The word “hide” has obviously attracted a lot of attention lately – “hide the decline” even occasioning its own song.
Today I’d like to discuss the following remarkable instructions by a NASA employee in the recently disclosed NASA emails (available at Judicial Watch):
Robert, please move to the CU site and hide this after Jim checks it.
Darnell, please send it out to Jim’s email list. Jim said if I don’t want to, you should do…
What is that they are planning to “hide”? And why would they be “hiding” it in the first place? And why would Hansen think that one of his employees wouldn’t “want” to send something out to Jim’s email list?
In order to forestall claims that I’ve shown these words “out of context”, I’ve done a careful review of the events leading up to this email.
The context is the Hansen Y2K controversy in August 2007. On August 3 (10:46 am Eastern), I had published a post entitled Hansen’s Y2K Error in which I observed a previously unreported “Y2K error” in GISS USHCN conclusively disproved efforts by Eli Rabett (for example, here) and Tamino to discredit Anthony Watts’ surface stations project on the basis that NASA software could “fix” inhomogeneous station data. I observed in this post:
The input version [for the Detroit Lakes example shown] switches from the USHCN adjusted/TOBS version to the USHCN raw version (without time-of-observation adjustment). This imparts an upward discontinuity of 1 deg C in wintertime and 0.8 deg C annually. I checked the monthly data and determined that the discontinuity occurred on January 2000 – and, to that extent, appears to be a Y2K problem. I presume that this is a programming error.
This post was the result of a lengthy process of cross-comparing different versions of station data in order to try to figure out the precise provenance of GISS data – a procedure reasonably described as “reverse engineering”.
Within a few hours (13:21 Eastern), NASA blogger Gavin Schmidt, like the eye of Saruman ever alert to the smallest rustling in the blogosphere, noticed the CA post and immediately notified NASA employee Reto Ruety :
If you didn’t see it: http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=1854. There is something curious here, why does GISS raw go back to USHCN unadjusted in 2000? Shouldn’t it have stayed with USHCN + TOBS? Gavin. PS if this is all as it should be, we need to make clear the reasons very quickly. Otherwise the myth of the “Hansen Y2K error” will be all around the place and once it’s out, it won’t go away.
Ruedy quickly realized that there was indeed a problem and suggested to Gavin that they could adjust the USHCN data prior to 2000 to match the post-2000 GHCN version. Gavin wondered whether it might make sense to adjust the post-2000 GHCN data (a logical suggestion – one that I made independently – but one that wasn’t followed).
On August 4, I sent an email to Hansen notifying him of the problem.
In your calculation of the GISS “raw” version of USHCN series, it appears to me that, for series after January 2000, you use the USHCN raw version whereas in the immediately prior period you used USHCN time-of-observation or adjusted version. In some cases, this introduces a seemingly unjustified step in January 2000.
I am unaware of any mention of this change in procedure in any published methodological descriptions and am puzzled as to its rationale. Can you clarify this for me?
In addition, could you provide me with any documentation (additional to already published material) providing information on the calculation of GISS raw and adjusted series from USHCN versions, including relevant source code. Thank you for your attention, Stephen McIntyre
The emails now show a steady stream of discussions by and between NASA employees.
On Monday morning (Aug 6), Ruedy described me to Hansen as follows:
Steve is the person who appointed himself auditor of all web sites and organizations that have to do with global warming in order to debunk this “hoax”. He is maintaining a blog – a website called climateaudit.org , a site containing among justified concerns (caveats that we stress in all our papers) obvious fabrications and vicious attacks … I expect only a minor effect since the offsets average out to ~0 over all USHCN stations”
On Monday evening August 6 (23:19 Eastern), I published my own first estimate of the impact of the error in the post Quantifying the Hansen Y2K Error. I showed a bimodal distribution of the step discontinuities and that the distribution was not symmetric. I estimated that there would be an upward step at January 2000 of about 0.18-0.19 deg C (not a bad estimate as things turn out),
The step in January 2000 is clearly visible and results in an erroneous upward step of about 0.18-0.19 deg C. in the average of all unlit stations. I presume that a corresponding error would be carried forward into the final GISS estimate of US lower 48 temperature and that this widely used estimate would be incorrect by a corresponding amount. The 2000s are warm in this record with or without this erroneous step, but this is a non-negligible error relative to (say) the amounts contested in the satellite record disputes.
