Gore Scientific “Adviser” Says that He has No “Responsibility” for AIT Errors

By | January 15, 2008

gore header

[Illustrations, footnotes and references available in PDF version]

[Mr. McIntyre is not affiliated with SPPI]

In earlier posts, we observed that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth claimed that “Dr Thompson’s thermometer” confirmed Michael Mann’s hockey stick, but, when analyzed, what Gore described as “Dr Thompson’s thermometer” merely proved to be Michael Mann’s hockey stick mis-identified. No wonder it resembled Mann’s hockey stick – or, to use the phrase more common in climate science, no wonder there was a “remarkable” resemblance.

Recently we’ve seen Pierrehumbert’s hysterics over at RC about Courtillot’s misidentification of a solar series. I’m sure that all of you recall similar hysterics from Pierrehumbert calling Al Gore out on this error. You don’t?

Hu McCulloch of Ohio State University now writes about a recent encounter with Lonnie Thompson, the serial ice core non-archiver:

On January 11, Lonnie Thompson gave a talk on Climate change at Ohio State. After his talk, I asked him if the graph identified by Al Gore as “Dr. Thompson’s Thermometer” in his book and film was really based on his ice core research.

Thompson admitted that an error had been made, and even had a slide ready that showed the data of the Mann Hockey Stick plus Jones instrumental data that Gore’s figure was based on, alongside an average of dO18 z-scores from 6 of his Andean and Himalayan ice cores, similar to the 7-series graph that appeared in his 2006 PNAS article. He stated that he recognized the error right away, and even sent Gore (and Mann, as I recall) an e-mail pointing out the mistake.

When I pressed him if it wouldn’t be appropriate to make a more public announcement, given the high-profile nature of the error, Ellen Mosley-Thompson, his wife and co-author, stood up and offered that it was Gore’s error, not theirs, so that they had no responsibility for it, and that in any event there was no forum in which to make a correction.

I suggested that since OSU’s Byrd Polar Research Center has a website with a News page, it would be trivial and virtually costless to post a press release clarifying the matter for the millions of readers and viewers of Gore’s book and film who are not on Thompson’s e-mail list.

“Gore’s error”. “No responsibility.” “No forum”.

Here’s a picture from the OSU website.[1] See if you can find Waldo. Ohio State University press releases have also stated that Thompson was an adviser to Gore for the documentary. Thompson’s online CV [2]says that he was on the “Science Advisory Board” for Inconvenient Truth prior to its release in April 2006. So he was on the Board but he didn’t bear any responsibility. Sure, Lonnie. Sure, Ellen.

Gore used the term[3] “my friend Lonnie Thompson” and Thompson doesn’t know how to correct the error. Sure, Lonnie.

“No responsibility.” “No forum”. No shame.


Sample of blog response posts

Michael Jankowski says:

January 14th, 2008 at 7:14 am

“…Lonnie Thompson, a professor at Ohio University, whose work on retreating glaciers from the Andes to Kilimanjaro and Tibet is featured in the film, was happy with the result. “It’s so hard given the breadth of this topic to be factually correct, and make sure you don’t lose your audience,” he says. “As scientists, we publish our papers in Science and Nature, but very few people read those. Here’s another way to get this message out. To me, it’s an excellent overview for an introductory class at a university. What are the issues and what are the possible consequences of not doing anything about those changes? To me, it has tremendous value. It will reach people that scientists will never reach…”

That might’ve been a good “forum” to say something.

Being “scientific advisors” for AIT, it’s interesting that they did not get to see the finished product before the public, so that this error could be corrected.

Here’s how OSU saw the Thompson’s in AIT:

“…Ellen and Lonnie Thompson are the “heroes” of Mark Bowen’s 2005 book on climate change, Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World’s Highest Mountains, and An Inconvenient Truth, the feature-length documentary of Al Gore’s grass-roots campaign on global warming…”


January 14th, 2008 at 7:52 am

I notice that Ohio State University press releases


http://regents.ohio.gov/news/excellence/LonnieThompson.pdf[7] state that:

Lonnie and Ellen both served as advisers to former Vice President Al Gore in the production of his 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Here’s a question for Ohio State University: if the Thompsons lacked authority to comment on correct errors in connection with their work, in what sense did they act as “advisers” to Inconvenient Truth? If they now say that they have “no forum” and “no responsibility” for correcting the error, then doesn’t Ohio State University have a responsibility to correct its press releases describing their association with the documentary?

