An over the top view of satellite sensor failure

From the National Air and Space Museum: Launched in June 2002, NOAA 17 is the latest in the advanced TIROS-N (ATN) series of satellites. Like its predessors, this polar-orbiting spacecraft supports environmental monitoring instruments for the imaging and measurement of the Earth's atmosphere, surface, and cloud cover. The main instrument of the NOAA satellites, the AVHRR (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer) collects a variety of data, including the properties of vegetation, cloud cover, snow, and ice cover, and land and sea surface. NOAA 17 is also the third spacecraft in the series to carry microwave instruments for the collection of temperature, moisture, surface and hydrological data in cloudy regions where visible and infrared instruments are not as effective. NOAA drawing

Readers may recall when I pointed out a sensor failure that caused NSIDC’s Arctic ice graph to go haywire. In a similar vein, this essay below appeared as part of a comment on WUWT from reader “Kate”. I have been asked to carry this story before, and I refused. Now that I see it being used to back up arguments, I think it is time to point out how wrong it is. My comments follow after the end of the essay.


Satellite Data Fraud

Dr Charles R. Anderson; “It is now perfectly clear that there are no reliable worldwide temperature records, and that we have little more than anecdotal information on the temperature history of the Earth.”


Leading US Physicist Labels Satellitegate Scandal “A Catastrophe”.

Respected American physicist, Dr Charles R. Anderson has waded into the escalating Satellitegate controversy publishing a damning analysis on his blog.

In a fresh week of revelations when NOAA calls in their lawyers to handle the fallout, Anderson adds further fuel to the fire and fumes against NOAA, one of the four agencies charged with responsibility for collating global climate temperatures. NOAA is now fighting a rearguard legal defense to hold onto some semblance of credibility with growing evidence of systemic global warming data flaws by government climatologists.

Anderson, a successful Materials Physicist with his own laboratory, has looked closely at the evidence uncovered on NOAA. He has been astonished to discover, “Both higher altitudes and higher latitudes have been systematically removed from the measured temperature record with very poor and biased interpolated results taking their place.”

Like other esteemed scientists, Anderson has been quick to spot sinister flaws in official temperatures across northern Lake Michigan

The website operated by the Michigan State University published ridiculously high surface water temperatures widely distributed over the lake many indicating super-boiling conditions. The fear is that these anomalies have been fed across the entire satellite dataset. The satellite that first ignited the fury is NOAA-16. But as we have since learned there are now five key satellites that have become either degraded or seriously comprised.

In his post, “Satellite Temperature Record Now Unreliable”

Anderson’s findings are that NOAA sought to cover up the “sensor degradation” on their satellite, NOAA-16. The U.S. physicist agrees there may now be thousands of temperatures in the range of 415-604 degrees Fahrenheit automatically fed into computer climate models and contaminating climate models with a substantial warming bias. This may have gone on for a far longer period than the five years originally identified.

Anderson continues, “One has to marvel at either the scientific incompetence this reveals or the completely unethical behavior of NOAA and its paid researchers that is laid open before us.”

The Indian Government Knew of Faults in 2004

The Indian government was long ago onto these faults, too. Researcher, Devendra Singh, tried and failed to draw attention to the increasing problems with the satellite as early as 2004 but his paper remained largely ignored outside of his native homeland.

Indian scientist, Singh reported that NOAA-16 started malfunctioning due to a scan motor problem that caused a “barcode” appearance. Singh’s paper, “Performance of the NOAA-16 and AIRS temperature soundings over India” exposed the satellite’s growing faults and identified three key errors that needed to be addressed.

Singh writes, “The first one is the instrument observation error. The second is caused by the differences in the observation time and location between the satellite and radiosonde. The third is sampling error due to atmospheric horizontal inhomogeneity of the field of view (FOV).” These from India thus endorse Dr. Anderson’s findings.

NOAA Proven to have engaged in Long-term Cover Up

Investigations are proving increasingly that such data was flagged by non-NOAA agencies years ago, but NOAA declined to publish notice of the faults until the problem was publicized loudly and widely in the first “Satellitegate” article, “US Government in Massive New Global Warming Scandal – NOAA Disgraced.”

Official explanations initially dismissed the findings, but then NOAA conceded their accuracy in the face of the evidence.

A succession of record warm temperatures in recent years may be based on contaminated satellite readings.

But NOAA spokesman, Program Coordinator, Chuck Pistis declined to clarify the extent of the satellite instrument problem or how long the fault might have gone undetected.

