New Zealand Herald – BEST coverage

I have just taken a look at the Herald’s coverage of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study. This is how it starts:

A prominent physicist and global warming sceptic spent two years trying to find out if mainstream climate scientists were wrong. In the end, he determined they were right: temperatures really are rising rapidly.

The article then goes on to point out the source of the funding as follows:

The study of the world’s surface temperatures by Richard Muller was partially bankrolled by a foundation connected to global warming deniers. He pursued long-held sceptic theories in analysing the data. He was spurred to action because of “Climategate”, the British scandal involving hacked emails of scientists.

Note that there is the use of ‘deniers’ in this section. Not sceptics, but deniers. Also, take a look at the article, and note the tone – the way that the funding is portrayed. As will be discussed later, an odd portrayal:

One-quarter of the US$600,000 ($738,000) to do the research came from the Charles Koch Foundation, whose founder is a major funder of sceptic groups and the Tea Party movement. The Koch brothers, Charles and David, run a company involved in oil and other industries, producing sizeable greenhouse gas emissions.

However, also note that, the source of the funding being from sceptical sources is used to suggest that this gives the report greater credibility.However, certainly amongst the community of sceptical bloggers, the BEST study was never seen as anything but (all hoped at least) a genuine attempt to examine the temperature data with ‘fresh eyes’.

The BEST project was generally well received in principle, but linking  Richard Muller with so-called ‘deniers’ and using a headline saying ‘Sceptic forced to admit globe is really warming’, would suggest that he was on the ‘hard’ sceptic side of the debate. Note how Muller is apparently ‘forced to admit‘, when good scientists do not need to be forced to admit. A good scientist commences with a view that the empirical data will, in the end, be the determinant of their view on the study. By using the word ‘forced’ they are implying that Muller went into the study as a  denier, rather than as a good scientists, and the evidence overwhelmed his desire to ‘deny’. The whole tone of the article is denigrating Muller’s integrity (albeit in a subtle way), and also trying to lend additional authority to the BEST study; the subtext is that if a ‘swivel eyed denier’ can no longer deny, it must be true.

The problem is that BEST is not in the hands so-called deniers, and Muller is hardly as portrayed. One of the contributing authors for the paper, Judith Currie, has been critical of the way BEST portrayed data, in that they do not place enough emphasis on the apparent stopping of temperature rises. This is reported here in the UK’s Mail, with Currie’s commentary on the mail story, and a summary of a later discussion with Muller. The point is that these are hardly a group of ‘swivel eyed deniers’. Furthermore, the BEST project’s sponsors are not a they seem. From the Best website, the funders are:

  • The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund ($20,000)
  • William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation ($100,000)
  • Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (created by Bill Gates) ($100,000)
  • Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation ($150,000)
  • The Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation ($50,000)

And also,  underneath; ‘This work was supported in part by the Director, Office of Science, of the U.S. Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231 ($188,587)’

You will note the selective choice of donors in the Herald article (see above). There is a well known  fallacy in deductive logic, known as argumentum ad verecundiam, or argument from authority, or using the status of the utterer as an argument (more subtle than I portray it here…) . We now have an argument in which the authority is being bolstered by portraying the authors of the study as sceptics forced to recant against their wills. Again, it is worth noting that Currie, one of the authors of the BEST papers is no sceptic, except in as far as she has concerns that the science of climate change needs to be critically evaluated.

There is also a subtext in the whole article that this is proof for climate alarmism, as in the following quotes:

Chris Field, a Carnegie Institution scientist, said Muller’s study “may help the world’s citizens focus less on whether climate change is real and more on smart options for addressing it”.

Some of the most noted scientific sceptics are no longer saying the world isn’t warming. Instead, they question how much of it is man-made, view it as less a threat and argue it’s too expensive to do something about, according to Otto.

This would be to characterise all on the sceptical side of the debate as questioning that temperatures have risen over the last 100 years. As I pointed out in a previous post, citing an essay of Don Aitken, that there are a range of views and positions on the sceptical side. The key linkage over the spectrum of views is that the influence of anthropogenic factors on the climate is questioned, with some sceptics fully accepting the temperature records that are widely cited. As such, the BEST study takes the debate no further forward in these cases. Also, there is the small detail of whether there is a ‘pause’ in the warming. Note the way that the article frames the issue (see first quote) as the world is warming. However, this does not appear to be the case. I again turn to Currie’s Climate etc. blog, where she discusses the issue:

Actually, four different questions seem to be floating around in terms of the BEST media coverage:

  1. Has the earth been warming? Addressing this question in a sensible way requires that a specific period be specified, presumably in the context of the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
  2. Is global warming over?  Addressing this question requires a prediction of future temperatures, and we can’t really answer that with the data.
  3. Has global warming stopped?  Addressing this questions requires clarifying whether it is only the actual global temperature under discussion, or whether it is the attribution to humans that has stopped (i.e. beyond the expected range of natural variability)?
  4. Has there been a pause in the global warming?  Addressing this question requires a clarification of of the specific period of interest, and whether the “pause” indicates zero temperature change, or a rate of warming that is less than the expected temperature change.

What does the BEST land temperature data have to say about global warming?  Not much, since the BEST data only covers the land (~30% of the global area).  The BEST land data should not be used to infer anything quantitative about GLOBAL warming.

Currie later suggests that:

This concept of a recent pause in the warming seems to be fairly widely accepted by many mainstream consensus scientists (e.g. the recent Greenwire article),with explanations ranging from aerosols, to solar, to oceans.

In other words, if the BEST study is accepted, it does not confirm global warming, does not confirm the causes of global warming (if it took place), and most importantly, the general view amongst scientists is that there is no global warming taking place now! However, is any of this to be seen in the New Zealand Herald Article? Not a sight of it.

Instead, we have invented bogey-men, cut and paste evil donors, all used to indirectly and oddly bolster the authority of the BEST research, when  the actual quality of the scientists and their work should have been sufficient. We have cut and paste alarmism, and no discussion of debates such as the pause in the warming, or any nuance in the story at all, except to briefly mention that Muller does not see the study as a confirmation of the IPCC.

Again, shabby, shabby journalism on climate change from the Herald……

Note: I am personally giving it time for the BEST study to be digested before having a view either way. It is also notable that the papers from the study have yet to be peer-reviewed, though I would guess that the findings might quickly find a home in some of the journals that seem to strongly back the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis. As a matter of interest, the pre-publication of the papers has caused a bit of a storm, with some arguing that this corrupts the peer review process. However, the purpose of the post is not to go into the details of BEST research and publication, but rather how the NZ Herald have portrayed the study.

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2 responses to “New Zealand Herald – BEST coverage

  1. Re your comment at CCG “Hope it makes a better read”

    No, same sordid tale.

  2. protonsforbreakfast

    Hi. Regarding your comment on the report denigrating Richard Muller, I feel obliged to point out Muller was publicly disparaging of the integrity of the authors of the previous three estimates of the air temperature above the land surface of the Earth. However in his recent testimony to the US congress (available on the BEST site) he describes their work as ‘excellent’.

    In fact the ‘signal’ for global warming is actually pretty strong in the data and is broadly consistent with the effect expected from 30 billion tons/per annum of an infrared active gas being put in the atmosphere.

    BTW you are wise to wait for the peer review process because the pre-prints on the BEST site look like early drafts to me.

    All the best, Michael

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