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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Skeptics Catching Up on Climate Science : Discovery News


There really wasn't any doubt.

Evidence that Earth is warming is based on three sets of temperature readings. One set is maintained by NASA, one by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and one by a collaborative effort between Britain's Meteorological Office and the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, a dataset generally referred to as HadCRU. All of them have painted essentially the same picture: a global temperature increase over land of slightly under 1 degree C (1.8 F) over the past century.

Gov. Perry Inquisitor of Climate Change

But, as we know, not everybody has been willing to accept that evidence. One of those who has been most visibly (or audibly) vocal in his skepticism has been UC Berkeley professor Richard Muller. Muller has claimed erroneously that the famous 'hockey stick' graph showing temperature increases derives from a mathematical error (the graph has in fact been endorsed in a review by the National Academy of Sciences). He also fabricated criticisms by others of Al Gore, misrepresenting Gore's statements in the process. And he helped perpetuate some of the inaccuracies and misstatements that helped flame 'Climategate'.

So the announcement earlier this year that Muller would be co-chair of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) study, which would use statistical analysis “to resolve current criticism of the [global] temperature analyses, and to prepare an open record that will allow rapid response to further criticism or suggestions,” was greeted with some cynicism, particularly given that the study was being heavily underwritten by the Koch Brothers, serial funders of climate deniers.

THE DISCOVERNATOR: Amazing Facts Served Up Hot

But evidence is evidence, and facts are facts, and the BEST team's first four papers, submitted for peer review but meanwhile published online, have concluded that ... well, global land temperatures have increased by about 1 degree Celsius. In fact, the BEST study yielded a temperature increase just two percent less than NOAA's estimate.

In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Muller wrote that:

When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find. Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections. Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. [Emphasis added]

(Of course, anyone who has actually followed climate science, rather than skeptic blogs about climate science, will have found the sentences in bold far less surprising than Muller and his team apparently did.)

Climate Quitters: Sorry You Lose

As for whether this might cool the debate: well, probably not. The study monitors temperature increases, and does not address the cause of those increases. As Kevin Drum noted in Mother Jones: "So in one sense, its impact is limited since the smarter skeptics have already abandoned the idea that warming is a hoax and now focus their fire solely on the contention that it's man-made. (And the even smarter ones have given up on that, too, and now merely argue that it's economically pointless to try to stop it.)"

Indeed, James Delingpole in the Daily Telegraph attempted to argue that, "it has been a truth long acknowledged by climate skeptics, deniers and realists of every conceivable hue that since the mid-19th century, the planet has been on a warming trend." Never mind that, just two years ago, skeptics were assailing the very foundations of climate science or that many were arguing the existence of "global cooling" based on the fallacious claim that there has been no warming since 1998 - which was in fact the headline of a blog Delingpole posted less than four months ago. And some of the BEST research was designed specifically to test two particularly persistent skeptic claims: that some temperature stations produce anomalously high readings, and that the "urban heat island effect" distorts the temperature record.

No matter. Skeptics will continue to marshal their arguments and say one thing. The evidence - mountains of it, and growing all the time - will continue to say something else entirely.

Image by Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) Study.

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