Attacks on Climate Science in Schools Are Mounting

By Chris Mooney | August 10, 2011 10:30 am

My latest DeSmog piece is about the classroom climate for climate science teaching–and how poisonous it is getting. It starts like this:

A few months back, those who care about accurate climate science and energy education in high school classes registered a minor victory. Under fire from outlets like The New York Times, the education publishing behemoth Scholastic (of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Harry Potter fame) pulled an energy curriculum sponsored by the American Coal Foundation, which gave a nice PR sheen to coal without bothering to cover, uh, the whole environmental angle. The curriculum had reportedly already been mailed to 66,000 classrooms by the time it got yanked.

When it comes to undermining accurate and responsible climate and energy education at the high school level, Scholastic may have been the most prominent transgressor. But precisely because it is a massive and respected educational publisher, and actually careswhat The New York Times thinks, it was also the most moderate and easy to reason with.

Although it’s hard to find online now, I’ve reviewed the offending coal curriculum, entitled “The United States of Energy.” In my view, it didn’t even contain any obvious falsehoods—except for errors of omission. It was more a case of subtle greenwashing.

What’s currently seeping into classrooms across the country is far, far worse—more ideological, and more difficult to stop. We’re talking about outright climate denial being fed to students—and accurate climate science teaching being attacked by aggressive Tea Party-style ideologues.

You can read on here….

Comments (42)

  1. Mike H

    I’d be happier if high school science curriculum equipped students with the ability to explain basic concepts like the laws of thermodynamics, Newtonian physics, the EM spectrum, structure and function, etcetera then regurgitate algore’s talking points.

    God forbid we have truly literate people … that’s just a bunch of affluent conservative white male talk!

  2. Incredulous

    “What’s currently seeping into classrooms across the country is far, far worse—more ideological, and more difficult to stop. ”

    There is a fine line between filtering inaccuracy and quashing dissent. It is hard to say where this fits without seeing the curriculum.

    Of a more important nature, here is a tougher problem: With new areas of science being added to our knowledge daily, how do you decide what of the “old” science to take out of the curriculum? They don’t have more time to cover more information, so they are left with covering more and more breadth with less and less depth.

    Why wouldn’t you think it better to focus more on basic science than just trying to make sure you develop more people that agree with your stance?

  3. Chris Winter

    Incredulous:

    You last sentence implies that you think AGW is not supported by science.

    It seems to me that, from the standpoint of scientific understanding, the basic facts of climate change are pretty much congruent with basic tenets of science: the conservation of energy; the second law of thermodynamics; the Stefan-Boltzmann law. From the standpoint of science education, AGW is a good handle to use in getting those concepts across.

    Regarding your “tougher problem,” I doubt there’s much new science to crowd out the old science in classrooms.

  4. Matty J

    “Why wouldn’t you think it better to focus more on basic science than just trying to make sure you develop more people that agree with your stance?”

    And by “your stance” I’m guessing you’re referring to the scientific community’s stance? Since it is. I think teachers should be able to give their students the information they find most relevant and engaging for them, and climate science increasingly relevant and important.

  5. Mike H

    It seems to me that, from the standpoint of scientific understanding, the basic facts of climate change are pretty much congruent with basic tenets of science: the conservation of energy; the second law of thermodynamics; the Stefan-Boltzmann law.

    I would bet that if you asked the average high school student to explain AGW, they could give a reasonably good explanation congruent with the wider understanding. I doubt the same could be said about Stefan-Boltzmann or the second law.

    From the standpoint of science education, is a good handle to use in getting those concepts across.

    The exact same principles could be demonstrated using a modern coal fired power plant. AGW is pushed as hard as it is in schools not because it demonstrates scientific principles (as most of the students know very little about the underlying science) but because it has a political/partisan/ideological component.

  6. Incredulous

    #3 Chris Winter

    “You last sentence implies that you think AGW is not supported by science.”

    It wasn’t meant to. It was meant to imply that people are setting a political agenda that includes AGW that tries to keep it on the forefront as a political point and the education system is not really an appropriate venue. This is a perfect example. Chris states:

    “In my view, it didn’t even contain any obvious falsehoods—except for errors of omission.”

    When the “error of omission” was the topic of AGW that he has decided should be the focus. What? We can’t say anything about science without an AGW spin? Notice how it is framed as an “Attack on Climate Science in Schools” in the post title. They are attacking it by not talking about it with every single breath?

    #4 MattyJ

    “And by “your stance” I’m guessing you’re referring to the scientific community’s stance? ”

    You really don’t think that out of the entire range of scientific studies, that this one is singled out as being paramount is just purely coincidental? That makes about as much sense as spending the entirety of 12th grade English studying the semi-colon. There is a whole body of science to be teaching but amazingly this one, which can’t really be understood without a good foundation in the others, is the one we would choose to be the focal point for every bit of science that is taught?

    “I think teachers should be able to give their students the information they find most relevant and engaging for them, and climate science increasingly relevant and important.”

    No, it is shoved in their faces repeatedly framed with pictures of dead polar bears and drowned cities and other doom and gloom explaining how we are all destroying the world and the big bad Republicans and evil Tea Partiers are doing it on purpose.

  7. Matty J

    “No, it is shoved in their faces repeatedly framed with pictures of dead polar bears and drowned cities and other doom and gloom explaining how we are all destroying the world and the big bad Republicans and evil Tea Partiers are doing it on purpose”

    Seriously? When and where was it that you’ve seen/heard a high school science teacher presenting AGW that way to their class? If they are they are doing their students a great disservice, and are not the norm (not that I believe you have seen anything of the sort).

    And the semi-colon thing, really? You definitely are one for impassioned but overly dramatic metophors aren’t you? Do you honestly believe that climate science is the only science going on in class? I’m sure our ideas on this (and many other subjects) will not come together but try to be more genuine. Also, since you asked, no, I don’t believe climate change is being singled out as ‘paramount’ is coincidental. Were the global community facing a long term detriment due to vector borne disease, we would see epidemiology come into focus in our schools. It just makes sense, at least in my opinion.

