Anatomy of Glaciergate

h/t to a reader


  1. StuartR
    Posted Feb 5, 2010 at 5:52 PM | Permalink

    That link isn’t clickable is this?

  2. Posted Feb 5, 2010 at 5:59 PM | Permalink

    The Yale article talks about the IPCC using copy editors or fact checkers as a solution to this issue. This does point out a serious issue with the IPC process. Fact checking should not be being done by “experts” and “governments” as is the case now with the IPCC. it is a low level job that can be performed by interns who ould be one of the legions of science or journalism graduates who cannot find a job.

    Any statement of fact must have a citation. This citation can be checked by the intern. Any issues that the interns find (no citation, invalid citation…) have to be resolved by the authors or the piece will not be published. Part of the job of the lead editor is to enforce this so that severe and very serious embarrassments like the recent ones will not occur.

    • jim edwards
      Posted Feb 5, 2010 at 6:46 PM | Permalink

      A relatively untrained intern can check to see whether a citation actually exists and is from a peer-reviewed publication.

      The same untrained intern cannot reasonably be expected to read through poorly-written papers* and determine that the paper actually supports the point that an IPCC report claims the paper is making.

      * Consider that many scientific papers are written in English by non-native speakers, and that many native-English speaking scientists are already poor communicators, without suffering from the additional burden of a language barrier.

  3. Johan Couder
    Posted Feb 5, 2010 at 6:00 PM | Permalink

    I am shocked by their main conclusion: “Ultimately, there is a common lesson for both scientists and the media: the need to drill down to original sources.” Surely, you cannot make these “endless, time-consuming demands” for revealing original sources!

    • kuhnkat
      Posted Feb 5, 2010 at 8:36 PM | Permalink

      You would rather the errors be continued and occasionally compounded ad-infinitum??

      With on-line access to many articles, checking is not nearly as onerous as when you had to run down to the local library or phone people at the library where your original documentation resides or request access through a library system…

      • Faustino
        Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 1:17 AM | Permalink

        kuhnkat, Johan’s tongue seems to be firmly in his cheek. In case you don’t know that expression, he’s being satirical, joking.

    • Jimchip
      Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 8:43 AM | Permalink

      Re: Johan Couder (Feb 5 18:00),

      What would have an investigative journalist have done if, after getting stonewalled on data/information from publicly funded persons, they had filed FOIAs and been denied? The Yalies finally say drill down? That’s a new concept in journalism?

      I agree, those endless demands can be so irritating when one is busy picking pockets.

  4. Jimchip
    Posted Feb 5, 2010 at 7:09 PM | Permalink

    “As Though A Pervasive Curse Haunts Accurate Coverage”

    1. Mann graduated from Yale.
    2. Pachy has a job a Yale now.

    “Undoing ‘The Curse’ of a Chain of Errors”

    Goto 1.

    • justbeau
      Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 4:05 PM | Permalink

      For decades, Yale has had a rare book library named for a donor, the Beineke library. Frances Beineke, who heads the Natural Resources Defense Council, is on the Board of Trustees.
      NRDC is big on global warming. Frances gets pictured visiting China in the New York Times.

      • justbeau
        Posted Feb 7, 2010 at 8:21 AM | Permalink

        A 2004 essay by the lead author re dumpster diving:

        • justbeau
          Posted Feb 7, 2010 at 8:48 AM | Permalink

          Before grad school, Ms. Banarjee was an editorial assistant for Slate. This may have been helpful preparation for drilling down to the IPCC sources re glaciers and media misunderstandings. The Yale Climate Change Forum categorizes her essay as “Science.” Journalism might be a more accurate category.

        • justbeau
          Posted Feb 9, 2010 at 8:42 AM | Permalink

          This essay by Banarjee helps illustrate the human cost of false causes. Circa 2004, she is writing about diving into dumpsters behind Whole Foods and other affluent grocery stores in the Washington DC area. (Perhaps this is good preparation for diving into an IPCC report?) Later she works as an editorial assistant at an online publication, Slate.
          Then in pursuit of knowledge and opportunity, she chooses to attend a master’s program at Yale and becomes a servant to the cause of Climate Change.
          Just one person, but it seems possible she exemplifies thousands of other 20-somethings who wish to contribute to a worthy cause. I wish such people well, even if I am sad they have been led astray by opportunists. May they gain an education in “caveat emptor.”

