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« Another Nobel Laureate | Main | Quote of the day »

An error too embarrassing to correct

In the comments to the earlier thread, Nic Lewis left this comment about what happened when he discovered that the IPCC had altered the Forster and Gregory climate sensitivity findings. I thought it striking enough to warrant a posting of its own.

A recap for those unfamiliar with the story. My complaint about the alteration of the Forster & Gregory 2006 results was rejected on the grounds that it was done to put all the climate sensitivity probability density graphs on the same, uniform prior in sensitivity, basis. Justifying changing a result from a correct to an incorrect basis on the grounds that all the other results were given on that basis seems very dubious to me. But I knew that at least one of the other studies, Gregory 2002, actually had its results shown on the same basis as the original Forster & Gregory 2006 results, being a uniform prior in the climate feedback parameter - that is, a prior inversely proportional to the square of sensitivity. So my letter to Gabi Hegerl complained that the statement that the Gregory 2002 results were stated on a uniform prior in sensitivity basis was incorrect.

Gabi Hegerl, quite properly, brought my letter to the attention of the IPCC WG1 Co-Chairs, and it was dealt with under the new formal "IPCC protocol for addressing possible errors". The result was the issue of a formal Erratum by the IPCC, stating that Gregory et al "implicitly use a uniform prior on transient climate response". I knew that this was also wrong, but Gabi insisted that the WG1 authors were sure it was right. In fact, Gabi was relying on Myles Allen, who I think was primarily responsible for the use of a uniform prior in sensitivity basis in Chapter 9 of AR4 WG1.

It took me several months, with the help of another climate scientist, to find out why Myles Allen thought that Gregory et al "implicitly use a uniform prior on transient climate response" and then ultimately to persuade him, and thus Gabi Hegerl, that this statement also was incorrect - and that I had been right all along in saying that in fact this study implicitly used a nearly uniform prior in the climate feedback parameter.

Gabi and Myles were not keen to get the IPCC to issue a further Erratum, which would obviously be embarrassing, so I agreed not to pursue the matter further.

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Reader Comments (36)

Myles Allen. It is strange that the same names keep cropping up again and again when there is a cover-up going on.

Nov 8, 2012 at 10:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

There's an old song that goes

'Inch by inch, row by row,
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a patch of fertile ground'

I modify it thusly

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garbage go
All it takes is just to show
That the science is unsound

Three cheers for M&M,. the Bish, and Lewis, and so many others, who are leading the way in exposing the superficial and misleading analyses on which the alarmists are so quick to stand for their doomsday pontifications.

Nov 8, 2012 at 11:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

its the nature of the area that all that matters is how well the 'result ' meets your needs not if its actual valid in the first place . Top to bottom its become so politicised they simply don't even think like scientists any more.

Nov 9, 2012 at 12:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

WUWT: New paper suggests that CO2 ‘…could prove to be our salvation from the next ice age’
From the University of Gothenburg , another head exploder for Joe Romm and company...

6 Nov: Wind industries lay off hundreds of workers
by Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
The federal tax credit that subsidizes wind energy is set to expire at the end of the year, and political uncertainty is putting the brakes on the wind industry...
Some industry analysts say about 30 percent of wind manufacturing jobs nationwide will be lost by the end of the year because of uncertainty about the wind energy production tax credit. Industry estimates say 3,000 of 11,000 manufacturing jobs will be lost. If the production tax credit is not extended, job losses could climb to 75 percent...

Nov 9, 2012 at 3:14 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

Post normal science requires that "facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent". Making the facts uncertain fits perfectly when your goal is to make the decisions.

Nov 9, 2012 at 8:04 AM | Unregistered Commenterssat

In this whole thing, climate scientists are just so many useful idiots. If one comes up with the 'wrong' results, well get another one who is more reliable, or persuade the first one to 'look again' at his work. Whether people of the calibre of Jones, second rate minds at second rate universities are intellectually corruptible through vanity - the thrill of being feted for being the brains behind 'leaders' - or because of some attachement to half-baked progressivism of one kind or another, doesn't much matter. What matters is that academics are such easy prey for politicians.

