MBH 1998 And All That

It’s not often in the crazy world of Climate Science that you find something wholly new, even crazier than the last crazy thing you read, and written by one of the most prominent climate crazies of all. I’m talking about “Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis: Volume 1 – The Physical Climate (2013)” by G. Thomas Farmer and John Cook. You can read extracts of it on Amazon or at Google Books.

If we haven’t heard more of this 600 page monster (or of volume 2, which was also due out in 2013 but doesn’t seem to have appeared) it’s possibly because of its price ($119).

Editors Springer describe it thus: (the punctuation is theirs):

Volume One of a two-volume treatment of climate change science designed for an introductory science course

Describes the discipline of Climate Change Science, and individual climate change scientists whose expertise spans Earth history, geology, geography, biology, oceanography, astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering and more

Examines evidence of global warming that has entered mainstream discussions of climate change

Discusses the ideas and tactics of climate skeptics and deniers

For a book entitled “Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis Volume 1 – The Physical Climate” you can see from the publisher’s blurb that it goes rather far off topic. In fact, after the words “Describes the discipline of Climate Change Science..” it’s difficult to see what’s on-topic, since the rest seems to be a description of “individual climate change scientists” whose expertise spans the whole of science, plus “evidence that has entered mainstream discussion”, plus “the ideas and tactics of climate skeptics and deniers.”

All in an “introductory science course.”


The weirdness of this book starts on the contents page. Chapter 1 is called “Introduction” and consists of an overview of climate science, covering the Greenhouse Effect, Climate Sensitivity, Carbon Dioxide, Energy and Climate Policy, and the Hockey Stick Controversy.

Having summarised climate science in 13 pages, Chapter 2 goes on to summarise the history of science in thirty pages. It’s called “Scientific Principles” and has sections (in this order, and among much else) on Internet Searches, the Warming Earth, the Laws of Thermodynamics, Climate Scientists, Scientific Laws and Climate Scientists, Scientific Jargon, Communication Between Scientists and the Public, The Concept of Time, From Hothouse to Icehouse, Reasons to Study Science, Aristotle, Pliny the Elder, Galileo, Bacon, Kepler, Newton, Empiricism, Inductive Logic, Deductive Logic, Models, the Nature of Science, the Science of Nature, and Chaos Theory.

Much as I love Pliny the Elder, and much as I could do with a half-page introduction to Inductive and Deductive Logic, I decided to stick to chapter one, which offered me a complete run down on climate science, from the Greenhouse Effect to the Hockey Stick Controversy, in a dozen pages. So I went straight to chapter 1.12, the Hockey Stick Controversy. It reads as follows, with my comments in square brackets:

The “hockey stick” is a diagram attributed to Michael Mann and colleagues drawn for a paper in 1998 from a variety of sources including proxies from dendrochronology that showed a sharp increase from temperatures during the final years portrayed on the graph (see Fig. 1.5 below). The graph and the research on which it was based were groundbreaking. No one had previously compiled these data and put them together so convincingly.

The Mann, Bradley, and Hughes (MBH) 1988 [sic: wrong year] paper was the first quantitative hemispheric-scale reconstruction going back in time to 1400. It was a landmark paper. In a 1999 paper, the authors extended the reconstruction back to 1000 and it was the later graphic that was prominently featured in the IPCC 2001 AR3 (TAR) Report (see Fig. 1.5).

So is Fig. 1.5 from MBH (1998) or (1999) or possibly (1988)? Who cares. The important thing is that it’s in IPCC 2001 AR3 (TAR).

Can you imagine the state of mind of some college student who’s laid out $119 in order to try and understand climate science and is already, on page 14, stuck deep in IPCC 2001 AR3 (TAR)? And he’s got Kepler and Chaos Theory coming up next.

