About Yamal

Non-casual readers already know I do not like to dwell into topics covered in great depth elsewhere. I will make a very short exception to that “policy”, simply because the McIntyre/Briffa story is too big.

Too big, that is, not to warrant some huge dose of skepticism before getting carried away with it.

We have a saying in Italian, “if they’re roses, they’ll bloom”. AKA “time will tell”.

As much as I admire McIntyre’s relentless quest to go always back to the original data, I am sure I am not the first one that has seen apparently-straight forward things turn around all of a sudden. There’s no reason to celebrate… if the Briffa reconstruction will implode, it will implode anyway.

Now we have a blog on the topic, by Gavin Schmidt at RealClimate, and a brief note by Briffa himself.

Gavin is his usual self, the worst enemy of AGW that is, with a blog post choked by its own sarcasm. Through the deep, rather undignified fog, one can get a glimpse of what appears to be a potentially strong riposte to Steve McIntyre (but with Schmidt’s emotions running so raw, I am afraid McIntyre will always have the upper hand).

Briffa is very calm and measured, therefore making his decision not to share the data sooner even more puzzling

Right now, it looks like there will be a “war of words” with claims and counterclaims. On that, I have no interest whatsoever. And too many people already are “jumping in” in ways that can only dent their credibility.

I might come back to the story after the battle. For now, this is my comment at RC:

Kudos to Briffa for having decided to “review the details of [McIntyre’s] work”.

Is it too much to state that most of what has happened, would not have happened had the data been made available upon (first) request?

On that topic, I believe that NASA changed its policy regarding space probes a decade ago or more, in order to avoid (crackpot) accusations of being in the business of airbrushing aliens out of the photos. That is why mission websites like MER’s _prominently_ show the just-received “raw images”, especially in the first days of the mission (please correct me if I am wrong).

Wouldn’t it therefore make sense to apply the same rules to all just-published papers, i.e. presenting the “raw data” to the visitor, rather than simply leaving it “available for anyone who cares to look”? Especially in a field such as climate change, where any accusation/finding is bound to elicit plenty of reaction.

  1. Rattus Norvegicus
    2009/10/10 at 03:26

    Geoff, the problem with your argument is that it is Eurocentric. There is little evidence of the historical or proxy variety that conditions during the MWP (perhaps better referred to as the Medieval Climate Anomaly) were uniformly warm all over the globe. The evidence is well summarized in The Great Warming by Brian Fagan. An important point to ponder is that not all of the earth, even those areas whose climates may be characterized as warmer than the surrounding centuries, thrived. Just as many, and perhaps more, were destroyed by the anomalous climate during this era.

  2. Dubl
    2009/10/06 at 20:35

    Wow, what a great and profound and utterly INANE discussion you’re all having. Perhaps it can be made better by AN ORIGINAL THOUGHT, instead of he said/she said and a bunch of rhetorical questions. Here goes:

    What freaking idiot, scientist, mathematician, or any other human even loosely accused of being logical or intelligent would believe for a second that the 1000 year climactic history of the entire planet can be reconstructed to within one degree of accuracy from 32 dead trees in one forest. You have SERIOUS flaws in your understanding of what science is and how it works if you, at ANY point in time, believed that this was even possible. Mathematical extrapolations are a nice thing to play with when you’re bored, but NEVER are they science or truth.

    Temper all followups to this story and all replies against this fact, and you’ll see that we’ve all wasted waaaaayyyyy to much time and effort on this nonsense.

    RIP Global Warming. I’ve predicted your death for some time now…

    • 2009/10/06 at 21:21

      If one’s blood boils about climate change, is that another consequence of global warming?

