No Fact Checks, Please!
Our final collection of uncritical science revolves around claims of dramatically increasing temperatures and what appears to be “wishful science.” Unfortunately, the incessant repetition of both creates political interest, which can create some pretty disastrous public policy.
Every December, the race is on to see who can publish the first article about how warm the previous year has been. As a consequence, its annual appearance makes the story appear a bit jaded. In 2002, a new twist was added: The rate of global warming is increasing dramatically!
In December of that year, Lisa McFarling reported in the Los Angeles Times that “groups that are concerned about climate change point out that the rate of warming is steeply increasing.” The proof? McFarling quoted Lester Brown, author of the annual “State of the World” reports that impending ecological doom is at hand: “Studying these annual temperature data, one gets the unmistakable feeling that the temperature is rising and that the rise is gaining momentum, ” Brown says.
“Feelings” aren't a good metric either for science or reporting. In fact, it is easy to test whether the rate of warming is increasing or is constant. Most scientists believe that the earth's temperature turned a corner sometime in the mid-or late 1970s, when a three-decade cooling period ended abruptly and a warming began. So let's start the analysis in 1977. Figure 4.15 in Chapter 4 shows the average warming rate for successive periods beginning with the first five years (1977–1982), and incrementing year by year. If the Los Angeles Times and Lester Brown were right—and if the latter had really “studied” the data instead of relying on his “feelings”—he would have found no significant trend whatsoever in the rate of warming. Not even the huge El Niño of 1998 puts a false increase in the record in