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Stop Press: AGW Believer Stumbles, Accuses Briffa Of Unethical Behavior, Threatens AGW Edifice

Barrel-scraping (and worse: outright unintentional humor): this is what happens when one wants to defend an untenable position.

And this is what happened to wannabe Briffa Defender, Eli Rabett (apparently of some fame in the blogging circuit), trying his best Musketeer of the Guard impersonation in the “Hockey Stick Redux” comments at Ben Hale’s blog (more about that blog later).

Trouble is, Rabett ended up (unwittingly) accusing Briffa of dishonesty, and (one suspects, even more unwittingly) threatening single-handledly to destroy much of the AGW edifice.

Time wiil tell if Briffa and AGW can survive Eli Rabett’s friendly fire…


Here’s how it started

Mr Rabett tried to defend Briffa with “a few basic questions, including “the “data” the tree ring samples, belongs to the Russians. True or false” and “If [the previous statement] is true, the Russians are the ones to approach for the “data”. True or false“.

Alas, and of course, Rabett forgot to ask an even more basic question, that is if Briffa had indeed refused for years to release the data related to his articles published in journals whose stated policy is that all data related to all published articles should be released. What was Briffa thinking when he submitted articles to those journals, one wonders.

Furthermore, as pointed out by another commenter, MrPete, if a data set cannot be shared, that pretty much invalidates all articles based on that data set and published in journals whose policy is for data to be shared. Given the popularity of Briffa’s work, one can only imagine what very public slaughter of AGW articles Rabett’s idea would entail.

Reminded of, but still in complete denial of such fundamental points, Eli Rabett came back with a vengeance: “It looks more and more that the data was the Russian tree ring information which belonged to the Russians and which they had published on previously. Data shared by it’s owners cannot be ethically given to a third party by the people it was given to.

(my emphasis)

How can one read the above but as an (unwitting) accusation by AGW believer Eli Rabett that Briffa’s sharing of the data has been…unethical?

If all other Briffa supporters are like Rabett (and, in some sense, Schmidt), then it’s going to be a long and hard way indeed for the CRU scientist

  1. 2DREZQ
    2009/10/19 at 18:57

    Rattus said:
    “It should be noted that a standardization curve, which is used to remove the non-climatologically forced component of tree growth, is different from an RCS chronology which is a standardized map of tree ring width over time with the non-climatogically forced growth component removed. ”

    I don’t understand. How can one tell the different components of tree growth apart? ie: How much of each growth ring is a result of which of the several things that influence that growth?

    Just a layman wondering…

  2. Rattus Norvegicus
    2009/10/10 at 01:50

    It turns out that McIntyre was being somewhat disingenuous in his claims.

    First, the data used in the 2000 and 2006 studies was loaned to Briffa by Hantemirov who had, at the time, not yet finished doing the analysis of his data. The data was not Briffa’s to redistribute — in the scientific world loaning data to someone who publishes a paper based on it does not make publishing a GPL like virus which unlocks all of the underlying data. If you want it, you traditionally have to contact the authors who gathered the data.

    However, it turns out that McIntyre obtained the data directly from Hantemirov in 2004 and proceeded to accuse Briffa of “stonewalling” his repeated requests with replies which basically said “go ask the Russians”, as he should have since it was not his to dispose of as he saw fit.

    The validity of McIntyre’s analysis is another question entirely, although the dendros who have commented on it here and Jim Bouldin, who does not have a blog, don’t give it much credence. If you just add the Khadyta river data to the Briffa RCS reconstruction, you get basically the same recon except the late 20th century temps are depressed a little because of the divergence seen in the K. river samples. Nothing earthshaking.

    • 2009/10/10 at 10:54

      Rattus – the first two points have been soundly beaten to death in the comments to the Ben Hale’s blog. You may find it useful to subscribe to those and follow/participate to the discussion over there.

      Briefly, if “the data was not Briffa’s to redistribute”, then it wasn’t Briffa’s to write any article about the data without getting permission beforehand from the data owners to publish the relevant portion of the data. And it wasn’t Science magazine (and other publications) to publish any article under those conditions either.

      The “McIntyre obtained the data directly from Hantemirov in 2004” point is disingenous. McIntyre obtained some data directly from Hantemirov in 2004, but without any indication of which parts were specific for Briffa’s article. If we could compute the value of pi with any arbitrary precision, I am sure somewhere in there we could find Briffa’s data too…and Hantemirov’s…and anything else ever published in the past or that will see the light of day in the future…so what?

