Objectivity and Global Warming

Those of you who read the major story on the front page of the Jan. 17, 2015, N.Y. Times may have been struck by a glaring omission. The story is headlined: “2014 Breaks Heat Record, Challenging Global Warming Skeptics.” It presents information about the record global temperature of last year and the ongoing trend of an ever-hotter climate. But one thing is missing – actual temperatures! Astonishingly, not a single temperature reading is included in the piece.

Here are some excerpts from the article: “Last year was the hottest on Earth since record-keeping began in 1880.” “Extreme heat blanketed Alaska and much of the western United States.” “In the annals of climatology, 2014 surpassed 2010 as the warmest year.” “The 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997.” One would think that the principle of objectivity plainly demands that the reader be told what the temperature levels were. But no mention is made of the actual temperature for any period of time covered in the article. (There is an accompanying weather map for 2014 and a chart of the annual climate trend since 1880; big on graphics and small on words, both show only the amounts by which the temperature deviated from the 20th century’s average.)

The only plausible explanation for this omission from the article is that the temperature increase—described as portending “profound long-term risks to civilization”was embarrassingly trivial. Here are the relevant data (all temperatures are Fahrenheit), taken from the source used by the Times article, the <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/" onclick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'outbound-article', 'http://www.ncdc celebrex dosage.noaa.gov/sotc/global/’, ‘National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’]);” >National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

  • The average global temperature during 2014 was 58.24˚, beating the previous high in 2010 by . . . 17/100 of a degree!
  • The change in temperature between 1880 (56.50˚) and 2014 (58.24˚) was 1.74˚an increase of 0.013˚ per year, or a minuscule 1.3˚ per century!

The article further notes: “Skeptics of climate change have long argued that global warming stopped around 1998 . . .  [b]ut the temperature of 1998 is now being surpassed every four or five years.” Again, no actual numbers are offered, so let me offer some. The average temperature in 1998 was 58.13˚; in 2005 and 2010, it was 4/100 of a degree higher; by 2014—the record year—it had risen by 11/100 of a degree. Yet we are supposed to “expect the heat to get much worse over coming decades.” One can see why the reporter might have been disinclined to use concrete numbers.

The article does allude to these tiny increases in temperature, but in a dismissive and non-informative manner. A number of scientists argue that climates go through natural cycles and that there had been some warming in the decades prior to 1998, but virtually none since then. Here the Times cites John Christy, an atmospheric scientist “known for his skepticism about the seriousness of global warming,” who said “that 2014 had surpassed the other record-warm years by only a few hundredths of a degree, well within the error margin of global temperature measurements [italics added].” Dr. Christy is quoted as saying: “Since the end of the 20th century, the temperature hasn’t done much. It’s on this kind of warmish plateau.”

How does the Times reporter deal with this claim? Not by giving us the data on the actual temperatures now and in 1998. Instead, the claim is shrugged off through the reporter’s assertion that “the vast majority of those who study the climate say the Earth is in a long-term warming trend that is profoundly threatening.” That is the whole of the response to Dr. Christy’s point: i.e., numbers don’t matter on questions of science, only the majority vote does.

So here we have a striking example of non-objective reporting. The story is supposed to reveal a dangerous and continuous rise in global temperatures—while the reporter withholds the facts that would make a reader seriously doubt the validity of his theme.♦♦ 

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4 thoughts on “Objectivity and Global Warming

  1. Russ

    Hope you don't mind my sharing!  Very well stated and as I looked over the Times article I couldn't help notice the graphic you mentioned.  It was clearly done with reds and blues to magnify this as a problem, when in terms of graphing, it should have been graduations of a single color.  There is no rule, and the idea IS to show variances, so I guess I cannot call it false, but misleading?  Why not blue to green or violet?  Why not show this as it is – micro deviations form a statisitical norm?  The Times knows their readers, so this use of graphics is convenient to sell their "story".  And I am left with a new question today, on this subject.  Looking at these rather small margins you have cited, in temperature variation, I am left to wonder the margins on temerature mearing devices SINCE 1880 and how they may have changed.  Are they close enough to be considered and has anyone done so.  Most do not use mercury anymore, but back then they all did.  Just wondering.

