Fact-Checking the Cherry-Pickers: Anthony Watts Edition

Oh the irony.

A post by Anthony Watts at WUWT claims to be a “fact check” about ocean heat content. Alas, Willard Tony didn’t check his “facts.”

Watts shows us this graph of Ocean Heat Content anomaly for the top 700 meters of the ocean according to the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), estimated from in situ data according to Lyman et al. 2010, and adds this comment:

Sure looks like a pause to me, especially after steep rises in OHC from 1997-2003. Note the highlighted period in yellow:


As for Watts’ choice of start year, I’m tempted to say it’s a blatant cherry-pick. That’s when you pick the data because it gives you what you want. We already know that cherry-picking is child’s play.

But it’s not really cherry-picking at all. It’s rotten-tomato picking. Then he calls the rotten tomato a cherry.

Let’s give the baby his bottle. Go ahead, use the PMEL data. Go ahead, leave out ocean heat content below 700 meters (even though we have data down to 2000 meters). Go ahead — start with 2003. Let the baby have everything he picked himself.

Then let’s look closely at his “Sure looks like a pause to me” claim.

Here’s the data — ocean heat content anomaly for the upper 700 meters only, according to PMEL, leaving out everything prior to 2003 — together with that lovely yellow line which Willard Tony added to make it look more like a “pause”:


But drawing a flat line doesn’t make the trend a flat-line. We could estimate the trend by least-squares regression. Or, we could estimate it by Theil-Sen regression. Or, we could use another robust method called L1 regression. These methods, these quantitative statistical methods, the ones that gives us some clue beyond “sure looks like … to me” — what would they tell us?

Graphically, they tell us this:


Numerically, they tell us that the upward trend — the warming of the top 700 meters of the world’s oceans — the trend that shows “pause” to be a lie — is statistically significant. According to all of them.

It’s quite likely that Willard Tony didn’t bother to compute these. That he didn’t bother to compute anything at all. He just said “Sure looks like a pause to me,” and drew a flat line.

This is the problem with today’s discussion of global warming. The fake “skeptics” of global warming do this all the time. It’s their modus operandi. Cherry-pick the data, include only what gives you what you want because it gives you what you want. If you must do some actual analysis, keep trying different data sets and different time spans until you get what you want. Or, don’t even bother doing any analysis at all. Just say “Sure looks like,” draw a flat line, and declare it to be a “fact-check.”

This is the pathetic standard to which they hold themselves.


77 responses to “Fact-Checking the Cherry-Pickers: Anthony Watts Edition

  1. Pathetic is the word for it.

    Sadly, it is working. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer is a follower, doing all he can to boost the fossl fuel industries and obstruct the alternatives.

  2. The great irony of this cherrypick is that he’s claiming the data in our paper (Nuccitelli et al. 2012) is outdated (we used Levitus NODC data), and “proves” it by showing the Lyman PMEL data. Except the Lyman methodology and data produces a larger 0-700m OHC warming trend than the Levitus methodology and data! I’ll be showing this in a post at SkS in the near future.

  3. By the way, does PMEL have OHC data to 2000 meters? I haven’t been able to find it. NODC does (using the Levitus methodology), but I don’t think PMEL/Lyman does (unless I’m just not finding it).

    [Response: I couldn’t find it either.]

  4. Now that a “blog scientist” has said that ocean heat content rise stopped in 2004, it won’t be long before it echoes through the denialsphere and is repeated by a Republican member of Congress.

  5. What’s a few zeta joules per year among friends?

  6. Hehe:

    “REPLY: It is a highlighter marker, used to call attention to the area, like I routinely do with text. If I wanted to make a plot trend line, I would have used a plot trend line. – Anthony”

    While plotting graphs, most folks shade the x-axis region of interest. With a highlighting pen, most folks circle areas of interest. I think he drew a pause because he wanted to see a pause.

    • “If I wanted to make a plot trend line…” = I did not want to plot the trend in the data.
      “I would have used a plot trend line” = I knew plotting the trend would have showed up my ‘sure looks like a pause’ comment as untenable,unwarranted,unjustifiable and unbelievably infantile.

    • Dave X and Nick preempted my thoughts on the matter.

      Watts is a grub, attempting as always to fool his canon-fodder (and succeeding). If he tried this in a first-year statistics class, he’d be failed and likely advised that he’d be better to ply his wares in Creative Writing, but over at WTFUWT this swill passes as high science.

      I made this observation over there:

      Bernard J. says:
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      March 5, 2013 at 6:49 pm

      That’s odd, my calendar says 6 March, not 1 April.

      It’s the only kind explanation for Watts nonsense.

