Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

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

More IPCC Mischief

Report cites research accepted for publication 29 months after deadline

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sensibly bases its report on research published prior to a deadline. This may seem like a trivial matter, but it is not. If IPCC authors are to accurately describe the scientific literature, an agreed-upon cutoff date is required. If expert reviewers are to comment on the IPCC’s use of that literature, they must be afforded adequate opportunity to examine it.

Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC’s embattled chairman, insists his organization scrupulously followed the rules when it produced the 2007 report on which governments now rely to make multi-billion-dollar decisions. A month ago, he assured us that this document:

…was based on scientific studies completed before January 2006, and did not include later studies…

If this is true how could a paper that wasn’t accepted for publication until 29 months later be cited multiple times?

The paper in question is titled “West Antarctic ice sheet collapse – the fall and rise of a paradigm.” It was authored by David G. Vaughan, a scientist with the British Antarctic Survey. As the abstract makes clear the study was submitted to the journal Climatic Change in November 2005.

The date on a PDF found here tells us a revised version was prepared in January 2006. Although it’s unclear what occurred during the next 29 months, the abstract says this paper wasn’t accepted for publication until May 2008. (The Working Group 1 installment of the IPCC report was itself finalized in February 2007, leaving a 15-month gap between the IPCC report’s published summary and the Vaughan paper’s acceptance. There is a 20-month gap between the apparent full publication of the Working Group 1 report in March 2007 and the paper’s appearance in print in November 2008.)

The paper is listed in the references for Chapter 10 of the IPCC’s Working Group 1 report here where it looks like this:

Vaughan, D.G., 2007: West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse – the fall and rise of a paradigm. Clim. Change, in press.

It is cited (incorrectly, given its eventual 2008 publication date) as Vaughan, 2007 on this page to support a statement whose plausibility it actually rejects. The IPCC declares:

If the Amundsen Sea sector were eventually deglaciated, it would add about 1.5 m to sea level, while the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) would account for about 5 m (Vaughan, 2007). [bold added]

But concluding remarks on page 13 of the January 2006 version of Vaughan’s paper leave a different impession:

Since most of WAIS is not showing change, it now seems unlikely that complete collapse of WAIS, with the threat of a 5-m rise in sea level, is imminent in the coming few centuries. [bold added]

If the sole research paper the IPCC cites to establish the notion of a 5-meter sea level rise says such an event is “unlikely” shouldn’t the IPCC mention this fact? Yet when the Vaughan paper gets cited on this page, the IPCC once again fails to tell the whole story. Instead, alarming statements go unqualified:

A collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has been discussed as a potential response to global warming for many years (Bindschadler, 1998; Oppenheimer, 1998; Vaughan, 2007). A complete collapse would cause a global sea level rise of about 5 m. [bold added]

But wait, there’s more. The Vaughan study is also cited on this page – bringing to three the number of times the IPCC’s Working Group 1 report relies on a paper whose publication status has yet to be determined. The IPCC’s Working Group 2 also gets in on the act. It cites the Vaughan paper once on this page of Chapter 15 and three times on this page of Chapter 19.

So why was this paper even under consideration by the IPCC? What does this paper say that’s so important, so unique, so dramatic or authoritative that the IPCC felt it couldn’t rely on already-published research to make the same case? Beats me.

It would be immensely helpful if Pachauri could enlighten us. At the same time perhaps he could assure us that the following facts have nothing at all to do with this matter. We wouldn’t want anyone to erroneously conclude that there are two citation standards: one for IPCC insiders and another for everyone else:

  • Working Group 1, Chapter 4 lists a D. Vaughan (UK) as a contributing author
  • WG1, Chapter 10 lists a D. Vaughan (UK) as a contributing author
  • WG2, Chapter 15 lists a David G. Vaughan (UK) as one of two coordinating lead authors
  • WG2’s Summary for Policymakers lists a David Vaughan as a drafting author
  • WG2’s Technical Summary lists a David Vaughan (UK) as a lead author


This post was reworded slightly within the first few hours and several numbers were corrected. My apologies to anyone who cited an earlier version.

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