Friday, August 10, 2007

Warming records revised downwards, media ignores the incident.

When nobody was looking 1998 got cooler. It was long touted as the hottest year in American history until 2006. CBS, for instance, reported in 2007: “Last year was the warmest on record for the United States...”

That would then have pushed 1998 into second place with 2006 as the hottest. But there seems to be some dispute. Other people still claimed 1998 held the record. USA Today just published a story in their August 9, 2007 edition that said “The decade covering 1996 to 2006 contained the warmest years ever recorded, with temperatures peaking in 1998 and nearly reaching that height in 2005.”

But when no one was looking 1998 and 2006 got cooler. Here is the story of how it happened. Canadian statistician Steven McIntyre was looking at the temperature records. And he knows the data is collected and then goes through a process meant to correct for any known problems and such. For instance the well known heat island effect has to be taken into account so the records aren’t artificially inflated.

But McIntyre was noticing a problem. And the problem seemed to creep into things in January 2000 for the first time. Wondering about this, he contacted the Goddard Institute for Space Science who compiled the data under the leadership of well known global warming theorist James Hansen. Hansen is known for being one of the more strident voices predicting disaster from warming. McIntyre wanted to see what formulas were being used to adjust the data before releasing it.

GISS said that he couldn’t have it. McIntryre then took the data that did exist and started working his way backwards through it. And he discovered what appeared to be a Y2K glitch that distorted results. He told GISS about this. And without much fanfare, and no publicity in the mainstream press that I can find, they released the new temperature records for the US for the last hundred plus years.

According to the new data 1998 was not the hottest year. Nor was 2006, often said to have surpassed it. The hottest year on record, in the US, was actually 1934. But 1998 was in second place. But third place belonged to 1921.

This has to be a little embarrassing to USA Today which just used an official report to say that the decade “covering 1996 to 2006 contained the warmest years ever recorded”. But only three of the top ten warmest years actually fell within the decade in question. And half of the years were in the 1920s and 1930s A sixth top ten year was 1953. According to the new data from GISS the new new ranking of the hottest ten years are as follows:

#1 1934
#2 1998
#3 1921
#4 2006
#5 1931
#6 1999
#7 1953
#8 1990
#9 1938
#10 1939

The error had a very interesting impact on the data. The years of 1934, 1921, 1938 and 1939 were all adjusted upwards. Only 1931 remained unchanged. And the years 1998, 2006, 1999, 1953, and 1990 were all adjusted down. In fact 2001 fell off the top ten list entirely and was replaced with 1939. The error biased the data in the direction of the man-made theory .

It is now 2007. So that means this error has been impacting the debate, and public policy, for seven years. It certainly helped shape public perceptions. Why did the error sit unnoticed for so many years?

One reason is quite simple. They weren’t looking for it. One thing I learned in studying various botched police cases is what happens when individuals think they have the right culprit. Police may have numerous suspects in a case. Then they focus on one. They may decide he has to be the criminal. Once they find the criminal they start looking for evidence that will convict him. They don’t look to see if there is evidence that exonerates him. They also stop looking to see if there are other possible suspects who fit the evidence better. One people assume a specific theory is correct they stop questioning their own conclusion and don't look for other evidence.

And sometimes they get very protective of their case. They don’t want to release the evidence to the defense team or they want to hold it as close to the vest as possible. Certainly in the Matt Bandy case the prosecution fought tooth and nail to deny defense experts from looking at the actual hard drive of Matt’s computer. Once you have the culprit it isn’t nice to have someone picking away at the evidence. And in this case Hansen and GISS simply didn’t want McIntyre fiddling with the stats to check them out. Why should they? They knew exactly what happened and how it happened and they weren't going to let some “denier” investigate the data. So they withheld it. Even without it McIntyre ended up making his case strong enough that they revised the figures.

What USA Today published about 1996 to 2006 being the warmest decade was widely accepted as factual. Yet three of the five warmest years were not in the last decade at all, they were 73, 86 and 76 years ago. And they were before man-made greenhouse gases could be blamed. And three of the next five hottest years also are a bit early to be blamed on man: 1953, 1938 and 1939.

What is curious is that when some study claims that a specific year, particularly a recent one, was the hottest in history the media rings the bells and gets everyone’s attention. It is major news. Just today another report based on models of the warmers predicts increased warming. It was reported widely. For instance the Daily Mail in England said: “Britain will enjoy a brief respite from the effects of global warming before temperatures shoot up again at the end of the decade, scientists have predicted.” And they once again repeat the story “from 2010, the scientists warn every year has a 50 per cent chance of exceeding the record set in 1998...” The actual weather in England, they admit, this year is “shaping up to be one of the coolest of recent years” but just wait for a few more years and then you’ll see they are right.

At the same time this report was receiving publicity NASA’s GISS revised their previous numbers for actual temperatures downward. That gets barely a mention.

My google news search on the topic turned up only one media outlet reporting this. And it was hardly what you would call a major media outlet. It was KXMB television in Bismarck, North Dakota. Of course this fits. In North Dakota a reduction in temperatures is bad news. It’s one of those place that could use some extra heat.

