Skeptics: Please Relax on the Whole "Greatest Scientific Fraud of All Time" Thing

Climate skeptics are at risk of falling into the same exaggeration-trap as do alarmists.

I have written about the exaggeration of past warming by questionable manual adjustments to temperature records for almost a decade.  So I don't need to be convinced that these adjustments 1) need to be cleaned up and 2) likely exaggerate past warming.

However, this talk of the "Greatest Scientific Fraud of All Time" is just crazy.  If you are interested, I urge you read my piece from the other day for a more balanced view.  Don't stop reading without checking out #4.

These recent articles are making it sound like alarmist scientists are simply adding adjustments to past temperatures for no reason.  But there are many perfectly valid reasons surface temperature measurements have to be manually adjusted.  It is a required part of the process.  Just as the satellite data must be adjusted as well, though for different things.

So we should not be suspicious of adjustments per se.  We should be concerned about them, though, for a number of reasons:

  • In many parts of the world, like in the US, the manual adjustments equal or exceed the measured warming trend.  That means the"signal" we are measuring comes entirely from the adjustments.  That is, to put it lightly, not ideal.
  • The adjustments are extremely poorly documented and impossible for any third party to replicate (one reason the satellite record may be more trustworthy is all the adjustment code for the satellites is open source).
  • The adjustments may have a bias.  After all, most of the people doing the adjustments expect to see a warming trend historically, and so consider lack of such a trend to be an indicator the data is wrong and in need of adjustment.  This is not a conspiracy, but a normal human failing and the reason why the ability to replicate such work is important.
  • The adjustments do seem to be very aggressive in identifying any effects that might have artificially created a cooling trend but lax in finding and correcting effects that might have artificially created a warming trend.  First and foremost, the changing urban heat island effect in growing cities seems to be under-corrected  (Again there is debate on this -- the proprietors of the model believe they have fixed this with a geographic normalizing, correcting biases from nearby thermometers.  I and others believe all they are doing is mathematically smearing the error over a larger geography).

Again, I discussed all the pros and cons here.  If pushed to the wall, I would say perhaps half of the past warming in the surface temperature record is due to undercorrection of warming biases or overcorrection of cooling biases.

  • http://itsaboutliberty.com/index.php MNHawk

    "These recent articles are making it sound like alarmist scientists are simply adding adjustments to past temperatures for no reason."

    What about automatic adjustments made to the raw data, based on nothing but models? Adjustments in which humans don't even look over, let alone keep any notes about why xxxxx, Paraguay was changed...rather radically.

    It is the biggest fraud in history because the system is no longer flushing out those committing the fraud. Imagine if Pons & Fleischmann's defense of bad data was declaring that they ran an algorithm to adjust all their raw measurements, so that their data complied with the expectations of the model. That is exactly what climate scientists are doing, today.

  • Titan 28

    I agree with everything you said, in this and in your other blog entry on this topic. I agree strongly that trumpeting claims on the front page of newspapers about greatest scientific fraud in history is not something skeptics should be doing. But: in effect, that IS what's going. From what I understand, the planet is undergoing a warming trend, hiatus notwithstanding. Yet that isn't the issue. Where I would say fraud comes into the equation is in the behavior of the CAGW believers, which is not scientific behavior. Consider: 1) every person on earth who takes an opposing view is a "denier." 2) not once has a scientist from the CAGW school modified a finding in the face of conflicting data 3) funding. All the CAGW researchers are funded, not to find the "truth" (whatever that might be in a scientific sense), but to buttress the CAGW theory. These scientists know this. And they continue to do said research. You don't think this is fraud? The fraud comes not from the fact that the world isn't warming catastrophically, but that those defending the hypothesis cling to it like it's a life raft, not one theory among others. There is a pattern here, and it is politically driven, i.e., most of the CAGW hard-liners are hard lefties. CAGW is a made-up problem in search of a government solution. 4) why do you always have to fight them to get their data? What are they afraid of?
    If a researcher can't be intellectually honest without losing either his funding or his job or both, you wouldn't call that some kind of flim-flam on the part of the NSF, or whomever? You remember Trenberth: 'why should I give you my data? You're only going to try and prove me wrong' (paraphrase). What would Richard Feynman say about this nonsense? I suspect you think too kindly of these researchers. I also suspect you may not have an accurate idea of the role government and other external funding plays in the contemporary research university. Eisenhower worried about this. He was right. This is a bit glib, but by and large, universities care a lot less about the findings of research than they do about the money said research generates for academic institutions, their labs and employees (follow the money).
    Sidebar: you don't think 'Mike's Nature trick' was deliberate scientific fraud?

  • Mercury

    I still don’t understand why so little attention is being paid to the bigger picture here – even as a thought experiments - including various possible future extreme climate scenarios as well as know climate events in the Earth’s past that may cycle back in the not too distant future.

    First of all, every climate alarmist skeptic should be proud to call himself a ‘Climate Stasis Denier’ since A) some form of climate stasis is essentially what climate alarmists are claiming humans have forced the Earth to deviate from and B) climate stasis, within the narrow temperature bands that climate alarmists get excited about, has never existed on Earth – an empirically verifiable fact (a rarity in this discipline).

