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The Dead Hand Journal



This is a series of ten articles written by Lawrence Solomon and published in the National Post in Canada. These articles are well researched, well written, and important to read for anyone who wants to understand the real nature of the Global Warming debate. Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute, a division of Energy Probe Research Foundation.

Statistics needed
The Deniers – Part 1

Lawrence Solomon

In the global warming debate, there are essentially two broad camps. One believes that the science is settled, that global warming is serious and man-made, and that urgent action must be taken to mitigate or prevent a future calamity. The other believes that the science is far from settled, that precious little is known about global warming or its likely effects, and that prudence dictates more research and caution before intervening massively in the economy.

The "science is settled" camp, much the larger of the two, includes many eminent scientists with impressive credentials. But just who are the global warming skeptics who question the studies from the great majority of climate scientists and what are their motives?

Many in the "science is settled" camp claim that the skeptics are untrustworthy – that they are either cranks or otherwise at the periphery of their profession, or that they are in the pockets of Exxon or other corporate interests. The skeptics are increasingly being called Deniers, a term used by analogy to the Holocaust, to convey the catastrophe that could befall mankind if action is not taken. Increasingly, too, the press is taking up the Denier theme, convincing the public that the global-warming debate is over.

In this, the first of a series, I examine The Deniers, starting with Edward Wegman. Dr. Wegman is a professor at the Center for Computational Statistics at George Mason University, chair of the National Academy of Sciences' Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics, and board member of the American Statistical Association. Few statisticians in the world have CVs to rival his (excerpts appear nearby).

Wegman became involved in the global-warming debate after the energy and commerce committee of the U.S. House of Representatives asked him to assess one of the hottest debates in the global-warming controversy: the statistical validity of work by Michael Mann. You may not have heard of Mann or read Mann's study but you have often heard its famous conclusion: that the temperature increases that we have been experiencing are "likely to have been the largest of any century during the past 1,000 years" and that the "1990s was the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year" of the millennium. You may have also heard of Mann's hockey-stick shaped graph, which showed relatively stable temperatures over most of the last millennium (the hockey stick's long handle), followed by a sharp increase (the hockey stick's blade) this century.

Mann's findings were arguably the single most influential study in swaying the public debate, and in 2001 they became the official view of the International Panel for Climate Change, the UN body that is organizing the worldwide effort to combat global warming. But Mann's work also had its critics, particularly two Canadians, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, who published peer-reviewed critiques of their own.

Wegman accepted the energy and commerce committee's assignment, and agreed to assess the Mann controversy pro bono. He conducted his third-party review by assembling an expert panel of statisticians, who also agreed to work pro bono. Wegman also consulted outside statisticians, including the Board of the American Statistical Association. At its conclusion, the Wegman review entirely vindicated the Canadian critics and repudiated Mann's work.

"Our committee believes that the assessments that the decade of the 1990s was the hottest decade in a millennium and that 1998 was the hottest year in a millennium cannot be supported," Wegman stated, adding that "The paucity of data in the more remote past makes the hottest-in-a-millennium claims essentially unverifiable." When Wegman corrected Mann's statistical mistakes, the hockey stick disappeared.

Wegman found that Mann made a basic error that "may be easily overlooked by someone not trained in statistical methodology. We note that there is no evidence that Dr. Mann or any of the other authors in paleoclimate studies have had significant interactions with mainstream statisticians." Instead, this small group of climate scientists were working on their own, largely in isolation, and without the academic scrutiny needed to ferret out false assumptions.

Worse, the problem also applied more generally, to the broader climate-change and meteorological community, which also relied on statistical techniques in their studies. "[I]f statistical methods are being used, then statisticians ought to be funded partners engaged in the research to insure as best we possibly can that the best quality science is being done," Wegman recommended, noting that "there are a host of fundamental statistical questions that beg answers in understanding climate dynamics."

In other words, Wegman believes that much of the climate science that has been done should be taken with a grain of salt – although the studies may have been peer reviewed, the reviewers were often unqualified in statistics. Past studies, he believes, should be reassessed by competent statisticians and in future, the climate science world should do better at incorporating statistical know-how.

One place to start is with the American Meteorological Society, which has a committee on probability and statistics. "I believe it is amazing for a committee whose focus is on statistics and probability that of the nine members only two are also members of the American Statistical Association, the premier statistical association in the United States, and one of those is a recent PhD with an assistant-professor appointment in a medical school." As an example of the statistical barrenness of the climate-change world, Wegman cited the American Meteorological Association's 2006 Conference on Probability and Statistics in the Atmospheric Sciences, where only eight presenters out of 62 were members of the American Statistical Association.

While Wegman's advice – to use trained statisticians in studies reliant on statistics – may seem too obvious to need stating, the "science is settled" camp resists it. Mann's hockey-stick graph may be wrong, many experts now acknowledge, but they assert that he nevertheless came to the right conclusion.

