GWPF & The Hockey Stick Curve

Read time: 6 mins

The previous post in this series examined the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) Briefing Paper No3 “The Truth About Greenhouse  Gases”. Despite its title, Briefing Paper No3 said very little about such gases. Yet one subject (not directly to do with greenhouse gases) was discussed at some length within the paper. As it is also discussed in other GWPF papers, the subject will be examined in this fourth post of the series.

In Briefing Paper No3, perhaps the strongest accusation made by the author Professor William Happer concerns the IPCC who allegedly “rewrote the climate history” by deleting the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age (MWP & LIA) from the climate record.

Happer tells us that both MWP & LIA were “clearly shown in the 1990first IPCC report. Then eleven years later, according to Happer, they were both simply expunged from the climate record for no valid reason.

Indeed, within the 2001 third IPCC report the MWP & LIA are entirely absent from the graph that according to Happer is “not supported by observational data.” This is the dreaded “Hockey Stick” curve.

Can the IPCC really be responsible for such skulduggery?

The version of “climate history” preferred by Happer was actually rather ill-defined. This “climate history” that Happer is so wedded to appears in the First IPCC Assessment Report in 1990. It is a “schematic diagram of global temperature variations” covering the last 1,000 years (Figure 7.1c, reproduced above). Being “schematic” it has an un-numbered vertical scale and the “dotted line nominally represents conditions near the beginning of the twentieth century.

Also the horizontal axis demonstrates the lack of care in its preparation with the unnecessary “Years before present” label being copied from figs 7.1a & b. This is hardily the stuff of a well-founded and exact graphical representation.

The text of the 1990 report reinforces the tentative nature of this diagram. It makes plain that details of the MWP & LIAare often poorly known because palaeo-climate data are frequently sparse.” The global extent of a MWP is questioned and the LIA is described as “not a period of continuous cold climate.

So the 1990 report was far from saying the WMP & LIA were “fact” as Happer strongly implies.

It was well before 2001 that the MWP & LIA began to disappear from “climate history.” Indeed, by the 1995 Second IPCC Report (available in its entirety as a 51MB pdf) the “schematic diagram” has already disappeared and been replaced by the beginnings of a hockey stick. “Figure 3.20. Decadal summer temperature index for the Northern Hemisphere“ spans the years 1400 to 1979. In this graph, temperatures no longer dip low during the LIA. Further, in the text this 1995 IPCC report directly questioned the existence of the MWP.

So the LIA was gone and the MWP was in serious doubt. Yet Happer makes no comment whatsoever about the 1995 IPCC report. Is he then happy with the figure 3.20? Or has he never read the 1995 IPCC report?

Only with the 2001 report does Happer complain about his precious MWP & LIA disappearing. And yet again it can be asked - has Happer ever read the 2001 report? He talks of “a graph.” Yet three temperature reconstructions are presented on two graphs, figure 2.20 (the hockey stick) & figure 2.21. He says “there was no explanation” for the MWP & LIA disappearing. Yet Section 2.3.3 is titled “Was there a “Little Ice Age” and a “Medieval Warm Period”?

Perhaps Happer only managed to read the Summary for Policymakers (where there is but one graph and no explanation) and failed to read further.

The Fourth IPCC Assessment Report of 2007 continues to feature  the Hockey Stick data (now with a dozen other reconstructions), as well as directly refuting the very criticisms levelled by Happer against the original 'hockey stick' (see below Box 6.4) Yet for Happer the 2007 report isn't even worthy of mention! Perhaps he felt it was not worthy of reading?

Happer says his view of the MWP & LIA is supported by “strong evidence.” He fails to say what this “strong evidence” is and reasonable researches yield nothing to support his claim.

The “schematic diagram” of 1990 is not based on “strong evidence.” The diagram comes from the work of HH Lamb reconstructing Central England temperatures who based the most recent 300 years on the Central England Temperature (CET) thermometer record. Earlier years in the reconstruction were quite speculative in nature. (Lamb's original graph is accessible here. Also Box 6.4 here for IPCC comment on Lamb's work.)

