Strange "Corrections"

I thought it would be best if I took a little break so I didn't write about how it is obscene Donald Trump got elected as the next President of the United States. I figured I'd use the break to do some research on a few issues and flesh out my notes on them. Part of that process was reviewing things I've looked at before to refresh my memory, get quotations and things like that.

It may not be apparent, but I spend way more time doing background work like that than I do on writing anything. I think most writers are that way. We just don't talk about it that often because it's just part of the "job." I only bring it up today because it explains why I came across something that is just weird.

You may recall a post I wrote a couple weeks ago. In it, I discussed how climate scientist Richard Betts, skeptic blogger Paul Matthews and the United Kingdoms Met Office all decided to say something that simply wasn't true.

This all began because a guy named Matt Ridley said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report six months after it released its Summary for Policymakers (SPM). He believes that is inappropriate. Richard Betts decided to take it upon himself to say Ridley was was wrong, getting the Met Office to which he belongs to issue a press release saying:

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

Before I move on, I want to point out two things. First, while Betts used this press release to say Ridley was wrong, for some reason, he chose not to mention Ridley by name or provide any link or reference that would let people see what Ridley actually said. I think that's obnoxious.

Second, the link given by the Met Office in that quotation is to a blog post by the skeptic blogger Paul Matthews. The Met Office decided to link to a skeptical blogger's website as proof of when the IPCC report was released. That's incredible. A national organization decided to just go with what some guy on the internet said.

Naturally, what he said was wrong. As my previous post demonstrates, the IPCC did not release its "main report" when Betts and the Met Office claim. What it released was a draft version of the report. Not only are draft versions of documents not the actual documents, the draft version of the IPCC report underwent a number of changes before the final report was released. A person who relied on the draft version Betts and the Met Office refer to as the actual report might well discover the actual report didn't say the say the same things.

I wrote my post about this, posted some messages on Twitter and commented at the Met Office website. Betts responded on Twitter:

Betts went on to say the "point" was blah, blah, blah, but given the Met Office press release intentionally hid any connection to the Matt Ridley lecture, I don't now how anyone would establish what the "point" really was. To me, it sufficed that Betts and the Met Office said something that was wrong, and Betts said he'd get it corrected. I was told the same thing at the Met Office website:

You are correct regarding the use of’published’ in this context. The chapter information was available at the time the SPM came out, not 6 months later, so it is more accurate to say “The final draft of main report was released on the same day as the SPM.” and the blog has been changed to reflect this.

I thought this was the end of it. I was confused as to why this person focused on the word "published" when I didn't say a word about that. I figured it didn't matter though as this Met Office representative clearly said it would be more accurate to say:

The final draft of main report was released on the same day as the SPM.

Which acknowledges the point I was making - what was released was a draft version of the report, not the final report. Given everybody had agreed only a draft version was released, and given two people directly told me a correction would or had been made, I thought that was the end of things. I thought that until today when I looked at that "correction":

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

It's bizarre. Despite what Betts and this Met Office representative told me, the error I pointed out was not corrected. Remember, the original text was:

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

All they did was change the word "published" to "released." I didn't say about that being an error. I said it was wrong to claim a "main report" had been released when all that was released was a draft version of the report. Betts and a Met Office representative agreed it was an error. Betts specifically said, "I'll get it updated to 'final draft.'" Instead, we get this, a correction which doesn't correct anything.

I don't now why this happened. Maybe it was some innocent error. Maybe these people thought they fixed the error even though they clearly didn't. Maybe they were being obstinate and refusing to fix what was an obvious error, to the point of lying to my face when saying they would. Maybe it was something else all together. I don't now. I don't really care. I don't think there was any nefariousness involved, but...

Come on guys!

Is this really the level of discourse we have? You don't like a lecture someone gives so you get national weather to issue a press release about it without once mentioning the person, his lecture or anything he said? You then rely on what some guy on the internet says to establish your facts, and when it is pointed out one of those facts is wrong you acknowledge the error, promise to correct it and instead make an completely unrelated alteration to your text?

