Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
A PhD is an indicator that someone is proficient in their field. If an organization like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims to be comprised of the world’s “best experts” and “top scientists” it’s reasonable to assume that almost all will have earned their PhDs.
As I’ve mentioned, however, Lisa Alexander helped write the 2001 and 2007 IPCC assessment reports, yet only received her PhD last year. Prior to that, she was a research assistant in an arts faculty. It’s puzzling how someone who joined the IPCC a decade prior to receiving her PhD could possibly have been considered one of the world’s top scientists.
It turns out she isn’t alone. Laurens Bouwer is employed by VU University Amsterdam. According to that institution’s website, he too remains PhD-free. Yet a bio dated last month tells us he was a lead author for the the 2001 assessment report, as well as a contributor to the IPCC’s “Special Report on Extremes.”
Like Alexander, the only way Bouwer could have served as a lead author for the 2001 report is if he had been nominated for that position some time in the late 1990s. But he didn’t even have a Master’s degree then.
Let us repeat this: at the time Bouwer joined the ranks of the IPCC’s best and brightest he had yet to complete his Masters. According to his university bio, his credentials are as follows:
1995-2001: Master’s degree Physical Geography, Vrije Universiteit
The same year the IPCC report for which he’d served as a lead author was published, Bouwer finally earned this designation.
The IPCC’s task is to evaluate all the relevant scientific findings pertaining to climate change and to write a report summarizing what we know and don’t know – so that governments around the world can make sound decisions.
Are there people capable of performing this task who don’t possess a PhD? Yes. Eminent theoretical physicist and longtime Princeton University professor Freeman Dyson, for example, never got around to completing a doctorate. But one of the reasons we know Dyson is an exceptional intellect is because he has been winning international science awards since the 1960s. Bouwer’s academic bio provides little indication that he is the next Dyson.
The IPCC surely needs to explain how research assistants and those-working-on-their-masters qualify as the worlds best experts and top scientists.
UPDATE Feb. 24, 2011
Since this blog post was published, Bouwer has earned his PhD. Please see his new university bio page here.