After Fig. 1.5 the chapter continues:

Much criticism of the graph ensued and it became a favourite of the denialist group, but most subsequent scientific papers supported the basic message of the hockey stick; that the Earth is warming and a great deal of the warming has occurred in the last half of the twentieth century [and all of the rest in the first half of the twentieth century]. More than 12 subsequent papers, using various statistical methods and combinations of proxy records, produced reconstructions broadly similar to the original MBH hockey-stick graph, with variations in how flat the pre-twentieth century “shaft”” appears. Almost all of them supported the IPCC conclusion that the warmest decade in 1,000 years was probably at the end of the twentieth century.

The first decade of the twentieth century [sic: wrong century] was even warmer than the last decade of the twentieth century and scientists have seen a leveling off of the rise in temperature in the past several months of the year 2011, which ironically has been attributed to coal-fired power plants in China and India that emit sulphur aerosols that have slowed the warming trend. Of course, this is a temporary situation [what is? why?] and not a good environmental one, because the coal-fired power plants are using high-sulphur coal and emitting sulphur into the atmosphere which in turn is causing acid rainfall and adding to ocean acidification.

Actually, the appearance of “climategate” in web searches and the occasional article one hears about or comes across, is a relic or an anachronistic episode still being held on to by skeptics and deniers. In March of 2010, The British House of Commons Science and Technology committee released results of their investigation of the scandal that revealed nothing in the emails conflicted with the scientific consensus that “global warming is happening and that it is induced by human activity.”

And that’s it.

Remember that this chapter on the hockeystick (and also on Climategate, though that wasn’t announced) is aimed at college students who have probably never seen the words “anachronistic”, “dendrochronology”, “proxy” or “IPCC” in their lives.

They will have already met the term “Climategate”’ which occurs under the heading “Affected Weather” in the paragraph preceding the Hockey stick chapter. That paragraph reads:

In 2009 a large number of emails between scientists were stolen and released on the Internet, many of them altered or selectively edited [really?]. This illegal act has been dubbed “Climategate” and because of its influence in the “debate” about climate change and global warming, warrants further discussion in later chapters.

What could a normal reader make of this? After a ten-page race through the physics of climate he suddenly comes to a story of “an anachronistic episode”, stolen emails, a graph that “became a favourite of the denialist group”, twelve more graphs “broadly similar to the original” graph, and a British House of Commons committee which announced that nothing was wrong.

Dendrochronology? IPCC 2001 AR3 (TAR)? Anachronistic? House of Commons? What’s that? What possible reaction could a normal American college student have except: “What are these guys hiding?”

26 thoughts on “MBH 1998 And All That

  1. Self-serving polemic! I’ve seen dozens of them. And yours for only $119! Or should that be $1.19?

    In a sane world this would be all that is needed for the authors to be a laughing-stock throughout the community they supposedly inhabit.

    Perhaps they already are?


  2. What a bizarre conspiracy theory – that many of the climategate emails were altered. I don’t think I’ve seen that one before, even at Cook’s own website.

    And how absurd to put a paragraph about climategate under the heading of “Affected Weather”.

    Affected Weather


  3. This low quality, this tawdry stuff is but par for the course amongst those who seek to frighten the world about CO2. Their works are unimpressive, their personalities can be foul, their characters suspect. Yet behold what they have wrought over some 30 years or so – that speaks to me of vulnerable institutions, and negligence on the part of many people who should have resisted them earlier. Although I have never been in positions of power or influence, I feel part of that set of people since I came late to the fray despite having studied atmospheric physics way back in the 70s.


  4. Cook doubles down on nonsense. Apparently he never learned the first rule of holes: when in one wanting out, first stop digging.


  5. Oooh! An exciting new variant of the old Barnett et al/Stern Review glaciergeddon Chinese Whispers. Farmer & Cook:

    A special case of the cryosphere is that of the Himalayan glaciers. These glaciers provide drinking, domestic, and agricultural water to over one billion people in Southeast Asia and they are rapidly losing ice.

    This one fails immediately because only 250 million people live in continental Southeast Asia, very few of them in river basins that get any water at all from Himalayan glaciers.

    It’s still wrong even if, being excessively kind, you interpret ‘Southeast Asia’ as ‘South and East Asia’ and ‘Himalayan glaciers’ as ‘all relevant glaciers’. The real number of such people receiving significant water from melting glaciers is perhaps 150 million.

