Conservative media outlets are wrongly claiming that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is hiding data related to a recent study that challenged the so-called “pause” in global warming, and echoing Republican House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith's baseless accusation that NOAA manipulated temperature records to show a warming trend. In reality, the NOAA study's data is publicly available online, and NOAA routinely makes adjustments to historical temperature records that are peer-reviewed and necessary to account for changes to measuring instruments and other factors.
House Science Committee Seeks Internal Documents And Communications From NOAA
Republican House Committee Chairman Requests NOAA Scientists' Internal Communications, Baselessly Claims NOAA Inappropriately Altered Data. On October 13, Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, issued a subpoena requesting internal communications related to a study by NOAA scientists that refuted the existence of a recent global warming “hiatus.” On October 28, the journal Nature reported that NOAA was refusing to comply with the subpoena, arguing that the agency had already provided Smith's committee with the publicly-available data behind the study, but that releasing scientists' internal communications would violate the “confidentiality” that is “essential to frank discourse among scientists.” In response, Smith accused NOAA of “alter[ing] the data to get the results they needed.” From Nature:
Representative Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who leads the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, asked NOAA in July for the data used in the study and for any internal communications related to it. NOAA has provided the committee with the publicly available data and has briefed committee staff on the research, but the agency has not turned over the communications.
Although NOAA's latest response to the committee skirted the issue, the agency suggests in a 27 October statement to Nature that it has no intention of handing over documents that reveal its internal deliberations.
“Because the confidentiality of these communications among scientists is essential to frank discourse among scientists, those documents were not provided to the Committee,” the agency said. “It is a long-standing practice in the scientific community to protect the confidentiality of deliberative scientific discussions.”
In response to queries from Nature, Smith released a statement accusing NOAA of rigging its temperature records and stonewalling the House committee.
“NOAA needs to come clean about why they altered the data to get the results they needed to advance this administration's extreme climate change agenda,” Smith said.
Smith's subpoena came to light on 23 October when the highest-ranking Democrat on the science committee, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, released a letter accusing Smith and his fellow Republicans of using the subpoena to advance a “fishing expedition”. Democrats on the committee, Johnson wrote, “won't be complicit in the illegitimate harassment of our Nation's research scientists”. [Nature, 10/28/15; Subpoena issued by Rep. Smith, 10/13/15; NOAA response, 10/27/15]
Nature: NOAA Study “Corrected Biases In The Agency's Global Temperature Record.” Nature further reported:
The NOAA study, led by Thomas Karl, director of the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina, corrected biases in the agency's global temperature record.
Karl and his colleagues adjusted for known biases in ocean temperature readings from ships and buoys, while also adding measurements from other land-based monitoring stations -- expanding the range of those stations into the Arctic. The revised record showed temperatures rising consistently. [Nature, 10/28/15]
Conservative Media Falsely Claim NOAA Is Refusing To Hand Over Study's Data To House Committee
American Thinker: “NOAA Refuses To Release Data” Backing Up Study's Conclusions. In an October 29 blog post, American Thinker's Rick Moran falsely claimed that “NOAA refuses to release data on how they reached the conclusion that the earth was, indeed, warming.” [American Thinker, 10/29/15]
Hot Air: NOAA Is “Sitting On ... Thermometer Readings.” In an October 29 blog post for Hot Air, Jazz Shaw asserted that NOAA is withholding “thermometer readings”:
Were I more suspicious and less forgiving type, I'd almost think NOAA was trying to hide something. Of course, I'm sure that's not the case. They're always so forthcoming with their data. Say... how's that hurricane prediction game going for you guys? I seem to recall that at the start of this storm season you predicted between 6 and 11 named storms in the Atlantic basin and Gulf of Mexico this year. With four weeks to go we've had 3, and Claudette really didn't count because it was some sort of anomaly.
All joking aside, guys, this looks very bad for you and your cause. Let's get off the stick and turn over the documents which were requested. It's not like you're sitting on the nuclear launch codes. These are thermometer readings. [Hot Air, 10/29/15]
National Review: NOAA Didn't Fully Comply With Request To “Pass Along A Host Of Data Related To The Study.” In a November 2 article for National Review, Ian Tuttle wrote:
In mid July, the committee requested that NOAA pass along a host of data related to the study, noting in its letter to NOAA administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, “The conclusions brought forth in this new study have lasting impacts and provide the basis for further action through regulations. With such broad implications, it is imperative that the underlying data and the analysis are made publicly available to ensure that the conclusions found and methods used are of the highest quality.”
