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« Look back in wonder - Josh 309 | Main | Academic freedom for me, but not for thee »

The temperature and the spin

Many scientists on the whole seem to have been suitably cautious about alleged record-breaking temperatures, taking care to place the new data in the context of the error bars. It's also fair to say that others have been a bit wild.

The Science Media Centre has a couple of moderately level-headed responses, from Tim Palmer and Rowan Sutton, but as always with the SMC it's seen as important to get some input on climate change from a paleopiezometrist, from whom we learn that:

The new global temperature record announced today completely exposes the myth that global warming has stopped.

And if that isn't a lot of hoary old tosh I don't know what is.

However, giving credit where credit is due, even Bob's contribution has been put in the shade by Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press:

So how likely are these temperatures to be random? The Associated Press consulted with statisticians to calculate the odds of this hot streak happening at random. Here are some statistics and the odds they calculated, with the caveat that high temperatures tend to persist so that can skew odds a bit:

The three hottest years on record — 2014, 2010 and 2005 — have occurred in the last 10 years. The odds of that happening randomly are 3,341 to 1, calculated John Grego of the University of South Carolina. Kai Zhu of Stanford University, Robert Lund of Clemson University and David Peterson, a retired Duke statistician, agreed.

Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century. The odds of that being random are 650 million to 1, the statisticians said.

So persistence can skew the odds "a bit" can it? Others begged to differ:



 Interestingly, it was not just Borenstein who had been spinning this particular yarn. The great sage of "modern" statistics had tweeted something similar:



...despite several scientists having pointed out the error of his ways:



Peter Gleick had been doing likewise, with a corrective issued by CRU's Tim Osborn:

It's amazing to see how this kind of disinformation (misinformation?) gets generated and disseminated. If I, a humble blogger, can detect the error at a glance, why can't people whose job it is to uncover and communicate the truth about climate get it right? Why was Borenstein's contribution retweeted by the  "ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science" at the University of New South Wales? Why was Mann's regurgitated by a climatologist from Copenhagen?

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Reader Comments (79)

I am in awe of the absurdities expressed by these supposedly learned people.

Jan 17, 2015 at 7:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterBob Tisdale

Check this Q & A from James Hansen in 2005. It is still on the website..

Data.GISS: GISTEMP — The Elusive Absolute Surface Air Temperature

"Q. What exactly do we mean by SAT ?
A. I doubt that there is a general agreement how to answer this question. Even at the same location, the temperature near the ground may be very different from the temperature 5 ft above the ground and different again from 10 ft or 50 ft above the ground. Particularly in the presence of vegetation (say in a rain forest), the temperature above the vegetation may be very different from the temperature below the top of the vegetation.

Q. If SATs cannot be measured, how are SAT maps created ?
A. This can only be done with the help of computer models, the same models that are used to create the daily weather forecasts. We may start out the model with the few observed data that are available and fill in the rest with guesses (also called extrapolations) and then let the model run long enough so that the initial guesses no longer matter, but not too long in order to avoid that the inaccuracies of the model become relevant."

In 2005, the UK Met Office was claiming the year as the "hottest on record", but with this caveat,

"All the temperature values have uncertainties, which arise mainly from gaps in data coverage. The sizes of the uncertainties are such that the global average temperature for 2005 is statistically indistinguishable from, and could be anywhere between, the first and the eighth warmest year in the record.

Similar analyses in the United States rank the year as warmest on record (GISS) and second warmest (NCDC). However, NCDC also note that uncertainties arising from sparse observations or measurement biases make 2005 statistically indistinguishable from the warmest year, 1998, as well as from other recent years such as 2002 and 2003."

James Hansen (NASA) thought 2005 was the hottest year ever.

“A surprising Arctic warm spell is responsible for a 2005 that was likely the warmest year since instrument recordings began in the late 1800s”, added Hansen, who nevertheless admitted that the analysis had to estimate temperatures in the Arctic from nearby weather stations because no direct data were available.

As a result, he said, “we couldn’t say with 100 percent certainty that it’s the warmest year, but I’m reasonably confident that it was”. Hansen and other researchers wrote in the analysis that “the inclusion of estimated Arctic temperatures is the primary reason for our rank of 2005 as the warmest year.” (Mercosur News Agency, 27/01/06).

