Adventures in Ethics and Science

I heard a piece by David Kestenbaum on NPR’s “Morning Edition” that hasn’t been sitting right with me. You, dear readers, get to help me figure out what’s bugging me about the story, a profile of 16-year-old climate skeptic Kristen Byrnes.

Here are some details about Kristen Byrnes from the story:

“I don’t remember how old I was when I started getting into global warming,” Kristen says. “In middle school I remember everyone was like: ‘Global warming! The world is going to end!’ Stuff like that … so I never really believed in it.” …

[S]he has a quality scientists try to cultivate: she is skeptical. Has someone made a claim? She wants to see the data.

So about a year ago, when she was 15, she started to look at the scientific evidence. When she got confused, she consulted [her step-dad] Mike [Carson].

Soon they had printed out a mound of technical documents from the Internet.

Kristen was convinced by the skeptics and she began to write, summarizing their arguments adding her own touches. Yes, she says, the Earth is warming. But no, humans aren’t causing it. She says it’s part of the natural climate cycle.

At some point, Mike and Kristen decided to post her work online.

“I felt it was important to inform people that this wasn’t completely true,” Kristen says. “A public service to let people know.”

Naturally, I’m thrilled to see a young person (or any person, really) who wants to get at the evidence that backs scientific claims, who wants to get her hands dirty working through the details of whether the data really supports a claim, whether it better supports a competing claim, or whether it gives no compelling reason to prefer one hypothesis over another. I also think it’s impressive that she got enthusiastic about grappling with scientific details on her own, rather than because some class assignment made her grapple with them and she decided it wasn’t so bad.

But, I have some concerns.

Is Kristen Byrnes an equal opportunity skeptic here, or is her skepticism directed in such a way that she’s more likely to come to the conclusions most comfortable to her? She was “convinced by the skeptics”; did she apply the same critical examination to their claims as to the claims they criticize? If she “never really believed in” anthropogenic climate change, did her examination of the data take her just far enough to support her disbelief?

Indeed, the story kind of makes it seem like this is a smart kid who has made a conscious choice to be different from everyone else in school — not in her choice of clothes or music, but in rejecting what “everyone knows”.

That in itself is not necessarily problematic, since sometimes what “everyone knows” has little to no evidential basis, and even if this knowledge is grounded in facts, the middle school students (and likely many of the adults) who “know” it are accepting it on the authority of someone else — say, a scientist (or a group of many scientists) who actually knows how the complicated computer model making the predictions works.

But sometimes a teenage rejection of what “everyone knows” is less about pushing through to objectively grounding one’s own knowledge in the data and more about reveling in the role of the contrarian. If being a rebel against the scientific consensus on climate change is your preferred stance, can you really be unbiased enough to go where the data lead you? Or have you simply fallen under the influence of a different crowd?

And here, as appealing as I find the D.I.Y./punk rock stance of a teenager messing with the data and closely examining the conclusions that feel to her like they’re being mass-marketed (in Oscar winning films and such), I can’t help but think that expertise matters. Just as not all of those punk rockers were able to make anything like music come out of their instruments, so not everyone who messes with models and data is in a position to evaluate whether she’s doing it in a reasonable way. As far as I can tell from the article, Kristen Byrnes has gotten most of her guidance from her step-dad — we are told he is also skeptical of anthropogenic global warming, but we are not told what work or educational background he might have that could be relevant to understanding climate science — and from those climate skeptics online. Surely it may be possible for non-scientists to evaluate the credibility of particular scientific arguments, but I get no sense from the story of whether anything like that is happening here.

To be fair, the story does raise the issue of expertise and hanging our beliefs on the authority of others:

During lunch at a local chowder house with her friend Chrissy Flanders, they talked about food and friends and clothes.

So it came as somewhat of a surprise when Chrissy piped up to say she disagreed with Kristen on climate change.

“I think it’s partly because of humans,” she says. Asked why she believes that she says she doesn’t know. Kristen chimes in: “She just believes what everyone else is making her believe.”

It’s probably fair to say that most people — even those who have strong opinions about global warming — couldn’t make a strong scientific argument for why they believe what they believe.

Most of us delegate, decide to believe someone we trust. We don’t actively seek out the other side. We probably wouldn’t know what to make of it, or how to reconcile the two. Who has time? Or the expertise?

The thing is, especially in the audio version of the story, Kristen Byrnes comes off here as pretty committed to intellectual rigor, while her friend kind of comes off as having been sucked into a trend. But reporter David Kestenbaum doesn’t get into the extent to which Kristen Byrnes’s stance is the result of deciding to believe someone she trusts. He doesn’t ask whether she actively seeks out the other side, critically examining the claims of scientists who see evidence of AGW rather than just the climate skeptics’ versions of these claims. Indeed, Kestenbaum doesn’t make any evaluation of the strength of Kristen Byrnes’s scientific arguments.

Kristen had no fear. She took on Al Gore the Nobel laureate, Academy Award winner and former vice president. She went after Jim Hansen, one of NASA’s top climate scientists. E-mail poured in, mostly from skeptics happy a young person had taken up the cause. …

Mainstream scientists would argue that many of the issues on her Web site are red herrings or have been put to rest — and Kristen did get emails from people challenging her science. But after a few exchanges, she says, her opponents backed down. “A few of them gave up and figured they can’t win against a 15-year-old,” she says. Mike laughs as she says this.

In the story (especially the audio version), Kristen Byrnes comes off here in a very positive light — fearless, unwilling to back down, and (maybe) able to persuade her critics. Of course, this ability to win the scientific argument is the perception we get from Kristen Byrnes and her step-father. Possibly the folks who were emailing her to challenge her science and eventually gave up would disagree that she had made her scientific case. Maybe they decided that there was limited utility in trying to convince a teenager to critically examine a stance that has distinguished her from her peer group and made her a lot of fans on the internet.

Ultimately, what bugs me about this story is that it seems to boil down to a piece about a teenager who has done something unusual and become a minor celebrity because if it. Yet, there’s no critical examination of the something unusual that she’s done — in particular, of whether she’s done it in a way that holds up to scientific scrutiny — of what sorts of deeper motivations might be behind it, and of what the impacts of this project might be for the rest of us. To the extent that the “something unusual” this particular teenager is doing is presenting herself on the internet as a reliable source of scientific information, it feels to me like the critical analysis missing from this story is very important indeed.

UPDATE: James Hrynyshyn weighs in on Kristen Byrnes’s website.

Comments

  1. #1 Jenny F. Scientist
    April 15, 2008

    The story made me quite angry. I very much think that NPR is responsible for presenting facts accurately, and they don’t even mention in the story any of numerous reports (UN, IPCC, etc.) which are very reputable sources, nor, as you point out, do they ask her exactly how she ‘dismissed’ them all. This is especially ironic because every time they interview a politician they probe into all their BS answers. But a ‘skeptical’ teenager? Oh no.

  2. #2 iRobot
    April 15, 2008

    NPR is not a reliable source anymore. They have been corrupted by the bush administration’s attempt to make everything political. They are a fox-lite quality about them.

  3. #3 Mark
    April 15, 2008

    Listening to the audio version, I couldn’t get “University of Google” out of my mind. The story said that she “researched the issue on the internet” but didn’t explain how a sixteen-year-old had the scientific foundations to sift through the references and evaluate them. In another field, there is a saying that “evidence is to be weighed, not counted.” I think it applies here as well.

  4. #4 PhysioProf
    April 15, 2008

    Since Bush and his merry band of psychopathic affirmatively incompetent partisan hackfuck shitbags have destroyed all semblance of rational balanced governance on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, NPR has become just another purveyor of sick-fuck right-wing propaganda.

  5. #5 Neuro-conservative
    April 15, 2008

    Give me a break, Janet. Liberals are full of admiration for “free thinkers” as long as they come to their preferred conclusions. From personal experience, I can assure you that critical thinking skills are required to become a conservative within the indoctrination camps known as public schools. I am sure this young woman has much more awareness than the average trend-following hipster twice her age. A true philosopher would cherish such a student in her class.

