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The weirdest millennium

Filed under: — stefan @ 29 May 2007

Much research effort over the past years has gone into reconstructing the temperature history of the last millennium and beyond. The new IPCC report compiles a dozen reconstructions for the temperature of the Northern Hemisphere (including of course the original “hockey stick” reconstruction, despite opposite claims by the Wall Street Journal). Lack of data does not permit robust reconstructions for the Southern Hemisphere. Without exception, the reconstructions show that Northern Hemisphere temperatures are now higher than at any time during the past 1,000 years (Figure 1), confirming and strengthening the conclusions drawn in the previous IPCC report of 2001.

Fig. 1: Figure 6.10 (panel b) from the paleoclimate chapter of the current IPCC report (see there for details).

“Climate sceptics” do not like this and keep coming up with their own temperature histories. One of the weirdest has been circulated for years by German high-school teacher E.G. Beck (notorious for his equally weird CO2 curve). This history shows a medieval warm phase that is warmer than current climate by more than 1 ºC (see Figure 2). So how did Beck get this curve?

Fig. 2, modified from E.G. Beck (we added the green parts).

The curve is a fake in several respects. It originally is taken from the first IPCC report of 1990: a scan of the original is shown in Figure 3. At that time, no large-scale temperature reconstructions were available yet. To give an indication of past climate variability, the report showed Lamb’s Central England estimate. (Unfortunately this was not stated in the report – an oversight which shows that IPCC review procedures in the early days were not what they are now. We will post in more detail on the history of this curve another time.)

Fig. 3. The past millennium as shown in the first IPCC report of 1990, before quantitative large-scale reconstructions were available. This curve was based on Lamb’s estimated climate history for central England.

But Beck did not stop at simply using this outdated curve, he modified it as highlighted in green in Figure 2. First, he added a wrong temperature scale – the tick marks in the old IPCC report represent 1 ºC, so Beck’s claimed range of 5 ºC exaggerates the past temperature variations by more than a factor of three. Second, the original curve only goes up to the 1970’s. Since then, Northern Hemisphere temperatures have increased by about 0.6 ºC and those in central England even more – so whatever you take this curve for, if it were continued to present, the current temperature would be above the Medieval level, as in the proper reconstructions available today. As this would destroy his message, Beck applied another fakery: he extended the curve flat up to the year 2000, thereby denying the measured warming since the 1970s. With this trick, his curve looks as if it was warmer in Medieval times than now.

When approached directly about these issues, Beck published a modified curve on a website. He changed the temperature range from 5 ºC to 4.5 ºC – but he shortened the arrow as well, so this was just cosmetics. He also added instrumental temperatures for the 20th Century at the end – but with his wrong temperature scale, they are completely out of proportion. (In fact his version suggests temperatures have warmed by 2 ºC since 1900, more than twice of what is actually observed!)

Beck goes even further: in a recent article (in German), he has the audacity to claim that his manipulated curve is right and the more recent scientific results shown by IPCC are wrong. And for years, he has offered his curve on an internet site ( that distributes teaching materials for schools, with support from German school authorities. It is quite likely that his fake curve has been shown (and will continue to be shown) to many school children.

507 Responses to “The weirdest millennium”

  1. 1
    David Wilson says:

    the Chicken Little story has many variants. the one read to me as a child ends with Chicken Little, Henny Penny, and the rest going gaily into the den of Foxy Loxy never to emerge again – an unequivocal moral here: be silly and get eaten!

    it is the climate change deniers who most use this kind of imagery these days, but it seems to me that they are the silly ones, and possibly more likely to get eaten by the fox in the end, time will tell

    in the meantime, thanks again for your balanced and good natured reports

  2. 2
    Bruce Tabor says:

    Thanks Stefan,

    Congratulations on your recent Science article, which I read only a few days ago.
    It worries me that we (i.e. our politicians) are not going to address the issue of climate change in time to avoid serious consequences. Institutions like the Wall Street Journal and people like Beck are not helping the issue.

    What do you know about Beck’s backgraound and motivation? You mention that he is a school teacher. Does he have any qualifications in climatology or even scientific research? To me Beck’s diagram is a schematic, which although misleading as you suggest, is not a scientific graph.

