McIntyre’s role in the latest teapot tempest


This whole tempest in a teapot about the Yamal tree rings made me curious about how this story, with an analysis by Steve McIntyre at the centerpoint, gained such traction. The not-so-critical part of the blogosphere ran away with his results, blowing it way out of proportion in their haste to claim that climate science is a big sham. How much credit or blame (dependent on your viewpoint) goes to McIntyre for how this story panned out in the public mind?

Jim Bouldin gives a thoughtful rundown of the major issues.

What struck me was Roger Pielke Jr’s attack of RealClimate’s sarcastic reaction to this sorry story, and his defense of Steve McIntyre, quoting him as follows:

It is not my belief that Briffa crudely cherry picked.

Fair enough, one might think. Except that this quote is from comment number 254 in one of the Climate Audit threads. And it doesn’t particularly square with what he said elsewhere. It is most definitely not the message that his readers got (see for some collections here, here, here and here). One could reasonably argue over how much to blame the readers (as Pielke does) versus how much to blame the author (McIntyre in this case) for any ‘misunderstanding’. But judging from the vast majority of his readers who infer grave accusations from his writings, it’s fair to at least look into the latter as a possibility.

Some other quotes from McIntyre, mostly assembled second hand (a.o. commenters Andrewt, Phil Clarke and Jim Bouldin, my emphasis):

“If you can get a single dendrochronologist to support Briffa’s use of 10 trees in 1990, I’ll be flabbergasted. They will be astonished and appalled at the procedure. The young dendros will be wincing and some of them will probably be bit shell-shocked at this news. It’s very embarrassing for the field.

“In my opinion, the uniformly high age of the CRU12 relative to the Schweingruber population is suggestive of selection – in this respect, perhaps and even probably by the Russians”

“It is highly possible and even probable that the CRU selection is derived from a prior selection of old trees”

“I do not believe that they constitute a complete population of recent cores. As a result, I believe that the archive is suspect.”

“Because the selection yields such different results from a nearby population sample, there is a compelling prima facie argument that they’ve made biased picks.”

“Unfortunately, to date, people in the field have not honored this responsibility and, to an outside observer, seem to have done no more than pick the version (Yamal) that suits their bias.”

“… the resulting Yamal chronology with its enormous HS [hockeystick] blade was like crack cocaine for paleoclimatologists …”

”…But maybe this is a coincidence. One never knows – it’s climate science …”

“I’d be inclined to remove the data affected by CRU cherrypicking but will leave it in for now.”

Roger Pielke goes on to make an argument that could potentially backfire:

You guys are hilarious. There is no need to pluck out-of-context quotes from deep in comment threads to divine what McIntyre _really_ thinks. He spoke directly to this point as follows:

“I don’t wish to unintentionally feed views that I don’t hold. It is not my belief that Briffa crudely cherry picked. “

Convenienty forgetting that this quote is from comment number 254. He later mentioned that McIntyre, in a more recent headline post, denied having made such allegations:

I did not say or imply that Briffa had “purposely selected” individual cores into the chronology and clearly said otherwise.

It is not clear whether the “otherwise” refers to his comment number 254 or perhaps also to other places. However, it is clear, both from what he wrote elsewhere and what the vast majority of his readers deduced, that he successfully implied strong allegations. He’s hardly ever saying it point blank. He doesn’t need to, since his audience is all too eager to get his message.

Commenter Andrewt calls it dog-whistle politics:

You say one thing, but your choice of words means your target audience infers something quite different.

Making the insinuation subtle enough to be able to defend himself later (‘I made no such accusations’), and clear enough so that the message gets through to his supporters. Which it does: For miles over the internet, people refer to McIntyre as the source of having uncovered this ‘scandal’.

Andrewt sums it up:

Steven McIntyre unambiguously says what Gavin claimed he said. Gavin did not lie.

Steven McIntyre has now added a retraction after this comment.

Will you also add a retraction to this post and an apology to Gavin?

No reply on the latter.

