Contrarians Contest ‘BEST’ Results and Media Interpretations

A widely publicized climate study shoots down key skeptic argument. Some climate ‘skeptics’ now try shooting down that narrative. 

News cycles come and go, but dominant narratives tend to form when a clutch of stories have a similar theme.

So it was several weeks ago, when the Berkley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project received extensive media coverage. The catchy hook was this: A respected climate skeptic (Richard Muller) establishes evidence for global warming.

The headlines tell the story that emerged. From the Guardian: “Global warming study finds no grounds for climate skeptics’ concerns”; From New Scientist: “Skeptical climate scientists concede earth has warmed”; From Nature: “Different method, same result: global warming is real.”

Even Richard Muller’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal was titled: “The case against global-warming skepticism.”

Commentary
Unsurprisingly, none of this sat well with many climate skeptics, particularly Anthony Watts. But other climate scientists known for their blunt criticisms of the field have also been perturbed. In numerous posts at his blog and elsewhere, Roger Pielke Sr. has been critical of the BEST study. He also recently seized on this long article by Paul Voosen in Greenwire, asserting that it highlights “a large degree of uncertainty with respect to the climate system, and the human role in it …” Pielke excerpted quotes from many of the scientists in the Greenwire piece, but without any of the article’s context. At the end of his post, Pielke made his point clear:

“These extracts from the Greenwire article illustrate why the climate system is not yet well understood. The science is NOT solved.”

Pielke’s post was re-posted at Watts’ site and at Judith Curry’s blog.

A concerted effort to push back on the dominant BEST narrative in the media (global warming is real and any continuing doubts about it are unwarranted) seemed under way.

Then, over the weekend, in the UK’s Daily Mail, David Rose reported in this story that Curry, a co-author on the BEST papers, “has accused” Richard Muller “of trying to mislead the public by hiding the fact that BEST’s research shows global warming has stopped.” Rose also wrote that Curry was “horrified” by Muller’s Wall Street Journal op-ed, and that “this affair [the BEST study] had to be compared to the notorious ‘climategate’ scandal two years ago.”

As the predictable uproar ensued, Curry, in her blog, denied making any “climategate” comparison to Rose. She also said she was “feeling manipulated by both Rose and BEST.”

But if Curry’s intent was to recast a media narrative that has developed since Muller first released the reports, she can take some satisfaction that the Daily Mail story was picked up in the usual places, such as Fox News. No context necessary, of course.

Note: An upcoming commentary in this series will look at the peer review angle of this story.

Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a New York City-based freelance journalist who writes often about the environment and climate change.
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10 Responses to Contrarians Contest ‘BEST’ Results and Media Interpretations

  1. Paul Kelly says:

    The narrative is skewed from the get go by calling Muller a skeptic. He is not. He was critical of how FOIs were handled and thought questions about the date set and UHI were valid enough to merit an independent study. The people who received his grant applications thought so, too.

    Muller’s science by press release in advance of review and publication is most similar to the remote sensing affair. Spencer was also accused of misreporting his findings to the press. One reason for the editor’s resignation was the absence of a strongly critical reviewer. As the BEST papers do get reviewed and published, this is going to be great theater for those of us in the peanut gallery.

    • dhogaza says:

      Paul Kelly:

      The narrative is skewed from the get go by calling Muller a skeptic. He is not.

      Muller’s own words:

      “The skeptics raised valid points and everybody should have been a skeptic two years ago

      And his testimony to Congress backs up his skepticism:

      “Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK…

      I suspect Muller has a better idea as to whether or not he was a skeptic than Paul Kelly does … and can dig out a lot more quotes to underscore the point if necessary.

  2. Dan Rogers says:

    Hearing someone proclaim that they have conclusively established that the climate is warming puts me in mind of the economist who correctly predicted eight out of the last three recessions.

    • dhogaza says:

      The correct analogy would be someone who has, after studying past economic data, identified previous recessions.

      BEST shows that climate has warmed. It’s not predicting anything. Nor does GISTemp, etc.

      Of course, the vast majority of scientists predict that it will continue to warm, but this has nothing to do with temperature reconstructions such as the BEST effort.

      • Arno Arrak says:

        Best shows nothing because he did not do any critical analysis of climate data. He totally ignored satellite temperature record that shows no warming in the eighties and nineties. Both UAH and RSS are very close to one another there. What they show is a series of temperature oscillations, up and down by half a degree for twenty years, but no warming until the super El Nino of 1998 shows up. These temperature peaks and valleys are El Ninos and La Ninas, both part of the ENSO system in the Pacific. ENSO itself is a harmonic oscillation of ocean water from side to side. Its period is about four-five years and its power source is trade winds. Warm water from the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool is carried east along the equatorial countercurrent by an El Nino wave, hits the South American coast, spreads out north and south, and warms the air. As it falls back from the shore water level drops behind it by half a meter, cold water from below wells up, and a La Nina has started. Global warming advocates have muddied the waters by labeling the 1992/93 La Nina as Pinatubo cooling to explain lack of warming in the satellite record. Even Roy Spencer is taken in by that but this is absolutely false: it can be shown that there is no such thing as volcanic cooling – just read pages 17 to 21 in my “What Warming?” To get the mean temperature of the wave train that represents ENSO put a dot at the center of each line connecting an El Nino peak and the adjacent La Nina valley and then connect the dots. Doing that gives a horizontal straight line from the start of the record until the appearance of the super El Nino which is an outlier. That means no warming in the eighties and nineties. Trouble is, that is not supposed to be like that. We are told that there was this late twentieth century warming there that Hansen spoke of in 1988. If you then compare, say HadCRUT3, with the satellite curve on the same graph paper you discover first that the ENSO peaks are there too. There are five of them, and the tips of the first four are identical with those in the satellite record. The big difference is that the valleys between these peaks have been made shallow. They are only half the depth of the valleys shown by the satellite record and this is how their curve acquires an upward slope (see my figure 24). Small wonder IPCC and and rest of the Climategate gang pretend that satellite records do not exist. It is this phony warming that should have been investigated by Best, but he likewise chose to pretend that the satellite records do not exist. He spent almost all of his effort on collating three existing ground based temperature curves into one monster database that he then posted on Berkeley web site. That is basically a clerical job that could be turned over to a technician and does not require a highly paid scientist to accomplish. He also came out with a media blitz on two continents to announce his work. Judith Curry, a co-author, interviewed him and he told her directly that the purpose of the media blitz was to get the notice of people working on AR5. As far as I go, his grant money was wasted on busywork.