  8. James

    Is it Climate Science that’s under attack, or is it really Climate Economics that’s under attack?

  9. Nullius in Verba

    It’s not even as if they teach them the science.

    Try this on some students:

    Q1. Liquid water is transparent to visible light, but almost opaque to thermal infra red radiation – with IR being entirely absorbed (and re-radiated) within a fraction of a millimetre. Sunlight shines on a two metre deep pond of water lined at the bottom with black plastic. Use your knowledge of the greenhouse effect mechanism to estimate how the temperature varies with depth.

    Q2. Hot air is less dense than cold, and has a tendency to rise. Explain why the tops of mountains are colder than the bottoms. What power source maintains the temperature differential?

    Q3. Two greenhouses of identical shape, one made of glass, the other made of a plastic transparent to both visible light and IR, are left out in the sun. The temperature inside is measured. Which would you expect to be warmer, and why?

    The answer to the conundrum, of course, is to teach students the techniques of scientific method and critical thought, so that they can apply them to any controversy that comes their way. Teach them how to find out for themselves. Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.

    #7,
    In my country, all children are shown Al Gore’s movie in science class. There was a famous court case about it.

  10. Incredulous

    #7 Matty J

    “Seriously? When and where was it that you’ve seen/heard a high school science teacher presenting AGW that way to their class? If they are they are doing their students a great disservice, and are not the norm (not that I believe you have seen anything of the sort).”

    Have you missed all the news stories? You don’t think that every time one of these comes up, it doesn’t get discussed? You haven’t seen the cute little dioramas depicting the happy polar bears that were saved? I do think that they are not as cute as the baby seals but they generally are not as bloody. I have taught in the public schools (about 10 years but thankfully, I am out). You obviously have not seen the inservice presentations showing how to do just that kind of thing to keep science “relevant”. I have.

    “Seriously? When and where was it that you’ve seen/heard a high school science teacher presenting AGW that way to their class? ”

    I will admit it. I have not seen it in a high school class. I saw it in middle school earth science. I saw it in elementary school classrooms. From talking to the teachers, I don’t see it as being much different in high schools. It is more the norm than you apparently know.

    “Do you honestly believe that climate science is the only science going on in class?”

    No, I see people complaining that it is not. This post for example. How come we can’t have a science presentation by the coal industry? They are so corrupt that we can’t trust them to say anything?

    But the part that you don’t seem to accept is that anyone else’s opinion counts. What if *I* believe that we are more likely to be done in by another scientific topic, such as say GM crops or pesticide abuse or many others? Maybe I believe an asteroid is coming to wipe out the earth. Does that mean I get to choose the curriculum for everyone?

    “And the semi-colon thing, really? You definitely are one for impassioned but overly dramatic metophors aren’t you?”

    Thanks. That is mainly for my entertainment. I really don’t expect that anyone will change such solidly founded biases and prejudices and it helps to keep me from screaming when I read the responses. I thought about going with an ellipsis but I didn’t think many would know what it was.

  11. Incredulous

    #7 Matty J

    Just an addendum…

    Here is an example of where you end up searching for the lesson plans from PBS which do get used in high school classrooms:

    Climate Crisis
    Desperate efforts to keep climate change from drowning entire nations.

    http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/548/index.html

    I really don’t feel up to looking up the polar bear ones but there are some links to related doom and gloom ones there for you.

  12. Matty J

    So they’re teaching climate change in elementry classes? I’m jealous, all I got to do was mix baking soda and vinegar.

    “No, I see people complaining that it is not. This post for example. How come we can’t have a science presentation by the coal industry? They are so corrupt that we can’t trust them to say anything?”

    Why should we havea presentation by the coal industry in our science classes? Weren’t you just saying we aren’t giving enough time to other science, and now you want to bring in an industry to talk not about science, but their industry? And it isn’t that they are so corrupt we can’t trust them to say anything, but they’re obviously going to be bias towards their position since they have a heavy finacial interest. If they ever truely come up clean coal, they should definitely be invited to science classes.

    “But the part that you don’t seem to accept is that anyone else’s opinion counts. What if *I* believe that we are more likely to be done in by another scientific topic, such as say GM crops or pesticide abuse or many others? Maybe I believe an asteroid is coming to wipe out the earth. Does that mean I get to choose the curriculum for everyone?”

    If the general consensus and scientific evidence is behind you, then yes those items should deff. be featured in your class. But to focus on GM right now would be like worring about watering the plants while the house burns down. I know that’s a little over the top, but I didn’t think you’d mind.

  13. Incredulous

    #13 Matty J
    “Why should we havea presentation by the coal industry in our science classes? Weren’t you just saying we aren’t giving enough time to other science, and now you want to bring in an industry to talk not about science, but their industry?”

    I wasn’t complaining about them, the original post was. I feel that there it was mostly worry that they might say something against the faith, which Chris didn’t even find objectionable — other than that whole “it wasn’t about AGW” thing.

    “And it isn’t that they are so corrupt we can’t trust them to say anything, but they’re obviously going to be bias towards their position since they have a heavy finacial interest. ”

    Now they are selling coal to high school students? But seriously, the other side gets to push their own agenda unopposed? No, not specifically the AGW component of the argument but the whole pacakge.

    ” If they ever truely come up clean coal, they should definitely be invited to science classes.”

    They can’t even come explain how they are trying to clean up the use of coal? They can’t come in and explain geology? Site remediation?

    “If the general consensus and scientific evidence is behind you, then yes those items should deff. be featured in your class.”

    How about we take some time to teach all those *other* things that there is general consensus and scientific evidence for? Then maybe they would understand what the climate scientists were saying and understand it.

    “But to focus on GM right now would be like worring about watering the plants while the house burns down.”

    No, that was not over the top. That was quite tasteful and well placed.

