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IPCC errors: facts and spin

Filed under: — group @ 14 February 2010 - (Czech) (Svenska)

Currently, a few errors –and supposed errors– in the last IPCC report (“AR4”) are making the media rounds – together with a lot of distortion and professional spin by parties interested in discrediting climate science.  Time for us to sort the wheat from the chaff: which of these putative errors are real, and which not? And what does it all mean, for the IPCC in particular, and for climate science more broadly?

Let’s start with a few basic facts about the IPCC.  The IPCC is not, as many people seem to think, a large organization. In fact, it has only 10 full-time staff in its secretariat at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, plus a few staff in four technical support units that help the chairs of the three IPCC working groups and the national greenhouse gas inventories group. The actual work of the IPCC is done by unpaid volunteers – thousands of scientists at universities and research institutes around the world who contribute as authors or reviewers to the completion of the IPCC reports. A large fraction of the relevant scientific community is thus involved in the effort.  The three working groups are:

Working Group 1 (WG1), which deals with the physical climate science basis, as assessed by the climatologists, including several of the Realclimate authors.

Working Group 2 (WG2), which deals with impacts of climate change on society and ecosystems, as assessed by social scientists, ecologists, etc.

Working Group 3 (WG3) , which deals with mitigation options for limiting global warming, as assessed by energy experts, economists, etc.

Assessment reports are published every six or seven years and writing them takes about three years. Each working group publishes one of the three volumes of each assessment. The focus of the recent allegations is the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), which was published in 2007.  Its three volumes are almost a thousand pages each, in small print. They were written by over 450 lead authors and 800 contributing authors; most were not previous IPCC authors. There are three stages of review involving more than 2,500 expert reviewers who collectively submitted 90,000 review comments on the drafts. These, together with the authors’ responses to them, are all in the public record (see here and here for WG1 and WG2 respectively).

Errors in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4)

As far as we’re aware, so far only one–or at most two–legitimate errors have been found in the AR4:

Himalayan glaciers: In a regional chapter on Asia in Volume 2, written by authors from the region, it was erroneously stated that 80% of Himalayan glacier area would very likely be gone by 2035. This is of course not the proper IPCC projection of future glacier decline, which is found in Volume 1 of the report. There we find a 45-page, perfectly valid chapter on glaciers, snow and ice (Chapter 4), with the authors including leading glacier experts (such as our colleague Georg Kaser from Austria, who first discovered the Himalaya error in the WG2 report).  There are also several pages on future glacier decline in Chapter 10 (“Global Climate Projections”), where the proper projections are used e.g. to estimate future sea level rise. So the problem here is not that the IPCC’s glacier experts made an incorrect prediction. The problem is that a WG2 chapter, instead of relying on the proper IPCC projections from their WG1 colleagues, cited an unreliable outside source in one place. Fixing this error involves deleting two sentences on page 493 of the WG2 report.

Sea level in the Netherlands: The WG2 report states that “The Netherlands is an example of a country highly susceptible to both sea-level rise and river flooding because 55% of its territory is below sea level”. This sentence was provided by a Dutch government agency – the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which has now published a correction stating that the sentence should have read “55 per cent of the Netherlands is at risk of flooding; 26 per cent of the country is below sea level, and 29 per cent is susceptible to river flooding”. It surely will go down as one of the more ironic episodes in its history when the Dutch parliament last Monday derided the IPCC, in a heated debate, for printing information provided by … the Dutch government. In addition, the IPCC notes that there are several definitions of the area below sea level. The Dutch Ministry of Transport uses the figure 60% (below high water level during storms), while others use 30% (below mean sea level). Needless to say, the actual number mentioned in the report has no bearing on any IPCC conclusions and has nothing to do with climate science, and it is questionable whether it should even be counted as an IPCC error.

Some other issues

African crop yields: The IPCC Synthesis Report states: “By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%.” This is properly referenced back to chapter 9.4 of WG2, which says: “In other countries, additional risks that could be exacerbated by climate change include greater erosion, deficiencies in yields from rain-fed agriculture of up to 50% during the 2000-2020 period, and reductions in crop growth period (Agoumi, 2003).”  The Agoumi reference is correct and reported correctly. The Sunday Times, in an article by Jonathan Leake, labels this issue “Africagate” – the main criticism being that Agoumi (2003) is not a peer-reviewed study (see below for our comments on “gray” literature), but a report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Climate Change Knowledge Network, funded by the US Agency for International Development. The report, written by Morroccan climate expert Professor Ali Agoumi, is a summary of technical studies and research conducted to inform Initial National Communications from three countries (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and is a perfectly legitimate IPCC reference.

It is noteworthy that chapter 9.4 continues with “However, there is the possibility that adaptation could reduce these negative effects (Benhin, 2006).”  Some examples thereof follow, and then it states: “However, not all changes in climate and climate variability will be negative, as agriculture and the growing seasons in certain areas (for example, parts of the Ethiopian highlands and parts of southern Africa such as Mozambique), may lengthen under climate change, due to a combination of increased temperature and rainfall changes (Thornton et al., 2006). Mild climate scenarios project further benefits across African croplands for irrigated and, especially, dryland farms.” (Incidentally, the Benhin and Thornton references are also “gray”, but nobody has complained about them. Could there be double standards amongst the IPCC’s critics?)

Chapter 9.4 to us sounds like a balanced discussion of potential risks and benefits, based on the evidence available at the time–hardly the stuff for shrill “Africagate!” cries. If the IPCC can be criticized here, it is that in condensing these results for its Synthesis Report, important nuance and qualification were lost – especially the point that the risk of drought (defined as a 50% downturn in rainfall) “could be exacerbated by climate change”, as chapter 9.4 wrote – rather than being outright caused by climate change.

