RealClimate’s deceptive graphs

I sometimes wonder about setting up a “climate hypocrite of the month” award.
Previous winners might include:

  • Chris Rapley, who earlier this year published a report stressing the importance of establishing a dialogue with the public, yet has recently being sending audiences to sleep with a droning monologue at the Royal Court Theatre.
  • Stephan Lewandowsky, who accuses climate sceptics of being conspiracy theorists, yet wrote an article claiming that there is a “subterranean war on science“.
  • Naomi Klein, who has been flying around the world on a tour to sell copies of her book on the twin evils of fossil fuel emissions and capitalism.
  • ATTP, for criticising people for commenting on things they haven’t read, as well as for saying that people are only welcome at sceptic blogs if they agree with the blog owner (he has banned most people who don’t agree with him from his blog).
  • Paul Nurse, who wrote “We need to be aware of those who mix up science, based on evidence and rationality, with politics and ideology, where opinion, rhetoric and tradition hold more sway”. But he himself is a socialist and supporter of activism, and introduced the recent Royal Society report, full of opinion and rhetoric yet devoid of science.

Anyway, December’s hypocrite of the month is Stefan Rahmstorf, RealClimate’s master of the misleading graph, who in his latest post has criticised a graph available as part of a “widget” at WattsUpWithThat:

Rahmstorf claims the graph is ‘deceptive’ because it plots monthly data. Perhaps he thinks throwing data away is a good idea. Perhaps he prefers the decadally averaged graph that Thomas Stocker and the IPCC are so keen on, that hides the warming slowdown so effectively.

Rahmstorf also says “One needs to scale the CO2 data correctly for an honest comparison with temperature, so that it can actually be used to evaluate climate scientists’ predictions of the CO2 effect.” Shub points out on twitter that this is circular reasoning – the graph has to scaled “correctly” to make it fit with Rahmstorf’s predetermined conclusion.

Another deceptive claim by Rahmstorf is that the data shown was “from several km up in the troposphere”. In fact the TLT data is strongly weighted to the near-surface atmosphere, with a peak in the weight function at about 2 km, so “several km” is misleading.

But the hypocrisy is that Rahmstorf is himself an expert in making misleading graphs. A good example is this from his Oct 1st blogpost:

Notice how the blue line appears to continue upward while the data itself shows the well known pause in warming. Rahmstorf has been producing this sort of deceptive graph for years, since at least 2007, in papers and in a report for the Copenhagen conference in 2009, see Lucia’s “Fishy Odor” and “Source of fishy odor confirmed” posts from 2009. In that case, Rahmstorf extended the smoothing interval from that used in a previous paper, but did not change the description in the caption. What he had actually done had to be reverse engineered by the climate bloggers.
“Rahmsmoothing” has also been discussed several times at Climate Audit.
Another obvious deceptive aspect of Rahmstorf’s graph is the horizontal green line labelled “Preindustrial Level”, creating the impression that in “preindustrial” times the global average temperature was unchanging.

[ Historical note: I first started learning about climate science in about 2007/8, at which time I thought that climate science was fine but some stories in the press were over-hyped. A natural first port of call was the RealClimate blog run by Rahmstorf, Mann, Schmidt and colleagues (who at that time I had never heard of). I was quite shocked by the attitude displayed by these people in various ways, and I particularly recall the Rahmstorf smoothing. It makes no sense to continue a smoothed graph up to the end of the raw data, and even if you do that, you should explain how you did it. This was bad enough, but Rahmstorf went a step further, failing to explain even when asked. This kind of behaviour from Rahmstorf and his team was a significant formative factor in my views on climate science. This comment posted yesterday on the deceptive graph thread summarises the RealClimate problem well and shows that five years later they have learnt nothing from their earlier mistakes. More on that story later. ]

Updates 11 Dec:

There are now two three more responses to Rahmstorf, from Bob Tisdale at WUWT, Mike Haseler at Scottish Sceptic, and Lubos Motl
And there’s another nice comment from Steve Harris at RealClimate.
Shub has a blogpost on the Realclimate effect.

2014 might be 0.01C warmer than 2010!

