So Why Bother?

I just watched Peter Sinclair’s petty little video on Anthony Watt’s effort to survey and provide some level of quality control on the nation’s surface temperature network.  Having participated in the survey, I was going to do a rebuttal video from my own experience, but I just don’t have the time, but I want to offer a couple of quick thoughts.

  • Will we ever see an alarmist be able to address any skeptics critique of AGW science without resorting to ad hominem attacks?  I guess the whole “oil industry funding” thing is a base requirement for any alarmist article, but this guy really gets extra credit for the tobacco industry comparison.  Seriously, do you guys really think this addresses the issue?
  • I am fairly sure that Mr. Watt would not deny that the world has warmed over the last 100 years, though he might argue that warming has been exaggerated somewhat.  Certainly satellites are immune to the biases and problems Mr. Watt’s group is identifying, and they still show warming  (though less than the surface temperature networks is showing).
  • The video tries to make Watt’s volunteers sound like silly children at camp, but in fact weather measurement and data collection in this country have a long history of involvement and leadership by volunteers and amateurs.
  • The core point that really goes unaddressed is that the government, despite spending billions of dollars on AGW-related projects, is investing about zero in quality control of the single most critical data set to the current public policy decisions.   Many of the sites are absolutely inexcusable, EVEN against the old goals of reporting weather rather than measuring climate change.  I surveyed the Tucson site – it is a joke.
  • Mr. Sinclair argues that the absolute value of the temperatures does not matter as much as their changes over time.  Fine, I would agree.  But again, he demonstrates his ignorance.  This is an issue Anthony and most of his readers discuss all the time.  When, for example, we talk about the really biased site at Tucson, it is always in the context of the fact that 100 years ago Tucson was a one horse town, and so all the urban heat biases we might find in a badly sited urban location have been introduced during the 20th century measurement period.  These growing biases show up in the measurements as increasing temperatures.  And the urban heat island effects are huge.  My son and I personally measured about 10F in the evening.  Even if this was only at Tmin, and was 0 effect at Tmax  (daily average temps are the average of Tmin and Tmax) then this would still introduce a bias of 5F today that was surely close to zero a hundred years ago.
  • Mr. Sinclair’s knowledge about these issues is less than one of our readers might have had 3 years ago.  He says we should be satisfied with the data quality because the government promises that it has adjusted for these biases.  But these very adjustments, and the inadequacy of the process, is one reason for Mr. Watt’s efforts.  If Mr. Sinclair had bothered to educate himself, he would know that many folks have criticized these adjustments because they are done blind, without any reference to actual station quality or details, by statistical processes.  But without the knowledge of which stations have better installations, the statistical processes tend to spread the bias around like peanut butter, rather than really correct for it, as demonstrated here for Tucson and the Grand Canyon (both of these stations I have personally visited).
  • The other issue one runs into in trying to correct for a bad site through adjustments is the signal to noise problem.  The world global warming signal over the last 100 years has been no more than 1 degree F.  If urban heat biases are introducing a 5,8, or 10 degree bias, then the noise, and thus the correction factor, is 5-10 times larger than the signal.   In practical terms, this means a 10-20% error in the correction factor can completely overwhelm the signal one is trying to detect.  And since most of the correction factors are not much better than educated guesses, their errors are certainly higher than this.
  • Overall Mr. Sinclair’s point seems to be that the quality of the stations does not matter.  I find that incredible, and best illustrated with an example.  The government makes decisions about the economy and interest rates and taxes and hundreds of other programs based on detailed economic data.  Let’s say that instead of sampling all over Arizona, they just sampled in one location, say Paradise Valley zip code 85253.  Paradise Valley happens to be (I think) the wealthiest zip code in the state.  So, if by sampling only in Paradise Valley, the government decides that everyone is fine and no one needs any government aid, would Mr. Sinclair be happy?  Would this be “good enough?”  Or would we demand an investment in a better data gathering network that was not biased towards certain demographics to make better public policy decisions involving hundreds of billions of dollars?
  • hunter

    Sinclair is an appartchik of the AGW industry.
    He is an art major who stumbled into a good schtick, selling eviro-fear.
    All of the money is in selling AGW hype today, so he is following that market.
    The basic thing Watts has shown is that garbage data produces garbage result.
    Sinclair does not realize that if the data sources are stable, then yes relative differences can generally be what matters, under certain circumstances.
    What Anthony has shown beyond doubt is that the data is deteriorating in a way that biases warming.
    The good news is that more and more people see through the AGW true believer tactics.
    Ignoring facts when they are inconvenient is not what people do, when they actually have truth on their side.
    We see that behavior from AGW believers, however, all over the public square.

