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2020 Hindsight

Yesterday was the day that NASA, NOAA, the Hadley Centre and Berkeley Earth delivered their final assessments for temperatures in Dec 2020, and thus their annual summaries. The headline results have received a fair bit of attention in the media (NYT, WaPo, BBC, The Guardian etc.) and the conclusion that 2020 was pretty much tied with 2016 for the warmest year in the instrumental record is robust.

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Flyer tipping

Filed under: — gavin @ 12 January 2021

You would be forgiven for not paying attention to the usual suspects of climate denial right now, but they are trying to keep busy anyway.

Last week (January 8), Roy Spencer [Update Jan 13: now deleted] posted a series of Climate Change “flyers” on his personal blog that purported to be organised by David Legates (NOAA, detailed to Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), nominally on leave from (and soon to return to) U. Delaware). Each was a rather garishly colored rehash of standard climate denial talking points, but featuring the OSTP official logo, and claiming to be copyrighted by OSTP (a legal impossibility). Note that if this was an official US Govt. work, they could not copyright them, but if it wasn’t, they could not legally use the OSTP logo to indicate that it was.

Dubious use of an official government logo…

The reaction to this definitive refutation of mainstream science (ha!) was… silence. Spencer’s post was reblogged at WUWT but again, nothing happened [Update Jan 13: Also now deleted]. . Many of the authors of the pieces themselves – many of whom are active on social media – didn’t bother to tweet or post about them. Odd.

The whole thing seems to be Legates trying to get a pet project out into the world before the new administration comes in, but without bothering with all that messy peer-review, official permission, proper channels or, you know, actual science. Almost certainly this is also a violation of the Data Quality Act, something Patrick Michaels (one of the flyer authors) was quite exercised about in his effort. Consistency is also apparently optional.

Anyway, a couple of days ago (Jan 10), they were also posted on Willie Soon’s new website where they were noticed on twitter, and today there have been some media eyebrows raised.

Is there a there there?

The flyers themselves are remarkably thin on valid argumentation. Will Happer’s discussion of Radiative Transfer is mostly textbook stuff except for the last paragraph where he simply asserts that a radiative forcing of 3 W/m2 can’t possibly matter. That’s kind of the key issue, which he totally elides.

Christopher Essex purports to discuss climate models, without ever showing anything from a climate model. He seems to be arguing against some Aristotelian concept of climate models that never has to be bothered with actually looking at the real world (for instance). Weird, and totally pointless.

Spencer makes the remarkable assertion that climate has changed for natural reasons in the past (I’m shocked, shocked!), and ignores how attribution actually works (I’m not at all shocked).

The Connollys and Willie Soon’s flyer purports to talk about sun-climate connections, but they spend most of their effort talking about Milankovitch forcing before pivoting to imagining a universe where the temperatures have not in fact been steadily climbing but where they could conceivably have a higher correlation to out-of-date and unsupported reconstructions of solar activity. In so doing, they even have the chutzpah to cite a paper of mine. Meh.

Etc. If there is a demand in the comments, I could expand on the others, but for now, I think you get the idea.

Why should anyone care?

Great question! I don’t think anyone should. But this whole effort is emblematic of how far the climate question has moved. With a new US administration poised to act on climate across a whole series of fronts, this feeble throwback (were they released on a Thursday?), serves to underline how out-of-touch these old school deniers and their talking points really are. This is perhaps the last weak ‘hurrah’ of a bankrupt cause.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Update (4pm, Jan 12): that was quick:

Somebody read the comments…

Filed under: — gavin @ 28 July 2020

This post is just to highlight an interesting paper that’s just been published that analyzed the comment threads here and at WUWT.

In it, the authors analyze how the commenters interact, argue and attempt to persuade, mostly, to be fair, unsuccessfully. It may be that seeing how academics analyse the arguments, some commenters might want to modify their approach… who knows?