In another article, “Official: Satellite Failure Means Decade of Global Warming Data Doubtful”

we saw the smoking gun evidence of a cover up after examining the offending satellite’s AVHRR Subsystem Summary. The official summary shows no report of any ‘sensor degradation’ (NOAA’s admission) since its launch in September 2000.

Subsystem Summary Details Censored Between 2005-10

But even more sinister is the fact that the official online summary now only shows events recorded up to 2005. All subsequent notations, that was on NOAA’s web pages showed entries inclusive to summer 2010 which have now been removed. However, is displaying a sample of the missing evidence copied before NOAA took down the revealing web pages after it entered into “damage limitation” mode.

As events have unfolded we are also learning that major systemic failures in the rest of the satellite global data-collecting network were also not reported. Such serious flaws affect up to five U.S satellites as reported in an excellent article by Susan Bohan.

NOAA Tears Up its Own “Data Transparency” Policy

But rather than come clean, NOAA has ordered their lawyers to circle the wagons. Glenn Tallia, their Senior Counselor, wrote “The data and associated website at issue are not NOAA’s but instead are those of the Michigan State Sea Grant program. Thus, we have referred your email to the Michigan State Sea Grant program.”

Yes, Glenn, clearly the final data output was published by Michigan but the underlying fault is with your satellite!

With NOAA now hiding behind their attorneys we appear to see a contradiction of NOAA’s official pledge that ” The basic tenet of physical climate data management at NOAA is full and open data access” published in their document, “NOAA/National Climatic Data Center Open Access to Physical Climate Data Policy December 2009″.

Sadly, we may now be at the start of yet another protracted delay and concealment process that tarnished NASA’s and CRU’s reputations in Climategate. We saw in that scandal that for 3-7 years the US and the UK government agencies cynically and unlawfully stymied Freedom of Information requests (FOIA).

NASA’s disgrace was affirmed in March 2010 when they finally conceded that their data was in worse shape than the much-maligned Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the UK’s University of East Anglia. CRU’s Professor Phil Jones only escaped criminal prosecution by way of a technicality.

The attorney credited with successfully forcing NASA to come clean was Christopher Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

American Physicist Pick Out Key Issues

Meanwhile, back on his blog, Anderson points to the key issues that NOAA tries to cover up. He refers to how Charles Pistis, Program Coordinator of the Michigan Sea Grant project, tried to pass off the flawed data as being an accidental product of the satellite’s malfunction sensors taking readings off the top of clouds rather than the surface temperatures.

By contrast, Anderson cogently refutes this explanation showing that such bogus data was consistently of very high temperatures not associated with those detected from cloud tops. He advises it is fair to assume that NOAA were using this temperature anomaly to favorably hype a doom-saying agenda of ever-increasing temperatures that served the misinformation process of government propaganda.

As Pistis admitted, all such satellite data is fed automatically into records and apparently as long as it showed high enough temperatures to satisfy the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (AGW) advocates of those numbers were not going to make careful scrutiny for at least half a decade.

Anderson bemoans, “One has to marvel at either the scientific incompetence this reveals or the completely unethical behavior of NOAA and its paid researchers that is laid open before us. Charles Pistis has evaded the repeated question of whether the temperature measurement data from such satellites has gone into the NOAA temperature record. This sure suggests this is an awkward question to answer.”

Now Satellites NOAA-17 and 18 Suffer Calamities

While NOAA’s Nero fiddles ‘Rome’ continues to burn, and the satellite network just keeps on falling apart. After NOAA-16 bit the dust last NOAA-17 became rated ‘poor’ due to “scan motor degradation” while NOAA-18′s gyro’s are regarded by many now as good as dead. However, these satellites that each cross the US twice per day at twelve-hour intervals are still giving “direct readout”(HRPT or APT) or central processing to customers. So please, NOAA, tell us – is this GIGO still being fed into official climate models?

NOAA-17 appears in even worse condition. On February 12 and 19 2010, NOAA-17 concedes it has “AVHRR Scan Motor Degradation” with “Product(s) or Data Impacted.”

Beleaguered NOAA customers have been told, “direct readout users are going to have to deal with the missing data gaps as best they can.”

On August 9 2010, NOAA 17 was listed as on ‘poor’ with scan motor problems and rising motor currents. NOAA admits, “Constant rephase by the MIRP was causing data dropouts on all the HRPT stream and APT and GAC derivatives. Auto re-phase has now been disabled and the resulting AVHRR products are almost all unusable.”

NOAA continues with tests on ’17′ with a view to finding a solution. On page 53 we find that NOAA-17 has an inoperable AMSU Instrument.

The status for August 17, 2010 was RED (not operational) and NOAA is undertaking “urgent gyro tests on NOAA 18.”

