28 January 2010

Science has an extended interview with Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, that is quite revealing. Here are a few interesting excerpts.

Dr. Pachauri clearly indicates that he sees the job of the IPCC to be motivating political action on climate change:
I mean, let's face it, that the whole subject of climate change having become so important is largely driven by the work of the IPCC. If the IPCC wasn't there, why would anyone be worried about climate change? It's also certainly to be expected that there are some interests who would not want to take action against climate change. I mean, I don't want to name a country, but you know during the Copenhagen meeting there was one country that was saying that there should be no agreement simply because the IPCC, after the e-mails, the scandal of the hacking e-mails, the IPCC's report shouldn't be taken as a basis for any agreement. And you know what the motivation behind that statement was and where it was coming from? Are we going to fall prey to vested interests?
On his role as an advisor to companies that stand to benefit from his advice:
I don't see any conflict at all. Science has to be used for decision-making. IPCC's work is supposed to be very clearly policy relevant. How can I establish policy relevance if I shut myself in an ivory tower and say I will not say anything about climate change? I feel totally comfortable in the role of adviser to anybody.
On his freedom from conflicts of interest:
I see absolutely no conflict of interest since I am a salaried employee of TERI and if I provide advice to any organization. You must remember that TERI has been in research on climate change for a quarter century, almost a quarter century, and therefore as a paid employee of this organization, if I am doing work on behalf of TERI and on behalf of the time that I spend over there is something that I am being paid for through a salary, then I see absolutely no conflict of interest. . .

there is no private interest involved in this. This is as much public interest as doing work for the IPCC. I am working for an organization which is a not-for-profit organization, which is not only highly regarded, which abides by all the laws of this country, and it is serving the public interest, it has been set up in public interest. So I can see absolutely nothing which can be mixed up with private interest over here, so I am afraid I should get this absolutely right. There is no private interest involved over here. If I was working for a shareholder company and this was leading to the profits of some individuals, then you could say private interest. We are as much a public-sector organization and an organization working for the public good as any other. So you know there is no conflict of interest.
And then there is this odd ending:

Q: So will the world have a solution to climate change soon thanks to you?

R.K.P.: Well, it's a long haul, it's going to be a tough job, and I took it because it's a tough job and I am doing it because it's a tough job. And somebody has to do it. I have that responsibility: I will do it. And I am certainly not going to relent in these efforts, I can assure you.

Q: Pleasure speaking to you. Thank You.

R.K.P.: I have to hug you! [Gives interviewer a bear hug.]


  1. This interview couldn't possibly be a stronger indictment of the IPCC. It's suppose to about the science. The policy and political action should follow the science, not the other way round.

    Why should the IPCC be saved?

  2. You could make the same argument if you were an employee of EXXONMOBIL. Surely if the UN doesn't fire him after these statements they never will.

  3. Pachauri has too much irony in his diet.

    I mean really.. did he actually pay attention to his comments? Falling prey to vested interests? Every day he makes himself more of a laughing stock.

    I don't care either way about who should be ultimately responsible for the trash that ended up in AR4; the way Pachauri has conducted himself lately is alone the reason why he should be ousted.

  4. Sounds like someone is channeling Richard Nixon to me.

  5. WOW, he's simply out of touch with reality! Reminds me of another famous person who just gave a big speech last night.

  6. Confronts the critics? I missed the part where the critics were allowed to speak.

    Anyone who is against the IPPC apocalyptic pronouncements should want this guy to stay in office for as long as possible. Demanding that he resign for the sake of head-hunting is petty and counter-productive. Better that he replace Al Gore as the face of Global Warming.

  7. Congratulations and thank you to Mr. Pallava Bagla for a fine interview. In particular the line of question regarding conflicts of interest was neatly executed.

    Dr. Pachauri, would you like some more rope?

  8. It seems to me that experts in an issue are paid to talk about an issue, so they (including me) naturally see the world through the lens of that issue and therefore think that that issue is important.
    If we ask wildlife biologists, they would tend to think it would be good to do things to promote wildlife. If we ask climate scientists (or those funded by organizations with climate science funding) they say that we must put more effort into dealing with climate.
    It seems like "science-based policy" faces the conundrum of an essential conflict of interest.
    We don't usually talk about this, nor possible ways around it.

  9. The longer that Dr. Pachauri stays at the IPCC the more public damage he does to AGW science, policy and activism. From a skeptical point of view that is only a good thing.

    Remember the eco-loons displaying those banners "we are only armed with peer reviewed science". How empty are those words now?

