Matt Ridley’s First Test

Science writer and occasional climate commentator Matt Ridley has published a list of ten questions he feels need to be answered before he is convinced that ‘current climate policy makes sense.’ As the title of his essay is ‘A Lukewarmer’s Ten Tests’ I feel honor bound to at least look at them. It’s easy–Ridley’s a fine writer and his exposition is organized and clear.

The first question he wants answered is: ” I need persuading that the urban heat island effect has been fully purged from the surface temperature record. Satellites are showing less warming than the surface thermometers, and there is evidence that local warming of growing cities, and poor siting of thermometers, is still contaminating the global record.

I also need to be convinced that the adjustments made by those who compile the global temperature records are justified. Since 2008 alone, NASA has added about 0.1C of  warming to the trend by unexplained “adjustments” to old records. It is not reassuring that one of the main surface temperature records is produced by an extremist prepared to get himself arrested (James Hansen)”

Much as I am hoping that Mr. Ridley brings some reason and clarity to this debate, as he did with his excellent book The Rational Optimist, I think he starts off poorly here.

What we measure to understand global warming is changes in the temperature not the beginning and end readouts of a thermometer. The Urban Heat Island effect is real. Time of observation for keeping records have changed. The physical location of measurement stations have changed.

All of this (and more) is well-known and well-discussed by scientists. Most recently, Richard Muller and his team tried to revisit this question–and to the best of my knowledge, improved on the understanding of these issues considerably. What they found was clear evidence that nobody is manipulating the figures to pump a little extra global warming in there for political purposes.

Not to say there are no errors. There are. And when scientists find errors in the data, they talk about them and introduce corrections into the data series. Our friends in the skeptic community notice immediately when those corrections push temperatures up–but corrections often adjust them downwards as well.

The central point is that the start and end point of a temperature reading is almost irrelevant to the exercise. If the measurement accurately captures the amount of change, for understanding climate change it doesn’t matter so much whether the change is from 11 to 12 or from 11.5 to 12.5. What matters is that the one degree change is accurately captured.

And we have pretty good evidence that, using correctly sized error bars and admitting the level of uncertainty, we are indeed capturing the change. And that it is not imaginary. And that it is not a political invention.

Steve Mosher (who worked with Muller on his ambitious temperature re-measurement project) and I wrote a book on Climategate a couple of years ago. Two of the central issues there involved temperature measurements. (The second involved tree trunks, not thermometers and is for another day…)

The first problem we found was in a 1990 paper published by Nature and written by Phil Jones (who later advised colleagues to delete emails). The paper was written to minimize the worries about UHI (the Urban Heat Island effect) and used temperature records from different countries to ‘show’ that UHI was vanishingly small.

But some of the stations he used didn’t have the right historical stability for the work he did–his colleague didn’t have the station histories right. This made his conclusions inaccurate. Which is sad, but  happens in science.

Sadly, Jones didn’t issue a correction and his paper sat out there for years. It was famous and frequently cited as ‘proof’ that UHI was not a real issue. (This was actually what led to Climategate, through a rather complicated chain of events.)

It was only fifteen years later that Jones published a new paper showing a higher figure for UHI. He never issued a correction for his earlier paper, despite knowing it was wrong for more than a decade.

But even with his ‘mistake’ regarding UHI, it did not affect consideration of climate change overall. Even his new, higher calculations for UHI are not huge. Moreover, most of the earth’s surface is covered by water and UHI doesn’t affect oceans or lakes. And a surprisingly modest percentage of the land on this planet is subject to UHI–we don’t find much of it in either Antarctica or the Sahara.

So, Mr. Ridley–early mistakes caused us to underestimate the effects of the Urban Heat Island effect on temperatures of cities (and smaller population aggregations as well). It had an effect on the temperature record. Some scientists behaved poorly in regards to analysis of this issue.

But it did not mask the changes in temperature over time. And it wasn’t large enough to introduce a spurious signal that was mistaken for global warming.


54 responses to “Matt Ridley’s First Test

  1. TF I agree and don’t. The problem is that humans measure whre humans are. Given how we measure, two things should be true. UHI will effect such things as US Con temperature anomolies, but the effect will be reduced by the way that we have a linear increase in number of records as time goes on, but an exponential population requirement for the same effect to keep occuring. It cannot be that great. And of course the point of land mass area versus the earth’s surface area reduces this even further. It should be accounted correctly.

    All this falls apart when we get to regional and local considerations of modules if we not careful. That is the need of the accounting. I am waiting to see the fall out of the paper that indicated that the wind and distance phenomena, etc., does NOT explain what can be measured as one progresses from a heat source that was recently posted at WUWT.

