Temperature Trends

Did NASA/NOAA Dramatically Alter U.S. Temperatures After 2000?


hot enough

Some segments of the Internet are abuzz with the claim by climate change skeptic Steven Goddard (Tony Heller) over at his Real Science blog that NASA/NOAA have been jiggering the numbers so that they can claim that warmest years in the continental United States occurred recently, not back in the 1930s. Folks, please watch out for confirmation bias.

Via email, I asked Anthony Watts, proprietor of WattsUpWithThat, what he thinks of Goddard's claims. He responded…

…while it is true that NOAA does a tremendous amount of adjustment to the surface temperature record, the word "fabrication" implies that numbers are being plucked out of thin air in a nefarious way when it isn't exactly the case.

"Goddard" is wrong is his assertions of fabrication, but the fact is that NCDC isn't paying attention to small details, and the entire process from B91's to CONUS creates an inflated warming signal. We published a preliminary paper two years ago on this which you can read here:  http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/07/29/press-release-2/

About half the warming in the USA is due to adjustments. We' received a lot of criticism for that paper, and we've spent two years reworking it and dealing with those criticisms. Our results are unchanged and will be published soon.

In his email, Watts also cites the strong criticisms of Goddard's earlier claims over at the Blackboard blog:

Goddard made two major errors in his analysis, which produced results showing a large bias due to infilling that doesn't really exist. First, he is simply averaging absolute temperatures rather than using anomalies. Absolute temperatures work fine if and only if the composition of the station network remains unchanged over time. If the composition does change, you will often find that stations dropping out will result in climatological biases in the network due to differences in elevation and average temperatures that don't necessarily reflect any real information on month-to-month or year-to-year variability. Lucia covered this well a few years back with a toy model, so I'd suggest people who are still confused about the subject to consult her spherical cow.

His second error is to not use any form of spatial weighting (e.g. gridding) when combining station records. While the USHCN network is fairly well distributed across the U.S., its not perfectly so, and some areas of the country have considerably more stations than others. Not gridding also can exacerbate the effect of station drop-out when the stations that drop out are not randomly distributed.

I note that Watts commented on the, hmmm, accuracy of Goddard's work over at the Blackboard as well:

Anthony Watts (Comment #130003)
June 6th, 2014 at 8:00 am

I took Goddard to task over this as well in a private email, saying he was very wrong and needed to do better. I also pointed out to him that his initial claim was wronger than wrong, as he was claiming that 40% of USCHN STATIONS were missing.

Predictably, he swept that under the rug, and then proceeded to tell me in email that I don't know what I'm talking about. Fortunately I saved screen caps from his original post and the edit he made afterwards.


Before: http://wattsupwiththat.files.w…..before.png

After: http://wattsupwiththat.files.w….._after.png

Note the change in wording in the highlighted last sentence.

In case you didn't know, "Steve Goddard" is a made up name. Supposedly at Heartland ICCC9 he's going to "out" himself and start using his real name. That should be interesting to watch, I won't be anywhere near that moment of his.

This, combined with his inability to openly admit to and correct mistakes, is why I booted him from WUWT some years ago, after he refused to admit that his claim about CO2 freezing on the surface of Antarctica couldn't be possible due to partial pressure of CO2.


And then when we had an experiment done, he still wouldn't admit to it.


And when I pointed out his recent stubborness over the USHCN issues was just like that…he posts this:


He's hopelessly stubborn, worse than Mann at being able to admit mistakes IMHO.

In his email to me, Watts details the sort of bureaucratic bungling that produces what he thinks is a significant artificial warming signal in the lower 48 temperature records from which he concludes:

It is my view that while NOAA/NCDC is not purposely "fabricating" data, their lack of attention to detail in the process has contributed to a false warming signal in the USA, and they don't much care about it because it is in line with their expectations of warming. The surface temperature record thus becomes a product of bureaucracy and not of hard science…Never ascribe malice to what can be explained by simple incompetence.

See my earlier reporting on Watts et al.'s U.S. temperature data paper in my article, "Everyone Freaks Out About Two New Climate Change Studies." In response to criticism of that paper Watt and his colleagues have, as noted above, recrunched the data and will release a new paper soon.

