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NOAA-thing burger officially confirmed

Filed under: — gavin @ 6 January 2019

Back in February 2017, I wrote about the tediously predictable arc of criticisms of the Karl et al (2015) paper, and in particular the comments of John Bates at Judith Curry’s blog.

an initial claim of imperfection spiced up with insinuations of misconduct, coordination with a breathless hyping of the initial claim with ridiculous supposed implications, some sensible responses refuting the initial specific claims and demolishing the wilder extrapolations. Unable to defend the nonsense clarifications are made that the initial claim wasn’t about misconduct but merely about ‘process’ (for who can argue against better processes?). Meanwhile the misconduct and data falsification claims escape into the wild, get more exaggerated and lose all connection to any actual substance.

The outcome was easy to predict:

the issues of ‘process’ will be lost in the noise, the fake overreaction will dominate the wider conversation and become an alternative fact to be regurgitated in twitter threads and blog comments for years, the originators of the issue may or may not walk back the many mis-statements they and others made but will lose credibility in any case, mainstream scientists will just see it as hyper-partisan noise and ignore it, no papers will be redacted, no science will change, and the actual point (one presumes) of the ‘process’ complaint (to encourage better archiving practices) gets set back because it’s associated with such obvious nonsense.

But I missed out the very final outcome which I should have been able to predict too: a report, commissioned from learned experts, who spent months poring over the details (including more than 600,000 emails!) and in the end, concluding there was nothing significantly wrong in anything Karl et al did.

That report has now been made public. [Update: apparently this happened in December]

In it the authors make some sensible recommendations to clean up the thicket of conflicting requirements at NOAA for publishing science papers, they spot one mistake made by Karl et al (submitting to Science the day before the NOAA internal review was officially completed), but overall find no substance to the allegations of “thumbs on the scale”, no improper interference by politicians, no rush to publish to influence political discussions, no data tampering, no missing archives. Nothing.

But there is one curious revelation. It turns out that the person in charge of the NOAA internal review about which John Bates was so concerned was…. John Bates!

And even more curiously:

“The MITRE Committee learned that the internal review, later criticized by Bates, was conducted and approved under his own authority. The MITRE Committee found no evidence that Bates ever mentioned this fact in his blog, email, or anywhere else in his discussion of the matter in public.”

Did he mention this to David Rose or Judith Curry in private perhaps? If so, you’d think that they would have publically said so. If not, it adds one more misrepresentation to the pile.

What a colossal and counter-productive waste of everyone’s time.

References

  1. T.R. Karl, A. Arguez, B. Huang, J.H. Lawrimore, J.R. McMahon, M.J. Menne, T.C. Peterson, R.S. Vose, and H. Zhang, "Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus", Science, vol. 348, pp. 1469-1472, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaa5632

19 Responses to “NOAA-thing burger officially confirmed”

  1. 1
    Dennis N Horne says:

    Was John Bates a disaffected employee demoted after unsatisfactory performance.

    Incidentally the liar-deniers are still presenting ‘climategate’ as justification for their delusions and disbelief.

    No wonder man resorts to war. You can’t change minds once they’re made up.

    The newspapers have a lot to answer for, and one day they will.

  2. 2
    Rick Baartman says:

    Here’s the whole paragraph (p.30; I think it’s clearer that way):

    “The MITRE Committee learned that the internal review, later criticized by Bates, was conducted and approved under his own authority. The MITRE Committee found no evidence that Bates ever mentioned this fact in his blog, email, or anywhere else in his discussion of the matter in public.”

    So what was his problem? Amnesia? Or just mendacity?

    [Response: I’ve corrected the quote. Thanks. See Eli Rabett for some speculation on your second point. – gavin]

  3. 3
    MPassey says:

    Buried in all the noise is an actual question about scientific methodology. As Karl explains, the perception of a “hiatus” occurred because the observational record was tracking below the aggregate of the models, so “a suite of physical explanations” followed. So the question is this: If the data had been tracking the models closely would Karl have made the same adjustments to correct “Possible artifacts of data biases” and published his paper in 2015? Is this an example of bias in post hoc data adjustments in the direction of warming, even if the adjustments make sense in a given instance?

