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Behind the scenes at Skeptical Science

Apparently someone has obtained a behind-the-scenes look at Skeptical Science. There was apparently a security hole in their internal forum.

Details here.

(H/T Shub)

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Reader Comments (326)


Prosecuting climate scientists for unknowingly spreading falsehoods would be wrong. They ought to be dismissed for incompetence, not prosecuted for malice.

I disagree. Mann has known all along that his work has no scientific merit - the goal was to provide a plausible denial of the MWP and to enable a claim of 'unprecedented' temperatures by whatever means it took (statistical techniques unknown to science, hidden declines, 'censored' datasets, smoothed merges of unrelated data, etc. etc.). Steve McIntyre and our host have published clear and indisputable evidence of this.

Certainly not incompetent - he knew exactly what he wanted to show us - thankfully the data couldn't support it, hence the forensic destruction of his life's work.

Mar 27, 2012 at 5:07 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

@Simon Hopkinson 12:14

Superb post, wish I'd written it myself!

Mar 27, 2012 at 5:12 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor


Let's examine your last statements WRT Mann:

"statistical techniques unknown to science" - False. Primary Component Analysis has been around a long time, only the application in paleo temperatures was even remotely new.

"hidden declines" - A decline... in certainty. Reading the context, it's clear that due to known and published issues with recent dendrochronology, the more reliable instrumental record was used over that period instead. Quoted out of context.

"'censored' datasets" - A name taken from Mann's data directories, referring to a very standard technique of 'hold-out' verification on partial data to test sensitivities to data inclusions. You cycle through your data-set, holding out varying portions, and see how much your results change as a result. Part of testing your data, not any editing of the results.

"smoothed merges of unrelated data" - The whole idea behind multiple data sets is to reduce the uncertainties, by looking for reinforcement between various sources. What a silly statement.

"thankfully the data couldn't support it, hence the forensic destruction of his life's work" - Really? When about a dozen reconstructions since then have all agreed with the major features?


Given the number of errors in your post, it appears clear to me that you are taking blog posts and various mistatements that support your preconceptions as your 'truth', rather than facts - let alone the data.

Mar 27, 2012 at 7:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterKR


Readers here are, I think somewhat more familiar with these issues than you. I'm sure most of us know that the technique at issue is called principal components analysis and not "primary" components analysis. We also know that what Mann did was not principal components analysis because his data was not centred.

We also know that even the Muir Russell report said that Jones had been misleading in hiding the decline and that it was done to hide the unreliability of the paleo reconstructions. It's the MWP that's at issue not the modern period.

The alleged supporting reconstructions mostly rely on bristlecones too.

You clearly are not up to speed on these issues. Could you perhaps do some reading before commenting again?

Your smoothed merges point seems to be mumbo jumbo to me. If you say you cite Briffa's data as your source you should show Briffa's data, not Briffa's data spliced with instrumental and smoothed. As Russell noted, to do otherwise is misleading.

On the censoring issue, you are right about the terminology but miss the point that Mann's backto1400-censored directory would have given him the MWP back in his reconstruction, but he reported something different in his paper.

Mar 27, 2012 at 8:02 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Many thanks Bish, you saved me a few lines there - I'll also mention the use of the entirely manufactured RE test to 'verify' a model that utterly fails tests that real scientists use - i.e. R-squared - anybody who claims ANY validity for a model that accounts for well under one percent of variation is simply beyond redemption. I can't express my contempt strongly enough (here, anyway) for the charlatan himself or for those gullible enough to give him succour. If you don't understand what I'm saying, training is available in any university applied statistics department.

Mar 27, 2012 at 8:58 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Bishop Hill - Yes, the more common term is "Principle" component analysis; but Primary Component Analysis is an alternative term for PCA. I'll use "Principle" herein to avoid confusion.

The uncertainties in the recent dendrochronology records were well published by Briffa prior to Mann's initial paper - and using the more certain instrumental data as a more accurate record for recent times is only reasonable.

The centering convention used in Mann 1998 can certainly be argued from a statistical point of view - but it's noteworthy that using different centerings does not appreciably change the results.

The real advance of Mann 1998 was in calculating an estimate on his uncertainties. I would consider that paper a _first pass_ at paleoreconstruction, with his and others later work extending and refining it.

"...thankfully the data couldn't support it, hence the forensic destruction of his life's work" - The core issue here is that regardless of criticisms (reasonable or otherwise) of the early Mann paper, multiple reconstructions have shown essentially the same results: A clear MWP and LIA, but with recent temperatures exceeding peak MWP anomalies.

If interested, here are 92 different reconstructions assembled by NOAA. Many many investigators, multiple statistical approaches - and the same conclusions, that recent warming is unprecedented in the last several millennium. That seems to be what the data shows, and a confirmation of Mann's early work.

Mar 27, 2012 at 9:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterKR


Can't you even read your cribsheet? It's PRINCIPAL components, and any honest operator of the technique knows it's flaky beyond the second vector. Relying on the fourth is frankly urinating into a very strong breeze.

