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Daily Mangle

Filed under: — group @ 15 February 2010

Yesterday, the Daily Mail of the UK published a predictably inaccurate article entitled “Climategate U-turn as scientist at centre of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995″.

The title itself is a distortion of what Jones actually said in an interview with the BBC. What Jones actually said is that, while the globe has nominally warmed since 1995, it is difficult to establish the statistical significance of that warming given the short nature of the time interval (1995-present) involved. The warming trend consequently doesn’t quite achieve statistical significance. But it is extremely difficult to establish a statistically significant trend over a time interval as short as 15 years–a point we have made countless times at RealClimate. It is also worth noting that the CRU record indicates slightly less warming than other global temperature estimates such as the GISS record.

The article also incorrectly equates instrumental surface temperature data that Jones and CRU have assembled to estimate the modern surface temperature trends with paleoclimate data used to estimate temperatures in past centuries, falsely asserting that the former “has been used to produce the ‘hockey stick graph’”.

Finally, the article intentionally distorts comments that Jones made about the so-called “Medieval Warm Period”. Jones stated in his BBC interview that “There is much debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period was global in extent or not. The MWP is most clearly expressed in parts of North America, the North Atlantic and Europe and parts of Asia” and that “For it to be global in extent, the MWP would need to be seen clearly in more records from the tropical regions and the Southern hemisphere. There are very few palaeoclimatic records for these latter two regions.”

These are statements with which we entirely agree, and they are moreover fully consistent with the conclusions of the most recent IPCC report, and the numerous peer-reviewed publications on this issue since. Those conclusions are that recent Northern Hemisphere warming is likely unprecedented in at least a millennium (at least 1300 years, in fact), and that evidence in the Southern Hemisphere is currently too sparse for confident conclusions. Mann et al in fact drew those same conclusions in their most recent work on this problem (PNAS, 2008).

Unfortunately, these kinds of distortions are all too common in the press nowadays and so we must all be prepared to respond to those journalists and editors who confuse the public with such inaccuracies.

Update 2/16/10. Phil Jones has confirmed to us that our interpretations of his comments in the BBC interview are indeed the correct ones, and that he agrees with the statements in our piece above. He and his CRU colleagues have also put up an response to some of the false allegations in a previous piece in the UK Guardian. We’ll report further such developments as they happen.


493 Responses to “Daily Mangle”

  1. 1
    Jim Watson says:

    How does it feel now that the media shoe is on the other foot?

  2. 2
    tamino says:

    Of course “not statistically significant” is not the same as “not warming.”

    Here’s a post about how long it takes to establish of a statistically significant trend.

    If you remove the influence of volcanic eruptions and el Nino, it doesn’t take as long.

  3. 3
    Andy says:

    Can someone link to that really cool web page that has an interactive graph that shows global temperature trend lines along with a sliding scale that allows you to change the period of record. That was most instructive for me but I’ve gone and lost it.

  4. 4
    sod says:

    good work, this really needed a reply.

    part of the media seems to be pretty desperate these days…

  5. 5
    Walt Bennett says:

    Eh,

    Just keep a list of these stupid articles and reference them to the appropriate page in your wiki.

  6. 6
    David Horton says:

    “What Jones actually said is that, while the globe has nominally warmed since 1995, it is difficult to establish the statistical significance of that warming” – yes, but WHY say it? You would think Phil Jones would be a bit more media savvy than this by now, wouldn’t you? If asked about “warming since 1995″ say “there is no point in talking about that because it is a meaningless figure, the record since 1980 shows …”. As politicians know to their cost, the media asks questions in such a way that they get answers from scientists, struggling to be honest and precise, that they know will provide phrases for sensational headlines that fit their agenda. Don’t fall for it. Re-phrase the question in a way that makes sense, then answer that question. You would think Phil “hide the decline” Jones would know this better than anyone by now.

