Whistleblower: ‘I knew people would misuse this.’ They did - to attack climate science

This weekend, conservative media outlets launched an attack on climate scientists with a manufactured scandal. The fake news originated from an accusation made by former NOAA scientist John Bates about a 2015 paper by some of his NOAA colleagues. The technical term to describe the accusation is ‘a giant nothingburger’ (in this case, a NOAA-thing burger) as Bates clarified in an interview with E&E News:

The issue here is not an issue of tampering with data, but rather really of timing of a release of a paper that had not properly disclosed everything it was.

Bates later told Science Insider that he was concerned that climate science deniers would misuse his complaints, but proceeded anyway because he felt it was important to start a conversation about data integrity:

I knew people would misuse this. But you can’t control other people.

“Misuse” is the understatement of the year

Misuse it people did – and how! Bates’ complaints boiled down to the fact that the paper didn’t have “a disclaimer at the bottom saying that it was citing research, not operational, data for its land-surface temperatures.” The Mail on Sunday (just banned by Wikipedia as an unreliable source) warped that minor procedural criticism into the sensationalist headline “Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data.” 

The story then spread through the international conservative media like a global warming-intensified wildfire - to Breitbart, Fox News, Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, The Daily Caller, The Washington Times, and more. Scott Johnson summed up the fake news story perfectly in an article at Ars Technica:

At its core, though, it’s not much more substantial than claiming the Apollo 11 astronauts failed to file some paperwork and pretending this casts doubt on the veracity of the Moon landing.

At the same time, real science journalists who investigated the story quickly determined that it was fake news and published stories reflecting that reality. Readers of legitimate news outlets like The GuardianThe Washington PostCarbon Brief, E&E News, Ars Technica, Science Insider, RealClimate, and numerous other science blogs were accurately informed, while consumers of biased right-wing news outlets that employ faux science journalists were grossly misinformed by alternative facts and fake news.

Smith uses the fake scandal to advance anti-science agenda

Lamar Smith (R-TX) is the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Not long after the 2015 NOAA paper was published, Smith launched an inquisition aimed at the agency and scientists who were involved in the study.

This weekend’s faux scandal was conveniently timed for Smith’s hearing two days later, entitled “Making EPA Great Again.” Although the scandal had already been thoroughly debunked, Smith nevertheless featured the story front and center, and pleaded with attendees to believe that “it may be more serious than you think.”

The hearing appeared to be aimed at helping to advance the Secret Science Reform Act. The bill would limit the EPA to using only data that can be replicated or made available for “independent analysis.” While this sounds reasonable at first blush, research that’s relevant to the EPA often relies upon confidential personal information that can’t be made public, or studies of one-time events like oil spills, or decades-long data collections that can’t be replicated.

In short, the Secret Science Reform Act would make it extremely difficult for EPA to implement science-based regulations. The bill comes straight out of the tobacco industry playbook. It’s thus unsurprising that two of the three Republican witnesses in Smith’s hearing have worked for the coal and chemical industries.

Bates’ complaints

It’s worth spending a bit more time examining the details of Bates’ accusations. He claimed that the 2015 NOAA paper correcting for known biases in the global surface temperature record was “rushed” for political reasons without proper data archiving, but the editor-in-chief of the journal Science in which the paper was published noted that the peer-review process actually took longer than average for this paper.

The paper was not rushed in any way. It had an exceptional number of reviewers, many more than average because we knew it was on a controversial topic. It had a lot of data analysis.

The lead author of the study, Thomas Karl responded to Bates’ complaints in an interview with the Washington Post:

The term ‘archive’ means a lot of different things to different people. … In this case, the data were available if anyone asked for it, and then they were archived further down the line after the paper was published.

While NOAA’s data archiving protocols are an internal matter, some outside scientists argue that the process to correct for known biases already takes too long. For example, global temperature data expert Kevin Cowtan told me:

The paper by Karl and colleagues corrected two known problems with the temperature observations: poor coverage of the Arctic, and a change from ships to buoys. Both had been known about since 2008. It took NOAA seven years to produce a paper correcting their temperature data, and even now their monthly updates still omit much of the Arctic.

The agencies face an impossible dilemma - on one hand they have to slowly and carefully evaluate new results, and on the other they have to provide an up-to-date temperature record. Rather than rushing out corrections, they appear to have been extremely conservative.

It’s particularly absurd that biased media outlets tried to manufacture a scandal out of this story, because just one month prior, Zeke Hausfather, Kevin Cowtan, and colleagues had published a paper demonstrating that the data corrections in the NOAA paper are accurate. Moreover, the corrections themselves were quite small and inconsequential in the grand scheme of long-term human-caused global warming. 

House Science Committee is part of the war on science

It’s disturbing that the House “Science” Committee is launching inquisitions against scientists, spreading fake science news, and trying to prevent the EPA from issuing science-based regulations. Sadly, that’s the era we now live in. Lamar Smith has also written many editorials for Breitbart and said that for accurate information we should rely not on scientists or the media, but solely on Donald Trump.

90% of Republicans agree, believing the Trump administration is truthful and the media is untruthful.

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Posted by dana1981 on Thursday, 9 February, 2017

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