  14. bad Jim

    Whatever the status of climate change as a political issue may be, as a scientific matter it’s pretty well settled, as much as gravity or evolution. To pretend otherwise is either ignorant or dishonest (the possibility that it’s often both is one I have a hard time comprehending).

    The deniers don’t understand how ridiculous they appear whenever they rail against Al Gore or reference Climategate; they’re like anti-vaccinationists citing Andrew Wakefield or creationists complaining about Haeckel or proffering the second law of thermodynamics in disproof or, worst of all, when they triumphantly complain that evolution is “only a theory”.

  15. Incredulous

    #14 badJim

    “To pretend otherwise is either ignorant or dishonest (the possibility that it’s often both is one I have a hard time comprehending).”

    Just a suggestion, you can get more impact in an argument calling people stupid or liars later in the debate when they falter on something. I wouldn’t lead with it. It makes you look like you don’t have some actual facts and are grasping at straws.

    “The deniers don’t understand how ridiculous they appear whenever they rail against Al Gore or reference Climategate”

    I would have gone with some scientific evidence here. Al Gore has had some bad press on both sides and not really a winning argument. The climategate is a little bit better but they will have plenty of counters to that. Better to throw out some minutia that they won’t have a reference to at hand and let them fumble through their references.

    “they’re like anti-vaccinationists citing Andrew Wakefield or creationists complaining about Haeckel or proffering the second law of thermodynamics in disproof or, worst of all, when they triumphantly complain that evolution is “only a theory”.”

    I would also split these up. When you throw in too many false analogies at once, it raises questions as to what you are arguing and disrupts the flow. If you do just one at a time sprinkled in, they might miss it and you can come back and make them argue against it and distract their chain of thought. No sense building a straw man if you can’t beat someone over the head with it.

  16. Nullius in Verba

    #15,

    Some good tips there. It’s also worth working in a “think of the children!” angle; cuddly baby animals make a good substitute. Perhaps something along the lines of how deniers will cause our children and grandchildren to drown beneath the rising seas, like all the polar bears.

  17. Jackie

    As a mother, and scientist, I want my children well rounded in math and science so that they can navigate as adults in a climate that is changing rapidly. Some survival training might be a good idea too.

  18. Incredulous

    17. Jackie

    I would also suggest things like sewing, cooking, gardening, carpentry, plumbing, and other skills to get away from the pure consumerism that is currently the trend. Even in a high tech society, I am amazed by the kids that come to college that lack basic skills like using a ruler, let alone something complex. This is an Engineering program mind you. About the only thing that they have any real skill with is WOW and other computer games.

  19. Baron Greeves

    I don’t want coal companies teaching my kids, and I don’t want political zealots teaching my kids, either.

    “In my country, all children are shown Al Gore’s movie in science class. There was a famous court case about it.” Good Gawd, drowning polar bears (they didn’t drown, they were doing fine) – this is appeal to emotion (a logical fallacy – does it belong in a science class?). He said increasing hurricanes that year (which didn’t repeat, btw, and NOAA says that year’s increase was due to normal variability and not global warming) were due to AGW – association fallacy. He also uses appeal to consequences, appeal to authority and appeal to masses.

    The movie is filled with logical fallacies – the Hockey Stick (a huge part of the argument) is a joke – and you (and your whole country) are happy playing that piece of garbage to children in SCIENCE class? (it belongs in History class – “Kids, here is a great example of propaganda….”)

    If you don’t understand the consequences of relying on logical fallacies, let me help you out. In the 1920s and 1930s “all credible scientists” thought eugenics was good science and morally fine. Eugenics became law in many places. There are still people alive who suffered unbelievably under this senseless (but “progressive”) nightmare – we’re talking people who were forcibly sterilized (some only because they STUTTERED, and it was assumed they were “retarded!”) – people in Germany, New Jersey, California, lots of other states – and Canada (so don’t be too proud). Non-whites were particularly singled out for this. But “every expert – every scientist” KNEW it was the right thing to do.

    Everyone knew the world was flat. Everyone knew, including all doctors, that diseases were caused by bad night air (or something close to that). Doctors once overwhelmingly bled and purged patients (often killing them). This wasn’t that long ago. Between appeal to authority and association fallacies – a lot of good people were killed by experts who had the gall to charge their survivors for the murder!

    It’s time to recognize that AGW is NOT proved and that “bandwagon effect” is in full force here (or was – even 51% of DEMOCRATS think AGW is crap – oh, appeal to masses, sorry! Sorry!).

    AGW may be real, but given the deep and systemic corruption pervasive in the pro-AGW “scientific” community revealed by the release of the CRU emails, given that the hockey stick (on which AGW was founded) is crap (it ignores the Medieval Warming Period!), given that temperture increases were incorrectly reported in the last half of the 1900s (failed to account for urban warming, people like the CRU crowd cherry picked and so on – satellite temperature data is much less alarming), given that temperatures are dropping when they should be rising, given that real temperature data doesn’t even begin to match models or predictions, given that some data indicates that rising CO2 levels actually LAG increasing temperatures (think about that!), given that temperatures (against the models) have been dropping the past 10 years, given several dozen more good, solid reasons not created by Exxon or American Coal or Martians – but by real scientists (and brave ones, too – brave to stand up against the likes of the CRU crowd, who were viciously trying to fire and dismiss and ostracise anyone who even mildly criticized them) – it’s time to demand some REAL SCIENCE. Actually PROVE IT, and I’ll give it some thought. But thinly veneered zealotry passing as “science” – doods, the party’s over. Give it up.

    Chicken Little, go home. And don’t try to brainwash my children in school, either!

  20. caerbannog

    Baron Greeves said,

    given that temperture increases were incorrectly reported in the last half of the 1900s (failed to account for urban warming, people like the CRU crowd cherry picked and so on – satellite temperature data is much less alarming),

    OK, folks, let’s compare the CRU data with the “much less alarming” satellite temperature data:
    http://woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1979/mean:1/normalise/plot/uah/from:1979/mean:1/normalise/plot/rss/from:1979/mean:1/normalise

    See much difference between the long-term trend of the CRU data and that of the “much less alarming” satellite data?