        • justbeau
          Posted Feb 9, 2010 at 10:47 AM | Permalink

          Here is one website associated with Yale’s school of forestry and environmental studies. It is a “project” on climate change that is defined as intended to “bridge science and action.”
          In other words, the intent is to accept IPCC science and to encourage “action” by governments based on the IPCC/Mann/Phil Jones, etc. view of climate change.

          Its no surprise Yale would give Dr. Pachauri some kind of part-time appointment. The Love Guru must seem to Yale University to personify the finest in climate science.

          Should a university offer a program in political activism? For clarity and not to mislead prospective students, should it instead be housed within the political science department or in a department of theology? Is a program that seems at root premised on accepting UN science as holy scripture be compatible with the notion of a university dedicated to lux et veritas, the search for light and truth?

          Why not an academic program on critically and thoughtfully examining climate science issues and complexities?

  5. David A
    Posted Feb 5, 2010 at 8:15 PM | Permalink

    I really hope someone has the time to do a critique of this Yale climate media article. It has very good parts, and very weak parts. I agree with Johan Coude 6:00 PM comment.

    The article actually points out additional IPCC problems, but then does a whitewash assumption of “mistakes” and then the editor completely uncalled for assigns biased motive to “skeptics”… “When, after all, is the last time you heard of the most determined contrarians publicly rethinking and correcting their positions?”, while ignoring potential IPCC bias, ignoring that R.K Pachauri knew of the problem but did nothing, and called the India science which pointed out the IPCC flaws “voodoo science”, and that one of the authors of the paper that said 2350 years for melt instead of 2035 also was apparently aware of the problem but did not correct the IPCC.

    I work 40 to 60 hours each week, and have four children, or I would take the time to do a detailed critique of this. From my POV it appears that this is a part of the Ivory Tower, just a little more subtle then R.K Pachauri saying this mistake vindicates the IPCC. And the slam on blogs was just more “elitism” while refusing to honestly introspect themselves, or the potential IPCC bias. The one “potential scenario” within the article was devoid of anything more then sloppy work. There is also no comment on many other mistakes within the IPCC.

  6. HectorMaletta
    Posted Feb 5, 2010 at 9:23 PM | Permalink

    The article ends by alleging that a probable correction to IPCC projections, showing that temperature would grow more than previously predicted, proves that “When the IPCC errs, it’s not always in the same direction”. But this is not the case. The original projection was not “an error” but a correct result of available data and models, as the new results would (eventually) be. Instead, the Himalaya paragraph case shows a quite different story of sloppy work and failure to correct, all going in the same direction. One is tempted to explore the hypothesis that this failure was due to a (conscious or inconscious) desire to include dire predictions about catastrophic outcomes, entailing a resistance to see that one of those dire predictions was actually wrong. If you are already committed to the catastrophic conclusion, alleged facts confirming it would seem credible at face value, while any contrarian view would elicit very careful examination if not outright dismissal.

  7. AnonyMoose
    Posted Feb 5, 2010 at 11:29 PM | Permalink

    The IPCC process isn’t even good enough for Wikipedia’s standards. The IPCC claims to not do original research, but they combine stuff from several sources and make claims of what the combination proves, rather than reporting what the individual studies prove. Well, when the individual items prove something and when they are studies rather than newspaper clippings.

  8. Lewis Deane
    Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 12:05 AM | Permalink

    Perhaps, I don’t have your sang froide. But I find it annoying that, now, the Guardian is claiming scoops that were thought of a month ago here and elsewhere. I mean surely Leigh is wrong about that besides his lack of digestion of the details. Anyway, I’m probably late on this but , forget all the uk hullabaloo, Darrel Ince, Professer of Computing Science, OU ( a very venerable institution ) has written the only sensible report in the Guardian 5/2/2010. When you were less harrast and calmer. I remember.

