You’re (not) the BEST thing

Set aside for one moment the fact that New Zealand has just (in every sense of that word) won the Rugby World Cup for the first time in a quarter of a century, and consider instead events in the world of temperature records. (Don’t worry, it won’t take long). A team led by Berkeley physicist Richard Muller — the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (BEST) — has successfully reinvented the wheel, by demonstrating (once again) that the planet has been warming over the last 150 years. Tim Lambert at Deltoid explains the algorithm Muller employed:

  1. State that “reported global warming may be biased by poor station quality“.
  2. Collect funding from Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
  3. Make the utterly predictable finding that warming is not a product of poor measurement.
  4. Brief reporters.

Michael Tobis at Planet 3.0 puts the affair in its proper context:

The science has not changed a whit – no serious scientist cares very much that the record has been confirmed yet again. Under ordinary circumstances this paper would have trouble getting published. This is not a red-letter day in scientific history. No new information is on the table. It’s posturing.

As for posturing, Brian Angliss at Scholars & Rogues points out that a certain US weather station quality control effort is under a little stress. One wonders if this might not spread to those who would wish to cast doubt on the NZ record?

[The Style Council]

35 thoughts on “You’re (not) the BEST thing”

  1. Michael Tobis has it spot on!

    I’m rather enjoying Watts and co. tying themselves in interesting knots trying to back away from results they said they’d accept. Now the memo is that they never denied there was warming, despite all those pixels that died needlessly claiming the exact opposite, as many have been gleefully pointing out by the simple device of regurgitating – it’s the right word! – their own quotes.

    What we’ll see from them now is merely a textbook study of those who simply will never accept that they were wrong. Not only wrong, but bloody-mindedly, hubristically so. Not only arrogantly and bloody-mindedly wrong, but wrong about the single most important thing to get right ever if our civilization is to have any chance of enduring.

    The Most Stupid People in History, in other words. Pat yourself on the back if you’re not one. Kick yourself and just finally do everyone a favour and get out of the bloody way if you are.

  2. I actually thought the papers were quite useful, even though they have yet to be peered reviewed and are therefore only drafts.

    The Temperature Averaging Process paper does improve the treatment of spatial estimates of temperature (avoiding gridding) and tightens some of the error margins (although it doesn’t take temporal auto-correlation in the time series into account and will be significantly? overstating the accuracy). It does suggest that temperatures were significantly colder in the late 19th century than previously reported by the HadCRU series.

    The Decadel Variations in Global Land Temps paper finds that on certain assumptions AMO is more closely associated with variable in land temp than ENSO, and interestingly goes on to discuss the extent to which the 65-70 year cycle in AMO contributes to average temp change. Since 1975 AMO has increased 0.55 degrees C while global land temp 0.8. It notes that the AMO changes maybe independent of a common forcing (e.g. greenhouse gas) in which case the human contribution may be somewhat overestimated. On the other hand it may not be independent.

    The Station Quality in the US paper suggests that poor station quality doesn’t unduly bias the temp record, although the test used here are simply on averages from the OK and poor stations and only investigate trends. Watts claims the metadata was only available for a limited period and the analysis pushes back to 1900. I suspect we will hear more on this.

    Finally the UHI paper find an UHI effect not consistent with previous estimates (i.e. they find a negative effect). Again I suspect we will hear more of this.

    To say again, all pre-peer review, but if you have an interest in the science rather than having a desperate need to be proven correct you could learn quite a lot from this project (warts and all).

  3. My understanding is that it’s not just one paper. Also, I don’t think it’s grandstanding at all.

    For the skeptics/deniers out there, work by _one of them_, which corroborates the science they thought was incorrect, is important. The idea’s to leave no corners at ll where these people can hide and refuse to face what’s going on. Also, I think the use of new methodologies is pretty interesting.

    Yes, while many people (esp climate scientists) do accept that warming is happening, the problem isn’t about preaching to the choir – it’s about everyone else: in this case, the public, policy makers and business. Who remain far from convinced.

