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A Mistake with Repercussions

Filed under: — group @ 27 April 2006

Today, Science published an important comment pointing out that there were serious errors in a climate research article that it published in October 2004. The article concerned (Von Storch et al. 2004) was no ordinary paper: it has gone through a most unusual career. Not only did it make many newspaper headlines [New Research Questions Uniqueness of Recent Warming, Past Climate Change Questioned etc.] when it first appeared, it also was raised in the US Senate as a reason for the US not to join the global climate protection efforts. It furthermore formed a part of the basis for the highly controversial enquiry by a Congressional committee into the work of scientists, which elicited sharp protests last year by the AAAS, the National Academy, the EGU and other organisations. It now turns out that the main results of the paper were simply wrong.

Von Storch et al. claimed to have tested the climate reconstruction method of Mann et al. (1998) in model simulations, and found it performed very poorly. Now, Eugene Wahl, David Ritson and Caspar Amman show that the main reason for the alleged poor performance is that Von Storch et al. implemented the method incorrectly. What Von Storch et al. did, without mentioning it in their paper, was to remove the trend before calibrating the method against observational data – a step that severely degrades the performance of Climate Field Reconstruction (CFR) methods such as the Mann et al. method (unfortunately this erroneous procedure has already been propagated in a paper by Burger and Cubasch (GRL, 2005) where the authors refer to a personal communication with Von Storch to justify the use of the procedure). Another more recent analysis has shown that CFR methods perform well when used correctly. (See our addendum for a less technical description of what this is all about).

How big a difference does this all make? The calibration error in the temperature minimum around 1820, where one of the largest errors occurs, is shown as 0.6ºC in the standard case of 75% variance in the Von Storch et al analysis. This error reduces to 0.3ºC even in the seriously drift-affected ECHO-G run when the erroneous detrending step is left out. In the more realistic HadCM3 simulation, this error is just above 0.1ºC. The error margins (2 sigma) provided by Mann et al. and pictured in the IPCC report are ±0.17ºC (Fig. 2.21, the curves are reproduced in our addendum). It is therefore clear that the model test of Von Storch et al, had it been implemented correctly, would have shown a small but undramatic underestimation of variance and would have barely ruffled a feather.

Error made, error corrected, and all is well? Unfortunately not. A number of questions remain, which need to be resolved before the climate science community can put this affair to rest.

The first is: why did it take so long to correct this error, and why did the authors of the original paper not correct it themselves? The error is reasonably easy to spot, even for non-specialists (see addendum). And it was in fact spotted very soon after publication. In January 2005, a comment was submitted to Science which correctly pointed out that Von Storch et al. had calibrated with detrended data and had therefore not tested the Mann et al. method. As such comments are routinely passed to the original authors for a response, Von Storch et al. must have become aware of their mistake at this point at the latest. However, the comment was rejected by Science in May 2005.

In a paper dated July 2005, Zorita and Von Storch admit their error in passing, writing: “the trend is subtracted prior to the fit of the MBH regression/inflation model (von Storch et al. 2004). […] It seems, however, that MBH have exploited the trends”. It is thus clear that they knew that their central claim of the Science paper, namely that they had tested the Mann et al. method, was false. But rather than publishing a correction in Science, they wrote the above in a non-ISI journal called “Memorie della Societa Astronomica Italiana” that not many climatologists would read.

An unambiguous correction in Science, where the original paper appeared, would not only have been good scientific practice. It would have been particularly important given the large public and political impact of their paper. It would have been a matter of courtesy towards their colleagues Mike Mann, Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes, who had suffered a major challenge to their scientific reputations as well as having to invest a large amount of time to deal with the Congressional enquiry mentioned above. And it would have been especially pertinent given the unusually vitriolic media statements made previously: in an interview with a leading German news magazine, Von Storch had denounced the work of Mann, Bradley and Hughes as “nonsense” (“Quatsch”). And in a commentary written for the March 2005 German edition of “Technology Review”, Von Storch accused the journal Nature for putting their sales interests above peer review when publishing the Mann et al. 1998 paper. He also called the IPCC “stupid” and “irresponsible” for highlighting the results of Mann et al. in their 2001 report.

There were at least two further issues with the Von Storch et al. paper:

– The model run of Von Storch et al. suffers from a major climate drift due to an inappropriate initialisation procedure. Despite starting in medieval times, the model was initialised from a present-day, rather than pre-industrial, climate state – i.e. from a climate affected by human-caused warming. As a result, the Northern Hemisphere temperature in the model drops by about 1.5 ºC during the initial 100-year adjustment phase and keeps drifting down for the coming centuries. This problem is never mentioned and this part of the experiment is not shown in publications, although climate modellers know that such severe disequilibrium must cause a long-lasting climate drift in the remainder of the run. After Osborn et al. (2006) documented this problem, Von Storch et al. repeated their experiment with improved initialisation. Their new run shows that about half the cooling from medieval times to the 19th Century in their original paper was due to this artificial drift, but again they have not published a correction or demonstrated the impact of this issue (see addendum).