Trends in disaster losses: Jonathan Leake (again) in The Sunday Times accused the IPCC of wrongly linking global warming to natural disasters. The IPCC in a statement points out errors in Leake’s “misleading and baseless story”, and maintains that the IPCC provided “a balanced treatment of a complicated and important issue”. While we agree with the IPCC here, WG2 did include a debatable graph provided by Robert Muir-Wood (although not in the main report but only as Supplementary Material). It cited a paper by Muir-Wood as its source although that paper doesn’t include the graph, only the analysis that it is based on. Muir-Wood himself has gone on record to say that the IPCC has fairly represented his research findings and that it was appropriate to include them in the report. In our view there is no IPCC error here; at best there is a difference of opinion. Obviously, not every scientist will always agree with assessments made by the IPCC author teams.

Amazon forest dieback: Leake (yet again), with “research” by skeptic Richard North, has also promoted “Amazongate” with a story regarding a WG2 statement on the future of Amazonian forests under a drying climate.  The contested IPCC statement reads: “Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state, not necessarily producing gradual changes between the current and the future situation (Rowell and Moore, 2000).”  Leake’s problem is with the Rowell and Moore reference, a WWF report.

The roots of the story are in two blog pieces by North, in which he first claims that the IPCC assertions attributed to the WWF report are not actually in that report. Since this claim was immediately shown to be false,  North then argued that the WWF report’s basis for their statement (a 1999 Nature article by Nepstad et al.) dealt only with the effects of logging and fire –not drought– on Amazonian forests. To these various claims Nepstad has now responded, noting that the IPCC statement is in fact correct. The only issue is that the IPCC cited the WWF report rather than the underlying peer-reviewed papers by Nepstad et al. These studies actually provide the  basis for the IPCC’s estimate on Amazonian sensitivity to drought. Investigations of the correspondence between Leake, scientists, and a BBC reporter (see here and here and here) show that Leake ignored or misrepresented explanatory information given to him by Nepstad and another expert, Simon Lewis, and published his incorrect story anyway. This “issue” is thus completely without merit.

Gray literature: The IPCC cites 18,000 references in the AR4; the vast majority of these are peer-reviewed scientific journal papers. The IPCC maintains a clear guideline on the responsible use of so-called “gray” literature, which are typically reports by other organizations or governments. Especially for Working Groups 2 and 3 (but in some cases also for 1) it is indispensable to use gray sources, since many valuable data are published in them: reports by government statistics offices, the International Energy Agency, World Bank, UNEP and so on. This is particularly true when it comes to regional impacts in the least developed countries, where knowledgeable local experts exist who have little chance, or impetus, to publish in international science journals.

Reports by non-governmental organizations like the WWF can be used (as in the Himalaya glacier and Amazon forest cases) but any information from them needs to be carefully checked (this guideline was not followed in the former case). After all, the role of the IPCC is to assess information, not just compile anything it finds.  Assessment involves a level of critical judgment, double-checking, weighing supporting and conflicting pieces of evidence, and a critical appreciation of the methodology used to obtain the results. That is why leading researchers need to write the assessment reports – rather than say, hiring graduate students to compile a comprehensive literature review.

Media distortions

To those familiar with the science and the IPCC’s work, the current media discussion is in large part simply absurd and surreal. Journalists who have never even peeked into the IPCC report are now outraged that one wrong number appears on page 493 of Volume 2. We’ve met TV teams coming to film a report on the IPCC reports’ errors, who were astonished when they held one of the heavy volumes in hand, having never even seen it. They told us frankly that they had no way to make their own judgment; they could only report what they were being told about it. And there are well-organized lobby forces with proper PR skills that make sure these journalists are being told the “right” story. That explains why some media stories about what is supposedly said in the IPCC reports can easily be falsified simply by opening the report and reading. Unfortunately, as a broad-based volunteer effort with only minimal organizational structure the IPCC is not in a good position to rapidly counter misinformation.

One near-universal meme of the media stories on the Himalaya mistake was that this was “one of the most central predictions of the IPCC” – apparently in order to make the error look more serious than it was.  However, this prediction does not appear in any of the IPCC Summaries for Policy Makers, nor in the Synthesis Report (which at least partly explains why it went unnoticed for years). None of the media reports that we saw properly explained that Volume 1 (which is where projections of physical climate changes belong) has an extensive and entirely valid discussion of glacier loss.

What apparently has happened is that interested quarters, after the Himalyan glacier story broke, have sifted through the IPCC volumes with a fine-toothed comb, hoping to find more embarrassing errors. They have actually found precious little, but the little they did find was promptly hyped into Seagate, Africagate, Amazongate and so on. This has some similarity to the CRU email theft, where precious little was discovered from among thousands of emails, but a few sentences were plucked out of context, deliberately misinterpreted (like “hide the decline”) and then hyped into “Climategate”.

As lucidly analysed by Tim Holmes, there appear to be a few active leaders of this misinformation parade in the media. Jonathan Leake is carrying the ball on this, but his stories contain multiple errors, misrepresentations and misquotes. There also is a sizeable contingent of me-too journalism that is simply repeating the stories but not taking the time to form a well-founded view on the topics. Typically they report on various “allegations”, such as these  against the IPCC, similar to reporting that the CRU email hack lead to “allegations of data manipulation”. Technically it isn’t even wrong that there were such allegations. But isn’t it the responsibility of the media to actually investigate whether allegations have any merit before they decide to repeat them?

