Monday, July 30, 2012

Have Muller or Watts transformed the AGW landscape?

I don't think so.

But let me add a few more words.

In recent days, we witnessed two major salvos in the climate wars as well as many minor repercussions. Both of them are claimed to be equivalents of the battle of Stalingrand in the climate wars. A frustrating aspect of the hype surrounding both salvos is that they came from the opposite camps but they are very analogous, anyway.

I will start with Richard Muller – which seems as the worse example among the two – and continue with Anthony Watts.

Richard Muller of Berkeley wrote an op-ed in the New York Times
The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic
in which he claims to have been a skeptic but he saw the light and now he's not only sure that the global warming is real but it's man-made, too. Tons of propagandist sources claim that a major denier took his reversal a step further, and so on.

Needless to say, this interpretation is a flagrant lie. It's just a dishonestly manufactured story about a "revelation" that never existed. Last year, Richard Muller himself said to the Huffington Post:
It is ironic if some people treat me as a traitor, since I was never a skeptic – only a scientific skeptic.
So either that proposition or the title and the bulk of his newest NYT op-ed is a proof that Muller is a liar. Which Muller was saying the truth? Do we care? Is there an answer at all?

The only climate-related issue he's been skeptical about was Michael Mann and his fraudulent hockey stick. Muller was right. But that doesn't allow Muller to claim that he was skeptical about the global warming doctrine itself and it doesn't promote Muller to an überclimatologist who has the final word.

These comments are about Muller's ego and the cult of personality he would love to extend outside the Berkeley lecture halls attended by naive undergraduates at this traditional U.S. Academia's hotbed of Marxism. Someone wisely said:
My view is that Muller's efforts to promote himself by belittling the collective efforts of the entire atmospheric/climate research community over several decades, though, really does the scientific community a disservice. Its great that he's reaffirmed what we already knew. But for him to pretend that we couldn't trust this entire scientific field until Richard Muller put his personal stamp of approval on their conclusions is, in my view, a very dangerously misguided philosophical take on how science works. It seems, in the end – quite sadly – that this is all really about Richard Muller's self-aggrandizement :(
Well, I improved the word "wisely" a little bit to make this paradox sound a little bit stronger; of course that I think it's silly to suggest that what is pompously referred to as the "atmospheric/climate research community" should be taken too seriously. But I agree that if you take the validity of the claims by this community for granted, it is preposterous to consider Richard Muller a final arbiter.

Anyway, the awkward aspect of the quote above is that it comes from Michael Mann, the very source of Richard Muller's temporary moral capital that he earned a few years ago and overspent in the following years. 

I also think it's preposterous for Richard Muller to place himself above the other alarmists. In my opinion, he is just another alarmist – one who differed from others by having had a conflict with Michael Mann in which Muller happened to be right. But that's it. It doesn't give Muller the moral right to place himself above everyone else who is dealing with the climate. Whether he happens to be right or wrong on particular issues, he's a rather average person in most respect that are relevant for the climate science.

In fact, there are issues in which Muller may be even more naive than an average alarmist. Hardcore fearmonger and annoying e-mail spammer David Appell rightfully wrote (another shock) the following thing about Muller:
Attributing climate is more like figuring out the structure of DNA than it is like figuring out the laws of quantum mechanics – simple curve-fitting (“exponentials, polynomials”) doesn’t cut it. In fact, it makes you look kind of foolish.
Even the top U.K. Green Party's Wikipedia climatic distorter William Connolley said that Muller's statements appear absurdy naive. Judith Curry, a lukewarmer and former BEST collaborator of Richard Muller who refused to be a part of similar nonsense, said the following about the attribution "proven" by hot air:
Their latest paper on the 250-year record concludes that the best explanation for the observed warming is greenhouse gas emissions. Their analysis is way oversimplistic and not at all convincing in my opinion. There is broad agreement that greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to the warming in the latter half of the 20th century; the big question is how much of this warming can we attribute to greenhouse gas emissions. I don’t think this question can be answered by the simple curve fitting used in this paper, and I don’t see that their paper adds anything to our understanding of the causes of the recent warming.
One could argue that Muller's "touching story" of a former skeptic who would suddenly make a difference was planned from the beginning. Muller should be ashamed and sensible undergraduate students at Berkeley should boo him when he enters the lecture hall again. ;-)

Anthony Watts 2012

Things are a bit better in the second story – because there seems to be a serious manuscript that actually brings something new (and something that isn't quite naive) behind the big claims. Yes, I am talking about Anthony Watts et al. 2012.

