the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Matters of Fact

Posted by Jeff Id on February 10, 2011

Ryan ODonnell

Subsequent to my post on Feb 7, 2010 here, Steig informed me by email that he had not seen our Response to his Third Review, as I had previously assumed. I apologize for my misunderstanding on this point, which was, however, incidental to the major concerns expressed in my post. A more detailed response on matters raised in Steig’s most recent RC post and other issues will be forthcoming.

My misunderstanding over whether Steig received the Response to the Third Review does not alter the fact that Steig acting as Reviewer A, in his Second Review, had asked the editor to “insist” that we present the “most likely” West Antarctica trends, specifically proposing iridge, although, in an email yesterday, Steig expressed “total surprise” that we had complied with his iridge proposal and, in his Feb 1 RC post, even criticized us for complying his proposal. We will have more to say on this near the future, as his explanations remain insufficient.

Nor do I agree that the criticisms in his RC posts of the methodology have any merit. In his Third Review, Steig had raised similar points against iridge, notwithstanding his Second Review proposal of the approach and his Third Review comment that “use of the ‘iridge’ procedure makes sense to me, and I suspect it really does give the best results”. We responded fully to these concerns in our Response to his Third Review, although we were unaware until Feb 8, 2011 that Steig had not received a copy of our Response.

In any event, Steig knew or ought to have known that our response must have satisfied the editor of Journal of Climate and should have familiarized himself with our response before condemning the method that he had previously encouraged. Had Steig informed me that he had not seen a copy of our Response to his Third Review, I would have been delighted to send it to him. Instead, he chose to publicly disparage our paper using arguments that were both irrelevant and satisfactorily addressed – which was, unfortunately, no different than the tactic he used during review.

Steig’s recent outbursts are merely his most recent effort to obfuscate the underlying point of our critique: that whatever was original in Steig et al 2009 was based on faulty mathematics; and that whatever was correct in Steig et al 2009 was already known.

39 Responses to “Matters of Fact”

  1. BobN said

    Ryan – While I 100% think you have the proper maths on your side and do think that Steig’s criticisms are mostly just trying somehow to salvage his original interpretation, I do think a more direct public apology for the duplicity accusations and for outing him as reviewer A (against Journal policy) would be in order.

  2. Jeff Id said

    I am not Ryan but when someone insists you use a method and then critiques that method, what is going on? If Steig doesn’t think it is enough, then he can put his big boy pants on and say so.

  3. boballab said


    Outing a reviewer is against journal policy?

    Umm where exactly in the list of Guidelines for Authors, Editors, and Reviewers for AMS journals do you find it, because when I read it I don’t find anything against it?

    Click to access authorseditorsreviewersguide.pdf

    In that Authors guide there is nothing I can see about not publishing the review documents nor saying who the reviewers are.

  4. Layman Lurker said

    re: BobN

    I have a lot of questions regarding Steig’s behavior – extending right into his recent “O’Donnellgate” post at RC. I have literally spent hours reading the relevant posts here, Lucia’s, RC, as well as the reviews, responses, and editorial correspondence. FWIW here
    is my take on it at Lucia’s.

    I don’t blame Ryan for being pissed at Steig’s RC post that got this all started. One can take issue with how he responded. The clincher for me (being sympathetic to his being pissed) would have been seeing the same criticisms of iridge used in the third review with the corrected reference (from Ryan’s response the Steig’s third review) to Mann 07 along with the additional reference to Smerdon and Kaplan (07) (provided in addition by Ryan in the same response). After a long timeline of shenanigans with S09 going right back it’s publication. The fact that Ryan accepts Eric’s word that he did not see the response to the third review speaks to his integrity.

    Do not mistake recognition of remaining questions which should be asked of Steig (if this is what Ryan is refering to regarding his forthcomming post) as equivocation on his apology. Please read my link and then ask yourself two questions: How do you square Steig ‘insisting’ that the ridge regression be elevated to the manuscript from the SI (not revealing the argument he would use against it from his own paper)? Why do you think Steig would be ambiguous on this point in his RC post while simultaneously condemning Ryan for raising the issue?

    Not only was Steig ambiguous on the matter in the post and inline comments, direct questions on the matter were censored. A seemingly token comment / question appears in the “bore hole” and Steig closes comments.

  5. Jeff C. said

    No apology. The peer review system is corrupt and controlled by a cliché that selectively enforces rules to their benefit. If Dr. Steig made disingenuous claims regarding the paper, the obvious solution is to make the back-and-forth public so those interested can draw their own conclusions. Of course, this appears to be against one of those nebulous “rules”, although the JoC guidelines appear to state no such thing.