  7. If ocean heat content accumulation is paused,then that means thermal expansion is paused, but sea level is still rising.
    So either glaciers are melting like crazy or the deep ocean is heating up.

    • Not between a single value in 2008 and late 2012 it didn’t. Rember, septics see a pause everywhere.

  8. Jay Dee Are

    Tony once said on his site that he didn’t analyze GISSTemp data because the monthly data for each year are posted horizontally. That’s just laziness. He was probably too lazy to do real regression analyses of the ocean-heat-content data. Besides, a flat line fits his agenda.

  9. Horatio Algeranon

    “Least Cares Regression”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    OLS is very good
    Though a bit misunderstood
    Theil-Sen is even better
    In the presence of outliar
    Watts Regression is roboast
    Big and fat and flat as toast.

  10. Must say that Watts manages to put a completely new context on: There’s lies, there’s damned lies…and then there’s statistics!

  11. I suspect Watts would claim misrepresentation against you – after all the yellow line is only ‘highlighting the period’, no-one would think to read it as a trend line, surely?!

  12. Thanks for the corrections Tamino- honest but brutal, and that I feel is the problem: being honest demonstrates a brutal truth and one I wish would go away.

  13. SmithRogers

    Yeah ridiculous – Anthony Watts is an intellectual pygmy splashing around in his kiddie pool with his pee brain – “sceptics” standing around egging him on !

    • I think that should be “pea brain” – referring to size, rather than contents. But maybe you meant what you said…

      • I propose using the term “climate septic” instead of the misused “sceptic”. The latter is an affront to sincere sceptics, the former is more honest: “climate science septic” -> introducing infection and putrefaction to science… This reinforces pee brain, not pea brain.

      • Nice idea, Ling, but William Connolley a.k.a. ‘stoat’ already beat you to it. He’s been calling them ‘septics’ for the past few years. See:

        Stoat: taking science by the throat

      • Ling, how about the tried and true term: “Morons.”

  14. If the CFTC and Intrade ever work out their problems, or if Intrade finds a new way around the law by becoming an internet gambling site in NV, I plan to ask Intrade for a whole new batch of global temp and climate markets. Maybe I’ll try to lure Willard Tony in by getting markets on the future temps of the top 700 meters of the oceans. Something tells me that he, like all the rest of the wingnuts, won’t put their money where their mouths are.

  15. Watching the Deniers

    Cracker of a post Tamino. Andrew Bolt (News Corp) also doing the same thing with SST and using some selective Roy Spencer graphs:


  16. Being fair to Watts, he did refer to the yellow line as “the highligted period” in his original text.

    Given that, there is no justification for not showing the linear regression when you are arguing the increase in OHC has paused. If the OLS regression is strongly positive, saying the data shows a pause either means you don’t have a clue what your talking about, or are being deliberately deceptive. Past behaviour makes both hypotheses equally likely in Watts’ case.

    • Being fair to Watts, he drew a line, and said “sure looks like a pause,” despite the line actually being pretty useful: you can see all but one of the earlier years is below the line, and all the later years are above — good eyeballing evidence that would suggest you might expect a trend if you did actual analysis.

      Then to any detractors he says “ceci n’est pas un trend line” while letting supporters claiming it is in fact a trend line.

      • “sure looks like a pause,”

        In other words, he thinks it represents a trend, despite his later back-pedaling.

        He’s just a liar these days, denialist is too dignified a term to describe him.

  17. My previous comment appears to have been swallowed, so again, in brief. Watts does not show there is “a pause” in the data; but neither do you show that there has been no statistically significant reduction in the trend since 2003 relative to the overall trend. Could you examine that issue?

    • Why would you ask ANY climate trend question over a period of 8 years? Maybe you should justify the question before anyone goes about justifying any answer.

    • Tom, I think you missed Tamino’s whole point about cherry picking. Watts chose 2004 *because* it is a high point (and even then, both Watts and his followers lack the numeracy to check for a trend). If Watts had chosen 2001 or 2002 or 2003, or for that matter 2005 or 2006, as his starting point then the deception of drawing a flat line might have been apparent even to WUWT followers.
      The usual statistical tests assume random sampling, and give no protection against fooling yourself if you non-randomly pick out a subsample because it fits your hypothesis.

  18. So Eli is having a bit of fun with James, captured by a quote a Ray found

    “If the prior distribution, at which I am frankly guessing, has little or no effect on the result, then why bother; and if it has a large effect, then since I do not know what I am doing how would I dare act on the conclusions drawn?”–Richard Hamming

    Which brings the bunnies to the subject at hand. WTF happened in 2004?

