Beatup of the century

If you thought the East Anglia email hack was overblown, how about today’s Oz. Frontpage lead[1] is a story that’s been rattling round the blogs for at least a couple of months, without attracting any real interest. The story is that the 2007 IPCC report quotes a poorly sourced estimate that most Himalayan glaciers could be gone by 2035. This is a bit worse than the evidence suggests. Himalayan glaciers have lost about 20 per cent of their area in about 40 years, and have also become more fragmented. That’s bad, but not quite as bad as the IPCC report, based on a speculative forecast suggests.

So, there is a mistake on one page of a 3000 page report. That’s unfortunate but scarcely surprising. But, if you want real silliness about glaciers, you have to go to the other side of the road and look at this (widely repeated) howler from David Bellamy, derived originally from Fred Singer. The Oz ran Bellamy’s (totally false) claim of persecution for his devotion to the delusionist cause (he was washed up long before he changed sides), but did not AFAIK cover this embarrassing episode,

Every new talking point that emerges from the delusionist camp gives further emphasis to the fact that these are people who have sacrificed both their own intellectual integrity and the future of the planet in the pursuit of a tribal vendetta.

Update Commenter James notes that, with much less apparent fanfare, the Oz published a report derived from Associated Press that concluded that there was nothing in the hacked East Anglia emails that undermined the mainstream consensus on global warming.

fn1. At least in the edition I saw. It’s almost invisible on the website now.

55 thoughts on “Beatup of the century

  1. @Ben Haslem

    Fran, why is that quote (#23) relevant to me. It’s from a post by Matt Canavan ?

    My unconditional apologies are offered … I was careless scrolling through …

  2. Ben, I think your expectations of peer review are excessive. Mistakes get through pretty often, and mistakes on minor points can stay uncorrected for a long time.

    The present case illustrates one way this happens. Someone says something as a rough estimate, and it’s cited by someone else as if it were a firm estimate. Then a third person cites the second, and you have what looks like a well-established conclusion. I’ve seen this happen regularly, in lots of different contexts.

    The problem is unlikely to be picked up unless someone looks at the claim, thinks it is wrong,and checks back through the chain of citations. This isn’t part of the typical peer review process – if you check the intiial citation, and it seems to check out, you rarely follow much further.

    So, it’s unlikely that this is the only error in the IPCC report. But equally, it’s unlikely that there are a lot of similar errors or more would have been discovered now, given that this document gets pretty closes scrutiny from lots of people.

  3. @Ben Haslem

    Slight change of pace …

    I am inter alia a cricket nut. Cricket folk love obscure stats such as “when was the last time two players from the same district club bowled for Australia? As all bona fide cricket nuts know, Hauritz and Katich both play for Randwick and the last time something siumilar occurred was during the 1932-33 Bodyline series when Blackie and Ironmonger (St Kilda) bowled. Wow!

    In that light this is the only time that Matt Canavan (from Merge Right) and Ben Haslem have appeared on the same blog since err … the last time they did on this same blog on September 24, 2005.

    Spooky huh?

  4. I can see this is a fact free site.
    wilful, thanks for the confirmation.

    And a special thanks to Fran for telling me all about myself. Most enlightening, but unfortunately again – fact free.

    Funny how asking questions can cause abuse to flow. Quiggin sets the tone and you all dutifully follow. Cheerio.

    One parting thought :

    No one saw the GFC coming – except for 11 economists in the entire world (they were called alarmists)

    Everyone (apparently) can foresee the end of the world provided by a model with a 90% level of confidence. And the probability of a Type I error would be ? How about Type II ?

  5. @Keith

    I can see this is a fact free site.

    Just the opposite. You can see that here we discuss observable reality and that troubles you because it means that your own fantasy becomes harder to maintain.

    And a special thanks to Fran for telling me all about myself. Most enlightening, but unfortunately again – fact free.

    Youre doing unintentional irony now. You find the “fact free” enlightening. That’s as closed to honesty as you’re getting. I note that you dare not contradict the description because it’s accurate. You’re some ignorant patsy playing his own micro roll in the grand war to preserve your tribe’s privileges.

    Funny how asking questions can cause abuse to flow

    Classic concern trolling. You’re not “asking questions”. You’re repeating your tribe’s ignorant talking points.

  6. Ooops errata… should read

    You’re doing […] That’s as close to honesty as you’re getting. […] You’re some ignorant patsy playing his own micro role in the grand war to preserve your tribe’s privileges

  7. Apparently not everybody sees it as the beat-up of the century( there are still 90 years to go!)
    “Reporting from India. All major Indian media houses have picked up the glacier story. The Himalayan report was taken very seriously as it would have impacted lives of millions of Indians, News reporters had even gone on Himalayan treks to raise public awareness.

    Now that they know they have been fooled, everybody is grinding their teeth to get even with Pachuri.

    24/7 news channels are directly blaming Pachuri and are asking uncomfortable questions. Once they get their hands on Richard North’s expose on Pachuri’s financial dealings, Pachuri will be history “

  8. John,

    How many respectable, highly ‘peer-reviewed’ papers propose ‘the efficient markets’ theory as an observable fact ?

    Also I note in the Oz’s article that one Julian Dowdeswell has stated, inter alia, inpect of the Himalayan glaciers that “The average is 300m thick so to melt one at 5m a year would take 60 years.”

