Escape from Jonestown

This week, CNN commemorated the 32nd anniversary of the end of Jonestown (November 18, 1978) with a documentary entitled “Escape from Jonestown”. It includes astonishing television footage taken by NBC right up to the death of its cameraman at Port Kaituma airstrip in northwest Guyana.

In the mid-1990s, I was involved in gold exploration in northwest Guyana. I’ve flown out of both Port Kaituma and Mathews Ridge, the other jungle airport shown in the documentary. I’ve walked along the narrow-gauge railroad tracks shown in the documentary and seen the bridge over the Barima River used by Jonestown escapers. I once drove by the turn-off to Jonestown on the road from Arakaka to Port Kaituma. At the time, I hadn’t realized that it was so close (or would have stopped to look). We didn’t have time to stop that day if we were to meet our flight out and I didn’t pass by again. A day or so before we drove by Jonestown, I had my own interesting trek through the jungle, which I’ll describe some time.

The Jonestown movement originated in Indiana in the mid-1950s, but moved to San Francisco in the mid-1970s. Wikipedia reports:

After Peoples Temple participation proved instrumental in the mayoral election victory of George Moscone in 1975, Moscone appointed Jones as the Chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission. Unlike other figures considered as cult leaders, Jones enjoyed public support and contact with some of the highest level politicians in the United States. For example, Jones met with Vice Presidential Candidate Walter Mondale and Rosalynn Carter several times. Governor Jerry Brown, Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, and Assemblyman Willie Brown, among others, attended a large testimonial dinner in honor of Jones in September 1976

Just after midnight (Eastern) on November 18, 2009, thirty-one years to the day of the Jonestown massacre, I learned of the Climategate dossier, in which another Jones came to international attention. (Please no jokes comparing the Jonestown movement to the Team. Any comments saying things like “One was an apocalyptic cult that enjoyed high-level political patronage and tolerated no dissent; the other died in the Guyanese jungle” will be deleted.)

By coincidence, Phil Jones’ first public appearance in the climate community since Climategate will be in San Francisco at the Moscone Center, named after the mayor who had been a patron of Jones et al in the 1970s. Jones will be honoured as an Invited Speaker at an AGU session on Proxy Uncertainty.

I planned to write a one-year anniversary piece on Climategate, but have found it difficult to capture the right tone. I had thought about events and had spent a fair bit of time answering questions for David Adam of Nature, none of which were reflected in Adam’s recent panegyric to Phil Jones. (Adam said today that he had used some of my answers in his article but they had been deleted by Nature editors.)

While I was working through writer’s block, a friend of mine asked me to help with some mining business last week. Here I am, visiting an underground face. So I at least had a temporary escape from Jonestown, while remembering what it’s like to make some money. l will try to finish my reflections on Climategate on another occasion.


  1. Chris S
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 2:33 PM | Permalink

    I suppose if I said something like both north Guyana and East Anglia have benefited from the “gold in them thar hills”, you’d probably delete it.

    And quite rightly too;)

    • Varco
      Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 4:09 PM | Permalink

      No hills, and certainly no gold deposits, near the UEA. Fools gold, well thats another matter…

  2. Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 2:39 PM | Permalink

    It’s good to have some insight in Adam’s terribly poor piece. One wonders why he accepts the Editors to pass him as an IT ignoramus, to say the least.

  3. John A
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 2:58 PM | Permalink

    I had thought about events and had spent a fair bit of time answering questions for David Adam of Nature, none of which were reflected in Adam’s recent panegyric to Phil Jones. (Adam said today that he had used some of my answers in his article but they had been deleted by Nature editors.)

    Ah yes, I love the smell of censorship in the morning.