Leake incidentally attacked the scientific work of one of us (Stefan) in a Sunday Times article in January. This article was rather biased and contained some factual errors that Stefan asked to be corrected. He has received no response, nor was any correction made. Two British scientists quoted by Leake – Jonathan Gregory and Simon Holgate – independently wrote to Stefan after the article appeared to say they had been badly misquoted. One of them wrote that the experience with Leake had made him “reluctant to speak to any journalist about any subject at all”.

Does the IPCC need to change?

The IPCC has done a very good job so far, but certainly there is room for improvement. The review procedures could be organized better, for example. Until now, anyone has been allowed to review any part of the IPCC drafts they liked, but there was no coordination in the sense that say, a glacier expert was specifically assigned to double-check parts of the WG2 chapter on Asia. Such a practice would likely have caught the Himalayan glacier mistake. Another problem has been that reports of all three working groups had to be completed nearly at the same time, making it hard for WG2 to properly base their discussions on the conclusions and projections from WG1. This has already been improved on for the AR5, for which the WG2 report can be completed six months after the WG1 report.

Also, these errors revealed that the IPCC had no mechanism to publish errata. Since a few errors will inevitably turn up in a 2800-page report, obviously an avenue is needed to publish errata as soon as errors are identified.

Is climate science sound?

In some media reports the impression has been given that even the fundamental results of climate change science are now in question, such as whether humans are in fact changing the climate, causing glacier melt, sea level rise and so on. The IPCC does not carry out primary research, and hence any mistakes in the IPCC reports do not imply that any climate research itself is wrong. A reference to a poor report or an editorial lapse by IPCC authors obviously does not undermine climate science. Doubting basic results of climate science based on the recent claims against the IPCC is particularly ironic since none of the real or supposed errors being discussed are even in the Working Group 1 report, where the climate science basis is laid out.

To be fair to our colleagues from WG2 and WG3, climate scientists do have a much simpler task. The system we study is ruled by the well-known laws of physics, there is plenty of hard data and peer-reviewed studies, and the science is relatively mature. The greenhouse effect was discovered in 1824 by Fourier, the heat trapping properties of CO2 and other gases were first measured by Tyndall in 1859, the climate sensitivity to CO2 was first computed in 1896 by Arrhenius, and by the 1950s the scientific foundations were pretty much understood.

Do the above issues suggest “politicized science”, deliberate deceptions or a tendency towards alarmism on the part of IPCC? We do not think there is any factual basis for such allegations. To the contrary, large groups of (inherently cautious) scientists attempting to reach a consensus in a societally important collaborative document is a prescription for reaching generally “conservative” conclusions. And indeed, before the recent media flash broke out, the real discussion amongst experts was about the AR4 having underestimated, not exaggerated, certain aspects of climate change. These include such important topics as sea level rise and sea ice decline (see the sea ice and sea level chapters of the Copenhagen Diagnosis), where the data show that things are changing faster than the IPCC expected.

Overall then, the IPCC assessment reports reflect the state of scientific knowledge very well. There have been a few isolated errors, and these have been acknowledged and corrected. What is seriously amiss is something else: the public perception of the IPCC, and of climate science in general, has been massively distorted by the recent media storm. All of these various “gates” – Climategate, Amazongate, Seagate, Africagate, etc., do not represent scandals of the IPCC or of climate science. Rather, they are the embarrassing battle-cries of a media scandal, in which a few journalists have misled the public with grossly overblown or entirely fabricated pseudogates, and many others have naively and willingly followed along without seeing through the scam. It is not up to us as climate scientists to clear up this mess – it is up to the media world itself to put this right again, e.g. by publishing proper analysis pieces like the one of Tim Holmes and by issuing formal corrections of their mistaken reporting. We will follow with great interest whether the media world has the professional and moral integrity to correct its own errors.

PS. A new book by Realclimate-authors David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf critically discussing the main findings of the AR4 (all three volumes) is just out: The Climate Crisis. None of the real or alleged errors are in this book, since none of those contentious statements plucked from the thousands of pages appeared to be “main findings” that needed to be discussed in a 250-page summary.

PPS. Same thing for Mike’s book Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming, which bills itself as “The illustrated guide to the findings of the IPCC”. Or Gavin’s “Climate Change: Picturing the Science” – which does include a few pictures of disappearing glaciers though!

Update 24 March: Simon Lewis has made an official complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about Leake’s Amazon story.

Update 29 March: IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri has published an interesting article in the Guardian.

601 Responses to “IPCC errors: facts and spin”

  1. 1
    John Bohnam says:

    Sorry, but you chaps still aren’t getting “it”. I am on your side and I see that you still aren’t getting “it”. The problem is the defensiveness and obfuscation of the Team (as they call you). I see it and I am on your side. Let the “deniers” have what they want – data; code; public debate. Surely you all will “win” in that process with the facts. Only then will they relent.

    [Response: Maybe on a different planet. There is more data than you can poke a stick at, millions of lines of code in the public domain, and climate scientists tripping over themselves to do outreach at schools, churches, clubs, museums, TV, radio and music hall. I’m collecting ‘we surrender’ emails from the sceptics as we speak…. – gavin]

  2. 2
    jrshipley says:

    This is all very thorough and scholarly. However, you do not respond to Sen Inhofe’s recent comment that we aren’t changing the climate because “God’s still up there”. Is it or is it not that case that the author’s of the IPCC reports have systematically conspired to silence intelligent climate science and the divine negative feedback theory? The issue of divine negative feedback is simply not addressed anywhere in the reports. How do you respond to godwillfixitgate?


