Do you feel lucky, punk?
Noise: Lies, Damned Lies, and Denial of Global Warming is a new book by statistician Grant Foster that should be an essential part of everyone’s climate change library. It is a powerful weapon!
Grant Foster is a genius at delivering complex statistics to the average person. He explains the statistics (without using equations!) in a writing style that is far more typical of a liberal arts professor or a high school teacher than that of a world-class mathematician. C’mon, admit it. How many math professors are on your short list of “the best teacher/professor I have ever had”? I certainly do not have any on my list and that includes teachers and professors from elementary, junior high, high school, undergraduate, and graduate levels. I wish I had had a Grant Foster teaching me statistics!
The book can be purchased from Lulu for $12.95. At 120 pages, it is a quick read and it fits in one’s back pocket. Armed with the helpful information in this handy guide, any person will be able to shoot down the BS from those that try to mislead with bad analyses. Grant Foster shows the ways these fraudsters are trying to trick unwitting persons with cherry-picked data and outright lies while at the same time, he shows the reader how to look at data the correct way.
Chapter 1: Russian Roulette
Foster shows the reader that in a game of Russian Roulette there will only be one out of six times a person is expected to get shot but the nature of randomness does allow for a long string of “misses” if given a long enough time series. This example is used to explain the difference between the noise (randomness) vs. the signal (the actual trend) in a data series and what a 95% confidence level means. Foster segues into global warming and shows why global warming is the signal and weather is the noise. Cherry-picking data is also introduced in this chapter and Foster explains how this is a popular trick used to fool uninformed people. Foster also introduces the reader to GISS global temperature data which shows an upward trend due to global warming, especially when one uses five year averages to remove some of the short-term noise.
Chapter 2: Noise
Using GISS data, Foster explains the terms linear regression, residuals, and standard deviation. He then creates a random set of data with a pre-determined trend to show that on short time scales, noise drowns out the signal but when one views the long-term data, the signal stands out like sore thumb. Global warming is the long-tern signal and it is expected that there will be short periods of cooling within the long-term warming trend. Chapter two is a beautiful setup for the misinformation and lies that will be exposed in chapter 3 and chapter 4.
Chapter 3: What’s Missing
Foster pulls no punches in this chapter and exposes the lies of several of the more notorious climate change denialists. The often repeated and many times debunked “global warming stopped in 1998” and similar memes are discussed. Foster explains that using a subset of the long-term data, the noise will hide the signal and this noise is being used to misinform and to confuse the general public. The following charlatans are exposed: Senator James Inhofe, Joe D’Aleo, Joanne Nova, and Bob Carter. These folks are not just making honest mistakes, they have been shown repeatedly the error of their ways and yet they persist. Shame on them!
Chapter 4: Damned Lies:
Whereas those mentioned in chapter 3 were misinforming by cherry-picking real data, the folks exposed in chapter 4 are just plain lying. Yep. Making up data. Martin Durkin for a production company WAG TV created The Great Global Warming Swindle which aired on British TV. This production was then and is still now hailed by skeptics as proving there is no AGW but, of course, the film is filled with errors, and worse, lies! Foster shows how Durkin lied about NASA temperature data, doctored up solar data, and ignored data that did not fit his anti-science picture. Foster also shows how Ian Plimer uses the same fake data and doctoring techniques in his book Heaven and Earth, the current Bible of deniers.
Chapter 5: Telephone
Foster explains how information can be lost when passed on from one person to the next over time so that the final message bears little resemblance to the original. At a conference, Dr. Mojib Latif, a noted climate scientist, described the observed man-made global warming signal and also how noise can result in short-term cooling. Within three days of that speech, Fred Pearce of New Scientist magazine wrote a story that suggested Latif was predicting a ten to twenty year cooling trend. Noted anti-science lobbyist, Marc Morano, then ran with a story that Latif was actually predicting global cooling for the next twenty years. Talk about getting the message wrong! Foster also explains the term statistical significance in this chapter and how ignorance of that term led some to believe that Dr. Phil Jones of the Climate Research Unit claimed that warming had stopped since 1995. Nonsense, of course, but choice of words is critical. Jones was indeed claiming that warming had continued but it was just shy of the 95% confidence level over that short time frame.
Chapter 6: Where There’s a Will
This chapter illustrates how sea ice extent data was used to misinform the public. When using just the endpoints of 1979 and 2008 and then connecting a line, it appears that there is no downward trend. Washington Post columnist George Will and others used this “fake trend” in an attempt to refute global warming. Foster shows the reader that a proper analysis using ALL of the data shows an obvious downward trend which is actually accelerating.
Chapter 7: Statistics
In the most technical of chapters, Foster explains how smoothing data (filtering) minimizes noise so that the signal stands out. One of the best ways to smooth data is to use moving averages which Foster shows using GISS data. The reader is then introduced to the term variance and how one can measure how much of the variance is due to signal and how much is due to noise. Foster also warns about smoothing too much or using smoothed data as actual data because then one may not be able to account for the variance, i.e. the signal is overestimated.
This introduction is a nice setup to the second part of the chapter where Foster shows how three AGW deniers used filters to essentially remove the signal caused by increasing CO2 thereby leaving only the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) as the “signal”. In their 2009 paper, McLean, J. D., C. R. de Freitas, and R. M. Carter (2009), Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature, J. Geophys. Res., 114, D14104, doi:10.1029/2008JD011637., these three claimed that the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) accounted for 72% of the global warming in the past 50 years. In fact, Bob Carter even claimed that this paper “leaves little room for any warming driven by human carbon dioxide emissions.”
Grant Foster, along with several other prominent scientists, has pointed out the flaws in the McLean et al. paper and the Foster et al. paper has recently been accepted by the JGR. One can download that paper here.
Chapter 8: Giants
The author invokes Newton, Galileo, Kepler, and others to drive the point home that each new advance in science could only have happened with the help of the science giants beforehand. Foster asks the reader to consider why an average person, a non-scientist, can be so quick to dismiss the overwhelming scientific consensus of today’s experts and why so many think there is a vast conspiracy. Certainly a person surfing the Web for a few hours, days, weeks, or even a few years, cannot possibly know more than the thousands of scientists who have spent their lifetimes actively involved in climate science research!
This book can be finished in only a few hours for a fast reader and maybe a day or two for a more methodical reader. The gems inside are invaluable for anybody who looks at time series data. Grant Foster has shown us all how to look at data correctly and how to know when we are being misinformed or lied to. This little book in one’s hand feels like a .44 Magnum. So the next time somebody claims that global warming has stopped or sea ice isn’t decreasing or it is warming due to the sun, etc., just take this book out of your back pocket, look them in the eyes, and ask:
“Do you feel lucky, punk?”