Sunday, March 14, 2010

Open Letter by scientists on IPCC

A substantial number of scientists in the United states has published an Open Letter on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Errors Contained in the Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007


Reiner Grundmann said...

An interesting but ambiguous document. It shows a tension between an 'impartial' commment to get the attention back to the established facts and to show a way forward on the one hand, and a clear partisan defence of much of the political enterprise on the other.

I imagine many people would sign sentences like "we urge the IPCC to put an erratum on its website that rectifies all errors that have been discovered in the text after publication" or that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal".
On the other hand, there is the view expressed that the IPCC is a central tool for achieving political goals which goes agains the policy neutrality principle of the IPCC. Thus the letter says about the 2degrees C warming target:

"Research has shown that increasing the likelihood of achieving this goal over the next century is economically and technically feasible with emission reduction measures and changes in consumption patterns; but it will not be easy without major national and international actions to deviate substantially from the status quo."
One wonders which research is referred to here? Is it IPCC reports? What does deviation from the status quo mean?

These are the political questions that have proven so difficult to resolve. Yet here we see another assertion that the political project is feasible, albeit not easy. Ultimately, climate politics is the concern of the open letter, not science. I know the IPCC is interGOVERNMENTAL, not international research, but why do scientists step up to defend it, and not politicians?

P Gosselin said...

So what's the point?
The more scientists who sign the letter, the firmer the science behind the AGW hypothesis?
99.99% of all scientists could sign the letter. But if they don't present data, then it means nothing. Nada.
Much of the 2007 IPCC Report relies on gray literature from advocacy groups. More on that will be revealed soon. The "peer-reviwed" stuff obviously wasn't enough, and needed sexing up.
Again Dr Schneider et al are hiding behind open letters and are hoping the media will carry their water. Paul Ehrlich was quoted as saying not long ago "They're scared shitless, and don't know what to do".
Well, it shows.

Anonymous said...

This is an example where it should be a requirement that signatories to the letter should have to declare whether or not their income partly, largely, or wholly comes from grants or other government payments related to climate change.

That is, the signatories should declare whether or not they have a conflict of interest.

For my part, I will be cautious of trusting documents of this nature until it can be demonstrated that a significant number of signatories are truly independent and do not have any conflict of interest.

Anonymous said...

It would also be helpful if the scientists would indicate what their qualifications are - are they such that they can actually comment knowledgeably on the subject?

Marco said...

please tell us when you consider someone "truly independent". You appear to indicate that anyone getting grants or is being payed by "government" is not independent. This suggests a belief in a big conspiracy. Why else would anyone think that someone working at a university, usually meaning you get paid by government, would 'thus' not be independent?

Note also that grants are generally used for hiring other people, or to reduce one's teaching load. I'm still waiting for the first professor getting rich from his professor salary and personal grants (apart from the one or two caught stealing money).

@P Gosselin: I'd love to see the analysis that shows "much of the IPCC report relies on gray literature from advocacy groups". I'm not holding my breath, however...

Anonymous said...

Marco, clearly you are unaware of how the concept of conflict of interest works in commerce. The issue is that parties must declare if they have an interest in the issue under discussion.

It does NOT say anything at all about the issue under discussion.

It is merely notifying that a person is disclosing the fact that his ongoing income is dependent on governments continuing to accept the CAGW hypothesis.

It seems rather clear that if the sceptical view of the issue prevailed at government level, then the flow of grant funds/government funding for 'climate science' would reduce significantly, thus likely reducing funds available for grants and government projects into 'climate science'.

Thus, prima facie, those who depend on government funded grants or other funding likely do have a conflict of interest, and should declare it.

Reiner Grundmann said...

Conflict of interest is not the main issue here. In my view the main issue is about (different) political projects where convictions are paramount. People with and without interests have a stake in the debate.

Or how do you explain the fact that the US is the biggest funder of climate research? Why has Bush financed climate research to the tune of several billion US $ per year?

Anonymous said...

Don't just pour scorn on the "grey literature" comment - just go to the IPCC page and read through the bibliography yourself. Start with the WWF and Greenpeace papers for a start. Then read through the rest of the acknowledgements. You may not catch them all but you'll get a pretty good idea.

Hans von Storch said...

Anonymous/8 - has anybody ever done this - first, for each work group, and possible for all four assessment reports, count the number of grey publications (which is defined as non peer-reviewed) and number of publications from institutions openly related to commercial and political interests - and finally counting how many with a fossil fuel or green background?
I saw something listing peer-reviewed and grey on Pielke jr's blog, but not counting of material from interested parties.
The percentage of "grey" increased from WG1 to WG3. Likely, the role of "grey" in WG1 and 2 is different from that in WG3.

Anonymous said...

Storch wrote in post 9: has anybody ever done this (reading through bibliograph of AR4)"

I think it is being done. See

and also


Marco said...

@Anonymous 6:
Please provide evidence that if climate change is natural, that governments would give significantly less funding to climate science (in general). Sure, there are some people who would get less, but understanding climate is of importance to humanity regardless.

And in essence just about aany human being has a "conflict of interest" when it comes to climate.

Marco said...

@Anonymous 8:
I have done a quick search, and found that at most(!) 0.1% of all citations refer to WWF or Greenpeace. I also found references to material from the American Enterprise Institute (a neoconservative thinktank), and British Petrol and Shell.

@Hans von Storch:
The librarians' definition of gray literature is literature that is not published commercially. Books, for example, are not gray literature.

Marco said...

@Anonymous 10:
Unfortunately, also these people don't know the difference between peer reviewed journals, scientific books (many of which *are* peer reviewed, albeit not necessarily with the same scrutiny as journals are), and various reports. In many cases the information in the latter comes from governments, and this is also highly scrutinised.

