The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Entitlement to Your Own Facts

It's time we faced up to the fact that there is an alternative reality, an alternative media with no respect for truth whatsoever. It started out as an effort to inject lies into the mainstream media, but now survives on its own and provides pseudo-information to a significant swath of the country.

We have been seeing this with our occasional friendly sniper David Duff, and the more typical and somewhat less respectful sniping that comes from "Glenn". David seems quite adamant that the satellite record is "better" than the surface record. I failed to engage with this question because this site is (as is the world) mostly interested in global long-term climate change, wherein I had thought the records in substantial agreement. So this emphasis on which temperature record to use struck me as a very minor point.

That depends, it turns out, on who you are listening to, whose facts you care to attend to.

On Twitter, Dan Satterfield points to this interesting recent report from the CCSP (sorry Dan, misplaced the tweet) entitled Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences which I would take to be, if not definitive, at least worthy of reference in a discussion like this. Here is what they come up with:

The HadCRUT is a combination of land air temperature anomalies (Jones, 1994, CRUTEM1) and sea surface temperature anomalies (Parker et al., 1995) on a 5° x 5° grid-box basis. It' issued by the UK's Hadley Climate Research Unit ("HadCRU"). (I haven't spent much time with the observations community but I'd guess it's pronounced Had-Crew-Tee. Anyone?)

As you can see the agreement with satellite inversions, while not perfect, is not anything to lose sleep about as far as the big picture goes. Indeed, the big open question as far as the CCSP report goes is not whether the surface is or isn't warming, nor whether the lower troposphere is or isn't warming (in both cases, yes it is) but whether the lower troposphere is warming faster or slower than the surface. Here is what they say the state of the science is, from pages 1 and 2 of the executive summary:
  • For observations since the late 1950s, the start of the study period for this Report, the most recent versions of all available data sets show that both the surface and troposphere have warmed, while the stratosphere has cooled. These changes are in accord with our understanding of the effects of radiative
    forcing agents and with the results from model simulations.
  • Since the late 1950s, all radiosonde data sets show that the low and mid troposphere have warmed at a rate slightly faster than the rate of warming at the surface. These changes are in accord with our understanding of the effects of radiative forcing agents on the climate system and with the results from model simulations.
  • For observations during the satellite era (1979 onwards), the most recent versions of all available data sets show that both the low and mid troposphere have warmed. The majority of these data sets show warming at the surface that is greater than in the troposphere. Some of these data sets, however, show the opposite - tropospheric warming that is greater than that at the surface. Thus, due to the considerable disagreements between tropospheric
    data sets, it is not clear whether the troposphere has warmed more than or less than the surface.
  • The most recent climate model simulations give a range of results for changes in global-average temperature. Some models show more warming in the troposphere than at the surface, while a slightly smaller number of simulations show the opposite behavior. There is no fundamental inconsistency among these model results and observations at the global scale.
  • Studies to detect climate change and attribute its causes using patterns of observed temperature change in space and time show clear evidence of human influences on the climate system (due to changes in greenhouse gases, aerosols, and stratospheric ozone).
  • The observed patterns of change over the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural processes alone, nor by the effects of short-lived atmospheric constituents (such as aerosols and tropospheric ozone) alone.
OK, so, everything consistent with the other branches of climate science, right? The biggest open question is why there is extra lower tropospheric warming in some observational data. It would be modestly dynamically important if these data sets prove correct because it would call into question some modeling details, but presently (as of '06) the balance of evidence is against them. (More recent news on this front would be appreciated.)

Of course, the skeptics squad is mostly fascinated with observed trends rather than projections, so there's plenty of semi-healthy discussion of this stuff in the blogs. (A bit obsessed with short term variability, a bit confused about the sources thereof, but at least worried about real data.) But it's not the healthy stuff that concerns me here.

It's inconceivable that this sort of thing could really be at the root of all the hostility directed at the scientific community. Consider, though, this comment from "Glenn":
Michael,
Since its temperature graphs you want to talk about, note that your GISS graphs have come under heavy attack for their use of data affected by station dropout and poor siting. More valid graphs of atmospheric temperature trends come from the UAH satellite data - and they show essentially no change over the 30 years of data collection.
Glenn refers us to Joe d'Aleo's blog, wherein we find the following:


Note the caption: Difference between NOAA and UAH and RSS. (Larger image link) This agrees with the preceding paragraph: "the difference started small but is now approaching 0.5 C". Now if it were true, that would be a big deal.

But what if it were the case that the signals had high frequency differences but showed the same pattern over the long term? Well, that would mean that the individual measurements weren't perfect but were fit to the purpose of extracting low frequencies and trends, wouldn't it? Of course, the graph wouldn't look anything like d'Aleo's, would it.

Now to be fair, the HadCRUT isn't the NOAA series. Is the NOAA series such an outlier? Well, you'd expect the CCSP to say so if it were, but here's some confirmation that it isn't from Atmoz.

So, er, WTF? I mean d'Aleo's graph. It seems to bear absolutely no resemblance to the other stuff I see from any source as reputable as even Watts or better.

No resolving of the reference Klotzbach 2009 in the d'Aleo blog. In other words, it is not actually a reference, but only a reference shaped object. The Klotzbach in question, presumably, is the one who has picked up Gray's mantle as a predictor of hurricanes based on what I cynically call the tea leaf method. (Heuristics will not work if climate changes rapidly, and, um, climate is about to change rapidly.) But presumably Klotzbach is not going to feed fake results to d'Aleo, and then d'Aleo feed fake results to the denial people, who will then get all confused about the extent of disagreement in the observational record, would they?

