Saturday, February 6, 2010

Science?

My son questions my earlier comment:

The IPCC report is "worse than creationism, a real war on science?"

I reply:

Because it comes more in the guise of science. The creationists, at least at their most honest, just say they're trying to keep the Bible in the picture somehow--not science, but revelation, an entirely different way of looking at things.

The IPCC Report has consistently been praised as peer-reviewed, etc. Rock solid science. If there is bullshit in there, it is worse than trying to somehow give a religious account of fossil evidence.

Many scientists have stayed out of the debate because they don't want to get caught up in politics. Very few glacier experts have spoken out about the 2035 nonsense, the tree-ring experts were not the ones who brought down the hockey stick, etc. This has left the field either abandoned, or available to be occupied by amateurs--some of them a bit nutty or eccentric, some of them making mistakes. This has helped to reinforce the idea that all the real scientists are on Gore's side.

Today the Times [actually the Telegraph] of London, which has done a pretty good job of showing where the doubts are appearing, actually had reporters (new to the story) contact the authors of the paper about five years of drought followed by heavy logging in the Amazon. No surprise: drought plus logging is bad for forests. This is cited by the IPCC as if it is of some relevance to climate change, which is not mentioned anywhere in the paper. (The IPCC also comes up with 40% of the Amazon likely to be destroyed, close to a pure fabrication). The authors now say they have no objection to the way their paper has been used by the IPCC. What does that mean? Because they are experts on drought plus logging, they are also experts on climate change? That they are flattered to be included at the grown-ups table? Do they know anything more about the link between their paper and climate change than I do? They're experts on the paper, I'm not, but beyond that? If you have a Ph.D. in one narrow field, are you an expert on everything?


I add now: Simon Lewis, a Royal Society research fellow at Leeds University who specialises in tropical forest ecology, is asked by British media to comment on the citation by the IPCC of a WWF report by Rowell and Moore, which in turn depends on a letter published in Nature: D. C. Nepstad, A. VerĂ­ssimo, A. Alencar, C. Nobre, E. Lima, P. Lefebvre, P. Schlesinger, C. Potter, P. Mountinho, E. Mendoza, M. Cochrane, V. Brooks, Large-scale Impoverishment of Amazonian Forests by Logging and Fire, Nature, 1999, Vo l 398, 8 April, pp505. When quoted by the BBC, Dr. Lewis says: "The IPCC statement is basically correct but poorly written, and bizarrely referenced."

The Sunday Times has this:

In a direct quote, Lewis goes on to say: "The Nature paper is about the interactions of logging damage, fire and periodic droughts, all extremely important in understanding the vulnerability of Amazon forest to drought, but is not related to the vulnerability of these forests to reductions in rainfall." Then we get Lewis saying: "In my opinion the Rowell and Moore report should not have been cited; it contains no primary research data."

Compare and contrast this with The Sunday Telegraph view that the IPCC had "accurately represented" the Nature paper.

Leake is clearly unconvinced, reporting that this is the third time in as many weeks that serious doubts have been raised over the IPCC's conclusions on climate change. And this weekend Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, was fighting to keep his job after a barrage of criticism – which is why The Sunday Telegraph writes a 750-word piece about his new novel.

Even the WWF takes it more seriously, saying it prided itself on the accuracy of its reports, but is investigating the latest concerns. "We have a team of people looking at this internationally," says Keith Allott, its climate change campaigner.

Scientists such as Lewis are demanding that the IPCC ban the use of reports from pressure groups. Georg Kaser, a glaciologist who was a lead author on the last IPCC report, said: "Groups like WWF are not scientists and they are not professionally trained to manage data. They may have good intentions but it opens the way to mistakes."


So again, there are cases where actual scientists are happy to have their work distorted by the IPCC--profile, recognition, potential money and travel, etc. The fact that they are experts in what they published on does not mean they are experts on whether the IPCC has used their work correctly or not.

A more bizarre case is that of Nigel Arnell. He published a refereed paper addressing the question whether global warming would cause a net, overall increase or decrease in water shortages. He reported, with huge variances in possible outcomes, that the number of people benefitting from increased water supply might actually outnumber those who suffer from a decrease. To a lay person, it seems that Arnell's paper may have been close to 100% bullshit in the first place, "refereed and peer-reviewed" or not.

But it gets more interesting. In the 2007 IPCC Report, Arnell "helped author the summary and some sections in the full report." What do we find there?

But the IPCC uses Mr. Arnell's research to give the opposite impression, by a form of single-entry book-keeping. While it dutifully tallies the numbers of people he predicts will be left with less water access, it largely ignores the greater number likely to see more water courtesy of climate change.

The IPCC's much-shorter "Summary for Policy Makers" is even more one-sided. It is riddled with warnings of warming-induced drought and—while acknowledging that a hotter Earth would bring "increased water availability" in some areas—warns that rising temperatures would leave "hundreds of millions of people exposed to increased water stress." Nowhere does it specify that even more people would probably have more water supplies.

The IPCC also neglects to mention Mr. Arnell's baseline forecasts—that is, the number of people expected to experience greater "water stress" simply due to factors like population growth and resource use, regardless of what happens with temperatures. This leaves readers with the misleading impression that all, or nearly all, of the IPCC's predicted "water stress" increases are attributable to climate change.

These omissions were no accident. In 2006, prior to the release of the IPCC's report and the all-important policy makers' summary, Indur Goklany—at the time with the U.S. Department of the Interior—alerted the summary's authors that it was "disingenuous" to report on a warmer world's newly "water-stressed" without mentioning that "as many, if not more, may no longer be water stressed (if Arnell's analyses are to be trusted)." Mr. Goklany's advice was dismissed.


A reputable scientist, drawing on Arnell's published work, tried to call bullshit on the IPCC. The IPCC, to some extent with Arnell now wearing a different hat, ignored him. How does Arnell defend himself?

[Arnell] told your correspondent he is "happy" with the way his work was represented. He said one reason for the omissions was "space"—apparently there was a "big constraint on the number of words" in texts that total 2,823 pages. The other reason Mr. Arnell cited—which he emphasized in his 2004 paper—is that increased and decreased water stress are asymmetrical indicators, and comparing them is "misleading."

"Having a bit more [water] is not as good as having a bit less is bad," Mr. Arnell explained, though he admitted the degree of asymmetry remains undefined. That defense of IPCC accounting dissolves even faster if you examine a separate section of the IPCC's full report, which cites one of Mr. Arnell's regional breakdowns to show that Latin America will likely see more people with greater water troubles than with less. So apparently it's only misleading to tabulate the benefits of global warming when they outweigh the costs.


UPDATE: Another impressive example from Richard North. An IPCC author (Martin Parry) relying on a non-peer-reviewed source that supports the alarmist view—drought in Africa is probably caused by climate change to a significant extent--instead of his own well-known peer-reviewed research that supports uncertainty about this rather than certainty.

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