Monday, August 25, 2014

Australia's BOM caught with its pants down

No surprise. NASA GISS does the same.  See also here and here and here

THE Bureau of Meteorology has been accused of manipulating historic temperature records to fit a predetermined view of global warming.

Researcher Jennifer Marohasy claims the adjusted records resemble “propaganda” rather than science.

Dr Marohasy has analysed the raw data from dozens of locations across Australia and matched it against the new data used by BOM showing that temperatures were progressively warming.

In many cases, Dr Marohasy said, temperature trends had changed from slight cooling to dramatic warming over 100 years.

BOM has rejected Dr Marohasy’s claims and said the agency had used world’s best practice and a peer reviewed process to modify the physical temperature records that had been recorded at weather stations across the country.

It said data from a selection of weather stations underwent a process known as “homogenisation” to correct for anomalies. It was “very unlikely” that data homogenisation impacted on the empirical outlooks.

In a statement to The Weekend Australian BOM said the bulk of the scientific literature did not support the view that data homogenisation resulted in “diminished physical veracity in any particular climate data set’’.

Historical data was homogenised to account for a wide range of non-climate related influences such as the type of instrument used, choice of calibration or enclosure and where it was located.

“All of these elements are subject to change over a period of 100 years, and such non-climate ­related changes need to be ­accounted for in the data for ­reliable analysis and monitoring of trends,’’ BOM said.

Account is also taken of temperature recordings from nearby stations. It took “a great deal of care with the climate record, and understands the importance of scientific integrity”.

Dr Marohasy said she had found examples where there had been no change in instrumentation or siting and no inconsistency with nearby stations but there had been a dramatic change in temperature trend towards warming after homogenisation.

She said that at Amberley in Queensland, homogenisation had resulted in a change in the temperature trend from one of cooling to dramatic warming.

She calculated homogenisation had changed a cooling trend in the minimum temperature of 1C per century at Amberley into a warming trend of 2.5C. This was despite there being no change in location or instrumentation.

BOM said the adjustment to the minimums at Amberley was identified through “neighbour comparisons”. It said the level of confidence was very high because of the large number of stations in the region. There were examples where homogenisation had resulted in a weaker warming trend.


More on BoM shenanigans

WHEN raging floodwaters swept through Brisbane in January 2011 they submerged a much-loved red Corvette sports car in the basement car park of a unit in the riverside suburb of St Lucia.

On the scale of the billions of dollars worth of damage done to the nation’s third largest city in the man-made flood, the loss of a sports car may not seem like much.

But the loss has been the catalyst for an escalating row that ­raises questions about the competence and integrity of Australia’s premier weather agency, the Bureau of Meteorology, stretching well beyond the summer storms.

It goes to heart of the climate change debate — in particular, whether computer models are better than real data and whether temperature records are being manipulated in a bid to make each year hotter than the last.

With farmer parents, researcher Jennifer Marohasy says she has always had a fascination with rainfall and drought-flood ­cycles. So, in a show of solidarity with her husband and his sodden Corvette, Marohasy began researching the temperature records noted in historic logs that date back through the Federation drought of the late 19th century.

Specifically, she was keen to try forecasting Brisbane floods using historical data and the latest statistical modelling techniques.

Marohasy’s research has put her in dispute with BoM over a paper she published with John Abbot at Central Queensland University in the journal Atmospheric Research concerning the best data to use for rainfall forecasting. (She is a biologist and a sceptic of the thesis that human activity is bringing about global warming.) BoM challenged the findings of the Marohasy-Abbot paper, but the international journal rejected the BoM rebuttal, which had been prepared by some of the bureau’s top scientists.

This has led to an escalating dispute over the way in which ­Australia’s historical temperature records are “improved” through homogenisation, which is proving more difficult to resolve. If Marohasy is right, contrary to widely published claims, last year cannot be called the hottest year on ­record. BoM insists it is using world’s best practice to determine temperature trend and its methods are in accordance with those of its international peers.

But in furious correspondence with BoM, Marohasy argues the computer “homogenisation” of the records is being undertaken in a way that is at odds with its original intent.

