Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

BBC interview: global warming pause, climate sceptics, long timescales

September 27, 2013

I was interviewed by Matt McGrath from the BBC last week, as were several other Dutch climate spokespeople (including PBL’s senior scientist Arthur Petersen and skeptical science writer/journalist Marcel Crok). Short parts of these interviews have appeared on the web  and on Radio 4 (“The World Tonight”, 26-09). Below I try to provide a bit of context to my quotes.

Both pieces are centred, as is fashionable these days, on the apparent smaller rate of surface warming in the past 15 years. The web piece is entitled “Climate sceptics claim warming pause backs their view”. Of course they claim it does. What sceptics did achieve –credit where credit is due- is to put this so-called “pause” on the agenda of mainstream media, until it got so fashionable that they all feel forced to use it as an anchor for any reporting on climate. But, as Gavin Schmidt is quoted as saying:

focus on a global warming pause over the past 15 years is a “misplaced” distraction that misses the big picture. He said, “The IPCC and the issue of climate change is not about the weather next year or the next five years; it’s about the long-term climate change that we are engendering.”

See also this useful figure from Stefan Rahmstorf, underscoring the silliness of drawing all too strong conclusions from 15-year trends.

giss2012c - Rahmstorf - Global temp with two silly trendlines

Figure showing NASA GISS global average temperatures with trendlines from 1992-2006 (light blue) and 1998-2012 (green) as well as the most recent 30-year trend in red. Naturally, starting in a very cold volcano-influenced or very warm El Nino influenced year will inflate or deflate the trend. (source: Stefan Rahmstorf)

I am quoted in the BBC piece as follows:

Bart Verheggen is an atmospheric scientist and blogger who supports the mainstream view of global warming. He said that sceptics have discouraged an open scientific debate.

“When scientists start to notice that their science is being distorted in public by these people who say they are the champions of the scientific method, that could make mainstream researchers more defensive.

“Scientists probably think twice now about writing things down. They probably think twice about how this could be twisted by contrarians.”

The discussion was about to what extent climate science isn’t open/transparent enough, as contrarians routinely claim. Matt also asked to what extent skeptics actually play a positive role in making science more open/transparent and more self-critical. I said ideally they would. People who are critical usually have a good influence that way. But many climate contrarians don’t just stop at raising partly valid criticism, but go on to distort the science. That has the opposite influence, as scientists noticing this behavior become more careful and more defensive, and(have to) think ahead how their words might get twisted by contrarians. So they may become less open and less frank, and more careful in how they chose their words.

That is the opposite of what contrarians claim they want to achieve, so it’s quite ironic (though entirely logical) that this is the more likely effect of their behavior. It shows quite a lack of self-awareness on their part that they don’t see how their actions and their behavior affect the dynamics of the public debate. For the worse, in most –though not all- cases.

There may also be some lack of self-awareness among the mainstream that they respond in a way that’s not conducive to a long-term open and frank dialogue with society. From an older comment of mine:

If the valid criticisms wouldn’t be packaged in such conspiratorial/accusative/exaggerated (c/a/e) ways, they would be welcomed much more than they currently are. The art that mainstream scientists and their defenders must learn is to take the valid parts of the criticisms and deal with/respond to them, and leave the c/a/e packaging for what it is. That is increasingly difficult because the critics and their supporters will try to keep the c/a/e in (presumably because this packaging is what is most effective at decreasing the scientists’ credibility and sowing doubt). That dynamic needs to be broken. It needs effort from both sides, as difficult and unfair as it sounds.

As I wrote in my earliest (and still rather positive) reflection on the Curry-turn:

There is a tendency of ‘circling the wagons’ within the scientific community, in response to the continuous attacks on the science. Attacks that are mostly based on smear and insinuation rather than solid arguments. (…) I think the ’us-versus-them’ feeling amongst many scientists and their supporters is understandable (as a reaction to the contrarian c/a/e attacks on the science), but counterproductive in the long run.

