|It's gettin' hot in here|
Leakegate refers to a collection of manufactroversies given the "-gate" suffix by global warming (AGW) deniers in the wake of the mother of all climate manufactroversies: Climategate. The series of non-events was nicknamed in honor of Sunday Times journalist Jonathan Leake. While Leake didn't break all the "stories," he was probably the most visible in hyping them.
Glaciergate and Seagate (or actual IPCC errors)
In early 2010, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) corrected two errors in its 2007 report (AR4). To get an understanding of the nature of the errors, it's necessary to know how the IPCC is organized and issues its reports. The IPCC is organized into three working groups (WGs): WG1, which handles the actual physics and climatology of AGW; WG2, which handles environmental and social impacts of AGW; and WG3, which investigates mitigation and adaptation strategies. It's also important to know that the IPCC does not conduct actual science, but is meant to reflect the consensus of climate scientists on AGW as well as to project the impact of AGW and suggestions to deal with these effects, which includes scientists from other fields, economists, and representatives from environmental organizations, international governmental agencies, etc. The IPCC report itself is not original scientific research, but a synthesis of research.
An erroneous claim in the WG2 report reporting a near-complete melting of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 was rescinded in 2010. The claim was sourced to a report from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), which had taken it from an interview with a scientist who predicted the melting would occur by 2350 and misprinted the date as 2035. Notably, this error was not even picked up by the deniers (even ones with climate-related scientific credentials), but by an Austrian climatologist and in a report issued by scientists employed by the Indian government. The chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, unfortunately, dropped the ball and initially blew off the criticisms. While the handling of the situation by Pachauri was regrettable, the IPCC subsequently rescinded the claim and issued a correction.
A second erroneous claim in the WG2 report was retracted after the Dutch government complained about misinformation in the report provided by none other than...the Dutch government itself. The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency issued a correction stating:
In the chapter on Europe, on page 547, it says that 55 per cent of the Netherlands is below sea level (‘The Netherlands is an example of a country highly susceptible to both sea level rise and river flooding because 55% of its territory is below sea level’). This should have read that 55 per cent of the Netherlands is at risk of flooding; 26 per cent of the country is below sea level, and 29 per cent is susceptible to river flooding.
Global warming debunked yet again!
The real scandal was the blatant misrepresentation of these corrections by deniers. The corrections were trumpeted across the deniosphere as (the supposed umpteenth) "final nail in the coffin" of AGW. Right-wing rags misrepresented the corrections as retractions of "central claims" of AGW theory and then charged Pachauri with printing the claim in order to make off with extra grant money. A subsequent audit by KPMG found Pachauri had no conflict of interest. This incident, of course, was the (umpteenth) last gasp of global warming, despite the fact that the IPCC isn't the actual scientific research, the errors were in the WG2 report (which is not pure climatology as is WG1), it was two minor errors in a near-thousand page report, and they had been caught by other scientists and not deniers. These corrections by other scientists prove that the peer-review process is corrupted and the IPCC needs to be scrapped...or something.
After this incident, deniers went into overdrive, combing the IPCC reports for some good quote mining material. Leake, after hyping the two previous -gates, published a story about a supposed (and completely bogus) "Amazongate." Leake claimed that a reference in AR4 to another report by the WWF claiming that up to 40% of the Amazon rain forest could be wiped out due to their sensitivity to decreased precipitation in the area from the effects of AGW was bogus and not even in the WWF report. It just so happened that Leake had made this up and it was in the WWF report. He then quote mined a couple of scientists to make it sound like they had accused the IPCC of making fraudulent claims. Simon Lewis of Leeds University, an expert on the Amazon, responded by saying:
The IPCC statement is basically correct but poorly written, and bizarrely referenced.
Leake quickly went to work again, hyping another story spun as "Africagate." This time, Leake complained about claims of up to 50% reduced crop yields in some African countries. Leake, of course, failed to mention that these claims were produced in a report from the Moroccan government and were not subject to any actual controversy.