  2. Michael Smith

    Thank you for the excellent article Peter.  The fundamental argument advanced by the alarmists is that the only way to get the various climate models to recreate the observed warming of the last 100 years is to build in a positive "climate sensitivity" to increasing levels of CO2.  "Climate sensitivity" refers to an alleged amplification of the very small initial warming that, say, a doubling of CO2 content in the atmosphere would produce.

    So a large number (> 50 I believe) of these models have been constructed on this premise and put through numerous "runs".  Here are some unpublicized facts about these "runs":

    1) All global warming theorists agree that the physics involved in the models dictate that the greatest warming will occur in the tropical troposphere, not at the earth's surface.  Yet the opposite has occurred in reality: the warming recorded at the surface has exceeded the warming in the tropical troposphere.  Hence, none of the models agrees with all of the observed temperature data.  That alone would make an objective researcher check his premises, for something is wrong with a model that contradicts reality.

    2) The alarmists evade this fact and deny any "model versus observation" discrepancy. There is a wide variation in the output of these models.  On the low end, some runs of some models produce cooling trends.  Any such run is eliminated from consideration.  More runs will be done with different initial conditions until at least a slight warming trend emerges. Other models predict vastly more heating than has been observed to date.  So the resulting spread of model results does manage to overlap (a little) the observed data. Essentially, what happens it this: the models that wildly overstate the heating in the tropical troposphere overlap (a little) the temperature record at the earth's surface — while the models that understate the heating of earth's surface overlap (a little) the temperature record of the tropical troposphere.  This is the basis of the denial of any "model versus observation" discrepancy.

    With these facts in mind, consider the nature of the “argument” being offered here (I will justify my scare quotes): it is an attempt at induction by elimination of all other factors.  The warmists say, “We cannot reproduce the warming of the last century by any other method than an amplification — a positive climate sensitivity — to CO2 caused warming.  Therefore, anthropogenic CO2 emissions must be the cause.”  Such a form of induction surely carries a very heavy burden of proof.  How can they prove that no other natural factors are responsible for the warming, especially in view of the fact that warming periods have occurred in the past, long before the industrial revolution got started?  And absent such a proof, on what possible basis would their attempted induction be valid?

    What’s more, at root this argument is question-begging: they are assuming the truth of positive climate sensitivity (temperature amplification of a much smaller increase) in an effort to prove positive climate sensitivity. I think their “argument” is an epistemological mess, a product of “confirmation bias” and outright evasion of reality gone wild.

    There are many other instances of dishonesty on the part these global warming “scientists” that I could cite, but this comment is already too long.

  3. Harry Mullin

    What about the objectivity of the concept "the average temperature"? Just because an average can be taken of a series of numbers, that fact says nothing about whether one should or, more importantly, whether such an average has any meaning.

    For example, in southern California I lived about 2 miles from the ocean (there is a marked cold current than runs down the coast for those in the mid-west who might be fooled by the tourist industry propaganda likening California waters to the Caribbean) .

    One year the summer was particularly cool – I recalled wearing sweaters and closing windows at night. Then I met someone who lived 10 miles further inland (that is not a typo) who complained about their sky high air conditioning bill for the same period (inland is affected by the desert climate that predominates in this area).

    An average of those two would be like the two ecstatic economists returning from duck hunting. Ecstatic because one shot exactly 2 feet in front of each duck and the other two feet behind so on average they were right on target.  No ducks, but ecstatic nevertheless.

  4. Mark Wallace

    In 1979, newspaper coverage of the incident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station never once mentioned a Geiger counter reading of radiation levels. Never once. Journalism has become the ultimate refuge of the second-handers.


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