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Mountains and molehills

Filed under: — gavin @ 11 November 2008 - (Español)

As many people will have read there was a glitch in the surface temperature record reporting for October. For many Russian stations (and some others), September temperatures were apparently copied over into October, giving an erroneous positive anomaly. The error appears to have been made somewhere between the reporting by the National Weather Services and NOAA’s collation of the GHCN database. GISS, which produces one of the more visible analyses of this raw data, processed the input data as normal and ended up with an October anomaly that was too high. That analysis has now been pulled (in under 24 hours) while they await a correction of input data from NOAA (Update: now (partially) completed).

There were 90 stations for which October numbers equalled September numbers in the corrupted GHCN file for 2008 (out of 908). This compares with an average of about 16 stations each year in the last decade (some earlier years have bigger counts, but none as big as this month, and are much less as a percentage of stations). These other cases seem to be mostly legitimate tropical stations where there isn’t much of a seasonal cycle. That makes it a little tricky to automatically scan for this problem, but putting in a check for the total number or percentage is probably sensible going forward.

It’s clearly true that the more eyes there are looking, the faster errors get noticed and fixed. The cottage industry that has sprung up to examine the daily sea ice numbers or the monthly analyses of surface and satellite temperatures, has certainly increased the number of eyes and that is generally for the good. Whether it’s a discovery of an odd shift in the annual cycle in the UAH MSU-LT data, or this flub in the GHCN data, or the USHCN/GHCN merge issue last year, the extra attention has led to improvements in many products. Nothing of any consequence has changed in terms of our understanding of climate change, but a few more i’s have been dotted and t’s crossed.

But unlike in other fields of citizen-science (astronomy or phenology spring to mind), the motivation for the temperature observers is heavily weighted towards wanting to find something wrong. As we discussed last year, there is a strong yearning among some to want to wake up tomorrow and find that the globe hasn’t been warming, that the sea ice hasn’t melted, that the glaciers have not receded and that indeed, CO2 is not a greenhouse gas. Thus when mistakes occur (and with science being a human endeavour, they always will) the exuberance of the response can be breathtaking – and quite telling.

A few examples from the comments at Watt’s blog will suffice to give you a flavour of the conspiratorial thinking: “I believe they had two sets of data: One would be released if Republicans won, and another if Democrats won.”, “could this be a sneaky way to set up the BO presidency with an urgent need to regulate CO2?”, “There are a great many of us who will under no circumstance allow the oppression of government rule to pervade over our freedom—-PERIOD!!!!!!” (exclamation marks reduced enormously), “these people are blinded by their own bias”, “this sort of scientific fraud”, “Climate science on the warmer side has degenerated to competitive lying”, etc… (To be fair, there were people who made sensible comments as well).

The amount of simply made up stuff is also impressive – the GISS press release declaring the October the ‘warmest ever’? Imaginary (GISS only puts out press releases on the temperature analysis at the end of the year). The headlines trumpeting this result? Non-existent. One clearly sees the relief that finally the grand conspiracy has been rumbled, that the mainstream media will get it’s comeuppance, and that surely now, the powers that be will listen to those voices that had been crying in the wilderness.

Alas! none of this will come to pass. In this case, someone’s programming error will be fixed and nothing will change except for the reporting of a single month’s anomaly. No heads will roll, no congressional investigations will be launched, no politicians (with one possible exception) will take note. This will undoubtedly be disappointing to many, but they should comfort themselves with the thought that the chances of this error happening again has now been diminished. Which is good, right?

In contrast to this molehill, there is an excellent story about how the scientific community really deals with serious mismatches between theory, models and data. That piece concerns the ‘ocean cooling’ story that was all the rage a year or two ago. An initial analysis of a new data source (the Argo float network) had revealed a dramatic short term cooling of the oceans over only 3 years. The problem was that this didn’t match the sea level data, nor theoretical expectations. Nonetheless, the paper was published (somewhat undermining claims that the peer-review system is irretrievably biased) to great acclaim in sections of the blogosphere, and to more muted puzzlement elsewhere. With the community’s attention focused on this issue, it wasn’t however long before problems turned up in the Argo floats themselves, but also in some of the other measurement devices – particularly XBTs. It took a couple of years for these things to fully work themselves out, but the most recent analyses show far fewer of the artifacts that had plagued the ocean heat content analyses in the past. A classic example in fact, of science moving forward on the back of apparent mismatches. Unfortunately, the resolution ended up favoring the models over the initial data reports, and so the whole story is horribly disappointing to some.

