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Global warming denialism: watch it in real time

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While we’re on the topic: climate change denialism got a brief shot in the arm this past week with the announcement of some statistically insignificant revisions to small portions of the global temperature record. It’s been interesting watching the saga unfold. Most denialist claims are so musty at this point that they’re growing mold. It’s rare to see a de novo myth squeak to life and then get blown up to a deafening roar in the denialist echo chamber.

I first caught wind of the story from a headline on the front page of the New York Times web site: ‘Hottest Year’ Data Meltdown. The gist of the story is that a blogger had noticed some anomalies in the NASA temperature data. The blogger emailed NASA, and it turned out he was right. A few days later, NASA released corrected figures.

So far, so good. The Times then proceeds to quote from a DailyTech blog post about the potential “fallout” from the new figures:

NASA has now silently released corrected figures, and the changes are truly astounding. The warmest year on record is now 1934. 1998 (long trumpeted by the media as recordbreaking) moves to second place. 1921 takes third. In fact, 5 of the 10 warmest years on record now all occur before World War II. Anthony Watts has put the new data in chart form, along with a more detailed summary of the events.

The effect of the correction on global temperatures is minor (some 1-2% less warming than originally thought), but the effect on the U.S. global warming propaganda machine could be huge.

And that was it. The Times post was odd in about a dozen different ways: the use of sensational terms such as “meltdown” and “fallout”; the vaguely silly movie-conspiracy notion that a blogger with a personal computer could somehow upend our entire understanding of global temperature trends; the uncritical reference to the global warming propaganda machine, as if such a thing exists.

But at heart the post was still making a seemingly striking factual claim about the temperature record. And, then, with all the predictability of day following night, the following two things happened:

  1. Denialists went nuts, baying for Hansen’s dismissal and accusing NASA of perpetrating a fraud on the American people. Scientific eminence Rush Limbaugh declared the story “more evidence, ladies and gentlemen, that this whole global warming thing is a scientific hoax.”
  2. The whole story turned out to be pretty much bunk.

You can see the authoritative takedown, as always, at Real Climate, but the nickel version is that NASA never claimed 1998 was the hottest year in the U.S. 1998 was always a statistical tie with 1934, and it still is. Moreover, the bigger picture hasn’t changed at all. Globally, we are still experiencing the hottest weather on record, and the minor changes to the U.S. temperature record doesn’t change the IPCC conclusions one whit.

As I said before, the partisan furor over global warming is just damned weird, and I’d really like to hear a good explanation for it. More prosaically, I wonder how many years the great NASA Temperature Data Fraud will live on in the internet?

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