The Workshop Presentation that Never Was

February 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm

The BBC African temperature exaggeration is worse that we thought. It also has an IPCC connection.

The BBC now has egg on its face. As Leo Hickman at the Guardian explains, a television show narrated by David Attenborough recently claimed that:

Some parts of the [African] continent have become 3.5C hotter in the past 20 years.

Hickman is no climate skeptic, but even his radar went off. After some investigation he discovered that, in 2006, a collection of pressure groups had published a report titled Africa – Up in smoke 2. It relied on another, 48-page document, titled Climate of Poverty produced by the UK charity, Christian Aid.

This charity believes that the poor “are already suffering disproportionately from the effects of global warming” and that “No other single issue presents such a clear and present danger to the future welfare of the world’s poor.” (See Ben Pile’s brilliant rebuttal of those sorts of arguments here.)

Page 32 of the PDF version of Climate of Poverty contains the following statements:

Kenya is getting warmer. This is confirmed by measurements on the ground. For example, the maximum temperature in Kericho, a highland area in the Rift Valley province where most of Kenya’s tea exports are grown, has increased by 3.5C during the past 20 years.

Readers interested in the source of that claim are directed to endnote #3 of the Kenya chapter. Appearing on page 45 of the PDF, it reads:

S Wandiga, ‘Assessment of the Impact and Adaptation to Climate Change’, AIACC Regional Workshop, Dakar, 23 March 2004.

In other words, the alarming info about temperatures in Kericho came from a presentation made at a workshop. Except that it didn’t.

For starters, the webpage devoted to that 4-day workshop says it hadn’t yet begun on March 23. It says that Shem Wandiga, a professor of chemistry, chaired a session on March 24th, during which other people made presentations. It says the talk he himself delivered three days later had a different title: Community stakeholders’ discussions and workshops in the Lake Victoria Region.

You can read the abstract here and the PowerPoint presentation here. Neither mentions temperatures in Kericho. Instead, this is a discussion about what people in focus groups said about “climate-induced malaria and cholera.”

In other words, the Christian Aid citation is utterly bogus. No presentation by that name was delivered by that person at that workshop.

On page 16 of Wandiga’s CV, under the heading Research Accomplishments, we learn that he was involved in an “Assessment of Impact and Adaptation to Climate Change.” He says he was the

Principal investigator in [a] project called “Capacity building to evaluate and adapt to climate-change-induced vulnerability to malaria and cholera in the Lake Victoria Region.”

That sounds more like social work than chemistry, but never mind.

Yesterday, Christian Aid issued a statement that Hickman has added to the bottom of his account. The charity has now changed its story. It says it got its information about the Kericho temperature rise not from a 2004 workshop but from interviews it conducted with experts who were interpreting research published in 2006. Here’s a direct quote:

The statistic suggesting the maximum temperature in Kericho, Kenya had risen by more than 3 degrees from the year 1978 – 2001 was included in good faith in Christian Aid’s 2006 report The Climate of Poverty.

It was based on interviews with Kenya academics who in turn based their remarks on a peer reviewed report Vulnerability to climate induced highland malaria in East Africa (P7,11 and 41) by Assessments of Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change (AIACC), which put the temperature rise at 3.6 degrees.”

Even charities these days won’t acknowledge when they’ve made a mistake. Instead, they blithely substitute a 2006 citation for a fake 2004 citation as if that sort of thing happens every day. No big deal. All in good faith, don’t you know.

Christian Aid now wants us to take the word of unnamed “Kenyan academics” that they’ve interpreted a 2006 “peer reviewed report” correctly. Except that this research has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. It is a Working Paper. Its publisher, as Christian Aid tells us, is an organization called Assessments of Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change project (AIACC).

The AIACC is the brainchild of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). One of its stated purposes is to encourage research in developing countries that might eventually be published in peer-reviewed journals.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the AIACC’s About Page, you’ll find a steering committee that includes IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri, the former IPCC chairman Robert Watson, and many other familiar names.

So after citing an imaginary source, Christian Aid now rests its case on research that came into the world via the IPCC.

To recap, then, in 2006 Christian Aid released a report that contained a startling claim about a temperature spike in Kenya. The source it cited was entirely bogus. Nevertheless, the claim got repeated. The Church of Sweden, for example, released a climate change report in 2007 that told us about this temperature spike and directly cited the non-existent 2004 source (see page 12).

Another report, titled Africa – Up in smoke 2, also repeated the claim (see page five). Its lead author, John Magrath of Oxfam, didn’t independently verify the info. He simply assumed that the Christian Aid authors knew what they were talking about.

Later, the temperature claim made it onto page two of a 2009 brochure under the subheading Evidence of climate change in Africa. Those authors didn’t check the facts, either. They used the Africa – Up in Smoke 2 report as their source.

And then the BBC got in on the act. Like the brochure authors, the BBC relied on the Africa – Up in Smoke 2 report even though that document is miles away from being peer-reviewed science.

The fact that Africa – Up in Smoke 2 was written by Oxfam and funded by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund and other pressure groups should have been a warning to BBC personnel.

But it wasn’t. Some lessons, it seems, need to be learned the hard way.

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Entry filed under: Greenpeace, IPCC, media, NGOs, peer-review, Rajendra Pachauri, World Wildlife Fund. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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