BEST Wants You to be Stupid

Methane is not a greenhouse gas. At least, that's one of the many stupid things Berkeley Earth thinks people should believe.

Berkeley Earth, commonly known as BEST, was originally created to reanalyze Earth's modern temperature record. It's since moved beyond that, attempting to become a serious player in the global warming debate by encouraging people to be idiots.

At least, I assume that's the purpose for BEST's planned "major education and communications program." It's the only reason I can come up with for their recently published "Skeptic's Guide to Climate Change" given all the problems it has. For example, it claims there are two largely undisputed facts for global warming:

- Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that warms the earth
- Humans are responsible for increasing CO2

Which ignores all greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide. Anyone being taught from this guide would think things like methane aren't greenhouse gases. They would be completely unaware of the fact other greenhouse gases are estimated to have ~50% as much impact as carbon dioxide does.

That's only an error of omission though. Things are worse when we look at what was said, rather than what was not said. For example, when discussing the first fact above, BEST says skeptics should believe:

Radiative physics shows us that a doubling of CO2 would raise global temperatures by at least 1.8° Celsius. More warming than this is possible
but how much is uncertain.

There isn't a source in the world which would agree with this. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said to represent the consensus on global warming, says doubling of CO2 levels will cause approximately 1.5 - 4.5°C of warming.

The IPCC says the minimum is 1.5°C. BEST claims it is a largely undisputed fact radiative physics tells us the minimum must be at least 1.8°C. It's easy to see where they went wrong. All we have to do is read on a bit and see:

When the independent study corrected for all of these issues, it confirmed that the world has warmed 1.5°C, or 2.8°F, over the past 250 years.

Here, we see BEST give temperature values in Celsius and Fahrenheit. Previously, they only used one. They claimed to be using Celsius, but 1.8°F is ~1°C. Their incorrect value above was merely a conversion issue. That may seem minor, but how do people writing a guide to climate change not know immediately recognize an error in a list of basic facts of climate change?

I don't know. I don't really care though. I'm much more concerned about the fact Berkeley Earth said an "independent study corrected for" concerns raised by skeptics. Elsewhere, it said those issues has been "investigated by an independent group of scientists." The reference it gives for that "independent" work is:

7-23-independent-reference

This document written by Berkeley Earth says Berkeley Earth scientists are independent. Independent of what? Only God knows. They certainly can't be independent of this document. Two of its twelve pages are devoted to Berkeley Earth promoting itself, even referring to the Berkeley Earth group as "we":

7-23-about

I don't know how someone refers to their own work in a document as independent half a dozen times. I don't really care though. I'm more concerned about the fact that quote said BEST "confirmed that the world has warmed 1.5°C, or 2.8°F, over the past 250 years."

This claim is worse than bogus. It's a direct misrepresentation of the BEST results. This can be seen by examining a figure included in this "guide":

7-23-annual-with-forcing-small

It shows approximately 1.5°C of warming. However, the figure is clearly labeled "Global Land Surface Temperature." Two thirds of the planet is covered by water. BEST cannot claim "the world has warmed 1.5°C" when it knows for a fact the world hasn't warmed by that much. Here is BEST's own estimates for world temperatures:

7-23-land-and-ocean-summary-large

This graph shows only ~1°C of warming. That means BEST exaggerated the amount of warming by 50% by falsely claiming to show world temperatures. And this wasn't just one errant comment. The entire page with that figure is devoted to misleading the reader, saying:

Yes, natural variability exists, and the Earth’s temperature has changed in the past. However, for the past century we know that CO2 is coming from human burning of fossil fuels. While climate has changed in the past, possibly even as quickly and dramatically as it is changing today, we nevertheless can tell from the unique carbon fingerprint that today’s warming is human caused.

The Human Effect - The smooth, significant rise in temperature over the past 250 years, as well as the brief and sporadic (but sometimes intense) cold spells, can be explained by a combination of volcanoes and human greenhouse gas emissions. Volcanoes are important; they are the one natural factor that can sway temperature. But their effect is temporary.

Both of those paragraphs refer to "the Earth's temperature." There is no way a reader could be expected to know they refer only to one-third of the planet's temperature, a third known to be warming more than the other two-thirds. Anyone relying upon this "Skeptic's Guide to Climate Change" would be misled.

