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T. M. L. Wigley (NCAR): 'Personality Failure' to 'Intellectual Failure'?

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- December 6, 2011

“You may be interesting [sic] in this snippet of information about Pat Michaels. Perhaps the University of Wisconsin ought to open up a public comment period to decide whether Pat Michaels, [sic] PhD needs re-assessing?”

Tom Wigley to ‘Folks’, October 14, 2009.

“I consider this to be an extremely serious matter. [The actions and climate views of] Mr. Bradley … may further damage both my personal and your company’s reputation.”

Tom Wigley to Kenneth L. Lay (Enron), August 26, 1999.

“We sent [our paper] to Journal of Climate. I sent out about 10 copies–one to Wigley. But I requested that he not be used as a referee ‘because of an inexplicable hostility towards us (and possibly everyone else)’.”

– Gerald North to Robert Bradley (Enron), September 1999.

Climate scientist Patrick Michaels is mad–plenty mad (see his letter to Roger Wakimoto, Director, National Center for Atmospheric Research below). Among the Climategate 2.0 email sewage is a blatant attempt by Thomas Wigley, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR),  to undercut Michaels’s academic base by challenging the latter’s doctoral dissertation as inaccurate and deceitful.

If Michaels’s dissertation was purposely deceitful, not only flawed, then Wigley would have his ground. But if not, what does this say about the accuser in the highly politicized climate-change debate?

Climate scientist Judith Curry weighted in as follows:

Climategate Etc.

Pat Michaels is rightfully incensed over emails from Tom Wigley, including this snippet:

“You may be interesting [sic] in this snippet of information about Pat Michaels. Perhaps the University of Wisconsin ought to open up a public comment period to decide whether Pat Michaels, PhD needs re-assessing?”

Wigley is big on reputation–I supposedly damaged his back when I was at Enron. My MasterResource post of February 6, 2009, on L’affaire Wigley told this story (reproduced below).

I had a spat back in 1999 with Dr. Tom (T.M.) Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

As director of public policy analysis at Enron, I had engaged about a dozen climate scientists to try to ferret out the middle ground between the “alarmists” and the “skeptics.” I had great cooperation from both sides. The alarmists liked me because of Enron’s “progressive” views; the skeptics liked me because of my affiliation with Cato and other free-market groups.

Dr. Wigley was the most alarmist of the bunch that I engaged. He was quite unimpressed with my arguments that the enhanced greenhouse effect was not the peril oft-described.  Before long he likened me to a “terrier yapping and snapping around my feet.” 

So, after warning him about wanting a little peer review (yes, I have that email still), I distributed our exchange to the scientists and asked them for a grade: How well did I do against Tom?

Shortly thereafter, Enron chairman Ken Lay received a a scathing communication from Dr. Wigley dated August 26, 1999. It complained about my “appalling behavior” in distributing our lengthy exchange. The letter read in part:

I would like to bring to your attention the behavior of one of your employees, Mr. Rob Bradley, which I consider to be highly unethical and deeply disturbing to me personally…. [U]sing his Enron email address … he appears to be acting as a representative of Enron…. From my knowledge of your company’s open-minded, balanced, and, indeed, innovative stance on this issue, I judge Mr. Bradley as being singularly misrepresentative of the Enron position.

Indeed, ex-Greenpeace official Jeremy Leggett identified Enron as “the company most responsible for sparking off the greenhouse civil war in the hydrocarbon business” (The Carbon War, Penguin, 1999, p. 204).

The letter, which hinted at legal action, closed:

I consider this to be an extremely serious matter. Mr. Bradley is acting like a “loose cannon,” and he may further damage both my personal and your company’s reputation if he continues in this way. It would not be adequate for Mr. Bradley simply to issue an apology. The damage has been done, and it cannot be redressed by mere words.

Well, how does the story end? I showed Lay a copy of the email I wrote Tom telling him of the peer review to come. I detailed this in a memo, from which Lay responded.

I also shared some examples of Wigley’s less-than-stellar reputation among his peers. One comment was from Dr. Jerry North, head of the Meteorology Department at Texas A&M, who had this to say about Wigley in a different context:

We sent [our paper] to Journal of Climate. I sent out about 10 copies–one to Wigley. But I requested that he not be used as a referee “because of an inexplicable hostility towards us (and possibly everyone else).”

The last of it was when I sent Dr. Wigley an email on September 24, 1999, telling him I was sorry about his distress, adding,

I am most surprised about your concern over your reputation from the distribution. I assumed you were happy with your answers to my questions–at least your criticisms of my positions (and me personally) had a very confident and emphatic tone…. As for me, I am still happy with my analysis and opinions ….

I ended the communication by asking him some more hard questions about climate alarmism and warned:

But as before, expect peer review given that I am a nonspecialist working with many other scientists whom I also respect.

I never received a response, so that was the end of L’affaire Wigley.

There are a number of other Wigley emails that are part of Climategate 2.0, but add this to the historical record.

