Watts wrote a check he couldn’t cash

That wacky climate change denier and radio weather broadcaster Anthony Watts took a brave step a while back, and I commend him for it. He was enthused about an independent research project, the Berkeley Earth Project, that would measure the planet’s temperature over the last centuries and compare it to the work of NOAA and NASA on earth’s temperature — he apparently expected that it would show that NASA and NOAA had been inflating the data. He was so confident that he went on the record saying:

I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.

Excellent! That’s a good scientific attitude.

So the results have been published, and they look like this:

Results from the Berkeley Earth project data fits existing NASA and NOAA temperature records like a glove

You can probably see the NASA/NOAA data wiggling beneath the dark bold line of new data from the Berkeley Earth Project. They’re rather…close. Intimate, even.

What do you think Anthony Watts’ response was?

I consider the paper fatally flawed as it now stands, and thus I recommend it be removed from publication consideration by JGR until such time that it can be reworked.

Yep. Didn’t give the results he wanted. Therefore, the experiment is bad.

(Also on Sb)


  1. KG says

    Yes, this really is the acid test for Watts, and the acid has eaten away the facade of “skepticism” to reveal him – not for the first time – as a shameless anti-scientific liar and fraud, utterly unlike the many fine climate scientists he has spent the past several years defaming.

  2. Alverant says

    Didn’t give the results he wanted. Therefore, the experiment is bad.
    Yep, pretty much explains the conservative attitude about science itself.

  3. raven says

    This data collection shows that…Anthony Watts has feet of clay and a brain of oatmeal.

    Polykookery is common. Chances are he believes a lot more wacky stuff. Aliens communicating with him through his microwave oven, Bigfoot, 9/11 was a government conspiracy, Obama is a Kenyan born Moslem terrorist, George Bush has a brain, and jesus is going to show up on October 21 2011 and destroy the world.

    When nothing will ever change your mind, you don’t have a skeptical attitude, you have a religious belief.

  4. Anubis Bloodsin the third says

    Not going particularly well for the barking subjectively handicapped whiners the corporate backed, and the religiously motivated climate change deniers.
    Watts is just a ‘wannabe’, a mouthy prick with a wish to ingratiate his sorry ass with the right wing.

    Seems every report coming out is not helpful to their view, and the oil companies are not pleased either with the overwhelming evidence or their pet financially retained yappers….methinks a change in tactics might ensue…but they have no real alternative.

    I expect an appeal to the woo bone in the public will be more concerted now that scientific evidence supporting their denial is so rare.
    They can claim conspiracy all they want, but those graphs always seem to tell the same story, oh dear how sad, time we all took a mind to ignoring the flim flam artists and concentrate on, reality for a change!

  5. Larry says

    There is an ancient Charlie Brown cartoon where Lucy is citing stats to Cbarlie regarding their dismal baseball season. Finally, Charlie gets fed up and says to Lucy “Tell your statistics to shut up”.

    Somewhat apropos, me thinks.

  6. Monkeys Evolve Into Humans says

    Can’t he be happy to sit quitly in his house and play make believe; just use his imagination to get the numbers he wants and then not bother anyone?

    And yes… I know the answer is: no he can’t.

  7. says

    The poor bastard got a big surprise and discovered that science would not validate his preconceptions. Hence: too bad for science! (Does Watts have the wit to be embarrassed — even if just a little?)

  8. says

    Life is…simpler… when you already know which conclusion is right. Then the data that are right and those that are wrong are always easy to figure out.

    ID and global warming “thought” in a nutshell.

    Glen Davidson

  9. says

    The report has no actually been published, but it has been released. This is a little concerning because it is in fact a way the results can remain in limbo at least for a while. They (there are actually four papers, of which the heat island paper is one) have been submitted for peer review, and we can expect modifications, but the basic results will probably remain the same.

  10. SteveV says

    Reminds me of Miss M’s line with our 6 year old (long, dear FSM, how very long ago)

    A – Muum, Can I have an ice cream?
    M – No.
    A – Aww pleeeeeeeze!
    M – No.
    A – WAAAAAH!
    M – If I had said yes, there would be no argument, would there?
    A – Sniff, sniff. No.
    M – Then stop whining.

