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December 10, 2009

Darwin Ground Zero: Data Faked

Two choices: You can either read Watts Up With That for the full article, or the Volokh Conspiracy for a slightly edited version. Both are pretty long. Both are worth reading.

To do a quickie recap (though really: the full things are worth reading): We keep being assured that quackery at CRU is no big deal because these data are confirmed by "every" other "independent" study.

Well. The thing is, there are only three main records of observed (real-measure) temperature: CRU, GISS (Godard Institute for Space Studies, at NASA -- Hansen's creature) and GHCN, (Global Historical Climate Network, at the NOAA).

Problem one: Both GISS and CRU get their raw data from the GHCN. So, right out of the box, these "independent" measurements which supposedly confirm each other are not looking very independent at all.

Each takes the "raw data" and adjusts it. Now, in some cases, some adjustment is needed. If a station used to be in a field but is now surrounded by asphalt, its temperature needs to be adjusted down. (Though, as critics have pointed out-- they never adjust down as much as they should.) If a station had to be moved, and it was moved up a hill, where temperatures are lower, the temperature needs to be adjusted up to reflect that. (Though, critics note: Very often it is adjusted much higher than necessary.)

And what other sorts of adjustments are being done on the real, raw actual numbers?

Oh my. Plenty.

The adjustments, you know, that they never specify, "hiding behind IPR" claims (intellectual property rights), inventing other spurious reasons for refusal, citing non-disclosure agreements, deleting emails, "losing" data, etc.

I'm not going to drag this out. Below, in blue: The actual real raw real completely measured in physical reality temperatures for Darwin, in Northern Australia. Did I mention these are the real temperatures?

In red: The temperature as "adjusted," in a process called "homogenization," which seems to be some bullshitty form of averaging Darwin's readings with readings from other stations. Why do this? I don't know, but I know it's not science -- you can't spell homogenization without "homo."

Behold-- your global warming at Darwin station:


The black line represents the adjustments -- that is, the scale of adjustments necessary to the blue line to get to the red line. As you can see, the black line is.... tall. And steep. And... pretty much fake.

Willis Eschenbeck writes:

YIKES! Before getting homogenized, temperatures in Darwin were falling at 0.7 Celcius per century … but after the homogenization, they were warming at 1.2 Celcius per century. And the adjustment that they made was over two degrees per century … when those guys “adjust”, they don’t mess around. And the adjustment is an odd shape, with the adjustment first going stepwise, then climbing roughly to stop at 2.4C.

Okay, now it's going to get slightly arcane -- and I'm going to be kind of guessing here, because I'm not sure what this guy is saying. But I think this is it.

These guys do a process called "homogenization," right? What that means is they cast about for nearby stations, then average those, and then compare the average of nearby stations to the station in question, and, if they feel like it (if they think it "needs" it), they adjust the numbers of the target station to be closer to the average of the other, nearby stations.

Ehhh... I'm already sort of bothered that they doing that, and deciding when to adjust based on pure judgment. There is no actual science here -- this is judgment. If a station looks like it's a bit of an outlier, that it deviates from the trends of nearby stations, they adjust. But note that is a guess; they are guessing it's an outlier, a wildcard, and needs to be "massaged" closer to nearby stations.

You can also see they're doing a lot of massaging. Note that the mere adjustments they did in the above chart were far bigger than the actual increase in temperature. (In fact, there was no increase in actual temperature, except for the adjustments.)

Let's face it: There is a lot of human judgment going on here, and we have a strong suspicion about which direction that human judgment is taking us in. Colder long ago, hotter now.

Okay, so here is the next chart, which is worse. I am a bit baffled as to precisely what this chart is; but I think (best guess!) this is one of the three station records that together make up the chart above. The chart above is three real station records, averaged together, and then "homogenized" with stations from further away.

This is a single station that makes up that record (I think). Notice the outright huge adjudgments:


Wow. The actual record shows a decline overall, with lower temperatures now than 100 years ago, but the slightest little uptick near the end. The "adjusted" numbers now show higher temperatures now than ever before, with a huge increase at the end -- as the chart notes, there is now a six full degree C increase over a century, all thanks to "adjustments."

