Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rigorous Scrutiny


There were a couple of errors in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, which comprises many hundreds of pages. A Wall Street Journal editorial that scolds the IPCC for its sloppy work comprises 12 short paragraphs. Let's see how well its facts hold up, by comparison.

It has been a bad — make that dreadful — few weeks for what used to be called the "settled science" of global warming, and especially for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that is supposed to be its gold standard.
Wrong. The errors do nothing to change the "'settled science' of global warming." They change a couple of predictions about its likely effects.

As a subsidiary point, denialists tend to gloat when such errors come to light, because their default position is that all errors and uncertainty support their rosy outlook. In reality, uncertainty is not a reassuring thing, and could just as easily lead us to underestimate the threats we face.
First it turns out that the Himalayan glaciers are not going to melt anytime soon, notwithstanding dire U.N. predictions.
Wrong. The IPCC's correction acknowledges that Himalayan glaciers are not expected to decrease by 80 percent -- let alone disappear -- within the next four decades. However, the IPCC stands by its prediction that "Widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges (e.g. Hindu-Kush, Himalaya, Andes), where more than one-sixth of the world population currently lives.”

That's not quite the same thing as saying that "Himalayan glaciers are not going to melt anytime soon." And the phrase "anytime soon" is silly in any case, partly because it's hopelessly vague, and partly because it would not provide grounds for complacency even if it were accurate.
In its 2007 report, the IPCC wrote that "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."

But as Jonathan Leake of London's Sunday Times reported last month, those claims were based on a report from the World Wildlife Fund, which in turn had fundamentally misrepresented a study in the journal Nature. The Nature study, Mr. Leake writes, "did not assess rainfall but in fact looked at the impact on the forest of human activity such as logging and burning."
Wrong. The author of the study in question says, "The scientific statement in the IPCC WG2 report is essentially correct, but has a referencing error. IPCC WG1 get it right." He went on to call Leake's piece "an outrageous piece of journalism."
The IPCC has relied on World Wildlife Fund studies regarding the "transformation of natural coastal areas," the "destruction of more mangroves," "glacial lake outbursts causing mudflows and avalanches," changes in the ecosystem of the "Mesoamerican reef," and so on. The Wildlife Fund is a green lobby that believes in global warming, and its "research" reflects its advocacy, not the scientific method.
Wrong, inasmuch as this is simply situational ad hominem. By this logic, any institution or scientist "that believes in global warming" is suspect by definition. (Of course, research by denialist groups and individuals remains purely disinterested and objective, no matter who funds it or how many times it's debunked.)

Beyond that, WWF's staff does publish scientific research in peer-reviewed journals, which is more than most denialists can say.
The IPCC has also cited a study by British climatologist Nigel Arnell claiming that global warming could deplete water resources for as many as 4.5 billion people by the year 2085. But as our Anne Jolis reported in our European edition, the IPCC neglected to include Mr. Arnell's corollary finding, which is that global warming could also increase water resources for as many as six billion people.
Wrong, inasmuch as it groundlessly implies the IPCC did something dishonest. In the first place, Arnell specifically told Jolis that the IPCC's representation of his research was appropriate. In the second place, one person's increased "water resources" is another person's increased flooding. As I noted here, Arnell's 2004 paper, and the work he's done since then, is basically in line with IPCC conclusions, and utterly at odds with the WSJ's happy talk.
The IPCC report made aggressive claims that "extreme weather-related events" had led to "rapidly rising costs." Never mind that the link between global warming and storms like Hurricane Katrina remains tenuous at best.
Arguably wrong in factual terms, and certainly wrong in its implication that the IPCC has done something dishonest. The IPCC's conclusions are clearly qualified, and acknowledge that "for a number of regions, such as Australia and India, normalised losses show a statistically significant reduction since 1970." That's not what I would call "aggressive." Furthermore, the IPCC stands by its assessment of the evidence. Unless the WSJ knows something they don't, there are no good grounds for treating this as an "aggressive" overstatement, let alone as an error.
In Holland, there's even a minor uproar over the report's claim that 55% of the country is below sea level. It's 26%.
Yes, but the initial figure came from the Dutch government, which is also the source of the so-called "correction." If they got something this fundamental wrong at the outset, how can we believe anything they say ever again? For all we know, every inch of Holland is well above sea level, and its dike rings were built as part of an alarmist conspiracy, in order to compel citizens to accept nanny-state intervention in their personal lives.

