14 April 2008

How to treat spin?

In March 2003, I wrote:
...much of the propoganda on WMD's has been misleading or dishonest. Sure, Iraq is months away from making nuclear weapons (if someone else gives them fissionable material). The same goes for the Sons of Glendwyr — getting fissionable material is the only difficult bit.
The government had tried to make us think Iraq had a nuclear weapons programme by telling us, effectively, that it didn't. That was much more revealing than an actual lie, even an obvious lie, because it proved that the government knew the facts and was spinning them in one direction.

Now some climate sceptics have been claiming that the world has not got any warmer for the last ten years. I actually didn't think that was true: from what I saw there was a confusion between US and global temperatures. I have not repeated the claim here because I didn't think it was true.

But the World Meteorological Organisation apparently published a statement that begins:
GENEVA, 4 April 2008 (WMO) - The long-term upward trend of global warming, mostly driven by greenhouse gas emissions, is continuing. Global temperatures in 2008 are expected to be above the long-term average. The decade from 1998 to 2007 has been the warmest on record, and the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74C since the beginning of the 20th Century.
According to the Deltoid blog I got this from, they put out the statement "to correct the erroneous claims in the media that global warming had stopped"

The thing about the statement is that every factual claim is entirely consistent with the claim that global temperatures have not risen for ten years.

Since they unquestionably rose before 1998, they obviously remain above the long-term average, and likewise the last decade is the warmest on record. Temperatures have obviously risen over the last century. The rest of the WMO statement, (at least, the rest of what was quoted by Deltoid) also fails to contradict the proposition that temperatures have not risen since 1998.

Now, as facts go, it's a minor one. It's perfectly true that ten years is not long enough to draw any firm conclusions from. But like the 2003 Iraq claims, the fact of the spin is much more significant to me than what I can actually know for sure. I didn't know what WMDs Iraq might have, but I knew for certain that the government was trying to make it seem like they had more than was actually the case. I don't know how strong the evidence for AGW is, but I now know as an absolute certainty that the WMO is trying to make the evidence appear stronger than it is, in both cases not because the authorities are lying, but because they are spinning.

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