Which brings me to my last point, the role of models. It is clear that many of the temperature watchers are doing so in order to show that the IPCC-class models are wrong in their projections. However, the direct approach of downloading those models, running them and looking for flaws is clearly either too onerous or too boring. Even downloading the output (from here or here) is eschewed in favour of firing off Freedom of Information Act requests for data already publicly available – very odd. For another example, despite a few comments about the lack of sufficient comments in the GISS ModelE code (a complaint I also often make), I am unaware of anyone actually independently finding any errors in the publicly available Feb 2004 version (and I know there are a few). Instead, the anti-model crowd focuses on the minor issues that crop up every now and again in real-time data processing hoping that, by proxy, they’ll find a problem with the models.

I say good luck to them. They’ll need it.

815 Responses to “Mountains and molehills”

  1. 101
    Les Johnson says:


    I would love to get Watts in a debate.

    Comment by jcbmack — 12 November 2008 @ 7:22 PM

    Go over and ask him. Or, you can have a go at me, if you like.

  2. 102
    jcbmack says:

    Ad hominem and Strawman fallacies have no place in scientific discussion either.

  3. 103
    Jason says:

    Given these four points:

    1. The GISS code is a mess that most likely requires a complete reimplementation (in my professional opinion).
    2. If, as Gavin has stated, only 0.25 FTEs are invested in this process, there seems little hope of this improving in the future.
    3. The key selling point of the GISS code (that it can automatically spot and correct data quality problems) has never been demonstrated to my satisfaction, and was clearly not demonstrated earlier this week.
    4. There are prefectly reasonable alternatives available.

    doesn’t it make sense to switch to the hadcrut datasets? Admittedly, they haven’t yet opened up their code for inspection, but could it be worse than the GISS situation?

  4. 104
    John Goetz says:

    Gavin wrote: The credit for first spotting this goes to the commentators on WUWT, and the first notification to GISTEMP was that evening.

    For what it is worth, Chris posted his discovery on WUWT about 45 minutes before I made my update indicating an error existed. However, I made my posting because of two emails Steve Mc sent me about two hours prior. The first was the email John S. sent him, quickly followed by a confirmation from Steve. I simply had not checked email due to being busy with work. Steve had already written most of his post by the time I saw the emails.

    Not sure it really matters who was there first. I am ashamed to say I saw the big red blotch in central Asia and was so insensitized that I did not investigate it further. Perhaps I’ve lost my critical eye.

  5. 105
    Lawrence Brown says:

    The “Gotcha! Gang” is really ooming out of the woodwork on this topic. This is what some of them live for. Finding tempests in a teapot and attempting to turn them into full blown storms.

    I can’t help but feel that some of the critics about these temperature glitches must know better. After all science is a work in progress. Errors are made, detected and corected for, asap, as has been the case here.

  6. 106

    93, Pete, If that is true I want to say: for every ounce of outrage on and admitted mistake, quickly to be corrected, you contrarian guys have 1 metric ton of lack of curiosity as to why its warmer in the Arctic for the same October just past. Yes, we don’t need a graph to make us concerned when Northerly winds were consistently warmer, Warm Northerly winds in the High Arctic… Curious?….. May be?…. Just a little curious?…. Perhaps…. Any sense of amazement? Or is it too important to trash the people who warned us about this warming 20 years ago?

  7. 107
    jcbmack says:

    Les Johnson, whatever floats your boat. I will ask him as well. Where would you like to start?

  8. 108
    Ron Taylor says:

    Gavin, hang in there! The fuss being made by a number of people about this issue is pure nonsense. Sure a mistake got through, and it was quickly corrected. Who was first to notice and call attention to it is entirely irrelevant. It is a minor blip in an ongoing analysis and has zero impact on our understanding of global warming. The only people making a big deal about this are the paranoids who think there is some kind of great conspiracy among climate scientists to bring down the entire industrialized world. What baloney. They have no understanding at all of what is really important in scientific work, which is to get closer to the truth, not whether any mistakes were made along the way.

  9. 109
    Braden Sneath says:

    It is human nature to accept data without question when it supports a position that one has a strong emotional attachment to and to vigorously question data only when it is in conflict. This is the nature of bias – it is not necessarily intentional, but if unchecked, it destroys credibility. Would you have released a data file that showed a negative .88 anomaly? I suspect not.

