A memorial tribute paper to paleoclimatologist Keith Briffa has been published, but there’s a catch

It’s paywalled.

It’s nice that his colleagues at the infamous Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University thought as much of him as they do, but really, if you want to do a tribute/memorialize somebody, paywalling ensures only a few people see it. Here’s the paper, published in The Holocene. 

Keith R. Briffa was one of the most influential palaeoclimatologists of the last 30 years. His primary research interests lay in Late-Holocene climate change with a geographical emphasis on northern Eurasia. His greatest impact was in the field of dendroclimatology, a field that he helped to shape. His contributions have been seminal to the development of sound methods for tree-ring analysis and in their proper application to allow the interpretation of climate variability from tree rings. This led to the development of many important records that allow us to understand natural climate variability on timescales from years to millennia and to set recent climatic trends in their historical context.

I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, for they can’t defend themselves, but others may differ in their opinion about “His contributions have been seminal to the development of sound methods for tree-ring analysis and in their proper application to allow the interpretation of climate variability from tree rings. “

Influential? Yes, especially with this, a tree known as YAD06, which has it’s own Wikipedia page:

YAD06 is a tree located in the Yamal Peninsula of Siberia. A core sample from this tree, YADO61, provided data used to support hockey stick interpretation of global climate history.[1] The data was originally published in 1995 a paper by Keith Briffa of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. The paper asserted that the late Middle Ages, previously described as a “Medieval Warm Period,” was actually quite cold.[2]Steve McIntyre has described this tree as possibly “the most influential tree in the world”,[3] and publicly accused Briffa of cherry-picking certain tree ring records in order to get a specific result, creating what Michael E. Mann described as a “manufactured scandal.”[4]

In his original post about it in 2009, Steve McIntyre described YAD06 as:

Next here is the corresponding plot for the CRU 10. Without doing any sort of fancy statistical test, one can readily see a difference. None of the YAD** trees on the right are especially old – the graph shows their full history – all start after AD1800. However, instead of the standard negative exponential declining growth, these particular trees started off very slowly, like old trees, and then got a burst of virility when they got to be 100 years old. Benjamin Button trees so to speak. Because of the one size fits all RCS standardization, this post-100 growth pulse is divided by a small standard denominator – YAD06 reaches 8 sigma and is the most influential tree in the world. YAD06 does not always drink beer, but when it does, it drinks Dos Equis. Stay thirsty, my friends.

Core YAD061, shown in yellow highlight, the single most influential tree

Raise a Dos Equis to Keith Briffa and marvel at his work.

h/t to Dennis Wingo for the publication link.


UPDATE: WUWT reader R. Shearer has found an open access URL for the paper, which he posted in comments: http://sci-hub.ooo/10.1177/0959683618782591

70 thoughts on “A memorial tribute paper to paleoclimatologist Keith Briffa has been published, but there’s a catch

  1. If I recall, Briffa was dismayed at using the Yamal tree for climate data, although he didn’t put up too much of a fight. But back then Trenberth was the ruling authority on who and what got published.

    • It should be remembered that it was Briffa’s data which showed downwards turn from 1960 onwards and was the object of HIDE THE DECLINE. It was Briffa’s proxy data which showed that trees are not thermometers.

      It was NOT Briffa who cropped and hid this part of the data but Mann and Jones.

      IIRC he was concerned about the downturn and did not agree with it being removed.

      • Lest we forget :

        From: Phil Jones

        Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 13:31:15 +0000

        Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,
        I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.

      • Thanks for the ref… it’s a very good refresher course on Briffa, Yamal and McIntire’s work.

  2. McIntire’s comment, and the graphs, make it clear that YAD06 is an anomalous tree. Even if tree rings were a good match for paleotemperatures, that one is an outlier.

  3. Influential? Yes, especially with this, a tree known as YAD06, which has it’s own Wikipedia page:

    That’s interesting. I thought Wikipedia was run by activists who would never let such a thing in Wikipedia. link

    • There is an ongoing bloody civil war in Wikipedia. Activists have destroyed thousands of articles and continue to do so. Honest contributors curse the day their work is singled out for assault and fight back when they can, often losing. The end result is that Wikipedia is a complete mess. None of this is a secret.

      Citing Wikipedia is generally a mistake because it rightly has zero credibility. Again, this is well known to all as are the reasons why. Having said this, these activists have very specific politics so articles that survive their orthodoxy naturally have a little credibility. I would argue, however, that this tiny credibility is more for amusement than for reference…

      • Some years ago I was at a meeting of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, a meeting about Wikipedia. One of the Wikipedia representatives told, that the most changed Wikipedia page was …… about Climate Change.

