Could this study "totally dismantle" Global Warming claims?

That's the assertion made in the article ‘Bombshell’ climate-change study could totally dismantle the claim humans are causing global warming. Quoting from the study:

"The conclusive findings of this research are that the three GAST data sets are not a valid representation of reality,” the authors wrote. “In fact, the magnitude of their historical data adjustments, that removed their cyclical temperature patterns, are totally inconsistent with published and credible U.S. and other temperature data. Thus, it is impossible to conclude from the three published GAST data sets that recent years have been the warmest ever — despite current claims of record setting warming."

On reading that article I noticed that they name but do not link to the article nor it's publisher. I was able to find it here: On the Validity of NOAA, NASA and Hadley CRU Global Average Surface Temperature Data & The Validity of EPA’s CO2 Endangerment Finding (pdf), but that's on a Wordpress site, not a credible scientific journal, as far as I can tell. Further googling only turned up more references in political-influence sources like TheBlaze.com.

The one place that may be presenting as something that they published is the Heartland Institute (here), but I cannot tell if they are legit or not.

There is no publication information in the paper itself, nor any evidence of formal "peer-review" other than the list of scientists(?) on page 2 who affirm that they agree with the conclusions (which is not my understanding of what peer-review means nor of how it works).

I also have some trouble following the reasoning of their findings and conclusions, which seems like a bit of a logical leap.

So, my questions are:

  • Is this a legitimate peer-reviewed scientific paper as they claimed
  • How legitimate/credible is their methodology?
  • How legitimate/credible are their findings? And is this really something new?
  • Is it published anywhere, and has there been any open scientific review, critique or commentary of it?
  • Does this paper really represent a credible threat to current climate change theories?
  • No. Even if the statistical claims WRT those data sets are true, AGW is not something which was discovered from the historic temperature observations contained in them. Rather, it is something predicted from basic physics. Also, the temperature data is supported by many other non-statistical observations, such as melting glaciers & sea ice, earlier bloom time for plants, &c. – jamesqf Jul 10 '17 at 17:35
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    I try not to allow media stories to alter my opinions about science. Scientific theories are rarely ever settled but I'm okay with that. Scientific understanding is often fluid and sometimes we have to accept observations without a definitive understanding. Personally, I find chemical potential has never been adequately explained but its a useful concept. I am concerned out how good is the data we are seeing. telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/globalwarming/11395516/… – Gary Kindel Jul 10 '17 at 17:57
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    If you can prove that the worldwide glaciers are not melting and sea level is not rising... then you could prove the Earth is not warming. Good luck with that. – farrenthorpe Jul 10 '17 at 18:06
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    The Heartland Institute is an extremely busy (and heavily funded, and influential) climate-denying institute, who are masters at diverting from the main subject, and hiding their promotion in neutral sounding phrases like To discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. That does not necessarily/automatically discredit anything they publish, but you should realize that they have an aggressive agenda. – Jan Doggen Jul 10 '17 at 19:38
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    This is a good source for anyone interested in temperature change. It comes with open source code to reproduce the figures, if in doubt. nature.com/articles/sdata201788 – Tactopoda Jul 11 '17 at 14:07

There is several credibility problems with this work.

First, they mention after the title:

Abridged Research Report

but I cannot find any related full work from the authors on the matter. As a comparison, in this case, a short, simplified article was prepared as a companion for a full paper. The former is useful for news agencies and general public, and the latter for interested peers.

Second, references are poor. Data sources are cited, from government or agencies FTP sites, which is probably legit (I did not verify the linked data in great detail). GAST dataset are publicly available, as the freedom to publish possible misinterpretation in a proper peer reviewed journal, which remain to be done for the authors actual work.

Third, there is no real methodology. The abridged paper is presenting results and interpretations, but there is no real method.

Fourth, p17

Clearly the historical GAST data adjustments that have been made have been dramatic and invariably have been favorable to Climate Alarmists’ views regarding Global Warming

This type of statement is having no place in a scientific paper, as this is poorly opinionated based on nothing of substance (Clearly, dramatic, Climate Alarmist) and does not prove much, except that the contribution is not scientific.

Fifth of less importance. the formatting is very poor, which is not helping with the credibility of authors - not that it is very hard to prepare nice and efficient looking reports these days. In a few words, poor communication (in this case, this paper) is not helpful to convince colleagues of alternative ideas (or any ideas).

Sixth until this work reach the stage of being published by an independent peer reviewed medium, I don't see how this could even begin to be a 'threat' to current climate science.

