A Source Not So Bright


I see some of this on Facebook. Conservative thinkers posting references to Breitbart as an authority. I figure it’s time for a reality check. First, about the source:

Breitbart News Network (known commonly as Breitbart News, Breitbart or Breitbart.com) is a politically conservative American news, opinion and commentary website founded in 2007 by conservative commentator and entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart. It also has a daily radio program on the Sirius XM Patriot channel called Breitbart News Daily.

In short, Breitbart is a conservative propaganda outlet, confused by some with straight news. This type of thing is not limited to conservative politics, liberals have them, as well. My own history is that conservative America has trouble with some basic facts:

  • Endorse religious dogma (biblical story of Genesis) as fact.
  • Promote the idea that proliferation of guns makes society safer.
  • Deny biological evolution.
  • Deny modern cosmology.
  • Deny facts behind anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

This last is an exemplar that popped up recently. I have no record of who posted it, but a link showed up on Facebook:

Scientists at two of the world’s leading climate centres – NASA and NOAA – have been caught out manipulating temperature data to overstate the extent of the 20th century “global warming”.

The evidence of their tinkering can clearly be seen at Real Science, where blogger Steven Goddard has posted a series of graphs which show “climate change” before and after the adjustments.

When the raw data is used, there is little if any evidence of global warming and some evidence of global cooling. However, once the data has been adjusted – ie fabricated by computer models –  20th century ‘global warming’ suddenly looks much more dramatic.

This is especially noticeable on the US temperature records. Before 2000, it was generally accepted – even by climate activists like NASA’s James Hansen – that the hottest decade in the US was the 1930s.

This is interesting. Government agencies, NASA (National Aviation and Space Administration) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), have been tweaking scientific measurements to give the false impression that global temperatures are rising. That would be scientific misconduct at best and criminal misuse of governmental authority at worst. If only it were true.

Besides already knowing the background, I picked up on an obvious clue in the last paragraph above. “[T]he hottest decade in the US was in the 1930s.” Taking first that the statement is true, how does this bear on average global  temperatures over the past hundred years or more? The world wonders.

From that point forward this item from Breitbart needs additional scrutiny. The facts may not be as interesting as Breitbart, but they have the advantage of being facts. The NOAA has posted an explanation of the process so recently assailed by that reputable scientific source, Breitbart. Here is an excerpt:

Monitoring Global and U.S. Temperatures at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information

There are several factors that are important in monitoring global or U.S. temperature: quality of raw observations, length of record of observations, and the analysis methods used to transform raw data into reliable climate data records by removing existing biases from the data. An additional process takes the multiple climate data records and creates U.S. or global average temperatures.

What the NOAA report explains is why and how historical data have been adjusted to account for systemic bias in the measuring process. For example, see the following plots from the NOAA report:


The figure shows that the impact of the adjustment to remove the cold bias from bucket sea surface temperature measurements warms the historical data, decreasing the amount of global warming the data indicate. From Smith and Reynolds, 2002

Oceans make up more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, and NOAA is increasing its attention to sea surface temperatures. In years past temperatures were measured by pulling a bucket of water from the sea and measuring its temperature. Sea surface temperatures are now routinely obtained by measuring water at ships’ engine coolant intake. What was found when the two measurements were compared was that the bucket method produces lower temperatures than the intake method. In years past temperatures had been measured with a bias toward cooler rather than warmer. The plots show what happened when the measurement bias was removed. The heavy-line plot, showing a greater temperature rise, was replaced by the lighter-line plot, showing less warming with time. The plots are linked to a paper published by Smith and Reynolds, for those interested in reading the complete background.

If Breitbart is to believed, the NOAA has been caught fixing the data to make a warming trend apparent. In this case, the opposite has occurred. None of this is mentioned in the Breitbart news item. We can imagine Breitbart felt it unwieldy to burden its unsophisticated readers with a load of fact.

If these were the only data corrections, the evidence for global warming would be undercut. There is more. The NOAA also adjusted for bias caused by a shift from measuring temperatures in the afternoon to measuring temperatures in the morning. Obviously, temperature measurements are going to be higher in the afternoon than in the morning. The plots show a shift in the percentage of stations from afternoon to morning. See the following plots.


The figure shows the change in observing times at U.S. weather observing stations using two different methodologies, both of which indicate a shift from afternoon observing times to morning which impart a bias in the data, a bias which needs to be removed. From Vose et al., 2003

These plots are linked to research published by Vose et al. Here is the link.

Some explanation is required. The heavy solid line shows the percentage of stations taking measurements in the morning. The thin solid line shows the percentage of stations taking measurements in the afternoon. The percentages shift in the interval from  1970 to 2000. The broken line plots correspond to the inferred temperatures resulting from the solid line plots. As stations shifted from afternoon to morning the cooling bias increased. This cooling bias has been accounted for in new NOAA reporting. The NOAA report includes links to two additional research papers:

The NOAA report is additionally revealing:

The two plots below are of global temperature time series, the top one uses the adjusted version of GHCN [Global Historical Climatology Network] and the bottom one uses the raw GHCN data. Both time series reveal that the earth is warming. This indicates that the observed warming cannot be an artifact of the adjustment process as the unadjusted GHCN version shows similar amounts of warming and the adjustments applied to raw ocean data decrease the amount of indicated warming.

And here are the two plots:



Of course, this is for those who read.

What brings this matter to the front today is the announcement that Steve Bannon, former president of Breitbart News, is being promoted as president elect Donald Trump’s “chief strategist and senior counselor.” This is not a party function. Bannon will be a government employee, working in the White House and advising President Trump on critical matters. What makes this interesting is what makes Steve Bannon interesting:

For the last six months, Republican leaders walked a careful line supporting Donald Trump. They supported his campaign and loved his running mate, Mike Pence, but they didn’t agree with his positions on banning Muslims or mass deportations, or with the far-right figures who backed them.

That line was easy enough to maintain when it was just campaign rhetoric. But now Trump is signaling that the far right wing of the party will be going with him to the White House, where it will have a chance to influence policy, as well.

Steve Bannon, former president of the incendiary Breitbart News and more recently chief executive of Trump’s campaign, is taking on a role as “chief strategist and senior counselor.” Bannon’s ascension is the clearest sign yet that Trump will maintain his ties to the populist white nationalism that helped propel him to the White House against overwhelming opposition from party leaders and traditional media.

From all appearances, president elect Donald Trump is bringing Breitbart to the White house. We can hope the White House Bannon is not going to be the fact-deprived Breitbart. We have been wrong before.

2 thoughts on “A Source Not So Bright

  1. Pingback: Debating Lefty | Skeptical Analysis

  2. Pingback: The Age Of Embarrassment | Skeptical Analysis

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