About That Satellite Data

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Last December, the United States Senate subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, headed by Ted Cruz, held a hearing to which they invited a gaggle of climate change deniers and one good guy to testify about how the science on climate change is all wrong. I wrote about it here. The strangest aspect of this hearing was probably shock jock Mark Steyn’s use of the venue to argue his case in a civil law suit pertaining to his apparently libelous behavior. But there was another feature of this hearing worth noting. Both the deniers, in particular John Christy, and Senator Cruz focused on a set of data that they construed to indicated showed that global warming is not really happening.

The oceans are warming significantly. The Earth’s surface, as measured by thermometers as well as direct and indirect measurements of the sea surface, is warming significantly. The only people who doubt this are those who are either very badly misinformed or politically or financially motivated to deny reality.

But among the data are satellite based measurements of the troposphere. These data also show warming if properly analyzed, but some forms of these data can be used to make a graph that might give the impression that the warming we clearly see is not happening, or at least, not happening much.

So what is going on here? Are these satellite data telling the Real Truth, contrary to what all the other data show, or is this just a bad data set, or are these data being abused by contrarians?

Most of the satellite data in question come from a set of birds that are deployed for use in weather prediction, but secondarily measure the temperature of the Troposphere. They have sensors that collect microwave energy emitted by Oxygen molecules to estimate temperature. This technique has certain advantages and certain disadvantages, and is fairly easy to deploy.

How one goes from these microwave signals to a temperature measurement is actually very complicated. This has been further complicated by the failure of some of the instruments, and the fact that over time the satellites, in a polar orbit, lose altitude over time, which changes how the readings must be calibrated. Also, the satellites are supposed to pass over the Earth at nearly noon and nearly midnight (on opposite sides of the planet) as the Earth rotates beneath. But this synchronization goes off over a period of time as well.

And that is the simple version.

There have been many studies of these data, and attempts to adjust for all of the problems in this methodology. The experts do not all agree on how to correct the data. There are two approaches commonly used to produce potentially usable data (known as RSS and UAH) and each has advantages and disadvantages.

Skeptical Science has a set of three discussions, couched in less or more technical terms, of how this all works. If this is of interest to you, check it out.

Tamino, at Open Mind, addressed Ted Cruz’s misuse of the satellite data and concludes,

When Ted Cruz said that both satellites and balloon data fail to show warming, he was just plain wrong. When he said these data sets were the best evidence of whether warming is occurring, he was just plain wrong. Together, those two claims make up point number 4 of the 7 things he called “facts” — but he was wrong about their being facts. They’re just claims, claims which are just plain wrong.

Ted Cruz also didn’t seem able to keep straight how many of his so-called “facts” he listed. There were 7, but he repeatedly referred to 8. I guess when it comes to counting anywhere near as high as 10, Ted Cruz is again likely to be just plain wrong.

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42 thoughts on “About That Satellite Data

  1. They’re largely interchangeable, but the witness pushing the satellite data was John Christy, not Roy Spencer (who wasn’t there at all).

  2. The satellite data is supposed to be calibrated with the radiosonde data and the radiosonde data shows just as much surface warming (while they’re still at the surface obviously) as the normal surface thermometers.

    So if the satellite data really could show surface temperature it would have to show the same warming as the surface thermometers.

  3. So Ted Cruz is right: Outer Space is cold.

    Now, please have him explain what happened to the missing ice… Here on EARTH.

  4. #6 toby52 Ted Cruz is the consummate rhetorician. He is pretty much a genius at misleading people. He has been to the finest school for such misplaced talent, and he excelled there. He has been well schooled in the art of winning arguments without fact or science. In the mean time, science and scientists in the US are suffering from a serious communication breakdown, IMO. It seems like that the people who have invested the most in gathering the lower half of the intelligence bell curve to their sides are the religionists and the most cynical of right wing politicians and business people. Things really do not bode well for the USA unless the electorate here can grow some brains within the next year. Here is a breakdown of how the US presidential candidates stack up on an a little AP science test. Note: Cruz is the worst, and, in our pathetically addle brained land, this complete lack of science acumen has thus far not hurt him in the slightest.