  3. 3
    David Horton says:

    The cynicism and hypocrisy of these “-gate” beat-ups is stunning even by deniaworld standards. To take just the three main examples:
    (1) Is there any doubt that the majority of glaciers around the world are retreating and that such retreats are having, and are going to increasingly have, detrimental effects on water supplies of communities, and even countries, relying on them? Like everything else, there can be reasonable debates about the speed at which different glaciers are retreating depending on local conditions. But even the Chinese, normally the last people to have any concerns about environmental issues, are concerned about the Himalayan glaciers that affect their water supplies. I don’t know when the Himalyan glaciers are going to be gone, but whether the year is 2035 or 2350 or somewhere in between, the issue is surely that if such a prospect is on the cards we need to do something about it, not argue about the precise time that the last cube of ice disappears from the last mountain top.

    (2) Amazon rainforests susceptible to drying out under warmer drier conditions? D’Oh as ecologist Homer Simpson might say. The drying out and its effects on the carbon and water cycles of the forests are going to have serious local and global effects? Well, yes. So we are arguing about what? The precise time when a precise percentage is exhibiting a precise degree of stress? Really, this is the question?

    (3) “Only” a quarter of the Netherlands and only a half susceptible to flooding? Well, that’s all right then. No need for the Dutch to panic, no need for little boys to put fingers in dykes just yet. And what about the figures for Bangladesh? The Pacific Islands? Major coastal cities around the world? Any problems anyone can see as sea levels rise? No, because we need to debate whether a half or “only” a quarter of a major industrial nation is going to be flooded in a timespan which will mean it will be seen by people now alive. Babies and bathwater anyone?

  4. 4

    Great post. I’d like to see a per-page-howler ratio in climate
    change reporting in major papers!

  5. 5
    Robert Reiland says:

    This is great information! I’ll be making a presentation on the most basic aspects of climate science and economics in two months and expect that there will be serious skeptics in the audience who have bought into the media misinformation.

    Knowing more about the details of the IPCC structure and how it reports can help me to deal with this better.


  6. 6
    Bernd Eggen says:

    A Feeling for Numbers

    Very informative piece, thank you – a small comment on the Himalayan glaciers – in the IPCC AR4 WG2 report is a table of various glaciers with their rates of retreat (chapter 10.6.2, URL ).

    If you pick the Gangotri Glacier, which is one of the longest in the Himalayas, at about 30km length, then the reported retreat rate of just under 30m/year clearly indicates that unless things speed up dramatically, the glacier will need of order 1000 years to disappear. For the Pindari Glacier, which is much shorter, figures for its length I found are around 3km, the published retreat rate of over 100m/year leads to a lifetime of around 30 years – so there seems to be an enormous range just picking 2 glaciers from the table. The average retreat rate for the Pindari Glacier seems abnormally large, so where does the 135.2m/year come from ?

    Whoever came up with the list mis-typed the interval 1845 to 1966 and did it from 1945 (or a similar “glitch” on a keyboard) – that gives you the abnormally large retreat rate – the correct value should have been 23.5m/year, and would have given the Pindari Glacier a much improved life expectancy.

    Not sure who first came up with this table, but this simple maths-related typo combined with probably the doubly-incorrect conclusion that it wasn’t just one glacier to go (by 2035), but a journalistic inclusion of “all” seems to have been the beginning of this episode.

    If someone at the time had looked at these figures critically, I am sure they would have quizzed the “gone by 2035” assertion and the unusually high retreat rate … but many people these days have lost their feeling for numbers, made easy by calculators and cut&paste (IMHO).

  7. 7
    Lou Grinzo says:

    John (#1): I respectfully disagree.

    If this were purely a scientific debate, involving people on all sides who have the pursuit of truth as their primary goal, then you would be right.

    What we really have is a group seeking truth through the scientific process being assailed by another group that’s turning this into a political debate (some would say a pro wrestling show), with more than a little help from the clueless or complicit media.

    As I’ve said before, this scenario is akin to the TV character Frasier Crane trying to talk his way out of a fight in a biker bar. The two sides are playing radically different games with different goals.

  8. 8
    Fern says:

    Thank you for a clear and concise explanation of the facts. There’s just one thing that still gets me: when will they fianlly lay to rest this “-gate” thing? Total lack of imagination!!!!

  9. 9
    Bill says:

    Rather than chasing around on this old media nonsense, the climate scientists on here can provide a rapid commentary on this :

    [Response: Somebody else who thinks that statistics triumphs over physics. Or in other words, someone who thinks that the planet has to respond in some neat statistical way to a forcing. It doesn’t. Since this appears to be a working paper, I would advise that they do some more work – for instance with the AR4 archive to demonstrate that their methodology is able to distinguish causes in much simpler (though realistic) cases. – gavin]

  10. 10
    Jim Roland says:

    What about the biassed and unsubstantiated ways in which biofuels were written up including in the WG3 volume, including the Summary for Policymakers, which 5 name scientists (unconnected to ‘climate scepticism’) complained about? See – I responded subsequently to several responses to this.

    This was covered briefly by BBC News in 2007, and also 12 UK MPs signed this Early Day Motion about it.

    With all due respect, you the RC team are speaking above about the whole IPCC/AR4 report, and the problem to date has been that complaints have been regarded as nonexistent unless/until a certain critical mass of the media mentions them.

  11. 11
    calyptorhynchus says:

    Although it’s true that there are few leaders behind the campaign to discredit IPCC (and climate science)
    their writing cascades through various channels. Here in Australia for example we have vociferous
    right-wing newspapers and media outlets that peddle the stuff. Then it gets on to talkback radio and into

    For those with a sense of humour it will be interesting to keep a track of how long these memes continue to
    echo in denosphere… will they still be being repeated in 2015, 2020?

