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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Weather in Rutherglen with WUWT, Jennifer Marohasy and Australia's denier newspaper

Sou | 3:50 PM 17 Comments - leave a comment

Update: see below.

Once again we are drawn into the "making up stuff for the sake of a bad yarn" territory at WUWT (archived here) .

Anthony Watts has written about articles by science denier and "environment" writer for the Australian, Graham Lloyd and one of Australia's resident deniers, Jennifer Marohasy. They are raising a big kerfuffle about the record of temperature trends from the agricultural research centre at DEPI Rutherglen.

I'd normally leave it up to Nick Stokes of Moyhu to analyse denialist claims like this, but he hasn't done so yet. So I'll give it a shot myself.

Rutherglen is wine-grape country just north west of the Great Dividing Range in north eastern Victoria. As well as wine grapes there is dryland farming - animals and cropping, among other things. There has been an agricultural research centre there since the year dot. Well, since the late 1800s - doing viticultural research and education (from 1880), as well as other agricultural research from the early 20th century.  (There used to be two research centres, now one.)

My family has lived in the region since the 1950s. I worked for the Victorian Department of Agriculture in the early 1980s, was on the agriculture faculty at Melbourne Uni in the 1990s, headed the Victorian branch of the ag science professional body for a while, and have since done work with the Victorian primary industries department (including its research arm) so the research centre at Rutherglen is not unfamiliar territory, although I've never worked on site there.

Picking cherries in Rutherglen

Now what the deniers are complaining about this time isn't the mean temperature, nor the maximum daily. Nor is it the climatology of Australia or Victoria or even of the region. What they are talking about is the minimum temperature and in particular, the minimum temperatures up to around the mid-1960s early 1970s recorded at Rutherglen. That's more than forty years ago. A single weather station. The ultimate cherry pick.

I couldn't find another weather station close by that has records going back to the turn of the century, so Rutherglen is about it as far as I can tell. Here is a chart of raw average annual temperatures (from daily). I've included the raw records from Corowa, which is not far away on the Murray as well as Benalla and Wangaratta. Click to view larger.

Data sources: Bureau of Meteorology - Raw as recorded and ACORN-SAT

As you can see from the above, the raw records are shown as lower than the ACORN-SAT (adjusted/corrected) records for the period prior to the gap between 1959 and 1965. I'm not in a position to say why that is the case. I will say that the proper explanation is not nefarious intent. You can leave the conspiracy ideation to deniers who congregate at WUWT. There are any number of plausible explanations for why an algorithm would have detected a break in the record and made an adjustment, some of which I've described below.

One thing you'll notice is where Benalla overlaps with Rutherglen in the earliest records for Benalla, the difference in raw minimum temperature is much less than later on (I've highlighted the two bits to look at). This suggests that BoM was not in error in regard to Rutherglen.

I wasn't able to find out why there is a five year gap in the records for Rutherglen in the first half of the 1960s. I'd have thought that researchers at the centre would have been monitoring records throughout, though its not beyond the realms of possibility that in some years the records were kept more diligently than others. It was in the 1960s when the research centre was rebuilt, so it could be something to do with that. Nor do I know when the weather station came under the ambit of the Bureau, which I think it is now, rather than the agency responsible for agricultural research, which it was originally. (There were quite a few gaps in the daily records in 1958 and 1959 as well.)

Conspiracy theorists and their amazing "hoax"

I also know that the Bureau of Meteorology isn't part of any fabled climate science "scam" or "hoax" so beloved of science deniers at WUWT and elsewhere. BoM is one of the most highly regarded organisations of its type in the world. You'd have to be a nutty conspiracy theorising science denier to think that it or any similar organisation was fudging data.

Heads won't be rolling

Anyway, at WUWT: "Australian scientist calls for ‘heads to roll’ over adjusted temperature data" - screams his headline.

It turns out the "Australian scientist" is just a science denying blogger called Jennifer Marohasy, who describes herself as "an Australian biologist and libertarian who holds unpopular opinions on a range of important environmental issues."

