Friday, December 22, 2006
The debate on hurricanes and climate change can sometimes devolve into issues of data reliability. Unfortunately some of what is said about these issues is nonsense, or worse, self serving. As one example, during the middle 1990's, the high priest of NOAA's best-track data argued vehemently that the hurricane intensities during the 1950's and '60s were biased upward. I checked with my colleague Noel LaSeur, who flew into these early storms, and he said "If anything, we underestimated the intensity" suggesting a possible downward bias. Noel is correct. With this light, the intensity of the hurricanes of 2004 & 2005 is not that unusual against the backdrop of the formidable mid century hurricanes. Enthusiasts and partisans should not be tinkering with these data. Moreover, while it stands to reason (a priori) that the historical information will be less precise than data collected today with modern technologies, to ignore these earlier records is scientifically indefensible. Inspired by Edward Tufte recommendations for truth-telling in graphical presentations (Visual Explanations, Graphics Press, 1997), I suggest that one way to enforce data standards is to insist that the original, unprocessed data be posted alongside the manipulated data, and that the manipulators and their methods be identified.