Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

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

Slivers of the Nobel Pie

click for original source - see the 2010 speakers

When half of the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007, the other half was bestowed on a lifelong politician named Al Gore.

The fact that this particular prize was not for science at all – but for raising public awareness – hasn’t prevented scientists from boasting about it in their list of credentials, or discouraged journalists from mentioning it in order to magnify the eminence of scientists about whom they are writing.

There has always been some confusion as to which IPCC participants, exactly, can properly claim a share of this Nobel glory. The IPCC itself is rather clear about the fact that individual scientists don’t belong to the IPCC – nations do. This is, after all, an intergovernmental panel.

click to enlarge, from a letter sent to IPCC nominees in May 2010

Yet the IPCC apparently e-mailed individual scientists after the Nobel announcement, advising them that they had just become Nobel laureates. It would be interesting to know if similar steps were taken to advise individual peacekeepers that they were Nobel winners after the UN Peacekeeping Forces received the same Peace Prize in 1988.

The IPCC website reminds one rather incessantly about the Nobel, and even includes a reproduction of a Nobel certificate (click the image found here to enlarge it). Yet distressingly few specifics are provided. Indeed, there is no mention at all regarding what classes of IPCC participants may legitimately wrap themselves in a Nobel-coloured cloak.

There is, I believe, an informal understanding that the cloak doesn’t extend all the way to IPCC expert reviewers. But I’ve not seen much discussion about whether it encompasses contributing authors (who usually don’t attend the meetings at which lead authors and coordinating lead authors are expected to present themselves).

Nor have I seen any temporal guidelines. If one made a contribution to the first IPCC assessment report published back in 1990, did one become a Nobel laureate 17 years later? If not, what is the cut-off date?

This is important because, as I observed a few months back, the IPCC’s Nobel seems to have become just another way to bamboozle the public, to exaggerate the renown of certain individuals in the hope that we’ll be more inclined to trust their climate pronouncements.

Recently I stumbled across a gentleman named Philip Duffy. He is the chief scientist for an outfit called ClimateCentral.org – which describes itself as “an independent, non-profit journalism and research organization.” These people seem to think the public isn’t adequately alarmed about global warming and that the problem is insufficient media coverage:

Polls show low levels of public understanding and concern about climate change. This coincides with an overall drop in topical news coverage. Climate Central fills the void by not only covering climate science and solutions on a local level, but also framing the issues in a larger context.

According to his ClimateCentral biography:

Dr. Duffy shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his IPCC involvement, and will be a Review Editor for the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report.

What Duffy did to merit this Nobel glory isn’t specified. A search of the IPCC’s website suggests he played no role in the 2007 edition of the Climate Bible. However, the publications listed on his ClimateCentral bio page do include the Model Evaluation chapter of the 2001 IPCC report.

It turns out that Duffy, who spent two decades as a climate modeler for the US government, was a contributing (but not a lead) author in that instance. He was one of several people who, at the same time that he was dependent on climate models for his livelihood, was recruited by the IPCC to officially evaluate them.

As far as I can tell, prior to being named (in June 2010) a Review Editor for the upcoming edition of the climate bible, that was the extent of Duffy’s IPCC participation. A single turn on the lowest rung of a three step IPCC author ladder back in 2000.

Is it just me, or is that not a rather shallow basis from which to lay claim to a Nobel? Yet it is difficult to find a Duffy bio that does not crow about this. In this instance we’re told that:

Dr. Duffy is a member of the Nobel-honored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

This one – at Politico.com – advises:

As a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Another one, here, uses the same language. This last one, in particular (see the screengrab at the top of this post), demonstrates the problem exactly. According to the 2010 speakers list for ClimateRide.org:

Dr. Duffy has won numerous honors, including the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared for his involvement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The man is a climate modeler. He was invited to speak to participants at a multi-day cycling event that raises money “to support sustainable solutions and environmental causes.”

Why isn’t it good enough to tell his audience that he has worked in the field for 22 years, that he has a degree from Harvard and another from Stanford, and that he has helped author “over 60 peer-reviewed papers on many aspects of climate science, atomic physics, and astrophysics”? Why is it necessary to tell people that a Nobel is “among his numerous honors”?

The reason seems obvious. That one word – Nobel – carries tremendous weight with the public.

In 2010 ClimateRide.org told its members they were going to hear from a Nobel laureate. What it didn’t explain was that his contribution was limited. Or that it was only half a Nobel to begin with. Or that thousands of people were involved in the production of each of the four existing editions of the climate bible.

Most importantly, it didn’t mention that the role Duffy performed was tainted by a profound conflict-of-interest.

Nobel glory, indeed.

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