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« A media love-fest | Main | Natural Histrionics Museum »
Sunday
Feb272011

Muller in the Guardian

The Guardian interviews Berkeley's Richard Muller about his new surface temperature record. This is a really interesting article on several levels. Firstly, it manages to mention sceptical views without denigrating them and manages to take on board Muller's support for some parts of the sceptical case without seeing him as the devil incarnate:

[For Muller to] concede that climate sceptics raise fair criticisms means acknowledging that scientists and government agencies have got things wrong, or at least could do better. But the debate around global warming is so highly charged that open discussion, which science requires, can be difficult to hold in public. At worst, criticising poor climate science can be taken as an attack on science itself, a knee-jerk reaction that has unhealthy consequences. "Scientists will jump to the defence of alarmists because they don't recognise that the alarmists are exaggerating," Muller says.

There are also some fascinating details of the new record - it will not be a gridded series, but will weight series according to how reliable they are.

Publishing an extensive set of temperature records is the first goal of Muller's project. The second is to turn this vast haul of data into an assessment on global warming. Here, the Berkeley team is going its own way again. The big three groups – Nasa, Noaa and the Met Office – work out global warming trends by placing an imaginary grid over the planet and averaging temperatures records in each square. So for a given month, all the records in England and Wales might be averaged out to give one number. Muller's team will take temperature records from individual stations and weight them according to how reliable they are.

Exciting times, I would say.

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Reader Comments (40)

If the station records are weighted according to their reliablility that would have to reduce post-industrial warming to below statistical significance, wouldn't it?

Feb 27, 2011 at 10:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Richard Muller, "I've told the team I don't know if global warming is more or less than we hear, but I do believe we can get a more precise number, and we can do it in a way that will cool the arguments over climate change, if nothing else,"

Accuracy is far more important than precision. Inaccurate figures can be just as precise as accurate ones. Adding more decimal places to a number for global warming doesn't make that number more believable nor can it explain the underlying causes for such warming.

What is required is honesty about creating robust datasets that all can express confidence in. So far only the satellite datasets pass muster.

Feb 27, 2011 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

We are bringing the spirit of science back to a subject that has become too argumentative and too contentious," Muller says, over a cup of tea. "We are an independent, non-political, non-partisan group. We will gather the data, do the analysis, present the results and make all of it available. There will be no spin, whatever we find."

I sincerely hope so.

Feb 27, 2011 at 11:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

"The data, by all accounts, are a mess."

Ever since I took an interest in this subject I wanted an honest man with a grasp of the subject to clarify just what was happening so I could understand it.

I hope he can sort it out.

"Robert Rohde, a young physicist who left Berkeley with a PhD last year, does most of the hard work. He has written software that trawls public databases, themselves the product of years of painstaking work, for global temperature records."

Tricky point here - Is he trawling the adjusted data or the real data ?

Feb 27, 2011 at 11:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterNick Fleming

Sounds like Richard Muller will be clouding the issue with facts. Post-Normal Climate Scientists won't like that.

Feb 27, 2011 at 11:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterR2

"how reliable they are."

...and what the hell does that mean?

Andrew

Feb 27, 2011 at 11:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterBad Andrew

If they start with raw data and work up their own adjustments in an open and reasonable way, they have a chance. If they simply rejigger the current homogenized data they lose most sceptics.

Feb 27, 2011 at 11:52 PM | Unregistered Commenterkuhnkat

in the near term, what's wrong with satellite data? in the distal term, what's wrong with averaging a few very reliable records?
i wont criticise good data capture/organising/analysis, whatever it is. but obsessing over huge quantities of narrowly varying data would be detrimental. i hope they publish a limited data base of very high quality data. i know if i wanted it badly enough i could go get it for myself. but i don't. it's not interesting. i just hope they publish such a data set. or i'll be paying no attention whatsoever.

Feb 27, 2011 at 11:56 PM | Unregistered Commenterdunton joe

Bad Andrew

My thoughts entirely - perhaps he is looking for ones that aren't in car parks or next to an air-conditioning unit???