      • I should add that the atrocious quality of the main Wikipedia portal does not necessarily correspond to other Wikipedia portals (by country, I mean). Each has to be evaluated on its own circumstances. Some are even worse but some are also better off.

      • I use Wikipedia when I’m looking for information on a subject in which I have an interest, whether it be WWII British aircraft or some mining town in Montana. Generally I don’t have a reason to seriously doubt what these articles say. Good articles have plenty of references if you want to go deeper.

        If I want to know what the “consensus” view of a climate change issue is, then Wikipedia is a good source. Climate change is perhaps the most politicized subject today, and it should be no surprise that the majority view has won out on Wikipedia. Get over it. The minority (“skeptical”) view wins out on WUWT and Climate, etc., since those sites are run by resourceful skeptics.

        And where does an intelligent person go to get an “objective” view of climate change? I’d love to be able to say that WUWT and Climate etc. are good objective choices but that’s an opinion that won’t be taken seriously by most in this embattled arena. If you have a truly open mind then you read opposing sites and do the best you can, and it ain’t easy.

        My point is that most readers have made up their minds about climate change and they go to the sites that reinforce their opinion. Wikipedia and WUWT are a couple of examples, and they both do a good job of promoting their positions. WUWT and Climate, etc. distinguish themselves in their ability to attract good commenters from the consensus viewpoint, and these commenters are generally treated respectfully. The consensus articles in Wikipedia are generally well-written, and like skeptical sites you know what you’re gonna get.

    • Here’s the inside scoop on Wikipedia. It’s written by people like Homer Simpson.

      • Actually I think it was a larch. Every time i see that word I always remember a Monty Python sketch where out out of nowhere they show a picture of a tree and Eric Idle does a voice-over saying “A Larch. A Larch”.

  4. How fitting that even a memorial tribute requires a grant to be accessed.

    It’s all about the Benjamins.

      • Apropos: climate scientists are known for exaggeration and blowing their own horn.

      • That thermometer needs some climate lubrication.
        I’m sure NASA/GISS has some “hand”-ee.

      • Hey moderators, what’s going on here. This the second time in two days I have an innocuous post vanish into thin air. No “awaiting moderation”, nothing. The first time I thought I may have made a slip and not posted but the same thing just happened and when I report the same thing it says it’s a dupe, so it did get sent.

        It may be serveral posts on this thread in a few minutes but why is it just dumping stuff instead of holding it for moderation?

      • A new euphamism is born: polishing the thermometer. Some brilliant editor at USA Today missed the obvious phallic imagery of this graphic. And the thermometer even has a little mercury sack at the bottom. Tipping points? No, now it’s climate CLIMAX! Wait till the feminist glaciologists see this. There will be some politically correct hell to pay then, boy howdy. No, wait, I meant, boy, girl, cisboy, cisgirl, androgenous, undisclosed, undecided and hermaphrodite howdy.

      • it would be good if you could expand on that comment mardler. you knew or like most of us ,suspected.

    • May Keith Briffa rest in peace. Sincere condolences to his loved ones.

      I, too, have entertained the notion that Keith Briffa was FOIA, the anonymous ClimateGate e-mail leaker. There are several indications of his disgust with Mann and the hockey stick and the “hiding of the decline” in his communications. Could it have been that he was inwardly so disgusted with it all that he was driven to let the world know the true levels of scientific corruption and tendentiousness that were taking place within the CRU and the IPCC?

      Now that he’s is gone, thinking of him as FOIA would be a lovely memorial. Of course, FOIA was only necessary because the IPCC and rent seeking and fabulous trips to exotic locales were squashing the inner-Feynman’s of most climate scientists in the first place, turning them into advocates and lawyers and activists, just like post-normal science and (honest or effective) Stephen Schneider gave them permission to do.

      And if Briffa was NOT FOIA, I hope whoever that person is, is well and thriving. Your identity remains a mystery to me and to most of us. The portion of the world that values fossil fuel productivity (as well as the part that doesn’t value it, but still benefits from it) remains greatly in your debt.

  5. I, for one, shall drink a sip of my favorite highly carbonated beverage to Keith, whose bouts of conscience qualified him as the least offensive of the whole CAGW crew. RIP.

