A visitor to Cornwall Alliance’s Facebook page recently asked our thoughts on a new video from NASA purporting to demonstrate that global warming is happening rapidly and that there’s been no slow-down, let alone “pause,” in the last two decades. Among other media, Huffington Post featured the video in an article titled “NASA Climate Change Video Shows Just How Quickly the Earth Is Warming.”
As is typical, the video uses frightening graphics to communicate numbers that are far less than frightening:
Of course, we’re all accustomed to seeing redness on severe burns and on hot stove burners and oven heating elements. Red means hot-hot-hot! Little does the typical viewer recognize that the entire increase in global average temperature over the period from 1880 to the present is estimated at roughly 1C—a small fraction of the typical difference between low and high readings on a single day in most locations, and a much smaller fraction of the typical difference between winter low and summer high in most locations. Consider what happens to the psychological effect if the picture is rendered in grayscale instead of the shocking reds and yellows:
There’s a lesson in how graphics can be used for psychological manipulation.
The video of course only pictures the numbers fed into it, and the “adjustments” being made over the last three years or more by both NOAA and NASA to their surface temperature “data” are highly suspect because the criteria by which they’re made, the computer codes that apply the criteria, and the whole path of the adjustment process have not been made public and thus aren’t testable/replicable by other scientists. Replicability is the hallmark of sound scientific research. The actual outcome of the adjustments is clear, though: “temperatures” in the early overall period are pushed downward, and “temperatures” in the later part are pushed upward.
But if the errors in the original measurements were random, we should expect them to result as often in lower as in higher than correct readings, and therefore the corrections should raise and lower the readings about equally often through the entire period—resulting in little or no change to the overall trend. This suggests strong bias—the pursuit of a desired result through the adjustment process. And the desired result is pretty clear: better correlation with the computer models that yield high warming rates from rising CO2 concentration.
But this turns the whole scientific process on its head. As Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman put it:
In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is—if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it.
We test hypotheses (and model outputs are precisely that–hypotheses) by comparison with real-world observations, not the reverse.
Add to that the problem that the original, pre-adjustment surface (and ocean) temperature readings are from instruments that are not randomly spaced over the earth and that are highly subject to contamination (improper installation, siting problems, urban heat island effect, etc.—see http://surfacestations.org/ for analysis of U.S. surface stations demonstrating horrible failures in the vast majority, which implies even less reliability for surface data from most of the rest of the world), and the credibility of the results is highly questionable.
That’s the gist of the situation conceptually. For more in-depth analysis of the temperature-adjustment problem, complete with careful numerical discussion and graphic depiction, see, e.g., https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/04/24/updated-do-the-adjustments-to-land-surface-temperature-data-increase-the-reported-global-warming-rate/ and https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/04/16/do-the-adjustments-to-land-surface-air-temperature-data-increase-the-global-warming-rate/. Lots more articles on the topic are linked at https://wattsupwiththat.com/category/adjustmentscorrections/. (For one among many particular critiques of NOAA’s famed 2015 “pause-buster” paper, see https://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/06/04/noaancdcs-new-pause-buster-paper-a-laughable-attempt-to-create-warming-by-adjusting-past-data/. For links to several others, see http://cornwallalliance.org/2015/06/noaa-study-takes-world-by-storm-no-global-warming-pause/.) A few other sources: https://realclimatescience.com/2016/11/noaa-adjustments-correlate-exactly-to-their-confirmation-bias/ and https://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/noaanasa-dramatically-altered-us-temperatures-after-the-year-2000/ and http://joannenova.com.au/tag/adjustments-to-data/.
The previous Congress sought to address the problem of federal agencies using “secret science” (refusing to make original data, computer code, and other relevant information public so it can be tested by other scientists) in the “Secret Science Reform Act,” but it couldn’t become law so long as Barack Obama was President. It may get a new life now. It certainly should, as an open letter from some outstanding scientists argues.