Dec 12 2009

Is Keith Briffa The Climategate Whistleblower?

Wild Speculation Alert – no facts here!

Major Updates At The End

A while back Andrew Bolt from Australia’s The Herald Sun speculated on who the whistleblower was in what is known as Climategate. Climategate is, as most people know, the publication of files and emails from the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Climate Research Unite (CRU). Andrew Bolt thought the whistleblower was one Tom Wigley of UCAR and CRU, until Wigley responded in no uncertain terms that he was a loyal member of the warmist crew.

The 1000 emails and 3000 files (which CBS News laughingly referred to as a “handful emails”) is a carefully selected set of information that had to have been collected over a period of weeks, and by someone with deep knowledge of what to select. This is not all of CRUs emails or code or data – not by a long shot. To pull this coherent and massive amount of data from the internal mountain of information inside CRU was not a quick in-and-out theft.

Climategate is a massive jigsaw puzzle which will take months to unravel. But it will be unraveled under the scrutiny of thousands of bright bloggers who are also scientists, mathematicians and engineers. It seems clear someone dropped all this data on the world to send a message, a message yet to be discovered. It is more than the fact the Earth is not warming. It is about the bastardization of science.

Who had the insight to gather all this information? What did they want known? Why have they not come forward!

I am of the opinion Climategate is the result of someone deep in the inner circle of the climate movement who decided to take a stand against the lies and deceptions. Someone who looked at the corruption of data and the suborning of the scientific method and decided they could no longer go along with ‘hockey team’ (as the crew at the epicenter of this scandal are known). Someone who had to turn in their colleagues, but couldn’t do it out in the open.

I originally thought Keith Briffa was one of the top masterminds of the alarmist mythology, a mythology built up by a core of zealots who believed so hard in their AGW hypothesis that they ended up doing whatever it took to make the data show what they wanted to see. Because Briffa’s Yamal series, with its magically selected set of trees, was the only data series to survive the destruction of Micheal Mann’s fictional hockey stick graphs I assumed Briffa was a willing and active force in the charade of AGW.

But now with Steve McIntyre’s exposure of the 1999 data manipulation I see were Briffa’s work was actually the monkey wrench standing in the way of AGW for a decade (my take on this discovery is here). It now seems that Briffa’s tree ring work was a stubborn outlier which had to be hidden because it ‘diluted’ the AGW theory. Something IPCC was not happy about. Something the Hockey Team struggled with.

Briffa was in a unique position, one Mann and Jones and others could not easily control – he was the Deputy Director at CRU. With CRU at the heart of the IPCC data sets (the UN would never rely on “American” data sets from NCDC or GISS – this is an international effort!) no one was going to push the deputy director of that institution under the rug. Not the current director Jones, or former director Wigley.

It makes a bit of sense. Who is the one person on the Hockey Team not out doing damage control in the news media since Climategate broke? Briffa. Briffa’s work was the first that had to be surgically removed to ‘hide the decline’. None of his data post 1960 could be used by the Hockey Team since it challenged the premise of AGW by diverging from the desired result.

I think Yamal was Briffa’s attempt to get back on the team, and in the end it cost the team even more heat from the skeptics because the effort required to get the tree rings back in the AGW mold required severe statistical gymnastics. It was these obvious statistical machinations that lead McIntyre to the Yamal mess, and which spooked the Hockey Team into near panic.

Prior to Yamal being exposed Dr. Briffa had been going through some very challenging personal times. First his mother passed away in May 2008 (note, my version of this email is much more extensive than listed at this site):

On 5/21/09 7:43 AM, “Keith Briffa” wrote:

Hi Peck and Eystein
sorry have not responded to recent emails re Palaeo stuff in next IPCC assessment – have been away from the Unit and email because of  the death of my mother and ensuing issues.

Then around March 2009 he and his wife Sarah were not feeling well and were canceling events with the Hockey Team. Not long after Dr Briffa had some kind of surgery which had him out of work for months recuperating. All this while Yamal was blowing up on the Hockey Team, which left them to defend Keith’s work. We see in the emails this defense fell hard on Briffa’s co-author Tom Osborn.

