2011-03-30 22:07:51Muller Misinformation #2: 'leaked' tree-ring data UPDATED
John Cook



Slight change of plan. I'd like to get this MM#2 out before the Thursday hearing. I know someone who is in correspondance with Richard Muller, who emailed him the first SkS MM#1. So I'm going to ask him to email Muller about MM#2 before the Thursday hearing. Then I will be very interested to hear whether at the hearing, Muller conflates "Mike's trick to hide the decline" or claims the decline data was withheld then leaked. So please post feedback on this one:

Muller Misinformation #2: 'leaked' tree-ring data

We recently examined several lectures where Professor Richard Muller confused "Mike's trick" with "hide the decline". In these lectures, Muller provided further misinformation when he claimed the "decline" data was withheld from the public until it was "leaked" at Climategate. Muller claims:

“In their paper, if you dig into it, they say they did some things with the data from 1961 onwards - they removed it and replaced it with temperature data. So some of the people who read this paper asked to see the data, they refused to send it to them, the original raw data. They used the FOI act. The FOI act officer on the advice of the scientist would not release the data. Then the data came out. They weren't hacked like a lot of people say. Most people who know this business believe they were leaked by one of the members of the team who was really upset with them.”

In Muller Misinformation #1, we see that the "decline" refers to a decline in tree-ring density at certain high latitudes. The tree-ring density measurements come from Briffa 2000. The original tree-ring density data is shown below with the green line represents tree-ring density and the thick black line showing the instrumental temperature record. Note the divergence in the late 20th century.

Briffa tree-ring density

Figure 1: An indication of growing season temperature changes across the whole of the northern boreal forest. The LFD curve indicates low-frequency density changes. Note the recent disparity in density and measured temperatures.

Muller claims that Briffa's data was withheld from the public until it was "leaked" in late 2009 at the time of "Climategate". This is untrue. The Briffa 2000 data was already freely available via the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) website. This had been online since late 2008, as documented by Steve McIntyre.

What about the "original raw data" that Muller claims was refused to the public. The original raw data for the tree-ring density comes from the "Schweingruber" network, consisting of 387 chronologies from across the northern hemisphere. This data was also freely available online via the CRU website. This link was given to Steve McIntyre in October 2008 in response to a Freedom of Information request to CRU, as seen in this lengthy document of FOI requests made to CRU (FOI 08-50 on page 169).

Briffa's data was not leaked during "Climategate". Professor Muller's assertion that the post-1960 "decline" data was not made available is incorrect.

2011-03-30 22:15:52


If you're going to send this to him, drop the "Muller's Misinformation" in the title: This should be in the nature of an alert, not a targetting.

2011-03-31 02:29:27non-leak
Dana Nuccitelli

If you want to be thorough, you can respond to the end of the quote:

"They weren't hacked like a lot of people say. Most people who know this business believe they were leaked by one of the members of the team who was really upset with them."

With this:

"Although the police and the university say only that the investigation is continuing, Nature understands that evidence has emerged effectively ruling out a leak from inside the CRU, as some have claimed.  And other climate-research organizations are believed to have told police that their systems survived hack attempts at the same time."

I would suggest making this addition because of Muller's claim that one of the CRU team members leaked the data because he was "really upset with them".  It's a bullshit narrative, trying to justify his accusations by suggesting the scientists involved knew they were doing something wrong.

Otherwise the post looks good to me.

2011-03-31 03:25:46
Ari Jokimäki


Also, at least parts of Briffa data (Yamal) was sent to McIntyre already in 2004 by the original source (Russian scientists), when Briffa had directed McIntyre's data request to them.

2011-03-31 07:09:18


John, where did you take the image from? The LFD curve in the paper (Fig.5) is different.

2011-03-31 15:55:25Responding to the "leaked" allegation
John Cook


Dana, my problem with quoting Nature is they dont' give any details so they're not a credible source. And other hackings at approximately the same time doesn't prove anything - CRU could still have been leaked even if others were hacked (just playing devil's advocate).

I'd like to respond to the "leaked" allegation but there is a dearth of evidence either way while the investigation is ongoing. The most convincing argument against leaked is the fact that RC was hacked and the emails uploaded to their server. Or to point out that there is no evidence that they were leaked. Would welcome suggestions on how to respond to this.

