24 November 2011

Ignorance is Bliss

[UPDATE 2 11/30: Here are several remarkable statements from climate scientists, one from the emails showing Kevin Trenberth calling for Chris Landsea to be fired for holding the wrong views and and a comment today from Gavin Schmidt justifying gatekeeping in climate science on political grounds. With comments like that, who needs emails?;-)]

[UPDATE: Ross McKitrick has a timely op-ed and report (PDF) out on IPCC reform. McKitrick's report, as with the concerns I've raised, are not about the substance of the science, but rather, with the institutions.  He writes:
[I]t is not about science. It is about the policies, procedures and administrative structures in the IPCC.
This is a distinction that appears lost by much of the media and science community alike.]

I don't expect to spend much further time on the latest batch of UEA emails, though from what I've seen there is plenty to keep interested parties busy for a while (and further serious problems for individual climate scientists). I cannot understand how anyone can still think that the IPCC does not need major reform, beginning with a comprehensive and immediate implementation of the recommendations of the IAC. Yet, there are apparently plenty of people in the media, in science and of course on blogs who argue (unconvincingly) that there are absolutely no problems whatsoever in institutions of climate science. Ignorance is indeed bliss.

I'll leave this issue with the following vignette from the emails. In May 2005, I gave an invited lecture at the University of East Anglia on the need for the IPCC to be reformed. This is when I was working on my book, The Honest Broker, and it was also just about a month before Kevin Trenberth and Phil Jones decided in ad hoc fashion to keep out of the IPCC's assessment of extreme events a peer-reviewed paper I had led on hurricane and climate change.