Why is it that the revisions by GISS are not being mentioned by the media?

It appears to me that whatever happens in the weather fits some warming model somewhere. The recent wet, cool weather in England is an example. Two years ago climate modelers in the UK and politicians gathered to hold another conference. The Independent on Sunday reported:

Drought menaces Britain's breadbasket in the east of England, a special global warming summit of ministers and farmers' leaders will learn tomorrow.
The summit will hear that summer rainfall may drop by more than half in the south and east of the country, causing acute water shortages and seriously damaging farms.

... The papers say that scorching summers will become increasingly frequent with global warming, with "very hot Augusts" - such as in 1995 - happening once every five years by 2050. Less rain will fall, and more moisture will evaporate from the soil, causing droughts.
They say: "Hotter and drier summers are likely to result in a seasonal reduction in available water resources and the increased risk of drought. The areas currently under most pressure from agriculture will become further stressed as the regional effects of change are felt."

Two years ago these models, which we are assured are accurate means of predicting climate change, said the UK would dry up as the result of warming. When the weather got wetter instead the same newspaper announced: “Exceptionally heavy rain is likely to occur more often in a warmer world because air holds more moisture when it warms up, which be released as a sudden downpour.” Dryer summers were the result of global warming but wetter summers are a ‘foretaste of things to come” with both flooding and drought.

The old model was predicting steady rises in temperatures. The new model now says a few years of respite and then rising temperatures again. But the new model came out only after the UK Meteorological Office reported that summer temperatures in the UK have been “below average and around 2 °C below average across some south-western areas of the UK.” It appears temperatures in the UK make this summer one of the coolest in the last 25 years.

When something happens that appears to confirm the warming theories of government funded scientists press conferences are held and dire announcements are made. But as far as I can see no press conference was held regarding the recent downward revisions. If such a press statement was released, or comments were made public, the media has failed to report on them. Reporting only those events that substantiate one side in a debate is not journalism. It is is advocacy.

Certainly all the facts need to be made public not just those that verify one side or the other. That is supposed to be the job of the media but they are failing to do that. Instead of neutral presenters they have become fervent fans of one perspective. So this revision of the records was ignored.

On the other hand New York City recently had a tornado and the press ran headlines wondering if the tornado was the result of global warming. New York State, where New York City is located, has tornadoes every year almost without exception. And the New York Times notes that a weak tornado hit the city in 2003 and that this one is “the sixth recorded in New York City since 1950.”

The Times also quoted the executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, previously not known for their meteorological skills, as saying: “We may be dealing with meteorological conditions that are unprecedented.” In they know that there have been six such tornadoes in New York City in the last 57 years why are they bothering to quote a layman saying this is "unprecedented"?

Considering that tornadoes do hit New York City on occasion exactly what warrants headlines, like the one in the Washington Post: “Did Global Warming Cause NYC Tornado?” The globe is a big place and odd weather happens somewhere all the time. It seems inevitable that any oddity, weather wise, gets linked to global warming in one way or another. Pure speculation gets reported and there is always someone willing to declare it “unprecedented” even if only someone who runs a subway system.

It should be noted that both the Post and New York Times stories, with headlines suggesting a link between warming and the tornado. They mentioned that experts pooh-poohed the idea but they also made sure they quoted some people saying it was connected. The reality is that many readers never get beyond headlines. This story, with this headline, appeared in major newspapers across the country. The Houston Chronicle ran it, so did the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Guardian in England. But I can’t find any of them, in google news at least, reporting on the factual revision of the temperature record. Apparently speculative headlines related to global warming are fine but the downsizing of recent warming is not.

If I were an advocate of the man-made theory of global warming I would be troubled by the these incidents. I would argue that such actions give global warming skeptics credibility. James Hansen, the grandfather of warming fear, says that warming “altered the likelihood” of events like the tornado. That sort of speculation he would spout to the press but apparently he has said nothing about how he and GISS had to readjust their past exaggerated figures. I’m not blaming him for making an error. I’m blaming him for refusing to make the record public so they could be scrutinized and then just silently altering the numbers without any admission that this happened.

Scientists and journalists both have obligations to the facts. If major press announcements accompany their doomsday projections then similar announcements should be made when they revise things in the other direction. And the media shouldn't indulge speculative headlines that are not warranted while ignoring the adjustments. James Hansens model for analyzing climate data is a key piece in the warming puzzle. That it contained a major error for the last seven years, and that he has continued to keep the model a secret, is not good science. It is a prosecutor protecting his case.

Photo: James Hansen. Mr. Hansen has been a paid consultant to Al Gore and also received major financing from the wife of Democratic president candidate John Kerry.

UPDATE: I was going to link to Climate Audit by Mr. McIntyre but it seems to be down. In the last week another climate skeptic site was hit with denial of service attacks and the same thing may be happening to Climate Audit. The second site, which documents conditions around weather stations, not only had these DOS attacks but their fibre optic cable for the web site has been cut. It may be a coincidence that both sites were involved in this investigation and both have been hit at the same time.

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