    A common scenario in empirical research is to find a correlation among variables in retrospective data analysis that then has to be confirmed by prospective out of sample data. Karl 2015 is an example of turning prospective data into retrospective data to support a specific hypothesis. His adjustments are apparently an improvement. But in the logic of empirical methods, what this does is to reset the out-of-sample prospective data series to time zero.

  4. 4
    JCH says:

    So what was his problem? Amnesia? Or just mendacity?

    Perhaps he had started hanging out with a bad crowd. At some point Professor Curry dropped a hint there were NOAA whistleblowers. Tossing red meat to her carnivore denizens. Every once in awhile I would ask, where are the NOAA whistleblowers? That went on for months, maybe even a year or more. I probably asked about the NOAA whistleblowers three or four times.

    She actually responded once, maybe twice, with “stay tuned.”

    When Bates was named on her blog and his story told, the whole thing was obviously far less than what she was selling. I called it a hatchet job.

  5. 5
    Charlie says:

    Merchants of Doubt still on the road.

  6. 6
    Charlie says:

    The bio states: “Research Profile
    Prof. Bates’ current research interests are in the theory and modelling of the global climate. He is particularly interested in the mechanisms that keep the global climate stable at its current equilibrium and that determine its sensitivity to external forcing such as that due to CO2 increase. He is involved in the area of estimating climate sensitivity using global energy balance models and responses to surface temperature variations derived from satellite measurements.”

    “keep the global climate stable at its current equilibrium” and “surface temperature variations derived from satellite measurements” says it in one that this man is completely incompetent on the fields.

  7. 7
    Marco says:

    MPassey, the work on ERSST v.4 was started somewhere around 2010, according to one of the scientists involved (Peter Thorne). ISTI was initiated around the same time. That’s well before the “hiatus” discussion gained any traction.

    In that sense Karl et al was the culmination of two prospective studies to correct known biases and to improve coverage, which, when combined, happened to have retrospective ‘political’ relevance. This is also, in my opinion, the reason it got into Science. Without that ‘political’ relevance, i.e. the contradiction of a prior talking point of a hiatus that needed explaining, it likely would only have been published in a regular climate science journal.

  8. 8
    zebra says:

    #3 MPassey,

    If the data had been tracking the models closely would Karl have made the same adjustments to correct “Possible artifacts of data biases” and published his paper in 2015? Is this an example of bias in post hoc data adjustments in the direction of warming, even if the adjustments make sense in a given instance?

    If the data had been tracking the models closely, why would someone look for sources of error?

    If the data had been above the model values, then there would also have been suggested physical causes, and then of course the same evaluation would have been undertaken to look for data problems.

    Are you saying that any upward adjustment must be “bias”, but the numerous corrections that have lowered values are “good science”?

  9. 9
    Thomas Peterson says:

    Based on past experience, when accusations of improper conduct are proven false, do those making and spreading the false accusations regret what they did? Do they apologize and wear sackcloth and ashes? Or do they smile and think, hey, we scored points for our side for two years before the truth came out, that was a pretty good achievement?

  10. 10
    Russell says:

    Bates is not the only MITRE holdover from Jame’s Schleisingers’ reign. Like the late former Secretary of Energy,and his boss President Carter, their imperative view of fossil fuels was shaped by the ‘Energy Crisis’ .

    As Carter , the erstwhile ‘nuclear engineer’ who wanted the nation to turn to oil shale for future energy, attended Georgia Tech to cram calculus for his Annapolis exams, perhaps Judith Curry should look into the intellectual formation of the MITRE Committee.

  11. 11
    nigelj says:

    M Passey @3, does it really matter what the motivations and circumstances were? The data adjustments are either right or wrong, and it appears they were right. Knowledge has progressed.

  12. 12
    Al Bundy says:

    Thomas,

    When accusers of improper conduct are “proven” false they regret that the evil subject of their ire was able to wriggle out… this time. Besides, though the details may have been slightly non-perfect or not quite ginormous, it’s obvious that the whole den of… of.. well, I don’t want to insult thieves…

    So, guy, you ponder the impossible. The only time to a typical person changes their mind is when they do it through internal cipherings, and even that’s rare. External “proof” is immediately rerouted from the frontal lobes to the almagdyla, resulting in nothing but ire and ill will.

