by Judith Curry
Ross McKitrick writes:
I am pleased to announce the publication of a report I have written that provides systematic detail on the procedures of the IPCC and makes the case for reforming them. My study, called What is Wrong With the IPCC? A Proposal for Radical Reform, was published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation in the U.K., and includes a foreword by the Hon. John Howard, former prime minister of Australia.
Editorial in Financial Post
In an editorial for the Financial Post, McKitrick writes:
The first thing to note about this report is that it is not about science. It is about the policies, procedures and administrative structures in the IPCC. A third of the report consists simply of explanations of how the IPCC works. The more people learn such details, the more they will see that the IPCC does not come close to living up to the hype.
Most people would not consider themselves sufficiently well-trained to adjudicate conflicting claims on the science of global warming. But you don’t have to be a scientist to be capable of understanding when an investigative procedure is biased. The IPCC assessment process has material defects, which are sufficiently serious and numerous to put into question the soundness of some of its most heavily promoted claims.
What are some of the flaws? IPCC report-writing teams are cherry-picked in an opaque process by a secretive bureau in Geneva, with no effective requirements to ensure representation of diverse viewpoints. Environmentalist campaign groups are heavily overrepresented in the resulting author lists. Conflicts of interest abound throughout the report-writing process, whereby select authors are asked to review their own work and that of their critics, inevitably concluding in their own favour. The expert review process has become little more than elegant stagecraft, creating an illusion of adversarial cross-examination while concealing the reality of unchecked author bias. Unlike in regular academic peer review procedures, IPCC authors are allowed to overrule reviewers, and even to rewrite the text after the close of the peer review process.
For instance, I discuss the problem that IPCC chapter authors are able to recruit contributing authors (CAs) in an opaque process that does not ensure a diversity of views. The resulting uniformity is obvious simply from looking at the list of authors, but we can now see the confirmatory evidence in the email traffic. In a pair of emails (nos. 0714 and 3205), IPCC lead author Phil Jones goes through lists of possible CAs with his IPCC coauthor Kevin Trenberth, declaring “Getting people we know and trust is vital.” He then categorizes his recommendations based, not on whether the person is the most qualified but on whether the person is “on the right side” (namely agrees with him), or whether he “trusts” him or not. At one point he dismisses a particular expert who “has done a lot but I don’t trust him.” This kind of cronyism is shown by the emails to be rampant in the IPCC.
In principle I think the IPCC could be fixed, but nobody should underestimate how much needs to change. The chief obstacle to reform is that it is governed by an unwieldy 195-member plenary panel that appears to be apathetic and overly deferential to the IPCC Bureau it is supposed to oversee. To some extent the Canadian delegation has been a lone voice seeking improvements to procedures, but such concerns have hitherto been ignored.
To those countries that truly seek objective, balanced and rigorous information about climate science on which to base momentous policy decisions, my key recommendation is to begin pushing for reforms, but not to wait forever. If the IPCC cannot be fixed quickly, governments that are serious about making good climate-policy decisions should be prepared to withdraw from it and create a new assessment body, free of the serious defects of the current model.
A proposal for radical reform
From McKitrick’s study published by GWPF, Recommendations for Reform:
The main principle to guide reform is that the IPCC review system should operate less like a voluntary public comment process and more like a structured journal peer review process. While journal peer review has flaws of its own, the basic idea herein is that the IPCC should have a review process no weaker than academic journals. This would imply adoption of changes to ensure:
- Text is finalized under reviewer oversight
- All text is assigned to at least two independent reviewers
- All analysis is transparent and reproducible
- The entire process is overseen by a neutral editorial entity.
The fact that the changes necessary to bring these things about will involve far-reaching structural reforms indicates how much weaker the IPCC review process is compared to academic journals, despite popular perceptions to the contrary.
Recommendation 1: an objective and transparent lead author selection procedure.
Recommendation 2: a transparent contributing author recruitment process.
Recommendation 3: appointment of an editorial advisory board and identification of potentially controversial sections.
Recommendation 4: explicit assignment of both section authorship and reviewer positions.
Recommendation 5: Adoption of an iterative process to achieve a final text under the joint supervision of authors, reviewers and editors.
Recommendation 6: adoption of a procedure for seeking technical input when necessary from outside the list of authors and reviewers during the assessment process.
Recommendation 7: due diligence regarding key supporting papers and full disclosure of all data and methods used to produce original ipcc Figures and tables.
Recommendation 8: immediate online publication of the full report upon finalization, prior to production of summary.
Recommendation 9: production of summary by ad hoc group appointed by the panel based on recommendations from the editorial advisory board.
Recommendation 10: release of all drafts, review comments, responses and author correspondence records within 3 months of online publication of the full report.
Recommendation 11: that the nations involved in the ipcc panel begin these reforms at once, and if such a process cannot be initiated then those national governments that seek objective and sound advice on climate change issues should withdraw from the ipcc and begin the process of creating a new assessment body free of the deficiencies identified herein.
JC comments: I think McKitrick’s analysis of the problems with the IPCC is good, and his recommendations are worthwhile. But IMO the problems with the IPCC are fundamentally structural. The IPCC connection to the UNFCCC, the narrow framing of the scientific problem, and the consensus seeking approach are the key problems IMO. Further, the way the IPCC is set up, it can pretty much ignore the recommendations from IAC (and presumably just about anyone else for that matter). The key issue is whether the national governments are happy (or not) with what is going on with the IPCC. Richared Tol has argued on a previous thread that the national governments seem to be happy with the IPCC.
For reference, here are some recent threads on the IPCC: