Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

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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