK to adhere to the Convention. So, a few weeks after e-mailing my question to the ICO, and with no reply, I contacted the Aarhus Convention Secretariat (ACS), at the United Nations in Geneva. The ACS has a mechanism whereby individuals can file a complaint against a country for breaching the Convention. I had an initial discussion with the ACS about this. That turned out to be unnecessary though. The Assistant Information Commissioner for Northern Ireland contacted me, on 10 March 2009: he was now handling my case and, moreover, he had visited QUB and seen some of the data.

On 22 April 2009, I received a telephone call from the Assistant Information Commissioner for Northern Ireland. The Assistant Commissioner said that he was preparing a Decision Notice for the case, and he made it clear that the Notice would hold that the data should be released under the EIR. The next I heard anything was on 13 July 2009, when it was announced that the Assistant Commissioner had been suspended. On 13 August 2009, I telephoned the ICO: I was told that a new officer would be assigned to the case within the next few days and that a draft Notice, which had been written by the Assistant Commissioner, was in the signatory process. I am presently awaiting further word.

Another example—Gothenburg University

I have previously been involved with obtaining tree-ring data from another institution: Gothenburg University, in Sweden. Sweden has a law that is similar to the UK’s Freedom of Information Act (the Swedish law is the Principle of Public Access). In 2004, Swedish courts ruled that the law applied to research data held by universities. In a famous case known as the “Gillberg affair”, a researcher at Gothenburg University refused to obey the law. As a result, both the researcher and the rector of the university were convicted of criminal malfeasance. (The researcher received a suspended sentence and a fine; the rector received a fine.)

Gothenburg University does substantial tree-ring research. On 10 April 2007, I requested their tree-ring data. The university’s lead tree-ring researcher repeatedly resisted, claiming that it would take weeks of his time, and that he was too busy to do it. On 22 April 2008, I sent a letter to the (new) rector of Gothenburg University, saying that if the data was not supplied, I would file complaints with both the Court and the Parliamentary Ombudsmen of Sweden. The next day, all the data was submitted to the ITRDB.

What transpired with Gothenburg University exemplifies the importance of laws on Freedom of Information for tree-ring data.

Motivations for withholding data

Some people have asked why QUB does not want to release the data. In fact, most tree-ring laboratories do not make their data available: it is not just QUB and Gothenburg that have been reluctant. The reason for this was elucidated by Peter M. Brown, in April 2007. At the time, Brown was president of the Tree-Ring Society, which is the main international organization for tree-ring researchers. Following is an excerpt (the full explanation is here).

… they ARE my data. Funding agencies pay me for my expertise, my imagination, and my insights to be able to make some advance in our understanding of how nature works, not for raw data sets. … It is the understanding and inferences supplied by the scientist that funding agencies are interested in, not her or his raw data.

In other words, even if the research and the researcher’s salary are fully paid for by the public—as is the case at QUB—the researcher still regards the data as his or her personal property.

There are only a few tree-ring laboratories where attitudes are different. One example is the University of St Andrews, in the UK. Almost all tree-ring data held by St Andrews is freely available in the ITRDB.

It is notable that QUB continues to withhold its data even though, in 2009, the tree-ring laboratory at QUB was effectively closed. The closure was primarily due to the lab lacking funds, which presumably resulted from having almost no research publications (i.e. the lab had not been producing anything; so funding agencies declined to support it). The dearth of publications occurred even though the lab has some extremely valuable data on what is arguably the world’s most important scientific topic—global warming (as outlined here). This problem arises because the QUB researchers do not have expertise to analyze the data themselves and they do not want to share their data with other researchers who do.



