On Sunday, Feb 1 at 4:41 pm Eastern (3:41 blog time), I published a post describing West Antarctic stations. In that post, I observed that there was a very limited amount of station data (6 stations) in the West Antarctica area re-interpreted by Steig et al, that one of the stations (Harry AWS) had an extreme trend (0.81 deg C). I’d noticed some peculiar features about this series, but it was getting late in the day, it was Sunday and I had family things to do in a while, so I ended my post as follows:
Stay tuned for some interesting news about Harry.
The two main things that I’d noticed by then had been 1) a huge difference between the GISS version of Feb 2008 and the current version; and 2) that Harry had been installed in 1994, making the provenance of Harry data prior to 1994 a mystery – which I asked readers to think about around 5 pm Eastern (4 pm blog time). At the time, I said (more than once) that I didn’t know (“dunno”) whether the problems with Harry “mattered” – and that figuring that out would be hard without examining exact code.
The post attracted a fair amount of reader interest. At 5:19 Eastern (4:19 blog), reader Dishman speculated that the problem with Harry might come from the Argos number of 8900 moving around. I kept track of things for about an hour and around 6 pm Eastern (5 pm blog), I reported on scraping some source data from Wisconsin. By then, it was supper time. I started getting ready for Sunday dinner and watching some football. (Super Bowl is not a religious holiday in Canada, as it is in the States, but I do watch a lot of sports – less than usual because the Toronto Raptors basketball team are playing so poorly this year.)
The comment section of the thread was quite lively through the Super Bowl. I did a little work late in the evening, checking in just after midnight, noticing by that time that the provenance of the pre-1994 Harry data was “Gill” and being pretty sure by this time that BAS “Harry” was a splice of Harry and Gill. A CA reader had made a similar observation by the next morning (Feb2).
During the morning of Feb 2, I re-did my calculations, re-scraped the data, went over things again and wrote up a post on Harry, which I released at 1:49 pm Eastern (12:49 blog time). As I’ve explained from time to time, I often use the blog as a sort of diary – so that writing a blog post on Harry wasn’t distracting me from other analysis: it provides detailed documentation of the analysis that there was a problem with Harry, that I could refer to later. (I know that some readers aren’t interested in this sort of thing and it creates an editorial unevenness here, but obviously enough readers like it to create an audience.) In that sense, writing a blog post didn’t materially delay the reporting of the problem; it ensured that I’d documented the issues thoroughly.
As I was finalizing my post, I re-checked the BAS page and found that the Harry data had been changed – a point which CA readers had noticed a bit earlier, when I re-checked the thread.
Over to RC.
Their Antarctic thread had been closed, but they re-opened it. A couple of hours after my post (3:35 pm), bernie commented here as follows:
SM at CA has identified what appears to be a major error in the Steig et al paper that suggests that the perceived trend is an artifact of this particular error. Perhaps this is an opportunity to mend some fences and work towards a common goal of better data and clearer methods.
[Response: No-one should be against better data. It would have been nice had SM actually notified the holders of the data that there was a problem (he didn't, preferring to play games instead). If he hadn't left it for others to work out, he might even have got some credit ;)
A couple of hours later, Steve Reynolds:
Isn't it rather petty (as well as possibly unethical) to refuse credit because you don't like the source or their methods of communication?
[Response: People will generally credit the person who tells them something. BAS were notified by people Sunday night who independently found the Gill/Harry mismatch. SM could have notified them but he didn't. My ethical position is that it is far better to fix errors that are found than play around thinking about cute names for follow-on blog posts. That might just be me though. - gavin]
An hour later, Steve Mosher:
RE 148: gavin, Steig asked SM not to communicate with him anymore.
[Response: This data error has nothing to with Steig or any of his co-authors. SM should have contacted BAS. I'm sure BAS are grateful that someone told them about the data mess up - it just didn't happen to be SM.
The Harry error had been sitting in the BAS data for maybe a year. None of the authors of Steig et al authors nor any of their reviewers had noticed the error. And then remarkably both me and Gavin’s mystery man “independently” found the Gill/Harry mismatch within a couple of hours of each other, with Gavin’s mystery man, by sheer coincidence, doing so just after I had published notice of the problem at Climate Audit and after Climate Audit readers had turned their attention to the problem.
While Gavin complained about me not immediately contacting data authorities, I actually have a pretty good record of notifying data authorities of things that I’ve noticed. I sent Hansen an email on the Y2K problem when I identified it, as well as, on the October 2008 Siberia problem when I was aware that this had been noticed by a CA reader (and, as it turned out, by a Watts Up reader as well). I’ve notified WDCP of problems in dendro data. As of Sunday supper time, while I knew that there was something about Harry, I hadn’t fully diagnosed it and it didn’t seem like something that I needed to notify BAS about urgently – particularly when the incorrect data had already been used by Steig and there wasn’t anything that I could do about it. As I’ve explained to readers, I often write blog posts as sort of a work diary. My blog on Harry was to some extent a diary of what I’d found out about the series, and I certainly wanted to double check things (and determine more about the provenance) before contacting BAS.
On the other hand, Gavin’s mystery man seemed almost desperate to pre-empt me on this. Sometime during Super Bowl Sunday evening, it seems, Gavin’s mystery man contacted BAS about problems with Harry. BAS responded quickly to Gavin’s mystery man and on the (EST) morning of Feb 2, the Harry data was changed.
By the afternoon of Feb 2, not only had the data been changed, but Gavin Schmidt somehow knew something about the circumstances of the change, including the surprising news that a mystery man had “independently” discovered the Harry/Gill union, only a few hours after I’d published notice of a problem with Harry at Climate Audit and many Climate Audit readers had volunteered information on the problem.
So who was Gavin’s mystery man and how was it that Gavin knew so confidently that the mystery man had identified the Harry/Gill problem “independently” of Climate Audit. One more thing: when did Gavin himself learn that the mystery man had identified the problem with Harry? At the time, realclimate had two threads devoted to Steig et al. If it was so urgent that BAS be notified of the problem that a delay until Monday was too late (as Gavin implies in his criticism of me), then once Gavin knew about the problem with Harry, did realclimate have an obligation to notify their readers? Just asking.