The Weather Man: Watts and friends Australian tour

Anthony Watts – blogger of “Watts up with that?” fame – and a key voice of climate change scepticism is just about to kick his tour off down under. Of course, the denial community is working itself into a frenzy.   Says Jo Nova in her usual hyperbolic style:

“In years to come history books will be written about the grassroots scientists with next to no resources except their wits, who blew the whistle on the biggest scientific scandal of the century and changed the course of billions of dollars, and thousands of careers. Anthony Watts is one of those key men. We’ve hit the jackpot here in Australia: we’ve got a chance to hear him speak. His site Watts Up With That gets a whopping 3 million hits a month…”

Nova is joining Watts on the tour.  

I wonder is she will reveal more about the identity of the small network of families that have been controlling the finance industry for centuries?   Perhaps not… there is only so much conspiracy theory nonsense you can pack into an already crowded agenda.  

Australian Conservative is also excited:

“Anthony Watts is a TV weatherman, meteorologist and has arguably the worlds best blog site on the climate change debate.He has been researching the global surface temperatures from around the world and will be speaking in 18 cities across Australia. The conclusions are highly significant to the international debate. This tour will have three or four high quality presentations at each meeting…”

Without doubt Watts name will crop up in the Australian media, so for those of you not familiar with Watts and his role in the denial movement some background.  

Who is Anthony Watts?  

Watts is one of the major players of the denial movement. 

A former weather man he started his blog in 2006. It quickly grew to become the most prominent blog “sceptical” of climate change on the web.[1]  

At best, Watts seems to be an enthusiastic amateur with no real scientific training. A brief biography is provided here:

“Anthony Watts is a 25-year broadcast meteorology veteran and currently chief meteorologist for KPAY-AM radio. He got his start as on-air meteorologist for WLFI-TV in Lafayette, Indiana and at KHSL-TV in Chico, California. In 1987, he founded ItWorks, which supplies broadcast graphics systems to hundreds of cable television, television, and radio stations nationwide. ItWorks supplies custom weather stations, Internet servers, weather graphics content, and broadcast video equipment. In 2007, Watts founded SurfaceStations.org, a Web site devoted to photographing and documenting the quality of weather stations across the U.S…”

Watts main claim to fame is his “surface stations” project. Says Watts about the initiative:

“..The concept was simple: Create a network of volunteers to visit USHCN climate-monitoring stations and document, with photographs and site surveys, their quality. I worked with Dr. Pielke to encapsulate his survey methods into simple instructions any member of the public could understand and follow. I created a Web site, http://www.SurfaceStations.org, that  featured an interactive online database that would allow for the uploading of photographs and site surveys, along with supporting data.

Since the project’s inception in the Summer of 2007, more than 650 volunteer surveyors have registered, and as of this writing in February 2009, 865 of the 1,221 USHCN climate-monitoring stations have been surveyed, representing more than 70 percent of the operational climate-monitoring network in the continental United States.”

As a consequence, Watts believed he found serious problems with the network of monitoring stations:

“…the errors in the [U.S. temperature] record exceed by a wide margin the purported rise in temperature…during the twentieth century.”

Watts declared the temperature record for the US was flawed, and as a consequence the entire basis for our understanding of climate change was in error:

“…These findings have significant implications for the scientific and policymaking communities in the U.S. and around the world. The USHCN data are widely used and cited by many major scientific centers for climate analysis. These include but are not limited to:

  • NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) managed by Dr. James Hansen
  • Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) at Oak Ridge Laboratory
  • Hadley Climate Research Unit (CRU) in the UK managed by Dr. Phil Jones
  • National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) managed by Mr. Thomas Karl
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a joint project of the World Meteorological Organization
  • and the United Nations Environment Program

The findings and recommendations of these highly respected and influential scientific and political organizations are now in doubt. The data currently used to claim that the twentieth century witnessed a statistically significant warming trend are unreliable. The truth of that claim can be established only with new and more-reliable data. Since the U.S. temperature record is widely regarded as being the most reliable of the international databases, it follows that data used to estimate the change in global temperatures over the past century must also be revisited.

Which is quite the claim when you think about, since Watts is saying the most authoritative bodies on the issue have been wrong.

The interesting thing is that Watts didn’t publish his results in any peer-reviewed journals.

Instead, his results where initially published on the website conservative think tank “The Heartland Institute”.

Does Watts research stand up?

Questioning the temperature record is one the favourite tropes of the denial movement.

However, subsequent research into the issue has determined the position of monitoring stations actually has a cooling effect, not a heating one as Watts contends. Indeed, it is the very opposite of what Watts stated in his Heartland puff piece:

“…On July 6, 2009 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a preliminary report that charted data from 70 stations that SurfaceStations.org identified as ‘good’ or ‘best’ against the rest of the dataset surveyed at that time, and concluded, “clearly there is no indication from this analysis that poor station exposure has imparted a bias in the U.S. temperature trends.”[14] Watts issued a rebuttal in which he asserted that the preliminary analysis excluded new data on quality of surface stations, and criticized the use of homogenized data from the stations, which in his view accounts for the creation of two nearly identical graphs.Since then NOAA has released a detailed peer reviewed study confirming both reliability of the surface stations reviewed. The results show that poor stations produce a slight cooling bias, in stark contrast to Watts claim, but also that after corrections both poor and highly rated stations align very well…”

The paper, titled On the reliability of the U.S. surface temperature record (JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH, VOL. 115, D11108, doi:10.1029/2009JD013094, 201) is well worth a quick read:

“Recent photographic documentation of poor siting conditions at stations in the U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) has led to questions regarding the reliability of surface temperature trends over the conterminous United States (CONUS). To evaluate the potential impact of poor siting/instrument exposure on CONUS temperatures, trends derived from poor and well sited USHCN stations were compared. Results indicate that there is a mean bias associated with poor exposure sites relative to good exposure sites; however, this bias is consistent with previously documented changes associated with the widespread conversion to electronic sensors in the USHCN during the last 25 years. Moreover, the sign of the bias is counterintuitive to photographic documentation of poor exposure because associated instrument changes have led to an artificial negative (“cool”) bias in maximum temperatures and only a slight positive (“warm”) bias in minimum temperatures. These results underscore the need to consider all changes in observation practice when determining the impacts of siting irregularities. 

…In summary, we find no evidence that the CONUS average temperature trends are inflated due to poor station siting…”

Of course this lead to mutterings of “conspiracies” by denialists. Watts has promised to write a “peer reviewed” response to this. However, it’s unlikely to be of any real substance.

Skeptical science has a great summary of the debate here, noting:

“…Numerous studies into the effect of urban heat island effect and microsite influences find they have negligible effect on long-term trends, particularly when averaged over large regions.”

Siz Aspects of denial

It’s easy to classify Watts and his work under the following:

  1. Doubt the science – Watts paper and his blog is essentially one long argument against climate science. Watts blog is entertaining, no doubt about that. However that does not make him right. His work with SurfaceStations.org has been refuted numerous times, however he continues to promote it.

[1] For good running commentary on WUWT see Wotts up with that?

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Watts_(blogger)#SurfaceStations.org

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