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    Man, that "paper" is a mess. The things they're comparing aren't just apples and oranges, it's apples vs. wombats vs. anthills. In one passage they're arguing that you can't trust a global dataset because one chart they found that measures something else shows a decrease in hot days in America's midsection, which is perhaps .2 percent of the globe... – jeffronicus Jul 11 '17 at 22:10
  • I wonder how thorough were peer reviews of Galileo papers, or how well they were formatted. You conclusion sounds very much as another consensus, that the theory that opposes the man-made global warming is "foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture (of IPCC)." – Ale..chenski Jul 31 '17 at 6:00
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    @AliChen you know, I tried to answer the question about the credibility of this work, if this work would dismantle Global Warming claims. The credibility and the quality of a work is different than its topic; as an earth scientist working in climate related issues I felt I had a good enough grasp to answer this. If instead of climate change the topic of the botched report was astrophysics,which I am not an expert, someone else would have pretty much answered the same than me. A botched work is a botched work, period. – Etienne Godin Sep 21 '17 at 13:07

Etienne Godin mades some good points about various credibility problems with the paper. I decided to take a quick look at the actual content, to see if the authors have any good points. I'll summarize my findings in two broad categories.

Statements made without evidence

The paper is poorly referenced, as Edienne Godin says. That in and of itself isn't necessarily a problem if the paper is able to make its own arguments. After all, Einstein couldn't rely on references to make his points about special relativity.

However, the paper doesn't do a good job of providing internal evidence for some of its claims. The key foundation claim is that the various bodies creating global temperature estimates are systematically biasing the underlying GHCN climate data to show more warming than there actually is. Most of these claims appear on page 9 of the linked paper, or thereabouts.

The authors claim that there is an increase in climate sensing stations that are located at 'urban' airports; while providing no evidence about how airports are affected by urban heat island effects. The 'reference' blog linked from the paper makes claims about poorly sited meteorological stations being used in the data set, but has no systematic evidence (i.e. not anecdotal evidence) about how many stations are poorly sited, and if those numbers have fluctuated in the past.

The authors claim that

Changes in technology introduced new discrepancies through instrument biases and forced related changes in siting. In addition, over the past 100 plus years , the daily time of observation varied from location to location and often changed over time, which has a varying effect on calendar day highs and lows and for which appropriate adjustments to raw data must be made.

However, they provide no evidence as to how or in which direction modern instruments might be biased compared to older ones, nor do they provide any evidence that the time of observation has changed.

These claims basically amount to a courtroom-style tactic of casting doubt on the prosecution's story. However, without evidence global temperature estimates are systematically biased, I'm inclined to trust the peer-reviewed work of the scientists who made these estimates in the first place.

Without evidence supporting these claims, the author's argument falls apart, in my opinion. The rest of the paper points to the corrections made in older data, showing that corrections made over the last 25 years have steadily increased the magnitude of global temperature rise in the 20th century. These historical data corrections are made for a purpose. If the authors of this paper think the historical data corrections are not being done properly, then they have to attack the methodology behind those corrections. However, the authors of the linked paper do not do this.

The underlying data still supports global warming

As I mentioned, the thrust of the article is that corrections made to the calculation of global temperature averages from historical data are systematically biasing the data in favor of a linear warming trend.

The graph on page 11 of the paper provides a key piece of evidence. The blue line shows the original 1980 global historical temperature estimates, while the other lines show progressive refinements of that data through 2015. However, the original line still shows increasing temperatures. Even only though 1980, the original line shows a temperature increase (albeit cyclical) of about 0.4 C over the hundred odd years of the chart. Even if the newer data's 'correction factor' of about +0.15 C (per chart IV-2) is taken out, the temperatures then rise another 0.4-0.15 = 0.25 C in the 30 years from 1980 to 2010.

In short, the author's argument is that the global warming effect is being created by systematic biasing of an underlying data set; however, the underlying data set itself still shows a positive (if cyclical) warming trend of about 0.65 C over the past 130 years.

Therefore, even assuming the author's claims are correct that researchers are inappropriately manipulating data, the evidence still shows global warming over the past century plus. This suggests that if the authors are correct, perhaps the sensitivity of the climate models should be lowered; I don't see how it upends modern global warming theory or 'totally dismantles' anything.

Conclusion

I like to consider myself a skeptic, more or less. However, skepticism requires evidence, and there just isn't any evidence in this paper. Furthermore, even if the papers unsupported assertions turn out to be true, they don't provide an argument, much less any evidence, that carbon dioxide driven global warming is not happening. They don't provide any alternative theories to explain the magnitude of the warming that visible in the data, assuming that they are true in their claims of improper correction.

Therefore, I would have to answer the question 'Could this study "totally dismantle" Global Warming claims?' with a categorical no.

  • Thanks. This confirms a lot of the same impressions that I had. – RBarryYoung Jul 13 '17 at 19:53

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