Kidding aside, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency's correction states that "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." So obviously, the IPCC is a joke and Doomsday has been canceled.
Phil Jones, who stepped down as head of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit amid the climate email scandal, told the BBC that the world may well have been warmer during medieval times than it is now.
To which the simplest response is, so fucking what? What's at issue is not how warm the world is today, but how much warmer it's going to get over time if no action is taken.

And Jones didn't say this in any case, as one can easily surmise from the lack of an actual quote. Instead, he responded at some length to a wildly hypothetical scenario:

[I]f the MWP was shown to be global in extent and as warm or warmer than today (based on an equivalent coverage over the NH and SH) then obviously the late-20th century warmth would not be unprecedented. On the other hand, if the MWP was global, but was less warm that today, then current warmth would be unprecedented.

We know from the instrumental temperature record that the two hemispheres do not always follow one another. We cannot, therefore, make the assumption that temperatures in the global average will be similar to those in the northern hemisphere.

And of course, whether current warmth is "unprecedented" has no bearing on whether it's anthropogenic. Compared to this tactic, quote-mining is downright respectable. Paraphrasing Jones as the WSJ did is an act of elemental dishonesty that, in my view, dwarfs every single one of the accusations they're making against the IPCC.
Mr. Jones also told the BBC there has been no "statistically significant" warming over the past 15 years, though he considers this to be temporary.
So Phil Jones is right when he says things the WSJ likes, and wrong when he explains what they actually mean. Hooray for the scientific method! And hooray for rational self-interest!
The lesson of climategate and now the IPCC's shoddy sourcing is that the claims of the global warming lobby need far more rigorous scrutiny.
"Shoddy sourcing"? That's pretty fucking rich coming from people who treat Anne Jolis and Jonathan Leake as more credible than the scientists whose work they shamelessly twist to their own ends.

"Rigorous scrutiny?" That's pretty goddamn droll coming from people who've cobbled together a few minor errors of fact, interpretation, or attribution, magnified them ten-thousandfold, garnished them with outright lies, and still ended up with an underwhelming and astonishingly petty case against the IPCC.

As the great Irish phenomenologist Merle O'Ponty noted, there is "no realm in which consciousness is fully at home and secure against all risk of error." That said, it seems pretty clear that this brief, unsigned editorial contains more errors -- and more lies -- than the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. And unlike that report, there's precious little chance its errors will ever be corrected.

UPDATE: RealClimate covers many of the same points in a lot more detail, but spoils the effect by neglecting to use the word "fucking" as often as circumstances dictate. I say we call it a draw. (h/t: Chris in comments.)

19 comments:

chris said...

It's hard not to give in to despair. Reading this stuff and all the comments that go with it I begin to think that we deserve catastrophic climate change. Or worse, Gaia's Revenge. After all I won't be around to see it, unfortunately, neither will James Inhofe and all the other pigs who can't/won't look up from the trough and see the butcher coming.

But my nieces and nephews will be around. So, thanks to you and everyone else who continues to fight and I'll try not to give up too.

BTW Real Climate did a great job on this too.

Love this: "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 they're not the least bit ashamed of their ignorance...

Phila said...

It's hard not to give in to despair.

The best reason not to give in to despair is that this is precisely the reaction these people want. It's psychological warfare, really...not all that different from the discouraging leaflets that were dropped on soldiers in WWII.

Unfortunately, the scientific community has been organizationally and culturally ill-prepared to fight back. But that's changing, I think.

Jazzbumpa said...

The right wing is - and has always been - utterly shameless in presenting distortions, misrepresentations, quotes out of context, all manner of data cherry-picking, and outright lies. This is really SOP for them.

