Monday, July 5, 2010

Amazongate: the Smoking Gun

More than five months after the IPCC was accused of making assertions on the fate of the Amazon forest on the basis of a non-peer reviewed WWF report, it now appears that the original source of the IPPC's claim is a Brazilian educational website which was taken down in 2003 (pictured - click to enlarge).

Furthermore, it appears that this is the only source of the IPCC's claim that made up the basis of "Amazongate" – that the IPCC was, once again, using unsubstantiated material which exaggerated the threat. This website, therefore, is the "smoking gun", the latest evidence to suggest that the IPCC is breaking its own rules.

Interestingly, when the "Amazongate" story was broken on this blog on 25/26 January, we had no way of knowing that the trail would eventually lead to a defunct Brazilian website. It was the official denials of our story that gave the clue, and they did not really get underway until 31 January when The Sunday Times published its report headed: "UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim,"

Then the paper had charged that the IPCC warning that global warming "might wipe out 40% of the Amazon rainforest" was based on an unsubstantiated claim, made in a WWF report.

Starting with the IPCC claim that: "Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation," this had been was referenced to the WWF report which asserted: "Up to 40% of the Brazilian forest is extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall."

Now, the WWF was claiming that the source for this statement was "Fire in the Amazon, a 1999 overview of Amazon fire issues from the respected Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da AmazĂ´nia (IPAM – Amazon Environmental Research Institute)." The source quotation read: "Probably 30 to 40% of the forests of the Brazilian Amazon are sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall."

The claim was repeated on 7 February in a Sunday Times letter from David Nussbaum, the chief executive of WWF-UK, who then used a curious form of words. "This," he asserted – referring to the Fire in the Amazon statement - "is fully supported by peer-reviewed literature." Contrary to the Sunday Times's "suggestion," it was not a "bogus" claim.

Nussbaum did acknowledge, however, that a reference to Fire in the Amazon as the source of the 40% claim was omitted during the editing of the Global Review of Forest Fires.

The lead author of the report, Andrew Rowell, also pitched in, again using a curious form of words for his contribution. The paper, he claimed, had "ignored credible evidence" that the 40% figure was correct and "also ignored evidence that the figure had been backed up by peer-reviewed research both before and after our publication."

Even then, careful textual deconstruction indicated that no one was actually asserting that the source of the 40%, Fire in the Amazon, was actually peer reviewed – merely that it was "supported" or "backed up" by peer-reviewed work, the exact nature of which was always somewhat vague.

We were thus able to charge that Fire in the Amazon was not itself peer reviewed, thus arguing that the IPCC was relying on a WWF report which was not peer reviewed, which in turn was relying on another document which was also not peer reviewed.

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