New devastating evidence of the horrifyingly rapid pace of global warming has climate scientists and their hangers-on in a frenzy of hysteria. Although 2014 is not yet over, the Met Office has issued a Press Release saying that according to the HADCRUT4 system devised by Phil Jones and his friends, 2014 looks like it is on course to be 0.57C above the long term average, smashing the record of 0.56C set in 2010. If correct, that’s a massive increase, 0.01C of warming in just 4 years. If warming continues at this rate, the world could face a catastrophic temperature rise of 0.25C over the course of this century.

The terrifying news is reported by the WMO, Carbon Brief, and of course the BBC, who seem to think that the extra 0.01C will lead to an increase of cars rusting in ponds.
The Independent says that the 0.01C of warming has got the daffodils confused, while Paul Hudson says at his BBC blog that climate sceptics are “feeling the heat”.

Meanwhile, here is the latest graph of the temperature of the lower troposphere according to the RSS satellite system, with the thin green lines showing 33 IPCC climate models for comparison:

Has the Royal Society abandoned science?

The Royal Society, formerly a highly regarded institution, is increasingly abandoning science in favour of political propaganda.  Its latest piece of scaremongering, Resilience to extreme weather, is packed full of emotive images of floods


and completely vacuous graphics like this:

(there are at least 4 such meaningless diagrams) but contains virtually no science.

In the introduction, Paul Nurse claims that “By presenting evidence of trends in extreme weather and the different ways resilience can be built to it, we hope this report will galvanise action by local and national governments…”.
But unfortunately Nurse and his chums seem to have forgotten to include any evidence of trends in extreme weather. All we get is examples and anecdotes. Throughout the entire 100+ page report, there is not a single graph showing past trends in extreme events (there are plenty showing the results of speculative computer models for the future).

Graphs of UK rainfall are often shown at Paul Homewood’s blog, for example in his recent post Rainfall Patterns In The South West, relevant to the Somerset flooding, where it can be seen that there is no trend in rainfall and the wettest month occurred in 1929. I wonder why no such graphs are shown in the Royal Society report?

Similarly there is no data provided in the report on hurricanes and typhoons, despite there being a suitable figure on this in IPCC AR5 WG1 Chapter 2:

Hurricane Sandy is mentioned several times in the report, but there is no mention of the current record-breaking lull in hurricane activity.

Tucked away in the middle of the report are the distinctly un-alarming remarks from the IPCC SREX (2012), such as “Low confidence that anthropogenic warming has affected the magnitude or frequency of floods at a global scale”.

Roger Pielke has a useful summary of what the IPCC AR5 had to say about extreme events. He ends with “Of course, I have no doubts that claims will still be made associating floods, drought, hurricanes and tornadoes with human-caused climate change — Zombie science…” I wonder what he would make of this report by the Royal Society?

On P.109 of the report we are told that it was reviewed by a panel of eight experts before being accepted by the Royal Society. So it is curious that amateur blogger Andrew Montford managed to find a basic error in it so quickly. Maybe they should employ him in future to check their reports for errors?



Climategate Anniversary

Today is the 5th anniversary of the start of the ‘Climategate’ incident. Here’s a brief summary of what happened, plus IPCC-related issues raised and some thoughts on how it affected the opinion of scientists and the public.

On 17th November 2009, comments appeared on a number of sceptic blogs such as here at the Air Vent. The comment started with the text

“We feel that climate science is, in the current situation, too important to be kept under wraps.
We hereby release a random selection of correspondence, code, and documents.
Hopefully it will give some insight into the science and the people behind it.
This is a limited time offer, download now:”

This was followed by a link to the file of emails and a brief summary of some of the contents.

Two years later, a second file was released, with links posted on six blogs. This included a README.txt file (converted to pdf since wordpress does not allow .txt files) which gives some insight into the motivation:

“Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day.”
“Every day nearly 16.000 children die from hunger and related causes.”
“One dollar can save a life” — the opposite must also be true.
“Poverty is a death sentence.”
“Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilize
greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels.”
Today’s decisions should be based on all the information we can get, not on
hiding the decline.

This included about 5000 emails, plus an encrypted file containing over 200000 emails.

A third announcement was made in March 2013. This said that the person who hacked/leaked the emails acted alone, without any oill funding or political support, and hints at a past academic career.

Climategate and the IPCC

Here are some of the emails relating to the IPCC:

Phil Jones writing to Michael Mann:
“The other paper by MM is just garbage – as you knew. De Freitas again. Pielke is also losing all credibility as well by replying to the mad Finn as well – frequently as I see it. I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is !”
[MM = McIntyre & McKitrick. In fact their paper was cited by IPCC AR4!]