    [Response: Actually that would have been considerably more surprising (since anomalies have been running at around 0.66 for the last decade). The equivalent negative anomaly based on that expectation would be 0.66 – (0.88-0.66) = 0.44. And last January was 0.14. So, yes, they did (and would) release a data file with a much more equivalently negative anomaly. (For reference, the last -0.88 anomaly was February 1895). The last >0.88 anomaly was January 2007. – gavin]

  10. 110
    jcbmack says:

    What would you say are the three chief reasons for doubting AGW, or if you are not a deniar, but a skeptic, like Watts claims to be; what are the major reasons to doubt the models, satellite data, ice core data, ecology reports, coral reef, and artic ice melting right in front our eyes?

    I can understand that some people feel, and some meteorologists and other scientists believe the data is not compelling or is skewed beyond what is reasonable for adequuate analysis; where is the evidence to support these assertions? No doubt there are margins for error, however, that is nothing new, and it is interesting to note that in weather forcasting there are even larger margins for error, as cold fronts, warm fronts, wind directions and the like vary, and even small perturbations in the system can quickly lead to quite different results than a weather forcast can predict; yet, meteorology has become refined enough that 1-2 weeks of forcasting are considered reasonable by most experts and the lay public generally has no problem understanding short term variance, or so it would seem… Yet long averages, say classic 30 year, becomes a major issue for those who do not comprehend that as more long term analysis is conducted the climate record can be understood in far more detail and with greater accuracy. Surely the thermometer placement issues are better understood in light of factoring in urban effects, and by the very fact that these weather stations are never used solely to undestand global warming trends. Also, independent data from these weather stations provides strong evidence to support AGW. Also the system is in dyamic equilibrium, meaning that water vapor and co2 has gone up, and even with responses from the system, more infared radiation is trapped in, which is in line with both the physisc and chemistry that has been well known for quite some time in relation to the atmosphere, ocean obsorption rates and soulubility rules, and mixing.

    Should we ignore some of the facts like: CO2, SO2,SO3, CH4, among other gases have increased in the atmosphere, and that more cancer cases, exacerbation of asthma among other cases have become far higher?

  11. 111

    Or is this data:

    Huge ongoing warming right now, including Siberia… Not interesting?

  12. 112
    jcbmack says:

    Braden, 109, you are referring to confirmation bias, and such strong bias as to ignore actual findings; I have seen reports here and elsewhere that have shown ephemeral cooling, and temporary small reversals, such as when a volcano erupts. No one has denied global dimming and localized cooling effects from temperature gradients and so forth.

  13. 113
    jcbmack says:

    # 110 that is for you Les. Fate is a hunter…keep your eyes on the VSI:)

  14. 114
    Joe Hunkins says:

    Who was first to notice and call attention to it is entirely irrelevant

    I don’t know the details here but certainly it *is* very relevant who is finding errors and how they are processed. There’s a very legitimately concerned that the debate has become so partisan that advocacy – or simply time contraints and assumptions – have poisoned some of the data and data interpretations. Clearly this happened in this case and with the earlier GISS model revision to the “warmest years on record” press bonanza.

    If quality control trends only in one direction it suggests a systemic bias in the system. Off the top of my head I think it’s more likely to bias people *against* AGW than *for* it because there are probably more skeptics looking for mistakes than objective folks, but it remains an important consideration in all science.

  15. 115
    Les Johnson says:

    name a place, mack. Just remember that this, and Anthony’s, is not our house.

  16. 116
    jcbmack says:

    Very true. You may email me at anytime. I will try and find a suitable place to debate, will keep you updated:)

  17. 117
    HankHenry says:

    109, This is an important point. Inadvertent mistakes when handling data are inevitable. The interesting question is whether bias can creep in when that happens.

  18. 118
    jcbmack says:

    I did feel though that the debates here and the minor glitch do fit the content we are posting…no?

  19. 119
    gavin says:

    The corrected data is up. Met station index = 0.68, Land-ocean index = 0.58, details here. Turns out Siberia was quite warm last month.

  20. 120
    Hank Roberts says:

    Personally I think debate is distraction, and meant to be. Look who’s been buying huge newspaper ads trying to provoke more “debate” — and compare the cost of buying such ads to the funds available to do the science. People with no publications. Glory hounds without peer.
    No, wait, that’s not quite right.

    Earlier Gavin wrote:
    > With extra resources, I’d hire ….

    Time for a bake sale? We have a couple of solar ovens we don’t use often enough….

  21. 121
    Jaynicks says:

    Pardon asked if already covered. A little bleary eyed from reading posts.

    Is there anything on etiology? e.g. Do the station reporting packets/records include a time/date stamp?