– Von Storch et al. also looked at another model, stating: “Similar results are obtained with a simulation with the third Hadley Centre coupled model (HadCM3), demonstrating that the results obtained here are not dependent on the particular climate characteristics of the ECHO-G simulation.” They have repeatedly made similar claims in the media. This is important, as any model result is considered somewhat preliminary until confirmed with an independent model. However, their statement appears to us to be a serious misrepresentation of the HadCM3 results which were shown only in the online supplement to their paper (see addendum).

In their response to the Wahl et al critique, Von Storch et al acknowledge the original problem but in order to salvage their result, they introduce a large ‘red noise’ component into the proxies. This changes the nature of their test and implies an ‘a priori’ loss of low frequency variance instead of trying to calculate whether a particular methodology produces such a loss.

One could view this story as a positive example for the self-correcting process of science: erroneous results are eventually spotted and corrected, even if it sometimes takes time. If only science were at stake here, we’d need say no more: this would have been a sometimes inappropriately sharp, but otherwise regular technical debate about improving the methodology of proxy reconstructions.

Unfortunately, while the dispute has been used in the public arena to score political points, e.g. to discredit the IPCC process and to question all of the relevant climate science, the significance of this dispute for the bigger picture has been wildly blown out of proportion (see here for a previous discussion). We hope that after this new correction, the discussion can move on to a more productive level. The key issue is how we can improve reconstructions of past large-scale climate variability – of which by now almost a dozen exist. We should not lose sight of the fact that the debate here is about a few tenths of a degree – a much smaller change than is projected for the next century. It is also important to remember one principal point: Conclusions on whether recent warmth is likely to have been unprecedented in the past millennium, or the recent extent of human-caused warming, are based on the accumulation of evidence from many different analyses and are rarely impacted by a technical dispute about any one paper such as this.

137 Responses to “A Mistake with Repercussions”

  1. 101
    Roger Smith says:

    Lisa, the IPCC assessment reports do pretty much what you are asking for. Try the Third Assessment Report Summary for Policymakers to start with.

  2. 102
  3. 103
    Doug Percival says:

    Dano wrote in comment #89: “… simplification of ecosystems is a possibility here …”

    Language is important. I think that you and I both understand what we are talking about, and what is at stake, but to many ordinary people “simplification of ecosystems” isn’t going to sound like something to be concerned about, or anything to inconvenience themselves about. It may even sound like a good thing. After all, didn’t Einstein once say that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”? Maybe it’s a good idea to clean out all those messy complicated ecosystems, all cluttered up with who-knows-what innumerable species that are probably no good to anybody, and replace them with nice simple corn fields or pasture for grazing cattle.

    What we are really talking about is an ongoing process of mass extinctions perhaps comparable to the mass extinctions that eliminated dinosaurs 65 million years ago, which anthropogenic global warming can only accelerate, and which a worst-case AGW scenario (e.g. massive release of methane and CO2 from thawing permafrost, widespread die-off of oceanic phytoplankton, etc) could overdrive into something like the mass extinctions at the end of the Permian 250 million years ago in which 90% of all life on earth was wiped out. We are talking about widespread, wholesale collapse of ecosystems.


    New Red List Paints Bleak Picture of Extinction
    By Duncan Graham-Rowe
    Tuesday 02 May 2006

    Excerpt (emphasis added):

    Two out of every five species on the planet that have been assessed by scientists face extinction, according to the latest World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

    Overall, 16,119 animal and plant species are in danger of extinction, including 1 in 8 birds, 1 in 4 mammals and 1 in 3 amphibian species. Since records began, 784 species have been declared extinct. From the poles to the deserts, “biodiversity loss is increasing, not slowing down,” says IUCN director-general Achim Steiner.

    The main cause, as ever, is people, as humanity impacts the world’s fauna and flora both directly and indirectly. While hunting and habitat loss continue to have a disastrous effect on species numbers, global warming is emerging as another threat.

  4. 104
    Hank Roberts says:

    Note also the US government is producing its own assessments. I’d love to see a side-by-side comparison whether the US is spinning their conclusions as they come out — but I see respected names listed among the contributors to the draft proposals being worked on, for example:

    The first of these US Climate reports just came out in final form:

    “… the observed patterns of change over the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural processes alone, nor by the effects of short-lived atmospheric constituents such as aerosols and tropospheric ozone alone.

    “The previously reported discrepancy between surface and atmospheric temperature trends is no longer apparent on a global scale. These trends are consistent with climate model simulations. …”

  5. 105
    Bob King says:

    Lisa & Gavin’s points are generally valid I think. One issue I raised earlier in the “press release” thread which hasn’t been picked up on is the role of high profile journals like Nature and Science which issue press releases on articles which they consider important, thereby emphaszing to the public the importance of a single paper rather than the consensus view. Consensus isn’t glamorous and most members of the public imagine scientists to be lone creatures who are derided until they make an Einsteinian like breakthough. That’s probably why contrarian views get such an airing.