Your line by line evisceration of this WSJ is pretty similar to my DEEP STUPID series. But you get at it more frequently. One of those takes me hours to put together.

Hat tip to you, Phila, for your consistently excellent work.

Cheers, but basically - we're fucked.
JzB

bo said...

Phila,
A little fuel for tomorrow.
How wonderful when this egregious horseshit is picked up by the political leaders of these morons and then injected into the judicial process.

Phila said...

Thanks, Jazzbumpa. As usual, you're too kind.

Festoonic said...

Why would anyone think that humans don't deserve catastrophic climate change? The evidence is pretty clear that we do, which sucks for my nieces and nephews, too, and billions of other innocents. But nasty, brutish and short has always been the rule, not the exception.

Phila said...

Why would anyone think that humans don't deserve catastrophic climate change? The evidence is pretty clear that we do, which sucks for my nieces and nephews, too, and billions of other innocents. But nasty, brutish and short has always been the rule, not the exception.

I get in that mood, too. It's natural. At which point I think about, say, the various migratory birds I admire and I stop feeling apathetic.

It's hard to avoid thinking of it as a punishment, but I think it's necessary. For me, anyway.

grouchomarxist said...

What's especially galling about this situation is that these are precisely the same tactics the creationists use to attack evolution. There's the same paranoid conspiracy-mongering; the identical hyper-nitpicking, impossible-to-satisfy standards of accuracy and proof. (Standards which are always missing in action, when it comes time to examine their own core beliefs.)

Even if you ignore the most obvious intersection of the two denialist movements in a political party which has, to say the very least, in recent memory played rather fast and loose with the truth, you'd think any journalist with an ounce of integrity -- let alone self-respect -- would regard these "skeptics" with a high degree of skepticism.

But then, that doesn't pay so well nowadays, does it?

Anonymous said...

Beyond that, WWF's staff does publish scientific research in peer-reviewed journals, which is more than most denialists can say.

A remarkable claim. Because "most denialists" are not published scientists (like you? psssh!!!), the IPCC has no duty to source peer-reviewed scientific literature in its digest of scientific arguments to policymakers, or avoid quoting pamphlets by advocacy groups.

Why, the mere presence of (some) published scientists at WWF makes its every utterance scientific! Whereas Indur Goklany Phd is a cornucopian dingbat, because he's written up on Greenpace smear site "exxonsecrets". Hmmmyes, AEI, Cato etc should seek out non- scientists for their conferences, since speaking at them is bound to tank their credibility forever. Impeccable logic.

Have you read anything Dr. Goklany has written in any peer-reviewed medium? Or is your opinion based only on shrink-wrapped adhoms from "exxonsecrets" or similar smear machines? Do you have some factual objection to the claim that "global average annual mortality from [intense weather and climate hazards] has, in fact, declined by 95 percent since the 1920s despite a tripling of the global population." Other than the fact that Cato, with a budget 1/10th that of Greenpeace, likes his book... contrary to what you may believe, this isn't a cogent rebuttal!.

Or does it not matter to you b/c the cornucopian child molester only tallied "deserving" human mortality, and not that of the innocent yellow-throated warbler?

Anonymous said...

And of course, whether current warmth is "unprecedented" has no bearing on whether it's anthropogenic.

Excuse me but "of course" this is illiterate baloney. How do you suppose scientists (at least the ones you like and claim to grasp) figure for a "human" component to warming, if not by filtering the natural variability of the temperature record? A more variable long term temperature record will "of course" reduce the accuracy of any and all statistical inferences incorporating it. And "of course" it will also cause people to question whether temperatures as warm as today (or warmer) are associated with famine and catastrophe... since these conditions might have been observed and recorded by human beings (otherwise called "empirical evidence", a little superstition scientists used to take seriously!)

Phila said...

How do you suppose scientists (at least the ones you like and claim to grasp) figure for a "human" component to warming

An actual argument, based on something I actually said! Now we're getting somewhere.