    Hmmm. How long do you think it will take for ‘climatologists’ to get the message that climate effects are neither linear nor monotonic. Once the water melt gets to the bottom of the glacier and starts to flow, the melt can be considerably accelerated. Perhaps Mr Hasnain’s “speculative” estmate may not be so far out after all.

  9. Peer review is a good idea as a process but it is not an infallible guarantee of the final product.

    Peer review can also be quite variable, from at one end where the reviewer or reviewers really ought to be credited with joint authorship due to their contributions during the process, to someone as a reviewer who really doesn’t know much in the area hardly bother to read the submission.

  10. When academic or others hold similar views and form cosy little clubs, critical evaluation that ought to occur during peer review can go out the window.

    The cosiest little clubs are often ‘think tanks’ where there seems to be little regard for the quality of an argument as long as the conclusion supports the party line.

  11. @Freelander

    So what you appear to be saying is that peer reviews are very much like markets: when they’re good, they’re very very good, and when they’re bad, they’re rotten. And mostly they’re at some quite indeterminate point in between.

  12. The thing that really gets my goat is that there is a story here. The IPCC needs to ensure that it sticks far closer to its policies, and does its utmost to rely on peer reviewed literature. Luckily, the error was incrediably minor.

    However, the AGW “skeptics” will do their best to try to use in this to try to throw mud on the science, because they can’t mount an honest evidence based case.

  13. “The present case illustrates one way this [AGW Fraud] happens. Someone says something [like the globe is warming] as a rough estimate, and it’s cited by someone else as if it were a firm estimate. Then a third person cites the second, and you have what looks like a well-established conclusion. I’ve seen this happen regularly, in lots of different contexts.” And guess what we get paid for every step of the chain. (but please don’t tell the taxpayers)

    BTW DR Bellamy’s environmental qualifications (ex pres of the Conservation Foundation etc. etc…) are superior to the environmental qualifications of a dismal economist’s (whose environmental philosophy is washed up). Stating that a person is ‘washed up’ because they reach their sixties and slow down illustrates how low you AGW fraudsters are. The facts are Bellamy’s environmental qualifications are without question and he has been ostracised for taking you AGW fraudsters on.
    Shooting the messengers is just more proof AGW is a fraud

  14. @Megan

    I agree.

    I think The Age should re-badge itself “The Australian Age”. That might improve its national distribution where it competes against “The Australian”. The Australian has really gone down the tubes. Nowadays it is full of press release articles from think tanks, cranky regular columns by many who would otherwise be unknown, and cut and paste from other parts of Murdoch’s evil empire. It all saves Rupert money. but its a long time since it was a good read.

    This provides an opportunity if another paper wants to fill the national paper gap. I think The Age should go for it.

  15. @Tony G

    David Bellamy never was anything more than television presenter. He undoubtedly scored that job due to the ostentatious and enthusiastic way he manages to talk about topics that bore some to tears. As this was his only claim to his fifteen minutes of fame, and that time has elapsed, to describe him as washed up, is simply to describe his current state.

    Despite his recent attempt to gain some notoriety by jumping on the denialist bandwagon, washed up he remains.

    Finally, your willingness to dispatch messengers proves nothing.

  16. Wilful,
    Monbiot isn’t an environmentalist and he doesn’t have a PhD in an environmental science like Bellamy. Monbiot is just a journalist and a bad one at that, all of his stories are unbalanced. Probably because he is still suffering post traumatic stress syndrome from the daily toilet dunkings he would of got at high school as a result of his BS dobbing and crawling to the teachers. He is using the same BS tactic in your link, as some glaciers are shrinking and some are growing as they have always done. Probably Monbiot doesn’t need anymore toilet dunkings as he permanently smells like a turd.

  17. @Tony G

    Tony G channels the pain of his past experiences and projects them onto Monbiot above.

    As a teacher, Tony, let me say that whatever our differences, I feel sorrow at your distress and would encourage you to seek the help that you so plainly need.

  18. The date for 2035 was clearly a mistake, and the cite as grey literature was not the primary source. The authors of the chapter did not go back to the primary source because they would have found the mistake. It was in a regional chapter, which may be reviewed by 20-40 people. It was uncited in the 2nd draft and a review comment did ask for a reference. The WWF (2005) review document was used as the reference. Lal (the lead author of the chapter) has defended this, but I do think it an error (Sorry Lal).
    The regional chapters are of varying quality due to the experience of the authors on it. There is more opportunity for mistakes to be made at this level. By the time the reports get to the Technical Summaries and Summaries for Policymakers they are very heavily scrutinised and all information is traced back to source. Confidence hs to be high for any finding in this part of the report using multiple lines of evidence. This Volume was 1,000 pages long. I would expect there are several more factual errors in it, but they will be minor.
    This storm in the proverbial will lead to a clearer instruction to use the primary scientific source for all statements of results. The grey literature should still be permitted because it is needed to document adaptation actions etc that can only be found in reports. However it should not be used for the reporting of scientific results that exist in the refereed literature.

    Compare this to the Not the IPCC report. Full of errors that have never been corrected or retracted. The IPCC will learn from its mistakes. Others never will.

    Tony G – Monbiot has a masters. In zoology, I think.

  19. So why are you so scared to debate Christopher Mongton, should be a sitting duck. By the way how much of your standard of living are you prepared to give up to slow, but of course not prevent global warming?

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