The IPCC’s scholarship is junk

In recent days, three errors in the IPCC report on global warming have been identified, ranging from extremely serious to minor:

  • Most seriously, an estimate of when the Himalayan glaciers would disappear was off by more than three centuries from the best available science. Worse, the scientists who wrote the report knew the estimate was bogus, but included it anyway to put pressure on world leaders.
  • An assessment that the Amazon rainforest was endangered by global warming turned out to have no basis whatsoever.
  • The reported amount of the Netherlands that lies beneath sea level was off by a factor of two. (Oddly, this minor mistake was the one that led the Dutch government to call for an investigation of the IPCC.)

Let’s set the Dutch sea-level mistake aside. The two serious mistakes were both the result of the IPCC incorporating unreviewed claims from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Given these mistakes, one has to wonder how much else in the report is wrong.

The IPCC has issued a statement on the glacier debacle. It’s pretty weaselly. It doesn’t even say what the mistake is, but rather forces you to find it yourself:

It has, however, recently come to our attention that a paragraph in the 938-page Working Group II contribution to the underlying assessment2 refers to poorly substantiated estimates of rate of recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers. . .

2 The text in question is the second paragraph in section 10.6.2 of the Working Group II contribution and a repeat of part of the paragraph in Box TS.6. of the Working Group II Technical Summary of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

They go on to defend the overall integrity of their report:

The Chair, Vice-Chairs, and Co-chairs of the IPCC regret the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance. This episode demonstrates that the quality of the assessment depends on absolute adherence to the IPCC standards, including thorough review of “the quality and validity of each source before incorporating results from the source into an IPCC Report” 3. We reaffirm our strong commitment to ensuring this level of performance.

So, how good are the “well-established” procedures that the IPCC is reaffirming? How many times did the report incorporate claims from the WWF and like organizations? Often, I’m sad to say.

Donna Laframboise used the report’s search feature to look for WWF citations. The search turned up dozens of hits, out of which she counted at least sixteen WWF citations. She also turned up eight Greenpeace citations.

One of them caught my attention:

Deforestation threatens the cradle of reef diversity. World Wide Fund for Nature, 2 December 2004. http://www.wwf.org/

A citation is supposed to provide enough information that the reader can find the source. Pointing the reader to “somewhere on the WWF web site” is a less than serious effort. But the title is pretty distinctive so I was able to find it here. It’s a blog post. Whatever merit it might have, it is not a scientific source.

(Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: Another serious error:

The most important [new potential inaccuracy] is a claim that global warming could cut rain-fed north African crop production by up to 50% by 2020, a remarkably short time for such a dramatic change. The claim has been quoted in speeches by Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, and by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general.

This weekend Professor Chris Field, the new lead author of the IPCC’s climate impacts team, told The Sunday Times that he could find nothing in the report to support the claim.

The IPCC report cites a single paper for the crop failure prediction. The paper was published by a Canadian NGO and does not appear to have been peer-reviewed. I sure hope it wasn’t peer-reviewed, because it’s very shoddy work. The claim appears on page 5 with reference to “studies”. No citation of the study is given, which is presumably why the IPCC report cited the paper and not the (imaginary?) original study.

UPDATE: Still more dubious stuff here.

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