13 February 2010

The Hockey Stick Illusion

I've just finished The Hockey Stick Illusion. I bought it partly out of duty - I was doing my bit by buying Bishop Hill's book and adding to its circulation figures. I didn't expect it to be so good.

One of the things that puts me off public debate generally is that, whatever the forum, it is always too shallow to reach any kind of conclusion. "I think X". "Well, I think Y.", "But X is true because of A". "Ah but you're ignoring B". "Well, C means... oh dear, is that the time, I must be going".

The Hockey Stick Illusion is not about climate. It is not about environmentalism. It is not about science. It is not about global warming. It is 482 pages about one paper published in 1998, criticisms of it, defences of it, attempted replications of and alternatives to it. As such, almost uniquely, it goes into sufficient detail and depth that having read it I feel that I've actually learned something. It's exceptionally well-written, modest in its approach, and overwhelming in its conclusion. Halfway through, I got a little bogged down in the sheer overkill of the weight of damage the hockey stick suffers - did I really need to read any more? But then I read the Phil Jones interview. There is much debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period was global in extent or not. That is an answer to the only question that Montfort's book asks, and it is the right answer, and it is from one of those people who was most determinedly defending the wrong answer until last year. This is what a won argument looks like - gaze on it in wonder, for it is a rare thing indeed in the world of soundbites and opinion polls.

As to the wider debate, well, this was one small point. The hockey stick can be wrong, and every other claim of the warmists right. But it is immensely valuable, because of the context I have been describing recently. It proves we can be right, even when the warmists are at their most shrill insisting that we are utterly, insanely wrong. It is evidence that, even if we are wrong, we are playing the game, and are entitled to be taken seriously and not shouted down or excluded.

I strongly recommend this book.


neil craig said...

It also proves the alarmism & shrillness of the warmists doesn't doesn't make them right, doesn't even mean there is likely to be something in all their shouting & does mean they are willing to maintain claims which are untrue & can be more easily ascribed to fraud than incompetence.

That doesn't, of itself, prove anything else they say wrong but, unless there is some at least matching example of proven accuracy from them, or from the entire "environmentalist" movement but the Principle of Mediocrity does mean this ought to be the default assumption.

Tony Sidaway said...

You state that Phil Jones was "most determinedly defending the wrong answer until last year." You state that the right answer is that there is much debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period was global.

Could you explain why you claim that Jones was opposing this view until 2008? I ask this because your claim doesn't seem to square at all with anything I've seen reliably attributed to Phil Jones, nor does it match what the IPCC's Fourth Assessment report or any preceding report has said about the Medieval Warm Period.

Every single one of them emphasizes the difficulty of measuring global average temperature in the context of modern paleoclimatology at the 1ka range.