Obvious enough you would have though, but some still fall for it. UN climate change panel based claims on student dissertation and magazine article is the latest excitement.

Breathlessly, they reveal:

It can be revealed that the IPCC report made use of 16 non-peer reviewed WWF reports. One claim, which stated that coral reefs near mangrove forests contained up to 25 times more fish numbers than those without mangroves nearby, quoted a feature article on the WWF website. In fact the data contained within the WWF article originated from a paper published in 2004 in the respected journal Nature. In another example a WWF paper on forest fires was used to illustrate the impact of reduced rainfall in the Amazon rainforest, but the data was from another Nature paper published in 1999. When The Sunday Telegraph contacted the lead scientists behind the two papers in Nature, they expressed surprise that their research was not cited directly but said the IPCC had accurately represented their work.

So, whilst quoting WWF rather than the paper direct is silly, the actual science was correctly represented. Not the kind of technical detail that the Torygraph’s audience is going to be interested in, I fear. So is there better? Well the main lead is:

In its most recent report, it stated that observed reductions in mountain ice in the Andes, Alps and Africa was being caused by global warming, citing two papers as the source of the information. However, it can be revealed that one of the sources quoted was a feature article published in a popular magazine for climbers which was based on anecdotal evidence from mountaineers about the changes they were witnessing on the mountainsides around them

It is WG II again, of course. specifically, Table 1.2. Selected observed effects due to changes in the cryosphere produced by warming which includes a line for loss of ice climbs, in Andes, Alps, Africa. Exactly as you’d expect, this is sourced to climbers and mountain guides, who oddly enough know about this kind of stuff. Unlike the Torygraph, which in a determined bid to prove that they really are an utter pile of twats, says Experts claim that loss of ice climbs are a poor indicator of a reduction in mountain ice as climbers can knock ice down and damage ice falls with their axes and crampons.


  1. #1 Gerard Harbison

    I had no idea anecdotal reports from climbers were a legitimate source of scientific information. However, given that they “know about this kind of stuff’, I don’t know why we don’t just ask swimmers, rather than have NOAA invest all that money in measuring sea surface temperatures.

    “The water’s bloody freezing today!”

    “‘Thanks. Clearly another El Niño in the works! We’ll get the press release out.”

    [I don’t know swimmers, but I don’t think they are terribly interested in water temperatures far out to sea. By contrast climbers are fanatically interested in the quality and quantity of the ice they climb -W]

  2. #2 Mauri Pelto

    Climbers can be a source of vital historic information. It is their photographs that scientists can turn to as evidence. The photographs still have to be tied into ground or satellite or GIS based measurements to be used. I have spent the last 26 years looking at North Cascade glaciers in the month of August. However, I can rely on climber photographs that are older, are of a glacier I did not see that summer or at a time I was not there. This is a network I have tapped into and use. Note the Honeycomb Glacier, the pictures from 1977 and 2006 are from a climber or the Bugaboo Glacier.


  3. #3 Deech56

    So if they took that line out of the table would it change anything? No. These were just “observed effects” of the loss of ice. There are plenty of references to the loss of ice in WGI, Chapter 4.

    I cannot believe that this is newsworthy. There’s quite a pushback from the denial industry going on.

  4. #4 Mark

    “There’s quite a pushback from the denial industry going on.”

    You think? :-)

  5. #5 Robert P.

    Also, what’s wrong with using a “student dissertation” as a reference? I cite Ph. D. theses all the time – they often provide a more complete account of a research project than the papers based on them. Even undergraduate dissertations have been known to contain useful results once in a while: e.g. http://hdl.handle.net/1721.1/10786 .

    [:-0. BTW, welcome to my humble blog. sci.env slowly returning from the ashes of the usenet meltdown? -W]

  6. #6 Nicolas Nierenberg

    Your points are well taken, and it seems that the science is reasonably sound. But this is a natural reaction to the rhetorical campaign that always stressed “peer reviewed” as the only gold standard.

    As a result of an overemphasis on the peer review standard, two things have happened. Skeptical folks have increasingly published, and other skeptical types are looking for hypocrisy in the standard.

    [I think that is a mischaracterisation. “Skeptical” publications (in the GW-skeptic sense, not in the correct all-scientists-are-skeptics-sense) are a vanishing fraction of the literature. They are given PR well out of proportion to their value or quantity, well, precicely because they are so rare. Other skeptical types are not diligently searchnig for hypocricy; they are diligently searching for any stick to beat the IPCC and/or GW with, and are fundamentally dishonest (not all of them, of course; but the Torygraphs and the Delingpoles of the world are) -W]

  7. #7 Deech56

    Nicolas Nierenberg, can you point to evidence to support your claim that “Skeptical folks have increasingly published…”?