To which Wegman, and doubtless others who want more rigorous science, shake their heads in disbelief. As Wegman summed it up to the energy and commerce committee in later testimony: "I am baffled by the claim that the incorrect method doesn't matter because the answer is correct anyway. Method Wrong + Answer Correct = Bad Science." With bad science, only true believers can assert that they nevertheless obtained the right answer.


Edward Wegman received his Ph.D. degree in mathematical statistics from the University of Iowa. In 1978, he went to the Office of Naval Research, where he headed the Mathematical Sciences Division with responsibility Navy-wide for basic research programs. He coined the phrase computational statistics, and developed a high-profile research area around this concept, which focused on techniques and methodologies that could not be achieved without the capabilities of modern computing resources and led to a revolution in contemporary statistical graphics. Dr. Wegman was the original program director of the basic research program in Ultra High Speed Computing at the Strategic Defense Initiative's Innovative Science and Technology Office. He has served as editor or associate editor of numerous prestigious journals and has published more than 160 papers and eight books.

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Ronald G. Havelock, Ph.D.
# Ronald G. Havelock, Ph.D.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 3:08 AM
Statistical evidence is at the heart of the matter. If the stats aren't there, there is no demonstrable effect. Anecdotes don't count, period. Whatever happened to the null hypothesis? Why don't the statisticians as a whole speak up? There is no excuse for such temerity.
# argee
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 3:25 AM
Perhaps as more and more people like yourself ask the question, we will – at last – hear from them.
# argee
Friday, July 4, 2008 3:59 AM
I reviewed the report and endorsement. Surprisingly, there isn't a single statistical study cited by the board. Rather, they simply proffer an endorsement, and urge that statisticians should be involved in future studies.
Jim Taylor
# Jim Taylor
Friday, July 4, 2008 11:41 AM
Edward Wegman lamented the underrepresentation of qualified statisticians among scientists that have participated in climate studies, as evidenced by the fact that only a small proportion of them have been members of the American Statistical Association (ASA) the "premier statistical association in the United States." It is encouraging to note, therefore, that in the fall of 2007 the Board of Directors of the ASA endorsed the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Jim Taylor
# Jim Taylor
Saturday, July 5, 2008 12:09 PM
The endorsement was preceded by an ASA sponsored workshop on statistics and climate change that was held Oct 26-27. Presumably this, plus whatever preparatory work was done prior to the workshop, provided the basis for the endorsement that was made on Nov 30. As Solomon's piece indicates, Wegman himself consulted with the Board of the ASA while evaluating Mann's hockey stick graph, which suggests that they are not novices in the field of statistics as applied to climate research.
# argee
Wednesday, February 24, 2010 8:20 AM
I'm not going to enter a drawn out discussion about evolution. Simply stated, you are incorrect when you define evolution as not science. The fundamental difference between evolution and creationism is that with evolution, initially the data set is examined, and from that examination, hypotheses are proffered that explain the observed data set. These hypotheses are refined to produce theories that form the basis of evolution. In creationism, initially a point of view is proffered, a doctrinal matrix developed from a fundamental interpretation of the Bible as we know it today. The data set is then examined, from which certain elements are extracted, elements that coincide with the proffered matrix. These data are then presented as the data set upon which creationism is based.

The first approach is science. The second is silliness.
# Sean
Monday, May 31, 2010 6:16 AM
Evolution smefolution, it's hardly anything to do with statistics. It's about disproving a bad theory. The Hockey Stick model is akin to a religious belief only because it requires blind faith to accept it as Gospel and considered a heresy to contradict. In this world "Money talks and bullshit walks" and when it comes to Climate Change forget the science it's bucks in banks that count. Vast sums of luverly dosh have found their way into lives of boring bespectacled not to say dull individuals that would never have imagined that their dull profession could have become so sexy. Bad news is good news. There are plenty of peer reviewed papers by eminent scientists that refute warming and actually point to cooling. "Off with their heads" scream the warmers. We should all go and have some tea with the Mad Hatter, I can hear Charles Dodgson, a mean mathematician, roaring with laughter from his grave. As for the warmers, "shut up" they explain.
Robert Williscroft
Thursday, July 29, 2010 12:44 PM
You are partly correct, in that facts are causing problems, but NOT for the so-called skeptics. It is the warming alarmists who are running afoul of the facts. They are floundering with their pseudo-science and agenda-driven predictions.

As a researcher at the South Pole, I was convinced that human generated CO2 was driving global warming. But then, new data clearly showed that CO2 increases followed global temperature increases. These data completely changed the model - CO2 could NOT be driving global temperature. So I followed the data, and discovered that solar cycles apparently are the driving force behind global temperature changes. This is now widely accepted by scientists from climatologists to astrophysicists.

Furthermore, it appears that very concept of an atmospheric greenhouse may be wrong. See the paper at this URL for the details:
# kenzhue
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 5:55 AM
I'm merely being inquisitive as I want to learn more about this subject. There are many threads and essays on climate sensitivity, but consider this one as a starting point.

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