Climate change denialist scam: scientists caught skewing temperature data
Every few months, when climate change deniers decide they’ve come up with an all-new reason to convince themselves that global warming is all a big hoax, we like to take a look at whatever the latest scam is that they are propagating, either because they are part of the effort to help out the fossil fuel industry, or simply because they enjoy being their brainwashed and/or incurious little tools.
Back in 2013 these stooges were promoting the phony notion that “Arctic ice has grown to a record level!” It hadn’t. After that debacle, they claimed UN scientists had found their predictions of warming were off by 50 percent or more. They weren’t. More recently, they were pushing the false claim that the globe has been cooling ever since 1998. It hasn’t been. And, of course, when all else failed, they could always fall back on their old standby: weaning ourselves from dangerous fossil fuels won’t make any difference anyway because China would never do the same. But, of course, China is now doing so at a rate that should embarrass these jackasses. But it won’t. Because they are never embarrassed about being wrong.
So, with 2014 recently clocking in as the hottest year for the planet on record, according to every major world agency that measures such things, and with 13 of the hottest years on record all falling within the past 15 years, these clowns are getting pretty desperate for something — anything — to use to keep the denialist scam going on behalf of the most profitable industry in the history of civilization.
The latest such scam, helpfully propagated on several Fox “News” shows last week, is that the so-called “scientists” have been caught red-handed in the act of “lying” about raw temperature data! That’s right! They have been manipulating the data to exaggerate the extent of global warming!
Except, of course, they haven’t, and they aren’t…
During an episode of Outnumbered on Fox “News” last week, in which the hosts were outraged — outraged! — about an interview in which President Obama correctly asserted that more Americans are affected by climate change than by terrorism, Fox’s mononymously-named Kennedy interrupted the show’s guest, attorney Mark Eiglarsh, to nail him with the newest false claim of climate denialists.
Eiglarsh asked: “Is there anything factually incorrect about the statement that more Americans…?”
“Yes!,” Kennedy excitedly interrupted, “Did you read the Telegraph article?”
Eiglarsh ignored her and continued: “…More Americans are impacted by climate change (than by terrorism)?”
“What about the Telegraph report that shows the original data versus the published data? The NASA published data!” Kennedy continued. “There was a great disparity because they lied about the actual data until someone went back to these weather stations in South America and Antarctica and thought, ‘Hmm, maybe something is amiss here?’ And they realized there is a scandalous discrepancy in what we have been sold!”
Well, no, they didn’t. Setting aside Kennedy’s confusion between the Arctic and Antarctica — an easy enough mistake to make — her spirited “gotcha” assertion was still flat wrong.
She was hardly the first stooge to be taken in by it.
Days earlier, Rush Limbaugh announced: “We have documented that so much of what they say is untrue, one of the biggest is the hoax of global warming which the UK Telegraph, as a story yesterday exposes it, may be the biggest hoax in all of science ever!”
Days earlier, daffy Christian Broadcast Network host Pat Robertson dutifully parroted the same inaccurate nonsense on his 700 Club show: “A climate expert, ya know, has come out and said that they have actually manipulated the figures to try and prove global warming.”
On the same day, on another Fox show, The Five, former White House Press Secretary turned Fox “News” host Dana Perino echoed the same false claim during another segment attempting to downplay concerns about global warming in favor of concerns about terrorism.
Perino said the White House is “actually kind of lucky that we don’t cover climate change as much as we should. Because yesterday, it was reported that the temperature readings have been fabricated and it’s all blowing up in their faces.”
Another host on the show declared that it was “fraud science!” Perino answered, “Yes, I agree.”
So, just as in the past — as with the bullshit report about Arctic ice, or the bullshit revelations that scientists were off in their predictions by 50 percent, or the bullshit claims about a pause or reversal of warming since 1998, or the bullshit assertion that China is unwilling to do anything about its own carbon emissions — Rupert Murdoch’s Fox “News” and its bedfellows can once again be relied upon to endlessly echo the latest bullshit-that-seems-legit-but-is-in-fact-bullshit portending to expose the great “hoax” that is global warming.
Politifact — which is not always a reliable source for news itself — decided to take a look at Perino’s version of the claim. In this case, they got it right and declared Perino’s assertion as a “Pants-on-Fire Lie.”
So here’s how this latest scam came to be taken for gospel by the incurious wingnut dupes, along with the actual facts debunking the false claim.
An opinion piece by Christopher Booker in the The Telegraph, a rightwing British newspaper, declared that “Fiddling with temperature data is the biggest science scandal ever!” The column was a followup to another Booker piece two weeks earlier, headlined “How we are STILL being tricked by flawed data on global warming,” in which climate change-denying blogger Paul Homewood was cited for having busted scientists for faking temperature data at three weather stations in Paraguay.
“In each instance,” Booker asserted, based on Homewood’s findings, “the actual trend of 60 years of data had been dramatically reversed, so that a cooling trend was changed to one that showed a marked warming.”
Booker reported that Homewood subsequently discovered other similar cases where temperature recordings had been adjusted in both South America and in some locations in the Arctic, to make the average daily temperatures appear to have warmed over the past 60 years, instead of cooled, which the deniers are claiming. “In nearly every case, the same one-way adjustments have been made, to show warming up to 1 degree C or more higher than was indicated by the data that was actually recorded,” Booker writes, before going on to describe the data as a “wholesale manipulation of the official temperature record,” as part of the “most costly scare the world has known.”