    http://ecowatch.com/2015/11/24/ted-cruz-climate-science/

  5. I am looking for a word. I am looking for a word to describe ignorance of basic science. We have the word illiterate to describe people who cannot read or write. We have the word innumerate to describe people who cannot do math or arithmetic. But we have a crying need for an erudite word to describe people who have an ignorance of basic science. The word inscient is ambiguous and useless, as it has two meanings that are diametrically opposed to each other.. and it doesn’t specifically refer to scientific knowledge. The word nescient, is close, but it refers to people who have a lack of knowledge, and there are other kinds of knowledge besides scientific knowledge.

    So I am proposing the creation of the word igscient, pronounced ig-shent, to describe people like US Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, or US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, neither of whom appear to have basic training in science, but both of whom have powerful positions on Science and Technology committees in their respective governing bodies.

    This new word would be used for describing just about everyone on FOX “news”; It would be useful to describe the whole troop of monkeys who populate the right wing radio jungle. It would be especially useful to describe every single one of the US Republican presidential candidates, including Dr. Ben Carson, who somehow appears to have parlayed his unerring skill with knifes into a brilliant career in surgery, without shown any recent evidence of being able to articulate or understand a single basic scientific principle!

    Further, I would like the US Congress to write into their rules the need for members of congressional committees dealing with science and technology to have a basic understanding of and training in science. It should be written into their little rule books that members of these committees cannot be igscient. Is that too much to ask?

  6. Narcissism“, as it denotes excessive self-centeredness to the point of ignoring reality (i.e., what science reveals about the world) and the substitute focus on self-concerned fantasies; lacking interest in other people and the surrounding world.

    This certainly describes all the groups you mention.

    Noun
    1. Inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.
    2. (Often) erotic or other gratification derived from admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, being a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development.

  7. ‘Scientifically ignorant’ and ‘scientifically incompetent ‘both work for me.

    If single words are really necessary the portmanteaux scignorant and scincompetent might suffice.

  8. I think you need to work in a connotation of arrogance (as most of them seem to be proud of being ignorant of science & reality). This is not just a state of being uninformed or incompetent, as those states are remedied by learning.

    These adversaries of humanity are steadfast in their refusal to be so educated, and resist becoming informed. Beginning college students may be “scignorant” and “scincompetent”, but they are distinguished by their intent and action of changing that state to one of being informed and so enlightened.

    Another useful connotation would therefore be “self-destructive”, as this commitment to fight against scientific findings, the process, and those engaged in it are, ultimately, to the personal detriment of the haughty self-deceived. And of course, when embodied in a politician, it becomes malevolent, as the destructive aspects become visited on the populace.

    Looking at these politicians, Faux Newz airheads, and troop of right wing radio monkeys, it becomes evident that they are wrapped up in their own “cult of self”, their insular view of reality as they wish to define it, rather than Reality as revealed by Science. They are continuously making the mistake of “believing everything they think” — and their thinking is very self-centered.

    Yet there are many parallels and common elements to all these anti-reality groups that suggest a common classification, as SteveP points out.

    In short, they are in love with themselves and their cherished, disconnected-from-reality ideologies. This is what keeps them from learning and keeps them from having any respect for science.

    Hence, they strike me as being narcissists. Ideological narcissists. How to squeeze that into a single term??

  9. Okay, for the politicians, Faux Newz airheads, and troop of right wing radio monkeys, there is one term that comes close: Demagogue.

    “One who appeals to fears, prejudices, and ignorance to gain power and promote political agendas, using arguments based on emotion rather than reason.”

    While not directly denoting anti-science/anti-reality, it does embody it, as demagogues eschew the use of rationality and reason in attempting to influence. I.e., they have no use for science, scientific thought, or results.

    But it’s another term that would be hard to fashion into a portmanteau or neologism, unlike, e.g., “ass-hat”.