    It stikes me as odd that German school authorities accept Beck’s material. I assume you mean state (government) school authorities, rather than private school authorities. Have the school authorities been alerted to the questionable science behind his website?

  3. 3
    Tim Lambert says:

    Oh my, Beck also presents Gavin Menzies fantasies about the Chinese navy sailing around the North coast of Greenland in 1421.

  4. 4
    bobby says:

    I don’t really have as much knowledge about these things as you guys, but I would like to know more.

    If there is insufficient data from the southern hemisphere to permit robust reconstructions of the earths temperature over the last 1000 years, is it possible that the southern temperature was a lot hotter than today and the global temperature has actually been reasonably consistent, just shifted from southern hemisphere to northern, possibly caused by the weakening of the magnetic field since Roman times or something that somebody like me wouldn’t know about?

    [Response:This is very unlikely. As discussed in the paleoclimate chapter (chapter 6) of the latest IPCC scientific assessment report, model simulations reproduce the gross behavior of the Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstructions, including the anomalous recent warmth, as a result of a combination of natural and anthropogenic radiative forcing. The anomalous recent warmth is associated with the latter. These same simulations predict similar overall behavior for the southern hemisphere. The ‘null hypothesis’ would be that the southern hemisphere mean temperature would have a similar history. Some minor are likely to be observed, due for example to the greater thermal inertia of the southern hemisphere (more ocean surface) which damps the response to high-frequency forcing, and possible differential hemispheric surface temperature changes associated with variations in cross-equatorial heat transport (e.g. changes in the thermohaline circulation). -mike]

    If the temperature at the southern pole is well below freezing, even with a rise in temperature of 5C, why would the ice melt or does water not freeze below 0C anymore? (Sorry if that sounds a little patronising, but I’ve asked this question of other people, several times and they tend to change the subject, probably because they don’t know the answer)

    [Response:If I understand your question, you are wondering about why people worry about Antarctic melting? The answer is, this isn’t the worry, when we are talking about the vast majority of the continent, which as you correctly point out is well below freezing and will remain so for a long time. But the edges of the continent — in particular the Antarctic Peninsula in summer — can and do melt, but from above (warm summer and sunlight), and below (warm ocean).–eric]

  5. 5
    Tony says:

    Thanks, guys, for bringing this stuff to lay readers such as myself. I’m sure I’ve seen that 1990 IPCC graph used elsewhere, but can’t remember where. (I hope your future post on that graph will go into this in some detail.)

    A question: in my neck of the woods, there’s a guy who talks about the Climate Audit all the time, and often sends me links to their latest posts. I’m no scientist, so a lot of their stuff is over my head.

    How serious are their allegations about researchers not being transparent with data? Their latest crusade is to try to dent the IPCC’s review of the urban heat island literature by saying it’s just one guy [edited]. How valid is this criticism? Note that I’ve read the relevant bits in the IPCC WG1 report, but they’re trying to make an end-run around the IPCC by charging that its review of the UHI literature was biased. This sounds suspiciously like a conspiracy theory to me… Would you agree?

    Sorry if this was off topic. Have you thought about compiling a FAQ of “best hits”?

  6. 6
    Nick says:

    Some questions.

    Did the little ice age exist? Y/N

    Did the Medival warm period exist? Y/N

    [Response:See our glossary entries on the LIA and MWP. -mike]

    Volatility. It looks from the graph that volatility of temperature has gone down. Is this an artifact because we have better measurements, or is another process going on?


  7. 7
    Mike Donald says:

    Urban heat island effects. I heard somewhere they compared temperatures with and without wind and found the same temperature (thus no UHI). My little quibble is whether there’s heat than can emanate from towns that is unaffected by air movements (eg radiation?) and whether that might affect the measurements.

    Keep up the good work chaps.

  8. 8

    Leading officials of the German Mining Chemical & Energy Union (IGBCE) have adopted the arguments propagated by E. G. Beck to justify the continued use of domestic lignite despite CO2 emissions that are nearly triple the amount per kWh of gas generation. Lignite surface mining is destroying natural landscape, fertile farmland, and human settlements such as our village of Heuersdorf. With the German economy now recovering from record postwar unemployment, CO2 emissions are again rising, making Kyoto fulfillment increasingly unlikely.

