Fox News twists words of climate scientist Phil Jones in its continued assault on global warming science

››› ››› JOCELYN FONG

Following a February 13 BBC Q&A with Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, Fox News' Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Stuart Varney and Fox & Friends have distorted Jones' comments to suggest that they undermine the consensus that human activities are contributing to warming global temperatures.

Varney, Hannity, Beck misrepresent Jones' comments on extent of Medieval Warm Period

Varney: Jones "says that the middle ages were warmer than they are - than the climate now." From the February 16 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

VARNEY: The story here, Alisyn, is that the conventional wisdom of the last generation is now in doubt. The man-made global warming theory has been seriously challenged. You mentioned Professor Jones, he's the man who created and organized much of the data that went into the UN's climate panel in Copenhagen. Three things on that issue there. Number one, he now says that the middle ages were warmer than they are - than the climate now, the temperature now. How did that happen way before industrialization? Number two, as you said Alisyn, there's been no appreciable warming in the last 15 years. Why not? It was supposed to happen.

Hannity: Jones said "the world may have been warmer in Medieval Times, that is to say up until now, which would undermine the theory of this manmade global warming all together." From the February 15 edition of Hannity:

HANNITY: And tonight's "Meltdown" is brought to you by Phil Jones, the scientist at the center of the ClimateGate scandal. Believe it or not, the scandal is bigger than you think.

Now keep in mind that Jones' findings have been used for years to bolster the U.N.'s findings on climate change. Now, in an interview with the BBC over the weekend Jones admitted that there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995, that the world may have been warmer in Medieval Times, that is to say up until now, which would undermine the theory of this manmade global warming all together. And that warming in recent times mirrors warming patterns from pre-industrial periods.

Beck: Jones said "to quote, obviously, the late 20th century was not unprecedented." From the February 15 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: Phil Jones admits, yes, no real consensus on this one. Too much debate on whether an event known as the medieval warming period, yes, was global in nature and hotter than it is like right now.

So, to quote, obviously, the late 20th century was not unprecedented. Oh, good.

In fact, Jones said available data is insufficient to establish that Medieval Warm Period was "global in extent."

Jones: Insufficient data available to determine "whether the Medieval Warm Period was global in extent." During his Q&A with BBC, Jones stated that "[t]here is much debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period [MWP] was global in extent or not" and that "[f]or it to be global in extent the MWP would need to be seen clearly in more records from the tropical regions and the Southern Hemisphere. There are very few palaeoclimatic records for these latter two regions." Jones further said, "We know from the instrumental temperature record that the two hemispheres do not always follow one another. We cannot, therefore, make the assumption that temperatures in the global average will be similar to those in the northern hemisphere." From the Q&A:

[BBC:] G - There is a debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was global or not. If it were to be conclusively shown that it was a global phenomenon, would you accept that this would undermine the premise that mean surface atmospheric temperatures during the latter part of the 20th Century were unprecedented?

[JONES:] There is much debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period was global in extent or not. The MWP is most clearly expressed in parts of North America, the North Atlantic and Europe and parts of Asia. For it to be global in extent the MWP would need to be seen clearly in more records from the tropical regions and the Southern Hemisphere. There are very few palaeoclimatic records for these latter two regions.

Of course, if the MWP was shown to be global in extent and as warm or warmer than today (based on an equivalent coverage over the NH and SH) then obviously the late-20th century warmth would not be unprecedented. On the other hand, if the MWP was global, but was less warm that today, then current warmth would be unprecedented.

We know from the instrumental temperature record that the two hemispheres do not always follow one another. We cannot, therefore, make the assumption that temperatures in the global average will be similar to those in the northern hemisphere.

IPCC report similarly notes that Medieval Warm Period data is insufficient. Contrary to the suggestion that Jones' remarks about the Medieval Warm Period are a new admission by climate scientists, Jones' statement is "fully consistent with the conclusions of the most recent IPCC report," as RealClimate.org noted. Indeed, Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated in the 2007 report that "[i]n order to reduce the uncertainty" about the Medieval Warm Period, "further work is necessary to update exiting records ... and to produce many more, especially early, palaeoclimate series with much wider geographic coverage." From the IPCC report: [emphasis added]

In order to reduce the uncertainty, further work is necessary to update existing records, many of which were assembled up to 20 years ago, and to produce many more, especially early, palaeoclimate series with much wider geographic coverage. There are far from sufficient data to make any meaningful estimates of global medieval warmth (Figure 6.11). There are very few long records with high temporal resolution data from the oceans, the tropics or the SH [Southern Hemisphere].

