The discovery of several errors concerning the fate of Himalayan glaciers in a report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been an acute embarrassment to a group that recently was awarded a Nobel Prize and which has generally been considered authoritative by the press, public, and policymakers. It turns out that the errors arose from a complicated and seemingly cursed series of attributions and mis-attributions. What is more, according to what is to date the best and most detailed analysis, attempts to set the record straight have themselves been cursed.
"Dozens of articles and analyses of this situation, whether dashed-off blog posts or New York Times coverage, exhibit a curious consistency," say Bidasha Banerjee and George Collins, Yale graduate students. "Not a single article or analysis appears to include all relevant issues without introducing at least one substantial error. It's as though the original documents contained a curse that has spread to infect every commentator and reporter. The curse seems to stem from not reading sources carefully (or not at all), which, ironically, was the IPCC Working Group II's central failing, and also a major issue in the documents that were the basis of the defective paragraph."
One person who comes in for some criticism both for inadevertently contributing to the IPCC errors and for not adequately elucidating them after the fact is Fred Pearce. It's not damning criticism, however, and Pearce's analysis of the climategate e-mail imbroglio--a separate but almost equally embarrassing matter to the climate community--is still well worth reading for the perspectives it offers. Pearce is a long-time and well-known contributor to Britain's New Scientist magazine; his article can be found at Yale's excellent environment360 website, which has just been honored with a National Magazine Award nomination in digital media.
The article by Banerjee and Collins is to be found at the equally excellent website, the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media.