“In (George Orwell’s) Nineteen Eighty-Four Winston Smith knows that, ‘He who controls the present controls the past’. Certainly the bureau appears intent on improving the historical temperature record by changing it,” Marohasy says.

There has been correspondence between Marohasy and BoM involving federal MP Dennis Jensen and the parliamentary secretary responsible for the bureau, Simon Birmingham.

After taking up the issue for Jensen, Birmingham says he is “confident that the bureau’s methods are robust’’. On its website, BoM says it is “improving Australia’s temperature record” by carefully analysing records “to find and address spurious artefacts in the data, thus developing a consistent — or homogeneous — record of daily temperatures over the last 100 years”.

BoM says historic high temperatures are unreliable, some having been collected by thermometers housed in a beer crate on an outback veranda.

In response to questions from Inquirer, BoM says “the premise that data homogenisation results in diminished physical veracity — in any particular climate data set — is unsupported in the bulk of the scientific literature’’.

But Marohasy is not convinced.

“Repetition is a propaganda technique,’’ she wrote back to Birmingham. “The deletion of information from records, and the use of exaggeration and half-truths, are ­others.

“The Bureau of Meteorology uses all these techniques, while wilfully ignoring evidence that contradicts its own propaganda.’’

Marohasy has analysed the physical temperature records from more than 30 stations included in the BoM set that determines the official national temperature record.

And she remains disturbed by a pattern whereby homogenisation exaggerates, or even produces, a record of steady warming against a steady or cooling trend in the raw data.

Marohasy says the clearly ­stated intent of homogenisation is to correct for changes in equipment, siting, and/or other factors that conceivably can introduce non-­climatic factors into the temperature record.

“The bureau, however, is applying the algorithms subjectively and without supporting metadata, in such a way that the temperature record is completely altered, despite the absence of evidence that there were any changes in siting, equipment, or any other factor which could have conceivably introduced a non­-climatic discontinuity,’’ she says.

Marohasy says the “corruption” of the data was of no practical consequence to climate scientists at BoM because they do not use historical data for forecasting either rainfall or temperature — they use simulation models that attempt to recreate the climate based on assumed physical ­processes.

But she says the remodelling is “of considerable political value to them, because the remodelled data better accords with the theory of anthropogenic global warming’’.

Marohasy presented a paper on her research to the Sydney Institute earlier this year. She has since expanded the number of physical temperature records analysed and says the results have only added weight to her concerns.

At Amberley, in Queensland, temperatures have been collected at the same well-maintained site within the perimeter of the air force base since 1941.

But through the homogenisation process BoM has changed what was a cooling trend in the minimum temperature of 1.0C per century into a warming trend of 2.5C per century.

“Homogenisation has not resulted in some small change to the data set, but rather a change in the temperature trend from one of cooling to dramatic warming,’’ Marohasy says.

This has been achieved by jumping-up the minimum temperatures twice through the homogenisation process: once in about 1980 and then around 1996 to achieve a combined temperature increase of more than 1.5C. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, based in New York, also applies a jump-up to the Amberley series in 1980, and makes other changes, so that the annual average temperature for Amberley increases from 1941 to 2012 by about 2C.

In correspondence, Marohasy was told by NASA the Amberley data was adjusted to take account of historic temperature records at nearby stations.

But these 310 “nearby” stations stretched to a radius of 974km and include Frederick Reef in the Coral Sea, Quilpie post office in southwestern Queensland and even Bourke post office in NSW.

Considering the unhomogenised data for the nearest weather station, BoM’s jump-up for Amberley creates an increase for the official temperature trend of 0.75C per century. Temperatures at old Brisbane aero, the closest station that is also part of the national temperature network, also shows a long-term cooling trend.

“Perhaps the cooling at Amberley is real,’’ Marohasy says.

“Why not consider this, particularly in the absence of real physical evidence to the ­contrary?”

Another example is Rutherglen, a small town in a winegrowing region of northeast Victoria, where temperatures have been measured at a research station since November 1912.