NEXT: #Winning: Record Low 7 Percent of Americans Have Confidence in Congress!

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  1. Better alt-text:

    “Temperature is measured in the shade, dumbass.”

    1. Zoom out to see a giant A/C vent 12 inches away.

      1. Or, you know, just notice the concrete it is sitting on.

  2. Did NASA/NOAA Dramatically Alter U.S. Temperatures After 2000?

    I know what you meant, but a literal reading of the headline indicates that NASA/NOAA can manipulate the actual temperatures, not just the records of observed temperatures.

    1. You mean they don’t have a heat ray?

      1. The Kochs control the only known heat ray.

        1. I thought Boooooooosh had a hurricane making machine because Katrina.

          1. Only after he asked the Kochs to start it with their global warming-inducing heat ray.

            Bush was merely a puppet of the Kochs, you see.

          2. “It was Beaver Dam WMD’s!”

        2. And the lack of warming over the last decade is due to their stubborn refusal to turn the damn thing on…

        3. The Kochs control the only known heat ray.

          Thank goodness. My microwave oven must be a heat beam.

          I was scared it might be a heat ray in disguise

    2. T: Simply turning his headline into a question, that is all.

      1. Considering the whole damn article is about the proper use of the word “fabricating” you should have taken greater care.

  3. Ah. Okay. I was wondering why this was news. I knew that Goddard/Watts had brought up the adjustments all going the same way several years ago when I used to follow it. For my money, Anthony Watts is one of the few guys on the side of science in this fight and probably the most credible voice on the non-consensus side. Thanks for a good writeup, Ron.

    1. Agreed. I was skeptical of Goddard’s claims the moment I read them. I’ve been anxiously waiting to hear from the likes of Bailey and Watts. It’s an exercise that rarely disappoints.

  4. Wow, imagine that. Bureaucrats with confirmation bias are publishing wrong data.

  5. I am SHOCKED, I tell you, to discover that there is a methodology issue with AGW science!

    Never in my life would I have questioned the absolute 100 percent truth of human life destroying nature!

    1. Remember the acid rain panic?


  6. It’s tragic that something as elemental as “Is the Earth getting warmer?” is so mired in controversy, and difficult to prove either way. It doesn’t help that the people promoting this notion (and insisting humans are responsible) all have something to gain from the universal acceptance of that belief–plus most of them are demonstrable liars. All I know is that a record high of 134 degress was recorded in California’s Death Valley back in 1913, and that record has never been broken. On the day it hits 135 in that same spot, maybe then we can talk. Until then, keep your carbon taxes and legislation to yourself.

    1. and to add to your comment in order for there to be a pattern of warming Death Valley would have to reach over 134? consistently and in a lesser time span than 100 years to show warming at an increased rate. And it goes without saying that all locations need to show an increase. As a person who’s job requires land surveying form time to time I know how to make a cliff disappear and the same math used to hide highs can be used to hide lows or any number you’d like and sometimes it really is by accident but I know longer believe what the scientist/pokliticians are telling us.

      1. Agreed. Plus, the ‘average global temperature’ figure they love to toss around is a totally arbitrary and meaningless number. Besides, I don’t place a whole lot of trust in the accuracy of temperatures collected a century ago.

        1. Doesn’t matter if the science doesn’t work, they want taxes, and they have the guns and the will to use them to steal
          just because they come up with boogeymen time to time to prevent us from realizing its all about stealing as much money as possible at our expense. kinda like
          Native Americans
          Gold Standard
          Decentralized Banking
          Teh DRUGZZZZ OMG!1!!!111
          Mexicans taking yer jobzzzz
          All of them equal opportunity lies
          but we still have to pay for them…. I wonder where the money really goes?

    2. In this case you can ignore the extreme values. They don’t behave in a very informative way. You really need to look at the mean (over an appropriate time period).

    3. Thank you Antilles. Well put.

    4. “….most of them are demonstrable liars.”

      http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/Articles 2007/GWHoaxBorn.pdf

      1. Interesting…was not aware of this angle before. Skimmed the article, but will read the whole thing later. Thanks.

    5. All I know is that about 99.999% of the people talking about what they know about global warming would be hard-pressed to give any explanation as to why non-linear least squares analysis using logarithmic transformation to plot a point-series graph might result in problems better addressed by the Levenberg?Marquardt algorithm or by the Gauss?Newton algorithm.

