Climate Change & Tropospheric Temperature Trends

Part II: A Critical Examination of Skeptic Claims
  1. Most natural phenomena respond to being somehow disturbed – or “forced” - as integrated systems rather than as the sum of their individual parts. When “kicked”, the response will be delayed in proportion to the size of their generalized “mass” (that is, how much “inertia” the system has in the relevant response variables with respect to how they are forced), and the relative “softness” with which the forcing is transmitted. This can be seen most clearly in the response of a weight to a force imparted by a spring. A baseball dragged by a steel rod behind a truck will move immediately when the truck does. But if a bowling ball is dragged with a rubber band, there will be a time delay after the truck starts moving before the bowling ball responds. In the case of the earth’s climate, the forcing is thermal (from the sun, and anything terrestrial that increases its efficiency in depositing energy here – like greenhouse gases). The largest reservoirs of thermal “inertia” are the world’s oceans (which have an astronomically high heat retention capability in proportion to the sun’s ability to deposit energy into them) and the “transmission” of the sun’s forcing is via atmospheric and terrestrial systems whose relative thermal conductivities are small compared with the forcing itself and the world’s oceans to temporarily absorb it. In other words, the world’s oceans are thermal “bowling balls” and the atmosphere is a thermal “rubber band”. This is why even though greenhouse gases have been forcing the earth’s biosphere for close to 2 centuries, the response to this forcing has only become noticeable in recent decades.
  2. This paper, titled “Environmental Effects of Increased Carbon Dioxide” has an interesting history. The paper was prepared as a joint project of the Marshall Institute and a tiny anti-environmental front group called the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine based in Cave Junction, Oregon. In early 1998 the paper was mailed to thousands of climate scientists and meteorological professionals, along with a reprint of a 1997 Wall Street Journal editorial titled “Science has spoken – Global warming is a myth” and a plea to sign a petition calling for the U.S. to withdraw support for the Kyoto Protocol. The effort has since come to be called the Global Warming Petition Project. The paper attracted immediate attention because even though it had never been published or peer-reviewed, it was printed in a publishing format that bore a striking resemblance to that of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The letter and editorial it was sent with included among its signatories Frederick Seitz, a former president of the NAS. Shortly thereafter, the NAS issued a press release disassociating themselves from the paper and the petition project and strongly condemned its contents and deceptive publishing format. The incident ranks as one of the larger plagiarism scandals of the last decade.
  3. The Robinson et al. paper accompanying the Global Warming Petition Project was originally released in 1998. For its MSU data sources, the paper cites a reference to UAH Version C in Christy and Braswell (1997) and UAH Version A (Spencer and Christy, 1990). They did not cite Version C more directly (Christy et al., 1998). This paper specifically stated that at least one major source of error in the MSU record, spurious cooling due to orbital decay (Wentz and Schabel, 1998), had not been accounted for in the analysis because the effect had been discovered just after it had returned from galley printing. UAH Version D did take this effect into account, and ended up with a global tropospheric trend significantly larger than that reported by Robinson et al. (Christy et al., 2000). Even though the corrections were well known at the time, Robinson et al. made no attempt to address them. Another typical example can be seen in an Aug. 1, 2003 editorial for Fox News by anti-environmental lobbyist and commentator Steven Milloy. He wrote, “Of course, it’s not even clear that any measurable ‘global warming’ has really occurred, much less that it’s human-induced. Satellite and weather balloon measurements of atmospheric temperatures since the 1970s actually indicate slight cooling to no change” (Milloy, Aug. 1, 2003, my emphasis). Milloy of course, offers no proper citation for this (he seldom does for any of his claims), but once again the reference appears to be to UAH Version C (Christy et al., 1998). He shows no evidence of having made any effort to acquire more recent research, and Fox News certainly did not require him to.

