Climate

Must-read AP story: Statisticians reject global cooling; Caldeira — “To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous.” Levitt “said he does not believe there is a cooling trend”!!

A terrific story by the AP’s Seth Borenstein, “Statisticians reject global cooling,” not only debunks that myth — it will make your head spin once again on error-riddled Superfreakonomics (coauthored by Levitt).

Have you heard that the world is now cooling instead of warming? You may have seen some news reports on the Internet or heard about it from a provocative new book.

Only one problem: It’s not true, according to an analysis of the numbers done by several independent statisticians for The Associated Press.

The debunking will be no surprise to CP readers [see The BBC asks “What happened to global warming?” during the hottest decade in recorded history! and “NYT’s Revkin pushes global cooling myth (again!)], but the AP made three nice contributions.  First, the AP talked to NOAA:

The recent Internet chatter about cooling led NOAA’s climate data center to re-examine its temperature data. It found no cooling trend.

“The last 10 years are the warmest 10-year period of the modern record,” said NOAA climate monitoring chief Deke Arndt. “Even if you analyze the trend during that 10 years, the trend is actually positive, which means warming.”

Second, “In a blind test, the AP gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented”:

“If you look at the data and sort of cherry-pick a micro-trend within a bigger trend, that technique is particularly suspect,” said John Grego, a professor of statistics at the University of South Carolina.

Duh!

The AP sent expert statisticians NOAA’s year-to-year ground temperature changes over 130 years and the 30 years of satellite-measured temperatures preferred by skeptics and gathered by scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Statisticians who analyzed the data found a distinct decades-long upward trend in the numbers, but could not find a significant drop in the past 10 years in either data set. The ups and downs during the last decade repeat random variability in data as far back as 1880.

Saying there’s a downward trend since 1998 is not scientifically legitimate, said David Peterson, a retired Duke University statistics professor and one of those analyzing the numbers.

Identifying a downward trend is a case of “people coming at the data with preconceived notions,” said Peterson, author of the book “Why Did They Do That? An Introduction to Forensic Decision Analysis.”

UPDATE:  AP details here “How temperature data was analyzed.”

Third, the AP talked to Superfreakonomics coathor Levitt and top climatologist Caldeira, with an amusingly predictable outcome:

Apart from the conflicting data analyses is the eyebrow-raising new book title from Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, “Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.”A line in the book says: “Then there’s this little-discussed fact about global warming: While the drumbeat of doom has grown louder over the past several years, the average global temperature during that time has in fact decreased.”

That led to a sharp rebuke from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which said the book mischaracterizes climate science with “distorted statistics.”

Levitt, a University of Chicago economist, said he does not believe there is a cooling trend. He said the line was just an attempt to note the irony of a cool couple of years at a time of intense discussion of global warming. Levitt said he did not do any statistical analysis of temperatures, but “eyeballed” the numbers and noticed 2005 was hotter than the last couple of years. Levitt said the “cooling” reference in the book title refers more to ideas about trying to cool the Earth artificially.

Yeah, the book is filled with such errors “irony” — see Error-riddled Superfreakonomics, Part 3: It takes a village to debunk their anti-scientific nonsense.

So Levitt now says he doesn’t believe there is a cooling trend!  Awesome, because Dubner is baffled that Caldeira ‘doesn’t believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions.’ and Nathan Myhrvold jumpsed ship on Levitt and Dubner (on their blog!) asserting: “Geoengineering is proposed only as a last resort to try to reduce or cope with the even greater harms of global warming! “¦ The point of the chapter in SuperFreakonomics is that geoengineering might be good insurance in case we don’t get global warming under control.” Did he even read the book?

Does anybody associated with the book stand behind any part of it anymore?

Statisticians say that in sizing up climate change, it’s important to look at moving averages of about 10 years. They compare the average of 1999-2008 to the average of 2000-2009. In all data sets, 10-year moving averages have been higher in the last five years than in any previous years.

“To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous,” said Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford.

Ben Santer, a climate scientist at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Lab, called it “a concerted strategy to obfuscate and generate confusion in the minds of the public and policymakers” ahead of international climate talks in December in Copenhagen.

Kudos to the AP for such a thoughtful and informative story.

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33 Responses to Must-read AP story: Statisticians reject global cooling; Caldeira — “To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous.” Levitt “said he does not believe there is a cooling trend”!!

  1. Steve H says:

    I am absolutely dumbfounded that an AP writer actually went through this much effort for a story. Kudos to them. Many, many kudos to proper journalism.

  2. dhogaza says:

    Does anybody associated with the book stand behind any part of it anymore?

