A former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist said the agency expedited a landmark global warming study to publication before it had gone through the full gamut of data quality checks and archiving, seemingly confirming a whistleblower complaint the climate study was rushed to publication.
Thomas Peterson, a principal scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information scientist and co-author of the study in question, told ScienceInsider “they worked to find a way to abide by the agency’s data rules without delaying further,” though he said they did so following the “letter of the law.”
Peterson said NOAA officials decided in 2014 to push a contentious study that claimed to debunk the notion of a “pause” in global warming once they “realized the significance it could have.”
NOAA officials apparently wanted to publish the so-called Karl study, named after lead author Tom Karl, despite concerns it had not gone through the data quality process championed by agency whistleblower Dr. John Bates, the former principal scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.
Peterson said that process would have taken too long.
“My view of the decisions is they met the letter of the law,” Peterson told ScienceInsider. “And I would say—if I was trying to be polite—that John would view it as it didn’t meet the full, strict measure of what should be done in an optimum condition. But it would have delayed getting this paper out for at least 2 years.”
Bates accused Karl and his colleagues of manipulating scientific guidelines and methodologies to rush out their study before it had gone through proper data quality checks. Bates also accused Karl of keeping his “thumb on the scale” to “maximize warming and minimize documentation.”
Bates said Karl was determined to “discredit the notion of a global warming hiatus and rush to time the publication of the paper to influence national and international deliberations on climate policy.”
ScienceInsider reports Bates never “formally raised his concerns through internal NOAA mechanisms,” but Bates told The Daily Caller News Foundation he did speak “off the record with several folks to express concerns” as well as with NOAA’s “scientific integrity officer.”
Karl’s study found “corrected and updated global surface temperature data from NOAA’s [National Centers for Environmental Information] do not support the notion of a global warming ‘hiatus.’”
Most of the increased warming was achieved through tweaks to the way NOAA weights buoys in sea surface temperature measurements. The “new analysis exhibits more than twice as much warming as the old analysis at the global scale,” the study found.
Karl’s study was seized upon by politicians and environmentalists as proof global warming was worse than previously believed. House Republicans were quick to look into the study, and eventually heard from other whistleblowers the study had been rushed for political purposes.
The Karl study was released just two months before President Barack Obama unveiled his signature global warming rule, the Clean Power Plan. Later in 2015, United Nations delegates met in Paris to hash out a global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Bates’s recent remarks reignited House lawmakers’ investigation into the Karl study, and House Committee on Science, Space and Technology members plan on asking NOAA to turn over documents subpoenaed in 2015.
Bates’s comments didn’t sit well with everyone in the science community. Some scientists and science organizations came out in support of the Karl study, arguing it was independently verified two years later.
ScienceInsider, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science that also runs the journal where the Karl study was published, framed the issue as simply “culture clash” within NOAA about data quality checks.
Indeed, the editor-in-chief of Science and AAAS president Rush Holt came out in defense of the study, saying they had no plans to review or retract the study based on Bates’ concerns.
But Peterson’s comments tend to confirm what Bates said — the Karl study was released without going through all the data quality checks. Karl’s data has since been archived by NOAA, which Bates says happened because of his whistleblowing.
Karl, the former director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, admitted to The Daily Mail the data behind his study had not been archived, in accordance with NOAA policy.
“John Bates is talking about a formal process that takes a long time,” Karl said, adding he and his colleagues did not have political considerations when rushing their study. “There was no discussion about Paris.”
A NOAA spokesman said the agency will “review” the Karl study and take appropriate action.
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