Feb 27, 2011 at 11:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterRetired Dave

˙ʎɹoʇs ǝɥʇ ɥʇıʍ ʇıɟ ʇ,uop ʇɐɥʇ sǝnlɐʌ ɟo ʇno ƃuıɹǝʇlıɟ ɔıʇɐɯǝʇsʎs ǝɥʇ (ʇ,uplnoɥs ɹǝɥʇɐɹ ɹo) ǝpnlɔuı ʇsnɯ sıɥʇ ˙sǝƃɐʇs ɐʇɐp pǝssǝɔoɹd puɐ ʍɐɹ ǝɥʇ uǝǝʍʇǝq ǝuop sı ʇɐɥʍ uı ʎɔuǝɹɐdsuɐɹʇ ǝq oʇ sɐɥ ǝnssı uıɐɯ ǝɥʇ

Feb 28, 2011 at 12:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

I do not see that he is offering something that could be considered an improvement. For example, the land based data in the USA is untrustworthy. That has been documented by Anthony Watts at his site. Even if Muller had trustworthy data, it is unclear what he might do with it. Suppose that his calculations agree completely with Hansen's calculations. Then his task will be to explain that his organizational and statistical techniques are reliable and definitive. But that task cannot be accomplished. The vast majority of people do not have the technical means to evaluate any such explanation. Because his conclusion agrees with Hansen, it will be rejected for the same reasons that Hansen's has been rejected. Those reasons have to do with shoddy science, obvious ideological bias, and the bias of economic self-interest. At best, Muller can once again start trumpeting the consensus, but the majority of Americans will not buy that. It is a pointless undertaking. Either Muller is extremely idealistic or he is doing it for the short term cash flow. If someone gets serious about this matter, they will call for a conference that includes sceptics and that creates a new measurement regime for climate science. Then this little baby science can finally start maturing.

Feb 28, 2011 at 2:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Justice4Rinka,
Tiljander?

Feb 28, 2011 at 3:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterTony Hansen

It will be a different kind of scam, but will still be a scam.

Feb 28, 2011 at 3:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterE Smith

Feb 28, 2011 at 12:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

You will be receiving the bill from my doctor for treatment to a stiff neck! ;-)

Feb 28, 2011 at 3:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

Very interesting article, especially coming from the Guardian.

These bits attracted my attention:

For more than 30 years, he was a member of the independent Jason group that advises the US government on defence...
...
For the past year, Muller has kept a low profile, working quietly on a new project with a team of academics hand-picked for their skills.

According Wikipedia, Jasons are a super-elite group of (young?) scientists chosen for their brilliance and original thought. Jasons seem to be the scientific/intellectual torch carriers, and perhaps the inheritors of the tradition that began with the Manhattan Project, advising the state on security and defence matters. As a group, Jasons apparently choose their own members. They don't get told by higher ups who to work with.

There is little information about it on Wikipedia actually considering how influential the group is. It turns out Jasons issued a report warning against CO2-caused global warming back in 1982. I can immediately imagine the fingerprints of a bright, young Venus specialist on that report.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JASON_%28advisory_group%29

Mueller is clearly choosing his own team following the rules of membership for Jasons, rather than being dictated who to work with by funding institutions. This is important. Because the quest is the search for objective truth. What they find may not be the reality, but the full openness will provide it with the maximum perception of credibility.

If the project were an artistic one instead of scientific, one could say Mueller would be a classic auteur director with no one to consult to but his own artistic vision and his own team, with money aplenty and studio execs out of the way.

I believe this project is worth following very closely.

Feb 28, 2011 at 4:38 AM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Why does Muller feel compelled to shake up the world of climate change? "We are doing this because it is the most important project in the world today. Nothing else comes close," he says.

Seems to me that Muller doesn't get out much, has preconceived notions and is unaware that when important issues are listed, climate change consistently ranks the lowest priority if it makes the list at all.

Feb 28, 2011 at 4:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul in Sweden

"For more than 30 years, he was a member of the independent Jason group that advises the US government on defence..."

