by Tony Thomas
December 6, 2011
Hard on the heels of Donna Laframboise’s expose last month of the ramshackle workings of the IPCC, comes a study by Professor Ross McKitrick on how the IPCC should be fixed.
Ross McKitrick’s essay, What Is Wrong with the IPCC?, is only 37 pages but his status ensures it will be influential. The fact that Australia’s ex-Prime Minister John Howard wrote a four-para forward, gives it some extra gravitas.
McKitrick’s final recommendation is that if the IPCC’s 195 member states don’t embark on essential reforms to IPCC procedures, governments that do want good advice on climate issues should withdraw from the IPCC. They should then create their own advisory body to get the job done properly.
McKitrick is Professor of Economics at Guelph University, Ontario. With Canadian mathematician Steven McIntyre and weather guru Anthony Watts, he is one of a trio of leading skeptics against warmism.
Through the blogs climateaudit.org and wattsupwiththat.com, the trio provide fora where scientists and the public have followed the debate.
In the course of auditing such flawed efforts as Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick (it ‘disappeared’ the mediaeval warming period), they also uncovered a culture of debased scientific practices in which IPCC authors fudged and hid their source data and conspired to defeat normal processes of peer review.
Laframboise, in her 90-page ever-so-readable tract The Delinquent Teenager, documented in excruciating detail the IPCC’s lack of internal integrity.
McKitrick builds a lot on her research findings, which she generously made public as they came to hand, rather than holding them back for her book. His own comparative advantage is that he knows the structures and formalities of big-league bureaucracies and how their jargon works.
This enables him to dissect the IPCC rules permitting breaches of good practice, and to propose new wordage to lock the IPCC into proper governance.
This sort of exegesis does not make for lively reading but the job certainly needed doing.
The odd thing about the two books is that they are the only books on the IPCC, which, as McKitrick says, “plays a very influential role in the world.” The journalist profession should blush for shame.
McKitrick says the main IPCC weakness is that its Bureau (30 bureaucrats elected by the 195-nation Panel, and led by Rajendra Pachauri) plus the 10-member Secretariat, have arbitrary power over the content and conclusions of the IPCC’s Assessment Reports.
Specifically, the Bureau has a free hand in picking the top authors of the reports, mainly on political grounds (e.g. warmists and activists preferred). The Lead Authors in turn can pick their lesser co-authors to write the draft text. Since the review process is toothless, the Bureau can thus pre-determine the reports’ conclusions by its choice of authors.
McKitrick’s most damaging material concerns “intellectual conflicts of interest” within the IPCC.
Believe it or not:
The IPCC’s Lead Authors frequently review their own work and that of their critics.
Large numbers of Lead Authors, including those connected to half the chapters of the Working Group I report of 2007 and all the chapters of the Working Group II report, are employed by, or advisors to, environmental activist groups, such as Greenpeace. (These linkages are meticulously explored in LaFramboise’s book).
Lead Authors have the final say over the published text, no matter how cogent a reviewer’s criticisms during the mid-way review process.
A weird aspect, again highlighted earlier by Laframboise, is that reviewers are simply handed the entire draft report of a working group (ie a third of the total draft IPCC report). The reviewer can then choose which bits to review and which to ignore. In this way a section of monumental importance may be glossed over during review.
McKitrick cites the now-notorious ‘smoking gun’ of a private email from IPCC author Phil Jones on what he would do about published work on the urban heat island effect on temperature records, work that was critical of Jones’ own data sets:
I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin (Trenberth – another IPCC author) and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!
McKitrick then goes to the final IPCC text, and finds the two contrarian papers described in ways involving falsehood and fabrication.
The whole basis of the science of man-made global warming hangs on the issue of “climate sensitivity”, ie how global temperatures react to changes in greenhouse gas levels. It so happened in the 2007 report that the authors of this section were high-sensitivity believers, and they played down the low-sensitivity critics arguing against the authors’ own work.
This section involved 56 authors and 62 reviewers. But of those 62 reviewers, half were IPCC authors, editors, and employees, including 26 who were authors of papers discussed in the actual chapter. And of the 62 reviewers, half made only a passing comment or two, which suggests they had not even read the full chapter.
On such bases, governments are spending countless billions to ‘save’ the planet.
Top-level review by national delegates on the IPCC? – forget about it. Ninety percent of the 195 national members didn’t bother to make any comment on the 2007 draft. Half of all the comments were from the US and (wait for it!) Australia. Canada and Hungary also took their role seriously.
An opportunity for IPCC reform came via the Inter Academy Council’s 2010 ‘audit’ of the IPCC processes in the wake of the melting-Himalayan-glaciers gaffe in 2007. The IAC’s fairly weak recommendations were scuttled by the Bureau, notwithstanding that the IAC had found “significant shortcomings in each major step of IPCC’s assessment process.” (My emphasis).
McKitrick makes 11 recommendations to prevent intellectual incest within the IPCC. Key ones are:
Objective and transparent processes for selection of report authors and their assignments.
A 21-member Editorial Advisory Board be established, to include two-thirds from outside the in-group of climate scientists. This multi-disciplinary body would highlight controversial sections of drafts, and ensure that review processes are effective, transparent and at least as strong as for academic journals.
Procedures to seek technical input where needed from outside sources (e.g. external statisticians to vet the (often-dodgy) statistics used by IPCC scientists)
Due diligence on raw data and the methods (e.g. computer routines) used to process it
The Editorial Board to ensure that the well-read Summary for Policy-Makers is faithful to the full report, which would be publicly available simultaneously. Previously the main report was published months after the summary was published to governments and the media.
“Release of all drafts, review comments, responses and author correspondence records within three months of online publication of the full report.” (No more need for Climategate releases!)
Tony Thomas has worked as journalist for the Age and the BRW and is the author of Stolen Generations – The Pocket Windschuttle.