Attacking Climate Science and Scientists

You are a scientists and you are doing two things.

First, you have finished a preliminary study and submitted a grant proposal based on your evolving idea about something, and you have just submitted a related paper to a peer reviewed journal. Well, OK, that's a bunch of things, but they are all related to the temporal stream of the research you are expected to do as a member of the academic community.

Second, you are having conversations with your mentor, your colleagues, others, about this research in which you are traveling up and down various alleyways searching for answers to outstanding questions, ways to refine your methodology, approaches to explaining complex things. Most of the time, just when you think you might have cornered an answer, it turns out to be just another question briefly disguised as a result. But, the whole time, you are having this conversation and it is fruitful and productive, and helps your research move forward.

Suddenly, Nefarious Guy, who is the antagonist in this story, appears on the scene. The first thing Nefarious Guy does is to force you to release the data from your preliminary study, and to put a copy of the peer reviewed paper you've submitted on the internet. The result? Some bogus dood at another institution gets hold of your preliminary study, publishes the result under his own name. Meanwhile, the journal contacts you and says they are rejecting your paper. They want new, as yet undistributed results taking up the precious pages of their journal, and your paper is no longer new, since it is all over the internet. The last four years of work is now severely damaged. Your tenure committee is not impressed with your excuses. Your career is damaged. Later, when you give a talk to some high school kids on what is like to be a scientist, a youngster asks, "What advice would you give to someone like me, who really wants to be a scientist?" You are compelled, ethically, to tell her to start off by making friends with a lawyer and not having very high expectations for her career.

But Nefarious Guy did not end his antics there. He also got hold of many of those conversations you've been having with your colleagues. You see, those conversations, in conformity with the way the modern world works, have largely been via email, and these emails have been acquired and made public. Now, Nefarious Guy and his minions have been mining these emails and putting bits and pieces of them out there, stripped of their actual context and embedded in a stream of lies about how the research was done and what the motivations of the researcher "really" are.

This dishonest misrepresentation of the honest conversations you've had does not damage your career, because all the other scientists and academics, including the granting agencies, can see right through Nefarious Guy's exploits. But his actions do something worse. They damage science itself, because they become part of the public discourse, and the public is generally gullible, often looking for a reason to complain anyway, and do not understand the nature of what has happened.

Nefarious Guy is a stand in for any number of politically motivated science deniers who wish to damage the scientific process, discredit the widely held scientific consensus on climate change, and punish individual scientists for being honest and truthful.

One such individual is Congressman Lemar Smith of Texas. Michael Mann, a climate scientist who has been subjected to some of this sort of nefarious activity, recently wrote an Op Ed in the New York Times that talks about Smith's assault on climate science.

Mann notes that Smith "has long disputed the overwhelming scientific evidence that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are changing the climate. Now he is using his committee chairmanship to go after the government’s own climate scientists, whose latest study is an inconvenience to his views."

Last month, Smith subpoenaed climate scientist Kathryn Sullivan of NOAA demanding the release of those honest convo emails and other similar documents pertaining to climate change related research published in Science. The study produced results most inconvenient. Essentially, it was a detailed look at the data showing that the famous #FauxPause in the rise of global surface temperatures was indeed faux.

NOAA told Smith to take a hike. Smith doubled down. More than once. It is important to note that no one is denying access to data, methods, or results. The entire scientific community is appalled at Congressman Smith's requests and his implications that these scientists are up to something. The information Smith needs to prove himself wrong are available. This is nothing but an expeditionary move to damage science and some of the scientists who do that science.

Mann notes that Smith has tried to do this sort of damage before, sometimes with success.

Mann concludes,

While there is no doubt climate change is real and caused by humans, there is absolutely a debate to be had about the details of climate policy, and there are prominent Republicans participating constructively in that discourse. Let’s hear more from these sensible voices. And let’s end the McCarthy-like assault on science led by the Lamar Smiths of the world. Our nation is better than that.

The New York Times gave Smith right of reply, in which he doubles down yet again, asserting that "federal employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have altered temperature data to try to refute an 18-year plateau in global temperatures..." He insists that satellite data refute the idea that warming has continued. That satellite data to which he refers is the cooked up unpublished and unreviewed, known-to-be-faulty bogus result of a couple of science deniers. Well, it is published, in a blog post, but not in the peer reviewed literature.

