“Everything you need to know about global mean surface temperature but were too afraid to ask”

  • Date: Tuesday 14 November 2017
  • Time: 14.00- 15.00
  • Location: School of Earth and Environment Seminar Rooms 8.119
  • Presenter: Kevin Cowtan, University of York
  • Event: ICAS External Seminar


Historical temperature record products provide a vital resource for evaluating the impact of human activity on the climate, for identifying internal cycles in the climate system, and for evaluating the performance of climate models. There are at least five major historical products based on surface observations, as well as reconstructions from satellite data and reanalyses. A user of the data, looking to answer their own research question, must evaluate which product is most suitable for their purposes, and ask whether the data are even capable of answering their question. Unfortunately, data providers do not always effectively communicate the limitations of their data, and users may not know what questions to ask. We will take a look at what can go wrong if as users we don’t understand the historical temperature products. Given that we can’t expect every user to become an expert in the data (because we need them to be experts in their own problems) this represents an ongoing challenge in the scientific process.


Kevin Cowtan trained as a theoretical physicist at York, and has worked for 20 years on the development of software for solving the 3-dimensional structures of biological molecules from X-ray crystallography data. Over the past five years he has, by accident and an interest in why people reject science, started working on data analysis problems relating to climate change. He maintains historical temperature record datasets based an alternative analysis of Met Office data, works on answers to scientific questions where the uncertainty is being exploited for misinformation purposes, and has contributed to an online course on science denial.

Coffee and cake available in the SEE foyer after the event