  10. -8-Sharon
    Not so. A wildlife biologist's job is to study wildlife. Promoting wildlife is for advocates. Besides, wildlife is complex and cannot be promoted. The best you can do is favour one set of species over another. It's the politicians' job to decide with species are more deserving of our support.

    It is fine to promote your subject and enhance the career opportunities of your students. The statement "climate science is important and should be funded" is not the same as the statement "greenhouse gas emissions should be reducted".

  11. Roger,

    In the quote you cited, Pachauri didn’t say that it is IPCC’s job to motivate political action, merely that increased political interest was a logical consequence of seeing the science laid out in front of them.


  12. Dr. Pachauri are rather honest in the interview, and have insight on the role of the IPCC. But its all about ""stealth issue advocacy", so Dr. Pachauri should not be honest if he wants to gain influence from the premisses he is working from. But I, like Pielke and others, want scientists to be honest. But the "sceptics" take the IPCC worldview at face value, they attack the science fronting, equally believing in objective science etc, and the debate get trappet in a war over factual errors. I find most believers (natural scientists especially) and "sceptics" to be rather frustrating. The frame is too narrow and the premises that the debat starts from are false.

  13. @8 Sharon F.

    The Devil's advocate indeed.

    Dr. Pachauri is certainly not the victim of an oft ignored, inherent conflict. He accepted a responsibility at a very high station and failed to recognize his duties as a caretaker of the mission of the IPCC.

    There were "possible ways around it" available to him. Denying the AR4 Himalayan flaw's existence, besmirching other scientists' reputations, and ignoring the ongoing appearance of a conflict of interest were not among Dr. Pachauri's best choices for mitigating the problem.

    Dr. Pachauri's moral authority now bankrupt, for the good of the organization he must resign. That's the right thing to do.

  14. It may be helpful to reflect on the fact that Dr. Pachauri's home country is one with a high "power distance index" rating. India rates a 77 as opposed to 40 for the US and slightly below 40 for the UK, Canada & Australia.

    High power index cultures are characterized by the perception that class and rank will buffer one from unpleasant professional consequences. The idea that subordinates - rather than leaders - should be held accountabe for screw-ups appears to be commonplace.


    and the map here:

    Donna Laframboise

  15. I believe that @8 Sharon , is right (empirically), whereas @10 Tol makes a rational statement (logically correct, but empirically false) and a moral statement (that is not possible for wildlife biologist's to follow in practice since part of their societal function is to ultimately save wildlife).

  16. -8 Sharon F.

    Hear, hear. Delinking science from advocacy is a tricky issue. I prefer to hear from people who know what they are talking about. Wouldn't it be better to assume that people who do science AND advocate could meet this criterion.

  17. I always thought Pachauri had something of a Guru appearance...

  18. -15-Andreas
    Nonsense. The job description of a professor of biology is to teach, to research, and to manage the university. There is nothing about promoting wildlife.

  19. @17 Tol, do you really argue as the IPCC? I get the same answers when I interview climate researchers: The IPCC mandate state that IPCC do objective science with no impact on policy. Therefore this is true. But analysis of social data tell otherwise.
    You are wrong on the formal description as well, eg: WILDLIFE BIOLOGY (ISSN 0909-6396) ... accepts papers of high standard from all areas of wildlife science with the primary task of creating the scientific basis for the enhancement of conservation and management practices.
    Sounds like a clear statement that valueladen goals are rather central to the discipline? You are free to dislike this, but dont argue against data.

  20. Richard Tol, I hate to pick on wildlifers, it was just the first thing that came to mind, let's switch to climate change.

    In my experience, the situation is more subtle than you are saying. Say, for climate change scientists. You have studied it, you think it is important and something the world needs to deal with, because you have more direct knowledge of the research information. In the old days that would be replicable observations of nature, today it would be observations of model runs. You "know" more, so want to warn about the dangers you see, this is normal and useful.

    Coupled with the fact that dangers, (and Science Establishment-driven science fads) drive most of the large scale research funding. Not many people publish papers that say "managers doing fine with current ways of dealing with change, no need to develop new methods for them to deal with climate change." So papers are published that say current ways are not enough and soon I think scientists start to believe their papers. For one thing, practitioners or others who disagree with the need for intervention x or y do not publish in scientific journals and often aren't even admitted to the dialogue.

