Freedomnomics

Article published Friday, December 4, 2009, at Fox News.

What Are Global Warming Supporters Trying to Hide?

This is the age of computers and Web sites. If the institutions have the data sets available on their computers, they can easily be put up on a Web site for the world to see.

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Why are global warming advocates so secretive about their data? So far, the spotlight has been on the University of East Anglia and its refusal to release their surface temperature data, by far the most comprehensive long-term worldwide surface data available, but global warming advocates reassure us that this shouldn’t really concern us because some other data sources reportedly show the same thing. Unfortunately, the problem of secretiveness is hardly limited to the University of East Anglia.

Take Queen’s University in Belfast. It has amassed one of the longest-running data collections on tree rings, spanning 7,000 years and ranging from over 1,500 sites around the world. How much a tree grows each season can tell us a lot about temperatures and other climate related variables. You would expect the institution to be proud of this enormous data set they have so diligently created and expect it to want to share the data with anyone who is interested. Not so. Indeed, scholars have now been trying for two-and-a-half years to go through the UK's Freedom of Information Acts to force Queen's University to release the data, but to no avail.

Even our own NASA, which has been caught in really embarrassing mistakes not correctly identifying which years have had the warmest temperatures, refuses to give out its data so that others can figure out inconsistent temperature estimates in the past. In NASA’s case they have refused giving out this data for almost two years. On Thursday, Christopher Horner, a fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, announced that he would give NASA until the end of the year to honor his Freedom of Information Request or he will be forced to bring a lawsuit.

As with the University of East Anglia, all that researchers really wanted, from both Queen’s University and NASA, was the data used in papers that global warming advocates had already published. The researchers requesting the data required no special effort if those with the data had simply been willing to turn over just the data that they had already used.

NASA faces a particularly embarrassing position. In 2007, Steve McIntyre, who runs ClimateAudit.org pointed out serious (though very simple) math errors with NASA’s published work and that, correcting for these, 1998 was not the warmest year, 1934 was. And the third hottest year on record was 1921, not 2006. Instead of the majority of the 10 hottest years occurring since 1990, six of the top 10 had occurred before 1940. Or so everyone thought. NASA did eventually release the corrected average temperature estimates. But NASA, without clearly explaining what it was doing, later recalculated the series again and, somehow, 1934 is yet again, said to be slightly cooler than either 1998 and 2006.

As with all these errors, how many more errors might be lurking in the other estimates made at these climate research institutions? On the other hand, perhaps the latest revision was a statistical "adjustment," similar to what apparently happened at East Anglia. Nobody outside a small group at NASA is privileged to know. Given the political advocacy of NASA’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, we are at least suspicious. The U.N.'s announced investigation into the leaked University of East Anglia should be extended to these other sources that have refused to provide their data as well.

The two institutions of University of East Anglia and NASA have provided the primary data used by global warming advocates. With an alleged increase in global temperatures of about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the middle of the 19th century, even very small corrections or adjustments can potentially make a big difference. There are also significant differences in the data between surface and atmospheric temperatures that might be explained by these data mysteries.

This is the age of computers and Web sites. If the institutions have the data sets available on their computers, they can easily be put up on a Web site for the world to see. No researcher should be trusted if he or she is not willing to share their data gladly. Are we now to believe that NASA, the very institution who managed to put man on the moon, finds the task of uploading data to a Web site too difficult?

*John Lott is the author of Freedomnomics.

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