More evidence proving NOAA is running a “degrading” satellite network can be read here.


Anthony: This entire episode got started much like mine – pointing out a problem to NSIDC. Here is the genesis of it, faulty water surface temperatures over Lake Michigan:

This analysis by Dr. Anderson, saying things like “favorably hype a doom-saying agenda” is ridiculous. There’s no cover up. This sensor degradation and failure is normal for the technology. Yes, the temperatures were off, the sensor failed. It happened to NSIDC also.

The only thing that can be said here is that they weren’t watching the output of automated SST product closely enough, which was the same issue with NSIDC when I found them (unknowingly) plotting faulty satellite sounder data. NOAA19 is now online and 100% for the AMSU channels, and many automated sea/ice products are moving to that. If you look at the spacecraft status page:

You’ll see this spacecraft was taken offline, after running for 12 years…and as you go through the spacecraft numbers, NOAA 15, 16, 17, 18, through NOAA 19 you’ll see they get progressively better, with NOAA 19 being fully operational, except for a caveat on the humidity sounder for channel H3.

Dr. Anderson The article says: “While NOAA’s Nero fiddles ‘Rome’ continues to burn, and the satellite network just keeps on falling apart.”

Technology fails with age. It’s normal. Just like an automobile losing a battery after 3 years, or needing a new water pump, spacecraft also have failures. Unlike your car, sometimes redundant sensors and systems keep its mission going. Also unlike a car, you just can’t bring it into the shop and ask them to swap in a new AMSU unit in an afternoon.

Despite many requests to carry this story on WUWT, I refused to, because it’s wrongly presented with the cover up angle. There is no fraud here, only simple and expected technological failure compounded by people not catching data errors soon enough.

Quality control is the issue, and yes, there has been a lot sloppy quality control lately at NOAA. For example, see my essay on Nuuk, Greenland and surface temperature.

Further, this data isn’t used in any global temperature calculations that I am aware of, as both UAH and RSS global satellite temperature data sets use different data from different sensors and platforms.

UAH in fact uses a completely different satellite, dubbed AQUA.

Thus the claim of  “Official: Satellite Failure Means Decade of Global Warming Data Doubtful” is simply false, especially since the well respected UAH global temperature anomaly satellite data set doesn’t even use this satellite.

This sort or essay by the “CO2 insanity” blog on Dr. Anderson does nothing to advance the cause of climate skepticism presented as it is. I suggest ignoring it (the fraud issue), and for skeptical websites carrying it, I suggest you either place a caveat on your posts or delete it. Focus on the quality control issues, get them fixed, then we can have useful arguments over the results of the data. – Anthony


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With due respect, though, the issue here is not the sensor failure, but rather the failure of the responsible institution to perform at least a modicum of quality control before releasing the data.
That same lack of care, or self discipline, is manifest in the data pilloried by your Surface Station project.
Clearly very little has changed since you started that effort.
REPLY: And I allude to the QC issue in my text. On this we agree. I just think the issue is presented in an over the top manner – Anthony


“either degraded or seriously comprised.”
Compromised ?
Like I am the typo Palice [lol] LOL

Douglas DC

Good job Anthony, we can fight with truth not ,rotten tomatoes and cabbages…

John S.

Minor points of order. The Michigan Sea Grant Program is jointly administered by both Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.
The Coastwatch webpage now carries a bold warning in red text on their main webpage that reads:
“NOTICE (8/11/2010): Due to degradation of a satellite sensor used by this mapping product, some images have exhibited extreme high and low surface temperatures. Please disregard these images as anomalies. Future images will not include data from the degraded satellite and images caused by the faulty satellite sensor will be/have been removed from the image archive.”

Vince Causey

Kudos to you Anthony for being even handed. It belies the claims of some that WUWT is an attack dog for the anti-AGW movement, and shows the justification for being the number 1 science blog.

Anthony, Are you saying that this no likelyhood that the global temp data set has been polluted as a result of the lack of QA at NOAA? Aye, Bob.

No, but I am saying the that the failure of sensors on NOAA-16 and 17 has nothing to do with the global data set UAH and RSS, who use AQUA.
Checking on NOAA’s QC procedures is something we should always do. But never assume malice where simple incompetence will do. – Anthony

I’ve always found that the more the public pounds on a real problem, like quality, a problem that can be illustrated and understood, the more those in power are likely to listen. But if people persist in imagining there are problems or conspiracies or frauds where there are not, then the legit points get lost. Good call here Anthony. the noise of bad arguments drives the good arguments out of the room.