Brooks Hurd says:

January 14th, 2008 at 9:04 am

As an Ohio State alumnus (Chemical Engineering), I am disturbed that an OSU professor is allowing a misrepresentation of his work to remain on public display without making any attempt to correct the error.

It was Gore’s error. The producers of AIT share some of the blame for allowing this error to be in the final cut of the movie. It is nevertheless, an incorrect statement about the Thompsons’ work, and one of them could easily take the time to place a note somewhere which would state that this is an error in AIT.

Hu McCulloch says:

January 14th, 2008 at 9:22 am

Thompson is basking in the reflected glory of Gore’s Nobel Prize for his ice core research, as exemplified in DTT, which allegedly demonstrates that

But as Dr Thompson’s thermometer shows, the vaunted Medieval Warm Period (the third little red blip from the left below) was tiny in comparison to the enormous increases in temperature in the last half-century – the red peaks at the far right of the graph. These global-warming skeptics – a group diminishing almost as rapidly as the mountain glaciers – launched a fierce attack against another measurement of the 1000 year correlation between CO2 and temperature known as the “hockey stick”, a graphic image representing the research of climate scientist Michael Mann and his colleagues. But in fact scientists have confirmed the same basic conclusions in multiple ways with Thompson’s ice core record as one of the most definitive. (AIT, The Book)

If this important graph is not based on Dr. Thompson’s research, I think he has a scientific and moral, if not legal, obligation, to set the record straight. (Perhaps he could calibrate his actual Z-mometer to temperature at the same time.)


January 14th, 2008 at 10:10 am

Thompson’s CV says:

2006 Al Gore Film: “An Inconvenient Truth” to be released in late April. Science Advisory Board.

The Science Advisory Board for AIT – who knew? I wonder who else was on the Science Advisory Board. Thompson was on the Board, but he had “no responsibility”.

I’ve edited the post to include this information.


January 14th, 2008 at 11:10 am

We can speculate as to what Gore asked his Scientific Advisory Board to do, if anything. But let’s try to find out some details first – who? when? what? Who was on it? When did they become members? What were they asked to do?

If a member of Gore’s Science Advisory Board noticed an error and brought it to Gore’s attention (and how the error originated doesn’t matter), Gore is obliged to have paid attention? How can Gore ignore an explicit error advisory from a member of his Science Advisory Board?

In fact, Thompson’s willful blindness becomes even worse now that we know that he was a member of Gore’s Science Advisory Board. Thompson says that he became aware of an error, notified Gore and Gore did nothing. So Thompson just kept silent. If Thompson threatened to resign or took other steps to show he was serious about getting the error fixed, I’m sure that Gore would have fixed the error. If, despite serious efforts, Gore still took no steps to fix the error, then surely Thompson had a responsibility to resign from Gore’s Science Advisory Board and to issue a press advisory that he had resigned from Gore’s Science Advisory Board explaining the reasons.

The story is therefore about how Thompson carried out his duties as a member of the Board, every bit as much as the original error.


Hu McCulloch says:

January 14th, 2008 at 11:51 am

The book undoubtedly went through numerous printings after its first release. It would have been easy enough to have released a second, corrected edition that used the correct graphic, together with a footnote remarking that the first edition and movie contained a goof.

Movies don’t usually go through editions — they are just released as is until they die at the box-office. Eventually, however, the ones that aren’t total duds go into DVD. The DVD would have been an ideal opportunity to incorporate the correct graph, together with a “blooper” segment explaining the error.

The fact that there was no corrected edition, and no correction in the DVD, now that we know Thompson notified Gore promptly of his error, speaks much worse for Gore than the initial error. Thompson, for his part, had no control over the DVD or the book, but all the more should have made a public statement about the incorrect representation of his research.


MarkW says:

January 14th, 2008 at 12:46 pm

My understanding is that the deception is worse than that.

Al used the chart to “prove” that Mann’s hockey stick was valid science. How? Well here’s another chart, independently generated that shows the same thing.

Except the chart wasn’t independently generated.

Thus, the chart absolutely did not prove what Gore was claiming in the movie.