Retractions and complaints
Simon Lewis filed a 31-page complaint with the Press Complaints Commission stating "that he told The Sunday Times 'the IPCC statement itself was scientifically defensible and correct, merely that [it used] the incorrect reference... To state otherwise is to materially mislead the reader.'"
The Amazongate story was subsequently retracted the Times:
...the IPCC’s Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence. In the case of the WWF report, the figure had, in error, not been referenced, but was based on research by the respected Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) which did relate to the impact of climate change. We also understand and accept that Mr Rowell is an experienced environmental journalist and that Dr Moore is an expert in forest management, and apologise for any suggestion to the contrary.
...the article stated that Dr Lewis’ concern at the IPCC’s use of reports by environmental campaign groups related to the prospect of those reports being biased in their conclusions. We accept that Dr Lewis holds no such view – rather, he was concerned that the use of non-peer-reviewed sources risks creating the perception of bias and unnecessary controversy, which is unhelpful in advancing the public’s understanding of the science of climate change. A version of our article that had been checked with Dr Lewis underwent significant late editing and so did not give a fair or accurate account of his views on these points. We apologise for this.
The Frankfurter Rundschau retracted the Africagate story:
This "recent scandal surrounding the IPCC's fourth assessment report" (according to the FR) is therefore fictitious, like most of the others. Anyone who has read our overview of the alleged and real IPCC errors will already have guessed who the author of the FR article, Irene Meichsner, cites as the source of these allegations: the blogger Richard North and Jonathan Leake from the Sunday Times. Before Easter, I wrote to the FR editors and pointed out that the facts in the article were not correct (my letter is attached in full below). In the meantime, FR has checked the facts and removed the defective article from the network.
Scientific (and pseudoscientific) issues
The Leakegate issue raises the question of what role "gray literature" (non-peer reviewed literature or second-hand reviews of scientific literature) should play in the IPCC reports. There was obviously a lapse in fact-checking, however, this was eventually picked up and rooted out by actual scientists.
What the issue does not imply is that there's a worldwide Evil Liberal Science Conspiracy dedicated to fabricating data and then spreading it through the use of the IPCC reports. Try telling the deniers that, though. (It's obviously all a "nature trick" to "hide the decline!" Release the data! Jail the scientists!)
- IPCC Errors: Facts and Spin, Real Climate (good overview separating real errors from denialist bullshit)
- Whatevergate, Real Climate
- Amazongate: how the denial lobby and a dishonest journalist created a fake scandal, Climate Safety
- ↑ Yet Another Climate Science Mess, Chris Mooney in Science Progress
- ↑ Correction wording flood risks for the Netherlands in IPCC report, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
- ↑ UN climate chief Rajendra Pachauri 'got grants through bogus claims', Jonathan Leake in The Sunday Times
- ↑ Pachauri: The real story behind Glaciergate, Christopher Booker in The Telegraph
- ↑ KPMG audit of Pachauri, reprinted in The Guardian
- ↑ Amazongate profile, archived from Carbon Brief, 2011.
- ↑ Leakegate: The case for fraud, Tim Lambert at Deltoid
- ↑ Harrabin's Notes: IPCC under scrutiny, BBC
- ↑ Africagate: top British scientist says UN panel is losing credibility, Leake in the The Sunday Times
- ↑ How Jonathan Leake Concocted Africagate, Deltoid
- ↑ David Adam, Forests expert officially complains about 'distorted' Sunday Times article. Archived from The Guardian, 20 March 2010.
- ↑ Tim Lambert, Scientists Fight Back. Archived from Deltoid, 24 March 2010.
- ↑ Leakegate: A Retraction, Real Climate
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 The Sunday Times and the IPCC: Correction. Archived from The Sunday Times, 20 June 2010.
- ↑ FR IPCC back to the Article (Translated from German)