Did NASA and NOAA dramatically alter US climate history to exaggerate global warming?

Summary: A layman writing under the pseudonym of “Steve Goddard” accused the US government of fabricating temperature data. Sadly it quickly went viral. Fortunately in this case some conservatives are criticizing their own when they make outlandish statements, something rarely seen in US political debates — where truth is purely tribal. As we saw in the peak oil movement, which applauded all kinds of nonsense so long as it supported their narrative. Unfortunately this reduced this important research and public awareness campaign into a carnival of doomsters (examples in May 2008, August 2010).

So this internal criticism among climate skeptics is no small thing. This behavior should be encouraged by both Left and Right. Our gullibility to pleasing stories — confirmation bias — makes us weak, and this is a step towards a cure.

This post will be updated as more analysis becomes available (updated February 2015 with the last volley of accusations and rebuttals). See the follow-up posts below.

Clear vision

Contents

  1. Conservatives love tribal truths…
  2. Rebuttals come quickly
  3. Scientists weigh in — updated
  4. Why are we still having these debates?
  5. Science moves on
  6. Follow-up posts on this story
  7. For More Information

(1)  Conservatives love tribal truths…

…no matter how absurd. As do the Left. The climate wars show this in mad fashion, as both sides exploit this vital issue for political gain. Both, to varying extents, abandoning mainstream climate science for more vivid forecasts by laypeople (as documented here in so many posts). The world is cooling! No, the world is burning!

For today’s example, Tony Heller (aka “Steve Goddard”; bio here) makes a wild claim at his high-traffic website Real Science: “NOAA/NASA Dramatically Altered US Temperatures After The Year 2000“, 23 June 2014.

The reactions show politics at work, with science in the back seat. Also note the casual acceptance by so many people that the scientists involved are running a conspiracy, more evidence of the decline of confidence in institutions tracked by Gallup. “Scandal.” “Rigged”. “Fabricated.” “Fudged numbers.” No matter how this is resolved, these accusations will remain valid in the minds of conservatives. Perhaps millions of them.

 

  1. The scandal of fiddled global warming data“, Christopher Booker, The Telegraph, 21 June 2014 — “The US has actually been cooling since the Thirties, the hottest decade on record”. It’s not just an America problem; The Telegraph is a UK paper, circulation over 500 thousand.
  2. Rigged ‘science’“, op-ed in The Washington Times, 23 June 2014.
  3. Global Warming ‘Fabricated’ by NASA and NOAA“, Breitbart, 23 June 2014 — “Scientists at two of the world’s leading climate centres – NASA and NOAA – have been caught out manipulating temperature data to overstate the extent of the 20th century ‘global warming’.”
  4. “NASA scientists fudged the numbers to make 1998 the hottest year to overstate the extent of global warming.” — Steve Doocy on “Fox and Friends“, 24 June 2014 — The MediaMatters page below has the video.
  5. On Climate Change, Who Are the Real ‘Deniers’?“, RealClearPolitics, Cal Thomas, 26 June 2014.
  6. Climategate, the sequel: How we are STILL being tricked with flawed data on global warming“, Christopher Booker, op-ed in The Telegraph, 24 January 2015 — “Something very odd has been going on with the temperature data relied on by the world’s scientists.”

(2)  Rebuttals come quickly

No surprise that the Left responds to these specious claims. But, unusually, a prominent climate skeptic and conservative speaks out.

(a)  Rebuttal from the liberals:

  1. Hard analysis: “Fox News Cites Birther To Claim NASA ‘Faked’ Global Warming“, Media Matters, 24 June 2014
  2. Kicking sand into the air: “Global warming conspiracy theorist zombies devour Telegraph and Fox News brains“, The Guardian, 25 June 2014 — “A long-debunked myth is amplified by the conservative media echo chamber from a fringe science-denying blog to The Telegraph and Fox News”

(b)  Rebuttals from conservative Anthony Watts (meteorologist, runs one of the highest-traffic climate websites):

  1. Posted at a Libertarians: “Did NASA/NOAA Dramatically Alter U.S. Temperatures After 2000?“, Ronald Bailey, Reason, 23 June 2014 — Brief rebuttal by Watts
  2. On ‘denying’ Hockey Sticks, USHCN data, and all that“, Anthony Watts at his website, 25 June 2014
  3. Backing away in a confused way from Goddard’s claims: “The scientific method is at work on the USHCN temperature data set“, Anthony Watts at his website, 28 June 2014

(3)  Scientists weigh in — updated

(a)  Scientists slowly respond. It’s an important dynamic in these discussions that the laypeople — on both sides — tend to respond much faster than do the experts.