  4. Ale Gorney
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 3:10 PM | Permalink

    On the front page of the lefty blog DailyKos there is an article titled, “USA Today: Key climate denier report was plagiarism”

    In the blog the author makes the assertion,
    The problem is that M&M themselves have been debunked by Wahl & Amman, who pointed out that the 100 allegedly “random” white noise datasets were cherry-picked from a group of 10,000 to have the largest apparent hockey-stick type shapes to begin with. Wegman apparently didn’t know about Wahl & Amman — no GOP staffer told him about it, probably. So yes, Wegman’s plagiarism directly affected the truth of his writings.”

    How do you respond to those allegations?

  5. mpaul
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 3:20 PM | Permalink

    “… panegyric …”, a very powerful and brilliant word choice. Evocatively sums up the difference between the press’s view of climategate the broad public opinion that has emerged since the leak.

  6. Malcolm Shykles
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 3:35 PM | Permalink

    Nature’s editorial (on line 17th November 2010) “Closing the Climate Gate” seems a bit hopeful in view of the posted comments in which critics of Nature’s attitude to AGW are very much in the majority.

    The comment “Nature’s blinkered support for Jones is extraordinary, but consistent with its policy of publishing only pro AGW papers”; sums up the attitude.

    • John Meec h
      Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 9:51 PM | Permalink


      “Never mind that almost all of the accusations thrown at the researchers involved have been proven baseless. Never mind that much of the media has retreated from the aggressive stance it adopted during its ‘comment first, ask questions later’ approach to the content of the e-mails. And never mind that the scientific basis for the global-warming problem remains as solid as it was a year ago. Huge damage has been done to the reputation of climate science, and arguably to science as a whole. That impact deserves to be assessed and the necessary lessons need to be learned.”

      Note: “almost all” – there is a recognition that some accusations are sticking.

      Note: “much of the media” – ah, a recognition that not all the media have retreated.

      Note: “scientific basis…remains…as solid as..a year ago” – this can be read two ways – a double entrendre per chance.

      Note: “Huge damage has been done” – a further recognition that Climategate had a major impact.

      Note: “necessary lessons need to be learned” – again, a recognition that things were not what they seemed to be.

      nature begins the slow process of coming full circle. Remember, they were among the last of the mainstream media groups to even acknowledge that Climategate was important.

      • John Meec h
        Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 10:09 PM | Permalink


        “Take peer review. To many veterans of this bruising process, the talk from Jones in the e-mails of going to town on negative reviews to keep papers from being published was run-of-the-mill stuff. ‘That’s nothing, you should see the rudeness of some of the reviews that go around in microbiology/quantum physics/oncology,’ was a common reaction…The official inquiry into the e-mail affair concluded that such robust exchanges were typical in science. But many non-scientists were still unconvinced. They hold peer review as a revered gold standard of scientific excellence, not to be questioned or used as an opportunity to be rude about academic rivals, even in private.”

        Rudeness in the peer review process is not the important issue here and is being used by ‘nature’ to trivialize what the Team did. What was clearly offensive to so many people is the clear attempt to stifle debate – to prevent papers that presented data and interpretations differing from the mainstream view from ever appearing in print. That is a darn sight more offensive than being rude.

        Furthermore, the impact on society and the global economy of the science of climate change is to a great degree far greater than that in microbiology/quantum physics/oncology, although one could argue that cancer research should be more open. As such it is not rudeness that one objects to, it was the manipulation, obfuscation, lying, and attempts to prevent debate that were so very wrong here.

        • John Meec h
          Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 10:18 PM | Permalink


          “Calls for full release of computer code written by climate researchers seem driven more by the fact that it is not routinely made available rather than because it is particularly useful”

          This was not the reason for the need for full release. Full release was desired and required to allow others to duplicate the research or to fully understand what type of data massaging was done during the research. It is clear from Climategate and from other sources that the quality of the computer code used by many scientists is not particularly good – certainly far below what is demanded by industry. As such, to be able to audit and perhaps, adjust the massaging is key to ensuring that mistakes are found, whether such mistakes are significant or not.

          And so, full transparency is certainly “particularly useful” to the scientific community and to society at large.