    In both cases, not only were these remarks based on obsolete data, updated information was easily available that even a substandard attempt at scholarship would have uncovered. The MSU data Milloy based his statements on was over six years old and had been through no less than two full revisions when he used it. Robinson et al. did not even bother to cite the actual source of their data, or read it closely enough to cite another well publicized paper directly relevant to its conclusions (Wentz and Schabel, 1998). Furthermore, at the time of this writing the Robinson et al. paper is still being circulated online at the OISM web site ( citing the same obsolete UAH products. The most recent of these is 3 revisions and 8 years old. No attempt has been made to correct the errors in this paper or to update it in any way. Neither Milloy or Robinson et al. considered Prabhakara et al. (1998; 2000), Vinnikov and Grody (2003), or any RSS product. Scholarship this sloppy would be inexcusable in a High School term paper, much less in publications that claim to meet high standards of scientific and/or journalistic professionalism. Yet they are typical of popular industry and ultra-conservative forums. It is perhaps, no accident that of the most watched cable news outlets today, Fox News is the only one that does not have a Science section at their web site or any team specifically dedicated to addressing scientific issues.
  4. The Greening Earth Society is an anti-environmental front group started in 1998 by the coal-fired power interest Western Fuels to convince the public that “using fossil fuels to enable our economic activity is as natural as breathing". Today Western Fuels continues to be their largest benefactor, and a large portion of their budget is devoted to blocking global warming science and mitigation efforts.
  5. Sallie Baliunas, of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is one of the most prominent, and prolific, of today’s professional global warming skeptics. For at least 10 years, she has been a consultant and/or a contributing writer for almost every major industry and far-right front group in existence that has waged war against mainstream climate change science. While she does admit that global warming is happening, she believes that it is driven primarily by solar forcing rather than human activities, and that its effects will either be minor or non-existent. She is also one of the co-authors of the infamous Robinson et al. (1998) paper that accompanied the Global Warming Petition Project. The circulation of the paper and petition had been orchestrated by the Marshall Institute and a tiny far-right think tank called the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM) based in Cave Junction, Oregon. The paper, and the petition that accompanied it, led to one of the more prominent plagiarism scandals of the 90’s when it was published with a print format that was nearly identical to that of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed journal that in fact had never published it. On April 20, 1998, shortly after this paper and the petition project were made public, the NAS issued a press release strongly condemning the paper and its deceptive publishing format and distancing themselves from its conclusions. That statement can be read online at the National Academies web site at To date, none of the paper’s authors, including Baliunas, have retracted it or updated its conclusions in any way. See Footnote 3 above.
  6. The NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis is a composite upper-air analysis product containing several meteorological parameters combined in a global spatial grid of 2.5° x 2.5° (latitude x longitude) resolution from the surface up to the 10 hPa level. It uses data from land and ship based measurements of temperature, wind and humidity, weather forecasts, MSU satellite data, and rawinsonde data (that is, data from radiosondes that have been tracked by radar or radio-theodolite to obtain wind speed and direction). These data sources are tied together by an AGCM (Atmospheric General Circulation Model – no ocean coupling) run in a “frozen” state to evaluate upper-air temperature, pressure, wind, and humidity from 1948 to the present. The MSU data are used to provide weekly raw “soundings” for the Reanalysis. They are not actual weighted brightness temperature measurements of the sort used in upper-air MSU products like those of UAH and RSS, and are independent of those products. Because it is heavily dependent on model based extrapolations from global rawinsonde data, the NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis cannot be considered as independent of the radiosonde record.

