More fake news in ‘The Mail on Sunday’

An attack by the ‘The Mail on Sunday’ on the accuracy and integrity of a recent paper on global warming is based on inaccurate and misleading claims, including a fake graph.

The article by David Rose appears in the 5 February issue of the newspaper under the headline ‘Exposed: How world leaders were duped over global warming’. The article was first published on the newspaper’s website on 4 February.

The article makes a number of extraordinary claims about a paper by Dr Thomas Karl, a climate scientist formerly employed by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and colleagues, which was published in June 2015.

The paper, which received ‘express’ online publication after peer review by the journal ‘Science’ because of the significance of its findings, presented a re-analysis of the record of land and sea surface temperature measurements from around the world, and concluded that there has been no slowdown in the rate of global warming.

In particular, the paper found that measurements of sea surface temperature previously relied on by NOAA in compiling its record of global mean surface temperature since 1880 had not been corrected properly for errors.

The authors of the paper concluded that their analysis showed “there is no discernable (statistical or otherwise) decrease in the rate of warming between the second half of the 20th century and the first 15 years of the 21st century”.

Some other scientists have subsequently disagreed with the conclusions by Dr Karl and his co-authors. A paper by Dr John Fyfe and co-authors, published in the journal ‘Nature Climate Change’ in February 2016, argued: “Newly identified observational errors do not, however, negate the existence of a real reduction in the surface warming rate in the early twenty-first century relative to the 1970s–1990s”.

The paper added: “This reduction arises through the combined effects of internal decadal variability, volcanic and solar activity, and decadal changes in anthropogenic aerosol forcing”.

However, the paper by Dr Karl and co-authors has been subjected to a concerted campaign by climate change ‘sceptics’ who have been attempting to discredit it as part of their efforts to prevent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the consumption of fossil fuels.

The claim that global warming stopped in 1998 became a key talking point for ‘sceptics’ in 2006 after ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ published an article by the late Dr Bob Carter, a geologist based in New Zealand.

Although global temperature records compiled by the UK Met Office, NOAA and NASA show that 2005, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016 have all been warmer than 1998, many climate change ‘sceptics’ have continued to falsely assert that there has been no real warming over the past 18 years.

The new article in ‘The Mail on Sunday’ is based entirely on an interview with Dr John Bates, a climate scientist formerly employed at NOAA. Publication of the newspaper article was timed to coincide with a blog by Dr Bates in which he outlines his claims in detail.

Dr Bates’ main complaint is that Dr Karl and his co-authors did not follow strict procedures required for NOAA’s ‘operational’ data. It is not yet clear whether Dr Karl should have subjected his research data to the same procedures. Dr Karl, who retired from NOAA in August 2016, has not yet had the opportunity to respond fully to Dr Bates’ allegations.

Dr Bates also claims in his blog that Dr Karl had his “thumb on the scale pushing for, and often insisting on, decisions that maximize warming”, but does not provide any evidence to support this serious allegation.

However, the article by David Rose in ‘The Mail on Sunday’ contains many demonstrably false statements and misrepresentations about the paper by Dr Karl and co-authors.

The article states: “None of the data on which the paper was based was properly ‘archived’ – a mandatory requirement meant to ensure that raw data and the software used to process it is accessible to other scientists, so they can verify NOAA results”.

But the article fails to admit that the paper by Dr Karl and co-authors has already been subjected to extensive scrutiny by other researchers since it was published in June 2015.

For instance, a paper by Dr Zeke Hausfather and co-authors, published in the journal ‘Science Advances’ in January 2017, concluded that the analysis by Dr Karl and others “effectively corrects a significant cooling bias” in NOAA’s record of global measurements of sea surface temperatures.

In a commentary for ‘Carbon Brief’ on the many serious errors in ‘The Mail on Sunday’ article, Dr Hausfather states: “While NOAA’s data management procedures may well need improvement, their results have been independently validated and agree with separate global temperature records created by other groups”.

Importantly, Dr Hausfather also points out that Mr Rose’s article in ‘The Mail on Sunday’ uses a fake graph to completely misrepresent the data from the paper by Dr Karl and co-authors.

The graph in the newspaper article purports to compare the record of global mean surface temperature from the paper by Dr Karl and co-authors with that compiled by the Met Office (see below).

 

However, the newspaper failed to adjust for the fact that the two datasets use different baselines. NOAA, and the paper by Dr Karl and co-authors, use the average for the period between 1901 and 2000, while the Met Office instead uses the average between 1961 and 1990 as its baseline.

Dr Hausfather’s commentary shows that the differences are extremely small when the same baseline is used to compare the two datasets (see below).

 

Hence the newspaper’s fake graph wholly misrepresents the differences between the analysis in the paper by Dr Karl and co-authors and the separate record compiled by the Met Office.

There are many other fallacious assertions in the newspaper article, including that “official delegations from America, Britain and the EU were strongly influenced by the flawed [sic] NOAA study as they hammered out the Paris Agreement”. In fact, the publication of the paper by Dr Karl and co-authors played no significant role in the negotiations about the Paris Agreement, a draft of which already existed.

In an accompanying editorial, the newspaper calls for “cold facts and cool heads”, claiming “as The Mail on Sunday reveals today, there are serious doubts about recent research – research which was used to thrust aside scepticism about the rate of warming, so as to intensify costly efforts to combat it”.

David Rose and the editors of ‘The Mail on Sunday’ have a track record of unreliable reporting on climate change and of misrepresenting the science. They have published numerous articles wrongly claiming that sea ice extent has stopped declining in the Arctic.

Mr Rose has established a very cosy relationship with the UK’s main club for climate change ‘sceptics’, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, whose propaganda he has frequently promoted.

In November 2016, Mr Rose quoted the Foundation’s “science editor”, Dr David Whitehouse, in an article wrongly claiming that the record global mean surface temperature in 2016 was mainly due to El Niño and not global warming.

Mr Rose’s article stated: “David Whitehouse, a scientist who works with Lord Lawson’s sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation, said the massive fall in temperatures following the end of El Nino [sic] meant the warming hiatus or slowdown may be coming back”.

The article does not point out that Dr Whitehouse’s doctorate is in astrophysics, not climate science. The Foundation’s lobbying arm, the Global Warming Policy Forum, in December posted a video of Mr Rose and Dr Whitehouse discussing complaints from climate scientists about their suggestions of a continuing “pause” in global warming.

In January 2017, the Forum published on its website an article by Dr Whitehouse which included a fake graph purporting to show that, when the impacts of El Niño are removed from annual global mean surface temperature measurements for 2015 and 2016, there is still a “pause” in global warming since 1997. However, Dr Whitehouse did not attempt to remove the impact of El Niño from any other previous year, hence hiding the true rate of global warming that has occurred.

The new article by Mr Rose demonstrates that ‘The Mail on Sunday’ is still using fake news to mislead the public and policy-makers about the scientific evidence for climate change.

Note added on 14 February 2017:
A list of 30 false claims in the article by Mr Rose and the leading article that accompanied it has been submitted in a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.