03 December 2009

An Inauspicious Start

The Global Warming Policy Foundation is a new UK think tank headed by Nigel Lawson. Its aim seems pretty reasonable and indeed much needed:

The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is an all-party and non-party think tank and a registered educational charity

Our main purpose is to bring reason, integrity and balance to a debate that has become seriously unbalanced, irrationally alarmist, and all too often depressingly intolerant.

The GWPF's primary purpose is to help restore balance and trust in the climate debate that is frequently distorted by prejudice and exaggeration

Our main focus is to analyse global warming policies and its economic and other implications. Our aim is to provide the most robust and reliable economic analysis and advice.

We intend to develop alternative policy options and to foster a proper debate (which at present scarcely exists) on the likely cost and consequences of current policies.

We are funded entirely by voluntary donations from a number of private individuals and charitable trusts. In order to make clear its complete independence, it does not accept gifts from either energy companies or anyone with a significant interest in an energy company.

However, it is off to a rocky start, as explained by Hannah Devlin, at the TimesOnline Eureka Zone blog:

If you feel reassured that GWPF is taking the matter in hand, think again. Peering a little more closely at the GWPF's website reveals cause for real concern.

Every page of the website features a graph in the top left hand corner claiming [PICTURED ABOVE] to represent average global temperatures over the last eight years, from 2001 to 2008. The graph appears to show a general trend of cooling over this period. There is no reference indicating what data this graph is based on. But in an email to Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Institute Benny Peiser, the director of GWPF, said that the data came from the HADCRU datasets, available online here.

Mr Ward, flagged up the graph because the shape looked different to any of the standard global temperature patterns over this period. In particular, it appeared to show a stronger cooling trend. In an email to Dr Peiser he wrote:

It does not appear to correspond to any of the official records of global average temperature published by the Met Office, NASA or NOAA and not even that of the University of Arizona at Huntsville. I am particularly intrigued by the graph's indication that 2003 was a warmer year than 2005, which none of the official records show.

In response, Dr Peiser admitted there had been a "small error", which resulted in the 2003 temperature being plotted as cooler rather than hotter than 2005.

Here's the GWPF graph plotted that I plotted (complete with Peiser's error) from the HADCRU figures. If you want to do it yourself, the first column here represents the year and the second is the average temperature. The GWPF used a figure of 0.487 instead of 0.457 as the temperature for 2003.


Also interesting is the chosen range used in the graph. The HADCRU dataset contains figures up until 2009 - why not use the latest figure? And why start in 2001 and not 2000? Here's what you get with the corrected 2003 temperature and a range of 2000-2009.


Quite a different picture.

Dr Peiser told The Times that the error was due to a mistake by the graphic designer who created the graph. When first contacted, Dr Peiser said that the graph would be updated in the next few days, which in my view was a bit slack for a charity set up ostensibly to aid public understanding. In an email just received, he revised this saying the graph will now be updated in the next few hours.

Once the GWPF gets its website fixed, it might next want to take a closer look at its advisory board, if balance is indeed a desired objective. And it might think twice about using CRU data -- or any science data -- as the symbol for a Foundation supposedly focused on economics and policy. Just a thought.