All thanks to adjustments.

Back to Eschenbeck:

Yikes again, double yikes! What on earth justifies that adjustment? How can they do that? We have five different records covering Darwin from 1941 on. They all agree almost exactly. Why adjust them at all? They’ve just added a huge artificial totally imaginary trend to the last half of the raw data! Now it looks like the IPCC diagram in Figure 1, all right … but a six degree per century trend? And in the shape of a regular stepped pyramid climbing to heaven? What’s up with that?

Those, dear friends, are the clumsy fingerprints of someone messing with the data Egyptian style … they are indisputable evidence that the “homogenized” data has been changed to fit someone’s preconceptions about whether the earth is warming.

One thing is clear from this. People who say that “Climategate was only about scientists behaving badly, but the data is OK” are wrong. At least one part of the data is bad, too. The Smoking Gun for that statement is at Darwin Zero.

So once again, I’m left with an unsolved mystery. How and why did the GHCN “adjust” Darwin’s historical temperature to show radical warming? Why did they adjust it stepwise? Do Phil Jones and the CRU folks use the “adjusted” or the raw GHCN dataset? My guess is the adjusted one since it shows warming, but of course we still don’t know … because despite all of this, the CRU still hasn’t released the list of data that they actually use, just the station list.

Another odd fact, the GHCN adjusted Station 1 to match Darwin Zero’s strange adjustment, but they left Station 2 (which covers much of the same period, and as per Fig. 5 is in excellent agreement with Station Zero and Station 1) totally untouched. They only homogenized two of the three. Then they averaged them.

That way, you get an average that looks kinda real, I guess, it “hides the decline”.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, care to know the way that GISS deals with this problem? Well, they only use the Darwin data after 1963, a fine way of neatly avoiding the question … and also a fine way to throw away all of the inconveniently colder data prior to 1941. It’s likely a better choice than the GHCN monstrosity, but it’s a hard one to justify.

Now, back to something I said would be interesting, and damn, I'm right again: The psychological journey from global warming cultist to global warming agnostic.

Megan McArdle, who is too nice and too establishment and too gosh-darn pro-science to doubt the integrity of these men who are scientists (and they have the laminates to prove it!), was previously seen poo-poohing this whole mess. And then she allowed, gee, maybe, who knows, maybe it would sort of be a good idea to be transparent about raw data and "adjustments" and so maybe other people could, I don't know, independently reproduce the findings?

Anyway, her. She's having a bit of a crisis of faith.

She offers this interesting story from Richard Feynman about how scientists trick themselves:

We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves. One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops, and got an answer which we now know not to be quite right. It's a little bit off, because he had the incorrect value for the viscosity of air. It's interesting to look at the history of measurements of the charge of the electron, after Millikan. If you plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little bigger than Millikan's, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, until finally they settle down to a number which is higher.

Why didn't they discover that the new number was higher right away? It's a thing that scientists are ashamed of--this history--because it's apparent that people did things like this: When they got a number that was too high above Millikan's, they thought something must be wrong--and they would look for and find a reason why something might be wrong. When they got a number closer to Millikan's value they didn't look so hard. And so they eliminated the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that.

We've learned those tricks nowadays, and now we don't have that kind of a disease. But this long history of learning how not to fool ourselves--of having utter scientific integrity--is, I'm sorry to say, something that we haven't specifically included in any particular course that I know of. We just hope you've caught on by osmosis.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

Pretty obvious, but still, interesting: Scientists do what biased journalists do. When a journalist doesn't like a story, he fact-checks it to death, because he doesn't believe a word of it, and eventually... doesn't publish anything, because it's been sitting around being fact-checked for three months and he's already been scooped by everyone anyway.

When he likes a story, and the story comports with his pre-existing sense of how the world works and who the heroes and who the villains in it are, well, let's say that fact-checking process doesn't take so very long, because the story already looks good and agrees with generally accepted liberal reality; in other words, the story is almost self-verifying. It proves its truthfulness by simply being such a beautiful expression of Truth.

And so in science: Wait, that number disagrees with our theory. That can't be right. Can we adjust it? Sure can -- and how! And now it looks right. We're done!

