Doug Keenan has received a favorable decision from the FOI Commissioner in his lengthy FOI/EIR battle for tree ring data collected by Mike Baillie of Queen’s University, Belfast. The data is from Irish oaks and was collected mostly in the 1970s. The decision has been covered by the Times, the New Scientist and the Guardian and at Bishop Hill here and here.
Responses to the decision from Baillie, Rob Wilson and Phil Willis are as interesting as the decision. Baillie and Wilson argued that oak chronologies were “virtually useless” as temperature proxies and “dangerous” in a temperature reconstruction. Nonetheless, as I report below, no fewer than 119 oak chronologies (including 3 Baillie chronologies) were used in Mann et al 2008 without any complaint by Wilson or other specialists. CA readers will also be interested in Baillie’s 2005 response to a Climate Audit post urging climate scientists to update the proxies.
Oak as a Temperature Proxy
The scientist who had been withholding the data, Michael Baillie, ridiculed the idea that his Irish oak data was relevant to temperature reconstructions, saying that it would be “dangerous” to use this data for reconstructing temperature. Hannah Devlin of The Times:
However, the lead scientist involved, Michael Bailee, said that the oak ring data requested was not relevant to temperature reconstruction records.
Although ancient oaks could give an indication of one-off dramatic climatic events, such as droughts, they were not useful as a temperature proxy because they were highly sensitive to water availability as well as past temperatures, he added.
“It’s been dressed up as though we are suppressing climate data, but we have never produced climate records from our tree rings,” Professor Bailee said.
“In my view it would be dangerous to try and make interpretations about the temperature from this data.”
Baillie made a similar statement to the Guardian:
“Keenan is the only person in the world claiming that our oak-ring patterns are temperature records,” Baillie told the Guardian.
Rob Wilson agreed with Baillie on this point, telling the Times that “oaks were virtually useless as a temperature proxy”.
Mann et al 2008
Notwithstanding the considered opinion of Baillie and Wilson that oaks are “virtually useless as a temperature proxy” and “dangerous” to use in a temperature reconstruction, no fewer than 119 oak chronologies were used in Mann et al 2008.
Among Mann’s oak chronologies were three Baillie chronologies: brit008 – Lockwood; brit042 – Shanes Castle, Northern Ireland; brit044 – Castle Coole, Northern Ireland.
A full list of the oak chronologies used in Mann et al 2008 is as follows:
“al001” “ar009” “ar018” “ar024” “ar056” “ar057” “ar058” “ar060” “ar061” “ar072” “brit008” “brit011” “brit042” “brit044” “ca614” “ca615” “ca616” “ca617” “ca618” “ca619” “ca620” “ca621” “ca623” “ca624” “ca625” “ca626” “fl005” “fran001” “fran003” “ia001” “ia003” “ia004” “ia020” “ia021” “ia023” “ia024” “ia025” “ia026” “ia027” “ia029” “ia030” “ia032” “il008” “il009” “il010” “il011” “il013” “il014” “in001” “ks001” “ks004” “ks007” “ks010” “ky003” “ky004” “mi005” “mo001” “mo003” “mo004” “mo005” “mo008” “mo014” “mo015” “mo018” “mo021” “mo024” “mo027” “mo030” “mo033” “mo036” “mo039” “mo040” “mo044” “nc004” “nc007” “nj001” “nj002” “ny002” “ny003” “oh001” “oh002” “oh003” “oh006” “ok001” “ok004” “ok007” “ok013” “ok016” “ok019” “ok022” “ok025” “ok028” “pa006” “pa009” “pola006” “pola014” “pola015” “pola016” “pola017” “sc005” “tn005” “tn008” “tx003” “tx006” “tx009” “tx012” “tx018” “tx021” “tx024” “tx027” “tx030” “tx033” “tx039” “tx041” “va009” “va011” “va014” “va016” “va017”
Far be it from me to disagree with the specialist view of Wilson and Baillie that these oak chronologies are “virtually useless” as a temperature or “dangerous” to use in a temperature reconstruction.
However, surely it would have been far more relevant for them to speak up at the time of the publication of Mann et al 2008 and to have expressed this view as a comment on that publication. At the time, Climate Audit urged specialists to speak out against known misuse of proxies, but they refused to do so. (see Silence of the Lambs).
That Wilson and Baillie should condemn potential misuse of oak chronologies by Keenan (without even seeing his analysis) while standing silent when Mann et al used oak chronologies is precisely the sort of hypocrisy that is all too prevalent in the climate science “community”. I don’t particularly blame relatively young scientists like Rob Wilson, since they have young families to support. However, the whitewash inquiries had an opportunity to condemn this sort of hypocrisy and have thus far failed to do so.
Baillie on Updating Proxies
One of the earliest CA posts (published as a National Post op ed) called on climate scientists to Bring the Proxies Up to Date!, observing that the last 30 years presented an opportunity for an out-of-sample test of the validity of the supposed “proxies”. Baillie of the current controversy responded , by blaming the failure to update the proxies on the fact that university employees were worked to “within an inch of their lives” on administration and
“trying to keep weak students in the Thatcher/Blair-revisited system” and saying that the collection of the Schweingruber network (the one that shows the decline) was “super-human” at the time and “essentially impossible” today. Baillie:
Here in Ireland we once drove round Ireland jumping over walls and coring stands of ten trees wherever we could find them. That was in 1979, when we were young and irresponsible; there just never seems to have been a day free since then, because, of course, it isn’t a day you are talking about. It is the ‘getting permission’, the ‘collecting’ and the ‘processing’ of the samples from say six or eight sites on our small island – a month’s work maybe? Maybe two? (We also collected a series of English and Scottish chronologies around 1980. Re-building those would make it up to six months, maybe a year of work!) It is just enough work to stop it getting done on a whim. So in the 1990s we tried asking grant giving bodies to fund us. Such work is not regarded as ‘cutting edge’ so it doesn’t get funded. Note that if it had been funded in 1995 it would need doing again now!
People working in universities in this country (UK at least) are now “busy to within an inch of their lives” doing administration and trying to keep weak students in the Thatcher/Blair-revisited system while doing cutting edge research. There is no longer time for doing stuff on whims, least of all stuff that is poorly regarded by research councils.
You also need to know that very comprehensive suites of high latitude/high altitude tree-ring chronologies (from essentially hundreds of sites) were produced across northern Eurasia and Canada/Western America by one (almost lone) Swiss wood-man, namely Fritz Schweingruber, back in the 1970s and 1980s. The records are world class but they all end pre-1990. The effort was super-human at the time. To do it all again now…essentially impossible! I often wonder just what the trees are now recording.
Regards Mike Baillie (fairly senior dendrochronologist)
Even though the data sought by Keenan appears to have been collected in the 1970s and early 1980s, Baillie’s reaction to the idea that it should be archived 25 years later was bitter.
He complained to the New Scientist that scientists now “live under the threat that they can be made to hand over their measurements.”
Phil Willis, chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee, had little sympathy for Baillie’s complaining:
Willis said that scientists now needed to work on the presumption that if research is publicly funded, the data ought to be made publicly available.
“Following the Climategate furore at the University of East Anglia the message came out loud and clear from the select committee report and from Lord Oxburgh’s report that data has to be made publicly available in order that there is no question of anyone hiding anything,” he said.
“Any university or scientist that hasn’t got that message needs a total rethink of the way they do research. Every time they don’t do it, they give ammunition to climate deniers and sceptics.”
Unfortunately, many climate scientists still haven’t got the message.