  1. How not to calculate temperature”, Zeke Hausfather (Senior Researcher, Berkeley Earth), The Blackboard, 25 June 2014 — Also Part II, Part III — He is also on the International Surface Temperature Initiative’s Benchmarking and Assessment group
  1.   From Politifact, 25 June 2014 — “All of the experts we reached or whose work we read rejected Goddard’s conclusions.”

John Nielsen-Gammon is a researcher at Texas A&M University and is the Texas state climatologist:

“It is reasonable to expect the adjusted data record to change over time as the technology for identifying and removing artificial changes improves. If there are any biases, they are caused by the quality of the underlying data, not by any biases intentionally introduced into the adjustment process.”

Mark  C. Serreze (Prof geography, U CO-Boulder): “Goddard’s results stem from an erroneous analysis of the data.”

  1. Skeptical of skeptics: is Steve Goddard right?“, Judith Curry (Prof, GA Inst Tech), 28 June 2014 — A concise review of the discussion, with pointers to others’ analysis.

(b)  Another round of rebuttals to Goddard/Heller accusations

(i)  From Politifact, 1 July 2014

Zeke Hausfather, a data scientist, is a member of the group known as Berkeley Earth. “Despite using different methods, and using about 8 times more raw station data, we ended up with nearly identical results,” Hausfather said. Hausfather provided PunditFact the following graphic. NCDC refers to the National Climatic Data Center, the agency home for the temperature readings. The blue line is Hausfather’s data, the red line is the NCDC’s.

Berkeley vs NCDC US temperatures

(ii)  A response from the National Climatic Data Center via Anthony Watts, who says “The NCDC press office sent an official response to Politifact, which is below.”

A.  Are the examples in Texas and Kansas prompting a deeper look at how the algorithms change the raw data?

No – our algorithm is working as designed. NCDC provides estimates for temperature values when:

  1. data were originally missing, and
  2. when a shift (error) is detected for a period that is too short to reliably correct. These estimates are used in applications that require a complete set of data values.

B.  Watts wrote that NCDC and USHCN are looking into this and will issue some sort of statement. Is that accurate?

Although all estimated values are identified in the USHCN dataset, NCDC’s intent was to use a flagging system that distinguishes between the two types of estimates mentioned above. NCDC intends to fix this issue in the near future.

C.  Did the point Heller raised, and the examples provided for Texas and Kansas, suggest that the problems are larger than government scientists expected?

No, refer to question 1.

(iii)   Additional comments from Judith Curry (Prof, GA Instit Tech) at her website, Climate Etc.

(iv)  A definitive response to these allegations by Zeke Hausfather (Senior Researcher, Berkeley Earth), posted at Judith Curry’s Climate Etc: “Understanding adjustments to temperature data“, 7 July 2014.

(v) Berkeley Earth: raw versus adjusted temperature data“, by Robert Rohde, Zeke Hausfather, Steve Mosher, 9 February 2015 — Excerpt:

Berkeley Earth developed a methodology for automating the adjustment process in part to answer the suspicions people had about the fairness of human aided adjustments. The particulars of the process will be covered in a separate post. For now we want to understand the magnitude of these adjustments and what they do to the relevant climate metric: the global time series. As we will see the “biggest fraud” of all time and this “criminal action” amounts to nothing.

… In summary, it is possible to look through 40,000 stations and select those that the algorithm has warmed; and, it’s possible to ignore those that the algorithm has cooled. As the spatial maps show it is also possible to select entire continents where the algorithm has warmed the record; and, it’s possible to focus on other continents were the opposite is the case. Globally however, the effect of adjustments is minor. It’s minor because on average the biases that require adjustments mostly cancel each other out.

(4)  Why are we still having these debates?

As I wrote back in January 2009: The collection of US data is not even remotely close to the claimed “high quality” (except in a relative sense to that of the global data).   Data from the rest of the world is far worse in coverage, comparability (both geographically and temporally), and accuracy. These systems are grossly underfunded vs the seriousness of the public policy issues.

