The author of a controversial 2009 paper arguing that at least some amount of global warming could lead to economic gains has corrected the paper, along with a later article in a different journal. We confess to be baffled by the implications of the mix-up, although others appear to be less confused.
The 2009 article, “The Economic Effects of Climate Change,” was written by Richard Tol, of the University of Sussex, and appeared in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. It has been cited 91 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Science. ...
... according to the correction notice:
Gremlins intervened in the preparation of my paper “The Economic Effects of Climate Change” published in the Spring 2009 issue of this journal. In Table 1 of that paper, titled “Estimates of the Welfare Impact of Climate Change,” minus signs were dropped from the two impact estimates, one by Plambeck and Hope (1996) and one by Hope (2006). In Figure 1 of that paper, titled “Fourteen Estimates of the Global Economic Impact of Climate Change,” and in the various analyses that support that figure, the minus sign was dropped from only one of the two estimates. The corresponding Table 1 and Figure 1 presented here correct these errors. Figure 2 titled,”Twenty-One Estimates of the Global Economic Impact of Climate Change” adds two overlooked estimates from before the time of the original 2009 paper and five more recent ones.
The second article, “Targets for global climate policy: An overview,” appeared in the May 2013 issue of the Journal of Economic Developments [sic] and Control. It attempted to correct the 2009 paper ...
Its correction reads:
The author regrets that three errors crept into “Targets for global climate policy: An overview”. In Table 1 of that paper, the author dropped the minus sign on Chris Hope׳s 2006 estimate; his best guess is that a global warming by 2.5 °C would cause a welfare loss equivalent to losing 0.9% of income, with a confidence interval spanning −2.7% to 0.2%. This error also affects Fig. 1. Fig. 1 had a coding error in the upper bound of the confidence interval, and an error in the caption. ...
The blog of the London School of Economics has an interesting piece on the implications of the mistake. It reads, in part:
A correction to a paper quietly published by an economics journal last week has put pressure on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to amend a section of its new report that claimed that moderate amounts of global warming have overall positive benefits. The correction by Richard Tol, a professor of economics at the University of Sussex, has updated a paper he published in theJournal of Economic Perspectives in 2009 which collected together the results of studies of the economic impacts of climate change.
The original paper suggested that there were net beneficial impacts up to about 2.2 centigrade degrees of warming, and has been widely cited by climate change ‘sceptics’, including Viscount Ridley who used it as the basis of an article in The Spectator in October 2013 which claimed that “climate change has done more good than harm so far and is likely to continue doing so for most of this century”.
However, after I raised concerns with Professor Tol and with the journal about a number of errors in the article, a correction was quietly posted on the journal’s website last week. The correction points out that the original paper concluded that “there were net benefits of climate change associated with warming below about 2°C”, but the updated analysis shows “impacts are always negative”.
This is significant because a more recent paper by Professor Tol, which was published by the Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control in 2013 but contained many of the same errors as the 2009 paper, was used as the basis for a section on the economic damage caused by climate change in the report of the IPCC on ‘Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’.
The final version of the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC report was published on 31 March, along with the underlying final drafts of the chapters. Section 10.9.2 of Chapter 10, on which Professor Tol is a Coordinating Lead Author, draws on his 2013 paper and states: “Climate change may be beneficial for moderate climate change but turn negative for greater warming”. The chapter also includes Figure 10-1 which plots 20 of the 21 data points included in the correction by Professor Tol to his 2009 paper.
I have now drawn the attention of the IPCC to Professor Tol’s correction and suggested that it needs to amend the text of Chapter 10 before the final version is published later this year. The amendment is also important to ensure that the error does not appear in the IPCC Synthesis Report, which is due to be published at the end of October. I have also asked Viscount Ridley, via Twitter, to amend his article in The Spectator now that Professor Tol has published a correction. Lord Ridley has so far refused.
Tol, for his part, tells us that the errors don’t undermine his conclusions:
Although the numbers have changed, the conclusions have not. The difference between the new and old results is not statistically significant. There is no qualitative change either.
Here is my comment at Retration Watch: Mistakes happen and it is great when they are corrected. What is unforgivable is the way that the AEA journals handle corrected and retracted papers. There is no notice that there is a problem with the Tol paper at the JEP website for the original article or a 2002 AER article that was retracted in 2007. Researchers can still do a literature search, find the article, read it and cite it in their own research without any idea that there is a problem. It seems like an easy thing to post a correction or retraction notice at the website for the original article and put a watermark on the original PDF.
Note: I think I am going crazy. I remember posting something about the AER paper but I can't find anything about it by searching the blog or the internet. I made comments about the AER retraction on this Retraction Watch post on January 4 and 6, 2013. This is about the time I would have posted it here. Were my blog posts retracted? I'm getting a crazy X-files conspiracy sort of feeling.