07 July 2011

Why the IPCC Has Lost Trust

The IPCC is now one train wreck after another.  After being embarrassed by the spectacle of a Greenpeace energy scenario being elevated to top level prominence in a recent report on renewable energy by an IPCC author from Greenpeace, the IPCC compounds that error by trying to explain it away with information that is at best misleading if not just untrue.

In a letter to the Economist this week Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III (which produced the recent report on renewables) dresses down the magazine for not recognizing that the IPCC has procedures in place to deal with the possibility that authors might impose their biases:
The IPCC has now approved a formal policy on conflicts of interest as recommended by the InterAcademy Council, a network of national science councils. This is an already endorsed increment in a pervasive system and is not a first step in a whole new area. Our new special report on renewables continues the tradition of balanced, thorough assessments at the IPCC.
What Edenhofer does not mention is that the IPCC conflict of interest policy is not being implemented until some time after 2014, after the current (fifth) assessment report is done (of course, nor did it apply to the recent renewables report). The yet-to-be-implemented COI policy is completely irrelevant to any discussion of the renewables report.

The IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri explained the reason for the delayed implementation recently to the Economist:
Of course if you look at conflict of interest with respect to authors who are there in the 5th Assessment Report we’ve already selected them and therefore it wouldn’t be fair to impose anything that sort of applies retrospectively.
If you think about it, fairness to IPCC authors who have conflicts of interest (most notably Pachauri himself) is an interesting concept. One might argue that the legitimacy of the organization outweighs a need for such fairness to conflicted authors, but I digress. 

The IPCC involves many sincere people who put forth a lot of effort. It is a shame to see that effort repeatedly scuppered on the inability of the IPCC leadership to recognize that trust and legitimacy are essential to its job. When will the climate science community stand up and demand more effective leadership? 


  1. Roger:

    If you haven't seen it yet there is a very good post that shows a major error on sensitivity in AR4 WG I over at Climate Etc:


  2. @ "The IPCC involves many sincere people who put forth a lot of effort. It is a shame to see that effort repeatedly scuppered on the inability of the IPCC leadership to recognize that trust and legitimacy are essential to its job. When will the climate science community stand up and demand more effective leadership?"

    I just finished re-reading the story behind Chris Landsea's resignation from the IPCC in 2005.

    I am probably more jaded than you in my view of the IPCC than Roger as I have lived under the corrupt system of political cronyism in Chicago and Illinois for 57 years and my tolerance for corruption is low. It is doubtful in my mind that the IPCC even cares that they continually bias the science and information that they present. IMO they are focused on the $2 trillion a year they want to collect and redistribute and they, as all corrupt politicians are, willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish getting that money. The IPCC is beyond repair as politically driven corruption has undermined all else. I don't see any of the scientists speaking out against the conflicts of interest and corruption so the only conclusion that can be made is that the scientists are fine with it (except for Chris Landsea and the tiny few who have spoken out). The process, which may have begun in an earnest pursuit of climate knowledge, is now nothing more than choreographed Kabuki with carefully selected performers as far as I'm concerned.

    I see it all as a colossal waste of good money being spent on useless climate junkets enjoyed by rent seeking political hacks. I would rather the money had been spent on the pursuit of breakthrough technology to produce cheap clean energy and to reduce black carbon.

  3. "The IPCC involves many sincere people who put forth a lot of effort."

    If so, why do they associate with scoundrels? How many sincere climate scientists have spoken out against the various skullduggeries of the IPCC? At some point, those who are not part of the solution must be judged to be part of the problem.

  4. Roger, the problem is not just that the CoI policy won't take effect until AR6. In the aftermath of Abu Dhabi the IPCC adopted a policy that defines CoI only in financial terms. So even when it takes effect it will be useless for dealing with the scientific conflicts of interest in the IPCC.


    12. Conflict of interest policies in scientific assessment bodies typically make a distinction between “conflict of interest” and “bias,” which refers to a point of view or perspective that is strongly held regarding a particular issue or set of issues. In the case of author and review teams, bias can and should be managed through the selection of a balance of perspectives. For example, it is expected that IPCC author teams will include individuals with different perspectives and affiliations. Those involved in selecting authors will need to strive for an author team composition that reflects a balance of expertise and perspectives, such that IPCC products are comprehensive, objective, and neutral with respect to policy. In selecting these individuals, care must be taken to ensure that biases can be balanced where they exist. In contrast, conflict of interest exists where an individual could secure a direct and material gain through outcomes in an IPCC product. Holding a view that one believes to be correct, but that one does not stand to gain from personally is not a conflict of interest.

