Of dancing with warmist wolves – and paint-by-numbers “big pictures”

Once upon a time … there was a “climate scientist” by the name of Dr. Eric Steig. In 2009, Steig (with perhaps more than a little help from his hockey team buddies, who seemed to have shared with him the “tricks” of their trade) succeeded in hitting a “scientific” jackpot: Lead author of a cover story in the prestigious hyper-enviro-prescriptive “peer-reviewed” journal Nature:

“A new reconstruction of Antarctic surface temperature trends for 1957–2006, reported this week by Steig et al., suggests that overall the continent is warming by about 0.1 °C per decade. The cover illustrates the geographic extent of warming, with the ‘hotspot’ peninsula and West Antarctica shown red against the white ice-covered ocean. [Cover image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Washington/USGS]”

Great glory was accorded to his “findings” by the uncritical MSM – including TIME magazine – who swallowed and regurgitated the press release with dutiful deference and homage. The news reports were fully in accordance with the paucity of integrity and/or due diligence in MSM journalism (at least when it comes to the claims of [the right kind of] “climate scientists” these days).

That cover is quite alarming, though, isn’t it? One might conclude that it was destined to become at least a candidate for an iconic symbol of climate change aka “global warming” – which could replace the notorious hockey-stick in future annals of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Certainly it has become a rallying cry of the paint-by-numbers “big picture” painted by climate scientists and their supporters.

Just one tiny problem with this “peer-reviewed” paper from Steig et al (designated in the literature and below as “S09”): it’s nowhere near as bad as they thought – nor as their erroneous “big picture” painted. When the mathematics and methodolgy of S09 were examined by Ryan O’Donnell, Nicholas Lewis, Jeff Condon and Steve McIntyre (all bona fide non-academics with considerable knowledge of mathematics and statistics – unlike Steig and, it would seem, his co-authors, not to mention those who “peer-reviewed” their Nature paper), they found that:

The novelties of S09 were [claims of] statistically significant warming throughout the rest of West Antarctica, a statistically significant continental average, and a seasonal pattern of change that differed from previous gridded reconstructions (Chapman and Walsh, 2007 and Monaghan et al., 2008). Our paper demonstrates that all of these novel results in S09 are artifacts.

Certainly other portions of S09 are confirmed by our paper (such as overall positive trends). However, we note that earlier studies also showed the same things, so these were not newly introduced with S09. The results that were newly introduced with S09, on the other hand, are all shown to be artifacts.

IOW, SO9 did nothing to “advance the science” – and was more deserving of a big yawn than the fanfare and attention it had succeeded in garnering. Andrew Montford (author of The Hockey Stick Illusion, an excellent and enjoyable read – particularly for the statistically-challenged layperson with an interest in the arcane and cloudy practices of “climate scientists”) has recently very succinctly summarized the issues on his popular Bishop Hill blog. But I digress …

Nature had done its best to sustain and preserve the illusions of requisite scientific “novelty” presented in S09 by declining the paper from O’Donnell et al, who subsequently made a submission to the Journal of Climate where their work was subjected to the mother-of-all-peer-reviews prior to acceptance for publication last month in December 2010.

Following which, without going into all the gory details, Steig and the RealClimate crowd decided to launch an attack on the work of O’Donnell et al – who at that point had received copies of all the “reviews” so they found it somewhat odd that Steig should be criticizing that which he had previously insisted should be included in O’Donnell et al’s paper.

You see, it turns out that Steig was … wait for it … one of the peer-reviewers and during the course of a subsequent E-mail conversation with O’Donnell in which he acknowledged his role, on Dec. 6 he had told O’Donnell:

You are correct that I was a reviewer, but I think it would be quite inappropriate to publish these reviews, nor to mention that you know whom the reviewer was. [emphasis added -hro]

Setting aside some rather curious turns of phrase and very poor grammar, why on Gaia’s green earth would Steig not want to see the reviews “published”?! Unless it was an attempt to silence O’Donnell – and prevent him from providing the evidence of Steig’s utter chutzpah in subsequently criticizing the use of that upon which – as Reviewer A – he had previously “insisted”.

Just as Gavin Schmidt seems to be communicatively-challenged in the “say what you mean and mean what you say” department, alas, Eric Steig seems to be similarly afflicted. Sam at Climatequotes provides some examples of Steig’s affliction in action.

