The UK Met Office has updated their CRUTEM webpage, providing a list of countries that have thus far responded with release permissions. CRU is now pretty much redundant in CRUTEM, with the Met Office having stepped in to do the things that CRU should have done long ago. This is a transfer of responsibility that has been called for at Climate Audit for a long time.
In my interview with Nature reporter Olive Heffernan last summer, I recommended that CRUTEM be transferred to Hadley Center. She didn’t report that it in her story, but I added the comment at the Nature blog and CA at the time (Aug 12, 2009) as follows:
Ross McKitrick has long observed that important indices like the Consumer Price Index are collected by national statistical services and not by professors in their spare time. Such statistical services have a more formal approach to data management and data audit trails and would be far less likely to simply lose agreements and fail to save data, both of which CRU has done. I identified Hadley Center as an alternative to CRU.
Ross submitted an even more detailed comment in the same thread here:
I have often used the analogy of national Consumer Price Indexes to illustrate the ridiculous situation of the “Global Temperature” data. Each country has large professional staffs at their Stat agencies working on the monthly CPI using international protocols, using transparent methods, with independent academics looking over their shoulders weighing the various aggregation methodologies (e.g. Paasche, Laspeyres, Fisher, Tornqvist etc index number formulae), and with historical archiving rules that allow backward revisions periodically if needed. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a far cry from the f**king gong show we’re seeing here. The reason CPI data, GDP data, etc. are handled professionally is that a range of policies (such as money supply control, pension indexing, intergovernmental transfers) etc depend on the numbers; also some labour contracts include CPI-based escalator clauses. In other words the numbers matter.
By contrast the Global Temperature numbers are coming from a bunch of disorganized academics chipping away at it periodically in their spare time. GISS numbers are handled (on Gavin’s admission) by a single half-time staffer, and the CRU says they’re stumped trying to find their original files back into the 70s and 80s, as well as the agreements under which they obtained the data and which to this day they invoke to prevent independent scrutiny.
I take Steve’s point that these issues are not sufficient to change one’s views on any particular policy which could be shown on other grounds to be desirable or otherwise. And this is not the thread (or the site) to debate policy. But bear in mind that the G8 Summit recently issued an undertaking to prevent the Global Temperature from going up by 2C compared to pre-industrial times, and the Copenhagen Agreement will probably contain similar language. That ‘2C’ number refers, in all likelihood, to a few digits that Phil Jones publishes in his spare time using data from files he has lost, etc. etc. If that kind of quality control is good enough for the purposes of G8 agreements and international protocols, then let’s not waste so much money running national statistical agencies to produce numbers that are used for such trivialities as central bank policy, national pensions and labour contracts. We’ll just ask some professors to cobble together a monthly number in their spare time, we’ll let them do historical revisions any time they want without notice or external scrutiny, and we’ll promise them that nobody will ever check their work.
And if the CRU staff want to plead that we are being too harsh on them because they “did the best they could” with such limited means and minuscule staffs, etc, fine. I’ll be the first to join in such a defence: the minute they put a big red disclaimer on their data products saying “Warning: These numbers are offered on an as-is basis and should not be used for any important public purposes.” But they can’t have it both ways, claiming their data products are good enough for policy purposes, while also claiming they cannot be expected to meet the quality expectations that apply to the other data series we use for policy purposes.
This recommendation was not new last summer. I remember Ross making the suggestion around the time that we first met (in 2003). It’s mentioned from time to time in various CA comments and posts – a few examples follow merely to show continuity.
A comment here from May 2006:
Maybe responsibility for temperature collection should be taken away from CRU. Collecting and collating temperature data is like making a Consumer Price Index. Shouldn’t this be done by a professional statistical service and not by some guys acting like primadonnas?
Or in an April 2007 post here right after getting Chinese data from CRU from a (rare) successful FOI request. This post discussed what E.M. Smith (Chiefio) aptly called the “Great ‘Dying’ of Thermometers”:
If the Team is too busy to update the Chinese station data, dare one ask what the CRU contract with the U.S. Department of Energy contract actually requires them to do? 95% of the Chinese station data was collected by the U.S. itself ( see the TR055 program) nearly 20 years ago. What has the CRU been doing about Chinese data since then? Were they so convinced by Jones et al 1990 about Chinese UHI that they felt entitled to stop collecting information other than one big Chinese city for most gridcells? The Team never ceases to amaze.
There’s an obvious moral to this story. Ross McKitrick observed a long time ago that the Consumer Price Index is never be calculated by a bunch of academics at a university. It’s calculated by a proper statistical service who don’t mind doing little things like actually updating 95% of the Chinese data more frequently than once every 20 years. So aside from being surly and unresponsive with horrendous documentation of what they did, CRU doesn’t seem to be very efficient either. I wonder what justification the U.S. Department of Energy has for giving this inefficient program another cent.
How hard can it be to locate Canadian data? Maybe it’s time to ask the people who do the Consumer Price Index to compile temperature statistics. It’s all just data – maybe professional data people would do a better job than the present people who seem to have trouble getting off their La-Z-Boys.
Or here once again in 2008 after Gavin Schmidt had said that the entire GISS quality control effort took only about 1/4 of a man-year annually:
Ross McKitrick has long observed that the collection of temperature data is a job sort of like making a Consumer Price Index and it should be done by professionals of the same sort. It doesn’t make any sense for people like James Hansen and Phil Jones to be trying to do this on a part-time basis. As long as it’s being done on such a haphazard basis, there’s really no way to prevent incidents like this one (or last year’s “Y2K” problem.)
The new Met Office webpage and approach is less adversarial and more professional. It’s hard to see what’s going to be left for CRU to do. Or that anyone would want them to be involved anymore.
This raises an issue not on the Muir Russell list of issues, but one which now needs to be thought about. On the assumption that the Met Office takes over the calculation of the land temperature index (“CRUTEM”), what exactly is the role and mission of CRU? They aren’t players in the GCM business or in the physics of climate. They do some tree ring studies (Briffa, Osborn, Melvin), but I doubt that their tree ring stuff is sufficient to motivate a separate institution.
On the other hand, CRU, their alumni (Wigley, Santer) and associates (Mann, Schmidt) have been disproportionate contributors to the most poisoned part of the climate debate, with Jones contributing to and encouraging venal conduct.
Maybe the most appropriate way to recognize Jones’ contribution to climate studies and to send a firm message to the climate community – that the issues are far too important to indulge such conduct – would be to disband CRU, acknowledging the loss of the CRUTEM franchise and dispersing whatever staff are left.