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.