Hot times in the city

February 2, 2010

Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

One of the things I have persistently wondered about in the debate about climate change, is the role of the urban heat island (UHI) in all the models and calculations.  Heavily developed areas tend to experience higher temperatures than their undeveloped precincts – asphalt and concrete retain heat energy and release it slowly, while air conditioners belch it out constantly – particularly during the warmer months.  This has been noted for at least a century.  Could this be introducing a bias to the historical surface temperature record that supposedly demonstrates a century-long upward drift in surface measurements?

The AGW folks, the ones doing all the modeling, say that the UHI has been taken care of.  Hmm…is that like, “Heyaa, take care of him, okay….”  Or is that like, “We have accounted for that statistical element of the data record and compensated for it to produce an unbiased time-series…”  The latter, they would have us believe, but I have never been convinced, and I have never come across a good explanation of just how they corrected for it.  (This leaves aside measurements that might be flat out garbage because of poor siting conditions.) 

The IPCC often referred to a paper in Nature written in 1990 as demonstrating that the UHI effect was negligible, but now, it seems that there are some problems with that paper.  The GuardianUK is staunchly in the AGW camp, so the linked article above includes an increasingly familiar disclaimer:

The revelations on the inadequacies of the 1990 paper do not undermine the case that humans are causing climate change, and other studies have produced similar findings. But they do call into question the probity of some climate change science.

The heart of the matter: those CRU files!

November 24, 2009

This letter to Andy Revkin of the New Times, DotEarth, is an excellent statement of the genuine issues raised by the CRU “hacked” emails.  The issues are serious.  Highlighting is by me.  I found this text at Jeff Id’s blog, The Air Vent, but it is linked in many places.

Oh, and if you want to jump to a really juicy email instead of reading this long letter, check out this one.  Seems they weren’t so confident in their long-term projections after all, nor in their repeated denials (are they the denialists?) that the models had failed to predict a current sustained stalling of temperature rise.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Mr. Revkin,

I am writing to you to express my concerns with the content of the emails and documents that were recently obtained and released from the University of East Anglia. In my opinion, many of the comments in the blog articles about this incident have taken extreme positions that cloud the importance of the information that is contained in the documents and emails. With that in mind, I would like to take a moment to describe what I feel are the critical lessons that can be learned from this incident.

So that you understand my perspective, I have been labeled as a climate change skeptic, a contrarian, anti-science, and denialist. I have been referred to in a derogatory fashion (and have even been the subject of an entire, somewhat condescending post on RealClimate concerning analyses I had done on the Steig Antarctica paper) because I have questioned the results of several influential articles on climate change. I feel these characterizations are unfair, as I believe that humanity is contributing in a meaningful fashion to the observed rise in global surface air temperatures. I have witnessed several of my contemporaries being labeled in similar fashion in spite of the fact that they, too, believe the same.

 This illustrates the polarization of the climate change debate that is a dangerous impediment to the science. It appears that unless one believes that catastrophic consequences will necessarily result unless a certain set of draconian measures are taken, that one is dismissed as a crackpot, a liar, and is insinuated or directly accused of having been paid off by corporate interests. This produces a destructive environment for discussing the science of climate change.

As a skeptic, I can say in no uncertain terms that the emails and documents from the University of East Anglia do not show that AGW is a falsehood or hoax. Claims that “global warming is dead” (as I have seen) are not supported by those documents. On the other hand, claims that “the science is settled” are shown to be an exaggeration.

While vocal skeptics such as Steve McIntyre have been vilified by several influential scientists, the content of the emails demonstrate quite clearly that many of the concerns were legitimate and that this was known by the scientists who repeatedly and publicly denied the veracity of those claims. These include, but are not limited to:

· The concern that the significance statistics for MBH 98 were benchmarked to an inappropriate type of noise. Despite public claims to the contrary, Dr. Mann states clearly in email 1059664704.txt that the calibration residuals were “significantly red” for at least two cases. This validates the McIntyre & McKitrick criticism that the confidence intervals and benchmark significance statistics were incorrectly calculated and that MBH claimed greater statistical significance for their reconstruction than was supported by the data.

· The concern that the WMO 1999 main graphic, MBH 98, and several other reconstructions included in the IPCC spaghetti graphs had inappropriately spliced instrumental temperatures onto the end of the reconstructions. Despite Dr. Mann publicly stating that “No researchers in this field have ever, to our knowledge, ‘grafted the thermometer record onto’ any reconstrution. It is somewhat disappointing to find this specious claim (which we usually find originating from industry-funded climate disinformation websites) appearing in this forum,” on RealClimate, it is quite clear that this is exactly what was done in emails 0966015630.txt and 0942777075.txt.

