24 February 2010

A Black Box

The IPCC has a Special Committee on Extreme Events and Disasters, which was set up in the spring of 2009. Andy Revkin has the story of my nomination to the committee, along with 30 other U.S. experts. Behind closed doors the IPCC selected 13 of these 31 nominees to serve on their committee. I was not included, despite the fact that I have more relevant publications than any other U.S. nominee (Google scholar) and numerous participants were selected who have no publications in the area of climate change and extreme events. Revkin finds this a bit curious, but was unable to get the IPCC to explain how it made its empanelment decisions.

The IPCC report includes the following focal areas, among others:
Changes in impacts of climate extremes: human systems and ecosystems
    • Role of climate extremes in natural and socioeconomic systems
    • Nature of impacts and relation to hazards
    • Observed trends in system exposure and vulnerability
    • System- and sector-based aspects of vulnerability, exposures, and impacts
    • Regional aspects of vulnerability, exposures, and impacts
    • Costs of climate extremes and disasters
My nomination came about when a colleague asked me in the spring of 2009 if I was participating in the committee. I explained to him that there was no point, as the IPCC would never select me to be included. He said they'd have to select me, if nominated, given my expertise and the IPCC's historical reliance on my work. So we made a bet of a beer, and I was nominated. Obviously, I won the bet and the beer. Since then, a range of colleagues have asked me why I am not participating on the committee.

There is a good case to be made that since I have collaborated in a lot of work in this area, I should not be on the committee, because I would be evaluating my own work. I think that this argument makes sense. However, this has not been a criterion used by the IPCC in its empanelment decisions in the past or on the extremes committee (based on who else was selected). However, having seen the efforts of the IPCC to actively undercut my work in its past reports and more recently via press release, I have my views as to what sort of criteria it employed in deciding the panel's membership;-)