IPCC meeting to prepare Synthesis Report

The world’s news media have been agog with excitement this week over the latest IPCC meeting, taking place in Copenhagen. Well, I found one BBC article about it.  The purpose of the meeting is to finalise the AR5 Synthesis Report – an overall report that summarises and synthesises the main points of the AR5 reports from the three working groups that have been published over the last year. The Synthesis report will be published on Sunday, and the BBC article says it’s to be the guiding document for the save-the-planet climate talks in Paris next year.

There is a press release which includes the rallying cry “it is not hopeless”, and an opening statement by the IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri that ends with the famous Gandhi quote “First they ignore you … then you win”. In view of the absence of media coverage, I wonder if it’s the other way round.

Even the Green Blob organisations seem to have little enthusiasm, either not discussing it at all or adopting a jaded tone – at RTCC, Richard Black says “You may think that you’ve been here before” and wonders why he should bother to read the report; the blog comments underneath are mostly dismissive.

 

Owen Paterson’s speech

Yesterday Owen Paterson gave a speech to the GWPF, “Keeping the lights on”. The full transcript is here at GWPF and here at the Spectator with comment thread.

It’s getting quite a lot of publicity – perhaps the most high-profile expression of climate scepticism for some time. It was mentioned on the BBC Radio news, and Paterson was interviewed on the Radio 4 Today Programme. It has been covered at the BBC, Telegraph, Mail, though some of these articles were written before the speech was given, based on pre-released snippets. The Times (£) focuses on Paterson’s comments about alleviating poverty. Bishop Hill attended the talk and has a post on it.

The Green Blob has rallied its armies to attack Paterson, with all the usual suspects having a go, Bob Ward, Carbon Brief, Carbon Brief again. RTCC declares that it’s a debate but “not the one the public want”. The Committee on Climate Change has also responded. The Green Blob seems particularly reluctant to allow anyone to see what Paterson actually said. Carbon Brief, for example, have no link to the text of the speech – a link misleadingly entitled “Owen Paterson gives his views on climate and energy” links to the CCC criticism. Business Green has an interview with Ed Davey.

Greenpeace “scientist” is a golden rice denier

The brazen dishonesty of some activists never ceases to amaze.
This morning, Greenpeace’s “Chief Scientist” Doug Parr was interviewed on the Today Programme (go to about 1:33). [Update: Alex Cull has now produced a transcript.]

The story started with stem cell research, then moved on to golden rice, the topic being introduced by Patrick Moore. Golden rice is engineered to alleviate Vitamin A deficiency, which is a serious problem in many parts of the developing world.

Parr claimed that

“let’s also be clear that it doesn’t actually exist yet”.

As anyone can check, from the Wikipedia article linked above or from numerous other sources, golden rice has existed for a decade or so.

It has undergone trials, some of which have unfortunately been vandalised by those misled by the irresponsible idiocy of people like Doug Parr. The activists who attacked the trial even lied about who had carried out the attack.
It is not yet in widespread use, thanks to the opposition from Greenpeace and others, and according to one study, delay in its implementation has cost over a million life-years in India alone.

gp It’s clear from Greenpeace’s website, with it’s weird picture of a man with a top hat and moustache,  that their objection to golden rice is based on their view that it’s a money-making scheme for (Victorian?) western businessmen – which is incorrect, as philanthropic organisations like the Gates Foundation are now supporting golden rice development.

But why fib about its existence to millions of Radio 4 listeners?

When climate scientists criticise each other

One of the complaints regularly made by climate sceptics is that climate scientists do not speak up and publicly criticise exaggerated or alarmist claims from within their own community. This post discusses a recent example where this did happen, leading to a complaint and a dispute.  As well as being of interest to the climate debate, the incident also raises questions about the use of social media such as twitter by scientists. Ex-climate scientist William Connolley has a blog post on this, which I largely agree with.

The Royal Society held a meeting on Sept 22-23 on Arctic sea ice reduction.  During the meeting, tweets were sent out using the hashtag #RSArctic14.  Many of these came from Mark Brandon (@icey_mark), one of the organisers of the meeting, but other participants including Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) and Ed Hawkins (@Ed_Hawkins) also joined the twitter discussion, as did some journalists (Jonathan Amos and Jonathan Leake), along with the official Royal Society twitter account, and others who were not at the meeting. All of this indicates that the use of twitter provided an effective outreach mechanism for the conference.