Correspondences

Date Sender Summary (with link)
2007-04-10 DJK My first request for the information held by QUB (sent by e-mail).
2007-04-16 QUB Acknowledgement of request.
2007-05-11 QUB E-mail saying that there will be a delay in responding to the request (which is required to be within 20 business days of my request), but that QUB would respond by May 18th.
2007-05-21 DJK E-mail to the ICO, about the lack of response from QUB; Cc’d to QUB.
2007-05-22 QUB First refusal of the request for information.
2007-05-22 QUB E-mail with attached description of how to appeal the refusal (this was sent following a telephone call to QUB in which I noted that they are required to send me such).
2007-05-23 DJK E-mail to the ICO, noting that QUB had responded.
2007-05-24 DJK Appeal of the refusal, submitted to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of QUB.
2007-05-25 QUB Initial response to the appeal, saying that appeal to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor should be resorted to only if QUB’s Information Compliance Officer and I are unable to resolve things ourselves.
2007-06-02 ICO Acknowledgement of my prior e-mails, correctly noting that the ICO should not act at this time.
2007-06-21 QUB Second refusal of the request for information.
2007-07-13 DJK Appeal, submitted to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of QUB.
2007-07-26 QUB Notification that a response to my appeal to a Pro-Vice-Chancellor will be delayed until the second half of August.
2007-08-15 QUB E-mail from a Pro-Vice-Chancellor, saying that a response to my appeal will be sent by September 30th (i.e. about seven weeks after the four-week limit).
2007-09-28 QUB Rejection of my appeal by a Pro-Vice-Chancellor.
2007-10-24 DJK Appeal to the ICO.
2007-11-27 ICO Acknowledgement of appeal, saying that it might be several months before I hear from the ICO again.
2008-05-15 DJK Second request for the information held by QUB.
2008-05-15 DJK Third request for the information held by QUB.
2008-06-12 QUB Rejection of my second and third requests, by the Head of the Registrar’s Office.
2008-06-19 DJK E-mailed reply to the Head of the Registrar’s Office at QUB.
2008-07-01 QUB Acknowledgement of my last e-mail, by the Head of the Registrar’s Office.
2008-07-15 DJK E-mail to the ICO, notifying them of the rejected second and third requests for the information.
2008-10-14 ICO E-mail notifying me that an officer has been assigned to my case and asking me to confirm that I would like to proceed.
2008-10-15 DJK E-mail to the ICO, confirming that I would like to proceed.
2008-11-24 DJK E-mail to the ICO, briefly synopsizing how tree-ring dating works (this followed a telephone call, in which the case officer had said that might be helpful).
2008-11-24 ICO Acknowledgement of my last e-mail and notice that QUB’s response had been slightly delayed.
2008-12-22 ICO Rejection of appeal.
2009-01-21 DJK E-mail summarizing telephone call with the ICO; during the call I was informed that it would take roughly two years for the ICO to issue a Decision Notice on the case.
2009-01-21 ICO Letter acknowledging my request for a Decision Notice (this was sent 43 minutes after my last e-mail, and its content appears to be independent of that).
2009-01-29 DJK E-mail to the ICO, asking why my requests for information had been processed under the FoI Act, instead of the EIR.
2009-03-02 DJK E-mail to the ACS, alleging a breach of the Aarhus Convention by the United Kingdom.
2009-03-10 ACS Reply from the ACS Legal Support Officer, concluding that the evidence substantiating the allegation is sufficient for the ACS to proceed with a review.
2009-03-10 ICO E-mail from the Assistant Information Commissioner for Northern Ireland, saying that he was handling the case and he had visited QUB (this was concomitant with a telephone call, which elaborated).
2009-03-11 DJK E-mail to the ACS, saying that the ICO was now progressing things, and so my allegation was unnecessary.
2009-03-11 ACS Acknowledgement of prior e-mail.
2009-03-25 ICO E-mail from the Assistant Information Commissioner, saying that he was continuing with work on the case and would contact me again after Easter.


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Don S.

Tree ring data is bull**t except for extremely local information. I can not find a single study of tree ring data which included a sufficently broad (continental) element that would render it consequential in any of the climate information data. Somebody got better evidence? Prof Mann?

Don S.

Secondarily, the idea of jousting with functionaries about data held by some governmental office is absurd. Those clowns no longer even know how to apply their makeup. You could sift a million of them and not find one scientist.

Don S.

