Monday, August 27, 2007

All the Difference in the World - Yesterday's New York Times weighed in on the recent contretemps between Dr. James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and that friend of science, Steve McIntyre.

A quarter-degree Fahrenheit is roughly the downward adjustment NASA scientists made earlier this month in their annual estimates of the average temperature in the contiguous 48 states since 2000. They corrected the numbers after an error in meshing two sets of temperature data was discovered by Stephen McIntyre, a blogger and retired business executive in Toronto. Smaller adjustments were made to some readings for some preceding years.

All of this would most likely have passed unremarkably if Mr. McIntyre had not blogged that the adjustments changed the rankings of warmest years for the contiguous states since 1895, when record-keeping began.

Suddenly, 1934 appeared to vault ahead of 1998 as the warmest year on record (by a statistically meaningless 0.036 degrees Fahrenheit). In NASA's most recent data set, 1934 had followed 1998 by a statistically meaningless 0.018 degrees. Conservative bloggers, columnists and radio hosts pounced. "We have proof of man-made global warming," Rush Limbaugh told his radio audience. "The man-made global warming is inside NASA."
The most current graphs of U.S. annual mean temperature data can be found at the GISS website.

The NYT article goes on to point out that McIntrye and Hansen have "traded broadsides on the Web," and such has surely been the case, with Dr. Hansen apologizing
in an e-mail sent to colleagues for suggesting that the whole controversy was "a tempest inside somebody's teapot dome" and "perhaps a light was not on upstairs," describing such remarks as "immoderate." For his part, McIntyre has spent a good deal of time at his blog lambasting Hansen for suggesting in another e-mail that humans could "in effect, destroy Creation," if efforts to stem global warming are not intensified.

Far be it from me to attempt to weigh in on McIntyre's side; he has repeatedly suggested that he is in no need of assistance from right-wing bloggers, and he himself says that climate change is a "serious issue." But setting aside his confuting Hansen's (and the NYT's) suggestion that a correction of 0.15 degrees Celsius since 2001 is a trivial matter (a statement that is entirely specious on its face, given that the entire global warming story is built on a 0.74 degree Celsius
increase in global temperature over the last 100 years), how is it that a retired businessman with no government budget, no suite of supercomputers and no fancy titles like, let's say, "Director: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies" has been able to successfully challenge so many of the current thought leaders in climate science?

And he has done this not once, but twice. As previously mentioned here, McIntyre - in conjunction with his infrequent collaborator, Ross McKitric - was able to rebut the fiction that "Northern Hemisphere mean annual temperatures for three of the last eight years are warmer than any other year since 1400 A.D." Such was the case made by Dr. Michael Mann, Ph.D. in a 1998 report entitled, "Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries," published in Nature. McIntyre and McKitric presented their own paper, "Corrections to the Mann et al. (1998) Proxy Data Base and Northern Hemisphere Average Temperature Series," which was published in Energy and Environment.
In their report, McIntyre and McKitric contend that, "the data set of proxies of past climate used in Mann … for the estimation of temperatures from 1400 to 1980 contains collation errors, unjustifiable truncation or extrapolation of source data, obsolete data, geographical location errors, incorrect calculation of principal components and other quality control defects." McIntyre and McKitric go on to say, "the particular 'hockey stick' shape derived in the proxy construction – a temperature index that decreases slightly between the early 15th century and early 20th century and then increases dramatically up to 1980 — is primarily an artifact of poor data handling, obsolete data and incorrect calculation of principal components."
In the end, even as global warming fear mongers are easily ignored because of their rank hypocrisy, much of the "science" behind global warming is easily refuted because it is infused with more issue advocacy than scientific inquiry. For the most part, I concur with McIntyre's assessment that global warming is a serious issue, but I would humbly add that - even if man were the primary driver of climate change - there is is little that we can do about it that would not wreak greater havoc than that which would result from a warming atmosphere. Rather than using any impending climate change as a reason to fleece the prosperous nations of the world, we would do better to work to improve the quality of life of the world's impoverished more generally. Sufficient food, clean drinking water and reliable energy sources would be a better start than international fretting about planetary immolation.

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