    If all parties involved had signed a document that forbade publication of the correspondence, an apology would be warranted. As far as I know, they didn’t. Newcomers are refusing to play by the rigged rules selectively enforced by the old guard. That is a good thing for climatology and the peer-review process in general.

  6. boballab said


    Jeff C I think you mean clique where you wrote cliche, they are slightly different things 🙂

  7. Jeff C. said

    Boballab – Doh! I stand corrected. Although acoording to the American Heritage Dictionary definition 2 might just apply:

    also cliche (klē-shā’) n.
    1) A trite or overused expression or idea: “Even while the phrase was degenerating to cliché in ordinary public use . . . scholars were giving it increasing attention” (Anthony Brandt).
    2) A person or character whose behavior is predictable or superficial: “There is a young explorer . . . who turns out not to be quite the cliche expected” (John Crowley).

  8. boballab said

    Jeff C

    Oh I agree the Clique’s behavior over this is a cliche as exposed by Climategate; especially if you remember the email where Phil Jones crowing about going to town on two papers he was reviewing that were critical of CRU’s work.

  9. Robert E. Phelan said

    Gee, I get the impression that the forthcoming “apology” for the worst of the accusations (hey, see Andy Revkin!) is not going to be forthcoming after all. Dr. Steig has unfruled the “mission accomplished” banner a trifle too prematurely?

  10. Robert E. Phelan said

    Unfurled. I really can spell “infirled”. Everyone can see that, right?

  11. BobN said

    Layman – Let me be clear that I don’t blame Ryan for being pissed on a number of fronts. I do think, however, that everything would have come off better if his response hadn’t devolved into a personal attack on Steig. That is the main thing I think he should apologize for the personal attack (whether you, I, or anyone else feels that such an attack was well-deserved doesn’t make it right – the old two wrongs don’t make a right thing). As to the revealing reviewers names, I don’t know if it is against written AMS policy. However, as reported on other websites, John Nielson-Gammon inquired of the propriety of doing so to the AMS board and e-mailed a note to Jeff and Steve M. that revealing reviwer’s identities would be considered unethical.

    One possibly better way of handling this would have been to post the reviews (as was done), note the similarity of the reviewer A’s comments to some of those posted by Steig at RC along with the defensiveness of Reviewer A to Stieg’s conclusion, and suggest that it has seemed very likely since reading the very first review that Reviewer A was Steig or one of his co-authors. And that in fact, these concerns were relayed to the editor with your first response to comments. This way (1) Ryan wouldn’t have broken his implicit promise to Steig to keep his identity confidential and (2) readers could take a look at the reviews themselves and reach the obvious conclusion. I didn’t get passed the first page of Rev A first review before I was convinced it was Steig or a co-author.

    The risk I see for O’Donnell et al is that because of the rant, relevant members of the climate science community may be less likely to consider the clear validity of the findings and methods presented in the paper, thereby diminishing the great deal of hard work that was put into it.

    I do agree that the clique’s behaviour has become cliche.

  12. Jeff Id said

    #9 Being privy to the emails in question, Ryan has apologized exactly as he said he would. In my opinion Ryan was generous to take down some of the adjectives but that is his perogative. Unfortunately, Steig decided to get silly at the RC blog and run around saying everything he could think of including — see the deniers have no credibility, even taking it to climategate.

    There is more fun to come regarding the scientific accuracy of Steigs assertions in the coming days.

  13. Jeff Id said

    11 BobN, I believe that Ryan is genuinely sorry for going after Steig so hard, it wasn’t without provocation but we shouldn’t let these people get under our skin.

  14. Robert E. Phelan said

    #12 Ahh.. but Ryan hasn’t apologized as Dr. Steig and Andy Revkin said he would… the insensitive brute! No, Dr. Steig’s announcement, along with sharing it with Andy and his two or three best friends at RC, is exactly the sort of dishonesty that set Ryan off in the first place. Dr. Steig frames the event… then when Ryan fails to deliver, whose fault is it? Frankly, Jeff, I’m glad you’ve had some good exchanges with him, but I think your opinion of Dr. Steig is far too high.

  15. Jeff Id said


    It isn’t as high as it was. He has not been honest in several of his dealings, and I have always been honest with him.

