Conflict-of-Interest in the IPCC’s New Chapter 7

As a journal guest editor, IPCC lead author Andrew Challinor approved the publication of 9 research papers that are now being cited as evidence in his IPCC chapter.

challinor_guest_editor

click for source

The process by which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) writes its reports is fraught with conflict-of-interest. A startling example can be seen in Chapter 7 of the Working Group 2 report.

Scheduled to be released in a few weeks, this chapter explores how climate change might impact humanity’s food supply. You can download a leaked copy of it here.

Andrew Challinor is one of eight lead authors for Chapter 7. (There are also two chapter heads, 10 contributing authors, and two Review Editors.)  According to the headline on a University of Leeds media release issued this week, Challinor’s latest, hot-off-the-press research paper demonstrates that Climate change will reduce crop yields sooner than we thought.

The media release tells us that this new research

feeds directly into the Working Group II report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, which is due to be published at the end of March 2014. [bold added]

It’s unclear what is meant by the “feeds directly into” claim. IPCC personnel aren’t supposed to be promoting their own careers or advancing pet hypotheses. Their job is to objectively examine the scientific literature already in existence.

But here’s where the conflict-of-interest comes in. Challinor, while serving as a guest editor for the March 2013 edition of the Agricultural and Forest Meteorology journal, decided that 20 research papers deserved to be published. Via this act of publication, these papers gained “peer-reviewed scientific literature” status.

As a lead author of the IPCC’s Chapter 7, Challlinor then decided that nine of these 20 papers were crucial to Chapter 7’s conclusions. In other words, the person passing judgment on the merits of these papers was not independent. He had an agenda. He was an IPCC lead author who wished to cite these papers in his IPCC chapter.

But it gets better. Challinor is himself the co-author of three of these 20 papers (see here, here, and here). So first he writes three papers. Then, wearing his journal editor hat, he decides that all three of them are worthy of publication in the very same edition of a peer-reviewed journal. Then, wearing his IPCC lead author hat, he arranges for two of his own works to be cited in the IPCC’s Chapter 7.

Another Chapter 7 lead author is David Lobell. While he and Challinor were working closely together on the IPCC report, Challinor decided that a paper written by Lobell also merited publication in the journal he was guest-editing.

We’ll never know how many of the following nine papers (all being cited as evidence in Chapter 7), would have made the cut if the journal editor had been someone unconnected to the IPCC:

It’s also worth noting that the Challinor paper in the news this week was co-written with five others. Every last one of these people served with Challinor as an IPCC Chapter 7 author.

The IPCC wants us to believe these people discharged their IPCC duties in an objective, rigorous, and neutral manner. But Challinor and company look an awful lot like an incestuous cabal.

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Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Be This Kind of Scientist

A new essay in the peer-reviewed literature searches for the secret formula by which to manipulate public opinion.

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Amy Luers calls herself  “a scientist.” An online bio tells us she

holds a Ph.D. in environmental science and an M.A. in international policy studies, both from Stanford University, and a M.S. and B.S. in environmental resources engineering from Humboldt State University. [bold added]

It also says she used to lead the “Climate Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in California.” You remember the UCS? I mentioned them back in January:

Rather than being limited to those with scientific credentials, membership in that US-based lobby group is open to anyone with a credit card.

As environmental writer Mark Lynas observed recently, this is “one of the most ideological of all the green groups.” In his view, scientists who work for that organization “leave their credentials at the door.”

Luers is now the director of climate change for the Skoll Global Threats Fund, which is financed by the Skoll Foundation – which itself pursues a “vision of a sustainable world of peace and prosperity.”

Luers is also the author of an essay published this week in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Climatic Change. You can read the full text of that essay here (a backup is here). It provides some depressing insights into how professional climate activists think.

For starters, although these people are desperate to connect with the public, they aren’t interested in actually talking to the public. It never occurs to them that ordinary Moms and Dads might reject their activist views – or their activist goals.

Ordinary people don’t have minds, priorities, and opinions of their own. In the view of people such as Luers, they’re merely raw material. The mission is to figure out the secret formula by which they can be manipulated to support the right policies.

Luers says she wants to “strengthen climate engagement.” She therefore

interviewed over 40 climate advocates, more than a dozen representatives from the foundation community, and a dozen academics…

before arriving at the less-than-earth-shattering conclusion that “social scientists and advocates must work together to build a culture of learning.”

You, me, MIT’s Technology Review, the Breakthrough Institute, and the dog next door may all understand that currently-available forms of renewable energy are hamstrung by enormous technical and economic shortcomings – that, for the foreseeable future, we’re stuck with fossil fuels.

As the Technology Review wrote earlier this year:

Renewable energy sources, like solar and advanced biofuels, are simply not yet ready to compete with fossil fuels.

As the founders of the Breakthrough Institute wrote two days ago in a piece titled No Solar Way Around It,

there’s little evidence that renewables have supplanted — rather than supplemented — fossil fuel production anywhere in the world.

Nevertheless, Luers stubbornly insists:

We already have the technical know-how to achieve significant carbon reductions, yet social inertia and vested corporate and political interests are preventing progress. [bold added]

Yes, that same old weary refrain. My assumptions aren’t the problem. My refusal to acknowledge reality isn’t at fault. It’s those nefarious corporate interests aligned against me who are to blame.

But the crucial issue is: How does this scientist approach the “climate crisis”?

Luers’ essay declares that her side of the climate debate needs to “take control of the conversation.” She talks about:

  • creating “political support”
  • “the larger political landscape”
  • “longer-term political needs”
  • the need to build “political will”
  • building “a political and public base of support”
  • [all bolding added by me]

She says that “political research techniques and analyses have grown in sophistication, enabling analysts to learn a good deal about what works and what does not in political campaigns.”

She makes statements such as: “We need to start picking our battles, designing our campaigns, and assessing our losses and wins…” She’s keen on “engaging the public on climate primarily by selling it as a personally relevant issue.”

In other words, her paper has absolutely nothing to do with science. It’s about political strategizing. The word “political” appears in it no less than 22 times.

In 2013, this is what passes for peer-reviewed academic research. These are the sorts of essays that scientifically trained people now spend their time writing.

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with apologies to Willie Nelson. See him perform Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys here:

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hat tip to Tom Nelson

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Two Views on Science, Pollution & Pristine Lakes

Canadian greens say lake-destroying research is all about science – but how do we know for sure?

experimental_lakes_area

I recently received a press release from Terry Collins & Associates. This media relations company writes and distributes news releases about, among other things, “science research at the UN.”

As the author of an entire book about the scandalous state of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), I now have a good idea what the UN means when it talks about “science.”

What’s really going on is that UN bureaucrats hand-pick people with certain scientific credentials and, shall we say, certain political predispositions.

They present these people with an outline of what they should write about, tell them how many words they are allowed to say it in, and make it near impossible for them to stray beyond a tightly-controlled framework. No thinking outside the box or colouring outside the lines.

And then, voila! The UN claims the final report is the product of some of the world’s leading minds, representing nations all over the world.

Think I’m exaggerating? Check out my earlier post Cogs in the Climate Machine. As I explain there, the authors currently at work on a chapter of the IPCC’s upcoming report have no authority to change the word “systems” to “ecosystems” in that chapter’s title:

A change as minor as this one – involving only three letters – cannot be made without petitioning multiple layers of the IPCC’s bureaucracy.

But to get back to the press release that landed in my inbox. The online version can be seen here. It tells us that a gentleman at the International Institute for Sustainable Development is applauding a decision by the province of Ontario to continue funding for a project I’ve never heard of.

It’s called the Experimental Lakes Area and, according to the press release, it’s a source of “important science” and “a rare opportunity for research, perhaps unique in the world.”

A few days ago, journalist Mark Bonokoski expressed a different point-of-view. The subtitle of his column: For decades, scientists have taken pristine lakes and polluted the hell out of them – just to see what would happen.

It seems that our homegrown environmentalists – including Elizabeth May, the leader of Canada’s Green Party –  find themselves in an odd position. They appear to be aggressively championing a project that involves the deliberate despoiling of remote lakes.

I have no idea who’s interpretation is correct in this instance. But I can say this:

  • I’m highly skeptical of press releases containing the term “sustainability”
  • I don’t believe a word uttered by Green Party politicians
  • “United Nations” and “science” don’t belong together

The process of writing my book has taught me that it is unwise to take the opinions of any “scientist” at face value. Scientists are merely people. They bring all kinds of baggage to the table – hidden assumptions, philosophical positions that blind them to alternative possibilities, and plain old self-interest.

In that regard, the New York Times recently ran a profile of Diederik Stapel, a disgraced Dutch professor who has confessed to making up research results out of thin air.

His fraudulent work was published in some of the world’s most prestigious journals. Indeed, he himself was a senior editor at one such journal.

Cathy Foley, president of Science and Technology Australia, is a fan of the peer-review process employed by academic journals. In a 2011 opinion piece, she urged us to trust what appears in these publications:

when scientists get it wrong, the self-correcting nature of the peer review process has allowed knowledge to be refined…Scientists have no harsher critics than other scientists…What we can do is respect the peer-reviewed science as the best information we have…

But the peer-review process failed to notice Stapel’s fraud. It wasn’t anyone associated with Science who blew the whistle on him. It was two of his own graduate students.

Supporting the idea that scientists are only people, that New York Times profile contains the following passage:

What the public didn’t realize, [Stapel] said, was that academic science, too, was becoming a business. “There are scarce resources, you need grants, you need money, there is competition,” he said. “Normal people go to the edge to get that money. Science is of course about discovery, about digging to discover the truth. But it is also communication, persuasion, marketing. I am a salesman. I am on the road. People are on the road with their talk. With the same talk. It’s like a circus.” He named two psychologists he admired…neither of whom has been accused of fraud. “They give a talk in Berlin, two days later they give the same talk in Amsterdam, then they go to London. They are traveling salesmen selling their story.” [bold added]

Today’s moral lesson: scientists aren’t holy men, pronouncing the gospel truth. They may, in fact, be closer to circus performers.

Just because some of them insist that the Experimental Lake Area is a sound and sensible project, therefore, doesn’t make it so.

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A Normal Day in Climate Science

Don’t believe everything you read – especially about the supposed link between global warming and natural disasters.

bloomberg_stupid

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a post-tropical-storm-Sandy, pre-US-election cover story that cites the then-as-yet-unpublished Munich Re study – dated Nov 1, 2012

Environmental studies professor Roger Pielke Jr. wrote a superlative blog post yesterday. This is how it ends:

Misleading public claims. An over-hyped press release. A paper which neglects to include materially relevant and contradictory information central to its core argument. All in all, just a normal day in climate science!

Those of us who take the trouble to delve into the bewildering world of climate change soon discover a wheelbarrow full of questionable practices and sloppy research. That doesn’t invalidate the entire field, but it does give one tremendous pause.

If I thought the fate of the planet hinged on the work I was doing, I’d be bending over backward to meet the highest standards possible. I’d triple-check my math. I’d use widely recognized procedures – rather than making up new ones. I’d  dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’.

But as Pielke says, quite the opposite seems to be the norm in climate science. His post is about a practice called science-by-press-release. Last October, the reinsurance company Munich Re issued a press release that said its researchers had found evidence of a “climate-change footprint” in the financial losses associated with natural disasters.

Media outlets such as USA Today wrote up the story. Joe Romm, over at his ClimateProgress blog declared it a “seminal” piece of research and fell for its conclusions hook, line, and sinker. So did Theo Spencer, a senior staffer with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

You’d think that people claiming to have found evidence no one else has yet managed to locate would back up their claim with hard data. You’d think they’d submit the paper to an academic journal, navigate the peer-review process, and then announce their findings. But this was just another case of “trust us.”

According to Pielke, the study wasn’t readily available for outsiders to examine at the time the press release appeared. To this day, only the 12-page executive summary can be accessed on Munich Re’s website. The final page of that summary advises that the full 274-page document “was produced exclusively for clients of Munich Re” and therefore can’t be viewed by the general public.

A news story three months later reported that Munich Re’s researchers had, in fact, “submitted a paper” to a journal. That paper has now been published and Munich Re has issued a second press release.

