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The BEST Summary

Posted on 12 November 2011 by dana1981

We really didn't expect to devote as much time or as many posts to the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project results as we did.  After all, its results were entirely expected, consistent with the existing body of peer-reviewed science. We expected that the BEST results would be a minor footnote in climate science history - one more study affirming the accuracy of the surface temperature record, and that the "skeptics" would finally stop denying its accuracy, as they promised they would.  After all, the study was privately funded, including by the anti-climate science Koch Brothers, and involved Richard Muller and Judith Curry, two scientists quite skeptical of the global warming theory.

Unfortunately, so many "skeptics" have devoted so much time and effort into disputing the accuracy of the surface temperature record that the BEST results seem to have short-circuited their collective brains.  The schizophrenic "skeptic" reaction has been quite the spectacle to behold.  First they attacked the BEST team for purely superficial reasons, including some rather appalling insults.  But then they seemed to briefly accept the results, attempting to diminish their impact by claiming they had expected BEST to confirm global warming all along, and then doubling-down on other climate myths.  Most recently, these same "skeptics" have attempted to argue that the BEST results show that global warming has stopped, and that their results are still biased high due to the urban heat island (UHI) effect.

Since the so-called "skeptics" decided to toss true skepticism aside and instead throw as many climate myths at the BEST results as they could think of to see what would stick, we had to devote many posts to debunking this myth mish mash.  Below we summarize what we have learned from the BEST results.

Global Warming Continues

The main (and entirely expected) conclusion we can draw from the BEST results is that although certain parties tried to hide the incline in global temperatures, global warming continues.  Some "skeptics" have cherrypicked small portions of the BEST data in an attempt to argue that global warming has stopped.  Dr. Richard Muller described these efforts quite accurately:

"what they have done is an old trick. It’s how to lie with statistics"

This statistical lie is illustrated in Figures 1 and 2.

skeptics v realists v3

Figure 1: BEST land-only surface temperature data (green) with linear trends applied to the timeframes 1973 to 1980, 1980 to 1988, 1988 to 1995, 1995 to 2001, 1998 to 2005, 2002 to 2010 (blue), and 1973 to 2010 (red).  Hat-tip to Skeptical Science contributor Sphaerica for identifying all of these "cooling trends."

BEST cherrypick

Figure 2: Entire BEST record vs. the recent cherrypicked portion used by "skeptics" to wrongly claim that global warming has stopped

The Rapid Rate of Global Warming is as Expected

The BEST results also confirmed the accuracy of the surface temperature record, with a warming rate (approximately 0.3°C per decade over recent decades) consistent with that estimated by NOAA and NASA GISS (Figure 3).  The BEST results also confirmed that HadCRUT is biased low.

land-only

Figure 3: Comparison of land-only surface station and satellite temperature measurements (1981-2010 baseline).  Annual data is plotted for BEST, NOAA, and HadCRU, while a 12-month running average is plotted for the GISS, UAH, and RSS.

The BEST results are also approximately consistent with the amount of land-only surface warming estimated by satellite data as analyzed by Fu et al.Vinnikov & Grody (V&G), and Zou et al.  The UAH and RSS surface warming estimates are lower than these other groups, which suggests they may be biased low, and reveals that the satellite datasets are not the 'gold standard' the "skeptics" would have us believe they are.  Figure 4 compares the various datasets, with the satellites 'upscaled' to reflect the fact that models project the lower troposphere warming rate above land should be approximately 5% lower than the surface land warming rate.  The Fu and Zou trends are SkS estimates.

temp comparison

Figure 4: Comparison of various measurements of the land-only global surface temperature.  The Fu, V&G, and Zou values are estimated by SkS, and the 0.95 amplification "upscaling" factor has been incorporated into the satellite trends to estimate the surface trend.

And much to the dismay of the "skeptics," BEST has confirmed once again that the UHI effect is not biasing the surface temperature measurements (Wickham et al. 2011):

"urban warming does not unduly bias estimates of recent global temperature change."

Expectedness

While the BEST results were entirely expected, we probably should not have been surprised by the inability of those who claim to be "skeptics," but who clearly are not, to accept their findings.  Reactions to the BEST results (including logical fallacies, contradictions, cherrypicks, ad hominem attacks, and outright distortions) have certainly given us an insight into who the true skeptics are.

