The BEST mess

The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project aimed to do something quite useful: clear up any confusion regarding land surface temperature trends.

But it seems to have become a mess.

Some have questioned the impartiality of the project team (and its funders and advisers in particular). I’m not sure how concerned I was about this – if this project showed that the 3 established global temperature datasets were more-or-less sound then that would surely put the issue to bed for all but the most detached from reality.

There are many problems with long records of temperature and maybe the best outcome for the “skeptics” would be a stronger judgement on uncertainty.

But it seems that just doing the work and then publishing it without making the most of the limelight is too much too ask.

I only really took notice of the project when Richard Muller (BEST Chair) gave an interview in the Guardian in February.

More recently, Climate Progress “revealed” the outcome of the BEST analysis via an email from Ken Caldeira (who “helped fund the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study, but didn’t participate in it” – CP).

This came after Muller had given a talk on the Current State of Climate Change – a Non-Partisan Analysis at Berkeley, which appears to be getting ahead of himself.

At some point the BEST “Findings” page was updated to say:

A preliminary analysis of 2% of the Berkeley Earth dataset shows a global temperature trend that goes up and down with global cycles, and does so broadly in sync with the temperature records from other groups such as NOAA, NASA, and Hadley CRU. However, the preliminary analysis includes only a very small subset (2%) of randomly chosen data…

…and then Watts criticises Caldeira for jumping to conclusions from 2% of randomly chosen data, which according to Watts all comes from Japan.

I’m not really sure what to make of all this, well, other than that everyone looks a bit daft when commenting on the outcome of projects before they’ve even got their results.

5 Responses to “The BEST mess”

  1. cruton Says:

    I read the watts article, and it looks more like he was criticizing Romm rather than Caldeira.

  2. diogenes Says:

    my take is that it shows how poisoned some of the blogs have become. Reading the different accounts of who said what and who knows what rapidly descends to childish name-calling. That said, why is Romm so anxious to discredit the project?

    • andyrussell Says:

      Completely agree, it’s dangerous out there!

      Watts has now published an errata to his origin post saying that the Japan bit was wrong. Whilst it’s ok to be wrong sometimes, I was surprised how dismissive he was of commenters asking for clarification.

      I don’t really know much about Romm so don’t know what his motivation might be.

      • John Mashey Says:

        It isn’t a question of being anxious to discredit the project, as in Muller’s handling of it, i.e., the strange composition of staff and funding (for some of us, Koch funding raises serious hackles), Muller’s long sniping at climate scientists, and then talking about how BEST was non-partisan and would do it right, and then finally admitting the others weren’t so bad, saying the 2% analysis agreed, but they hadn’t done the adjustments yet, so maybe when they were done, the results would disagree.

        Cold fusion.

        The BEST study itself may be fine (Robert Rohde is OK guy), but it would be nice to see actual results in a peer-reviewed paper, and it would be nice to see if analysis of lots of extra data yields significantly different results than long analysis of smaller subsets chosen by people who regularly do this.

        Usually, in my experience, given that data costs money, people usually try to figure out smaller data sets whose results are good enough.

        but, back to Muller. Do recall that he “found” a 62My cycle in extinctions, but:

        In tamino’s thread Mathturbation, I raised the issue of Muller/Rohde on 62.5My extinction peaks:

        that’s under “current Research @

        Various other people contributed relevant notes, of which the following is especially relevant, pointed out by GP:
        Richard Cowen @ UC DAvis
        “This paper is a wonderful example of scientists using the wrong tools to attack a problem.”
        “Now let’s move to what Rohde and Muller actually did. First, they threw away more than half of Sepkoski’s data: those genera that happen to have had a short history and/or a small number of fossils. These discarded data are real data, of course, and throwing half the data away may very well bias the analysis, for example against times when marine life was evolving quickly.”

        GP ends,

        “And what’s more, of the three ‘big’ extinction events that produce much of the periodicity, one (the K-T) was very likely due to asteroid impact, while the other (P-T) has been commonly attributed to massive volcanic activity leading to greenhouse warming. Two very different physical meachanisms producing different peaks on a single sine curve – really?

        It’s a pity we only have Cowen’s write-up. This should have been taken down authoritatively.”

  3. A little bit more on BEST and Watts « Our Clouded Hills Says:

    […] wrote a short post recently about the hot air surrounding the new surface temperature record being compiled at […]

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