    (Farmer & Cook aren’t the worst. My favourite variant of this Whisper was by the famed evolutionary wallabologist Tim Flannery, who once warned of ‘two billion people in Eastern and South Asia [being] without water due to the loss of the Himalayan glaciers’. No water at all! For two billion people! Doomtastically exciting, no? The basins of rivers originating in the Himalayas are home to about 750 million people.)

    Elsewhere in the book, Farmer & Cook say that rising sea levels might one day produce more than a billion ‘climate refugees’ – another exciting claim seemingly plucked out of nowhere (is it usual for textbooks to have no references?) but probably originating in something written by the famed evolutionary ecolologist Norman Myers.


  6. Pingback: Comical Errors in new Book Embarrass Climate Change Authors - Principia Scientific International

  7. Looks like a heady concoction of [atmospheric] physics envy, political activism, and childish spitefulness all wrapped up in some truly atrocious grammar and sentence construction. All for just $119 – and with Christmas just around the corner too! If you’re thinking of giving it as a gift though, you’ll need some Christmassy loo paper to wrap it up in.


  8. My sincere apologies, Geoff, but all that came to my mind while reading these latest samples of Cook et al‘s purple prose was a very old song: One Eyed one Horned Flying Purple People Eater … youtu.be/Rx47qrH1GRs for the youngsters out there!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. What amazes me is that, from the evidence of Skeptical Science, Cook is no idiot. He’s set up a website that has certain standards of thoroughness. Silly errors of citing the wrong year or the wrong century wouldn’t get through at SkS, no doubt due to their internal checking system, run by unpaid co-authors. Whereas at Springer…

    From the Springer site:

    “With more than 200 Nobel Prize winners among the authors of our books and journal articles, it is safe to say that Springer has earned its place among the world’s foremost STM (scientific technical and medical) publishers.”

    The Cook/Farmer tome is on the Springer climate page http://www.springer.com/fr/climate down at the bottom where, unlike other titles, you can’t click on it. There’s more information at http://www.springer.com/fr/book/9789400757561#aboutBook

    In “About this Textbook” Springer say this:

    “A list of “Things to Know” opens each chapter. Chapters are arranged so that the student is first introduced to the scientific method(s), examples of the use of the scientific method from other sciences drawn from the history of science with an emphasis on climate science. Climate science is treated in each chapter based on the premise of global warming.” [my emphasis]

    It’s been downloaded nearly sixty thousand times (!), but has received only two reviews, and been mentioned twice in the press. It’s linked as a scientific source by “international security scholar” Nafeez Ahmed at
    and at
    by John Cook.

    So probably upwards of 60,000 educational institutions are using this source, and no-one in the scientific world has come forward to call it out. This simple fact exposes the corruption at the heart of (climate) science.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I am the author of a Springer textbook myself, available from Springer for a mere £24.95 or from Amazon at just £22.45. This went through quite a thorough review and proof-reading check before it was published.

    Maybe Farmer & Cook went through the “pal review” process.


  11. Paul
    It’s easy enough to imagine what happens in a case like this. A green activist rises up the hierarchy in a big publishing organisation to the point where he can commission a book like this without oversight. Its ghastliness only becomes evident after publication, and it’s hushed up by simply ceasing to publicise it. (This happened with Steven “Professor” Emmott’s Ten Billion which was published by Penguin under its “science” imprint. It’s like Cook/Farmer except that it’s only a few dozen pages, printed in big letters with wide margins and graphs apparently drawn freehand by a five-year-old.)

    What we don’t know is what happens next. Does the commissioning editor get shunted sideways to edit books on flower arranging? Or does the absence of criticism mean that his career can continue onward and upward, like Cook’s?


  12. Another interesting article, Geoff! Judging from the page you linked, I think that the 60k downloads are for all 24 chapters added together. Typically each chapter has between 2000 and 3000 downloads. Not trivial, but not 60k for the whole book.