Mar 27, 2012 at 9:48 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

"Principal", not "principle". Don't worry, you'll get there in the end.

"The centering convention used in Mann 1998 can certainly be argued from a statistical point of view". No it can't. See Jolliffe's comments - he says it's meaningless unless you centre the data. The underlying mathematics of PCA requires centring.

There was an interesting exchange between a statistician and a paleo guy in the audience of my talk at the Met Office the other day. The statistician said that Mann's confidence intervals are simply not credible. Given that nobody knows how they are calculated, I think most neutral observers would conclude that they are fabricated.

I see you are a proponent of the "bad data + biased method = correct answer". The debate over the centring at the end of the day is about how prominent you want your dodgy data to be. Me, I'd say if your reconstruction includes dodgy data then your reconstruction is dodgy.

If you think I'm going to be impressed by some local reconstructions as support for Mann's hemispheric reconstruction, think again. The IPCC chooses to support Mann with more bristlecones.

Mar 27, 2012 at 9:53 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

@KR, again,

Sadly for Mann, science cannot ever be settled - the LIA and MWP are once again shown to be global phenomena -

That's a lot of broken hockey sticks, but since they were all created from the same rotten source material it was inevitable.

Mar 27, 2012 at 10:00 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

I rather liked this post from the Bishop concerning centering:

Maybe KR missed it.

Mar 28, 2012 at 8:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Cowper


"One of the biggest intellectual failures of the global green movement against climate change is the persistent failure of its leaders and spokespeople to grasp the way their own advocacy fatally undermines their credibility. They blame cunning, unscrupulous and well funded enemies for disasters that their own inaccuracies, overstatements and disingenuous advocacy have brought on their movement."

Worth repeating, I think. A lot.

Mar 28, 2012 at 10:27 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Bishop Hill, "Readers here are, I think somewhat more familiar with these issues than you"

Based on a quick glancing of the comments on this post, including your own, it appears you are wrong. A quick stop at your blog shows that while some use internet postings for constructive purposes, you have choosen to use to mislead. The real question is whether you have mislead yourself as well or if you do not really think the nonsense which is posted but put it up merely for personal gain.

Mar 28, 2012 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered Commenterup

up (although I'm guessing you are KR in disguise, since you can spell no better than he can)

Do you have any substantive point to make? If you can explain how I am misleading, perhaps?

Mar 28, 2012 at 3:24 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

An earlier post by David quotes from '2011-09-29-McIntyre's new target.html':

“ Mann et al stood by after their original HS and let others treat it with the confidence that they themselves couldn't assign to it. “

It seems that KR is unaware that his fellow tree-hutters privately have the same concerns that he is criticizing others for daring to voice in public.

Reading the full quote shows that they also have his love of spelling. :)

Mar 28, 2012 at 5:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobWansbeck


Have you read THSI? It seems unlikely.

Mar 28, 2012 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

KR said: "The real advance of Mann 1998 was in calculating an estimate on his uncertainties."

KR, short answer: spurious significance. See The Hockey Stick Illusion pp. 66-68. Or here:

Mar 28, 2012 at 6:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterEric (skeptic)

KR said "If interested, here are 92 different reconstructions assembled by NOAA. Many many investigators, multiple statistical approaches - and the same conclusions, that recent warming is unprecedented in the last several millennium"

I downloaded one at random:

Another chosen at random:

And a third:

Only the third series supports your claim, and only for 500 years of data. I get the feeling your claim is unsupported unless (1) one slices off the end of the plot and splices the instrumental temperature record and/or (2) the data contains proxies that were "chosen" for their hockey stick shape.

Mar 28, 2012 at 9:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterEric (skeptic)

Tom Curtis,

I actually think that some of the things that you have said are reasonable.

However, I do not understand your defense of your allies' ethics, and I do not understand why you came over here to insist that this was a break-in.

For the latter, you seem to want to say that, since SkS is not "your" website, you don't feel it's your place to show us the evidence...and yet, even though SkS is not "your" website, you apparently DO feel it's your place to tell us it's a break-in. These two perspectives are obviously contradictory. You defer to the owner or you don't. You shouldn't have taken it upon yourself to announce that it is definitely a break-in when John Cook's statement was still (and may still be, I haven't checked) that it may not be a break-in.

This puts you in the position of not only contradicting the public statement of the owner, but making assertions without evidence. Skeptics can do stuff like that too, but I don't think you'd take it well if we did.

For the former, you've put yourself out here as a highly ethical person, I THINK to convince us to take your word without evidence. That, unfortunately, puts your ethics under scrutiny.

First, you repeatedly used the word "lapse" in defense of beliefs and behavior of your allies that you consider unethical. "Lapse" indicates a temporary falling away. The person who lapses later recognizes the folly of their ways, takes responsibility for the consequences of their choice, and uses the situation to inform their future behavior.

This word is completely inappropriate for a situation where an ethic is a permanent part of their code of ethics. There is no indication that they think they've done anything wrong, and every indication that they'd do it again next time.