The evidence currently available indicates that NH mean temperatures during medieval times (950-1100) were indeed warm in a 2-kyr context and even warmer in relation to the less sparse but still limited evidence of widespread average cool conditions in the 17th century (Osborn and Briffa, 2006). However, the evidence is not sufficient to support a conclusion that hemispheric mean temperatures were as warm, or the extent of warm regions as expansive, as those in the 20th century as a whole, during any period in medieval times (Jones et al., 2001; Bradley et al., 2003a,b; Osborn and Briffa, 2006).

Jones said that if the Medieval Warm Period "was shown to be global in extent ... then obviously the late 20-th century warmth would not be unprecedented." Contrary to Beck's claim that Jones said, "to quote, obviously, the late 20th century was not unprecedented," Jones stated during the Q&A that "if the MWP was shown to be global in extent and as warm or warmer than today (based on an equivalent coverage over the [Northern Hemisphere] and [Southern Hemisphere]) then obviously the late-20th century warmth would not be unprecedented." He also stated that "[f]or it to be global in extent the MWP would need to be seen clearly in more records from the tropical regions and the Southern Hemisphere" and that "we cannot ... make the assumption that temperatures in the global average will be similar to those in the northern hemisphere."

Beck and Hannity claim Jones said warming in the late 20th century is "not unique,"' "mirrors warming patterns from pre-industrial periods"

From the February 15 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: Central figure of the leaked e-mail scandal known by some who actually read papers that report the truth - climate-gate. Along with his admissions now in an interview with the right wing organization, the BBC, this is what he said. The rate of warming in the late 20th century not unique. What? Really?

Yes, he goes on to say, "Yeah, it happened two other times in the past 150 years alone. Almost had you." Between 1860 and 1880, and then again 1910 to 1940, started to heat up and then it went down again. That seemed to work itself out. Oh by the way, those were both far before anybody had an SUV or there was a significant impact from man-made emissions.

From the February 15 edition of Hannity:

HANNITY: Now keep in mind that Jones' findings have been used for years to bolster the U.N.'s findings on climate change. Now, in an interview with the BBC over the weekend Jones admitted that there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995, that the world may have been warmer in Medieval Times, that is to say up until now, which would undermine the theory of this manmade global warming all together. And that warming in recent times mirrors warming patterns from pre-industrial periods.

In fact, Jones said explanation of recent warming differs from previous warming periods

Jones: Cause of previous warming periods differs from "recent warming" which is "predominantly manmade." During his Q&A with BBC, Jones stated that "the warming rates" of previous warming periods after 1860 are "similar and not statistically significantly different" from the most recent warming period. Jones was later asked, "If you agree that there were similar periods of warming since 1850 to the current period, and that the MWP is under debate, what factors convince you that recent warming has been largely man-made?" Jones responded, "The fact that we can't explain the warming from the 1950s by solar and volcanic forcing." He further stated that it would not be reasonable to conclude that "recent warming is not predominately manmade" from the evidence that there have been previous periods of warming since 1850. From the Q&A:

[BBC:] D - Do you agree that natural influences could have contributed significantly to the global warming observed from 1975-1998, and, if so, please could you specify each natural influence and express its radiative forcing over the period in Watts per square metre.

[JONES:] This area is slightly outside my area of expertise. When considering changes over this period we need to consider all possible factors (so human and natural influences as well as natural internal variability of the climate system). Natural influences (from volcanoes and the Sun) over this period could have contributed to the change over this period. Volcanic influences from the two large eruptions (El Chichon in 1982 and Pinatubo in 1991) would exert a negative influence. Solar influence was about flat over this period. Combining only these two natural influences, therefore, we might have expected some cooling over this period.

[...]

[BBC:] H - If you agree that there were similar periods of warming since 1850 to the current period, and that the MWP is under debate, what factors convince you that recent warming has been largely man-made?

[JONES:] The fact that we can't explain the warming from the 1950s by solar and volcanic forcing - see my answer to your question D.

[BBC:] I - Would it be reasonable looking at the same scientific evidence to take the view that recent warming is not predominantly manmade?

[JONES:] No - see again my answer to D.

Beck: Jones "says" planet is "cooling in the last few years"

From the February 16 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

DOOCY: Let's talk real quickly. There's a report out of the British tabloids -- newspapers yesterday that said that apparently Phil Jones is a professor over in England who has been overseeing a lot of this data and in fact is famous for the so-called hockey stick chart that shows that the earth has got a fever. Apparently he doesn't actually have the paperwork that supports it, and there's been no global warming for apparently 15 years.

BECK: 15 years. And it's now cooling. He says it's cooling in the last few years. I mean, I don't know why anyone believes this, but you'll notice that all of the supporters will all say, well it doesn't matter anyway. It doesn't matter anyway. If this was truly about science, especially at this critical time in our economic history, we'd be saying whoa, whoa whoa. We'd be doing what India's doing. Back off. Wait a minute, wait a minute. This whole thing is falling apart. We're not going to do this.