On Friday, Anthony Watts made a dramatic announcement that he was suspending all new posts on his famous blog for two days. On Sunday, everyone should have expected an unprecedented press release with global implications. Obviously, no one knew what it could have been – not even Steve McIntyre who finally turned out to be a co-author of the sensational paper didn't know what fascinating event was coming on Sunday night. ;-)

No one could have predicted what the event could have really been. My guess was wrong in details, too, although I was right it would be related to the NOAA temperature data. Nevertheless, the press release is out. It describes a so-far unpublished manuscript of a paper called
An area and distance weighted analysis of the impacts of station exposure on the U.S. Historical Climatology Network temperatures and temperature trends
Additional files are available, too. Watts, (Evan) Jones, McIntyre, Christy, and perhaps other co-authors have studied the adjustments applied to the U.S. weather stations – something that's been a pet topic of Anthony for years (see

They used a new classification of the weather stations into the well-sited and others (well, several groups, read the paper for details) – a new convention endorsed at least by the World Meteorological Organization. With this new classification, it seems like the homogenization of the temperatures had been done in a wrong way. Instead of correcting the trend in urban stations downwards, to match the well-sited rural (and other) ones without an urban heat island distortion, it seems that NOAA had added corrections to the good stations for them to match the bad ones.

So far, I don't understand whether they claim that NOAA's methodologies had been invalid even with the old classification of the stations. There are many similar important technicalities that people will become familiar with in coming weeks unless the manuscript disappears from our radars more quickly than that.

At any rate, their conclusion is that with the new methodologies and correct calculations, the warming trend in the U.S. since the late 1970s through the end of the first decade of this century was exaggerated almost by a factor of two. When corrected, the warming trend in the U.S. was about +0.17 °C per decade, pretty much close to the global average.

This number is often overlooked by those who celebrate Anthony's "bombshell" even though it is rather important; it shows that even if all the improvements in the new paper are substantiated, the paper doesn't really change anything about the existence of a warming trend in the last 30-35 years. Their calculated trend is compatible with many other trends etc.

However, what's more important is that this is just the U.S. whose area is 2% of the globe's surface. This is a tiny fraction. If you prove that one-half of the warming trend at 2% of the world's area was spurious, you will lower the estimated trend of the global mean temperature since the late 1970s by approximately 1%. For this reason, all claims that this has global implications look like insane hype to me. I even think that it's invalid to suggest that the new paper immediately invalidates or weakens (irrelevant) papers by Muller and others. In my opinion, they have virtually nothing to do with each other (and neither Muller nor Watts have any sensible evidence affecting the attribution issue). Only people (on either side) who view climatology as a sequence of salvos from two sides (and who don't really care about the content of the salvos) may make such irrational connections. The correction by Watts and friends, even if it is legitimate, and I am inclined to guess that it will turn out to be mostly right, changes the global trends for BEST and others by roughly 1%. The impact is totally negligible.

And it's the global mean temperature that the global warming doctrine is all about. Even James Hansen and others were trying to talk about the global temperature. Many of us have criticized this obsession with the global averages – which no one experiences in his or her life and which are artificial quantities that unnaturally hide the huge regional "noise" normally known as the weather (which makes a one-degree change of the global average or local temperatures negligible). But it's true that the climate alarmism is all about the global averages, alarmists have almost always talked about the global averages (except for times of good enough heat waves in the U.S. when they love to suggest that the whole "problem" is about the U.S. temperatures), and the paper by Watts et al. – even if it is accurate – changes almost nothing about the global trend.

It seems like a good paper and Anthony Watts who may be a bit new in that field of writing papers may be excited in a similar way as people are "extra" excited during their first sex or anything else of this sort. ;-) But the hype that has accompanied the publication of this manuscript has been excessive from my viewpoint. The world's most influential climate blog may want to be more careful when it promotes a manuscript co-authored by the owner of the blog because such promotion is likely to make a disproportionately strong impact. This "amplification of the impact" caused by someone's controlling the media outlets is something that many of us have criticized – and I would kindly criticize it on both sides. I would even say that Anthony's pre-Sunday hype was analogous – if not stronger than – the hype produced by Richard Muller and similar folks, something we – including WUWT – have often criticized in the past.

A particular point of similarity is that the Watts 2012 paper is being celebrated before it's carefully enough verified by others and published anywhere. That's the same non-kosher attitude that Muller took in the past, too. By the way, the BEST papers failed in the peer-review process. Incidentally, a reviewer, Ross McKitrick, was rightfully upset about Muller's new media frenzy and hype, so he – much less legitimately – revealed his identity and published his referee report that should have stayed confidential. You're right that Muller's work with the media is outrageous but where is the rule that allows upset reviewers to use this excuse to publish their confidential reports, Ross? ;-) What's the connection here? In this violent ideological clash, non-kosher events occur on both sides.

