Uncharted Territory

February 17, 2010

Harrabin’s Hamfisted Interview

In a post earlier this week, I traced back from an Express headline to a BBC Q&A with Professor Phil Jones. In fact, I only changed my title at the last minute when I realised the interview, and not just Express misreporting, was a large part of the problem.

The UK sceptic-fuelled media storm is reverberating around the world, for example at Realclimate. My comment is #50, here, but after writing it I started to wonder where Harrabin’s questions had come from. At some point, I noticed Harry Hodge’s comment #53 on the Realclimate Whatevergate (Lol) piece:

“Roger Harrabin’s (BBC’s environment correspondent) reputation is undergoing a sea change. He has moved from someone perceived as being an unimpeachable source of expert analysis to someone running around trying to defend his reputation and restating the way he will report in the future (because of the power of the blogosphere). He is in contact with the sceptic blogs and, it would appear, putting their questions to Phil Jones.” [my stress]

Too right he is. Focussing on Harrabin’s interview rather than the subsequent misleading Express reporting, we notice that the introductory paragraph – which I previously blipped over – says that:

“The BBC’s environment analyst Roger Harrabin put questions to Professor Jones, including several gathered from climate sceptics.” [my stress again]

I think I’ve already covered adequately the ridiculous question about the definition of the word “unprecedented”.

“There is a debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was global or not. If it were to be conclusively shown that it was a global phenomenon, would you accept that this would undermine the premise that mean surface atmospheric temperatures during the latter part of the 20th Century were unprecedented?”


But what’s really nagging at me is the question:

“Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming[?]”

As Jones pointed out, the warming since 1995 is not quite statistically significant, because it’s such a short period.

So why ask about the warming since 1995?

Why not ask about the warming since 1994, or 1990 or any other earlier year, which would probably pass the 95% level conventionally used to indicate statistical significance?

I can think of no other reason than to draw an answer like: “No, there’s been no significant warming since 1995”.

It might also be pertinent to point out that 1995 was quite a warm year (see the graphs in my post when the 2009 data appeared a while back).

I presume that during the forthcoming General Election campaign politicians will be allowed to send questions for their opponents to the BBC: “When did you stop beating your wife?”; “Are you over your drink problem now?”.

I’m about to register a complaint with the BBC about Harrabin’s interview and ask precisely who provided each question asked. I’ll let you know what they say.



  1. Tim, take care. The word “unprecedented” has been and is still very widely used, not least by your own dear leaders. Moreover, I doubt you have personally checked the statistical significance of temperature trends for any specific location on the planet. If so please can you kindly let me know where? Trends in the GISS and Hadley-CRU data are not applicable as their raw data has been systematically adjusted over many years to produce the desired trend (which is why they never reveal their unadjusted raw data). I have found the NOAA’s raw data for the USA which for example shows no statistically significant temperature trend for New York from 1960 to 2006. Be my guest!

    Comment by Tim Curtin — February 17, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

  2. […] commenter on one of my recent posts suggested I go and do some statistical analysis on temperature […]

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  3. […] couple of weeks ago a commenter suggested I “personally check” the “statistical significance” of “temperature […]

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