Contributing Author's report cited falsely

15 Mar

I’ve found another mistake in the IPCC AR4, this time a Contributing Author’s own report was incorrectly cited.

Let’s start at the beginning. In the First Draft Order of Chapter 11 of WG II, Australia and New Zealand, the following claim appears on page 22, line 25:

The capital value of the built environment in New Zealand accounts for almost 10% of GDP.

This prompts an expert reviewer to comment, Comment 11-967:

To say that the capital value of NZ’s built environment is nearly 10% of GDP is absolute nonsense. Even an elementary calculation shows that this is far too low. Given the 1.4 million homes, at an average value of $300,000 gives a total value of $420 billion. GDP is about $140 billion, so even without counting office buildings it is clear that the 10% should be a at least 300%.
(Adolf Stroombergen, Infometrics)

He’s right, and this claim was dropped. However, other reviewers noticed the fact that there was no Australian equivalent to this statistic, Comment 11-965:

Can similar statements be made about the value of Australia’s built environment?
(Janice Lough, Australian Institute of Marine Science)

And Comment 11-966:

Is there an Australia equivalent to this piece of text?
(Greame Pearman, Monash University Sustainability Centre)

The reviewers response to 11-965 was as follows:

TC: Perhaps BRANZ (2006) report?

The response to 11-966 was:

KH: see 11-965

Now I believe that TC is Tony Coleman, Contributing Author, and KH is Kevin Hennessy, Coordinating lead author. Coleman considers the BRANZ 2006 report as a possible source. Let’s continue onto the Second Order Draft.

The original New Zealand claim is gone, but in its place is a new claim (page 22, lines 36-39):

About A$1,500 billion of Australia’s wealth is locked up in homes, commercial buildings, ports and physical assets. This is equivalent to nine times the current national budget or twice the GDP (Coleman et al. 2004)

Apparently Coleman did not find that BRANZ 2006 was a good source. Coleman (or other author) found another source: Coleman. Specifically, (Coleman et al. 2004). We will look in depth at this reference later.

Only one reviewer mentioned anything about this new claim in the Second Draft Order comments. Comment E-11-335:

To what does the ‘national budget’ refer? Unless it is made clearer I suggest deleting this phrase and leaving only the comparison with GDP.
(Adolf Stroombergen, Infometrics)

The response:

KH: Stick with GDP as used elsewhere throughout the report

Now let’s look at same claim the final report:

Substantial infrastructure is at risk from projected climate change. About US$1,125 billion of Australia’s wealth is locked up in homes, commercial buildings, ports and physical assets, which is equivalent to nine times the current national budget or twice the GDP (Coleman et al., 2004).

One sentence has been added at the beginning of the paragraph, and the A$ were changed into US$. Otherwise they are identical. Also note that the confusing ‘national budget’ line was not deleted, as it was supposed to be.

Let me re-cap. In the first draft, an erroneous claim about the value of NZ’s ‘built environment’ is included, which led a reviewer to point out the error, and the claim was dropped. However, it also led two other reviewers to ask for an Australian statistic for the same claim, to which Tony Coleman responded by considering a specific source (BRANZ). When the second draft came out, there was a new Australian statistic, but the source was not BRANZ, it was Coleman.

Let’s look at the reference:

Coleman, T., O. Hoegh-Guldberg, D. Karoly, I. Lowe, T. McMichael, C.D. Mitchell, G.I. Pearman, P. Scaife and J. Reynolds, 2004: Climate Change: Solutions for Australia. Australian Climate Group, 35 pp. publications/acg_solutions.pdf.

The report is available at the WWF Australia website here. This report was done in coordination with the Insurance Australia Group (IAG), and the WWF Australia. The fact that this is a WWF publication could only be derived from the reference by the website.

Little needs to be said of the report itself. Let me show you the introduction:

There are moments in time when global threats arise, and when action is imperative. One of the major risks to the security of people
around the world is climate change.

Never has there been a greater need for inspiring leadership to protect and defend our future against the rising threat of climate change.

We know that our world’s temperature is now rising unusually fast. Climate change has the potential to threaten millions of lives, the
capacity of the world to feed itself, the availability of fresh water, the control and spread of disease, the survival of species, the direction in
which our oceans flow and the severity of our weather.