  10. Great collection of neologisms! Kudos to all. I think that any of these words can be used to modify the word demagogue to great effect. As to the arrogance and narcissism that can be so irritating, Brainstorms, I am still trying to characterize them. Are they a cause or a symptom? When I look at the cold, calculating demagogue behaviors this crowd of would be leaders is exhibiting, behaviors apparently built upon rigid foundations of ideology and self interest, I am concerned about who or what is driving these people… and about the inability of so many people to see them for what they are . Maybe it is the narcissism that you point out that is driving them. They seem to have built their highly self confident personas with the help of a system that nurtured their self love and graded them highly and pushed them into the current limelight. This system, which I characterize as a kind of business/legal/academic/religious/stability complex, seems to be devoid of a need for, or any obvious concern about, the sort of reality testing that any good scientist practices continually. They have a self contained bubble universe that is largely impervious to physical realities that concern others of us. They test the reality of their rapport with their audience daily and get confirmation of the righteousness of their beliefs again and again. They are insulated from the influence of climate and famine. They will be richly rewarded during their lifetimes for maintaining the status quo and fostering the interests of themselves and their like minded mentors and backers. It’s those like minded mentors and backers that really interest me at the moment. Da boyz in da back room. People who would push a Carly Fiorina into the upper echelons of the once great HP… to what end?

    I have to go refresh my tinfoil. Cheers.

  11. #14 Brainstorms

    I do find myself using ‘demagogue’ a fair bit these days. It is the mot juste, I think. Also ‘ideologue’ (usually but perhaps redundantly, ‘right-wing ideologue’).

    ‘Dangerous idiots’ also covers the spectrum fairly well.

  12. “ignoscIrate”

    “tetchiopathic prattism”
    “thrawn anti-cognate tribal nihilism”

    Or perhaps more succinctly:
    “ass-canon”

  13. SteveP and #9

    But we have a crying need for an erudite word to describe people who have an ignorance of basic science.

    I started using the label ‘ignorati’ a few years back but that does not quote fit those who are wilfully ignorant of science or who intentionally mislead because of ambitions as a career politician intent on grabbing as much of the power/lucre mixture as they can.

    What humanity, and fellow global travellers need right now is more influence for those with more evolved brains who do not think it necessary to get ever richer at the expense of our life support systems and that enough to get by plus a little to make it living rather than an existence is all that is required to live a full life. Those who rise to the top such as Cruz have doubtless trod on many other along the way whilst following the primitive instincts of the hunter-gatherer.

  14. I agree with you, BBD, as I think “demagogue” seems to neatly incorporate key elements of both “narcissist” and “ideologue”.

    …although OA’s “ignoscirate” has a nice ring to it.

  15. I had intended to add to:

    “Those who rise to the top such as Cruz have doubtless trod on many other along the way whilst following the primitive instincts of the hunter-gatherer.”

    but was interrupted, so:

    But like you SteveP it is those who pull the strings of the likes of Cruz, and those of similar ilk here in the UK (Matt Ridley comes to mind) who are of the most interest. This is why the work of Robert Brulle and John Mashey are illuminating.

  16. Cosmi, I think the proper combined form would be “morophilia”: n., the almost erotic attraction to being notably stupid or lacking in good judgment.

  17. This group’s Latin maxim:
    ignoramus et ignorabimus

    meaning “We do not know and will not know”, standing for a position on the self-imposed limitation of knowledge of science, in the thought of twenty-first century right-wing ideology. (Ironic, of course, given the phrase’s lineage…)

  18. Already extant:
    Nescience, nescient.
    Sciolism, sciolist.

    I love ignorance!
    Ignoramour, ignoramourous.

    An ignoramourous ignoramus.

  19. Ass-canons. I suppose those would be the rules of ignorance promulgated by elephantine asses like Senator Cruz. The faulty information of the right wing is spread through flatuence, a form of political influence that comes in the form of ass-canons shot from the ass-cannons of elephantine asses. Yeah. That works. That works fine.

  20. I made a YouTube video on the subject. Cruz cited data in a way that the scientists who collected and manipulated the data have constantly stated should not be cited. Stating RSS data are “temperature measurements” is one of the ways denialists lie.

