Why and how NASA and NOAA manipulate climate data


Climate Realists are constantly told by Climate Alarmists that if we only followed the “science,” we would come around to their catastrophic way of thinking – that a climate “crisis” exists, and that we must drastically reduce human production of carbon dioxide if we are going to “save the planet.”

These same Climate Alarmists also maintain that Realists are “funded by fossil fuel interests,” and therefore have suspicious motives. According to Alarmists, Realists are not interested in advancing facts and objective truth, because their actual intent must be designed to protect some kind of pecuniary interest.

Are both of these arguments really well founded? If so, shouldn’t they also be applied to Alarmists as well?

What would happen to the validity of the Alarmists’ arguments if they are actually the ones who are failing to “follow the science”? What if their motives are less about “saving the Planet,” and more about job security? What if the keepers of the “science” – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – are actually fudging the climate data, and what if the source of their funding uniquely encourages this kind of behavior?

Tony Heller, through his website RealClimateScience.com, has demonstrated conclusively that both NOAA and NASA, for at least the past 30 years, have altered and massaged their data in order to support the narrative that man-made CO2 is driving the Earth’s temperature. (See Heller, “How the US Temperature Record Is Being Altered, Parts 1-3”).

For example, Heller has convincingly demonstrated how NASA altered its original temperature data so that the temperature for the years 1905 – 1940 was lowered, and the data for the years 1940 – 2010 were raised, thus creating a clear upward trend in temperature over the entire time period, when, in fact, the original, unaltered data actually shows a cooling trend.

Heller also establishes how NOAA “scientists” have likewise reached the same warming trend conclusion. But whereas NASA simply adjusted existing data, NOAA just made them up.

In any given time period, there are a number of weather stations which do not report any data. For these non-reporting stations, NOAA “estimates” the data by using a secret, proprietary algorithm. In 1950, NOAA “estimated” only 5% of the missing stations. By 2015, the number of estimated stations had grown to 48%! It is not difficult for NOAA to plot a trend line supporting its theory if one-half of the data set is self-manufactured.

Neither NOAA or NASA has disputed Tony Heller’s critique, because they can’t. The numbers speak for themselves. Instead, NOAA and NASA have jumped with both feet onto the man-made global warming political band wagon – facts be damned.

So then two obvious questions arise: Why would NOAA and NASA do this, and how do they do it? Let’s first examine why.

As US government agencies, both NOAA and NASA are funded entirely through the annual federal government budget process. My first exposure to this process occurred when I was appointed by President George W. Bush to the position of Administrator (CEO) of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation – a federal government agency. Having spent a lifetime in the private sector, I was well versed in the metrics used by it to measure organizational performance and success: balance sheet, income statement, profit and loss, stock market price, debt to equity ratio, and so forth.

When it came to measuring the performance of a federal government agency, I was in for a surprise. None of these private sector metrics applied. None were even considered relevant. There was only one metric that measured success or failure. That is, did the agency receive the annual appropriations it requested from the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees.

That was it. No balance sheet, income statement, P&L, or other commonly used financial metric applied. Only one measurement counted – what kind of slice of the taxpayer funded pie did the agency receive annually from Congress.

I learned quickly that this process was fiercely – at time even ruthlessly – competitive. In order to succeed in garnering federal funds, agencies would do anything, be anything, and say anything so as to appear politically attractive to Congress.

This means that every federal agency constantly holds a finger to the political wind. Every successful agency is adept at detecting the slightest shift in the political breeze. It doesn’t matter if the agency is sloppily run, antiquated, or bumbling and stumbling its way through the bureaucracy forest. If it can convince Congress of its political usefulness, then its budget request will be satisfied, and the survival of the agency will be protected.

This leads to the unassailable fact that the work product of every federal agency, including those responsible for collecting climate data, is highly politicized. Every. Single. One. The immutable law of bureaucratic survival demands it.

NASA and NOAA “scientists” are not ideologically neutral researchers living in a vacuum. They do not exist in an ivory tower of data purity. They are bureaucrats, rendering bureaucratic interpretations of climate data, and their opinions are framed by the institutional imperative of obedience to political necessity. Any NOAA or NASA employee who dares to question the prevailing party line would be committing career ending suicide.

This explains why NOAA and NASA fudge climate data. How they do it can be seen by NOAA’s treatment of daily temperature data.

Reading temperature records would appear to be a fairly straightforward process, right? Wrong.

First, the weather stations from which the data is harvested must be chosen. The “outliers” are discarded – so are “duplicates”. Then, as previously explained, data from the non-reporting stations must be “estimated”. But it doesn’t stop there. Next comes the ‘time of day” adjustment. It seems that it makes a difference if the reading was taken in the morning or afternoon.

Then there are adjustments for the urban heat island effect – the fact that the ground around many of the older stations has become developed, paved, or otherwise altered so that heat is trapped, which skews the temperature readings. Then there are adjustments for different “types” of temperature data. To quote NOAA, “some are 175 years old and some are only 1 hour old”. Once again, quoting NOAA, they must be “homogenized” and “synthesized”.

Perhaps this statement from NOAA best captures the extraordinary amount judgmental decision making that surrounds the collection of temperature data: “These data are quality controlled and may not be identical to the original observations.”

There it is. Quality Control. NOAA’s secret sauce, liberally applied to all its temperature observations.

The story of why and how NOAA and NASA manipulate data boils down to this: NOAA and NASA’s climate pronouncements and determinations are not “science” – an objective truth. They are discretionary bureaucratic interpretations of dozens of climate data points designed to support a conclusion that will advance the agency’s funding imperatives.

And that is the truth.

  • Johnson has spent the last four decades working in the public and private sectors in Virginia, primarily in the fields of project finance and maritime transportation. He began his career in public service as Chairman of the Board of the Virginia Port Authority. He was appointed by President George W. Bush, and confirmed by the Senate, as a member of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and most recently, as Administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. In that capacity, he became knowledgeable in the field of climate and its impact on the Great Lakes. He currently serves on CFACT's Board of Advisors. Johnson holds a B.A. degree from Yale University, and a J.D. from the University of Virginia.

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