  22. 122
    jcbmack says:

    Solar sails:)

  23. 123
    Paul says:

    Warren Meyer has responded with the following points (I paraphrase):
    #1 It would have been far better to simply thank the person who discovered the error out and move on. It is not necessary to opine about the motivations of a “cottage industry” and blah blah blah. The more you try to save face by slinging mud, the more significant the error seems. This is unnecessary; Meyer acknowledges it is a very minor and understandable error after all.
    #2 It is indeed quite cheesy to troll the comments section of other blogs and repeat them as if they were sanctioned positions. This ploy does not improve your own image.

    [Response: Thanks! – gavin]

  24. 124

    are you familiar with the Climate Hotmap that Union of Concerned Scientists put together? It’s at

    To me it seems like an awesome resource. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since 2005. I’ve sent a few emails trying to find out what’s going on. Some are undeliverable, others aren’t answered.

    I don’t suppose you know anything about what’s going on with that.

    It seems to me, given the new administration coming in ~ that The Climate Hotmap could be extremely important resource for public education. But, only if updated.

    Any thoughts?

    Peter M

  25. 125
    jcbmack says:

    My post on Watts up with that:

    fail to see where the embarrasment is to be found. Siberia is shown to be experiencing a heat wave. 2007, 2005 and 1934 still are the hottest years on record and the variance of 1934 being hotter is around 0.01, so where is the inconsistency, the rebuttal to a multitude of data or the cause for doubt in the first place, based upon real data? The northern latitudes look like they experienced quite a warming, actually from either map.

    Did you look over the 2007 graphs, models, and empirical results?

  26. 126
    jcbmack says:

    …celsius, in contiguous states:)

  27. 127
    jcbmack says:

    All good points: Paul and Hank, Gavin. Then again a considerable amount of what occurs in these blogs, anu of them is debate; between ‘moderate,’ ‘denialist,’ ‘alarmist,’ ‘lay person’, ‘scientist,’ then the reseracher or modeler answers a question or two (like here) or the non-expert in some other blog raises doubts based upon incomplete or distorted information. Still, I will not post anymore back and forth posts between blogs. It does, however, perturb me how self proclaimed experts can deny the warming trend and consequences thereof. And if people just read and understood a few things, they could atleast get the idea and see the that the accuracy is quite phenomenal.

    Every thread has heated debate, and such is the basis of blogging here by and large… but I digress, I do not want to turn this site into a rompa room either.

  28. 128
    gavin says:

    Follow up on #119 – the eagle eyed among you will notice that more data has been added to the GISTEMP maps in between the original posting and the new corrected posting. This is because different weather services post the data at different times and it takes time for them all to do so. Roughly half the data takes more than two weeks to come in. However, between last friday (when GISTEMP downloaded the first GHCN data) and today (thursday), stations in Australia and northern Canada were reported. People claiming on other websites that Oct data for Resolute, Cambridge Bay and Eureka NWT are not in the latest download, should really check their files again. (To make it easy the station numbers are 403719240005, 403719250005 and 403719170006). Why anyone would automatically assume something nefarious was going on without even looking at the numbers is a mystery to me. None of these people have any biases of their own of course.

  29. 129
    Jared says:

    Thanks for the update and explanations, Gavin.

    So the corrections resulted in just over a .2C drop for the monthly anomaly. That’s quite substantial. Interestingly enough, there is still quite a disconnect between the satellite (RSS and UAH) anomalies and GISS. RSS and UAH both had October anomalies under .2C (easily below the 10 year average), while GISS still has .65C (right around the ten year average). I understand that the base periods are different, but even with that accounted for, GISS is still much warmer. I also am aware that the satellites do not measure the same exact thing that the surface record does…that being said, this large of a discrepency between the satellite and surface record is not normal. I have noticed that 2008 in general has had quite a few months where there was significant divergence between the satellite temp anomalies and GISS. If someone has a good explanation for why this might be, I’d appreciate it.