In regards to deciding whether current warming is anthropogenic as opposed to natural variation a la the MWP, I'd say 1) whether the rate of change is unprecedented; 2) whether the presumed natural mechanisms for the MWP are currently sufficient to account for the current warming and the current rate of warming.

Also, we already know that natural processes can lead to temperatures much warmer than today's (cf. the PETM). That's never been at issue, as far as I know.

Last, you talk about questioning "whether temperatures as warm as today (or warmer) are associated with famine and catastrophe." But what does "warmer" mean, exactly? Assuming AGW is real, how much warmer things are going to get? And mightn't that depend to some extent on the decisions we make now, as well as on climate sensitivity?

Assuming AGW isn't the primary cause of warming, and it's due to a natural process we don't understand as yet, what grounds are there for the presumption a) that it won't lead to "famine and catastrophe"; and b) that human GHG emissions won't exacerbate it?

(otherwise called "empirical evidence", a little superstition scientists used to take seriously!)

Yeah, it's really too bad that so many scientists have turned their back on empirical evidence. I look forward to the paper you'll surely be publishing any day now, which'll set 'em all straight.

Phila said...

Why, the mere presence of (some) published scientists at WWF makes its every utterance scientific!

The WSJ implied pretty strongly that the WWF does not rely on the scientific method. That's a fairly strong charge, and it seems to me to be based on nothing more than situational ad hominem.

My point was simply that some WWF scientists seem to be doing competent work from the standpoint of relevant journals (and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, for whatever that's worth).

Obviously, it'd be wrong to conclude from this that WWF's "every utterance" is scientific by definition and mustn't be challenged by anyone. Fortunately, I never said that, despite your attempt to put words in my mouth.

Whereas Indur Goklany Phd is a cornucopian dingbat, because he's written up on Greenpace smear site "exxonsecrets".

No, Goklany is a cornucopian dingbat, in my opinion, because he holds views that are consistent, in my opinion, with being a cornucopian dingbat (cf. his misrepresentation of Nigel Arnell's work). If he'd never taken a dime from anyone, and had no connection with AEI or Cato, my conclusion would be the same.

You seem to be the same person who misunderstood my earlier reference to AEI, as well as the explanation I made in response to your complaints. Maybe you should reread them so we can stop going 'round and 'round?

Hmmmyes, AEI, Cato etc should seek out non- scientists for their conferences, since speaking at them is bound to tank their credibility forever. Impeccable logic.

You're right. I never should've said that.

Oh wait, I didn't say that. Never mind!

Do you have some factual objection to the claim that "global average annual mortality from [intense weather and climate hazards] has, in fact, declined by 95 percent since the 1920s despite a tripling of the global population."

To the claim itself? Not off the top of my head. But I might well have some logical objections to certain inferences that people might try to draw from it.

Other than the fact that Cato, with a budget 1/10th that of Greenpeace, likes his book... contrary to what you may believe, this isn't a cogent rebuttal!.

Agreed. But that isn't what I believe, so it hardly matters.

Or does it not matter to you b/c the cornucopian child molester only tallied "deserving" human mortality, and not that of the innocent yellow-throated warbler?

I have absolutely no idea what you're going on about here. Please take a deep breath, collect your thoughts, and try again.

Anonymous said...

The WSJ implied pretty strongly that the WWF does not rely on the scientific method.

This is hysterical. The WWF is a political advocacy group not a research body. It's not ad hominem to say they dont rely on the scientific method: advocacy is by definition "not neutral" and therefore unscientific. when a body purporting to argue from peer-reviewed scientific authority (IPCC) regurgitates scientific claims (in this case, false claims) made by a professional advocacy group, the "ad hominem" is indeed called for, and not a fallacy. It's as if Richard Lindzen (or whoever) quoted Exxon PR verbatim in his academic work and didn't tell anyone. Hey why not, Exxon employs scientists too! Why would these fine men and women distort the truth?

In regards to deciding whether current warming is anthropogenic as opposed to natural variation a la the MWP, I'd say ...