    Anyone interested in the German lignite industry may want to consult my study on the topic:

    [Response: The IGBCE is really using Beck’s faked materials? Can you point me to sources for this info? If true, it’s incredible. But even the German daily “Die Welt” ran an editorial which stated that “biologist” E.G. Beck has proven that the CO2 concentrations were already above 420 ppm in the 1940s – this is his CO2 nonsense we posted about earlier. (And note how a school teacher is promoted to a scientist to make this sound credible.) -stefan]

  9. 9
    J Bloom says:

    It strikes me as yet another example of past variability being used to undermine the evident validity of GHG increase experiments.

    I don’t read German so I’ve no idea whether he draws a direct connection between the cool period and the 30-year war. Could you possibly elucidate on this?

  10. 10

    The millennium past is far, far, less weird than what we are seeing popularized in this one:

  11. 11
    bender says:

    Where are the error bars on the opening graph?

  12. 12
    Spencer says:

    Uh, that’s actually figure 6.10 (or actually actually, part of the figure)

  13. 13

    Re #4 and Bobby’s question “If the temperature at the southern pole is well below freezing, even with a rise in temperature of 5C, why would the ice melt or does water not freeze below 0C anymore?”

    The problem with Earth Science is that it is not simple as that. First the temperature in the Antarctic Peninsula, where melting is already happening, is not the same as that at the South Pole. Since the South Pole is at a greater altitude and latitude that the Antarctic coast it is much colder, and it is not the ice there that causes concern. The main worry is the Antarctic ice shelves which not only are on the coast but are floating in the sea. This means that, not only are they warmed from above by a stronger greenhouse effect, they are also warmed from below by an ocean which is being heated.

    Another complication is that since they are floating, if the shelves do melt then they will not cause a sea level rise. However, it is thought that they are holding back the ice sheets which feed them, and if the shelves do collapse then the ice sheets will slide off the land into the sea and raise sea level. When this happens then the remaining sheets will be converted to ice shelves since the sea level rise will cause the grounding lines to retreat.

    The main threat is from the West Antarctic ice sheet, which feeds the Ross Sea ice shelf, and is close to sea level. The rest of Antarctica is fairly mountainous and so, as you suggested, would require higher temperature to melt.

    If the West Antarctic ice shelf melted then sea level would rise by about 7 m (20 feet), the same as would happen if the Greenland ice sheet melted completely. However, if the Greenland ice started melting and raised sea level by only 1 m say, that might destabilize the West Antarctic ice sheet. The consequent rise in sea level around the Greenland coast could accelerate the melting there!

    If both the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets melted, then the subsequent 40 foot rise in sea level would have a devastating effect on most of the great cities of the world.

    HTH, Cheers, Alastair.

  14. 14
    bender says:

    And so why not post that one instead?

  15. 15
    Peter says:

    Nice work Stefan,

    chaps like Beck do not make life easier.
    No, as far as I understand Beck does not link climate change to the 30-year war. But in general, he argues that climate change is a natural proces and as such a positive issue. He is just a high school teacher, but it is important to understand that high school teachers in Germany are very smart; many of them are even smart enough to become part of our political establishment (a wee bit of sarcasmn). Any news from Stefans debate with Mangini in “Die Zeit”. IMHO it would be of interest for the English language readers.

  16. 16
    Nigel Mellish says:


    What does the large PS 2004 line represent, and how is it most commonly interpreted?

  17. 17
    Khurram says:

    Hello. I was very surprised to learn that the southern hemisphere data is not included in global climate change models? i understand we can extrapolate to include it but that is not as robust as including it directly. I have always wondered why the southern hemisphere is not experiencing the same global warming that the northern hemisphere is. first of all, is this true? isn’t this a very big problem for modelling global warming? Please help me understand southern hemisphere climate change.

    [Response:Of course the Southern Hemisphere is in the models – we’re talking here not about models but about reconstructions of past changes from data such as tree rings, ice cores etc. -stefan]

  18. 18
    Peter says:

    In addition to Alistair:

    Sea water does not freeze at 0C. Pressure of the ice sheets should also have a signicant influence, or am I wrong?

