On the IPCC's summary for policy makers, and on getting interviewed without noticing

Just like everybody else, I heard that the IPCC fourth assessment report (4AR) was out. So, I wanted to read it, to see which delights I could find there. To my surprise however, I realized that the actual report is only due out in three months or so. The only thing out was the Summary for Policy Makers (SP[a?]M). Bizarre... don't you think? Usually if you come out with a high profile science PR, you do so with the science paper coming out, so that the high profile claims could be scrutinized. Well, actually I didn't find it that strange... it is the IPCC after all.

Left without a choice, I read the summary for policy makers and found a few really strange curiosities, which made me really wonder, and sorry that I cannot see the actual report. To see where these "curiosities" came from.

So, I decided to do what any internet savvy youngster would do this day and age... dig for the 4AR on the web. It turns out that I didn't have to go far. The report can be found on the junkscience.com website. There, it is said:

"Bizarrely, the actual report will be retained for another three months to facilitate editing -- to suit the summary! IPCC procedures state that: Changes (other than grammatical or minor editorial changes) made after acceptance by the Working Group or the Panel shall be those necessary to ensure consistency with the Summary for Policy Makers or the Overview Chapter (Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work, p4/15) -- this is surely unacceptable and would not be tolerated in virtually any other field (witness the media frenzy because language was allegedly altered in some US climate reports).

Under the circumstances we feel we have no choice but to publicly release the second-order draft report documents so that everyone has at least the chance to compare the summary statements with the underlying documentation. It should not be necessary for us to break embargo and post raw drafts for you to verify a summary of publicly funded documentation (tax payers around the world have paid billions of dollars for this effort -- you own it and you should be able to access it)."

Incidentally, did you note the very interesting fact pointed out by junkscience.com, that the 4AR (i.e., the scientific report) should be edited to look like the political summary for policy makers?

Anyway, back to our story. I downloaded the whole 4AR draft version, and indeed was quite surprised when I compared it to the SPM. Of course, I will not write about these surprises until the 4AR is actually out, for several reasons. First, they asked not to cite, quote or distribute anything from the report until its out, and I'm of course a nice person. Second, given that the SPM is not a scientific report but a political one (as stated by its name), as a scientist I should address the science report when it comes out, not the irrelevant political summary. Third. If I can delay writing it, why not... I am busy after all and looking for reasons to procrastinate ;-)

On junkscience.com, I found an interesting link, it was to an article by the National Post, which has so many quotes of me, it looked as if I was interviewed without noticing it!

So, to set things straight, I was never interviewed by Lawrence Solomon. I am quite sure that if he would have interviewed me (and all that would have been required of him is send me a few questions by e-mail), he would have obtained original shaviv quotes. I presume that the writer just surfed my website, picked whatever he liked, glued it together and voilà, got an original article. I presume it is legitimate, and it even saves a long distance phone call.