The global surface temperature network is a shambles. Much of the past record poorly documented, the current record published with minimal quality control. The satellites are aging, with key replacements uncertain. NY Times articles describing the peril to the world alternate with reports about underfunding of climate research (“U.S. Satellite Plans Falter“). Much of the key data, such as ice cores, lie in storage due to lack of funding for analysis. Key systems are failing, such as the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean array.

Scientists do what they can with what we give them; it’s not an issue in which penny-pinching is rational. This is the big lesson we refuse to learn. The activists want no more discussion of the science, no matter how weak its foundation. The skeptics are driven by conservatives who often wish to defund the science. So we lurch forward in ignorance to whatever lies ahead.

Update: a comment by Philbert from the thread about Goddard’s (Heller’s) post at Climate Etc:

The COOP network was established in 1891 mostly for agricultural. Yes, it has undergone changes in instrumentation, data collection procedures, observation times, station movement, etc. but it is one of the few long-term terrestrial national networks we can use to assess climate. It is managed by the NWS, not NCDC, and it is chronically underfunded. It was never designed to detect climate change over 100 years ago.

If we keep complaining about the way the data are handled, then congress will be pleased to take away all the funding and we can use climate generators to create the climate we want to verify any model we create. If some of those who spend hours and hours on the Climate Etc. blog would write to their representatives about data network funding problems, that would be time well spent.

(5)  Science moves on

(a)  About the International Surface Temperature Initiative

To deliver climate services for the benefit of society we need to develop and deliver a suite of monitoring products from hourly to century timescales and from location specific to the global mean. Society expects openness and transparency in the process and to have a greater understanding of the certainty regarding how climate has changed and how it will continue to change. Necessary steps to deliver on these requirements for observed land surface temperatures were discussed at a meeting held at the UK Met Office in September 2010 attended by climate scientists, measurement scientists, statisticians, economists and software / IT specialists.

The meeting followed a submission to the WMO Commission for Climatology from the UK Met Office which was expanded upon in an invited opinion piece for Nature. Meeting discussions were based upon white papers solicited from authors with specialist knowledge in the relevant areas which were open for public comment for over a month. The meeting initiated an envisaged multi-year project which this website constitutes the focal point for.

(b)  For more details see: “Guiding the Creation of A Comprehensive Surface Temperature Resource for Twenty-First-Century Climate Science“, Peter W. Thorne et al, Bulletin American Meteorological Society, November 2011.

(6)  Follow-up posts

  1. Comment threads about global warming show the American mind at work, like a reality-TV horror show
  2. The climate wars get exciting. Government conspiracy! Shattered warming records! Global cooling!
  3. Have the climate skeptics jumped the shark, taking the path to irrelevance?, 3 July 2014

Truth Will Make You Free

(6)  For More Information

(a)  Posts about climate change:

  1. Posts about climate change
  2. Science & nature – studies & reports
  3. The important things to know about global warming

(b)  Some posts about our confusion:

  1. Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 Oct 2011
  2. Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda, 28 December 2011
  3. Who lies to us the most? Left or Right?, 25 February 2013
  4. Facts are the enemy of both Left and Right in our America, 12 May 2014

(c)  Posts about the public debate on climate change:

  1. Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right, 2 August 2010
  2. Climate science: the debate, the eventual solution, and the best cheap seats from which to watch the action., 19 August 2010
  3. What does the American public want done to fight climate change?, 2 February 2014
  4. A key to understanding the climate wars (about one of our big weaknesses), 15 March 2014

(d)  Posts about climate change as seen by the Right:

  1. About those headlines of the past century about global cooling…, 2 November 2009
  2. The facts about the 1970′s Global Cooling scare, 7 December 2009
  3. Start of another swing of the media narrative – to global cooling?, 11 September 2013
  4. Global Cooling returns to the news, another instructive lesson about America, 25 January 2014
  5. A look into the GOP mind: untethered from reality and drifting in the wind, 3 March 2014

 

21 thoughts on “Did NASA and NOAA dramatically alter US climate history to exaggerate global warming?

    1. Mark,

      Lot’s of blogging action about this. While of interest to people who follow the subject as a hobby or professionally, it’s just entertainment to others. I’ll wait for the pros to comment, since life is short. My guess is that the record will remain pretty much the same after this dust settles.