In Pielke’s words:

As one looks a little bit closer at the public representations made by Munich Re about the paper and the paper itself, one quickly finds –  as is all too common in climate science – that the strong public claims simply cannot be supported by the actual research, and the paper suffers from an obvious fatal error.

…The paper says nothing conclusive about attribution. It is not an “initial climate change footprint.”…In fact, the paper says much the opposite: attribution of losses to climate change was not achieved in the paper. [bolded added, link in original]

Pielke says the published paper fails in three significant ways. But the public is unlikely to hear about that. As he observed in a piece he wrote for the Denver Post last October, we are instead being fed a steady diet of climate misinformation.

Corporations such as Munich Re, activists such as Romm and Spencer, and sensation-seeking journalists are all to blame (see this Huffington Post piece and this Bloomberg Businessweek cover story).

The fact that Munich Re’s research hadn’t yet been published and wasn’t available for examination didn’t prevent the media from trumpeting its results.

Yet when a fully peer-reviewed study by Pielke and colleagues was published demonstrating that the financial damage associated with US tornadoes has actually declined since 1950, the media wasn’t interested. In Pielke’s words, there was “a complete blackout of coverage.”

Here’s a bit more from Pielke’s October op-ed:

Along with colleagues around the world, I’ve been studying climate change and disasters for almost 20 years…What we found may surprise you: Over the past six decades, tornado damage has declined after accounting for development that has put more property into harm’s way.

Researchers have similar conclusions for other phenomena around the world, ranging from typhoons in China, bushfires in Australia, and windstorms in Europe. After adjusting for patterns of development, over the long-term there is no climate change signal — no “footprint” — of increasing damage from extreme events either globally or in particular regions.

What about the United States? Flooding has not increased over the past century, nor have landfalling hurricanes. Remarkably, the U.S. is currently experiencing the longest-ever recorded period with no strikes of a Category 3 or stronger hurricane. The major 2012 drought obscures the fact that the U.S. has seen a decline in drought over the past century. [bold added]

In other words, the sky is not falling. And it’s actually the editors of Bloomberg Businessweek that deserve to be called stupid.

More than ever, it isn’t a good idea to believe everything you read. Not about climate change. Not about natural disasters. And certainly not about a supposed link between the two of them.

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Meet ‘One of the World’s Foremost Climate Scientists’

Andrew Weaver: climate modeler, Green Party deputy leader, Greenpeace promoter.

Andrew Weaver is a climate modeler. Which means he spends his time messing about with computers. His “research” takes place in a virtual, imaginary, speculative world. Decades or centuries from now his climate predictions may turn out to be correct. Or they may be forgotten because they were spectacularly wrong.

What’s important is that, at this moment in history,

Andrew Weaver is one of the world’s foremost climate scientists and a leading expert on global warming…He is Canada Research Chair in climate modeling and analysis at the University of Victoria, and has authored or coauthored nearly two hundred peer-reviewed studies in climate, earth science, policy, and education journals. He was chief editor of the Journal of Climate from 2005-2009. [backed up here]

Those lines are from his bio at the Lavin Agency, which helps Weaver acquire paid speaking gigs. That bio twice mentions his involvement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – and that the IPCC won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

So, to sum up, Weaver is:

  • a “foremost climate scientist”
  • “a leading expert on global warming”
  • the author of nearly 200 scholarly papers
  • an IPCC author
  • a former chief editor of a respected scientific publication called the Journal of Climate
  • linked to a Nobel Peace Prize

In other words, he sounds utterly eminent, respectable, authoritative, and trustworthy.

But as fellow blogger Hilary Ostrov has been writing recently, if you peer the slightest bit beneath the surface you discover that this “foremost climate scientist” has strong political views that call his scientific objectivity into question.

Much of Weaver’s professional life involves interpretation and judgment. If that judgment is coloured by an activist worldview the uncomfortable conclusion is that the journal he used to edit may have been making biased decisions when it decided which research deserved a place in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and which research should never see the light of day.

While we might wish otherwise, Weaver is not the sort of scientist who stays above the fray, who leaves politics to the politicians. Rather he is, himself, an overt political actor. At the moment he is deputy leader of British Columbia’s Green Party. Ostrov’s post here includes a Twitter screen capture of Weaver, last October, accepting that position and telling the world how honoured he is.

Earlier this week, Ostrov penned a post about Weaver titled IPCC Lead Author is Greenpeace PR Agent? pointing out that he recently promoted a new Greenpeace publication via Twitter.

With the oh-so-understated title, Point of No Return: The massive climate threats we must avoid, this publication talks about an “unfolding global disaster” and “catastrophic climate change.” It warns of “untold human suffering” and “the deaths of tens of millions.” That’s just on page one of the executive summary.

On the following page, Greenpeace tell us that:

climate scientists are increasingly linking alarming extreme weather events to climate change.

What proof does it offer? A peek at endnote #9 reveals a reference to a single newspaper opinion piece written by the notorious drama queen James Hansen. Unlike environmental studies professor Roger Pielke Jr. – who says the exact opposite – Hansen has no natural disaster extreme weather expertise.

Greenpeace then tells us that:

These extreme weather events include Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, droughts in the US in 2012 and 2011, heat waves and forest fires in Russia in 2010, and the European heat wave in 2003 that killed tens of thousands.

Endnotes #10 to #14 reveal that Greenpeace is basing these claims on four newspaper articles, a “news briefing” published in Nature, and a journal article that discusses heatwave deaths. In other words, these sources merely establish that bad things have happened. They do not begin to provide scientific evidence that such events are the result of human-induced climate change.

Nevertheless, believing that a sheaf of news clippings equals a persuasive scientific argument, Greenpeace concludes that:

The disasters the world is experiencing now are…just a taste of our future if greenhouse gas emissions continue to balloon.

This is scaremongering, plain and simple.

So why is “one of the world’s foremost climate scientists” and “a leading expert on global warming” promoting it? Can he not tell the difference between solid data and green propaganda?

But perhaps we should give the man a break. A few months ago, the Lavin Agency bio claimed that Weaver was a “Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.” Here’s a screencap I included in a blog post last October.

Weaver has since been demoted. The IPCC has issued a statement saying it’s improper for any of its personnel to describe themselves as Nobel laureates. In response, Weaver’s bio now claims he’s a “Member of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Panel.”

weaver_nobel2

screencap made today; click to enlarge

Unfortunately that, too, is erroneous. Countries are members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Individuals are not.

Read Ostrov’s latest blog post on Andrew Weaver here.

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The Secret Santa Leak: Translations & IPCC Reaction

The IPCC’s response to the leak of three data sticks is typical of that organization. It expects us to accept its version of reality at face value. Its statement provides no opportunity for the public to draw its own conclusions.

Cartoons by Josh

Last week I published three stories about the Secret Santa Leak – see here, here, and here. Nearly a gigabyte of material resides on the three data sticks released by a whistleblower from within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The examination of this material has only just begun.

This blog surpassed all previous traffic records last week. A community of people around the world helped make that happen. Foremost among these was the California-based blog, WattsUpWithThat. Years of round-the-clock hard work by Anthony Watts and his team of volunteers have built that blog into a remarkable megaphone. Anthony kindly lent me that megaphone so that I might alert the world to this leak.

In the UK, Andrew Montford’s Bishop Hill blog helped spread the news – and published the above image by Josh the cartoonist. It made me giggle. Also in the UK, James Delingpole let people know about the leak  and said kind things about Canada. In Australia, Joanne Nova told her audience about the leak and posted download links.

Within hours, an online search engine was created by Simon Barnett (more about that here).

Translations of my stories also began to appear. By Friday, the France-based Changement Climatique blog had posted a translation of the first piece. The Internet address for that blog is www.SkyFall.fr, a reference to an Asterix storybook character, a village leader who believes the sky is falling.

Chris Frey, a novelist from Germany, not only worked on the German translation of my book-length IPCC exposé (available in bookshops throughout Germany and Austria), he has now translated all three of last week’s stories into German. Read them here.

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ipcc_website_secretsanta_le

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The IPCC itself responded late on the day of the leak with a three-paragraph statement totally in character for that organization. As usual, it expects the world to take its word for it.

That statement provides no information that would permit people to compare the IPCC’s version of events with reality. It contains not the slightest hint of which blogs or individuals brought this leak to the public’s attention, or where information about the leak might be found. Anyone reading the IPCC’s statement will have to figure these things out on their own.

Please note that my approach is the exact opposite. Whenever I say anything about the IPCC – or any other organization or individual – I provide direct links. With the click of a mouse readers can go check things out for themselves. They can form their own opinions about whether my views are reasonable and whether I’ve characterized matters accurately.

The IPCC, in contrast, has never been in the business of treating people like grownups. The last thing it wants is for the public to examine the pros and cons and make up it own mind. The IPCC believes only its side of the story should be heard. Which is why all five of the hyperlinks in that statement take you to one place only – its own website.

But the IPCC statement does contain this revealing bit of prose:

The quality of IPCC reports and the integrity of the IPCC process depend on thoughtful comments from the widest possible range of experts, representing the full spectrum of scientific views. The Working Group II review process is open to anyone interested in submitting comments. All scientific comments submitted through the review process will be considered and addressed by authors… [bold added, backed up here]

This is a great example of IPCC doublespeak. The word “scientific” is used twice. The word “expert” also appears. Yet the IPCC also admits that its review process – in which outsiders read draft versions of its report and then provide feedback – isn’t restricted to those with scientific credentials.

Rather, the IPCC says that anyone interested can read its drafts. That’s a far cry from how it has described this process in the past. Here’s the graphic that accompanied the release of the IPCC’s last major report:

IPCC_ar4_graphic

The first line in that graphic doesn’t say that 2,500 people who were merely interested participated. It says “2500+ scientific expert reviewers” helped out.

Slowly, one data point at a time, the degree to which the IPCC has been misrepresenting, fudging, and exaggerating becomes clear.

The point of the story I published on the day the IPCC released its statement was that some of the people it has designated as expert reviewers are actually employees of activist organizations.

Much of the feedback those people have offered the IPCC is therefore not thoughtful. It is not scientific. Rather, it amounts to a lobbying barrage – IPCC authors are being repeatedly and aggressively urged to cite activist-produced literature.

The IPCC’s expert review process has been highjacked by pressure groups. Any genuinely scientific organization would hang its head in shame at this revelation. But the IPCC trundles on.

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An upcoming post will examine media coverage of the Secret Santa leak. Please send me links to any you’ve stumbled across: NOconsensus.org AT gmail.com

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Interviews

The US-based website, FamilySecurityMatters.org, has today published a lengthy interview with yours truly beneath a review of my book. It’s titled The Fraudsters Who Invent the “Science” of Climate Change.

The term “fraud” does not appear in my book. But ordinary people who smell a rat, who think they’re being manipulated and misled, often end up using words like fraud and scam. These words amount to a moral shorthand; they are a quick way of expressing the idea that a message is suspect.

The IPCC is not a trustworthy organization. I think my book demonstrates that point ten times over. But as I say in today’s interview:

many good, smart, sincere people have worked on IPCC reports over the years. Many of them were simply naïve – oblivious to the fact that they were being used by UN officials like pawns in an international chess game.

I don’t believe, therefore, that the average IPCC participant is defrauding anyone. But I think we should be clear-eyed about the fact that the IPCC was established by UN bureaucrats as a means of helping them achieve the UN’s climate agenda. That agenda has never been submitted to any country’s electorate for their direct approval.

Here’s another tidbit from the interview:

politicians like fighting climate change. It appeals to their egos. It casts them as heroes. It’s more gratifying and glamorous to rail against climate change than to spend one’s time balancing the budget or fixing the school system. Here, for example, is a quote from a recent newspaper article regarding Florida governor Charlie Crist:

Crist’s climate-change crusade got him national attention, with a write-up in Time magazine and an interview on the CBS Early Show. He shared a stage with singer Sheryl Crow and met with Robert Redford. California’s then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called him “another great action hero.”

In a world in which politicians are popularly regarded as scumbags and pathological liars, fighting climate change casts them as admirable. They aren’t going to give that up easily.

Read the whole thing here.