In the Radio 4 show (at ~33:50 min in; earlier in the downloadable mp3 version), I am saying a few things about the timescale of the problem and of the solution. I brought this up when the discussion was about whether we now have more time to respond to climate change. This is a vastly underappreciated point in the climate discussion:  The climate system will take much longer to cool down than it did to warm up. This is a consequence of how the carbon cycle works. In this context, I said the following:

We’re going somewhere, and if we don’t like where we’re going, we have to turn that wheel in time.  As when you’re on a giant supertanker on the ocean, you can’t say “oh, I’ll wait until I can feel the iceberg with my pinkie and then I’ll turn the wheel”. Then you’re a bit late, so you have to start doing that in time. That’s the other side of the coin. But if you keep banging the drum saying “it’s five to twelve! It’s five to twelve!” doesn’t work either. And that could be counter-effective to engage those who are a bit more skeptical.

Global warming is a problem in slow-motion, hence the “five to twelve” line is not the most useful one to get people on their feet, because if it remains five to twelve for too long, they will tune you out. That’s what happened in the aftermath of COP15 in Copenhagen for example (where the 5-to-12 line was used a lot, and not much has changed in the years since). The supertanker analogy is more appropriate I find, since that makes clear that even though the problematic situation that’s on your path isn’t in close proximity yet, it is necessary to change course, if you wish to avoid it.


The fallacy of the middle ground

August 5, 2013

There’s been quite some climate discussion in the Political Science section of the Guardian lately. Warren Pearce had an invited post in which he asked the rhetorical question “Are climate sceptics the real champions of the scientific method?

He makes some good observations about the dynamics of the public debate and the nature of skepticism (e.g. most contrarians don’t deny the basic physics underlying the greenhouse effect, but rather dispute the magnitude of warming that would result from an increased greenhouse effect). On the other hand, he misses the mark in other areas (e.g. he correctly describes how contrarians see themselves but doesn’t investigate how their argumentation really stacks up; often they are guilty of what they accuse mainstream science of).

My main beef with his piece though is his flawed argument of why a well-known contrarian blogger like Anthony Watts, according to Pearce, should be seen as someone who “seeks to uphold standards, through transparent and auditable scientific practice” and “a ‘mainstream’ sceptic who can challenge key areas of climate science without entering into pseudoscience”. Why this praise? Because Watts publicly disagreed with the fringe group Principia Scientific who deny the basic physics underlying the greenhouse effect (which was first established in the 19th century).

That is not a logical argument to make though: Regardless of what one may think of Watts, contrasting an extremist with someone who is even more extreme doesn’t make him mainstream. Regardless of what one thinks of Watts, contrasting someone who frequently flirts with pseudoscience with an all-out pseudo-science lover doesn’t free the former from any link with pseudo-science.

That is what I would call the fallacy of the middle ground.


Revkin on Steig, O’Donnell, peer review and solid scientific basics

February 12, 2011

Andy Revkin wrote a good overview of the recent kerfuffle between Eric Steig and Ryan O’Donnell. His piece is centred around contrasting the conflicting views at the edge of the scientific development with the well understood basics of scientific knowledge that makes up the big picture:

I also hope that tussles at the edges of understanding, where data are scant or uncertainty is high, don’t distract the public too much from the basics of climate science, which are boringly undisputed yet still speak of a rising risk that sorely needs addressing.

That’s a very important point to make, and I applaud Revkin for doing so. Media attention to new results (which are usually disputed to a certain extent) can sometimes lead to a skewed picture of the scientific knowledge in the field as a whole, which tend to be underreported. That’s why Revkin’s framing here is important, as it drives home the fact that a dispute at the edge of knowledge (spatial statistics as applied to Antarctic temperature trends) does not mean that the whole theory of climate change is suddenly disputed. Revkin:

Everything laid out above tends to draw attention away from the broad and deep body of work pointing to a growing and long-lasting human influence on the climate system.

