There is such a thing as anthropogenic (human-made) climate change. Almost 200 international scientific organizations are in agreement on this. Earth’s temperatures have been consistently on the rise, and human activity is a major contributor. This fact is backed by data from studies by scientists around the globe—scientists who are experts and monitoring atmospheric carbon levels and tracing how the planet has been warming over the past decades.
But sadly, not everyone accepts science.
Recently, an article by David Rose appeared in the Daily Mail with the rather worrisome title “Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data.” The article, which came out last week, has naturally caused quite an uproar, as people believe that climate data has truly been faked.
But it hasn’t. So, what exactly happened?
Well, what Rose claimed was the “manipulation” of data at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was actually a case of two climate scientists arguing about methodology. Take note, methodology and not data.
These kinds of argument are relatively normal in the scientific community, except that they usually just involve scientists. Rose interviewed retired NOAA scientist John Bates, who mentioned a specific criticism he has about fellow NOAA researcher Thomas Karl’s methodology for a 2015 paper. The paper focused on a particular climate science question: Why does it seem that the global rise in temperatures paused or slowed down during the first decade of the 21st century?
Bates felt that Karl didn’t properly understand data archiving standards used in his methodology.
Rose was quick to take advantage of the seeming conflict in NOAA, suggesting a huge conspiracy that duped the world. Concretely, he took a blog post by Bates that criticized Karl’s paper and turned it into a “whistleblowing” document that sheds light into the grand conspiracy designed to fool the public into believing that climate change is real.
Nothing can be further from reality.
What Bates (the former NOAA scientist) criticized was not the climate problem, but Karl’s approach to answering the question about the supposed pause of global temperature increase. Karl’s conclusion was that there wasn’t really a pause but that, instead, there was a change in measurement tools. Bates said that Karl’s paper wasn’t rigorous enough and that he failed to hew closely to the data-archiving standards Bates worked to implement during his time at the NOAA.
Bates, essentially, was arguing about the methodology of one paper, but Rose took it as a challenge to climate science itself.
Bates was quick to clarify the whole situation. Speaking to E&E News, Bates later said that “The issue here is not an issue of tampering with data, but rather really of timing of a release of a paper that had not properly disclosed everything.”
Alas. This isn’t the first time that accusations about fiddling with temperature data have been made, and it won’t be the last. Back in 2015, a similar issue was made by the British paper Telegraph. Back then, what the newspaper failed to do was to distinguish between manipulating and processing data. The latter is part of every serious scientific study, undertaken precisely to make sure that data is solid.
In any case, the lesson here is not to be quick to jump to conclusion or deny what (quite literally) hundreds of scientific organizations have concluded. Always remember Occam’s razor: “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”
And what requires more assumptions, that a writer for the Daily Mail got something wrong, or that thousands of scientists and scientific organization created a vast conspiracy to dupe the world?