      Regarding “dendro” discussions, the potential, serious, scientifically valid contribution by 99% of the people interested in climate science is close to nil. Feel free to follow the debate like a spectator sport…as I already said, I am not that interested as it looks like a prolonged exchange of (scientific) fire. Time will tell, and proofs will pop up in the puddings.

      • Rattus Norvegicus
        2009/10/13 at 03:35

        I don’t know what the disclosure requirements at QSR in 2000 were, do you? However if you read the disclosure requirements of Science in 2007 there is an awful lot of “if it can be done” language. Obviously Briffa had permission to write the paper and publish it, probably since it did not directly compete with the work Hantemirov and Shiyatov were doing (which was constructing an ultra-long chronology for further analysis, subsequently published in 2002).

        The data McIntyre obtained from Hantemirov in 2004 was exactly the data he supplied to Briffa. McIntyre has since admitted that he did the analysis at the time and got essentially the same results as Briffa, but he couldn’t believe that Briffa used so few cores (17 as McIntyre now admits) to construct the RCS curve.

        This disbelief seems to be based in a misunderstanding of what Briffa considers to be an adequate number of samples, consisting of both sub-fossil and modern wood, to build an RCS curve. It should be noted that a standardization curve, which is used to remove the non-climatologically forced component of tree growth, is different from an RCS chronology which is a standardized map of tree ring width over time with the non-climatogically forced growth component removed. Briffa states that 62 samples should be enough. Since the Hantemirov data consisted of 241 samples, this easily was enough data to construct a statistically valid curve.

        It seems to me that it would have been easy for McIntyre to discuss his results with Briffa and verified if he had the correct data (for those wondering about the answer, it is “yes”). Your red herring concerning the value of pi is worthless in the face of facts, grasshopper :).

      • 2009/10/13 at 06:25

        it would have been easy for McIntyre to discuss his results with Briffa and verified if he had the correct data

        it would have been far easier had Briffa not “stonewalled”. Who would be afraid of people attempting to replicate one’s findings?

        Besides, we still do not know why what could be done wasn’t

  3. MikeN
    2009/10/08 at 22:52

    Eli, how do you twist things. Where did Briffa say McIntyre should write to the Russians? He just said ‘I’ll pass your request along.’ Similar, but stop making Steve out like he ignored everything.

  4. JeffM
    2009/10/08 at 00:04

    I concur with Alex Cull’s sentiments.

    I wonder how many more peer reviewed works (including climate models) would survive scrutiny in the light of day. The problem is, there aren’t enough capable, objective people like McIntyre and McKitrick to help us determine how much of the accepted AGW science is flawed. Valid or not, governments of countries around the world use this science as a rationale for depriving us of cheap sources of 24×7 energy. This is a horrible situation.

  5. 2009/10/07 at 20:07

    This thread has been fascinating – it is like a microcosm of the wider AGW debate, with the quality and tone of the responses very representative of the sides in that debate. It’s the reason why I rate blogs such as this one much higher than the offerings of the mainstream media when it comes to the climate question. Good post, some revealing comments and plenty of insight into this unfolding controversy – it is a privilege to be a fly on the wall, so to speak, at a time like this.

  6. Old Chemist
    2009/10/07 at 16:28

    Richard (11:06:37– 6/10/09),

    Bravo — A well written and excellent critique.

  7. 2009/10/07 at 13:59

    Mr. Courtney, it’s data WHICH WERE LOANED TO DR. BRIFFA. As it now clear from Climate Audit, Briffa told McIntyre that the data was not his, and that if McIntyre wanted the data, he should write to the Russians.

    You can’t give a third person something which is not yours.

    • 2009/10/07 at 14:12

      Eli – let’s leave McIntyre’s response aside – for the umpteenth time – Briffa has just published the data. If those weren’t his data then, they aren’t his data now. In your logic, Briffa has just done something he should not have done.

      I know you have tried to argue that the data somehow are Briffa’s now because he was co-author of an article: but that is a poor argument, because as everybody knows co-authorship does not mean handing over data ownership.

  8. Richard S Courtney
    2009/10/06 at 22:50


    Just for the record, I accept your fair points.


  9. Richard S Courtney
    2009/10/06 at 14:47


    OK. I accept your editing, but my accurate comment is more than justified by the things those people have published on their blogs about me.

    And it is not possible to sue because they write under aliases and, therefore, it is not possible to prove that they wrote any specific statement.


    • 2009/10/06 at 15:19


      I do believe that civility is what distinguishes honest skeptics from AGW talebans (of dishonest skeptics, I have no interest about).