The next morning (Aug 7), Ruedy sent Hansen and Gavin a draft reply to my email. He reported a US error of 0.15 deg C (a bit lower than my estimate the previous night.) The draft reply satirized the idea (then being promulgated by Rabett and Tamino) that GISS software could “fix” defects in surface data:
I had no idea what code you are referring to until I learned from your article “Hansen’s Y2K Error (which should really be Reto’s Y2K error) that GISS is in possession of some magical software that is able to “fix” the defects in surface data. No wonder you would like to get your hands on that – so would I. Unfortunately your source totally misled you in that respect. I’m a little amazed that you uncritically present it as a fact given that a large part of your web site is devoted to convincingly prove that such software cannot possibly exist.
Gavin suggested a pared down reply which Ruedy agreed to, replying:
Any attempts to teach or outsmart Steve are counterproductive and a total waste of time.
Let’s just say that I disagree that the “teaching” part would be “counterproductive and a total waste of time”. After a number of exchanges, Hansen weighed in, with Ruedy seizing on Hansen’s suggestions as a means to “ignore” Climate Audit even though we now know that the blog was the original source of their knowledge of the error:
Jim, thanks – with your suggested change, we totally ignore his blogs
The nuance here is that they would (for a very short time) acknowledge me personally without acknowledging the blog – even though it turns out that they learned of the problem from the blog. (A few weeks later, they deleted the acknowledgement.) Late in the afternoon, Ruedy replied to me by email (which I noted that evening in an update here.)
Through the two days, NASA employees were busy re-calculating the adjusted USHCN network, discussing this passim in August 7 emails. Instead of adjusting the post-2000 GHCN values, they adjusted the pre-2000 USHCN values. This led to changes in literally millions of individual values in their database.
Early in the morning of August 8, CA readers began to become aware of the wholesale changes – see comments in the Quantifying thread.
Reader Mikel was the first to observe changes in the US history. Jerry Brennan was the first to notice changes in individual station data, and shortly afterwards confirmed “completely new” pre-2000 numbers in a spot check of three stations:
I looked at three of the stations that I checked a few days ago, and all three have completely new pre 2000 numbers in the GISS “raw” files.
Following Jerry Brennan’s lead, I also checked some stations, also confirming massive changes to pre-2000 values:
#45. I checked Hopewell and I agree. Jeez, they’ve been crazy busy the last couple of days. I’m not sure what they’re doing but they’re really going at it fast. IF Hopewell VA is typical, they’ll have changed all the GISS raw and GISS adjusted versions in the U.S. before 2000.
I think that they are trying to do things too fast without thinking it through. If this is what they’ve done (and I’m not sure yet), the pre-2000 GISS raw (which was fairly stable) has been changed into pre-adjusted versions that now don’t track to original sources, whatever those sources were.
If it were me in their shoes, I’d have kept the pre-2000 data intact and adjusting the post-2000 data. Far too many changes in what they’re doing. But it will take a couple of days to assess the situation.
A bit later, I observe:
Here’s something interesting. If you compare “old” Hopewell VA numbers (fortunately preserved due to my much criticized “scraping” of GISS data) to the “new” Hopewell VA numbers, the GISS “raw” data for say June 1934 or June 1935 has gone up by 0.7 deg C, while the GISS “adjusted” data has gone up by only 0.1 deg C. So in some cases, their “UHI” adjustment as applied offsets what was a programming error. Makes you wonder about the validity of the UHI adjustment. BTW as Jerry previewed, their US data set is now a total mess. Everything’s been written over prior to 2000.
In the early afternoon of August 8 (14:51 Eastern), I wrote a short post on changes in the “leaderboard”. This short and simple post attracted a lot of attention and infuriated Hansen:
There has been some turmoil yesterday on the leaderboard of the U.S. (Temperature) Open and there is a new leader.
A little unexpectedly, 1998 had a late bogey and 1934 had a late birdie. (I thought that they were both in the clubhouse since the turmoil seemed to be in the 2000s.) In any event, the new leader atop the U.S. Open is 1934.
2006 had a couple of late bogeys and fell to 4th place, behind even 1921. I think that there’s a little air in the 2006 numbers even within GISS procedures as the other post-2000 lost about 0.15 strokes through late bogeys, while it lost only 0.10 strokes. It is faltering and it might yet fall behind 1931 into 5th place.
Four of the top 10 are now from the 1930s: 1934, 1931, 1938 and 1939, while only 3 of the top 10 are from the last 10 years (1998, 2006, 1999). Several years (2000, 2002, 2003, 2004) fell well down the leaderboard, behind even 1900. (World rankings are calculated separately.) Note: For the new leaderboard see http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/Fig.D.txt. The old data has been erased; by sheer chance, I had the old data active in my R-session but I can’t give a link to it.)
