The Sciences

Taking on "GlacierGate", The Latest Climate Science Scandal

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJan 27, 2010 5:26 PM

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My latest blog post for Science Progress is up; it's about the scientific black-eye known now as "GlacierGate," in which the IPCC was found to have published plagiarized misinformation about the vulnerability of the Himalayan glaciers to climate change in its Fourth Assessment Report. The content was indefensible; a quick retraction should have occurred. But instead, there was wagon-circling and defensiveness and hence, we have yet another scandal on our hands. Here's a sampling of my take:

...without exonerating the IPCC in this instance—there is no defense for such shoddy work—let’s attempt to inject a little sanity here. The IPCC goofed, but we should keep matters in perspective. We’re talking about one tiny section of a 938-page report on how climate change will affect different parts of the world. It would be amazing if errors did not slip into such a vast document, whatever the professed peer review standards may be. And the mistake was originally caught not by skeptics, but by scientists, including an IPCC report co-author. In the broadest sense, the scientific process is actually working here, even if the IPCC stumbled in this case.

Moreover, Himalayan glaciers are retreating, even if they’re not doing so faster than glaciers in other parts of the world, and even if they won’t be gone by 2035. As a team of scientists who exposed the IPCC’s mistake in a letter to the journal Science judiciously put it:

This was a bad error. It was a really bad paragraph, and poses a legitimate question about how to improve IPCC’s review process. It was not a conspiracy. The error does not compromise the IPCC Fourth Assessment, which for the most part was well reviewed and is highly accurate.

That's the true significance of "GlacierGate," but sure enough, it is being vastly misused in yet another cynical attempt to undermine all of earthly climate science. You can read the full blog post here

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