Saturday, May 10, 2008

The globe is warming, except in the headlines

"Global cooling theories put scientists on guard"

Reuters publishes a more or less reasonable article about the controversy surrounding the Keenlyside et al decadal modelling paper. No problem with that.

But the headline? Abominable.

There is no reputable theory - or theories - that the planet has been cooling or will be cooling [update: see RealClimate's deconstruction of the IPCC model simulations]. Even the paper in question does not assert as much. The paper is about a possible leveling off of temperatures over the next decade due to internal or background climate variability. The paper confirms the widespread scientific consensus about global warming.

Headlines like this only continue this ongoing, ridiculous meme about that global warming has stopped, a meme based on confusion between weather and climate, impatience for news, and the misuse and abuse of statistics, rather than any serious evidence. The above figure from the UK Hadley Centre (thanks to Joe Romm for the reminder of this one) ranks global temperatures over the past 157 years. Your top ten, in order? 1998, 2005, 2003, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2001, 1997, 1995.


Steve Bloom said...

It's been said elsewhere that the Nature editors are primarily to blame for this, and that their motivation was probably competition with the Hadley paper in Science a year or so back. In substance the Keenlyside paper just confirms the Hadley results but with a shakier method.

Considering this along with the recent article from Pielke Jr., it appears that the Nature editors are out trolling for a certain kind of controversy.

Simon Donner said...

That's possible, though I wouldn't go so far as to implicate the editors in the news coverage. This episode seems to be more a natural outgrowth (an emergent property?) of the increasing competition for science headlines. Everyone - the media, the journals, the university press offices, the scientists - is caught up in the cycle today. It can work well. It can also backfire and create huge misunderstandings (e.g. the lake under Darfur).