Terry McCran’s accusation that CSRIO ‘breached trust’ in The Australian this weekend sounds like an overly possessive lover saying he will never trust them again:
… our two pre-eminent centres of knowledge and public policy analysis across the social and hard sciences spectrum are now literally unbelievable.
In case you hadn’t heard, this is about the unseemly Treasury/Mining Co. cat fight over the RSPT, and Tom Quirk’s fracas with Paul Fraser, the Chief Research Scientist at CSIRO at Quadrant over his article CSIRO Abandons Science identifying a convenient omission in their State of the Climate position statement.
But the State of the Climate report has a number of very odd and questionable statements other than the one Tom wrote about. I will go through them in order:
The snapshot is sourced from peer reviewed data on temperature, rainfall, sea level, ocean acidification, and carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere.
Where has the data been peer-reviewed? Normally journals are described as peer-reviewed if they are sent out to other scientists for comment and advice on publication. No doubt some data has been used in peer-reviewed papers, but the peer-review adjective seems to be attached somewhat artificially to add weight. Notice they did not say it is peer-reviewed research.
Since 1960 the mean temperature in Australia has increased by about 0.7 Â°C . The long term trend in temperature is clear, but there is still substantial year to year variability of about plus/minus 0.5 Â°C.
The long term trend in temperature is not clear from the mean increase since 1960. This is the extrapolation fallacy. Surely CSIRO does not imply that the basis for belief that temperatures will continue to increase is the trend in the last 50 years as that would be silly and wrong.
2. Rainfall. While total rainfall on the Australian continent has been relatively stable, the geographic distribution of rainfall has changed significantly over the past 50 years.
The significant increase in total rainfall in Australia has been demonstrated which seems to contradict the statement that rainfall has been relatively stable. Nick Stokes argues that they were only talking about the last 50 years, and it could be interpreted like that, but even then the rainfall has been vary variable which rates a mention. But why not represent the state of climate changes based on all the available data? Is it because it seems to contradict the public position of many scientists (and climate modelling) that Australia will become generally drier and more drought prone due to GHGs?
The sections on sea level, sea temperature and ocean acidification contain a lot of claims that are contested in the literature, spoken with absolute certainty.
4. Our Atmosphere. Global CO2 concentrations have risen rapidly over the last century. Methane, which is another greenhouse gas, has shown similar increases.
This is the statement that Tom Quirk took a stick to, because he felt the recent plateau in methane was misrepresented. The first graph in section 4 was subsequently modified in the report, and Paul Fraser, the Chief Research Scientist said:
This should have been explained in State of Climate – unfortunately it was not, and this has lead to Quirkâ€™s misinterpretation of the data. Quirk noted â€˜Methane concentrations have plateaued â€“ this does not fit the CSIRO storylineâ€™.
This is not correct: the methane data in â€˜State of Climateâ€™ show that methane stopped growing in the atmosphere and then started to grow again.
However, Tom points the omission of methane from the second figure in section 4 is the main issue:
The unfortunate conclusion from this analysis is that the CSIRO has been highly selective in the presentation of data. Why the methane data from 1984 on was omitted from the second figure of page 5 of the “State of the Climate” report needs some explanation.
5. What this means. Much of Australia will be drier in coming decades
Once again, when much of Australia has become significantly wetter (rainfall has increased 14% in the last 100 years), why state with absolute certainty that much of Australia will be drier?
It is very likely that human activities have caused most of the global warming observed since 1950. There is greater than 90% certainty that increases in greenhouse gas emissions have caused most of the global warming since the mid-20th century.
The actual statement in the IPCC AR4 is:
Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.
There is a big difference between emissions and concentrations, but emissions places more blame on humans, so it sounds better.
And finally, on the CSIRO State of the Climate website is a statement of rigor.
CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology use scientific modelling based on the laws of physics and thoroughly tested against recorded observations.
I am glad they are doing ‘scientific’ modelling and not some other sort, and that the testing is ‘thorough’, though I would certainly like to see the results of the testing instead of a ‘trust me, I’m from CSIRO’ statement. After all, the testing may be ‘thorough’, but what if the results were abysmal? I think they are.
The bottom line, is that I don’t think agencies like CSIRO, or any member organization, should be publishing position statements on climate change or anything else, unless it relates directly to the membership. If I were a CSIRO scientist I would be upset about having the top brass speak on my behalf, without my input. The science should speak for itself in the journals. I think it’s ultra vires by CSIRO to ‘be in bed with the government’ like that.