Interesting Update on IPCC Standards

As some of you may know, an article I wrote was published yesterday at DeSmog Blog. If you haven't read it, I highly encourage you to. It gives a brief overview of the history of work on the economics of global warming which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) relied upon for its latest Assessment Report, work by Richard Tol. You may remember that name from previous posts of mine discussing his work, such as his paper claiming the less data we have, the more certain we are of our results.

Tol's work is stupendously bad, but the truly fascinating thing about it is both skeptics and the IPCC use it at the exact same time. Skeptics happily promote Tol's work to claim (some amounts of) global warming will be beneficial, while at the same time, the IPCC has allowed Tol to slip his work into its reports absent any sort of external review for some inexplicable reason. The result is both sides of the global warming debate are arguing from the same, terrible work on this topic.

As fascinating as that is though, the issue I want to talk about in this post is the fact the IPCC allowed Tol to add a bunch of material to its report absent any sort of external review, flagrantly violating its stated principles. I've talked about this a number of times on this site, and I've even attempted to take it up with the IPCC. Today, after half a year of trying to follow up on that, I'm here to report that I've gotten some manner of response.

I say some manner of response because the IPCC's response barely qualifies as a response. Basically, they said, "You wrote your message in the wrong manner so we just ignored it.":

Dear Brandon,

Many thanks for your email and for taking time to examine the latest IPCC reports. Please accept my sincere apologies for not responding to your earlier email.

The Error Protocol you mention is not meant to address complaints in e.g. the IPCC review process. Instead it is designed to address specific errors in the reports. In this case, the claimant e.g. yourself should report specific errors, mentioning the exact location of the error in the report e.g. chapter number, page number, line number, etc.

Please compile your claim appropriately if you want it addressed through the Error Protocol. Otherwise, complaints on any of the IPCC processes are addressed to your country's IPCC Focal Point who should present them to the Panel during one of its sessions.

Please let me know if you need more information.

Now, I find this response rather fascinating. First, it means if the IPCC feels you've not compiled your claim appropriately, they can just ignore it. As in, they don't even have to tell you you've compiled it inappropriately. They don't have to tell you they're going to ignore it. They get to just look at anything anyone sends them saying there's an error in the IPCC report, and say, "Nah, I don't think they did it right" and throw it out. That's insane.

Second, the IPCC apparently does not consider it to be an error for material to be added to the IPCC report against IPCC rules. That means if somebody just slips material into the IPCC report, you can't report it as an error. If somebody happened to sneak the words, "Obama sucks!" into the middle of some lengthy paragraph filled with technical jargon, there'd be nothing you could do about it. According to the IPCC position, that's not an error.

Third, the document I sent to the IPCC explicitly listed a number of errors. For instance, it said:

Section 10.9.2 in the Final Version of the IPCC AR5 WGII was changed after the Final Government Draft was disseminated to the public. These changes were not included in the change document published along with the report, but a new version of that document was published some time after listing many of them. The current version of the document does not list all the changes though, and it does not explain a number of them. Even when it does accurately list changes, it does not accurately explain why those changes were made.

Then listed things like:

It would appear the IPCC report changed 1.8 to 2.1 because 1.8 is 84% of 2.1. Similarly, it would appear 4.6 was changed to 6.1 because 4.6 is 76% of 6.1. This is wrong. The values in parentheses are the total damage, not the damage caused solely by changes to labor productivity. It appears the changes to the values for this paper were made to fix a problem which didn’t actually exist. The same is true for the change in temperature values (from 2.3°C to 2.9°C and 4.9°C to 5.4°C), which also have no basis in the paper cited by the IPCC report.

Meaning I clearly listed errors in the IPCC report, and the IPCC just ignored them... because... reasons? I really don't know. When the IPCC finally decided to respond after half a year, it included the remark:

Please let me know if you need more information.

But it's been about two weeks, and I haven't heard a word. I don't know if that's because it just takes them forever to get back to people or what, but... seriously? As I said in my response:

I accept there may be material in what I sent which is not necessarily relevant to your duties, but I find it difficult to believe that allows you to simply ignore the portions which are clearly relevant to your duties, just as I find it difficult to believe my failure to provide Page or Line numbers would. Even if they somehow did, I would imagine you could have sent a response to inform me of any problems so to allow things to progress in a reasonable manner.

The Page and Line numbers remark is due to the fact the e-mail I received said I should provide specific locations of errors, something I don't understand. It's true I didn't provide Page or Line numbers for the errors I referenced, but I explicitly stated which sections (section numbers always include chapter number), tables and figures I was referring to. They each appeared on like, one page. How much more specific could they need me to be?

So... yeah. I plan on rewriting my submission to the IPCC in a couple weeks and seeing if they'll respond this time. I won't hold my breath, but it should be interesting to see how things play out since the IPCC justified making a number of changes by claiming to have found errors when doing a fact check, but Tol's newest work I discuss in the new article I mentioned at the top of this post gives different numbers than the IPCC got on several counts. It'll be interesting to see if the IPCC continues to defend values which don't match Tol's work while citing his work as the source for those values.

Or if it, you know, just continues to violate its own policies and just ignore notifications of errors in its reports. Which apparently nobody really cares about? I mean, I know what I sent to the IPCC was fairly poorly written and all (I said as much at the time), but I'm still not sure how none of this is a story.

I mean, why don't any skeptics care the IPCC is just cool with flagrant violations of its own principles and policies? It seems like the sort of story they should be interested in.

3 comments

  1. Overall good article. However, I would consider striking phrases like "Even worse...".

    This is my opinion, but I think your article reads the strongest in the places where you omit the editorializing.

    Too bad, a cat fight broke out in the comments.

  2. Thanks Carrick. While I do agree about editoralizing in general, I can't agree in that case. I could maybe see using a different phrase, but some phrase was needed to indicate it even more remarkable than changes being made absent review is the fact they were made to promote the work of the person responsible for making them. That's so unusual I think it needs to be described as such.

    But honestly, I'm surprised the article came out anywhere near as well as it did. It wasn't intended as an article. I had been talking to a couple people about the fact Tol had flipped the sign of a data point again and how that was incredible. It was suggested one of us should write an article about it. I begged off, saying it seemed too minor a thing to write a whole story about.

    But then I decided to revisit an idea I had some time back - writing up all the problems with Tol's work. That would be a huge undertaking. Simply documenting all the versions of his data set would take quite a bit of effort, as there have been so many changes, and Tol has never bothered to document them, much less explain them (save for small remarks every here and there). While trying to figure out how much work it'd be, I created a timeline to make sure I remembered things properly. I sent it out suggesting if someone was going to write an article, they might find it useful as a reference. I then crashed from exhaustion.

    The next day, I woke up to find a couple e-mails suggesting my notes be used as an article. It turns out the way I wrote the timeline made for a great overview of the subject, with the latest development just giving the impetus for running it. I pretty much just added the three figures, rewrote a little text to incorporate them, and that was it. I never would have anticipated my sleep-deprived process of note taking would work as a form of article writing, but... hey, I guess it worked.

    As for the comments there, I'd be more bothered, but that site uses Disqus for its comments. I don't think a single comment on the page had anything to do with the article, but... Disqus. I'm not sure you can really make things worse when they begin in Disqus. It's like, yeah, maybe they vandalized the place, but it should be burned down anyway, so... eh?

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