    Further, there is considerable pressure at Nature and Science to jazz up the article both prior to submission (to get it through editorial pre-review) and later. In fact, sub-editors often actually re-write abstracts (bolded paragraphs in Nature) to increase their jazziness. They do quite a good job too and after the battle to get the darn thing accepted – a Herculean task – most authors are happy to let the sub-editor do whatever he or she wants to gild the lilly.

    That’s not all bad – but it certainly happens. Obviously more public science education and moderation is needed.

  6. 106
    lisa brooks says:

    Thanks Gavin and Mark! I guess what I was really trying to say is the the overall public (not necessaryly me) cannot tell who is using “good” or “bad” science.

  7. 107
    teacher ocean says:

    Lisa, my students often tell me the same thing. It goes something like “well you show us graphs and say one thing, and someone else shows us graphs and says something else. How are we to know who is telling the truth.” You are right in that this is a difficult issue to tackle and when you talk about “consensus reports” some of them start thinking “maybe this is a conspiracy..” So I have personal experience with what you are talking about and the only answer I can come up with is education, education and more education… I hear that there is even a group of skeptics out there who don’t buy into the whole gravity thing. I don’t know how they can not believe it as all things go down unless you stop them, always, every time.. But if people don’t want to believe something, they don’t.. Again I guess the answer is education. I’m just venting too.

  8. 108
    Hank Roberts says:

    Thanks to Martin and Gavin for trying to keep the thread on point.
    Please don’t stop following the topic as climate professionals have more to say.

  9. 109
    lisa brooks says:

    Sorry Hank…will keep to topic from now on…

  10. 110
    Hank Roberts says:

    Grin–I’m not the topic police, just saying I’ll watch for return to the focus when there’s more to say from the experts.

    The hosts deal with tangents as they see fit here, sometimes creating topics for them. I also find sme of the “other opinions” sites in the sidebar are welcoming to discussion of more free-range ideas that don’t tie directly to cites/research.

  11. 111
    pat neuman says:

    re 104.

    One of the respected names, Thomas Karl, said important things in Dec. 2003 (links below). Why didn’t anyone listen to him then? Why has Thomas Karl (director of NOAA NCDC) been so quiet since then?

    NCAR News Release December 2, 2003
    “No Doubt” Human Activity Is Affecting Global Climate, Top Scientists Conclude

    Full report (December 2003) at:
    Modern Global Climate Change

  12. 112
    Dano says:

    RE 103 (Percival):

    but to many ordinary people “simplification of ecosystems” isn’t going to sound like something to be concerned about, or anything to inconvenience themselves about.

    Yes I agree Doug. I have different audiences and I frame my messages according to audience. Comment 89 had an audience of educated people, hence my phraseology. My comment in 93 is more in line with what I would frame for the publics. For this particular case you bring up I would use “damage to the food web”.

    And I think it is important to see what points lisa and t.o. are making above (e.g. 106, 107); education is the key to understanding this issue, and I’d like to see Hank’s simple questions asked more often.



  13. 113
    Dan says:

    re: 111. Coincidentally, Thomas Karl is specifically quoted in an article from yesterday. See here

    [Response: Two interesting issues I picked up in the spin being put on the release of this report. First, it’s a little peculiar that this is being claimed as a success of the Climate Science Initiative, given that the biggest contributions to resolving the questions on vertical structure of warming (e.g. Fu et al) were funded by the normal NSF and NASA climate funding channels, and not particularly by the new money put in by the initiative. It’s useful to have a final declaration of what the scientific literature states on the subject, but this report is mainly an affirmation of what we already know (like a miniature version of IPCC). The second thing is that Christie was quoted at the end of Andy Revkin’s piece in the NYT today as saying basically that yeah global warming is happening but nothing we do now will stop it anyway so we might as well learn to adapt. Why anybody would listen to him after the history of his sloppy work on the satellite data is beyond me, but it’s clear he’s moved on from Canonical Skeptics Stage 1 (Global warming isn’t happening and if it is it’s not our fault) to Canonical Skeptics Stage 3 (It’s too late to do anything about it, so we might as well learn to live with it), without ever passing through Canonical Skeptics Stage 2 (Yes, global warming is happening, but it won’t hurt us, and will probably be on the whole a Good Thing). –raypierre ]

  14. 114
    pat neuman says:

    Has anything changed significantly in the way the U.S. Climate Change Science Program operates since June 2005?

    Policy News â??June 22, 2005
    Blowing the whistle on climate change: Interview with Rick Piltz
    For 10 years, Rick Piltz worked for the U.S. federal program that coordinates global climate change research for NASA, the U.S. EPA, the National Science Foundation, and other federal agencies. Once called the U.S. Global Change Research Program, it was renamed by President George W. Bush as the U.S. Climate Change Science Program

  15. 115
    Hank Roberts says:

    Pat, the answer appears to be yes.