One talk was given by Prof Peter Wadhams, who is known for his statements that the Arctic ice will disappear completely around 2015, often promoted unquestioningly by irresponsible journalists. When Wadhams gave his talk, a number of climate scientists sent out critical tweets, as noted at the time by Bishop Hill. Here are a few of these:

@icey_mark: Wadhams uses photos and anecdote to imply state of sea ice across the Arctic.

@icey_mark: Wadhams: uses UK submarine data to look at thickness but very very data poor. Not credible plots

@ClimateOfGavin:  Wadhams still using graphs with ridiculous projections with no basis in physics.

@ClimateOfGavin:  Wadhams clearly states that there is no physics behind his extrapolations.

@Ed_Hawkins: Good to see Wadhams extreme views challenged by other climate scientists. Disappointed he didn’t agree to bet on 2015 sea-ice!

@ClimateOfGavin: In case there was any ambiguity, statements by Wadhams on arctic sea ice/CH4 trends are *not* widely agreed with by scientists

@nathanaelmelia:  Entertaining break with Wadhams. Back to science now

@jamesannan: Hasn’t Wadhams already predicted 4 of the last 0 ice-free summers?

Wadhams (who does not tweet) heard of this, and wrote a number of letters of complaint (I have extracted these from a potentially confusing longer document produced by Mark Brandon). The first complaint letter is addressed to the Royal Society and is aimed mainly at Brandon.  It  was also sent to the head of Brandon’s university and the head of co-organiser Sheldon Bacon’s institute.  Wadhams claims that Brandon and Bacon “actively ridiculed” his presentation, and referred to “sarcasm” and “snickering”.  The letter is followed by a list of Brandon’s tweets, which show that Wadhams’s complaint is without foundation.  A second complaint letter from Wadhams is addressed to NASA, where Gavin Schmidt has recently been appointed Director of GISS.  Schmidt’s tweets are more critical than Brandon’s, and some could be regarded as sarcastic in tone, but he is well known for his outspoken style, so his comments are not surprising or unusual.  Wadhams makes no attempt to address the scientific content of the criticisms.

In response, Bacon, Brandon and Schmidt wrote a six-page memorandum, where they note, among other things, the informal nature of twitter, and also point out they did defend Wadhams when someone (in fact another climate scientist) asked why he had been invited to speak. They also say that they regard Wadhams’s actions – writing to the heads of their institutions – as intimidation and bullying. They also wrote a much longer supplementary document (the one I referred to as potentially confusing, as it does not say it is written by them) where they go through each of the controversial tweets, explaining the context, and in some cases “in jokes”, behind them.  This must have been a great deal of work for them.  In this documents they twice make the point that I started with:
‘Climate scientists are often accused of not being critical of work presented by “their own”.’
‘we re-iterate that climate scientists have long been criticized for not speaking against those who some may consider “extremists” within our community.’

 Update 17th Oct

Mark Brandon has been saying for a few days that he has received a further complaint from Peter Wadhams, and he has now made this public, together with annotations in response by him (Brandon).  Again Wadhams sent his complaint to the President of the Royal Society and other senior figures, which seems excessive. This complaint includes the suggestion  of a legal threat: “These may well be defamatory, a question on which legal counsel may be taken”.  He also includes the tweets that he finds most offensive, which are mostly from Gavin Schmidt. Some of Wadhams’s comments are absurd, as pointed out in Brandon’s annotations:  for example he says that an apology would have been appropriate and then we could have moved on, but his original complaint did not make a request for an apology. He claims that twitter is “not open to all”, and suggests that tweets should have been sent to him by email or regular mail!

In case anyone cares or is wondering exactly where I stand, I’m 80% in support of Brandon, Bacon & Schmidt. Wadhams’s complaint is ridiculously over-the-top. But I do think that some of Gavin’s tweets were a bit too rude and he probably should avoid this tone when tweeting from conference talks in future.

Also, there is more discussion at the blogs of Doug McNeall, Victor Venema and Bishop Hill.

Update 27th Oct

On twitter, Mark Brandon reports that the Royal Society has responded. The whole response has not been made public but here are some quotes:

“The Royal Society believes that there is benefit in making the proceedings of our meetings widely available, including publishing audio recordings and through the use of social media. This helps to ensure that debate is more possible and engages not only those at the meeting but also others who are not able to attend…”

“it is clear that the vast majority of the tweets from the meeting were written to help keep people informed … this is to be welcome.  A small number [of tweets] were lacking in courtesy and could easily be perceived as being inappropriate for scientific debate. We are looking at our guidelines concerning tweets in discussion meetings … to see if they need to be modified”.

