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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or “NOAA,” is the US government agency responsible for the scientific study of, as the name implies, our oceans and atmosphere. They collect data that is therefore relevant to weather and climate, and so a lot of their data is crucial to understanding global warming, which, as a reminder, our incoming president believes is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
The politicization of NOAA’s data isn’t new to Trump, though. Back in 2015, NOAA updated the way they figure out the temperature of the world’s oceans. We know the oceans are warming, but it’s actually quite complicated to figure out exactly how much. Consider that you have to measure temperatures as uniformly as possible, but that’s hard when you’re using data collected from various sources. For instance, you can collect data from buoys, satellites, and ships, but ships need to pump the water into an engine room to measure it, which warms the water up. So, the data is corrected for that, which NOAA realized would lead to a cool bias (meaning that the water temperatures look cooler than they are).
So NOAA had previously had a lot of data collected by several different sources that was all put together in a way that they realized would underestimate how quickly the oceans are warming. Their new system was much more accurate, and painted a much scarier picture of what was happening to our planet. It debunked the idea that there had been a recent hiatus in warming, as the old data seemed to show.
This inspired Republicans in Congress to take charge and finally enact policies that would limit carbon emissions and slow down climate change. Ha ha, just kidding, they reacted by accusing NOAA of fraud. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, launched an investigation into NOAA scientists, demanding to see the scientists’ emails along with those of other NOAA employees and officials in order to prove a vast conspiracy had taken place in order to support the Obama administration’s evil plan to save the planet.
This month, researchers at University of York published a paper finally proving that NOAA’s updated temperature record is absolutely accurate and that Lamar Smith is an ideologically-motivated posturing idiot. They took data gathered from a single type of instrument collected over the past 8 years — from buoys, and from satellites. And when they laid out the data from each single source and compared it to NOAA’s old system, the new system and a third unrelated system, they found that it perfectly lined up with the new system, and that the old system had a very clear bias toward cooler temperatures.
That’s good news for the scientific process in general: hey, it still works, bitches! But it’s bad news for the planet, since it means that shit is definitely worse than we thought.
But this is also a really great example of why we need to keep politicians out of science. Lamar Smith was nearly able to bury real scientific data that is crucially important to our society, all because it’s inconvenient to his belief system. It’s something to keep in mind in 2017 as Trump attempts to gut our government scientific agencies and enables more of these posturing politicians. We absolutely must be on guard to protect the integrity of good scientific research in the face of ideological idiocy.
PS: check out one of the researchers’ great explainer post of his paper!