    Given all the extreme and sometimes rapid climate shifts in the Earth’s (relatively) recent past why is it such a given that some anthropogenic, 2 degree F temperature shift is going to be the beginning of the end? What if anthropogenic warming delays the next ice age? - I’d light an extra candle for that.

    If we understood the past better we might be able to make better guesses about what’s in store for us in the future (ex-anthropogenic
    factors) and that would help us more accurately weigh the positive/negative net effects of anthropogenic factors going forward.

    In short, it seems like there is not enough top-down enquiry going on here and way to much bottom-up speculation. All this back-and-forth about how many reasonable temperature adjustments can dance on the head of a pin seems like studying the bumps on the pebbles in the asphalt when we should be studying the map.
    I don't think completely disinterested scientists starting from scratch would approach this subject the way the process appears to be progressing right now.

  • mikehaseler

    The statement "greatest scientific fraud", is a mixture of two ideas. The first is the simple fact that temperatures have been falsely modified. But that hardly qualifies it as "greatest". This I think comes from the shear cost of the fraud in terms of financial loss to the world.

  • ErikTheRed

    Exactly. In terms of the "size of the lie itself" it's hardly the biggest, but in terms of the amount of money being moved around - trillions of dollars - as a result, it's certainly a contender.

  • mikehaseler

    Unlike something like the Piltdown Mann, in all but a few exceptions, I doubt they set out to deceive. And to be honest, I doubt most of them have any real idea of the actual cost or economic harm that their non-science is doing.

    But in terms of the ordinary person, it is without doubt the greatest scam of a scientific nature that the world has ever seen.

  • Ann_In_Illinois

    We've been told over and over that we need to respect the opinions of the experts, and that peer review is some sort of guarantee of quality, but it's important to note that 'adjusting' one's data without revealing exactly how and why it was adjusted, in such a way that others can replicate and analyze the changes, goes strongly against academic research standards. It's simply not scientific, and should not be acceptable in any peer-reviewed journal.

    Why should we respect them as reputable scientists before they begin to act as such?

  • http://EasyOpinions.blogspot.com/ Andrew_M_Garland

    I support science, the process of careful data collection and experiment followed by a transparent release of data, code, and plain argument. Real science is sceptical. It rejects fuzzy argument and unsupported or unrepeatable claims. History shows that anything less leads to costly error.

    There are a few facts about carbon dioxide and direct warming, and a pile of speculation, models, and government manipulation. Most of climate science is not science. Publishing only a graph is scientifical, not science.

    I trust in results produced by a group of skeptic scientists attempting to disprove/improve on the theories floating around. Government climate scientists embrace one result but not one model, strangely, and they obscure the data leading to their conclusions. That is a cabal, not a scientific community.

    It is ridiculous to trust in the integrity of a "scientific community" or "peer review" where prominent members of academic and government institutions announce they are willing to lie for the supposed good of the peasants.

    The models are complex, Dr. Mann won't release his data, and manipulations of peer-reviewed, published graphs to "hide the decline" are explained as unfortunate limitations of space. The warmists have no credibiility, meaning that there is no reason to believe anything they say which is not supported in transparent detail. They are revolutionaries or true believers, not scientists.

    One might argue that these liars are only a few. If so, why aren't the rest denouncing them, proclaiming proudly that the data is enough, proclaiming that exaggeration and lying are not needed? Their silence demeans the global warming community and their science.

    ( http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2012/03/03/unless-we-announce-disasters-no-one-will-listen/ )
    Lying for climate change
    3/3/12 - Ed Driscoll   [edited]
    === ===
    It is a fascinating development when people admit that they are lying for their cause.

    •  Prof. Chris Folland, Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research
    “The data doesn’t matter. We’re not basing our recommendations on the data. We’re basing them on the climate models.”

    •  Dr David Frame, Climate modeler, Oxford University
    “The models are convenient fictions that provide something very useful.”

    •  Paul Watson, Co-founder of Greenpeace
    “It doesn’t matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true.”

    •  Sir John Houghton, First chairman of the IPCC
    “Unless we announce disasters no one will listen.”

    •  Christine Stewart, former Canadian Minister of the Environment
    “No matter if the science of global warming is all phony … climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world.”
    === ===

    The global warming scare is political, not scientific. It represents an old political ploy. When you scare the sheep, they are more willing to be sheared.

    There can be no discussion with liars. It is worse when the liars claim the status of learned, dispationate science, and then tell you that your peasant mind should just believe, because you can never match the facts to their models. You are not allowed to question their models because they were never designed to be questioned.

    It does not surprise me that an average person cannot directly evaluate the claims and models. It amazes me that the average person can't tell when they are being lied to, even when the liars say it right out and have the shears (tax schemes) in their hands.

  • Nimrod

    If you want to try to objectively define this, you're going to have to pick metrics (such as value lost, number of people fooled, political/economic power transferred, etc) then do a comparison study of similar cases where cargo cult science was used to deceive and manipulate people. I lack the necessary information to do a comprehensive study here, but perhaps some economist could do one.