Right on Anthony Watts. Data quality is the most important issue. Data quality problems have been and probably will always be a frustration in any empirical science. It is all to easy to get sidetracked. Unfounded or questionable accusations are not useful in science or in public discourse. Dr. Anderson and others are free to express their opinions to anyone willing to listen. It is the listener’s choice to hear or not.

Roy Spencer

These near-real time products from the NOAA polar orbiters were never advertised to be climate-monitoring quality. NOAA instruments were designed for weather monitoring, and those of us who use them for climate do so at our own risk.
Everyone who works in the field knows that the data have a variety of problems…seldom do we ever get a satellite instrument that is fully functional, without some sort of calibration issue.
I would wager that the quality flags automatically generated by the AMSU in question would have made it clear that the bad data should NOT have been used to retrieve SSTs. It is the responsibility of the data user to determine whether the data are of sufficient quality for their purpose, using both data quality checks, and the quality flag values, before they generate SSTs from them.
The only other option is for NOAA (or NASA) to CENSOR some of the data…which none of us wants! We want to see the raw stuff, with all the warts…and as soon as we can get our hands on it!
We fought NASA for that right back in the 1980s, arguing that the scientific community should not have to wait until a handful of government employees decides their data adjustments are the final say.
This whole conspiratorial article fiasco has been a step backward, in my view. Thanks to Anthony for speaking out on it!


I live up in the area shown and I assure you it was not this warm. 🙂

Ken Hall

Although it is clear that conspiracies clearly do exist (after all a major part of what the CIA does could accurately be described as conspiring), I find most conspiracy theories fall down because often it is cock-up, rather than conspiracy.

nandheeswaran jothi

It is not always what a person or persons do. What is important is what they say/do when their errors are brought to them. If they circle the wagon, It is reasonable to assume there is more fire behind that smoke. Yes, there is a lot of data, and not enough clock cycles in person’s life to deal with it, and the paid employees have personal life too. but acknowledging the error is the only way it can be honestly rectified. 5 years after devendra singh, there has been no response.
another thing that relates to india. not directly related to this NOAA issue. in the last 63 years, indian metros have become huge, and their airports have grown more than even our own ( USA ) airports. population around the airports have grown enormously. lot more than the population and energy usage growth of india itself. but we are still picking up the temp data from those airports, and use them as representative of indian subcontinent’s temperature. That can’t be anywhere near acceptable

Dave Andrews

Steven Mosher,
“But if people persist in imagining there are problems or conspiracies or frauds where there are not, then the legit points get lost.”
I agree with you up to a point but feel you ignore the fact that in large bureaucracies, and this is what these government departments are, there exists, perhaps not ‘groupthink’ but at all times a ‘prevailing wind’ which conditions how
the organisation reports and responds. This prevailing wind is generally strong enough to subsume the science. It is therefore no wonder that people begin to see conspiracies.

Anthony and all others:
The UAH and RSS data sets use a different sensor as Anthony has pointed out, however that sensor on NOAA 16 also failed years ago and caused spurios readings back in 2005. Dr. Christy found the problem back then and UAH stopped using NOAA 16 data in Dec 2006 and removed all NOAA 16 data from Oct 2005 up to Dec 2006 from their dataset. RSS followed shortly their after. You can see what UAH did at this link :

Update 10 Nov 2006 *******************************
Notice that data products are back to version 5.2 for LT and 5.1 for MT and LS.
We had hoped to solve the inconsistencies between NOAA-15 and NOAA-16 by this
time, but we are still working on the problem. The temperature data for LT
and MT are diverging, and we had originally thought that the main error
lay with NOAA-15. However, after looking closely, there is evidence that
both satellites have calibration drifts. We will assume, therefore, that
the best guess is simply the average of the two. This is what is represented
in LT 5.2, MT 5.1 and LS 5.1. These datasets have had error statistics
already published, so we shall stick with these datasets for a few more months
until we get to the bottom of the calibration drifts in the AMSUs. However,
the error statistics only cover ther period 1978 – 2004. The last two years
cover the period where the two AMSUs are drifting apart, so caution is
urged on the most recent data.
Update 5 Dec 2006 *******************************
Data products are still 5.2 and 5.1. For LT 5.2 and MT 5.1 we have
eliminated the data from NOAA-16 after September 2005 when NOAA-16
began to diverge in a manner that suggested NOAA-16 was having problems.
Thus, the data since Oct 2005 is based on NOAA-15. The net effect on this
change was to increase post-Oct 2005 temperatures slightly, and thus the
global trend is increased by about 0.01 C/decade.