Nov 9, 2012 at 8:14 AM | Unregistered Commenterbill

So he just dropped it even though he was right? Sorry but this makes him part if the problem!!!!


Nov 9, 2012 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

But isn't it a bit like complaining that the screws are not quite correct on the Ikea cupboard they are building ... and forgetting to mention they board a chest of draws.

Yes, they can mould and craft all the bits together to make it fit their concept of a cupboard ... and yes we can point to this or that way that it doesn't quite work after they've sawed and glued and hacked and sawed and glued it altogether so that it does almost (when you squint) start to look like a cupboard.

But that doesn't stop the fact that it would be a lot easier just to use the bits to build the chest of draws like we suggested. But no ... they've half built their cupboard and ... that is what they are intent on making.

Nov 9, 2012 at 9:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikeHaseler

This is the same state we were in previously. The IPCC is very ready to correct non-'embarrassing' errors. Like typos. Or errors when corrected make it worse than the worse thing that it already was.

This is all like forcing scientific behaviour and functionality, which as supposedly exists in the peer-reviewed literature mechanism, onto an organization which is not scientific to begin with. So it is actually like an electrician calling himself a carpenter, making a chest and calling it a cupboard.

Any passage of text that has peer-reviewed papers for its citations doesn't become scientific.

Any 'report' released by an organization is not scientific. Published science is the product of a certain mechanism. The IPCC does not have many of the attributes of such a mechanism. Stop wasting your time.

Nov 9, 2012 at 11:40 AM | Registered Commentershub

Would Myles Allen would care to comment? As part of his 'communication outreach' activities perhaps?

Nov 9, 2012 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterZT

in melbourne, australia, the conservative state govt has just sponsored Carbon Expo, which needs no explanation, and our govt and opposition spokesmen at the Expo have declared australia will sign up to kyoto 2, even tho new zealand is among the many countries who won't be signing up. ed davey is being quoted on australia's position:

9 Nov: DECC: Joining Kyoto second committment period
Commenting on the news today that Australia is ready to join the Kyoto second commitment period[External link], UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey said:
“This is an extremely welcome announcement from Australia and for the first time expands international commitment beyond Europe.
“Having Australia on board will really help to push the second Kyoto Protocol period which is vital to maintaining agreed rules to cut global emissions as we make the transition to a new, global, legally binding deal.
“Australia’s work to reduce emissions is bold and promising. I’ll be working hard with Greg Combet and our global counterparts to make even more progress in Doha.”

Nov 9, 2012 at 12:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterpat

From Myles Allen's Guardian profile:

7 Oct 2011: Myles Allen: To claim that we are causing meteorological events that would not have occurred without human influence is just plain wrong

11 Jul 2012: Myles Allen: Quantifying how greenhouse gases contribute to extreme weather is a crucial step in calculating the cost of human influence

All over the map

Nov 9, 2012 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohnb

All over the map
Quite so.
I feel mildly insulted — as should anyone with an IQ in double figures — that Allen has such a low opinion of his fellow beings that he imagines himself able to spout whatever drivel serves his purpose at any given time without anyone noticing.

Nov 9, 2012 at 1:49 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Like a weathercock.

Pointing which way the extreme winds blow.

Nov 9, 2012 at 1:50 PM | Registered Commentershub

"...vital to maintaining agreed rules..."

We can agree on that bit.

Nov 9, 2012 at 1:50 PM | Registered Commentershub

"So he just dropped it even though he was right? Sorry but this makes him part if the problem!!!!"

Gee, thanks very much!

See my reasons for doing so, on the other thread.

Nov 9, 2012 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic Lewis

Mailman, I think Nic was right to drop this too. We can only do what we can do.

It also gives the whole story a long and potent shelf life. How good is the IPCC report if even the Errata are wrong? This will come back to haunt them for years.