  8. #8 Eli Rabett

    That’s one hell of an ice axe.

  9. #9 Lucas

    “this is a natural reaction to the rhetorical campaign that always stressed “peer reviewed” as the only gold standard.”
    No, this is another example of the denialists’ inability to think critically and misrepresent other people’s words.
    Peer reviewed studies published in reputable journals is the minimum standard of quality that have to be met in order to start a scientific discussion. But peer review in itself isn’t a “gold standard” [1, 2]

    “Skeptical folks have increasingly published”
    Other than articles in the non-peer reviewed Energy and Environment and seriously flawed papers in the mainstream literature I ask you to cite 5 papers that have advanced the state of the science and challenged seriously the consensus as represented by the IPCC reports and assessments done by national academies.

    “other skeptical types are looking for hypocrisy in the standard.”
    These “skeptical types” discover a loose photon and claim that it’s the result of a supernova explosion right in front of our eyes. In this case, simply following the chain of citations should have ended all the hoopla. Facts, context, understanding the big picture and risk management are all absent in the toolbox of denialists.

    1- http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/01/peer-review-a-necessary-but-not-sufficient-condition/
    2- http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/01/peer-review-ii/

  10. #10 Outeast

    Any comment on the grauniad’s latest on phil jones? A rather more worrying story on the face of it…

    [Do you mean http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/01/leaked-emails-climate-jones-chinese ? That isn’t news, it has been around quite a while. I’m not quite sure what went on there – possibly nothing; possibly a Chinese collaborator making mistakes or worse and not being checked on; possibly worse. We’ll see. Or maybe not; the story, as I say, has been around for a year or more and no-one bothered -W]

  11. #11 PeteB

    Nor the Times

    After the rather hilarious


    compare and contrast

    what Beddington said

    “I don’t think it’s healthy to dismiss proper scepticism. Science grows and improves in the light of criticism. There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction that can’t be changed.”

    “I think, wherever possible, we should try to ensure there is openness and that source material is available for the whole scientific community.”

    turns into

    Professor Beddington said that climate scientists should be less hostile to sceptics who questioned man-made global warming. He condemned scientists who refused to publish the data underpinning their reports.

    “Certain unqualified statements have been unfortunate. We have a problem in communicating uncertainty. There’s definitely an issue there. If there wasn’t, there wouldn’t be the level of scepticism. All of these predictions have to be caveated by saying, ‘There’s a level of uncertainty about that’.”

    seems to turn into this

    He said that public confidence in climate science would be improved if there were more openness about its uncertainties, even if that meant admitting that sceptics had been right on some hotly-disputed issues.

    Next installment is


    where, apart from getting completely the wrong section of the Nature letter – obviously the WWF / IPCC was summarising this (which has nothing to do with logging)

    “ENSO-related drought can desiccate large areas of Amazonian
    forest, creating the potential for large-scale forest ®res. Because of the severe drought of 1997 and 1998, we calculate that approximately 270,000 km2 of Amazonian forest had completely depleted plant-available water stored in the upper ®ve metres of soil by the end of the 1998 dry season. In addition, 360,000 km2 of forest had less than 250mm of plant-available soil water left by this time (Fig. 1b). By comparison, only 28,000 km2 of forests in Roraima had
    depleted soil water to 5m depth at the peak of the Roraima forest fires.We estimated the areal extent of forest surface fire in a 45,000-km2 southeastern Amazonian landscape (Fig. 1b) by recording forest status from an aeroplane at 1,104 sample points along 750 km of transects, late in the 1998 dry season. Approximately 9% of the sample points in this study area were recently-burned standing forest, in which ash was visible on the forest ¯floor. The full extent of
    forest surface fire in 1998 is not known.”

    We have the quote

    “Scientists such as Lewis are demanding that the IPCC ban the use of reports from pressure groups.”

    WTF does that mean ? – that Lewis is demanding a ban or some scientist somewhere is demanding a ban and because they are both scientists they can be grouped together

    What Lewis actually said was

    “In my opinion the Rowell and Moore report should not have been cited; it contains no primary research data.”

    which I think everyone would agree with

    Incidentally I don’t think the (indirectly) cited Nature paper supports the 40 % claim, and this is an issue, although there is a quite a bit of primary research on the issue





    The last one, looking at the tables, during the 2001 ENSO the percentage of the Amazon forests in the 0-50% PAWmax category is 51%

  12. #12 Jonathan Baxter

    There’s a new kind of denialist in town.