So I do perceive that the hype is already being excessively produced by both sides. Of course, the alarmist side still produces a vastly greater amount of this hype in total and more importantly, they are wrong about all these "problems". On the skeptical side, I view the desire to participate in similar media wars as more irrational because the fearmongers control most of the scientific journals as well as the "mainstream" media so if Anthony Watts wants to compete in the number of papers, published papers, or the media hype surrounding them, he is bound to lose. That would be unfortunate because there are good reasons why the skeptics should win and we also have other, more sensible venues that are helping us to be winning so far.

Much more generally, I think that the idea – apparently believed or fictitiously believed by people from both camps – that very soon, we are expecting an event that will totally change the people's knowledge of the climate system is just a totally silly idea. Nothing is really dynamically changing about the climate and the climate science. The weather is changing quickly but the climate – the statistical distributions of weather phenomena and temperatures studied at least over 30-year intervals – are changing much less quickly. The same is true about the climate science. It's doing very little progress. This progress could perhaps be faster but it's not.

Don't expect another random paper claiming that there is a mistake in some partial result or methodology used in the past to change the basic perception of the climate and the climate change debate by either alarmists or skeptics. This won't happen and it is very correct that it won't happen because no sources of fast and urgent knowledge exist. We are very far from knowing everything about the climate – but we are very far from knowing nothing, too. What we know is already enough for everyone to decide about the answers to questions such as "Does science justify the regulation of CO2?"

Needless to say, all of us see data that are pretty much the same and if our estimates about some temperature trends differ by 50% or 92%, it's not the real source of the differences. The preferred responses and different answers we choose are primarily dictated by our values – whether we prefer prosperity, GDP growth, freedom, and capitalism or controlled decline of the civilization, elimination of GDP growth, and the transformation of individuals into rusty and centrally controlled wheels in a gigantic dysfunctional socialist dystopia.

Added: Anthony sent me some kind e-mails with helpful explanations, saying that he believes that the problem has to exist in the "best" network in the whole world, too. See e.g. the discussion by Roger Pielke Sr. He also mentions that many authors (including Watts' group and BEST), by oversight, have used the the obsolete Leroy 1999 system instead of the newer one, Leroy 2010. It took a year for them to figure out the bug. It seems that Anthony did feel a heureka moment.


  1. For this reason, all claims that this has global implications look like insane hype to me


    There is an assumption in there. Namely that the rest of the world doesn't have the same problems are temperature measurement in the US.

    Given the money spent in the US, it's unlikely.

    Not also that its the method that is wrong. Adjusting up to the bad. That's not a US specific problem. It's global because they applied the method globally.

  2. Your points about US vs global are of course true. The new methodology needs to be applied to the temperature record outside the US.

    What can be said is that those keepers of the US record have not done a very good job.

  3. Fine, but you will have to write and defend similar papers that claim that the same problems exist outside the U.S. as well - that in almost every nation in the world (like mine), the people measuring temperatures have done the same mistakes. This manuscript doesn't prove such a thing as it is about the NOAA U.S. data only. I find the idea that the change of the global mean temperature will disappear because of an improved treatment of the urban heat island effect to be rather implausible - more or less childish.

    Just look at a representative world map of the relevant period of time - temperature trends since 1979:

    The map above shows that the U.S. is a very small piece of the globe, 31% of the stations saw cooling in that period, and most of them - but not an "overwhelming" majority - saw warming. The places that saw warming are dominated by regions such as the Arctic where the urban heat island effect should really be zero. The Arctic-like regions are also those that harbor the bulk of the global warming hysteria. Don't forget about the polar bears.

  4. About the hype. This is just a media war, with his own rules. I don't think Watts would have suspended his vacation, but to stop Muller's media blitz when he knew about it. Looks reasonable to me.

  5. About global or not global. Airports may very well be a global problem. And GISSextends land anomalies well over the sea. Consider all those small Pacific islands with an airport measuring temps

  6. OK, if it is just a media war, what decides about the winner? I think that if you count the impact on the undecided ones, it's obvious that Muller has won. Just count the number of readers of those newspapers,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.&sei=hWkWUNi-KInwqQGYhYGICw

    and compare them with readers of WUWT plus those at,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.&cad=b&fp=1

    The result seems clear to me: Muller was winning this media war using these rules of unlimited hype and it could have been clear from the beginning that in the current conditions, any alarmist would win. I find the desire of some skeptics to fight in the media wars according to the (alarmists') own rules to be both ethically non-kosher as well as suicidal for the skeptics.

