Bickering and Checking Sources, Part Two

Yesterday's post highlighted a bit of the petty nature of some disputes regarding a recent lecture given by one Matt Ridley. It also took note of how people can get basic facts wrong even though anyone who bothered to check the cited sources would know better. In fact, if one had checked the cited sources, they'd find one didn't even exist.

I thought that would be that. I didn't plan to revisit the topic. However, I recently saw a couple things I couldn't ignore. It started with this tweet on Twitter:

The article it links to is important, but a couple additional tweets will help explain why. First is this response from climate scientist Richard Betts:

And:

This seems great and all, with a climate scientist explaining to a "skeptic" how they were wrong and everyone coming to an agreement. The problem is the climate scientist is wrong. What he says simply is not true. It is also not true when the article I said is important repeats this claim:

The main report was published on the same day as the SPM.

This is from the Met office (to which Betts belongs), the national weather service for the United Kingdoms. It plays an important role in the global warming debate. It's also completely wrong.

When checking if something we read is true, the first step should be to check the sources provided along with the claim. That means clicking on the link the Met Office provided. When we do, we find it doesn't go to a press release or news article announcing the release of the "main report" for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II report. It doesn't even go to an article. The link is:

https://ipccreport.wordpress.com/2014/03/

If you're familiar with how WordPress blog URLs tend to be formatted, you'll recognize this is not a link to a specific page or source. It's a link to all blog posts published on that site in March (03) of 2014. That's a little odd, but the first blog post listed is titled:

IPCC Working Group II Report published

Which was published on March 31st, 2014, saying:

IPCC Working group II, “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” has today published its Summary for Policymakers. The main report has also been published, divided into two volumes: Volume 1, the first 20 chapters, is on global effects and Vol 2 (chapters 21-30) is on regional aspects.

This would seem to confirm both the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) and "main report" were published at the same time. It seems that way because the author made a mistake. That's not exactly surprising. It is a blog post. Blog posts often contain errors. That is why one would expect the Met Office to use something more substantive than, "A guy on the internet said so."

For instance, the Met Office could have relied upon an IPCC press release, which said:

YOKOHAMA, Japan, 31 March – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report today that says the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate. The report also concludes that there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.

The report, titled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, from Working Group II of the IPCC, details the impacts of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks.

Huh. That confirms what the blogger said, right? Wrong. This press release by the IPCC is just as wrong as the press release by the Met Office. It's actually rather troubling. You see, with this press release the IPCC told everybody it was publishing the report hundreds or thousands of scientists had worked on for years. This was misleading.

The SPM was released on March 31st, 2014. However, look at the header attached to any of the documents released along with it. Here's one:

10_22_header

This header clearly refers to the release on March, 2014. It also clearly says, "FINAL DRAFT." Draft versions of a report are not the report. That is why you'll see a footer on each document like:

10_22_footer

Which clearly says the material is "Subject to Final Copyedit." That is, the draft version is not the final report. It is not the "main report." It is just a draft version of the "main report." The "main report" wasn't released until six months later, on October 15th, 2014.

Now, some people might argue this is a technicality. That's not a defense. The Met Office is a scientific organization which provided a press release for the media to tell them a person was wrong in which it said the "main report" was published along with the SPM. That is false. The reality is the main report wasn't published for six more months. All that was published was a draft version.

Still, maybe one could forgive the Met Office for being technically wrong. One could perhaps excuse Richard Betts for saying he helped get this main report released on March 31st. After all, the final draft was only "Subject to Final Copyedit." Copyedits shouldn't involve any substantial changes, right? Wrong.

Or at least, kind of wrong. A final copyedit shouldn't cause any substantial changes. That is correct. What is wrong is the IPCC did make substantial changes. To consider one, I'll quote an article by Bob Ward (you may remember him from the last post) published on October 17th, 2014:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has corrected a controversial claim that small amounts of global warming could have overall positive economic impacts, after I pointed out that it was based on inaccurate information.

The final version of the IPCC’s report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability was published without fanfare on the web this week, including a chapter on Key Economic Sectors and Services.

