Soon and Baliunas, a Quick Note

I recently wrote a comment about the Soon and Baliunas controversy. I have other things I'm occupied with, but I want to make a note of it. The Soon and Baliunas controversy is one of the most ridiculous things I've seen in the global warming debate. This is a brief summary of why it's so stupid:

Since we're asked to compare this to the "Climate Research farce," can someone explain to me just what the farce in the "Climate Research farce" was? I've read the EoS article supposedly rebutting the Soon and Baliunas paper a number of times, and I don't get it. It raised three main issues.

1) S&B used precipitation proxies without ascertaining their sensitivity to temperature. The original hockey stick used 11 instrumental precipitation series as temperature proxies. Many reconstructions since have used precipitation proxies as temperature proxies, ranging from Moberg 2005 to the more recent Christiansen & Ljungqvist reconstructions (C&L even acknowledged this when I e-mailed them). This criticism of S&B could be applied to the majority of temperature reconstructions that are happily accepted.

2) S&B was criticized because its proxies lacked the resolution necessary to say whether late 20th century warming was anomalous. The same could be said of almost any major temperature reconstruction since. Most glaringly, Marcott et al was said to show recent temperatures are anomalous in ten thousand years, yet the authors admitted their reconstruction lacked resolution at 200 year scales. I saw no outrage from scientists about this.

3) S&B was criticized for using regional information as though it were global without checking to see if the patterns they found corresponded to each other. That's just a weaker version of the criticisms skeptics have applied to every temperature reconstruction. They say a small number of regional proxies are given undue weight and most of the proxies used don't show anything resembling a hockey stick. It's even been admitted in at least two cases (MBH98, Mann 2008). Again, scientists didn't speak up.

So just what was the "Climate Research farce"? As far as I can see, Soon and Baliunas were criticized for things that are common practice. The only "farce" I can see is the people flipping out were completely hypocritical and did it only because they didn't like certain results.

I hope to revisit this topic at some point in the future. It deserves a lot more attention, and there is much more to be said about it. In the meantime, I hope this is enough of a primer.

To be clear, the Soon and Baliunas controversy has absolutely nothing to do with science or good practices. It is purely an example of motivated reasoning and political ploys to silence dissidents. It is impossible to criticize Soon and Baliunas and have any credibility if one does not condemn the paleoclimatology field as a whole.


  1. I entirely agree with your comment about Soon and Baliunas. Like you, I agree that the matter deserves reconsideration. One of the most disquieting Climategate emails was Wigley's statement on June 5, 2003 (email 0682):

    By chance SB03 may have got some of these precip [sic] things right, but we don’t want to give them any way to claim credit.

    I referred to this in a CA post a couple of years shortly after CG2 but haven't returned to the matter. CG2 emails shed a great deal of light on the incident - only vignettes were shown in CG1.

  2. Steve McIntyre, thanks for the comment. I hadn't paid attention to the Soon and Baliunas issue when it first developed. I heard people reference it, but I never saw a clear discussion of it, and I didn't care to research yet another issue. I was a senior in high school at the time, and it was already distracting enough to follow the hockey stick debate.

    The CG2 release is actually what made me investigate the issue. It might have even been the topic you link to. I can't recall. I just remember looking through the CG2 release for e-mails about the S&B issue and being amazed a number of people seemed to know they were being hypocrites about it. I still can't wrap my head around that. I don't understand how an entire field can turn a blind eye to something like this,

    Had this issue been explained to me and my friends at high school, we'd have been stunned. All of us would have understood it and said it was wrong. I don't understand how professional scientists can do anything else.

    It's ridiculous high school students could do a better job than climate scientists.

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