  19. 19
    Peter says:

    If sea water gets diluted by fresh water freezing temperature in general should rise and to a certain extent produce a natural counter effect (more sea ice). Is this reflected in the models for seal level rise? Many thanks.

  20. 20
    Bird Thompson says:

    Beck may be smart but he’s no scientist. He’s lost in his own ideas & preconceptions (&unfortunately influencing others) while the ice melts. According to the June 07 National Geographic, the Greenland ice sheet is melting twice as fast as it was just 10 years ago.

  21. 21

    Re 17

    Hi Peter, I am not sure if I understand your question, but even if I did I doubt that I could answer it :-( However, I know a man that might.

    If you go to Bob Grumbine’s FAQ “ he calculates that the Arctic sea ice will raise sea level by 0.4 mmm. I don’t think he calculates the effect of the Antarctic ice shelves but presumably they would be similar.

    I don’t trust ice sheet modelers because I suspect that they ignore terrestrial heat flow, and the reduction in ice sheet friction when sea water floats ice sheets so reducing the normal force from the ice that remains grounded.

    Re 18 In most cases the fresh water (in the form of ice/bergs) is removed by wind to warmer climes where it cannot refreeze. That remaining is soon mixed with the much deeper salty water so its freshness is lost.

  22. 22
    Paul M says:

    Has anyone gone to Kentucky and seen the museum that puts the dinosaurs in with the people chronologically? School aged children in both Kentucky and Germany are being taught this stuff even in this “advanced” age in 2007. Beck is representative of what people do despite the best science.

  23. 23
    Paul M says:

    “We are unknown, we knowers, to ourselves…of necessity we remain strangers to ourselves, we understand ourselves not, in ourselves we are bound to be mistaken, for each of us holds good to all eternity the motto, ‘Each is farthest away from himself”-as far as ourselves are concerned we are not knowers. –NIETZSCHE

  24. 24
    Kroganchor says:

    Could somebody explain the scale on the verticle axis? It s not clear to this non-scientist what “anomoly” means. It appears that for an extended period, until 1950, the “T anomoly” fluctuated between 0 and -1 with a range of fluctuation of about 1/2 to 3/4.
    The recent upward spike to +.5 appears to be the start of a trend. However, my misfortunes in the investment arena have taught me to delay drawing conclusions from patterns that are within the range of normal fluctuations. i.e. beware reggression to the mean.

    [Response: The axis says “temperature anomaly with respect to 1961-1990”; this means that the temperature values are given as deviation from the average temperature of the period 1961-1990. The graph shows that before this time interval, temperatures were generally colder, while right now we’re about 0.5 ºC warmer than the 1961-1990 average. -stefan]

  25. 25
    Gene Hawkridge says:

    The 11th and 12th Century warming is interesting. Does anyone have a good theory for why this occurred?

    An aside for Tim Lambert: there is no way you could know that the Chinese DID NOT sail around the north end of Greenland in the 15th Century, unless maybe you can prove that there was ice there at the time. Characterizing it as a “fantasy” lacks proper scientific objectivity. Gavin Menzies engages in speculation based on scant evidence – yes. However, the evidence is not nonexistent. I recall that at one time, the speculations of Alfred Wegener were characterized as “preposterous” by the geologists of his day. Too bad the scientists of his era didn’t live long enough to eat crow.

  26. 26
    Dan says:

    11, 14: The issue is the gross misleading statements and figures by Beck, not the “error bars” which are actually indicated in the figure at the link if one was really interested in checking. Why not use the same skepticsm about Beck’s distortion of science?

  27. 27
    Peter says:

    Thanks Alistair!

    26: I agree with you, the whole article of Beck linked by Stefan is a compilation of false assumptions and crude theories.

  28. 28
    Hank Roberts says:

    >error bars
    The error bars are the gray band in the upper third of the full three-part, full page image. They won’t be easy to see at screen resolution, they’re so close to the temperature graph that the just look like a blur around the main line. See the full chapter for that and much mnore.
    You can get the chapter — it’s a PDF file — from the link provided at the top. There are _many_ graphs and figures there, read them together.