The final draft of the chapter, which was published in April, featured a section on the aggregate economic impacts of climate change, containing the statement: “Climate change may be beneficial for moderate climate change but turn negative for greater warming.”

But the version published this week omits the statement because it was based on faulty data.

I quoted this specific article for two reasons. First, Ward gets things correct by distinguishing between the "final draft" and the "final version" of the IPCC WGII report. That is what the Met Office should have done. That is what Richard Betts should have done. If they had done this, they wouldn't have said Matt Ridley was wrong on this issue, and they wouldn't have wasted my time.

Yes, I am a bit annoyed they couldn't be bothered to get such a simple point right. That's because these same people were involved in the IPCC process so they should know better. But hey, the IPCC said the same thing they have, so I guess we can't fault them too much. Or maybe we should. Maybe we should fault them even more for failing to call out the IPCC when it misled people.

Whatever. I'll stop moralizing. Let's look at the second reason I quoted this specific article. That reason is this article points out a significant change in one section of the IPCC WGII Report. People familiar with this site may recognize what this is referring to. I've written about it and the sordid history behind it a number of times. I'll quote a post I published the same day Ward published his:

I've previously documented changes in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) which were made absent any external review.... It is difficult to see how a review process can be "open and transparent" if significant changes are made absent any review. It is difficult to see how a review process can "ensure complete coverage of all content" when entire sections are (re)written absent any review.

I'm not going to dwell on that today though. The changes I discussed before were between various drafts of the IPCC report. Today, I'm going to discuss changes made between the "Final Draft" and "final version" of the IPCC WGII report. The Final Draft was released to the public on March 31st with this word of caution:

"The Final Draft Report has to be read in conjunction with the document entitled “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Working Group II Contribution to the IPCC 5th Assessment Report — Changes to the Underlying Scientific/Technical Assessment” to ensure consistency with the approved Summary for Policymakers (IPCC-XXXVIII/DOC.3) presented to the Panel at its 38th Session. This document lists the changes necessary to ensure consistency between the full Report and the Summary for Policymakers, which was approved line-by-line by Working Group II and accepted by the Panel at the above-mentioned Sessions. A listing of substantive edits additionally indicates corrections of errors for the Final Draft Report."

But has been widely treated as being the "IPCC Report." The actual final version was only published two days ago, on October 15th. It has changes as indicated would be made in that disclaimer. The list of "substantive edits" is available here. An errata listing several minor changes is available here. A list of changes necessary for consistency with the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) is available here. That these documents are made publicly available suggests a genuine interest in transparency. That suggestions is completely undermined, however, by the multitude of changes the documents don't mention.

The post then goes on to detail a number of substantial changes one section of the IPCC WGII Report underwent, concluding:

I don't claim this discussion has been exhaustive. There are likely other examples of undisclosed changes to be found. There is certainly more to be said about this one section. For now though, I'm content with what I've shown here. The Final Draft of the IPCC WGII Report has been out for nearly seven months. It has been used by the public and media as "the IPCC Report." And yet, we now see substantial changes were made to it before the official final version was published, changes made without any disclosure, explanation or transparency. To add to the strangeness, we see such changes were made to a section, figure and table which were never reviewed in the first place as they were added to the IPCC report only after the last round of reviews.

One could easily believe the apparent need for inexplicable and undisclosed changes wouldn't be necessary if the IPCC would bother to have "a comprehensive review of [its] reports" where "experts not involved in the preparation of" material actually reviewed what went into the report.

But that might require a review process which is "objective, open and transparent."

Everything I said in that post was true. There was an interesting oddity though. Sometime after I wrote the post, the IPCC updated the documents I linked to in it which I had said failed to disclose these changes. The new versions of the documents list some, but not all, of the changes. The reasons given for the changes range from unhelpful to false. Even worse, each one is given with an entry in the Date column:

15-Oct-14

While not providing any other date for the update. The result is readers viewing the documents would likely think they had been updated on October 15th, 2014, the same day as the "main report" was released. This would likely make them wonder why I referred to "secret" and "undisclosed" changes when a number of the changes I referred to were included in these documents.