Tertially. Beloved people of the United Kingdom. Exercise your rights under the Treaty of Runnymeade. Now.

JAE

Ho Hum. I cannot get excited anymore. This lack of the most basic scientific protocol has been going on for YEARS! I just hope that some folks are very embarrassed at this unbelievable travesty! Proper England, even, LOL! Even the Queen should be very ashamed (if she has ANY idea of reality on this planet!).

“Beloved people of the United Kingdom. Exercise your rights under the Treaty of Runnymeade. Now.”
But if we did that, wouldn’t there be chaos? It’d be just like Chicago during Prohibition on every street.
Can’t we just sit in our own homes and let them take away any semblence of freedom in order to protect us from evil people who want to take away our freedoms? It’s worked for the last thousand years and so far, we have lived in perfect peace and safety.

J.Hansford

You miss the point Don S….. Those people need to be held accountable to the laws that govern them…. That data is public information, paid for by the public. They are public servants.
These people are taking the money of the British Taxpayer on false pretenses otherwise….. and breaking the law to boot.
That the Bureaucrats tasked to over-watch and administrate seem complicit in helping them with their obscurification, is also alarming.

I wonder how hard all the various gov’t officials were laughing when they enacted these various acts, knowing full well they’d never give out any important information.

John F. Hultquist

Don S. (21:03:05) :
Runnymeade, indeed! Runnymede, it is; notable for its association with the sealing of the Magna Carta.
“Exercise your rights . . .”
Is this not what Doug Keenan is attempting to do? With the national laws and international agreements, it seems that “exercise” in this context is figuratively more akin to a marathon than a literal exercising of one’s rights.
I’m sure others will have more colorful (colourful) ways of expressing their feelings.

Don S. (20:53:39) :
“Tree ring data is bull**t except for extremely local information. I can not find a single study of tree ring data which included a sufficently broad (continental) element that would render it consequential in any of the climate information data. Somebody got better evidence?”
I encourage you to read the evidence summarized at
http://www.informath.org/apprise/a3900/b910.htm
(this is also linked in the post). The key point is that, while it is obviously not possible for trees at a single site to directly proxy large-area temperatures, it seems that such trees can proxy the energy flux from an adjacent ocean (because the flux is also related to precipitation, cloud cover, etc.). In this way, the trees can be well correlated with hemispheric temperatures, even though they are more weakly correlated with local temperatures. Thus the trees from western Ireland have very large value.
There is a also dendrochronology that is a good proxy for the Indian monsoon (though the data is unpublished). Hence if some site could be shown to proxy the energy flux from the North Pacific (Sheep Mountain?–I have not looked at its climatology), then there would be proxies for the fluxes from all three oceans. That would be enough to produce a very good temperature reconstruction for the hemisphere (c.f “hockey stick”).

AEGeneral

Another UK climate data withholding scandal is emerging
Another pillar of the foundation has been exposed.
Ba-da-ba-ba-ba, I’m lovin’ this. Let’s see what they’re made of.

But the nobles who,er”encouraged” the (somewhat reluctant) king to sign that Magna Carta also had the (locally and very prominently displayed) “sharp instruments of persuasion” that could also be used to cut through the red tape.
And the red veins of those who didn’t want to cut their red tape.
Here, it is the light of publicity that is your best weapon. What has your local (member of the House of Commons?) been able to do for you?

timetochooseagain

“for instance, if many trees in a region had thick rings in some particular years, then climatic conditions in those years were presumably good (e.g. warm and with lots of rain); tree rings have been used in this way to learn about the climate centuries ago.”
I know this isn’t the point of the thread but one of the things which annoys me to no end is that dendro’s tend to assume that temperature or precipitation is dominant in determining tree ring width, and always has been-which is manifestly absurd. A warm year which was very dry will be judge to either be cool or wet, depending on the assumed relationship, if for whatever reason the importance of one variable fluctuates relative to the another such that the opposite of the assumed dominance of temperature or precipitation occurs sometimes. Such assumptions are risky to say the least and barely scratch the surface of dendro issues.
But there’s another funny thing-if indeed trees grow better when it’s warmer, AGW must be good for them, and if the are effected primarily by precipitation and recent upticks really are unprecedented, alleged links between warming and drought CAN’T be correct! And under more reasonable assumptions about the relative importance of precip and temps, in order for trees to unambiguously show the temperatures or precip are unprecedented, warming must mean MORE precip, or else tree rings couldn’t show “warming”. About the only thing which tree rings are really good for is telling how happy the trees were. Whether they give unambiguous information about climate is not merely debatable must frankly absurd!

