Climate Communication Graphics –  
‘Escalator’ critics miss the point

Guest post by ClimateBites contributing author John Russell.

In November 2011 Dana N. at Skeptical Science produced this striking animated graph called ‘The Escalator.’   The graph clearly demonstrates how critics cherry-pick short periods of time to convince themselves that ‘warming is over.’  [See “Skeptical cherry-picking, brilliantly exposed!”]

‘The Escalator’ went viral, and has also become a target for skeptics, who try to poke holes in it by questioning the actual data  from which the graph is constructed, rather than concentrating on its learning point.

But challenging the data misses the whole point.    It does not matter what the data represents because the point of the graph is to expose a simple fact:   Whenever there are many random variations (noise) in a graph, it is possible to find short periods when an observer can be deceived about the actual pitch (steepness) of the slope.    The overall trend becomes apparent only when we zoom out to look at a longer time period.

This is why to extract a meaningful trend for global temperatures, which are influenced by so many variables, scientists recommend looking at a minimum period of about  30 years.

It’s a bit like climbing up a rocky mountain in a fog. Have we reached the top, or is it just a false crest? Only when the path starts to climb downhill for a while can we be reasonably confident that we have passed the peak.   And even then, not until we get back to the starting altitude can we say for certain that our climb is over.

For anyone who needs more evidence that global temperatures are still rising, check out NASA’s site: 


7 thoughts on “Climate Communication Graphics –  
‘Escalator’ critics miss the point

  1. climatechangecomedian

    I really like your analogy, “It’s a bit like climbing up a rocky mountain in a fog. Have we reached the top, or is it just a false crest?” I have been thinking about a similar analogy myself with closed minded skeptics saying the global temperature has not increased over the past 15 years. It is like standing on the flat summit of Mt. Everest saying, ‘This cannot be mountain because it is perfectly flat from where I am standing.”

  2. Dana

    Nice post John. I thought it was pretty amusing to see all the fake skeptics pick up Briggs’ post when they clearly had no idea what he was arguing. They were clearly itching for some sort of attack on The Escalator, and any attack would do. Cartoon Josh compared it to an IPCC figure showing warming trends of 25, 50, and 100 years, suggesting that’s the same thing as cherrypicking short-term data. Clearly they completely missed the point, as this post notes.

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