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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Friday Funny Peculiar at WUWT - Science Denier Glen Beck vs John Holdren and the White House

Sou | 3:22 PM Go to the first of 6 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts thinks he's onto something (archived here).  It's his Friday Funny.  Thing is it's "funny peculiar" not "funny ha ha".  But Anthony Watts, who can't tell an anomaly from a baseline, thinks it's hilarious writing:

Friday Funny – two guys with a ruler blow up the White House global warming video claims

Anthony put up a video of some shock jock and his sidekick on television in the USA making fun of a video by the White House.

Here's John Holdren on the White House video discussing the cold weather that hit the USA this winter.

If you blink you'll miss the bit that Glen Beck hones in on.  It's a chart in the background at the 25 second mark and is up for around one and a half seconds.  John Holdren doesn't mention the chart.  He probably doesn't know it was there. It's just one background image among many.

Now see what Glen Beck and his offsider do.  They take a screengrab of the chart as below. (As always, click to enlarge).

Source: WUWT

Then Glen Beck's sidekick runs amok, thinking he's found lots wrong with the chart (and missing questions he could have posed).  Before we get into that, here is a chart of UAH mid-troposphere - animated, showing the full period to date and the period to the beginning of 2009.

Data source: UAH

The data is not identical to the screengrab Glen Beck's producer got.  The trend line is different as are the monthly data (look at the "shape" as well as the y axis on both).  (I'd hazard a guess that because the Holdren image stops in  2008 it's an older version of UAH, but I'm not going to bother checking which version because it's not relevant to this article.)

Back to Anthony's "funny peculiar" video.  First of all, neither Glen Beck nor his sidekick seem to have noticed that it's a chart of the mid-troposphere. Nor do they notice that it finishes in 2008.  Here are are a few of the things they do say:
Number one. The start date is 1978...
Yes, mate. The start date is 1978.  That's when the satellite first started recording!

In the 1970s, most science predicted warming!

Glen Beck's unnamed sidekick continued:
1978 is an interesting date to start.  Basically in 1978, this is the time where John Holdren and his contemporaries were saying there is a global ice age coming. 

He's probably referring to this, which was 1971 not 1978.  And he's wrong in one other respect.  Most scientists who wrote about climate in the 1970s were not predicting any ice age. If there were predictions, there were many more about global warming than global cooling. This was shown by Peterson et al (2008).  Fewer than one in ten papers were "predicting, implying or providing supporting evidence for future global cooling", whereas more than 6 in ten were "predicting, implying" etc global warming.

Fig 1. The number of papers classified as predicting, implying, or providing supporting evidence for future global cooling, warming, and neutral categories as defined in the text and listed in Table 1. During the period from 1965 through 1979, our literature survey found 7 cooling, 20 neutral, and 44 warming papers.

And if you want to see what John Holdren's scientific contemporaries were "talking about" in the late 1970s, check out the citations for the above papers. Citations for "warming" papers published between 1965 and 1979 (well, there weren't any after 1977), were an order of magnitude greater than citations for cooling papers. For every "global cooling" cite, there were 6.2 "warming" cites.  There were more citations for "neutral" papers than for "cooling" papers.

Fig 2. The number of citations for the articles shown in Fig. 1 and listed in Table 1. The citation counts were from the publication date through 1983 and are graphed on the year the article was published. The cooling papers received a total of 325 citations, neutral 424, and warming 2,043.

It was warmer in the late 1970s than the 1940s!

It gets worse though.  Glen's sidekick says:
They started in 1978 is because it's colder than it was back here [pointing vaguely to the left of the chart].  

He's wrong.  It was quite a bit warmer in 1978 than it was "back here" (in 1940)!  Check the chart below.  He continues:
If you started it back here it wouldn't look like it was warming that much at all, but they started it in 1978. Now this is satellite record so that's about the time that they started but they selected satellite records I believe intentionally, because it was cooling here between about 1940 and the mid-1970s so they started in 1978 with this chart to show how dramatic the warming is. 

Here is an animation of GISTemp, showing the period since 1940 and the period since 1978.  (I can't show UAH mid-troposphere because there is no record before 1978.)