A few weeks back I was interviewed for 40 minutes by the Japan-based Corbett Report. It’s audio only and you can hear it here. Two people have since left comments on that website. The first person is disappointed with me since, even though I’m critical of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), I don’t challenge the idea of human-caused global warming.

The idea that my book is not about climate science, but about the influential UN body that interprets that science on behalf of the world’s governments is sometimes a difficult concept to communicate.

The second commenter writes:

Why hasn’t someone tied Donna Laframboise to a chair, propped her eyelids open, and forced her to read Merchants of Doubt?

Since page four of that particular book claims that:

the IPCC has an exceptionally inclusive and extensive peer review process…

perhaps the authors may wish to consult Chapter 33 of my own work. That’s where I explain that what goes on at the IPCC is nothing like what is normally understood by the term peer-review.

I then list six examples of how the IPCC’s peer-review process, such as it is, has been undercut, circumvented, and short-circuited. IPCC rules sound great in theory. practice. But there are no traffic cops enforcing them, and absolutely no consequences when people violate them.

It is foolish, in the extreme, to imagine that just because an IPCC rule exists on paper it is being followed 100% of the time. But that seems to be the position of those who wrote Merchants of Doubt.

And while I’m on that subject, when did doubt become a bad thing? When did asking questions become a sin? I recall wearing an activist button in my youth that read: Question Authority. Now, apparently, to express doubt about the establishment view of climate change is to be a baddie.

I think we should all remind ourselves that people who don’t tolerate doubt usually belong to cults.

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Pachauri’s Rhetoric vs Reality

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2008:

we carry out an assessment of climate change based on peer-reviewed literature, so everything that we look at and take into account in our assessments has to carry [the] credibility of peer-reviewed publications, we don’t settle for anything less than that. [source – see bottom of p. 2]

Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC chairman, 2009:

IPCC studies only peer-review science. Let someone publish the data in a decent credible publication. I am sure IPCC would then accept it, otherwise we can just throw it into the dustbin. [source – see end of article]

IPCC insiders answering a 2010 InterAcademy Council questionnaire:

…there are vast amounts of information and data that are not published in scientific papers…and without which the assessments of the IPCC would not be possible. [p. 241]

For a number of areas of IPCC work non-peer reviewed literature is absolutely essential, because the peer reviewed literature does not cover enough relevant information. [p. 257]

Some chapters rely heavily on gray literature while ignoring peer-reviewed literature on the same matter (e.g., Ch 7 WG2). [p. 543]

The pressure from [developing countries] to use publications in [developing countries] and/or grey literature is high and effective. [p.555]

My [2007 Working Group 3] chapter depended heavily on non-peer reviewed literature and I have yet to hear a complaint about its quality. [p. 52]

It’s time for an explanation. How can the IPCC’s chairman be so profoundly misinformed? And are there really no consequences when the head of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning body goes around the world misleading the rest of us on so basic and fundamental a matter?

Do we really consider this acceptable behaviour? Have our standards sunk so low?

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The 678-page PDF of collected, anonymized answers to the InterAcademy Council questionnaire is here.

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Landsea, the IPCC & the Union of Concerned Scientists

I’ve been taking a close look at the Chris Landsea controversy. A Florida-based hurricane expert, Landsea served as a contributing author and expert reviewer on both the 1995 and 2001 editions of the climate bible.

In late 2004 he was once again invited to contribute a brief section on hurricanes for what would eventually become the 2007 edition. The person then in charge of the relevant Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chapter was Kevin Trenberth – who is described in a recent interview as a “climate modeler and IPCC insider.”

Both Landsea and Trenberth are meteorologists. But Landsea’s entire career has focused on hurricanes. Trenberth’s has not.

A few weeks after Landsea received his third IPCC invitation he was surprised to hear that Trenberth intended to participate in a press conference that would claim that experts believe global warming will continue to spur “more outbreaks of intense hurricane activity.”

Landsea sent an e-mail addressed jointly to Trenberth and a second colleague, Linda Mearns (who chose not to participate in the subsequent press conference, perhaps due to Landsea’s concerns). Pointedly, Landsea observed that neither they – nor the three other people scheduled to participate in the press conference – had ever published a research paper on the relationship between hurricanes and climate change. The implication was clear: how could these people claim expertise in that field?

Speaking as the bona fide expert, Landsea’s e-mail provided a brief overview of the topic. It began with this declaration:

There are no known scientific studies that show a conclusive physical link between global warming and hurricane frequency and intensity.

Despite Landsea’s efforts to discourage him, Trenberth went ahead with the press conference. 2004 had been a busy hurricane season in the US and the media was happy to report that people claiming to be experts saw a global warming connection.

A Reuters news story, for example, declared that the “four hurricanes that bashed Florida and the Caribbean within a five-week period over the summer…are only the beginning.” The journalist seemed not to notice that the first person quoted in her story – Paul Epstein – is, in fact, a medical doctor – not someone whose professional life has been devoted to the study of hurricanes.

(As for the suggestion that 2004 was only the beginning, after hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the number of strong hurricanes making landfall in the US promptly plunged. Since then people have begun talking about the unusual “hurricane drought.”)

Following the press conference, Landsea protested Trenberth’s actions in an e-mail addressed to 15 senior colleagues and IPCC personnel. Among them was IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri. Landsea provided a hyperlink to an online recording of the entire press conference. In his view, the media hadn’t exaggerated. Rather, the news stories were consistent with what Trenberth had actually said.

So where, asked Landsea, are the peer-reviewed publications

that substantiate these pronouncements? What studies are being alluded to that have shown a connection between observed warming trends on the earth and long-term trends in tropical cyclone activity? As far as I know there are none.

Landsea said he was gravely concerned that since Trenberth had already “come to the conclusion that global warming has altered hurricane activity,” and since Trenberth would be overseeing the hurricane section in the Climate Bible, “it may not be possible for the IPCC process to proceed objectively.”

Landsea then made a perfectly reasonable request:

I would like assurance that what will be included in the IPCC report will reflect the best available information and the consensus within the scientific community most expert on the specific topic. [italics added]

Landsea’s e-mail was dated November 5th, 2004. It would be a full two weeks before he received a reply from Pachauri, who explained that travel to Korea and Australia had prevented him from responding sooner.

Rather than acknowledging that Trenberth’s behavior had placed the IPCC in an awkward position, Pachauri was dismissive:

I need hardly mention that the IPCC cannot possibly take a position on this, because individual scientists can do what they wish in their own rights, as long as they are not saying anything on behalf of the IPCC. I may also mention that often the media does exaggerate what scientists may put forward on a balanced and objective basis.

Pachauri – whose first priority should surely be the safeguarding of the IPCC’s reputation – had clearly not bothered to listen to the recording of the press conference. Had he done so he would have discovered that Trenberth was introduced as a senior author of the IPCC’s upcoming report. He would have heard Trenberth himself say:

I was a lead author on the 2001 IPCC report…and in fact I was involved in developing some of the information that is in that report dealing with hurricanes.

What Pachauri would not have heard was a disclaimer making it clear that Trenberth and his colleagues were speaking as private individuals – and that their opinions should in no way be confused with those of the IPCC. It would have taken only 10 seconds to utter such a disclaimer, but that didn’t happen.

As the press release issued at the time makes clear, both Trenberth and another speaker were deliberately identified by their IPCC roles. They weren’t just anyone making claims about hurricanes and global warming – they were UN-recognized experts.

Most of the above is common knowledge. I’ve read several accounts of Landsea’s eventual resignation from the IPCC and was therefore aware of the broad brushstrokes of these events. What I’d not heard before is that the other speaker overtly linked to the IPCC in that press release was James J. McCarthy.

He was described in the release as “a biological oceanographer at Harvard University and lead author of the climate change impacts portion” of the IPCC’s 2001 report. What that description glosses over is that this marine biologist was actually a senior IPCC official between 1997 and 2001. Indeed, he served as co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group 2 for the 2001 Climate Bible.

So it wasn’t just Trenberth who was blurring the lines between personal opinions and official IPCC views on that occasion. McCarthy was, in fact, the much bigger IPCC fish.

What else have I discovered about McCarthy? During 2009 he was the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This is impressive, to be sure. But since that title changes hands every year, there are now rather a lot of people who can lay claim to this honour.

What I find particularly interesting is that while serving as AAAS president McCarthy simultaneously donned another mantle of responsibility. In May of 2009 he became chairman of the board of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Politically, I’m an independent. I’ve never belonged to any political party and have, over the years, voted across the spectrum. So I’m not grinding any axe when I point out the obvious: the UCS is an unabashedly left-wing organization. Notice the word union in its name. Notice the word concerned – which smarmily suggests that non-members are callous and uncaring.

The UCS opposes the scientific consensus that genetically modified foods are safe – not on scientific grounds, but on philosophical ones. It shouts about political interference with science when its own pet causes are affected, but remains blind, deaf, and dumb when the pendulum swings in the other direction.

But let us return to McCarthy and his career.

  • Between 1997 and 2001 he co-chairs an IPCC working group.
  • In 2004 he participates in a press conference that implies there’s a link between global warming and more intense hurricanes – even though he has no expertise in that field, and even though no peer-reviewed scientific literature exists to support his position.
  • In 2009 he serves as president of a prestigious scientific body.
  • Then he becomes chairman of an organization that uses the prestige and authority of science to advance a left-wing, activist agenda.

Let me just repeat those two last points: At the same time that he was leading the American Association for the Advancement of Science, McCarthy became the head of a notoriously activist body.

Wow. When I began researching the global warming debate two years ago I had no idea how far my opinion of scientists was going to plummet.

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Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Critiqued

The quality of thinking in Scientific American has not been impressive lately. In that publication articles with lazy logic and weak arguments aren’t simply published, they’re published twice. This paper is a great example.

Titled The Physical Science Behind Climate Change, and written by five Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) insiders, it appeared first in July 2007. Perhaps this was the magazine’s way of demonstrating support for the new edition of the IPCC’s climate bible released that same year.

The second time, in October 2008, the article was part of a package celebrating Nobel winners who’ve “written more than 200 articles for Scientific American.” When a science magazine suggests an equivalency between Peace Prize winners on the one hand and physics Nobel winners on the other, that’s not a good sign.

Nevertheless, I believe in giving credit where it’s due, and Scientific American currently has an opinion piece in its health section enumerating the shortcomings of peer-reviewed scientific research. Here are some particularly relevant quotes [bold added by me]:

Many studies that claim some drug or treatment is beneficial have turned out not to be true…Even when effects are genuine, their true magnitude is often smaller than originally claimed.

…scientists are tempted to show that they know more than they do…

Much research is conducted for reasons other than the pursuit of truth. Conflicts of interest abound, and they influence outcomes

First, we must routinely demand robust and extensive external validation – in the form of additional studies – for any report that claims to have found something new. Many fields pay little attention to the need for replication or do it sparingly and haphazardly.

…At the moment…outsiders frequently do not have access to what they need to replicate studies. Journals and funding agencies should strongly encourage full public availability of all data and analytical methods for each published paper.

The overall message is that scientists are, indeed, only human. They are as vulnerable as the rest of us to bouts of arrogance and self-aggrandizement. They sometimes cut corners in their professional lives. They don’t always follow the rules. Their motivations are sometimes less-than-pure.

This means that far stricter accountability mechanisms need to put in place. Until a researcher’s data is entirely open to examination – and until his or her findings have been replicated by disinterested third parties – it’s foolish to place too much trust in those findings.

From what I can tell, if such a regime were actually adopted, well over half of the peer-reviewed papers cited by the IPCC would be immediately disqualified.

Read the whole Scientific American piece here. [backup links: page 1, page 2]

For more on the convoluted logic of the five-IPCC-author piece, see the end of this post.

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That Wobbly Foundation: Peer-Reviewed Research

Last July, when a deeply flawed inquiry into Climategate issued its report, an appendix authored by Richard Horton was included (see pp. 126-143 of this 160-page PDF). Horton is the editor of The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Subtitled A Brief History of Peer Review, this appendix implied that climate skeptics have put peer-reviewed scientific literature on a pedestal. It suggested that climate skeptics argue that if research has been peer-reviewed it is “special and sacred” and that if “evidence has not been peer-reviewed, it is next to worthless.”