timetochooseagain

John A (21:15:52) : Whatever the “quote of the week” is/was, this will be MY quote of the week!

Douglas J. Keenan (22:02:35) :
Don S. (20:53:39) :
“Tree ring data is bull**t except for extremely local information. I can not find a single study of tree ring data which included a sufficently broad (continental) element that would render it consequential in any of the climate information data. Somebody got better evidence?”
Problem is, Mann (and HIS proxies!) are trying to do with what tree rings themselves are very poor at.
Tree rings – when “calibrated” year-by-year through the centuries with other trees of the SAME LOCATION can yield extremely accurate chronology of when the TREE itself went through each year-to-year season.
OK, that’s fine. tree rings are very reliable for that: This piece of wood (this section of the tree) can be specifically dated to an exact year (+/- 1 or 2 years) all the way back for thousands of years. Show me a tree from the same area that was cut down (maybe in a church roof or buriedin peat swamps) and I’ll tell you when it was cut down.
BUT – Mann goes waaaaaay past this accuracy by ASSUMING that “fat rings” are ONLY due to warmer climates,
AND that the degree of “fatness” is DIRECTLY proportional to how warm the climate was at that time,
AND that NO OTHER factors (low CO2 or better rain or less clouds or a serious of closely spaced droughts or a nearby “clearing” of a few trees due to insects or windfall) affected the tree that summer at all.
But for simply figuring out what date an event in that tree happened, tree rings are accurate.
Mann, however, is NOT accurate.

Dave Wendt

Reading this brought to mind a couple of my favorite quotes from H. L. Mencken,
“Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under”
“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”

Chris Knight

In the figure of the tree rings – why would a forest fire occur at the end of a rainy season?

INGSOC

I am reminded of the scene in the Terry Gilliam film “Brazil” involving the heating repairmen.

anna v

Motivations for withholding data
Some people have asked why QUB does not want to release the data. In fact, most tree-ring laboratories do not make their data available: it is not just QUB and Gothenburg that have been reluctant. The reason for this was elucidated by Peter M. Brown, in April 2007. At the time, Brown was president of the Tree-Ring Society, which is the main international organization for tree-ring researchers. Following is an excerpt (the full explanation is here).
” … they ARE my data. Funding agencies pay me for my expertise, my imagination, and my insights to be able to make some advance in our understanding of how nature works, not for raw data sets. … It is the understanding and inferences supplied by the scientist that funding agencies are interested in, not her or his raw data.”
In other words, even if the research and the researcher’s salary are fully paid for by the public—as is the case at QUB—the researcher still regards the data as his or her personal property.

Let us examine this point of view.
Suppose that the person funded is an artist.
He may be funded for a specific work, a portrait of the queen, for example. Even in this case, though the portrait will belong to the Queen or government, you cannot ask the artist for his raw data, i.e. how he came up with the portrait. You take the end results.
More so if the artist is generally funded as by a post in a university.
That is the attitude displayed above and it is the attitude of the discipline I belong to, experimental elementary particle physics. It is one of the reasons why there are multiple experiments on the same thing : one does not take a singular raw data set and call it a world data set, one does a new experiment to corroborate or disprove a discovery/statement.
Here is the crux, that temperature records cannot be produced by “a new experiment”, and where the trouble is since climate has become politics on a large scale.
Tree ring records could be produced by new experiments though.
I wonder if this freedom of information act would apply to the discovery of the Higgs, and if we would get various groups grappling over the same data as a result, trying to prove each other as bad data users, instead of doing a fresh experiment to measure the Higgs again, as is the traditional scientific method.