Also in 2005, the Hadley Centre produced a document which had some remarkable admissions in it:

"What constitutes ‘dangerous’ climate change, in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, remains open to debate.

Once we decide what degree of (for example) temperature rise the world can tolerate, we then have to estimate what greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere should be limited to, and how quickly they should be allowed to change.

These are very uncertain because we do not know exactly how the climate system responds to greenhouse gases.

The next stage is to calculate what emissions of greenhouse gases would be allowable, in order to keep below the limit of greenhouse gas concentrations. This is even more uncertain, thanks to our imperfect understanding of the carbon cycle (and chemical cycles) and how this feeds back into the climate system."

"The Science" of course was settled several years earlier....

Jan 17, 2015 at 7:48 PM | Registered Commenterdennisa

mikep: thxs. It's all gobbledigook for me. I don't trust any figures released by anyone in this 'debate' since it seems no matter what data set is used someone can come up with very intelligent reasons why it's faulty or distorted or over-algorithmed etc. In this case, I didn't see any mathematical explanation for why it was so faulty and so was curious; moreover, I don't see any correlation between the last few years being the warmest median temp (that's what they are talking about, right, median temp?) and that it proves this is caused by man. Maybe the source material being cited does a better job (though I doubt it), but just in terms of this post, I couldn't understand really what was being proposed nor exactly the argument against it.

Jan 17, 2015 at 8:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterCaperAsh

I think this comment by Bob Koss on JoNova's thread on the subject needs a wider audience :

" Bob Koss

January 17, 2015 at 3:27 pm · Reply

Don’t believe the record temperatures.

I ran a file comparator over both the unadjusted and adjusted files GHCN produces for both the 15th and 16th of Jan.

Between the Jan 15th and 16th they added no new usable data to the GHCN unadjusted file. There were 3 months of data added for 2014, but they were all immediately marked defective.

To build their adjusted file they start with the cleaned(no defects) unadjusted data. Since that didn’t change, their adjusted file should have stayed the same for both the 15th and 16th. It didn’t. They changed 18656 lines on the 16th. Over 200,000 months of data. Those figures are since the 19th century. All changes were in the US, Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas. Nowhere else. You Aussies didn’t even make it to the finals. :)

GISS also uses the GHCN adjusted data, so they can’t claim independence.

They have been busy beavers since at least the 6th of Jan. removing and inserting data all over the world. Pretty sure you were included in the preliminary rounds. :) "

Jan 17, 2015 at 8:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoss

We were told by experts that the polar icecaps were melting away. The sea ice around the poles WAS a true visible indicator of how HOT the planet was getting. Satelites confirmed the amount of sea ice was getting lower than ever before, there had been satelites to record the amount of sea ice. Observations from indigenous people and explorers were discounted as being unreliable.

Now that satelites confirm the sea ice is greater than ever recorded by satelites, this information is discounted, by being ignored.

With no evidence of actual warming for 18+ years, it is now necessary to amend historic records (due to inaccurate equipment and techniques) to make historical records appear colder, so the present seems warmer, and refocus public attention, on news footage of extreme weather events, which never occurred, before the era of affordable video cameras.

Oh, and change the name from Global Warming to Climate Change, as no member of the public, will ever notice it isn't warming but they will notice scary stuff on television.

Global Warming Sarcasm is getting worse than the experts thought possible.

Jan 17, 2015 at 9:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

1 in 27 million? About the same odds of Mann doing some real science?

Jan 17, 2015 at 9:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

I know John Shade may not promote/make the link to his Discussion post out of modesty or other, but I do wonder if his "Discussion > Self-exaltation as a driver of climate alarmism" - Sep 18, 2014 post found in top menu bar of this blog has relevance to this post ?

extract from his first comment - "I'm reading this book right now, and just came across a quote from T S Eliot given on page 184:

Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm - but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

only read it myself today before reading this & as usual I'm well behind in keeping up with all the good posts/discussions, so only a thought.

Jan 17, 2015 at 9:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

I am still surprised that most of the posts above still think that this "2014 record temperature" statement is the result of poor science, biased analysis or inadequate research by a lot of misguided green climate scientists.