I don't get it. It's funny though.

8 comments

  1. Hello Brandon,

    OK so you got my attention - but only because I'm waiting for the dishwasher to finish so I can unload it before I go to bed. 🙂

    You must be equally short of something better to do?

    I didn't mention anyone in particular because it wasn't just Mr Ridley that was saying this - you'll remember that I had a discussion with Steve McIntyre a while ago, and Anthony Watts had repeated Steve's claims, and although Mr Ridley had indeed brought it up in his talk, other commentators like James Delingpole had then picked up the point and run with it. Rather than list them all, a passive-aggressive "people are saying blah blah" is easier.

    Bit odd that a guy on the internet complains about a guy on the internet citing a guy on the internet to back up something he said on the internet. I didn't really need to cite Paul Matthews to show that the main report, sorry, final government draft of the main report, or whatever, came out the same day as the SPM. I know it came out then (I saw it happen) so didn't have to look anything up, but Paul's blog is one that I read and I remembered him noting it at the time. My thing was only a blog post, not a peer-reviewed paper, so me as a guy in the internet citing another guy on the internet seemed fine.

    And then when the other guy on the internet complained that I should have said "draft report" - which I still think is an unbelievably pedantic point, but being a fellow pedant I was happy to go along with it - I did indeed ask the press office to change it. I have no idea why they just changed "published" to "released", I suspect they probably just copied and pasted only part of my email request, but to be honest I really cannot be bothered to chase up to find out why. We all have other stuff to do.

    But whatever. Next time I write something I will do an extra proof-read and ask myself "What would Brandon think?"

    Except not this time, cos the dishwasher has now finished and it's past my bedtime. Please send any corrections to this comment on a postcard to me at the Met Office, it will be nice to hear from you.

    Cheerio

    Richard

  2. Richard Betts, the attitude in your comment is interesting, but I'm not going to respond to it for now. The simple reality is you said something that was untrue. I pointed out it was untrue. That should be the sum of it. Whatever our feelings about anything, incorrect statements should be corrected. When we say we will get an incorrect statement corrected, we should do so.

    I think we should all be able to agree on that, but until we make it clear we do, I'd rather not have exchanges get bogged down in other matters. I've long said if people can't come to terms on even the simplest of issues, it's unlikely they will be able to come to terms on more complex matters. If it's this much trouble to get a simple, indisputable error fixed, what hope should one have of getting substantial and meaningful errors corrected?

  3. By the way, for people reading Richard Betts's comment who aren't me, when he says:

    I didn't mention anyone in particular because it wasn't just Mr Ridley that was saying this - you'll remember that I had a discussion with Steve McIntyre a while ago, and Anthony Watts had repeated Steve's claims, and although Mr Ridley had indeed brought it up in his talk, other commentators like James Delingpole had then picked up the point and run with it. Rather than list them all, a passive-aggressive "people are saying blah blah" is easier.

    You might not remember what he's talking about. Despite his claims, I didn't remember this either. I don't know why I would. You can find the discussion and Anthony Watts's repetition of it here. What you'll find is on May 2nd of this year, Betts and McIntyre exchanged a number of tweets with one another. Apparently I will remember a brief exchange I had no involvement with on Twitter six months ago...?

    Mind you, the tweets were between the two of them, not broadcast to the public as a whole. You would see them if you followed both individuals or if you looked at their individual timelines. I did neither. I think I saw a couple of the tweets because of people re-posting them. If so, I didn't care about them and didn't pay much attention. I certainly wouldn't have remembered them under normal circumstances.

    The reason I bring this up is this was some minor Twitter exchange between two individuals six months ago. Betts had this press release published three days after Matt Ridley's lecture, and he tweeted it out in direct response to Ridley's lecture. I perceived this as a response to Ridleys lecture. When I indicated Betts should have mentioned what he was responding to, he justifies not doing so by referring to that Twitter exchange from six months ago.

