Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

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

Clueless New IPCC Policy Ignores Advocacy Literature

A few days ago Hilary Ostrov commented on how tone-deaf the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) continues to be. In her words, these people “sooooooooooooo don’t get it!”

At a meeting next month, the IPCC will discuss proposed new guidelines regarding the use of non-peer-reviewed information sources. Now remember, the IPCC is supposed to be a scientific organization. So the notion that it conclusions rely on any significant amount of grey literature is dicey to begin with. These new regulations say (see page 8 of this 267-page PDF):

Non-journal-based sources can provide crucial information for an IPCC Report, including information about experience and practice with mitigation and adaptation activities (e.g. reports from governments, industry, and other organisations, reports or working papers of research institutions, workshop proceedings). In principle, newspapers and magazines are not valid sources of scientific knowledge. Blogs, social networking sites, and broadcast media are not acceptable sources of information for IPCC Reports.

What’s fascinating about this list of acceptable and unacceptable sources is what rates a mention and what does not. Blogs are discussed and are placed firmly in the “not allowed” category. To my knowledge there has never been a single instance in which information published solely on a blog has appeared in an IPCC report. Not once. Not ever.

The climate establishment, while making extensive use of blogs itself (RealClimate, ClimateProgress, DeSmogBlog), has a habit of sneering at blogs. The reasoning appears to be that, because some blogs are written by intemperate hotheads, all information appearing on all blogs must be unreliable. Whatever. Ten years from now the silliness of that position will have become obvious to everyone.

But notice what has not found a place on the IPCC’s new unacceptable list – publications produced by advocacy organizations and pressure groups. As in Greenpeace. As in the World Wildlife Fund. In the past, this material has, indeed, been treated as reliable – sometimes it has been the sole source of an IPCC data point (see here and here).

Yet despite the embarrassment this has caused the IPCC (the erroneous Himalayan glacier melt date came from a WWF publication), the IPCC is proposing an update to its policies that utterly ignores this very real, known, and substantive issue. The new guidelines say not one word about these kinds of publications. If one were a suspicious soul, one could conclude that the phrase:

…reports from governments, industry, and other organisations

in fact leaves the door wide open for the continued use of this sort of material.

If the IPCC were trying to persuade the world that it has heard and heeded the criticism it has attracted over the past 18 months, the new guidelines would contain a clear statement that publications by advocacy groups (to use the language applied to blogs) are not acceptable sources of information for IPCC Reports. The guidelines would include a list of such advocacy groups, noting that the list was intended to be illustrative rather than exhaustive.

Sometimes, you just have to shake your head. The central question of whether or not human-caused climate change is a) perceptible and b) dangerous comes down to a judgment call. It’s all about how one interprets a body of highly uncertain – and frequently contradictory – evidence.

Any organization that doesn’t understand that its scientific conclusions cannot be based on Greenpeace-supplied data is not an organization whose judgment can be trusted.


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