  7. 7
    RobM says:

    Sadly, this is just par for the course with how sections of the media have treated science in general for quite a while now. Of course, it will become gospel truth for deniers that Jones *admitted* there was no warming, that CO2 isn’t responsible for the earlier warming, and that *for the first time* a climate scientist has admitted that the MWP might have been a global event. It’s so much nonsense, but the distortions will survive the truth, even when the truth is so easily checked.
    Scary times.

    [Response: They're not the least bit interested in finding the truth. They don't even have any concept of it--which is why they prefer to buy into lies and conspiracy ideas. The inmates seek the keys to the asylum---Jim]

  8. 8
    Nick says:

    Boy, this Daily Mail piece has some legs in the blogosphere.

  9. 9
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Andy@2 was it this one?

    http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/

  10. 10
    AndyB says:

    Andy@2. Look at the Global Climate Dashboard at http://www.climate.gov/

    The new flash graphs are nifty.

  11. 11
  12. 12
    TheSagaciousOne says:

    You have discussed Question B. However, you have conveniently overlooked Question C. It is reproduced below.
    ===============
    C – Do you agree that from January 2002 to the present there has been statistically significant global cooling?

    No. This period is even shorter than 1995-2009. The trend this time is negative (-0.12C per decade), but this trend is not statistically significant.
    ===============
    PLAIN TALK TRANSLATION FOR B & C:
    From 1995 to the present there has been slight warming period followed, in 2002, by slight cooling period. The rate of change in both cases was 0.12°C plus or minus. Neither of which were statistically significant.

  13. 13
    TheSagaciousOne says:

    That should be 0.12°C/decade

  14. 14
    pete best says:

    The Daily Mail is a mini version of the Daily Telegraph and hence moves along the right handside of politics. This information war (its not a science one as no skeptic has released and peer review paper of merit as far as I am aware on the subject) is allowing some individuals and institutions to put out what disinformation about the science of AGW and its practitioners. Scientists do not need to do this, fight a media war on this subject. We are the idiots if we are not listening.

    This is going to carry on until we have either taken the hard energy infrastructure decisions required and committed the trillions of dollars its going ot require. Some such as Tony Blair dont believe that cultural changer is required just large scale technological ones coupled to energy efficiency changes. We shoud have started 30 years ago.

  15. 15
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Robert Grumbine summarizes why we need 30 years of annual data: Results on deciding trends.

    o You need 20-30 years of data to define a climate trend in global mean temperature.
    o Forward and backward trends are markedly different.
    o Therefore, to discuss climate trends in global mean temperature, you need to use 20-30 years of data centered on the date of interest.

    I keep his post handy for just this purpose.

  16. 16
    HemmD says:

    I suppose “unprecedented warming” is one of those phrases that are great for headlines, but not very useful for statistical declarations.

    Statistically significant anomalies are like pregnancies, so “The warming trend consequently doesn’t quite achieve statistical significance.” is like being a little bit pregnant.

    Jones called a spade a spade.

  17. 17
    Eric Edlund says:

    Andy @ #2, I bookmarked that very cool slider tool here: http://sciblogs.co.nz/hot-topic/2009/10/20/%E2%80%A6keep-out-of-the-kitchen/

    Every new instructional tool helps–I’ve taught statistics and I’m painfully aware that plenty of smart people don’t perceive the difference between “was not statistically significant” and “didn’t happen”.

  18. 18
    GSW says:

    Embarrased about the spelling mistakes and typos above.

  19. 19
    Didactylos says:

    I think Jones has a good case for suing the Daily Mail. Their lie has done substantial damage to his reputation.

    And the number of people who have trundled out the lie on this very site is just depressing. Some of my fellow countrymen are very stupid people indeed. I cling to the belief that Daily mail readers are not representative of anyone except anti-science bigots…..

  20. 20
    Luke Lea says:

    “Unfortunately, these kinds of distortions are all too common in the press nowadays.” True. But they simplify and exaggerate everything having to do with climate science. If anything there have been too many scare headlines, which does just as much damage.