True or false: the variability of temperature will impact both the (inferred) sensitivity to CO2 and the error bars around this measure and any functionally related statistic. If you don't get this, you cannot possible understand ANY of the the statistics at realclimate.

If he'd never taken a dime from anyone, and had no connection with AEI or Cato, my conclusion would be the same.

So why bring affiliation up at all? Other than to make yourself look petty? In every post on climate science?


Yeah, it's really too bad that so many scientists have turned their back on empirical evidence

Gee yeah, like scientists whose 'experiments' are computer simulations, whose myriad predictions have been abandoned and revised so many times their 'discipline' is a laughingstock! Like those guys.


what grounds are there for the presumption a) that it won't lead to "famine and catastrophe"....

There are no grounds it WILL lead to these things. It's nobody's duty to prove it won't. The burden of proof lies with those who would lay claim to public policy ie scare us into building nuclear plants on every corner. Not what you had in mind, you say? Well, you go to climate war with the public you have, not the public you wish you had! Terrify a half-informed public with visions of armageddon, win an even scarier public policy. Oops! That Iraq analogy sounds better every second, with you in the role of Jonah Goldberg! That's gotta hurt.


http://www.gallup.com/poll/117025/support-nuclear-energy-inches-new-high.aspx

Phila said...

It's not ad hominem to say they dont rely on the scientific method: advocacy is by definition "not neutral" and therefore unscientific.

No, it's situational ad hominem to say that as an advocacy group nothing they say should ever be considered a product of the scientific method, let alone accepted as accurate.

Y'know, for someone who complains about "poo flinging," you certainly have been throwing a lot of it at a lot of people. Calling Fumento an amoral shill = hateful! But implying that the WWF's positions are unscientific by definition, or that climate scientists have forsaken empirical evidence and therefore can't be trusted = calm and rational and civil debate.

To be continued....

Phila said...

The burden of proof lies with those who would lay claim to public policy ie scare us into building nuclear plants on every corner.

I see. So is the nuclear industry behind the AGW hoax, or is it simply capitalizing on the business opportunities presented by the woeful incompetence / dishonesty of most of the world's climate scientists?

BTW, it's a bit...alarmist to say that nuclear power plants will be going up on "every corner." But hey, it's OK to exaggerate a little for a good cause, right?

Also, I love how folks like you treat addressing AGW as "laying claim to public policy," as though denialism / inactivism were some sort of neutral naturalistic stance as opposed to a specific political and ideological program (i.e., an attempt to lay claim to, or maintain control of, public policy).

There are no grounds it WILL lead to these things.

No grounds to say warming may affect agriculture? No grounds to say it may affect sea level? No grounds to say it may affect the pH of oceans? No grounds to say it may affect animals and ecosystems? No grounds to say that it will produce any of these effects, let alone most or all of them? No grounds to treat these possibilities as legitimate concerns, let alone to err on the side of caution? None? Really?

If that's your viewpoint I really don't think we have much more to talk about. All I can really say is that you have a pretty daring theory here, and I think it's incumbent on you to write up your stringently objective findings, get them published in a reputable scientific journal, and turn the field of climate science on its ear.

Once you've set everyone's feet back on the path of epistemological righteousness, I'll have no choice but to change my tune. And at that point, you can come back here for what I assure you will be a heartfelt public apology.

God willing, you'll bugger off and get busy on that project. But if you want to continue this conversation despite its apparent pointlessness, you need do two things. First, you need to start using a consistent 'nym instead of "anonymous." Second, you need to answer these questions for me:

1. Are any of the points I made in the original post valid? If so, which ones?

2. Do you agree that Goklany misrepresented Arnell's work? And do you agree that Dr. Jones' views on the WMP and on "statistically significant warming" are being misrepresented by the WSJ and other media outlets? If so, does this trouble you at all?

Anonymous said...