    Didn’t think so…

  21. Incredulous

    20. caerbannog

    “See much difference between the long-term trend of the CRU data and that of the “much less alarming” satellite data?
    Didn’t think so…”

    Just out of curiosity, if it is just the numbers and they come out about the same, what is the point of them making a personal attack page for Spenser?

    http://www.desmogblog.com/roy-spencer

    Sounds more like the McCarthy hunt for communists to me. “Are you now or have you ever been a denier of global warming???”

  22. caerbannog

    Incredulous,

    There is a big difference between what Spencer’s data say and what he tells non-technical audiences what the data say.

    Pointing out that Spencer’s professional judgement is colored by his ideological/religious views is not a personal attack, any more than is pointing out that a creationist (which Spencer is, btw) has views of evolution which are colored by religion/ideology.

    Similarly, pointing out that an error that Spencer made in the processing of his satellite data produced an erroneous cooling trend, an error that he persisted in making for years, btw, is not a personal attack. BTW, the error that Spencer made was a simple “sign error” where he subtracted a correction for satellite orbital drift instead of adding it as he should have done.

    Spencer not only persisted with this error, he allowed/encouraged “skeptics” to run with his erroneous “satellite cooling” results, results that contradicted very other other global temperature result as well as all the modeling results. A real scientist, when faced with the fact that his results contradict everyone else’s, would quadruple-check his own work for errors before announcing to the world that all the other scientists were wrong. Spencer failed to do that — it was left to others to figure out where he made his error and correct his results for him (which was done in a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal “Science” BTW).

    So Incredulous, before you run off accusing others of making personal attacks on Spencer, you’d do well to educate yourself about some of the basic scientific/technical issues first, which you *obviously have not done* at this point.

    If you want a make a credible case for your views, you are going to have to roll up your sleeves and do your homework first. And the time to get started with that is now.

  23. Nullius in Verba

    #22,

    Roy Spencer freely provided the information needed, and cooperated jointly with other researchers in the effort to find where the error was, and when it was found, corrected it gracefully. Unlike some others.

    A real scientist would quadruple check his work anyway, and if it turned out differently to what everybody else said, would still publish. To act differently when results don’t meet your prior expectations invites confirmation bias. If you only check for errors when you get the “wrong” answer, while rushing to publication as soon as it comes out “right”, you will always get the result you want, even if it’s not true.

    It’s a tendency everybody has, but by encouraging publication from people of all views, accepting that this sort of thing will happen on both sides, you can quickly catch such problems. Each side acts as a check on the other. That’s why real science encourages sceptical challenge, and people with the inclination to try to prove everybody else wrong. It’s healthy.

    Spencer makes a sign error, and admitted it, and is accused of not being a real scientist. Other people can put in entire data series upside down, mislocate recording sites entire continents away, use obsolete data, records based on a single sample point, invent their own statistical algorithms that don’t work, and fail to report that a reconstructed series showed a squared correlation of 0.02 with the thing it was supposed to be reconstructing, although they obviously knew that before it was published. When caught, they can deny it, counter-accuse, throw out misinformation, and hide the evidence. And they’ll be fully supported in this, and lionised as a hero of science by the rest of their community.

    Other people can invent data to cover up database corruption, use non-gridded interpolation to produce gridded data, calculate circle intersection areas on the globe by plotting circles on a map and then counting pixels in the resulting bitmap, splice series together, truncate data when it gives the wrong answer, openly admit to selecting data sources to enhance a desired signal, play games with end-point smoothing, try to prevent publication of contrary findings, complain that contrary findings would be hard to dismiss because the math was correct, refuse to share data on the grounds that somebody might find something wrong with it, breach freedom of information law by refusing to share data, mislead about the reasons for doing so, lose data, edit raw data manually without noting the changes made, extrapolate data samples across thousands of kilometres, fill in gaps in data with modelled results, or just the last valid value from four or five years previously, or values from a random neighbouring column, measure outdoor temperatures with a thermometer placed next to an aircon vent, or on a car park, or within a few feet of a barbecue, … And people will tell you that there’s nothing wrong with any of that, and it’s all good science by honest scientists of the highest integrity.

    But Roy Spencer made a sign error, and – heavens! – actually allowed sceptics to go around talking about his results! Are there no depths to which climate sceptic scientists will not stoop?!

    So yes, let’s all do our homework. Which scientific/technical issues do you wish to start with?

  24. Incredulous

    22. caerbannog

    “Pointing out that Spencer’s professional judgement is colored by his ideological/religious views is not a personal attack, any more than is pointing out that a creationist (which Spencer is, btw) has views of evolution which are colored by religion/ideology.”

    You mean that they tar and feather him for being the “scientific advisor” for a religious group? The only people that are allowed to be a scientists are card carrying atheists? Einstein was Jewish too. Should we throw out all his scientific work as well?

    “So Incredulous, before you run off accusing others of making personal attacks on Spencer, you’d do well to educate yourself about some of the basic scientific/technical issues first, which you *obviously have not done* at this point.”

    I would be glad to discuss the scientific technical issues but that was not what I was discussing. I was specifically discussing the innuendo and guilt by association page that they have up there for Spenser. Trying to cloud the issue by bringing up other topics doesn’t change that.

    I also like the subtle :

    “DeSmogBlog thoroughly investigates the academic and industry backgrounds of those involved in the PR spin campaigns that are confusing the public and stalling action on global warming. If there’s anyone or any organization, ( i.e. scientist, self-professed “expert,” think tank, industry association, company) that you would like to see researched and reported on DeSmogBlog, please contact us here and we will try our best.
    If you need something more quickly, please let us know and we can arrange to have the process expedited for a small fee to cover research costs.”

    Sounds like “Character Assassinations ‘R Us” to me.

    I thought it was supposed to be about the science?