There seemed constant friction between Mann and Briffa, which is highlighted in this email from February 2009:

At 14:15 02/03/2009, you wrote:
Hello Keith:
Following the recommendations of Malcolm [Hughes] and Phil [Jones] (via Ray), it’s clear that I should have come to you sooner.

On the tree-ring side, it’s clear to me now that I should not have used the series from the Mann et al. compilation, and I hadn’t see your 2008 Phil Trans paper until just last week. As far as I can tell, the only records that meet the criteria for this study are your three new RCS series from Eurasia and D’Arrigo’s Gulf of Alaska record. Apparently, none of the Malcolm’s series in Mann et al. were processed in a way that would preserve the millennial trend, and these should be omitted from the synthesis.

Darrell S. Kaufman
Professor of Geology and Environmental Sciences
Northern Arizona University

Now this is truly interesting. Phil Jones and Maclolm Hughes directing Kaufman to deal with Briffa over Mann. Is this more than just pointing a coworker to the better source of data? It turns out Kaufman ends up in the same hot water (skeptic wise) as Briffa not long after this.

One thing becomes clear is Kaufman, Briffa and Osborn repeatedly seemed more willing to work things out with McIntyre and deal with the AGW warts, while the rest of the Hockey Team kept trying to hide and delay (while moaning constantly). It seems there was a rift forming between 2nd tier scientists and top tier (famous) AGW zealots.

If we fast forward to September 2009 two things strart breaking. First the team discovers and confirms that they used a proxy series wrong (another find by the esteemed Steve McIntyre):

On Sep 4, 2009, at 5:24 PM, Nick McKay wrote:

The Korttajarvi record was oriented in the reconstruction in the way that McIntyre said. I took a look at the original reference – the temperature proxy we looked at is x-ray density, which the author interprets to be inversely related to temperature. We had higher values as warmer in the reconstruction, so it looks to me like we got it wrong, unless we decided to reinterpret the record which I don’t remember. Darrell, does this
sound right to you?

There’s other criticisms that have come up by McIntyre’s group:

(1) We cherry-picked the tree-ring series in Eurasia. Apparently this is old ground, but do we need to address why we chose the Yamal record over the Polar Urals? Apparently, there’s also a record from the Indigirka River region, which might not have been published and doesn’t seem to be included in Keith’s recent summary. If we overlooked any record that met our criteria, I suggest that we explain why. Keith: are you back? Can Ray or Mike provide some advise?

Please let me — better yet, the entire group — know whether you think we should post a revision on RealScience, and whether we should include a reply to other criticism (1 through 5 above). I’m also thinking that I should write to Ojala and Tiljander directly to apologize for inadvertently reversing their data.

Note how Kaufman is trying to answer the questions in a scientific manner. He gets shot down by the zealots.

The second thing to blow, as hinted at in this email, is the Yamal crisis (the magical larch). If one reads the emails from Sept-Oct 2009 the Hockey Team is obsessed with McIntyre’s find and the concern that whole AGW theory is resting on a few trees in Russia (a the larger set of tree data from the region does not show recent significant warming).

McIntyre’s discovery starts an avalanche of panic on the Team. Briffa is dragged into work to try and provide an answer and everyone is wondering when he will be able to stop the rising tide of skepticism.

On Wed, 30 Sep 2009, Tim Osborn wrote:

Hi Mike and Gavin,
Keith’s temporarily come in to get a handle on all this, but it will take time. Likely outcome is (1) brief holding note that no cherry-picking was done and demonstrating data selection is defendable by our time tomorrow; (2) longer piece with more evaluation etc. in around a week. No point is posting something that turns out to be wrong.

Keith may post them on the CRU website, but presumably they could be linked to from a RealClimate page or, if Keith agrees, be reproduced on RealClimate?

Briffa is scrambling trying to find the data he needs to counter McIntyre to the point he accidentally irritates Malcolm Hughes by asking for data that won’t be published for a year. Malcolm’s response seems to be another indication that a fissure building between the US and CRU groups. He is not happy with Briffa.

