With temperature records tumbling across Australia the (fake) sceptics are doing their very best to convince themselves and the gullible the planet is cooling.
However it is not enough to simply shout at the top of ones lungs the planet is heading for another ice age: one must produce evidence. And what stunning evidence the climate denial crowd have amassed this past month.
As long as it has an X-Y axis and presents the trend they want, the deniers are happily proclaiming victory over climate science and “mainstream scientists”.
That the evidence is nothing more than cherry picked data massaged to produce made-to-order trends is beside the point. What matters is producing graphs that look “sciencey”.
Some call it fun with statistics: I call it lying. But hey, I have an old-fashioned attachment to reality.
Tamino was the first to pick it up in his post Cherry picking is child’s play:
Anybody can do it.
Fake “skeptics” of global warming do it all the time. One of the latest and most extreme — this one is a real doozy — comes from John Coleman. Of course it’s regurgitated by Anthony Watts
Indeed, anyone can do it, and it seems to be all the rage within the denial-o-sphere at present.
Evidence of this latest sceptic trick?
Today Perth sceptic Jo Nova claimed the planet has been cooling for the past eight years:
The cooling for the last eight years is statistically significant in 4 of the 5 major air temperature datasets. One, UAH, shows a small (statistically insignificant) rise since 2005. And here’s the political point: how many of the policy makers, the media, or the public are even aware of the current trend? Approximately no one. I’ll bet even most skeptics didn’t know it.
The ever gullible Andrew Bolt picked up Jo’s claims and promoted it on his blog, yet again proving his blog is Australia’s premier clearing house for the disinformation produced by Australia’s wing-nuts.
Nova produces a series of graphs using data taken from the four major temperature sets from across the globe, including this one utilising HadCRUT4 data:
Never mind that data Nova is using are temperature anomalies relative to a 1961-1990 period: its all about producing the trend she wants.
How long till the next ice age then? At least the polar bears will be happy.
Of course I looked at that and was curious.
I grabbed the data and ran it through Excel and applied a trend line.
Low and behold similar results:
But my graph lacked something: a trend line pointing to the 2020!
Sure, my trend lines points down – but not at the same angle as Nova’s. You can’t have a real cooling trend without fiddling with the graph a bit more. So I extended the date range to 2020 to produce a graph identical to Nova’s:
Ahem – a “eight year cooling trend”.
However I don’t like downward temperature trends. Being a warmanista I always want to see temperature trends going up.
Or at least according to the cartoon version of climate science the fake sceptics promote. In their mind, scientists are stunned by any slight variations in data. If the trend is not perfectly linear they claim a) the science is suspect or b) scientists are at a loss to explain it (or make both claims at the same time).
So if the fake sceptics are manufacturing cooling trends, I might as well take a leaf from their book and randomly cherry pick data to produce warming trends. Cherry picking is easy – and fun!
How fun? Let’s find out!
I choose to start my graph at 2008:
There you go: back to a warming trend.
Up, down! Weeeeeeee! This is fun!
It’s like geoengineering the planet’s climate: pick a start point and push the trend line up or down. One minute we’re all heading for a Venusian hell world: the next snowball Earth.
Luckily none of this has any real world consequences like misleading the public… oh wait.
Still, my graph didn’t produce enough of a warming trend for my liking. I need to make it scarier, after all presentation matters.
Thus I turned the trend line into what I affectionately refer to as the “Red Trend Line of Doom”. I also fiddled with the background colour and font:
See how I made the trend line all fiery, a scorching wave of doom propelling us into a Venusian hell. The black background emphasizes the drama of the “OH MY GOD WE’RE GOING TO DIE” spike in global temperatures.
Scared now people?
You may think I’m not being fair, given that Nova’s claim that the world has been cooling for eight years was ripe for ridicule.
So in the interests of fairness I’ve reproduced a custom version of Nova’s graph. I call it “Ice Age Now” in honor of the global cooling trend she has discovered through the magic of Excel trend lines:
Notice how I made elements of the graph blue to signify the cooling trend? Break out the thermals guys, an ice-age is coming.
Obviously statistical tricks and fiddling with the presentation of data is a meaningless exercise. As Nova admits:
Cue critics who’ll tell me I’m cherry-picking data…
Note I’m not suggesting that this shows CO2 doesn’t cause warming, I’m not suggesting this is evidence (yet) that the models are wrong (they’re wrong, but for other reasons), I’m not even saying that the world is definitely cooling. I’m pointing out that if we were entering a cooler phase, this is what it would look like.
Perhaps the most important thing about these graphs is to juxtapose that claim the world is “still warming” in recent years. If statistical significance is where you hang your hat, the warming trend is not statistically significant, and yet (at the moment anyway) it is statistically significant to say the opposite about the last 8 years in 4 out of 5 datasets.
But what about the last 4 years of warming – surely that is statistically significant?
How many policy makers or sceptics are aware of the 4 year warming trend?
Some may accuse me of cherry picking, but honestly it’s all in the presentation.
Telling the difference between science and pseudo-science: easier than you think
We could play tricks with statistics all day. Alternatively, we could marvel at the recent work of scientists who reconstructed the temperature for the last 11,500 years:
Now that is a trend worth noting.
Philosophers of science often refer to the problem of demarcation, the supposed difficulty in telling the difference between science and pseudo-science:
The demarcation problem in the philosophy of science is about how to distinguish between science and nonscience, and more specifically, between science and pseudoscience. The debate continues after over a century of dialogue among philosophers of science and scientists in various fields, and despite broad agreement on the basics of scientific method.
Contrast Nova’s eight year statistical tricks with the analysis of 11,500 year of data.
I think the line between science and nonscience is rather clear.