Interestingly, I saw they extensively cite Richard Tol, and that the latter claims the Commission manipulates research. Quite the harsh statement...

Hans von Storch said...

Marco/12 - librarians' definition of gray literature - is that anything official, or just an empirical statement? "Published commercially" is a rather vague term, isn't it?
In my academic milieu grey stands for "scientifically legitimate, but not peer-reviewed".

P Gosselin said...

Seems there's a growing interest for stories about grey literature and analyses thereof by the media as of late.

Marco said...

@Hans von Storch:

It is official in the sense of being the definition used by librarians. There's a reasonable introductory discussion on wikipedia:

May I assume you do *not* consider the IPCC reports gray literature?

Hans Erren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hans Erren said...

IPCC reports are grey literature according to this definition from the same wikipedia page that Marco refers to:
Examples of grey literature include technical reports from government agencies or scientific research groups, working papers from research groups or committees, white papers, or preprints. The term grey literature is often, but not exclusively, used for scientific research.

Marco said...

@Hans Erren:
Hans von Storch sees gray literature as non-peer reviewed. The IPCC reports are heavily peer reviewed, and thus, in his definition, NOT gray literature.

But according to the librarian's definition, it would likely be classified as such...

Hans von Storch said...

"Grayness" - obviously, anybody can define "gray" as she/he wishes - according to criteria relevant for their purposes. In our case, the quality stamp associated with "white" (as opposed to "gray") is that the material has been reviewed by "peers". Therefore, within science (at least climate, meteorology, oceanography) gray means peer-reviewed. The meaning could be different for the IPCC/UN bureaucracy, but I would not see that the terminology of librarians has real significance in this case.

Hans von Storch said...

_Flin_/3 - your two first bullets deserve a response

1. While scepticism in itself isn't dangerous, to deny a very probable scenario is. If you are going 50 mph an you see a wall 100m in front of you, and the people in your car say: "It would be wise to break now", it doesn't help to say "There is no wall", "I've seen walls before, and never hit one", "The impact into a wall doesn't hurt" or "It's better to repair the car than to use the brakes". The problem is that the noticing of the wall was about 60m ago. We can still break comfortably, but we should start to do so right now.

2. The Himalayan claim was nonsense. In Working Group 1 there was no such claim. In the policy summary in Working Group 2 was no such claim. So the claim was there, it was nonsense, but it didn't have a prominent role at all. Marginal: "of minor importance". One might interpret this error as marginal.

ad 1: Your little story is unrealistic, because there is a multitude of threats at the same time, some of which are delusions, some very real, they all need our attention. Investing your attention on one issue means to not paying attention to others, which may deserve more attention. This is a normative decision, a subjective decision.

ad 2: The Himalaya-story did not enter the summary of policymakers, true, but as demonstrated by the TV program "Der Himalaya Flop und der IPCC of ZDF, the claim was used by an EU project, including PIK and TERI, as an argument; also a TV program from November 2009 (available on youtube) shows Professor Schellnhuber informing the public about the implications of a very fast melting of the Himalayan glaciers.
Thus, the sloppily collected knowledge claims about the fate of the Himalaya glacier have been used to persuade people about the severity of the problem.
The other issue is that the example of such a blatant sloppiness brings the quality of the rest of the IPCC report into question. The issue of the present crisis is not the facts (much of the science is, in my understanding, indeed settled, but certainly not all.) but public trust, the most important capital of science.


Richard Tol said...

"Research has shown that increasing the likelihood of achieving this goal over the next century is economically and technically feasible with emission reduction measures and changes in consumption patterns; but it will not be easy without major national and international actions to deviate substantially from the status quo."

This is not taken from the IPCC, which is silent on the feasibility of the two degrees target. The Energy Modeling Forum has just published a model comparison study that shows the opposite of what Yohe et al. claim.

Reminds me of John Houghton's recent claim in the Times that the IPCC would never refer to Greenpeace. Ever.

Danley Wolfe said...

The "open letter" from IPCC defends the large body of climate research that has been done. They would be delighted to have this become a debate on the individual aspects of the scientific work/data that is covered in the FAR assessment. IMHO that is not the issue. Which is -- jumping from what is known from the historical data on AGHGs esp. CO2 forcing and global warming and to the millennial scale projections of earth warming over a hundred years. Objective science vs. models that are akin to economic policy models, taken out 100 years "out of sample" (it is truly not supportable and meaningless). IPCC FAR report clearly states that knowledge of such things as water vapor, clouds, particulates and natural solar cycles is inadequate however they are extremely important. The open letter says: "none of the handful of misstatements (out of hundreds and hundreds of unchallenged statements)remotely undermines the conclusion that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and that "most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-twentieth century is very likely due to observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations." This last bit is an untrue statement. Anthropogenic greenhouse gases are important forcings - they are but a fraction of the total forcings that contribute to warming. If the IPCC projection is "off" by only 0.05%/year this compounds to ~ 5-10 deg C difference in the projected temperature rise over 100 years. Nevertheless, the IPCC has talked about taking the projections out 200 years to increase the "awareness" (i.e., alarm) of the public, mainstream media and politicians on the urgent need for policy action. The IPCC furthermore characterizes the results as 90% likely, 95% highly likely to dress up the model long term projection as quantified science, "it's real, it's done science," when these likelihoods are figures assigned by the lead authors. It is not quantified deductive science, it is forced. This would fall under Norman Davies "rules of propaganda" (see Europe: a history, Oxford Press, London, 1995). This is much more serious that misinterpreting tree rings or sea level rise. So I ask should not there also be a focus on IPCC's role in using subjective "opinion science" to force policy. It does matter when we are talking about mega policies involving huge distributional transfers of bazillions of dollars.