      And I have learned years ago that one doesn’t need to call “donkey” a donkey when it’s plain for all to see that yes, it’s a donkey.

  10. Richard S Courtney
    2009/10/06 at 11:06


    I read your article with interest, but it fails to address the only three significant issues and addresses personalities instead.

    The first significant issue is the issue of scientific practice.

    Briffa is seriously ill with kidney failure and it is to be hoped that he will soon be able to make a full recovery. Assuming he does recover then he will need to defend against a prima facie case of his serious scientific malpractice.

    There may be a legitimate reason for Briffa’s apparent malpractice. If so, then it is extremely unfortunate that he did not reveal all his data a decade ago because this matter could have been addressed then. Now, he is confronted with the apparent slur on his integrity when that slur could hinder his ability to fight his illness, and his illness inhibits his refuting the prima facie case.

    That case is as follows.

    Data which were in the possession of Briffa have been obtained for scrutiny by the scientific community. This has revealed that there was a large data set and Briffa selected from that data set for conduct of his analysis. He published that analysis and its results.
    But, importantly,
    Briffa merely stated that he had used the same data as was used in a previous Russian study.
    He failed to state that he had selected from a larger data set
    he failed to state any criteria he used for his selection
    he refused to allow others to see the data he had chosen to not use in his study.

    Briffa could have said, for example, that he chose that subset of the data for comparison with the Russian study. But he did not and, of course, such a comparison would have been a different study than the study he published.

    The failures of disclosure invalidate Briffa’s analysis. Indeed, prima facie they are a severe scientific malpractice that is tantamount to fraud in that they misrepresent the analysis which Briffa conducted. Briffa has attempted to respond to criticism of his work but he has not addressed this issue of a prima facie case of serious scientific malpractice.

    The second issue is the validity of dendrochronology studies of past climates.

    This issue arose when Mann, Bradley & Hughes published their 1998 paper (known as MBH98) that provided the first Hockey Stick. It purported to be an analysis of tree rings (i.e. a dendrochronology study) which showed global temperature was near constant for a thousand years until global temperature rose rapidly through the twentieth ce ntury. The resulting graph of global temperature v. time was known as a hockey stick graph because the shape of the graph is similar to the shape of an ice-hockey stick: the near-constant temperature period resembling the handle and the rapid rise resembling the blade of the stick.

    The analysis in MBH98 is probably the most discredited analysis in the recent history of science having been shown to be flawed by McIntyre & McKitrick (known as M&M) in two papers they published in E&E (in 2003 and 2006) and another in GRL (in 2005), and the flaws in MBH98 found by M&M were confirmed to be correct by expert committees appointed for the task by the US Senate and the US National Academy of Science.

    Perhaps the most serious of the flaws in MBH98 was that the statistical method used by Mann, Bradley & Hughes tends to generate a graph of hockey stick form when provided with any data. Indeed, use of the method to analyse random data in the form of red noise generates a hockey stick nine out of ten times. Hence, obtaining a hockey stick graph by use of that method only indicates the nature of the method, and it indicates nothing about the data that was processed by use of the method.

    The IPCC had published the MBH 98 hockey stick in its Third Assessment Report (TAR: 2001). Indeed, the TAR published it in eighteen different places including in its Summary for Policymakers. But the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4: 2007) of the IPCC did not publish the MBH 98 hockey stick and did not mention it because it had been completely discredited by then. Indeed, AR4 stated that climate variability is greater than had been reported in the TAR, and this statement can only be an assertion that MBH98 is wrong (but the AR4 did include the MBH98 curve in two graphs for comparison with other similar studies).

    The Wegman Committee had investigated the improper statistics used to generate the MBH98 hockey stick. That Committee reported that there is a clique of researchers who share the same data, jointly publish, and peer review the publications of each other. Mann, Bradley, Hughes and Briffa are leading members of that clique.

    The clique continued to publish papers using the same data and the same and similar methods. Indeed, they continued as though MBH98 had not been discredited and supporters of climate alarmism (e.g. RealClimate.org) promoted a surreal pretence that MBH98 had not been discredited.

    But there is a problem with the use of tree rings to determine past temperatures that is more fundamental than the analysis method; viz. trees are not thermometers.

    Tree growth is affected by several things including frost damage, variations in water supply, and periods of disease. There is no method to travel back in time to determine if and when growth of a tree was affected by such variables. Hence, the past temperature indications of dendrochronology can vary as a result of the samples of trees which are analysed.