    I get Betts feels I am being "pedantic" when I point out a draft version of the IPCC Report is not in fact the IPCC Report. I'm curious what he feels this justification of his should be described as. Personally, I find it difficult to believe a Twitter exchange six months ago means Betts shouldn't have bothered telling anyone what he was responding to. How many people reading the press release he saw would have even seen that exchange? How many would remember it with any clarity six months later?

  4. Richard Betts, I see you've decided not to confirm we do in fact agree on the simple standard I suggested we should be able to agree to. I think that is unfortunate, but hopefully it doesn't mean anything. Since you've instead decided to focus on a less important issue, I'll point out your response to me is misleading. You say:

    Mr Ridley mentioned my exchange with Steve McIntyre in his talk.

    Implying this should somehow mean I would know you had a discussion with McIntyre. Unfo0rtunately, you again choose not to quote Ridley, leaving the reader unable to judge your claim. I will remedy that. This is what Ridley said:

    At this point Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit drew attention to my vindication on twitter. Richard Betts, the Met Office’s twitter frequenter, protested that global greening was well known and had been referred to in the IPCC’s report.

    This does not say anything about a discussion between you and McIntyre. It refers to McIntyre saying something and you protesting it. That is not a discussion. A discussion would only happen if McIntyre responded back to you. He did so, but Ridley did not mention that. Expecting people to know McIntyre responded to you and a discussion followed simply because Ridley said you protested what McIntyre posted is entirely unreasonable.

    Based on Ridley's description, a person could not know McIntyre did anything more than provide a link to Ridley. Had you bothered to quote him, I suspect you would not have portrayed that description as meaning people should know you had a discussion with McIntyre.

  5. Hi again Brandon

    I agree that mistakes should be corrected. As a matter of principle, accuracy is very important. But I also recognise that it is important to prioritise, and part of the prioritisation process is - how consequential is this particular inaccuracy? My view is - not very. YMMV of course.

    Nevertheless, you are right that we should all strive for high standards. Tell you what - I need to speak to the press office today anyway, so since this is you (someone who's insights I often agree with, even though frustratingly pedantic sometimes!), while I am there I will ask if they can make the full correction. Since they are busy, they may or may not be able to prioritise this, so I can't promise anything will happen, but we'll do our best.

    FWIW I do agree that naming names might have made things clearer, although it would have taken longer to write (keeping it readable and not getting the comments of individuals mixed up). I will certainly bear this in mind in future!

    Cheers

    Richard

  6. Well actually that was done quite quickly! It now says "The final draft of the main report was released on the same day as the SPM"

    https://blog.metoffice.gov.uk/2016/10/20/discussion-of-land-ecosystem-changes-in-the-ipcc-5th-assessment-report/

    A nice side-effect of this was that it encouraged me to dig around more on the IPCC website, and I found the archived version of the actual Final Draft as released on 31st March 2015, so now we can see for sure what was actually released on that day. We've linked to it from the blog post.

    So thanks for bugging me on this.... 🙂

    Cheers

    Richard

  7. Richard Betts:

    I agree that mistakes should be corrected. As a matter of principle, accuracy is very important. But I also recognise that it is important to prioritise, and part of the prioritisation process is - how consequential is this particular inaccuracy? My view is - not very. YMMV of course.

    I don't think this was an important inaccuracy, but it was also one that should have been very easy to resolve. I didn't plan to write any blog posts about this. I had planned to just write a comment on the press release. I only wrote a post because I discovered even the IPCC portrayed the final draft as the actual report. That, combined with the other nonsense the IPCC pulled (discussed in that post) bugged me enough to write a post.

    I never expected to re-visit the topic, but then I saw the "correction" that got made. I've experienced this sort of thing so many times. I can name half a dozen cases in the last year alone where I pointed out an error and was told the error would be corrected only to have the "correction" do nothing to address what I said. It baffles me every time.

    Anyway, I'm glad that got fixed. For what it's worth, the previous draft versions of the WGII have also been posted online. I think the IPCC posted some of them (I believe all but the ZOD ones), but I know for sure somebody leaked them during the review process. I can post up any versions people might want to examine. I have no opinion on the coverage of greening, but I always support making information available.

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