Hu McCulloch says:

January 15th, 2008 at 7:26 am

False Beard and Wig:

The reason why it took so long for CA to figure out that the true identity of “Dr. Thompson’s Thermometer” in AIT was the discredited Mann et al Hockey Stick is that Gore had literally disguised it with a false beard and wig, by splicing it into the instrumental record as if it were a single time series. See

On close examination, the eyes, nose and ears are Mann’s, but the distinctively wild chin whiskers and hairdo at the right end were enough to deceive the unwary until Tim Lambert of the Deltoid blog spilled the beans here last year.

In Thompson’s presentation last week, he presented the same data on a single graph, in an area graph much like Gore’s. However, he was careful to use two shades of red above the axis, two shades of blue below the axis, and a soft line separating the regions, so that one could see that two separate series were being plotted. The idea of using a single shade of red above the axis, a single shade of blue below the axis, and no separating line in order to disguise the HS presumably came from Gore himself, from someone else on his scientific advisory board, or perhaps just from someone on his graphics staff.

Source: Steve McIntyre

January 13th, 2008


Al Gore and “Dr Thompson’s Thermometer” #2

November 10th, 2007 at 11:00 am

By Steve McIntyre

Yesterday, I posted up about “Dr Thompson’s Thermometer” and, thanks to CA readers, some interesting results emerged. A special thanks to Tim Lambert for spotting the provenance of Dr Thompson’s thermometer. The post today will repeat some of yesterday’s material, but will recast it, since we now understand the puzzle much better. In Inconvenient Truth, after a segment discussing glaciers, Gore stands in front of a Hockey Stick graph for the last 1000 years and tells his audience that “Dr Thompson’s thermometer” had shown the inconsequentiality of the Medieval Warm Period and, [in the book Nov 13], that “Thompson’s ice core record [was] one of the most definitive” confirmations of Mann’s Hockey Stick. [The text in the book says:]

Lonnie and his team of experts then examine the tiny bubbles of air trapped in the snow in the year that it fell. They can measure how much CO2 was in the Earth’s atmosphere in the past year by year. They can also measure the exact temperature of the atmosphere each year by calculating the ratio of different isotopes of oxygen which provides an ingenious and highly accurate thermometer. The team can count backward in time year by year – the same way an experienced forester can read tree rings – by simply observing the clear line od demarcation that separates each year from the one preceding it as seen in this unique frozen record. The thermometer to the right measures temperature in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1000 years. The blue is cold and the red is hot. The bottom of the graph marks 1000 years ago and the current era is at the top.

The correlation between temperature and CO2 concentrations over the last 1000 years – as measured by Thompson’s team – is striking. Nonetheless the so-called global warming skeptics often say that global warming is really an illusion reflecting nature’s cyclical fluctuations. To support their view, they frequently refer to the Medieval Warm Period. But as Dr Thompson’s thermometer shows, the vaunted Medieval Warm Period (the third little red blip from the left below) was tiny in comparison to the enormous increases in temperature in the last half-century – the red peaks at the far right of the graph. These global-warming skeptics – a group diminishing almost as rapidly as the mountain glaciers – launched a fierce attack against another measurement of the 1000 year correlation between CO2 and temperature known as the “hockey stick”, a graphic image representing the research of climate scientist Michael Mann and his colleagues. But in fact scientists have confirmed the same basic conclusions in multiple ways with Thompson’s ice core record as one of the most definitive. (AIT, The Book)

Figure 1. Scene from AIT, with Gore standing in front of a hockey stick graph.

[added] The transcript here (and I don’t vouch for the transcript) is a little different than the book, but clearly attributes the graphic here to oxygen isotope calculations from Lonnie Thompson:

The ice has a story to tell and it is worldwide. My friend Lonnie Thompson digs cores in the ice. They dig down and they bring the core drills back up and they look at the ice and they study it. When the snow falls it traps little bubbles of atmosphere. They can go in and measure how much CO2 was in the atmosphere the year that snow fell. What’s even more interesting I think is they can measure the different isotopes of oxygen and figure out the very precise thermometer and tell you what the temperature was the year that bubble was trapped in the snow as it fell.

When I was in Antarctica I saw cores like this and the guy looked at it. He said right here is where the US Congress passed the Clean Air Act. I couldn’t believe it but you can see the difference with the naked eye. Just a couple of years after that law was passed, it’s very clearly distinguishable.