Horton then proceeded to make mincemeat of these ideas. In one memorable passage he wrote:

Peer review does not replicate and so validate research. Peer review does not prove that a piece of research is true. The best it can do is say that, on the basis of a written account of what was done and some interrogation of the authors, the research seems on the face of it to be acceptable for publication…Experience shows, for example, that peer review is an extremely unreliable way to detect research misconduct. [bold added]

It’s too bad Horton got the positions of climate skeptics and climate activists totally backward. The world champion of the notion that peer-reviewed research is sacred is actually Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

He’s the person who told a journalist that, because the information contained in a discussion paper released by India’s environment ministry hadn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal it should be thrown “into the dustbin” (see the last line here). He’s the person who assured a committee of the North Carolina legislature:

…everything that we [at the IPCC] look at and take into account in our assessments has to carry [the] credibility of peer-reviewed publications, we don’t settle for anything less than that. (see p. 2 here)

Moreover, it is climate scientists such as meteorologist Michael Mann who’ve dismissed their critics by attempting to hide behind the shield of peer-review. When asked, in 2003, to respond to concerns expressed in an article written by a former US Defense and Energy Secretary, Mann haughtily replied: “I am not familiar with any peer-reviewed work that he has submitted to the scientific literature.”

The notion that one’s concerns are inconsequential unless they’ve been written up in a proper scientific paper and published in a peer-reviewed journal comes from the warmist / activist / alarmist side of the fence. It has long been a central plank in their argument.

In 2006 Andrew Dessler, a Texas professor who specializes in the physics of climate change, declared (on a website) that the public shouldn’t consult websites when seeking global warming information since, unlike IPCC reports, they weren’t “based entirely on peer-reviewed literature.”

In 2008 physicist Joe Romm, writing under a headline that promised The cold truth about climate change, told Salon.com readers that the IPCC “relies on the peer-reviewed scientific literature for its conclusions, which must meet the rigorous requirements of the scientific method…”

In 2009 Australian marine biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg described the IPCC process to a reporter as “always using the peer-reviewed literature as the base.” Philip Duffy, a physicist with 20 years climate modeling experience, asserted in 2010 that a “core principle of the IPCC is that only peer-reviewed literature is cited.”

Taking their cue from the above, journalists and others have spread this peer-reviewed equals trustworthy mantra far and wide (see a couple dozen examples here).

They continue to do so. A week ago, an Australian blogger compared climate skeptics to people who believe the Earth is flat, who oppose vaccinations, and who “believe that cigarette smoke does not kill” (backup link here). The reason this blogger is so certain climate skeptics are wrong is, in his words:

…the litany of peer-reviewed research by people who are scientists that tell the truth. [italics in original]

But wasn’t Horton – speaking as the editor of a peer-reviewed journal – crystal clear on this point? Did he not explicitly say that the peer-review process does not prove that a piece of research is true

And here, today, is Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, declaring in a newspaper opinion piece that the science is clear because:

…research papers have been peer-reviewed by other scientists to make sure the findings are accurate. [backup link here]

Did Horton not, in fact, explicitly state that the peer-review process does not validate research? Did he not then go much further and warn us that peer-review is an extremely unreliable way to detect research misconduct?

Horton would surely be striking a blow for sound public policy if he were to send Gillard a copy of his famous appendix asap.

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h/t Tom Nelson

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IPCC: Screw the Rules

We’ve been told the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a paragon of virtue. Rajendra Pachauri, its chairman, says he:

…can’t think of a better process. There is not a parallel on this planet, in any field of endeavour as you have in the IPCC.

I’m sure every chef considers the dishes produced by his own kitchen exceptional, but what really matters is what the customers – and the health inspectors – think.

When a committee investigated the IPCC last year, they weren’t nearly as impressed as its chairman. Indeed, they concluded that while the IPCC has rules and procedures, they often aren’t followed. In one instance in particular, the committee found that the rule that said non-peer-reviewed source material should be identified as such when listed among the IPCC’s references was being utterly ignored. (More info here.)

The committee therefore made a specific recommendation, which it expressed in rather clear language:

The IPCC should strengthen and enforce its procedure for the use of unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature…ensuring that unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature is appropriately flagged in the report. [bold added]

But as Hilary Ostrov tells us today, IPCC bureaucrats had other ideas – and these bureaucrats have now prevailed.

Reading between the lines, it appears that the rule has never been followed because the IPCC’s clerical and technical support staff have always considered it to be too much of a bother. Thus, it was simply disregarded. (In a reputable organization, one with real checks-and-balances, that would never have been allowed to happen.)

After the committee pointed out this lack of compliance and told the IPCC to pull up its socks, the bureaucrats chose to reject the committee’s very clear instructions and instead proposed that the business about flagging non-peer-reviewed sources be abandoned.

According to an internal document (spotted by Hilary a month ago), the IPCC’s clerical and bureaucratic staff felt the:

…flagging of unpublished and non-peer reviewed literature would not be practical. [bold added]

Without any discussion of why the rule was instituted in the first place or why, precisely, IPCC staff consider it so impractical, the internal IPCC document recommended that the flagging business be struck from the rulebook.

At an IPCC meeting earlier this week, this recommendation appears to have been approved. According to page 4 of this publication, the IPCC:

…agreed not to flag information derived from grey literature in the reports and focus instead on ensuring the high quality of all information, placing priority on peer-reviewed literature.

In other words, screw the rules. And screw the committee that investigated the IPCC last year which insisted the rules should be followed.

The IPCC is a bureaucracy. Which means it is governed, to a large degree, by people with a bureaucratic mindset. Rather than being responsive to the outside world, these people actually run the show. If there’s a rule they disagree with, their first response is to simply disregard it. When they’re called on this, they then arrange for the rule to disappear.

Transparency? Accountability? No better process on the planet? Yeah, right.

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The Climate Caper

Garth Paltridge’s 2009 The Climate Caper has been difficult to find here in Canada, perhaps because he is Australian.  So I was delighted to hear about the $7.97 Kindle edition, which I purchased recently.

Paltridge is a retired physicist, with direct experience in climate-related matters. During the 1980s he was the chief research scientist in the atmospheric research division of Australia’s premier scientific organization – the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Later, he spent 12 years in leadership roles associated with Antarctic research projects. His list of publications is eight pages long and exceeds 100 items.

Paltridge is, therefore, no intellectual lightweight. He is a senior scientist who has served in a number of senior capacities. This doesn’t mean he’s right about everything. But it does belie the claim that scientists who question the global warming orthodoxy are marginal personalities whose work never gets published in the peer-reviewed literature.

For me, the beginning and end of Paltridge’s book are especially interesting. This is where he examines what has happened to the culture of science. Scientists are human beings, after all. Which means they’re as susceptible as everyone else to runaway egos, peer pressure, group-think, and financial and institutional incentives.

Paltridge tells us about attending a meeting shortly after the release of the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. He says it seemed reasonable to point out that global temperature records may not be reliable – and that treating tree rings as the equivalent of thermometers is problematic.

In a depressing illustration of how IPCC partisans reject the sort of open debate that is the hallmark of genuine scientific inquiry, Paltridge describes the response:

It was like stirring a hornet’s nest. One after another the global warming experts rose to condemn me for questioning in public the conclusions of an IPCC report that had been compiled and endorsed as the consensus opinion of a large number of knowledgeable scientists. What right had I to make negative comments when I was not an expert in that particular aspect of climate science? If I wanted to question the science then the proper procedure was to write my thoughts in a formal scientific paper that could be subjected to peer review. And so on and so forth. Suffice it to say that the verbal spat was quite out of proportion to whatever was the crime that had been committed…The condemnation in fact continued for some days afterwards with a rash of fairly rude e-mails…demanding that I apologize for bringing disrepute to the IPCC process and to the scientific personnel associated with it.

This experience, he says, demonstrates “how difficult it can be these days for the ordinary scientist” to question the “official beliefs” the IPCC process was set up to produce.

Paltridge points out that politicians and other decision-makers now have “nowhere to turn for a second opinion.” The fact that major scientific institutions have become so dependent on the funds associated with global warming research has real-world consequences. As he observes:

Most of the developed countries have institutionalized their greenhouse activity within government agencies devoted specifically to mitigation of global warming. Their budgets are enormous. It is not likely that the public servants who staff them will be receptive to doubts about their reason for existence.

In other words, scientific institutions have adopted a point-of-view on climate change that serves these institutions’ interests. That is not the same as serving the interests of science itself.  In fact, the hard-won, long-term reputation of science is now at risk because the very people who are supposed to be defending it are preoccupied by short-term matters like their budget.

Toward the end, Paltridge devotes some amount of time to helping us understand the social psychology of the climate science world. He paints a picture in which far too many people are graduating with research science credentials than can reasonably be employed. These people often find themselves working in unsatisfying situations, on work that is unlikely to even be read by many others.

And then along comes the IPCC. It offers them a chance to be a hero, to save the world from hellfire and brimstone. It sends them to meetings in exotic locales. It provides the media with a reason to interview them. It even links their name to a Nobel Peace Prize.

Let’s face it, most of us would find all of that intoxicating. How many people would realistically turn down such things when offered them on a silver platter? How many wouldn’t be tempted to swallow their misgivings, to tell themselves that all those other smart people must be right about climate change even if they themselves aren’t entirely convinced?

Paltridge argues persuasively that climate science is far too broad a subject matter for any person to be familiar with more than a small portion of the relevant research. So when we’re told that IPCC reports represent a scientific consensus he says this doesn’t mean what the public thinks – that the world’s most brilliant minds have each processed all the important data and have all come to the same conclusion.

“The consensus is really about the trustworthiness of other scientists” he says:

…the individual specialist knows nothing (or nothing much) about most of it…to the extent that consensus exists at all, it is simply a public expression of faith in the profession. It is a public expression of the hope that there is somebody else within the system who is knowledgeable enough to pick up any major errors…

It is understandable that scientists are prepared to trust their own colleagues in this manner. But the public has a right to make up its own mind. And before doing so it has a right to be fully informed.

Paltridge’s book is  an important contribution to the debate.

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h/t C3 Headlines

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Speeding Tickets and the IPCC

If you lived in a town in which speed limits were posted but everyone knew there were no traffic cops, would you obey the speed limit? Always? Every time you got behind the wheel? Even on those occasions when you were running late?

If you’re among the small percentage of human beings who can honestly answer in the affirmative, here’s question number two: how many people do you personally know who’d behave as diligently as you would?

The amazing thing about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is that it inhabits a world without checks-and-balances. No internal – or external – enforcement mechanisms exist. Sure, the IPCC has taken the time to write down some rules of the road. But it has never hired any traffic cops. There have never been any spot checks, radar readings, or speeding tickets – all of which are necessary if one actually expects the rules to be followed.

A few days ago blogger Hilary Ostrov pointed out that a document prepared for an upcoming IPCC meeting is proposing that a critical rule governing the use of non-peer-reviewed material be abandoned.

Here’s a bit of background: The chairman of the IPCC has promulgated the myth that IPCC conclusions are based solely on info found in academic, peer-reviewed journals. We now know that this is not the case. In response, some IPCC partisans have retreated a bit, pointing to the fact that IPCC procedures say it’s OK to use non-peer-reviewed sources. Indeed, the very bottom of the very last page of this 14-page IPCC procedures document reads:

Non-peer-reviewed sources will be listed in the reference sections of IPCC Reports. These will be integrated with references for the peer-reviewed sources. These will be integrated with references to the peer reviewed sources stating how the material can be accessed, but will be followed by a statement that they are not published.

There’s nothing elegant or precise about these sentences. Non-peer-reviewed and not published seem to be used interchangeably. But a magazine issued by the World Wildlife Fund can surely be considered “published” in the normal sense of that word.

The essential point seems to be that non-peer-reviewed material is supposed to be clearly identified when it appears in the list of references. At some point in time, IPCC officials decided this was a reasonable thing to do. If one must resort to citing non-peer-reviewed material, surely it’s important to be upfront about this.

But because there are no traffic cops, the IPCC has never actually followed that rule. Our citizen audit found 5,587 non-peer-reviewed references in the 2007 climate bible. A year ago, Hilary reported that only six of them – a grand total of 0.1 .001 percent – were clearly identified as such.

