Phil Jones, I accept!

The other day, I asked Phil Jones and other climate scientists to rebuke some of their foaming-at-the-mouth colleagues for their inappropriate use of language. While I’m still awaiting a response—it should come soon, surely—I cannot neglect Mr Jones’s return challenge.

He doesn’t like that people are picking on him about the data he lost, nor does he enjoy upstarts critiquing his conclusions. Rather than squabbling and nyah-nyah-nyahing, Jones asked of critics, “Why don’t they do their own [temperature] reconstructions?

Here is an open letter to Mr Jones.

Dear Phil,

I accept!

The chance to sort out the global temperature record and accurately note its uncertainty is too important to ignore.

Here is what I shall require. Keep in mind that these requests are put forth in the name of fairness and good science. Surely you would agree that just as much effort should be taken to investigate alternate theories of climate as have been taken to prove the man-made harmful global warming theory.

My list:

  • Money, and lots of it. Way I figure it, you’ve been at this for twenty or so years, with a sizable staff at the institute level. I need to duplicate that structure over a relatively short period. Conferences aren’t cheap, either. It’s going to cost, and I don’t have enough personal funds to cover the tab.
  • Office space. I’m an independent running out of small Manhattan apartment now, and the space is inadequate to house a staff. However, given the ridiculous real estate prices in this city, I’d be willing to move anywhere in the States to set up my crew (even Ohio). If you like, I’d shift to England (I already know most of the language).
  • Grant pipeline. Because my views are not popular, I have no “ins” with any grant-awarding agencies. If work is going to continue, I’m going to need a steady stream of income. Just like you’ve had. I need a guarantee that work will be allowed to continue for, say, five years. If I can’t produce by then, fire me.
  • Sympathetic journal editors. Just one or two should do. I don’t expect them to publish drivel or papers that are obviously awful or wrong. But given the “climategate” revelations, you’ll acknowledge that the system is stacked. Plus, we all know that peer review—in many fields—is broken. Editors and reviewers insist that all papers that come their way must exactly fit their preconceptions. Speculative and non-confirmatory papers don’t float.

Although I blush when I say it, I can do this job. I have a proper understanding of uncertainty, and know the limitations of data. I’m efficient, too. Take the money you’ve spent and divide by four, and I’ll make do with that. Lastly, I have never lost any data (I’d have gone broke by now if I had).

If you’re truly serious about your challenge, and you don’t like me, there are plenty of other people out there willing and ready to take it up. Just say the word and we’re there.

This question is bound to arise: Why haven’t I, and the others, done more already? I can’t speak for everybody, of course, but I can tell you about me. Although I have an excellent record, I have no position, no connections, no home institute. Therefore, receiving grants is out. I have to pay for all my research out of my own pocket and conduct it all on my own time.

In fact, I’m still in the hole from the last time I did some work: the AMS is still after me for page charges for my last J. Climate article (where I argued hurricanes/typhoons have not increased in strength or number). I couldn’t afford to attend the last two annual meetings, either (the registration cost alone is over $400 per meeting!). My laptop works for my daily needs, but it’s not up to the task of storing a world-wide temperature and proxy database.

I’m not whining, understand. But I am showing you that it isn’t easy being an independent critic. We’re cash-strapped, itinerant Davids matched against a wealthy, full-time Goliath.

Also know that I am not unhappy in my situation. Honestly, I don’t want your job; a large portion of it must be mind-numbingly tedious. But since the task is so important to such a large chunk of humanity, and because of your recent difficulties, I would accept it out of a sense of duty.

All the best,

W.M. Briggs


  1. Bernie

    If you signed it “Dr. W. M. Briggs” I am sure you would get a pleasant reply.

  2. Briggs

    You’re right, Berni—no C—e.

    Henceforth, especially to you doubters, it’s Dr W.M. Briggs, PhD. Much more authoritative.

  3. Touché. My standard response to well-funded blankety-blanks who challenge me to do the analysis myself is, “I’m happy to do your job for you, but first give me your paycheck!”

    As you point out though, just the paycheck is not enough. Give me your facility, office, super computer, secretary, chauffeur, coiffeurist, manicurist, dog-walker, chair, couch, mini-bar, and golf clubs, too.

  4. I forgot. If I’m to do your job, I’ll need use of the corporate jet, too. And the hockey tickets.

  5. Ray

    How the heck do you reconstruct temperatures? Were the temperatures wrecked or destroyed ?