    This Reanalysis product has proven to be a valuable tool in many upper-air studies because of its reliance on multiple datasets and the stability of the AGCM that ties them together, minimizing the impact of flaws in any one dataset. However, like other upper-air products it too has difficulties that limit its usefulness for studies of the troposphere and lower stratosphere. These include changes in synoptic land station and ship observations records, contamination of some of its data by surface snow and sea-ice albedo, problems accounting for some regional weather patterns such as the annual Indian monsoon season, and all the same limitations of coverage and record continuity that plague the radiosonde record. It is also subject to many of the same issues facing AOGCM’s as well, which can be more problematic in that it is being used for a fine detail extrapolation of in situ data, whereas AOGCM’s are typically used only for large scale predictions of regional and global upper-air trends. The particular version used by Douglass et al. (2004) for their intercomparison study is a recent update of the Reanalysis that is based on 2-meter resolution vertical layer rawinsonde readings. The original NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis product is best described in Kalnay et al. (1996), and the 2-meter update used by Douglass et al. (2004) is described in Kanamitsu et al. (2002).
  7. Dept. of Physics, University of Rochester, N.Y.
  8. S. Fred Singer, a retired atmospheric physicist formerly with the University of Virginia. Early in his career, he was best known for his work developing upper-air ozone detection instrumentation. After retiring he founded the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP), an anti-environmental “think tank” funded by industry and ultra-conservative interests, where he currently serves as Director (his wife is the organization’s Executive Vice President as well). For well over a decade Singer has been one of the most strident and publicly active of the more prominent global warming contrarians. The SEPP has actively opposed nearly all mainstream environmental science in a wide range of fields including global warming, ozone depletion, pollution, pesticides, and many other issues of interest to its benefactors. SEPP was started in 1990 with seed capital and office space provided by the Unification Church (the “moonies”) that had been funneled through a Washington DC based church front group called the Washington Institute for Values in Public Policy. Since then SEPP has received extensive funding from the fossil fuel, coal-fired power, and automotive industries among others as well as ultra-conservative foundations. Singer has also offered his services to the tobacco industry as Chief Reviewer of the report “Science, economics, and environmental policy: a critical examination” that was published by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution (AdTI) where at the time he was a Senior Fellow. This report was part of an attack on EPA regulation directed at environmental tobacco smoke, and had been funded by the Tobacco Institute. (see Though he is commonly praised as one of America’s most “eminent” scientists by the Far-Right press, it has been some time since Singer has actively participated in the scientific peer-review process beyond critiques of mainstream work submitted as letters or comments (for instance, though he is commonly cited as an “ozone science” expert, he has not published in that area since 1971). His recent co-authorship of two papers in Geophysical Research Letters with Patrick Michaels and David Douglass (Douglass et al, 2004; 2004b) is the exception rather than the rule. In addition to the SEPP, Singer has also been a consultant and/or contributing fellow to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Center for Public Policy Research, Tech Central Station, the Cato Institute, and a number of other industry and ultra-conservative think tanks and front groups. For more on Singer and the SEPP, see Gelbspan (1998; 2004), Beder (1998; 1999), and
  9. Patrick Michaels, currently a research professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, is another of the world’s most prominent professional global warming skeptics. Michaels, whose PhD is in ecological climatology, is probably best known as the editor of the World Climate Review and it’s successor, the World Climate Report. Both have been funded and published the corporation Western Fuels to publicly erode public confidence in all climate change and pollution mitigation efforts. On comparatively rare occasions, Michaels has been known to publish in peer-reviewed journals, his latest efforts being co-authoring the Douglass et al. papers (2004; 2004b) that appeared in the summer of 2004 in Geophysical Research Letters and his paper on global warming “economic signals” (McKitrick and Michaels, 2004) at the same time in Climate Research. But like Fred Singer and nearly all other prominent global warming skeptics, his contributions to the peer-review process are few and far between. Fewer yet are contributions that have survived later scrutiny. An earlier paper by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas (also industry funded professional global warming skeptics) that Climate Research published led to a scandal involving that publication’s review process, resulting in the resignation of several board members including Editor in Chief Hans Von Storch. Michaels has on numerous occasions given testimonies before Congress containing numerous errors regarding data, analysis, and in particular, the use of AOGCM’s. he presented the results of AOGCM research he