Has NOAA’s “Pausebuster” Been Busted?

In Environment, Life, Science by E. Calvin Beisner0 Comments

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”—Proverbs 18:17

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Major news outlets and the climate change-focused blogosphere erupted over the last few days with the The Daily Mail’s publication February 4 of David Rose’s “Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data.”

Rose reported serious data mishandling behind a study published in Science (Karl et al.) in 2015 by NOAA’s Tom Karl, Thomas Peterson, and others, which had purported to show that global warming had not, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had said in its 2013 Fifth Assessment Report had said, paused. His report was based on an interview with John Bates, recently retired as one of two principal scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

Karl et al. appeared just in time to lend support to President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan” and the Paris climate agreement. It bolstered the case that human emissions of CO2 and other “greenhouse gases” were causing rapid, dangerous global warming against scientists who had pointed out that, despite continued increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration, there had been no statistically significant increase in global average temperature for the previous 16 or so years (a pause that eventually stretched, according to satellite data, to 18 years and 9 months before last year’s super-El Niño brought it to what now looks like a temporary end). That was hard to square with computer model predictions.

According to Rose, Bates accused Karl of “insisting on decisions and scientific choices that maximized warming and minimized documentation … in an effort to discredit the notion of a global warming pause” and that Karl had “rushed so that he could time publication to influence national and international deliberations on climate policy.”

Bates published his own account the same day at Climate Etc., the blog of recently retired Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry, who sees it as a serious challenge to the credibility of climate data recording by NOAA.

Some climate-change skeptics embraced Bates’s revelations quickly. WattsUpwithThat.com republished Rose’s article the day it appeared. The next day, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology issued a press release about it, Valerie Richardson wrote about it in the Washington Times, as did Michael Bastasch in The Daily Caller. David Whitehouse covered it at the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Matt Ridley in “Politics and science are a toxic combination” in the London Times, and James Delingpole on Breitbart.com, all today.

Push-back wasn’t long in coming. Scott Johnson wrote it off, unconvincingly, as “more office politics than science” on the ArsTechnica blog today. Somewhat more substantive responses came from Icarus (blog of the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units at Maynooth University), Victor Venema, and Zeke Hausfather, each of whom alleged specific errors. Curry responded to various parts of the critiques today, with quotations from an email from Bates that convincingly refuted some of the allegations. It’s likely that discussion will continue for weeks, months, perhaps years.

Meanwhile, NOAA informed Bastasch at Daily Caller that it will review Bates’s allegations.

Like many critics of dangerous manmade global warming, I was skeptical of Karl et al.’s “pausebuster” study when it first appeared, for reasons explained here, and I remain so. But not being a specialist in data archiving standards and practices and without direct access to the relevant documentation, I’m in no position to pass judgment on Bates’s allegations. The bare facts do seem to indicate that Karl et al. and NOAA at least failed to comply with the agency’s own rules about data handling, and they do suggest a need for improved compliance with procedural standards at NOAA and NCEI. I’m less sure that the results were as egregious as Bates thinks they were, though that’s possible.

One thing’s for sure, though: All government agencies’ scientific work—all of it, not just data but also computer programs and all communications lying behind the agencies’ published studies—need to be properly archived and completely available to Congress and the public—something addressed in the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015, which failed to become law under the Obama Administration.

The Apostle Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 applies: “Test all things, hold fast what is good.”

Dr. Beisner is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance; former Associate Professor of Historical Theology & Social Ethics, at Knox Theological Seminary, and of Interdisciplinary Studies, at Covenant College; and author of “Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry into the Environmental Debate” and “Prospects for Growth: A Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future.”

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