Revkin does however exhibit a misunderstanding of peer review when he writes:

The exchanges between Steig and O’Donnell do raise questions about peer review, given that Steig has said he was an early anonymous reviewer (…)

This got quite a few people riled up. I wrote in to state that I think it still is a

Very good article, and good to see attention to detail not go at the cost of also providing the context of what is known.

One comment:
You say this all argument raises questions about peer review. But in fact, it is completely normal, or expected even, that authors whose paper is being critized are one of the reviewers. They are most familiar with the issues, plus it enables the editor to hear both sides.

Of course the editor needs to be aware of the position of this reviewer as the one being critiqued and weigh the review accordingly with other reviews from more disinterested parties. Revkin has since posted Louis Derry’s response, an editor of a geosciences journal:

1. Editors make final decisions. Reviewers make recommendations only.

2. It is common for a submission that critiques previous work to be sent to the author of the critiqued work for review. 2a. That emphatically does NOT mean the reviewer has veto power. It means that his/her opinion is worth having. Such a choice is usually balanced by reviewers that editors believe are reasonably independent, and the review of the critiqued is weighted accordingly. Suggestions that asking Steig to review O’Donnell was somehow unethical are utterly without support in normal scientific practice. Obviously, Steig did not have veto power over O’Donnell’s paper.

3. The fact that O”Donnell’s paper went through several rounds of review is absolutely unsurprising and unexceptional. Many papers on far less public topics do the same.

4. Some have questioned why Stieig 09 got “more” visibility than O’Donnell 10. The answer is simple. Steig had a “result,” O”Donnell had a technical criticism of methodology.

He also chimes in about the importance of the context as provided by Revkin:

Finally, Revkin’s point that the Steig vs O’Donnell debate is not unusual in the progress of science and does not have much of anything to say about the majority of the evidence is correct. Disagreement about how to model the flight of a Frisbee correctly doesn’t imply that basic aerodynamics are wrong. Disagreement about how many EOFs [empirical orthogonal functions] to use to model Antarctic [temperature] changes doesn’t imply that climate physics is wrong.

The Frisbee comment reminded me of one of my favorite sayings: Observing a bird in the sky doesn’t disprove gravity. The science may not be settled, but solid it is.

Some more things have been said about peer review by others. E.g. Andrew “Bishop Hill” Montford writes in the Hockeystick illusion, page 205 (h/t Tim Lambert):

As the CC [Climatic Change] paper was critical of his work, McIntyre was invited to be one of the peer reviewers.

 Guess we can all agree on that aspect of peer review now.

Update: John Nielsen-Gammon has some useful things to say about peer review here (on revealing the identity of reviewer), here (retelling the story and why it makes sense to have had Steig as a reviewer; quoting Steig; interesting dicussion), and here (explaining the dynamics of peer review and making the interesting suggestion of mentoring  relative outsiders navigate peer review).

The Food Gap predicts 2.4 degrees by 2020? I don’t think so.

January 20, 2011

The Food Gap study by an Argentinian NGO contains an embarrassing mistake: As its first key finding, it sais:

Following the current business-as-usual path, by 2020: The temperature of the planet would be, at least, 2.4ºC warmer.

This is of course patently wrong, and it only takes a quick look at the IPCC projections to figure that out. Which makes it doubly embarrassing, since as the first guiding principle they state: 

The analysis is based on the scientific evidence and conclusions from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4).

The Guardian has the story; Realclimate has the scientific context.

Now of course this is being spun as if it’s alarmist propaganda gone wrong. Even the otherwise sensible Keith seems to frame it that way. No organization that wants to be taken seriously though would knowingly put in a glaring error like that, as it clearly blows away any credibility they may have had. The most likely explanation is that they honestly believed their own calculation. 

What can be learnt from this:

- Make sure you have the required expertise to write your story, and if you don’t, get people with such expertise to advise you. Base yourself on a proper reading of the relevant literature and/or on people who do.

- If people alert you to an error, check it (or let it be checked), and then fix it, even if that means postponing a deadline or changing something for the gazzilionth time.

