Green forces, eager to promote their theories of global warming, appear to be practicing intellectual recycling. Is this the return of the notorious hockey stick—which, in 2001, was the central dogma of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) believers ?

This quasi-religious faith in catastrophic AGW still remains a prerequisite for membership in scientific and media elite circles, even in the face of the failure of earlier (model) predictions of apocalypse to manifest, and the admission by an apostle of the faith that for the past 17 years global temperatures have not increased—contrary to the projections of every climate model.

As other religious fanatics, the failure only drives adherents to recycle past claims. Last week, in The Anatomy of Climate Science Hype, I discussed the manner of collaboration of the unholy trinity of ambitious scientists, a science journal anxious for publicity, and the old grey New York Times eagerly publishing anything that may tend to confirm their credo. In yet another NYT story (March 7) by science reporter Justin Gillis a research paper (March 8) in the formerly respected journal Science was previewed

Now, several of us skeptics (a term of honor in the long history of scientific advance) have had an opportunity to review that paper itself. It is a very detailed and difficult paper, whose lead author is Shaun Marcott of Oregon State University, obviously aiming to become the next poster-boy for the UN-sponsored IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change). (I note that the OSU paper just made the cut-off deadline for the 2013 IPCC report.) After a great deal of work in analyzing proxy (historic, non-thermometer) data of the past 11,300 years, the start of the current warm interglacial Holocene period, the authors conclude that “recent warming is unprecedented.” It is not—but never mind. The same claim had been made previously (in a 1998 paper in Nature) by the notorious “Hockey-stick” graph produced by Michael “hide-the-decline” Mann, and exposed as being “not only wrong but essentially worthless”—to adapt a famous quote of one of my teachers, Nobel physicist Wolfgang Pauli.

The IPCC latched on to the Hockey-stick graph in 2001 as its main crutch in support of its claims for AGW. It promoted a newly minted PhD student to international fame—or perhaps, notoriety. One can learn all about his fall from the pinnacle from Andrew Montfort’s book The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science. The chapters on Climategate, based on thousands of e-mails, leaked (hacked? stolen?—it depends whom you talk to) in Nov. 2009, relate the whole sordid story of a gang of IPCC scientists, mainly British and US, conspiring to control what goes into IPCC reports and scientific publications.

The IPCC no longer gives credence to the Hockey-stick graph and uses a different argument in its 2007 report to back up AGW. That argument is also failing, but the IPCC doesn’t give up. Eventually, they will discover that AGW is insignificant and hardly visible. But by then much money will have been wasted to “fight climate change, keep the ocean from rising, and heal the Earth.”

The Science paper

The four authors, three from OSU and one from Harvard, are quite fuzzy in defining the word “recent.” Their analysis takes 1950 as “present.” But then they add a humongous temperature increase by using all of the 20th century. That’s really the crux of their claim, but also their weakest point: The only warming that’s sure is from 1910 to 1940. Although that warming is certainly genuine, only a few fanatic scientists believe that it is human-caused. Not even the IPCC considers the warming up to 1940 as anthropogenic.

On the other hand, the large surface warming claimed from 1979 to 2000 may not even exist. Opinions are divided on this important question. The warming is certainly not seen in the satellite data, the best global temperature observations we have.

Of course, the authors ignore the fact that there has been no warming for at least a decade - while anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been increasing more rapidly. According to Philip Jones, the IPCC’s guru on Global Temperatures, there hasn’t been any significant global warming for 17 years!

Even stranger is their forecast for the future—entirely based on climate models that have never been validated. Their exact quote is: “By 2100, global average temperatures will probably [be] 5 to 12 sigma deviations above the Holocene temperature mean.” In non-technical language, this means a huge increase; but the probability of a large temperature rise is practically nil. Of course, they leave themselves plenty of room by providing at least half a dozen projections depending on assumed scenarios.

Hiding the data mix

What is distinctive about this latest effort at claiming unusual 20th-century warming and implying a human contribution is their presentation. The original hockey stick, first published in 1998, explained carefully that the modern instrumental (thermometer) record had been grafted onto a centuries-long proxy (non-thermometer) record; the OSU paper neglects to inform the reader about this important fact.

As a reviewer of IPCC reports, I well remember efforts to hide the mixing of proxy and thermometer data: IPCC’s 3rd Assessment report (2001) showed the proxy temperature record with a black line and the 20th century temperatures with a blue line. I complained that these were very hard to distinguish—especially in a black-and-white Xerox copy. Since then, the IPCC and everyone else have used a distinctive red color for the instrumental data. That kind of distinction, however, is missing in the present OSU-Harvard paper.

To use a current analogy: it’s like putting horsemeat into Swedish meatballs that advertise beef. In the case of the meatballs, the DNA evidence betrayed the addition of horsemeat. Here it is the fact that one sees sharp temperature changes at the end of the record—despite the authors’ statement that they have used a 100-year smoothing of the raw data. With long smoothing times like a century, one cannot expect to see temperature spikes that may only be a decade long.

So what did they really do? I suspect that the paper is a rehash of Marcott’s doctor’s thesis. He too is a newly minted PhD (in 2011), lucky enough to get Hockeystick #2 not only published, but internationally promoted—It’s all based on analyses of 73 samples of deep-ocean sediments, corals, shells, etc. Nothing really new here: In 1996 Lloyd Keigwin (of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) published such an analysis in Science. He found that it was warmer 1000 years ago (during the Medieval Warm Period)—and much warmer 3000 years ago and earlier.

So why did the editors of Science give the OSU paper the ‘special’ treatment, sending out press releases, arranging interviews, etc? Perhaps they were captured by the authors’ claim “that the planet today is warmer than it has been during 70 to 80 percent of the time over the past 11,300 years.” But as British climate expert David Whitehouse points out, “Of course, another way to put this is that current temperatures are colder than 28% of the Holocene. According to this research, the temperatures seen in the 20th century were about average for the Holocene.”

This whole episode is one more illustration of once distinguished scientific journals hyping an upcoming article by sending out early press releases to selected journalists who will write a sensationalized story. It may impress laymen but it will have no significant impact on the real science debate about AGW. Its impact on policy is nil—or should be.