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Saturday, March 26, 2016

How false denier memes are built on quicksand

Sou | 2:30 PM Go to the first of 52 comments. Add a comment
Science deniers build memes on quicksand, but the memes can hang around as if they are built on solid rock. Today there is another example. At WUWT there's an article with the headline: "Friday Funny: more upside down data". Except the data wasn't upside down or back to front or wrong in any discernible way.

John McLean sent an email to Bishop Hill blog owner saying he found things wrong with the sea surface temperature data from the Hadley Centre, UK Met Office (archived here). Among other things, he thought that the data labeled nh (northern hemisphere) should have been sh (southern hemisphere) and vice versa. Parts of the email were published on the blog without much fanfare, just asking if others could confirm or otherwise what John thought he found.

Update: John McLean was partly correct, there were some errors in the data files. They have now been rectified. (See also this update article, which includes an explanation from Nick Stokes.)
Added by Sou at 2:16 pm, 12 April 2016 AEST

Scientists checked but found nothing wrong


ATTP was the first to look and couldn't find anything wrong with the data and about two hours after the blog article was written he said so. (He also suggested checking with John Kennedy of the UK Met Office.) An hour later, Zeke Hausfather also said he couldn't find the problems that John McLean identified. A few hours later Eternal Optimist checked some of John's other numbers and got something different to what John got. Around the same time Nick Stokes said he also looked and couldn't find anything wrong with the data. He wrote:
I can't see any problem with NH and SH. HadSST3-nh.dat (and -sh) is just a file of monthly averages. The numbers in the file correspond to the familiar graphs shown. NH (-nh) temperatures are higher, as expected. Eg the 2015 average for NH was 0.737; for SH was 0.425. The files were last updated 8 March, so I don't think there is a recent change. It looks to me as if John Maclean may have been reading the netCDF gridded file wrongly.
The CRU NH data seems to agree entirely with the Met Office data here.
Mar 25, 2016 at 10:13 PM |  nick stokes



Meanwhile, at WUWT, it shifted from a question to a certainty


Meanwhile at WUWT, Anthony Watts wrote his article (archived here), as if he was certain the data were wrong. Of course Anthony didn't bother checking for himself, he wouldn't know how. As well as his headline of "Friday Funny: more upside down data", he wrote:
I wonder what CRU will have to say about this one that has been discovered? It’s bigger than just a single point on Earth.
Anthony wrote his article at least an hour after ATTP's comment, so he should have suspected that it was John McLean who was wrong, not CRU. He probably thought: why let a potential denier meme go to waste?


The scientific consensus was that the data were sound


Thing is, no-one seems to have found anything wrong except for John McLean. Everyone else who looked at the downloads could find no upside down data. NH was northern hemisphere and SH was southern hemisphere. The general conclusion of those who checked was that either:
  1. John made a mistake in his analysis of the data; or
  2. The data was corrected after John had noticed something wrong.
The second option was discounted when Nick Stokes observed that the last upload was a couple of weeks ago. So the data hadn't been changed. That just left option 1. That John McLean had made errors of interpretation.


Fake sceptics are fake sceptics


What you'll have noticed is that at Bishop Hill the only people who helped John McLean out by checking the data were people who understand and accept climate science. Not a single fake sceptic there did any checking, yet most of them were assuming that John McLean was right and that the CRU/UK Met Office scientists were wrong.

I did a count at Bishop Hill. There were 30 comments from 27 people. Only four of the 27 people bothered to check the data. None of them found the NH/SH reversal problem that John McLean thought was there, and they said so. Of the remaining 23 people, most assumed that the data were wrong and John McLean was right, despite not checking for themselves. The comments included lots of silliness and conspiracy ideation and assumptions that dim deniers know more about sea surface temperature data than the scientists who put it together.

Over at WUWT, it was even worse. There have been 59 comments so far, the first from Zeke Hausfather who wrote there was no mixup of northern with southern hemisphere:
March 25, 2016 at 8:55 am
I’m not finding any mix up between NH and SH data; if there ever was a problem presumably its already fixed? The >9999 values reading as ***** in the obs count file does seem to be a real bug, however.

Despite the above being the very first comment, most WUWTers ignored it. Apart from Nick Stokes, only one other person checked and plotted the data. That was vukcevic. Oddly he didn't know what it was plotting so I guess he's not familiar with sea surface temperature. It would be obvious to anyone who is familiar with it that it was northern hemisphere data, just as it said on the label.


Just so you know, for next time...