Maybe - but it is definitely deliberate and organised. And until people wake up to this tried and tested activist process nothing is going to change, especially the blind acceptance by western governments of the IPCC CAGW hoax.

Look at the current claim: Bob Koss says the GHCN temperature record was adjusted between 6 and 16 January so that 2014 scraped in as the "warmest in xxxx", whereas based on the pre 6 January record it would not have. Immediately the UK Met office and the Australian BOM came out with statements in lock-step with NASA-NOAA, followed by the academic fellow travellers. Tell me thats not organised and pre-planned.

What is needed is a complete and detailed analysis of the GHCN data adjustments that took place in early January 2015 and the exposure of this manipulation to the world press. Only then can these extremists be exposed for what they are.

Jan 18, 2015 at 12:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterDaveR

Worse than the 97%, eh, DaveR? I fear you may be right, the juggernaut rolls on.

Jan 18, 2015 at 1:06 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

In my late teens I reached the unprecedented (for me) height of 182.48 cm. (almost 6 feet). I remained that height for 45 years. Using the methods of “climate scientists” I can't write such unbelievable odds. Then, one day the nurse measured me and said I was shorter by 2 cm. I asked her whether I was shorter on the top end or the bottom end. She couldn't tell, but she did think I was wider by about twice that amount and suggested I was less at both ends.

Jan 18, 2015 at 2:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

Hmm....yes John, I am so understanding your problem here......When similar happened to me (well, not quite the height amendment just yet) I used the best statistics I know and concluded on the basis of population that there was approximately a 1 in 7000,000,000 chance of it happening.

Who'd v thunk it?



Jan 18, 2015 at 3:16 AM | Unregistered Commenterjones

Rule 1 of creating a massive PR driven disinformation campaign is : "First make a claim that your opposition have created a massive PR driven disinformation campaign. "
In the case of Climate, shout "it's Big Oil" when asked for proper evidence shout "everybody knows" that way you'll get away with it.
- However I see that the 27 million claim originates on a page (which allows no comments ..ding-a-ling !)
That in turn references "Climate Central"
They are an eco-lobby group taken apart in this 2012 article

- That Mashable page is actually a straight copy of the page, but doesn't even contain a link to it.
- The Climate Central page by Andrea Thompson ..says
"A Climate Central analysis shows that 13 of the hottest 15 years on record have all occurred since 2000 and that the odds of that happening randomly without the boost of global warming is 1 in 27 million."
.. it then DOES NOT show/link to any working at all (ding-a-ling !)
It does allow comments but has none at the moment.

(The 27 million series claim is garbage, but it should not be mixed with the 48% chance of hottest year claim, they are apples and oranges)

Jan 18, 2015 at 4:47 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

PR agency spin with a NASA sticker on.
... I notice that JoNova Article agrees with me "it's not what they said, but what they didn't say..that is the important tell"
It was lying by omission and Constructed Reality.
Yes for 2014 there are a couple of land surface temperature sets that show that claim
1. Years do tend to be a touch warmer than the previous year, so that is not news, no one would have batted an eyelid 50 years ago.
The year could well be the warmest year in the modern era, despite measuring error & flawed adjustments etc.
2. Magnitude : what is it 0.02C or something ?
That has to be within the margin of error.
3. Both satellite sets disagree with the meme.
4. Temperature has changed little while CO2 has changed a lot
They ended by making a big claim about CO2, without showing big evidence : That temperature is rising dangerously and it's the fault of manmade CO2 ..but they didn't mention the magnitude of CO2 change for the decade at all
Maybe "Huge CO2 change vs tiny temperature change" wasn't the PR narrative they wanted.
5. It's worse better than we expected : Finally they didn't mention the 10 year temperature trend has to drastically get steeper, if it is to match IPCC 2100 projections.

Another commenter makes it clear.
When you see this kind of Climate Nonsenses out of NASA, what do call ?
"Bull Schmidt !"

Jan 18, 2015 at 5:22 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

The modern mass media regrets that we do not live in the age shortly after records began. Then, records were being broken – nay, smashed! – on a regular basis, as often as every day. What fun it must have been for the papers of the day, with headlines such as: “Forsooth! Ye ice-pack of ʃouthend is verily nere distruction!” Now, of course, with so much more information, so much more data, records are only being broken once in a blue moon; when it does happen, no matter how tenuous the facts, the media likes to make a feast of it.

