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Belmont Club

More AGW Controversy

November 26th, 2009 - 1:42 am

Watts Up With That? describes the controversy surrounding New Zealand’s official temperature readings after the Climate Science Coalition replotted the raw data and found the “rising temperatures” were really flat. The rises in temperatures reported by the official (NIWA) figures were the result of adjustments. However, the agency defended its adjustments.

NIWA’s David Wratt has told Investigate magazine this afternoon his organization denies faking temperature data and he claims NIWA has a good explanation for adjusting the temperature data upward. Wratt says NIWA is drafting a media response for release later this afternoon which will explain why they altered the raw data.

“Do you agree it might look bad in the wake of the CRU scandal?”

“No, no,” replied Wratt before hitting out at the Climate Science Coalition and accusing them of “misleading” people about the temperature adjustments.

The Climate Science Coalition performed a simple test. They downloaded the raw data and plotted it. To their astonishment, the numbers looked nothing like the official figures. The official graph apparently contained adjustments. Worst of all, it was the project of a scientist who had been at the CRU around which a data integrity scandal is now swirling.

To get the original New Zealand temperature readings, you register on NIWA’s web site, download what you want and make your own graph. We did that, but the result looked nothing like the official graph. …

Straight away you can see there’s no slope—either up or down. The temperatures are remarkably constant way back to the 1850s. Of course, the temperature still varies from year to year, but the trend stays level—statistically insignificant at 0.06°C per century since 1850. …

Dr Jim Salinger (who no longer works for NIWA) started this graph in the 1980s when he was at CRU (Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, UK)

The NZ Herald quoted part of Dr. Salinger’s emails which seemed directed toward quashing the efforts of global warming skeptics to advance alternative theories.

Climate scientist Jim Salinger is among the many who have had private emails and documents posted on a blogsite, after computer hackers apparently infiltrated a research centre at the University of East Anglia in Britain.

Dr Salinger’s emails, which date from the middle of this year, form part of an exchange between a number of climate experts on how to respond to a paper by Auckland University scientist Chris de Freitas and two others.

That paper – published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – claimed the el nino and la nina weather patterns were a dominant influence on climate change.

In one July email, Dr Salinger reacts to the de Freitas paper: “Is there an opportunity to write a letter to JGR pointing out the junk science in this?? … If it is not rebutted, then all sceptics will use this to justify their position.”

From one point of view these revelations come at a bad time for the CRU because they will keep the hacked documents purloined from their archives which show them in an unflattering light in the public view. But from another point of view they could be a godsend. All Dr Salinger has to do is show, with crushing scientific rigor, why the figures were adjusted. All Dr. Phil Jones has to do is demonstrate, with mathematical precision, why his carbon models can predict say, next year’s temperature. Because he could, if he had the science behind him. They could, if they had the data behind them.

That’s all there is to it. The scientific presentation of data is now necessary because “social proof” no longer suffices after these scandals. Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy correctly observes that most of us take technical matters on faith. Few of us understand rocket science or the theory of relativity. But if someone we trusts says “it’s OK” then we accept the arcane theory as true. When our doctor says swallow this tablet of 2-ethanoyloxybenzoic acid we do. We drink aspirin even though we don’t know why it works. The problem with the recent revelations at the CRU and NIWA is that they’ve destroyed the bond of trust. It’s as if your doctor prescribed a poisonous compound and you looked it up. Somin writes:

I thought that global warming was probably a genuine and serious problem because that is what the overwhelming majority of relevant scientists seem to believe, and I generally didn’t doubt their objectivity.

At the very least, the Climategate revelations should weaken our confidence in the above conclusion. At least some of the prominent scholars in the field seem driven at least in part by ideology, and willing to use intimidation to keep contrarian views from being published, even if the articles in question meet normal peer review standards. Absent such tactics, it’s possible that more contrarian research would be published in professional journals and the consensus in the field would be less firm. To be completely clear, I don’t think that either ideological motivation or even intimidation tactics prove that these scientists’ views are wrong. Their research should be assessed on its own merits, irrespective of their motivations for conducting it. However, these things should affect the degree to which we defer to their conclusions merely based on their authority as disinterested experts. …

On balance, therefore, I still think that global warming exists and is a genuinely serious problem. But I am marginally less confident in holding that view than I was before. If we see more revelations of this kind, I will be less confident still.

The effect of the publication of CRU documents and the revelation of the adjustment factors mean that for an increasing number of people, the social proof of global warming is dead. Show us the science. That is you want the taxpayer’s money.


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