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« Look back in wonder - Josh 309 | Main | Academic freedom for me, but not for thee »

The temperature and the spin

Many scientists on the whole seem to have been suitably cautious about alleged record-breaking temperatures, taking care to place the new data in the context of the error bars. It's also fair to say that others have been a bit wild.

The Science Media Centre has a couple of moderately level-headed responses, from Tim Palmer and Rowan Sutton, but as always with the SMC it's seen as important to get some input on climate change from a paleopiezometrist, from whom we learn that:

The new global temperature record announced today completely exposes the myth that global warming has stopped.

And if that isn't a lot of hoary old tosh I don't know what is.

However, giving credit where credit is due, even Bob's contribution has been put in the shade by Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press:

So how likely are these temperatures to be random? The Associated Press consulted with statisticians to calculate the odds of this hot streak happening at random. Here are some statistics and the odds they calculated, with the caveat that high temperatures tend to persist so that can skew odds a bit:

The three hottest years on record — 2014, 2010 and 2005 — have occurred in the last 10 years. The odds of that happening randomly are 3,341 to 1, calculated John Grego of the University of South Carolina. Kai Zhu of Stanford University, Robert Lund of Clemson University and David Peterson, a retired Duke statistician, agreed.

Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century. The odds of that being random are 650 million to 1, the statisticians said.

So persistence can skew the odds "a bit" can it? Others begged to differ:



 Interestingly, it was not just Borenstein who had been spinning this particular yarn. The great sage of "modern" statistics had tweeted something similar:



...despite several scientists having pointed out the error of his ways:



Peter Gleick had been doing likewise, with a corrective issued by CRU's Tim Osborn:

It's amazing to see how this kind of disinformation (misinformation?) gets generated and disseminated. If I, a humble blogger, can detect the error at a glance, why can't people whose job it is to uncover and communicate the truth about climate get it right? Why was Borenstein's contribution retweeted by the  "ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science" at the University of New South Wales? Why was Mann's regurgitated by a climatologist from Copenhagen?

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Reader Comments (79)

Activists that's why, at least anyone who repeats this rubbish and has at least a good Maths A Level knows they are telling porkies. But hey you only need 2 E's to be a climate scientist ;)

Jan 17, 2015 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

If Mann accepts the model that this years temperature has no relation to last years temperature (and hence the 27 million to 1) then it invalidates every temp reconstruction he has ever done together with every temp reconstruction in the IPCC's report.

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

I just wonder how they will calculate the odds of the coming cooling trend :-)

Will be fun to watch, for sure. !

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:10 AM | Unregistered Commenterthe Griss

Strange not to mention satellites tell a different story

and no mention of error bars

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Shiers

These statistically illiterate clowns need to be careful. Whilst they might successfully squeeze (torture) out of the stats an insignificant increase they are merely storing up trouble further down the line. When there is cooling their pseudo-stats will make it look greater. At that point, even the most egregious of them will run out of spin.

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

As I posted before, does this mean the volcanoes aren't cooling the planet. They were the other day.

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

""When there is cooling their pseudo-stats will make it look greater. At that point, even the most egregious of them will run out of spin.
Jan 17, 2015 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones""

No problem to them. They will cool 2014, 2010 and 2005 to whatever temperature is necessary by further "adjustments"

After all, the 1930's have cooled so much now that they do not even figure in the equation. Much more and they will have to explain why the land wasn't covered in ice sheets in 1938.

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

No doubt there are many who saw BBC’s Breakfast show this morning, with the “Archbishop of Broadcasting” (how I heard it – I was wrong; archbishop and broadcaster). Not only was 2014 the hottest “evah” on record, but the hottest in 1,700 years, or even 5,000 years. Not a jot of evidence to back it up, of course, but, when you are broadcasting to so many sheeple, who needs evidence? Of course, the rise, despite ALL the evidence to the contrary (i.e. so far, all we have had are benefits), is going to bring Bad Things upon us.

