There Is Less Than Meets the Eye

This is a repost because the graphics in the original did not show up

Climate alarmists and those who blindly follow them often refer to graphs that show an increasing temperature trend over recent decades.  Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick, which has been discredited, is perhaps the most infamous graphs depicting the alleged human influence on temperature.

As with all graphs, it is important to know about the quality of data used to construct them.  In the case of temperature graphs, it turns out that there is clearly less than meets the eye.  MIT’s Dick Lindzen, using work from the late Stan Grotch from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, in a CO2 Coalition paper–Lindzen—made it abundantly clear that  these graphs represent the art of statistical magic.  This scatter gram contains 26,000 data points representing temperature measurements from the 1850s to 1984.

See figures 1a and 1c in the Lindzen paper

Grotch calculated the signal that is contained in the scatter gram and according to Frederick Colbourne in Geoscience-Environment determined that eliminating the top and bottom 10% of these anomalies resulted in an annual variance of +/-0.2 CI.  He concluded that a data range 10 times greater that the signal range, raises serious questions of confidence.

 It is clear that these anomalies don’t provide a convincing picture of warming.  To get that Lindzen demonstrates with the following graph that first the anomalies are averaged and then the temperature scale is stretched “by almost a factor of 10 so as to make … minuscule changes … look more significant.”

Going from raw data that does not show anything dramatic to graphs like this or the Hockey Stick that do are what Ross McKitrick, who provided a devastating critique of the Hockey Stick, labeled parlor tricks. This is especially true when the data sets contain their own sources of error and are not comparable.  In the scatter gram, ocean temperatures were added to land based measurements.  But as Lindzen points out ocean data measurements were from buckets in old ship data and then ship intakes after WW1. And, the surface measurements contain land based devices, weather balloon data and satellite measurements after 1979. Prior to 1900 the land based devices were sparsely distributed.

Inaccuracies in climate data sets have been documented by many scientists and brings to mind the observation of Sir Josiah Stamp,”The Government are extremely fond of amassing great quantities of statistics. These are raised to the nth degree, the cube roots are extracted, and the results are arranged into elaborate and impressive displays. What must be kept in mind, however, is that in every case, the figures are first put down by a village watchman, and he puts down anything he damn well pleases!

Analysts are fond of saying, torture the data until it confesses but torture it too much and it will confess to anything.  In view of all the noise in the temperature record and Lindzen’s CO2 Coalition paper, it is clear that there has been torturing of data on the scale of waterboarding.

There is a lot that can be done to improve the current situation that involves a standoff between skeptics and alarmists and the general public which by inaction is saying, we are not convinced.  First, the NAS could assemble a committee of skeptic and alarmist scientists, including some statisticians to develop a set of guidelines for adjusting historical data and for developing a more robust data set.  A similar approach could be taken with respect to models, although it may be the case that the complexity of the climate system combined with known uncertainties makes it impossible to develop a reliable forecasting model. 

 Finally, those of us who challenge the orthodoxy need to find a more effective way to communicate.  Climate alarmists have managed to marginalize us a “denier” and “skeptic.” As Nate Silver observed in his book The Signal and the Noise:“ In science, dubious forecasts are likely to be exposed-and the truth is more likely to prevail.  In politics, a domain in which the truth enjoys no privileged state, it’s anybody’s guess.”


Founder and president of Solutions Consulting which focuses on public policy issues, strategic planning, and strategic communications.

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