  7. Nial
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 3:40 PM | Permalink

    If there’s something strange
    in your ‘peer reviewed scientific journals’
    Who ya gonna call?

    If there’s something weird
    and it don’t look good (in the source files and software used to manipulate them)
    Who ya gonna call?



    (BTW, love the outfit).

  8. Brian H
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 3:43 PM | Permalink

    Wegman failed to cite sources which consisted of undocumented citations of generic boilerplate text material. So it’s undocumented cites all the way down!

  9. AMac
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 3:45 PM | Permalink

    Any comments saying things like “One was an apocalyptic cult that enjoyed high-level political patronage and tolerated no dissent; the other died in the Guyanese jungle” will be deleted.

    Very unseemly.

    • Political Junkie
      Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 4:46 PM | Permalink

      But really funny!

      You don’t catch Steve slagging folks without having a homorous intent.

      • AMac
        Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 8:44 AM | Permalink

        Re: Political Junkie (Nov 22 16:46),

        > But really funny!

        More clever than funny — a trick copied from the RealClimate playbook. “Now, I’d never be one to suggest that…”

        The amen chorus over there applauds Gavin’s sly digs. Steve McI gets similar kudos from the cheer squad here.

        You’ve achieved a level playing field. Congratulations.

  10. Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 4:38 PM | Permalink

    CNN recently had a “Heroes” nomination process wherein a fine woman, dedicated to eradicating human slavery won.
    When I first glanced at it, I realized that Mr. McIntyre’s name was not listed. I decided not to continue to participate in the exercise despite the obvious merit of the individuals involved.

    While many fine people are involved and responsible for the undoing of the CAGW cadre (especially they themselves) I hold Steve McIntyre to be the one individual that best represents and exemplifies the solid, untiring and thorough dedication to the pursuit and obtaining of truth about the legitimacy of climate science.

    Thanks Steve, for without you it might not have come to pass and we would all be poorer, in so many ways, for that.

  11. pat
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 4:48 PM | Permalink

    that u were edited out of the “nature” article is not surprising.

    here’s david holland on some more editing:

    Bishop Hill: The Holland Redaction
    Guest Post by David Holland

    btw am still waiting for new statesman to interview you.

    Steve: one of their writers was intrigued by the response and interviewed me at some length. I believe that he submitted an article, but I guess that it was rejected.

  12. Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 5:16 PM | Permalink

    The problem is that M&M themselves have been debunked by Wahl & Amman, who pointed out that the 100 allegedly “random” white noise datasets were cherry-picked from a group of 10,000 to have the largest apparent hockey-stick type shapes to begin with.

    This is a bizarre summary. We used 10,000 red noise series to benchmark the RE score, but there was no cherry-picking a 100-series subset; and certainly no use of a white noise benchmark. Nor do W&A offer such an argument. I take it the crackpot who wrote that didn’t include any page references or source citations; more to the point he would be unable to provide any if pressed.

    Wegman apparently didn’t know about Wahl & Amman — no GOP staffer told him about it, probably. So yes, Wegman’s plagiarism directly affected the truth of his writings.”

    I wonder what “apparently” means in this context. Since Wegman mentions Wahl and Ammann in a footnote on page 48, lists it in his bibliography and includes a 1-page summary of the Mann-Rutherford-Wahl-Ammann argument on pages 84-85, I take it the author of this comment uses the word “apparently” to mean more or less the opposite of what the entire rest of the English-speaking world uses it to mean.

    • Brian H
      Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 5:28 PM | Permalink

      Yes, it’s a form of negative hallucination: not-seeing what is there, vs. seeing what isn’t.


    • Doug in Seattle
      Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 8:20 PM | Permalink

      Ouch! Such a blistering retort.