· The concern that without either stripbark foxtails, bristlecones and/or the Yamal chronology that the hockey stick shape in the 20th century was greatly reduced. Despite pre-publication discussion and disclosure of review comments of the Wahl & Ammann and Ammann & Wahl defenses of MBH in which the McIntyre and McKitrick claims were dismissed as “total crap”, none of these individuals checked WA and AW closely enough to see that they performed not a single reconstructions that did not include at least one of the offending chronologies. They also express concerns that there are methodological problems with MBH, but were more concerned with defending MBH than disclosing factors that they know may partially undermine the result or increase the uncertainty of the result. This may be seen in emails 1102956446.txt, 1108248246.txt, 1122669035.txt, and others.

· The concern that the Yamal selection used in Kaufman 2009 and other papers was only a subset and, if the full chronology is used, that the answer changes in a non-trivial fashion. In a string of emails, it can be seen how several of the most influential scientists begin discrediting this concern before they had even researched the claim to see if it is legitimate. As it turns out, it is a legitimate concern, though claims of fraud by some bloggers do not seem substantiated. Rather, confirmation bias seems far more likely. These are in emails 1256760240.txt, 1256735067.txt, 1254756944.txt, and others.

As you may be aware, this is only a partial list.

These serve to illustrate not that the scientists involved are engaged in fraudulent behavior for personal gain, but rather that they feel that it is their right or duty to be the gatekeepers of what information is allowed to be seen. I think it is clear that the scientists believe that they are correct. I think it is clear that they use this belief to justify actively engage in censoring their own results (and pressure others to censor theirs) to prevent full disclosure of the uncertainties involved in the methods they employ. I think it is clear that they use this belief to justify attempts to discredit legitimate criticisms, in some cases with the knowledge that those criticisms are accurate. I think it is clear that they use this belief to advocate suppressing free expression on the internet. I think it is clear that they use this belief to attempt to manipulate the peer review process to present their results in a way that lends more credibility to their conclusions than otherwise would be the case. This is advocacy, not science. It in no way invalidates AGW theory, but it does call into question the certainty with which these scientists claim to understand the magnitude of the AGW effect – and, by extension, the magnitude and timing of the anticipated consequences.

This naturally leads into another important lesson: the insular nature of this relatively small, yet incredibly influential, group of scientists leads them to believe that it is their right to decide who should be privy to data and code. As a party to several of the FOIA requests of the University of East Anglia and CRU, I find myself appalled at the cavalier manner in which several key individuals handled FOIA requests. Some of the most telling emails are 1106338806.txt, 1212009215.txt, 1212063122.txt, 1214229243.txt, 1219239172.txt, and 1228412429.txt (among others) which indicate coordinated activities to prevent release of the data due to who was requesting it rather than the legitimacy of the request, to delete or destroy relevant data, and collusion with the FOIA officers to deny requests without properly examining whether the request was legitimate. While I do not believe that this activity should result in any kind of criminal prosecution whatsoever, I do believe that it should result in some form of corrective and/or disciplinary action by the appropriate institutions.

It is my hope that the above issues, not the unsubstantiated claims that AGW is “dead” or AGW is a “hoax”, are the issues that have traction. Otherwise, it is possible that these irresponsible claims – which are easily dismissed – will drown out the very real need for reforms to make climate science more open and accessible. Conversely, it is possible that these irresponsible claims could derail grants for additional research and damage support for many important mitigation activities that to this point were seen as not controversial (such as increased recycling efforts, development and increased commercialization of alternative energy, and similar efforts).

This letter is not intended for you to publish (though you may, as long as you do not quote it out of context). It is intended to provide you with a perspective from a “skeptic” who feels that the important lessons of this incident have not been well-carried by either the blogs or the media coverage. I write to you specifically because, although we may differ in our opinion of whether AGW is a presently a “crisis” and what the ideal mitigation/prevention activities might be, I have read enough of your column to believe that you are honest and forthright, and that you welcome hearing multiple sides of the climate debate. I enjoy your work (even when I disagree with your conclusions) and wish you continued success.

“Ryan O”

Hack, hack, hackin’ back to the USSR!

November 23, 2009

Were those emails from CRU in the UK “hacked” from the system?  People I talk to who know a thing or two about network security say it’s a given that nearly all hacked material is actually taken by insiders who have access to passwords and network storage locations.  So, most likely, a disgruntled person at CRU spilled the beans.

As a result, we have the spectacle of true believers foaming at the mouth, always edifying, as it shows more reasonable people how they most certainly do NOT want to behave.  Consider this comment on Andrew Revkin’s blog:

Comment 358 – Michael May – Chicago
November 23rd, 2009 – 1:26 pm

It’s not clear from what’s been published that any attempt to subvert honest science by the men involved in these exchanges has been made. What is clear is that when you put someone under attack, they start to behave in a paranoid manner. In this case, they have reason to. They’re up against an opposition that will take every possible effort to subvert their work, to discredit them personally and professionally and to use any stray thread to try to pull the entire quilt apart.

