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, 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 a 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….
[Don’t miss the exciting conclusion!]
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Update That point is that NASA’s (or NOAA’s) way of calculating uncertainty about the 0.07 degree increase is wrong, as is detailed in the links at Stream (which come back to here to the technical articles about parametric versus predictive uncertainty, remembering all probability is conditional, and so forth). The hubris of thinking we can measure the surface temperature of the earth to the hundredth degree!
Update Below it was suggested that if I had a better method to account for the uncertainty in temperature reconstructions that I should publish it, that climatologists would love it and me, and that the world would be a better place. Well, I have published it. See Chapter 10 in Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. See also the links at Stream which point back to my pieces on the BEST reconstructions, etc., which (at the time) were noticed but then—somehow—forgotten. I will now sit back and await the accolades.