THE TREE-RING DIVERGENCE PROBLEM AND ‘PLAUSIBLE EXPLANATIONS’


<b>”There’s no plausible explanations in science!”</b> – paraphrase of Tom Hanks’ character, the baseball manager, in the movie “Game of Their Own.”

Many of you will ask what the Divergence Problem (DP) is.  It has to do with tree-rings and using them as proxies for temperatures, mostly in the pre-thermometer years and centuries.  First be aware that tree-ring data gets very sketchy and not very reliable before about 1550, perhaps 1500.  The DP refers to the years from about 1940 to the present.  Till 1940 tree-rings and temperatures correlated pretty well.  Since then the data curves have not agreed, and have in fact diverged (gone in different directions) by quite a bit.  This poses a problem for climatologists, and they all know it.

The DP was the specific issue that the “Mike’s Nature trick to hide the decline” brouhaha was all about in the Climategate emails that were surreptitiously released to the public in November 2009.  Keuth Briffa of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) left the DP showing in his data that was graphed together for the IPCC, back in 2003.

Mann (in the first quoted passage above):
<blockquote>We have discussed this issue time and again in our own work, and Keith Briffa, Malcolm Hughes, and many others have published on this, w/ <b>competing possible explanations</b> (stratospheric ozone changes, incidentally, is the least plausible to me of multiple competing, more plausible explanations that have been published). [emphasis added]</blockquote>

Coming back to this months later, I have to take exception to the term “plausible explanations”.  There are no “explanations” in science.  There are speculations, hypotheses, theories and laws.  And let’s be clear about it – <i>speculations are guesses</i>.  Regardless of whether informed guesses or just a wild guess pulled out of one’s rear end, a guess isn’t jack.

Especially if they have “discussed this issue time and time again,” (over it appears several years, no less, with no action being taken) it has to be made clear that to go around talking to outside people about your group’s “plausible explanations” is to go around saying, “We’ve gotten nowhere on it.  We don’t have a clue.  We don’t know enough to move forward.  Your guess is as good as our plausible explanations.”

Let us concede that “plausible” can be a pseudo-synonym for “informed”, making a plausible explanation an informed guess, and nothing more.  “Plausible explanation” is basically a blow-off to the outside listener or audience.  It says, “We may or may not be putting more effort into this, but basically I don’t have to tell you any more than ‘Buzz off.”

So, 1.)It is not an answer.

2.) It says nothing.

3.) It is a clear admission that they really do not have a direction; and that <b>they are confused</b>.

4.) This problem had been around since before 1990, because Roseanne D’Arrigo had at least one paper in or about 1990 about it.  The paper, of course, did not arrive at a solution.

5.) The real issue isn’t which of the “plausible explanations” (if any) was the solution to the problem, but WHY no effort had been done by these supposedly ’eminent’ scientists to actually do research into possible solutions.  Discussing it “time and again” – since WHEN is science done by discussion?  Not since some time prior to the founding of The Royal Society in the late 1600s has that been the acceptable method.  Discussion is not science; it is people yammering instead of studying an issue.

How could there be an issue out there for 22+ years now without someone in either of the fields of dendroclimatology or climatology studying and trying to falsify each of those “plausible explanations”?  Such effort would have, at the least, narrowed down the possible solutions to the problem.  The divergence goes back to 1940.  When it was recognized I do not know at the moment.  Apparently, since Briffa, at Mann’s insistence, cut off at 1960, that must be the point at which it becomes clearly visible in graphs and has to be deleted out using “Mike’s Nature trick.”

I see no excuse for this blatant laxity, not to mention the fraudulent graphs.  These scientists were – and are still – knowingly using some major evidence as a proxy, and they have KNOWN for decades now that the proxy correlation is OFF, and they have millions upon millions of dollars going through their offices every decade, and yet they have still diverted any (enough, anyway) of those funds to address the issue of how reliable a proxy it is and what to do about clearing up the confusion.

If they have plausible explanations, the next step is to test each one.  Why has this not been done yet?

Are they concerned that the proxy will not hold up at all?  That <i>would</i> be a disaster, especially for dendroclimatology, which is completely based upon the correlation of tree-rings and temperatures.  Would it also be for climatology and paleoclimatology?  I don’t know, but the thought must leave them quaking in their boots.

Steve Garcia

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3 responses to “THE TREE-RING DIVERGENCE PROBLEM AND ‘PLAUSIBLE EXPLANATIONS’

  1. For some reason the html markups are not working.

    I will leave them in place for the moment, hoping that WordPress.com gets whatever bug it is fixed, and then hopefully they kick in.

    I’ll keep tabs on it…

  2. Perhaps the divergence problem is no problem at all, if 1940 is the start year then UHI is probably the main driver of temperature as indicated by ground based thermometers.

  3. Robuk –

    That is one very likely reality. It may not be the whole story, but there are enough papers out there to show it is a significant part of the equation. Others and I have argued this elsewhere (wattsupwiththat.com), that there may not BE a rise if we take out the UHI factor. The real test of this is to ONLY look at rural stations that existed before and after what is known as “The Great Dying of the Thermometers” in 1989-1990, when well over half the stations (which were and still are, actually, on line) were removed from the database used – for no reasonable reason. And the vast majority of them were rural and high elevation stations – ones that on the whole read significantly cooler. But eliminating those from the discussion now and only looking at rural ones would be a good first step.

    The thing about it is that UHI is, in itself, a man-made ‘forcing’ to whatever rise there is in the instrument record, and one that the climate scientists could rail on about and the skeptics wouldn’t disagree with them. But they picked out CO2 as the one and only forcing that has contributed anything. In doing so, they gave themselves no wiggle room. I know WHY they did – many who gravitated to the global warming issue were anti-industry people who want to turn the world back to some agrarian society. UHI doesn’t give them any purchase against industry, because it is us mostly just LIVING – our asphalt streets, our bodies, our air conditioners, our non-perfectly insulated houses. They would have to attack our home lives, not industry. That they would never get away with. It would be too transparent that they want to impoverish us all. But using industry as a boogeyman, they thought they could get us to shoot western civilization in the foot. But we can’t go back to an agrarian society – not without reducing the population of the planet down by 3-4-5 billion, if not 6. They are asking us to commit societal suicide.

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