Libertarian yes, scientist not so much

How many people do you know who describe themselves in terms of their political ideology? How many scientists do you know who define their science by their politics? Jennifer has been rejecting climate science for quite some time. She's never done any climate science and going by her blog, she knows precious little about it. And what little she might know she rejects. Her motivation for rejecting climate science is apparently political, dictated by her libertarian views. (A bit like how members of that little American cult, the Cornwall Alliance, are required to reject climate science.)

I'd say Jennifer has about as much claim to being an "Australian scientist" as I do. She did some scientific research back in the day, whereas I went into science policy and planning. On her website she lists fewer than 20 published papers, the latest being in 2000, and mostly related to pest control. The difference is that these days Jennifer dabbles in pseudo-science and denial, whereas real scientists reject pseudo-science twaddle.

The so-called "environment" journalist, who dons his science-denying hat when he writes most of his tripe for The Australian, Graham Lloyd, also took a half-hearted shot. Every now and again, as part of the science-denial recycling program, deniers resurrect the dumb line that records are being fudged - as if the world isn't warming. It is. It's getting warmer all around the world and it's getting warmer in Australia, too.

Not Bill Johnston, and who are the "many others"?

Her article also quotes Dr Bill Johnston as having "used to run experiments there". It goes further to state that "He, and many others, can vouch for the fact that the weather station at Rutherglen, providing data to the Bureau of Meteorology since November 1912, has never been moved."

But Bill Johnston can't vouch for any such thing. Jennifer is stretching the truth by a long way. Bill Johnston can't do any "vouching" because he was never based at Rutherglen. He is not in a position to say whether the weather station was ever moved or not, in it's 102 year history. (Bill did collaborate with scientists at Rutherglen on some research projects, probably when he was working at Wagga Wagga, working with the NSW Department of Agriculture - not the Victorian Department of Agriculture. Different state, different organisation. He wasn't ever on the staff at the Rutherglen research centre. )  Bill can't do any vouching from personal knowledge. He can only get his information the same way as you and I and anyone else, by making enquiries of people who might be in a position to know such things.

Anthony Watts wrongly wrote:
In fact as Bill Johnston explains in today’s newspaper, the site never has moved.

Except Bill Johnston wasn't quoted as saying any such thing in The Australian. (You have to copy and paste the above and then click on the Google link to read the article in full.) The only quote from Bill Johnston related to when a politician from the area wanted warmer records reported for Rutherglen so as not to frighten off tourists (not that Bill said who instigated it. I found out from other sources.) It was never used for official reporting purposes.  The only bit in The Australian relating to Bill Johnston is as follows:
Retired scientist Bill Johnston, who has worked at Rutherglen, said a temporary thermometer had been put on higher ground near the office of the farm but it never provided temperatures to the bureau.
“Some locals thought the ­official data was not particularly inviting for winter tourists,’’ Dr Johnston said.
“So they established a second Stevenson screen near the office on a watered lawn, near fruit trees, so it was pretty useless as a weather station.”

Jennifer doesn't list any of the "many others". I'm guessing she just made that bit up. Not even the people who work there now can vouch for the actual location of the weather station during its entire 102 year history. What can be said is the following:

  • The landscape around the weather station and the research centre is such that the cold temperatures tend to be colder than neighbouring regions, while hot temperatures are about the same. It's not exactly in a frost hollow, but when it's cold it's often a couple of degrees colder than its near neighbours. You can see that in the above chart, which compares the minima at the neighbouring towns of Corowa, Benalla and Wangaratta with Rutherglen.
  • The research centre was rebuilt in the 1960s. The new offices and buildings were opened in 1968.
  • The weather station would have been altered to convert to metric at some stage. Australia went to metric currency on 14 February 1966. It went to metric air temperatures in September 1972 and metric precipitation and evaporation records in January 1974. Before that, temperatures were measured using the Fahrenheit scale. Afterwords it was the centigrade, then Celsius scale (same scale, different name).
  • The weather station was at one stage converted from the old style, with a Stevenson screen to an automatic weather station.
  • The landscape around Rutherglen, as in much of the area, has changed rather a lot over the last hundred years or so. That in itself can affect the local weather. Not just temperature but wind and rainfall as well.