Jan 18, 2015 at 1:03 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Interesting that record breaking events routinely occur in sports (the fastest runner ever), hype (the biggest deal ever), advertising (the most economical washing machine ever), fairy tales (the most beautiful princess ever), horror (the worst crime ever), entertainment (meet in our tent the fattest lady ever), and climatology.

Jan 18, 2015 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterMindert Eiting

Funny how all the "climate communicators" seem reluctant to communicate to the public that it is precisely because the so called "global temperature" hasn't changed significantly in recent years that any minute upward variation puts the year in question among the "warmest ever" provided you don't give a damn about statistical rigour.

All this aside of course from the fact that by "ever" they mean "starting from immediately after it was last historically warm" and the fact that their historical "data" is neither accurate, precise nor reliable.

Jan 18, 2015 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

wiretap of Operation Desperation: "We've got almost nothing, 0.02C with 0.1C margin of error only 1 other temp set agrees, the satellites don't even come close.
Look the big cheese wants something.
OK we'll just bluff it by going in all guns blazing.
And hopefully no one will ask about that complicated stuff
What about credibility and the good name of science ?
yeh what about it ?
... OK Operation Desperation is underway"

Jan 18, 2015 at 4:07 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

As a result, GISS’s director Gavin Schmidt has now admitted Nasa thinks the likelihood that 2014 was the warmest year since 1880 is just 38 per cent. However, when asked by this newspaper whether he regretted that the news release did not mention this, he did not respond. Another analysis, from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project, drawn from ten times as many measuring stations as GISS, concluded that if 2014 was a record year, it was by an even tinier amount.

Read more:
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Jan 18, 2015 at 9:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterOle

I believe this is the graph most of the above are trying hard not to remember.

Jan 18, 2015 at 10:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Good grief! Is that the best you can do, Russell? A link to Skeptical(not)Science, the site with the most manipulated stats in Climastrology? You really have to try harder.

Jan 18, 2015 at 11:17 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Is the persistence due to the value of the previous year's result, or is it due to the factors that cause the global temperature to be nearly the same.

Or to say it another way, does the long term persistence of solar irradiance, the earth's albedo, the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and other factors, determing the long term persistence of global temperature?

Jan 19, 2015 at 12:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterBob Droege

The rodent repelling temperature record is from BEST-- Skeptical Science has done nothing but animate it.

Jan 19, 2015 at 3:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

So what are they going to say when the next el nino drops the total again next year - which will happen as sure as night follows day? Do these guys really know so little or are they just too used to constructing PR-style lies to set up the next grant application?

Jan 19, 2015 at 9:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Of course I meant 'la nina'. Oops!

Jan 19, 2015 at 9:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Much as it might astonish you, Russell, NO-ONE on here is doubting that temperatures have risen since the Little Ice Age; most are grateful for it. What most on here doubt is that humans have had any significant influence upon this rise; most of it occurred before 1950, when the rise in human-produced CO2 is considered to have become significant. Most also doubt that it will lead to the doom that many are gloating over. The rise to date has been almost entirely beneficial; quite why a further rise (slight as it will probably be) is going to lead us down the path to thermogeddon is a mystery to me. Personally, I fear that this temperature plateau is a peak, and temperatures will start to fall. Should that happen, many of the calamities forecast for warming are more likely to occur.

Jan 19, 2015 at 10:15 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

"The odds of that happening randomly are .... "

Of course it's not random - it's dependant on the previous year's temperature. It's less than a tenth of a degree different to the previous year, which is normal, and less than two tenths from previous 13 years, etc.. All with high probability and high statistical significance.

Hey - I've discovered a rule - this year's temperature is dependant on temperatures of previous years!

Jan 19, 2015 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered Commenteranng

I've just emailed the 27m:1 stat to Tim Harford of R4's 'More or Less'. He's probably not allowed to touch religious subjects, but there's always a chance he might want a pop at the maths.

Jan 19, 2015 at 1:06 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

The higher the sensitivity, the colder we would now be without Man's efforts.

Jan 19, 2015 at 1:52 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

The Register chimes in...


Jan 19, 2015 at 4:01 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

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