    • Andrew Dodds

      Just wildly guessing.. but the hottest years at the surface (1998, 2005, 2007 IIRC) appear to be associated with drops in ocean heat content in this graph.

      Which kind of makes sense.

  19. Theo van den Berg

    Scientists collect data and analyse it. Both the data and the analysis is peer-reviewed to give it a validity rating. How come bloggers, scientists or not, are able to publish their interpretation without any peer-review other than the comments from their groupies ?
    Further more, they get away with slander, like the latest WUWT post calling Hansen a [junk] scientist and suggesting to NASA to sack him.
    If we want to have any effect at all with these debates, we had better improve the standard, cause soon, the new topics will be recovery and mitigation.
    Already in AUS we have been having:

  20. > WTF happened in 2004?
    “… 2004 ranked as the 6th wettest year on record for the contiguous United States, and was warmer than average, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration�s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. The findings are based on historical records dating back to 1895….”

    • Yeah, also George Bush was re-elected, but thems the oceans. Seriously, data proves nothing as to cause, it only points to where you should look and this point shrieks either that something basic and big happened or that the data sucks.

  21. We’ll have to dub you the ‘demolition man,’ Tamino.

    Of course, you were working on a place with a pretty rotten foundation this time!

  22. Edward Greisch

    Anthony Watts probably never took the first probability & statistics course and doesn’t know that math is involved. His followers never took any math at all. The problem is the education system.

    • Watts doesn’t “get” algebra, much less stats. He’s proven this repeatedly with his nonsense about choice of baseline affecting trend.

  23. Tom Curtis, why do you suggest Tamino waste his time to “show that there has been no statistically significant reduction in the trend since 2003 relative to the overall trend”?

    2003 to 2012 is 10 years. What is the point in talking about a “trend” in climate over such a short period? It’s pretty much guaranteed not to show anything significant.

    What not ask Tamino to check how the trend’s been going since, oh I don’t know, how about last Friday?

    And maybe make you a cup of tea while he’s at it.

    • Gaz, short periods tend to be uninteresting because the range of statistical significance are so large. If the error bars are tightly constrained, then not discussing them would itself be a cherry pick. It would be equivalent to only basing estimates of climate sensitivity on the linear trend of temperatures from periods of a century or greater, and ignoring the statistically significant trend since 1975.

      And as to wasting Tamino’s time, he is the one who chose to comment on Watts’ post. Given that, it behoves us to notice any weaknesses in his post, just as we should notice the much greater weaknesses in Watts’ post.

      • “…short periods tend to be uninteresting because the range of statistical significance are so large…”

        And so discussing the trend since 2003 is interesting because–? Tom, perhaps I’m naive here, but you seem to be shouting to gaz “YES, YOU’RE RIGHT!”

  24. faustusnotes

    I think he’s been up to more mischief today or yesterday: he has a post by Roy Spencer that claims sea surface temperatures have paused, only he’s comparing the anomaly with a strict period (2003-2006) to “eliminate the effect of el nino” – and he uses a chart from 2002 – 2013. Big news there – lack of variation in an 11 year trend around a 6 year mean.

    Then he has another post by some Werner guy claiming global warming has stalled that uses some very silly analysis to show the “no statistically significant warming” meme. However this Werner guy doesn’t use ENSO-adjusted data, and completely misunderstsands the relevance when it is pointed out to him.

    They are either remarkably stupid or remarkably disingenuous.

    • “They are either remarkably stupid or remarkably disingenuous.”

      Why are these mutually exclusive? Watts is both. Spencer isn’t, though, he’s the latter.

  25. I was surprised to see the content of the comment thread below Watts’s OHC piece. My experience of comment threads on Wattsupia is that they were mostly full of good-ol’-boy-blather but Watts’s OHC piece is being used by a Myth Thwacker who is presently having to counter some real powerful argumentation. Various denizens of Wattsupia are presently saying that (i) The CO2 rise is caused by rising temperature, (ii) Basing analysis on the late-70s-to-date temperature rise is cherry-picking (presumably some ‘natural cycles’ nut) and (iii) ECS = 1.5C to 4.5C is speculation and has no basis in fact.
    It appears that nowadays them trolls are not even safe under their own bridge.

  26. It’s true that the yellow line is very deceptive. It is notable that there is not explanation of what it is supposed to be mathematically. So the claim that OHC has paused would seem to be unfounded.

    However, whatever way you dice it, the recent rate of change is a lot less alarming than the alarming rate of change seen in the ’90s.

    [Response: How clever of you to base that on nothing more than “any way you dice it.” Very like “sure looks to me.”]