    After a period of time I think people unconsciously believe that 1) they know more about the problem and 2) they know more how to deal with it. Hence, I see a very slippery slope into advocacy.
    Note, I am not talking about Pachauri, but he brought to mind that there is a natural tendency for people who study something to become advocates for it.
    We have to be able to parse that out to have good policy discussions and not accept every statement a scientist makes as "science."

  21. @Richard Tol 17-

    Here in the US we have wildlife biologists, outside of academia, working for federal and state agencies and environmental advocacy groups who promote wildlife. For example, wolf reintroduction.

  22. @17 Tol, the Wildlife Biology program at the University of Montana are fronting Leopold (quote below). Seems to be that lots and lots of "delinking science from advocacy" is needed before they will be even close to the culture of objectivity (I bet this is true of most departments of Wildlife Biology). please, be free to clean up the mess and your statement will be empirically correct as an effect ;-)
    “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.” –Aldo Leopold

  23. Craig, yes we do but we don't expect them to be objective- we expect them to be hired to follow the policy agendas of those who hired them. For example, I am a federal employee and a non-research scientist. My job is to follow the agenda of the President as communicated through his or her appointees. If the science I know does not match that agenda, I need to express it internally. Sometimes we scientists disagree (well actually almost all the time) and someone has to select an option. This is a very different role than say, universities, who claim their scientific information is "objective." All I'm saying is that an elected official has a public agenda, and going after research funding plus scientists' own experiences can cause just as strong, but not transparent agendas.

  24. Sorry Roger, for taking this way off topic, but @21 Andreas reminded me that other fields than climate science openly have value laden agendas.
    I think it's important not to single out climate science to keep this overall issue in perspective.

    My "poster child" is conservation biology as quoted from this history of the field.
    "Conservation biology acknowledged its ethical content and its status as an inherently “value-laden” field. In the tradition of Leopold, Soul´e (1985) asserted that “ethical
    norms are a genuine part of conservation biology.”
    Noss (1999) regarded this as a distinguishing characteristic, noting that there is an “overarching normative assumption in conservation biology . . . that biodiversity
    is good and ought to be preserved.” Leopold’s land ethic and related appeals to intergenerational responsibilities
    and the intrinsic value of nonhuman life motivated growing numbers of conservation scientists and environmental ethicists (Thomas et al. 1956; Kozlovsky 1974; Ehrenfeld 1981; Samson & Knopf 1982; Devall & Sessions 1985; Nash 1989; Callicott 1990; Leopold
    2004). This explicit recognition of conservation biology’s ethical dimension stood in contrast to the careful avoidance of such considerations, even within ecology,
    in prior decades (McIntosh 1980; Barbour 1995; Barry & Oelschlaeger 1996)."

  25. -23-Sharon F

    Actually this discussion is very much "on topic" -- the value orientation of scientists, especially when working as advisors in the policy process is worth discussing.

    Make sure that you read Sarewitz's "Excess of Objectivity" and "How science makes environmental controversies worse" both of which explicitly engage this issue.

    For me, the solution lies in pluralism not puritanism. That is, of course people have biases, and scientists are people. Advisory processes thus need to work toward balancing these biases, not looking for the mythical people who are free of them. Sarewitz makes a great point about how ecologists and geneticists view GMOs very differently. Both perspectives are important.

    Anyway, its a good discusion.

  26. One important thing, when discussing climate versus conservation, regarding scientists and values, is that we discuss two very different cultures. Conservation biologists are (often) openly normative whereas climate researchers (usually) shy away from openly normative commitments. I have more problem with the climate scientists.

  27. @Roger/Sharon
    The solution is indeed pluralism and peer-review. But I think we should also keep our eye on the puritanical ideal, not because we can reach it, but to keep ourselves honest.

    Hidden values are indeed more problematic than open values.

    But if you care passionately about something, then you should be studying something else.

  28. Following two passes through Sarewitz's paper I find myself still wondering...what was up with that hug?

  29. "But if you care passionately about something, then you should be studying something else."

    Surely you jest Richard. I'd wager that for most sane people the opposit is true.

  30. The claim above that ethical norms are necessarily present in conservation biology is simply false since the study involved in conservation biology can be undertaken without a scientist having either to subscribe to or instantiate this ethical norm. In other words, the engagement we call science and the engagement we call conservaton are two seperable and distinct engagements. Or, to put it in Oakeshott's words, this distinction is the difference between theorizing a joke, and telling a joke.

    This point is inherent in Tol's view although he is making the argument once removed which is that those who regularly engage in the latter are likely to endanger the former and vice versa (the study of conservation biology, and the promotion of conservation), especially where they do not recognise that they are seperate engagements.