Megan McArdle's faith seems to have been shaken from "they wouldn't do this" to the much weaker position "they wouldn't do this... consciously."

That is the actual worrying question about CRU, and GISS, and the other scientists working on paleoclimate reconstruction: that they may all be calibrating their findings to each other. That when you get a number that looks like CRU, you don't look so hard to figure out whether it's incorrect as you do when you get a number that doesn't look like CRU--and maybe you adjust the numbers you have to look more like the other "known" datasets. There is always a way to find what you're expecting to find if you look hard enough.

She'll get there. She'll get there.

I don't mind if she's parodizing my position into firm belief they were deliberately faking numbers all along. As I've said in comments, I suspect it was much more like this Milliken thing, picking from any number of possible adjustments and statistical techniques the adjustments and techniques that got you closest to what you thought had to be the right number. Not so much deliberately falsifying stuff.

Well, not usually. Sometimes, sure. Gotta beat down those "denialists," by hook or by crook.

But I've long believed in this sort of fooling-yourself method of dishonesty. Look, let's say I ask you to either pull the plug on a brain dead invalid, or keep the brain dead invalid alive. I now ask you to go down to the library and/or church and do some serious study about what life really is, what are the limits of acceptable medical intervention, etc., etc.

Oh, and one thing: If you pull the plug -- your decision, but if you do -- I will give you one million dollars as a fee, to cover the hardship of making such a consequential and wrenching decision. Go study and make your decision.

You will probably study. And, unless you are a saint, you will come back with one answer: Pull the plug.

And not because you decided, muah-hah-hah-hah, that you just wanted the million dollar fee and you could give a crap about the ethics. No, unless you are a saint, I guarantee you will have done your studying, and done your thinking, and done your moral weighing, and at the end convinced yourself, fully and utterly, that pulling the plug is the right thing to do, damnit!

I could put you on a lie detector and I'm 99% sure you'd pass. You'd be telling the truth -- or your version of it.

People have this crazy way of usually deciding that what's generally best for the world and what's best for them, specifically coincide in the most sublime and wonderful ways!

What does proving global warming get you? Money, prestige, advancements, and not to be too vulgar about it -- sex. Let's face it, a hot shot scientist jetting off to Copenhagen to give Big Important Presentations is going to do well with the ladies. (Especially Copenhagen 's ladies of the night.)

What does undermining global warming get you? Let's see: No money, except for "funding from the oil lobbies," except as a PR move the oil companies are all funding the global warming alarmists too!, so, um, you don't get the money after all. You also don't get prestige -- we'll change the standards of peer-review before we allow you to get published -- and you also won't get promoted. In fact, you might just get fired, as a long-time BBC nature-science presenter was for refusing to go along with global warming.

And sex? Well, I hope you'e already married, and furthermore, married to one of the minority of women who disbelieves in global warming. Because otherwise, you're going to have a Little Ice Age on the romance-front.

So I'm not exactly surprised that with a huge pile of incentives to prove global warming, and some nasty disincentives to try to disprove it, the "clear weight of the evidence" has fallen on one side.

So no, Megan, all these "crazies" who doubted this crap for years were not believing that there was always this deliberate determination to fudge data. (Although, as we see from the CRU letters, that does happen.) We tended to think it was usually more "subtle," as you put it, too.

But if you need that daylight between us -- if you need a psychological crutch that tells you I'm not like those crazies; I believe something different than them; maybe I'm halfway between the lunatic-but-correct crazies and the noble-but-wrong scientists -- fine, I'll be that for you.

I always thought they were twisting their black-waxed mustaches as they were deliberately cooking the books.

Now, you can disagree with me, and call me a crazy, as you stake out your own safe position that is far enough from mine to not be crazy but close enough to the truth to not be wrong.

I'll be that for ya. The guy you can point to and say "Well, I don't trust these guys any more, but I'm not a crazy like that guy."

Baby steps, baby steps.

Addendum: I think now there actually is an incentive to disprove or undermine global warming, and scientists are on notice that this is likely low-hanging fruit. In other words, there's much more incentive to try something when you have a pretty good idea it will be successful.

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posted by Ace at 05:48 AM

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