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Fiddling with global warming conspiracy theories while Rome burns

Posted on 11 February 2015 by dana1981

The latest zombie climate myth to rise from the dead involves the oldest form of global warming denial. It’s a conspiracy theory that the Earth isn’t really warming; rather, fraudulent climate scientists are “fiddling” with the data to introduce a false warming trend.

In The Telegraph, which is a mostly serious UK newspaper, Christopher Booker calls scientists’ adjustments to temperature data “the biggest science scandal ever.” These accusations have echoed through conservative media and online blogs, even being aired on Fox News (three times).

In reality climate scientists process the raw temperature data for very good reasons. Sometimes temperature monitoring station locations move. Sometimes the time of day at which they’re read changes. Sometimes changes are made to the instruments themselves. In each case, if adjustments aren’t made, then biases will be included in the data that don’t reflect actual changes in temperatures.

Richard Muller at UC Berkeley was skeptical that climate scientists were doing all these adjustments correctly, so he assembled the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) team to check the data for themselves. The biggest initial financial contribution to the project came from the Koch brothers.

As Muller discusses in the video below, his team confirmed that the Earth’s surface temperatures are warming. In fact, BEST finds that NASA, NOAA, and the UK Met Office have slightly underestimated the warming over the past 15 years.

Collin Maessen interview with Richard Muller in December 2014.

Zeke Hausfather, another member of the BEST team, has also shown that the adjustments act to slightly reduce the long-term warming trend as compared to the raw data.

Kevin Cowtan, who along with colleague Robert Way created another surface temperature data set similar to that of the BEST team, also put together this video explaining why another recent specific accusation of ‘data fiddling’ (in Paraguay) made by Booker is baseless.

Kevin Cowtan explains adjustments to temperature readings in Paraguay.

This particular conspiracy theory is an old one, but it’s easy to understand its origins. Certain groups have an ideological opposition to the government policies that would solve the global warming problem. If the problem doesn’t exist because scientists are fudging the data, then voilà, those distasteful policies aren’t necessary. 

Global warming denial can usually be traced back to this sort of ideological bias. That’s why contrarian attempts at scientific arguments like Booker’s are so poor, contradictory, and transparently wrong. These myths are just a means to an end; that end being the opposition to climate policies. Any argument that seems to justify that climate opposition will suffice, no matter how flimsy.

Unfortunately, the problem we face is a real one. Scientists only make adjustments to the data where they’re scientifically justified. The accuracy of those adjustments has been confirmed over and over and over again. And the adjustments slightly reduce the long-term global warming trend. Moreover, even if you distrust it, “fiddling” with data doesn’t make ice melt or sea levels rise. Nature’s thermometers register global warming too.

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Comments 1 to 21:

  1. Great post dana1981. Extremely informative.

    Just to comment about the Christopher Booker article, he references a person by the name of Paul Homewood. I believe this is the same Paul Homewood who is a retired accountant and has no formalized training in the climate change realm. My question is why has nobody attacked this person's credibility in providing key stats to Christopher Booker's article? Paul Homewood has no advanced degrees, no formalized training, has no peer reviewed articles (that we know of), but the deniers take these findings as gospel. It is the equivalent of someone who is a stock broker, but reads articles on Web MD. Does that make the stock broker an expert in the medical field versus someone who has been in medical school for an extensive amount of time? Should that person be allowed to prescribe medication? This source would be crucified if this was under circumstances.

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  2. I don't see any need to attack Homewood's credibility when the arguments themselves are transparently wrong.  The fault is Booker's for swallowing the horse manure that Homewood fed to him.

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  3. Attacking one's credibility would come close to a logical fallacy. How learned one is in the science is an indicator of how likely it is that their opinion may be interesting/relevant/on point etc. It also gives a likelihood on how valid a specific argument is, but the particular argument considered must nonetheless be considered on its own merit, or lack thereof in this case.

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  4. RealClimate's new post uses actual data to show Homewood/Booker claims in The Telegraph are...


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  5. I agree with dana and Phillippe: focus on the argument, not the person. Amateurs can and do contribute to science, but the worth of their contribution is a property of their contribution, not their background.

    Bob Grumbine has a recent blog post about Amateurs on Climate that is worth a read.

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  6. Journalist George Monbiot on Christopher Booker:

    "The Wikipedia of Gibberish, the patron saint of charlatans"

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  7. Recommended supplemental reading:

    Evil Nazi-communist world-government climatologists have manipulated data to REDUCE global warming by Victor Venema, Variable Variability, Feb 10, 2015

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    Moderator Response:

    [GT] Typo corrected - Victor's surname is Venema

    [JH] Thank you, GT.

  8. I have read that earths temp has increased by 0.8C over the last 114 yrs. Assuming earth ave temp of 288K I calculate the annual rate of temp increase to be about 0.0024%. I must be wrong because 0.0024% is miniscule, nothing to be alarmed about

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Please docment the sources of your data. Thank you.

  9. Muzz: if you want to distort things, you are much better off doing it graphically. I suggest reading the following excellent blog source to learn how to do it. Dr. Inferno provides some excellent posts you would do well to emulate.

    ...but if you are going to stick exclusively to a mathematical calculation why stop at an annual rate? If you turn it into an hourly rate, it's only 0.00000028%!

    Or, if you are actually interested in learning something, you could try:

    CO2 is just a trace gas

    Human CO2 is a tiny % of CO2 emissions

    to see how using arguments based on such percentages is not good science.