    [Response: I note this is just the first of 21 reports, and seems (at a rough guess) to have taken about two years to issue, while basically just confirming what was already pretty clear when Fu et al came out. If the rest of the reports come at the same rate, that will take us to about 2046 before the assessment process is complete and one could perhaps start thinking about whether the conclusions just possibly might merit some actions to begin reducing CO2 emissions. I hope I’m just being pessimistic here. –raypierre]

    [Response: Actually the relevant papers were published in August last year (and discussed here: and – gavin]

    [Response: What I had in mind was that Fu et al already appeared May 6, 2004 and together with the earlier work by the RSS group had already deflated most of the concern that there was anything very seriously wrong with the way models did tropospheric warming. I absolutely agree, though, that there was important work since, as reviewed in our posts, and that it was entirely appropriate for a definitive government review to be delayed until this work could be incorporated into the synthesis. It never hurts to have more information, and it’s useful to have at least this one matter laid to rest by definitive proclamation, but I can’t help pointing out that an assessment process like this can be drawn out a very, very, long time, from which I leave readers to draw their own conclusions. Indeed, Revkin’s NYT piece on the release quotes a White House official as saying words to the effect: “Wait and see, this is just the first report and we have 20 more coming.” I myself am somewhat conflicted about the value of assessment processes such as these. On the one hand, as several astute comments have noted, policymakers should pay attention to broad reviews of the literature, not individual papers, so synthesis reports are valuable. On the other hand, since the NRC report commissioned to “check” whether IPCC T.A.R. was biased, there has been a growing tradition of spinning out US assessments to second-guess or duplicate what the IPCC is doing, implying the IPCC can’t be trusted to do it right. On the third hand, the US report got out the door fully a year before AR4 is likely to go to press. My real concern is how long the next 20 reports are going to take, and whether the delays will be seen as an excuse to hold up any start to considering the policy implications of the scientific results. Note that I’m not advocating for any specific policy here (in this forum), but just raising once again the point that scientific uncertainties shouldn’t be used as a blanket excuse to delay the formulation and implementation of policies. –raypierre]

  16. 116
    Randolph Fritz says:

    “How would the general public, who probably doesn’t know a forcing from Fun Chow Fat, realize when a “scientist” is feeding them “bad” science?”

    There’s a number of dimensions to this; one can simply look at predictions and evaluate them. The greater intensity of hurricanes is a simply recognized thing, easily accessible to the public. The meteorological data of temperature in the past few decades is another.

    Beyond that, look at the conduct of the people involved; look at who is connected with who. It is not so very difficult to tell who is honest and who is propagandizing in this debate, not any more; a bit of basic investigative journalism tells it very quickly.

    It really is not so hard as all that.

  17. 117
    pete best says:

    When I first started looking at the climate issue, I thought I bet that the Scientific consensus is right and not the climate skeptics. After reading around various articles and books I discvered this site and the rest appears to be history.

    Several recent articles in the UK broadsheet media have shown me even more that the skeptics tend to be right wing political figures and this seems to be the crux of the problem when they write articles for mainstream media.

    You hear things (and still do) like “climate change is a left wing conspiracy created to reduce our consumption and to make us weak”. There is a bias in the media depending on the politics of the media.

    In the UK for instance the BBC is deemed to be essentially a politically correct liberal organisation and there handling of climate changee stories is generally compliant with that, ie; it is real and we all need to cut back on energy use etc. Other media outlets such as the Daily Telegraph (traditional right wing newspaper) run climate skeptic articles often for some reason because it is right wing I guess.

    Often I have found it is all in the politics. Fortunately RC is science and hopwefully the mechanisms of science are above political bias.

  18. 118
    Eachran says:

    Two points :the first on the IPCC draft 4th report which I would like to know from the climate scientists is in what way materially different from the 3rd report; and the second is on The Economist which is publishing a survey on Global Warming in September where I would like to know if The Group has been contacted on this please.

    Personally I think that the draft report should have been open to the public from day one.

    As for The Economist, I would be surprised if they do not contact the group at some stage.

    Guardian today.

    A confidential draft of a high-level international report on the state of climate change has been posted on the internet by US officials months before it was due to be made public. The move to effectively publish the findings of the influential Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has surprised experts, who say it could undermine the final report when it is released in February.
    The IPCC’s fourth report draws together research over the last five years to predict the likely course of global warming. The draft was sent to governments for comment last month.

    One British climate scientist and senior author of the IPCC report, who did not want to be identified, said: “They definitely shouldn’t have done that. I’m very surprised. If you put a draft document in the public domain then people will start quoting it.”