Interestingly, Roger feels he is upholding important scientific standards, whereas I feel that this whole sorry story is about science bashing, which he seems to be endorsing or turning a blind eye to. I do believe, however, that he is sincere in what he thinks. But I also think it’s misplaced. I hold him, as a political scientist who frequently has interesting viewpoints to bear, to higher standards than some other parts of the blogosphere.

To McIntyre’s credit, he has set some of the more fanciful journalists straight in blowing the story out of proportion, as Phil Clarke points out:

While there is much to criticize in the handling of this data by the authors and the journals, the results do not in any way show that “AGW is a fraud” nor that this particular study was a “fraud”.

Perhaps he’s just naïve, that he doesn’t have the foresight how people will interpret his writings? It’s not that it hasn’t happened before though.

I’ll finish with two other memorable quotes from McIntyre, which shows how he levels insinuations at scientists. Or outright disgust.

Is Gavin Schmidt honest?

Try not to puke.

I’ll leave it at that.


McIntyre’s accusations of stonewalling do not seem to hold water, as Marco points out in the comments. See these quotes from ClimateAudit (2006, here and here, respectively), h/t Marco, dhogaza and Eli Rabet:

“Science (…) suggested that I contact the original authors.”

“Steve these data were produced by Swedish and Russian colleagues – will pass on your message to them
cheers, Keith” [Briffa]

Seems like he’s been barking up the wrong tree, even after it’s been pointed out to him. 


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30 Responses to “McIntyre’s role in the latest teapot tempest”

  1. Marco Says:

    Although you may want to leave it at that, I think it is of importance to note McIntyre’s claims that Briffa “stonewalled” him, despite the fact that Briffa had clearly told him that OTHERS owned that data, and that he had forwarded his (=McIntyre’s) to them (see dhogaza’s remarks in the Deltoid thread).

  2. Tom Fuller Says:

    Hi Bart, I think you’re leaving a lot of context out of a confrontation that’s been going on for a decade. I would also note that as a frequent reader at CA his tone regarding both Gavin and Briffa is not different from how he deals with others, overall. Your points above don’t really seem to warrant the time you spend on them–what I and other observers would love to see is your analysis of McIntyre’s criticism of Briffa. Is he right or not? That’s what we all really want to know, and I actually trust you enough to come over and look for your answer. If you want, I’ll put it up on again, or we could do it in the form of either an interview or debate.

  3. CTG Says:

    It’s a common tactic. Watts did much the same thing, over a paper that talked about the role of GCRs in the ozone hole. He didn’t outright say that GCRs rather than CFCs caused the ozone hole, but his introduction clearly implied that was what the paper said. There were 100 odd outraged comments along the lines of “the scientists LIED to us about CFCs, so that proves they are LYING to us about AGW”, before dhogaza and a couple of others pointed out that this was not what the paper was saying at all. Comments died out fairly quickly after that.

    The interesting part was that a few months later, when I went back to check on it, the article had been updated. Watts said that he had been “alerted by an email from a colleague” that the article had been “misconstrued”, and that he didn’t mean to imply that CFCs are not involved in the ozone hole after all. Yeah, right – so he didn’t notice all the comments (that presumably he himself had moderated) claiming that to be the case, and he didn’t notice the comments telling him he was wrong?

    Mud sticks. The denialists know this, and throw mud as often as possible.

  4. Martin Vermeer Says:

    Marco, do you have a link? I’m not surprised though. McI pulled the same with Rahmstorf after the latter pointing out that the SSA routines used by him belonged to Aslak Grinsted.

  5. Marco Says:

    Martin, it is here:
    See comment 107, 109, 110. I trust dhogaza’s work.

    I can’t find where I read the following, but apparently Science rejected McIntyre’s request for Briffa’s 2006 paper, since the 2006 paper was about TCS, and therefore there was no need to archive the data for everyone to use. Which, of course, is taken as yet another example that Science is ‘biased’.

  6. Martin Vermeer Says:

    Marco, thanks!

  7. Bart Says:

    Thanks Marco, I found the relevant quotes and updated the post accordingly.

  8. PJ Says:

    We can give Briffa benefit of the doubt, and assume that the 10 tree-ring selection was made not in a deliberate attempt to skew data, but through some other process.