There have been no documented site moves but an automatic weather station was installed on January 29, 1998.

Temperatures measured at the Rutherglen weather station also form part of the national temperature network (ACORN-Sat), so the information from this station is homogenised before inclusion in the official record that is used to calculate temperature trends for Victoria and also Australia.

Marohasy says the unhomogenised/raw mean annual minimum temperature trend for Rutherglen for the 100-­year period from January 1913 through to December last year shows a slight cooling trend of 0.35C per 100 years.

After homogenisation there is a warming trend of 1.73C per 100 years. Marohasy says this warming trend essentially was achieved by progressively dropping down the temperatures from 1973 back through to 1913. For the year of 1913 the difference between the raw temperature and the ACORN-Sat temperature is 1.8C.

BoM is adamant the purpose of homogenisation is to remove non-­climatic disconuities. But Marohasy says because there have been no site changes or equipment changes at Rutherglen, but very large adjustments made to the data, it is perhaps reasonable to assume that the bureau has changed the record for Rutherglen because it is very different to the record for the neighbouring stations.

According to a technical manual written by Blair Trewin from BoM, changes can be made where discontinuities are apparent when the trend at a site, for example Rutherglen, is compared with up to 40 neighbouring sites.

But Marohasy says analysis of nearby sites finds temperature trends show almost no warming during the past 100 years.

Marohasy says the changes to the minimum temperatures for Rutherglen are broadly consistent with many other changes made to temperature records for eastern Australia, which make the trends consistent with the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

But these changes are not consistent with the overriding principle of homogenisation, which is that changes should only be made to correct for non-­climatic factors.

In the case of Rutherglen, she says, the changes do not even appear consistent with a principle in the bureau’s own technical manual, which is that changes should be consistent with trends at neighbouring weather stations.

At Burke, in western NSW, BoM deleted the first 40 years of data because temperatures before 1908 were apparently not recorded in a Stevenson screen, the agreed modern method.

Marohasy says this could have been easily accounted for with an accepted algorithm, which would not have changed the fact that it was obviously much hotter in the early 20th century than for any period since. Instead, the early record is deleted, and the post-1910 data homogenised.

“Rather than searching for a real physical explanation for the early 20th century cooling at Bourke since the hot years of the late 1800s, the Bureau has created a warming trend,’’ Marohasy says.

“This homogenisation, and the addition of data recorded after 1996 from the airport, means that the official record shows an overall warming trend of 0.01C per century and 2013 becomes about the hottest year on record for Bourke.’’

BOM says major adjustments at Bourke related to site moves as well as comparisons with neighbouring areas, while the Amberley and Rutherglen adjustments also were made after comparison with neighbouring stations.

And the bureau says an extensive study has found homogeneity adjustments have little impact on national trends and changes in temperature extremes.


Jennifer's personal comments on the BOM

EARLIER this year Tim Flannery said “the pause” in global warming was a myth, leading medical scientists called for stronger action on climate change, and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology declared 2013 the hottest year on record. All of this was reported without any discussion of the actual temperature data. It has been assumed that there is basically one temperature series and that it’s genuine.

But I’m hoping that after today, with both a feature (page 20) and a news piece (page 9) in The Weekend Australia things have changed forever.

I’m hoping that next time Professor Flannery is interviewed he will be asked by journalists which data series he is relying on: the actual recorded temperatures or the homogenized remodeled series. Because as many skeptics have known for a long time, and as Graham Lloyd reports today for News Ltd, for any one site across this wide-brown land Australia, while the raw data may show a pause, or even cooling, the truncated and homogenized data often shows dramatic warming.

When I first sent Graham Lloyd some examples of the remodeling of the temperature series I think he may have been somewhat skeptical. I know he on-forwarded this information to the Bureau for comment, including three charts showing the homogenization of the minimum temperature series for Amberley.

Mr Lloyd is the Environment Editor for The Australian newspaper and he may have been concerned I got the numbers wrong. He sought comment and clarification from the Bureau, not just for Amberley but also for my numbers pertaining to Rutherglen and Bourke.