    Endquote. This is from
    The IPCC Web Site.

    Intellectual conflicts of interest are set aside as "bias", and it is claimed their author selection process deals with it (which of course they do not, since the IPCC did not materially revise their author selection process). CoI, in this policy, only arises "where an individual could secure a direct and material gain through outcomes in an IPCC product", in other words, unless it's financial it's not CoI. The last sentence in the paragraph effectively nullifies the rule as it would apply to any scientific or intellectual conflict of interest. Authors can review their own work and that of their critics as long as they believe themselves to be correct. This is the CoI policy that will be in force next time. How exactly does this improve on the current situation?

  5. -4-Ross

    Conflict of interest is conventionally distinguished from bias. The former usually refers to financial conflicts. Both COI and bias are important to address through governance mechanisms.

    The IPCC has problems with both. Issues of COI are so fundamental to science advice that I am not aware of any governmental advisory body that operates without a COI policy, much less one of the visibility and significance of the IPCC.

    This failure is so fundamental that it is hard to believe that it persists.

    For more on the distinction see the BPC report on this subject:

  6. All of which suggests the book "Global Warming Lies." The soul of science is at stake on once side, while the 'fate of the planet' on the other.

    To wit, see Lubos Motl on Mooney's schooling on the Deep Green needs for AGW True Belief:

    AND Mooney

    The political cat is out of the bag.
    Which raises the question: is global warming revolutionary science? Or political science?
    I'm re-studying Tom Segalstad's isotopic geochemical based critique of IPPC science to help answer this. His well-grounded science, among other, seems to have been thoroughly ignored in an effort to gin up a new environmental problem that lacks a physical basis, ie, long CO@ atmospheric residency times, since FAR, when (not yet "Sir") John Houghton the physicist articulated the New Dispensation.

    Is THIS the dogma denounced by Freeman Dyson?

  7. And on the "bias" matter, there's also the problem (identified by the IAC) of "the practice of scientists responsible for writing IPCC assessments reviewing their own work".

    For details on just how pervasive this problem was in AR4, pls see:


  8. the issue of IPCC Lead Authors assessing their own work was discussed in a good 2005 thread at Prometheus, with Hans von Storch and others both speaking out against the practice - which was continued in AR4 despite the criticism.

  9. IPCC Glaciergate: 2035 was reported instead of 2305, based on a non-peer reviewed magazine article.
    IPCC Himalayagate: prediction of ice loss were basically made up in a WWF pamphlet.
    IPCC Greenpeacegate: a Greenpeace official was a lead author on the renewable energy chapter, one who cited his own non-peer reviewed work published with a green energy lobby foundation.a
    IPCC Amazongate: up to 40 per cent loss of the Amazon rainforest due to AGW was based on a WWF pamphlet about the effects of logging.
    IPCC Seagate: claimed that 55% of the Netherlands is below sea level, versus the real value of 26%.
    IPCC Africagate: claim that yields from agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent by 2020 were based on a pamphlet a by a Canadian advocacy group, written by an obscure Moroccan academic who specialises in carbon trading.
    IPCC Pachaurigate: the IPCC chairman was found to be deeply involved in carbon trading schemes, as a chairman of the board of many green energy companies.

  10. "When will the climate science community stand up and demand more effective leadership? "

    A dog doesn't bite the hand that feeds it, unless it belongs to Joh Bjelke-Petersen. From The Australian's Strewth column:

    "Man's best fiend

    THIS week, we mentioned the time Joh Bjelke-Petersen was bitten by a dog, resulting in an outpouring of sympathy for the dog. We prefaced this bijou of political history with the handy clause "legend has it". Writer Hugh Lunn writes to the rescue: "Legend didn't 'have it', it happened. But it wasn't 'a dog' it was 'his dog'. When the National Party deposed its own leader in 1987, I wrote a long feature in which I used a bit of inside reporter knowledge, writing: 'Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the only man ever bitten by his own dog . . .' ""