Severe analytical problems in dendroclimatology, part ten

In the last post, I said that I would next get into the details of the PNAS review itself. Today I looked at those reviews again, for the first time since last August when I received them. Unfortunately, I instantly became furious on re-reading even a fraction of the comments, just like then, so irresponsible and off-base and confused are they, and worse, from supposedly two of the “top experts” in the world (according to the editor). If I had money to burn, I would seriously consider bringing a lawsuit against PNAS. Given that the paper is extensive and the topic still probably not perfectly clear to many, it will take some real time to rebut it all. Indeed, it’s a huge time sink, time I don’t have. Maybe I’ll just post up the whole damn thing on Google Docs and be done with it, especially since I rebutted a lot of it in my appeal already. I don’t know.

In the mean time, I would like direct answers from some dendroclimatologists to the following absolutely critical questions to the legitimacy of the science, on issues which are almost entirely unrelated to the issues I’ve raised in my paper:

1) Is Loehle* (2009) fundamentally correct in his description of the potentially very serious problems caused by unimodal responses of ring size to temperature. If not, why not?
2) On what mathematical basis, if any, can a modeled, linear (straight line) relationship between climate driver and ring response be used to accurately predict a strongly non-linear relationship?
3) On what basis does one assert that the climatic states experienced during the calibration period are fully representative of the set of states experienced during the pre-calibration (“reconstruction”) period, and that the tree sizes/ages sampled during the calibration period are also representative of the ages/sizes of the pre-calibration period.

Somebody, anybody, please answer those questions, directly.

*Note: I understand that Loehle says some questionable things on blogs and for some reason, chooses to publish with some people who are completely off the rails and untrustworthy, or post things on the blogs of some people who are nothing but attention-seeking clowns without any integrity or sense of responsibility to the truth. This does call into question his judgment on whom to publish with, and on what to say on blogs. More importantly however, he has also done a lot of very good work in the past, and he brings a biologist’s perspective to the table, which is urgently needed. But most importantly, he is correct on this issue, and that’s all that matters in the end.

Note that I edited the above paragraph on March 12 to try to make my views clearer, given a couple of the comments. Most likely Harold is right on this, but all I can do at this point is try to clarify my position as well as possible.

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11 thoughts on “Severe analytical problems in dendroclimatology, part ten

  1. I’m not a dendroclimatologist nor even a biologist. So I can’t answer your technical questions. However, if I may, here’s my $.02 –
    1) Don’t even entertain the notion of a lawsuit. Accepting that the reviewers’ comments were off-base, I don’t see that as a legal matter. You agreed to submit the article to their review; they reviewed (poorly, as may be) and didn’t approve it for publication. Take a deep breath and move on, get it published elsewhere. [Doesn’t mean you can’t harbor a grudge…]

    2) Having seen the outline of your argument and your examples, I for one would be interested in seeing the reviews and your responses. The rebuttals should be able to stand on their own, no additional commentary is necessary unless you’ve rethought your reply.

    3) I’d recommend toning down the postscript. For one thing, I disagree with your assessment. But more importantly, you agree that it is irrelevant to the questions that you pose. If anyone were to respond to your questions with the first two sentences of your note, I think you’d immediately react by calling them out on the ad hominem argument against Loehle. So why not drop it yourself? It distracts from focusing on the questions.

    • Thanks Harold, I appreciate your thoughts, which are good and worthy of consideration. If everyone involved in this thing had your attitude we’d be in pretty good shape.
      I do disagree strongly with point #1 however; in fact I favor the opposite: not holding a grudge and not just dropping it. When you submit an article, you don’t agree to an irresponsible, biased or incompetent review. Too many scientists are far too acquiescent of unfair practices against them, both by other scientists and by publishers. There are many, many stories, underground. I don’t like talking underground, I prefer acting above-ground.

      I think I stated my thoughts regarding Loehle pretty exactly and I’m comfortable with them, but your point is well taken nevertheless.

  2. I would welcome an online document with your view on this matter, Jim.

    In my opinion, it might wiser to simply let Loehle’s words speak for themselves. Here’s one instance:

    > [L]et’s say you believe the median 3 deg warming predicted by the IPCC and think this will cause…discomfort, some droughts, some floods, etc (ie, not the end of the world), then you should perhaps forgive people for not getting excited about draconian price hikes on energy and people telling us what light bulbs to buy to prevent possible discomfort and a few droughts.

    http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/climate-science-scientific-method-skeptics-not/#comment-13742

    Interested readers could then follow an interesting discussion where Craig says many interesting things. There’s also a comment from me in that thread that recalls some other times and some other lines from Craig at Judy’s:

    > Readers can witness “good science” in action.

    http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/climate-science-scientific-method-skeptics-not/#comment-13762

    There are many man-hours invested in those discussions. They should not be forgotten. And you too, Jim, were a part of that conversation.

    • My view on what matter?

      For the record, I am not at all interested in dredging up old blog discussions to incriminate people. Utter waste of time. Craig Loehle is right on this issue and that’s all that matters.

    • Jim,

      That Craig is right in this case might be the only thing what matters to you. I applaud this stance, and see your PS as a reverse ad hominem. [edit: no sniping, and not correct either]

      But please do not underestimate lukewarm concern trolling.

