What’s the purpose of auditing surface temperature data?
Like many, I try and follow the latest in the global warming discussion. I’m not a climate scientist…I don’t pretend to be. When it comes to the general conclusions regarding the measurements and attribution of global warming, I accept the IPCC’s statements (more or less). Do we know everything about how the climate system works? Of course not. But, we have to try and pull all the available information together and make reasonable interpretations. That being said, I don’t necessarily and wholeheartedly agree with all the policy recommendations. I’m not sure what the best course of action is…but the policy discussion is the discussion to be having now.
Once in a while I head over to Climate Audit just to see what they are up to. Essentially it is a group of statisticians, engineers, and computer scientists…from what I can gather. If you’ve never been there, it is difficult to get a good overview of what they are doing. The FAQ is rather narrow and requires some digging into the history of why the site was started. I once asked if they could produce a high-level ‘executive summary’ and was quickly scolded and chased away. And it seems someone else in recent days inquired about a similar thing…and they told that person to get lost. So, it seems the blog is more of a forum for those involved in the data-mining and statistical analyses…it’s not for the outside reader. It’s not meant for general consumption. That’s fine, I have no problem with that. Maybe they should put that in the FAQ.
In the last few weeks, these ‘auditors’ have been painstakingly sifting through surface temperature data used by NASA GISS to calculate and report longer-term trends. Firstly, I’m not a statistician and can’t evaluate what they are doing in any technical way and, secondly, I do not have the time to try and figure it out. So, as an outsider, I try and get an idea from the post and the associated comments. A good portion of the comments are very celebratory in tone, as if they have torn down the very foundation of our understanding of global temperature trends. Indeed, they may be finding actual errors, and they may be rightly confused about NASA’s methods for adjusting surface temperature data. Most of the general comments regarding what they think of climate scientists in general, and Hansen and Mann of NASA specifically, have a tone similar to this:
I’m beginning to think that one of the main divides is that climate scientists have no idea what an engineering study looks like. They are only familiar with little articles in journals (or literature reviews.) This thing cries out for an engineering study.
I really hope that they work on communicating what it is they are doing, and why it is so important to a general audience. If their work has the implications they all think it does, it behooves them to communicate it effectively. For all their criticism of the RealClimate blog (NASA’s team), which is quite harsh, RealClimate at least has a very thorough index and ‘start here’ page communicating what they are doing. Actual audits typically create a short (1-2 page) summary of their findings…should CA do the same?
So, to sum it up…I’m not against what they are doing in principal. I say go for it. More scrutiny is always good in science. But, is this really for the benefit of our understanding of climate science?
Oh, and by the way…remember they are now claiming that the surface temperature data is, at best flawed and, at worst, completely unreliable as an indicator of global trends. Below is a plot (from Open Mind) showing the relationship of surface temperature data and satellite data. I suppose they’ll have to audit the satellite data now too.
This is being discussed in much more detail here.