2010-08-09 10:36:13BASIC rebuttal 07: 1998 is the hottest year on record
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.17.49

UPDATE: John Russell has written a much better version of this rebuttal further down this thread so ignore everything I've just said and scroll down for the real thing... :-)

Here's a suggested basic version of the 1998 is the hottest year on record. It's actually a distilled down version of a much longer and more detailed blog post 3 levels of cherry picking in a single argument. Even so, I wonder if there's too many graphs. I may replot the second graph myself - just use the GISS dataset to make it simpler. I haven't included the captions to keep it flowing but they'll still be in the Intermediate version. Is this a good decision - should we have captions in the Basic versions?


It hasn't warmed since 1998

What the science says: 2005 was the hottest year globally, and 2009 the second hottest

Most climate skeptic arguments, maybe all of them, have one thing in common - they neglect the full body of evidence and cherry pick just the bits of data that give the answer they want. This argument requires 3 levels of cherry picking.

The first cherry pick is that it relies on a single temperature record from the Hadley Centre in the UK. This record shows unusually warm temperatures in 1998, caused by the strongest El Niño on record. However, the Hadley record doesn't cover the whole globe. Some of the missing regions happen to be where the fastest warming is occuring. Temperature records that cover the whole planet find that 2005 is the hottest calendar year on record. The hottest 12 months on record were June 2009 to May 2010.

The second cherry pick is that it assumes a climate trend by comparing single data points. If you want to work out what climate is doing, you've got to look at all the data. Effects like El Nino exchange lots of heat between the ocean and the atmosphere, so surface temperature jumps up and down from year to year. To work out the long-term trend, scientists use statistical techniques like moving averages or linear regression. These show that surface temperatures continue to rise since 1998.

The third cherry pick is that this only looks at air temperature. The atmosphere is just one part of our climate. Over 90% of global warming actually goes into the oceans. If you really want to know if global warming continued past 1998, you need to look at all the heat building up in our climate. When we add up the heat going into the oceans, warming the land and air, and melting the ice, we see that the planet continues to build up heat. Global warming clearly continues past 1998.

2010-08-09 21:42:19Suggestion on the Rewrite - Shorter?
AdamK

adam.kierce@shinetech...
58.160.115.140

I think the basic argument needs to get to the heart of the matter - with the least possible words, and potentially, and this might be controversial - without recourse to graphs. If people want graphs, they should look to the medium explanation. So to illustrate; here's a suggestion. Feel free to correct/ignore tone - I'm just trying a sample basic with a lot less info! ( and we can discuss what works and what doesn't )

 It hasn't warmed since 1998....

What the science says: 2005 was the hottest year globally, and 2009 the second hottest

There are many significant problems with this statement; and those problems can be summarised as the following;

  1.  2005 was hotter than 1998 ( even when just using air temperatures across the globe )
  2. And the hottest 12 months period is more recent - June 2009 to May 2010
  3. The definition of warm is based on the wrong measurement ( just air temperatures )
  4. And it confuses short term results ( one year ) with longer term climate trends

Measurements Show that the Globe is Warming

 As you'd expect, there are a number of different data ways to measure temperatures across the globe. And there are a number of different organisations doing that measurement. Of the three main measurements, 2 indicate show 2005 as the hottest year on record, even if you believe that the air temperatures are the best measurement of heat. Of the third dataset, there is a well established understanding of why it doesn't get the same result. Bottom line is that it's got hotter since 1998.

Oceans Store Heat - Massive Amounts of it

 But to understand what 'warm' means - we need to understand what to measure. We generally think of air temperatures as the definition - because that's clearly what we feel when we say we're warm or cold or hot. From our comfort point of view - air temperature, at ground level is pretty important. But how do you measure the whole planet?

To do so, you need to understand where the heat might move to on the planet - and then measure those things as well. We've known for a long time that our oceans transfer heat around the planet, and that these processes are very important. So we need to include our ocean's temperatures, as well as air temperatures. As it turns out, our oceans are very good as storing vast amounts of heat - simplisticly, there's plenty of water ( 2/3rds of the planet is ocean ), and water takes a lot more energy to change temperature than air. 

