Watts Up With Climate Skeptics and Disconfirmation Bias?

By Chris Mooney | July 13, 2011 11:22 am

So, Anthony Watts has been posting critiques of me for some time now…I finally gave in and sent one back. It’s at DeSmogBlog. It starts like this:

Recently, I’ve become aware that the prominent climate science skeptic blogger Anthony Watts has been challenging a number of my posts. Maybe it’s because in my most recent book Unscientific America, I made a big deal about a site that attacks climate science, like his, winning a “Best Science Blog” award.

Anyways, Watts has gotten me back. Based upon my photo, he has taken to calling me a “kid blogger”  (see here and here). And it’s true: I’m 33, obviously too young to be fooling around on the Internet.

The attention is flattering—but I’ve also grown intrigued by what happens on Watts’ blog when he criticizes something or someone and his many commenters then follow suit. Because it does indeed show what a dangerous place the Internet is for kids like me…

Anyway, the response to this one should be fun. I end the post like this:

But hey, go easy on me…I’m just a kid, after all.

You can read the full post here, and Watts’ posts calling me a “kid” here and here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science

Comments (21)

  1. Johnny

    Posted by another 33 year old “kid” here.

    Characterizing Watts’s blog as an “Attack on Science” is inappropriate for a blog that won “Best Science Blog”. Watts has far more of a right to call your blog here an “Attack on Science”.

    Watts’s blog won even after an organized effort by the scientific community to fix the vote in favor of anyone but a Denier.

    After all Watts has real scientific meteorological credentials. You’re just a journalist.

    Perhaps you’d like to tell your readers how Watts sub-surface station work has proven remarkably important no matter how much the climate bureaucracy wants to suppress it.

    While many critics argued the differences in temperature, caused by poor station placement, were too small to matter, they missed an important detail now coming to light.

    Many scientific studies of temperature are measured as “new record high temperatures”, then the count of these record high days are used to imply higher temperatures. Since a half a degree difference would produce a record high temperature, it does matter in this scenario.

    Recently its been discovered than an egregiously placed sensor in Hawaii, placed on a black tarmac roof, has been the source of a great majority of the high temp records.

  2. 1985

    1. Johnny Says:
    July 13th, 2011 at 12:16 pm
    Posted by another 33 year old “kid” here.
    Characterizing Watts’s blog as an “Attack on Science” is inappropriate for a blog that won “Best Science Blog”. Watts has far more of a right to call your blog here an “Attack on Science”.
    Watts’s blog won even after an organized effort by the scientific community to fix the vote in favor of anyone but a Denier.

    Just to point out:

    The “Best Science Blog” award is a popularity contest. Which means that the vote is going to be dominated by the majority. If the majority consists of scientifically illiterate dimwits (or even worse, outright anti-science morons), then it is no surprise that an anti-science blog won. But that’s hardly a reason to cheer….

  3. TTT

    Watts has real scientific meteorological credentials

    No meteorologist has real scientific credentials. They’re just “Anchorman”‘s Ron Burgundy with more high-tech cue cards.

    Perhaps you’d like to tell your readers how Watts sub-surface station work has proven remarkably important no matter how much the climate bureaucracy wants to suppress it.
    While many critics argued the differences in temperature, caused by poor station placement, were too small to matter, they missed an important detail now coming to light

    Watts and his boardie hivemind clique all seem to have missed that the “station siting” issue was proven false and to have had no net error effect on temperature readings. It’s a good thing Chris is “just a kid,” because he has some small chance of living to see Watts apologize for sliming scientists with his made-up conspiracy theories.

  4. Johnny

    @1985

    You said:
    The “Best Science Blog” award is a popularity contest. Which means that the vote is going to be dominated by the majority. If the majority consists of scientifically illiterate dimwits (or even worse, outright anti-science morons), then it is no surprise that an anti-science blog won. But that’s hardly a reason to cheer….

    The majority consists of scientifically knowledgeable people who read and vote on science blogs. The minority who lost are the alarmist dimwits and anti-science morons, scientists or not.

  5. Nullius in Verba

    “all seem to have missed that the “station siting” issue was proven false and to have had no net error effect on temperature readings”

    Nope.

    If you consider the US temperature record, and if you consider it over a particular time interval, and if you are only interested in the average inter-diurnal-mean anomaly trend, then the errors we know about approximately cancel.

    But if you ask the question about absolute temperature, you’re wrong.
    If you ask about trends or records in temperature maxima, you’re wrong.
    If you ask about trends or records in temperature minima, you’re wrong.
    If you ask the question about diurnal range, you’re wrong.
    If you pick a different time interval, you’re wrong.
    If you ask about trends at particular sites, you’re wrong.
    And if you pick a different country, or the whole world for that matter, then you simply don’t know. Nobody’s looked.