  25. caerbannog

    Incredulous,

    *YOU* tried to cloud up the issue with your off-topic response to my original post that demonstrated how the CRU data and the satellite data show similar global-warming trends.

    My original post addressed only the *data* — you tried to divert the discussion topic from the *data* to Spencer himself.

    Now, if you want to discuss the *data*, fine. If you want to discuss scientific/technical issues, that would be great. Now let’s see you make a genuine effort to do just that. No more mention of Spencer — just the data. Let’s see what you can do there…

  26. caerbannog

    Nullis said,

    “edit raw data manually without noting the changes made, extrapolate data samples across thousands of kilometres, fill in gaps in data with modelled results, or just the last valid value from four or five years previously…measure outdoor temperatures with a thermometer placed next to an aircon vent, or on a car park, or within a few feet of a barbecue,”

    Of course, you are well aware that results generated from temperature stations confirmed to have none of the above problems are virtually identical to results you get when you include *all* of the temperature stations.

    And a couple of quick followup questions: If I wanted to perform my own independent verification of the NASA/CRU results, would I be able to do so with access only to publicly-available raw temperature data? If not, what additional information would I need that NASA/CRU/etc. don’t already supply?

  27. Incredulous

    26. caerbannog

    “*YOU* tried to cloud up the issue with your off-topic response to my original post that demonstrated how the CRU data and the satellite data show similar global-warming trends.”

    How odd, You come on to a post about a coal company going to make a presentation to school children and how they are “climate science teaching being attacked by aggressive Tea Party-style ideologues.” and suddenly *you* want to slog through temperature data. Then you accuse me of being off topic? I was merely relating your off topic post back to the original discussion: attacks by ideologues.

  28. Incredulous

    26. caerbannog

    Sorry, the reference in #27 should have been to #25. I apologize.

    “If I wanted to perform my own independent verification of the NASA/CRU results, would I be able to do so with access only to publicly-available raw temperature data? If not, what additional information would I need that NASA/CRU/etc. don’t already supply?”

    Well, the raw data is not in question other than some questions about collection methodology. It has correlated somewhat to other measurements so I will leave that to the experts to decide.

    The next part of what additional information would you need? Well, lets start with the data that the investigation decided that should have been released but the CRU broke the law in withholding. Once you filed enough FOI requests that you might get the data, you could try to guess at the algorithms that were used to convert that raw data into the results. Then you would have to guess the subset of data that was used to make the calculations.

    I could go line by line discussing the problems with this process by referring to the the notes of the CRU’s own programmer who was not too flattering about said process. Of course you will play the “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” card and we will then go around in circles.

    You have already formed your own opinion and nothing I or anyone else could ever say could possibly sway you from it. Other than recycling years of the same arguments, there is really nothing to add unless you have some new information.

  29. caerbannog

    Nullis said,

    Once you filed enough FOI requests that you might get the data, you could try to guess at the algorithms that were used to convert that raw data into the results. Then you would have to guess the subset of data that was used to make the calculations.

    Guess at the algorithms? The basic algorithm used is a very bog-standard temperature anomaly gridding/averaging procedure.

    BTW, I downloaded the raw data that the CRU just released and processed it with a program that I wrote from scratch. Here are the results plotted against NASA’s “land temperature index” results: http://img35.imageshack.us/img35/2210/mycrumyghcnnasaghcn.jpg

    Since the CRU raw-data dump consists of land-station data, I compared my results with the results that NASA gets from its own processing of the land-station data that it uses (i.e. the GHCN raw data).

    The official NASA results are plotted in orange.
    My own program results for GHCN data are plotted in dark blue.
    My own program results for the new CRU data dump are plotted in red.

    The algorithm I implemented is a very straightforward version of the temperature anomaly gridding/averaging procedure that is customarily used to compute global temperature estimates. I did not have to guess at the algorithm; I coded it up in C++ from a publicly-available description of the procedure. I did have to guess at which “subset” of the data to use; I used it *all*.

    The fact that you think that you have to “guess at the algorithms that were used” when in fact that the algorithm used is well documented and straightforward enough for a college freshman/sophomore to code up indicates to me that you haven’t really investigated this issue. You have merely repeated talking-points from others who also haven’t looked at any of the data.

    Listen, Nullis — Unlike you, I have actually downloaded and processed the CRU and NASA data — I have sliced and diced the data in every which way, and have always gotten results very similar to the official NASA/NOAA/CRU results. To confirm those results, you *don’t* need to “guess at the algorithms”. And you *don’t* need to know what “subset” of data to processes.

    An on-the-ball college freshman/sophomore could do this.

    Oh, and one more thing — I didn’t have to file a single FOI request to get the information that I needed.

    So instead of copy-pasting talking-points, let’s see you roll up your sleeves and perform a bit of real data analysis on your own, like I did.

  30. Incredulous

    29. caerbannog

    “Listen, Nullis — Unlike you, I have actually downloaded and processed the CRU and NASA data — I have sliced and diced the data in every which way, and have always gotten results very similar to the official NASA/NOAA/CRU results. To confirm those results, you *don’t* need to “guess at the algorithms”. And you *don’t* need to know what “subset” of data to processes.”

    First of all, I am not Nullius in Verba.

    Hyperbole and innuendo aside,

    Trying to pass off the simple plotting of current instrument data as “proof” of the predictions created by the models is either ignorant or disingenuous. Arguing about directly read temperature readings from actual instrumentation is stupid from either side of the argument.

    Plotting from 1880-2011 or so from actual instrument data doesn’t have any real bearing on the issue of how that data is extrapolated into the future. To do that, you have to make assumptions about causative factors and feedbacks. You have to account for where the models don’t work so well from the past data (MWP as an example). You have to differentiate what are normal variations. You have to make some real careful examinations of where the temperatures are inferred from indirect measurement such as the ice cores and tree rings. There is where things start to become ill defined. Those basic assumptions are what are in question. This is the part where the CRU has not been allowing evaluation of their data and algorithms. That is not my opinion. That is from the official findings of the investigation. If you want to argue that, talk to the investigators.

