[Originally published in Feb 2017 as Politics Poison Science]
From the days I started doing scientific research, I have seen that politics play far too great a role in science. Some of this stems from the fact that most basic research is funded by the federal government, and since politicians control the money, they inevitably exert influence on what kind of scientific research is done.
Over the years, however, I have observed a nasty, growing trend of scientists’ own political views influencing the way they handle data and communicate their results. In some fields, the political influence is worse than it is in others, and climate science might be the most politicized field of them all. A story posted on Dr. Judith Curry’s blog is the latest in a series of revelations that show us just how bad this has become.
Starting in the late 2000s, those who had been studying worldwide temperatures noticed that the average temperature of the earth was not increasing. This was troubling for those who believed in human-produced global warming since the models upon which they base most of their conclusions suggest that the earth’s average temperature should be increasing with increasing levels of carbon dioxide. As time went on, this lack of warming became more and more difficult to understand under the human-produced global warming paradigm, and critics of the paradigm started calling it “The Pause.”
In 2015, however, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produced a report that was published in Science, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals. According to this report, “The Pause” was an artifact of the way earlier temperature analyses were done. When those analyses were “corrected,” there was no “Pause.” As shown in the NOAA-generated graph above, the trend of global warming had remained constant since the early 1950s. While slower than predicted by the models, it had not slowed down in recent years at all. As a result of its conclusion, this paper became known as the “Pausebuster” paper.
Interestingly enough, the Pausebuster paper was published about six months before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France. Critics of the paper noted this timing and argued with the conclusions. In fact, another prestigious scientific journal, Nature, published a paper in 2016 (after the Paris conference) that strongly argued against the conclusions of the Pausebuster paper. We now know for certain that this 2016 paper is correct and that the scientists who produced the Pausebuster paper disregarded the NOAA’s protocols in the process of producing their paper.
How do we know this? Because the scientist who wrote some of those protocols has finally spoken out.
Dr. John Bates holds an earned Ph.D. in Meteorology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has spent his entire scientific career at the NOAA, the last 14 years of which he was a principal scientist at the NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. He earned the NOAA Administrator’s Award in 2004 for “outstanding administration and leadership in developing a new division to meet the challenges to NOAA in the area of climate applications related to remotely sensed data.” He also earned a U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal in 2014 for visionary work in the acquisition, production, and preservation of climate data records. He retired from the NOAA in November of last year and now feels comfortable about exposing the way politics has corrupted the science being done there.
His article is long and detailed, and it is focused on the ways in which the NOAA handles its temperature data. Most people see graphs of global temperatures over time and think it is a fairly straightforward thing to measure: put a bunch of thermometers all around the world and average them. It’s as simple as that! If you read his post, you will find that it is much more complicated! Add to that the fact that the trends seen in the data using thermometers are different from those seen using weather balloons and satellites, and you will see that anyone who claims we understand global temperature trends doesn’t know much about how such trends are measured!
I think the more illustrative source to read when it comes to Dr. Bates’s horrible revelations is The Daily Mail’s article based on their exclusive interview with him, which is also linked in his article on Dr. Judith Curry’s blog. The interview focuses on how the Pausebuster’s scientists did everything they could to bias their data towards the conclusion that the earth is still warming.
Probably the most egregious action taken by the Pausebuster’s authors was the way they approached the temperatures measured on the surface of the ocean. As you might expect, there are many thermometers floating on ocean buoys, and those thermometers are a substantial source of data on global temperature since the surface of the earth is more than 70% ocean! The scientists decided that the thermometers on these buoys were reading temperatures that were too low. Why? Because they disagreed with the temperatures of water taken by ships. The ship-based temperatures were warmer, so the authors decided to “correct” the buoy temperatures with the ship-based temperatures.
Think about that for a moment. Which is a more accurate measure of sea surface temperature? The reading of a thermometer floating on the ocean, or the reading of a thermometer in water that has been taken near a warm ship? Obviously, the buoy temperatures are more accurate. However, they were “adjusted,” because using ship-based data in the adjustment produced the warming trend that the authors wanted! As Dr. Bates says in the interview:
They had good data from buoys. And they threw it out and “corrected” it by using the bad data from ships. You never change good data to agree with bad, but that’s what they did – so as to make it look as if the sea was warmer.
Despite the horrible revelations made by Dr. Bates in his article on Dr. Curry’s blog and his Daily Mail interview, I actually found Dr. Curry’s statement about this situation to be the most revealing. After giving her readers some background information about her collegial relationship with Dr. Bates and how she came to publish his piece on her blog, she says this:
Being retired sure is liberating…
To anyone who is a scientist, that should send chills up and down your spine. She is essentially saying that the only reason she can voice her scientific opinions and Dr. Bates can come forward with his report of scientific irregularities is because they no longer need to worry about harming their professional careers as scientists. If that doesn’t convince you that politics have poisoned science, I don’t see how anything ever could.