2014 Warmest? Maybe Not

This great article from the Acton Institute, examines the inaccuracy of the temperature measuring devices being used to determine global warming, and, as usual when looking beneath the surface of the end-of-the-world pronouncements from global warming activists, the truth is often quite a bit different than the headlines.

An excerpt.

During his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama talked about climate change and claimed, “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.”

Obama was basing his statement on a press release by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). According to the NASA data collected from more than 3,000 weather stations around the globe, “The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880.” Climate change skeptics pushed back by questioning the accuracy of the report (more on that below) which invariably led to push back on the claims of the skeptics.

For instance, Marcelo Gleiser, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, wrote for NPR that “Clearly, the scientists in charge know what they are doing.”

Dr. Gleiser is a scientist, not a journalist, so such a silly appeal to expertise can be excused.* But many journalists, like everyone else, seem to have the same “experts must know” reaction to such claims. The problem is that there isn’t much evidence the experts even know what true global temperatures are—or that they can even acquire such data with any precision.

Before you dismiss me as a “skeptic” let me clarify what sort of skeptic I am so that you can dismiss my viewpoint for the right reasons.

I’m not an anthropomorphic climate change skeptic; I’m agnostic on the question of whether mankind is heating up the planet (though I’d be surprised if we didn’t have some effect). What I am a skeptical about—closer to an outright “denialist”—is the idea that global surface temperatures can be measures with any precision.

Let me explain the reasons why and then I’ll discuss why it matters.

Scientific investigation requires the collection and interpretation of data. Consensus on matters of science therefore requires that there be no significant dispute on either the data (i.e., its relevance or accuracy) or its interpretation. The debate over whether there is a “consensus” about anthropogenic climate change has tended to focus on the interpretation of the data. But what if the data is fatally flawed?

The reason I became skeptical about temperature data is because of my familiarity with metrology (the science of measurement) of electronic devices, specifically avionics equipment. The ability to obtain accurate measurements is a result of numerous factors, three of the most important being observer bias, equipment calibration, and acceptable margin of error….

But the problem is not just with the accuracy but with the illusion of certainty. The NASA press release said that 2014 was the “hottest year on record” yet failed to mention that the alleged increase over 2010, the previous ‘warmest year’, was just two-hundredths of a degree – or 0.02 c. The margin of error is said by scientists to be approximately 0.1C – several times as much. As the Daily Mail notes,

As a result, GISS’s director Gavin Schmidt has now admitted NASA thinks the likelihood that 2014 was the warmest year since 1880 is just 38 per cent. However, when asked by this newspaper whether he regretted that the news release did not mention this, he did not respond. Another analysis, from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project, drawn from ten times as many measuring stations as GISS, concluded that if 2014 was a record year, it was by an even tinier amount.

In other words, NASA chose to give information that would result in a scary headline (“Hottest Year Ever Recorded!”) rather than a more accurate story (“Temperature About the Same as 2005 and 2010″).

Retrieved January 24, 2015 from http://blog.acton.org/archives/75418-cant-settled-science-based-unsettled-data.html#more-75418

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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