Monday, 15 February 2010

In partial defence of the IPCC

Hi folks. Well well well. The climate scandals keep on coming don’t they? Except that they don’t. Nearly all of them, with the exception of the original email hacking incident and the inconsequential mistake over the Himalayan glaciers seem to be pretty tame affairs, or just wrong. RealClimate have a good discussion of the facts on their website. Okay, I know die-hard conspiracy fans will point out that RealClimate are pretty chummy with the University of East Anglia, but they do provide evidence and links to back up their statements.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is to take a look at the IPCC report. I have just downloaded one section of part one, which is 26 MB. As the guys on RealClimate say, the whole thing is 3000 pages long, with 450 authors and 2500 reviewers. It received 90,000 comments before publication. This is all publicly available. That there have been two or three mistakes found in such a highly scrutinized work is astonishing. I would expect dozens. That all of these mistakes have been found outside of the section on physical science shows the robustness of the climate data. I am sure mistakes will be found in volume one, given time, but it remains to be seen if they are fundamental.

I also expect tens, if not hundreds of pieces of evidence to be refined and superseded in the coming years. That is how science works. In contrast Ian Plimer has been peddling many of the same errors for years. I say that not to denigrate ‘scientific skeptics’, but to show the difference between scientific process and denialists like Plimer.

Science is never about being 100% right. It is about looking at the balance of evidence. Over time, the amount of evidence can be so overwhelming as to make something appear an absolute, but it never is. There are thousands of pieces of evidence which appear to show that man-made climate change is a reality. In fact a quick glance at the IPCC synthesis tells us that 89% of well over a thousand temperature studies indicate warming. That means you can find 100 that don't! All we can do is act on the evidence. If this fundamentally changes, then so will our outlook, but a bit of hysterical howling from the press and a couple of derived errors should not.

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