So is the nuclear industry behind the AGW hoax,

AGW isn't a hoax. Anyone who believes that humans produce CO2 and that CO2 is warming ipso facto believes in AGW. Within this very wide category are thousands of people you would label "denialists", including many scientists who comment regularly at realclimate. Many, probably most who accept some measure of AGW on the grounds of basic physics also believe that catastrophic global warming is unlikely.

it's situational ad hominem to say that as an advocacy group nothing they say should ever be considered a product of the scientific method

Not a product of the scientific method: 'scientific' to an academic standard. Yes, it's ad hominem, and valid in this context: the scientific authority of the IPCC. The WWF's output is not peer reviewed and neutral to the standard demanded by the IPCC and those who would trust its authority. The IPCC should obvously not source any data from advocacy groups, not least because such data is sometimes false (casting legitimate doubt on its editorial control), but also because it reveals a blatant agenda (since someone at IPCC clearly went shopping for soundbites in the WWF's research materials.)

No grounds to say warming may affect agriculture?

There are grounds that warming may affect all these things in all kinds of ways, very little to prove that it will affect them adversely and that human behavior is relevant to any outcome. That's not a "daring theory", it's shared by the vast majority of scientists drawing air, including your friends at realclimate, who will only ever posit risks, never certainties. Informing their view of risk are a lot of arcane statistical methods and model outputs, and next to no empirical evidence (esp wrt ecological impact). Via models fitted to patchy, heavily massaged data sets. That they all think their methods are informative tells me little, because I know enough about their modeling to believe it isn't. None of it sustains arguments for aggressive action.

No grounds to treat these possibilities as legitimate concerns, let alone to err on the side of caution?

There's no such thing as "erring on the side of caution" - any drastic policy has ramifications known and unknown (cf Iraq). Your idea of caution (invading Iraq, eg) is someone else's idea of lunacy. In this case, the burden of proof lies with those claiming the world is ending. Since they're asking impose historically unprecedented global controls on energy use, they assume an historic responsibility to prove they are needed.

Phila said...

the burden of proof lies with those claiming the world is ending.

Nice strawman. But the IPCC isn't "claiming the world is ending." They're claiming that we're running serious risks with the only planet we have, and ought to take steps to minimize that risk.

Maybe if you offered a Plan B in the event that you turned out to be wrong -- 'cause that is possible, right? -- I'd be more interested in your "theory" that everything's going to be fine because...well, just because.

Without getting to the rest of your points, I'll simply say this: If you want to assume that I have no ability to understand the science, then your argument boils down to something like this: "You have no ability to understand the science, so stop trusting climatologists, and start trusting an angry anonymous stranger on the Internet, who has embraced a different theory that you have no ability to understand."

As I've said several times, once you convince most climatologists and pretty much all the world's scientific bodies that they've got it wrong and you've got it right, you can come back here for a sincere public apology. Until then, you're wasting your time arguing with me.

In any case, since you've pointedly ignored my request to use a 'nym, and to answer a couple of very simple questions, this conversation's over.

Anonymous said...

If the IPCC is going to cite "numbers exposed to water stress due to global warming" , it doesn't matter to me whether Peter Arnell believes this statistic doesn't tell the full picture (I'm sure it doesn't.) Failure to show corollary findings is suspect. If "one man's water resources is another man's flooding" than the statistic as presented is uninformative, regardless of what the source believes. Why cite it?

If they got something this fundamental wrong at the outset, how can we believe anything they say ever again?

Like the WWF mistake, these lapses in editorial control simply shouldn't exist in a document as brief as the IPCC summary, where aggressive scrutiny was a dead certainty.

The Phil Jones soundbite is cherrypicked, of course; it's meaningless in the wider context. So we agree at least on that. The MWP remark however is relevant as an indicator of long term climate variability as already discussed.

I don't mind ending the conversation; clearly you're angry, not me. I don't know why I should be trying to convince someone that the IPCC is a political body, at least as biased as the ed. board of the Journal. Frankly it's obvious.

Phila said...

I don't mind ending the conversation; clearly you're angry, not me.

Assuming people actually bother reading this far, I'm quite comfortable letting them judge which of us comes across as more angry, more irrational, and more evasive.