No wonder so many Americans distrust Congress. Both houses.

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"That satellite data to which he refers is the cooked up unpublished and unreviewed, known-to-be-faulty bogus result of a couple of science deniers. Well, it is published, in a blog post, but not in the peer reviewed literature."

Those data, if they had any validity at all (I am skeptical they do), would represent what--- about 0.12% of Earth's climate system?

By Desertphile (not verified) on 10 Dec 2015 #permalink

Interesting that you paired Smith's photo with one of McCarthy.
McCarthy died in 1957, and is buried in a large cemetery in Wisconsin - more or less in a backwater, and the better part of a lifetime ago. Yet still, apparently, several times a year, individuals are caught pissing on his grave. These are not pilgrims who have made special trips for this purpose, but seem to be travellers passing through the town where McCarthy is buried, who get wind of the location of his final resting place and make an effort to express their feelings.
I wonder if this is the way that Lamar Smith wishes to be remembered.

Why wait until he's buried?

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 10 Dec 2015 #permalink

Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn't the satellite data also required adjustments to correct for various conditions and to calibrate and interpret it in a useful way?

By skeptictmac57 (not verified) on 10 Dec 2015 #permalink

skeptictmac57: "Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t the satellite data also required adjustments to correct for various conditions and to calibrate and interpret it in a useful way?"

Oh, yes indeed: many times. :-) What with getting the signs backwards (negative for positive, positive for negative), stratospheric contamination, orbital decay, mutable and shifting centers of gravity, poor IR shielding, redundant geographical measurements, and I suspect Giant Mutant Space Goats, the data are pretty much useless for climatology. Dozens of "fixes" have been proposed. If the satellites all just suddenly fell out of the sky, or were eaten by the Giant Mutant Space Goat, or placed on the "B" Ark and ejected in to deep space never to be seen again, humanity will have lost utterly nothing to cry about.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 10 Dec 2015 #permalink

In reply to by skeptictmac57 (not verified)

The New York Times gave Smith right of reply, in which he doubles down yet again, asserting that “federal employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have altered temperature data to try to refute an 18-year plateau in global temperatures…”

Smith has a very simple recourse - compare the NOAA results with temperature databases constructed other countries. NOAA doesn't rule the world.

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 10 Dec 2015 #permalink

Bernard J.: "Smith has a very simple recourse – compare the NOAA results with temperature databases constructed other countries. NOAA doesn’t rule the world."

Or he could have just asked a few scientists. One would think the chairperson on a congressional science committee would do that.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 11 Dec 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Bernard J. (not verified)

Bernard J

Smith has a very simple recourse – compare the NOAA results with temperature databases constructed other countries. NOAA doesn’t rule the world.

Our resident conspiracy theorist refused to respond to this point. I suggested that if NOAA is falsifying its results then so are GISS, Hadley/CRU etc. Otherwise there would be obvious divergence between NOAA and the rest.

So, either NOAA is falsely accused of scientific misconduct or the conspiracy of liberal scientists to enslave the world is much more widespread that Smith realises.

BBD: "So, either NOAA is falsely accused of scientific misconduct or the conspiracy of liberal scientists to enslave the world is much more widespread that Smith realizes."

I like the idea of having Carl Sagan as global dictator. He would have to usurp Lord Xenu first.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 11 Dec 2015 #permalink

In reply to by BBD (not verified)

Lamar Smith is my esteemed congressman. I object to you calling him Lemur. Lemurs are cute critters of nature and should not be associated while such a vile ignorant man.

#4

Satellite measurements – the gold standard:

"...One might ask, Why do the satellite data have to be adjusted at all? If we had satellite instruments that (1) had rock-stable calibration, (2) lasted for many decades without any channel failures, and (3) were carried on satellites whose orbits did not change over time, then the satellite data could be processed without adjustment. But none of these things are true. Since 1979 we have had 15 satellites that lasted various lengths of time, having slightly different calibration (requiring intercalibration between satellites), some of which drifted in their calibration, slightly different channel frequencies (and thus weighting functions), and generally on satellite platforms whose orbits drift and thus observe at somewhat different local times of day in different years. All data adjustments required to correct for these changes involve decisions regarding methodology, and different methodologies will lead to somewhat different results. This is the unavoidable situation when dealing with less than perfect data.
http://www.drroyspencer.com/2015/04/version-6-0-of-the-uah-temperature-…

