Sunday, February 25, 2007

NewScientist slams "misleading" IPCC

I've only just read this, and I'm surprised there hasn't been more made of it in the blogosphere. This is from the editorial of NS on the 10th Feb, a few days after the IPCC released its SPM:
There is, though, a thin line between being conservative and being misleading, and on occasions the summary crosses that line.
There is a further feature in the magazine (Fred Pearce, natch) which describes their complaint in more detail. They have several grumbles, the bit that I know most about is the hypothetical shut-down of the overturning circulation in the North Atlantic:
Researchers at the UK's National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, will also feel overlooked. In 2005, they reported that the Gulf Stream slowed by about 30 per cent between 1957 and 2004. The Gulf Stream is a key feature of the world ocean circulation system, and any failure could have huge and unpredictable repercussions for world climate. But the IPCC summary insists that "there is insufficient evidence to determine whether trends exist".
That's a reference to the paper I blogged about here. I think it is fair to say that no-one, including the authors of the paper itself, actually believed it right from the moment it was published, and I think that more recent analysis has in fact debunked it fairly clearly. What the IPCC says is that a gradual weakening of the circulation is expected, which would offset some (but not all) of the warming that would otherwise occur in that region. The literature is very clear about this, and I don't see how they could possibly have said anything else.

On sea level rise, Pearce says there should have been more made of the hypothesis of rapid ice sheet loss, which is something I don't know much about. His other complaint is about carbon cycle feedback, and on this I think he is wrong (but I'm not 100% sure) - the IPCC projections actually include what work has been done in this area. It's not a huge effect in addition to the existing uncertainties, in any case.

It's not clear to me why Fred Pearce thinks he knows more about climate science than the several hundred working scientists who compiled the report. RealClimate were quick to jump on the Fraser Institute and Wall Street Journal for their unfounded post-IPCC criticisms. What odds an article about this NewScientist slur?

9 comments:

Fergus Brown said...

On the subject of the Southampton research, I note that GRL has just added this, from Hadley: http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2007/2006GL028504.shtml
Which supports the idea that the measured reduction is (scientifically) anomalous, and may be a function of the methodology.
As a side note, there's also an interesting paper on the Storegga landslide, which suggests that there may not have been any 'massive release of methane hydrates' associated with this event. This must be an important finding in the light of concerns about clathrates and some hypotheses about the palaeo record.
Regards,

Belette said...

I doubt NS has that much of a readership amongst Those In Power. Unlike the WSJ. Perhaps is RC was UK based it/we might care more.

I'd stoat it myself but... does it matter? tell me it does and I'll bother.

Oh, plus I don't have a sub to the full thing

Lab Lemming said...

Has NS ever gotten anything relating to Earth Science even remotely in perspective? Back when they gave gad students free subscriptions, we noted that every hard rock topic they approached showed less understanding than a first year who attends lectures hungover. Why should they do any better at climate?

James Annan said...

Fergus,

Thanks for the ref. There was also something recently about the large natural variability which makes a snapshot observation fairly meaningless (I think it attracted some stupid and misleading press coverage about how the overturning switching off and on - oh here it is).

Belette,

What do you mean "if RC was UK based"?? Where is RC based?

I bet NS has a greater readership than Fraser Institute press releases :-) I realise you lot have debunked some of the most off-the-wall alarmist stuff but I get the impression you studiously look the other way when you can (not you personally, Stoat often goes a bit further).

(Mind you, perhaps Stefan Rahmstorf agrees with Fred Pearce that the IPCC was not alarmist enough.)

LL,

I guess we can write off NS as tabloid hype, but you could also simply write off the WSJ as sceptic tripe, and some people seem to get worked up about it. What about Nature? :-)

fergus brown said...

Once again, the spectre of the communication problem rears its head. It reaslly doesn't seem to matter what the status, readership or reach of the text in question is, every time, there comes the problem of how climate science is communicated, to Those in Power, to those inside the golden circle, and to the great unwashed.
It's easy enough to 'blame it on the media', but this is to misunderstand what the media is and how it functions.
I'm loath to enter a semiotic (or any other kind)analysis of the texts of climate change, but it seems, especially when I have direct experience of the general public's huge ignorance and misunderstanding of both the science and the real issues, that somewhere, somebody has got to start doing a better job of constructing the (public) climate change dialectic/debate.
Sorry; I think that was a bit of a rant. Blush.
Regards,
Fergus.

EliRabett said...

No Fergus, I think you have the right of it, which is why the gatekeepers have to be kept honest or at least not so full of themselves

Belette said...

How international is NS? I'm assuming that few outside the UK read it. Maybe thats wrong. I doubt RC will bother with it, not cos we like it, just cos its non-notable. So far, I haven't bothered walk as far as the library to read it.

The Fraser stuff was a damper squib than expected. In retrospect, probably better ignored.

Steve Bloom said...

Just to add to William's comment, I (a semi-media savvy person, although a bit out of my league on this international stuff) was expecting the FI event to get considerably more coverage. It had a very modest amount of advance coverage (nothing with any detail), but then it turned out to be probably the most extreme public relations event failure I've ever seen (which is saying a lot): There was essentially no post coverage (other than the Canadian National Post IIRC, which doesn't really count) of either the report or the London event itself. Their press release a few days in advance (stating that the event would be closed to the public due to the threat of demonstrators) seemed a little desperate (i.e. an effort to draw additional press), but in retrospect I think it was a lot desperate (i.e. a means of avoiding press coverage of an event they already knew was going to fail). My suspicion is that Bellamy (who may have been the reason to do the event in London) may have declined to appear once it became clear to him that association with the event would harm rather than enhance whatever credibility he has left.

Regarding the NS, I think the best course of action is to let them know privately where they went wrong (which I assume has happened).

James Annan said...

I certainly don't blame it all on the media - it seems quite clear that some scientists are deliberately complicit. I don't for a minute believe that they are as naive as they would have to be in order not to realise how their stories would be presented.

As for the solution to activist and inaccurate journalism - on a personal level, it is probably a good idea to go and read sources that you instinctively disagree with (and do so with an open mind), rather than stick to the familiar and comfortable corner of the echo-chamber (blogs as much as the trad media). Unfortunately there is so much noise at the wingnut end of the denialist domain as to make this a largely unrewarding and tedious task...but occasionally you may find half a interesting clue buried in it.