Comments On The Misleading Nature Geosciences Article “Climate Change Confirmed… Again”

In  Nature Geosciences January 2012, Volume 5 No 1  on page -9, there is an article titled

Climate change confirmed… again

The article is written by Alexandra Witze

who covers the Earth and other sciences for the US biweekly magazine Science News

as reported in the Nature article.

My Comment:  The first error in this article is that climate change (i.e. the title “[c]limate change confirmed…” ) is not just the global average surface temperature trend! Climate (and changes in climate statistics) is very much more than that limited metric, as discussed, for example, in

National Research Council, 2005: Radiative forcing of climate change: Expanding the concept and addressing uncertainties. Committee on Radiative Forcing Effects on Climate Change, Climate Research Committee, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 208 pp.

The article starts with the text [highlight added]

Year after year, three top climate science groups analyse global surface temperature data and reach the same conclusion: the planet is warming at unprecedented rates. So why would a fourth team be needed to also scrutinize the data? The answer lies in the sociopolitical morass of how climate science is received today by much of the public. Sceptics have done their best to sow confusion by questioning, among other things, the integrity of the global temperature record. The criticisms are manifold. Weather monitoring stations have been cherrypicked, data sloppily extrapolated, and spurious effects not properly accounted for — or so say the detractors. Such arguments have gained traction among many
audiences.

My Comment:   The reporter’s statement that “the planet is warming at unprecedented rates” shows a failure by this journalist at examining actual data which conflicts with this statement.  She  is accepting the global average surface temperature as the definitive metric to diagnose global warming when other data sets (e.g. lower tropospheric temperature trends -  see Figure 7; upper ocean heat trends) show no such unprecedented warming.  Even the global average surface temperature trends have been muted in recent years with respect to what the multi-decadal global models are predicting (e.g. see).

The statement that “[s]ceptics have done their best to sow confusion” completely misrepresents the scientific method where scientists are obligated (if they are using the accepted scientific method) to seek to falsify hypotheses! Richard Muller’s BEST work is an example of hypothesis testing (and he should be credited for this), but, as discussed in my weblog posts on his work that are listed below, the hypothesis remains incompletely tested using his approach.

The text continues with

This explains the intense media response to the first papers published from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project, led by iconoclastic physicist Richard Muller of the University of California, Berkeley. The BEST scientists set out to reassess records from weather stations by compiling an independent, bigger data set from scratch and developing their own statistical techniques to analyse it.

My Comment:  The reporter repeats the erroneous statement that the BEST data set is independent of the NCDC, CRU and GISS data sets, as discussed in the posts

Comments On The Testimony Of Richard Muller At the United States House Of Representatives Committee On Science, Space And Technology

Is There A Sampling Bias In The BEST Analysis Reported By Richard Muller?

Richard Muller On NPR On April 11 2011 – My Comments

Comment On The Article in the Economist On Rich Muller’s Data Analysis

Comments And Questions On The BEST Analyses

The Nature Geosciences article also failed to report that there is a siting problem with the surface temperature trend data as was reported in detail in

Fall, S., A. Watts, J. Nielsen-Gammon, E. Jones, D. Niyogi, J. Christy, and R.A. Pielke Sr., 2011: Analysis of the impacts of station exposure on the U.S. Historical Climatology Network temperatures and temperature trends. J. Geophys. Res.,  116, D14120, doi:10.1029/2010JD015146.Copyright (2011) American Geophysical Union.

Below this article on the same page, is a separate write-up titled “The journalist’s take” [a subscription is needed to read]

which starts with the paragraph

For climate scientists, the question of whether Earth’s surface is warming was settled in the affirmative long ago. But for journalists, other considerations come into play when deciding whether to run such a well-trodden story.

My Comment:  The journalist who wrote this text fails to recognize that the question as to whether the Earth surface is warming needs to be continually monitored each year, as the climate is much more dynamic than represented by a monotonically increasing annual average global surface temperature.  Perhaps, in the coming years, the surface temperature will warm but it is not a “settled” question but one that needs to be continually reassessed.

In this case, the very fact of who was releasing the study, and why they actually did it, was newsworthy. Nearly every public discussion of the surface-temperature record now comes with at least one sceptic raising the issue of station quality and data integrity. Richard Muller, head of the BEST team, is a self-proclaimed climate sceptic to a certain degree.

My Comment:  The identification of Richard Muller as a “skeptic” who has had an epiphany seems to be the main reason that the news media are so focused on his views. In reality, he is a newcomer to the climate issue, and, from my perspective, is still very much on a learning curve.

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