  7. I tend to agree that this is fairly small in the global context - it doesn't and likely won't result in much of a change to the headline number (which is only just visible in the noise). All it does is possibly point out that one well-studied data set is not as clean as we might assume.
    I can imagine this being the starting point for further questioning of the various different data sets, which might lead to something interesting. Questions about why it was missed might be asked, but to date the difference is too small to be quantitatively interesting.

  8. Leonard WeinsteinJul 30, 2012, 4:04:00 PM

    I think the main point to take away from Watts, et. al., was that except for recent satellite global data, that all previous data is likely to be significantly in error. The US data was the largest and most complete set in the world over large areas, so less extensive and likely even less controlled sets are likely to be worse. Thus we do not know what the global values before about late 1970's are to any confidence.

  9. While the US may be only 2% of the globe, it is perhaps the region where we have the largest amount of temperature data. If it has been shown that the US temperature trend is unreliable ( being contaminated with measurement issues ), then how reliable is the trend in the rest of the world? Why should the issues be limited to the US? This paper (if confirmed as valid) shows how dangerous it is to try and measure temperature trends over long periods with instruments and sites that were never designed for this purpose, and expect to have very high accuracy.

  10. I agree,

    To imagine that an unbiased world temperature can arise from such distributions is naive. When the station data in the most technologically advanced nation are under question there is only down hill for the rest.

  11. You can't measure the impact on the undecided ones. You don't even know who they are, but the ones who count are those who "export" opinion. Moreover, you couldn't notice the impact. It is not like a bullet. Bang! --> hole --> blood --> dead. It's more like a butterfly effect, which you may notice in the future as a full hurricane ... or not notice at all.

    Watts is not going to convince any one by his Sunday blitz. As much as I am not going to convince you. He's just had a strong loudspeaker. Only thing sure is not fighting is the way to lose.

    For your undecided:

  12. "The only climate-related issue he's been skeptical about was Michael Mann and his fraudulent hockey stick."

    I disagree Lubos, he was also a Milankovitch skeptic-a position we now know to be pretty much untenable:

  13. Yes, Werdna, I realize that. What I meant was skepticism towards some parts of the climate hysteria ideology. I don't consider the Milankovitch cycles to be a part of the climate hysteria orthodoxy. After all, Al Gore's explanation of the ice ages is also based on a denial of the Milankovitch cycles - on the assumption that the temperature swings were caused by CO2, not by astronomical irregularities.

  14. But you must also consider that temperatures are extrapolated across areas without weather stations, like the arctic, if you base your extrapolations on poor measurements, it makes a big difference.
    If weather was linear, this might be valid, but weather isn't.

  15. Do you consider yourself an AGW skeptic, luke-warmer, or alarmist (or something in-between)? Also, do you use a Mac, Windows, Unix box, or some combination thereof to make your chrome extensions? BTW, I really enjoy your articles so keep up the great work!

  16. Dear John, thanks for your kind words. I haven't worked on Chrome extensions for quite some time but they were done on Windows.

    After a decade in the U.S. Academia when I was pretty much forced to use Unix, Linux, and sometimes Macs, I returned to my status of a pure Windows user and I haven't even installed the Linux virtual machine on my new laptop (after 5 months).

    I consider myself something in between a skeptic and a denier. ;-)

  17. Muller's so-called "conversion" is a really galling blatant propaganda stunt by someone who seems to be to be a Trojan Horse. I wonder what Lindzen thinks of this conversion on the road to Damascus. The self-importance that Muller ascribes to this epiphany
    is truly amazing.

  18. Lubos,
    If the US record, which is clearly among the best in the world, is as badly interpreted as Watts claims to show, then there are significant global implications. Think of New Zealand with court cases against the climate consensus record winning, by way of extrapolating some of the implications.

  19. If hype is amateurish, then why are you saying the warmists are winning by using it? Not logical. The public ought to see through it on both sides, no?

  20. Gary, you completely misunderstood it. The amateurish sign is the inability to get - despite the same hype - to the pages of the New York Times, Nature, Science, and others. Muller can get there, Watts probably can't. So he's really maneuvering himself into a battle against Muller in a discipline - hype - that he cannot win.

  21. Agree, the problem is twofold. The station data quality and the method's used to massage the data which seem to be flawed and the same procedures used on all the data means this massage of data is a huge failure or even fraudulent. This is the point Watts make and the reason why they argue it's so important. To me it seems the only reliable data comes from satellites.