  6. bayesian.empirimancer

    pff… i’m not nearly as demanding. i’d gladly do it this summer (after the NIPS deadline) for free if someone else goes to the trouble of gathering up and collating (but not homogenizing or adjusting!) all the raw data for me. That seems to be the difficult step.

    The relevant graphical model is quite simple… a point process for changes in sensitivity, a hieirarchial noise model to capture the spatial correlations and teleconnections or maybe just an IBP, independent causes with a smootheness prior… all nice and non-parametric as possible. I suppose there could be a problem selling it to a community which prefers to make up its own ad hoc statistics and methods.

  7. Briggs

    bayesian.empirimancer? That’s the best username I’ve seen in quite a while.

  8. That is a pretty long list. I think some people would do it if he would just supply them with his original raw data. Poor Phil, the dog ate his data, and the cat is peeing on his reports.

  9. For free? You guys have a lot to learn.

    What you do is not valued for it’s intrinsic merit; it is valued for it’s cost. Anything you do for free is automatically discounted to “worthless”. On the other hand, if you charge a pretty penny, everyone is totally impressed by your product, even if it’s garbage.

    Consider the example. Jones and the CRU cost the taxpayers gazillions. Hence we are to show them utmost deference and respect their work.

    The folks who busted them for GIGO did it for free. The whistleblowers are considered (by many, including the MSM and the Gooberment) to be kooks and flatearthers.

    Few examine the actual products. Instead they examine the incomes, rides, threads, and jewelry worn by the various parties involved.

    It’s human nature, not Mother Nature or Minerval logic, that judges the products of science.

  10. ThosThos

    You guys aren’t doing your homework. If you look at the programs and read the literature, it’s obvious that Jones did most of the work himself, on a desktop computer, starting over 25 years ago. Do you have the slightest idea how limited computing in a small UK university was then? I remember thinking my 10 MByte hard disk and 1 MByte RAM were state-of-the-art! The data files are actually quite small, as you would know if you took the trouble to think about it, and would be easily processed on a cheap laptop today. So, there’s no staff, no super-computer, no “facilities”. As for the pretentious Bayesian person, why hide behind your jargon? The fact is with time series as long as these, the normal distribution is a perfectly valid assumption, and the data validation, homogenisation, and weighted interpolation to do the gridding are simple, standard procedures now readily available in R. Thanks to the literature and the prior work done by Jones, and the efforts of the R team, I could work out and implement a method for recreating these data, together with bootstrapped confidence limits for each node, in less than a week. Those saying Jones fiddled the data to demonstrate global warming really don’t understand human nature. These data are the guy’s life work! He may have made some mistakes, I do myself on okayjun, but there is no way he would deliberately have corrupted them. Incidentally, I have yet to see the slightest evidence that there is anything seriously wrong with these data. You people are so obsessed with picking over the bones that you don’t see the wood for the trees.

  11. Briggs


    All right, then. I can do it all on an Atari 1200 (I’d prefer an Atari 1200XL) and free donuts.

    What I most glad to hear is that R can do all this out of the box. Must be some function is_global_warming_real(x), which is fed a vector of temperatures and returns a Boolean.

  12. ThosThos, How much were you paid to say all that?

  13. AusieDan

    ThosThos said “I have yet to see the slightest evidence that there is anything seriously wrong with these data”.
    Are you serious?

  14. Leo P. Indiana

    ThosThos is right anybody with a Commodore 64 and a broken abacus can replicate the Truth in a matter of hours, if that long. The real expense is the cost of all that Kool-Aid.

  15. boballab

    I’m going out on a limb here and guess that ThosThos never read the “Harry Readme” document, for if he/she did he/she never would have made such a ridculous claim that Jones did it all himself on a desktop computer. Poor Harry never gets any respect for cleaning up the mess the databases were left in.

  16. JT

    “Poor Harry never gets any respect for cleaning up the mess the databases were left in.” You’re assuming he did. Wasn’t “aaargh” nearly his last word on the subject?

  17. RichieRich


    we all know that peer review—in many fields—is broken (my emphasis)

    Could you list some of the many fields and give your views on whether peer review is irreparably broken or capable of being fixed. If the former, how should we proceed?

  18. Chuckles

    Atari 1200? Commodore 64?? Luxury! You were lucky.

    Edward, Mel and I had to make do with a Royal McBee.