Source: NASA

Although the slope is greater from 1978 to now - at 0.162 degrees a decade, the temperature rise since 1978 starts at an anomaly of plus 0.1 degree, whereas in the early 1940s the anomaly reached less than minus 0.1 degrees.  So since the 1940s, there has been around 0.2 degrees more warming compared to the warming since 1978.

I reckon if a denier looked at the two charts above (given they aren't crash hot at reading charts), they'd say the longer time period is the more dramatic!

Addendum: As for the "intentionally" throwaway, as MikeH said at Tamino's place:
MikeH | February 8, 2014 at 1:57 am | Reply
“but they selected satellite records I believe intentionaly, because …”
But the cranks keep telling me that RSS is the “good” record!
Watties – memories like goldfish. The day before, Watts had a post from Monckton who was using the satellite record to attempt to “prove” the usual “no warming”

Baffled by baselines!

It gets even worse.  Glen's sidekick doesn't understand anomalies and baselines, asking (in a rather screechy emphatic voice with lots of suggestive intonation) and pointing to the left of the chart:
Why is the first temperature way below zero?

Lol.  Maybe someone will point him to this article.  Or he could ask Roy Spencer and John Christy why they chose the period 1981 to 2010 as the baseline. (Ahem, it obviously would have been a different baseline back in 2008.)

The sidekick goes on to argue that the choice of baseline makes the chart look more dramatic etc etc.

No, you can't measure temperature with a ruler!

At one point the sidekick gets out a big ruler and lines it up with the first data point on the chart and the last data point around 2008, and proclaims that the temperature hasn't risen over the period!  Which is dumb in itself, but even dumber when you see from the above chart that mid-troposphere temperatures now are higher than they were in 2008 and above the trendline.

Here is how *not* to measure temperature (hint, you don't measure temperature with a ruler!)

Source: WUWT

(Glen's sidekick waffles on a lot more, spending more than four minutes poking fun at a half-screen background "filler" image that appeared for barely a second.  The above should be enough for you to get the gist of his idiocy.)

Questions that would have been worth asking if...

Now if John Holdren had used the chart in his talk then it would have been worth checking.  You'd be asking the source of the data (eg UAH or RSS).  You'd be asking why it stopped in 2008.  You'd be asking if the trend line was accurate.  You'd be asking if the latest data were used.

What you wouldn't be doing is making the sort of idiotic blunders that Glen Beck's sidekick made.

However John Holdren didn't refer to the chart.  He probably didn't even know it was part of the background imagery.  The chart appeared as part of a collage of images - and wasn't even on the screen for two seconds.

Anthony Watts slips in his own fib

Another thing worth mentioning is that Anthony claims that John Holdren used the chart as "evidence", writing:
He then goes on to present evidence, like this plot of mid-tropospheric temperature

But John Holdren didn't present that chart as "evidence".  So in attempting to castigate John Holdren (for something he didn't do), it's Anthony Watts who is the one making false claims!

From the WUWT comments

You can probably imagine the type of comment this WUWT article generated.  Dumb as, full of conspiracy ideation, and demonstrating that few if any WUWT-ers looked at the White House video.  But a few rational comments slipped through.  Here is a sample (archived here).

Damian says:
February 7, 2014 at 9:11 am
It reminds me of the book How To Lie With Charts & Graphs.

bubbagyro says (excerpt):
February 7, 2014 at 9:14 am
The purveyors of common sense, like Bech and Palin, come under the fiercest attack. No surprise there.

wws is into "cycles" and says:
February 7, 2014 at 9:30 am
Tom Warn says: (February 7, 2014 at 8:25 am) “Apparently these two ‘funny guys’ aren’t familiar the elementary methods used to estimate trends from a set o f data as taught in high school. Why does this not surprise me?”
Apparently you’re not familiar with the fact that it’s mathematically meaningless to try and estimate a linear trendline from a cyclical dataset. Why does this not surprise me?

Steve R says:
February 7, 2014 at 2:14 pm
Don’t know much about climate science, but if that were a chart showing the value of an investment, I’d be kicking myself for not having dumped it years ago.