  12. 12
    Global Skeptic says:

    Can we just evaluate Jones’s recent words since he is at the epicenter of the disagreement?

    [Response: You have to get past the appalling spin put on them by the Mail first. The actual statements are online at the BBC. There is absolutely nothing new here unless you’ve actually fallen for the strawman caricature of what climate scientists are supposed to have been saying. – gavin]

    [Response: Thanks for this link, Gavin. I think a big problem with this BBC interview is the implicit undercurrent – never stated explicitly – that the recent warming is anthropogenic if it is unprecedented. Scientifically, these two things have nothing to do with each other, as we have discussed in more detail here. We know recent warming is anthropogenic because we know what is causing the recent increase in radiative forcing – in other words, we know the source of the heat. It is the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, caused by our emissions. Stefan]

  13. 13
    Spencer says:

    Also worth noting as a serious media error: The IPCC is usually described, by even the best reporters, as a “United Nations” organization. In reality it is an intergovernmental panel (gee, that’s what the name says, who knew?) set up and administered jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). To be sure, UNEP reports to the UN General Assembly, but WMO is a fully independent intergovernmental body with a history long predating the UN. All this can be found with about three minutes’ searching on the internet.

    The media error is meaningful because in some quarters the UN and all its works is regarded with great suspicion. Calling the IPCC a UN organization conceals, among other things, the fact that the IPCC’s reports have not only been officially accepted by the worlds’ governments, but in effect were written by them, including the Bush and preceding US administrations.

  14. 14

    Thank you for this superb overview.

    The IPCC was established in an age of less pressing urgency. To take 3 years to author a near perfect report is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We now enter an age where climate destabilization events may be much more sudden; Pine Island WAIS, increasing permafrost melting and methane release may be catastrophic within a 3 year timeline. Any speed up of information flow is warranted.

  15. 15
    David Wilson says:

    good on you! thanks for this.

  16. 16
    Felix says:

    Concerning the ‘double standards’ od sceptics on grey literature: Nobody seems to be bothered by the fact that WG III relied on nuclear power corporations’ publications to conclude that nuclear power was a mitigation option:

  17. 17
    Roger Pielke Jr. says:

    A few comments on the discussion of the disasters issue:

    This statement in your post is in error:

    “It cited a paper by Muir-Wood as its source although that paper doesn’t include the graph, only the analysis that it is based on.”

    The cited paper does not include the analysis that the graph is based on. In fact, it includes no discussion of temperature trends and disasters. You can confirm this for yourself:

    You should correct the error in this post.

    Also, you say that Muir-Wood says “it was appropriate to include [his research] them in the report”

    This is only partially true. Muir-Wood was referring to the summary of the mis-cited paper, which he says was summarized fairly. You should also note that the summary that Muir-Wood thinks is fair, he wrote as a contributing author of that chapter.

    With respect to the dubious graph Muir-Wood says that he created it informally and that it should not have been included.

    You ignore IPCC issues in the review process on this issue, notably making stuff up about my views:

    So questions for you:

    1. Was the intentional misciting of Muir-Wood’s work to avoid the publication deadline appropriate?

    2. Was the inclusion of the dubious graph appropriate, given that it appears in no literature before or since, peer-reviewed or gray, and was called by more than one reviewer “misleading” and recommended to be removed? Muir Wood now agrees that it should not have been included. Do you disagree?

    3. Was it appropriate for the IPCC to make stuff up about my views?

    [Response: Clearly there are different views on this, which is why we called this graph “debatable”. But let’s keep things in perspective: we’re discussing Supplementary Material and a response to one of those 90,000 review comments now, not even the report itself. You’ve been working hard to scandalize your personal quibbles with IPCC here – how consistent is this with your self-proclaimed role as “honest broker”? Stefan]

  18. 18
    S. Molnar says:

    “We will follow with great interest whether the media world has the professional and moral integrity to correct its own errors.”

    No, it doesn’t.

  19. 19
    Bob Doppelt says:

    The ‘team’ needs to get this information out into the common media. It should also get aggressive and demand a congressional hearing to publicly clarify these issues, write op-eds for major papers and in other ways take the offensive. The ‘gates’ are not going to go away until the scientific community educated American’s and others about the issues.

  20. 20
    cer says:

    But isn’t it the responsibility of the media to actually investigate whether allegations have any merit before they decide to repeat them?

    I assume that’s sarcasm? Or perhaps just a rose-tinted view of the UK press? Granted, we don’t have quite the equivalent of Fox News over here, but our broadsheet newspapers often rival the tabloids in their lack of concern with facts.

    Not that other countries are any better served by their press – look at what the Australian media fell for last year:

    Incidentally, there was an independent review of the UK Press Complaints Commission this January. Various media-watchers put together a set of proposals including like-for-like retractions (rather than printing corrections in 8-pt font on pg 26) and applying the same standards to headlines as well as article text. I signed the petition, but to be honest what’s really necessary is for the PCC to do a better job of enforcing the existing code.

    If they have the time/energy, Stefan and David Nepstad should submit complaints to the PCC about the misrepresentation in Leake’s articles (the PCC will only consider complaints from people personally affected by an article or report, not the general public).

  21. 21
    Ray Ladbury says:

    A couple of thoughts:

    First, the IPCC by its very existence as a clearing house of information on climate change provides a single target on which denialists and spinmeisters can focus. Since it is the primary information source for most reality-based policy makers, it does not matter that the information it is providing is in fact not primary. As long as they can make the IPCC look bad, they can give the impression of making climate scienc look bad. Note the contrast here to the evolution debate where creationists have no single target on which they can focus.

