The Headline That Wasn't

Did you hear NASA announced that last month was the hottest October on record? No? How about now:
The world has never seen such freezing heat
On Monday, Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which is run by Al Gore's chief scientific ally, Dr James Hansen, and is one of four bodies responsible for monitoring global temperatures, announced that last month was the hottest October on record.
That was from the opinion pages of The Telegraph, "Britain's No. 1 quality newspaper website". The Investor's Business Daily says in their Editorial/Opinion section:
Cold, Hard Facts
Despite record snows and low temperatures around the world last month, a major Al Gore supporter says October was the hottest on record.
And Barbara Sowell of the Digital Journal piles on:
Another Dagger in the Heart of Global Warming Advocacy
When GISS made the announcement last week it was shocking. All over the world were reports of unseasonal cold temperatures and record snowfalls. Even the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration registered 115 lowest-ever temperatures for the month of October.
Were you shocked by last week's announcement? NASA announcing that "October was the hottest on record" is certainly a headline grabber and I have to admit that I was shocked...shocked that my Google newsfeed didn't pick up on this story. I checked the major news outlets...ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX, etc. I was shocked to find that none of them carried any mention last week of this historical data point in the Global Warming timeline. Of these, only FOX news has posted a quick paragraph on the matter by Britt Hume:
In Hot Water
Last week, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies — one of the four bodies responsible for monitoring global temperatures used by the United Nations — announced last month was the hottest October on record. That was because the institute's maps showed a 10-degree increase across parts of Russia.
So why didn't responsible news organizations write a story about NASA's announcement? You're not going to believe this but there was no announcement. Christopher Booker, who wrote the original Telegraph article, made it up. Call it a lie, a fantasy, or Booker's dream story...but it never happened. What did happen was that NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) posted an erroneous data point in their monthly tabulation of global temperature data. A glitch or a program error (or whatever) caused large sections of Russian temperature data from September to be carried over into October. That is, their particular data was duplicated, causing the overall global average temperature to be artificially high. The new data point would suggest that last October was indeed the hottest October on record.

NASA did not issue a press release, did not hold a press conference, did not send out news bulletins...they did not even so much as attempt any kind of ballyhoo around this new figure. Understand that James Hansen would practically drool over such a figure because it would, in the midst of our current economic turmoil and the transition of government power, bring the topic of manmade Global Warming back to the fore.

No, the real story here is that NASA's Quality Assurance for checking their data, especially such a notable data point, sucks. The real story is that bloggers found the problem before NASA, that their ever watchful eyes are keeping NASA honest. The real story is that this is the 2nd or 3rd time this has happened. NASA's failure to keep a watchful eye over their data publishing practices only gives fodder to the ideologues who will provide no quarter for NASA scientists. All it takes is a guy like Booker and his David V. Goliath story to spawn headlines like:

With a topic as politically charged and touch sensitive as Global Warming, NASA needs to do a better job in checking their data. Oh, they would have eventually found the error but too late to stave off the PR coup from the GW deniers.

For a more detailed analysis from real scientists, take a look at:

Mountains and Molehills, from Real Climate
GISS Releases (Suspect) October 2008 Data, from John Goetz at Watts Up With That?
OK, What Caused The Problem, from the ever watchful Stephen McIntyre, at Climate Audit
Mountains Out Of Molehills, from Tim Lambert of the Deltoid blog

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