I bring that up partially because secret changes to documents are a pet peeve of mine (see this recent post of mine for an example), but mostly because I want to demonstrate how basic facts can be misperceived because people are not honest and up front.

Mind you, I don't think these people are trying to be nefarious. I think they just don't worry about getting all the little details correct. If a press release says a report is being released when all that's actually being released is a draft report, who cares? Nobody is going to push back against the IPCC for it. Why would they? It's just a technicality.

Only, we see now why these sort of things matter. Here we are, two years later, with a dispute about basic facts that arises solely because the IPCC and other people didn't worry about getting the details right. Richard Betts didn't worry about warning people the "final draft" would be different from the "final version" so they shouldn't rely upon it. The Met Office didn't either. Instead, they talked to everybody about the "final draft" as though it was the real report.

By the way, before anyone asks, I have brought up my concerns with the IPCC. Initially, I was ignored. When I finally got a response, I was told my concerns about changes to the IPCC report being made absent any external review were not their concern as it wasn't considered an "error" for such changes to be made. I was told that even though I explicitly pointed out errors that resulted from these changes.

Oh, and after I was dismissed out-of-hand, I was told I should let the IPCC know if I needed more information. I tried doing so. They ignored me again. Apparently the IPCC approach to handling situations like this is, "Ignore them and hope they go away." It worked. This is all so petty and stupid I'll admit I gave up. That goes for today's topic too

Come on guys. That's you Richard Betts. That's everyone at the Met Office too. It's Paul Matthews as well, the "skeptic" blogger the Met Office relied upon for their false claim. You're all better than this. Don't waste people's time getting basic facts wrong.

18 comments

  1. I remember, as a child, in the early to mid 60's, going to the fields in my village, here in Punjab, India, and seeing ground frost during the winter.
    Kids nowadays do not even know what ground frost is.

    I do not understand the mumbo jumbo of Climate Scientists nor their ISO compliances. All I care about is ground realities. Based on ground realities, I do not understand why climate change is being denied.

  2. Kuldip Singh, I can't speak to the specific changes of your area, but I will say the planet's climate is changing. Humans are playing a not insignifican role in causing these changes. I am quite critical of anyone who denies that. I don't know who or what you have in mind when you refer to climate change being denied.

    That said, I find it interesting you say children of your area don't even know what ground frost is. I took a look at weather reports for your area, and a number of sources referred to ground frost happening. I mention this because at the same time, I read temperatures generally don't reach below five degrees Celsius in winter. I'm not sure how that works. I don't know if these were bad sources or if ground frost can happen without temperatures in the area dropping below zero.

    Maybe you or someone else here can provide insight. I'll admit I don't know much about what conditions are needed for ground frost to form.

  3. Peter Green, aye. That sort of things seems obvious to me. It worries me when my standards would be higher than that of professional climate scientists out to save the world from a major threat (their portrayal, not mine). That's actually the main reason I don't trust their conclusions.

    MikeN, part of it is just that I didn't care to deal with the stonewalling. The other part was I realized nobody cared. The changes I draw attention to here are proof the IPCC process is messed up in a serious way, with its authors being able to modify the IPCC text in major ways without any external review just to promote their own work. "Skeptics" don't care though. They don't care because this was done by Richard Tol, to promote his work which they like. People on the other side don't care because they want to support the IPCC regardless of its flaws.

    I'm not an advocate. I'm not trying to change the world. I spend my time on things like this because I want to learn. One of the best ways for me to learn is to have discussions. If nobody is interested in a topic, I can't have a discussion. That means I won't learn that way. I won't learn from pounding my head against a bureaucratic wall either. The only thing that will teach me is what I already know - the IPCC uses a bad approach to creating reports which it will defend with bureaucratic obstinance.