  6. #6 Hank Roberts
    April 15, 2008
  7. #7 Orac
    April 15, 2008

    A quibble: What this kid is doing is most definitely not skepticism, and you shouldn’t have called it that. What this kid is demonstrating is pseudoskepticism, in which she looks for evidence to support a preexisting viewpoint and dismisses evidence that does not. No doubt the positive reinforcement from AGW denialists further encouraged her.

  8. #8 Slack Cutter
    April 15, 2008

    I realize that you’re not slamming the student but instead the way her story is presented. Here’s my take, though: 1) I doubt many people are going to change their thoughts on this issue solely based on the website of a sixteen-year-old, and 2) anyone who does was kinda lost to the “intellectual rigor” thing anyway.

    Instead, I think it’s wonderful she’s receiving praise for this. *Even if* her conclusions are wrong and her process faulty, it’s laudable that she’s taken on a long-term research project out of her own interest and has gone so far as to share her own conclusions to the online community. (Isn’t that kinda like blogging?) If more of us would do this for all the issues that concern us, we’d have a more informed populace, even if many of us are still *wrong*.

    She’s young, give her the time to learn and encourage her for making such an involved and genuine effort.

    Plus, she’s getting more press time than most ever will… ;)

  9. #9 Dave Gill
    April 15, 2008

    I heard the story and it bugged me as well. I don’t recall hearing the line about “expertise” during the interview – I was getting ready for work at the time. But in mulling it over whilst eating my cheerios, it was indeed expertise that I came up with that was bugging me.

    Thanks for the deeper analysis (sans cheerios, I assume)

  10. #10 Frederick Ross
    April 15, 2008

    Skepticism isn’t the important part here. The social structure that results from skepticism builds networks of trust extremely efficiently.

    And if you think someone’s work doesn’t add up, the first thing to do is talk to them about it. To do otherwise is simply rude. In former days this took the form of letters, whether direct or to journals. Today it’s an email or a telephone call. She has failed in that responsibility.

  11. #11 lmr
    April 15, 2008

    I’m curious as to whether the commenters above who laud this girl for her enthusiasm and initiative would be equally pleased if she made a similar effort to validate creationism or HIV denialism. I don’t believe our society is so lacking teenagers who truly demonstrate critical thinking, skepticism, and interest in good science that we need to praise ones like her for a research project that is based on bad information and confirmation bias. I am disgusted that NPR ran such a credulous story.

  12. #12 Mark P
    April 15, 2008

    The report was a disservice to NPR and to the girl. The reporter was trapped – how do you grill a teenaged girl as if she were some sleazy politician or a shill for big business? Obviously, no decent person can. She’s not old enough to be treated as an adult and not qualified enough to have a valid opinion, so all the reporter could do was a touchy-feely feature story. The story simply should not have been done.

    However, I would like to have asked her to take a pencil and paper and draw a very simple radiative balance model. Anyone who has enough understanding to judge the science of AGW should be able to do that.

  13. #13 Bill Habr
    April 15, 2008

    Well, she is trying and trying in a field in which to be skeptical is unacceptable.

  14. #14 NP
    April 15, 2008

    It’s a feel-good story for the hordes of Americans who see science as a death-knell to hope, limitless human soul, and all that is good about the world. It’s a sappy story about a little teenage kid taking on Big Science against all the odds. Good on her for being skeptical, but there’s skepticism and there’s fads.

  15. #15 Cherish
    April 15, 2008

    Actually, I’d like to see her in ten years. If she can get a good college education, I wouldn’t be surprised if she changed her tune. If she chooses to be insular in her academic pursuits in the future, I don’t see much chance…but if she were to get a better background in critical thinking and scientific evaluation, I bet she’d make a good scientist. She has the personality. :-) And she might even change her mind.

  16. #16 Thaumus
    April 15, 2008

    Ms Byrnes and her merry band of helpers from the “Kristen Byrnes Science Foundation” are offering homework help to any children that write to her. Given her rather weak understanding of the science and logic (argument by libel seems to be her favourite strategy), those expecting her to do their homework for them may not get the grades they desire.

  17. #17 minimalist
    April 15, 2008

    “”A few of them gave up and figured they can’t win against a 15-year-old,” she says. Mike laughs as she says this. ”

    Nobody “wins” if they waste any time trying to convince a fatuous denialist that they’re wrong. Not when they’ve wrapped up so much of their massive egos into their dumb right-wing talking points.

    If I had a nickel for each time a denialist claimed “victory” because the adults decided they weren’t going to go around in circles discrediting the same damn canard restated a thousand times over…

  18. #18 Julius
    April 15, 2008

    Slack Cutter: out of her own interest

    See, I doubt that bit. It’s only a hunch – I don’t have any more information than the rest of you – but I get a *strong* vibe from this story that her interest is very much encouraged, and steered in a particular direction, by the stepfather. By being “supportive” of her interest, he (stated to be a GW “skeptic”/denier himself) gets to point to the girl and say something along the lines of “look, even a teenager can figure out that them alarmists are wrong!”.

    Just a suspicion…

  19. #19 bob koepp
    April 15, 2008

    I wonder how many of the commenters here actually are more knowledgable about the issues than this kid. If the best advice on offer is “defer to the experts” (who would that be? Hansen? Lindzen?),then she’s a step ahead of her critics.

  20. #20 onkel bob
    April 15, 2008

    This topic does seem to develop a strong Dunning-Kruger effect. Part of it stems from a reactionary response to anything Al Gore, part of it a Malthsuian warp among the other side.
    I like Mark P’s response. When I argued this topic with “skeptics” I discovered none of them understood the most basic of atmospheric models. I no longer engage in discussions over this topic as the sides are set in stone and it’s simply a waste of time and effort.

  21. #21 Onkel Bob
    April 15, 2008

    Another thing came to mind… As a nontraditional graduate student, I am asked to present a workshop on resumes and interviewing to Art & Design students. One thing I emphasize to them is to be careful what information they put on the web/internet. I tell them to get a “clean” e-mail address and to create a professional persona on their blogs and such. I tell them this because future employers may hesitate to interview or hire students who demonstrate a willingness to advertise questionable behavior. It’s one thing to put up pictures of friends at a party, it’s another to include drunken escapades in the mix.
    That said, I wonder what the university admissions officer will think of this applicant? While she demonstrates an ability to gather information, she also has shown an inability to evaluate the material and woeful comprehension skills. Agreed, she has “impressive” high school grades; however, these are poor indicators of future performance. I suspect this wunderkind is in for a rude awakening if and when she applies to and arrives at college.

  22. #22 Christopher Wing
    April 15, 2008

    Have a great time living underwater, sweety!

  23. #23 Bill Habr
    April 15, 2008

    Amazing, other than Hank Roberts how many commenting here have gone to her site?

    She does know some things (she actually knows, and cares, what a good surface station site should look like) and will learn more, you may not like her conclusions from evidence but she is trying.

    Oh, wait she is being lead around by her step-dad.
    Why, she is only a pseudoskeptic.
    NPR is unreliable now.

    Perhaps this would be a time to discuss framing and why some people can’t frame an argument.

  24. #24 Helen Huntingdon
    April 15, 2008

    As another commenter said, I think pseudo-skepticism is the correct term for what she’s doing.

    Skepticism has at its core knowing how to accept not coming to a conclusion when you don’t have the information or skills to reach one. This is not beyond the abilities of children.

    I was about 10 the first time my father explained the Desmond Morris / “mighty hunter” theory of evolution to me — that our ancestors took to living on savannah instead of in trees, and needed to stand and run upright to scan the far horizons for their prey as they hunted. I thought this sounded pretty unlikely. We lived on the prairie at the time, a good landscape for appreciating the advantages of being able to see above the vegetation. Our dog couldn’t stand up like we could, but when he was in the middle of a cornfield and wanted to get a look around, he would do a rabbit-like spring into the air off his hind legs, glance around rapidly, disappear back into the corn, and then run off on all four legs. Since we’d clocked his ground speed at 30 miles per hour by racing him in the car, it didn’t make a lot of sense that he would wind up changing from a mode of locomotion that made him very fast to one that would make him very slow when he could get a look around just by his bunny-hop method.

