Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday, Wednesday & Friday.

10 Pages of IPCC Science Mistakes?

Political manipulation of a scientific document – or pages upon pages of newly-discovered scientific errors? You decide.


click to see the 10-page list of alterations being made to this section of the IPCC report

Last week, during a four-day-long, behind-closed-doors meeting, political operatives (diplomats, bureaucrats, and politicians from more than 100 UN countries) rewrote an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) document.

The re-written Summary for Policymakers is 36 pages long and purports to highlight the really important bits embedded within the first 14 chapters of the IPCC’s new report.

In my view, the fact that the summary was drafted by IPCC personnel and then re-written in secret by politically motivated third parties tells us everything we need to know. The IPCC isn’t an organization in which scientists are in the driver’s seat.

Five days ago, the IPCC released its new, improved summary. Two days ago, it made draft versions of the 14 chapters public.

One of the reasons these chapters are still in draft form is that changes now need to be made to them. Evidently, it wasn’t just the summary that was being messed with during that four-day meeting. In many cases the alterations were so substantial that the IPCC now says the text of nine of its 14 chapters needs to be re-visited.

It’s as though an English teacher started off by presenting a short story to her classroom. She makes a fuss about how famous the author is, and how many awards the story has won. She then invites her students to write a summary of the short story.

But this is a Communist country and the teacher mustn’t offend the leading Communist official. So when the son of that official produces a summary that diverges from the short story, the teacher announces that the short story will be changed “to ensure consistency.”

How many alterations will the IPCC be making? Ten pages worth – all carefully listed in a document you may examine for yourself. Entire paragraphs will be inserted, dates and numbers will be altered, italics will be added, and some material will simply disappear.

How can this level of political manipulation be taking place, right out in the open, in what we’re told is a scientific body? Over at the BishopHill blog I shared some of these thoughts a few days ago. Richard Betts, who leads a division of the UK’s Met Office (the national, publicly-funded weather service), dismissed my concerns as “cynicism.” In his words:

the list of corrections to the chapters is here, and it seems pretty clear that they do not constitute some sort of political re-writing of the chapters as you seem to be implying. For example, see the very first one, which is also repeated several times:

Replace “0.89°C (0.69°C–1.08°C) over the period 1901- 2012” with “0.85 [0.65 to 1.06] °C over 1880–2012”

You can see that this is slightly decreasing the estimated warming (from 0.89°C to 0.85°C) whilst at the same time increasing the time period over which it occurred (from 1901-2012 to 1880-2012) – so a smaller and less rapid warming.

Clearly a scientific correction, and one in the opposite direction to what you would expect under Donna’s narrative of science taking a backseat to politicians and bureaucrats. [bold added, italics and link in the original]

For a moment, let’s accept Betts’ explanation. Let’s also admit that, as he points out, a number of the changes in the 10-page list are, indeed, duplicates or repeats. Where does his logic lead us?

It says that IPCC personnel – whom we’re told are the world’s top scientists – spent years writing their section of the IPCC’s new climate assessment (the Working Group 2 and Working Group 3 sections won’t be released until next year). Their work was, along the way, reviewed by third parties. It is supposed to be finished now. And yet, last week, 10 pages worth of new scientific errors were suddenly discovered.

In Chapter 2 alone, the 52 authors are collectively responsible for 18 instances of scientific mistakes that now need fixing. Their combined brainpower, plus the efforts of that chapter’s four review editors, were apparently insufficient to the task.

The authors of Chapter 5 similarly made 11 scientific mistakes. And the authors of Chapter 11 made 21 scientific errors.

You, dear reader, must decide for yourself whose point-of-view is more persuasive – mine or Betts’. He is an IPCC insider keen to defend that organization. I am an outsider who can’t believe that smart people can be so blind to the implications of some of their own actions.

But here’s the bottom line: my argument (that a scientific document is being crassly manipulated) and Betts argument (that IPCC authors made 10 pages worth of scientific mistakes), are equally damning. The IPCC doesn’t look good in either case.


Full disclosure. Betts and I have a bit of history. See here and here.





This entry was posted on October 2, 2013 by in ethical & philosophical, IPCC and tagged , , .
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