Note: This post has been developed into the rebuttal to the myth BEST hides the decline in global temperature.  As announced in The Climate Show #21, this rebuttal has the short URL sks.to/best.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 33:

  1. I think the BEST results have been important in showing that the problem with the acceptance of climate science, and more specifically anthropogenic global warming, is not a problem of data. It's not a problem of analytical method. It's not a problem of openness or peer review. It's a problem of our inability to leave the contrarians behind. Societies need the engagement of politically motivated individuals in sculpting policies, but it's unclear that policies will be made better by involving people who are willing to deny reality. We have to learn to move on without them, because one thing BEST has taught us is that fake skeptics will refuse to see the truth no matter how plainly it stands in front of them.

    PS You didn't mention the folks who, after BEST came out, newly claimed that Muller never was a skeptic. It adds another item to my list of what the problem is not -- it's not a problem of the messenger. Whoever tells the inconvenient truth will be demonized by these people. I'd like to see more experimentation done on this front, however!
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  2. Steve, this one nails it on the head: "it's unclear that policies will be made better by involving people who are willing to deny reality."

    The crux of the problem lies with these people who will stubbornly continue to deny reality until their last breath and are willing to wage an all out war against policies challenging their illusions. Eventually, when the damage is obvious beyond any kind of denial, they will deny any responsibility and shift the blame to others.
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  3. SteveL @1,

    Just to echo Philippe's comments-- your post @1 is an excellent summary of what reputable scientists and policy makers are up against. Thanks.
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  4. So very true Steve @1, as I have found these people will call an apple an orange, and no matter how many times you say it is and prove that it is an apple, they don't care, as to them it is and always will be an orange.

    And once again another well written and presented article.
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  5. Dana:

    You are the BEST author in the SkS stable.

    Thanks for all that you do.
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  6. Steve, Phillipe & Aussie:

    I highly recommend that you read “Capitalism vs. the Climate” by Naomi Klein. She offers fresh insights into what motivates climate deniers in one of the most well written articles on the topic that I have read.
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  7. Dana, I have a significant problem with your figure 2. It includes the anomalously low figure for April, 2010 and also May, 2010. As has been well documented, those two data points are faulty and should not be included an any analysis.

    Indeed, Nick Stokes at Moyhu has shown that those two months draw their data from just 47 stations, compared to the 14,488 station used in March of 2010. In other words, the number of stations used has reduced by 99.68%. What is worse, Nick Stokes has also shown that all temperature data for April and May of 2010 in the BEST data set comes from Antarctica.

    It should not need pointing out that Antarctica is not the world, and so those to months should not be used in any serious analysis. In fact, when I contacted the BEST project about this issue, Robert Rohde, lead author of the methods paper replied, saying:

    "Yes, there is an issue with the availability and incorporation of very recent data not being uniform. As a result the last two months do have far less data, and analysis of those months isn't meaningful. We expect to update the data set to incorporate more recent data in the near future and
    hopefully provide more uniform coverage at recent times."

    (My emphasis, private communication)

    IMO, it is an indictment on Judith Curry's competence that, as a co-author of all the BEST papers, she was unable to recognise the inclusion of data which "isn't meaningful" if included in an analysis. Regardless of the fact that she was happy to pass over the inclusion of faulty data (if she even recognized it), no paper or graph from the BEST project shows evidence of including those data points in their analyses. Therefore inclusion of those two data points is unwarranted.

    As a final note, the people who prepared the graph which Curry so obligingly accepted for analysis must have known what they were doing. BEST publishes the uncertainty level of all data in all its published data. As Tamino has shown, the last two data points stick out like a sore thumb in that regard, and so there can be no excuse from ignorance in their inclusion in any analysis:


    (BEST montly dat uncertainties for 1/2001-5/2010)

    I know you have included those two months because they where included in the graph Curry commented on. However, given the very limited nature of the data set for those two months, and the fact that BEST does not include those months in any analysis, they should not have been included.
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  8. John H - thanks very much.

    Tom - I know, we discussed the incomplete final two data points in the blog post from which Figure 2 originated (linked above Figures 1 and 2). For the purposes of that particular graphic, it's a rather minor point (two data points out of thousands), and those two data points were included in "Curry's BEST" graph.

    I suppose it wouldn't hurt to remove them, if I have the time.
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  9. Steve, Philippe, Aussie et al, I couldn't agree more strongly, the denier psychology is hard to comprehend, and incredibly frustrating to confront. I've been engaged in a now lengthy debate with some HVAC engineers/technicians over at LinkedIn (on the "HVAC Professionals" group) that has diverged from a question on the relative merits of R410a vs R22 to whether global warming and even ozone depletion are real. These guys livelihoods will depend on their ability to adapt to the impending shift away from HCFCs and HFCs, yet in their processional opinions, everyone here at SkS are leftist propagandists, liberals, morons, politics and philosophy majors and all manner of other unsavory things.

