01 April 2010

"Fabrication" or "Lie" in the IPCC AR4 WGI

Ross McKitrick, an economist at the University of Guelph, has written an interesting and troubling essay about his misadventures in trying to correct via publication in the peer reviewed literature a statement in the IPCC AR4 WGI report that he characterizes as a "fabrication" or a "lie" (here as a PDF). Whatever you might think about Professor McKitrick or his academic work, the accuracy of his claim that the IPCC published an obvious misrepresentation of his work should be without doubt, as you can read for yourself in his essay. The misrepresentation is straightforward and obvious, and I agree that the terms "fabrication" or "lie" in this context are not too strong. If anyone reading has an argument to the contrary (such as "innocent mistake"), I'd love to hear it.

Prof. McKitrick's tale indicates that he has become effectively blacklisted in the climate science community, presumably for his views and collaborations, which if you don't know, are often associated with the nefarious and evil "global warming skeptics."

The episode that he documents in detail doesn't bother him much, as he explains that:
From my perspective the episode has some comic value, but I can afford to laugh about it since I am an economist, not a climatologist, and my career doesn’t depend on getting published in climatology journals. If I was a young climatologist I would have learned that my career prospects would be much better if I never write papers that question the IPCC.
I empathize with this view, based on my own experiences.

He provides a wonderful capsule statement about what has gone wrong with the IPCC:
Unfortunately, the way the IPCC works, they are allowed to make stuff up, then it’s their critics job to prove it is untrue.
This is exactly the situation that has occurred in the context of disaster losses that I have documented on numerous occasions. In the case of disaster losses, not only did the IPCC make stuff up, but when challenged, went so far as to issue a press release emphasizing the accuracy of its made up stuff. But I digress.

Here is the bottom line from Prof. McKitrick's episode, which I encourage anyone concerned with the health of the climate science community to read in full (emphasis added):
The paper I have talked about makes the case that the IPCC used false evidence to conceal an important problem with the surface temperature data on which most of their conclusions rest. In principle, one might argue that my analysis was wrong (though most reviewers didn’t), but it would be implausible to say that the issue is unimportant or irrelevant.

Altogether I sent the paper to seven journals before it went to SP&P. From those seven journals I received seven reviews, of which six accepted the findings and supported publication. The one that rejected my findings contained some basic technical errors, but the journal editor would not respond to my letter pointing them out. Nature, Science and Geophysical Research Letters would not even review the paper, while the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society never acknowledged the presubmission inquiry. Global and Planetary Change received one review recommending publication, blocked another reviewer before he could submit a report and then turned the paper down.

In the aftermath of Climategate a lot of scientists working on global warming-related topics are upset that their field has apparently lost credibility with the public. The public seems to believe that climatology is beset with cliquish gatekeeping, wagon-circling, biased peer-review, faulty data and statistical incompetence. In response to these perceptions, some scientists are casting around, in op-eds and weblogs, for ideas on how to hit back at their critics. I would like to suggest that the climate science community consider instead whether the public might actually have a point.
It is good advice.

19 comments:

  1. "The episode that he documents in detail doesn't bother him much"

    The 16 page paper on something that "doesn't bother him much" twigged to me that it must be April Fool's today!

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  2. pdf link doesn't work for me.

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  3. Another in a very long list of problems with IPCC and climate science. It's becoming very clear that we cannot trust IPCC for the truth. So now where do the policy-makers go to get the facts for supporting their "climate-change" policies?

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  4. I can only imagine what a possible defense of the treatment of McKitrick's paper would sound like.

    I take that back. I've read people defending Ward Churchill's inventing "historical" incidents out of whole cloth.

    I guess it is "bad form" to go checking citations.

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  5. It's really well written.

    Obviously it raises huge concerns. I did look at his 2007 JGR paper with Michaels and I have read the Peterson paper from 2003 (that just covers the US and forms the opposite conclusion using a different methodology). I noticed in the "discussion" at realclimate McKitrick's paper got "bagged", for reasons that seemed to be "we don't like the conclusions".

    But not being much good with statistics myself, it's hard to draw conclusions - about in depth statistics.

    But with no knowledge of statistics it is easy to draw "robust" conclusions from McKitrick's summary.

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  6. I read the McKitrick paper and agree with the referees that it is sound.

    The IPCC angle is worrying too. I had worked on the assumption that WG1 strictly enforced its procedures (unlike WG2 and WG3), but I need to adjust my priors now.

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  7. the pdf is fabulous, thanks

    Roger, are your own negative experiences mentioned documented in the public domain?

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  8. Wegman's network analysis can now be written up as a case study of the decline and fall of peer review in climate science.

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  9. This is how a consensus is enforced by the editorial practice of journals on a scientific community.

    These editors should be named and shamed.

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  10. > I sent the paper to seven journals before
    > it went to SP&P. From those seven journals
    > I received seven reviews, of which six
    > accepted the findings and supported publication.

    Wait. What? How do you offer the same paper to seven different journals?

    Do you send the same paper to all seven at the same time, or one after the other?

    Each of the seven gave one review?
    This really isn't clear.

    If six journals accepted and supported the work, why didn't one or all of them publish it?

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  11. -12-Hank

    If you read the essay you'll find the answers to your questions.

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  12. Roger. Do you think AGW will end up as a case study in "Confirmation Bias"?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

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  13. I think AGW will be added as a case study to the book, "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds"
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraordinary_Popular_Delusions_and_the_Madness_of_Crowds
    With a special section to discuss how 'True believer syndrome' can distort people's critical thinking ability.
    http://www.paranormal-encyclopedia.com/t/true-believer-syndrome/

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  14. I think Irving Langmuir's "pathological science" comes closest to the mark.

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  15. Thanks for posting this Roger. I'm surprised you are the only blogger (so far) to post on this excellent story.

    Prof. McKitrick's tale embodied the classic underground film "Brazil" by Terry Gilliam.

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  16. Howard,

    Others have also begun to post on this sad story. See, e.g.

    http://deepclimate.org/2010/04/05/mcclimategate-continued-mckitrick-completely-wrong-on-ipcc/

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/04/mckitrick_at_it_again.php

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  17. I've commented on the Deep Climate post mentioned by ryates, saying that (contrary to the claim in the blog post) McKitrick's criticism of the IPCC seems to be basically valid.

    http://deepclimate.org/2010/04/05/mcclimategate-continued-mckitrick-wrong-on-ipcc/#comment-3268

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