RSS can be seen here:

Version 3.0 MSU & AMSU – February, 2007
AMSU data is now included in the TLT product.
This allows us to extend the TLT product to the present.
Intersatellite offsets now vary as a function of latitude.
This leads to changes in the long-term trends as a function of latitude.
Data from NOAA-16 AMSU are no longer used.
NOAA-16 data appear to be drifting relative to data from earlier satellites.

The problem with the whole thing is not that NOAA was trying to “boost” temps it was that they knew NOAA 16’s AVHRR was in permanent Yellow status since 2005 and they were still using it to do automatic dumps into a database, instead of using the at time new NOAA 18 (which had a good AVHRR at the time, this scan motor problem has plagued all AVHRR sensors on all the sats over time) and then over to NOAA 19:

Date Time Component Description
10/18/2005 16:30:00 SCAN MOTOR
AVHRR scan motor current significantly improved over past several days as is synch delta values and imagery. No bar coded images since 12 Oct. Status upgraded to YELLOW.

That was the last entry for NOAA 16 and 5 years on that scan motor is still in yellow condition, never back to green status and it was used in 2010 for the Coastwatch program. Did they do that to “cook” the numbers, I highly doubt it, does it help show a pattern of incompetence? Yep. How else do you explain using a known bad sensor 5 years later in a program open to the public, while you had two new satellites in green at the time?

tim maguire

Re: never assume malice where simple incompetence will do.
Malice would have had them raising hundreds of readings a degree, not a few readings hundreds of degrees. It seems most likely to me that this was a glitch that didn’t get caught. When outsiders found it, they thought they could smooth over the problem quietly to avoid giving the skeptics another angle of attack. CYA.

dave, uk

If there is nothing to hide,why call in the lawyers?Lawyers don’t get called in just because of a degrading satellite,not suggesting conspiracy or any such, but it just does’nt seem right to go to that length for equipment failure!!!
REPLY: The lawyer may be a reaction to initial over reaction. But, I don’t know the full story. I agree with the lawyer’s response though, the QC failure was at UM also, had they noticed, it would have traveled up the food technical food chain. – Anthony


Why do they use the term “interpolate” (which is the method of obtaining a value between data points), when the process they evidently used to come up with boiling lake water temperatures is “extrapolate” (the method of obtaining a value BEYOND data points by projecting an unsustainable trend)?

Bad Andrew

“But never assume malice where simple incompetence will do.”
Why prefer incompetence over malice as the cause? Does the evidence demonstrate it? I mean, we humans have overcrowded prisons, a unbroken history of criminalty, and personal experience with chicanery of all kinds. We observe means, motive and opportunity here. Is there something we are missing?


Anthony says: “….people not catching data errors soon enough.”
Some are hard to miss & others require teasing out, the latter being what you and others have so ably demonstrated are somewhat more important to accomplish.

dave, uk

Why bring in lawyers for failure of a satellite, somethings not adding up here??

Anthony, You are pretty much correct in that these satellites age and their data begins to show errors and biases. I work on the control center systems for NASA/NOAA satellites and they spend a lot of money processing telemetry to not only detect failures, but predict them before they get serious. Everyone should hesitate on crying ‘cover up’ when satellites age as they all do.


I got about a quarter of the way through this screed and had to stop. I can only take so much spin before I get dizzy, even if it is in the direction I am already spinning in. Sheesh!
Don’t attribute to conspiracy that which can be explained by selection bias.
BTW, a major part of one of my jobs was qualifying IC devices for NASA satellites. 12 years for a measurement instrument, getting temp cycled daily and blasted by the solar wind, to survive, is quite a feat.
[Reply – if you actually read it properly, the whole point of this post is to say that calling it a conspiracy is just plain wrong ~jove, mod]


Knowing that Dr. Anderson has carefully examined the physics behind the hoax of the Greenhouse gas effect, and commented on it in a very technical manner, to tell others to ignore his comments shows your own concern to cover your As* with your own, weather /temperature records. The fact that your data has shown that there has not been an atmospheric temperature increase, and is your bases for being a” skeptic” does not provide a reason to defend what’s is obviously gross malfeasances on the part of NOAA and the University of Michigan. It is time to let the chips fall where they may because there has been to much covering up of facts by CRU, NOAA, NASA, Judy Curry, and an endless list of Universities just to be sure that the “free government cheese” keeps coming.
Mann-made global warming is a hoax, fairy-tale, lies, Mother Goose rhymes etc. The Trillions of dollars, EU’s, Pasos, that have gone down the rat holes of fraudulent research because “bad scientists” have not been prosecuted for there crimes is more than criminal, it is a crime against humanity. This money could have been used for many useful and beneficial projects.
REPLY: CYA? Well, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. – Anthony


