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Data, Data, Who's Got the Data? (A strange situation at Climate Research Unit, University of East Anglia)

Roger Pielke Jr. has posted an interesting tale to his blog, about key data going missing from the hands of a theoretically trustworthy scientific institution. No, I’m not talking about the fact that NASA lost the original tapes of the Apollo moon landings (though they did!), I’m talking about the apparent loss of original climate data by the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (CRU). The CRU is one of the key research centers which publishes data regarding the Earth’s surface temperature record.

In a nutshell, the story is this. Canadian Steve McIntyre, co-demolisher of Michael Mann’s hockey stick chart, has been after the CRU to let him review their original climate data. For those unfamiliar with Steve, he is like a dog with a bone when it comes to data, and to validating statistical methodologies used in data representation. To come to Steve’s analytical attention is a bit like coming to the attention of a 60-Minutes news crew, only a few hundred times worse, particularly if you have anything to hide.

So Steve politely (He is Canadian, after all) requested the climate data from CRU, only to be refused on the grounds that he is not in academia. That’s where the story gets interesting, because Roger Pielke Jr. (who IS in academia), put in his own request, and was also turned down. Not because he didn’t qualify, but because the CRU apparently didn’t bother keeping the original climate data used in compiling the first surface temperature record!

As they told Pielke,

“We are not in a position to supply data for a particular country not covered by the example agreements referred to earlier, as we have never had sufficient resources to keep track of the exact source of each individual monthly value. Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e. quality controlled and homogenized) data.”

In other words, there is now no way to test to see whether any of the “homogenizing” that has been done to the original record biased it in any way, or whether any of the subsequent “adjustments” to the data for things like urban expansion, and such can be validated.

For those who believe that verification and validation of research methods is central to the scientific method, this admission by CRU should be absolutely shocking. By insisting that people just trust that all of their adjustments to the original data are perfect, CRU Anglia takes their work out of the realm of science entirely, and turns it into little more than a sales job.

Makes you wonder if the people at NASA who lost the moon landing tapes didn’t move over to the UK at some point.

8 comments

1 Ed Reid { 08.14.09 at 8:43 am }

The original temperature measurements are “data”. Once they have been “homogenized”, “pasteurized” and otherwise “adjusted” by mysterious passage through multiple “black boxes” they are no longer data. Arguably, they are “un-data” or “non-data”.

The CRU temperature series, like the GISS temperature series, is an approximation of what the data might have looked like if it had been collected routinely and timely from properly sited, installed and maintained temperature measurement stations.

It would seem reasonable to spend a few $ millions to get the measurements right before spending $trillions to remake the global energy economies. However, I may be missing something. :-)

2 Chip Knappenberger { 08.14.09 at 10:07 am }

Ken,

Thanks for highligthing this issue.

For a bit of a different take on it, see the comments I left over at Roger’s blog on the article you linked to there.

-Chip

3 Ed Betz { 08.14.09 at 5:35 pm }

It seems that there are sufficient weather stations under US control thru the military air fields and other military installations around the world. The military is pretty good at maintaining the data collection locations to be reasonable consistantcy in producing data. They have to have accurate forcasts for military operations. The data is sent to the US Nathional Weather Records Center Ashville NC. I think these sites would be the most consistant in conditions affecting consistantl accuracy of the data. Former USMC Aerographer trained by Navy at NAS Lakehurst, NJ

4 Ken Maize { 08.14.09 at 9:40 pm }

Wow! I’m simply astonished at this admission of scientific failure.

5 Rubicon { 08.14.09 at 9:47 pm }

Its extremely disconcerting that hundreds of millions of people & in trillions of American dollars or instruments, are to be expended based on data that has been magically homogenized using methods unrevealed based on criteria unrevealed, based on gathered info, that is no longer available.
Global Warming mitigation proposals are draconian in the extreme ye we are to sit back & say, “no problem here folks, just move on.”
In America, the people are awakening to manufactured facts that are being used to create legislation & regulations, which are developed by hyper partisan special interests who just happen to be in the position that they will profit from changes proposed.
The environmental movement is displaying the exact tactics they excoriate traditional businesses for using & in fact, may be taking manipulation to an entirely new level of deception & distortion.
Its time the world take a serious scientific second & perhaps third look at the data & especially the core data used to create the computer models that are used to create predictions which are used now days to scare even little children into thinking the world is coming to an end within weeks unless we jump off the bridge & march lockstep to the siren song of environmentalism.
Human beings are dying on a daily basis in Africa & we are told only Global Warming is important, yet even if we adapt the plans they push, we see less than meager results for gigantic investments, whose money could have directly & immediately helped many in desperate need.
For many, like the latest health care reform proposals, it all looks & sounds like, a scam!

6 major { 08.14.09 at 11:18 pm }

Whats amazing to me is how so many institutions, some normally respected for their objectivity, have been silently infiltrated by these global warming loonies.

Its like invasion of the Body Snatchers…more importantly how can we negate it….its a form of mass hysteria that seems to be sweeping the World..

We must unmask the gorgon, so we can see who our enemy really is…in order to destroy it

7 Carbonicus { 08.14.09 at 11:31 pm }

Rubicon – you’ve hit on a paradox of enviro-statism. The people who they purport to help the most end of being the ones they hurt the most.

Our supposed AGW will cause floods and droughts and stronger tropical cycloses, and sub-Saharan Africans will suffer, for example.Of course, all such dire predictions ultimately trace to data like that missing now from CRU, Mann’s (now straightened) Hockey Stick, Stern’s discredited report, and many other questionable/outright incorrect work.

Meanwhile, poverty – economic and energy – will be the direct result of AGW policy on those very people, as cheap sources of “dirty” energy be damned, and alternative energy investments in that region won’t happen to due political risks.Sub-saharan Africa will suffer from a lack of cheap, reliable energy, economic development will suffer, and poverty and all that goes with it result.

From DDT to AGW, the same story repeats. Only this time, we are spending 1-4% of Western GDP ANNUALLY for no measurable result. As you suggest, imagine what could be done for the lot of humanity with even a fraction of these sums.

Copernicus and Galileo. Instructive in, and analogous to, the present situation.

Meanwhile, the stunning destruction of the work of Mann, GISS temp restatements, CRU’s missing and manupulated data turn up weekly, and those who simply label others “denier” and their media accomplices put their hands over their ears and eyes.

Fact, science, and economics do not matter in the land of ideology. They simply get in the way.

8 Climate Science: The Devil’s In the Details (Which Apparently No Longer Exist) - Vladimir’s blog - RedState { 08.16.09 at 4:50 pm }

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