This boy is capable of some very serious lying. It was the Pentagon that first spread the possibility of the shutting down of the Gulf Stream and freezing Europe. I saw it on the BBC website.

Feb 28, 2011 at 5:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterE Smith

Sorry BH... but when I see the following... my antennae start twitching...

"We are bringing the spirit of science back to a subject that has become too argumentative and too contentious," Muller says, over a cup of tea. "We are an independent, non-political, non-partisan group. We will gather the data, do the analysis, present the results and make all of it available. There will be no spin, whatever we find." Why does Muller feel compelled to shake up the world of climate change? "We are doing this because it is the most important project in the world today. Nothing else comes close," he says.

I know people like giving the benefit of the doubt, but this is pre-spin-spin, part of an organised pre-publicity campaign in the Guardian. Laying the ground for the "fairness" card, before being anything but fair...

Stating independence, non-partisanship before the event is a usual tactic (" 'ever so 'umble Sir!".) Why state these things if they are self-evident. These statements should be self-evident after the fact.

I believe there is something here beyond 20 concerned academics, not sure what.

And people you can not have both ways... even if the models were to show less warming, you cannot say "our models good, their models bad"... I have never believed you can accurately model a self-maintaining,self-healing, 4 billion year old chaotic system on the decadal scale.

Just be careful that giving credibility to one model because it agrees more with your world view, you then by default give credibility to others.

This is organised pre-publicity. Everyone wants some slice of the pie and people should never forget. God is the only true independent.

Feb 28, 2011 at 6:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

It may be a more robust statistical exercise but nevertheless it is still just a statistical exercise producing a statistical artefact. This is not a real measurement.

Feb 28, 2011 at 6:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterLiKW

Not using a gridded system is an improvement.
Weighting station data for accuracy? I'm not so sure.

If data passes validation tests then it should be used, otherwise WPB.
Why not just a mean of long term data locations with continuous reliable records.
(Not anomalies - actual data).

It would not give the average temperature of the earth, but that is a very hard ask.
It would give an index of reliable stations.
Their movement, over say 180 years or so, would give us an idea of cyclic fluctiations and if a long term trend is obvoius or not.

A parallel series, estimating the impact of UHI on this series would also be of use for obvious reasons.
Now I'm prepared to sit here for the next 180 years for the trends to begin to emerge.
How about you?

In the meanwhile, we may just have to rely on Roy Spencer's satelite data.
(Groan, groan, don't hold with all that high faluting modern stuff myself).

Feb 28, 2011 at 7:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterAusieDan

He has already jumped to the conclusion that air temperatures measured over land are the only important metric - ignoring ocean temperatures.

But he hasn't published his reasoning...

Feb 28, 2011 at 7:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Give Muller a chance
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/25/currys-2000-comment-question-can-anyone-defend-%e2%80%9chide-the-decline%e2%80%9d/

Watch the video here where he tears the CRU guys to pieces about 'Hide the Decline'
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbR0EPWgkEI&feature=player_embedded#t=1s

Feb 28, 2011 at 8:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

As someone who has been watching Muller's Physics lectures as pod casts for the last 2 years, I've got a bit of faith in this one. He's honest and doesn't let Politics get in the way.

His statement about this argument being the most important thing going on at the moment is correct. People want to spend unprecedented amounts of money. I think you'll find that many of Muller's arguments are remarkably similar to those found here.

I say this as a sceptic that has listened to many of his lectures. He doesn't suffer fools and has a thing or two to say about alarmists in many other areas of science.

Feb 28, 2011 at 8:15 AM | Unregistered Commenterinversesquare

Yes, Barry is right - he is scathing of CRU and GISS and doesn't have much regards for the IPCC either. His analysis of Hide the Decline is just before the 30 minute mark, and damning, but it is worth watching the whole video from the start.

