IPCC Reports: Science or Spin?
Posted on 1 October 2010 by gpwayne
"Unquestionably, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed to build the scientific case for humanity being the primary cause of global warming. Such a goal is fundamentally unscientific, as it is hostile to alternative hypotheses for the causes of climate change."
Climate scientist Roy Spencer made this statement. He starts by suggesting something highly questionable isn’t open to being questioned. What he seeks to do is suggest, by inference, that the IPCC has an agenda, and this distorts the reports they produce. In other words, Spencer (and others) suggest that the IPCC exaggerates what the science says in favour of anthropogenic global warming. It is perfectly legitimate to question this assertion, since Spencer and others offer no evidence to support it.
Some critics go further, suggesting that the IPCC actively suppresses science that doesn’t support the theory that climate change is being caused by human activities. It is notable this ‘other science’ is rarely produced to support the accusation.
Does the IPCC accurately report the findings of science?
The IPCC was formed to report on a broad range of scientific enquiries into the climate, and our effects on it, and to summarise the science for laypeople. The science they summarise is published so it is simple to compare the primary science with the IPCC reports, and compare both to what actually took place.
There are numerous instances where the IPCC reports, which are summaries of published climate change science, have understated the case - hardly suggesting exaggeration in pursuit of an agenda. Here are some examples:
- CO2 output from fossil fuels: observed emissions are close to the worst-case projections made by the IPCC, despite them offering a range of potential emission scenarios. (In fact, atmospheric CO2 is increasing ten times faster than any rate detected in ice core data over the last 22,000 years).
- Sea-level rise is accelerating faster than the IPCC predicted. Actual sea-level rise is 80% higher than the median IPCC projection. By 2100 sea-level rise was predicted by the IPCC to be in the range of 18-59 cm. It is now believed that figure may be far too low, because estimates of contributions from Greenland and Antarctic ice-caps were excluded from AR4 because the data was not considered reliable. (This omission hardly supports the notion that the IPCC seeks to exaggerate global warming trends).
- Each Arctic summer, sea-ice is melting faster than average predictions in the last IPCC report. The Arctic is experiencing a long-term loss of multi-year ice which is also accelerating.
In many similar cases, the evidence suggests that changes in climate are occurring faster, and with more intensity, than the IPCC have predicted. It is not credible to suggest the reports were biased in favour of the theory of anthropogenic global warming when the evidence demonstrates the IPCC were, in fact, so cautious.
In fact, there is evidence however to suggest that the exact opposite is actually the case, both in terms of the scientific evidence itself (see below) and the way the work of the IPCC is reported. A recent study (Freudenburg 2010) investigated what it calls 'the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge', the phenomenon in which reports on science fail to evaluate all outcomes, favoring certain probabilities while ignoring others. They found that "...new scientific findings were more than twenty times as likely to support the ASC perspective [that disruption through AGW may be far worse than the IPCC has suggested] than the usual framing of the issue in the U.S. mass media".
Claims that the IPCC is alarmist are not supported by evidence, and there are clear indications that the opposite may be the case.
This post is the Basic Version (written by Graham Wayne) of the skeptic argument "The IPCC is alarmist". Graham also rewrote the Intermediate Version to include that Freudenberg paper on the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge, which he'd blogged about in detail recently. Busy guy!
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And Noel, if you want to engage in a lengthy debate with someone who is willing to show you every scrawny detail in the physics of C02 and its status as a re-radiator of longwave radiation, go to scienceofdoom.com and engage to the content of your heart and mind.
Try a glass of the ole H20, Noel. And before you ask the next logical question, go here.
Noel, I'd guess 1# No water vapor. A huge part of the green house effect, 2# Thinner Atmosphere, which doesn't hold the heat in, which most of it escapes to space and 3# much further from the sun and gets far less solar input then earth.
Pretty much Mars Atmosphere because of its size is not enough to hold onto heat or a respectable Atmosphere.
@Noel: the greenhouse effect is a well-known physics phenomenon. Anyone who tells you CO2 isn't a greenhouse gas is misinformed - for example, that web site you posted is full of poor and inexact science.
Check here for more info.