  13. golf charley
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 5:34 PM | Permalink

    I hope David Adam is reading this site, and will remember it, when his curiosity concerning his current and previous employers leads him to ask more questions, and seeks somewhere to publish his answers

  14. Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 6:09 PM | Permalink

    I dont think David Adam did such a bad job – he did manage to squeeze in two important questions. Come on… 🙂

    I don’t know whether we can assess David’s curiousity levels reading his articles.

  15. TAG
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 6:16 PM | Permalink

    In the 70s, I worked with someone who had worked in Guyana and had married a woman from there. In a coincidence with SMc, he worked for a mineral survey business. He was in charge of their electronic equipment. One day he had to go to a remote work site to repair some equipment. He and another employee flew in on a jet helicopter. The helicopter could not land at the camp but deposited them on a sandbar in the middle of the jungle river. A launch from the camp was to come out to fetch them. They helicopter landed and they unloaded their equipment. The helicopter took off and they watched it disappear into the distance. They then stood there with their equipment as if they were waiting for a bus on a sandbar in a jungle river.

    They both then realized that they were not waiting for a bus. They were waiting on a sandbar in a jungle river with caiman (a form of crocodile) swimming around them. My friend’s colleague then noted that they didn’t even have a pointy stick to defend themselves.

    The nub of this anecdote is that they came to that river sandbar on top of a pinnacle of technology, They were the rulers of the world with a world wide technological economy supporting them. They had no thought that they were vulnerable in any way.

    The AGW issue is of the same sort. It is easy to think us to be not vulnerable when we are surrounded by the power of our technology. Yet as my friend discovered we are only as invulnerable as our technology allows and when that fails we are very vulnerable indeed.

    The hockey stick scientists have produced nothing that is of assistance to policy makers. Their results have been debunked and there is little prospect that their will be any change in this. This is not good news. It does not mean that AGW is not an issue. it means that we have been denied what had been hoped to be a useful guide for policy makes so that we as a human society could chose a path to cope with possible dangers.

    We might be standing on a sandbar in a jungle river with caiman swimming around us without even a pointy stick to defend ourselves. Since the science has failed, we just do not know.

    • Green Sand
      Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 6:55 PM | Permalink

      Re: TAG (Nov 22 18:16),

      TAG, interesting analogy, and then came along the British Establishment replete with declarations of intent to clarify all by erecting a bridge from the sandbar to the friendly river bank. In effect all they have succeeded in doing is to lower the sandbar and greatly increasing the number of caiman.

    • WasteNot
      Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 7:31 PM | Permalink

      The problem with this analogy is in the random selection of technology. The two employees may have had considerable technology at their disposal but failed to select the applications they actually might need. Hence they did not have with them what they required to preserve their well-being. Does anyone think that, had they chosen to bring suitable technology, they would not have been perfectly secure and comfortable despite the caimans?

      The same is true of climate change. Technology can be arrayed in response to a known threat – either to adapt or mitigate. Perhaps technology even can prevent change. Once identified as a threat, the caiman in the river posed not the slightest threat in the face of mobilized technology. So too with changes in climate slighter than the one that resulted in the New York Harbor freezing over and frost fairs on a frozen Thames or than the Holocene Optimum that resulted in trees growing all the way to the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Humans adapted to those significant changes in climate with little in the way of technology; current research documenting declining mortality with increasing temperature give comfort that human technology is more than up to the task of adapting to slightly (even modestly) increasing temperatures.

    • Doug in Seattle
      Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 8:26 PM | Permalink

      I had the same epiphany one day in the NWT after my helicopter left me a bare wind swept mountain ridge 80 miles from the nearest rutted dirt track (Canol Road), which itself was 80 miles from the nearest town (Ross River, YT – population 200).

      It makes one a lot more appreciative of what a civilized society provides in the way of safety and comfort.

      • Mark F
        Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 10:28 PM | Permalink

        A friend worked in Ross River. Until I viewed the comments of some of the trolls on this and other blogs, I believed that RR was the A..H… of the world. Now the credit goes to – hmmm. Eli? TFP? Sigh.

