The Hottest Yeah Evah! Really?

Or a yet another example of activism masquerading as science?

By William M Briggs Published on January 19, 2017

Assume for a moment, as the press with triumphant glee is reporting, that 2016 was the hottest year evah! Believe the claim for the sake of argument. Swallow the idea, for at least the next minute, that the media and government really do have your best interests at heart and are reporting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the world’s temperature.

How much hotter than previous years was 2016? Bare your wrist and blow a huh on it from about half a foot away. Don’t blow—stay with me here: this is a genuine scientific experiment — but utter a soft ugh so that your breath wafts over your wrist gently. Feel that increase in heat? Well, that boost to your skin was much hotter than the increase supposed to have happened to the atmosphere in 2016.

Here’s a better experiment. You are likely reading this article sitting down. Sense the temperature around your face: it might help to think about your cheeks. Now stand up. Take a second mental reading. Feel the difference? That same tenth or so change in degree, which was probably imperceptible to you, is about the same as the change in temperature scientists say they measured over the entire globe, including over the salty seas from last year to this.

Yes. Climatologists gathered measurements from buoys at sea, from thousands of thermometers at airports and other locations, from balloons, even, and then took their average — sort of. That number was then declared as the Official Temperature of Earth for 2016.

The “sort of” is important. Because the places and methods of measurement used in 2016 were not exactly the same as those used in 2015; and those used in 2015 were not the same as those used in 2014; and so on. And those used in, for instance, 1914 are completely different than in 2014. A century ago, mercury-in-glass thermometers were in a different class than the digital complexities in use today. Too, 100 years ago the places of measurement were few in number. Vast areas of the globe went unmeasured. And at places which were the same, well, thermometers out in the woods in 1914 now have a cities grown up around them. Even in modern times, thermometers break and are serviced. Buoys corrode. And so on. Things change.

And then we have to consider the devices used to measure temperature are imperfect. They are only accurate to, say, a tenth of a degree; and this plus-or-minus uncertainty varies from instrument to instrument, and even at the same instrument from year to year (consider how efficient your joints are as you age). The accuracy of thermometers even fifty years ago was not the same as it is today. Shipboard measurements 100 years ago were of an entirely different nature than now.

What is it that we are comparing year to year? The answer to this most important question is: we are comparing the results from statistical models.

So if the way of measurement changed from year to year, and often times the places of measurement changed from year to year, and the accuracies change from year to year, and therefore the average compiled each year is not the same average, what is it that we are comparing year to year? The answer to this most important question is: we are comparing the results from statistical models.

At this point — and this is what the media and activists rely on — eyes begin to glaze over. Interest wanes. The details are too many to keep in mind, and the procedures scientists use become complex and murky. Everybody (usually rightly) hates statistics, so it’s much easier to just assume the headlines are right.

The headlines are not right. We do not know, with anything approaching certainty, what the exact temperature averaged over the globe was last year. Not to a tenth of a degree.

The headlines are not right. We do not know, with anything approaching certainty, what the exact temperature averaged over the globe was last year. Not to a tenth of a degree. We do know what the average was using the ways and places of measurement from 2016. It is extrapolating this handful of measurements to represent the globe as a whole that is difficult and uncertain. And since these ways and places were not the same in 2015 as they were in 2016, the certainty we have in comparing year to year is nowhere near enough to state authoritatively and with complete certainty that temperatures have increased.

Uncertainty in temperatures, as you can now see, was much greater a century ago. Thus, comparing 2016 to 1916 is not simple: it is nowhere near simple. The plus-or-minus uncertainty in any change from 1916 to 2016 is great, even greater than the majority of climatologists realize (for those in the know: climatologists report on the statistical models’ parametric uncertainty, when they should be using the much larger predictive uncertainty).

And if the uncertainty in reporting change from 1916 to 2016 is greater than thought, the change from, say, 1516 (where we have to rely on proxies and not direct measurement) or 516 to 2016 must be much larger still.

Thus to claim, with the brute simplicity of the media and bureaucracy, that 2016 was the hottest year evah! is misleading and dishonest. It is also bad science. The headlines led atmospheric scientist Richard Linden, late of MIT, and a man who knows more about the atmosphere than any activist, to say, “The hysteria over this issue is truly bizarre.” Surely he’s right.

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  • Autrey Windle

    Al and his band of crazed followers will continue to do anything to try to reclaim relevance. It’s very sad actually and it is just one more distraction that makes me want to know what the real news would be if there wasn’t all the fake sleight of news hand going on.

  • Eric Reese

    I’m not a scientist. I don’t trust any politician. I can say growing up in Virginia this has been the warmest year I remember. I’m not nieve enough to think that what happens in my little corner of the earth represents the whole world. But I had new growth on my birch trees in December , thats not normal, at least not where I live.

  • Jim Walker

    It was reported 2016 was hotter by 0.07deg F.
    Did they report on the coldest temperatures around the world and make an average on that ?
    I won’t be surprised the world was colder by 0.07deg F as well..

    • RanWiz

      That rise in temp is an AVERAGE (arithmetic mean) taken around the world – takes in highs and lows. There is a lot of well-done science on this. If you want to distrust this I suggest you also distrust other parts of our life underpinned by science such as MEDICINE – Fuel injection in your car – Automatic brake systems – Airplane function – computers – cell phones. All equally based on well-known science – as is climate science.

  • azsxdcf1

    The hysteria over this (non) issue truly is bizarre. The arrogant Ishmaelites – started by Al Gore – who proselytize this fallacy ought to read Genesis to renew their minds about Who powers Earth’s temperature. Hint: It is NOT man!

    • RanWiz

      Really? The bible is MYTH – can not use it as basis for scientific discussion.

  • RanWiz

    You are totally wrong on this issue. Example: do you take any medications? Do you understand that they have been discovered and tested using ONLY evidence-based logic? The global warming FACT is the same – completely supported by factual observations. The small increase is real – and leads to larger effects, such as melting polar ice and sea level rise. These are simply undeniable. To deny this evidence make anyone look foolish. It’s not a matter of belief – it is totally proven fact.

    • Alice Cheshire

      I fear you lack the understanding of statistics and what a “fact” is. Global warming caused by humans is a belief, not a fact. However, once a person decides to make that belief their raison’etre, there is no rational thought or looking at the facts. You probably never will believe any evidence contrary to your belief because at this point, you MUST be right. You cannot fathom being wrong. In reality, you are wrong and other people see that. Sadly, you never will.

    • MikeW

      Global Warming of Doom cultists like RanWiz have lost their primary advocate and funder, now that Obama has (finally) left office. It’s time for Trump to drain the GWOD swamp!

    • Michael Gore

      Hahha you must have missed the story about the Russian Climate Change research ship that became unexpectedly Icebound a couple years ago and had to be rescued over Christmas. Here is a quote that made me chuckle:

      “They reported on Dec. 30, that a statement from the Australasian Antarctic Expedition said, “Sea ice is disappearing due to climate change, but here ice is building up.””

  • Ramona

    Here is the truth: This world is going to endure for as long as God wants it to endure. Controlling the weather will not prolong your life nor will it prevent you from dying. Yes, man is afraid of intense heat and should be afraid. The weather will get hot, very hot, in the End Time, the Bible says so. I do not understand the intense concern about this subject to the point of frantic mania. What is really at the basis of this hysteria?

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