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Climategate: The Travails of a Global Warming Hobbyist

Spending Saturday afternoons with a laptop and scouring the internet for data to prove or disprove the global warming theory. (See full PJM/PJTV coverage of Climategate here.)

by
Terry Hughes

Bio

November 28, 2009 - 12:00 am

In 2006, when we were being absolutely inundated by the shrill voices of global warming both pro and con, I, like a great many Americans, didn’t know exactly what to believe. I wasn’t ready to don my aluminum foil hat and go sit at the table where the voices cried out “global one world government conspiracy.” Neither was I ready for hemp clothing, joining the folks over at Al’s table to denigrate the “flat earth global warming deniers.”

So what’s the average guy to do? Geek that I am, I started downloading a hundred years worth of temperature data from the government web site, and built my own dataset, for my hometown of Phoenix.

Now bear in mind I’m not a climate researcher. I have no credentials that would lend any credence whatsoever to anything I might discover one way or the other. I simply figured I can look at numbers as well as the next guy, and go from there. And voila! I got a hockey stick!

Well, sort of. The numbers went kind of flat around 1998, but then I was only looking at one city, and not the world. I had neither the climate expertise nor the statistical background to fully understand what it was I was seeing, but I figured it should pretty much parallel the famous graph. Shouldn’t it?

As a sanity check, I pulled the data for a town fifty miles west of Phoenix for a hundred years, and no hockey stick. I must have hosed something up somewhere. I double-checked both datasets, double-checked my graphing technique, and couldn’t find any errors. So I pulled the data for a town fifty miles east. It looked just like the western set. Then north and south, which looked like the east and west sets. Not a hockey stick in sight. Just meanderings, a slight climb to 1998, where again, it leveled off. I did notice that 1939 seemed to be the high point, but that wasn’t what the NASA guy was saying; he said it was 1998.

Again, I’m only looking at one little spot, so let’s look at Dallas and surrounding areas. Same results as Phoenix. More research revealed the urban heat island phenomenon, first explored and explained by Luke Howard in 1810. A ton of work has piggybacked onto that over the years, with algorithms that correlate square miles of asphalt to the corresponding temperature rise. I didn’t know about that before. Well, as I said, I’m not a climate researcher, just a regular guy wondering what the real story is. The urban heat island data sort of gets you the hockey stick, particularly in the Sunbelt cities.

Now it’s 2007. Up to this point, I hadn’t even looked at CO2, but I figured I should since that was what seemed to be getting the lion’s share of press. Again, off to the government site, where I grabbed a bunch of numbers and started graphing. A pattern emerged, and I got all excited thinking I’d found the answer, when 1998 again raised its ugly head. For about 22 years, the rise in CO2 and the rise in temperature paralleled each other, starting in roughly 1976. But in 1998, the temperature turned right, while CO2 kept right on climbing.

I’m not doing something right, I told myself. I started searching the internet for the model data that these guys at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and NASA were using, and came up empty.

Since the CRU was British, maybe they would have something posted somewhere. What I discovered was the “Maxwell Smart cone of silence” had been lowered around any information concerning how the calculations had been prepared. I was, and still am, astounded at how this is being handled to this very day. A number of these institutions are funded completely with public money, and yet they refuse to provide any data whatsoever. How is this possible?

My patient wife has given herself migraines from the extreme eye rolling she engages in while I’m fooling with this. “Why can’t you go bowling or duck hunting like the other guys?” she’ll lament.

Nobody ever said it was going to be easy for a wanna-be researcher.

I can tell you, from the years I’ve spent both modeling and 5-axis programming airfoils, that different mathematical techniques yield different results. The sum of least squares will give a slightly different result than cubic squares when analysis of surface data is the exercise. I get all that. But I just couldn’t seem to make my tiny little experiment fit the pattern I was being told was the truth, and it didn’t matter what city I used.

Now it can probably be successfully argued that a guy with a laptop searching the internet on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings isn’t really engaged in research, so I’ll call it research by proxy. The people who actually do the research tend to have their papers published online, for people like me to look at. And more than likely there will at least be references to where you can find the data if you’re so inclined. Not so with the whole global warming thing. It was glasnost lite — you simply trust, with no attached verification.

Then 2009 rolled around, and I was no closer to a definitive answer in my own mind about the anthropogenic global warming exercise than when I started. I remembered hearing on the news that the average daytime temperature of Mars was rising. Fine. I set off in search of information on the sun’s radiance and found a whole complete new can of worms to deal with. The sun guys had gobs and gobs of published data showing a correlation between sunspots and atmospheric temperatures on planet Earth.

Now the truly odd thing was they seemed for the most part to agree with each other concerning the relationship of spots to temperature. Where they seemed to differ was the causes of the spots and how to accurately forecast the coming ones. Their charts for the last one hundred years all pretty much agreed with each other. Counterintuitively — the more spots the higher the temperature, the fewer spots the lower the temps. Nowhere did I find sites voicing alternate views on sunspots. Not a tinfoil hat in sight.

So here we are in the closing months of 2009, and we’re hearing that probably a lot of the data in this whole AGW fiasco is now highly suspect, and at no point did I ever see where any of these guys ever talked to, or considered, what the sun guys were saying. For many years I’ve maintained that if there are 1,000 factors governing weather, we make all our forecasts and predictions based on the nine that we know. (Make that ten. The sun guys should be credited with spots.)

The more I’ve seen, the more convinced I’ve become that the global warming crowd latched onto the parallel rise in temperatures and CO2, and built what has essentially become a religion around it. For 22 years it appeared to have been a solid conclusion that they were indeed tied together. Then the inescapable truth of the matter made itself clear in 1998 that they are not necessarily linked in the fashion that was first thought. Entire professional careers have been built around, and on, the premise that man-caused CO2 raises temperatures, and it’s too late to turn back now for most of them.

It appears that Jones and the CRU folks didn’t simply massage the data. As other pundits have pointed out, they waterboarded it. There are several blatantly obvious conclusions to be drawn here. First, any group receiving public money for research must make their data available to all. Even to guys with laptops on Saturday afternoons. Second, it seems that peer review means next to nothing. In the whole AGW thing, collaborating researchers apparently became co-conspirators. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge has no place in honest scientific endeavors. Third, science in general has taken a huge hit, making the average guy wonder if large grants create large lies and vice-versa. Fourth, where the heck has our media been? Menus at the White House are more important than what is possibly the biggest scam ever perpetrated on the American public? Apparently, only FOX got the memo. Fifth, school children need to be re-educated that CO2 is not the same as phosgene and sarin.

As for this disenfranchised independent voter, I’m thinking about taking up bowling and duck hunting. This climate researcher gig isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Terry Hughes is an engineer living in Phoenix. He can be reached at thughes999@aol.com
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