Apr 26, 2010

What the IPCC Learned from Press Releases

We now know that the UN's Nobel-winning, allegedly gold-standard climate bible bases factual assertions on dodgy source material like press releases.

For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is confident that "many genuine efforts" are being made to help the poor cope with energy price increases. Why? Because a press release talks about one initiative in one country: [read it here]

World Bank, 2005: An open letter to the Catholic Relief Services and bank information centre in response to the report ‘Chad’s Oil: Miracle or Mirage for the poor?’. News release no: 2005/366/AFR, Washington D.C. [IPCC reference listed here]
The IPCC declares that the United States decreased its greenhouse gas intensity by specific percentages during 2003 and 2004. There seems to be no need to verify these facts since a White House news release (no longer available at the supplied online address and, we might note, issued by an administration not usually trusted by climate change activists) apparently said so.

Snow, T., White House Press Briefing, 2006: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/10/20061031-8.html# accessed 31 October 2006. [IPCC reference listed here]
Although we all know that weather is not climate, the IPCC seems confused on this point when it discusses the 2003 European heat wave. In a report that's supposed to focus on the impacts of long term climate change, the IPCC thinks it's worth mentioning that "Wine production in Europe was the lowest in 10 years" in 2003. The evidence for such a claim? A press release issued by a lobby group for European farmers:

COPA COGECA, 2003a: Committee of Agricultural Organisations in the European Union General Committee for Agricultural Cooperation in the European Union, CDP 03 61 1, Press release, Brussels. [IPCC reference listed here]
It's a similar story for the IPCC's claim that, also in 2003, "Forage production was reduced on average by 30% in France and hay and silage stocks for winter were partly used during the summer." According to an IPCC supplementary document (PDF - see p. 4), the above press release is actually the source of the hay claim, while the wine production data comes from a second press release that is cited thus: (see p. 6 of the above PDF)

COPA COGECA, 2003b: Committee of Agricultural Organisations in the European Union General Committee for Agricultural Cooperation in the European Union, CDP 03 61 1, Press release, Brussels.
Since the European farmers' organization website only has press releases from the last three years online, if we want to sort out which of these 2003 documents actually says what, we'll need to submit a special request.

And then there's the case of the vanishing World Bank press release. Issued in 2002, apparently in Spanish, the IPCC cites it to backup two separate claims. It is used in this context:

Conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem structure and function are important for climate-change adaptation strategies, due to the protection of genetically diverse populations and species-rich ecosystems (World Bank, 2002a; CBD, 2003);
and in this one:

According to the World Bank (2002a, c), some developing countries are losing 4-8% of their GDP due to productive and capital losses related to environmental degradation.

Unfortunately, while the World Bank website lists hundreds of news releases from 2002, this particular document remains elusive. The website's internal search engine doesn't seem to think a press release with the ID number 2002/112/S exists - even though that is how the IPCC identifies this source:

World Bank, 2002a: Desarrollo en riesgo debido a la degradación ambiental: Comunicado de prensa (Development at risk from environmental degradation: News release), No. 2002/112/S. [IPCC reference listed here]
Google seems unable to provide assistance, either. Has the IPCC made an error? It's unclear.

But never mind, the celebrated IPCC report demonstrates its commitment to top-notch scholarship when it relies on an amateurish press release during a discussion of the relative energy densities of new technologies such as ultracapacitors and Ni-MH batteries (see the bottom of this page). That a smallish company might have its own reasons - competitive kung fu, an upcoming round of capital-raising, entrepreneurial enthusiasm run amok - for embellishing or exaggerating in a release aimed at the media doesn't appear to have occurred to anyone at the IPCC.

Instead, the IPCC is prepared to base its analysis - and its reputation - on a reference that looks like this:

Power System, 2005: Press release 2005.6.27. Development of High Power and High Energy Density Capacitor (in Japanese). <http://www.powersystems.co.jp/newsrelease/20050627nscreleaser1-1.pdf> accessed 30/05/07. [IPCC reference listed here]
generated by a company whose motto appears to be: "For sustainable growth of the human beings" [sic].

Oh dear, oh dear. The closer one peers at the IPCC report, the more tawdry it all seems.


COMING SOON: The press release that masqueraded as a news item before hitting the big time


>> Climate bible gets 21 'F's on report card
>> The great peer-review fairy tale
>> What's left if we disregard non-peer-reviewed claims?
>> The water cannon of the climate debate