Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
In 2008, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), spoke at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco [video here – relevant passage starts at 1 minute, 15 seconds]. In response to a question, he explained how his organization works:
The point is you have a transparent, comprehensive, extremely widespread process involving the best scientists and experts from all over the world telling you that climate change is for real. And this is not something that the authors working on IPCC reports have invented. This is based on peer-reviewed literature. That’s the manner in which the IPCC functions. We don’t pick up a newspaper article and, based on that, come up with our findings. This is on the basis of very rigorous research which has stood the test of scrutiny through peer reviews.
In actual fact, at least three newspaper articles made it into the 2007 Nobel-winning climate bible. In a section of the report that discusses the role the insurance sector would play should we need to adapt to dramatic climate change, a newspaper from the Bahamas is cited:
With expectations for rising levels of flood risk in developed countries, political pressures demand that if private insurance is withdrawn, state-backed alternatives should be created…In the northern Bahaman islands…in 2005 flood insurance was withdrawn for some residential developments, ending the ability to raise a bank-loan mortgage. Without a state-backed alternative, houses became abandoned as their value collapsed (Woon and Rose, 2004).
This is the full citation:
Woon, G. and D. Rose, 2004: Why the whole island floods now. Nassau Guardian and Tribune, November 25, 2004. [Accessed 09.05.07: http://www.unesco.org /csi/smis/siv/Caribbean/bahart3-nassau.htm.]
Remarkably, however, this newspaper article makes no mention of insurance – neither private nor state-sponsored. The word “mortgage” doesn’t appear, either. And the only banks under discussion are the underwater limestone Bahama Banks. Really. This article is mostly about physical landscaping changes that have led to a particular area now being prone to flooding.
In another instance, a Wall Street Journal article is one of two sources cited by the IPCC to backup the claim that “Insurance companies are introducing incentives for homeowners and businesses that invest in loss prevention strategies (Kim, 2004; Kovacs, 2005b).”
Kim, Q.S., 2004: Industry Aims to Make Homes Disaster-Proof. Wall Street Journal, 30 September2004.
That article doesn’t seem to be available online, although what appears to be a short excerpt appears here.
As Anthony Watts has pointed out, a third newspaper article is cited by the IPCC (as the sole reason to believe an idea is true) when it writes: “Unreliable electric power, as in minority neighbourhoods during the New York heatwave of 1999, can amplify concerns about health and environmental justice (Wilgoren and Roane, 1999).”
Finally, there’s the Economist citation. While this publication looks like a magazine to me, it refers to itself as a newspaper. It turns out that, rather than independently verifying a straightforward factual matter, the IPCC instead relied on a media report when discussing Oxfam. Writes the IPCC: “According to The Economist (2000), a quarter of Oxfam’s US$ 162 million income in 1998 was given by the British Government and the EU.”
That citation appears in an IPCC list of references like this:
The Economist, 2000: Sins of the secular missionaries. January 29, 2000.
Do these newspaper citations really matter? Yes, they do. Taken together they demonstrate that Pachauri’s frequent claim that the IPCC relies solely on peer-reviewed literature – and then subjects its every assertion to rigorous scrutiny – is false.
As Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit highlighted recently, important institutions tend to believe Pachauri when he makes such claims. A December 2009 document from the US Environmental Protection Agency deflected criticism of the IPCC with the following:
As IPCC Chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri recently stated:
IPCC relies entirely on peer reviewed literature in carrying out its assessment…The entire report writing process of the IPCC is subjected to extensive and repeated review by experts… [p. 7 of this PDF]
When newspaper clippings are cited as evidence, when there’s a discrepancy between what an article says and what the IPCC claims it says, when IPCC writers rely on media reports rather than verifying facts directly – neither the process nor the end result is anything like what Pachauri has advertised.
A great many government institutions need to wake up and smell this stinky coffee.