Sunday, January 24, 2010

Glaciergate Exposes IPCC

This, on the surface, might seem to be a relatively minor scandal.

Apparently, in the 2007 IPCC report they claim that because of global warming, the Himalayan glaciers will most likely have disappeared by 2035. Turns out that this claim has absolutely no scientific backing whatsoever.

But when a leading glaciologist had the gall to point out, through an official report, that this claim is bogus, the chairman of the IPCC decried the report as "voodoo science" before having to make an embarrassing admission that the 'voodoo science' was correct. Its an interesting window into the IPCC world, where anyone who dares to criticize their reports is obviously a peddler of junk science and lies.

Okay, so you have a scientific error compounded by a bunker mentality that leads IPCC scientists involved to make ad hominem attacks on anyone who criticizes their reports. Its disgusting behaviour, but perhaps understandable in the tense climate.

What makes this much more than a minor scandal is the fact that the group headed by the chairman of the IPCC recently received over $500 000 in grant money in order to study the Himalayan glaciers on the basis of the claims in the 2007 IPCC report. Even more, his organization was given part of a three million euro study on the Himalayan glaciers based on the same (erroneous) claim.

Its still possible that all of this is just a coincidence, but when the context of money is added in, it raises the possibility (rightly or wrongly) that the error was intentionally added in order to feed public alarmism and obtain more funding. Which would be unethical to say the least.

Whether by unfortunate accident, or unethical design, this incident has damaged the IPCC in ways unimaginable. Their 2007 report is suspect, having included a sensational factual error that led to key scientists involved receive massive funding grants. This report is one that is relied upon faithfully by thousands of scientists and groups as being factually correct and scientifically sound. For example, the American Physical Society (APS), in refusing to change their position on climate change, relied almost exclusively on the 2007 IPCC report. Their chairman is under a cloud having wrongly denigrated a scientist who pointed out their error.

This is not to say that there is any proven wrongdoing on anyone's part or that the entire IPCC 2007 report is junk based on a single error. But it raises questions that need to be addressed by the scientific community at large. For example, how we trust scientists who write these reports to be unbiased when they are simultaneously receiving funding based on how sensational their claims are?

UPDATE: The headaches continue for the IPCC. Apparently they included as fact the idea that global warming is associated with more disasters, which even the people they cited now acknowledge isn't proven.

What good are reviewers if the IPCC doesn't listen to them?

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