From Integrated Questions

Is this a blow to the global warming theory?

Steve McIntyre recently discovered that NASA’s data for temperature trends in the US has a rather serious error – caused by a y2k bug of all things.

Unfortunately, http://www.climateaudit.org/, a website operated by McIntyre is currently offline (I imagine it’s getting pummelled after the recent mentions in the blogosphere). Thus I cannot really comment on the data itself.

Several other blogs have picked up the new findings and run with them. Tim Blair, Watts Up With That?, and Michael Asher at DailyTech have all commented on the new data, which has caused some notable changes in the top ten hottest years on record (in the US).

The most obvious change is that 1998 has now been bumped down a rank by 1934. The three sites go on to make a point of the fact that five of the top ten years now date from before World War II.

That certainly sounds like a compelling piece of data. Except that the old top ten list saw four pre-WWII years, so really the change is only minimal. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to find out how much the overall order of, say, the top 100 years has changed. There is some talk at Watts Up With That? about overall changes in the order.

All three sites note that this only makes a change in US temperature records, not world-wide temperature records. They then go on to attack global warming theory, suggesting that this change in the data invalidates the theory (it should be noted that Asher only attacks through implication and I could well be misinterpreting him).

Now, I am somewhat dubious about anthropogenic global warming. The more I read, the more I am uncertain as to the credibility of the IPCC, and the more I question the hype and fanatacism that seems to follow the doomsday theories of global warming. I have previously questioned the validity of the term ‘consensus’ and I still hold to that position.

However, I must ask, how does a change in one set of US temperature data make any sort of appreciable impact on global warming theories?

If the error were in global records then I could perhaps see the reasoning.
If these records were the only source of temperature data that were used I could perhaps see the reasoning.
If the attack included any sort of mention as to how widespread the use of these data are then I could perhaps see the reasoning.

As it is, none of these seem to be the case (I freely admit I have done only a cursory search on the topic of how frequently various temperature records are used in scientific research). I must ask why these particular opponents of global warming are clutching at straws when there are far more legitimate targets around.

Between attacks like this, A Western Heart’s assault on the British Met Office, and the neverending supply of comments about cold or wet days, months, or seasons disproving global warming it comes as little wonder to me that the proponents of global warming have been so disparaged as to instantly deride anyone who dares voice dissent from the ‘scientific consensus’.

I do wonder, though, when did ‘sceptic’ become a dirty word? Is it not true that all scientists are meant to be sceptics? To critically and thoroughly question all findings and beliefs?

I would have thought that even the prevailing ‘laws’ of the day should be treated with some scepticism. Whilst it is right to treat them as a solid and likely approximation of reality, is it not also right to consider the possibility that they are incomplete or mistaken. Even Newton’s Laws didn’t prove infalliable.

On the topic of ‘scientific consensus’, here is a quote from Michael Crichton, which I feel nicely sums up my opinion: “Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.”

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