Posted by Jeff Condon on August 25, 2011
This post is due to a reader who brought my attention to the recently published critiques of Zhao and Running almost a year ago.
I sort of lost my cool with an obviously bad paper some time ago. Charlatans of Science Zhao and Running. Looking back, I could have worded it better but they published a paper claiming the following:
After a 6 percent increase in the 1980s and 1990s, plant productivity declined 1 percent in the last 10 years.
I criticized it quite roundly. In fact, my mom pointed out that it demeaned me when I got wound up about this nonsense (remember the fish shrinking guys). She’s probably right but what was insane was that they blamed this statistically indistinguishably small measurement of ‘productivity’ on an equally indistinguishable drought model. There is no way to pull that kind of accuracy from even the best climate data over 10 years. They knew it, we knew it, everyone knew it including most likely the editor and reviewers who agreed to publish it. So I called them Charlatans, which is still my opinion. Perhaps I should have called them advocates or something except that the dishonesty was at least as bad as any other example I have seen — my opinion again.
I still haven’t read the paper and still don’t intend to. Some of the less technical won’t understand why but I bet the more technical readers won’t mind this one bit — it is really that bad. Global warming study is a business, make no doubt about it. If you want BIG industry, AGW is right near the top of the list of biggest industries on Earth. Profitable, lucrative, prestigious and cushy, what more could you ask for.
My critiques were primarily unstated, again because I didn’t need to for many here to understand them but I did list this specifically:
Like you really can detect that plant productivity has decreased – due to drought – by 1 percent amongst all the noise in the data and then you attribute it to a few tenths of a degree C, bovine scatology.
Now the critiques of the paper have come in. I’m surprised people took the time but glad at the same time.
The press release is more clear than the critiques.
The main premise of Zhao and Running’s model-based study was an expectation of increased
global plant productivity during the 2000s based on previously observed increases during the
1980s and 1990s under supposedly similar, favorable climatic conditions. Instead, Zhao and
Running were surprised to see a decline, which they attributed it to large-scale droughts in
the Southern Hemisphere.
“Their model has been tuned to predict lower productivity even for very small increases in
temperature. Not surprisingly, their results were preordained,” said Arindam Samanta, the
study’s lead author. (Samanta, now at Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc.,
Lexington, MA, worked on the study as a graduate student at Boston University’s Department
of Geography and Environment.)
My bold. Not surprisingly!! Think about that, what science would be able to be unsurprised with cooked books. Perhaps one which was more about seeking business than truth.
In any case, the trends in plant productivity reported by Zhao and Running are miniscule—a
0.34% reduction in the Southern Hemisphere offset by a 0.24% gain in the Northern
Hemisphere for a net decline of 0.1% over a ten-year period from 2000 to 2009. “This is the
proverbial needle in a haystack,” said Simone Vieira, coauthor and researcher at the State
University of Campinas, Brazil. “There is no model accurate enough to predict such minute
changes over such short time intervals, even at hemispheric scales.”
Any investigation of trends in plant growth requires not only consistent and accurate climate
and satellite data but also a model suitable for such purposes. “The Zhao and Running study
does not even come close,” said Ranga Myneni, senior author and Professor of Geography,
Boston University. “Their analysis of satellite data is flawed because they included poor
quality data and do not bother to test trends for statistically significance. Our analyses of four
different higher-quality MODIS satellite vegetation products that have been carefully filtered
for data corruption show no statistically significant trends over 85% of the global vegetated
Amazing, sound familiar? My thanks to those who chose to waste their time and refute the nonsense of this paper. It feels like all is not lost when sanity intervenes when bad work is published.