Posted by: Barry Bickmore | January 29, 2012

The Daily Mail Prints Climate Nonsense

One of my students asked me about a new article just printed in The Daily Mail, a right-wing newspaper in the U.K.  The article’s title is, “Forget global warming – it’s Cycle 25 we need to worry about (and if NASA scientists are right the Thames will be freezing over again)“.  Here’s a rule of thumb for you.  If you ever read anything about climate change in The Daily Mail, the odds are excellent that it’s nonsense.  Anyway, here is what I told my student.

Hi [Name Removed],

This is why I’ve gone all militant on these guys.

Solar activity is explicitly incorporated in climate models.  It’s difficult to predict what the Sun will do in the short term, though, so projections based on the models make some assumptions about that, but at least you can incorporate measured values when you are “hindcasting” the models.

Anyway, here is the Met Office press release about the paper they are probably referring to.  Now, let me show you how people like this Daily Mail reporter manipulate the public.

1. They cite a reputable source, the UK Met Office, but they don’t actually quote the paper or anyone from the Met Office.  Why?  Because “climate” is about long-term averages and trends, so real climatologists don’t go about announcing that “there hasn’t been any global warming in (fill in the blank with a number less than about 30) years”.  The weather is a chaotic system, so in the short term you can get just about any trend you like.

2. All you have to do to get the trend you want is to “cherry-pick” the start and end dates.  In this case, they pick 1997 and 2011.  (They also cherry-pick the dataset, even though the press release I linked gives different results for the NASA and NOAA datasets.  The one from the Met Office, HadCRUT, doesn’t include the polar regions, so it usually gives a little less steep warming trend than the others.)  The problem is that the overall trend for the last 30-40 years is between about +0.15 and +0.2 °C per decade, but the interannual variability is about +/-0.2 °C PER YEAR.  So you can definitely see a distinct trend if you go back far enough, but the random noise can give you all sorts of results in the short term.  Let me illustrate.  I calculate that the trend in the HadCRUT data from 1997-2011 is about +0.01 °C per decade, and not statistically significant.  (In this case, a statistically significant result is one where the 95% confidence interval does not overlap zero.)  What happens if we change the start and end dates by just one year, from 1996-2010?  Then the trend is 0.10 °C/decade, and still not statistically significant.  Do you see how you can use the random noise, e.g., from El Niño and La Niña oscillations, to get the trend you want in the short term?

3. Next, they launch off into their nonsense about how the flat temperature trend is all because of a decrease in solar activity, and we’re heading into a new Little Ice Age.  The press release the Met Office put out just prior to the one I already mentioned was entitled, “Decline in Solar Output Unlikely To Offset Global Warming“, but the Daily Mail reporter says that these findings are “fiercely disputed by other solar experts,” and quotes Henrik Svensmark.  I could name a couple other solar guys who agree with Svensmark, but that’s all.  He’s definitely on the fringes.  Svensmark has an interesting theory about why changes in Solar output might exert a much greater influence on climate than the models give it credit for, but the problem is that the statistics don’t pan out.

4. But wait!  Just in case people didn’t buy the Solar connection, let’s completely switch gears and blame the whole thing on ocean circulation!  The ridiculous thing is that the standard climate models DO incorporate ocean circulation AND variations in Solar output, and these things DO affect the temperature projections so that any given model will predict periods of several years where there might even be overall cooling.  The models just differ about when these “pauses” in global warming will happen, because the system is chaotic and the timing of these things are incredibly sensitive to initial conditions and the model details.

5. If the scientific consensus doesn’t agree with what you want to hear, the Daily Mail reporter knows that you can always get some D-list fringe scientists to make it all better.  E.g., take a look at Nicola Scafetta, who thinks that Jupiter and Saturn are affecting the climate to create a 60-year cycle, which Judy Curry also apparently buys into.   Yep.  But don’t ask Scafetta or Curry what Jupiter or Saturn are supposed to be doing that affects the climate, because they can’t give any physical mechanism.  Maybe that’s why the Daily Mail calls Curry “one of America’s most eminent climate experts.”  Whatever.  Also, take a look at Benny Peiser, who is a social anthropologist too ignorant to properly read the scientific literature on climate change.

