2005-01-18

Landsea contrasts

Don't you just hate gratuitous puns in titles, especially when they don't work very well?

Anyway, I said I would post on sci/pol, well that gets pushed on to the stack (remember, urgent points before big ones) by the post Chris Landsea Leaves IPCC on Prometheus. BTW, Landsea is a colleague of Pielkes, which I learnt by reading More on Hurricanes and Climate Change on the same blog. That post is well worth reading and relevant to the current situation.

So... Landsea was one of the 139 authors of the IPCC TAR chapter 2 (though he wasn't one of the 8 lead authors or the 2 co-ordinating lead authors). Incidentally, one of the lead authors was John Christy, who is generally reckoned a skeptic via his custodianship of the S+C MSU record. He's said some pretty skeptical things and has ventured into the political arena, eg here. Its a fair safe bet he disagrees with some of the slant the IPCC TAR took: yet he didn't walk out. Why has Landsea got so huffy?

Landsea is an expert on tropical cyclones, hurricanes, atlantic strorms, that kind of thing. See his bio for details. I'm not. So I'm not going to quibble with his science POV. In fact I agree with quite a bit of the substance of his complaint - that people do tend to get rather carried away and explain trends in storms by GW even when it isn't clear that such a trend exists. However, I disagree with his tone. Landsea says, for example, even though it is quite clear that the TAR stated that there was no connection between global warming and hurricane activity. Weeeeeelll... is that true? The TAR is rather more nuanced, and the SPM says Changes globally in tropical and extra-tropical storm intensity and frequency are dominated by inter-decadal to multi-decadal variations, with no significant trends evident over the 20th century. Conflicting analyses make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about changes in storm activity, especially in the extra-tropics. But I really didn't want to quibble about the science. For the rest of this post, lets assume that L is dead right on the science and the he has Trenberth bang to rights on that.

So where I really disagree with him is that the "Trenberth incident" was grounds for leaving the IPCC. I'm sure Landsea gets really annoyed because time after time people misrepresent the science on this. But thats all the more reason to stay in the IPCC to make sure it correctly summarises the science. Throwing around aspersions of "politicisation" on evidence this flimsy is distinctly dubious. Trenberth was speaking for himself; being introduced as a convening lead author is irrelevant to that. Landsea seems to think that this proves that the IPCC won't include his comments objectively; this implies without directly saying so that he thinks he would be leant on to sex up his work to make it fit some agenda. But he has no evidence for this. had he stayed onboard, done his best, and got leant on, *then* he could have complained. As it is, his response seems to me an over reaction.

Lastly... all this happened some time ago, early December 2004. And last-lastly, read the last piece of pdf correspondence, which is a letter from Susan Solomon to Landsea. Its odd. Its not the "would you reconsider?" letter you'd expect; its a so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-fish letter. I wonder if there is some other correspondence there we're not seeing.

[Update: 2005/01/20: Meanwhile, Roy Spencer seems to be going rather wonky over at TCS. How can you call for balance and yet write an article like that?]

[Update 2005/01/21: Reuters story and Steve Schulin provides a transcript of the pdf exchange for the many who had trouble reading those files.

And a bit more. ES points out that Landsea is writing a paper with Michaels. How can you criticise Trenberth and work with Michaels? Well, the obvious answer is: because you're a skeptic]
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3 Comments:

Anonymous Jim Kanuth said...

The point seems lost on most folks who have never held office in a scientific organization, but I'll try it again here. If you are speaking on the subject in which your professional organization has expertise and you have been introduced as a {lead author, director, board member, committee chair, etc} of that organization, you must issue a disclaimer that you are not speaking for that organization. If you don't, you have effectively claimed to be speaking for that organization.
TRENBERTH, BY FAILING TO ISSUE A DISCLAIMER, CLAIMED TO BE SPEAKING FOR THE IPCC.

That is a minor issue. The major one is the reaction of IPCC officials to Trenberth's transgression. His actions warranted a formal investigation by the IPCC. Disciplinary action would then be in line with whatever their findings were. Whether that would be a private dressing down, demotion from lead authorship, or removal from the IPCC altogether would be their call.

However, when one of their lead authors made a public statement very clearly at odds with the science (yes I've read the everything recently published on it, unlike you I find it very clear) they downplayed it and failed to even look into it.

By failing to take action, the IPCC has tarred every contributor to their publication with the same brush....a group who has already predetermined the outcome of a scientific study. This leaves every contributor in an ethical bind, they will be viewed as not doing good science, but writing a script for a play with a predetermined ending.

The worst situation for the authors will be if they come up with evidence that exactly parallels Trenberths' statements. They'll have to spend the rest of their careers, much like baseball players in the age of steroids, with invisible asterisks after their accomplishments...were these really the results or were they writing scripts.

Jim Kanuth
jgk3@aol.com

3:45 pm  
Blogger Belette said...

I disagree with you.

Further, there is a rather nasty anti-IPCC campaign about, which (having tried and failed to find anything wrong with the TAR science) now seems to be doing its best to tarnish the IPCCs reputation.

Landsea is happy to write a paper with Michaels, despite his claims of purity. Don't you find that odd?

7:42 pm  
Anonymous Jim Kanuth said...

With the IPCCs credibility under attack, it seems strange they would hand their detractors a bullet.

This is much like the situations I used to face when I was a City Councilman in a suburb of Houston. I advised people who wanted to address the Council to never claim a larger constituency than you have, lie or even stretch the truth in things that were easy to check because we would then find it difficult to believe them in matters we couldn't readily check.

My degree is in Chemical Engineering and I work in water treatment, not climatology. With some difficulty I could probably understand the equations in the climate models. However, without years of study in the relevant field, I could not determine if the equations accurately described the undrelying phenomena. I have to depend on the credibility of the organization and lead authors and, to a lesser extent, the contributing authors of published works on climate.

Dr. Trenberth could have defused this early on by a brief note to the meeting organizers asking them to inform the attendee list that he had inadvertently failed to note he was speaking as an individual. He didn't even have to note that it was at odds with other publications with which he had been involved (I believe the IPCC documents are consensus documents so you would expect individual authors to have some differences) Alternately, when it was brought to their attention, IPCC officials could have issued a similar note, though theirs should note Dr. Trenberth's comments were at odds with their publications.

Instead the IPCC effectively said that Trenberth could speak for them and his comments were "close enough" to the science. It leads to the question...how many of the thousands of lines of code describing atmospheric phenomena were accepted as "close enough" to describing the underlying phenomena. It also leads to the question of which direction they were off of ideal since my house sits 12' above sea level and amount and rate of change of sea level is a real concern for me.

I've never heard of Michaels and I know of Landsea and Trenberth only from posts on Prometheus, Realclimate and here, however I don't find it odd that anyone in academia co-authors with anyone else. Were the Pope and the head of the Southern Baptists in academia, they would collaborate on papers concerning religion to keep their publication number and impact factors up. This despite the fact they each consider the other is going to hell for his heretical beliefs.

Jim Kanuth
jgk3@aol.com

5:33 pm  

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