I had a lovely chat with a scientist who works at what is now DEPI Rutherglen, Dr Bill Christy. His curiosity has been piqued. Thanks for all your insights, Bill. He doesn't recall the weather station being moved in recent history, but he wasn't around in the 1960s or beforehand. He was interested to learn that there is such a long gap in the records in the first half of the 1960s.

If you're interested in the history of the Victorian Department of Agriculture, there is a record of personal experiences here, and a booklet of Rutherglen Research Institute here.


Nick Stokes has since plotted on a map a lot of places around Australia, indicating whether the temperature trend has been adjusted up, down or steady as corrections to the raw data. Some have wondered why deniers aren't up in arms about all the adjustments to temperature records resulting in a downward shift. But then again, these are utter nutter conspiracy theorists we're talking about. They'll probably just adapt their conspiracy theory to suit. What's the bet that someone will argue that the downshifts have been made to cover up the upshifts. Or that the raw records were "tampered" with to make it just seem as if the shift was down :)

Sou 6:14 pm Thurs 28 August 2014.

From the WUWT comments

The article brought out all the usual nutty conspiracy theorising crowd at WUWT, who are waiting for the ice age that never cometh. Not everyone at WUWT is impressed by the article, though.

Eliza  August 26, 2014 at 2:52 pm
This is a very important event in the climate wars hahaha It will not just die. Many comments on US MSM are talking about this
It just could be a crucial turning point where MSM sees more money in the “fraud” than the usual IPCC parroting.

Tilo doesn't know it was indeed a step change, not a trend change (see the chart above). He wrote:
August 26, 2014 at 2:54 pmWhy is it that all adjustments are warming adjustment. A real world move of a station could just as easily require cooling more recent data and warming older data. But we never see examples of this.
In any case, a move should reflect as a step change, not as a trend change. So there should be a step correction, not a trend correction. If the homogenization algorithm is responsible for turning a step correction into a trend correction, the algorithm introduces more error than it removes. 

Steven Mosher  says he doesn't have the earlier data - presumably at Berkeley Earth.
August 26, 2014 at 2:54 pm
Data that is wrong must be dumped or fixed
Looking at the records for this site I note no data before 1965.
No break at 66 or 74.
We split the station at 1980. The reason is a series of qc failures followed by a data gap.
Either way including this station or dumping it or adjusting
It changes nothing

DavidR doesn't seem to be overly impressed by the WUWT article and says that anyone can cherry pick a single station.
August 26, 2014 at 2:58 pmWe can all cherry pick stations here and there. Jennifer Marohasy can do it and BOM can do it.
Why can’t we see a simple comparison of the ‘raw’ and ‘adjusted’ trends for Australia as a whole? Surely this basic information is available to both sides of the argument.
If there is no statistically significant trend difference between the raw and adjusted data on a national level then what’s the problem?

evanmjones, who is doing the grunt work for Anthony Watts' surface station paper that is still in the works (years after its promised publication), doesn't see anything wrong with the Rutherglen data. He writes, quoting other people (in italics)
August 26, 2014 at 4:57 pmWhat is happening here is that data is being replaced by information. The data is sacrosanct. it is what it is.
Yes, it is critical that the raw data be preserved. The “information” that “replaces” it needs to be correct (it isn’t so far as I can tell), explained, and identified as such (also not).
But you can’t use compromised raw data as “information”, either.
Having said that, I see nothing the matter with the Rutherglen data.
Here in the US I believe that these folks, that Mann guy and all his friends ought to be tried under RICCO laws
NO! [Insert sound of fist slamming table.] Talk about a sword that cuts both ways. Today we try them? Tomorrow they try us.
And that goes for all other similar comments I see all too often (from both sides).

August 26, 2014 at 5:18 pmThat is about 3.25 degrees Fahrenheit! Ouch! Any pools on the excuse to not roll heads? 