I agree that the raw / homegenisationed data is going to be a real problem, and the ocean heat likewise. (Is it the top 6 or top 8 feet of he ocean which holds as much hat as the whole of the atmosphere?) Either way using land based data to measure the planet's temperature is akin to dangling a thermometer 10cm above someone who's ill with a fever.

From watching the video, he seems well aware of most of the climategate issues, UHI, the use of dodgy statistical methods, and the uncertainties of the models (in particular the cloud cover assumptions). But he seems sold on the notion that CO2 above 300ppm is a significant problem, something I think which is far from proven.

As for satellite data - it solves the UHI problem, and I am not saying it is as bad as the surface data, but the satellite data is also processed - apparently the sensors detect radiation from the surface and upper/lower atmosphere. So they have to use algorithms to sort the wheat from the chaff - and guess what, assumptions are an essential element of this process. This was discussed by a couple of informed WHWT commenter last year, I will try to find the link for anyone interested.

Feb 28, 2011 at 8:36 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

@inversesquare and @barry

I take what you say at face value... I am just sensitised to pre-publicity publicity... when things are organised, then someone has a message they want to get across...

Starting off with an implied negative "we are honest 'guv!", just shows what politics has done to science.

Feb 28, 2011 at 8:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

For those who don't realise, it was this video of Muller which Judith Curry cited as the other reason (the being the Bishop's Beddington post) for her posts last week.

Feb 28, 2011 at 8:52 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

I'll try that again -

For those who don't realise, this is the video which Judith Curry cited as the other reason (the first being the Bishop's Beddington Challenge post) for her recent decision to have a wee discussion about tree rings.

Feb 28, 2011 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered Commenterlapogus

When I read this in the Grauniad piece:
"For more than 30 years, he was a member of the independent Jason group that advises the US government on defence;"
I felt a slight bit of encouragement, because this is the group where Hal Lewis worked - and he is of course the physicist who returned his membership to the APS with such fanfare last year.

So - wait and see, hoping for a pleasant surprise ...

Feb 28, 2011 at 9:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterViv Evans

There are more videos with Richard Muller:

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=richard+muller+warming&aq=f

Here is the Curry bit:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BQpciw8suk

Feb 28, 2011 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

Theo Goodwin said:

Either Muller is extremely idealistic or he is doing it for the short term cash flow. If someone gets serious about this matter, they will call for a conference that includes sceptics and that creates a new measurement regime for climate science. Then this little baby science can finally start maturing.

Competition in method and possibly results will improve the science in the long run. A conference to decide a standardised way forward will not as it would give an undue level of certainty to the outcome.

Feb 28, 2011 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Gareth writes:
"Competition in method and possibly results will improve the science in the long run. A conference to decide a standardised way forward will not as it would give an undue level of certainty to the outcome."

Well, of course, if you are assuming that the scientific process is at work in climate science. It isn't. What competition? Who is funding some sceptic? As I see it, all the funding is of the Al Gore variety. The US government is providing funding that serves a Warmista ideology. In any case, a measurement regime is only for the data. Given data, there is no science until there are physical hypotheses. At this time, there are none that would explain the increased warming from "forcings." For example, the sainted Judith Curry, a bona fide climate scientist, ponders sceptical points on her now popular blog but it has not occurred to her that she can't really claim to be doing science or talking about it until she addresses the matter of the non-existent physical hypotheses. Some adult needs to explain that climate science is a newborn on life support at this time.

Feb 28, 2011 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Theo Goodwin said:

Well, of course, if you are assuming that the scientific process is at work in climate science. It isn't. What competition?

This group is taking a different approach to determining a global average temperature. That is the competition - between the current approach of averages, adjustments and grids and this alternative. Without competition there is little scope for questioning the accepted manner in which temperature claims are generated. Pointing out the suspect adjustments and poor location issues has only had a limited effect.

If Muller's group finds a different result it will spur further investigation into ways to determine past global temps. from the records (or point towards them simply not being good enough) and further consideration of whether a global temp. record is of any relevance given how short the satellite portion is. If Muller's group finds an answer similar to what is already there it will support the current method though it will not validate it. The method itself, not the climate science that has developed around the results of the method. That still has not progressed beyond correlation = causation.