The choice is before us: Do we sit and wait for climate change to get worse, or do we draw on our heritage of innovation and resilience to help prevent the worst-case scenarios of climate change from occurring?

Fairly typical fear-mongering. The report is full of scientific inaccuracies and old alarmist’s claims, and they rely heavily on the IPCC for their information. However, there is something entirely absent from the report. There is no mention of anything that could even remotely substantiate the IPCC claim. There is no mention of the value of Australian homes, commercial buildings, ports and physical assets, nor is there any mention of the national budget. The only mention of GDP is here:

Generally, in a drought year the gross value of Australian farm production decreases by 10% or more. Because it was drier, the 2002 drought reduced Australia’s agricultural output by 30%, decreased gross domestic product (GDP) by 1.6%, and lowered employment by 70,000 jobs.

Unrelated to the IPCC claim. If you can find anything in the report, let me know.

I don’t know why (Coleman et al 2004) is the citation for the that claim. I contacted the author, and he responded by giving me the correct source, a 2002 paper he wrote for IAG. This does include the claim, although it is not original research, the citation for the claim in his paper is as follows:

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics),
2002. Australian System of National
Accounts, 2001-2002, Nov 2002.

It seems this should have been the source to begin with. I asked Mr. Coleman why the citation was incorrect, and he has not yet responded.

An incorrect citation is embarrassing enough, but when it is the citation of a Contributing Author who was active in editing the drafts, it is humiliating.

For those who would respond “It’s only one citation out of thousands!” I will say this: It isn’t just one. I’ll post about another incorrect citation tomorrow, and this one was a Coordinating Lead Author of the Chapter himself.


I’ve received an e-mail from a lead author of this chapter stating, in part:

The statement attributed to Coleman et al 2004 is accurate but should have cited Coleman 2002, and a copy of this report was sent to you by Tony. An erratum will be posted on the IPCC website. Thanks for alerting us to this minor correction.




Posted by on March 15, 2010 in IPCC


Tags: ,

10 responses to “Contributing Author's report cited falsely

  1. Donna Laframboise

    March 15, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Great post. If I’ve understood this correctly, the IPCC cites a source to back up one of its claims. This source turns out to be a non-peer-reviewed document co-published by the WWF. That’s problem number one.

    However, the WWF document turns out not to support the claim. Which is problem two.

    You are then advised that the correct source should have been another non-peer-reviewed document written for the insurance industry. Which is problem three.

    It then turns out that the data originates with the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This is a reputable source, which leaves one wondering why it wasn’t used from the outset.

    Nevertheless, for those who claim – as has the IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri repeatedly – that the the IPCC report is based only and solely on peer-reviewed literature, this is problem four.

  2. Brad Johnson

    March 15, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Excellent work! Let’s end the scourge of incorrect citations! Next stop, George Will’s columns.

  3. mike mckee

    March 15, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    When are they going to resign for incompetency?
    and when can we start prosecuting them for fraud?

  4. Rod E.

    March 16, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Leaving aside the incorrect citation, what’s the point of adding up all of Australia’s “established infrastructure” and claiming that it’s at risk of “climate change”? Heck, add it all up, the entire wealth of the world in the form of highways, bridges, buildings, etc. and publish it. Who cares? “Climate change” is going to destroy it all?

    Perhaps, if we’re hit by a meteor, or have a calamitous eruption of several volcanoes, but “climate change” in the implied form of “global warming”? Good grief. Didn’t they have anything better to do with their grant money?

    I understand the obsession with detailing glaciers that could disappear, forests that could be destroyed, wildlife that might not survive, etc., in the unlikely event of catastrophic global warming, even buildings that could go underwater (though they are likely to have long outlived their economic lives by the time the waves are lapping at their foundations) but why all this silliness?

    I suppose because of the massive dollar amounts they intend to spend they just have to add up as many potential costs as could possibly be incurred, but still, a bunch of high school kids could have done as well. No, probably better as they might not have come at the project with a preconceived outcome in mind, as the IPCC authors clearly did.


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