    Others say the move could be a deliberate attempt to reduce the impact of the final report. The Bush administration has been critical of the IPCC and its conclusions, which form the basis for international action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the Kyoto protocol. The new report will underpin negotiations to extend the protocol beyond 2012.

    Roger Pielke, a climate policy expert at the University of Colorado, said: “I do have some suspicions. If the report is out there and the findings have been discussed, then it deflates the newsworthiness of the official report when it is released.”

    The draft report reflects a debate that has moved on from whether man-made climate change is real to what the effects could be. It says human activity since the industrial revolution is “very likely” to be warming the planet and “more likely than not” to be behind an observed increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones.

    It was posted on the web by the US Climate Change Science Programme, a government office that coordinates global warming research, which said it made the report available for “expert comment” to help frame its official response. Its website says participants should not quote or redistribute the document, which can be accessed with a password provided automatically to anyone who sends an email.

    The office has contacted thousands of scientists, environmental groups and industry lobbyists. Most other countries have solicited comments from a small number of experts, who are asked to judge whether the report accurately reflects scientific thinking. The IPCC process allows individuals to request a copy of the draft report, but requires them to prove their scientific expertise.

    Staff at the Climate Change Science Programme referred questions to Harlan Watson, senior climate negotiator at the state department, who said: “I find it quite ironic that running an open process would be criticised. What we’re doing is providing an opportunity for people to comment. It’s not for us to say who the experts are.”

    Officials at the IPCC could not be contacted for comment. Rajendra Pachauri, the panel’s chairman, did not learn of the US move until the report was posted.


    Set up in 1988 by the UN, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change brings together hundreds of experts to summarise the state of climate science for policymakers.

    It has produced three reports since 1990, each of which has been instrumental in establishing national and international strategies to address global warming.

    Government officials have until next month to comment on the new draft, when scientists will gather in Bergen, Norway, to produce a final version.

  19. 119
    Eachran says:

    You are correct Randolph Fritz : I am a member of the general public but whilst I know what ‘forcing’ is as applied to climate science and to the production of foie gras I dont know what Fun Chow Fat is – dont bother to tell me please.

    I agree about your comments on “trust”.

    I suspect that the next year will be pretty heated in the climate science community what with the draft 4th IPCC report and political decisions having to be taken. “Trust” in experts will I am sure be tested and all of you intelligent ones out there, posting or reading, will have to get your judgment “hats” on to do the right thing for humanity.

    Good luck to all.

  20. 120
    david Iles says:

    Here are some recent polling numbers on the public perceptions of global warming. If you go to this site there are a lot more questions that include specific policy suggestions.

    Gallup Poll. March 13-16, 2006. N=1,000 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3 (for all adults).

    “Thinking about what is said in the news, in your view, is the seriousness of global warming generally exaggerated, generally correct, or is it generally underestimated?” Options rotated
    Exaggerated 30% Correct 28% Under-estimated 38% Unsure 4%

    “Just your impression, which one of the following statements do you think is most accurate? Most scientists believe that global warming is occurring. Most scientists believe that global warming is NOT occurring. OR, Most scientists are unsure about whether global warming is occurring or not.”

    Is Occurring 65% Is Not Occurring 3% Scientists are Unsure 29% No Opinion 3%

    “And from what you have heard or read, do you believe increases in the Earth’s temperature over the last century are due more to the effects of pollution from human activities, or natural changes in the environment that are not due to human activities?”

    Human Activities 58% Natural Changes 36% Unsure 6%

    “Do you think that global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime?”

    Yes 35% No 62% Unsure 2%
    ABC News/Time/Stanford University Poll. March 9-14, 2006. N=1,002 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3.

    “Do you think most scientists agree with one another about whether or not global warming is happening, or do you think there is a lot of disagreement among scientists on this issue?”

    Most Agree 35% A Lot of Dis-agreement 64%Unsure 1%

    This is implies to me that there needs to be a greater effort to communicate the issues involved in simple terms to the public. Here is my suggestion given the debate following my last suggestion.

    If humankind does not take concrete steps within the next 15 years to alter specific policies and behaviors that are contributing to global climate change, it is very likely that our planet’s climate will become inhospitable to many species on earth including human beings within this century. Which will drastically affect our lifestyle and many of the plant and animal species we depend on for survival.



    And I think a second question would be in order

    We can greatly enhance our chances of surviving this century and maintaining a reasonable lifestyle for our children and grand children if we directly address the numerous causes that are contributing to Global Climate change within the next few years.



    If realclimate put an effort into getting as many climate scientists to answer these two questions it may go somewhere towards informing the public and calling them to action.

  21. 121
    pat neuman says:

    re 115.

    There is nothing in the report about the urgency needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power generation and transportation, aviation and greenhouse gases from produced from ethanol.