    This — for about 24 hours after I post it — will open a temporary file with all three parts of that figure:

  29. 29
    Peter says:

    Off topic – but I don’t know where else to ask a question on this site:

    This old post:

    contains the statement
    ” the evidence is for significant cooling from the 1970’s, when Viking made measurements, compared to current temperatures”
    but without a reference. Nor was I able to find it on the internet. Can someone provide a reference for this statement?


  30. 30
    PeterK says:

    29. Also off but we have two Peters on board. I change my nick to PeterK to reflect this, however it would be nice to avoid off topic questions.

  31. 31
    Craig Allen says:

    #17: Southern Hemisphere not warming:

    Where the heck did you get that idea? Check out the online ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) news for a hefty dose of grim reality about what climate change is doing to the south. It’s quite interesting to watch the recriminations fly between the political parties as they fight over what can be done about dwindling water supplies and what we should do about our emissions. Looking at it right now I note that by coincidence there is an artical covering new research that shows that the Indian Ocean has increased in temperature by 2 degree over the course of the last 40 years.

    (On a brighter note; it looks like we are starting to get some respite via the La Nina pattern that appears to be kicking in – phew!)

  32. 32
    Tim McDermott says:

    re 25:

    One very good piece of evidence that the Chinese were not sailing around Greenland in the 15th century is that there are no known records of such expeditions. We do know that Zheng He led a fleet through Asia and as far as the coast of Africa. So the Chinese were keeping records, and the records have survived.

  33. 33
    Zeke Hausfather says:

    A quick question: why do most of the reconstructions considerably underestimate the actual temperature record in the latter part of the millennium (e.g. 1970-2000). Do temperature proxies not respond well to (relatively) rapidly increasing temperatures?

  34. 34
    Eli Rabett says:

    Kroganchor (#24) An anomoly is the difference between some average value and current values. Temperature anomolies are calculated using the average in a stated interval. For instrumental measurements this is usually a thirty year period, e.g. 1950 to 1979.

    Anomolies are usful when you want to compare changes over time or distance for example the change in yearly average temperature in New York and Cairo. Clearly, on average NY is colder in absolute terms, but by looking at the difference between the average temperature in NY over 30 years and the yearly average we get a yearly anomaly and can directly compare the anomolies.

    Similarly, if we find the 30 year average temperatures at some place for January and June we can compare trends in monthly temperatures over long periods of time and see whether there is more of a trend in the winter or summer.

  35. 35
    Ike Solem says:

    Speaking of what shoolchildren are getting exposed to, the National Science Teachers Association in the US is still recommending Kenneth Greens “Climate Change: Understanding the Debate”. The NSTA was featured on RC some time ago.

    Kenneth Green was the one who was offering $10,000 payments for scientists who would be willing to publicly attack the IPCC report a few months ago, and is associated with the American Enterprise Institute and the Fraser Institute.

    Even with all the negative attention the NSTA recieved after refusing to distribute “An Inconvenient Truth” to science teachers, they’re still playing the same game.

  36. 36
    SomeBeans says:

    #24 Kroganchor
    Global surveys of instrumentally measured temperature are shown as anomlies because it is easier to compare the change of a temperature measurement station compared to itself than to attempt to put all stations on a single absolute scale.

    The data shown above are reconstructions from proxy measurements of temperature (such as tree ring widths) and so are inherently more noisy than an instrumental measurement. I guess they are shown as anomlies because they are calibrated using instrumental anomaly data.

    If you want to see why the current rises in temperature are more than just an “uptick”, see here:
    This is an instrumental record and is much less noisy than the proxy reconstruction shown above.

  37. 37
    PeterK says:

    One positive point to make. Do not understate children’s intelligence. School kids in German high schools (Gymnasium) usually have a good sense of humour regarding weird teachers and their theories. I think that logic applies everywhere around the globe.

  38. 38
    Hank Roberts says:

    >Mars, Viking
    This may help:
    (Various possibilities considered — changes in dust storms seems most likely reason for change in albedo and thus temp.)

