How Low can you Go?

Stephan Lewandowsky has posted a rather scathing critique of the paper by McLean, de Freitas, and Carter, a summary of the comment which decapitates it, and now McLean has replied. It seems he finally found a venue where his reply wouldn’t be rejected for the nonsense it is.

Or has he?

Since McLean’s defense is on a blog, readers can comment on it. It seems that comments have led McLean from the ridiculous to the … more ridiculous.

McLean’s “defense” is that the filter applied in the paper was only used to establish the lag between the southern oscillation index (SOI) and its impact on global tropospheric temperature anomaly (GTTA). As James Annan points out, that just ain’t so. Not even close.

Commenters poked fingers through the gaping hole in McLean’s claim:

Lotharsson :

01 Apr 2010 1:31:33pm

In your paper’s case the statement (roughly paraphrasing) that SOI may explain most of the long term temperature *trend* was used as part of the PR hype, but appears entirely unjustified by your paper. I suspect that if you had removed this blatantly unjustified assertion and (thereby) avoided a fallacious PR campaign based on it, the paper would have probably had a much less vigorous rebuttal.

The real treasure in the comments is that McLean responded with this precious jewel (emphasis mine):

John McLean :

01 Apr 2010 3:34:14pm

If the SOI accounts for short-term variation then logically it also accounts for long-term variation. Don’t forget that this is the entire SOI here; there’s a tendency by the IPCC and others to focus only on El Nino conditions and ignore La Nina.

Wow. Just … wow.

This is the level to which denialists have sunk. Of course it wasn’t given a “pass” by commenters:

Justin Wood :

01 Apr 2010 4:41:16pm

“If the SOI accounts for short-term variation then logically it also accounts for long-term variation.”

Wow. Really? What ‘logic’ would lead you to conclude that then?

The rotation of the Earth accounts for the short-term variation of the diurnal cycle; ie, day and night. So by your ‘logic’ it must also account for the long-term variation of the seasons. (Hint: no, it doesn’t — revolution about the sun does; a different process.)

Reply Alert moderator

John McLean :

01 Apr 2010 8:36:37pm

I was talking of the long-term variation only back as far as 1937. If I recall correctly, the data from Tahiti is suspect prior to that date.

How exactly does your comment relate to Professor Lewandowsky’s article?

Reply Alert moderator

Justin Wood :

01 Apr 2010 10:50:11pm

My comments relate to your comments John.

You are constantly ducking the criticisms of the blatantly obvious claim in your paper that you have shown that ENSO accounts for the bulk of the global temperature anomaly. Once again, with feeling:

“Change in SOI accounts for 72% of the variance
in GTTA for the 29-year-long MSU record and 68% of the variance in GTTA for the
longer 50-year RATPAC record.”

Followed by this in your post above:
“If carbon dioxide caused significant warming the temperature graph line would be expected to rise away from the SOI graph line but graph shows no such thing, ergo we state that there is no detectable sign of any global warming driven by carbon dioxide.”

Why are you now so timid in maintaining this claim now, I wonder?

If you were to publicly and unequivocally state that change in SOI (ie, ENSO) only accounts for the variability in GTTA ONCE ANY UNDERLYING TREND IS REMOVED then there would really be little left to discuss. That is, that you were in error when you stated that your paper demonstrated ‘no detectable sign of any global warming driven by carbon dioxide’ precisely because you had removed any trend.

That’s the problem you see, John.

Reply Alert moderator

Eli Rabett :

02 Apr 2010 12:29:54am

Hmm, we have only been tracking sun rise and sun set in Tahiti since 1937. And we can’t trust that because the locals were out drinking lots of the time? Who knew?

The fact remains that there are all sorts of short term variations, such as the seasons of the year, which don’t tell you anything about long term trends, such as the change of temperatures, both locally and globally, over the years

Reply Alert moderator

But wait … there’s more …

quokka :

01 Apr 2010 6:18:01pm

That’s a real cracker!