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  10. To JH moderator response to 8. I cannot readily recall where I read 0.8C over 114 years but I do note that the temp escalator graph on this site shows an increase of 0.16C per decade which gives a result of 0.0056%. Yes, that is significantly greater than 0.0024% but is still miniscule.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You're skating on the thin ice of concern trolling. Please cease and desist.

  11. In reply to JH moderator response to 8. 0.85C from 1880 to 2012 IPCC 2013 is a source. 

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  12. Muzz... did you know if your body temp rises by 1.6% K... You're dead.

    You're making a very silly argument.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] I would suggest DNFTT given Muzz's past disinterest in actual science.

  13. PS inline at 12, everytime we see a moderator saying "DNFTT", what we should be seeing is the moderator deleting the post in which the troll trolled.  In this instance, Muzz has clearly violated the rule against no sloganeering.  He's also going for broke on excessive repetition as well.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] I had deleted a post which was more trolling and I put my comment on an earlier one.

  14. Muzz may have got his information from GISS

    "The average temperature in 2013 was 14.6 °C (58.3 °F), which is 0.6 °C (1.1 °F) warmer than the mid-20th century baseline. The average global temperature has risen about 0.8 °C (1.4 °F) since 1880, according to the latest (January 2014) analysis from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). Exact rankings for individual years are sensitive to data inputs and analysis methods. (

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Expressing temperature change as percentage change against absolute temperature is pure sloganeering. The stunt is to make it seem so small that "must be insignificant". One assumes this stunt from misinformation site. Like claiming that 400ppm is too insignificant to worry about neglecting that that concentration of say HCN would be far from insignificant to life. To make sense of the number you have to look at what the effects of the change would actually be. Plenty of real science of that.

  15. [PS] I'm not sure what you mean by "One assumes this stunt from misinformation site" in the context of your reply.  I don't know where  Muzz actually did get his data from but the site I referred to appears to be a genuine  NASA site and I assumed that the information was correct.  Are you saying it isn't?  Of course if it is correct and at the moment I can't see why it isn't, then the first sentence from Muzz @ 8 is also correct. My post, with the caveat that the site is genuine, also gave what appears to be an answer to moderator JH also at 8.  

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Huh?

    [PS] We are mis-communicating. [JH] asked Muzz to cite the bizarre calculation of 0.0024% which clearly was not NASA. I have no doubts about the actual NASA data, only the spin being used to try and sweep the problem under the carpet.

  16. This precis on The Modern Temperature from the American Institute of Physics ( might give Muzz further perspective onf global warming. 

    "Tracking the world's average temperature from the late 19th century, people in the 1930s realized there had been a pronounced warming trend. During the 1960s, weather experts found that over the past couple of decades the trend had shifted to cooling. With a new awareness that climate could change in serious ways, in the early 1970s some scientists predicted a continued gradual cooling, perhaps a phase of a long natural cycle or perhaps caused by human pollution of the atmosphere with smog and dust. Others insisted that the effects of such pollution were temporary, and humanity's emission of greenhouse gases would bring warming over the long run. All of them agreed that their knowledge was primitive and any prediction was guesswork. But understanding of the climate system was advancing swiftly. The view that warming must dominate won out in the late 1970s as it became clear that the cooling spell (mainly a Northern Hemisphere effect) had indeed been a temporary distraction. When the rise continued into the 21st century, penetrating even into the ocean depths, scientists recognized that it signaled a profound change in the climate system. Nothing like it had been seen for centuries, and probably not for millennia. The specific pattern of changes, revealed in objects ranging from ship logs to ice caps to tree rings, closely matched the predicted effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

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  17. Sincere apologies for this.  My opening line in the comment above should read "might give Muzz further perspective on global average temperature".

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  18. Not that it really matters, but just for setting the record straight, Muzz also buggers up simple math by two orders of magnitude: 0.8/288=0.0027 which is 0.27%. (Not 0.0024%)

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  19. Rob Honeycutt @18, Muzz specified the growth in temperature per year over the last 114 years (1880-2014), for which he got the maths right.  What he did not get right is the significance, or the relevant interval, or the fact that temperature increases will be faster in the future under  BAU scenarios (indeed, has been over the recent past).  All in all your comparison with body temperature above is the best resonse.  After all, who would not go to a doctor with a fever of 41.9 C?  Certainly we would not tough it out on the basis that it was only a 1.5% increase in our normal operating temperature.

    Or keeping things climate related, since 1910, temperatures have increased by approx 6.7% of the range of temperatures experienced on Earth over the last 500 million years.  Further, under BAU (RCP 6.0) we are projected to warm another 9.3 to 20.7% of that range in less than a century.  An aggressive BAU policy (such as is currently being effectively pursued) has a significant risk of taking us to the upper limit of that range within a century.  

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  20. Tom... You're correct. I missed that he slipped from the total change over 114 years to an annual rate. Definitely too much time spent on Muzz's silliness.

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  21. Yes, Rob, I had noticed you missed muzz's little trick with the annual rates and was going to point it out, but Tom beat me to it. The division by 114 is why I had divided even further to get an hourly rate. Think of how insignificant the value would be if we converted to femtoseconds.

    Anyway, I can't stay long. The winds are howling at over 30,000 furlongs per fortnight right now, and with all the snow blowing around I only have 3 or 4 kiloseconds to shovel snow before I go to bed. Almost no time at all! Gotta run!

    [Ain't unit conversion fun?]

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