16 January 2010

New Scientist Wants an Explanation

The New Scientist magazine has asked the IPCC to explain how a speculative statement that most scientists disagree with became an IPCC "finding" that has been vigorously defended by the IPCC chairman. The statement has led to a large number of factually incorrect claims, such as found in the article pictured above from the Daily Mail. See the image below from the New Scientist, courtesy Bishop Hill.

I discussed this situation last month in a post in which I argued that the problem here is not that the IPCC made a mistake. That is just troubling. The greater problem is how the IPCC has responded to having a mistake pointed out:
In the case of melting glaciers in the Himalayas, the IPCC 2035 claim has led to, in Nielsen-Gammen's words, an egregious mistake becoming "effectively common knowledge that the glaciers were going to vanish by 2035." Like the common (but wrong) knowledge on disasters and climate change that originated in the grey literature and was subsequently misrepresented by the IPCC, on the melting of Himalayan glaciers the IPCC has dramatically misled policy makers and the public.

That the IPCC has made some important mistakes is very troubling, but perhaps understandable given the magnitude of the effort. Its reluctance to deal with obvious errors is an even greater problem reflecting poorly on an institution that has become too insular and politicized.
Unfortunately, the glacier error is not unique. The IPCC contains a number of other egregious errors that also deserve some answers.