[Reply – if you actually read it properly, the whole point of this post is to say that calling it a conspiracy is just plain wrong ~jove, mod]
I think I might have done a poor job of stating what I was trying to say. Communicating is kind of difficult for me. I was in agreement with what Anthony was saying in this post. I was just stating my twist on the “malice” saying. What I had difficulty reading was the original article that was the subject of the post. E.g.
“In a fresh week of revelations when NOAA calls in their lawyers to handle the fallout, Anderson adds further fuel to the fire and fumes against NOAA, one of the four agencies charged with responsibility for collating global climate temperatures. NOAA is now fighting a rearguard legal defense to hold onto some semblance of credibility with growing evidence of systemic global warming data flaws by government climatologists.”


1. Why does any error (“error”) always (without exception) favour the Warmists case?
2. Why is any error (“error”) only acknowledged(reluctantly)/corrected(even more reluctantly) when we (you, and all like-minded individuals) discover it?


Doesn’t NOAA suck about $4 Billion annually out of the US Treasury?
That is some value for money.


@ Roy Spencer : October 4, 2010 at 12:57 pm
Roy, I don’t think most want to jump on some conspiracy bandwagon but I do appreciate Anthony for bringing this aspect to the forefront so everyone realizes that these issues do exist and need to be watched for and realized when they are using satellite data or looking graphs and plots made with this data. So many just assume satellite data is flawless and unquestionable which is really never the case as you said above. However people, it is usually some of the better data that we have available, so we live with it but with a wary eye.
I do believe that the common specifications of the instruments, such as absolute accuracy, precision, and repeatability, should be included in a note below displayed satellite data so everyone knows what possible error ranges exist as they use or view this data, or at least point to a link that holds those specifications.

Milwaukee Bob

But never assume malice where simple incompetence will do. Why?
I say, never assume simple incompetence where even circumstantial evidence points to some form of malice or at least a hidden agenda. What “evidence”? Period of time the problem continued without public acknowledgement or correction until some “outside” entity identified it. Once identified, minimized or outright dismissed as false. Than when factually proven, the responsibility thereof deflected to someone else. I could go on but – – how can one write it off to “incompetence” when they are so VERY competent, at least to this point, at covering their butts? …and saving their jobs? …and their funding?
And isn’t that where the REAL problem is? Saying (and thereby letting them off the hook of responsibility) it’s “simple incompetence” leads to more simple incompetence……or more malice. And not a one of us can say with more or less certainty than someone else which it is. But have we not reached the point of “enough is enough”? Is it any wonder why the general public has so little faith in ANYTHING “government” says or does, OR “scientists” say or do when we just write off their failures to “simple incompetence” and no ever gets fired… or thrown in jail?
Doc, your right to point to what we believe to be reliable data from other sources that should give us reasonable faith in the temp. data, but to excuse even the FAILURE TO DECTECT A PROBLEM of such a serious nature, much less ignore it or cover it up for any reason, then becomes “incompetence” (or malice) on someone’s part… maybe ours.


October 4, 2010 at 1:56 pm
“1. Why does any error (“error”) always (without exception) favour the Warmists case?
2. Why is any error (“error”) only acknowledged(reluctantly)/corrected(even more reluctantly) when we (you, and all like-minded individuals) discover it?”
I think it can be attributed to selection bias.


It’s certainly human nature to be less likely to double check work if they’re seeing what they want to or expect to see. Then, that’s why science demands repeatability in experiments and skeptical inquiry. On top of that, the system sometimes sets itself up for the convergence of self interest. No conspiracy necessary even though possible.
Although when sloppy work gets pointed out, can’t you rightly call the circling of the wagons “conspiracy” to hide the truth?

Bill H

The lesson to learn here is open and truthful communications. The thing that is killing climate science today is the hiding of data and methodology from plain view. By allowing others access to your work ,others can catch mistakes like this more quickly and the loss of credible science work can be minimized. While problems with method can be checked as well. No one likes to waste their time.
Unfortunately, the IPCC, EAU, MET, NOAA, NASA and their scholarly people who are intent on circular peer review and agenda driven science will continue to destroy what could be a huge achievement in our time.
Very good post Anthony!! Goes right to the heart of the problem…

James Sexton

The fault with the conspiracy theory lays solely at the feet of NOAA. Agencies, especially govt. agencies should be keenly aware of even the appearance of impropriety. Lawyer up? If they would just put their big boy spidey man underroos on and admit to general incompetence, we can correct and move on. I mean, really, it is a governmental agency, its not like we expect much of anything from them anyway.
Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, work for the government. BTW, because it is a governmental agency, climate skepticism or not, many will believe conspiracy. It just goes with the territory. I guess some simply can’t believe that our government is really that incompetent. Poor misguided deluded saps.