  16. boballab said


    Jeff remember back in the old days of High School all the kids separated into cliques. The Jocks hung out with the Jocks; the Stoners with other Stoners? Now remember how some of them when by themselves acted completely different than when they were with their Group?

    that explains Dr. Steig and the Team right there. When they are among their clique, they take on the attitude of the head of the clique and we both know who the dominant personalities of the Team are. Just remember what Dr. Briffa and some of the other Team members were emailing behind Dr. Mann’s back about the way he acted, but then contrast that to what they showed the public: They fell in line with him.

  17. chuckr said

    Following these blogs daily can give you a a good sense of the quality of the people involved. When you put your thoughts in print on a daily basis your faults will become evident and you can’t hide that. I have read yourself, SM, Lucia, and Montford daily for years . And I know all the players. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have a healthy respect for all of you as people. It wouldn’t be enjoyable. What is my point? I read RC occasionally. I’ve read Dr. Stiegs posts and his performance as a moderator. And I get a sense of him as a person. I’m not going to cronical the examples here. This has been done quite well over the past few days. But he is not a person of consistency. His persona will differ dependent on the circumstances. What does this tell me about him? I wouldn’t trust him. Not because I think he’s dishonest, because he is inconsistent and I don’t know what he will say or do next. Unlike yourself Jeff. You are entirely predictable (that is a compliment). I’m sorry Ryan felt the need to apologize. I don’t think it was warranted, but it was predictable. (also a compliment)

  18. stan said

    I remember what I thought when I first heard about the Steig paper. Why would anyone voluntarily choose to use Mannian math? What climate scientist would voluntarily choose to hitch his wagon to Mann at this point? I don’t care how convinced a climate scientist might be regarding alarmist science, why get in bed with Mann? This is like a baseball player choosing to workout with Barry Bonds and his trainer. Not smart. Or maybe a woman agreeing to give a massage to Algore.

    Who knows? Just speculating, but he had to know that Mannian math came with a bullseye. It was going to get shot up. I guess the cover of Nature was just too tempting (and yes, I suspect that it was made known to him that the cover of Nature was available for a study showing warming down there). And I think it is pretty clear that he doesn’t fully understand just what Mikey math really does.

    Anyway, when people are now trying to get a handle on who he is, the questions for me started way back then.

  19. LC said

    I think those calling for Ryan to apologise further, or show regret for his outburst, need to cut him some slack here. We should all bear in mind that the 1st Feb posting by Steig at RC was just the straw that broke the camel’s back for Ryan. As Nic, Jeff and Steve themselves have all pointed out over the last few weeks, it was Ryan that carried the biggest burden in jumping through all those hoops required to get their paper published in the first place. Even the indefatiguable Steve M claimed he couldn’t have done it. For RC and Eric to then put that post up and add further insult to injury by disappearing Jeff’s comments answering that post, who, in all honesty would react much differently? For what it’s worth (not much, I know), I fully support Ryan’s in this. I do not want him to apologise any further and I don’t want him to either express, or even feel, regret for his actions. It’s no longer enough to just dance round the ring with these guys hoping to land the odd jab. It’s time to get right up in their faces and slug it out. I say shove the acedemic niceties, shove the political niceties and shove the pal-review niceties. The team only use them as weapons anyway. What Ryan, Nic, Jeff and Steve have shown, is that it’s possible to have some “new kids on the block”. That the gates can be opened. Purely by doing good science and sticking to it. If continuing what they’ve started means finding new ways of doing things and a revision of the processes, then so be it. It can only benefit science in the long run. Let’s show the team that if peer-review is to be “redefined”, it’ll be the scientific side of the argument doing the redefining.

  20. Anthony Watts said

    Well, I see you blogging again on a weekend (yes, I’m guilty too). This climate science stuff is like La Brea Tar Pits? Once in, you can’t ever pull yourself out.

  21. jeff Id said

    I’m working on stopping again but can’t let this Steig stuff go. We may have accidentally cracked him though. His comments have gotten even more extreme, check Lucia’s for the latest.

    It wasn’t our intent to break the guy, just calculate Antarctic temps correctly. What is the big deal?

  22. RomanM said

    Jeff, he still has not addressed my point that the three PCs they did use actually are basically only two in the the pre-satellite era. I had noticed the somewhat anemic PC3 when I did the original deconstruction back in 09, but never said much about it.

    I genuinely hope that Dr.Steig is not reacting extremely to what has been going on. I would really be upset myself to think that it could be the case.

  23. Jeff Id said

    I had forgotten that Roman. It’s totally true, 2 pc’s. The variance loss in PC3 was huge. I never rebuilt the trends just from the first two either? Hmmm.

