Just a few thoughts on the reliability of measurements and related stuff.
Engineers Vs. Scientists.
There are various papers available, written by Engineers, on the issues with global warming/cooling, aka climate change. Believers typically dismiss them with something like, “But they’re not climate scientists…”
In my view real data (you go out and measure something) always takes precedence over theory. If the data doesn’t match the theory then fix the theory. (I assume that the ruler is accurate and the person holding the ruler is using it both honestly and competently.) Then the data has to be used somehow.
An engineer will take that data and make something that, hopefully, works. For example: NASA builds a probe, launches it, and put it very close to its target point. Whether that point is in Earth’s orbit, or on the moon, or on one of Saturn’s moons the theories used obviously work.
At the other end is the scientist (or organization) who only needs to convince a policy maker of the accuracy of his claims. An extreme example is Al Gore. Gore is certainly not a scientist, he did very poorly in his college science classes, and nothing he said is supported by the science, yet policy is based on that “science.” He’s certainly a very good marketer, presenting to a market that very much wants what he has to sell, so there’s no real need for real science in his presentations. (It’s interesting that the believers atack skeptics and not Al Gore, or more hysterical types.)
The “theory” doesn’t need to work, especially when the crowd that it’s marketed to energetically joins in the defense of the “theory.” All it needs to do it be presented to the believers. If marketed properly then new believers can be created. This is one of the reasons that children are a target market for An Inconvenient Truth.
Somewhere in the middle of these extremes are the guys who measure the Earth’s temperature and then graph it. Now I don’t know how you could hold these measurements to the same standard as putting a probe within a few feet of your target point near a moon, but they have to be better than someone who merely needs to pursuade, right? Which brings us to the infamous Hockey Stick and NASA’s GISS measurements.
First, the Hockey Stick. Al Gore puts it up and everyone oohs and ahhs at his proof. Nevermind that…
- It did away with a Medieval Warm Period that hundreds of peer reviewed papers show to be warmer than current times (we’ll ignore, for now, periods prior to the MWP that may have been warmer still)
- It did away with a Little Ice Age that is at least as well supported as the MWP
- It used very iffy math which would generate a hockey stick shape from random data.
A newer version of the Hockey Stick, featured in the IPCC 2007 policy summary had a couple of interesting features. A couple of the proxies used to help create the graph up to 1960 or so were neatly trimmed at that point. Why? Because the data from those proxies went in the wrong direction. Briffa & Co (who did the graph) hid the decline by trimming inconvenient data. At the end the blade of the hockey stick was based mostly from one tree.
It seems that the Hockey Stick was designed to the persuasion standard and not to engineering standards.
Is it any wonder that some of use question these guys?
Next up is the GISS set of rulers. One would think that an organization that could do what it does with space probes could do the same with climate studies, right? NASA has a certain well deserved reputation from the space program.
NASA recently released a report that stated that 2009 was one of the warmest years ever and that 2000-2009 was the warmest decade. Obviously if we have been warming then the most recent decade is the warmest. Keeping in mind that decent thermometers have only been generally available since 1880 or so. Nasa says…
Although 2008 was the coolest year of the decade because of a strong La Nina that cooled the tropical Pacific Ocean, 2009 saw a return to a near-record global temperatures as the La Nina diminished, according to the new analysis by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. The past year was a small fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the warmest on record, putting 2009 in a virtual tie with a cluster of other years –1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2007 — for the second warmest on record.
here’s the rest of the press release
Now, if 2005 is the warmest (remember, it used to be 1934) and if 1998, ’02, ’03, ’06, ’07, and 2009 are the same, then where’s the warming? Especially with all those cool years inbetween the others?
Also, given the above and given that Dr. Hansen, the man in charge of NASA’s GISS, is an alarmist of the first order, is it any wonder that there’s some mistrust of this data? One is tempted to ask: James Hansen: Would you buy a used temperature data set from THIS man?