As events proved out, Hansen didn’t need Saruman to bring the matter to his attention. It’s interesting in retrospect to review the ripples from the blog to NASA as a media exercise – as the story spread first through specialist blogs, then into the media, at which point Hansen paid attention.
The first blog coverage appears to be on August 8 by Anthony – then a fledgling blog, a long way from being #2 at Wikio.
The next day (Aug 9), it got mentioned at realclimate, where Gavin dismissed the point as insignificant and, despite Climate Audit’s obvious priority in identifying the spliced data sets, falsely credited GISS themselves with pinning down the precise error:
Once notified of the problem, GISS investigated immediately, found the error, and added an extra step to the analysis to remove any jump at the transition
At 10:30, Noel Sheppard at Newsbusters posted on the story, restricting the point (as I had done) to the US, rather than global, temperatures. An hour later, the story was reported at dailytech.com here, where it was also noted that the effect on global temperatures was minor, but the effect on the US was noticeable. Both stories commented adversely on NASA’s changing the data without an explicit change notice.
In the early afternoon (14:28), Andy Revkin asked Schmidt and/or Hansen about the story, again noting the restriction to the US:
“you probably noticed the mcintyre et al depiction of GISS annual temp estimates for US over time. Were the revisions published yet or are they updated in databases alone? Also are you doing same for global mean temp or is this specific issue related to US?”
An hour later, Gavin had drafted a reply, which he forwarded to Ruedy. Ruedy quickly responded that the issue was a “red herring” because the values in their 2001 (!) paper were unaffected, as the data used in the paper ended in 1999 before the splice:
“none of the figures in our latest (2001) paper were affected since it was written in 2000 and only data up to 1999 was used for the figures in that paper… a red herring”
Around 6 pm Aug 9, a citizen emailed Hansen directly asking for a comment. Hansen forwarded the email to Ruedy and Gavin. Around 7 pm, Ruedy suggested to Gavin that the inquiry either be “ignored” or that they “set matters straight” at RealClimate:
“Jim gets many of these kinds of responses – a change whose effect we described as well within the margin of error has become an “astonishing change”…. I guess the best thing is to ignore it and – if at all – set matters straight in a place like RealClimate.
At 19:12, Gavin replied tersely, agreeing that the matter should be dealt with at RealClimate (which he did in a post the next day):
Later in the evening, Hansen, apparently never bothering to read what I’d actually written on the topic, sent an email to Revkin calling the incident a “tempest inside somebody’s teapot dome” – a phrase that Hansen seemed to like as he re-used it , fuming:
This seems to be a tempest inside somebody’s teapot dome… It is unclear why anyone wuold try to make something out of this, perhaps a light not on upstairs? Or perhaps this is coming from one of the old contrarians? They can’t seem to get over the fact that the real world has proven them full of malarkey! You would think that they would be ready to crawl under a rock by now.
On August 10, the story gets covered in a few more places. The New York Times Opinionator reported on the dailytech column around 9 a.m. A reporter from the National Post in Canada inquires at to several NASA employees, referring to Anthony Watts’ post of two days earlier.
At 10:23 Hansen complained that he is being “besieged” by emails (either the FOI is incomplete or, in Hansen-world, a few inquiries constitute a siege) and decided to “do something”:
I am being besieged by emails and calls about this, so we need to do something promptly as there will be stories written today for publication tomorrow… By the way, Makiko, do you remember if we ever make any statement about how different years ranked for the U.S. temperatures? There are several demands that we issue a press release correcting our wrong results and declaring that 1934 is now the warmest year on record in the US and also that 4 of the 10 warmest years were in the 1930s and only 3 in the last 10 years.
In the late morning, Ruedy answered Leslie McCarthy (apparently the PR person) sycophantically describing Hansen’s tirade to Revkin as answering in the “clearest and most beautiful way”, before making various accusations against me:
Andy Revkin asked the same question and Jim’s answer below says it all in the clearest and most beautiful way… The blog you attached is a prime example of what gives bloggers a really bad name; somebody with no idea what he is talking about is spouting absolute nonsense, making no distinction between what is essential (the facts he conveniently omits) and what is pure noise (which he is concentrating on exclusively). ..
He finds it astounding that the years 1934 and 1998 reversed ranks, not remembering that the corrections only affected years 2000-2006, hence there is no possible connection there. By speaking of warmest year (rather than warmest year in the US time record), he successfully deceived people like Mark Taylor.”