    However, the motivations are not relevant to the science. What IS relevent is whether a proper treatment of the data supports the conclusions presented. THEY DO NOT. There is no way, after you look at what is actually in the data, that you can fairly conclude the ‘hockey stick’ conclusion is justified and those 10 tree rings are somehow a robust representation. They are not.

    The number of samples are insufficient.

    The practice of lining up any such record with last 20th century global temp trends and throwing out those that dont match as “noise’, while keeping those that do, is a simple case of lying with statistics that in general, will ALWAYS lead to a hockey stick. Here is why: Lets assume the tree ring consists of 2 independent variables – a random variable and a ‘temperature signal’ variable, each about 50% weight. Any given data set will have a 50% correlation level on average and thus the temperature signal will be biased to attenuate on the region of temperature signal correlation.

    Thus, anytime you weight data or select data based on recent temperature trends you are automatically creating a bias (again, statistical term, not personal pejorative) that overemphasizes the recent temperature trends. the logical flaw is the assumption that correlation over a short range implies better correlation over the full range. That’s not a correct assumption in subselecting a subset of a large population. The smaller the temperature ‘signal’ to non-temperature ‘noise’ in the tree-ring data, and the smaller that subset selected, the greater that error.

    Some of McIntyre critics are attacking him not on the main substance, but on a (false imho) claim of ‘who said what’. Ad hominems on either side are not relevant.

    However, the elephant in the room, the fundamental errors that underly the dataset selection method is left un-discussed.

  9. Marco Says:

    PJ, you are forgetting a very important aspect (and so did McIntyre): the divergence problem is a very well known problem in dendrochronology. To take a dataset that shows a clear divergence in the modern time is at least as shoddy as what McIntyre claims to be the case for Briffa’s work. And that’s what McIntyre did!

    But see the following for a broader discussion + analysis of McIntyre’s claims:
    (see also the two preceding posts on this topic on DO’s blog)

    Regarding the who-said-what: McIntyre should own up to the fact that his method of presentation directly led to his whole following crying “fraud”. “blog-science” does these things; he should know by now that a scientific publication allows a scientific discussion. A blog publication with over half your audience illiterate in the scientific area, but very polarized in the debate on the possible implications, will lead to a screaming match.

  10. Marco Says:

    Bart, Martin, you’re welcome. I should have linked to Rabett directly, but got a bit lost in doing two things at the same time…

  11. Bart Says:

    Hi Tom,

    You’re right that there is a lot of context regarding this decade old ‘cold war’. I think these past confrontations, and McIntyre’s role in them, explain a lot of the scientists’ animosity towards him. Making snide insinuations of dishonesty, while not putting his objections forward in serious scientific fora is not gaining him a lot of respect with scientists (see also this comment and later comments in the same thread by James Allan, a fellow atmospheric scientist). This behaviour has quite a history indeed, but I don’t feel like rehashing all of that here.

    I don’t know much at all about tree ring reconstructions, so my analysis of McIntyre’s criticism wouldn’t be worth much. I highly recommend you read Jim Bouldin’s analysis (; it’s thoughtfully written and this is closer to his field of expertise. It seems very suitable to me to cross post on the Examiner. Another (eponymous) post addressing some of McIntyre’s criticism is (“…including Khadyta River raw data in the Yamal chronology does not result in a more accurate nor precise understanding of past temperatures in the region.”)

    My main thoughts are that McIntyre blows the importance of his findings out of proportion, probably from lack of contextual knowledge and because that’s what has made him successful in the “skeptical” community, so he’ll stick to his formula. And the snide insinuations and detective style stories with climate scientists as the villains (e.g. “Gavin’s guru” or “Is Gavin Schmidt lying?”) definitely rub me the wrong way. In short, it’s not a constructive contribution to knowledge building.

  12. Bart Says:


    I agree with you about what is relevant and what is not.

    I didn’t discuss the analysis methods here, and any alleged errors therein, because I’m don’t know enough about tree rings and temperature reconstructions to add something useful to that debate. Instead, I wrote about how the discussion panned out, and particularly McIntyre’s role in initiating the numerous accusations abound.

