Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lewis Carroll

Climate in Wonderland

“[T]he different branches of arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.”
— The Mock Turtle, Lewis Carroll’s
Alice in Wonderland

The global climate debate bears an increasing resemblance to Alice’s interview with the White Queen. The world’s hardworking climate agencies can’t seem to issue a single proclamation without contrary evidence popping up, as if on cue, somewhere else. That doesn’t, of course, stop the agencies from issuing proclamations, however much they may deviate from the reality certified to a weary public by actual data.

After yesterday’s leak of the “Danish text,” a backroom proposal for a Copenhagen agreement that has the G-77 developing nations in an uproar, it looked like we had identified this climate summit’s Most Ridiculous Moment — and it was a wholly political one. But today the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has gone the authors of the Danish text one better and announced that the current decade, 2000-2009, is on track to be the “warmest since records began in 1850.”

One wonders whom the WMO imagines to be its audience for such a counterfactual pronouncement. More than one online news outlet has responded promptly with links to the celebrated reports from climate scientists in the past two years that global average temperatures have actually been falling since 1998.

But if that’s not enough to tone down the WMO, perhaps this is: a remarkable study performed by Australian Willis Eschenbach of temperature data from Darwin, on Australia’s north coast, in its raw versus “homogenized” state (h/t: Hot Air). The latter state reflects manipulation of the data by climate scientists at East Anglia University — Climategate U. — to homogenize it for the representation of long-term trends. Such homogenization is, in principle, a perfectly legitimate practice; but in my experience (largely dealing with wave propagation for maritime applications), the manipulation doesn’t, if performed properly, change the direction of the trend line of a data set.

Eschenbach’s eye-opening analysis shows that for the Darwin observation area, the homogenization of temperature data by the East Anglia Climate Research Unit produced a trend line that moves upward, whereas the raw temperature observations show a downward trend over the same 120-year period. Eschenbach’s summary is short, readable, and well worth the time. The graphics alone are head shakers. Not since McIntyre and McKittrick debunked the “Hockey Stick” graph have I seen such compelling evidence of the improper manipulation of climate data.

There just isn’t a “scientific” excuse for data homogenization to turn a long-term downward trend into an upward one. The “Climate in Wonderland” debate is taking Benjamin Disraeli’s famous aphorism about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” to a whole new level. There may be some comfort in the knowledge that this pattern in human discourse has been with us for some time. But Disraeli spoke from an era that had not yet seen Nazi Germany, the USSR, or Communist China. The cost of ignoring the statistical manipulation done to advance political causes has gone up exponentially since Disraeli’s century.

“[T]he different branches of arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.”
— The Mock Turtle, Lewis Carroll’s
Alice in Wonderland

The global climate debate bears an increasing resemblance to Alice’s interview with the White Queen. The world’s hardworking climate agencies can’t seem to issue a single proclamation without contrary evidence popping up, as if on cue, somewhere else. That doesn’t, of course, stop the agencies from issuing proclamations, however much they may deviate from the reality certified to a weary public by actual data.

After yesterday’s leak of the “Danish text,” a backroom proposal for a Copenhagen agreement that has the G-77 developing nations in an uproar, it looked like we had identified this climate summit’s Most Ridiculous Moment — and it was a wholly political one. But today the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has gone the authors of the Danish text one better and announced that the current decade, 2000-2009, is on track to be the “warmest since records began in 1850.”

One wonders whom the WMO imagines to be its audience for such a counterfactual pronouncement. More than one online news outlet has responded promptly with links to the celebrated reports from climate scientists in the past two years that global average temperatures have actually been falling since 1998.

But if that’s not enough to tone down the WMO, perhaps this is: a remarkable study performed by Australian Willis Eschenbach of temperature data from Darwin, on Australia’s north coast, in its raw versus “homogenized” state (h/t: Hot Air). The latter state reflects manipulation of the data by climate scientists at East Anglia University — Climategate U. — to homogenize it for the representation of long-term trends. Such homogenization is, in principle, a perfectly legitimate practice; but in my experience (largely dealing with wave propagation for maritime applications), the manipulation doesn’t, if performed properly, change the direction of the trend line of a data set.

Eschenbach’s eye-opening analysis shows that for the Darwin observation area, the homogenization of temperature data by the East Anglia Climate Research Unit produced a trend line that moves upward, whereas the raw temperature observations show a downward trend over the same 120-year period. Eschenbach’s summary is short, readable, and well worth the time. The graphics alone are head shakers. Not since McIntyre and McKittrick debunked the “Hockey Stick” graph have I seen such compelling evidence of the improper manipulation of climate data.

There just isn’t a “scientific” excuse for data homogenization to turn a long-term downward trend into an upward one. The “Climate in Wonderland” debate is taking Benjamin Disraeli’s famous aphorism about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” to a whole new level. There may be some comfort in the knowledge that this pattern in human discourse has been with us for some time. But Disraeli spoke from an era that had not yet seen Nazi Germany, the USSR, or Communist China. The cost of ignoring the statistical manipulation done to advance political causes has gone up exponentially since Disraeli’s century.

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