The most charitable interpretation is that Klotzbach plotted something else, d'Aleo misinterpreted it and slapped a label on it, and Glenn and his sort happily believed it.

Now this is very recent; maybe nobody has tried to point this out to d'Aleo. Alas, I suppose I will have to try. But who knows how much similar stuff there is out there actively misleading people into thinking that either the entire observational record is worthless, or that "the satellites are better" because by implication from d'Aleo's bogus graph one would conclude that there is no observed warming at all!

This really isn't my turf but this episode tests my reduced ability to be shocked at shoddy tactics.

Note: Unfortunately I have not spotted a graph directly comparing NOAA/NCDC global temperature to the satellite record.

The Atmoz link compares NOAA/NCDC to HadCRUT and the CCSP graph compares HadCRUT to satellites. But it seems to me that "practically equal" is a transitive relation and so the d'Aleo stuff must be wrong. A link to a direct comparison or to directly comparable raw data would be appreciated.

Update: Joe d'Aleo has kindly provided the preprint of Klotbach et al submitted to JGR-A. The original graph caption is

There is a problem in that d'Aleo does not point out that the proposed discrepancy is over land only.

The paper is "An Alternative Explanation for Differential Temperature Trends at the Surface and in the Lower Troposphere" by Klotzbach, Pielke Sr., Pielke Jr., Christy and McNider, submitted to JGR-A.

I don't know that I should be evaluating the paper itself prior to publication. As far as I know this remains a preprint.

I still find this confusing compared to other information I have seen, but not nearly as much so given that it refers to land temperatures only. d'Aleo should at minimum correct his caption to indicate that the graph refers to land points only.

Update: The preprint is published on the web (PDF), so it seems blogworthy. Any opinions here on how much sense it makes, or links to same elsewhere, appreciated.

10 comments:

Penguindreams said...

You might check out what period is being used for computing anomalies. iirc, some of the sites exclaiming and declaiming about the differences between data sets are not allowing for the fact that some centers are using 1961-1990, others 1971-2000, and iirc, NOAA NCDC is using 1901-2000.

Michael Tobis said...

Message sent to icecap via their contact form:

I believe that the graph attributed to Klotzbach 2009 in Joe d'Aleo's blog of 7/19 is misinterpreted and mislabeled. It is inconsistent with other evidence I have been able to identify comparing agreement of global temperature datasets. Compare for instance,

http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap1-1/finalreport/default.htm

I have blogged this item here:

http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2009/08/entitlement-to-your-own-facts.html

As I believe the information is severely misleading, I hope Mr. d'Aleo will revisit it as soon as possible, and either provide further information to support it, or withdraw it.

Michael Tobis said...

Bob: interesting but cannot account for trends such as those attributed to Klotzbach.

Dan Satterfield said...

When WC Fields was in his last days in a hospital, a friend visited and found him reading the Bible. Fields was known as a devout atheist.

His friend exclaimed "What are you doing, reading that?"

WC Fields replied "Looking....for loopholes".

Steve Bloom said...

Michael, IIRC Klotzbach et al is posted in a public place on RP Sr.'s site, so I don't see why it would be inappropriate to discuss it.

And what are we to think of a science paper where the third of five authors is a political scientist?

Michael Tobis said...

Find me a URL and I'm game.

Steve Bloom said...

Read it and weep.

James Annan said...

It's low down on this page and certainly fair game for blogging.

I just had a quick glance and there is some real WTF stuff in there. They are talking about biases in the temperature record, but on p7-8 it becomes clear that they are using the term "bias" to include any warming due to GHGs or other change in climate!

duffandnonsense said...

I have come rather late to the party but I felt it important to let you know that far from being a "sniper", in my army days, I would have had considerable difficulty hitting a barn with an automatic - even if I was inside it!

You are right to suppose that I consider the satellite measurements to be 'cleaner' than those taken from ground stations. Even a cursory reading of Anthony Watts's reports on the ground stations in the USA, to say nothing of the chaos in the records from Russia and China, is enough to utterly discredit anything anyone produces from such damaged goods.

However, my scepticism is of the 'equal opportunites' type and some of the things I have read recently concerning the satellite readings have given me pause - and I wrote of it recently over at my place:

" The measurements taken by satellite are obviously, or apparently obviously, much 'cleaner' with none of the localised statistical 'noise' that bedevils ground stations. Consequently I have put much of my faith in their results which show little or no global warming for the past 11 years. My use of the word 'faith' was deliberate. The more inclined one is to favour a particular scientific theory over another for reasons other than scientific facts, the more imperative it is to maintain one's scepticism. There are problems with the satellite methadology. For a start, the two organisations who use them, use different satellites flying on different courses, and one of the satellites is on a gradually falling orbit. There are differences between the results of both satellites depending on whether they are over the sea or the land. Finally, there are differences in the statistical methods adopted by both organisations, although happily, there appears to be none of the secrecy with which the land-based faculties surround themselves."

http://duffandnonsense.typepad.com/duff_nonsense/2009/07/index.html

As I always make clear, Michael, I am a semi-educated layman who tries to take an interest in these (and other) matters. I start from the basis that if man-made global warming exists I want to know about it and I want to be convinced of the veracity of the propositions being put forward. Alas, the 'warmers' have, so far, failed to convince me. But I remain listening and watching - which is part of the reason I continue to visit here!
David Duff

Hank Roberts said...

Don't miss R-347:

"... Examining the dates of global maxima and minima heat content requires a robust temperature data set with true global coverage. In this paper, we focus on the annual cycle of
heating and cooling of the lower troposphere (LT)..."