      Or whether or not I’m talking out my ass when I talk about the level of mathematical knowledge necessary to even begin to understand how freaking hard it is to even figure out the average temperature of the planet.

  7. Ron, Watts answered the question posed by your headline with this admission: …while it is true that NOAA does a tremendous amount of adjustment to the surface temperature record, right?

    So why do we trust any of the numbers?

    1. Did the inaccurately record their data prior to doctoring? (Data which is now the justification for destroying our energy economy and returning us to a feudal state)

      1. I’d bet cash money they inaccurately recording lots of things. Just like I’d bet cash money the IRS destroyed those emails and hard-drive to obstruct justice.

    2. DN: All temperature data sets must be processed in various ways to try to take into account things like urban heat island effects, changed thermometer locations, different weather station housing, etc. This is the sort of thing at which Watt excels, so I take him seriously when he critiques someone.

  8. There’s supposed to be separation of church and state, and for good reason. But NASA and NOAA are made up to a large degree by people who have a broad cosmological philosophy that does not have a god at the head of it, but it leads to an all encompassing system of value, one in which the ones who are more in touch with the Ethereal Plane of Truth get to dictate to others how to behave. The whole reason for a separation of church and state was to have separation, or a plurality, of philosophies, and that one could not stitch itself to the state and its treasury. The same concept should apply to secular all encompassing philosophies as well as religion. I suppose the founders couldn’t conceive of secular “religions”, but their desire is to be seen nonetheless.

  9. I’m a little confused. Watts’ before and after pictures look the exact same.

    1. Nevermind. There’s a change from stations to data.

    2. The difference is reporting for the missing data or for the missing stations.

  10. NOAA publishes why adjustments are made to the data sets…nothing is hidden.


    And when Watts is telling you a fellow skeptic is getting making over the top statements, you know there is no there here (?).

    By the way, the US comprises 2% of the earth. This changes nothing in regard to global temperatures.

    1. JA: You are correct, which is why it is perilously close to scaremongering when the NCDC announces with considerable fanfare 2012 is hottest year on record for contiguous U.S.

      1. Ron,
        Link no work.

      2. What level of fanfare do you suppose is appropriate for convincing a skeptical public to do something about a problem they don’t understand but that will significantly affect the viability of their species? One fewer trumpet, perhaps?

        1. What level of fanfare do you suppose is appropriate for convincing a skeptical public to do something about a problem they don’t understand but that will significantly affect the viability of their species?

          A lot of fanfare would be appropriate. But until such a problem comes along we will continue to deride the scare-mongers.

          Tony, the question being addressed here is whether the temperature record is accurate. If the temperature record is not accurate then any conclusions drawn from it are also likely inaccurate. You might want to do a quick search on “begging the question”.

    2. I’m failing to ascertain meaning in that sentence that starts with “And”.

      I have no knowledge of your familiarity with Watts, but if memory serves, his linked paper never alleges that NOAA is hiding anything. The allegation is that the methodology is less than pristine. With the changes almost universally toeing the political CAGW line, there is certainly reason for doubt, and Watts lays it out quite well. I’m looking forward to seeing the new release.

    3. “The USHCN is comprised of 1221 high-quality stations…”

      Sigh. Makes me wonder about the quality of the data, too.

  11. I am not a climate-change denialist, but I am a reasonably competent instrumentation engineer. There’s no fucking way anyone could install and calibrate a thermometer, just tits, so it could measure minute yearly changes in the Earth’s temperature.

    Don’t believe me? Ask any mom to measure her child’s temperature with a best-in-class german or japanesse thermometer, and argue with her.

    1. Agreed. Thermometers are the most fickle measurement devices you’ll find in a lab. The main problem is that you only get an accurate reading if the entire system, including the thermometer, is in equilibrium.

  12. Dear Reason Magazine, I think part of this article got chopped off. The part I’m left with is an email chain between a bachelor-level philosophy major (apparently those degrees are worth something– if you know who to get in with) and a Purdue dropout about their theories on global warming and on how it’s the concrete around the weather station that is making the thermometers go crazy. Those darn climate change scientists sute are fucking dumb. Can you publish the rest of the article please with citations from peer reviewed research. Richard Lindzin would be ok here . Thanks, man.