    And making multiple errors that by luck cancel out is no way to do science, and is evidence of poor quality control and a lack of justification for any confidence in the results. What other errors are there in the record, yet to be discovered? We have every reason to be suspicious – given what has already been found.

    The operators of the networks have acknowledged the problems, with thanks to AW, and are busy spending money setting up a new one – because they have scientific integrity. Trying to make out that there’s nothing wrong with the way science is being done here shows precisely the lack of scientific integrity that is slowly destroying climate science’s reputation – behaviour that turns scientific onlookers into sceptics.

    When proving Watts wrong becomes more important to you than getting the science right, we all lose; but your side more than ours.

  6. Johnny

    @TTT

    You said:
    No meteorologist has real scientific credentials.

    Definition of a Meteorologist: Meteorologists are scientists who study meteorology.

    —–

    You said:
    Watts and his boardie hivemind clique all seem to have missed that the “station siting” issue was proven false and to have had no net error effect on temperature readings.

    Watts claimed poor station situation affected temperature: True

    Watts claimed poor station situation affected night-time temperatures positively: True

    Watts further accurately cites that the raw data proves a warming trend. Its only the homogenized (altered) data shows a warming/cooling trend. Watts finally notes that the Journal conveniently ignored new data when publishing its results.

  7. TTT

    @5: I suppose it depends on what your definition of “is” is.

  8. Thorn

    Chris “The Kid” Mooney. Has kind of a professional fighter ring to it…which may not be that far off, due to his many dust-ups with deniers.

  9. via http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2011/06/counterpoint_fails_to_make_cor.php

    “Last year on Counterpoint Anthony Watts appeared:

    Michael Duffy: In which direction does the bias lie? Are you suggesting that the temperature has not got as hot as the American official historical record suggests?

    Anthony Watts: That’s correct. It’s an interesting situation. The early arguments against this project said that all of these different biases are going to cancel themselves out and there would be cool biases as well as warm biases, but we discovered that that wasn’t the case. The vast majority of them are warm biases, and even such things as people thinking a tree might in fact keep the temperature cooler doesn’t really end up that way.

    Watts went to to rubbish the paper by Menne et al that analysed Watt’s data and found no warming bias.

    But when Watt’s paper came out it contradicted Watt’s claims on Counterpoint, finding no warming bias, just like Menne.”

    ———

    Cherrypick any little claims you’d like to consider vindicating, but Watts found no substantial problems with the US record, which is exactly contrary to what he and the deniers claimed would happen.

  10. Nullius in Verba

    #9,

    You’ve just repeated the incorrect claims of #3.

    See #5.

    (The first example in particular.)

  11. Dunc

    After all Watts has real scientific meteorological credentials.

    TV / Radio weatherman != real meteorologist.

    AFAIK, there is no evidence that Watts has a degree of any kind, much less one in a relevant field. If you’re going to pull an appeal to authority, you might want to make sure your authority has some credentials first.

  12. You’re welcome to post at WUWT – Anthony & co only snip posts that are really egregious.

    I don’t have a URL handy as a reference, but at the recent ICCC, Anthony mentioned that several of the stations panned by his reviewers have been shutdown, some within days of posting the reviews.

    So, it appears NOAA takes the Surface Stations project seriously (read, act, and pretend they don’t read), but can’t bring themselves to admit that Anthony’s efforts are improving the weather record.

    I was at another event where Heidi Cullen (still at The Weather Channel then) griped a bit that the two groups hardest to get on her AGW bandwagon were broadcast meteorologists and geologists. I think the former see the full weather record and know that events the dust bowl and past floods still happen without increasing frequency and geologists know that whatever horror story Cullen can envision, Earth has seen far, far worse. (And the interglacial is ending “soon,” where geologists have an interesting concept of what “soon” means.)

  13. Orson Olson

    Watts, et al, paper found that when UHI/LUC/inferior stations are screened out, then there is no DECREASING diurnal temperature range found.

    This is a very contrarian fundamental finding of his surfacestations.og project. Even skeptical climatologists like Balling and Michaels had accepted this as fact.

    Now it needs to be repeated with other sets of data. This is such a fundamental claim about ACO2 and its EGE potential that is made me a warmer. Now, what do I do?

  14. bjorn eriksson

    Obviously you guys, Mooney and Watts, are picking on each other over anything.
    This bogus study doesent prove anything for anybody and should be ignored by you both, but you keep banging each other over the head with it,’.
    It is both funny and tragic.
    Find a real issue to debate, let go of this nonsense debate.

  15. Susan Anderson

    Sad. AFAIK Watts’ work on weather stations was a genuine contribution and has been recognized as such by scientists, and the facts are as stated, as no “warmist” bias was discovered. So where’s the beef; a problem was spotted and work has been done to correct it, and everyone won. But Watts, it appears, was not happy with the result, which failed to prove bias. I’m not sure exactly how that is some kind of victory.