    As a teenager I read up more on human evolution, and found more reasons to think the Desmond Morris approach sounded unlikely (especially the lack of any kind of explanation for noses). I also found there was no way I could arrive at any definite answer without a lot more education than I had and a lot more evidence than was available to me. I learned I could learn enough to identify problems with various theories at that time, but I could also learn what the limits of my knowledge were.

    Ms. Byrnes doesn’t seem to have figured that much out yet.

  25. #25 Barn Owl
    April 15, 2008

    Have a great time living underwater, sweety!

    Good point. It’s easy for Kristin Byrnes to be smug, I guess-it’s not as if she’s a teenager living in coastal Bangladesh, after all.

    I think that story was the last straw for me, with regards to NPR listening. Friends of mine, who eschewed NPR years ago, advised me to download Democracy Now podcasts and listen to those instead. The website summary of the story that Janet linked above was nearly enough to activate area postrema and the puke-on-shoes reflex.

    Oh, and I really need to stop reading PhysioProf’s comments while drinking Diet Dr. Pepper. The mucosa in my nasopharynx and nasal cavity is beginning to suffer.

  26. #26 On a mission from PZ
    April 15, 2008

    Seems like Dad is grooming her for a long career as a wingnut welfare recipient. She will never want for a job as a shill.

    Hell, at least she’ll have to live in the mess she’s helping to make.

  27. #27 Pat Muller
    April 15, 2008

    So let’s say there’s a teenager who agrees with the scientists about climate change, would they get the same amount of press? Who’s doing the brainwashing here? Shall we blame it on the public schools? We can’t blame them because they don’t teach kids how to think even if we disagree with their opinions. Shall we blame Fox News? How could someone have slipped through the cracks and formed a differing opinion than what is currently popular?
    It reminds me of Elizabeth Hasselbeck on the View. She looks at things from a certain perspective which clouds her ability to analyze information. I always push the fast forward button on the DVD-R when she starts talking. Someone should do the same with this young lady.

  28. #28 Janet D. Stemwedel
    April 15, 2008

    Let the record reflect that my criticisms here are directed at the reporting of the story, rather than at Ms. Byrnes (who is, after all, 16, and trying her best).

    In science, being able to show how the evidence supports (or dismantles) a claim is crucial — no matter which side of a problem of prediction, explanation, or interpretation one comes down on. If you ever catch me being soft on a scientist who should know better than to try to get by on their authority, please give me a hard time about it.

  29. #29 Leni
    April 15, 2008

    I heard this story this morning as well, and I was also rankled and a little bit torn. Annoying, but she’s only 16. It would be wrong to rip her arguments to shreds. Hmm. Or would it?

    I think Orac summed it up pretty well:

    A quibble: What this kid is doing is most definitely not skepticism, and you shouldn’t have called it that. What this kid is demonstrating is pseudoskepticism, in which she looks for evidence to support a preexisting viewpoint and dismisses evidence that does not. No doubt the positive reinforcement from AGW denialists further encouraged her.

    She seems motivated, bright and full of potential, and clearly a bit of a nerd. That’s all great (go nerds!), but it all seems mostly wasted, sadly. Or at least misused.

    She’s only 16 though. Hell, who didn’t waste large quantities of time and talent being stupid at 16? I probably could have single-handedly powered a large portion of North America with the energy I wasted being stupid at that age.

    I’m a big NPR fan. I’m a regular contributer and I listen to it every day. So I’m not much inclined to take cheap shots at them. Still, I think NPR did a disservice by presenting the opinion (on scientific matters) of a 16 year old as more or less equatable to serious scientific work. They really aren’t, and while they gave a nod to the fact that her opinion doesn’t mesh with the scientific consensus, I was bothered by the fact that they presented that as mattering. Not to be harsh, but there’s a reason 16 year olds aren’t consultants for major policy decisions.

  30. #30 Neuro-conservative
    April 15, 2008

    This thread should win the ScienceBlogs(TM) comedy award for 2008, hands-down. It is laugh-out-loud funny to see so many commenters complaining about the right-wing bias of NPR! And then to announce their intention to put their fingers in their ears and shout “Na na na I can’t hear you!” Good stuff!

  31. #31 Kevin
    April 15, 2008

    I think you are missing the fact that “stay at home da Mike” is the driving force behind this:

    “Kristen says when her determination sagged, Mike encouraged her.”Kristen! MOTIVATION!” she remembers him saying. Mike is deeply skeptical humans are behind global warming and pulls up a graph on the computer to help make the case. ”

    and Mike is, like, God and knows everything….

    I wonder about abuse….

  32. #32 Bubs
    April 15, 2008

    this reminds me of something from a few months back. Anyone ever hear the claims that Tu24(asteroid that passed close by in January) was going to mess up the magnetosphere? Turns out the person behind that was even younger, and what I dont get is that people believed her after they found that tidbit out.

    On that website they used to post pictures of the magnetosphere and yak about how they where abnormal but never posted(or as far as I can tell even bothered to find out) what ‘normal’ looked like.

    And yes, it is an exercise in futility to argue with people that young.

  33. #33 John Mashey
    April 16, 2008

    1) Google: ponder maunder

    and look at the websites that appear. I think there were more last summer.

    2) Read http://home.earthlink.net/~ponderthemaunder/id26.html .
    Where does the money actually go?

    3) The home page says:
    “Ponder the Maunder was an extra credit project for Honors Earth Science, Portland High School, by Kristen Byrnes of Portland Maine.
    This report is a comprehensive look at the global warming issue without financial or political bias.”

  34. #34 Badger3k
    April 16, 2008

    Bubs – Agreed. I teach kids around her age, and yeah, there are some points where all you can do is just stop, shake your head sadly, and walk away.

    Besides, there is that attitude towards children that people have. Most don’t like the feeling that they are a bully when they challenge a kid and the kid loses – most people feel bad. Also, other people see it the same way – I could see, for example, Hansen and this kid in a televised debate, and no matter what arguments Hansen would have, he would be painted as a bully. Even if the kid was an arrogant brat, the basic image would probably be hard to get rid of.

    Then there is the fact that, as in dealing with creationists and other denialists, that some of them really don’t have the capacity to understand the arguments, and any further argument will get nowhere and be just a waste of time.

    As for her getting older and perhaps changing her mind, I’d suspect that it depends on her home life and how much influence “denialist-da” (side note, I’ve seen this twice now – what is ‘da’, the bastard child of ‘pa’ and ‘dad’? – or is that a misspelling?) has on her. Denialism does tend to run in families, and the more conservative and authoritarian the family, the harder it is to run contrary to that, in most cases). Just a thought.

  35. #35 The Anti-Coulter
    April 16, 2008

    “From personal experience, I can assure you that critical thinking skills are required to become a conservative within the indoctrination camps known as public schools.”

    Really? Here I was thinking that it just required never growing out of the “MINE! MINE! MINE!” phase of your average 4-year-old.

  36. #36 Bill Habr
    April 16, 2008

    NPR is under no obligation to present both sides(well maybe on paper they are, but it is honored in the breech), if they were they couldn’t report on any controversial (or even a semi-controversial) subject. Most of NPR’s reporting is slanted, as most reporting is these days.

    They presented a story of a young skeptic, perhaps in doing so they overestimated the intelligence of their listeners. Perhaps they thought that their listeners would be smart enough to go to the site of the young skeptic and correct any misinformation there or put up a counter site.

    Perhaps it is because so most can not think critically, even among the “correct thinking” crowd, that there is a problem.