    I was just now composing an email to ask him to just relax and this will pass. He’s not taking it well right now. It isn’t like we are on good terms, but I’ve been honest with him from the beginning and honestly I’m a little worried about him right now.

  24. Philemon said

    Jeff, there’s no need. He needs to deal with it on his own.

  25. Layman Lurker said

    #22 #23

    Roman I was so glad that you chose to revisit this. For me it was a very fascination revelation. I believed then, and I still believe, that the explanation for PC3 lies in the interaction of the eigenvector spatial weights and the distribution of the surface station points.

    Visually, it appeared that the surface stations tended to fall into the areas with low weights – not far from 0. Eigenvector #1 gives the lowest weights to the perimeter – where the stations are. Eigenvector’s 2 and 3 gave the zeroish weights to the areas between the two modes and at the perimeter of the modes, again where the stations tended to be. The biased underweighting of the surface stations in the reconstruction period along with the disappearence of the bias in the calibration period was latched on to by the algorithm and expressed in PC3.

    When (the other) Jeff C imposed the grid weighting on the station input data it was an offset to the bias, and the PC3 artefact disappeared IIRC.

    Talk about a mechanism for exporting the warming! PC1 takes the input from the underweighted perimeter with it’s warming bias from oversampled peninsula, and exports it to the interior . As blatant an example of spurious correlation as you will ever see.

  26. Layman Lurker said

    In the future, when the kerfuffle has long since died down, this case will be talked about in advanced statistics class rooms where case examples are dissected and analysed. Am I right Roman?

  27. Howard said

    Like you Jeff, I *retired* from the GW blog crap for a while. I’m back for a moment to say…

    You guys are getting seriously sucked into the RC passive-aggressive Black Hole. It’s like arguing with the wife, no matter what you are wrong and will lose. The *Team* of metro-sexual psuedo men should be ignored.

    Every time you guys respond to their bs, they orgasm.

    Deny then their autoerotica

  28. RomanM said

    #25 LL

    PC3 could also be a result of the instability of the TTLS methodology when all of the components are scaled to the same variance. It would likely also to be related to the relative lack of surface data as well.

    #27 You must be talking about RealClimax … 😉

  29. Jeff (21): “It wasn’t our intent to break the guy, just calculate Antarctic temps correctly. What is the big deal?”

    Are you trying to be cynical? If this had stayed in the realm of a dispute about how to best calculate the Ant. temp trends, it wouldn’t have escalated as it did. The escalation has all the signs of a misunderstanding gone wrong: Ryan had interpreted one of Eric’s review comments differently than Eric had meant it, and based on this misunderstanding, Ryan got pissed.

    Slightly related:

  30. Jeff Id said

    I think Ryan’s interpretation was still right. Taking Steig at his word, Ryan missed on one point – Steig didn’t bother to look at the replies we’d already been forced to make. We were pushed to do the thing he later critiqued. I realize that Ryan got mad, so did I when the second major revision was requested by the same guy. I couldn’t believe Nic and Ryan had the patients to re-write the whole thing from a defensive position. Now, having lost on detail and fact, Steig is complaining around about some table which he saw disappear, due to requests from others for shortening the SI. He reviewed the paper without the table as well, does that stop the crazy “put your arms out and swing in circles” attack? Nope, just keeps on coming.

    His methods were broken, the math wasn’t good. We fixed it to the limits of these methods – although Ryan and Nic still have a few tweaks they want to do. Ryan has apologized for assuming Steig had bothered to look at our replies, he then pointed out that the science issues brought up at RC were incorrect and already addressed.

  31. stan said

    I’m amazed that everyone seems to want to ignore the impact of the years and years of history between Steve Mc (and CA) and the team (and RC). Mann’s hockey stick was pure BS. After years and years of the most ridiculous crap imaginable (including a lot of vicious slander) from Mann and his friends, the world finally realized that Steve had been right all along. It was Mann and the RC bunch who were upside down.

    Then Mann and Steig come out with an obviously politically-motivated study (just like the hockey stick) which is also a statistical mess. Friends of Steve point out on blogs that the Steig study is just plain bad. RC and company respond with a lot of the same plays from the hockey stick playbook. So the friends of Steve decided to publish the takedown of Steig’s bad study.

    That’s the background. It’s important background and it flavors everything that has happened in this saga with an unhealthy dose of spice. Eric’s current rantings (equating McIntyreism with McCarthyism) are part and parcel of the same substance which litters this long history. I don’t know how anyone can try to understand or evaluate what Ryan O., Jeff, Eric or anyone else did or said without taking the background into account.