    Yes, of course, the authors stand behind two things associated with the book:

    1. The advance.

    2. The royalty agreement.

    Sheesh, do we gotta teach you *everything* :) :)

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    Although I haven’t read the book, and probably don’t plan to, if all of this recent flurry of debunking (including the confusing, contrived, and inconsistent statements on the book’s authors’ part) is correct, the authors should really retract the book, eliminate that chapter (or completely correct it), and clarify the public confusion that has resulted, in honest and scientifically sound ways: If they want to regain any credibility, they’ll have to give up on Orwellian explanations and excuses.

    Does the University of Chicago’s Economics Department appreciate and practice Orwellian-like analyses, explanations, and so forth? I hope not!

    C’mon, authors. The stakes of this particular issue are too high to risk public confusion. They way to move forward is to retract the book, clarify the confusions, and start to understand and respect the views of the eighteen scientific organizations that recently sent a letter to all members of the U.S. Senate.

    Sigh,

    Jeff

  4. MarkB says:

    Very nice article. I liked this part:

    “In a blind test, the AP gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented. The experts found no true temperature declines over time.

    “If you look at the data and sort of cherry-pick a micro-trend within a bigger trend, that technique is particularly suspect,” said John Grego, a professor of statistics at the University of South Carolina.

    —–

    So only biased agenda-driven “skeptics” would claim “global cooling”.

    About the only thing missing from this article is the dubious reliability and track record of the satellite record. Recall at one time in the late 90’s the UAH data (“ironically” managed by skeptic and skeptic-lite Spencer & Christy) actually did show a cooling trend over 20 years, before the series of fatal errors were discovered. This should be a strong caveat when using satellite data (their in particular) in determining global climate trends.

  5. Lou Grinzo says:

    Joe: Not to put too fine a point on it, but these stories about the superfreaks will have to start including a virtual barf bag.

    You’re doing a great job with them, and I hope you keep it up, but the superfreaks and their twisted views of reality and blatant attempts to sell more books (and themselves; complete the metaphor in your head, everyone) are just makin’ me want to hurl.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    What Steve H wrote.

  7. mike roddy says:

    I’ve met Seth, and am not surprised. He’s a hard driving reporter, relentless in pursuit of the facts, and not afraid to report them either. Why can’t other media organs hire people like him?

    As for Superfreakingwrong, here’s what led them astray: turns out that they test marketed the chapter on climate, and got a positive response. That got them so excited, they made sure they didn’t make any changes in case a few facts interfered. In other words, they ran it by ten potential buyers, but didn’t bother to ask the only climate scientist they talked to (Caldeira) to review the chapter.

    And they wonder why people are saying that their reputations are in trouble.

  8. Uosdwis says:

    Is it just me, or has the site reverted to bare-bones text and links?

  9. Brian D says:

    Am I the only one reminded of Jennifer Morohasy, who (after hosting a guest post that utterly failed all introductory thermodynamics) tried to save face by posting the definition of Socratic Irony?

  10. Richard Brenne says:

    The University of Chicago is the home of Milton Friedman and his school of economics that says that if the price of anything gets high enough that encourages finding more of it and/or a substitute.

    They’re typically saying that we’ll never run out of anything, ever.

    This is because the unregulated Free Market is their god and they’re the high priests of this god, which has led us to where we are today.

    So when fellow University of Chicago economists Levitt and Dubner subscribe to this belief system and twist facts to the worship of their god, it shouldn’t surprise us.

    Part of the problem is that the amazingly quick success of the Apollo program prevented many of us, either consciously or subconsciously, from thinking of the Earth – or rather Anthro-Earth – as a closed system.

    Futurists like Alvin and Heidi Toffler (authors of Future-Schlock and more retitled than rewritten progeny books) felt that we would simply go to the moon, mine Helium-3 and send it back to Anthro-Earth. (By the way, this the premise of the excellent film “Moon.”) How hard could that be? Obviously they’ve never heard of Energy Returned on Energy Invested, or Net Energy, the key concept when discussing energy.

    A truly great husband and wife team of real scientists, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, have been alerting us to our species challenges for decades. There’s a reason their doctorates are real and not honorary, as the Tofflers’ are.

    And Al Bartlett, a physicist mystified by the myths parading as science in economics, answered cornucopian economist Julian Simon by saying, “You must live on a flat Earth that could theoretically extend infinitely through space, but the Earth on which I live is a sphere, and thus a closed system.”

    He called the school of such thinking, “The New Flat Earth Society.”

    I swear that such conventional economics will be considered as harshly as eugenics now is in the decades ahead.

    Any system of credible economics must have at its core three principles:

    1) The entire human economy is a wholly-owned subsidary of nature (thanks for directing me to Hermann Daly as the author of that comment – I’m now reading his books).

    2) Consistent growth (especially exponential growth) of anything material on Anthro-Earth is unsustainable (this from Al Bartlett, Thomas Malthus and others).

