Skip to content

The Temperature Standstill And Its Dismissal

Dr David Whitehouse

The Australian Science Media Centre was swift in canvasing comments about the announcement that 2013 was between the 4th and 7th warmest year in the NASA and NOAA global temperature databases. It also published a number of comments about the so-called “pause” in global temperature data for the past 17 years.

Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe, professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, Queensland and President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said:

“The NOAA report confirms at a global scale what we know from Australian Bureau of Meteorology data released recently: the world is getting steadily warmer. While some media outlets are repeating the myth spread by deniers that there has been a pause in warming, the NOAA data confirm that the trend of global warming is continuing. It also confirms that we are seeing more extremes of weather, as the science has been warning us to expect for 25 years. This is further evidence that our governments need to pay attention to the science rather than uninformed self-appointed critics, and take concerted action, both to reduce our domestic production of greenhouse gases and to halt the disastrous proposals to expand fossil fuel exports.”

Oh dear! The ‘pause’ is a ‘myth’ spread by deniers. Never mind the increasing number of peer-reviewed papers testifying to its reality, its significance and its interpretation. Last week’s Nature which, following in the footsteps of many media outlets, considers the ‘pause’ to be the biggest problem in climate science, quoted Gabriel Vecchi, a climate scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey: “A few years ago you saw the hiatus, but it could be dismissed because it was well within the noise. Now it’s something to explain.”

What Professor Lowe is doing is calling science journals and climate scientists “deniers” just for pointing out the evident lack of a warming trend.

1998 And All That

The Australian Science Media Centre also posted the comments of Professor John Quiggin, an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow in the School of Economics at the University of Queensland and a member of the Climate Change Authority

“The NOAA has reported, yet again, evidence on the continuing upward trend in global temperatures. The safest prediction that can be made with respect to this news is that it will do nothing to change the actual or ostensible opinions of self-described “sceptics”, most of whom will continue to think that the occurrence of a single relatively hot year (1998) in the late 20th century implies that global warming has “stopped” or “paused” in the 21st century.”

Once again we have the 1998 argument that was dismissed a long time ago. Nobody credible, or indeed competent, would start global temperature analysis at 1998, which was the peak of the most intense El Nino event in at least a century. Nobody competent in time series statistics would make such a simple mistake. But this is exactly the mistake Professor Quiggin makes. He continues,

“Only someone completely ignorant of time series statistics could make such a claim. Sadly, such people are numerous, and determine the positions adopted by sections of the media and some members of the current government, as well as of conservative political parties in most English speaking countries and elsewhere. In these circumstances, there is little chance that effective action will be taken to stabilise the global climate before it is too late.”

The Australian Science Media Centre quotes two other climate scientists but they only describe the temperature data.

This is not an even-handed press release reflecting the views of the climate community on the “pause”, but a biased selection, out of date and lacking in real analysis. To my mind it is a small example that shows that climate dismissal is not confined to so-called ‘sceptics’ but is present in the climate science community as well. When climate scientists start to publically imply that other climate scientists are deniers then it’s time to stop and reflect.

The so-called ‘pause’ is the most talked about problem in climate science, and it was so-called “sceptics” who first drew attention to it.

The history of science shows us that sometimes sceptics are right and move from the fringe to the mainstream. It also tells us that some travel in the opposite direction.

The “pause” is something to be explained, and not dismissed as a “myth.” It is perhaps no surprise that climate scientists are at different stages in their study of its significance and importance. Sadly it is also unsurprising that some media outlets chose to concentrate on only one strand of opinion concerning it.