One of the first lessons that I was taught at university was the importance of checking original sources rather than relying on second hand interpretations of what someone had written. In the week following the Independent’s revelation that one of the foundations of many climate change denialists’ arguments seems to be based on a piece of fiction by Piers Akerman, you’d think that commentators would be making an effort to ensure that what they were representing was backed up by facts. Not so for Andrew Bolt, who has today ploughed on with his campaign against climate scientists.

One of the greatest scandals behind the IPCC’s fourth report was its use of seemingly fraudulent data in a paper co-authored by Climategate ringmaster Phil Jones which purported to use data from weather stations in rapidly urbanising China to claim the urban heat island effect was no big deal.

Sadly for anyone interested in understanding this story, Bolt’s article is a misrepresentation of what has actually happened.

The paper in question by Jones et al isn’t solely focussed on data from China, as you might imagine it was based on Bolt’s description, but looks at data from around the globe to see if suggestions that measured rises in global temperature are merely caused by urbanisation near weather stations.

We examine here an extensive set of rural-station temperature data for three regions of the world: European parts of the Soviet Union, eastern Australia and eastern China. When combined with similar analyses for the contiguous United States, the results are representative of 20% of the land area of the Northern Hemisphere and 10% of the Southern Hemisphere.

And what did they find?

The results show that the urbanization influence in two of the most widely used hemispheric data sets is, at most, an order of magnitude less than the warming seen on a century timescale.

Ok, so the paper wasn’t solely based on Chinese data but still, it does appear that there were some problems with that data so we should disregard the whole thing right? Well, in the article discussing this issue, which Bolt failed to link to, Jones had this to say

“The science still holds up” though, he adds. A follow-up study verified the original conclusions for the Chinese data for the period 1954–1983

In fact the follow up study found

Urban-related warming over China is shown to be about 0.1°C decade over the period 1951–2004, with true climatic warming accounting for 0.81°C over this period.

While another study found

UHI contributions to the long-term trends are less than 10% of the regional total warming during the period

So, Bolt’s scandal, that starkly illustrates how corrupt some of the science behind the great warming scare became is actually little more than a beat up. The problematic data is a small part of a larger set, not the whole, and when the conclusion was tested a second time it confirmed the original findings. Of course, you wouldn’t know that from reading Bolt’s article, or from anything that he linked to. So it raises the question, is Andrew Bolt trying to mislead his readers by leaving out pertinent information or does he simply not understand the importance of looking at original sources before he hits ‘post’?

Update: The ‘follow up study link’ has been updated as I inadvertently linked to the second paper on this subject. The paper linked to is the one in the footnotes of the Nature article.

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