cc: Jerry Meehl <meehlatXYZxyzr.edu>, Caspar Ammann <ammannatXYZxyzr.edu>, mannatXYZxyzginia.edu
date: Fri, 16 May 2003 17:04:35 -0400
from: "Michael E. Mann" <mannatXYZxyzginia.edu>
subject: Re: Soon et al. paper
to: Tom Wigley <wigleyatXYZxyzr.edu>, Phil Jones <p.jonesatXYZxyz.ac.uk>, Keith Briffa <k.briffaatXYZxyz.ac.uk>, rbradleyatXYZxyz.umass.edu
Thanks for your response, which I will maintain as confidential within the small group of
the original recipients (other than Ray whom I've included in as well), given the
sensitivity of some of the comments made.
Whether or not their comments are ad hominem or potentially libelous is probably immaterial
here (some people who have read them think they might be--in certain places, alterior
motives are implied on the part of individually named scientists in the discussion of
However, the real issue, as you point out, is whether or not their arguments and criticisms
are valid. I would argue that very few of them are--I have prepared (and have attached) a
draft of replies to some of the specifics in their two papers--this is rough, and I'm
working on preparing a refined version of this for use by those who are trying to combat
the disinformation that the Baliunas and co. supporters are working at spreading within the
beltway, with the full support of industry, and perhaps the administration. By necessity
this is brief and focus on the most salient points--a point-by-point rebuttal would take a
very long time.
In the meantime, Phil and I, and Ray/Malcolm/Henry D are independently working on review
pieces (ours for R.O.G., Ray et al's for Science) that will also correct in more detail
some of the most egregious untruths put forward by the Baliunas/Soon pieces (what one
colleague of mine aptly chooses to abbreviate as "BS").
The most fundamental criticism, of course, is that the hypothesis, methods, and assumptions
are absolutely nonsensical by construction--as you already pointed out. One could
demonstrate that with an example, but then again, why do so when it is self evident that
defining an anomaly of either wetter or dryer (what does that leave out?) relative to the
20th century (a comparison which is itself also ill-defined by the authors, since they
don't use a uniform 20th century reference period for defining their qualitative anomalies,
and discuss proxy records with variable resolution and temporal sampling of the 20th
century) was "warmer than the 20th century" is nonsense at the most fundamental level. It
defies the most elementary logic, and thus is difficult to reply to other than noting that
it is nonsense by its very nature.
Would we be compelled to provide a counterexample to disprove the authors if they had
asserted that "1=2"? What they have done isn't that much different...
So its one thing to throw out a bunch of criticisms, very few of which are valid. But to
then turn around and present a fundamentally ill-posed, supposed "analysis" which doesn't
even attempt to provide a quantitative "alternative" to past studies, to claim to have
disproven those past studies, and to supposedly support the non-sequitor conclusion that
the "MWP was warmer than the 20th century" is irresponsible, deceptive, dishonest, and a
violation of the very essence of the scientific approach in my view.
One or two people can't fight that alone, certainly not with the "artillary" (funding and
political organization) that has been lined up on the other side. In my view, it is the
responsibility of our entire community to fight this intentional disinformation campaign,
which represents an affront to everything we do and believe in. I'm doing everything I can
to do so, but I can't do it alone--and if I'm left to, we'll lose this battle,
At 02:18 PM 5/16/2003 -0600, Tom Wigley wrote:
I have just read the Soon et al. paper in E&E. Here are some comments, and a request.
Mike said in an email that he thought the paper contained possibly
'legally actionable' ad hominem attacks on him and others. I do not
agree that there are ad hominem attacks. There are numerous criticisms, usually
justified (although not all the justifications are valid). I did not notice any
While many of the criticisms are invalid, and some are irrelevant, there are a number
that seem to me to be quite valid. Probably, most of these can be rebutted, and perhaps
some of these are already covered in the literature. In my view, however, there a small
number of points that are valid criticisms.
[Off the record, the most telling criticisms apply to Tom Crowley's work -- which I do
not hold in very high regard.]
The real issue that the press (to a limited extent) and the politicians (to a greater
extent) have taken up is the conclusions of the paper's original research.
First, Soon et al. come down clearly in favor of the existence of a MWE and a LIA. I
think many of us would agree that there was a global-scale cool period that can be
identified with a LIA. The MWE is more equivocal. There are real problems in identifying
both of these 'events' with certainty due to (1) data coverage, (2) uncertainty in
transfer functions, and (3) the noise of internally generated variability on the
century time scale. [My paper on the latter point is continually ignored by the paleo
community, but it is still valid.]
So, we would probably say: there was a LIA; but the case for *or against* a MWE is not
proven. There is no strong diagreement with Soon et al. here.
The main disagreements are with the methods used by Soon et al. to draw their LIA/MWE
conclusion, and their conclusion re the anomalousness/uniqueness of the 20th century (a
conclusion that is based on the same methods).
So what is their method? I need to read the paper again carefully to check on this, but
it seems that they say the MWE [LIA] was warm [cold] if at a particular site there is a
50+ year period that was warm, wet, dry [cold, dry, wet] somewhere in the interval
800-1300 [1300-1900], where warm/cold, wet, dry are defined relative to the 20th
The problems with this are .....
(1) Natural internally generated variability alone virtually guarantees that these
criteria will be met at every site.
(2) As Nev Nicholls pointed out, almost any period would be identified as a MWE or LIA
by these criteria -- and, as a corollary, their MWE period could equally well have been
identified as a LIA (or vice versa)
(3) If the identified warm blips in their MWE were are different times for different
locations (as they are) then there would be no global-mean signal.
(4) The reason for including precip 'data' at all (let alone both wet and dry periods in
both the MWE and LIA) is never stated -- and cannot be justified. [I suspect that if
they found a wet period in the MWE, for example, they would search for a dry period in
the LIA -- allowing both in both the MWE and LIA seems too stupid to be true.]
(5) For the uniqueness of the 20th century, item (1) also applies.
So, their methods are silly. They seem also to have ignored the fact that what we are
searching is a signal in global-mean temperature.
The issue now is what to do about this. I do not think it is enough to bury criticisms
of this work in other papers. The people who have noticed the Soon et al paper, or have
had it pointed out to them, will never see or become aware of such rebuttals/responses.
Furthermore, I do not think that a direct response will give the work credibility. It is
already 'credible' since it is in the peer reviewed literature (and E&E, by the way, is
peer reviewed). A response that says this paper is a load of crap for the following
reasons is *not* going to give the original work credibility -- just the opposite.
How then does one comprehensively and concisely demolish this work? There are two issues
here. The first is the point by point response to their criticisms of the literature. To
do this would be tedious, but straightforward. There will be at least some residual
criticisms that must be accepted as valid, and this must be admitted. Cross-referencing
to other review papers would be legitimate here.
The second is to demolish the method. I have done this qualitatively (following Nev
mainly) above, but this is not enough. What is needed is a counter example that uses the
method of reductio ad absurdem. This would be clear and would be appropriate since it
avoids us having to point out in words that their methods are absurd. I have some ideas
how to do this, but I will let you think about it more before going further.
You will see from this email that I am urging you to produce a response. I am happy to
join you in this, and perhaps a few others could add their weight too. I am copying this
to Jerry since he has to give some congressional testimony next week and questions about
the Soon et al work are definitely going to be raised. I am also copying this to Caspar,
since the last millenium runs that he is doing with paleo-CSM are relevant.
Professor Michael E. Mann
Department of Environmental Sciences, Clark Hall
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22903
e-mail: mannatXYZxyzginia.edu Phone: (434) 924-7770 FAX: (434) 982-2137
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