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It would seem that BEST’s stated goal – to produce absolutely undisputable climate data and science – has been abandoned.

Richard Muller’s Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project, which began with goodwill from all corners of the climate debate, has made a series of bold announcements (without benefit of peer review) to the effect that global warming is definitely serious and definitely caused by humans. This has aroused derision among formerly supportive climate sceptics, caused an eminent climatologist to abandon the project, and even drawn criticism from generally alarmism-sympathetic media commentators.

Muller, professor of physics at UC Berkeley, is often regarded as a climate sceptic because he has frequently criticised the techniques used by climate scientists in the past and because he accepted funding for BEST from libertarian oil billionaire Charles Koch. When BEST launched in the wake of Climategate, it vowed to be “an independent, non-political, non-partisan group”, with Muller promising that “there will be no spin, whatever we find”. Critics of the existing temperature establishment, including well known sceptics Anthony Watts and Doug Keenan, welcomed it.

However each announcement has been aggressively trialled in the press not only before the peer review process had judged them ready for publication – which may not be a major issue – but also before anyone outside the BEST project could examine the papers at all. This requires the ordinary reader to take BEST’s accompanying press releases on blind faith – which is not a barrier for some journalists, but is far short of acceptable practice. (The publicity is handled by Muller’s daughter Elizabeth, who is the actual executive director of BEST. Ms Muller holds degrees in Literature and International Management, and has worked as a consultant in such fields as e-government, “profitable sustainability” and government energy policy. In fact she still does, alongside her work at BEST.)

BEST renewed its science-by-release offensive last week, including an ambitious assertion that Prof Muller could attribute warming to the specific cause of carbon emissions by curve fitting (capturing the trend in the data by assigning a single mathematical function across the entire range).

Now an independent expert who peer-reviewed one of the four new BEST journal submissions has published his comments. The BEST team stated that the paper had not been rejected by peer review and no major flaws had been discovered. This does not appear to be true: the Journal of Geophysical Research ended up rejecting the BEST paper on UHI (Urban Heat Island) effects.

Last September, Ross McKitrick – an associate professor of economics – was asked by the geophysical research journal to review the BEST heat-island paper, which had been submitted to the journal. McKitrick is the economist whose statistical analysis, with Steve McIntyre, of a well-publicised temperature reconstruction led to Congressional hearings in 2006. These hearings endorsed McKitrick and McIntyre’s work and raised serious questions about the conduct of the paleoclimate science community.

McKitrick was asked last year to review BEST’s approach to grappling with the UHI (Urban Heat Island) effect. It’s fair to say he wasn’t impressed.

McKitrick said he had discovered “serious shortcomings” in BEST’s methods and said “their analysis does not establish valid grounds for the conclusions they assert.” He continues: “I suggested the authors be asked to undertake a major revision.”

McKitrick’s reports are here and here, as short PDFs.

The second comment is worth taking the time to read, as new research using a much more comprehensive classification system puts the lack of rigour in dealing with the UHI effect in the spotlight. BEST appears to replicate the lack of rigour, and worse, appears not to care overmuch

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