  31. caerbannog

    For lurkers here — just following up my previous post with a bit of perspective…

    As far as global-average temperature calculations are concerned, you don’t need to know any of the details of the NASA/CRU processing steps (even though all that information is free for the downloading if you are so motivated). The global-average temperature anomaly procedure is one of those procedures where you can get 98 percent of the official NASA/CRU/whatever results with 1 percent of the work.

    The basic anomaly gridding/averaging procedure, sans all the the refinements and data-quality assurance processing steps that NASA/CRU add, really is quite straightforward.

    Let me outline the steps that I used to get my results from the newly-released CRU data.

    1) For each station, calculate the average temperature for each individual month for the time-period 1951-1980. You will end up with an array of average temperatures, indexed by station and month. For each station, the array will contain that stations 1951-1980 average temperatures for January, February, March, April, etc…. You will have an array with #stations rows, and 12 columns (1 column per month). These are the “seasonally-adjusted baseline” temperatures for each station and month.

    2) Take all the raw data and, for each station and month, subtract that station/month’s baseline value . That is, for station XXXX subtract the station XXXX January baseline temperature from all that station’s January temperatures for all years, subtract the station XXXX February baseline temperature from that station’s February temperatures for all years, etc. Do this for every station. This step will produce all the seasonally-adjusted temperature *anomalies* for all stations.

    3) The quickest way to get “quick and dirty” global-temperature estimates is just to average all the station/month anomalies together for each year. That is, take the 1880 station/month anomalies, average them together to produce a global-average 1880 temperature anomaly, etc. Do separately for each year. Your results will look pretty similar to the NASA “Northern Latitudes” temperature index (which is reasonable, because the land-temperature stations tend to be concentrated in the temperate northern latitudes).

    4) A little fancier approach, which will get you results amazingly similar to the official NASA global-land-temperature results, involves a “gridding” step. Subdivide the globe into latitude/longitude cells, with longitude dimension adjustments made to keep the cell surface areas approximately constant. (This involves some trigonometry, or you can just look the adjustment formula up — it’s pretty standard). Use the station metadata to determine which stations go into each latitude/longitude cell (the metadata includes station lat/long coords). Average the temperature anomalies for all stations in each cell to produce your “gridded” results — 1 anomaly value per grid-cell. Average all the grid-cells together for each year to produce global-average annual temperature anomalies.

    This gridding step is needed to “equalize” the station representation. If you don’t do this, then areas with a high concentration of stations will be “overweighted” in your global average.

    The grid-cell size isn’t critical — but you do want to make it big enough so that you don’t have too many “empty” cells. Then you will lose some of the “equalization” effect that gridding provides. I used 20×20 degrees at the equator, adjusting the longitude cell-size to keep the cell areas approximately constant as you move north/south from the equator. No particular reason for that exact number — it just seemed like a nice “round number” starting point. Other values will provide similar results.

    4) Plot up the results with your favorite plotting package/spreadsheet. If you do it right, you will get results *amazingly* similar to what the “big boys” get.

    The only tricky bits (and this is where most of the programming grunt-work is involved) is dealing with gaps in the station data. Stations have reported data for varying lengths of time, and there can be missing data for periods due to equipment malfunction/whatever. So the number of stations reporting data for any year/month will vary. You will need to keep track of all that to be sure that your averages come out right. It’s a bit of a slog, but conceptually, it’s not very difficult.

    And one more thing — you don’t need to file a single FOI request to do any of this — all the data and software development tools needed to do this are available on the Internet to anyone for free!

  32. caerbannog

    Incredulous, you don’t know what you are talking about.

    The CRU programmer that you noted was talking about the difficulties in dealing with various sources of *instrumental* temperature data — he was not dealing with paleoclimate data.

    Other research groups (and individuals as well) have not had any trouble replicating/confirming the CRU’s work, be it instrumental or paleoclimate work. All the data and documentation needed to confirm everything the CRU has published can be found on the web, if you are willing to look.

    As for climate models, the source code for all the major climate models is freely available on line; complaints about the supposed inability to access said source-code are completely groundless. Furthermore, models are *not* the primary evidence for climate sensitivity re: CO2 — the most important supporting evidence for that comes from various lines of paleoclimate data. We could throw out every single modeling result and still be left with a mountain of evidence linking CO2 to major climate change. There is no doubt that CO2 has been the primary climate driver for the Earth over most of its history.

    All you are doing here is repeating talking-points put out by others who haven’t any serious analytical work themselves.

    The major criticisms of paleoclimate work put out by deniers have either been trivial (i.e. correcting the problem doesn’t change the results), irrelevant, or just plain wrong. A classic example is the “hockey sticks from noise” claim. Anyone familiar with Mann’s technique knows that the output of his processing will tell you whether you have a good temperature signal or just random noise. No competent analyst would confuse a “noise” hockey-stick with a genuine temperature hockey-stick. The two cases are extremely easy to tell apart if you understand the basic algorithm used by Michael Mann.

    But the bottom line is, the evidence linking CO2 to major climate change is overwhelming — anyone who argues otherwise is ignorant or delusional — watch this video to see why: http://www.agu.org/meetings/fm09/lectures/lecture_videos/A23A.shtml

  33. Incredulous

    31. caerbannog

    Actually, that is a nice explanation of the steps you took with the data. If only everyone were so open in their methodologies.

    Not being argumentative, just curious. You have the instrument data for this time period. What steps would you choose to to make the extrapolations that are the real point in question?With this time period of data, how far out would you comfortably make predictions of the extensions of any trends you see? (Really, I am not trying to trip you up. I am sure that there are some statistical rules of thumb to get things specifics. I am just interested in the discussion)

  34. Incredulous

    32. caerbannog

    “All you are doing here is repeating talking-points put out by others who haven’t any serious analytical work themselves.”

    No, actually I am repeating the findings of the investigation. Let me be quite clear about my stance so you don’t have to keep making guesses as to what I am saying.

