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Pay No Attention to the Bad Data

Behind the curtain at the IPCC.

Oct 14, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 06 • By STEVEN F. HAYWARD
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This conundrum is what makes Chapter 9 of the full report (“Evaluation of Climate Models”) fascinating reading. Out of the dense prose a reader can make out increasing confidence that by twisting the computer knobs (called “parameterizing”) we can match up models to the observed temperature record and other empirical data on clouds, oceans, and a multitude of other variables. But there are admissions of serious limitations of the models. Many of the models still produce results that match up poorly with the observational data, and some aspects of the models can’t be validated at all. The IPCC can’t even agree on a method for singling out the most accurate models. Our understanding of clouds​—​one of the most important variables for understanding climate​—​remains very low: “There remain significant errors on the model simulation of clouds,” the chapter says. Among other problems, our grasp of what’s going on in the oceans is still severely limited, and our ability to simulate the dynamics of the Amazonian basin is very poor.

But more important is the carefully worded concession that all this computer knob-twisting to make the models match the temperature record may not work for the future​—​or the past. An early draft of Chapter 9 included this startling sentence: “The ability of a climate model to make future climate projections cannot be directly evaluated.” This has been dropped from the final draft; now the chapter includes an embarrassing excuse for the failure of the models to match up with the current temperature “pause”: “[T]hese projections were not intended to be predictions over the short time scales for which observations are available to date.” Translation: Pay no attention to our models behind the curtain; just trust our judgment that the end is nigh.

The 12 chapters of the report are full of anomalous findings and admissions of scientific weaknesses that are not reflected in the SPM. Not to worry: the report is not final. The fine print on the IPCC’s website says that “following copy-editing, layout, final checks for errors, and adjustments for changes for consistency with the Summary for Policy-makers, it will be published online in January.” (My emphasis.)

In other words, this supposedly authoritative product of international scientific consensus will be reverse-engineered to match up with the politically determined SPM. No wonder skepticism of the climate science community is on the rise.

Steven F. Hayward is the visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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