    1. Some of the new methodologies may have merit, but that doesn’t make the finding interesting – as Tobis points out. And the reaction from the sceptic camp — even those who initially welcomed Muller because they thought he was on “their side” — has been entirely predictable. They simply deny what BEST has found — see for instance this wonderful little piece by Willis Eschenbach at µWatts (not to mention some of the other stuff posted there recently).

      1. Oh, agreed – the finding’s what one would expect (if sane). And I have no doubt that there’s much furious hand-waving 🙂 But the more it’s attacked from every possible angle, the clearer it becomes that the (hopefully decreasing as this sort of thing increases) deniers are full of nonsense which in turn, may help all those public peeps who keep saying ‘but there are legitimate reasons for skepticism!’ come over to the light side of the force 🙂

        1. Instead of reinventing circular transport devices, I’d much rather we focussed on the stuff that’s happening now – floods, ice melt etc (of which more later) – and began to take action seriously…

      2. Thanks for that link, Gareth. Those folks really are the Creationists of the 21st Century! You can’t even parody people who can say with a straight face ‘the Kochs should ask for their money back’!

        ‘Media whores’ eh? Glad they’re not resorting to abuse, then.

        The Tamino link you posted above repays a visit, too.

  4. Although Richard Muller scores well on PR skills, one needs to be cautious about certain aspects of his preliminary findings:

    1. The 4 papers relate only to land temps, excluding 70% of the planetary surface, and therefore offering no insight into global trends;

    2. The papers are neither peer-reviewed of published by any respectable journal. So far, they comprise the “grey literature” tag ascribed to press releases.

    3. They are critical of pre-war data quality and limit their analysis to the last 65 years only;

    4.The UAH and RSS satellite records are ignored entirely;

    5. On causation, they suggest the human contribution “may have been overstated” by a substantial margin.

    I don’t think the Berkeley team has ever claimed to be sceptical of the warming record – just aware that many aspects had been criticised. The funding from the Koch charity was less than 5%, whilst the main backers are believed to be interested in geo-engineering solutions to any warming issues they detect.

    1. Congratulations on having got down all of the key talking points in the Watts and cr.* memo! Saves a lot of thinking, don’t it? Right down to the ‘PR whore’ snipings… (And how do, say, Monckton, Plimer and Carter score on that front, would you say?)

      ‘Denier forced to utilise scientific method confirms scientific findings.’ Quelle surprise!. Cling to all your little talking points all you like; let’s face it, Sunshine – spin it seven ways to Sunday, you’re still shafted!


    1. No, Simon. “Denial” as a serious concept was first proposed by Freud.

      It’s most commonly used nowadays for personal or social things. The first stage of the 5 stages of grief, for example. And it has a long history – the famous ‘Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt’ came from Mark Twain. Which means it was in common parlance long, long before WW2.

  5. Ah, but words pick up meaning as time goes by, what Freud and Twain meant by it has been modified by WW2, particularly where it is intended as a form of abuse.

    Perhaps you could explain how Freud would have regarded Australis’ comment as evidence of pathological denial (and along the way help bill to understand the technical nuances of the terms he uses)?

    1. The only people linking the use of the word “denier” to the holocaust in the context of the climate debate are those who deny the reality, seriousness or need for action to address climate change. The faux outrage they often display is at best amusing.

      1. Glad I tickled your fancy, but in the end call it what it is: it’s an offensive little debating ploy that should be grown out of.

        In this particular case it has been applied to someone who IMHO made a series of statements that had nothing to do with denial in any sense of the word. Rather Australis’ argumentation stuck pretty much to the facts compared to your original post on this subject.

            1. Bill’s comment – that Australis was presenting a synopsis of all the arguments being run by the likes of Watts about the BEST effort – was right on the money. Australis may wish to associate with that position, but we’ll leave whether he’s in denial about the reality, severity or need for action on climate change up to him, shall we?

            2. I guess the point you are making is that if you change the issue from what bill was implying about Australis (which we can read and judge) to what Australis thinks (which none of us knows), you’ll be on safer ground.

