No data, no science

by Marlo Lewis on September 24, 2009

in Blog

In “The Dog Ate Global Warming,” published yesterday in National Review Online, Cato Institute scholar and climatologist Patrick J. Michaels delivers a body blow to the “science is settled” dogma.

There are three core issues in climate change science: detection (Is it warming, and if so by how much); attribution (What’s causing the warming we observe?); and, sensitivity (How much warming will a given increase in greenhouse gas concentrations produce?). As I argue in a previous post, all of these issues remain unsettled, and more so today than at any time in the past decade.  

Although climate sensitivity is the most important issue (because if climate sensitivity is low, then there is no “planetary emergency,” hence no need for “urgent action”), detection is in a sense primary, because without reliable temperature data it is impossible to resolve the other two issues.

The claim that the latter half of the 20th century was warmer than any comparable period during the past 1300 years is largely based on surface temperature records subject to several well-known warming biases. Urbanization generates artificial “heat islands.” Agriculture and irrigation in places like California’s Central Valley also produce local warming effects. Retired meteorologist Anthony Watts has documented that nearly nine out of every 10 U.S. weather stations fail to meet the U.S. Weather Service’s minimum requirement that temperature sensing equipment be placed at least 30 meters (about 100 feet) away from artificial heat sources such as air conditioner exhaust vents, waste water treatment plants, and parking lot pavements.

Michaels now exposes the shocking fact that the data allegedly underpinning the most influential surface temperature record are missing and apparently have been destroyed. The record is known as Jones-Wigley for its authors, Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU) and Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The IPCC relied exclusively on this record until its 2001 report.

For years, Jones and Wigley declined to share the raw data from which they constructed their record. Recently, however, Jones told University of Colorado Professor Roger Pielke, Jr. that they could not share their data with him, because the data no longer exist:

Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (quality-controlled and homogenized) data.

 Michaels says the “data storage availability” excuse is “balderdash,” since “All the original data could easily fit on the 9-inch tape drives common in the mid-1980s.”

The bigger point, of course, is that if other scientists cannot examine the raw data, they cannot assess the accuracy and objectivity of the “value-adding” adjustments Jones and Wigley made to produce their global temperature record.

In addition to providing another reason to reject the “science is settled” dogma, disappearance of the Jones-Wigley data is of direct relevance to EPA’s pending endangerment finding. The Jones-Wigley temperature record is part of the evidence on which EPA bases its judgment that “air pollution” from greenhouse gas emissions “endangers public health and welfare.”

Use of the Jones-Wigley temperature record in a rulemaking clearly flouts federal data quality standards. Under OMB guidelines implementing the Federal Data Quality Act, data quality consists of four elements: objectivity, utility to users, integrity of information, and reproducibility in the case of “influential scientific or statistical information.”

Now, if the original Jones-Wigely data have been destroyed, then it is impossible to assure “integrity of information.” For all we know, Jones and Wigley goofed in their calculations or choice of methodologies, or even manipulated the data to produce a pre-determined result. By the same token, it is impossible to “reproduce” the Jones-Wigley temperature record, because there are no data to reproduce it from. Yet, as a factual basis of both the IPCC reports and the EPA endangerment finding, Jones-Wigley indisputably qualifies as “influential scientific or statistical information.”

Michaels’s terse conclusion speaks volumes: “No data, no science.” For decades, Jones-Wigley has been a mainstay of the alleged ”scientific consensus” supporting Kyoto-style energy rationing. Warmists have a lot of explaining to do.

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