Dr T G Watkins

Agree Anthony.
The problem is QC , vital to a private company providing a paid for information service
with financial consequences but non-existent in comfortable government funded agencies.

Steve Fox

Thanks for this, Anthony. I wondered why you hadn’t covered this story. It’s hard to assess this kind of thing from the ‘outside’, so we are depending on your integrity and judgment. It’s good to know both are fully engaged.


My take is that failure to recognize the errors trending upward is a combination of incompetence in reviewing the output data combined with no single person being charged with the responsibility to manage the output. I have tried many times to teach people how to use the red flag method of reviewing reports, to not much avail. This ability has nothing to do with intelligence but rather a strong willingness to do the work necessary to find the red flags and chase down the answers to see if the data is proper or not.
I promulgated a theorem in 1965 when I was project manager on a large job. It was a penalty-bonus job and I had to review a minimum of four D sized drawings per day. I carefully looked a drawing and used all of the knowledge that I had to see if I could spot anything that needed to be there but wasn’t there. I then looked at what was there to see if I could spot anything that didn’t look right. I found some of both types of problems on almost every drawing.
I had a colleague doing a similar job. He did not look at any of the drawings but simply signed them. I asked him why he didn’t review the drawings and he said, “These drawing have 300 to 400 man-hours in them. What can I add to that effort? I told him that he knew more about the intent of each drawing plus knowledge of how each piece tied together than any of the person who did the 300 to 400 hours of work. He said I don’t have the ability to find anything.
After reflecting, I thought how I did and concluded I used red flags, “If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t right.” To find a red flag, you must first look and then work to see if there is anything omitted or simply wrong. I have watched Hansen et al miss many simple mistakes in numbers, for some reason seemingly always on the high side. I suspect this is because they believe that temperature numbers will always go up.
I don’t have any grand ideas on how to force the mostly bureaucrats and college students who handle climate data to “first look and then work”. Steve McIntyre has kicked Hansen’s butt several times yet he continues to do a poor job of reviewing his output. Anthony has kicked several people’s butt as have others on WUWT. I propose the answer is that the person’s doing the work must want to do a good job and then expend the time necessary to do a good job. The problem is how to entice them to want to do a good job and perhaps to be even handed.

Dr T G Watkins says:
October 4, 2010 at 2:20 pm
Agree Anthony.
The problem is QC , vital to a private company providing a paid for information service with financial consequences but non-existent in comfortable government funded agencies.

The NOAA-17 satellite was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Sunnyvale, Calif. do you think that they should be subject to financial consequences for the lack of quality control in the satellite they built? Of course it was launched in 2002.


The higher the temperatures the bigger the Alms for the Global Warming Church 🙂


Sparty (Michigan State University in East Lansing MI) has taken another public hit because of the Wolverine (University of Michigan in Ann Arbor MI) not doing their required quality data assurance. I do agree that the Great Lakes are not boiling off although evaportion is responsible for 95% of water loss. I personally keep tract of weather buoy # 45003 in Northern Lake Huron and # 45008 in Southern Lake Huron (Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are connected at the Straits of Mackinac) to know what the water temperatures are instead of relying upon satellite reports. Raw data is so much more convincing than an Ann Arbor Coffee House expert’s ruminations. Go Green.

David W

Fair enough Anthony but do we have full access to all the raw satellite data that UAH and RSS are using and can we be confident in the accuracy of the data being used given the issues that have arisen with some of the satellites no longer in use by those data sets.

Mac the Knife

Amen, brother!


Consistent bias = malice?

RC Saumarez

I agree that intentional fraud is very unlikely.
Why, oh Why, cannot these scientists admit that they have made an error and come clean? Unfortunately bureaucratics are always right and therefore everybody else is wrong and in the bureaucratic universe mistakes are always someone else’s fault.
If you remember the Challenger Space Shuttle that exploded shortly after take off, the subsequent enquiry revealed complacency, some poor engineering and groupthink. It took a disaster to establish the Challenger enquiry, what will it take for an enquiry to establish the truth in this situation? In the face of extreme bureaucratic embarassment, I guess that Congress may, post November, enquire more deeply into the climate change issue. I would predict that the truth will be dragged from a squealing bureaucracy when the honourable course would be for the director of NOAA to simply say that this is an error, a serious error, and that the issue will be investigated by impartial outsiders.
Roman generals admitted failure by falling on their swords – if only our bureacrats could follow this classical tradition (figuratively speaking!).