Noel Edwards, I have replied to your Mars comments on the more appropriate thread, Mars Is Warming. That thread is not a perfect match for your comments, but it is far better than this thread is. If you want to continue the Mars portions of this conversation, you should do so on that thread, not this one.
A general comment on the above appreciated discussion on my posts in this section IPCC Reports: Science or Spin? It would seem that the above are the types of comments skeptical science can come up concerning that most basic of requests - why is CO2 a greenhouse gas? Those who are skeptical about the whole of the CO2/global warming debate are going to smile broadly and know their belief in the fallacy of the basic science is entirely supported. The respondents have missed the point and can't come up with a few simple step by step points that show that CO2 has the necessary absorption frequencies to be a greenhouse gas. This type of information has never been made available to the general public who are only fed the line "CO2 is a greenhouse gas". They can understand a reasoned and well presented case that doesn't depend upon complex mathematics. Why not give one?
One of the 'interesting' facets of the so-called sceptic argument is that there seems to be an insistence on trying to take the discussion back to first principles whenever it's expedient for them to do so. This itself is a form of 'Spin' and appears to be what Noel is up to, consciously or otherwise.
To say that CO2 is a greenhouse gas is as meaningful as stating that air acts as a heat or electrical insulator, or that salt water acts as an electrical conductor. While these words contain truth, the facts in themselves are insufficient for making system level determinations. Yet this is exactly how AGW was originally formulated and currently being defended.
You were already pointed to the Skeptical Science post How Do We Know CO2 Is Causing Warming?
, whose second paragraph has links to abundant laboratory evidence stretching back 150 years.
Also you were pointed to the Science of Doom home page
. Perhaps you did not search through the posts there to find ones answering your specific questions, so I'll help: Click the "Roadmap"
link at the top of that site. Then read the series of posts linked on that page, all of whose titles start "CO2 - An Insignificant Trace Gas?"
Aside from all this, would'nt it have been easier for the IPCC to have simply restricted itself to past climate history, instead of making projections for the future? If a chemistry investigation leads to knowing that a particular product or chemical causes cancer, that information is plenty for people to take action.
I suspect in the case of climate change, even though warming has already impacted our lives, these changes have not been dramatic enough relative to other negative stresses. Therefore in order to gain attention, pessimistic projections into the future are required.
Yes, RSVP, you're right in your hypothetical. However, that hypothetical as an analogy for GW doesn't work. Here's a better one: my dad died of small/oat cell lung cancer last year. Ninety-seven percent of the people who have/had that type of cancer are smokers or were smokers. My dad was a smoker. He was warned thirty years ago. He didn't believe the science. He died a very painful death (I gave him morphine every hour for the last day). When the activity gives pleasure, and the consequences seem distant and unbelievable, it's tough to alter behavior. Even being confronted with facts can sometimes backfire.
Even this analogy isn't good, because GW will have (is having) social, not simply personal, effects. The social mass is notoriously difficult to motivate, and particularly so when the core of that mass is (and will be) well-insulated against the worst of the change.
RSVP wrote : "Aside from all this, would'nt it have been easier for the IPCC to have simply restricted itself to past climate history, instead of making projections for the future? If a chemistry investigation leads to knowing that a particular product or chemical causes cancer, that information is plenty for people to take action."
I disagree. I think it would have been daft, and left the IPCC open to accusations of only doing half a job, if they had stated only what you think they should have stuck to. If they were only to mention what has happened and what is happening, the next question would be - 'What is going to happen ?'. It all follows, one after the other. Who do you think should be answering that question ?
Also, how can you really judge if a product actually causes cancer unless you set up some sort of trial which can give some form of statistical significance to the question ? How can you judge whether people living in an area with Radon as a constant background radiation are rationally doing so because the risks are far outweighed by the benefits ? You start with what you know, determine what you need to know, make projections, carry on studying and act accordingly as and when deemed necessary.
In the end, surely, most risks have to be judged as much on their potential for causing future harm, which is why I always have a little chuckle when a so-called skeptic (as evidenced on another of these threads) reckons that the danger from an extraterrestrial object is more immediate and therefore should have more money pumped into a solution than is being presently 'wasted' on the projected AGW dangers. But just how are either of those dangers determined if not by future projections based on known facts; and surely a scientific consensus among many disciplines determines which is a more immediate threat ?