Carl Mears:
"My particular dataset (RSS tropospheric temperatures from MSU/AMSU satellites) show less warming than would be expected when compared to the surface temperatures. All datasets contain errors. In this case, I would trust the surface data a little more because the difference between the long term trends in the various surface datasets (NOAA, NASA GISS, HADCRUT, Berkeley etc) are closer to each other than the long term trends from the different satellite datasets. This suggests that the satellite datasets contain more “structural uncertainty” than the surface dataset.”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/03/24/te…

"...there have been several instances when Christy and Spencer have had to correct their datasets for factors such as changes in satellite orbits over time, and with each correction the data has come into better alignment with surface warming and model projections.
For this reason and others, Andrew Dessler, a climate researcher at Texas A&M University, says he is skeptical of the satellite data’s reliability. “As far as the data go, I don’t really trust the satellite data. While satellites clearly have some advantages over the surface thermometer record, such as better sampling, measuring temperature from a satellite is actually an incredibly difficult problem. That’s why, every few years, another big problem in the UAH temperature calculation is discovered. And, when these problems are fixed, the trend always goes up,” he said via email.
“It’s also worth noting that there have not been any similar revisions to the surface temperature data, despite the fact that people have looked at it very, very carefully.”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/post/the-satel…

See the segment with Titley that Greg uploaded here:
http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2015/12/10/my-impressions-of-the-ted-…

Or (better) watch the hearings from 2:23:40. The segment has Titley's remarks on satellite data and much more.

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 11 Dec 2015 #permalink

cosmicomics: "Or (better) watch the hearings from 2:23:40. The segment has Titley’s remarks on satellite data and much more."

Dr. Titley noted that even the changed and changing stratosphere has an effect on the satellite data (in the six minutes of video I watched). Anyone who could actually watch the whole bloody thing has far greater patience than I do.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 11 Dec 2015 #permalink

In reply to by cosmicomics (not verified)

I like the idea of having Carl Sagan as global dictator.

Of course now it would be more of a "Weekend at Bernie's" dictatorship. Still a better alternative than having current Republicans in any position of authority.

Dean, yes, with the current Republican leaders, only their brains are dead, but not the rest of their bodies. Sadly.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 11 Dec 2015 #permalink

Brainstorms: "Dean, yes, with the current Republican leaders, only their brains are dead, but not the rest of their bodies. Sadly."
... and their penises.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 11 Dec 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Brainstorms (not verified)

Smith is indeed a despicable liar:

"If NOAA has nothing to hide, why not provide the evidence to support the agency’s claims?"

Those have been provided.

By Lars Karlsson (not verified) on 11 Dec 2015 #permalink

“If NOAA has nothing to hide, why not provide the evidence to support the agency’s claims?”

Those have been provided.

It appears Smith's computer must have a parental controls block that prevents him from looking a NOAA's web site. It also appears that someone has not been giving his USPS mail to him. And by golly, it also appears he has major loss of hearing.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 11 Dec 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Lars Karlsson (not verified)

Not sure their sub-species even needs a penis any longer, Desertphile. After all, they reproduce themselves by inserting their heads up their asses.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 11 Dec 2015 #permalink

"... the climate-industrial complex...."

By Desertphile (not verified) on 11 Dec 2015 #permalink

"That satellite data to which he refers is the cooked up unpublished and unreviewed, known-to-be-faulty bogus result of a couple of science deniers."

I think this is just flat out incorrect. UAH is now in agreement with RSS. Even before the latest revision to UAH the discrepancy between surface data and RSS/UAH begged for investigation and explanation. So your statement is essentially tarring Dr Mears and RSS with the same brush as S & C. That's a pretty abysmal approach to take and not much different than the attack on scientists that you rail against.

The discrepancy indicates the TLT measurements have a problem or that our understanding of the surface/troposphere dynamics is insufficient. Is anyone suggesting the satellite data be adjusted ad hoc without a scientific reason? I don't think so. The data is what the data is.

Misuse of the data is a different story. There deniers can and should reap all the scorn at our disposal.

By Kevin ONeill (not verified) on 12 Dec 2015 #permalink