Their view seems to agree with what I said above.

Tamsin’s Topsy-Turvy TED Talk

Energetic young climate scientist Tamsin Edwards, currently in the process of relocating from Bristol to the Open University, gave a TED Talk on How to love uncertainty in climate science a couple of days ago. At the time of writing there are no comments under her blog post, which is probably because she is too busy to moderate them.

There are a lot of good things in the talk.

  • Addressing the issue of uncertainty as the main topic, and acknowledging that uncertainty levels in climate science are far higher than in other areas such as experimental physics.
  • The explanation of climate models, acknowledging that they are simplifications, with the “All models are wrong” quote, and the statement that “their predictions partly depend on the numbers you plug in” and “we can’t always know what those numbers should be”.
  • Discussing the journalistic spin problem – how the same piece of research on sea level rise was reported as both “worse than feared” and “less severe than feared”.
  • It’s a well-written, clear and structured piece.

But unfortunately there are a couple of things that are completely wrong, in fact backwards:

“Not everyone knows this, but more and more climate sceptics agree with us too”

This is a recent fairy story in the climate community. In fact studies repeatedly show that people are getting more sceptical about climate change, not less.

Climate sceptics are getting more confident that they are right (that the climate scare has been greatly exaggerated), as each climate prediction fails.

In fact it is the climate scientists who are coming round to agreeing with the sceptics. After years of denying that there was any slow-down or pause in warming, it is now one of their main topics of research. Similarly, after insisting that natural variation of the climate is small compared with man-made “forcing”, they are now acknowledging, as sceptics have been saying for years, that chaotic fluctuations and natural cycles are an important factor.  As Tamsin says in her talk, climate scientists have in the past not sufficiently discussed uncertainty, leading them to make over-confident claims. The IPCC, in its latest AR5 report, has climbed down from some of the claims about extreme events made by AR4.  The IPCC has slightly reduced its range of values for climate sensitivity, as more papers come out with lower estimates. And on the policy front, while the farcical climate talk circuit continues, more and more people are realising that global agreements on mitigation are not going to happen, and that the logical approach is to adapt to climate change if/when it happens.

 

“That pause in warming of the atmosphere surprised the media and public, even though scientists always expected this kind of thing could happen in the short term”

This claim was made in one of Tamsin’s earlier blog posts, pause for
thought, where it was much criticised.
Climate scientists did not expect the pause.

  • The IPCC AR4 in 2007 projected 0.2C per decade over the next couple of decades.
  • The Met Office in 2007 predicted 0.3C of warming from 2004-14.
  • Lean & Rind 2009 predicted strong warming in the next 5 years.
  • Trenberth said (in 2009) “where the heck is global warming”,
    “we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a
    travesty that we can’t.”, while Schneider spoke of someone betting a
    lot of money on a prompt upward spike, and Jones said they’d be
    worried after a 15 year pause.
  • James Annan placed a bet on warming with sceptic David Whitehouse, and lost.

The statement is backwards – it was the climate scientists themselves who were most surprised by the pause.

Remember what Feynman said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

The Snailgate Papers

The story of the snail Rhachistia aldabrae miraculously coming back to life after being declared an extinction victim of climate change has been getting a fair amount of attention, following a WUWT post, a Delingpole piece, and an article in the Times by Ben Webster (paywalled, but excerpts available via GWPF or Bjorn Lomborg). Now, inevitably, referred to as “Snailgate”, the incident looks bad for the Royal Society, who rejected a paper questioning the alleged extinction, and has still not taken any action (such as a note on the original incorrect paper, or retracting it) after proof of the snail’s resurrection.

An article in Forbes helpfully gives links to the papers concerned.

The original paper was Gerlach (2007) Short-term climate change and the extinction of the snail Rhachistia aldabrae, in a Royal Society journal called Biology Letters. That paper was submitted on June 18 and accepted July 11, an unusually fast turn-round. The methods used by Gerlach to claim extinction seem rather flimsy, based on examination of collections containing specimens.