    For anyone concerned about how climate is evolving rather than scoring points in tittle tattle , did-didn’t arguments that has be good news.

    [Response: How very interesting. Watts does nothing more than make an assertion which is wrong, in order to further his agenda, but when he’s called on it you turn *truth* into “scoring points in tittle tattle.” Your bias is showing.]

    It also shows us that climate is perhaps a little more complicated than counting ppm of CO2.

    [Response: Brilliant! Imply — without saying so because you know it’s bullshit — that we (or anyone serious about climate) ever claimed climate is all about “counting ppm of CO2.”

    Feel free to give this comment as a reference when applying for that job as propagandist for some denier politician.]

    • Hey Greg, here’s a clue: yourself and Anthony need to look at *all the data* before jumping to conclusions. Take a look at the first diagramme in Watt’s post. Note how if you take out the bottom two slices (OHC 700 – 2000m and Land + Ice + Atmosphere), only then are you left with the OHC 0 – 700m chart in the second diagramme. And yeah, it seems to have tailed off from 2004 to present.

      But the heat trapped by excess atmospheric CO2 is still going *somewhere*. Mostly into the 700 – 2000m ocean layer. Now exactly why that is is somewhat of a mystery. But we still have a big problem on our hands which you would have us literally ‘sweep under the carpet’. Nice try, Sunshine. Play again?

  27. “…the recent rate of change is a lot less alarming than the alarming rate of change seen in the ’90s.”

    It seems less alarming, but that is only because the laws of physics have been temorarily suspended lately (something to do with an unpaid utility bill), thereby producing less heat to be absorbed by the planet.

    Either that or the prayers of those with no air conditioners have been more effective of late – and trillions of calories of heat have been made to disappear completely through the actions of a benevolent God, I’m guessing Poseidon.

    Which do you think it might be?

  28. Horatio Algeranon

    “Highlighted period”

    Note the period
    That little dot
    For 2004

  29. Well, climate may be little more complicated than counting ppm of CO2 but global temperature change appears to be pretty well followed by counting tons of CO2 emitted.

  30. Horatio Algeranon

    Lyman et al (2010) include an explicit ‘warning’ about the “flattening” at the end

    From Lyman (2010)
    We fit a line using weighted least squares (Supplementary Information) to the mean OHCA curve (Fig. 2, black line), using the overall uncertainty (Fig. 2, red error bars) for each year in the fit. These uncertainties are large enough that interannual variations, such as the 2003–2008 flattening, are statistically meaningless. We estimate a warming rate of 0.6360.28 W m22 (uncertainties at the90% confidence level) for 1993–2003, which is slightly (but not significantly) higher than the value of 0.560.18 W m22 stated in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The fit to the entire 16-yr record, including the well-sampled Argo years, yields a more robust warming rate of 0.6460.11 W m22. The large uncertainties in OHCA introduced by the XBTs would undoubtedly have a similar effect on trends in thermosteric sea level (not shown).

    In other words, anyone who if focusing on just the last few years covered (and particularly what happens from one year to the next) is really on very weak statistical ground and barking up the wrong tree.

  31. I am so tired of the continuous stream of “sure looks like…” cherry picking from wuwt:


  32. My post about this cherrypick, and how Watts actually proves the point in our paper whilst claiming to disprove it, is here:

    • I think you don’t understand quite understand how the pseudoskeptical mind works. In this case “someone” raised “issues” with your paper, therefore hence presto it is wrong. The pseudoskeptic is reassured again that his view of the world is correct, he no longer has to worry about your paper!

  33. Watts is now jumping on the “it’s not acidifying, it’s just getting less alkaline” bandwagon. Normally he left it to his commentators to go down that loony path.


    • He seems to think that the ocean isn’t acidic therefore acidification isn’t occuring…
      Whereas the word ‘acidification’ is clearly an activie word, denoting an ongoing process, not a state of rest.
      This is the common problem with denialists of oceanic acidification. One at Deltoid even claimed to have a chemistry background, but was incapable of making any sensible argument, especially about the oceans becoming more acidic.

    • Hmmm, another of the persistent zombie memes…

      I’ve tried to point them to the truth but probably forlornly so, as WUWT is to truth as oil is to water:

      Bernard J. says:
      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      March 6, 2013 at 6:20 pm

      It’s both sad and frustrating to see that people still do not understand what “acidification” actually means.

      I’ve discussed this so many times that I’m simply going to link to the most recent attempt to educate someone. And if my words don’t sink in, Skeptical Science has a detailed explanation of the real, actual science of ocean acidification.

      No doubt there will be a string of vituperative responses.

