It appears that our representatives in government have taken their cues on information gathering from that most secretive government agency – the Men in Black. They’re checking the “hot sheets.”
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has latched onto “reporting” that supposedly exposes a conspiracy to cover up a pause in global warming trends. The hard-hitting journalism that has the committee gushing is an article published in the UK Daily Mail, a tabloid akin to our National Enquirer, and one that Media Matters gave the dubious distinction of “Climate Change Misinformer of the Year” in 2013. The article’s author, David Rose, has a history of discredited reporting on climate science. The UK National Weather Service has had to debunk several of his false claims on numerous occasions, and the Columbia Journalism Review describes his work as “outrageous” “pseudoscience.”
If you’re a fictitious government agency monitoring alien activity on Earth, the tabloids may be you’re best “go-to” source of investigative journalism. As a citizen of the non-cinematic universe, though, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology do better than to base its policy positions on a tabloid which has run headlines like, “Woman, 63, becomes PREGNANT in the mouth with a baby squid after eating calamari,” or “Is the bum the new side boob” (actual headlines from Daily Mail).
But information should never be discounted or accepted based entirely on the source. We should examine the information on its own merits. Rose reports that a paper released in 2015 by scientists at the NOAA was rushed to publication with data that Rose first characterizes as “unverified,” then calls “faulty.” The sole source of information in Rose’s article is John Bates, a retired NOAA scientists who dealt with archiving data sets. When read alongside Bates’s blog about this issue and the published paper in question , the Daily Mail article makes some demonstrably false claims  and misrepresents Bates’s own account. In fact, in an interview with Energy and Environment News, Bates himself said he did not believe there was any manipulation of data. “The issue here is not an issue of tampering with data, but rather really of timing of a release of a paper,” Bates clarified. That kind of subtlety is lost on certain media outlets who skew the already skewed, transforming Rose’s description of “unverified” or “faulty” data into “fake news” (an Orwellian-like tactic of robbing language of its meaning – if you call everything “fake news,” then nothing is “fake news”).
In the simplest terms, the disagreement between Bates and the authors of the published paper is not a debate about the science at all. It is essentially an interdepartmental squabble about waiting until a particular data set was thoroughly archived before publishing. Contrary to Rose’s portrayal, Thomas Karl and his co-authors were working within the established methods of publishing research, and the NOAA did not “breech its own rules for scientific integrity.” That’s because the standard for publishing research and the standard for archiving data are not the same. Moreover, Rose’s claim that the information can not be verified is blatantly false. He ignores the fact that the data used in Karl et al. has been subsequently “validated by independent data from satellites, buoys and Argo floats and that many other independent groups, including Berkeley Earth and the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre, get effectively the same results.”
Rose and the political ideologues who have pounced on his disreputable pseudo-journalism liken this new story to 2009’s “Climategate,” which was so thoroughly debunked I really don’t feel the necessity to link to it (seriously, Google it). And it was debunked in part by a scientific study funded by the Koch Brothers! To put it another way, the scientific evidence of global warming was so overwhelming that even a study funded by oil tycoons couldn’t justify denying it. I could see how many people might have missed that since media outlets that spent weeks sensationalizing the “conspiracy” only spent about twenty seconds collectively addressing the subsequent debunking. None of those outlets seemed to feel the need to correct the record when eight committees all found zero evidence of scientific misconduct. In that regard, perhaps Rose’s new “scandal” is a bit like “Climategate.” Both have been equally amplified by partisan ideologues. Both are equally sensational. And both are equally wrong.
 Karl, Thomas R., et al. “Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus.” Science 348, no. 6242 (2015): 1469-1472. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/348/6242/1469
 For example, Rose claims that buoy data was thrown out, when in fact, the researchers gave considerable preference to buoy data over ship gathered date, at a factor of 7 to 1. He also claims that the NOAA refused to provide the data for the House of Representatives when asked, but the data was, in fact, publicly available.
 Scott Waldman, Scott. “’Whistleblower’ says protocol was breached but no data fraud.” E&E News. February 7, 2017. http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060049630
 Hausfather, Zeke. “Factcheck: Mail on Sunday’s ‘astonishing evidence’ about global temperature rise.” Carbon Brief. February 5, 2017. https://www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-mail-sundays-astonishing-evidence-global-temperature-rise
There have been a lot of scientific explanations and rebuttals appearing very quickly in the last couple of days, all of which thoroughly dismantle Rose’s tabloid sensationalism. These are three of the clearest that I have read through:
- Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. “More fake news in ‘The Mail on Sunday.’” London School of Economics and Political Science February 5, 2017. http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/news/more-fake-news-in-the-mail-on-sunday/
- Kendra Pierre-Louis. “Do not buy the House Science Committee’s claim that scientists faked data until you read this.” Popular Science. February 6, 2017. http://www.popsci.com/regardless-house-science-committee-claims-noaa-scientists-probably-didnt-manipulate-climate-records
- Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units. “On the Mail on Sunday article on Karl et al., 2015.” Department of Geography at Maynooth University. February 5, 2017. http://icarus-maynooth.blogspot.com.au/
The people over at ClimateNexus have put together an annotated list of some of these sites and more which discuss some of the finer details of the science and false claims made in the Rose article.
- John Abraham provides context in the Guardian, and points out the many factors Rose fails to address that, when considered, completely undercut his allegations of misconduct.
- Scott Johnson at Ars Technica spoke with NOAA insiders, and explains how tensions between the science and engineering side of things caused conflict between Karl, who wanted the handling of data to reflect the many sources of the data, and Bates, who advocated for using just one approach that could handle data from many different sources, but sometimes added years to the process.
- Victor Venema of the WMO discusses both the specifics of the data sets as well as some lighthearted context to help understand the “reporting” done by the Mail’s David Rose.
- Ten climate envoys and ministers involved with the Paris Agreement said there was no truth to Rose’s claim that this study influenced their decisions. In fact, a draft of the agreement was already adopted before the paper was released.
- In an interview, Bates pushed back on the allegations made by Rose, and “specified that he did not believe that they manipulated the data upon which the research relied in any way.” And said that “The issue here is not an issue of tampering with data, but rather really of timing of a release of a paper that had not properly disclosed everything it was,” he said.