  • ‘I guess the whole “oil industry funding” thing is a base requirement for any alarmist article, but this guy really gets extra credit for the tobacco industry comparison.’

    He’s also ignoring the fact that anything that can be said about the vested interests of “Big Oil” apply equally, but in the other direction, to the politicians, researchers, NGOs and industries who depend on AGW being real to advance their political agendas (and careers), keep/increase their funding (and jobs) or sell their products (jobs and profits). Or as I think of them now, “Big Eco”.

  • hunter

    Angry Exile,
    I am going to, if you are OK with it, borrow that turn of phrase.
    “Big Eco” is an incredibly good description.
    ‘big eco’, hiding out behind various layers of NGO’s, foudnations and govt. supported study groups, is going to be tough to get light shown on to.
    But the money spent on Big Eco is in the $billions per year. To what accountability, is the unasked question.

  • Chris Winter

    I trust everyone visiting here is aware by now of the paper published by NOAA in early July:

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/about/response-v2.pdf

    This describes a National Climate Data Center study which looked at the 70 stations rated “good” or “best” by the Surface Stations Project. Briefly, what the NCDC found was that the time-temperature plot using data from just those 70 stations is nearly identical to the original.

    If the urban heat island bias hypothesis were correct, the plot for the good/best stations should have come out lower that the original. “That has been found not to be the case.”

  • Chris,

    For a discussion of this topic see here:

    http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=6382

    In particular the quote:

    “Based on this example, it looks like NOAA’s Talking Points comparison is between the overall average and 70 “adjusted” stations – AFTER the good stations have been adjusted. :)”

    The NCDC would have some credibility if they were open about what they were doing, not just report their result, keeping the details of their analysis secret.

  • Jim

    Angry Exile:”‘I guess the whole “oil industry funding” thing is a base requirement for any alarmist article, but this guy really gets extra credit for the tobacco industry comparison.’

    He’s also ignoring the fact that anything that can be said about the vested interests of “Big Oil” apply equally, but in the other direction, to the politicians, researchers, NGOs and industries who depend on AGW being real to advance their political agendas (and careers), keep/increase their funding (and jobs) or sell their products (jobs and profits). Or as I think of them now, “Big Eco”.”

    Man, you hit the nail on the head there. The car companies are benefiting from the $4500 rebate, Goldman Sachs and the exchanges will make millions on carbon credit trading, GE will make money on turbines – the bottom line is that businesses don’t give a hoot about going “green” other than the green that goes into their pockets. Capitalism is so remarkably adaptive, the problem is that the companies falling all over each other to make money from this just adds more momentum to the “green” movement. I hate it.

  • Chris Winter

    Will Nitschke wrote: “The NCDC would have some credibility if they were open about what they were doing, not just report their result, keeping the details of their analysis secret.”

    I suppose if you think they cheated with the original data set (1221 stations), it’s a small step to concluding that they cheated on the 70-station dataset as well.

    But if that were the case, it seems unlikely that they would allow the raw data to be accessible. (I gather that it was, from reading comments to McIntyre’s post.)

    I can’t comment further on McIntyre’s analysis without a whole lot of study to get up to speed on the jargon, details of the algorithms, etc. I really don’t have time for that right now. Also I don’t understand what his two graphs are supposed to be showing.

    Color me still skeptical about the whole Surface Stations Project.

  • JPK

    Chris,

    “I can’t comment further on McIntyre’s analysis without a whole lot of study to get up to speed on the jargon, details of the algorithms, etc. I really don’t have time for that right now. Also I don’t understand what his two graphs are supposed to be showing.

    Color me still skeptical about the whole Surface Stations Project.”

    If you can’t understand the graphs, nor the terminology and math, then why even bother commenting?

    And there is little difference in the eyes of NOAA’s officials between adjusting and “cheating”. I suggest you begin with NOAA’s TOB adjustments and go from there…

  • Nice article. Check here for my blog post on my opinion of tucson weather: http://shenamer.blogspot.com/2008/06/temperature-of-sun.html

  • CaliRyan

    Has anyone ever tried to correlate the development timeline surrounding a substation to the historical increases in temperature for the given timeline? It would be easy to do this for the worst case scenarios to see if there is a trend. I mean, how hard would it be to find out when a parking lot or wall was put in right next to one of the stations?

    They are probably already doing this, but I thought I would suggest it anyway.