Evan Jones

Then it’s easy to believe
Somebody’s been lying to me
But when the wrong word goes in the right ear
I know you’ve been lying to me
It’s getting rough, off the cuff
I’ve got to say enough’s enough
Bigger the harder he falls
But when the wrong antidote
Is like a bulge on the throat
You run for cover in the heat
Why don’t they
Do what they say, say what they mean
One thing leads to another
You told me something wrong
I know I listen too long
But then one thing leads to another

Considering the amount of time and resources we are spending to study the history of Earth’s climate, I am very surprised by the dearth of credible temperature reconstructions available online. The most common type of chart out there seems to have been designed specifically to be misleading and confusing:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1000_Year_Temperature_Comparison.png
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2000_Year_Temperature_Comparison.png
The use of overlapping reconstructions makes them difficult to evaluate and the light green reconstruction on both comparisons seem to indicate that Earth’s temperature has varied by less than .2 degrees in the last two millennia.
This site shows various other reconstructions that are in use:
http://www.globalwarmingart.com/wiki/List_of_temperature_related_images
It seems like the Warmists are trying to suppress accurate temperature reconstructions, lest more people realize the tremendous natural variability that exists within Earth’s climate system.

Pnadanus

The main problem with dendrochronolgy is one of small sample size. As a forester, who specialises in forest measurement, I can state that within any stand of trees, managed or not, there is always variation within the stand with competition between trees being the main player. Sure annual weather events will influence the stand as a whole, but often this will be masked by the within stand competition. If the dendro gets the sample wrong then any inferences that they might make about the past weather are also incorrect.
Besides the number of variables and their permutations are too great to set much store in the conclusions of many dendrochronological exercises. Smallthings such as species, aspect and elevation can have a greeater impact than say the amount of rainfall that falls within a catchment or the soils chemistry and its reaction to the volume of rainfall and soar radiation.
I shake my head everytime someone quotes from another dendro study, when will they ever learn?

VG

leave these poor guys alone. They have done a service. They are burying themselves

Glenn

anna v (23:02:38) :
“I wonder if this freedom of information act would apply to the discovery of the Higgs, and if we would get various groups grappling over the same data as a result, trying to prove each other as bad data users, instead of doing a fresh experiment to measure the Higgs again, as is the traditional scientific method.”
Can you provide literature supporting your contention that holding on to data is part of the traditional scientific method?

Frank Kotler

Floppy disks, you say…

>>>BUT – Mann goes waaaaaay past this accuracy by ASSUMING
>>>that “fat rings” are ONLY due to warmer climates. AND that the
>>>degree of “fatness” is DIRECTLY proportional to how warm
>>>the climate was at that time.
Surely it would be relatively simple to check modern tree rings against local climate (and world climate) to see what the best growth and retardation factors really are. Has anyone done this?
.

Some rings will be thick: those indicate years in which the environment was good for the tree. Other rings will be thin: those indicate the opposite.
I suppose that almost everybody knows that statement is a huge oversimplification. (The simulacrum cartoon illustration of a tree cross-section above should reinforce that point to the uninitiated.)
A thousand and one things can impact tree ring widths, especially competition from neighboring trees. Nobody (but nobody) knows the competitive situation of individual trees in the distant past (100, 200, 300+ years ago).
Even in competition-free situations, ring width diminishes with distance from the pith. Actually, ring width (diameter growth) follows sigmoid growth patterns, just as does top growth (height) and volume growth. Anybody familiar with biological growth patterns knows what a sigmoid growth curve looks like.
Hence isolating weather conditions from tree rings is fraught with uncertainties, assumptions, and confounding factors, even with the best of data sets. Many (thousands) of contemporaneous trees across broad regions should be analyzed, but typical data sets contain 20 or fewer trees from a small area.
I speak as a forester who has examined tree rings on zillions of stumps and cores. Weather events and conditions are not at all obvious in tree rings. Heck, even fire scars are difficult to discern and fires often leave no mark at all on individual trees. An unusually mild winter, dry spring, or a hot summer are all virtually impossible to detect, even if thousands of contemporaneous ring series are measured to a gnats eyebrow and compared.
Withholding the data may have a more prosaic explanation: the data are worthless and reveal nothing, all the analyses by the tree ring labs are poppycock (science fraud), and any unbiased outside examiner would discover that immediately.

