The incorrect statement in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the Himalayan glaciers could completely disappear by 2035 is remarkable in many ways.
First, how could such a physically implausible claim have entered an early draft of an assessment undertaken by 'the world's leading experts', as IPCC authors are frequently described? Second, how did the claim survive several rounds of peer review from other IPCC authors and outside experts? Third, how did the claim, published in April 2007, remain unchallenged for more than two years before hitting the news headlines?
But perhaps most remarkable of all was the reaction of the IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, when the results of a specially commissioned Indian study of the glaciers challenged the IPCC's claim. He dismissed the new study as "voodoo science".
Pachauri's haughty attitude helps explain why the controversy surrounding the mistaken claim — which, after all, is a rather minor piece of the picture of climate change impacts — is now filling newspapers, blogs and broadcast media.
But to fully understand the timing of this affair we must reflect on the unexpected turn of events in the politics of climate change science over the past three months.
In other news, Rajendra Pachauri says that he hopes that climate skeptics rub asbestos on their faces.