    ‘poor bastard’ indeed. Watts is a turd and an immature turd at that,

  11. required says

    “Reworked”? I thought that’s what only the lying, insider scientists did with data? Your Manns and whatnots.

  12. atomic1973 says

    Out of curiosity, is the statement he made about accepting whatever conclusions are reached still on his blog? I’m assuming that’s where they were made… but may be wrong on that.

    I went looking for them but couldn’t find them so was curious if they had been removed or perhaps published elsewhere where they’d not be so easily erased.

    I admit, I didn’t look TOO deeply into his blog as I have a weakness for checking out comments as well, which generally depress me more than the posts themselves.

  13. benlawson says

    I think on some level Anthony must know what a fool he is making of himself, because his response to non-fawning commenters is revealing his frustration. But he doesn’t have the wit to recognize the solution – admit reality.

  14. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Ah, look at the denialist squirm. Can’t accept the fact that he is wrong. TSK, TSK, not showing much maturity or intelligence with continued denialism.

  15. Moggie says

    “Radio weather broadcaster”? You mean his claim to expertise is that he can read a script prepared by a real meteorologist without stumbling over the words? Wow, impressive credentials, better pay attention to what he says.

  16. Muffit says

    Irony also being that this study was funded by climate deniers Koch Brothers, by two climate skeptics. Also, Muller, who did the research immediatly wrote an op-ed in WSJ to attack the idea that this warming, which he now independently found to be absolutely true, was human caused. So they basically learnt nothing. The denialism is still alive. Unbelievable. (see link here http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204422404576594872796327348.html#printMode )

  17. ikesolem says

    Muffit, Muller only pointed out that their study did not analyze any causative issues. Other studies have done that in depth – it’s fossil fuel-sourced CO2 that’s driving the warming. See the press release:


    On the issue of previous analysis:

    “Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the U.S. and the U.K.,” Muller said. “This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change skeptics did not seriously affect their conclusions.”

    On the more comprehensive approach used in this study:

    Robert Rohde, lead scientist for Berkeley Earth, noted that “the Berkeley Earth analysis is the first study to address the issue of data selection bias, by using nearly all of the available data, which includes about 5 times as many station locations as were reviewed by prior groups.”

    On Watt’s PR efforts:

    Stations ranked as “poor” in a survey by Anthony Watts and his team of the most important temperature recording stations in the U.S., (known as the USHCN — the US Historical Climatology Network), showed the same pattern of global warming as stations ranked “OK.”

    Watts – what a lunatic. He’s in the same category as Minnesota State Representative Mike Beard, who recently said this:

    “God is not capricious. He’s given us a creation that is dynamically stable. We are not going to run out of anything.”

  18. anchor says

    This is the signature behavior of the GW denialist. And the false (aka ‘rightwing’/teabagger) conservative. And the anti-darwinist young earth creationist (that is but one particular species from a gigantic phylum of associated goddists). And the ufo-mongering, moon-landing hoaxter conspiracy-theorist. And the anti-vaxer. And the supernaturalist. And the homeopathist. And the…well, you get the general picture. There are thousands.

    They all act like each other. All branch from the same core kingdom.

    They are all BRATS who can’t handle truth, factual evidence, reality, etc. They hate anybody or anything that doesn’t agree with their tiny mental model. They hate science. They hate nature. They hate life. (They don’t fit). And they’ll lie about THAT too.

  19. Amphiox, OM says

    “God is not capricious. He’s given us a creation that is dynamically stable. We are not going to run out of anything.”

    Yeah. Tell that to the Rapa Nui. Or the Mayans.

    I suppose Beard doesn’t count them in his “us.”

    Or tell the first one to poor, blinded Abraham. Genesis 22.

  20. DLC says

    not surprised at either the report or at Watts’ reaction to it.
    It didn’t show what I wanted, ergo it must be deeply flawed. Except, it isn’t.