...would'nt it have been easier for the IPCC to have simply restricted itself to past climate history, instead of making projections for the future?
Sort of like insisting that we all buy and use seatbelts, without explaining why we should.
I strongly accept that humans are causing global warming and that solving this problem should be our highest priority. However, I am skeptical of the accuracy of climate models. I think a global temperature increase of 3 degrees celsius by 2100 is a bit wide of the mark, even in a busisness as usual scenario . Since 1880, global temperatures have only increased by about .8 degrees celsius. In order to reach 3 degrees celsius by 2100 global warming would have to undergo a very steep acceleration. Apparently this isn't showing any signs of happening. Global Temperature increases over the past decade were at the low end of climate model projections. I find it very hard to believe that we will reach 3 degrees celsius by the end of the century.
Could you please explain this to me?
Karamanski, answers about where the climate is headed and how it'll get there mostly hinge on sensitivity. For the nitty-gritty on sensitivity, see "A detailed look at climate sensitivity." For some simple comparisons between expectations and observations, see "Comparing IPCC projections to observations."
If you've got questions pertaining to what's covered in those links, best to submit them there as that makes the whole process of discussion more valuable.
Moderator Response: For newly arrived readers, the "Search..." tool at upper left is very handy for zeroing in when seeking answers.
Continued from thread, 'Updating the Climate Big Picture'...
"John Russell wrote "As I know you know, absolute proof is possible,"
This is incorrect, I don't want this thread to descend into yet another discussion of the philisophy of science, David Hume showed that we can have no certain knowledge of causal relationships in the real world. Instead, as Hume suggests, we should apportion our belief according to the evidence, but this falls well short of "absolute proof".
The point is that the original statement referred to a warming trend since 1978. One could argue that the warming we have observed is due to deep ocean currents redistributing heat within the climate system. Our knowledge of deep ocean currents in the 1980s is unlikely to improve much on what we already know as we don't have a time machine to go back and take more measurements. Thus there will always be irreducible uncertainty on the attribution of warming over that period.
What mace fails to understand is that there is a difference between what we can say "all things being otherwise equal" and what we can say about specific observed events. "
Sorry if I have misunderstood something, Dikran, but won't we have absolute proof of the consequence of our actions in 50/100 year's time, when we are experiencing the results of putting another ~200ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere? Or are you arguing that nothing can ever be 'absolute' proof?
John Russell As I understand it, absolute proof of a causal relationship in the real world is indeed impossible via empirical means. Observing the rise in temperatures expected by AGW theory does not prove that the theory is correct, as the prediction might be correct by coincidence and the rise in temperatures is actually due to aliens bombarding the earth with unknown forms of radiation to make the Earth more suitable for their purposes. There is no reason to think the latter theory is correct, of course, but it is also consistent with the observations, and so the observations do not absolutely prove the theory. This is a deliberately extreme example, there are more plausible non-anthropogenic theories, but the point remains. In maths you can have absolute proof, in science you can only have absolute disproof, which is why most modern science operated by falsificationism.
The IPCC are very careful and very scientific in their presentation of the strength of the evidence for the mainstream position. Generally those who don't like their terminology (e.g. Judith Curry) seem not to understand probability adequately well. It is ironic that the "skeptics" complain on one hand about claims that the "science is settled" (an argument that the scientists tend not to actually make) and on the other hand complain about the lack of absolute proof, which the philosophy of science tells is that there is no absolute proof of any scientific theory.
I think we need a post on philosophy of science.
Skept.fr writes: (on 'Updating the Climate Big Picture' thread)...
"I dislike analogies, but if you want absolutely use some, they must be convincing."
Well, we must agree to disagree over whether analogies can be effective with the right kind of person, but I agree completely that they must be convincing. Of course, analogies can never be totally convincing -- how could they when they are not 'the real thing' and therefore will fall over at some point of detail?
I agree about the 90% point and in fact when I developed this analogy further I dropped it. I'd be grateful if you could take at look at this new 'bite' I put together on ClimateBites (a development of this train of thought) and tell me whether you think it works, or how I might improve it. Perhaps it would be better to use the comments here rather than on ClimateBites -- unless of course you think it's great!