    Second, the important role of the IPCC is entirely out of proportion to its tiny resources and staff. In this sense it is a mirror of its parent orgatization–the UN, which is also a favorite whipping boy for rightwing bullies and conspiracy theorists. In the debate over smoking, the source of anti-smoking information was the government. And while the anti-smoking denialists could fight a delaying action, the Surgeon General and the government behind him had the resources to hit back if the attacks and lies became too egregious.

    Third, WG2 and WG3 are particularly vulnerable to charges of using grey literature in part because there are relatively few scientific journals specifically devoted to their subject matter–consequences and mitigation, respectively. There is also the problem that the discipline of risk analysis is if possible even less well understood by the public than is science.
    I have tried on several occasions to emphasize that the stage of risk analysis we are in now is bounding the consequences conservatively. A bound need not be perfect as long as it is finite and conservative. Later on, if the particular threat/risk calculus is seen to dominate the total risk, we can sharpen pencils and refine the bound or the probability of the threat being realized.

    The final element of this perfect storm of denial is the woeful state of the press. Legitimate news organizations have decimated their press corps–in some cased doing away with science journalism entirely. Those few reporters left are overworked, under-informed and mindful that a report that displeases management (independent of support from the editor) could be fatal to their career.

    In some ways, it is interesting to watch the resulting clustercluck. I am curious how people will react when the orgy of denial is spent and they realize that there is even more evidence telling them they are warming the planet to dangerous levels than there was before. We are probing the limits of human denial as well as the secrets of the planet’s climate.

  22. 22
    Peter Houlihan says:

    Let’s assume for a moment that the 3000 pages of the IR4 reported one idea or fact per page. If there were only two errors that would be an error level of about 0.0666%. And if, as some media outlets have reported, there were six errors than the error level would be 0.2%.

    However, each page has multiple pieces of information, so in reality the error level is far far lower. A very small fraction of a percent of the information contained in the report.

    So, how does any of this put the IPCC or climate science in jeopardy? Add to that the fact that none of the errors are central to the major ideas of climate science.

    The answer – spin of gyroscopic intensity.

  23. 23
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Global Skeptic,
    Isn’t that interesting. You choose to read the spin on Jones comments by the Mail rather than the comments themselves, even though both are available on-line.

    Do you have someone else pre-chew your food, too?

  24. 24
    David Horton says:

    Ray #17 “Note the contrast here to the evolution debate where creationists have no single target on which they can focus”. Not really a contrast. The single target for creationists is Charles Darwin. They refer to evolution as “Darwinism”. they constantly talk about the supposed mistakes “Darwin” made. About how they would rather trust “god’s word” in the bible than Darwin’s. The cases are comparable in this (as in many other ) ways. You can say, until you look like an Avatar character, that evolution/speciation/adaptation has been the work of tens of thousands of biologists over the last 150 years, none of whom have ever found an inconsistency in the basic theses (as distinct from the details of particular evolutionary pathways), and of the scientists in supporting disciplines like geology, chemistry, physics, genetics, and so on. But no, it was only one man, Darwin, who outrageously challenged “god”.

  25. 25
    Global Skeptic says:

    @Ray Ladbury,

    Perhaps you’ll comment on the fact that the BBC is highly invested in climate change, via their pension, and therefore, with billions riding on their investments, are equally as likely to spin climate science in their favor?

    All of your snide statements aside, your comments on this matter Ray would be very helpful for me.

    [Response: Listen to yourself. The next thing will be that the police over-report crime because their pensions are invested in riot-control gear manufacturers, or that people only care about Haiti because they have shares in a T-shirt factory there. This kind of uber-conspiratorial thinking is poisonous to any dialog – take it somewhere else. – gavin]

  26. 26
    Jimbo says:

    I would like commenters’ views on this:
    “The UN body that advises world leaders on climate change must investigate an apparent bias in its report that resulted in several exaggerations of the impact of global warming, according to its former chairman.

    In an interview with The Times Robert Watson said that all the errors exposed so far in the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) resulted in overstatements of the severity of the problem.”

    Source: The Times (UK)

  27. 27
    Randy says:

    I can’t overemphasize how important postings like this and websites like this are in the climate change debate. The news media does a terrible job in interpreting scientific information and it is easily manipulated into producing very inaccurate reporting. And without a personal background in the scientific specialties under study, it’s hard for any individual to know what importance to give some of these hyped-up stories. So thanks to Real Climate and its contributors for providing the proper context.

  28. 28
    Mr Henderson says:

    You say, “It is not up to us as climate scientists to clear up this mess – it is up to the media world itself to put this right again.” But if one thing’s clear from all this it’s that if you leave it to the media this just won’t happen. I understand your reluctance – but I’m afraid if anything’s to be done about it, climate scientists are going to have to take the initiative. As a matter of urgency, funding needs to be found for a rebuttal agency which can pounce on these errors as soon as they come up. It needs to involve both people with professional experience of getting stories into the media and scientists who have the time to give the issues their full and immediate attention (perhaps scientists who have retired from full-time research). Absurd that such a thing is needed, of course, but without it the denialists will continue to run rings around you.

  29. 29
    Steve Bloom says:

    The charges of FOI violations against CRU are also starting to look ephemeral. Remarkably (or not depending on one’s POV), nobody in the media seems to have thought it worth their time to follow up on the details even though so many of them, including “responsible” reporters, were happy to repeat the charges. In particular, it shouldn’t be forgotten that it was Andy Revkin, a leading climate reporter working for the U.S. “newspaper of record,” who legitimated “CRU-gate” by writing a story that appeared on the front page of the New York Times. To all appearances *nothing* has been learned from the execrable example set by the NYT in the run-up to the Iraq War.