    So I can't really say if "greatest ever" applies, but I can't say that it doesn't either.

    Even if someone claims it's the "greatest fraud ever", it still doesn't imply that it's a civilization-ending world-destroying sort of event where national capitals are under hundreds of feet of water. So such a statement still would not rise to the same level of hyperbole as the AGW religionists.

  • Nimrod

    Yes, exactly. This stuff like "it only matters what people believe is true" and other statements about justice and equality come directly from western pro-Maoist groups from the 60s and 70s. That's not science, it's Maoism which is anti-science. Later Deng Xiao Ping came along and told people to stop mindlessly following Mao's Koran and start paying attention to reality. However it seems that a bunch of people in the west missed that.

    Everyone, especially young people who find some appeal in the political left, need to read this: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Left

    Notice the influence that Maoism had here, and what a disaster this anti-science ideology was for China. Young people especially need to know where "their" ideas originally came from. A bunch of their current professors were in the SDS. They might want to ask their professors about it.

  • obloodyhell

    }}} "But there are many perfectly valid reasons surface temperature measurements have to be manually adjusted. It is a required part of the process. Just as the satellite data must be adjusted as well, though for different things."

    The real issue is that the RAW data MUST remain available AS WELL as any purportedly necessary "adjustments".

    Otherwise, recognizing and arguing against blatantly invalid adjustments becomes impossible. Anyone can tell any lie they want to about the "actual" temperature... whatever the eph THAT may be.

  • obloodyhell

    BECAUSE, Ann.

    #SCIENCE!!!

    Why else?

  • Leigh

    But after all the adjustments they have one salient feature right around the world.
    They all lift the planets temperature.
    Hundreds of stations around Australia have had thousands of measurements adjusted and the stations historical record homogenised.
    I might add that homogenisation is not just conducted with nearby stations but in many cases with stations 6 or 7 hundred kilometres apart.
    That's not science!
    In so many more cases removing cooling trends and replacing them with a warming trend.
    So it's not just the trillions that have been poured into it.
    It's the world wide scale of the fraud that makes it the greatext ever inflicted on mankind. It knows no boundaries or borders.
    It simply not science, it is the persuit of a socialist ideolygy.
    That if not stopped will end in violence.

  • js4strings

    The greatest scientific fraud is the EPA's meta-analysis for Second Hand Smoke (ETS). The climate scientist are also frauds, .

  • TruthisaPeskyThing

    The desire to adjust actual temperature readings is understandable. However, the adjustment process may not produce anything more accurate, especially as computerized contortions are done to huge databases without the ability to verify the appropriateness of the adjustment in individual circumstances. For example the adjustment process concludes that station moves took place -- necessitating an decrease in historic temperatures -- even though no move actually took place.
    It is possible to see whether the adjustment process produces sensible results. For example, the adjustment process says that the Great Lakes states had a normal winter and spring last year. But the Great Lakes had record ice last year. That record ice is consistent with raw temperatures, not with adjusted temperatures. There are numerous other examples that support raw temperatures being a better record, and I am not aware of anything that confirms the adjusted record.

  • Nimrod

    "The layman, perhaps, is not fully aware to what extent even the popular reputations of scientists and scholars are made by that class and are inevitably affected by its views on subjects which have little to do with the merits of the real achievements. And it is specially significant for our problem that every scholar can probably name several instances from his field of men who have undeservedly achieved a popular reputation as great scientists solely because they hold what the intellectuals regard as "progressive" political views; but I have yet to come across a single instance where such a scientific pseudo-reputation has been bestowed for political reason on a scholar of more conservative leanings. This creation of reputations by the intellectuals is particularly important in the fields where the results of expert studies are not used by other specialists but depend on the political decision of the public at large."

    The Intellectuals and Socialism
    By F.A. Hayek
    March 23, 1962
    http://fee.org/library/detail/intellectuals-and-socialism

  • bigmaq1980

    "Why should we respect them as reputable scientists before they begin to act as such?"

    Much of what we enjoy in life has its roots in science. Much rather live in today's world where we give more credence to science than the days of Gallileo, where even provable propositions became a criminal offense.

    What is messed up is not (true) science itself, but those who are abusing the public's notion of "science" (conflating the objectivity of the scientific method with infallible "truth") and some (both demonstrable and questionable) findings on some theories for political purposes. There are many reasons behind why.

    In the end, Ann, you are right, the larger population of scientists (most who probably approach their topics with honesty and integrity) get tainted by the politics played by others and their supporters in the media.

    This is all unfortunate, as no ordinary person has the capacity to thoroughly research every thing they encounter to make a firm judgement on, and, therefore, only have the "trust" to go on. The side effect is that folks cannot even trust some simple things that may be ought to be trusted, say the measles vaccine (it doesn't help to learn that early versions of the vaccine are no longer considered "good").

    The only solution seems to be to become a skeptic, and find sources that one can trust (i.e. are not part of an echo chamber, and seem to have a healthy acknowledgement of counter arguments/facts in their position).

    Not everyone is there yet. Don't know what it will take to get them there either.