More distractions on the climate front

Never mind that the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record. Or that 2009 tied for the second-warmest year. Neither of those stories are consuming much airtime and web- and print-space. No, the biggest stories on the climate beat involve allegations of fraudulent activity on the part of some of the world's most experienced climatologists. The latest example concerns the lack of records specifying the location of remote Chinese weather stations and just how much they moved.

As Fred Pearce writes in The Guardian, "It is difficult to imagine a more bizarre academic dispute." But attention it is gathering, and before anyone accuses us "warmists" of ignoring another scandal, it behooves us to address it.

The story seems to involve the troubled Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia and his colleague, Wei-Chyung Wang of the University at Albany in New York, who published an oft-cited paper in Nature 20 years ago. The paper concluded that there was no "urban heat island effect" lending a warming bias to temperature records. But because Jones can't produce the documentation attesting to just where many of the Chinese weather stations that supplied some of the data were and how far, it at all, any were moved during the period of time the study involves, allegations of cover-up are raging.

It will probably be a while before we get to the bottom of the story. It is possible that the paper's findings will have to be retracted, which would be a shame. But it changes nothing of importance beyond the reputation of the scientists concerned.

First, there are plenty of other sources of independent data confirming anthropogenic global warming. Second, even if there was an urban heat island effect biasing a few Chinese data points, the effect is clearly not systemic through the world's weather stations. Here's the abstract to a paper from the National Climatic Data Center's Tom Peterson from seven years ago titled "Assessment of Urban Versus Rural In Situ Surface Temperatures in the Contiguous United States: No Difference Found."

Better yet, here's a hot off the presses paper from three of Peterson's NCDC colleagues, "On the reliability of the U.S. Surface Temperature Record," that's basically a peer-reviewed version of a statement released last year by the station on why U.S. weather station records do not show a warming bias. In fact, not only is there no warming bias, but the opposite seems to the case:

Results indicate that there is a mean bias associated with poor exposure sites relative to good exposure sites; however, this bias is consistent with previously documented changes associated with the widespread conversion to electronic sensors in the USHCN during the last 25 years. Moreover, the sign of the bias is counterintuitive to photographic documentation of poor exposure because associated instrument changes have led to an artificial negative ("cool") bias in maximum temperatures and only a slight positive ("warm") bias in minimum temperatures.

So by all means, let's get to the bottom of Jones' latest travails. But we should no more confuse controversies surrounding a single paper with an entire body of science than we should confuse one blustery day in January with 150 years of an inexorably warming planet.

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Cheerios Chaps! Just letting you know that crucial data supporting my climate modelling work obtained by American scientists from Chinese collaborators cannot be verified because documents containing them no longer exist. My Bad! Musta got lost in the shuffle. Sorry Mates! It's really not my fault that the little data that is left available suggests that my findings are fundamentally flawed. It was the one-armed man I tell you!

Oh, and my Chinese-American colleague Wei-Chyung Wang, of the University at Albany in New York, well just because he is accused of scientific fraud by an independent British researcher doesn't mean I even knew the guy. I didn't. As far as you know.

Now, you may think that it is well-known that the concrete, bricks and asphalt of urban areas absorb more heat than the countryside. That they result in cities being warmer than the countryside, especially at night. Nothing could be further from the truth. As far as you know.

The question as to whether the rising mercury is simply a result of thermometers once in the countryside gradually finding themselves in expanding urban areas is preposterous. We would NEVAR do anything like that to push our cause. As far as you know.

I have used both of my brain cells and concluded that the urban influence is negligible and should NOT be included in any climate modelling studies. I have very compelling evidence that came from a study of temperature data from eastern China, a region that was NOT undergoing any urbanization and is still completely uninhabited to this day. As far as you know.

The only reason I turned down requests to reveal details about the location of the 84 Chinese weather stations used in the study, is that it would be "unduly burdensome". No coverup here at all. As far as you know.

Just cuz my data showed that 49 of the Chinese meteorological stations had no histories of their location or other details doesn't prove anything.

And even though there was even a station that moved five times over a distance of 41 kilometres , I still claim there were 'few if any changes' to locations.

I can claim anything I want. I'm a "working climatologist". Heck me and Mann peer-reviewed each other's papers so you have to trust me. I'm peer reviewed!

Later blokes. I gotta go create some more data that fits my model.

Heck me and Mann peer-reviewed each other's papers

If you had ever tried to publish a paper, you'd know that there's always more than one reviewer. Ranges from 2 to 4 depending mostly on the journal, more in exceptional cases.

It's painful to watch you grasping at straws. Such desperationâ¦

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

Just remember, those satellites were built by aerospace firms that are, for the most part, located in suburban areas.

That data is polluted by the sub-urban heat island effect. While less than the UHI, the sub-UHI explains why satellites show warming, too!

"entire body of science"

Whether you will accept it or not, this body you speak of is for the first time being scrutinized more than ever before.

What is so wrong with that? More scrutiny means more attention. This can't be bad, can it?

By peppanicky (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

I wouldn't say it's being scrutinized more now... People who understand it did that long ago. What's happening now is that people are quote mining stuff looking for soundbites to grab a political point. They don't understand that if they win their political argument, the atmosphere won't care and it'll go on warming.

What is so wrong with that? More scrutiny means more attention. This can't be bad, can it?

Scrutiny isn't bad. Lying is bad.

Dishonestly generating doubt for political purposes is not scrutiny.

By Rob Hebert (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

In the immortal words of that great sage Jerry Maguire......


Global environmental scientists that can't even play by the rules they set.