    It's actually a bit of a shame. There were a number of things I discovered that would have have been fun to discuss. For instance, I found one change in the IPCC AR4 that was made for no apparent reason. It was made between drafts, and no reviewer called for it. No reviewer even commented on it. The change wasn't supported by the literature cited in the report, but it was subtle enough people wouldn't notice that without looking closely. This then got carried over into the AR5 without any further justification added. The result is the IPCC AR5 says something apparently for no other reason than some guy changed the AR4 text in an unjustified way between drafts.

    I should see if I can find my notes on that. It might be worth writing up some time just for the peculiarity.

  4. Hi Brandon, thanks for this. I'll get it changed to say 'final draft. It doesn't affect the key point that the relevant info in the chapters was available when the SPM was released.
    Cheers
    Richard Betts

  5. Richard Betts, it's interesting you told everybody Matt Ridley was wrong when he was in fact right, and now that you've admitted you were wrong, you still claim to be right. It's an interesting way to approach discussions.

    You can decide the "key point" is whatever you want. The reality is the IPCC AR5 WGII report was not published until six months after the SPM, and no journalist could have cited it. The only defense for your "key point" is journalists could have (and in fact did) irresponsibly cite a draft version of the report (usually while falsely claiming it was the actual report). This is questionable at best as anything they cited could have changed.

    You may view this issue as a "technicality" as you expect journalists to engage in irresponsible behavior, but I think reasonable people can disagree.

  6. By the way, I should point out this "key point" was never mentioned prior to this post being written. Betts's tweets said:

    Yes the post says it's me! BTW I link to your blog Paul: main WG2 report was released on same day as SPM, not "6 months later" as MR claimed

    And:

    Yes, there used to be a delay. In AR5, I was one of those who pushed to get main report released at same time as SPM.

    There's not a word about what matters being what information was available. That idea is also absent from what was released for the press, which merely stated:

    The main report was published on the same day as the SPM.

    This is the sort of thing what I'm referring to when I say these disputes are nothing but petty bickering. Betts didn't quote Matt Ridley. Betts didn't specify what the "key point" was. All he did was go around telling people Ridley was wrong. What was Ridley wrong about? If we take Betts's words at their face value, nothing. Apparently we aren't supposed to do that though. Anyone who points out what Betts actually wrote was wrong will just get told something like, "Yeah, but what I wrote doesn't matter because this 'key point' I never specified is still true."

    This is not how people should handle disputes. If you think someone is wrong, quote what they say and explain how it is wrong in a direct fashion. If you can't be bothered to do that, you aren't responding to what people say. That's exactly what we see here. Notice, when Betts wrote his post for the press at the Met Office site, he didn't once refer to, much less quote, Ridley even though the post was written entirely to trash the position Ridley advanced. That's not a genuine attempt at having a discussion.

    But hey, it's not like this matters. Who cares if people can't behave in a professional and reasonable manner? I mean, it's not like global warming is the greatest threat to civilization or anything.

  7. I understand. I was just reminded of what happened in other instances of stonewalling where people did not give up.

  8. MikeN, I do regret giving up on it. If "skeptics" (or anyone else) had been interested in even the slightest, I wouldn't have. I'm bothered enough by all this to put the effort into pursuing it. I'm just not willing to spend dozens of hours pursuing an issue so I can have everyone ignore it.

    I mean, I've had multiple people tell me they think I am right but that they won't say so in public. One even told me I shouldn't criticize Richard Tol's work or his changes to the IPCC report because it's bad for the "cause." The same person told me it was in my self-interest to stop. Another person said they wouldn't talk to me because of me pointing out these things, regardless of whether or not they're true.

    What's the point? There's no argument. Nobody says I'm wrong about any point I make. Even the IPCC didn't. All anyone says is, "We don't care, and you're a stupidfaced jerk." I don't see how anything can come from continuing to engage with that.

  9. Perhaps you've missed my point. I doubt it since you are aware of things I'm alluding to. I'm saying even if people don't care about the issue, a surprise could occur.

  10. 1. "Mind you, I don't think these people are trying to be nefarious. I think they just don't worry about getting all the little details correct. If a press release says a report is being released when all that's actually being released is a draft report, who cares? Nobody is going to push back against the IPCC for it. Why would they? It's just a technicality.