3x2

Sad if true that data which presumably took thousands of man hours to collect is left on floppy disks in a box somewhere. Sadder still that if the lab has closed the boxes will probably be tossed as the new occupants take over.
They may have been better of handing you the disks on condition that you copy whatever you manage to retrieve into the ITRDB.

>>>Even in this case, though the portrait will belong to the
>>>Queen or government, you cannot ask the artist for his
>>>raw data, i.e. how he came up with the portrait. You take
>>>the end results.
Wrong analogy. The raw data was also funded by the government (through educational funding), who paid for the field trips to dig up the tree trunks, for the laboratories in which the studies were made and for the salaries of the personnel. Thus the raw data is all government property.
.
As an aside, the tree ring data is not 100% certain even about the age of wood samples. To go back 7,000 years, you need to match one trunk against another (through their tree ring signatures) to join them up into a series that goes back that far. There are no 7,000 year-old trees in Ireland.
However, many commentators indicate that the standards applied to matching these signatures is not very high. Thus you might think that trunk ‘a’ comes immediately before trunk ‘b’ in the long sequence, but that is not entirely certain. If that chain of signatures is broken – by even one poor match – then the entire sequence running back 7,000 years is false.
That is what I would like to see from Queens – the reliability of the trunk matching (and where each trunk was taken from, in the stratigraphy of the bog). I want to see if there is any ‘forcing’ of these signatures, to make trunk ‘a’ match with trunk ‘b’.

40 Shades of Green

The Dog in the Manger is a fable attributed to Aesop, concerning a dog who one afternoon lay down to sleep in the manger. On being awoken, he ferociously kept the cattle in the farm from eating the hay on which he chose to sleep, even though he was unable to eat it himself, leading an ox to mutter the moral of the fable:
Sounds like an exact description of the shenanigans at QUB.
Incidentally, shenanigans is most likely an Irish word. See http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/shenanigan

Alan Wilkinson

anna v, supposing you worked for a corporation and did the same work. How could you possibly think you owned the data personally?
Why should publicly funded institutions and projects be any different?

UK Sceptic

Whether or not the dendrochronological data QUB holds is considered private property, it doesn’t excuse the lies spoken in order to continue witholding said data. This is so bloody typical of academic politics and protectionism.
On a different note, given the content of this article, I found the following whimsically ironic…
http://www.heritagemp.com/titles.asp?cstk=248702

dorlomin

Don S. (21:03:05) :
Tertially. Beloved people of the United Kingdom. Exercise your rights under the Treaty of Runnymeade. Now.
——————————————–
Errrr Wot?
What does the Magna Carta have to do with Freedom of information act (2000).

dorlomin

evanmjones (23:12:08) :
Then it’s easy to believe
Somebody’s been lying to me
———————————–
Lying? Are you prepaired to publically state that Queens University has been lying? About what exactly then, or is this poem just a bit of snideness never intended to be publically questioned?

dorlomin

One more thing, I take it WUWT contacted the relevant people at the institution and gave them a chance to offer their side of the story. I mean WUWT would never impune people reputation without giving them a chance to put thier side of the story.
That would be the worst kind of tabloid journalism.
Reply: Who ever said that these posts are investigative journalism? After you’re done knocking down that strawman you seriously need to consider modifying your tone or I will start deleting your posts. ~ charles the moderator

John Wright

I don’t often use floppy disks these days, but there are USB disk readers available. They are slow (even slower than the old computers), it can take a few minutes to read a disk if it’s full but once it’s read, a microsecond to copy it onto a modern computer. The longest time they’d have to spend would be to check content, which will give them something to do.
If they are so “busy” is there no retired contributor to this blog living in Belfast who could offer to do it for them?

