(p. A13) The year 2016 was the warmest ever recorded–so claimed two U.S. agencies, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Except it wasn’t, according to the agencies’ own measures of statistical uncertainty.
Such fudge is of fairly recent vintage. Leaving any discussion of the uncertainty interval out of press releases only became the norm in the second year of the Obama administration. Back when he was presenting the 2008 numbers, NASA’s James Hansen, no slouch in raising climate alarms, nevertheless made a point of being quoted saying such annual rankings can be “misleading because the difference in temperature between one year and another is often less than the uncertainty in the global average.”
Statisticians wouldn’t go through the trouble of assigning an uncertainty value unless it meant something. Two measurements separated by less than the margin of error are the same. And yet NASA’s Goddard Institute, now under Mr. Hansen’s successor Gavin Schmidt, put out a release declaring 2014 the “warmest year in the modern record” when it was statistically indistinguishable from 2005 and 2010.
. . .
. . . other countries like the U.K. and Japan also do sophisticated monitoring and end up with findings roughly similar to the findings of U.S. agencies, yet they don’t feel the need to lie about it. For instance, the U.K. Met Office headlined its 2016 report “one of the warmest two years on record.” A reader only had to progress to the third paragraph to discover that the difference over 2015 was one-tenth the margin of error.
For the full commentary, see:
HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. “Change Would Be Healthy at U.S. Climate Agencies; In the Obama era, it was routine for press releases to avoid mentioning any margin of error..” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 4, 2017): A13.
(Note: ellipses added.)