      • Bernard J.
        Doubt there should have been!
        The brace of responses you’ve gained couldn’t be described as entirely ‘vituperative.’ Your “recent attempt to educate” was even described as “interesting” although that commenter did then decided to ‘vituperate’ the second website to which you had linked, and do so at some length. Yet even then the message wasn’t lost as it elicited a request for “a condensed version” of that message. (Perhaps you should cut & paste the entire 50 page SkSci booklet onto the WUWT thread but in a condensed font.)
        And the second commenter even says he’s ‘sorry’ which definitely sounds more politeness than vituperation. Obviously this second commenter is a particularly sensitive type, him seeing use of the phrase ‘increasing acidity’ as “emotively hysterical” when used in a scientific context. Given that, it is strange that this second commenter is not at all fussed to question whether the ‘increasing acidity/decreasing alkalinity’ in our oceans and ask whether it is damaging enough such that it should raise the emotions of an honest observer.

    • Ah, yes, that nonsense again.

      If you are standing on the South Pole, and travel but a few hundred meters, while you are less south, you are still moving north, “northifying”, if I might torture a word.

      Semantic distortions and deceptive wordplay – the gift that ‘skeptics’ never stop giving…

  34. Tamino – I have some similar stuff relating to claims by Monckton and David Evans, if you’re interested.

  35. Al Roger’s coining of Wattsupia is not quite as descriptive as it could be. I hereby propose Wattstupia.

  36. The important thing to remember is — the people with the power don’t care about statistics. They find “arguable” claims — these don’t have to be true — and decide as their politics requires them to do:

    ” … based on a – to put it charitably – misunderstanding of the data. The next day, the Massachusetts secretary of state, William F. Galvin, complained publicly that Chief Justice Roberts had used “phony statistics” in a “deceptive” and “truly disturbing” manner….”

    Wait and see.
    Any chance he retracts his decision?
    Wanta bet?

  37. You really need to work on your reading comprehension. Watts clearly states he’s using the ARGO era data sets.
    [I wonder what he and the SkS team will have to say about this graph from NOAA Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory (PMEL) using more up to date data from the ARGO buoy system?}

    ergo your post is a fail!

    • Well, Gonzo, why exactly is Tamino’s post a “fail”?
      Does Tamino say Watts didn’t use the Argo data?

      Has Gonzo perhaps missed all his weekly reading comprehension classes?

  38. Watts has put his foot in his mouth again (three times over), this time with Marcott et al:


  39. More cherry picking from Watts today, proving beyond all doubt that he is just another nutter.


  40. Serious question: Given the increase in particulates in the stratosphere over the past decade, http://data.giss.nasa.gov/modelforce/strataer/tau.line_2012.12.txt
    and the decline of water vapor,

    Science 327, 1219 (2010);
    Susan Solomon et al.
    Contributions of Stratospheric Water
    Vapor to Decadal Changes in the
    Rate of Global Warming

    shouldn’t we expect to see some slowing of the rate of ocean heating? Or is this simply too small an effect to be observed on merely a decadal time scale? Solomon’s forcing for the 00’s is about 0.14 degree/decade and closer to 0.18 in the 90’s…which doesn’t to me disagree with Foster & Rahmstorf

    • The full text of Solomon et al 2010 is here. The graphs in Figure 3 do tend to show the changes in stratospheric water vapour as having an influence on temperatures that would be on the verge of ‘noticeable’ but it is fair to say that the paper did not set the scientific world alight. (See here the down beat response at RealClimate. Indeed, amongst other things, RealClimate suggest a link with lower water vapour and rising aerosols from China via tropopause temperature changes.)
      Comparing the information presented in Figure 3 with the paper’s abstract, the abstract’s ‘30% contribution’ to AGW from (or ‘via’ is perhaps more correct) Strat. water vapour appears greatly diminished in the graphs. And the 10% decrease in Strat. water vapour after 2000, as a single event and not an on-going process, is probably best equated to a potential 0.03 deg C temperature change (2 year’s worth) rather than the more dramatic 25% of warming.

      As well as Solomon et al 2010, you point to the rise in strat. aerosols since 2000. This recent rise is a small change compared with the volcanic events on the record (that GISS kindly graph out here). Yet, did Pinatubo with over 10 times the forcing for a 2 year period (1991-3) leave much of a mark on the OHC record? I don’t see it.

      So the impact of changes in strat. water vapour & aerosols? Probably too small an effect to be observed.

      • Al, Thanks- I do have a subscription to Science and did read the complete Solomon paper. My concern was quantitative- I simply don’t have the tools and all the perspective needed to sort it out. I wasn’t reading RC back in 2010, so I missed that analysis.