ralph ellis (00:19:59) :
Sure: Check out these two comments to answer your question “How accurate are modern records based on tree rings?”
1) Pnadanus (23:36:44) :
The main problem with dendrochronology is one of small sample size. As a forester, who specialises in forest measurement, I can state that within any stand of trees, managed or not, there is always variation within the stand with competition between trees being the main player. Sure annual weather events will influence the stand as a whole, but often this will be masked by the within stand competition. If the dendro gets the sample wrong then any inferences that they might make about the past weather are also incorrect.
2) Mike D. (00:28:04) :
Some rings will be thick: those indicate years in which the environment was good for the tree. Other rings will be thin: those indicate the opposite.
I suppose that almost everybody knows that statement is a huge oversimplification. (The simulacrum cartoon illustration of a tree cross-section above should reinforce that point to the uninitiated.)
A thousand and one things can impact tree ring widths, especially competition from neighboring trees. Nobody (but nobody) knows the competitive situation of individual trees in the distant past (100, 200, 300+ years ago).
Even in competition-free situations, ring width diminishes with distance from the pith. Actually, ring width (diameter growth) follows sigmoid growth patterns, just as does top growth (height) and volume growth. Anybody familiar with biological growth patterns knows what a sigmoid growth curve looks like.
Hence isolating weather conditions from tree rings is fraught with uncertainties, assumptions, and confounding factors, even with the best of data sets. Many (thousands) of contemporaneous trees across broad regions should be analyzed, but typical data sets contain 20 or fewer trees from a small area.
I speak as a forester who has examined tree rings on zillions of stumps and cores. Weather events and conditions are not at all obvious in tree rings.
…..
So, is Mann “accurate” in being able to tell us – to within .1 degree or 1.6 trillion dollars (whichever comes first) – what the climate was between 1050 AD and 1890? (This is assuming, of course, that Mann and Jones are intersted in bein accurate.)

Alan the Brit

I’m remided of the the late great Tony Hanncock’s speech, “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you, di she die in vein?”!
If I’ve said this before, it’s a bit OT but illustrates the point I am trying to make, forgive an 51 year old man getting older by the minute, but in the 1950’s Britain had 6 statutory instruments for entering someone’s property, by force if necessary! By the 1980’s, it was an order of magnitude more at 60. Today, err, err, I feel rather ashamed & embarrassed to say, we have 266 with a possible 267th in the pipeline! Sure they were all well intentioned laws to get at the criminals/terrorists, whether drugs, prostitution, money laundering, or a combination of all three, but they all had function creep attacehd to them. To date very few anti-terrorist laws have been used against terrorists, only the ordinary people trying to go about their normal business. A warning, you’re next!

TerryS

Re: anna v (23:02:38) :

I wonder if this freedom of information act would apply to the discovery of the Higgs, and if we would get various groups grappling over the same data as a result, trying to prove each other as bad data users, instead of doing a fresh experiment to measure the Higgs again, as is the traditional scientific method.

I would expect both scenarios to occur. More experiments with the LHC and the data from the experiments being examined. I recall a small experiment from several years ago where replication the physicists experiment was attempted and the raw data was examined. It was called cold fusion.
The difference between physics experiments and tree rings is vast. With physics if you repeat the experiment you are likely to get the same results (hence the same data). With tree rings if you take a second core from the same tree then you are likely to get differing results.
As an example, in the image above a core taken at the 3 O’clock position shows (counting from outside to inside) a nice large -3 year and a poor thin -7 year. Take a core at the 2 0’clock position and both these years are approximately the same.
What this boils down to then is that tree ring data is unique, it can not be reproduced by experiment or even by going to the same trees as the original samples.

Phillip Bratby

I’m sure Christopher Booker will be on the case of all the UK-taxpayer-funded institutions/organisations withholding data and obfuscating (delaying, lying, whatever other practices they employ).