It turns out that we have records of the ocean's temperatures as well, and when you add in the changes in ocean temperature together with air temperature changes, you get a very clear heating trend.

 Short Term Weather vs Long Term Trends

The last problem presented in this argument is that it misunderstands the difference between short term and long term. Short term is weather - what we experience on a day to day, month to month or even year to year. Climate is longer term - talking about periods measured in decades or longer. 1998 was indeed a hot year - because of the well understood and well documented El Nino of that year. This particular event causes significant transfer of heat from the ocean to the atmosphere, and causes very warm weather across both sides of the Pacific Ocean. So it makes no sense to pick a single year's values to make a claim about climate - because that claim is about the weather of that year - not the climate. This is true of a season , or a day, or a rainy month. These are all weather related; talking about a short term observation or measurement. We can still have cold summer days, or lots of rain or snow in winter, or a big flood, or just a lovely day. These are all weather observations, and are absolutely compatible with a climate change trend showing warming.

 

-------

OK, here it ends. I'm getting bored with my own typing. But let's get it up and please feel free to comment on it. Be gentle....

 

 

2010-08-09 21:50:25My response to my reply
AdamK

adam.kierce@shinetech...
58.160.115.140

OK, just noticed the posting about 260 words sizes for the articles. So my quick count of 600+ is an epic fail! I'll have a crack tomorrow at taking the wordiness out of it.

 I agree though that the success of the basic version is the ability for the layperson to easily digest it. We have to hope that they either accept it, or if they want to dig further they can go to the medium arguments.

2010-08-10 04:47:11Shorter version
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
82.70.63.102

Here's my attempt.

No, it hasn't been cooling since 1998. Even if we ignore long term trends and just look at the record-breakers, that wasn't the hottest year ever. Different reports show that, overall, 2005 was hotter than 1998. What's more, globally, the hottest 12-month period ever recorded was from June 2009 to May 2010.

Though humans love record-breakers, they don't, on their own, tell us a much about trends -- and it's trends that matter when monitoring Climate Change. Trends only appear by looking at all the data, globally, and taking into account other variables -- like the effects of the El Nino ocean current or sunspot activity -- not by cherry-picking single points.

There's also a tendency for some people just to concentrate on air temperatures when there are other, more useful, indicators that can perhaps give us a better idea how rapidly the world is warming. Oceans for instance -- because of their heat-storage abilities, or 'thermal mass -- tend to give a much more 'steady' indication of the warming that is happening. Here records show that the Earth has been warming at a steady rate before and since 1998 and there's no signs of it slowing any time soon. 

Seems a bit short but I think I've covered it in enough depth.  Maybe we should think of these basic rebuttals as no more than an invitation to look further (?).

Best wishes,

JR 

2010-08-10 09:18:44John Russell changes my mind
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151

Looking at JC's initial take I was thinking to myself "maybe some of these are irreducibly complex" as our creationist friends might say. JR's ruthless pare-down makes me think again.

I might add, belatedly I just read JR's mention about these being an invitation to "more." Quite right, I was about to write the same thing.

2010-08-10 09:41:50John Russell - nice work...
AdamK

adam.kierce@shinetech...
203.134.169.106

Sensational effort, and I like the idea that the basic rebuttals are an invitation to look further, for those that want to. For a lot of laypeople, they will also serve as the end point - oh OK, this line appears not to be valid, and the reasons look good, on the surface. I reckon there's a surprising number who won't move past this level.....

A very tiny point - paragraph two starts off with 'Though humans love record breakers...' I'd change that to 'Though we humans love record-breakers...', or even 'It's human nature to love record-breakers, but they don't ...'

We want the layperson to identify with us, not feel that we're lecturing to them.

Another small point for us all - the part about cherry picking. This is a consistent theme across many of the arguments that SS rebuts. But is it relevant in the Basic Rebuttal? That is, for a layperson with little background in the 'bigger' picture, when they're first accessing the information, what will they read into the word cherry picking? It feels a little defensive, as if we're saying 'awww MUM!  that's what THEY always do'. In this argument, we don't need to talk about cherry picking ( IMHO ), but simply really on the facts as dispassionately as we can.