I am not a statitisticianiser nor much of a mathematicianologist, but I do know that the end of a rising trend is likely to be the “highest recorded”. As the records only go back to the middle of the Little Ice Age, when global temperatures were dangerously (for humans) low, then there is a high probability that the temperatures of recent years are amongst the highest recorded. Quite why it should be a 1:27 million chance, I have no idea. It would be interesting to see the maths behind that claim!

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:35 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Well if the fatuous 1 in 27 million is regurgitated by Michael (pretend nobel prize winner) Mann and Peter (document theif) Gleich, then the level of statistics will be that of a five year old.

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Over at Climate Etc. there is a thread about this with a link to a NOAA-NCDC item showing probability estimates of 2014 being warmest ever, in the top N hottest years etc.

According to them, the probability of 2014 being the warmest year on record is 48%. So, arguments aside about variances between datasets and the like, the claim of warmest "evah" basically balances on the toss of a coin but that doesn't make a great headline!

Can't really compare the 48% statistic with the 1-in-27 million statement in this post but interesting nonetheless.

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterShrdlu

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:30 AM | Ivor Ward

I agree. However, the beauty of the internet is that it will allow their constant manipulations to be exposed. Presumably the requirement to introduce previously unknown cooling will require the volcanoes to take centre stage again.

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Tweetabricks. Something that appears solid, but turns to mush, as you sip your coffee.

The speed that some myths are generated and perpetuated by the same publicity seeking desparados, is a good indication of the credibility of the original "facts".

My compliments to those on the warmer side of the debate, who have also expressed their concerns.

Meanwhile Dana Nuccitelli at the Grauniad.............

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

It seems that the chance of Climate Alchemy jihadists claiming any year from now on is to be cooler than its predecessor is also 27 million to 1!

Jan 17, 2015 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

Gleick's Amendment.

If you can not find the facts you need by theft and/or deception, complete fabrication may be considered a sleight amendment.

Jan 17, 2015 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

From my point of view, it is ridiculous to talk of "records" when the various government funded data sets are "adjusted" to such a great degree. We claim that the records need to be "infilled", "homogenized", adjusted, fudged, made-up, and otherwise tortured to fit the political needs of the paymasters.

If you are just making up the data, then of course you will see new records that are alarming. (if alarming is what you want)

On the other hand, for those who thing the data sets are not pure fraud, if we must "adjust" for bad readings in the past and so many other factors then how in god's name can we claim to know the average temperature of the whole globe to 2 decimal places? It is a travesty.

Jan 17, 2015 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark Stoval

When the question is wrong, the answer is irrelevant. Most of the general public can spot an irritating salesman eventually. That's probably the reason why global-warming appears so far down the list of voters concerns, despite the wailing and the shrieking. They'd rather listen to something else.

Sooner or later these people will be shown the door, along with some polite excuse such as "budget cuts".

Jan 17, 2015 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Many scientists on the whole seem to have been suitably cautious about alleged record-breaking temperatures

All scientists should be condemning the concept of a global temperature, since temperature is an intensive property, for which a global value is meaningless.

Jan 17, 2015 at 11:56 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

If Mann tweets this, why should I believe his hockey-stick?

Here's a good example of this type of thinking:

You sit with a deck of fifty-two cards in front of you, face down.
You flip the first card: a 10 of diamonds.
What are the odds of that? One out of fifty-two.


You flip the next card: a queen of hearts.


The odds of this sequence were 1/52 * 1/51 (less than 1 in 2000).

You continue flipping cards: a 4 of clubs follows, then an 8 of diamonds, then an 8 of hearts. Once you have flipped them all over you stare in disbelief; the particular sequence of cards you just observed happens one out of every 8*10^67 (52 factorial) times.

Every person in the world could shuffle a deck of cards and flip through it every minute of their entire lives, and even then, the odds of the world seeing your particular sequence of cards will be less than 1/10^50!


Jan 17, 2015 at 11:59 AM | Registered Commentershub

The PM programme had Gavin Schmidt on yesterday and given free rein by the normally aggressive Eddie Mair to outrageously peddle statistica bias and hyperbole. It would appear that it not only cartoons of alien prophets that are subject to official policy, but also an obvious lack of editorial balance on this issue. Surely, someone should have been given the chance to tell the audience the actual extent of this supposedly warmest year?+ or - 0.01 chance of that!!!

