Tuesday, 25 November 2008

'Minor' errors are major problems for climate science

A couple of weeks ago somewhat of a kerfuffle erupted when NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, home of Al Gore's spiritual advisor James Hansen, released data showing that October 2008 was a record hot month in Russia.

As things transpired, NASA's statement was one hundred percent untrue.

Why?

Because the data for October contained much data that had been
carried over from September.

When there can be a 14C difference between the two months this makes a serious difference.

So what happened?

Apparently, the data that GISS had received from its supplier (GHCN) was wrong and this led to the faulty conclusion.

Gavin Schmidt, of both GISS and Realclimate,
defended their data quality procedures stating that "the processing algorithm worked fine". He then went on to say that there was not a full time person dedicated to data quality control and that "Current staffing from the GISTEMP analysis is about 0.25 FTE on an annualised basis (i’d estimate - it is not a specifically funded GISS activity)."

Having been exposed by people like Steve McIntyre - yet again - GISS corrected its error but did not provide attribution to McIntyre for highlighting the issue.

Previously, McIntyre had exposed the GISS Y2K fault that, when corrected, meant that 1998 was not the hottest year in the US temperature record, 1934 was.

Now, you might think that these two corrections are much ado about nothing. The scale of the Y2K error was not huge and, anyway, the most recent error was quickly fixed.

The Climate Faithful quickly jumped to the defence of NASA including Australian blogger Tim Lambert, a serial defender of all things AGW, who dismissed the latest problem as
mountains out of molehills.

So here are some questions that are pertinent to not only the debate but also the whole issue of proper scientific practice.

If errors such as with Y2K and 10/08 were not exposed by McIntyre et al then would they ever be corrected?

If there is nobody dedicated within GISS to data quality control and huge anomalies such as have just occurred can not only slip through but be completely missed by those working with the data then what confidence do we have that a myriad of other issues do not also exist?

This is an especially pertinent question given that of the four major centres producing temperature information (GISS, HadCRUT, UAH and RSS) it's GISS that shows the highest temperature trends and is therefore quoted most frequently in the media.

Far from being a 'mountains and molehills' as Lambert posits, the latest transgression by NASA indicates a much deeper, insidious problem within the climate science community - the uncritical acceptance of data that supports their position.

Which raises another question. How far are these people prepared to go in order to promote the proposition that CO2 is the reason for the earth's warming?

The record shows that they are prepared to completely rewrite history:
In 1995, David Deming, a geoscientist at the University of Oklahoma, had written an article reconstructing 150 years of North American temperatures from borehole data. He later wrote: "With the publication of the article in Science, I gained significant credibility in the community of scientists working on climate change. They thought I was one of them, someone who would pervert science in the service of social and political causes. One of them let his guard down. A major person working in the area of climate change and global warming sent me an astonishing email that said: 'We have to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period.'"

So they did. The UN's second assessment report, in 1996, showed a 1,000-year graph demonstrating that temperature in the Middle Ages was warmer than today. But the 2001 report contained a new graph showing no medieval warm period. It wrongly concluded that the 20th century was the warmest for 1,000 years. The graph looked like an ice hockey-stick. The wrongly flat AD1000-AD1900 temperature line was the shaft: the uptick from 1900 to 2000 was the blade.
And thus, Mann et al's infamous Hokey Stick came to be the iconic symbol of anthropogenic global warming.

Fortunately for the reputation of science the Hokey Stick's legitimacy was destroyed by Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick.

Unfortunately for the reputation of the media few major organisations gave the story any coverage and, more recently, have actively been promoting Mann's latest reconstruction in an attempt to defend the Hokey Stick.

Minor errors are a major problem for the climate science community because the cavalier way in which they are dismissed, and defended as immaterial, can only serve to reduce public confidence not only in the field of climate science itself but also in the wider field of science itself.

(Nothing Follows)

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Previously, McIntyre had exposed the GISS Y2K fault that, when corrected, meant that 1998 was not the hottest year in the US temperature record, 1934 was.

1934 was recorded as hotter before the correction. 1934 was recorded as hotter after the correction. To within the errors, 1934 and 1998 had the same temperature both before and after. You are unable even to accurately report something as simple as this; why do you think you can understand serious science?

Do you wonder why David Deming didn't actually offer a name of his supposed "major person working in the area of climate change"

Jack Lacton said...

Hi Fudgie,

Long time no hear!

So now you're trying to defend climate science using the term 'within the errors'!!

That never used to be the case.

It really is an interesting exercise in human observation to see how you'll change your position each time there's a post undermining the Big Green religion of climate science.

Anonymous said...

You find the term 'within the errors' somehow worth commenting on? Do you understand the scientific meaning of the word 'error'?

Kaboom said...

Fudgie's back!

Hey fudgie, tell us about the "scientific method" of research and analysis.

Come on, we know you can do it.

Kaboom said...

Come on Fudgie, you are so knowledgable in matters atmospheric and scientific!

Please share with us what you understand of "The Scientific Method" of research and analysis.

I wonder why you greenies don't care to answer this simple question.

Is it not time for you to change this embarassing subject in typical lefty fashion, by a personal attack on me, and deflected off-topic commentary on a different subject?

Kaboom said...

Fudgie, I am deeply disappointed.

However, I will keep checking in every day or two, just to see whether you have provided a cogent response.