Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday, Wednesday & Friday.

Citizen Audit Anniversary

A year ago, I released the results of a citizen audit of all 18,531 references in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2007 report. That project was made possible by the volunteer labour of more than 40 individuals from 12 countries. Over a period of five weeks we examined the references that appear at the end of each of the 44 chapters of the 3,000-page report informally known as the climate bible.

Each list of references was evaluated by three auditors working independently. We sorted these references into two groups – articles published in peer-reviewed journals and all others. Then we calculated the percentage of references that did, indeed, appear to be peer-reviewed. (When auditors’ findings differed slightly, we used the number most favourable to the IPCC.)

This was a fact-checking mission. For years, IPCC officials – as well as the news media – have said we should trust the IPCC because it bases its conclusions solely on research that has been published in peer-reviewed academic journals. Numerous examples of this claim appear here. Instances in which IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri personally said so are here.

Pachauri once told a newspaper that research that has not been peer-reviewed belongs in the dustbin (see the end of this article). He further told a committee of the North Carolina legislature:

…everything that we look at and take into account in our assessments has to carry [the] credibility of peer-reviewed publications, we don’t settle for anything less than that.

Our audit determined that this claim is spectacularly mistaken. By our count, 30% – or 5,587 – of all the references in the climate bible cite sources that were not, in fact, peer-reviewed. In 21 separate chapters, the percentage of peer-reviewed references was so low the IPCC would have received an F on an elementary school report card. (Thus the F21 on the coffee mug above.)

Our findings raise an obvious question: If the IPCC can’t be trusted to describe its own report accurately, why should we believe anything else it says?

Another group of questions is equally disturbing. Thousands of individuals participate in the IPCC process. All of those people were therefore in a position to know that the 100% peer-reviewed claim was false. Where are the open letters, signed by hundreds of scientists, setting the record straight? Why did none of these people feel the need to shout from the rooftops that the public was being misled? What does this tell us about the internal culture of the IPCC? If IPCC participants were prepared to overlook this moral lapse, what else were they prepared to overlook?

It seems to me we hear the ‘100% peer-reviewed claim’ less often these days. If that is the case, it means that a group of concerned citizens has struck a blow for truth-in-advertising. It means our efforts are helping to keep the IPCC honest.

When our findings were released last year, I included two graphics in the report. One was from the IPCC:

The other was designed by moi:

To commemorate the anniversary of the Citizen Audit I’ve arranged for souvenir coffee mugs, mouse pads, and fridge magnets bearing this second graphic. They can be ordered from the following:

A portion of the sale price of these items will help fund this blog. I set an identical price in the case of the US, UK, and Australia. CafePress (a third-party supplier of custom merchandise) translates that into local currencies.

My apologies to my fellow Canadians. Even though I halved the blog-supporting portion, shipping costs are so steep in our case the total is still slightly higher than in other jurisdictions. The good news is that GST, PST, and HST are included in the prices you see.

Own a piece of history. Order your Citizen Audit souvenir today :-)


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