  16. Martin A
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 6:38 PM | Permalink

    “Since the science has failed, we just do not know”

    That’s right. We’d be better off if the “science” had never been done. It is now unrealistic to imagine we could wipe the slate clean and re-do the job properly.

  17. Dennis C
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 6:42 PM | Permalink

    My Guyana experience:

    When I used to travel to the Caribbean in the 1980s on business for a British firm, there was always a visit for lunch at the local colonial outpost. In Barbados it was the Bridgetown Club; in Guyana, the Georgetown Club. But whereas the Bridgetown Club featured a portrait of Queen Elizabeth in the place of honour, which the patrons could gaze at while sipping turtle soup, the Georgetown Club had recycled its royal portrait and had installed the new post-colonial (or was it neo-colonial?) portrait: one of Mao Tse-Tung. Everything else in the club was unchanged. I found it deeply unsettling.

  18. David44
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 7:07 PM | Permalink

    Malcolm Shykles –

    Clicking your posted link returns error: page not found. Is there an error with the link or have they deleted an undesired comment?

  19. dearieme
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 8:26 PM | Permalink

    “I planned to write a one-year anniversary piece on Climategate, but have found it difficult to capture the right tone.” I suppose ‘ribald laughter’ is hard to carry off in print.

  20. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 10:39 PM | Permalink

    Steve, I’m puzzled by the small figure who is guiding you by the hand to the rockface. I’d long suspected that your inspiration had a type of divine intervention, or am I too imaginative?

    • Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 11:19 PM | Permalink

      Looks like a shadow to me.

      • Steve McIntyre
        Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 12:09 AM | Permalink

        Re: Jeff Alberts (Nov 22 23:19),

        I think that it’s probably a shadow as well.

        • Geoff Sherrington
          Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 3:29 AM | Permalink

          Do you play the guitar? The ‘shadow’ is holding one in one hand above his/her head, but you are not, shadow. It’s spooky.

        • oneuniverse
          Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 8:37 AM | Permalink

          It is a little spooky: the shadow’s feet are quite well-defined (particularly if one brightens the image) and in proportion to the rest of the figure, where one would expect an elongation towards and union with the caster.

        • oneuniverse
          Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 9:43 AM | Permalink

          My comment is only true for the version on Geoff’s website, which I assume has been artistically enhanced to illustrate Geoff’s imaginative vision mentioned above – if one applies the same procedure to the image at CA, the lower half of the shadow is indistinct.

        • Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 9:17 PM | Permalink

          Hockey stick illusion?

        • Geoff Sherrington
          Posted Nov 24, 2010 at 3:33 AM | Permalink

          I plagiarised the image using a screen cap from ABBYY Fine Reader, then outlined and added contrast to the figure using Corel PhotoPaint. All excellent products. So, what you see is “enhanced, unattributed raw data”, a familiar phrase…… At least I confess to mine.

          Miners do these blokey things to each other with tongue in cheek. Part of the baggage.

    • Atomic Hairdryer
      Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 10:53 AM | Permalink

      O/T, but what are the ‘cave markings’ for? Are they ‘cut here’ indicators? Knowing nothing about mining, puzzled by their regularity.

      • Geoff Sherrington
        Posted Nov 24, 2010 at 3:18 AM | Permalink

        They define blocks with different grade. Analogy in climate science is cells defined by lat and long. The main difference is, that if miners get the grades of the blocks wrong too often, they go insolvent and for all I know, might head off for a career in climate science.

        • Atomic Hairdryer
          Posted Nov 26, 2010 at 9:52 AM | Permalink

          Thanks, assumed that was the case. Shame the picture isn’t sharper to see the difference in rock face. As for climate science vs mining, in mining ‘adjusting’ ore from other samples or locations also leads to problems in mining, but not climate science.

  21. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 10:56 PM | Permalink

    WillR – I’s say that if climatologists need to call in statisticians, you need to call in geochemists.

