Did the CRU destroy data?

It appears earlier reports that the CRU had dumped raw data left out some crucial details. As discussed at Little Green Footballs, the situation looks rather different when those details are included. Greenwire reports:

At issue is raw data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, including surface temperature averages from weather stations around the world. The data was used in assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reports that EPA has used in turn to formulate its climate policies.

Citing a statement on the research unit’s Web site, CEI blasted the research unit for the “suspicious destruction of its original data.” According to CRU’s Web site, “Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e. quality controlled and homogenized) data.”

Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit, said that the vast majority of the station data was not altered at all, and the small amount that was changed was adjusted for consistency.

The research unit has deleted less than 5 percent of its original station data from its database because the stations had several discontinuities or were affected by urbanization trends, Jones said.

“When you’re looking at climate data, you don’t want stations that are showing urban warming trends,” Jones said, “so we’ve taken them out.” Most of the stations for which data was removed are located in areas where there were already dense monitoring networks, he added. “We rarely removed a station in a data-sparse region of the world.”

Refuting CEI’s claims of data-destruction, Jones said, “We haven’t destroyed anything. The data is still there — you can still get these stations from the [NOAA] National Climatic Data Center.”

If this is correct, then it seems some of CRU’s data was deleted, for legitimate reasons, but this data is still available from other sources and therefore nothing has actually been lost.

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Climategate: CRU’s climate change data dumped

Clarification: Below I should have written “scientific integrity”, as that’s what I’d intended. The dumping may not have had a dishonest motivation, but it does undermine the ability of other researchers to reproduce the analyses and predictions of the CRU and thus the scientific integrity of their work. The context of the resistance to releasing data under the freedom of information act, documented in some of the leaked emails, makes it look suspicious but does not prove dishonesty.

It looks as if my earlier discussion of the “Mike’s Nature trick” email may become irrelevant to assessing the integrity of the CRU team:

SCIENTISTS at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based.

It means that other academics are not able to check basic calculations said to show a long-term rise in temperature over the past 150 years.

The UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was forced to reveal the loss following requests for the data under Freedom of Information legislation.

The data were gathered from weather stations around the world and then adjusted to take account of variables in the way they were collected. The revised figures were kept, but the originals — stored on paper and magnetic tape — were dumped to save space when the CRU moved to a new building.

from Climate change data dumped – Times Online.

In the context of these emails, which talk about resisting FOI requests and even include a suggestion to delete data subject to a FOI request (which would be illegal) this admission from the CRU does not look good at all.

RealClimate on climategate.

RealClimate, a blog written by working climate scientists has two threads on the climategate controversy that provide context for the leaked emails and code, responding to specific points being raised elsewhere.

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Climategate: On the “Mike’s Nature trick” email

Regarding the leaked emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU), one thing that is clear is that the “Mike’s Nature trick” email is genuine, as confirmed by the CRU’s Phil Jones himself. It is thus a good starting point for examining the charges laid against the CRU team.

Having studied the relevant publications, it seems to me that the email provides evidence of what may be nothing more than some sloppiness in producing a graph for this WMO Statement. The “divergence” talked about is openly discussed in papers published both before and after the WMO Statement and also in the IPCC AR4. I think the data in the WMO Statement should have been presented differently, in a more transparent manner, but I don’t think this is evidence of manipulation or deliberate hiding of the divergence.

The remainder of this article explains my reasoning.

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Climategate: The charges

This is the second in a planned series of articles on what has been dubbed “Climategate”, i.e. the leaking of data from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, including both emails and program code, which many are claiming cast doubt on the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

There are various claims being made about the CRU, based on the leaked emails and the code. The Devil’s Kitchen, writing about the significance of the CRU emails, sets out many of the charges as follows:

The scientific parts of the IPCC’s reports have been based heavily on the research and reconstructions produced by The Club—particularly on the temperature reconstructions of Michael Mann and Keith Briffa. These reconstructions (usually involving a hockey stick graph) have been constantly attacked—and usually destroyed—by sceptics such as Steve McIntyre.

What these emails show is that members of The Club have presented, as fact, data which privately they have acknowledged to be, at best, flawed.

Further, many members of The Club are editors of the reports submitted to the IPCC, and the emails show that they have deliberately cherry-picked those that agree with their position—and conspired to discredit or reject those that do not agree with their political position.

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Can we trust the leaked Climate Research Unit emails and code?

There has been a lot of fuss this last week regarding the leaking (or was it the stealing?) of some emails and code from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, one of the key groups involved in research relating to climate change. Sceptics of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) are claiming the leaked data shows AGW to be a scam, or at least that members of the CRU, who are claimed to have critical influence over climate research and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have been cooking their data and trying to silence those who dissent from their viewpoint.

With blogs posting extracts from the emails and code, at least one site claiming to have searchable copies of the emails and the journalist George Monbiot, who believes in AGW, distancing himself from the CRU and calling for Phil Jones to be sacked it seems a lot of people are taking this data at face value. Indeed Monbiot’s piece states, with regards to the leaked emails:

I am now convinced that they are genuine, and I’m dismayed and deeply shaken by them.

The question is why should we take it at face value? It seems to me we have the following reasons to do so:

Of course it is possible that fake emails or code snippets have been added or that some emails or code snippets have been modified by those who hacked/leaked the data concerned. However, given the confirmation of the leaked data and the authenticity of part of it, along with the level of detail involved, it seems to me that bulk of the data probably is genuine. On that basis, I am provisionally willing to treat the emails and code snippets as genuine.