The rebuttal paper, written by Clive Hambler and others, was rejected and does not seem to be available [Update 20th Oct: it is now, see comment below]. We know from the Webster article that it pointed out that most of the habitat was inaccessible and has never been visited, and correctly predicted rediscovery of the “extinct” snail. It appears that the Hambler script was sent to the same reviewers who had accepted the Gerlach paper, which Delingpole rightly describes as a conflict of interest.

Papers that have cited Gerlach (2007) can be found with Google Scholar, which says there are 12 – not many for such a prolific field. The most high-profile of these is Cahill et al (2013), How does climate change cause extinction?, published in Proc Roy Soc B, which itself already has 79 citations.
According to Webster’s article, Cahill et al “suggested that this was the clearest example of man-made climate change causing an extinction.” The wording used by Cahill et al is in fact a bit more oblique than Webster implies: “In almost all cases, the links between extinction and anthropogenic climate change are speculative (but see [82]), which is why these cases were not included previously in our review.” [82] is the Gerlach paper.

The Cahill et al paper was much cited by IPCC AR5 WG2, see Chapter 4 here (IPCC did not cite Gerlach). This chapter presents mixed messages – on the one hand we have “only 20 have been tenuously linked to recent climate change (Cahill et al., 2013)” but then there is the worrying suggestion that climate scientists just have to look harder for evidence to confirm their hypothesis: “This does not mean that climate has not played an important contributing role; indeed it has been argued that the low level of confidence in attribution is due to the lack of studies looking for climate signals in extinctions (Cahill et al. 2013).” There are some outright alarmist statements, such as this one quoted in the media: “These considerations lead to the assessment that future species extinctions are a high risk because the consequences of climate change are potentially severe, widespread and irreversible since extinctions constitute the permanent loss of unique life forms” (not linked to Cahill et al).

So what should happen now? Justin Gerlach should have the integrity to ask the Royal Society to withdraw his incorrect paper. He has written an article on his website acknowledging the rediscovery of the snail, but makes no mention of any retraction of his paper.

As long as he and the Royal Society take no action, snailgate will continue to provide fodder for the sceptics.

The consensus was wrong

In an article in the Guardian, Richard Tol wrote that “There are plenty of examples in history where everyone agreed and everyone was wrong”. He didn’t give examples there – perhaps he thought this was so well known that it wasn’t worth commenting on, or perhaps space was too limited.

Here are a few examples of where the consensus has turned out to be wrong (thanks to @Fastcomm, @intrepidwanders, @DerrickByford, @nmrqip and @Beautyon for suggesting many of these). More examples welcome! 
Yes, I know, these stories are all greatly oversimplified.

Copernicus, Galileo and the Sun. For some time after Copernicus wrote his book saying that the Earth goes round the Sun, most scientists continued to believe the opposite.

Ernst Chladni and meteorites. The consensus was that meteorites came from the earth, perhaps from volcanoes, until, around 1800, some nutter suggested they might come from outer space.

Cholera and John Snow. The consensus was that cholera was caused by ‘miasma’ – bad air, until John Snow identified a link with a contaminated water pump in the 1850s.

Semmelweis, hand-washing and puerperal fever. His results were rejected because they conflicted with the consensus of scientific opinion.

Evolution. The consensus was that God created species in a few days. Darwin was so worried about the consequences of what he’d found that he sat on it for many years.

The Aether and the speed of light. It used to be thought that light travelled at a certain speed relative to a background known as ‘aether’. Experiments and then Einstein’s theory of relativity showed that this was wrong.

Wegener and continental drift. Wegener was attacked and ridiculed for this theory.

George Zweig and quarks. The consensus was that protons and neutrons were fundamental elementary particles until Zweig and Gell-Man came up with quarks.

Barry Marshall and stomach ulcers. The consensus was that gastritis and ulcers were related to poor diet and stress. in 1984, Marshall had to ingest the bacteria, helicobacter pylori, to show he was right that this was the cause, and eventually won the Nobel Prize.

Stanley Prusiner and prions The consensus was that disease agents needed nucleic acids. Prusiner’s theory of prions in the 1980s led to incredulity, personal attacks and then a Nobel Prize.

Barbara McClintlock and “jumping genes”. Another Nobel Prize winner whose work wasn’t accepted at first because it went against received wisdom.

Maybe all those people insisting on how important it is to convince the public that there’s a consensus on climate change need to take a basic course in the history of science.