      This debate arises from a serious underlying cause: the global surface temperature record is the primary basis for recommendations to reshape the world economy to prevent future warming — it is it run with CIA-level secrecy and garage-science levels of funding, a horrific combination.

      I’ve written about it, but by and large both sides of the climate wars are having too much fun slinging mud to advocate for more funding for better data (inclusive from collection & quality-control, to analysis, to 3rd-party validation).

  1. @FM – The pros are already weighing in and starting to agree with Heller and more to come. Should you reconsider retagging your current story tags, “propaganda, right-wing, steve goddard, tony heller” since you don’t know the facts yet and have no idea if it is a right wing thing or propaganda? Thanks.

    1. “They are taking this seriously, they have to the as final data as currently presented for USHCN is clearly wrong. John Neilsen-Gammon sent me a cursory analysis for Texas USHCN stations, noting he found a number of stations that had “estimated” data in place of actual good data that NCDC has in hand, and appears in the RAW USHCN data file on their FTP site”

      “And as Zeke (Hausfather) did a cursory analysis Thursday night, he discovered it was systemic to the entire record, and up to 10% of stations have “estimated” data spanning over a century:”

      Here is John Neilsen-Gammon’s profile. http://atmo.tamu.edu/profile/JNielsen-Gammon
      Zeke worked on the Berkeley Earth temperature reconstruction. http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/author/zhausfather/

      Both men initially dismissed Heller’s findings but now agree. There is NO DOUBT the USHCN code is wrong and has biased the temperature record. Heller has spent years digging into the data and already knows the extent of the bias but it will take the other scientists some time to confirm Heller’s work as Heller has only recently given them working code for which to assess the bias.
      Your blog your judgment, thanks for allowing my 2 cents.

    2. Sundance,

      That Watts thinks UNHCN is “clearly wrong” impresses me not at all.

      I haven’t read Zeke’s follow-up posts.

      Steve Mosher, also (like Zeke) with the Berkeley group, says that their methodology does not operate with the same estimation process as does NCDC’s. Since it produces almost identical results. As do the two satellite datasets (since 1979). That suggests that we have yet another kerfuffle here, one of what seems to be an endless series by both sides to fog the climate debates.

      As for Neilsen-G, by expert I meant someone familiar with producing these temperature datasets. It’s a specialized niche.

      The folks running this will respond in a few days. It’s not clear to me the value in following this discussion, except as entertainment. My point was about the initial reaction of the conservative media, quite daft — and that Watts commendably took a skeptical view. Both those points are correct.

      The third point, about Goddard’s methodology and conclusions, remains as yet unclear. There appears to be agreement among the skeptics that his methodology was flawed. Watts appears to now say Goddard’s broad conclusions were correct. Eventually actual experts will speak on this.

      All we know now is that the initial accusations — “fabricated”, “fiddled”, “rigged” — are incorrect. The usual bs. Even if there is an error in the process (not clear as yet), such accusations have no basis in fact.

      The people making such accusations would probably scream with outrage if asked to pay another penny to build a better climate monitoring system. I’ll bet they will whine loudly if in fact climate change becomes a serious problem.

  2. a comment by Philbert from the thread about Goddard’s post at Climate Etc:

    The COOP network was established in 1891 mostly for agricultural. Yes, it has undergone changes in instrumentation, data collection procedures, observation times, station movement, etc. but it is one of the few long-term terrestrial national networks we can use to assess climate.

    It is managed by the NWS, not NCDC, and it is chronically underfunded. It was never designed to detect climate change over 100 years ago.

    If we keep complaining about the way the data are handled, then congress will be pleased to take away all the funding and we can use climate generators to create the climate we want to verify any model we create.

    If some of those who spend hours and hours on the Climate Etc. blog would write to their representatives about data network funding problems, that would be time well spent.

  3. Nasa also melted away great portions of the glaciers and polar ice caps and doctored satellite pictures to make the modest reduction seem even more dramatic.

    The only solution to this abuse or power and pattern of misinformation is to allow the petroleum conglomerates to make even higher record profits and reregulate every industrial and energy industry and close down the EPA.

    I am sure you can all follow my logic.