had done to disprove 20th century global warming that contained basic mathematical errors – in particular, a misunderstanding of the fact that model forcings are not linear and will impact phase lags in model response (this is a misunderstanding basic system dynamics that would be unacceptable on an undergraduate level physics exam). For more on this incident, see the appendix of Gelbspan (1998). During his skeptic career, Michaels has been involved with numerous industry and ultra-conservative think tanks and front groups including Tech Central Station, the Cooler Heads Coalition, the Greening Earth Society, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Consumer Alert, the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC - a tobacco industry front started by Philip Morris and commentator/lobbyist Steven Milloy to combat the science relating second hand smoke to lung cancer), the American Policy Center, and many more. Over the years he has received funding from the fossil fuel, auto, coal-fired power, and mining industries as well as a variety of ultra-conservative foundations. He has also been a resource for a number of front groups for the “Wise Use” movement advocating anti-environmental and property rights extremism, including People for the West. For more on Michaels, see Gelbspan (1998; 2004), Beder (1998; 1999), and
  10. In January of 2003 Climate Research published a paper by global warming skeptics Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in which it was claimed that the “Hockey Stick” graph – the plot of global surface temperature vs. historical time that shows a sharp rise at the end of the 20th century that has no precedent during the last 1000 years – was flawed, and that the late 20th century warming was not at all unusual for this period (Soon and Baliunas, 2003). The paper presented a literature review rather than original research, and examined a wide range of temperature proxy records including data from ice cores, corals, tree rings, and more. I eventually came out that the paper had not been submitted through the regular channels but had instead been sent directly to Chris de Freitas, an editor at Climate Research and a known global warming skeptic. De Freitas then sent the paper out for review by people of his own choosing, giving Soon and Baliunas and end-run around more rigorous channels. After publication the paper was found to be riddled with errors, including partiality with data records, inappropriate data comparisons, a systematic conflation of humidity and temperature data, and flawed analysis. Almost immediately ultra-conservative politicians in the U.S., few of whom had any science background at all much less any background in paleoclimatology, proclaimed the study as a triumph of “sound science” over “eco-extremism”. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) even went so far as to say the paper had created a “paradigm shift” in climate change science. To no one’s surprise, the Bush administration jumped on the bandwagon as well, and even attempted to force an edit of an Environmental Protection Agency report to include reference to the Soon and Baliunas paper. The scientific community, appropriately alarmed by the spectre of political end-runs around the peer-review process and becoming public policy, published a number of rebuttals to it. Several editors at Climate Research, including Editor-in-Chief Hans von Storch, eventually resigned and the journal’s publisher, Otto Kinne, finally admitted that the paper was seriously flawed and never should have been published (Kinne, 2003).
  11. SHAZAM is an econometrics program originally developed by the University of British Columbia (Copyright by K.J. White) to handle large linear and non-linear regression problems of multiple varieties. I has its own user interface and language and is widely used for problems of the sort addressed by MM. It is available for multiple Operating System environments, but for problems of the magnitude tackled by MM’s analysis it is typically run in a Unix environment with a FORTRAN or C compiler. More information about SHAZAM is available from the SHAZAM web site at The SHAZAM User’s Guide is available at, and with a compatible input data file, the program can even be run over the Internet at
  12. The SHAZAM various input command and output files from MM’s paper, along with a zipped folder of their Soviet station data and the paper’s abstract can be downloaded from McKitrick’s U. of Guelph web site at At the time of Lambert’s investigation, the input file posted at this page had McKitrick’s original input .dif file containing the erroneous latitude inputs. At the time of this writing (Dec. 2004) that file has been removed and replaced with a corrected one, along with a correction notice in PDF format in which McKitrick presents the impact of the data corrections on his results, and argues that it is “small”. More about Lambert’s results and McKitrick’s responses to it can be found at Lambert’s online weblog Deltoid at Economist John Quiggin of the University of Queensland, Australia, later duplicated Lambert’s findings and provided other critiques of MM’s work. His comments can be found at the Crooked Timber online weblog at Both links were available as referenced at the time of this writing in Dec. 2004.
