Briggs schools the "Bad Astronomer" on statistics

The Saturnian moon Mimas, photographed by the ...

The AGW Alliance Death Star - cratered from continuous bombardment - Image via Wikipedia

That letter signed by 16 scientists saying there’s “No Need to Panic About Global Warming” to the Wall Street Journal has caused a great disturbance in the farce. At last count there were no less than  19 blog rebuttals plus one new WSJ op ed piece trying to convince the alliance that all is well. It didn’t work.

But, they know the AGW Alliance Death Star has been compromised before its mission can be completed, the Rebellion has seen the plans and the Alliance knows it is only a matter of time before “the consensus” blows apart. Reports are that “Michael Mann has been tweeting furiously“, but the reinforcements he’s bringing in may not be able to stop the Rebellion as its ranks swell with ordinary people.

Here at WUWT, we had our best day ever on January 31st with 229,000 views from ordinary people, exceeding the heady days just after Climategate 1 and Copenhagen. People are coming in out of the cold to embrace the warmth and declare it good, while laughing at the folly of the alliance.

Meanwhile, the Bad Astronomer (Phil Plait er, not Jim Hansen) has been spinning in low orbit trying tell alliance forces that the past 10-15 years of stalled temperature rise are just a statistical illusion.

William Briggs, Statistician to the Stars, schools Plait on what statistics really is and writes:

Remember when I said how you shouldn’t draw straight lines in time series and then speak of the line as if the line was the data itself? About how the starting point made a big difference in the slope of the line, and how not accounting for uncertainty in the starting date translates into over-certainty in the results?

If you can’t recall, refresh your memory: How To Cheat, Or Fool Yourself, With Time Series: Climate Example.

Well, not everybody read those warnings. As an example of somebody who didn’t do his homework, I give you Phil Plait, a fellow who prides himself on exposing bad astronomy and blogs at Discover magazine. Well, Phil, old boy, I am the Statistician to the Stars—get it? get it?1—and I’m here to set you right.

The Wall Street Journal on 27 January 2012 published a letter from sixteen scientists entitled, No Need to Panic About Global Warming, the punchline of which was:

Every candidate should support rational measures to protect and improve our environment, but it makes no sense at all to back expensive programs that divert resources from real needs and are based on alarming but untenable claims of “incontrovertible” evidence.

Plait in response to these seemingly ho-hum words took the approach apoplectic, and fretted that “denialists” were reaching lower. Reaching where he never said. He never did say what a “denialist” was, either; but we can guess it is defined as “Whoever disagrees with Phil Plait.”

The WSJ‘s crew said, “Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now.” This allowed Plait to break out the italics and respond, “What the what?” I would’ve guessed that the scientists’ statement was fairly clear and even true. But Plait said, “That statement, to put it bluntly, is dead wrong.” Was it?

Plait then slipped in a picture, one which he thought was a devastating touché. He was so exercised by his effort that he broke out into triumphal clichés like “crushed to dust” and “scraping the bottom of the barrel.” You know what they say about astronomers. Anyway, here’s the picture:

Global warming

See that red line? It’s drawn on a time series—wait! No it isn’t. Those dots are not what Plait thinks they are. They are not—they most certainly are not—global temperatures.

Read the whole rebuttal here, well worth your time.

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As shub noticed at BH, the graph is from skepticalscience.com, IMNSHO the last refuge of the scientifically incompetent.

“Reports are that “Michael Mann has been tweeting furiously”,”
What a desperate bunch of fools in a fools dream. Why all the fuss if the science is settled? Proof it is not the science but the gold coming from ignorance while ignorance lasts.

pittzer

“Somewhat amusingly, Plait ends his semi-random venting by telling us that Michael Mann has been “tweeting furiously” about this. Good grief! This isn’t helping his case. Mann’s understanding of statistics may be likened to an overly enthusiastic undergraduate who left the lecture early.”
Ouch. Love it.

pat

One of the more obvious places for an astronomer to fix his focus in the AGW debate is the atmospheres of the planets beyond earth (Venus is a special case and Mercury has no stable atmosphere, having to be constantly replenished). All have demonstrated warming and cooling, much more enhanced than that of Earth, corresponding with the solar cycles. This leads the vast majority of them to conclude…….?

James F. Evans

It’s the Sun.
Now, who on this website, with a high profile as an expert, has continuously stated, “it’s not the Sun”?

Chris D.

Shub also noticed what Briggs failed to mention which is the graph is labeled Global LAND Temperature Anomaly. Naughty Astronomer.

Eimear

The Bad Astronomer is horribly annoying and it is so funny that he has messed this up because that is a guy that can’t handle being wrong, which wouldn’t make him a scientist and goes against everything he preaches.