  13. Ruth
    Thanks for the correction. That makes sense. Though heaven help the person who buys a chapter, likes it, goes on to buy the next one and so on. That way the book would set you back 720 €.

    While I’m here I can’t resist quoting more from the book. I’d do even more but I’m reading it on google books and have to copy it out by hand.

    1.2 Greenhouse Effect
    In the earth’s atmosphere, sunlight is absorbed by the Earth’s surface or rooftops or rocks…

    1.3 Climate Sensitivity
    We know that Earth is a sustainer of life because it provides us with an environment that has allowed living organisms, including humans, to evolve and thrive on its surface, in its oceans, and in its air. The atmosphere is the main reason life thrives on the planet, at least for humans
    1.5 Carbon Dioxide
    The Industrial Revolution began around 1750 when we learned to generate great amounts of electricity…

    1.6.2 Impacts of Global Warming
    This will become a national security and military concern when there are millions (perhaps over a billion) of “climate refugees” displaced by rising sea level. They will do what they must to survive, as we all would, and they will go inland to China, Australia, the U.S., and elsewhere where they probably won’t be welcomed with open arms and invitations to tea.

    Rooftops? Electricity in 1750? Inland to Australia? It’s not so much that it’s wrong, but, more disturbingly, it gives the impression of having been translated from another language, and not one spoken by humans. Could Cook have been sent to us from one of the moons of Jupiter? Is he trying to tell us something?

    Liked by 5 people

  14. Geoff has some excellent quotes, particularly today at 5.19pm.

    Another that I found at Preface page ix

    But something happened around 700,000 years ago and the Earth cooled to begin cycles of expanding and and then retreating of continental-sized ice sheets….

    Normally of anything remotely related to climate Wikipedia is somewhat unreliable, but on the Ice Age it is in line with mainstream geology.

    An ice age is a period of long-term reduction in the temperature of Earth’s surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental and polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers. Within a long-term ice age, individual pulses of cold climate are termed “glacial periods” (or alternatively “glacials” or “glaciations” or colloquially as “ice age”), and intermittent warm periods are called “interglacials”. Glaciologically, ice age implies the presence of extensive ice sheets in both northern and southern hemispheres. By this definition, we are in an interglacial period—the Holocene—of the ice age that began 2.6 million years ago at the start of the Pleistocene epoch, because the Greenland, Arctic, and Antarctic ice sheets still exist.

    Farmer & Cook are only about 1.9 million years out on the start of the current ice age. Although within an interglacial, we are still in the ice age. Their mistake was to assume that the Vostok Ice Cores go back to the beginning of the current ice age. It might be that it is just evidence that the warmest interglacial was 700,000 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. 7-10 year olds write like that. I think Cook and Farmer have lifted large parts of this book from their kids’ school projects on climate change. It’s the only thing which makes sense.

    “The atmosphere is the main reason life thrives on the planet, at least for humans”

    Is that an entire sentence or is there more? Or are they really saying that the atmosphere is the main reason life thrives on the planet, at least it is in the case of humans? Could it be that wolves and dung beetles might do very nicely without an atmosphere? Totally weird.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. “Science” by name calling. Liberal party science. By “party” I mean with music, drink, ligging, and attempted seduction. One needs to be able to drop as many names as possible. Better still, if by dropping those names one can find a connection to #1 liberal concern of the times: climate change, then: all the better. Is that the audience this book is aimed at? Liberal conversationalists who are able to connect Pliny the Elder with modern times by way of climate. I feel sorry for the young impressionable minds conned into attending a course that uses this book.


  17. The measure of any tome on climate “science” is not whether it is accurate, but whether or not, if you squint, its ‘basic message’ is correct. The ‘basic message’ turns out to be normative, rather than science, as such. People who defend that kind of tome on that basis will, without any shame, go on to complain about ‘post-truth society’.

    Added to the [sic]s above. I’ll add my own:

    Climate Change Science[sic]: A Modern[sic] Synthesis[sic]

    It ought to be:

    Climate Change “Science”: A Postmodern Hypothesis

    Also, noting as Geoff does that although it’s cited as Volume 1 – The Physical Climate 2013th Edition, raises the question, what gap in what market was this volume ever intended to fill? Who, in 2012 (or whenever this book was conceived, commissioned, or authored, believed that there was a 600-page gap on any climate bookshelf?