    [Response: They measure different things. – gavin]

  30. 130
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    Good article, what is vital for the scientific community to get credibility in governmental circles is consistancy and coherency. That’s why I’m not too concerned that the IPCC is usually on the conservative side. It’s better that way and for the IPCC to make periodic admendments upwards to the world’s media to maintain the sense of urgency than to immediately give the worse case scenario and be heavily critisised by all and sundry for being too unrealistically alarmist. On the other side of the coin quality and reliabilty of data would prevent yet another dramatic shortening of the time frame this time for the oceans crustateans incl. coral. Now they say a collapse in the crustatean pop. is expected within the next 20 years if ocean acidification and warming continue unabated. The alarming thing with this is two fold: world fish stocks will be decimated but we will also have another very powerful +ve mechanism working against loss of planckton. I would imagine that the thin shelled calcium carbonate animals will be affected first. Diatoms then krill then shrimps etc. Planckton and diatoms et-al use sunlight to transform CO2 into carbohydrates. No micro crustateans = fatally compromised oceanic CO2 sink. Do we really want to turn 4/5 of the world’s land area into a slag pond??

  31. 131
    cce says:

    Some perspective:

    Send demands for resignations to John Christy, Roy Spencer and anyone who has ever used their data.

    Come to think of it, RSS was low by 0.15 degrees for an entire year (2007), and certainly no competent person could *possibly* miss that, given the holy hell raised over a 0.2 degree error for one month. Pink slips for everyone!

  32. 132
    FrancisT says:

    In re: commment 89 and your response.

    ( )

    Linux may be a poor example. Samba might be a better one. Unix and its APIs were quite clearly documented so reference to the code was not required. SAMBA on the other hand had to decrypt a proprietary poorly documented protocol and that effort was often severely delayed by bugs (or at least deviations from the limited published documentation) in the original closed source implementation.

    I also think you are missing the point, and I think its the same point you miss when you write “Even downloading the output (from here or here) is eschewed in favour of firing off Freedom of Information Act requests for data already publicly available – very odd.” in the original post.

    The first thing anyone should do is replicate the results using new code. Then once the new code provides a perfect match (to within rounding errors etc.) you can start tweaking bits to improve things. If you start tweaking things without first getting proof that you’ve replicated the original results then you can’t say whether your tweaks are good or not. With GISTEMP (and with the Santer paper) the process is a multistep process. If you have the output of the intermediate steps then you can do two things
    1) find out where in your emulation your results start to diverge
    2) debug each stage individually

    The critical point here is that right now GISTEMP is still a fairly opaque box even if it isn’t completely black. If “open source” climate scientists are to try and take over, fix, fork etc. GISTEMP then this will be greatly facilitated by providing as much intermediate data as possible.

  33. 133
    Pierre Gosselin says:

    “Response: No it’s not (and note that I did not design or build this). If you can show me a piece of software made for any purpose that gives the right answer regardless of it’s input data, I’ll be very impressed. – gavin]”

    Are you implying it’s not GISS responsibility to verify the quality of the raw data?
    Concerning the new revised temperature, GISS reult is still way out of the ballpark when compared to RSS, UAH and Hadley figures. Do you still think your latest October numbers are accurate? I still see a red flag.

  34. 134
    pete best says:

    Re #106, As Real climate have pointed out many times it takes 17 years of data to tell us about climate. The contrarians are trying, 8 years (real climate have a big discussion with Roger Pielke about it all recently), now onew month as if the measurement guys would not have realised the error at some point but the contrarians have made a massive example out of a couple of months error in the data and hence that must make all the data somehow incorrect. We must deny all of the data!! This is absurd, typical of the contrarian viewpoint and where is their peer reviewed work?

    I have read around real climate for the past 3 years and the work of other climate scientists such as James Hansen now and as they are real peer reviwed climate scientists they diss both the skeptics and the pro climate maniacs and quote the science only.

    The guys at GISS and other valid places have formed real climate and it is a scientific site who has taught a lot of us interested other scientists and layman a lot of inspiring stuff about earth and climate science.

    I have read many a book and many a article and real climate has cleared up all of the stuff that lets me know that this posting by RC is necessary in order to answer the contrarians but has nothing to do with the science and validity of climate change.

  35. 135
    MrPete says:

    Gavin, on open source: you’re correct that Linus didn’t need to constantly go back to BSD source. Unix has always had well-specified documentation. Its basic paradigm is the use of small well-specified blobs of functionality.

    Imagine how well the Internet would work if we didn’t have the RFC specs. Not.
    Imagine how well we could assemble today’s computers from parts if we didn’t have the various interface (USB, ATA/SATA, PCI, memory, video, …) specs. Not.
    Imagine how well business-to-business data interchange would work without today’s XML standards. Not.

    All of these enable more-or-less sensible and reliable data and equipment connection between various providers and partners.

    Read Eric Raymond’s Cathedral and Bazaar for context. And recognize that even Microsoft is learning to itself invest in open source. As has Sun…IBM…and many more.