  21. 21
    James Allan says:

    The Daily Fail has to be one of the worst examples of British journalism, and that’s saying something. It’s just unfortunate that scientists in general don’t tend to be well practised at dealing with these hacks. Now that they seem to regard climate scientists as ‘fair game’ alongside the politicians and celebrities, people should really start taking a stand. I’d have to say that the one covered here should warrant a PCC complaint as a bare minimum, but given that we currently have these really daft libel laws in the UK, I think the affected scientists should consider making best use of them before they get seen as a soft target.

  22. 22

    The disinformation & denial about climate science in the news media these days is astounding for a free society. Walter Cronkite, roll over.


    “Like so many of our problems today,” he says, “it all starts with education. We need to teach [children] how to read a newspaper, how to listen to radio, how to watch television, how to understand a film, so that they become properly skeptical. If a public understands the limitations of television, the limitations of print, deadline pressures, all the rest of the things that go into the making of a newspaper or broadcast, then that public will be far less likely to fall into a demagogue’s trap when the demagogue attacks the press for its unfairness.” And That’s the Way It Is

  23. 23
    petek says:

    Thank you very much, Dr. Jones, please continue and cograts to you amd your team.

    Good article, shows how the public is fooled.

  24. 24
    guthrie says:

    Personally, I’m getting a little annoyed, and trying to work out how we can get the media to be more careful/ truthful/ whatever. I did read that HAughton, the victim of the lying quote smear about making up catastrophes, was thinking of suing whomever necessary. In the case of Jones being misqoted and mangled, I’d like something done, the problem is what. The press complaints commission would bin all complaints by anyone except Jones, and it is a cast iron certainty that they would find a weasel way of avoiding doing anything about the Mail and Express lies.

  25. 25
    AnnoyedReader says:

    I’m not sure why my comments aren’t posted. You seem content to publish content-free comments when they’re complimentary (e.g., “Great article!”), but you won’t allow my critical comments to pass through. Thus, I’ll try again:

    I think it’s absurd that you are so harsh on the Daily Mail when there was no such outrage for the errors in the IPCC report published in the las RealClimate post. Commoners–like myself–are wary when we see you all pushing “likelihoods” as facts… For example, you say that you all agree that evidence for a MWP in North America, the North Atlantic, Europe, and Asia has been produced. You then draw the unlikely conclusion that this doesn’t mean the MWP was global in extent…despite saying it affected 3 continents and an ocean, and the only reason we don’t know what happened in the Southern Hemisphere is because there are too few records.

    Essentially, I find it hard to swallow when you all are as certain-as-heck that we must do something about potentialities and likelihoods.

  26. 26
    Donald says:

    The Jones Q&A session is being spun out of all recognition. Roger Harrabin started it off by poorly inaccurately reporting what Jones said.

    “But he agreed that two periods in recent times had experienced similar warming. And he agreed that the debate had not been settled over whether the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than the current period.”

    Jones was clear to point out that the causes of past warming could not explain present warming (indeed they should have caused cooling) and he said “There is much debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period was global in extent or not.”

    Harrabin’s sentences were spun to imply that Jones said current warming could be natural- which he explicitly rejected in the Q&A session.

    When talking about the MWP, Jones said we don’t have enough evidence from the southern hemisphere to say if the MWP was global, nor should we infer from northern hemisphere data that the southern hemisphere was as warm. I’m pretty certain he was supporting the present view that the MWP was probably not global and that present temperatures are very likely warmer, but a hypothetical remark he made is being taken to mean he believes the opposite.

    Several of the questions in the Q&A session were submitted by “sceptics”, so it looks like Jones fell victim to a straw man argument to some extent (that scientists don’t accept that natural warming has occurred previously). The story can be spun to suggest Jones has shifted his position because he is answering questions that imply that scientists never considered the fact that the world has warmed before.

    He also stated that he didn’t think most scientists agreed that the debate on AGW was over. Roger Harrabin seems to have fallen into the trap of thinking that because Jones doesn’t think the debate on the science is over, and the “sceptics” don’t think the debate on the science is over, Jones is legitimising the “sceptics”. (He has a further story under the link “Can two sides of climate debate be reconciled?”)