Four months later, an InterAcademy Council committee (charged with investigating IPCC procedures) reached a similar conclusion:

…a search through the Working Group reports of the fourth assessment found few instances of information flagged as unpublished or non-peer-reviewed. Clearer guidelines and stronger mechanisms for enforcing them are needed. [bold added, see page 5 of this 14-page PDF]

Just below these remarks, the committee made a specific recommendation. It said:

The IPCC should strengthen and enforce its procedure for the use of unpublished and nonpeer-reviewed literature, including providing more specific guidance on how to evaluate such information, adding guidelines on what types of literature are unacceptable, and ensuring that unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature is appropriately flagged in the report. [bold added]

Since then, the IPCC has assembled a group of people whose job was apparently to find ways to implement the committee’s recommendations. Instead, as Hilary reports, this group seems to think it’s entitled to pick and choose which rules should be adhered to.

Rather than strengthening and enforcing the flagging guideline, the IPCC group is proposing that that rule be abandoned altogether. On page 7 of this 267-page PDF, we read:

The TG, after consulting the WG /TFI TSUs, found that the implementation of this IAC recommendation regarding the appropriate flagging of unpublished and non-peer reviewed literature would not be practical. [bold added]

In plain English this says that the group (the task group or TG) consulted with paid employees of the IPCC who perform clerical and administrative tasks (the working group and emissions inventory technical support units). We aren’t told why, precisely, but these clerical employees apparently feel it would be too much of a bother to follow this rule. Therefore, the task group is recommending that the rule be struck from the books.

I think this says something profound about the culture of the IPCC. These people are seriously suggesting that a mechanism intended to ensure transparency and public accountability be jettisoned this casually.

So let us return to my opening metaphor. Speed limit signs are posted on major streets. But since no traffic cops have ever been hired everyone drives much faster. An external official visits, examines the situation, and concludes that speed limits really do need to be enforced. After all, old folks and children risk being struck.

The official departs and, in response, city bureaucrats choose to take down the speed limit signs and to pretend the entire matter is a non-issue.

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Citizen Audit Anniversary

A year ago, I released the results of a citizen audit of all 18,531 references in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2007 report. That project was made possible by the volunteer labour of more than 40 individuals from 12 countries. Over a period of five weeks we examined the references that appear at the end of each of the 44 chapters of the 3,000-page report informally known as the climate bible.

Each list of references was evaluated by three auditors working independently. We sorted these references into two groups – articles published in peer-reviewed journals and all others. Then we calculated the percentage of references that did, indeed, appear to be peer-reviewed. (When auditors’ findings differed slightly, we used the number most favourable to the IPCC.)

This was a fact-checking mission. For years, IPCC officials – as well as the news media – have said we should trust the IPCC because it bases its conclusions solely on research that has been published in peer-reviewed academic journals. Numerous examples of this claim appear here. Instances in which IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri personally said so are here.

Pachauri once told a newspaper that research that has not been peer-reviewed belongs in the dustbin (see the end of this article). He further told a committee of the North Carolina legislature:

…everything that we look at and take into account in our assessments has to carry [the] credibility of peer-reviewed publications, we don’t settle for anything less than that.

Our audit determined that this claim is spectacularly mistaken. By our count, 30% – or 5,587 – of all the references in the climate bible cite sources that were not, in fact, peer-reviewed. In 21 separate chapters, the percentage of peer-reviewed references was so low the IPCC would have received an F on an elementary school report card. (Thus the F21 on the coffee mug above.)

Our findings raise an obvious question: If the IPCC can’t be trusted to describe its own report accurately, why should we believe anything else it says?

Another group of questions is equally disturbing. Thousands of individuals participate in the IPCC process. All of those people were therefore in a position to know that the 100% peer-reviewed claim was false. Where are the open letters, signed by hundreds of scientists, setting the record straight? Why did none of these people feel the need to shout from the rooftops that the public was being misled? What does this tell us about the internal culture of the IPCC? If IPCC participants were prepared to overlook this moral lapse, what else were they prepared to overlook?

It seems to me we hear the ‘100% peer-reviewed claim’ less often these days. If that is the case, it means that a group of concerned citizens has struck a blow for truth-in-advertising. It means our efforts are helping to keep the IPCC honest.

When our findings were released last year, I included two graphics in the report. One was from the IPCC:

The other was designed by moi:

To commemorate the anniversary of the Citizen Audit I’ve arranged for souvenir coffee mugs, mouse pads, and fridge magnets bearing this second graphic. They can be ordered from the following:

A portion of the sale price of these items will help fund this blog. I set an identical price in the case of the US, UK, and Australia. CafePress (a third-party supplier of custom merchandise) translates that into local currencies.

My apologies to my fellow Canadians. Even though I halved the blog-supporting portion, shipping costs are so steep in our case the total is still slightly higher than in other jurisdictions. The good news is that GST, PST, and HST are included in the prices you see.

Own a piece of history. Order your Citizen Audit souvenir today :-)

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Climategate 2.0

In November 2009 a collection of e-mails was released into the public domain. Dubbed Climategate, these documents struck the climate change world with the force of a cyclone.

For some members of the public, the event was a catalyst. Having paid little attention to climate matters beforehand, what they learned left them aghast. They’d had no idea, for example, that prominent climate scientist Phil Jones holds Freedom of Information laws in such contempt he encouraged others to delete e-mails and talked of destroying records rather than making them public.

The powerful thing about Climategate is that it presents these scientists in their own words. As outsiders we can speculate about how people think and behave – but hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth is infinitely more instructive.

In my opinion, 13 months after Climategate an equally important document was made public. It is a single PDF file three megabytes in size and 678 pages in length. Although it contains the remarks of 232 separate individuals, no attempt was made to, say, number these individuals for easy reference. Thus, it is far from user-friendly.

Nevertheless, it is a gold mine. Info about the document may be found here. Details of a Canadian blogger’s efforts to shake it loose are here and here. The crucial point is that, within its pages, IPCC insiders have been remarkably candid. If one understands the larger context, many of their comments are jaw-dropping.

As a former investigative journalist who is now writing an expose of the IPCC, I know that my biggest challenge is making it onto the radar of the average person. People are done with global warming. Many were not entirely convinced of the danger to begin with, since they weren’t born yesterday. Acid rain, the ozone hole, Y2K, Mad Cow disease, Bird Flu, H1N1 – it’s always something. They were told that snow was a thing of the past and that little kids would never ever own sleds again (I exaggerate only a little). But successive harsh winters – and plenty of shoveling – means that anyone trying to talk about global warming these days gets tuned out. The public has heard enough already.

But suppose that, somehow, I manage to catch people’s attention and that they do me the great honour of spending several hours of their lives reading my book. My job is to help them see what I see. I need to assemble the documentary evidence and the first-hand sources that demonstrate my case. I need to explain how and why I’ve arrived at my conclusions.

This nearly 700-page PDF has made that task substantially easier. Again and again as I analyze its pages I find myself exclaiming: There it is! They’ve just admitted it. Three different people acknowledge that X is common practice at the IPCC.

I’ve come to think of this document as Climategate 2.0. I see it as the other shoe dropping. In recent weeks I’ve explored a number of issues raised by this PDF. Several more blog posts are in the works. Preparing them is time-consuming. In each instance hundreds of pages must be searched/scanned yet again so that the relevant bits can be collected in one place.

But I believe the end result will be dramatic. The picture that is emerging is not a pretty one. I’ve already used this document to demonstrate that IPCC insiders are fully aware that Chairman Rajendra Pachauri’s claim that IPCC reports rest solely on peer-reviewed literature is false. By showcasing the remarks of these insiders I’ve revealed that, rather than being comprised of the world’s top experts, the IPCC appoints authors based on their gender and their nationality. I’ve exposed the disturbing degree to which IPCC reports are seen by the scientists who write them as being political documents that serve political purposes. I’ve shown that even though the IPCC claims to be a transparent organization, it selects its authors in a fashion that is so secretive even IPCC veterans describe the process as mysterious.

It’s true that some people whose comments appear in this document admire the IPCC. They says things such as:

…it is the best assessment process I know of. (p. 93)

I have never observed anything close to the stringency employed in the IPCC. I have been part of a number of international assessments…but have never experienced something that was as carefully executed as this. (p. 111)

IPCC has served the international community very well…by using and developing an interesting and also beautiful model of strict scientific standards… (p. 146)

The intergovernmental nature of IPCC is unique and precious… (p. 164)

One finds rose-coloured glasses everywhere, apparently. Being an outsider, perhaps the big picture is easier for me to see. After examining a great deal of evidence, and after considering the implications of many of these comments, I find myself more inclined to agree with the person who declared:

If you wanted to design a body that does what IPCC does from scratch, you wouldn‘t start from here! (p. 125)

My blog posts regarding this document are collected in one place. (If you’re trying to find them later, click on the Climate Bible link at the top of this blog.)

The bottom line? Nearly every dark deed I’ve suspected the IPCC of is confirmed by this remarkable PDF.

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Does the IPCC Follow the Rules? Insiders Say ‘No’

We’ve been told many things about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that aren’t true. For example, IPCC reports are not based entirely on peer-reviewed literature (see here and here). Nor are they necessarily written by the world’s top experts (see here and here). Nor has the IPCC sought the input of thousands of scientists regarding the crucial question of whether or not humans are responsible for global warming. Rather, that determination was made by the authors of a single chapter of the 2007 IPCC report (out of a total off 44).

So it isn’t surprising that doubt is being cast on yet another IPCC claim. According to the catechism, one of the reasons we can be assured the IPCC is a neutral and objective body is because it isn’t in the business of producing original research. In the words of an explanatory page on its website, the IPCC “does not conduct any research” of its own. It merely assesses whatever material happens to be available.

Many IPCC insiders believe this to be the case. But others allege that the IPCC isn’t as arms-length as it claims to be. Last year 232 people answered a questionnaire distributed by an external committee investigating the IPCC. All their answers were released in a 678-page PDF here after their names were removed. The remarks below are those of IPCC insiders only – authors, review editors, and bureau members. All bolding has been added by me.

The person speaking on page two expresses the IPCC party line:

The IPCC does not (and should not) do any research…

Similar comments may be found on pages 58, 98, 206, 210 and 211. Yet, according to a lead author whose remarks appear on page 188:

on a number of occasions the IPCC has been connected to [climate] model intercomparisons/harmonization and scenario development which border on research.

This person’s concern isn’t so much that the IPCC’s no-research rule is being violated, but that when this occurs, the research the IPCC has commissioned is given more weight than alternative findings:

Such research should not be given preferential treatment compared to other sources of research – there should be a level playing field and not favored models or groups… (p. 188)

A second lead author volunteers that the IPCC:

…has at times, in my opinion, strayed into creating literature rather than assessing literature. I am thinking particularly of past special reports on emissions scenarios that generated “IPCC scenarios” rather than assessing scenarios [already available] in the literature. (p. 69)

This theme is confirmed by someone else who observes on page 322 that while the tables and graphs appearing in IPCC reports used to be copied from already-published studies (which had presumably received quality-assurance checks via the peer-review process), these exhibits are now more likely to be prepared “specifically for the IPCC reports.”

This means that some of the material the IPCC authors want to include has not, in fact, been published previously. Again, this person’s concern isn’t that the rules are being flouted flaunted. Rather, s/he tells us that the IPCC authors find it onerous to construct these exhibits themselves.

Apparently it doesn’t stop with graphs and charts. When information that IPCC authors wish to include in their chapter does not already exist in the peer-reviewed literature, some of them aren’t above arranging for it to be inserted there. Says one person:

Governments want the chapter to cover questions of current relevance for which there [is] often “grey literature” but little peer reviewed literature…An approach that has been used in such cases is that lead authors try to have material published in peer reviewed journals while they are drafting the IPCC chapter so that the published or in press article can be cited in the final draft of the IPCC chapter. (p. 68)

This is surely a no-no. If the public is being told the IPCC surveys only the currently-available literature, it’s surely cheating for IPCC authors to deliberately plant select information in journals.

This does, however, shed light on a curious discovery I made last year. The 2007 IPCC report references no less than 16 articles from a single issue of the journal Climatic Change. All told, there are 39 citations spread across four IPCC chapters.