NOAA cooperated -- until it didn't. After partially fulfilling the committee's request (for “documents and information related to NOAA's new updated global datasets, as well as the communications referring or relating to corrections to sea temperature data from ships and buoys”) in August, NOAA let pass two extended deadlines for the missing information, prompting a subpoena. This week, though, NOAA announced that it has no plans to comply with the subpoena. [National Review, 11/2/15]
Patriot Post: NOAA Not Allowing Public To “See All The Evidence,” Researchers “Would Rather Keep Some Of It A Secret.” On October 29, Patriot Post's Jordan Candler asserted:
According to the authors, NOAA's own findings “do not support the notion of a 'slowdown' in the increase of global surface temperature.” The researchers even rejected the IPCC's recent conclusion that a slowdown indeed did happen. Fine, so let's see all the evidence. Oh, wait, we can't, because the authors would rather keep some of it a secret. [Patriot Post, 10/29/15]
Daily Caller: Rep. Smith Was “Forced” To Issue A Subpoena For The Data. In an October 28 article, the Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch falsely claimed that Rep. Smith was “forced” to issue a subpoena in order to access the data from NOAA's study:
Smith has been especially frustrated by NOAA because the science agency ignored three attempts by lawmakers to get internal communications before he was forced to issue a subpoena for the data. NOAA did provide Smith with scientific data and methodology regarding the June study -- most of which is publicly available. [Daily Caller, 10/28/15]
But The NOAA Study's Data Is Publicly Available Online And NOAA Has Told The Committee How To Access It
The Data NOAA Used In The Study Is Posted On The Agency's Website. As Vox's David Roberts explained in an October 26 article, the data and methods behind NOAA's study “are posted on the internet” and "[a]nyone can access them":
Among Smith's repeated demands: access to the data and methods behind NOAA's work on climate. Except, as NOAA and Democratic members of the committee kept trying to explain, those data and methods are posted on the internet. Anyone can access them. Yet Republicans kept demanding them. [Vox, 10/26/15; NOAA.gov, accessed 11/2/15]
NOAA Letter To Rep. Smith: “We Provided Links” To The Data And “Showed Your Staff” Where To Access it. In an October 27 letter responding to Smith's subpoena letter, Coby Dolan, Director of NOAA's Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, explained that NOAA had showed Committee staffers where to access the publicly-available data behind the study:
[W]e have endeavored over the past few months to answer all of the Committee's questions about the data and to provide you with relevant and responsive information.
To that end, we have: provided the Committee with the data it has requested, to the extent such data exist; provided citations to peer-reviewed articles that explain the methodology that NOAA scientists use to analyze the data; and explained how temperature is measured by various means and how such data must be corrected for non-climatic factors. Finally, at our own suggestion, we provided several of the scientists who authored the Karl, et al. study to brief Committee staff personally, one on June 16, 2015, and the second on October 19, 2015.
Your September 10, 2015, letter requested [Night Martine Air Temperature (NMAT)] data, and in our October 2, 2015, response to you, we provided links to both corrected NMAT data and uncorrected NMAT data, all of which are publicly available. The presentation again showed your staff where the corrected and uncorrected NMAT data could be accessed. [NOAA, 10/27/15]
And Experts Say Subpoena Is “Disturbing” Attempt To Undermine Science
Climate Scientist Benjamin Santer: House Committee Is “Looking For An Unfortunate Phrasing In Emails To Cast Doubt On An Entire Scientific Endeavor.” In an October 28 article, InsideClimate News quoted Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory climate scientist Benjamin Santer questioning the House Committee's motives and whether they have the scientific expertise to analyze the NOAA data:
“This is not a fishing expedition--this is a trawling expedition,” [Santer] said. They're “looking for an unfortunate phrasing in emails to cast doubt on an entire scientific endeavor.”
[Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice] Johnson and Santer also questioned whether the committee has the expertise to analyze NOAA's data.
