This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
The upcoming Working Group 2 report wasn’t thoroughly scrutinized by hundreds of external reviewers. Those people saw only early versions of the report. Unpublished research findings were still being incorporated months later.
We’ve been told we should trust reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for reasons such as these:
The world of scientific publishing is rigorous and self-correcting. Research papers undergo peer-review before they are published. Afterward, the entire scientific community can challenge the conclusions of any piece of research. If it turns out that some research contains errors, this will eventually become clear, and that research will no longer be considered sound.
We’re also told that the IPCC process is, itself, exacting – that tens of thousands of comments from external reviewers were received and addressed while the latest IPCC report was in progress. The implication is clear: with so much outside scrutiny being brought to bear, the end result must be credible and trustworthy.
But don’t be fooled. By looking at dates associated with the Working Group 2 report scheduled to be released in a few weeks, it’s evident that the IPCC cares not a fig for proper scientific oversight.
The following table currently appears on the IPCC website (highlighting by me):
This tells us that Working Group 2’s first draft (called the FOD, which stands for First Order Draft), was fully written by June 2012. From June 11th to August 6th, external reviewers were invited to read that draft and submit their feedback.
The purpose of the second draft was to strengthen the report by incorporating this feedback. The second draft was completed in March 2013. From March 29 until May 24th, outside reviewers were once again reading the report and submitting comments concerning everything from grammatical errors to poorly-labeled graphs.
All of this sounds orderly, sensible, and impressive. But it’s actually an elaborate illusion. One other date wasn’t included in the table that appears above. You have to look for it, lower down on that IPCC webpage. You have to click a link that leads to a PDF. You have to open the PDF.
When you do, you discover that Working Group 2 didn’t stop considering brand new research when it finalized its first draft in June 2012. (The purpose of the IPCC report, remember, is to survey the existing scientific literature.) Nor did it draw a line in the sand at the time it finalized its second draft, in March 2013.
As the PDF makes clear, IPCC Working Group 2 personnel were free to take into account the findings of unpublished research. Research that the wider scientific community – including the hundreds of people who volunteered to be external reviewers – knew nothing about.
This PDF tells us it was OK for Working Group 2 personnel to base their conclusions on research that had technically been “accepted” for publication (by some journal, somewhere) – but remained unpublished – as late as August 31, 2013.
The purpose of asking external reviewers to look over draft manuscripts is to catch errors. But if your system allows for new material to keep being added to the manuscript months after the second round of review has been completed, how do you know you’re not adding in as many errors as you’ve eliminated?
Let no one say that the upcoming Working Group 2 report was closely scrutinized by hundreds of external reviewers who collectively submitted tens of thousands of comments.
Those hundreds of people only saw early versions of the report. Material so new it remained unpublished was being added-in long after those reviewers had exited the stage.
let us have perfect clarity on this point: An organization that is prepared to base its conclusions on dozens of as-yet-unpublished research papers is not conservative.