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The IPCC was not right. Frame & Stone ignore main IPCC predictions

Professor David Frame and Dr Daithi Stone have produced a paper claiming the IPCC predictions in 1990 were successful and seem accurate.

Those who read the actual FAR report and check the predictions against the data know that this is not so.

  1. They ignore the main IPCC predictions (the prominent ones, with graphs, in the Summary for Policymakers)
  2. They don’t measure the IPCC success against an IPCC graph or within IPCC defined “uncertainties”.
  3. They measure success against  a “zero trend” — something they defined as any rise at all beyond what they say are the limits of natural variability (which they got from the very models that aren’t working too well). Circular reasoning anyone?
  4. Frame and Stone themselves say the IPCC models didn’t include important forcings, and may have been “right” by accident.

Why did Nature publish this strawman letter? It’s an award-winning effort in selective focus, logical fallacies, and circular reasoning to be sure, but does it advance our understanding of the natural world? Not so.

Frame and Stone have produced a Letter to Nature saying that 3 is a lot like 6 (they are both larger than zero). If you ignore the Summary for Policymakers, pick a line from page 177 and add caveats and conditions that nobody mentioned in 1990, then redefine success by using modern unverified models, it’s possible to pretend to verify the unverifiable and slap an A+ on a failed paper.

Careful, scrutinizing scientists like Matthew England, Stephen Sherwood and Penny Whetton, tossed their scrutinizing in the sea, and leaped to hail the paper. Perhaps they have read the Frame and Stone paper, but it doesn’t appear that they’ve read the IPCC First Assessment Report. To know this paper had flaws, all they had to do was read the IPCC predictions and check them against the temperature records. It’s so easy, even unpaid bloggers can do it.

Ignoring the IPCC’s main predictions

It’s telling that Frame and Stone don’t use IPCC graphs, and they don’t quote the Summary for Policy Makers. That’s where the IPCC made brave, clear, defined predictions and got them wrong. That summary was the reason Policy Makers decided to spend billions of dollars to reduce emissions.

The IPCC said the world would warm by 0.3C per decade, and the warming trend would be at least 0.2 C/decade and 0.5C/decade at most. They also said (with graphs) that it would be a mostly linear trend (especially from 2000 on), and with text they said even if we kept our emissions at 1990 levels we’d still get 0.2C/decade for the next few decades (see page xxii). Make no mistake, a policy maker reading that would be left under the impression the IPCC predicted the world to be about 0.6C warmer by 2010 unless we cut our emissions drastically.

What we got was between 0.14 – 0.18 C/decade — about half the rate of the best estimate and below the lower bound estimate as well.

It’s a fail.

What prediction do Frame and Stone check?

Frame and Stone don’t mention the predictions in the Summary, but they found this one, somewhere…

[The FAR] “included an estimate of climate change as a predicted rise from 1990 (to 2030) of 0.7 – 1.5 C with a best estimate of 1.1 C (refs 1,2).”

Ref 1 is the whole FAR report — Frame and Stone don’t list the page numbers. Ref 2, is Bretherton et al in…  the whole FAR report. Again, no page numbers. Thanks to the power of a global internet with advanced keyword searches, I’ve discovered that Frame and Stone could have said “FAR Chapter 6 “. I guess they weren’t anxious to help people find the quote. (It’s page 177.) That’s over four decades, so that would be 0.175 – 0.375 C/decade. Not that they mentioned that in the Summary. (There, they said 0.2C minimum.)

The strawman graph the IPCC didn’t use

The only graph in Frame and Stone is this one below, and it’s nothing like any in the IPCC report. (Was there any hint from the IPCC that temperatures could be lower in 2010?) So Frame and Stone set up a strawman prediction. One the IPCC never really made.

The cheap trick in this graph is to visually make the difference between the “prediction” and “observation” lines look as small as possible. (What’s 0.2 degrees between friends?) Those black vertical “unforced variability” lines, say “look at me”, “look at me”. But they don’t say “this is rigorous science”. The world has been warming for 300 years, and if the IPCC had ruled a line through the last 140 years it would have run smack through the middle of the observations. Instead it took millions of dollars, hundreds of man-hours and the largest computers in the world to make a prediction of a new higher trend that didn’t happen.

This graph in Frame and Stone is not like any graph in the IPCC FAR report.