I understand that by way of response to Mr Lloyd, the Bureau has not disputed these calculations.

This is significant. The Bureau now admits that it changes the temperature series and quite dramatically through the process of homogenisation.

I repeat the Bureau has not disputed the figures. The Bureau admits that the data is remodelled.

What the Bureau has done, however, is try and justify the changes. In particular, for Amberley the Bureau is claiming to Mr Lloyd that there is very little available documentation for Amberley before 1990 and that information before this time may be “classified”: as in top secret. That’s right, there is apparently a reason for jumping-up the minimum temperatures for Amberley but it just can’t provide Mr Lloyd with the supporting meta-data at this point in time.

SOURCE (See the original for charts)

Clive Palmer and his Senate colleagues are a creation of the main parties' making

"Palmer was a splash of colour on a wall of grey. People voting for Palmer United Party didn't respond on an analytical level. They were responding to the pictures, the chuckling, the twerking, the colour and movement. And he campaigned well, he had a significant presence and a bold new logo."

This "presence", the election ad campaign, was funded with $12 million that Palmer misappropriated from his Chinese business partner, the state-owned Citic Pacific, according to the claim the company has brought against him.

If true, it would mean that Palmer had built his election campaign on money stolen from the Chinese Communist Party. Palmer denies the claim.

This was exactly the uncomfortable topic he was seeking to avoid this week when he launched his frenzied, calculated attack on China. The host of the ABC's Q&A, Tony Jones, was pursuing him over the question when Palmer activated the first rule of politics – the best form of defence is offence.

This deftly made Chinese "mongrels" and "bastards" who "shoot their own people" the topic of national outrage. This was a brilliant outcome from Clive's point of view.

Handled differently, the alternative might have been national outrage at Clive's alleged theft of the mongrels' $12 million to pay for his TV ads.

Palmer's policy offerings may be a jumble of nonsense, but he is no political dummy. He's a shrewd operator who studied at the knee of one of the masters of media management. Palmer was a press secretary to Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

The late Queensland premier used to call it "feeding the chooks" when he gave a news conference. His notoriously convoluted babble would keep the media guessing while he executed shrewd business and political deals behind the scenes.

Palmer's flailing attack on China was also a convoluted babble. For at least three reasons.

First, his target was plainly the Chinese government. Only the government could possibly be accused of shooting its own people, recalling the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Yet the next day he tried to extricate himself by saying he was referring to his business partner, Citic Pacific.

Second, his angry revulsion at a government that could "shoot its own people" is a complete reversal. In the years between Tiananmen Square and today, Palmer publicly fawned all over the Chinese government when it suited his business needs. He named his landmark coalmine planned for the Galilee Basin, and the biggest proposed coalmine in Australia, the "China First" mine. His anger flies under a flag of commercial convenience.

Third, he claimed that China had harmful intent against Australia because it wanted to "steal our resources", If so, the Chinese are doing a truly terrible job of it. These thieving "mongrels" paid $94 billion to Australia last year for its exports. This is more than any country has ever paid.

The Palmer tirade was jumbled, hypocritical and plain wrong, quite apart from being gratuitously offensive. But it worked as deflection.

Will it do serious harm to Australia's relationship with its biggest trading partner? No. Some Chinese entities may well use the outburst as an excuse to shun Australian dealings. But the Chinese trade with Australia as a matter of self-interest, not charity. And they know that Palmer does not speak for Australia. The government and opposition made that forcefully clear.

A Chinese general threatened to attack Los Angeles with a nuclear bomb a few years ago. Did this do any serious harm to the US-China relationship? No. All governments, including China's, know a blowhard maverick when they see one.

But the episode demonstrates that Palmer will recklessly endanger the national interest if it suits his own needs.

How did the main parties give him the balance of power? Palmer and his senators only have power when the other parties can't agree. The government has the numbers to get its legislation through the Senate if Labor will support it, or if the Greens will support it. Only when Labor and the Greens oppose the government does Palmer get to sit in judgment as the wielder of the balance of power.