Anyway, next time you read how CRU or the Met Office posts data upside down, this is probably what is being referred to. It's not so. What it shows is that all it takes to create a meme (if it sticks) is this:
  1. a science denier asks a question about data, thinking that the data might be wrong
  2. other scientists check and discover it's the denier's error not that of the scientists, 
  3. meanwhile the fake sceptics don't bother to check the data, only one science denier out of dozens bothered to make an effort (vukcevic)
  4. most of the rest will rush to embrace the wrong notion that the scientists have it wrong
  5. conspiracy theories will ensue.

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

Business as usual at We-wank-with-Watts.com

Lurker

David Sanger said...

Yes it's amazing how so many "skeptics" are not really very skeptical at all, and don't bother to actually check stuff out. "Gullible" is perhaps a better word.

Neil White said...

Is the John McLean mentioned here the same as this John McLean:

http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/07/28/ahh-mclean-youve-done-it-again/comment-page-1/#comments

If so, he definitely 'has form'. Including getting years when things happened wrong. Being completely wrong is BAU for this guy.

Neil

Sou said...

Yes, Neil. I think it is. He's the same one who in 2011 predicted that the 2011 annual global mean surface temperature would be below that of 1956. (It wasn't anywhere close.) The same one who removed the trend from data so he could pronounce there wasn't a trend. He used to be a computer operator or something before he took up climate science denial. (I think he's trying to get a PhD. It might be the very first PhD in climate science denial, if he succeeds.)

More here.

rubiginosa said...

With the demise of the Australian Climate Science Coalition, it's good to know what John McLean's been up to: being wrong, and still not getting his PhD.

Millicent said...

That somebody misinterprets data is inevitable.

That they then broadcast the claim that its the warmists at fault is pathetic.

That the echo chamber repeats the claim even after the data checks out is appalling.

All that is left is for the echo chamber to fail to withdraw the claim and fail to make their apologies, which makes it frankly criminal.

Or, to sum up, just a normal day's work for climate change deniers.

Sou said...

What - the Heartland Institute is running out of money? Not surprising really.

rubiginosa said...

Unfortunately we may never know how successful John Nicol was in persuading us of his new physics of CO₂.

...and Then There's Physics said...

I'd like to say it was all rather bizarre: someone emails a blog host with an error in some data and the blog host (who must know who compiled the data) simply posts what the emailer claims and then posts a Josh cartoon mocking the scientists, without actually checking; and it then turns out to be wrong. However, this isn't really bizarre at all. To Andrew Montford, integrity is something that others are meant to practice. His modus operandi is to use any excuse to attack what he finds inconvenient.

Sou said...

So many years of denying what's staring them in the face has turned the brains of fake sceptics to mush. As for morality, values or character - they had none to start with. (I'm not convinced their brains weren't mush to start with either, if it comes to that.)

Sou said...

Sorry about letting off steam like that. I'm told I've been a bit OTT snarky lately. P'raps whatever's affecting the fake sceptics is contagious :(

...and Then There's Physics said...

No idea why you're apologising :-) On the other hand, I have recently started to wonder if a major problem is that we simply don't quite speak the same scientific language. I often assume some kind of basic knowledge in my discussion with others and am often surprised that I'm probably wrong (apologies if that sounds overly arrogant).

Sou said...

It depends who you are talking with. It's reasonable to assume that someone who's been commenting or blogging about climate science for several years has by now grasped the basics - unless...

Victor Venema said...

I hope it is not true, but Veritasium has a video that starts with: "A recent survey of scientific literacy in Australia found 30% believe it takes one day for the Earth to go around the sun."

I love explaining science, but this seems to suggest that we will not solve this political conflict with more science. We will not get billions of people to do years of study, especially the ones who do not want to understand it.

Bob Turner said...

I read all this with a degree of sadness. One of life's pleasures is to go to WUWT and read the latest posts, then come over here and see what the reality actually is (with a pleasant dollop of snark as extra).
But how long will this last? WUWT is getting so bad that critising them is like shooting fish in a barrel. Will Hotwhopper soon have nothing to do?

Harry Wiggleson said...

Vukevic is also long famous for arguing, unsuccessfuly, againt one of the other real scientists who occasionally frequents WTFIUWT, Dr. Leif Svalgaard, about, "Its the sun." Svalgaard is a denier-light, but absolutely rejects that if it exists, warming is NOT a result of the Sun. Some of the exchanges twixt Svalgaard, a noted and well-respected heliologist, and vukevic, a noted and not-respected-at-all denier of the 10th magnitude, and him/her are comical, WRT how far a clearly untrained denier will go to dismiss the opinions of a scientist.