Their refusal to correct their mistake after it was pointed out to them is flabbergasting. How stubborn, how stupid. I hope they learnt their lesson.

Moving the debate forward: Tom Fuller’s league of 2.5

October 21, 2010

Tom Fuller has an interesting proposition:

I nominate 2.5C as a working definition of sensitivity until we get better data and start making plans accordingly.

He also aired it over at WUWT in slightly different terms:

So, I call for all those involved in the climate debate to throw down their weapons, embrace this practical solution [presumably referring to climate sensitivity being 2.5] as being of use to the rest of the world, climb aboard the Peace Train and sing Kumbaya. Right.

Ok, all together now: Kumbaya!!

I interpret his ‘motion’ as suggesting: Let’s assume that climate sensitivity is 2.5 deg C per doubling of CO2 and move the discussion to how we’re going to deal with that in terms of mitigation and adaptation.

This movement of the debate to the policy sphere is close to what I suggested to Fuller over a year ago, when I wrote:

Let’s distinguish the following main issues:
- To what extent is climate change occurring, and to what extent is it man-made?
- To what extent is that (going to be) a problem?
- What can or should we do about it?


The ‘next generation questions’ in my view relate to the last one: How are we going to deal with this?



Any realistic change in our scientific understanding is not going to change the needed policy response, at least not in the short to medium term (~decades). As Herman Daly noted: “If you jump out of an airplane you need a crude parachute more than an accurate altimeter.”

Climate sensitivity.

Tom gets at the 2.5 number by using the Mauna Loa time series for CO2 and comparing its 19% increase with the 0.5 deg C temperature increase over the same time period. Obviously there are some major issues with this approach:

- The net climate forcing is only poorly known because of large uncertainties in aerosol forcing. (Aerosol forcing is close, but opposite in sign, to that of the other greenhouse gases, so accidentally the net forcing is close to the CO2 forcing, though with a very large uncertainty dominated by the aerosol effects.)

- The climate hasn’t fully responded to the current climate forcing yet, as it takes time to equilibrate (mainly due to ocean thermal inertia). This reflects the warming in the pipeline.

- Temperature depends logarithmically on CO2; not linearly.

Nevertheless, his approach more or less accidentally arrives at a very decent estimate, which is right in the ballpark of more accurate estimates of climate sensitivity (3 +/- 1 degree C per doubling of CO2).

The warming we can expect in the future depends not only on the climate sensitivity (which we have just tentatively agreed to put at 2.5 for sake of the argument), but also on future emissions: How much greenhouse gases and aerosols are we going to dump in the atmosphere together? That depends on the choices we make, obviously. But it helps to move the debate forward by assuming a reasonable estimate of the former so we concentrate the debate on the latter, which is where it really gets difficult, because this is where tough choices have to be made and where values clash.

An example of the latter can be seen in the comments to Fuller’s WUWT post. But his message gets lost on most of them: Instead of discussing their values and political wishes, they attack the premise of Fuller’s climate sensitivity or climate science as a whole and ignore the difficult questions. A missed chance.

Hoeveel energie -uitgedrukt als boterhammen pindakaas- gebruiken we nu eigenlijk?

September 11, 2010

Professor Van der Meer licht ons energieverbruik toe aan de hand van boterhammen pindakaas. Bedoeld voor kinderen, maar ik vind het een heel mooi voorbeeld van hoe je wetenschap dichterbij de mensen kunt brengen: Breng het in voor hen begrijpelijke taal. Verschenen in het Reformatorisch Dagblad (laat je daardoor niet afschrikken):

Als je energie op is, wat doe je dan? Dan neem je een boterham met pindakaas.  (…)

Hoe moet je dan rekenen als je elektrische energie gebruikt? Of aardgas? Of benzine? De hoogleraar introduceert daarvoor deze middag een nieuwe eenheid: alles is te berekenen in boterhammen pindakaas oftewel aantallen Calvé; een boterham met pindakaas is evenveel als 1 Calvé.

