Posted by Curt on 1 April, 2013 at 10:45 am. 11 comments already!


Roger Pielke Jr. @ Climate Change Dispatch:


In 1991 the National Research Council proposed what has come to be a widely accepted definition of misconduct in science:

Misconduct in science is defined as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism, in proposing, performing, or reporting research. Misconduct in science does not include errors of judgment; errors in the recording, selection, or analysis of data; differences in opinions involving the interpretation of data; or misconduct unrelated to the research process.

Arguments over data and methods are the lifeblood of science, and are not instances of misconduct.

However, here I document the gross misrepresentation of the findings of a recent scientific paper via press release which appears to skirt awfully close to crossing the line into research misconduct, as defined by the NRC. I recommend steps to fix this mess, saving face for all involved, and a chance for this small part of the climate community to take a step back toward unambiguous scientific integrity.

The paper I refer to is by Marcott et al. 2013, published recently in Science. A press release issued by the National Science Foundation, which funded the research, explains the core methodology and key conclusion of the paper as follows (emphasis added):

Peter Clark, an OSU paleoclimatologist and co-author of the Science paper, says that many previous temperature reconstructions were regional and not placed in a global context.

“When you just look at one part of the world, temperature history can be affected by regional climate processes like El Niño or monsoon variations,” says Clark.

“But when you combine data from sites around the world, you can average out those regional anomalies and get a clear sense of the Earth’s global temperature history.”

What that history shows, the researchers say, is that during the last 5,000 years, the Earth on average cooled about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit–until the last 100 years, when it warmed about 1.3 degrees F.

The press release clearly explains that the paper (a) combines data from many sites around the world to create a “temperature reconstruction” which gives a “sense of the Earth’s temperature history,” and (b) “that history shows” a cooling over the past 5000 years, until the last 100 years when all of that cooling was reversed.

The conclusions of the press release were faithfully reported by a wide range of media outlets, and below I survey several of them to illustrate that the content of the press release was accurately reflected in media coverage and, at times, amplified by scientists both involved and not involved with the study.

Examples of Media Coverage

Here is Justin Gillis at the New York Times, with emphasis added to this excerpt and also those further below:

The modern rise that has recreated the temperatures of 5,000 years ago is occurring at an exceedingly rapid clip on a geological time scale, appearing in graphs in the new paper as a sharp vertical spike.

Similarly, at the NY Times Andy Revkin reported much the same in a post titled, “Scientists Find an Abrupt Warm Jog After a Very Long Cooling.” Revkin included the following graph from the paper along with a caption explaining what the graph shows:


Revkin’s caption:  A new Science paper includes this graph of data providing clues to past global temperature. It shows the warming as the last ice age ended (left), a period when temperatures were warmer than today, a cooling starting 5,000 years ago and an abrupt warming in the last 100 years.

Revkin concluded: “the work reveals a fresh, and very long, climate “hockey stick.”” For those unfamiliar, a hockey stick has a shaft and a blade.

Any association with the so-called “hockey stick” is sure to capture interest in the highly politicized context of the climate debate, in which the iconic figure is like catnip to partisans on both sides. Here is Michael Lemonick at Climate Central:

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