By Karl from Wylie (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

And what would you do with it, Karl? Here you are misquoting a fictional character and that's your argument? Even when you (should) know that the vast majority of the data is available, you guys have to go wayyyy back to find a paper old enough to not have the data easily available. Maybe if the science wasn't right then, you could have asked him for the data then. Why have you waited 20 years? This paper has been available for questioning for all that isn't new. So why the questions now?

"Scrutiny isn't bad. Lying is bad."

Absolutely dripping with Global Warming Scam irony. ROFLMAO

By Bird Harrasser (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

What is so wrong with that? More scrutiny means more attention. This can't be bad, can it?

It's bad if the scrutinizing is being done by incompetents with an axe to grind and the ability to affect global environmental policy decisions. Isn't that obvious?

Follow-up to my previous comment, there are still many people who believe that 1934 was the warmest year on record globally, thanks to the incompetent scrutiny of Steve McIntyre. There are still people who believe that the consensus from climate scientists in the 1970s was for scary global cooling. That's just two of many, many examples.

Every incompetent (or dishonest) bit of scrutiny goes out into the public far faster than any refutation can appear. It becomes a part of the belief system of the voters and many (if not most) of the real science that refutes the moronic claims gets buried by the avalanche of crap. As time has gone on, the incompetent scrutiny has absolutely poisoned minds, to the degree that nothing produced by the actual scientists working in climate science is believed by a large segment of the population.

pough: I canât see either of your comments being in the next set of blogs. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow â even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is !

-cheers, Phil

p.s. anyone know a good lawyer?

Knock yourself out.

None of Phil Jones' missing data can be found on that site. Jones himself says it can't be found any more.

It's gone with the fairy dust.

Peer-review must allow skeptics in to the peer-review process. Preaching to the choir gets you a lot of amens, but it doesn't do much for your credibility.

Make sure to have ALL of your data available for review.

Don't expect outsiders to trust you when you only have the aggregate data available for review.


By Karl from Wylie (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

Phil Jones should get a kicking - his ex boss seems to have done as much already. But the real danger is what the media is saying about this whole mess.

Fred Pearce has a good article next to the piece James is talking about…. The problem is that if you look on the Guardian's website right now, you have this… and this…. Both by Fred Pearce.
One comment for the first article reads 'Great article. I will be reading this for years as people link to it to prove climate science is all a fraud. Well done Fred Pearce, I can hear Delingpole shrill squeels of delight all the way over from torygraph towers.Naive is not even the beginings of a description for this meandering peace'.

As for the second, someone simply points out 'Having read this article through a couple of times, I am finding a great deal of smoke here with no fire.' Damn right.

If the Guardian is churning out this kind of stuff (the phrase 'The revelations on the inadequacies of the 1990 paper do not undermine the case that humans are causing climate change, and other studies have produced similar findings' is in the fifth paragraph of his original front page story!), the Mail, Express and the Torygraph will have a field day. Thanks Fred and the Guardian subs, you've really helped out here.

And you described 'Energy & Environment' as a 'peer-reviewed journal'. Hmmmm.

Much ado about nothing.

That seems to be the point. Keep scientists doing a lot of ado'ing ... rather than science.

Move along lady, nothing to see here....

Ignore that man behind that curtain there, the great Oz has spoken.....


By Karl from Wylie (not verified) on 02 Feb 2010 #permalink

James - This is truly and hilariously your Baghdad Bob moment. Enjoy!!

As Televised Reports of U.S. Forces Approaching the Outskirts of Western Baghdad Are Shown:
"They are not any place. They are on the move everywhere. They hold no place in Iraq. This is an illusion."

After U.S. Forces Seized Baghdad's Airport:
"We butchered the force present at the airport. We have retaken the airport! There are no Americans there!"

After U.S. Troops Penetrated Central Baghdad:
April 5, 2003
"Nobody came here. Those America losers, I think their repeated frequent lies are bringing them down very rapidly....Baghdad is secure, is safe."

April 5, 2003
"They are not near Baghdad. Don't believe them....They said they entered with tanks in the middle of the capital. They claim that they - I tell you, I... that this speech is too far from the reality. It is a part of this sickness of their plan. There is no an... - no any existence to the American troops or for the troops in Baghdad at all. It is all lies."

April 6, 2003
"Whenever we attack, they retreat. When we pound them with missiles and heavy artillery, they retreat even deeper. But when we stopped pounding, they pushed to the airport solely for propaganda purposes."


By Baghdad Bob (not verified) on 03 Feb 2010 #permalink

Karl from Wylie:
Peer-review must allow skeptics in to the peer-review process.

Scientists are skeptics by nature. Scientists perform peer-review precisely because we don't just accept everything we read. What you are saying is that peer-review process should allow deniers, no-sayers and non-experts?
Imagine that if such a person were to review a paper about a new medicine, or how about a creationist reviewing a paper about, oh, geophysics: "you assertion that the geology in this area of study is millions of years old is simply unsupported by Genesis; therefore I reject this paper".

By Pierre Caron (not verified) on 03 Feb 2010 #permalink

"Peer-review must allow skeptics in to the peer-review process."

Actually maybe some of the journals should take up the challenge. Send manuscripts off to some of the busy denialist wannabe scientists aka bloggers for their reviews. Might give them something useful to do. And who knows, if they have to bone up on the literature enough to understand the papers and make useful comments, they might even learn something...

By crazy Bill (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

Actually maybe some of the journals should take up the challenge. Send manuscripts off to some of the busy denialist wannabe scientists aka bloggers for their reviews. Might give them something useful to do.

I can just see Watts as a reviewer ...

"I'm sorry, but unless this paper includes photos of every tree in the dataset, it can not be published".