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David Whitehouse: Data, Deflection And The Pause

Dr David Whitehouse, GWPF Science Editor

David Rose’s splendid and significant article in last week’s Mail on Sunday certainly caused a stir. The initial reaction, mostly distractions, have been easily dealt with by David Rose in this week’s installment.

One of the points raised concerned a paper submitted to the Journal of Climate by Huang et al. It is about the new ERSSTv5 sea surface temperature dataset. It is an interesting paper that claims that ERSSTv5 shows a lower rate of warming than the previous ERSSTv4 which was used by the now famous Karl et al paper in 2015 which claimed that — contrary to the IPCC — there had been no slowdown in the rate of temperature increase in the past 15 years or so – the so-called Pause.

One persistent activist said the paper was stolen and it was unethical to comment on it. In reality the preprint was obtained from a public webpage, anyone could have downloaded it. It has been in circulation for weeks.

The Huang paper and its inconvenient conclusion prompted the Carbon Brief website to publish an article early Friday afternoon by Prof Peter Thorne of Maynooth Universiry. Clearly, and unwisely, it was designed to forestall anything David Rose might say about discrepancies in ocean temperature data. It was a naïve move showing inexperience with ‘media management.’

Carbon Brief’s contributor said that the paper’s authors did not give permission for the yet to be published data to be distributed. But it doesn’t matter. By placing it on a public website they had. Also Carbon Brief or its advisors know that no such restrictions apply to journalists. Some journalists have a relationship with some journals to respect short-term pre-publication embargoes, but it is voluntary and not applicable with the journal in question. Where would journalism be if every time a reporter was told ‘you can’t publish this,’ they acquiesced?

The author said because of the potential headlines he wanted to set the record straight. Because the Huang paper and its data was still undergoing peer-review he said he would only discuss it in the barest detail, only he didn’t. He went into much detail about many of the most important points of Huang et al. But he went even further than that. He actually published the HRSSTv5 dataset. It doesn’t matter that it was in graphical form – there it was on Carbon Brief who had given to the world data that was under peer review! The article on Carbon Brief is published under a CC license encouraging reproduction. There could be no copyright issues now.

Within minutes of the posting by Carbon Brief it was noted that their ERSSTv5 graph was not the same as in the Huang paper. Because of this there followed a series of twitter exchanges. I will spare the names and embarrassment You can go look at them if you like. Below is the Huang data (click on image to enlarge).

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 10.38.34

Firstly it was said that whoever had noticed the changes must have better eyes that one of the scientists concerned! Then there was a denial they were different. Then it was said that the two graphs had different baselines, (which they hadn’t being both 1971 – 2000). Then there followed a claim that all the data series in the Carbon Brief article had beed ‘rebased.’ When it was pointed out that of the four datasets on the Carbon Brief graph only ERSSTv5 had been altered (constant offset of +0.08°C) what confusion there was only increased. Below is the Carbon Brief version of the data.

Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 15.02.24

It was then said that these things happen, it’s the type of thing reviewers pick up. Well, I’m not sure about that. The paper had ten authors (five of them were among the nine authors of the Karl 15 ‘pausebuster’ paper) and seemingly all of them missed it, if it was the case that the Huang graph was wrong at that time. The question left in the mind of Twitter readers was why all the prevarication and untrue excuses. Why no admission that it was a problem straight up.

If the discrepancy between the two graphs had not been pointed out a highly misleading article would have been allowed to stand. Either the authors did or did not know the graphs were different. In either case the answer is cause for great embarrassment at least. These revelations made the Carbon Brief paper look manipulative and misleading.

The baseline confusion was ironic given the criticism given to the Mail on Sunday last week for an incorrect caption regarding temperature baselines. This time the same mistake was made by ten professional scientists. I don’t suppose an apology is imminent.

Today the Mail on Sunday consolidated its story, revealing that the release of new ocean temperature data was delayed for unscientific reasons. What is more a story in the Sunday Times confirms that the UK Met Office does not accept Karl et al.’s denial of the global warming hiatus and acknowledges that, ‘the slowdown hasn’t gone away.’

Slowdown infographic

Writing in this week’s New Scientist, Michael Mann claimed that the pause is an ‘utterly debunked idea’ and ‘in the final analysis was much ado about nothing,’ and a ‘favourite climate contrarian talking point.’

The pause is real and it contains lots of interesting science, there are over 50 explanations proffered for it. But it also has another effect in that is shows the diversity of opinion in climate science, which on this important topic is certainly not settled. Who can deny that climate science is divided over this crucial issue?

Here is HadCRUT4 global temperature for the past 20 years. Judge for yourself.