  21. Nice video, Desertphile. Here is the link for those interested

    Well, perhaps if we have a wild enough year weather wise, Senator Cruz will be thrown off of his hobby horse. He appears to be resonating with a large segment of the ignorant US electorate, so we are going to be treated to his whining voice for at least the next ten months.Senator Tweezer Tongue is like a Greek tragedy mask come to life. It will be a very real tragedy if he doesn’t get toppled before the end of the year.

    1. SteveP: Nice video, Desertphile. Here is the link for those interested

      Thank you. I am horrified to see anti-science, anti-reality assholes in charge of the USA committee on science and technology. I had hoped we saw that last of that behavior in Stalinist Russia.

      Senator Tweezer Tongue is like a Greek tragedy mask come to life. It will be a very real tragedy if he doesn’t get toppled before the end of the year.

      As long as bribery is legal in the USA government, Cruz and his ilk will run the government.

  22. Ted Cruz fact check: which temperature data are the best?
    “In the end, Ted Cruz’s claim is rated false by every objective measure.”
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jan/18/ted-cruz-fact-check-which-temperature-data-are-the-best
    Contains some useful graphs.

    Analysis of Ted Cruz’s climate statements
    “The candidate is altogether wrong about ‘adjusting the numbers’ and about data and facts.”
    Rasmus Benestad

    “This candidate shows a profound ignorance of the observational records, the climate science — and indeed of the scientific method.”
    David Battisti

    http://climatefeedback.org/evaluation/analysis-of-ted-cruz-climate-statements/

    The site evaluates all presidential candidates’ climate knowledge. Cruz is the only one who scores 0 out of 100.
    http://climatefeedback.org/how-much-do-the-us-presidential-candidates-know-about-climate-change/

  23. A pure ideologically-driven reality. Sounds like a good working definition of insanity.

    Rather than be installed as president, Cruz should be committed to an institution and given Thorazine. For the rest of his life.

    1. Brainstorms: Rather than be installed as president, Cruz should be committed to an institution and given Thorazine. For the rest of his life.

      Or just deport the bastard. I see in the news that it looks like Ted Cruz is not only a bastard—he is also a bastard. I wonder how the USA Constitution handles presidential candidates who had a non-USA mother who was not married to a USA citizen until after the candidate was born. Cruz lied about when he and his brother were born, and lied about when his parents were married— that makes him the perfect Republican Party candidate.

  24. Desertphile, isn’t there a law against “dumping hazardous refuse in other countries”? Perhaps it’s because these things have ways of seeping across the borders later, causing additional harm to U.S. citizens.

    1. Brainstorms: Desertphile, isn’t there a law against “dumping hazardous refuse in other countries”? Perhaps it’s because these things have ways of seeping across the borders later, causing additional harm to U.S. citizens.

      Canada signed on to NAFTA along with Mexico, which means USA laws about toxic waste do not apply in border towns: treaties trump national laws. We can dump Ted Cruz in Tijuana and it would be legal; it would be anti-neighborly.

  25. Well, since we now know that Cruz’s old man lied about his importance and how strongly he “fought” for Castro against Batista, then lied about when he came to the States (which Ted continued to do), Cruz’s lack of integrity seems to be a family tradition.

    1. dean: “Well, since we now know that Cruz’s old man lied about his importance and how strongly he “fought” for Castro against Batista, then lied about when he came to the States (which Ted continued to do), Cruz’s lack of integrity seems to be a family tradition.”

      It is spooky to see how very little it matters when politicians are constantly caught lying; there are literally no consequences—- they are still funded and supported by voters. PolitiFact and FactCheck both reported they were unable to find even one true statement by Trump in the most recent debate, and Trump still leads in most polls.

  26. Dr. Christy’s Senate testimony included a graph which showed that climate models overestimate Global average mid-tropospheric temperature increases when compared to satellite observations – which proves that models underestimate climate sensitivity.
    (Since models overestimate the tropospheric “hotspot”, they must overestimate lapse rate feedback, which is negative, and would slow warming)
    Even Judith “uncertainty monster” Curry would have to thank Dr Christy for improving climate sensitivity estimates by narrowing the spread (from unreasonably low Lewisian estimates).

