25 February 2010

Watson vs. Pielke on IPCC at Yale e360

In parallel with Robert T. Watson, former chair of the IPCC, I have a piece over at Yale e360 on the IPCC. Watson argues that the IPCC needs some minor tinkering but is otherwise sound. I call for more comprehensive reforms.

Please visit there, read both essays and then feel free to return here and ask questions or discuss. Here are a few short excerpts:
Watson: So does the IPCC process need to be significantly revised? I would argue no, that the IPCC is more than capable of conducting rigorous and reliable assessments in an open, transparent, and inclusive manner. But the IPCC needs to regain its full and deserved credibility. The procedures for the selection of authors and review editors and the peer-review process and approval of reports are all sound. What is needed is to tighten up the implementation of these procedures, coupled with training of authors and review editors. The selected authors need to represent the full range of credible views, including those of the skeptics, and must ensure that all statements are based on sound science and that the citations used contain convincing evidence.
Pielke: Standing up for climate science means openly supporting reform of the IPCC while underscoring its institutional importance. The climate science community has failed to meet its own high standards. If the IPCC continues to pretend that things will soon get back to normal or that it need only castigate its critics as deniers and skeptics, it will find that its credibility will continue to sink to new lows. It is time to reform the IPCC.


  1. Perhaps you would take time out from your busy schedule to denounce Inhofe's plan to jail scientists.

    I mean, you seem to be denouncing things left right and center. Perhaps you could spare one for the Senator?

  2. -1-bigcitylib

    Sure, I am happy to take a look, but not sure what you are referring to about a plan to jail scientists. Send along links and I'll take a look.

    Meantime, any on topic comments?

  3. http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/index.php/csw/details/sen._inhofe_inquisition_seeking_to_criminalize_climate_scientists/

    "In a section titled “The CRU-IPCC Connection” (pages 25-26; also see pages 35-37), Inhofe names the targets of his witch-hunt to be investigated for possible referral to the U.S. Justice Department for prosecution. Inhofe’s targets include, in alphabetical order..."

    And there follows a list...

    Mind you, if the point is to get you on the special committee, Inhofe can maybe clear away some of the competition.

  4. Disagree about merely reforming the IPCC. If it were a car it would be called the Edsel. It was a major failure but it had many good aspects. Ultimately Ford absorbed the Edsel line into Lincoln-Mercury and ended the Edsel brand. Sometimes failures need a burial, a demarcation point.

    Going forward the better aspects of the IPCC should be incorporated into new process structures that address the prior problems and mistakes which will put the failures in the rear view mirror.

  5. Well, you contradict yourself at Yale360, saying both that the IPCC created the Muir-Wood graph AND that Muir-Wood authored it but thinks the IPCC misused it. Which is it?

  6. bigcitylib,

    So when are you going to denounce Penn State for its rediculous whitewash?

    Oh right. You think that Mann did nothing wrong. Well many people disagree based on the evidence available. Penn State proved it was unable or unwilling to show a backbone so we are stuck with letting Inhofe do the job that Penn State should have done - something that I do not like at all.

    The only way to stop this kind of political interference is for scientists to demonstrate an ability to old each other accountable to standards that the public thinks are appropriate (i.e. the public recoginizes an intent to deceive no matter what spin Mann and co put on it).

  7. -3-bigcitylib

    Thanks for the links. Inhofe is, as usual, over the top and clown like. His approach is bad politics and bad policy, but surely some red meat for the partisans.

    That said, I think that the CSW description of the document is way over-the-top. The mention of trials and referral to DOJ is not in the Inhofe piece. The CSW approach is also not particularly useful, but I guess it is a bit of red meat for the other side.

    I'll look into a bit more and will be happy to put up a post where you can discuss.

    Thanks for the pointer.

  8. -5-bigcitylib

    Robert Muir-Wood was an IPCC contributing author, and in this capacity created the graph. Its inclusion in the report, he says, was decided by people up the food chain in the writing, e.g., LAs and CLAs.

    So there is no contradiction but I know it is confusing and not transparent, which is part of the problem.

  9. Using government funding to commit scientific fraud is a crime. There have been serveral high profile cases over the years.

  10. You say the IPCC "created this misleading graph from whole cloth".

    Then you write: "the IPCC author who created the disaster cost graph has explained..."