Mann tries to put on a bold front that Yamal means nothing, but he still has to confirm with CRU that it really is all OK:

thanks for alerting us to that detail of Kaufman et al which I’d overlooked. We’d already asked Darrell if he could compute a Yamal-less version of his series, but as you point out he’s really already done this! And Osborn and Briffa ’06 is also immune to this issue, as it eliminated any combination of up to 3 of the proxies and showed the result was essentially the same (fair to say this Tim?).

Sadly for Mann and the Hockey Team, Osborn was not so confident:

yes, you’re right: figs S4-S6 in our supplementary information do indeed show results leaving out individual, groups of two, and groups of three proxies, respectively. It’s attached.

I wouldn’t say we were immune to the issue — results are similar for these leave 1, 2 or 3 out cases, but they certainly are not as strong as the case with all 14 proxies.

Then comes a bit of a bombshell for those who so desperately need (career and reputation wise) the current warming to be significantly higher than the MWP (e.g., unique to the industrial, CO2 emitting age):

Certainly in figure S6, there are some cases with 3 omitted (i.e. some sets of 11) where modern results are comparable with intermittent periods between 800 and 1100. Plus there is the additional uncertainty, discussed on the final page of the supplementary information, associated with linking the proxy records to real temperatures (remember we have no formal calibration, we’re just counting proxies — I’m still amazed that Science agreed to publish something where the main analysis only involves counting from 1 to 14! :-)).

But this is fine, since the IPCC AR4 and other assessments are not saying the evidence is 100% conclusive (or even 90% conclusive) but just “likely” that modern is warmer than MWP. So, yes, it should be possible to find some subsets of data where MWP and Modern are comparable and similarly for some seasons and regions.

This is not good. A warmer MWP blows AGW out of the water and here is Briffa’s co-author being blunt about it all. A decade after Mann and company had to fix their graphs because the IPCC needed more dramatic warming, here they were again faced with tree data that could not prove that today’s warming was unique in history, and in fact proved it was not!

This is when it really got bad. On October 4th Tom Wigley (formerly of CRU and now at UCAR in Colorado) was trying to give Briffa time to respond and hold the team together:

On Sun, Oct 4, 2009 at 8:50 PM, Tom Wigley < <>> wrote:
Dear all,
I think it would be wise to let Briffa respond to these accusations before compounding them with unwarranted extrapolations. With regard to the Hockey Stick, it is highly unlikely that a single site can be very important.

A David Schnare from the Center for Environmental Stewardship was not impressed and lambasted Briffa:


Briffa has already made a preliminary response and he failed to explain his selection procedure. Further, he refused to give up the data for several years, and was forced to do so only when he submitted to a journal that demanded data archiving and actually enforced the practice.

More significantly, Briffa’s analysis is irrelevant. Dendrochonology is a bankrupt approach. They admit that they cannot distiguish causal elements contributing to tree ring size. Further, they rely on recent temperature data by which to select recent tree data (excluding other data) and then turn around and claim that the tree ring data
explains the recent temperature data. If you can give a principled and reasoned defense of Briffa (see the discussion on Watt’s website) then go for it. I’d be fascinated, as would a rather large number of others.

This is coming from a hard core skeptic working for a group who want to drill for more oil in the US – so take it with a grain of salt. Tim Wigley defends Briffa:

However, Keith Briffa is in the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), and I was Director of CRU for many years so I am quite familiar with Keith and with his work. I have also done a lots of hands on tree ring work, both in the field and in developing and applying computer programs for climate reconstruction from tree rings. On the other hand, I have not been involved in any of this work since I left CRU in 1993 to move to NCAR. But I do think I can speak with some modicum of authority.

You say, re dendoclimatologists, “they rely on recent temperature data by which to *select* recent tree data” (my emphasis). I don’t know where you get this idea, but I can assure you that it is entirely wrong.

But on the very same day Tim Wigley, formally of CRU and coworker of Briffa, turns on Keith’s work using very similar language to the Hockey Team lead players:

Date: Mon, 05 Oct 2009 03:57:57 -0600
From: Tom Wigley <>

It is distressing to read that American Stinker item. But Keith does seem to have got himself into a mess. As I pointed out in emails, Yamal is insignificant. And you say that (contrary to what M&M say) Yamal is *not* used in MBH, etc. So these facts alone are enough to shoot down M&M is a few sentences (which surely is the only way to go — complex and wordy responses will be counter productive).