The comment threads they looked at (I think) are from five posts from Feb to April 2019, including The best case for worst case scenarios, Nenana Ice Classic 2019, First successful model simulation of the past 3 million years and a couple of open threads.


  1. C.W. van Eck, B.C. Mulder, and A. Dewulf, "Online Climate Change Polarization: Interactional Framing Analysis of Climate Change Blog Comments", Science Communication, vol. 42, pp. 454-480, 2020.

One more data point

Filed under: — gavin @ 15 January 2020

The climate summaries for 2019 are all now out. None of this will be a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention, but the results are stark.

  • 2019 was the second warmest year (in analyses from GISTEMP, NOAA NCEI, ERA5, JRA55, Berkeley Earth and Cowtan & Way, RSS TLT), it was third warmest in the standard HadCRUT4 product and in the UAH TLT. It was the warmest year in the AIRS Ts product.
  • For ocean heat content, it was the warmest year, though in terms of just the sea surface temperature (HadSST3), it was the third warmest.
  • The top 5 years in all surface temperature series, are the last five years. [Update: this isn’t true for the MSU TLT data which have 2010 (RSS) and 1998 (UAH) still in the mix].
  • The decade was the first with temperatures more than 1ºC above the late 19th C in almost all products.

This year there are two new additions to the discussion, notably the ERA5 Reanalyses product (1979-2019) which is independent of the surface weather stations, and the AIRS Ts product (2003-2019) which again, is totally independent of the surface data. Remarkably, they line up almost exactly. [Update: the ERA5 system assimilates the SYNOP reports from weather stations, which is not independent of the source data for the surface temperature products. However, the interpolation is based on the model physics and many other sources of observed data.]

The two MSU lowermost troposphere products are distinct from the surface record (showing notably more warming in the 1998, 2010 El Niño years – though it wasn’t as clear in 2016), but with similar trends. The biggest outlier is (as usual) the UAH record, indicating that the structural uncertainty in the MSU TLT trends remains significant.

One of the most interesting comparisons this year has been the coherence of the AIRS results which come from an IR sensor on board EOS Aqua and which has been producing surface temperature estimates from 2003 onwards. The rate and patterns of warming of this and GISTEMP for the overlap period are remarkably close, and where they differ, suggest potential issues in the weather station network.

The trends over that period in the global mean are very close (0.24ºC/dec vs. 0.25ºC/dec), with AIRS showing slightly more warming in the Arctic. Interestingly, AIRS 2019 slightly beats 2016 in their ranking.

I will be updating the model/observation comparisons over the next few days.

Just the facts?

In the wake of the appalling mass shootings last weekend, Neil DeGrasse Tyson (the pre-eminent scientist/communicator in the US) tweeted some facts that were, let’s just say, not well received (and for which he kind of apologised). At least one of the facts he tweeted about was incorrect (deaths by medical errors are far smaller). However, even if it had been correct, the overall response would have been the same, because the reaction was not driven by the specifics of what was said, but rather by the implied message of the context in which it was said. This is a key feature (or bug) of communications in a politicized environment, and one that continues to trip up people who are experienced enough to know better.

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Koonin’s case for yet another review of climate science

We watch long YouTube videos so you don’t have to.

In the seemingly endless deliberations on whether there should be a ‘red team’ exercise to review various climate science reports, Scott Waldman reported last week that the original architect of the idea, Steve Koonin, had given a talk on touching on the topic at Purdue University in Indiana last month. Since the talk is online, I thought it might be worth a viewing.

[Spoiler alert. It wasn’t].

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NOAA-thing burger officially confirmed

Filed under: — gavin @ 6 January 2019

Back in February 2017, I wrote about the tediously predictable arc of criticisms of the Karl et al (2015) paper, and in particular the comments of John Bates at Judith Curry’s blog.

an initial claim of imperfection spiced up with insinuations of misconduct, coordination with a breathless hyping of the initial claim with ridiculous supposed implications, some sensible responses refuting the initial specific claims and demolishing the wilder extrapolations. Unable to defend the nonsense clarifications are made that the initial claim wasn’t about misconduct but merely about ‘process’ (for who can argue against better processes?). Meanwhile the misconduct and data falsification claims escape into the wild, get more exaggerated and lose all connection to any actual substance.