  22. Doug in Seattle
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 11:10 PM | Permalink

    I only worked in one area (Jewel Lake, BC) where Te was useful as a geochemical pathfinder. I had read that it was used in Colorado as well. Both areas have gold associated with alkaline (high potassium) intrusive rocks and usually occurs with tellurides, a sulphide-like mineral with Te.

    Steve – enough on geochemistry. Exploration geologists are very attentive to alteration halos.

  23. John Meec h
    Posted Nov 22, 2010 at 11:38 PM | Permalink


    Phil Jones on emails vs. conversations:

    “People would be saying much the same things at scientific meetings and discussed [them] over dinner. But in an e-mail, it is recorded. People have probably forgotten what you said after a night out.”

    Mr. Jones still doesn’t get it. He seems to think that it is alright to express one’s biases without repercussion or accountability. His concern with email communication is not that what he writes might be wrong, but rather that it is recorded. It is OK to exaggerate, lie, and cheat as long as the people one is talking to have forgotten about it the next day.

  24. Shevva
    Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 4:54 AM | Permalink

    My young son just asked if your Father Christmas Steve? seeing that photo.

    • Shevva
      Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 8:35 AM | Permalink

      Should point out its the boots as ‘Only Father Christmas wears red boots’.

  25. Pete H
    Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 6:16 AM | Permalink

    Steve! Try Nigeria uf you want a sixpence…half crown experience!….Google it lol!

    So glad to be in Asia!

    and by the way..

    Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 3:29 AM | Permalink | Reply

    “Do you play the guitar?”

    The only way to travel on an aircraft with a guitar to a …strange country is with a

    Interestingly enough Steve….designed by a fellow pilot!

    This is not a bit of spam but an interesting solution for those of us that love music as well as exposing rubbish…..! Sorry if I got of topic but I know Steve would love the concept!

  26. kim
    Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 4:25 PM | Permalink

    Mind you the mine man:
    The big red F stands for False
    On the face of it.

  27. Martin K
    Posted Nov 23, 2010 at 9:11 PM | Permalink

    The late Shiva Naipal(younger brother of VS) wrote an insightful and very funny book about the Jonestown suicides, “Black and White”. I think it was released in the USA as “Journey to Nowhere”.

  28. Stacey
    Posted Nov 24, 2010 at 9:11 AM | Permalink

    I received the following from the Guardians of truth at Nature. Please can someone tell me where they have “hidden” my post? Maybe they meant deleted.

    The following post you wrote on the Nature News website has been hidden by the moderator in accordance with our terms and conditions.

    From: Michael Mann To: Phil Jones Subject: Re: IPCC & FOI
    Date: Thu, 29 May 2008 08:12:02 -0400
    Hi Phil,
    laughable that CA would claim to have discovered the problem. They would
    have run off to the Wall Street Journal for an exclusive were that to
    have been true.
    I’ll contact Gene about this ASAP. His new email is: talk to you later,
    Phil Jones wrote:
    >> Mike,
    > Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4?
    > Keith will do likewise. He’s not in at the moment – minor family crisis.
    > Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same? I don’t
    > have his new email address.
    > We will be getting Caspar to do likewise.
    > I see that CA claim they discovered the 1945 problem in the Nature
    > paper!!
    > Chee rs
    > Phil
    > Prof. Phil Jones
    > Climatic Research Unit Telephone [removed]
    > School of Environmental Sciences Fax [removed]
    > University of East Anglia
    > Norwich Email
    > NR4 7TJ
    > UK

    It is quite nauseating that Dr Jones is presented as a victim in this, reading the above one can only come to one conclusion.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] lost comments deep in some blog post’s thread, here some insightful and quite sad thoughts by TAG at Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit. They should provide ample food for thought even to the most panicking AGW catastrophist: In the […]

  2. […] generational metaphor based on the mass homicide of cult followers at Jonestown (mentioned at CA here) that caused a sensation when Hansen and I were younger. Hansen: Indeed, it [reliance on soft […]

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