Monday, February 8, 2010

The Disunity of Climate Science

While there has been a lot of misleading coverage of the stolen e-mails from East Anglia, the Guardian offers an intriguing look inside the fallout from the more significant retraction of the 2007 IPCC report claims about the Himalayan icepack:
Speaking on condition of anonymity, several lead authors of the working group one (WG1) report, which produced the high-profile scientific conclusions that global warming was unequivocal and very likely down to human activity, told the Guardian they were dismayed by the actions of their colleagues.

"Naturally the public and policy makers link all three reports together," one said. "And the blunder over the glaciers detracts from the very carefully peer-reviewed science used exclusively in the WG1 report."

Another author said: "There is no doubt that the inclusion of the glacier statement was sloppy. I find it embarrassing that working group two (WG2) would have the Himalaya statement referred to in the way it was."

Another said: "I am annoyed about this and I do think that WG1, the physical basis for climate change, should be distinguished from WG2 and WG3. The latter deal with impacts, mitigation and socioeconomics and it seems to me they might be better placed in another arm of the United Nations, or another organisation altogether."

The scientists were particularly unhappy that the flawed glacier prediction contradicted statements already published in their own report. "WG1 made a proper assessment of the state of glaciers and this should have been the source cited by the impacts people in WG2," one said. "In the final stages of finishing our own report, we as WG1 authors simply had no time to also start double-checking WG2 draft chapters."

Another said the mistake was made "not by climate scientists, but rather the social and biological scientists in WG2 ... Clearly that WWF report was an inappropriate source, [as] any glaciologist would have stumbled over that number."
As I understand the science, the climate models used to support the central claims of the report are unequivocal. But they don't always give information relevant to policy makers such as exactly how much hotter it is going to get in Indiana or what year the Himalayan icepack will melt. This creates a temptation to leap in and provide more precise predictions than the models support. What is interesting here is that the "hard scientists" are blaming the "social and biological scientists" for giving in to this temptation.

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