But, more generally, (even if it *is* irrelevant) how does Keith explain the McIntyre plot that compares Yamal-12 with Yamal-all? And how does he explain the apparent “selection” of the less well-replicated chronology rather that the later (better replicated) chronology? Of course, I don’t know how often Yamal-12 has really been used in recent, post-1995, work. I suspect from what you say it is much less often that M&M say — but where did they get their information? I presume they went thru papers to see if Yamal was cited, a pretty foolproof method if you ask me.

Perhaps these things can be explained clearly and concisely — but I am not sure Keith is able to do this as he is too close to the issue and probably quite pissed of[f].

And the issue of with-holding data is still a hot potato, one that affects both you and Keith (and Mann). Yes, there are reasons — but many *good* scientists appear to be unsympathetic to these. The trouble here is that with-holding data looks like hiding something, and hiding means (in some eyes) that it is bogus science that is being hidden.

I think Keith needs to be very, very careful in how he handles this.

Keith may have been pissed off, but Wigley just launched a broadside at CRU and Briffa – who could blame Keith?

Now I have new questions. Who is it who convinced Briffa to withhold data all those years? Was it his idea, or Mann’s and Jones’? Briffa was once again becoming the fall guy for the Hockey Team, just as he was getting back on his feet. I am sure he had plenty of moments to contemplate where is life was heading and why he was putting up with these people.

Wigley’s attack could have sent Briffa (and others in the British contingent) over the edge. It was a cheap shot, and one that probably stung from the ex-patriot turned yankee. The house of cards was falling down and it was tree rings at the center of it.

If I recall correctly, Briffa was even trying to reach out to McIntyre a few times during all this. This last email is very intriguing. It is from Osborne, telling American Gavin Schmidt from NASA GISS to stop acting like the exposure of Yamal was a planned attack on a sick Briffa:

At 14:30 29/09/2009, Gavin Schmidt wrote:
The fact is that they launched an assault on Keith knowing full well he isn’t in a position to respond. This is despicable.



be careful here, I think it more likely that McIntye only learned of Keith’s absence after he started posting about Yamal and the real reason for the timing of all this is that we made the Yamal tree-core measurements available about 2-3 weeks ago (in fact Keith had thought they had been made available before he fell ill, and only realised in early September that they weren’t — and asked for that to be rectified).



I take Osborn at his word, Keith was trying to provide the data to McIntyre very early on. This would have been seen as treachery from the Mann, Jones and Wigley perspective. They had spent years avoiding FOIA requests, and here is Briffa engaging the skeptics openly. I can see why the bad blood might be forming.

I can also tell some at CRU were getting tired with the melodrama of their US cohorts. Having worked in the international arena myself I can safely say Mann is not one of those lovable Americans Europeans admire. He is to boorish and vindictive.

What I also cannot help but notice, besides Briffa’s recent silence, is two other very strange events.

  1. All of Briffa’s materials at CRU have been pulled from their website. Even the cached versions are gone. Want to read is Yamal response? You can’t.
  2. While Briffa is cc’d on and the direct subject many of the recent emails, there is almost nothing from him in the last year! How is it we see so little of Keith in all these emails? He was at CRU and and his emails would be in the same group – why are his apparently missing or so few?

This a very thin and highly unlikely scenario, but someone inside CRU compiled this data and it did not happen over night. I find it interesting that Briffa’s role is both necessary (without him there is no cooling off of the MWP to make current climate so dramatic) and frustrating to his colleagues. He appears to want to let the data tell the story, but keeps getting caught shading it to meet the Hockey Team’s goals. I think Keith Briffa was more scientists the AGW zealot – which is why I think he is top candidate to blow the whistle.

Who knows. But we will know someday. This puzzle will be completed.

Update: Reader CP notes that the first email is also a dead giveaway. It is to Keith Briffa regarding his efforts to work on Yamal and is from 1996. This makes total sense if the FOIA request the was data collected was actually for Briffa’s files!

