Disingenuous Misinterpretation

You may remember the kerfuffle about the stolen “Climategate” emails — the emails among climate scientists that were hacked by an as-yet-unknown party. Well, scientists usually talk among themselves about what they are doing and like most shop talk, it can be confusing to those not in the conversation. Among other exchanges, critics hit on the sentence “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick to hide the decline,” which appeared to suggest trickery in hiding a decline in global temperatures. This was a willful misinterpretation of the sentence, especially as it continues to be repeated after it has been explained.  Just in case you’ve forgotten, the original sentence read,

“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.

Note, they didn’t even have the integrity to put ellipses between the divided parts of the sentence.

In fact, the decline actually referred to tree ring data, not temperatures. These data–the  width of tree rings–had been used as proxies for temperatures. They had been reliably used to estimate global temperatures, but,  as had been discussed in peer-reviewed  literature, Keith Briffa’s tree ring data were unreliable proxies after 1960 for various reasons, including changes in climate.

Also, a lot of climate science critics made — and still make — a lot of noise about the word “trick,” as if it was somehow nefarious. For anyone who is still confused, I hope Marc Roberts cartoon clears the air (click on the image to enlarge it).

Marc Roberts explanation of the meaning of "trick"

Marc Roberts

With regard to the emails theft, Real Climate has a good discussion.  If you’d like a fuller explanation of the actual meaning of the entire quote, there’s an excellent discussion on the Skeptical Science website.

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