    Not confusing, contradictory. Google what "from whole cloth means". And not a quibble. You are basically getting away with criticising the IPCC for doing twice as much bad stuff as you are entitled to.

  11. -10-bigcitylib

    I mean exactly what I wrote. To "cut from whole cloth" means

    "The usual figurative sense of out of whole cloth, meaning 'without foundation in fact; fictitious'"

    Its etymology is interesting but irrelevant here.

    The graph was an invention for the IPCC. It was without foundation and fictitious. If you dispute this, please explain why you think so. If you dislike my choice of metaphors, well, sorry. After blogging for 6 years I am well aware of the tendency for people to engage debate via semantics rather than substance ;-)

  12. I'm constantly reminded of Richard Feynman's take on what's missing from what he termed "Cargo Cult Science", and his observations are still relevant in regards to the IPCC and how the IPCC is used:

    ...It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if ou're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

    Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong--to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

    In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

    He didn't believe this truth was for fellow scientists either, but for the layman. This is where I've lost a great deal of trust for the IPCC and for climatology in general.

    I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you're talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you're not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We'll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you are maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

    For example, I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio. He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of this work were. "Well," I said, "there aren't any." He said, "Yes, but then we won't get support for more research of this kind." I think that's kind of dishonest. If you're representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you're doing--and if they don't want to support you under those circumstances, then that's their decision."

    When only worse case scenarios are used, when legitimate mistakes and alternative possibilities are dismissed out of hand, when the attitude is not to give "skeptics/deniers" any ammunition, to the point that results are phrased and presented in a manner designed to minimize or hide uncertainty or results not consistent with the theory, that is dishonest, and that's why many folks don't trust the IPCC. Feynman may have been a scientist, but he was really articulating the common sense that most people intuitively know.

  13. Please keep this post on topic. I have added a new one for those interested in Inhofe's red meat:


  14. Fundamentally, I don't think the IPCC process is particularly useful.

    The 'solutions' to AGW are being driven primarily by fossil fuel economics with a few 'feel good' measures thrown in.

  15. Hi what did you think of Willis Eschenbach answer to Judith Curry over on WUWT? It certainly went down well there.

  16. -15-dgg

    Did not see it, please send link

  17. Reading the two essays together was interesting.

    Watson is committed to dangerous AGW in all its forms. So if you rule out adaptation as sufficient, and are committed to CO2 reductions, which he is, then global coordinated action is necessary, so a forceful global body with clear conclusions and hence power to impose is also necessary to overcome national resistance to change and the undoubted costs of change (excluding as ridiculous the no-cost argument, let alone the 'opportunities for economic growth' one).

    If you believe that any further delay in policy implementation is madness, which he would seem to, then you and Watson are in fact having a different discussion.

    Simplifying, he is concerned with a policy body, the science is settled, and you are designing a policy-neutral body to sift the unsettled science.

    I include impacts in the science, obviously and critically, because it is the impacts that give rise to policy needs, not the warming per se.

    You shouldn't, oddly, be having the debate. Your essays were on different subjects.

  18. One thing I don't see here is "do we need another report?" "is it a
    good investment given all the other work that needs doing?"

    The useful conclusion for policy makers is that it would be a good
    idea to do something. we are foundering on the shoals of specific
    policy choices. So why don't we put some scientists to independently
    reviewing different policy options, how well they have worked, etc. or
    put the funds for the IPCC toward clean energy innovation.

    Given bureaucratic inertia, any group will outlive its usefulness and
    become a self sustaining permanent fixture.. whether currently needed
    or not.

  19. 16-Roger Pielke:

    447 comments... and counting

  20. Sharon,
    I agree with you. If the IPCC has done any good, it has shown that scientists can do their work and make their results known better when they are not going through the bureaucratic filter.
    We have had enough summaries of the science. Many countries have already implemented mitigation policies. If we have to have an IPCC report, then lets see how they handle a summary of policies to date. It would be a good test of their objectivity.
    Or, as you say, maybe it is time to put the funds toward real innovation. Tax schemes, carbon trading and windmills can hardly be considered innovative.

  21. http://www.greatchange.org/footnotes-overshoot-graphs.html


    You can figure this out, if you've studied ecology.