    Isn’t it time to apply data interchange and QA methodologies to the climate data value chain? All the way from sensors to google mashups? This does not require all-new equipment. My first full-time job involved telephone interconnections, from the latest digital phones to 1890’s-era mechanical critters in a back corner of New York. A reasonable spec can be wrapped around *any* data source. Given the right wrapper, even crummy data sent two weeks late by a vodka-inebriated fisherman can become a useful part of the global picture. That’s the fun of it :)

    My earlier suggestion stands. Commercial entities have expertise that may be of surprisingly great value to you. They’ve already learned these lessons the hard way.

    Unix, email, web, newsfeeds, PC’s, ecommerce, JIT mfg, data security… even *competitors* cooperated to see these become reality. Sure, there’s vigorous discussion. But that’s the point: things get better a lot more quickly when wide open to dynamic contributions of insight and critique.

  36. 136
    TrueSceptic says:


    I’m sorry but you seem to be missing the point and the OP here just looks like making feeble excuses. Attacking the CT-driven goons just looks like an attempt to divert attention.

    Who found the error?

    The error was found within 24 hours of the data being made public, showing that it wasn’t that hard to find. Are you telling us that there is no one tasked with the most basic data validation? This error was obvious, and was therefore corrected, but confidence in the data as a whole has been seriously damaged by this fiasco. Who knows what other errors remain undiscovered and uncorrected?

    You might assert that this is a matter of mountains and molehills, but you are being naive. The deniosphere has enough to entertain itself seeing mischief where it does not exist without stuff like this being handed to them on a platter.

    Why does realclimate exist in the first place? Is it not to counter the propaganda emanating from the deniosphere? Does no one in the organisations collecting and processing weather data realise how important it is to take extra care and not to give the “sceptics” ammunition they didn’t even ask for?

    I’m no GWSceptic, just someone who wonders “what *were” they thinking?”!

  37. 137
    Ray Ladbury says:

    As Scott Adams has noted, one of the major fallacies of the human mind is “Anything you don’t understand is easy to do.”

    By assuming that it should be easy to spot any error, whether there has ever been one like it before or not, many of you are revealing just how ignorant you are. While credit goes to those who spotted it first, this is the sort of error that would have been caught fairly quickly in any case. To jump to the conclusion that this implies that there is some sort of bias or worse conspiracy merely makes you look dim.
    Science ain’t easy, folks. That’s why becoming a scientist involves 4 years of college >5 years of grad school, several years as a postdoc and finally you’re ready to be taken seriously. Moreover, science is always done on a shoestring. There are never enough eyes or hands. If some of you would like to cough up some extra tax dollars to improve things, write your representatives. We’d all appreciate it.

  38. 138

    Re #88:

    No question but that all reasonable effort should be made to ensure the accuracy of all data. However:

    “Obviously, if this mistake had somehow not been caught, the huge GISS October anomaly would have represented a serious divergence with the satellite sources – and it also would have altered the yearly data/trends.”

    I am a mathematically naive layperson on this site–however, the difference in the anomaly was .24, according to CA. If you average this over just 2008, that gives us .02. Not so serious for the long term. And again, in the event, the error *was* caught quite quickly. Kudos to the eagle-eyed.

    “Some mistakes and problems are caught, and I’m sure some aren’t. . .” As long as the sign is random and no systematic bias is introduced, they will average out over time. Observers of all stripes clearly need to be vigilant. “. . .but the bottom line is that we should be doing our best to make sure our weather information is as accurate as possible – and the climate trends will follow.” Amen. I’m in support of anybody who really does want to get to the truth. I believe that the result will confirm the present mainstream consensus, but time and effort will tell, in an increasingly definitive way.

  39. 139
    JWS says:

    Ray Ladbury said: “this is the sort of error that would have been caught fairly quickly in any case.”

    I think fair questions to ask are how and when, exactly, would an error like this have been caught in the current process if private individuals were not taking it upon themselves to analyze this information?

    Simply answering these questions puts us on the road to preventing similar errors in the future. It may also quell some fears that similar errors have been made in the past.

  40. 140
    Pekka Kostamo says:

    Maybe someone who is current on the overall data quality assurance processes could comment on this?

    All measured data is subject to quality checks at the many levels of processing. In most countries, one very elaborate stage is within the weather forecasting process where the same data is applied. The climatological process may benefit from that, or a separate pathway and different procedures may be provided. Historically (maybe somewhere even today) “weather” and “climate” data flows were separated at the observation station level as this provided a more comprehensive climate record, but now this has apparently been mostly discontinued. Basically data quality is the responsibility of national weather services providing data for international exchange.