Sou said...

I agree with you Victor. The majority of people won't need to understand the science of climate, just as they don't need to understand immunology to know that immunisation is wise.

There will come a turning point, like there was with recycling, smoking tobacco, tanning (sunlovers), and littering. I think we're almost there.

I'd say some people will be very embarrassed by that video :(

(Good to see that the chaps at the end corrected themselves.)

Sou said...

WUWT does seem to be back to regurgitating old nonsense or relying on promises of scandal based on no evidence except endless requests for emails (that turn up nothing). After a while ice age cometh articles lose their entertainment value.

It's a bit like watching life slowly leaving a person - sad and depressing. You can't wait to get back to normalcy but feel guilty at wanting to.

Not really. Scratch that last thought. Sadness, regret and remorse aren't words I associate with the slow demise of WUWT.

Victor Venema said...

I presume these people were okay with their answer being published and that they are not embarrassed. Nor should they be, they likely know a lot what I d not know and have skills I do not have.

They know that there is a daily and a seasonal cycle, that is the information you know. Why this is the case is just a fun fact. Maybe it is good to know that humanity knows the answer and that we got there by rational thinking and not by WUWT.

Magma said...

@Victor: That video clip was uploaded in 2010. Here is a 2013 report of a subsequent follow-up survey that confirms that 30% figure:

Glum and glummer: Australia vs US on science literacy results

Reginald Perrin said...

The comment by Zeke Hausfather was conveniently held up in moderation while most of those comments were made. I wonder how many hours it took the #wutz to release that comment and why was it held in moderation so long? I would ask but I have been persona non grata since the Peter Hadfield/Monckton kerfuffle.

Victor Venema said...

I like this response to the survey.

It would be nice if the surveys would ask questions that are important for people's lives. May I find it curious that all questions were on sciences that the elites have made into controversial topics (geo-sciences and evolution)?

Victor Venema said...

The same happens to my comments. Comments from knowledgeable people are not particularly welcome at WUWT. Zeke was lucky to be at the top, if your comment then appears after some hours in the middle, hardly anyone will see it any more.

jrkrideau said...

I am not sure in what story it appears but in one Sherlock Holmes story Watson is shocked to find that Holmes knows nothing about how the solar system works and explains it to him.

Holmes then states that he will attempt to forget it immediately as it is of no use to him and just occupies valuable brain cells (or words to that effect)

Tadaaa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tadaaa said...

@ Sou re "WUWT does seem to be back to regurgitating old nonsense"

interestingly I was going to comment on another of your recent posts regarding the film Climate Hustle

My comment was going to be on the continual use of the "trace gas" meme by denialists - an argument so week my 15 year old son could construct an argument demolishing it.

And also make the point that “denial” science stands still (they have been making the trace gas argument since the birth of the planet - around 6000 years for some of them!!), whereas true science moves forward, yes making the odd correction along the way

But before I posted I just wanted to check my original source

A debunking video by Graham Readfearn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XM62eTr8gqA

and it appears that this “devastating” truth about CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere – a truth that’s has obviously escaped all the leading climate scientists has been removed from the final cut of the film

so maybe they are learning that spouting absolute nonsense, in what the deniers see a mainstream media product does their cause no good

it may not stop all the climate clowns at WUWT, but I thought an interesting observation

mickt said...

The GWPF website is looking sad too. Its time for a new logo perhaps, they must be carefully contemplating how soon they can do that without it being obvious why.

And the lead article is titled: "RICHARD LINDZEN: GLOBAL WARMING AND THE IRRELEVANCE OF SCIENCE"

the "irrelevance of science"? who thought that would be a good idea?

Windchasers said...

This post is really just the climate debate in a nutshell.

Windchasers said...

Comments from knowledgeable people are not particularly welcome at WUWT

Comments that challenge their skepticism, really.

Unknown said...

"Comments that challenge their "skepticism," really."

There...FIFY....😬

Victor Venema said...

Comments that challenge their gullibility, really.

Nick said...

Clearly, comment moderation at WUWT is intended to give the authors protection from reasoned criticism and correction for a few hours or a day or two. Some competition-free space for the fragile nonsense to survive briefly.

After sufficient filler or 'plaque' builds in the comments, and a few more nonsense posts are added to the roll, a little competence is allowed in to attempt to maintain Watts' vanity conception of his site as a science blog.

I think it's about time competent commenters ignored him completely...leave him to his fools and ranters, and don't allow him to exploit good faith comments to give his blog even a thin veneer of credibility.