    [Response: You wouldn’t expect (or even want) to see such things in an assessment report on a specific scientific topic. With regard to the original question raised in 114 (re life since 2005), the response indicates that some things have changed, since administration officials (notably Phillip Cooney) were reported to have interfered with the content and interpretation of results in scientific documents, whereas it’s hard to find any evidence of such interference in either the report cited or the press release. Whether there has been any change higher up at the policy level, with regard to what use is made of the reports and whether the scientific results are believed there, is another matter, one worthy of discussion somewhere (but probably not at RC). –raypierre]

    [Response: Note that I corrected the above comment on May 9, 2006, since in the original I had erroneously written “Piltz” where I actually had Phillip Cooney in mind. Very unjust to Rick, and since nobody caught it I assume (and hope) nobody noticed. Anyway, the record is set straight now. –raypierre]

  22. 122
    Eachran says:

    Which report is this Pat, IPCC 4 draft?

    I would say that I have a large circle of family, friends, relatives and acquaintances and there is no-one who doesnt agree with the urgent need to reduce ghg and to reduce consumption overall.

    The question is a political one and partly to do with social cohesion : it is a lot easier to get things done when a society coheres than when a society doesnt. For example, Sweden doesnt seem to have a problem banishing fossil fuels by 2020 (I think that is correct both as a statement and principle) using geothermal heating much of which is already installed, bio-fuels, hydro power and the like. Can the world do the same at the Swede’s current living standards? You must be joking : when it comes for example to bio-fuels how many square kilometres are needed to get mum to school with the kids? How much is left to feed ourselves? It makes one want to cry and laugh at the same time. And dont start the “free trade” argument with me unless you factor in externalities.

    Japan is another society which coheres : imports of oil over the last decade have barely moved and if the Japanese say we should all wear more clothes in the winter then that is what happens even to the by now well known example of one town which switched off its entire heating system in the winter to help the national effort.

    France doesnt do a bad job in cohering though that is showing signs of strain at the moment but I have already posted on that. What about the US, UK, China, Australia? China certainly coheres up to the point of forced labour but the rest are based mainly on the principles of “getting ahead” or “doing better” than ones neighbour and are not really in the vanguard on this issue. Can they change? I hope so.

    As for me I feel no hypocrisy criticising others for consuming because I stopped that particular game some years ago. I do however like a nice glass of champagne from time to time and glasses of champagne can compensate for a lot of deprivation in other areas.

  23. 123
    Eachran says:

    120 David Iles, I read this after my post but it accords with what I would expect and if you stratify the respondents into social groups you may get even more interesting information.

    I dont think that it is RC’s job to wave banners so I would disagree with your expectations about what scientists ought to do. But there is another issue here on the accessibility and disemmination of science which I have been meaning to post on but havent. Perhaps I should just do it.

    A final comment on the poll : it goes to show that people are not dummies.

  24. 124
    Hank Roberts says:

    Is the ‘stakeholders’ language in the US press release the reason they’ve put the IPCC draft out, to bring in commenters who would not have been invited to the standard IPCC review process?

    “On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, the Climate Change Science Program Office (CCSPO) is coordinating the solicitation of comments by U.S. experts and stakeholders …”

    Usually ‘stakeholders’ means ‘corporations that own a lot of the physical or intellectual property that will gain or lose value if policy is changed’ — same as ‘holding a lot of chips at the gambling table’ — the language equates being at financial risk with having scientific expertise as qualification to contribute to a scientific consensus.

    That’s our government, putting the cart before the horse, of course.

  25. 125
    Martin says:


    I am very baffled about not having seen your pp on the rebuttal by vS on the Wahl et al. comment – I’m sorry about that and apologize for my wording.

    But I do not concur with your assessment, that non-detrending leads to a “very minor underestimation” of the variance in the reconstruction. Even in the white noise case the reconstruction shows about 40% smaller longer term variability than the true (modelled) simulation. And one can turn the argument around as well: the difference between detrending and non-detrending (i.e. the main point of Wahl et al.) is really insignificant in the white noise HadCM3 case…

    I agree with you that it is a scientific debate of whether this methodological shortcoming is significant or not – indeed, time will tell. [edited – see below]

    What I do not like in this realclimate comment is that it mixes the attempt at clarification of a scientific issue with the “repercussions”, i.e. the general climate change debate. As a naive scientist, I still believe that a paper in a scientific journal has to be taken on its own, irrespective if the author otherwise talks nonsense to the press (or may be cited wrongly by the Spiegel – neither you nor I were there and we know how journalists write…). I would recommend a clear separation of these two sides of the coin. RealClimate is doing an excellent job in clarifying and popularizing scientific facts, but reflections on the public debate inevitably involve personal opinions and judgements and thus leave the “scientific domain”. Clearly, such reflections are needed and you have published quite a few marvels. But I’d prefer them separated.

