Scientist Who Said Climate Sceptics
Had Been Proved Wrong Accused
Of Hiding Truth By Colleague
by Benny Peiser
It was hailed as the scientific study that ended the global warming debate once and for all – the research that, in the words of its director, ‘proved you should not be a sceptic, at least not any longer’. But today The Mail on Sunday can reveal that a leading member of Prof Muller’s team has accused him of trying to mislead the public by hiding the fact that BEST’s research shows global warming has stopped.–David Rose, Mail on Sunday, 30 October 2011
In our data, which is only on the land we see no evidence of [global
warming] having slowed down. Now the evidence which shows that it has been stopped is a combination of land and ocean data. The oceans do not heat as much as the land because it absorbs more of the heat and when the data are combined with the land data then the other groups have shown that when it does seem to be levelling off. We have not seen that in the land data. –-Professor Richard Muller, BBC Today programme, 21 October 2011
Contrary to claims being made by the leader of the Best global temperature initiative their data confirms, and places on a firmer statistical basis, the global temperature standstill of the past ten years as seen by other groups. It is impossible to reconcile this with Professor Muller’s statement. Could it really be the case that Professor Muller has not looked at the data in an appropriate way to see the last ten years clearly? –David Whitehouse, The Global Warming Policy Foundation, 30 October 2011
This is “hide the decline” stuff. Our data show the pause, just as the other sets of data do. Muller is hiding the decline. To say this is the end of scepticism is misleading, as is the statement that warming hasn’t paused. –Professor Judith Curry, Best co-author, Georgia Institute of Technology, 30 October 2011
1) Scientist Who Said Climate Sceptics Had Been Proved Wrong Accused Of Hiding Truth By Colleague
It was hailed as the scientific study that ended the global warming debate once and for all – the research that, in the words of its director, ‘proved you should not be a sceptic, at least not any longer’. But today The Mail on Sunday can reveal that a leading member of Prof Muller’s team has accused him of trying to mislead the public by hiding the fact that BEST’s research shows global warming has stopped.
Professor Richard Muller, of Berkeley University in California, and his colleagues from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperatures project team (BEST) claimed to have shown that the planet has warmed by almost a degree centigrade since 1950 and is warming continually.
Published last week ahead of a major United Nations climate summit in Durban, South Africa, next month, their work was cited around the world as irrefutable evidence that only the most stringent measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions can save civilisation as we know it.
It was cited uncritically by, among others, reporters and commentators from the BBC, The Independent, The Guardian, The Economist and numerous media outlets in America.
The Washington Post said the BEST study had ‘settled the climate change debate’ and showed that anyone who remained a sceptic was committing a ‘cynical fraud’.
But today The Mail on Sunday can reveal that a leading member of Prof Muller’s team has accused him of trying to mislead the public by hiding the fact that BEST’s research shows global warming has stopped.
Prof Judith Curry, who chairs the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at America’s prestigious Georgia Institute of Technology, said that Prof Muller’s claim that he has proven global warming sceptics wrong was also a ‘huge mistake’, with no scientific basis.
Prof Curry is a distinguished climate researcher with more than 30 years experience and the second named co-author of the BEST project’s four research papers.
Her comments, in an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, seem certain to ignite a furious academic row. She said this affair had to be compared to the notorious ‘Climategate’ scandal two years ago.
Like the scientists exposed then by leaked emails from East Anglia University’s Climatic Research Unit, her colleagues from the BEST project seem to be trying to ‘hide the decline’ in rates of global warming.
In fact, Prof Curry said, the project’s research data show there has been no increase in world temperatures since the end of the Nineties – a fact confirmed by a new analysis that The Mail on Sunday has obtained.
‘There is no scientific basis for saying that warming hasn’t stopped,’ she said. ‘To say that there is detracts from the credibility of the data, which is very unfortunate.’
However, Prof Muller denied warming was at a standstill.
‘We see no evidence of it [global warming] having slowed down,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. There was, he added, ‘no levelling off’.
A graph issued by the BEST project also suggests a continuing steep increase.
But a report to be published today by the Global Warming Policy Foundation includes a graph of world average temperatures over the past ten years, drawn from the BEST project’s data and revealed on its website.