You’ll be stunned to learn that the claims by Booker, based on Homewood’s revelations — and dutifully repeated over and again by the wingnuts — are all, actually, bullshit.
The “controversy” comes from adjustments made to the stream of raw data from thousands of land- and sea-based weather stations around the globe in order to keep them consistent, so that an apples-to-apples comparison of temperatures can be made over time, even as the location of weather stations — and the technology used since the mid-1800s to measure those temperatures — changes.
“For instance,” Politifact explains, “local officials might move a station from a valley to a nearby hilltop. They might change the time of day when they record their measurements from sunrise to sunset. They might change the kind of thermometer they use. In the ocean, the practice once was to haul up a bucket of water. Later, the standard practice was to measure the temperature from the engine’s intake valve.”
Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), must then make adjustments to some of those raw temps to “to account for the human factors that would skew the data regardless of what happened with actual temperatures.”
“The temperature records are based on weather station data. But people didn’t expect the data to be used for monitoring long-term climate change when they started collecting it,” the University of York’s Dr. Kevin Cowtan explained in a videodebunking the first misleading Telegraph article on this a few weeks ago. “It was for recording the weather, hence the name weather station. As a result they weren’t always very careful about changes to the instruments or their usage. When we change an instrument we have to recalibrate to ensure the new instrument gives the same readings as the old one. The original weather station operators didn’t always do this. So NOAA have to do a retrospective calibration by comparing nearby weather stations.”
So, yes, Homewood has “busted” NOAA scientists making adjustments to their raw data in a number of locations. The problem, however, is that when all such adjustments are examined, the changes actually lower global temperatures trends overall.
The issue is perhaps best described in the Politifact piece by Zeke Hausfather, a data scientist with Berkley Earth, a group of researchers that have been funded in the past by the climate-denying Koch Brothers (which is a point not noted by Politifact).
Hausfather says the data cited by Homewood have been cherry-picked in order to seed doubt in climate change science [emphasis added]…“(They) look through all those thousands of stations, find a few that show big adjustments, and tell everyone that they are evidence of fraud,” Hausfather said. “You will rarely see them pick out stations likeReno, Paris, London, Tokyo, or many others where the adjustments dramatically lower the warming trend.”Hausfather and his colleagues traced how the adjustment methodschanged the temperature data differently around the world since 1850. In the graph below, zero is the baseline. Above zero, temperatures have been adjusted upward, below it temperatures have been adjusted downward.
In the United States, with about 5 percent of Earth’s land area, the official data file raised temperatures compared to the original readings. But the same methods lowered the data records in Africa, and for all land-based readings taken together, the adjustments basically made no change at all (the black line). With ocean temperature trends, the efforts to compensate for the human factor lower the numbers dramatically.
“The net effect of adjustments is to actually reduce the amount of global warming we’ve observed since 1880 by about 20 percent,” Hausfather said. “Folks skeptical of temperature adjustments are welcome not to use them if they’d like, but you end up with more global warming, not less.”
Got that? Yes, some adjustments serve to increase the temperature trends. But, overall, the adjustments actually serve to lower the increase in temperatures across the globe over the last 150 years “by about 20 percent.”
“It is important to keep in mind that the largest adjustment in the global surface temperature record occurs over the oceans,” NOAA told Media Matters in an email last week. “Adjustments to account for the transition in sea surface temperature observing methods actually lowers global temperature trends.”
Want to do away with all of those adjustments, Fox “News”? Okay. But if you do, the problem of human-caused global warming is even worse than climate scientists are now reporting it to be.
And, by the way, though Politifact doesn’t mention it, most of the “experts” they consulted in their article disabusing the claims by Perino, Booker and Homewood, all happen to be, like the Koch-funded Berkley group, noted climate change skepticsthemselves.
For his part, as Ars Technica’s John Timmer notes, Booker’s Wikipedia entry “shows that he has a lot of issues with science in general, claiming that things like asbestos and second-hand smoke are harmless, and arguing against evolution. So, this sort of immunity to well-established evidence seems to be a recurring theme in his writing.”
None of that, naturally, disqualifies him from being a source for Fox and friends when it comes to “The Biggest Science Scandal Ever!” And it’s effective. The article earned the Telegraph a ton of traffic (there are 28,872 comments on the item, if that’s any indication) and the bulk of the chumps who clicked on the page bought the bullshit — a survey at the end asks readers if they believed global warming has “been exaggerated by scientists.” 91% of the 127,199 readers who answered the online poll believe it has been.
Nonetheless, whether Big Carbon’s stooges have fallen for it or not, another climate change denier myth is quashed. Don’t worry though. This one will be repeated anyway, and then another will most assuredly rise up in its place soon enough. And there will be enough Fox “News” dupes — both viewers and “reporters” — willing to both buy and sell it. All meant to continue delaying necessary changes that might help stave off our planetary climate crisis, just so that the fossil fuel industry and its supporters can continue to make ever more profits for as long as possible, cause fuck all of you liberal lefty tree-hugging science-loving communists who have fallen for the great “hoax” that humanity should live on a livable planet.