You could practically hear the climate contrarian blogosphere gearing up within milliseconds of Associated Press science reporter Seth Borenstein’s “Only one problem: It’s not true” rejection of claims of a global cooling.
No stranger to attracting the barbs of those finding conventional climate change science not to their liking, AP and Borenstein on August 26 – amidst a growing chorus of dubious but loud “cooling” claims – released results from the informal questioning of “four independent statisticians” AP had asked to analyze temperature data.
Borenstein reported that in a blind test with their not knowing what the temperature data numbers stood for, the statisticians “found no true temperature declines over time” despite last year’s having been cooler than previous years.
Mentioning the Pew Center public opinion survey reported on elsewhere in this posting, Borenstein reported that those challenging the established climate science “base their claims on an unusually hot year in 1998. Since then, they say temperatures have dropped – thus a cooling trend.”
He dismisses that conclusion with a curt “But it’s not that simple,” pointing to official British, NOAA, and NASA data.
“The last 10 years are the warmest 10-year period of the modern record,” Borenstein quoted NOAA climate monitoring chief Deke Arndt as saying. “Even if you analyze the trend during that 10 years, the trend is actually positive, which means warming.”
Describing AP’s reporting methodology for the story, Borenstein wrote: “The AP sent expert statisticians NOAA’s year-to-year ground temperature changes over 130 years and the 30 years of satellite-measured temperatures preferred by skeptics and gathered by scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.”
“Scientists who analyzed the data found a distinct decades-long upward trend in the numbers, but could not find a significant drop in the past 10 years in either data set,” he reported. “The ups and downs during the last decade repeat random variability in data as far back as 1880.”
He quoted Duke University statistics professor David Peterson, who was among those asked by AP to review the data, as saying, a downward temperature trend could be deduced only by “people coming at the data with preconceived notions.”
He reported that statisticians considering climate change underscore the need to compare moving averages over a period of about 10 years. “They compare the average of 1999-2008 to the average of 2000-2009,” he wrote. “In all data sets, 10-year moving averages have been higher in the last five years than in any previous years.”
Borenstein also reported reactions of two leading climate scientists. He quoted Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University as saying, “To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous.”
Ben Santer, a scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, referred to contrarians’ “concerted strategy to obfuscate and generate confusion in the minds of the public and policy makers.”
Along with The New York Times‘ Andrew C. Revkin, Science magazine’s Richard Kerr, the Christian Science Monitor‘s Peter Spotts, the Albuquerque Journal‘s John Fleck, and the Houston Chronicle‘s Eric Berger, and a small sampling of additional journalists, Borenstein is considered by most of his professional colleagues to be among the best reporters covering climate change science for a broad print audience. His reporting generally carries substantial weight among his peers both because of the broad reach of subscribing AP media outlets and because of his own reputation as a feisty but careful and authoritative journalist.
The AP/Borenstein story was published at deadline for this posting of The Yale Forum. While early reaction from Borenstein’s journalism peers was highly favorable, a future posting to this site will report on other important reactions his piece generates.