The difficulty is that this issue wasn’t published until May 2007. Which means it didn’t exist during the time period in which the IPCC report was being written and reviewed. (The last cut-off date for IPCC expert reviewer comments for the working groups involved was July 21, 2006. But 15 of these 16 papers weren’t even accepted for publication by the journal until two months later.)

As I wrote last May, this means there are at least 39 citations in the 2007 IPCC report that:

…don’t reference research papers the wider scientific community had already digested. They don’t even reference papers that were hot off the press. Instead, in 15 of 16 cases, no expert reviewer could possibly have evaluated these papers since they hadn’t yet been accepted for publication by the journal itself.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that some IPCC authors have been playing fast-and-loose with the rules – and that they may have been assisted in this regard by supposedly neutral academic journals. When one considers that many IPCC authors also fill senior positions at academic journals, a theoretical loophole starts to look like a potentially serious problem. Yet to my knowledge, the IPCC has never acknowledged that this sort of bad behaviour might be a concern.

The answers insiders provided to the questionnaire also highlight the fact that 22 years of ongoing IPCC reports (including 4 large assessments, with a fifth underway) have – inadvertently or not – begun to exert an influence on the kind of climate research that is judged to be necessary, relevant, and worthy of funding by governments and research institutes.

For example, one coordinating lead author observes:

I am greatly concerned that the current model is unsustainable. It produces serious burnout in the research community and consumes valuable resources for tasks such as running the SRES scenarios with high-resolution global climate models (GCMs). It is doubtful whether this rather routine task of running the scenarios, which is undertaken only because IPCC asks for it, is an optimal use of skilled GCM scientists and massive supercomputer power. In short, the current IPCC model places a severe burden on the research community. (p. 87)

Here are a few more voices:

A relatively incoherent narrative (in my opinion) has been established by the IPCC, and scientific research in the field proceeds by embellishing this established narrative. And the end result is that we are not asking the right questions in the field of climate research, but the IPCC continues with assessing the research that has been done in response to the narrative that it has established. (p. 97)

The “IPCC community”, meaning the authors involved in IPCC reports as well as the IPCC itself, has, in effect, evolved from a panel assessing the literature on climate change to an active commissioner of research on behalf of governments. This is particularly evident as successive IPCC reports move ever closer to providing actual climate science services. (p. 325)

Much as I value what the IPCC has accomplished to date, I do question the necessity of continued end to end assessments. How much is it really meeting the needs of the policy community…and how much of it is really sustaining the interests and professional stature of the various research communities that have become intertwined with the IPCC? I wonder. (p. 366)

…the IPCC schedule is having a detrimental impact on the global base research agenda with the research activities being steered by the IPCC timing. (p. 519)

In other words, the IPCC – like any other large, influential organization – does not exist in a vacuum. It must be understood in its larger context.

And if some IPCC insiders are volunteering, in the course of airing other concerns, that people aren’t following the IPCC’s own rules, the integrity of the end product is called into question.

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Grey Literature: IPCC Insiders Speak Candidly

In February 2008 Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), addressed a committee of the North Carolina legislature. He declared to these assembled law-makers (as he has in many other contexts before and since), that:

…we carry out an assessment of climate change based on peer-reviewed literature, so everything that we look at and take into account in our assessments has to carry [the] credibility of peer-reviewed publications, we don’t settle for anything less than that. [bold added]

Someone needs to tell the committee it was seriously misled. Last April a citizen audit coordinated by yours truly found that nearly one-third of the references in the IPCC’s 2007 report cite non-peer-reviewed sources (often referred to as “grey literature”).

More recently, I’ve been examining the answers IPCC insiders provided to a questionnaire distributed by an InterAcademy Council committee that investigated the IPCC last year. These answers make it abundantly clear numerous individuals knew that Pachauri’s public statements were at odds with the facts.

The quotes below are drawn from this three-megabyte 678-page PDF. The names of those who provided these remarks were removed prior to the document being made public. All bolding has been added by me.

Non-peer-reviewed literature should obviously be minimized but cannot be totally avoided. (page 2)

…the length of the [IPCC report] was constrained, so the number of citations was constrained. Hence, reviews (including those in the “grey” literature) were strongly favored if those reviews cited the primary literature. (p. 7)

In some fields non-peer reviewed is the way the science is done. It just has to be carefully used and identified clearly. (p. 22)

There cannot be any assessment of impacts and possible response strategies to climate change on peer-reviewed literature only. (p. 48)

My WG III chapter depended heavily on non-peer reviewed literature and I have yet to hear a complaint about its quality. (p. 52)

Governments want the chapter to cover questions of current relevance for which there [is] often “grey literature” but little peer reviewed literature. (p. 68)

…to address some of the policy topics it is necessary to use non-peer-reviewed literature. (p. 69)

Working Groups 2 and 3 make more reference to non-peer reviewed literature…The IPCC assessments are very inclusive and include a comprehensive analysis of all existing literature… (p. 74)

Some of the most policy relevant information does not appear in peer reviewed literature. Without it the IPCC could become irrelevant. (p. 119)

If I take it that the role of IPCC is to sift available knowledge on climate-related to help policymakers then the use of grey literature is unavoidable as, especially in the [Working Group 2 and 3] domains, there is a great deal of relevant insight outside the peer-reviewed academic literature. It would be a ducking of responsibility to omit this literature… (p. 123)

Some grey literature is essential as there is nothing else… (p. 128)

Adaptation is increasingly occurring on the ground and being reported in non-journal-based literature. If [Working Group 2] cannot assess this broad range of literature, its assessment will not be at the cutting-edge. (p. 148)

I agree that references to non-journal materials are necessary. Especially for regional impacts and adaptation most of useful materials are in technical reports issued by national research institutes…Without using those materials it is difficult to produce a useful report. (p. 219)

Considering the evolving nature of the science, the assessments would be lacking if alternative sources to peer-reviewed literature were not considered. (p. 225)

…it is necessary to draw on the grey literature, to capture (for example) engineering knowledge, or information from regions for which there is little journal-published literature. (p. 229)

…there are vast amounts of information and data that are not published in scientific papers, some of which is also reviewed as strongly as peer-review papers, and without which the assessments of the IPCC would not be possible. Adaptation, much of which is done autonomously, or by agencies of all sorts, may never be published, and yet it is critical for a correct assessment. (p. 241)

The issue of non-peer reviewed literature has been a point of ongoing debate in IPCC. For a number of areas of IPCC work non-peer reviewed literature is absolutely essential, because the peer reviewed literature does not cover enough relevant information. (p. 257)

Academic work is not enough to cover all places and all sectors, which inevitably needs “non-peer-reviewed (Grey) literature”. (p. 264)

As to the [Working Group 2], those Grey literature play a huge role to cover local findings. (p. 264)

I think the inclusion of grey literature should continue… (p. 284)

I think there is a need to consider more non-peer reviewed literature (sometimes called grey literature), as this often reflects recent developments… (p. 293)

Particularly for [Working Groups 2 and 3], it is important to go beyond the peer-reviewed journal literature. This is the case for several reasons…Even in [Working Group 1], much of the actual data on observations appears in tables and reports rather than in the peer-reviewed literature… (p. 313)

Thus, I think IPCC has to continue to be open to using information and ideas from outside the peer-reviewed journals… (p. 314)

Grey literature is unavoidable in some areas… (p. 378)

In my area, policy, non-peer-reviewed literature is essential for latest information and comprehensive review of state of the art. (p. 405)

The use of non-peer-reviewed literature is necessary… (p. 408)

Many emerging topics eg. on technologies require extensive use of reports and non-peer-reviewed literature. (p. 423)

Non peer reviewed literature must be taken into account, in particular where local impacts are evaluated. (p. 458)

Non-peer-reviewed literature should be avoided whenever possible. But there [are] many cases where such literature has to be taken into account. (p. 469)

Some chapters rely heavily on gray literature while ignoring peer-reviewed literature on the same matter (e.g., Ch 7 WG2). (p. 543)

The pressure from [developing countries] to use publications in [developing countries] and/or grey literature is high and effective. This lowers the scientific quality of the report. (p. 555)

The use of grey literature is unavoidable…Authors should not be plagued by unnecessary rules on the use or non-use of literature… (p. 622)

[G]rey literature is of absolute importance, given e.g. the fast development of some technologies. (p. 632)

The use of gray literature cannot be avoided in [Working Groups 2 and 3], as many of the sources are not peer-reviewed, but still high quality (e.g. reports of EEA). (p.643)

…especially for the policy literature reviewed in [Working Group 3], there is a substantial body of research papers and government-sponsored reports that are not represented in the journal literature. (p. 664)

In [Working Group 3, for the 2001 and 2007 reports], the procedure was to leave the selection of relevant gray literature to the writing team…No particular precedence was accorded to peer-reviewed and gray literature… (p. 664)

The preponderance of important so-called “grey literature” simply cannot be ignored by the IPCC. The information it holds is more current than that in journals and it captures non-English knowledge more effectively. (p. 671)

In the words of those quoted above, the use of grey literature is essential, necessary, and unavoidable in the preparation of IPCC reports. According to these people, the IPCC has relied on grey literature extensively for some time.

This means that the chairman of the IPCC has systematically misrepresented the process by which his organization produces reports. His declaration that the IPCC does not settle for anything less than peer-reviewed sources is a steaming pile of manure.

Equally troubling is that hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people involved in the IPCC process have clearly been aware that Pachauri’s claims are false. Yet the average journalist – and the average member of the public – remains in the dark.

There have been many open letters, many organized public declarations by climate scientists over the years. Why has no effort been made – not even a dozen people signing a letter-to-the-editor of Nature or Science - to set the record straight?

We’re often told we should believe in dangerous human-caused global warming because science academies from around the world endorse the idea. So why have those same academies remained silent with regard to this matter?

Does no one care that the IPCC’s leadership has been dead wrong about something this simple and straightforward? I mean, IPCC reports are only among the world’s most important documents.

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Dr. Pachauri, Call Your Office

A week ago, I announced the results of a citizen’s audit of the climate bible – the 2007 report written by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

While the chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, has insisted for years that the climate bible is based solely on source material published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, our audit found this not to be the case.

Of the 18,531 references cited by the report, a full 30 percent (5,587) were not peer-reviewed. Almost one third. Among the documents on which this supposedly gold standard report bases its arguments are press releases, discussion papers, student theses, news clippings, and advocacy material produced by green groups.

I issued a media release regarding our findings on April 14th and, within hours, our results were disseminated via some of the largest and most influential websites in the climate change blogosphere.

On April 17th, our audit was mentioned by a columnist in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. On April 19th, US-based FOX News posted an article about our audit on its website. It contained this paragraph:

The U.N. is not commenting in depth on the audit, but it has acknowledged its existence. Isabel Garcia-Gill, a spokeswoman for the IPCC in Geneva, told FoxNews.com that the U.N. knows of what she terms the “Laframboise report.” She declined to answer further questions, and she asked that queries be sent by e-mail; she did not respond to such e-mails.

It is therefore distressing to read, in an essay published yesterday (April 20th) on Yale university’s Environment 360 blog, that Pachauri continues to misrepresent the peer-review issue. He writes:

By the time it was completed, AR4 cited approximately 18,000 peer-reviewed publications.

Uh, sorry. Someone at head office clearly forgot to tell Pachauri that the numbers are now in and that no one believes a word he says. Three different citizen auditors sorted and counted the list of references at the end of each of the 44 chapters in AR4. On those occasions in which their totals diverged slightly, we incorporated the number most favourable to the IPCC in our calculations.

Altogether we found only 12,944 peer-reviewed references. That’s a far cry from 18,000. Pachauri continues:

[The IPCC report] also included a limited amount of gray (or non-peer-reviewed) literature in cases where peer-reviewed literature was unavailable. (For example, there is often no peer-reviewed literature on impacts of climate change, both current and projected, in many developing countries.) [bold added]

Excuse me, but one in three references cannot be characterized as “a limited amount.” And is this really the same Rajendra Pachauri who told the Times of India in November that non-peer-reviewed research didn’t meet IPCC standards and therefore would not even be considered by the IPCC? (see the last lines of this article):

IPCC studies only peer-review science. Let someone publish the data in a decent credible publication. I am sure IPCC would then accept it; otherwise we can just throw it into the dustbin. [bold added]

Overall, the Pachauri essay is bizarre. On the one hand, its title calls critics of the IPCC “attackers”. “Despite Attacks from Critics, Climate Science Will Prevail” it announces. On the other, it begins with the line: “Science thrives on debate.”