    I do not know for certain if the analysis of the CRU is correct or incorrect. I have never made any statements either way. What I do have an issue with (supported by the findings of the investigations and my own observations of the news as it has played out) is that the CRU was trying every way they could to keep their data away from any detractors and to thwart anyone from raising any questions. To me this raises flags which makes their results suspect to me as it doesn’t conform to the norms expected in every other field of scientific inquiry.

  35. caerbannog


    What I do have an issue with (supported by the findings of the investigations and my own observations of the news as it has played out) is that the CRU was trying every way they could to keep their data away from any detractors and to thwart anyone from raising any questions.

    First of all, the data in question weren’t the CRU’s data in the first place — they came from various national met offices, and came with restrictions on redistribution.

    But that’s water under the bridge; All of the disputed data have now been released, and guess what? The new data produce the same results that NASA/CRU/etc have been publishing all along.

    It took me just a few hours to modify code that I had written and produce my own initial temperature results based on the CRU data, results that I generated and uploaded to the imageshack image-hosting site the very same day I downloaded the data.

    But it has been close to a month since the CRU released all of the data, and where are the skeptics’ results? The people who have been demanding access to the entire CRU data-set sure don’t seem to be all that eager to do anything with it now that it has been released.

    BTW, it took the CRU a couple of years to secure the permission to redistribute the proprietary raw data that came with nondisclosure restrictions. Many national met offices view their temperature data as “cash cows” and thus place restrictions on data redistribution by third parties. Don’t blame scientists for that; blame conservatives/libertarians who insist that governments be run like profitable businesses. Businesses generally don’t make money by giving their goods away, so running government like a business means restrictions on the distribution of government-produced data.

    That being said, Phil Jones was working on securing permission to release all of his data long before “climategate” blew up — you can confirm that yourself with a little research. He was working hard to secure permissions from various and sundry government bureaucracies, and understandibly got frustrated with foreign nationals who were demanding that he release the data immediately (before he had permission to do so)! Hence the nastily-worded emails.

  36. caerbannog


    Not being argumentative, just curious. You have the instrument data for this time period. What steps would you choose to to make the extrapolations that are the real point in question?With this time period of data, how far out would you comfortably make predictions of the extensions of any trends you see? (Really, I am not trying to trip you up. I am sure that there are some statistical rules of thumb to get things specifics. I am just interested in the discussion)

    Modeling results would be useful, but I would look to the paleoclimate data from the Earth’s past for really long-term (century+ projections). The most convincing evidence is paleoclimatic evidence — climate scientists consider modeling results to be less important than paleoclimate data in connecting CO2 to major climate change.

    The PETM is perhaps the best analog to what may happen in the next couple of centuries if we don’t get CO2 emissions under control — and a PETM-like event would pose severe challenges to human civilization.

    Go back to the Eocene hothouse period; temperatures/humidity then certainly got high enough to make many lower latitude regions of the Earth uninhabitable by modern humans (i.e. with periods heat/humidity high enough to kill everyone), regions where billions of people now live. Sea surface temps got as high as 100F (possibly even higher) in the tropics. Sea surface temps like that would produce levels of heat/humidity in the atmosphere that would induce heat stroke in anyone exposed to those conditions for more than a few hours. Start getting wet-bulb temperatures in the mid to high 90’s (F) and even healthy, fit people will start dropping like flies.

  37. Incredulous

    #36 caerbannog

    We are on the same page as far as the variation in global temperature in paleoclimatology. The temps have been quite a bit higher and quite a bit lower than our standard “normal.” In the hotter periods, there has been more CO2. Many times the CO2 level was considerably higher than present levels. Whether it was a leading cause or trailing result makes little difference except for semantic wrangling. Each time it has gone up previously, natural mechanisms sequestered the increase of CO2. Why do we necessarily leap to the conclusion that this time, the natural mechanisms which have handled higher levels repeatedly in the past will be unable to at this time? Whether it is anthropogenic, brought down in bubbles by little green men from mars or whatever source, CO2 is the same regardless of it’s origin. We are still well within the the historic “normal” range of CO2 concentrations. We are still with a fraction of a degree of “normal” global temperature averages. I see cause for concern and study. I don’t however see any justifications of exaggerated claims of our imminent danger (No not from you, I have not seen you make any such claim).

    The PETM is a bit of a stretch when that was a 6C change and we are looking in the range of 0.3C in most of the studies I have seen. As far as the sea surface temps near 100F we have places pretty close to that on occasion now. Down here, we have a wet bulb temperature of 84.9 already (103F with RH of 51%). It is not even an unusual day.

  38. Nullius in Verba

    #26,

    I should say before I start that I’m pleased to see your comments here of a higher calibre than is usual. I look forward to a good debate.

    “Of course, you are well aware that results generated from temperature stations confirmed to have none of the above problems are virtually identical to results you get when you include *all* of the temperature stations.”

    Absolutely not true.

    I presume you are talking about Menne et al., and the mean trend calculated over a particular period for the continental United States – where the errors approximately cancel. However, if you look at absolute temperatures, the trends in maxima or minima, or diurnal range, pick a different time interval, or pick regional subsets, then the errors do not cancel and you get different numbers. If you ask the question of the whole world, then nobody knows because – apart from a few individual cases – nobody has done such an audit outside the United States.

    I’m afraid this is a case of the classic “the errors don’t matter” trick. The fact is, temperatures from a thermometer sited within a few feet of a barbecue were used for years without anybody noticing – even to a non-scientist that must look bad, irrespective of whether it “mattered”.

    The question is not “did it matter?”, the question is: “did they do the science competently, so that we can trust the results?” And in this case, the question I’d like to draw your attention to is “can I induce you to defend rather than condemn practices like not checking to see if the thermometer you’re relying on is sat right next to an artificial heat source?”

    You were happy to accuse Roy Spencer of not being a real scientist for not quadruple-checking his results, but you’ll cheerfully make excuses for a whole catalogue of unchecked errors when made by others. Why?

