United Nations Uses Wikipedia Graph

What started as a brouhaha in the blogosophere has turned into a minor embarrassment for the United Nations in the climate debates. As first reported on ClimateAudit.org, the origin of a graph used in last week’s UN climate report, published to coincide with the summit in New York attended by President Obama and other world leaders, was not an august team of scientists working around the clock, but rather Wikipedia.

Perhaps equally surprising was the revelation that the graph’s author was not a climatologist, but instead an obscure Norwegian ecologist, Hanno Sandvik, who claimed no expertise regarding the data used in his graph. Misidentified in

The Hanno graph used by the United Nations Climate Change Science Compendium 2009, published last week to coincide with the summit attended by President Barack Obama and other world leaders.

The "Hanno" graph, from Wikipedia, used by the United Nations Climate Change Science Compendium 2009, published last week to coincide with the summit attended by President Barack Obama and other world leaders.

the UN report as “Hanno,” Sandvik politely distanced himself from the graph as the story unfolded. The UN report authors, meanwhile, had given a scientist they had never met or heard of the appearance of scientific legitimacy.

Was copying and pasting a Wikipedia graph drawn by a non-climatologist the best that the United Nations, with all the resources at its disposal, could do? Evidently, it was. Sandvik himself appeared surprised.

“ ‘My’ graph has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal since I am not a climatologist,” he wrote in an e-mail to TalkingAboutTheWeather.com. “The graph has been drawn using data that have undergone peer-review. That means that the graph is ‘mine’ only in a very restricted sense, viz. that I have drawn it – the underlying data [are] not mine, as the source provided clearly indicates. I have no qualification to judge whether the underlying data are correct or erroneous, and have never pretended to be able to do so.”

United Nations Environment Programme Director Achim Steiner, whose staff produced the report with the Wikipedia graph, did not answer repeated requests for comment.

This is not the first graph with a hockey-stick shape to gain notoriety. The most famous example is that of Penn State climatologist Michael Mann’s own hockey stick graph, prominently featured at the 2001 UN IPCC meeting and in its Third Assessment Report.

Michael Manns famous hockey stick graph used by the United Nations for its Third Assessment Report in 2001 but abandoned by the Fourth Assessment Report of 2007.

Michael Mann's famous hockey stick graph used by the United Nations for its Third Assessment Report in 2001 but abandoned by the Fourth Assessment Report of 2007.

That hockey stick has since been debunked by the United States Congress by the world-renowned statistics expert Edward Wegman.

The Wegman Report was sufficiently damning that, until now, the United Nations has distanced itself from Mann’s graph, which did not appear in the Fourth Assessment Report published in 2007. From the Congressional report led by Wegman came the following conclusion: “The [Mann] methodology puts undue emphasis on those proxies that do exhibit the hockey stick shape and this is the fundamental flaw.”

Mann has argued that it was never his intention for the flat part of the stick that he derived from proxies to be grafted onto the modern temperature record, providing the upturned blade, as though the two sets of data had the same origin. Writing on the website that he cofounded, realclimate.org, Mann wrote the following in response to earlier critiques of his methodology in 2004: “No researchers in this field have ever, to our knowledge, ‘grafted the thermometer record onto’ any reconstruction. It is somewhat disappointing to find this specious claim (which we usually find originating from industry-funded climate disinformation websites) appearing in this forum.”

Such a graft is precisely what Sandvik’s graph does, however, leading to the inevitable question: Is the United Nations an “industry-funded climate disinformation website”? Unlike Mann’s graph, which, with the use of color and error bars, at least suggests both the level of uncertainty associated with temperature proxies and shows that the sources for the temperature data is not the same during the past 1,000 years, the “Hanno” graph used by the United Nations has neither error bars nor different colors for the differently derived data. By intent or no, it is inherently misleading.

The storm over “Hanno 2009” is very likely just beginning.

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About Harold Ambler

I am a lifelong environmentalist. I started my journalism career at The New Yorker, where I worked as a copy editor. Since then, my own work has appeared in The New York Daily News, The National Review Online, The Atlantic Wire, The Huffington Post, The Berkeley Daily Planet, The Providence Journal, Brown Alumni Monthly, The Narragansett Times, Rhode Island Monthly, and Providence Business News.
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7 Responses to United Nations Uses Wikipedia Graph

  1. Mike says:

    Oops!

    I’d say someone got a little quite careless and there was inadequate vetting of the story by others.

    You’d think they’d be careful not to give any more ammunition to the “AGW deniers.”

  2. Michael says:

    One should simply write “Discredited” over these types of graphs before posting them, in order to convey the correct science.

  3. Hal says:

    “ ‘My’ graph has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal since I am not a climatologist,” he wrote in an e-mail to TalkingAboutTheWeather.com. “The graph has been drawn using data that have undergone peer-review. That means that the graph is ‘mine’ only in a very restricted sense, viz. that I have drawn it – the underlying data [are] not mine, as the source provided clearly indicates. I have no qualification to judge whether the underlying data are correct or erroneous, and have never pretended to be able to do so.”

    This should be added to the Wiki graph under Notes

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  5. Tnelson says:

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