So which is it? Is debate important – or should critics be denounced? Almost immediately, the confusion clears and Pachauri’s true colours shine forth. It turns out his definition of debate is quite different from yours or mine. Preposterously, he suggests it’s possible to conduct a debate about climate change minus a political component. According to him:

..the process relies on the debate being devoid of political taint and grounded in sound scientific knowledge.

Well that takes care of Al Gore, doesn’t it? The former Vice President of the United States and longtime Democratic Party partisan can in no way be considered “devoid of political taint.” When that gentleman – who possesses no science credentials whatsoever – jointly accepted the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Pachauri, did the IPCC chairman interrupt the proceedings and insist that the climate change discussion should not be tainted by politics?

It’s important to recognize the profound threat to free speech Pachauri’s line of argument represents. By suggesting that his own opinions are never political but that those of his critics are entirely so, Pachauri attempts to de-legitimize voices with whom he disagrees.

A genuine, free-for-all debate is the last thing in which he’s interested. Instead, he wants to define the parameters of the debate so that only opinions of which he approves get aired.

This is the equivalent of someone running for town council declaring that candidates B, C, and D should all be disqualified prior to the arrival of the audience at the all-candidates-meeting. Those other candidates are, after all, just “attackers.”

If the IPCC is to regain its credibility, Pachauri has to go. He is an embarrassment.

IPCC Reliance on Grey Literature 30 Times Greater than UK Threshold

For years we’ve been told the UN’s climate bible bases its conclusions solely on peer-reviewed scientific literature. A few months ago, the wider world began to wake up to the fact that this is not the case.

One of the most dramatic claims in the climate bible – that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 – turned out to have been based on a non-peer-reviewed World Wildlife Fund document which in turn was based on a magazine article which itself was based on an interview with a single scientist. [see background info, in navy text here]

With no peer-reviewed literature in sight – and a growing number of glacier experts saying the 2035 date was absurd – the organization that produces the climate bible (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – or IPCC) admitted the glacier claim was mistaken. This occurred on January 20th.

On February 1st, a British newspaper reported that the UK government had declined to express confidence in the IPCC’s embattled chairman, Rajendra Pachauri. This is one of those news clippings about which we should be abundantly cautious. It quotes an anonymous “senior government official” rather than an identifiable individual. And because it appears in The Guardian, a paper aggressively sympathetic to the green movement, the motives of everyone involved are murky.

Nevertheless, this article is illuminating because of one paragraph in particular:

The government has told the IPCC through official channels that it must ensure review standards are robust and its communication effective. “They need to communicate that 99% of the science on which they base [their work] is peer reviewed,” the official said. [bold added, first set of parenthesis in original]

As the citizen audit results I released four days ago reveal, the 18,531 references cited by the IPCC are so far from being 99 percent peer-reviewed it’s laughable. A full 30 percent of them (5,587) were not published in peer-reviewed academic journals.

Moreover, in 21 out of 44 chapters (48 percent) the level of peer-reviewed references was so low the chapter received an ‘F’ on our report card.

Let’s restate this: the rate of non-peer-reviewed source material cited by the IPCC is thirty times larger than what the British government suggested would be acceptable a mere 12 weeks ago.

What’s Left if We Disregard Non-Peer-Reviewed Claims?

[click image to enlarge – original image here]

Does it matter that 1 in 3 sources cited by the climate bible aren’t peer-reviewed? Yes it does. Because once you strike out all the statements that don’t rest on peer-reviewed research there sometimes isn’t much left.

Economist Richard Tol blogged about a particular section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in early March. When I took a look for myself, I discovered seven studies in total being used to support the IPCC’s point-of-view on this page of the report.

That sounds like a reasonable basis for drawing conclusions. But checking the full entry for each of these studies in the list of references provided for that chapter reveals that only one out of seven is a peer-reviewed document.

  • Bollen et al. (2004) was produced by an agency of the Dutch government
  • Russ, Ciscar, and Szabo (2005) was published by the European Commission
  • EEA (2006) is a European Union report
  • the Stern Review (2006) was produced by the UK government
  • Anderson (2006) was published by the Imperial College of London
  • Barker et al. (2006a) is a working paper from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

Only Den Elzen et al. (2005) experienced the peer-review process prior to its publication in the academic journal Energy Policy.

So if we subtract all the verbiage associated with those six non-peer-reviewed papers how much remains? You can get a better look at the image above by clicking to make it larger.

Altogether, the four paragraphs on the page amount to 593 words. But only 98 of those words – 17 percent – are backed up by peer-reviewed research. And remember, according to the IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, all other research deserves to be thrown into the dustbin (see the end of the linked article).

Poll: How Many Non-Peer-Reviewed References?

This coming week, I’ll be releasing the results of a crowd-sourcing project involving 40+ people from 12 countries. Together we’ve examined all 18,531 references in the 2007 IPCC report and calculated the percentage that appeared in peer-reviewed academic journals.

This poll is a version of the “how many jellybeans in the jar” game. Please feel free to supply your own answer to the question: How many 2007 IPCC report references are not peer-reviewed?

Tip: When contacted by the Times of India last November, IPCC chairman Dr. Pachauri said that a discussion paper released by the Indian environment ministry was not considered legitimate research according to IPCC standards:

When asked if the discussion paper could be taken into consideration in the on-going round of scientific review by IPCC, [Pachauri] said, “IPCC studies only peer-review science. Let someone publish the data in a decent credible publication. I am sure IPCC would then accept it, otherwise we can just throw it into the dustbin.” [bold added]

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Does the IPCC Prefer Grey Literature to Peer-Reviewed?

Economist Richard Tol has written a series of guest posts over at Roger Pielke Jr.’s blog outlining his concerns regarding the Working Group 3 portion of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Many of these concerns involve the use of non-peer-reviewed literature to neutralize peer-reviewed research findings the IPCC writers apparently preferred to disregard.

Today Tol sums up his thoughts and findings. Read his post here.

Help Audit the UN Climate Report – Crowdsourcing Project

Volunteers needed for 3-10 hrs. Read through the list of references appearing at the end of one of the IPCC report’s chapters and count up the peer-reviewed sources vs the grey literature.

How much of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is based on peer-reviewed literature? Recent examinations of two random chapters found only 25 percent and 58 percent of the sources cited were peer-reviewed journal articles.

These numbers conflict sharply with declarations by IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, that only peer-reviewed literature is relied on. Are these two chapters unrepresentative outliers? It is important that we find out. This, therefore, is a call for volunteers.

There are a total of 44 chapters in the reports written by Working Groups 1, 2, and 3. Each chapter ends with a list of references ranging from a couple of hundred to more than 800. Between three and ten hours are required to highlight and count the peer-reviewed sources versus the non-peer-reviewed ones.

The goal of this project is for each chapter to be counted thrice, by three volunteers working independently of one another. In the event that tallies differ dramatically, further examination will occur. Should they differ only marginally, the count that is most favourable to the IPCC will be used.

This project will not address the report’s content. It is instead an audit of how well the IPCC lives up to its own peer-review standard as that standard has been described by its chairman and by news reports.

Because transparency is important, all documents produced during this audit will be made available online at the end of the project. An example of highlighted references in Chapter 5 of the Working Group 3 report appears here. (Originally a Microsoft Word document, it was converted automatically to HTML.)

If you wish to participate in this audit please give some thought beforehand to how you wish to be identified. The use of one’s real name (first and last) is always preferable from a credibility perspective. Citizen auditors will be publicly recognized, in alphabetical order, on the auditor’s list.

Understandably not everyone can risk repercussions in their employment situation (for example). Should you instead prefer to use a pseudonym – or to be identified as “anonymous” – your choice will be respected. Each chapter will be audited by at least one person willing to use their real name.

If you wish to be a citizen auditor for this project your task will be to read through the list of references and to highlight (and ultimately count) the ones published in academic peer-reviewed journals. In the event that you are uncertain about the status of a particular reference, you can request a second opinion by highlighting it in an alternative colour. [see FAQ here]

If you can complete this task within a week (and no later than the end of March 2010) please e-mail me at NOconsensus.org AT gmail.com. I will respond within 12 hours by sending you a Microsoft Word document in which the references from a particular chapter have been cut-and-pasted and already numbered.

Please indicate from the outset how you would like to be identified on the auditor’s list. As well as your name, your city and country, your academic degrees, website URL, and e-mail address can be added at your request. If you require material to be sent to you in a non-Microsoft Word format please advise.

Let’s count ‘em up!

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The Great Peer-Review Fairy Tale

In June 2007 Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), gave an interview to an Indian publication that appeared in five parts. In the section titled “The science is absolutely first rate,” Pachauri declared: “The IPCC doesn’t do any research itself. We only develop our assessments on the basis of peer-reviewed literature.”

A year later, in June 2008, during a visit to New Zealand, Pachauri told a journalist: “People can have confidence in the IPCC’s conclusions…Given that it is all on the basis of peer-reviewed literature.”

A few weeks afterward, in San Francisco, he again told an audience that IPCC reports are “based on peer-reviewed literature.” On that occasion, he mocked the idea that his organization might “pick up a newspaper article and, based on that, come up with our findings.” IPCC reports rely, he insisted, “on very rigorous research which has stood the test of scrutiny through peer reviews.”

click for a 10-second sound clip of Pachauri denying
the IPCC cites newspaper articles

[see the video here – these remarks begin at 1 min, 15 seconds]

The more one examines IPCC publications, however, the more evident it becomes that we’ve all been told a fairy tale. Andreas Bjurström of Sweden’s Göteborgs Universitet, had a guest post on Roger Peilke Jr.’s blog yesterday regarding the previous IPCC report. Among his startling findings: only 62 percent (less than two-thirds) of the sources cited by the IPCC back in 2001 were peer-reviewed.

In fairness, Dr. Pachauri didn’t become chairman until 2002. So while we may accuse him of paying little attention to his organization’s previous publication, it’s only the 2007 report for which he bears responsibility. A couple of days ago I blogged about a chapter in the latest report which, I discovered, relies on peer-reviewed sources only 58 percent of the time. That number seems shockingly low when one considers that the IPCC’s expert reviewers complained bitterly about the quality of the citations at the time the report was being written.

Yet that may be the IPCC on a good day. Chapter 5, from Working Group 3’s report – which I randomly chose to examine next – is far worse. Only 61 of the 260 references relied on in that chapter have their feet firmly planted in peer-reviewed literature – an abysmal 24 percent. Put another way, three-quarters of the material cited there is grey literature. In a chapter devoted to something as tangible as the transportation sector. [CORRECTION: 64 references were peer-reviewed, bringing the overall percentage to 25 percent. Please accept my apologies.]

What’s bizarre is that an examination of the comments submitted by IPCC reviewers following both the first and second draft of Chapter 5 – and the responses to them – suggests that those involved appear to have taken part in a shared hallucination. A great deal of lip service was paid to peer-review, but in practice it was a next to meaningless concept.

When Takayuki Takeshita, a researcher associated with the University of Tokyo, suggested that a presentation he’d helped prepare be cited by the IPCC, the chapter authors advised him that “the use of a presentation would not satisfy the requirement for published literature.” This is all well and good, but had that standard been applied uniformly the list of references at the end of the chapter would contain closer to 64 entries than 260.

Elsewhere, when Takeshita said he considered a statement in the chapter to be “doubtful” and noted that it conflicted with almost “all of the literature I have ever read” on the topic, he was told: “Rejected; text simply quotes the study, and good chance the study is correct.”

The full citation for that study looks like this:

MIT, 2004: Coordinated policy measures for reducing the fuel consumption of the U.S. light-duty vehicle fleet. Bandivadekar, A.P. and J.B. Heywood, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Laboratory for Energy and the Environment Report LFEE 2004-001, 76 pp.

Despite the fact that it is not peer-reviewed, the chapter authors think there’s a “good chance” it’s correct – and that’s the end of the matter.

