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Berkeley Earth recalculates global mean temperature, gets misinterpreted

It is not true that the Berkeley group has found relevant evidence for the core questions in the AGW debate

Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature led by Richard Muller – a top Berkeley physics teacher and the PhD adviser of the fresh physics Nobel prize winner Saul Perlmutter, among others – has recalculated the evolution of the global mean temperature in the most recent two centuries or so, qualitatively confirmed the previous graphs, and got dishonestly reported in the media.

Some people including Marc Morano of Climate Depot were predicting that this outcome was the very point of the project. They were worried about the positive treatment that Richard Muller received at various places including this blog and they were proved right. Today, it really does look like all the people in the "BEST" project were just puppets used in a bigger, pre-planned propaganda game.

In the video below, Andrew Revkin says that a "skeptic confirms substantial recent global warming". This is not a truly valid proposition because Richard Muller is no skeptic: realizing that Michael Mann has made things that can't be tolerated in science is nice and it may make you a heretic among some hardcore believers but it's not enough for you to be a genuine climate skeptic.

However, you find much worse responses in the media than Revkin's loaded headline. For example, the Guardian chose this title:

Global warming study finds no grounds for climate sceptics' concerns
This is just a complete lie. Doubts about the validity of the surface temperature record constitute something like 1% of the issues that climate skeptics as a community have ever raised and not a very important one.

Similarly, the Economist writes:
The heat is on: A new analysis of the temperature record leaves little room for the doubters. The world is warming
I admire the immense and diverse work that Anthony Watts and others have been doing for years and I do realize that the verification of the surface temperature record has probably been Anthony Watts' greatest hobby or his loveliest pet project but I, for one, have never paid any significant attention to the one-by-one analyses of individual weather stations, doubts about the corrections that were applied (I have always considered the adjustments, the most accurate ones you can apply for any systematic change, to be legitimate and much better than no adjustments), and similar things. Anthony's network of volunteers has been cute and impressive but it couldn't guarantee that its implications would be far-reaching. I didn't believe in such far-reaching implications so I have almost never mentioned it on my blog. And you may say the very same thing about most climate skeptics; in this sense, Anthony Watts is an exception whether or not he is the key figure behind the world's most influential climate blog. Many years ago, I made calculations that led me to a strong enough belief that the imperfections of the weather stations either can't be large to matter, or they largely average out because the errors come with both signs.

So among the hundreds if not thousands of articles about the climate on this blog that were written between 2004 and 2011, you will probably not find a single article that seriously suggests that the global mean temperature didn't change (or cooled down) in the recent 100 years – although I wouldn't be quite 100% sure about the "overall warming figure" and I am not 100% sure now, either. (The overall global temperature change since 1900 could have been 0.7 ± 0.2 °C where the error may be viewed as a "statistical one" if you compare different figures from different teams so the possibility that it was negative is simply nonzero, a 3.5-sigma effect, if you wish.)

But this is just not what the bulk of this controversial topic has been and is all about. The bulk of the topic is all about the analyses of the causes of the temperature change (there are lots of natural drivers that determine at least a significant portion of the temperature change and that are capable to beat any effect of CO2 and have done so many times in the past, even over 30-year periods), the evaluation of the importance of the temperature change (it is not important: as Ivar Giaever likes to say, the thermometer data show that the absolute temperature in the recent century was remarkably stable, within 0.25%, and such tiny changes of the averaged temperature are negligible relatively to noise and make no visible impact and surely not a dangerous one), and the search for rational responses to it (the most rational response is no mitigation at all and preparations for adaptation to any possible change of the weather, under business-as-usual).

It's a Berkeley day on TRF: note that the article about trileptons at CMS builds on an ongoing conference in Berkeley, too. Another interesting event at UC Berkeley is a mumps outbreak that has affected dozens of students. One student brought it from Europe; Czechia has seen an elevated level of mumps in 2011, too. It turns out that the vaccination has failed in many cases, too.

Some comments about the work at Berkeley Earth

The animation and graph at the top shows the land temperature only; the land temperature is much more variable than the ocean temperature. Even the overall warming extracted from the linear regression is much larger than it is for the oceans. It suggests that it is not only the short-term variations that are being filtered out by the ocean and its large heat capacity. It's even the centennial trends. The enhanced greenhouse effect predicts that the warming of the oceans over a century should be pretty much equal to the warming of the land mass (the greenhouse effect is about the trapping of the Earth's emitted heat by the atmosphere which is the same all over the globe, not the trapping of the solar heat by asphalt!): this prediction of uniformity seems to disagree with the Berkeley graph (and others).