              I also beg to differ about what bill’s comment was about. By any standard it was an abusive and sarcastic response to a series of reasonably factual statements about the publications in question. I mightn’t have written what Australis wrote that way myself, but given the tenor of your original post I thought it reasonably even handed.

            3. Sorry, Simon, but you’re the one who changed the subject, by choosing to focus on a fatuous argument about the use of a word. If you agree with Australis’ comment – and therefore with the lines of argument he presents, then say so. Then we might have a reasonable conversation. And take a hint: he is not correct in all his assertions (or at least, not in the way he makes them).

            4. I had thought I was being pretty consistent in my comments following bill’s – simply drawing attention to the abuse that was being used. It is difficult to think of any other more constructive way to help lift the level of debate here.

              Which of bill’s cogent arguments would you have me respond to?

              As to the substance of the debate you did respond to my earlier comment by referencing Tamino’s comments – none of which seemed to cut across the points I made apart from my reference to Keenan’s concerns about auto-correlation.

              In this regard Tamino in an earlier post to the one you reference takes Keenan to task for his comment about auto-correlation on the basis that Muller et al used Monte Carlo techniques to calculate uncertainty. As far as I can see they in fact only use this to determine spatial uncertainty, not temporal which would be the area impacted by Keenan’s comments.

              What do you think?

            5. I’m not going to get into a detailed discussion about papers I haven’t yet read. When (or if) they are accepted for publication, I might take the time. Tamino’s focussing on the paper I’m most interested in, and I look forward to his next post on that subject.

            6. Australis is a denier. This is evidenced by his many posts here (and at other blogs) over the years. This is a history well-known to Bill, and other regulars, and now anyone who reads this comments section.

  6. I doubt Freud would have been much use. He himself was a classic example of a denier.

    He couldn’t face the obvious fact (read the case notes) that many of his women clients had been sexually abused, mostly when they were children, within their families. So he had to come up with the highly elaborated, almost circular argument of the “Elektra complex” rather than admit that a single one of the uber-respectable family men of the city’s middle and upper classes had ever had a single moment of sexual impropriety with a daughter, sister, niece or grand-daughter. Basically it’s the reverse of the ‘recovered memories’ issue. Instead of accidentally implanting false memories in clients, Freud was actively denying their reality and convincing them and the rest of the world that their real memories were fantasies. (And, as a bonus, ensured for decades that women and girls who identified sexual harassment or worse on the part of father (figures) could have that sexual motive turned back as an accusation against themselves.)

    And let’s face it, nowadays, deniers come in enough variety to qualify as liquorice allsorts. We have 9/11, germ theory, JFK assassination, HIV/AIDS, moon landing deniers, and a few others I can’t be bothered to think further about. And then there’s the climate deniers. Plenty of them. The only difference I can see is that climate complexity gives more scope to more people to come up with more and more different (usually incompatible) alternatives.

    1. So really nothing much to add to bill’s use of the term when applying it to Australis’ contribution, and just another reason to regard the term as offensive.

      1. ‘Denier forced to utilise scientific method confirms scientific findings.’

        For such a high-minded person your contextual reading skills are apparently surprisingly poor! You even acknowledge that you are wrong above, but then just go right back to arguing as if you were right! This is familiar behaviour to many of us here.

        But what I suspect is happening is that you are looking for an opportunity to run-out a favoured script, so just have to make do with whatever chance comes to hand!

        But to matter, Australis is a denier, in my experience – someone who simply will not accept overwhelming evidence that conflicts with his world view. Like HIV and immunisation deniers.

        A quick swing through some online dictionaries reveals –

        n – a person who denies
        noun – a person who denies
        n. – One that denies: a denier of harsh realities.
        : one who denies (deniers of the truth)

        I could go on; at any rate, it rather looks like you’re out-of-step in current English usage!

        The “Holocaust” hobgoblin is tedious and an emotive stunt, frequently employed by people with little else to work with.