This is the celebrated IPCC internal peer review process in action. The reviewers don’t get to make their case to a neutral editor who then arbitrates. Instead, the authors are at perfect liberty to ignore comments submitted in good faith by expert reviewers – to decide that the source they’ve cited is probably right.

The shenanigans don’t end there. Another reviewer, Danny Harvey from the University of Toronto, pointed out that the descriptive text written by the IPCC’s authors was at odds with the labeling on a graph. The authors’ response: “Rejected. The figure came from [non-peer-reviewed] literature, it was not built by the authors.”

On two separate occasions, John Kessels from the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands, complained that press releases were being cited to support statements of fact. “Not referenced adequately, is a press release scientific literature?” he asked, and then again: “[this] is a press release not a journal or scientific literature.”

In the first instance, the authors replied: “We will add ref for cost estimate.” In the second case, he was advised: “Rejected, information on this type of high-edge technologies is not gotten from the scientific journals.”

Would it surprise you to learn that both press releases are, in fact, relied on in the final published version (Power System, 2005 and Yuasa, 2000)? Would it surprise you to learn that while this travesty was allowed to occur, a comment submitted by the government of Australia was summarily dismissed because, according to the chapter’s authors, Australia’s contention wasn’t “supported by available literature.”

There is no doubt about it. Pachauri has repeatedly misled us. The IPCC does not rely solely on peer-reviewed literature – not by a long shot. Moreover, his penchant for declaring that he “can’t think of a better process” than the one employed by the IPCC and that there “is not a parallel on this planet” starts to look pathological once one has peered under the hood.

Others also have some explaining to do. According to the IPCC (see a graphic here), 2,500 people served as expert reviewers on the 2007 report. Eight hundred more were contributing authors, and another 450 were lead authors. That’s roughly 4,000 souls who were in a position to know that the claim that the IPCC report is based solely on peer-reviewed literature is absolute fiction.

How – and why – have we been deceived about this for so long?

If the amalgam of people and institutions that comprise the IPCC can’t be trusted to tell the truth about something so simple, why should we pay attention to anything else the IPCC says?

..

IPCC reviewer comments and author responses may be accessed here. Takeshita’s first-draft comments appear on pp. 15 & 87 of this 91-page PDF. All other comments are from this 186-page PDF. Harvey’s appears on p. 88. Kessels’ are on pp. 102 & 104. See p. 159 for Australia’s comment.

Almost Half Non-Peer-Reviewed

Economist Richard Tol has been taking another look at everyone’s favourite mega-document, the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. In guest posts on blogs here and here, he argues that while one section of the report (produced by Working Group 2) “appears to have systematically overstated the negative impacts of climate change,” another section (written by Working Group 3) appears to have systematically understated the costs to society associated with emissions reduction.


Click image for larger version. From p. 7 of a Dec. 2009 document issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency (39-page PDF here)

At this juncture it’s worth remembering that the IPCC’s chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, has repeatedly claimed that the IPCC relies solely on peer-reviewed material to make its case. By now we know this isn’t remotely true. Tol highlights passages in Chapter 11 of the Working Group 3 report that further demonstrate this.

On this page, the IPCC discusses emissions reduction studies. Tol points out that although the third paragraph cites three documents – Stern (2006), Anderson (2006) and Barker (2006a) – not one of them has been peer-reviewed. Indeed, of the seven studies mentioned in total on this page only one was published in a peer-reviewed journal. (All reference material for that chapter is listed here.)

Tol further notes that on another page, devoted to the rather important question of what effect reducing emissions might have on employment (in the US climate change policies are currently being sold to be public as job creation plans), a total of six “studies are cited to support the notion that emission reduction creates jobs. Only one of the six is peer-reviewed.”

If this seems rather sloppy, Tol says it gets worse. The academic literature in this area, he says, suggests that the relationship between emissions reduction and job creation is a weak one, and that job growth only occurs in certain circumstances – namely when government policies are “smart and well-designed.” If “emission permits are given away for free – as is common,” he points out, “no positive impact on employment” is achieved. The IPCC report mentions none of this, however.

Tol doesn’t talk about it in these blog posts, but he was an IPCC expert reviewer for this chapter. After reading the first draft, he raised a number of concerns. Below are some choice remarks appearing on pages 2-3 of the 65-page PDF of reviewer comments available here:

In a number of instances, authors mainly quote their own work. This is unworthy. In a number of instances, authors mainly quote other IPCC material. This is incestuous. The quoting of IPCC material is most pronounced in the scenario discussion, which can be summarised as “We, the IPCC, declare that all previous IPCC work is great.” This is silly.

…In many places, the authors are out of their depth; the selection of papers is haphazard, the assessment superficial. I also found too many references that are simply wrong; the authors cannot have read these papers. For a supposedly expert panel, this is very serious.

…In a number of instances, the draft material reads like a political manifesto rather than a scientific document. In other instances, the authors have tried to hide their political message in pseudo-scientific language. For a supposedly independent panel, this is very serious.

…Part of the literature review is haphazard; it seems as if the authors have not systematically searched the literature, but simple [sic] quote a few papers that happened to lie around. Another part of the literature review is severely biased; the authors quote their own work, and that of their friends, but systematically ignore the work of many authors. This is particularly true in the presentation of model results; results are shown for a subset of models only…

Tol complains repeatedly elsewhere in the reviewer comments. In one instance he says that “much of the material is based on papers that have not been peer-reviewed.” In response, one of the chapter’s authors acknowledges this to be true:

There is much material that is grey literature in the chapter. This is generally in the form of research reports to governments (e.g. US Congressional papers, such as the Lasky review)…Specific grey literature will be reviewed by Chapter 11 authors and made accessible following IPCC procedures. [bold added]

Annoyed that a European Union document is cited by the IPCC as proof of a particular point, Tol protests:

EU communications are not peer-reviewed. On the contrary, the Commission is known for manipulating research and hiring manipulable researchers. [sic]

Two responses appear on page 36 of the PDF. The first, in a normal-coloured font (after two initials that apparently identify the writer), rather incoherently says: “We will try.” An unidentified person, using red-coloured font and underscoring, then adds:

(not an answer! The point by Tol is perhaps a brutal statement but needs consideration because it is true in some way. Some people at some directorates prefer ‘willing’ consultants above ‘independent’ analysis, and IPCC should be cautious in accepting this grey literature! [bold added, closing parenthesis missing in the original]

There is no guarantee, of course, that research papers published in peer-reviewed journals are correct. (As climatologist Phil Jones recently testified, no peer reviewers even asked to see his raw data.) Conversely, just because a study hasn’t been peer-reviewed doesn’t mean it’s wrong. But if peer-reviewed literature exists and the IPCC chooses instead to cite non-peer-reviewed sources produced by potentially politically-motivated government bodies, surely that’s a problem.

Tol wasn’t the only person expressing these concerns during those early days (the second draft and a second round of reviewer comments were still to come). On page four of this PDF, Mohammed Alfehaid observes:

Chapter 11 is one of the most important chapters as it is supposed to be the crux of [Working Group 3] where cross sectoral mitigation should have been adequately addressed. Only positive potential views are represented while the costs and adverse effects are mostly neglected…There is not adequate references, reference mostly chosen on a personal preference rather on scientific finding and unbiaseness. [sic]

The chapter authors’ response includes the following:

The team will seek to ensure that the references are balanced and adequate in that all are peerreviewed, or otherwise acceptable to the team. [sic]

Another reviewer, Bert Metz, asked: “Why is only one EU study discussed here. There must be many more similar studies…” Another, Jim Ragland, commented: “This section…presents a one-sided review of the literature which ignores or distorts the views of researchers who have alternative views on the subject.”

Given that so much concern was expressed about the quality of the sources being cited one would think the ratio of peer-reviewed to grey literature citations would be high in the final product.

But an examination of all the references ultimately cited shows something rather different. Tol and others may have kicked and screamed, metaphorically speaking, about the lack of peer-reviewed sources. They may have done so since the earliest opportunity afforded to them by the IPCC process. The authors of Chapter 11 may have acknowledged these concerns. But because it’s the authors themselves who ultimately decide what gets included and what gets left out, little progress seems to have been made.

I counted the references cited in the final, published version of Chapter 11and got a tally of 330. Of those, fully 139 – or 42 percent – were non-peer-reviewed grey literature.

This is worth repeating: despite vigorous protests from its own expert reviewers, in this chapter only 58% of the documents cited by the IPCC were peer-reviewed.

What She Said About the Climate Bible 3 Months Ago

As a Canadian, I’ve never seen or heard Margot O’Neill, a senior reporter with ABC television news in Australia. So this is in no way personal.

Rather, this post is about reminding ourselves why the current, raging controversy over the UN’s climate bible is important. If the climate report includes significant mistakes, if it uses newspaper and magazine articles to make its case, if it relies on literature generated by activist organizations as evidence – then it is a rather different animal from the uber-respectable paragon of virtue Ms. O’Neill described a mere 12 weeks ago.

In mid-November, during the build-up to the Copenhagen climate summit, Ms. O’Neill posted an article on her blog titled: “Conspiracies and the IPCC” [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]. Aware that some people had doubts about the organization, she authored a piece that defended it. All three of the experts she chose to quote also defended it.

As one might expect, her post made prodigious use of that sorely misunderstood phrase “peer-review” (it’s mentioned six times, in fact). So let’s take a look:

[M]ake no mistake about how central the IPCC is to the global warming debate. The IPCC’s reports are why ours and other governments…are calling for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; and why everyone will meet in Copenhagen next month..

So is the IPCC really that kooky?…

Each of these working groups is headed by two scientists, one each from a developed and developing nation, supported by up to 500 other scientists known as lead authors…Together they evaluate thousands of pieces of peer-reviewed research from around the globe…

Here is how Queensland University’s Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a world expert on coral reefs and climate change, describes what happened when he contributed a small slice of the 2007 IPCC report:

“The IPCC has one of the most rigorous review processes I have ever experienced…If you have been involved in this process, it is a quite an experience which takes months and years – involving a lot of pedantic haggling over detail – but always using the peer-reviewed literature as the base…The responses from the specialists are them [sic] independently reviewed to ensure…the comment/suggestion/objection…[is] refuted scientifically (ie with peer-reviewed literature)…I don’t think you could have a more rigorous process.”

…One of the lead authors on the 2001 and 2007 reports [is] UNSW’s Professor Andy Pitman…Which brings us to one of the enduring sources of frustration among IPCC and many other scientists. Just about all the scientists attacking the IPCC, Prof. Pitman says, have never researched nor published any climate science in peer-reviewed journals – and peer review is how science works.

…When is science valid?…Has it been published in the peer-reviewed literature in that field of science? [bold added by me, italics in the original]

Here, in a nutshell, we see it all:

  • the acknowledgment that IPCC reports are the reason the international community believes carbon dioxide emission cuts are necessary
  • the repeated claims that the IPCC bases its findings on peer-reviewed science
  • the smear that scientists who criticize the IPCC “have never researched nor published any climate science in peer-reviewed journals”
  • the bold declaration that “peer review is how science works”

Nothing prevented Ms. O’Neil from taking a firsthand look at the IPCC report herself. She, like me, could have typed “WWF” (which stands for the activist group, the World Wildlife Fund) into a search box and found the 16 distinct WWF citations in the IPCC’s 2007 report. Within a few minutes she could also have found the eight Greenpeace papers listed.

In the process she might have noticed that one of her scientific experts – Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (whom she quoted as saying: “I don’t think you could have a more rigorous process”) – is a co-author of one of those non-peer-reviewed Greenpeace papers.

Hoegh-Guldberg, O., H. Hoegh-Guldberg, H. Cesar and A. Timmerman, 2000: Pacific in peril: biological, economic and social impacts of climate change on Pacific coral reefs.Greenpeace, 72 pp.

Instead, Ms. O’Neill – who has 25 years experience as a journalist – was utterly bamboozled by the PR machine which is the IPCC. She fell for their slick mirage. And then she passed it along to her viewers and readers.

In fairness, she isn’t terribly different from thousands of other journalists out there. Which means that much of the world’s media – and therefore much of the public – has been profoundly misled.

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