    The science that Jones knows is still debated is very different from the science that the “sceptics” would like to debate. Jones is talking about the uncertainties in predictions of future temperatures and measurement and estimates of past temperature and temperature changes. The sceptics would like to debate the very validity of temperature records and reconstructions, argue that the WMP was warmer than the present (on the very same data), that CO2 can’t cause significant warming, that present warming is due to natural changes or the urban heat island effect, that temperatures have not really risen at all, that extra CO2 will actually be good for plants, and any other number of contradictory arguments.

    It’s a trap that “sceptics” have long set for reporters- that there are two sides to the story, where in fact there’s good science (albeit with uncertainty) and crap science that says AGW is nothing to worry about (brought to you by X think tank or Y industry funded scientist or Z crackpot peer or geology professor).

    Deniers on web forums are crowing that Jones has given them legitimacy. I’m not surprised that the mail is spinning Jones like a Frisbee, but I’m more concerned that the BBC is starting to portray a new debate between scientists and legitimate AGW sceptics who have manufactured a phoney legitimacy themselves through a series of leaked emails and spin and misrepresentation.

    The Guardian seems to have fallen for the same thing in its latest series of reports on the CRU hack as well. I noticed Gavin Schmidt taking issue in the annotations.

    It’s my impression that the debate on AGW science from the “sceptics” that Harrabin and Pearce in the Guardian are referring to involved finding fault in temperature reconstructions even where non existed, filing vexatious FOI requests, twisting the methodology in a scientific paper to show the result they wanted to see, and getting this paper past peer review via a politically friendly editor.

    I’m dismayed that the BBC and the Guardian now seem to think that these sceptics have been wronged and need to be invited in from the cold. If they are, the hacked emails will have paid off, which would be terribly, terribly wrong.

  27. 27

    Walter,

    Did you ever expect within (or shortly thereafter) your lifetime that the demagogues would control so much of the news media in America & Britain & other free nations?

  28. 28
    Andy says:

    Alas, no. The graph allowed you to actually view trend lines for 5 years, 10 years, 50 years, 100 years etc. with the number of years to be used to determine the trend as a sliding scale that you could move with your mouse. At few years the trends were up and down, as you moved to 15 and then say 30 years the trends became all positive.

  29. 29
    petek says:

    It is a free and open debate. If the debate helps to get rid of these stupid conspiracy theories, it will be good for science.
    Whilst I generally share the general opinion of the IPCC report, I have an issue. In my understanding of scientific work, minority opinions always need to be quoted. Am I missing a point?

  30. 30

    It’s nice to see RC weighing in quickly on this particular mess. As a correspondent on my blog noted, it would have been best to have heard from UEA by now.

    I got a fair amount of attention for my early notice of this item. I was brief and didn’t say much that hasn’t been covered here, except to ask what the redress the public has when a journalistic enterprise screws up so very badly.

    At least we can vote politicians out of office if they misrepresent the facts so severely. What redress do we have with newspapers that pander to a delusional minority? There really needs to be some sort of consequence for this level of irresponsibility in the press.

  31. 31
    Randy says:

    The key quote from the Jones interview is:

    E – How confident are you that warming has taken place and that humans are mainly responsible?

    I’m 100% confident that the climate has warmed. As to the second question, I would go along with IPCC Chapter 9 – there’s evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity.

    What more needs to be said, except that a huge disservice has been done by the media in covering this and other climate-related stories.

  32. 32
    Hank Roberts says:

    Andy, go to this page, then page down:
    http://hot-topic.co.nz/keep-out-of-the-kitchen/

    It’s a window, can’t link directly to it. The text right above it says:

    —-
    Now for the nifty gadget. Hot Topic reader Colin Sharples (aka CTG) is a whizz with Java™ programming. Prompted by a discussion on climate trends at ReaClimate, he took NASA’s GISS global temperature dataset (to be precise, it’s the GISTEMP series for the climatological year (Dec-Nov) and he’s estimated a figure for 2009 by “completing” the year by calculating the average anomalies for the last few months of the year over the last five years) and the Hadley Centre’s HadCRUTv3 series and produced an interactive graphic that shows how changing the length of the period you select for trend calculations affects the trends you see. Here it is:……”

    Likely it’s been or will be updated, or may have a new home; that’s from my clipping file.

