Climategate II: An Open Letter to the Director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research

December 2, 2011 • Commentary
This article appeared on Forbes​.com on December 2, 2011.

To: Dr. Roger Wakimoto

Director, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Boulder, Colorado

Roger, you are the head of what is perhaps the most prestigious atmospheric science laboratory on the planet, and, as such, I presume that you will always go the extra mile to protect the reputation of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its related University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR).

I’m sure you have seen and discussed with your staff many of the “Climategate” emails released first in November, 2009, and then more recently, earlier this month.

Everyone agrees that the tone and content of many of them is a bit shrill and occasionally intolerant (kind of like University faculty meetings), but there is one repeating thread, by one of your most prestigious employees, Dr. Tom Wigley, that is far beyond the pale of most academic backbiting.

The revoking of my doctorate, the clear objective of Tom’s email, is the professional equivalent of the death penalty. I think it needs to be brought to your attention, because the basic premise underlying his machinations is patently and completely false. Dr Wigley is known as a careful scientist, but he certainly was careless here.

The global circulation of this email has caused unknown damage to my reputation. Also, please note that all communications from Dr. Wigley to his colleagues on this matter were on the NCAR/UCAR server.

The relevant email was sent to Rick Piltz, a UCAR employee at the time, and copied to Michael Mann, Pennsylvania State University, James Hansen and Gavin Schmidt, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Benjamin Santer, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,the late Steven Schneider, Stanford University, and several other very prominent climate scientists. The influence of these individuals is manifest and evidence of a very serious attempt to destroy my credential.

What Dr. Wigley wrote to this group of individuals was:

“You may be interesting [sic] in this snippet of information about Pat Michaels. Perhaps the University of Wisconsin ought to open up a public comment period to decide whether Pat Michaels, PhD needs re‐​assessing?”

As I said, revoking the doctorate of a scientist is the equivalent of imposing a professional death penalty. Unfortunately, Wigley’s rationale for organizing this effort was based upon a pure fabrication.

Wigley’s call for a “re‐​assessing” of my dissertation stems from his contention that I either misled my academic committee or my committee was guilty of professional malfeasance, both very serious charges. (His email is reproduced in its entirety at the end of this note.)

My 1979 dissertation was a model relating interannual and interseasonal variations in the shape of the atmosphere, as reflected by the surface barometric pressure field, to variations crop yields across the United States.

In this type of model, one usually factors out the technological component of crop yields (which, incidentally, explains much more variation than any climate component) and then models the remaining variation in yield with the climate factor, in order to “isolate” the climate component. The explained variance of this residual yield by climate is generally about 50%, which is very close to the average I found for corn, soybeans, and winter wheat.

Wigley said in his email that I claimed to have explained 95% of the variation in crop yield, which he said “would have been a remarkable results” [sic]. In fact, there is no such statement, nor anything related to that, in my dissertation. He went on to state that I did this by simultaneously modelling the technological, spatial and climate components of agricultural yield, instead of separating out technological components first.

Despite his claimed familiarity with my dissertation, I did no such thing. Table 2, beginning on page 154 of the dissertation, is labelled “DETRENDING FUNCTIONS”, and gives the equations that were used to remove the technological component. All subsequent analyses were on the detrended data.

Wigley then alleged that either I lied to my examination committee, or that they were buffoons. It is worth noting that the committee included the famously tough Reid Bryson, father of the modern notion that human beings could change the climate.

“Apparently, none of Michaels’ thesis examiners noticed this. We are left with wondering whether this was deliberate misrepresentation by Michaels, or whether it was simply ignorance.”

This came to my attention with the release of the first East Anglia emails in November, 2009. This email and other, new statements by him about my dissertation have surfaced with the recent release of additional emails, and his letter about my dissertation is again being circulated around the web.

I think you will agree that it is time for Dr. Wigley to state that his attempt to generate a movement to remove my doctorate was based upon clear errors on his part, errors that he should have known about, and yet he has let the record stand for over two years. What he “discovered years ago” was certainly not in my dissertation.

Roger, I don’t think you would put up with this, and I think Wigley must be compelled to come forth. Remember that he did this on NCAR’s (and the taxpayer’s) dime.

Thank you very much.

From: Tom Wigley [EMAIL REDACTED]


Subject: Re: FYI–“Phil Jones and Ben Santer respond to CEI and Pat Michaels attack on temperature data record”

Date: Tue, 13 Oct 2009 19:45:45 -0600


Dear folks,

You may be interesting in this snippet of information about Pat Michaels. Perhaps the University of Wisconsin ought to open up a public comment period to decide whether Pat Michaels, PhD needs re‐​assessing?

Michaels’ PhD was, I believe, supervised by Reid Bryson. It dealt with statistical (regression‐​based) modeling of crop‐​climate relationships. In his thesis, Michaels claims that his statistical model showed that weather/​climate variations could explain 95% of the inter‐​annual variability in crop yields. Had this been correct, it would have been a remarkable results. Certainly, it was at odds with all previous studies of crop‐​climate relationships, which generally showed that weather/​climate could only explain about 50% of inter‐​annual yield variability.

How did result come about? The answer is simple. In Michaels’ regressions he included a trend term. This was at the time a common way to account for the effects of changing technology on yield. It turns out that the trend term accounts for 90% of the variability, so that, in Michaels’ regressions, weather/​climate explains just 5 of the remaining 10%. In other words, Michaels’ claim that weather/​climate explains 95% of the variability is completely bogus.

Apparently, none of Michaels’ thesis examiners noticed this. We are left with wondering whether this was deliberate misrepresentation by Michaels, or whether it was simply ignorance.

As an historical note, I discovered this many years ago when working with Dick Warrick and Tu Qipu on crop‐​climate modeling. We used a spatial regression method, which we developed for the wheat belt of southwestern Western Australia. We carried out similar analyses for winter wheat in the USA, but never published the results.

Wigley, T.M.L. and Tu Qipu, 1983: Crop‐​climate modelling using spatial patterns of yield and climate: Part 1, Background and an example from Australia. Journal of Climate and Applied Meteorology 22, 1831–1841.

There never was a “Part 2.”

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