While we’re at it why don’t we extend the ‘logic’ to the ice ages and the inter glacials. Why not? ESNO – the swiss army knife of climate science – no problem that it can’t address.

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Lotharsson :

01 Apr 2010 10:13:46pm

“f the SOI accounts for short-term variation then logically it also accounts for long-term variation.”

And with that incredibly ill-thought out statement you entirely discard any shred of credibility you might ever have had in this field.

I bet if you think for a moment you can think of any NUMBER of systems where the factor that accounts for short term variation has NO impact on the long term variation. Or at least, you SHOULD be able to.

Reply Alert moderator

Bernard J. :

03 Apr 2010 1:41:07am

“If the SOI accounts for short-term variation then logically it also accounts for long-term variation.”

Did I just hear the Laws of Thermodymanics plummet to the ground and shatter?!

This is surely the stuff of a Nobel in Physics. Move aside heat redistribution, we now have a free-energy heat engine…

Reply Alert moderator

Yes, this is how low denialists have sunk.

51 responses to “How Low can you Go?

  1. Hilarious. Just hilarious. Welcome back T-man.

  2. Wow, just wow.

    I wonder what de Freitas thinks about this public show of ignorance? Then again, McClean’s ignorance, being the lead author, is probably also pretty representative of that of his co-authors.

    McLean really is going down flaming, and I, for one, am delighted about that, especially b/c it is his own doing.

    Hope that the move is going/went well Tamino.

  3. I’m almost embarrassed to be attending the same institution as these clowns. JCU seems to be a hotbed for denialism (Bob Carter, Peter Ridd, et al).

  4. David B. Benson

    If by variation is meant residuals from the trend set by known forcings, then the AMO
    thought to be related to MOC rate, is an index of multidecadal variation. Its not prefect, but does quite well in explaining the last bits of the variation over the GISTEMP record:

  5. If McLean is a prominent shining example of denialists doing science, then why are they having such prominence and effect? Quoting Eric “Otter” Stratton, “Man, are you stupid!”…

  6. Rather chuffed to be selected for quotation up there, Tamino. Thanks!

    McLean seems to have slunk off in silence — numerous people challenged him on this exact point and he’s not properly responded once.

    I half think he genuinely believes what he said…

  7. why are they having such prominence and effect?

    There are fruitcakes and wingnuts in just about any field you care to name.

    The single primary reason why climate deniers get such credence boils down to two words, IMHO… “Rupert” and “Murdoch”.

    Sure, there are plenty of other things going on, but if the world’s largest news organisation wasn’t so emphatically anti-science on this issue, the situation would be very different.

  8. I am not the least surprised by the revelations about John D McLean here.

    Someone with the moniker “JDM, Melbourne”, and then “John M, Melbourne” was a frequent poster on climate change issues in The Scotsman newspaper blogs until 2008. He once mentioned that he was writing a paper about the southern oscillation index that would disprove that CO2 was responsible for global warming, though unfortunately I am unable to find the reference.

    I believe JDM/John M is the John D McLean who is the subject of Tamino’s article, so here are a few of his contributions to The Scotsman blogs:

    “John M, Melbourne, Australia
    16/02/2008 06:48:55 “Sea surface temperatures in the Antarctic are nothing to get hot and bothered about. … what little there is might be due to volcanic activity.”

    22/02/2008 21:31:08 “temperatures have fallen but that’s after a plateau of about 5 years where temperatures were slightly elevated. And before that (we’re back to 1999 and 2000) temperatures were on the cool side after a peak in 1998. By any logical assessment, the pattern of temperature variation during an almost constant increase in carbon dioxide concentration must cast doubt on the hypothesis that carbon dioxide is a significant driver of temperature.”

