One Sentence, So Many Mistakes

Anthony Watts has a post at WUWT which illustrates beautifully just how disconnected he and his followers are from reality.


It claims “One graph proves that record high year of 2015 and record months of 2016 are not AGW driven.” The graph is of the strength of the current el Niño event. His claim is encapsulated thus:


For all those people that want to claim 2015/2016 “proves” that human caused global warming is at work (while at the same time ignoring a record El Niño event as seen above), this graph indisputably proves that the El Niño is the driver of record high temperatures, not carbon dioxide.

I congratulate Anthony on fitting so many mistakes into a single sentence.

First: I don’t know who he’s referring to as claiming 2015/2016 “proves” that human caused global warming is at work.

Second: I don’t know who he’s referring to as “ignoring a record El Niño event.” I mentioned it. So did Gavin Schmidt, and Stefan Rahmstorf, and Mike Mann, and just about every climate scientist talking about the record-breaking heat in 2015/2016. I even estimated its influence on global temperature quantitatively. It also featured prominently in duscussion by just about every climate blogger who’s been talking about the record-shattering heat. It’s even a big part of stories about the record-smashing heat in the media.

Third, and most egregious: his belief that it “indisputably proves that the El Niño is the driver of record high temperatures, not carbon dioxide.”

El Niño is a factor in the recent record-obliterating high temperature — nobody in his right disputes that — but it’s not the only one. There’s also global warming. A big part of that is — you guessed it — carbon dioxide.

I’ve even gone to the trouble to point out that another factor is natural variation, the kind that’s not related to things like el Niño or volcanic eruptions or solar fluctuation.

It seems that to Anthony’s simple mind, more than one thing working at a time is too much to handle.

It also seems that he’s desperately seeking some simple, single thing to “prove” once and for all that CO2 isn’t raising temperature dramatically. That’s getting harder and harder for him, especially now that the beloved satellite data show record-killing temperature like the NASA surface temperature data do. That’s even without the recent revision to RSS data that makes the warming trend so much more obvious.

Anthony’s latest post reminds me of those ads you see on the internet about “This one secret lets you lose weight without exercising while eating everything you want.” They can even prove it.


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34 responses to “One Sentence, So Many Mistakes

  1. Is there any way to show that CO2 causes El Niño?

    • No, but I ‘m pretty sure you could make a case for CO2 causing Mr. Watts.

    • vuurklip,
      You ask “Is there any way to show that CO2 causes El Niño?”
      There is the comparison between 1997/98 and 2015/16 temperatures. Of course the impact from the two El Ninos will not be identical but we can calculate the increase of the monthly average temperature increases over the 18 year period. This works out to 0.36ºC (HadCRUT), 0.39ºC (NOAA) and 0.41ºC (NASA), which together average to 0.39ºC or +0.21ºC/decade (2sd interval +0.29ºC to +0.14ºC).
      In terms of the effect of the El Nino, the tropical temperatures are not as strong this time round and in deed MEI is lower which is suggestive that the 2015/16 event is not as strong as the 1997/98 event. So perhaps it could be argued that the central +0.21ºC/decade trend is an underestimate.
      For illustration I have graphed the monthly comparison of the 3 surface temperature series I mention here (usually 2 clicks to ‘download your attachment’) along with an average satellite temperature (TLT RSS v3.3 & UAH v5.6) with the MEI numbers. (I’m keeping this up-to-date over the event.)
      I have also stitched together the NASA global anomaly maps from Jan & Feb 1998 & 2016. (See here (again 2 clicks required) which shows (I) The weaker El Nino temperature anomaly over the Pacific and (ii) The big increase in anomaly over the arctic & northern land masses. You may also spot the Antarctic is significantly cooler in 2016 than in 1998.

  2. Lars Karlsson

    But … but …. but, Tony even showed a graph with 6 months of global and tropical temperature data that proved that global warming has nothing to do with it.

  3. Thomas Peterson

    It seems simple to me. The reason 2015 was record warm instead of 2014 is because of El Nino. The reason the El Nino year of 2015 is record warm instead of the El Nino year of 1998 is because of greenhouse gas caused global warming.

    • Philippe Chantreau

      Wasn’t 2014 actually also record warm? As in, right on par or higher than 1998, without the massive El Nino?

      • In all the instrumental records, yes. Not in the satellite data–though if I remember, I’ll have a look at the RSS record when the lower-top series is updated to see if that changes.