On top of this, those paragraphs claim volcanoes "are the only natural factor that can sway temperature." Anyone who knows anything about global warming knows that's not true. BEST has even published a paper discussing the effects of some other natural factors (ocean cycles). Richard Muller, head of the BEST team, has blamed natural factors for the apparent "pause" in global warming in recent times.

It's difficult to see how BEST can talk about the impact of other natural factors when publishing their results then write a "Skeptic's Guide to Climate Change" which denies those factors have any impact. Also difficult to understand is why BEST would say:

Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) didn’t rule out the sun for warming from 1750 to 1950. But the independent study* demonstrated that there is no correlation between solar activity and global warming.

When nobody who has looked at their work could possibly believe that. At a minimum, two caveats are needed. First, this claim is in reference to an older data set used by BEST. The work (and the image in this "guide") have not been updated even though the data has been. Second, that old data set only used land temperatures.

Moving beyond caveats, in the paper BEST is referencing, their results were described:

Thus, for this very simple model, solar forcing does not appear to contribute to the observed global warming of the past 250 years

The fact a "very simple model" does not extract a signal from data in no way proves "there is no correlation between" anything. The graph BEST made has all sorts of problems, enough to merit a post of its own. We can ignore them though. The simple reality is BEST used a very crude model, failed to find a certain signal and now claims that proves the signal is non-existent. That's unacceptable.

There's a problem bigger than any of that though. That problem is the conclusion section of this "guide." This guide never says how much warming we should expect. It never says how much damage may be caused by global warming. Despite that, it concludes:

Why should moving forward require we "[p]ractice and promote energy efficiency"? Why should it require we "[d]emand sustainable and cost-effective solutions in the US and around the world"? I don't know. BEST doesn't say.

Maybe those are things we ought to do. If so, BEST should explain why. It shouldn't just randomly insist it is necessary we do them. It certainly shouldn't make random proclamations with no explanation in the middle of a guide designed to educate people.


Practically everything said in this "Skeptic's Guide to Global Warming" is misleading, if not wrong. Anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of global warming could spot most of the problems. Despite that, BEST advertises it with a banner at the top of every page on their website.

I don't know how this document ever got made. What I do know is it is disturbing this is the sort of material BEST wants to use to educate people.

And I haven't even touched on other documents they've made.

52 comments

  1. recently i commented elsewhere that i believed best and steven mosher in particular were making an honest attempt at deciphering something meaningful from a data set that was not fit for purpose. in light of this i will have to revise my opinion. in light of this the purpose of their particular form of data manipulation is now plain for all to see.

  2. Interesting, Brandon.

    First you say this:

    ==> "It shows approximately 1.5°C of warming. However, the figure is clearly labeled “Global Land Surface Temperature.” Two thirds of the planet is covered by water. "

    Congrats. It's nice to see that you reject the "global warming has paused" rhetoric that conflates trends in surface temps with "global warming." That's one of the habits of "skeptics" that appears to me to be extremely unskeptical.

    Yet, later we find this:

    ==> "Richard Muller, head of the BEST team, has blamed natural factors for the apparent “pause” in global warming in recent times."

    Uh. oh. Pause in "global warming?"

    So, a short-term flattening-out of a long-term trend of rising surface temps = a "pause" in "global warming?"

  3. It is a weird document, starting with the cover showing tornado damage, followed by page 2 saying there's no climate-tornado link!
    The frequent references to their own "independent study", that seems to have answered virtually all the tricky questions in the field, is also weird, and makes them look big-headed.
    I've seen worse though. The table on page 2 is OK and it's good that they say that much of what you hear about climate is exaggerated.

  4. JamesNV, I doubt Steven Mosher will show up. He loves to respond to things when he has an answer, but he rarely responds to legitimate complaints. Or at least, he rarely responds to them in a responsive manner.

    bit chilly, I don't think this document shows any sort of intentional manipulation in the BEST results. What I think it does show is BEST, as a group, is pretty much incompetent and uninterested in getting things right.

    Paul Matthews, I don't think I've ever seen anything worse. There are a couple good things said in it, but they're polluted by all the other stupidity. They wind up looking stupid too.

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