Monthly Archives: October 2011

Singing the same old (off-key) song

Anthony Watts at WUWT is still attacking the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project and finding ways to avoid having to admit he was wrong about the Urban Heat Island effect.

The posts are coming thick and fast (is there a hint of desperation at WUWT perhaps?), and one of the more recent ones was a reprint of a letter by Dr Fred Singer to the Washington Post.

In the letter, Singer clutches at several straws (a third of the stations examined didn’t show warming, which tells us nothing about the overall trend), tells a few whoppers (the satellite record doesn’t show warming according to him), and finishes like this:

“The Berkeley results in no way confirm the scientifically discredited Hockeystick graph, which had been so eagerly adopted by climate alarmists.  In fact, the Hockeystick authors have never published their temperature results after 1978.  The reason for hiding them?  It’s likely that their proxy data show no warming either.

One last word:  In their scientific paper, submitted for peer review, the Berkeley scientists disclaim knowing the cause of the temperature increase reported by their project.  However, their research paper comments: “The human component of global warming may be somewhat overestimated.”  I commend them for their honesty and skepticism.”

The hockey stick, far from being discredited, has become a hockey league, with multiple different lines of evidence showing the same graph – tree rings (dendrochronology), sea sediments, ice cores, and of course the instrumental temperature record itself.  I think it was Prof Scott Mandia who pointed out on Skeptical Science that the probability of all these time series being wrong in the same direction was vanishingly small.  But Singer understands the value of propaganda.

The second paragraph, in which he commends the scientists for their “honesty”, was dealt with here: .

This was part of a paragraph which hypothesized about two possible scenarios, neither of which was examined in the paper, but Singer has, like the GWPF, presented it as a conclusion.

That’s a bit off-key, Dr Singer.

Meanwhile, a post on Climate Progress reports that a new study has found that there is an 80% probability that the July 2010 heatwave in Russia, which killed 56 000 people, would not have happened in the absence of global warming.  NOAA’s original study found no link to global warming, but the authors of the new study took month and year averages and subjected them to a Monte Carlo analysis.  They also observed (ironically, given the BEST results earlier in the week) that one of the problems with the NOAA analysis was that Urban Heat Island effect had been overstated.

Not a sausage on this one on the skeptic sites yet.  Perhaps they’re trying to work out how to accuse Al Gore of having murdered 56 000 Russians to make global warming look worse than it is…

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Malice in Wonderland

The climate wars have been interesting indeed in the last week or so, primarily because the raison d’etre of the King of Deniers (Anthony Watts of WUWT) has been comprehensively debunked –  and by scientists who have self-defined as climate skeptics!

A little background: a couple of years ago, Watts created a huge furore on his blog and on , a community temperature measuring site he was instrumental in founding, by claiming that the Urban Heat Island effect had distorted US land-based temperature trends upwards, that temperature station siting was usually poor, and that the evidence for global warming was thus in fact compromised.  (And he frequently insinuated that climate scientists knew this and were deliberately concealing the truth).

Now Urban Heat Island is a known effect –  cities are often warmer than the surrounding countryside, partly because of having more reflective surfaces and partly because there are many more heat sources –  humans, vehicle exhausts, air conditioner vents etc.

But in itself, that doesn’t matter when computing trends.  What matters is not whether the absolute temperature of city temperature stations is higher than that of rural stations, but whether there is a steeper warming trend in urban stations.

Watts identified a subset of rural stations which were, according to him, pristine, and insisted that the temperature record should take only these into account.  He went so far as to write a report (for the Heartland Institute, one of the nastier oil thinktanks) on the quality of many urban stations, attacking the NOAA figures in particular and the global temperature in general as unreliable, and saying that the data smoothing techniques used by NOAA and various other scientific bodies introduced a further warming bias.  The report is anecdotal and was not subjected to any kind of peer review; yet Watts insisted that it disproved global warming and that by ignoring it, climate scientists were misleading the public.  (He was one of the noisier assailants during the Climategate saga).

Several people (including NOAA –  the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) took up the challenge, did the arithmetic on the pristine stations, and concluded that urban stations did not affect the trend at all; in fact the pristine stations introduced a slight warming bias!

None of this was good enough for Watts.  Having been attacked for not having the report peer-reviewed, he succeeded in finding a group of scientists who would co-publish with him.  The result was Fall et al (Watts was not the lead author), which examined the UHI stations versus the pristine ones –  and found no difference.

One would hope that Watts would have learned something from this episode (like trusting the data and only the data?), but apparently not.  In about March of this year, he started promoting something called the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperatures Study (BEST), a UCB project which sets out to revisit the global temperature record, use better statistical techniques to analyse it, and in particular, re-examine the Urban Heat Island effect in some detail.

The project includes Prof Richard Muller and Judith Curry, both climate skeptics, as well as several other scientists, mostly physicists.  It came under fire for having received funding from, amongst others, Koch Industries, one of the most polluting companies around and one which invests heavily in spreading climate disinformation and attacking regulatory legislation.

Watts waxed lyrical about the project here and famously said “And, I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.” (5th paragraph below the graph).  He also posted Fred Singer’s endorsement of the project (readers of Naomi Oreskes’ excellent book Merchants of Doubt may recall that Fred Singer is one of those scientist-for-hire who will peddle their expertise to the highest bidder and distort the science to reflect whatever the buyer wants it to reflect.  He was perhaps most notoriously affiliated with TASSC, a Philip Morris-funded tobacco industry thinktank, but has involved himself with acid rain, the ozone hole, and global warming as well.)

