WUWT alarmism?

Watts Up With That? recently published a post about an improvement to a method developed by Steig et al. (2009). This paper aimed to identify temperature trends over the data sparse Antarctic. The improved method has been accepted for publication in Journal of Climate, which is a decent achievement.

Firstly, I think its great that this exchange of ideas is happening in the peer-reviewed literature and not only on blogs.

I say this because, as Watts demonstrates, blogs can be used to insinuate things that are not the case.

For example, there is a quote from one of the paper authors in the post:

“I would hope that our paper is not seen as a repudiation of Steig’s results, but rather as an improvement.”

Yet Watts decided to title his post “Skeptic paper on Antarctica accepted – rebuts Steig et al”. Whilst I realise the difference between “rebut” and “repudiate”, it strikes me as poor form.

There also seems to be a tone of indignation in Watts’ part of the post about how long it took to get the paper through peer review and that one of the “difficult” reviewers had probably been involved with the initial paper:

“Anyone want to bet that reviewer was a “[hockey] team” member?”

I don’t understand why Watts is surprised about this: if you contribute something novel to the literature then the peer review process assesses that work against itself; if, on the other hand, you criticise and amend other people’s work then it would be irresponsible of the journal editor not to send the paper to one of the people being questioned.

Anyway, so what is the difference between the two analyses? Here are the plots that are provided before the paper is published properly:

The striking differences in the update are the increased positive trend on the peninsula and a “new” negative trend from the South Pole to the eastern Weddell Sea. The positive trend over most of Western Antarctica has also largely gone.

I expect Real Climate will post a response once the full paper is published so I don’t want to try to pick the methods apart here.

However, it struck me as a little odd that Watts was almost celebrating the re-affirmation of a massive warming on the Antarctic Peninsula!

Sure, the atmospheric dynamics of this region are very complicated and it’s not clear exactly what the distribution of temperature changes mean. But this “victory” seemed to focus more on getting one over the “hockey team” (ugh) rather than achieving something potentially useful.

ResearchBlogging.orgRyan O’Donnell, Nicholas Lewis, Steve McIntyre, Jeff Condon (2011). Improved methods for PCA-based reconstructions: case study using the Steig et al. (2009) Antarctic temperature reconstruction Journal of Climate, in press

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16 Responses to “WUWT alarmism?”

  1. Peter Risdon Says:

    I’m surprised you don’t know why this has mattered to WUWT and similar.

    Low ice levels in recent years in the Arctic were accompanied by high ice levels and low temperatures in Antarctica. Having cooling and increased ice levels in one pole did not fit the warming narrative, so Steig et al ‘smeared out’ a local warming phenomenon on the Antarctic peninsular so it could be generalised across the whole of Antarctica, in order that people could say that “Antarctica” has been warming.

    In other words, this is ‘celebrated’ by WUWT as a response to spin and statistical manipulation by warming alarmists.

    • andyrussell Says:

      I get that a general warming across Antarctica would “look” more like a GHG forced situation. But a rapidly warming peninsula is not a good situation either and is also likely to have anthropogenic causes, albeit complicated ones. It’s a difficult situation to unpick and isn’t helped by the very important differences between Antarctic sea-ice and land-ice and their associated trends (increasing and decreasing respectively).

      I think accusing Steig et al. of “spin and statistical manipulation” is taking it too far. Again, as one of the authors of the new paper said: “I would hope that our paper is not seen as a repudiation of Steig’s results, but rather as an improvement.” I don’t think Watts follows this advice. Indeed, even the new temperature trends presented by O’Donnell et al. show warming over most of the continent. I don’t see this as something to go crazy over.

  2. Peter Risdon Says:

    The spin I referred to was more in the media; I do think the technique used by Steig et al was manipulation, from what I remember of what it involved.

    More generally, genuine sceptics don’t have a vested interest in what the research shows, just in the research being dispassionate. Watts is more of a partisan than this and his presentation of this issue reflected that but, given the abuse he’s been subjected to, that’s not too surprising. Having said that, Steve McIntyre seems remarkably non-partisan (to my eyes) despite having had to cope with far more abuse than Watts.

    But the take-away is that if the peninsula is warming, it’s warming. If the cause is mainly anthropogenic then that’s what it is. That’s neither convenient nor inconvenient as a truth. Conversely, if the cause isn’t anthropogenic but rather related to things like local submarine tectonics then that’s what it is. It would be better if people forgot what side they were on and concentrated on the science.

    • andyrussell Says:

      Odd you should mention McIntyre, he also published a very similar post to Watts, including the same grandstanding title! Again, it seems to read “don’t look at the result, we got one over ’em!”

      I don’t really follow the blogs as much as I’d like and was wondering what abuse, particularly in reference to Watts, you’re referring to in your comment? (Sorry it took so long to reply!)

  3. Tweets that mention WUWT alarmism? « Our Clouded Hills -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrew Russell, Chris Rowan. Chris Rowan said: WUWT alarmism? http://bit.ly/hcOcWa […]

  4. Sundance Says:

    I think some useful things were accomplished with this paper and the exchanges that preceded it. It reaffirms that the peer review process, while not as entertaining as the cat fights at the blogs, is the only forum that matters. Steig and RC in essence told the detractors of Steig’s work to put up or shut up, which they had every right to do.

