Matt Ridley recently ran a three-column Wall Street Journal series on the topic of scientific confirmation bias, culminating with an article titled “How Bias Heats Up the [Global] Warming Debate”.
Here, he cited the example of two media announcements of preliminary new papers on climate, one authored by a team led by physicist Richard Muller of UC Berkeley which concluded that, “the carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried” for what Ridley refers to as a modest 0.8 Celsius-degree rise in global average temperatures over land during the past half-century, and less if ocean is included. He points out that while this may be right, “such curve-fitting reasoning is an example of confirmation bias.”
For comparison, Ridley refers to a team led by meteorologist Anthony Watts, (whom he approvingly refers to as a “skeptical gadfly”), which indicates that the Muller team’s numbers are too high because their reported 1979-2008 U.S. temperature trends are “spuriously doubled” (a term applied by the Watts team). Their conclusions are based upon bad thermometer siting and unjustified post-recording adjustments.
Ridley doesn’t suggest that claims presented by either of those papers are dishonest, nor do either of the two teams make such accusations regarding the other. Still, since I am quite familiar with their huge multi-year effort involving hundreds of volunteers, it is my opinion that the Watts team’s very conscientious research does provide a solid basis for challenging the Muller team’s findings. So am I biased? You bet!