Nov 9, 2012 at 2:34 PM | Registered CommenterJosh

I agree with Mailman and thus sadly disagree with my hero Josh :(

Nic says:

I had bigger fish to fry. The IPCC's mistake was not very important in this case, other than in that it showed that the scientists involved didn't understand Bayesian prior distributions as well as they thoiught they did. The first Erratum had already established that.

Surely it is better to try to get climate scientists to see where there are errors in their approach or understanding, in this case about Bayesian inference for scientific studies, than to score points off them.

Fry every fish is my suggestion. Here we have 2 IPCC Authors admitting that they are allowing flawed work to be published in AR5 because it would be too embarrassing to be seen to correct it. This establishes an IPCC modus operandi, it was worth pursuing for that fact alone.

Nov 9, 2012 at 2:46 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Re: Dung/Mailman

Since Gabi and Myles have already acknowledged that their erratum is in error there is nothing to stop either of you picking up from where Nic left off and try and get them to change it.

Nov 9, 2012 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS


Did you at least get them to assure that they'd never repeat that mistake? I can see not going back in time again, but they should make some assurances on how they move forward.

Nov 9, 2012 at 3:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterDean_1230

The IPCC has a clearly set out
process for dealing with alleged errors
. The CLAs are consulted (step 3). They deny the error (go to 4b), write a statement, the claimant is informed and the case is then closed. So as far as the IPCC is concerned that's it and any further discussion between say, Nic and Gabi is not really of interest.

In the case of the error I reported (found by someone else), the IPCC report said 2+2=5. The IPCC CLAs said they meant 2+3=5, and "While the text could have been even more explicit on this, the present text is not in error". Case closed.

Nov 9, 2012 at 3:16 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews


You quite rightly point out that one man can not do everything and that surely I can complain just as easily as Nic. However I only get involved where I am sure of my facts, I write to my MP about climate and energy, I wrote to parliament to complain that Tim Yeo had not declared all his renewables shareholdings. However I am not a statistician and do not have the knowledge and skills that NIc has got.

Nov 9, 2012 at 4:38 PM | Registered CommenterDung


I don't think that there is any likelihood of this mistake being repeated by the IPCC.

Nov 9, 2012 at 6:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic Lewis

So he just dropped it even though he was right? Sorry but this makes him part if the problem!!!!


I agree with Josh that this criticism is without merit. Nic has already done so much for the cause of good science. He doesn't have to chase every rabbit that emerges as a result.

But (if the host will indulge me) this is also a brilliant example for the different kind of moderation I suggested a while back. In that scheme Mailman making this criticism of a person using a real name would be politely asked to use his or her real name in doing so. If that doesn't suit him the criticism would not be allowed to stand.

This would change the culture really pretty quickly I think. For a little while the number of posts would reduce. But the quality, in every sense, would soon increase.

Nov 9, 2012 at 6:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

If that doesn't suit him the criticism would not be allowed to stand.

Nah. That is not going to be good.

There is truth to what mailman says, though there is much to suggest otherwise too. Whether one remains anonymous shouldn't be used to determine validity between the two.

The extended peer community doesn't have a name. It has names like mailman, and dung. Owing precisely to this is it able to offer unpalatable feedback.

Nov 9, 2012 at 7:42 PM | Registered Commentershub

Richard Drake

I am Colin Brooks
I live in Atherstone
I am 64 years old
I am white
I have a beard
I am retired
and my views are still the same as they were before.

Shub is shub, I respect him for his views, if shub changed his name his views would still be the same and I would still respect them.

Some posters on BH can not afford to disclose their real names for very good reasons and you should not impugn their integrity just because you personally would prefer to know their names.

Nov 9, 2012 at 7:58 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Thanks for the feedback, as always, shub.

Let me be a bit more specific about how I think my proposal might work. I don't do this to persuade you (I don't expect to persuade you, right now, if ever) but to show some of the subtleties that lurk not far beneath the surface here.

When I say 'the criticism would not be allowed to stand' if the person concerned didn't want to give their real name I mean (as I expect you would think) that the comment in question would be removed. But note that some BH readers will have read it before that. And the person criticised is perfectly free to respond, as is anyone else, as happened with Nic and Josh here (both nyms where the surname is widely known, another little nuance - and Nic used the Lewis, not the L above).

