19 January 2010

What Does Pielke Think About This?

Thanks to a commenter who shared the link to the IPCC AR4 WGII review comments, I took a look today for the very first time at the review comments for Chapter 1 of the report. I have been extremely critical of the IPCC for misrepresenting the work I have contributed to with colleagues, and in fact, the entire scientific literature on disasters and climate change. So it was with some interest that I found the following expert comment in the IPCC report (here in PDF, p. 121):
I think this is inappropriate. It leads the reader into interpreting recent events in a particular way without providing supporting information. This suggestion, that the losses in 2004and 2005 draw Pielke's results into question, needs to be supported with a reference or a solid in chapter assessment. What does Pielke think about this?

(Francis Zwiers, Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis)
What is the "this" that Dr. Zwiers suggested was inappropriate? It was all but certainly this passage that survived the review process and appear in the final report:
A previous normalisation of losses, undertaken for U.S. hurricanes by Pielke and Landsea (1998) and U.S. floods (Pielke et al., 2002) included normalising the economic losses for changes in wealth and population so as to express losses in constant dollars. These previous national U.S. assessments, as well as those for normalised Cuban hurricane losses (Pielke et al., 2003), did not show any significant upward trend in losses over time, but this was before the remarkable hurricane losses of 2004 and 2005.
What did Pielke think about this? Good question, easily answered. The IPCC never asked, but that did not stop the IPCC from making up an answer for me, which it did in its response to Zwiers (here in PDF, at p. 121):
I believe Pielke agrees that adding 2004 and 2005 has the potential to change his earlier conclusions – at least about the absence of a trend in US Cat losses.
These comments speculating on my views were made by the IPCC in August, 2006.

Coincidentally enough, in March, 2006 I gave the Roger Revelle Commemorative Lecture at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Ocean Studies Board of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. My lecture was subsequently published as an article in the journal Oceanography (here in PDF) in June, 2006, two months before the IPCC made its speculative claims about my views, and thus in principle readily available to the IPCC. In any case, I'm not hard to find.

In that article I wrote:
The case of hurricane impacts in the United States is similarly instructive. Consider economic damage (adjusted for inflation) related to hurricane landfalls in the United States, 1900–2005, as shown in Figure 4. Although damage is growing in both frequency and intensity, this trend does not reflect increased frequency or strength of hurricanes. In fact, while hurricane frequencies have varied a great deal over the past 100+ years, they have not increased in recent decades in parallel with increasing damages. To the contrary, although damage increased during the 1970s and 1980s, hurricane activity was considerably lower than in previous decades.

To explain the increase in damage, it is therefore necessary to consider factors other than variability or change in climate. Society has changed enormously during the past century and coastal development has taken pace at an incredible pace.

Given the significance of societal change in trends of hurricane damage, one way to present a more accurate perspective on such trends is to consider how past storms would affect present society. We developed a methodology for ‘‘normalizing’’ past hurricane damage to present-day values (using wealth, population, and inflation). Figure 5 shows the historical losses of Figure 4 normalized to 2005 values.
Here is Figure 5 as it appeared in the article:

Obviously the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 did not result in anything like -- "Pielke agrees that adding 2004 and 2005has the potential to change his earlier conclusions – at least about the absence of a trend in US Cat losses." In fact, quite the opposite. Frequent readers will recognize the figure above as an early version of the work that was ultimately published in:
Pielke, Jr., R. A., Gratz, J., Landsea, C. W., Collins, D., Saunders, M., and Musulin, R., 2008. Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1900-2005. Natural Hazards Review, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp. 29-42.
Ironically enough, in my Roger Revelle lecture I also took some issue with the work of the IPCC Third Assessment Report (2001) on disasters and climate change:
One important reason for some confusion among scientists stems from a claim made by the IPCC Working Group II (IPCC, 2001b) attributing some part of the trend of increasing disaster losses to changes in climate. However, upon closer look, the claim seems unfounded.
So not only did the IPCC AR4 WGII egregiously misrepresent the science of disasters and climate change, but when questions were raised about that section by at least one expert reviewer, it simply made up a misleading and false response about my views. Not good.


  1. "Not good."

    Unfortunately, not surprising, either.

  2. Roger,
    In this one case where you have personal knowledge of the facts you have convinced me that the IPCC played fast and loose with science to advocate their own viewpoint.

    Can you now convince me that this one case is not representative of the scientific rigor of the entire report?

  3. I remember the errors about the threat of malaria deaths due to Global Warming in the first IPCC AR's. Expert Paul Reiter withdrew from the IPCC because of that and had to threaten with legal action in order to get his name removed from the report.

    Not sure if this has been corrected in the later reports.

  4. Re: Maurice Garoutte,
    Michael Crichton talked about what he called the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect which he described as follows: "You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well... you read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know."
    As far as I'm concerned, the history of the IPCC is riddled with enough inaccuracies and falsehoods that it should be scrapped entirely.

