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The Heretics: Anthony Watts

Posted By Rich Trzupek On February 9, 2010 @ 12:04 am In FrontPage | 26 Comments

Given the dogmatic fervor of global warming proponents, and their intolerance of skeptics who dare to question the latest commandment (see: cap-and-trade) in the green scripture, it is perhaps no coincidence that the environmentalist movement sometimes seems to have more in common with theology than with science. If that is true, then the logical word to describe those scientists who have challenged environmental hysteria and extremism is “heretics.” In a series of profiles, Front Page’s Rich Trzupek will spotlight prominent scientists whose “heretical” research, publications, and opinions have helped add a much-needed dose of balance and fact to environmental debates that for too long have been driven by fear mongering and alarmism. In a field that demands political conformity, they defiantly remain the heretics. Previous profiles in the series include Steve Milloy, Dr. Craig Idso, Dr. Roy Spencer, and Lord Christopher Monckton. – The Editors

Theorizing that burning fossil fuels can cause catastrophic global warming is relatively easy to do, all you need is a computer model and the “right” set of inputs. Proving that one’s model reflects reality is another matter entirely. Meteorologist Anthony Watts has been a leading skeptical voice in the global warming debate because he has challenged supposed evidence that the models work, through his herculean efforts in examining the dubious surface temperature records published by leading climate change centers.

At first blush, Watts seems an unlikely heretic. While he questions the veracity of alarmist data, Watts personal lifestyle reveals a man who spends a great deal more time trying to conserve energy than, say, Al Gore. He describes himself thus:

“While I have a skeptical view of certain climate issues, I consider myself ‘green’ in many ways, and I promote the idea of energy savings and alternate energy generation. Unlike many who just talk about it, I’ve put a 10KW solar array on my home, plus a 125 KW solar array on one of our local schools when I was a school trustee. I’ve retrofitted my home with CFL’s and better insulation, as well as installed timer switches on many of our most commonly used lights.”

Watts’ two chief websites, wattsupwiththat.com and surfacestations.org are regular stops for most people interested in learning more about the other side of the global warming debate. While many of the themes on his sites are familiar to skeptics, his examination of the United States’ surface temperature monitoring network affords him a unique niche in the debate.

A bit of background first. When Climategate – the publication of data and e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (CRU) – first broke, some climate change supporters said, in effect, that even if CRU’s temperature data was flawed, plenty of other respected, reliable organizations reached the same conclusion as CRU, so climategate didn’t matter. Chief among those seemingly respectable, reliable scientific organizations cited was the United State National Weather Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA’s data does indicate a steady rise in average temperatures across the country for the last few decades. But, how reliable is NOAA’s data and, specifically, the data from the National Weather Service’s network of 1,221 surface temperature monitoring stations?

This is where Anthony Watts comes in. Watts started a surface stations auditing project in 2007, assisted by Dr. Robert A. Peilke, a climatologist at Colorado State University. The purpose of the project is to examine each of those 1,221 surface temperature monitoring stations and to determine how reliable the data from is, following the National Weather Service’s own guidelines. The results were stunning. Though the project is not complete, Watts has released preliminary reports through the Heartland Institute. In the latest version of the report, entitled “Is The U.S. Surface Temperature Record Reliable?” and published in 2009, Watts reached a damning conclusion:

“During the past few years I recruited a team of more than 650 volunteers to visually inspect and photographically document more than 860 of these temperature stations. We were shocked by what we found.

We found stations located next to the exhaust fans of air conditioning units, surrounded by asphalt parking lots and roads, on blistering-hot rooftops, and near sidewalks and buildings that absorb and radiate heat. We found 68 stations located at wastewater treatment plants, where the process of waste digestion causes temperatures to be higher than in surrounding areas.

In fact, we found that 89 percent of the stations – nearly 9 of every 10 – fail to meet the National Weather Service’s own siting requirements that stations must be 30 meters (about 100 feet) or more away from an artificial heating or radiating reflecting heat source.

In other words, 9 of every 10 stations are likely reporting higher or rising temperatures because they are badly sited.”

NOAA responded to Watts’ latest report, saying that its data is reliable and claiming: 1) the 70 properly sited stations supported a warming trend, and 2) the remainder of the data had been “homogenized” and showed the same trend. Homogenization is, simply put, a statistical method of blending data points in order to come up what a number that replaces all the bad data points. The technique has been widely used, and roundly criticized, as part of the global warming debate. As responses go, even given the often bizarrely unscientific tone of many climate change defenders, NOAA’s answer to Watts rang exceptionally hollow.

This isn’t the first time that climate change advocates have been caught fiddling with temperature records. Climategate showed that the Dr. Phil Jones of the CRU had truncated temperature data associated with tree ring measurements when that data ceased to show a temperature increase and replaced it with new surface temperature records instead, thus “hiding the decline.” More recently, The Guardian (which can hardly be accused of being a home to skeptics) revealed that Jones attempted to conceal flaws with temperature records in China – problems with the measurement network that are eerily similar to the inaccuracies that Watts uncovered in the United States. As increased urbanization compromised temperature measurement sites that had previously been properly located, effectively putting them into the middle of new urban heat-sinks, Jones appears to have been desperate to cover up the newly-discovered bias.

Temperature records are the key to proving the alarmist case. If they can show that nature dutifully follows the script that their computer models have written for them, their predictions of doom carry infinitely more weight. But, skeptical, independent, thoughtful scientists like Anthony Watts have cast more and more doubt onto the truthfulness of the official records, proving once again that one man can truly make a difference.


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