  4. Of course. Humans may be the only species that can examine and plan a multi-generational future .A safe tomorrow was always presumed; an unspoken foundation of our psychology.

    In only the last few years, science has discovered that humans no longer have assured survival. And the cause may have been our own blunders — made worse in that we refused to stop the error after we discovered our part in the mechanism.

    And so, now, suddenly, thousands of years of civilization is in turbulence, as our global population begins to feel the ruthless certainty of how that will unfold. Even with regional differences, no one can escape this.

    Of course people like Watts are confabulated. It is an impossible ask that people understand and make sense of the ramifications of this tumult.

  5. dennis hibbert

    Was 2015 the warmest El Nino year on record? If so, is Watts aware of that?

    • He is. But he would chide you for favouring the surface records. 1998 is still the warmest in the lower troposphere records, which are superior, doncha know?

  6. “in their right” should probably read “in their right mind.”

  7. Prior to February Bob Tisdale at WUWT was arguing that the current el Nino is not as strong as 97/98 (here, here, here, here). Many in the comments sections scorned any mention of the possibility of a strong el Nino bringing record high, ‘pause busting’ temperatures

    Now that temp records have been broken it’s more conducive to their general predilections to argue the opposite about the strength of the current el Nino. Plus ca change.

  8. The 2015/2016 El Nino is comparable in strength to the 1997/1998 El Nino. Yet 2015 and 2016 are much much warmer than 1997 and 1998 were. I wonder how Mr Watts accounts for the temperature difference?

  9. BPL, why do we need to discuss fictional states?

  10. C’mon, let us in on that all you can eat secret diet.

  11. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” – Upton Sinclair

  12. @blogger:
    You may object, and I concur with you, that Mr Watts sometimes exaggerates and has an agenda, but there is one thing he discusses in his blog that you seem to forget… i.e. the almost perfect overlapping of the temperature trend at the tropics (where the El Nino is located) and global temperature, since Oct 2015.
    Anything to say/comment on that pretty bizarre coincidence?
    Thanks.

    • Bizarre coincidence?

      First, the region from 20°N to 20°S comprises 34% of the globe’s surface area.
      Second, temperature anomalies across different regions of the globe are generally strongly correlated, with the exception of high northern and southern latitudes.
      Third, the plot in question is of daily reanalysis data which a) is partly model-based and intended for short-term use and b) will be inherently noisy.
      Fourth and last, “almost perfect overlapping” is arm-waving. Compare the interzonal cross-correlation of daily, weekly or monthly surface temperature anomalies for this period to those from other time periods and demonstrate that it’s unusual.

      • But aside from that….

      • @magma
        “Fourth and last, “almost perfect overlapping” is arm-waving. Compare the interzonal cross-correlation of daily, weekly or monthly surface temperature anomalies for this period to those from other time periods and demonstrate that it’s unusual.”

        Thanks for the reply, judging by the tone of your reply you seem to be a very knowledgeable person in this matter… while I’m a novice… so I guess that rather me demonstrating that it is unusual it could/should be you who demonstrate to me that it IS usual.
        Or maybe you probably know already of some existing papers in literature which do just that, in that case please reference one here for me, please.

        Many thanks in advance.

    • To put it more plainly, imagine that the globe warmed with perfect evenness over its entire surface. (Yes, I know, but this is a thought experiment.)

      Now, run that correlation ‘test’ you just described. What is the result? And what does it say about causation?

      • @doc snow
        “Now, run that correlation ‘test’ you just described. What is the result? And what does it say about causation?”

        Sorry, I didn’t “run” any correlation test, I simply judged the visual correlation of the two curves, global temp and tropical one, which seem to be out of sinch for a while last year and all of a sudden get in synch with one another… peak with peak, valley with valley, more or less.
        Is it just a statistical fluctuation/coincidence? Possibly… that’s why Iam asking to you guys the experts.
        Thanks anyway for your reply, appreciated.

        [Response: I guess I’ll post about this. Stay tuned.]

      • Robert, my point at its simplest is that if a trend is truly global, then by definition temps in the tropical zone will track what the globe as a whole is doing. Therefore, citing a correlation between the two as ‘definitive proof’ that the smaller area drives the larger is a complete failure of logic.

