Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Peer" "Reviewed" "Science"

The controversy about the CRU e-mails, the terrily misleading IPCC Report AR-4, etc., has at least had the benefit of flushing out some climate scientists, and causing them to make direct statements that can be checked.

One of them, Dr. Simon Lewis, has succeeded in getting a correction/retraction from the Sunday Times for the way "Amazongate" was covered, and especially the way he was quoted. He was probably entitled to get his own remarks corrected, and the Times was right to make the correction. Unfortunately, the Times also said:

The article "UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim" (News, Jan 31) stated that the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report had included an "unsubstantiated claim" that up to 40% of the Amazon rainforest could be sensitive to future changes in rainfall.
... In fact, the IPCC’s Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

Richard North comments: "the paper has chosen to go far beyond [what was] needed, and conceded that "the IPCC’s Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence." This simply is not true."

The IPCC AR4 Report says: "up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation", and the only support given for this statement is a non-peer-reviewed paper published by the WWF.

Lewis is obviously gloating--he's received a lot of favourable media as one of those noble scientists, oppressed by nasty skeptics. So then he goes too far. While admitting that the Times reporter actually read the proposed text for publication over the phone, and got Lewis's approval, Lewis says the final text was significantly different from what was read to him. This is not true.

Then there is Daniel Nepstad. The WWF source was not peer-reviewed, but it in turn cited at least one source that was indeed peer-reviewed--but that source does not support the 40% figure. This is actually kind of hilarious. Dr. Nepstad has done work showing that if a forest suffers significant drought (not just a "slight reduction in precipitation"), followed by massive fires, the forest can be greatly reduced. Not by drought per se, and not by a slight reduction in precipitation. Nepstad now steps forward to defend Lewis and the whole IPCC regime, saying there is a peer-reviewed source somewhere that actually supports the 40% figure as written. No one can find any such source, even when he tries to put the pea under a thimble by naming a source that is now available only in Portuguese. (See also Bishop Hill). So now he says:

"North's comment reveals an important misinterpretation of the IPCC statement. He seems to be saying that IPCC is referring to droughts similar to those that have already taken place in the Amazon region. This is not true. The IPCC statement refers to reductions in precipitation BEYOND the historical pattern."

So it is not, as one might think, that any old "slight decrease in precipitation" can cause a massive die-off of the extremely tough and resilient Amazon rain forest; rather, if there is a long period of drought such as the one culminating in the year 2005, then even a small addition to this drought might (based on no historical experience or evidence) cause a massive die-off.

Dr. Nepstad is being dishonest in several different ways. This is the best they can do?

And it is of some importance to note: the original Times story was accurate: the only citation used by the IPCC was to a non-peer-reviewed source, and to this day no one has come up with a peer-reviewed source that supports the IPCC statement. This bears on one of the most high-profile aspects of the climate debate "the Amazon rain forest, lungs of the world, etc.," and is contrary to repeated claims that the IPCC refers only to peer-reviewed publications.

UPDATE July 4: Remarkably, Richard North has actually found the "published" source of the statement that "Probably 30 to 40% of the forests of the Brazilian Amazon are sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall." A variation of this statement--naturally, mentioning only the 40% figure--made it into IPCC AR 4, which is supposedly based entirely on peer-reviewed scientific literature. The source in this case? A web page, taken down some years ago, by an advocacy organization.

No one can really blame an advocacy group for pulling something like that out of their asses. Their only real job is to advocate for a narrow point of view, answering to (probably) a board of directors, financial donors, to a much lesser extent the public. Even the WWF picking up on it is understandable--although the WWF keeps claiming they do much higher quality work than this--or will begin to do so someday soon. For the IPCC to simply report the bullshit, with no real checking, and absolutely no trace of a peer-reviewed scientific source for the statement, is a disgrace. Nepstad kept blathering that there was such a source, but he couldn't produce it. He probably couldn't remember or figure out where the website was. North, an "amateur," a "skeptic," has figured it all out.

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