  5. Hmmm...Interesting. It also appears that an insurance company was instrumental in getting the section re-written. Peter Hoeppe of Munich Re had this comment:

    "Munich Re's comment: On the other hand side, for periods characterized by
    abnormal warm sea surface temperatures (1926 – 1970 and 1995 – present day) and
    by abnormal cool sea surface temperatures (1903 – 1925 and 1971 – 1994) in the
    20th century we find different distributions of normalized annual losses (losses
    normalized in the sense of Pielke and Landsea for changes in wealth, population
    and for inflation). So mean and median of the warm phase loss distribution are
    much higher than of the cold phase loss distribution and the difference between
    both distributions is statistically significant (α = 1%). In addition we find much
    higher percentages of losses exceeding specified thresholds in the warm phase
    distribution compared to the cold phase distribution (see the table below). Hence
    the value of loss expectancy is higher for the warm phase loss distribution than for
    the cold phase distribution. Given a long-term increase in atlantic sea surface
    temperatures caused by global warming (Agudelo, P. A., Curry, J. A. (2004), GRL
    31), we will consequently see higher annual (normalized) losses averaged over
    periods with higher sea surface temperatures – as already can be observed for the
    20th century.
    Table: Percentages of years exceeding specified annual loss thresholds in warm and
    cold phases of the 20th century.
    cold phase years warm phase years
    > US 1 bn 19 (of 47) 40% 37 (of 56) 66%
    > US 5 bn 10 (of 47) 21% 25 (of 56) 45%
    > US 10 bn 8 (of 47) 17% 17 (of 56) 30%
    (Peter Hoeppe, Munich Re)"

    The notes from the writing team read as follows:

    "Disasters and Hazards section rewritten"

    Any comments on the Hoeppe comment, Roger?

  6. Hoeppe's comments and data reflect one side of a debate outside the peer reviewed literature that was discussed here starting on p. 547:


    There is a good reason why the information presented by Hoeppe has not appeared in the peer reviewed literature since 2006.

    It is not at all clear to me how the IPCC re-wrote that section, based on those comments.

    At Prometheus I had a series of exchanges with Jim Elsner on SSTs vs. damage. If there is a signal, the data need to be tortured ruthlessly for it to confess.

    Since then Peter Hoeppe has published work that replicates our normalization work, and reiterated the Hohenkammer consensus statements.

  7. wow

    regarding comment #2:

    this is sort of the converse of RPJ's example but there are numerous & well documented examples of Steve McIntyre's comments on temperature reconstructions particularly related to how the recent "divergence" is dealt with being ignored and dismissed.

  8. Thanks for that, Roger.

    Mr. Hoeppe appears to have been the one pushing for revisions based on the 2004 -05 losses. His comment on that same page (121), is as follows:

    "These previous national US assessments, as well as those for normalized Cuban
    hurricane losses (Pielke et al. 2003), did not show an significant upward trend in
    losses over time, but this was before the remarkable hurricane losses of 2004 and
    (Peter Hoeppe, Munich Re)"

    To which the response was: "Correct – the last two years are critical".

    On that same page, it also appears that they are citing a Munich Re "analysis" in the chapter.

    "Instead of the citation “Munich Re Group 2005” it would be better to cite the more
    actual report “Munich Re Group 2006” (Annual Review: Natural Catastrophes
    2005, F-Media Druck GmbH, Munich) published in March 2006.
    (Peter Hoeppe, Munich Re)"

    Would this be considered a "peer reviewed" scientific paper? Is there not a strong element of financial interest underpinning an assessment by an insurance company, such as Munich Re, that needs to be considered? (Ah well, if they can fib a bit about Himilayan glaciers for the benefit of Mr. Pachauri...)

  9. 1) If a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

    2) And the United Nations is an organization which combines the worst aspects of government bureaucracy and corruption without any of the potential efficacy or accountability.

    3) Then what quality should we expect of the highly politicized "science" which is produced by a committee of 2500 while supervised and controlled by the bureaucrats of the corrupt UN?

    Answer -- One hell of an ugly camel.

  10. "Not good" ?

    "Restraint is always commendable, except when defending an impugned honour."


  11. On a related note, the nominations for AR5 Coordinating Lead Authors, Lead Authors, and Review Editors are now open until March 12, 2010.

    It appears that governments and certain international organizations are the only ones that may submit nominations. See

    The web portal for submitting nominations is at
    http://www.ipcc.ch/activities/activitiesar5nomination.htm , but it requires a username and password for access.

    I am trying to determine which organzations have the privilege of submitting nominations, but so far have not been able to find the distribution list for the request for nomination letter issued January 15th by IPCC.

  12. Mr. Pielke,

    The link in your comment of Wed 20th to sciencepolicy.colorado.edu seems to be broken. Would you perhaps have another link, or a reference to search for?

    Thank you.

  13. -12-hrokling

    Apologies, Prometheus has been victim of some sort of web attack it has taken down the sciencepolicy site taken down (a weakness that is one reason I am blogging here).

    Unfortunately, the links to sciencepolicy are dead until back up. If you are motivated most everything can be tracked down via Google cache, and I am hoping it is up by Monday!

    Thanks for your patience.