  30. 30

    Unfortunately for Richard Pauli (#14)’s good intention, processes of scientific research and careful review cannot be accelerated so much. It is ironic because acceleration of many contemporary affairs are caused by rapid developments of science-based technology.

    Official correction of mistakes of IPCC reports after publication should certainly be accelerated. But correction to reflect new scientific findings is a different thing, and to demand accelerating it will make scientists too busy and will deteoriate the quality of the official products of IPCC.

    Quicker responses should be made by relatively small groups of scientists. There should be portal sites of such information constantly updated. Maybe IPCC can act as one of the portals, but then it should be made very clear that these remarks are “unofficial” from IPCC’s viewpoint.

  31. 31
    Wynand Dednam says:

    “There also is a sizeable contingent of me-too journalism that is simply repeating the stories but not taking the time to form a well-founded view on the topics. Typically they report on various “allegations”, such as these against the IPCC, similar to reporting that the CRU email hack lead to “allegations of data manipulation”. Technically it isn’t even wrong that there were such allegations. But isn’t it the responsibility of the media to actually investigate whether allegations have any merit before they decide to repeat them?”

    “What is seriously amiss is something else: the public perception of the IPCC, and of climate science in general, has been massively distorted by the recent media storm. All of these various “gates” – Climategate, Amazongate, Seagate, Africagate, etc., do not represent scandals of the IPCC or of climate science. Rather, they are the embarrassing battle-cries of a media scandal, in which a few journalists have misled the public with grossly overblown or entirely fabricated pseudogates, and many others have naively and willingly followed along without seeing through the scam. It is not up to us as climate scientists to clear up this mess – it is up to the media world itself to put this right again”

    I know this may be a little off-topic, but the media’s reporting on Climate Change, especially the ‘many others have naively and willingly followed along without seeing through the scam’, highlights a certain pattern in the behaviour of the mainstream media which is the subject of an excellent book by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, ‘Manufacturing Consent’. I urge you guys at Realclimate, if you have the time (which I know you’re short on), to read it.

  32. 32
    Didactylos says:

    Jimbo: It’s the Times. Why would you trust them?

    Read it very, very carefully. “all the errors […] resulted in overstatements of the severity of the problem”. Is this true? Yes. But wait…. “all the errors”? There is one error, and it overstates the severity of the problem. One error!

    If I had a Times subscription, I would cancel it. They get more errors per page than is in the entire IPCC report.

  33. 33
    Theo Hopkins says:

    @ Global Sceptic

    >”Perhaps you’ll comment on the fact that the BBC is highly invested in climate change, via their pension, and therefore, with billions riding on their investments, are equally as likely to spin climate science in their favor?”.<

    It look's like you are from the UK. So am I. Go back and post on the Daily Telegraph or Mail website. Then, globally, people won't have to read your drivel.

    If the BBC pension was in armaments manufacture, by your logic, the BBC editors would be making non ending calls for war.

    Please – keep taking the pills. You are an embarrassment to the UK.

  34. 34
    Lou Grinzo says:

    Mr. Henderson (#28): You’re right about the press not correcting itself in these matters. As far as I’m concerned, the reason is painfully simple: Brute force economics.

    As long as there’s a big, heated debate over climate change, the traditional media benefits. They’re under such incredible economic pressure that they’re grasping for anything to capture more eyeballs, so at least some of them are happy to assume the position of arms merchant in this war of words.

  35. 35
    Anand says:

    The Copenhagen Diagnosis carries beautiful WG-II-like pictures. Maybe to support and embellish its WG-I-related conclusions.

    Re your “… uber-conspiratorial thinking…” response:

    The very examples you mention in your response, can, and do take place in the real world. No conspiracy needed. Just pettiness and human greed is enough.

    Mr Henderson:
    “…climate scientists are going to have to take the initiative.”

    Please look where we are today, with climate scientists taking the ‘initiative’. When the situation calls for a cool-headed detached approach, you are asking for more initiative?

    Funding for a rebuttal agency? :)


  36. 36
    John Peter says:

    Recently, I have been trying to determine the “physical climate science basis” for the effect of clouds on radiation balance. In particular, is their feedback/forcing positive or negative?

    The clearest reference I have found so far is Ramanathan’s 1987 Physics Today article. There he identified quantification of cloud effects on climate as a key technical problem. Did you ever “solve” it?

    Of course the climate will change, we all know that. It’s your focus on CO2 that’s at issue. To make your case against carbon you need accessible answers to questions like mine about cloud effects.

    It seems to me that “cap-and-trade” is what is bothering the deniers most. Supposedly based on your science, the politics of “cap-and-trade” are even more arcane than the quantitative details of radiation balance.

    The above is just my opinion, based on some political life experiences during a scientific career. FWIW, I offer it as a fair exchange for ref(s) to cloud effect quantification.


  37. 37
    Les Johnson says:

    Roger Pielke Jr. says:
    14 February 2010 at 5:38 PM

    I think an answer is needed to Dr. Peilke’s assertions.

  38. 38

    I second Roger Pielke Jr (#17). I was at the Royal Institution debate a few days ago in London and Muir-Wood didn’t sound very pleased with what the IPCC had done with his work.

  39. 39
    Global Skeptic says:

    @Gavin and Theo Hopkins

    Your logic is scant, and your personal attacks are not necessary.

    It is duly noted that you have no relevant response to my questions regarding the BBC’s pension.