    We had to peer at the printouts a lot to review the results tho.

  19. dearieme

    “The fact is with time series as long as these, the normal distribution is a perfectly valid assumption”: how can you know that without looking at the data?

  20. B. Humphreys

    “Nothing wrong with these data”? …

    To quote the Great Harry

    What the hell is supposed to happen here? Oh yeah – there is no ‘supposed’, I can make it up. So I have

  21. Richie Rich — you have a request? You want some expertise? Fork over some coin first, and then we’ll talk. Meanwhile, take your begging bowl elsewhere, chump.

  22. RichieRich

    Mike D

    How pleasant. How grown up. How constructive. I assume you are Mr Briggs official spokesman on these matters…


  23. Earle Williams


    There’s nothing wrong with peer review as practiced. Interesting articles appear in various journals after being screened by an author’s peers.

    Peer-review as an arbiter of truth is a fallacy. I would invest no effort in trying to fix it. I would however invest great effort in ensuring it is not used for the wrong purpose.

    As to a cite, have a look here:

  24. Briggs


    I’d say the older the field, the more likely peer review is busted. Journals bifurcate through time and become Balkanized. All of us know there is a journal out there for any paper, no matter how bad.

    Best way is to eliminate it and return to dictatorial editorships at prestigious magazines and contributions to places like

  25. bayesian.empirimancer

    @Briggs: i stole the idea for the username from here:

    @ThosThos: ‘pretentious ass’ is more accurate. Here’s the proof: The fact that you (1) think that gaussianity of individual time series is an accurate description of the data and (2) think that length of the series is the determining factor for gaussianity demonstrates a serious level of ignorance.

    The problem Jones was trying to solve is not one of simple linear regression. It is a hard problem. There is systematically missing data, multiple sources of ‘noise’ each with a lot of structure. Indeed, the divergence problem which led to the infamous ‘trick’ was, at one point, justified by the suggestion that some non-linear switch was thrown causing the certain trees to cease to be accurate proxies for temperature sometime in the latter half of the 20th century. If you believe this, then you have to incorporate it into your statistical model. This means using more complicated statistical tools than are currently in use within the climate community.

    p.s. and yes… i have done the background research necessary to justify the claim in that final sentence, including interviewing a climate scientist friend or two. But note many statisticians feel this way echoing Wegeman’s conclusion that the paleoclimate ‘do[es] not seem to be interacting with the mainstream statistical community’.

  26. ThosThos


    Apologies for “pretentious”, I was trying to provoke a response. Many thanks for obliging. My purpose is to demonstrate that you can’t discuss science meaningfully on blogs.

    First, your two “facts”. I didn’t say either of those things.

    Then your bit about “simple linear regression”. I never mentioned this. Also, there seems to be some confusion here, sorry about that. You’re talking about the hockey stick – I would never defend that – I have always thought the huge uncertainty up to about 1600 makes it useless. The data I was talking about are the Jones gridded temperature data, based on station measurements.

    On your last point, I don’t know about Paleoclimate, it’s never interested me. However, I have worked on several projects with “mainstream” statisticians to, I believe, our mutual benefit.


    I repeat, if you take the trouble to research the history of Jones’ temperature data, you can see that:
    a/ Harry’s involvement is relatively recent
    b/ Several others worked on it between Jones and Harry
    c/ Jones did indeed work on the data alone for the first 8 years or so, using a desktop computer for much of the analysis.
    d/ As originally conceived, the Jones temperatures were not devised for the study of AGW, although that may have been their main use – I don’t know, but simply as a climate data set with the spatial bias and ihomogeneity removed. Within 10 years, they were superceded by reanalysis data such as NCEP and the later ECMWF ERA-40, and by longer datasets incorporating ocean temperatures as well as land.

  27. Fat Man

    “These data are the guy’s life work! He may have made some mistakes, I do myself on okayjun, but there is no way he would deliberately have corrupted them.”

    The appeal to the perps character must be rejected out of hand.

    You all may know numbers, but you don’t know human nature. Figures don’t lie, but liars figure. And House is correct, Everybody lies.

    Everyone is guilty. There are no innocents. If you want to be thought of as honest, you must lay your cards face up on the table. The hockey team did just the opposite.

    For the kind of money and power that are entrained in the AGW controversy, Jones, or anybody else, would have corrupted not just data, but his grandmother … and his mother, his wife, and his daughters.

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