Sep 12 2010
Summary: This is a long post, but the bottom line is worth the time to read it. Under oath, in front of the House of Commons Committee on Science and Technology, Lord Oxburgh testified that it is impossible to reconstruct an accurate global temperature record over the past 1,000 years. Especially one that could claim modern climate is significantly different from that seen over the last 1000 years.
Main Post: There was a stunning hearing last week in the UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, wherein one Lord Oxburgh testified about his investigation of the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Climatic Research Unit (CRU). CRU is the organization at the heart of last fall’s email controversies dubbed Climategate, when it was discovered scientists had used ‘tricks’ to fool people into thinking there has been massive global warming during the industrial revolution and subsequent population explosion. CRU scientists were also caught working in concert with leading US researchers to squash contrary science findings, using their roles as peer reviewers of science journals. They rigged the scientific process and debate to support only their views while censoring sound science that would challenge (if not out right destroy) their views.
As the world’s scientists and engineers (like myself) who work in other, more rigorous fields of science, statistics and modeling began to focus our attention on the so called settled science of global warming, we discovered errors, problems in methodology, unpublished uncertainties, and numerous questions about the science behind the claims. Some took the lead in beginning to probe the science to see if it could stand up to scrutiny through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The CRU team and its US allies denied access to the data and methods used to create the claims, to the point where FOIA requesrts were being stone walled and evidence apparently deleted. We have the emails from numerous individuals as evidence of these actions.
From my lowly perch working for NASA (where we toil to discover the wonders of this universe using state of the art robotic systems, as well as working on human exploration of space) I found the claims lacking with regard to (a) knowing ‘a global temperature’ today and going back 150 years using historic temperature records and (b) knowing the temperature going back Â over one thousand years using proxies like tree rings. I concluded there was no way to know a global temperature with any accuracy that would support seeing tenth of a degree changes in the modern record, or less than two degrees increase in the last thousand years. I felt the IPCC and CRU claims of confidence to be extraordinary.
In my 3rd post on Climategate I pointed out the obvious problem of accuracy and uncertainty when dealing with available data. I used the broadly understood example of accuracy and uncertainty related to the focus of images, because everyone knows you cannot discern details in images beyond the focus (accuracy) level. Any conclusions made near the focus limit have huge uncertainties tied to them. Go beyond the focus limit and you cannot make any conclusions – the data just does not exist. At that point you are seeing patterns in the data the way your mind wants or likes to see them. I used two images of Mars to underscore this simple rule of life – one from 1956 and one from 2001.
You can click the 2nd image to see its full resolution – and this is not even the highest resolution version available (it would take way too long to download). Â As you can see, there is no way to measure changes in features easily seen in 2001 back over half a century using the older photographic capabilities of the time. Even if one could measure the percentage of dark or light surface, or regular surface verses ice cap today, you cannot say how much they have change in 50 years. The accuracy (focus) of the older technology simply cannot provide the historic detail.
In that same post I also noted a CRU generated graph I discover in one of the CRU reports exposed with the emails. It was created in 2005 and actually shows the CRU estimate of accuracy in its temperature reconstructions using the 150 year old temperature record. It is itself a major admission, one which I am surprised to this day no one has picked up on, because it shows massive uncertainty in the ‘known’ temperature record (click to enlarge):
This is for the year 1969 and it shows something quite enlightening. It shows CRUs estimate for sampling error due to (1) uncertainty in the actual measurement (they claim it is 0.04Â° C monthly), (2) error in the adjustments they make to the raw data (homogenization in their vernacular), (3) errors from incomplete station records over the period, (4) how site Â specific errors (1-3) combine to create even larger grid level errors, (5) sampling errors in the grids due to too few samples and (6) uncertainties in bias corrections. The result is incredible. Most of the southern hemisphere is showing errors of 0.5-1.0Â°C in final temperature anomaly values. The Northern hemisphere (where there are longer, more complete and denser measurement histories) shows errors running from 2.5-5Â°C! There is now way CRU knows within a tenth of a degree whether the Earth was warmer or colder than today versus 1969 – not with this kind of error model.
So why all the long winded history? Because Lord Oxburgh confirmed all this in his testimony. He tried to dodge investigating the science behind global warming alarmists claims, but somehow his scientific code of honor required him to be honest about the methodology and results created by the CRU. It was this testimony I want to highlight.
Here is a link to the video of the testimony. He begins his part of the hearing around the 10:39 AM mark and testifies for almost an hour. But I want to focus on a few sections. What follows is my transcription of the discussions. I will use “SATC” for the the people on the panel (since I don’t know who they are) and “OX” for Lord Oxburgh’s replies. I also note the time stamp so everyone can fast-forward to the point in question and see and hear the discussion as it played out.
The first key statement Â is at 11:00 AM and is in regard to panel member on his team and his written comments about the CRU methods and products:
SATC: … I am not going to read them all out, I will give them to the clerk afterwards, but he says “I take real exception to having simulation runs described as ‘experiments’, without at least the qualification of ‘computer experiments’. This is turning centuries of science on its head”. And there are a lot of comments like that. “It is hard to directly correlate this aspect with the anthropogenic hypothesis of climate warming. Some features do correlate, others don’t. So where is the rigorous test of significance of correlation, or lack of it? ” … “the line between positive conclusions and the null hypothesis is very fine in my book” … do you not think it would be good to provide that [individual's comments] as supporting documentation to the report?
OX: I don’t think it would have added very much. I mean Michael Kelley, um, we discussed all these things round the table with the others, I think you’ll see that as a perfectly legitimate response of, ah, an engineer [something] scientist, looking at the work in a Earth Observational Scientist.