    In hope of widening the debate, I've started a new discussion featuring the SkS site, probably not even a snowflake's chance in hell of changing the minds of the key protagonists, but the group has a broad audience, and it should help build awareness of the excellent work featured here. Would be great if anyone has time to drop in and lend your 2 cents worth?

    Steve, I'd love to quote your post 1 at an early point in this new discussion, unless you'd rather drop by yourself?

    My heartfelt thanks to all for all that you do, please keep up your great and valuable work.

    Brent
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  10. "and involved Richard Muller and Judith Curry, two scientists quite skeptical of the global warming theory."
    I think this is a mischaracterisation. I think they are both convinced that CO2 increases temperatures and that the feedbacks will be generally positive, however they both seem to hold the idea that uncertainties are under estimated and take on board the Climate Audit type criticisms of the last 1000s years of paleo.
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  11. dorlomin#10: "they both seem to hold the idea that uncertainties are under estimated"

    Wasn't the goal of BEST to reduce the overall uncertainties in the land temperature record? And didn't it show that CA/WattsUp-type criticisms of the more recent record are, on balance, rubbish?

    Incredibly, Curry can't even admit that the study with her name on it accomplished even that much. Would you want her as a co-author, given that she would feel free to publicly criticize your work after it was done?
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  12. Hi Brent, feel free to quote of course. I'm just a biologist, though, and not someone with any special insight on the underlying physical processes your engineers are interested in or the relevant psychology regarding how that information is (mis)interpreted. My tentative conclusions in comment 1 are based on things I learned here at SkS. But what to do with those conclusions? How do we move on? I'm not sure that a discussion with people whose professional opinions of their opponents include such characterizations is a good way to do it. Your idea to point them here is a good one, if they're interested in science. I think your efforts are laudable. Best of luck.
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  13. John Hartz#6 Thank you for the link to "Capitalism vs the Climate" by Naomi Klein. As a newbie trying to get to the truth, it explains to me why the capitalists of this world are also the deniers, in large part. I had thought their abuse of scientific knowledge was from sheer bloody-mindedness, but now see it is a deeper and more sinister association. No wonder sites like this have such a hard time gaining traction where it counts. Sigh. At least I am developing an informed view of the world, which is different from the view I once held.
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  14. John Hartz #6, I think Klein does see the antipathy towards environmentalists. And she does see the cornucopian wishful thinking about resources.

    But she does not see how the denialism is mostly rooted in things that are far stronger in the US than elsewhere. I think unlike most other Western countries, secular conservatism is weak in the US. You mostly have either religious conservatives or you have libertarians.

    The secular conservatism of most other Western countries has comparatively little difficulty making the compromises and adjustments that are necessary to mitigate climate change. But the religious conservatism of the US seems obsessed with its opponents. It seems to be unwilling to allow itself to see any good in the other side. I wonder whether they really support free enterprise so much as they want to use it a club to beat the secular with.

    The libertarians are scared of any form of compromise. I think it is because they want a system that is the logical consequence of a few principles. They do not like the idea of a system based of balancing conflicting goals none of which get completely accomplished.. They believe such systems will always collapse so that they are based on only a few principles. They think that a mixed economy must tend towards socialism.

    Klein is just as self righteous as her opponents and with her aims and sanctimoniousness she fuels the denialists. She is telling them that their fears are correct. She needs marginalizing just as much as they do.
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  15. @Doug H

    I don't think it helps those seeking action on climate to label all capitalists as being in denial. While it's true that many multinational companies with a vested interest in the energy status quo are actively spinning propaganda to deny climate change, there are many multinationals -- particularly those in food -- who recognise the problems climate change will have on their supply chains in the future. If we are to win this argument we need capitalists to come in from the cold. If you look, for instance, at the insurance industry you'll see that denial is not really a function of being a capitalist.

    Here in the UK climate change is not so much a left/right thing and in my experience those in denial -- leaving aside the just plain uninformed -- are just as likely to be on the extreme left as the extreme right. Your mainstream Conservative is generally as concerned about this issue as the mainstream Labour supporter.
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  16. A brief, off topic, note on behalf of my wife, who has a particular (professionally motivated) concern about these things:

    The use of the term "schizophrenic" to describe sceptics who appear to hold contradictory positions is questionable in two ways. FIrstly, although the etymology of 'schizophrenic' is 'split-mind' the condition itself does not involve this - dissociative identity disorder would be a closer match. (Actually, looking at the first paragraph on schizophrenia at Wikipedia the real manifestations of schizophrenia seem to be an even better description of much sceptic thought, but now I'm undermining my second point....)