Here is the abstract of my May 2005 talk given at UEA:
~~~~ All Welcome~~~~
3 May 2005
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - honest broker or political
advocate? Understanding the difference and why it matters

Roger A. Pielke, Jr
Centre for Science & Technology Policy Research
University of Colorado, USA
4-5pm, Zuckerman Institute Seminar Room, UEA

The IPCC was created in the late 1980s to provide guidance to policy makers on climate change. Roger argues that since that time, the IPCC has seen its mandate and behaviour change from providing a guide to policy options to a much more narrow focus in support of a particular option at the center of intense political debate. This process has been accompanied by some in the IPCC leadership taking a more prominent role as participants in climate politics. All indications suggest that the fourth assessment will continue in this trend of narrowing it focus to advocate a particular approach to climate policy over other possible responses. This talk will explain the important differences between the IPCC serving as an "honest broker" and serving as a "political advocate." Roger will also explore the consequences for climate policy of these various alternatives, arguing that the IPCC is an important institution and that its role as an honest broker is worth preserving.
The new emails show Phil Jones' reaction to the announcement of my upcoming talk:
subject: Pielke !!!

This is all I need ! Must try and be somewhere else !
Jones was somewhere else during my talk, as were most all of the IPCC WG I folks at UEA. There is of course nothing wrong with scholars who don't like other scholars, or choose to close themselves off to hearing different or challenging perspectives.  Academics are like that sometimes ;-) This vignette is only meaningful in the context of the subsequent and arbitrary decision to keep our work out of the part of the IPCC overseen by Jones/Trenberth. That decision was not based on a careful assessment of the science, much less a rigorous process of review, but based on somewhat more pedestrian criteria.

The issue here of course is not whether or not our paper was included, but the process that was employed to make that decision. It is hard to reconcile the much touted IPCC review process with the arbitrary and even petty process that, in this case at least, was actually employed.

So if one wishes to understand the dynamics behind where the IPCC went off course, my advice is to look a bit less in the direction of big-time climate politics (though there is that), and more in the direction of petty academic politics.  How petty academic politics came to play a notable role in big-time climate politics through institutions of science is an overlooked aspect of the institutional failure of the IPCC, and a key part of the story revealed by the emails.


  1. Any large bureaucracy faces similar problems. The private agendas of the little chiefs to grow and maintain their fiefdoms always drive larger decisions. It's a game of access and spin.

    It is unlikely that reform will fix this problem. What specifics from the IAC (got a link?) do you think would make a dent?

  2. Roger,
    Donna's book goes into the IPCC failures on hurricane damage and malaria and other areas very well.
    You are vindicated by reality: the self-dealing and insider dealing of the IPCC has rendered it useless in terms of honest and valid information.
    I would suggest that dismissing the e-mails, before they have been fully reviewed, and especially before the password protected files have even been opened, is premature.
    The IPCC/climate science opinion leaders have devolved into the perfect image of a naked bumbling emperor. Or, as Laframboise sees it, a spoiled, irresponsible teenager.

  3. The good news Roger is that even though it's no longer 2005, your talk "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - honest broker or political advocate? Understanding the difference and why it matters", is more relevant now than it was in 2005. You probably don't even need to update the talk all that much. You just have way more examples of how they are not honest brokers now should you want to update the talk. :-)

  4. We are living through Peak Green.

    They can no longer keep "the cause" valid now that their underhanded methods and internal agenda has been exposed.

    Too bad about the hundreds of billions of taxpayers dollars that have been misdirected into anti carbon green subsidies and payoffs.

    Too bad all that money was available to other science areas, perhaps we'd have a cure for cancer or Parkinson's by now.

    Hysterical fear mongering of human induced climate change is now a declining stock. The UN's efforts to promote the IPCC and AGW has been exposed as a proxy campaign for the UN to be a global government when they grow up.

    As humanity teeters on the edge of a major global depression, as the planet's atmosphere refuses to comply with the alarmists computer models, as the truth of the corruption within the IPCC slowly imposes itself on our mainstream media - they will be so sad to lose this great "Sky is Falling" story, the Great Global Warming/We Are Not Crying Wolf story will fade into history.

    Maybe some sharp business type will be able to something useful with all the derelict wind farms . . . Green theme parks or maybe Paintball centers?

  5. As I've said before, I am still not clear on why we need an IPCC. Maybe we need more an IPE (International Panel on Economics) to help us through our current crisis. It could be argued that all the funding, time and angst associated with IPCC could be better spent doing something about climate change or building resilience to possible climate hazards while admitting the details are unknown.

  6. @jstults

    "It is unlikely that reform will fix this problem. What specifics from the IAC (got a link?) do you think would make a dent?"

    Reform might have worked if the IPCC had grasped the lifeline handed to it on a platter by the IAC; instead, as Laframboise noted in The Delinquent Teenager ... - and as McKitrick observes in What Is Wrong With The IPCC? Proposals for a Radical Reform:

    "the recent process to reform IPCC procedures failed to address the core problems, and instead revealed how weak the plenary Panel is as an oversight body. Because so many governments are involved, no one person or agency is in a position to provide effective leadership. [...]The IPCC’s administrative bureau requested the review and selected the IAC to carry it out, then the IAC reported directly back to the IPCC administration, and the IPCC administration
    managed the process of deciding how to respond. This is inadequate as a form of independent and objective oversight."

    Even on a matter as simple as "enforcing" existing (but rarely practiced) "rule" regarding the flagging of non-peer-reviewed literature, the IPCC decided to "disappear" the rule [see: When task group says let’s “disappear” a rule, IPCC agrees ]

    McKitrick discusses the IPCC's "Intellectual Conflict of Interest". For additional evidence of this practice, you might want to take a look at Is the IPCC conflicted? Let us count the ways

    But in answer to your question, here's a link to the IAC report.

  7. #3 Sharon
    I am still not clear on why we need an IPCC

    It provides political cover for politicians to make 'unpopular' decisions. Obviously, if the decisions were 'popular' we governments would engage on them.

    It has probably outlived it's political usefulness as global steam coal prices are now firmly above the $5/MMBtu range. (Australia and the US are exceptions)

  8. It could be argued that politicians will have to make plenty of unpopular decisions about the economy without the benefit of an "IPED" (International Panel on Economies and Development).

  9. #4 Fred,

    "We are living through Peak Green."

    I hope so, but I'm afraid it may be wishful thinking. I keep seeing Rifkin, Ehrlich, Lovelock, et. al. being quoted lovingly. All of them have proven themselves to be worthless prophets, yet they keep on coming back. It's Robert Thomas Malthus in The attack of the zombie greens.

  10. Kevin Trenberth on Chris Landsea's resignation from the IPCC in 2004:

    "I understand he has resigned from CA of our chapter. I responded to his earlier message in a fairly low key fashion. I think he has behaved irresponsibly and ought to be fired by NOAA for not have an open enough mind to even consider that climate change might be affecting

  11. [Trenberth-speak in action:]

    "consider that climate change might be affecting hurricanes."

    When did "might be affecting" become a synonym for "It's probably happening because I, the Great Trenberth, said so"?

    Not to mention that by his criterion for "firing", perhaps Trenberth should be "fired" for not having "an open enough mind to even consider" that his prognostications might be wrong.

    No doubt the Great Trenberth is never subject to the immutable (iron[ic]) law of sauce-goose-gander.