Also, there is no substantial correlation between the CO2 concentration and the global mean temperature in the graph above. You might argue that the Berkeley graph shows the same warming during the 19th century as it does during the 20th century although the accuracy is much lower (and the fluctuations are much more violent) for the 19th century than they are for the 20th century because the number of weather stations was low and they didn't cover the whole globe which made the ancient noise larger relatively to the signal. Also, the BBC admits that the temperature in the new Berkeley graph is more correlated with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation than it is to CO2.

At any rate, many of the statistical and conceptual principles that the Berkeley group followed (or planned to follow) were overlapping with the principles I found important (e.g. replacement of gridding by a more robust technique independent of arbitrary conventions) so I believe that their results are very similar to the results I would get by the best calculation using the imperfect and chaotic weather station data that I could imagine.

Much more importantly, the newest events seem to confirm the predictions by Marc Morano and maybe others that the Berkeley project is just a puppet show that was pre-engineered to get misinterpreted exactly in the way that the Guardian shows today: "a skeptic shows that skeptics were wrong". First of all, Muller is not a real skeptic; second of all, he has only studied one partial problem that is relevant for this discussion – and the least contentious one. I obviously agree with Muller about the qualitative behavior of the global mean temperature in the last two centuries – and I have arguably always agreed – but this is extremely far from implying that I agree with him about the key questions surrounding the global warming debate, especially when it comes to the "final question" of the AGW debate, namely whether or not it makes any rational sense to attempt to "mitigate" climate change.

With all my past respect to Richard Muller, he is just being dishonest if he allows the journalists to misinterpret the results of their work in this way. In fact, his quoted statement "My hope is that this will win over those people who are properly skeptical" does suggest that it's not only the journalists but it's himself who has had and still has an agenda. Mr Muller, you can't win people like me because our opinions about the question you were addressing have always been almost identical. But my views on the core climate change issues can't be "won" by your research because the research has nothing to do with them: and you must surely be aware of this fact as well as I am. If you have any doubts that Richard Müller himself, and not just other "evil" journalists, promotes the idea that their work proves man-made global warming, check his text "The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism: There were good reasons for doubt, until now" in the Wall Street Journal. (A positive point is that Muller confirms the calculation by your humble correspondent: "We discovered that about one-third of the world's temperature stations have recorded cooling temperatures, and about two-thirds have recorded warming." Well, it was me [WUWT] and not him who discovered it, but otherwise OK.)

It's likely that Richard Muller will already remain a stooge of Big Carbon and especially Big Geoengineering (in his case) according to my reading of the situation. He has just realized that the likes of Michael Mann have been discredited beyond repair but Richard Muller's ultimate goal and the basic features of the not-quite-honest methods to achieve it are analogous to those of Michael Mann and others and Muller just decided to supersede the likes of Mann, to become a Mann with a (so far) more human face. And that's sad.

But that's the memo.

Musical intermezzo

Top (Czecho)Slovak singer, Richard Müller (oops), sings a meteorologically emotional song named "The Pressure is Low" (Tlaková níž). Sorry for the bugs in the DVD record: I wanted the pictures to match. In the lyrics, his GF is asking him why he's sleeping and being kind of impotent all day. He blames it on the heaven and the atmosphere: the pressure is low, he says. At least, he didn't blame it on CO2. Ms Dominika Stará's cover.


After a few hours, dozens of reports appeared in the media. Pretty much every single one dishonestly claims that Muller is a skeptic and his/their work addresses the core of the global warming debate. Some titles:
Global warming 'confirmed' anew (BBC)
Different method, same result: global warming is real (Nature)
Climate change skeptics eat crow (Gizmodo)
Independent study provides proof global warming is reality (Click green)
Climate skeptic admit he was wrong to doubt global-warming data (L.A. Times)
A skeptical physicist ends up confirming climate data (The Washington Post)

Musical finale

Richard Müller's "Snow" (Sníh).

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snail feedback (3) :

reader Alexander Ac said...

Luboš, you are 100 % right:

"Doubts about the validity of the surface temperature record constitute something like 1% of the issues that climate skeptics as a community have ever raised and not a very important one."

Since almost (!) whatever climate skeptics say is irrelevant... ;-)

reader Luboš Motl said...

Well, at least one otherwise unhinged alarmist loon has managed to take notice.

Skeptics are those who say that the temperature on Earth has been always changing, for 4.7 billion years, pretty much every single one I know.

It is the alarmists who are the actual climate change deniers. They often spread lots of fog by their misleading terminology and lies but everyone with IQ above 70 - everyone who is not technically an idiot - is capable to see through this mist.

reader Brian G Valentine said...

We'll see praise for Ayn Rand come out of Berkeley, California before we see "data" that contradicts the "fact" that the "globe" has "warmed" for (fifty years, 100 years, since the invention of the steam engine, since coal was mined, since the bronze age, since humans fabricated anything, since apes descended from trees)