    The only clue comes from the single positive review of the book on the Amazon website (there were two, but the other admitted he had neither bought nor read the book):

    I purchased John Cooks book a few months ago ( more correctly, my wife gave it to me for my birthday!)
    It is a fantastic reference and resource – and as issues arise in that parallel world of climate change denialism, ‘A Modern Synthesis’ enables me gain a broad understanding of the particular subject, with great illustrations and up-to-date references.
    I am on the mailing list for John’s ‘Skeptical Science’ forum, to which this book is an essential add-on, for me.
    My awareness and interest in climate change science was awakened a few years ago when I attended a lecture by James Hansen, and then purchased ‘ Storms of My Grandchildren’. For me, Johns book is a great follow up resource.

    This fills me with sadness. Who looks forward to reading a 600 page, turgid tome from Cook [sic] on their birthday? Who hasn’t read enough by the time they’ve read Hansen’s book?

    The academic garb is surely a fig leaf. Cook and crew are surely speaking to a kind of sci-fi death cult, who just can’t consume enough end-time narrative.


  18. Ben

    what market was this volume ever intended to fill?

    That’s easy. The school textbook market, as can be seen from the link to “Access Instructor´s Textbook Exam Copy”. With bits and bobs about denialists, climategate and hockey sticks popping up in every chapter, it’s designed establish counter-denialism as part of the college syllabus.

    If it had been reviewed in some specialist educational publication it could be discussed, but it hasn’t so it won’t. It’s the complicit silence of the scientific establishment that allows the disease to spread.

    Your description of it as a Sci-fi death cult is interesting. The Hansen title is a clue to the death cult nature of this business – something that’s well worth exploring further. Hansen, like Chris Rapley with his Royal Court Ice bore-athon 2071, is obsessed with his grandchildren. It’s a symptom of the failure of a certain kind of unimaginative old geezer to come to terms with his own mortality. Look on the bright side, grandad. You may never see the stable temperatures which are your main aim in life, but at least you’ll never see your own grandchildren wrinkly and incontinent.

    But meantime Cook has been appointed psychology lecturer at a prestigious university. In ten years time he’ll be a professor and the psychology of denialism will be on college syllabuses.


  19. I dunno, Geoff… Psychology has its own problems. http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/10/inside-psychologys-methodological-terrorism-debate.html

    Though on the other hand, it seems psychology has endured a century of big claims it has made to politics, my favourite account of which is Adam Curtis’s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DotBVZ26asI

    With Cook’s form of psychologising a way through political problems, I think the possibility is growing that people may at last realise the elephant in the room is giving the lecture.

    And there’s also the possibility that the threat-of-nuclear-war-shaped hole at the centre of these old men’s perspectives might get filled by the institutions which also were adapted to the needs of the Cold War, as they revert to type. Moron MPs like Mitchell and Bojo look set to establish a different global crisis to the one emphasised under greener administrations, by beating their chests about Russia (and China, Iran… etc), openly courting conflict. Outside a Trump win, no matter HRC’s emphasis on wind turbines and solar PV, even social/liberal democrat hawks will not be setting up an atmosphere conducive to global carbon agreements with rhetoric like Kerry’s escalating tensions. I wonder how much currency hackademics like Cook et al will have to trade in, with climate slipping down the political agenda. They may have to recast climate change deniers as Russia deniers.


  20. Ben
    Your two links open up whole new areas of debate. The nymag article treating internet trolling of social scientists might be aimed directly at us. It’s a classic bleat of those who have lost control.