“I don't think this is the kind of issue a congressional staffer with little or no scientific training can adjudicate on,” Santer said. “I don't think that's credible at all.” [InsideClimate News, 10/28/15]
Climate Science Legal Defense Fund's Lauren Kurtz: Subpoena Request Is A “Disturbing” Attempt To Take Scientists' Emails “Out Of Context.” The InsideClimate News article also reported that Lauren Kurtz, the executive director of an organization that provides legal support to climate scientists, believes Rep. Smith's request for NOAA emails is unnecessary and only intended to “take scientists' words out of context”:
Lauren Kurtz, executive director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, said Smith's request for NOAA emails is another example of a politically-motivated attack that aims to take scientists' words out of context. Many climate researchers at public universities, for example, have been subject to extensive Freedom of Information requests for the contents of their inboxes.
“When you have the data, there's no need to look at a scientist's email correspondence,” Kurtz said. Her organization provides legal support for climate scientists who face harassment and lawsuits. “A lot of what science is is batting around ideas. You could suggest something kind of zany in an email...and to have it taken out of context publicly is very disturbing.” [InsideClimate News, 10/28/15]
Union Of Concerned Scientists' Michael Halpern: House Science Committee Is Engaging In “Harassment.” In an October 23 blog, Michael Halpern, program manager of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Center for Science & Democracy, stated that the House Science Committee's actions constitute “harassment,” and pointed out that Smith's demand for internal communications had “no clearly stated purpose” (emphasis original):
We have long been suspicious of the House Science Committee's expanded subpoena power. The evidence now demonstrates that the committee is using this new authority not to conduct effective oversight but to harass those who produce robust scientific analysis it refuses to accept.
The committee is now stepping up its harassment of government agencies. On October 13, the committee subpoenaed nearly seven years of internal deliberations and communications among scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including “all documents and communications” related to NOAA's measurement of our climate.
“All documents and communications” would presumably include emails, preliminary drafts, peer review comments, notes, audio recordings, and a treasure trove of other material. This would mean thousands upon thousands of records for employees to identify and go through and analyze for no clearly stated purpose.
NOAA was given two weeks to comply.
Some will say that the committee is right, that we should have access to the data. But this, of course, is not about data. The data is already public. [Union of Concerned Scientists, 10/23/15]
Conservative Media Also Baselessly Suggest NOAA Manipulates Data To Show More Warming
The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins Suggested NOAA May “Massage” Temp. Records To “Produce A Particular Result.” In a video posted on The Wall Street Journal's website on October 30, Journal columnist and editorial writer Holman Jenkins Jr. claimed that NOAA has a track record of “politicizing its science” and “there's always been a scandal waiting to blow up” if it's discovered that NOAA has “massaged” temperature records “in order to produce a particular result”:
This is a huge can of worms. The temperature record is a big part of the whole global warming debate, and it is completely massaged eight ways from Sunday. Because you know it was made over many years using many different instruments. There's lots of corrections and adjustments that go into it. And then they come out with this single temperature that represents the planet Earth for a whole year, and they claim to detect differences of, you know, one- or two-one-hundredths of a degree from a year, one year to the next. So there's always been a scandal waiting to blow up there, if these records are massaged in order to produce a particular result.
The problem is that NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has a bad track record in terms of politicizing its science. [WSJ.com, 10/30/15]
Breitbart News' Delingpole Invokes Faux Scandal “Climategate,” Accuses NOAA Of “Cover-Up.” In an October 29 article, Breitbart News' James Delingpole accused NOAA of “attempt[ing] to hide the pause in global warming.” He also invoked the thoroughly discredited “Climategate” controversy, declaring that once NOAA is forced to release all of the documents Smith requested it will become clear that “this represents the most disgraceful official cover-up by the politicized science establishment since the release of the Climategate emails”:
The US government's main climate research agency has refused a request by House Republicans to release key documents concerning the controversial issue of whether or not there has been a “pause” in global warming.
Gosh. What vital information of national secrecy importance could NOAA possibly have to hide?