  37. #37 Steve Bloom
    April 16, 2008

    Bill Habr, I’m quite familiar with her site. The problem I have with it is all of the material she must have seen and ignored because it conflicted with her preconceived notions. Example:

    Notice that right up front on her site Byrnes says “85% of the stations thus far surveyed violate the rules for locating stations.” Did NOAA ever say that the cited surface station rules should be applied to the existing (surveyed) USHCN network? No. The network *pre-dates* the rules, and “correcting” an existing station requires establishing a second one on the same site (which for various reasons would make no sense). NOAA is very aware that this network is less than ideal, and about ten years ago decided that the best way to deal with it was to build a completely new one — the Climate Reference Network, just now coming into full operation (and for the siting of which those standards actually got applied).

    Far beyond mere sloppy research, this demonstrates an intent to mislead.

  38. #38 Ian
    April 16, 2008

    Each time I read your blog it refers me to James’s, which then refers me back to yours. I’ve been stuck in this loop for hours!! Help!!!

  39. #39 Steve Bloom
    April 16, 2008

    OK, looking at the full picture, I think we can cut NPR a little slack.

  40. #40 bob koepp
    April 16, 2008

    Steve Bloom –
    I’m very unimpressed with this kid’s website. I couldn’t bring myself to examine it very closely, since it stinks of politics. However, intent is a very difficult thing to prove beyond reasonable doubt, yet you seem to think your observations actually _demonstrate_ something about her intentions. Do you know what it means to demonstrate something?

  41. #41 Bill Habr
    April 16, 2008

    Steve,
    “Did NOAA ever say that the cited surface station rules should be applied to the existing (surveyed) USHCN network? No. The network *pre-dates* the rules, and “correcting” an existing station requires establishing a second one on the same site (which for various reasons would make no sense).”

    When do you think they made the standards?

    At the time USHCN was put together there were standards for siting the surface stations and variances were granted to get a station where there would be none. These standards have been evolving since the late 19th century with the adoption of the Stevenson screen. NCDC calls the USHCN a high quality network, it isn’t – it is a fraud. Every scientist, every science enthusiast and every politician should be outraged no matter what their understanding of climate change happens to be.

    What you are saying is that there is no ‘historical’ record, so when NOAA or NASA say such and such month was the 3rd warmest on record they are liars. Talk about misleading: let’s use stations that are textbook examples of how not to measure temperature and say the earth is warming.

    To state it more concretely, both Kristin and you are saying that there is no historical record and I agree.

  42. #42 slpage
    April 16, 2008

    “NPR is not a reliable source anymore. They have been corrupted by the bush administration’s attempt to make everything political. They are a fox-lite quality about them. ”

    You aren’t kidding.

    I nearly popped an aneurism when Barbara Bradley-Haggerty did a story on Sternberg a year or so ago, and simply took everything he said at face value.
    Not once did she point out inconsistencies in his claims, not once did she ask if anything really happened to him, etc. Made me sick.

  43. #43 Mark
    April 16, 2008

    Is there a good website that explains the evidence for anthropogenic climate change, and takes apart the counterarguments, like talkorigins does for evolution?

  44. #44 Dacks
    April 16, 2008

    The test of whether she is applying a skeptical eye to the evidence is if she will change her opinion in the future if presented with convincing evidence. It is very hard to back down when so many are egging you on: Witness Sen. Clinton!

  45. #45 TK Kenyon
    April 16, 2008

    Dear folks,

    While the issue of a 16 yo kid becoming a leading global warming contrarian is devasting for its validity as a scientific theory, and it also seems that she indeed attended a short course at UGoog in Climate Science to arrive at her pre-ordained conclusions (which is the complete antithesis of how science should be conducted,) and that NPR is succumbing to natural selection by lowest common ratings denominator, it seems that there is more to this story.

    Personally, I’m not sold on the whole idea of global warming, man-made or not. I used to be. I was upset at the enormous amounts of CO2 that we humans were venting into the atmosphere, just like we exhaust raw sewage into our oceans, etc., etc., etc. It seemed that the consensus of the scientific community is that man-made global warming is a threat, and I generally go along with scientific consensus unless there’s a valid reason to doubt, and it had better be a good one. I don’t like the contrarian position.

    I do, however, like data. Hard data. Preferably raw, pre-crunched data.

    Here’s what changed my mind on global warming: I read that horrible anti-GW novel by Michael Crichton, which so sticks in my mind that I can’t recall the name, and I thought that this novel was so badly written that surely its conclusions can be tossed aside with great force. Crichton is both a horrid novelist and merely an MD.

    (Yes, I am arrogant to snark so widely. I hold a fiction MFA from Iowa, where I received many prizes, and have published two well-received novels. During my PhD work in microbiology, I taught medical students in a Midwestern medical school. They’re great at memorizing things but, let’s face it, medical school does not reward original thought nor critical thinking. Their exams are multiple-guess. So, I’m snarky and arrogant. Crichton has loads more money than I have and a huge house on Kauai. He can take the shot.)

    So, I set out on my own course of study at UGoog. I expected to quickly dismiss Crichton’s objections with data and confirm the majority opinion. It seems like an overwhelming opinion. I figured it would take an hour.

    Here’s what I found, the global warming data is terrible. The methods that collected the data that produced the scary graph that we’ve all seen (where temperature spikes up in the 1970’s) are beyond shaky. It’s really bad science.

    I read the whole UN report, and the data that is cited in the prologue, which everyone reads, is a minor part of the whole report. Only surface temps, and only those in major urban areas, are going up. Atmospheric temperatures are *not.* This is to be expected by the “heat island” effect, where asphalt retains more heat than soil and re-radiates this heat at night.

    Personally, I’m on the fence. The data behind GW, whether man-made or not, sucks.

    Here’s the problem: whenever you say that the data sucks, people jump on you like you insulted Jesus. They label you a “denialist” and, rather than debate the data, accuse you of wanting to rape the planet.

    The global warming debate has moved from the arena of science, where one is free to debate data, methods, and conclusions, and into the area of religion, where one must adhere to dogma or risk retribution.

    That’s a huge problem.

    When I published a short blog post about this (http://science4non-majors.blogspot.com/2007/11/hoax-of-global-warming-john-coleman.html ), I got hate mail. Not refute mail. Not argue mail. Hate mail.

    Even though my blog post encouraged recycling and conservation, people accused me of trying to destroy the planet.

    The debate about global warming must return to being a debate, not a tirade, not a crusade, and not a sermon.

    TK Kenyon
    http://www.tkkenyon.com
    http://science4non-majors.blogspot.com/

    Author of RABID: A Novel (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601640021 ) and CALLOUS: A Novel ( http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601640226 ), both about science and religion, with some sex and murder.

  46. #46 Mike
    April 16, 2008

    Kenyon wrote The debate about global warming must return to being a debate, not a tirade, not a crusade, and not a sermon.

    A debate among who? People who don’t know anything about climate modeling or oceanography?

    The problem is that this is a debate in which so many people feel they have a right to examine the data and draw conclusions. It strikes me that the only other area where people feel they have that right is evolution, where creationists motivated by belief seek to rework reams of biology, geology and chemistry to justify some emotional tradition.

    It’s difficult enough for scientists to draw conclusions, because it’s science where proof doesn’t exist and evidence is all we get. Couple that with a public who wants certainty and you get these kinds of debates when the evidence hits a nerve.

  47. #47 Miriam
    April 16, 2008

    Is it JM Barrie who said, “I’m not young enough to know everything”? So, this may be the Kristen Byrnes Still Young (and Callow) Enough to Know Everything Foundation.

    It is rather unfortunate when the story of an opinionated teenager is more popular than a discussion of the actual science involved and can not lead to an appropriate discussion on NPR of what is scepticism or contrarianism.

  48. #48 undeadgoat
    April 16, 2008

    Well, being a teenager, I’m not sure my opinion counts . . . :) But what I have to say in response to the “I need data” people is this: We don’t have enough data. We may never have enough data. The whole idea of science is not to gather so much data to conclusively prove things, but rather to create hypotheses that fit the data. I know more about climate science than a lot of my peers, although less than Ms. Byrnes. However, as an 18-year-old, I know that I am not in the best position to interpret the data, and I know that, considering how fiddly the global climate is, messing with atmospheric composition is probably not the best idea.

