Error Bars

The Lead: Researchers with UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Princeton University recently walked back scientific findings published last month that showed oceans have been heating up dramatically faster than previously thought as a result of climate change.

This study was published in Nature and was used at the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  It was used to point out that the collection of gas samples of oxygen and nitrogen collected diffusing from the ocean had an problem.  The error bars were to small.  These samples were supposed to be independent proof of warming oceans that did not involved buoy temperature measurements.    The Princeton researcher stated “It’s a promising new method, but we didn’t get the precision right on the first pass.”   He went on and said, “Our error margins are too big now to really weigh in on the precise amount of warming that’s going on in the ocean,” Keeling said. “We really muffed the error margins.”

This paper went through review from two different universities and the editorial board for the journal Nature.  Yet, they muffed the error margins.  From the article, “Keeling said they have since redone the calculations, finding the ocean is still likely warmer than the estimate used by the IPCC. However, that increase in heat has a larger range of probability than initially thought — between 10 percent and 70 percent, as other studies have already found.”

A correction was added to the journal Nature so everything is fine.  It is a good thing that there a climate deniers like Nic Lewis.  He is described in the articles as a “critic of the scientific consensus around human-induced warming.”  Yet, he was the one who found the mistake.   Did he report it to Nature?  No, he had to go to independent news outlet in the form of a blog of Judith Curry.    Here is the blog website:

Here is Nic Lewis’ conclusion on the blog which summed it up:

The findings of the Resplandy et al paper were peer reviewed and published in the world’s premier scientific journal and were given wide coverage in the English-speaking media. Despite this, a quick review of the first page of the paper was sufficient to raise doubts as to the accuracy of its results. Just a few hours of analysis and calculations, based only on published information, was sufficient to uncover apparently serious (but surely inadvertent) errors in the underlying calculations.

Moreover, even if the paper’s results had been correct, they would not have justified its findings regarding an increase to 2.0°C in the lower bound of the equilibrium climate sensitivity range and a 25% reduction in the carbon budget for 2°C global warming.

Because of the wide dissemination of the paper’s results, it is extremely important that these errors are acknowledged by the authors without delay and then corrected.

Of course, it is also very important that the media outlets that unquestioningly trumpeted the paper’s findings now correct the record too.

But perhaps that is too much to hope for.

Yes, Nic is might be too much to hope for.





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