Eve of the NAS Hockey Stick Report Release

June 21st, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Tomorrow the National Research Council is going to release its report on the so-called “hockey stick” of global temperature trends that was emphasized in the most recent IPCC report. Not long ago we asked the principles involved in the debate to explain to those of us not involved why this debate matters. On the eve of the NRC report, we thought it might be worth revisiting some comments made by the principles in the debate.

According to Steve McIntyre:

So even if the Hockey Stick did not “matter” to the scientific case, it mattered to the promotion of the scientific case. Scientists may want to “move on”, but institutions cannot, if they want to maintain any credibility. If the Hockey Stick was wrong, it would be as embarrassing as the failure to find WMD in Iraq. In both cases, the policy might well be justified on alternative grounds, but the existence of the alternative grounds does not mean that responsible agencies should not try to isolate the causes of intelligence failure and try to avoid similar failures in the future.

Today, McIntyre provides some pre-release comments on the report.

According to Ross McKitrick:

It matters because it concerns the validity of an influential scientific paper. . .

It matters because it exposes the uncomfortable reality about journal peer review. . .

It matters because it exposes the uncomfortable reality about the IPCC. The IPCC’s use of the hockey stick was not incidental: it is prominent throughout the 2001 report. Yet they did not subject it to any independent checking: revealing an astonishingly cavalier attitude to the quality of their case. This raises the question of whether anything in the report was subject to serious, independent checking. . .

It matters because it exposes the uncomfortable reality about how governments use scientific information Canada (and many other countries) used the hockey stick heavily in their promotion of the Kyoto Accord. . .

It matters because it exposes an uncomfortable reality about the culture of climate science. . .

From Stefan Rahmsdorf and William Connolley of RealClimate:

SR: “The discussions about the past millennium are not discussions about whether humans are changing climate; neither do they affect our projections for the future.”

WC: “Why is this fight important to the rest of us? the answer is: you shouldn’t. It isn’t..”

And finally, here was my two cents of thoughts on the various “so what?” reactions.

6 Responses to “Eve of the NAS Hockey Stick Report Release”

  1. Paul Biggs Says:

    Breaking the Hockey Stick and fully restoring the MWP/LIA is very important for a number of reasons, aside from exposing the flaws in the peer review process and the IPCC:

    The MWP and LIA help establish the bounds of natural climate variability during the Holocene -the current warm period may not yet have exceeded the warmth of the approx 400 year MWP, in which case where was the climate catastrophe that is predicted for the modern warm period?

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  3. coby Says:

    I fall into the “so what?” camp as well, in terms of the scientific case for global warming:

    I do however think if there actually had been significant problems it would have been politically important.

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  5. William Connolley Says:

    Its TAR not SAR.

    You seem to be stuck in an all-or-nothing keystone vs it-doesn’t-matter. Both are wrong. It isn’t a keystone. It does matter.

    What has IPCC to do with the receoption of W+S?

    It will be intersting to see the report come out.

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  7. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:



    This post is simply a reference to previous discussions. My views are that it doesn’t matter for some things and it does for some others. Please do read what I wrote.

    You were the one quoted as saying that it doesn’t matter outside science!


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  9. John Lish Says:

    The problem with this is that there are different contexts in which to ask the “so what” question.

    For me, what was interesting about the testimonies given in public to the NAS panel was the non-committal attitude to whether there was sufficient robustness to the usage of proxies in creating reconstructions of past temperatures. The fact that, with one notable exception, nobody was prepared to say that they could predict past temperatures to within an error of 0.5C, nor did they express any confidence in reconstructions projecting back beyond the 15th Century.

    So what? Well, given this uncertainly about “Hockey Stick” reconstructions – it does pose a couple of relevant questions for me.

    First, why did the TAR SPM rely on the MBH98 graph so heavily in terms of selling the message to policymakers given the health warnings expressed in the testimonies to the NAS Panel? For me, this has relevance to the forthcoming 4AR in 2007. The IPCC process is meant to summarise the current state of understanding as regards the climate. If the mechanisms of the IPCC don’t provide sufficient checks and balances when a new argument is presented (as was in the case of MBH98 – particularly in respect of its claim to be a new statistical analysis), you have to question whether the IPCC process is motivated to not ask akward questions of the contributors.

    Second, the usage of the hockey stick claim that this is the warmest period in a thousand years is used in the media by some serious scientists. For example, Phil Jones was happy to assert this claim in a recent interview on the BBC “Today” programme (a national radio breakfast programme which does influence the political agenda of the country). Again, given the uncertainies expressed in the NAS testimonies – isn’t this a case where a scientific study has developed political status? Phil Jones, did not offer any qualifications to his claim, rather it was presented as a bold fact to the listening audience.

    In terms of a political debate – I believe that this report has meaning. In terms of a scientific debate on climate change – it has little relevance.

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  11. Benny Peiser Says:

    I have just received an embargoed press release from the Royal Society in London with some key findings of the NRC/NAS report. I find it a bit strange that the report has been circulated apparently among international parties for political purposes even before the US public is informed. It would appear that we are witnessing yet more political games behind the scene.