Second, if he would have sent me that article before publishing, I would have pointed out various inaccuracies in it. Here are some details in the article:
  • "Against the grain: Some scientists deny global warming exists" - given that I am the only scientist mentioned in the article, I presume it is meant to describe me. So, no, I don't deny global warming exists. Global warming did take place in the 20th century, the temperature increased after all. All I am saying is that there is no proof that the global warming was anthropogenic (IPCC scientists cannot even predict a priori the anthropogenic contribution), and not due to the observed increase in solar activity (which in fact can be predicted to be a 0.5±0.2°C contribution, i.e., most of the warming). Moreover, because empirically Earth appears to have a low sensitivity, the temperature increase by the year 2100AD will only be about 1°C (and not 2°C and certainly not 5°C), assuming we double the amount of CO2 (It might certainly be less if we'll have hot fusion in say 50 years).
  • "Nir Shariv" - nope, my name is not Shariv, it is Shaviv. There are now a few googlers who must think that it is strange not to find any info on this "Shariv" person.
  • "Dr. Shaviv found that the meteorites that Earth collected during its passage through the arms of the Milky Way sustained up to 10% more cosmic ray damage than others. " Nope I didn't find that. The meteorites were all recently "collected" by Earth. And previously to that, these Iron meteorites roamed the solar system for 10's to 100's of millions of years. What I found was that during spiral arm passages, these meteorites "sustained" at least a factor of at least 2.5 more "cosmic ray damage" then the same meteorites while outside the spiral arms.
  • "That kind of cosmic ray variation, Dr. Shaviv believes, could alter global temperatures by as much as 15% --sufficient to turn the ice ages on or off and evidence of the extent to which cosmic forces influence Earth's climate." . Change the temperature by 15%? That would mean about 15%*300°K ~ 45°K, which is a lot! Nope. Passages through the spiral arms of the milky way can cause a 5 to 10 deg variation only, which is a lot in global terms, but still miniscule when compared with the 15%.
  • "Dr. Shaviv reconstructed the temperature on Earth over the past 550 million years to find that cosmic ray flux variations explain more than two-thirds of Earth's temperature variance, making it the most dominant climate driver over geological time scales." Nope I didn't do the reconstruction. This beautiful work was done by my colleague Prof. Jan Veizer from Ottawa. All I did, together with Jan, was to compare his temperature reconstruction to my cosmic ray flux reconstruction. The two seemingly unrelated signals are highly correlated because, apparently, cosmic rays affect climate.
  • "Yet Dr. Shaviv also believes fossil fuels should be controlled, not because of their adverse affects on climate but to curb pollution." Pollution is just one reason. There are many more. For example, depletion and of course, much of our fossil fuels reserves resides in countries with hostile or simply unstable governments (which you don't want to rely on!).
  • "Astrophysicist Nir Shariv [sic], one of Israel's top young scientists" - perhaps who knows ;-)
Well, the moral in this is case is that if you're a science reporter, consider running parts of your articles by your interviewees just to make sure you don't write rubbish, which is a smart thing to do, if you don't want to end up looking stupid. It is of course also a descent thing to do if you respect your readers. Oh, and if you want to know first hand what I think about global warming, try this link.

Note added Feb 11: Lawrence Solomon e-mailed me with appologies, e.g., for mispelling my name. Appologies accepted! (Larry, I know you didn't mean any harm. I am just being overly sarcastic here, that's the way I am).

Anyway, It also turns out that at least one of the errors is genuinely not his, it was simply a propagated error. The 15% temperature variations were a misquote by Kathleen Wong from a long ago published article in the California Wild. Her error was that she accidentally omitted "cloud cover". It should have been "as much as a 15% variation in the cloud cover, which cause large temperature variations" (of order 5 to 10 degs).

As for the "Deniers", Solomon meant that "ironically", which when you think of it this way, makes a lot of sense.


Comments (4)

  • anon
    Lubos Motl (not verified)

    You were also featured in Rush Limbaugh's famous radio show ;-)


    Feb 07, 2007
  • anon

    Thanks for notifying. I wasn't aware. I was also interviewed by a local prime time TV program. That was fun, mainly for my 8 yr old son who was on the set while on air. ;-)
    And if anybody wants to hear my actual voice, I am also now tentatively scheduled to appear on Sydney's Alan Jones Show, on their Monday morning. I suppose they'll have it online afterwards.

    Feb 07, 2007
  • anon

    While I appreciate the wealth of links to credible sources as well as Steven Milloy's commentary, particularly regarding the science of global warming, here's what Greenpeace details about junkscience:


    Just FYI, in case you didn't know this side of the coin. Not that Greenpeace is always in integrity themselves, but a clear right-wing-ish political bias can lead to omissions and distortions in that direction as well. Something to be aware of. This doesn't affect anything you said in this case. Peace,


    May 28, 2007
  • anon

    The links to junkscience.com were not to substanciate claims I make here. Simply, junkscience.com is a site where I could find the draft version of the IPCC and links to other articles. C'est tous.

    In any case, I don't care who pays who what. Everyone who make claims should be properly scrutinized, irrespective of whether they are payed by Exxon or Greenpeace.

    May 28, 2007