And this is why Palmer's relevance is in the hands of the three main parties.

There is a good deal of scope for the main parties to make progress by talking to each other. Remarkably, a big potential agenda has gone unexplored so far.

The government has so far chosen to negotiate with the crossbench, including Palmer's senators, before Labor and the Greens. This is a matter of political vanity rather than political pragmatism. If the government will lower itself to negotiate with Labor or the Greens, it could well achieve some key goals.

And where Labor is intractable, the government has an unexplored opportunity to do business with the Greens. The Greens have 10 senators compared with Palmer's three or four. It sounds preposterous. But even the most anti-Greens members of the government have the ability to set ideology aside long enough to cut deals.

The leader of the government in the Senate, Tasmania's Eric Abetz, is probably the harshest critic of the Greens. As he likes to say, everyone has to have a hobby and tormenting the Greens is his. Yet even Abetz can cut a deal with ideological opponents. In student politics his conservative group formed a coalition with the campus Maoists. The reason for this unlikely alliance? To damage their mutual enemy, the Australian Union of Students.

What could they possibly agree on? For a start, there's the government's petrol excise proposal. By merely returning to a system of increasing the petrol excise in line with inflation, the government proposed in the budget to raise $2.2 billion over the next four years.

This would add just a couple of cents to the price of a litre of fuel in the first year, yet provide a steady revenue stream for the government to spend on road building. The plan is currently opposed by all the non-government parties in the Senate.

But this is also an environmental measure that, in principle, the Greens support. They've contorted themselves into the ridiculous position of opposing a prudent and modest environmental measure. Why? Because they insist the proceeds be spent on public transport rather than roads.

The Greens will never hold government. If they want to change, they must negotiate. The government's budget agenda is blocked and Palmer controls its destiny. If the government wants to get its way, it must negotiate. There is a potential win-win if both sides can set political pride aside.

Other key measures include the government's carbon farming initiative. It already has won passage of most components of its Direct Action carbon policy but faces a wall of Senate opposition on this last piece. It needs a deal.

The Greens are opposed to Direct Action. But they support carbon farming as a stand-alone initiative. The government and Greens have had some cautious indirect contacts on this and they both know there is potential for a deal. It's something they both want. Again, there's a possible win-win. All that's needed is to set political vanity aside and negotiate.

And they don't need to consult Clive Palmer. He need not control Australia's destiny if the main parties refuse to let him.


IVF pioneer Alan Trounson slams high cost of procedure in Australian clinics

IVF could be done for hundreds of dollars in Australia instead of about $8500 if clinics stopped charging what "the market will handle", a pioneer of the technology says.

Professor Alan Trounson, the scientist who led the team responsible for Australia's first IVF birth in 1980, is challenging fertility specialists to put people ahead of profits in a provocative speech to a conference in Melbourne this weekend.

The stem cell expert who introduced two world-first procedures that improved IVF success rates said the cost of IVF in Australia did not reflect the outlay by clinics or specialists, but rather supply and demand.

"The barrier to change is that medical professionals don't want to charge less because they make so much from treatments. They charge what the market will handle," he said in a statement released ahead of his appearance at the Society for Reproductive Biology forum Making Babies in the 21st Century.

The attack comes amid growing commercialisation of IVF in Australia, causing some to fear profit-driven business models will undermine the integrity of fertility medicine. Over the past 14 months, two of the largest providers - Monash IVF Group and Virtus Health, which runs Melbourne IVF, IVF Australia and the Queensland Fertility Group - have floated on the stockmarket with great success.

Professor Trounson, who made an undisclosed amount of money out of the sale of Monash IVF in 2007, said his Low Cost IVF Foundation could do a basic cycle for about $500 in Africa and Mexico, and that despite making this known, no Australian specialists had asked for his advice to try to emulate it. He said while Australian clinics may face costs associated with regulation, there was no reason why they could not cut prices, especially through automation in their laboratories to replace costly staff.

In Australia, most clinics charge about $8500 for an IVF cycle, but after Medicare rebates, the out-of-pocket cost is about $3000-$4000. Most clinics say these cycles have a 30 to 40 per cent success rate of a live birth, depending on the woman's age and circumstances.