    1. Brian Dodge: “Dr. Christy’s Senate testimony included a graph which showed that climate models overestimate Global average mid-tropospheric temperature increases when compared to satellite observations – which proves that models underestimate climate sensitivity.”

      Ah, okay, I give up: you “know” that how, exactly?

    2. Dodgey: “Since models overestimate the tropospheric “hotspot”, they must overestimate lapse rate feedback, which is negative, and would slow warming”

      Since models overestimate the magnitude of a negative feedback, correcting that overestimate would increase the climate sensitivity.

  27. The Tropospheric hotspot (which has been observed-http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/10/5/054007/meta) is probably not as pronounced as the ensemble of climate models project,

    which is also why it can’t be observed except by newer careful analysis of existing radiosonde data; this study by Sherwood et al confirms “… as shown in previous studies, tropospheric warming

    does not reach quite as high in the tropics and subtropics as predicted in typical models.” Which is also why Dr. Christy’s graph of satellite mid tropospheric temperature increase observations are

    smaller than predicted by models(independent confirmation). The energy(latent and sensible heat) transported by convection higher in the atmosphere will more easily radiate away to space because

    the absolute number of CO2 molecules intervening is reduced proportionally to the atmospheric pressure. Because H2O isn’t well mixed, water vapor GHG effect declines faster than proportional to

    pressure altitude. The largest uncertainties in climate models are in cloud effects; those uncertainties also affect the accuracy of latent heat transport, which is tied to the moist/effective lapse rate,

    the vertical distribution of water vapor GHG forcings, and scattering of IR within clouds(which increases apparent path length, and effectively increases the apparent ghg absorption).

    As Dessler & Sherwood point out in “A Matter of Humidity, 20 FEBRUARY 2009, VOL 323, SCIENCE” , http://geotest.tamu.edu/userfiles/216/dessler09.pdf
    “The spread among models in the water vapor feedback is, however, largely compensated by an opposite spread in the “lapse-rate feedback,” a negative feedback that occurs because a warmer atmosphere radiates more power to space, thereby reducing net surface warming.”

    Or, from wikipedia (trust, sort of, but verify) –
    “The atmosphere’s temperature decreases with height in the troposphere. Since emission of infrared radiation varies with temperature, longwave radiation escaping to space from the relatively cold

    upper atmosphere is less than that emitted toward the ground from the lower atmosphere. Thus, the strength of the greenhouse effect depends on the atmosphere’s rate of temperature decrease

    with height. Both theory and climate models indicate that global warming will reduce the rate of temperature decrease with height, producing a negative lapse rate feedback that weakens the

    greenhouse effect. Measurements of the rate of temperature change with height are very sensitive to small errors in observations, making it difficult to establish whether the models agree with

    observations.”

    How ” largely compensated” climate sensitivity is by lapse rate feedback, “very sensitive to small errors in observations”, has been better constrained by satellite (thank you, Dr Christy et al) and radiosonde (thank you, Dr. Sherwood et al) data; the observed tropospheric temperatures are lower, the radiation to space from there is less, the negative feedback is less, therefore observed climate sensitivity (same forcing + same positive feedback + less negative feedback) must be higher than models project. QED. It’s right there in the Congressional Record – ask Dr Christy(thanks again!).

    Or did you expect “I’m a retired curmudgeon with enough time on my hands to read more peer reviewed literature and IPCC reports than most bloggers, therefore aware of what’s blindingly obvious if you’re paying attention. I’m a college dropout – If I can see the sleight of hand between Dr Christy’s “here’s a graph that shows the mid troposphere isn’t warming as much as models predict” and “therefore global warming is a hoax promulgated by paedophile climate scientists to collect grant money and destroy ‘Murrican sovereignty”, then why can’t Cruz, Inhofe, Trump, the Koch bros, and Rex Tillerson see it? Are they THAT stupid?”
    I would note that the scientists that informed Exxon back in the eighties that global warming was scientiic fact are still being funded, and that the National Academy of Science is still 85% funded by the Federal Gummint – despite there being Republican majorities in the House (where funding bills originate) and the Senate(which must concur). If AGW s really a gravy train conspiracy, why haven’t they put their money where their mouth is?

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