  2. I have had a long interest in UHI effect. I was actually paid to study it in 1973-75. It saddens me to see it become a political football and misused or misinterpreted by many pundits on all sides of climate change including Ridley.
    UHI was originally studied because it was a problem in its own right and that it would provide insight into understanding climate change from land use and land cover changes. The term is a bit of a misnomer. It originated when cities had well defined boundaries and the major impact was thought to be due to changes in heat capacity. Therefore their influence on the land around them was thought to be analogous to an island in a sea.
    Urbanization is now sprawl and it changes heat capacity, albedo, exposed surface, and surface roughness differently in different kinds of development.
    Ridley’s statement, “I need persuading that the urban heat island effect has been fully purged from the surface temperature record. ” reflects a politicalization of the issue. Not the real problem. As Tom says, the heat is real. The increase in temperature is real. The problem is to what extent the temperature rise due to UHI is attributed to greenhouse gases.
    UHI effect can masquerade as greenhouse effect in several ways. It isn’t just the warming. UHI increases temperatures most at night which was mistakenly interpreted as proof that the warming was due to greenhouse gases.
    UHI often causes temperature rises of 4C compared to undisturbed countryside. The problem is that the undisturbed country side is dissappearing and that it is more difficult to notice the UHI.
    But the biggest change introduced by UHI effect may be a change in circulation. The mechanism is much the same as that due to waste heat or greater horizontal inhomogeneity of heat capacity and albedo. The different heating rates increase the scale of the convective eddies. The air going up has a different direction than the wind coming down. This would deflect warmer air from over North America toward the Arctic. This and soot could create the unusual warming in this region which many are trying to attribute to greenhouse gases.
    I will still maintain that the best way to allocate the origin of the warming is to break the signal down into three components. The cyclical part should be attributed to natural cycles. The asymmetric and/or regional heating should be attributed to man made, non co2 effects What’s left over should be a uniform symmetric trend from greenhouse gases. And quite frankly, it isn’t a lot.

  3. IFF the 4°C is even approximately right (say ±75% or ±3°C), then 0.6 or 0.7°C warming looks a little …. shall we say “shonky”.
    Also, most (all?) of the positive (upward) “corrections” are current/recent, most (all?) of the negative (downward) “corrections” are old/historical. You tell me what effect that has!
    Also, the “Keeper of the Record” is an activist who has shown himself ready to be arrested – and you think he wouldn’t stoop to …. (?). His acolyte reveals his true colors every day at RealClimate.
    Come off the grass! I’d also be a luke-warmer – if their behavior was consistent with the “science” (private jets, beach-front [sea-level] mansions, avoiding FOI “requests”, “losing” data, thousands [millions – billions?] of dollars from the scam, conferences in desirable spots, etc., etc.).
    ‘Nuff said.

  4. Actually, measurements in rural areas show the exact same trend as those in urban areas.

    As for Climategate, it is more accurately known as Fakegate because all it was, was a fake, manufactured controversy based on quote-mining.

    • I’m so delighted to see that you can comment politely that the relative inaccuracy of your comment does not even bother me. Thank you for your polite comment.

      • My comment is completely accurate. In fact, it was Climategate which convinced me that the scientists were right after all.

        I noticed how the tactics used to promote Fakegate/Climategate were the same tactics used by creationists to attack science, and since I already knew that creationists are anti-science, I started educating myself on the climate debate.

        And lo and behold, those who were pushing Fakegate were indeed those who oppose science and insist that their ideology is correct and science is wrong.

        So as you can see, I KNOW what Fakegate is because I was one of the people who were almost fooled by it. But luckily, I had a long history of debating creationists and recognized their modus operandi right away.

      • Ummmm…. pray continue.

    • “Comparison of observed temperatures with NARR shows that the most poorly sited stations are warmer compared to NARR than are other stations, and a major portion of this bias is associated with the siting classification rather than the geographical distribution of stations. According to the best-sited stations, the diurnal temperature range in the lower 48 states has no century-scale trend.”

      “These issues, which are either not recognized at all in
      the assessments or are understated, include the identification of a warm bias in nighttime minimum temperatures, poor
      siting of the instrumentation to measure temperatures, the
      influence of trends in surface air water vapor content on
      temperature trends, the quantification of uncertainties in the
      homogenization of surface temperature data, and the influence of land use/land cover change on surface temperature

      • Will Nitschke, please don’t link to nonsense by Anthony “Blatant Liar” Watts and Pielke. Thank you.

  5. snerkersnerk | January 30, 2013 at 12:20 pm |

    My comment is completely accurate. In fact, it was Climategate which convinced me that the scientists were right after all.

    You do realize our Host literally wrote the book on Climategate right?