Sparks hints that he realises it was just a background graphic and says:
February 7, 2014 at 9:27 am
The tilt would have been created by the graphics department during production rather than being a deliberate attempt at dishonesty by John Holdren, I personally wouldn’t make a serious point out of that issue (it is funny), the other good points raised are valid though!

However, Chris D. is truly sickened and says:
February 7, 2014 at 9:43 am
I went back to the Holdren video and watched it to the part showing the graph and paused it for a closer look, thinking that perhaps the tilt of the zero line was an artifact of how it was projected on the Blaze screen, but sure enough, it’s really tilted in the video. Such dishonesty truly sickens me.

Sean says:
February 7, 2014 at 2:21 pm
o_0 The dude with the ruler needs a lesson in statistics. You don’t choose a start date and end date and rule a line between them. Fail.

Peterson, Thomas C., William M. Connolley, John Fleck, 2008: The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 89, 1325–1337. doi:


  1. This what I see. In the actual WH video the temperature graph is at an angle to the globe. The date 1978 is dimensionally smaller than 2009. The dates are on a level line; the rest of the graph distorts upward and outward.

    This could simply be the way the graphics program does things. On a laptop screen the rest of the graph distorts upward, but is probably not noticeable to anybody watching the video as it is present for a very short time. On the WH video there are no lines, and the effect is noticeable only if you stop it and look for it.


  2. "Most scientists who wrote about climate in the 1970s were not predicting any ice age."

    Except many of them were! It was during this time that Milankovitch's hypothesis was essentially proven, and ensuing work began to be done as to when the next glaciation might ensue and whether present climate tends might hold any clues to that.

    Scientists of course were and are able to distinguish between this long-term cycle and anthropogenic changes to the climate, certain others not so much. But I'm fairly confident that the Milankovitch stuff is probably a larger factor in what the denialists "remember" than material such as the Rasool and Schneider paper.

    So perhaps give denialists a little more credit for their confusion having some basis in reality, although none whatever for their unwillngness to unconfuse when presented with the scientific facts.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. My recollection is that the predictions which got wide publicity were for an ice age -- in several millenia!

    3. I just updated my response to the "1970s ice age" myth. Links are available there for the following tidbits, and one of them leads back to this typically excellent debunking by Sou. I found Freeman Dyson's 1977 comment and Dr. Spencer's use of a faked magazine cover especially interesting, but your mileage may vary.

      Another update: Dr. Roy Spencer, Jane Q. Public, Eric Worrall, Norman Rogers, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Steven Goddard, Glenn Beck, Jeff Miller (R-FL) et al. keep riding this hobby horse. Some even use fake magazine covers.


      The term “global warming” was first used in a 1975 Science article by Wally Broecker called “Are we on the brink of a pronounced global warming?”.

      Sawyer 1972 estimated climate sensitivity as 2.4°C, and Schneider 1975 gave a preliminary range of 1.5°C to 3.0°C.

      Manabe and Wetherald, 1975: “The Effects of Doubling the CO2 Concentration on the climate of a General Circulation Model.”

      In 1977, Freeman Dyson wrote that the “prevailing opinion is that the dangers [of the rise in CO2] greatly outweigh the benefits.”

      In 1977, Robert M. White, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wrote a report for National Academy of Sciences that said “We now understand that industrial wastes, such as the carbon dioxide released in the burning of fossil fuels, can have consequences for climate that pose a considerable risk to future society.” (White, 1978)

      The 1979 JASON report “The long-term impact of atmospheric carbon dioxide on climate” estimated climate sensitivity as 2.4°C to 2.8°C.

      The National Academy of Science’s 1979 Charney report estimated climate sensitivity as 1.5°C to 4.5°C and said “If carbon dioxide continues to increase, [we] find no reason to doubt that climate changes will result, and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible.”

    4. Right, RN. Even though it had become clear that there would be more periodic glaciations, the (natural) timing was (still is) uncertain.

      One thing that is little known, in part because it's of no particular relevance to our species, is that ~ 5 million years (IIRC) from now the larger tectonic cycle that keeps CO2 low enough for major glaciations will reverse and the planet will return to more typical warmer conditions. Of note, a couple of months back some Portuguese researchers published a paper locating a nascent Atlantic subduction zone, the presence of which had been predicted.

      Climate is interesting.


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