    Many organizations then use these data sets, following their own procedures. To me this particular case appears as a human error of picking a wrong line on some screenful of data. Computers do not pick wrong months from a list. In which organization this error was made is not obvious.

    It is not reasonable to propose that full data quality processes are run on the same data at each user terminal. You have to accepts a level of confidence on the other members of the team. Different national services have different procedures, although all of them endeavour to meet or exceed the standard quality level set by the World Meteorological Organization.

    As to detecting such random errors, to me this is just normal peer review. Hope it works equally well on all the other offered data and claims.

    There is ample litterature on these processes, much more than I could ever absorb.

  41. 141
    Phil. Felton says:

    Re #24
    Hank – That’s just not a good enough answer. What has happened is that GISS has put out an *analysis* of the raw data without noticing major major errors in it. The error should have been picked up by normal quality and data handling procedures. That it wasn’t, and was picked up by external commentators, is a failure on the part of GISS. It reduces confidence in GISS and opens the door to the possibility of other major errors not being revealed.

    Is your confidence in UAH-MSU similarly shaken by the error in their results due to a coding error (pointed out to them by Mears)? Or in RSS by the error which persisted in their data for about 1 year ( which was pointed out to them by S&C)?

  42. 142
    gavin says:

    Groan… The NOAA fixes are not complete. There are still some stations where they have some Sep data in the Oct column. Stay tuned for more updates…

  43. 143
    PaulM says:

    “Turns out Siberia was quite warm last month.”

    “Siberia is shown to be experiencing a heat wave.”

    Really? This is not the case according to weather underground or according to

    According to both these sources, Oct 2008 temperatures in Irkutsk and Bratsk were normal.

  44. 144
    Sekerob says:

    If anyone has influence there, I suggest that they do not publish so quick. HadCRUT3v is not before the 16th or later of any month. If each report were to be published with a little review verbiage it would sort of force the “review before”.

    These data are used for climate trend indication and no one is jumping to policy decisions based on a 1 month anomaly, lest there are knee jerkers in government, any government.

    Now on temps, can someone confirm which of the regular indices of HadCRU, NCDC, GISS, do or do not include polar region temperatures. Just to get a notion what is global and “global”. Saw several comments to that effect in the last few weeks.


    reCaptcha says: Rohl confusion … Royal indeed ;-)

  45. 145
    Jared says:

    #141 Phil Felton

    There is a reason that the UAH-MSU error took so long to fix – it wasn’t an easy thing to spot. It was a mathematical error in the formula. There really is no comparison between a formula error that wasn’t noticed for years and a glaringly obvious quality control error such as this (that took a matter of hours for lay people to notice once it was released to the public).

    I echo the sentiments of a previous poster: if people don’t like the response from skeptics, then they should urge GISS and NOAA not to let things like this get by that give skeptics easy ammunition.

  46. 146
    Pascal says:

    but Gavin what is the problem with NOAA data?
    Have you some contact with somebody in this administration?
    What are they doing ?
    It’s the second known time in few days!
    I know that you, personnaly, are not responsible of this problem, and we can appreciate that you are alone, fighting on the “front”.
    But in your opinion, frankly if possible, is this problem considered seriously in both administrations or is it the indifference?

    [Response: There are still (at least) four stations that have Oct data in place of september data but that didn’t report have september data in the GHCN file (Kirensk, Irkutsk, Bratsk, Erbogacen). I expect that the SEP=OCT check that NOAA did, just didn’t catch these. Still, this is embarassing – but will be fixed today. Nobody is ‘indifferent’. – gavin]

    [Updated response: I originally mispoke in the above comment since the data is missing from the collated file rather than non-existent in any file. I’m happy to correct any mis-interpretation that might have caused. That collation is the responsibility of NOAA and any queries as to what goes into it or why should be directed to them. Now if people want to correct their insinuations that including Northern Canada data in the last update was akin to a shell game, we might be getting somewhere. – gavin]

  47. 147
    gerrym says:

    #58. pete best:

    Do you know that is the first time I’ve used he phrase “church of AGW” and I was quite surprised to see it in the post. Your point about the apocolypse and armageddon is well made, that’s exactly how I see the AGW alarmists. That, however, doesn’t make me a “denialist” (I find it distasteful by the way that a debate should take place where one side tries to smear the other by implying they are the type of people who would deny the holocaust), I am not denying anything, not even that smoking causes cancer. I simply don’t know, it appears in our little location that we are getting warmer, less snow in the winter etc. But the warmer winters have come on quite suddenly, in fact before 1988 they were the same as they’d always been. I don’t know if we are warming because of human activities either, and from what I’ve read of the debate, no one really knows.