Just before noon Aug 10, Hansen again complains about being “besieged”, but this time with a knot in his stomach as he’s just been told that the earlier results have been “thrown away”, making a before and after comparison impossible. Hansen pleads for his subordinates to retrace their steps or they will “never live this down” and sensibly recommends that they save their results at least once a year in the future:
I am being besieged by these… The appropriate response is to show the curves for U.S. and global temperatures before and after McIntyre’s correction. Makiko doubts that his is possible because the earlier result has been ‘thrown away’. We will never live this down if we give such a statement. It must be possible to reconstruct the “before” result. Unfortunately this needs to be done soon as there are various writers with deadlines this afternoon. .. By the way, I think that we should save the results of the analyses at least once a year, so we will have a record of how they change.
An hour later, Ruedy told Hansen, much to his relief, that the data had not been thrown out and that they could do the desired comparison. So Hansen started writing what became his “Lights On Upstairs” jeremiad.
Meanwhile, Gavin was responding to inquiries from Stewart Gaffin about the Opinionator piece, which recapped the dailytech article that stated that I had ” “reverse engineered” the data to find NASA’s algorithm, discovered that a Y2K bug had played havoc with some of the numbers and notified the space agency.” Gavin disparaged my role in the matter, again attributing the precise diagnosis to NASA (though it was me who had spotted the change in data sets) and denying that I had had to do “reverse engineering” to figure out the problem – even though that was precisely what I had had to do (in the form of patient comparison of multiple versions of different data sets):
The opinionator piece is mostly made up… The issue is that McIntyre noticed an odd jump in some US stations at the switch between 1999 and 2000. He sent a letter pointing out the jump, the GISTEMP people looked into it, saw the problem and fixed it in less than a day. No “reverse engineering”. Nobody ‘always puzzled by the gaps’ and no havoc.
Meanwhile, Hansen had finished his draft Lights Out Upstairs editorial and circulated it to his staff at 15:54, noting that it still “needs the figures and links”.
Concurrently, Sato sent a note to Hansen reminding him that 1934 and 1998 had changed places (this is covered more thoroughly in a later Sato memo) and that earlier in the year (January), 1998 was in first place.
Let’s try to remember what statements we made about US temperature. … (3) In January 2007, I showed on my “Some Extra” page which most people don’t look at: 1834 1.23, 1998 1.24 and 2006 1.23.
She added that, while NASA didn’t usually publicize US rankings, NOAA did (e.g. their January 2007 press release (which was headlined “NOAA REPORTS 2006 WARMEST YEAR ON RECORD FOR U.S.” and which was very much in the air at the time).
In response to Hansen’s attempt to restrict attention to global trends, Revkin reminded Hansen that USA temperature trends had been frequently used in advocacy (and thus the point could not be dismissed quite as easily as Hansen wanted):
Given that quite a few folks (Gore and some enviros particularly) have often used the USA temp trends in arguments for action (string of record years) it’s hard for me to ignore the reanalysis of those annual temps – even though my own focus remains global mean temps. …happy to discuss by phone til 6 pm or so.
During the next few hours, Hansen’s subordinates worked busily to get Lights Out Upstairs ready for showtime. At 16:04, Schmunk checked with Hansen on which precise 2001 reference he wanted to link to. At 16:18, Sato asked whether the figures were too large or too small. At 16:26, Sato confirmed to Schmunk that a fresh version had been sent to Hansen and asked Schmunk about links. At 16:29, Hansen sent out a revised version for comment to Schmunk, Ruedy, Sato and Darrell Cain. At 16:35, Ruedy notified Sato of a few typos. At 16:43, Schmunk advised Sato on pdf linking style. At 16:50, Sato sent minor edits to Hansen. At 17:09, Hansen reverted with two small changes. At around 17:30, Sato sent a final version to Schmunk, Hansen and Cain, telling Schmunk to move the essay to CU (Hansen’s “personal” site) and “hide” it at the NASA site and telling Darnell Cain that he had to send it out to Hansen’s email list:
Jim, please check if everything is fine.
Robert, please move to the CU site and hide this after Jim checks it.
Darnell, please send it out to Jim’s email list. Jim said if I don’t want to, you should do, but it is not a matter of what I WANT TO or NOT WANT TO. I don’t know how to.
