This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday, Wednesday & Friday.
But never fear. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a flexible organization. We’ve already seen it refer to individuals with thin academic credentials as the world’s “best experts” and “top scientists” (here, here, and here). Kovats is just the latest example.
Remember the first health chapter in the 1995 edition of the climate bible? The one in which Jonathan Patz, a recently graduated medical doctor with no relevant publications, nevertheless served as a lead author? Kovats’ tenure with the IPCC also stretches back to that dismal moment in history.
How Kovats, who served as a contributing author in 1994, could possibly have been among only 21 people in the entire world selected to work on an IPCC chapter this important is uncertain. After all, the PubMed database tells us her first academic paper didn’t appear until 1997.
For her second paper, her two co-authors were the aforementioned Patz and the convening lead author of that notorious chapter – Anthony McMichael. He’s the gent who, after being asked by the IPCC to conduct a good-faith review of all the available literature, managed to have entire passages from his own polemical book reproduced as the IPCC’s considered opinion. McMichael also supervised Kovats’ many-years-in-the-making doctoral thesis. (She appears to have finally received her PhD sometime in 2009.)
According to PubMed, the first eight papers Kovats co-authored were written with at least one other person who also worked on the 1995 health chapter. Over the years, that group has remained remarkably close-knit.
Nor did Kovats make just one contribution to the IPCC’s celebrated assessments. If she was sufficiently qualified to be a contributing author 15 years prior to earning her PhD, it apparently follows that she was qualified to be a lead author a few years later when the 2001 version of the health chapter got written (PDF here). And are we surprised to learn that she reprised her lead author role when the IPCC produced its 2007 assessment – thereby securing for herself a share of the Nobel Peace Prize?
So, in the 15 years prior to earning her PhD, Kovats served once as a contributing author and twice as a lead author for the IPCC.
Which means governments around the world have been relying on the expertise of grad students when they make multi-billion-dollar climate change decisions.