APPENDIX: Michaels’s Open Letter to Roger Wakimoto (NCAR)

To: Dr. Roger Wakimoto, Director, National Center for Atmospheric Research: Boulder, Colorado

Roger, you are the head of what is perhaps the most prestigious atmospheric science laboratory on the planet, and, as such, I presume that you will always go the extra mile to protect the reputation of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its related University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR).

I’m sure you have seen and discussed with your staff many of the “Climategate” emails released first in November, 2009, and then more recently, earlier this month.

Everyone agrees that the tone and content of many of them is a bit shrill and occasionally intolerant (kind of like University faculty meetings), but there is one repeating thread, by one of your most prestigious employees, Dr. Tom Wigley, that is far beyond the pale of most academic backbiting.

The revoking of my doctorate, the clear objective of Tom’s email, is the professional equivalent of the death penalty. I think it needs to be brought to your attention, because the basic premise underlying his machinations is patently and completely false. Dr Wigley is known as a careful scientist, but he certainly was careless here.

The global circulation of this email has caused unknown damage to my reputation. Also, please note that all communications from Dr. Wigley to his colleagues on this matter were on the NCAR/UCAR server.

The relevant email was sent to Rick Piltz, a UCAR employee at the time, and copied to Michael Mann, Pennsylvania State University, James Hansen and Gavin Schmidt, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Benjamin Santer, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the late Steven Schneider, Stanford University, and several other very prominent climate scientists. The influence of these individuals is manifest and evidence of a very serious attempt to destroy my credential.

What Dr. Wigley wrote to this group of individuals was:

You may be interesting [sic] in this snippet of information about Pat Michaels. Perhaps the University of Wisconsin ought to open up a public comment period to decide whether Pat Michaels, PhD needs re-assessing?

As I said, revoking the doctorate of a scientist is the equivalent of imposing a professional death penalty. Unfortunately, Wigley’s rationale for organizing this effort was based upon a pure fabrication.

Wigley’s call for a “re-assessing” of my dissertation stems from his contention that I either misled my academic committee or my committee was guilty of professional malfeasance, both very serious charges. (His email is reproduced in its entirety at the end of this note.)

My 1979 dissertation was a model relating interannual and interseasonal variations in the shape of the atmosphere, as reflected by the surface barometric pressure field, to variations crop yields across the United States.

In this type of model, one usually factors out the technological component of crop yields (which, incidentally, explains much more variation than any climate component) and then models the remaining variation in yield with the climate factor, in order to “isolate” the climate component. The explained variance of this residual yield by climate is generally about 50%, which is very close to the average I found for corn, soybeans, and winter wheat.

Wigley said in his email that I claimed to have explained 95% of the variation in crop yield, which he said “would have been a remarkable results” [sic]. In fact, there is no such statement, nor anything related to that, in my dissertation. He went on to state that I did this by simultaneously modelling the technological, spatial and climate components of agricultural yield, instead of separating out technological components first.

Despite his claimed familiarity with my dissertation, I did no such thing. Table 2, beginning on page 154 of the dissertation, is labelled “DETRENDING FUNCTIONS”, and gives the equations that were used to remove the technological component. All subsequent analyses were on the detrended data.

Wigley then alleged that either I lied to my examination committee, or that they were buffoons. It is worth noting that the committee included the famously tough Reid Bryson, father of the modern notion that human beings could change the climate.

“Apparently, none of Michaels’ thesis examiners noticed this. We are left with wondering whether this was deliberate misrepresentation by Michaels, or whether it was simply ignorance.”

This came to my attention with the release of the first East Anglia emails in November, 2009. This email and other, new statements by him about my dissertation have surfaced with the recent release of additional emails, and his letter about my dissertation is again being circulated around the web.

I think you will agree that it is time for Dr. Wigley to state that his attempt to generate a movement to remove my doctorate was based upon clear errors on his part, errors that he should have known about, and yet he has let the record stand for over two years. What he “discovered years ago” was certainly not in my dissertation.

Roger, I don’t think you would put up with this, and I think Wigley must be compelled to come forth. Remember that he did this on NCAR’s (and the taxpayer’s) dime.

Thank you very much.


  1. Ed Reid  

    Perhaps the institutions which employ the “Team” members might be encouraged to conduct serious inquiries to determine whether their recent work is flawed or deceitful. The combination of the content of the Climategate 1 & 2 e-mails would certainly suggest both as possibilities. Perhaps these inquiries might be conducted without the liberal application of “whitewash” this time.


  2. rbradley  

    Two updates:

    1) I sent the above to Dr. Wigley and 2) Pat Michaels sent me an email with this comment:

    “While several people are singled out for destruction in the Climategate 2 emails, it turns out that one of them, Chris Landsea of the National Hurricane Center, was advised as an undergraduate by Roger Wakimoto, the director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Because he knows Chris well, he will surely know how unfair these attacks are, and I suspect that he will find the same when he examines my 1979 dissertation and finds that Wigley’s charges are 100% unfounded.”

    Ball is in your court, Tom Wigley.


  3. Ed Reid  


    I seriously doubt that Dr. Wigley will choose to engage either you or Dr. Michaels in an open forum, especially this one. Open engagement does not appear to be his style. However, watch your backs.


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