    That said, we can still make some logical inferences about the whole issue. As Tim Lambert (Deltoid) noted, “We don’t need proxies to know that temperatures increased in the 20th century, so McIntyre’s black line doesn’t prove that temperatures have not increased, rather it shows that those trees aren’t good proxies for temperature.” (for the 20th century at least). Makes perfect sense to me.

    I don’t think what you say about ALWAYS leading to a hockey stick is true. Imagine that in reality there was no hockey stick shape in the millennium scale temperature, and that a particular selection of trees were good proxies for temperature. We would then expect to see whatever shape the temperature had (God forbid, not a hockey stick), plus an upturn in temperature in the 20th century. Noise would of course be superimposed on it all. Whether they show a hockey stick or not depends on what the temperature evolution was in reality, and whether the trees are good proxies for temperature. I can not really imagine how the trees could be a good proxy for temperature, but not show the 20th century increase, unless the noise in the sample is larger than the signal, and coincidentally overruled the upturn in the 20th century. If that’s possible at all, I don’t really know; I’m not a tree ring scientist. It doesn’t seem likely though. It is true that the smaller the sample, the smaller the signal to noise.

    If McIntyre wouldn’t make snide insinuations and instead contribute constructively to the science, he would be taken a lot more seriously by scientists. After looking a bit into this, I’m not surprised that he is criticized rather harshly.

    Besides the link that Marco gave you, I found this analysis by plant scientist Jim Bouldin also very useful: and a follow up in comment 594. I’d recommend reading those; they may be the kind of commentary you’re looking for.

  13. Marco Says:

    Bart, the story deepens further and further:
    Now McIntyre even admits to have received the data (see link in Crag Allen’s response)…in 2004 already!
    He just didn’t believe/was sure it was the same data Briffa used. Which he could have asked, of course, but apparently did not. He just hounded the people who did not own the data.

  14. Heiko Gerhauser Says:

    There are a number of interesting points to be made here.

    Firstly, about tree rings and boreholes themselves. I think they are terrible proxies, even for local temperature, but much more so when taken to stand in for a world average. Expert opinion is great, but particularly for tree rings I can easily see how scientists who have built a reputation from deciphering temperature histories from tree ring data would tend to believe said task yields something useful a lot more than independent observers. I see the comparison with so called technical analysis for stock markets. How seriously am I willing to take the expertise of a technical stock analyst in judging how useful their product (technical stock analysis) is? Is he really going to say that what he’s been doing for a living for paying clients for 20 years yields no/little useful investing information? Am I then going to insist that criticism of technical stock analysis can only come from people with 10 years experience in the field? Or say they must publish their criticisms in the journal of the American Society of Stock Analysts, or shut up?

    Secondly, there is an awfully convoluted link to policy implications. For example, if temperature reconstructions are less certain that might mean that climate sensitivity is less well constrained, including on the upside, which assuming a few other things a long the way of course, might justify a higher rather than a lower (implicit) carbon price.

    Thirdly, the internet does open up new avenues and “peer review” is a very limited form of quality control. In the end, the editor decides what gets published, the peer reviewers will likely spend an hour or so on a paper and try to shoot down obvious problems. The check by the peer reviewers is extremely cursory and on a flimsy basis really. The only real advantage they have got is having relevant expertise in the area. And all they do is advise the editor to publish (maybe with revisions) or not. Peer review does not decide the merit of scientific questions. You can have completely contradictory results in the peer reviewed literature. I have seen that myself for pyrolysis. One paper says one thing about the impact of residence time or moisture, the other paper says the opposite. They’ve both been through peer review.

    The idea that there must be better ways of auditing than “peer review” seems eminently sensible to me. Also, I want scientific information out in the open. Make journals open access. I don’t want public money to go towards creating research output, which is then hidden behind a subsription, where some journal owner gets 7000 Euros, so that a university library or research institute can get access.

  15. Bart Says:


    As usual, you bring up some good points, and also as usual, I disagree on some details.

