Tom Wigley: The skepticism and loyalty of CRU’s second director

Following my GWPF report on Hubert Lamb, there was some criticism (in comments and by email) that I was too soft on Lamb’s successor at CRU, Tom Wigley. These critiques fit the common portrayal of Wigley as an eminence gris, a shadowy figure scheming in the background, putting forward the more reckless younger scientists, while carefully maintaining plausible deniability.

Perhaps. And I can certainly see how this view has developed during the second wave of scepticism that arose with the Hockey Stick Controversy. However, this view tends to distort, if not Wigley’s personal intent, then his rôle in the whole saga.

Wigley is surely one of the most important and curious characters in our whole story. Therefore we should be especially careful not to let accusations of malevolence distract from the problem of his enigmatic rôle.  Some may well wish to lay accusations as though of a crime, where intent is crucial to conviction and sentencing. However, this is not our problem. Our problem is the historical problem: the hows and whys of this monumental corruption of our scientific institutions. In this, Wigley’s rôle, rather than his intent, is of primary importance.

For a social phenomenon, a social explanation is the most satisfying. The transformation of the science is easily explained sociologically, where psychology need only come in with its gross emergent social expression—we may call this human nature. If Wigley did not exist, then social forces would have invented him, maybe not at CRU, but somewhere.

Wigley in the economics history of CRU

Tom Wigley

Tom Wigley (Source NCAR)

There are a set of social factors that go a long way towards explaining the successful transformation effected by Wigley at CRU. Indeed, these are of sufficient force that the attribution of a sinister motive or stratagem is hardly required. Consider firstly that many competent and distinguished scientists, however so much they strive, never achieve even one first-author publication in Nature. Such publications are benchmarks of scientific advancement. As far as we know, no historical climatology paper from CRU ever made the grade. Indeed, Astrid Ogilvie (an historical climatologist at CRU from the 1970s) explained by email that it was hard to get their research published in any peer review journals until the specialist journal Climatic Change arrived in 1977. Yet, in 1981, on the CO2 question, Wigley had his name up on top, in Nature, three times in just two months!
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The Scepticism of Hubert Horace Lamb Part II

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Lamb’s Skepticism: Cleansing the MemoryBefore the Warming Boom

SourceBookDiscussion on Bishop Hill

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Doing Climatology before the Warming Boom

Hubert Lamb was never formally trained as a meteorologist. Nor did he train as a climatologist. His entry into that field was something of a trick of fate.

Joining the Meteorological Office as a cadet weather forecaster, Lamb’s formal training was forever postponed. Instead, Lamb learned on the job while taking up posts in Scotland, Ireland, on a whaling ship in the south ocean, in Malta and in Germany. In 1954 he found himself back in the England, a permanent employee without a position. At the age of 40, with nowhere else to go, he was placed temporarily in the climatology department. The limited tenure with climatology was soon forgotten and he remained there until 1971, during which time the bulk of his research was completed.

'Why Britian's weather seems to be getting worse' by H H Lamb, The London Times, 30Aug66

Lamb on climatic change in The London Times, 30Aug66

The timing of Lamb’s entry into climatology was fortuitous. Expensive new primary research (geological, oceanographic and cryogenic) initiated in the International Geophysical Year (1957-8) was pointing toward climatic variability during very recent geological time. These findings, linked with all sorts of speculation about extreme weather events during the 1960s, provoked interest in climatic change. Upon this interest rode Lamb’s notoriety. He found himself increasingly in demand, and soon the volume of inquiries by post and telephone, and the requests for lectures and articles, began to restrict the time available to progress his research. Nonetheless, under the directorship of Graham Sutton, Lamb’s attempts to reconstruct past climates were valued, supported and encouraged. When Lamb finally published the first hefty volume of his magnum opus, Sutton would write a glowing forward.

…climatology is more than a branch of physics and it is in the wider aspects of its study that the unique nature of this book lies…This is the book that I always hoped Mr Lamb would write….I know of no other work in this field that approaches it in scope and reliability. I have no doubt that what I have been reading are the proofsheets of a classic of meteorology, and that here, if anywhere, climatology really enters into its own.
[1972, Foreword]

Such sentiments were not shared by many of Lamb’s colleagues and certainly not by the new director of the Met Office, B J Mason, appointed after Sutton retired in 1965. The new director was a vocal skeptic of cyclic natural climatic change across historical time, the nature of which Lamb was intent on establishing. Mason preferred to explain recent changes as evidence of only random fluctuations on different time scales [1, 2]. He made it clear that he did not value Lamb’s work and expressed concerns about Mr Lamb’s lack of qualifications as a climatologist. But there was more behind Mason’s dim view of Lambs efforts to glean climate data from historical archives.

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The Skepticism of Hubert Horace Lamb

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Lamb’s Skepticism: Cleansing the MemoryBefore the Warming Boom

SourceBookDiscussion on Bishop Hill

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Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret.

— Horace

Even during his life, the research findings and opinions of Hubert Lamb had a strangely distorted and selective influence on the climate change debate. Previously we saw how his reconstructions of regional climate variation across the last millennium have been misused in official reports as though they might indicate the global temperature anomaly. This began in 1975 when a derivative chart of winter severity for the region of Moscow served this purpose in an influential US report. This graph was subsequently re-used many times through the 1980s to indicate the global trend. Then, in 1990, the IPCC used a very different looking graph—Lamb’s extension of Gordon Manley’s central England temperature chart—which became an idol for skeptics.

In the next two posts we stay with Lamb and consider something that has remained obscure since he died in 1997, namely, his skepticism of man-made climate change. To accompany these essays, a new page is being developed as a SourceBook of Lamb’s skepticism. There you will find for the first time on the internet extensive quotation from Lamb on this topic. Our second post also contains lots of new material where it touches on  aspects of Lamb’s professional biography that are not widely known, including his struggle to fund historical research into natural climatic change before the warming scare began. But firstly, below, we begin by exploring why the views of Lamb provided here might appear surprising and in contradiction to other internet sources. What becomes evident is that Lamb’s protestations against the greenhouse warming scare present difficulties for those promoting climate alarm, especially at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), which he founded in 1972.

Part 1: Cleansing the Collective Memory

The Wikipedia enter for Hubert Lamb tells of how he was once known as ‘the ice man.’ This claim appeared in a curious addition to the first small ‘stub’ entry on the founder of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. We are told that our ‘ice man’ gained his epithet because he predicted global cooling and the return of the ice age. But the main point of the inserted sentence is his redemption from this view.

He was originally known as the ‘ice man’ for his prediction of global cooling and a coming ice age but, following the UK’s exceptionally hot summer of 1976, he switched to predicting a more imminent global warming.
[wiki history]

Now, given that by 1976 the scientific controversy remained wallowing in equivocation about whether the human influence was warming or cooling [see Matthews Nov76, Peterson Sept08], and given that greenhouse warming alarm only got traction in the late 1980s, this ice-man-redemption passage in the Wikipedia entry suggests that Lamb was a harbinger of warming alarm. He was nothing of the sort.

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