False Allegations are Bad

A few days ago, an article was published saying a Summary for Policymakers to an upcoming major report has been changed to downplay risks of global warming. This has led to a rather strange argument, one aspect of which I'll discuss today. The article begins:

Warnings about the dangers of global warming are being watered down in the final version of a key climate report for a major international meeting next month, according to reviewers who have studied earlier versions of the report and its summary.

They say scientists working on the final draft of the summary are censoring their own warnings and “pulling their punches” to make policy recommendations seem more palatable to countries – such as the US, Saudi Arabia and Australia – that are reluctant to cut fossil-fuel emissions, a key cause of global warming. “Downplaying the worst impacts of climate change has led the scientific authors to omit crucial information from the summary for policymakers,” said one reviewer, Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

“However, if governments do not recognise the full scale and urgency of the risks, they may underestimate how critical it is to meet the goal of the Paris agreement on climate change. And that could have very serious knock-on effects in the battle to limit the impact of global warming.”

Bob Ward is the only named source for this article. Ward has said he was a reviewer for previous drafts but had no involvement with the last, final draft. None of these drafts have been officially published, but two draft versions of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) have been leaked online. You can find them here and here. The latter of these links is especially interesting as it provides annotations discussing changes which were made between these two versions of the report. The article in question listed as example cuts made to the SPM as including:

• Any mention that temperature rises of above 1.5C could lead to increased migrations and conflict;

From an annotation:

The January draft contained a section which mentioned increased impacts on human migration and conflict. "Global warming of 1.5C implies higher risks than today for the displacement of people, conflict, and surpassing limits to adaptation, though the level of risk is lower than at 2C global warming." This has been dropped from this report.

The annotation can be confirmed by comparing the text of the two drafts. The article offers two more examples in the same list, each of which can also be verified in this manner. After this the article appears to make a misstep by providing a quotation from a chapter of a draft version while claiming it had been in the SPM.

That pretty much sums up the article. I won't attempt to judge whether or not its argument is correct. It's possible the changes the article described were made but not for the stated reasons. It's also possible other changes were made which counteract the overall impact of these changes. Until the reports are released publicly in their entirety, I won't comment on that issue.

There is a different issue which I would like to comment on though. There are a number of issues worth discussing, but the crucial issue (to me) is the one which drew my attention to this article in the first place. It arose from a tweet by climate scientist Richard Betts:

This tweet caught my eye because it claimed an IPCC reviewer broke a confidentiality agreement:

Reviewer of IPCC report breaks confidentiality agreement by discussing drafts with the media before report is finalised.

Claiming a person leaked confidential documents is a pretty big deal. Naturally, I wanted to know who this reviewer was. When I clicked on the link, I went to the article which quotes Bob Ward and nobody else. Naturally, the implication was Ward leaked the material. Ward took issue with this, believing Betts had accused him of leaking confidential material:

To which Betts responded, continuing the implication:

To which Ward explained he saw leaked material not that he leaked it himself:

Betts denied having accused him, saying:

Ward responded by pointing out the obvious implication created since he was the only individual named in the article:

The article referred to multiple reviewers as sources, but it only named one. Betts responded to the article by saying a single reviewer broke a confidentiality agreement, linking to the article. Since Betts specified a single reviewer, without saying the reviewer was unknown, Ward took it as Betts saying the single, named reviewer is the one who broke a confidentiality agreement.

Did Betts directly state Ward leaked confidential material in that one tweet? No. it was the natural reading of his tweet, but it wasn't the only reading of his tweet. Of course, one might wonder why Betts didn't initially respond to Ward to say he wasn't accusing Ward (and in fact, doesn't appear to have ever done so) if he didn't want people to take his tweet as accusing Ward. Still, Betts didn't say Ward leaked anything even if his statements and behavior implied it. But then Betts responded to Ward by saying:

This is where the accusation becomes certainty. As Ward notes:

Betts does not dispute that his description applies to Ward. He can't. Ward was a reviewer of the previous versions of the draft. Betts said a reviewer leaked confidential material. When questioned who that statement was referring to, Betts directly stated he was referring to a description, a description which undeniably applies to Ward.

This is basic logic. I say that because when I explained this to Betts on Twitter, he first tried to dodge by saying he didn't name Ward, to which I responded:

Again, Betts did not dispute that description applies to Ward. He can't because it clearly does. Instead, he tweeted:

Betts is right. That was my conclusion, a conclusion I reached by reading what Betts wrote and applying a bit of simple logic:

That wasn't the best wording (so sue me, it's Twitter), but it's undeniable Ward was one of the "reviewers who have studied earlier versions of the report and its summary," as described by the article. Betts directly stated that is what he was referring to when he leveled his claim of breaking a confidentiaility agreement. This is basic logic. But if you ask Betts:

Notice, Betts doesn't say I'm wrong. He doesn't deny having accused Ward of breaking a confidentiality agreement. He doesn't deny that the only way to read his statements is that Ward broke a confidentiality agreement. All he does is say he didn't name ward then get huffy and unresponsive when people show he accused Ward without using Ward's name.

As a final note, another climate scientist, Jim Bouldin, decided to jump in at the end. This tweet of his is too funny not to include:

Remember those links I provided to draft versions of the summary of the report? One is dated February 13th, 2018. The other is dated June 27th, 2018. You can find both articles with a simple Google search. But apparently it is "ludicrous" to say the documents contained in them have been available for months...?

I don't have an explanation for any of this. All I can say is false allegations are bad. If you're going to accuse a person of doing something serious like breaking a confidentiality agreement, you ought to be direct with your accusation and offer some sort of evidence for it. Dancing around with an, "I didn't actually name him!" routine is ludicrous.

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