    2:47am 19 Nov 2007 “Remarkable! Not one new fact has been added to the IPCC’s reports and yet the alarmism from February (when the WG I SPM was released) has been ramped up for each new report. Still no evidence that carbon dioxide has caused it all. What’s more this year looks like being cooler than last year, which was cooler than the year before. Where does the IPCC get its amazing spin doctors?”

    4:12am 16 Aug 2007 “There is not a shred of evidence that 1 degree warming will do much at all the Greenland’s ice cap (yes, it’s cap, not sheet). Even if the world was to somehow warm by 5 degrees the melting of the ice cap would take thousands of years because it’s 4000 metres thick! (Which is almost as thick as some alarmists) At the end of the last Ice Age the average rate of sea level rise as a far larger area of ice melted than Greenland was just 1 metre/century although at times it did manage 3metres/century for a short time. Forget the IPCC which had no recognised sea level experts write that chapter. INQUA is the world’s best authority on this and they are estimating the sea level rise over the next 100 years to be 5cm plus or minus 15cm. Lenton must have been desperate for publicity and he took the obvious course of action which is to approach the laughable “New Scientist”. I am getting worried about “scientists” whose name is Tim. First Australia’s alarmist Tim Flannery and now the UK’s Tim Lenton. In some European countries the T is pronounced like a D.”
    6:25am 25 Jul 2007 “The climate is changing. The climate has always changed. There’s no evidence that it’s caused by humans (because opinions and compiter models aren’t evidence) but there’s plenty of natural forces which can explain it. We don’t even know whether the temperature figures are accurate, let alone anything else. In that part o fthe Antarctic they might be accurate but if heat is transported there by ocean currents or by shifts in wind patterns – I say if because we’re not told – can we really blame either of those on human activities?”

    5:08am 9 Jul 2007 “All this mkght apply but only if one believes the unproven claim that carbon dioxide has caused recent warming (if indeed there is warming and it’s not simply temperature measurements corrupted by the urban heat island). What’s problem? The theoretical warming caused by carbon dioxide diminishes as the concentration increases, so the next 100ppm will cause less than the last 100ppm. Further we don’t if the other climate forces will act to reinforce this warming or defeat it, although the greatest force continues to be the sun and it’s not going to do either. The number of people (or scientists) that believe the hypothesis of man-made warming is totally irrelevant. You’re dealing with a pseudoscience here, one that has never been proven.”

    JDM, Melbourne, Australia / 3:38am 2 May 2007 “I’m still waiting for proof that the so-called greenhouse gases are causing warming. The claim is based on dodgy computer models, a dodgy correlation between CO2 increase and temperature (which doesn’t proove which drives the other), and some research around 1900 that claimed that CO2 causes an immediate increase in temperature (but we are being told there’s a 20 year delay). Against that we have evidence that a doubling of CO2 from 300ppm to 600ppm will directly cause about 0.25 deg C warming and evidence that CO2 picks up heat from other molecules and radiates that into space. You’d have to say that the evidence that CO2 causes warming doesn’t look very convincing.”

    Etc. etc.

  9. OT, but my ‘life, work and times’ article on Guy Callendar is now up. Those interested in the history of AGW should take this in; Callendar has been seriously under-appreciated.

    Happy Easter, all!

  10. How Low can you Go?

    As low as ENSO goes…

    And this is why their eyes are closed… it’s just as well for oil they’ve seen … ENSO it goes… ENSO it goes… ….and McClean’s the only one who knows…. (with apologies to Billy Joel, “ENSO it goes”)

    • I had an echo of the song as I was reading that for the first time :-)

      “In many minds there is a room…a goldfish bowl* to swim around…to chant the memes that _must_ be true…until new ones are passed on down.”

      * I’ve been using “goldfish troll” to describe those who say something, get disabused of the notion, appear to understand the reasoning – and then “swim around the bowl” to return a little later repeating the same core mistake, sometimes even the very same statement, as if they had totally forgotten what they had appeared to have learned.