    3) We must live on the interest of all renewable resources including freshwater from fossil aquifers, topsoil, wild fish and forests and not draw down their capital as we have been. (I’d appreciate knowing who originated this concept.)

  11. “Unregulated Free Market” — just by the bye, Adam Smith himself recognized that such a notion was nonsense, and the phrase an oxymoron. Paraphrasing ideas scattered throughout The Wealth of Nations, it is no more possible to have a free market in the absence of regulation than it is possible to have a free society in the absence of law.

  12. Jeff Huggins says:

    Dear Richard (Comment 10) — Regarding your point “3”, I don’t know who might have originated that concept, but there is a great quote along those lines, as related to energy itself, (and very colorful at that), in R. Buckminster Fuller’s great little book from the late 60s, “Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth”.

    Dear Gary (Comment 11) — Gary, I recently listened (book on CD) to The Wealth of Nations, having read parts of it before, and I agree with you. It is amazing how often one or two of Smith’s points are quoted out of context, while everything else he said (including the limitations and caveats) is set aside. I wonder how many economists, or how many other people who quote him, have even read The Wealth of Nations? My guess is that he would be rolling around in his grave if he knew how he is being quoted out of context, and largely misunderstood, by so many people.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  13. Lore says:

    I’m simply gob smacked over the AP story, since I thought Steve McIntyre was also a statistician el supremeo and yet never caught this.

  14. dhogaza says:

    I’m simply gob smacked over the AP story, since I thought Steve McIntyre was also a statistician el supremeo and yet never caught this.

    He doesn’t have time to audit *everything*, man, he has to be *selective*, which is why he’s so … objective!

    (yes, that’s sarcasm)

  15. Ron Broberg says:

    The Freakonomics blog did not allow my comment chastising them for stating that there has been global cooling and specifically pointing out that the the recent years fall into long term trends for both land and satellite data.

    I’m glad that the AP went out and asked some statisticians for their opinion, but really, any high school math student with an Excel spreadsheet can have figure this out for themselves.

    The SuperFreak guys ‘irony’ is just more denialist ‘propaganda’ and frankly I suspect that they just accepted the cooling line because that’s the kind of crowd they hang out with.

  16. caerbannog says:

    This AP story just appeared on my hometown newspaper web-site (www.uniontrib.com).

    It sure brought the yahoos out of the woodwork in the comments section (think “Deliverance meets the web”): www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/oct/26/us-sci-global-cooling-102609/?science&zIndex=189238

  17. lgcarey says:

    Gee, Bryan, if you’d bother actually reading the article you would had noted that (a) it does mention the name of one of the statisticians (David Peterson, author of the book “Why Did They Do That? An Introduction to Forensic Decision Analysis”), (b) it does note the statisticians conclusions: “Statisticians who analyzed the data found a distinct decades-long upward trend in the numbers, but could not find a significant drop in the past 10 years in either data set”, and (c) it does specify the originating data provided to them: “The AP sent expert statisticians NOAA’s year-to-year ground temperature changes over 130 years and the 30 years of satellite-measured temperatures preferred by skeptics and gathered by scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville”. Since statistics involves mathematics rather than physical science, I hardly think “instrumentation” is relevant. As between you and AP, I have a pretty good idea who’s pulling stuff out of his arse.

  18. paulm says:

    brilliant

  19. oxnardprof says:

    I think we need a way to both collect and recognize effectve reporting in the public media; not blogging, but newspapers and magazines. There should be an annual recognition of those reporters who do careful and accurate reporting on climate change and related issues.

    I think this will help highlight the good new stories that are appearing. The LA Times had a story on the impact of drought in Africa, including the comment that climate change is part of the reason for the drought – with its significant impact on nomads in the area. (Yesterday or today’s LA Times.)

    Is there a way to post links to effective mass media reporting?

  20. Stephan says:

    People currently still neglecting and opposing climate change of course love all reports that state that Global Warming is just a myth. When looking at this matter seriously, every single reasonable report states that Global Warming is real, and mainly caused by the emission of Green House gasses.

    Good to see that decent journalism still keeps on acknowledging this and confirms that we have to fight against global warming.

    For more info on the environment, have a look at this Green News.

  21. Sable says:

    @ caerbannog #16, I’m convinced the “yahoos” google global warming stories on an hourly basis – every story I’ve seen that accurately reports the situation is mobbed in the comments by the ill informed and by liars. I’m no conspiracy “theorist” but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if there is money and organization behind it. Maybe those who are interested in communicating what the science says could organize a similar counter effort.

  22. Charles says:

    Was anyone else struck by this lame excuse from Dr. Levitt?

    “Levitt, a University of Chicago economist, said he does not believe there is a cooling trend. He said the line was just an attempt to note the irony of a cool couple of years at a time of intense discussion of global warming. Levitt said he did not do any statistical analysis of temperatures, but “eyeballed” the numbers and noticed 2005 was hotter than the last couple of years. Levitt said the “cooling” reference in the book title refers more to ideas about trying to cool the Earth artificially.”

