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.)
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:
- John made a mistake in his analysis of the data; or
- The data was corrected after John had noticed something wrong.
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:
- a science denier asks a question about data, thinking that the data might be wrong
- other scientists check and discover it's the denier's error not that of the scientists,
- meanwhile the fake sceptics don't bother to check the data, only one science denier out of dozens bothered to make an effort (vukcevic)
- most of the rest will rush to embrace the wrong notion that the scientists have it wrong
- conspiracy theories will ensue.