Leon Brozyna

Yep … Drudge sure pulled ’em in. You’ve got a real hockey stick at Quantcast:
http://www.quantcast.com/wattsupwiththat.com
The results from Alexa ought to be in tomorrow … it looks like they run their figures on GMT, while Quantcast seems to run on Pacific time. Hope some of those first time visitors stick aroundand get their eyes opened.

James F. Evans

Regarding Phil Plait: He is a corporate hack, who makes his bread keeping the cattle in line (That’s how the Elite view the average folks — as cattle.) I kept up with his website for a while and he is a big self-promoter, self-important hack (I’ve rarely seen a website operator who boasts about his personal activities on a supposedly science oriented website as Plait does). After I came to that conclusion, it was no longer necessary to keep up with his website.
Sadly, his readers (or accurately, his commenters) swallow the bilge he constantly trots out.
No wonder. astronomy as a science is fixated on “pink unicorns”.

Wade

“Reports are that “Michael Mann has been tweeting furiously”.
“Plait in response to these seemingly ho-hum words took the approach apoplectic, and fretted that “denialists” were reaching lower.”
Methinks they doth protest too much.

kim

It is a good sign that the alarmists depend more and more upon the meme that ‘the last decade was the hottest on record. Increasingly, they are counting on ignorance to carry the day, and as people wise up they will simply marginalize themselves further.
There are three problems with it. It completely dodges attribution, which is something important. It tries to make a point about something which is a truism, that the last decade of a warming trend will be the hottest. It fallaciously diverts from the flatness of the last decade. And, it’s not as hot as it was at the height of the Minoan, the Roman, and the Medieval Warm Periods, which are themselves a decline curve.
Hey, that’s four. There’s probably even more bad logic in the thought processes, but this will suffice. It demonstrates desperation. Who the Hell do they think they are trying to fool with this?
=========================

John Peter

Readers should also visit http://www.thegwpf.org/the-observatory/4868-the-mail-on-sunday-the-met-office-and-the-temperature-standstill.html
There is a very good breakdown by Dr David Whitehouse of HADCRUT3 in five year bits to show that actually the last five years have been cooler than the preceeding five and most of the recent warming can be found in 1996-2000. Definitely worth reading.

Mikey

Well I am a new viewer brought in by Drudge and I plan on sticking around.
Kudos to you on the awesome site!

Eimear

Well said James.

David L.

highflight56433 says:
February 1, 2012 at 9:05 am
“Reports are that “Michael Mann has been tweeting furiously”,”
What a desperate bunch of fools in a fools dream. Why all the fuss if the science is settled? Proof it is not the science but the gold coming from ignorance while ignorance lasts.
_____________________________________
I live in Eastern PA. Mike recently tweeted:
“MichaelEMann Michael E. Mann
NEWS FLASH: Groundhog Day cancelled! Phil says he’s pretty sure spring *already* arrived in western PA, preempting tomorrow’s event.
2 hours ago
It is true that it’s fabulously warm today; almost 70F. And I assure you, I can’t find anyone at lunch, at work, on the streets that is upset about it. Traffic is crazy…everyone is out and about, some with the windows down. Nobody is crying that it isn’t 14F today as usual. And the record for all this nice weather (it is weather not climate that we are experiencing this week, Mike????) was set back in 1916. So why was it so warm back in 1916? Maybe it’s the same reason it’s warm today?

Nikola Milovic

How the scientists can establish any hypothesis in this domain , when they don’t know radical and right causes of these phenomena.
All what today’s science allege about this appearance isn’t right true.The magnetic fields are in question, but it needs know what and who gowerns with them.It is simple thing and therefore it didn’t interesting for big intelligence.
Who wishs a collaboration with me, can help to resolve these phenomena for all times!

Ben of Houston

Don’t get too personal against Phil. He did do good work once, and he even led the JREF for a while until the AGW problem came to a head. His refutation of the moon hoax nonsense is still the best I’ve even seen.

DesertYote

When I was in the service many years ago, I was stationed at a base that hosted a mock POW camp used for pilot survival training. When we went in to repair equipment, we were dressed in Badguy uniforms, and were instructed to not speak with any of the students. Doing so would ruin the illusion, which would ruin the training. Just like the WSJ letter ruining the AWG narrative. The propagandists need to maintain complete saturation.

Muller et all, originators of the dataset, do in fact display their uncertainty range here:
http://berkeleyearth.org/faq/#stopped

Markus

Poor Michael Mann, he sat on a hockey stick, and he’s on the way to the hospital for an extraction. 🙂

Frank K.

