It didn’t take long for the latest global warming announcement – that 2014 was the “warmest year on record” – to dissolve into a heap of statistical mush.

Just a few days after The New York Times and The Washington Post both had major, widely distributed stories making that claim, one of their principal sources, NASA, was saying it was, well, not quite accurate. As in, not accurate at all.

Here’s the Times’ unrestrained version: “Last year was the hottest in Earth’s recorded history, scientists reported (Jan. 16), underscoring scientific warnings about the risks of runaway emissions and undermining claims by climate-change contrarians that global warming had somehow stopped.”

As usual, it takes a British newspaper to straighten out its American cousins with the details that didn’t make it into either the stories published here or the original government news release.

As the London Daily Mail reported, referring to an analysis by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies: “The claim made headlines around the world, but (on Jan. 18) it emerged that GISS’s analysis – based on readings from more than 3,000 measuring stations worldwide – is subject to a margin of error. NASA admits this means it is far from certain that 2014 set a record at all.”

The report continues, “Yet the NASA press release failed to mention this, as well as the fact that the alleged ‘record’ amounted to an increase over 2010, the previous ‘warmest year,’ of just two-hundredths of a degree – or 0.02 C. The margin of error is said by scientists to be approximately 0.1 C.”

Yes, you read that right: The margin of error was five times as large as the finding itself.

That means, the Daily Mail continued, “GISS’s director Gavin Schmidt has now admitted NASA thinks the likelihood that 2014 was the warmest year since 1880 is just 38 percent. However, when asked by this newspaper whether he regretted that the news release did not mention this, he did not respond.”

The story added that another analysis, from the Berkeley Earth project (an independent lab that generally affirms warming theories) was “drawn from 10 times as many measuring stations as GISS (and) concluded that if 2014 was a record year, it was by an even tinier amount.”

Let’s examine that “38 percent” confidence figure for 2014 being “the hottest year on record.” We need to understand that the “records” being referred to do not cover the entire span of human history, as you might be tempted to conclude.

Instead, they go back only to the 1880s, to the end of a century-long period of cold weather so deep it is called “the Little Ice Age.”

Some of the implications of this include:

 First, if something has a 38 percent probability of being true, that means it has a 62 percent probability of being false.

In fact, a chart of the reliability of predictions maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the other main source for the “warmest year” story, says that if something falls in the range of between 33 percent and 50 percent probability, it is “more unlikely than likely” to be true.

 Second, if the world wasn’t considerably warmer before the Little Ice Age, why was it called that? In fact, the planet may still be reverting to more normal temperature levels.

 Third, if the world has been slightly warming since an extended period of cold that produced widespread crop failures, disease and general hardship, why is that a problem?

 Fourth, why is the fact that when temperatures vary by such tiny amounts, they raise such great concerns?

Overall temperature readings (including two different sets of satellite measurements, both of which show less warming but which – for some reason – were not included in this surface-temperature report) still show temperatures increasing only minimally since the mid-1990s.

They display a trend line that is nearly flat, growing less quickly than even the lowest of the unproven computer predictions cited so often by authorities, despite rising CO2 levels.

 Finally, using ice cores collected from NOAA’s Greenland Ice Sheet Project, which was funded by the National Science Foundation in the 1980s, scientists were able to track temperatures there for 12,000 years, back to the end of the last real Ice Age.

They show not only that there is no correlation between CO2 levels and warming, but also that during that period, temperatures were higher than the present day for an astounding 90 percent of the time.

So, when you are told that temperatures are at “record” levels, be aware of just how limited that term actually is – and how easy it is to make claims based on raw data that, put in context, really aren’t spectacular at all.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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