  21. jonashortell says

    Watts blog’s comment section is alight with a echo chamber of back-slapping and denialism over the study, was there really any doubt that his reaction would be any other than this?

  22. Kels says

    You’re not allowed to say “denialism” or any variation of that on Watts’ blog, and they’re only too happy to censor that out. A wee bit touchy, methinks.

  23. Lee says

    Multiple independent measurements! This is exactly what I wanted to see when I was initially exposed to global warming. I would love to believe that global warming isn’t real, but the data is really really solid. Great work by Berkeley!

  24. Holms says

    To be honest, I dislike all examples of press-release-before-peer-review. Regardless of the findings of that paper, regardless of the reasoning contained within, announcing results to any media before the paper has been scrutinised is skipping a vital component of scientific method.

  25. Holms says

    Yeah I fucked that comment something fierce apparently, seeing as how my text got quoted and text I was actually quoting is nowhere to be seen…


  26. Jayden Reynolds says


    Well, Nile is also a pretty rockin’ technical death metal band. Could just use that excuse :P

  27. DougieDo says

    Everyone should make note of these:

    Anthony Watts, 2010: “Instrumental temperature data for the pre-satellite era (1850-1980) have been so widely, systematically, and uni-directionally tampered with that it cannot be credibly asserted there has been any significant “global warming” in the 20th century.”

    Anthony Watts, 2011: “The issue of “the world is warming” is not one that climate skeptics question, it is the magnitude and causes.”

    It’s not news, but good to have more proof to skewer him with: he is a delusional liar.

    He also says we should ignore the BEST study because it has not been peer reviewed. With that ‘logic’ we should also ignore everything that Watts has ever said.

  28. Sean Boyd says

    I didn’t know anything about Anthony Watts, but SourceWatch provides a nice summary of his involvement in climate denialism. In keeping with PZ’s title for this post, Anthony Watts appears to be well-versed in check kiting.

  29. WhiteHatLurker says


    Out of curiosity, is the statement he made about accepting whatever conclusions are reached still on his blog?


  30. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    What’s really annoying about most climate change denialists is their objections aren’t about the science. They don’t want the socio-economic changes that’ll have to take place to deal with climate change. But they’re not honest enough to admit this. So they attack the science instead.

  31. Russell says

    Muffit is OTL as to what Muller said and did.

    His Wall Street Journal piece concludes:

    ‘When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find. Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections.

    Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that.’

  32. KG says

    Climate change threads usually bring out the glibertarians and similar riff-raff – interesting that none have yet showed up for this one.

  33. Eric says

    Did he say why the experiment was fatally flawed, or did he just dismiss it?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dealt with people with whom there can be no reasoning. No amount of evidence penetrates the bubble of excuses all the way down to “people didn’t believe germ theory either and that’s how it will be with climate science! They’ll see it’s all bunk later when they’re more honest about it!” Sad really.

    Anyhow, it’s a critical point. If he said why, it can be debated. If he didn’t, then he’s 100% instead of 98% bankrupt.

  34. uncle frogy says

    how long will we have to wait until we begin to seriously act and not the little token steps we are doing now. To use a tired metaphor we are racing through the north sea full of Ice burgs and fog we may have stopped burning the furniture but are still going full speed ahead.

    are we going to have to wait until we have to build a dike around wall street? or is our collective response going to be just to get on our knees and prey?

    uncle frogy

  35. MetzO'Magic says

    Did he say why the experiment was fatally flawed, or did he just dismiss it?

    Watts’ biggest ‘issue’ appears to be with the period across which the BEP group analysed the surface station data. It was 60 years, whereas most temperature series have a 30-year baseline. But Watts has been taken to task many times in the past for his astounding inability to grasp how baselines and anomalies work. He imagines that changing the period over which the baselines are taken is tantamount to cooking the books.

    For example, say the baseline for the satellite data is from 1980 to 2010 (because satellite measurements only began in 1979, so there is little choice). So then the temperature anomaly across that period is going to be relatively low, because the baseline period is quite recent. So Watts *loves* the satellite data for that very reason.