    • “The book on Climategate”? There are several books about Fakegate. Anyone who claims that Climategate was anything but a fake controversy is misleading people.

      I should know since I realized exactly that when I started looking into it after noticing that people kept repeating the same quote-mined stuff all the time.

      Fakegate/Climategate showed one thing, and one thing only: Those who oppose science will stop at nothing to deceive people.

      I know about several others who noticed the same thing I did, and found that those who deny science use the exact same methods to undermine it.

      • Gee, snerkersnerk, in case we ever do a second edition I’d love to correct any mistakes we made. Would you like to highlight some?

      • I haven’t read the book, thomaswfuller2. But I notice from the description that it is mistakenly claiming that the mails revealed anything of value, which they didn’t. You falsely claim that it was not a tempest in a teacup, when that was in fact exactly what it was.

        It’s a fake, manufactured controversy of the same kind creationists constantly try to drum up around Evolution.

      • Oh. You’re criticizing a book you haven’t read. Is that really scientific?

      • No, I’m criticizing those who promote the fake controversy Fakegate AKA Climategate. And I looked at an example from the description of the book and realized that it is promoting this false controversy and is seemingly guilty of creationist-like tactics such as quote-mining (and of course creating fake controversies, which creationists love to do).

      • It would lead to a more productive conversation if you were to provide specific examples.

      • The book description says:

        The Climategate scandal covered from beginning to end–from ‘Hide the Decline’ to the current day.


        For those who have heard that the emails were taken out of context–we provide that context and show it is worse when context is provided.

      • I think what he is saying is that he knows already it’s a fake controversy, so doing any research to understand the controversy would just muddy things.

      • I think what he is saying is that he knows already it’s a fake controversy, so doing any research to understand the controversy would just muddy things.

        I know it’s a fake controversy because I actually looked into it at the time. I was actually believing some of the nonsense spewed by science deniers back then. So I was an easy victim of their lies. Then I looked into Fakegate, and realized it was yet another fake controversy set in motion by opponents of science.

  6. Fred from Canuckistan . . .

    Of course you are correct Snerk. Of course.

    Because you can’t be wrong.

    • I was wrong, actually. I thought the science had a crappy foundation and that the IPCC were doing all sorts of underhanded stuff. I bought into the Climategate/Fakegate hype at first.

      But I was wrong. And it didn’t take me that long to realize that I was, because I noticed how the Climategate/Fakegate pushers were behaving in the exact same way I was used to creationists behaving. Down to the fake or out of context quotes constantly being repeated despite being debunked over and over again.

      • Hi Snerkersnerk. Perhaps you could provide us with an example of a fake quote. Or one used out of context. Our book pointed out one example–the ‘ trick to hide the decline’ email, which I also wrote about at shortly after the emails were released. It was clearly taken out of context and I said so in both the book and my column.

        Your turn.

      • Yes, that is an excellent example.But the problem is, the blurb on your book says:

        For those who have heard that the emails were taken out of context–we provide that context and show it is worse when context is provided.

  7. Snerk, if AGW advocate Dr Richard Muller of BEST says that Climategate was a scandal and if there were such things as licences to practice science the UEA people should have their licences revoked, then maybe it isn’t a fake.

    In one of my home languages there’s a saying, “To throw the baby out with the bathwater.” I don’t know if that’s an English idiom as well. In spite of all the lies and falsification of data,most lukewarmers still listen to the Manns and Joneses and Hansens. Our browser bookmark toolbars have got as many AGW links as skeptic links. We are willing to change our opinions in the light of new information.

    I’m here to learn and I expect to profit by that. As James Lovelock says, adversarial contests may work in a court of law, but that’s no way to do science.

    • It doesn’t matter what Muller says. The facts are there no matter what some random guy claims. Also, Muller is or was a skeptic or ***** anyway (I don’t know much about the guy, and I don’t really care).

      Fact: Climategate was a fake controversy, and is more accurately called Fakegate. The scandal here is the way anti-science demagogues took quotes out of context or blatantly misrepresented them to use it as propaganda against science and scientists.

      (Surprising confession deleted by blog administrator.)

    • Remember, **** almost had me fooled before Fakegate/Climategate. I was ready to believe them. I was an easy victim.

      But they just had to mess it up by faking a controversy, which finally opened my eyes and made me realize that I had been a fool to disregard what the actual scientists were saying (I honestly didn’t know much about what they were saying prior to this, mind you).

      Climategate/Fakegate finally made me accept the scientific consensus.

      That is why I know that Fakegate is completely and utterly fake. It’s what caused me to take sides in this “debate” (demagogues vs. scientists).

      (5,000 word essay praising the theory of phlogiston ungraciously deleted by blog administrator.)