    Adam Curtis (whom I discovered thanks to your recommendations at Climate Resistance) is a genius of documentary to rank alongside Leni Riefenstahl. I was somewhat put out by the fact that the documentary starts with a clip of someone I’ve met – Clement Freud – cordon bleu chef, Liberal MP, and apparently serial paedophile (I was dating one of his daughters in a previous century). It’s lovely to look at, but not relevant to our debate with Lew, since cognitive psychology was invented as a riposte to psychoanalysis. Freud, love him or hate him, is the legitimate offspring of 2,500 years of Western civilisation (I’m talking about Sigmund now). Lew is a child of the statistical app that gives you a 0.95 confidence level in whatever you want.

    On the “threat-of-nuclear-war-shaped hole at the centre of these old men’s perspectives”:

    One of the most perceptive comments on the possible future of warmism I’ve seen was a comment at Bishop Hill to the effect that, rather than either dominating our future, or being defeated by the forces of reason (ours), it might simply continue, much like the nuclear deterrent: a one or two percent drain on our economies – neither justified by events nor rejected politically – for ever. A sobering thought. No wonder the Chinese are playing us along.


  21. Man in a Barrel @ 13 Oct 16 at 10:40 pm
    The earth could cool in the next few decades if you follow the empirical trends.
    One trend is of 60 year cycles. There was warming peaks in about 1880 and 1940 and 1998. After the first two peaks there was cooling.
    Another trend is of 800-1200 year cycles. There was warming peaks in about 850BP, 2000 BP and 3000BP. All were followed by significant cooling.
    Another trend is of 80000 year cycles. For the past few hundred thousand years there have been about 10000 of warm periods followed by much longer ice ages. This has been an exceedingly long warm period. It seems that the time is running out before we have the catastrophic global cooling of the inevitable ice age.


  22. For an expensive textbook it is often instructive to ask who is actually teaching a course where it is required to read/purchase said textbook. Many a university professor has supplemented their income in this way (and without impropriety if the author is a genuine expert in their field).

    But technology has now widened the scope of this, previously rather limited, opportunity to ‘earn’ money in academic spin-offs. In the digital era it could now be used for laundering large amounts of cash from obscure sources. Just sayin’.


  23. Michael Hart
    “… it could now be used for laundering large amounts of cash from obscure sources…”

    How would that work?

    Googling the title produced just six thousand hits, including a You tube publicity video with no views at all (!) a puff by Greg Laden for “my friend John Cook” with no comments; and a puff at SkS where a commenter points out that they spelt Barack Obama’s name wrong. Cook’s co-author thanks a commenter who complains about “distracting little errors and duplications” and welcomes any corrections at rockytom09@gmail.com for the second edition.


  24. Geoff — Your two links open up whole new areas of debate.

    Yep, sorry about that, I’ll try to keep it more OT.

    It’s lovely to look at, but not relevant to our debate with Lew, since cognitive psychology was invented as a riposte to psychoanalysis. Freud, love him or hate him, is the legitimate offspring of 2,500 years of Western civilisation…

    It’s a civilisation he apparently turned his back on though? (But that’s perhaps straying from the point, again). However, the point is as much departures from Freud as noting the use of his ideas, the last episode of the series — ‘Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering’ — ending in a discussion of the focus group, and the whole journey being a story about the cynical view of the public formed by politicians (amongst others) and how this cynicism limits politics. As much as a departure from Freud cog-sci may be, the films show a long history of attempts to understand the public in a similar, if not the same way, which is useful to understanding the context, if nothing else, of more recent developments, e.g. nudge, and the anti-democratic contempt for the public expressed around Brexit, and the roles experts variously see themselves as playing in society, their functions having been absorbed into the bedrock, so to speak, after so many decades of the ideas explored in the film becoming orthodoxy. If nothing else, it speaks to our debates with Lew, because it documents the long history of official attempts to probe our minds.

    On that point, we could ask, for instance, ‘well, what the hell is a psychology PhD candidate contributing to a textbook on the material science of climate change’. One thing we can be sure of is that it probably isn’t material science, but that even if it is, something else is going on.

    “a one or two percent drain on our economies – neither justified by events nor rejected politically – for ever.

    Very likely. But the dynamic of the UN is expansion. A global carbon bureaucracy won’t be the last of the UN’s experiments with environmentalism.


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