by Judith Curry
There have been numerous criticisms of the IPCC and proposals for change. One of the most interesting anlayses of the issues surrounding the IPCC is this paper by Richard Tol entitled “Regulating Knowledge Monopolies: The Case of the IPCC.”
From Tol’s Wikipedia bio:
Richard S. J. Tol is a Research Professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin, Ireland, where he works in the research areas of energy and environment. He is the professor of the economics of climate change at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, an adjunct professor atTrinity College Dublin and an associate at Hamburg University and the Hamburg Centre for Marine and Atmospheric Science. He is a member of the Academia Europaea.
He regularly participates in studies of the Energy Modeling Forum and is an editor of Energy Economics, associate editor of Environmental and Resource Economics, and on the editorial board of Environmental Science and Policy, and Integrated Assessment. From 1998-2008 he was an Adjunct Professor atCarnegie Mellon University‘s Department of Engineering and Public Policy. IDEAS/RePEc ranks him among the top 250 economists in the world.
According to Tol “the impact of climate change is relatively small”. Tol characterises his position as arguing that the economic costs of climate policy should be kept in proportion to its benefits. In an interview with Der Spiegel in 2005, he argued that temperature rises between 2-4 °C would also have advantages. North of a line drawn from Paris toMunich, people would benefit, e.g., from reduced energy bills. However, south of it, people would be overall “losers” of climate change.
Tol has been an IPCC author since 1994. He blogs at http://ipccar5wg2ch10.blogspot.com/, discussing IPCC issues and presenting the sections he is involved in for writing the IPCC AR4 for open comment.
Regulating Knowledge Monopolies: The Case of the IPCC
by Richard Tol
Abstract. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has a monopoly on the provision of climate policy advice at the international level and a strong market position in national policy advice. This may have been the intention of the founders of the IPCC. I argue that the IPCC has a natural monopoly, as a new entrant would have to invest time and effort over a longer period to perhaps match the reputation, trust, goodwill, and network of the IPCC. The IPCC is a not-for-profit organization, and it is run by nominal volunteers; it therefore cannot engage in the price-gouging that is typical of monopolies. However, the IPCC has certainly taken up tasks outside its mandate; the IPCC has been accused of haughtiness; innovation is slow; quality may have declined; and the IPCC may have used its power to hinder competitors. There are all things that monopolies tend to do, against the public interest. The IPCC would perform better if it were regulated by an independent body which audits the IPCC procedures and assesses its performance; if outside organizations would be allowed to bid for the production of reports and the provision of services under the IPCC brand; and if policy makers would encourage potential competitors to the IPCC.
The paper is in press at Climatic Change, the full paper can be linked to [here].
Some excerpts that I found to be particularly interesting, minus the references)
From the Introduction:
Note that there is no reason to assume that knowledge monopolies are desirable. The nature of the policy advice on acidification was in turn inspired by the ideal of social planning as advocated by such leading economists as – whose ideas are now seen as naïve by some and repugnant by others. Harry Truman’s wish for a one-handed economist is now understood to be mistaken . The notion of a dispassionate scientist passing objective advice to a benevolent policy maker has been thoroughly discredited . Few would argue that the IPCC is a secret world government in waiting. The IPCC has set itself the more modest goal of standardizing the academic knowledge on which climate policy is based across the world. This may be a mistaken goal. International negotiations succeed if all parties think they are better off . There is no reason to believe that negotiations are easier if all parties share the same knowledge – in fact, the opposite may be true.
From the section The IPCC as a Natural Monopoly:
Strictly speaking, a monopoly is natural if the costs of having multiple providers are larger than the benefits of competition. There is large fixed cost of setting up a global organization to assess the literature on climate change to inform national and international policy. This cost is neither physical nor financial, but rather in terms of reputation, trust and goodwill, and in terms of networks and institutional knowledge. It took the IPCC years to build up its current position. A new entrant in the market of climate policy advice would need a similar investment in quality and relationships before it can begin to compete with the IPCC.
The IPCC is also favoured by network economies. The IPCC relies on more-or-less voluntary contributions of the academics who serve as its authors. These authors are rewarded with prestige, networking opportunities, access to decision makers, and influence. As the incumbent, the IPCC offers plenty of each. A new entrant would offer little.
From the section on Typical Problems of Monopolies:
The root of the problem is that monopolies act in the interest of the company only, and that they can get away with it. Competitive firms too only consider their own bottom line – but they have to deliver good value to their clients lest they walk away. Customers of monopolies cannot switch to a different supplier (by definition), and monopolies therefore do not need to heed their wishes to the same extent as a competitive firm does.
The IPCC is a knowledge monopoly, and it shares some of the characteristics of the behaviour of a typical monopolist.