Paul Vaughan

Pnadanus (23:36:44) “As a forester, who specialises in forest measurement […] […] I shake my head everytime someone quotes from another dendro study […]”
Good points – but I urge you to consider that you are going too far with your criticism. I appreciate your background because I’ve taken the same courses & put in my share of time in the bush (& back in the lab …& analyzing the data), but I think it’s fair to acknowledge the serious challenges faced by paleoecologists. Judgement is a key skill in paleoecology. Suggested: Just filter off the grant-seeking fluff when reading the papers. Responsible people aren’t basing conclusions on just one paper — people are looking at 1000s of papers in the online age and looking for consistencies that are robust across methodologies. If your main concern is that the general public lacks an understanding of forest/environment factors (& so cannot judge papers responsibly), you make an ABSOLUTELY SOLID point.

Lindsay H

Universities the world over seem to be becoming more politically and comercially concious and a lot more possessive about data.
It could be a case of protecting their data; or it could be a case of protecting papers presented using the data from being checked and challenged, because the institution knows the papers were not robust, or could be flawed.
Handing data to an individual or organisation who might analyse the data in a way which challanges the existing political agenda within the university would also be fought to the bitter end.

It always strikes me as strange that we can take highly suspect proxies (such as tree rings) as the height of science but actual observatioins made at the time by real people are ‘anecdotal’ and dismissed.
We have temperature records to 1660 from thermometers.
We have diary observations from people such as Pepys and Thomas Jefferson.
Records fropm the great landed estates.
Chaucers observations
Distribution of farms and crops in the Donmesday book
The Anglo Saxon Chronicles.
Byzantime empire records
Numerous records from the Romans
First hand research on dwellings of bronze age huts with their grain barns
In short our ancestors from way back are tellking us that the climate oscillates from warm to cold and back again and instead of them we believe in slices of tree.
Its a funny old world.
Tonyb

Ellie in Belfast

ralph ellis (00:36:13) :
“To go back 7,000 years, you need to match one trunk against another (through their tree ring signatures) to join them up into a series that goes back that far. There are no 7,000 year-old trees in Ireland.” and ” I want to see if there is any ‘forcing’ of these signatures, to make trunk ‘a’ match with trunk ‘b’”.
Matching is exactly what QUB did, gradually, painstakingly and with high accuracy. And this was done long before anyone thought of climate change. It was a dating technique for paleoarchaeological use to examine early man’s activities and influence in Ireland. The risk of errors was well known and these were academics with no motivation other than to be very accurate. I remember Jon Pilcher as an undergraduate so this work was substantially complete by the early 1980s. I remember this area because the subject was made interesting and the people teaching it were great. A friend of mine did an undergraduate research project on this with Mike Baillie and Mike Brown. The whole research group was very impressive, but as mentioned above Jon Pilcher and Mike Baillie have now retired.
I remember one of the points made to us was about tree ring growth and weather – water and temperature. Irish oak, in a wet climate where whole seasons dry enough to restrict tree growth are rare, is a better indicator of temperature than some species-systems.

Sandy

From this one cross-section one can see a core taken at 12 O’clock, 4 and 8 would give 3 very different ‘climate histories’. That the rings are there each year makes this valuable for dating, but variability in ring width hides any climate signal in noise.

Ellie in Belfast

As a footnote to the above, actually I am surprised that that data is not in the international tree-ring database.

D. King

anna v (23:02:38)
I wonder if this freedom of information act would apply to the discovery of the Higgs, and if we would get various groups grappling over the same data as a result, trying to prove each other as bad data users, instead of doing a fresh experiment to measure the Higgs again, as is the traditional scientific method.
I’m just guessing, but I think Higgs data would end up in a
kind of bureaucratic Black hole.

I think part of the problem is that nobody is comfortable having his or her work scrutinized.

Jimmy Haigh

I get scrutinized in my job all the time. I don’t find it a problem.

Arthur Glass

In Charles Dickens’s novel __Little Dorrit__ there is a government bureau known as the Office of Circumlocution.
It is not only tree-rings that are apt to give inquirers the run-around.
Franz Kafka, thou should’st be living in this hour!