    As to popularity, yes, but if anyone looks at the actual count of votes, it is a very limited subset of the world’s population, people who pay attention to blogs on climate science, and heavily weighted in favor of those whose passion is preventing the evidence from being counted as such. This business – and it *is* a business – goes from strength to strength, and regardless of your opinion, you are the losers, you and your children and grandchildren.

    As to “snowmageddon” it seems a little stupid to claim that as evidence against global warming, as an increase in water vapor and increased energy in the system will make snow when the temperature is below freezing. Nobody said winter would be banished, just that extremes would be increased. While individual events are due to a variety of factors and complexity must be considered, the trends we are seeing are characteristic of what we will see on the increase in the years to come.

    And anyone thinking the trends are not growing over the decades and the whole planet needs to think again.

    Top meteorologists like Cullen and Masters are not having any trouble with the science. Weather presenters may have limited training, but certainly Brett Anderson of AccuWeather gets it and I’ve noticed an overall shift in all of AccuWeather, which used to be a conservative site, but does not ignore evidence (it can’t, being seated in reality). Plenty of others out there. Engineers like to think they can manipulate their way out of trouble, but the rest of us should be plenty worried.
    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/article.html

    The current article is a case in point: “2011 the most expensive year for natural disasters in history”

    Now money, that’s something we can all understand. Dealing with increasing extremes of weather on a case-by-case basis is the most expensive way to go. Infrastructure and disaster relief will add to our debt at an accelerating pace over the years.

    Don’t get me wrong: climate includes weather over space and time, but individual weather events will continue to be changeable. Just as 1998 broke the mold and provided a new goalpost for “cooling” advocates, so will this year and the next, most likely. It is important to look at the cutoffs and see where the cherrypicking creates false appearances, though.

  16. #16

    > As to “snowmageddon” it seems a little stupid to claim that as evidence against global warming, as an increase in water vapor and increased energy in the system will make snow when the temperature is below freezing.

    That was more coupled to the very negative North Atlantic and Arctic Oscillations that winter and forced the storm track over the northeastern US well south of normal. Basically my New Hampshire snow went south and I got cold instead for a while. Eventually maritime air flooded into eastern Canada and instead of Arctic air in late January and February we got warmer maritime air.

    The north central part of the country got the Arctic air, and that pushed down to Florida killing several hundred manatees and damaging reefs further south.

    Basically, more like 1970s weather than longterm climate change.

  17. Nullius in Verba

    #16,

    “the facts are as stated, as no “warmist” bias was discovered”

    See #5.

    “a problem was spotted and work has been done to correct it, and everyone won.”

    While work is in progress to correct it, it is far from complete, and cannot fix the past.

    “But Watts, it appears, was not happy with the result, which failed to prove bias. I’m not sure exactly how that is some kind of victory.”

    Watts was happy with the result, not so happy with the way some people try to spin it.

    “As to “snowmageddon” it seems a little stupid to claim that as evidence against global warming, as an increase in water vapor and increased energy in the system will make snow when the temperature is below freezing.”

    You’re doing it again: trying to connect weather to climate.

    The IPCC projection was that precipitation would increase but that snow and ice would decrease. Events like Snowmageddon would, if they counted for anything, count against the IPCC theory, and very explicitly so. Trying to spin every weather event – hot, cold, wet, dry, cloudy, sunny, or windy – as supporting global warming renders the hypothesis unfalsifiable and unscientific. It doesn’t take a deep scientific education to understand that if you draw the same conclusion whatever the outcome of the observation, the observation clearly isn’t contributing to your conclusion.

    The scientifically correct position (even in mainstream climate science) is that individual weather events tell you virtually nothing about global warming. Citing individual warm events as evidence of a warming climate but dismissing cold events as just random weather hurts your credibility. Citing cold events as also being evidence of a warming climate just looks irrational.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    “Nobody said winter would be banished…”

    According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”. “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said.

  18. Susan Anderson

    I knew as I reread my post I was going to get in trouble for not walking carefully enough on the eggshells.

    I’m talking about the real world while those clinging to “weather is not climate” are arguing propaganda and philosophy. Climate is a different way of looking at weather, that is weather over space and time, the sum of local data in context. For preference, the time is measured in at least decades, and certainly over the whole planet including its atmosphere. Weather is what you get locally, but its trends are certainly part of climate. I did a lot of studying and asked a lot of questions, which apparently those eager to seize on snow as disproving global warming were determined to avoid, in case their illusions might be destroyed.

    What we do know is that there is more energy in the system, as well as at least 4% more water vapor. This affects a whole range of things, increasing extreme weather. We see the increase as weather and as noted climate is complex, so isolated weather events and isolated justifications just don’t work out of context. But taking “no single weather event can be attributed to climate change” to say “no weather events can be attributed to climate change” ever is much more egregious. These individual weather events, in sum, are indications of reality and require real consideration, not obstinate dismissal.

