2 Jul 2010, 12:55pm
Latest Climate News
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Noble Cause Corruption

Anthony Watts interviewed

by Tom Minchin, Quadrant Online, June 30, 2010 [here]

Climate science depends utterly on the integrity of its measurements. In order to extrapolate and make forecasts, there can be no errors in the data. How reliable are the measurements climate scientists use? What happens if their measuring apparatus is altered by something as simple as a coat of paint that lifts the average recordings? Will anyone spot it? And if someone does, what happens if such a desired result matters more than getting the facts straight?

An expert on these questions, Anthony Watts, founder of the most widely visited climate site in the world, the US-based Watts Up With That, (47.3 million hits since the fall of 2007, compared with the leading alarmist site RealClimate’s 11.7 million since December 2004), is wrapping up his national tour at the moment and I spoke to him in Melbourne.

At the start of the interview, Watts, a former TV weatherman, confirmed that he did not begin as a skeptic. As he put it himself with typical bluntness, “I started out actually just being a climate alarmist. I got involved with saving the planet by helping other weather forecasters do the same thing through planting trees. Then when I met the State climatologist in California, his data changed my mind and now I’m a skeptic.”

Watts was not content to let his view rest on someone else’s data. He researched the matter in a wholly original way. Talking to him it became clear just how plain honesty and an inquiring mind are fatal to the alarmist cause. His alertness to measurement problems began well before his skepticism.

When I was in college one of the first jobs I had was to assemble a Stevenson Screen [the slatted box on stilts that protects meteorological instruments from undue influences, widely used up until 1984], and I remember the whitewash coming off in my hand. I’d always wondered about that. My professor told me we couldn’t change it because even though it was an inferior coating that flaked off, it just couldn’t be changed. Then when I learned in 1979 that the Weather Bureau had changed the specification to latex I wondered if that made a difference—and there didn’t seem to be anything in the literature about it. And so as I’d often wondered about it, I finally got around to doing the experiment, and when I did the experiment I discovered that there was indeed a difference, a significant difference [a thermometer in a latex painted screen records a higher average temperature], which was as large as the agreed upon global warming signal. So that sparked my interest. And then when I went to visit screens to test the paint issue, I discovered stations were poorly sited. And so that grew into a larger situation. …

But I asked how climate professionals can excuse themselves and what he meant by a term he used to me: “Noble Cause Corruption.” The term was originally a legal one. … I asked him what he meant by it in the climate context. He replied:

Noble Cause Corruption is a belief that what you’re doing is so much more important than what anyone else is doing because your cause is noble, you’re saving the planet, and because you’re saving the planet, you are doing it for the good of mankind. Therefore your cause is much more important than everyone else’s. There was a time when I actually felt that way, when I was doing a project related to planting trees, and having TV meteorologists plant trees back around 1990. It’s easy to get caught up in that Noble Cause Corruption because it makes you feel good. It makes you feel important. It makes you feel powerful. And so all of those things combine to put a blinder on you as to what you’re really doing.

… [more]

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