David L. says:
February 1, 2012 at 10:03 am
“And the record for all this nice weather (it is weather not climate that we are experiencing this week, Mike????) was set back in 1916. So why was it so warm back in 1916? Maybe its the same reason its warm today?”
I’ve made this point before – if we exceed a temperature “record” by a tiny amount, is it really a big deal?? After all, if the record was set back in 1916, as DavidL said, this current weather pattern is certainly NOT unprecedented…
I’m enjoying it!! :^)

Stacey

“Reports are that “Michael Mann has been tweeting furiously”
Sorry Mr Moderator a couple of typos the above should read
“Reports are that “Michael Mann is a twit constantly”
Let the farce be with you 🙂

Larry Geiger

William Briggs, Statistician to the Stars is a treasure!

Chaz Williamson

I love this quote from the “climate scientists” rebuttal in the WSJ.
“And computer models have recently shown that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures, warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean.”
Where’s the missing heat? We found it in a model. Now we just need to go verify what we already know.
The reason so many people pan climate science, as has been pointed out effectively so many times on this site, is that the so-called climate scientists do everything bass-ackwards. Every climate model is a multiple regression analysis. They do a pretty good job of predicting past temperatures at the time they’re written, but not a one has been able to predict future temperature trends with anything approaching an acceptable degree of accuracy. Until they can, claims that AGW (or ACC, ACD or whatever the flavor of the month is) is “settled science” is nothing but a bunch of hooey. When it comes to climate science, I don’t even trust the “real world” data. Too often, I’ve seen the press releases for a new climate study stating what they expect to find, followed up in a few months by another press release exclaiming “It’s worse than we thought.” Confirmation bias, anyone?
Frankly, I trust analyses of climate data conducted by statisticians and economists more than I do climate scientists. They, at least, understand how to apply statistics, and understand the limitations of statistical analysis. Furthermore, they understand risk and cost-benefit analysis . . . a perspective that seems to be completely missing from climate science.

Marko of Helsinki

I used to read Phil’s blog until he started evangelizing about AGW, calling it settled science, naming anyone that does not agree with his beliefs and doctrine as deniers (along with the usual unnecessary name calling). Phil is truly one of the worst AGW zealots out there. He even believes he can dictate who is a real scientist and what real science is (as he does in his last BA post). He will not be swayed in his religious AGW fanatic beliefs. And because all scientists other than the ones “Phil-approved” are deniers that work for the oil industry, it will be impossible to ever prove him wrong. Convinient really, eh?. He is a sad delusional little man.

Richard

I’ve just discovered that Phil. is Phil Plait of Discover Magazine – Bad Astronomy. Well well, sarcy Phil. is getting a taste of his own medicine. I wouldnt be surprised if it leaves a bad taste in his mouth.

Stephen Richards

Mikey says:
February 1, 2012 at 9:49 am
Wellcome to sanity.

Mikey says:
February 1, 2012 at 9:49 am

Well I am a new viewer brought in by Drudge and I plan on sticking around.

Welcome!
That Quantcast link interesting – normally some 20K people visit per day, yesterday 125K did. If a small fraction hang around, that 200 million page-view event may happen before the planet gets very cold and we don’t need WUWT any more. 🙂

old engineer

One of the things William Briggs points out, is something I continually forget. That is: that the monthly global temperature anomaly is NOT data- it is the output of a model. The raw temperature measurements from individual sites are the data. It is so easy to look at a graph with points on it and think the points are data. And as he points out, if we are using the model to predict the future, we are not interested in the error of the model, but rather the error of the prediction.
Then of course there is the commandment that so many WUWT commenters have emphasized: “Thou shalt not use a least squares linear fit on time series.”

Karl Zimmerman

I noticed the same things as James F. Evans and Marko: Phil Plait stopped doing science a long time ago to become a Bill Nye-type “star scientist”. He succeeded, unfortunately. I won’t even read his blog for astronomy issues because I don’t trust it. What turned me off wasn’t so much the AGW stuff (which was both irritating and insulting) but his mindless and unquestioning following of others. I’ve referred to him as the High Priest of the Church of Randi, out to perform the Inquisition of Science on everyone and everything. There’s skepticism, and there’s utter closed-mindedness, and I think he’s gone to the latter category, which is sad, given the Moon Hoax and other earlier refutations that were good. From the point where your mind closes…an Italian poet said it best: “Abandon all hope ye who enter this place.”
Sic transit Bad Astronomer…

Matt

Great stuff! My favorite post since the CERN CLOUD results.
William Briggs is the man.