JRM  isn't familiar with temperature records or instrument calibration issues and similar. He or she thinks you can just take a reading and that's the end of the matter. That would be wrong.
August 26, 2014 at 6:02 pm
NOAA spends maybe 5 billion a year, I don’t ask much for my money but you think a accurate temp could be had for that amount. Not sure what the Aussie’s spend or what the UK budget is, but for goodness sakes, they shouldn’t have to make up a program to adjust something that should be recorded correctly the first time. It is kind of sad to know out fathers and grand fathers couldn’t even read a thermometer correctly and now a model has to go back and get it right for them…… 

john robertson blames it all on that nefarious organisation called the UN, which is so secret it's membership is currently only around 195 countries throughout the world ;) (Just about every nation on earth is a member.) He also seems to think that official meteorological offices throughout the world are an offshoot of the Weathermen!
August 26, 2014 at 6:42 pm
Future examination of these same tendencies, the rewriting of historical data to match the belief, by our North American Bureaucracies will produce the same results.
The Weather bureaus have been under political management for decades.
“Our Experts assure..”
The systemic adjustments seem to trace back to that UN organization, set up by Maurice Strong.
Can’t remember the acronym but strikes me the similarity to the Weathermen of Bill Ayres infamy can not go unremarked.
As the credibility of world weather records has been blown.
CAGW created, promoted and protected from scrutiny by our bureaus.

mark l  is another conspiracy theorist.
August 26, 2014 at 7:23 pm
Anyone who believes these temperature “adjustments” in multiple databases are legitimate is seriously naive. The ‘environmentalists’ have already stated that lies are more important than truth when it comes to supporting the “cause” so no one should be surprised. But everyone should be mad.


  1. Great work - enjoyed what you have dug up. If you ally this with Nick Stokes, who has a few updates today, it's fairly clear it's all a beat up.
    But the problem is that now that the 'meme' of BOM corrupting the data is out in the blogoshpere, it's going to be a pain putting it back in the bottle. How many column inches of rant are going to be devoted to this in the next few years?
    What is really sad is that our political leaders are going to read their daily Australian, lap up every word, and use it to justify what they are doing already. I have no idea how to deal with that - and it's all rather depressing. They wouldn't know the difference between homogenisation and full fat milk. (Sorry for getting political, as I know this should be science. But of course The Australian data story is about non-science, or should I say - misunderstanding of science.....)

  2. "Libertarian yes, scientist not so much"

    I think people calling for the persecution of researchers who have done nothing wrong, whose work is merely inconvenient to the fossil fuel industry, deserve names like 'shill'. 'Libertarian' is far too ironic.

  3. About Australia Like to read more.

    Why so many stories about retired weatherman Watts ? He want to have some hobby blog and to make believe he is now important man of science. You make him head swell bigger with every story you has wrote about him. He important enough to be attacked by you ? My thinking you have more important matter to write about Australian no some old retired greyhead man in America.

    I may like to see some more Australia story about wine making and your experiences - that would really be some interesting tale for sure I thinking.


    1. Watts and the Wattians, and mockery thereof, is the purpose of Sou's thread. The beauty of the interwebs is that this does not crowd out other particular interests such as Australian wine, or indeed other things Australian. Aussies are not famously taciturn.

  4. Oh dear, so in fact the sum total of your post is to note that there isn't data to support a negation of Marohasy's allegations and to show you didn't bother to really dig deeply, before moving on to some thin charges against various players (of course you didn't actually speak to the sources, nor have you bothered to actually read in depth the long train of discussion about this issue on several blogs).

    You then tail off miserably as usual with a selection of comments from WUWT as though that's the last word in critical examination. Lame.

    No wonder you are held up for constant ridicule.

    1. Billy Bob (Seriously?)

      Looks like we got a stray conspiracy nutter. A live one. Someone who mistakes comments from WUWT for "critical examinaton". Someone so low on the totem pole that they fantasise that scientists are colluding to fake global warming.

