It was never supposed to be a trick question. Which year is the hottest on record? Depending where one looks, there are three different answers: 2006, 1998 or 1934. Until last week, the answer was supposed to be 2006, but it might have been 1998. Now, citing corrections of faulty data, NASA says it was actually 1934. The National Climactic Data Center disagrees; it still says 1998.
The differences are a matter of tenths of a degree Celsius, which might seem to diminish the significance of the corrections. Except that unusually warm years in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s are themselves only a few tenths of a degree Celsius away from the purportedly dangerous hot temperatures of the present. Only one thing is certain: The political debate over global warming has rushed far ahead of the science.
Here’s what we know: The National Climatic Data Center reported in mid-January that 2006 was the hottest year on record. Then, in May, it revised the numbers, concluding that 1998, in fact, was the hottest on record. NASA’s old numbers echoed that last contention. But last week, it emerged that NASA had quietly restated its numbers, without fanfare or so much as a press release, after a blogger pointed out faulty methodology. Now, per NASA: 1934 is hottest, followed by 1998, 1921, 2006 and 1931.
The media coverage amid this confusion has been execrable. Last week’s Newsweek purports to take readers inside the world of “Global-Warming Deniers: A Well-Funded Machine” without mentioning that the global-warming alarmists are even better funded, in some cases with government support. Naturally, Newsweek is not very interested in the recent data restatement.
Here’s another hysteric, The Washington Post, in January: “Last year was the warmest in the continental United States in the past 112 years,” read its front-page story, “capping a nine-year warming streak ‘unprecedented in the historical record’ that was driven in part by the burning of fossil fuels, the government reported yesterday.” Funny, but we thought “unprecedented” would require an absence of, well, precedents, such as the 1920s and 1930s. These years were similarly warm decades, like the present.
Alas, when the source of data that prompted this story, the National Climatic Data Center, adjusted its numbers in May, The Post did not correct its shrieking January story. Nor has The Post yet bothered to report NASA’s latest data restatement. Instead, on Friday, we get: “Did Global Warming Cause NYC Tornado?”
If we cannot get through 2007 without a data restatement so fundamental that it dethrones the “hottest year on record,” we should not keep hearing angry intonations that “The debate is over.” The debate is not over — not if such basic climate data is so disputed.