I clearly recall the day my statistics professor railed against categorical response to the 95% confidence level as “statistically significant.” It is hard to believe that Jones, who is younger than I, did not hear something similar in school. Suppose that when next year’s data are processed, the confidence level goes down to 94%. Will Jones revert to saying that the observed warming is not statistically significant?
It is impossible to decide absolutely whether human activity is causing global warming. Scientists in general, and climate scientists in particular, should explain that their research leads to degrees of belief.
Furthermore, what policymakers need is Bayesian processing of climate data, not the Fisherian silliness of Phil Jones. That is, the possibility of anthropogenic global warming calls for sophisticated risk management rather than a true-false decision. We are gambling on the future of the world, and the only reasonable response, given present information, is to hedge our bets.
[Thanks to jivlain for his comment. I'm presently having to use an outdated browser, and cannot enter a comment of my own. So I'll respond here. From the infamous BBC Q&A with Jones in February 2010:
B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warmingJones should have known to respond that the trend was statistically significant at the p% confidence level.]
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.
[Bob O'H, it's great to see a statistician call for such a straightforward interpretation. But you're apparently looking at different numbers than Jones is:
C - Do you agree that from January 2002 to the present there has been statistically significant global cooling?I'll hazard a guess that your data have been adjusted to take radiative forcing into account — as they should be. Total solar irradiance (TSI, plotted here) contributes substantially to global temperatures, and cycles up and down with a quasi-period of about 11 years. The most recent downswing in TSI began in 2002, was more pronounced than usual, and lasted longer than usual (until 2009). The BBC question is utterly ill-posed, because it calls for analysis of cherry-picked data.]
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.