Please understand that I'm keen to get the facts right, though with metaphors or analogies it's also important to simplify in order to be understandable and convincing. And we're not aiming at people who have your knowledge of the science. I just want to get to a point where if a reader is clever enough to see any flaws, then they're clever enough to see why it's wrong to be in denial over AGW.
OK, Dikran, I take the point. Sorry to be sloppy! Unfortunately sometimes you scientists say things in ways which are not totally understandable to those not versed in science. I try to be an interpreter, because I do have a little knowledge; but it's difficult. Please bear with me!
I'd be grateful for any comments on the 'bite' I refer to in my previous comment to 'Skept.fr', (above).
@Dikran Marsupial. In science, nothing can be 100% proven, but for most people, it needs to be proven in terms of their practical experience.
So, looking at the analogy, I provided earlier, sticking my fingers in an electric socket will cause at least burns and possibly death may not always prove true e.g. a fuse could blow, or a general power cut may exist, but fundamentally, anybody whose experienced an electric shock is aware of the danger.
Now, the problem that we have with climate science is that it takes place over a long period of time, so people's experiences of how warm it is today compared to how warm it was in the 1970s, say, is subjective, and because it doesn't warm up in straight lines, and indeed as we've recently experienced, it's been some 13 years since we had the maximum global mean temperature on some measures, it is proving difficult for the general public to unequivocally accept that warming is happening in general, let alone that man is responsible for it.
You've explained why people don't believe (though I would suggest some of your facts are out); so that's why it's so important to help people understand the science. Only by understanding the science will people realise the importance of action to prevent dangerous climate change. That's why this site exists.
If you really want to convince other people that global warming is a problem, then I suggest you point them at NASA's site where everything is explained in simple terms. Why would anyone believe that NASA doesn't know what they're taking about?
mace, if the population are not going to accept AGW other than in hindsight ("practical experience) then we are doomed, because by that time we will be committed to more warming than to which the world has the resources to adapt. The purpose of the IPCC scientific reports is to summarise the science, not to provide soundbites that will convince the irrational. A better approach is to explain why waiting for proof by practical experience is unreasonable and fundamentally wrong-headed.
If more people understood why the "no warming since 1998" canard to which you referred is is a canard, it would be a start in explaining why the attribution of warming since 1978 not being unequivocal is not justification for doubt of AGW.
Now, as I said, please learn about internal climate variability before commenting on this issue further, so that you realise why your line of argument is faulty.
Your propensity to insert climate deneir memes into your posts, e.g., "...and indeed as we've recently experienced, it's been some 13 years since we had the maximum global mean temperature on some measures," suggests to me that you may have a hidden agenda in posting comments.
John, my main issue with the bite would be the implication that AGW were likely to be of similar severity to a large asteroid impact (e.g. Chicxulub), which seems to me to be greatly overstating things. Such an impact would be likely to result in the deaths of the majority of humans in a pretty short timespan. I doubt the consequences of AGW would be anything like that severe as there is more time to adapt to the disruption in food supply.
I'm willing to admit that I may not be the best person (c.f. Mr Logic) to ask on public communication of science. ;o)
mace#29: "it is proving difficult for the general public to unequivocally accept that warming is happening in general"
Let's rephrase that: It is proving difficult for the general public to unequivocally accept that warming is happening because there is an active, well-financed, very powerful lobby working against that acceptance, actively spreading disinformation and distrust.
This op-ed is not about climate science, but the first two paragraphs easily could be.
Repetition is all-important to spreading a Big Lie.
If we only have to worry about skeptic-deniers planted by the oil industry, we won't have a problem. Negative media stories didn't work for the tobacco industry.
[DB] "If we only have to worry about skeptic-deniers planted by the oil industry, we won't have a problem."
We don't have a problem, Jdey123 mace. The irony of you making this statement is not lost.
"Negative media stories didn't work for the tobacco industry."
They worked well enough to stave off needed regulation for decades, ensuring billions more in profits. Today the petroleum industry executes the same game plan (with some of the same "consultants").