  31. -29-Marlowe
    No. I do not jest.

    I cannot face poverty without getting really angry. Therefore, I do not work on the economics of development. My judgement would be clouded by my anger.

    If I interview a prospective PhD student and it emerges that (s)he is really concerned about climate change, I do not hire her/him -- or if (s)he's really good, it put her/him on a topic that is three steps away from policy.

    Objectivity may be an unreachable ideal, but that does not mean we should stop reaching.

  32. @Tol, I think you are a victim of the myths of objective science (a modern myth with a history that is not very long). These myths are prosperous, I think, not because they are true or creates favourable conditions for truth. The Greeks argued differently but was very successful in science. It is more of an ideology produced in the minds of scientists.

  33. It's always shocking to me to see how authority will interfere in others' lives simply because their passion propels them to reach farther and higher. The elitist, "I know better than you" should find a different outlet of constructive expression other than raising barriers to another's future. When bias is recognized in a developing protégé perhaps the better lesson is to set the goal at the end of a teachable gauntlet. Humility is a quality that serves both Zen master and pupil.

  34. Richard,

    Is it safe to say then that you don't care about climate change and its potential impacts? If so, do you think this makes you more 'objective' than other economists who work in the field climate change economics (e.g. Chris Green, William Kline, Nordhaus, etc.)? Can you illustrate how 'caring passionately' influences their methods?

  35. When economics argue over climate change: How serious is the problem? Mitigate or not? How and where? They tend to use economic models of costs and benefits. Isn´t that a good example of value inherent in discipline? (that values such as economic efficiency are trump, at least for the economic sciences). I would argue that it is impossible for an economists to be objective. Moreover, such calculations are efficient weapons in the hands of politicians.

  36. -34-Marlowe
    I had no strong preconceived notions about climate change, climate impacts, or climate policy when I started my research.

    I believe the same is true for most of the other senior climate economists.

    I know enough about the sociology and philosophy of science to assert that I am not a victim of anything. I know that objectivity and subjectivity are inseparable. But as soon as you stop trying to be objective (as you seem to imply), bad science is the result.

    Cost-benefit analysis is rooted in utilitarianism. It seeks the greatest good for the greatest number. The choice of the objective function has a large element of subjectivity in it.

  37. -35-Andreas
    (I was interrupted.)

    Seeking the greatest good for the greatest number is, of course, taken from Bentham. Nietschze would disagree (given all wealth to a single person) as would Rawls (maximising the well-being of the poorest).

    One could argue that "the greatest good for the greatest number" roughly corresponds with democracy -- and democratic countries like the UK and the USA indeed demand that a CBA be done.

    Doing a CBA is an expression of a value -- but it is not an expression of the personal preferences of the analyst.

    Similarly, a CBA requires prices and values -- but these are measured from data rather than imposed by the analyst.

  38. Tol, I agree. But I have problems with this:

    1: Utilitarianism -> democracy
    2: Utilitarianism -> CBA -> politics

    1: Utilitarianism, rights and equality are all central to the notion of democracy. They conflict with each other.

    2: CBA is a economic application of one type of utilitarianism. From my interviews (with researchers and politicians in Sweden) I conclude that the imput of CBA from scientists support right wing climate politics (and they demand more CBA) and weakens left wing climate politics (and they demand other types of research imput). Thus, I argue that CBA is not a neutral tool in a democracy.

  39. Richard,

    Fair enough. I suspect many people held similar views in the early 90s. But what is your position now?I would hope that it is somewhat different in light of the evidence that has accumulated over the past 2 decades...

  40. You know, I think we would all agree that nothing is a "neutral" tool because tools are developed and used by humans who are inherently not neutral.
    We all need to bring our scientific information from a variety of disciplines, our practitioner experience from those disciplines, and our values into a debate and try to honestly and transparently explore our policy options, and our explicit and implicit biases. In my opinion.

  41. -38-Andreas
    In his day, Bentham was to the extreme left. He wanted to give the vote to the poor! Times have changed.

    One can adjust CBA for distributional concerns. See my equitable CBA paper in Ecological Economics: http://ideas.repec.org/a/eee/ecolec/v36y2001i1p71-85.html

    Do I "care" about the impacts of climate change? I've been studying them for 20 years, so my emotional attachment is twisted. I can give you an intellectual reason why you should care: http://ideas.repec.org/p/sgc/wpaper/116.html