    Furthermore, there is a so-called divergence problem. Trees that seem to show a correlation between temperature and growth rate prior to 1970 fail to show the correlation after 1970. This is assumed to be a result of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration fertilising tree growth after 1970.

    Whatever the reason for the divergence problem, the problem is severe. If an effect destroys the correlation after 1970 then it cannot be known if that or some other effect destroyed the correlation in times past. Carbon dioxide is not the only nutrient available to trees that varies with time; for example, water does, too.

    Even if it is assumed that the observed divergence problem is a function of recent elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and, therefore, it is unique to modern times, it cannot be known that similar divergence has not happened for a variety of possible reasons in the past.

    The recent work of McIntyre shows – and nobody disputes that it shows – the Briffa analysis provides a variety of results depending on which samples of the available trees are analysed. It does not matter if the variation is large or small because the sampled trees are a convenience sample (i.e. the only data20that is available) and is not a random sample so statistical assessments of variance are not valid.

    Importantly, the discovery that Briffa used a selection of data from the available data means his analysis is invalid. He did not use all the available data, he did not reject data for any stated a priori reason, and he did not select data for use according to any a priori reason. He only used the same subset of the data that had been used in an earlier Russian study and he failed to state that other pertinent data was in his possession. Any post hoc explanation for his data selection cannot correct his analysis because post hoc justifications cannot – and do not – overcome a flawed a priori choice of selection (failure to state selection criteria is a very severe flaw and this is why ‘double blind’ studies are required where they are possible). This is especially the case when – as McIntyre has demonstrated – the result of the analysis is significantly affected by small changes to the data selected for analysis.

    The Wegman Report is extremely important to this matter of the data selection. The clique peer reviewed Briffa’s analysis and agreed publication of Briffa’s analysis. But it is a known fact that they shared the data with Briffa and, therefore, they must have known his data selection was invalid.

    Hence, the dendrochronology studies of p ast climates are now known to be completely invalid. The investigations of MBH98 showed that the dendrochronology studies use statistical analysis methods that provide wrong indications, the analysed data are imperfect, and the divergence problem is unresolved. In addition to all that, the recent disclosure shows that data selection is flawed, and peer review of publications by the clique is worthless.

    The third issue is validity of published science papers.

    The Wegman Report expressed concern at the existence of the clique. And the recent disclosure proves the correctness of that concern. The clique fails to conduct proper peer review but accepts obviously flawed papers for publication. (There is also some evidence that the clique also acts to reject sound papers for publication when those papers oppose the views promoted by the clique, but this is not the place to discuss that).

    It is proper scientific practice to ensure that all publications are accompanied by provision of all pertinent data related to that publication. This ensures that readers of the publication can replicate the work with a view to confirming or rejecting it. (Incidentally, this requirement to provide all pertinent data is one reason why most commercial research is not published in public literature).

    But several journals have not ensured that publications are accompanied by provision of all pertinent d ata: M&M have been seeking dendrochronology data from Nature, Science and GRL for a decade.

    The Editor of Philosophical Transactions B of the Royal Society of London has upheld the proper practice of ensuring that all the dendrochronolgy data pertaining to Briffa’s paper are available. This has resulted in the revelations I discuss above.

    Hence, the peer review and data provision practices of several leading scientific journals are now known to be severely corrupted.

    Each of the above three issues is much more important than the comments of [*] Eli Rabbett and Tamino who are so fearful that they may be called to account for their utterances that they hide behind false names.


    [*] edited out. Sorry Richard: this is no insults-filled AGW believer blog 😎

  11. 2009/10/05 at 20:34

    This is the most twisted logic you’ve come up with yet — which is saying a lot. You’ve taken leave of your senses, if you ever had any.

    Worse, your diatribe is a detestable slander. How the hell do you sleep?

    • 2009/10/05 at 20:56

      hello tamino and thanks for stopping by

  12. 2009/10/05 at 17:13

    Mr Rabett’s argument doesn’t make sense to me.

    As I understand it, for 10 years, Briffa’s (and the rest of the Team’s) response to requests for data was “You can’t have it”, not “You’ll need to ask the Russians”.

  13. 2009/10/05 at 11:42

    Evidently it wasn’t Briffa’s data. It belonged to the Russians. The real question is whether McIntyre ever asked the Russians for their data. We will see.

    • 2009/10/05 at 12:06

      Not at all…even in your peculiar worldview, the real question is if Briffa asked the Russians for permission to publish, a few days ago or ever in the past, what you describe as “their” data

  1. 2012/03/21 at 00:52

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