We humans like things nice and simple. If we have to expend any more than minimal brain power to understand something, we get all cranky and upset. This is especially true if something that we thought we understood goes against our preconceived notions of the truth once we internalize more information.
I envy the technically inclined. They seem to be able to grasp difficult concepts with an ease that escapes me. And I’m not talking about those who might be educated in the sciences or other technical fields. It is much more basic than that. There are some people who are simply better at understanding complexities than the rest of us. It probably has something to do with the way their minds are organized.
No doubt in 10,000 years, their DNA will have survived while mine and the other technically challenged humans will see our DNA go the way of the Neanderthals. Such is the relentless logic of evolution that favors the problem solvers, the adapters.
I bring this up because the more I read about Climategate, the less informed I become. I have to really work at understanding even the basics of what people like Mark Sheppard, Charlie Martin, and this fellow at Watts Up With That blog Willis Eschenbach seem to understand intuitively.
All three of these gentlemen are telling me that Climategate contains revelations so profound that they call into question a quarter century of scientific observations and theory about climate change. I have no reason to doubt their anaylses or conclusions. That’s because I barely have a clue of what they are writing about.
Distilling basics from this trio of very smart, accomplished people is difficult. But what I can gather is that something is very wrong with the temperature data, not just for CRU, but for the entire knowledge base on which the very idea of rising temperatures above what would normally be expected rests.
If true, this would be a flabbergasting turn of events. The theory of global warming rests on the observation that rising levels of CO2 corresponds directly with rising temperatures. The inference to be drawn from the data is that the rise in CO2 is the result of industrialized economies spewing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Correlation in both sets of data is necessary for the the theory to hold water. If you remove the rise in temperatures from the equation, all you have is increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and a theory that eventually, this will lead to a warmer planet. But without that temperature data showing a rise, it would be impossible to construct a viable model of how fast and how much warming would take place. It would be pure speculation if a climatologist tried to model future temperatures if what the record showed were normal fluctuations that could be accounted for by other indices (lack of solar activity, “Little Ice Age” warming, etc.).
So this is what has me flummoxed. Are the leaked documents from CRU a closing of the coffin for the AGW theory? This from Eschenbach would seem to make a strong case for it:
People keep saying “Yes, the Climategate scientists behaved badly. But that doesn’t mean the data is bad. That doesn’t mean the earth is not warming.”
Let me start with the second objection first. The earth has generally been warming since the Little Ice Age, around 1650. There is general agreement that the earth has warmed since then. See e.g. Akasofu . Climategate doesn’t affect that.
The second question, the integrity of the data, is different. People say “Yes, they destroyed emails, and hid from Freedom of information Acts, and messed with proxies, and fought to keep other scientists’ papers out of the journals … but that doesn’t affect the data, the data is still good.” Which sounds reasonable.
There are three main global temperature datasets. One is at the CRU, Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, where we’ve been trying to get access to the raw numbers. One is at NOAA/GHCN, the Global Historical Climate Network. The final one is at NASA/GISS, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The three groups take raw data, and they “homogenize” it to remove things like when a station was moved to a warmer location and there’s a 2C jump in the temperature. The three global temperature records are usually called CRU, GISS, and GHCN. Both GISS and CRU, however, get almost all of their raw data from GHCN. All three produce very similar global historical temperature records from the raw data.
OK - this I understand. But after examining a recent controversy in Australia where the raw data was, in fact, released for the temperature stations, what Eschenbach finds, is that those “homogenized” adjustments appear to be…biased in favor of warming:
YIKES! Before getting homogenized, temperatures in Darwin were falling at 0.7 Celcius per century … but after the homogenization, they were warming at 1.2 Celcius per century. And the adjustment that they made was over two degrees per century … when those guys “adjust”, they don’t mess around. And the adjustment is an odd shape, with the adjustment first going stepwise, then climbing roughly to stop at 2.4C.
Of course, that led me to look at exactly how the GHCN “adjusts” the temperature data.