This graph shows that the trend of the last decade is absolutely flat, with no increase at all – though the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have carried on rising relentlessly.
‘This is nowhere near what the climate models were predicting,’ Prof Curry said. ‘Whatever it is that’s going on here, it doesn’t look like it’s being dominated by CO2.’
Prof Muller also wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal. It was here, under the headline ‘The case against global warming scepticism’, that he proclaimed ‘there were good reasons for doubt until now’.
Media storm: Prof Muller’s claims received uncritical coverage in the media this week
This, too, went around the world, with The Economist, among many others, stating there was now ‘little room for doubt’.
Such claims left Prof Curry horrified.
‘Of course this isn’t the end of scepticism,’ she said. ‘To say that is the biggest mistake he [Prof Muller] has made. When I saw he was saying that I just thought, “Oh my God”.’
In fact, she added, in the wake of the unexpected global warming standstill, many climate scientists who had previously rejected sceptics’ arguments were now taking them much more seriously.
They were finally addressing questions such as the influence of clouds, natural temperature cycles and solar radiation – as they should have done, she said, a long time ago.
Yesterday Prof Muller insisted that neither his claims that there has not been a standstill, nor the graph, were misleading because the project had made its raw data available on its website, enabling others to draw their own graphs.
However, he admitted it was true that the BEST data suggested that world temperatures have not risen for about 13 years. But in his view, this might not be ‘statistically significant’, although, he added, it was equally possible that it was – a statement which left other scientists mystified.
‘I am baffled as to what he’s trying to do,’ Prof Curry said.
Prof Ross McKitrick, a climate statistics expert from Guelph University in Ontario, added: ‘You don’t look for statistically significant evidence of a standstill.
‘You look for statistically significant evidence of change.’
The BEST project, which has been lavishly funded, brings together experts from different fields from top American universities.
It was set up 18 months ago in an effort to devise a new and more accurate way of computing changes in world temperatures by using readings from some 39,000 weather stations on land, instead of adding sea temperatures as well.
Some scientists, Prof Muller included, believe that this should provide a more accurate indication of how the world is responding to carbon dioxide.
The oceans, they argue, warm more slowly and this is why earlier global measurements which also cover the sea – such as those from the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia University – have found no evidence of warming since the Nineties.
The usual way a high-profile project such as BEST would publish its results would be in a scientific journal, following a rigorous ‘peer review’ by other experts in the field.
The more eminent journals that publish climate research, such as Nature And Science, insist there must be no leaks to the media until this review is complete and if such leaks occur, they will automatically reject the research.
Earlier this year, the project completed four research papers.
As well as trends in world temperatures, they looked at the extent to which temperature readings can be distorted by urban ‘heat islands’ and the influence of long-term temperature cycles in the oceans. The papers were submitted to the Journal of Geophysical Research.
But although Prof Curry is the second named author of all four papers, Prof Muller failed to consult her before deciding to put them on the internet earlier this month, when the peer review process had barely started, and to issue a detailed press release at the same time.
He also briefed selected journalists individually. ‘It is not how I would have played it,’ Prof Curry said. ‘I was informed only when I got a group email. I think they have made errors and I distance myself from what they did.
‘It would have been smart to consult me.’ She said it was unfortunate that although the Journal of Geophysical Research had allowed Prof Muller to issue the papers, the reviewers were, under the journal’s policy, forbidden from public comment.
Prof McKitrick added: ‘The fact is that many of the people who are in a position to provide informed criticism of this work are currently bound by confidentiality agreements.
‘For the Berkeley team to have chosen this particular moment to launch a major international publicity blitz is a highly unethical sabotage of the peer review process.’
In Prof Curry’s view, two of the papers were not ready to be published, in part because they did not properly address the arguments of climate sceptics.
As for the graph disseminated to the media, she said: ‘This is “hide the decline” stuff. Our data show the pause, just as the other sets of data do. Muller is hiding the decline.
‘To say this is the end of scepticism is misleading, as is the statement that warming hasn’t paused. It is also misleading to say, as he has, that the issue of heat islands has been settled.’