Jones to Mann again:
“Mike, Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise… Can you also email Gene and get him to do the same?”

Tom Wigley says that
“In my (perhaps too harsh) view, there have been a number of dishonest presentations of model results by individual authors and by IPCC.”

Climate scientists Heinz Wanner says that he was a reviewer of the IPCC TAR (2001) and criticised it’s extensive use of the Mann Hockey Stick picture, but his comments were ignored.

Peter Thorne writes in regard to preparation of IPCC AR4,
“I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run.”

IPCC TAR Chapter 3 author Phil Jones repeatedly breaks the IPCC rules
“I’m not supposed to send these out, so you got them from Albert.”

Hans von Storch writes
“Stupid, politicized action by IPCC, not MBH’s responsibility. IPCC did one more of these silly oversellings – by showing the damage curve by Munich Re without proper caveat in the fig caption”

Phil Jones comments on political bias in the IPCC SPM
“He says he’ll read the IPCC Chapters! He hadn’t as he said he thought they were politically biased. I assured him they were not. The SPM may be, but not the chapters.”

Climategate and opinion

Contrary to the nonsense on the subject in the Wikipedia article, Climategate had an impact on the opinion of both scientists and the general public.

Climate scientist Judith Curry described in an interview how “Climategate and the weak response of the IPCC and other scientists triggered a massive re-examination of my support of the IPCC, and made me look at the science much more sceptically”.

Berkeley physicist Richard Muller discusses the notorious “hide the decline” graph here, saying that you don’t do this and that there’s now a group of scientists whose work he doesn’t trust.

At a meeting in Nottingham, Physicist Philip Moriarty said that he and colleagues were shocked by Climategate, and used the word “anathema” in relation to the withholding of data.

Mike Hulme wrote an interesting essay After Climategate … Never the Same in which he discusses the impact on science and scientists. He also notes the impact on the opinion of Guardian writer George Monbiot (who called for Phil Jones to resign) and the general public, saying that a survey soon after the event showed a significant decline in concern about climate change and public trust in climate science.

A paper by Leiserowitz et al, “Climategate, Public Opinion, and the Loss of Trust” found a significant decline in Americans’ climate change beliefs between 2008 and 2010 (from 57% saying human activity was causing warming to 47%). They also asked specific questions about climategate, to confirm that this was a significant factor.

Other papers on Climategate include Reiner Grundmann’s “Climategate” and The Scientific Ethos, which discusses the issue in relation to traditional (“Mertonian”) and more policy-linked ways of thinking about science; The legacy of climategate, by Maibach et al, who say that it increased the partisan divide in US politics; and Climate change and ‘climategate’ in online reader comments by Koteyko, Jaspal & Nerlich.

Climategate did not change my own views very much, but made me more confident that my assessment that climate change is exaggerated and politicised was correct. To me, the real scandal was not so much that two or three climate scientists behaved badly, but that virtually the entire climate science community tried to pretend that nothing was wrong.

Lewandowsky’s Loopy Logic

As I’ve mentioned before, I really try to ignore the Lewandowsky nonsense, but  occasionally  an opportunity comes up that’s too good to miss. In The Conversation this week there’s an article “Are you a poor logician? Logically, you might never know” by Stephan Lewandowsky and Richard Pancost. Yes, Lewandowsky, the Chair of Cognitive Psychology at University of Bristol, who writes papers on his pre-determined conclusions without apparently noticing that his data doesn’t support them, has written an article about people who aren’t very good at thinking logically, and who over-rate their own competence; the article goes on to stress the importance of “introducing accurate scientific knowledge into public debates”. Honestly, I’m not making this up.

So I posted the following comment at The Conversation (and knowing the tendency of The Conversation to delete comments that don’t support their agenda, promptly took a screen shot).

Lewandowsky’s logical blunder has been reported on numerous occasions, by Steve McIntyre here, here and here, by ManicBeanCounter, by Jose Duarte and by Brandon Shollenberger, who showed how Lewandowskyan logic can be used to show that people who are concerned about climate change are pedophiles. Here is Brandon’s plot of Lewandowsky’s data, which nicely illustrates the error (small random numbers have been added to the responses so that they show up individually):

This is the data that Lewandowsky used to justify his notorious paper “NASA faked the moon landing—therefore, (climate) science is a hoax”. Despite the obvious errors, and calls for retraction, the journal Psychological Science has so far stubbornly refused to take any action.