    Which brings me to a point I think is extremely important regarding when Ryan finally felt he had simply had enough — Steig 09 is a worthless paper. It was bad enough that Ryan and company were put through all kinds of BS by Steig as an “anonymous” reviewer. But the reason Steig was throwing up everything imaginable at them was because he was trying to salvage his own paper — a paper that Ryan and friends are perfectly aware is junk. Knowing full well the bizarre lengths that Mann and the team went to obsfucate, deflect, mislead, and attack in effort to keep breathing life into their dead hockey stick and seeing Steig start down the same road in an effort to do so on behalf of his own junk study, I think Ryan and his friends actually showed remarkable restraint. Given the long and sordid background that is an essential part of the story, I would have gotten pissed a heckuva lot sooner.

    The fact that Steig’s study was junk is important. It would be one thing to have a sober, restrained exchange of ideas over small disagreements with an author whose work has overall quality. That’s not the case here. Ryan has had to defend himself from the RC playbook over another team study that has no merit. How much patience does anyone have a right to expect?

  32. Nic L said

    #28 RomanM said
    PC3 could also be a result of the instability of the TTLS methodology when all of the components are scaled to the same variance. It would likely also to be related to the relative lack of surface data as well.

    Isn’t the problem simply that the RegEM TTLS model only has three EOFs? These will reflect the main patterns of variability in the data series input to RegEM. Since the peninsula contributes a substantial proportion of the total number of data series, one of those EOFs/PCs will primarily represent temperature fluctuations in the peninsula. But the peninsula constitutes only 2% of the total area of Antarctica, so temperature fluctuations there will be largely unrepresented in the first three PCs of the AVHRR satellite data, which are the only satellite PCs input to RegEM (if I recall correctly, PC4 is the first AVHRR to carry much information about peninsula temperature fluctuations).

    So RegEM is trying to infill 3 orthogonal AHVRR PCs with only 2 orthogonal model PCs that have much correlation with the AVHRR PCs. 3 into 2 doesn’t go, hence the much diminished infilling of AVHRR PC3 (and the high correlation of the AVHRR PCs 2 and 3 infillings with each other, despite the non-infilled values being orthogonal).

  33. Layman Lurker said


    Kind of a black box isn’t it?

    IIRC, when Jeff C posted the reconstruction with grid weighted station data input, the reconstruction period wiggles still matched the original PC3 – but everything just got scaled up and (visually anyway) removed the artefact.

  34. Jeff Id said


    I never thought of it that way. Makes a lot of sense when I consider the regridding results Jeff C did.

  35. Jeff Id said

    #33 cross post. Interesting though the way Nic explained that.

  36. Jeff Id said

    Nic, LL and Roman,

    3 pc’s no peninsula!!

    Problem solved

  37. Nic L said

    Yes. I still have difficulty believing that Rutherford or Mann, who seem to have been responsible for the actual reconstructions in S09, wouldn’t have realized this point. They have done enough RegEM imputations on a combination of many individual data series and a small number of PCs representing a climate field, so the point should have been obvious to them, even though very probably over Steig’s head. Maybe they were happy with the results, in terms of the West Antarctica and continental trends, it produced, so didn’t worry about the issue.

  38. RomanM said

    ##32 Nic:

    But the peninsula constitutes only 2% of the total area of Antarctica, so temperature fluctuations there will be largely unrepresented in the first three PCs of the AVHRR satellite data, which are the only satellite PCs input to RegEM (if I recall correctly, PC4 is the first AVHRR to carry much information about peninsula temperature fluctuations).

    Duh! (Slap forehead!) This never entered my mind. Of course, the 3 AVHRR PC’s from the satellite era were calculated without reference to the station data (which was dominated by the number of stations occupying the peninsula). How this would translate to the finished reconstruction would not be obvious (nor is it to me at the moment, not having looked at the AVHRR original sequences a whole lot.

    This does give something new to think about.

    Good one, Nic!.

  39. Nic L said

    #36 Jeff: 3 pc’s no peninsula!! Problem solved.
    I’m not sure I ever looked at that post. But it certainly bears out my contention.

    Incidentally, I wrote in a comment on one of my 2009 posts ( )
    “However, if regpar is set to 4 then the imputed PC3 variations have a broadly similar amplitude to variations in the post 1982 actual PC3. I think that this is further evidence that Steig’s choice of regpar=3 was an unsuitable one.”

    #38 RomanM: Thanks!

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