  33. 33
    GSW says:

    Apologies to everyone #18 referred to an earlier post that didn’t make it thru moderation. Oh well, C’est la vie.

  34. 34

    This is silly but typical. The misrepresentation of science by the global warming denialist movement is equivalent to the misrepresentation of science by the creationists.

    There are too many ignorant greedy buffoons on this planet for humankind to avoid a catastrophe. When that catastrophe finally occurs these greedy ignorant buffoons are going to be saying, “Why didn’t anyone warn us?”

    Humankind is a lost cause. Here is an allegedly intelligent animal driving itself extinct.

  35. 35
    Shirley says:

    Chad Meyers on CNN a few minutes ago downplayed ACC and urged viewers to go read this story:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7028362.ece

    except that he attributed it to John Christy. I guess someone will have to tell the glaciers to stop melting. We’re losing the information battle, and I am growing disheartened.

    [Response: That's their goal. It's psychological warfare--which is all they have. Don't gaze into the abyss.--Jim]

  36. 36
    Dane Skold says:

    Re: “They’re not the least bit interested in finding the truth. They don’t even have any concept of it–which is why they prefer to buy into lies and conspiracy ideas. The inmates seek the keys to the asylum—Jim”

    You are quite wrong about [They're]. We are absolutely interested in the truth, to whatever conclusion the true data leads.

    To date, your conclusions have been hidden in obscured and obfuscated data and methods, and thus found wanting in transparent data and methodology.

    When that blessed day comes that a “skeptic” is given your actual data and methodology and reproduces your results and conclusions, then, sir, we will believe you.

    Until then, your tantrums and pounding on the table do not make your arguments or opinion any more persuasive. Instead, you appear more and more to be the boy who cried wolf.

    [Response:This is your argument in support of the truthfulness of these recent stories and their authors is it?--Jim]

  37. 37
    Ani says:

    Glad to see RC weigh in on this. Sad that they have to do the medias job. Wouldnt it be nice if the media would just do their job and let the climate scientists worry about climate. I cant speak for the media but the impression is that just a little integrity would fix a lot of their problems.

  38. 38
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Petek@29,
    Nobody has quoted Velikovsky or Lysenko in years.

    Actually, I’m sure the IPCC would be happy to include minority opinion if they’d just frigging publish!

  39. 39
    MarkB says:

    While I agree 100% with the analysis in this post, I think it would help if Jones himself commented on the DailyMail article, although I’m sure deniers would claim another “U-turn” or what not.

  40. 40
    Syl says:

    LOL,

    When there was no warming for 5 years, the warmists would say that it takes at least 15 years to make a trend. Now, 15 years is not enough.

    Jones himself asserted many times this 15 years. I don`t think it coincidence that he chose to say 15 years.

    Pro-AGW scientists are all throwing each other under the bus. It`s a circular firing squad. It seems to me that the “deniers” are the people who believe without any proof that man can influence climate.

    Being a data store of the climate world, CRU can`t even organise their data with millions of dollars provided to them.

  41. 41
    flxible says:

    AnnoyedReader@25 – The moderated comment threads here don’t always work quite as one might expect, there is little liklihood any “content free” comments are being blocked, but some do regularly appear “out of order”, and some sem to disappear into the ether, even non-critical ones.

    You need to start at the Index link up top [or the Start Here] and investigate things a bit more, your take on the “MWP” is somewhat simplistic, and exemplifies the regular “critical” but “content free” comments

  42. 42
    John E. Pearson says:

    29 petek sed: “In my understanding of scientific work, minority opinions always need to be quoted.”

    huh? why on earth? If I look long enough and hard enough I can find minority opinions that hold any position you want. Spherical earth is BS, it’s turtles all the way down, godluvsusandwontletNEthingbadhappen, etc etc etc.
    You are suggesting if I write a paper I’m supposed to seek out all the nutball dissenters in order to ensure that minority opinions were given a fair shake? Jeez. I already waste enough time arguing with idiots on the internet. Now you’re telling me I’m supposed to be arguing with them in the peer-reviewed literature as well?