        That doesn’t mean that ENSO doesn’t affect global temps, of course; as Tamino says, pretty much everybody agrees that it does. But only folks like Mr. Watts are silly enough to use a year or so of data to try to argue that a quasi-oscillation with characteristic timescales of a couple of years accounts for (or maybe I should say “negates”) a well-documented–nay, ‘exquisitely-documented–45-year warming trend.

      • @doc snow

        “Robert, my point at its simplest is that if a trend is truly global, then by definition temps in the tropical zone will track what the globe as a whole is doing. ”
        You are right on this, of course… but what then of the causation link for the global to follow the tropics when the latter start climbing faster?… it would make sense, since the El Nino acts mainly in the tropics, doesn’t it?

        Concerning the last part of your reply, I agree with you on that, assuming that a short timespan’s effect could be extrapolated to negate something which has been going on for a long time doesn’t make much sense… but then, what about all these claims about february 2016 (one month!) being the hottest of all?… one month doesn’t prove much, does it? Logic cuts both ways.

      • Robert, I’m not sure what you are asking about in the bit that begins “what of the causation… ”

        If we assume a warming trend that’s entirely due to changes in the tropical zone, then sure, it’ll show up in the global record, very clearly. And you’d expect it to have about 1/3 the magnitude in that record, since the mean anomaly is proportional to the areas involved.

        On the other hand, if it’s the global trend that is driving the ENSO temps, you’d expect the magnitudes to be the same.

        I think we need another hand here–any Martians reading this?–because there could be net warming due to other areas which are experiencing warming episodes independently of the tropics.

        That’s not just theoretical, either; the recent high anomalies are partly due to a very warm Arctic winter this year. As far as I know, there’s no known link to ENSO. (That’s another good reason to call BS on Mr. Watts’ claim.)

        Such independent events could have considerable effects on the global trend and how it compares to the tropics.

        Moral–The possible correlations between global and zonal temperature trends simply do not allow the inferences that Mr. Watts tries to draw.

        As to your second point, you won’t find any regular here claiming that the February anomaly ‘proves’ much in any large sense. But it does vividly exemplify how foolish and blind the ‘there has been no warming since 1998’ claims truly are. And believe me, I for one see those claims with considerable regularity.

  13. Willard Tony “Micro” Watts–a man who could have been brilliant… if only he hadn’t been so stupid.

  14. OP: “It also seems that [Watts is] desperately seeking some simple, single thing to “prove” once and for all that CO2 isn’t raising temperature dramatically.”

    Science deniers are quick to demand “proof” of the phenomena they want to deny. The best response is “Proof is for mathematics and distilled alcoholic beverages.” Tamino has devoted this blog to explaining how little we can know with certainty about complex natural systems like the Earth’s climate, but how much more we can know with high confidence. That will never be good enough for some people, though.

    The demand for certainty is a common personality trait among science deniers, who are unable to distinguish between science and faith. If all the details of AGW aren’t known for certain, then climate scientists know nothing about it at all. What the AGW-denier thinks he knows, OTOH, he knows for certain. He may be wrong, but at least he’s sure! He may mouth sciencey words, but he’ll never make a worthwhile contribution to the body of scientific knowledge.

  15. “The demand for certainty is a common personality trait among science deniers, who are unable to distinguish between science and faith.”

    Well said. Think about how quickly the long and bitter ‘controversy’ about plate tectonics was silenced by about 1975 (1960s textbooks still call it a ‘controversial theory’). The only reason why there is not a plate tectonics controversy today is because petroleum geologists found that plate tectonics a very useful model to find more oil. Follow the dollar.

    • “The only reason why there is not a plate tectonics controversy today…”

      Isn’t that a bit too strong? Controversies do get put to bed even in the absence of monetary motives–though the folklore does suggest that generational shifts are sometimes helpful.

    • I would also point out that there was a lot of progress in seismology and the mineralogy of the mantle that revealed that under the pressures there, the mantle flows, removing the main theoretical objection to plate tectonics (e.g. how do you get rock to flow through rock). Science is conservative, and even strong empirical evidence may be suspect if there is no theoretical mechanism whereby it can be explained.

  16. Mal, the bit about the demand for certainty among denialists reminds me of a quote by Richard Hamming:

    “Most people like to believe something is or is not true. Great scientists tolerate ambiguity very well. They believe the theory enough to go ahead; they doubt it enough to notice the errors and faults so they can step forward and create the new replacement theory. If you believe too much you’ll never notice the flaws; if you doubt too much you won’t get started. It requires a lovely balance. “–Richard Hamming