  13. #13 bigcitylib


    I think if you follow the trail of citations from IPCC to WWF to the Nature paper you will find that the WWF cite is merely the “270,000 km2 of Amazonian forest…” claim. The 40% figure is uncited, perhaps because it was “in the air” at the time. I’m just guessing, but when you google around the popular press you see similar claims.

  14. #14 bigcitylib

    By the way, re using material from “pressure groups”. Last summer TD economics (the bank) sponsored a study on the costs to Canada of various emission reduction plans. People asked: why did you employ the Pembina Institute and David Suzuki’s gang to do it? Their answer was that there aren’t many people in the Canadian context that have built the models to do the exercise, so they had little choice.

    More generally, this seems to be the point of the IPCC instructions re grey Lit: to get at research done in the private/NGO whatever sector.

  15. #15 Tony O'Brien

    Changes are a commin. We can either get ready or wait until things happen.

    Irrespective of when the glaciers totally disappear it would be prudent to get ready for changes in water flows. The exact date of when glaciers disapear completely does not affect the other outcomes predicted.

    Lets wait until aircraft are circling to land on open water before we replace airports at low levels. You cannot use half a runway.

  16. #16 Marlowe Johnson

    Actually BCL if you RTFR (first page!) you’ll see that it was prepared by Mark Jaccard et al. Jaccard is well known in the energy-economy modelling business, which admittedly is small, both in Canada and the U.S.

    The study was initiated by Pembina and Suzuki and funded by TD. A subtle distinction but important nonetheless and one that wasn’t clear from the MSM coverage. btw the report can be found here:


  17. #17 Adam

    PeteB, what you have to remember is that to your average churnalist, stating that something should not have been used is exactly the same as calling for a ban.

  18. #18 Harrywr2

    “this is sourced to climbers and mountain guides, who oddly enough know about this kind of stuff.”

    We’ve had claims of ‘unprecedented melting’ of the Glaciers on Mt Rainier twice in the last 3 years(2007 and 2009) by well respected climbers.

    [{{cn}} -W]

    A review of the meticulous records kept since 1931 on Mt Rainier falsified the climbers claims both times.

    [{{cn}} -W]

    Very few climbers are old enough to remember the last major retreat(1930’s) or the last major advance(1950’s thru 1970’s) on Mt Rainier. Hence they can only describe ‘weather’.

  19. #19 PeteB



    Up to 40% of the Brazilian forest is extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall. In the 1998 dry season, some 270,000 sq. km of forest became vulnerable to fire, due to completely depleted plant-available water stored in the upper five metres of soil. A further 360,000 sq. km of forest had only 250 mm of plant-available soil water left.46

    where 46 is 46 D. C. Nepstad, A. Veríssimo, A. A l e n c a r, C. Nobre, E. Lima, P. Lefebvre, P.
    S c h l e s i n g e r, C. Potter, P. Mountinho, E. Mendoza, M. Cochrane, V. Brooks, Larg e –
    scale Impoverishment of Amazonian Forests by Logging and Fire, Nature, 1999, Vo l 398, 8 April, pp505

    online here http://www.ic.ucsc.edu/~wxcheng/envs23/lecture12/Fire_nature.pdf

    I don’t think the cites support the quote in WWF (although other sources suggest ‘up to 40%’ isn’t unreasonable)

  20. #20 bigcitylib

    Pete B,

    It supports the 2nd and 3rd of the three sentences. My point is, maybe that is the intent, with the 40% figure as “common knowledge” as it were, from other sources. This is of course picking nits.

    Marlowe! Those are mere facts! In any case, TD did take some flack for working with these guys(Pembina and Suzuki esp., I suppose), and did say that they were one of the few sources of appropriate expertise in the country.

  21. #21 PeteB

    BPL – maybe, but the 270,000 + 360,000 sq km is a lot less than 40%. I know it doesn’t really matter, but I don’t think it would’ve got past a WG1 editor.

  22. #22 Nicolas Nierenberg

    To all that asked me to justify my comment about “skeptical” articles being published. First it is a matter of definition of course. But how about if I use this standard. Naomi Oreskes claimed in her widely discussed paper that there were no skeptical articles published during a significant period prior to that time. Since then I have noted howls of outrage about several articles that have been published, which I am assuming her careful study would have turned up. So we have certainly moved up from zero.

    [That you have to put it like that rather proves my response before was correct. Also, you might want to re-read what Oreskes said. Better, you should find one skeptic paper she wouldn’t have passed -W]

  23. #23 carrot eater


    Hmm. I think Oreskes looked at 1993 to 2003. I didn’t pay much attention to her work or method, so maybe I shouldn’t comment.