    Secondly, the use of any medically recognised condition to describe the behaviour of people who choose to act in these ways is disrepectful to those with genuine mental disorders who cannot control their patterns of thinking.
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  17. Jo Nova had a ranty post about klein's article. It seemed to stem from the fact that Klein purported to be right about climate change without addressing 'skeptic' claims. Nova went on to say that Klein has a problem with numbers because the 97% statistic is illogical. 'It's not 97%, it's 75 scientists'.
    I agree that the way 97% is thrown around is a bit misleading. 75/77 makes 'over 90%' a more defensible statement.
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  18. Tristan, it is 75 out of 77, or 97-98% - the latter with a larger sample.

    (By the way, for admin information, the "97% of Scientists is a small sample" link I found while doing the following search, doesn't go anywhere.)
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  19. Ahh, excellent, thanks JM.
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  20. '...the 0.95 amplification "upscaling" factor has been incorporated into the satellite trends to estimate the surface trend.'

    I think this Climate Audit thread demonstrates that Gavin got his calculation wrong on that figure. However, it turns out that the multi-model ensemble mean for land amplification is ~1.0, with a long-term spread of 0.9-1.1 so conclusions aren't radically altered.

    The thing I pointed out was that the discrepancy in UAH & RSS over land (Using GISS model output, TLT:Surface expected = 1.1:1; TLT:Surface observed = 0.7:1; Difference = 1.1/0.7 = 1.57) is almost exactly the same as the discrepancy over oceans (TLT:Surface expected = 1.6:1; TLT:Surface observed = 1.0:1; Difference = 1.6/1.0 = 1.6) so inferring an urbanisation component from the comparison doesn't work. In fact the comparison provides further evidence for a negligible influence of urbanisation on surface temperature records.
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  21. Tristan, it figures that Jo Nova rants about percentages: deniers hate percentages and love numbers.

    See, the Oregon Petition has over 30.000 signers who earn a BS degree or equivalent, so we -the public- are supposed to think: "Gee that's a lot of knowledgeable people, they must be right".
    Now, we can discuss endlessly if the Spice Girls have BS degrees or not, or that there really exists someone called Donald Duck, but of the people with a BS degree (or equivalent) alive, much less then 3% signed the petition! Hmm, now it doesn't sound that impressive anymore, does it?

    Another example is that famous list of 900 papers skeptical of AGW. Now, we can discuss endlessly if these papers are really sceptical about AGW or not (many of them aren't), or that some of these papers are not to be taken serious (many of them aren't, e.g. the paper in the Dog Astrology Journal).
    But when we take a look at the number of papers published each year on AGW, it turns in the order of 2000+ papers are published year after year of which less then 5% is sceptical about AGW. Hmm, 900 papers doesn't sound so impressive anymore, right?

    Deniers hate percentages but love numbers.

    Note: Figures are not exact, it's just to make the point
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  22. cynicus

    It's actually worse than that. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010, 41,289,000 people had a Bachelor’s Degree as their highest educational qualification, 15,357,000 had a Masters Degree, and 2,793,000 held a Doctoral Degree. In the UK, the figure is around 20% of the population, or around 12 million. The figures are similar in most western countries. However, in places like India, the percentages are much less, but with the much higher population numbers, the total number of people with university degrees is staggering – around 100 million.

    Source (US data): http://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/education/data/cps/2010/tables.html

    So, what does this mean? Well, if we look at US figures alone, if everyone who signed the Oregon Petition held a legitimate university degree (but we know they don’t), then we can do a simple sum. The total number of university graduates is around 60 million. There were 31,000 signatories to the petition. This represents a staggering 0.05% of the population.

    But of course, the ‘Oregon Petition’ was open to anyone who wished to sign – you didn’t have to be in the US. So the figures are obviously much lower than 0.05% . You can make your own estimate if you like.
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  23. Bearing in mind that, from 1800 to 1940-ish we were emerging from the Little Ice Age, why is it wrong to argue for a pause in global (land-based ) temperatures from 2000 onwards, but right to claim a continuing upward trend on the step change from about 1995 to 2001.

    Both are equally absurd.
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    Response:

    [DB] "Bearing in mind that, from 1800 to 1940-ish we were emerging from the Little Ice Age"

    Incorrect.  You fail to take into account the climatic dampening from the volcanic effects of the eruptions early in the 19th Century as well as changes in solar output over that time.  You perpetuate a skeptic canard without looking into the literature.

