Mail struggling to find room for doubt on warming data
- 31 Oct 2011, 14:00
- Robin Webster
Over the last couple of weeks the Berkeley Earth Surface
Temperature (BEST) project has caused something of a media
storm. BEST - headed by Professor Richard Muller, a climate skeptic
physicist, and part-funded by the Koch brothers - aimed to reassess
global temperature data in the light of criticisms by climate
skeptics following 'Climategate'.
The study's results (not yet
peer reviewed) are identical to those of all the main groups who
have looked at this issue - in other words they found that the world is warming, and
that the criticisms from climate skeptics that the study addressed
had no impact on the data. Specifically, the project found that the
earth has warmed by about 1 °C since the middle of the last
Climate skeptic blogs variously reacted to
this news by arguing that they had never disputed warming; that
the study didn't attribute warming to humans (it didn't try to), or
that there were errors in the methodology of the project.
Now the Mail on Sunday has printed a
two page spread by climate skeptic journalist David Rose (whose
misrepresentations we have previously addressed here).
The article claims that the BEST data in fact shows that "global
warming has stopped"; and that a leading member of Prof Muller's
team has accused him of misleading the public by trying to
hide that fact.
The scientist quoted in the article is Professor Judith Curry.
Curry authors the skeptic-friendly blog Climate Etc. She was the only
climatologist involved in the BEST project.
The old "global warming has stopped" claim
The Mail hangs its article on a quote from Curry:
'There is no scientific basis for saying
that warming hasn't stopped"
This point is illustrated using the following graphs (which have
two different x-axes):
The graphs are sourced to a
written by the 'science advisor' to the Global Warming Policy
Foundation, Dr David Whitehouse.
previous claim that "global warming has stopped" over the last
decade, Whitehouse argued in this blog that the BEST data "confirms
the global temperature standstill of the last decade" and the graph
shows a "… statistically perfect straight line of zero
This argument is one frequently made in the climate skeptic
blogosphere. But the big problem with this kind of claim is that a
decade of data simply isn't enough to reach the kind of conclusion
that Whitehouse is making. As we have discussed in a previous post,
scientists do not assess temperature trends on such short
timescales, as temperature varies as a result of natural
variability on decadal timescales and so scientists do not anticipate
an unvarying, relentless rise in global temperature. A slow-down in
global warming does not mean that global warming has stopped.
The approach that Whitehouse is taking has been described by one
independent statistician as a "technique that is
suspect" and by prominent skeptic Dr Pat Michaels as an
argument that skeptics should not use as it is one that "you
Judith Curry misrepresented
Curry has also questioned the way she has been represented in
the Mail piece. She wrote on her
blog yesterday that although she stood by her direct quotes in
the piece, "some of the other sentiments attributed to me are not
says that she agrees with BEST's statement that
"This exercise simply shows that the
decadal fluctuations are too large to allow us to make decisive
conclusions about long term trends based on close examination of
periods as short as 13 to 15 years."
Despite this, the Mail continues to claim, in an article
printed today, that Curry believes that the BEST project
"underplayed the fact there has been no global warming for 13
years." This seems contradictory - and it seems that the Mail may
be mixing up
Curry's criticisms of the BEST projects' PR, with the GWPF's
claim that "global warming has stopped".
Furthermore Curry says that the article's headline was
"definitely misleading", that she did not, as stated in the piece
"...say that "the affair had to be compared to the notorious
Climategate scandal two years ago" and that the comparison to "hide
the decline" was "teased...out of me".
The Mail describes Curry as a "leading member of the Prof
Muller's team" and the "second named co-author of the BEST
project's four research papers". In fact Curry has written that she
was not centrally involved but "
loosely" in the BEST project; the fact that she is the
person on the BEST papers "is attributable to my last name
starting with the letter 'C'".
Re-hashing the 'hide the decline' claim
Rose's article also references another oft-repeated,
oft-debunked myth, saying
"Like the scientists exposed then by
leaked emails from East Anglia University's Climatic Research
Unit...the BEST project seem to be trying to 'hide the decline' in
rates of global warming."
The phrase "hide the decline", which was contained in an
email that Professor Phil Jones sent to a colleague in 1999,
and which was subsequently hacked from the UEA severs, has become
an iconic part of the
'Climategate' lexicon. The interpretation that scientists
wanted to "hide the decline" in global temperatures has been
repeatedly offered despite the email being sent in 1999 - before
the slow-down in warming over the last ten years. As detailed in
the Russell Report "the
decline" in fact referred to the fact that a set of proxy
temperature data from tree rings had diverged from temperature
measurements - the proxy temperatures had declined while real
temperatures continued to increase.
Mail supporting misrepresentation
Rose's piece was accompanied by a
editorial in the Mail on Sunday entitled "still room for doubt"
- which stated that
"A great deal of government policy is
based on the certainty that global warming is the biggest threat to
our future thanks to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the
"That is why the country is overrun with
wind farms and energy costs are skyrocketing, with green stealth
taxes adding 15 to 20 per cent to the average domestic power bill.
And this is all done on the authority of scientists who, we are
repeatedly told, must have got the arguments right.
"….isn't it time for the Energy
Secretary, Chris Huhne, and other ministers, to at least open their
minds about climate change?"
Leaving aside the fact that this editorial (
again) repeated a GWPF-sourced figure which the Mail has
already had to correct once following a PCC
complaint, it shows that the Mail is willing to repeat and promote
not just flawed and inaccurate arguments about energy policy, but
significant misrepresentations of climate science.