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Santer, Jones, and Schneider respond to CEI’s phony attack on the temperature record

By Joe Romm  

"Santer, Jones, and Schneider respond to CEI’s phony attack on the temperature record"

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When we last left the Competitive Enterprise Institute, they were going ape for the Scopes climate trial that the Chamber of Commerce had proposed for the EPA.  The deniers just stick their fingers and their ears and scream whenever they hear any science-based finding that GHGs harm human health.  What else can you expect from a group that which actually runs ad campaigns aimed at destroying the climate for centuries?

Now CEI is trying to go after the UK temperature record because the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, used by the Hadley/Met Office, has abandoned some bad data.  Climate Science Watch (CSW) has the background, “CEI global warming denialists try another gambit seeking to derail EPA endangerment finding.“  Ironically, as Prof. Phil Jones, CRU’s Director explains below:

Almost all the data we have in the CRU archive is exactly the same as in the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) archive used by the NOAA National Climatic Data Center [see here and here].  The original raw data are not “lost.”

A small amount of data, which could be easily reconstructed if one wanted to waste a lot of time, was abandoned for reasons such as the following:

Station series for sites that in the 1980s we deemed then to be affected by either urban biases or by numerous site moves, that were either not correctable or not worth doing as there were other series in the region.

Yes, for years the deniers have been claiming that the temperature record is corrupted by the urban heat island effect or bad locations.  In fact, we know that it isn’t (see Must-read NOAA paper smacks down the deniers: Q: “Is there any question that surface temperatures in the United States have been rising rapidly during the last 50 years?” A: “None at all.”)  But when CRU actually tries to abandon such data, the deniers cry foul.

CEI:  Can’t live with them, future generations could live with out them.

To compound the irony, the only meaningful hole in the Hadley data is the “hole in the Arctic,” as RealClimate puts it (see here).  The Hadley record simply excludes the part of the world “just where recent warming has been greatest.”  Because of that gap, the Hadley data almost certainly underestimates recent warming.

CSW asked three prominent scientists to comment on CEI’s bogus data-shredding charge and posted them here and here.  I’m reprinting them below, starting with Stanford’s Stephen Schneider, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and author of Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate, coming out next month:

Pat Michaels and the Competitive Enterprise Institute continue to obfuscate well-established scientific conclusions by counting on most non-specialists to be unaware of the vast preponderance of multiple lines of evidence for anthropogenic climate warming. Their technique is to raise minor objections that don’t remotely refute the preponderance, and use this scientific trivia to claim that until all points of debate are resolved the mainstream case isn’t “proven.”

This was the tried and true tactic of the tobacco industry for 35 years. Now that industry suffers losses of billions of dollars in lawsuits for hiding the truth and obscuring it with minutiae that most people are not technically trained enough to recognize for the deceptions embedded in what seems to be serious scientific debate.

Why should they not do it given their ideology? They support the ideology of few controls on entrepreneurial activity and thus want to weaken government regulation. In the case of climate change they do this by falsely claiming they have found a new “smoking gun” of refutation of well-established science. Science of complex systems is never finished.  That is why we have assessments like those of the IPCC””to assess where the preponderances are.

What Michaels and the CEI are selling comes from the north end of a south bound horse.

Here’s Benjamin Santer, Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, winner of the Department of Energy Distinguished Scientist Fellowship, the E.O. Lawrence Award, and the “Genius Award” by the MacArthur Foundation:

As I see it, there are two key issues here.

First, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and Pat Michaels are arguing that Phil Jones and colleagues at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (CRU) willfully, intentionally, and suspiciously “destroyed” some of the raw surface temperature data used in the construction of the gridded surface temperature datasets.

Second, the CEI and Pat Michaels contend that the CRU surface temperature datasets provided the sole basis for IPCC “discernible human influence” conclusions.