Prof Muller said she was ‘out of the loop’. He added: ‘I wasn’t even sent the press release before it was issued.’
Prof Muller defended his behaviour yesterday, saying that all he was doing was ‘returning to traditional peer review’, issuing draft papers to give the whole ‘climate community’ a chance to comment.
As for the press release, he claimed he was ‘not seeking publicity’, adding: ‘This is simply a way of getting the media to report this more accurately.’
He said his decision to publish was completely unrelated to the forthcoming United Nations climate conference.
This, he said, was ‘irrelevant’, insisting that nothing could have been further from his mind than trying to influence it.
2) David Whitehouse: Best Confirms Global Temperature Standstill
Contrary to claims being made by the leader of the Best global temperature initiative their data confirms, and places on a firmer statistical basis, the global temperature standstill of the past ten years as seen by other groups.
Many people have now had some time to read the papers issued in preprint form from the Best project. My strong impression is that they are mostly poorly written, badly argued and at this stage unfit for submission to a major journal. Whilst I have made some comments about Best’s PR and data release strategy, I want to now look at some aspects of the data.
When asked by the BBC’s Today programme Professor Richard Muller, leader of the initiative, said that the global temperature standstill of the past decade was not present in their data.
“In our data, which is only on the land we see no evidence of it having slowed down. Now the evidence which shows that it has been stopped is a combination of land and ocean data. The oceans do not heat as much as the land because it absorbs more of the heat and when the data are combined with the land data then the other groups have shown that when it does seem to be leveling off. We have not seen that in the land data.”
My first though would be that it would be remarkable if it was. The global temperature standstill of the past decade is obvious in HadCrut3 data which is a combination of land and sea surface data. Best is only land data from nearly 40,000 weather stations. Professor Muller says they “really get a good coverage of the globe.” The land is expected to have a fast response to the warming of the lower atmosphere caused by greenhouse gas forcing, unlike the oceans with their high thermal capacity and their decadal timescales for heating and cooling, though not forgetting the ENSO and la Nina.
Fig 1 shows the past ten years plotted from the monthly data from Best’s archives. Click on the image to enlarge.
It is a statistically perfect straight line of zero gradient. Indeed, most of the largest variations in it can be attributed to ENSO and la Nina effects. It is impossible to reconcile this with Professor Muller’s statement. Could it really be the case that Professor Muller has not looked at the data in an appropriate way to see the last ten years clearly?
Indeed Best seems to have worked hard to obscure it. They present data covering more almost 200 years is presented with a short x-axis and a stretched y-axis to accentuate the increase. The data is then smoothed using a ten year average which is ideally suited to removing the past five years of the past decade and mix the earlier standstill years with years when there was an increase. This is an ideal formula for suppressing the past decade’s data.
When examined more objectively Best data confirms the global temperature standstill of the past decade. That the standstill should be present in land only data is remarkable. There have been standstills in land temperature before, but the significance of the past decade is that it is in the era of mankind’s postulated influence on climate through greenhouse gas forcing. Predictions made many times in the past few years suggest that warming should be the strongest and fastest in the land data.
Only a few years ago many scientists and commentators would not acknowledge the global temperature standstill of the past decade. Now that it has become unarguable there has emerged more explanations for it than can possibly be the case.
To explain the combined sea-land temperature hiatus some have suggested that the oceans are sucking up the heat, as professor Muller outlines in his radio interview. This explanation is strained in my view if the land temperature stays constant. Could we really have the very special situation whereby the oceans sequester just enough heat at just the right time to keep the land temperature flat? Aerosols, postulated by some to be coming from China, don’t provide an explanation for the land temperature hiatus either. In fact, the constant land temperature puts a strain on all of the explanations offered for why the land-sea combination hasn’t warmed in the past decade or so.
We make a big deal of the temperature going up. In my view we should make a bigger scientific deal about temperature flatlining for a decade or more in the face of rising CO2 levels. If further scrutiny of the Best dataset confirms this finding we will have new questions about the nature and balance of oceanic and land warming.
The fact that Best confirms the global temperature hiatus and shows that it is apparent in land only data is significant, and in my view its major scientific finding, so far. It is puzzling that they missed it.