Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Daily Mail and Fox News Tell a Big Lie About Climatologist Phil Jones

UPDATE: Watch Peter Sinclair's podcast on this topic, "Flogging the Scientists"

"[H]ow does 'global warming' become 'no global warming?' As the Center for Environmental Journalism explains, it's easy: When the media either don't, or choose not to, understand the concept of statistical significance."---Peter McKnight of the Vancouver Sun (2-22-10)

The leftist junk science "9-11 Truth" publication, The Rock Creek Free Press (12-14-09), announced:

Science Scandal of the Century: The World’s Most Influential Climate Scientists Get Caught “Fudging” the Data

TheU.K. tabloid Daily Mail headline (2-14-10) claimed:


Climategate U-turn as scientist at centre of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995.

Two days later, the Russian tabloid Pravda (2-16-10), citing Fox News as their source, smirked:

Phil Jones Backs Out Of Global Warming Fuss.

The purveyors junk science came crawling out of the woodwork just in time to torpedo the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference. The scandal began when hackers, who hypocritically called themselves "honest men," broke into the computers of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University and posted stolen e-mails on the Internet to provoke a scandal; but now the deniers are exposing their ignorance and mendacity for the whole world to see.

The junk science tabloid Daily Mail (2-14-10) has falsely claimed that climatologist Dr. Phil Jones of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University "admitted" that "there has been no global warming since 1995."

Fox News, other newspapers, and bloggers have also parroted this false claim. Fox News says, "We report, you decide," but that is a lie because Fox News misquoted and mischaracterized what Dr. Jones actually said. I have not seen them correct themselves, so I am not going to consider them a reliable source of news any more.

Since The Daily Mail (2-14-10) and Fox News have the resources to hire science reporters, I don't think their mischaracterization of Dr. Jones's words is simply a misunderstanding. These large media are capable of informing the public better than a conspiracist, anti-government, "9-11 Truth" outlet like the Rock Creek Free Press, which is infamous for its ignorant, anti-government, junk science articles. The Rock Creek Free Press seems to be in the far-left, old-fashioned communist, political spectrum; never-the-less, this "Truther" mouthpiece is depicting climate science as a conspiracy, just like the Daily Mail, Fox News, and the ringleader of the global warming denialists, Oklahoma's Senator Inhofe.

Remarkably, the Russian tabloid Pravda (2-16-10), who claim that their source was Fox News, actually managed to quote Dr. Jones slightly more accurately, although Pravda also falsely claimed that Dr. Jones was "now" making some admission of error. The Pravda article was titled "Phil Jones Backs Out Of Global Warming Fuss" (2-16-10), but Pravda actually did report:

The scientist behind the so-called "climate-gate" e-mail scandal now admits there has been no statistically significant global warming since 1995.

The tabloid Pravda was actually slightly more honest than the Daily Mail or Fox News.

If you read and understand the BBC (2-13-10) interview that the Daily Mail allegedly quoted, Phil Jones did not "admit" that "there has been no global warming since 1995." I have written previously about this big lie here and here.

The BBC (2-13-10) interviewer asked this loaded question:

BBC: Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming?

Phil Jones: Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.



......

BBC: How confident are you that warming has taken place and that humans are mainly responsible?

Phil Jones: I'm 100% confident that the climate has warmed. As to the second question, I would go along with IPCC Chapter 9 - there's evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity.

Today I noticed a good article in the Vancouver Sun that explained what Dr. Jones actually said. The article is titled "Figuring out how 'global warming' becomes 'no global warming'" (2-22-10). Journalist Peter McKnight explains that the media does not seem to understand the term "statistical significance":

First, the formerly private e-mails of the former director of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England were hacked, leading to the so-called climategate scandal. And now, media everywhere are putting words in Jones's mouth, words that are the exact opposite of those he actually spoke.

In an interview with the BBC last week, Jones said he is "100-per-cent confident the climate has warmed," and "there's evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity."

One day later, the United Kingdom's Daily Mail newspaper's headline read: "Climategate U-turn as scientist at centre of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995."

The fair and balanced FOX-News.com followed that up with a story saying that Jones "dropped a bombshell" in admitting "there has been no global warming over the past 15 years." Similar statements have now been repeated in media and blogs from around the world.

Now, how does "global warming" become "no global warming?" As the Center for Environmental Journalism explains, it's easy: When the media either don't, or choose not to, understand the concept of statistical significance.

Jones was asked specifically whether he agreed "that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically significant global warming." He replied: "Yes, but only just. I calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. The trend (0.12 C) is positive, but not significant at the 95-per-cent significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level."

Jones's "admission" then is merely that the observed warming is not statistically significant. This is far different from admitting there has been no warming -indeed, by acknowledging a positive trend, he was stating that scientists have observed warming.

The trouble here revolves around the concept of statistical significance. Simply put, a research result is considered statistically significant if it is highly unlikely to have occurred by chance. For a result to be significant at the 95-percent level -- the level accepted, by convention, in the sciences and social sciences -- the probability of the result occurring by chance has to be less than five per cent.

If the probability is greater than five per cent, then the result is considered insignificant. This is the case with global warming between 1995 and 2009.

According to Jones, there is a greater -- though not much greater -- than five-percent probability that the observed warming trend of 0.12 C occurred by chance.

Does this mean that the warming was just a chance event, that there has been no global warming?

No. Real warming may have occurred even if the observed warming is statistically insignificant. This is, in fact, quite possible given that Jones was speaking of a 15-year period -- a very short period, and it's extremely difficult to find significant results with a short period.

On the other hand, if the period is very large -- thousands of years, say -- then a very small change in temperature would be statistically significant.

Jones clearly recognizes this, as he told the BBC: "Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods and much less likely for shorter periods."

In other words, whether a change in temperature is statistically significant depends on more than the real change temperature -- sample size, or the period of time, is crucial.

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