What is different is scale: trillions in profits today vs the billions then. And a plethora more sock-puppets plaguing the intertubes doing someone else's bidding.
That was largely before the 24 hour cable faux news talking head machine.
Example: When the Spencer-Braswell nonsense came out, a reasonably intelligent fellow told me that 'new NASA data proved that ozone didn't cause global warming.' All he had read was the Forbes opinion piece (and heard Fox echo-chambering it). There was no new data, it wasn't put out by NASA and it wasn't ozone. But you couldn't convince him otherwise.
#John Russell at 03:36 AM on 25 December, 2011
Yes I clearly prefer your new "bite" with the 50% chance of an asteroid hitting the Earth (much better than a 90% collapse on 20 yrs for a house family)! I'm not enough fluent in English to suggest optimizations, and I'm naturally reluctant to analogy, so not the best adviser. But your bite seems to me interesting as it is. For the Dikran objection (04:56 AM), you've not to imagine a big asteroid, just one who's going to destroy a part of life and well-being on Earth.
(Of course, if we go beyond the analogy, we've the conclusion that a particular problem needs a particular analysis so as to conceive, evaluate and share the solutions, therefore analogy is not a very good way of thinking. If people think they have been mislead by an analogy, the effect may be counterproductive because they will be reinforced in their initial convictions. Probably a difficult thing to manipulate, I'm not expert.)
Thanks. I take the point and I've modified the 'bite'. It's difficult to use plain English to compare the sizes of asteroids and their potential damage! I've now said AGW could be potentially as dangerous as a large asteroid strike. I know it's chalk and cheese -- and perhaps a rather woolly to the scientific mind -- but the key point is that no one is in denial of asteroid strikes, and everyone agrees we should deal with them if one approaches; even though at this point in our history a strike is much less probable than dangerous climate change.
I think we need to increase publicity of sites like this. Gallup regularly publishes public opinion on this subject and it makes depressing reading
Global warming concernts continue to drop
Sorry mace, it looks very much like every one of your posts is designed to publicise some denialist meme and that your approach is essentially subtle trolling. If this is not your intention then I suggest that (i) you examine your posts to see how this impression might arise and (ii) read the relevant articles related to the denialist meme in question and only then post a message on the appropriate article.
It will be interesting to watch how this develops.
[DB] Your referenced Gallup poll is a bit dated, coming from March of 2010. A more topical poll is this one from Yale from November 2011. It quite frankly paints a different picture from the one you intimate exists.
Concepts for communicating the risks and managing the threat of asteroid impacts will be considered by the United Nations following an expert working group meeting in Colorado. ... The meeting, held at University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, was organized by the Secure World Foundation and aimed at a draft report for the U.N. Action Team 14 working group on NEOs. The team forms part of the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, and will present guidance to the U.N. working group at a NEO-mitigation meeting in Vienna, in February 2012.
NEOs are near earth objects.
I'll put a dollar on the table that we'll soon be hearing about this as another 'international cabal' planning to subvert our way of life with their 'science.' Sounds like a lot of alarmism to me. Bet its because of the sun.
Thanks for the link, @muoncounter! I'll add it to the bite at ClimateBites.
You're right; concerns over asteroid impacts, in theory, should attract exactly the same denial memes as does AGW. So what's different -- or has it not entered the radar yet?
To suggest an answer to my own question: is it the case that the fix for NEOs is technological and the solution does not require a change in the status quo? Even so, it will require a major concerted effort, and money, to provide protection.
My suspicion is that there is a lot of overlap between the hardcore deniers of AGW and this lot. The difference? AGW is our doing; something falling from the sky isn't.
"To suggest an answer to my own question: is it the case that the fix for NEOs is technological and the solution does not require a change in the status quo?"
The other side of this is that such a project looks glamorous, exciting and, best of all, a single, literal target. Technological whizbangery at its finest.
We might think that saying we've already got the technology to deal with reducing emissions is a positive. It is, for many people. For others, it seems pedestrian and unappealing and therefore negative. They really do want a silver bullet. (Hence the attraction of mirrors in orbit and other such nonsense.)
Mace thinks he's so subtle, while you could see him coming from a mile away starting on his very first post. That's almost comical. [Mod} feel free to delete this comment.
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