  13. It is important to note here that Tett and Thorne are not climate change skeptics. In particular, they are definitely not industry and Far-Right funded professional skeptics like most of the others discussed in this paper. Unlike these, who operate mainly on the scientific fringe, and for entirely ideological reasons, Tett and Thorne have distinguished themselves as among the world’s most important contributors to the subject of upper-air dynamics. Though their treatment of the Fu et al. methods is, in my opinion, lacking in some respects, they have brought up some perfectly valid concerns that rightly should be addressed (Part I of this paper discusses their arguments as well). Their comments are discussed here, in a skeptic rebuttal paper, only because skeptics can, and likely will, take advantage of their remarks in misleading ways for their own purposes.
  14. The concept of certainty is crucial here. In public discussions of scientific and environmental issues like global warming, endless confusion results from fundamental misunderstandings of this word. When scientists speak of “uncertainty” they are referring to something very specific - the standard errors and/or confidence intervals on their data. In other words, how accurate their measurements are and within what spread of values the results are known to fall. As I write these words I do not know to within a few feet how far away the Eiffel Tower is from where I am now sitting. But I do know with absolute certainty that it is more than 6000 miles and less than 10,000. By contrast, in popular usage, “uncertainty” is usually taken to mean lack of knowledge. If it’s uncertain, then I don’t really know it at all. This is false. I do know how far away the Eiffel Tower is! I just don’t know it with absolute precision. This confusion allows advocacy groups to reposition solid scientific results as though they were mere guesses that had no basis in observation.
  15. The media’s emphasis on balance is both necessary and admirable. But it is meant to guarantee equal exposure to all beliefs and opinions, not all statements. It is ill suited to matters of science where data and evidence have been brought to bear and consensus positions have been reached by communities of professionals dealing with a large knowledge base. There is a reason why institutions do not grant “equal time” to flat earth theories in geography and astronomy classes, even though these beliefs have their proponents. Though this is less obvious in debates about climate change, it is nevertheless every bit as real, and even more problematic, precisely because it is not as obvious and far more is at stake. Popular media outlets are not generally equipped to discriminate legitimate science from pseudoscience. As such, they are particularly vulnerable to being swayed by any organization that can field someone with a scientific degree, or even a largely arbitrary title like “Senior Fellow”, even though the individual in question may never have published in the field he/she is speaking about, or had nearly every contribution they made overturned by later research. Far Right advocacy groups have mastered the art of taking advantage of this to garner for themselves a legitimacy in the eyes of the general public, and in Congressional circles, that they would never be able to sustain if it were subjected to proper scientific scrutiny.
  16. This paper deals mainly with professional skeptics and industry and Far Right funded front groups. For reasons which should be obvious, these groups and their hired guns draw almost exclusively on UAH upper-air products for their arguments. Because of this, at the risk of being overly repetitive, it is necessary to continually reiterate one important point: None of the criticisms in this paper of skeptic front groups or their hired consultants should imply that John Christy, Roy Spencer, or any member of the UAH team are fringe scientists of the same sort. It is true that both are well known climate change skeptics and have contributed to various ultra-conservative front group forums as global warming speakers or writers, including some that are discussed in this paper. Christy has consulted for the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Hoover Institute, and been a guest speaker at some conventions funded by similar groups. Likewise, Spencer has contributed to Tech Central Station (as we saw above) and other similar forums.

    All similarity ends there however. Christy and Spencer have never taken funds from ideologically driven front groups or allowed their beliefs to demonstrably impact the quality of their work – all of which has been peer-reviewed, properly published, and subjected to the highest standards of quality. They regularly share their results with other teams, including those who do not necessarily share their conclusions, and ruthlessly screen their own work for any omission or failing, updating it whenever necessary. They have repeatedly shown themselves to be willing to modify their conclusions whenever truly compelling evidence was put before them. Whatever their personal beliefs about global warming, or whatever contributions they may have made to Far Right front groups, this puts them in a completely different class than the skeptic front groups and professional consultants that are the main subject of this work – who are ultimately pursuing an economic and/or ideological agenda for their own benefit rather than the advancement of science.


AOGCM   -   Oceanic and Atmospheric General Circulation Model.

AMSU   -   Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit.

AVHRR   -   Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer.

CARDS   -   Comprehensive Aerological Reference Data Set.

CMAP   -   Climate Prediction center Merged Analysis of Precipitation.

CPC   -   Climate Prediction center. NOAA/National Weather Service.

CRU   -   The Climate Research Unit. University of East Anglia, Norwich, U.K.

DEA   -   Douglass et al.


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