If this CET temperature record used by HH Lamb is plotted up-to-date, it plots out the 'blade' of the 'hockey stick,' as would be expected. The 'handle' of the 'hockey stick' becomes straightened because it is now based on a Northern Hemisphere average, not the more variable average of a single location (or the speculations of HH Lamb). Thus the 1990 “schematic diagram” becomes the 'hockey stick'.

The only other possible hint Happer gives of “strong evidence” is mention of historical information - wine exported from England (also considered by Lamb) and a “greener” Greenland during the MWP, plus a frozen River Thames during the LIA. Of course this data applies only to two particular locations.

Further, such data can prove to be shaky even for local temperature reconstruction. Historical circumstance can be misinterpreted and even the accuracy of the information itself needs scrupulous checking. Such data used by Lamb has been checked and found wanting.

Concerning the historical frozen River Thames, available records appear to show it freezing both during MWP and the LIA. If true, this would make the frozen Thames less than convincing as evidence for a warm MWP preceding a cold LIA, even in merry olde England.

Be it presenting The Truth About Greenhouse Gases or explaining the disappearing MWP & LIA, it is impossible not to conclude that Happer's paper is entirely worthless.

The disclaimer says it expresses the view of the author not the GWPF. Yet it remains difficult to understand why any UK-registered “educational” charity would wish to publish it. When examined, it is so obviously nonsense and its publication cannot have been the unfortunate result from commissioning a piece of work because the paper had already been published, twice.

After four posts examining the work of the GWPF, little has been found of the slightest merit.

Their entire reputation as a factual commentator on global warming (which they are obliged to be under their UK-registered charity status) hangs by a thread. So in the next part of this series, the GWPF will be tested once more to see if their reputation can be redeemed.

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Keep up the good work!

The Charity Commission needs to heed its own guidance as to whether or not an institution is a proper charity.  An organisation founded for political (policy) purposes is not a charity.  The Commission investigated The Atlantic Bridge, founded by Margaret Thatcher and found it was political.  The Smith Institute, which held some of its meetings at No 11 Downing Street, was found to be political.  If the same investigative methods are applied to the GWPF it is virtually certain that the Commission will find that the GWPF is a political organisation as defined in charity law, and hence not a charity.

For the GWPF to be a legitimate charity according to law it would need to be educational and it would need to be non-political.  I have yet to see anything on the GWPF web site which is ‘educational’ as defined in charity law.  As to politics, the law could not be more clear: an organisation whose primary objective is to bring about changes in government policy is not a charity.  Below, from the Charity Commission web site, are the relevant guidance notes, with my added emphasis.



In carrying out research, or endorsing research carried out by other organisations, charities should ensure that the research is properly conducted using robust and objective research methods.


C10. Can charities have aims that are political?

To be a charity an organisation must be established only for charitable aims, which are for the public benefit. A charity cannot exist for a political aim, which is any aim directed at furthering the interests of any political party, or securing or opposing a change in the law, policy or decisions either in England and Wales or in other countries. An organisation will not be charitable if its aims are political.

Campaigning and political activity can be legitimate and valuable activities for charities to undertake. Charities can campaign for a change in the law, policy or decisions where such change would support the charity’s aims. Charities can also campaign to ensure that existing laws are observed.

However, political campaigning, or political activity must be undertaken by a charity only in the context of supporting the delivery of its charitable aims. Unlike other forms of campaigning, it must not be the continuing and sole activity of the charity.



If the purpose of providing information or education is to persuade people to form specific conclusions, then this is not education. Raising people’s awareness of an issue to build support for a campaign is not educating them about this issue as the aim is to gain their support.


Benefits must be demonstrated by facts

It is for each charity to demonstrate the benefits that flow from its aims. In most cases this will be straightforward. If the benefits are clear, nothing more will be needed to demonstrate them.

If the benefits are not clear, we will consider the evidence put to us (as would the Tribunal, Upper Tribunal or the Courts). For certain kinds of benefit, this may include taking into account whether the benefits are generally accepted by objective and informed people. It is a question of judgement based on the facts.

Benefits that are not capable of being proved

If it cannot be shown by evidence (or a consensus of objective and informed opinion) that a subject or process is capable of being educational, benefit will not be proved.

The purported ‘benefit’ of education that is intended to persuade people to support a controversial, propagandist or political viewpoint is not capable of proof, and for this reason not capable of being a recognised benefit.