Jan 17, 2015 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered Commentertrefjon

..."There is less than a 1-in-27 million chance that Earth's [2014] record hot streak is natural"...

Don't tell me! That's the longest 'record hot streak' in the last 27 million years...?

Jan 17, 2015 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered Commenterdodgy geezer

Have contacted SMC.

Your website states...

"Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said:

“The new global temperature record announced today completely exposes the myth that global warming has stopped"

has Bob contacted the Met Office to put them right? He is a qualified climate scientist, isn't he?

Kind regards

Jeremy Poynton

Jan 17, 2015 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

I see we have a new (well, new to me) 'environmental reporter' at the BBC - Mark Kinver, reporting this story. Clearly out to - er - leave his mark....

Jan 17, 2015 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

I see that the climate scamsters and psientists- often one and the same, are keeping quiet about the two dataset (RSS and UAH) that are not subject to urban heat island effects and have not had their past temperatures artificially cooled.
Needless to say they do not show this "record".

"Homogenised" is the weasel word used to describe this corrupt rewriting of the temperature record.

Jan 17, 2015 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Jan 17, 2015 at 1:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim

Sherloch: Mark Kinver just repeats what the green blob tells him, without any understanding or questioning.. See this article for example where he just repeats some nonsense put out by a very young and ignorant economist for RenewableUK. Wind power 'adds resilience to UK energy market'

Jan 17, 2015 at 1:24 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Has the previous record world average surface temperature been stated anywhere? Then the new average could be compared with it and the record increase could be made clear (but would not need to be made little of).

Anomalies may be expressed in degrees centigrade but anomalies are not things either solid, liquid, or gaseous and possessing a temperature.

Jan 17, 2015 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoseph Sydney

Michael Mann's Heat Seeking Missile, appears to have blown up the toxic emisions, from his own rear end exhaust

Jan 17, 2015 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

You have to wonder how so many people can be so witless as to regurgitate this nonsense & who it was first fabricated this meme?

Jan 17, 2015 at 1:38 PM | Registered Commenterperry

Heh, they are aware of how much Mann isn't an asset to the cause any more with his increasingly ludicrous outpourings, but they also know that throwing him under the bus would be even more damaging given his prominent position as one of the High Priests of CAGW.

I do get the impression, though, that they may yet decide he's more trouble than he is worth.

Jan 17, 2015 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

Just the Big Lie told Bigger.

Jan 17, 2015 at 2:59 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Heh, Golf C., I used 'Hoist by his own retard' over at Stevie Mac's a few years ago, and everyone of those sharp eyes over there misread it as 'petard'.

Jan 17, 2015 at 3:03 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Mark Kinver started his career with Green Futures magazine:

And has been regurgitating green stories for bbc since 2005

Jan 17, 2015 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

I'm surprised it wasn't 1:97 million

Jan 17, 2015 at 3:10 PM | Registered Commenterdavidchappell

Don Keiller:

I see that the climate scamsters and psientists- often one and the same, are keeping quiet about the two dataset (RSS and UAH) that are not subject to urban heat island effects and have not had their past temperatures artificially cooled.
That's very interesting, Don. I was on a forum the other day arguing the toss with a couple of warmists who would not accept RSS but thought that UAH was the dataset for them as this supported their 'warmest year' meme. As a result I posted up on Unthreaded a request for someone to give me a perspective on the two. I, like you, was under the impression that RSS was uncontaminated. But I thought UAH was.

Jan 17, 2015 at 3:14 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

dc, I wondered which is worse, the 97% or the 1 in 27 million. I decided it was the 97%. That was a delilberate and deceitful political corruption of science. This amusing statistical anecdote only exposes the idiocy of its creators, and his hopeless political followers, in particular Gleick and Mann.

The 97% reached the President's ears; watch the 27 million reach the masses. Pretty soon we're talking about Big Numbers.