    Regardless of the arguments I think it’s a good thing to move towards renewable energy, but I don’t think there is any need for alarm, and there are many in the AGW camp who also believe this. Even if we are alarmed I don’t think we can do anything useful in the timeframes we are told we have available. What can we point to that the kyoto agreement has achieved in ten years?

    I used to see you at the Cavern when you were playing with the Beatles and have to say that being thrown out of the group at the cusp of their success must make you the unluckiest man in histoy. Given your bad luck you have every right to expect, indeed, demand armageddon.

    I will make every effort never to use the church of AGW again.

  48. 148

    Re: #147–

    Unfortunately, “denialist” is a very accurate term for some, who deny virtually every aspect of the science, no matter how uncontroversial it is (or ought to be.) We know:

    1) that it’s warming; all datasets (including the denialist’s favorite, UAH lower troposphere, which I checked this morning) show a warming trend, and these direct measurements are buttressed by many proxy observations such as decreasing sea ice extent, worldwide de-glaciation, and biological habitat shifts;

    2) that CO2 has the correct physical properties to cause “greenhouse” warming, as validated for over 5 decades now by lab experimental data and atmospheric study;

    3) that we put the CO2 there, as demonstrated by the studies of its isotopic composition, which show it to be of fossil origin;

    4) that serious, repeated efforts to find alternate ways to explain the observed warming have not (so far, at least) succeeded–these explanations include changes in earth’s orbit, earth’s albedo, solar irradiance, and gamma ray flux;

    5) that the effects of continued warming will be largely negative and potentially serious in human terms, with possible problems in sea level rise, disease patterns, food production, direct negative health impacts due to heat or other extreme weather events, and severe economic and/or ecological losses.

    Basically, what we *don’t* know is exactly how bad it will be, or how fast it will get really bad. That’s why many of us feel it really is time to start putting together a coordinated plan–because it would be tragic if the answer comes in as “very bad, very fast” and we aren’t ready because, well, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to face reality. It is an accepted axiom that one of the most important survival skills of all is the ability to recognize a potential threat for what it is–and that emotion-based denial is the biggest inhibitor of that ability.

  49. 149
    jcbmack says:

    (Reply Jared, Peter, & #147)

    I just look at data. The reason I get upset with denialists is because they hold a position that is not changed by any amount or quality of data and observations. The fact DOES remain, that we do have time to fix things.As I have stated here and elsewhere, a volcano could erupt and really change matters… I get emotional not as an alarmist, but as a realist and human being. Having taken courses in weather and climate related subject matter, and having an extensive science background, and reading the papers here and from other sights moderated by professionals, well, the GHG’s are serious issues, even if AGW were somehow disproven (as unlikely as that sounds) we still face higher mortality rates, morbidity, diseases, comorbid features, contaminated aquatic life and other food sources, set points for many plant life in which more CO2 is detrimental, poisonous plants thriving on CO2 increases, (not good) and other changes in the planet’s state, that we cannot even predict the ramifications of as of yet.

    This may not be the NOAA’s brigtest hour, to be sure, however, to attack the agency,(some people, not all of you) rather promote positive assstance or critique does not help matters; whether proessional in the field or first time poster with no science background; but the responsibility does fall on us with the background to speak responsibly, even myself, rather than attacking an opposing veiwpoint, whether they are reasonable or not. What does remain clear, is that these gas emissions are not healthy and do pose threats to most life forms, and humans have a responsibility in curtailing these detrimental effects.

    Now pete if you look closely at the data on the NASA site you will see what we were referring to, as well as last years stats and heat waves, global mean temp rise etc..

  50. 150
    jcbmack says:

    This may not be the NOAA’s brigtest hour, to be sure, however, to attack the agency,(some people, not all of you) rather promote positive assstance or critique does not help matters; whether proessional in the field or first time poster with no science background; but the responsibility does fall on us with the background to speak responsibly, even myself, rather than attacking an opposing veiwpoint, whether they are reasonable or not. What does remain clear, is that these gas emissions are not healthy and do pose threats to most life forms, and humans have a responsibility in curtailing these detrimental effects.

    Now pete if you look closely at the data on the NASA site you will see what we were referring to, as well as last years stats and heat waves, global mean temp rise etc..