    Even though you may be right that proxy studies are inherently very uncertain, the analogy with the stock market seems largely irrelevant. I don’t know much about either, but still, at first instance the stock market has more resemblance to gambling than to science if you ask me.

    If you’re in an economic research field, it may actually make sense to publish substantive criticism of a in a relevant journal I guess. If the criticism just concerns the work of the technical stock analyst, then it would be different of course. The analyst most likely doesn’t read the journal of the American Society of Stock Analysts; you’d be better of going to Wall Street and try to have a chat, or whatever forum they have for exchanging ideas, I dunno. Point is, you chose the relevant forum to communicate with the relevant people. For science that happens to be scientific journals, conferences and workshops. But you’re fully aware of that of course.

    I think the link to policy is much weaker than you state. Climate sensitivity is constrained by multiple periods in the history of the earth, predominantly the LGM and the climate response to volcanoes, in my limited understanding. Not so much to the MWP if you ask me, so this whole hockey stick talk has hardly any impact on estimates of climate sensitivity. But if anything, a warmer MWP would imply a perhaps larger climate sensitivity (unless we also find a coincidentally large forcing having acted on the climate system back then). It’s a funny detail indeed, taking all that “skeptic” talk about the MWP in account.

    I agree about the limits of peer review, and Gavin Schmidt from RC is also on record numerous times having stated that peer review is only a first, cursory test whether something makes any sense at all. It is not a medal of approval of any kind, but as a first test, it is useful to separate the chaff from the grain, You say: “The only real advantage they have got is having relevant expertise in the area.” I think that is a HUGE advantage. They can quickly see (ideally) whether a body of work, the approach taken, etc has scientific validity at all. That is something different than a stamp of approval as in “this is the truth”. It also has tremendous advantages over having a complete outsider review the work, and have them level all kinds of accusations of the kind given in this post.

    I’m all for open review. The EGU (under the auspices of Copernicus if I have it right) has a whole line of journals with an open review system, and though not perfect, it works pretty well, and all articles are open access. The most relevant for my area is ACP (Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics), but there are dozens more or so. Peer review at these journals is still undertaken by other scientists in the field though (reviews are also accessible for all to read), and after registering, everyone can provide commentary on a paper. That comes pretty close to what you propose, or did I misunderstand you?

  16. Heiko Gerhauser Says:

    Hi Bart,

    I think you must have misread my paragraph about policy implications, because I see no substantial difference between what you write and what I write about that?

    I know the analogy with the stock market is not perfect. I suppose it is one I like because I do follow the stock market quite keenly and maybe more readily see where the analogy works really well and where it does not.

    Academics get judged, especially in universities, on how many publications they get through peer review. Consequently, much peer review is about rejecting papers when the quantity of work performed is deemed insufficient, it’s a rehash of an earlier paper without anything substantially new, or it’s really shoddy.

    But publications are not the only way to generate trustworthy information. Many basic data, including many weather data, are published by organisations who are there to collect the data and where the employees can get career advancement without churning out scientific papers. The US geological service can produce a report on petroleum provinces and it gets published as a USGS report and not as an article in Nature. Here at ECN we are encouraged to patent or sell technology licenses rather than publish in journals, if possible.

    What kind of quality control is best clearly depends on the use the data are put to, among other considerations.

    When somebody buys a technology license from ECN for example, they will do a thorough “Due diligence”, they will typically want to have detailed access to data and facilities and test results. They often actually have people come during experiments to observe what’s going on.

    They do that, because a lot of money is at stake, and we have a big incentive to oversell our technology’s capabilities (again, because a lot of money is at stake, though for ECN this is tempered by the fact that we are still largely government funded and also have a reputation to worry about, which has a lot of value, so ECN is rather less likely to oversell than some other organisations – this is a complete side track, but I am worried about bonuses being introduced precisely because they introduce incentives to for example oversell technology, when you just get a salary, as is the case now, you will worry a lot more about what’ll happen to your career when your wild claims backfire on you five years later, with a huge bonus the temptation may just be too great and once it backfires you don’t care anymore and are financially secure). The checks used in ordinary peer review of scientific papers are rather less thorough. Depending on what is being checked for it doesn’t have to matter. To outright make up scientific work usually takes quite some nerve, and a substantial fraction of the work is the actual writing of the paper to a good standard anyway.