Jan 17, 2015 at 3:14 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Every day last July in my town was above average. The odds against that happening by chance are over 2 billion (2^31) to 1! (By their logic.)

Jan 17, 2015 at 3:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurt

1 chance in 1 that the model is cr@p.

We've heard this song before. Briggsy goes to some lengths to illustrate.

Jan 17, 2015 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernd Felsche

Stewgreen, commentary like this is music to Oreskes ears- her PR cohort will likely win the policy debate if the erosion of Conservative scientific credibility continues.

Jan 17, 2015 at 4:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

It may seem O/T, but I think it is relevant. From the BBC:

Britain's oldest person Ethel Lang dies aged 114

Yes. Well done Ethel. From Barnsley. Last of the Victorians.

Every few years the oldest person keeps dying. But the BBC, very sensibly, doesn't assert that this proves we are living longer or shorter life-spans. They should dwell on that for a while before they invite Gavin Schmidt back to discuss his global warming.

Jan 17, 2015 at 4:40 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Here is a possibility, the case for which is strengthened by this 1 in 27 million nonsense: the climate alarmism of recent decades has been sustained on the science side by people with poor technical skills and remarkably low intelligence levels, while it has been sustained on the political side by people of great cunning and moderately high levels of intelligence.

Jan 17, 2015 at 4:53 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

I read the comments but didn't see this observation. The warmest year seems to have been replaced in most media outlets by "hottest" year. I also noticed that most articles on this topic don't mention the margin of the record which from NOAA is 0.04C nor do I see very often any mention of satellite temperature data.

Jan 17, 2015 at 5:48 PM | Unregistered Commentermikec

I can get room temperature to be about 97% of blood temperature, simply by holding the thermometer in the palm of my hand.

Meanwhile, Real Climate Scientists keep getting lots of money, simply by holding each others hand.

Jan 17, 2015 at 6:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

The chance that the Hockey Stick Graph has any predictive ability, is less than 1 in 27 million.

The chance that the Hockey Stick Graph has any hindcasting ability, is less ........

The chance that a statistician, can prove anything, is good, but unreliable.

Jan 17, 2015 at 6:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Sorry, but why is it astonishingly bad statistics?

Jan 17, 2015 at 6:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterCaperAsh

No great surprise that Australia's ABC is also making much of the "hottest year" story:

SARAH DINGLE: According to these agencies, 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred this century - are we starting to sail really close to the wind now?

WILL STEFFEN: Look, I think we are in several ways. These records we're seeing 14 and 15 this century, 38 in a row above average, 2014 being the hottest on record. 2013 in Australia being our hottest, 2014 being our third hottest, the fact that these records are just coming one on top of another are telling us that this trend is just pushing the climate system into a much warmer state.

Jan 17, 2015 at 7:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

The chance of the Hockey Team's pattern of facial hair, achieving voodoo cult science status, keeps getting better, with the Gleick/Lewandowski hairier/scarier amendments running second.

All remain confident about their legacy, becoming immortal, though not necessarily with respect to their facial hair.

In cold climates, men are more likely to have facial hair. What are they preparing for?

Jan 17, 2015 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

CaperAsh 6:59 . You are quite correct. 97% of climate scientists have given up being astonished, by how bad the statistics are.

Jan 17, 2015 at 7:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Caperash I'm not an expert on this but I think what they are saying is that in the past warm trends tend to happen gradually over a few years rather than a spike arising from nowhere. So the chances of one year been warmer than the previous when there is a period of warming is 50/50 or thereabouts.

Jan 17, 2015 at 7:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterOwen

Caper Ash
What is true is that there would be a 27 million to 1 chance of observing this run of temperatures IF the level of temperatures were drawn from a distribution where the temperature level in one year is not affected in any way by the temperature of nearby years. But if, as is obviously the case, temperature levels in one year are closely related to temperatures in nearby years, the probability of observing runs of similar temperatures may be quite high. This so-called serial correlation of temperatures seems to be a fact of nature not a sign of human influence.

Jan 17, 2015 at 7:38 PM | Unregistered Commentermikep

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