    Lindzen introduced iris in 2001. Would that have counted? It wasn’t a bad paper, by the way, but I’d call it sceptical.

    Most of the fuss was about Soon and Baliunas; that was in 2003. Was that within Oreske’s time frame?

    Many of the other more recent infamous papers were in E&E (Beck) or some extremely obscure place (Miskolczi).

    It isn’t immediately obvious to me that outright sceptic papers are getting into real journals at an increasing rate, but I’m willing to be convinced with supporting data.

  24. #24 Hank Roberts

    > Lindzen … iris

    I’ve always wondered if that’s related to this:

    Thermostats, Radiator Fins, and the Local Runaway Greenhouse*
    Department of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
    … 1 December 1994

  25. #25 Nicolas Nierenberg


    I don’t know, and I don’t spend very much time on this, but it seems like RC has a post trashing some paper that they consider skeptical every few months.

    [{{cn}}. Come on, this adds nothing. Add a cite/ref or drop it -W]

  26. #26 Eli Rabett

    Oreskes touched off an interesting attempt by the denialists to get stuff published. Unfortunately many of the ones who tried were the least competent (Gerlich, Chilingar, Monckton, Plimer) and some of the ones you would think competent published off the wall stuff (Essex, McKitrick, Soon, Baliunas) with more than a fair helping of misleading half truths (becoming an RP Sr. specialty see Klotzbach, the Colorado surface stations thing, etc.). More often than not, esp. with the wilder flights of fancy, you could trace the publication to an editor with a strong agenda.

    In the Oreskes timeframe you certainly had cosmic ray work and a fair amount of solar. Why this was not picked up by Oreskes, Eli don’t know, but the point is that the crap poisoned the well, and people got tired of dealing with it especially given the tight coupling to the propaganda mill.

    [Lightly redacted in the interests of congeniality -W]

  27. #27 carrot eater

    The Friis-Christensen solar cycle paper was in 1991.

    Gerlich bounced around a while unpublished, so I don’t even count it.

    There’s the Lindzens of the world, and then there’s the Gerlichs. One has to keep them separate.

  28. #28 Nicolas Nierenberg


    Your inability to detect irony is truly sad.

  29. #29 Eli Rabett

    There was a pretty large back and forth and at least one paper by Svensmark in 1998

    Henrik Svensmark (1998). “Influence of Cosmic Rays on Earth’s Climate”. Physical Review Letters 81: 5027–5030. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.81.5027.

    I think there are more. Maybe they didn’t use the term climate change in the paper, which Eli thinks, was what Oreskes searched under.

    And oh yeah Nico, that’s about the last card anyone can play. Please close the door on your way out you poor misunderstood baby.

  30. #30 Nicolas Nierenberg


    I have carefully read what Oreskes said, and followed the debate afterward. Her implication was that there were no peer reviewed papers that were skeptical of the consensus during the period. I realize that she only searched papers with the keywords “climate change”, but I would think that if she had been aware of prominent discussions such as the one ER brings up that she would have been remiss not to mention it.

    I really don’t know what the trend is in “skeptical” papers, or even if there is a good way to define it. My point was that there has been an increasing focus by skeptics on the issue of peer review, brought on by the comments from the climate community.

    I have to admit that I didn’t understand this phrase in your comment. “Better, you should find one skeptic paper she wouldn’t have passed.”

    [I mean that some papers that you might take to be “consensus busting” might not pass her criteria. You must have seen the post-Oreskes fuss (Peiser lead some of it; Deltoid took him to pieces) where people put up lists of “these are clearly skeptical so why didn’t Oreskes include them” and those lists were then dismantled. This is why you really need to put up an actual paper for consideration, not just vague assertions -W]

  31. #31 carrot eater

    NN, “My point was that there has been an increasing focus by skeptics on the issue of peer review, brought on by the comments from the climate community.”

    Let’s work a bit to see what this actually means.

    There’s certainly more emphasis in discrediting the entire notion of peer review as some sort of political conspiracy; then they publicise the daylights out of anything they do manage to publish anywhere. In this respect, they are reading straight from the creationist playbook, which really should give somebody pause.

    In terms of actually publishing: The circus clowns (Plimer, Monckton), most of the bloggers, and for the most part the think-tankers still aren’t publishing, and most couldn’t write anything worth publishing if they tried. McIntyre probably could write something if he bothered to put his neck out and actually do something original and useful, but I think he’s got one.

    On the other hand, the Lindzens and Svensmarks have been publishing the whole time. So I’m not sure how you fit them into your picture of change over time.

    I’ve never bothered to read any papers of Sherwood Idso, but those go back into the 80s.

  32. #32 Nicolas Nierenberg


    I don’t think her criteria was stated as “consensus busting.” And why do I have to put up a paper if ER did it for me with the Svensmark paper? Are you now arguing that there weren’t any skeptical papers published during that period, or are you arguing that Oreskes criteria simply missed the skeptical papers of the period?

  33. #33 willard

    Without wanting to enter into a debate that might be off topic, Oreskes searched for “global climate change”, not “climate change”. This has some impact on Piesner’s comments. Et caetera.

    Sometimes, all this sounds like actors reheasing.

  34. #34 bob koepp

    Most of the above discussion relating to publications (or not) by skeptics seems to assume that skeptics must have some positive explanation accounting for the data that represents an alternative to the consensus view that CO2 is the main factor. From a methodological perspective, that’s a distorted view of what skepticism involves. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably find myself saying it again (and again…): Sound criticism of a positive thesis does not require the proposal of an alternative. Criticisms can be directed at methods of data acquisition, the interpretation of data, the soundness of inferences based on the data, etc., etc. Criticisms of this sort can undermine theories without depending in the least on the availability of alternative hypotheses.

  35. #35 carrot eater

    bob: That’s true, and is done in a constructive and useful way in any field. It’s part of how you progress. Flip open a random paper, and you’ll see some improvement upon the prior art.

    However, turning it back to the so-called sceptics, I don’t see them publishing papers of this sort that would call much of anything into question. Maybe just the one from McIntyre, and that was quite limited in its scope and relevance.

  36. #36 bob koepp

    carrot eater – My comment concerned an unwarranted assumption that seemed to be at work in the above discussion. As to why skeptics haven’t published more, I imagine the reasons are multiple and varied.

  37. #37 Brian Schmidt

    Tim Lambert at Deltoid pointed out that Oreskes used a restrictive definition of skeptical, as something that “expressly” contradicted mainstream opinion rather than implicitly contradicting it or a major piece of evidence for it. I think that might explain one reason why she found absolutely nothing. I also think it’s possible she might have missed one or two abstracts that even under her definition should have been classified as skeptical (this isn’t to criticize her, she did some excellent foundational work at surveying abstracts).

    It’s better to use Oreskes’ work to posit that there was no more than a very small percent of expressly or implicitly skeptical papers in the time period she studied. I don’t think there’s any evidence of an increase since then.

  38. #38 carrot eater

    bob koepp: I don’t think that assumption was there at all. If the sceptics had published some critique of some aspect of climate science, that would also be noted, and papers like this were indeed listed above:

    I’d say Gerlich/Tscheuchner falls into that category. Also Chilingar and maybe Idso. These aren’t providing alternate warming mechanisms, so much as trying to say that greenhouse gases well, aren’t. The G/T and Chilingar papers are so mind-numbingly bad, it’s not only surprising that they were published, but that somebody literate even wrote them in the first place.

    I’d say the various papers arguing for little-to-no-feedback also fall into the category of which you speak. Hence, Douglass/Christy and Lindzen, Lindzen and more Lindzen.

    So I reject the idea that we’ve wrongly been looking too narrowly. We cast a wide net, and still don’t find many publications, and even fewer that are any good.

  39. #39 Eli Rabett

    A long time ago Eli did on Oreskes on Google Scholar. Pretty much what carrot eater said. In the first 200 or so listings there were none that argued against the conclusions of the IPCC AR4.

  40. #40 carrot eater

    Eli, any idea why google scholar returned you WG2 stuff first? and not necessarily highly cited stuff, at that.

    Perhaps WG1 people are less likely to have the term ‘global climate change’ in the abstract than WG2 people.

  41. #41 Eli Rabett

    There are more of them.

    Most of the WGI stuff is pretty well nailed down

  42. #42 Tim H

    One of the points in the Telegraph article is that the time period cited in the table is 1900-2000 – which can hardly be established by those two sources. The claim may nevertheless be scientifically solid, and supported by other info in WGI, but even so it’s still sloppy referencing.

  43. #43 Brian Schmidt

    Tim H – experienced climbers, especially guides, tend to know climbing history pretty well, so they could tell about climbs that previous climbers used to do and are no longer around.

    The Telegraph also got wrong the idea that an ice climb damaged by climbers will never come back, when they actually return every year or even more often. I wrote some more about it here:


  44. #44 SonjaShepard

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