In removing the original I wouldn't propose removing the responses. In this case, because the criticism was short this would mean the both the nym of the critic and the full criticism would therefore in this case remain on the record. So you might think it's all a bit of tokenism in this case.

But not in others. And symbolic actions can be extremely important, as our friends the believers in climate danger know all too well.

I've wanted to grapple with a concrete example of what I'm proposing for a long while. This seemed the right moment. It doesn't imply this is the worst ever example - but I think it's a good one, for the extended peer community to mull over.

Nov 9, 2012 at 8:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I wonder if or when life will serve up a situation to Richard so that he can progress beyond his dreary "named names make better comments" hobby horse?

Re: Nic's position - the call is/was his to make. If others feel strongly enough to pursue the matter I think there is enough details in the blog posts for them to press the point.

Nov 9, 2012 at 8:23 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

nby: Thank you for describing a hobby horse that neither of us believes in. Is that called a straw horse?

Nov 9, 2012 at 10:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake


Why dont you go and set up your own blog and see what the general reaction is to your symbolism. Mr Montford is a grown up and is quite capable of running his blog in a proper manner without your help.

Nov 9, 2012 at 11:58 PM | Registered CommenterDung

And Mr Montford gets help every day, in many different ways and at many levels, from many people. As well as a lot of unnecessary hassle no doubt. Andrew's never commented on my thoughts in this area, either publicly or directly. He is of course free to do so. He is also free to delete anything he considers unhelpful on any thread here. By all means lobby him to do so, if my tentative suggestions cause you anxiety. But I don't think they should.

I personally don't want to know the real names of people here. I want maximum personal responsibility because I think it leads to much more productive and rewarding community. But it's not the only factor. Forgiveness is a massive counterbalancing ingredient. Thought for another day. But it's an interesting week for anonymous criticism, given the travails of Lord McAlpine on Twitter. Lines have to be drawn somewhere, and I think it's best to strive for the very best and see what we can create together.

Nov 10, 2012 at 12:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Sorry. I'm definitely on the same side as this writer, but I can barely read this ungrammatical prose. Jo Nova has a problem with apostrophes and I forgive that, because her writing is so good. Donna Laframboise hardly ever makes a spelling mistake (in fact, I don't recall one). The Bishop himself writes impeccably. Nic Lewis, please, check your grammar and, especially, your readability. You have an incredibly important message here. It genuinely took me two attempts to read this, though.

Nov 10, 2012 at 1:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterOwen Morgan

Richard, we have had a round or two about names in the past and I don't intend going there again BUT you wheeling out your hobby-horse again is not necessary. Any person who, such as myself, uses a nom de blog does so for their own reasons which should be respected. You have made your feelings clear in the past so why not leave it there?

Nov 10, 2012 at 6:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

I'm not talking about your use of pseudonymity AK but about certain kinds of criticism from the anonymous directed at real people. Like the allegations against Lord McAlpine on Twitter this week. That I say is wrong. If you're going to allege that this man is a paedophile, working with others, who threatened his victims with murder if they ever tried to expose him, then you should use your real name and pay the consequences in court. I wonder what will happen to George Monbiot in that regard after his key tweet mentioning Lord McAlpine a week ago. It was sly and disgusting from Monbiot but it was far better than the anonymous cowards who accused the man of much worse as a mob.

You personally don't use anonymity like that and I assume you're going to claim that nobody is that evil on Bishop Hill. But what guarantee can you have about that? What could have stopped Jimmy Savile making a comment here, under a pseudonym? He was a deceptive character who could pretend to be virtuous for many years in some settings. Or the real rapist of Steve Messham? Or the most twisted controller in the BBC (say) who has tried to manipulate both stories to provide cover for real culprits.

Answer: there is no guarantee. That's why we need to nip things in the bud. That's my view.

Nov 10, 2012 at 7:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Enough on anonymity here please.

Nov 10, 2012 at 9:01 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill


Nov 22, 2012 at 1:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

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