So that paragraph might then look like

It's human nature to love record-breakers, but they don't, on their own, tell us much about a trend -- and it's trends that matter when monitoring Climate Change. Trends only appear by looking at all the data, globally, and taking into account other variables -- like the effects of the El Nino ocean current or sunspot activity.

 

2010-08-10 17:38:59Some links might be good
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
81.132.177.33

John, I think your second attempt is spot on. My own thinking on this is that I'm writing for my dad, who is 84. He'd get the rewrite, where the first go would probably put him off.

I was wondering if links might be useful. For example, where you say "Different reports show that..." would it be helpful at the end of that line to link to those reports, or the section of the intermediate version that substantiate the remark?

The thing about these simplified versions is that they can sound like Guardian denialist posts - all claims and no substance. I'm going to try to link as directly as possible to anything that backs up what I write, so that readers are drawn in to the detail if they have the interest, or the genuine scepticism.

2010-08-10 18:26:58Response from JR
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
82.70.63.102

Thanks for the kind remarks. It's heart warming to know that my 40 years experience taking gobbledegook and writing technical videos and training materials from it have at last found a globally-important outlet! 

I agree very much with the comments. I included cherry-picking as JC had originally included it but I agree with the subsequent comments.

Regarding Graham's comment about them looking like 'denialist' posts.  I take the point but I think that depending on how these 'in-brief' rebuttals are positioned next to the 'in-full' and 'in-depth' rebuttals, I think everyone should see that they're not stand-alone. It's all very well knocking denialist posts but they do strike a chord with the very same target audience we're going for. We need their power, backed up -- but not swamped -- with substance. What the tabs -- or whatever -- look like is important.

Last comment. As thread 'starter' should I re-write and incorporate the comments into the latest version?  The problem is that after half a dozen comments it's all a bit of a mess and difficult to see the wood for the trees.

2010-08-10 21:28:15A qualification
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
81.132.177.33
Hi John - just to qualify my remark, I only meant that claims like 'different reports', but without links, look like denialist posts. Just to hyperlink the statement to something substantive was all I was suggesting. I also note that John has talked about sending these basic arguments out as stand-alone items, so I didn't assume they would always be seen under the tab system.
2010-08-10 22:08:05Response to qualification
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
82.70.63.102

Sorry Graham, what I wrote sounded harsh. Yours was a good point. I hadn't read John's thread about blog posts at that moment, so, I agree, anywhere it's standalone it should link to meaty info.

Best wishes,

JR

2010-08-12 00:56:52response
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
24.224.230.112
I think its a good job but somewhere you do have to say (or link to)
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/pressoffice/2009/pr20091218b.html

which shows that according to the met office analysis hadley most likely missed the warmth of the 2000s because of its sampling.
2010-08-12 18:40:29Where are we with this topic?
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
82.70.63.102
I note that the rebuttal list now says this topic is 'unclaimed'. Three people have had a go -- with three different styles and lengths. Please can we have some clarification? I'm quite willing to re-write my version incorporating following comments -- but is this the version we feel we want to go with (cos if not I'm wasting my time)? [Please see my questions about style issues and length on the thread entitled, "Proposal for peer-review system..."] 
2010-08-12 19:10:37Why I unclaimed the topic
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.17.49

Sorry, have been meaning to get back to this thread. I originally claimed it with my original post but after reading John Russell's version, thought it was a much better effort. So JR, if you could claim the 1998 argument and rewrite your version with the subsequent comments, that would be great.

I have to confess, originally I fancied myself at being able to whip up some good plain English versions but after comparing my 1998 version to JR's, I'm rethinking my initial assessment :-)

2010-08-13 00:30:27great summary JR
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
24.224.230.112
Couple points:

"Different reports show that, overall, 2005 was hotter than 1998. What's more, globally, the hottest 12-month period ever recorded was from June 2009 to May 2010."

How about instead you say

Both NASA and NOAA show that ...

