This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
On what planet is it OK for politically-determined definitions to supersede those written by actual scientists?
Two weeks ago, the media announced the arrival of a new report prepared by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But that 1,200-page document still hasn’t been officially released.
Instead, journalists have been relying on a 34-page Summary for Policymakers – which is actually one of the strangest documents you’ll ever encounter. Normally, after someone writes a report, they write a summary that strives to accurately represent it. After making both the report and the summary public, they move on.
Not the IPCC. Its website tells us 16 pages worth of changes are now being made to the underlying Scientific-Technical Assessment to “ensure consistency with the approved Summary for Policymakers.”
Astonishingly, at this eleventh hour, the definitions of key terms are being altered. The authors – whom the BBC recently described as “top scientists from around the world” – had defined ‘global warming’ in a particular manner. They chose their language, we must presume, with care and deliberation. In their view this term is properly defined as:
An increase in global mean surface temperature (GMST) averaged over a 30-year period, relative to 1850-1900 unless otherwise specified. For periods shorter than 30 years, global warming refers to the estimated average temperature over the 30 years centred on that shorter period, accounting for the impact of any temperature fluctuations or trend within those 30 years. [see p. 25 here]
But page 16 of the list of changes tells us the above text is being replaced. The official version of this report will say something different:
The estimated increase in global mean surface temperature (GMST) averaged over a 30-year period, or the 30-year period centered on a particular year or decade, expressed relative to preindustrial levels unless otherwise specified. For 30-year periods that span past and future years, the current multi-decadal warming trend is assumed to continue. [bold added]
I’m not a scientist immersed in these matters, so I’m not equipped to weigh and measure the full significance of this new definition. But it appears immediately evident that an explicit assumption has been embedded into it despite the fact that the scientists themselves chose not to go there.
The glossary definitions of other key concepts are also being altered (see pages 15-16 here):
Science loses. Politics win. That’s how things work in IPCC land.
Step 1: experts write a report
Step 2: experts draft a summary
Step 3: third parties (non-experts such as lawyers and diplomats representing UN recognized nations) attend secret, off-limits-to-the-media meetings where the summary gets re-written
Step 4: these same third parties vote to “approve” their re-write, thereby giving it official status
Step 5: the re-write is released to the world at a press conference – voilà the Summary for Policymakers
Step 6: officials revisit the original, full-length document and make 16 pages worth of changes
Many of these changes appear to be trivial. But if nothing of significance is going on why are these meetings secret?
More to the point: On what planet is it OK for politically-determined definitions to supersede those written by actual scientists?
As the author of two books about the IPCC, I’ve spent years trying to explain that this preposterous organization was designed to function in this manner and has done so for 30 years. It should never be mistaken for a scientific body.
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