We decided months ago that we would not comment on leaks of the draft of the upcoming IPCC report (due Feb 2007) but we are prepared to correct obvious errors. The ongoing revisions of the text and the numerous drafts make any such commentary, let alone conclusions drawn from it, pretty pointless. This is even more true when the leaks are obviously confused about a central point. The principle error in the latest ‘exclusive’ is that the writer confuses a tightening of the estimate of climate sensitivity to 2xCO2 (as discussed here) with projections of climate change in 2100. These projections obviously depend on the uncertainties in the scenarios of future technology, economic progress and population (etc.) plus uncertainties in feedbacks related to the carbon or methane cycles. Unfortunately these have not been reduced since the last assessment report (and in some cases have actually increased).
That occasional stories will come out that get basic things wrong is unfortunate but not surprising. What is more troubling is that they subsequently get picked up by Reuters and UPI, and republished in places (such as Scientific American, though in their defence, it is simply a posting of the wire report) where the editors should know better. Worse still, the wire service stories are too brief to make the source of the error obvious, and thus the error gets propagated in an ever more confused state. As usual the blogsphere is playing a key role in amplifying and further muddying the story. The advantage of blogs is that errors can be corrected quickly, and the comments on Prometheus for instance, quickly revealed the confusion and the potential agenda of the original story.
There will be plenty of time to discuss the new IPCC report when it comes out and where everyone can read for themselves what has and what hasn’t changed since 2001. Until then, we would counsel against journalists and editors jumping at supposed ‘exclusives’ and – more dangerously – going ahead with them without even a basic sanity check of the details.