Materials Complaint re Moberg et al [2005]

As a result of refusals by Moberg, Sonchkin and Lauritzen, I’ve filed a Materials Complaint with Nature, which will hopefully result in the delivery of the data in less than geological time. In an email to me concerning a possible one year misdating of U.S. bristlecones, Moberg said that their "reconstruction does not contain any information on timescales shorter than 4 years". As I point out below, the SI contains an annual reconstruction, so this statement is not exactly correct. Here’s the complaint.

Sept. 9, 2005

Karl Ziemelis,
Physical Sciences Editor
Nature Magazine

Dear Karl,
We haven’t corresponded for a while. You may be aware that Ross McKitrick and I continued our research on the paper by Mann et al. [1998], attracting a considerable amount of attention, even getting mentioned in Nature. Some of the issues, which we discussed before (e.g. Mann’s refusal to provide source code) have attracted considerable interest outside the immediate climate science community, as I’m sure that you’ve noticed. I believe that there are substantial issues involved and I hope that Nature re-considers some of its policies in this matter. However, as I’ve mentioned before, while I disagreed with your conclusions and decisions, I appreciated the cordiality of your correspondence.

I am writing today with a Materials Complaint in a different matter, which I hope can be resolved more expeditiously than the Mann et al. case. I have been examining the paper by Moberg et al.: Highly variable Northern Hemisphere temperatures reconstructed from low- and high-resolution proxy data Nature, Vol. 433, No. 7026, pp. 613 – 617, 10 February 2005. I have consulted the Nature on-line Supplementary Information and corresponded with both of the two senior co-authors without resolving the matters reported here.

1) The Norway stalagmite series from Lauritzen et al [1999] appears to end c.1938 in the Nature SI, whereas Figure 11 of Lauritzen et al [1999] indicates an end c.1865. I have requested a digital version of the series as used, both from Moberg and Lauritzen. It has been refused by both. Moberg referred me to Lauritzen, who said that "These are unpublished data, and they come with co-authorship." Obviously, the data is not unpublished if they have been used in Moberg et al [2005]. Moberg used the data under Nature policies which require that the data be made available to researchers. Moberg had an obligation to obtain consent to such usage prior to using the Lauritzen data and cannot rely on Lauritzen’s present refusal as justification for failing to provide the data.

2) The Indigirka series is not archived anywhere. Moberg said that his “Russian colleague Dmitry Sonechkin got this series from one of his Russian colleagues.” Sonechkin then said that he cannot send the Indigirka series used in Moberg et al [2005] because the "series developers do not want to disseminate it. They say this series will be re-calculated soon to reject some errors in it (a general trend etc.)." Again, in order to use the Indigirka series in a Nature article where there is an obligation to provide data, Moberg and Sonechkin had an obligation to obtain consent from the series developers prior to using the data. If the series developers did not want to disseminate it, then Moberg and Sonechkin appear to have breached their understanding with the series developers by including the series in their Nature article. Further, if the series developers now change the series, this will be of no assistance in replicating the data used in Moberg et al [2005].

3) Moberg et al [2005] provide separate listings for Methuselah Walk and White Mountain Master. These are two different versions of the Methuselah Walk chronology ( the White Mountain Master (ca506) is a 1962 version, while the Methuselah Walk version (ca535) is a new edition made in the 1980s. Moberg says that he was aware of this and thought, but did not know, that different trees were used in the two studies. It seems to me that Moberg et al [2005] should have clearly stated that these two series both refer to the same site and justified this duplicate use.

4) Moberg said: "from discussions with Dmitry, that we had some problems with deciding to which year we should assign the WUS-tree data. It is not impossible that, for example, the year 1962 in my file actually corresponds to 1963 in the programs that the Russian colleagues used to make the reconstruction. Honestly, I am not quite sure about this." Moberg goes on to point out that their "reconstruction does not contain any information on timescales shorter than 4 years" and that “It would also be nearly impossible to see by eye any difference between two versions of the reconstruction with the WUS trees shifted one year back or forwards." The first part of this statement is incorrect. Moberg et al. archived a reconstruction expressed on an annual basis at Sonechkin said that the series were located at the ITRDB data bank. I am aware of this, but this does not with the problem identified by Moberg.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours truly,
Stephen McIntyre


  1. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Sep 9, 2005 at 1:56 PM | Permalink

    While these are all good points, it seems to me that only in points 1 and 2 are you clearly asking Nature to enforce its policies and assist in obtaining the data.
    Point 3 is valid, but I don’t understand what action Nature should take as a result (this would have been a useful reviewer’s comment!).
    Point 4 is unclear. Are you asking Nature’s assistance in having Moberg figure out and disclose to which year the WUS-tree data were assigned?

  2. TCO
    Posted Sep 9, 2005 at 2:41 PM | Permalink

    Steve, keep peanut pushing.

    However, I agree that mistakes in the paper (3) are a different issue than failure to share data (1,2). Just a slight style thing, but may want to strain for a bit more crispness in your comments as well (failure to share this series, failure to share that series). Then attach the explanation below as a footnote or further detail. The bottom line is that you’re not being given the data for replication (the author’s excuse for not giving it is a detail).

    Comment 4 was also not clear. Try to step back a second from knowing all the details and background and think about someone who is seeing this out of the blue. If I don’t easily follow it, how will Joe Editor looking at it for first time?

  3. TCO
    Posted Sep 9, 2005 at 2:45 PM | Permalink

    Sorry to beat on you. You are the good soldier, doing all the work and we are all armchair generals advising you on how to move the shovel more deftly.

    (But I know how that feels on the other end.)

  4. John A
    Posted Sep 9, 2005 at 6:49 PM | Permalink


    Steve is a Man on a Mission. Just try and stop him…

  5. Ian Castles
    Posted Sep 9, 2005 at 7:51 PM | Permalink

    On #2, Joe Editor may not be looking at this particular issue (i.e., the issue raised by Moberg’s refusal to provide data) for the first time but, as Steve points out in introducing his Materials Complaint, he (the Editor) previously considered a Materials Complaint from the same complainant (and Ross McKitrick). As Steve is also expressing the hope that the matter can be resolved more expeditiously than the earlier case, it seems to me to be sensible that the Editor be alerted to the matters mentioned in Comments 3 and 4, which arise out of the McIntyre/Moberg correspondence. It will only take a sentence for the Editor to explain that it’s not for him to do anything about Comments 3 & 4, but I suspect that his (the Editor’s) knowledge of the existence of other issues (which appear to me to raise questions about Moberg’s candour) might increase the Editor’s interest in achieving a speedy resolution of the Materials Complaint.

  6. Ian Castles
    Posted Sep 9, 2005 at 8:28 PM | Permalink

    Of course I meant to say “Joe Editor may be looking…” (not “may NOT be looking”

  7. Posted Oct 5, 2006 at 2:09 AM | Permalink

    I read the Blog Nice site I found and I bookmarked the site… Plan on coming back later to spend a little time there.

  8. Posted Aug 21, 2009 at 5:10 AM | Permalink

    I’ve seen it in the news recently.

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