Robin Hewitt

Are you lot saying he looked through his graphs, picked one with an upward slope then published it assuming we would take it to be global warming?
That’s actually quite clever. He got me for a moment until Anthony put me straight, as usual.
Long live the amazing Mr Watts!

Werner Brozek

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now.”…. But Plait said, “That statement, to put it bluntly, is dead wrong.
This is then followed by a LAND only graph which covers 29% of the earth. And the graph shows an increase from 1973, which is THIRTY EIGHT years. How does that discredit “the lack of GLOBAL warming for well over TEN years now:?
Am I missing something?
The trend for the last decade using the average of the four main data sets is negative as shown below.
WoodForTrees Temperature Index
#Mean of HADCRUT3VGL, GISTEMP, UAH and RSS,
#Time series (wti) from 1979 to 2012
#Selected data from 2002
#Least squares trend line; slope = -0.00343579 per year
http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/wti/from:2002/plot/wti/from:2002/trend
I realize the slope is very small. However I do not see how anyone could be accused of stretching the truth by claiming a “lack of global warming”.

GregO

What he says:
Chaz Williamson says:
February 1, 2012 at 10:45 am
I love this quote from the “climate scientists” rebuttal in the WSJ…
and:
old engineer says:
February 1, 2012 at 11:22 am
One of the things William Briggs points out, …
My thoughts exactly and better said than I could add to.
If there is anyone reading here that has not bookmarked Briggs site: http://wmbriggs.com/blog/
please consider doing so now. This man is on a relentless search for truth and his site is a gold-mine for all things statistical as well as a range of other fascinating topics.
As far as the crowd drawing straight lines through temperature data noise and concluding anything too dramatic – naughty-naughty! But, heck, I do it myself if only just for fun. It is good to recall that as “old engineer” stated above – it isn’t data in the strict sense but a model of data. Not a bad thing in itself, but consider trying to pull an actual signal of man-made warming from the small delta signal we see is clearly a stretch. Know what? Better data collection would really be a step up (see surfacestations.org). How ’bout we cut off about half the funding for computer modeling and three quarters off the boondoggles, and maybe seven eighths off the propaganda budget and put it into temperature sensors? Just a suggestion. We could get kids in school involved and do some actual measurements. What fun.

Matt in Houston

Something I haven’t seen pointed out yet here is that the use of the anomaly also lends itself to an exaggerated display of the rate of increase….until one looks at the scale of course, but how many average citizens have had the wool pulled over their eyes by this type of rubbish.
Data presentation is an important communication tool and engineers usually pay extremely close attention to this and it is usually where our BS meters start making a lot of noise.
Cheers to Mr. Briggs

Bryan A

Perhaps if Phil Plait emptied the Phull Plait of his preconceived notions he could do some real statistical science

Joel Shore

Sorry but I don’t see where Briggs has “schooled” anybody here. Phil Plait was objecting to the sentence, “Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now.” In response, Briggs basically makes arguments that the data is not “raw”, is imperfect, has uncertainties, etc. But, then that begs the question: If the data is so imperfect, how can those scientists in the WSJ op-ed conclude that there has been a “lack of global warming for well over 10 years now”.
If it is simply an issue of there not being enough confidence to say what the trend has been over such a time period, then one has no business making the claim that there has not been global warming over that time period.
There are other problems with Briggs’ diatribe:
(1) He makes no evidence to back up his assertions as to how uncertain he thinks the data is.
(2) He ignores the fact that the satellite temperature records also come to the same basic conclusion regarding warming since the record began in 1979.
(3) He argues that the plot does not show “global temperatures” because it is not simply raw data. So, does he apply this standard across the board? After all, the UAH (and RSS) satellite temperature records are even further from being raw data than the surface temperature records are; there is lots of analysis involved. It seems to me that there is a double-standard applied by AGW skeptics whereby data that doesn’t support their preferred conclusions is not trustworthy but if there is a piece of data that does support their preferred conclusions then, no matter how what is known concerning problems with that data, it nevertheless must be believed and shows that all the models are wrong and anybody who says otherwise believes in untested models over real world empirical data!

Actually, temperatures could stay the same for 50 years and a linear regression such as he did would still show warming. If it didn’t warm for 50 years, would it still be warming? Apparently Phil Plait thinks it would be if a linear regression starting in 1973 has a warming trend. Some charts illustrating this are available as pdf files here:
http://www.mediafire.com/?zu53lj75477oa4g

There are two kinds of skeptics. Some believe in the scientific method, others not so much. The latter group find it necessary to defend “science”, mistakenly believed to be whatever scientists do. Plait and Nye belong to that group, and are unwittingly destroying the science they’re so keen to defend.