Now, take a step back and look at what has been done to the public.  Most people have no idea about statistical cherry-picking, and even those who do wouldn’t necessarily suspect anything.  Most people would have no idea that the Daily Mail is quoting a bunch of fringe scientists, and they would have no idea why the views of these scientists are dismissed by the others.  It turns out that Svensmark WAS taken seriously, but his hypothesis hasn’t panned out.  It turns out that Scafetta’s ideas are little better than curve-fitted astrology, at this point.  It turns out that climate models DO account for ocean circulation, but there is no convincing evidence that this does much outside timescales of a few years.

Like I said, this is why I’ve gone militant on these guys.  I think they are patently dishonest.

[UPDATE:  The Met Office has now responded to the Daily Mail article.  They said essentially the same thing I did.]


  1. Prof Richard Betts – Met Office – Head of Climate Impacts, IPCC lead author AR4 & AR5 said this of the Daily Mail article…

    “Reflects genuine difference of scientific opinion – fair enough!”

    • I’m not British, so I’m less polite than him.

  2. Coincidentally, I just posted an article about David Archibald’s similar claims that low solar activity will cause lots of cooling.

    As you say, if you read a climate article in the Daily Mail, you can be almost certain it’s 100% wrong. The Daily Mail is just a step above a tabloid.

  3. Richard Betts writes; “Reflects genuine difference of scientific opinion – fair enough!”

    There’s a man who doesn’t want to be drawn into an argument!

    David Rose’s ‘Daily Mail’ article uses ‘NASA’ in the headline as the ultimate appeal to authority — yet NASA doesn’t actually say what Rose implies.David Rose clearly has an agenda. Will NASA complain about the misrepresentation?

  4. Hi –
    Is it not entirely possible that Richard Betts means what he says.. I think he does, and I do know him a little.

    Also from the article, an American Professor has this to say:

    “Meanwhile, one of America’s most eminent climate experts, Professor Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology, said she found the Met Office’s confident prediction of a ‘negligible’ impact difficult to understand.
    ‘The responsible thing to do would be to accept the fact that the models may have severe shortcomings when it comes to the influence of the sun,’ said Professor Curry. As for the warming pause, she said that many scientists ‘are not surprised’. ”

    Why not contact them both and have a chat about it.
    Richard comments at Judith blog on occasion, as well.
    Professor Judith Curry has a rather impressive academic pedigree.

    • Hi Barry W.

      I’m familiar with Judith Curry, and have no doubt that she was quoted correctly. She likes to go on ad infinitum about “the uncertainty in the uncertainty”, and such. The fact is that solar physicists have beaten this horse to death, and while it’s statistically POSSIBLE that the Sun influences climate somewhat more than the models say, it can’t be THAT MUCH more.

      See this:

      I don’t know anything about Richard Betts, so if he says anything more substantial about it, let us know.

  5. With respect to Judith’s contribution, I was more interested in her comments and a norwegians, on the contribution of oceanic oscillation:


    ‘They have insufficiently been appreciated in terms of global climate,’ said Prof Curry. When both oceans were cold in the past, such as from 1940 to 1970, the climate cooled. The Pacific cycle ‘flipped’ back from warm to cold mode in 2008 and the Atlantic is also thought likely to flip in the next few years .

    Pal Brekke, senior adviser at the Norwegian Space Centre, said some scientists found the importance of water cycles difficult to accept, because doing so means admitting that the oceans – not CO2 – caused much of the global warming between 1970 and 1997.


    Richard is a busy guy. I might ask if he has a moment to stop by.

    • Come on, Barry (Woods), tell us what you think about the Met office’s response this morning — which is basically that David Rose’s modus operandi is fundamentally dishonest:

  6. Add The Daily Mail staff and Judy Curry to the Wall Street Journalers and “Lord” Monckton as people I hope are picked up by one of the increasing numbers of hurricanes or tornadoes and blown into shark infested, rising seas – all caused by the noxious fossil fuel emission of CO2.