    The above is — I’d guess — likely the background for the recent story in Science.
    I found what’s said to be a copy of that, reposted on this site by someone. Since that’s probably a copyright violation I’ll make a brief excerpt from it instead of copying the copy.
    — can’t vouch for it — text below excerpted from the copy I found on the page:

    A Darker, Hotter Mars
    By John Simpson
    ScienceNOW Daily News
    4 April 2007

    “Slight variations in the hue of the Red Planet appear to drive the martian climate. … and could be responsible for a curious increase in the planet’s temperature in recent years, a team of planetary scientists reports.
    “Martian temperatures depend in part on how much sunlight is absorbed or reflected. … Spacecraft images show that more than one-third of its surface area has shown seasonal variations that brighten or darken by at least 10%.
    “… The researchers mapped albedo changes on the martian surface over 20 years, comparing images from the late-1970s Viking mission to the Mars Global Surveyor mission from 1999. … The overall reduction in albedo, in part, corresponds to the planet’s warming of 0.65°C over 20 years…”

    Original behind the subscription barrier at:

  39. 39
    PeterK says:


    Correct, there is no evidence that Chinese ships ever made it to Greenland. The Chinese expeditions are well known. Many people also believe that the word Greenland (in English) or Groenland in German derives from the medieval warm phase and the meaning stands for nowadays “green”. This is highly disputed by linguists.
    Also the viking sagas mention “Vinland”, thougt to stand for “wine”. This is also disputed. By archeological evidence it seems to be true that the early medieval centuries in the Northern hemisphere were a warm climatic period. But one should not draw conclusions like Beck that all shipping routes in the Northern hemisphere were free of ice and Greenland was a place like Florida.

  40. 40
    Kroganchor says:

    #36 SomeBeans – Thank you for info. I am still confused. Why do not the fluctuations occur symmetrically around the zero value, if we are measuring anomolies?

  41. 41
    Peter Williams says:

    What constantly amazes me is how wingnuts like Beck with their pet theories manage to engage the state apparatus of policy, thanks to those who are gullible and/or have an agenda.

  42. 42
    SomeBeans says:

    #40 Kroganchor

    The zero for the anomalies is set to the average of some 30 year period (I believe 1961-1990 is traditional in this instance), therefore any anomalies are only distributed uniformly in this reference period – outside this period you will see the effect of long term trends.

  43. 43
    James says:

    Re #39: [Many people also believe that the word Greenland (in English) or Groenland in German derives from the medieval warm phase and the meaning stands for nowadays “green”.]

    The claim that Greenland is green is not entirely inaccurate. At some places on the coast, and in summer, it can appear quite verdant. (Like any arctic or alpine meadow.) This site has some pictures, including reconstructions of some of the original Norse settlements:

    Add to the natural greenness some enthusiastic marketing by Eric the Red, and consider that he and the settlers were used to the climate of Iceland and Norway, and “green” seems a perfectly reasonable name.

  44. 44
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 25

    “…there is no way you could know that the Chinese DID NOT sail around the north end of Greenland in the 15th Century, unless maybe you can prove that there was ice there at the time.”

    The Chinese kept excellent records, particularly regarding expeditions that were as large and expensive, as a venture such as you suggest would be.

    In addition, the one Chinese expedition that came closest stopped short of Europe and (presumably) returned to China after a change in leadership that curtailed further exploration outside of Chine. John S. Lewis describes this voyage in the first chapter of his book “Mining the Sky”. Had they continued on, long before approaching Greenland they would have first visited Europe (because shipping of that time period tended to keep land in sight for a number of reasons for which there is no need to go into here).

    Suffice to say there is no record of such an encounter in either European or Chinese history.

  45. 45
    QrazyQat says:

    re #25: I recall that at one time, the speculations of Alfred Wegener were characterized as “preposterous” by the geologists of his day.

    This is not an accurate account of what happened with Wegener. I’ve dealt with this as part of a different fringe science theory (pseudo and fringe science people are always using a false history of Wegener’s ideas and the reaction to them). I’ll cut and paste from my site regarding Wegener:

    According to the typical way of putting it, Wegener put forward a simple theory which said the continents had once been one, had split apart long ago, and slowly moved to their present locations. For this he was shunned and summarily dismissed by all science, only to be vindicated several decades after his death by scientists who realized that Wegener’s theory was exactly what had actually happened.