The question then is what conclusions can we draw from these emails and the code? I intend to tackle this question over a series of forthcoming articles. For the remainder of this post, I’ll set out my current position.

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Technology and humanity’s impact on the environment

Note: I haven’t forgotten about my promised followup to my article on Julian Simon, it will appear after this one.

Two people have commented on my article on the recent paper from the Optimum Population Trust, namely Martin Desvaux, the paper’s author, and Tim Worstall, the blogger with an interest in economics, who’s also been critical of Desvaux’s paper.

The question at issue is whether technology increases or decreases humanity’s impact on the environment and whether T in the I=PAT equation should be considered to be a multiplicative term or whether we should divide bed T. Note that I measures the human impact on the environment, P is the population and A is a measure of consumption (or affluence).

I have thus far sided with Tim Worstall’s view that technology helps us reduce our impact on the environment, however whilst Devaux acknowledges that technology can do so, he argues that overall it has been a driver in increasing humanity’s impact on the environment. From his comment:

I think it is safe to state that, since the industrial revolution, technology has enabled us to reduce infant mortality, increase food production and increase life expectancy, all of which have caused the largest population explosion in the history of humankind. I think we can also safely assume that in that arena T is greater than 1 as a result. Such progress was possible only because we could extract oil, coal and gas out of the ground in ever increasing quantities, transport it via road, rail, pipe and sea* all around the world which, I feel sure you will agree, has also had a T-greater-than-one impact on the environment. In addition, we get most of our fertilizers from hydrocarbon technology. Without fossil fuels and thereby electrical energy, medical advances would have been impossible, We would not have been able to develop (to mention those which immediately spring to mind): warm homes, fridges, leisure centres Olympic stadia, moon shots, as well as several billions of cars, millions of lorries, ships buses, railways, aircraft, agricultural machinery factories, processing plant …. with all the infrastructure of roads, ports, depots, etc that these entities require.

What Devaux is saying here is that the advances in technology associated with the industrial revolution and the fossil fuel economy have led to a huge increase in both population and affluence, which has led to an increase in humanity’s impact on the environment, and thus we should consider T to be a multiplicative variable, with value greater than 1 in the I=PAT equation.

I think this is a misunderstanding of the role of T in the equation. Suppose we rewrite the equation to give us T in terms of the other three variables. We then get T=I/(PA). T is thus measuring the environmental impact per unit of consumption, where A is consumption per head of population and P is the size of the population. Stated in these terms, we can see that T does not measure “technology” per se (as I argued here) but rather measures a variable which technology can influence.

As Tim Worstall points out, Desvaux is double counting. Desvaux suggests that technological changes drove an increase in population and an increase in affluence, thus implying T should have a value > 1. The problem is that in the I=PAT equation, P and A already reflect those increases, thus to incorporate those increases in the value of T involves incorporating them twice!

This illustrates a weakness of the I=PAT equation. It treats P, A and T as independent variables when in fact there are feedbacks between them. But Desvaux is surely correct that technological advance enabled the large human population we now have and the levels of affluence we now see, and as I pointed out earlier, increases in affluence have led to a fall in birth rates in developed countries (and increasingly elsewhere) and thus to a slowing of population growth in recent decades.

But equally one can point out that without our technology, it simply wouldn’t be possible to support over 6 billion people, and we would devastate the environment if we were to try doing so. So where does this leave us on whether technology increases or reduces our impact on the environment?

My view is this. Technology can do both. We employ technology because it makes things easier to do. It can do this in various ways:

  • It can substitute for human labour. For example, a man who spends 30 mins walking to work each day might buy a car to reduce the journey time to 10 mins. Getting to work is now easier and more comfortable, but his environmental impact has increased and he will be using more resources. E.g. instead of moving one human to and from work, he’s now moving one human plus a ton or two of metal and thus using more energy.
  • It can enable us to do things we couldn’t or wouldn’t do before. E.g. the man who buys a car to shorten his journey to work now visits his relatives 60 miles away several times a year, where previously he would have used public transport and only gone once or twice at most. Again this increases the impact on the environment, but this time it is because the man is engaging in more activities than he used to. Another example is the summer holiday abroad that many people take which they could not do were it not for the advent of air travel.
  • It can enable us to do things with fewer resources. Suppose the man who bought the car above, later on buys a new car with twice the fuel efficiency. His journeys to/from work and his relatives now have a lower environmental impact since less fuel is needed to power these journeys.
  • It can enable us to tap new or previously unconsidered resources. For example, the internal combustion engine indicated that some black gooey liquid, commonly called oil, actually has its uses and advances in pumping and drilling technology enabled us to extract oil from previously inaccessible places. This of course had a considerable environmental impact, though supporting 6 billion people without such a concentrated portable energy source would likely have devastated the environment were it to be tried.

Whether overall technology will increase or reduce environmental damage depends on the choices we make. If the environmental damage becomes serious enough we will choose to mitigate it. If the cost of such damage can be internalised so that e.g. the polluter pays for his pollution, then technology will tend to develop in more environmentaly friendly ways. We should thus look at ways in which technology can reduce the value of T in the I=PAT equation.

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