Statisticians reject global cooling
By SETH BORENSTEIN - Associated Press | Posted: Monday, November 2, 2009
WASHINGTON ---- Have you heard that the world is now cooling instead of warming? You may have seen some news reports on the Internet or heard about it from a provocative new book.
Only one problem: It's not true, according to an analysis of the numbers done by several independent statisticians for The Associated Press.
The case that the Earth might be cooling partly stems from recent weather. Last year was cooler than previous years. It's been a while since the super-hot years of 1998 and 2005. So is this a longer climate trend or just weather's normal ups and downs?
In a blind test, the AP gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented. The experts found no true temperature declines over time.
"If you look at the data and sort of cherry-pick a micro-trend within a bigger trend, that technique is particularly suspect," said John Grego, a professor of statistics at the University of South Carolina.
Yet the idea that things are cooling has been repeated in opinion columns, a BBC news story posted on the Drudge Report and in a new book by the authors of the best-seller "Freakonomics." Last week, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 57 percent of Americans now believe there is strong scientific evidence for global warming, down from 77 percent in 2006.
Global warming skeptics base their claims on an unusually hot year in 1998. Since then, they say, temperatures have dropped ---- thus, a cooling trend. But it's not that simple.
Since 1998, temperatures have dipped, soared, fallen again and are now rising once more. Records kept by the British meteorological office and satellite data used by climate skeptics still show 1998 as the hottest year. However, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA show 2005 has topped 1998. Published peer-reviewed scientific research generally cites temperatures measured by ground sensors, which are from NOAA, NASA and the British, more than the satellite data.
The recent Internet chatter about cooling led NOAA's climate data center to re-examine its temperature data. It found no cooling trend.
"The last 10 years are the warmest 10-year period of the modern record," said NOAA climate monitoring chief Deke Arndt. "Even if you analyze the trend during that 10 years, the trend is actually positive, which means warming."
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.
Statisticians 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. The ups and downs during the last decade repeat random variability in data as far back as 1880.
Saying there's a downward trend since 1998 is not scientifically legitimate, said David Peterson, a retired Duke University statistics professor and one of those analyzing the numbers...
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