  13. 13
    George says:

    “keep the global climate stable at its current equilibrium” and “surface temperature variations derived from satellite measurements” says it in one that this man is completely incompetent on the fields.

    Could you explain your comment? Trying to learn about this stuff, pardon my ignorance. Thanks.

  14. 14
    Charlie says:

    NOAA have pristine stations that compare bias corrections of ground station temperature records.
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/feb/08/no-climate-conspiracy-noaa-temperature-adjustments-bring-data-closer-to-pristine

    Satellites don’t measure surface temperatures and their data make the most corrected records. Here some history:

    Gary and Keihm 1991 showed that natural variability in only 10 years of UAH data was so large that the UAH temperature trend was statistically indistinguishable from that predicted by climate models.
    http://science.sciencemag.org/content/251/4991/316.short

    Hurrell and Trenberth 1997 found that UAH merged different satellite records incorrectly, which resulted in a spurious cooling trend.
    http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/cas/abstracts/files/Hurrell1997_1.html

    Wentz and Schabel 1998 found that UAH didn’t account for orbital decay of the satellites, which resulted in a spurious cooling trend.
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v394/n6694/abs/394661a0.html

    Fu et al. 2004 found that stratospheric cooling (which is also a result of greenhouse gas forcing) had contaminated the UAH analysis, which resulted in a spurious cooling trend.
    http://www.atmos.washington.edu/~qfu/Publications/nature.fu.2004a.pdf

    Mears and Wentz 2005 found that UAH didn’t account for drifts in the time of measurement each day, which resulted in a spurious cooling trend.
    http://science.sciencemag.org/content/309/5740/1548.abstract

    Satellite Scientist: Surface Temps are More Accurate
    => http://climatecrocks.com/2016/01/25/satellite-scientist-surface-temps-are-more-accurate/

    => http://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/1979-to-2015-temps-dash.png

    Surface warming is taking place at the surface, and not kilometres up in the air.

    => http://www.remss.com/measurements/upper-air-temperature

    Ground data are clearly the most accurate data.

  15. 15
    Charlie says:

    Here we are…

    https://sites.google.com/site/irelandclimatechange/global-warming-will-happen-faster-than-we-think#Scratchimg_the_1.5C_Jazz

    … and a bit up this page gives us a hint where we’re hitting for. The IPCC special report is already accounting for large scale carbon capture, a technology that yet doesn’t exist at any significant scale.

    http://www.realclimate.org/images//sr15_spm_fig1.png

    If we want to achieve something nearby the 2°C goal, this year 2019 must be the year of awareness. A call on all media to make this climate crisis a priority issue. The transition to carbon neutral human societies has to start now. The coming decade is DECISIVE for whether we’re bursting the 2°C goal or not. Leave alone that 1.5°C dream. Call it what it is. We’re in a CLIMATE CRISIS. Forget about “don’t mention”…
    https://sites.google.com/site/irelandclimatechange/don-t-mention-the-emergency—making-the-case-for-emergency-climate-action/

    My 50 cent.

  16. 16
    Dennis N Horne says:

    #6. Charlie. Your quote is from the webpage of Prof J Ray Bates, not John Bates.
    http://www.raybates.net/

    Questioned here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2018/12/bending-low-with-bated-breath/#comment-715061

  17. 17
    Charlie says:

    Sorry. I mixed that up. Thanks for the hint, Dennis

  18. 18
    PaulS says:

    MPassey,

    If the data had been tracking the models closely would Karl have made the same adjustments to correct “Possible artifacts of data biases” and published his paper in 2015?

    Not an unreasonable question in general. In this case, Karl et al. actually didn’t make any adjustments at all. They simply presented results based on merging two new independently published land and ocean datasets (ISTI for land, which was the basis of GHCNv4, and ERSSTv4 for ocean). They found that these new datasets produced a higher trend over that specific period of interest than those based on GHCNv3 and ERSSTv3.

    Mostly the difference was due to new adjustments in the ERSSTv4 record, and I think primarily due to ship-buoy bias. This was an issue which was actually flagged up as a future improvement in the writeup for ERSSTv3 back in 2008, so it’s not something which was just thought up post-hoc.

  19. 19
    MPassey says:

    Marco and PaulS, Thanks for the substantive reply.