The IPCC has used its monopoly power to branch out into scenario building. The resulting scenarios have been severely criticized. As complaints by referees were ignored, this can only be characterized as a deliberate misrepresentation of the literature – a violation of the IPCC mandate. Arguably, the IPCC used its role as an assessor of the literature to protect its role as a builder of scenarios. . . Therefore, the IPCC has used its monopoly position in the market for assessment to establish a dominant position in the market for scenarios.
The IPCC has not innovated much. An author of AR1 would instantly recognize the methods, procedures, and structure of AR4. Things have changed, of course, but at the margin. This is perhaps the strongest sign that the IPCC is a monopoly. . . The IPCC has made little use of tools for online collaboration and communication, nor of transparency-enhancing software (e.g., automated versioning of documents).
From the section on Regulating Knowledge Monopolies:
The regulatory agency should audit the procedural aspects of the IPCC. However, it should also assess the performance of the IPCC, drawing on the experience with evaluating the performance of university departments. It could consider such issues as the selection of the IPCC authors. Are they really top experts in their fields (controlling for geographical representation)? It could randomly select (parts of) IPCC chapters and see whether they truly reflect the balance of the literature – e.g., by comparison with recent survey articles. It should compare the outlines of IPCC report to the issues discussed in the literature, checking whether the IPCC gives undue weight to certain topics while ignoring other ones. It could monitor the impact of IPCC reports, both on the academic literature and on national and international policies.
The changing of the IPCC guard is done in backroom deals. In the future, there could be competitive bidding for the working group chairs and technical support units, as well as for the IPCC board.
Competition for the market could be extended further. If someone feels that there is a product missing from the range on offer by the IPCC, then that person should be allowed to bid for the use of the IPCC brand on such a report. There is no reason why the IPCC should not consider proposals for Special Reports from outside. In fact, allowing this would keep the authors and organizers of “regular” IPCC reports on their toes.
While it would be hard for a single organization to compete with the entirety of the IPCC, competition on specific aspects is much easier. The World Meteorological Organization could review atmospheric science, the World Health Organization the health impacts of climate change. The World Bank and the OECD could review the emission reduction policies and their costs, while national institutions could assess the impacts of climate change. While such activities are ongoing, they often draw on the same people as the IPCC and are frequently not even intended to be independent.
Self-organization is the third, potential new entrant that could threaten the IPCC’s monopoly. Wikipedia is the best known example, and it already covers all the topics that the IPCC does. Wikipedia, however, lacks focus and it does not have the credibility and legitimacy of the IPCC. . . Wikify AR4 and a few good textbooks. By way of experiment, this should be done by an IPCC-controlled wiki, a quality-controlled wiki (e.g., Scholarpedia), and an open wiki (e.g., Wikipedia).
From the Conclusions:
However, the IPCC has certainly extended its remit; many have accused the IPCC of haughtiness; innovation is slow; quality may have declined; and the IPCC may have used its power to hinder competitors – all things that monopolies tend to do, and none of which is in the public interest. The IPCC would perform better if it were regulated by an independent body which audits the IPCC procedures and assesses its performance; if outside organizations would be allowed to bid for the production of IPCC reports and the provision of IPCC services; and if would-be competitors to the IPCC would be encouraged.
Ron Cram’s proposal
Similar in spirit, Ron Cram posted an essay at WUWT entitled “A modest proposal in lieu of abandoning the IPCC.”
Cram’s essay begins with a comprehensive review of recent critiques of the IPCC. The essence of Cram’s proposal is this:
If policymakers want a less biased picture, there is only one way to achieve it. It is necessary for the IPCC AR5 to consist of a Majority Report and a Minority Report. Going into the process, no one will know which of the competing reports will be named the Majority Report and which the Minority Report. That decision will come after both reports are completed and voted on by the climate scientists involved.
JC’s comments: I have been arguing for parallel evidence- based arguments in the IPCC, excerpt below:
The consilience of evidence argument is not convincing unless it includes parallel evidence-based analyses for competing hypotheses, for the simple reason that any system that is more inclined to admit one type of evidence or argument rather than another tends to accumulate variations in the direction towards which the system is biased.
To be convincing, the arguments for climate change need to change from the burden of proof model to a model whereby a thesis is supported explicitly by addressing the issue of what the case would have to look like for the thesis to be false, in the mode of argument justification (e.g. Betz 2010). Argument justification invokes counterfactual reasoning to ask the question “What would have to be the case such that this thesis were false?” The general idea is that the fewer positions supporting the idea that the thesis is false, the higher its degree of justification. Argument justification provides an explicit and important role for skeptics, and a framework whereby scientists with a plurality of viewpoints participate in an assessment. This strategy has the advantage of moving science forward in areas where there are competing schools of thought. Disagreement then becomes the basis for focusing research in a certain area, and so moves the science forward.
The spirit of what I suggest is similar to what Ron Cram proposes. I find Tol’s arguments convincing, and support his recommendations. I am not convinced that the IPCC will survive as a natural knowledge monopoly for another decade if it remains on its current path.