Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Climate Gate" Gets a Re-Tread: Daily Mail Distorts

I tend to post articles about human-caused climate change by experts, because I am not one. I am scientifically literate, but not expert enough to feel confident trying to explain the complexity of the earth's climate balance.

However, today's Daily Mail, a London-based yellow journalism rag, has a headline claiming that a scientist at the center of the Climatic Research Unit's controversy “admitted” there has been no global warming since 1995. The CRU has been doing sound research for decades into the issues of human-caused climate change.

CRU recently became a cause celebre among climate change deniers when emails and other electronic documents were stolen from them and subsequently anonymously posted on the internet. The emails in question have led to variety of inquiries into possible data falsification by CRU.

Today the Daily Mail claimed that former CRU director Phil Jones, whose emails and other documents are at the center of the controversy, had admitted that "1995 to now there has been no statistically significant warming."

However, that one line is ripped out of context. The Daily Mail says that Jones "sounds much less ebullient about the basic theory." Compared to what?

Here's the exact quote from a recent BBC interview, which is the basis of the Mail's misreading:

"BBC – Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming?
Jones: Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods."

Notice, "only just" meaning that he considers the apparently "flat" trend to not be statistically significant, nor would he consider a trend that showed a sharper rise to be significant.

The term "statistically significant" is standard science talk when discussing complex data. What he is saying is that if we were to decide if climate change were occurring based on the data since 1995, we couldn't decide either for or against. Climate change is a complex phenomenon, and does not rise or fall sharply, but the overall trend is what matters.

All the reports that I have read continue to say that the "flat" data is actually not that flat. It falls just below the "statistically significant" line but not by much, meaning that when combined with the previous century's data it is consistent with continued - wait for it -


Last year was one of the warmest years on record, and I quote at length below.

"A report by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirmed that the present decade has been the warmest ever observed in the southern hemisphere.

"The NASA report released Jan. 21, said that new analysis of global surface temperatures found that 2009 was the second warmest since 1880. "In the southern hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year on record," it said.

"The report explained that 2008 was the coolest year of the decade in the southern hemisphere due to a strong La Nina phenomenon, which cooled the tropical Pacific Ocean below average temperatures. La Niña (the little girl) is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon similar to El Niño.

"During La Niña, sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean is lower than normal by 0.5 degrees Celsius. In the United States, an episode of La Niña is defined as a period of at least five months of La Niña conditions.

"In its report, the NASA said that "2009 saw a return to near-record [high] global temperatures as the La Nina diminished, according to the new analysis by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York."

"The document also confirmed the trend seen elsewhere, that this decade has been the warmest ever. In the paper, NASA points out that the 2009 average temperatures were a small fraction of a degree lower than 2005, the warmest on record.

"That puts 2009 in a tie with a cluster of other recent years - 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2007 - as the second warmest on record."


Peace! Charley

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