What’s the Watts paper actually mean, Dude?

As a young man, my first mode of powered transport was motorbikes. Like all bikers, there was this thing you noticed about passing from the open countryside into a built up area. Basically, cities were warmer than the countryside, and exposed as you are to the elements on a bike, that was always welcome on a long ride, especially during a chilly Winter’s evening. Though I didn’t know it, I was experiencing first hand something called the Urban Heat Island effect or UHI. Built up areas are always warmer than open countryside.

Depending on whose definition of city you accept, a very generous estimate of just less than 1% of the Earth’s surface is covered by cities. If I wanted to measure the average global temperature, but only used temperature gauges in cities, I’d obviously get a falsely high result. If I wanted an accurate result, it would seem reasonable to take 99% of my readings from thermometers located outside cities, 1% from ones located inside cities, and average the results.

Where a thermometer is sited, is therefore of critical importance. We live in a changing world, as do thermometers. What may have once been a reasonable place to site a thermometer, may become a bad place in the future. For instance, originally placing one in open country a few miles outside town, may now be a bad location, because over the years, the town has grown outwards to surround it. It’s now in town.

To get any credible result, a system is required which assesses, for each station, how reliable the data from it is. The Watts paper uses a new station classification system, which is now the world standard, called Leroy 2010. It basically grades each station on a scale of one to five, with one being excellent quality and five being the pits. Of the five categories, only the first two are what I’d call decent data. You could use the other three as well, but only after you “adjusted” for how bad the data from them is, and as you’d imagine, the adjustment is really just a guess.

What they’ve found is that using the new categorisation system, the world has warmed by about one tenth of a degree over the last three decades, which appears to be no cause for alarm. However, this number contrasts sharply with government sponsored estimates, which are about twice that.

I’ve no doubt that this paper is going to get looked at hard. If it’s right, and looking at the calibre of the people involved in its production, I think it is, then a shed load of research work based on the current faulty numbers is going to get trashed. It even mullers the latest BEST project’s results, which as usual though pre-announced in the media, have yet to be published.

This is gloriously old-fashioned science. It’s heavy, being done by unpaid volunteers on no budget and it’s totally transparent. The paper is at a draft stage at the moment but follow this link and you’ll find your way to it. You won’t even need to think about using Freedom of Information legislation to get access to it for yourself. It’s there right now, because they’ve got absolutely nothing to hide. They want you to go check it out, kick the tyres, bump the suspension, give your opinion and generally ensure it’s solid science.

Congratulations to you and your posse, Anthony. If this is what you guys can do with no budget, Lord only knows what you could do with a fraction of the megabucks routinely thrown at global warming research.

To answer the question above, what the Watts paper actually means, is that a lot of people have spent a lot of our taxpayer money and came up with a number that’s wrong by over 100%.


Related articles by Pointman:

Mullering the data.

Is climate science just a belief?

Click for a list of other articles.

9 Responses to “What’s the Watts paper actually mean, Dude?”
  1. kim2ooo says:

    Point On – 🙂


  2. Petrossa says:

    Driving from Monaco to the Italian border you have a beautiful mountain road that runs along the coast at about 600 feet. I often take my bike on that road. along that road it can happen that you go through temperature changes of more then 5 C whilst being in the same sun during the 15 mile stretch.

    Where i live it’s about the same temperature at night as during the day. A few degrees difference. And it never gets below 0 C. 10 miles further on the temperature fluctuates more then 10C and it can freeze up to 6C on the same day it doesn’t where i live.

    Every year.

    There is no such thing as a measurable general temperature.


  3. Mindert Eiting says:

    Yes, this article is a game changer but we need a replication. Australia, China, Russia, does not matter. I had to stop motor biking because of my age. Always a sad decision but in my dreams I drive on.


    • Pointman says:

      Always a sad occasion when you have to move to four wheels. I only gave up biking because the kids got too big to fit in the panniers …



      • Truthseeker says:

        “… the kids got too big to fit in the panniers …”
        Clearly you do not live in South-East Asia then … 🙂


  4. Wow I’m going all sceptical today. Sorry Pointman got to disagree:

    ” It’s all there right now, because they’ve got absolutely nothing to hide.”

    That is simply untrue. The data has not been released that they have used, no station names even. So as it stands all we have is a half-finished “paper” with no data or methodology released, which to me means that as it stands it’s worth no more than a “team” effort.


  5. Graeme No.3 says:

    Curiously, the dispute about figures is only over the last 50 years (Muller 0.83℃ v Watts 0.45 ℃ [1979-2008]). Muller pulls the old trick of starting at a cold period to exaggerate the rise. Had he, or Watts, started in 1938 then the rise would be much smaller.

    Watts claims that they (NOAA) are adjusting figures from good sites upwards to match the temp. rise in the bad sites, thus inflating the rise. Hardly disputable, as “adjusting” has been admitted in USA, UK, Australia and NZ, and all the “adjustments” increase the temperature since WW2, and often lower those in the twenties and thirties.

    Muller claims a rate of 0.056 ℃ per decade over 250 years; Akasofu claimed 0.06 ℃ per decade over last 2 centuries. That would make a likely rise since 1710 of 1.8 ℃. Why 1710? Well, it was the coldest winter for 8-900 years in Europe, and possibly the best candidate for “end of Little Ice Age”, as by the 1730’s the summers in England were hot. So hot in fact, that at least 7 of the 10 hottest summers in England occurred in the 1730’s.

    The error range is ± 0.28 ℃ so we are fighting over hundredths of a degree, and the small matter of whether CO2 is causing any of it.


  6. Peter Hannan says:

    Hi, I’m new. Yes! Anthony Watts’ (et al.) paper is still in review stage, with some technical issues to sort out, but it’s basic and important. If the data are measured badly, as the paper indicates, we don’t have any basis for understanding, or making far-reaching decisions.


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