Reginald Perrin said...

Game over.... Willard is so in trouble for a couple of antisemitic comments towards Dr Mann on Easter Sunday that his blog moderator saw as perfectly acceptable.

https://archive.is/QRw0i

Harry Twinotter said...

What anti-Semitic comments?

Sou said...

I haven't read all the comments and haven't seen any anti-semitic ones. Most of them constitute libel though. It's been a while since deniers were dogwhistled to defame Michael Mann. A lot of pent up falsehoods are being regurgitated.

If he wanted to, that thread would be strong grounds for Professor Mann to start another defamation suit - against the commenters, WUWT and Anthony Watts (as publisher).

Harry Wiggleson said...

Also being Jewish, I see no anti-Semitic remarks. Also speaking as a Jew, I tire of the ultra-hyper-cyclotronic, over-the-top sensitivity of a lot of 100%ers, who see anti-Semitism in ANY comment.

Ain't seeing it.

Anonymous said...

The Hadley centre have acknowledged the error and credited John McClean on their site for finding it.

Anonymous said...

Nick Stokes was 100% in error, as Hadley have confirmed, will Nick Stokes eat humble pie?

Anonymous said...

So if this data was plugged into models.. how long has this been a problem? are some questions only skeptics will ask.

John McClean pretty much did solid work here, and ye all called him a denier. Shameful nonsense

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Except HAdley have confirmed McLean was indeed correct. You Nick Tokes and the blogger and all the folks saying "deniers" were and are WRONG.

The data was upside down. You never looked at the data and pass comment, you are not entitled to an opinion if you didn't investigate it.

Sou said...

Hold your horses. Don't get excited, Anonymous. Nick Stokes was 100% correct and has no need for any of your pie.

See this article, to which I've also included an update which is a comment by Nick Stokes. He points out what was corrected, as well as what was wrong with the original claim.

Anonymous said...

How come? Hadley have acknowledged the error of upside down data and fixed it, and ironically, Nick Stokes looked and didn't even identify the error, so he doesn't know anything it seems.

John McClean was 100% accurate, so I guess he is not a denier and Nick Stokes must eat much humble pie, I bet this makes you zealots angry too, spout sometihng like "yeah well DENIER" or something :D

Sou said...

What models would the data be "plugged into" do you imagine. I hope you don't think that the normal general circulation models have these sort of data plugged into them (they don't).

The models that might use these data are reanalysis models or weather forecasting models - though I don't think these data are used for that either. AFAIK it's mainly for climate research purposes looking at climate change in general.

John McLean is a denier, even WUWT acknowledges that (calling him a "skeptic" which is the denier word for climate science denier). He's been a denier for years. I doubt that's about to change any time soon.

See the update here

Sou said...

Sheesh, any more exuberance and Google will mistake you for a spambot, Anonymous. See the comments below and this article.

Anonymous said...

Really David, then how come McClean was just credited by the Hadley centre for spotting the error?

I guess I will see lots of humble pie chomped down here, or the blogger will nuke this article maybe, because it is 100% anti science.

How long has this problem existed and has that data been plugged into GCMs?

The fact Nick Stoke could not see the problem when it was explained to him in detail, shows he is clueless, he doesn't know what he is looking at when he looks at data it seems

Sou said...

Asked and answered Anonymous. You don't have a clue about climate models or HadSST or anything climate, and yet you think you can tell veteran data analyst Nick Stokes about data? Stop being silly. This is a science blog, not a notice board for deniers to post their empty-headed thoughts upon.

Harry Twinotter said...

Anonymous.

Seeing as you are such a fan, how about using your real blog handle instead of "Anonymous".

Until then I am reminded of the saying:

Sometimes it is wiser to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.

bill said...

Clueless/Anonymous Troll in Non Sequitur Response Shock!

Error Makes No Difference to Result But Will Be Repeatedly Cited by Denier Trolls Without Them Actually Pointing This Out Shock!

You're all getting really desperate...

Millicent said...

Anything to distract from what the temperature tells us about what is happening. But still, a climate change denier was almost right about something: that's probably the best any of them have done in the last five years.

Tadaaa said...

it would go against the laws of probability if the deniers didn't get something right - at least once

Anonymous said...

You mean this John McLean.

https://www.skepticalscience.com/John_McLean_blog.htm

I thought that he had gone into hiding after being embarrassed by his March 2011 prediction that

"it is likely that 2011 will be the coolest year since 1956 or even earlier"

http://www.skepticalscience.com/mclean-exaggerating-natural-cycles.html