      It does a disservice to goldfish though – despite popular notions that they have a “3 second” memory the MythBusters trained some in ways that appear to require a long term memory.

      • Lotharsson

        Horatio wrote about the same phenomenon in “The Circle Game”

        But “Goldfish Troll” is hilarious and quite apt.

        Actually brings to mind “whirling disease”, which afflicts trout in the western US (Horatio used to live in Utah)

        It makes the fish swim in (infinite) circles — in open water (no bowl necessary).

        What a drag to be “confined” to seeing (and doing) the same thing over and over for one’s entire existence.

  11. I have just posted a review of Grant Foster’s new book. For those of you that have not purchased the book, do it today because it is truly a gem!

    Please read: Do you feel lucky, punk?

    On a separate note, check out one of the benefits to children of global warming here.

    • Is there a proposed mechanism?

      Sheep and/or pirates could be involved, couldn’t they? I’d plump for sheep (no pun intended, as the sheep are plumped for us, rather than vice versa) due to the temporal correlations with Easter.

      I think a new “spaghetti graph”–or possibly even “flying spaghetti graph”–is likely warranted. (Though I might just be off on a “drunkard’s walk” here.)

  12. Ray Ladbury

    OK, the question still remains, how do these execrable brain farts (McClean et al., G&T, anything written by Kramm…) get published?

    I’ve seen this in my own field. Someone will write a paper dealing with a mechanism that is a bit outside the mainstream, make some handwaving arguments, and reviewers, rather than trying to learn about the subject will simply pass it on. In some cases, they get downright excited about it. Then you make them look at the basic physics involved and it becomes clear that the paper was bunk.

    Meanwhile the paper hangs around to trip up the unwary for a decade or more. Again, it emphasizes the importance of consensus–it’s much harder to fool all of the people all of the time.

  13. I can see bad papers simply getting published. Journals could conceivably keep them out by using a greater number of higher quality reviewers, but that would also increase the time it takes for a paper to be accepted. What I find troubling is that papers are not retracted after being shown to be complete and utter crap. There may be comments, but those are usually separated from the original paper.

  14. This latest bit of denier hilarity makes me wish they’d try doing science more often. It’s fun when they get caught out naked like this.

    Meanwhile, there’s more entertainment over at the Air Vent blog, where Jeff ID does his best Anthony Watts impersonation with this gem:

  15. Oh, bother; I kluged the url. Here’s the proper one:

  16. Wyman says

    What I find troubling is that papers are not retracted after being shown to be complete and utter crap.

    Horatio’s solution

    • I like it, so I pointed others to it. This should become a new global scientific publishing standard, IMHO ;-)

      • Lotharsson

        Horatio had a classical mechanics prof in college who had a “HOGWASH” stamp just like that (red, even) that he used on … well, hogwash. But his had an exclamation point (or was it two?), that Horatio neglected.

        The stamp was actually quite effective — and dreaded even more than an F.

        At least an F meant you knew — and accepted — that you knew nothing and were not trying to pretend otherwise.

        27 years later, Horatio is still quite proud of the fact that he was never once the recipient, over an entire year ( which can not be said by some of the “star” students in the class who often got better test grades)

        In all seriousness, most people do not want a reputation as a BS’er and it’s the last thing any legitimate scientist wants.

        Of course, that presumes that one actually cares about one’s reputation.

    • It actually reminds me of my high school geography teacher, who gave the toughest essay tests I ever took. If a student started prevaricating, he would take out a stamp that said BULLSHIT!!! and stamp the essay in big red ink. That was worth a zero. He also gave out the coveted Red-Pen Award to the student on whose essay his dreaded red pen gave out. Damn good teacher!

    • Ray Ladbury

      I am reminded of Harry Frankfurt’s essay “On Bullshit,” in which he drew a distinction between lying and bullshitting, concluding that the latter was actually more damaging.

