Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

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

Bleeding Edge Research in the New IPCC Report

In one chapter alone, IPCC personnel relied on unpublished studies 21 times to make their case.

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‘Bleeding edge’ is a term from the world of technology. It refers to a product that is so new nothing about it is yet certain. It might not work as advertised. It might be so buggy it’s unusable.

People who purchase bleeding edge tech are, by definition, risk takers. They gamble their hard-earned cash on the latest gadgets knowing that some of the things they buy will turn out to be duds. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

That’s all very well where consumer products are concerned. But should an influential body such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) be basing its conclusions on bleeding edge research – research so new it hasn’t been published yet?

Next week, the IPCC will release another section of its massive climate report. Draft #1 was finalized in June 2012. Draft #2 was finalized in March 2103. By May 2013, volunteer external reviewers had examined Draft #2 and submitted thousands of comments in response.

The two-stage review process is intended to catch errors. It’s supposed to help make the IPCC’s final text bulletproof. But as I’ve discussed elsewhere, the IPCC short-circuits its own safeguards. Even though the second draft was finalized in March 2013, the IPCC’s conclusions rely on research that appeared in print after that.

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For example, Chapter 7 examines the impact climate change might have on humanity’s food supplies. A leaked copy of this chapter can be downloaded here.

  • on page 6, the Licker et al., 2013 study is cited twice; it didn’t appear in a scientific journal until July 2013.
  • p. 10 relies on Zhu et al. – published in Sept. 2013
  • p. 11, Koehler et al. – published in Aug. 2013
  • p. 11, Asseng et al. – published in Sept. 2013 (online in June)
  • p. 15. Glenn et al. – published in Nov. 2013
  • p. 22, Muller et al. – published Jan. 2014 (online in Dec. 2013)
  • p. 23, Glenn et al. – published in Nov. 2013
  • p. 26, Kiselev et al. – published Oct. 2013
  • p. 27, Nelson et al. is cited twice – published in Jan 2014 (online in Dec. 2013)
  • p. 31, Stathers et al. – published June 2013
  • p. 32, Ghahramani & Moore paper is cited twice – published in Aug. 2013
  • p. 38 Coumou et al. is cited twice – published June 2013
  • p. 38 Hughes et al. – published July 2013 (online in June)
  • p. 38 Dunne et al. – published June 2013 (online in Feb.)
  • p. 39 Reichstein et al. – published Aug. 2013

In Chapter 7 alone, therefore, bleeding edge research is cited in 21 instances. In order to make their case, IPCC personnel relied on studies that couldn’t even be called hot-off-the-press. They hadn’t even been published when Draft #2 was sent out for review.

In two of these instances, the research didn’t appear in a physical journal until Jan 2014 – 10 months after the 2nd draft was finalized.

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