Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Containing the Medieval Warm...err Climate Anomaly

In the series Draggin' the line, a quite often quoted text is related to the wishes expressed by Mann that 'it would be nice to try to "contain" the putative "MWP.." . In this occasion, however, I think  Mann is completely right to use the word contain.


I really cannot understand why the use of the word contain has been so severely criticized. The Medieval Warm Period is a period of a few centuries, centered around more or less the year 1000, which quite possibly was warmer than the following centuries, say from 1400 to 1800. The duration and geographical extent of the Medieval Warm Period is not very well known. Mann is writing about possible studies to reconstruct, albeit in an approximate manner, the climate of the past millennium. He argues that instead of limiting the reconstruction period to just back  to year 1000, it would be nice if they could extend the period of the reconstruction backwards by several centuries, thus perhaps  gaining a better understanding of the Medieval Warm Period.



What I cannot understand either is why the Medieval Warm Period was renamed as the Medieval Climate Anomaly. Suddenly, a few years ago, the term MWP started to disappear from the research papers to be be replaced by the term MCA. Perhaps that was another form of, infantile, contention.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

When I read that Prof. Mann was encouraging a closer look at the MWP, my first impression was that he was positioning himself as a scientist interested in getting at the truth. The request appears to question the validity of the hockey stick temperature graph where the MWP disappears completely.

Jonathan said...

This is one of those cases where native fluency is almost essential to understand the significance of the comment. The construction used is completely unnatural if you are using "contain" to mean "include", but quite natural if you are using "contain" in its subsidiary meaning of "control".

Adam Gallon said...

The word "Contain" can be interpretted in several ways, from the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary, we have-
• verb 1 have or hold within. 2 control or restrain. 3 prevent (a problem) from becoming worse.
when it's used by the likes of Mann et al, one does suspect that it means a mix of 2 and 3!
The use of the word Anomaly is interesting, a little "rebranding" occuring?
• noun (pl. anomalies) something that deviates from what is standard or normal
" What about the MWP Mr Gore?"
" That's an anomaly, that should be ignored for purposes of climate analysis"

Anonymous said...

While it is possible to interpret "contain" in that sense... I guess. It is a completely unatural use of the word by a native speaker of English, and there are many more precise ways to express the concept. If he had said "bound", I might have bought it.

Reiner Grundmann said...

Have a look here
http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2009/12/9/climate-contention.html

bernie said...

Eduardo:
Mann is very PR savvy courtesy of his links to Fenton Communications. Contain has but one meaning in a PR context. Lets put it another way: If this was said by a politician's press secretary or a corporate executive what would it mean? Sometimes things are exactly what they seem.

Also, I would be interested in your thoughts on Brian Fagan's work, especially his The Great Warming wherein he details the global impact of the warming that apparently took place between 1000 and 1500AD

eduardo said...

Indeed, I am not a native speaker, but for me the context in which this sentence was written is pretty clear. Of course, you can always surmise that Mann is thinking, additionally, of something else, but I do not think it would be fair in this case.

'Phil and I have recently submitted a paper using about a dozen NH records that fit this category, and many of which are available nearly 2K back--I think that trying to adopt a timeframe of 2K, rather than the usual 1K, addresses a good earlier point that Peck made w/ regard to the memo, that it would be nice to try to "contain" the putative "MWP", even if we don't yet have a hemispheric mean reconstruction available that far back'

bernie said...

Eduardo:
Point taken - but your quotation indicates that we really need to know "the earlier point that Peck made w/regard to the memo..."
But as I read the string of related emails the fuller context is the response to and fear of the Soon and Baliunas papers. Whatever the merits or demerits of S&Bs review of the proxies, it certainly got the attention of all the folks in the Mann/Jones/Wrigley circle.
The issues seem to be twofold. The simple one is the evidence of whether or not the MWP, however defined, was as warm as the modern era without increasing CO2 as a forcing. The second is whether the MWP and the LIA suggests much longer natural cycles that impact global climate. Both seem to me to be open questions that represent counter hypotheses that are difficult to prove or disprove based on currently available data.
Perhaps this blog can address the nature and scope of the MWP and LIA since they are clearly important for any reasonable assessment of the current warming.

Klaus said...

Jonathan is completely right. In this wording, "contain" can only be understood in the sense of "containment", "limiting the damage of". Something might "contain" (include) something else, but it can't "try to contain" something else.

Anonymous said...

"To contain," used in the transitive sense, always means to restrict in some way, actively. "Include" would have been a much better word, and quicker to the tongue for the meaning you suggest.

If they were dead set on using the word "contain", they should have said, "so that our data contains."

Not buying it.

bernie said...

Does the Deming statement concerning Schneider's(?) request to get rid of the MWP also have to be part of the broader context?

Bradley J. Fikes said...

Mann's use of the word "putative" is significant. It means "commonly regarded as such," which means the speaker is not vouching for its authenticity. This supports the reading that Mann doesn't buy into the MWP and is trying to downplay it.