Update: Blogger & skeptic Bishop Hill linked to this Daily Mail article which notes Dr Briffa’s role and concerns with the infamous Hockey Stick

In September 1999, Jones’s IPCC colleague Michael Mann of Penn State University in America – who is now also the subject of an official investigation –was working with Jones on the hockey stick. As they debated which data to use, they discussed a long tree-ring analysis carried out by Keith Briffa.

Briffa knew exactly why they wanted it, writing in an email on September 22: ‘I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards “apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more”.’ But his conscience was troubled. ‘In reality the situation is not quite so simple – I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1,000 years ago.’

It is an incredible article, which I bet is shaking the foundations in Copenhagen!

29 responses so far

29 Responses to “Is Keith Briffa The Climategate Whistleblower?”

  1. zt says:

    Keith’s name is in the most emails in the archive. This would seem to support the hypothesis that he had a central role.


  2. kh1234567890 says:

    I suspect that the collection was built up over not weeks, but years. Someone not too happy with where all this was heading, saving copies of emails and data ‘just in case’.

    A bit of time would then be needed to clean up the archive – Keith Briffa being off ill and having time to think ?

    The tree ring connection is also far too strong to be dismissed – look at the thread on CA where the link to the archive in the root of RC was first posted.

    Four people downloaded the archive from RC before Gavin woke up to what was going on and pulled the file. At the time, I was reading the CA thread and nearly clicked on the link (in the poster’s name) – I didn’t bother when I noticed that it went to RC.

    The BBC bit is a red herring, as is any Russian involvement – it would take all of five minutes to find a couple of anonymous proxies through which to post the link onto CA and AV. These proxies could have been anywhere. The archive was never on any Russian server – it was posted on RC by someone dropping it into the root directory.

  3. […] In an update to my post on how Keith Briffa may have been behind the publication of the CRU files I found two more interesting emails which highlight the friction between Briffa and Micheal Mann. Here is one from 2002 between Briffa and Cook: […]

  4. G’day all,

    Some more guesses, re Yamal and Briffa.

    I have posed here, where the links all work. I hope.

    Here is the text, for a more general readership than here, but perhaps bear with that.

    “Hide the Decline in Siberia?

    from Peter Ravenscroft, 03.01.10

    Terence Corcoran, National Post, Canada, 21 December, asked (here) why Keith Briffa, second-in-command of East Anglia’s CRU, the source of the Climategate emails, switched to supporting Michael Mann’s famous (or infamous, take your pick) hockey stick temperature graph?

    That hockey stick graph is the one that has Al Gore and the UN and half the planet in a flat panic. See Wiki here, on that endless debate. They are pretty pro-Mann, which gives some useful balance here. But see that Wiki post’s references also.

    The Siberian spare hockey sticks, particularly the Yamal one, were and still are the main backup to Mann’s Colorado bristlecone pine work, for the entire global panic. But they may be fraudulent. It is possible that Phil Jones was actually logging himself splicing of the blade onto the Yamal hockey stick, in his famous ‘hide the decline” email. He said he was applying ‘Mike’s Nature trick of adding the real temperatures to the proxy ones, for one other dataset, and then to “Keith’s” data, from 1961″ on.” One cc on that exact email says ‘keith briffa”

    We have the smoking gun, we just have to establish the target with certainty.

    Sherlock, where are you? Wattsup is on the case, already. And has been since 1 October, long before the Climategate emails surfaced. See here

    In the meantime, Tail End Charlie here sent this to Terence Corcoran, a few minutes back:

    “G’day Terence,

    3 Jan 2010

    I can’t quite answer your question as to why Briffa switched to the hockey stick, but I think you are just possibly looking at the most significant aspect of Climategate. See the “hide the decline” email. I think it is possibly at least half about Yamal in Siberia, which work has been controversial for a long time. Jones may have stuck on the hockey stick blade on the Yamal graph, right there.

    Briffa’s Siberian Yamal Peninsula hockey stick was very central in supporting Mann and to the IPCC. It is, with some nearby and perhaps equally questionable exceptions, virtually the only independent hockey stick blade, as ice cores have real problems in the firn zone on top, and so are calibrated against outside data. So, maybe against CRU data.