    Good story… too bad it didn’t happen that way.

    It seems that comparing themselves to Wegener is a popular pursuit with many people. One problem with their comparison is that the commonly expressed sentiment — “no one supported Wegener” — is wrong. It is also a fact that Wegener’s proposed mechanisms were obviously inadequate, as evidenced by the fact that he himself admitted this was so in the 4th edition of his book. This part about the mechanism has special significance for supporters of the AAT/H who look to Wegener’s theory as a icon, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

    Contrary to these comparisons, many people who disagreed with Wegener about his idea took it quite seriously: they disagreed in scientific journals and conferences. Wegener’s idea wasn’t widely accepted because there was no reasonable candidate for a mechanism capable of producing the effect. This is a perfectly reasonable objection to a theory. When finally such a candidate was found, Wegener’s underlying idea — but not his inadequate mechanism — was accepted.

    Although some reaction was probably based on being hide-bound, a major reason for Wegener’s idea not being accepted was that he had no reasonable mechanism, apparently no way for it to actually happen. Until a reasonable hypothesis regarding a mechanism was brought forward, it is reasonable to reject a theory. In Wegener’s case, this took quite a few years, decades, actually, and this helped opposition harden against the idea.

    Wegener was correct only in the initial part of his claim — the part about what happened. He was dead wrong, almost laughably so, about the mechanism. His mechanism, a combination of pole-fleeing force and the tidal attraction of the sun and moon, was far far less powerful than would be necessary (several 1000’s of times so), and Wegener admitted this himself in the 4th edition of his book.

    List and comments from Continental Drift: The Evolution of a Concept by Ursula B. Marvin, Ph.D., Smithsonian Institution Press: Washington, D.C. (1973):
    Prominent Wegener supporters included:
    Arthur Holmes of Durham and Edinburgh universities, “he was among the earliest and greatest pioneers in developing the radiometric methods for determining the ages of rocks and minerals and the age of the earth itself”; Emile Argand, founder of the Geological Institute of Neuchatel, Switzerland; S. William Carey, professor of geology at the University of Tasmania; C.S. Wright; Lester King, professor of geology at the University of Natal; Professor Reginald A. Daly of Harvard University, who Marvin calls a scientist “of unchallenged prestige”; Alexander Du Toit, Johannesburg, South Africa, author of Our Wandering Continents; Armadeus W. Grabau, “an American paleontologist and author of several textbooks on stratigraphy and index fossils”; Leonce Joleaud, French geologist; R.D. Oldham, “discoverer of the seismic evidence for the earth’s core”; and Dr. W.A.J.M. Waterschoot van der Gracht, “a Dutch geologist and vice president of the Marland Oil Company”.

  46. 46
    Edward Greisch says:

    Another off-subject comment: Take a look at:
    climate monitoring station: Moon-based observatories proposed

  47. 47
    Richard Jones says:

    Thanks to #28 for posting the link to the complete charts. I presume that the grey bars on the Hadley reconstruction are some kind of error estimate made by varying the model inputs? What we are interested in in this thread, however, are the error bars on the temperature reconstructions from proxies. What is striking from the IPCC chart is that the “instrumental record” starts diverging seriously upwards from the “proxies” around 1950, and is in the “10%” overlap range by about 1980.

    [Response: Actually, you have mis-interpreted the information provided because you have not considered the implications of the smoothing constraints that have been applied at the boundaries of the time series. I believe that the authors of the chapter used a smoothing constraint that forces the curves to approach the boundary with zero slope (the so-called ‘minimum slope’ constraint). At least, this is the what it is explicitly stated was done for the smoothing of all time series in the instrumental observations chapter (chapter 3) of the report. Quoting page 336 therein, This chapter uses the ‘minimum slope’ constraint at the beginning and end of all time series, which effectively reflects the time series about the boundary. If there is a trend, it will be conservative in the sense that this method will underestimate the anomalies at the end. So the problem is that you are comparing two series, one which has an overly conservative boundary constraint applied at 1980 (where the proxy series terminate) tending to suppress the trend as the series approaches 1980, and another which has this same constraint applied far later (at 2005, where the instrumental series terminates). In the latter case, the bounday constraint is applied far enough after 1980 that is does not artificially suppress the trend near 1980. A better approach would have been to impose the constraint which minimizes the misfit of the smooth with respect to the raw series, which most likely would in this case have involved minimizing the 2nd derivative of the smooth as it approaches the terminal boundary, i.e. the so-called ‘minimum roughness’ constraint (see the discussion in this article). However, the IPCC chose to play things conservatively here, with the risk of course that the results would be mis-interpreted by some, as you have above. -mike]

