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.