En dan is de rekensom eenvoudig. Ons lichaam gebruikt 10 Calvé per dag. Dat is evenveel als een droogbeurt met de wasdroger, 8 minuten douchen of 4 kilometer autorijden. (…)

Vervolgens neemt Van der Meer het dagelijkse energieverbruik van de gemiddelde Nederlander onder de loep. Aan gas is hij in totaal 192 Calvé kwijt, voor verwarmen, warm water en koken; aan elektrische energie 46 Calvé. Binnenshuis heeft hij bij elkaar opgeteld al 238 Calvé nodig, voor het overige komt daar nog 562 bij, zodat de gemiddelde Nederlander 800 Calvé aan energie verbruikt per dag.

Dit laat ook zien dat het huishoudelijk energieverbruik gedomineerd wordt door verwarmingskosten (in Nederland vnl. aardgas), terwijl veel mensen in eerste instantie alleen aan elektriciteit denken. Ik weet niet waar de energiekosten buitenshuis uit bestaan, maar ik neem aan dat transport voor een groot deel daarvan verantwoordelijk is. De energie die nodig was om producten te maken, voedsel te verbouwen en services te verlenen is natuurlijk ook een biggie (maar het is altijd de vraag of/hoe die verrekend worden). Ik heb de hiergenoemde getallen niet gecheckt overigens.

Wanneer de hoogleraar dat vergelijkt met het energiegebruik van 1200 Calvé van de gemiddelde Amerikaan lijkt dat mee te vallen. Het staat echter in schril contrast met de 40 Calvé die een doorsnee Afrikaan opmaakt.

Als hij het gewenste energieverbruik van 600 Calvé vergelijkt met de exponentieel groeiende wereldbevolking is zijn conclusie helder: Als zij dezelfde hoeveelheid energie willen gebruiken als wij, moet het aantal Calvéfabrieken harder groeien dan de wereldbevolking. En dat lukt vooralsnog niet.

Van der Meer illustreert het overmatige gebruik van fossiele brandstoffen in de westerse wereld door de dagelijkse consumptie van 80 miljoen vaten olie (van 159 liter) naast elkaar te zetten. Dan heb je een lint van 40.000 kilometer dat een keer rond de wereld past.

Om in 2050 de doelstelling van 50 procent minder CO2-uitstoot ten opzichte van 2005 te realiseren, moet minimaal 46 procent van de energiebronnen hernieuwbaar zijn, stelt de hoogleraar. Om dat voor elkaar te krijgen, zijn jaarlijks wereldwijd onder meer 17.750 windmolens, 80 zonnecentrales en 32 grote kerncentrales extra nodig. Hij besluit zijn relaas: We zijn er dus nog lang niet.

Een heel aardig boekje over energie is trouwens de Energie Survival Gids van Jo Hermans. Prettig geschreven, helder gepresenteerd en met interessante inzichten. Zo legt hij uit waarom het benzineverbruik zo sterk toeneemt bij hoge snelheden. Verrassend vond ik de vergelijking in energiegebruik van verschillende manieren van transport.

Ik ben vroeger wel vaker met de boot naar Engeland gegaan om expres niet met een energieverslindend vliegtuig te hoeven. Hermans toont echter aan dat –gemiddeld gesproken- een passagiersboot meer energie verbruikt per reizigerskilometer dan een vliegtuig (omdat een passagiersboot zo zwaar is en er dus relatief veel energie nodig is om maar relatief weinig mensengewicht (bv 0.3% van het totaal) te verplaatsen). Een vrachtboot daarentegen is wel weer relatief zuinig, omdat de nuttige lading voor vrachtboten vele malen groter is dan die voor passagiersschepen.

Fietsen slaat alles: Als de energie-inhoud van het extra benodigde voedsel wordt omgerekend in benzine fietsen we 1 op 500. Fietsen is daarmee ook efficiënter dan de meeste andere manieren van voortbewegen die we in de natuur zien (uitgedrukt in benodigde energie per kilometer en per kilogram lichaamsgewicht). Toch leuk om te weten als je weer op je fiets springt.