  22. "which makes a one-degree change of the global average or local temperatures negligible"

    This is a spurious argument because small but steady temperature increments increase ice melting rate at the poles which means sea level increase and hydrodynamical disturbance at a global scale. So I don't think we can simply ignore this.

  23. Excuse me?! Since when has the NZ high court hearing charade of NZ Climate Science Education Trust vs NIWA been "winning"?! I presume you're using that phrase ala Charlie Sheen. The judge has reserved his verdict, and when he does release it I very much doubt it'll go NZCSET's way. Check it out

  24. Watts et al at least try to account for emthalpy in the proximity of the thermometer. That's an increment over what was done previously.

    But they also fall for doing statistics based on extremes; daily ones. The arithmetic mean of daily extreme temperatures don't necessarily indicate the average thermal state of the climate system around the thermometer; as an integral over time, taking into account the variable enthalphy of air as moisture content and pressure change; and the enthalpy of the "surfaces" around the thermometer. Indeed; one needs to look below the surfaces, especially when they are comprised of materials with high specific heat and/or poor thermal conductivity.

    It's a "big ask" to think that people on a shoe-string budget (Watts et al) could collect sufficient data for even a "spotty" enthalpy analysis let alone one that covers (samples) a sufficient proportion of the planet's surface to give a meaningful result.

    Re-analysis of existing records will not provide the necessary data. At best, you get the thermal state of the air at two times of the day. Tap into agricultural research/monitoring stations and you get soil temperatures a few centimetres below the surface. But the data don't cover the necessary decades to encompass the sun's irregularly cyclic moods.

    The sun is after all, what makes the climate what it is on this planet; and not the taxes.

  25. Both papers are about the Land Surface trend, not the entire globe. The US is 25% of the land surface area, so it's more important than you imply. We don't have good data on the ocean currently, not to mention historically. So the land is where it's at as far as looking for a trend. Then when you consider that much of the land surface has poor or non-existent coverage, the importance of the US data increases even more. So enough of this 2% nonsense Lubos, you are much smarter than that.

  26. I was happy to see that (at least in a quick look) that the change proposed by AW brought the surface temp data in line with the satellite data.

  27. more soylent green!Jul 31, 2012, 9:53:00 PM

    What you're missing here (but others have already commented upon it) is if the USA data is this bad, how bad is the rest of the world?

    Yes, the USA is only 2% of the total earth's surface? What percent of the land mass is it? And how many of the world's climate/weather data stations does it contain? All greater than 2%, I assure you.

    The problem here is our data is crap. The official record knows it's crap, that's why they do so many adjustments. The adjustments, of course, just make the problem appear worse.

    When your data is that bad, it needs to be thrown out. It's no good. You can't correct for it. The satellite record is much better.

  28. Interesting reasoning that might carry more weight if we couldn't see the water rising...

  29. Paul: The US land area is 2.4% of the Earth's land area, not 25%.

  30. It is 6.14%, triple 2% which allows oceans, right?

  31. According to numbers from Wikipedia:

    Earth: surface area=510,072,000 km2land surface area=148,940,000 km2
    area of USA=3,717,813 km2
    = 0.7% of Earth's surface area= 2.5% of Earth's land arealand area of USA= 3,536,294 km2= 2.4% of Earth's land area

  32. As we were learning when we were nine years old, the area of the U.S. is 9.6 million squared kilometers, not 3.7.

    You mixed up your miles and kilometers, having used one for the U.S. and the other for the globe.

    I insist that you will write "I admit that I am a complete imbecile", Appell. If you will fail to apologize in this way, I will instantly add you to the black list because I can't afford to tolerate loud idiots like you - there are just way too many.

  33. if America has the best surface stations and these are bad, what help for the rest of the world where they are estimated up to 1000 kilometres from surface stations by GISS. I believe in S America there is one station in a hot part and they are estimating a 1000 kilometres away for a very cold region!!!

  34. more soylent green!Aug 1, 2012, 7:03:00 PM

    I found several listings of the earth's total surface area. Is there a definitive one to use?

    This is from

    Total Surface Area: about 509 600 000 square km (197 000 000 square miles).
    Area of land: 148 326 000 km2 (57 268 900 square miles), this are 29% of the total surface of Planet Earth.
    Area of water: 361 740 000 km2 (139 668 500 square miles), this are 71% of the total surface of the Earth.
    97 percent is salt water and only 3 percent is fresh water.

  35. Fuck you, Motl. At least I didn't get drummed out of academia.