Both of these arguments are incorrect. First, there was no intentional destruction of the primary source data. I am sure that, over 20 years ago, the CRU could not have foreseen that the raw station data might be the subject of legal proceedings by the CEI and Pat Michaels. Raw data were NOT secretly destroyed to avoid efforts by other scientists to replicate the CRU and Hadley Centre-based estimates of global-scale changes in near-surface temperature. In fact, a key point here is that other groups””primarily at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), but also in Russia””WERE able to replicate the major findings of the CRU and UK Hadley Centre groups. The NCDC and GISS groups performed this replication completely independently. They made different choices in the complex process of choosing input data, adjusting raw station data for known inhomogeneities (such as urbanization effects, changes in instrumentation, site location, and observation time), and gridding procedures. NCDC and GISS-based estimates of global surface temperature changes are in good accord with the HadCRUT data results.

The second argument””that “discernible human influence” findings are like a house of cards, resting solely on one observational dataset””is also invalid. The IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) considers MULTIPLE observational estimates of global-scale near-surface temperature changes. It does not rely on HadCRUT data alone””as is immediately obvious from Figure 2.1b of the TAR, which shows CRU, NCDC, and GISS global-mean temperature changes.

As pointed out in numerous scientific assessments (e.g., the IPCC TAR and Fourth Assessment Reports, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Report 1.1 (Temperature trends in the lower atmosphere: Steps for understanding and reconciling differences), and the state of knowledge report, Global Climate Change Impacts on the United States, rigorous statistical fingerprint studies have now been performed with a whole range of climate variables””and not with surface temperature only. Examples include variables like ocean heat content, atmospheric water vapor, surface specific humidity, continental river runoff, sea-level pressure patterns, stratospheric and tropospheric temperature, tropopause height, zonal-mean precipitation over land, and Arctic sea-ice extent. The bottom-line message from this body of work is that natural causes alone CANNOT plausibly explain the climate changes we have actually observed. The climate system is telling us an internally- and physically-consistent story. The integrity and reliability of this story does NOT rest on a single observational dataset, as Michaels and the CEI incorrectly claim.

I have known Phil for most of my scientific career. He is the antithesis of the secretive, “data destroying” character the CEI and Michaels are trying to portray to the outside world. Phil and Tom Wigley have devoted significant portions of their scientific careers to the construction of the land surface temperature component of the HadCRUT dataset. They have conducted this research in a very open and transparent manner””examining sensitivities to different gridding algorithms, different ways of adjusting for urbanization effects, use of various subsets of data, different ways of dealing with changes in spatial coverage over time, etc. They have thoroughly and comprehensively documented all of their dataset construction choices. They have done a tremendous service to the scientific community””and to the planet””by making gridded surface temperature datasets available for scientific research. They deserve medals””not the kind of deliberately misleading treatment they are receiving from Pat Michaels and the CEI.

Finally, here’s Jones:

No one, it seems, cares to read what we put up on the CRU web page. These people just make up motives for what we might or might not have done.

Almost all the data we have in the CRU archive is exactly the same as in the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) archive used by the NOAA National Climatic Data Center [see here and here].

The original raw data are not “lost.”  I could reconstruct what we had from U.S. Department of Energy reports we published in the mid-1980s. I would start with the GHCN data. I know that the effort would be a complete waste of time, though. I may get around to it some time. The documentation of what we’ve done is all in the literature.

If we have “lost” any data it is the following:

1. Station series for sites that in the 1980s we deemed then to be affected by either urban biases or by numerous site moves, that were either not correctable or not worth doing as there were other series in the region.

2. The original data for sites for which we made appropriate adjustments in the temperature data in the 1980s. We still have our adjusted data, of course, and these along with all other sites that didn’t need adjusting.

3. Since the 1980s as colleagues and National Meteorological Services (NMSs) have produced adjusted series for regions and or countries, then we replaced the data we had with the better series.

In the papers, I’ve always said that homogeneity adjustments are best produced by NMSs. A good example of this is the work by Lucie Vincent in Canada. Here we just replaced what data we had for the 200+ sites she sorted out.