    Also, there are two definitions of skepticism out there, and both show up in this discussion. One is to not accept imperfect arguments that you should change your mind; the other kind is to constantly question your own beliefs and to be willing to find them lacking. The former is the kind Ms. Byrnes possesses; the latter is the kind that’s good for science.

    (Also, seriously, using the word “anthropogenic” to scoff at a friend who believes science usually produces truth even f she can’t quote specific figures? That’s just plain mean.)

  49. #49 Samia
    April 16, 2008

    Mike said:

    “The problem is that this is a debate in which so many people feel they have a right to examine the data and draw conclusions.”

    Everyone does have that right…but it’s a bit silly for a layperson to expect to be taken as seriously as a specialist, IMO. Still, I think it’s important for everyone to have access to as much peer-reviewed science as possible.

    I feel a little guilty for waffling even a little about this subject. I have no idea where to start my research; everyone has their own ideas and I don’t feel free to even ask questions without being judged by people I respect. What kills me is that if humans do contribute to global warming, then the “punishment” is not hitting us all equally and the people contributing most to the problem are not really going to take the brunt of the consequences.

    I appreciate everyone’s comments.

  50. #50 Steve Bloom
    April 16, 2008

    Bob Koepp and Bill Habr variously defend Byrnes against my assertion that she lied at the very start of her blog.

    Byrnes says in part: “Of the 1,221 United States Historic Climate Network stations that are used to measure global warming in the US, over 500 have been surveyed and photographed by Anthony and his volunteers. 85% of the stations thus far surveyed violate the rules for locating stations.”

    Given Byrnes’ great familiarity with the surface stations project, if the reference is to the CRN siting standards the case is closed. Note that these rules date to the 1990s and greatly postdate the siting of the COOP stations that were used to create the USHCN in the 1980s.

    So the question is simply which rules were used by Watts. Scrolling down through his posts, we find this recent one rating slightly over 500 USHCN stations. The CRN standards are clearly used and there’s not one reference to any USHCN standards. Case closed.

    It’s probably worth pointing out that while it would be perfectly appropriate to use the CRN standards to site new USHCN stations (if there were any), it’s fraudulent to use them (as Watts does) as the standard for grading the value of station data.

    Any further questions?

  51. #51 m hall
    April 16, 2008

    TK Kenyon,
    The Crichton book you are thinking about is State of Fear, which I found nearly as repulsive as his attack on nanotechnology in Prey. However, it was my first source of references for (seemingly) legitimate information refuting the flood of global warming hysteria I see everyday, and it has also instilled in me a degree of skepticism on the topic. I am glad to see someone else on the fence in the light of available data on the subject.

  52. #52 John Mashey
    April 16, 2008

    mark:
    I recommend John Cook’s nice website Skeptical Science, which ha a sorted list of popular arguments, each a a page explaining the argument, the errors in it, and references to serious papers, plus places where the arguments are repeated.

    it is very usable in the form:
    “XYZ is repeating standard arguments, 3, 6 and 8″

    TK: it would be well worth your while to watch the 58-minute video of Naomi Oreskes, of which the first half is a good hsitory of climate science, and the second half is about the George Marshall Institite, and the peculiar way in which denialism got going with 3 cold-war physicists who were once excellent scientists.

    http://www.uctv.tv/search-details.asp?showID=13459

  53. #53 H-Bob
    April 16, 2008

    The “Maunder” analogy postulates that Solar radiation is increasing (the Maunder minimum was a decrease in solar radiation), but have the proponents provided any supporting data.
    –Wouldn’t there be satellite data about the trends in solar radiation (communications satellites would need to adjust their transmissions, satellites using solar power would be affected, and astronomical pictures would be affected) ?
    –Solar radiation would be increased across the entire spectrum (UV, visible light and infrared) but there hasn’t been any noticeable increase in visible light (the primary radiation produced by the sun);
    –warming due to the sun has a different transmission method (radiation) than terrestrial-produced heat (conduction) but they haven’t provided any data evidencing such warming;
    –the warming caused by solar radiation would have different effects on oceans and land but there is no data supporting such differential warming;
    –there hasn’t been any data presented to show a better correlation between atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by increased solar output than from human activity.

    I realize that the global warming deniers are pulling alternate theories out of their rectums but they should be forced to provide data for such alternate theories.

  54. #54 John Mashey
    April 16, 2008

    H-Bob: some the relevant arguments:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php
    1 [sun]
    48 [hotsun]
    46 [solarcycle]
    25 [oldice]

  55. #55 Mark P
    April 16, 2008

    Lest anyone think about using Michael Crichton as a source of any kind of valid information about any technical or scientific subject, consider the fact that he believes in mental spoon bending. See his site:http://www.crichton-official.com/qa-travels.html

  56. #56 Chris Noble
    April 17, 2008

    A quibble: What this kid is doing is most definitely not skepticism, and you shouldn’t have called it that. What this kid is demonstrating is pseudoskepticism, in which she looks for evidence to support a preexisting viewpoint and dismisses evidence that does not.

    The title of the thread suggests that it is not surprising that teenagers are skeptical. That’s not really describing her position. Teenage anti-authoritarian rebellion would be better.

    She may grow out of this phase or maybe like other Denialists she could remain a perpetual teenager fighting against Big Science.

  57. #57 guthrie
    April 17, 2008

    TK Kenyon- Unfortunately, regarding global warming, you have been misinformed.

    For starters, the science in global warming has never left the realm of science. Secondly, it actually supports the conclusions. Thirdly, it seems you have attracted some stupid people. I see plenty of stupid people on this issue, however they are usually on the “AGW doesn’t exist and you’re a greenie commmie trying to destroy capitalism” side of the fence.

    Anyway, lets take your complaints in order.
    According to you, the temperature collection methods are dodgy. ACtually, this is well known. That is why the trends for the warming are taken from rural stations, i.e. ones without urban island heat effect (Which anyway has been shown to be surprisingly small anyway).
    Remember it is trends here that are most important, not just absolute temperature. Why, a poster on I think it was climate audit got so wound up about the whole contamination of surface station records that they took the data only from stations that CA and others thought were good (In the USA), and analysed it, and got almost identical results to the analysis using all stations, thus showing that the climatologists knew what they were doing.

    This result was quickly buried.

    If you did read the Entire IPCC report, you would have come across all the other things confirming warming. In fact you don’t need the report to confirm warming. In my lifetime spring has moved back almost 4 weeks, and grass now only stops growing for about 2 months in winter. (THis is in central Scotland)

    But anyway, if you had read the report, you would find that warming through greenhouse gases is supported by several facts- the Stratosphere cooling, due to the greenhouse gases in the Troposphere. THis is a prediction of the theory. Same goes for increased night time temperatures across the world.
    If you truly believe that only surface tempts in urban areas are going up, then I am afraid that you have not read the report and understood it.
    The data is unequivocal, despite what you think of it.

    THe satellite measurements clearly show a warming troposphere:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satellite_temperature_measurements

  58. #58 Julie Stahlhut
    April 17, 2008

    I have my own litmus test to distinguish rational from kneejerk thinking. When someone claims that someone can actually “make” another person think something, that person is not quite ready for prime time yet. (And, yes, I’m aware of the implied false dichotomies. Litmus paper doesn’t provide the fine resolution of a top-of-the-line pH meter. But sometimes a coarse scale is all you need.)

    The people who don’t outgrow or outlearn that attitude become the ones who believe that debate can provide an answer to a scientific question.

  59. #59 yogi-one
    April 17, 2008

    NPR is trash. They are run by Christians with an anti-science agenda. They run pro-ID and Creationist stories all the time. The person who controls their funding is a fundamentalist Christian and a former Chairman of the National Republican Committee.

    This is not an ad-hominem attack. Rather, I am pointing out that to get their programming approved for funding, NPR has to satisfy a fundamentalist Christian who occupies the position of deciding what programming gets money.

