10 March 2010

InterAcademy Council to Review the IPCC

[UPDATE: Richard Black of the BBC has some thoughts on the review here.]

The IPCC is going to be reviewed by the InterAcademy Council, which is a collection of national science academies. The IPCC press release announcing the panel can be found here in PDF. And the Terms of Reference for the panel are here in PDF. The report of the review panel is due at the end of August.

The review focuses exclusively on IPCC policies and procedures and says nothing about looking into the issues that have been raised with respect to various finding presented in AR4. However, it would be difficult to provide a meaningful evaluation without taking a hard look at experience and especially claims that have been made about failures in the IPCC process. It will be interesting to see how they approach the distinction between substance and process.

[UPDATE: In the Washington Post, David Fahrenthold has this interesting nugget:
Robbert Dijkgraaf, a Dutch professor who will serve as co-leader of the review, said the flaws identified in the 2007 report could be used as "case studies." But, he said, the review's focus will be on the future -- on examining the panel's leadership, methods of sourcing and conflict-of-interest policies -- in preparation for its next report, due in 2013.
This is good news for those expecting a serious review.]

The evaluation is itself a political minefield for the scientific community. The IAC needs to do the utmost to ensure that the review is truly "independent" and garners the trust of the public and policy makers. This will not be easy.

For instance, to cite just one example, I note that the Interacademy Council has a strong statement about conflicts of interest on its website which includes the following checklist that it recommends for identifying such conflicts among prospective panelists:

1. Does the candidate hold any position in an organization that may profit financially or otherwise from conclusions and recommendations that may emerge from the study panel?

2. Does the candidate have any position through which he or she may profit financially or otherwise from conclusions and recommendations that may emerge from the study panel?

3. Did the candidate ever take a position on any particular issue relevant to the study that raises questions in regard of his ability to accept and respect different views?

4. Have there ever been allegations that the candidate did not meet the standards that are expected from a professional scientist or engineer of good standing?

The answer to all four questions with respect to Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, is "yes." How will the IAC review handle the issue of conflict of interest in the IPCC? Will it ignore the issue? Raise it, but offer no guidance? Or ask the IPCC to subscribe to the same standards that it holds for itself? People will be watching closely.