Clearly, Watts, Singer, Koch Industries and other deniers with a vested interest in fending off action on climate change, all thought they were onto a good thing, with a paper supporting their views about to emerge from a prestigious and liberal university.

There was just one little problem: BEST didn’t play ball.

This week (20 October 2011) they released their preliminary findings (four papers which have been submitted to journals for peer review). The effect of urban heating on the global trends, they said, is nearly negligible.

Erstwhile skeptic Muller said:

“”My hope is that this will win over those people who are properly skeptical.  Some people lump the properly sceptical in with the deniers and that makes it easy to dismiss them, because the deniers pay no attention to science. But there have been people out there who have raised legitimate issues.”

Which camp does Watts fall into, skeptic or denier?  We know what he would claim to be; his attempts to position himself as a maverick scientist rather than a has-been TV weatherman have reached embarassing proportions.  But he had, after all, promised in writing to accept the results of the BEST study with grace, even if they proved him wrong.

Yeah, right.

First he attacked them for releasing their study before it was peer-reviewed.  For someone who has been attacking the peer-review system for years and published his own material without any review at all, this is rich.

Then he published a post about the things that he did agree with in their paper (not very much), presumably to deflect the completely justified accusations of hypocrisy that were being levelled at him from all over the web.

In addition, he reprinted a post from another conservative thinktank, the inaptly-named Global Warming Policy Foundation, which cherry-picked a juicy soundbite from the BEST paper, namely that the “human component of global warming may be somewhat overestimated”, reproduced it completely out of context and then went on the attack against the media for not running this as a headline.

The entire post is a pack of lies, as one commenter spotted (he was something of a voice in the wilderness).  What the paper actually said was this:

“Since 1975, the AMO has shown a gradual but steady rise from -­‐0.35 C to +0.2 C (see Figure 2), a change of 0.55 C. During this same time, the land-­‐average temperature has increased about 0.8 C. Such changes may be independent responses to a common forcing (e.g. greenhouse gases); however, it is also possible that some of the land warming is a direct response to changes in the AMO region. If the long-­‐term AMO changes have been driven by greenhouse gases then the AMO region may serve as a positive feedback that amplifies the effect of greenhouse gas forcing over land. On the other hand, some of the long-­‐term change in the AMO could be driven by natural variability, e.g. fluctuations in thermohaline flow. In that case the human component of global warming may be somewhat overestimated.” 

In other words, AMO (the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which controls the Gulf Stream), might be responsible for some of the warming if it was an independent forcing, but might not be if it was a feedback response to an external forcing.  This is a hypothetical statement, not a conclusion, and it refers to an aspect of the record which the BEST team did not study. 

(In fact the AMO’s contribution to warming has been thoroughly analysed and shown to be both small and related to the oscillation but not to long term trends –  there’s a good post on the subject here.)

Snipping the previous sentence (and thereby destroying the context), headlining the last sentence of the paragraph, and then claiming it as a conclusion from the paper, and one which should have been newsworthy, is thus egregious dishonesty and propaganda; it’s very hard for me to see how this could be an honest mistake.  But that didn’t stop Watts or the GWPF.

So far from accepting the results of the paper, as he promised to do, Watts has carried on with the usual sorry trail of canards, misrepresentations and ad hominem attacks, while the climate blogosphere laughs their collective heads off at the comprehensive debunking of his pet theory.  Watching the shenanigans, and Watts’ attempts to wriggle out of his predicament, gives us an unvarnished look at how denial-think operates.  (Never let the facts interfere with a good story!).

It would be funny (in a grim sort of way), if it wasn’t so serious, and if there weren’t so many people out there who believe Watts and swallow this sort of twaddle hook, line and sinker.

But as things stand, the deniers are winning, simply by virtue of succeeding in spreading doubt where there shouldn’t be any, and thus delaying or even undoing government action on climate change. And whatever will we tell our children?


Elves – Rolling Out

Elves at work: we’re fiddling with this nice fancy drop down menu of ours, so you might see some debugging code appear on the page.

We seem to have the menu dedupe working, although there are a few more scenarios to test.  You may see some blank screens appear when trying to access blog entries.  That’s because the blog software developers are working on getting various pieces of content to show up where they should – social networking buttons, lists of posts by the same author, etc.

Azrul (the developers of the blogging software) have very kindly fixed two plugins for us.  We’re experimenting with two more so expect some odd behaviour from the site.  Specifically, blog pages will behave strangely for a while.


2011-12-22 we’re updating versions of the social network software and testing.  We’re also moving the site to Germany, where we get the benefit of unlimited bandwidth for the same hosting cost.  We’ve been with our ISP, Hetzner, since 1999 and would recommend them unreservedly, and they’ve done a great job of moving the first batch of No Vanilla sites.  gamadoelas will be shipping out tomorrow morning, so will be down for a while


We are getting very close to rolling out now.  The technical approach we’re taking is to configure the live site up to a point where we’re comfortable that it is usable, and then copy all the configuration data to a development site.  After that, standard change control will apply and nothing will be rolled out to the live site until it has been tested and ok’d on the dev site.  This will prevent disturbances and outages on the live site (it has no effect on your ability to create content or interact with other users).


So for now the site may seem a bit changeable or unstable, but when we’re working on it we’ll post a frontpage article to say that the elves are at it – and you’ll know that there’s a lot of cobbling going on under the hood!