The term “zero trend” is mentioned at least 5 times in the Frame and Stone paper (though I have not yet found it in the 1990 report). Under this analysis whether or not the IPCC was successful in 1990 depends on the assumptions about this “zero trend”.

This was the IPCC graph

Our emissions were higher than the ones used to generate this “simulation”.

This was reality measured against those IPCC trends

Frame and Stone suggest that Mt Pinatubo was one of those unforseeable events, so let’s start the trend-count from 1995 instead. But that only makes the result worse (see the graph here). The UAH trend was 0.12C per decade, and the HadCrut trend was 0.1C/decade.

[With the 1995 – 2012 graph, notice that the trend line for HadCRUT4 doesn’t run through the zero change level in Jan 1995. This is because, as it happens, the HadCRUT4 temperature for Jan 1995 was about 0.1C above the trend line — it’s just noise around the trend. The other three trend lines on the data in the two graphs above happen to go very close to the zero-change level at the starting point, but it’s only by chance. It’s the trends that are relevant, because the IPCC predictions were of trends.]

Frame and Stone and natural variability?

Frame and Stone say that the 1990 prediction didn’t include natural variability, and debate how “the noise” should be included. But in the Summary for PolicyMakers, the IPCC certainly gave the impression (eg page xiii)  they were very aware of natural variability and were trying to estimate how human activities would contribute. They hinted that there might be surprises once or twice, but they didn’t draw a future prediction graph that suggested temperatures could fall below 1990 levels by 2010 (as Frame and Stone imply) if natural forces overwhelmed the effect of CO2.

If a model is accidentally right, is it still a success?

Frame and Stone admit the models could be accidentally right, but if they ignore all the credible alternatives they can’t think of, like the solar magnetic theory, then really, it looks like it more evidence that CO2 caused the warming. Hello argument from ignorance. The IPCC depends upon that fallacy, and so do Frame and Stone.

“As is always the case in science, we cannot know for certain that the 1990 prediction was accurate for the right reasons but, given the apparent absence of any credible alternative theories and the robustness of the prediction, this evaluation strongly supports the contention that the climate is responding to enhanced levels of GHGs in accordance with historical expectations.”

Is there anything more mindless than admitting a complex model doesn’t have all the forcings, yet under statistical duress, it *might* have accidentally got the right outcome? Why would anyone bother publishing a paper on this? Why are governments still throwing billions down the toilet because of this theory? Seriously, what is the point? Reader Max in an email says: To argue that something is right for the wrong reasons is like accepting that 64/16 = 4 because if you cross out the 6’s you get 4/1 = 4 which just happens to be the right answer!

The point of the paper is not about science, it’s about politics and PR.

What do we learn about the climate by taking old unverified models predictions out of context, with caveats that were never made at the time, and analyzing them with new unverified models? We learn that obedient journalists will help unskeptical scientists promote old failed predictions as a surprising “success”.

England and others got media interviews and some people will try to kill discussion about the IPCC accuracy by referring to this paper. It’s argument by authority, and journalists who are supposed to be investigating the “news”probably won’t check the predictions against the data themselves, nor do they seem to ask any hard questions, they just take someone’s else’s word. (What ‘s the motto of the Royal Society again?)

Instead of this study being used to stop critics of the IPCC, it should be used to ask why Nature’s standards have fallen so far, why specialist climate scientists aren’t familiar with the actual IPCC predictions, and why a real scientist shouldn’t be much more skeptical of a paper that ignores the main predictions of the report it’s supposed to assess, and didn’t use the original graphs or uncertainty margins.

When the publishers and professors have to answer questions they can’t answer, they will think twice about pushing and promoting “politically correct” science. But it takes more than one unfunded blogger to do this. That’s why it’s so important that thousands of readers will read this, many will link to it in other sites, and on news stories, and hundreds will learn the short sharp answer so that Frame and Stone becomes a point that helps skeptics, hurts the unskeptical scientists, and most probably won’t be mentioned too often.

I would still expect an honest scientist to apologize for calling skeptics liars for stating the bleeding obvious.


Frame D.J., Stone, D.A. (2012) Assessment of the first consensus prediction on climate change, Letter, Nature Climate Change doi:10.1038/nclimate1763 [Abstract]
IPCC Publications  |  IPCC FAR    |  IPCC FAR Summary for Policy Makers  |  IPCC Chapter 6
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