    In my town, the primary vehicle for NPR is run by a religious educational institution. Their organization rests on certain theological concepts and while they are not hard-core fundies by any means, the acceptance of certain ideas is obvious when you listen to their programming.

    NPR is also one the primary media outlets that has been telling everybody that the surge is Iraq is working, and an outlet for White House talking points.
    They should call themselves National Republican Radio because that more accurately describes them.

    The FOX-lite moniker someone above tagged them with is exactly accurate.

    The young lady in the story has wandered into territory such that she must now come through with the science that proves her viewpoint. Where’s her hypothesis? Where’s her rigorous testing with controls constructed to prevent bias in her experiments? What has she done besides read other people’s opinions and decide whose side she wants to be on?

    I understand she’s only 15 years old, but that is not a reason to uncritically accept what she or anyone is saying about climate change. Besides, there are many young science students her age that regularly complete science projects where they are are required to test their conclusions rigorously.

    And will what she’s saying be more true BECAUSE she’s fiffteen? No. If that was the case, then when she turns 21 all her arguments are voided.

    This is exactly the kind of fodder you would expect to be trumpeted around the newsphere by people who can’t provide the science to back up their views.

  60. #60 Eli Rabett
    April 17, 2008

    Besides failing graph cut and paste, Kristen also learned to build strawmen in arts class. First time around everyone tried to be nice to her, but it is clear that nice don’t get her attention.

  61. #61 yogi-one
    April 17, 2008

    OK, I”ll tone it down since my last comment didn’t pass the site admin.

    But my basic points still stand:

    1. The teenager is in way over her head. She has wandered right into the arena of trying to analyze and verify data far beyond what she has the skills, or at this point, the resources, to do. Furthermore, refutations of her project cannot be based on how old she is – that is, she’s not less wrong because she’s younger.

    2. NPR is a bad news source, and it is because key people in areas of funding allocation for public broadcasting are Bush-era appointees, and their religious beliefs and party affiliation were part of what they were evaluated on to get their positions.

    Beyond that, this brings up a thorny issue best described in Kenyon’s comment:

    If you are not a climatologist, what is the correct approach towards educating yourself about the issue, and being able to decide on a stance?

    Scientists often complain about uninformed public opinion, and I guess even the ScienceBlogs are an attempt to engage the wider public in awareness of science and the scientific community.

    So, scientists, have at it: how does American Joe or Jane, with his/her blue collar job, or even his/her white collar middle-management position, get properly informed about a science issue and come to a conclusion that is actually based upon good science?

    I guess for many people UGoog has been filling that gap. My, ain’t that awful! So what’s the right way to do it? I mean, for the rest of us, who don’t have master’s degrees in science?

  62. #62 Bill Habr
    April 17, 2008

    Steve Bloom,

    They are using data from those stations today. Do you want to complain that the standards used by Watts aren’t valid today? Why are the data from these sites are being used today??

    Furthermore, it has been well known for more than 60 years that placing surface station sites in parking lots, on roofs, next to asphalt or next to any heat source is bad science. To use such stations for climate is bad science, bad ethics and deliberate fraud. For a scientist to do so is inexcusable. Continued use of such claims as March 2008 was the “x” warmest in 129 years when you do not have a valid network is UNETHICAL.

    When they decided to use existing stations each station should have been surveyed to see if it met the basic standard (comparable to about class 1 and class 2 of what Watts is using). You also need a complete station history and a complete data set for the stations used.

  63. #63 guthrie
    April 17, 2008

    Bill Habr asks why they are still using data from the sites.
    Short answer- because we don’t have a time machine.

    Long answer- because we really need the trend, and various corrections are in place to deal with the worst issues, and they are actually setting up a definitive more careful network of sites just now, and it is useful to have what comparisons they can. If we could go back in time and correct all these sites, and give the people in charge of them enough funding to make sure everything was up to top specifications, we’d all be really really happy. Unfortunately that is not the case.

    Please get off your high horse- even the grass out the side of my house knows it is warming. It hardly stopped growing all winter.

  64. #64 guthrie
    April 17, 2008

    Yogi-one asks:

    “So, scientists, have at it: how does American Joe or Jane, with his/her blue collar job, or even his/her white collar middle-management position, get properly informed about a science issue and come to a conclusion that is actually based upon good science?”

    I haev no really good answers, but what seems to help are several things. They should read things like Scientific american and New Scientist. They should be prepared to learn lots of annoying basic stuff and hurting their brains in trying to get their heads around it all. I still don’t quite get the Stephan Boltzman equation even now.
    we need more scientists effectively communicating, although not everyone can do that. We need better journalists, because I have lost count of the number of people who are vehemently for or against something because of a badly written newspaper article which they think is correct.

    I’d also like to make all scientific papers available online after a certain period, say 5 or 10 years. There are pro’s and con’s to this, but I think the pros outweight the cons.

  65. #65 steve
    April 17, 2008

    Bill,

    It does not matter if a temperature sensor is in a parking lot, or on top of a volcano for that matter. The data is better for it. Its called statistical sampling. As long as its not indoors, its measuring the outdoor temperature. If that air is heated, its still outdoor air, and thus should be measured. That’s not to say that this data should not face a test of validity, but its not correct to dismiss old data because you don’t like the sampling. The data can easily be studied by a statistician to test for significant effects from these sorts of things. I believe they have, and ergo your point is moot.

  66. #66 Bill Habr
    April 17, 2008

    guthrie,

    Do you need just any old trend or the correct trend?

    There are not corrections for these specific problems. And, you don’t need a time machine – just use only good sites in the network, it is really that simple. The fact that there is a station in place does not mean that it has to be used. In fact they don’t use all stations in the United States for the USHCN.

    Steve,

    The idea that it doesn’t matter would make it simple – only use good sites or use only bad sites, after all, “it doesn’t matter”.

    If only good sites are used then what?
    No global warming? I doubt it.

    The idea is to use the best – the best measurements, the best science.

  67. #67 Bill Habr
    April 17, 2008

    “That’s not to say that this data should not face a test of validity, but its not correct to dismiss old data because you don’t like the sampling. The data can easily be studied by a statistician to test for significant effects from these sorts of things. I believe they have, and ergo your point is moot.”

    You believe they have?
    You are saying that the elimination was done by statistics? Then the sites would not be in the network they would be eliminated, but they are there.

  68. #68 guthrie
    April 18, 2008

    But Bill, that is the problem- how do you know what is the correct trend?
    I submit that you, sitting behind your computer, do not know.
    Fortunately, the GISS data in the USA takes the trend from the rural stations. This eliminates most of the issues that might arise from UHI.
    THe fact that you keep talking about using only good sites shows that you have completely missed the point.

  69. #69 Bill Habr
    April 18, 2008

    guthrie,

    I am not talking about the UHI adjustment. The fact that you bring it up shows that you have completely missed the point!!

    It is not just urban sites that I am talking about here. What I am talking about are sites that, whether they are rural or urban, are too close to asphalt, shaded, too close to air conditioner exhaust or too close to parked cars and so on.

    Try again.

  70. #70 Bubs
    April 18, 2008

    Let me take a stab at this.

    It is my understanding that they are looking for changes in temperatures between years, not temperatures themselves. So if a station where located in the middle of a parking lot and the average temperature changed two degrees between two years you would get the same reading from that station and one that is better located despite the one in the parking lot being hotter.

    This assumes that the number of sunny days is about the same between the two years, something which certainly could be compensated for if untrue.

    Also, and more importantly, you seem to think that no data is better than bad data.

  71. #71 Bill Habr
    April 18, 2008

    Bubs,

    First, I think good science trumps bad science.

    Second, What is being looked for is consistency, the standards are set so that you do have the consistency you need for such comparisons.

    Third, While there are adjustments for some things what we are talking about isn’t adjusted for.

    Fourth, we are talking about only a segment of the evidence for global warming if it is an important segement then doing it right makes sense.

    Fifth, you seem to think that bad data is better than good data.

  72. #72 Bubs
    April 18, 2008

    “First, I think good science trumps bad science.”