  7. […] Barry Bickmore has the scoop. […]

  8. Dr. B,
    Here’s a neat blog that floats an idea that you might want to use to plot Utahn’s in regards to the degree of their “extremism”.

    Personally, I plot so far in the upper left quadrant that the circle appears to be a healthy slice of pie.

    BTW, Looks like you missed out on the finals for science Bloggies this year… I’ll keep entering you, in any case.
    As far as I know you are still in the running for this recognition…

    see the last comment on the page for my nomination.

    p & l,

  9. […] […]

  10. This sums up the Daily Mail approach to ‘news’

  11. The Scafetta paper (Dec 2011), found here with comment , can be twisted as follows.

    On page 10, change equation 9 for q(t) to have not just a linear component but also a quartic, exponential, or any other fast growing function that kicks into high gear around 2100 to dominate the linear part. Also adjust the coefficients so that by the time we get to about 2100, it matches what the paper shows. [Note that the paper conveniently decided to chuck the quadratic trend growth modeling from 1850-2000 in favor of simple linear growth post 2000.]

    The point of the exercise would be to show that the new equations have almost the same predictive qualities for 2100 as what Scafetta created (and match data prior to 2000) but that the implications for 2200 are disastrous and are unimaginable for 2300.

    We can play around to show the opposite effect where hopefully we drive down below 0 Kelvin by the time we get to 2200 or 2300.

    This would show the nonsense of the curve-fitting approach.

    I also think that by tweaking the quadratic trend line component used for the 1850-2000 period (p(t)) and/or tweaking the coefficients of the harmonics, we might be able to get that the last and strongest cycle leading up to 2000 suggests that the IPCC projections undershoot rather than overshoot.

    • The suggestion of the parent comment may not be that great (on second thought). The reason I wrote it was that I was critical that the paper switched from the fitted quadratic trend of the 1850-2000 period abruptly to a linear trend for the 2000-2100 projection period.

      Scafetta’s reasoning (bottom of page 9 I think) may or may not be reasonable, but it is an attempt to add basic physical constraints to the curve-fitting beyond the fitted period. Having a restraint on top of the curve fitting model can definitely be a case of cherry-picking to achieve convenient projections but do note that the main argument in the paper (assumption stated at top of Abstract) is that the cycles are natural and recurring. The paper doesn’t take that position of natural recurrence with respect to trend growth due to CO2 warming. IMO, the assumption applying to “natural cycles” only is reasonable to first approximation if over-simplified.

      Anyway, if the paper had stuck with the fitted quadratic trend (as I commented in that WUWT posting a moment ago), the projected trend value for 2100 would not have been about +1.15 C but would have been about +2.75 C, a value that is in solid agreement with the overall IPCC projections.

      • I am annoying myself with this back and forth…

        I made a calculation mistake. Sticking with the quadratic would project out to about +1.85 C for the year 2100 (rather than +1.15 of the paper or +2.75 I calculated wrongly earlier). This value falls below the IPCC year 2100 central projection stated in the paper but is comfortably within its bounds.

  12. […] in January, I wrote this: Here’s a rule of thumb for you.  If you ever read anything about climate change in The Daily […]

  13. […] But hang on – the Daily mail said it wasn't serious in 2011 Climate change far less serious than 'alarmists' predict says NASA scientist | Mail Online Then last September said the ice cap had grown by 29% as the earth cooled And now it's global COOLING! Return of Arctic ice cap as it grows by 29% in a year | Mail Online But in december claimed the poles were drifting apart Climate change is causing Earth's poles to DRIFT, claim scientists | Mail Online Still "Here’s a rule of thumb for you. If you ever read anything about climate change in The Daily Mail, the odds are excellent that it’s nonsense." The Daily Mail Prints Climate Nonsense | Climate Asylum […]

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