    Un-freaking-believable.

  23. Tony says:

    Mike Roddy:

    As for Superfreakingwrong, here’s what led them astray: turns out that they test marketed the chapter on climate, and got a positive response. That got them so excited, they made sure they didn’t make any changes in case a few facts interfered.

    That’s fascinating, and something I haven’t read of before. Do you have a link?

  24. jorleh says:

    Good work,Joe! And this Levitt guy is really a scientist, in some university?!

    How can this kind of clown be called some kind of scientist? Tell it!

  25. Nicole says:

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  26. Gail says:

    Richard Brenne, terrific comment, I am going to send it to my favorite Ayn Rander.

    My favorite less erudite metaphor – I think of the earth as a big garage with the doors closed. We are all sitting in a car together, running the engine, getting sleepy.

  27. Bernie says:

    “Since statistics involves mathematics rather than physical science, I hardly think “instrumentation” is relevant. ”

    lgcarey, I think you spent to long in Gail’s garage.

  28. dhogaza says:

    And this Levitt guy is really a scientist, in some university?!

    How can this kind of clown be called some kind of scientist? Tell it!

    He’s an economist, not a scientist.

  29. Richard Brenne wrote:

    The University of Chicago is the home of Milton Friedman and his school of economics that says that if the price of anything gets high enough that encourages finding more of it and/or a substitute.

    They’re typically saying that we’ll never run out of anything, ever.

    This is because the unregulated Free Market is their god and they’re the high priests of this god, which has led us to where we are today.

    So when fellow University of Chicago economists Levitt and Dubner subscribe to this belief system and twist facts to the worship of their god, it shouldn’t surprise us.

    For my detailed understanding of the Chicago School, I read Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. It took me about nine months because I couldn’t read more than a chapter at a time — it was so utterly devastating. (And this from a guy who can read a global warming book in a week). Friedman was a stupid, immoral man, and we’ll be a century overcoming the worst of his flawed theories.

    I’d recommend Shock Doctrine to everyone.

  30. WAG says:

    The AP’s finding also puts a hole in the denier argument that climate science is skewed by scientists’ “bias” – even if you strip out any mention of global warming, the conclusions are still the same.

    http://akwag.blogspot.com/2009/10/blind-support-for-global-warming.html

  31. Richard Brenne says:

    Gail (#26):

    That’s a great metaphor. Actually when I read Superfreakonomics I was so depressed I went out into our garage and idled our car for about 45 minutes before I realized we have a carport.

    And my friend Laurence Doyle, a scientist at SETI (Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence – intelligently sought via radio signals, not unintelligent expectations of UFOs) said that if aliens could come to Anthro-Earth we’d say “Here we are! Here we are!” and they’d instead study our trees, ignore us and leave.

    Trees have had solar panels called leaves that are renewable for 400 million years while we’re trying to develop them out of nonrenewable minerals. So Gail, your love of trees and protection of them shows that you’ve evolved to something higher than most of the rest of us, and I enjoy all your comments. Obviously your girls who are going to excellent schools got their mother’s intelligence.

  32. E. Philip Howrey says:

    “Saying there’s a downward trend since 1998 is not scientifically legitimate, said David Peterson, a retired Duke University statistics professor and one of those analyzing the numbers.” My analysis of NOAA and UAB data indicates that, by the same reasoning, saying there’s an upward trend since 1998 is not scientifically legitimate either. The linear trend coefficient is .005 (warming) with an se of .007 for the NOAA data for 1998-2008 and the trend coefficient is -.004 (cooling) with an se of .015 for the UAB data for 1998-2008. In neither case is the coefficient significantly different from zero at the at the .01, .05, .10, or even .75 level of significance (p-value = .77). The 95% confidence intervals for the linear trend coefficient for the two data sets are (-.011,.021) and (-.037,.029) both of which are consistent with warming or cooling or neither warming nor cooling.

    The more interesting question, in my opinion, is whether there has been a statistically significant change in the (warming) trend since 1998 or 2005. That is presumably the question of interest since it is undeniable, if the data are to be believed at all, that global temperature has declined since 2005 according to both the NOAA and UAB data sets.

    E. Philip Howrey
    Professor Emeritus Economics
    Professor Emeritus Statistics
    University of Michigan

  33. Larry the Plumber says:

    Philip,

    Is CO2 the presummed driver of this cooling trend, or can CO2 only act as a driver for AGW given the heat input to the earth’s atmosphere and surface is always positive. The heat transfer must be affected in some way by the excess CO2, but to what degree? Is it also decreasing the amount of solar radiation input to the same degree it decreases heat transfer to space?