  6. If I recall correctly, there was much in the ClimateGate emails about the “Hide The Decline” episode along with the YAD 061 bit. After reading the email threads, it seems Briffa came out as one of the good guys.

  7. So the Peanut Gallery wants to know if it was Keith Briffa who released the EAU/CRU emails.

    • In my opinion, absolutely not. I think he was too much of a team player despite being more ethical than the rest.

      My suspicion is that it was a fairly minor player, probably a student, who may or may not have hacked his way into the Email server. (Some stuff the CRU was annoyed at losing had been put on their public FTP server. Copying that is not cracking, in my book, especially if it’s research paid for from tax revenue.)

      • There was NO hack. The archive was incompetently / carelessly placed on a public FTP server.

        I doubt there was even white knight insider. Probably just incompetence. For all the persisent talk of “hacking” or “stolen” data, the top UK anti-cyber crime unit was unable to find any evidence of such. But this false claim allowed the media to distract from the damning content of the leaked emails and “discredit” them even though they were not altered.

  8. How unscientific to use a sample of just one (tree) to represent not only an entire “science” but represent another “science” which in turn, if we follow the recommendations of the “science” will destroy the entire energy based technology that underpins human civilization. This in turn could possibly lead to the extinction of our own species.
    Personally, I wonder how the analysis from just a single tree can be the conclusive basis of any science. How can it be called science? Sample size gives credibility and accuracy to any real science. Many a study has been criticized for limited sample sizes. This would have to be a record-a single case study underpinning several areas of science, regarding the said science to be “settled” and the recommendations based on interpretations of the study being the basis for radically affecting our own species.

  9. Were there not two ‘batches’ of climategate email releases? So not an error, more likely an insider with knowledge of IT architecture and what was where. My belief is that the Norfolk police didn’t try very hard to find the culprit having read some of the stuff and no doubt met a number of flakey, hysterical ‘climate scientists’.

    • As I understand it, the complete set of emails was released but encrypted. The set released to the public was the “interesting” set. The set held back included personal stuff not fit for public consumption.

      Much later (but still a couple of years ago) the password was revealed to a few people including, I believe, Anthony Watts, Steve Mosher and a few others

      Presumably Anthony, Steve etc went through the rest of the emails and found nothing of worth to report. I dont recall anything anyway…and to me that confirms that the original release wasn’t from a “hacker” but from an insider who had a lot of time to understand the threads of conversation and their significance involved in the emails that were released.

      The last email in the bunch was I believe only a couple of weeks old at time of release and there’s simply no way anyone who wasn’t intimately involved could have “hacked” the emails and then picked out all the relevant ones in that time.

  10. made me laugh.
    continuing the fine tradition of paywalling n keeping stuff making money for subs.
    sad f^ks

    • I’m curious Anthony, do you believe that being published on the University of East Anglia web site, accessible for free by everyone, would be enough to falsify your headline, and cause a situation where a retraction, rather than just an update pointing out that at least one free journal has the document, would be appropriate?

      What say you?

      • If that URL is published in some well known public location, like a CRU blog or local newspaper, then I might accept it was published openly. From Google, they (there are two URLs) appear to be added to a CRU repository. The only regular publication is The Holocene.

        Oh, this is interesting. Here’s an announcement from CRU, http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/news-events/-/asset_publisher/XjiOuLnbgWRI/blog/professor-keith-briffa has two links,

        Whoa. Briffa died last October 29th! That news was published in December! It ends with:

        Published Obituaries

        Obituaries commemorating Keith’s life and achievements have been published:

        In Memoriam: Keith R. Briffa, 1952-2017. Tree-Ring Research 74, 132-133, by Malcolm Hughes, Ed Cook, Tim Osborn and Tom Melvin http://dx.doi.org/10.3959/1536-1098-74.1.132

        Keith Briffa obituary. The Guardian, 21 December 2017, by Tim Atkinison https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/dec/21/keith-briffa-obituary

        The second one is nicely done. The first goes to another paywalled site for the Journal Tree Ring Research! Hmm, that’s a January submission, Phil Jones is not listed as an author.

        Wow, I’m amazed WUWT the news, I’m more amazed CRU pretty much ignored the event.

        • The point was that “the catch” was that you have to pay to read it. You don’t.

          • Depends on how much you respect copyright law from UEA’s links or can search the UEA for [supposedly] other readings that we should have read in their newspaper.

  11. Not only was YAD 06 an outlier, it was included in a very small sample size, magnifying its impact. This is contrary to sound statistical analysis which would require throwing out such an obvious anomaly.

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