Press punked by Berkeley temperature study

There is currently a raging controversy in the media about Dr. Richard Muller’s BEST (Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature) program. One point the press seems to miss is the distinction between  whether and how much warming there may have been, versus the cause of temperature change.

The Berkeley group, having noted all the charges of data manipulation in temperature databases owned by governments, both British and American, decided to redo all the temperature records.  Everyone was anxious about how they would handle the data.

The current controversy may have been precipitated by Muller, himself, with a Wall Street Journal article titled “The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism.”

In the WSJ article Muller writes:

The temperature-station quality is largely awful. The most important stations in the U.S. are included in the Department of Energy’s Historical Climatology Network. A careful survey of these stations by a team led by meteorologist Anthony Watts showed that 70% of these stations have such poor siting that, by the U.S. government’s own measure, they result in temperature uncertainties of between two and five degrees Celsius or more. We do not know how much worse are the stations in the developing world.

Using data from all these poor stations, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates an average global 0.64ºC temperature rise in the past 50 years, “most” of which the IPCC says is due to humans. Yet the margin of error for the stations is at least three times larger than the estimated warming.

 We know that cities show anomalous warming, caused by energy use and building materials; asphalt, for instance, absorbs more sunlight than do trees. Tokyo’s temperature rose about 2ºC in the last 50 years. Could that rise, and increases in other urban areas, have been unreasonably included in the global estimates? That warming may be real, but it has nothing to do with the greenhouse effect and can’t be addressed by carbon dioxide reduction.

But then he writes:

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.

And the press frenzy began.

Much of the controversy revolves around four papers Muller released prior to formal peer-review and publication (They are still unpublished formally).  Many scientists take exception to the methodology of the BEST study, particularly how Muller averaged station temperatures, dealt with the urban heat island effect, and stated the uncertainty.  Also part of the controversy is how the data are depicted on graphs in the press.  Below are two graphs showing identical data, but the difference in the vertical temperature scale makes one look more alarming than the other:


Berkley2-300x236Add to that, the land surface temperature record does not agree with the satellite record, nor is there good agreement with sea surface temperature record..  BEST uses only land-based temperature data and ignores sea surface temperature data.

Steve McIntyre, proprietor of Climate Audit noticed “BEST’s estimate of the size of the temperature increase since the start of the 19th century is much larger than previous estimates….The decade of the 1810s is shown in their estimates as being nearly 2 degrees colder than the present….It’s also interesting to interpret these results from the context of ‘dangerous climate change’, defined by the UN as 2 deg C. Under BEST’s calculations, we’ve already experienced nearly 2 deg C of climate change since the early 19th century.”  McIntyre could not replicate some of Muller’s results using raw station data.

The press, portraying Muller as a former skeptic who got religion, ran with the WSJ headline.  See, for example, an editorial by Eugene Robinson.  Robinson’s characterization of the BEST study is that it provides evidence against climate skeptics and confirms the IPCC scary scenario projections.  But ultra warming alarmist site  says the BEST study is not a big deal:

Anybody expecting earthshaking news from Berkeley, now that the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group being led by Richard Muller has released its results, had to be content with a barely perceptible quiver. As far as the basic science goes, the results could not have been less surprising if the press release had said “Man Finds Sun Rises At Dawn.”

The whole thing boils down to what Muller said, “The temperature-station quality is largely awful.”  That means the surface temperature data is inadequate to come to any valid conclusions.  BEST measured a larger subset of the surface temperature record than some other researchers. BEST merged and “filtered” the data.  Various methods of massaging data lead to different conclusions, none of which may be close to reality.  The science is still not settled and the BEST study, despite its good intentions, provides nothing new.

See another analysis of BEST data here.



  1. At the heart of the scientific method is the idea that the objective observer ( scientist) can examine the data, identify false conclusions and CHANGE THE MODEL. 
    The scientist here did exactly that.  While he was careful to point out the shortcomings in the data, he also concluded that the information was good enough to  support his conclusions.  The conclusions in this case were that global temperatures are rising.  This contradicted his previous public skepticism of Climate change.
    You claim he side stepped the question of “why are temperatures  are rising” but that is because  it is first important to establish the trend before you figure out the why.  I am a skeptic of all scientific findings, because I am a scientist. It is my job!.
    In contrast Mr DuHamel begins his article with a statement that derides the findings, even though this is a Very credible scientific work.  Where is the open mindedness in that.  I submit that the author of the news article will never accept any evidence that contradicts his fervent beliefs.. Therefore, His opinion has little value and less credibility. 

  2. You misconstrue my first paragraph. I put the second sentence in not to criticize Muller, but the press. The tenor of many media stories is that if the planet is warming then humans must be to blame. I fully agree that Muller’s exercise was to determine what the temperatures were doing, not to address the cause. I also fully agree that a scientist must always be a skeptic.
    The press hails Muller’s study as something new, but it isn’t really. Muller gathered data, vetted weather stations, filtered the data, performed mathematical smoothing, just like the government bodies did.