They can count back year by year the same way a forester reads tree rings. You can see each annual layer from the melting and refreezing. They can go back in a lot of these mountain glaciers a thousand years. They constructed a thermometer of the temperature. The blue is cold and the red is warm. I show this for a couple of reasons. Number one the so called skeptics will sometimes say “Oh, this whole thing is cyclical phenomenon. There was a medieval warming period after all.” Well yeah there was. There it is right there. There are one there and two others. But compared to what is going on now, there is just no comparison. So if you look at a thousand years worth of temperature and compare it to a thousand years of CO2 you can see how closely they fit together. Now, a thousand years of CO2 data in the mountain glacier.

Readers yesterday observed the irony that the caption on Al Gore’s graphic was inverted with negative values at the top (something that was corrected in the book version.) I observed that I had examined Thompson’s ice core results and had been unable to identify any Thompson versions that corresponded to the Thompson graphic. It turns out that the Gore Hockey Stick has not derived from Thompson data at all; what it represents is a splicing of the MBH99 reconstruction (taken to 10-year averages) and a version of the CRU temperature history overlaid directly and merged with the MBH99 reconstruction. Thus the confirmation of MBH99 is ironically MBH99 itself.

Here is a closer view of Dr Thompson’s Thermometer. The Medieval Warm Period (not labeled in this version, but labeled in the book) is identified as occurring from about 1360-1370. In the DVD version, the y-axis is labeled incorrectly (it’s inverted), but the error is corrected in the book.

Figure 2. Dr Thompson’s Thermometer from Inconvenient Truth. The y-axis is labeled incorrectly here, but is corrected in the book.

As noted yesterday, the Gore Hockey Stick appears to originate from a graphic in Thompson (Clim Chg 2003) which plots the CRU temperature history and MBH99 in the same figure, shown below (rotated to match the Gore version).

Thompson et al 2003. Figure 7d. The measured (Jones et al., 1999) and reconstructed (Mann et al., 1999) Northern Hemisphere temperatures are shown in (d) and are plotted as deviations (◦C) from their respective 1961–1990 means.

While this identification is very convincing, there are still some discrepancies when you actually try to replicate the exact Gore figure from MBH99 and CRU data. First here is a plot of MBH99 zeroed on 1961-1990 as stated in Thompson et al 2003 (Gore just says “Northern Hemisphere Temperature (◦C)”. Obviously this needs to be smoothed to match Gore.

In Thompson’s ice core articles, he usually/nearly always uses 10-year averages so this seemed like a logical smoothing strategy. Here’s the result – the shape matches very well, but it looks too “cold”. In the Gore graphic, there is at least something that is slightly above the zero-line, which he sarcastically refers to as the “Medieval Warm Period”, but there isn’t anything here.

The zero-period in MBH99 is 1902-1980, not 1961-1990. Perhaps Thompson only said that the data had been centered on 1961-90, but in fact, it was really left centered on 1902-1980. Here is a plot of MBH99 in 10-year averages centered on 1902-1980 and this looks like what is used. It’s a titch too “cold” – I’m not sure why.

Now let’s try to match the CRU version. I can probably forage around and find a 2000 vintage version that will match a little better, but for now I just used the HadCRU2 version presently online. First I tried it with 1960-1990 centering (as stated in Thompson), which would be somewhat inconsistent with the 1902-1980 centering of MBH99, but we’ve seen that before. My impression was that this is a little “cold”.

So I re-centered the CRU data on 1902-1980 to match MBH99 centering ( an adjustment of 0.156 deg C) and that seemed to work better. So it looks like both series are centered on 1902-1980.

Now to splice the two series. Here’s a plot which is more or less in Gore format: this seems to get most of the details. There are a few features that aren’t matched. The CRU version isn’t exactly right, though it’s very close. I could probably match it exactly with a bit more experimenting. In a case where the CRU temperature is warm, the Gore plot overwrites the MBH99 background and I’d have to experiment a little to replicate that graphic aspect. But you get the idea.

One thing that we can say for certain about the Gore graphic is that it completely merged the proxy and temperature records, making no effort whatever to distinguish them. I observed that Michael Mann had said at realclimate:

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.