When the IPCC Makes an Error, Is it the Journalist’s Fault?

November 4, 2011 at 9:52 am

Only in the land of IPCC partisans does an error published four years ago by the allegedly gold-standard Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) become a journalist’s fault when she reports on it.

I have recently been advised by current IPCC insider Richard Betts that I need to “check more carefully.” My book claims that Lisa Alexander was a 2007 IPCC lead author. Betts says I’m wrong.

Here is the link to Working Group 1, Chapter 3 of the 2007 Climate Bible. If you scroll down to the heading Lead Authors, you will find the second name listed is: L. Alexander (UK, Australia, Ireland). Here’s a screen shot

click for original source

Here is another link – to the list of contributors for Working Group 1.  The third name on that list is:

ALEXANDER, Lisa
Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Met Office
UK, Australia, Ireland

Here’s that screen shot:

click for original source

On the above basis I made the claim that Alexander served as an IPCC lead author in 2007. When I directed Betts to these pages he told me that:

it’s a mistake on AR4 website http://bit.ly/qcvvLP they missed Ch3 [lead authors] and listed [contributing authors] as [lead authors].

Betts has also provided what he says is the correct list of lead authors:

Actual ch3 LAs: Trenberth, Jones, Ambenje, Bojariu, Easterling, Klein Tank, Parker, Rahimzadeh, Renwick, Rusticucci, Soden, Zha

So let me get this straight. The IPCC makes an error and Betts says I’m the one who should check more carefully? If the IPCC’s own website can’t be trusted, where should I have looked for the correct list of Chapter 3 authors?

If Bett’s information is accurate then I’ve erred by describing Lisa Alexander as a lead author rather than a contributing author. But here’s the problem. I – and everyone else out there – has only the informal word of a single IPCC participant, via Twitter, that this is the case (see the screen shots at the bottom of this blog post).

Most IPCC chapters do list lead authors and contributing authors separately. In Chapter 3 that didn’t happen. But since I’m not clairvoyant there’s no way I could have known this wasn’t a deliberate decision. (Consistency is not the IPCC’s strong point. In footnote 11-1 in my book I point out that the identical document was cited in five different ways in five different IPCC chapters.)

The IPCC itself must now issue a clarification and perhaps a correction. If Betts is right, we need a formal acknowledgment that the information it has been providing to the public, the media, and world leaders via its website for the past four years was mistaken.

Interestingly, Betts provides no suggestion that he has asked the organization in which he is a participant to do so. He’s apparently more concerned about an error in my three-week-old book than in the IPCC’s four-year-old report.

All of this, of course, is a tempest in a teapot. The fact remains that we’ve been told the IPCC is a collection of the world’s top scientists and best experts. Yet Lisa Alexander, who helped write the 2001 and the 2007 climate bible, didn’t even earn her PhD until 2009.

If she is one of those rare geniuses who deserved to be part of the IPCC while she was still working as a research assistant (in the Faculty of Arts at an Australian university) it is incumbent on the IPCC to make that case.

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