Saturday, June 19, 2010

Who's deceiving now?

Ever since Bjorn Lomborg came on the scene the Green Left has hated him. I don't. Certainly not as a person, any interactions we have had have always been pleasant. I liked him when we meet and still like him, which is not to say I always agree with him. The Green Left does not share my opinion, but that is not surprising.

So they are quite excited that one of their own has penned an attack on Lomborg, merely because it attacks Lomborg. It is being hyped and praised by all the usual suspects. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation claims that Howard Friel, author of The Lomborg Deception, has "read Lomborg's books and thoroughly checked hundreds of Lomborg's sources and references" and "has concerns." Actually he wrote a hatchet job, which is more than being concerned. George Monbiot, in an attack on science writer Matt Ridley says that that Lomborg made so many errors "that an entire book—The Lomborg Deception by Howard Friel—was required to document them." That's an implicit endorsement of Friel's work though Monbiot's logic is bad. That an entire book was written doesn't mean that an entire book was needed to document errors. In fact, it is clear that Friel spends a great deal of time rebutting things Lomborg didn't say, or going off on tangents unrelated to what Lomborg actually did say. Newsweek gave The Lomborg Deception a less than rousing endorsement but said people should read it if they read Lomborg, much the way if you read the Talmud you ought to have Mein Kampf on hand, I guess.

This is just a blog, not an encyclopedia, so I can focus only on a small portion of Friel's "rebuttal" to Lomborg. Friel was particularly upset that Lomborg had said that the glaciers in the Himalayas would run down toward the end of the century, not much earlier. And he claimed that Lomborg only referenced the decline of the glaciers as being the result of the end to the Little Ice Age. Lomborg had quoted a scientific source for the claim that the end of Ice Age started the decline of the glaciers butFriel says that Lomborg "chopped' off the quote to delete a reference to human caused warming being involved. The problem was that the entire quote from Lomborg actually did mention global warming. Lomborg is less of a skeptic than I am, he does think there is human-induced warming and has said so. He even says it may have serious impact on humans, even though Friel claims to the contrary.

Friel quite specifically says that Lomborg was guilty of "misstating the projected life expectancy of the glaciers" in the Himalayas. Friel then goes on to say that Lomborg ignores the fact that: "Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of the disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate." Friel, in his "scientific" rebuttal to the bad science of Lomborg makes this claim repeatedly.

He says: "the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high," and "the Himalayan glaciers will disappear 'by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner,' and not 'toward the end of the century,' as Lomborg wrote." And Friel claimed "the glaciers may disappear by 2035...." Four times in his rebuttal he attacks Lomborg for not saying the Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2035 or sooner. And his source for this claim is the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change itself along with the World Wildlife Fund. Actually the IPCC was quoting the WWF so there weren't two sources and it is a tad bit dishonest to pretend there were.

Of course, Friel's "scientific" rebuttal falls apart because even the IPCC was forced to admit that the 2035 melt date was grossly in error and wasn't based on a peer-reviewed paper. It was a typographical error that just kept getting repeated by the alarmists. Let me recount the story of the 2035 claim. New Science magazine, it turns out, was the original published source used for this claim and they confessed that the claim was a "speculative comment" never submitted to peer review. And they were horrified that the IPCC printed the claim, second hand from the WWF without bothering to check it. They said: "We are entitled to an explanation" as to how this could happen, saying this was further damaging the reputation of the IPCC.

It also appears that the 2035 claim was floating about because of a paper by one V.M. Kotlyakov which estimated the shrinkage of the glaciers and said it expected them to melt by the year 2350. Someone, somewhere along the line, transposed the year 2350 into 2035. In fact, major glaciologists had all attacked the figure as being grossly out of line with the facts. The BBC reported that Michael Kemp of the World Glacier Monitoring System said that it is "not plausible that that Himalayan glaciers are disappearing within the next few decades."

The IPCC eventually admitted that the claim they had made was unfounded and unscientific. They released a statement saying that "clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by IPCC procedures were not applied properly" allowing "poorly substantiated estimates of rate and recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers" to appear in their publication. The Guardian newspaper reported the "IPCC has said it regretted the mistake" and blamed it on "human failure."

So, according to Friel, one of Lomborg's major egregious "deceptions" was that he didn't realize the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, as was documented by WWF and the IPCC. But Friel is the one who is wrong and not even the primary source he uses, to prove Lomborg was deceptive, actually thinks the evidence is accurate. Certainly on these claims Friel was wrong and Lomborg was right to not use the discredited claims.

I should note that this blog first reported on this error in 2009. I covered it again earlier this year, and then again a little later in 2010. Yale University Press published Friel's book in March, 2010. This means that it was already public knowledge that Friel's claim was wrong three months prior to the publication of his book, at the very least. Yet it was still published with Friel's accusations, based on totally bogus data, in place. Newsweek's review of Friel, the one that said people should keep the book on hand when reading Lomborg, says Friel got "tripped up" over the glacier assertion, acknowledges the IPCC admits they were wrong and says: "Friel criticizes Lomborg for saying they would disappear by the end of this century, arguing that he should have accepted the IPCC's date of 2034. Oops."

In reply to the "oops" comment from Newsweek, allow me to quote Arnold Beckoff, the main character in Torch Song Trilogy, in relation to "whoops," which is close enough for the point I want to make:
Ed, did you say "Whoops"?

"Whoops" is when you fall down an elevator shaft.

"Whoops" is when you skinny dip in a school of piranha.

"Whoops' is when you accidentally douche with Drano.

No, Ed.
This was no "Whoops."

This was an "AAARGH!".
But this "oops" raises some questions. Why is Friel being promoted as someone who thoroughly checked out all the facts to rebut Lomborg? Clearly, on something as obvious as the melting of the Himalayan glaciers Friel couldn't have bothered to check out the facts when he was attacking Lomborg. Had he done so he would have investigated what experts said about glaciers and quoted them. And they were rounding condemning the IPCC for getting the facts wrong. So what kind of checking did Friel do?

I suggest that all he wanted to do was show Lomborg "wrong," not because the research he had done proved this, but because he already knew Lomborg had to be wrong and went out searching for evidence to back up his conclusion. He was the proverbial judge with the death sentence already in his book merely seeking what charges to lay against the accused. To show Lomborg wrong he went no further than the IPCC. Yet, the moment the IPCCs was subjected to just a small amount of scrutiny it fell like a house of cards. Even this blogger knew this claim was false. So why didn't the meticulous, thorough, debunking Friel realize the error was wrong? Why did he include it in his book? The only answer I can give is that he didn't actually bother to subject the IPCC's claim to any scrutiny whatsoever, he took it on faith, the way fundamentalists believe the Bible. This isn't an "ooops," not by any means. It's an aaargh!

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