      There are a helluva lot of bullshitters out there now.

  17. I started a thread entitled, “Global-warming denier f@&#ups — a recent example” over on my hometown newspaper ‘s on-line discussion board (linky: So far, most of the responses can be described as “weapons-grade stupid”.

    One thing that really puzzles me: How is it that so many tree-stumps, bags of hammers, and sacks of doorknobs have managed to figure out how to access the Internet?

  18. Ray Ladbury asked: “OK, the question still remains, how do these execrable brain farts (McClean et al., G&T, anything written by Kramm…) get published?”

    From reading the original paper it seems that they portrayed their article as a study merely to determine the time lag between SOI and its effect global temperatures. They never once mentioned carbon dioxide; the implication that CO2 has minimal influence being left as a dogwhistle in the paper itself and then proclaimed (apparently by all three authors) by megaphone after publication. This was, at best, stealthy and, at worst, deliberately deceitful.

    Their (rightly) rejected reply to Foster et al can be read here and is illuminating: They complain that their paper was misunderstood concerning the claims of SOI accounting for the bulk of global temperature anomalies. Chutzpah! They don’t address the problem of the step change between the radiosonde and MSU datasets at all. They talk about how their results demonstrating a SOI-GTTA time lag are essentially identical to those in previously published articles, which rather undermines any claim to novelty in their work. Most of the rest of the response is irrelevant filler, as far as I can tell. No wonder their reply got rejected, but it’s still a mystery why their original got accepted in the first place.

    • I think one point to consider that while the paper was bad enough, it was the press release and subsequent denial machine amplification that turned McLean, et al. from a forgettable paper to an atrocious piece of work.

      To answer Ray’s question, all it takes is a sympathetic editor and clueless reviewers. I think the official stance of the journal is more accurately borne out by their treatment of Foster, et al. and the McLean reply (loath as I am to read other people’s private correspondence, I love the reviewers’ replies to Foster, et al.).

    • Andy S, if you haven’t done so yet, you should also read McLean’s thread at The Drum. He complains to all and sundry that the refusal to publish the reply to Foster et al is a conspiracy and an egregious violation of publishing ethics, don’t you know!

      (There’s a hundred varieties of Teh Stupid by eager McLean supporters in the comments , but the conspiracy is in the main article if you don’t have the time or patience for the rest…)

  19. The constant harping about how they are mistreated makes the “skeptics” sound more and more like these folks every day:

    I guess it is one of the hallmarks of bad science to feel that the legitimate scientific community is mistreating you when they don’t see your garbage as pearls of wisdom.

  20. Doug Mackie

    Relevant info, but certainly posted elsewhere. Deltiod and skepticalscience – and wasn’t that a lovely post by me there too 8-), but if they can do it why not me?

    Here are links to submissions made by McLean to a New Zealand Parliament Select Committee that was considering an Emissions Trading Scheme.

    Three Select Committees have had a go.

    For the first round in 2008 McLean co-submitted with someone who in a previous life called for a boycott of Mobil because of climate change issues and is now a denialist.

    For the second round in early 2009 McLean went solo:

    And nothing for the 3rd round in late 2009.

  21. You might enjoy this

    a concise summary in nine images.

    • Ray Ladbury

      Ah, yes:

      There’s a little black spot on my lung today…

      The pity is that smoking is so inefficient a murder weapon, leaving smokers to die an agonizing death and tax payers to pay for it.

      I’ve made a modest proposal that one in 1000000 cigarettes come loaded with an explosive charge that blows the unfortunate’s head off. I’ve also proposed replacing airbags in cars with a 6-inch spike right on the center of the steering column. Bet that would cut down on texting while driving!

      Strangely, no one seems to want to take me up on these innovative solutions to common societal problems.

  22. Glenn Tamblyn

    Expect more….

    John McLean is doing a PhD on climate change, supposedly. At James Cook University in Townsville, supposedly. Where a certain Bob Carter is a Professor.