Within a couple of minutes of Sato asking Schmunk to “hide” the Lights Out Upstairs editorial on the NASA website, Gavin Schmidt (at 17:33), in accordance with his agreement with Ruedy the previous day, used RealClimate as a vehicle to set “matters straight” about Hansen’s Y2K error (see here) once again trivializing the issue. For my own take on the significance of the incident, see my contemporary editorial here where I argued:
My own view has been that matter is certainly not the triviality that Gavin Schmidt would have you believe, but neither is it any magic bullet. I think that the point is significant for reasons that have mostly eluded commentators on both sides.
Back to the Lights Out Upstairs editorial. At 17:55, Schmunk reverted to Sato and the others with slightly edited doc and PDF versions. At 18:10, Schmunk notified Darnell Cain that the PDF was going up at Hansen’s personal (CU) website. At 18:22, Hansen thanked the NASA team for their help in disseminating “A Lights On Upstairs”:
Thanks to all of you for the rush job! I think that it is very clear.
At 18:27, A Light on Upstairs? was online at Hansen’s personal website here. Despite Sato’s notice to Hansen that 1998 had ranked first in NASA rankings earlier that year, Hansen stated that they had ranked 1934 first in their 2001 paper and falsely and stubbornly asserted that it ranked first both “before and after” the Y2K correction:
our prior analysis had 1934 as the warmest year in the U.S. (see the 2001 paper above), and it continues to be the warmest year, both before and after the correction to post 2000 temperatures.
Hansen then complained once again about being “besieged” – this time by “rants” and not by “emails” and, apparently proud of his bon mots about “tempest inside someone’s teapot dome” and a “light not being on upstairs”, included these phrases in his jeremiad:
Somehow the flaw in 2001-2007 U.S. data was advertised on the internet and for two days I have been besieged by rants that I have wronged the President, that I must “step down”, or that I must “vanish”. Hmm, I am not very good at magic tricks.
My apologies if the quick response that I sent to Andy Revkin and several other journalists, including the suggestion that it was a tempest inside somebody’s teapot dome, and that perhaps a light was not on upstairs, was immoderate. It was not ad hominem, though.
So why did Sato want to “hide” A Lights On Upstairs? at the NASA website. And why did Hansen think that Sato might not want to distribute the Lights On email for him? And, after NASA employees had worked all afternoon on Lights Out Upstairs, why did Hansen post Lights Out Upstairs at his “personal” website rather than at the NASA GISS website?
Obviously we don’t know the answers. But it’s not hard to speculate on why Hansen chose to publish the article at his “personal” website. NASA has policies and regulations on the dissemination of NASA information – see a CA discussion from late 2007 here). Would Lights Out Upstairs – with its whiny and juvenile tone – comply with NASA peer review procedures? Seems pretty unlikely to me. And I’m sure that Hansen was as aware of this as anyone.
The most plausible explanation for Sato wanting to “hide” Lights Out was presumably to avoid the article being deemed to require NASA peer as required for all NASA work product, a classification that Hansen seems to want to avoid in this case.
For some reason, Hansen seemed to have thought that Sato didn’t “want” to send out the email for him and had already instructed Darrell Cain to send out the email if Sato didn’t “want” to. We don’t know why Hansen thought this about Sato. Perhaps she didn’t think that it was appropriate for a NASA employee to be providing personal services to her boss (something not encouraged in NASA codes of conduct). Or maybe it was something very mundane.
Exactly why Hansen asked NASA employees to send an editorial being published on his “personal” webpage to his “personal” email list is also unclear. Perhaps Hansen was either unable or unwilling to do anything quite so menial as sending his work product to his “personal” email list. Maybe he was delivering insulation materials to a poor family. Maybe he was planting a tree.
In any event, the emails show that either Lights Out Upstairs was NASA work product (and not personal) or that NASA employees were diverted from NASA business to provide personal services for their boss. Something to keep in mind when contemplating the ongoing conundrum of how Gavin Schmidt operates RealClimate on his “personal time” – which elastically includes NASA working hours.
Postscript: On August 13, NASA headquarters sent an inquiry to NASA GISS about the Y2K controversy, then in its second wind. Even though the matter was 10 days old, there was no assessment at the NASA GISS website. Instead of publishing an assessment at the NASA website – the logical place, Hansen and Schmidt responded in off-balance sheet venues: Hansen at his “personal” website and Gavin, in accordance with his agreement with Ruedy, at RealClimate. So instead of being able to refer NASA headquarters to a clear and professional assessment at the NASA website, Hansen’s answer was:
Send them Lights On Upstairs.