Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.

The Non-Stop IPCC Spin Machine

Author worked on IPCC reports a decade prior to earning her PhD

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) press release issued last week talks about transparency and openness. But don’t be fooled. Preparation of the 5th assessment report – known internally as AR5 – isn’t even fully underway, yet the organization is up to its old tricks.

Take a look at the Notes to Editors on the second page of the press release. This is supposed to be the non-controversial stuff, the basic nuts and bolts. Instead, it’s spin, spin, spin. Here’s a sentence for you:

Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the IPCC reports.

Back in June, the IPCC released the list of people who’ve been selected to work on AR5. It said that list contained 831 names  – not thousands. But the situation is really worse than that, since only those individuals assigned to Working Group 1 deal with hard science. (Working Group 2 speculates on how climate change might effect our world. Working Group 3 discusses what might be done in response.)

So let’s add up the bodies associated with Working Group 1:

Chapter One 11 personnel
Chapter Two 19
Chapter Three 17
Chapter Four 17
Chapter Five 21
Chapter Six 18
Chapter Seven 19
Chapter Eight 18
Chapter Nine 21
Chapter Ten 18
Chapter Eleven 21
Chapter Twelve 19
Chapter Thirteen 18
Chapter Fourteen 21
total 258

Grand total: 258. The next thing we need to recognize is that many of these 258 are climate modelers. Rather than being hardcore scientists, they spend their days tweaking inputs and algorithms. These are legitimate activities, but not what most people think of when they hear the phrase “thousands of scientists.”

A prime example is Lisa Alexander, a Working Group 1 lead author. As recently as two years ago she was a research assistant in the Arts Faculty of Australia’s Monash University. That institution has a science faculty, but Alexander didn’t study there.

It wasn’t until 2009 that she earned her PhD, based on a thesis that dealt with climate modeling. Which makes this revelation by her current employer all the more astounding. In a hiring announcement, it says Alexander:

…played a key role as a contributing author to the influential Third and Fourth reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change…

Pardon me? The third IPCC report was released in 2001 (the fourth in 2007). How could someone have been selected to work on an IPCC report a decade before she’d even earned her PhD?

Remember, we’ve been told by the IPCC chairman himself that the:

IPCC is an organization that brings together the best experts from all over the world…

Activist-scientist-blogger Joe Romm has long described the IPCC as being comprised of:

…more than 2,000 of the world’s top scientists

News outlets have assured us that IPCC pronouncements represent the considered opinion of:

…the world’s top climate scientists

It’s time for a clear-eyed, grownup conversation about what the IPCC is – and is not.


UPDATE: Evidently, the IPCC website was in error. Alexander was a contributing – rather than a lead – IPCC author in 2007. Please see here.

see also my post about the recent medical graduate who served as an IPCC lead author


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