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An army of Davids storm the walls of the scientific establishment

19 June 2009

We all see evidence of the Internet unlocking information, making it available to the people of America (and the world).  And the Internet’s ability to allow people to organize with a speed, on a scale never before possible.  The combination creates a massive potential challenge to our ruling elites.  Glen Reynolds (the “Instapundit”) describes this in his book An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths (2006).

Less often noted is how it does the same thing to professional elites.  Doctors with better informed patients, for example.  And in the sciences, opening the debate to uncredentialed outsiders (who sometimes have equivalent mathematical or technical skills).  This dynamic has had a large impact on the climate sciences, as seen in these two vignettes.  Twenty years ago these would not have been possible, at least in the sense that their results would have remained unknown.

(1)  Global Warming at Honolulu

The GISS weather station at Honolulu reported a series of record high temperatures. This poorly sited station was then found to have a defective temperature sensor. Repaired the record highs disappeared. But NOAA refuses to correct the record, another example of the fabulously poor quality control for data playing such a large role in a vital policy debate.

If that was not enough, there is another and better sited GISS station in Honolulu which was dropped from the GISS network in 1981 due to a simple clerical error — which was never corrected.  This site does not show the record highs.

All of this was discovered by Anthony Watts and his team auditing the US surface stations (surfacestations.org).  These are telling examples of the larger results produced by this project, proving the low quality of the surface temperature data (using NOAA’s own published standards).  Here are the posts telling the story at his blog, Watts Up with That.

  1. How not to measure temperature, part 88 – Honolulu’s Official Temperature ±2“, 16 June 2009
  2. NOAA: FUBAR high temp/climate records from faulty sensor to remain in place at Honolulu“, 17 June 2009
  3. More on NOAA’s FUBAR Honolulu “record highs” ASOS debacle, PLUS finding a long lost GISS station“, 19 June 2009

(2)  Terrible impacts of climate change

The mainstream media report a seemingly endless series of reports about the horrible impacts of climate change.  The recent report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (GCCI, PDF), provides a seemingly authoritative compendium.  Like so much such work lately, preliminary indications suggest its does not live up to its billing.

Kevin Drum was impressed (source), writing on 16 June:

What’s more, it’s a gold mine of colorful charts! And you know I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. So here’s your chart of the day: a 15-year history of electrical grid problems caused by increasingly extreme weather. That’s a new one on me, so maybe it’s a new for you too.

The chart is on page 58, with this description:

The number of incidents caused by extreme weather has increased tenfold since 1992. The portion of all events that are caused by weather-related phenomena has more than tripled from about 20 percent in the early 1990s to about 65 percent in recent years. The weather-related events are more severe, with an average of about 180,000 customers affected per event compared to about 100,000 for non-weather-related events (and 50,000 excluding the massive blackout of August 2003).201 The data shown include disturbances that occurred on the nation’s large-scale “bulk” electric transmission systems. Most outages occur in local distribution networks and are not included in the graph. Although the figure does not demonstrate a cause-effect relationship between climate change and grid disruption, it does suggest that weather and climate extremes often have important effects on grid disruptions. We do know that more frequent weather and climate extremes are likely in the future,68 which poses unknown new risks for the electric grid.

As part of a series of posts about the GCCI report, Warren Meyer investigated and checked with the folks who publish the data.  The GCCI analysis is bogus, the effect largely resulting from better data collection.

This is the basic due diligence that the authors of the GCCI report should have done.  I recommend reading Meyer’s other posts about the report.

Note that Kevin Drum, showing that there are still a few real journalists in America, prompted posted a correction and link to Meyer’s post.

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For information about this site see the About page, at the top of the right-side menu bar.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

Posts on the FM site about the sociology and politics of climate science:

  1. President Kennedy speaks to us about global warming and Climate Science, 7 August 2008
  2. “Aliens cause global warming”: wise words from the late Michael Crichton, 15 November 2008
  3. My “wish list” for the climate sciences in 2009, 2 January 2009
  4. Apostasy against core leftist doctrine at the Huffington Post!, 13 January 2009
  5. Peer review of scientific work – another example of a flawed basis for public policy, 22 January 2009
  6. Obama opens his Administration with a powerful act that will echo for many years, 4 February 2009
  7. Science in action, a confused and often nasty debate among scientists, 5 February 2009
  8. Richard Feynmann, one of the 20th centuries greatest scientists, talks to us about climate science, 12 February 2009
  9. An opportunity to judge for yourself the adequacy of today’s climate science, 2 March 2009
  10. A note on the green religion, one of the growth industries in America, 17 March 2009
  11. An example of important climate change research hidden, lest it spoil the media’s narrative, 22 May 2009
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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ronbert permalink
    19 June 2009 4:13 pm

    Go to SurfaceStations.org. A lot of the sites have been taken out of service after volunteers “outed” the site. All the sites in my area have been shut down.

    However, the previous data from the shutdown sites has remained in the database.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for the additional color on this. Also see their preliminary report: “A report on the Surfacestations Project with 70% of the USHCN surveyed“, 10 May 2009.

    USHCN: US Historical Climatology Network, data collected by the National Climate Data Center of NOAA — “A high quality, moderate-sized data set of daily and monthly records of basic meteorological variables for the 48 States.”

    Using USHCN’s own quality standards, the results to date show:
    * 11% of the stations surveyed are in the top 2 quality tiers (I and II, with est error 2 degrees C);
    * 11% in the worst tier (V, with est error >5 degrees C).
    Trend temperature changes measured by this network’s history are usually less than 2 degrees, within the error bars of 69% of the network. Also, the siting problems observed almost always bias the record to higher temperature readings (e.g., too close to buildings and airco exhausts).

    For more on this subject see How warm is the Earth? How do we measure it?, 28 January 2009.

    Like

  2. AMac permalink
    19 June 2009 8:03 pm

    Yesterday’s entry in the New York Times’ “TiernyLab” blog: U.S. Climate Report Assailed — Excerpt:

    The new federal report on climate change gets a withering critique from Roger Pielke Jr., who says that it misrepresents his own research and that it wrongly concludes that climate change is already responsible for an increase in damages from natural disasters.

    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree, Pielke’s comments deserve attention! I recommend following the links from Tierney’s blognote back to Pielke’s site.

    Like

  3. senor tomas permalink
    20 June 2009 10:20 am

    “Doctors with better informed patients, for example.”

    And I have found that doctors do not like the phenomenon of better informed patients. It bruises their egos and threatens their self-perceived pseudo-god status.

    Like

  4. anna nicholas permalink
    20 June 2009 8:29 pm

    Re internet-informed patients , (1) ” The plural of anecdote is not data “.
    (2) How do you feel when some smirking soul taps you on the shoulder and says ” I dont want to tell you your job , but … “

    Like

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