During his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama talked about climate change and claimed, “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.”
Obama was basing his statement on a press release by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). According to the NASA data collected from more than 3,000 weather stations around the globe, “The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880.” Climate change skeptics pushed back by questioning the accuracy of the report (more on that below) which invariably led to push back on the claims of the skeptics.
For instance, Marcelo Gleiser, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, wrote for NPR that “Clearly, the scientists in charge know what they are doing.”
Dr. Gleiser is a scientist, not a journalist, so such a silly appeal to expertise can be excused.* But many journalists, like everyone else, seem to have the same “experts must know” reaction to such claims. The problem is that there isn’t much evidence the experts even know what true global temperatures are—or that they can even acquire such data with any precision.
Before you dismiss me as a “skeptic” let me clarify what sort of skeptic I am so that you can dismiss my viewpoint for the right reasons.
I’m not an anthropomorphic climate change skeptic; I’m agnostic on the question of whether mankind is heating up the planet (though I’d be surprised if we didn’t have some effect). What I am a skeptical about—closer to an outright “denialist”—is the idea that global surface temperatures can be measures with any precision.
Let me explain the reasons why and then I’ll discuss why it matters.