Climate Denial Empire Strikes Back with Bogus Temperature Story

February 10, 2015

Following the major media splash around 2014 ‘Hottest Year” designation, and anticipating November’s “yet another very important global climate meeting”, I’ve been waiting to see what manufactured, cooked up diversion would be coming from the evil elves in the climate denial workshop.

Now we know. The old reliable “fudging the data” canard still plays well on the reality-challenged circuit. The latest incarnation is splashed all over the usual toxic vectors – in fact, it’s the “Biggest Science Scandal Ever”!


See? It Says so right here!!

Here’s Booker’s stunning revelation from an unimpeachable source:

Two weeks ago, under the headline “How we are being tricked by flawed data on global warming”, I wrote about Paul Homewood, who, on his Notalotofpeopleknowthat blog,(!!) had checked the published temperature graphs for three (three! golly!) weather stations in Paraguay against the temperatures that had originally been recorded. In each instance, the actual trend of 60 years of data had been dramatically reversed, so that a cooling trend was changed to one that showed a marked warming.

Above, scientist and temperature reading guru Kevin Cowtan dissects the latest meme. Below, Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy weighs in.

Phil Plait in Slate:

The latest salvo in the War on Reality comes from the UK paper The Telegraph, which is a safe haven for some who would claim—literally despite the evidence—that global warming isn’t real.

The article, written by Christopher Booker (who flat out denies human-induced global warming), is somewhat subtly titled “The fiddling with temperature data is the biggest science scandal ever”. In it, Booker claims that climate scientists have adjusted temperature readings from thermometers in Paraguay to make it look like the temperature is increasing, when the measurements off the detectors actually show the opposite. The theme of the article is that scientists “manipulated” the data on purpose to exaggerate global warming.

This is nonsense. The claim is wrong. The scientists didn’t manipulate the data, they processed it. That’s a very different thing. And the reason they do it isn’t hard to understand.

Imagine you want to measure the daily temperature in a field near a town. You want to make sure the measurements you get aren’t affected by whether it’s cloudy or sunny—direct sunlight on the thermometer will increase the temperature you measure—so you set it up in a reflective box. Look: Right away you’ve adjusted the temperature, even before you’ve taken a measurement! You’ve made sure an outside influence doesn’t affect your data adversely. That’s a good thing.

So you start reading the data, but over time someone buys the property near the field, and builds houses there. Driveways, roads, houses leaking heat… this all affects your thermometer. Perhaps a building is erected that casts a shadow over your location. Whatever: You have to account for all these effects.

Even longtime climate skeptic Steven Mosher quashes the new story in And Then There’s Physics:

And even a more pedestrian example would be eyeglasses, where we actually distort the “raw data” that enters our eye in order to compensate for and correct our bad vision. Adjustments help us see things clearly.

Adjustments aim at correcting measured data, raw data, in order to improve its quality. In the context of temperature series for land we can break the problem down logically. A temperature observation consists of a temperature measured by a sensor at time and a location. The skeptical concern over the years has been focused on bias or distortion corrupting this raw data: Bias in sensors , bias in observation time and biases that arise due to location.

Mosher is part of  the celebrated, Koch funded Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST  – get it?) that Richard Muller pulled together a few years ago.  Muller styled himself as a proper skeptic, who was not convinced that his fellow scientists weren’t up to no good in their temperature reconstructions, and told the world he was going to set things straight.
Funny thing is, he hired some real scientists to do the work, and they came up with exactly the same results everyone else had over the last 25 years.

Mosher and BEST colleague Zeke Hausfather have now published a more in depth piece, linked here – somewhat of a slog if you’re not comfortable parsing homogenous adjustments, break points and metadata.

Takeaway – “On balance the effect of adjustments is inconsequential.”

Significant that it appears on the blog of Judith Curry, who has been a go-to scientists for climate deniers in congress and elsewhere lately.  Indicating that the latest blast of pseudo skepticism is so embarrassingly bad, it’s kind of like recent anti-vaxx paranoia – no one wants to be completely associated with it.

For the record, here’s our interview with Richard Muller from just this past December, on his experience trying to find fault with temperature records.

UPDATE: Ars Technica:

The culprit that time was Fox News, but the issue was the same: the raw data from temperature measurements around the world aren’t just dumped into global temperature reconstructions as-is. Instead, they’re processed first. To the more conspiracy minded, you can replace “processed” with “fraudulently manipulated to make it look warmer.”

Why do they have to be processed at all? Because almost none of the records are continuous. Weather stations have moved, they’ve changed the time of day where the temperature-of-record is taken, and they’ve replaced old thermometers with more modern equipment. All of these events create discontinuities in the record of each location, and the processing is used to get things into alignment, creating a single, unified record.

Does it work? The team behind the Berkeley Earth project performed a different analysis in which they didn’t process to create a single record and instead treated the discontinuities as breaks that defined separate temperature records. Their results were indistinguishable from the normal analysis.

We knew this already; we knew it two years ago when Fox published its misguided piece. But our knowledge hasn’t stopped Booker from writing two columns using hyped terms like “scandal” and claiming the public’s being “tricked by flawed data on global warming.” All of this based on a few posts by a blogger who has gone around cherry picking a handful of temperature stations and claiming the adjustments have led to a warming bias.

Why would Booker latch on to this without first talking to someone with actual expertise in temperature records? A quick look at his Wikipedia entry shows that he has a lot of issues with science in general, claiming that things like asbestos and second-hand smoke are harmless, and arguing against evolution. So, this sort of immunity to well-established evidence seems to be a recurring theme in his writing.

Prediction: If 2015 sets a new temperature record this time next year, as it very well might, we’ll hear the same lukewarmed-over charges again. The audience is drifting away, so watch for more shouting and arm waving – but not much difference in the story.





12 Responses to “Climate Denial Empire Strikes Back with Bogus Temperature Story”

  1. […] Climate Denial Empire Strikes Back with Bogus Temperature Story by Peter Sinclair, Climate Crock of the Week, Feb 10, 2015 […]

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