Arch Stanton

Just a Star Wars nerd suggestion: the “AGW Alliance” should be the “AGW Empire,” under siege from the “Rebel Alliance.” It even fits better IMHO – the Empire projects a monolithic view with any internal dissent stifled, while the skeptic alliance is more of a ragtag band, uncontrolled by tyranny of thought but yet bound together in the search for truth. Or something like that…

Joel – where were you when Skeptical Science wrote about a “dampening” and “pause” of global warming?

Maurizio Morabito (omnologos) says:
February 1, 2012 at 12:45 pm
There are two kinds of skeptics. Some believe in the scientific method, others not so much. The latter group find it necessary to defend “science”, mistakenly believed to be whatever scientists do. Plait and Nye belong to that group, and are unwittingly destroying the science they’re so keen to defend.
===================
There are not two kinds of skeptics. There are ‘science fan boys’ who defend the authority of experts even when, which is often the case, the experts are not very competent. (Medicine prior to the 20th century might be a good example, although 21st century medical practice still has its issues to resolve). This group, unfortunately, identify as skeptics but are anything but. And then there are actual skeptics. Genuine skeptics are not just critical of synthetic claims but are also continually testing the positions they currently hold.

Juice

The two camps are talking past each other on this issue.
Camp one: “There hasn’t been global warming for the past 10 years.”
Camp two: “This graph shows the general trend for land temperatures over the past 40 years and it points up. So you’re wrong.”
Camp one: “What the hell does that have to do with what I just said? The past ten years are flat.”
Camp two: “But the 30 years before that pointed up. So you’re wrong.”

It’s been obvious that Mr Bad Astronomy has had sour grapes since his blog did so poorly compared with WUWT.
I can understand sour grapes, but posting a faked Skeptical Pseudo-Science graph indicates either ignorance or dishonesty. And I don’t think Phil. is ignorant. Matt Briggs writes, “See that red line? It’s drawn on a time series—wait! No it isn’t. Those dots are not what Plait thinks they are. They are not—they most certainly are not—global temperatures.” We’ve seen enough temperature charts here to know that chart is not what it purports to be.
Falsifying data is a hallmark of the alarmist crowd. They do it because they can’t make their case otherwise. Phil. forfeited his credibility when he posted that bogus graph. Turns out that Phil. is just another CAGW propagandist.

Markus

Joel Shore says;
“”If the data is so imperfect, how can those scientists in the WSJ op-ed conclude that there has been a “lack of global warming for well over 10 years now””.
Are you for real? Stick ya head out the window and have a look.
You nailed your flag to the wrong mast.

Charles Bruce Richardson Jr. says:
February 1, 2012 at 12:43 pm
Actually, temperatures could stay the same for 50 years and a linear regression such as he did would still show warming. If it didn’t warm for 50 years, would it still be warming? Apparently Phil Plait thinks it would be if a linear regression starting in 1973 has a warming trend. Some charts illustrating this are available as pdf files here:
http://www.mediafire.com/?zu53lj75477oa4g
==================================
This is an excellent point and not even hypothetical. When Steig’s Antarctic paper did the front cover of Nature, “proving” continued warming of the Antarctica, he had to use 50 years of data because the shorter 30 years of data would not have shown a warming trend.
I note only the inconsistency in logic here. Warmists wish to argue for accelerating trends – for which they need to then focus on the most recent data. However, if the most recent data provides the “wrong” answer, then through an interesting contortion of logic, using the most recent data is ‘wrong’ to be emphasized.

DesertYote

Looks like WUWTs native trolls are embarrassed to have Bad Astronomy on their side.

Camburn

Joel Shore says:
February 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm
A very simple question:
1. Has there been statistical warming since 1998 based on the temperature charts except for GISS, as there are serious questions being posed as to its reliability. ( One which is, the divergence it is expressing verses UAH/RSS data)
That is the crux….is it warming?
Data shows it is NOT warming.
How hard is that to accept? It is reality.

Camburn

Joel Shore says:
February 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm
Using your Logic Joel: It could drop .7C and you would think it is stilllllll warming as a trend line from 1892 to present would show warming……even after it cooled .7C.
I think you realllllly need to have a reality check soon. The dipstick on reality is running low for you.

“Are you for real? Stick ya head out the window and have a look.”
Hmm. That’s not an especially sound way to do science. But it’s amusing that you say so right now.
I take it you are not in New York City, where the current temperature is 61 F (normal high for the date is 38 F). And you’re not here in Austin, where it’s 83 F (normal high 62 F). In fact pretty much the whole US except California and Alaska appears quite warm, and in some places extraordinarily warm, today.