The CRUTEM3 data for land look much like the GHCN and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies data for the same domains.

Apart from a figure in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) showing this, there is also this paper from Geophysical Research Letters in 2005 by Russ Vose et al. Figure 2 is similar to the AR4 plot.

I think if it hadn’t been this issue, the Competitive Enterprise Institute would have dreamt up something else!

As CSW Rick Piltz said last week

You do not need to reopen the IPCC reports and the technical support document on the EPA endangerment finding because of something having to do with the raw data from the temperature record from East Anglia University in the 1980s.

No amount of data will ever satisfy the deniers.  They’ll plug their ears and shout until the planet is reduced to Hell and High Water.  The only question is how long the media and politicians will keep listening to their shrieks.

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7 Responses to Santer, Jones, and Schneider respond to CEI’s phony attack on the temperature record

  1. paulm says:

    I think we are almost at the point were we can ignore the deniers.

  2. AlexJ says:

    That’s the problem, Paul: They aren’t being ignored, even by some of the more “trusted” media (apparently including the BBC). Presumably because they’re a source of false “balance”, controversy and/or ideological convenience. And maybe sometimes because people don’t have much clue about the past record of the key contrarians and obfuscators. Perhaps it’s time for the scientific agencies to call out this nonsense in press releases, instead of just posting stuff on obscure web pages.

  3. Rikki (Australia) says:

    I absolutely agree with AlexJ (2). The scientific organizations have to call out these sort of denials in press releases and interviews. We do not have the time for our scientists to waste arguing this stuff. Just tell the public it is rubbish and get it over with.

  4. gmo says:

    Indeed that is a most despicable false claim – destroying data and drawing conclusions from versions doctored to say something in particular. Accusations like cherry-picking are not as toxic because they imply the data are still somewhere and can be analyzed by someone else. But claiming that data have been destroyed and no longer exist in raw form is trying to lay groundwork to automatically dismiss anything.

    We are well familiar with the debunked refrains of “it warmed naturally in the past, so current warming cannot be known to be driven by humans.” Consider if that logic was being parroted with “someone somewhere destroyed the raw data, so no data anywhere can be trusted.” I think all efforts must be undertaken to not allow that to seep in, and I applaud the pushback against as in the statements from the scientists above.

  5. mike roddy says:

    I once said on Dot Earth that anyone who disputes the basic evidence of human caused climate change is either a fool, a liar, or a whore. That’s how much their nonsensical posts were starting to aggravate me, especially since rational discussion never influences their views. They remind me of that statement, but I stand by it.

    Scientists won’t go that far, and are cautious and circumspect by nature. But it may be about time for scientists in the relevant fields to step up and stop providing any cover to the CEI and Limbaugh crowd by engaging in Socratic dialogues with them. They should collectively and forcefully call out the deniers for what they are, and make a special point of alerting the public on the issue.

    Climate Cover Up, the new Hoggan book, does this quite well. And your pieces over the years on this subject have been the most courageous and factually accurate of anyone’s, Joe, as the advancing science has proved. Thanks.

  6. What saddens me the most about stories such as this one is that many people seem to believe one or more of the following so they choose to ignore the current state of climate science:

    1) The majority of scientists around the world are incompetent (they do not interpret data correctly, for example.)
    2) The majority of scientists around the world are afraid to publish alternate viewpoints to an AGW-forced climate despite the fact that they would become famous if they could refute AGW.
    3) The majority of scientists around the world are conspiring in order to secure funding.
    4) The majority of scientists around the world are just using group speak which implies that they do not think for themselves.

    Instead, there are a small handful of scientists that do not fit any of the above points, rarely, if ever, publish their findings in a respected journal, but are the ones that many in the public are listening to.

    Seems to be a very foolish position to take.

  7. Mr. Language Person says:

    Final[l]y, here’s Jones:

    [JR: Thanks.]