Just a note at this point. It seems we have run up against the perennial elitism between scientist and engineers. I must note that both can be very capable with the same statistical math used for global warming, but engineers must be highly qualified and careful since, while theories can fall, buildings and planes cannot. This is what drives the ‘cultural’ differences Lord Oxburgh is going to note further in. The truth is, science is held to a lower standard primarily due to the cost associated with quality, which makes sense. Until theories and concepts are proven there is not reason to up the quality and scrutiny. Clearly, global warming theories passed this point decades ago, and should have been supported with open and bullet proof approaches. How Lord Oxburgh describes the methodology behind the theories is quite damning to the CRU and the IPCC. But I must disagree with his next statement. Neither the language nor the math is difficult or different. Especially the math, and what you can and cannot derive from it:
OX: The language is very difficult, is very different, and he [Kelley] quite legitimately says “in our area we wouldn’t call these things ‘experiments’“. It is the common thing to do in this area of activity [climate science]. So I don’t think that would have been particularly advantageous.
Oxburgh admits openly that the methodology used by CRU was not equal to that of even Earth Observation science, the ‘area of activity’ measuring the current dynamics of climate across the globe. It once again shows that the theory of global warming resides on a foundation of low quality science, misapplied statistical math and overblown results.
Oxburgh comes back to methods and results Â bit later on, at time mark 11:05:25. Here he finally touches on the science in not so glowing terms, though he tries mightily to dismiss the weak foundation upon which global warming theories reside. He seems even sad that CRU failed some basic minimal level of confidence in their claims.
SATC: When the panel was carrying out its appraisal, where the scientists at CRU able to make accurate reconstructions from publications back to their raw data? That they themselves had used.
OX: Not in every case. Not in every case, not with the old material.
SATC: Isn’t that … You have really surprised me with a number things you have said Lord Oxburgh. That is very surprising, isn’t it?
OX: I think that it is undesirable, but it isn’t too surprising. Um, I think … This is perhaps one of the cultural differences between the work of the unit [CRU] and many of those who, I think, legitimately criticize it. Who frequently come from an industrial background or an engineering background, where the culture and the patterns of working are very different. In which, particularly in industry, everything is documented, your lab book contains everything you have done, and it is the property of the organization. When you leave it stays with the organization. That is not always the practice in university. Particularly for work which is 15 or 20 years old. Even if the work was properly recorded at the time, I think there are quite a few situations in which it is no longer available today. People who said ‘well that’s all history, we’ll throw that out”. And you are quite right, early work was not adequately documented, and I am not surprised – unfortunately.
No wonder the MET Office is redoing all of CRUs temperature reconstructions over the last 150 years. The current CRU data is garbage if it cannot be reconstructed. And Oxburgh basically admits he knows from interviews with CRU scientist a lot of data was thrown out. Only question now is when was it thrown out? Either way, he just pulled the rug out from all the IPCC conclusions and the Hockey Stick, because the underlying CRU data is not of sufficient quality or sufficiently recorded to support their claims.
But it gets worse for CRU and Jones, as Oxburgh admits there is too much uncertainty (error bars) in the data to make any conclusions on temperature trends over the past 150 years of recorded temperatures:
SATC: Did Professor Jones say, when he was in the discussions, that it was actually impossible to reconstruct temperatures over the past thousand years?
OX: I don’t believe he said it. But it probably would have been true. Well, it depends on what you mean ‘reconstruct temperature over the last thousand years’.
Here we get the Clintonian “depends on what ‘is’ is” dodge. But Oxburgh goes into great specificity on why it is a true statement that we have not, and cannot, reconstruct temperatures over the past thousand years. Without that reconstruction, there is no proof the current climate is significantly different from past warm periods. Without that reconstruction, there is no proof of human induced global warming. Oxburgh’s analysis is as damning as it is correct:
OX: I mean, the whole concept of a global temperature is actually a very subtle one. I mean, how do you decide what the temperature of the globe is? We know all sorts of local circumstances are associated with local weather, are giving you all sorts of local variations. You know that most of the observations until the last century were based on land, most of the land is in the northern hemisphere, so you had relatively few observations in the greater part of the surface. So once you have decided what a global temperature is, it is pretty darn difficult . You may be able to track global temperature – I’m sorry – track temperature at a particular area, but how that relates to other [areas] is much more difficult. And I think that I am fairly convinced by the work of Jones himself – which is based largely on instrumentation and instrumental records over the last 150 years, something of that kind. But clearly, in the early days, these are a little bit … [long coughing fit]. I think the instrumental records give us the best guide now. Then what you got to do with those instrumental records, which are not distributed geographically as you would really like, you’ve got to interpolate between them, you’ve got to then make extrapolations to the areas you cannot get to. So it is a pretty difficult business. That is why the serious CRU, on the serious publications, massive uncertainty boundaries are associated with the temperature reconstructions.
Incredible. I and many others have been claiming for years now that the lack of accuracy in the temperature record of even the last 150 years contained uncertainties so great you could not determine a global temperature within a degree C. And here is Lord Oxburgh laying out the same error sources I did in my original post, and discussing how each step of interpolation and extrapolation expands the uncertainty, to the point the results are completely INCONCLUSIVE!
Under oath, the man chartered with investigating CRU concludes in full confidence it is impossible to reconstruct global temperatures. Therefore, he also casts doubt in any and all claims of recent global warming – human induced or otherwise. Scientifically, then it is settled. We don’t know how today’s climate compares to previous climates. That is the only conclusion possible.