    And can you not see that’s exactly the sort of behaviour that has so damaged the reputation of climate science?

  39. Nullius in Verba

    “And a couple of quick followup questions: If I wanted to perform my own independent verification of the NASA/CRU results, would I be able to do so with access only to publicly-available raw temperature data?”

    It depends which one. Some can be replicated, some can be replicated now as a result of sceptics making a fuss, others cannot as yet.

    “If not, what additional information would I need that NASA/CRU/etc. don’t already supply?”

    I’m not the best person to talk to on that. I could give examples, but the I’m not up to date on which ones people are most interested in.

    But if you want to have a go, there’s an outstanding request for the 2006 Yamal regional chronology (a digital version of this series together with a list of all the measurement data sets used to make this composite, denoting each data set by ITRDB identification or equivalent), referred to in email 1146252894.txt as URALS and supporting Briffa et al. 2008. Good luck!

  40. Nullius in Verba

    #29,

    Yes, a lot of sceptics have done the same. As you’ll have noticed, the results are not identical, with your version giving higher values in earlier years. The main issues, however, are with matters such as corrections for UHI, site changes, instrument changes, transcription errors, missing values, etc. What changes were made in between the raw data, and the version CRU just released? It’s validation of the adjustments and corrections that is desired.

    In your version, what values did you use to correct for UHI, for example? What correction did you use for the transition from cotton region shelters to MMTS?

    Oh, and the CRU data just released was as a result of an FOIA request that CRU rejected, rejected again at appeal, fought at the ICO, and lost. They released the data because they were threatened with a contempt of court action if they didn’t.

    And again, it’s not a question of whether the conclusion turned out to be right or not, it’s a matter of the proper scientific process being to do it out in the open so that people can check that it’s been done right. Show your working. Secret science is no good.

  41. Nullius in Verba

    #32,

    “Other research groups (and individuals as well) have not had any trouble replicating/confirming the CRU’s work, be it instrumental or paleoclimate work.”

    Some have got similar results, by using equally dubious methods (e.g. reliance on bristlecones). Plenty of others have got entirely different results, and had just as much difficulty replicating the earlier studies. It’s quite easy to get no Hockeystick. (Zorita said they had tried to replicate MBH98 before McIntyre and had found a can of worms. Loehle, Ljungqvist, McIntyre, and even Mann himself if you count the contents of the BACKTO_1400-CENSORED directory have all done so.)

    “Furthermore, models are *not* the primary evidence for climate sensitivity re: CO2 — the most important supporting evidence for that comes from various lines of paleoclimate data.”

    It comes from attempts to get the models to emulate paleo data – based on all the assumptions the models make about what affects climate. Paleo data alone can provide no more than a correlation, it cannot prove causation.

    “We could throw out every single modeling result and still be left with a mountain of evidence linking CO2 to major climate change. There is no doubt that CO2 has been the primary climate driver for the Earth over most of its history.”

    Excellent! Why don’t you publish it? Why didn’t the IPCC publish it? Then we could stop all these arguments about what the actual evidence for it really is.

    “Anyone familiar with Mann’s technique knows that the output of his processing will tell you whether you have a good temperature signal or just random noise.”

    No it won’t. Anyone familiar with basic statistics will know that the best you can hope for is to distinguish a signal due to something from random noise following a particular assumed model. It won’t tell you it is a temperature signal. And in fact, we know it isn’t temperature – it’s Bristlecone pines and their 20th century growth spurt.

    The random model McIntyre used was selected to be sufficient to show the flaw in the algorithm, it was not meant to be fully realistic. It is not being claimed that MBH98 actually was the result of random red noise processed by his algorithm, it is being claimed that the flaw in the algorithm over-emphasises any hockeystick shapes in the data, to such an extent that even random data with no such signal shows a hockeystick shape.

  42. Nullius in Verba

    #35,

    “First of all, the data in question weren’t the CRU’s data in the first place — they came from various national met offices, and came with restrictions on redistribution.”

    Well first, CRU had already redistributed earlier versions of it several times to other researchers, second, when challenged to produce these restrictions (they had said they were prevented from redistributing to non-academics by these conditions), CRU were unable to find any, and third, most of the met services were not seeking to protect confidentiality (you could in most cases download the same data for free), they were attempting to protect the data’s integrity. By insisting that all copies came through them, they ensured that no modified or corrupted versions of their data got into circulation.

    Why? Well, we get a hint by reading Phil Jones’ begging email asking for the release of the data. He points out that the CRU data has been modified, and is no longer identical to the original. Unfortunately, Phil can no longer remember what modifications were made or why. The met services didn’t object to Phil sharing the data, they objected to him publishing his modified data and calling it theirs.

    “But that’s water under the bridge”

    I’m sure you’d like to think so.

    “But it has been close to a month since the CRU released all of the data, and where are the skeptics’ results? The people who have been demanding access to the entire CRU data-set sure don’t seem to be all that eager to do anything with it now that it has been released.”

    The entire CRU data set hasn’t been released. Of the 20 Polish stations known to have been in earlier versions, 8 have been released; also apparently missing are Magdeburg, Brocken, Skopje, Fairbanks, Corpus Christi, New York, Ridgetown, Belleville, Nitchequon, Morden, Waseca, Chesterfield, Tacubaya, and Titizema/Chichijima. Surely you noticed? The sceptics certainly did.

    “That being said, Phil Jones was working on securing permission to release all of his data long before “climategate” blew up — you can confirm that yourself with a little research.”

    He started asking permission shortly after Climategate, when he realised he was going to lose the FOIA fight. And the nasty emails started long before even the FOIA requests.

    #36,

    High sea surface temps cause thunderstorms – the higher the temperature, the earlier, heavier, and denser the storms.

    During the Eemian, ocean temperatures were probably around 2-3 C higher than today. (Lea 2000, Pelejero 2003, Martrat 2004.) Significant, but not catastrophic.

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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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