    • geoff chambers
      2009/10/07 at 20:20

      Dubl may irritate by his style , but he’s absolutely right, isn’t he. Here’s another commenter who makes the same point more calmly – comment #7 at
      Peter West: October 6th, 2009 at 4:13 am

      “.. the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age… wasn’t some flash in the pan – it was centuries. Likewise, the following Little Ice Age went for centuries… not years, not decades, but centuries.
      “What was the basis for these assertions? Bore hole analysis? Tree rings? lake sediments? Unfortunately, no. The basis was mere human artefacts. It was the written and archaeological record. It is what the people who were there told us, directly or indirectly.
      “Now suppose I’m a climate scientist, and I hypothesise that an examination of tree rings in Siberia will give me a temperature proxy over this whole period. I set out my hypothesis, I collect some tree rings, I do the analysis, and I look at the results. How do I check my hypothesis. On the face of it, I would look for the effects of such well-attested events as the Roman Warm Period, the Medieval Warm Period, and the Little Ice Age. Oops, the MWP is actually particularly cold.
      “So, as a scientist, what do I do? Well, I throw my hypothesis out, don’t I? In fact, no. You see, I’m a climate scientist. If my hypothesis doesn’t agree with the human-attested facts, the human-attested facts must be wrong …”

      The point West is making is that we shouldn’t have had to wait for McIntyre to confront Briffa on the narrow question of sample size and methods of statistical analysis. The first denial of the existence of the Mediaeval Warm Period from the first millenial temperature proxy study should have been challenged by historians, philosophers of science, self-appointed guardians of good intellectual practice of all kinds, with a clear message tht you can’t abolish human knowledge just by using a methodology too abstruse to be understood by common mortals. It would have taken courage for a historian to stand up and say: “I know nothing about tree rings or statistics, but I know you’re wrong”.

  3. kuhnkat
    2009/10/04 at 04:18

    Luke Warmer,

    “Whether the McIntyre version is any more robust a representation of regional tree growth in Yamal than my original, remains to be established.”

    SteveM never stated that his version was worth anything other than in testing Briffa’s version.

    I would also like to point out that here Briffa states “…representation of regional tree growth…” as opposed to “…representation of regional temperature…!!!!”

    So, what was the “research” used for with his full acquiescence?? What is RC trying to claim it is good for??


  4. Luke Warmer
    2009/10/03 at 14:34

    Briffa appears to be most keen to make the point that he didn’t deliberately cherry pick the cores, an accusation Steve hasn’t made, and I agree with your comment at RC.

    Briffa’s motives aside, it is a war of methods/ approaches to interpreting the data – and since Briffa later comments that: “My colleagues and I are working to develop methods that are capable of expressing robust evidence of climate changes using tree-ring data” He is implying that current methods are not robust.

    This is why (from a former comment of mine) it’s strange that Richard Black sits on the fence re the Hockey Stick, let alone on Yamal. Black should ponder the following from the horses mouth:

    “Whether the McIntyre version is any more robust a representation of regional tree growth in Yamal than my original, remains to be established.”

    Kudos to Briffa for this comment. The science is settled?

  5. geoff chambers
    2009/10/02 at 22:24

    Thanks for the link to Roger Pielke Jnr. Ross McKitrick has a useful summary of the story for non-scientists at
    You say: “Right now, it looks like there will be a “war of words” with claims and counterclaims. On that, I have no interest whatsoever”.
    How come? Isn’t a “war of words” a definition of politics? The science is in. Now it’s the rout of politicians and journalists. This will be the most interesting year in British politics since 1940 – without the bloodshed, and with an election as a bonus. There will be equally interesting tsunamis eventually in the USA and Australia. (Italy, France and other underdeveloped countries may not be affected). Copenhagen, like death and taxes, is unavoidable. When people realise that their future hinges on one strange tree in Siberia, their response may be … interesting.

    • 2009/10/03 at 08:43

      > Isn’t a “war of words” a definition of politics

      I meant, the “war of words” between McIntyre and Briffa. Obscure dendrochronological jargon is going to be heard by a record number of people 😎

  1. 2012/03/21 at 00:52
  2. 2011/10/19 at 23:21

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