    2. "Peter Green, aye. That sort of things seems obvious to me. It worries me when my standards would be higher than that of professional climate scientists out to save the world from a major threat (their portrayal, not mine). That's actually the main reason I don't trust their conclusions."

    3. "You'll just have to ignore things like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), commonly said to provide the "consensus position" on global warming. I've discussed what it says regarding temperature change over this century on this site before. I'll quote that post:

    Projections of future warming depend on two things: 1) The level of future greenhouse gases; 2) The planet's sensitivity to greenhouse gases.

    The former is described by Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs), estimates of how greenhouse gas levels might evolve in the future. These are given in the form of RCPx, where x is the change in radiative forcing from pre-industrial times to 2100. The IPCC uses four RCPs: RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6 and RCP8.5. Of these, only RCP2.6 requires prompt, aggressive action.

    Once you've chosen an RCP, there is still the question of the planet's sensitivity. I won't delve into that save to point out the IPCC gives the likely range for the sensitivity as 1.5-4.5°C. You can't simply ignore that level of uncertainty.

    Regardless, I'll just accept the IPCC's values. That's convenient because the IPCC gives estimated temperature changes for each RCP as of 2100. The IPCC has this to say about the worst case scenario, RCP8.5:

    Warming above 4°C by 2081–2100 is unlikely in all RCPs (high confidence) except RCP8.5. Under the latter, the 4°C global temperature level is exceeded in more than half of ensemble members, and is assessed to be about as likely as not (medium confidence).

    And that's in reference to temperatures of 1850-1900. Even the IPCC agrees there's basically no chance we'll see 4°C of warming relative to current temperatures (by 2100), even in the worst case scenario. We certainly won't see 5°C of warming. Moreover, plenty of climate scientists think RCP8.5 is unrealistic, saying RCP6 is more like what we'd see with no climate related policies. If they're right, there's no chance we'll see even 4°C of warming by 2100. None at all."

    getting details right?

    "Of these, only RCP2.6 requires prompt, aggressive action."

    Looks like you should go back to the original site where you made that comment and make amends.

    Recall, that you have , in prior cases, demanded that people go back to the original sites where they make errors to do corrections.

    it would be nice if everything everyone said or wrote was in git.

  11. MikeN, I understand your point, and I don't disagree. Pursuing things like this might lead to interesting discoveries despite the possibilitty nobody but me would care about them. I just don't have the motivation to find out. Being able to talk to other people about it so I could bounce ideas off people and get feedback would help me come up with that motivation.

    Similarly, I know it is possible interesting things could come about due to my efforts even if nobody is interested in anything I write about them (that I can tell). That possibility just doesn't give me much motivation.

    There are a ton of things I can spend my time on. I choose topics based mostly on how interesting I find them. Social interaction makes things more interesting for me. That's all.

  12. Steven Mosher, you made a somewhat similar comment on a previous thread. I had no idea what point you might be trying to make then, and I have no idea what point you might be trying to make now. If you have some point you wish to express, please try writing it out so people can have a chance to understand what point you might be trying to make.

  13. I get the point he is trying to make, about RCP 2.6, I just don't know what comment of yours he is talking about.

  14. If you have any idea as to anything of what point he is trying to make, I'd love to hear it. I made a correct observation - only the RCP2.6 scenario requires immediate, drastic action be taken to reduce emissions. None of the other RCPs do. Twice Mosher has commented to portray that as wrong, yet he hasn't done anything to explain how it is wrong. I'm confident he'd be unable to because I've actually read what assumptions go into each RCP and none of the others involve immediate, drastic action.

  15. Brandon, I don't know where you made this observation, and without seeing it I am just guessing.

    I had to double check the RCP scenarios because I didn't think anyone could be this dumb.
    If I saw a published paper or blog comment that said 'only RCP 2.6 requires immediate drastic action',
    I would immediately conclude the guy is wrong because the other RCPs have higher levels of emissions.
    So if 2.6 requires immediate action, then so do the others.

    I'll guess that you meant something with a reverse causation, RCP 2.6 is caused by climate policy.

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