    The simple read on this, surely, is that the proxies are not reflecting current temperatures (calibration period) and so cannot be relied upon as telling what past temperatures were either?

    [Response: Well, no, actually the proper read on this is that you should make sure to understand what boundary constraints have been used any time you are comparing two smoothed series near their terminal boundaries, especially when the terminal boundaries are not the same for the two different series being compared. -mike]

    [Response: I’ve removed a comment which in retrospect was probably inappropriate. -mike]

  48. 48
    John Mashey says:

    re: #45
    Wegener’s is certainly one claimed by classic fringers, but the history is actually even more complicated, i.e., for example, Americans were mostly against it from the beginning, whereas there was more acceptance in Europe.

    QrazyQat (and anyone else who likes history of science): I recommend:

    The Rejection of Continental Drift: Theory and Method in American Earth Science (Paperback) , by Naomi Oreskes.

    Some people at RC may know Prof. Oreskes from a famous Science article:

    If you ever get a chance to hear her speak, GO! She gave a fine, lively historical talk last Fall at Stanford on the history of Fred Singer, Frederick Seitz, the George C. Marshall Institute, and related characters, well-known (if not beloved) by RC readers.

  49. 49
    Ender says:

    stefan – I was wondering if you had seen this:
    “A Science–Based Rebuttal to the Testimony of Al Gore before the United States Senate
    Environment & Public Works Committee
    National Headquarters: ! Capitol Hill Office:
    11781 Lee Jackson Mem. Hwy., Third Floor! 209 Pennsylvania Ave, S.E., Suite 2100
    Ph: 703-246-0110 � Fax: 703-246-0129! Washington, D.C. 20003 �! Ph. 202-454-5249 � Fax: 202-454-5223
    CENTER FOR SCIENCE AND PUBLIC POLICY a project of Frontiers of Freedom
    Craig Idso
    Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change
    May 2007”

    It written by Craig Idso and is chock full of single proxy studies that ‘prove’ the MWP was warmer than today. I actually do not get why skeptics think that it is SO important what the temperature of the MWP was. Both events, recent anthropogenic warming and the MWP, to me are independent. Even if the MWP was proved in peer reviewed studies to be warmer than today that does not mean that it will not get warmer still from our greenhouse emissions.

    It also shows the double speak of the skeptics. On the one had decrying the unreliability and so-called dodgy stats (M&M) in the hockey stick they then use similar proxy data with the same now strangely not dodgy stats to claim that the MWP was warmer than today.

  50. 50
    Roy Turnbull says:

    Beck is not the only person to misuse the IPCC 1990 graph. Christopher Monckton, Viscount of Brenchley, published this graph in his “Apocalypse Cancelled” global warming denial piece in the UK Daily Telegraph, here:

    Monckton claimed that the graph was included in the 1996 IPCC Report, wrongly implying that it originated there, and also falsely claimed that “According to â�¦ Soon and Balliunas (2003)*, the medieval warm period was warmer than the current warm period by up to 3C,” thus implying that the current warming is of little concern. (Apocalypse Cancelled, p.5, References, Sunday Telegraph, 5 November 2006).

    In fact, the Soon and Balliunas (2003) paper makes no reference to the current warm period or to 3C. It merely claimed “the twentieth century is probably not the warmest” … “of the last millennium”.

    *SOON, W. and Baliunas, Sallie. 2003. Proxy Climate and Environmental Changes of the Past 1000 Years, Climate Res. 23: 89�110.