So, as an ethical person, can you explain why you'd use an excusatory and inappropriate word like "lapse" as a description for your allies' ethical CHOICE, instead of simply saying that you believe what they did was unethical? CAN you take that ethical stand and say that what they did was, in your opinion, unethical?

Perhaps you believe that such a statement would be exploited, and it probably would. But...ethics is not what you do when it's's what you do when it's hard.

Second, your argument following "I certainly am not going to do so" amounts to "The bad boys do this bad thing, so I will stand by my friends when they do this same bad thing". This is the very antithesis of ethics. Seriously. Is this the plank you'd put forward as a public measurement of your ethics? Please reconsider this statement, and tell us that this was a lapse of intended.

As a final observation, I appreciate the fact that, even having been faced with your failure to convince some of your allies to behave ethically on this issue, that you felt that you may find more fertile ground for the same arguments over here. Thanks for presenting your case.

Mar 29, 2012 at 2:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterRDCII

[side note - I have no idea who "up" is...]

At this point the responses have been snipes about my spelling, ignoring the >dozen global reconstructions in the link I provided along with the 92 total temperature reconstructions (Eric, check the geographic coverage for those selections at, claims that centering conventions change Mann's results (they don't, see the literature citing M&M 03 and 05), and ad hominem sniping.

None of which addresses the fact that the Mann's early work, and basic conclusions, has only been confirmed by multiple researchers since then, using varying statistical approaches and different proxy data.

I can see that serious discussion isn't going to occur with this group. Adieu.

Mar 29, 2012 at 4:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterKR

KR, that's quite a laugh. First you roll in here, making a long list of excuses for poorly performed and not very honestly reported /documented science (at best), you even throw in a bunch of accusation and underhand insults. And when replied to, in a quite civil manner, you merely repeat your assertions and say they are facts! And thereafter complain about that no one engages is serious discussion, seemingly implying that your's was ..

And you seem very unaware of what the necessity to 'hide the decline' means for reliability of treering as temperature proxies going further back, instead repeating that many others too have used them for the same purpose, and many times.

But in one way, you are actually on topic here: SkSc is a (web resource) collection of simpler talking points, to be memorized and repeated by the followers when various issues with the IPCC version of the climate party line are brought up. And you did this exactly as it was intended. Unfortunately, SkSc does not prepare you for what responses you'd get after your first list of Mannian 'facts'. Hence the final Adieu-blustering ...

Mar 29, 2012 at 9:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterJonas N

@KR, as a poster who remarked on your spelling I apologize however in your case the misspelling indicated that you were not familiar with the methods you were defending and merely, albeit carelessly, reading from the 'cribsheet' [sic] as SayNoToFearmongers noted above.

The fact that a multitude of team papers have 'confirmed' results derived using faulty methodology is not something to boast about but something to be very concerned about.

Imagine marking exam papers where no matter how many errors students made they always got the right answer. You might be tempted to believe that they had got hold of the answers before the exam began.

Mar 29, 2012 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobWansbeck

Re: RobWansbeck

> Imagine marking exam papers where no matter how many errors students made they always got the right answer. You might be tempted to believe that they had got hold of the answers before the exam began.

Oddly enough I was always taught the you can get every answer wrong and get an "A" and you could get every answer right and get an "F". It was the method used to arrive at the answer that counted and not the answer itself. Mind you, this was in the 1960s and 70s and I guess that now they don’t care how you arrive at the answer as long as it conforms to their preconceptions.

Mar 29, 2012 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Mann 1998

Mann 2003

Tom Wigley, in 2004: " I have just read the M&M stuff critcizing MBH. A lot of it seems valid to me. At the very least MBH is a very sloppy piece of work -- an opinion I have held for some time. "

Ray Bradley: I'm sure you agree--the Mann/Jones GRL paper was truly pathetic and should never have been published. I don't want to be associated with that 2000 year "reconstruction".

Mann 2008

Mar 29, 2012 at 4:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Bills

As for the whingers claiming some moral high-ground .. Go back to your SkS forum and suggest they improve their security - it was they that gave your details away by leaving the door open for some kid to walk in a walk out with their pockets full. Then you come here telling everyone to stop laughing at you ?

When walking through a field of cows choose your steps wisely.

Sep 8, 2012 at 7:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterMan Bearpig

I'm late to this party. I'll say one thing for the benefit of everyone - Tom C and the sKs crowd, as well as the skeptics:

Few people commenting here, and NOBODY working on sKs, have a clue about hacking.

I am not a security expert. I say that because I know some who are. I only work and teach on security globally. I don't dig in the trenches.

If sKs had been hacked by someone who was good at it, there would be NO evidence it had taken place. There are people out there who guarantee they can break in without you knowing about it. The only question is how long it will take.

I do not intend to discuss this further.

Mar 31, 2013 at 4:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterMrPete

I added an update for my "greatest hits" of these leaks:

Jun 6, 2014 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterPoptech

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