  9. Mike J
    Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 12:10 AM | Permalink

    Climategate revealed the absolute disdain with which the Ivory League scientists view their inferiors. That will not change. So they will not be apologising or falling on their swords or having any public floggings. They have instead done the expected – hold lots of meetings with distinguished colleagues, issue damage-control press releases, and renew the vitriolic attacks against the Deniars, Contrarians, Skeptics – that great sea of unwashed, unintelligent, unemployed losers who simply do not mix in the right circles.

    snip –

  10. Harry Eagar
    Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 12:19 AM | Permalink

    I’m a newspaperman, and most newspaper stories avoid the problem of a cascade of citations that can be infected upstream without being noticed by not doing what the Yale guys say was done.

    Also, if the Yale guys are right about how it was put together, and if such a report had been submitted to most any American newspaper, it would be considered plagiarism, and bad enough to be a firing offense.

    (One reason I wouldn’t do it that way is that I seldom have more than a few hours to write a story, so I hang my statements on the sources I use myself. If my sources are wrong, I’m wrong; but I avoid the problem of confusing two sources, one named and one unnamed. I wonder how long it took the Yalies to work back to the sources of this report. Any report I write, it would take 2 seconds.)

    Nevertheless, what I take away from this — as someone who has to evaluate sources on the fly every day — is that the statements by the IPCC, from the start and repeatedly until today, are falsehoods.

    Not the facts embedded within its report, but the assertions of its methodology. The IPCC apologists have said that a few, minor errors could be overlooked in a 900-page report. Of course they could.

    But the IPCC and the Yalies are both missing the fundamental error: The assertion that the IPCC is based on peer-reviewed literature or best science is misleading (at best) from the start.

    I might mistype 2035 for 2350, but I cannot imagine myself reading a press release or a magazine in the dentist’s waiting room and carelessly imagining I was consulting a peer-reviewed research report.

  11. Ian
    Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 12:43 AM | Permalink

    O/T, but Pielke’s debate with Bob Ward over the link between global warming and increasing disaster damage is now available on the Royal Institutin of Great Britain Website.

  12. Faustino
    Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 1:34 AM | Permalink

    Harry Eagar, well said. When I was an economic adviser to the Queensland (Australia) Premier, I did a high proportion of his briefings on weekly submissions to Cabinet. For more than 90%, there was insufficient information on which to determine whether the proposal had any merit. When I proposed steps to rectify that – i.e., advise departments on what information was needed for me to assess their proposal – I was told that I was far too rigid. Like the Queensland Public Service, the IPCC is a politicised bureaucracy, not a scientific body. It’s also a UN body – in most UN bodies, appointments are not bassed on merit but on a carve-up by the majority countries, most of which would not have strong statistical bodies or expertise. It is to be expected that a cavalier, non-rigorous approach to facts would permeate such a body.

  13. Bob
    Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 8:13 AM | Permalink

    Good summary leading up to glaciergate:

  14. Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 8:35 AM | Permalink

    The Bannerjee and Collins article dos a fine job of investigative reporting, digging even deeper into the tangled sources of the IPCC claims than we have seen to date.

    However, they unfortunately state that the IPCC has rescinded its erroneous claims. In the following note, which I posted there, I argue that their release is carefully worded to avoid admitting any error of fact, just errors of procedure:

    Hu McCulloch said on: February 5th, 2010 at 8:26 pm
    Great reporting on this issue!

    However, I would disagree with your statement:

    The IPCC now has recanted the paragraph in question.

    The linked IPCC statement at in fact merely admits that an unspecified estimate that it had cited was not properly substantiated:

    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. In drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly.

    I don’t read this as admitting that the claim was wrong, just that the proper primary source wasn’t cited.

    In fact, the beginning of the statement emphasizes that the IPCC stands by its conclusions in the Synthesis Report with respect to glacier loss in the Himalalayan region:

    This conclusion is robust, appropriate, and entirely consistent with the underlying science and the broader IPCC assessment.

    I think most readers would conclude that the error was one of procedure, while the substance of the claim was correct.