    I wonder who is Doctoral Supervisor is?

    • Nobody can find any evidence of Mclean doing a PhD anywhere at all.
      Can we crowdsource this? Enough readers of this and other blogs are aware of Mcleans claims about a PhD, therefore many pairs of eyes are open to any suggestion of where and supervised by whom. Or maybe someone will find him in an ungiarded moment and ask about it.

  23. (Going off on a tangent.) It’s not clear that Ray Ladbury’s assertion that taxpayers pay for the deaths of smokers is correct, at least if one considers the net cost. In the US, smokers tend to die from their habit towards the early part of retirement years, so the short-term cost is somewhat offset, and quite possibly more than offset, by the savings to Social Security and Medicare. Good data on the question are hard to come by.

    As for blaming the whole mess (no, not the smoking mess) on Rupert Murdoch, I don’t think we should underestimate Kerry Packer. But, seriously, if Rupert Murdoch didn’t exist, the vast right-wing conspiracy would have to invent him.

  24. Ray, I’m very sorry to hear about your test results. What are the options? If they caught it before it metastasized you may well be all right after treatment. Lots of people survive cancer these days.

  25. Tamino, I’d be interested in your take on Roy Spencer’s attempt at taking on UHI e.g. and other related articles. I wonder if it’s a distractor from the rather awkward problem that his satellite data is starting to indicate a strong uptick in temperatures with no obvious cause other than AGW? More at

    • Philip, Zeke Hausfather is also working on UHI effects. He posted this on RC under the sea level study post. He has posted some early results at the Blackboard. Interesting stuff happening right now.

  26. Barton,
    Well, whether it’s good news or bad news, my line was an oblique reference to Alphonso’s cartoons (and to an old Police song). To my knowledge I am not about to die of anything serious. Sorry for any confusion and for any disappoint my news may cause in the denialosphere

  27. Just in case anyone’s wondering – in the McLean et al paper, the reference to the UAH satellite data in paragraph 5 is wrong. They actually do use the lower troposphere data as stated in the text, but the web link is to the T2 series rather than the T2LT series.
    That’s for anyone wanting to replicate the analysis.
    And we know how important that is.

    PS Ray Ladbury, congratulations on your miracle recovery.

    • Ray Ladbury

      Yes, thank you. I owe it all to clean living and a healthy cynicism. The whole trick is to be such an SOB that death is afraid to come and take you!

  28. You can’t hide your denyin’ lies
    And your smiley is a thin disguise
    I thought by now you’d realize
    There ain’t no way to hide your denyin’ lies

    From Denyin’ Lies

  29. Philippe Chantreau

    “To my knowledge I am not about to die of anything serious.”

    No worries Ray; it’s much better to die of something funny…

  30. Ray,

    Sorry about that. I misinterpreted.

    • Ray Ladbury

      I am actually touched by the concern–it is truly appreciated. Never apologize for empathy.

  31. JCU does not host only climate change denialists. Their geology dept. hosts a working group around Prof Tim Bell [name similar to the Canadian climate change denier], who, since around 1983, has denied the basic principals of continuum mechanics based around his argument that rigid porphyroblasts in rocks do not rotate with resepct to geographic coordinates. They are called “moonies” in Australia.

    • There is no doubt that certain personalities at JCU add realism to the phrase “going troppo”! ;)

  32. monckhausen

    One of McLeans co-authors is Chris de Freitas. Chris is also a scientific advisor to the “Friends of Science (FoS)” [], a notorious Calgary climate change denial organisation. The FoS claim that the earth is cooling and that the only driver of climate is the sun. They do not distinguish between mechanisms of long term and short term variation because they do not distinguish between long term and short term variation. Check them out and send them a few requests to clarify this contradiction.

  33. I did not evert know that prof. of climate change Barry Brook is a biologist :-)

    I wrote him an email about this non-sense….