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Phil Jones, the climate scientist at CRU whose emails were stolen last November, answered a series of questions for a BBC interview. One of these was a real ‘gotcha’ question:

B – Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12°C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

The questioner already knows the answer. The warming from 1995 to the present has not been statistically significant at the 95% confidence level. It’s close to it, but not at 95%. But does that mean that there has been no warming at all? No. As Jones points out, the trend was positive over that time period (0.12°C). A positive trend is quite different to, say, a negative trend, and quite inconsistent with any statement along the lines of “global warming has stopped!” And clearly it is diametrically opposed to any notion that we are in a period of global cooling.

The last ten years have in fact been the warmest on record. Given a longer period of time, as climatologists prefer to use, rather than starting with a cherry picked interval beginning in 1995 (a start point for which no reason was given by the interviewer), the temperature trend does achieve statistical significance at the 95% level.

Damn the details. Fully qualified pontificator Lorne Gunter at the National Post took the opportunity to fling some poo around.

Consider the remarks Phil Jones, the former head of CRU, made last week to the BBC. Prof. Jones, who has stepped down from his directorship of the CRU pending official investigations into the leaks, told the Beeb there has been no “statistically significant” global warming since 1995 — that’s the past 15 years!

Well, there’s a revelation. Climate scientist Phil Jones honestly represents the statistical significance of his data over a cherry picked time interval.

It’s true, as some climate alarmist sites have pointed out, that what Prof. Jones said in full was that the warming since 1995 is almost significant, but not quite. The “trend (+0.12 C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level.”

Gunter manages to choke out at least an acknowledgement that Jones said the trend was positive. What these “climate alarmist sites” may be isn’t explained, but at a guess it would be any site that for reasons truly incomprehensible to Gunter did not choose to misrepresent Phil Jones. For poor, fragile Gunter, that would be alarming.

Admittedly, that is not the same as a complete about-face by Prof. Jones, but neither is it meaningless. When was the last time you recall an alarmist such as Phil Jones admitting there was any doubt at all about warming in the last decade and a half?

Phil Jones = alarmist? Fascinating. I’d have gone with ‘scientist’, but then, I’m not as alarmed by scientists as poor, fragile Gunter here.

Haven’t we had it drummed into us ceaselessly that the past decade has been the warmest ever recorded? Prof. Jones’s admission to the BBC then is very significant.

Do you see what Gunter just did? Let me explain.

The past decade has been the warmest on record because the average global temperature for the year 2005 was the highest recorded and the years 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2009 are all “in a virtual tie” for the second warmest on record.

It is possible for the past decade to be the warmest on record and for the temperatures from 1995 to the present day to be increasing by 0.12°C per decade, and for the trend not to be statistically significant at the 95% confidence level. If the trend was being calculated over a longer time period, as climatologists do, it would be significant. If there hadn’t been a La Nina in 2008, which resulted in cooler temperatures that year, the trend could have reached 95% significance.

In fact, the past decade has been the warmest ever recorded, and poor, fragile Gunter is the last person to be talking about significance.

Gunter goes on to say:

That’s one of the ways in which Climategate matters: It has made the alarmists far more willing to admit the science isn’t settled.

Yet the only person on record as saying that “the science is settled” is climate science denier S. Fred Singer. Scientists like Phil Jones know the science isn’t settled. If it were, they would stop.

Margaret Wente, fully qualified English graduate and columnist for The Globe and Mail, manages to do worse than poor, fragile Gunter:

Unfortunately for public understanding, the climate debate is usually portrayed as a fight between two extremes – between people who think it’s all a hoax, and people who think catastrophe is imminent if we do nothing.

(Usually portrayed by whom, Margaret? Oh right, that would be by you and your friends in the press. By all means, please do something about that.)

But there’s a third position. Although it’s been largely absent from the climate debate, it’s shared by a surprising number of experts. They endorse the underlying science, which says that climate change is happening and human activity is a factor. But they also say that threats of imminent catastrophe have been wildly exaggerated. In fact, we don’t know much about what might happen in the future, especially when it comes to specifics such as rising sea levels or regional droughts.

Even Phil Jones, the man at the centre of Climategate, seems to take the third position. Several thousand e-mails hacked from his climatic research unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia revealed, among other things, strenuous efforts to withhold data and censor people with opposing views. Many people say that Climategate was much ado about nothing, and that Prof. Jones was the innocent victim of vicious attacks by people who want to discredit global warming. But in a weekend BBC interview, he dropped a bombshell. He acknowledged there’s been no statistically significant warming since 1995.

Phil Jones takes the third way. The way of all right thinking people, the way of the moderates, the way of reasonable, concerned individuals, like dear old Margaret here. And he does it by… acknowledging there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995.

Hello? When other people say that, they’re called deniers.

And rightly so. When other people say that, they could also be called, ignorant, uninformed, or useful idiots. Phil Jones was answering a gotcha question honestly. If you read on you would have seen him say this: “The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.”

He also said (contrary to everything we’ve been told) that the debate is not over. “I don’t believe the vast majority of climate scientists think this. This is not my view. There is still much that needs to be undertaken to reduce uncertainties, not just for the future, but for the [distant] past as well.”

So much for the science being settled. Now what?

Now what? I don’t know. Tell Gunter that contrary to what he, in his fevered imagination, thinks scientists think, just isn’t so. Oh, and tell S. Fred Singer as well.

Next up, how about a little Twainian reportage?

The global warming movement is already reeling from a series of damaging revelations. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – which set itself up as the final authority – has been caught in several embarrassing mistakes, such as the claim that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. (One man who approved this claim admitted he did it to sex up the dossier.)

Trollumnists don’t need to check the facts. Meet the lie that travelled halfway around the world before the truth got its shoes on: David Rose, the Daily Mail journalist with a penchant for misrepresenting scientists and making stuff up, claimed Dr. Murari Lal said he left the glaciers error in place to “impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action”. Lal denies having said any such thing. Given Rose’s previous form, I wouldn’t want to repeat anything that Rose says as fact.

Go on then, Margaret. Take it home:

These days, there are two kinds of deniers – people such as Republicans, who believe it’s all a fraud, and true believers, who are in denial that they are witnessing an epic scientific and political train wreck. The good news is that, once we clear the track, perhaps we can admit Phil Jones is right. There’s a whole lot we just don’t know.

Two kinds of deniers: the kind we know so well, represented by U.S. Republicans, and true believers, no names mentioned, in denial that they are “witnessing an epic scientific and political train wreck”. Would the world were that simple, Margaret. Nonetheless I agree that we are witnessing a train wreck. Scientists are ill prepared and on the whole entirely unwilling to engage in no holds barred PR battles with people that will lie about their work, steal their emails and misrepresent their contents, hype up a few minor errors in the massive IPCC reports, and, as dear old Margaret does here, perpetuate incorrect quotes made by reporters that would prefer to make the news than report on it.

Yes, it’s a train wreck. But when the tracks are cleared, the science will still all be there, just as it was before, and perhaps then we can all admit that Phil Jones is right: there’s a whole lot we don’t know, but there’s also a whole lot that we do.

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