    Then when you come along and show a graph for a data set that has an older baseline period, say 1951 – 1980, the temperature anomaly is quite a bit higher, because mankind has poured a lot more CO2 to the atmosphere since 1950 than we have since 1980. But repeated attempts to explain this to the buffoon just fall on deaf ears. Unbelievable. You just can’t make this stuff up. All brought to you courtesy of the ‘best science blog of 2008’ [irony meter explodes]

  36. unbound says

    Seems like a bit of deja vu. The corporations tried to get some skeptical scientists to demonstrate that smoking wasn’t actually bad for you…except that those scientists ended up proving the opposite…

  37. Pickle surprise says

    @ raven

    “When nothing will ever change your mind, you don’t have a skeptical attitude, you have a religious belief.”

    And deniers smugly accuse those who accept the evidence of AGW as following a religion with Al Gore as our high priest.

    They still say this despite the reaction of Watts to this particular study.

    They say this despite the mouth foaming that occurs if ONE bad word is said against their beloved Lord Monckton.

    Climate Change denialism: a textbook example of projection.

  38. Ichthyic says

    Did he say why the experiment was fatally flawed, or did he just dismiss it?

    It doesn’t matter.

    The exact methods that would be used for the Berkeley study were made public BEFORE they started.

    This is WHY Watts said he was “prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.”

    they didn’t change the method used in the middle of data collection, so Watts is DEFACTO a liar.

    IOW, completely irredeemable, no room left for debate.

  39. Ichthyic says

    And deniers smugly accuse those who accept the evidence of AGW as following a religion with Al Gore as our high priest.

    That’s because denial and projection often go hand in hand.

  40. OldHat says

    # 44, Eric, 23 October 2011 at 9:39 pm

    The BEST project is most properly not an “experiment”, but an analysis of data.

    The 1st quote at #37 DougieDo, 23 October 2011, 7:07 pm – has been the basic Watts position. It’s the flypaper for a fair fraction of the denialarati. His group of merry photographers actually did something quite useful in documenting the status of weather recording stations in the US. The motivation for that wasn’t for any objective reason, but to bolster their faith. They had a “cause”.

    Now, in the face of further evidence (this is the 3rd analysis making use of Watts’ Surface Stations Organization site inventory [one of them has Watts as the 2nd author] with same conclusion) comes the backpedaling from the money quote of Watts, made on his blog on March 6th, after lauding the BEST methodology, that PZ quotes. The “cause” is kaputt.

    # 46, MetzO’Magic, 23 October 2011 at 10:39 pm, has the description of one of the skeletonized fig leaf Watts is waving at his flies, though they’ll keep buzzing even if they have to operate inverted.

    The other Watts objection is the one Greg Laden – # 13, 23 October 2011 at 3:15 pm – mentions: the press outreach prior to peer review and publication. Greg’s note should be heeded. The Berkley group does point out all their stuff is online, in part to see if someone can find any errors. Watts isn’t the chorus leader, but is a member of the “free the data and methods” complaint choir. That’s, arguably, addressed by the early posting, which is now a source for complaint.

  41. scifi says

    ….as Watts disappears, screaming “I’m melting, I’m melting!!”……

    He really does attract the nutbags!

    Luke Scientiae does some excellent debunking on his blog site. A really worthwhile adjunct
    to PZ’s commentary. Check it out.

    (Yes, that was a shameless plug for the man’s site – it’s new and pretty cool).

  42. Lotharsson says

    The other Watts objection is … the press outreach prior to peer review and publication.

    Because as we all know, Watts has no history of loudly trumpeting claims that have not been through pre-publication peer review, nor one of claiming that peer review has been so corrupted that you can’t trust the scientists?


  43. Juice says

    Where is the BEST paper so I can read it and see their methods? Is it on arxiv or anything? Or what’s the title so I can google it?

  44. lukescientiae says

    PZ is right in his criticism of Watts, who is not only unwilling to adjust his views to what the data says, but who also criticised the BEST study on the basis that it’s not peer-reviewed when he himself generates tons and tons of unreviewed material.