After what seemed like several days (which was probably enough time for RealClimate’s PR machine to churn out a “response” purportedly from Steig) of not answering the simple question on his primary posting-ground, RealClimate, i.e. were you or were you not Reviewer A as O’Donnell had reported, Steig confessed. Bottom line: of course, he did nothing wrong … it was all the evil “deniers” fault.

On the RealClimate front, they repeated their now well-known path of diversion and obfuscation (combined with mischaracterization of legitimate questions – and very selective “editing” of comments). In the thread of Steig’s confessional, I happened to notice the following in “reply” to one comment:

I may not bother with a rebuttal to Journal of Climate, because in a couple years temperatures in West Antarctica will probably have reached such an extreme that none of our ‘reconstructions’ will matter. In fact that may have already happened.

Oh, my …Steig seems to have mangled the script! Tsk tsk. The obligatory hockey team script is: “Well, they’re wrong because we said so, but even if they’re right it doesn’t affect our results”. It is interesting though that – in addition to spurning the gold standard ‘only-thing-that-matters is rebuttal by publication in a peer-reviewed journal’ – by omission, Steig has cleverly inserted a few notes of, well, rather creative ambiguity.

What does he mean by “extreme”? Seems to me that whatever the results might be (“warmer” or colder) “in a couple [of] years”, he’s got it covered. As for that which “may have already happened”, it is certainly true that (as O’Donnell et al have demonstrated) Steig et al’s ‘reconstructions’ do not ‘matter’. For the record, however, the above was Steig’s response to a comment with a timestamp of 10 Feb 2011 at 12:29 AM.

Not too many virtual minutes later, Steig feigned an exit stage left:

Notice: I’m done with this conversation. You can ask all you want about what I ‘really’ meant […] None of this to imply that further reasonable discussion of peer review or Antarctic climate isn’t welcome. It very much is. I just won’t be participating much for the forseeable future.

Best wishes to all.


I used the word “feigned” advisedly, because Steig did return to append “responses” to several subsequent comments before arbitrarily turning comments off, thereby precluding any further discussion (such as it was) of the matter at RealClimate. Although, for the record, it should be noted that one of the gatekeeping moderators did let through a highly inaccurate characterization of O’Donnell’s response to Steig’s more recent obfuscations.

Steig’s reply to Comment 117 is quite curious, though:

But the facts remain that no one saw the paper except me and whatever other formal reviewers it was sent to.

Some may take Steig at his word on this, but I couldn’t possibly comment. Nonetheless, this strongly suggests that Steig’s view (at that particular moment, at least) is that it would have been highly unethical and improper for him (in his role as Reviewer A) to have shared O’Donnell et al’s paper with others during the “peer review” process.

Maybe he should have run this by Muir Russell who found absolutely nothing amiss when during the IPCC “peer review” process Briffa had shared with Wahl the Reviewer comments on the Second Order Draft of the IPCC’s AR4.

Oh, well, I guess one’s definition of “peer review” must take into account those who are “peers” and that which is being “reviewed” – all the while keeping one’s eye on the “big picture(s)”. Which reminds me … the InterAcademy Council (IAC)’s “review” of the IPCC contains the following (pp 5-6):

The questionnaire was also posted on the Committee’s website so the general public could comment. More than 400 individuals, listed in Appendix C, provided input. The prevailing views of the questionnaire respondents about the various steps in the IPCC assessment process are summarized in this report and a compilation of all of the responses, with identifiers removed, is available from the IAC. [emphasis added -hro]

A compilation was very, very quietly posted circa Dec. 20. However, this compilation contained only 232 responses. I’ve now written to Review committee chair, Dr. Shapiro, citing the above paragraph in his report and noting/asking:

This suggested to me (and many others) that a second batch, containing the remaining responses was still being compiled and would be posted at a later date. Could you confirm that my inference is correct and advise when this second batch will be posted. Alternatively, if the remaining 168+ individuals provided input in a different format (i.e. not as direct responses to the questionnaire) could you advise where and when one might find these alternate submissions.

One hopes that the … uh … background pixels missing from the IAC Review Committee’s “big picture” will soon be filled in.

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