  8. Hi Tom, boy I don’t envy you reference snerkersnerk. You’re dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t. Censorship, that is. Hope he doesn’t become a blog hog of the jerk variety. There are blog hogs at other sites, e.g.Joshua, but he is not nearly as uninformed as snerk. A test of you patience sir.

  9. To get back to UHI effect. There is a fools logic going around the net. Somehow, if the temperature trend of an average of rural sites is the same as the trend of an average of urban sites, they think that disproves UHI effect. Think, that has nothing to do with an increase in temperature as an area urbanizes . What you would expect to see is a higher temperature trend for an area that is rapidly urbanizing. This was observed 40 years ago and it was observed last year. There is solid data on this. And there is solid data on the change in circulation patterns.

  10. Looking at the big picture here are the major temperature trends for the last 30 years:

    Yes, GISS diverges significantly – by the eyeball method inflating temps by about 30% over the trends of the other data sets. Mainly for post 2000 temps. But it’s still in the general ball park I suppose…

    Now, since SAT temps are not influenced by UHI, we can see that temps reasonably track each other (except for GISS). If we ignore GISS then, I can’t see how UHI can be used as a method for declaring or insinuating, that global temp calculations cannot be trusted, due to unaccounted for UHI effects. On that basis I would agree that Matt Ridley’s First Test is a bit of red herring.

  11. Giss has added another .05C to the trend in their last update. This was .05C added in just one month. According to a back and forth with Mosher at the Blackboard in Aug 2011, when GISS does this, they are becoming more accurate.

    • I read a comment from Mosher on the Blackboard, where he was looking at a couple of warm months of global temperature data and declared this would finally put to bed the sceptical claim that there was a standstill in the warming trend. I was thinking to myself, so the guy looks at a couple of months of data and sees what he wants to see, when in fact he should be treating it for what it is, which is noise. Then the El Nino dissipated and temperatures have cooled down considerably since then. Which goes to show, people get invested in outcomes and tend to see what they expect to see. And Mosher is not exempt from confirmation bias either.

  12. Pingback: Matt Ridley’s Second Test | The Lukewarmer's Way

  13. Is Muller really an AGW advocate? His op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, carefully read, is ambivalent, by my standards. And his hilarious trashing of Michael Mann and the Hockey Stick, spot-on, certainly makes one wonder as to his true views. I think probably he just wants an accurate temperature record to put this issue to bed once and for all.

    Snerk!!! I am not a Creationist…

    • Hi Michael, Muller is a prototypical physicist, with as much arrogance as that implies 😉 I believe his daughter is a climate activist and that he took up the issue at her urging. I think he quickly saw the holes in some of the work of people like Michael Mann and expressed his frustration with their work quite forcefully. I think he quickly got funding to do an independent check of temperature records using the world’s new capacity to deal with Big Data and produced BEST, which basically validates the temperature records produced by other agencies–but will provide a source of data for a lot of interesting work going forward.

    • Oh–and Michael, please don’t go out of your way to provoke Snerkersnerk. Thanks.

    • Michael Moon, you may not be a creationist. I don’t know. But my point is that global warming opponents (AKA d e n i e rs (this will be censored soon)) behave exactly like creationists. This provides some context to my comments, because it was this creationist-like behavior that told me there was something wrong with these guys.

  14. Tom, in your reply you did not respond to the second part of Ridley’s first test and that is the adjustments to the historical record and whether they are valid. Much more often than not, early 20th century values are lowered and later values raised. See: MaturityDiagram

  15. Tom,

    I’ve been tossing the Berk temp checking method around in my mind for quite some time. I have no issue with the general trend of land surface temps, with or without Berkley’s temp reconstruction. However, it’s not clear to me that Berk’s reconstruction rules out non-atmospheric human effects (local land use) that drive some portion of the temp change. After all, I doubt there is such a thing as a “wilderness” temp station – that is, one completely lacking influence from human effects ex-atmosphere – for comparison, at least not in the pre-2000s record.

    So, while I have no difficulty with the idea of generally rising temperatures, I’m still not 100% convinced that the land surface temp record is exclusively a record of atmospheric effects. i’m inclined to regard it as having at least a modest component (10%???) of land-use and siting effects.

  16. Pingback: Matt Ridley’s Third Question | The Lukewarmer's Way

  17. Thanks, Tom, for your post (and for the polite and patient way you respond to snerk’s interjections). The post read smoothly until I reached the final sentence: “And it wasn’t large enough to introduce a spurious signal that was mistaken for global warming.” Where did this statement come from? What figures back it up?

  18. Pingback: Matt Ridley’s Fourth Test | The Lukewarmer's Way

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