I have italicized the part that is really interesting to me.  Somehow, I thought I had heard this sort of thing before, complaints about nasty, irreconcilable foes who won’t get with the Great Program:

It is true that we are rude and impolite sometimes, driving from our ranks and scientific enterprise all those ‘wreckers’ and skeptical forces in our midst – those forces that are using all their intelligence and media savvy to hold us back and to maintain a carbon-based society among us…

I just changed a few words from a quotation from Anna Smirnova, Moscow factory worker, from the communist Daily Worker of Nov. 10, 1933.  Uh…that was about the time that Stalin was busy protecting the Soviet state from those counter-revolutionary forces that had assasinated Kirov…or did he do it?  Better not to have asked.

You can read the actual text here.


November 21, 2009


[Note 11/23/11:  Another cache of hacked emails from this source was just released prior to a big meeting of climate scientists advocating for the AGW hypothesis.]

It was only a matter of time before the controversy over global warming, political and ideological as it is, should generate a scandal of its very own.  Can we say that day has arrived with the recent release of private emails from the Climate Research Unit in the UK?  Andy Revkin, has a story about it on the front page of the NY Times.

Beyond the dueling news-bytes (“will backfire on the skeptics…shows the integrity of the scientists” vs. “not a smoking gun – it’s a mushroom cloud!”) is the real story, in the details that will no doubt be publicized as people go through the tremendous cache of documents.  As one pro-AGW scientist rightly said, it “will be great material for historians.”

Note:  Thanks to one commenter on Revkin’s blog who pointed to this blog that traces one controversy through the emails – very illuminating.  Too bad we have to get this stuff from right-wing fans of George Bush, but facts are facts.  Certainly, Revkin is not tracing the threads in this stuff.

The advocates of the AGW point of view often like to associate themselves with the greats of scientific history – Newton, Darwin, Einstein – and to claim that their critics are destined for history’s dustbin along with the foolish people who refused to accept the validity of these scientists’ greatest work.  Along these lines, Gavin Schmidt, at defends the tone of the email exchanges – often rude and quite impolite about critics – by saying

Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person. QED isn’t powerful because Feynman was respectful of other people around him.

Well, Feynman was quite a character, and could be quite short with others, but as far as I know, he had a deep understanding of and commitment to the scientific process, and the free-wheeling openess and criticism it requires.  Newton, on the other hand, towering genius that he was, had a sense of self-worth approaching the delusional, and he was an absolutely arrogant S.O.B.  His efforts to scuttle the reputations of competitors, to suppress their work, his endless litigations to quash recognition for others, and his generally secretive behavior did nothing to advance the cause of science, and may have hindered it temporarily in some areas.  Great scientist, but not quite a role model for today.

My guess is that nothing much regarding the science will be found in these files that hasn’t been pointed out already by detail-oriented critics of the AGW position.  Focusing on the “gotcha lines,” such as one writer’s use of the word “trick” to describe another scientist’s success at smoothing out a discrepancy in the data is fun for bloggers, but is irrelevant.  Practitioners of all kinds have  informal ways of talking about what they do to save time and keystrokes.  Outright fraud is not likely to be discovered, I think.

What is clear, however, is that the scientists working to support the AGW point of view don’t seem to care about openess and transparency, they comprise a rather closed community of researchers with contempt for those who disagree, and they are willing to do what they can to cook the peer review process in their favor (check out this email at the searchable online database of the emails), not the least by withholding information, because, after all, they know they’re right and the fate of the world depends on it.  This undermines their credibility and it should be publicized as such.  The first commenter on Revkin’s blog sums it up nicely, see below.

The Editor’s Selections, highlighted comments that the Times considers especially thoughtful and valuable, and supposedly representing a range of views, so far includes only one from an academic specializing in the  sociology of science who pooh-poohs the whole thing.  Notably, he concludes his dismissal with the familiar claim that the theory of AGW is beyond dispute.

Raven – no. 1 comment on A. Revkin’s blog, DotEarth
November 20th, 2009
8:22 pm

The ‘privacy/illegal activity’ argument is ultimately a partisan one and therefore irrelevant. If someone believes such disclosures help whatever political position they have then they will argue the public good trumps the wrong. If the disclosures hurt their position they will argue for privacy to be respected.

Most of the people protesting privacy violations today would be gladly ignore such concerns if the email exchanges were between executives at oil companies.

I think the media needs to focus on the bits that do undermine the integrity of the scientific establishment. Specifically the attempts to manipulate the peer review process and the willingness to delete data in order to prevent it from be analyzed by ‘unfriendies’.

Frankly, I do not see anyone can seriously argue that the peer reviewed scientific literature is an unbiased source of information on climate change at this time and that revelation has huge implications for public policy.