    1. Jonathan, the thing that makes Muller’s study relevant (and ‘new’) is that his approach took a fresh look at and expanded data set with a view to address the specific identified concerns of the climate skeptics (city island effect, etc.).  The criticism of the previous studies brought up some good investigative issues that Muller and his team addressed directly.  The other significant thing is that bias can be factored out as Muller discovered something he had not expected to; namely the increasing rate of change of temperature.  We laymen have a right to skepticism but we also have to acknowledge when good work has been done – this appears to have been very good work.  Also one small point of correction – the techniques Muller employed and the data set used were the same as the government ones only in the broadest sense. 

    2. Mr. DuHamel-I would like you to address Mr. Dodd’s statement below. Is this the type of logic you support? Is this type of thinking the result that you wish to encourage? Dr. John Parsons

    3. Mr. DuHamel– The first chart has variables that would not fit on the second chart. The first chart has intryear data that obscures the information (global mean) that is being communicated. No one has tried to make one chart “scarier” than the other. Charts show data not emotional states. The constant paranoia about conspiracies doesn’t help your image. Dr. John Parsons

      1. The point I was trying to make with the graphs is that the Y scales are different.  On the first graph, the interval between the horizontal grids is 2 degrees C whereas on the second graph the interval is half a degree. This makes the ups and downs appear larger.

      2. Jon–The point I was trying to make was that the scales HAD to be adjusted to get the information onto the graph–not to make the graph look “scarier” Dr. John

  3. No one believe one danged thing those Global Warming quacks have to say anymore.  We’ve seen how they do “science”.  These “scientist” take a position then try go figure out how to “prove” it.  Some methodology.  In the 1970’s the big noise was Nuclear Winter.  Please make up your minds.  And quit trying to insult my intelligence.

    1. Not so.  The methods used to process the data are the very best we as humans have developed.  The data indicates rapid warming (relative to any expected ‘natural’ phenomena) – using algorithms that anyone can verify.  Certainly one must always watch out for bias, but there are now so many independent verifications of this trend that bias (one way or the other) can be factored out leaving a startling result.

  4. And you wonder why noone believes anything the press writes about global warming any more.

    The BEST study confirmed that the temperatures are good enough. They go up and down.
     The BEST study actually STATED that they have not investigated WHY the warming exists.
     The press reported exagerated headlines from both sides.
    REALITY says CO2 can NOT create the energy required to cause warming. Even Mother Nature can NOT create energy. CO2 also can NOT cause the temperature to go down or cyclical temperature cycles. BOTH of which are evidenrt in all 4 temperature studies.
    The original Arrhenius 1896 paper that reported that (in IPCC words) “More GHGs means more warming” is contradicted by mother Nature EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, when the energy available reduces (Earth rotates), the greenhouse effect reduces, more GHGs are released & made available for more Greenhouse warming and the Temperature goes DOWN directly contradicting Arrhenius & IPCC.  More GHGs do NOT cause warming. It is the anount of energy photons that causes warming and cooling  OR don’t you non scientific morons understand   cause and effect.

    1. Actually, no I don’t wonder why no one believes the press on global warming.  

      In fact, I kind of thought that practically nobody believed your highly scientific, non-moronic point of view.   Including the data, which may have a liberal bias (see comment on this article).

      Guess that makes me a moron, too.  No problem, if it’s good enough for Mitt, it’s good enough for me.

      And don’t give me that “morons aren’t Christians” BS.  I’m too stupid to fall for it.  🙂

      Almost forgot:  “have a nice day”. 

    2. You are deeply confused about the nature of global warming. CO2 does not “create energy”. It traps energy in our atmosphere. No climatologist ever claimed that CO2 creates energy. How you could be so misinformed is astounding. Either you left school before sixth grade science class or you simply live in your own reality. You should be embarrassed. Dr. John Parsons

    3. Generally good points.  GHGs do not cause warming, they only slow cooling.  The desert cools at night so much (30-35 degrees) because it is very dry, there is little water vapor to hold the heat.  When it is more humid here, and in areas of high humidity the daily variation in temperature is less.

  5. Clearly this BEST study has a liberal bias. And those “ultra warming alarmists” @ Realclimate they are SO biased! When it comes global warming, it seems every time somebody starts doing research we see this liberal bias.
    The only explanation is science, facts, and data all have a liberal bias. Otherwise how could we have every major country’s National Academy of Science (nearly 49 of them) unanimously make statements that global warming is real and human activity is contributing it. I see no other explanation., it has to be that the data and the facts have a liberal bias.