After the section on logical thinking and the Dunning-Kruger effect, of which Lewandowsky himself is such a fine example, the remainder of the Lewandowsky-Pancost article sinks further. There is an unfair personal attack on Anthony Watts, saying that he thinks hot buildings contribute to warming, when in fact, as the authors are well aware, his concern has been with the poor siting of weather stations. Then there is the false analogy of smoking causing lung cancer – at the risk of stating the obvious, tens of thousands of people die every year from lung cancer, almost all of them smokers, so the link is perfectly clear, unlike the claims about future warming based on speculative computer models that are increasingly failing to match reality.

My comment was deleted by the Conversation’s moderators, and I received an email giving their guidelines – none of which were broken by comment. It can’t really be seen as off-topic, since it’s about logical thinking, and there are other comments that are much more off-topic that survived. Presumably the excuse would be that pointing out Lewandowsky’s errors counts as a “personal attack” – though he himself is allowed to attack Anthony Watts. (My comment survives at this blog where the article is copied). Several other comments were deleted and the comment thread was rapidly closed.

A future post will deal more specifically with the so-called Conversation, its censorship of comments, its abuse of public funding, and its bogus claims of “Academic rigour” and being “free of political bias”.

Update 10 Nov:

Some more links:

Ben Pile has an article on Lewandowsky’s Logic and what he aptly terms the “Nonversation”. He also notes the failure of the academic community to act as a check, and how this then reflects badly on the entire field.

Ben links to a series of three recent posts at by Andy West at WUWT. One of Andy’s main points is that Lewandowsky, and the climate movement generally is a prime example of the cognitive bias failings that he accuses others of – similar to the point I am making here.

Brandon Shollenberger reminds me that he wrote a longer document on the statistical error.

Finally, the LiveFromGolgafrincham blog has been fortunate to procure a special guest post from the man himself, in which he explains that the latest Conversation article was in fact intended to be a humorous parody, which makes a lot of sense.

Update 13 Nov: Latest Lewpy Logic

Another own goal by Lewandowsky appeared yesterday. A short, content-free opinion piece by him was published by IOP (have they forgotten what the P stands for?). It is the latest instalment in his “every-one-who-disagrees-with-me-is-a-conspiracy-theorist” canon. His paper draws attention to climategate, by claiming that sceptic blogs show a “continued and growing fascination” with it.
Yet again, the man exposes his clueless lack of self-awareness.
Needless to say, Lewandowsky’s claim of “continued and growing” sceptic fascination is nonsense. The above link shows that Climate Audit has had one article on Climategate in 2014, none in 2013 , and one in 2012. The much more active WUWT blog has had 4 in 2014, 2 in 2013, 16 in 2012, and 22 in Nov-Dec alone in 2011, following Climategate 2. Maybe someone can do a more thorough investigation?
ATROSTO again, it is he, by publishing this inane article, who exhibits “continued and growing fascination”, and “continued conspiratory obsession”.

As Judith Curry wrote on twitter, “New paper by Lewandowsky once again projects his own conspiracy ideation onto skeptics”.

In her latest blog post, We are all confident idiots, she writes “Lew is so busy dissecting the ‘bias’ of climate change skeptics that he misses his own rather glaring biases.”

WUWT writes “More insane conspiracy theory from Dr. Stephan Lewandowsky of Bristol University”

IPCC Synthesis Report – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The last gasp of IPCC AR5, the Synthesis Report, was published on Sunday, Nov 2nd. There is a full report , 116 pages, and a concise 40-page Summary for Policymakers. There’s also a short press release. The idea of this report is to summarise and collate the main points from the reports of the three working groups that have already been published, so there shouldn’t really be anything new here, though there may be a change in tone or emphasis.  The comments here are based on the full report.  There seems to be a sequence of non sequiturs between the different sections of the report, and between the report and the way it has been reported in the media – the usual game of climate chinese whispers.


The report starts well on “Topic 1″, the basic observational data. It says there has been a warming of about 0.85 [0.65-1.06] C since 1880.  It acknowledges that there’s been virtually no warming over the last 15 years, and that Antarctic sea ice has increased. It says that the current rate of sea level rise is very similar to that in the early 20th century.