It will also provide a foot in the door to ask awkward questions about site changes, equipment changes, hardening of glass in thermometers etc.

Feb 28, 2011 at 2:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Interesting article from the Graun, but tucked away are the usual misrepresentations of key facts. Like this one:

Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City produces a rolling estimate of the world's warming. A separate assessment comes from another US agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). The third group is based in the UK and led by the Met Office. They all take readings from instruments around the world to come up with a rolling record of the Earth's mean surface temperature. The numbers differ because each group uses its own dataset and does its own analysis, but they show a similar trend. Since pre-industrial times, all point to a warming of around 0.75C.

Feb 28, 2011 at 5:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

I'm not entirely cynical about this development. Partly because I watched Muller's video a while ago, in which he absolutely rips into Phil Jones's "hide the decline" antics. I've not heard a warmist (which Muller is) speak out so vehemently on the subject before.

Also, Anthony Watts and Fred Singer seem to be encouraged by what they have heard:
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/19/fred-singer-on-the-best-project/

Regarding the Grauniad piece, I notice that the writer couldn't resist a little barb:
"No one who spoke to the Guardian about the Berkeley Earth project believed it would shake the faith of the minority who have set their minds against global warming."
Apparently Muller didn't have a bad thing to say about sceptics, so the writer had to stick something in from his own repertoire.

Feb 28, 2011 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Evans

As a frustrated; retired engineer, I would like one question answered before I wholeheartedly endorse any new effort. Where in any fundamental Physics text is the property of "average temperature" defined?

I'm an oldster who had to take one year of Chemistry and two years of Physics in (American) High School followed by two semesters of Chemistry, and four semesters of Physics in Engineering school, and I cannot find any justification for the statistical manipulation of temperature data which ignores volume, pressure, and humidity/latent-heat.

Until I see: (1) a good scientific account of the conditions under which the gas-laws may be so simplified, and (2) plausible evidence that the conditions apply to the earths atmosphere, then I will not be convinced that climatology is anything more than self-deluding Numerology.

Of course, if a book on Numerology were marred by numerous errors in its sums, that would be embarrassing. But, even if the best mathematicians and computer scientists in the world came along and corrected every error in the maths, that would not restore Numerology's "good name".

Feb 28, 2011 at 7:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterdadgervais

dadgervais

This might be what you are looking for. If not an exact fit to your requirements, look at the whole site index and home in on the series of articles on CO2, radiative physics, the Second Law etc.

http://scienceofdoom.com/roadmap/science-roads-less-traveled/

Hope this helps.

Feb 28, 2011 at 7:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Gareth writes:

"If Muller's group finds an answer similar to what is already there it will support the current method though it will not validate it."

To whom will that appeal? Is someone going to change his mind on the basis of Muller's good name? If not, then on the basis of Muller's statistical methods and their differences from Hansen's? The people who might change their minds number in the tens.

Feb 28, 2011 at 7:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

dadgervais,

Extremely well said. PV=nRT is empirical science. No one has ever found a way to express "global average temperature" in terms of physical hypotheses. No one on the Warmista side even cares that they have no physical hypotheses. Yet the concept can have no meaning except as defined in terms of physical regularities. The warmista simply carry on with the grand fiction of a global average temperature.

Feb 28, 2011 at 7:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

When a guy says the debate is highly charged, that's liberal speak lamenting that their media con job didn't entirely squelch the opposition.

It's highly charged alright, and it's the wrong people holding onto the checkbook.

Don't kid yourselves. Nothing good will come out of Berkeley.

Feb 28, 2011 at 7:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterpapertiger

I'm with the Bish, Barry and lapogus on this. And Judith Curry. The commitment to complete openness is of immense and immediate importance. Because of that, you will be able to check out every detail to your heart's content. That cannot be wrong. Sorry that I missed this until now because of a by-comparison gnat-sized contribution to BH the same morning. This matters.

Feb 28, 2011 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

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