Following are remarks on an aspect of the study of Jones et al. [JGR, 2008].

In 1990, Phil Jones and co-authors published a research paper that (amongst other things) analyzed temperature data from eastern China during 1954–1983. The basis for the paper seemed unlikely: China was in upheaval during that time, and obtaining reliable data would be implausible. (This issue was first raised on the blog Climate Audit, of Steve McIntyre.)

The temperature data had been obtained from weather stations. The central issue here concerns the histories of those stations: if stations are moved (e.g. from the outskirts of a city to the city center), then the temperature data cannot be studied directly; instead, it first has to be adjusted to take account of the moves. The stations' histories are sometimes referred to as “metadata”.

The 1990 paper said that the metadata had been obtained from an advance copy of a report that was jointly published by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The DOE/CAS report was formally published in 1991; it was also republished in 1997 (with only insignificant changes). The published report says that its purpose is to present “the most comprehensive, long-term instrumental Chinese climate data presently available”. Yet for 49 of the 84 stations analyzed by the 1990 paper, the report states “station histories are not currently available” and “details regarding instrumentation, collection methods, changes in station location or observing times … are not known”.

It transpired that Jones had not seen the metadata himself. Instead, Jones had relied on one of the paper's co-authors, Wei-Chyung Wang, who is a researcher at the State University of New York at Albany. In 2007, contacted Wang, who replied that he no longer had access to the metadata for the 49 stations. Afterwards, I formally alleged that Wang had committed fraud. I also published a paper about the allegation, in the journal Energy & Environment. In 2008, Wang's university conducted an investigation, which exonerated Wang. I have charged, however, that there were serious procedural irregularities during the investigation. The matter has yet to be finally decided.

In 2008, Jones and two colleagues (neither is Wang) published a study that purported to show that the conclusion of the 1990 paper was valid, regardless of any errors in the analysis. What follows treats one of several apparent problems with the 2008 study.

A problem with the study
The 2008 study acknowledges that “many of the series generally have at least one site move” and then goes on to state the following (emphasis in original).

… it is important to adjust the [temperature] records for the site moves. For 728 CMA [Chinese Meteorological Administration] records … this has been undertaken by the process introduced by Li et al. [2004b] and Li and Li [2007]…. Using metadata information (site moves, instrument changes and changes to observation schedules), adjustments are made…. These adjust solely for known changes from metadata information….

Section 3.1 of the study considers the same 84 stations that were analyzed for the 1990 paper. It states the following (emphasis in original).

With the new 728 station data set of Li and Li [2007] it is possible to see what effect station moves had on the conclusions from 1990. At this point, it must be remembered that the adjustments made [Li et al., 2004b; Li and Li, 2007] are only for discontinuities (site moves, observation time changes etc. known from metadata information)….

Data for 2 of the 84 stations was said to have been lost; so Jones et al. [2008] studied 82 stations. In their study, Jones et al. compare the various temperature trends that result from the data used in 1990 with the temperature trends from the adjusted data that they now have. The differences are negligible.

The manifest problem here is that metadata for at least 47 of the 82 stations was stated, by the DOE/CAS report, to be no longer extant. Could the missing metadata have been found sometime after the report's republication in 1997? That seems inherently unlikely; moreover, if the missing metadata had been found, some announcement would have been expected, given the prominence of the DOE/CAS report. In any case, the question is answered due to my allegation against Wang: it is obvious that if the metadata had been found, Wang would have produced it in his defense. In fact, in his defense, during February 2008, Wang produced a letter from a colleague in China stating that the metadata was lost long ago. (The colleague was one of the researchers responsible for gathering the metadata for the DOE/CAS report.)

Jones was well aware that some of the metadata did not exist prior to submitting the 2008 study for publication—indeed, Jones closely read my Energy & Environment paper just a few months before he submitted the 2008 study (Jones is listed in the Acknowledgements section of the paper for that reason). Moreover, Jones was later aware of Wang's defense to my allegation (a copy of Wang's defense was released in Climategate).

Additionally, Jones has given two interviews that discussed my fraud allegation to the journal Nature. The first interview was published on 18 February 2010; in this, Jones asserted that the metadata had been lost sometime after 1990. The second interview was published on 18 November 2010; in this, Jones changed his story, claiming that the metadata had not been lost, but “the authorities [in China] have not released the full station-history data”.

The 1990 paper relied upon metadata from the DOE/CAS report. The report, however, which asserted comprehensiveness, stated that metadata for 49 of the stations was not extant. In 2008, when Wang's university investigated my fraud allegation, Wang produced a letter from a colleague in China who had co-authored the DOE/CAS report and supplied the metadata to Wang: the letter stated that the missing metadata had been lost long ago. Also in 2008, Jones et al. published a study that purported to validate the conclusion of the 1990 paper. But that study relied upon the same metadata as the 1990 paper. In February 2010, Jones stated that the missing metadata had been lost long ago (yet he continued to claim that the 2008 study validated the 1990 paper). And in November 2010, Jones claimed that the metadata is available in China, but the authorities there are not releasing it. Jones made this claim even though the metadata is obviously not secret and, moreover, CAS undertook a project with DOE to publish all the metadata.

See also

Jones–Keenan exchange
Remarks on Keenan [Energy & Env., 2007]
Wang's defense in the university's fraud investigation

External discussions

Warwick Hughes blog

Jones P.D., Groisman P.Y., Coughlan M., Plummer N., Wang W.-C., Karl T.R. (1990), “Assessment of urbanization effects in time series of surface air temperature over land”, Nature, 347: 169–172.

Jones P.D., Lister D.H., Li Q. (2008), “Urbanization effects in large-scale temperature records, with an emphasis on China”, Journal of Geophysical Research, 113, D16122. doi: 10.1029/2008JD009916.

Keenan D.J. (2007), “The fraud allegation against some climatic research of Wei-Chyung Wang”, Energy & Environment, 18: 985–995. doi: 10.1260/095830507782616913.

Tao Shiyan, Fu Congbin, Zeng Zhaomei, Zhang Qingyun (1991), Two Long-Term Instrumental Climatic Data Bases of the People’s Republic of China, ORNL/CDIAC-47, NDP-039 (Oak Ridge TN: Oak Ridge National Laboratory). [This report resulted from a joint research project by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. A second version of the report was published in 1997; its Table 1, which contains station histories, is identical to Appendix B in this version.]

Douglas J. Keenan