"What's more, globally, the hottest 12-month period ever recorded was from June 2009 to May 2010. "

Has this been verified recently? Not saying its wrong but I just haven't checked the recent updates (june 2010 and july 2010) to see if a record has been broken.


Beyond that, I think its definitely good to go. Great work JR

2010-08-13 00:33:49Broken record
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.17.49
I checked the NASA dataset and July 2009 to June 2010 was marginally less than June 2009 to May 2010. So yes, June to May is still the record hottest 12 months.
2010-08-13 01:18:45Question
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
24.224.230.112
John,
How do you do a 12-month running mean on the monthly matrix that nasa gives out?

        1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 DJF MAM JJA SON ANN
1941
1942

I hate having to manually put one below the other so they're all in one line. Is there an easier way?
2010-08-13 03:33:57Mentioning NASA NOAA
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
84.92.176.215

I considered this when I wrote it, Robert, but in the end, deliberately, I did not mention the names of the organisations -- because if the reader wants that info they can go to the next level of rebuttal. I felt that if I mentioned the organisations' names then I should also reference the actual work.I suppose it comes back to the 'stand alone' or 'be seen in context with the other levels' question.

Is that a good reply? If the general feeling is we should mention the names then I will reconsider. 

2010-08-13 05:40:41response
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
142.162.181.139
JR,
certainly I trust you opinion and whichever way you want to go with it is fine with me. I do have to note though that one of the first things people come back saying is they saw hadley and satellites say that 1998 was the warmest so sometimes its good to say who. Plus especially in the US, NASA commands respect and so does NOAA therefore if these government agencies say it a lot of average people know who they are and believe it. That being said, its a minor issue and up to you.
2010-08-14 03:47:35John Cook
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
24.224.230.112
Apparently it is up. June 2009 to July 2010 is warmest ever. What does this mean August will hold? haha. No joke, this august has been wicked hot so unless a big cooling occurs we could see another record.
2010-08-14 17:10:20Thumbs up to John Russell's version
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.17.49
John, your version is greatly superior to mine and would like to use it. Well done!
2010-08-14 19:06:50My vote
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
81.152.239.255
Yep - Good one John...
2010-08-14 22:53:54
Anne-Marie Blackburn
Anne-Marie Blackburn
bioluminescence@hotmail.co...
80.42.222.121
Good work and contributions
2010-08-15 03:56:44Good to go
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151
Short and sweet.
2010-08-15 06:44:34five for five
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
142.162.181.139
Perfect
2010-08-16 13:19:05Warmest 12 months in NCDC record
James Wight

jameswight@southernphone.com...
58.105.164.221
Yesterday, NCDC updated their global monthly temperature anomalies, and it turns out that August 2009 to July 2010 was the warmest 12-month period in that record. Admittedly, it only beat September 1997 to August 1998 by 0.0002 degrees, but even it's later revised downward, it's still one of the warmest of fifteen-hundred-and-something 12-month periods.
2010-08-16 16:33:07I like it!
Jim Meador

jimm58@gmail...
68.164.190.177

This one really gets to the point very nicely.

I think a lot of lay readers will trip over "thermal mass" though. I wonder if there is another way to express it.

Instead of

"Oceans for instance -- because of their heat-storage abilities, or 'thermal mass -- tend to give a much more 'steady' indication of the warming that is happening."

How about:

"For instance ocean temperatures change much more slowly than air, due to their immense size and heat storing capability, so they give a much smoother indication of changes."

The updated anomaly data shows that any recent information or references to "currently" will need to be maintained....which is maybe a good thing

2010-08-16 16:35:30BTW, rebuttal updates are possible
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.17.49
Just letting everyone know that even after the rebuttals are published, you can still update them - just go to the Rebuttal List, go to your rebuttal and click Edit. This will edit the live version so you can continue to tweak and refine your text. I'm constantly tweaking my rebuttals and if I had a million more hours in the day, would be refining and improving them constantly.
2010-08-17 21:18:20Updated
John Russell

jr@johnrussell...
82.70.63.102
Good point 'keepinItReal'. I've made some alterations based on your comment.