Whether it was ‘incompetence’ or ‘malice’ the fact is that incorrect data was allowed to enter the database. This once again casts doubt on climate science, and the reliability of the various global climate-metric data-sets. It is now becoming obvious that because of this revelation (and the problems previously identified with the surface station data) that we simply don’t know what is happening to our climate. We as tax payers have spent all this money on a product which is unfit for purpose.
I suspect that is why the lawyers have been invoked, as it buys them some time to dig themselves out of the hole. No need for a conspiracy theory to explain the observed panic, Satellitegate is a political hot potato which could cost people their jobs.

James Sexton

Rationalist says:
October 4, 2010 at 3:14 pm
Consistent bias = malice?
If it has been repeatedly pointed out, then, yes.

Porter Clarke’s Law: Sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
(It is a play on Arthur C. Clarke’s Law “Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”)

Stephen Brown

In my life time we have gone from my listening, fascinated, to the re-broadcast bleeps coming from the first Sputnik to reading the conspiratorial whinges of those who cannot appreciate that a piece of machinery operating in the most hostile environment imaginable has suffered a glitch. We have come to accept the almost miraculous as common-place.
Too many people expect perfection in machinery and electrical circuitry; it does not exist, especially when it is operating in the hostility of Space. That the instruments operated at all should be the subject of celebration; the failure of the instrumentation should not be the cause of such calumny.
The instruments fed into an automated system, the instruments failed, the automated system continued to accept data patently incorrect. The automated system could not discern this and continued to report as it had been programmed to.
There is no conspiracy. There is only a simple equipment failure combined with a lack of human supervision.
Anthony is most gracious in his acceptance of this situation; much more could be attributed to the incorrect readings, but he has accepted the simplest of scenarios. Something broke and it took a while to find out about it.

I can’t fault a bunch of college kids for not practicing the principle of input validation. Many big banks still get this wrong with their web sites, which leads to cross site scripting attacks and SQL injection issues.
I do fault NOAA for not properly over-seeing this project though and I wonder how many NOAA projects also might suffer from this same or similar oversight(s)?
Trust, but verify. I heard a very wise man say that on TV long ago…

Anthony, I went along with your train of thought … until I started thinking about the way this had apparently been reported several times. News media don’t spontaneous start looking at statistics, they get tipped off by someone “in the know”. Then They check their sources
1. It’s inconceivable that this story of the warming lakes was being reported without NOAA being made aware – even if it was a third party, someone in the media is going to have checked back with NOAA.
2. It’s inconceivable that a scientific institution let this story “get wings” without checking for simple instrument error.
There’s more to this that “quality control”. This has all the hallmarks of the “tail wagging the dog” …. good PR taking precedence over basic scientific checks of the data.
It really seems that someone has cynically used the increased temperature as a PR tool with absolutely no concern for the data integrity. THAT IS SCIENTIFIC FRAUD

John Whitman

Fudd’s Law of Bureaucracies: “If you push a bureaucracy hard enough it will fall over.”
Fudd’s Law applied /translated to the NOAA’s known general data handling problems: If you point out NOAA’s data problems often enough they will outsource the data handling. QA/QC problem solved.
There are many corollaries to Fudd’s Law of Bureaucracies. Can you guess them?

James Sexton

Stephen Brown says:
October 4, 2010 at 4:02 pm
“In my life time we have gone from my listening, fascinated, to the re-broadcast bleeps coming from the first Sputnik to reading the conspiratorial whinges of those who cannot appreciate that a piece of machinery operating in the most hostile environment imaginable has suffered a glitch. …….”
Yep, in my lifetime, too. That said, the reason for the expectations are the dolts unwilling to announce the failures of technology. Personally, I don’t have a problem with technological limitations or failures. I have a problem with people unwilling to state, “We know there’s a problem with the data and it shouldn’t be viewed as gospel.”
I don’t believe it is beyond the pale to shout conspiracy when they do, in fact, conspire to keep this information from the public. Anything short of an open and honest admittance of the failures and limitations of our data collecting abilities, in congruence and knowledge with other people engaged in the same endeavors, does, in fact, create a conspiracy. To help people with the “conspire” word……there are several definitions. One of them……”to combine or work together for any purpose or effect.”……..usually, it is viewed that it be done in secrecy. The actions of NOAA do rise to this definition. Does it rise to a punitive legal action? Probably not. Was there one or more people in agreement to seek out an attorney and withhold information from the public? Apparently so.