  15. NateD
    Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 10:01 AM | Permalink

    Looks like Dr. “Love” Pachauri is being hung out to dry by his country:

  16. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 11:04 AM | Permalink

    The Yale article strikes me as damage control for what has been documented recently and could just be construed to indicate that the IPCC provided evidence comes down pretty much one-sided on the issue of AGW and its potential consequences. Expending all those words on a single issue, while perhaps appearing more scholarly, only subtracts, in my view, the ink that could have been spent on the issue that arises from these recent incidents: Is the IPCC review of the peer-reviewed literature and its side tracks into the non peer-reviewed publications agenda driven? And to the Yale scholars, I would ask would Yale scholars have initiated a drill down of sources in this instance or any other without the lousy publicity that the press releases on this issue afforded the IPCC?

    I thought the article was written very much in the manner we would expect from the NYT when it has damage control to provide. It is not so much what is discussed but what is not.

  17. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 11:24 AM | Permalink

    I reread the article looking for any comment on the probability (90% or greater) that the IPCC report put on the glacier dissappearnce and in the context that the IPCC has attempted to put a more objective face on giving what might appear to some as an objective probability score for these future events such as glacier retreat.

    Some how and some where in this process other “experts” had to agree to IPCC rules and required documentation for arriving at a probability score.

    Had the Yale scholars drilled down into the IPCC rules and regulations perhaps this point, and the implications from this experience, could have received some ink.

    The probability scoring issue would, of course, have had deeper and more general implications about a process that the IPCC uses as evidence of overwhelming scientist support for their conclusions. Maybe that discussion will have to await another Yale article, but I will not be holding my breath.

    • Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 1:38 PM | Permalink

      Re: Kenneth Fritsch (Feb 6 11:24),

      Bannerjee and Collins address this point in their Yale article:

      The government of Japan had two comments questioning the probability of glacier melt. These were important points, since the IPCC uses tightly controlled language to indicate its authors’ assessments of probability and certainty. (This is a major aspect of the Fourth Assessment Report, which grapples with the problem of presenting uncertain probabilities to policymakers who demand certainty. Thus, the phrase “virtually certain” means that the IPCC authors believe what they are describing has a 99 percent or greater probability of occurrence, “very likely” indicates an assessment of a 90-99 percent probability occurrence, and so on.)

      The writing team responded to both comments with the statement “appropriate revisions and edits made.” One “appropriate revision” involved sticking the word “likely” before the word “shrink” in the second sentence of the paragraph – language which does indicate a probability assessment. However, the phrase “likelihood … is very high” in the first sentence, which, unlike “very likely,” does not indicate a probability assessment, was unchanged. It may not appear obvious to some that “very likely” and “likelihood … is very high” have such different meanings, but this is a detail of IPCC procedure missed by both Elizabeth Rosenthal of The New York Times and Jonathan Leake and Chris Hastings of the Sunday Times. Rosenthal’s article improperly quotes Section 10.6.2 as containing the phrase “very likely,” an error the newspaper has not chosen to correct. Leake and Hastings get the language right but the analysis wrong. They write: “When finally published, the IPCC report did give its source as the WWF study but went further, suggesting the likelihood of the glaciers melting was “very high”. The IPCC defines this as having a probability of greater than 90 percent.” They were wrong – the IPCC in that case doesn’t use the term “very high” but rather “very likely.”

  18. Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 12:38 PM | Permalink

    The mindset of the Yale editor:

    When, after all, is the last time you heard of the most determined contrarians publicly rethinking and correcting their positions?

    When did the Yalie last pay attention to the “serious” “contrarians”? Feh.

    • Smokey
      Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 8:31 PM | Permalink

      The article constantly refers to the numerous Climategate blunders and shenanigans as being the result of a “curse,” effectively absolving all those who were cursed.

      Why would the Yale blog be such an apologist for the many examples of scientific misbehavior? Maybe there’s a clue on their home page sidebar:

      The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media is grateful for the generous financial support of the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment…

      The Grantham Foundation has a heavy pro-AGW agenda, funding sites like Treehugger and the Yale Climate Media Forum.