    There is that ice core stuff, and an Arabian Sea proxy that seems to have a hockey stick blade, but there is not much other support from Ljungqvist’s 71 peer-review published temperature proxy data graphs, pretty much the full set. Which, with his written permission, I have up in the public domain on ABC Pool’s Clinate Change Group, where I debate with myself in splendid isolation. Some of those 71 graphs do not come too far into the last century or two, but the rest do not see hockey blades. Maybe forty or fifty do not?

    Briffa’s 2000 paper is unusual in being a single-author one, where most proxies are from teams. It came out in 2000. It also seems to be fading fast from some websites.

    But in 2002, the Russians published a very thorough paper on Yamal again, maybe the same data. It is on the net in full. (Hantemirov and Shiyatov 2002)

    I am only part way into this saga as yet, but am going to concentrate on Briffa and Yamal, or a while. However, the Russian work seems very competent and their graph is dead flat. The check is to superimpose the two, but my imaging computer just died. Anyway, they published in 2002, noted work by Briffa from years back in the references, but totally ignored his more recent hockey stick paper.

    I have yet to check names, but the Russian dendrochronologists did get money from the CRU. So, perhaps they were blowing a dog whistle, a bit high pitched, but there when people asked later. As now.

    I have the graphs up on ABC Pool Climate Debating Group, which may amuse you anyway, where they are numbers 21 and 22 in Fredrik Ljungqvist’s collection. This daft form (Corcoran’s) does not take links. So, the graphs in miniature are here, for Briffa

    and here, for the Russians

    Here is a comment from Steve McIntyre:

    “Briffa 2000 uses 7 canonical series – Tornetrask, Yamal dba Polar Urals, Taimyr, Yakutia, Jasper aka Alberta aka Athabaska, Mongolia and the Jacoby treeline composite. Most of these recur in every subsequent study and all the “other” studies can be said to reflect slight variations of this composite. Briffa does a simple average of available data. His series are archived here so emulating Briffa 2000 is a matter of minutes rather than months (other than the measurement data.)

    In my earlier posts, I was pretty sarcastic about the substitution of the hockey-stick shaped Yamal series for the high-MWP Polar Urals Update as being opportunistic at best and about the Polar Urals spaghetti graph – if you had spaghetti at a single site, how come all the multiproxies seem to agree so well?”

    That is from here:

    This is complex, but if it is science fraud, it usually is. We already have the smoking gun, the “hide the decline” email. We just need to know what they were firing at.

    See Wattsup (as ever) on this. It has a reply from Briffa that seems to me like pure waffle.

    Clear as white mud. Get back if you feel like it.

    Regards anyway

    Peter Ravenscroft

    Geologist, Closeburn, Queensland.”

    Back at Stratasphere. The next even more absurd hockey stick is the splicing of the Vostok and Dome C data onto the Keeling Curve, where there has also been at least mild fraud.

    And, 50 million centrifugal pumps have something to say about sea levels. Check the volumes against global ice melt

    Browse ABC Pool Climate Change Group for comment on that lot, if time and interest permit. Here.

    Question is, what needs to be done now? Mumbai is running out of water, etc. Israel/Palestine is a water war. China has cities with huge water problems. Can we shift the global debate from CO2 to water?

    I can take my Coke without the fizz and the sugar, if that will help?

    Regards all,


  5. […] Briffa is, he is one of the climate scientists involved with the ClimateGate scandal. There is a great article that speculates that he may be the whistleblower that leaked all of the ClimateGate emails and […]

  6. […] Briffa is, he is one of the climate scientists involved with the ClimateGate scandal. There is a great article that speculates that he may be the whistleblower that leaked all of the ClimateGate emails and […]

  7. […] of CRU and Michael Mann, the hockey stick maker.  I used this exchange as possible evidence that Keith Briffa may have been the person at CRU whose conscience got the best of him and exposed the climategate data to the […]

  8. […] Briffa admitting “the recent warmth was probably matched about 1,000 years ago” […]