There is also a small number of "low-cost" clinics emerging in lower socio-economic areas which perform IVF without a choice of doctor or additional services such as sperm and egg donation or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. These clinics advertise out-of-pocket fees ranging from $500 to $2000 per cycle and some do not offer embryo freezing for further attempts in future.

While the clinics are still new, one provider has estimated lower success rates of about 25 per cent per cycle. The main reason for this difference is that the clinics use less hormone stimulation to retrieve fewer eggs for fewer embryos. This means that if a woman is not successful in the first cycle, she will require repetitive stimulation for egg production and more surgical procedures to retrieve eggs.

In contrast, full-cost clinics usually use high-dose hormone stimulation to produce a lot of eggs for one surgical egg retrieval procedure to create as many embryos as possible. The embryos can then be frozen for transfer into the woman's uterus for future pregnancy attempts.

Professor Trounson said his foundation had also used a low-stimulation drug to produce less eggs, which meant a clinician could retrieve eggs from the woman in a few minutes with sedation, instead of a general anaesthetic. He said the success rate in dozens of women had been about 25 per cent per cycle. But he added that this was only suitable for women under the age of 38 and would not be used if men had sperm abnormalities that required other technology.

The CEOs of Monash IVF Group and City Fertility said Professor Trounson's $500 model was unrealistic for a developed country like Australia where clinics aim for gold standard, individualised treatment and employ highly qualified staff. 

Monash IVF CEO James Thiedeman said while his group aimed to make a profit for shareholders and did let the market decide the price, it also reinvested money into innovation to improve success rates and training of staff. He said there were no plans for automation of his clinics' processes.

"We're dealing with people's gametes here, so I'm always a little bit wary of automation," he said.

Adnan Catakovic, CEO and Scientific Director for City Fertility Centre, said while anyone could do a "cheap and nasty" IVF cycle, success rates were more likely to be 10 to 15 per cent with low-stimulation cycles, not 25 per cent. He said his group had no plans for automation and that it was "offensive" to hear such comments from Professor Trounson after he had made "a motza" out of the sale of Monash IVF.

"I think in the initial sale he made a fortune," Mr Catakovic said. "He is the Clive Palmer of IVF... He just loves stirring the pot."

A spokeswoman for Virtus Health declined to comment.


The unholy big push to rewrite history

SINCE last year’s election, there has been an unholy rush by participants competing to get their versions of history into print. First out of the chute was Rob Oakeshott’s own explanation for the failure of the nation to find any beauty in the ugliness of Julia Gillard’s minority government he helped install.

In The Independent Member For Lyne (that’s the title), he reveals how dopey he was to believe he could achieve anything meaningful.

Tony Windsor, who also dudded conservative constituents to support the loopy Labor-Green-independent disaster, was the subject of a very friendly biography (Tony Windsor, The Biography) by rural historian Ruth Rae.

Despite the best efforts of the author, she failed to persuade this reader that Windsor is anything more than a small-town wheeler-dealer with a massive chip on his shoulder.

All you want to know and more about Greg Combet — a throwback to an industrial era that saw union thugs smash their way into Parliament House, causing hearts to flutter among the wannabe revolutionaries at the ABC with his protests against modern wharf practices during the dock dispute — is in Fights Of My Life. Sure to be compulsory reading wherever the teachers’ union controls study lists.

Joe Hockey’s authorised biography Not Your Average Joe, by sometime ABC compere Madonna King, was the next to lob and play into the hands of those who were never sure of Hockey’s judgment.

This week Wayne Swan launched his work, The Good Fight. It’s about as honest as the string of Budget surpluses he never produced. Belongs on the fiction shelf somewhere near Oakeshott’s fantasy.

Still to come, Julia Gillard on Julia Gillard, Peter Garrett on Peter Garrett, and others as their egos demand.

Personally, I can’t wait for Paul Kelly to put the catastrophe in perspective in his book, Triumph And Demise, due next week.


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