    I only had time to skim-read the comments here so far, so I apologise if someone pointed this out already, but a particularly notable aspect of the BEST study was one that was DIRECTLY aimed against Watts. Previously Watts has alleged that many of the world’s weather stations have large errors associated with their measurement. The BEST study looked into this and mentioned Watts by name:

    “An analysis team led by Anthony Watts has shown that 70% of the USHCN temperature stations are ranked in NOAA classification 4 or 5, indicating a temperature uncertainties greater than 2C or 5C, respectively….. From this analysis we conclude that the difference in temperature rate of rise between poor stations and OK stations is –0.014 ± 0.028 C per century. The absence of a statistically significant difference between the two sets suggests that networks of stations can reliably discern temperature trends even when individual stations have large absolute uncertainties.”

    It’s as though Watts had said that since many clocks in the world aren’t set to the right TIME, they can’t measure LENGTHS of time accurately.

    I’ve provided links to the four studies BEST are preparing for publication, quotes from others and link to several far more in-depth commentaries than mine, here:

    I’ll add that my (admittedly limited) experience of commenting on Watts’ blog has invariably resulted in some crank pursuing me with irrelevant comments. Most recently, for instance, one of Watts’ fanboys told me that 1. he “happens to be knowledgable” about IR spectroscopy (measuring regions of the infra-red spectrum in which different compounds absorb) and at the same time that 2. CO2 molecules are “perfectly spherical”. The latter is a nonsense and in chemical terms shows ignorance of the order of flat-earthism. The funny part is that IR spectroscopy is HARD PROOF that CO2 is not a sphere. Watts’ attracts these denialbots that follow him around, clearly suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect, who are willing to say ANYTHING to protect their precious beliefs.

    My suggestion (made here: http://goo.gl/uLWKn) is that Watts’ blog should be used as a dataset for psychologists interested in studying the psychology of denial. It’s colossal. There are thousands of blog posts and probably hundreds of thousands of comments, each of which could be analyzed for content, extent of scientific illiteracy and strength of denial… it’s a project waiting to happen, no? Perhaps then Watts will finally have contributed to the sum of human knowledge (not that he’d be glad for it).

    To draw this rant to a close, I’d just like to direct any remaining deniers to a list of indexed debunkings of climate-related myths (here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php), an excellent book about the denial industry, how it is funded and how it operates (here: http://goo.gl/AfMiT) and finally, in a shameless act of self-promotion, suggest that people interested in climate change denial might be interested in my posts (including others’ lectures) on the subject (e.g. here: http://goo.gl/0YjZV).

  45. MartinM says

    If I did that every time Watts or one of his acolytes said something stupid, I’d have died a long time ago. Probably around the time they demonstrated that they didn’t understand the incredibly advanced mathematical concept of averaging.

  46. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    . CO2 molecules are “perfectly spherical”.

    *facepalm right*
    *facepalm left*

  47. lukescientiae says

    To follow up on the “CO2 is a perfect sphere” idiocy that followed me back from WUWT like a bad smell:

    I should add that the guy agreed later to remove the word “perfect”. Here’s the quote from him directly:

    “I did remove the word “perfect” before sphere,
    I thought you had a point there…………”

    Chemically this is the equivalent of saying that you’ll agree to remove the word “perfectly” from the phrase “the Earth is perfectly flat.” It’s chemical flat-earthism, essentially.

    The fact that CO2 bonds stretch and bend is the very thing that makes it IR active. A sphere could not do this. IR is the PROOF that CO2 cannot be spherical, and yet this dimwit claimed to have carried out thousands of IR exeriments.

    I even directed him to chapers in physical chemistry textbooks describing group theory and symmetry elements, according to which you can categorize different molecules and PREDICT how many IR bands they will have. The reply? The guy complained I sent him too many links! Truly a graduate of the Watts’ school of denial: Watts publishes a blog with no peer-review, much of which is bunk and a platform for cranks to spread their guff. His criticism of the BEST study? It’s not peer-reviewed. (Not YET!)