Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal Downplays Study Confirming Global Warming

A composite of all the major global temperature records, going back to 1890 (the satellite records [RSS and UAH] only begin in the late 20th century). Via Skeptical Science.

by Shauna Theel, in a Media Matters cross-post

After ignoring for weeks a new study confirming the accuracy of previous global temperature records, the U.S. print edition of the Wall Street Journal covered the study in an article focusing on the “uncertain nature” of the temperature records.

WSJ Eventually Prints Article About Study — Only To Downplay It

Journal Published Op-Ed Announcing Results Of Study In Its European Paper. The Wall Street Journal only published an op-ed by American physicist Richard Muller, who conducted the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, in its European edition and on its website. The op-ed was published on the same day the preliminary reports from the BEST study were released and stated that “Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/21/11]

Journal Published Nothing In Its U.S. Paper On Study For Two Weeks. A Factiva search of the Wall Street Journal shows that the Journal’s U.S. paper did not mention the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study for over two weeks after the results were published. The Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media noted that the Journal published an editorial in the following days titled “The Post-Global Warming World” that was “dismissive of climate change” and had not “a word about the BEST study.” [Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, 11/1/11]

Journal Publishes Article Focusing On “Uncertain Nature” Of Global Temperatures. On November 5, The Wall Street Journal published an A2 article titled “Global Temperatures: All Over The Map” by Carl “The Numbers Guy” Bialik. The article focused on the “uncertain nature of tracking global temperature.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/5/11]

Journal Previously Claimed Temperature Records Were “Rigged.” In a November 2009 editorial titled, “Rigging a Climate ‘Consensus,’” the Journal wrote that the emails between scientists at the University of East Anglia — whose temperature record was reaffirmed by the recent BEST study — left the impression “that the climate-tracking game has been rigged from the start.” The editorial also suggested that we cannot know if the scientists’ work is reliable since citations and peer-review are also rigged. [Wall Street Journal, 9/27/09]

Journal Falsely Claims Satellites Show Half As Much Warming As Surface RecordsJournal: “Satellites Show About Half The Amount Of Warming.” From Bialik’s November 5 article:

The [BEST] group also hasn’t made use of satellite-derived temperature readings. These show a smaller increase. The difference may reflect that some land-based weather stations aren’t well maintained.

“I’m inclined to give [satellite] data more weight than reconstructions from surface-station data,” says Stephen McIntyre, a Canadian mathematician who writes about climate, often critically of studies that find warming, at his website Climate Audit. Satellites show about half the amount of warming as that of land-based readings in the past three decades, when the relevant data were collected from space, he says.

Such disputes demonstrate the statistical and uncertain nature of tracking global temperature. Even with tens of thousands of weather stations, most of the Earth’s surface isn’t monitored. Some stations are more reliable than others. Calculating a global average temperature requires extrapolating from these readings to the whole globe, adjusting for data lapses and suspect stations. And no two groups do this identically. [Wall Street Journal, 11/5/11]

Expert: The Journal’s Claim “Is Not Supportable From The Data.” NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt, contacted through the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, compared the land-only data from BEST with two land-only satellite sets of data from 1979 to 2009. BEST showed a trend of 0.28°C per decade, while satellite data from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Remote Sensing Systems show an increase of 0.17°C and 0.20°C per decade, respectively. Schmidt added that “the satellites and the ground stations are measuring different things, and it isn’t obvious that they should be the same. A factor of two difference though is not supportable from the data.” [Email to Media Matters, via the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, 11/7/11]

Muller: The Journal’s Claim Is “Misleading.” Richard Muller wrote that the Journal’s claim “is misleading because he doesn’t point out that satellite measurements do not give ground measurements, but only temperatures up higher in the atmosphere. Also the satellite measurements he is referring to are, I believe, global and not land only.” [Email to Media Matters, 11/7/11]

Temperature Trend From Satellites Largely Agrees With Surface Records. The following chart complied by geographer Ole Humlum displays global temperature data derived from satellites since 1979 in blue (for lower atmosphere rather than surface) and the average of three global surface temperature estimates in red. Satellites are able to cover virtually all of the Earth.

[, accessed 11/8/11]

Satellite Temperature Expert: Trends In Surface Data “Are In General Agreement With Satellite Measurements.” Dr. Carl Mears, senior scientist at Remote Sensing Systems, stated in July:

I have carried out a number of comparisons of the various surface datasets (GISS, CRU, and NOAA) with satellite estimates of the lower tropospheric temperature. These led to two basic findings. First, the various surface datasets are in excellent agreement with each other, suggesting that what we call the “structural uncertainty”, i.e. the uncertainty that arises from different choices of analysis method, is relatively small for the surface datasets, which increases our confidence in these datasets.

Second, the both the overall amount of warming and the spatial patterns of warming in the surface datasets are in general agreement with satellite measurements of atmospheric temperature (in this case I am talking about the lower tropopsheric temperature, sometimes called TLT) made by the Microwave Sounding Units (MSUs) and Advanced Microwave Sounding Units (AMSUs). I am the creator of one of these satellite datasets, the Remote Sensing Systems, or RSS, dataset. [Email to Media Matters, via the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, 7/21/11]

Journal Falsely Claims Study Has Been CorrectedJournal: “Feedback Has Led To Updates And Corrections To The Research.” From the November 5 article:

This sort of messy hashing-out of the global climate record is happening in the open because the Berkeley Earth team chose to release its data, and its papers, before undergoing peer review by scientific journals. Already some feedback has led to updates and corrections to the research. Berkeley Earth plans other work, including adding ocean temperature trends to the land records and fixing errors in its database. [Wall Street Journal, 11/5/11]

Muller: “I Can’t Imagine What He Is Referring To.” In response to that passage, Richard Muller wrote “I can’t imagine what he is referring to.” Muller noted that his team had updated data from NASA in a chart, not their own results. [Email to Media Matters, 11/7/11]

Shauna Theel is a researcher with Media Matters for America. This piece was originally published at Media Matters.