As the ‘Climategate’ news cycle creaks on, pundits are busily delivering advice on how scientists can do their jobs better. “It is time for the IPCC to be disbanded,” declares Ann Widdecombe in the Express, “and replaced by a group of open-minded, fact-orientated, cautious scientists who are interested in truth, however inconvenient.” “Scientists, you are fallible,” proclaims Simon Jenkins in the Guardian. Climatologists “are no different from bankers, politicians, lawyers, estate agents and perhaps even journalists. They cheat. They make mistakes. They suppress truth and suggest falsity.”
These are strange statements, given that climatologists have meanwhile willingly acknowledged and corrected genuine errors, and offered suggestions on improving IPCC processes. The journal Nature published a series of suggestions from five prominent climate scientists on ways forward for the IPCC. The Guardian ran a similar story full of scientists suggesting reforms. Climate modeller William Connolley critiqued the thoroughness of IPCC Working Group II, while defending its use of “grey” literature. Other scientists suggested separating the IPCC’s Working Groups. The evidence suggests the scientific profession puts reflection, doubt and criticism at the heart of its practice.
By contrast, the media’s reluctance to address its own failings is stark. Recent weeks have seen a deluge of “inaccurate, misleading or distorted information” in climate change reporting – precisely the kind of material it is the Press Complaints Commission’s (PCC’s) stated role to guard against. But, as its exoneration of Jan Moir’s falsehoods over Stephen Gately’s death has highlighted, this “self-regulatory” industry body remains toothless. Read more
Cross-posted from the Wonk Room.
Scientists who challenged the possibility of catastrophic sea level rise in coming decades have retracted their argument. Mark Siddall, whose paper claimed sea level rise from global warming could not be more than 82 centimeters (32 inches) by 2100 — despite other estimates of up to 1.9 meters — asked for the conclusions published in 2009 in Nature Geoscience to be retracted, accepting corrections from researchers who had made the higher estimates. The Guardian misleadingly presented the news with the headline, “Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels“:
Study claimed in 2009 that sea levels would rise by up to 82cm by the end of century – but the report’s author now says true estimate is still unknown.
If all one read was the introduction, a reader might get the false impression that sea level rise from global warming is in doubt. The misleading Guardian headline was picked up — as per usual — by the Drudge Report and Marc Morano’s conspiracy site Climate Depot. Read more
A couple of weeks ago, Ben Goldacre bashed out a quick piece for the Guardian’s news desk on the subject of the General Medical Council’s damning verdict on the conduct of Andrew Wakefield, in which he said:
As the years passed by, media coverage deteriorated further. Claims by researchers who never published scientific papers to back up their claims were reported in the newspapers as important new scientific breakthroughs, while at the very same time, evidence showing no link between MMR and autism, fully published in peer reviewed academic journals, was simply ignored. This was cynical, and unforgivable.
That last paragraph is particularly important because it shows one of the more common ways in which mainstream media outlets consistently distorts the truth by selectively highlighting particular claims and/or research on the basis of whether it conforms to an established narrative. Take, for example, yesterday’s Sunday Times, which devoted several hundred words to the uncritical promotion of the latest effluvial outpourings of TV weatherman and all-round climate crock, Anthony Watts. Read more
RealClimate have just published a really useful post discussing the IPCC and media distortion.
As well as kindly praising Tim’s analysis of the affair which you can find here on publicinterest.org.uk, the piece includes a great summary of the IPCC and its processes:
“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.”
They get to the real crux of the recent “scandals”, asking: Do any of them effect the basic climate science? Read more
Anyone following the recent string of articles in the mainstream press attacking the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may have entertained a sneaking suspicion that the hidden hand of the climate denial lobby was at work behind many of them. That suspicion, it turns out, is exactly right – the fingerprints of the deniers are all over several of the key stories.
This latest feeding frenzy kicked off when one erroneous claim – that Himalayan glaciers were “very likely” to disappear by 2035 – was found to have slipped through the net, the IPCC’s extensive review process having failed to weed it out prior to publication. The claim was included on page 493 of the IPCC’s second 1000-page Working Group report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” (WGII). The reference given was to a WWF report – part of the non-peer-reviewed “grey literature” that makes up a periphery of the material in the second Working Group’s report.
Marginal as it may have been, for the media this isolated error appears to have opened the floodgates. A hysterical flurry of activity followed, as the denial lobby began trawling through the IPCC report for anything else that might look bad – particularly anything referencing the grey literature. The results of this search were then fed to elements of the press, who eagerly snatched them up – uncritically repeating many of their claims in the process.
A majority of the world’s nations yesterday signed up to the Copenhagen Accord and filed plans for emissions reductions, scraping over the UN deadline of 31st January for doing so. But the pledged actions fall far short of action needed to prevent global temperatures rising by 2 degrees C – the target adopted in the text of the Accord itself.
Instead, existing actions set the world on course for a 3.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise, according to earlier analysis of pledges carried out by consultancy Ecofys. PriceWaterhouseCoopers calculate that on current projections the world will burn up its allocated carbon budget for the first half of the century by 2034 – 16 years ahead of schedule.