    1. It’s hardly surprising that you’re confused.
      You’re welcome, idjit.

    2. a bachelor-level philosophy major

      a Purdue dropout

      Why is it the class warriors who are the most enamored with credentials?

      I get the feeling that they don’t have much of a problem with hierarchal classes and levels of political power given to people based on their class so much as they just want the classes to be determined through a methodology that they approve of.

      1. “Why is it the class warriors who are the most enamored with credentials?”

        When you have nothing relevant, throw things on the table. Maybe someone is as dumb as you and buys it!
        This is a self-proclaimed socialist, for pete’s sake! Supporter of the most miserable form of government ever foisted off on a population! You’d expect he probably needs reminders to breathe.

    3. Would you rather take the word of a railroad engineer?

      Or do you prefer your climastrologists to have a flare for the dramatic?

      And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change.

      To do that we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to off up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical blind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective and being honest.

      -Steven Schneider

  13. “In early 2001, CPC was requested to implement the 1971-2000 normal for operational forecasts. So, we constructed a new SST normal for the 1971-2000 base period and implemented it operationally at CPC in August of 2001? (Journal of Climate).

    Just the abstract to that particular paper reveals how fragile the models are, being based on assumptions piled on top of assumptions, and unveiling a tendency to massage data.

    “Using the extended reconstructed sea surface temperature (ERSST) on a 28 grid for 1854-2000 and the Hadley Centre Sea Ice and SST dataset (HadISST) on a 18 grid for 1870-1999, eleven 30-yr normals are calculated, and the interdecadal changes of seasonal CM, seasonal SD, and seasonal persistence (P) are discussed.”

    This says that data is being assembled from widely disparate data sources, with different measurement techniques, and that some of the data was made with instrumentation that simply cannot be validated (data from 1854?).

    “Both PDO and NAO show a multidecadal oscillation that is consistent between ERSST and HadISST except that HadISST is biased toward warm in summer and cold in winter relative to ERSST.”

    Now we see that different data sets, ostensibly of the same population, disagree. And the fact that one data set exhibits bias to the extreme (too warm in summer and too cold in winter) raises questions about the proper use of this data.

    Confirmation bias can always creep in when you are massaging data.

  14. the word “fabrication” implies that numbers are being plucked out of thin air in a nefarious way

    No it doesn’t.

    First, he is simply averaging absolute temperatures rather than using anomalies.

    His second error is to not use any form of spatial weighting (e.g. gridding)

    How again is doing it the “proper” way not a fabrication? Do those numbers and adjustments calculate themselves?

  15. (Repeated) warning to all researchers:

    (Long version) If your data prove your hypothesis, go back and see where you made a mistake. If you can’t find that mistake(s), ask your colleagues to review said data, but avoid groupthink too. Take a good look in the mirror and chase out any self-deceit. Then, and only then, write it up for publication (and further review). Be humble and remember that science is not a body of knowledge, but a continual refinement of our models of reality; your little diamond may still turn out be nothing more than a lump of coal some day, even if it does get you tenure next week.

    (Short version) Never believe your own data.

    1. GroundTruth|6.23.14 @ 8:51PM|#
      “(Repeated) warning to all researchers:
      (Long version) If your data prove your hypothesis, go back and see where you made a mistake”

      As a friend once mentioned, that the reason it’s called “REsearch”.

      1. Sevo:

        Never heard that one before, even after all these years. Thanks!

  16. “Folks, please watch out for confirmation bias. […] Via email, I asked Anthony Watts […]”

    I just did a spit take. And that was some expensive vodka, asshole.

    Still, fine. It’s gonna fall on deaf ears here though. Not that you, Ron, have, to my knowledge, ever bothered to correct anyone here making outrageously uninformed claims on this subject, which is just about everyone.

    1. Do you expect all journalists to police their own comment sections? Every article, everywhere ends up attracting some outrageously uninformed claims.

      All of the historic IPCC predictions of warming have turned out to be false. In fact, the actual temperature record is outside the error-bars for damn near every historic IPCC predictive model. Climate science still has a long way to go.

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