    [Response: Research in our field is now carried out under a pretty intense spotlight and that means we need to be extremely responsible about what we say in public. That is not to say we should self censor, but we need to ensure that we say what we mean – no more, no less. When injudicious comments are made which are not justified by the science, the whole field loses, and when clarifications are needed, they need to be clear. There was some amount of editorialising in our article, but we felt it quite justified in this instance. A few specific points: (a) the HadCM3 results show errors well within the error bounds of MBH98 and shown in IPCC, in that sense they give the opposite result from the ECHO-G model. (b) In German journalism, direct quotes are generally only printed after they have been shown to and approved by the quoted person. Moreover, in direct e-mail discussion after the event Von Storch never said he was misquoted – we can be pretty sure he said that, and approved it for publication. There are no valid excuses for this type of behavior. (c) Actually, the detrending procedure appears to have far more severe impacts than what Von Storch has shown. But that is a discussion for another day, after there are published results to refer to. (PS. we edited out certain comments that are not appropriate for public comment). – group]

  26. 126
    Don Baccus says:

    “Usually ‘stakeholders’ means ‘corporations that own a lot of the physical or intellectual property that will gain or lose value if policy is changed'”

    Typically it’s interpreted to include environmental NGOs, too.

    Since the IPCC is doing this as a favor to the US State Department, I doubt “we” are asking to include them. Perhaps the IPCC will.

    In domestic affairs, typically environmental/conservation orgs are invited to the table because many moons ago they won standing to sue in regard to implementation of federal regulations and management of natural resources owned by the federal government. If they’re not invited they just sue. But this administration’s been trying to shut out non-industry stakeholders.

    The IPCC isn’t a domestic beast anyway.

    It will be interesting to see who’s invited.

  27. 127
    Hank Roberts says:

    I confirmed what the Guardian reported — the userid/password is sent back automatically when you click the link to request it, and that allows downloading the whole draft and supporting materials (there’s an additional link for ‘gray/unpublished’ supporting material.

    I clicked the link agreeing not to cite or quote the draft. I won’t.
    (Nor will I comment, not being a scientist and having no expertise in the area — wish I could find out who is commenting! I suppose we’ll see.)

    [Response: I shudder to think what this immoderate action by the US is going to do to the review process. The review is supposed to be a scientific review, and for the TAR there was a requirement that the authors consider and respond to each reviewers’ comment on their chapters. There are lot of important scientific issues, and the review is a critical part of spotting oversights, mistakes and unclear writing. There were a vast number of comments to consider, even when the review was restricted to qualified scientific reviewers. Imagine if a journal editor posted your article on the Internet for all and sundry to comment on, and required you to respond to all comers. If the IPCC authors are faced by a deluge of pointless comments, it’s going to be a lot harder to identify and concentrate on the real scientific issues. On top of that, there is an argument to limit distribution of draft documents, since scientists need to have scope to get things wrong and change their minds without worrying about how the evolution is going to play in the press. Look at the way leaked early drafts of the Second Assessment Report were used in a vicious attempt to savage Ben Santer’s reputation. I applaud the newfound fondness for openness suddenly discovered by the powers that be in the US, but I think it would have been courteous (though not exactly typical ) to consult with other interested parties in the IPCC before taking a unilateral action like releasing the draft to the entire world. –raypierre]

    [Response: To add some numbers to Ray’s comment: for the last draft of the one IPCC report chapter I am involved in, we had 1700 review comments from the invited expert reviewers. For every single one we have to document what we did with it, and why. Remember we do this work voluntarily, no pay, in addition to our normal full-time jobs, spending weekends and nights away from the family for this. If this review process is flooded by comments from all kinds of non-scientific interest groups (“stakeholders”), this seems to me a clever way of bringing the process to its knees and making it unworkable. -stefan]

  28. 128
    pat neuman says:

    re 123.


    By report (122) I was referring to the Press Release on the first of 21 Synthesis and Assessment S&A Products by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CSSP).

    In the CSSP Press Release, Chief editor Dr. Thomas Karl wrote … The evidence continues to support a substantial human impact on global temperature increases. …

    What kind of human impact does he mean? Roger Pielke Sr. said a few years ago that land use changes had at least as large of an effect on local climate change as global greenhouse gas emissions. I felt that was misleading.

    This press release left the door open again on what is the obvious primary cause of global warming, greenhouse gas emissions and the need for urgent action (122).

    I disagree with the Response given in 122 by raypierre, that … You wouldn’t expect (or even want) to see such things in an assessment report on a specific scientific topic.

    It was already in there by Karl, but not specific.

    In Jan 2000 Dr. James Baker, then director of NOAA, was interviewed for five straight Evening News segments with Dan Rather, with emphasis then (more than six years ago) that global warming was happening and that the cause was the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions from fuels. It was urgent then and it’s even more urgent now.


    Where do you think such things to be put and how often? What might we do that is most effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in doing our duty as scientists and as human beings for the welling of the life on this earth?

    The entire paragraph from the CSSP that I made reference follows.