        I also find it quite ironic how much in the way of ‘offensive little debating ploys’ you’re apparently entitled to toss around in the process of accusing others of employing them! Freud had a name for that, too…

    2. The term “denier” or “doubter” has long been used in religious debate to label one who is not a “true believer”. In the sense that climate change is seen as a faith or ideology, the word has an understandable role. However, if one avers that climate change is based on science, there is no basis for applying the term to those who take an opposing view.

      The word is also opaque in relation to the whole of climate science. If a pundit believes the world is warming, thinks human GHGs contribute, but believes humans can adapt satisfactorily as long as 3°C (not 2°) is not exceeded this century – is she a “denier”?

      Are BEST people deniers, in that they don’t accept GISS figures for ocean surfaces, and are agnostic regarding causation?

  7. The term “denier” or “doubter” has long been used in religious debate to label one who is not a “true believer”. In the sense that climate change is seen as a faith or ideology, the word has an understandable role.

    Another cheap stunt! ‘It’s a religion, I tells ya!’ is as hackneyed, dishonest, and dreary as the ‘you’re saying we don’t believe in the Holocaust!” mantra. Knock it off.

    However, if one avers that climate change is based on science, there is no basis for applying the term to those who take an opposing view.

    Uhm, those who take the opposing view would be those who don’t believe climate change is based on science(?!), therefore there is every basis for applying the term! (Since we’re on Freud lately, I suspect this to be a Freudian error on your part…)

    BEST merely reinforced what the science already says, and it’s notable that Muller has switched from asserting that everyone elses previous work was dubious – and possibly even dishonest – to acknowledging its being outstanding!

    This will happen to every single one of the denier memes wherever the scientific method has to be employed in investigating the matter – take it from me; there is no dark, musty corner where the final nail in the coffin of AGW will be found, and clinging to this forlorn hope is a pathetic anachronism at best!

    I attended a fascinating session at Womad Earthstation over the last weekend that highlighted the overwhelming biological evidence for a warming world. Quibbling about the UHI or ocean temperatures cannot save you from that!

    (It was also very pleasant to spend an entire weekend in a community of actually qualified people and other grown-ups where denier canards were simply absent. Long overdue!)

    Since there’s only a certain level of self-delusion most people can sustain – and this BEST result really is a crippling blow to the denial movement – what we’ll see now is more of the switch to ‘we never denied it’ and simultaneously more contradictory quibbling in some necromantic effort to revive the eerie wraith of doubt from the crypt of evidence. Your ‘memo’ material, in other words. Not having to be logically consistent really does make life easier, doesn’t it?

    So we’ll doubtlessly see more of your hypothetical female candidate’s position. She may well be a cornucopian fool, but wouldn’t qualify as a denier at this stage. However, as with mounting evidence it becomes increasingly obvious that these cornucopian beliefs are absurd, a reversion to denial is most likely to follow…

    But let’s assume for a moment that there’s an actual good faith motivation here. Welcome to Reality! In 2011 what to do about the problem of AGW is the only area where there’s a legitimate debate. All the rest is gimcrackery…

  8. Now that Jon Stewart has run it, the Associated Press finally jumps on board.

    Granted, there is absolutely no news in this story – well, no science news anyway. But this is a political story – Muller himself was ranting about how the climategate scientists hid the decline, etc and convinced Charles Koch to part-fund the study.

    This is a political hit at a political campaign, and the sooner people realise that the denier attack on the science is a political campaign, the better.

    The story’s not over. Morano has now gone on the warpath, even listing Muller’s email address (he will now be getting a deluge of hate mail).

    And apparently Judith Curry disagrees with the results – and has said so in the Daily Mail.

    Oh and on the subject of the word “denier”, it seems to work for Richard Lindzen, one of the High Priests of the Carbon Club who told the BBC:
    “Denier is closer than skeptic. Realist also works.”

  9. Heh. I’ve just been interviewed by Patrick Gower of 3 News. I asked him to ask Don Brash if ACT would apologise for smearing NIWA in the light of the BEST results 🙂

    I also said that my top election policy priority was clean energy, and that I couldn’t believe National’s number 1 energy policy was to dig for oil and coal.

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