    But, if the author is intelligent, presents a lot of work and it just so happens that fairly subtle biases in data handling (or selection before even getting into the paper) can turn noise into something apparently relevant and important, I think peer review can apparently fail seriously. My feeling is that it has failed in the case of Mann, Briffa and much tree ring work, and that a small circle of experts do stock chartist like believe they can extract information out of near randomness, even when there are good reasons to believe that the value of the extracted information cannot be trusted.

    Maybe I am wrong, but I see many differences with other scientific questions, where I basically happily accept the “you have to trust the experts” line as justified. I know a fair bit about tree growth and it is far from directly related to temperature, nutrients matter, the distribution of temperature matters (a few very cold weeks in winter may have no impact whatsoever, a few cold weeks in May a pretty big one), moisture matters, tree illnesses and competition with other trees matters. For 400 plus years back most of these are unknown and any 20th century calibration useless. Even if the tree is a reasonable proxy in the 20th century, a big drought in 1500, or wind knocking nearby trees over in 1400 etc… means in my opinion that before 1600 tree ring data are essentially random noise even if the same selection of trees does show reasonable correlation with temperature over some part of the 20th century used as a calibration period. In addition, you need geographic coverage, which there isn’t, because there are few places with good 1000 year tree ring chronologies (the oceans have got no trees, neither do ice or sand desserts or prairies).

  17. Marco Says:

    Many of your concerns on tree ring chronologies is discussed at length and in detail in loads of articles and several books. Uncertainties are present, this is acknowledged, which is why people don’t just use one single proxy type (unless there is some very special reason). This does not remove all uncertainty, but does reduce it.

    Of course, if you have a better way of determining the global climate of 500+ years ago, please do tell. Sometimes you have to use the ores that are available to row your boat ashore.

  18. Bart Says:


    You are right that there is a lot of good work being done, tangentially to the science, which is not being published. And indeed, our institute is a good example. And I agree with the potential failings of peer review, as I have stated – it’s just that I don’t see a good alternative to this imperfect system. McIntyre’s “auditing” practices definitely don’t qualify as a good alternative in my book, though that may have more to do with how he executes it rather than the principle. It is very valuable to have a check in the publishing process for whether something is merely “a rehash of an earlier paper without anything substantially new, or it’s really shoddy.” And by its nature, this is best done by experts in the field. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    What you say about tree ring growth could all well be true. Hantemirov (one of the Russian data-providers) said similar things (quoted at CA), as did Jim Bouldin (at RC). But let’s not confuse uncertainty with knowing nothing.

    Glad to see we agree on how infinitesimal the policy implications of all this hockey stick talk are.

  19. Heiko Gerhauser Says:

    I am in too minds about this Bart, that is what to make of the hockey stick war. Obviously I don’t want to throw peer review out. It works well enough in my own field. The only thing I really am desperate to see changed there is open access for journal articles. Otherwise I have an open mind and not thought things through enough (about how the scientific journal publication process could be improved that is).

    What I do see is that the paleo community around tree rings and related proxies is quite incestuous and small. So, I see a case here for external input, and McIntyre’s work, the NAS and Wegman reports I think do contribute to improving the science, in addition to the also necessary peer review for the published papers. I have read a fair bit on the substantive issues and still come away with the main conclusion that tree rings add little, because they are too poor as proxies.

    There’s of course a lot of noise being generated also, which is less helpful. There’s communicating things to Mann or McIntyre they don’t want to hear, but should listen too, and there’s politically motivated character assassination.

    That somebody who spends all his time finding flaws in other people’s work, work that they’ve put a lot of effort into and are proud of, is not going to be popular with the people whose work is being dragged through the mud, is not surprising and also does not have to be a problem I think. Keep it fair and there’s a role for serious checking.