    The other useful outcome is that this paper will reinforce one of the independent UN Interacademy Council’s findings that climate science could benefit from greater use of professional statisticians. http://reviewipcc.interacademycouncil.net/ReportNewsRelease.html

    As for what’s up with Watt’s? It’s no secret that there are interpersonal dynamics and emotions involved in all of this. It shouldn’t surprise you that Watt’s would seek to capitalize on the vindication of getting this paper published after having his nosed rubbed in it by the RC blog crowd for so long. It seems to be simple human nature to me. At least he never expressed the desire to punch out Steig or anyone from the “hockey team”.

    • omnologos Says:

      The peer-review process is the only one that matters? Tell that to the people writing about NASA’s “arsenic life” claims…

    • TimG Says:

      Actually, the 88 pages of arguments required to satisfy the objections of one hostile reviewer show the peer review system gives too much power to the entrenched interests.

      Peer review needs to be opened up. All reviewer comments should be made public for accepted and rejected papers. Reviewers should be encouraged to put their names on their reviews. Reviews should be required to declare conflicts of interest even if they remain anonymous.

  5. Mark L Says:

    Massive warming??

    If you look at the key, that “massive warming” on the peninsula is less than .6C per decade… With margin of error, human intervention on the peninsula, and random variation, this is statistically meaningless!! Also, many studies have shown ice is growing in Antartica over the last several years.

    • andyrussell Says:

      The warming on the peninsula has been shown to be statistically significant in lots of different studies.

      On the scale shown here, the nearly 0.6 degC per decade over the 50 year study period equates to a warming of around 2.5degC. That’s definitely something to be worried about.

  6. Same Ordinary Fool Says:

    “The authors…observe that 87 percent of the (Antarctic) peninsula glaciers are in retreat, the ice season has shortened by 90 days, and perennial sea ice is no longer a feature of the environment. They also point out that these changes are accelerating…”

    “The authors write that the ocean surrounding Antarctica is warming and that this warming has driven the deglaciation of the peninsula. The interplay between ice, atmosphere and ocean in the peninsula produces a positive feedback – a situation in which a system responds to changes by amplifying subsequent changes…”
    News Release for Schofield et al, June, 2010

    Note that the fast moving Pine Island Glacier (10% of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet) and the Thwaites glacier are included in the new study’s warm area.

  7. Sundance Says:

    Dear Andy,

    I came across these high resolution graphics at Jeff Id’s Blog. You can open each in a new window and put them side by side for a nice visual comparison. I think it gives a much better visual than the little graphics that were first provided. See if you think they are better.

    Best Regards

    Old: http://noconsensus.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/11.jpg

    New: http://noconsensus.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/antarcticatemps1957200611.jpg

  8. omnologos Says:

    Andy – comment 541991 by O’Donnell at WUWT appears to contradict your “poor form” statement

    Title of the post: I do not see any misrepresentation in Anthony’s use of the word “rebuts” […] There is nothing inconsistent between ‘rebuttal’ and ‘improvement’

    Given the fact that Watts has not used the term “repudiate”, what exactly you’re accusing him of insinuating?

    [My dictionary defines “rebut” as “to disprove”. Without having read the full paper, O’Donnell seems to be saying that they’ve altered the method a bit and come up with largely similar results. This doesn’t sound like much of a “disproval” to me! O’Donnell then says in his comment that their rebuttal refers only to a part of the method; Watts’ post title implies far more than this. That was my point. – AR]

    Secondly, you ask how can the new paper be “achieving something potentially useful”.

    [No, I didn’t say that – you’ve misquoted me. I questioned the wisdom of Watts focusing on getting one over the “hockey team” rather than on the achievement of the new paper. – AR]

    Well, you’ve answered yourself:

    a rapidly warming peninsula is not a good situation either and is also likely to have anthropogenic causes, albeit complicated ones.

    This should be welcome news to all interested in seeing climate science progress forward at a regional level. If O’Donnell et al are right – we have a rapidly-warming region that is called Antarctic Peninsula, and it stands out against its surroundings…let’s figure out what is happening!!

    If on the other hand Steig et al are right – there isn’t much to do, is there, apart from putting a few more weather stations across West Antarctica to confirm the claimed trends…especially given the fact that the Antarctic Peninsula does sport a highly positive measured anomaly, as in NASA’s Earth Observatory note for Dec 10.

    • andyrussell Says:

      I think a more accurate title that Watts could’ve used would be “Skeptic paper on Antarctica accepted – rebuts two details of the method used by Steig et al”. Even then I still thnk “rebuts” is the wrong word. I think Watts’ title implied that the whole Steig et al. paper was wrong, which it wasn’t.

      As for the second half of your comment, there’s not a lot to disagree with in the last two points but I think you misread what I wrote so I edited in a comment to make that clear. It was a criticism of Watts, not the O’Donnell paper.

      • omnologos Says:

        thank you Andy for the clarifications. I usually read WUWT keeping in mind all that has happened to Watts during the past few years, so as to be able to see through his (understandable) need to score a few points 😎

  9. So What Is O’Donnell et al Good For? « The Unbearable Nakedness of CLIMATE CHANGE Says:

    […] Russell of Our Clouded Hills recently mused about Anthony Watts’ “tone” regarding the O’Donnell et al […]

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