    Great, wonderful. But how do you do any science if you insist on throwing all the data out?

    “Third, While there are adjustments for some things what we are talking about isn’t adjusted for.”

    such as?

    “Second, What is being looked for is consistency, the standards are set so that you do have the consistency you need for such comparisons.”

    It is my understanding have enough consistency to make good comparisons, we happen to be going for great comparisons.

    “Fourth, we are talking about only a segment of the evidence for global warming if it is an important segement then doing it right makes sense.”

    Out of curiosity, who ever got up and said “lets do it all wrong”? This reaks of FUD.

    “Fifth, you seem to think that bad data is better than good data.”

    Untrue. And at least I dont insist on throwing the data out for (at best) arbitrary reasons.

  73. #73 Steve Bloom
    April 18, 2008

    Bill Habr, just for the record note that:

    1) I challenged the very first statement in Byrnes’ blog on the grounds that she asserted that siting rules pertinent to the USHCN were being used to rate it, whereas as in fact the CRN standards were being used by Watts, and further that the CRN standards were not intended for such a purpose (i.e. rating and excluding “bad” station data).

    2) You said I was wrong.

    3) I proved I was right with a link to the relevant Watts post.

    4) You responded with a general attack on the validity of the USHCN surface station data. This is known as a “strawman” argument.

    5) You have demonstrated the behavior of a troll.

    6) Rather than aping Watts, you could look into this stuff yourself.

  74. #74 Neuro-conservative
    April 19, 2008

    The proffered solution to “adjust the data” leaves much to be desired. Especially when the errors are not constant, as when an exhaust fan or asphalt pavement is installed near a previously unobstructed reporting station.

    But how do you do any science if you insist on throwing all the data out?

    Let’s put it this way: I want to study the behavior of Martians. I do not have direct observations, but I can collect a variety of data points from the works of Ray Bradbury, Tim Burton, and Marvin the Martian. Should I “do” the science, or I should I throw the “data” out?

  75. #75 Bill Habr
    April 19, 2008

    Bubs,

    “Great, wonderful. But how do you do any science if you insist on throwing all the data out?”

    I want to thow out bad data, why do you assume that all the data are bad?

    “”Third, While there are adjustments for some things what we are talking about isn’t adjusted for.”

    such as?”

    Learn what they are and what are the strengths and weaknesses.

    “Out of curiosity, who ever got up and said “lets do it all wrong”? ”

    No one it just happened

    “Fifth, you seem to think that bad data is better than good data.”

    “Untrue. And at least I dont insist on throwing the data out for (at best) arbitrary reasons.”

    Are all the stations bad?

    Will, with the bad stations thrown out, show global warming is not happening?

  76. #76 Bill Habr
    April 19, 2008

    Steve:

    I do happen to think that the CRN standards should be applied to the USHCN, so my argument has been about why the stations that don’t meet those standards should not be used.

    What is the quality of the network? Is a 5ºC site bias acceptable? Is greater than 2ºC site bias acceptable? Is greater than 1ºC site bias acceptable? These are the kinds ofthings I think about.

  77. #77 Bill Habr
    April 19, 2008

    Steve,
    Another thought:

    You are objecting to a standard that has been in use for a long time, no matter what it is named, the results are the same. The standard used by Byrnes and Watts is class 2 or better, class 2 is the same, except for using 30 meters instead of 100 feet (change to metric,don’t ya know), as the standard for station sites. They are the standards I learned in school back in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

  78. #78 guthrie
    April 19, 2008

    Someone at Climate Audit did some useful work and compared stations in the USA which were CRN 1 and CRN 5. His results can be summarised thus:

    “I compared the best stations (according to surfacestations.org) to GISTEMP and found them to be very close. I compared the worst stations to GISTEMP, and found that they showed a warming trend.

    The GISTEMP results are close to the results from the top 13% of all US48 stations.

    There have been a lot of accusations here that Hansen et al are fudging the numbers to show an artificial warming trend. My results show the same trend with the best stations and no adjustments applied.”

    So, yes, you lot do need to ensure you have decent temperature stations, but the errors do not seem to be as huge as certain people would have you believe.

    Link to John V’s graphs:
    http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=2061#comment-137949

  79. #79 Steve Bloom
    April 20, 2008

    Bill Habr, now you’re just making stuff up. The CRN standards did not exist prior to the 1990s, and for that matter weren’t even developed in this country. They could not have been the standards you “learned in school back in the late 1950s or early 1960s.”

    Furthermore, the standards cannot be used to calculate error. They are a seat-of-the-pants approach, nothing more than a vague approximation of maximum possible error. What Watts tries to do with them is basically fraudulent.

  80. #80 Bill Habr
    April 20, 2008

    Steve,

    You:
    “Bill Habr, now you’re just making stuff up. The CRN standards did not exist prior to the 1990s, and for that matter weren’t even developed in this country. They could not have been the standards you “learned in school back in the late 1950s or early 1960s.””

    Me: “You are objecting to a standard that has been in use for a long time, no matter what it is named, the results are the same. The standard used by Byrnes and Watts is class 2 or better, class 2 is the same, except for using 30 meters instead of 100 feet (change to metric,don’t ya know), as the standard for station sites. They are the standards I learned in school back in the late 1950s or early 1960s.”

    I didn’t say the CRN standards existed then, I said that the Class 2 of the CRN standard is the same as the siting standard in the 1950s.

    To sum up

    (1)There were siting standards in the 1950s that are the equivalent of the CRN class 2.

    2) 87% of the USHCN stations do not meet the 1950s siting standard.

    3) 87% of the USHCN stations do not meet the CRN class 2 or better siting standard.

    4) Evaluating the USHCN stations by the CRN standards does not change the percentage.

    5) Even if there had been no standards whatsoever before the CRN standards were made I would expect the USHCN stations to be evaluated in the light of the new information. Indeed, good science would require it.

    Can you give a valid scientific reason not to use the old (and current except for the change to metric) station siting standard?

    Can you give a valid scientific reason not to use the CRN siting standard?

  81. #81 Steve Bloom
    April 20, 2008

    Bill Habr, you’re wiggling around again.

    To repeat what I said previously, the CRN standards are fine as *siting* standards. Nothing in them or in any predecessor standards that could be applied to the USHCN stations says anything about invalidating station data based on apparent violations. Many factors can affect data quality, including but far from limited to station location, and station data is examined to determine the presence of such factors and then the necessary adjustments are applied. That’s the scientific approach, and is just what is done.

    But let’s see a link to those 1950s standards and in particular where they say that an existing station found to be in violation of them should have its data thrown out.

  82. #82 Bill Habr
    April 21, 2008

    Steve,

    In the 1950s there was no thought of using these sites for climate study. In order to get stations variances were granted. If you put a station on a college campus you put it where you are told by the college administration said to, if they say move it you move it. As changes are made to equipment more problems cropped up. When the USHCN was being put together they should have set up the station parameters they needed and then looked at each station to see if it fit the parameters, this wasn’t done. They assumed the network to be good enough so they could use a statistical method to catch problems, it isn’t. Then they assume the network is good enough to use it to adjust for problems, it isn’t. This is not a scientific approach it is bad science. If 87% of the network met the siting standards then you could do the adjsutments with no problem, hell, you wouldn’t even have to have 87% good.

    As to:
    “But let’s see a link to those 1950s standards and in particular where they say that an existing station found to be in violation of them should have its data thrown out.”

    Show me where anywhere that says that you can even use suspect data much less bad data in science.

  83. #83 Steve Bloom
    April 21, 2008

    Bill Habr, all you need to do is look at the documentation on the NOAA and GISS sites. If you can’t find them, just look for the links in the relevant posts on Watts’ site. The nice thing about long time-series is that problems are amenable to analysis. See here for some good discussions of that.

    On the other point, I believe you’re now just dodging the issue. Don’t make claims you can’t back up.

  84. #84 Bill Habr
    April 21, 2008

    Janet, I want to apologize for continuing this discussion for so long.