  20. Bart Says:

    Heiko, to your last point: It doesn’t have to be a problem indeed, and a defensive reaction as you state is to be expected. However, I think McIntyre is at least partly responsible for the problems that have been generated, due in no small part to the manner in which he vents his criticism. Furthermore, there are flaws in his interpretations, as eg Hantemirow’s analysis shows. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate McIntyre’s whole analysis, mind you; the same baby-bathwater analogy holds here as well of course.

  21. Kylmää vettä MOT:n niskaan « Gaia Says:

    […] […]

  22. Trolls, drawing and quartering, and other vexatious charactersmorego « The Policy Lass Says:

    […] of his finding (if at all correct). He also frequently engages in character assassination, insinuating fraud, scientific misconduct and manipulation on the part of scientists. There’s no need to back up such accusations; a verbose writing style and an uncritical audience […]

  23. Mike Roddy Says:

    Schmidt and Bouldin succeeded in discrediting and basically humiliating McIntyre, but this knowledge is little known in MSM. Watts, too, has been intellectually drawn and quartered. This knowledge needs to be communicated more forcefully to the media, who still go to these characters (and others like them) when a chump reporter needs a contrarian quote.

  24. willard Says:

    A simple note: the said comment #254 on CA has been renumbered to #19542. One can get it (at least today) by this new permalink:

  25. lucia Says:

    Of course, if you have a better way of determining the global climate of 500+ years ago, please do tell. Sometimes you have to use the ores that are available to row your boat ashore.

    We all constantly read suggestions that the choice of very poor proxies are somehow justified by the fact that there aren’t any better ones. In the context of science, this is quite frankly, a silly suggestions.

    Sometimes you have to admit that while you don’t have access to better material to make oars, the present spaghetti like materials do not have the properties required to create oars you can use to row your boat to shore.

    If the available proxies aren’t up to snuff, then they aren’t. The fact there are no better available ones doesn’t mean you use bad proxies to create bad reconstructions and call them good. You also don’t tell people who point out the reconstructions are bad that they can’t say that unless they create a better one and publish it– that’s impossible because the proxies required to create a good reconstructions simply don’t exist. If the available proxies aren’t up to snuff, it should mean you either don’t create reconstructions or you admit the ones you created are quite bad indeed or when people point out the flaws in the reconstruction you created you say, “Yeah. You’re right. It’s a poor reconstruction.”

  26. Bart Says:


    I think in a scientific frontier it is quite normal to work with the (imperfect) tools and information at hand. If at least it brings the knowledge to a higher level than “we don’t know anything”, it is certainty justified. I agree that the result should be communicated with the proper caveats regarding uncertainty (and risk, if appropriate), but it’s definitely ok to use imperfect proxies to create imperfect temp reconstructions, and then explain their level of (im)perfection to the level needed for the particular audience.

    As to saying “thank you, you’re right” to critics, I’d think that that’s quite customary to do with constructive critics, but not with people who play underhanded games of the sort I laid out in this post.

  27. willard Says:


    Although it is admittingly understandable, not thanking someone lacks jujitsu, in my humble opinion.

    There are ways to say “thank you” that are polite enough so that they bring closure to an exchange without sounding that it was a hug between true friends, but a formal salutation that can help to distance oneself from the interlocutor far enough to make him feel that it underlines the diplomatic nature of the exchange.

    We could insist to make it more personal. In that case, one can even add feigned formality to the custom: “thank you for showing a most profund interest in the egoless pursuit of truth and the greater good for humanity”, say. Or deride it as to portray oneself as a supplicant, e.g. “pretty please with sugar on it”.

    This is a game. It’s important to have fun. If you can’t stand the game, stay out of the board.

  28. willard Says:

    Having read back the post, I note Junior’s argument:

    > He spoke directly to this point […]

    which reminded me of **Mars Attack**:

    > Don’t run, we are your friends.

    The Martians spoke directly of their point. That must mean that they **are** our friends.

  29. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

    Manual pingback:

    > Think “try not to puke” […]

    2014. Yup.

    More omertà, Bart?

  30. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

    Another manual pingback:

    > Today, Bart Verheggen twitters

    > Which, dear Sherman, brings us back to Bart’s blog in the days of Hey Yamal

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