Open letter of US NAS members on climate change and the integrity of science

May 10, 2010

The open letter of US National Academy of Science members is worth reading. After initially being behind a paywall (rather at odds with the ‘openness’ of the letter…), it is now freely available at Science.

I agree with the gist, well exemplified by the opening paragraph:

We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.

Scientific conclusions derive from an understanding of basic laws supported by laboratory experiments, observations of nature, and mathematical and computer modeling. Like all human beings, scientists make mistakes, but the scientific process is designed to find and correct them. This process is inherently adversarial—scientists build reputations and gain recognition not only for supporting conventional wisdom, but even more so for demonstrating that the scientific consensus is wrong and that there is a better explanation.

Indeed, the scientific process is meant to ascertain that, despite scientists being human with their individual characters and inherent flaws, the collective outcome is as good a representation of reality as possible at the time. And science (including climate science) has proven to be rather good at that.

But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:

(i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.

(ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

(iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth’s climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.

(iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.

(v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

However, as Revkin notes:

The open letter letter has a defensive tone that hasn’t served scientists particularly well in the past, but is understandable given the pressures that have been mounting on this field of inquiry.”

I agree with both parts of that assessment.

Also noteworthy is the accompanying editorial by a deputy editor of the journal Science, which has a distinctly different tone to it (not dissimilar to Judith Curry’s statements):

We thus must move beyond polarizing arguments in ways that strengthen this joint commitment. The scientific community must recognize that the recent attacks stem in part from its culture and scientists’ behavior. In turn, it is time to focus on the main problem: The IPCC reports have underestimated the pace of climate change while overestimating societies’ abilities to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

I’d say that the main problem now is, that given our current understanding of climate change, how are we going to respond? There is no such thing as ‘no response’. Any action (including business as usual) is a response, and it better be decided on rationally and based on all the available evidence. That’s the way I look at it.

He also calls for more effort (and commensurate funding) towards data curation, handling and infrastructure. Perhaps that’s something we could all agree on, and perhaps those most critical of the current data handling practices could support such calls for more funding of these basic, though necessary efforts.

He ends with a good quote from Carl Sagan, which is especially apt today:

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” “This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

CRU inquiry: Published results still credible; focus on Phil Jones misplaced

April 9, 2010

The UK Parliamentary Committee released its report on the CRU email affair (I’m a bit late to the game, I know…)

Before going to the summary, let me highlight this important point made in the report:

Even if the data that CRU used were not publicly available—which they mostly are—or the methods not published—which they have been—its published results would still be credible: the results from CRU agree with those drawn from other international data sets; in other words, the analyses have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified.

Comparisons with other surface based datasets here; with satellite data sets here; with several bloggers’ reconstructions here.

CRU’s data handling has not inflated the warming trend, see e.g. here and here.

Here’s the summary:

The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in November 2009 had the potential to damage the reputation of the climate science and the scientists involved.

We believe that the focus on CRU and Professor Phil Jones, Director of CRU, in particular, has largely been misplaced. Whilst we are concerned that the disclosed e-mails suggest a blunt refusal to share scientific data and methodologies with others, we can sympathise with Professor Jones, who must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew—or perceived—were motivated by a desire simply to undermine his work.

In the context of the sharing of data and methodologies, we consider that Professor Jones’s actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. It is not standard practice in climate science to publish the raw data and the computer code in academic papers. However, climate science is a matter of great importance and the quality of the science should be irreproachable. We therefore consider that climate scientists should take steps to make available all the data that support their work (including raw data) and full methodological workings (including the computer codes). Had both been available, many of the problems at UEA could have been avoided. [I think that is a very naïve preposition. BV]

We are content that the phrases such as “trick” or “hiding the decline” were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead. Likewise the evidence that we have seen does not suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process. Academics should not be criticized for making informal comments on academic papers.

