Friday, June 18, 2010

Canadian Post "Reporter" Lawrence Solomon Should Correct His Misleading Article about Dr. Mike Hulme

"Rumour raced at once through Libya’s great cities, Rumour, compared with whom no other is as swift. She flourishes by speed, and gains strength as she goes: first limited by fear, she soon reaches into the sky, walks on the ground, and hides her head in the clouds....a monster, vast and terrible, fleet-winged and swift-footed, sister to Coeus and Enceladus, who for every feather on her body has as many watchful eyes below (marvellous to tell), as many tongues speaking, as many listening ears. She flies, screeching, by night through the shadows between earth and sky, never closing her eyelids in sweet sleep: by day she sits on guard on tall roof-tops or high towers, and scares great cities, as tenacious of lies and evil, as she is messenger of truth. Now in delight she filled the ears of the nations with endless gossip, singing fact and fiction alike"---The Aeneid, Book IV

Correcting and Clarifying Hulme and Mahony on the IPCC Consensus

Various newspaper and internet blogs are reporting me as saying that the IPCC has ‘misled the press and public into believing that thousands of scientists backed its claims on manmade global warming’ whereas in fact only ‘a few dozen experts’ did so. This story emanates from an article, in press with Progress in Physical Geography and posted on my website, which reviews 20 years of published literature on the nature of the IPCC and its functions and governance. The relevant section from this paper is the following, which is part of a longer discussion about the nature of uncertainty and consensus in the IPCC assessments...

"Without a careful explanation about what [consensus] means, this drive for consensus can leave the IPCC vulnerable to outside criticism. Claims such as ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’ are disingenuous. That particular consensus judgement, as are many others in the IPCC reports, is reached by only a few dozen experts in the specific field of detection and attribution studies; other IPCC authors are experts in other fields. But consensus-making can also lead to criticism for being too conservative, as Hansen (2007) has most visibly argued."

Three things should be clear from this. First, I did not say the ‘IPCC misleads’ anyone – it is claims that are made by other commentators, such as the caricatured claim I offer in the paper, that have the potential to mislead. Second, they have a potential to mislead if they give the impression that every statement in IPCC reports is ‘signed off’ by every IPCC author and reviewer. Patently they are not, and cannot. Third, it is the chapter lead authors – say 10 to 20 experts - on detection and attribution who craft the sentence about detection and attribution, which is then scrutinised and vetted by reviewers and government officials. Similarly, statements about what may happen to the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) of the ocean are crafted by those expert in ocean science, statements about future sea-level rise by sea-level experts, and so on.

The point of this bit of our article was to draw attention to the need for a more nuanced understanding of what an IPCC ‘consensus’ is – as I say: "Without a careful explanation about what it means, this drive for consensus can leave the IPCC vulnerable to outside criticism." The IPCC consensus does not mean – clearly cannot possibly mean – that every scientist involved in the IPCC process agrees with every single statement in the IPCC! Some scientists involved in the IPCC did not agree with the IPCC’s projections of future sea-level. Giving the impression that the IPCC consensus means everyone agrees with everyone else – as I think some well-meaning but uninformed commentaries do (or have a tendency to do) – is unhelpful; it doesn’t reflect the uncertain, exploratory and sometimes contested nature of scientific knowledge.---Mike Hulme, Norwich 15 June 2010

This is a photo of the famous climate scientist Dr. Mike Hulme. As Dr. Hulme notes above, an article he co-authored is the subject of a misleading article by Lawrence Solomon which appears in the Canadian newspaper The National Post (6-13-10). The misleading article is titled "The IPCC consensus on climate change was phoney, says IPCC insider."

The "insider" who supposedly said "the IPPC consensus is phoney" is Dr. Mike Hulme. Now really, how likely is it that an IPCC "insider" would characterize the IPPC consensus as "phoney"?

I went to Dr. Hulme's site and saw two posts that clarify what Dr. Hulme really said:

(15 June) On the nature of the IPCC consensus. Read here for a statement correcting misleading newspaper and internet blog reports of the Hulme & Mahony paper on the IPCC. And read here for an earlier commentary on the IPCC and its use of consensus.


(16 June) Further clarification. Read here for further clarification of my position on expertise, consensus and the IPCC.

Lawrence Solomon is a global warming denialist, not a science reporter who is trying to honestly communicate to the public what what scientists are actually saying, so he jumps on an opportunity to take Dr. Hulme's remarks out of context and to mischaracterize this scientist's views.

If I want to know what scientists say, I read their science articles for myself; I don't put much stock in what denialists masquerading as science reporters scribble in the newspaper. It's funny that denialists are always complaining that the scientist won't share all their research, because the denialists evidently don't even read what the scientists do publish.

Dr. Hulme writes in his second clarification of June 16, 2010:

Given the continued interest around the world in my article due to appear in Progress in Physical Geography, and my remarks therein about consensus and the IPCC, this is a further clarification (additional to the one posted yesterday, 15 June) of my position ...

The ambiguity in the original Hulme & Mahony article emerges from the caricatured example I offer of a ‘claim’ which I suggest is disingenuous [OED: ‘not straightforward or candid’], namely when I wrote ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’. This is far too general a claim for the very specific point I was seeking to make about expert judgement and consensus-making.

I should therefore instead have written in the original PiPG article, "Claims [made by commentators, not the IPCC] such as ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists agree that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid 20th century is very likely [greater than 90% likelihood based on expert judgement] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations’ are disingenuous"....

The denialist "reporter" Lawrence Solomon wrote another column in the National Post (6-16-10). It's a lot of sophism. He is trying to embarrass Dr. Hulme and cause divisions in the climate science community. Dr. Hulme did not say that the IPCC consensus on climate change is "phony."

Scientists agree that CO2 emissions are causing rapid global warming and that this warming is going to have a harmful effect on our planet, nature and mankind.

According to National Geogaphic News (2-2-07):

Global warming is here, it's human-caused, and it will continue for centuries even if greenhouse-gas emissions are stabilized, an international panel of climate experts said in a report issued today.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) used its strongest language yet to link human activity to Earth's warming temperatures, rising seas, more intense storms, and a host of other environmental maladies. (Full text)

Here is the homepage of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


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