    You cannot persuade me that warm seasons are not longer. You cannot persuade me that the southwest drought, the Pakistani floods, the Amazon drought, the increase in wildfires (Russia, southwest, Bolivia, etc. etc.) in both quantity and quality, the increase in normal and flooding rainfall worldwide, the famine in east Africa, the Australian collection of problems, and the like are not symptomatic of a trend that we are unwise to ignore. If those trends are reversed in the next decade, I will join you in celebrating something wonderful, but unfortunately what is much more likely is that the current trends will continue and get worse by fits and starts. As far as I understand, this year and next are due to be exceptional, and it will not be surprising that just as 1998 broke away from the curve, 2010 and 2011 will be followed by more moderate overall weather. But the things we are doing now are also putting a number of possible tipping points in play so that hope may trickle away.

    I like to look at water vapor maps, and have been doing so for some time. I recommend it as value-neutral and visually exciting:
    http://weather.unisys.com/satellite/sat_wv_hem_loop-12.gif

    Here you can look up what is changing in your area of the US:
    http://www.climatecentral.org/features/states-of-change

    This list touches briefly on the snow event and explains it in context, including the Arctic Oscillation. I have heard it suggested that the overall pattern of the oscillation has changed, and the circulation around the north pole is broken, sending heat north and cold south.
    http://www.climatecentral.org/news/top-ten-climate-events-of-2010/

    I have also heard that currents may be affected by an influx of fresh water, and that the jet stream is moving. (Well, it always moves, but the trend of the boundary has moved as well.) As far as I know, that rash (and cherry picked) statement from England has been trumped by a series of cold winters, and it appears that parts of the mid-north, including the US and Europe, may see more cold winter weather for a while. What consumers of this information should worry about is if the cold is moving out of the overall system over time, which I get the impression it is.

    We are all in such a hurry that if things take geological time we say it ain’t happening. But once the ice is gone it’s gone, and in the northern hemisphere that is just what is happening, absent surprises. There isn’t some kind of self-correcting mechanism that kicks in and saves us from ourselves. The speed of the current changes are shocking in that context – instead of hundreds of thousands of years, we are seeing changes over decades.

  19. Nullius in Verba

    “You cannot persuade me that the southwest drought, the Pakistani floods, the Amazon drought, the increase in wildfires (Russia, southwest, Bolivia, etc. etc.) in both quantity and quality, the increase in normal and flooding rainfall worldwide, the famine in east Africa, the Australian collection of problems, and the like are not symptomatic of a trend that we are unwise to ignore.”

    So show us the data.

    I’ve seen the record on US droughts – the current situation appears to be well within the range of normal variation, there have been far worse droughts as far back as historical records go, and there is no detectable trend I can see.

    Weather extremes globally have also been examined, and there are no detectable trends. We have always had floods. We have always had droughts and famines. We have always had wildfires. We’ve always had hurricanes and storms and tornadoes. The only things that have increased significantly are the costs – because we have big expensive cities now and denser populations – and the reporting – a hundred years ago you would never have heard of most of the incidents that hit the headlines today. Either they would be too far away for the news to spread, or they would be considered so routine (like famines) that it wasn’t even news. It gives an entirely misleading impression – one which is talked up by the global warming propagandists.

    It’s true that there are changes – yes, it’s slightly warmer, yes, there’s slightly more water vapour and precipitation. Neither of those is a disaster. Neither of those is big enough to be obvious without collecting lots of data over large areas. Neither can be unambiguously distinguished from natural variation. Arguably, they’re actually good news.

    If you want to show that I’m wrong – and I very well may be – you have to avoid this business of listing a handful of individual events and asserting that they are part of a trend, and instead show us the trend. Show us the past two hundred years of US or Australian drought severity data, show us long-term flood statistics, show us the past thirty years of accumulated cyclone energy, etc. Don’t mention specific events like the Pakistani floods or the Amazonian drought – tell us about all floods and all droughts. Quantify the trend for us.

    I’m sure you have access to the data – you must do, to be able to tell us with such confidence that such trends exist. I’m genuinely interested in being proved wrong – that’s why I try to converse with people who disagree with me.

  20. Carl Nisarel

    Joseph – It’s rather lame to point at US droughts when Susan mentions the Amazon drought. You do know the difference between the USA and the Amazon, yes?

    The Amazon drought is yet another bit of compelling evidence of global warming. You just stamp your feet, shout “IS NOT” and demand other data. Your posts are long enough that you probably hit most of the top 20 fallacies in each post.

    Your argument is just another lame red herring after another.

    If you’re going to scream “show us the data” then you need to do the same. BTW, a graph is not data.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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