On extreme weather events, the report claims very little. It says that warming causes warming – the number of cold days has decreased and warm days have increased, which reminds me of this quote. In a similar vein they say that heat-related deaths have increased while cold-related deaths have decreased.  There is a rather tentative claim about heavy precipitation events, saying that it is likely that there have been more increases than decreases.  But exactly what is a heavy precipitation event, how is it measured, and how accurately and when and where have they been measured? They say there’s ‘low confidence’ in anything to do with flooding, droughts and tropical cyclones, which ought to quieten down the Green Blob claims of storms being caused by global warming, but probably won’t.


The report deteriorates sharply when it gets on to Topic 2, “Future Climate Changes, Risks and Impacts” (p 18). This starts with the bold claim that “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems”.  No uncertainty is expressed, there’s just the word “will”. No mention is made of the fact these are projections based on speculative computer models that have completely failed to predict the slow-down in warming or the increase in Antarctic ice discussed in the previous section.

There’s a prediction of 0.3-0.7C of warming over the period 2016-2035, which they say does not depend on emissions but would depend on any major volcano’s or changes in the sun’s output.  The scare-quote above about “severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts” is repeated, leading on to claims of severe ill-health, food and water insecurity, loss of ecosystems, droughts and floods, and even violent conflict.

Topic 3 on adaptation and mitigation makes similar overconfident claims, repeating yet again the threat of severe impacts scare unless we undertake mitigation. Here the IPCC comes close to breaking its own guidelines, that it is “policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive”.


The next step in the exaggeration game is how the report is described in the media. The BBC said

“Fossil fuels must be phased out by 2100″

This was the headline of an article on the BBC website. The IPCC said no such thing (which would have been a clear breach of their policy guidelines) – the word ‘must’ does not appear anywhere. The BBC changed the word ‘must’ to the slightly less misleading ‘should’ – possibly as a result of a tweet I sent to them. But this incorrect statement has been widely copied, for example in the Mail. The Guardian headline is “rapid carbon emission cuts vital”, with the obligatory misleading picture of white water vapour from a cooling tower back-lit to make it look black. The Independent says it’s a “final warning” and also picks up on the fossil fuel phase-out by 2100. Even the normally more reliable Emily Gosden in the Telegraph writes incorrectly that “Global emissions must fall by at least 40 per cent by 2050 and be cut to zero by the end of the century, the report from the UN’s Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change warns”.

What the IPCC actually said about phasing out fossil fuels was (main report p 51, SPM p 19): “In the majority of low‐concentration stabilization scenarios… fossil fuel power generation without CCS is phased out almost entirely by 2100.”

Update Nov 4: Coverage elsewhere

In Spiegel Online, Axel Bojanowski says the IPCC has put alarm before accuracy, citing examples where the summary is more alarmist than the main report, in particular on the danger of extinction (comments in English here).

Jo Nova says the IPCC is recycling its message of doom, despite being consistently wrong.

Carbon Brief reports on “What’s new and interesting in the IPCC synthesis report” – which ought to be a very short blog article.

RTCC has several articles, including a summary in tweets and a claim that the report was watered down.

James Delingpole summarises the IPCC message as “Buy our snake oil or the world gets it”.

Marcel Crok has a blog post “IPCC bias in action”, saying that there is much less discussion of climate sensitivity than in AR4 (no mention at all in the SPM).

Matt Ridley says the IPCC high emission scenario “makes wildly unrealistic assumptions” and exaggerates future warming.

IPCC meeting to prepare Synthesis Report

The world’s news media have been agog with excitement this week over the latest IPCC meeting, taking place in Copenhagen. Well, I found one BBC article about it.  The purpose of the meeting is to finalise the AR5 Synthesis Report – an overall report that summarises and synthesises the main points of the AR5 reports from the three working groups that have been published over the last year. The Synthesis report will be published on Sunday, and the BBC article says it’s to be the guiding document for the save-the-planet climate talks in Paris next year.

There is a press release which includes the rallying cry “it is not hopeless”, and an opening statement by the IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri that ends with the famous Gandhi quote “First they ignore you … then you win”. In view of the absence of media coverage, I wonder if it’s the other way round.

Even the Green Blob organisations seem to have little enthusiasm, either not discussing it at all or adopting a jaded tone – at RTCC, Richard Black says “You may think that you’ve been here before” and wonders why he should bother to read the report; the blog comments underneath are mostly dismissive.