    1. I think you may have misinterpreted DB Ross’s post, FM. Only someone who has lost the very last atom of his or her sanity (never mind of logic and reason) and who shouldn’t be allowed outside without supervision would seriously suggest that NASA caused the melting of the polar ice caps and that the petroleum companies should be allowed to make even bigger profits. No…to me, the tone of this message suggests strongly that this was being said with the tongue planted quite firmly in the cheek.

    2. Bluestocking,

      Thanks for the insight. It’s not something I am good at seeing after responding to 30 thousand comments, a large fraction of which are stranger-than-life.i

      I assumed he meant that NASA had altered the records about arctic ice extent, which is less dramatic than the accusations now flying thru the the wingnut-sphere following Goddard’s post.

      See Google to find the thousand of links that will tell you about the conspiracy to hide the global cooling. So DB is trumped! You have to work hard to out-crazy our wingnuts.

  4. F.M. editor,

    As you’re probably aware by now, NOAA has reinstated July 1936 as the hottest month on record: http://dailycaller.com/2014/06/30/noaa-quietly-reinstates-july-1936-as-the-hottest-month-on-record/

    You expect us to belive it’s just a coincidence that NOAA quietly made this update so soon after Goddard / Heller’s exposé? Some of your readers will conclude that you’ve insulted their intelligence for the last time. ” It’s not just an America problem,” you say. Now it would seem that you’re part of the problem, and Goddard / Heller is the solution.

    1. Dave,

      Thank you for some comic relief in the midst of these serious issues! As if fractional changes in the temperature of July 1936 matter.

      Btw, Watts does not claim that this change was made following publication of Goddard’s claim. He says it was done since January 2013.

      As for Goddard’s claim — I will wait for actual experts to speak to this. Perhaps he is correct. Perhaps this is just another of his false claims.

    2. ” As if fractional changes in the temperature of July 1936 matter.”
      Come now. You know very well that the entire logical structure of the AGW hypothesis hinges entirely on whether July 1936 was or was not the hottest month on record. In fact, since this last revision, I see that the polar bears have been moving southwards again as the polar sea ice expands dramatically.

  5. During their breakup, watching Watts and “Goddard” fight over which one of them misunderstands the high school physics concept of partial pressure the least is kind of cute, like watching fairy tale mice gird themselves up in armor, but is similarly not conducive to taking either of them seriously. (For those who slept through high school physics, and I do not blame you at all unless you are writing a blog about physical sciences, Watts did eventually come to the correct conclusion in that battle of wits; the sad part is that it took him a while to do so).

    1. gzuckier,

      As a meteorologist, I am confident that Watts fully understands the concept of partial pressure. If you interpreted anything he said otherwise, I will bet you are wrong.

      Also, he was the first to criticize Goddard’s post — which was the central point of my first post on this.

  6. I get a real kick out of you so-called experts arguing whether there is global warming and whether it is man made.

    Your superior knowledge seems to blind you to the 800 pound in the global warming room. Even if there is global warming, and even if it is man-made, the Liberals have absolutely no practical solutions that are not extremely costly in terms of taxes, regulations, and mandates, while having near-zero impact on reducing global greenhouse gases.

    The US produces something over 20% of the world’s greenhouse gases because of its relatively thriving economy. If the US reduced its emissions by 50%, it would reduce global greenhouse gases by no more than 10%. And yet it would set our economy back to the stone ages.

    China, India, and other developing countries will make that up in just a few short years, and they have told us to pound sand on immediate reductions, and to come back in 15 years and we will take another look.

    Oh, but you say we have to do something. No, not if it has gargantuan costs and near-zero results. Are you incapable of rational analysis? It is like the woman trying to drown her husband in the ocean and pouring in an extra tea cup of water, saying every little bit helps!

    1. Butch,

      I just quote scientists and show the data. I don’t see the relevance of your comment yo anything in this post.

      As far as recommendations, I suspect you have not read my recommendations. Hence just wild guessing.

      As for your assertions, of er what time frame are you referring? Years, decades, or generations? For big changes made over a short time horizon, you are certainly correct. If implemented over longer time periods, you are almost certainly wrong.

      Bombastic statements are usually wrong, and just chaff in the discussion of public policy.

      As for labeling me politically, these posts get flack from all sides. Left and Right. People for whom truth is tribal, and identify anything they disagree with as the other side — and so wrong. Fortunately, I hope, such folks are sufficiently few that America can continue to roll on successfully despite them.

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