      He who pays the piper calls the tune… and rates a permanent home page message of gratitude. I wonder if that means they’re on the installment plan? That can be quite a tight leash.

  19. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 3:55 PM | Permalink

    When the Yale scholars comment, as excerpted below, state that the IPCC language at one point indicates a probability assessment and then point to the expression “likelihood … is very high” as contrarily not indicating an assessment and then turn these very confusing proximate statements by the IPCC onto those, perhaps unsuspecting, journalist, I have a problem with the scholars not seeing that either the IPCC was being deliberately ambiguous and misleading or the reporters got at least the IPCC intent right.

    The immediate point out of all of this discussion, in which the scholars shed little light, is the question of how these probability assessments were actually determined. Either the probabilities were determined by the group and documented in accordance with IPCC rules or someone somewhere along the way simply made it all up. Either way, the result, and its implications for scientific consensus, should draw interest from a scholarly review of the situation and not the maneuverings of an attorney for the defense doing word parsing.

    “One “appropriate revision” involved sticking the word “likely” before the word “shrink” in the second sentence of the paragraph – language which does indicate a probability assessment. However, the phrase “likelihood … is very high” in the first sentence, which, unlike “very likely,” does not indicate a probability assessment, was unchanged.”

  20. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Feb 6, 2010 at 5:42 PM | Permalink

    Here are some excerpts from AR4 that should be pertinent to the topic of this thread. Reading the material below confirmed my view from above that the IPCC was either intentionally mixing references to confidence and likelihood probability scores in order to avoid the probability scoring system and retain the appearance that they were scored or the journalists got it right and the Yale scholars got it wrong.

    The level of confidence in the correctness of a result is expressed in this
    report, using a standard terminology defined as follows:
    Terminology Degree of confidence in being correct
    Very high confidence At least 9 out of 10 chance of being correct
    High confidence About 8 out of 10 chance
    Medium confidence About 5 out of 10 chance
    Low confidence About 2 out of 10 chance
    Very low confidence Less than 1 out of 10 chance
    See also Likelihood; Uncertainty

    The likelihood of an occurrence, an outcome or a result, where this can be
    estimated probabilistically, is expressed in IPCC reports using a standard
    terminology defined as follows:
    Terminology Likelihood of the occurrence / outcome
    Virtually certain >99% probability of occurrence
    Very likely >90% probability
    Likely >66% probability
    More likely than not >50% probability
    About as likely as not 33 to 66% probability
    Unlikely <33% probability
    Very unlikely <10% probability
    Exceptionally unlikely <1% probability
    See also Confidence; Uncertainty

    Click to access ipcc-workshop-2004-may.pdf

    There are important differences between descriptions of uncertainty in terms of “likelihood” or in terms of “level of understanding” of the science. Likelihood, defined as the chance of a defined occurrence or outcome, can be a valuable construct where results are available from formal probabilistic analyses or can be expressed in a probabilistic way and such language is familiar to those working with risk analysis using probability distribution functions. “Level of confidence” refers to the degree of belief or confidence in a science community that available models or analyses are accurate and will generally be determined by a combination of the amount of evidence or information available and the degree of consensus in the interpretation of that information. Both ways of describing uncertainty are needed but they should be used in different circumstances and not confused…

    More general consideration of uncertainties were influenced by physical consistency between independent observations in areas such as: change in cloud cover vs diurnal temperature range, 3 Thematic Sessions IPCC Workshop on Uncertainty and Risk snow cover vs land temperature, and worldwide glacial retreat. Uncertainty was generally expressed in terms of probabilistic likelihoods of outcomes using a 7-level scale. The main
    reason for extending the scale proposed in Moss and Schneider (2000) was to express much higher confidence using a virtually certain (probability greater than 99%) category…

    General discussion of communicating uncertainty indicated that among workshop participants there was a range of views on several issues. However, key points that emerged were:
    Trying to describe both likelihood and level of confidence for the same issue may be confusing and there was no agreement on how to approach this.
    It is extremely important to have consistent language throughout the report and it should be possible to design one scale that is flexible enough for all to use.

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