      Watch out for the lizard men, Billy Bob. "They" are watching your every move.

    2. You indeed have a live one there. And using the "argument from ignorance" fallacy.

  5. I'm sorry Billy Bob, but I have to completely disagree with you. I've looked at many of the other blogs and all I see is a lot of unfounded allegations. There are a number of points:

    [1] I spent 15 minutes looking through the comments on WUWT. The majority comment was "you cannot change the raw data". Quite clearly no-one making that statement has worked as an experimental scientist. One of the FIRST things you do as an experimental scientist is to see how to remove all clear sources of error from your raw data. That might be re-calibration, or it might be an in-depth study of sources of systematic error. You have to do your best to deal with this in order to present credible data. Homogenisation is one technique used to do this for the REGIONAL temp record. The technique is open and transparent. There are other techniques, and there are criticisms, but that’s the level where the debate needs to be.

    [2] The comments in the article above introduce quite a few points to the discussion not reported elsewhere, and so are actually very valuable.

    [3] Sadly, in Australia, with a couple of hundred stations over a hundred years there simply isn’t going to be the complete “metadata” to show the why and wherefore of every station alteration. You can decide that’s malice aforethought or human nature. Up to you to decide.

    [4] It’s so obvious to me that station data MUST be analysed with some procedure similar to one of homogenization that I literally can’t comprehend how anyone wouldn’t “get it”. Nick Stokes has shown that at Amberley there was an obvious deviation that started to occur in August 1980. No-one seems to know why this is – but if you don’t correct for it then self-evidently you’ll end up with a bit of rubbish.

    [5] On Jo Nova’s site on the post relating to Rutherglen she shows a graph of mean data for Rutherglen and the mean data for neighbouring stations. Rutherglen shows a cooling trend of 0.4 degrees per century, whereas the others are basically static, but possibly 0.05 degrees cooling per century. She then says that the cooling trends match each other. Duh! I don’t know about you – but they don’t match.

    [6] Finally – when anyone has decided to analyse “raw data” rather than adjusted data worldwide, all that happens is that we end up with a similar trend, just not quite as much. So, sadly, even if the homogenization methodology was shown to be flawed, not an awful lot changes.

    1. Allow me to add that Jo Nova would not have made a single comment about either station if it did not have a homogenisation that resulted in an increased trend. In fact, as far as I know no one who has ever complained about these adjustments has complained about an adjustment that lowered the trend. And it's not like they don't exist:

      Statistically you would expect about one in three of all complaints about adjustments of stations to be about a lower trend, but as I said, I cannot remember a single such complaint. This is telling.

  6. Mmm... insightful and thoroughly thought provoking response Sou. Not. Now Anonymous, how about just for entertainment you pop over to Marohasy's blog and engage. Actually stretch the old mind to understand their point and then fight the good fight to show why they are wrong. After all, they seem to be getting some traction with it. Or you could just hang out here and enjoy some confirmatory back slaps. Mind you, I'm serious - it's been a while since there's been some decent alternative viewpoints expressed. Jen's place is in danger of becoming as much of an echo chamber as Dilltoid. Just use the nom de plume Real Serious Experimental Scientist, then I'll know it's you. See you there, eh?

    1. My response was more to the point than either of your content-free waffles, Billy Bob. (Sorry, I can't write that name and keep a straight face. Billy Bob. Seems so fitting.)

    2. Hi Billy Bob. I get your point about engagement. I suppose my only issue is that when I engage I tend to get so much abuse it doesn't feel worth it. (I suspect you know the feeling:>>) That's actually an important point. I know scores of people who have simply given up commenting on these issues, as they find it so frustrating. But it does mean there's often not a real dialogue. You never know, I may give JN a go!