That question is entirely rhetorical, by the way. The answer is obvious - well known to every one within the climate change research community. And the whole business stinks. When these documents are released, as eventually they surely must be, what will become evident is that this represents the most disgraceful official cover-up by the politicized science establishment since the release of the Climategate emails. [Breitbart News, 10/29/15; Media Matters, 12/1/09]
National Review Accused Climate Scientists Of “Tweaking Data To Reach More-Desirable Results.” In addition to falsely suggesting that NOAA has withheld data, National Review's Ian Tuttle also baselessly accused climate scientists of manipulating data to reach “more-desirable” results:
Climate science has grown diamond-hard. When scientists are not tweaking data to reach more-desirable results, they are shaming and expelling dissenters. [National Review, 11/2/15]
NOAA Temperature Record Adjustments Are Necessary And Peer-Reviewed
NOAA's Adjustments To Temperature Record Are Necessary, Peer-Reviewed, And Well-Documented. In a statement to Media Matters in February, NOAA said that adjustments to the temperature record are necessary to “account for a variety of non-climate related” factors and are validated by “numerous peer-reviewed studies”:
[N]umerous peer-reviewed studies continue to find that NOAA's temperature record is reliable. To ensure accuracy of the record, scientists use peer-reviewed methods called homogenization, to adjust temperature readings to account for a variety of non-climate related affects such as changes in station location, changes in observation methods, changes in instrumentation such as thermometers, and the growth of urban heat islands that occur through time. Such changes in observing systems cause false shifts in temperature readings. Paraguay is one example of where these false shifts artificially lower the true station temperature trend. However, around the world, the opposite is true a little less than half of the time (see Lawrimore, et al, 2011). Homogenization methods take out these false shifts. [Email to Media Matters, 2/10/15]
NOAA Adjusts Temperature Data For Variety Of Important Reasons. NOAA's website details all of the “quality control and homogeneity testing and adjustment procedures” for the data at each station in the U.S. Historical Climatology Network. This data is part of the Global Historical Climatology Network, which is “an integrated database of climate summaries from land surface stations across the globe that have been subjected to a common suite of quality assurance reviews.” The reasons for adjusting the data listed on the NOAA website include (paraphrased):
- Quality control “to identify suspects... and outliers.”
- Time-of-observation changes.
- Adjustments “for the bias introduced when the liquid-in-glass thermometers were replaced with the [Maximum/Minimum Temperature System].”
- Homogeneity adjustment “to account for time series discontinuities due to random station moves and other station changes.”
- Estimates for missing data when needed “based on a 'network' of the best correlated nearby stations.”
- Urban warming bias. [NOAA.gov, accessed 2/9/15; accessed 2/10/15]
New NOAA Study Accounts For Improved Ocean Measurement Tools, Spatial Coverage. In a June 4 press release about the new study on the rate of global warming, NOAA explained how it “accounts for the difference in data collected from buoys and ship-based data,” while also including “improved spatial coverage over many areas, including the Arctic”:
Since the release of the IPCC report, NOAA scientists have made significant improvements in the calculation of trends and now use a global surface temperature record that includes the most recent two years of data, 2013 and 2014--the hottest year on record. The calculations also use improved versions of both sea surface temperature and land surface air temperature datasets. One of the most substantial improvements is a correction that accounts for the difference in data collected from buoys and ship-based data.
Prior to the mid-1970s, ships were the predominant way to measure sea surface temperatures, and since then buoys have been used in increasing numbers. Compared to ships, buoys provide measurements of significantly greater accuracy. “In regards to sea surface temperature, scientists have shown that across the board, data collected from buoys are cooler than ship-based data,” said Dr. Thomas C. Peterson, principal scientist at NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information and one of the study's authors. “In order to accurately compare ship measurements and buoy measurements over the long-term, they need to be compatible. Scientists have developed a method to correct the difference between ship and buoy measurements, and we are using this in our trend analysis.”
In addition, more detailed information has been obtained regarding each ship's observation method. This information was also used to provide improved corrections for changes in the mix of observing methods.
New analyses with these data demonstrate that incomplete spatial coverage also led to underestimates of the true global temperature change previously reported in the 2013 IPCC report. The integration of dozens of data sets has improved spatial coverage over many areas, including the Arctic, where temperatures have been rapidly increasing in recent decades. For example, the release of the International Surface Temperature Initiative databank, integrated with NOAA's Global Historical Climatology Network-Daily dataset and forty additional historical data sources, has more than doubled the number of weather stations available for analysis. [NOAA.gov, 6/4/15]
For more on how conservative media have misled on NOAA's temperature adjustments, go here.