There will be many benefits of ClimateGate, the liberation of emails and documents from the UK Climate Research Unit. One of them might be the professional handling of the global temperature datasets, one of the great scandals of climate science. As described in this comment by Ross McKitrick, posted at Climate Audit on 12 August 2009.
I have often used the analogy of national Consumer Price Indexes to illustrate the ridiculous situation of the “Global Temperature” data. Each country has large professional staffs at their Stat agencies working on the monthly CPI using international protocols, using transparent methods, with independent academics looking over their shoulders weighing the various aggregation methodologies (e.g. Paasche, Laspeyres, Fisher, Tornqvist etc index number formulae), and with historical archiving rules that allow backward revisions periodically if needed.
It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a far cry from the f**king gong show we’re seeing here. The reason CPI data, GDP data, etc. are handled professionally is that a range of policies (such as money supply control, pension indexing, intergovernmental transfers) etc depend on the numbers; also some labour contracts include CPI-based escalator clauses. In other words the numbers matter.
By contrast the Global Temperature numbers are coming from a bunch of disorganized academics chipping away at it periodically in their spare time. GISS numbers are handled (on Gavin’s admission) by a single half-time staffer, and the CRU says they’re stumped trying to find their original files back into the 70s and 80s, as well as the agreements under which they obtained the data and which to this day they invoke to prevent independent scrutiny.
I take Steve’s point that these issues are not sufficient to change one’s views on any particular policy which could be shown on other grounds to be desirable or otherwise. And this is not the thread (or the site) to debate policy. But bear in mind that the G8 Summit recently issued an undertaking to prevent the Global Temperature from going up by 2C compared to pre-industrial times, and the Copenhagen Agreement will probably contain similar language. That ‘2C’ number refers, in all likelihood, to a few digits that Phil Jones publishes in his spare time using data from files he has lost, etc. etc.
If that kind of quality control is good enough for the purposes of G8 agreements and international protocols, then let’s not waste so much money running national statistical agencies to produce numbers that are used for such trivialities as central bank policy, national pensions and labour contracts. We’ll just ask some professors to cobble together a monthly number in their spare time, we’ll let them do historical revisions any time they want without notice or external scrutiny, and we’ll promise them that nobody will ever check their work.
And if the CRU staff want to plead that we are being too harsh on them because they “did the best they could” with such limited means and minuscule staffs, etc, fine. I’ll be the first to join in such a defence: the minute they put a big red disclaimer on their data products saying “Warning: These numbers are offered on an as-is basis and should not be used for any important public purposes.” But they can’t have it both ways, claiming their data products are good enough for policy purposes, while also claiming they cannot be expected to meet the quality expectations that apply to the other data series we use for policy purposes.
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