    "why is it wrong to argue for a pause in global (land-based ) temperatures from 2000 onwards"

    PRATT.

    "but right to claim a continuing upward trend on the step change from about 1995 to 2001"

    Strawman.  No one, other than fake-skeptics, are maintaining any fiction over unsupported "step changes".  Such is considered by science to be "Climastrology".  See also Dikran's subsequent comments re: significance testing.

    "Both are equally absurd."

    Unsupported conclusions based on no evidence are usually ignored.  Given the obvious lack of investigation you put into this your comment here borders on derisive.  Please ameliorate your tone.

  24. mandas, thanks for the additional info :-)

    0.05 percent. Wow, no wonder "they" promote the immensely huge 30k number as significant...
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  25. Fred Staples, this article doesn't claim that there is a "continuing upward trend on the step change from 1995 to 2001". The linear trend, as shown in Figure 1, is negative for this period, but we all know (or should know (Source)) that these short linear trends aren't statistically significant. Claiming cooling/pause/halt/suspension/etc. or extreme warming using such short linear trends is, as you say, absurd indeed.

    This point is made clear by showing the positive linear trend over the entire period 1973-2010, which is statistically significant.
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  26. Fred Staples The difference is statistical significance. The human eye is so good at detecting signals in noise that it all to often detects a signal that isn't actually there, but is just an artifact of the noise. Hence scientists use tests of statistical significance as an objective test of their claims. I have yet to see the details of a statistical test that shows there is statistically significant support for the hypothesis of a pause.
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  27. BTW, there is also no real evidence that there was a step change 1995-2001 either, and I don't recall having seen an analysis that showed a statistically significant difference in the evidience for a step-change model over a linear trend model (which can be done).
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  28. Dikran,

    I think it would be very unusual for a near-linear upward trending signal in noisy data not to contain occasional sequences which look like step functions.

    Then there are known variances associated with the '11-year' solar cycle, which increase the probability of seeing step functions as we go from minimum to maximum over a ~six year period - an oscillation within the upward trend. 1995-96 occurred during a solar minimum, 2001-2002 at a maximum: the exact period in which a step function has been posited.

    There's also a "step function" from about 1975 to 1980. Again, 1980 occurs at a solar maximum.
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  29. @GreenCooling #9 I've been teaching counselling since 1984 and your point of - "how can I get through to people who refuse?" is a common question.

    Listening and thinking are the keys.

    Basically you can work with anyone who does not bother you. Once your bothered you can't be successful. The bother needs to be dealt with first.

    While a statement can easily be blocked, a question that gets the answer into the mind of the listener is better at getting past a block.

    You can question their assumptions. Once they are questioning their assumptions there is an opening to information about science or data. It can be a small opening that gets lost easily and back to questioning assumptions instead of giving information.

    In person it will work better if you like them and you listen well.

    It can take quite a while and is easier done with friends or people who you care about.
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  30. pauls That is very much the point, while there are bound to be sequences that look like step changes, that doesn't mean that there has been a step change. This is why a statistical test should be used to determine if there is sufficient evidence for a step change before claiming that there has actually been one.

    For the 1995-2000 step change, it is pretty easy to see that the illusion is caused by the 1998 El-Nino spike, delete that bit of the plot and it looks like a linear trend model fits the data pretty well, without any suggestion of a step-change.



    At the end of the day, the key is self-skepticism, if someone wants to argue for a more complex model, without a good basis in physics (e.g. exponential increase in CO2 + logarithmic radiative forcing = linear warming), then you need to demonstrate that the data argue unequivocally for a more complex model.
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  31. Hmm it seems nobody read Part 2 of 'Going Down the Up Escalator'! I addressed the step change myth there. I also put it into a rebuttal.
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  32. yeah, yesterday I listened to a talk of Prof. H.J.Schellnhuber (director of PIK in Potsdam, Germany - http://www.pik-potsdam.de) in Berlin, Germany, a lecture given within the Berlin lectures (Berliner Lektionen) at the Renaissance Theatre ... And just that he mentioned - a bit ironically ... moreover this talk was just gorgeous, prudent and wise ... a great man!

    I am very grateful, Dana1981, that you posted this comment here ...
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  33. Muller officially comes out in the NYT today -- with predictions:

    "What about the future? As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about one and a half degrees over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included. But if China continues its rapid economic growth (it has averaged 10 percent per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (it typically adds one new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years."
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