  43. 43
    TomD says:

    I think it was good that Jones agreed to do this. I think it was good that he was asked difficult questions. And, I think it was good that he gave thoughtful and reasonable answers. As one who has more doubts about AGW than your typical reader, I can honestly say that I didn’t see any GOTCHA’s! in his answers. It would be helpful if both sides would agree to more open and tough Q&A’s like this one.

  44. 44
    Daniel Bailey says:

    RC (Gavin, et al:

    Thanks for the article. You have no idea how badly needed this is out here in denialdom. Every talking head with a soapbox and no integrity in their spine is talking this up now.

    Case in point, Republican Bulldog Glenn Beck’s latest rant:
    http://www.glennbeck.com/content/articles/article/198/36336/

    Bad enough I have to deal with this crap when it comes from the conservative leadership of my faith, but Beck has a longer arm in the media and is no less influential in mainstream America, where our way of life is prized above science and logic by the unwashed masses.

    Back to fighting denialists in the trenches. Sigh. Seriously, it’s like in that movie Zombieland, they just keep coming…

    Regards,

    Daniel the Yooper

  45. 45
    Zach says:

    “Those conclusions are that recent Northern Hemisphere warming is likely unprecedented in at least a millennium.”

    Why focus on the magnitude of warming instead of the rate of warming? The magnitude of past warming is subject to large variations, but I don’t know that there’s any evidence that the planet warmed 0.8C in less than a century at any point in the past, let alone at the post-1960 2C/century rate.

  46. 46

    25. AnnoyedReader says:
    15 February 2010 at 5:38 PM

    I’m not sure why my comments aren’t posted. You seem content to publish content-free comments when they’re complimentary (e.g., “Great article!”), but you won’t allow my critical comments to pass through.

    Because obviously technology is never a problem, so it must be a conspiracy? Are we to presume from your comment that you are a lifetime subscriber to the Daily Mail?

  47. 47
    S. Molnar says:

    I have a dumb question (my specialty). Is the “Jim” of recent responses Jim Bouldin? And, if so, does that mean he’s now more than just a guest contributor?

    [Response: Not dumb. Anyway yes, and yes.--Jim]

  48. 48
    Wes says:

    Oh good grief! Now Faux News has picked this up and put there own spin on it.

  49. 49
    Didactylos says:

    AnnoyedReader: who found the error in the IPCC report? Who corrected it?

    Errors are inevitable. How you respond to errors is what defines the scientist and the anti-scientist.

    One error in a report as large as the IPCC report is impressive. Most governmental reports are riddled with errors, but the IPCC reports were authored mainly by scientists, and reviewed by many, many people, and consequently it reaches a much higher standard. Why should we be “outraged” about one error?

    Get a sense of proportion.

    The Jones incident is *personal*. Amoral journalists are lying quite consciously, and deliberately trying to destroy the reputation of a man who has devoted his life to understanding the world better.

    The IPCC error was made in good faith. This clearly doesn’t apply to the lies the media are disseminating.

    About the MWP: you say “You then draw the unlikely conclusion”, but is it unlikely? My understanding is that regional climate patterns often do result in warmer areas and cooler areas. Also, you conveniently overlook the areas for which we do have data and that don’t show any significant MWP.

  50. 50
    Didactylos says:

    petek: the point you are missing is that science isn’t about opinions. Just because someone holds an opinion, it may not be true. We can sometimes reject that opinion as being false.

    So, there is a small but substantial fringe of pseudo-science that the IPCC can ignore out of hand. They don’t need to address silly claims like some of the nonsense you hear from bloggers (naming no names, here).

    However, there is also a small minority of published science that hasn’t been rejected as being completely wrong, but where the IPCC authors disagree with the conclusions. Such science *is* discussed in the report.

    Do you have a particular example in mind?


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