2011-03-31 16:09:11suggestions
Dana Nuccitelli

Two options I can see:

1) Just take that part of the quote out: "Then the data came out [in Climategate]. They weren't hacked like a lot of people say. Most people who know this business believe they were leaked by one of the members of the team who was really upset with them.”"

2) Say the investigation is still ongoing, and investigators have released no evidence the emails were leaked rather than hacked.  In fact, many scientists involved (i.e. those at RealClimate, who were hacked at the same time) believe it was a hack, not a leak.

I think leaving the quote as-is without a response is a mistake.  It conceeds the point to Muller that the emails were leaked, which is untrue, but which the deniers desperately want to believe because it legitimizes their obsession over Climategate (if somebody leaked the emails, there must have been a reason, hence the emails must show foul play).

2011-04-13 23:07:50


John, along with the links to McIntyre's blog, who tirelessly infers, (but never accuses) nafarious hiding data, you might want just a short sentence (and a link at the end) describing things frm a more "insider" view like this post from RealClimate, to give readers a more balanced and realistic impression.  The data/code issue is much more complicated than what people realize and this should be recognized.  Not sure if this is a good idea or not.

2011-04-14 01:17:46update
Dana Nuccitelli

You may want to update the post with his comments at the hearing and in the NPR interview, to point out that he continues to make these statements.  From the hearing:

"Luis Alvarez taught me the fundamental scientific rule, which is you've got to show everybody your dirty laundry...My problem with the way the hockey stick was derived was that there was none of this...if you hide something...the person you are most likely to fool is yourself."

From NPR:

"I think that Climategate is a very unfortunate thing that happened, that the scientists who were involved in that, from what I've read, didn't trust the public, didn't even trust the scientific public. They were not showing the discordant data. That's something that - as a scientist I was trained you always have to show the negative data, the data that disagrees with you, and then make the case that your case is stronger. And they were hiding the data, and a whole discussion of suppressing publications, I thought, was really unfortunate."

2011-04-14 19:24:02Updated the post, added theft/leaked text
John Cook



2011-04-14 19:38:46


What about a finishing line along the lines of:

"It is unfortunate that Muller persists in spreading this misinformation."


"It is unfortunate that Pf. Muller continues to repeat a narrative on Climategate that is provably at odds with the actual history, when he is otherwise well-positioned to take a leadership role in resolving issues concerning climate trends."

Adding a carrot to the stick.

2011-04-14 19:56:53Okay, Neal, have added the text
John Cook


I've noticed you've been moving towards Dana and my position on Muller and am happy to move slightly towards yours :-)

2011-04-14 21:11:48


I didn't want to, but Muller hasn't been taking the high road - at least not yet.

I still believe that he's fundamentally a good scientist, and will go where the evidence leads him; but not before it gives him a leg up in his quest for further fame. So I believe in creating a trail of dropped crumbs...

(Even a good scientist may be motivated by the drive for fame: Even Einstein was a bit of a celebrity-hog, in his day.)

2011-04-15 02:05:23


"Muller make claims of an internal leak while providing no evidence."

I would word this in much stronger terms: it is not a matter of providing no evidence but of failing to rebut the robust evidence that it was a hack.


The story of the hack - and it most definitely was a hack - was well covered in media and blogs at the time by investigative reporters and computer experts - and continues to be covered as a hack to this day.  The hack was twofold: the data was taken from a server by hacking and then an attempt was made to upload to RealClimate by hacking.

If Muller wants to assert that this was a leak then he must show the flaws in the overwhelming evidence that it was a hack.

If he cannot or will not show his own evidence then his assertion is entirely without scientific merit and damages his reputation as a scientist.


"We were made aware of the existence of this archive last Tuesday morning when the hackers attempted to upload it to RealClimate, and we notified CRU of their possible security breach later that day."







"After our enquiries in Malaysia began, the suspect computer links to China were suddenly cut."



"... release of the archived "zip" file by someone with clear hacking skills: first they grabbed the files, then they broke into the RealClimate blog to upload the archive and prepare a draft post; then, when that was thwarted, they uploaded it to a Russian website, and posted links to it on climate sceptics' blogs using web servers located in Saudi Arabia and Turkey."



Ongoing hack analysis: