Friday, January 17, 2020

More than 10 years on, Anthony Watts at WUWT is still befuddled by temperature anomalies

It's hard to believe but poor Anthony Watts, despite all the help offered him over the years, is still totally befuddled, perplexed and bamboozled by the notion of temperature anomalies. You know he's not the brightest spark in deniersville yet you'd have thought that by now even he might have learnt something about temperature charts. But no.

The oddest thing is that he's unashamed of being numerically illiterate. He might even regard it as a strength. It means his readers have found someone, somewhere, who's dimmer than they are, and that could be why they keep coming back for more.

Today Anthony wrote about the global average surface temperature for 2019, saying at least in the USA it wasn't another "hottest year". That's a classic conspiratorial diversion tactic, by the way: focus on a detail and try to dispute the big picture.

Back to his troubles with temperature anomalies. Anthony complained he still can't figure them out, even after all these years of running the world's biggest baddest saddest climate conspiracy blog. He wrote:
In my opinion, the NOAA/NASA press release (and slideshow) is inconsistently presented. For example, they can’t even agree on a common base period for comparisons. Some graphs use 1951-1980 while others compare to 1981-2010 averages to create anomaly plots. NOAA and NASA owe it to the public to present climate data with a consistent climate period for comparison, otherwise it’s just sloppy science. NASA GISS has consistently resisted updating the 1951-1980 NASA GISS baseline period to the one NOAA and other datasets use, which is 1981-2010. GISS stubbornly refuses to change even though they have been repeatedly excoriated for keeping it.
As you know, Anthony's opinion isn't worth (I'm trying to think of an alternative to this saying), and his hoity toi (I meant to write "hoity toity") attitude makes him look like a fool. Different agencies use different baselines for different reasons. Once a baseline is chosen it's best to keep it. That makes it easier for researchers and others to compare data over time. Otherwise you'd have to keep checking the baseline used each time you went to use the data. It's really not that hard to understand and work with anomalies.

Edit: I neglected to comment on the last but one sentence in the above quote from Anthony Watts, where he made another blue. NOAA uses the twentieth century average as the baseline for its global time series, not the 1981-2010 average. It does use the period 1981-2010 for maps, but states:
The global maps show temperature anomalies relative to the 1981–2010 base period. This period is used in order to comply with a recommended World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Policy, which suggests using the latest decade for the 30-year average. For the global-scale averages (global land and ocean, land-only, ocean-only, and hemispheric time series), the reference period is adjusted to the 20th Century average for conceptual simplicity (the period is more familiar to more people, and establishes a longer-term average). The adjustment does not change the shape of the time series or affect the trends within it.
It's odd that Anthony didn't know that because he put up a map from NOAA that has the following written in big bold letters up the top: "0.95°C/1.71 ° F above 1901-2000 average".

Another big fat lie about temperature

Then comes the lie. Everyone familiar with global surface temperature changes knows that the coldest periods last century were in the first half of the century, yet Anthony wrote something wildly wrong and I don't know that anyone picked him up on it (dimwitted deniers that they are):
That 1951-1980 period just so happens to be the coolest period in the 20th century
Nope. Wrong! That 1951-1980 period was nothing like the coolest. In fact it was around 0.03 C warmer than the average of the 20th century.

Fig 1 | Global surface temperature for thirty year periods from 1880 to 2019. Data source: GISS NASA

Remember this is from someone who ridiculously pretends to know something about global surface temperatures. He doesn't know the first thing, does he.

Anthony goes on to explain why he doesn't understand anomalies. Or tries to. I think it might be something to do with different colours being used on different maps (NASA and NOAA). He shows one that goes from aqua to reddish brown and one that goes from a deeper blue through to brighter red. The first one has an anomaly scale from -4 K to plus 4 K, the next one from -5C to plus 5C, so maybe Anthony's not just confused by colours, he's confused by Celsius and Kelvin.

Anthony finally realises there's not much difference at all, even if you don't allow for different baselines. Since 1951-1980 average (used by NASA) is 0.03 C higher than the 20th century mean (used by NOAA), you'd expect NOAA's anomaly from the 20th century mean to be around 0.03 C lower than NASA's anomaly from 1951-80 average. And it is, as Anthony points out. He helpfully (or reluctantly) wrote:
The difference between the two analyses is NOAA @ 0.95°C/1.71 ° F and NASA GISS at 0.98 ° C/1.8 ° F
Just as expected.

Not daring to compare, So There!

There was little more Anthony could try to milk out of complaining the baselines are different, apart from saying the relentless rise in temperature is "trivial" (with some quote-mining games to show he doesn't understand the American language any more than he understands anomalies and trends). So he moved to the USA, which he said was cooler. So there!

Anthony Watts did a song and dance about the Climate Reference Network in the USA. He loves it it's so "pure" (even though it's subject to being homogenised as much as records from any other network, if warranted). He wrote, rather Trumpishly:
NOAA’s U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) has the best quality climate data on the planet, yet it never gets mentioned in the NOAA/NASA press releases. Commissioned in 2005, it has the most accurate, unbiased, and un-adjusted data of any climate dataset.
Well, of course it wouldn't get a mention when reporting global temperatures, or even when reporting historical temperature changes for the USA. CRN temperature analysis only begins in 2005, whereas other analysis dates back to 1895.

Another thing Anthony couldn't bring himself to do was show any chart comparing the analysis of these 114 or so weather stations to that for the hundreds of weather stations in the nClimDiv, which NOAA uses for historical data to the present. That's because they are almost identical. So, let me do it for him. (Note, the 2019 data for nClimDiv hasn't been added yet.)

Fig 2 | NOAA temperature anomalies for USA with CRN, nClimDiv and USHCN, from 2005 to 2019. Data source: NOAA

Almost no difference at all! I guess that means the historical data is fine as well.
So let's take a peep at that:

Fig 3 | NOAA temperature anomalies for USA with CRN, nClimDiv and USHCN, from 1895 to 2019. Data source: NOAA

I'm not going to spend time plotting the actual trend. If you want to do that the data is on the NOAA website. It's fairly clear there were some ups and downs but overall not much change until the 1970s. The hottest year for the USA was 2012 and the coldest year was 1917.

Now for the conspiracy theory

Not content to avoid plotting historical temperature data for the USA, and not content to avoid showing there's little difference between his "pristine" data set and the larger ones, Anthony proceed to set out his conspiracy theory and wrote:
While the U.S. isn’t the world, and the dataset is shorter than the requisite 30 year period for climate data, the lack of warming in the contiguous United States since 2005 shown in the graph above suggests that the data NOAA and NASA use from the antiquated Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN) reflects warmer biases due to urbanization and adjustments to the data.
He then highlighted a poster he got someone to prepare for him back in 2015. It's now seven and a half years since he promised a paper on the topic, and it's not yet surfaced (do you like the wordplay?). Anthony promises a lot of things that he can't deliver. Remember the Open Atmospheric Society?

He's wrong and he must know it. Lots of people have told him so. Urbanisation makes no difference to the global or the USA temperature data once it's been processed. There have been studies of the US record (e.g. here) that demonstrate this, including one by Anthony Watts himself!

If you're scared by global heating, just change the scale

I'm fairly sure this comment from Anthony wasn't meant as a joke but it sure looks like one:
But here’s also something interesting. All of the temperature plots used to represent climate change are highly magnified. This is so variations of one degree or less are highly visible. Unfortunately, these huge variation often scare the public since they perceive them as “massive” temperature increases.

Fortunately, the NOAA online plotter allows adjustment of the vertical axis, and when the vertical axis of the climate data is adjusted to fit the scale of human temperature experience, they look less alarming.
Right. I'll bet that's what deep sea explorers do when contemplating going deep into the Mariana Trench. No biggie!

He added:
“Climate change” certainly looks a lot less scary when the temperature change is presented in the scale of human experience.
This is from the person who was close to the Camp Fire in California. And surely he's read about what's been happening in Australia - the deniers are all over those (they aren't real, they've happened before, it's arson, it's rained up north etc etc)

Seriously, these climate deniers will go to their grave swearing global warming is no big deal. They hate being scared so much they'd rather deny wildfires, floods, rising seas, melting ice, food price rises, climate migration and more rather than admit they are wrong.

CRN vs nClimDiv 

By the way, you can compare the number of stations in CRN vs nClimDiv by moving the arrow across the image below. I haven't lined them up perfectly, it's just to give you the idea.

May 18
April 18

Figure 4 | Maps showing weather stations used by NOAA in nClimDiv and CRN. Data sources: NOAA - CRN and NOAA - nClimDiv

From the WUWT comments

I'm still getting back into the swing of blogging and don't have the energy or inclination to go through the comments. In any case, I'd best keep an eye on the local fire situation. A favourite spot of mine seems to be in the path of the fire. You may peruse them yourself. What I did see showed WUWT is getting worse the more the world warms.

From HotWhopper archives

Some of the links to images in some the older articles are broken. They still have gems in the text :D


  1. Hang on a sec, Anthony can't be posting at WUWT any more: he's now a paid climate change denier. That goes against his insistence that his posts at WUWT were not prompted by money that ultimately comes from the fossil fuel industry (except when they slipped him a bob or two).

    And, if it were not for the monetary incentive for his apparent stupidity I'd wonder why he is now such a fan of ultra accurate measurements when he used to be so happy to use the CET.

    1. He arrived back at WUWT with some fanfare a little while ago, promising a makeover of his blog paid for by a "patron". It hasn't happened, or not yet, and not on schedule from what I can see.

      I don't know that he does anything for his new employer, the Heartland Institute. Maybe they've given him time off or he's taking time out and they haven't noticed the difference (or are breathing a sigh of relief).

      All pure speculation of course. I have no special insight into what possessed Heartland to give him a job. He's a conspiracy theorist so fits right in, but as for being able to produce anything, well the evidence is not there and never has been, other than being able to run a blog and get lots of people to write for him (for free, presumably).

    2. Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute.

      Amazing. I totally missed this epic announcement. H has certaily joined a distinguished group of advisors.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. HotWhopper doesn't permit lies about climate (or anything else), much less false accusations that scientists and volunteer observers are committing fraud.

      George G's comment was deleted for not complying with the comment policy.

  3. Sue, it should be "hoity toity" I believe!

    1. Ha ha. Thanks Ugo.

      That's what I wrote, or thought I did until you prompted me to check. I'll blame it on gremlins in blogger :)

    2. Which is translated into German as "etepetete". I first thought I had broken the machine, but saying it out loud I noticed it does exist.

      The translation to Dutch only gives a French option "hautain".

  4. Anthony wrote: "While the U.S. isn’t the world, and the dataset is shorter than the requisite 30 year period for climate data, the lack of warming in the contiguous United States since 2005 shown in the graph above suggests that the data NOAA and NASA use from the antiquated Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN) reflects warmer biases due to urbanization and adjustments to the data."

    The US Climate Reference Network with stations at pristine locations is warming more than the normal network. So if anything, there would be evidence that urbanization cools the warming estimates. When stations become too urban they are often moved out of the city. Although there are many other reasons why individual station show temperature changes that are not related to large-scale climate change.

    "It's now seven and a half years since he promised a paper on the topic, and it's not yet surfaced (do you like the wordplay?)."

    I remember the weekend in 2012, when Anthony Watts closed down his blog, cancelled his family holiday because he urgently had to finish his manuscript. He sure knows drama and PR. I do hope the manuscript is published before I die (not that I am in bad health). He did not like the feedback he got in 2012 and never showed the allegedly existing updated manuscripts again.

  5. It is getting MUCH harder for the climate / science deniers to come up with anything worth posting. So they desperately scrounge around, looking for anything that will confirm their confirmation bias. Being ignorant is considered a positive attribute - their hope is their readers remain just as ignorant and misinformed.

    It's now 2020 - and the climate denialsphere remains as entrenched as ever. They're still churning out posts and videos and making up their 'evidence' as they go along as if nothing has happened in the world to disprove their position. And when something does, they'll spin it point to arsonists or using a data set improperly or some other such nonsense.

    It's just a game with them, we all know that. They don't actually care about the climate or the causes of global warming, they just care about being perceived as an authority and being "right", even when all the evidence, all the facts, all the science proves them absolutely, 100% dead wrong.

    The other thing they do not care about is how their ignorance and lies are hurting large numbers of people world-wide, or how they have contributed to the general apathy and indifference of the world and the willingness to deal with what is proving to be a deadly problem. This makes them complicit with ecocide, contributors and promoters of death to planetary habitability.

    Of course, they see nothing wrong with this either. They're afraid of a changing world, and their own privileged position and selfish materialism being impacted in any way. They'd much rather ride this entire thing down to a fiery hell then see the world take up action against climate change.

    I regard such people as among the worst of humanity, indifferent, callous, willfully ignorant and rampantly stupid with intentional malice and harm to the rest of us. I can't image what it must be like to dive down deep into their world over and over again, denying reality, denying eye-witness evidence, denying facts and embracing stupidstitions and rabid ignorance. That's a dark, pitiful, futile existence, but they seem to relish it.

    Sou - we're clearly living in different realities then the connedspiratorial and ignorant. I've had the misfortune to spend time in each for too long and it's just too much to bear anymore. It's like putting on a soiled, stinking shirt, you know it's nasty and you don't want to wear it.

    I steadfastly remain convinced that they will never change, never abandon their position, never stop spreading their poison and remain stubbornly, stupidly ignorant, even if their houses blow away, or flood out or burn to the ground because of climate change. NOTHING gets through to these people, not even the wide-spread suffering and hardship of others who are being impacted. THEY DON'T CARE.

    Conscientious human beings both care and advocate action, paying attention to what is occurring and why. But that's not what we're dealing with here. It's much more then confirmation bias, it's a irradiated subset of human compassion that they lack.

    And for that - I can never forgive them for what they've done. Nobody should. ~Survival Acres~


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