  3. EdG says:

    Bottom line. BEST says nothing remotely conclusive about the ’cause’ of this warming. The rest is spin.

    Their graph appears to show the ending of the Little Ice Age, or one of countless other blips on the Vostok ice core graphs.

    • dhogaza says:

      Bottom line. BEST says nothing remotely conclusive about the ’cause’ of this warming.

      Bottom line, in some sense you’re right.

      But Muller, a physicist of some renown, does not deny that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which means, all else equal, leads to warming.

      Which I suspect differentiates him from you …

  4. So it was several weeks ago, when the Berkley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project received extensive media coverage. The catchy hook was this: A respected climate skeptic (Richard Muller) establishes evidence for global warming.

    Far be it from me to confuse you with a few facts, Keith, but had you been aware of them you would have modified the above so that it reads something along the lines of:

    So it began on October 20. This was the day that Berkley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project launched its full-court press media blitz, in which it announced that “global warming is real”. Not only that but, as the press release indicated, BEST had submitted four papers for peer-review – and posted them to their website – so that (as BEST claimed) they’re ready for inclusion in AR5.

    Many thought that announcing the results of their findings prior to acceptance by the journal(s) to which the papers had been submitted and completion of the peer-review process was, well, somewhat unusual, if not inordinately presumptuous; particularly since Dr. Judith Curry had expressed the view that two of the papers were not ready for prime-time. And, as subsequent examination has determined, Curry’s assessment was right on the mark. But I digress …

    The press release began [and ended]:

    Global warming is real, according to a major study released today. Despite issues raised by climate change skeptics, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study finds reliable evidence of a rise in the average land temperature of approximately 1°C since the mid -1950′s.
    [...]
    What Berkeley Earth has not done is make an independent assessment of how much of the observed warming is due to human actions.

    Possibly timed to coincide with an Op Ed in the WSJ (datelined Oct. 21), The Atlantic‘s November selection as a “2011 Brave Thinker”, and a nice spread in the Oct. 22 issue of the U.K.’s The Economist, someone somewhere along the line invented a “catchy hook” which erroneously portrayed BEST’s Richard Muller as a “climate skeptic”.

    Keith, don’t know if you’ve actually read Muller’s WSJ Op Ed, but I heard him today complain about the fact that his headline, “Cooling the climate debate”, was changed (according to him, without his knowledge) to:

    “The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism
    There were good reasons for doubt, until now”

    However, after listing all the ostensible reasons that he had initiated BEST, Muller wrote:

    Without good answers to all these complaints, global-warming skepticism seems sensible. But now let me explain why you should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer.

    Then he proceeded to talk about all the wonderful things he thinks BEST has accomplished.

    Seeing that paragraph, I’m not sure about the validity of Muller’s complaint about the WSJ’s change of headline. What do you think, Keith?

    For a somewhat more nuanced (and detailed) perspective of Muller than Keith’s intro would suggest you’re likely to find here, readers are invited to peruse:

    Will the real Richard Muller please stand up

    • dhogaza says:

      Hilary …

      Keith, don’t know if you’ve actually read Muller’s WSJ Op Ed, but I heard him today complain about the fact that his headline, “Cooling the climate debate”, was changed (according to him, without his knowledge) to:
      “The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism
      There were good reasons for doubt, until now”

      You and Muller – but not Keith (I should think) nor me (having written for newspapers and magazines) – are apparently unaware that headlines are written by copy editors, and his complaint that “his headline was changed without his knowledge” simply reflects ignorance of the publication procedure.

      I’ve been embarrassed in print by headlines I’ve not liked, but knowing how the process works, I’ve never suggested it’s due to some sort of … exactly what is Muller suggesting? Conspiracy theory?

  5. dhogaza says:

    Hilary …

    someone somewhere along the line invented a “catchy hook” which erroneously portrayed BEST’s Richard Muller as a “climate skeptic”.

    Oh, no, Muller has self-identified with skepticism in the past, and it’s well-documented.

    I won’t offend your intelligence by providing cites which I’m sure you will, being interested in the truth, track down yourself.

    And post-BEST, he’s been backtracking – if Judith Curry is to be believed – and insisting that mainstream climate science is incompetent, if not (borderline?) fraudulent.

    If Keith insists that I offend your intelligence by providing cites, I’ll do so, meanwhile I’ll presume you’re honest enough to do your own research, which ain’t all that hard …