  7. Anonymous, I am impressed. I occasionally stop by here for a look, but my experience has been that most of Sou's posts consist of a mix of cheap point scoring and missing the point. I agree re the abuse thing, but I think engaging on topic and not being diverted by the personal will usually transcend that. Nova's has more than it's fair share of nut jobs and sledgers, but there is a sprinkling of solid commenters. That said, I'd try Jennifer Marohasy's - she is one of the major proponents of the BOM 'data manipulation' argument, and her regular commenters seem a reasonable bunch on the whole (except for me of course). Anyway, my challenge remains. Pop over, engage, actually try to understand their argument and why they have their view, and see what you can add to the debate. Without snark. Goes for you too, Sou, but I can't imagine you actually debating. You like your safe haven sniping too much I suspect.

    1. Billy Bob has still not added anything to this discussion.

      FWIW though, I'll allow his thread hijack if only to point out that I spent several years "engaging" with hostile deniers on their turf. I even helped out Jennifer's BoM-watching mate who couldn't work out averages, Ken whatshisname.

      If deniers wanted to engage they could come here and do so. Just like if they wanted to understand climate science, they'd read it. Only rarely do deniers step outside their bubble. Even more rare is there any sign that one or two of them have read any climate science.

      You, Billy Bob, are the only denier who's commented here, probably from Jennifer's blog, but you haven't attempted to discuss the topic or add anything to the discussion about homogeneisation, data interpretation or even Rutherglen in particular. You've just "sniped" about the "snark".

      I understand the myriad denialist arguments alright. Jennifer is a political denier. She's a member (and founder IIRC) of at least one denial organisation and maybe more. She's a Pat Michael's type of denier (it's her job) but a light weight. Her followers include the dumb deniers, many of them would also be political deniers and some are conspiracy theorising deniers. The best she can manage these days is along the lines: temperature data was adjusted so global warming isn't happening so climate science is a hoax so she shouldn't have to support switching to clean energy.

      Why would any sane person want to "engage" with someone of such dubious morals who promotes silly, illogical and wrong arguments? How would you propose someone even attempt to "engage" with deniers who can't think straight? Do you "engage" with creationists, with flat-earthers, with HAARP conspiracy theorists? They are all cut from the same cloth.

      In the past when I was on denier turf I used to comment by presenting facts. One could never have a rational discussion with people like that. It was pointless attempting to "engage" them. They'd just screech "liar". Or quote Andrew Bolt or Pierre Gosselin or Donna Laframboise or some other batty denier. They don't do rational. Their most sophisticated "engagement" is a similar form to yours - avoid the topic at hand and make snide remarks that are wrong. Usually it's lower level like "this is fraud" and "“Fudged data” by any other name is fudged data" type comments (both of which are evident at Jennifer's blog).

      I've no idea why you believe that is actual debate or why you think it worth anyone's while to try to "engage" with lunatics and science-denying libertarians about climate science. (One could engage with people of various political persuasions on policy. Jennifer doesn't do that, she's still stuck way back in her science-denying gig.)

      If you want to see how I commented at denier websites, there are thousands of examples at HotCopper. Look for MobyT on their S&M forum, if it still exists. I figured it was worthwhile commenting there because it was a general forum that had a lot more people than science deniers, though it was run by people who, I eventually discovered, happened to be science deniers and libertarians (and blatant sexists and included conspiracy theorists of the anti-semitic type). A very hostile environment that I survived for several years before being banned for making a complaint about the disgusting sexism there.

      Or search for "Sou says" at WUWT - though I only made about 30 comments (spread over several years) before getting banned via Twitter. WUWT doesn't accept people who accept science.

  8. The point scoring is cheap because it's so freakin' easy. There's nothing of any quality to aim at. The point of Sou's blog - which you may be coming to grasp - is evidence-based mockery of the likes of Marohasy and their garbled rantings.

    The point of the "BOM data manipulation" claim is obvious : to shore up the conspiracy theory which is the sole mental prop of so many AGW deniers. SOu puts it to rest quite adequately, as others are doing in Marohasy's sandbox.

    Your snidery regarding Sou's reluctance to enter the front-line betrays your ignorance of her time at Hot Copper, but then ignorance is clearly a major attribute of yours.

  9. The Australian is going to get another wrist-slap from the press council in my opinion, like they did after misrepresenting the IPCC report that time.


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