Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

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

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Of the 18,531 references cited by the report, a full 30 percent (5,587) were not peer-reviewed.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 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.

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