    Perhaps then we need to discuss Pachauri’s ties to numerous for profit endeavors that directly rely on the success of AGW?

    Again, I’m curious as to your responses about these matters.


    [Response: The ‘success’ of AGW? This chasing down the rabbit hole in search of imaginary reasons why anyone would actually want AGW to be true is simple delusion. There are of course huge vested interests in the status quo – anyone who relies on anything from any infrastructure within a meter of mean sea level (this is almost everyone if you work it out), and yet you think that someone investing in solar energy, maybe just because they’d like to see it succeed means that nothing they say can be trusted? You are through the looking glass here. Please focus on the substance of any actual arguments rather than scraping the bottom of the barrel to find excuses not to. All further discussion on imaginary financial conflicts of interest are OT. – gavin]

  40. 40
    Robert says:

    Outstanding post, very useful and important. I expect to be linking to it a lot.

  41. 41
    Jerry Steffens says:

    #36 John Peter

    Regarding cloud feedbacks, see the discussion in Chapter 8 of the IPCC Report:

    In a comparison of models, the cloud feedback was positive in all, but the magnitude varied greatly. Thus, cloud feedback is still considered the greatest uncertainty in climate-change projections for a given emissions scenario. In other words, models that predict the most warming are those that have the most positive cloud feedback. Note, however, that substantial warming is projected even in models with a small cloud feedback.

  42. 42
    David B. Benson says:

    John Peter (36) — During the Eemian interglacial, the temperatures were 2–3 K warmer than now. That is enough to see that cloud effects don’t preclude ever increasing temperatures.

    I do recommend reading “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart, first link under the science section of the sidebar.

  43. 43
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Dr. Pielke Jr. has checked in here and seems very concerned with matters of exaggeration, of creating narratives from flimsy evidence or no evidence at all. I wonder if Dr. Pielke Jr. would care to further amplify here with solid evidence this remark he made on his blog:

    “IPCC Chairman Pachauri was making public comments on a dispute involving factual claims by the IPCC at the same time that he was negotiating for funding to his home institution justified by those very same claims.”

    Dr. Pielke Jr. termed this a “classic and unambiguous case of financial conflict of interest”. That’s quite a serious charge. Yet when I tried to follow Dr. Pielke’s hypothesis via the supporting materials he included, I could find nothing to support such a drastic accusation, or that is to say nothing that would stand up to serious scrutiny in a court of law.

    I’m left wondering why I should lend weight to Dr. Pielke’s opinions. I’m open to being swayed on that account.

  44. 44
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Mr. Henderson,
    While I would hesitate to recommend a permanent organization to answer the spin, I do think it is clear that a climate-education branch of the IPCC might be a useful addition to the effort. It is clear that the task of the IPCC has grown well beyond its capabilities. The organization probably needs to grow as well.

  45. 45
    Undecided says:

    Any comments on Phil Jones Q&A – perhaps it’s something you should cover.

  46. 46
    Roger Pielke Jr. says:

    44, Doug B.

    Here is the US NAS COI policy:

    Ask yourself if Dr. Pachauri would meet these standards. I think not. the standards for many science advisory bodies are even more strict.

    The question is, why should the IPCC not follow standard COI policies? (Currently it has none.)

    I think that the IPCC is strengthened with COI policies. I’d like to hear an argument to the contrary. A strengthened IPCC is a good idea.

  47. 47
    Les Johnson says:

    doug bostrom:

    Your reference to Peilke’s

    “IPCC Chairman Pachauri was making public comments on a dispute involving factual claims by the IPCC at the same time that he was negotiating for funding to his home institution justified by those very same claims.”

    Its pretty clear. Pachauri refuted the Indian government glacier data, while he was negotiating with the EU and the Carnegie Foundation, for funds to study Himilayan glaciers.

    Granted, Pachauri did not violate IPCC COI standards; but only because the IPCC does not have any COI standards.

  48. 48
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Although our representative from the tinfoil hat contingent, Global Skeptic, clearly has some “creative” ideas about what motivates scientists, he does illustrate a common tactic by anti-science activists. As long as they can establish in the public mind that scientific experts might not be 100% disinterested, they can get the public to consider the anti-science argument, even if that argument is formulated by spinmeisters doing what they do best–that is, lying like a rug.

    One effective (and under utilized) argument against this line of attack is to point out that no professional organization that has adopted a position statement on climate change has dissented from the consensus view of climate scientist. Even the frigging American Association of Petroleum Geologists is neutral on the consensus–and if ever there was a group with an axe to grind, that would be it!

    As a scientist who does not work in climate science, my life and research are likely to be directly and negatively impacted by the fact that we are warming the planet. In all likelihood, it means the latter half of my career will be spent working on satellites directed at understanding climate rather than the diverse range of space telescopes and satellites I’ve worked on to date. Likewise, physicists, chemists, meteorologists, geophysicists, geologists, and on and on will likely be negatively impacted in terms of funding, research opportunities, etc. And yet, the professional societies representing these fields have all taken positions that say climate change is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. That level of consensus is truly unprecedented. I have to wonder why we don’t hear about it more often.

  49. 49
    Bob Smith says:

    Hmmm supposed errors there are scientists who confirm these are errors and maybe this nonsense of gloom and doom is finally going to come to an end. Professor Jones just said today there has been no warming since 1995. Interesting to say the least. [edit]

    [Response: Go read what he actual said. It isn’t what you think. Perhaps you could also reasssess the credibility of your sources? – gavin]

  50. 50
    David Gould says:

    A climate-education branch of the IPCC would simply be dubbed ‘the propaganda arm’. It might do more harm than good.