They pick five neighboring stations, and average them. Then they compare the average to the station in question. If it looks wonky compared to the average of the reference five, they check any historical records for changes, and if necessary, they homogenize the poor data mercilessly. I have some problems with what they do to homogenize it, but that’s how they identify the inhomogeneous stations.
OK … but given the scarcity of stations in Australia, I wondered how they would find five “neighboring stations” in 1941 …
So I looked it up. The nearest station that covers the year 1941 is 500 km away from Darwin. Not only is it 500 km away, it is the only station within 750 km of Darwin that covers the 1941 time period. (It’s also a pub, Daly Waters Pub to be exact, but hey, it’s Australia, good on ya.) So there simply aren’t five stations to make a “reference series” out of to check the 1936-1941 drop at Darwin.
Yikes, indeed. Half a world away from CRU and we apparently have a similar situation where the scientists solve their “problem” with falling temps by simply massaging the data until it says what they want it to say.
But the thought gnaws at me; am I missing something here? Surely the way they massaged the data has some scientific basis, right?
Yikes again, double yikes! What on earth justifies that adjustment? How can they do that? We have five different records covering Darwin from 1941 on. They all agree almost exactly. Why adjust them at all? They’ve just added a huge artificial totally imaginary trend to the last half of the raw data! Now it looks like the IPCC diagram in Figure 1, all right … but a six degree per century trend? And in the shape of a regular stepped pyramid climbing to heaven? What’s up with that?
Those, dear friends, are the clumsy fingerprints of someone messing with the data Egyptian style … they are indisputable evidence that the “homogenized” data has been changed to fit someone’s preconceptions about whether the earth is warming.
If this, as we are told, is “how science is done in the real world,” lemme outa here.
In reaching its conclusion, the climate panel relied only partly on temperature data like that collected by the scientists at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, whose circulated e-mail correspondence set off the current uproar. It also considered a wide range of data from other sources, including measurements showing the retreat of glaciers in mountain ranges around the world, changes in the length and character of the seasons, heating of the oceans and marked retreats of sea ice in the Arctic.
Since 1979, satellites have provided another check on surface temperature measurements. Strong disagreements about how to interpret the satellite data were largely resolved after the Bush administration began a review in which competing research groups worked out some of their differences.
Science is about probability, not certainty. And the persisting uncertainties in climate science leave room for argument. What is a realistic estimate of how much temperatures will rise? How severe will the effects be? Are there tipping points beyond which the changes are uncontrollable?
Even climate scientists disagree on many of these questions. But skeptics have been critical of the data assembled to show that warming is occurring and the analytic methods that climate scientists use, including mathematical models used to demonstrate a human cause for warming and project future trends.
This is where my personal conundrum ensues. There are literally dozens of studies showing that glaciers are retreating. And yet when one study comes out showing the opposite, the global warming deniers latch on to it with the fervency of a recent convert to a religion. Arctic ice is another measurement that features a host of studies showing it is shrinking and getting thinner while far fewer observations reveals the opposite.
They can’t all be frauds. They can’t all be hiding data, cooking the books, just for grant money. They can’t all be far left commies out to set up a one world government. Many of these observations must be accepted based on the idea that there is widespread agreement across several scientific disciplines that these observations reflect the facts. And if that’s true, then global warming as a theory has not been “debunked” but rather called into question - something the Al Gores of the world don’t want to do but which science, with its infinite capacity to be skeptical, must do if the scientific process itself is to remain a viable part of our civilization.
My point is that you have to look at the big picture. Picking and choosing which scientific evidence you wish to acknowledge is simply not acceptable. The raw temperature data looks flawed to me but what do I know? There are at least two instances of scientists massaging data to achieve a desired result. Does that destroy the entire theory of AGW?
What it should do is knock some sense into the fools who are gathering in Copenhagen. If this were truly about saving the planet, there would be no talk of requiring the kinds of draconian, economy destroying measures being contemplated by world leaders. But global warming is now out of the scientist’s hands and is in the political realm. And since politics is ultimately about control, government action to curb emissions will be the order of the day.
There will never be “certainty” about global warming. The question I have is, after we are finished pulverizing industrialized civilization and the climate doesn’t warm, where do we go to get our money back?