In the context of Freedom of Information (FOIA), much of the responsibility should lie with UEA. The disclosed e-mails appear to show a culture of non-disclosure at CRU and instances where information may have been deleted, to avoid disclosure. We found prima facie evidence to suggest that the UEA found ways to support the culture at CRU of resisting disclosure of information to climate change sceptics. The failure of UEA to grasp fully the potential damage to CRU and UEA by the non-disclosure of FOIA requests was regrettable. UEA needs to review its policy towards FOIA and re-assess how it can support academics whose expertise in this area is limited.

The Deputy Information Commissioner has given a clear indication that a breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 may have occurred but that a prosecution was time-barred; however no investigation has been carried out. In our view it is unsatisfactory to leave the matter unresolved. We conclude that the matter needs to be resolved conclusively—either by the Independent Climate Change Email Review or by the Information Commissioner.

We accept the independence of the Climate Change E-mail Review and recommend that the Review be open and transparent, taking oral evidence and conducting interviews in public wherever possible.

On 22 March UEA announced the Scientific Appraisal Panel to be chaired by Lord Oxburgh. This Panel should determine whether the work of CRU has been soundly built and it would be premature for us to pre-judge its work.

See also James Annan with a good dose of British sarcasm. Also Eli, Stoat. Image Nick Anderson.

Update: Another report investigating the CRU has been released, headed by Lord Oxburg of Liverpool. Its main conclusions are that they saw

no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it.

and they remark that

it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians.

The last conclusion seems very relevant in light of the recent discussions on this blog.

RealClimate on the IPCC errors and their significance

February 15, 2010

RealClimate has a good post on the recent string of (alleged) errors in the IPCC report. It explains the IPCC proces, the nature and significance of the errors, and highlights the spin put on them by several media outlets.

Excerpt about the reported amount of land in the Netherlands that is below sea level:

Sea level in the Netherlands: The WG2 report states that “The Netherlands is an example of a country highly susceptible to both sea-level rise and river flooding because 55% of its territory is below sea level”. This sentence was provided by a Dutch government agency – the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which has now published a correction stating that the sentence should have read “55 per cent of the Netherlands is at risk of flooding; 26 per cent of the country is below sea level, and 29 per cent is susceptible to river flooding”. It surely will go down as one of the more ironic episodes in its history when the Dutch parliament last Monday derided the IPCC, in a heated debate, for printing information provided by … the Dutch government. In addition, the IPCC notes that there are several definitions of the area below sea level. The Dutch Ministry of Transport uses the figure 60% (below high water level during storms), while others use 30% (below mean sea level). Needless to say, the actual number mentioned in the report has no bearing on any IPCC conclusions and has nothing to do with climate science, and it is questionable whether it should even be counted as an IPCC error.

 And wrapping up the context of this whole manufacured controversy:

Do the above issues suggest “politicized science”, deliberate deceptions or a tendency towards alarmism on the part of IPCC? We do not think there is any factual basis for such allegations. To the contrary, large groups of (inherently cautious) scientists attempting to reach a consensus in a societally important collaborative document is a prescription for reaching generally “conservative” conclusions. And indeed, before the recent media flash broke out, the real discussion amongst experts was about the AR4 having underestimated, not exaggerated, certain aspects of climate change. These include such important topics as sea level rise and sea ice decline (see the sea ice and sea level chapters of the Copenhagen Diagnosis), where the data show that things are changing faster than the IPCC expected.

Open letter of Dutch climate scientists regarding the IPCC and the attacks on science

February 11, 2010

55 of the top Dutch climate scientists have published an open letter about the IPCC and the mistakes in the latest climate report. They put the mistakes in the context of what we know, and show that the mainframe of our knowledge of the climate system is not adversely affected by these errors.

I’m glad for this highly needed voice of reason in the popular debate, which has recently been overshadowed by far reaching claims of fraud and conspiracies.

An English version of the open letter is available here. It’s well worth reading.

Dutch version here.

Update: It’s now possible to support this open letter by signing it (PhD holders only). Go to


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