The outcome was easy to predict:

the issues of ‘process’ will be lost in the noise, the fake overreaction will dominate the wider conversation and become an alternative fact to be regurgitated in twitter threads and blog comments for years, the originators of the issue may or may not walk back the many mis-statements they and others made but will lose credibility in any case, mainstream scientists will just see it as hyper-partisan noise and ignore it, no papers will be redacted, no science will change, and the actual point (one presumes) of the ‘process’ complaint (to encourage better archiving practices) gets set back because it’s associated with such obvious nonsense.

But I missed out the very final outcome which I should have been able to predict too: a report, commissioned from learned experts, who spent months poring over the details (including more than 600,000 emails!) and in the end, concluding there was nothing significantly wrong in anything Karl et al did.

That report has now been made public. [Update: apparently this happened in December]

In it the authors make some sensible recommendations to clean up the thicket of conflicting requirements at NOAA for publishing science papers, they spot one mistake made by Karl et al (submitting to Science the day before the NOAA internal review was officially completed), but overall find no substance to the allegations of “thumbs on the scale”, no improper interference by politicians, no rush to publish to influence political discussions, no data tampering, no missing archives. Nothing.

But there is one curious revelation. It turns out that the person in charge of the NOAA internal review about which John Bates was so concerned was…. John Bates!

And even more curiously:

“The MITRE Committee learned that the internal review, later criticized by Bates, was conducted and approved under his own authority. The MITRE Committee found no evidence that Bates ever mentioned this fact in his blog, email, or anywhere else in his discussion of the matter in public.”

Did he mention this to David Rose or Judith Curry in private perhaps? If so, you’d think that they would have publically said so. If not, it adds one more misrepresentation to the pile.

What a colossal and counter-productive waste of everyone’s time.


  1. T.R. Karl, A. Arguez, B. Huang, J.H. Lawrimore, J.R. McMahon, M.J. Menne, T.C. Peterson, R.S. Vose, and H. Zhang, "Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus", Science, vol. 348, pp. 1469-1472, 2015.

The Alsup Aftermath

The presentations from the Climate Science tutorial last month have all been posted (links below), and Myles Allen (the first presenter for the plaintiffs) gives his impression of the events.
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The claim of reduced uncertainty for equilibrium climate sensitivity is premature

Filed under: — rasmus @ 21 January 2018

A recent story in the Guardian claims that new calculations reduce the uncertainty associated with a global warming:

A revised calculation of how greenhouse gases drive up the planet’s temperature reduces the range of possible end-of-century outcomes by more than half, …

It was based on a study recently published in Nature (Cox et al. 2018), however, I think its conclusions are premature.

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  1. P.M. Cox, C. Huntingford, and M.S. Williamson, "Emergent constraint on equilibrium climate sensitivity from global temperature variability", Nature, vol. 553, pp. 319-322, 2018.

Fake news, hacked mail, alternative facts – that’s old hat for climate scientists

Distortion? False information? Conspiracy theories? Hacked email? Climate scientists have known all this for decades. What can be learned from their rich experience with climate propaganda.

The world is slowly waking up. “Post-truth” was declared the word of the year 2016 by the Oxford Dictionaries. Finally, people start to widely appreciate how dangerous the epidemic of fake news is for democracy.

Stir up hate, destroy discourse, make insane claims until no one can distinguish the most bizarre absurdity from the truth any more.

Thus the Austrian author Robert Misik aptly describes the strategy of right-wing populists.

Some call it “alternative facts”. (Those are the convenient alternative to true facts.) Let’s simply call it propaganda. More »