    1. I agree with the fact that obviously  the data has a liberal bias, but regarding science I believe it is different. This is a global conspiracy, led by all the National Academy of Science in the world designed to railroad the US into the ditch and detroy its economy!!!! And the reason that there is no proof of this conspiracy is that it is really secret and led by unflinching men, the same that organized the fake moonwalk actually…

  6. Sure, guys, nothing points to our actions causing the warming…it’s just happening and that’s all…nothing for us to do but continue “growing the economy” and getting “richer” in the process. Got to stop those “liberals”, “leftists” and “greedy” climate scientist that are manufacturing this crisis for their own ends. Yep, they are just like “religious” fanatics, only worse….better join Governor Perry and pray for rain. no, NOTHING in the science of Chemistry or Physics points to and reaction to our pumping 92 metric tons (ever increasing amounts). No not in this case…none at all. I agree, let THEM PROVE it ALL, 100% before we act, or at least until I’m dead. Then the ones coming up can handle it all, after all that’s fair, isn’t it? 

  7. There is no relevant controversy raging. The BEST study concludes that temperatures are rising. “Scientists” have not “fudged the data”. Indeed, the question of causation was not addressed by the BEST studies Why is the global average temperature rising (and rising quite dramatically) we ask ourselves. The physics behind anthropogenic global climate change is very robust. The studies investigating alternative theories: “Galactic Cosmic rays”, “Iris”, “it’s the sun”, “it’s the AMO, PDO, ENSO or whatever have you oscillation”; are all decidedly weak. You folks live in Tucson; one of the parts of the US most likely to be adversely affected, not so much by the predicted increase in temperature but by the predicted change in rainfall patterns of both your local area and the area of the Rocky Mountains where much of your water comes from. Ask yourself: Do you feel lucky? Then ask yourself: Why? arch

      1. I thank you for the edit clarification Mr. Duhamel. I guess my attitude is not wry enough for these parts. I’ll ride on into the sunset now.

  8. Sure, everyone been fooled by it all. Good thing you boys are out there pointing out the liberals, leftists and greedy scientist and climate religiuos fanatics. No, it’s all natural, can’t be due to our actions, after all we made the world a better place for all living things. Damn, I’m going to Texas and join in the pray group for rain!

  9. Everyone who doubts GW is an idiot.  On May 23, 1967, the temperature was perfect.  And it’s been going to hell ever since.  If you look at Leviticus 12:30, you will see that God said “the temperature of the earth is set to perfect and any man who changes it shall be condemned.”  We have to do whatever is necessary, including going back to living in caves, to bring the earth’s temperature back to what it was on May 23, 1967.

    1. Economists etstimate that controlling warming to 2 degrees centigrade would be in the range of .5% to1.5% of GDP. That’s not insignificant, but it’s far from the “return to the stone age” scenarios of the deniers. If you went to one hundred doctors to “have that lump checked out” and 97% of them said “you’d better do something about that”; would you go with the three that said “we’re not sure what’s causing that”? Dr. John Parsons

      1. “Controlling warming to 2 degrees C”, huh? Doctor, that was possible before but not now…wasting this critical time “debating” with Johnnie here and his buddies  the last two decades made that mark not likely now. Economist Stern has estimate 3-5 degrees C because of lack of action. He wrote a much herald paper on the cost of ignoring climate change vs. making the needed societal changes. Anyway, fast foward to today, I heard him state on a radio program that because of “lead time” and “capital budgeting” (among other financial terms those folks to inject in their talk), we are headed way passed 2 degrees C. Remember there is a built in delay that kicks in afterward. Afraid it’s gonna cost us, we are already seeing the cost (but the folks that say it ain’t happening would rather “pray”)

  10. So how will the climate models to be changed?  Will adjustments be made for the following?
    1.  The island effect of large cities;
    2.  The higher rate of CO2 absorption by the residual forests; and the forest density increase;
    3.  The CO2 holding capacity of soils;
    4.  The effect of mangrove restoration over the coastlines of many countries;
    5.  The increasing efforts to restore the forests in tropical countries;
    6.  The increasing density of European and North American forests;
    7.  The plateau in the production of oil;
    8.  The 7 billion global population;
    9.  The reduction in the number of tyrants;
    10.  The greening of technologies.

    Do climate prediction models incorporate all of that?  If they do, what are the results? 

    1. Gabriel–your question has some interesting points, but first you need to separate the climatology from the sociology. Your points # 1,2,3,and 6 are absolutely incorporated in climate models along with a vast number of other variables. Your other points are sociological and political points that act as an additional mathematical function and are definitely part of the IPCC studies. Dr. John

    2. Gabriel–I forgot to answer your last question. The results. They are issued every four years in a comprehensive report. A short version (approximately 30 pages) relates the salient points and is designed for policy makers in government and the private sector. Dr. John

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