    To me the question is simple: What is good science and what is good ethics?

    Steve,
    I have read the documentation:

    Areal Edited (Raw)
    A quality control procedure is performed that uses trimmed means and standard deviations in comparison with surrounding stations to identify suspects (> 3.5 standard deviations away from the mean) and outliers (> 5.0 standard deviations). Until recently these suspects and outliers were hand-verified with the original records. However, with the development of more sophisticated QC procedures at NCDC, this has been found to be unnecessary.

    TOBS (Time of Observation)
    The temperature data are adjusted for the time-of-observation bias (Karl, et al. 1986), which occurs when observing times are changed from midnight to some time earlier in the day. The ending time of the 24-h climatological day varies from station to station and/or over a period of years at a given station. The time of observation (TOB) introduces a non-climatic bias into the monthly means. The TOB software is an empirical model used to estimate the TOB biases associated with different observation schedules and the routine computes the TOB with respect to daily readings taken at midnight.

    MMTS (Maximum/Minimum Temperature System)
    Temperature data at stations that have the Maximum/Minimum Temperature System (MMTS) are adjusted for the bias introduced when the liquid-in-glass thermometers were replaced with the MMTS (Quayle et al. 1991). The MMTS program debiases the data obtained from stations with MMTS sensors. The NWS has replaced a majority of the liquid-in-glass thermometers in wooden Cotton-Region shelters with thermistor based maximum-minimum temperature systems (MMTS) housed in smaller plastic shelters. This adjustment removes the MMTS bias for stations so equipped with this type of sensor. The adjustment factors are most appropriate for use when time series of states or larger areas are required.

    SHAP (Station History Adjustment Program)
    The homogeneity adjustment scheme described in Karl and Williams (1987) is performed using the station history metadata file to account for time series discontinuities due to random station moves and other station changes. The debiased data from the MMTS adjustment are then entered into the Station History Adjustment Program or SHAP. The SHAP allows a climatological time series of temperature and precipitation adjustment for station inhomogeneities using station history information. The adjusted data retain their original scale and are not anomaly series. The methodology uses the concepts of relative homogeneity and standard parametric (temperature) and non parametric (precipitation) statistics to adjust the data. In addition, this technique provides an estimate of the confidence interval associated with each adjustment. The SHAP program debiases the data with respect to changes other than the MMTS conversion to produced the â€Ŕadjusted dataâ€?. Specific details on the procedures used are given by Karl and Williams (1987).

    FILNET (Fill Missing Original Data in the Network)
    Estimates for missing data are provided using a procedure similar to that used in SHAP. This adjustment uses the debiased data from the SHAP and fills in missing original data when needed (i.e. calculates estimated data) based on a â€Ŕnetworkâ€? of the best correlated nearby stations. The FILNET program also completed the data adjustment process for stations that moved too often for SHAP to estimate the adjustments needed to debias the data.

    Urban (Urban Warming Adjustment)
    The final adjustment is for an urban warming bias which uses the regression approach outlined in Karl et al. (1988). The result of this adjustment is the â€Ŕfinalâ€? version of the data.

    The Areal Edited, TOBS, FILNET, and Urban data files are available in this version of the USHCN. The MMTS and SHAP iterations of the data are also available (email D. Kaiser at CDIAC), but are used less often in favor of the FILNET data files, which incorporate both the MMTS and SHAP adjustments

    If enough stations have more than 1ºC of bias then both the Areal Edited and SHAP are worthless.
    The resulting data may look correct by accident, happenstance, coincidence or luck but it is not science.

    To me this is about science, good science and ethics. You insult, dodge and weave, you have called me a liar and a troll, you have presented red herrings and you don’t present any science. To state it more concretely: I want the best science, you want whatever shows evidence for whatever you believe.

  85. #85 Steve Bloom
    April 22, 2008

    Bill Habr, this interchange began with your attempt to defend Byrnes’ assertion that Watts had used USHCN standards to question the validity of USHCN data. I pointed out (with a link) that no, in fact Watts had (inappropriately) used CRN standards. Rather than admitting error, you argued that really Byrnes was just referring to the CRN 2 standard, that this standard had existed in the 1950s and that it had been applied to the USHCN. I asked for proof of this and you couldn’t provide it. Instead you shifted to a generalized attack on the USHCN data. I responded by pointing out that appropriate adjustments are applied to extract value from even “suspect” (your term) data. You responded by saying basically that you don’t like the adjustments, again backing up your disapproval with nothing more than your own opinion. That’s trolling.

  86. #86 Bill Habr
    April 22, 2008

    Steve,

    I did not say that she used the USHCN standards.

    You say that Watts used the standards inappropriately but provide no scientific reason.

    I did not say that the CRN standard existed in the 1950s, what I said is that the standard in use in the 1950s that is 100′ from artificial heat sources is the same as the CRN class 2, I also said this standard was in effect when the USHCN was put together and SHOULD have been used.

    You asked for proof of what I did NOT say. (Typical strawman argument)

    You claim that “appropriate” adjustments are made. You either do not understand or purposely ignore how the adjustments are made. I repeat : If enough stations have more than 1ºC of bias then both the Areal Edited and SHAP are worthless, the adjustments are made by comparing data to data from stations which also have an overwhelming chance of bias.

    It is not a question of liking or disliking it is a question of SCIENCE and ETHICS.

    Your message loud and clear is that scientists know the best way to measure temperature BUT when it comes to global warming they don’t have to use it, they can make adjustments, just trust them (wink, wink), they know best (wink, wink).

    Are you trying to create skeptics?

    You are a damn good example of how not to frame the argument.

  87. #87 Steve Bloom
    April 23, 2008

    “You say that Watts used the standards inappropriately but provide no scientific reason.”

    Shoe, meet other foot. The point is that NOAA says the dandards are for *siting the CRN*, not for *grading the USHCN*. Given that, prior to using them for the latter purpose Watts needed to demonstrate (scientifically) that they’re suitable for such a purpose. Maybe that could be done, but the point is that he didn’t do it.

    Let’s consider a current example from Watts’ blog, a small sidewalk next to a temperature sensor. Note that the CRN rules include no size limits for the amount of reflective surface (concrete in this case) that might create a problem. Going to the CRN site and looking at the station photos, we can see that the sensor arrays are set into… concrete pads. They’re not very big, but hey, a reflective surface is a reflective surface and we need to be literal here. IOW, by Watts’ logic all of the CRN data is junk. Alternatively, common sense will tell is that a sufficiently small and/or thin piece of concrete (like that sidewalk or the CRN pads) won’t have a significant effect on the readings, certainly less than the differing ground conditions to be found under the CRN arrays (tall grass vs. short grass vs. gravel etc.). But of course the rule doesn’t distinguish any of this and Watts, who is after all no scientist, doesn’t want to even consider the issue.

    Re “If enough stations have more than 1ºC of bias then both the Areal Edited and SHAP are worthless, the adjustments are made by comparing data to data from stations which also have an overwhelming chance of bias.” You repeated it but didn’t source it. Does NOAA agree?

  88. #88 Bill Habr
    April 24, 2008

    “The point is that NOAA says the dandards are for *siting the CRN*, not for *grading the USHCN*. Given that, prior to using them for the latter purpose Watts needed to demonstrate (scientifically) that they’re suitable for such a purpose. Maybe that could be done, but the point is that he didn’t do it.”

    The fact is that the CRN standards are appropriate to judge any weather station used for climate research (look up what the “C” in USHCN stands for), this is bloody obvious to anyone involved in climate research. And, because Watts is meeting with and making a presentation to NCDC yesterday and today we will find out what they say.

    “Re “If enough stations have more than 1ºC of bias then both the Areal Edited and SHAP are worthless, the adjustments are made by comparing data to data from stations which also have an overwhelming chance of bias.” You repeated it but didn’t source it. Does NOAA agree?”

    Do the math yourself.

  89. #89 Steve Bloom
    April 24, 2008

    Those are all the answers anyone needs, I think. This was fun! Thanks, Bill.

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