In fact, Jones said there has not been statistically significant cooling in recent years

Jones: Cooling trend "is not statistically significant." During his Q&A with BBC, Jones stated that from 1995-2009, there has been a positive warming trend that is "not significant at the 97% significance level." When asked, "Do you agree that from January 2002 to the present there has been statistically significant cooling?" Jones stated, "No," adding that a cooling trend during this period "is not statistically significant." From the Q&A:

[BBC:] B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

[JONES:] Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

[BBC:] C - Do you agree that from January 2002 to the present there has been statistically significant global cooling?

[JONES:] No. This period is even shorter than 1995-2009. The trend this time is negative (-0.12C per decade), but this trend is not statistically significant.

Fox & Friends claimed Jones "Hints 'warming' may not be man made"

The following on-screen text aired during a February 16 Fox & Friends discussion of Jones' comments:

Fox & Friends screen grab

In fact, Jones cited "evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity."

Jones: "[T]here's evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity." Jones was asked by BBC, "How confident are you that warming has taken place and that humans are mainly responsible?" Jones stated that "I'm 100% confident that the climate has warmed" and that "I would go along with IPCC Chapter 9 - there's evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity." As noted above, Jones also stated that "[t]he fact that we can't explain the warming from the 1950s by solar and volcanic forcing" indicates that recent warming is man-made. From the Q&A:

[BBC:] E - How confident are you that warming has taken place and that humans are mainly responsible?

[JONES:] I'm 100% confident that the climate has warmed. As to the second question, I would go along with IPCC Chapter 9 - there's evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity.

Beck and Hannity suggest Jones' statement that warming since 1995 is not statistically significant is an "admission" that undermines man-made global warming theory

From the February 15 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: Jones admits that there has been no significant warming since 1995, no statistically significant warming since 1995. Just doing the math in my head - that's 15 years. Fifteen years - that's weird.

Doesn't it go all the way back to when Al Gore was just a dull vice president and not a dull atmospheric scientist slash Nobel Prize- winning slash climate profiteer? Yes, I think it does - 1995.

[...]

BECK: The warming - not unprecedented. No significant warming since 1995. Is this the head of the global warming alarmist or a right wing think-tank? I'm not sure. After everything else that has happened lately, if this really was about science and we're really in a debt and the problems we're in now, wouldn't you already say, "Whew, we don't have to spend that money"?

From the February 15 edition of Hannity:

HANNITY: Now keep in mind that Jones' findings have been used for years to bolster the U.N.'s findings on climate change. In an interview with the BBC over the weekend Jones admitted that there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995, that the world may have been warmer in Medieval Times, that is to say up until now, which would undermine the theory of this manmade global warming all together. And that warming in recent times mirrors warming patterns from pre-industrial periods.

In fact, longer-term data establishes warming trend

Jones: "Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms" is "less likely for shorter periods." When asked, "Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming," Jones stated:

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

RealClimate.org: "It is extremely difficult to establish a statistically significant trend over a timer interval as short as 15 years." In a February 15 post, RealClimate.org's staff, which is comprised of several working climate scientists, similarly stated that "it is extremely difficult to establish a statistically significant trend over a timer interval as short as 15 years."

Met Office: Climate shows "continued variability, but an underlying trend of warming in the previously steady long-term averages." The Met Office states: "In 1998 the world experienced the warmest year since records began. In the decade since, however, this high point has not been surpassed. Some have seized on this as evidence that global warming has stopped, or even that we have entered a period of 'global cooling'. This is far from the truth and climate scientists have, in fact, recognised that a temporary slowdown in warming is possible even under increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions." [Met Office, accessed 9/22/09]

The Met Office further notes:

After three decades of warming caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions, why would there suddenly be a period of relative temperature stability -- despite more greenhouse gases being emitted than ever before? This is because of what is known as internal climate variability. In the same way that our weather can be warm and sunny one day, cool and wet the next, so our climate naturally varies from year to year, and decade to decade.

Before the twentieth century, when man-made greenhouse gas emissions really took off, there was an underlying stability to global climate. The temperature varied from year to year, or decade to decade, but stayed within a certain range and averaged out to an approximately steady level.

In the twentieth century we have had continued variability, but an underlying trend of warming in the previously steady long-term averages. This is what we observed in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Now we have seen a decade of little change in the average global temperature -- but that doesn't mean climate change has stopped, it's just another part of natural variability.

2000-2009 was warmest decade on record. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The U.K. Met Office, and the World Meteorological Organisation have all stated that 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record for the globe.

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