Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

Example of Scientific Peer-Review Working


In the past few years, a TV weatherman, Anthony Watts, has attacked organizations such as NOAA of “fraud” and “acting in bad faith” with regard to long-term surface temperature records in the U.S., among other things.  He runs a propagandist website where he says whatever his backers want him to say.  He uses his designation as TV weatherman to pull the wool over climate change denialists’ eyes – since he’s a weatherman and he doesn’t “believe in” climate change, any work he does to disprove it should count for more than the work of thousands of climate scientists worldwide.  It’s disingenuous and disgusting, but unfortunately not shocking.

I’m going to share a bit of history about some of his propaganda efforts to set the stage for a new study to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research which expanded on one of Watts’ efforts and which resulted in exactly the opposite result as the one Watts came up with.  The whole affair can be summarized by saying that peer-review is the accepted path to publishing scientific information for a very good reason.  Propaganda doesn’t make its way through the process.  Just good, hard science.

Back in 2007, Anthony Watts set out to prove that the surface temperature record which scientists were basing their climate change warnings on was biased to show warming where none existed.  He claimed it was biased because recording sites were situated improperly (there is a recommended site setup, if you’re curious).  Tapping into a reservoir of climate change denialists, Watts enlisted 650 volunteers to document the siting of 865 of the 1,218 stations used in the National Climatic Data Centers’ (NCDC) U.S. Historical Climatology Network, which were established to help track climate change in the U.S.

After a couple of years’ effort, Watts published a report on what he and his volunteers “found”: poorly-sited stations were responsible for much of the increase of U.S temperature over the past century, due to “a bias trend that likely results from the thermometers being closer to buildings, asphalt, etc.”  Watts then concluded that the U.S. temperature record was unreliable and so global datasets were also compromised and nobody else should “believe in” climate change either.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

First – where did he publish his report?  Was it to a scientific journal that would have sent it to three anonymous subject experts to review and recommend improvements?  No.  Second – who paid for the report?  Was it NOAA or the NCDC or NASA or any reputable scientific university across the nations?  No.  The Heartland Institute paid for the report.

My last post was about material that the Bell Policy Center had issued.  In that post, I argued that supporting entities like the Bell is in progressives’ best long-term interests since they function as part of a larger progressive activist infrastructure.  A big reason I pushed supporting the Bell is propaganda outlets like Heartland exist.  Heartland was part of the group that issued flat-out false analyses for the tobacco industry in the 1990′s.  Tobacco corporations wanted the reports to say certain things.  Heartland and other right-wing extremist outlets “conducted research” whose results said … exactly those certain things.  Heartland’s work was cited by Republicans in government as evidence that tobacco was safer than what it really was, etc.  Heartland lied about their results, as it was finally determined.  Places like the Bell don’t have to lie.  They conduct real analyses and then issue reports discussing exactly what they found.  It’s actually quite a lot like the scientific review process.  In contrast, Heartland accepts money from corporate benefactors, including the dirty energy industry.  It’s in those benefactors’ interest to present “proof” that climate change is a global conspiracy perpetrated by roving bands of mad scientists who defraud the public.

Okay – so Heartland issued the report Watts wrote up, which concluded that U.S. temperature records were likely too warm because of bad siting on the part of the government.  That conclusion worked on many levels for Heartland: climate change denial and government-hate all rolled into one.

The main thing Watts didn’t do – and definitely should have done – was examine the data to see if removing the poorly-sited stations would have a significant impact on the observed 1.1°F increase in U.S. temperatures over the past century (according to NCDC and others).  If he had done that, he would have found something quite surprising in the data.

Well, someone did do just that.  Three scientists, in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.  Exactly the way it should have been done in the first place.  Behold Menne 2010.

Menne found that so-called poor sites had a slightly warmer average minimum temperature than the good sites: 0.03°C (0.05°F).  So that’s somewhat akin to what Watts found.  Menne also found that the poor sites had a significantly cooler average maximum temperature than the good sites: 0.14°C (0.25°F).  Thus, the overall average temperatures at the poor sites were actually cooler than the good sites, not warmer.  Watts concluded exactly the opposite for the Heartland Institute because he was fulfilling an ideological agenda and not conducting real science.

Put another way, there is “no evidence that the CONUS temperature trends are inflated due to poor siting”, as Watts claimed.  If anything, they’re a little cooler than they should be.  Human-forced climate change is occurring.  It is doing so across the U.S. as well as the rest of the planet.  All of the propaganda that Heartland and the dirty energy corporations want to throw at Americans can’t and won’t change that.  The only thing their propaganda efforts will accomplish is further delay in addressing the climate crisis, ensuring that future generations have to live on a more desertified and acidic planet with less biodiveristy and weaker ecosystems.  The time to act is now.

Cross-posted at SquareState.

h/t Climate Progress.

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2 thoughts on “Example of Scientific Peer-Review Working

  1. I’m really unclear as to why you feel it necessary to attack Watts’ work by slamming The Heartland Institute. Do you have any reason to believe Heartland “funded” Watts’ research — or did the organization simply publish work he had already conducted? And just where exactly is your proof that “Heartland lied about their [sic] results, as it was finally determined.”

    It is so typical of the warming alarmists to avoid the science and instead try this guilt by association garbage.

  2. You quite obviously missed (or more likely intentionally ignored) the entire point of the post. Watts produced results which weren’t supported by his own data. Menne et al. did the work Watts should have done.

    Heartland was only too happy to distribute Watts’ shoddy, erroneous result because it thought it would boost its funders’ stance on climate change in the public sphere.

    That result has been demonstrated to be completely incorrect.

    Your inability to clearly address this post’s topic and instead issue personal attacks is indicative of denialists’ mentality: distract and delay. Issuing an association fallacy anonymously will not solve the crisis at hand.

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