    “This synthesis and assessment report exposes the remaining differences among different observing systems and data sets related to recent changes in tropospheric and stratospheric temperature,” said Chief Editor Dr. Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “Discrepancies between the data sets and the models have been reduced and our understanding of observed climate changes and their causes have increased. The evidence continues to support a substantial human impact on global temperature increases. This should constitute a valuable source of information to policymakers.”

  29. 129
    Stormy says:

    Off-topic–but everything affects everything else.

    The Walker circulation is slowing down (3%), creating, in effect, more El Nino-like conditions–or, to put it another way, increasing the probability and duration of such conditions. The slowing may increase to 10% by 2100.

    As an interesting exercise, Google the effects of El Nino conditions for various parts of Canada and the U.S.

    [Response: Yes, indeed. There’s a lot of interesting modelling and observational work brewing on the general subject o changes in the atmospheric circulation, making the point that a lot more about climate changes than just temperature. I’m waiting for a few more shoes to drop on this subject, and then I’ll put together an article about it. –raypierre]

  30. 130
    Hank Roberts says:

    Pat, it’s clear you’re not happy with the government agency. But Ray’s right, the recent report was specifically focused on sorting out the longstanding (15 years plus) disagreement between temperature measurements.

    Yes, maybe it’s just a US government attempt to buy time for their “stakeholders” to adjust financial portfolios or get patents on sunlight and fresh air. Who knows what evil lurks ….

    But — still — getting the satellite and ground temperature measures agreed on is fundamental to the discussions you want. It had to be done first.

  31. 131
    Hank Roberts says:

    Thanks Ray. I did not know about the attack on Ben Santer til you mentioned it. I found a good summary of it here, for others who should know how this kind of leak in the past was used to attack a researcher. It’s a nasty story, and a familiar one:

  32. 132
    Pekka Kostamo says:

    #127. I believe the master spin doctor Karl Rowe was recently relieved from his bureaucratic duties in the Administration, to enable full focus on promoting the President’s agendas. Some flavor from that direction, perhaps?

    An effort to wreck the IPCC AR4 was to be expected, anyway, so this is not a surprising move. Might be effective as well.

  33. 133
    pat neuman says:

    Hank, we’ve had decades of talk without meaningful action in reducing emissions. Let’s boycott unessential travel, especially aviation.

  34. 134
    Stormy says:


    I look forward to reading it. Yes, global warming is more than just temperature, sea rise, and hurricane intensity. Circulation patterns must be affected. I was wondering when this shoe would drop. (Is there work being done on NOA in the same vein as is being done on Walker?)

    What a nightmare to model…but, on the other hand, what a great intellectual challenge.

  35. 135
    Terry says:

    Gavin wrote in #52:

    “[Response: One needs to be very careful here. Von Storch et al do not dispute global warming and indeed have many papers that support the consensus on that issue. So it cannot be said this was an ‘anti-global warming’ paper. The difference is important because as we have said many times, the issue at stake here (a few tenths of degree change over the last few centuries) is not actually very important in the balance of evidence for a significant human contribution to climate change. – gavin]”

    I’m curious as to who you consider to be “anti-global warming.” Offhand I can’t think of a single scientist who actually denies AGW. I thought the dispute was almost solely about its magnitude.

  36. 136
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    What I took from the Von Storch paper was that it questioned some details of MBH, but did not really disprove it and did not cast doubt on AGW. I thought maybe Science published it to be inclusive of the thinking within the climate science community with a possible awareness of criticism for not being inclusive and the ramifications in the public eye. I was not aware of the statements Von Storch made and the German press’ practice of double-checking the quotes.

    The use of the word “stakeholders” by the CCSPO caught my attention. When regulations are made stakeholder usually refers to a person or group who is directly involved in the regulatory process. In addition there is usually a period of time for the public to submit written comments that usually express a position on what the regulation should be. In some cases these comments are entered in the official record. From my own experience on the legal side I know the current U.S. political leadership is currently reducing non-industry involvement and has used increased opportunity for public comment as a smoke screen for reducing the opportunity for substantive public involvement in the regulatory process.

    If the comments submitted to CCSPO are screened carefully for valid and valuable scientific comments it could streamline the process. If not the IPCC could be flooded with politically motivated comments that would cause delay. With the track record of the U.S. political leadership I’m afraid it’s the latter

    The U.S. regulatory system is widely admired for how open a process it is. When an agency is going to enforce a law that will affect our lives we should be able to speak up and get involved. But there are legal and political principals involved that are not applicable to the scientific process. If the CCSPO’s comment project does delay the IPCC it will probably be defended by the spin masters using “values” arguments citing democratic and property rights.

    [Response: Keep in mind that the IPCC reports are scientific documents, not policy or regulatory documents. The review process has (or should have) more in common with the review of a scientific journal article than it does with public comment on regulations. –raypierre]

  37. 137
    Mark A. York says:

    Offered for your expert consideration.