      If you’re willing to state your opinion about someone on the Internet, you have to be ready to provide evidence for it. On the Internet, they take the form of links. I suggest to bypass the ad hominem altogether by providing links.

      That is all,

      Best of luck,

      w

    • I already provided such relevant evidence (Loehle(2009)), more than once, and summarized it also. This is not an online bibliographic reference service; you can find his other scientific works, read them and make your own decision. As for the rest, well, I have little patience for, or interest in, it.

  3. Jim –

    I’ve now finished working my way through this series, and have some final comments/questions, if you don’t mind.

    While I was able (I think) to follow the general shape and direction of your discussion, quite frankly I was pretty lost on the math/stats/modeling by about part five. To be clear, no complaints directed at you on my part – with only 30 year old first year math and no physics, stats or biology, that’s only to be expected. That I got as much as I did is something of a testament to the clarity of this series.

    My complaints would be directed at the greater blogging community, some of whom linked to this when you first started this series, but AFAIK no one with the requisite math/stats chops took a serious run at this. The layman like myself – who can’t follow the math – does in fact need authoritative surrogates to evaluate work like this. I find myself seriously disappointed that it seems no one did. (I’d try asking some of them, but right now they’re probably busy with Marcott2013.)

    Do you intend to continue with the series? Specifically, will you post the review comments with your replies? I understand it must be painful to do so, but I think it would be helpful to anyone who does seriously intend to look at this paper.

    Do you intend to continue the attempt to publish this paper? I ask because if I’ve picked up the implications correctly, it would be of great importance in more than one area that I can think of:
    – Tree-ring analysis
    – The more general area of signal extraction in biological organisms
    – paleoclimate reconstructions (with attendant policy implications)

    It would be unfortunate if the last that was heard of this was the rejection at PNAS. Admittedly, I personally have no way to tell if it should have been rejected or not, but given the implications it certainly deserves a thorough examination by those who can tell. Please keep trying…

    In general, thanks for the interaction. While I kept getting slapped upside the head with the limits of my knowledge, your patience with honest ignorance has led me to learn a great deal. I never ask more than that. I’ll certainly keep reading your posts.

    • Several useful comments/questions there kch, thanks. For one, I really appreciate you reading through the series, which takes time and effort. This puts you well ahead of a bunch of people who should have read it by now, but who either have not or else have made no comments if they have. Your comments here and previously have inspired one post already, and possibly a couple more to come since I was able to give only the barest of replies to at least one. Also, there is already another post in the series, I just titled it differently this time. Also, late response to one question is here.

      Hang on for a fuller response.

    • While I was able (I think) to follow the general shape and direction of your discussion, quite frankly I was pretty lost on the math/stats/modeling by about part five. To be clear, no complaints directed at you on my part – with only 30 year old first year math and no physics, stats or biology, that’s only to be expected. That I got as much as I did is something of a testament to the clarity of this series.

      If it’s any comfort, I myself go back and forth between “This issue really is kind of tricky, I can see why people might not get it” and “This is really fundamentally simple, I can’t believe people don’t get this”. The experts in the field however, deserve the second response, because they really should have figured this fundamental problem out long ago.

      AFAIK no one with the requisite math/stats chops took a serious run at this. The layman like myself – who can’t follow the math – does in fact need authoritative surrogates to evaluate work like this. I find myself seriously disappointed that it seems no one did. (I’d try asking some of them, but right now they’re probably busy with Marcott2013.)

      Joe Borne gave me some hassle in part five, but he nevertheless remains the sole individual to have demonstrated that he understands the fundamental point I’m making, including the PNAS reviewers. I’m still not sure anyone else does. If you think you’re disappointed, imagine how I feel.

      Do you intend to continue with the series? Specifically, will you post the review comments with your replies? I understand it must be painful to do so, but I think it would be helpful to anyone who does seriously intend to look at this paper. Do you intend to continue the attempt to publish this paper? I ask because if I’ve picked up the implications correctly, it would be of great importance in more than one area that I can think of:
      – Tree-ring analysis
      – The more general area of signal extraction in biological organisms
      – paleoclimate reconstructions (with attendant policy implications)

      Yes I intend to continue it, not sure of a schedule on it though. I will probably post the review comments but that requires posting everything. May just summarize, don’t know. And yes, I will keep trying to publish it.
      The implications for tree-ring based reconstructions are enormous, essentially nullifying the validity of all long term trend estimates, and I have little doubt that this is why the reviewers shot it down. It challenges the entire field, pure and simple, and so does Loehle’s (2009) paper. I’m not going to sugar coat it. The field of dendroclimatology is a first-rate mess, primarily because they never properly addressed these fundamental mathematical/statistical problems. No real theoretical foundation for trend estimation (lots of good work however at organismal level on the drivers of the growth response).

      In general, thanks for the interaction. While I kept getting slapped upside the head with the limits of my knowledge, your patience with honest ignorance has led me to learn a great deal. I never ask more than that. I’ll certainly keep reading your posts.

      Thanks for the good words, they are appreciated. I am glad to hear I was able to get at least something across. We all get slapped upside the head on a daily basis, just at different levels of understanding and on different topics.

    • Thanks I will try to look at the paper, as I put little stock in what Pielke Jr says. PNAS has published several questionable to outright wrong papers in ecology that I just haven’t had time to rebut, and likely never will unfortunately.

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