“Not standing for it anymore” part 3 – nearly there

And so the saga continues, with more from the Telegraph, and more from me. It appears that the toing and froing is now at an end. We now await the initial ruling of the Press Complaints Commission.

The final throws of the bout, with my words in italics, those of the Telegraph in blue and the PCC in bold:

Further to Mr Bell’s comments on ours, and in reply to the Commission’s inquiry about an initial typographical error in the article:

1. Mr Bell does not appear to be complaining about our initial typographical error. The figure of 0.2 deg C highlighted by Mr Bell was never published by the Telegraph. That figure did, however, feature in a piece in The Mail on Sunday on 15 September 2013. As we said in our original comments, the original typographical error in the Telegraph report was the misplacing of the decimal point in the reference to the previous warming rate per decade of 0.13 deg C. This was swiftly rectified.

I agree that I am not complaining about the initial typographical error.

2. The article did not contain anything that was factually incorrect or misleading.
What is clear is that the 0.13 deg C warming rate per decade specified in the IPCC’s 2007 report (see http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-spm.pdf, page 5) has been revised to 0.12 deg C, a revision of eight per cent. It is also a fact that the temperature increase at the Earth’s surface has been found to have slowed, something that the IPCC accepts they did not predict. We do not see the need to associate the word “wrong” with an implication that the forecasts were “more out than they were in reality”, as Mr Bell suggests. “Wrong” simply means “incorrect”. The IPCC do include a margin of error on temperatures in the latest report; the fact remains, however, that a headline figure has been changed. The public is entitled to be alerted to this and other changes between the two reports.

The reference above provides the error margin in the latest report – 0.08 to 0.14 deg C per decade. Which of course includes 0.13 deg C.

I am not sure what reference the Telegraph have for the statement of 0.13 deg C in previous reports. This may be it (http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/faq-3-1.html – see the graph), which states that over a 50 year period (roughly equivalent to the 0.12 deg C figure, (from 1951) that the change is 0.128 ± 0.026 deg C (i.e. 0.102 to 0.154 deg C). You will note that this includes 0.12 deg C.
Given these ranges, the forecasts are not incorrect or wrong, simply different. To state that they were wrong or that the IPCC admit they were wrong is inaccurate and misleading.

The statement above that the IPCC admit that they did not forecast the short-term slowing of surface temperature increase is a different point. The IPCC projections are for several decades, and are the average of the outputs of several models. The observed surface temperatures are effectively of one model run, i.e. reality. Comparing an average figure with a range of uncertainty against a single observation is akin to comparing apples and pears.

3. That the IPCC did not explicitly “admit” the change between 0.13C and 0.12C (the 0.13C to 0.12C change appears to be somewhat buried in a discussion about trends based on short records – see page 3 at http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/uploads/WGIAR5-SPM_Approved27Sep2013.pdf ) does not make the Telegraph’s report inaccurate or misleading. The difference in warming rates is still an admission, however downplayed it may be in the written report, that something has changed since the statement in the previous report. Further, more explicit, admissions on other aspects of climate change were made in the 2013 report, as noted in our original comments: for example, the IPCC accepted that the effect of increased carbon on world temperatures may not have taken enough notice of natural variability; that Antarctic sea ice has grown rather than declined; that some regions of the world were as warm in medieval times as now. These are all changes that readers are entitled to hear about. The IPCC were contacted by the Telegraph for comment, but they did not respond to this request.

Page 3 is not buried, where the first two pages are the list of authors and the introduction. Use of the term here demonstrates a biased viewpoint on the report and on the IPCC on behalf of the Telegraph. The remainder of the point above is a repeat of earlier correspondence.

Mr Bell’s comments on our supplementary reply do not appear to raise any new substantive argument. But contrary to the points he does make:

1. We gave a clear reference to the 0.13 deg C warming rate in the 2007 report in our point 2 of the supplementary reply and there is no need for Mr Bell to be “not sure” about the reference and suggest one of his own.

2. We did not say “Page 3” of the 2013 report was “buried”. What we said was that the 0.13C to 0.12C change appeared to be somewhat buried in a discussion about trends based on short records, which appeared on page 3.

Should the Commission be asked for an initial view now?

At this stage, you may want the Commission to come to a view on your complaint under the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice; please do let me know if this is the case.

The Commission would be deciding whether it was significantly misleading for the article to have claimed that the downward revision of projected surface temperature increase in the IPCC’s 2013 report meant that its earlier forecasts had been ‘wrong’.

Do let me know how you would like to proceed.

I agree with the Telegraph that I would like the Commission to come to a view.  I would clarify the question as follows:
The Commission would be deciding whether it was significantly misleading for the article to have claimed that the downward revision (bearing in mind stated error margins) of projected surface temperature increase in the IPCC’s 2013 report meant that its earlier forecasts had been ‘wrong’.
Thank you for your help in this matter.

I will now send your complaint to the Commission for a formal ruling under the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The Commission can take a maximum of 50 days (35 working days) to reach a decision, although the time frame is usually much shorter.

So, here we go.  It does take a lot of elapsed time, does it not?

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke


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